Conclusion of the Year of Faith and the Sacrament of Confirmation

On Sunday, Novenmber 24th the Catholic Church celebrated the Solemnity of Christ the King and the closing of the Year of Faith. The Year of Faith had been a wonderful 13 month period where the Church encouraged her children to focus on such tools as Holy Scripture, the Holy Eucharist and the Catechism to help us recalibrate on the journey of faith toward the object of our faith – Christ Our King and Lord. I was privileged to give 11 presentations on St. Therese and the Year of Faith to 9 different parishes and prayer groups during the special year. Pope Francis, Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia, and bishops and priests around the world concluded the Year of Faith with special masses. My parish of St. Isaac Jogues was no exception.

Bishop Michael Fitzgerald, an Auxiliary Bishop of Philadelphia, conferred the Sacrament of Confirmation on scores of children and teenagers at St. Isaac Jogues on the Solemnity of Christ the King. What a beautiful day to receive that Sacrament of Confirmation that perfects Baptism, unites one more closely to Christ and His Church, and enriches with the gift of the Holy Spirit! As a matter of fact, the Bishop actually conferred Confirmation on each recipient with the words, “Be sealed with the gift of the holy Spirit.” As a successor of the Apostles, the Bishop used his authority to bestow this great gift. “Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit; for it had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8: 14-17) It was a beautiful sight to see each child process up before the Bishop with their parent or sponsor behind and receive that great gift. I recall receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation the same day that I received my First Communion when I entered the Church as an adult at the Easter Vigil in 1991.

St. Therese in her Autobiography vividly describes her own Confirmation in 1884. “A short time after my First Communion, I entered upon another retreat for my Confirmaton, I was prepared with great care to receive the visit of the Holy Spirit, and I did not understand why greater attention was not paid to the reception of this sacrament of Love. Ordinarily, there was only one day of retreat made for Confirmation, but the Bishop was unable to come on the appointed day and so I had the consolation of having two days of solitude. Like the Apostles, I awaited the Holy Spirit’s visit with great happiness in my soul. I rejoiced at the thought of soon being a perfect Christian and especially at that of having eternally on my forehead the mysterious cross the Bishop marks when conferring this sacrament. Finally the happy moment arrived, and I did not experience an impetuous wind at the moment of the Holy Spirit’s descent but rather this light breeze which the prophet Elias heard on Mount Horeb.” (Story of A Soul, pp. 80) St. Therese expressed in these words how much she valued this profound and underrated Sacrament and her personal experiences and disposition during that day. I do not know what was running through the minds of those who received Confirmaton at St. Isaac Jogues last Sunday, but the smiles on their faces and those of their loved ones spoke volumes.

Please write in and share any of your experiences from the Year of Faith.

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Feast Day of the Little Flower

Today is one of my favorite days of the year – the Feast Day of the Little Flower. It is a day to remember the “greatest saint of modern times” and to honor her for her shining example of Christian holiness. St. Therese teaches us that we don’t have to accomplish great works in order to grow in God’s love, but simply have to abandon ourselves into His arms with complete childlike confidence. St. Therese was on a continual quest to discover God’s will for her and, once convinced of His will, she tried to conform her life to it with unwavering fortitude and determination. We can look to her example so that we can try to do the same in our own lives. It isn’t easy, but it is worth the effort.

I was very excited today to have many people sign the guestbook on the website and to request information about St. Therese. My heartfelt thanks to all of you who have supported this website and ministry over the past two years with your encouragement, prayers, and financial support. It reminds me how many people around the world love St. Therese and turn to her for her intercession and guidance.

October 1st is a very special day that I like to spend praying to St. Therese and thanking her for her example, love, and guidance. I assisted at Holy Mass today and Maria and I made a Holy Hour at a local parish that concluded with the priest giving all of us Benediction. St. Therese loved Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament so much and truly wanted to see God loved by all. The best way that I could think to honor St. Therese on her Feast Day was to worship Jesus, the One she loved so dearly, at mass and at the Blessed Sacrament.

Happy Feast Day of St. Therese of Lisieux – Co-Patroness of the Missions, Co-Patroness of France, and Doctor of the Church!

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The Black Briefcase

It was a mystery that many wanted to solve. What could be in the black briefcase that Pope Francis carried to and from scheduled events on his recent trip to World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro?

