By Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The life and ministry of the Catholic Church is enriched by listening to everyone, especially those who are often excluded by society, and by including their experiences and perspectives, Pope Francis said.
“For the church is like a rich tapestry, made up of many individual threads that come from various peoples, languages and cultures, yet woven into a unity by the Holy Spirit,” he told a delegation from Catholic Extension.
The pope greeted the delegation during an audience at the Vatican April 26. The group included: U.S. Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago, chancellor of the organization’s board of governors; retired Arizona Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, vice-chancellor; and Sister Norma Pimentel, a member of the Missionaries of Jesus, who received Catholic Extension’s “Spirit of Francis” Award this year for her work providing care to hundreds of thousands of people at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“I congratulate Sister Norma Pimentel,” the pope said, “for her service to the many men, women and children arriving at the southern border of the United States.”
Speaking briefly in Spanish, the pope said the border was “caliente caliente,” that is, a hotbed of activity with so many people “in search of a better future.”
He thanked Catholic Extension, which had a delegation in Rome April 23-28, for its work “providing assistance to missionary dioceses, particularly in the United States, and in caring for the needs of the poor and most vulnerable,” especially in Puerto Rico “following the various hurricanes and earthquakes which brought such devastation to the island in recent years.”
“By giving a voice to those who are frequently voiceless,” he told the delegation,”you bear witness to the God-given dignity of every person.”
As the entire church is journeying together on the path of synodality, the pope said, “listening to and including the experiences and perspectives of all, especially those on the margins of society, enriches the church’s life and ministry.”
“I am pleased to know of your concern to place those who are often victims of today’s ‘throw-away culture’ at the heart of the church’s pastoral activity; in this way, their voices can be heard, and all can benefit,” he said.
Pope Francis encouraged them to serve others with “God’s style,” that is with closeness, compassion and tender love so that “God’s loving mercy becomes visible, and the fabric of society is strengthened and renewed.”
Speaking to reporters April 27, Sister Pimentel said receiving the “Spirit of Francis” Award from Catholic Extension and the acknowledgement from the pope offer important encouragement.
It shows the pope “is truly present to us, with what I am doing, what others like myself are doing, to reach out to the most vulnerable” and to welcome them as a part of the church, she said at a news conference at Vatican Radio.
“I am truly humbled and honored that Catholic Extension recognizes and highlights that about who I am and what I represent — I represent everybody where I come from,” said Sister Pimentel, who is executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas. A daughter of Mexican immigrants, she was born in Texas and frequently crossed the border to be with family.
Sister Carol Keehan, a nurse and Daughter of Charity, agreed with the importance of support from the pope and recognition by Catholic Extension.
She won the “Spirit of Francis” Award in 2022 for her advocacy for the poor and universal access to health care and received a message from Pope Francis congratulating her.
“You can’t have a greater gift, and for people who are Catholic and serve the church and want to serve the church and want to live the church’s message, that was such an incredible moment,” she said.
Receiving the pope’s support, she said, “says, ‘The work you do is my priority.'”
“I’m just one person, I just represent what we are all doing,” she said, “and it means so much to people working so hard to know that the Holy Father’s heart is with them.”