Last month, on the First Sunday of Advent (December 3), we began the Advent and Christmas seasons. It was a great start to the new Church year, made doubly beautiful by a Vespers service in a packed cathedral that honored nine new monsignors named for our archdiocese by Pope Francis. Philadelphia is blessed with dedicated priests. The nine men honored for their ministry were acknowledged not just for their own exceptional service but for the generosity and commitment of all our priests.
In the next few days we close the Christmas season by celebrating the Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord (this year, January 7 and 8 respectively). It’s a good time to announce the other bookend to Philadelphia’s most recent papal honors.
The Benemerenti Medal, the Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, and the Order of St. Gregory the Great are among the highest honors the Holy Father can confer on laypeople, deacons and religious. While each award has a distinct history, they all come directly from the Holy Father, and the differences among them are much less important than the unique significance they share.
Each person recognized by the Pope has performed some exceptional service for the Church or offered some form of outstanding Christian witness in a generous and sustained way – in education, philanthropy, diaconal and religious life, prolife and vocations work, social ministry, and other apostolates. Each has earned the gratitude of the Holy Father and our whole Catholic community.
But more importantly, each represents and stands in for the many thousands of other committed Catholics who serve the Gospel every day with the same fidelity and unselfish love. Christian discipleship is not about accumulating honors. In the long run, the only award that really matters is the friendship of God. But these special expressions of papal praise and gratitude are moments of grace for all of us, and they’re meant to be a source of joy for the whole local Church.
Pope Francis has honored the following individuals:
With the Benemerenti Medal: Anne Healy Ayella, Dawn Chism, Chinh Dinh, John J. Donnelly, Marie Joseph, Sheila Longworth, Brian McElwee, and Damon Owens.
With the Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice: Deacon Manuel Beltran, Sister Maureen Crissy, RSM, Becky Espanol, Kevin Hughes, Sister Patricia Kelly, MSBT, Brother Richard Emmet Kestler, FSC, Deacon Jose Lozada, Matthew McCloskey (previously named to the Order of St. Gregory the Great), Sister Anne Patricia Myers, SSJ, Sister M. Edward William Quinn, IHM, and Thomas W. Smith.
With the Order of St. Gregory the Great (knight and dame): Scott Browning, Mary Anne and Arthur Burke, Anna and Gerald Davis, Patricia and Gary Holloway, Donna McCloskey, and Joseph John Sweeney.
The meaning of “epiphany” is manifestation, and the Solemnity of the Epiphany commemorates the manifestation of Jesus Christ to the world through the worship paid to him by the Magi. In our day, we share in that task of manifesting Jesus Christ through the witness of our words, our actions and our entire lives. The men and women honored by the Holy Father have done that in a powerful way, and their example invites us to do the same.
Pontifical honors will be awarded at a special Vespers service at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia on Sunday, January 21 at 4 p.m. Please join me now and later this month in congratulating the recipients, thanking them for their witness, and sharing in their joy.