On the flight back to Rome Pope Francis put an end to the mystery. “The keys to the atomic bomb weren’t in it”, Francis quipped. “Rather”, he said, “the bag merely contained a razor, his breviary prayer book, his agenda, and a book on St. Therese of Lisieux, to whom he is particularly devoted.” All the contents were pretty mundane, except, of course, that the last item really caught my attention.

I knew that Pope Francis had a strong devotion to St. Therese and prayed to her for guidance, but why would he bring a book on her to World Youth Day? It could be that he just happened to be reading it at the time and simply brought it with him to finish. I cannot prove it, but I suspect that it might have to do with the fact that a major theme of the World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro was to be missionaries for Christ and St. Therese of Lisieux just happens to be the Co-Patron of the Universal Missions.

On December 14, 1927 Pope Pius XI, the same pope who had canonized St. Therese two years earlier, declared her to be Patroness of the Universal Missions of the Church along with St. Francis Xavier. Even though St. Therese never left her monastery after she entered at the age of 15, her Autobiography, Story of A Soul, reveals her intense and sustained missionary spirit throughout her life. Just ten weeks before her death on September 30, 1897, St. Therese made the following astonishing statement to her sister, Pauline: “I feel that I’m about to enter into my rest. But I feel especially that my mission is about to begin, my mission of making God loved as I love Him, of giving my little way to souls. If God answers my desires, my heaven will be spent on earth until the end of the world.” (St. Therese of Lisieux – her last conversations, pp. 102)

St. Therese had spent her entire life loving God and praying for the conversion of sinners that they might do the same. The fecundity of her missionary spirit naturally emerged from her deep, loving relationship that she had with Jesus through her contemplative prayer in the monastery. She fell passionately in love with Jesus and then offered all her prayers and sacrifices in her quiet, mundane life so that others might love God as she loved Him. St. Therese was a model in this and it is why she was declared Co-Patron of the Missions even though she lived a contemplative life.

Pope Francis understands deeply that for the missions to be successful people need to grow in prayer and only then share their own love for Jesus with others. At the World Youth Day last week in Rio de Janeiro the Holy Father exorted the young people to get to know Jesus in prayer and then to go out to share the Gospel with others. He said that Christians should not close in on themselves, but become fully alive by loving others in actions. He wants all people, especially the young, to love God and to share their love of God. In other words, he wants them to live out St. Therese’s msisionary goal “to love God and to make Him loved”.

Maybe that is why Pope Francis had a book about St. Therese in his famous black briefcase. It is only conjecture, because he didn’t say why he had that particular book. But what we do know is that the theme of mission was very prevalent at World Youth Day and St. Therese, as the Patroness of Missions, had a lot to say about spreading God’s love to all without exception.

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The Little Green Pea

Jesus taught us the two greatest commandments when he said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and the first commandment. And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22: 37-39) St. Therese understood and lived out both of these commandments of Our Lord to a heroic degree. She exemplified the living out of the second commandment when she went out of her way to spend time with the nuns in the convent who appeared depressed or lonely. She reached out habitually to those who were suffering or who had difficult personalities.

St. Therese spoke about the importance of fraternal charity in the following story. “Oh! the unfathomable tenderness of God’s exquisite mercy towards the weak and imperfect. I marvel when I see how He always seems to surround them with His protecting love. We should react in the same way to the peculiar needs of our neighbour. Even in nature we have a faint image of this provident concern of the Creator when we compare the course bean with the little green pea. Although both must endure alike the heat of the day and the chill of night, yet the attractive little pea, you will notice, has not received the extra protection of the tough outer covering of the unattractive bean. Therefore in imitation of Our Heavenly Father let us also bestow a more indulgent love and protective care on those who have the greater need.” (My Sister Saint Therese, p. 131-132)

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Teaching St. Therese at the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church in Philadelphia

St. Thomas Church

I did not feel out of place at all. Mine was the lone blonde head in a sea of people of Indian descent who were worshipping at the St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Catholic Church in Northeast Philadelphia last Sunday morning. It seemed like I had been coming here for years.

The mass or Qurbana was being celebrated completely in a foreign language. Two priests recited prayers from a front table or altar that was in front of the main altar. The congregation chanted their unintelligible replies. I guessed that one of the priests was Fr. Augustine, the pastor of the parish, because he looked like the picture on the website. He had invited me to teach the 13-17 year old CCD students about St. Therese after the mass.

