Monday, June 27, 2016

Countdown to World Youth Day: Mercy Amongst Millions


(CNS photo/Angelo Carconi, EPA)
By Bishop Wm. Michael Mulvey

One of my favorite prayers during the celebration of the Eucharist is prior to the sign of peace, “Look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church.” The faith of the Church is one of the hallmarks of World Youth Day. Especially on those occasions, it is a Church that is young; a Church that is alive; and a Church that is totally focused on Jesus Christ and His mission. And, it is a Church on pilgrimage.

Many times as we live the routine of our daily lives, we forget about the internal movement that is happening through our faith in Jesus Christ. A pilgrimage is not only a physical journey, but an internal movement of faith moving toward a greater reality. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there in their midst.” World Youth Day is a hallmark of that presence of Jesus among His people in an extraordinary way. It is a people that is moving forward and coming together from all parts of the world to celebrate that faith together.

In 2016, the theme for World Youth Day is “Blessed are the Merciful.” Mercy is the greatest expression of God's love offered to those who open their hearts to His mercy. And mercy fully expresses Christ’s mission continued through our own mission in His name. To be in the place where the devotion of Divine Mercy was established will be a true gift to all who attend.

For myself, I look forward to experiencing the origins of the devotion as it was revealed to St. Faustina. So many of us have witnessed the tremendous faith and compassion of St. John Paul II and many of us have been in his presence. To be in his home country will not only bring his memory alive, but bring to life all that he taught and witnessed as a fellow pilgrim in this confused world. He loved the youth beyond measure and to be together with youth from all over the world sharing his legacy and sharing his love for the young Church will be a very memorable moment.

I look forward to being in Kraków and being in the midst of so many brothers and sisters who are excited about their faith and want to share it with the world. In a world of violence and hatred, what better show of force than to be in Kraków where the apostle of mercy, the promoter of peace and unity among peoples lived will be most memorable.

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Bishop Mulvey is Bishop of Corpus Christi.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Opening Our Hearts to Strengthening Marriages



By Bishop Richard J. Malone, Bishop of Buffalo

Recently, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, offered the following challenge: “But nowadays who is making an effort to strengthen marriages, to help married couples overcome their problems, to assist them in the work of raising children and, in general, to encourage the stability of the marriage bond?”

This probing question by Pope Francis in The Joy of Love (Amoris Laetitia, no. 52) is for all of us: every family, community, and nation. The Holy Father is firm: “No one can think that the weakening of the family as that natural society founded on marriage will prove beneficial to society as a whole” (Amoris Laetitia, no. 52).

If we care about addressing poverty, promoting the well-being of children, building stronger communities—we must at the same time care about strengthening marriages and families. The social science is clear on this point.

But a decisive question must be faced in order to move forward: What is marriage?

Today on June 26, people will be marking the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision one year ago in Obergefell v. Hodges. Some, following the Court's majority opinion, see this decision as a victory for equality and freedom. But that opinion is remarkable for what it lacks: a coherent account of what marriage is and what it is for. What makes marriage different than any other type of relationship? Why should the state have an interest in marriage? Why should marriage be between only two people?

The Court fails to offer substantial rationale here. It also fails to consider seriously the fact that our culture over the last several decades has been progressively declining when it comes to strengthening marriage and the family—a decline that leads to cultural breakdown: “There is a failure to realize that only the exclusive and indissoluble union between a man and a woman has a plenary role to play in society as a stable commitment that bears fruit in new life” (Amoris Laetitia, no. 52).

The pope keenly observes that “[m]any countries are witnessing a legal deconstruction of the family, tending to adopt models based almost exclusively on the autonomy of the individual will” (Amoris Laetitia, no. 53). Unfortunately, this has been the case in the United States. Our laws have tended not to put families and children first but instead have made an idol of individual autonomy at the expense of truth and the common good, and even God himself. Civil law is meant to reflect what is true and just, not create or reconstruct it.

Obergefell has changed the law, but it has not changed the truth. Some may think that Obergefell concludes a conversation, but that conversation is only beginning, because the central questions at stake still need a hearing. And truth, ultimately, cannot be silenced.

