Pope Francis has spent much of this week on American shores, inspiring the leaders of the modern world to address big issues like climate change but last night he stepped beyond his normal messages calling for women to play a greater role in the reinvigoration he has planned for the Catholic Church. An inspiring religious leader, the pontiff has stepped further into the public eye than any other Catholic leader, embracing his opportunity to bring the Church into the new millenium.
The pope urged both the clergy and the lay people present to step forward and lead a more active and dynamic version of their faith.
“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 … communicating the joy of the Gospel, daily and in every season of our life.”
He urged the people of the church to be adaptable. He called out women and younger people as significant in the future of the Catholic Church and indicated his belief that change needed to occur to reinvigorate people’s faith.
Reinvigorating people’s faith, he said, was “one of the great challenges facing the church in this generation”.
“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.”
The Pope is clearly concerned at the consistent decline of Catholicism in the US, and this tour is about rebuilding faith in the church. Just like in Australia, the US Church is mired by sex abuse scandals, changing demographics and an increasing irrelevance of faith in modern society. But his tour is having the desired effect of raising the church’s visibility and seeking angles for its rebirth.
According to The Guardian, about one in five Americans identifies as Catholic, a sharp drop from two decades ago, when it was one in four. They reported today an interesting statistic.
“It is estimated that if ex-Catholics formed their own church it would be the US’s second largest, lagging behind only the Catholic church itself. This is part of a long-term secular trend which appears likely to continue, Francis rapture notwithstanding.”
The Pope tried to inspire people to act as individuals, speaking to the 1600 strong audience in a Philadelphia Cathedral of American Saint, St Katharine Drexel, a young Philadelphian heiress who met with Pope Leo XIII on a trip to Europe in 1887.
Apparently, more than 128 years ago, she asked the pope about the needs of church missions around the world. Francis told the story to the crowd, “the Pope – he was a very wise Pope – asked her pointedly, ‘What about you? What are you going to do?’”
Francis argued that the questions were still relevant 128 years later, saying they “were addressed to a young person, a young woman with high ideals, and they changed her life”.
He then scolded his peers, compelling them to pay more attention to the needs and interests of younger generations and women. “Do we challenge them? 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?”
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