“It isn't possible to be pro-life and simultaneously forget the cries of the poor.” Francis has confirmed his attendance at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia next September. The Archbishop of the great US metropolis, Archbishop Charles Chaput, talks to Vatican Insider about the meaning of this visit and about how Francis’ message has been received in the US.   Pope Francis has now confirmed his participation at the meeting in Philadelphia scheduled for next September. What do you think will be the focus of this papal visit?   “The Holy Father combines two great qualities with unusual skill. He has compassion for people alienated from the Church, and he has courage in speaking the truth with love. He condemns no one. He genuinely shares in the sufferings of persons wounded by the hardships of life. This makes his voice deeply appealing. At the same time, he's also spoken frequently in support of what Paul VI called the "natural family.”  He showed his support again just last week in Rome with his words at the Humanum conference on the complementarity of men and women. A strong natural family is the greatest source of nourishment for healthy human development and the greatest antidote to poverty and loneliness. So I'm sure the Pope will bring that same, simultaneous message of mercy and truth about the family to Philadelphia next year. Some people waste a great deal of time, and create a great deal of confusion, by trying to interpret what the Holy Father "really" means by his actions.  He doesn't need narrators.  Pope Francis is a man thoroughly grounded in Catholic faith and teaching.  We need to let him do in his own way what God calls him to do: pastor the Church.”   How is it possible to announce today, in a secularized society, the Gospel of the family? And how is it possible to respond to the needs and suffering of families broken by a separation or a divorce?   “Nothing is stronger than personal witness. If we live our faith as Christian families with generosity and joy, it will naturally attract others. If we don't, no amount of beautiful words or harsh judgments will substitute for that witness. Today's crisis of the family, and all the problems that go with it, shouldn't surprise anyone. In large measure, we created the tragedy ourselves by a combination of poor catechesis of engaged and married couples and by our own poor example of married and family life. The Church needs to do a much better job of evangelizing men and women called to marriage and helping them live out their vocation joyfully. Where divorce does occur, we need to help divorced persons continue on the Christian path, reminding them that God’s love for them endures even in the face of loneliness or abandonment. And we especially need to support the children of divorce, who often end up literally on the margins, caught between the respective lives of their separated parents.”   One and a half years into Francis’ pontificate, what - in your opinion — has been the most important message the new Pope has tried to get across?   “I think he sees the mission of the Church through the eyes of the global South.  That's where the vast majority of Catholics live. So he has different experiences from the Catholic world in the North and a different perspective in weighing the needs of the Church. Also he's clearly a very intelligent man, but he radiates a mixture of simplicity and joy that people find new and very magnetic.”   Why does it seem so difficult, for certain Catholic groups in the United States, to syntonize themselves with the message of the Pope?   “ He's new: not just new in the papal ministry, but new in his style of leadership and in his personality. That's a blessing, but new things make people nervous. Eight hundred years ago, the founder of my own religious order, St. Francis, made a lot of people very nervous. It's human nature. What your readers need to understand is that the American media play a very large role in shaping the perceptions of this pontificate, and not always in service to the truth. What some in the media call the "conservative" wing of the Church in the United States is very different from what “conservative” can mean in other parts of the world. In the United States, the label “conservative” is often used to demean and dismiss committed, faithful Catholics who support the Church’s right to religious freedom, and her teaching on issues of life, marriage and family. Many Catholics who are fully committed to helping the poor, nonetheless get labeled as “conservative” simply because they embrace the full range of Church teaching on unpopular moral issues.  These Catholics are not upset with the Pope: that would be a contradiction of their own basic beliefs. But they do react to media stories that create the impression of a revolution in Catholic teaching.  And some people in the media, and also within the Church, want that revolution to happen. I suspect that the pope understands the nature of media power very well. In the book On Heaven and Earth, the Holy Father, then Archbishop of Buenos Aires, speaks of the way the media often distorted his teaching on moral values by giving it a partisan political meaning. He also notes that the media often shape their coverage in ways that betray their own particular prejudices — coverage that favors a stress on conflict rather than unity.  He sums up the problem of media bias very nicely in that book, and many U.S. bishops have had similar experiences.”

Is it possible to be pro-life and at the same time not to be pro-poor? Do you think that the social message of Pope Francis, in accordance with the entire tradition of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church (expressed for example in Pius XI’s encyclical Quadragesimo anno, in which Pope Ratti spoke about the “international imperialism of the money”), needs to be assimilated further in the North American Church?   “I've said many times over many years that if we ignore the poor, we will go to hell: literally. We ignore the needs of the poor at the cost of our own souls. Unless it's checked by a vigorous religious faith, North American culture very easily becomes destructively selfish and hyper-materialistic. This is a paradox, because the American people are also, at the same time, very generous. They’re routinely listed as world leaders in surveys of individual generosity, both in terms of time and money donated to charitable causes. A great many American Catholics support Pope Francis’ message on the issue of poverty. When he highlights the suffering of the poor, the Holy Father ministers not just to the practical needs of people in material poverty, but to the moral needs of people in spiritual poverty. So to answer your question more directly: No, it isn't possible to be prolife and simultaneously forget the cries of the poor. But I would add one more thought:  Evangelium Vitae  - "the Gospel of Life" - is every bit as much a social encyclical as Quadragesimo Anno. Defending the unborn child is a vital part of the social doctrine of the Church.  And the social doctrine of the Church is incomplete without actively working to defend the unborn child legally and to support women and families materially. The unborn child is also part of the poor, and often the poorest and most exploited of the poor. In the United States in 2011 more than 1 million children were aborted.  In the same time frame, about 3,000 people died of malnutrition. Each of these deaths is a tragedy that demands our attention, and we all have the duty to look beyond our own national borders to the needs of social justice globally. But in the U.S. Catholic context, more than 300 times more deaths occur every year from abortion than from hunger. That’s why abortion and other “sanctity of life” issues remain so highly charged in my country.”    What has your pastoral experience - in Philadelphia - been of Francis’ teaching on the need to go to the geographical and existential peripheries?   “Pope Francis talks about these issues in a fresh and winning way, free of fear, that helps Catholics see the world through new eyes. But his basic message isn't new. It's the same Gospel preached by all his predecessors. For 200 years the Church in Philadelphia has been serving the poor in dozens of different ways - education, nutrition, service to the homeless, the elderly, the disabled - and these ministries have transformed hundreds of thousands of lives for the better. We can always do the work of the Gospel even better. We need to constantly examine our actions to ensure that we never grow cold in our zeal or effectiveness. Immigration justice is especially important for the invisible millions of undocumented immigrants in my country, and many of them are Catholic. But in working harder to serve the needs of the marginalized, we also need to take heart from the good work already being done.  The Church in Philadelphia has been reaching out to people on the margins for a very long time.  Our people have generous hearts, and that isn't going to change. I think the Holy Father will see that when he visits. And I know that he’ll be warmly welcomed and very well loved by the Church and the city he finds here.”