Pope calls bishops, Catholics to be bridge builders
What was it like visiting and hearing from Pope Francis last week in Washington, D.C.?
The overriding image I came away with from his visit was one of brotherly love. Pope Francis is a uniter, a bridge builder. He told us there were many issues that divide us, but we don’t have the time to remain divided. We must be united as a society and as a church. What resonated for me was his insistence that government always should be working for the common good. Though his tone was very strong, he always came back to: “We must do unto others as we would have them do unto us.” If we want to foster life, we must protect life. If we want freedom, we must protect freedom. If we want family life to flourish, we have to promote family life.
How many times did you actually see the pope in person?
Three times. I attended his address to the U.S. bishops at St. Matthew’s Cathedral on Wednesday morning, I participated in the Mass of Canonization for St. Junipero Serra outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on Wednesday afternoon and I was the guest of Rep. Steve Scalise of Metairie for the pope’s address to Congress on Thursday. I was seated in the upper gallery with Congressman Scalise’s wife Jennifer. After his speech to Congress, the Holy Father went to venerate the statue of St. Junipero Serra, which is located very
close to Congressman Scalise’s office.
What was his message to the bishops?
He gave us, first of all, his gratitude for our role as shepherds and for the collaboration we have with him as a leader of the church. He reminded us that we share in the ministry of the apostles, and our ministry is that of Christ the Good Shepherd and must be accomplished with the heart of Christ, a heart filled with mercy. He told us that in all things – when we are making decisions – to always be charitable. He also mentioned there were some challenging issues facing our country, and we must continue to be strong in teaching about these issues, explaining them and inviting people to be influenced by the values of Jesus. We must invite people to follow the ways of the Lord. He also reminded us that our position as the successors of the apostles is not to wield power but to serve. We must be servant leaders in the name of the Good Shepherd. We are called to show the mercy and kindness of Jesus.
Everyone knows how politically divided the country has been over the last many years. What did you think of the pope’s address to Congress?
He came through in a very brotherly way. He told us he was one with us. He said “God Bless America.” He was strong yet gentle. He didn’t come across in any way with a preachy tone. At the beginning of his speech, he pointed to the engraved image of Moses and saw the symbolic nature of Moses as the faithful lawgiver. I also thought he was brilliant in using the examples of Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton to talk about some of our fundamental American moral values. He was not there to talk about politics. He was there to talk about the Gospel. I suspect that no matter what side of the political fence you are on in terms of party affiliation or ideology, all of us would have felt affirmed by some of the things he said. I dare say everyone also left with a little bit of an uncomfortable feeling because what he said will require us all to give more thought to some issues. He was very clear about the dignity of human life and respect for all human life, from the unborn child to the elderly. He spoke out strongly against the death penalty because it is a denial of human dignity and ends any chance for rehabilitation. He talked about being an immigrant himself – about how all of us are immigrants in some way. And he talked very directly about his concerns regarding marriage and family life. The family really needs our attention and support. The family is the foundation of our society. It was a masterful expression of what the church teaches about the dignity and value of every human life. And so, I would like to say, God Bless America, and God Bless Pope Francis!