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Take leap of faith and dare to love your family, those in need, pope says

MARSEILLE, France (CNS) -- The world and the Catholic Church today need to take a leap forward "in faith, charity and hope," Pope Francis said in his homily at a late afternoon Mass in Marseille's open-air stadium.

"We need to rekindle our passion and enthusiasm, to reawaken our desire to commit ourselves to fraternity. We need to once again risk loving our families and dare to love the weakest, and to rediscover in the Gospel the transforming grace that makes life beautiful," he said at the final event of a two-day trip to the old port city of Marseille.

Passion and enthusiasm were not lacking at the Vélodrome Stadium, which erupted into cheers the minute images hit the screens of Pope Francis making his way through the city in the popemobile. Officials estimated 100,000 people lined the route to the stadium while some 50,000 people nearly filled the stadium. French President Emmanuel Macron, Marseille Mayor Benoît Payan and other dignitaries were present.

Pope in popemobile in Marseille
Pope Francis greets the crowd from the popemobile as he arrives for Mass at the Vélodrome Stadium in Marseille, France, Sept. 23, 2023. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

People chanted "Papa Francesco" and repeatedly executed "the wave" to immense cheers. One section, filled with people wearing blue sports bibs, added to the ocean effect. Then in a well-coordinated pull, volunteers hoisted an immense veil-like cut-out image of a waving pope and the belltower of the city's Basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde. They also held up gold cards to spell out "Merci" (Thank you) against the blue background.

While the pope's Sept. 22-23 trip focused on the plight of migrants and the world's responsibility to rescue those in danger, to create more equitable legal channels for migration, to amend gross economic disparities and promote peace, he also reminded Catholics of their mission to share Christ's compassion and hope.

In his homily Sept. 23, he asked the faithful to reflect "honestly, from the heart: Do we believe that God is at work in our lives? Do we believe that the Lord, in hidden and often unpredictable ways, acts in history, performs wonders and is working even in our societies that are marked by worldly secularism and a certain religious indifference?"

In a world with so many challenges, he said, people of faith must have trust in the Lord.

The pope based his reflection on events in sacred Scripture in which God makes possible what seems impossible, generating life even amidst sterility.

The Virgin Mary and her older cousin Elizabeth are both pregnant "in an impossible way," with Elizabeth feeling her child "leap" in her womb, recognizing the arrival of the Messiah, he said.

This is how to discern "whether or not we have this trust in the Lord," he said, by feeling this sign, this "leap for joy" within.

"Whoever believes, whoever prays, whoever welcomes the Lord leaps in the Spirit and feels that something is moving within, and 'dances' with joy," the pope said.

Bishops and cardinals at Mass in Marseille
Cardinals and bishops arrive in procession for Mass with Pope Francis at Vélodrome Stadium in Marseille, France, Sept. 23, 2023. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

This experience is "the opposite of a flat, cold heart, accustomed to the quiet life, which is encased in indifference and becomes impermeable," he said. "Such a heart becomes hardened and insensitive to everything and everyone, even to the tragic discarding of human life, which is seen today in the rejection of many immigrants, of countless unborn children and abandoned elderly people."

"Those who are born to faith, on the other hand, recognize the presence of the Lord," he said.

"Even in the midst of toil, problems and suffering, each day they discern God's visitation among us and feel accompanied and sustained by him," the pope said.

"The experience of faith also compels us to leap toward our neighbor," he said, and to experience the joy of sharing.

Pope Francis asked Christians pray for the "fire of the Holy Spirit" and let themselves "be set afire by the questions of our day, by the challenges of the Mediterranean, by the cry of the poor -- and by the 'holy utopias' of fraternity and peace that wait to be realized."

"Today, too, our life and the life of the church, France and Europe need this: the grace of a leap forward, a new leap in faith, charity and hope," he said.

At the end of the Mass, the pope thanked those who traveled from different parts of France. A group from Nice, accompanied by their bishop and mayor, was made up of survivors of a 2016 terrorist attack when a 19-ton truck drove into people promenading on a holiday evening, leaving 86 people dead and 434 other injured.

"I recall the terrible attack," the pope said, asking people to "prayerfully remember all those who lost their lives in that tragedy, as well as in all the terrorist acts that have been perpetrated in France and in every part of the world."

