.- At the opening of the U.S. bishops’ autumn conference, the Pope’s representative urged the diocesan shepherds to a more profound witnessing to Christ and to preserve unity amongst themselves.
This is “a call to attentiveness, watchfulness and preparedness for whatever proclaiming the Gospel may mean for us as successors of the Apostles, who were called to give radical witness to their faith in Jesus Christ,” Archbishop Carlo Vigano told the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Nov. 11.
The nuncio, an Italian native, introduced his speech by saying that he would be sharing “a few reflections and observations I have since my time here in this country,” adding that “I ask you to take these thoughts into prayerful consideration. You know this comes from my admiration, respect, and loving concern for the Church in America.”
He began by referring to Paul VI, and quoting extensively from the late Pope's apostolic exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi, which Pope Francis, he noted, considers “the greatest pastoral document written to date.”
Archbishop Vigano stressed Paul VI's statement that “modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if it does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”
He used this statement to impress upon the bishops the necessity of being witnesses to the Gospel. “Certainly, my brothers, no one can dispute the clear fact that our present Holy Father himself, as the Supreme Teacher, is giving us, by his own witness, an example of how to live a life attuned to the values of the Gospel.”
“While each of us must take into consideration our adaptability to the many different circumstances and cultures in which we live and the people whom we serve, there has to be a noticeable lifestyle characterized by simplicity and holiness of life. This is a sure way to bring our people to an awareness of the truth of our message.”
The nuncio went on to say that the Holy Father “wants bishops in tune with their people,” saying that when they met in June, Pope Francis “made a special point of saying he wants 'pastoral' bishops, not bishops who profess or follow a particular ideology.”
He also quoted extensively from Blessed John Paul II, who in 1978 told the U.S. bishops that to be pastoral, the Gospel must be more effectively taught.
Archbishop Vigano concluded by reflecting on the importance of unity among the episcopate.
“I urge you, my brothers, to preserve a spirit of real unity among yourselves and, of course, with the successor of Peter, trusting in the way he sees best to live out his mission to mankind. Unity expressed in a real, prayer-filled communion of mind and heart is the only way we will remain strong and be able to face whatever the future may hold for us.”
While noting that the Church, and America as well, is characterized by diversity, he stressed, “we must take care that, for us as a Church, this diversity does not grow into division through misinterpretation or misunderstanding, and that division does not deteriorate into fragmentation.”
Having said this, he noted an article which claimed that America's political polarization “began as Americans lost confidence in their leaders.”
This, he said, was “well said, since the Catholic Church will preserve her unity and strength as long as its people have trust in their bishops. The sheep will gather together as one; they recognize and listen to the voice of their shepherd who calls out to them, walks with them, and is ready to give his life for them.”
“My brothers, let us go forward, filled with zeal and fervor of divine love. Let us be confident that the Lord will give us the wisdom and strength we need for the tremendous task before us to give genuine witness to the faithful,” he concluded.
“Let us embrace our people with a fatherly embrace, let us make them feel that they belong, that they are not orphans or strangers. And we should also ask ourselves today a question posed by Pope Francis to the Bishops of Brazil: ' … are we still a Church capable of warming hearts?' Let our response be a firm and wholehearted: 'Yes, we are!'”