September 25, 2015

Rejoice in the Lord

A warm Hoosier welcome for Pope Francis

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin

As you read this column, the Catholic Church in the United States is celebrating the historic pastoral visit of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, to our country. On behalf of all the people of central and southern Indiana who live in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, I offer a heartfelt Hoosier welcome!

I know something about Hoosier welcomes. Less than three years ago, I experienced the warm hospitality of Catholics—and people from many other traditions—as I began my ministry here.

I have confessed before that I initially thought “Hoosier Hospitality” was just a P.R. slogan. I learned quickly that there is a genuine and heartfelt manner of welcoming that is distinctive to this region. It’s that welcome that I wish to extend to Pope Francis as he arrives in the United States for his first visit here as the Bishop of Rome.

The Criterion’s publication schedule requires that I write this column several weeks before it is printed and distributed throughout our archdiocese. That means that I don’t know for sure what Pope Francis will say or do when he is here. (As you probably know, this pope frequently sets aside his script and his published schedule to respond to the pastoral opportunities presented to him along the way.)

Since I can’t comment on what has happened (or is happening now as you read these words), let me offer a few reflections on what I believe is likely to happen when Pope Francis visits us. You can then compare these “predictions” with the actual occurrences.

I must start with a disclaimer. Although we Catholics believe that the Bishop of Rome can—under very limited and strictly defined conditions—speak infallibly, an individual bishop is never infallible. Keep that in mind as I offer some predictions about what will happen when Pope Francis is in our midst!

My first prediction: The Holy Father will speak about the poor and our need as people who have been blessed with abundance to play a leading role in partnering with our sisters and brothers who are poor—both here at home and throughout the world. The pope will challenge us to share our resources with the poor, but he will also urge us to do whatever we can to create the economic, social and political conditions that can allow every human being to thrive and grow and be productive.

My second prediction: Some will misunderstand the pope’s message and read into it an ideology that is contrary to the American spirit. If this happens, I pray that everyone will keep an open mind and heart. The pope speaks as a pastor, not a politician or an economist. What Pope Francis has to say about social issues is no different than what his predecessors—St. John XXIII, Paul VI, St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI—said about these same issues. But Pope Francis uses dramatic gestures (such as driving in an old car) to illustrate the Church’s teaching. These gestures often capture attention and stir up controversy!

My third prediction is that the now-familiar smile and evident sense of humor that characterize Pope Francis will dominate the mainstream and social media accounts of his visit. Millions of people will experience (directly or virtually) the Gospel joy that this pope carries with him on all of his pastoral visits throughout the world.

My fourth prediction is that too much media attention will be given to controversial issues such as same-sex marriage and climate change, and too little time will be spent discussing the fundamental principles underlying these issues. Sad to say, the pope’s teaching on the dignity of all human life and the sacred duty to care for and protect all that God has made will probably be overshadowed by more superficial accounts of his message.

My final prediction, which is also my profound hope, is that the Catholic Church in the United States will experience a genuine renewal of faith and commitment because of our Holy Father’s visit. I also predict that all people of good will—our friends and neighbors here in Indiana and throughout the United States—will recognize Pope Francis as a man of God whose only desire is to bring us all together in pursuit of truth and the common good of all.

On behalf of the entire Catholic community in central and southern Indiana, and all our sisters and brothers in the state of Indiana, I offer a warm Hoosier welcome to the man from Argentina who now serves as the Bishop of Rome. You are welcome here, Pope Francis. ¡Una cálida bienvenida de parte de todos los hoosiers, Santo Padre! †

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