Sandro Magister Interviews Archbishop Designate of Philadelphia Charles J. Chaput
A: Europe is shaped, in part, by the Wars of Religion, as well as the legacy of the French Revolution, its anti-clericalism and its basic distrust of religion. That's a burden most Americans don't understand. The American Revolution was a different creature, and it took place in a deeply Protestant Christian environment. Many of the Founders were themselves Christians. John Courtney Murray once observed that even when Americans don't believe, it's a friendly kind of disinterest. The vivid hostility to religion you find in Europe is alien to America. Or at least it has been until recently.
Q: In comparison with Europe, the United States seems to me much more religious. Is it really so? Or the desert of incredulity also advances?
A: On the surface, that's true. Americans are generally much more inclined to religious faith than Europeans. And it's not just superficial. Many millions of Americans do take their faith seriously and do sincerely practice their Christianity. You really can't understand the United States outside its Christian-influenced roots.
But there's a pragmatism to the American character, an underside of materialism and acquisitivness, that works against the Gospel. So a lot of Americans have the habit of belief without understanding its implications and without letting their faith really shape their lives.
Q: How would you describe Catholicism in the US? What would be its distinctive characteristics?
A: It's always been an immigrant, minority faith. That accounts for both its vigor, and its over-eagerness to assimilate and fit in. American culture has a huge capacity to homogenize and digest newcomers. That's not all bad. America is fundamentally a nation of immigrants. But it can result in a population with bleached-out beliefs.
Q: The "new evangelization" is one of Pope Benedict's key programs. Is it valid also for the US? With what specific characteristics?
A: Denver is almost an icon for the "new evangelization." To his credit, my predecessor in Denver, Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, saw that very early. Denver is a deeply secular environment: educated, young, modern, independent-minded, with a history of weak religious roots. It's a new kind of mission territory, with many people who are either disinterested in religion, or who think they're "post-Christian" without ever really encountering the Gospel. America is generally trending in that direction. Evangelizing that environment will be the task of the next generation of believers.
Q: In the "courtyard of the gentiles" in the United States, are there nonbelievers with whom there is a fruitful, friendly dialogue? Could you mention any names?
A: I'm sure there are many such persons, but other bishops are far more experienced than I am in that kind of dialogue.
Q: Who are your "teachers" of reference, those who have influenced you the most?
A: Augustine and Francis. You can't do better than that.
I'm deeply grateful to Father Ronald Lawler, O.F.M. Cap., who taught me philosophy in college. He had a very big impact on my thinking. When I studied theology as a seminarian, I learned a great deal from Father Robert McCreary, O.F.M. Cap., who also made the same kind of significant impact on my life and my thinking.
In terms of Church leadership, as a young Capuchin priest, I had a great respect and reverence for Pope Paul VI, and still honor him as one of my heroes. And, of course, I'm deeply grateful to both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict for their extraordinary magisterium and apostolic energy.
Q: What impresses you the most in Pope Benedict's magisterium?
A: The consistent genius of his thought - I really don't know how he sustains it -- and the organic development of his life from peritus at Vatican II to his service now as Pope.
Q: And regarding his style for guiding the Church?
A: I'm coming from a little diocese a long way from Rome. I can't imagine the burdens carried by this or any other man in the Chair of Peter. I do know that Benedict XVI is a great pastor and a great disciple of Jesus Christ; a man who knows the meaning of suffering and who still radiates the joy of the Gospel. The right "style" for any priest is to live in persona Christi. And I think Benedict embodies what those words mean in a very moving way.
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Chiesa is a wonderful source on all things Catholic in Europe. It is skillfully edited by Sandro Magister. SANDRO MAGISTER was born on the feast of the Guardian Angels in 1943, in the town of Busto Arsizio in the archdiocese of Milan. The following day he was baptized into the Catholic Church. His wife’s name is Anna, and he has two daughters, Sara and Marta. He lives in Rome.
Keywords: Archbishop Charles Chaput, Philadelphia, Cardinal Rigali, Sandro Magister
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