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Five highlights of the Holy Father’s U.S. visit

Looking back over Pope Francis’ recent three-city U.S. visit, packed with a whopping 24 official events along with the  many unofficial encounters, it is difficult to summarize the “takeaway” in just a few points.

Thomas D. Williams

Thomas D. Williams

For most Americans, what characterized Francis’ trip more than anything else was his person-to-person contact with the millions that came out to see him. Yet Francis did bring with him a series of messages to the Church in America. Here are five of the key points:

1. The Pope calls religious liberty “one of America’s most precious possessions.” If any one point can be called the hallmark of the Pope’s trip, it would be the question of religious liberty. Francis beat the drum of religious freedom from the moment he opened his mouth in Washington until the moment he landed in Rome. He encouraged Americans to be vigilant “to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.”

He also met with the Little Sisters of the Poor to show his support for the nuns who have been engaged in a major legal battle against the Obama administration’s HHS contraception mandate. He also underscored the essential distinction between true religious freedom and a watered down “freedom of worship,” which would take religion out of public life and confine it within church walls.

2. The Pope asserts the sacredness of all human life. The Holy Father threw his weight behind the pro-life cause, asserting on various occasions the inviolability of human life in all stages of development. Pope Francis told a joint session of the U.S. Congress that the Golden Rule is a “yardstick” that “reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.”

Doubling down on the life issue, he appealed to the natural moral law before the United Nations General Assembly to assert the sacredness of every human life, including that of the unborn. He called for “absolute respect for life in all its stages and dimensions.” The Pope carried this pro-life ethic over into the area of capital punishment, advocating its abolishment.

3. He meets with sexual abuse victims. Following the meeting, Francis promised “zealous vigilance” to protect minors and to bring to justice those responsible for this crime. “Etched into my heart are the stories, the suffering and the pain of the young people sexually abused by priests,” he said. “I am overwhelmed with shame thinking that those who in their charge, the tender care of these little ones, violated this trust, causing them grave harm.”

A noteworthy aspect of the Pope’s meeting with abuse victims was the inclusion of several people abused by family members and other acquaintances. The message that sexual abuse isn’t a problem limited to Catholic clergy was an important one to drive home.

4. Francis canonizes Junípero Serra, urging all Christians to be missionaries. In the first canonization ceremony ever to take place on American soil, Pope Francis lifted Serra to sainthood and held up the missionary as a model for all Christians. “Go out to the highways and byways,” Francis said. “Go out to tell the good news fearlessly, without prejudice, without superiority, without condescension, to all those who have lost the joy of living. Go out to proclaim the merciful embrace of the Father.”

5. The Pope praises the free market. In a remarkable role reversal, Francis took advantage of his historic address to Congress to lecture politicians on the importance of wealth creation for lifting the poor out of poverty. He held up hard-working members of the middle class as an example to all, while praising the free market system. It is “the many thousands of men and women who strive each day to do an honest day’s work” who sustain the life of society.

But his most striking words came when speaking about the ability of the free market to lift people out of poverty. A key element in fighting poverty is “the creation and distribution of wealth,” as well as “harnessing the spirit of enterprise. … Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world.”

There were, of course, many other extraordinary moments during the visit, but these alone offer much to ponder. One way or another, Pope Francis changed both Americans and the Pope himself.

His message, the authentic piety in his liturgical celebrations, his Christ-like love for the poor and disadvantaged had to soften all but the hardest of hearts. And the American spirit of religiosity, charity, generosity and industriousness obviously left an indelible mark on Francis as well.

THOMAS D. WILLIAMS, Ph.D., is a permanent research fellow at Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture and the author of 15 books, including “The World As It Could Be: Catholic Social Thought for a New Generation” (Crossroad, 2011).

Is Pope Francis anti-business?

Not everyone is thrilled with Pope Francis. Some say his Evangelii Gaudium (EG), condemns capitalism. Others believe Laudato Sii (LS) goes even further down this dangerous road.

Marcellino D'Ambrosio

Marcellino D’Ambrosio

And how about the time in Latin American where he apparently equates money and business with the “dung of the devil”? This led Rush Limbaugh to label him a Marxist. Others have called him the “Red Pope,” even “the most dangerous man on the planet.”

