As U.S. presidential politics began to overshadow Pope Francis’ visit to Mexico last week, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz admirably attempted to pull the discussion away from politics toward the moral realm.
“I think it is so important to move a step away from the political fray, to go a little deeper and see the moral implications and the moral values,” he told reporters during a news conference Feb. 17.
The conference was focused on the El Paso, Texas, event “Two Nations, One Faith,” which occurred on the U.S. side of the border as Pope Francis celebrated Mass at fairgrounds a short distance away in Cuidad Juarez, Mexico.
Catholic News Service, which reported on the news conference, noted that though the papal visit was meant to be pastoral not pastoral, the trip was mentioned “many times” in the presidential campaign.
One reporter asked Archbishop Kurtz, “How can we avoid addressing those issues, especially when (a candidate) brings up that he (the pope) is very political and doesn’t understand what’s going on?”
The reporter was referring to candidate Donald Trump, who suggested the pope was being used as a pawn by Mexico.
In response, though, Archbishop Kurtz brought the discussion around once again to the moral and human dimension:
“Because something has political dimensions, it doesn’t mean that it does not also have moral dimensions and it is the moral dimension that the Holy Father” is addressing, he said.
The archbishop went on to tell reporters that people crossing the border are first and foremost human beings who must be treated with dignity, compassion and respect.
He did acknowledge that “moral things have political implications.” When it comes to the politics of immigration, he said he’d like to see“ ‘debate’ move to ‘dialogue.’ ”
“Dialogue says, ‘As I bring my convictions, let me test them with reality and make sure that I’m seeing the people with whom I’m in dialogue so that we can come up with lasting solutions.”
The archbishop suggests we try to see the people with whom we’re in dialogue. That’s something we often overlook — especially when debate occurs in digital forums, such as Facebook and Twitter, where debaters are far removed from their opponents.
Face to face discussions tend to be more civil, perhaps because we recognize the humanity of the other person there with us in the flesh.
Pope Francis’ prayer for the Year of Mercy mentions the word “face” three times, each referring to the face of God. The final allusion says, “let the Church be your visible face in the world.”
What face are we called to present to the world? One of acrimonious debate? Or one of dialogue and mercy?
Archbishop Kurtz is trying — perhaps in an uphill battle — to bring the immigration question back to a more civil realm, rooted in right and wrong, centered on the human person.
We should all try to follow his lead — on immigration and in politics in general — to replace heated debate with real dialogue; to replace vitriol with facts; to reclaim civility and let morality be our guide.