Pope Francis came to praise, to provoke — and to bless

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Zoe Cuadra, age 6, came with her mother to hear Pope Francis address the U.S. bishops at St. Matthew's cathedral in Washington on September 23, 2015. Religion News Service photo by Cathy Lynn Grossman

Zoe Cuadra, age 6, came with her mother to hear Pope Francis address the U.S. bishops at St. Matthew's cathedral in Washington on September 23, 2015. Religion News Service photo by Cathy Lynn Grossman

Pope Francis speaks to bishops during the midday prayer service at the Cathedral of St. Matthews in Washington on September 23, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Mark Wilson/Pool *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-POPE-BISHOPS, originally transmitted on Sept. 23, 2015.

Pope Francis speaks to bishops during the midday prayer service at the Cathedral of St. Matthew in Washington on Sept. 23, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Mark Wilson/Pool
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-POPE-BISHOPS, originally transmitted on Sept. 23, 2015.

WASHINGTON (RNS) Listen up, Pope Francis told the leaders of the U.S. Catholic church Wednesday.

Listen to everyone and remember you are there for them, he told 300 bishops and cardinals gathered at St. Matthew’s Cathedral.


READ: Pope Francis to bishops: Reject ‘harsh and divisive’ battles, be open to others


And all around them — from the protesters outside calling for women’s ordination to invited guests from the Washington Archdiocese’s Hispanic ministry in prime seats — were people who wanted be heard.

Irene Avalos, who came to Washington from Guatamala 9 years ago, and her two children, Jeffrey, age 2, and Katerina, age 6, were invited by the Spanish ministry at St. Matthews to greet Pope Francis outside but were treated to prime inside seats instead. The family awaits the Pope's visit to the church on Sept. 23, 2015. Religion News Service photo by Cathy Lynn Grossman

Irene Avalos, who came to Washington from Guatemala nine years ago, and her two children, Jeffrey, age 2, and Katerina, age 6, were invited by the Spanish ministry at St. Matthew’s to greet Pope Francis outside but were treated to prime inside seats instead. The family awaited the pope’s visit to the church on Sept. 23, 2015. Religion News Service photo by Cathy Lynn Grossman

Francis spoke of care for immigrants, and Irene Avalos, who came from Guatemala nine years ago, was there with her two young children to hear him. She said through a translator that she was drawn to Francis for his focus on immigrant families.

He spoke of offering the warmth and love of God to the hurting, and Marisol Granados, 16, was there to hear him. Pope Francis connects with youth, said Granados, a junior at a local Catholic high school. “He is different. He has a great way of reaching people. He’s begun a lot of changes and the message is really getting out.”

What’s that message? It’s the message of mercy and forgiveness, Granados said.

It remains to be seen whether the bishops, a sometimes fractious lot, got the message in the pope’s long and deliberate homily. He made no conversational asides, but stuck to the text of remarks that moved quickly from praise for the U.S. church’s service  to warnings about disunity, “narcissism” and shepherds forgetting their sheep.

Religion News Service graphic by T.J. Thomson

Religion News Service graphic by T.J. Thomson

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“It was a very substantial, spiritual and important talk, a rich talk,” said retired Archbishop of San Francisco John Raphael Quinn afterward. “I need to sit down and read it and reflect. But I was very moved by his call for us to be true shepherds.”

Some of the address might have sounded familiar. Quinn has long advocated reforms in the bishops conference and the papacy. To hear much of what he has advocated reflected in the speech, Quinn said, was “infinitely meaningful, intensely meaningful.”

Zoe Cuadra, age 6, came with her mother to hear Pope Francis address the U.S. bishops at St. Matthew's cathedral in Washington on September 23, 2015. Religion News Service photo by Cathy Lynn Grossman

Zoe Cuadra, age 6, came with her mother to hear Pope Francis address the U.S. bishops at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington on Sept. 23, 2015. Religion News Service photo by Cathy Lynn Grossman

Buffalo, N.Y., Bishop Richard Malone, on the other hand, could offer no reaction to the talk, which the Argentine-born pope delivered in Italian.

“ I don’t speak Italian so I have no idea what he said,” Malone said. “My headset with translation didn’t work.”

But Zoe Cuadra, age 6, of Upper Marlboro, Md., there with her mother, had no trouble understanding Pope Francis’ purpose at St. Matthew’s.

He came, she said, to bless her.

LM/MG END GROSSMAN

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  • “What’s that message? It’s the message of mercy and forgiveness, Granados said.”

    That is…
    Unless you are woman who wants rights to her own body.
    Or a gay person who wants the right to get married.
    Or anyone who wants to use contraception.
    Or anyone who lusts for the same sex.
    Or anyone who lusts.
    Or anyone who demands freedom of expression
    Or those who demand Justice for the 35,000 victims of Pedophile priests
    Or those who want Bernie Law, kingpin of the boston pedophile priests prosecuted

    Getting a big hug from the warm-spirited Uncle Pope Francis might make you feel better – for a minute.
    But he is selling the same Christian shame and self-loathing all the other Popes offered. And thankfully, most Americans are rejecting that part of his message entirely.

  • Tesa

    Atheist Max, take a cold shower. You might feel better afterwards.