"Terrorism is cowardly," he added.

Pope Francis also asked the crowd never to tire of "praying for peace in war-torn regions, and especially for the war-torn people of Ukraine."


People have a duty to save migrants in danger of drowning, pope says

MARSEILLE, France (CNS) -- At a moving ceremony at the edge of a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, Pope Francis led a moment of silence for the countless lives lost in its blue but treacherous waters.

And he warned the world it was now at a crossroads: people must choose either to take the path of compassion, encounter and fraternity or veer off toward a track of indifference and conflict.

Calling it "a duty of civilization," he said that "people who are at risk of drowning when abandoned on the waves must be rescued. It is a duty of humanity."

Dozens of guests, including the mayor of Marseille, Benoit Payan, who sat at the pope's side, representatives of the city's religious communities, church officials and organizations involved in the rescue, care and assistance of migrants joined Pope Francis for the moment of reflection.

The pope prayed and led a moment of silence with the others before going to a monument dedicated to those who have perished at sea. The monument, topped with a cross, also features a heart and an anchor. As the pope and religious leaders prayed, the sun was slowly setting toward the water below.

Wreath left by pope
A wreath, bearing Pope Francis' name, lies at a memorial dedicated to migrants and those lost at sea in Marseille, France, Sept. 22, 2023. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

"Let us not get used to considering shipwrecks as news stories" where the people who died are faceless and nameless numbers, he said. They are brothers and sisters who "drowned in fear, along with the hopes they carried in their hearts."

"We need deeds not words," he said, and then led those gathered in a moment of silence in memory of those who died.

"Let us be moved by their tragedies," he said.

At this time in history, he said, following the path of fraternity will allow the human community to flourish, while the road of indifference "bloodies the Mediterranean."

"We cannot be resigned to seeing human beings treated as bargaining chips, imprisoned and tortured in atrocious ways," he said, blaming the countless shipwrecks on "cruel trafficking and the fanaticism of indifference."

The pope said religious leaders must show people the way and be exemplary in their offer of "mutual and fraternal welcome," shunning the "woodworm of extremism and the ideological plague of fundamentalism that corrodes the authentic life of communities."

He urged the people of Marseille, marked by religious pluralism, to choose well what path it will take, whether that of encounter or confrontation.

He praised those gathered with him who are dedicated to rescuing and assisting migrants at sea and in danger. He said he was well aware of efforts that try to block rescuers, and he called such actions "gestures of hatred against one's brother," calling for "balance." Some governments have blocked non-governmental organizations from carrying out rescues because they claim they encourage people to attempt illegal crossings.

"Let us not cause hope to shipwreck; let us together make a mosaic of hope," he said, before listening to several prayer intentions read aloud by those representing different facets dedicated to the care of sailors and migrants.

Earlier, the pope joined bishops, clergy, seminarians and consecrated men and women for a Marian prayer service in the Basilica of Notre Dame de la Gard situated on top of the hill overlooking the sea and the memorial.

The pope encouraged Catholics to be like Mary, "the Bonne Mère" depicted in the basilica's statues, with her tender and loving gaze on Jesus, who, in turn, compassionately looks upon all of humanity.

Jesus looks at people, not to judge, but to lift them up, especially those who are "lowly" or lost and to help bring them back to the fold, he said.

"May people wounded by life find a safe harbor in your gaze, encouragement in your embrace and a caress in your hands," he said.

"Do not detract from the warmth of God's paternal and maternal gaze," he said, urging priests to "always, always loosen the chains of sin through grace and free people from those obstacles, regrets, grudges, and fears against which they cannot prevail alone."

Pope prays for migrants who died at sea

Pope prays for migrants who died at sea

n Marseille, France, Sept. 22, Pope Francis prayed for migrants who died at sea.

International Conference Seeks to Enrich Ministry to Catholic Indigenous Populations

WASHINGTON – Representatives from Catholic Indigenous organizations came together with Catholic bishops and staff from the episcopal conferences of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States this week for the International Conference on Catholic Indigenous Ministry (ICCI). The gathering in Washington was an historic occasion of dialogue, learning, and fellowship for those who work with Indigenous communities in the Catholic Church.

