Friday was the Feast of St. Francis, and while Pope Francis spent the day in Assisi celebrating and commemorating it, he was simultaneously lamenting the latest immigration disaster at Lampedusa, saying,“Today is a day of tears. Such things go against the spirit of the world.”
In the spirit of St Francis, it's good every now and then to offer a word of praise for our own Capuchin Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley. He's one of the Pope's so-called G-8 cardinals, who happen to be in Rome for meetings and consultations this week, and in my humble opinion, not only was O'Malley a wise choice for this group on the part of Francis, but the best choice out of the eight.
In the wake of Francis' now-famous interview with La Civiltà Cattolica, a few American bishops have written columns offering commentary and perspective on it. Some people might say that certain ones, including another particular Capuchin bishop, were offering spin. Michael Sean Winters reported on at least one bishop who seemed to "get" what Francis was saying in the interview, and some who did not, in his NCR blog posts Cardinal Burke Still At It and Wuerl & Chaput on the Interview.
I can say with some confidence that Cardinal O'Malley is one of those bishops who "gets" Francis, and has done so right from the beginning. Back in August he made the keynote address at the 131st Convention of the Knights of Columbus. I find it interesting that while Bishop Tobin in our neighboring state of Rhode Island was reprimanding Pope Francis for not talking about abortion enough, Cardinal O'Malley already understood where the new pope was deciding to place new emphasis. He could see that Francis was looking at a broader context for issues respecting the dignity of human life. He knew this well in advance of the Civiltà Cattolica interview. Interesting as well, that Lampedusa was mentioned in the keynote address, as it was by Francis today as a result of a fresh tragedy. In his August 6th speech, O'Malley said...
Some people think that the Holy Father should talk more about abortion. I think he speaks of love and mercy to give people the context for the Church’s teaching on abortion. We oppose abortion, not because we are mean or old fashioned, but because we love people. And that is what we must show the world. Recently I read about an American relief worker in Africa, who reported on being at a camp for a food distribution line, it was very chaotic, even scary. He could see that they were running out of food and that these starving people were desperate. At the end of the line, the last person was a little nine year old girl. All that was left was one banana. They handed it to her. She peeled the banana and gave half each to her younger brother and sister. Then she licked the banana peel. The relief worker said at that moment he began to believe in God.
We must be better people; we must love all people, even those who advocate abortion. It is only if we love them that we will be able to help them discover the sacredness of the life of an unborn child. Only love and mercy will open hearts that have been hardened by the individualism of our age.
In the United States we are an immigrant Church. It is very significant that the Holy Father’s very first trip as Pope was to Lampedusa, to underscore his concern for the plight of immigrants. As the Archbishop pointed out so eloquently in his homily, this is an issue that it is great importance to us as American Catholics.
When the Holy Father went to the island of Lampedusa he threw a wreath of flowers into the sea where thousands of refugees have perished in the modern day coffin ships the bring refugees from North Africa. The Holy Father talked about the globalization of indifference – indifference to the suffering of others, to the fate of the unborn, the elderly, the handicapped, the mentally ill and the immigrants.
We must overcome this indifference in our own lives and help people to see that the Church’s teaching is about loving and caring for everyone. In his talk to the Brazilian bishops last week, Pope Francis said: “We need a Church capable of rediscovering the maternal womb of mercy. Without mercy we have little chance nowadays of entering the world of wounded persons in need of understanding, forgiveness and love.” The Holy Father alludes to Cardinal Kasper’s work on mercy when he says that mercy without truth would be consolation without honesty and is empty chatter.
On the other hand, however, the truth without mercy would be cold, offputting and ready to wound. The truth isn’t a wet rag that you throw in someone’s face, but a warm cape that you wrap around a person, to protect and strengthen them.
Project Rachel has been just that kind of a combination of mercy and truth that the Church’s pro–life efforts need to be about.
Our efforts to heal the wounds of society will depend on our capacity to love and to be faithful to our mission. The Holy Father is showing us very clearly that our struggle is not just a political battle or a legal problem, but that we must evangelize and humanize the culture, then the world will be safe for the unborn, the elderly and the unproductive. The Gospel of Life is a Gospel of ercy. If we are going to get a hearing in today’s world, it will be because people recognize that authenticity of our lives and our dedication to building a civilization of love. We are called to live our lives as a service to others and commit our lives to give witness to the presence of God’s love and mercy in our midst.