Editorial: Mission vs. distraction

The beginning of July was a noisy — and at times messy — period for news out of the Vatican. Following the announcement June 29 of Cardinal George Pell’s leave of absence from the Vatican to face charges of abuse back home in Australia came the decision of Pope Francis on July 1 not to renew the five-year term of German Cardinal Gerhard Müller as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The latter move in particular sparked rounds of recriminations in the media between supporters and detractors of both Cardinal Müller and the pope.

Meanwhile, in the United States, the beginning of July saw thousands of Catholic leaders at the diocesan and parish level descend on Orlando, Florida, for the Convocation of Catholic Leaders, a USCCB-sponsored mega-event with the theme “The Joy of the Gospel in America.”

Similarly, Pope Francis turned his gaze to events outside of Rome, sending a message to the world leaders gathered July 7-8 in Hamburg, Germany, for the G20 summit. His message also highlighted themes from “The Joy of the Gospel” — that is, the programmatic letter Evangelii Gaudium, which Pope Francis issued in November 2013.

These themes included such wisdom as:

“The whole is greater than the part.” Pope Francis drove home the responsibility the G20 nations have to all people, in part by reminding them of the people who were not at the table. “Those states and individuals whose voice is weakest on the world political scene are precisely the ones who suffer most from the harmful effects of economic crises for which they bear little or no responsibility.”

“Unity prevails over conflict.” This value was particularly on display in Orlando, as organizers deliberately sought to bring together the “two wings” of the U.S. Church — broadly speaking, the pro-life and social-justice camps — in hopes that their combined witness and collaboration would help the Church take flight.

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“Realities are more important than ideas.” This was exemplified by another high-profile news story, the debate over the care of terminally ill 10-month-old Charlie Gard, whose parents were overruled by a European court in their quest to seek ongoing treatment outside the U.K. A Vatican statement in late June had articulated the tension in Church teaching around the need not to cause undue suffering in dying patients by subjecting them to extraordinary treatment, especially if it will likely ultimately prove futile. But on July 2, Pope Francis addressed the matter by expressing his closeness with the parents in their desire to accompany and care for their son till the end. The pope’s response resonated with anyone seeking to respond humanely to the painful reality of Charlie Gard’s story.

“Time is greater than space.” Pope Francis has cautioned Catholics and world leaders against the temptation to try to solve every problem definitively and answer every question now. “An effective solution, necessarily spread over time, will be possible only if the final objective of the process is clearly present in its planning,” he wrote to the G20 participants.

As believers, we all can take a hint from this and remember that the final objective is quite clear: the commission of Jesus to go and make disciples of all nations. No number of distractions, whether serious problems in the world or bitter infighting in the Church, ever absolves us from carrying on our mission to bring the joy of the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

Editorial Board: Greg Willits, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor-in-chief; Don Clemmer, managing editor