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Pope Francis’ Homily during Canonization of Four Saints


Homily of His Holiness Pope Francis

Mass of the Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Canonization of Four Saints

Sunday October 18, 2015

On Sunday, October 18, 2015, Pope Francis celebrated the Canonization Mass of four Saints: Saint Vincent Grossi, Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception and Saints Louis Martin and Marie-Azélie Guérin. Read the full text of his homily below:

Today’s biblical readings present the theme of service.  They call us to follow Jesus on the path of humility and the cross. The prophet Isaiah depicts the Servant of the Lord (53:10-11) and his mission of salvation.  The Servant is not someone of illustrious lineage; he is despised, shunned by all, a man of sorrows. He does not do great things or make memorable speeches; instead, he fulfils God’s plan through his humble, quiet presence and his suffering.  His mission is carried out in suffering, and this enables him to understand those who suffer, to shoulder the guilt of others and to make atonement for it.  The abandonment and sufferings of the Servant of the Lord, even unto death, prove so fruitful that they bring redemption and salvation to many.

Jesus is the Servant of the Lord.  His life and death, marked by an attitude of utter service (cf. Phil 2:7), were the cause of our salvation and the reconciliation of mankind with God.  The kerygma, the heart of the Gospel, testifies that his death and resurrection fulfilled the prophecies of the Servant of the Lord.  Saint Mark tells us how Jesus confronted the disciples James and John.  Urged on by their mother, they wanted to sit at his right and left in God’s Kingdom (cf. Mk10:37), claiming places of honour in accordance with their own hierarchical vision of the Kingdom.  Their horizon was still clouded by illusions of earthly fulfilment.  Jesus then gives a first “jolt” to their notions by speaking of his own earthly journey: “The cup that I drink you will drink… but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared” (vv. 39-40).  With the image of the cup, he assures the two that they can fully partake of his destiny of suffering, without, however, promising their sought-after places of honour.  His response is to invite them to follow him along the path of love and service, and to reject the worldly temptation of seeking the first place and commanding others.

Faced with people who seek power and success, the disciples are called to do the opposite.  Jesus warns them: “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.  But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant” (vv. 42-44).  These words show us that service is the way for authority to be exercised in the Christian community. Those who serve others and lack real prestige exercise genuine authority in the Church.  Jesus calls us to see things differently, to pass from the thirst for power to the joy of quiet service, to suppress our instinctive desire to exercise power over others, and instead to exercise the virtue of humility.

After proposing a model not to imitate, Jesus then offers himself as the ideal to be followed.  By imitating the Master, the community gains a new outlook on life: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (v. 45).  In the biblical tradition, the Son of Man is the one who receives from God “dominion, glory and kingship” (Dan 7:14).  Jesus fills this image with new meaning.  He shows us that he enjoys dominion because he is a servant, glory because he is capable of abasement, kingship because he is fully prepared to lay down his life.  By his passion and death, he takes the lowest place, attains the heights of grandeur in service, and bestows this upon his Church.

There can be no compatibility between a worldly understanding of power and the humble service which must characterize authority according to Jesus’ teaching and example.  Ambition and careerism are incompatible with Christian discipleship; honour, success, fame and worldly triumphs are incompatible with the logic of Christ crucified.  Instead, compatibility exists between Jesus, “the man of sorrows”, and our suffering.  The Letter to the Hebrews makes this clear by presenting Jesus as the high priest who completely shares our human condition, with the exception of sin: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin” (4:15).  Jesus exercises a true priesthood of mercy and compassion.  He knows our difficulties at first hand, he knows from within our human condition; the fact that he is without sin does not prevent him from understanding sinners.  His glory is not that born of ambition or the thirst for power; it is is the glory of one who loves men and women, who accepts them and shares in their weakness, who offers them the grace which heals and restores, and accompanies them with infinite tenderness amid their tribulations.

Each of us, through baptism, share in our own way in Christ’s priesthood: the lay faithful in the common priesthood, priests in the ministerial priesthood. Consequently, all of us can receive the charity which flows from his open heart, for ourselves but also for others.  We become “channels” of his love and compassion, especially for those who are suffering, discouraged and alone.

The men and women canonized today unfailingly served their brothers and sisters with outsanding humility and charity, in imitation of the divine Master. Saint Vincent Grossi was a zealous parish priest, ever attentive to the needs of his people, especially those of the young.  For all he was concerned to break the bread of God’s word, and thus became a Good Samaritan to those in greatest need.

Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception devoted her life, with great humility, to serving the least of our brothers and sisters, especially the children of the poor and the sick.

The holy spouses Louis Martin and Marie-Azélie Guérin practised Christian service in the family, creating day by day an environment of faith and love which nurtured the vocations of their daughters, among whom was Saint Therese of the Child Jesus.

The radiant witness of these new saints inspires us to persevere in joyful service to our brothers and sisters, trusting in the help of God and the maternal protection of Mary.  From heaven may they now watch over us and sustain us by their powerful intercession.

A Holy Couple – Canonization Mass

“The good Lord gave me a father and a mother more worthy of Heaven than of earth”. Photo: CNS/Paul Haring

These words come to us from Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, Carmelite nun and youngest daughter of Louis and Zélie Martin. Their names will soon be added to the book of saints next October during the Synod on the Family. They are the first couple to be canonized together. A holy couple, their story has a modern twist.

Louis and Zélie Martin met on the Saint Leonard Bridge in Alençon, France. It was an unexpected encounter. Both had previously contemplated entering the religious life. But as it became clear neither one of them were called to a life of celibacy, they vowed to offer their future marriage to God. When Zélie saw Louis, she heard a voice tell her this man was the one God had prepared for her. This conviction deepened the more they spent time together. They got married three months later on July 13th, 1858. Zélie was 27 years old and Louis 35.

Zélie already managed her own lacemaking business which she started at only 20 years old. She regularly received clients who needed her skillful hand to create or repair pieces of lace. She eventually opened a lacemaking factory that allowed her to take in apprentices. Her business was thriving. Apart from her leadership and goodwill, Zélie was an anxious woman. This is a character trait she attributed to her difficult childhood.

