On June 16, Archbishop Gomez, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, delivered his address to the bishops’ Plenary Assembly, which was held virtually in Washington, D.C. The following is adapted from his remarks.
We have been living through some extraordinary times.
We’ve seen a pandemic shut down our civilization, including the Church, for more than a year. We’ve lived through riots in our major cities, rising social divisions and unrest, and maybe the most polarized election our country has ever seen.
Even with the lockdowns ending, our neighbors are still struggling. They’ve lost loved ones and livelihoods. Many have lost confidence in God and hope for the future. After being isolated for months, some have grown distrustful of our leaders and institutions.
It is not realistic to expect the Church to stay immune from the pressures of division. Those pressures are all around us.
The Church is divine, she is the body of Christ. But we are all human in the Church, after all. And we are living in a secular society where politics is becoming the substitute religion for a lot of people. So, we need to guard against the temptation to think about the Church in simply political terms.
In his homily for Pentecost, the Holy Father said, “Today, if we listen to the Spirit, we will not be concerned with conservatives and progressives, traditionalists and innovators, right and left. … The Paraclete impels us to unity … the harmony of diversity. He makes us see ourselves as parts of the same body, brothers and sisters of one another.”
Unity in the Church does not mean conformity of opinion or that bishops will never disagree. The apostles argued passionately. They disagreed over pastoral strategies and methods. But never about the truth of the Gospel.
In the wake of this pandemic, our Holy Father is calling us to strengthen the unity of the body of Christ. What he said recently to the bishops of Brazil is also important for us.
“It is possible to overcome the pandemic,” he said. “It is possible to overcome its consequences. But we can only do so if we are united. The bishops’ conference must be as one at this time, because the suffering people are one.”
Only a Church that is united can heal the brokenness and challenge the injustices that we see more clearly now in the wake of this pandemic.
The Gospel we proclaim is the truth of salvation. It is also the most powerful force in history for promoting human dignity and human flourishing.
The power of our Catholic vision flows from our profound awareness of the unity of life, from conception to natural death, and the unity of the human family, every person a child of God.
What God wants for the human family is meant to be reflected in the unity of the Church, which is the family of God.
One of the saints said, “All with Peter to Jesus through Mary! By seeing ourselves as part of the Church and united to our brothers and sisters in the faith, we understand more deeply that we are brothers and sisters of all mankind, for the Church has been sent to all the peoples of the earth.”
There are forces at work right now in our culture that threaten not only the unity of the human family, but also the very truth about God’s creation and human nature.
Our Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has said, “This is the age of sin against God the Creator.”
Pope Francis has stressed the truth of these words and said, “The problem is worldwide! The exploitation of creation, and the exploitation of persons. We are experiencing a moment of the annihilation of man as the image of God.”
We stand at a historic crossroads, as our Holy Father is telling us. It falls to the Church in this moment to defend the truth about God the Creator, and the truth about the sanctity of the human person and the unity of the human family in God’s plan for creation.
This is our mission, the urgent task of the whole Church in this moment — after this pandemic, in the face of the chaos and confusion in our society.
My prayer is that as bishops we will all remain united in what is essential — our love for Jesus and our desire to proclaim him as the living God and the true path for humanity.
Later this year, we celebrate the 490th anniversary of the Our Lady of Guadalupe’s apparition. Let us look to her in this moment and entrust all our challenges to her maternal heart.
May she help us to keep our hearts humble and united in the service of Jesus, as we seek to continue the evangelization of our country and our continent in this moment.