In his first address in Philadelphia Saturday morning, Pope Francis urged those listening to embrace their call to be missionaries and evangelizers, instead of waiting for someone else to preach the gospel.
The Pope recounted the story of local Philadelphian Saint Katharine Drexel, who went to Rome in 1887 to tell Pope Leo XIII of the great needs of the missions in America. Instead of promising to send missionaries, the Pope asked her pointedly: “What about you? What are you going to do?”
These words remind us, Francis said, that “every Christian man and woman, by virtue of baptism, has received a mission. Each one of us has to respond, as best we can, to the Lord’s call to build up his Body, the Church.”
The Pope applied his words to the thousands gathered in the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, asking them as well: “What about you?”
He also urged the priests and pastors present to hold out the same challenge to the young people of today. “How many young people in our parishes and schools have the same high ideals, generosity of spirit, and love for Christ and the Church! Do we challenge them? Do we make space for them and help them to do their part?” he asked.
“One of the great challenges facing the Church in this generation,” Francis said, “is to foster in all the faithful a sense of personal responsibility for the Church’s mission, and to enable them to fulfill that responsibility as missionary disciples, as a leaven of the Gospel in our world.”
This requires creativity in adapting to new situations, Francis said, as well as openness to the possibilities which the Spirit opens up to us.
“What about you? It is significant that those words of the elderly Pope were also addressed to a lay woman,” Francis noted. “We know that the future of the Church in a rapidly changing society will call, and even now calls, for a much more active engagement on the part of the laity.”
This means valuing the immense contribution which women, lay and religious, have made and continue to make, to the life of our communities, he said.
As he joined the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, the primary reason for his visit to the United States, Francis asked his hearers to reflect especially “on our ministry to families, to couples preparing for marriage, and to our young people,” which signaled some of his priorities for the upcoming synod on marriage and the family to be celebrated in the Vatican in October.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome