Engaging in faith-filled, civil public discourse

| Archbishop Bernard Hebda | September 10, 2020 | 0 Comments

Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in one of St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Community’s Tegeder Talks. As explained to me, the Tegeder Talks are held periodically to remember a former pastor of the parish, Father Michael Tegeder, by continuing his “legacy of encouraging adult conversations about vital topics.”

Back in February, not long after the Lutheran and Catholic bishops of Minnesota had published a joint message, Resettlement Policy: Create a Welcoming Society, Not More Barriers, for Refugees, the organizers of the Tegeder Talks invited Bishop Ann Svennungsen, the ELCA bishop of Minneapolis, and me to offer a joint presentation concerning what Lutherans and Catholics can do to create a welcoming society for migrants and refugees in Minnesota.

Archbishop Bernard Hebda

As initially envisioned, the event was to have been an in-person gathering at which participants would have first heard from a member of the local refugee community, who would have concretely articulated the experience of coming to the Twin Cities as a refugee. Thereafter, Bishop Svennungsen and I would each have had ample time for a presentation on the topic, followed by refreshments and discussion among those who had come for the event.

When we were hit by the global pandemic, St. Frances Cabrini pivoted to a virtual event. The format changed in an attempt to hold the attention of virtual participants. A very capable emcee gently and capably led Bishop Svennungsen and me through a discussion of three topics and then broke the 150 participants into more manageable groups for a discussion of what they had heard. We then came back together and attempted to answer some of the questions that had been raised by those attending the virtual event.

From my perspective, it was an engaging evening even in its virtual form. It seemed that there was an honest discussion of some complex issues, drawing on Lutheran and Catholic experience and social teaching. While there wasn’t time to address all of the questions that were raised by the virtual audience, the range of questions suggested that there had indeed been a thoughtful “adult conversation” about a “vital topic.”

Interestingly, the bulk of the comments that I have received subsequent to the evening have focused not on immigration but on ecumenism. Many have expressed surprise that the Lutheran and Catholic bishops of Minnesota have been meeting annually for more than 30 years and that the idea for the joint message on refugees last Christmas had been the fruit of one of those meetings. Even the organizers of the Tegeder Talks seemed intrigued when Bishop Svennungsen spoke to them about our joint Together in Hope pilgrimage to Rome in 2018, with an encounter with Pope Francis as one of the highlights.

While there are certainly issues today that could divide Lutheran and Catholic bishops (we hold different positions, for example, on ordination and marriage), there is far more that unites us. Lutherans and Catholics alike are part of the one Body of Christ, into which we are all incorporated through baptism. As Pope Francis reminded us in the course of his visit to Sweden to mark with the leadership of the Lutheran World Federation the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we together need to ask God’s help so that “we can be living members, abiding in him,” and “together we may bring his word to the world, which so greatly needs his tender love and mercy.”

The joint statement signed on that occasion states that “By drawing close in faith to Christ, by praying together, by listening to one another, by living Christ’s love in our relationships, we, Catholics and Lutherans, open ourselves to the power of the Triune God. Rooted in Christ and witnessing to him, we renew our determination to be faithful heralds of God’s boundless love for all humanity.” I am grateful that the Tegeder Talk gave me an opportunity to once again experience Bishop Svennungsen as a “faithful herald of God’s boundless love.”

In this contentious election year, I am wondering if we as a nation could not learn something from our sisters and brothers engaged in the painstaking work of ecumenism. More often than not, ecumenists build on commonality as they address the difficult issues that divide believers. In the political arena, it sadly seems more common to shout ad hominem attacks at those with whom we disagree than to look for any common ground and engage with them in “adult conversation” about the important things that divide us as a country. In the aftermath of the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, I’ve received comments from both sides, outraged that a Catholic cardinal would have prayed with Republicans and calling for the excommunication of a Catholic priest who delivered an invocation at the gathering of Democrats.

I am grateful that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, responding to the disappointing tone of the prevailing national discourse, launched a non-partisan initiative, Civilize It: Dignity beyond the Debate, to give voice to Americans’ desire for civility in public discourse. Information about that project, as well as other election resources, can be found at the website of the Minnesota Catholic Conference mncatholic.org/resources/election. Let’s do our part to promote the respectful, civil, “adult conversations” that are of such importance as we prepare for the election.

Participar en un discurso público civil y lleno de fe

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Category: Only Jesus