HARTFORD – Archbishop Leonard P. Blair’s encounter with Pope Francis on Sept. 23 was brief but memorable. It occurred during a midday prayer service with the pope and the bishops of the United States at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, D.C.
“We just said a word or two,” Archbishop Blair said, adding that he likely would not have been called forth to greet the pope if he were not a member of an administrative committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
“I reminded him that I was Archbishop of Hartford and that I was chair of the Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis of the bishops’ conference, and he reacted very positively,” Archbishop Blair said. “He said, ‘What important work that is for the church today.’ So it was very encouraging.”
Not every bishop at the service got to greet the pope, he said. “At the end, [Pope Francis] said, ‘I would like to have met all the bishops,’ but he pointed to the watch and said, ‘It’s not possible,’ so we all laughed. But he did meet all of us on the administrative committee.”
The archbishop said the most important takeaway from the experience of the papal visit was that so many people were brought together.
“You know, the theme of this papal visit was family, and I’m very fond of saying that we are an archdiocesan family of faith,” he said. “But the reality is that the whole church is a family of faith. And so when so many people are brought together for something that is good and joyful and positive, and we worship in the call for charity as the pope gave it to us, this is a very joyful thing. We can sometimes in our society today get kind of isolated. … But there’s a great value in being together, and when you are together in such a large scale, it just gives you a wonderful, positive feeling of our Catholic faith and also about the fact that God loves us and that we have to be family toward one another.”
He hopes the papal visit’s positive impact on the country will have an evangelizing effect.
“All of us who are bishops, and the pope in particular, being teachers of the faith and being an evangelizing people is what we’re about,” he said. “It’s not just evangelizing people who are not Catholic or not Christian; it’s evangelizing ourselves in the church. And, of course, by evangelization I don’t mean proselytizing. We mean bearing witness to the faith in a positive way that draws people to Christ and the church. I certainly think that’s what the pope had the effect of doing.”