Pope Francis has concluded his visit to America, which in some ways seemed longer than the six days he actually spent in our country. The reception he received in the cities on his itinerary was warm and enthusiastic. His pastoral touch was obvious, as he paused en route to touch and bless individuals, particularly children with special needs, their families and caregivers.
While comments could be made about each of the pope’s speeches, I’ll share here a few thoughts about Saturday’s 90-minute worship service at Saints Peter and Paul Basilica in Philadelphia. It was carried live, in its entirety, on Fox News and a couple other national networks.
Watching such a service brings to mind more similarities between Catholicism and Lutheranism. Both are fundamentally liturgical and sacramental. Clergy vestments, Scripture readings, homily, hymns sung by congregation and choir to organ and orchestra accompaniment are quite familiar. Seminarians later visited briefly by the pope sang the familiar “Lift High the Cross.”
Yet some of the differences between the Catholic Church and Protestant denominations were also obvious, including a somewhat appealing use of incense and the repeated veneration of Mary, the mother of Jesus. It’s obvious that Catholics still pray to Mary and consider her holy and a perpetual virgin. They often and properly identified her as the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, thankfully making generous reference to his work of redemption on Calvary’s cross.
The publicity, news and TV coverage received by the Catholic Church last week was worth millions and likely will catalyze, at least temporarily, a resurgence of interest in Catholicism. The negative image of the church resulting from sexual abuse scandals of the past may perhaps be somewhat mitigated by this pope’s messages and non-self-aggrandizing sense of humility.
That humility was emphasized, intentionally, in simple yet significant ways. One of the most visible was his ground transportation in the U.S., provided not in a limousine or even a Chevrolet Suburban, but sometimes in the Popemobile, at other times in a much smaller Fiat. By the way, the Vatican vehicle registration plate for the Popemobile and all official Vatican vehicles, begins with the letters “SCV” (an acronym of the Latin Status Civitatis Vaticanae “Vatican City State”) followed by the vehicle fleet number. In this case the plate read SCV-1.
Summarily, Pope Francis should feel very good about his visit to the U.S. And so should the Roman Catholic Church. The visibility and news coverage received by both provided publicity beyond the hopes, not to mention the dreams, of the rest of Christendom.
I pray that the result of this papal visit will be fruitful for the kingdom. As the 500th anniversary of the Reformation approaches, perhaps even our own church will experience resurgence from the apathetic atrophy in which we seem to be stuck. Time will tell. Lord, help us!