COLUMBUS, Ohio — Pope Benedict XVI wants the Catholic Church in America to be in the forefront of reviving Catholicism worldwide, the apostolic nuncio to the United States said in Columbus.
“The church in the United States should lead the entire church in the world” in a revitalization effort, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano said. “This is a great task, but you have the determination and the grace to do it. This I know is the vision of the Holy Father regarding the church in the United States.”
The archbishop was speaking to an audience of seminarians and benefactors of the Pontifical College Josephinum at its annual rector’s dinner April 23. He called on the American church to go beyond its mission of evangelizing the United States and “to be missionaries not only to the Third World, but especially to the countries of Europe.
“Christianity (in Europe) in some way has lost its strength and needs an example,” he said, noting “very positive signs of growth” in vocations to the priesthood and the religious life in the United States.
Archbishop Vigano said he especially wanted to direct his message to young people, particularly those studying for the priesthood at the Josephinum.
The institution has experienced substantial growth in recent years and currently has an enrollment of more than 180 men, its highest in 25 years. They represent 29 dioceses from all over the United States, including six that sent seminarians to the institution for the first time this year, and their ethnic and cultural backgrounds echo the diversity of the American church as a whole.
The nuncio, who serves as the Vatican’s ambassador to the United States and is based in Washington, also serves as chancellor of the Josephinum.
“I’ve been taken by surprise since I arrived here … because everywhere that I’ve been, everything has been much beyond all of the imaginations and the expectations I had,” he said.
The archbishop spoke in general terms about the state of American Catholicism, but did not specifically mention in his 10-minute remarks the current tension between bishops and the federal government in connection with a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandate that most health plans cover the cost of contraception, sterilization and some drugs that can induce abortion.
“This particular moment for the church in the United States is certainly a situation of great challenge,” he said. “Where there are challenges, there also is a moment of grace. The challenge is that we are put in a situation where we have to overcome the difficulties, and we know that the grace is always overwhelming and amazing for us.”
Archbishop Vigano noted that the church throughout its history has experienced moments of great success and other times when people have thought it was going to disappear. He said this was nothing new, noting that St. Ambrose in the fourth century had compared the church to the moon in the way it seems to become full, then almost slips from sight only to grow again.
“We are not to lose hope in a difficult moment, and at the same time, we have to be conscious that always we are challenged by the devil … who wants to destroy the church,” he said.
He referred to the passage read at the previous Sunday’s Masses from the Gospel of Luke, in which Jesus appears to his disciples just before his ascension and reminds them of all they have witnessed.
“This is a moment in which we can form young people with a great enthusiasm to be witnesses to the Gospel … to give witness of the fact our Lord has died, is risen and is alive,” he said.
Puet writes for the Catholic Times, Columbus diocesan newspaper.