So what is marriage? How is society protecting a child's basic right to be welcomed, raised, and loved by a mother and father if the law no longer recognizes man and woman as necessary to marriage? With malice toward none and with charity for all, we must advance this conversation and witness.

Today, I encourage those who have not read the Obergefell decision to begin reading the majority opinion and then the dissenting opinions carefully. Take time over the next several weeks to reflect upon Pope Francis’ The Joy of Love and to peruse other resources that shed light on the meaning of marriage, like those available on www.marriageuniqueforareason.org. Consider how you and your family can advance a renewed conversation about marriage in your community.

Lastly, today let us pray that our hearts be open to one another and to God’s healing grace. May respect and kindness guide our conversations with one another, especially in our families, communities, and nation. And let us pray for a deeper understanding of the tremendous gift that marriage and family life is to the world: a warm and welcoming home where a husband and wife, father, mother and their children, strive to know, love and serve the Lord and one another. May the Holy Spirit inspire in us renewed confidence to witness to the truth of God’s plan for marriage and the family, attracting others by our own striving to grow in love.

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Bishop Malone is Chairman, Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth

Monday, June 20, 2016

Countdown to World Youth Day: A Massive Display of Joy and Faith


By Leonard P. Blair, Archbishop of Hartford

Participation at the World Youth Day in Toronto in 2002 was one of the most joyful and positive experiences I have ever had as a priest or bishop. It was soon after our national Bishops’ meeting in Dallas that June, at the height of the crisis over the sexual abuse of minors by clergy, that I went to Toronto as one of the Bishop-Catechists for my first World Youth Day, not really knowing what to expect.

I had witnessed many big public events, especially during my years of residence in Rome. However, at the end of the Papal Mass that Sunday in Toronto, when I walked with the other Bishops to the railing of the massive stage, I can’t fully describe what it was like to behold the full sweep of 800,000 people, mostly young, filled with joy at what they had celebrated. It was an incredibly moving experience based not on sheer numbers alone, but above all on the spirit of the occasion. I can only describe it as a massive display of religious joy and faith.

World Youth Day (which is really spread over a week) is above all a religious pilgrimage. The young Catholics who attend are highly motivated, and the major events are beautiful affirmations of faith. The music included both popular and traditional styles led by very talented people. If you watch the televised events you can see the intensity and prayerfulness on so many young faces, only distracted when they realized that the camera was on them. Truly, these events are great occasions for young people from every continent to celebrate their Catholic Faith with the Holy Father and to be reconfirmed in that faith.

Pope Saint John Paul the Great always had a special place in his heart for the young. It was his courageous, audacious idea in the 1980s to hold World Youth Days. Without him, neither Toronto nor any of the other World Youth Days that preceded or followed would have ever taken place. Today Pope Francis is also a charismatic figure to whom young people are drawn because they understand that he is a true spiritual father. As the great nineteenth century convert, Cardinal Newman--now Blessed John Henry Newman--once observed, evil may be seductive and glamorous, but people are drawn even more by purity and truth. Young people see that in a Pope, who embodies the teaching of Jesus Christ and the gospel.

My few days in Toronto--at a very difficult time for those of us who were Bishops--was truly a tonic for my soul, for which I give thanks to God and to Pope St. John Paul. World Youth Day 2002 confirmed my faith that whatever evils might befall the Church, Christ’s promise will prove true, that the gates of hell will not prevail against it.



Monday, June 13, 2016

Countdown to World Youth Day: One Bishop's Moving Observation Of Pilgrims


By Bishop Larry Silva, of Honolulu

Each time I have had the privilege of being present at the Vigil and Closing Mass of World Youth Day (Sydney, Madrid, and Rio), when millions of young Catholics are gathered together at the same time, I think of the scene in the Book of Revelation (see Chapter 19) in which a great multitude stands before the throne of the Lamb, singing praises forever and ever. But the realization of this little bit of “heaven on earth” comes not just because of the vast numbers who are gathered or the enthusiasm of their praise. It comes from having witnessed smaller ways in which young people of every nation and language interact with each other at the catechesis sites, at the prayer services, at the concerts, and on the streets. For sure they are not dressed in the pure white garments of heaven, but they are definitely clothed in joy and love of the Lord Jesus. While it may be difficult to express that love so freely in their normal everyday lives, it is energizing for them and for all who witness them, and it gives them courage and strength to witness to Jesus even when they are not gathered for such a celebratory occasion.

