PHILADELPHIA - Pope Francis encouraged Pennsylvania's
Catholic clergy and women and men religious to challenge
young people to develop "high ideals, generosity of spirit
and love for Christ and the church."
In his first Mass in Philadelphia, Pope Francis recalled St.
Katherine Drexel, a Philadelphia heiress who entered
religious life, formed a religious community and used her
family inheritance to educate blacks and native Americans
throughout the U.S. after Pope Leo XIII had challenged her to
serve the church by asking, "What about you?"
The pope posed the same question repeatedly to the audience
of 1,500 that included more than 300 priests and 160 deacons
in the main Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peters and Paul Sept.
26. Another 500 people in religious life attended in an
overflow chapel at the cathedral.
"Do we challenge them?" Pope Francis asked in reference to
efforts to involve young people in church life. "Do we make
space for them and help them to do their part? To find ways
of sharing their enthusiasm and gifts with our communities,
above all in works of mercy and concern for others? Do we
share our own joy and enthusiasm in serving the Lord?"
Pope Francis called for creativity in ministry to inspire
people to maintain ties with the church.
Studies have shown that American young adults have turned
from involvement in the church and Mass attendance even as
they have gained a greater awareness of the need to address
social ills. The pope's homily appealed to the audience to
seek new ways to boost the presence of young people in church
ministries and activities.
"One of the great challenges facing the church in this
generation 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," he said.
"This will require creativity in adapting to changed
situations, carrying forward the legacy of the past not
primarily by maintaining our structures and institutions,
which have served us well, but above all by being open to the
possibilities which the Spirit opens up to us and
communicating the joy of the Gospel, daily and in every
season of our life," he said.
Acknowledging that society is undergoing rapid change, the
pope said the times call for "much more active engagement on
the part of the laity."
The pontiff credited the U.S. church for its effort to
catechize and educate laypeople and said that today's
challenge facing the church is to build on that work and to
foster a "sense of collaboration and shared responsibility in
planning for the future of our parishes and institutions."
"This does not mean relinquishing the spiritual authority
with which we have been entrusted; rather, it means
discerning and employing wisely the manifold gifts which the
Spirit pours out upon the church," Pope Francis said. "In a
particular way, it means valuing the immense contribution
which women, lay and religious, have made and continue to
make, to the life of our communities."
He encouraged those gathered to recall the joy they
experienced in their "first encounter with Jesus" and to draw
from that joy renewed strength to carry out the work of the
Pointing to the World Meeting of Families that concluded
Sept. 25 in Philadelphia, the pope asked those in religious
life to reflect on their ministry to families, couples
preparing for marriage and to young people.
"I know how much is being done in your local churches to
respond to the needs of families and to support them in their
journey of faith. I ask you to pray fervently for them, and
for the deliberations of the forthcoming synod on the
The worldwide Synod of Bishops on the family meets at the
Vatican Oct. 4-25.
Pope Francis concluded his homily at the multilingual Mass by
asking the congregation to pray to Mary so that she may
intercede for the continued growth of the church in the U.S.
"in prophetic witness" to Jesus' crucifixion.