On either side of the main altar were four large pictures of holy people. One picture Alphonsashowed the Blessed Virgin Mary holding the Child Jesus and another one was most likely St. Thomas. Another one of the pictures, I learned later on, was of St. Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conception. She was a Syro-Malabar Franciscan sister who died in 1946 and was the first person ever of Indian descent to be canonized a saint by the Catholic Church when she was declared a saint by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008. The tabernacle was covered with a blue veil and golden pillars were situated on either side. The music ministry had a section in the right front of the church.

Fr. Augustine came over and greeted me very warmly at the conclusion of the first mass. We talked about the details of my presentation and he inquired about my ministry. His kind eyes and mild manner made me feel right at home. He introduced me to the head of the CCD program and to a few other men before excusing himself to prepare for the next mass in ten minutes.

All of a sudden a great commotion broke out. Men from every direction converged on the temporary wall behind me and moved it away in pieces to reveal another large area behind me half as big as the church in front of me. It was the overflow seating for the second mass. There was going to be a lot of people!

Within five minutes the population of the church tripled. Women in gorgeous saris of every color, babies dressed in white, and gentlemen in their Sunday best entered the sanctuary from every direction. The priests processed in and authentic Indian music sounded from the music section. It sounded like a holy Bollywood production sans dancing!

The richness of the liturgy that was sung in both Malayalam and English combined with the beautiful music and the myriad of colors was a feast for the senses. Malayalam is one of 22 languages spoken in India, predominantly in the state of Kerala in the south of India where most of the Syro-Malabar Catholics came from. I was so mesmerized by the proceedings that I didn’t care that I couldn’t follow the mass at all. I just prayed in my heart and soaked it all in.

Fr. Augustine

Fr. Augustine

Fr. Augustine concelebrated the mass with a visiting priest who had a very powerful voice. Much of the mass was sung by the priest from the table in front of the main altar. The consecration took place at the main altar with the priests facing away from the congregation. The consecrated hosts were distributed during Holy Communion in a similar fashion to the Latin Rite and unlike in the manner of the Byzantine and Ukrainian Catholic Rites where Holy Communion is given under both species with a type of spoon. Fr. Augustine introduced me by name at the end of the mass and had me stand up to be acknowledged by the congregation.

My presentation on St. Therese took place after the mass in a large room adjacent to the CCD classes. Several male students set up the chairs as I arranged my picture of St. Therese and the podium. Soon after the older students filed in and took their seats. One teacher told me that only about 40 students would be attending instead of the usual 100 or so because many of the students were away for the Memorial Day holiday and a youth conference in Maryland. The students were well-behaved and attentive during the presentation as I meandered around the stage teaching them about the “greatest saint of modern times”. Almost all of the students venerated the First Class Relic of St. Therese following the talk.

As I was packing up my things to leave, I was invited to attend a small banquet of authentic Indian food. Not one to turn down a meal, I consented and was led to a small room where several women in saris were setting out platters of food. Before I knew what hit me, several of them were filling up plates of food and setting them in front of me. I said that I would wait for the others to eat, but they told me that I should begin. Nobody had to tell me twice! Several of the women asked me questions about myself and taught me about their traditions. I was winding down my two plates of food and my portion of pineapple upside down cake as a sort of business meeting started. I thanked everyone for their gracious hospitality as Fr. Augustine escorted me upstairs to say goodbye.

I was very touched by the friendliness and warmth of everyone I met last Sunday at St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. Fr. Augustine invited me to come back again with my family. We are already making plans!

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Celebrating Pentecost With the Ukrainian Catholics

iconostas3Last Saturday evening I had the privilege of celebrating the Solemnity of Pentecost at Presentation of Our Lord Ukrainian Catholic Church in Lansdale, PA. I had been invited by Father Vasil Bunik to give a presentation on St. Therese after the 4:00PM Divine Liturgy. Or so I thought…

I arrived at the church at around 3:40PM excited to participate in my first Ukrainian Catholic Divine Liturgy. I found a place in a rear pew and began to pray and to prepare myself mentally for my presentation. I saw a priest coming down the aisle toward me who I surmised must br Fr. Vasil. He waved me out to the vestibule and greeted me warmly. I thanked him for inviting me to speak to his parishioners about St. Therese.

