Promoting Life and Dignity, Justice and Peace
Tuesday 26 February, 2008
Catholic Social Ministry
Wilton D. Gregory, Archbishop of Atlanta
I am honored to be with you at this impressive annual social ministry gathering
and I am very encouraged by your commitment to come together from all across
our nation at the invitation of the twenty national Catholic organizations who
co-sponsor this event.
The fruitfulness of our Catholic Social Ministry Gathering is hearkening to
the call of Christ to work in his vineyard. Today’s call is to
take an active, conscientious, and responsible part in political life. Today’s
vineyard is the U.S. Capitol.
As Catholics, we are obliged to promote the common good as rooted in our
baptismal commitment to follow Jesus Christ. The Second Vatican Council’s
words speak of the significance of this challenge: “The Church regards
as worthy of praise and consideration the work of those who, as a service to
others, dedicate themselves to the public good of the state and undertake the
burdens of this task.”
It is a privilege to speak to you as you head out to Capitol Hill to make
our case for human life and dignity, for justice and peace. When we approach
the steps of the Capitol, we will bear witness in all we say and do. Whether
we meet with our congressmen or their legislative assistants, we are ambassadors,
sharing the love of Christ because we are a community of faith. We are
not another lobby, but a community that serves the poor and vulnerable every
day. We are not an interest group, nor are we advocating our own narrow
interests, but speaking for the voiceless and standing up for the common good. We
go not to serve our own needs, but to serve the “least of these” who
we believe to be Jesus in their persons.
We believe human rights come from God and do not depend on where you came
from, how you got here, or when you arrived.
Our journey to Capitol Hill is not a secular mobilization, but, in a sense,
a pilgrimage. We are on a journey of faith, formed by the Gospel and shaped
by Catholic teaching on life and dignity of every person – no matter their
age, their race or economic status, children both born and unborn, the sick
and the destitute.
With the persisting spread of the pandemic of HIV-Aids attacking human dignity,
we are called to respond to the disease and to the sorrow that it has left in
its wake. This illness is indiscriminate in its reach and impact. It
has touched the lives of infants within the womb, patients infected through
blood transfusions in hospitals, men and women, people of every class, age,
race, and ethnic community. The increasing attention given to this disease
is a sign of mounting awareness of the sorrow that this plague has placed within
the heart of the human family. This growing awareness is also a sign of
solidarity that all people must experience as we continue to search for cures
for the disease and to comfort those whose lives have been touched by it.
When we speak today in support for poverty-focused foreign aid, such as the “President’s
Emergency Plan for Aids Relief,” we speak for people in need of prevention,
treatment, and counseling programs – people who need faith-based organizations
who will continue to serve compassionately through care programs offered with
dignity and respect for the sanctity of human life.
We go to Capitol Hill not bringing campaign contributions or political endorsements,
but to share our principles, our everyday experience, and our passion for the
poor and for peace. We must urge our congressmen to act together to foster
a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians. As a disciple of Jesus
Christ, the “Prince of Peace” and “Our Peace,” we are
charged with the task of being peacemakers both through a conversion of our
own heart and in working for a just peace in the world.
Our Catholic organizations are providing humanitarian and development assistance
to people in immediate need in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. In working
together with national and international institutions we are developing the
culture of solidarity as the way to peace and development. Few of us here
have ever faced the type of hunger that we now see in the eyes and on the faces
of children in places of drought, war, and violence.
As Catholics, we know the importance of putting the poor first. With
over 36 million people living in poverty in the United States of America, we
must remember the faces of the poor and challenge Congress to strengthen the
necessary safety net for poor individuals and families. No one should face hunger
in a land of plenty.
Providing programs that help pregnant women and newborn children, such as
the “Pregnant Women Support Act,” are necessary during a time of
hardship. In supporting the basic right to life, we cannot allow mothers and
children to be forced into poverty, malnutrition, and hunger because the resources
are not made available. Let us speak up for those who are vulnerable
and need health care, nutrition and child care remembering that each child is
the living image of God.
Our Capital pilgrimage today is a Gospel journey to “bring good news
to the poor, liberty to Captives, new sight to the blind and to set the downtrodden
free.” (Luke 4)
The role of the Catholic Church in the current immigration debate in the United
States has surprised and perhaps upset many people, including even some Catholics. But
the Church’s position on migration has remained consistent for decades. We
bishops have called for just immigration laws that will allow generous channels
of entry, good working conditions, families being able to stay together and
the protection of the migrant’s dignity and human rights.
It is unfortunate that the current public debate on immigration in the United
States has become so coarse and polarizing. I could envision another kind
of public dialogue where the centuries-old experience of Christianity can help
balance the hard exigencies of law, where we can realistically protect the common
good of our citizens while reclaiming our heritage, a society that welcomes
Like you, I am making this pilgrimage to Capitol Hill with some trepidation. This
is not my favorite thing. But I am an American and I have a right and
duty to make my case for what I believe is right for my community of Atlanta,
my state of Georgia, and this nation we share. You have the same right
and duty to speak and be heard in the halls of Congress.
We may not know the ins and outs of Washington, who’s up and who’s
down, the details of every amendment, but we do know this:
the lives of unborn children need protection;
poor children need justice;
families need affordable health care;
immigrants need to be treated as sisters
and brothers, not enemies;
the hungry of the world need food;
those living and dying with HIV/AIDS
need compassionate care;
the people of the Holy Land need a just
and the unending war in Iraq requires a responsible transition
We need for this violent world not only to be safer, but better, more just.
We go not to impose some sectarian doctrine, but to add our voices and our
convictions to the debates and decisions on what kind of nation we are becoming,
what kind of world we are shaping.
So I go with you and I send you forth…..
armed with the knowledge gained from experience serving those
formed by the moral principles of our faith;
briefed on the specific
choices our leaders face;
convinced that we are “Faithful Citizens” honoring
the best traditions of both our nation and our Church.
We have prepared our hearts with prayer and the Eucharist for the work that
awaits us. We are told in Acts 18:9, “Do not be afraid, but speak
and do not be silent: for I am with you.” Now is the time
to head out to the vineyard to be the “light of the world.”
I send you forth in the knowledge that “here on earth, God’s work
must truly be our own.” I send you forth in faith, to
act with hope and to share God’s love. I send you forth
in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen