Witnessing to the Gospel is the simple but fundamental call for people of faith who live in trying times, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo said in his keynote address to the U.S. bishops on Monday.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is meeting Nov. 13-14 in Baltimore for their fall assembly. This year's assembly marks the centenary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which was founded in 1917 as the National Catholic War Council.
Not unlike today, DiNardo noted, the U.S. bishops 100 years ago were dealing with trying times, including a massive overseas migrant crisis.
“The bishops back then knew that such challenges could only be met through a unified marshaling of all the Church’s resources,” said DiNardo, who is president of the conference.
“Not surprisingly, we are living in a time of similar challenge,” he said, and bishops today are leading “a diverse flock. People look, talk, and even think differently from each other.” Amidst such diversity, it can be easy to be tempted to division and fear, seeing strangers as a threat rather than as people to be welcomed, the cardinal said.
“But fear is not of God. God does not divide; God unites. And God, who is love, created us to love. Love is not naïve, but neither is it irritable, resentful, or rude,” he said.
The Church in America is rich with people who have met the challenges of their time and witnessed to the love of the Gospel, Cardinal DiNardo said, pointing to the example of Blessed Father Stanley Rother, an Oklahoma priest and martyr who was beatified earlier this year.
Rather than abandon his people amidst a civil war in Guatemala, where he served, Fr. Rother “offered his life for the people he had come to serve. In this way, he is a witness to the Love of God for all peoples, a truth that the Church must continually teach.”
The challenges of the present day are many, DiNardo noted, and the agenda of the bishop’s conference includes questions on “how best to care for the sick, the unborn, the poor, the immigrant and refugee, the unemployed and the underemployed in cities and towns across America.”
“But the question before us is straightforward: as a people of faith, what will our contribution be?” he said. “I would like to answer straightforwardly: our contribution is always to witness to the Gospel.”
While the Gospel compels Christians to respond to the challenges of the times, it also calls them to respond in “civility and love,” he noted.
“My friends, civility begins in the womb. If we cannot come to love and protect innocent life from the moment God creates it, how can we properly care for each other as we come of age? Or when we come to old age?” he said, to a round of applause from the bishops present.
Furthermore, the U.S. bishops must stand with the Holy Father in supporting comprehensive immigration reform in a system that is broken, promoting pro-life policies that respect human dignity and keep families together, he noted, to another round of applause from the bishops.
Moral immigration reform has increasingly been an issue of concern for the U.S. bishops. Earlier this year, DiNardo and the U.S. bishops denounced the Trump administration’s decision to end DACA, a program that benefited hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. as minors.
“Providing for the common defense and the general welfare is a basic responsibility of government,” the cardinal said. “However, we have a moral responsibility to improve border security in a humane way.”
Racism is another divisive issue being considered by the U.S. bishops this year, made all the more urgent by recent violent demonstrations, such as the alt-right demonstration in Charlottesville in August, after which the bishops denounced “the evil of racism, white supremacy and neo-nazism.”
In order to address the issues of both overt and systemic racism, the conference recently announced the creation of an Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, which will be chaired by Bishop George Murry of the Diocese of Youngstown, Ohio.
“(T)hey are planning to meet with people across the country and to learn from them how the Church can best work with others in ending this evil,” DiNardo said. “Pray this conversation will lead to genuine conversion of hearts, including our own.”
The U.S. has suffered much as a country in recent times, DiNardo noted, including natural disasters such as Hurricane Harvey which swept through his own Archdiocese of Houston, killing nearly 80 people and leaving thousands displaced.
But it is often great suffering that “has brought the Church in America together and has reminded me of how wonderful the gifts of faith, hope and love truly are,” he said.
“We need to constantly put forward these virtues, especially in light of the violence from what is a long and growing list of mass shootings in our schools, offices, churches, and places of recreation. The time is long past due to end the madness of outrageous weapons – be they stockpiled on a continent or in a hotel room,” he said, to another round of applause.
While the challenges facing the Church in the United States today are many, the bishops today are not unlike the bishops who first met 100 years ago, faced with the challenges of their own times, Cardinal DiNardo said.
“(L)ike our predecessors, we know that the love of Christ is stronger than all the challenges ahead,” he said.
“My brothers, let us follow our Holy Father ever more closely, going forth to be with our people in every circumstance of pastoral life. Drawing strength and wisdom from these past hundred years, let us sound our hands and voices joyfully. And let us always remind our people, and ourselves, that with God, all things are possible.”
At the end of his speech, all the bishops in attendance applauded Cardinal DiNardo with a standing ovation.
"The Church in America is rich with people who have met the challenges of their time and witnessed to the love of the Gospel, Cardinal DiNardo said, pointing to the example of Blessed Father Stanley Rother, an Oklahoma priest and martyr who was beatified earlier this year. "