Following the Closing Mass, we sat around and had coffee reflecting on the "Highs and Lows" of our pilgrimage to see the Pope in Philadelphia.
The "high-points" of our journey were being together in this "City of Brotherly Love." William Penn named the city Philadelphia which comes from the Greek "Phileo" Love (for a friend) and "Adelphos" Brother. As a Quaker, Penn himself had experienced religious persecution and wanted this to be a place where anyone would be free to worship.
At Philadelphia's Independence Hall, Pope Francis gave a passionate speech on religious freedom, immigration and tolerance. It's very providential that this message would be given in the city of "Brotherly Love" founded with the desire for religious freedom.
"The Quakers who founded Philadelphia were inspired by a profound evangelical sense of the dignity of each individual and the ideal of a community united by brotherly love," he said. "This conviction led them to found a colony which would be a haven of religious freedom and tolerance. That sense of fraternal concern for the dignity of all, especially the weak and the vulnerable, became an essential part of the American spirit."
The Pope also said, "You should never be ashamed of your traditions. Do not forget the lessons you learned from your elders, which are something you can bring to enrich the life of this American land."
It is also providential that in the "City of Brotherly Love", Pope Francis would also speak about God being Love. He went on to tell the story of a child who once asked him (“you know how kids ask difficult questions”) what God did when he existed before the creation of the world. His response, after some thought, was, “before creating the world, God loved! Because God is love.”
Francis went on to eloquently summarize Catholic teaching on creation and the family: God’s love “was so big” that he created the world “to share that love with something outside of himself.” In his view, “the most beautiful thing that God made … was the family.”
After all, he asked, “where did [God] send his son? To a palace? To a city? To a company? No, he sent him to a family!”
The pope recognized that some could consider his optimism about the family groundless, since he is celibate. So he was quick to acknowledge the difficulties that can emerge in family life. “We can get in fights. Sometimes plates go flying. Children bring headaches.” He cracked a broad smile as he quipped, “and I won’t speak about mother-in-laws!"
Read more of Pope Francis' Amazing Unscripted Speech on the Gift of Family
Many have asked me what it was like to be there and if this experience has changed me. Here's what I know for sure. It has given me a renewed hope in married life. The greatest blessing for me was to be at the closing of the World Meeting of Families with a wonderful young married couple, whose wedding I witnessed last year, who are now more in love than ever. They have not only given me a renewed sense of hope but they even mentioned that their involvement in the church renewed the hope of their own parish priest.
I realized that over and over our message needs to be that of Love. Pope Francis continuously models for us the axiom "you get more bees with honey than with vinegar". I realize too that we are blessed in this time to have a good, humble Holy Father, who doesn't consider himself a "Rock Star in the USA" but the servant of servants.
What a wonderful time for our country, for our world, and for our Church.
Viva il Papa! (Long live the Pope!)