Today, in 1732, eleven Roman Catholics gathered for the first public Mass to be offered in Philadelphia, in what is now Old St Joseph Catholic Church. It was the first church in an American city, as the few others were rural chapels in Maryland or private homes. To get to it, you had to go through an arch, closed by a metal gate, and then enter the courtyard. Only then did the doorway appear to lead you into the Holy of Holies.
I was so impressed when I went there in 1975 by the consistent faith of Catholic Philadelphia, the heart of American patriotism. Not far from Liberty Hall and the Liberty Bell, that church on Walnut Street has continued down to our time. From surviving British restrictions to struggling with American prejudice to being threatened by assimilation to secular “culture”, Catholicism has not just endured in Philadelphia but flourished. The young Bohemian priest who founded my home parish of St. John the Baptist in Kenmore, NY, Father John Neumann, became fourth bishop of Philadelphia, first American male saint, and his incorrupt body reposes under the altar of St. Peter’s church at Girard and Fifth Streets: http://www.stjohnneumann.org/parish.html.
Beyond the Roman Catholics, so many Byzantine and Armenian Catholics moved there in the 1880-1910s that it was the home of the first Eastern Catholic bishop in the United States! It remains home to not only the Roman Catholic archbishop who succeeds St. John Neumann, but the Ukrainian Catholic archbishop as well.
Bishop Soter Ortynsky, first Greek Catholic bishop in the USA, 1866-1916
Far more Catholics than those first eleven will be gathering with Pope Francis when he comes to celebrate the Family as the cornerstone of civilization and Christian life! His Holiness has certainly energized Catholics around the world. While his habit of speaking off-the-cuff can lead to some interesting quotes and damage control later, Pope Francis holds firmly to Catholic doctrine, as he reminded reporters on the plane from Cuba to the US today.
“Some people might say some things sounded slightly more left-ish, but that would be a mistake of interpretation,” he said before landing in the U.S. late Tuesday afternoon for his historic trip . “If you want me to pray the creed, I’m willing to do it.”
He underscored the point: “It is I who follows the Church … my doctrine on all this … on economic imperialism, is that of the social doctrine of the Church.”
No pope has ever committed heresy, no pope has abandoned Catholic dogma, nor will any pope do so, thanks to the guidance of the Holy Spirit protecting the See of Rome, as Catholics believe and was proclaimed at Vatican I in 1870.
This Pope chose the name of Francis for many reasons, but I think part of it is how he loves Saint Francis as being a deacon who lived simply, loved Jesus so intensely that he was given the stigmata, and was so holy that animals came up to him, as they once did to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
May God grant him a safe visit to our country, and may the leaders of our country be inspired by the pope’s deep faith, simplicity, and authenticity. Imitating him would go far in improving the quality of our political class. And imitating him would help us achieve what every pope wants: that Catholics will become intimate friends of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
God bless the Pope and grant him many years!