Speaking to the US bishops gathered for the opening Mass of their plenary assembly on Sunday, the Vatican Secretary of State encouraged them to continue their prophetic witness in the face of the challenges facing the country.
Recalling the first reading from the Book of Wisdom, Cardinal Pietro Parolin said this “divine wisdom is a gift of the Holy Spirit,” which “enables us to serve God by doing his will.”
“May the fire of God's love inspire you as a body to make wise decisions free of all partisan spirit,” he added.
The US bishops were gathered for Mass Nov. 12 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore for their fall assembly. This year's assembly marks the centenary of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, which was founded in 1917 as the National Catholic War Council.
The conference “originated in a Spirit-filled and wise response to the human suffering and displacement of the First World War,” Cardinal Parolin noted.
The bishops' conference began as America's bishops cared for those who were “forced from their homes and came to the new world in search of security and a new life.”
The cardinal invoked this past “as the Church in your country seeks to provide healing, comfort, and hope to new waves of migrants and refugees.”
Turning to the Gospel reading of the wise and foolish virgins, Cardinal Parolin urged the bishops to a prophetic witness and “to be a source of wisdom and strength,” saying that “the oil with which the Lord asks us to fill our lamps is above all purity and an authentic personal conversion.”
As olives had to be pressed to produce the olive oil for the virgins' lamps in Christ's parable, so must we stamp out whatever “stands in the way of our growth in Christ: our worldliness, our desire for human respect.”
He applauded the charitable institutions of the Church in the US, and encouraged the bishops to always bring people to relationship with Christ, “which alone brings true joy and satisfies the desires of the human heart.”
The Vatican Secretary of State looked forward to the series of “Encuentros” which are being held to assess and improve Hispanic ministry in the US.
“In this way you are seeking to foster that heightened sense of missionary discipleship which Pope Francis considers the heart of the new evangelization.”
“In the century prior to the founding of your conference, the challenge facing the Church in this country was to foster communion in an immigrant Church to integrate the diversity of peoples, languages, and cultures in the one faith, and to inculcate a sense of responsible citizenship and concern for the common good.”
“At the same time the Catholic community is called under your guidance to work for a more just and inclusive society by dispelling the shadows of polarization, divisiveness, and societal breakdown by the pure light of the gospel ” he said. He praised the bishops particularly for “defending the right to life of the unborn” and for their concern for ensuring access to health care.
“I cannot fail to mention the contribution made by the USCCB to the discussion of important social issues and political debates, above all, when this involved the defense of moral values and the rights of the poor, the elderly, the vulnerable, and those who have no voice.”
He also discussed the importance of pastoral care, saying that “in this process of accompaniment may you continue to exercise your prophetic office.”
He gave thanks for the Spirit's gift of wisdom shown in the bishops' conference, and concluding, prayed that “you make keep the lamp of faith burning brightly.”
The bishops' fall assembly meetings begin Monday, and will continue through Wednesday.