N.C. Bishop: Pope’s U.S. visit critical for Catholics in America

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Americans are preparing to meet the Pope with the pontiff’s visit just day away.

One of those who’ll have a face-to-face meeting with Pope Francis is Bishop Michael Burbidge of the Diocese of Raleigh.

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“His great joy comes from being with the people,” said Burbidge.

But meeting people means more than just waving to adoring throngs for this pope.

“He loves being side-by-side, encountering people where they are, especially with the poor and most vulnerable of society.” said Burbidge.

Pope Francis is becoming known as the pope of mercy, a pope who Burbidge said is making a real connection with people.

“I think people recognize in this man something very real. A love for God, a love for neighbor, a sensitivity to the poor and vulnerable. I think his presence and his words will touch the hearts of those who are listening,” Burbidge said.

In the late 70s, as a young man studying to be a priest, Burbidge met Pope John Paul II when he came to America to visit.

It changed his life.

“We were all alone with him in the chapel. I’m not kidding you. I was ready to be ordained the next day,” he explained.

When Pope Francis comes calling, a number of future priests from Raleigh will get the same experience as Burbidge had.

“We have men from this diocese who are studying at St. Charles seminary in Philadelphia where the pope will be staying for two nights. They’re going to be rubbing elbows with him and I think they’re going to be renewed whole-hearted in their commitment.” Burbidge predicted.

His visit comes at a time when the Catholic Church in America is facing a number of challenges, including a shrinking church population..

A report released last May by the Pew Forum finds that the total number of Catholics in the U.S. dropped by 3 million since 2007, now comprising about 20 percent, or one-fifth, of the total population.

And perhaps more troubling for the church is the report that states for every one Catholic convert, more than six Catholics leave the church.

The Pew report means Catholicism loses more members than it gains at a higher rate than any other denomination, with nearly 13 percent of all Americans describing themselves as “former Catholics.”

“The Catholic Church and other denominations, we all struggle.” said Burbidge. “We struggle with formal membership.”

Part of that problem is young people don’t want to join the faith.

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But the bishop thinks Pope Francis can help reverse that trend by embracing social media to help bring more young people into the church.“It’s not surprising in many ways that we live in an age where the ability of young people to make commitments is difficult,” said Burbidge.

“He’s not saying, ‘Let’s just sit back and keep doing things the way we’ve always done things.’ He’s saying, ‘No, Where the millennials? Where are our young people? Where are people receiving messages?’ ” said Burbidge.

He said the pope believes the church has to embrace social media technology as resources given by God to communicate effectively.

Burbidge said the pope also recognizes that the family unit is facing pressures like never before.

“The stronger family life, the stronger society will be. And yet in this day and age with so many pressures and demands being a parent is made more difficult sometimes than it needs to be,” said Burbidge.

He said that’s why the Pope will participate in the world meeting of families in Philadelphia.

“He’ll be speaking heart to heart with the faithful and people of all denominations who come to hear him.”

Most of the people who come to hear the pope will listen to him speak in Spanish.

The Vatican said the pope is not that comfortable with his English, so the only time Pope Francis will use English is at the White House, the welcoming ceremony and when he addresses Congress.

Copyright 2015 WNCN.com

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