Column: Papal visit leaves hearts open to the good news

by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

As you read in last week’s Leaven, I was blessed to have the opportunity, both in Washington and New York, to participate in many of the liturgies and events of Pope Benedict’s recent pastoral visit. It was amazing to witness how the citizens of Washington and New York were captivated by the sincerity, the humility, the wisdom and the goodness of the Holy Father.

I was so pleased that all of our seminarians were able to hear Pope Benedict’s address to young people in New York. It was inspiring to see the affection of the youth of our country for this Holy Father and to witness their enthusiasm to embrace his challenge to them to seek holiness and to strive to become saints.

It was difficult to acquire tickets for the events of the pope’s pastoral visit, but I was pleased that several of our priests were able to concelebrate or assist with the distribution of holy Communion for the Mass at Yankee Stadium. I was also happy that the archdiocese was able to provide tickets for the Mass to a small delegation of laity.

For security reasons, everyone had to arrive several hours before the beginning of the Mass. The prime seating was reserved for members of the archdioceses of New York, Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia and Louisville which were all observing bicentennial anniversaries. Our Kansans were seated in the right field bleachers.

After the Mass, I had dinner with the group from the Archdiocese. I was edified to see how overjoyed they were with the opportunity to participate in the Eucharist with the pope. They were completely unconcerned about some of the inconveniences of the pilgrimage and expressed no complaints about where they were seated. I told them that their presence was more important than the people in the “box seats.” In part, what made the media take notice of the Holy Father’s visit was that people would travel so far and sit in the outfield bleachers in order to be in the presence of Pope Benedict.

Unity is a necessary mark of the church of Jesus Christ. In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus prayed for the church: “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me” (Jn 17: 20-21).

Our unity is essential to the work of evangelization. The fact that more than a billion people of different racial, ethnic, socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds accept Pope Benedict as the Successor of St. Peter compels the world to take notice of his preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Even though most from our Archdiocese were not be able to be in the presence of the pope during his recent visit, the fact that you are part of 60 million Americans who look to Pope Benedict as your spiritual father made you part of the reason why our whole nation stopped and listened to the 264th Successor of St. Peter. Your faith and humility in accepting the Holy Father’s authority gave many other Americans the chance not just to hear the pope but to be touched by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

There are many immediate fruits of the pope’s visit. I have been told that the vocation office for the Archdiocese of New York has experienced a tsunami of inquiries from young men considering a vocation to the priesthood. A member of our own Archdiocese, who does prison ministry, told me of an inmate who received the sacrament of penance for the first time in six years as a result of watching the television coverage of the Holy Father’s visit.

In this Sunday’s Gospel for the feast of the Ascension, we hear the great commissioning that Jesus gave to the apostles: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28: 19). In his meeting with the American bishops, Pope Benedict reissued this commission to us. He challenged us to find ways to present the eternal truths of the Gospel in an “engaging and imaginative way” to the many Americans who are “thirsting for authenticity, goodness and truth.”

As part of a pastoral initiative for evangelization, I have asked all of our parishes to observe this Sunday as a special day to reflect upon the privilege and the responsibility of every Catholic to share the good news of our faith. Pope Benedict stirred in all of our hearts a renewed gratitude for the gift of our Catholic faith. How can we fail to share such a gift with others?

It is my hope that, in the coming months, all of us will become more aware of the many blessings of our Catholic faith. However, it is not enough for us to treasure for ourselves the hope and meaning that our faith brings to our lives. All of us must become better at articulating to others the blessings and the joys we experience because of our relationship with Jesus and life in his church.

We may not have the chance to preach to stadiums full of people and vast television audiences, but each one of us has many opportunities to witness to members of our family, neighbors, co-workers and friends the meaning and joy our faith brings to our lives. It is my prayer and hope that, through this pastoral initiative, we will each discover ways to take better advantage of the opportunities already present in our daily lives to share the beauty and truth of our Catholic faith with others.

The Holy Father has disposed many in our nation to be open to the Gospel of Jesus. Now it is up to each of us to accept the commission of Jesus to go and to make disciples.

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