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Your Eminences, Dear brother bishops, Officials of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:First of all, I would like to express my deep joy for being with you for the first time, her in Baltimore, the primatial See of the United States of America, as the personal representative of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI and to bring you his warm greetings and the assurance of his constant love and communion of prayers with you.
To priests, women and men of consecrated life, and to all the faithful of the Church of this great country I send the most warm salutation of our Lord Jesus: Peace be with you.
Allow me to address myself to you this morning in a very informal way, having arrived in Washington this past Saturday from Rome. But in fact, my spiritual journey to the United States already started in Sogliano al Rubicone, where I took part with many bishops and priests and thousands of people in the funeral of Archbishop Pietro Sambi. It was a choral participation of his entire town, an expression of faith and love for the Nuncio. For me it was a great loss of a good friend for almost forty years – a friend whom I had just met a few weeks before in Rome, as joyful and full of life as usual. We shall acknowledge the generous ministry of my predecessor as a Nuncio in various countries. I know that his untiring work and devoted witness among his brothers in the episcopate and his great love for the Church, particularly here in America, will always be treasured by all of you. May we continue to remember him in our prayers and especially at the altar. I am sure Archbishop Sambi’s presence is with us today here in our midst.
As soon as the Secretariat of State of the Holy See received the agreement of the American Government, for the publication of my appointment as a Nuncio to the Unites States, I immediately chose the date of October 19th, which I found most significant, the day of the memory of Jean de Brebeuf, Isaac Jogues and their companions, the American martyrs. I look forward to visit their Shrine in New York State. The experience of their martyrdom is very much like the experience of the early Church in Rome. Since then, everywhere the Church has had her foundation in the blood of the martyrs, the witnesses of the faith of Christ.
Just a few days after my appointment I received an invitation from Msgr. Checchio, the Rector of the North American College. It was the occasion of the first visit to Rome of Archbishop Timothy Dolan, as President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. I would like to express my personal thanks to the Archbishop and to the Rector for the warm welcome I received at the College, as well as to the Vice-President, Archbishop Kurtz, to the Secretary General Msgr. Jenkins and other prominent officials of the Conference. On that occasion I had the opportunity to greet the many seminarians from various parts of the United States.
At this time I might also express my deep appreciation for all of the preparations that have been made in welcoming me to this gathering for these days. I look forward to staying with you and meeting you personally and eventually coming and visiting you and experiencing the life of your Diocese, in a continual spirit of collaboration between this Conference and the Apostolic Nunciature.
In addition, I would like to express my gratitude to all of you who have offered prayerful good wishes for my new mission in your midst.
I know that this great nation of the United States, so diverse and so rich in many ways, is a country filled with vitality, with a sprit inherited from its forefathers, generous and hard-working, self-sacrificing, continually striving together to meet the needs of its brothers and sisters here and throughout the world, and always looking toward building a better tomorrow. This nation, at its very core, maintains the firm notion of trust in God, of the guiding hand of Providence, starting with those who, coming from foreign lands, are looking for a safer and better future.
I know that the Church has exercised a unique influence in the formation of American society, proclaiming the ‘good news’, especially by her missionary work and the many educational and charitable institutions that have enriched this country.
In spite of the many challenges you may encounter today in modern society, the Holy Father is putting great hope in the Church in this country for the future of the universal Church. This is a very encouraging and challenging mandate which he expressed to me in the audience he granted me last Monday. It is a strong message from the Vicar of Christ which you also would perceive on the occasion of your ad limina visits to the Holy See.
In proclaiming the Year of Faith, the Holy Father is inviting us to rediscover the roots of our faith and its expression in the experience of prayer and worship, which especially for us Bishops, through our own good example, and the dignified celebration of the Sacraments, would be a great inspiration to the faithful in their own experience of the practice of their faith. The faith that we proclaim and live helps others to keep their priorities in focus, for always and everywhere we must first “keep our eyes fixed on Jesus” (Heb. 12:2).
The Year of Faith which is before us is a wonderful opportunity for the Church, in its call to holiness, to once again exercise its particular mission of unity in the unfolding realization of itself as a prayerful, Christ-centered people, especially through the Eucharist.
I ask the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Patroness of the United States, under the title of the Immaculate Conception, to watch over you and to continue to keep you faithful in the great task with which you have been entrusted.
May I also ask all of you, in your kindness, for your prayers, as I embark on my new mission entrusted to me by the Holy Faith, while I am humbly rejoining you pastors in this journey of our beloved Church of Christ in the United States of America. May God bless America!
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