.- Pope Francis’ representative to the U.S. said that Catholics must be “be the soul of this country” in a panel discussion this week.
“We as Catholics – as Christians, and we are in the majority of this country – we should be the soul of this country,” Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, insisted at a panel discussion at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. on Monday.
“This is what the Pope says,” he continued, adding later that “the Church is, again, the soul of the world.”
The nuncio spoke at a Monday panel discussion on Pope Francis’ influence four years into his pontificate. John Carr, director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown, moderated the discussion and began with a one-on-one conversation with the nuncio.
Later, other panel members joined – Kim Daniels, a member of the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications and a founder of Catholic Voices USA; Ken Hackett, former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See from 2013-17; and Maria Teresa Gaston, managing director of the Foundations of Christian Leadership Program at Duke Divinity School.
The conversation ranged from Pope Francis’ priorities for the Church to current affairs, including a tumultuous 2016 presidential election that ended in November.
“I think pro-life issues are central to our politics, and they should be, care for the voiceless and vulnerable, and particularly the unborn,” Kim Daniels commented on the recent election, which she said exposed a “crisis of solidarity” in the country.
“I think Catholics in general were looking for solidarity,” she said. “And I think that it’s a misplaced understanding of solidarity to say that it is ‘us against them’,” she added. “I think the Catholic understanding of solidarity is one that includes everybody.”
When asked what the Pope’s priorities are, Archbishop Pierre replied that it is “first of all, the Gospel” and “to announce the Gospel.”
Then, “if you want to be coherent with the Gospel,” he added, “you need to give priority to the poor, you need to respect life, life in all its dimensions.”
He quoted from Pope Francis’ address to the U.S. bishops during his 2015 visit to the U.S., where the Pope insisted:
“The innocent victim of abortion, children who die of hunger or from bombings, immigrants who drown in the search for a better tomorrow, the elderly or the sick who are considered a burden, the victims of terrorism, wars, violence and drug trafficking, the environment devastated by man’s predatory relationship with nature – at stake in all of this is the gift of God, of which we are noble stewards but not masters. It is wrong, then, to look the other way or to remain silent.”
And to truly respect life – as “the social doctrine of the Church” teaches “that the human person is at the center” of society – the family must be included in any discussion of the human person, the nuncio added.
“When we speak of the human person, we cannot avoid speaking about the family. There is no human person without the family. If you separate the family, you destroy the person,” he said, responding to a reference made by moderator John Carr about the separation of immigrant families through deportation.
True evangelization, however, must begin with receiving the Sacrament of Confession, the nuncio insisted.
The Pope has emphasized that “the people need to be reached in their misery,” and “in their brokenness, in their sinfulness so that they may be evangelized,” he said, adding that “evangelization is forgiveness.”
This was part of the impetus behind the Holy Father’s proclamation of a Jubilee Year of Mercy from December 2015 to November 2016, Archbishop Pierre continued.
People have been warning of a “huge crisis of the Sacrament of Reconciliation” in recent decades, he said, yet “suddenly, it seems that a lot of people are rediscovering” it, “which is absolutely necessary” for discipleship.
One of the challenges to evangelization is “polarization” in the world, noted Daniels, and Catholics must look to establish true unity with each other in order to evangelize today, she added.
“Our first step should be realizing that we can’t sow this kind of division,” she said. Catholics should “focus on the things we share, and that’s serving the voiceless and vulnerable, it’s resisting the throwaway culture, it’s respecting the family and the good that it does in society.”
“And that’s when we start looking at what we share, looking at what makes us distinctive as Catholics – the sacraments, our parish life, our life in community – and drawing on those resources to build unity,” she continued.
Archbishop Pierre suggested that one model for evangelization is Fr. Jacques Hamel, a French priest executed by ISIS terrorists last July at his morning Mass at a Normandy parish.
“It touched me, because he’s a priest, he’s the type of priest I’ve known,” said the nuncio, who is originally from France.
“He’s a man who’s a victim of the time, but also he’s a martyr,” he continued. “I come from Mexico, I have seen the church of martyrs through these years of persecution. It’s the making of the Church.” Archbishop Pierre was formerly the papal nuncio to Mexico before his move to the U.S. in 2016.
In October, Pope Francis approved the opening of Fr. Hamel’s cause for beatification by the diocese of Rouen, France.
Fr. Hamel “gave his life” under ordinary circumstances, at a daily Mass amidst a small congregation, the nuncio said. He was faithful to his calling.
“I see that person as really the sign of God for today,” he said. “And his death had a huge impact on the whole society.”
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