My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
As we prepare for the pastoral visit to the United States of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, from September 22-27, I ask that you join me in prayer, asking the Lord to open our minds and hearts to receive the Holy Father’s message of hope and new life in Christ.
Our Holy Father comes to reignite the flame of love in our hearts: love for God and love for one another. Let us recall that our Holy Father’s first encyclical was Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) and his second encyclical is Laudato Si (Praise Be to You, My Lord). From the very beginning of his pontificate, His Holiness has reminded us constantly that God loves each person so very much. It is in Him that we find our true dignity and destiny and ultimately our joy as His very children. "The Joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus" (Evangelii Gaudium, no. 1).
Pope Francis, captured by the love of God, comes to us as the Vicar of Christ, the first among all shepherds, to proclaim and to renew the message that "God’s love is the fundamental moving force in all created things" (Laudato Si, no. 77). The Holy Father tells us: "All of us need to grow in Christ … so that each of us can say wholeheartedly: ‘It is no longer I who lives but Christ Jesus who lives in me (Galatians 2:20)’" (Evangelii Gaudium, 160).
How much we all need this message — young, old or middle-aged, born or yet to be born, rich or poor, well-schooled or still struggling to learn, weak or strong, already loved or marginalized, at home or homeless, free or in prison, citizen or foreigner, embraced or abandoned — God made us all and we need to reaffirm, to discover anew our relationship with Him. "We need to implore His grace daily, asking Him to open our cold hearts and shake up our lukewarm and superficial existence. Standing before Him with open hearts, letting Him look at us. … How good it is to stand before a crucifix, or on our knees before the Blessed Sacrament, and simply to be in His presence! How much good it does us when He once more touches our lives and impels us to share His new life!" (Evangelii Gaudium, no. 264).
Jesus told the first pope, Simon Peter: "I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail, and once you have been restored, you in turn must strengthen your brothers and sisters" (Luke 22:32-33). In still another place at the post-resurrection appearance on the shore of Tiberias, Jesus instructed Simon Peter three times with the words, "Feed my sheep" (John 21:15). As the successor to St. Peter, Pope Francis comes to confirm us in the faith and to nourish us with the word of God and the Eucharist, the bread of eternal life, the host of hope. His Holiness teaches us: "We must always bear in mind that the Eucharist is not something we make; it is not our own commemoration of what Jesus said and did. No. It is precisely an act of Christ! It is Christ who acts there, who is on the altar. It is a gift of Christ, who makes Himself present and gathers us around Him, to nourish us with His Word and with His life. This means that the mission and the very identity of the Church flows from there — from the Eucharist — and from there always takes its shape. … Through the Eucharist, Christ wishes to enter into our life and permeate it with His grace, so that in every Christian community there may be coherence between liturgy and life" (General Audience, Wednesday, February 12, 2014).
Pope Francis echoes the words of his venerable predecessor, Benedict XVI, who taught that in the Eucharist: "… the prayer that God’s kingdom will come and earth will become like heaven becomes quite practical: through the Eucharist, heaven comes to earth, God’s tomorrow comes today and brings tomorrow’s world into today’s" (Benedictus, edited by Rev. Peter John Cameron, O.P., p. 190). During his pastoral visit, like Christ, the Holy Father will break open the words of Holy Scripture and then lead us once again to that upper room, where bread and wine will become the Body and Blood of Christ.
As one family, united with Peter, we will enter a week of renewal mindful of the words of St. Ambrose: "Ubi Petrus, ibi Ecclesia" (Where there is Peter, there is the Church). Our prayer, addressed to the Father, asking the intercession of Mary, our Mother, and seeking the confirmation of Peter among us, is beautifully expressed in those powerful words concluding Evangelii Gaudium:
Mary, Virgin and Mother,
you who, moved by the Holy Spirit,
welcomed the word of life
in the depths of your humble faith:
as you gave yourself completely to the Eternal One,
help us to say our own "yes"
to the urgent call, as pressing as ever,
to proclaim the good news of Jesus (No. 288).
Together, joyfully we say: "Holy Father, we welcome you to our country and into our hearts. Touched by your message, may we all find our way home to God!"
Beloved sisters and brothers, I assure you of a remembrance in prayer during the Eucharistic and liturgical ceremonies celebrated with the Holy Father, asking the Lord to bless our beloved diocese and state.
With gratitude for your faith and commitment to our holy mother, the church, I remain,
Devotedly yours in Christ,
The Most Reverend Salvatore R. Matano
Bishop of Rochester