WASHINGTON — Archbishop Christophe Pierre, 71, was appointed by Pope Francis last April as the apostolic nunio — or papal ambassador — to the United States.
The French-born Archbishop Pierre was ordained a priest in 1970 and studied at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy in Rome, the Holy See’s training center for the diplomatic corps. While in Rome, he earned a doctorate in canon law and entered the papal diplomatic corps in 1977, with postings to New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Cuba and the office of the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in Switzerland.
In 1995, Pope St. John Paul II named him apostolic nuncio to Haiti and titular archbishop of Gunela. He was consecrated a bishop on Sept. 24, 1995. He was transferred to Uganda in 1999 by Pope John Paul II and then to Mexico in 2007 by Pope Benedict XVI, where he remained in service until Pope Francis assigned him to Washington, D.C.
In December, Archbishop Pierre spoke with EWTN News Nightly anchor and managing editor Lauren Ashburn. Here are excerpts from the interview.
I am not sure that many people know what an apostolic nuncio is. Can you explain that for us?
Well, essentially, the nuncio is the Pope’s representative. You know how it works, the Catholic Church. You know the Pope is the successor of the apostle Peter, and he has received the mission to lead the Church, to unite the Church, and to help all the Churches, spread all over the world, to remain in unity. This is, I believe, … the beauty of the Catholic Church.
You have been chosen by Pope Francis, and his visit here was a huge success. Americans, not just American Catholics, embraced him, and many were inspired by him. Why do you think Americans feel such admiration for him?
I have had, you know, a lot of exposure to the Holy Father. I’ve lived with him, and I’ve also seen the direction of the people [who] watch him, especially during the five days in Mexico last year. I think the people feel that the Pope is accessible. But, also, the Pope speaks in a simple way of Jesus. He’s a disciple of Jesus. This is what I’ve perceived. And what he says is: “Go to the heart of the people.” And, actually, if there is a reform for the Church, and the Pope, I think, wants us, invites us to make such reform, it is to be near the people, and to offer them, in a very simple way, the values of the Gospel. The contact with the Pope — his words, his attitudes are really inviting — and an invitation to a better life, a life which has true meaning.
Will you mimic the Pope, in being accessible to people?
When I speak to people, I speak about the Pope, but also the message of the Pope, which is the message of the Catholic Church. This is not just about the message of one person. Basically, I think I’m trying to be a faithful representative of the Pope. And it works, actually.
How does it work?
Well, I don’t know. Each one of us, we have our own charism, I suppose. Basically, I am a priest. I am a bishop. I’ve been called by the Vatican, by the various popes, to represent them, so I am trying my best.
The 2016 election really highlighted some deep divisions here in the United States. You’ve been here since April. This is your 10th post, and I’m wondering: What role do you think you can play in helping heal the division politically here in Washington?
Catholics are between 70 and 80 million people: It’s a good part of the United States population. So we can understand that everything which is happening and which will happen with this new government is of the interest of the bishops, of myself and of the Holy Father. But, of course, what is interesting for us is the life of the people, the welfare of the people, the future of the people. You know the bishops are pastors, and as pastors, they are concerned. And when people express, for example, fear about what could happen … I think the pastor shares this concern, and would like to express it, even to the future authorities of this country.
On what issues do you think the Vatican and the White House can find common ground?
Well, you know, the people, the welfare of the people, the future of the people. But also, you know, religious liberty, values, human values, human life — human life is of paramount importance for us. So we are always careful to see if, really, human life is being respected. Not just the human life of the unborn, but the human life of children, of migrants, so that’s another aspect.
You have a very unique perspective on immigration, having been in Mexico and here. Tell us a little bit about that.
You know, I’ve been nine years in Mexico. I’ve seen the huge suffering of these people. We have to go to the root of the problem. I think we cannot just say, “Go” and “Not go.” The main root is poverty. Because these people are poor people. And they go for a better life. So, I think we have — I think all of us — a responsibility, which is to watch our neighbor, to watch our own country, and I do understand that. But you know that in today’s world the responsibility is much bigger. And, of course, these poor people who go are submitted to many dangers, drug trafficking and so forth. And we have also to attend all these problems, because I’ve seen, during my years in Mexico, the huge suffering of these people, people who are actually destroyed, especially children and women.
If you could say one thing to the new administration about immigration, what would it be?
Well, I would say this is a problem [for] which I don’t have all [of the] solutions. This is a responsibility of the politicians, to attend that. But this is a much wider responsibility of all of us.
One of the issues is young Catholics, especially here in America, and we’re seeing a drop off of those who are attending weekly Mass. How do you think the Church here in the United States can encourage Catholics, young Catholics, to actively live their faith?
Actually, it is my main concern, and it has been my main concern also in my previous missions. You know we live in quite difficult times. The Pope tells us that we are, that times are changing.
Of course, all times are different, that’s obvious, but in this particular time, we feel, we observe the difficulty of all of us, particular to all of us who have a mission to transmit, to teach, to educate, the difficulty to pass on our values. I think most of the parents who are listening to us today, they know that; they know that it’s not easy to teach their children, to invite them, for example, to go to church. At [the] same stage, the children say, “Papa, I’m free; I don’t want to go.” And the fathers say — they come to us as priests — “What should I do? My son does not want [to practice faith], you know, and I’ve done my best, but it does not work.”
So I think all of us — priests, parents, teachers, even politicians — at some stage, enter a kind of crisis. What should I do to pass on, to transmit, what I believe in, so that my children, my students, my parishioners could actually receive that? So this is a kind of existential crisis. So, in this context, I think the children, the young people today, live in a different world.
Maybe in the past the real master, the teacher of the child, was the mother, the father, but today no. There are many other masters, and they don’t teach the same thing. Pope Benedict, remember, at the beginning of his pontificate, was speaking about a kind of relativism. We live in a world where, actually, all values are the same. And there are no absolute values.
So I think in this context many, many young people are not being told in which direction to go. So we really need to ask ourselves: What should we do? Our first duty as a Church is precisely to offer to the young people the possibility to make a personal encounter with Christ, you know — and in order to know the truth, that the truth comes from God and from also the witnesses [of faith]. We should, all of us, witness to the truth. It’s not easy.