Ahead of bishops’ meeting, we need your prayer and fasting

Archbishop Aquila

Since ancient times, people have used the stars to navigate through the expanse of the sea or over unknown terrain.  As the bishops of the United States prepare to address the difficult topic of clergy sex abuse at our annual meeting in two weeks, I invite all Catholics to join us in praying and fasting that our deliberations will be guided by Christ, the light that shines forth in the darkness.

Some of you might know the story of Steven Callahan, a naval architect and sailor who survived 76 days floating across the Atlantic Ocean after his boat was damaged beyond repair in a storm. During his ordeal, he used the stars to determine where he was to navigate toward land, while also using his survival skills to obtain food and water. His story is one of courage, creativity and perseverance in the face of very long odds.

During these difficult times the Church is enduring because of the abuse crisis, my fellow bishops and I, as well as all believers, need similar virtues. Most importantly, we must orient ourselves toward the Light of the World, Jesus Christ. He is our hope, our anchor and sure refuge in the storm. We must pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit and fidelity to Christ and his Gospel.

For that reason, we bishops are devoting ourselves to seven days of prayer and fasting between Nov. 5 and 11, in anticipation of our annual fall bishops’ meeting in Baltimore. These two forms of penance allow us to draw closer to Christ, seek conversion and in a small way make reparation for the evil that has been committed.

In the Scriptures, Jesus explained that prayer and fasting were necessary to drive out a deaf and mute spirit that the disciples could not cast out (Mk. 9:29). Similarly, these acts of penance will help provide the spiritual groundwork for the Spirit of Truth to prevail at our meeting.

I have already invited the priests of the archdiocese to join Bishop Rodriguez and I in fasting and praying for the upcoming meeting during these specific days, but I want to also extend the same invitation to all the faithful of the archdiocese.

There are three specific intentions that I ask you to join us in praying for: for the healing and support of all victims and survivors of clergy abuse; for the conversion and just punishment of the perpetrators and concealers of clergy abuse; and for the Holy Spirit to guide all the bishops in responding to the tragedy of clergy sexual abuse in the Church.

Much like a person who is lost at sea and longing for rescue, every Catholic should ask God for the gifts of hope and gratitude to carry us to safe harbor. We should cultivate those virtues by giving thanks for the fact that Jesus remains with us in this trial through the sacraments and by recalling that despite fallible bishops, priests and lay people, the Good News that Jesus died and rose to save us from our sins is still true.

When he celebrated Mass for the Feast of All Souls last week, Pope Francis described the outlook that I pray will be yours and mine. “May we never lose hope,” he said, “always contemplating the horizon, always looking ahead. May God grant us the grace to recognize the lights that accompany us to where he awaits us with so much love.”

COMING UP: Thomas Fitzsimons: The unsung Catholic Founding Father 

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As our nation celebrates the day of its independence and subsequent founding as a country on July 4, a look back some lesser-knowCatholic history of this historic event seems warranted.  

George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin: these are names every American knows. Pull out your wallet and you’ll likely see at least one of their faces on the money you carry aroundAnd while this nation was founded on principles rooted in Christianity, none of these men were Catholic. In fact, of the men history calls the Founding Fathers of America, only two were. 

Many may already be familiar with Founding Father Charles Carroll, a Catholic and signer of the Declaration of Independence, and whose brother John was the first Catholic bishop assigned to what would become the United States. However, Carroll was not the only Catholic who played a role in the founding of our country. The other was Thomas Fitzsimons, a name that is not mentioned much (if at all) in U.S. history classes but deserves to be recognized nonetheless.  

The unwieldy named Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia, published in 1887, paints a vivid picture of Fitzsimons and the way his faith informed his character. While the other Founding Fathers were meeting and deliberating about the Declaration of Independence, Fitzsimons joined the Continental Army anfought on the frontlines against the British army. 

Captain Fitzsimons commanded his company of militia until 1778, when France entered the war. British troops withdrew from Pennsylvania and began to focus on the southern states. It was at this time that Fitzsimons became more involved in politics at the state level. In 1782, he became a delegate at the Continental Congress. In 1786, he was elected as a Pennsylvania state legislator and served for three terms until 1789. In 1787, he was selected to represent Pennsylvania at the Constitutional Congress, where the United States Constitution was written and ratified. He, along with Daniel Carroll, were the only two Catholics to sign to Constitution. 

Born in Belfast, Ireland in 1741, not much else is known about Fitzsimons’ family. He had three brothers – Nicholas, Andrew and John – and one sister, Ann. He and his family immigrated to America as early as 1760, where they became residents of Philadelphia. It was here that Fitzsimons would stake his claim as a businessman and politician. 

In 1763, Fitzsimons married Catharine Meade, whose brother, George Meade, would later go into business with Fitzsimons and build one of the most successful commercial trade houses in Philadelphia. Throughout his life, Fitzsimons was in close correspondence with Bishop John Carrollthese letters revealed insights into the Catholic Founding Father’s personal life. In a letter to Bishop Carroll in 1808, Fitzsimons wrote of being married to Catharine for 45 years. Additionally, local baptismal records show that he and Catharine stood as sponsors at the baptisms of three of Meade’s children. 

In 1774, Fitzsimons began his first foray into politics when he was elected as one of 13 Provincial Deputies who were given authority to call a general meeting of the citizens. It is believed he was the first Catholic to have ever held public office in the budding United States. Even so, anti-Catholic bigotry was common at the time and did exist within some of his fellow statesmen, such as John Adams, who once said in an address to the people of Great Britain that the Catholic faith was “a religion that has deluged your island in blood and dispersed impiety, bigotry, persecution, murder and rebellion through every part of the world.” 

Fitzsimons’ first stint in public office was brief, only lasting from May to July, but it was a foreshadowing his future involvement in state affairs. As the Revolutionary War broke out in 1775, Fitzsimons formed a company of soldiers to fight against the British army. He was assigned to the Third Battalion under Col. Cadwalader and Lieut. Col. John Nixon, who was the grandson of a Catholic. Behind the scenes, as George Washington and the like organized committees and framed what would become the Declaration of Independence, Fitzsimons ascended to the rank of Captain and continued to serve his country as a soldier and patriot.

In addition to his tenure as a commanding officer and politician, Fitzsimons also found success in other ventures. In 1781, he helped found the Bank of North America, the United States’ first de facto central bank, and served as its director until 1803. The latter years of his life were spent primarily in private business, but he maintained a consistent interest in public affairs; even Fitzsimons wasn’t exempt from the old adage, “once a politician, always a politician.” 

Through all of these endeavors, and even after befalling troubled financial times in the early 1800s, Fitzsimons remained a diligent philanthropist. He gave immense support to St. Augustine’s Catholic Church in Philadelphia and was invested in the improvement of public education in the commonwealth. As one of his contemporaries wrote after his death in 1811, “he died in the esteem, affection and gratitude of all classes of his fellow citizens.” 

Fitzsimons was buried in the graveyard of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Philadelphia, which is now part of Independence National Historical Park. His name may not be a household one like Washington or Jefferson, but Fitzsimons can be remembered as something of an unsung Founding Father of the United Statesa man whose life of quiet faith, humble service and admirable patriotism exemplifies the values that this country was founded upon in a simple yet profound way.