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Pope Francis moving church 'always forward'

Seven years ago, I began a journey that brought me into contact with the head of the Catholic church and led to my start as a religion columnist for the Carroll County Times. Pope Benedict XVI arrived at Catholic University of America, just as I was beginning my academic career there, to give an important speech on the state of Catholic education. On Wednesday, I returned full circle with my second papal visit just as my time at the university begins to wind down.

Pope Francis arrived for the Canonization Mass of Blessed Junípero Serra on Wednesday, and, like the Fransican friar Serra, Francis came to convert the peoples of America back to the ways of Christ. Saint Serra was a Spanish priest who was a trained philosopher and prominent academic, but he needed something more to follow the path of his calling. Abandoning prestige in Europe, Serra set sail to America.

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His trip took him first through Mexico, where he suffered a leg injury and became ill. Although he was constantly pained, he set forth from Mexico City into the surrounding territories to bring the message of Christ to the native people.

After many years, Serra arrived in California to spread a message of repentance and purity through the love of Christ. He founded many missions along the way, and he took care of the spiritual and physical needs of the native communities. He sought to protect the people from corrupt and abusive governmental officials, and he promoted the care of all, regardless of their status. Although his leg injury made it difficult for him to travel, he devoted his life to visiting missions throughout California and meeting with the newly converted.

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Serra's motto in life was "siempre adelante, nunca atras" — always forward, never backwards — and Pope Francis fully embraced these words during the canonization ceremony. Christians need to focus on the future and how we can change the world by bringing it closer to Christ. Francis warns that we should "not settle for things that keep us comfortable" because those goods or habits keep us from Christ's "invitation to rejoice."

We are called, as Francis said, to "Go out and tell the good news to everyone." He reminded us that spreading the Gospel is our essential duty, and Jesus commanded all of his followers to go forth. We must "proclaim by anointing and anoint by proclaiming" and "Go out to people of every nation." We must proclaim "that error, deceitful illusions and falsehoods do not have the last word in a person's life."

Francis, like Serra, came to America to bring us back to the ways of God. The pope's message was not political. Instead, it focused on our duty to spread love in all ways to all people. As with Benedict before him, Francis came to draw us back to Christ in all things.

The visitation of a pope is an incredible experience, and it is unfortunately not one that everyone can enjoy. I am blessed to have received this opportunity twice, and I will continue to share the Gospel of Christ with you in appreciation.

Jeffrey Peters, a graduate student at Catholic University, attends St. Bartholomew Roman Catholic Church in Manchester. Reach him at 17peters@cardinalmail.cua.edu.

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