October 21, 2004
In 1751, Pennsylvania ordered a bell for its new State House. The order
directed that the new bell should have a biblical quotation in large letters. The quotation was verse 10 of chapter 25 of Leviticus “Proclaim liberty throughout the land, and unto all the inhabitants thereof." That bell has long since outlived its usefulness as a bell. It is now old and cracked. Yet we still preserve it among the cherished treasures of our land. The Liberty Bell. It reminds us of the beginning of something good and exciting—the moment our country was born in idealism and hope. This great nation was conceived to proclaim liberty to all. We remain a land that prides itself on freedom, the freedom of every person for life and the pursuit of happiness.
History shows that freedom is a fragile gift. It allows us to choose both good and bad. In 1940, teachers identified the top problems in America's schools as: talking out of turn, chewing gum, making noise and running in the hall. In 1990, teachers listed drugs, alcohol, pregnancy, suicide, rape and assault as the most frequent problems in our public schools. In 1960, almost every one in this country held that religion was a positive influence in American life and that it should be encouraged. Children routinely began the school day with a simple prayer. And national television aired ads for families to attend church together on Sunday. Today individuals armed with secularism attack any public display of religion, whether a prayer at a high school commencement or a nativity scene in a public place at Christmas.
During the Holocaust, Hitler mercilessly murdered millions of Jews. And countless non-Jews, too. This leader used his freedom not only to kill people, but even to change a culture. Those declared insane for more than five years and those deformed were to be killed. The gays and the gypsies were also to be eliminated. He made no room for the elderly. In fact, he had a movie made to show to children with the purpose of convincing them it was good and humane to put the older people out of their suffering.
Long ago, we would never have imagined any of these crimes being committed or condoned by our culture. Culture is that common style of life, which characterizes a people. Culture embraces all those learned behaviors common to a given human group of people or society. Culture is the sum-total of values which inspire a people. It comes to expression in the language and customs, the literature and the arts, and the relationships and structures of social life. Five hundred years ago, Columbus landed on the Island of El Salvador, planted a cross on American soil and opened the New World to a common Christian identity. From the very beginning, people of this country embraced Christian values and developed a culture that was Christian.
But American culture has changed. Basic human values contained in the entire Christian tradition are now routinely attacked in the media and cast aside in the courts. Some states have had bills introduced into their legislatures which would allow deformed babies to be put to death. Dr. Kevorkian’s so-called mercy killings have significant popular support. An abortion happens in America every three minutes with the blessing of the Supreme Court. Close to 94% of these abortions occurred because the child would be a financial burden or an interference with the parents' life style. This past February, in one day officials in San Francisco presided over 87 marriages for same-sex couples. America can lose its Christian culture. It can abandon the wealth of this spiritual heritage as it continues to move away from its Christian values.
And it is to this country that so many people from Latin America are now coming in the hopes of finding employment and making a better life. Over the past 30 years, the Latino population has grown and continues to grow. By 2006, Latinos will make up the largest minority in this country. More than 90% of the Spanish-speaking world is Catholic. The practice of the faith and the values of the gospel are woven into Latino culture. What a blessing this is to our country at this particular point in history.
Latinos come with a respect for family. So many individuals sacrifice their comfort and come alone to better the life of their families back home. The community has priority over the individual. What a difference from our American culture which is so ruggedly individualistic. Young and old from so many different countries in Central and South America crowd our streets with public devotion. They honor Jesus and his Mother and their patron saints. Even the media cannot ignore the moving processions at Holy Week.
The faith is deep within the Latino heart, deep within the family and so much a part of the culture they bring with them. Many migrants must go from place to place looking for better work. Yet, they remain grounded in their commitment to Jesus as Savior and their fidelity to the Church as their home. The heart of Latino culture beats with the Catholic faith and makes the Latino culture a gift to all of us. It is a gift that is enriching this country as it recalls us to our common Christian values -- the true basis for freedom and justice for all.