A White House welcome by President Barack Obama, a meeting with bishops in the Cathedral of Washington, dc, the canonization of missionary Junípero Serra at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. So began the highly anticipated visit to the United States of Pope Francis, whom Obama had already greeted when his flight had arrived from Cuba the previous afternoon. In the “days of encounter and dialogue” during which the Pontiff — introducing himself as the son of immigrants and therefore as a brother in a country that owes much to immigration — was looking forward to listening to and sharing the hopes and dreams of the people of the United States.
In building a society that rejects “every form of discrimination” — Bergoglio began, standing in front of the White House — U.S. Catholics, “precisely as good citizens”, are committed to respect for religious liberty, which is one of their society’s most precious treasures. The Pope then once again expressed his concern over climate change, an inescapable issue of social justice, and then, with regard to international relations, he favourably touched upon the recent steps toward reconciliation, justice and liberty, toward reestablishing interrupted relationships and opening new doors to dialogue.
In perfect continuity with the lengthy discourse to the U.S. Bishops, the Pontiff thereafter, in the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, proclaimed Junípero Serra a saint. The Spanish Franciscan, a great missionary of 18th-century America, was presented by Bergoglio as a witness to the joy of the Gospel, the authentic embodiment of a Church that goes forth in order to share “the reconciling tenderness of God”. Indeed, Pope Francis said, only in mission is it possible to live out the words of St Paul, who tells us to rejoice in the Lord always. Only thus can one experience a fulfilling, meaningful and joyful life.In the cathedral, he began his speech to the Bishops with an unexpected greeting to the Jewish community, whose High Holidays had just begun. The discourse was a long, and at times moving, meditation on Christian life: “To testify to the immensity of God’s love is the heart of the mission entrusted to the Successor of Peter”, who accompanies and supports each one of his brother bishops, placing his hand on theirs, “a hand wrinkled with age, but by God’s grace still able to support and encourage”. The Pope spoke to them as “the Bishop of Rome, called by God in old age, and from a land which is also American, to watch over the unity of the universal Church”. He spoke not as a “stranger” in America, but as “a brother among brothers”. Even faced with many challenges and often fierce opposition, “we are promoters of the culture of encounter”, Francis said. “Dialogue is our method, not as a shrewd strategy but out of fidelity to the One who never wearies of visiting the marketplace” of mankind. And in a world that is torn and broken, the episcopal mission — “which we carry out in communion, collegially”, the Pontiff emphasized — “is first and foremost to solidify unity”, so as to “offer to the United States of America the humble yet powerful leaven of communion”.
St. Peter’s Square
March 24, 2019
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