Cardinal-elect Pierre: Polarization arises when we put ideas before people
By Devin Watkins
Born in 1946 in Rennes, France, Cardinal-elect Christophe Pierre spent his childhood on the African continent, studied in Rome, and joined the Holy See's diplomatic corps in 1977.
He has served in nine countries, including as Apostolic Nuncio to Haiti, Uganda, and Mexico, and has represented the Pope in the United States of America since 2016.
As he prepares to be created a Cardinal in the upcoming consistory on 30 September, Cardinal-elect Christophe Pierre granted the following interview to Vatican Media.
Q: How did you react to your appointment as Cardinal, which was announced by Pope Francis in July? Will you continue to serve as a Nuncio?
First of all, the nomination was obviously a big surprise. It was not in my agenda. It was not planned. I saw it as a sign of great trust from the Holy Father. It is, and I see it as, a continuation of my mission. As far as I can understand, I will continue as a Cardinal, but as a Nuncio. So my job will continue.
I become a Cardinal, but I hope the relationships I have created at all levels, particularly with the Bishops, will not change. I always consider myself a kind of servant of the local Church, in the name of the Holy Father, in order to help all members of the Church, particularly the Bishops, to maintain good relationships.
And at times, there is a necessity to help understand when there is a lack of understanding. I am convinced the Church exists, and will exist, in society, if it is united. We have to avoid division.
Q: Pope Francis recently mentioned the risk of polarization within the Church in the United States. How do you believe that this can be mitigated? Is this polarization a broader issue in America as a whole?
I would say it is a broader issue in the world today. I think a society will work if people try to work together. Politicians are called not to defend only their own viewpoint, their own ideas, but to resolve the problems, and the problems that today are huge.
Let’s take one example, which is very, very important in the United States, the problem of migration. It's amazing to see that as soon as we speak about migration, politicians fight between themselves, and should not because, as you know, the United States has always been a country of migrants. This is the richness. This is the beauty of this country.
But the problem is that instead of considering the reality, we escape from the reality, and we take refuge in ideas, and these ideas, became ideologies. If you remain at the level of the idea of the ideology, necessarily, the person who does not share your idea, becomes your enemy. And so, you have to resolve the problem of your relationship with your enemy, which is impossible.
The polarization comes from there. There is a danger and we can observe it. This polarization, which is overwhelming at times, you see that in the political debate we have and we will have, in the next year or so. It's reproduced at times at all levels of the society, even in the Church. So, the Church is supposed to be inside the society, a place where we can dialogue, and in doing so, help the society to resolve its problem.
The Catholic Church has always been in the last 50 years remarkable in the fight against abortion, for example, and the pro-life groups and so forth. There has also been the huge generosity of the American Catholics to help the poor, and offer solidarity with the world. It’s amazing how the Catholic Church is helping the poor all over the place. It’s beautiful. I'm very happy to be the Nuncio in the United States for that reason.
But at times we take this viewpoint, which is a good one, a value, but we put it as an absolute. For example, you say I am pro-life. If you are not pro-life, you become an enemy. We forget that to be pro-life is also to help the people concretely, not just to defend an idea, not to embrace a political party which is pro-life, but also to be on the ground, an actor to defend the values, because we are not just in favour of a few values. We are disciples of Jesus and the disciples are a witness and are committed to helping people. In doing so, we will be pro-life.
So, the polarization in the Church is a danger because it can kill also the Church, and it puts the Church very far away from what it should be. Even if people don't share your idea, they are not your enemy. And this is the reason why the Holy Father invites, has created and launched this idea of synodality, to walk together through the method of dialogue, listening, discernment, and also listening to the Holy Spirit.
So, we are together. The logic of being together is that even in a family, you need to talk to the other in order to find a common ground, but also not to forget the concreteness of the reality.
Q: The first of the two Synod General Assemblies on synodality is set to begin in just a few days. At first glance, the topic may seem a little technical and internal to the Church: synodality. How is it being perceived in the United States?
