Archbishop George J. Lucas meets with Pope Francis at the Vatican Jan. 16 during his “ad limina apostolorum” pilgrimage to Rome, Jan. 12-18, 2020.

Shepherd's Voice

Respect for life accentuates archbishop’s pilgrimages

In this week’s interview, Archbishop George J. Lucas speaks with communication manager David Hazen about his two January pilgrimages. The first was his ad limina trip to Rome, where he met with Pope Francis and visited the tombs and martyrdom sites of Ss. Peter and Paul and the other basilicas in the city. The second was his trip to Washington, D.C., to participate in the 47th annual March for Life.

Q: When last we spoke, you were preparing for your visit ad limina apostolorum. Now that you have returned, could you tell us about the experience?

I’m happy to share more about what was really a very beautiful and positive pilgrimage experience for me in January. It’s a longstanding custom in the church for bishops from around the world to go every six or seven years to have a face-to-face meeting with the Holy Father, and to visit the tombs and martyrdom sites of Ss. Peter and Paul and the other basilicas in Rome.

As you can imagine, the highlight of the visit was meeting with Pope Francis. He is very much as people understand him to be from seeing him in pictures or videos: very down to earth and very warm and welcoming. We met with him for an extended time, over two and a half hours. He began the meeting by stressing that he wanted the visit to be spontaneous. He was not looking for formal presentations from us, nor was he going to give one to us. But as a brother bishop, he wanted simply to hear about our experiences as diocesan bishops and then to respond to any questions that we might have.

He was very open to addressing questions on complicated issues, and to giving us some reflections on his own life and ministry, his own life of prayer and how he keeps his faith and joy in the Lord in the midst of very serious responsibilities.

I was amazed at his energy. He is 83 years old, and though I felt like I was worn out after the meeting – I was sitting there for most of it, listening, taking it all in – the Holy Father was still very much filled with energy and joy at the end of it.

Q: You mentioned previously that the conversations between the pope and the bishops are for the most part private, but is there a word or phrase from that encounter with Pope Francis that you could share with us?

The word would be encouragement. I came away very, very encouraged by the breadth of the Holy Father’s knowledge and experience. I already knew that about him, but to experience it personally makes me very confident in offering our people the encouragement to really pay attention to the pope and to what he says.

We know in our faith that we should do that anyway, but the office is held by a human being, of course, and therefore some popes appeal to some people more than others because of their personality or style. One of my takeaways is that we are very blessed to have Francis as our pope.

We are asked not to discuss in detail our conversations. That makes it easier for the Holy Father and the bishops to just speak frankly to one another. It has already been reported, and not surprisingly, that we discussed issues affecting human life and dignity.

He gave a great deal of support to us bishops to keep up the good work that we are trying to do here in the United States to uphold the dignity of each human person with a special emphasis on the life of the unborn, who have the least ability to defend themselves.

He just encouraged us to be in solidarity with our priests, and to reassure and accompany them in what is often a difficult time for priests in our country and throughout the church. I was able to share with him my appreciation for the priests with whom I work, and my confidence in them and their desire to be faithful to the Lord and generous in serving our people.

All in all, the pope clearly desired to inspire us and to help us all to realize that we are together in the work of the apostolic ministry that the Lord has called us to, and he very much wants to be a brother and a father to us.

In this week’s interview, Archbishop George J. Lucas speaks with communication manager David Hazen about his two January pilgrimages. The first was his ad limina trip to Rome, where he met with Pope Francis and visited the tombs and martyrdom sites of Ss. Peter and Paul and the other basilicas in the city. The second was his trip to Washington, D.C., to participate in the 47th annual March for Life.

Q: Shortly after you returned home from Rome, you accompanied a number of our young people to the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., an event you have attended a number of times. How was it different this year?

I have gone to the March for Life many times over the years, but my own perspective was different this year, having received the very direct and specific motivation from the pope to remain steadfast in defending the lives of the unborn.

We had a great turnout from Nebraska. People from across the state travel a long distance to get to Washington by bus. We had hundreds from the Archdiocese of Omaha and hundreds from the Diocese of Lincoln. I had the chance to spend time with both groups before the march.

I was also able to celebrate Mass with some students from Creighton University and from UNO along with other people who were part of that group. We then joined as many as we could gather out of the crowd to walk together in the March for Life.

That day really has become a gathering of young people from around the country as much as anything else. One of the things I was able to do was to tell all of the Nebraskans present that I had visited with the Holy Father, and that he had encouraged us bishops to stay focused on these issues and that I wanted to share that reassurance with them.

I try to do my part as a pastor and bishop to influence law and policy, but also to change our culture into a civilization of love and respect for all people. That is something that we all have to participate in together.

Q: How do you see the annual March for Life helping these young people to build that “civilization of love”?

It’s a big investment of time and energy to participate in the March for Life. I hear from those who are now adults who participated in the March in years past that it was an important moment for them. Many say it solidified their own understanding of human dignity and their commitment to work for an increased respect for life within our culture.

As I was speaking with one of the groups of high school students, I encouraged them to realize there are people close to them who are wrestling with the issue of abortion. It may be someone who is in an unplanned pregnancy, or somebody who has already chosen an abortion, or who knows somebody in their family who has chosen it and now suffers from the fallout of that. We are called by the Lord to love one another and to be patient with and accompany our neighbors who are struggling.

I think it is important for all of us to know that there are people close to us who may be hurting because of this issue. They may be afraid because they are in a situation that by its nature can be isolating, and shame isolates them even further. So there are opportunities already for young people to have an influence very close to home in their circle of friends or in their families.

We hope that they will become more influential in society as they mature, but already the Lord is looking to use them as instruments to help deepen respect for human life and to enrich this civilization of love, which is God’s desire for the human family.

And so I am very happy to bring back from Pope Francis a word of encouragement. He continues to embolden the church to look outward and to think of the mission that we all have from Jesus Christ.

It is nothing new, but it is a fresh challenge for us now. There are the demands of every day that we all have to deal with, of course, but it is just as important that we continue to look outward and remember that we have been sent by the Lord into the world in some way.

Each of us has been sent, no matter who we are – not just pastors, but all the baptized. Pope Francis continues to remind us of that part of our nature as members of the Body of Christ.