Panel discussion on the ‘Francis Effect’ kicks off new Catholic initiative

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A panel discussion, held on Oct. 1, was the first event sponsored by the New Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life. Inspired by the election of Pope Francis I, the Initiative, as part of the Office of the President, is designed to educate this generation of Catholic leaders and promote the idea of Catholic social teaching in the modern world.

“The pursuit of justice, equality, and peace has a deep resonance within our community, here at Georgetown,” President John DeGioia said. “Our founder, John Carroll created for us the vision of an institution that would be both distinctly Catholic and distinctly American … A commitment to the common good, which lies at the heart of Catholic social teaching, entails a commitment … to bringing Catholic faith and modern life, especially the experience of freedom and diversity, into fruitful contact.”

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, said, “Pope Francis is offering a new notion of grace … His program is not a political one… but it is faith in action, the gospel at work.” He noted that Pope Francis offers passion for the poor and the vulnerable.

Mark Shields, a former Georgetown professor at the Graduate School of Public Policy, recognized the importance of the kinds of leaders needed in this 21st century. “[Pope Francis] answers the question that all of us have to answer,” Shields said. “Are you better off than you were, or are we better off? … Are the weak among us more secure, more comforted, and more valued? To me that is the message that we need desperately in this country and in this world.”

The panel recognized the different issues in the past month that call Catholic leaders to make a difference in the lives of the “voiceless and the vulnerable,” including a strong push for peace in Syria, placing an emphasis on the United States’ broken immigration system, ending the cuts on nutrition for the poor, and standing up for the unborn and their mothers.

Pope Francis, as the first Jesuit pope, already has invoked influence on Jesuits around the world and at Georgetown. “The commitment to the poor, which Francis repeatedly emphasizes, is not simply a Jesuit value, but a Christian priority,” Fr. Kevin O’Brien, vice president for mission and ministry, said. “His devotion to social justice as a mandate of the gospel is part of who he is, and by his example, Pope Francis calls all of us to care for the needs of the most vulnerable… [and] we must carefully consider our experience in order to figure out how God is calling us to live more faithfully, generously, and joyfully.”

With the start of the initiative, Carr plans to reach out to young people working in public policy. He aspires to remind them “their faith is an asset, not a burden … Their faith gives them tools and resources and ideas for their professional lives. Our tradition can bring people together on important issues across ideological, political, and religious lines.”

The next event by the initiative will take place on December 2nd to assess “Pope Francis and the Poor.” Carr ended the panel by asserting that “the silence in Washington on poverty is defining. Both parties are a part of it.”

Photo: Katherine Landau/Georgetown Voice

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