Hosted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Subcommittee on Native American Affairs, the purpose of the week-long gathering was to share experiences, ideas, resources, and best practices encountered in the relationship between the Catholic Church and Indigenous communities.

“My hope is that the conversations that were started at this meeting will continue to grow and lead to deeper understanding and engagement with our Native and Indigenous communities,” said Bishop Chad Zielinski of New Ulm, chairman of the USCCB’s Subcommittee on Native American Affairs. “I am grateful for the collaboration with other episcopal conferences to have meaningful conversations with representatives from the Native and Indigenous communities. Some of the topics we addressed dealt with history that can be difficult and painful to discuss, but we must be willing face these issues so we may also bring real and honest dialogue to lead towards healing, and a heightened awareness so that history is not repeated. But our gathering was also an opportunity for joyous celebration of the diversity of our cultures, and how the Indigenous communities enrich our shared Catholic faith.”

The gathering added an international component to the wider and comprehensive synodal approach that the USCCB’s Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church is taking to reinvigorate ministry with various ethnic and cultural communities. Included as a key part of the meeting agenda was a listening session for the bishops with representatives from Catholic Indigenous organizations, with the intent that it will help charter a path for ministry to the Indigenous at the international level. The topics of discussion emphasized the importance of being both Catholic and Indigenous, and included evangelization, education, reconciliation, and healing, inculturation, as well as social concerns such as poverty, racism, and the environment.

The meeting enhances the work of the Subcommittee on Native American Affairs as they prepare to present a new pastoral framework for Indigenous ministry, Keeping Christ’s Sacred Promise, that will be voted on by the body of bishops during their November plenary. This pastoral framework has been developed after extensive consultation with U.S. Catholic Native leaders and it is designed to refocus and reinvigorate Catholic Indigenous ministry in the United States.


Vatican, Lutheran officials call for joint study of Augsburg Confession

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- During an ecumenical prayer service at the assembly of the Lutheran World Federation, the Vatican's chief ecumenist and the federation's general secretary formally called for a joint reflection on the Augsburg Confession, a fundamental statement of Lutheran faith.

"A common reflection could lead to another 'milestone' on the way from conflict to communion," said Cardinal Kurt Koch, prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, and the Rev. Anne Burghardt, the federation's general secretary, as they read a "Common Word" declaration to the assembly Sept. 19.

The assembly, held Sept. 13-19 in Krakow, Poland, is the main governing body of the Lutheran World Federation, which represents 150 Lutheran churches in 99 countries.

The Augsburg Confession was drafted in 1530 in an attempt "to bear witness to the faith of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church," the declaration said. "At the time of its writing, ecclesial unity was probably endangered, but ecclesial separation was not yet finally accomplished."

Cardinal Koch at Lutheran World Federation assembly
Cardinal Kurt Koch, prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, speaks on an ecumenical panel during the assembly of the Lutheran World Federation in Krakow, Poland, Sept. 19, 2023. The Rev. Anne Burghardt, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, is to the right of the cardinal. (CNS photo/Lutheran World Federation, Marie Renaux)

Because the statement of faith was meant to witness to the unity of the church before the final ruptures of the Protestant Reformation, the declaration said, it is "not only of historical interest; rather, it holds an ecumenical potential of lasting relevance."

The declaration acknowledged both theological and practical obstacles on the path to full unity.

The Catholic Church's "excommunication of Martin Luther is still a stumbling block for some today," it said. "It maintains its place in confessional memory, even though the excommunication has long since lost its immediate effect with the death of the reformer and Lutherans are not enemies or strangers for Catholics, but brothers and sisters, with whom Catholics know themselves to be united through baptism."

In a similar way, it said, "the fact that Martin Luther and the Lutheran confessional writings refer to the papacy as 'anti-Christ' is a stumbling block even though today the Lutheran World Federation does not support that view."

The two issues, the declaration said, ultimately raise questions about the role and ministry of the pope and "the question of the mystery of the church, its unity and uniqueness," questions the official Catholic-Lutheran theological dialogue continues to study.

That dialogue, the two leaders said, allows Lutherans and Catholics "to discern areas of consensus where our predecessors only saw insurmountable oppositions. We are able to recognize that the journey toward full communion is far greater than the contingencies of a particular epoch."

