When our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI visited the United States in 2008, he told the crowd of 50,000 gathered at Nationals Stadium, “In the exercise of my ministry as the Successor of Peter, I have come to America to confirm you, my brothers and sisters, in the faith of the Apostles (cf. Lk 22:32).” The Pope was being faithful to his mission, the same mission that Jesus himself gave to Saint Peter and to his successors: to confirm his brothers and sisters in the faith. In these past days our Holy Father has once again confirmed us in the faith with the Beatification of Blessed John Paul II whose papacy had such a remarkable impact around the world. In a particular way, strengthening the bond even further between the Archdiocese of Washington and the Holy Father, I had the privilege of receiving a titular church in Rome as a Cardinal of the Church. I would like to share with you some of the graces from these events.
Just a few weeks ago, I had the immense joy of being in Rome during the Beatification of Pope John Paul II. Over 1.5 million pilgrims gathered in Saint Peter’s Square and every street, alley and lane in the neighboring miles to celebrate the event, and to remember with love the legacy of his extraordinary papacy. In his 26 years as Pope, John Paul II traveled the world, including several visits to the United States, encouraging and comforting us in the Gospel. His first unforgettable words as Pope — "Do not be afraid! Open, open wide the doors to Christ!” — became the driving force of his ministry as the Vicar of Christ. This great teacher of the faith touched on every aspect of human experience and the life of the Church; the sheer volume of his writings and talks exceeds that of any other pope in history. Most importantly, however, he taught us not only how to live, but by his heroic and humble suffering towards the end of his life, he showed us that every human life has meaning and dignity.
Blessed John Paul II had a special desire to form good and holy priests to serve the people of God. After calling together a Church Synod to reflect on the matter, he issued a landmark document on the formation of priests entitled Pastores Dabo Vobis, which continues to guide seminaries and priestly formation all around the world. The late Holy Father’s priestly witness and teaching have so encouraged and influenced our Archdiocese that this coming Fall we will open the new Blessed John Paul II Seminary. With your prayers, I am certain that this seminary, so close to my heart and to the heart of our pastors and people, will thrive in every way.
A week after the Beatification, I had the joy of officially receiving the church of San Pietro in Vincoli (Saint Peter in Chains) as my titular church in Rome. Each Cardinal is entrusted by the Pope with a particular church in Rome that links him to the Church of Saint Peter and that emphasizes the Cardinal’s responsibility as a papal elector and a close advisor to the Holy Father. It was a particular honor for the Archdiocese that Pope Benedict XVI should choose for us Saint Peter in Chains, the only other church in ancient Rome — after Saint Peter’s Basilica — that bears the Apostle’s name. As I prayed in this ancient church, kneeling before the chains that bound Saint Peter during his imprisonment in Rome and Jerusalem, I was powerfully reminded of the connection to Christ that we all share through Saint Peter and his successors, and that every one of us is called, like Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, to manifest the Kingdom, to share our faith as disciples of Christ even when it is difficult. These two great popes have proclaimed a message of joy, of hope, and of confidence, encouraging each of us to be full partners in the New Evangelization. It is true that following Christ and sharing his teachings can be difficult in today’s world. We all face the challenges of secularism, individualism and materialism. In a very real way, these can become chains that bind us. The chains of Saint Peter remind us, though, that the love of Christ can break through every worldly bond. His truth is liberating. As the Holy Father observed in declaring John Paul II Blessed, “…he helped us not to fear the truth, because truth is the guarantee of liberty.”
As we deepen our love for the Church and for the faith that is confirmed by Saint Peter and his successors, every one of us will grow in the freedom promised by Christ. This freedom permits us, even compels us, to share with family and friends our personal encounter with the Risen Lord. Three years ago, during his visit to our Archdiocese, the Pope encouraged us to give “a convincing account of the hope which inspires” us because “the world needs this witness.” Confirmed in the faith by our Holy Father, strengthened by the prayers of Blessed John Paul II, and freed from the bonds of sin and the chains of fear, we can each be that living testimony to the Lord, proclaiming as Saint Peter himself did, that “God raised Jesus and of this we are all witnesses.”
With prayerful best wishes I am,
Faithfully in Christ,
Donald Cardinal Wuerl
Archbishop of Washington