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With Bishop Strickland Praying Outside, US Bishops Hear Papal Envoy in Baltimore

Cardinal Christophe Pierre, nuncio to the United States, gives his homily during Mass for All Saints’ Day, Nov. 1, 2023, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. It was the first Mass he celebrated at the basilica since becoming a new cardinal during the Sept. 30 consistory at the Vatican. (OSV News photo/Patrick Ryan)

BALTIMORE — Amid a perceived rift between the Vatican and the U.S. church, the papal envoy to the United States used his address to American bishops Nov. 14 to highlight what he called the “close relationship” between their ongoing Eucharistic Revival initiative and Pope Francis’ ongoing Synod on Synodality.

French Cardinal Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, also encouraged the U.S. bishops to embrace the synodal process. Later on, Archbishop Timothy Broglio, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, referred to the two processes as the “major concerns” of the U.S. church.

To make his point, Cardinal Pierre referenced Pope Francis’ homily to open the synod general assembly, where the pontiff said in part that “we are not here to carry out a parliamentary meeting or a plan of reformation … but to walk together with the gaze of Jesus, who blesses the Father and welcomes those who are weary and oppressed.”

“I encourage us to follow what the Holy Father is saying,” Cardinal Pierre said in his address.

“We may have had fears or anxieties about this synod, especially if we were focusing on a particular agenda or idea, whether negative or positive, but this is not what synodality is about,” Cardinal Pierre continued. “Instead, it is about the way in which we are called to be the Church of God, for the sake of evangelizing today’s world which is in such desperate need of the Gospel of hope and peace.”

Cardinal Pierre went on to say the synodal mission means “going beyond our comfort zones.”

Likening the synodal process to the U.S. bishops ongoing eucharistic revival Initiative — which culminates next summer with a National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis — Cardinal Pierre highlighted how encounter is at the heart of each process.

“I am convinced that we need to have an eye-opening experience of the Eucharist. We need this, even as bishops, leaders in the Church. We need our perception of the Eucharist to be re-awakened to its incarnational dynamism,” Cardinal Pierre said. “The Eucharist is encounter. It is movement. It is the power helping us to give new life. It makes us the living presence of Jesus to others.”

“So, my brothers, Eucharistic Revival and synodality go together,” Cardinal Pierre explained. “Or to put it another way: I believe that we have true Eucharistic revival when we experience the Eucharist as the sacrament of Christ’s incarnation: as the Lord walking with us together on the way.”

After a number of procedural items, Cardinal Pierre’s address kicked off the public session of the U.S. bishops’ general assembly in Baltimore, which began Nov. 13 and runs through Nov. 16.

Archbishop Broglio spoke immediately following Cardinal Pierre. Archbishop Broglio’s address was more wide ranging — touching not only on the Synod and Eucharistic Revival, but different conflicts around the world.

On the synod, Archbishop Broglio noted how it stressed “how much we can work together as parts of the body of Christ.” Separately, he said the Eucharistic Revival is an effort to “call our daughters and sons home to the fullness of life in Christ in the sacraments.”

At a midday press conference, Archbishop Broglio highlighted how Cardinal Pierre connected the Eucharistic Revival and synod, and added that from his own perspective the two processes are the “major concerns” for the U.S. church, in addition to evangelization.

Archbishop Broglio did, however, push back on comments Cardinal Pierre made in an interview with America magazine, where the nuncio commented that “almost nobody in the United States comes [to church] anymore,” and that the “seminaries are now empty.”

Archbishop Broglio conceded that he and Cardinal Pierre have since discussed the article.

“I don’t think that really reflects the reality of the church in the United States,” Archbishop Broglio said. “Certainly, our churches are not empty, yet, we’re trying to do our best to make sure that continues to be the case. We have a number of seminaries that are actually at capacity.”

