Pope Francis’ historic visit to the United States and Thursday’s address to Congress is already resonating across the world.
But what does it mean to Nevada, where 66 percent of the people claim to be Christians and 25 percent claim to be Catholic?
We had a panel of guests, some Catholic, some not, to talk about that.
What is it about the Pope’s message touches you – or seems different than popes in the past?
Tom Gorman: What impresses me about the pope, all along since he became our papal leader, is the tenderness and thoughtfulness of his message. He’s very non-judgmental. I think everybody is impressed by how he walks the walk and as a role model of how we all can live no matter what our faith values are.
The Pope touched on many issues directly, and some indirectly. In this comment, he addressed immigration, a hot-button issue for many years in the United States:
Pope Francis: “In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building their future. The people of this continent are not fearful of foreigners because most of us… were once foreigners.”
Is that the kind of message that will resonate with Congress, which is more divided over immigration than perhaps any other issue?
Kevin Raffterty: I think in certain sections of Congress it will. I think the message of the immigrant, the stranger, being treated with kindness and with mercy and with compassion is a very, very Catholic message. Throughout Catholic history, human beings and teachers and the popes have emphasized the fact that we are all strangers on this earth and that we need to be treated with the compassion.
Pope Francis also pushed for the complete abolition of the death penalty, while saying this, a reference to his staunch opposition against abortion:
Pope Francis: “The golden rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.”
Kevin Rafferty, any thoughts on that statement?
Rafferty: It is a very basic and standard Catholic response. We believe in the sanctity of life as Catholics from conception to death. We believe that the soul is infused in the body, in the person, at the moment of conception and that it needs to be respected. And that life needs to be respected all the way through all stages of life, which means the Catholic Church is essentially pro-life. The Catholic Church is against the death penalty because it doesn’t fit in with the idea that only God can determine.
Gorman: I think I’m guilty of being a cafeteria-plan Catholic. I essentially embrace the church. I love its roots. I love its fundamental correctness. I think there maybe a little bit of this and a little bit of that that I don’t embrace. I’m comfortable with that.
Pope Francis touched on global warming, too. Here’s his comment.
Pope Francis: I call for a courageous and reconcilable effort to redirect our steps and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. I’m convinced that we can make a difference. I’m sure.”
Did that sound like he was quibbling about the cause of global warming?
Stoldal: No. He basically said ‘caused by human activity.’ I don’t think that’s quibbling at all… He didn’t look for some code word when he was talking to Congress. He called on Congress to take some action and to be courageous and to deal with the human activity. Earlier this year, I was impressed with the quote from the pope: ‘the earth our home is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.’ That’s not code. That’s about as direct as you’re going to get.
Does the pope’s speech even matter—I mean, in terms of daily life?
Gorman : I think that the pope’s message, the weight of his moral authority, will more than linger. I think it will settle into the hearts and minds of all of our decision makers whether in Congress or our own little towns and school boards and everywhere else that decisions are made that should lead to the betterment of our society.
Kafferty: I think his words will resonate. I’m a teacher. I’ve been teaching for over 30 years. And the fervent hope of all teachers is that somehow, someday, somewhere the student will go “A-Ha!” The light bulb will turn on and they’ll finally realize the point you’ve been trying to emphasize with them and use it in their lives. The pope has multiple roles in the church. Father, shepherd, guide but most importantly teacher.
Stoldal: For me, as non-Catholic, I think this is a fundamental shift. He is certainly not changing church doctrine on abortion, or on same-sex marriage, but sort of. He’s saying: ‘who am I to judge on these sorts of things lets open up our arms. Let’s let the local priest or the bishop work on the counseling people who have had abortions. Don’t let that guilt set in for the rest of their lives.’ I think he’s sort of nudging things in a way that is important to the church and what’s important to the Catholic Church is important to all of us.
Bob Stoldal, contributing editor, KNPR's State of Nevada; Tom Gorman, editor, Las Vegas Sun; Kevin Rafferty, professor of anthropology, College of Southern Nevada.
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