In less than a week I’ll be home in Philadelphia and hopefully – finally – back to the normal life of a great diocese. I use that word “great” deliberately. What makes Philadelphia unique is not its legacy, or industries, or universities, or cultural centers. All these things are important, but they’re just words until we remember the people who give them life.
The Church in Philadelphia is “great” because of her people. She’s blessed in her clergy, religious and lay faithful. Above all, she’s blessed in her families, rich and poor, who sacrifice to support their parishes and do their best to live the Gospel week in and week out. And nothing captured the real character of Philadelphia more beautifully than the outpouring of enthusiasm and love from tens of thousands of families that greeted Pope Francis last month and made the World Meeting of Families such a memorable success.
As the 2015 Synod on the Family draws to a close here in Rome, bishops from around the world continue to praise those remarkable days in our city. One of those bishops is the bishop of Rome. On October 20, via the apostolic nuncio, I received a letter dated October 5 from Pope Francis himself – addressed to me, but meant for every Catholic and every other person of good will across the Philadelphia region:
I wish to express my great appreciation to you and the clergy, consecrated men and women, and lay faithful of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for your warm welcome. I am especially grateful for your brotherly hospitality, and for the zeal, piety and enthusiasm which you shared with me and which daily guide your episcopal ministry. I am sure that our days together will continue to deepen the bonds of communion which we enjoy.
I thank you also for your many efforts in preparing for my visit to the Archdiocese, especially for the World Meeting of Families. Your commitment to the family was evident in the organization of the Meeting, and I know how diligently you and your staff; along with so many volunteers and benefactors, have worked these past three years. I trust that these celebrations will bear a new harvest of grace for your local Church and will be a source of renewal for marriage and family life.
Assuring you of my fraternal prayers, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing to you and to all those entrusted to your pastoral care as a pledge of peace and joy in the Lord Jesus.
From the Vatican, 5 October 2015
These past three weeks in Rome have been strange and hopeful at the same time. Strange, because the synod reported in the media and the synod actually taking place at the Vatican are rarely the same creatures.
The issues of modern family life are complex. They have great importance for the future of the Church and the world. So the work of this synod matters. True to his style, Pope Francis has encouraged an open and frank spirit from the start. Differences among the synod fathers – including serious differences on serious matters – are part of the natural flow of discussion.
Bishops at the synod need to deal with such matters candidly. Otherwise, nothing good can result. But “warring camps” simply don’t exist. The mood among the synod fathers has been far friendlier than any commentators seem to imagine. There are no “revolutionaries” or “reactionaries” in the synod hall – only bishops sincerely trying to face sensitive issues and chart the right course for the Church in the light of the Gospel.
Which brings me to why this synod experience has also been hopeful. It’s one thing to hear about the “catholic” nature of the Catholic faith. It’s another, deeply reassuring thing to see it alive in the intelligence and dedication of bishops from around the world gathered as brothers in one place. The synod’s lay auditors, including married couples, have offered invaluable counsel in our small group discussions. So have the fraternal (i.e., ecumenical) delegates.
The point is: Whatever develops in the short term from this synod, God remains with his Church. We should cultivate that peace in our hearts. We need to trust in God’s Word, and we need to pray for and trust the Holy Father. Otherwise we defeat our own discipleship. Confusion – as I was famously misquoted, out of context, a year ago – is of the devil. We shouldn’t be part of it.
It will be good to be back in Philadelphia. It will be good to be home. We have a lot of great work to do together.