The "Common Word" also noted how Pope Francis, meeting leaders of the federation in 2021, expressed hope that a joint study of the Augsburg Confession in preparation for the document's 500th anniversary in 2030 could strengthen Catholics' and Lutherans' ability "to confess together what joins us in faith."

"It will be important to examine with spiritual and theological humility the circumstances that led to the divisions, trusting that, although it is impossible to undo the sad events of the past, it is possible to reinterpret them as part of a reconciled history," the pope had said.


Pope: Christians are called to fight 'every form of slavery'

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Inspired by the dignity of each human being as revealed by Jesus, Christians are called to fight "every form of slavery," whether physical, social or spiritual, Pope Francis said.

"Jesus, God made man, elevated the dignity of every human being and exposed the falsehood of slavery," the pope told people gathered in St. Peter's Square for his general audience Sept. 20. "As Christians, therefore, we are called to fight against every form of slavery."

Continuing his weekly catechesis on zeal for evangelization, the pope discussed the life of St. Daniele Comboni, a 19th-century Italian bishop who dedicated his life to establishing and supporting missions in Africa, where Pope Francis said the saint witnessed the "horror of slavery."

"Comboni, by the light of Christ, became aware of the evil of slavery; he also understood that social slavery is rooted in a deeper slavery, that of the heart, that of sin, from which the Lord delivers us," he said.

Pope Francis waves to visitors from the popemobile.
Visitors greet Pope Francis as he rides the popemobile around St. Peter's Square at the Vatican before his weekly general audience Sept. 20, 2023. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

Pope Francis stressed that "slavery, like colonialism, is not a thing of the past," and recalled his address to South Sudanese political leaders during his visit to the country in February in which he called for an end to the economic colonialism that followed the end of political colonialism in Africa.

St. Comboni, the pope said, understood that those he evangelized in Africa were "not only 'objects' but 'subjects' of the mission" and praised the saint's philosophy about evangelization in Africa contained in his missionary slogan: "Save Africa through Africa."

"How important it is, even today, to advance the faith and human development from within the contexts of mission instead of transplanting external models or limiting oneself to sterile welfarism," Pope Francis said. "Take up the way of evangelization from the culture of the people. Evangelizing the culture and enculturating the Gospel go together."

The pope highlighted St. Comboni's efforts to involve laypeople, families and catechists -- "treasures of the church" -- in evangelization as a way of "making all Christians protagonists of evangelizing action" and preventing clericalism.

Pope Francis leads a prayer.
Pope Francis leads a prayer as he begins his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Sept. 20, 2023. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

After his catechesis, Pope Francis mentioned a meeting he had before his general audience with Brazilian lawmakers working on behalf of the poor. "They do not forget the poor; they work for the poor," he said. "To you I say, 'do not forget the poor,' because they will be the ones who open the door to heaven for you."

The pope also noted the "worrying news" from the South Caucasus region "where the already critical humanitarian situation was aggravated by further armed conflict" after Azerbaijan attacked the Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh Sept. 19.

"I call on all involved parties and the international community to silence weapons and make every effort to find peaceful solutions for the good of people and respect for human dignity," he said.

Pope: Evangelization and inculturation go together

Pope: Evangelization and inculturation go together

Pope Francis spoke about the evangelizing example of St. Daniele Comboni at his general audience Sept. 20.

Vatican astronomer helps NASA in historic mission to study asteroid

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Jesuit Brother Bob Macke, a Vatican astronomer and meteorite expert, has built a custom device for studying material from the first U.S. mission to collect a sample from an asteroid.

The unmanned spacecraft Osiris-Rex was launched in 2016 to collect samples on the near-Earth asteroid, Bennu.

After collecting about a cup of material in 2020, the spacecraft is now approaching Earth and, before it continues its space voyage to orbit the Sun, it is due to release its cargo to send the sample back to Earth Sept. 24.

Jesuit Brother Robert Macke
Jesuit Brother Robert Macke presents a device to study the porosity and density of specimens retrieved from the asteroid Bennu by the Osiris-Rex space mission at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in Tucson as seen in a YouTube video he posted on his channel Aug 12, 2022. (CNS photo/YouTube video screenshot)

Because of Brother Macke's known expertise in the field, Andrew Ryan, the lead of the mission's sample analysis working group, asked him if he could build the device needed to analyze the density and porosity of the samples to help identify the mysterious rocks on the asteroid's surface, according to Sept. 16.

