By Mark Pattison
WASHINGTON (CNS) — Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory of Washington has enjoyed a long career in the U.S. Catholic hierarchy.
But that career isn’t so long that he could have voted on whether to approve the pastoral letter “The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response.” In its final form it was approved May 3, 1983.
Still a Chicago archdiocesan priest, he hadn’t been appointed a bishop yet. But on Oct. 31, 1983, he was named an auxiliary bishop of Chicago and his episcopal ordination was Dec. 13 of that year.
However, by 2003 he was not only a bishop, by then head of the Diocese of Belleville, Illinois, but also president of the U.S. bishops, serving a three-year term in a post he was elected to by his fellow bishops.
That year then-Bishop Gregory posed to U.S. Catholics a series of questions provoked by a reading of the “The Challenge of Peace.” This year, at Catholic News Service’s request, he answered some of those questions himself in light of the pastoral’s application to current events.
The first question was “How can we pursue the ‘peace on earth,’ based on ‘truth, justice, solidarity and liberty’ as envisioned by Blessed (now St.) Pope John XXIII, in a world marked by deep divisions, systemic injustice and violence, and underdeveloped international institutions?”
Cardinal Gregory took note of St. John XXIII’s encyclical “Pacem in Terris” (Peace on Earth”), issued in 1963, two months before he died.
The encyclical spoke of “what was going on in the world then. The two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, were going through the Cold War. And fortunately, the holy father, John XXIII, held up the importance of peacemaking and trying to find ways to allow these two superpowers to back away from brinkmanship. The situations are different, but the brinkmanship fears are still there,” Cardinal Gregory said.
“Today, we’ve got the war that’s going on in Ukraine and the Russian aggression, and the devastation that the Ukrainian people are experiencing. The names are different, but the challenge is still the same: how to help people engage in diplomacy rather than in violence.”
Another question Cardinal Gregory had posed in 2003 was “How can we reject the profane use of religion to justify violence and terrorism and instead, working with other churches and religions, reinforce the role of faith as a force for liberation and peace around the world?”
“That’s a critical task that we have. Religions at their best — and that 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 within those writings the value of peace,” Cardinal Gregory said.
“We know all too often that religions have been used, or the teaching of those religions have been used, to justify violence. It’s not the best use of the faith those religions profess. And it gives all religions a bad name — especially among the young, who may not have that depth of participation that maybe generations ago had. They come to the question of faith and religion from a different perspective. And when they see a different faith tradition being used to justify hate and violence, we all suffer,” he added.
“You and I have all seen and read comments that some in the public forum that say all religions are destructive of public freedom,” Cardinal Gregory said. “That’s simply not true. Our religions have great value in responding to 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 to violently attack people.”
The third question Cardinal Gregory took on from 2003 was “How will the world respond to global terrorist networks with the intent and capacity to attack innocent people and unleash massive destruction?”
“It seems to me that the intelligence communities that we have should be strengthened and should take a higher profile in the work of drawing people together and rejecting terrorist networks,” the cardinal replied.
“It means that we have to really empower, and then demand, that these world organizations fulfill their obligations toward humanity, and not be afraid to engage in negative publicity — which they will get — but they really have to step up to the plate,” he said.
“And I speak not only of organizations like the U.N., but monetary organizations, the international organizations that are engaged with global concerns like the environment. They, too, have to have a higher profile and a louder voice and more emphatic call to the nations of the world to set aside the destruction of innocent people, the destruction of the planet, the environment.”
The final question Cardinal Gregory tackled was — “How can we respond both to threats of terror and the roots of terror — denial of human rights and dignity, desperate poverty, hopelessness and hatred?”
“We have to see, we have to envision, what would humanity be like if these terroristic acts and the foundation of terror were ever to succeed and destroy the human community’s ability to talk to each other. What would a world be like that would be completely handed over to violence and to terrorism? Or the complete destruction of human dialogue?,” he answered.
“I think Pope Francis’ encyclical ‘Fratelli Tutti’ is an important vehicle proposing the work of dialogue and human interaction across human traditions,” Cardinal Gregory added. “We are all members of the body of humanity, and we have an important responsibility to strengthen the relationships that are so necessary for harmony among the peoples of the world and among nations.”