Pope’s Vision is One of “Encounter and Openness”

The vision of Pope Francis for the 21st Century Catholic Church is one of “openness, encounter, and engagement with the world,” Archbishop and Apostolic Nuncio Christophe Pierre said last night at Sacred Heart University, in the Chapel of the Holy Spirit.

More than 300  students and faculty and the general public turned out to hear the Nuncio’s address in the Chapel of the Holy Spirit. Earlier in the day he received an Honorary Degree. It was his first college campus visit and honorary degree since being appointed Papal Nuncio to the U.S. in 2016. The Nuncio said the Pope believes that Church “can’t be self-referential and wait for the world to come to it.” Rather it must reach out to people where they are and help them to encounter Christ both in their person life and the community of the Church. He noted that Pope Francis often uses the images of the Church as a “field hospital, light house, and torch in the night to rescue those in distress” by bringing God’s mercy and love. “The Church is place for urgent care and a sign of hope in the midst of a present day storm,” he said. “The Pope believes that we are not so much living in an era of change, but change of era,” he said,  an era requiring “missionary discipleship” and seeing the concrete reality of peoples’ lives and challenges.

Throughout his nearly one-hour address, the Nuncio returned to terms such as solidarity, dialogue, inclusion, and mercy to describe the Pope’s vision. “Pastoral care is nothing other than exercise of the Church’s motherhood. Without mercy, the Church can’t be part of a world of wounded persons in need of love.” Throughout his talk, the Nuncio emphasized that being Christian is not simply a matter of accepting ideas or ideology. “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or lofty ideas,  but the encounter with an event, the person of Christ who gives us life.”

Several times the Nuncio, who has traveled with the Pope, described him as “man of discernment who doesn’t see the world in black and white.” He drew laughter from the audience when he said they should remember that like other Jesuits, the Pope is “a man of incomplete thoughts” who continues to explore the Church’s response to the modern world. The Nuncio said that the Pope’s thought is in “continuous development” and that he is not “locked into one rigid plan” to bring the Church’s mercy and teachings to the world. He said the Holy Father continually challenges the flock to get out of their comfort zone and identify with those who are suffering and vulnerable throughout the world. “Pope Francis has traveled to areas of conflict and places in the periphery” all over the world to dramatize the plight of those whose lives have been overturned by hunger, political upheaval and religious persecution. “He brings the mercy of Christ to those at the margins,” the Nuncio said, adding that the Pope sets a personal example as a “witness of peace.”

The Nuncio said that much of the focus of the Francis papacy has been on the Christian challenge to respond to the immense migration of people all over the globe. “Pope Francis tells us that these are not people in search of a better future—they are  are simply seeking a future in the face of certain death,” if they don’t leave their home countries.   “To keep others out is an affront to human dignity. Where there is a wall, there is a closed heart. We need to build bridges, not walls,” he said.

After his talk, the Nuncio took questions from audience members who used the microphone in the center aisle. In response to a question by a student who asked how the Church should respond to the surge in populist and nationalist  governments that are hostile to refugees, the Nuncio said the Church is not political or ideological. He said that that Pope Francis seeks a “collegial relationship” with governments and that people should not  expect “confrontation between the Pope and world leaders.”  The Archbishop seemed momentarily taken back when a man asked him if the Church was near schism because some Cardinals have asked for clarity on the Pope’s thoughts concerning divorced and remarried Catholics receiving communion as discussed in Amoris Laetitia, the post synod apostolic exhortation of the Pope. “You should be careful what you say—you should not dramatize that,” he said. “The Church is not near schism or divided over the challenge. People should read it carefully,” he added, noting that most Bishops have worked within the spirit of the Pope’s teaching and are responding to people in their particular situation.

When asked by a young woman what young people should do who are discerning a vocations, he said, “The major source in discernment is prayer. It helps people to recognize in their own lives what God wants.” The Nuncio’s talk was co-sponsored by the Diocesan Leadership Institute of the Diocese of Bridgeport. The Nuncio was introduced by Father Anthony Ciorra ,  assistant vice president for Mission and Catholic Identity at Sacred Heart University. “He’s an alumni now. He’s one of ours’,” Fr. Ciorra said. The Sacred Heart University Choir sang, “Lord we pray for unity” to begin the evening’s program.

Photo Credit: Sacred Heart University