There’s an old saying: “What a difference a day makes“. In the grand scheme of things, a “day” might be 24 hours, or perhaps a week, a month, a decade, a generation, or even an eon. Biblically speaking, who is to say how long a “day” needs to last for God’s six creative steps, recorded in the first chapter of Genesis? Time is an elusive illusion. A mortal encumbrance. However, once in a while the whole creative process aligns in such a way that we are allowed to glimpse a significant change, and appreciate Gods handiwork.
Yesterday was one of those days.
On Tuesday Feb. 23, 2010 at 10:00 in the morning Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah hosted a historic guest speaker. His Eminence Cardinal Francis E. George, archbishop of the Chicago Roman Catholic Diocese, and president of the American Conference of Catholic Bishops addressed a congregation of over 20 thousand students and guests [the majority Latter-day Saints] along with countless more through live radio and television broadcast. Cardinal George shared a message of gratitude, unity, and urgency entitled: “Catholics and Latter-day Saints: Partners in Defense of Religious Freedom“. Here is just some brief excerpts of his address:
I come before you today as a religious leader who shares with you a love for our country and also, for many, a growing concern about its moral health as a good society.
. . I’m personally grateful that after 180 years of living mostly apart from one another, Catholics and Latter-day Saints have begun to see each other as trustworthy partners in defense of shared moral principles.
. . .If we do not fight [for religious freedom] together. . . the difference is between winning and losing. . . If we try to fight separately, we will lose. The enemy is too strong, and our adversaries are too powerful. Despite [persecution], if we stay together and go forward, … if we simply continue to talk together, [it] will in the end bear much fruit. . .
When government fails to protect the consciences of its citizens, it falls to religious bodies, especially those formed by the gospel of Jesus Christ, to become the defenders of human freedoms.”
For Latter-day Saints that last is particularly gratifying, and duly noted. Cardinal George, as a key papal representative, offers public acknowledgement that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should be counted among the body of believers ”formed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ“. The significance is not lost. Cardinal George’s message solidifies the proferred bond of unity through acceptance of Mormons as fellow Christians. His speach expounds upon the “common ground” of Catholics and Latter-day Saints, in such diverse areas as humanitarian aid, civil and community service, family values, faith, love and patriotism – emphasizing the need for mutual support in all areas, with emphasis on securing and defending religious liberty.
There were several touching moments during this event which underscored the theme of unity and brotherly kindness. I would like to highlight just three:
1. The Prayer
A long-time professor at BYU who is also a catholic, Dr. Juliana Boerio-Goates was invited to give the invocation in keeping with the catholic tradition. Dr. Boerio-Goates approached the podium and gave a gracious explanation to the largely non-catholic audience, stating that:
Catholics have a tradition of praying together, reciting in unison a common prayer. This tradition reflects our theology that while we are known and loved individually, we are saved in community. And that, by praying in communion we raise a single united voice of prayer to our Father in Heaven.
Boerio-Goates then invited the audience to join in that tradition, by standing and reciting The Lords Prayer. In the video feed, cameras pull back and span the vast throng of students, and community members as they stand together and unite their voices. As the image circles back towards Prof. Boerio-Goates leading the prayer, one can see Cardinal George in the background, wiping his eyes. It’s a very sweet moment.
2. A Hymn of Praise
The video feed does not include the musical number which proceeded the BYU introduction, prayer and speech. However, courtesy reporter Joel Campbell at Mormon Times we learn that the opening musical number chosen for this historic gathering was “All Creatures of Our God and King“, a beloved Christian hymn, with words by the great Catholic, Saint Francis of Assisi.
3. Forging Bonds with Special Memories
As reported in The Catholic News Service, Cardinal George developed a personal appreciation for Mormons at a young age when his mother, an organist, took him to Salt Lake City to see the Mormon Tabernacle Choir perform. Many years later, he had a chance to interact with that musical organization in a unique way. In 2007 the Choir visited the Chicago area, and performed at the Ravinia Music Festival. As shared in an official tour article “On The Road in 2007: Chicago“, Cardinal George was invited as Archbishop of the Chicago Diocese to take the stand and conduct the choir in their encore number “This Land is Your Land“.
Yesterday, Cardinal George recounted his experience with the choir, delighting the crowd with his good sense of humor:
“Never had I been asked to do something like that. It was a tremendous feeling of awe and power and great satisfaction…I thought to myself, ‘I’m doing better with the Mormons than I am with the Catholics! I’ve had a lot harder time getting [the Catholics] to sing together.”
BYU freshman Katie Bates shared her sentiment with the Salt Lake Tribune that she felt “kind of like the Catholic Church was hugging the Mormon Church.”
A brief online search shows that Cardinal Francis George is a champion of love and unity of all religions, and he shares hugs [both literal and figurative] freely. It is reported that in Sept. 1999 George urged Catholics, Muslims, and Jews to work together to create a more civil world, stating that
“If we cannot talk civilly among ourselves with deep respect, then the world will remain the bloody place it has been in the century that has just passed.”
Indeed, perhaps what the world really needs is a few more Cardinal Georges! Yesterday, we got a glimpse of the true power of unity. Thousands of individuals combining their voices together in prayer, their minds together in purpose, and their hearts together in love and respect.
What a difference a day like that can make! - MoSop
Watch the entire address of Cardinal George online at http://byu.tv – [click the "Conferences and Addresses" tab, and then choose 2/23/2010 Forum His Eminence Cardinal Francis E. George].
Resources for this post:
- Deseret News “LDS, Catholics Must Defend Religious Freedom, Cardinal Says at BYU“
- Salt Lake Tribune “Cardinal Tells BYU: We must work together for Religious Liberty
- CNS “Cardinal: Catholics, Mormons Must Defend Religious Freedom Together“
- Mormon Times – “Cardinal Speech Set Tone for LDS, Catholics“
- Intermountain Catholic “Cardinal George Speaks About Religious
- MTC – Bonita Cross “On The Road in 2007: Chicago“
- LDS Church NewsRoom Choir Enjoying Successful Tour, 2007