But if Zélie dealt with worry, Louis on the other hand was a gentle and patient man.  His talent lied in clock making.  He also held his own shop. Louis got into the trade starting at 19 years of age. Despite his excellent reputation, he retired from the clock making business to dedicate himself to his wife’s lacemaking factory, by becoming its client manager and bookkeeper. 

Career wasn’t everything to them. They were as much accomplices in their marriage as in their work. Both desired a holy marriage. They considered virginity to be an invaluable virtue even between husband and wife and so they practiced abstinence their first years of marriage. They had nine children, four of which died at a very young age. Louis and Zélie raised five girls, Pauline, Céline, Léonie, Marie, and Thérèse. They raised them in the faith and inspired in them charity and holiness. All of them eventually joined the Carmelites, except Léonie who joined the Sisters of the Visitation.

The Martins did face challenges, namely sickness. It started with Zélie when she was diagnosed with cancer. The pain intensified every day, without any hope of a cure, until she died at the age of 46. Through her suffering, Zélie held fast to prayer and patiently accepted God’s will and wisdom.

“If the Virgin Mary does not heal me, it is because I have done my time and that the good Lord wants me to find rest elsewhere” (last letter from Zélie to her brother Isidore Guerin, August 16th, 1877).

Some years after the death of his wife, Louis also fell ill. He had periods of forgetfulness or hallucinations and attacks of paralysis. After several episodes, he was taken to an asylum. He stayed there three years before going back home. Despite his evident weakness, he showed great strength, patience and perseverance.

“The things of this earth seemed to barely touch him; he overcame any difficulty that life gave him” (Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, Autobiographic Manuscripts, 1895).

Louis and Zélie Martin call us to a total submission to God’s will and providence. God was first in everything they did. Their unity of heart showed itself in their work, their family life and in their generosity towards friends and neighbours. Having known the loss of four children and of a spouse, and endurance in the face of sickness and suffering, Louis and Zélie “were witnesses to the radical gospel engagement of the vocation of marriage, to the point of heroism […] The Martins were not afraid to do violence to themselves in order to possess the Kingdom of Heaven” (Homily, Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, Beatification of Louis and Zélie Martin, Lisieux, 2008).

EmilieBlogPicWritten by Emilie Callan.

This piece was originally published in the new 2015 Salt + Light Magazine. Order your copy of the magazine by phone 1.888.302.7181 x238 or by email info@saltandlighttv.org today!

Tune in for LIVE coverage of Blesseds Louis and Zélie Martin’s Canonization Mass from the St. Peter’s Basilica on Sunday, October 18, 2015 at 12:00 pm ET, 9:00 am Pt. Pope Francis will preside.

The Heroism of Daily Life


Louis and Zélie Martin, parents of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus of the Holy Face, were the first parents of a saint to be beatified. They were the first spouses in the history of the Church to be proposed for sainthood as a couple and the second who were beatified together on October 19, 2008 in Lisieux, France. They will be proclaimed saints by Pope Francis on Sunday, October 18, 2015 at the Vatican.

The Martins worked hard while raising a large family. Though they lived In 19th century France, this couple faced challenges we face in the 21st: finding good child care; achieving professional excellence; operating a successful business; caring for elderly parents; educating a special-needs child; forming their children in the faith; finding time to pray and to be active in their parish community.

In 1877 Zélie died of breast cancer, leaving Louis a single parent with five minor daughters to bring up. Later Louis was diagnosed with cerebral arteriosclerosis and spent three years in a psychiatric hospital. Life came at them unexpectedly, just as it comes at us. They could not prevent their tragedies: the Franco-Prussian war, during which they housed nine German soldiers; the infant deaths of four of their nine children, one from abuse by a wet-nurse; their painful diseases; Zélie’s premature death. Nor could they escape their responsibilities as business owners, caregivers, spouses, and parents.

Maria & Luigi Beltrame-Quattrocchi

Zélie and Louis were not declared “blessed” nor will they be proclaimed saints because of their daughter, Thérèse. She became a saint because of them. They fostered an environment that invited Thérèse to grow in holiness. She responded freely to the invitation they offered her. When the Church recognized Louis and Zélie as a blessed couple, she pointed to the mystery of the vocation of marriage, the way of life in which most people are called to reach the common goal of all Christians: sainthood.

Thinking of the Martins, we cannot help but recall the words of St. John Paul II: “Heroism must become daily, and the daily must become heroic.” Their relics were present at the 2014 Synod on the Family for our veneration and they have been present during this year’s Ordinary Synod of Bishops.

The relics of a second holy couple, Luigi and Maria Beltrame Quattrocchi, are also present for veneration at the Synod. The husband and wife lived in Rome in the first half of the 20th century, and they were proclaimed blessed by St. John Paul II on October 21, 2001. In his homily at their Beatification ceremony in Rome, Pope John Paul II said:

“This couple lived married love and service to life in the light of the Gospel and with great human intensity. With full responsibility they assumed the task of collaborating with God in procreation, dedicating themselves generously to their children, to teach them, guide them and direct them to discovering his plan of love. From this fertile spiritual terrain sprang vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life, which shows how, with their common roots in the spousal love of the Lord, marriage and virginity may be closely connected and reciprocally enlightening.

Drawing on the word of God and the witness of the saints, the blessed couple lived an ordinary life in an extraordinary way. Among the joys and anxieties of a normal family, they knew how to live an extraordinarily rich spiritual life. At the centre of their life was the daily Eucharist as well as devotion to the Virgin Mary, to whom they prayed every evening with the Rosary, and consultation with wise spiritual directors. In this way they could accompany their children in vocational discernment, training them to appreciate everything “from the roof up”, as they often, charmingly, liked to say.”

The Martins and the Quattrocchis are the heroes of the everyday. Their witness, memory and relics among us are blessings, and invitations to each of us to aspire to daily heroism.

