By Cardinal Justin Rigali
From October 1 to October 8, 1979, Pope John Paul II made his first Apostolic Journey to the United States. Since this is the thirtieth anniversary of this Journey, which included a visit to Philadelphia, I will recall it this week.
God’s loving providence
All of Sacred Scripture has a constant theme, which expresses God’s loving care for each of us. In the later books of the Old Testament, we see that theme becoming stronger and more detailed because God’s Revelation is reaching a crescendo, as His promises are about to be completely fulfilled in the sending forth of His Son. In one of these books, the Book of Tobit, we read a beautiful testimony of God’s providential care.
Tobit, a faithful Jewish man, had been sent many trials but he persevered in a life of virtue through all of them. A mysterious companion who accompanied Tobit’s son on an important journey, eventually reveals himself as being the Archangel Raphael, whom God had sent from Heaven to assist Tobit and his son in their trials. Here is what Raphael says to Tobit, reflecting God’s loving care: “It was I who presented and read the record of your prayer before the Glory of the Lord; and I did the same thing when you used to bury the dead. When you did not hesitate to get up and leave your dinner in order to go and bury the dead. I was sent to put you to the test. At the same time, however, God commissioned me to heal you” (Tobit 12:12-14). In the spiritual life, we refer to this particular care of God for us and His provision for our every need, as spanine Providence. It is the confident and peaceful assurance that our loving God sees and knows all things and, in His time, will bring all to the conclusion that He wills and that is best for us in this life and in eternity.
As we recall the thirtieth anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s first visit as Pope to our own city of Philadelphia, I am struck once again by God’s spanine Providence. This is because I accompanied the Pope on that visit, which was part of his first Apostolic Journey to the United States. It was also my first visit to Philadelphia and my first visit to the Shrine of Saint John Neumann. I was very moved to be in the presence of the earthly remains of Philadelphia’s “little bishop,” but little did I know that, in God’s Providence, I would return twenty-five years later as the successor of this very bishop when I was appointed by that same Pope John Paul II to be the Archbishop of Philadelphia.
As part of my own personal reflection and as a way of commemorating this visit of the Holy Father, this week, I would like to summarize the message that Pope John Paul II left us here in Philadelphia.
Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul
On October 3, 1979, Pope John Paul spoke in our Cathedral. His words at that time are particularly significant for us right now while we are the midst of a campaign which, among other things, will provide for the restoration and maintenance of the Cathedral, our principal church.
He said: “It gives me great pleasure to meet you here in the Cathedral of Philadelphia, for it has a deep meaning for me. Above all, it means you: the living Church of Christ, here and now, alive in faith, united in the love of Jesus Christ. This Cathedral recalls the memory of Saint John Neumann, once Bishop of this See, and now and for ever a saint of the universal Church. In this edifice, his message and his example of holiness must continually be transmitted to every new generation of young people. Finally, this Cathedral links you to the great Apostles of Rome, Peter and Paul. They, in turn, continue to give you their testimony to Christ, to proclaim to you Christ’s spaninity, to acknowledge him before the world” (Address at Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, Philadelphia, 3 October 1979).
Mass at Logan Circle
In his homily during the Mass that was celebrated at Logan Circle, the Pope reflected on the values treasured by all Americans as part of our unique heritage. Once again, his message continues to be timely because he reminded us that one of those values, freedom, which we prize highly as Americans, is not an end in itself. As a means of hearing and receiving what is true and freely responding to that truth, freedom is a marvelous reality. However, a freedom which is misinterpreted as license, without guidance or reference to what is true and good eventually degenerates into slavery. This has also been a constant theme of our present Holy Father.
Pope John Paul II summarized this in these words on Logan Circle: “How then can a Christian, inspired and guided by the mystery of the Incarnation and Redemption of Christ, strengthen his or her own values and those that are embodied in the heritage of this nation?
These values are strengthened: when power and authority are exercised in full respect for all the fundamental rights of the human person, whose dignity is the dignity of one created in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen 1 :26); when freedom is accepted, not as an absolute end in itself, but as a gift that enables self-giving and service; when the family is protected and strengthened, when its unity is preserved, and when its role as the basic cell of society is recognized and honored. (Homily, Mass at Logan Circle, 3 October 2009).
Saint Charles Seminary
Three future Popes have visited Saint Charles Seminary while they were Cardinals: Cardinal Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII; Cardinal Ratzinger, who became our present Holy Father and Cardinal Wojtyla, who returned to visit the Seminary as Pope John Paul II. He introduced his talk to the seminarians gathered at Saint Charles with these words: “One of the things I wanted most to do during my visit to the United States has now arrived. I wanted to visit a seminary and meet the seminarians.”
What a joy it was for the Archdiocese that it was our own Seminary that he chose to visit! Once again, his words to the lay faithful, who were also gathered in the Seminary Chapel that day because of their support for the work of priestly formation, are also very timely. Pope John Paul said to them: “May I also take this opportunity to greet the lay people who are present today at Saint Charles Seminary. Your presence here is a sign of your esteem for the ministerial priesthood, as well as being a reminder of that close cooperation between laity and priests which is needed if the mission of Christ is to be fulfilled in our time. I am happy that you are present and I am grateful for all that you do for the Church in Philadelphia. In particular I ask you to pray for these young men, and for all seminarians, that they may persevere in their calling. Please pray for all priests and for the success of their ministry among God’s people. And please pray the Lord of the harvest to send more laborers into his vineyard, the Church”.
Visit to the tomb of Saint John Neumann
After veneration the relics of Saint John Neumann, the Pope reminded all of us of the universal call to holiness. He said: “My brothers and sisters in Christ: this is the lesson we learn from the life of Saint John Neumann, and the message which I leave with you today: what really matters in life is that we are loved by Christ, and that we love him in return. In comparison to the love of Jesus, everything else is secondary. And without the love of Jesus, everything else is useless.”
Greetings to Hispanics and Visit to Ukrainians
Pope John Paul addressed the Hispanic community gathered at Saint Peter’s Church in Philadelphia and the Ukrainian Catholics gathered in the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. He greeted both of these groups with deep affection and esteem.
Mass for American Priests
At the Mass for Priests, the Holy Father’s homily was particularly rich in its exposition of the theology and the spirituality of the Catholic Priesthood. We had passed through a time of crisis and the Pope felt the need to reaffirm the belief of the Church concerning this “gift and mystery,” as he himself would describe the Priesthood in later years.
In this year, which our present Holy Father has proclaimed as “The Year of the Priest,” we are aided in its observance by these words taken from Pope John Paul II’s homily at the Mass for Priests on October 4, 1979: He said: “The call to priestly service includes an invitation to special intimacy with Christ. The lived experience of priests in every generation has led them to discover in their own lives and ministry the absolute centrality of their personal union with Jesus, of being his companions. No one can effectively bring the good news of Jesus to others unless he himself has first been his constant companion through personal prayer, unless he has learned from Jesus the mystery to be proclaimed.”
As we recall the thirtieth anniversary of Pope John Paul’s visit to Philadelphia, I give thanks for spanine Providence which allowed me to return here as your Archbishop and, together, we renew our love for and loyalty to Christ’s Vicar on earth, the Pope.
1 October 2009