Nonsense! If these critics actually read the full text of the Pope’s writings instead of listening to media-manipulated sound bites, they would realize the groundlessness of such allegations. The “outrageous” comments made by the Pope — nearly always misquoted and taken out of context — merely echo the teaching of Scripture and Tradition. Many are borrowed from Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI who are hardly friends of socialism. Oh, and the line about “dung of the devil” happens to be a direct quote from St. Basil the Great, a fourth century Doctor of the Church.

Money, by which we purchase things necessary to sustain life, is not the problem. It is good. It becomes bad when it’s melted down to form the “golden calf.” The more valuable a thing is, the more dangerous it is when it’s used wrongly. And when the accumulation of personal wealth becomes the ultimate end and everything else — including God, people and the earth — becomes merely expendable means, then things have gone horribly wrong. It’s this compulsive love of money to the neglect, even the scorn, of every other consideration that Pope Francis calls “the dung of the devil.”

The Pope doesn’t want us all to stop earning money. “We were created with a vocation to work,” he writes. “Work is a necessity, part of the meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth, human development and personal fulfillment” (LS 128). Neither does the Pope criticize business owners who happen to earn money, even lots of money, by turning a profit. “Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving our world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity” (LS 129). In fact, as Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, he launched the canonization cause for an Argentinian businessman. In a TV interview, he said, “Enrique Shaw was rich, yet saintly. A person can have money. God gives it to him so he can administer it well, and this man administered it well.”

Nowhere in the Pope’s writings can you find a proposal to replace the free market with state socialism. Neither can you find praise for big government, which seeks to solve all problems though the multiplication of burdensome regulations. But, he maintains, neither can the free market — with its drive to maximize short-term profits — ever be an end unto itself. Both the state and the market must be ordered to the common good — namely, the dignity of all.

It’s true that this Pope believes something is wrong with our political-economic system. Crony capitalism rears its head not only in the Pope’s native Latin America, but closer to home as well. A thriving trade in fetal body parts supplied by a government-funded “non-profit” is just the latest and most lurid example of this.

But the Pope doesn’t lay the blame for what’s wrong exclusively at the feet of businesspeople. There’s a great temptation for everyone — government officials, business owners, and private citizens — to succumb to a “consumerist vision of human beings” (LS 144) and a “self-centered culture of instant gratification” (LS 162). The media, driven as it is by advertising, pushes us in this direction.

The Holy Father asks every single one of us to examine our consciences. In our business, our public policy, and in our personal lives, have we become calloused? Have we allowed the culture of prosperity to deaden us so that we’re excited about the release of the latest smartphone, but we’re not moved by the loneliness of the elderly, the pain of the homeless, or the degradation of God’s creation?

An exclusive focus on short-term gain is bad business. Bringing products to the marketplace that harm the public and the environment — this too is bad business. Failure to invest in the development of one’s employees is bad business. This is the kind of business that Francis condemns.

But the Holy Father praises creativity in the marketplace that serves the public, develops the workforce, and expands the pie for all. This is why he may soon beatify Enrique Shaw. He sees this kind of entrepreneurship not as part of the problem, but an essential part of the solution. Let’s take the time to prayerfully ponder his teaching and show the world that socially responsible business is indeed, in the long run, the best business.

MARCELLINO D’AMBROSIO earned a doctorate in theology under Cardinal Avery Dulles. Connect with him at DrItaly.com.

Pope Benedict XVI encourages Legatus

Rome-Lourdes pilgrimage delights members

Gregory and Susan Maier got the thrill of a lifetime on Sept. 10 when they spent a moment with Pope Benedict XVI during the pontiff’s weekly general audience.

The Maiers, of Potomac, Md., were among 33 Legates on this year’s pilgrimages to Rome, Lourdes and Toulouse. The experience was very moving for the couple.

“It was a moment that almost left us breathless,” Greg Maier said. “I thanked him for his visit to Washington.

“He spoke to us as if we were old friends,” Maier explained. “He shook my hand and said, ‘It was wonderful for me, too.’ He was so warm. It radiated from him. I’m grateful to have shared that historic moment with him.”

At Large member Laurence Sweeny and Jacksonville Chapter member Michael Cascone also spoke to the Holy Father.

“I kissed his ring and he said, ‘Keep up the good work with Legatus,’” Cascone said. “It was a highlight of my life!”

