The clergy, religious and lay faithful of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Nation’s first Catholic diocese, join millions of other Catholics and people of all faiths in welcoming our Holy Father, Pope Francis, to the United States. I am privileged to represent our Archdiocese among those who will greet the Holy Father upon his arrival on Tuesday and at several events during his visit, including the Mass of Canonization of Blessed Junipero Serra.
Anticipation of the visit of Pope Francis has increased as his arrival draws nearer. Many say he has a “rock star” quality about him. I presume that’s a good thing! He is extraordinarily popular among people of all faiths and ages and for many reasons. He embraces simplicity, exudes humility, and speaks frequently of the need to care for the poor, the marginalized and the environment. His emphasis on mercy (he has called for a worldwide Year of Mercy in the Church beginning this December) has caused many to rethink how they feel about the Catholic Church, which has a long history of bringing the mercy of Christ to those she serves, whether in the fields of healthcare, education or charitable outreach—and to see the many contributions the Catholic Church makes to the common good.
This pope has been a pope of surprises since his first days in office. He goes out at night to personally tend to the poor of Rome, made a detour in his first official trip to South America to visit some of the poorest villages there, gives impromptu and candid interviews to members of the media, and elected to live in more simple and humble quarters. In his public interactions he often gravitates toward those who seemingly need more than others the touch and care of Christ’s Vicar on Earth, and his grandfatherly and accessible personality and tone make him irresistible and magnetic to most everyone.
Ironically, the substance of the Pope’s words are not so different from his predecessors. People are often surprised to hear that Pope Francis has not altered Church teaching. In fact, he affirms the long-held teachings of the Catholic Church whether speaking about the environment, the poor, caring for migrants, and what he calls the “culture of waste” or affirming traditional marriage, calling for the protection of religious liberty, and promoting the sanctity of all human life.
Because of his tone and humility, his words are often mistaken as signaling a change in direction. Regardless, he has caused people to hear the Church’s teaching with “fresh ears” and to understand that her teachings are rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and not as a set of burdensome rules but as a response to God’s love for each of us.
Twenty years after the historic visit to Baltimore of St. Pope John Paul II, we are encouraging the people of the Archdiocese of Baltimore to celebrate the visit of Pope Francis by participating in as many of the official events as possible—whether in Washington, D.C. or in Philadelphia. More than 1,000 local Catholics will board buses and train cars to be with an estimated 1.5 million other pilgrims for the Pope’s Mass in the City of Brotherly Love. And several hundred will be in Washington, D.C. for the Mass on Wednesday. Those unable to attend the Philadelphia Mass are invited to the lawn of the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen to watch the Mass and enjoy dinner together. And many other activities are planned here in the Archdiocese to mark the occasion.
In response to the Holy Father’s example of selfless service to others, we are partnering with Catholic Charities to encourage people to serve in one of several charitable outreach programs during the Pope’s visit. A list of opportunities can be found at www.archbalt.org and we pray his visit will inspire Catholics and others to “serve like Francis.”
May the visit of Pope Francis be a blessing to the Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Baltimore and to people of all faiths throughout our Nation.