WASHINGTON (September 8, 2004) — Belleville Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), participated in the forum, "Great Voices of Faith in a Time of Crisis," part of the 34th Annual Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Legislative Conference.
Bishop Gregory is the first bishop of African American descent to preside over the USCCB, and this was his first opportunity to address a forum sponsored by the CBC. The invitation to participate in the forum was extended by Representative Charles Rangel (D-NY) and Representative John Lewis (D-GA).
In his talk, Bishop Gregory said that he was "both happy and proud" to participate in the forum as "as an African American who found faith, fulfillment and ideals in Christ Jesus when I embraced Catholicism as a young man in Chicago."
Bishop Gregory stated that, "as a matter of faith, the Catholic Church is concerned for the good of every human person and teaches that every person's dignity is God-given and inalienable." He reminded his audience of the many issues on which the faith groups gathered for the forum had worked together "to make our nation's social policies more humane."
"In the wake of 9/11," Bishop Gregory said, "we in the religious community have a special obligation to unite in being bearers of hope in a society which is suddenly and deeply plagued by fear." He said that "it will be a defeat for our nation if a new atmosphere of fear and mistrust were to choke the oxygen out of the God-given concern that each of us must bear for one another, especially the underprivileged and the deprived; a commitment that we Catholics call `Christ's preferential love for the poor.'"
Bishop Gregory also noted the importance of fostering and strengthening the family as "one essential way to combat poverty – and many other social ills as well." He emphasized the need for "a special concern that we must have for the struggles that those single parents who head households must face each day in raising a generation of responsible, well-educated, and hopeful young people." In speaking of education, Bishop Gregory called on the United States to "support good education wherever it is found – whether private or public – as so many nations around the world already do."
Pointing out that the United States is a nation of immigrants, Bishop Gregory said that "it would be particularly tragic if the necessary security measures intended to screen out the few who would do us harm also result in excluding many who can and would otherwise have an opportunity to better their lives and make a real contribution to our society."
Saying that "every human being, from the moment of conception, when human life begins, to that of natural death, is a being endowed with unique rights by God himself," Bishop Gregory affirmed that "as with the poor, the immigrant, the sick or the prisoner, having no voice does not mean that the unborn have no place among us, no rights to be defended."
Bishop Gregory also stated that "as a nation whose leaders have declared a war on terrorism and which has been in two shooting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States needs to be deeply and immediately concerned about issues of war and peace, about the means and goals of war, and about the loss of life among both combatants and non-combatants."
With regard to Iraq specifically, he noted that "given the present reality," the Catholic bishops "have called upon our leaders not simply to abandon Iraq, but, with the collaboration of the wider world community, to help the Iraqi people build a stable, pluralistic, democratic, and prosperous Iraq."
Recalling the word of Pope Paul VI to the United Nations in 1965, "War never again," and the efforts for peace carried on Pope John Paul II, "the world's most tireless champion of peace with justice," Bishop Gregory urged that the search for peace "direct our every effort in our relations with one another."
The full text can be found on the USCCB Web site, http://www.usccb.org/bishops/gregorycbclc.shtml