BALTIMORE (CNS) -- The
mission of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is as timely now as 100
years ago when the conference was founded as a "wise and Spirit-filled response
to the immense suffering and displacement" caused by World War I, the Vatican
secretary of state said Nov. 12.
"The church in your
country seeks to bring not only material assistance but also the spiritual balm
of healing, comfort and hope to new waves of migrants and refugees who come
knocking on America's door," Cardinal Pietro Parolin said.
the remarks in his homily at a Mass celebrating the USCCB's centenary
in Baltimore on the eve of the bishops' fall general assembly.
As it developed from its formation as the National Catholic War Council to the present-day USCCB, the conference has never
wavered "in that commitment to Christian charity" and "has proved to be an effective
means for coordinating the pastoral outreach and evangelical witness of the church
in America," the cardinal said.
The 62-year-old Italian
cardinal was the main celebrant of the Mass at the Basilica of the National
Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. A career Vatican diplomat,
the cardinal is Pope Francis' top aide both for internal church matters as well
as for relations with governments and international organizations.
William E. Lori welcomed the cardinal, his fellow archbishops and bishops,
priests, religious men and women, laity and seminarians to "America's first
cathedral," built between 1806 and 1821. The Baltimore basilica was the first
Catholic church to be constructed in United States after the adoption of the
The basilica, filled to
capacity, was a fitting setting to celebrate the USCCB's centenary, a landmark in
the history of the U.S. Catholic Church.
Archbishop Lori was among
the dozen or more concelebrants on the altar, who included Cardinal Daniel N.
DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the USCCB, and Archbishop Christophe
Pierre, papal nuncio to the United States. The rest of the U.S. bishops
filled several of the basilica's front pews.
Before Mass, the bishops
gathered for an afternoon workshop for presentations on the history of
the USCCB by New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, head of a task force on
centenary observance; Bishop Earl A. Boyea of Lansing, Michigan; and
Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Washington. Cardinal Dolan and
Skylstad are both former USCCB presidents.
Outside the basilica,
children from various Catholic schools in the Baltimore Archdiocese lined the
steps to greet people arriving for Mass. Below the steps a few protesters held placards
or placed them on the sidewalk, calling on the U.S. bishops to embrace pacifism.
"There is no such animal
as a 'Just War,'" said one sign quoting Benjamin Joseph Salmon (1889–1932), a
prominent Catholic conscientious objector and outspoken critic of the Catholic Church's just-war
theory. "1000+ U.S. Catholics have died in vain in Iraq and Afghanistan," read
Inside before Mass began,
worshippers were greeted with an organ prelude of pieces such as a toccata by
Johann Speth and a larghetto by George Frideric Handel. The readings were given
in Spanish and English.
In his homily, Cardinal
Parolin drew on the day's Gospel reading from Chapter 25 of the Gospel of St.
Matthew describing how "the wise virgins filled their lamps with oil in
preparation for the coming of the bridegroom."
He used the symbolism of
the oil "to reflect with you on some of the present-day opportunities and
challenges facing your conference at the dawn of its second century."
"That oil is also
spiritual joy, the joy of the Gospel -- 'Evangelii gaudium' -- that the church
is called to proclaim before the world," the cardinal said. "Ultimately,
it is a joy grounded in our hope in the Lord's victory over death and the
promise of our own resurrection."
"In an age increasingly
marked by secularization, materialism and a coarsening of human relations," he
said, "an essential aspect of your task as pastors of the church in America is
to propose that hope, in season and out of season, trusting in its power to
attract minds and hearts to the truth of Christ.
He remarked that U.S.
Catholic community with its "vast network" of parishes and educational, health care
and charitable institutions "is challenged to propose in an ever more vital way
the wisdom of the Gospel, which alone brings true joy and satisfies the deepest
longings of the human heart."
He held up the USCCB's
convocation in Orlando, Florida, and the ongoing preparations for the Fifth National
Encuentro in 2018 as examples of the conference's "far-sighted
initiatives aimed at encouraging dialogue and cooperation at every level" in
the life of the U.S. church.
"In this way, you are
seeking to foster that heightened sense of missionary discipleship that Pope
Francis considers the heart of the new evangelization," Cardinal Parolin said.
In the century before the
founding of the bishops' conference, "the great challenge facing the church in
this country was to foster communion in an immigrant church, to integrate a
diversity of peoples, languages and cultures in the one faith, and to inculcate
a sense of responsible citizenship and concern for the common good."
Today, he continued, "the
urgent need to welcome and integrate new waves of immigrants continues
unabated. At the same time, the Catholic community is called, under your
guidance, to work for an ever more just and inclusive
society by dispelling the shadows of polarization, divisiveness and
societal breakdown by the pure light of the Gospel."
He said the USCCB has
made many "responsible contributions" to the discussion "of important social
issues and political debates, above all when these involve the defense of moral
values and the rights of the poor, the elderly, the vulnerable and those who
have no voice."
The U.S. church has made
an "outstanding witness" to defending the right to life of the unborn, "but
also, in more recent times ... to ensure due protection for the family and
access to affordable health care."
"You have done this not
only by engaging in policy debates in your own country, but also by assisting
international processes of dialogue and peacemaking, and by providing
much-needed humanitarian aid to peoples beset by war and civil conflict," he
"In this process of
accompaniment, may you continue to exercise your prophetic office by bringing
the balm of mercy to discussions that all too often take refuge in policies and
statistics, while ignoring the faces and needs of real people."
At a dinner that evening
with the U.S. bishops, Cardinal Parolin told them Pope Francis sent his "cordial
good wishes for this anniversary" and he recalled the pontiff's "message of
encouragement" to them during their meeting last year at the Vatican.
He quoted the pope, who
said that the great challenge that the Catholic Church faces is "to create a
culture of encounter, which encourages individuals and groups to share the
richness of our traditions and experiences, to break down walls and to build
bridges. The church in America, as elsewhere, is called to 'go out' from its
comfort zone and to be a leaven of communion. Communion among ourselves, with
our fellow Christians, and with all who seek a future of hope."
"It is my hope and prayer
that this anniversary will strengthen your communion and common resolve in
rising to this challenge," Cardinal Parolin said.