When we walked out of the hotel this morning to head to the convention center, it was a different city. Many of the downtown streets were void of traffic, concrete barriers at both ends. We walked a block, and we saw more barriers. We turned north on our normal route to the convention center and were told we had to go through a secure checkpoint. We got through the security and there were just a scattering of people, but then an important looking figure and his entourage walked up to us – Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. He made a beeline for the 3 of us and asked, “Did you just come through there? How was it?” And then he proceeded to talk to us, ask us where we were from, and talk to Joseph about school. When he asked Joseph his name, Mayor Nutter said, “Joseph, that’s my Confirmation name!” Finally he told us a bit about City Hall which loomed in the distance, and then he gave us three commemorative coins for the Papal visit with the City Hall and the City’s seal on the back.
We talked for a few more minutes, the TV cameras were there, and then we shook hands and parted ways. It was one of the highlights of the trip, and he made us feel secure and loved. And I’m sure it made a nice photo op for him too, but I don’t believe that was his main objective… He generally wanted us to feel secure and welcomed. And we did. Because with all this security – I’ve talked today with the Secret Service, Homeland Security, and the Philly PD – you start to get questions from a little one. Why do we need all this security dad? Why would they want to hurt the Pope? Why would they want to hurt us? It’s hard to explain that to a 7 year old, especially in a week that is so full of love, but people like Mayor Nutter and the Homeland Security Agents and the Philadelphia Police Officers we talked to made us feel so welcomed and secure. And the parting response was always, “Have Fun!”
We’re gearing up for something big.
We finally got into the convention center for the keynote – Pastor Rick Warren and Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley, the Archbishop of Boston where they talked about the Joy of the Gospel Life. One of the best talks of the conference. Period.
Rick Warren is amazing. He’s not Catholic, and thats OK. Evidently, he’s met the Pope a couple times and was invited to speak at another family conference with Pope Francis as well. He has positively affected so many people, and written one of the best selling books of all time about a purpose driven life, and he gave a fantastic message. Even though he’s not Catholic, he talked like one, probably more so than many Catholic’s do, and the main point the he and Cardinal O’Malley drove home is that Christians, while divided, have so many similarities. So many more similarities than differences. And that we need to seek out those similarities and form a Christian Community in our families and out in society if we are ever to change the world.
Pastor Warren shared many great stories and had many great lines worth remembering, but his basic point was this – that to love God fully, to love Him with all our heart, we need to “let Him love us.” We have to let Him love us and accept His mercy and forgiveness before we can ever hope to love Him as much as we want to, let alone love others as he intends us to. And then when we allow God to love us, we need to let His love pour out to others. “Our families need to be a living Bible,” Warren said.
Let’s make it our Mission to always try to “Reach one more for Jesus… Reach one more for Jesus.”
There are a lot of people to reach. Cardinal O’Malley brought it home as he mentioned the new mission territory is no longer “Third-World, developing nations”, but rather the United States and the Western nations. This is where the New Mission, the New Evangelization needs to take place. And he’s right. Even with all our advancements and technology, we are the third-world country when it comes to spirituality and morality. We need to do better.
And then Cardinal O’Malley said something that really made me think, society has the crowd and the community. People think they are the same. But crowds are just groups of individuals, communities are welcoming and loving and care for each other. Crowds push you away, communities draw you in.
“Our job is to turn the crowd into a community. This starts through the family.”
There have been a lot of crowds this week. But there has also been one large community here – the attendees of the World Meeting of Families, who have been welcomed by the greater community of Philadelphia. Everyone is excited about what is happening here, and this City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection is noticing the love and faith that we have for Christ. I can’t help but think that we are affecting the City in some way, and perhaps some of those people in the crowd this week that we have passed on the sidewalks and in the train stations will someday, be drawn into our community. And it’s through this community – welcoming others and loving Christ – where we ultimately become more secure.
Tomorrow the Pope arrives. This community is in store for something special!