Pope Francis’ diplomatic representative to the United States hailed the Missouri Catholic Conference (MCC) as a shining example of missionary discipleship and the joyful proclamation of the Kingdom of God.
Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, gave the keynote address at the MCC’s 50th anniversary celebration Oct. 7 in the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Jefferson City.
Six Missouri bishops and about 400 Catholic laypeople, priests and religious from all over the state attended.
It was the feastday of Our Lady of the Rosary.
“For 50 years, the Missouri Catholic Conference has boldly embraced its responsibility and mission,” Archbishop Pierre stated. “For that, we give thanks to God, and we ask for His assistance as you journey forward in a permanent state of mission.”
The daylong event included a video presentation on the history of the MCC; workshops on Catholic education, pro-life and social justice; a catered lunch; and Mass with the bishops.
Founded in 1967, the MCC is the public-policy agency for Missouri’s four Roman Catholic dioceses. It advocates in a nonpartisan matter for laws and policies that reflect Christian values in the public square, such as family life, the dignity of human life, care for people who are vulnerable and marginalized, fairness in education, religious freedom and the common good.
Many have come to agree with former Missouri House Speaker Kenneth Rothman’s statement that the MCC is “the conscience of the Missouri Legislature.”
Spirit at work
Archbishop Pierre began by imparting an apostolic blessing from Pope Francis upon all who attended the celebration and all who have had a hand in helping the MCC carry-out its mission these past 50 years.
Ordained to the Holy Priesthood for the Archdiocese of Rennes, France, in 1970, Archbishop Pierre joined the Vatican Diplomatic Corps in 1977 and has served in Haiti, Uganda and Mexico.
Pope Francis appointed him apostolic nuncio to the United States in 2016.
“For 50 years, the Missouri Catholic Conference has been building up the Kingdom of God by living and acting in a collegial way; journeying together as a province, as particular churches and as the people of God,” the archbishop stated.
“Reading the history of the Missouri Catholic Conference, one cannot help but marvel at how the spirit of God has been at work in you in the defense of Catholic school students, marriage and family life, in protecting the unborn, disabled and vulnerable members of society, and in your genuine concern for the poor and migrants,” he said.
He noted that the MCC is the acting voice of Missouri’s Catholic bishops and citizens in the halls of the State Capitol, lobbying for the common good of all citizens.
He commended the MCC for its advocacy work in such areas as education, marriage and family life, the end of capital punishment, protection of the unborn, rural life and farming issues.
He encouraged the bishops, the MCC staff and the Catholics of the state to continue evangelizing and looking to Mary as their model of discipleship.
To the ends of the earth
In light of it being the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, Archbishop Pierre gave a brief reflection on each of the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary as they relate to the Church’s call to discipleship and vigorous evangelization.
In the First Joyful Mystery, the Annunciation, he noted the significance of Mary’s silent acceptance to be the mother of God.
“Unlike Zechariah, she did not refuse to believe, nor did she ask whether this will happen or become upset that it would happen,” he noted. “Rather, she inquired how it would happen. ... Mary teaches us that everything must be surrendered to God.”
Regarding the Visitation, the archbishop encouraged Missouri’s Catholics to “go out” like Mary did and welcome those in need.
He said God calls His people to be prophets, not bureaucrats.
“How did Mary arrive at her decision to visit Elizabeth? The Scriptures say she went with haste,” he said.
But she did not live in haste.
“Mary goes against the tide,” said Archbishop Pierre. “She listens to God, she reflects and seeks to understand reality and decides to entrust herself totally to God.”
In his reflection on the Third Joyful Mystery, the Birth of Our Lord, the archbishop explained that the Christ child did not appear initially to the wealthy and the powerful but rather to those on the peripheries — the shepherds.
“What are the peripheries in Missouri?” he asked. “Where does the Prince of Peace need to bring joy and light?”
He encouraged the MCC to continue standing up for those who suffer not only from material poverty but spiritual poverty as well.
Light in darkness
Archbishop Pierre offered two dimensions for reflection on the Fourth Joyful Mystery, the Presentation of the Jesus in the Temple. The first is the reality that Mary is told that her heart will be pierced by a sword.
“The devotion to the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin emerges from this verse,” the nuncio stated. “One of the great sorrows of the world and of this country is the attack on the innocent. Your conference has been prophetic in this regard; nevertheless, the mission of combating the throwaway culture and creating communities and conditions in which every life and all of creation is valued continues.”
He pointed out that Mary’s sorrow is juxtaposed with the joy of Simeon, who cries out to God: “My own eyes have seen the salvation which You have prepared in the sight of every people — a light to reveal You to the nations; and, the glory of Your people Israel!”
The archbishop explained that the Church has been described as a lighthouse amid the fog, winds and storms of the world, providing security, direction and refuge.
He then proposed, “But what about those who struggle to make it to the lighthouse or who simply cannot make it there, because they are too hurt or wounded?”
“The image of a Church that goes forth in procession with candles or torches is an important one,” he said. “Here, the members of the Church are carrying light into the darkness to find those who are lost and to bring them light in the darkness.”
Finally, with the Fifth Joyful Mystery, the Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple, the archbishop explained that Jesus is found in His Father’s house.
“Our journey together is about gathering God’s children together in the Father’s house,” he said. “The Church, in a permanent state of mission, is always evangelizing, trying to draw more people into the joy of being in the Father’s house.
“In this regard, the Missouri Catholic Conference and those gathered here might reflect more deeply upon how to inspire others to meet the Lord,” he said. “How can our structures be more inclusive, particularly in welcoming the stranger?”
“Finally,” he said, “if we are to propose God’s Word to the World, then we must do so positively — with the joyful YES of our whole life! This is exactly what the Blessed Virgin Mary, the model missionary disciple, did with her life.”
Joining Archbishop Pierre at the altar for Mass were: Archbishop Robert J. Carlson and Auxiliary Bishop Mark S. Rivituso of St. Louis, Bishop John R. Gaydos of Jefferson City, Bishop James V. Johnston, of Kansas City-St. Joseph, and Bishop Edward M. Rice and Bishop Emeritus John J. Leibrecht of Springfield-Cape Girardeau.
“We concluded our together in prayer — in The Prayer — this unique encounter with Jesus Christ,” said Bishop Leibrecht, a St. Louis native and cofounder of the MCC, in his homily.
“And it’s in this prayer, deliberately set at the conclusion of our day together, that we rededicate ourselves to the work of the Missouri Catholic Conference and to our Catholic principles, in honor of Mary, Our Lady of the Rosary,” he said.