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Nuncio: Evangelization, mercy, encounter mark pope’s first four years

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Catholic News Service

NEW YORK — Evangelization, mercy, encounter and accompaniment are the hallmarks of the first four years of Pope Francis’ papacy, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, said March 15.

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, addresses the audience during a discussion March 15 in New York City on the first four years of Pope Francis' papacy. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, addresses the audience during a discussion March 15 in New York City on the first four years of Pope Francis’ papacy. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

“First and foremost, Pope Francis is committed to the work of evangelization. The main role of the church is to evangelize, to receive the gospel and offer it to the world,” he said in a conversation in New York with Jesuit Father Matthew F. Malone, president and editor-in-chief of America Media.

“The raison d’etre of the church is evangelization. It’s not a business, it’s not an organization or an association for the defense of Jesus, but a group called to announce God’s presence to humanity,” Archbishop Pierre said.

At a meeting of cardinals before the conclave that elected him pope, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio reflected on the challenges Pope Benedict’s successor should address. Archbishop Pierre said Pope Francis’ handwritten notes from his talk were a blueprint for his papacy.

In them, Pope Francis underscored the importance of evangelizing with apostolic zeal and going to the peripheries of sin, pain, injustice and misery to reach people. He warned that when the church does not come out of herself to evangelize, she becomes self-referential and sick. He wrote, “The evils that, over time, happen in ecclesiastical institutions have their root in self-reference and a kind of theological narcissism.”

Cardinal Bergoglio said the next pope, “must be a man who, from the contemplation and adoration of Jesus Christ, helps the church go out to the existential peripheries, that helps her be the fruitful mother, who gains life from the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing.”

“The church is a continuation of Christ in the world,” Archbishop Pierre said. And the pope continues to insist it is time not to rest, but to go to the many peripheries to be God’s presence to the people who suffer, he said.

He expanded on the pope’s familiar description of the church as a field hospital. “It’s very simple. It’s a tent where you attend people. Be there. Don’t waste time. That’s where you meet wounded people.”

Father Malone said Jesus, the source of joy in the Gospels, is the medication in the field hospital. Pope Francis pictures himself as a patient in the hospital, not the doctor, he said.

People have rediscovered the sacrament of penance during this papacy because Pope Francis identifies himself as a sinner and is seen going to confession, Archbishop Pierre said. “Many had abandoned the sacrament of reconciliation, but have rediscovered the necessity of receiving the forgiveness of God and giving it to others,” he said.

When the pope speaks of mercy, it is not only a human virtue, but a gift from God, and people are the first target of God’s mercy, Archbishop Pierre said. “Our church is a merciful church. We present truth in a respectful way. Mercy means dialogue and walking along the path of the other,” he said.

“I’m impressed to see the capacity Pope Francis has to meet people,” Archbishop Pierre said. “Politicians want to see the pope, not just for the photo, but for the encounter. I have seen politicians transformed.”

He recounted the pope’s visit to Sweden to mark the 500th anniversary of Lutheranism. “We’ve had the idea that Luther is the enemy,” the nuncio said. But Pope Francis had an encounter with Lutheran leaders there and said Luther is part of the history of the Catholic Church. The pope speaks with his actions, Archbishop Pierre said.

The nuncio said Pope Francis approaches dialogue as an important ingredient of public life. People who dialogue successfully must be rooted in their own convictions and faith. In this way, dialogue is “two rooted persons looking for the truth,” he said.

The pope is hard on bishops and priests because he wants them to be masters of discernment and help people develop the capacity to choose between good and bad, Archbishop Pierre said. It is not enough to identify right from wrong, he said. If the understanding is not applied to personal actions, life will be a dichotomy.

Archbishop Pierre said Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”) is based on the closing document of the 2007 meeting of the Latin American bishops’ council in Aparecida, Brazil. Then-Archbishop Bergoglio led the editing committee for the document. A document intended for the Latin American bishops “became the patrimony of the whole church,” Archbishop Pierre said.

He said Pope Francis’ experience living in a “peripheral” country helped him elaborate a different kind of option for the poor than the one envisioned three decades earlier at the Medellin, Colombia, meeting of the Latin American bishops. “The reality is the people had been evangelized so deeply that the culture was filled with the Gospel,” he said.

Because the church does not play the same role in people’s lives it once did, the church today is challenged to help people encounter Christ and rediscover the presence of God in their own lives. It must be missionary and not self-referential, the nuncio said.

