8 Takeaways From Pope Francis’s Moving Mass at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul

He buttered up Philly, and talked up the role of women in the Church.

Photograph by HughE Dillon

Pope Francis delivers the homily at a mass this morning at the Basillica of Saints Peter and Paul. | Photograph by HughE Dillon

Pope Francis just finished saying Mass for a couple thousand people at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Center City. The event was grand, moving, lousy with priests and nuns, and had its own special Francis thing going on. Here are eight things worth noting:

1. The Pope knows how to play to Philly.

And not in that hokey “I love cheesesteaks” kind of way. Many a famous person has come to town and tried to impress us with how Philly he or she is. Usually it’s a visit to Pat’s or Geno’s, or a maybe some love for the Eagles, or, tragically, a reference to cream cheese.

Pope Francis did it differently — and with a whole lot more substance. Not surprisingly, the Pope’s Philly reference was to someone religious, specifically Philadelphia’s own St. Katharine Drexel. But the pontiff didn’t just name-check Drexel during the Mass; on the contrary, he used her as the springboard for his entire homily and for an important statement about the Church.

Francis told the story of how Drexel, as a young woman (she was born in 1858), visited with Pope Leo XIII and told him about the needs of the missions. The Pope — “he was a very wise pope!,” Francis noted — said to her pointedly: “What about you? What are you going to do?” His point: that it’s not only priests who are supposed to do the heavy lifting in the Church (though Katharine Drexel actually went on to become a nun). Which led to Francis’s broader point…

2. The Pope wants lay people to step up in the Church (and he wants the clergy to let them step up).

The Mass was attended by lots of people from all different walks, but a large number of attendees — and clearly the intended audience for Francis’s homily — were bishops, priests, deacons and other religious people.

His message for them? First, they need to make sure they’re connecting with young lay people like Katharine Drexel and giving them opportunities to do their part in the Church. More importantly, given the changing nature of the Church, the clergy and religious need to be partnering with lay people more when it comes to running the Church.

“One of the great challenges facing the Church in this generation is to foster in all the faithful a sense of personal responsibility for the Church’s mission, and to enable them to fulfill that responsibility as missionary disciples, as a leaven of the Gospel in our world,” Francis said.

Indeed, the Pope was pretty plain that he expects things to change: “This will require creativity in adapting to changed situations, carrying forward the legacy of the past not primarily by maintaining our structures and institutions, which have served us well, but above all by being open to the possibilities which the Spirit opens up to us.”

“Creativity” and “being open to … possibilities” are not words and phrases used by a guy who’s content with the status quo.

Speaking of change…

3. Was the Pope trying to drop hints about women?

So back to Katharine Drexel for a minute. At one moment in his homily, the Pope made a point of noting that she wasn’t just a saint, she was a she. “It is significant that those words of the elderly Pope were … addressed to a lay woman.”

Indeed, from there the Pope went on to say that the Church, “in a particular way,” needs to value “the immense contribution which women, lay and religious, have made and continue to make, to the life of our communities.”

What’s interesting here is that it would have been easy for the Pope to leave out all the gender stuff. Which makes me think he’s trying to send a signal — a subtle one — that the Church needs to start rethinking the role of women in its everyday life and power structure. To be clear: Francis didn’t go anywhere near saying there should be women priests or women cardinals (which would give them a role in selecting future Popes). But the reference to women was clearly not for nothing.

4. The cathedral looked good, and Philly Catholics got all dressed up.

The Archdiocese spent a nice chunk of change getting the Basilica — which dates back to the 1800s — ready for prime time. The place got some new sound and AV equipment, not to mention a thorough cleaning. It sparkled.

But what was really notable were how good the people looked — all done up in their Sunday best. At a typical parish Sunday Mass you’re as likely to find guys wearing Demeco Ryans jerseys as you are coats and ties. You cleaned up nice today, Philly.

5. People were excited. Really excited.

The minute Francis’s face popped up on the big screens in the Church – he was getting ready to come in from outside – there was instantaneous (and loud) applause. Maybe it was because people were required to get to the Church so far ahead of time, but the word “giddy” doesn’t feel out of place here.

6. Nobody does grandeur like the Catholics.

Francis is known for his humility — which is cool, because humility is cool — but I felt a little sense of Catholic pride when the trumpets announced Francis’s arrival and the organ kicked in and two choirs started to sing. In other words, there was a ton of pomp and circumstance going on, and it felt exactly right because, uh, the Pope was there.

7. There were languages. Many languages.

Yes, big chunks of the Mass were in English. But the first reading (from Genesis) was said in Spanish, and many prayers were offered in Latin, and one of the petitions was made in Vietnamese, and Francis delivered his homily in his native Spanish, which was translated, paragraph by paragraph, into English (by a guy who had kind of a British accent). Best part: no one said holy wooder, not even once.

8. The Pope and the Archbishop hugged.

A lot has been made of the differences — in tone, if nothing else — between Pope Francis and Philadelphia Archbishop Chaput. But as the two stood on the altar (with Cardinal Justin Rigali, former head of the archdiocese, right next to them) they looked plenty comfortable. And near the end of the service there was an embrace between the two.

Speaking of Chaput: he gave a warm welcome to the Pope near the end of Mass, noting how excited Philadelphia was to have him in town. “This is a city that would change its name to Francisville today,” the Archbishop said.

Yes, I know, Philadelphia already has a Francisville. But let’s just thank the Archbishop for his nice words and congratulate him on a swell Mass.