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​In the heart of New York

In Philadelphia, the third and final stop in Bergoglio’s visit to the United States, the Pope closed the meeting of the World Meeting of Families. Indeed, the topic of family, which is a pivotal theme at the centre of his concerns and those of the upcoming Synod, was raised many times throughout his journey to Cuba and the United States. The Pontiff’s itinerary included — like those of his three Predecessors four times in the past 50 years — an address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York City. His lengthy discourse to world representatives generated enormous international media attention, as did the papal events in the heart of New York, which concluded with a large Mass at Madison Square Garden.

God lives in our cities and it is possible to see his light emerging from the darkness, according to an image from Isaiah. In the homilywhich concluded his visit to the great metropolis, the Pope modernized quite effectively this image of darkness and smog: “The people who walk, breathe and live in the midst of smog, have seen a great light, have experienced a breath of fresh air”. And knowing that Jesus — the “Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace”, according to the prophet’s description — walks in this unique history of salvation fills us with hope. As the giver of true peace, he leads us to encounter others, manifesting his merciful presence in our daily lives, as Teresa of Avila perceived.

The words seem to reverberate and exemplify the Pontiff’s simple and touching encounter with several immigrant families — in particular with children and teenagers supported by Catholic Charities — in Harlem, one of New York’s most underprivileged and difficult neighbourhoods. Where there is no joy, the devil is at work, whereas on the contrary, Jesus brings and wants joy, the Pope said. But God’s presence is also visible in the most tragic situations, where “grief is palpable”. Such is the case at the Ground Zero Memorial of the 11 September tragedy, where the Twin Towers once stood and where Benedict XVI once prayed on a cold and grey April morning.

The place has been admirably transformed by the will and the memory of New Yorkers, showing in this way the horrific wound inflicted by those who committed injustice and fratricide. Here the Pope took part in a moving testimony of peace and prayer together with men and women of various religions — Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Christians, Muslims, Jews — which will remain one of the loftiest symbols of his pontificate, “a powerful sign of our shared desire to be a force for reconciliation, peace and justice in this community and throughout the world”.

And, as Paul VI first did 50 years ago, on 4 October 1965, Francis directly addressed the global community, speaking before the United Nations. As broad as it was important, while not hiding the limitations and ongoing problems, his address resounded in distinct support of the institution without whose “international activity, mankind would not have been able to survive the unchecked use of its own possibilities”, the Pope stated at the beginning of his protracted address.

The environment, the excluded, war, the arms trade, the path of negotiations, drug trafficking were all are topics that Bergoglio expanded on. Before ending his talk he quoted these poignant words from Montini’s historic speech: “For the danger comes neither from progress nor from science; if these are used well they can, on the contrary, help to solve a great number of the serious problems besetting mankind. The real danger comes from man, who has at his disposal ever more powerful instruments that are as well fitted to bring about ruin as they are to achieve lofty conquests. To put it in a word, the edifice of modern civilization has to be built on spiritual principles, for they are the only ones capable not only of supporting it, but of shedding light on it and inspiring it”.

G.M.V.

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St. Peter’s Square

Sept. 25, 2018

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