Pope Francis affirmed to the leaders of the Catholic Church in America the importance of being true pastors to the entire country Wednesday.
The pope addressed an assembly of over 300 U.S. bishops for a prayer service around noon. The service took place at the cathedral of the Washington Archdiocese after his meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House. (RELATED: Pope Francis Meets Obama At White House, Both Stressing Religious Liberty)
In his remarks, Francis emphasized his own role as the symbol of the Catholic Church’s unity, which is “defined by the word of God and the one bread of heaven.” And amid the United States’ incredible size and diversity, he said Catholics’ ultimate gift to the country is their “humble yet powerful leaven of communion.” In this, he said, “the pope is by your side,” offering “a hand wrinkled with age.”
Urging bishops to preach the Jesus Christ effectively, Francis deplored “harsh and divisive language,” which “does not befit the tongue of a shepherd.” He went on: “although momentarily it may seem to win the day, only the enduring allure of goodness and love remain truly convincing.”
He also pointed to the many difficulties that face America today. He condemned the natural impulse “to look the other way or remain silent,” amid a host of suffering people, foremost among them “the innocent victims of abortion.” All the challenges he mentioned — hunger, poverty, war, violence, drugs and “man’s predatory relationship with nature” — entail “life as a gift and as responsibility.” (RELATED: Reporters Asked Pope Francis About Being Communist. Here’s What He Said.)
The Catholic Church’s response to these challenges, he said, will determine “the future of freedom and dignity of our societies.”
Francis spoke about immigration in what he called a special “recommendation” for the nation’s Catholic leaders. He recognized that “no American institution does more for immigrants than your Christian communities.” And he linked today’s challenges to the history of American Catholics, saying that contemporary immigrants “will enrich America and its Church.”
In confronting these challenges, he said that the Church must attract disciples with “the warmth of its love,” and remain welcoming and loving “even when the tenor of the times resists and becomes hostile” to the Church’s teachings. He also urged bishops to support their priests as “neighbors and servants,” and keep them from “the temptation to become notaries and bureaucrats.”
Francis will participate in a mass later Wednesday afternoon, at which he will become the first pope to declare a saint on American soil. He will address Congress Thursday before sharing a meal with recipients of aid from Catholic Charities’ center in Washington.
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