Relics Louis Zélie Martin

Relics of Blesseds Zélie and Louis Martin, parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux for veneration during the Synods of 2014-2015.

Tune in on Sunday, October 18, 2015 at 12:00 pm ET, 9:00 am PT for coverage of the Canonization Mass of Louis Martin and and Marie Zelie Guerin.

Don’t Skip Out on Saints

Driver's license of Archbishop Oscar Romero seen in museum in San Salvador

The first time I heard of Archbishop Oscar Romero was during my Grade 12 religion class.
Now, religion was the last class of the day and so there was every reason to just skip it.

Something that Mr. Whitebread (no kidding, that was his surname) was all too aware of, and took measures against.

His strategy was the promise of a movie about a revolutionary.

Hook, line, and sinker; he had me.

We were all present and accounted for, transfixed by the retelling of this ‘revolutionaries’ life.

By the end of it, we were convinced that Archbishop Oscar Romero was a saint, and it sparked meaningful discussion about discipleship and martyrdom.

The big take away for me, was that it gave me a sense of what sainthood might be like.

Man walks next to wall with graffiti bearing image of Archbishop Oscar Romero in San Salvador

Up until that point, most of the saints I knew of were so far removed from my own experiences I kind of just wrote them off. But learning about Archbishop Romero was different.  There was something tragically real about his life.

It’s been more than a decade since I was in high school, but I’ve been inspired to reconnect with his story by reading a biography about Oscar Romero published by Novalis. The book I’ve been reading is part of the People of God series, it’s called Love Must Win Out. It serves as a great intro (or refresher) on Oscar Romero and most importantly it tells the story of a modern day person who like us was challenged by the times he lived in to become a hero, a saint. I caught up Author, Kevin Clarke to learn more.

This book begins with a frank conversation between Oscar Romero and John Paul II. Why did you choose to start there?

It seemed to me, and I was writing this months before the announcement that Oscar Romero’s martyrdom was finally officially recognized by the church, that the archbishop’s cause had been part of the collateral damage of inter-church politics. I had to set the stage for that with the problems Blessed Oscar Romero had with the folks at the Curia and their inability to fully comprehend what he was trying to tell them about conditions in El Salvador.

Romero’s homilies were a touch-point of consolation for many, but they were also galvanizing  – tell me why his homilies were so stirring and how they are relevant today?

 They remain painfully relevant today because in the deeper context of these homilies can be found a lot of the messages we are hearing today from Pope Francis, being a church of and for the poor, reaching out to the peripheries, standing up to a throwaway economy that treats human beings as little more than soulless inputs. The church in El Salvador was about the closest real-world exemplar to that frontline hospital Pope Francis promotes, administering to the wounded and oppressed, his vision of what the church should be.

You’ve drawn comparisons between Pope Francis and Blessed Oscar Romero – Where you do see their greatest similarity in approach?

You see elements of that what I’ll call strategic humility in the decisions of both of these leaders. They are gestures that are largely symbolic, it’s true, but they are also practical and wise, a voluntary humility that is an example for all of us, but also that was instructive in real ways for Romero as it no doubt will be for Pope Francis.

In your book, you suggest political categories such as ‘left’ or ‘right’ fall short of understanding Romero… why is that important in the telling of Romero’s story.

Romero was trying to save the nation from civil war and the people from the horror of it and to that end he sided with the poor; but he did not side with the left, he sided with the people who were suffering from a great injustice.

Nor did he stand against the right in a sense. To the end what he called the nation’s elite to was to embrace their better selves, not to a political reform, but to a personal revolution of spiritual conversion. He was trying to save the oppressors from their sins just as much as he as trying to save the oppressed from their suffering. Those political labels can never tell a story like that.


Kevin Clarke is senior editor and chief correspondent at America magazine. You can learn more about Oscar Romero in our latest edition of the S+L Magazine. 

Follow America Magazine @americamag

Get your copy of Love Must Win Out via Novalis here.

CNS photos

CherdianS1The Producer Diaries

Cheridan Sanders, a Producer at Salt and Light Television, reflects on her experiences as she travels the world telling Catholic’s stories.



Canadian Martyrs – Spearheading the 17th century Social Apostolate


“There is something holy about this place, something special. Here we stand on holy ground sanctified by the blood of the martyrs. Here we pray in solidarity with them. These are our Jesuit brothers who gave their lives: willingly, freely – and in love,” says Fr. Steve Leblanc, SJ – Jesuit priest at Martyrs’ Shrine

The history of the Canadian Martyrs has been so rightly told, and retold many times. We know of their faith, their courage, and their horrific martyrdoms. On September 26, I will find myself in the company of Jesuits and pilgrims from all over Canada, and the U.S., who will gather in Midland, Ontario, to celebrate the  annual Feast of the Canadian Jesuit Martyrs. In terms of pilgrimage sites, Martyrs Shrine is a hidden gem with acres of beautiful land, a simple and humble shrine church that welcomes over 100,000 pilgrims and visitors every year, an impressive reconstructed Huron village, and the site where is it believed that Jean de Brébeuf, Gabriel Lalement, and many Huron-Wendat people were tortured and martyred.

These eight men have become part of my own journey, and so I feel that they are indeed my brothers even though two years ago, I would have laughed at the idea of becoming a Jesuit.  At that time,  in my eyes, the Jesuits were flamboyant, irreverent, tree hugging social justice do-gooders.  Now, after having spent a year in the Jesuit novitiate I have a fuller understanding of what makes these men tick.

If we look at Jesuit history, from the very beginning St. Ignatius and his companions were looked upon as somewhat odd. They wandered about in ragged clothes, with no clear course of direction, begging, and preaching.  Some were imprisoned, brought before the court of inquisition, and questioned about their motives and what they were trying to accomplish.  They weren’t a group of men building a new religious order on a foundation of something that made sense to people – instead it was built on something new, something different, something that made people feel mildly uncomfortable.


