Non-Catholics find connection with pope’s simple message

Juan Martinez, Katiria Michel, and their son Adrian, 8. (CNS photo/David Agren)

Juan Martinez, Katiria Michel, and their son Adrian, 8.  The couple are not Catholic, but admire the pope for his message and simplicity. (CNS photo/David Agren)

By David Agren

NEW YORK — Katiria Michel, a medical consultant and mother of two, confessed having a crush — albeit an unconventional one.

“I have a huge crush on Pope Francis,” she said from a hair salon in Spanish Harlem, across the street from the Catholic school the pope is scheduled to visit Sept. 25.

“It’s an admiration,” she said, pointing out his low-key lifestyle, foregoing the perks of the papal palace and dining daily with everyone else. “That’s why I connect with him.”

Pope Francis is winning fans during his first visit to the United States.

Some of those fans are non-Catholic, like Michel and her husband, Juan Martinez, also a medical consultant, both of whom who identify as “Christian.” Both expressed interest in the pope’s message and awe with his mannerisms.

New York City is considered the cradle of capitalism, but people experience excesses and inequalities. This makes living there increasingly out of reach for ordinary families –- like Michel and Martinez, who moved to neighboring New Jersey. Martinez hopes the pope’s visit brings about something new.

“This city needs a wake-up call,” Martinez said, while waiting for his daughter Amanda, 12, to have her hair cut. “His mantra is: simplify things. … It’s humbling people. You need to remember who you are.”

Amanda Martinez, 12, sits in a Harlem hair salon across the street from the Catholic school Pope Francis will visit Sept. 25. Her parents are not Catholics, but admire the pope for his message and simplicity. (CNS photo/David Agren)

Amanda Martinez, 12, sits in a Harlem hair salon across the street from the Catholic school Pope Francis will visit Sept. 25.  (CNS photo/David Agren)

The pope’s calls for a more inclusive economy and action on climate change are coming under scrutiny, with some commentators questioning if he’s a communist or even Catholic. Michel and Martinez, who grew up in the Bronx, found the criticism uncalled for.

“What’s the next thing they’re going to call him, a racist?” Michel said. “It’s natural to try and look for a way to bring him down.”

The pope arrives this afternoon in New York, where he will address the United Nations, celebrate Mass at Madison Square Garden and attend a multireligious gathering at the 9/11 Memorial at ground zero.

He also heads to Harlem, an area that is home to many arriving in the United States without legal permission.

Martinez, a product of parochial schools, opted instead to send his children to a charter school. Neither he nor his wife will see the pope in person, though.

“I’d rather watch on TV,” Michel said. “I’m not good with crowds.

Follow Agren on Twitter: @el_reportero

It’s not just the same old song

Pope and bishops at midday prayer at St. Matthew Cathedral. (CNS photo/Toni L. Sandys, pool)

Pope and bishops at prayer at St. Matthew Cathedral. (CNS photo/Toni L. Sandys, pool)

For midday prayer Sept. 23 at the St. Matthew Cathedral in Washington, one might think the musical program would be fairly stuffed with Gregorian chant and the musical stylings of the Renaissance. But you would be wrong.

It’s true that there were a few selections from the  Renaissance era, but the 20th-century was fairly well represented, with works by Francis Poulenc, Pierre Villette and Gustav Holst. There were even pieces from living composers, Robert LeBlanc and Daniel Gawthrop among them.

One of those living composers has a chance to make a mark on the 21st century, since he is only 24 years old. John Henderson composed an antiphon to Psalm 17, replete with vocal, brass and organ arrangements.

Henderson picked up his bachelor’s degree at The Catholic University of America in Washington in composition, although he also studied, piano, organ and conducting. He further refined his skills with a master’s degree in composition at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. Today, Henderson is the music director and organist at St. Bernadette Parish in the Washington suburb of Silver Spring, Maryland.

He said he was commissioned by the cathedral to compose the antiphon. The work took about two months, according to Henderson. “We exchanged drafts and notes. I started with the refrain and developed the rest of the piece from there.” The work had its world premiere at the prayer service.

Not all of his pieces take that long to compose. In his one year at the helm of the St. Bernadette music ministry, Henderson already has introduced 30 pieces to his choir. “But some of them are short, like 30 seconds short,” he noted.

