Charlotte Bishop Peter Jugis plans to carry the message of being a missionary back to North Carolina and encourage his pastors and their parishioners to do more work to help the poor, immigrants and families.
The bishop, who leads the 46-county Charlotte Diocese, joined a pastor from Salisbury, nuns from Huntersville and dozens of Roman Catholics from across the Charlotte, N.C., area who made the journey to Washington this week to welcome Pope Francis on his first official visit to the United States.
Dressed in a white cassock and riding around in a small black Fiat car, Pope Francis drew enthusiastic crowds everywhere he went. At the White House, Washington Monument and U.S. Capitol, Catholics and non-Catholics strained to get a glimpse and possibly touch the Argentinian-born pope, whose message of mercy, service and humility has resonated around the world.
“I believe this Holy Father Pope Francis is touching the hearts of many people,” Jugis said. “There are so many people of good will in the world who are hungering for God and maybe have drifted from the Lord in one way or another. We just hope people’s hearts are opened whether they’re Catholic or not.”
Everything he said to us bishops at St. Matthews Cathedral could also be said to all of our pastors and all of our churches because he was so encouraging.
Charlotte Bishop Peter Jugis
Father John Eckert of Sacred Heart Parish in Salisbury, N.C., said he couldn’t think of another figure on the world’s stage who could draw a crowd like that. Eckert, who waited outside the U.S. Capitol for five hours to see and hear the pope, said it was nice to witness members of Congress from opposing parties stand behind the pontiff.
“Congress is so often made fun of for division and political point scoring,” Eckert said. “To see the pope in there was a great sign of hope on our home soil. I’m grateful I got to be present for that.”
“We must not be taken aback by their numbers but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best as we can to their situation,” Francis urged.
He also talked about protecting the unborn from abortion and ending capital punishment.
Michael Zaldivar, 42, who got tickets to sit on the Capitol lawn from U.S. Robert Pittenger, traveled up from Salisbury with his wife, Hilda, and two children. Zaldivar, who is Filipino, said he was moved by Pope Francis’ words about immigration, reminding Congress that most people “were once foreigners.” His daughter Kyna, 10, and son Mikko, 6, liked seeing Pope Francis aboard his “popemobile.”
We feel so blessed. We didn’t have to go to Rome to see the pope.
Michael Zaldivar, 42, of Salisbury, N.C.
“It was really cool. I wasn’t able to touch him, but he was just right in front of us,” Zaldivar said.
It wasn’t just the Zaldivars who got goosebumps. Even Jugis admitted feeling something special when being around the pope. It was the first time the bishop heard the pope speak in person.
“I was getting emotional,” Jugis said. “It’s one thing to see him on TV or hear his speech from Rome or Cuba. But to be physically in his presence is another matter. There is a dynamism in him, but also a tremendous humility.”