In 1540, the Society of Jesus was approved by Pope Paul III, and these men, the first Jesuits, were still viewed with caution. Who were these men that had the ear of kings and queens? Who were these men who seemed to be everywhere, at all times, in the middle of everything? The Society was later suppressed.

Post suppression, and leading into the late 20th century, widespread attitudes toward the Jesuits were no different. As the Jesuits began to discern their mission anew, a call for deeper sensitivities around issues of social justice emerged, and Jesuits embraced a new path wholeheartedly. Who were these characters being arrested, protesting, and even losing their lives in many parts of the world?

I have had the privilege of being in love at different times in my life. Being in love is fun, exciting, and can even make you become somewhat foolish. Being in love causes you do things that you wouldn’t normally do, and fills you with a fire that burns bright. You become a fool. A fool that is in love. Just so, St. Ignatius was in love. His companions were in love. Jean de Brébeuf was in love. Sts. René Goupil, Isaac Jogues, Jean de Lalande, Antoine Daniel, Noel Chabanel, Charles Garnier, and Gabriel Lalemant were all men who happened to be in love.

Just over a year ago, I joined the Jesuits. Yes, we can be flamboyant, we are sometimes misunderstood as being mildly irreverent, and we are indeed tree hugging social justice do-gooders. We are men in love. We are in love with our sense of mission, and dedication to loving others even if it makes people feel mildly uncomfortable. We belong to something great, something profound, and something alive.

Canada’s national shrine of the Canadian Jesuit Martyrs will celebrate its 90th anniversary of the opening of the present church on the hill in 2016. It is Canada’s only national shrine outside of Quebec. The only other national shrine is St. Joseph’s Oratory which is approximately of the same age as Martyrs’ Shrine and is located in Montreal, Quebec.

Please visit: http://martyrs-shrine.com/

Pope In US: Homily During Canonization Mass of St. Junipero Serra

On Wednesday, September 23, 2015, Pope Francis celebrated the Canonization Mass of St. Junipero Serra at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Please see below for the full prepared text of his homily.

Holy Mass and Canonization of Blessed Junípero Serra
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington
Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Rejoice in the Lord always!  I say it again, rejoice!  These are striking words, words which impact our lives.  Paul tells us to rejoice; he practically orders us to rejoice.  This command resonates with the desire we all have for a fulfilling life, a meaningful life, a joyful life.  It is as if Paul could hear what each one of us is thinking in his or her heart and to voice what we are feeling, what we are experiencing.  Something deep within us invites us to rejoice and tells us not to settle for placebos which simply keep us comfortable.

At the same time, though, we all know the struggles of everyday life.  So much seems to stand in the way of this invitation to rejoice.  Our daily routine can often lead us to a kind of glum apathy which gradually becomes a habit, with a fatal consequence: our hearts grow numb.

We don’t want apathy to guide our lives… or do we?  We don’t want the force of habit to rule our life… or do we?  So we ought to ask ourselves: What can we do to keep our heart from growing numb, becoming anesthetized?  How do we make the joy of the Gospel increase and take deeper root in our lives?

Jesus gives the answer.  He said to his disciples then and he says it to us now: Go forth!  Proclaim!  The joy of the Gospel is something to be experienced, something to be known and lived only through giving it away, through giving ourselves away.

The spirit of the world tells us to be like everyone else, to settle for what comes easy.  Faced with this human way of thinking, “we must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and for the world” (Laudato Si’, 229).  It is the responsibility to proclaim the message of Jesus.  For the source of our joy is “an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of our own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy” (Evangelii Gaudium, 24).  Go out to all, proclaim by anointing and anoint by proclaiming.  This is what the Lord tells us today.  He tells us:

A Christian finds joy in mission: Go out to people of every nation!

A Christian experiences joy in following a command: Go forth and proclaim the good news!

A Christian finds ever new joy in answering a call: Go forth and anoint!

Jesus sends his disciples out to all nations.  To every people.  We too were part of all those people of two thousand years ago.  Jesus did not provide a short list of who is, or is not, worthy of receiving his message, his presence.  Instead, he always embraced life as he saw it.  In faces of pain, hunger, sickness and sin.  In faces of wounds, of thirst, of weariness, doubt and pity.  Far from expecting a pretty life, smartly-dressed and neatly groomed, he embraced life as he found it.  It made no difference whether it was dirty, unkempt, broken.  Jesus said: Go out and tell the good news to everyone.  Go out and in my name embrace life as it is, and not as you think it should be.  Go out to the highways and byways, go out to tell the good news fearlessly, without prejudice, without superiority, without condescension, to all those who have lost the joy of living.  Go out to proclaim the merciful embrace of the Father.  Go out to those who are burdened by pain and failure, who feel that their lives are empty, and proclaim the folly of a loving Father who wants to anoint them with the oil of hope, the oil of salvation.  Go out to proclaim the good news that error, deceitful illusions and falsehoods do not have the last word in a person’s life.  Go out with the ointment which soothes wounds and heals hearts.

Mission is never the fruit of a perfectly planned program or a well-organized manual.  Mission is always the fruit of a life which knows what it is to be found and healed, encountered and forgiven.  Mission is born of a constant experience of God’s merciful anointing.

The Church, the holy People of God, treads the dust-laden paths of history, so often traversed by conflict, injustice and violence, in order to encounter her children, our brothers and sisters.  The holy and faithful People of God are not afraid of losing their way; they are afraid of becoming self-enclosed, frozen into élites, clinging to their own security.  They know that self-enclosure, in all the many forms it takes, is the cause of so much apathy.

So let us go out, let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ (Evangelii Gaudium, 49).  The People of God can embrace everyone because we are the disciples of the One who knelt before his own to wash their feet (ibid., 24).

The reason we are here today is that many other people wanted to respond to that call.  They believed that “life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort” (Aparecida Document, 360).  We are heirs to the bold missionary spirit of so many men and women who preferred not to be “shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security… within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving” (Evangelii Gaudium, 49).  We are indebted to a tradition, a chain of witnesses who have made it possible for the good news of the Gospel to be, in every generation, both “good” and “news”.

