Jorge Bergoglio ascended the throne of St. Peter five years ago. While this statement is accurate its imagery is incongruous. Far from being ‘above’ the rest of us this Jesuit – like the saint whose name he chose for his pontificate – immerses himself in the flock he shepherds. His would be a ministry of encounter. In a matter of months, the words ‘Francis factor’ were on the lips of Catholics and, more significantly, non-Catholics around the world.
At Georgetown University five years ago, the Francis factor inspired the ‘Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life’. As its website explains (www.catholicsocialthought.georgetown.edu) its purpose has been to promote dialogue on Catholic social thought and national and global issues, build bridges across political, religious, and ideological lines, and encourage a new generation of Catholic lay leaders to see their faith as an asset in pursuing the common good.
Few would dispute that our society is polarized. Perhaps it is not as perilous as it seems since many men and women of goodwill and common sense may be standing on the sidelines and not participating in the shouting. Even so, those citizens who are raising their voices are not engaged in fruitful dialogue and therefore not resolving the issues. Unfortunately, the nature of polarization is such that if not responsibly addressed it ineluctably deteriorates rendering reconciliation all the more improbable. This Georgetown Initiative is addressing it.
Since its launch five years ago and in response to the angry polarization paralyzing our society the Initiative has organized more than 40 gatherings drawing more than 16,000 leaders across political, ideological and ecclesial lines to dialogue civilly, to build bridges and to advance common principles. In this past year alone, the Initiative has assembled more than 3000 people in numerous gatherings to explore topics such as: “Faith and the Faithful in U.S. Politics”; “Overcoming Polarization Through Catholic Social Teaching”; “How Do Principles of Catholic Social Thought Bring Us Together?”; “Faith and Polarization”; and “Faith, Common Good, and Democracy in a Time of Pope Francis and President Trump”.
This past month, June, the Initiative hosted an unprecedented Convening: “Though Many, One: Overcoming Polarization Through Catholic Social Thought” which was attended by 100 emerging and established Catholic leaders. During three days of listening, learning, dialoguing and prayerful reflection these influential leaders explored how Catholic social teaching can help bring the Church together to advance the common good in our divided nation. The keynote speeches by Cardinals Wuerl and Cupich and Archbishop Gomez are available on-line. Anyone discouraged by the combative milieu which the Church and our nation find themselves will discover genuine solace and guiding hope in their remarks.
Be not dismayed. As we observe our nation’s 242nd year of self-rule the Kingdom advances.