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After tense USCCB lead-up, Pierre and Gomez urge unity

In prerecorded video messages played immediately after a contentious debate among bishops, both the apostolic nuncio to the United States and the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference highlighted the need for unity.

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the US. Credit: USCCB

“Christ Himself sought to build unity; to be a mediator between God and man; to help reconcile sinners to the Father. He founded His Church to be a sign and instrument of unity, and our own unity as a Church and even as bishops can offer a powerful witness to the Gospel,” apostolic nuncio Archbishop Christoph Pierre said.

“The dynamic of unity depends upon the bishops, in a particular way,” he added. “As successors of the Apostles, they have a responsibility for the unity of the particular Church entrusted to their pastoral care. Such unity is expressed in the communion of faith, the sacramental life and the evangelizing efforts of each local Church. A singularly important expression of this unity is the communion between local churches and the See of Peter.”

Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the USCCB, stressed that “[o]nly 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.”

“What God wants for the human family is meant to be reflected in the unity of the Church, which is the family of God,” he said.

Pierre and Gomez both spoke to the bishops during the first day of their June 16-18 virtual general assembly. Their calls for unity come after a contentious lead-up to the June meeting, with several bishops vocally disagreeing over a plan to vote on whether to draft a new catechetical document on the Eucharist, including the worthy reception of Communion.

In May, a group of 47 diocesan bishops wrote to Gomez asking him to postpone the discussion on “Eucharistic coherence” until the bishops can meet in person. After The Pillar reported on the letter and its signatories, several signers distanced themselves from it and at least one said he had never signed the document.

Numerous other bishops have also weighed in on the idea of Eucharistic coherence, through statements, articles, and social media posts.

In his address, Gomez noted that the Church is not immune to the division in society. Still, he continued, it is important to  avoid viewing the Church “in simply political terms,” and to remember that “[t]he Church’s unity is made real and visible in the Eucharist.”

“It seems to me that in these times when society is so divided, the Church has a great duty to more fully reflect the unity that God wants for his creation and his people,” the archbishop said.

He pointed to Pope Francis’ frequent calls for unity in the Church. Speaking recently to the Brazilian bishops, the pope said, “It is possible to overcome the pandemic. It is possible to overcome its consequences. But we can only do so if we are united. The bishops’ conference must be as one at this time, because the suffering people are one.”

“Unity in the Church does not mean conformity of opinion or that bishops will never disagree,” he stressed. “The apostles argued passionately. They disagreed over pastoral strategies and methods. But never about the truth of the Gospel.”

The Gospel of Christ, he continued, is powerful in its “profound awareness of the unity of life, from conception to natural death, and the unity of the human family, every person a child of God.”

Faced with cultural forces seeking to undermine the truths of creation, human nature, and the human family, the Church has the urgent mission of standing up for the Gospel, he said.

“It falls to the Church in this moment to defend the truth about God the Creator, and the truth about the sanctity of the human person and the unity of the human family in God’s plan for creation,” he said.

“And I’m thinking that it has to start with me and with all of us. So, my prayer is that we all remain united in what is essential — our love for Jesus and our desire to proclaim him as the living God and the true path for humanity.”

Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the USCCB. Credit: USCCB.

In his speech, Pierre called on the bishops to re-orient themselves toward Christ in order to renew their commitment to encounter and dialogue aimed at truth.

“Jesus Christ is a Person, not a concept,” he said, stressing that the kerygma – the joyful proclamation of the Gospel – must always begin with an encounter with Christ’s love and mercy.

“When Christianity is reduced to custom, to moral norms, to social rituals, it loses, sooner rather than later, its vitality and its existential interest for the men and women of our day, particularly for those who are looking for hope after the pandemic; for those seeking authentic justice after the racial strife we have experienced; or for those who have come here seeking a brighter and safer future. It is one thing to meet the material needs of the poor, but Christianity offers more than an NGO or a social service organization. The Church offers salvation in the person of Jesus Christ,” the archbishop said.

“When Christian morality asserts itself without Jesus Christ, even though the theological and philosophical conclusions might be correct, it does not penetrate the heart in a way that leads to conversion,” he added. “Christian morality, Christian culture and Christian values are part of the action by which we show forth ‘the newness’ of Christian life, which flows from our encounter with Jesus Christ.”

Encounter and dialogue, Pierre said, are “a sharing of the existence of others in one’s existence. It is not always about proving oneself to be right. It is about a mutual sharing of persons that deals with how to live and of how to show solidarity. As Christians, our dialogue should express the lived-Christian experience, not as a type of moralism, but as a grace which we have received from our initial encounter with Christ.”

“The goal of this dialogue should be unity and not merely doctrinal and juridical unity,” the nuncio continued.

He said the Church in the United States has shown its ability to provide a unified and compassionate response in its efforts to reach out to sex abuse victims, immigrants, those affected by natural disasters, and victims of racial inequality and persecution.

“These examples point to the undeniable truth that unity is possible and that the Church in the United States has numerous experiences of it.”

Pierre noted that unity can only be found in truth and called for a dialogue that “produces unity of faith and action, and not merely talking about things endlessly.”

The archbishop pointed to the image of the Church as a family, in which members are welcomed, encouraged to grow, and bound in “a unity founded on love and mutual respect.” In this family, he said, we learn to encounter Christ in others and to work together to overcome difficulties and journey closer to God.

“Can we be a Church that facilitates this encounter with God through our proclamation and patient dialogue? Emerging from the pandemic, what are the possibilities for us of welcoming new members to the family or making those who have been away feel at home?” he said.

“After all we have been through, we must begin to walk again. We must begin again from Jesus Christ!”