John Henderson

John Henderson of St. Bernadette.  (Photo/Courtesy of parish)

With the cathedral antiphon, as with his St. Bernadette compositions, “I write for the choir that’s going to sing it.” The cathedral choir sang the piece, with a musical assist from the Washington Symphonic Brass. “The cathedral choir, I know what they’re good at,” Henderson said. “And I know that the Washington Symphonic Brass’ capabilities are.”

Henderson said he got his interest in church music from an aunt, who herself was an organist and music director at a parish near his home in Pensacola, Florida. As a grade schooler, he even played a bit of organ at his home parish before going to a Catholic boys’ boarding school, St. Gregory Academy in Pennsylvania. “The liturgical life was very rich there,” he recalls. “I started composing there.”

Lest you think church music is all Henderson does, take heart; he did his time in a garage band as a teenager.

You’ve got to get up pretty early in the morning

At my parish in the Archdiocese of Washington — the name will be withheld to protect the “sinnocent” — the end-of-Mass announcements held special resonance for Pope Francis’ visit.

Not everyone in the parish could win a ticket to the Sept. 23 outdoor Mass canonizing Blessed Junipero Serra. But the pastor had a proposal.

Would anyone like to see the pope in his popemobile doing a lap around the Ellipse that morning? If so, come to church for a 6 a.m. Mass. It’s a bit of a consolation prize for those unable to go to the canonization Mass. However, after the Mass, those hardy, early-rising pilgrims were going to walk to the nearest subway station and get as close to the Ellipse as the subway could take them.

Ah, but there was a catch: If you want to go, you’ll have to wear your “Walk With Francis” wristband. Those wristbands had been distributed the previous weekend if you had turned in a form indicating that you would — figuratively, at least — walk with Pope Francis by praying, or serving, or taking action. A spot on the popemobile route had been saved specifically for Washington archdiocesan Catholics sporting a wristband. No wristband? Sorry, Charlie.

There was another gift of sorts distributed before the end of the Mass in anticipation of the papal visit: A combination prayer card-bookmark with the World Meeting of Families prayer. Those were exhausted in short order. If you have not seen the prayer, here it is:

God and Father of us all, in Jesus, your Son and our Savior, You have made us your sons and daughters in the family of the church.

May your grace and love help our families in every part of the world be united to one another in fidelity to the Gospel.

May the example of the Holy Family, with the aid of your Holy Spirit, guide all families, especially those most troubled, to be homes of communion and prayer and to always seek your truth and live in your love.

Through Christ our Lord, amen.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph, pray for us!

‘Structured dialogues’

One in a series.

Catholic News Service Rome bureau staffers always get to cover papal trips, yet, as Pope Francis’ visit approached, we in Washington began thinking about our favorite moments of when we got to cover popes. No one in our newsroom is a papal rookie, so we agreed to share some of our stories.

To prepare for Pope Francis’ U.S. visit, I hauled out a copy of “Unity in the Work of Service,” a book compiling messages by, and to, St. John Paul II during his 1987 visit to the United States. (Whether there is a similar book in the works for Pope Francis’ trip, including his remarks to Congress and the United Nations, I don’t know.)

In his introduction to the book, Archbishop John May of St. Louis, then the president of the U.S. bishops, noted that the texts in the book included “a number of thought-provoking presentations by women and men speaking on behalf of the ministries and apostolates sponsored by the church in the United States. These structured dialogues contributed greatly to the success of the visit and the realization of its theme,” which was the book’s title. The phrase “structured dialogues” jumped out at me. The first time I had heard it was in preparing for coverage of St. John Paul’s 1987 visit.

Like most reporters, I was eager to learn the identities of those speaking to the pope at various venues. In Detroit, while working for The Michigan Catholic, I was covering his visit to “Polonia,” those of Polish ethnic heritage living outside of Poland. I interviewed one of the teenagers chosen to address the pope to ask her what she had planned to say.

I was expecting her to respond on how she was still working on her speech, but possibly expressing some themes she might want to cover. Much to my surprise, she told me the speech had not only been written, but sent to the Vatican, which already sent it back — with notes on changes church officials expected her to make.

Pope John Paul II blesses Mercy Sister Teresa Kane in 1979. (CNS photo)

Pope John Paul II blesses Mercy Sister Teresa Kane in 1979. (CNS photo)

Well, that was a surprise. After a little digging, I found out the Vatican had been vetting remarks after St. John Paul’s first U.S. visit in 1979, when Mercy Sister Theresa Kane, then president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, surprised the pontiff with her address during a ceremony in Washington at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception — not yet a minor basilica.

