The pope has made his point: A strong, community-oriented Catholic church can only be formed through a local focus

Pope Francis made headlines last September when he gave Pope Francis’ first day in Philly a tailgating theme by declaring that parishioners congregating “in the capital of the United States” would be “salt of…

The pope has made his point: A strong, community-oriented Catholic church can only be formed through a local focus

Pope Francis made headlines last September when he gave Pope Francis’ first day in Philly a tailgating theme by declaring that parishioners congregating “in the capital of the United States” would be “salt of the earth people.” Of course the Paushalp Potentate understood that parishioners come and go and that this formulation was grounded in canon law. But he overlooked its populist power: if the message is as good as the medium, perhaps a parade of favorite sports teams and food trucks might be just the thing to get people out and cheering in mass.

More so than ever, but of course, this welcoming approach to the Church depends upon passing through the intellectual mainstream. But there are schools of thought beyond the generally conservative Catholic theological schools which resist the notion of Vatican 3. The mandate follows the events surrounding the publication in 2013 of Pope Benedict XVI’s “Caritas in Veritate,” which emphasized the full inclusion of Vatican 2 in the response to current challenges to Catholics, and which was often derided by some more traditional Catholic thinkers as being more about proving doctrinal correctness than about pastoral care. The directives this year do not strictly follow that style of discourse but as the Vatican footnotes confirm, they are in line with his key reform initiative, “Ad limina visits,” which offer the Pope a tour of the different corners of the Church and see Pope Francis engaging with its faithful.

Pastor, I believe most Catholics in the United States can understand why Pope Francis chooses such a random itinerary. We were not in church and neither are you. A faithful person would be somewhat upset to see a bus-load of people descend on our sanctuary. Quite frankly, we do not intend to be a gathering point. Mass is sacred for Catholics. I think Pope Francis has made his point.

But I would offer the Church’s own perspective and our experience of building communities throughout the nation—now that Philadelphia’s “pop-up” has become three chapters of Philadelphia (Notre Dame, Latin School, St. Joseph’s Academy). And, I would come to a conclusion.

Like Philadelphia, it has come full circle from a world of great ambition to one of total desire to build a sense of community. On an approximately 15-minute trek from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial across the canal, you might come across a man and a woman who wed on the first day of the First Circuit Court of Appeals (Cincinnati) in 1968. When the strong winds fizzle, you might see an Irish Catholic moving freely through Old Chinatown like a mythic creature, with Gaelic hats and jewelry to match. You’ll find these communities here in Philadelphia. I am writing this in the area of Kent Avenue, where—on the show’s final night—we worshipped again at St. Mark’s.

During the three days this city has embraced us like your congregation welcomed the pope in 2011. I was surprised to see that young people, members of my staff and colleagues and others are able to congregate on a wide array of means—from parishes to businesses and from local bars to restaurants. With Sunday’s exit of Catholics in Washington, D.C., we are anxious to translate the experience here in Philly into an effective crusade to allow Catholics who identify as outside the institutional Church to congregate in their own church communities.

Jesuit priests, we need you.

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