Well, this is maybe the problem. We may be victim of this polarization which has been created inside the Church and which many groups try to feed to and frighten the people. I'm amazed to listen to so many people who are just rejecting the idea of synodality, of the Synod, not knowing what it is all about and thinking that the Pope has been elected Pope just to destroy the Church and to destroy the beauty of the Church. The Holy Father is not. And he has said that many times. On the contrary, he calls precisely a Synod on synodality.
It's a moment when a number of Bishops representing the Bishops of the world, the laypeople at all levels of the Church, will consider, examine what has been done already at all levels of the Church, in order to evangelize better the people. This is the reason why. They are not meeting to invent a new Church or to create new structures. No, [they are meeting] just to examine what has been tried to evangelize better at the grassroots, and to see this works, or that is not working, and we will see. But the method will be listening, examining, discerning and listening to the Holy Spirit. This is what the Pope has repeated over and over and over. But some people don't want to listen to that.
Q: As a future cardinal, what are your expectations for the Synod on synodality?
I'm full of trust. I think it will work. It’s quite an undertaking. When John XXIII launched Vatican II, that was quite an undertaking. And if you want to be Christian today, one has to take some risks. We take risks not to destroy the Church but to build the Church.
Let's be honest, the society today and the Church lives in a kind of crisis. A lot of people, especially young people, are abandoning the Church because society is changing. The connection between faith and culture is less and less apparent. The transmission of the faith is not so easy today at all levels. For example, from parents, children, from teachers, students, from politicians, society and so forth. So, we need to reorganize a kind of connection, and synodality is about connection.
It's funny because we live in a society where we speak of connections all the time and people are more and more isolated, and more and more fascinated by their own idea. It's a kind of narcissism organized at the level of the world, and the method of justice, anti-narcissism, get together.
Q: During his recent visit to Mongolia, Pope Francis emphasized that the Church is not a political organization or a business. How do you think the Synod will help in understanding its true nature?
That is the reason why the Pope has convoked the Synod, which is so diverse, precisely to help the people and the Church realize that it is not just a business organization, it's the people of God getting together, each one according to its own responsibility and mission and vocation. But in order to be able to work together, it's quite an exercise.
I admire personally the faith of Pope Francis because he is full of trust, and he's a guide. I was amazed when he came back from Mongolia, and in the plane he said it in a very straightforward way, we are together in order to be together and reflect upon our togetherness. We are not there to reinvent the Church. It's not a business. It's not a social group. It’s a communion of believers in Christ, and Christ is the source of our life, and the Holy Spirit is our inspirer.
Q: On a final topic, you recently received Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, the Pope's special envoy, at the Nunciature in Washington. What role does the Holy See's diplomacy play in promoting peace?
First and foremost, the visit of Cardinal Zuppi for me has been a wonderful experience, for Cardinal Zuppi tried to continue his mission of dialogue, and was essentially to let the people know that the Pope wants peace, but not just any kind of peace: real peace. We should not eliminate the idea of peace in a world at war like today.
I accompanied him during the three days of his presence. We had much contact with parliamentarians, and then, of course, a very fruitful dialogue with President Biden. That was a dialogue. President Biden received a letter from the Holy Father. We need to know that we are interested in peace, and it's important, in a world like this one, that the Church remains. You can have [a] voice for peace, in diplomacy. I've been a diplomat all my life, a diplomat of the Church.
I consider myself an ambassador for peace. We work at the grassroots level. We work silently, but we establish networks. We are there. And I can tell you, in all the countries I have worked, that is what we do all day and always with the idea of representing the Holy Father, representing the teaching of the Church and the method of the Church.
The method of the Church is precisely that, to avoid war. Of course, Cardinal Zuppi knew exactly that. There is no ready-made solution, but he arrived. We have already some indications, for example, could we do something for the children who have been exported from Ukraine to Russia and so forth. So, he has already started dialogue with some people at our level, and he needed also to inform the authorities in the United States, especially the president, about that. He has also received the encouragement of the president. We carry on that mission.