Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap
Pope Francis’ address to a Joint Session of the United States Congress at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. delivered on September 24, during his apostolic visit to Cuba and US, is full of significance. The more I read it the more I deem to consider it is an excellent catechesis of what it means to care. Thus, it powerfully promotes the culture of care.
The entire speech was interrupted twenty-nine times. This shows that the members of the Congress where relating to what the Pope was saying to them. Politicians are responsible to foster among the people that elected them this culture of care. Hence the Holy Father exhorted them: “You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics”.
How? Firstly, legally, “by means of just legislation”. And, secondly, by leading those who elected them “directly to God and thus to the transcendent dignity of the human being”. In his pursuit to prove his point Pope Francis entered into the spirit of dialogue with “the entire people of the United States” via the US Congress representatives. His conversation embraced “the many thousands of men and women who strive each day to do an honest day’s work, to bring home their daily bread, to save money and –one step at a time – to build a better life for their families”. It also included “the many elderly persons who are a storehouse ofwisdom forged by experience”. Furthermore it incorporated the “young people who are working to realize their great and noble aspirations”. And finally it espoused “you (US Congress representatives)”.
Pope Francis chose “to dialogue with” the US people “through the historical memory” of four great American citizens: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.
The Holy Father highly extolled the value of liberty. Abraham Lincoln’s dream was that “this nation, under God, [might] have a new birth of freedom”. But freedom is an ideal which bears a great responsibility. Freedom should create a framework wherein “love of the common good and cooperation in a spirit ofsubsidiarity and solidarity” are to be carried out for the benefit of the present and the future of society. Full rights of citizens should also encompass “the voice of faith” which must keep being heard simply because “it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society”.
The compelling image of Martin Luther King reminds the Pope for the great need of caring for the migrants. While defining himself “as the son of immigrants” the Holy Father said: “We must not be taken aback by their (migrants) numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. … Let us remember the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ (Mt 7:12)”. Additionally, the memory of Martin Luther King invigorates Pope Francis’ efforts “for the global abolition ofthe death penalty”. This is so “since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes”.
The third great example of what it means to be caring citizen is the Servant of God Dorothy Day, who established the Catholic Worker Movement. She too is a credible gospel witness of advocating the cause of the oppressed. Dorothy Day’s faith instigates all of us to “keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty”. Business can help a great deal in creating jobs and thus furthering the common good. Moreover responsible business, while “combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded” it also takes careof “protecting nature”.
The final example of a great citizen is certainly Thomas Merton. This American Cistercian Monk is a masterof a faith “which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style”.
As Maltese politicians and citizens are we ready to be transformed by this culture of care which Pope Francis is proposing to us?