Pope Francis urged the hundreds of thousands of people gathered for the closing Mass of the World Meeting of Families on Sept. 27 to serve and care for each other as freely as God loves the human family.
The pope called upon the faithful to embrace signs that the Holy Spirit can work through everyone. “To raise doubts about the working of the Spirit, to give the impression that it cannot take place in those who are not ‘part of our group,’ who are not ‘like us,’ is a dangerous temptation,” the pope said. “Not only does it block conversion to the faith; it is a perversion of faith. Faith opens a window to the presence and working of the Spirit. It shows us that, like happiness, holiness is always tied to little gestures.”
Pope Francis held up the family as vital to building the church for the future. He said love must be freely shared for faith to grow.
“That is why our families, our homes, are true domestic churches. They are the right place for faith to become life, and life to become faith,” he said.
Just days before, seeing New York for the first time, Pope Francis, 78, said true peace in a big city comes from seeing the vast variety of people not as a bother, but as a brother or sister. The pope urged the “congregation” at New York’s Madison Square Garden to go out into the city, to seek the face of Jesus in the poor and suffering and to share the joy of the Gospel with all.
“Go out to others and share the good news that God, our father, walks at our side,” the pope said. Jesus “frees us from anonymity, from a life of emptiness and selfishness” and moves people to encounter and to peace instead of competition.
Pope Francis drew three rounds of spontaneous and prolonged applause when, during his homily at St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York on Sept. 24, he praised women religious. “In a special way I would like to express my esteem and gratitude to the religious women of the United States. What would the church be without you?… To you, religious women, sisters and mothers of this people, I wish to say ‘thank you,’ a big thank you…and to tell you that I love you very much.”
Pope Francis had already spoken about the terrible impact of the abuse scandal on the church when he spoke to more than 300 bishops at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, D.C, the day before, but he returned to this theme again in New York.
“I know,” he said, speaking to the priests attending the vespers service, “that, as a presbyterate in the midst of God’s people, you suffered greatly in the not distant past by having to bear the shame of some of your brothers who harmed and scandalized the church in the most vulnerable of her members….In the words of the Book of Revelation, I know well that you ‘have come forth from the great tribulation,’ and I accompany you at this time of pain and difficulty, and I thank God for your faithful service to his people.”
The pope also addressed the subject from the perspective of the victims of abuse during a private meeting with a group of abuse survivors in Philadelphia on Sept. 27 at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. The pope pledged “the zealous vigilance of the church to protect children and the promise of accountability for all,” adding that the “crimes and sins of sexual abuse of children can longer remain in secret.”
“I hold the stories and the suffering and the sorrow of children who were sexually abused by priests deep in my heart,” Pope Francis said later that day. “I remain overwhelmed with shame that men entrusted with the tender care of children violated these little ones and caused grievous harm. I am profoundly sorry. God weeps.”