An opportunity to unite as Catholics

Much has been written in the aftermath of this historic election, and it is hard to deny that most of what one reads is rife with anxiety. Throughout the season of this very contentious election the focus has been on the candidates and how they contributed to the discord. Now that the votes are counted there has been a close look at who voted for whom. It is said that this election was a referendum for the unheard. The silent majority of middle class, mostly white male voters came out in force for Trump. Their concerns about jobs and security were presumably not enough of a priority in the past 16 years of a gridlocked government. Anxieties over a stagnant economy, racial discord, the rising costs and problems with the Affordable Care Act all contributed to the choices made in this election. 

Unfortunately, the Alt-Right movement, with its agenda of racism and xenophobia, hitched a ride on this Trojan horse filled with the promise of secure borders, job creation and tax cuts. Yet Trump decisively won a majority among those who self-identify as Catholic by a margin of 52 to 45 percent, and Evangelical Christians overwhelmingly voted 81 to 16 percent in his favor. This may be more than a referendum against a government that cares more for party ideology than it does for the needs of the people. The silent majority that hid in the reeds away from the pollsters were people who want their religious beliefs to matter. 

Crux, the Catholic media outlet that strives to take the Catholic pulse offered this insight into the Catholic vote: “Out of sight of most media reports, religious concerns also seem to have played an important role in Trump’s win. Whether religious voters were embracing Trump or blocking Clinton, there seems to be a clear political message in the result, which is that people of faith cannot be ignored, disparaged or taken for granted.”

This is going to be a challenge for the Catholic Church going forward. In voting in a Trump presidency for the good of promoting a Pro-Life agenda on the Supreme Court or religious freedom in healthcare issues, they may have traded one evil for another. Those anxieties about jobs and healthcare costs can now be coupled with the palpable fear that is sweeping through immigrant communities throughout the country. People who have been traveling for decades on the confusing and expensive path to citizenship are living in fear that Trump will make good on his promise to send deportation squads to their door. This promise is not being dismissed as mere campaign hyperbole, for even the bishops are concerned about the virulence of Trump’s tirade against immigrants. Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, chairman of the USCCB committee on migration, asked for the protection of the family unit as the “cornerstone of society,” and asked that the new administration recognize the contributions of refugees and immigrants “to the overall prosperity and well-being of our nation.” 

The Catholic Church is far greater than a collection of disparate political parties, and there is hope that we are united by our core belief in love and respect for all people. The protection of life at all stages is a cornerstone of our Catholic identity. This takes many forms, as Pope Francis reminds us. “Serving and welcoming people fleeing violence and conflict in various regions of the world is part of our identity as Catholics. The Church will continue this life-saving tradition.” This is good news for the American Catholic Church, for we are much more united than what the election has revealed. The path of history is paved by the unintended consequences, and some believe that the Trump election will shape the Catholic Church into a united front. 

Crux columnist Austen Ivereigh notes that “the pope has continually framed immigration as a tragedy, a source of human suffering, which is not resolved by tightening borders but requires confronting on many different levels. The question cannot be, ‘How does a nation protect itself against the threat of outsiders?’ but ‘How do we reduce the suffering and death involved?” 

This is where the work must begin in our parishes. Communities most impacted by the fear-mongering of the campaign are preparing for the potential of a humanitarian crisis. Families are preparing packets and instructions for their legally-born family left behind in the event of a sudden round up of undocumented workers. Regardless of the make-up of our parish community, their crisis belongs to all of us. 

The closing of the Year of Mercy coincides with our national celebration of Thanksgiving. This is a great opportunity to stand united as Catholics and bring prophetic witness against injustice. Pope Francis said, “Mercy is the best antidote against fear” and that it “is much more effective than walls, than barbed-wire fences, than alarms and arms, and it is free. It is the gift of God.” 

Anchor columnist Claire McManus is the director of the Diocesan Office of Faith Formation. 

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