Savannah bishop: Pope’s visit ‘renews all of us’

Bishop Gregory Hartmayer, of Savannah, meets Pope Francis back in February.

The bishop of the Savannah diocese will be attending several events during the Washington, D.C. portion of Pope Francis’ visit to America.

“It’s very exciting to be in the presence of the pope,” said Rev. Gregory Hartmayer, the bishop of Savannah. “I don’t know what it is.”

Hartmayer has been in the presence of four popes and said it simply never gets old.

“It’s always an exciting moment to see the leader of the Catholic Church,” Hartmayer said.

His time with Pope Francis back in February was especially memorable because they had a one-on-one conversation.

“He was very relaxed and very warm and he made you feel like you were the only person in the room,” Hartmayer said.

Relatively few people will get an intimate audience with the pope during his first visit to the United States, but Bishop Hartmayer said there is still great anticipation.

“We are welcoming him with great anticipation because we want to show him how much of an effect he’s had on us already,” Hartmayer said.

The bishop said Pope Francis’ writings, homilies and world views have resonated with people of all denominations.

“Pope Francis is certainly his own man,” said Hartmayer. “And he is doing his own thinking.”

Most recently, the pontiff has encouraged forgiveness for abortion and made annulments easier.

“He wants the show people that the doors of the church are wide open and he wants people who have felt that the doors were closed to come back,” Hartmayer said.

But the bishop said it’s not just the pope’s philosophies that resonate, it’s also the way he expresses himself.

“I think he’s very welcoming. He’s very warm. I think he’s understanding and I think he’s genuine: What you see is the way he is,” Hartmayer said.

The bishop will attend several papal events including the pope’s address to congress, but he said the pope’s presence will be felt all over America – not just in the few cities he’ll visit.

“(The pope’s visit) renews all of us from the bishop down to the children in school,” said Hartmayer. “Just to know that the pope is interested in us enough to come to the United States to speak to us, to be available to us, to share his wisdom and his care for us, it affects us all.”

The bishop acknowledges the some people think the pope’s changes have been impulsive, but Hartmayer said he thinks the pope’s actions have been deliberate.

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