Social Ministry Day One: Honduran cardinal calls for 'a better world, not only a safer world'

by John L. Allen Jr.

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Washington, D.C.

The cardinal of one of the smallest and most impoverished nations in Central American tonight called upon American Catholics to form a sort of “spiritual GPS system” in the country’s politics, pointing the way toward “a better world, not only a safer world.”

Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras made the comments at the annual Catholic Ministry Gathering in Washington, D.C.

“The work of Catholic social ministry in this powerful nation has a big impact for the whole church,” Rodriguez said. “As a country, your decisions affect the world.”

Drawing extensively on Pope Benedict XVI’s recent encyclicals Deus Caritas Est and Spe Salvi, Rodriguez insisted that compassion and advocacy on behalf of the poor is an essential requirement of the faith.

“Standing with the poor,” Rodriguez said, citing Benedict, “is as essential to the church as proclaiming the gospel or celebrating the sacraments.”

Honduras is a point of both origin and transit for many immigrants to the United States, and Rodriguez appealed for a special compassion for immigrants.

“The fear of difference must not prevail in this open culture of yours,” he said.

Moreover, Rodriguez argued, the problem of immigration cannot be addressed in isolation from broader questions of economic development, since the primary spur driving many people to immigrate is poverty.

“Without development, we can build all the walls we want on all the borders of the world, and immigration will not be stopped,” he said.

Noting that 2007 was the 40th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s social encyclical Populorum Progressio, Rodriguez called upon Catholics to boldly deliver the core message of that document: “Development is the new name of peace.”

Rodriguez also delivered a strong pro-life message, citing Benedict XVI to the effect that abortion, euthanasia, cloning and embryonic stem cell research represent assaults on innocent human life which are “always morally wrong.”
tRodriguez praised Benedict’s insistence in Spe Salvi that the Christian message is not simply informative, but also performative – a word with special resonance, Rodriguez joked, in this era of athletes constantly chasing a “performance enhancing” edge.

“I love that word ‘performative,’” he said. “It means the faith does not just make things known, but it makes things happen. It’s life-changing.”

Pointing towards the 2008 elections in the United States, Rodriguez urged Americans to “work against cataracts,” meaning the “blindness” to issues of global justice sometimes created by special interests.

Sponsored by 18 different Catholic organizations, including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Social Ministry Gathering brings together diocesan and parish-level leaders involved in charitable service and social advocacy. The session runs Feb. 24-27 in Washington, D.C.

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