What a joy it was to watch Pope Francis and the People, a virtual audience in which Pope Francis was connected by satellite video with several Catholic communities in the United States, aired September 5 by ABC News. Over the course of an hour, the Pope visited with people in Los Angeles, Chicago, and McAllen, Texas. You can find full video of the entire broadcast here.
Of course, what we saw was decided in large part by the organizers who chose locations, specific communities, specific people to speak. I’d be interested to know how much input the Vatican had on the choices. But one couldn’t watch the event without a very clear sense of the Hispanic face of the Catholic Church in the United States. It’s a part of the Church in this country that is often treated as a less important add-on, a visitor in someone else’s house. This broadcast tells us, it is, in many ways, a Hispanic Church.
I was struck by the way the Holy Father absolutely went out of his way to single out the religious sister in the audience in Texas. The moderator was going to make passing reference to her and move on. The Pope literally interrupted, called the sister forward, and emphatically expressed his admiration for her work, explicitly citing also the work of all religious sisters in the United States. To think that just a year or two ago, those same religious sisters in the United States were considered to be under suspicion by Vatican. A remarkable shift of tone, decisively closing the door on that process of investigation.
But what struck me most was that the overarching theme of the Pope’s comments during this virtual audience was surely human solidarity, key concept of Catholic social teaching. It was perhaps expressed most clearly in his comments to the young man when he said “We are all created for friendship in society. All of us bear responsibility for everyone else.” That’s human solidarity in a nutshell. And it was part of his comments to almost all of the other people to whom he spoke.
That’s a message that Americans need to hear. It’s not a bright shining aspect of the American ethos, which is too strongly dominated by a sense of rugged individualism. There’s much to be said for hard work and personal initiative, and those ideals are part of what made America great. But we’ve too often singled them out to the exclusion of other ideals, which have also contributed to America’s greatness and promise to make us greater. And by singling them out so strongly, we’ve allowed them to too easily warp into selfishness and cold-heartedness.
Indeed, the vision of human solidarity we heard from the Pope last night is almost the opposite of what we’re hearing in much of today’s political rhetoric. If I were one of those who have gone out of their way in recent months to see who can be toughest on border control and illegal immigration, for example, I’d feel chastened and embarrassed this morning. If I likewise were among those who have gone out of their way to defend the work of Planned Parenthood, I’d feel the same.
That virtual audience is well worth watching almost prayerfully, listening to the struggles and the brokenness of the people who make up our Church, our humanity, and soaking in the responses that the Pope offers. If we all did that, we’d become a better Church and a better nation.