Interview: Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia
In September 2015, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia plays host to the World Gathering of Families, the Church’s international celebration of family life.
The previous gathering in 2012 saw over a million pilgrims from nearly 150 countries gather together with Pope Benedict in the Italian city of Milan. Media rumours suggest that Pope Francis will make his first trip to the United States as pontiff in order to visit the international event. Amid the speculation, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput OFM of Philadelphia gave the following exclusive interview to Faith Magazine.
Editor: So will Pope Francis visit the United States in September 2015?
Archbishop Chaput: Until the Holy See officially announces it, a visit is never certain. Typically that happens six months or so before an event. But we’re confident that Pope Francis will make every effort to attend.
Editor: If he does visit, what is his itinerary likely to be beyond his visit to Philadelphia?
Archbishop Chaput: Those issues are decided by the Holy See and the national bishops’ conference. The Church in Philadelphia would not automatically be involved in the discussion. But New York and Washington, D.C., are both quite close to Philadelphia geographically, so they could easily be considered.
“This Pope has an extraordinary ability to wake people up to the joy of the Gospel.”
Editor: As regards the World Meeting of Families, what message do you hope The Holy Father will deliver to those gathered in Philadelphia?
Archbishop Chaput: This Pope has an extraordinary ability to wake people up to the joy of the Gospel. The Christian way of love, marriage and family is beautiful and true, but too often persons become distracted by the burdens of daily life. They need to be reminded to look up to the light. Pope Francis has a genius for that.
Editor: What else will that week of events in Philadelphia consist of?
Archbishop Chaput: We’ll have talks and break-out sessions on every aspect of marriage and family life, ecumenical and interfaith encounters, rallies, lots of good food and entertainment and a huge festival of families. We want people to learn about their faith – but also to have a lot of joy, fun and fellowship in doing it. Philadelphia is a wonderful city for all those things.
Editor: To what extent is the issue of same-sex marriage likely to loom large over those events at the World Meeting of Families?
Archbishop Chaput: It’s a part of public debate in every country of the developed world. As I’ve said many times, all persons of good will are welcome at the World Meeting of Families. But obviously we believe that Catholic teaching about marriage, family, sexuality and human dignity, is true; and not only true, but liberating and fulfilling. So we’re enthusiastic about making that the heart of the 2015 event.
“Catholic teaching about marriage, family, sexuality and human dignity, is true; and not only true, but liberating and fulfilling.”
Editor: The case for a traditional understanding of marriage has faced several reversals in the courts and parliaments of the West in recent years. Is the battle lost?
Archbishop Chaput: Not at all. Tacitus thought Christianity was washed up in the First Century. We’re still here. The challenges we face today about the nature of marriage and family are serious. Many good people are confused by arguments for “marriage equality” that sound persuasive but lead in unintended and hurtful directions. But the hardest challenges always produce better Christians; people with the courage to actually live what they claim to believe. So in the long run, despite the cost, pressure on the Church only serves the mission of the Church.
Editor: So much for doom and gloom, where do you see signs of hope for family life as you survey our Western culture?
Archbishop Chaput: Millions of young people, alone and in the new ecclesial movements, believe in Jesus Christ and live their lives with a Christian zeal that I find astonishing. I’ve seen them. I’ve met many of them. You wouldn’t know it from the mass media, because a living, positive faith doesn’t fit into the media narrative. But we have plenty of reason for hope.
Editor: The first great Church gathering to discuss the family is, of course, the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican this October. What issues do you think will most exercise the minds of those gathered in Rome?
Archbishop Chaput: The overriding issue is pretty obvious: How can we do a better job teaching, enriching and defending Catholic married and family life?
Editor: One issue that’s particularly grabbed the headlines ahead of the Synod is whether Catholics who have re-married following a divorce should be permitted to receive Holy Communion. What’s your view?
Archbishop Chaput: I’m a strong believer in the wisdom of what the Church already teaches, and the prudence of the disciplines she already has in place. At the same time, we can always improve our preaching and teaching, and the marriage and family support systems we have in our parishes.
Editor: And what line of thinking do you think will emerge amongst the bishops?
Archbishop Chaput: We’ll have to wait and see. We need to trust the Holy Spirit’s role in all of these discussions.
Editor: The Synod will conclude with the canonisation of Pope Paul VI. If every canonisation carries a particular lesson for a particular age, what is the significance of this event?
Archbishop Chaput: Paul VI bore the confusion in the aftermath of Vatican II with heroic patience and grace. He’s too easily overlooked because his service fell between two giants: John XXIII and John Paul II. But it was Paul VI who guided the Church in her years of turmoil. It was Paul VI who issued the wonderful encyclicals Populorum Progressio and Humanae Vitae, and the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi. He was a great and holy man, obedient to his duties without complaint under very difficult circumstances. So I think his canonisation teaches two virtues: fidelity and courage. These are the necessary pillars of Catholic discipleship in our age.
“We American Catholics need your fellowship, zeal and strength, and you need ours.”
Editor: Interestingly the logo for the World Meeting of Families depicts not only the immediate nuclear family but also the extended family and, in particularly, grandparents. With people living longer than ever before, what role should Catholic grandparents attempt to play in their families?
Archbishop Chaput: Every grandparent I know loves the job. The work of a grandparent – except it’s not really work but a joy – is to listen, counsel, referee, encourage, console, play, share secrets, wisdom and praise, and pass along the memory of the family line. We need to remember that the “nuclear” family is a modern aberration. The extended family is the norm. We impoverish children if we separate them from the grandparents.
Editor: The World Meeting of Families is obviously a global event. What would you say to Catholic families from the British Isles in order to encourage them to attend?
Archbishop Chaput: We very much need each other, especially now. We American Catholics need your fellowship, zeal and strength, and you need ours. The Church is more fruitful, more filled with light and joy, when her children come together to give glory to God. Philadelphia is too beautiful a city not to share with the world – so please come to be with us, and let us prove to you that the friendship you’ll find is worth the journey.
For more information on the World Meeting of Families 2015 go to www.worldmeeting2015.org