The Holy Father’s general audience was only one of the high points for pilgrims to the Eternal City. Spiritual director, Fr. Joseph Fox, OP, introduced Legates to several members of the Roman Curia.

Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, celebrated a private Mass for members and joined them for dinner.

Pilgrims also toured the Pontifical North American College and dined with young men preparing for the priesthood. The Cascones’ family foundation supports the college.

“It was my first time there,” he explained. “These young men are a tremendous example of what the Church has to look forward to.”

Prior to the Rome portion of the pilgrimage, Legates toured Toulouse and Lourdes, France.

Jack and Barbara Carew of the Cincinnati Chapter found the visit to Lourdes especially moving.

“It was a time for me to think about the people in my life in need of prayer — people I’d forgotten about, people who are sick,” Jack Carew explained. “It was a spiritually rich experience.”

Patrick Novecosky is the editor of Legatus Magazine.

Supreme access

Members connect with lawmakers, Justice Scalia, President Bush, Holy Father

Very few can say they’ve been to the nation’s capital and gained access to some of the world’s most influential individuals.

Yet, more than 50 Legatus members and guests from Canada and the United States met with pro-life congressmen and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia during the annual Legatus pro-life conference in Washington, D.C., from April 16-18.

Dozens of Legatus members were among the 13,500 strong gathered on the White House South Lawn on April 16 as President George W. Bush welcomed Pope Benedict XVI to America — and celebrated the Pontiff’s 81st birthday.

Dr. John Willke, a member of the Cincinnati Chapter and founder of the Life Issues Institute, has attended every Legatus pro-life conference since the first one in 2001. The conference’s timing—coinciding with the papal visit and the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast—was brilliant, he said.

“What struck me was the relationship between the Holy Father and President Bush on the White House lawn,” he said. “The way Bush looked at him; the Pope was very comfortable with Bush. These are not just two heads of state formally standing before the public. These are friends.”

The Pro-Life Conference officially kicked off with a private 30-minute visit with Justice Scalia at the U.S. Supreme Court a few hours after the White House ceremony. Scalia gave a brief introduction before answering a few queries from members, including a question about the likelihood that Roe v. Wade would soon be overturned.

Scalia said he doubts we’ll see a reversal of the decision in the short-term, but that it would certainly be overturned one day.

“Our time with Scalia was a real privilege,” Willke said. “Here’s a guy who’s been on the bench for more than 20 years. He was like the guy next door!”

The conference also included addresses from theology of the body expert Christopher West, pro-life congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), a reception with Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and a meeting with a number of pro-life members of the House of Representatives.

“I enjoyed meeting with the pro-life political leaders,” said Alan Arnold, a member of the Orange County Chapter who was attending his first Legatus Pro-Life Conference with his wife Jeannine. “I gained a better understanding of their commitment and their challenges.”

Tim Flanagan of the Philadelphia Chapter agreed.

“It was amazing to hear from the pro-life congressmen,” he explained. “They were very passionate and sincere.”

Conference delegates — along with more than 45,000 faithful — attended the papal Mass at Nationals Park in Washington on April 17.

“I noticed that the Holy Father was sincerely delighted at the reception he received,” Willke said. “He had some very gracious and complimentary things to say about the U.S.”

The Legatus conference wrapped up with members attending the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast on April 18. Bishop Robert Finn of the Kansas City-Saint Joseph Diocese delivered the keynote address on the Holy Father’s visit to America.

President Bush also paid tribute to the Holy Father, calling him a humble servant of God, a brilliant professor, and a warm and generous soul, as he addressed the enthusiastic crowd of 2,000 at the Washington Hilton.

“His Holiness believes that freedom is the Almighty’s gift to every man, woman and child on Earth,” Bush said during his 17- minute speech. “He understands that every person has value, or to use his words, ‘each of us is willed, each of us is loved, [and] each of us is necessary.’”

The prayer breakfast was the perfect end to the conference, Flanagan said.

“It’s always good to be with Legatus members and be renewed in our faith and the Church,” he said.

Arnold agreed that it was an unforgettable gathering.

“I was amazed at the caliber of people who attended and the caliber of people we had access to: a Supreme Court justice, a senator, congressmen, the president and the Pope. It just doesn’t get any better than that,” he said.

Patrick Novecosky is the editor of Legatus Magazine.