ASTORIA, Queens – On a rainy Sunday a week after French Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the pope’s ambassador to the United States, was named a cardinal by Pope Francis, he found himself doing what he said he holds most important – sharing the life of the Catholic faithful where they are.

In this case, on Sunday, July 16, Pierre was at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in the Diocese of Brooklyn to participate in a procession and to celebrate Mass on the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, the parish’s namesake. The days before, he was in Denver for a convention of Catholic families.

“Well, you know, I am a diplomat of the pope. When I was asked to enter into this service of the pope, I was afraid to lose my pastoral dimension,” Pierre told Crux ahead of the procession and Mass.

“I became a priest in order to be with the people, in order to evangelize, so I’ve always done that … What is important is to share the life of the people where they are,” he said.

“I think it’s important because in my function of representing the pope, I want to be the presence of the pope where the people are,” Pierre said. “It’s not just an administrative job, because even like today I get to see the life of a parish, but on the other hand, it’s always related to the universal Church, and I hope people will feel that.”

Pierre, 77, was born in Rennes, France. He was ordained a priest in 1970, and for the last fifty-plus years his ministry has taken him all over the world. He has been apostolic nuncio to the United States since 2016. Prior to that assignment, he was a nuncio in Uganda, Haiti and Mexico.

Pierre was one of 21 churchmen named a cardinal by Pope Francis on July 9, including 19 like Pierre under the age of 80 and thus eligible to vote for the next pope.

Having served as Francis’s envoy in the United States for seven years now, Pierre said there’s “a lot of exaggeration” about perceived tensions between the American bishops and his boss.

“People like to create divisions and say bishops don’t like the pope, and this is not true,” he said. “They love the pope.”

For someone who has delivered the news to priests of their appointments as bishops, bishops to their archbishop appointments, and even, on a few occasions, archbishops to their cardinal appointments, he said getting the call himself was unexpected.

“I was asleep. Actually, I had traveled, I came back late the day before, so I was supposed to wake up at 7:00 a.m., and then I got the phone call,” Pierre said. “My reaction was a bit surprised because I was not expecting it to happen because it was not in my perspective, certainly not at that time.”

What follows is more from the Crux conversation with Pierre, touching on the synod, national eucharistic revival, the U.S. Catholic Church and the perceived disconnect between the U.S. bishops and Pope Francis. The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Crux: You’re becoming a cardinal at a very unique time in the Church, in part because of the ongoing Synod on Synodality. How would you assess how the synod has progressed and been embraced in the U.S., and what more would you like to see?

Pierre: For me, there’s a link between the synod process and the way the pope wants it for the Church. The problem with the U.S., as well as many other places in the world, is that people don’t understand the why. Why synodality? Why is the pope inviting the Church to have a synod?

First and foremost, because it’s very traditional. Synodality for the pope is working together. The synodal approach. It’s traditional, but it’s very accurate, and it corresponds to the needs of the time. This is what the synod is about. We have to work together to find solutions for better evangelization.

But in a way, I think a lot of people have not understood that. Why the synod? And this, maybe, provokes a lot of resistance. Some people don’t want to hear about the synod. They’re afraid that everything will change, and the pope doesn’t want that. But on the other hand, the pope feels that it is necessary in order to respond to the needs of the time, and we cannot avoid it. So, let’s go ahead with trust and let’s follow, and that’s my attitude. That’s my understanding of what the pope wants.

So now, it’s a process we have to begin. And what has happened in the United States? We are in the beginning. That’s how I see it. And what has been done has been well done, but it’s not enough, and let’s continue to do the process.

This synod of synodality, some people laugh about it, say ‘Well, we don’t understand the synod of synodality.’ But if you analyze the word, you realize that it’s very simple. The pope says let’s reflect on what has already been done at the grassroots level – in the parishes, in the communities, in the dioceses across the country – and let’s reflect about it in order to draw some consequences, in order to give some directions so that we as a global church, we will know what’s the way to do it, in order to work together.

It’s not a question of reinventing the Church, or creating new doctrine, because the doctrine of the Church is the doctrine of the Church, and the pope says to us ‘Don’t be afraid, participate.’

How important is it for the synodal process to continue at the local level, even as it moves into the global phase?

What the pope wants is to have additions to the process at the local level. So, maybe one thing that has been considered in many dioceses is that once we have done our job we forget about the synod. No, don’t forget, you’re in the beginning. Please do it, continue to do it. It will never be finished, but we can help one another to do it properly, according to the rules of the Church.

