Bishop James Conley says that Pope Francis' mandate to go beyond the narrow confines of own worlds is a challenge, but not one without encouragement from their brotherly shepherd. Although the Pope has only been in the United States for two days, “he's coming to encourage us,” the bishop of Lincoln, Neb. told CNA Sept. 24. He said Pope Francis' audience with U.S. bishops yesterday was particularly inspiring. “It was challenging for us to, as his common theme is, to reach out beyond our own little world, to have a broader vision especially to those who suffer,” he said. “We can't be a self-referential Church. We have to be a Church that goes out of ourselves and be permanently on mission.” Bishop Conley spoke to CNA outside the U.S. Capitol building in Washington D.C. before Pope Francis' address to a joint meeting of U.S. Congress. He said he expects missionary discipleship and awareness of those who suffer will be a constant message of the Pope throughout the rest of the trip, as well as an emphasis on God’s mercy and the need to be “missionaries of God’s mercy.” Pope Francis met yesterday with more than 400 U.S. bishops yesterday in Washington’s St. Matthew’s Cathedral following the celebration of Daytime Prayer. In his speech to the bishops, Pope Francis praised U.S. bishops for their commitment to defending life, their handling of the clerical abuse crisis. He also commended their efforts to welcome immigrants, while urging them not to be afraid to do more. The Pope also offered some reflections on being a pastor, stressing the importance of being humble, prayerful and unafraid to tackle challenges, as well as the need to be unified, to go outside of oneself and be open to others. Bishop Conley said one thing that struck a lot of the bishops was “how brotherly” Francis was “as a fellow bishop, and how he encouraged us.” The thing that stood out most was “how fraternal he was to us and how he spoke really from the heart.” Francis’ emphasis on unity in the episcopate was also a point that resonated, the bishop said. Although the bishops in the U.S. already have a strong sense of collegiality, it was good to hear the message confirmed. The bishop said his hope for the trip is that Pope Francis “sees how strong the faith his here in the United States. How much we love him, and how much Catholics are filled with the Holy Spirit. That’s what I hope he sees more than anything.” Pope Francis spoke to Congress Thursday morning before meeting with homeless in St. Patrick’s Church, which is the oldest parish in Washington. The Church also serves as the headquarters of Catholic Charities in the city and operates a homeless shelter and several food programs. He will fly to New York this evening, where he is scheduled to pray Vespers with priests and religious in the city’s historic St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Tomorrow he will head to the United Nations headquarters in New York, where will address a U.N. special summit to finalize the 2015 sustainable development agenda. Alan Holdren contributed to this report.
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