After exchanging pleasantries, I tried to ascertain the logistics of my talk as I understood them – a 45 minute talk on “St. Therese and the Year of Faith” to be given at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy. Fr. Vasil shot me a quizzical look and said, “Oh, no! You will speak in the middle of the Divine Liturgy after the readings. No more than 10 minutes.” I was flabbergasted. Just a little communication glitch! I now had justs moments to pare my presentation down from 45 to 10 minutes. Needless to say I was a bit frazzled!

I went back to my pew and scrambled feverishly to concoct something valuable and coherent to say in a 10 minute talk. I found what I thought was a winning formula just as the mass started – a funny story, followed by a brief explanation of the Year of Faith, followed by an overview of St. Therese and why she was so important for Catholics to learn about. Whew!

The beauty and novelty of the Ukrainian Catholic Liturgy almost made me forget about my situation. For anyone used to the Latin Rite mass, the Eastern Catholic masses can seem a bit strange at first. There are many more responses given by the people than in a Latin Rite mass. The sign of the cross is performed using three fingers and crossing from right to left instead of vice versa. This is done countless times during the Liturgy. The first reading was read by a young man who remained in his pew instead of reading from the lectern. Lastly, and most strikingly, the priest consecrated the Eucharist facing away from the congregation like in the Tridentine Mass.

After Fr. Vasil read the Gospel, he gave me a brief introduction and then called me to the front to speak about St. Therese. Before beginning I surveyed the faces in the crowd and was pleased to see many attentive expressions that seemed to say, “Who is this very un-Ukrainian-looking man and what is he going to say to us?” I didn’t leave them in suspense. I gave my teaching about St. Therese for what I estimated was about 10 minutes. I looked down at Fr. Vasil sitting in the front row and said, “I guess my time is about up so I will conclude.” He responded, “You can keep going.” I went from paring down to filling out my comments very quickly!

I concluded by inviting all to venerate the First Class Relic of St. Therese after the Divine Liturgy. Fr. Vasil annointed our foreheads with Holy Oil for Pentecost. Many people came up and reverently venerated the relic and some intoduced themselves and welcomed me to the parish. One woman stayed to speak with me after mass and gave me a veritable teaching on Ukrainian Catholic traditions and identified and explained every icon in the church. She and Fr. Vasil thanked me for coming, bade me farewell, and invited me to come back to worship with them some other time. I will certainly do just that.

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The Beatification Day of St. Therese

Pope St. Pius X wrote in June 1914, two months before his death, that “it is very expedient that this cause (for Therese) for beatification be investigated as quickly as possible”. (The Story of A Life, p. 211)

Beatification is the penultimate step before canonization for a deceased person of heroic virtue. Someone who is beatified by the Church receives the title of Blessed and is recognized as having entered into heaven and has the capacity to intercede for those who pray to him/her. Two of the last four deceased popes currently carry the title of Blessed – Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II. Of course it is possible that Blessed Pope John Paul II could be canonized a saint by the end of this year!

After Therese of Lisieux died in 1897, a ‘storm of glory’ broke out where hundreds of testimonies and miracles were reported. The Vatican was forced to speed up the canonization process for Therese because the clamor of the people on her behalf was so loud. During World War I so many French and German soldiers prayed to Therese from the trenches that 5 volumes would have been required to tell all the stories!

Two out of the hundreds of miracles attributed to Therese were investigated. On April 29, 1923, 90 years ago today, Pope Pius XI beatified Therese of the Child Jesus in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and called her the ‘star of his pontificate’. (The Story of A Life, p. 211)

Therese was formally canonized by the same Holy Father only two years later on May 17, 1925 and has been known to the world ever since as St. Therese of the Child Jesus, St. Therese of Lisieux, or the Little Flower.

Today is also the Feast Day of St. Catherine of Siena, a 14th Century saint and mystic. She is one of only four women to be declared a Doctor of the Church along with St. Teresa of Avila, St. Hildegard of Bingen, and, of course, our little Therese.

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All In A Day’s Work – A Busy Day of Teaching About St. Therese

A few weeks ago I gave two presentations on St. Therese at two different parishes on the same day. Here’s how it transpired.

I was scheduled to give a presentation entitled, “St. Therese and the Year of Faith”, at St. Matthias Parish in Bala Cynwyd, PA at 1:30PM. It is always a bit ‘touch and go’ trying to find the designated venue in a new location. Maria and I made a detour into the Elementary School upstairs before being redirected by a lady to the Parish Hall on the first floor.

