Washington D.C., Aug 5, 2016 / 12:25 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The 2016 United States elections are a time of tension and reflection for many Americans. For Catholic bishops, it's not so different.

“It's always a joy to be a bishop, it’s always a challenge to be a bishop,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York told CNA. “I think in an election year, the challenges might outweigh the joys.” He said bishops have the same duties and concerns as other Americans. “We're American citizens, we’re responsible, we’re loyal, we’re thoughtful. We study the issues, we try our best to be engaged in the process,” he said. “We're also pastors, so we try to remind our people of those basic biblical values, those classical Catholic values that have guided us through the ages, particularly as articulated by John Paul II: the dignity of the human person, the sacredness of human life, solidarity."

“Those are three things that we keep hammering away on. And we trust that our people under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit will make the right decision.” Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore also reflected on the state of the country. “It’s always a grace and a challenge to be a bishop, and it’s an especially bracing challenge during an election year,” he told CNA. In such a time, he said, bishops need “to teach, and teach clearly … that which is most important.”

All the moral issues that face the U.S. are important and deserving of respect, he maintained. “There are some that are truly life or death,” he said, referring to issues of human dignity and its “obliteration.” For Archbishop Lori, bishops must provide guidance: “We certainly have to lay out the issues clearly and in their proper order.” Both Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Lori were attending the Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus in Toronto. The Catholic fraternal order has more than 1.9 million members around the world, and Archbishop Lori serves as its Supreme Chaplain.

The 2016 election campaign comes after the unprecedented nomination of businessman and provocative media personality Donald Trump as the Republican presidential candidate and a combative Democratic primary between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders. Some think the next president’s choice to fill a U.S. Supreme Court vacancy could set for decades the future of legal abortion and religious liberty in the country. On top of these tensions are conflicts over immigration, excessive police force against African-Americans, anti-police violence, and several major terrorist attacks from Islamic State sympathizers. Archbishop Lori spoke to the general sense of tension in American society.

“As a pastor of souls, I think that this is of great concern,” he said. “We have a situation where we are polarized. People aren’t any longer able to find those common truths and values that bind us together as a society.” “This is a long-term preaching, teaching and pastoral project: to enable our Catholic people to be the ones who contribute to the rebuilding of this,” he added.

For Cardinal Dolan, the tensions and bad spirits in American society are perennial. “We’re always going to have that,” he said. “We've had it, I'm afraid, since the Garden of Eden. There's always tension, there’s always misunderstanding.” The cardinal had just met with the Chaldean Archbishop of Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan to discuss what Christians are facing there. In the wake of the 2003 U.S. invasion, the withdrawal of American forces, and the rise of the Islamic State, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians have suffered forced expulsions, atrocities, and intense pressures to leave their homeland.

“You talk about somebody that's got wheelbarrows of problems — good God in heaven, it makes ours look like a walk in the park,” the cardinal said. Using his own words, Cardinal Dolan recounted the bishop’s remarks: “My people are so desperate that they're turning to Jesus Christ. They say politics isn’t working, weapons aren’t working, the nations have let us down. This tension, this retribution, this violence, it's destroying us.” In this, the cardinal saw a lesson for Americans. “Maybe we ought to take this as an invitation to return to Jesus in the gospel,” he said. “Boy, if they can do it, we can.”