Pope Francis Speaks on Religious Liberty, Calls for the Rehabilitation of Prisoners and Pays Tribute to Families: September 26-27, 2015

Pope Francis Speaks on Religious Liberty, Calls for the Rehabilitation of Prisoners and Pays Tribute to Families: September 26-27, 2015

On September 26, Pope Francis left New York City for Philadelphia, the last stop on his three-city tour of the United States.  After arriving at Atlantic Aviation airport, the Holy Father traveled to the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul to celebrate Mass.

Pope Francis opened his homily by discussing the “generation after generation of committed Catholics going out to the peripheries and building communities of worship, education, charity and service to the larger society.”  It is a story, he said, repeated “in the efforts of all those dedicated priests, religious and laity who for over two centuries have ministered to the spiritual needs of the poor, the immigrant, the sick and those in prison. And it is seen in the hundreds of schools where religious brothers and sisters trained children to read and write, to love God and neighbor and to contribute as good citizens to the life of American society.”

Pope Francis recounted the story of Saint Katharine Drexel who, in response to Pope Leo XII’s question, “What about you? What are you going to do?” committed herself to religious life and to doing “her part.” The Pope thanked the clergy and religious for their own vocations and encouraged them “to be renewed in the joy of that first encounter with Jesus and to draw from that joy renewed fidelity and strength.”  The Holy Father highlighted the need to “foster a sense of collaboration and shared responsibility in planning for the future of our parishes and institutions” and “the immense contribution which women, lay and religious, have made and continue to make, to the life of our communities.”

Following Mass, Pope Francis visited Independence Mall to address an estimated crowd of 750,000. His speech celebrated religious freedom which he called “a fundamental right which shapes the way we interact socially and personally with our neighbors whose religious views differ from our own.” The Holy Father said:

“I take this opportunity to thank all those, of whatever religion, who have sought to serve the God of peace by building cities of brotherly love, by caring for our neighbors in need, by defending the dignity of God’s gift of life in all its stages, by defending the cause of the poor and the immigrant. All too often, [and everywhere], those most in need of our help are unable to be heard. You are their voice, and many of you, [men and women religious], have faithfully made their cry heard. In this witness, which frequently encounters powerful resistance, you remind North American democracy of the ideals for which it was founded, and that society is weakened whenever and wherever [any] injustice prevails.”

The Holy Father said that religious traditions “call to conversion, reconciliation, concern for the future of society, self-sacrifice in the service of the common good, and compassion for those in need” and that “[a]t the heart of their spiritual mission is the proclamation of the truth and dignity of the human person and human rights.” Pope Francis then turned his attention to the immigrant members of his audience, stating:

“Among us today are members of America’s large Hispanic population, as well as representatives of recent immigrants to the United States. [Thank you for opening the door.] I greet all of you with particular affection! Many of you have emigrated to this country at great personal cost, but in the hope of building a new life. Do not be discouraged by whatever challenges and hardships you face. I ask you not to forget that, like those who came here before you, you bring many gifts to your new nation. [Please,] you should never be ashamed of your traditions. Do not forget the lessons you learned from your elders, which are something you can bring to enrich the life of this American land. I repeat, do not be ashamed of what is part of you, your life blood. You are also called to be responsible citizens, [you are called to be responsible citizens] and to contribute [as did those who came before, with so much effort; to contribute] fruitfully to the life of the communities in which you live. I think in particular of the vibrant faith which so many of you possess, the deep sense of family life and all these other values which you have inherited. By contributing your gifts, you will not only find your place here, you will help to renew society from within. [To not forget the memory of what happened here more than two centuries ago. To not forget the memory of that Declaration that proclaimed that all men and women are created equal and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, and that governments exist to protect and defend those rights.]”

Departing Independence Mall, Pope Francis made his way to Benjamin Franklin Parkway for the Festival of Families, an international celebration of family, community, and faith hosted by the 2015 World Meeting of Families. During the event, the Holy Father met with six families from Australia, Ukraine, Jordan, Nigeria, the United States and Argentina.  At the end of the festival, Pope Francis abandoned his prepared address and spoke extemporaneously to the thousands gathered. In a spirited and often humorous address, the Holy Father stressed the importance of family. He said: “All of the love that God has in Himself, all of the beauty that God has in Himself, all of the truth that God has in Himself, He gives to the family. And a family is truly a family when it is able to open its arms and receive all of this love.” He told the audience that God had not sent His only son to city or to start a business, but to a family.

