Pope Francis has moved from the pageantry of the White House, and the public spectacle of his popemobile procession, to the rituals of his church. He visited the Cathedral of St. Matthew for prayers with U.S. bishops and remarks to those assembled.
He started by issuing special greetings to the Jewish community in the U.S. for Yom Kippur.
Speaking in Italian, Francis said: “May the Lord bless them with peace and may they continue with a life of holiness.”
Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year for Jews. They spend the day repenting and atoning for any sins. The pope also praised U.S. bishops for their response to the clergy sex abuse crisis.
He lauded them for what he called their “generous commitment to bring healing to victims.” He praised them for having courage and acting, as he saw it, “without fear of self-criticism.”
The clergy sex abuse scandal erupted in the U.S. in 2002 and turned into the biggest crisis in the history of the American church.
Under enormous public pressure, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops pledged to oust any guilty clergy from church work and enact safeguards for children.
However, the scandal persists, and victims say the bishops still haven’t fully accounted for sheltering abusers. This year, three bishops resigned in crises over their failures to protect children.
In a single sentence, the pope showed how he could transcend the ideological polarities of U.S. politics.
He spoke out against abortion, an issue close to the heart of Republicans, and against environmental devastation, a surefire applause line for Democrats. He spoke on behalf of immigrants, too, and pushed a few other hot buttons. All in one sentence.
He said: “The innocent victim of abortion, children who die of hunger or from bombings, immigrants who drown in the search for a better tomorrow, the elderly or the sick who are considered a burden, the victims of terrorism, wars, violence and drug trafficking, the environment devastated by man’s predatory relationship with nature — at stake in all of this is the gift of God, of which we are noble stewards but not masters.”
He ended the sermon by encouraging U.S. bishops in their ministry to immigrants, praising them for taking up their cause and urging them to welcome even more foreigners coming across the border.
Francis praised the bishops for defending the rights of migrants, helping them to prosper and keeping their faith alive. He said: “Do not be afraid to welcome them … I am certain that, as so often in the past, these people will enrich America and its church.”
U.S. bishops have been demanding a more welcoming policy toward immigrants in the country and hoping Francis’ visit will counter a divisive issue in the presidential campaign.
Tens of thousands of families and unaccompanied minors from Central America have surged across the border as violence has flared in the region. Many have been held in detention centers that the U.S. bishops and immigrant-rights advocates have decried as inhumane and ineffective.
Read HERE for the full text of the pope’s message to U.S. Catholic Bishops.