I almost passed up reading it, an article on a recent meeting Pope Benedict XVI had with his brother bishops from the African nations of Angola and São Tomé.
The headline indicated that the Holy Father had spoken to them of three pointed pastoral challenges in Africa. Nothing here applicable to me, I concluded. But I’m sure glad I read on . . .
The first challenge facing these brave African bishops, observed the Successor of St. Peter, was that many Catholic couples were “living together” instead of pledging a lifelong, loving, faithful, life-giving union in the sacrament of matrimony. Not that good for the couple, the children, the Church, or society, concluded the Pope.
Problem number two, the Pontiff went on, was that, while more and more Africans were, thank God, converting to Jesus and His Church, many were having trouble leaving behind sinful, destructive practices of the dominant culture, such as, tragically, abortion, infanticide, and killing of fragile elders.
Three, Pope Benedict worried about a sense of “exclusion and division” in African life in these two nations. Seems as if ethnic and tribal loyalties can trump the Christian emphasis on the unity of God’s children and our sacred duty to embrace and welcome people different from us.
Well, well, well . . . after reading the papal address to his brother bishops from Angola, I concluded, “We’re not that different from Africa!” The Holy Father could make those same three points to us when we bishops from America begin our ad limina visits to him this very week!
Yes, for one, we worry about the “dumbing down” of marriage in American society: cohabitation, divorce, lack of fidelity, a contraceptive mentality, attempts to redefine the very essence of marriage. We worry about this as people of faith, since it’s contrary to our Creator’s design; we worry about this as American citizens, since the crumbling of marriage and family is the major cause of social ills.
Two, we Catholics in America, apparently, like our brothers and sisters in Angola, often take our cues from culture rather than from Jesus and His Church. The very scourges mentioned by the Pope as anti-gospel, potent cultural forces in Africa — extermination of babies (pre-born and just-born) and fragile elderly (euthanasia) — are present here, too.
Finally, I’ll be: the Africans aren’t the only ones, Holy Father, who need a warning about “exclusion.” I’m afraid we Americans are busy knocking down the Statue of Liberty here, as those candidates who most blister the immigrant and refugee in their stump speeches get the most lusty applause. The American hand traditionally extended in a welcome has now been turned into a fist.
Holy Father, we bishops of New York will be with you in Rome in two weeks. You could actually dust off the excellent address you gave our brothers from Angola a couple of weeks ago and give it to us as well. We need to hear it, too!
Tags: Pope Benedict XVI