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Faith is flourishing

· The Archdiocese of New York prepares to welcome Pope Francis ·

It was less than two hours after Jorge Bergoglio first stepped out onto the central balcony of St Peter’s Basilica and was introduced to the world as Pope Francis that I was asked the question for the first time. During a hastily organized press conference, a reporter from New York raised his hand and inquired, “What did you say to Pope Francis after his election? Did you invite him to come to New York?”

That was only the first of literally hundreds of times I would be asked the question, “Is the Pope coming to New York?” And, as a matter of fact, before I returned home after the beautiful Mass that inaugurated his Petrine Ministry, I did convey to our new Holy Father what I knew to be true: the people of this archdiocese, and, in fact, all of New York and the United States, would enthusiastically and joyfully welcome the Bishop of Rome.

We’ve been planning for over a year — informally, at first, when we learned that he would be attending the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, and then formally when we received the happy news that he would be coming to the Archdiocese of New York. A common thread ran through all of our planning, however: how can we let the people of New York feel closer to the Successor of St Peter, and how can we let Pope Francis experience the joy and vitality of the Church that is very much alive here in New York?

When I was appointed Archbishop of New York in 2009, many of my friends from my hometown of Saint Louis, as well as from Milwaukee where I served seven happy years as archbishop, warned me to be wary of the big, cold, impersonal city, where faith was little more than an afterthought, a relic of an ancient past. I will confess that their words caused me to wonder what potential difficulties lay ahead for me!

I was very happily surprised to quickly learn that my well-meaning friends were wrong. Faith is not only still alive here in New York, it is flourishing! I experience that faith in action any time I enter one of our Catholic schools and witness the commitment of our teachers, administrators, and parents, all working together to provide an excellent academic and religious education to children from all backgrounds, or when I visit one of our many Catholic Charities programs, where we care for the needs of people who are hungry, or homeless, or newcomers to our country. I experience that faith most strongly, however, when I enter one of our 300 parishes in order to pray with our people, especially that most beautiful of prayers, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

That faith is what I am most looking forward to sharing with Pope Francis when he is with us in New York. He has captured the attention of the world with his simple yet profound reminders that the Church must always be about extending the love and mercy of Jesus to everyone we meet; that we must always put people first, not structures or institutions; and, to borrow his famous analogy, that the Church must be like a field hospital, caring for the wounded among us. So much of what the Pope has talked about has already been happening here in New York, but his presence here will, I believe, inspire us to do even more in carrying out this mission.

There has already been a great deal of guesswork about what the Pope might say when he addresses Congress, or speaks to the United Nations. In some ways, all of this speculation makes the visit of Pope Francis seem like an extension of the presidential campaign already in full swing: Will he favor the Democrats or the Republicans? Which party will benefit? How will this influence the race for the White House?

All of that is understandable — but completely misses the mark. Pope Francis is coming as a pastor who wants to learn more about his flock. He will challenge and inspire us, and lead us in prayer. Although his stay in New York will be relatively brief — only about 38 hours — there will hardly be a moment of down time. In addition to his talk at the United Nations, Francis will lead us in Vespers at the newly repaired and restored St Patrick’s Cathedral; visit the 9/11 Memorial where he will join in a multi-religious gathering for peace; visit a school in East Harlem to meet with school children in a classroom; spend time with immigrants and newcomers to the United States who have been helped by Catholic Charities; and celebrate Mass with about 27,000 people at Madison Square Garden. That’s a full schedule!

New York has been blessed with four previous papal visits by Blessed Pope Paul vi (1965), Pope Saint John Paul ii (1979 and 1995), and Pope Benedict xvi (2008). I hear countless stories from people recounting their experiences. “I was with Paul vi at Yankee Stadium,” or “I saw John Paul drive by and he winked at me!” or “Pope Benedict kissed my baby outside St Patrick’s!” I know that having Pope Francis among us, even for a few days, will have a profound impact on God’s people here in New York.

And that’s our most fervent hope: that this pastor can renew, inspire, challenge, and encourage the hearts and souls of New Yorkers!

Timothy Michael Dolan,
Cardinal-Archbishop of New York




St. Peter’s Square

Sept. 21, 2019