Wednesday, November 16, 2016

From The Boss' Desk, A Call To US: "Break Down Walls and Build Bridges"

While each USCCB plenary invariably opens with the sending of a telegram to the Pope to pledge the bench's fidelity and prayers, it is anything but custom that the Roman pontiff issues a reply...

This time, however, that has indeed happened.

As if the message of the elections needed further hammering home – let alone from the Man in White – Tuesday's closing public session on the Floor saw an unprecedented cameo from the Boss himself, addressing the body (and, by extension, the wider Stateside fold) by video... and in a way he rarely does: fully in English.

Though the express purpose of Francis' message was a plug for the coming fifth national Encuentro – a synod-esque process to build bonds, energy and mission among the Hispanic bloc which already comprises Catholicism's plurality on these shores – Papa Bergoglio's talk likewise served to set the goalposts on the wider scene amid the challenges of this national moment.

Along these lines, it bears recalling that the Pope's latest endorsement represents the third recent instance of Francis' concerted push on behalf of the Encuentro: following his speech last September at Philadelphia's Independence Hall – a talk focusing on religious freedom, immigration and globalization as parts of a piece – the gathering's trademark Cross was intentionally placed in the square behind to meet him alongside the project's leadership before he left (top)... then, over planning meetings at the Vatican earlier this fall, the coordinating team was invited to stay at the Domus, where the first American Pope/the first son of immigrants to occupy Peter's Chair accordingly re-commissioned the planning group and the Cross, which has been on display just off the Floor all week. (Above, Francis is seen blessing the Encuentro Cross anew alongside San Antonio's Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller.)

As one well-placed prelate cabled in to this shop following yesterday's historic vote, "La Virgen nos está guiando a favor de los olvidados" – that is, the result indicated how "Our Lady [of Guadalupe] is guiding us [bishops] to side with the forgotten." With that same sense clearly in mind from across the Tiber, here's the video and text of Francis' US message, which – unlike casual talks (e.g. the daily Mass homilies) – has been placed among the Pope's authoritative addresses on the Vatican website:

Dear Brother Bishops,

I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak to you. Just a year ago, I was with you during my Pastoral Visit to the United States. There I was impressed by the vitality and diversity of the Catholic community. Throughout its history, the Church in your country has welcomed and integrated new waves of immigrants. In the rich variety of their languages and cultural traditions, they have shaped the changing face of the American Church.

In this context, I would commend the coming Fifth National Hispanic Pastoral Encuentro. The celebration of this Fifth Encuentro will begin in your Dioceses in this coming January and conclude with a national celebration in September 2018.

In continuity with its predecessors, the Encuentro seeks to acknowledge and value the specific gifts that Hispanic Catholics have offered, and continue to offer, to the Church in your country. But it is more than that. It is part of a greater process of renewal and missionary outreach, one to which all of your local Churches are called.

Our great challenge is to create a culture of encounter, which encourages individuals and groups to share the richness of their traditions and experiences, to break down walls and to build bridges. The Church in America, as elsewhere, is called to “go out” from its comfort zone and to be a leaven of communion. Communion among ourselves, with our fellow Christians, and with all who seek a future of hope.

We need to become ever more fully a community of missionary disciples, filled with love of the Lord Jesus and enthusiasm for the spread of the Gospel. The Christian community is meant to be a sign and prophecy of God’s plan for the entire human family. We are called to be bearers of good news for a society gripped by disconcerting social, cultural and spiritual shifts, and increasing polarization.

It is my hope that the Church in your country, at every level, will accompany the Encuentro with its own reflection and pastoral discernment. In a particular way, I ask you to consider how your local Churches can best respond to the growing presence, gifts and potential of the Hispanic community. Mindful of the contribution that the Hispanic community makes to the life of the nation, I pray that the Encuentro will bear fruit for the renewal of American society and for the Church’s apostolate in the United States.

With gratitude to all engaged in the preparation of the Fifth Encuentro, I assure you of my prayers for this important initiative of your Conference. Commending you, and the clergy, religious and lay faithful of your local Churches, to the prayers of Mary Immaculate, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of grace and peace in the Lord.