The Pope to Americans: “We are created for friendship in society”

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.

To my thousands of O’Hare Airport friends

ORD 5.13.14I want to offer a word of congratulations, respect, and gratitude to the mass of humanity with whom I shared space yesterday at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport.

What turned out to be a minor problem at a radar facility located in a Chicago suburb closed down both O’Hare and Midway Airports for a few hours yesterday. A “ground stop” is what they called it. No flights going in or out for several hours (incoming flights were diverted to other cities). At one of the biggest, busiest airports on the planet, a few hours of that sort of thing causes a hell of a traffic snarl, not only there but around the country.

Anyway, that all started around noon. As it happened, I had landed at O’Hare at around 11:30 am for a layover, expecting to get on a connecting flight home to Minnesota about 90 minutes later. That flight was cancelled, of course, and I was unable to get on another until about 10 pm. (I was lucky. Some folks ended up staying overnight at the airport.)

Especially once flights started coming in with people who all needed new connecting flights, O’Hare was a crowded, teeming mass of tired and inconvenienced people throughout the afternoon and evening hours. You can see a photo I took with my phone around suppertime up there on the right.

And I want to tell you: man, was I impressed with how everyone handled it. I can say that throughout the 11 long and taxing hours I was at O’Hare, I saw only one airline employee snap at a customer and, on another occasion, only one customer get cranky with an airline employee. But that was it. I was among literally thousands of people crammed into that space for those long hours, none of them particularly wanting to be there like that. But with the two small exceptions I mentioned, everyone was kind, respectful, and, more often than not, cheerful.

I saw people offering seats to one another when there were absolutely no free seats to be found in that terminal. I saw people sharing cell phones with those around them whose own phones had dead batteries. I saw people who were standing in very long customer services lines, waiting to reschedule cancelled flights, chatting and sharing food and passing around airline phone numbers to each other so others could call from cell phones rather than stand in line. I overheard two middle aged women, who I’m almost sure did not know each other, joking that maybe they could make a stop at a bar together, have a few drinks, and then find someplace in the airport to get tattoos together. I saw one woman pass another woman going in the opposite direction and shout out, “Hey, I love your hair!” (which clearly delighted the recipient of the comment). I heard a crowd of people gathered in one of the airport bars loudly cheering a basketball game together.

Around 9 pm, I saw one guy approach a gate from which a plane had just left, realizing he had missed his flight because – and I know this because he began to get irate and let everyone in the area know why he had missed it – because he’d been misinformed about the departure time from one of the airline agents. Just as he was really getting going with some loud expletives, a stranger came up to him with a smile and began commiserating and looking over the now-useless boarding ticket. I swear, after a minute, the stranger’s hand was on the guy’s shoulder, and a few minutes later they were laughing together. A few minutes after that – again, I swear this is true – I watched the guy who’d missed his flight walk away from there talking to his wife with a smile on his face.

Oh, and here’s one of my favorites: I saw a crowd of people waiting in a very, very long airline customer service line sing “Happy Birthday” to one of the people in line with them.

For what it’s worth, I’m also happy to mention that I was flying United Airlines this time, and their employees were — both at the airport and on phone as I tried to make new arrangements to get home — nothing but patient, cheerful, helpful, and quick to try to get things back on track. In the midst of what must have been an onslaught of customers wanting new flight arrangements, I was able to talk to a human being within three minutes of dialing their customer service number and had a new flight scheduled within another five minutes.

And so, humanity, or the portion of it who found themselves stuck with me at O’Hare yesterday, here’s to you. I was impressed yesterday. You did good!

Follow-up: More on Mass at the border

Nice collection of photos from the Archdiocese of Boston. More from Al Jazeera

Interesting: The USCCB worked in advance with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency to ensure that Holy Communion could be distributed through the border fence during Mass.

Fox News helpfully offers Arizona state Senator (Republican) Al Melvin’s take on the event: “Frankly, and I am a Catholic, I think this is irresponsible of these bishops to be down there,” Melvin said. “They are not bringing stability to the border.  They are adding to the chaos of the border. And it’s not helping to save lives. If anything, I believe it will contribute to more lives being lost. We need to secure the border to protect lives.”

Philip Lawler’s Catholic World News (at, in an article five paragraphs long, spends one paragraph repeating Melvin’s observations.

Arizona Republic columnist rightly observes of the bishops’ visit to the border: “If you’re them, that’s where you should be.”

A must-read for background: Ananda Rose Robinson’s 2009 Commonweal article “Borderline: Stranded in Nogales.”

Mass on the Border

A dramatic event today at Nogales, Arizona, on the U.S./Mexico border — what has been called “America’s Lampedusa.” Here’s how the USCCB described it in advance:

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Migration, joined by bishops on the border, will travel to Nogales, Arizona, March 30-April 1, 2014, to tour the U.S.-Mexico border and celebrate Mass on behalf of the close to 6,000 migrants who have died in the U.S. desert since 1998.

The Mass will be celebrated at 9 a.m. on April 1, followed by a press conference at 10:30 a.m.

The following U.S. bishops plan to travel to Nogales for the April 1 Mass:

His Eminence Sean Cardinal O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston

Most Reverend Eusebio Elizondo, Auxiliary Bishop of Seattle and Chairman, USCCB Committee on Migration

Most Reverend Gerald F. Kicanas, Bishop of Tucson

Most Reverend John C. Wester, Bishop of Salt Lake City

Most Reverend Mark Seitz, Bishop of El Paso

Most Reverend Oscar Cantu, Bishop of Las Cruces, NM

Most Reverend Ricardo Ramirez, Bishop Emeritus of Las Cruces, NM

Most Reverend Luis Zarama, Auxiliary Bishop of Atlanta

Whispers in the Loggia has the video and the full text of Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s homily. A snippet from that homily:

The hard work and sacrifices of so many immigrant peoples is the secret of the success of this country. Despite the xenophobic ranting of a segment of the population, our immigrant population contributes mightily to the economy and well being of the United States.

Here in the desert of Arizona, we come to mourn the countless immigrants who risk their lives at the hands of the coyotes and the forces of nature to come to the United States. Every year 400 bodies are found here at the border, bodies of men, women and children seeking to enter the United States. Those are only the bodies that are found. As the border crossings become more difficult, people take greater risks and more are perishing.

Last year about 25,000 children, mostly from Central America, arrived in the US, unaccompanied by an adult. Tens of thousands of families are separated in the midst of migration patterns. More than 10 million undocumented immigrants are exposed to exploitation and lack access to basic human services, and are living in constant fear. They contribute to our economy by their hard work, often by contributing billions of dollars each year to the social security fund and to Medicare programs that will never benefit them.

The U.S. bishops should be applauded and thanked for this courageous and dramatic effort to call attention to the dignity and the needs of some of the poorest among us and to continue and intensify their advocacy of immigration reform.