In Philadelphia, pope pays tribute to a native saint
Updated: Feb 19
Pope Francis today paid tribute to Philadelphia’s own Saint Katharine Drexel, who as a young heiress used her fortune to build missions and schools for the poor.
Celebrating Mass in the Philadelphia cathedral shortly after his arrival in the city on Saturday, the pope said the story of Katharine Drexel held a lesson for the way the church should challenge people.
While touring Europe in 1887, Drexel met with Pope Leo XIII and asked for more missionaries to Native Americans. Pope Leo responded pointedly, “What about you? What are you going to do?”
Later that year Drexel made an extended visit to Indian missions in the western United States. She eventually founded an order of sisters, using her inheritance to build convents and schools for African-Americans in the South and Native Americans in the Southwest.
In his homily, Pope Francis said Pope Leo had known how to spark a tremendous personal change, and that modern church leaders should also finds ways to lead people to share their “enthusiasm and gifts with our communities.”
“Those words – ‘What about you?’ – were addressed to a young person, a young woman with high ideals, and they changed her life. They made her think of the immense work that had to be done, and to realize that she was being called to do her part,” the pope said.
“How many young people in our parishes and schools have the same high ideals, generosity of spirit, and love for Christ and the church! Do we challenge them? Do we make space for them and help them to do their part?” he said.
This lesson is especially valuable today, the pope said, because the church increasingly needs lay people engaged in its mission. A “sense of collaboration and shared responsibility” with lay people is needed, he said.
“We know that the future of the church in a rapidly changing society will call, and even now calls, for a much more active engagement on the part of the laity,” he said.
And in a shout-out to the contribution of women, he added: “In a particular way, it means valuing the immense contribution which women, lay and religious, have made and continue to make, to the life of our communities.”
In a particular way, it means valuing the immense contribution which women, lay and religious, have made and continue to make, to the life of our communities.