Cardinal Christophe Pierre, the Vatican’s nuncio to the United States, speaks to the U.S. bishops at their annual fall assembly in Baltimore on Nov. 14, 2023. / Credit: Screenshot of USCCB livestream
Baltimore, Md., Nov 14, 2023 / 16:40 pm (CNA).
The U.S. Catholic Church’s two major undertakings of the past year — a national Eucharistic revival and the Synod on Synodality — aren’t separate initiatives with distinct goals, rather “they belong together by their very nature, and they shed light on one another,” Pope Francis’ ambassador to the United States said Tuesday.
“Eucharistic revival and synodality go together. Or to put it another way, I believe that we will have true Eucharistic revival when we experience the Eucharist as the sacrament of Christ’s incarnation: as the Lord walking with us together on the way,” Cardinal Christophe Pierre said.
The French-born prelate, who has served as the Vatican’s nuncio or chief diplomat to the U.S. since 2016, spoke Nov. 14 at the U.S. bishops’ fall assembly in Baltimore.
The annual gathering comes as the bishops set their sights on two key events next year. The first is the National Eucharistic Congress taking place July 17–21 in Indianapolis, the culmination of a three-year campaign to revive Catholic devotion to the Eucharist, the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. The second comes in October when the Synod on Synodality, widely seen as the linchpin of Pope Francis’ papacy, concludes in Rome with its second and final assembly.
In some respects, each initiative resonates most with different segments of the worldwide Church. On the one hand, many Catholics seeking major changes in the Church’s teachings, governance, and pastoral approach have pinned their hopes on the outcome of the three-year-long synodal process. Other more traditional Catholics, on the other hand, alarmed by what they see as the growing secularization of society and the Church itself, view the ongoing synod with suspicion while applauding the Eucharistic revival as a long-overdue response to lapsed belief in a core tenet of the faith.
The Road to Emmaus
In his address to the bishops, Pierre sought to bridge the gap, drawing on Luke’s account of Jesus’ appearance to two “disappointed and discouraged” disciples on the road to Emmaus following his crucifixion and — still unknown to them — resurrection.
“The Emmaus story shows how the synodal process leads to an eye-opening encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist and how the Eucharist sends us on a mission characterized by synodality,” the nuncio proposed.
“First, he joined them on the way. If we want people to know Christ, then we must encounter them where they are. That’s what Jesus did with the two disciples. He and the disciples were ‘together on the way,’ which is the meaning of synod,” he continued.
“Next, he listened to them, by inviting them to share their story: ‘What are you discussing?’”
“Commenting on this passage, Pope Francis said: ‘He asks and listens. Our God is not an intrusive God. Even though he knows the reason for the disappointment of those two men, he gives them time to be able to deeply fathom the bitterness which has overcome them,’” Pierre noted.
“One of the things that makes listening so hard is that, when we listen, we hear things we don’t want to hear. Contrary opinions. Troubling ideas. Even falsehoods,” Pierre said.
“Jesus had to put up with this from the two disciples. They said: ‘Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?’” he said.
“Imagine: They think that he is the one who is ignorant, and they have a lesson for him! But notice: This was not yet the moment for him to rebuke them for their foolishness. They were still on a journey from unbelief to belief. He was there to accompany them on that journey, not to force its conclusion. So he keeps the conversation going with a question, ‘What sort of things?’” Pierre said.
“Yes, he knows what happened in Jerusalem better than they do — after all, he was the main character in the story! — but he is not there to tell them how much he knows. Rather, he is there to help them discover the truth.
“This manner of listening is essential for evangelization,” the cardinal emphasized. “We must have the courage to listen to people’s perspectives, even when those perspectives contain errors and misunderstandings. If we stay on the journey with people, the moment of enlightenment will come as a work of God’s grace.”
A call for unity
For the disciples bound for Emmaus, that moment arrives when they recognize the Lord at the breaking of the bread. This takes place, Pierre noted, after the key elements of synodality have taken place: “encountering, accompanying, listening, discerning, and rejoicing at what the Holy Spirit reveals.”
“This Eucharistic encounter with Christ changed the direction of their lives. It was a mystery intended not only for their contemplation, but it moved them into mission,” he explained. “Filled with joy, they hurried back to join the other disciples. For the first time they were able to proclaim the Gospel: Jesus is alive! They were bringing others to faith, just as the risen Christ had done for them.”
Concluding his address, Pierre called for unity among the bishops, coupled with an outlook that is open to “new surprises” the Holy Spirit might reveal along the Church’s synodal journey.
“We may have had fears or anxieties about this synod, especially if we were focusing on a particular ‘agenda’ or ‘idea,’ whether negative or positive. But this is not what synodality is about,” the nuncio said.
“Instead, it is about the way in which we are called to be the Church of God, for the sake of evangelizing today’s world, which is in such desperate need of the Gospel of hope and of peace.”