Next month will mark the 50th anniversary of the publication of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, Populorum Progressio, which is subtitled “On the Development of Peoples.” George Weigel glibly — and falsely — dismissed it. (Probably something there he doesn’t want you to see?) On the other hand, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI both praised it in remarkably strong terms.
Liberating a Continent: John Paul II and the Fall of Communism is a new documentary, airing this month on PBS stations throughout the month of June. I’ve read and watched most of the important books and films that have told and retold this story over the years, because I love and admire Pope John Paul II. He formed and inspired my faith in Jesus Christ like few other people have done for me.
So I was curious to see this new telling, and I was pleased when Our Sunday Visitor asked me to review it.
Here’s a snippet:
[U]nlike many prominent tellings of this story, “Liberating a Continent” at least manages to hint at the crucial ways that Reagan’s vision and John Paul’s were not alike but were in fact at odds. Narrator Caviezel notes that the pope was gravely concerned about new threats to human dignity introduced into Poland by the arrival of Western culture and capitalism, including consumerism and, as one historian of Solidarity interviewed in the film puts it, “separating morality from the economy.” A former prime minister of Poland cites the pope’s warning that “once we discovered freedom, we could get completely lost in that freedom.”
Left mostly unsaid is that these latter threats did indeed materialize powerfully along with the Western-style capitalism Reagan was so intent on bringing to Eastern Europe. (Some would argue they are inseparable from it.) Unfortunately, vast numbers of the Catholic faithful who had chanted “We want God” in Victory Square in 1979 were also quick to welcome the consumerism and exaggerated notions of economic freedom that Reagan championed but that John Paul II warned sternly against. More explicit acknowledgement of this aspect of the story would have rendered this film more honest and more interesting and set it apart still further from similar efforts.
The full review is here.
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.
An interesting (though tangential) historical note: If the folks at the Vatican hoped to get people to notice the publication of Pope Benedict’s encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, on its release day that early summer of 2009, they could hardly have chosen a worse day. Dated June 29, 2009, the document was released to the public a little over a week later, on July 7. To put it mildly, the attention of most of the world was elsewhere that day, thanks to wall-to-wall cable news channel coverage of the funeral of Michael Jackson.
CiV is subtitled “On Integral Human Development in Charity and Truth.” It’s a social encyclical — that is, it is on some specific aspect of Catholic social teaching, following in a long line of remarkable modern encyclicals starting with the foundational Rerum Novarum, published by Pope Leo XIII in 1891. Like so many modern social encyclicals before it, CiV pushes Catholic social teaching a few steps forward and applies it anew to an ever developing social landscape.
CiV was intended to mark the fortieth anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s landmark 1967 encyclical on human development, Populorum Progressio. This is itself noteworthy, since almost every social encyclical prior to that was published on an anniversary of Rerum Novarum; for tradition-minded Benedict, the departure was certainly a deliberate choice. Why make it?
Populorum Progressio was a careful exploration of the interconnections between Christian ethics and the economic life of nations. At a time when economic development of poor nations was rising on the priorities of policy-makers around the world, Pope Paul insisted that authentic development is not just about providing money where there is not enough; it must respect and develop the humanity and the dignity of all involved. Paul wrote, “There can be no progress toward complete development of man without the simultaneous development of all humanity in the spirit of solidarity” (n. 45). And that solidarity must be practical. Paul insisted that rich nations must be concerned about poor nations, and express this concern in concrete ways, such as aid, fairer trade relations, and making sure that no people is left behind as development advances.
It’s worth noting that Populorum was greeted (and continues to be regarded) with profound disappointment by Catholics (and others) whose politics were conservative in nature. This is not surprising, since Paul takes direct aim at many basic principles of economic liberalism (which is called “conservatism” is the U.S. today). He said free trade and the laws of the market are not adequate guides in international trade relations; these relations are subject to the principles of social justice. He condemned any economic theory that “considers profit as the key motive for economic progress, competition as the supreme law of economics, and private ownership of the means of production as an absolute right that has no limits and carries no corresponding social obligation” (n. 26).
Not surprisingly, then, the Wall Street Journal called the encyclical “warmed-over Marxism.” Years later, the neo-conservative Michael Novak wrote that it was naive, lacking in humility, and overly emotional.
Pope John Paul II clearly disagreed. In 1987, he took the novel step of marking the twentieth anniversary of Populorum’s publication with a social encyclical of his own, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis. By commemorating Populorum in the way that other popes (including himself, with the 1981’s Laborem Exercens) had commemorated Rerum Novarium, JP2 automatically gave Paul’s encyclical greater prominence and significance in the landscape of Catholic social tradition. (Sollicitudo, for its part, was also rejected by conservatives. William Buckley said it was “heart-tearingly misbegotten.” And the New Republic accused John Paul of making himself “an apostle of moral equivalence.”)
With the publication of CiV, Pope Benedict XVI repeated his predecessor’s commemoration of Populorum. Indeed, Benedict wrote in it that Paul’s encyclical is “the Rerum Novarum of the present age” (n. 8). It’s a strong statement of support for the contents of Paul VI’s encyclical.
As an anniversary marker, though, CiV was late. But some initial delays in its preparation soon seemed downright providential, since they provided the Pope the opportunity to delay it even further with the onset of the global recession in 2008, in order that this new social encyclical could do what many of its predecessors have done so well: apply Catholic social teaching to the developing circumstances of its day.
The result is what theologian Donal Dorr has called “a remarkably insightful and comprehensive presentation of the Christian and Catholic approach to economic activity, to business, and to social justice at the national and international levels.” Indeed, Dorr contends that CiV provides “a richer and more satisfying theology of human development and of social justice” than the earlier encyclical it commemorates.
[Part 3 of this little series on Caritas in Veritate will come in a couple of days.]
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!
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 CatholicCulture.org), 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.”
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.