by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
On Nov. 18 we celebrated the feast of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, the only canonized saint to live in our archdiocese. St. Rose Philippine was born in 1769 in Grenoble, France. When she was eight years old, a French Jesuit missionary spoke at her parish about his experiences in America. From that moment, she had a great yearning to bring the gift of our Catholic faith to the Native Americans.
St. Rose Philippine became a religious of the Sacred Heart and, in 1818 at the age of 49, was sent as a missionary to the United States. She established the first American free school west of the Mississippi in St. Charles, Mo. She spent most of her years of ministry in the United States in the St. Louis area, providing edu- cation for young women. At the age of 71, St. Rose Philippine was finally given the opportunity to realize her childhood ambition when she came to Sugar Creek — near what is today Mound City — to minister to the Native Americans.
Recently, I was reading “Men of Brave Heart,” a book by Archbishop Jose Gomez, the new coadjutor archbishop of Los Angeles. It is a book about the virtue of courage in priestly life. Archbishop Gomez gives several examples in his book of heroic priests.
One of his examples is that of the Franciscan Father Juan de Padilla, who was a chaplain for the expedition led by Francisco Coronado in pursuit of the fabled “lost cities of gold.” Coronado came as far north as Kansas and Nebraska. When Coronado gave up his search and decided to return to Mexico, Father Juan de Padilla remained in Kansas to continue his evangelization of Native Americans.
Father Juan de Padilla was killed by some hostile Quivirans on the plains of Kansas, near what is today the town of Herrington. Some have promoted his cause as the first Christian martyr in America.
I am in awe of the missionary passion of those first priests and religious Sisters who came to America because of their desire to share the gift of the Gospel with those who had never heard of Jesus Christ. Those who first planted the seeds of our Catholic faith in the Western Hemisphere left family and friends, as well as the security and comfort of their homeland, in order to give the gift of our Christian faith to complete strangers. Many, like Father Juan de Padilla and the North American Martyrs, would willingly give their lives so that others would know the love of God revealed in his son Jesus Christ.
On Dec. 3, we celebrate the feast of St. Francis Xavier, one of the first great Jesuit missionaries. St. Francis Xavier spent a great part of his missionary activity in India. In a letter to St. Ignatius Loyola, Francis Xavier expresses his frustration that there are not sufficient missionaries to teach the Gospel to all those who desire to learn it.
St. Francis wrote: “Many, many people hereabouts are not becoming Christians for one reason only: there
is nobody to make them Christians. Again and again I have thought of going round to the universities of Europe, especially Paris, and everywhere crying out like a madman, riveting the attention of those with more learning than charity: What a tragedy, how many souls are being shut out of heaven and falling into hell, thanks to you!
“I wish they would work as hard at this as they do at their books, and so settle their accounts with God for their learning and the talents entrusted to them.
“This thought would certainly stir most of them to meditate on spiritual realities, to listen actively to what God is saying to them. They would forget their own desires, their human affairs, and give themselves over entirely to God’s will and his choice. They would cry out with all their heart: Lord, I am here! What do you want me to do? Send me anywhere you like — even to India!”
Among the descendents of those evangelized by St. Francis Xavier are the Indian priests serving with such dedication and zeal in our Archdiocese today.
The late Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have called for a new evangelization within the church. This new evangelization is a response in our time to the mission that Jesus himself gave to the church: Go and make dis- ciples of all nations!
The new evangelization is not about proclaiming a different Gospel, but it is a call to use the modern means of communication to proclaim the ancient truths of our faith. It is also a summons to re-evangelize the Western world where so many have lost or grown tepid in their Christian faith. The new evangelization is a challenge to renew our culture by permeating every dimension of our society with the truths and principles of our Christian faith.
Being a Christian is not just about “keeping the faith,” which at times may seem challenging enough. If we are truly going to embrace the Gospel of Jesus, then we must strive to share the beauty and gift of our Catholic faith with others.
Let us ask St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, Father Juan de Padilla, and St. Francis Xavier to intercede for us for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our times. Let us invite the Holy Spirit to rekindle in our hearts the fire of his love.
Aware of the heroic sacrifices made by those who have given us the gift of our Catholic faith, may we look for opportunities to be courageous and faithful witnesses of the Gospel in our own time.