A day after landing on American soil for the first time Tuesday, Pope Francis urged American bishops to avoid "harsh and divisive" language and find ways to reach out to people "with the power and closeness of love." He also declared 18th-century Hispanic missionary Junípero Serra a saint, a move condemned by some Native Americans.
"Harsh and divisive language does not befit the tongue of a pastor. It has no place in his heart," Francis said, at a prayer service at Washington's Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, according to the Associated Press (AP). "Although it may momentarily seem to win the day, only the enduring allure of goodness and love remains truly convincing," the pope added.
The 78-year-old pontiff also reportedly told the bishops that he knew that "the field in which you sow is unyielding" and that there's a temptation "to think back on bygone times and to devise harsh responses to fierce opposition."
Pope Francis' approach has disconcerted the American bishops, according to AP. Almost all of them were appointed by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who were in favor of guarding orthodoxy of the church against what they saw as an attack from secularism and doctrinal confusion spread by certain Catholics, whom the bishops termed disloyal to the church.
The bishops in the country have staunchly opposed gay marriage, abortion and insurer-provided birth control, saying that they had no choice because of the advanced government policies, which they found immoral, AP reported.
However, Francis clarified that he did not want the bishops to leave their priorities. The pope reportedly said he had no intention "to offer a plan or to devise a strategy."
Meanwhile, the canonization of Hispanic missionary Junípero Serra was welcomed by Hispanic Catholics, but condemned by some Native Americans, who blame Serra of being complicit in wiping out indigenous people and their culture. Hispanic Catholics welcomed the move, saying it was an act of acknowledgment of the American Church’s Hispanic history, BBC reported.
Serra, a Franciscan friar who brought Christianity to California, is accused by Native Americans to have been involved in the killing of thousands of people by the Spanish conquerors. However, his followers maintained that Serra worked as a moderating influence.
Francis is scheduled to deliver a speech Thursday to a U.S. Congress led by Republicans. He is reportedly expected to talk about climate change and the need to help refugees, solve world conflicts, America’s role in helping poorer nations, religious freedom and the "right to life" issues of abortion and euthanasia.