The USCCB Spring Assembly was scheduled for June 16-18. For more coverage of the assembly, visit www.stlouisreview.com.
WASHINGTON— The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic bishops urged unity in an address June 16, the first day of the prelates’ three-day spring plenary assembly, held virtually because of the ongoing
“I know we all hope this will be the last time we are forced to gather virtually,” said Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez.
Recalling the chaos of the pandemic, including lockdowns that shut down churches, social unrest and division and “maybe the most polarized election our country has ever seen,” Archbishop Gomez turned attention to Pope Francis’ directive: “the importance of unity — not only among peoples, but also unity within the Church.”
“Even with the lockdowns ending, our neighbors are still struggling,” he said in a prerecorded speech. “They’ve lost loved ones and livelihoods. Many have lost confidence in God and hope for the future. After being isolated for months, some have grown distrustful of our leaders and institutions.”
All the events of the past year or so, he said, will shape the vision of the Church “for years to come.” That’s why unity is important, he added.
“In ‘Fratelli Tutti,’ the Holy Father sets out his program for rebuilding the world after this pandemic. He gives us a beautiful vision of the ‘unity and common destiny’ of the human family in God’s ‘providential plan,’” he said, speaking of the pope’s third encyclical on “Fraternity and Social Friendship,” released in October.
“It seems to me that in these times when society is so divided,” Archbishop Gomez said, “the Church has a great duty to more fully reflect the unity that God wants for His creation and His people.”
That doesn’t mean the Church and its members are exempt from worldly problems, such as division, he said, warning about the temptation to think about the Church in political terms.
“The Church is divine, she is the body of Christ. But we are all human in the Church, after all. And we are living in a secular society where politics is becoming the substitute religion for a lot of people,” the archbishop said.
That doesn’t mean bishops will never disagree, he said, because even the apostles disagreed, “but never about the truth of the Gospel.”
The message was delivered after a spirited discussion by the body of bishops about a vote that was to come later over the drafting of a Communion document.
A vote to approve the spring meeting’s agenda, usually a formality, prompted the introduction of an additional motion, which eventually failed, to add time to the June 17 debate so as many bishops’ voices could be heard over the “action item” on the drafting of a Communion document by the doctrine committee.
Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski of St. Louis made the motion to ensure that the bishops would not be limited by time on the proposal and moved the agenda be amended to allow all bishops who wanted to speak to be able to do so during the planned discussion period June 17. Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, seconded it, opening a 40-minute discussion.
Archbishop Rozanski said that discussion in a virtual setting was not optimal and that if the discussion moved forward now, it should be as inclusive as possible.
“This topic and its implications are so far reaching that putting limits on the amount of time for discussion will not helps us or our people as we discern that course that must be taken,” the archbishop explained.
Given the challenges of the pandemic and surrounding events, it’s important to focus on unity to move ahead, Archbishop Gomez said.
“Only a Church that is united can heal the brokenness and challenge the injustices that we see more clearly now in the wake of this pandemic,” Archbishop Gomez said.
The Church has to defend the truth about God, the sanctity of the human person and the unity of the human family, he said.
“This is our mission, the urgent task of the whole Church in this moment — after this pandemic, in the face of the chaos and confusion in our society,” he said.
The papal nuncio to the United States told the U.S. bishops that dialogue is a key step on the path to unity as the country emerges from the coronavirus pandemic.
“That is important for us during this ‘Amoris Laetitia’ Year of the Family — to encounter families, even broken ones, and to accompany them on their journey through thoughtful dialogue,” Archbishop Christophe Pierre said in his address to the bishops on the first day of their virtual spring meeting.
“We know that families are hurting — economically, emotionally, and spiritually. We also know how many members of the flock struggle to live the faith. We wish they would understand the faith perfectly and act in accordance with right reason and consistently make good choices, but we are not a church of the perfect but a pilgrim Church in need of the mercy offered generously by Christ,” he said.
Some of Archbishop Pierre’s remarks seemed to presage the difficulty the bishops could face when it comes time to vote June 17 to approve the drafting of a formal statement on the meaning of the Eucharist in the life of the Catholic Church.
“At the heart of dialogue is the communication of one’s own personal life to others,” Archbishop Pierre said.
Emerging from the pandemic, he added, “we need to be a Church that proclaims, with conviction, the basic kerygma” — the proclamation of the Gospel — “and the person of Jesus Christ, and we need to be a Church that follows the method of Jesus, which is one of accompaniment and dialogue, a dialogue directed toward salvation.”