By Dennis Sadowski
Catholic News Service
PHILADELPHIA — Pope Francis encouraged Pennsylvania’s Catholic clergy and women and men religious to challenge young people to develop “high ideals, generosity of spirit and love for Christ and the church.”
In his first Mass in Philadelphia, Pope Francis recalled St. Katherine Drexel, a Philadelphia heiress who entered religious life, formed a religious community and used her family inheritance to educate blacks and native Americans throughout the U.S. after Pope Leo XIII had challenged her to serve the church by asking, “What about you?”
The pope posed the same question repeatedly to the audience of 1,500 that included more than 300 priests and 160 deacons in the main Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peters and Paul Sept. 26. Another 500 people in religious life attended in an overflow chapel at the cathedral.
“Do we challenge them?” Pope Francis asked in reference to efforts to involve young people in church life. “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? Do we share our own joy and enthusiasm in serving the Lord?”
Pope Francis called for creativity in ministry to inspire people to maintain ties with the church.
Studies have shown that American young adults have turned from involvement in the church and Mass attendance even as they have gained a greater awareness of the need to address social ills. The pope’s homily appealed to the audience to seek new ways to boost the presence of young people in church ministries and activities.
“One of the great challenges facing the church in this generation is to foster in all the faithful a sense of personal responsibility for the church’s mission and to enable them to fulfill that responsibility as missionary disciples, as a leaven of the Gospel in our world,” he said.
“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 and communicating the joy of the Gospel, daily and in every season of our life,” he said.
Acknowledging that society is undergoing rapid change, the pope said the times call for “much more active engagement on the part of the laity.”
The pontiff credited the U.S. church for its effort to catechize and educate laypeople and said that today’s challenge facing the church is to build on that work and to foster a “sense of collaboration and shared responsibility in planning for the future of our parishes and institutions.”
“This does not mean relinquishing the spiritual authority with which we have been entrusted; rather, it means discerning and employing wisely the manifold gifts which the Spirit pours out upon the church,” Pope Francis said. “In a particular way, it means valuing the immense contribution which women, lay and religious, have made and continue to make, to the life of our communities.”
He encouraged those gathered to recall the joy they experienced in their “first encounter with Jesus” and to draw from that joy renewed strength to carry out the work of the church.
Pointing to the World Meeting of Families that concluded Sept. 25 in Philadelphia, the pope asked those in religious life to reflect on their ministry to families, couples preparing for marriage and to young people.
“I know how much is being done in your local churches to respond to the needs of families and to support them in their journey of faith. I ask you to pray fervently for them, and for the deliberations of the forthcoming synod on the Family.”
The worldwide Synod of Bishops on the family meets at the Vatican Oct. 4-25.
Pope Francis concluded his homily at the multilingual Mass by asking the congregation to pray to Mary so that she may intercede for the continued growth of the church in the U.S. “in prophetic witness” to Jesus’ crucifixion.