At the shrine, she made headlines when issued a plea for the pope to provide “the possibility of women as persons being included in all ministries of the church.” That meant ordination of women. St. John Paul rejected the notion before the ceremony was over. In 1994 his apostolic letter “Ordinatio Sacerdotalis” the pope reaffirmed church teaching that the church “has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women.”

It was that experience that led to the practice of structured dialogues. “No more surprises” seemed to become the order of the day.

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings Sept. 20, 2015

“The Lord upholds my life.” — Psalm 54:6b

Sept. 20, Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

      Cycle B. Readings:

      1) Wisdom 2:12, 17-20

      Psalm 54:3-6, 8

      2) James 3:16-4:3

      Gospel: Mark 9:30-37

By Jeff Hedglen
Catholic News Service

I run a summer service camp for the Diocese of Fort Worth, Texas, called Camp Fort Worth (CFW). It is a simple concept: Young people serve the poor, participate in the sacraments, small group sharing and praise and worship, and by the end of the week, lives are changed forever.

One of the outcomes of this change is that many of these young people want to come back the next year. We call them the A-team (Alumni team). Their role is like that of camp counselors.

A-team members are awesome, faith-filled young people. But sometimes they get a bit full of themselves, not unlike the apostles in this week’s Gospel who wanted to know who among them is the greatest.

From time to time, we all can fall into this trap. A little bit of power or a little insecurity and the next thing we know, we are “holier than thou” and feel like it is us against the world.

To combat this at CFW, we use this quote from Pope Francis: “Authentic power is service.” We also continuously remind the A-team to focus on the campers. Our mantra is “camp is for campers,” so they remember this camp is not about their own experience. We also have the A-team bus tables at each meal so that service is always at the forefront of their camp experience.

Employing a similar practice could be helpful for each of us. When we feel the temptation to place ourselves above others, we could seek opportunities to serve. This could be as simple as saying to a co-worker, “I’m getting a cup of coffee, can I get you one?” or maybe as involved as organizing a trip to serve some segment of your community.

It seems we often desire to place ourselves above others out of a perceived shortcoming within us, but the words of the psalmist this week offer us comfort: “The Lord upholds my life. Behold, God is my helper; the Lord sustains my life.”

Remembering this truth will make it easier to follow the call of Jesus to be the servant of all. For no matter how great we think we are, we will never be as great as Jesus, who served us all the way to the cross.


What are things you do in service of others? How can you have more of a servant’s heart and put it into action?

One-a-day assignments and security hurdles to overcome

One in a series.

Catholic News Service Rome bureau staffers always get to cover papal trips, yet, as Pope Francis’ visit approached, we in Washington began thinking about our favorite moments of when we got to cover popes. No one in our newsroom is a papal rookie, so we agreed to share some of our stories. 

Journalists got the word over the summer: Because of security concerns, journalists covering Pope Francis’ visit — even if they lived in one of the cities he was visiting — had to stay at the hotel designated in each city as the media center. 

Moreover, a journalist could cover only one event a day. 

Looking at street plans for the pope’s September visit, it’s easy to see that the plans are designed for the pontiff to get from one place to the next, but not anybody else. But journalists are trained to go after the story, and that’s precisely how we did things when Pope John Paul II visited the United States in 1987 and Pope Benedict XVI visited in 2008. 

First, the Polish pope’s trip. I was lucky enough to score a pair of tickets to the papal welcome ceremony in the cathedral in Detroit. This required driving to an assigned parish, hopping on a charter bus, parking only somewhat close to the cathedral, going through the security sweep, and waiting an hour and a half or so for Pope John Paul. The actual ceremony was hardly anticlimactic, but after all was said and done, it probably wasn’t until 11:30 p.m. that I was able to return home — which might have been at most a 20-minute drive to the cathedral. 

Couple in traditional garb greet Pope John Paul in Hamtramck, Mich., in 1987. (Photo by Arturo Mari/L'Osservatore Romano)

Couple in traditional garb greet Pope John Paul in Hamtramck, Mich., in 1987. (Photo by Arturo Mari/L’Osservatore Romano)

But for someone covering the pope, one goes where one has to. Because I was assigned to cover Pope John Paul’s early-morning address to Polonia -– Poles outside Poland –- in the Detroit enclave of Hamtramck, I had made advance arrangements to stay overnight at a friend’s house. I got about three hours’ sleep before the alarm woke me up so I could get back to my car, drop off my old clothes, and stand in line in an intermittent drizzle for another security sweep. 

