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.
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.
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.
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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.”
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.
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