By Vatican News staff writer
Bishops from the United Sates met online for their annual spring General Assembly from June 16-18. During their final day of deliberations on Friday, the top issue on the agenda included a vote for a plan to draft a document looking at the meaning of the Eucharist in the life of the Church. The action in favor of the idea passed with 168 votes in favor, 55 against and six abstentions. The vote in favor means the episcopal Committee on Doctrine can begin begin work on the document and present a draft to discuss at their next meeting in November.
Lively debate marked the discussions preceding the vote, with many seeing it as a necessary teaching document at this time and others worried it might become an instrument that could result in furthering challenges to unity among Catholics in the United States, especially if applied in ways that might appear political. Those in favor noted that the document would work well with the existing multi-year National Eucharistic Revival initiative that is part of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)’ 2021-2024 strategic plan entitled, “Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope.” Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington, instead noted that adopting a document at a time when there are divisions of viewpoint among the bishops would further threaten the unity of the USCCB and the church overall, recommending more internal dialogue among them and with the faithful before moving forward on it.
On June 16 Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, opened the meeting by assuring the bishops of the closeness and fraternal support of Pope Francis. His opening words focused on the key theme of unity, when he recalled the importance of "beginning again from Jesus Christ.” He noted that for the Church in the United States it is not “a matter of inventing a ‘new program.’ The program already exists: it is the plan found in the Gospel and in the living Tradition, it is the same as ever.”
He added that “when Christianity is reduced to custom, to moral norms, to social rituals, it loses, sooner rather than later, its vitality and its existential interest for the men and women of our day,” and especially for “those who are looking for hope after the pandemic; for those seeking authentic justice after the racial strife we have experienced; or for those who have come here seeking a brighter and safer future.”
Archbishop Pierre recalled that Christianity is not "a mere cultural tradition," and that it must distinguish itself from "other proposals, including political or ideological ones that are based on certain values, [which] will never be convincing to this generation or to new ones”, because Christianity offers more than a social service organization: “The Church offers salvation in the person of Jesus Christ," especially through the sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist.
The Eucharist, the Apostolic Nuncio recalled, is "not merely a ‘thing’ to be received, but Christ Himself, a Person to be encountered"; and this encounter happens through "thoughtful dialogue," by accompanying people, especially those facing difficulties "economically, emotionally, and spiritually," with the "hope of deeper conversion." He stressed that “the goal of this dialogue should be unity” among believers and communion between local churches and the See of Peter - that is, not only a “doctrinal and juridical unity”.
In his opening address USCCB president, Archbishop Gomez, also underscored the importance of dialogue and unity, even if the "pressures of division" can be strong. He noted that "in these times when society is so divided, the Church has a great duty to more fully reflect the unity that God wants for His creation and His people." Recalling the epic challenges caused by the pandemic, he said, "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."