Today we remember one of those witnesses who testified to the joy of the Gospel in these lands, Father Junípero Serra.  He was the embodiment of “a Church which goes forth”, a Church which sets out to bring everywhere the reconciling tenderness of God.  Junípero Serra left his native land and its way of life.  He was excited about blazing trails, going forth to meet many people, learning and valuing their particular customs and ways of life.  He learned how to bring to birth and nurture God’s life in the faces of everyone he met; he made them his brothers and sisters.  Junípero sought to defend the dignity of the native community, to protect it from those who had mistreated and abused it.  Mistreatment and wrongs which today still trouble us, especially because of the hurt which they cause in the lives of many people.

Father Serra had a motto which inspired his life and work, a saying he lived his life by: siempre adelante!  Keep moving forward!  For him, this was the way to continue experiencing the joy of the Gospel, to keep his heart from growing numb, from being anesthetized.  He kept moving forward, because the Lord was waiting.  He kept going, because his brothers and sisters were waiting.  He kept going forward to the end of his life.  Today, like him, may we be able to say: Forward!  Let’s keep moving forward!

Canonization of Junípero Serra


Say the name Junípero Serra in American church circles and you are likely to get a mixed set of reactions. Some will tell you he is the saintly Franciscan who evangelized what is today the U.S. Others will tell you this is the man who forced the natives to convert by confining them to the Mission and through threats of physical punishment. With two such opposite viewpoints, surely neither one is entirely true. At the same time, neither one is entirely false.


Junípero Serra was born Miguel José Serra on the Spanish island of Majorca. He entered the Franciscan order at age 15 and began what seems to have been a life dedicated to studying. By the age of 24 Serra was a professor at the Lullian University (today the University of the Balearic Islands in Palma de Majorca). He was quite happy with this academic life, yet at a certain point realized he yearned to do something “more” than studying and teaching in a university.  He wanted to follow in the footsteps of Francis Solano, the Franciscan missionary to Peru who was canonized in the period when Serra joined the Franciscan order.

In 1749 Serra and a group of other Spanish Franciscans travelling across the Atlantic, across the continent, to Mexico City. Serra left behind his promising academic career and his ageing parents to bring the Gospel to the “new world”. Serra, along with his companions,set sail for Mexico City. He soon moved to the Sierra Gorda missions where he discovered the locals where both spiritually and economically poor. He learned their language and made a point of showing that he was there to serve them. During the worst of the droughts they experienced, he led his confreres in ensuring the locals were fed. He helped build a church that is still used today, and encouraged the natives to produce crops and wares that they could sell to support themselves. All this to keep Spanish land interests at bay. Going against what was normal at the time, Serra referred to the natives as “gentiles”, refusing to use the terms “barbarians” or “pagans.”

Why the negative reaction to Serra? Converted natives were moved into the Mission and were under the authority of the Franciscans. As was normal at the time, they could be hunted down if they left and either whipped or shackled if they were disobedient. While all of this was considered normal practice at the time, today it is viewed as a tragic part of North American history.

The realities of life in the missions coupled with the fact that Serra was, reportedly, not a cheerful person, helps take attention away from his heroic christian virtues. One biographer wrote that he was not prone to laughter…ever. Thankfully the Church does not recognize saints because of their cheery dispositions.  

This piece was originally published in the new 2015 Salt + Light Magazine. Order your copy of the magazine by phone 1.888.302.7181 x238 or by email info@saltandlighttv.org today!

Tune in for LIVE coverage of Blessed Junípero Serra’s Canonization Mass from the Basiclica of the National Shrine on the Immaculate Conception online on Wednesday, September 23, 2015 at 3:45 pm ET.

An Accessible Woman: Remembering Blessed Mother Teresa on her Feast Day


It’s been eighteen years since Mother Teresa suffered a heart attack and died at 87 years old on Sept. 5, 1997 in Calcutta.  She would have turned 105 years old this year. The day after she died, she was set to lead an interfaith memorial prayer service in Calcutta for her friend, Diana, Princess of Wales, who had been tragically killed in a car accident one week earlier.

How well I remember those days…  my own father died on August 27 that year.  On the night I returned to Toronto from his funeral, the Princess was killed in the horrible car crash in Paris.  One week later, Mother Teresa was called home to God.  I commentated her funeral for several national television networks in Canada, which marked my first time ever doing commentary on television!  The pomp, precision and somber majesty of Princess Diana’s London farewell one week earlier were hardly visible in the chaotic scenes of Mother Teresa’s simple wooden casket riding on a gun carriage through the mobbed and chaotic streets of Calcutta for her State funeral.

Mother Teresa’s life was not a sound byte, but rather a metaphor for selfless devotion and holiness.  Her most famous work began in 1950 with the opening of the first Nirmal Hriday (Tender Heart) home for the dying and destitute in Calcutta.  Mother’s words remain inscribed on the walls of that home: “Nowadays the most horrible disease is not leprosy or tuberculosis. It is the feeling to be undesirable, rejected, abandoned by all.”

There are critics in the Church who say that Mother Teresa personified a “pre-Vatican-Council” view of faith and did not address systemic evils.  She is politely and sometimes unpolitely dismissed because her life is hardly “prophetic” in the eyes of some people.  In fact, many saints and blessed are dismissed by such folks who have no understanding of the meaning of biblical prophecy.  They criticize Mother and her followers for their relentless condemnation of abortion.  Some have said that in Mother Teresa, there was no element of prophetic criticism in her teachings and her lifestyle.  Instead of acting sensibly by applying for government grants to create programs to eliminate poverty, Mother Teresa and her sisters moved into neighborhoods and befriended people.  Their houses often become oases of hope and peace, like the ones in Canada. When Mother Teresa speaks of ‘sharing poverty,’ she defies the logic of institutions that prefer agendas for the poor, not communion with individual poor people.  Agents and instruments of communion are often called irrelevant and unprophetic by the world.