In his introductory remarks, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, apostolic nuncio to the United Nations, said Archbishop Pierre is an intrepid adventurer who “enfleshes Pope Francis’ desire to go to the peripheries.”

Archbishop Pierre entered the papal diplomatic corps in 1977 and served in New Zealand, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Brazil, Geneva, Haiti, Uganda and Mexico. Pope Francis named him apostolic nuncio to the United States April 12, 2016.

The event was co-sponsored by America Media and the American Bible Society and held at the New York Athletic Club.

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All Saints and All Souls: Knowing how to cry opens one to tenderness, pope says at cemetery Mass

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Catholic News Service

ROME — While the Beatitudes can seem counterintuitive, Jesus knew that the poor in spirit, those who mourn or are persecuted and those who work for peace and justice are those who are open to experiencing God’s love and mercy, Pope Francis said.

Sun backlights a decorative angel on a tombstone as Pope Francis celebrates Mass in Verano cemetery in Rome Nov. 1, the feast of All Saints. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Sun backlights a decorative angel on a tombstone as Pope Francis celebrates Mass in Verano cemetery in Rome Nov. 1, the feast of All Saints. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Celebrating an evening Mass Nov. 1, All Saints Day, amid the tombs of Rome’s Verano cemetery, Pope Francis assured people that the saints would intercede for them and for their beloved departed.

Hundreds of people went to the cemetery to prepare their loved ones’ graves for the Nov. 2 feast of All Souls. As Pope Francis processed to the temporary altar, he also stopped to lay a white rose on a grave.

The day’s Gospel reading was St. Matthew’s version of the Beatitudes, which the pope said was the path Jesus taught as the road to heaven.

“It’s a journey difficult to understand because it goes against the tide, but the Lord tells us that whoever takes this path is happy, (or) sooner or later will become happy,” the pope said.

Those who are “poor in spirit,” the pope said, are happy because heaven is their only treasure; heaven awaits them.

Those who mourn are blessed because without ever having experienced “sadness, anguish, pain, one will never know the power of consolation,” the pope said. But those who know how to weep for themselves and for others will experience the caress of “the tender hand of God.”

“How many times,” the pope asked, “are we impatient, nervous, always ready to complain” and to criticize others as if “we were the bosses of the world when in reality we are all children of God?”

Jesus showed his followers that meekness is the path to eternal happiness, the pope said. Although the son of God, he experienced exile as a child in Egypt, he was slandered, falsely accused and condemned. But “he took it all with meekness. He bore it out of love for us, even to the cross.”

Those who hunger and thirst for justice, the pope said, “will be satisfied because they are ready to welcome the greater justice, which is what only God can give.”

The merciful are blessed because they have experienced the truth that everyone is in need of forgiveness and mercy, the pope said. “They don’t judge everything and everyone, but try to put themselves in the other’s shoes.”

Mass always begins with asking God’s forgiveness and mercy; it is a time when “we recognize ourselves for what we are, sinners. It’s not just a saying, a formality,” he said. “And if we learn how to give others the forgiveness that we ask for ourselves, we will be blessed.”

The Beatitudes say that peacemakers will be blessed and that is something often visible in the here and now, he said. “Look at the faces of those who go around sowing discord; are they happy? Those who always look for opportunities to trick others, to take advantage of others, are they happy? No, they cannot be happy.”

But those who patiently try each day to promote peace and reconciliation, even through small gestures at home and at work, “are blessed because they are true children of our heavenly Father, who always and only sows peace.”

As dusk approached, Pope Francis asked the thousands of people gathered in the cemetery to pray with him for “the grace to be simple and humble people, the grace to know to weep, the grace to be meek, the grace to work for justice and peace and, especially, the grace to let ourselves be forgiven by God in order to become instruments of his mercy.”

Earlier in the day, the pope recited the Angelus with visitors gathered in St. Peter’s Square, focusing on the call to be saints that all Christians receive at baptism.

The saints officially recognized by the church and the saints “next door” are models to imitate and are those who give people encouragement, he said.

At baptism, the pope said, “we received the ‘seal’ of our heavenly Father and we became his children. To put it simply, we have God’s last name,” and a vocation to holiness.

The saints — formally recognized by the church or known only to their families and friends — are those who have kept that seal intact and behaved as children of God, he said.

“To imitate their gestures of love and mercy is a bit like continuing their presence in the world,” he said. “These evangelical gestures are the only ones that resist the destruction of death. An act of tenderness, generous help, time spent listening, a visit, a nice word, a smile — these can seem insignificant, but in the eyes of God they are eternal because love and compassion are stronger than death.”

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