What a proud moment

President Obama’s welcoming remarks to Pope Francis on the occasion of the pontiff’s visit to the White House filled me anew with pride in my faith and my identity as a Catholic. The president called attention to facts about our faith that sometimes get lost in the miasma of political, social and economic issues that divide many of us who nevertheless share a love for the same God and the core tenets of His teachings.

The president said: “Holy Father, your visit not only allows us, in some small way, to reciprocate the extraordinary hospitality that you extended to me at the Vatican last year, it also reveals how much all Americans, from every background and every faith, value the role that the Catholic Church plays in strengthening America. From my time working in impoverished neighborhoods with the Catholic Church in Chicago, to my travels as president, I’ve seen firsthand how, every single day, Catholic communities, priests, nuns, laity are feeding the hungry, healing the sick, sheltering the homeless, educating our children, and fortifying the faith that sustains so many.” 

And what is true in America is true around the world. From the busy streets of Buenos Aires to the remote villages in Kenya, Catholic organizations serve the poor, minister to prisoners, build schools, build homes, and operate orphanages and hospitals. And just as the Church has stood with those struggling to break the chains of poverty, the Church so often has given voice and hope to those seeking to break the chains of violence and oppression. 

In the glorious week we shared with Pope Francis, we witnessed the whole spectrum of our faith. We saw beautiful and meaningful ritual; ceremony rich in symbolism that invites a depth of contemplation and consolation. Perhaps most of all, we heard again and again a radical insistence that we share a common dignity and a common responsibility for the least of our brothers and sisters.

The way the president framed his understanding and respect for the work of the Church, here and around the world, reminded me of the extraordinary impact we can have simply by living our faith. It is easy to get lost in stories of political intrigue or moral turpitude. His Holiness’ message was simple and direct. Love your God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself.

As I reflected on his visit I was reminded of the everyday examples, here in our diocese, of people living their faith in service to others. Every parish has stories of selfless parishioners who deliver meals to the elderly or provide rides to those without transportation. Our schools are filled with teachers and principals who give of themselves well beyond their contractual obligations. Meals for thousands, beds for hundreds, counseling services, a Spiritual direction in formal and informal settings. All of this and so much more, done in service to a universal brotherhood in the Lord.

Our Church is catholic and our Catholic Church is, as the president noted, active across the world in ministry to all of God’s people. I hope you share my pride in the spotlight Pope Francis’ visit put on our faith. The secular world and the media seemed mesmerized at times by the impact of the simple man of faith and the aura of quiet joy and happiness he exuded.

A priest I know was confronted recently about providing services to illegal aliens. My friend gently reminded his questioner by saying: “We don’t help only upstanding and deserving citizens. Our calling is to all God’s people. Not because they’re Catholic but because we are.”

That Spirit of service, the ethic to care for our brothers and sisters around the block and around the world was on display at the White House last week and is ever present throughout our diocese. Kinda’ makes you proud!

Anchor columnist James Campbell is director of the diocesan Development Office/Catholic Charities Appeal/Foundation to Advance Catholic Education.

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