By Cindy Wooden
WASHINGTON (CNS) — Acknowledging the real challenges and burdens the U.S. bishops face in their ministry, Pope Francis shared with them his own experience as a pastor and urged them to keep their eyes focused on Jesus and their hearts open to others.
“Woe to us,” he said, “if we make of the cross a banner of worldly struggles and fail to realize that the price of lasting victory is allowing ourselves to be wounded and consumed.”
The 78-year-old pope met the U.S. bishops Sept. 23 in Washington’s Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle for midday prayer. His speech to them, delivered in Italian, was expected to be among the longest of those he would give in the United States.
“I did not come to judge you or to lecture,” the pope said, but he wanted to address the bishops “as a brother among brothers, “one who served as archbishop of a large, diverse archdiocese and now, “in old age,” is called to encourage Catholics around the world.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, welcomed Pope Francis, telling him, “Your humble witness that no one is beyond the healing power of Christ’s mercy and love energizes the church. True to our heritage, we seek to spread the Good News so that each human life is cherished and given an opportunity to flourish.”
The pope also was welcomed by Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, who rode with Pope Francis in the popemobile part of the way from the White House to the cathedral.
A majority of the country’s more than 400 bishops were present for the meeting. Many of them, after arriving in a bus caravan, stopped to take photos with their smartphones of a cream-colored sign above the center cathedral doors that read, “Welcome Pope Francis.”
Dozens of office workers in high-rise buildings around the cathedral pressed their faces or smartphones to the glass windows in hopes of getting a better glimpse and photo of the pontiff on the steps leading up the cathedral.
In his speech, Pope Francis focused on the basic qualities needed in a shepherd, a pastor called to share the good news of Jesus Christ and God’s mercy in word and deeds.
The Catholic Church in the United States already excels at that mission in so many ways, the pope told them. “Whenever a hand reaches out to do good or to show the love of Christ, to dry a tear or bring comfort to the lonely, to show the way to one who is lost or to console a broken heart, to help the fallen or to teach those thirsting for truth, to forgive or to offer a new start in God … know that the Pope is at your side and supports you.”
He also praised the bishops’ defense of the unborn and the U.S. Catholic community’s history of welcoming and assisting migrants and refugees.