When our group from Hawaii arrived at our hotel in Rio de Janeiro, they noticed many homeless people sleeping in the doorways on the street. At first this dampened the mood of the youth, who certainly were aware that many people live in such difficult conditions but who were not accustomed to seeing them often. After several days, however, I noticed that the young people were asking for “to go” boxes for the food left over after dinner. I thought that was odd, since our hotel did not provide refrigeration or reheating appliances. But as we returned, I was deeply moved when they gave this food to their brothers and sisters sleeping in the doorways, giving them a smile and an embrace that needed no translation. Through the experience of World Youth Day they had been moved to sing the Lord’s praises with more than their voices. And now that they are home, I am still moved to see how the love and joy they experienced continue to make motivate them to give faithful witness to Jesus.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Countdown to World Youth Day: My First World Youth Day


By Bishop Nelson J. Perez 
Auxiliary Bishop, Diocese of Rockville Centre

It has now been over a year and half since I had the privilege and blessing of attending my very first World Youth Day, celebrated in July 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, along with my brother bishop, Bishop Robert Brennan and over 150 young pilgrims from the Diocese of Rockville Centre. If I could summarize my experience in one word it would be Wow! What an amazing, life-changing experience. While I have been blessed to attend other large gatherings of the Church in the past, many of them during the Papal visits of St. John Paul II to the United States, Puerto Rico, and Cuba, never had I been to a gathering with over 3 million faith-filled people. I can honestly say that a year and half later, I still relive this powerful experience often through the many pictures and videos that I preserve as a treasure.

As the week went on, the excitement and anticipation in awaiting the arrival of Pope Francis by thousands upon thousands youth from literally every corner of the world was felt in the air. It was a wonderful expression of the universality of the Church. Walking through the crowds gathering on Copacabana Beach I would hear chants and songs in so many languages, all praising God, proclaiming their faith in Jesus Christ, and expressing their deep love for the Church and the Holy Father. In a world that at times proclaims that faith and Church are irrelevant, I could only say . . . REALLY! This certainly was not evident at this event!

Each day, the youth gathered with open hearts, all over Rio for catechesis, prayer, and an opportunity to meet people from all over the world, all in preparation to listen to the message of Pope Francis to all of us. Finally, the Pope arrived, with his message of mercy and call to the youth of the world to be the embodiment of mercy to their local churches, families, and friends. During the beautiful and moving night of prayer and adoration on Saturday, as well as the closing Mass on Sunday, you could hear a pin drop when the Pope spoke. This in and of itself was a miracle, given the millions of people that had come together to be in the presence of the Holy Father. He challenged all of us to return to our particular parts of the world with a renewed spirit of mission, to touch the lives of the people that surround us by our faith, our merciful and loving hearts, and enthusiasm.Participating in my first World Youth Day profoundly touched my life, especially in my new role as a bishop of the Church. It deepened my appreciation for the universality of the Catholic Church, its beauty, and its transformative power rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Now, I look forward, with even more excitement, to Krakow 2016, the home town of St. John Paul II, the one who inspired this incredible gathering of joyful and faith-filled youth, a blessing for the Church and the world!



Monday, May 30, 2016

Countdown to World Youth Day: How You Can Be Like The Apostles



Dear kind young friends,

I am very happy to share with you some of my reflections on World Youth Day that was began by dear Pope Saint John Paul II in 1986. I had the privilege of being present at six of these beautiful World Celebrations of Catholic Youth. The last World Youth that I attended was in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil in 2013. I am planning to be present with all of you at the next World Youth Day that will take place in 2016 in Krakow, Poland, the home of Saint John Paul II.

Saint John Paul II left a rich spiritual legacy for youth, with his institution of World Youth Day. Pope Benedict XVI faithfully continued to carry on the hope and care of his predecessor for the youth of the world, and Pope Francis is doing the same, inviting and commissioning Youth as Christ disciples to be faithful living witnesses. One of the great blessings that flow from World Youth Day is the bringing together of young people from all parts of marvelous planet Earth. At most World Youth Days that I have attended, there have been youth from about two-hundred countries from the entire world. This great coming together of youth helps all of us achieve that great goal that Christ, and our Popes, wants for all of us and that is that we will be one with Christ in love, as He is one with His heavenly Father. We are all God's children and Christ calls us to be His brothers and sisters.

