The year of our Lord 2011 looks to be one of continued uncertainty. Will America’s economic recovery continue on an upward arc with improvement in employment? How will planning initiatives in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia affect parish life and Catholic education? What will become of the spanisions within and among the communities in which we live?

The first expression Pope Benedict XVI used to begin his message celebrating Jan. 1 as World Day of Peace was his wish for “serenity and prosperity” for all people in the new year.

Uncertainties exist in every age and they are sure to come in this new year. But consider the attacks and threats upon Christians around the world, and the uncertainties we face here pale by comparison. {{more}}

The Pope said Christians at present are the religious group that suffers most from religious persecution on account of its faith. So his main topic in the message (read it at was for respect of religious freedom as the path to peace.

Christians in parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East do not always enjoy the respect for religious freedom that Christians here do. Of course, we face our own struggle with a secularism that seeks to push religious expression to the margins of society. One might not call it persecution, but hostility to religion in developed countries remains real.

Public witness to one’s faith is never easy since it often means contradicting the culture in which one lives.

In this culture, that means simple things such as saying the name of God or Jesus or the Blessed Mother publicly without embarrassment. It means saying in words and deeds that one is proud to proclaim the dignity of the human person and to oppose every threat to human life. It means speaking the truth not only in the presence of friends or family who recognize the truth, but especially in the presence of people who do not.

Catholics of this Archdiocese have begun a new year. Couples will marry, babies will be born, loved ones will die in 2011. These moments of life will be marked for Catholics by the generous graces of the sacraments. Confession and Eucharist especially will heal and strengthen us on our journey.

May St. John Neumann, the saintly Bishop of Philadelphia whose feast the Church celebrated Jan. 5, bring the prayerful petitions of Catholics in the Archdiocese to our Lord Jesus in heaven. Christ through the Church’s sacraments can transform His faithful into witnesses of serenity and peace to the world this year.