Friday, April 18, 2008

Benedict’s Visit Reflects Changing Church

An article by Bro. Jason Welle, OFM, during his year in the province at Sacred Heart Parish in McAllen, TX

Pope Benedict XVI won’t be visiting Texas (this time!), but the Franciscan friars in the Rio Grande Valley, have still been eagerly awaiting his arrival. Personally, I’ve felt a close affinity to this pope ever since his election. My family heritage is Germanic and I had the chance to help another Franciscan friar lead a group of high school students to see the Holy Father at World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany, in 2005. Seeing Benedict speak German in his home country was a wonderful thrill, but following this visit through the news with our parishioners has been a great blessing as well.

Our parish’s religious education programs have found different ways to draw attention to the Holy Father’s message. In my fourth grade CCD class, the kids acted out a play about Shepherd One landing at Andrews Air Force base—although the Texan kids clamored more for the roles of President Bush and the First Family than for the papal entourage! My 12th grade class read and discussed some commentary on the pope’s trip, and my adult education Bible study integrated conversation about Benedict’s style of leadership with that of St. Paul, as we continued our reflections on 2 Corinthians. In the wake of Good Shepherd Sunday, we asked ourselves what kind of shepherd Jesus was, what kind of shepherd Paul was, and what kind of (German) shepherd Benedict is.

These discussions are exciting because here in deep South Texas, just a few miles from the Mexican border, we live in a unique cultural mix. Many commentators have observed the growing presence of Hispanics in the Catholic Church throughout the United States, and Benedict’s recent creation of Texas’ first cardinal, Archbishop Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, seems to acknowledge the significance of this for the future of the American Church. In many places throughout the country, different cultural groups live side-by-side in the same parish or neighborhood but yet remain distinct and separate. We feel blessed here in McAllen to minister in a poor, downtown parish where Spanish and English speakers mix freely, working together for the future of this community. The friars of the Assumption Province came to this parish two years ago and were warmly welcomed, as we continued the long Franciscan tradition of reaching out to those on the margins. Our friars occasionally run into problems communicating, but Catholics here appreciate the sincerity of the effort; we pray that American Catholics will extend the same openness to the Holy Father’s words as he calls us all to hold up the richest parts of our tradition and preach Christ our Hope!

Bro. Jason Welle, OFM, kneeling, renews his religious profession in the hands of our Provincial Minister, Fr. Leslie Hoppe, OFM

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