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Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Receives Honorary Degree

Pope’s ambassador to the U.S. speaks on Catholic universities’ role in 21st century

The Archbiship Christophe Pierre, center, with President Petillo and students following his convocation

Archbishop and Apostolic Nuncio to the U.S. Christophe Pierre received an honorary degree during Sacred Heart University’s Special Academic Convocation Feb. 22 and later shared his thoughts on Pope Francis’s vision of the church in the 21st century during an evening lecture at the University’s Chapel of the Holy Spirit.

Pope Francis appointed Pierre as apostolic nuncio, or ambassador to the United States, in April 2016. Sacred Heart was his first university visit and honorary degree since being appointed. While Pierre was at SHU, he toured the campus and shared lunch with the administration before receiving his honorary degree. He then visited a class, spoke with students and went to dinner before giving his lecture to a packed house.

At convocation, students, administrators and faculty gave the archbishop a warm welcome. The Liturgical Choir also sang hymns and songs.

“This day belongs to you—an affirmation of all that you do, day in and day out, to make the mission come alive on this campus,” Fr. Tony Ciorra, vice president for Mission and Catholic Identity, told faculty and staff.

Sophomore Trevor O’Brien thanked Pierre and Pope Francis for their dedication to young people. “It’s clear the subject is of importance to the pope, for which we are grateful,” O’Brien said.

Jim Castonguay, director of the School of Communications & Media Arts, quoted some of the complimentary statements about Pierre’s appointment last year, including an assertion that the United States “won the lottery” with Pierre, that he’s a “bridge builder” and a “champion for religious freedom.” Castonguay thanked Pierre for visiting and inspiring the SHU community.

Michelle Loris, associate dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, read a citation; SHU President John J. Petillo conferred the degree; and Lois Schine, a University trustee, vested the hood.

Pierre thanked the University for the honor. “I wish to express the spiritual closeness of the Holy Father and all gathered here on this occasion,” he said. Pierre then spoke about the Catholic universities’ role in the 21st century. “A university is the fruit of a larger educational experience. At the origin of a university is not a decree or a doctrine; rather, there is an experience of the encounter with reality in all its wideness and richness, an educational experience of handing on and freely seeking the truth.”

“What is the vision of Pope Francis?” Pierre asked during his evening lecture. “In short, his vision is one of openness and dialogue. He has a vision of an open world in which everyone can encounter God and others, even strangers. His is a vision of the world and church, without sacrificing essentials or identity, that is open to new ideas.”

Openness was a recurring theme in Pierre’s lecture, as well as solidarity, dialogue, inclusion and mercy.

“The vision of the pope requires seeing people and their situations for what they truly are…For this reason, Pope Francis is unpredictable. He is a man of continuous discernment, not a man of black and white,” Pierre said.

He said the pope’s thought is in “continuous development” and that he is not “locked into one rigid plan” to bring the church’s mercy and teachings to the world. He said the pope challenges the flock to get out of its comfort zone and identify with those who are suffering and vulnerable throughout the world.

Pierre ended his talk with a question to the audience: “How does Pope Francis’s vision of the world challenge you?”

One audience member asked Pierre if he knew how many people converted to Catholicism after a visit from the pope. While Pierre wasn’t sure if people converted, he said that during a visit from the pope, people opened their hearts and listened. A student then asked Pierre for suggestions on how to have meaningful discernment. Pierre responded that the main source is prayer, and that discernment should be exercised every day.

To view additional photos from the Nuncio’s visit, click here.