I hope I’m not all by myself in my deep concern about a number of troubling issues around the world. Of course, I acknowledge that Jesus consoled us “not to be afraid,” and “not to worry.” That I truly believe, while confessing I am still tempted to anxiety and apprehension, as I attempt to transform those less-than-favorable sentiments into trust, prayer, and concern.
Let me mention five areas—oh, there are sure more!—of concern right now.
One is Haiti. A deeply Christian, very Catholic country that, for over three centuries, can never seem to get a break. The wonderful presence of Haitians who are now a cherished part of our archdiocese—priests, sisters, families, people—ensures that worrisome news from their country-of-origin is always fresh on our minds.
Well do I recall visiting that tortured country only days after the catastrophic earthquake of January 2010. At that time, not only was I your archbishop, and thus able to bring much needed aid collected from you, our generous folks, but also was chairman of the board of Catholic Relief Services, which at that time had over two hundred workers devoted to relief and reform, already stationed there, even prior to the horrific earthquake. The work of the Church in Haiti was so effective that, when I met Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the Port-au-Prince Airport, as she was returning home after a visit of mercy, she commented to me that most of the crucial and admired work of rescue, relief, rebuilding, and reform was being done by the Church.
Well, beleaguered Haiti is crippled again by the recent assassination of its president. One thing we have learned from the setbacks of Haiti is that, after each crisis—earthquakes or assassinations—it is the poor who suffer most, rarely the rich, entrenched, or corrupt officials.
A second cause of my concern these days is our beloved Lebanon. My friendship with the Maronite Catholic Community here, shepherded so well by my brother, Bishop Gregory Mansur, makes this beautiful hospitable country a priority. The poverty rate there is at 60% of the people, this in a country historically acclaimed for its trade and prosperity. Violence and despair in Lebanon is especially discouraging, for it has long served as a sorely needed laboratory of cooperation among Christians and the Islamic community. Last Saturday was the feast of Saint Charbel, one of the patrons of Lebanon, and I offered a prayer at his popular ­­­­­Shrine in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.
A third cause of my concern is the proposal of the Democrats in Congress (before you e-mail, I assure you I have worries on other issues on the Republican side as well) to eliminate the historically acclaimed Hyde Amendment, and the Weldon Amendment. Please, please, don’t!
In the past, while trying to express my horror of the abortion-on-demand culture (I hope, in a measured manner), I have noted that the Democrats have gone from a belief that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare” to a posture that abortion is a social good, an unfettered right that can be performed anywhere, anytime, up to and including delivery, paid for by the tax revenue of every citizen, with health care workers coerced to perform it even if—as polls show to be the case—they abhor it and believe it violates their consciences.
When I have said or written that in the past, I have been accused of alarmist hyperbole.
Well, not anymore! Because this is precisely what will indeed happen when these two salutary amendments, long supported by both parties, are shredded.
Concern number four, our neighbor, Cuba.
Once again, we have the help of insights from our Cuban citizens who have long observed the situation there. Thus was I inspired by the recent statement of my brother Cuban-American bishops.
For decades, these pastors, joined by their brother bishops in Cuba who persevere in a very difficult situation, have urged the Marxist government to respect and foster human rights, to welcome full religious freedom, and to dialogue with critics. Our bishops in Cuba are hardly reactionary: they acknowledge the injustices of the regime overthrown in 1959, have longed to partner on reform and justice promised for over six decades, and have indicated an unflinching interest in dialogue. With the Holy See, they have urged that the infamous blockade by America of the island be abandoned, a position our own bishops’ conference, including me, has urged as well.
I myself was honored to travel to that beautiful, warmly hospitable island a year-and-a-half ago, at the invitation of my brother bishops there, and, yes, of the President of Cuba, Miguel Diaz Canel, who has also twice graciously visited me here in New York.
Thus is my hope strong that the Cuban government will avoid repression, a “crackdown,” or any violent reaction, and reach out to critics, to thoughtful protesters, to dissenters, to Church leaders, as all work together to reform an island and a people we honor as neighbors and fellow believers.
And five, dear Africa. Once again, the most welcome presence of Africans—people, priests, and sisters—here in the archdiocese keeps the suffering there before us. Of particular concern is vicious, overt persecution of Christians. Just last week I met with two brother bishops from Nigeria who briefed me on the atrocities.
The same can be said, they assured me, of Ethiopia, Sudan, Ghana, South Africa, and their other neighbors. Our priests who generously came here from Africa have asked if we could have a Mass of supplication for persecuted believers there, a touching event we are planning for September.
Join me, will you, in my “trust in Jesus” that these five fears and worries will be transformed into creative concern and conversion of heart. It won’t hurt, in our confidence in Jesus, to have as good company, His beloved Mother, who is honored in Haiti as “Our Mother of Perpetual Help,” in Cuba as “Our Lady of Charity,” in the pro-life cause as “Our Lady of Guadalupe,” and in Africa as “Our Lady Help of Christians.”