In first Philadelphia homily, Pope Francis calls for a mission-driven life
The Benjamin Franklin Parkway was wide awake before dawn.
Dozens of pilgrims camped out in sleeping bags outside of the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, where they hoped to be among the first to see the holy father land in Philadelphia on Saturday morning. They came in from near and distant corners of the map — Mexico, Colombia, Minnesota, Chicago, Costa Rica, South Carolina, New Jersey — all of them proud how far, and why, they had come. They were the first to gather against the bike-rack barricades on Benjamin Franklin Parkway five hours before the Pope’s scheduled appearance.
The anticipation exploded into applause, tears, and music when he arrived.
Pope Francis delivered a mass to a crowd of over 1,600 inside the Cathedral Basilica, the mother church of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The votive mass was dedicated to “Our Lady, Mother of the Church,” a.k.a. Mary, the mother of Jesus. The liturgy began with a prayer from the pope in English. Certain hymns and prayers were conducted in traditional Latin, while Pope Francis spoke mainly in Spanish. While just yards from the alter, a side chapel packed with hundreds of pilgrims could only see the mass through a live broadcast on a jumbotron.
In his homily (full text), Pope Francis urged Christians to take personal responsibility for the church’s traditional mission. Progress, however, will require a certain degree of adaptability.
“Our challenge today is to build on those solid foundations and to foster a sense of collaboration and shared responsibility in planning for the future of our parishes and institutions,” Pope Francis said. “This does not mean relinquishing the spiritual authority with which we have been entrusted; rather, it means discerning and employing wisely the manifold gifts which the Spirit pours out upon the Church.”
The Pope invoked Philadelphia’s own St. Katherine of Drexel and her epiphany call to the mission. By way of her story, the Pope also sent a strong message that, in order to grow, the Church needs to value “the immense contribution which women, lay and religious, have made and continue to make, to the life of our communities.”
In the end, the Pope called for universal prayer, and reminded the individual to answer the question “¿Y tu?”
“What about you?”
Guests in both the basilica proper and the side chapel came from all over the world, but there was a clear presence of local and regional attendees who were overwhelmed to be a part of the holy father’s reception in their hometown.
Pat Von Plato’s grandson, a seminarian at Saint John’s, was chosen as an altar server for Saturday’s mass. The family came in from West Chester to see this once-in-a-lifetime event. After the mass ended, Von Plato offered her joy and gratitude.
“This Pope is such an inspiration,” she said. “I hope he inspires a lot of other people here to be good, to be kind, to be generous.”
Many local and regional attendees said they were lucky to get tickets, and that the mass was the only papal event they would attend this weekend.
Monica Victoria-Rodriguez of Roxborough got a call from her priest last night who told her that their parish had stumbled upon three last-minute tickets to the mass. She welled up with tears when the Pope came into her sightlines at the end of the mass.
“Even just being in the same building with him was amazing,” she said. “I wasn’t sure if he was going to come through [to the side chapel] but when he did, the energy was amazing. It’s a touch of the holy spirit, and it’s emotional.”
Like thousands of other Latinos and life-long Catholics who have made the pilgrimage to see the Pope, Veronica-Rodriguez has high expectations for the Pope’s words on immigration. Tens of thousands have gathered outside of Independence Mall for the Pope’s afternoon address on this very subject.