NASA had strict requirements for this device, called a pycnometer, and the companies Ryan contacted were only willing to sell what they had in stock, not do a custom build, he told Mashable.

Brother Macke, however, was game and he posted his progress and success with a number of videos on his YouTube channel, Macke MakerSpace. He said he built it in five weeks with the help of students at the University of Arizona, which collaborates with the Vatican Observatory's advanced technology telescope in Tucson.

He delivered the device to the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston in March for a trial run. Curators for the mission will handle the samples and the device, while Brother Macke will operate the software program he built to measure the samples' porosity and density, he said in his April 21 video.

"Our job is to examine it and to find out what's in there. We're trying to answer some basic questions like, are there more than one type of rock inside? Or is everything the same kind of rock? From what we saw on the surface of the asteroid Bennu, we expect to find two and maybe more," he said.

The results of the initial analysis, he said, "will help inform the selection of specimens for more detailed science to be done in laboratories around the world."


Pope Francis Accepts Resignations of Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry and Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Wypych

WASHINGTON - Pope Francis has accepted the resignation, having reached age 75, of the Most Reverend Joseph N. Perry, from the Office of Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago. Pope Francis has also accepted the resignation, for health reasons, of the Most Reverend Andrew P. Wypych, from the Office of Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago.

The resignations were publicized in Washington on September 19, 2023, by Cardinal-designate Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States.


U.S. Bishops’ Pro-Life Chairman Asks for “Radical Solidarity” with Mothers in Respect Life Month Statement

WASHINGTON – Since 1973, the Catholic Church in the United States has observed October as “Respect Life Month.” This year, Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Pro-Life Activities invites Catholics to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Respect Life Month by embracing “radical solidarity” with women facing difficult or challenging pregnancies.

Bishop Burbidge echoes Saint John Paul II, who coined the term “radical solidarity” in reference to the care owed to vulnerable pregnant women: “In firmly rejecting ‘pro-choice’ it is necessary to become courageously ‘pro woman,’ promoting a choice that is truly in favor of women. … The only honest stance, in these cases, is that of radical solidarity with the woman.”

While our efforts must remain strong to end legalized abortion, Bishop Burbidge affirmed the personal responsibility of all Catholics to “thoroughly surround mothers in need with life-giving support and personal accompaniment.”

Read Bishop Burbidge’s full statement, “Living Radical Solidarity” here.


Pope to confessors, faithful: Forgive always, like God

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Forgiveness, received freely and constantly from God, is a "fundamental value" for Christians that must be practiced and passed on to others, Pope Francis said.

"Forgiveness is the oxygen that purifies the air of hatred; forgiveness is the antidote to the poisons of resentment; it is the way to defuse anger and heal so many maladies of the heart that contaminate society," the pope said before praying the Angelus with some 20,000 people gathered in St. Peter's Square Sept. 17.

Reflecting on the day's Gospel reading from St. Matthew, in which Jesus tells St. Peter to forgive his brother not seven times but 77 times, Pope Francis said Jesus' response shows that "when one forgives, one does not calculate; that it is good to forgive everything, and always."

People are called to act "just as God does with us, and as those who administer God's justice are required to do: Forgive always," he said. "I say this a lot to priests, to confessors: Always forgive, as God forgives."

Pope Francis continued his reflection by looking at the Gospel parable in which a servant, cleared of debt by his master, sends a fellow servant to prison for failing to repay him a smaller sum. The servant is later punished by the master for his lack of mercy.

Visitors holding bandanas wave to Pope Francis.
A group of visitors from the Ramón Pané Foundation in Miami, Florida, greet Pope Francis after praying the Angelus in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Sept. 17, 2023. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Like the master who canceled his servant's debt out of compassion, the pope said, God "acts out of love, and gratuitously."

"God is not bought, God is free, he is all gratuitousness," the pope said. "We cannot repay him but, when we forgive a brother or a sister, we imitate him."

"Forgiving is not, therefore, a good deed that we can choose to do or not do: forgiving is a fundamental condition for those who are Christians," he said. "By forgiving one another, we can bear witness (to God), sowing new life around us."

