Reflecting on the Papal Visit to Cuba & the United States

Dear Friends in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

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Thanks to the advances in media technology it is now possible to follow events as they unfold in any part of the world, such as the current papal visit to Cuba and the United States of America (the full texts of the Pope’s Addresses and homilies can be found here).

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The visit to Cuba comes soon after the thawing of relations between the US and Cuba – a fact that is credited in the main to the diplomatic role of the Holy See over the last number of years, particularly encouraged in the time of now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI who visited the Cuba in 2012.

Please God, there will be further relaxations and space given to the Catholic Church to live and minister in the country in freedom in the months and years ahead following the visit of Pope Francis as was the case after the visits of St John Paul II and Pope Benedict. Please God, so many minds and hearts will have been touched.

During the visit of Pope Francis to the US, I was particularly fascinated to watch and listen into his address to the full assembly of the US Congress in Washington DC.

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Here was the Successor of Peter the fisherman speaking to probably the most powerful gathering of elected representatives anywhere, received with immense respect and heard with rapt attention.

In what was a carefully drafted speech Pope Francis did not shirk any of the major issues facing us in the twenty-first century, such as respect for life at every stage, care for the environment as God’s gift of creation, the plight of the immigrant, ever more pressing, respect for those different from ourselves in race, colour or religion.

The warm reception which he received throughout his address and especially at its conclusion was an indication that this distinguished body of Congress were appreciative listeners.

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The Pope, on American soil, chose to highlight four Americans whose lives and legacy, he felt, remain very relevant to the present day United States: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and the Cistercian monk, Thomas Merton.  He pinpointed Dorothy Day’s passion for social justice and, equally important, Thomas Merton’s insistence on the necessity of the human spirit being open to the transcendent, i.e. God.

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The naming of these four different but eminent figures from past and more recent American history was, I felt, a masterstroke on the part of the Pope, and one which will have resonated with his wider American public.

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The Holy Father’s visit to Congress, and the respect and attentiveness accorded him, demonstrates the powerful moral voice that the papacy can be in our complex modern world.

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Here was someone with no particular political affiliation, but who reminded his hearers of the basic ethical principles which should govern any human society, above all reverence for the dignity of the human person and awareness of the needs of the poor and marginalized.

There is much else to ponder about this papal visit to Cuba and the United States, especially the canonisation of st Junipero Serra – that great Franciscan Friar and Missionary from Majorca and founder of the Californian Missions.

Also significant was the Pope’s highly significant symbolic gestures, such as lunch with the homeless after his address on Capitol Hill, his private visit to the Little Sisters of the Poor in Washington and his momentous visit to St Patrick’s Cathedral New York, the 9//11 Memorial and, of course, his address to the UN headquarters.

Pope Francis often concludes his homilies by asking those present to pray for him. He is undoubtedly aware of the huge burden that is the papal office, but this past week has shown how well he is discharging that office, guided we can be sure by the Holy Spirit!

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Now the Holy Father, leaves New York for Philadelphia so as to attend and give support to the 2015 World Meeting of Families – the main reason for his visit to the States. Held every three years and sponsored by the Holy See’s Pontifical Council for the Family, the World Meeting of Families is the world’s largest Catholic gathering of families.

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Each World Meeting of Families has a theme that energizes and enlivens the event while adding great depth of meaning to our understanding of families. The theme of the World Meeting of Families – Philadelphia 2015 is “Love Is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive,” emphasizing the impact of the love and life of families on wider society.

Since its inception by Saint John Paul II in 1994, the World Meeting of Families has sought to strengthen the sacred bonds of families in the family of the Church across the globe. We offer our prayerful support for this meeting, catechesis and celebration of faith in the family.

Until next week – May God bless you all,

+Michael G Campbell OSA

Bishop of Lancaster

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