But the event was held with no hiccups -– and it stopped raining! -– but I had another papal event to get to: the papal Mass at the Pontiac Silverdome. But I wasn’t the only journalist covering more than one papal event in a day. So too was Julie Asher of CNS. The advance arrangements in Hamtramck also led me to do reconnaissance for the parking garage. I told Julie my make, model and color of car and the license plate number so she could spot it and get a ride with me to the Silverdome. 

In between the Polonia address and the Silverdome, Pope John Paul addressed deacons at Ford Auditorium in downtown Detroit and made an address at Hart Plaza, also downtown. Afterward, he had lunch with the Michigan bishops at the archbishop’s residence next to the cathedral. But remember: travel arrangements are made with the pope’s ease of travel in mind, not those of anybody else. 

Once we got through another security sweep at the Silverdome, a tunnel was cordoned off for accredited reporters to get to the press box. There, Julie could write her stories about Polonia, the deacons, the papal address and the Mass while I searched for a way to get out of the press box, since I was singing in the papal Mass choir. 

Pope's public Mass at Silverdome outside Detroit in 1987. (Photo by Arturo Mari/L'Osservatore Roman)

Pope’s public Mass at Silverdome outside Detroit in 1987. (Photo by Arturo Mari/L’Osservatore Roman)

After Mass, Julie and I reconnoitered a second time –- now, at the parking lot of an auto parts store that had shut down at noon. The auto parts store was not our first choice, but since we could hear the entire Hart Plaza address on the radio and travel maybe a mile because of the traffic jams, we had opted to hoof it to the Silverdome. I gave Julie a ride back to the downtown hotel where the media center awaited scores of fatigued journalists to write more stories. Because the Michigan Catholic didn’t publish daily, I could get a decent night’s sleep in and then go to the office after Mass to do my writing. 

In 2008, I was assigned to report on Pope Benedict’s Mass at Nationals Park, in its first year as a baseball stadium. Because I lived in Washington, I figured I could save CNS some dough by not staying at the hotel, wake up from my own bed at 3:30 a.m. to get to the media-center hotel by 4 a.m. to get on a 4:30 a.m. bus to the ballpark. And I was right on all counts. The Mass was over in 1:52, eight minutes short of the two hours allotted for it -– talk about German efficiency! — and went to the hotel to write stories and blogs. After all, I had the rest of the day to write because I had nothing else on my coverage itinerary. 

That is, until I was told to head out on the double to the Vatican nunciature in Washington, where Pope Benedict was meeting with victims of clergy sexual abuse. This was an unannounced, under-the-radar event. 

I had to park my car more than a few blocks away, but when I got to the nunciature there were only a handful of reporters, and perhaps 100 or so people milling about behind a rope line on the front lawn. When Pope Benedict emerged, they all wanted was to shake his hand or kiss his ring or say something to him. And, because the crowd was so small most of them did. And I was one of the few reporters to witness the event. I suppose I could have gotten in line to shake his hand, too, but it was more important for me to get in talk to the people who did.

A message from the pope as he heads to Cuba as pilgrim and missionary

Speaking and looking very much like a grandfather-friend as he spoke to the camera, Pope Francis sent Thursday a brief video message to Cubans ahead of his upcoming trip. He heads to the island Saturday as a “missionary of mercy,” he said, but also as a a pilgrim, a son looking forward to visiting his mother’s house — referencing a planned visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, the country’s revered patron saint.


He said he has a simple message to transmit: “Jesus loves you very much.” Jesus never abandons, but “comforts us, gives us new hope, new opportunities, new life,” said the pope.

After arriving in the capital Saturday afternoon and celebrating Mass there the following day, he is expected to visit Holguin, on the eastern end of the island, then Santiago de Cuba, the country’s second largest city. He then will head to the nearby town of El Cobre to pray at the shrine that honors the country’s patron saint, who is revered by many of the island’s denizens, not just Catholics.

He thanked those in Cuba who have been praying ahead of his trip and encouraged them, too, to be missionaries of God’s mercy.

“Be missionaries of that love, which is infinite,” he said. “Make sure no one is lacking the testimony of our faith, of our love.”

That love helps us arrive at forgiveness, helps to support others, helps to give hope, he said.

He spoke of his admiration for the faith of Cubans.

“It does me a lot of good to think of your fidelity to the Lord,” he said.


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