World Youth Day provides the occasion and inspiration for us to grow in our love, support and care, for all who make up the body of Christ. Upon His return from World Youth Day from Rio Janeiro in 2013, Pope Francis said, "We must never forget that World Youth Days are not fireworks displays", flashes of enthusiasm, nor an end in themselves: rather they are stages of a long joyful faith journey begun in 1985 at the initiative of Saint John Paul II.

Young people, I plan to be with you in Krokow, Poland for World Youth Day in 2016. As we approach this beautiful celebration in the Archdiocese and country from which dear Pope Saint John Paul II came from, this is the occasion for all of us to remember the many messages that dear Saint John Paul II gave us at the first and many other World Youth Days that he celebrated with the Youth.

To end my reflection, let me share with you some reflections from Saint John Paul II at World Youth Day that was held in December 1993. He spoke powerful words that energized young Americans to take up the cause of life: "At this stage in history the liberating of the Gospel life has been put into your hands. And the mission of proclaiming it to the ends of the Earth is now passing to your generation- Do not be afraid to go out on the streets and into the public places like the first Apostles, who preached Christ and the good news of salvation of the Gospel." My dear young friends let us pray for all young people on planet earth, and for God's blessing upon the next World Youth Day.

Sincerely,

Bishop Michael Pfeifer, Bishop Emeritus of San Angelo




Monday, May 23, 2016

Countdown To World Youth Day: A Life Changing Event



By Archbishop Roger L. Schwietz, OMI, Archbishop of Anchorage

I was ordained a priest way back in the pontificate of Pope Paul VI.  He had a marvelous sense of the mission of the church and, in expanding Papal travels abroad showed us his missionary zeal in imitation of the apostle Paul.  Pope Paul's approach was somewhat academic but prepared the way for the revolution that Pope St. John Paul II was to carry out.

Initiating world youth days was truly a decision guided by the Holy Spirit.  My first experience of this amazing series of events in the Church was at the World Youth Day held in Denver, Colorado.  I was a new bishop in Duluth, Minnesota and was amazed at the response of our young people to the invitation of the Pope to join him for days of celebration and prayer.  We had 20 busloads of youth and adult chaperones who headed from our diocese to Denver.  What amazed me even more was the enthusiasm and joy engendered in our youth, which was clearly visible upon our return home.  Something in that experience had touched the hearts of all of us deeply and continued to guide our experience in the Church well beyond that summer.

Attempting to assess the impact that World Youth Days have upon those who attend I am going back to the practice of our ancestors in the faith in going up to the Temple in Jerusalem to celebrate major feasts and other events.  The members of the 12 tribes of Israel journeyed to the Temple to worship God in his holy place, to be in touch with Him and with their own destiny.  They returned home to their own places strengthened by their experience of the community of the Israelite people and fortified to live out their identity as God's chosen people.

This historical reality helps me understand the powerful effect that World Youth Days have.  I have attended all, except the one in Australia, since that Denver experience, and I am moved each time by the powerful work of the Spirit among those who attend.  As with the people of Israel journeying to God's dwelling place in the Temple, our youthful pilgrims and adults journey together to worship God and meet Jesus Christ in the person of his Vicar on Earth, the Bishop of Rome.  On their way they form community together and then join the greater community of the Universal Church.  This experience helps them get in touch with their own identity as Catholics and to own that identity in experiencing the massive community of believers gathered around our Holy Father.  Despite the challenges and inconveniences of the journey they go away with a deeper understanding of who they are and strengthened in their faith by the community which both supports and challenges them.  They are ready to respond to the mission which the Pope gives them.  A good number of those who attend World Youth Day think seriously of the possibility of serving Christ in consecrated life or the priesthood.

I thank God for this gift of world youth days which have so effectively energized our young Church and which succeeding Popes have embraced.  May God continue to bless these massive efforts.  May the next World Youth Day in Poland be again a great grace to our Church.