At the same time as the synod, the U.S. Bishops have also launched a Eucharistic Revival initiative. What do you think of the initiative?

The Eucharist is at the center of our life. The Church without the Eucharist is not the Church, in the same way that the Church without the synod is not the Church. So, the two are essential. But you know, the Eucharist is really what matters in the Church. It’s an encounter with Christ, and we receive Christ in Eucharist in order to become Church. So, in my opinion, it’s wonderful, but not on the condition that you forget about the synod.

Now, the Eucharistic renewal, in my opinion, has to be also like the synodal process, be well done. It will work if we do it well, like everything. I wish deeply that it may be done well, so we need really to help the people to understand fully what the Eucharistic Revival is all about.

The Eucharist is really entering communion with the risen Christ, who gives himself in order to become ourselves the body of Christ, that is the Church. And what I hope [is it] will be that, and if it is not that, it will be insufficient, but I think it will be because this is what we have to offer the world.

As someone who’s ministered all over the world, what’s unique about the U.S. Catholic Church?

I think the beauty of the Church is that each local church is different. In the United States, the Church, like the people, comes from somewhere else. Everybody comes from somewhere else. They come as immigrants with their own culture, their own differences, even their own churches, their own religiosity.

What is different is they all kind of arrive to a kind of promised land. It’s a ‘promised land’ which, in some way, is its own religion, as I’ve said, the American religion … You come from situations of poverty. The people who come here are eager to sacrifice many things in order to get to the promised land. And it affects a lot the mentality of the people here for the last 200 years. One of the aspects is that you arrive and you have to start from scratch, but you want to be successful, so people are ready to make all kinds of sacrifices, and that has been the beauty of the Catholic Church.

The Catholic immigrants coming from traditional Catholic lands to a new land, where things were not easy, but they very much wanted to build a new church, and the emphasis was to make buildings. So, [they were] wonderful builders. The emphasis was organizing, wonderful organizers, and people were wonderfully able to sacrifice themselves to contribute financially. When you see what in 200 years has been built – the churches, the seminaries, the hospitals, the schools – it’s wonderful. So, in some way we made it. We wanted a space for us. It explains the strength and capacity of the people to be faithful to their faith.

But I think, for the last number of years, the times are changing very fast. There is a big wave of secularization, and the kind of immigrants are different. It’s impressive to see that 40 percent of the Catholics [today] are of Hispanic origin, and that doesn’t count all of the Catholics who come from all of the other places – from Asia, from Africa.

I’m not sure the immigrants now share the same state of mind as the first immigrants. They are not necessarily received by this society in the same way. This is a very fragmented society now. The idea of the American dream is not the same as 50-60 years ago. So, there’s a lot of suffering, especially towards the immigrants.

I’m sorry to see that … they’re not all well received, and many abandon their Catholic faith because they are not well received. This is a bit dramatic, but this is the sign of the time, in the same way that many former Catholics have abandoned the faith today. The Catholic faith is sharing what happens all over the world. There is certainly a lack of cohesion, in the same way that there is certainly a lack of cohesion in society today as we used to be. Even in the past you were Republican or Democrat, but you were Americans. Today I’m not sure, but maybe yes.

Would you say secularization is the biggest challenge the church faces?

Yes, I would say so. It’s all over the world, but especially here. Maybe secularization affects every aspect of society because we have lost our sense of identity. The Catholics who came in the past were ready to fight in order to keep their identity. Now, I’m not sure people are obsessive. So, what is the identity of the people? What does a Catholic feel is their identity inside of American society? I’m not sure. And if we cannot answer this question, then that means that there is a problem there.

I asked you about American Catholics, but a lot is also made about the U.S. bishops and their overall relationship with Pope Francis and his vision. What is your view of the U.S. bishops and how they are in communion with Pope Francis?

I think that there is a lot of exaggeration. People like to create divisions and say bishops don’t like the pope, and this is not true. My vision of the bishops is that they are all very dedicated men, working in their local church with a lot of difficulties, but with a lot of love and desire to evangelize.

Look at the bishops here. They are on the road all the time, and they know they belong to the Catholic Church. They love the pope. Maybe what we need, and this is also a part of my work, is to have a better understanding perhaps of who the pope is and what he wants. Because when you are in a local way, you don’t necessarily see the universal dimensions, but that’s okay, because that’s your job.

The pope is guided by the Holy Spirit to lead the Church. He has a global vision and I think it’s important for local [bishops] to be sensitive to what that vision is, precisely because we are Catholics.

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