Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.

The Feast of Christ the King and the Year of Faith

November 24, 2013

The Catholic Church’s Year of Faith, which opened in October 2012, draws to a close on the Feast of Christ the King this Nov. 24. As I reflect on our participation in it, I express my gratitude to the priests and catechists and others who used it to strengthen our relationship to Christ, who can be known only with the eyes of faith. I also realize that our observance of this universal celebration has been more or less crowded out by our archdiocesan emphasis on the last two themes of our Strategic Pastoral Plan: the Year of Sunday Mass and, now, the Year of Strong Catholic Parents.

Most of all, however, the “distraction” from formally celebrating the Year of Faith has been an historic papal transition that exemplified in practice what the community of faith is about. Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation from the papal office and the conclave that elected Pope Francis focused the world’s attention on the papal office as guarantor of the church’s teachings and keystone of apostolic succession in the church. The transition was an exercise in faith that invited the participation even of many who don’t share the Catholic faith. In this, as in so many other ways, the election of Pope Francis has been providential.

Both popes’ Wednesday audience instructions during the Year of Faith have examined the articles of the Creed, the profession of faith that we recite together each Sunday. Choosing to end the Year of Faith on the Feast of Christ the King, however, draws our attention to the relation of the community of faith to the world Christ died to save. This was the topic of Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s last presidential address during the recent annual meeting of the bishops’ conference. He reminded us, first of all, of the legal challenges to religious freedom we face now in the United States, particularly in the delivery of health care in accord with Catholic moral standards and in the complications for the church that will arise as marriage is deconstructed and redefined by state legislatures.

Most of his talk, however, focused on the actual physical persecution of Christians around the world. Two-thirds of the 2.3 billion Christians around the world live today in poverty and in countries where they are at risk of losing their lives. While they are not in the least protected by our government, they are often held accountable in the popular mind of their countries for the unpopular policies of the United States and of other Western powers. They are treated as hostages to our foreign policy mistakes.

In Egypt, Syria and Iraq, in Pakistan and Afghanistan, in China and Vietnam, in the Indian state of Orissa, in northern Nigeria and in Zanzibar, Christians are singled out as targets. Their churches, institutions and homes are damaged or destroyed, and these attacks are done out of hatred for the Christian faith. This is a “global war,” as the reporter John Allen has named it. It is also a war largely ignored by the U.S. government and media.

Ironically, when Pope Francis wanted to get the attention of a Christian political leader to stop the proposed military invasion of Syria by the United States and other Western powers, he turned to the president of Russia and appealed explicitly to his Christian conscience. On Sept. 25, the pope invited us all to examine our conscience on this matter: “When I hear that so many Christians in the world are suffering, am I indifferent, or is it as if a member of my own family is suffering? When I think or hear it said that many Christians are persecuted and give their lives for their faith, does this touch my heart or does it not reach me? Am I open to that brother or that sister in my family who’s giving his or her life for Jesus Christ? Do we pray for one another? How many of you pray for Christians who are persecuted?”

The bishops of the United States renewed their call to prayer, penance and sacrifice for the sake of renewing a culture of life, marriage and religious liberty in our country. Resources for responding to this call are available in English at and in Spanish at

The church exists not for herself but for the salvation of the world. The mission is always the same: to introduce the world to its Savior in every generation until he returns in glory to judge the living and the dead. This mission is hampered and stalled by external persecution, of course, but it is also killed by a faith that does not call believers out of themselves and into the arms of Christ. On this Feast of Christ the King, in this year of grace 2013, our examination of conscience might therefore include the following questions:

What have I done for Christ? What am I doing now for Christ? What am I going to do for Christ?

The church’s mission is in the hands of those who have fallen in love with Christ and his church. May we Catholics of the Archdiocese of Chicago find ourselves among those upon whom Christ has turned his gaze and with whom we take up the mission in our day. God bless you.