Though she left this world scene eighteen years ago, this tiny nun made the news big time several years ago with the publication of her letters. Many journalists, magazine editors, television newscasters and bloggers completely distorted the story with their sensational headlines: “Mother Teresa’s secret life: crisis and darkness,” or  “Calcutta’s Saint was an atheist,” or even “Mother and the Absent One.”  Some commentators wrote: “She lost her faith and the Church rewards her for it.” These people seem unaware that those who prepared Mother’s Beatification in 2003 cited the letters as proof of her exceptional faith and not the absence of it.

Mother Teresa tells us in those deeply personal messages that she once felt God’s powerful presence and heard Jesus speak to her. Then God withdrew and Jesus was silent. What Mother Teresa experienced thereafter was faith devoid of any emotional consolation. In the end Mother Teresa had to rely on raw faith, hope and charity. These are the virtues of all Christians, not just the spiritual elite. She was one of us after all.

Years ago, during my graduate studies in Rome, I met Mother Teresa of Calcutta several times while I was teaching her sisters in a slum neighborhood on the outskirts of the Eternal City. At the end of our first visit, she blessed my forehead before placing into my hands one of her famous business cards unlike any I had ever seen.

On one side of the card were these words: “The fruit of silence is PRAYER. The fruit of prayer is FAITH. The fruit of faith is LOVE. The fruit of love is SERVICE. The fruit of service is PEACE. God bless you. –Mother Teresa.”

There was no e-mail address, Twitter handle, phone number or website on the card. Mother didn’t need an address back then. And Blessed Teresa of Calcutta certainly doesn’t need contact information today. Everyone now knows where she is and how to reach her.  She still has her hands full with our requests.

Saints of the Church in Philadelphia: St. Katharine Drexel (1858 – 1955)


Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on November 26, 1858, Katharine Drexel was the second of three daughters of Francis Anthony Drexel. Francis was a nationally and internationally well-known banker and philanthropist. Francis’ first wife Hannah gave birth to a daughter Elizabeth and three years later to Katharine in 1858. Never fully recovered from childbirth, Hannah died five weeks after Katharine’s birth. In 1860 Francis married Emma Bouvier. In 1863 Louise was born. Family prayer was integrated into their daily life. Emma opened the doors of the Drexel home three afternoons a week to the poor. When they were old enough, the three girls helped her distribute clothing, food, medicine, rent money, etc. They learned that wealth was a gift to be shared with those in need.

The three Drexel girls were educated at home by tutors. They had the added advantage of touring parts of the United States and Europe with their parents. By word and example Emma and Francis taught their daughters that wealth was meant to be shared with those in need. Three afternoons a week Emma opened the doors of their home to serve the needs of the poor. When the girls were old enough, they assisted their mother. When Francis purchased a summer home in Torresdale, Pa., Katharine and Elizabeth taught Sunday school classes for the children of employees and neighbors. Their local pastor, Rev. James O’Connor (who later became bishop of Omaha), became a family friend and Katharine’s spiritual director.

When the family took a trip to the Western part of the United States, Katharine, as a young woman, saw the plight and destitution of the native Indian-Americans. This experience aroused her desire to do something specific to help alleviate their condition. At Francis’ death in 1885, besides providing for his daughters, he left $14,000,000 to charity. This was the beginning of Katharine’s lifelong personal and financial support of numerous missions and missionaries in the United States. The first school she established was St. Catherine Indian School in Santa Fe, New Mexico (1887).

Katharine DrexelLater, when visiting Pope Leo XIII in Rome, and asking him for missionaries to staff some of the Indian missions that she as a lay person was financing, she was surprised to hear the Pope suggest that she become a missionary herself. After consultation with her spiritual director, Bishop James O’Connor, she made the decision to give herself totally to God, along with her inheritance, through service to American Indians and Afro-Americans.

Her wealth was now transformed into a poverty of spirit that became a daily constant in a life supported only by the bare necessities. On February 12, 1891, she professed her first vows as a religious, founding the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament whose dedication would be to share the message of the Gospel and the life of the Eucharist among American Indians and Afro-Americans.

Always a woman of intense prayer, Katharine found in the Eucharist the source of her love for the poor and oppressed and of her concern to reach out to combat the effects of racism. Knowing that many Afro-Americans were far from free, still living in substandard conditions as sharecroppers or underpaid menials, denied education and constitutional rights enjoyed by others, she felt a compassionate urgency to help change racial attitudes in the United States.

The plantation at that time was an entrenched social institution in which black people continued to be victims of oppression. This was a deep affront to Katharine’s sense of justice. The need for quality education loomed before her, and she discussed this need with some who shared her concern about the inequality of education for Afro-Americans in the cities. Restrictions of the law also prevented them in the rural South from obtaining a basic education.

Founding and staffing schools for both Native Americans and Afro-Americans throughout the country became a priority for Katharine and her congregation. During her lifetime, she opened, staffed and directly supported nearly 60 schools and missions, especially in the West and Southwest United States. Her crowning educational focus was the establishment in 1925 of Xavier University of Louisiana, the only predominantly Afro-American Catholic institution of higher learning in the United States. Religious education, social service, visiting in homes, in hospitals and in prisons were also included in the ministries of Katharine and the Sisters.

In her quiet way, Katharine combined prayerful and total dependence on Divine Providence with determined activism. Her joyous incisiveness, attuned to the Holy Spirit, penetrated obstacles and facilitated her advances for social justice. Through the prophetic witness of Katharine Drexel’s initiative, the Church in the United States was enabled to become aware of the grave domestic need for an apostolate among Native Americans and Afro-Americans. She did not hesitate to speak out against injustice, taking a public stance when racial discrimination was in evidence.

St. Katharine DrexelFor the last 18 years of her life she was rendered almost completely immobile because of a serious illness. During these years she gave herself to a life of adoration and contemplation as she had desired from early childhood. She died on March 3, 1955.

