Cardinal George Points to a Different Hope

Opens Bishops’ Meeting With Plea to Promote Common Good

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BALTIMORE, Maryland, NOV. 10, 2008 ( Meeting amidst «enormous challenges» in the Church and the nation, the president of the U.S. episcopal conference is encouraging the faithful to place their hope in «what lasts forever.»

Cardinal Francis George, the archbishop of Chicago, said today upon delivering the opening address of the bishops’ fall general assembly, being held in Baltimore through Thursday.

The meeting takes place one week after Barack Obama won his bid for the U.S. presidency, which the cardinal said ended an election cycle in which «both candidates invited us to hope in change.»

The cardinal contrasted this message with that of Benedict XVI, who «invites us to place our hope in what lasts forever.»

«Perhaps that is the difference between a vision that looks at what is ultimate and one that, by the very nature of things, is most concerned with what is less than ultimate,» he said. «No political order conforms fully to the Kingdom of God.

«Separation is built into our faith itself, yet we can hope and work and pray that things political and economic not impede or contest the things that are of God.»

Reason to rejoice

Commenting on the historic win of President-elect Barack Obama, the first African-American to be elected president in the country, Cardinal George said «we can rejoice today with those who, following heroic figures like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., were part of a movement to bring our country’s civil rights, our legal order, into better accord with universal human rights, God’s order.»

«We are, perhaps, at a moment when, with the grace of God, all races are safely within the American consensus,» the cardinal continued. «We are not at the point, however, when Catholics, especially in public life, can be considered full partners in the American experience unless they are willing to put aside some fundamental Catholic teachings on a just moral and political order.»

Cardinal George remarked that this «makes America herself far less than she claims to be in this world.»

He added: «What is of major importance to us, as bishops of the Church, is that the Church remain true to herself and her Lord in the years to come, for only in being authentically herself will the Church serve society and its members, in time and in eternity.

«In working for the common good of our society, racial justice is one pillar of our social doctrine. Economic justice, especially for the poor both here and abroad, is another.

«But the Church comes also and always and everywhere with the memory, the conviction, that the Eternal Word of God became man, took flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, nine months before Jesus was born in Bethlehem. This truth is celebrated in our liturgy because it is branded into our spirit.

«The common good can never be adequately incarnated in any society when those waiting to be born can be legally killed at choice.»

«If the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision that African Americans were other people’s property and somehow less than persons were still settled constitutional law,» continued Cardinal George, «Mr. Obama would not be president of the United States. Today, as was the case a hundred and fifty years ago, common ground cannot be found by destroying the common good.»

Divided world

The cardinal recalled that 50 years ago Pope John XXIII initiated the Second Vatican Council: «The Pope looked at a divided world and hoped that the Church could act as ‘Lumen Gentium’ calls us, as the ‘sacrament of the unity of the human race.'»

«Those who would weaken our internal unity render the Church’s external mission to the world more difficult if not impossible,» he noted. «Jesus promised that the world would believe in him if we are one: one in faith and doctrine, one in prayer and sacrament, one in governance and shepherding.

«The Church and her life and teaching do not fit easily into the prior narratives that shape our public discussions. As bishops, we can only insist that those who would impose their own agenda on the Church, those who believe and act self-righteously, answerable only to themselves, whether ideologically on the left or the right, betray the Lord Jesus Christ.»

The episcopal conference, the president reminded the bishops present, is an «instrument for shaping spiritual unity, for creating the bonds of affection that help us to govern in communion with each other, especially in a divided world and in a Church that knows dissent from some of her teachings and dissatisfaction with aspects of her governance.»

He continued: «As we all know, the Church was born without episcopal conferences, as she was born without parishes and without dioceses, although all these structures have been helpful pastorally throughout the centuries.

«The Church was born only with shepherds, with apostolic pastors, whose relationship to their people keeps them one with Christ, from whom comes authority to govern the Church.

«Strengthening people’s relationship with Christ remains our primary concern and duty as bishops.»

We extend that pastoral concern, especially at the beginning of a new administration and a new Congress, to Catholics of either major party who serve others in government,» said Cardinal George. «We respect you and we love you, and we pray that the Catholic faith will shape your decisions so that our communion may be full.»

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