As we entered the hall, the woman running the event, a very nice lady named Dolores, greeted us enthusiastically and showed us around. She had gone all-out for the event covering each table with a white tablecloth bedecked with rose petals . A nice touch for a teaching on St. Therese. She had coffee and all kinds of desserts available for the attendees.

Dolores was the leader of the Highlanders – the seniors group at the parish so called because Highland Ave. runs along one side of the church and the area was predominantly Welsh when it was settled. She said that they usually had around 10 people at the meetings, but due to her masterly job of advertising, no less than 45 people attended the talk. Every seat was taken.

I was a bit nervous before the talk because I was getting over a cold and my voice was not yet 100%. I also tend to sweat when I have a cold. Not a great combination being hoarse and sweaty for a presentation! I did the best I could and it went extremely well with the very attentive audience who laughed at all the right places. The talk concluded with a 15 minute question and answer time.

The most inspiring part for me, however, was how reverently many of them venerated the first class relic of St. Therese after the presentation. Several people were suffering with serious conditions and asked that the relic be touched to their ailment. Many touched rosaries or devotional items to the relic with much faith. One woman shared that it was her 75th Birthday (she didn’t look a day over 60) and she had made the day special by treating herself to my talk!

The people who worked in the Parish Office next door requested that I come over so they could venerate the relic. A few ladies kissed the relic and asked questions about it. One of the priests made a special trip downstairs and asked that I bless him with the relic. It isn’t every day that a layman gets to bless a priest! The visit concluded after they showed me a skullcap that Blessed Pope John Paul II had given to the Monsignor.

There is an old saying that goes “expect the unexpected”. That perfectly sums up the talk later that evening at one of our favorite local parishes, Our Lady of the Assumption in Strafford, PA. Things did not go exactly according to plan.

I thought that the presentation was to take place in the Sacred Heart Chapel under the church at 7PM. Unbeknownst to me, it had been advertised for 7:30PM in another building called the Upper Room. The man who was supposed to let me in the building was unable to come because he was sick. Luckily someone who knew the combination to the lock saw my distress and let me in the building. She gave me the caveat that I must keep the door propped open or it would lock behind me. She wished me well and departed.

As I was making my second trip out to the car while setting up, I forgot her warning and my stomach dropped as I heard the door shut behind me with a thud. I had locked myself out of the building and people would be arriving soon. I thought that it would be quite embarrassing to be stranded in the parking lot with the attendees of the talk due to my own negligence!

I prayed for assistance and thankfully it came almost immedately in the form of a very nice nun named Sr. Kathleen. She not only knew the lock combination, but knew the trick for propping the door open in a foolproof way. She helped me set up and even attended the entire presentation, something she had not planned to do.

I am grateful to the many people who attended, especially one man named Richard who even came back again the next evening and brought his sister-in-law who was visiting from Memphis. At one point I was telling a story when a commotion broke out in the room. I saw Monsignor Marino standing in the doorway while his dog, Denis, ran around greeting everyone like a good host. It was my first canine cameo at a talk!

We are now roughly halfway through the Year of Faith. How is everyone doing with it? What specific things have you chosen to do to grow in your faith this year?

Maria has been very consistent with her resolution to pray the rosary every day. I am still plugging away through the Catechism. Let me know how you are doing.

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The Pope and the Pope Emeritus

pope francis & pope benedictThere had never been a photo like it before. Two men wearing the white papal cassocks embracing.  Almost by definition the previous Pope is dead and buried before his successor assumes the papal office. On March 23rd this image changed when Pope Francis visited Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI at Castel Gandolfo.

The helicopter had barely settled on the tarmac before Pope Francis enthusiastically greeted his predecessor like an old friend. It was a beautiful and touching moment immortalized on film.

Vatican PopeAfter the initial meeting, they immediately went to the chapel to pray together. There a special chair and prie-dieu for the Pope was set up at the front of the chapel. In a classic moment Pope Francis bypassed this place that was rightfully his as the Holy Father in order to join the Pope Emeritus in a regular pew. The feeble Pope Emeritus tried to grab Francis’ arm and corral him into the special chair, but the Pope would not have it. He whispered to Benedict XVI, “we are brothers”, and knelt next to him in the lower place.

