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SPECIAL: Bishop Wuerl on Faithful Citizenship in 2004 Election (Part 1)

12/19/2003 - 6:00 AM PST

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Pittsburgh Prelate Outlines Importance of the Common Good

PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania, DEC. 18, 2003 (Zenit) - Pittsburgh Bishop Donald Wuerl wants Catholic voters to refocus on the vision of the common good in the presidential election next year.

That's why he and the other members of the U.S. bishops' conference released in October "Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility" -- a document that implores Catholics to take the demands of their faith and the needs of others seriously in 2004.

Bishop Wuerl shared the inspiration behind the prelates' appeal for Catholic voters to support public policy that will benefit all, seek a political party that fits the Catholic moral framework and get involved in politics. Part 2 of this interview will appear Friday.

Q: The bishops insist that "politics in this election year and beyond should be about an old idea with new power -- the common good." What is the "common good," exactly?

Bishop Wuerl: We speak of the common good as the recognition that we are not just individuals but part of a wider community. As such, our rights must be considered in relationship with the rights of everyone else. Our legitimate goals and desires must be realized in the context of the aspirations of others.

The common good is the result of balancing the basic rights and responsibilities of every person so that we may find a way to live together in interdependence, harmony and peace.

Our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, in his masterful encyclical letter "Sollicitudo Rei Socialis," celebrating the 20th anniversary of Pope Paul VI's encyclical "Populorum Progressio," on the development of peoples, wrote in section No. 38 that the common good to which we are called to commit ourselves is "the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all."

In his equally insightful encyclical "Centesimus Annus," on the 100th anniversary of Pope Leo XIII's "Rerum Novarum," on capital and labor, Pope John Paul II describes the common good as "not simply the sum total of particular interests; rather it involves an assessment and integration of those interests on the basis of a balanced hierarchy of values; ultimately, it demands a correct understanding of the dignity and the rights of the person."

In recent years, we have lost an important element of the vision of the common good and its ability to call us beyond ourselves. This is true in a great part of the world today, but unfortunately is all too evident in our own country. So much of our focus today as presented by politicians, judges, intellectuals, teachers, media commentators and opinion makers is solely on individual rights.

While it is important to recognize individual rights, we cannot do so at the expense of the balance that must be achieved between individual rights and the rights of everyone living together in community. If we think of the balance as a scale, then we need to weigh equally individual rights and the rights of the whole community.

We have traffic laws not because an individual does not have a right to drive from one point to the other as quickly as possible but because without some regulation of the rights of individuals there would be chaos, not to say catastrophe, on the highways. By common consensus we agree to stop when the light is red and to allow other traffic to move while the light is green.

We relinquish to some extent the exercise of an individual right so that the rights of all might be exercised in harmony and peace.

It is fair to describe the so-called American mind-set as arguably more individual than communal, more competitive than cooperative, and, generally, more self-focused than other-directed. We should not be surprised by this condition.

Several generations have had their views formed by an information and entertainment industry that has promoted and fostered the prominence of individual rights in music, television, movies and every form of electronic and print media.

If we were to examine our legal system, our court processes, our public education and in no small part our political processes, we would quickly realize that many vested interests, pressure groups and lobbyists have lost the focus and vision of the common good. Today too many see the world in a very limited perspective.

Responsible citizenship calls us to step beyond the immediacy of our own needs so that we can work together for the satisfaction of the needs of everyone in a manner that acknowledges the dignity of each person. Perhaps an example might help.

For many decades now we have lamented the condition of public education in too many parts of our country but particularly in the large urban centers. Yet so many of the parties who control the levers of ...

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