“I think there’s been a concerted effort both in the Eucharistic Revival and for the whole notion of preaching the good news, so I think there might be a little bit of a dichotomy between what was presented in that article and what the reality is,” Archbishop Broglio continued. “That’s my perception.”

“He’s open to his opinion, and I’m open to mine,” he added.

The synod and Eucharistic Revival aside, another focal point of Archbishop Broglio’s address was the different global conflicts. He expressed unity with Ukrainians in “their struggle against unjust aggression,” and called attention to the oppression against the church in Nicaragua, and the dire situation in Haiti.

On the war in the Holy Land, Archbishop Broglio said that Israel has a right to defend itself, while Palestinians also have a right to a land that is their own. Later on at the presser, he said that while the Hamas attack on Israel provoked a response, Israelis should try to save civilians and keep them out of the conflict.

“I think everyone would recognize that Israel has a superior military force, and they should perhaps be able to find some way to negotiate,” Archbishop Broglio said. “I know that they’ve taken the position that they won’t negotiate until all of the hostages are released, but I don’t know that that justifies attacking particularly where civilians could be injured and have been injured.”

Following the addresses from Cardinal Pierre and Archbishop Broglio, the first public session of the general assembly went on without a hitch.

However, outside of the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront, where the assembly was held, Bishop Joseph Strickland garnered some attention, leading the praying of a rosary for a small crowd around noon.

Bishop Strickland, who was removed from his post as bishop of the Diocese of Tyler, Texas, last week and therefore isn’t able to vote during the general assembly, told The Tablet after the rosary that he is unsure what his next move will be, or whether or not he’ll stay in Tyler.

“The only real plans I have beyond being here this week, since I was already planning to be here, was to spend some time with family, to spend some time in prayer,” Bishop Strickland said. “I still have the responsibility of our successor of the apostles and am trying to live that as faithfully as I can, but I don’t really have any plans beyond that.”

Bishop Strickland added that he’s unsure if he’ll stay in Tyler because he wants “to be respectful to the flock there.” He said his message to them is to “keep the faith deeper than ever.”

Back inside the walls of the general assembly, there were only a few agenda items that were voted on.

The bishops voted to approve a one-time suspension of their handbook rules prohibiting a retired bishop from serving as a committee chairman, allowing Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Joseph Perry of Chicago to retain his role as chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism. The bishops also reauthorized the ad hoc committee for two more years, with an added mandate of finding its permanent place within the conference.

There were also seven bishops appointed to lead conference committees. Each bishop elected — outside of Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City who assumes his role immediately — will serve as chairman-elect of their respective committee for a year, and subsequently assume the chairman post following the November 2024 general assembly. The appointments are as follows:

  • Bishop Robert Brennan of Brooklyn was elected chairman-elect of the Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church.
  • Bishop James Massa of Brooklyn was elected chairman-elect of the Committee on Doctrine.
  • Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City was elected as conference secretary and chairman of the Committee on Priorities and Plans.
  • Bishop David O’Connell of Trenton was elected as chairman-elect of the Committee on Catholic Education.
  • Bishop William Byrne of Springfield, Massachusetts, was elected as chairman-elect of the Committee on Communications.
  • Bishop Daniel Mueggenborg of Reno was elected chairman-elect of the Committee on National Collections.
  • Bishop Daniel Thomas of Toledo was elected chairman-elect of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

The Nov. 14 public session concluded with the bishops voting to advance the cause of beatification and canonization of the Servant of God Isaac Thomas Hecker. Father Hecker is the founder of the Paulist Fathers.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, who facilitated the discussion, called Father Hecker “a son of our shores, a saint of our times.”

“Like those apostles on Pentecost Sunday [Father Hecker] was on fire to share [the faith] with everyone for the rest of his life,” Cardinal Dolan said. “Two-fold was his purpose: to make the Catholic faith appealing and accessible and compelling to a skeptical, and at times hostile, population, and then to educate and encourage Catholics in their own faith, enabling them to become ambassadors for Christ.”