Pope Francis then invited the crowd in St. Peter's Square to think of someone who has hurt them and to ask God for the strength to forgive that person. "Let us forgive them out of love for the Lord. Brothers and sisters, this will do us good; it will restore peace to our hearts," he said.

After praying the Angelus, the pope mentioned his trip to Marseille, France, Sept. 22-24 for a meeting of bishops and government leaders from the Mediterranean region, a meeting that he said will give "special attention to the phenomenon of migration."

At the end of a week in which some 7,000 migrants arrived on the small Italian island of Lampedusa, overwhelming reception centers and available humanitarian resources, Pope Francis said that migration "represents a challenge that is not easy, as we also see from the news in recent days, but which must be faced together, since it is essential for the future of all, which will be prosperous only if it is built on fraternity, putting human dignity and real people, especially those most in need, in first place."

Pope: Migrant crises requires fraternal response

Pope: Migrant crises requires fraternal response

A look at Pope Francis' Angelus address Sept. 17.

Pope meets U.S. leaders patiently building 'culture of solidarity'

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When Pope Francis told a group of U.S. community organizers that their work was "atomic," Jorge Montiel said, "I thought, 'Oh, you mean we blow things up?'"

But instead, the pope spoke about how the groups associated with the West/Southwest Industrial Areas Foundation in the United States take issues patiently, "atom by atom," and end up building something that "penetrates" and changes entire communities, said Montiel, an IAF organizer in Colorado and New Mexico.

Pope Francis' hourlong meeting Sept. 14 with 15 delegates from the group was a follow-up to a similar meeting a year ago. Neither meeting was listed on the pope's official schedule and, the delegates said, both were conversations, not "audiences."

"It was relaxed, it was engaging," said Joe Rubio, national co-director of IAF. "Often you don't see that even with parish priests," he told Catholic News Service Sept. 15, garnering the laughter of other delegates.

Elizabeth Valdez, an IAF organizer in Texas, said the delegates told the pope about their work to promote a living wage, to welcome immigrants, to protect the environment, to improve schools and to get more people access to mental health services -- all efforts that grew out of listening to people in their communities talk about what they needed and then building partnerships with churches, synagogues or mosques, unions, local nonprofits and community service providers.

Rubio said the group has an 80-year history in community organizing and "in the last 50 years, parishes have become really integral to the work," much of which echoes the tenets of Catholic social teaching.

Pope Francis and Tazamisha Alexander
Pope Francis shares a laugh with Tazamisha Alexander, a leader with Common Ground in Solano Country, Calif., a group affiliated with the West/Southwest Industrial Areas Foundation, in his Vatican residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae, Sept. 14, 2023. (CNS photo/Courtesy of West/Southwest Industrial Areas Foundation)
One thing Pope Francis noted at last year's meeting with the group is how it also models key parts of his vision of a "synodal church," one where people listen to each other, empower each other, take responsibility and work together to respond to concrete needs. Several bishops in Texas used local community organizing teams to conduct their diocesan listening sessions at the start of the process for the current Synod of Bishops, said Father David Garcia, who has spent decades working in San Antonio, Texas, with Communities Organized for Public Service.

Pope Francis was eager to hear an update on the West/Southwest Industrial Areas Foundation's five-year-old "Recognizing the Stranger" program, a parish-based project to identify, train and mentor immigrant leaders to build connections among themselves and with nonimmigrant allies in their parishes and the broader community. Supported by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the project is active in 19 Western U.S. dioceses.

While most of the delegates who met the pope at his residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae, were Catholic and work closely with Catholic parishes and dioceses, the group was ecumenical.

Sally Boeckholt, from AMOS -- A Mid-Iowa Organizing Strategy -- in Des Moines, Iowa, is a member of the First Unitarian Church and said community organizing work has been "transformational for me in my relationships with the folks that I've gotten to know who are Catholic or members of other faiths. I have a much deeper appreciation for how faith animates what they do."

Sonia Rodriguez, who has been a leader in San Antonio's Communities Organized for Public Service "on and off since the 1980s," said it had been "quite a ride" working with her neighbors to "make changes in the city and really begin to shape the culture of the city in a way that nobody had dreamed of."

The pope, she said, summed up their work as "creating a culture of solidarity," and "it was perfect; that's exactly right."