Katharine left a four-fold dynamic legacy to her Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, who continue her apostolate today, and indeed to all peoples:

  • her love for the Eucharist, her spirit of prayer, and her Eucharistic perspective on the unity of all peoples;
  • her undaunted spirit of courageous initiative in addressing social iniquities among minorities — one hundred years before such concern aroused public interest in the United States;
  • her belief in the importance of quality education for all, and her efforts to achieve it;
  • her total giving of self, of her inheritance and all material goods in selfless service of the victims of injustice.

Mother Katharine Drexel’s cause for beatification was introduced in 1966. Pope John Paul II formally declared Drexel “Venerable” on January 26, 1987, and beatified her on November 20, 1988 after concluding that Robert Gutherman was miraculously cured of deafness in 1974 after his family prayed for Mother Drexel’s intercession. Mother Drexel was canonized on October 1, 2000, the second American-born saint (Elizabeth Ann Seton was the first native-born US citizen canonized, in 1975). Canonization occurred after the Vatican determined that two-year-old Amy Wall had been miraculously healed of nerve deafness in both ears through Katharine Drexel’s intercession in 1994.

Here is an excerpt of Pope John Paul II’s homily during the mass of canonization in 2000:

“In the second reading of today’s liturgy, the Apostle James rebukes the rich who trust in their wealth and treat the poor unjustly. Mother Katharine Drexel was born into wealth in Philadelphia in the United States. But from her parents she learned that her family’s possessions were not for them alone but were meant to be shared with the less fortunate. As a young woman, she was deeply distressed by the poverty and hopeless conditions endured by many Native Americans and Afro-Americans. She began to devote her fortune to missionary and educational work among the poorest members of society. Later, she understood that more was needed. With great courage and confidence in God’s grace, she chose to give not just her fortune but her whole life totally to the Lord.

To her religious community, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, she taught a spirituality based on prayerful union with the Eucharistic Lord and zealous service of the poor and the victims of racial discrimination. Her apostolate helped to bring about a growing awareness of the need to combat all forms of racism through education and social services. Katharine Drexel is an excellent example of that practical charity and generous solidarity with the less fortunate which has long been the distinguishing mark of American Catholics.

May her example help young people in particular to appreciate that no greater treasure can be found in this world than in following Christ with an undivided heart and in using generously the gifts we have received for the service of others and for the building of a more just and fraternal world.”

Link to full text of Canonization Homily:

Link to Shrine
Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament
1663 Bristol Pike, Bensalem, Pennsylvania 19020

Saints of the Church in Philadelphia – John Nepomucene, C.Ss.R. (1811-1860)


John Nepomucene Neumann was born on March 28, 1811 in Bohemia, the Czech portion of the present Czechoslovakia. He graduated from a nearby college in Bohemia and then applied to the seminary. John distinguished himself not only in his theological studies, but also in the natural sciences. Besides mastering Latin, Greek and Hebrew, he learned to speak fluently at least eight modern languages, including various Slavic dialects.

During his seminary studies, John had read with great interest the quarterly reports of the Missionary Society of St. Leopold containing accounts of the pioneering work being done in the United States. On the morning of February 8, 1836, he left his native home and made the trip across Europe on foot. Several months later, he set sail for New York aboard a 210-foot, three-masted ship loaded to capacity with emigrants. Six weeks later, the ship entered the harbor of New York.

A few days after arriving in New York, John Neumann sought out and met the bishop, John Dubois. Bishop Dubois had only 36 priests to care for 200,000 Catholics living in all of New York State and half of lower New Jersey. In June of 1836, the bishop ordained John Neumann as a sub-deacon, a deacon, and as a priest, all within on week’s time. Young Fr. John Neumann devoted himself to the pastoral care of all the outlying places in the parish of Buffalo for four years. From his headquarters near Buffalo, he made frequent journeys on foot in all kinds of weather to points ten or twenty miles distant, visiting the settlers on their scattered farms.

Fr. Neumann could not long keep up the strenuous work he was doing. He began to suffer from fevers that lasted as long as three months. At Easter time, 1840, he had a complete breakdown; and after recovering to some extent, he made up his mind to join the Redemptorists. After being accepted into the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, John was directed to go to Pittsburgh. He was the first novice of the Redemptorists in the United States and, in 1847, he became the head of the American Redemptorists. He also wrote several German Language Catechisms and a German Bible history. Files of the US State Department show that Bishop Neumann became a naturalized citizen of the United States at Baltimore on February 10, 1848, renouncing allegiance to the Emperor of Austria in whose realm he was born on March 28, 1811.

St. John Nepomucene NeumannIn 1852, he was appointed Bishop of Philadelphia and he accepted the appointment only because Pope Pius IX commanded him to do so. Neumann the fourth bishop of Philadelphia, and held that position from 1852 to 1860. On his 41st birthday, Neumann was consecrated bishop of Philadelphia by Archbishop Francis Kenrick at St. Alphonsus Church in Baltimore, in 1852. The Diocese of Philadelphia was at this time the largest in the country, comprising eastern Pennsylvania, western New Jersey, and all of Delaware.

Bishop Neumann was the first in the United States to introduce the Forty Hours Devotion in his diocese. Italian immigrants remember Bishop Neumann as the founder of the first national parish for Italians in the United States. At a time when there was no priest to speak their language, no one to care for them, Bishop Neumann, who had studied Italian as a seminarian in Bohemia, gathered them together in his private chapel and preached to them in their mother tongue. In 1855 he purchased a Methodist Church in South Philadelphia, dedicated it to St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, and gave them one of his seminary professors, Vincentian Father John Tornatore, to be their pastor.

From the beginning, Bishop Neumann promoted the establishment of parochial schools. There were only two such schools in 1852, but by 1860 they numbered nearly 100. He is responsible for establishing the first unified system of Catholic schools under a diocesan board. This took place a fortnight before the Plenary Council at Baltimore would seconded his proposals.

