The six Rome-based employees of CNS met privately with Pope Francis at the apostolic palace on Feb. 1 to mark the news agency’s centenary.
In the audience, Pope Francis praised the Church in the U.S. as “alive, vivacious,” pointing to the many Catholic schools and efforts to assist immigrants. CNS reported that Francis specifically mentioned the leadership of Archbishop José H. Gómez of Los Angeles and Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Texas.
Pope Francis made personal phone calls to both of those bishops on June 3, 2020, when the U.S. was experiencing a period of unrest that began with the death of George Floyd during an arrest by Minneapolis police on May 25.
Gómez, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, wrote in a letter to bishops that “the Holy Father said he was praying, especially for Archbishop Bernard Hebda and the local Church in Minneapolis-St. Paul.”
“He thanked the bishops for the pastoral tone of the Church’s response to the demonstrations across the country in our statements and actions since the death of George Floyd. He assured us of his continued prayers and closeness in the days and weeks ahead,” Gómez said.
Bishop Seitz said that he and Pope Francis spoke in Spanish during their two- to three-minute call.
The pope “said he wanted to congratulate me,” Seitz told local news website El Paso Matters. “I expressed to the Holy Father that I felt it was imperative to show our solidarity to those who are suffering.”
Seitz was the first U.S. Catholic bishop to join the protests and demonstrations against racial injustice and police brutality which spread across the country after Floyd’s death.
In his meeting with CNS, Pope Francis said that “the Church in the United States is a Church that has been courageous -- the history it has and the saints -- and has done so much. But if the communications media throw gas on the fire on one side or another, it doesn’t help.”
He issued a warning against division and said that traditionalist groups existed in the Vatican too.
According to CNS, the pope also noted “four sins” which he said were a threat to news media today: disinformation, calumny, defamation, and “a love of dirt,” because “scandal sells.”
Pope Francis had to take a step back from some of his planned liturgies in recent weeks due to a flare-up of sciatica, a painful nerve condition. He told the news agency that he can usually feel it coming on and his doctor will advise him to cancel or postpone events requiring him to stand for long periods to not aggravate the condition.
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“But do the Angelus or people will say you are dead,” he said his doctor told him.
Despite the condition, Pope Francis said that he had no intention of canceling his upcoming trip to Iraq.
Francis, who has received his first coronavirus vaccination, explained that only a very strong new wave of the coronavirus in the Middle Eastern country would prevent him from undertaking the visit, scheduled for March 5-8.
“I am the pastor of people who are suffering,” he said, noting that even if people have to watch the papal events through livestream, “they will see that the pope is there in their country.”