Celebrating Mass during his first visit to the Saint John Paul II Seminary in Washington, Archbishop Christophe Pierre – the apostolic nuncio to the United States – emphasized several themes that have become hallmarks of Pope Francis’s papacy.
During the Jan. 22 Mass, the pope’s representative to the United States noted that the seminarians were studying to be the next generation of priests.
“You will be the priests of the joy of the Gospel,” he said, echoing the name of Pope Francis’s 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Guadium, Latin for “The Joy of the Gospel.”
Archbishop Pierre was welcomed at the Mass by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who founded the seminary for the Archdiocese of Washington in 2011.
“I assure you of the Holy Father’s spiritual closeness as you discern the call to religious life,” said the apostolic nuncio, a native of France who served as the papal nuncio in Mexico for nine years before his appointment last year to serve in the United States.
In his homily, Archbishop Pierre said the priest is one who goes forth and leaves his comfort zone to serve his people.
“Where does Jesus begin his public ministry? He begins at the peripheries, at the outskirts… We too, as seminarians and priests, must go out to the peripheries, spiritual and physical, to proclaim the Good News,” he said.
The apostolic nuncio said that the priesthood “is a call and a gift” and he noted that the men whom Jesus called to be his Apostles and first disciples included simple fishermen. “They leave everything to follow what would be an incredible adventure,” he said.
Archbishop Pierre turned to smile at Cardinal Wuerl and said, “I’m very happy to see that even in Washington, the Lord is calling. He calls by name men to be his disciples and priests” and his witnesses in today’s world.
The priest must be a man of prayer, united to Jesus who taught and healed and shared God’s love mercy with his people, the archbishop said, adding, “He is the model for the priest, and for the seminarian in formation. You must come to know him in prayer… One must open oneself to the Lord to be able to be open to others.”
Archbishop Pierre encouraged the seminarians to say “yes” to God’s call. “Know the one who calls you, walks with you,” he said. “Listen to his voice in your prayers.”
As they encounter Jesus, those called to priesthood must accompany their flock and bring Christ to then, the apostolic nuncio said.
“The Church today needs priests who are close to their people, so they know God is close to them,” he said.
At the end of Mass, Cardinal Wuerl presented Archbishop Pierre with a special gift – a wooden cross made from part of the altar that Pope Benedict XVI used during his 2008 Papal Mass at Nationals Park. That altar’s dimensions were decreased so it could be fitted into the chapel at the seminary.
The Saint John Paul II Seminary has a special connection to three popes. It is named for Pope John Paul II and two relics of its patron saint are displayed in the chapel, including blood stained on the cassock that pontiff was wearing on the day when an attacker tried to assassinate him in 1981.
Pope Benedict’s altar from the Nationals Park Mass is the centerpiece of the seminary’s chapel, and Pope Francis visited the Saint John Paul II Seminary when he came to Washington in 2015.