Photo: Screenshot from TelecareTV shows Bishop William Murphy during vespers at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Sept. 24.  Retired Rockville Centre Auxiliary Bishop Dunne is on the right.

Note: Bishop Murphy was asked by Cardinal Dolan to do a very brief look at the papacy for the people gathered in St Patrick’s for Thursday evening vespers and for those gathered Friday evening at MSG for Mass with the Holy Father.  Bishop Murphy wished to share his talk with you via


by Most Reverend William Murphy, bishop, Diocese of Rockville Centre

Let me begin some words on the Papacy with an experience I had many years ago.  June 29, 1978, Feast of Sts Peter and Paul in St. Peter’s Basilica, a frail Pope Paul VI, who would die five weeks later, gave a homily, his last.  He looked back on all the events of his Pontificate: the Vatican Council, Humanae Vitae, Reform of the Curia, establishment of the Synod of Bishops,  Populorum Progessio, Evangelii Nunitandi and on and on.  At the end of each section he repeated the words of Peter to Jesus: I HAVE NEVER CEASED TO PROCLAIM YOU ARE THE CHRIST, THE SON OF THE LIVING GOD.  In those words Blessed Paul VI did what every Pope from Peter to today has made his own: The proclamation of faith in Jesus Christ, Son of God, Son of Man, Savior of all humankind.

That sums up the vocation of every Pope: to proclaim Jesus Christ; to lead, sanctify and teach the Church the truths about God’s Saving Plan that life and life eternal are given us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  How many and how varied have been the 265 successors of St. Peter!  How different the cultures and the historical circumstances of these past two thousand years!  The vast majority of the popes have been holy and zealous servants of Christ and His Church.  Some have been knaves.  Everyone can cite Alexander VI, the Borgia Pope.  Worse yet, in the tenth century when Rome was a provincial town the papacy was handed around from one Roman family to the next.  But never did any pope, saint or sinner, ever deny the truths of Jesus Christ and his message of salvation and life in the Holy Spirit.  They all preserved the faith, cared for the Church and did their best to heal the world as Successors of St. Peter.

St. Peter himself was put to death, crucified upside down on the Vatican Hill outside of ancient Rome.  In the next 250 years 30 popes were put to death, martyrs for the faith.  In those early centuries, Councils met in east and west to preserve the faith intact.  Popes confirmed that faith.  Later In 450, one of them, Pope Leo the Great , a cultured Roman,  saw ancient Rome was crumbling.  He made the Church the instrument to save civilization and made the Church the protector of society and legal institutions, especially with care for the poor. His homilies for Christmas and Easter instruct the Church and inspire us today. 150 years later, Pope Gregory the Great, a monk, was a “hands on” bishop who knew “the smell of the sheep”.  He was the first to call himself “the servant of the servants of God”.  He lived up to the title.  He visited parishes, cared for the sick, and was a special friend to the poor.  He went everywhere and helped everyone and never stopped praying and working.  He wrote a Pastoral Rule that even today teaches bishops how to be good pastors.

In good times and bad times, popes have had to respond to the needs of the day.   In the Middle Ages, they supported monastic schools and led the way to the founding of universities in Bologna, Paris and other places.  When St. Francis of Assisi began his simple life of poverty and preaching, he went to see Pope Innocent III, a brilliant lawyer, who understood the spiritual message of the Poverello.  He approved the rule for the sons of St. Francis.  He and his successors had to protect Franciscan and Dominican friars whose simple life and care for all were often under attack.  The religious life of consecrated women and men has long been under the protection of popes who encouraged, defended and supported them.

Popes have been good listeners too.  They called councils and sought the advice of men and women from all walks of life.  When rivalries divided the Church in the 1300s and 1400s, St Catherine of Siena, the great woman mystic, exhorted the popes to return home to Rome.  Popes Eugene IV and Martin V listened to her against the wishes of cardinals and did just that.  They put the papacy back in Rome on an even keel.  By the 1500s the Papacy was the center of the civilized world.  At times popes were worldly like Pope Paul III.  Yet he was the very pope who began a reform of the Church and a renewal of her pastoral and sacramental life.  He approved the rule of St. Ignatius of Loyola.  Thus was born the Jesuits with their fourth vow of loyalty to the Pope.  In the 1700s the Church was pushed around.  Many kings tried to control or even banish it.  Pius VI was arrested.  Pius VII was taken captive by Napoleon.

In modern times we have been blessed by a succession of Popes who have served the Church well as pastors and leaders.  They have truly made the Church the voice of the voiceless and the moral conscience of the world.  Leo XIII was pope from 1878 to 1903.  He lived so long that Romans used to say, “We know we have a Holy Father.  We did not expect to get an eternal one.”  He began the Church’s modern commitment to social justice with his encyclical on labor, the rights of workers to organize and a just wage.  S. Pius X changed the Church from a political state in Italy to the spiritual center of Christianity.  He loved children and made it possible for them to receive Holy Communion when 7 or 8 years old.  Benedict XV preached peace and did his best to bring World War I to an end.  Pius XI promoted Catholic education and spoke out against Hitler and Nazism.  Pius XII promoted modern Scripture study, defined the dogma of the Assumption and worked for peace and reconciliation after the war.  St. John XXIII opened the Vatican Council and so opened up the Church to the modern world.  Blessed Paul VI led the same Council to a successful conclusion and brought the Church the reforms we enjoy today.  St John Paul II gave us the most profound and rich understanding of God’s plan of salvation, as he traveled the world, spoke the truth to power, challenged communism and proclaimed the dignity and human rights of all.  And Benedict XVI shared his deep and beautiful understanding of the mystery of God’s love in his homilies and books.  All have been great pastors, extraordinary priests and bishops, and all totally committed to Christ, His Church and all peoples.

That is the Papacy and some of the popes.  Each and all presided over the Church in unity and charity. Each and all embraced all of humanity in God’s love. There have been 23 Pope Johns, 16 Benedicts and Gregorys, 14 Clements, 13 Innocents, 12 Pius’, 6 Pauls but only one St. Peter and only one Pope Francis who is with us today.  Yes! Pope Francis, Bishop of Rome, Pastor of the Universal Church, servant of the servants of God; lover of humankind, protector of the poor, moral conscience of the world is here in New York; here with us today in Madison Square Garden.  He is here as our Father and our brother, our pastor and our shepherd.  Welcome to New York Pope Francis.  Viva il Papa Francesco.  Eviva el Papa Francisco.  Long Live Pope Francis.  We in New York love you and welcome you today and always!