My dear friends, as this day draws to a close, I sit in a hotel room in Crystal City, (Arlington, VA) just across the street from the apartment complex I lived in when I was an assistant (to the master of all papal visit coordinators, now Bishop Robert N. Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida) national coordinator for the 1987 Papal Visit of Pope John Paul II. I cannot tell you the level of excitement and enthusiasm that have taken hold of this community (and this bishop) once again!
From experience I can tell you that many long hours, days, nights and months have gone into the planning for this five day pilgrimage across the east coast of our country. Our Holy Father has spent the last two days in Cuba, where he made a strong call for reconciliation and peace. I am anxiously awaiting his message to the people of this great nation.
No doubt, there are many who are responsible for Pope Francis’ safety who are working hard to protect him. They, too, have spent many hours preparing for these days. Planners have worked hard, from the World Meeting of Families, the Archdioceses of Washington, D.C., New York and Philadelphia, the thousands of journalists, staff from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, government and Vatican officials, and many others. But when you boil it all down, we now await the message that our Holy Father, Pope Francis will deliver in these next five days.
Pope Francis is a man of prayer. He is the Successor to St. Peter. He is led by the Holy Spirit that elected him as our present Holy Father. He is inspiring and challenging all at the same time. No doubt, he will deliver a message of hope and of challenge. He is a servant of unity and an agent of renewal. He promotes inclusion and has opened the doors of this Church to all. He models and instructs that we are to go out of the sacristy and churches to encounter those who are on the margins; those who are excluded. We are to enter into the struggles of life of everyday people, and accompany them with the hope and joy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He comes to our shores as a messenger of hope. He is the Chief Shepherd of the Church, and the great steward of our Common Home.
Do yourself a favor, I beg you. In these coming days, do not listen only to news coverage of what he preaches and teaches. Go to original sources and read his homilies and addresses for yourself. Do not allow yourself to be satisfied with the many agendas that will be at work in the coming days in reporting on Pope Francis’ visit.
Pray for Pope Francis, and pray that all hearts will be open to receive his message.
Welcome to the United States, Holy Father! We love you, and we look forward to receiving your teaching and instruction.