Bishop's Interview: Looking forward to Pope Francis’ visit
Editor: Bishop, Pope Francis is visiting the U.S. in late September. He is primarily coming for the World Meeting of Families. What is that?
Bishop Vásquez: St. John Paull II began the World Meeting of Families during his pontificate. This gathering is held every three years and is the world’s largest Catholic gathering of families. The theme of this year’s gathering, which is Sept. 22-27 in Philadelphia, is “Love Is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive.” Previous gatherings have been held in Italy, Brazil, Spain, Mexico and the Philippines. More than 15,000 participants from 150 countries are expected to attend this year’s event.
St. John Paul II started many similar gatherings during his pontificate, including World Youth Day and the gathering of consecrated men and women annually. Through the World Meeting of Families, he wanted to establish a forum to discuss issues that effect the family and how the church can help families. What is it that the families are going through? What issues are challenging families? Families were very important to St. John Paul II as they have been to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and now to Pope Francis. All three have said that the strength and health of society are reflected in the health of families. Families are the basic foundation of the society, and they are very important to the essence of life and vitality of the church and also of society in general.
Editor: What do you think the pope will accomplish in Philadelphia?
Bishop Vásquez: I think Pope Francis wanted to come here to this country because he knows the challenges that families are facing here in this hemisphere and particularly in the U.S. This year we have had the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex unions that has made us wonder what constitutes a family. The Holy Father knows the concerns and issues and wants to reassure families throughout the world that they are important to the church. I think meetings such as this are a marvelous way for Pope Francis to engage our families and to offer hope and encouragement to all. The Holy Father wants to impress on the families and reassure them of their importance in our society.
Editor: How will the Diocese of Austin be represented at the World Meeting of Families?
Bishop Vásquez: We plan to send a couple of representatives from the diocesan staff to Philadelphia: Gustavo Rodriguez, our associate director of Catechesis, and Phi Le, our associate director of Family Life. We also have a married couple from our diocese who is attending. These individuals will represent our diocese and they will listen and learn and bring back information to our diocese. My expectation is that this group of representatives will renew their own commitments to families and return ready to pass on what they have learned with renewed vigor. In the Diocese of Austin, we have just re-organized the Office of Family Life, so we want to continue to strengthen our commitment to families of all shapes and sizes.
Editor: Pope Francis will also be addressing Congress. What do you think he intends to say?
Bishop Vásquez: Pope Francis will meet with President Obama on Sept. 23 and then he will address a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress on the morning of Sept. 24. Of course I can’t say for sure what he is going to say, but I think if we look at his pontificate we know he will address a few things very clearly. He will probably talk about how this country with all of our blessings has a moral responsibility to take care of our brothers and sisters throughout the world. I am sure he will speak about caring for the poor and those who are persecuted and welcoming the stranger. I think he will talk about immigration and taking care of the most vulnerable –– the poor, the elderly, the young and the unborn. I hope he would address the sanctity of human life and how we need to protect it. I think he will also talk about Christ as being the hope for all peoples and the church as a place that welcomes everyone. Pope Francis is dedicated to mercy and compassion and I am sure he will encourage our lawmakers to act with both.
I also wanted to note that while the pope is in Washington, he will canonize Blessed Junipero Serra, the 18th-century Spanish Franciscan missionary who established mission churches along the coast of California. This is very exciting because it is the first canonization Mass to be celebrated in the U.S. In fact, earlier that day Bishop Daniel Garcia and I and bishops from throughout the U.S. will meet with the pope and attend the canonization in Washington. Then before he heads to Philadelphia, Pope Francis will travel to New York City where he will address the United Nations.
Editor: What effect do you think his visit will have on U.S. Catholics?
Bishop Vásquez: I think Pope Francis’ visit will be an opportunity for our country to connect with him. Previous visits to the U.S. by St. John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI have been significant moments in the life of the church in the U.S. These visits allow us to connect with the successor of Peter on our own soil. The energy that the Holy Father brings and the great deal of hope that people have by being in his presence will be very uplifting. It will strengthen the faith of the Catholic Church here in the U.S. I think his visit will strengthen all people of good will. Pope Francis has a global mission; he is a universal shepherd who cares for all those in this world no matter their culture or faith.
Pope Francis will reenergize many of us in our faith. Our Holy Father connects very well with people from all walks of life and he knows the struggles that we all face.
Editor: What is your prayer for all those attending the meeting and all those witnessing the pope?
Bishop Vásquez: I pray that all families may find strength and hope in the Holy Father’s visit. I pray that all may see the importance of families. Though families may not be perfect, all are called to be good and holy. I pray that all families may know their value and they may love and serve the Lord.