Cardinal George, Preacher of the Papal Retreat

Focuses on Faith in the Era of Globalization

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VATICAN CITY, MAR. 4, 2001 (ZENIT.orgAVVENIRE).- John Paul II and his collaborators in the Roman Curia began their annual spiritual retreat today, which will include four daily meditations, preached this year by Cardinal Francis Eugene George, archbishop of Chicago.

The topic of the retreat, «A Faith for All Peoples,» is timely, given the globalization and multiethnic societies that characterize the world.

Cardinal George, 64, knows his audience well. He lived in Rome from 1974 to 1986, when he was vicar general of his congregation, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. He served as a bishop in Yakima, Washington, and Portland, Oregon, before being named in 1997 to head his native Archdiocese of Chicago. He was made a cardinal in 1998.

In the following interview, Cardinal George speaks openly: «I love to be in Rome, but on this occasion I am somewhat apprehensive. I will try to do the best possible, trusting in the Holy Spirit, but it goes without saying that the task is very daunting.»

Last year´s spiritual exercises were preached by now Cardinal François Xavier Nguyên Van Thuân, who had spent 13 years in prison and solitary confinement under the Communist regime in Vietnam.

–Q: To have been asked by John Paul II to preach the spiritual exercises is a sign of great personal esteem, but also of recognition of your archdiocese in the United States. Why do you think that Pope has looked to America precisely at this time?

–Cardinal George: In the past, the Holy Father sometimes has explained his decision at the end of the spiritual exercises. However, for the time being, I do not know why he chose me and I think the only important thing is to do the best possible in what I have been asked to do.

–Q: However, there seems to be a relation between the topic of the exercises and your diocese, one of the largest in the most cosmopolitan country in the world.

–Cardinal George: I try to concentrate on the faith for all peoples, basing myself in particular on Luke´s Gospel — in which the universal call is stronger; the liturgy; and the documents of the Synod for America. It is about understanding how it is possible to address this mission of the Church, including at the level of personal conversion, keeping in mind the reflections that took place during the Jubilee.

–Q: What impression did this event make on you …?

–Cardinal George: The Jubilee in Rome was an extraordinary occasion of fervor. In the rest of the world, it had different effects, which depended, in part, on the level of preparation of each of the communities. In general, it has given us the opportunity to reinforce the intimate bond that unites the Church with Christ. Now, however, another topic is posed: What must we do to transform the impetus of the Jubilee into a constant element?

–Q: What do you think?

–Cardinal George: As you already know, the Pope has convoked a special consistory dedicated, precisely, to this topic; therefore, we are all reflecting on it. However, the key factor, I think, is the invitation to the new evangelization. On this point, it is necessary to work at the local level, in all dioceses, because the answers must come from daily life, from the field.

–Q: What contribution do you hope to make to the consistory?

–Cardinal George: I am still working on the issues of this appointment. In general, the reflection will be on the new millennium, so it will be very broad. Fortunately, there will be as many answers as there are cardinals from all the continents. However, I think we will have to concentrate on the forms of the new evangelization.

–Q: In a certain sense, this brings us back to the topic of the spiritual exercises. When you speak of a faith for all peoples, are you also referring to the geographic aspect?

–Cardinal George: Of course, without a shadow of a doubt: I am referring to a faith for the whole world. The question with which I begin is this: If we are in agreement with the fact that the object of faith is universal, what is it that we must do to respond to that call? It must be kept in mind that this is a spiritual retreat, so that personal conversion must be stressed.

–Q: What is the answer to this question?

–Cardinal George: I hope to be able to articulate it during the spiritual exercises. In any case, we must be converted to Christ and, therefore, in freedom overcome all limits and borders, addressing all peoples with the same intensity.

–Q: John Paul II has made this mission one of the pillars of his pontificate. Do you think that Catholics in general are ready to follow him?

–Cardinal George: It depends on the places and situations. In some regions, such as Africa, the main problem continues to be survival. When you don´t know where your daily meal will come from, it is difficult to have time for other things. In more stable regions, on the contrary, I think much attention is given to this problem, as the Gospel and the development of modern society require this of us.

In a certain sense, globalization is taking us back to the origins of the Church, when the known world was united under the Roman Empire. The global society is repeating in a different way this close relation among peoples, and we Catholics will have to know how to respond, as we have already lived in these conditions.

–Q: Should the new evangelization take the example of the origins?

–Cardinal George: There are similarities. We were a minority then, but we spoke as if we were a majority, precisely because we were conscious of the universal mission of the Church. Today we are also a minority in regard to world population in its totality. However, we continue to speak like the majority, because it is part of our identity, although some don´t like this.

–Q: Will it be possible to maintain this identity in the faith, which, according to you, must be open to all peoples?

–Cardinal George: Christ asks us to reach out to others. Therefore, we Christians must be especially capable to be open to all peoples, without confronting them, but not losing our identity because of it.

–Q: You have been concerned about these topics for a long time and have also suggested the need to establish dialogue with Islam, in a world characterized by globalization and migrations. Is this a response to the clash of civilizations announced by Samuel Huntington as inevitable?

–Cardinal George: I make this proposal precisely because I believe that it can be avoided, and Huntington himself does not foresee, necessarily, a violent confrontation. However, to think that the problem doesn´t exist would be an error. It is necessary to consider the risk of misunderstanding in global society and to work to avoid it, precisely in virtue of the view of the world that we must have as Catholics.

–Q: Some observers have interpreted the appointments of the new cardinals made by John Paul II as an attempt to open the Church even more to the whole world. Do you agree?

–Cardinal George: Of course the Pope did not ask me for my opinion when it came to making these appointments, so I don´t know what his intentions are. However, it is a possible hypothesis. If one of his objectives was to make the College of Cardinals more representative of the universality of the Church, I think he has achieved this.

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