In an emphatic speech to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) this morning in Orlando, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, implored US bishops to revisit their understanding of the synodal path and the role of the Eucharist in evangelization. Against the backdrop of the ongoing synodal process initiated by Pope Francis, the archbishop’s words underscored the importance of a compassionate and listening Church that does not lose sight of its missionary call while facing the challenges of contemporary society.

The archbishop spoke about how nearly two years ago, Pope Francis — discerning the movement of the Holy Spirit — opened “the synodal path to the whole Church,” asking the bishops “to begin a renewed journey, alongside Jesus, with our people.” Pierre called upon the bishops to recognize and embrace the synodal journey’s importance to the Church at this moment in time. He stressed the need for bishops to listen to the questions and concerns of the people of God, prayerfully discerning with them how the Church might improve its response to the needs of a changing world. He reminded the bishops that the synodal process is less about executing a planned program and more about realizing a new way of being the Church.

After seven years serving as the representative of the pope in the United States, the archbishop is well aware of the suspicion with which many US Catholics, including perhaps a majority of the bishops, view the initiatives and reforms proposed by Pope Francis. He attempted to reassure them, drawing expressions from the pope’s message at the opening of the synod, “It may be that we are still struggling to understand synodality. Perhaps it has been hard for us to embody this ‘style of God.’ Perhaps ‘the adventure of this journey’ has made us a bit ‘fearful of the unknown.’”

Pierre explained that synodality requires the Church to be “on the move,” and entering into close proximity with the one we are encountering. He stressed the importance of engaging with people in the “existential places” where they live. The archbishop emphasized the importance of personal experience and intuition in truly knowing the people the Church is called to serve.

The overarching theme of Archbishop Pierre’s address was a call for openness to change and a shift away from an insular approach that detracts from the missionary activity in the Church. The Archbishop urged the US bishops to consider whether their structures and methods are effectively spreading the Gospel or merely protecting its integrity at the expense of its outreach.

Pierre pointed to areas of strength in the US Church where synodality has played a key role, including in the area of charitable service. He commended the bishops for the work of their local Churches in this area, commenting that upon visiting a diocese recently, he was shown their new Catholic Charities facility, “which houses a food pantry, classrooms, basic health services, and immigration assistance.” He commented, “Such work doesn’t happen without synodality: people who immerse themselves in the local reality, who enter the lives of those on the peripheries, and who help them navigate to a better life.”

Pierre also mentioned as examples of synodality at work the Fifth National Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino ministry, as well as “the numerous small, grassroots apostolates which have sprung up in your dioceses and parishes, offering things like family formation, spiritual accompaniment, and social connections for people who are marginalized and misunderstood.”

He also spoke of a role model of synodality and Eucharistic charity for the bishops to follow as they embark on the synodal journey:

Our brother who returned to the Lord four months ago, Bishop Dave O’Connell. Here was a shepherd who immersed himself in the reality of his sheep, who walked with them, and was with them in finding a way no matter the difficulty of their circumstances. Since he followed the compass that always pointed him to Christ, may he rejoice now at his destination; and may his intercession help us, his brothers who are still on the journey.

In the final part of the speech, Archbishop Pierre called upon the bishops to expand the scope of the Eucharistic Revival imploring them to live the Eucharist as mission:

Because it is the real presence of Christ, it is a dynamic Sacrament, imbuing everything we do with the character of Christ’s outgoing love for his people. It is a Sacrament for mission. A Eucharistic revival, therefore, is a call to let the entirety of our lives be an expression of the Lord’s presence among us: a living-out of the union that exists between our humanity, which Christ has taken to himself, and the divinity into which he leads us.

Echoing a common refrain, Archbishop Pierre noted that focusing only on the real presence, Eucharistic adoration, and processions will certainly be beneficial for the faithful, “But the fruit will multiply only if the faithful learn that the Eucharist which they receive is meant to make them missionaries – who take the presence of Christ, which is now in them, to people who do not yet know the Lord.”

Pierre reminded the bishops of what our encounter with Christ in the Eucharist calls us to do, “If we are to love our contemporaries ‘to the end,’ we must allow Christ’s presence to take us through any walls that block us from delivering peace to his people. If some of these walls were constructed with an understandable desire to protect the integrity of our faith, we must recognize the moment at which those walls are doing more to prevent the spread of the Gospel than to safeguard it. We must be open to change.”

By challenging the bishops’ current approach and calling on them to put greater emphasis on the missionary and synodal dimensions of the Eucharist, Archbishop Pierre reinforces the concerns of some bishops who have expressed doubts about the current course of the Eucharistic Revival. Some, like Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky, are worried that the Eucharistic Revival has allowed the bishops to avoid focus on the global Synod. As he recently wrote in Commonweal:

It is easy to see why the national “Eucharistic Revival” has received far more energy, attention, and resources in the U.S. Church: there is a plan, there is marketing, there is a beginning and end point, there is substantial funding, and there is a problem to be addressed, namely the concern that Catholics do not believe sufficiently in the Real Presence. Instead of ensuring a eucharistic centrality to the synodal process, allowing for an organic discernment about our eucharistic understanding, plans for a mega-event featuring plenty of pre-conciliar piety and theology have replaced the focus on the Synod for a Synodal Church in the USCCB.

Ultimately, there is real danger that a one-dimensional focus on adoration, processions, and piety will serve to undermine Pope Francis’s vision for a missionary Church that goes out to the periphery. As Archbishop Pierre said, “Where Christ is not already known and loved, we must put him there by our own presence!”

In order for the Eucharistic Revival to have any worthwhile effect, it must be consciously and harmoniously united with the Synod on Synodality, and in unity with the pope. Doing this will require the bishops to take Archbishop Pierre’s closing words to heart:

So long as we remain united together under Peter and open to the Holy Spirit, I believe that our answer to these questions can be a clear “Yes,” which will resound more strongly throughout this country, whose people we are so privileged to serve as shepherds in the name of Christ.

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Mike Lewis is the founding managing editor of Where Peter Is. He and Jeannie Gaffigan co-host Field Hospital, a U.S. Catholic podcast.

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