Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Pope brings needed dose of hope and joy

By ARCHBISHOP WILTON D. GREGORY, Commentary | Published October 2, 2015  | En Español

The messages were sent to me from Chicago and Belleville, Illinois, but most came from Atlanta. All were just about the same in content: Wasn’t he absolutely terrific in DC, NYC, and Philly!

Each email or text message expressed in some form or fashion that the sender was very proud to be a Catholic and an American this past week because of Pope Francis. To say that his apostolic visit was a great success would be an understatement. He said many of the same things that his predecessors have said about peace, about the importance of a spirit of hope, about the value of living one’s faith with integrity. But he said all of those things with a unique type of authenticity about his words. He lived those words as a man of peace, a prophet of hope, and with unquestioned integrity and humility.

He has not changed one component of the Catholic Church’s doctrine, but he has certainly changed the tone of the church’s dialogue with the world, and people have responded with great enthusiasm and receptiveness. His audiences this past week were diverse: the president of the United States, the bishops of our nation, the elected officials of the Congress, world leaders at the United Nations, and, of course, hundreds of thousands of the faithful at Masses, in shelters and soup kitchens, with eager schoolchildren, in unscheduled meetings with nuns, with seminarians and members of the clergy, and with many people observing from the periphery of the church and society in general.

He encouraged us in our vocations and responsibilities. He reminded us of our obligations to each other, most especially to the poor in our midst. He made us believe that our political, religious and cultural differences—real as they are—do not have to result in the harsh rhetoric that seems so prevalent in our society. In short, he reminded us that the rich history of the U.S. contains a proud legacy of welcome, social outreach and compassion. He clearly appealed to our better selves.

Catholics in the United States viewed our church in a very positive glow during the past week. We who love this church with all of our hearts had not perhaps experienced such a positive description of us as a family of faith in a very long time. We know that there are still many challenges that we continue to face in living out the faith of our church. We know that far too many people who once actively participated in our church life no longer do so. We know that many young people still look upon the church with a dismissive eye. But during his visit, when the theme of the family was his focal point, Francis helped us see the bright face of the family of the church.

Our families are not perfect—none of them—but within every family there is always the possibility of love and unity, even for those with troubled family relationships and awkward circumstances. The church at her best is a family—albeit a huge family—an assembly of believers who are called to love and respect one another, to care for those who are in need, and to inspire those who are young.

As a family, we have important values and beliefs that do distinguish us. But membership within the family of the church begins with the grace of God and is secured by the warmth of human welcome. Family members within the church will continue to struggle to embrace all of those values and beliefs and to live them more perfectly. We bishops are challenged to urge that continuing conversion in the lives of all of the members of the church.

Francis helped us to believe in a future that is hope-filled even before it is perfectly achieved. We need that hope and spirit of joy. And people, Catholics and non-Catholics, welcomed it with enthusiasm. Thank you, Pope Francis. We needed your visit more than we might have realized!

You asked us often to pray for you. It’s the very least that we can do, in heartfelt thanksgiving, and we shall!