More than 500 people from throughout Missouri gathered at the state Capitol Saturday for the annual assembly of the Missouri Catholic Conference.
The conference in Jefferson City attracted hundreds from the Catholic dioceses throughout the state for a variety of workshops and to hear the keynote address from Bishop Richard E. Pates, bishop for the diocese of Des Moines and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on International Justice and Peace.
In his keynote address, Pates spoke of rebuilding the church under Pope Francis, calling pontiff's elections "an awakening time, one which generates hope and spurred by a renewed vision."
"The coming of Pope Francis on the world stage on March 13, 2013, stirred the embers of faith and generated excitement around the world," Pates said.
He said the new pope has become popular among many, citing instances where Pates was approached by several people, of both secular and religious backgrounds, to speak of how much they like Pope Francis.
Pates said Pope Francis has embraced mercy, peace and a renewed emphasis on the poor in the early days of his papacy, citing the pope's stance on Syria, urging peace and dialogue.
"The eventual outcome of dismantling the chemical weapons of mass destruction by Syria is hoeful for the region and the world," Pates said. "There may be inevitable bumps in the road but it is far better than American bombs reigning terror in the region."
Pates said the possibility of a U.S. intervention in Syria was reminiscent of an earlier time, when Pope John Paul II urged former President George Bush not to get involved in Iraq.
"I experienced firsthand testimony to that failed and enormously costly expedition," Pates said.
Pates said he was approached by Iraqis on a visit to Baghdad in the spring who told him Americans ruined their country and bishops who said Americans ruined the church.
"Because of the continuing lack of security (in Iraq), the Catholic Communities have experience wave after wave of emigration decimating their numbers by the hundreds of thousands," Pates said.
Through Pope Francis, Pates said the church is rebuilding and is re-energizing many in the Catholic faith. Moving forward, he said, people need to be committed to the truth and social justice, urging all to work together.
"The insights and energy emerging from the new papacy present definable expectations for all Missourians - especially those committed to social justice with its demanding implications," Pates said.