Pope Francis' first visit to the United States has taken the country by storm, with hundreds of thousands of people lining the streets of Washington, D.C., just to catch a fleeting glimpse of the Holy Father.
Bishop Richard J. Malone, who attended a midday prayer service at St. Matthew's Cathedral and the canonization Mass of St. Junipero Serra at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception Wednesday, talked to the media Thursday afternoon about the pope's trip so far. Bishop Malone will also participate in papal events in New York City and Philadelphia in the coming days. Here are some highlights from the bishop's media conference:
On the pope's message to the bishops:
"He often refers to his own life as an immigrant. He talked about how our own country had such a diversity of cultures and thanked us for that. There was a lot of positive commentary in there. He encouraged the bishops, as he always does, to be the shepherds of the people and not (be) apart from them. At the end, he said, 'I have two recommendations for you all. First of all, be fathers, especially to your priests. Be concerned about their spiritual growth. Secondly, and this was a constant theme, he (talked about) immigrants; not just to welcoming them, but recognizing the unique gifts that come when people from other lands come here. The pope was pretty realistic with us about the talk he gave the bishops, because he recognized the challenges to faith that we face in this country.
"The high point was the opportunity, for those of us on the administrative committee, to go up and greet the pope. It's always a very short encounter, but I simply thanked him. I said, 'I bring you the greetings and prayers of the people of Buffalo (in) Western New York.' A translator told him what I said and he smiled. It was a very special thing."
On the pope's address to Congress:
"He covered the whole spectrum of concerns, challenges and hopes. Again, talking about immigrants and refugees (and) challenging us on that. He talked about protecting human dignity and human life in all stages of development. He talked about family life, because he's going to the World Meeting of Families, and how essential (it) is to society and the building of society. He got a lot of cheers from Congress when he started off talking about the U.S. being the home of the free and the land of the brave. It was a wonderful way to begin, and you can tell by the look on his face, that he said it with feeling and meant what he said. I thought it was quite stunning how he picked out four individuals - Americans - and in each one of them, identified a virtue or quality that he said we should be continuing to honor now. It was all in there, in the space of an hour.
"He talked about how America is the land of dreams, and the importance of hope and giving people that hope. We are people who can dream about a better future."
On attributing politics to the pope's message:
"It's inevitable that (it would happen) in the United States, because so many people look at everything through that prism: liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican. That's not how Catholic social teaching works. It starts with the right to life of the unborn and respect life all the way through. It's concern for immigrants, concern for creation. In this country, people are going to try and listen for what sounds Democrat or what sounds Republican. It's just the way we operate, but that's not how he operates.
"When we talk about issues in terms of Catholic teaching, social and moral teaching covers the whole spectrum of issues in the world and of humankind, so some of those things are also political matters that we have to work on, but the pope comes at them primarily from the moral perspective as he interpret how Catholics or Christians think about things."
On integrating the pope's message about immigration into the diocese:
"It calls us to continue to do something that the Buffalo and Western New York area is already doing well. We just need to do it better and more aggressively. The point that the pope made about reaching out to immigrants and caring for refugees is to remember we're not just providing, in some cases, liberty, a new life and an almost earthly kind of salvation, but also to look for their gifts; what they bring. I think that's an awfully important reminder."
What message does the bishop take back to Buffalo:
"If you talk to the bishops, he encouraged us by telling us he knows it's not always easy to help faith to flourish in a secular world in which we live in now. Across the board, he's asking all of us - not just Catholics, but people of good will - to really examine the way we think and examine our values. He talked about the role that dialogue plays in our lives to break down walls."
On the pope's language barrier:
"Obviously he struggles (with English), because it's not a language that he's comfortable with. But when he has a text, he's very understandable. He speaks in an animated way that's personal and has that humble touch the pope always has. I think he's being received very well. I haven't had a chance to read the papers or watch the news, but the acclimation seems very real and very strong. I just hope people listen to (his) challenge. One of the things that concern me about a pope like Francis and also (St.) John Paul II is that there's such charisma there that for some people, that's where it stops. They're fascinated by this guy, and the question for all of us is do we get past the fascination with his style and tone to the essence of the pope's message. When the pope speaks, he's not only challenging us to work for a better world, but he's reminding us too of the importance of God in our lives. Of course he is, by being who he is."
On bringing Congress together:
"That's always my hope and prayer. He spoke of the importance of unity. He made a real point of saying we have to get beyond the things that divide us by dialogue and what he calls 'The Culture of Encounter.' We come to each other as human beings in a way that is respectful yet candid to give our opinions on things to try and work toward a solution. Let's hope and pray that whatever division there may be in Congress - and I'm sure there will always be some - it is diminished by the pope's presence and his call. We'll have to see."
On the difference between Pope Francis' journey and other papal visits in the past:
"It's a whole different level in many ways, just in terms of security. We were told the other day that the security level is higher for this visit from Pope Francis is higher than it ever was with previous (trips) by John Paul II or Benedict (XVI). This is just wild speculation, but it could be because of some of the terrorism that's going on that just seems to have the world in its jaws. But also the excitement and energy of people seem to be at a higher level. It was always high with John Paul II. It's just very wonderful.
On his most memorable moment so far:
"It's hard to isolate just one thing. When we had the Mass yesterday afternoon, and then the canonization of Junipero Serra, what was most encouraging to me was the area, right on the campus of the Catholic University of America, the area was jammed pack with young people. The cheering, warmth and welcome they felt toward the pope brought tears to my eyes. Sometimes we worry about the faith of the young folks, but that was just very, very powerful. You can see the love and affection in their faces."