Astounding! Here were two men who both enjoyed immense power in the Church as the leader of 1.2 billion souls and they were trying to outdo each other in humility. This was truly a unique and inspiring sight.

It was a great example of what Jesus tried to teach his apostles after they had been arguing about who was the greatest. “Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, ‘If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all’.” (Mark 9: 35) Pope St. Gregory the Great highlighted this very lesson when he coined the papal title of the “servant of the servants of God”. He knew that the Holy Father must lead with the example of humility and service.

St. Therese understood the virtue of humility well. She said that, “It appears to me that humility is the truth. I know not whether I am humble, but I know that I see the truth in all things”. (Thoughts of St. Therese, p. 40) St. Therese, Pope Francis, and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI all know the truth that God alone is truly great and that in comparison we are very small indeed. This truth can help all of us keep our egos in check. “Because I was little and weak, Jesus stooped down to me and tenderly instructed me in the secrets of His Love.” (Thoughts of St. Therese, p. 44)

I don’t know when Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI will meet again, but I’m sure that when they do they will still be trying to outdo each other in humility and service.

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The most famous bird on the planet was perched on the copper chimney atop the Sistine Chapel. For over 40 minutes he remained at his post completely oblivious to the fact that thousands of camera lenses and millions of onlookers were observing his every move. I joked with Maria that because the bird was a seagull the new Roman Pontiff would hail from a coastal city. Maybe it portended the election of Cardinal O’Malley of Boston or Cardinal Dolan from NYC. Could it be? The new Pope would indeed come from a coastal city in the Americas – from the Argentinian Capital of Buenos Aires.

The feathered sentinel didn’t stick around to witness the outcome. At first the smoke appeared to be jet black, but it quickly metamorphosed into an unmistakable cascade of white. The bells of St. Peter’s Basilica tolled in confirmation. Habemus Papam! We had a Pope.

A little after 8:00PM Rome Time on March 13th the world caught its first glimpse of the new Holy Father. He strode onto the central loggia with a peaceful bearing; the picture of serenity in the eye of an admiring storm. Thousands of flashbulbs flickered like so many fireflies on a summer night.

It’s always exciting to see a new Pope, but also a bit jarring to view a new man donning the familiar white robes. He greeted the crowd with a casual “good evening” and said that the cardinals had to go to the end of the world to find the new Pope. This was certainly true.

The new Successor of St. Peter asked those gathered in St. Peter’s Square to pray for him in silence before he imparted his first Apostolic Blessing. He bowed forward and one could hear a pin drop as over 150,000 people prayed silently. One TV network thought that they had lost their feed it was so quiet!

The world could already see in a dramatic way that this new “Papa” was going to be his own man and do things differently than his predecessor – the beloved Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

Who was this man that two-thirds or more of the cardinals had voted for on only the second day of the conclave and the fifth ballot? His name is Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina until his election to the papacy. This man set many firsts in one fell swoop. He is the first Pope to take the name Francis (after the 13th century Poverello who became one of the most beloved saints in the world), the first Pope from the Americas and the Southern Hemisphere, the first from the Jesuit Order founded by St. Ignatius Loyola, and the first non-European Pope since the Syrian Pope St. Gregory III in 741 – over 1,200 years ago! Even though he had garnered the second most votes after Benedict XVI in the 2005 Conclave, he was a definite dark horse this year because he is 76 years old.

Pope Francis has demonstarted in only a few days that he has his own style. He is typically “Latin” and gestures with his hands while speaking and expressing emotions with his eyes. He is very tactile and personable when interacting with others and has a real heart for the poor and downtrodden. While Archbishop he frequently reached out to those in the slums of Buenos Aires and even washed the feet of a man with AIDS. He led a simple and austere life back home trading in the Archbishop’s Palace for a small apartment and his limousine for public transportation. He desires that the Church should witness clearly to its preferential option for the poor and should live with the poor. In other words, he walks the walk in addition to talking the talk.

One thing is for sure, the Church will be in for a great adventure under the leadership of Pope Francis (it is incorrect to call him Pope Francis I until if and when there is a future Pope Francis II, just as nobody referred to World War I until there was a World War II). His actions in the first few days of his papacy are definitely a harbinger of interesting things to come. I for one can’t wait to take the ride!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow to everyone!

I am very grateful to the Knights in my Knights of Columbus Council for giving me the great honor of ‘Knight of the Year’ last weekend.

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