Pope Francis began his final day in the United States at St. Martin’s Chapel at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.  The Vatican reported that he first met privately with survivors of sexual abuse by members of the clergy before speaking to bishops from around the world.  In addressing the bishops, the Pope condemned the sexual abuse of minors and pledged that “all responsible will be held accountable.” Moving forward with his prepared speech, he decried a modern culture that “seems to encourage people not to bond with anything or anyone, not to trust” and he urged the bishops to “deepen the covenant between the Church and the family” for the family is a “joyous confirmation of God’s blessing upon the masterpiece of creation.”  He urged pastors to encourage young people “to opt for marriage and the family,” and said that a “Christianity which ‘does’ little in practice, while incessantly ‘explaining’ its teachings, is dangerously unbalanced. I would even say that it is stuck in a vicious circle. A pastor must show that the ‘Gospel of the family’ is truly ‘good news’ in a world where self-concern seems to reign supreme! We are not speaking about some romantic dream: the perseverance which is called for in having a family and raising it transforms the world and human history.”

The Holy Father then traveled to Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, marking the first time a Pope has visited a US prison. As in his address to Congress, Pope Francis spoke on the importance of rehabilitation, saying to the inmates:

“All of us need to be cleansed, to be washed…This time in your life can only have one purpose: to give you a hand in getting back on the right road, to give you a hand to help you rejoin society. All of us are part of that effort, all of us are invited to encourage, help and enable your rehabilitation. A rehabilitation which everyone seeks and desires: inmates and their families, correctional authorities, social and educational programs. A rehabilitation which benefits and elevates the morale of the entire community and society.”

Following his visit with the prisoners, Pope Francis celebrated the closing Mass of the 2015 World Meeting of Families. In his homily, the Holy Father celebrated the family, saying, “[O]ur families, our homes, are true domestic churches. They are the right place for faith to become life and life to [grow in] faith.”  He continued:

“And how beautiful it would be if everywhere, even beyond our borders, we could appreciate and encourage this prophecy and this miracle! We renew our faith in the word of the Lord which invites faithful families to this openness. It invites all those who want to share the prophecy of the covenant of man and woman, which generates life and reveals God. [May he help us to participate in the prophecy of peace, of tenderness and family affection. May he help us to participate in this prophetic gesture of caring for our children and our grandparents with tenderness, patience and love.]

Anyone who wants to bring into this world a family which teaches children to be excited by every gesture aimed at overcoming evil – a family which shows that the Spirit is alive and at work – will encounter our gratitude and our appreciation. Whatever the family, people, region, or religion to which they belong!”

The Holy Father concluded his US trip with a farewell address attended by government officials, World Meeting of Families organizers, volunteers and benefactors and others.  He thanked the many people who assisted his US journey, saying:

“Your care for me and your generous welcome are a sign of your love for Jesus and your faithfulness to him. So too is your care for the poor, the sick, the homeless and the immigrant, your defense of life at every stage and your concern for family life. In all of this, you recognize that Jesus is in your midst and that your care for one another is care for Jesus himself.”

Pope Francis departed the United States that evening for Rome.  During a press conference held on board the plane, the Holy Father addressed the refugee crisis facing Europe.  He stated:

“As I said at Congress, it’s a refugee crisis not seen since World War II. It’s the biggest. You asked me about barriers. You know what happens to all walls. All of them. All walls fall. Today, tomorrow or in 100 years, they will fall. It’s not a solution. The Wall isn’t a solution. In this moment, Europe is in difficulty, it’s true. We have to be intelligent. We must find solutions. We must encourage dialogue between different nations, to find them. Walls are never solutions. But bridges are, always, always. I don’t know. What I think is that walls can last a little time or a long time. The problem remains but it also remains with more hatred. That’s what I think.”

On-demand video coverage of Pope Francis’ US visit is available at http://www.usccb.org/about/leadership/holy-see/francis/papal-visit-2015/papal-visit-2015-live-stream.cfm.