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Close to the People

The Church’s current challenge is the same as it has always been: to accompany the people in growth, in their joys and in their difficulties. This was among the responses given by Pope Francis during the in-flight interview on the return from his third American journey, this time to Cuba and the United States. In other words, in Washington, DC, New York City and Philadelphia, the Pope encountered a Church that is close to the people, a Catholic community that welcomed Bergoglio with a variety of accents. A “very expressive” community, as he defined New York. One with patent warmth and affection, belying preconceptions and perhaps prejudicial and unfounded analyses.

The Pope stated that he had seen in the U.S. Church a vitality grounded in prayer, and in Philadelphia he spoke of the need to better appreciate the contribution of the laity, especially of women. He even repeated again to journalists the unfettered praise he had accorded to women religious in New York, because, he said, nuns in the United States have done wonderful things and the people love them as a result. The Pontiff’s support to truly pastoral bishops was also apparent, and his words were as heartfelt as they were resolute regarding acts of abuse of minors committed by members of the clergy.

In Philadelphia, the last stop on his journey, the Pope returned to the central theme of religious freedom, which he linked to the ever more pressing need to face all intolerance with a common front among women and men of different faiths “for peace and respect for the rights of all”. While there, he also returned to the pivotal issue of epochal migration.

He spoke again on these themes with journalists. Bergoglio stated distinctly with regard to religious freedom that conscientious objection is a human right. Reflecting then on the migratory crisis — which he defined before the U.S. Congress as the worst since the end of the Second World War — that walls built up are destined to fall: sooner or later they will collapse, leaving only hate, he concluded with disillusion.

The papal journey concluded in Philadelphia with the World Meeting of Families, on the eve of the Synod dedicated to this crucial theme. And while here and there prophets of doom insistently raise their voices, as is often emphasized in the media, the Pontiff offered a different viewpoint: for Catholics, he said, the family is not chiefly a source of concern but “the fundamental locus of the covenant between the Church and God’s creation”. Even so, this doesn’t mean closing one’s eyes to societal transformations.

To describe this new situation, Pope Francis conjured up a most effective image. In a world where neighbourhood “mom and pop” shops are disappearing, giving way to impersonal super stores that only spur consumption, consumerism also impinges upon human relationships and therefore upon the family. The Church too must take this reality into account, without pointless nostalgia or sterile transpositions, but by testifying that the perseverance to have and raise a family serves to “transform the world and history”.

g.m.v.

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