By Mark Pattison
WASHINGTON (CNS) — Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory of Washington has had a long career in the American Catholic hierarchy.
But this career is not so long that he could have voted on the approval of the pastoral letter “The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response”. In its final form, it was approved on May 3, 1983.
Still a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago, he had not yet been appointed bishop. But on October 31, 1983, he was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago, and his episcopal ordination took place on December 13 of the same year.
However, in 2003 he was not only bishop, then head of the Diocese of Belleville, Illinois, but also president of the United States bishops, serving a three-year term in a position to which he was elected by his fellow bishops.
That year, Bishop Gregory posed a series of questions to American Catholics prompted by a reading of “The Challenge of Peace.” This year, at the request of Catholic News Service, he himself answered some of these questions in light of the application of pastoral care to current events.
The first question was “How can we pursue ‘peace on earth’, based on ‘truth, justice, solidarity and freedom’ as envisaged by the blessed (now saint) Pope John XXIII, in a world marked by deep divisions, systemic injustice and violence, and underdeveloped international institutions?
Cardinal Gregory took note of Saint John XXIII’s encyclical “Pacem in Terris” (Peace on Earth), published in 1963, two months before his death.
The encyclical spoke of “what was then happening in the world. The two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, were going through the Cold War. And fortunately, the holy father, John XXIII, stressed the importance of peacemaking and tried to find ways to allow these two superpowers to move away from the tightrope. The situations are different, but the risk fears are still there,” Cardinal Gregory said.
“Today we have the war going on in Ukraine and the Russian aggression, and the devastation that the Ukrainian people are going through. The names are different, but the challenge is always the same: how to help people engage in diplomacy rather than violence.
Another question Cardinal Gregory posed in 2003 was, “How can we reject the secular use of religion to justify violence and terrorism and instead, working with other churches and religions, strengthen the role of faith as a force for liberation and peace in the world? ”
“It is an essential task that we have. Religions at their best – and this goes for our own religion, other Christian denominations, other religious traditions – at their best can be instruments of peace and reconciliation. The writings of the great religions of the world all have in these writings the value of peace,” Cardinal Gregory said.
“We know too often that religions have been used, or the teachings of these religions have been used, to justify violence. It is not the best use of faith that these religions profess. And that gives all religions a bad name – especially among young people, who may not have that depth of participation that maybe generations ago. They approach the question of faith and religion from a different angle. And when they see a different religious tradition being used to justify hatred and violence, we all suffer,” he added.
“You and I have all seen and read comments that some in the public forum say that all religions are destructive of public liberty,” Cardinal Gregory said. “That’s just not true. Our religions have great value in meeting the needs of humanity, social justice, charity. But unfortunately they can be used, and have been used, to separate and alienate people and sometimes even violently attack them.
The third question Cardinal Gregory posed from 2003 was, “How will the world respond to global terrorist networks with the intent and ability to attack innocent people and unleash mass destruction?”
“It seems to me that the intelligence communities that we have should be strengthened and should take a greater place in the work of bringing together and rejecting terrorist networks,” the cardinal replied.
“That means we really need to hold, and then demand, that these global organizations fulfill their obligations to humanity, and not be afraid to engage in negative publicity – which they will get – but they really need to step in, ” he said.
“And I’m not just talking about organizations like the UN, but monetary organizations, international organizations that deal with global concerns like the environment. They too must have a higher profile and a louder voice and a more emphatic appeal to the nations of the world to set aside the destruction of innocent people, the destruction of the planet, of the environment.
The final question Cardinal Gregory tackled was – “How can we address both the threats of terror and the roots of terror – the denial of human rights and dignity, poverty hopeless, despair and hatred?”
“We have to see, we have to envision, what humanity would look like if these terrorist acts and the foundation of terror were ever successful and destroyed the ability of the human community to talk to each other. What would a world completely given over to violence and terrorism be like? Or the complete destruction of human dialogue? he replied.
“I think Pope Francis’ encyclical ‘Fratelli Tutti’ is an important vehicle proposing the work of dialogue and human interaction through human traditions,” Cardinal Gregory added. “We are all members of the body of humanity, and we have an important responsibility to strengthen the relationships so necessary for harmony between the peoples of the world and between nations.”