CHICAGO, JUNE 19, 2005 (Zenit.org).- The reception of immigrants is one of the most acute concerns of the archbishop of Denver, but not the only one.
In this interview with ZENIT, Archbishop Charles Chaput, grandson of an American Indian, and commissioner of U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, speaks about other issues that concern him, such as the evangelization of the continent, religious freedom and protecting the rights of indigenous citizens.
Q: As a Catholic archbishop, what is your opinion of the present state of religious freedom in the United States?
Archbishop Chaput: There is an issue that makes me extremely fearful: the growing hostility that exists in the United States toward those of us who touch upon religious topics in the public square.
There is great confusion among the people of this country: One can speak of ethical topics anywhere, but without touching upon religion. It would seem that religious freedom has nothing to do with human rights. We have to wrap everything in ethical discussions. To speak of the dignity of the human person is very well regarded, but not if the dignity of the person is linked to faith.
Q: Is Catholicism the last of the acceptable prejudices in your country?
Archbishop Chaput: It’s not only Catholicism, but all Christians who wish to make a public commitment to human rights.
Q: One of the topics in which the Catholic Church is involved in the main, is the defense of the human rights of immigrants. As archbishop of Denver, an archdiocese with a lot of immigrants, what is your experience of these people’s integration to the Catholic faith?
Archbishop Chaput: We have many people who have arrived in Denver and its surroundings in the last years. This has made Denver grow in a significant way, but it does not hinder the Church from receiving them with joy and enthusiasm.
However, there is no lack of those who accuse the Church of doing nothing against the violations of immigrants’ human rights. We are in favor of reinforcing the laws that will allow for a framework of development for our country, but we are also in favor of suffering people, whether or not they are illegal.
Q: Can security and the human aspect be integrated?
Archbishop Chaput: They must be integrated. We cannot set aside the protection of the borders of the United States, but neither can we set aside the dignity of people who arrive here. That is part of the present discussion on the topic of immigration.
Q: And indigenous peoples? What experience is there of integration of American Indians?
Archbishop Chaput: I am the grandson of an indigenous woman, native of the United States, and I head the committee that cares for them on behalf of the bishops’ conference of the United States. Because of this, I have a special interest in this topic.
Being so few, we forget that they exist. They are a small minority of our population in Denver, although in dioceses like the one I was in before, South Dakota, they are important. What matters, however, is that their human rights be respected and that new policies are put into practice which will help them fully develop. We must not forget their rights: It is our obligation to them.
Q: At this stage of the American continent’s trade integration, is it possible to explore forms of spiritual, Catholic integration, following the path marked out by “Ecclesia in America”?
Archbishop Chaput: Absolutely. I had the privilege to be in Rome during the Synod of America, and later in Mexico City when the Holy Father John Paul II made known, officially, this most important document.
I think it is important for all of us bishops to think that America is only one continent and thus understand our relationships with one another. Even if we are occupied with the day-to-day tasks, we must not lose sight of this objective — noted by the synod — of the new evangelization of all the Americas.