Bishop Neumann was the founder of a religious order for women, the Third Order of St. Francis of Glen Riddle, whose Rule he drafted in 1855 after returning from Rome for the solemn promulgation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. The School Sisters of Notre Dame likewise regard Bishop Neumann as their secondary founder, their “father in America.” In 1847, Father John Neumann, superior of the Redemptorist Order at the time, welcomed the first band of these teaching sisters from Munich. He found them a home in Baltimore and then provided them with teaching assignments in his Order’s parish schools at Baltimore, Pittsburgh, New York, Buffalo and Philadelphia.

Though Bishop Neumann had suffered from frequent illnesses, his sudden death, at the age of 48, was wholly unexpected. On January 8, 1860, he went out in the afternoon to attend to some business matters and was walking back when he suffered a stroke and died. At his own request Bishop Neumann was buried in a basement crypt in Saint Peter’s Church where he would be with his Redemptorist confreres.

The cause of his beatification was begun in 1886. Ten years later, he received the title of “Venerable.” In February 1963, Pope John XXIII issued the proclamation for his beatification, but the ceremony was delayed by the death of Pope John and Pope Paul VI beatified him on October 13, 1963. In a personal letter to each bishop of the world, before the opening of the Vatican Council, Pope John XXIII asked each bishop to aim at achieving the heights of personal sanctity in order to assure its success. He reminded them of their first and highest mission of carrying on a constant policy of instruction and of pastoral visitation so that they can say: “I know my sheep, each and every one,” and that one of the great blessings that can come to a diocese is a bishop who sanctifies, who keeps watch and who sacrifices himself. All these qualities are pre-eminent in the life and holiness of Bishop Neumann, the shepherd declared Blessed during the Second Vatican Council.

Philadelphia skyline

Neumann’s canonization followed in June of 1977. Known for a lifetime of pastoral work, especially among poor German immigrants, Bishop John Neumann was the first American man to be named saint. His feast day was established on January 5th.

Pilgrims came from all over the world to his tomb in St. Peter’s Church in Philadelphia. From his native Bohemia, from Germany and Holland they came to claim allegiance to one of their own. In 1976 during the International Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia, then-Cardinal Karol Wojtyla (later Pope John Paul II) visited the shrine and prayed at Neumann’s tomb.

Excerpt of Homily of Pope Paul VI
Sunday June 19, 1977

“Greetings to you, Brethren, and sons and daughters of the United States of America! We welcome you in the name of the Lord! The entire Catholic Church, here, at the tomb of the Apostle Peter, welcomes you with festive joy. And together with you, the entire Catholic Church sings a hymn of heavenly victory to Saint John Nepomucene Neumann, who receives the honor of one who lives in the glory of Christ.

In a few brief words we shall describe for the other pilgrims some details of his life, which are already known to you.

…We ask ourselves today: what is the meaning of this extraordinary event, the meaning of this canonization? It is the celebration of holiness. And what is holiness? It is human perfection, human love raised up to its highest level in Christ, in God.

At the time of John Neumann, America represented new values and new hopes. Bishop Neumann saw these in their relationship to the ultimate, supreme possession to which humanity is destined. With Saint Paul he could testify that “all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Cor. 3, 22). And with Augustine he knew that our hearts are restless, until they rest in the Lord.

His love for people was authentic brotherly love. It was real charity: missionary and pastoral charity. It meant that he gave himself to others. Like Jesus the Good Shepherd, he lay down his life for the sheep, for Christ’s flock: to provide for their needs, to lead them to salvation. And today, with the Evangelist, we solemnly proclaim : “There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15, 13).

John Neumann’s pastoral zeal was manifested in many ways. Through faithful John Neumann CSsRand persevering service, he brought to completion the generosity of his initial act of missionary dedication. He helped children to satisfy their need for truth, their need for Christian doctrine, for the teaching of Jesus in their lives. He did this both by catechetical instruction and by promoting, with relentless energy, the Catholic school system in the United States. And we still remember the words of our late Apostolic Delegate in Washington, the beloved Cardinal Amleto Cicognani: “You Americans”, he said, “possess two great treasures: the Catholic school and the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. Guard them like the apple of your eye” (Cfr. Epistola 2 iunii 1963).

And who can fail to admire all the loving concern that John Neumann showed for God’s people, through his priestly ministry and his pastoral visitations as a Bishop? He deeply loved the Sacramental of Reconciliation: and like a worthy son of Saint Alphonsus he transmitted the pardon and the healing power of the Redeemer into the lives of innumerable sons and daughters of the Church. He was close to the sick; he was at home with the poor; he was a friend to sinners. And today he is the honor of all immigrants, and from the viewpoint of the Beatitudes the symbol of Christian success.

John Neumann bore the image of Christ. He experienced, in his innermost being, the need to proclaim by word and example the wisdom and power of God, and to preach the crucified Christ. And in the Passion of the Lord he found strength and the inspiration of his ministry: Passio Christi conforta me!

…There are many who have lived and are still living the divine command of generous love. For love still means giving oneself for others, because Love has come down to humanity; and from humanity love goes back to its divine source! How many men and women make this plan of God the program of their lives! Our praise goes to the clergy, religious and Catholic laity of America who, in following the Gospel, live according to this plan of sacrifice and service. Saint John Neumann is a true example for all of us in this regard. It is not enough to acquire the good things of the earth, for these can even be dangerous, if they stop or impede our love from rising to its source and reaching its goal. Let us always remember that the greatest and the first commandment is this: “You shall love the Lord your God” (Matth. 22, 36).

True humanism in Christianity. True Christianity-we repeat is the sacrifice of self for others, because of Christ, because of God. It is shown by signs; it is manifested in deeds. Christianity is sensitive to the suffering and oppression and sorrow of others, to poverty, to all human needs, the first of which is truth.

Our ceremony today is indeed the celebration of holiness. At the same time, it is a prophetic anticipation-for the Church, for the United States, for the world-of a renewal in love: love for God, love for neighbor. And in this vital charity, beloved sons and daughters, let us go forward together, to build up a real civilization of love. Saint John Neumann, by the living power of your example and by the intercession of your prayers, help us today and for ever.”

Find the full text here.

National Shrine of St. John Neumann in Philadelphia