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Commentary

Attending to More Than Material Needs

Catholicism: Protests of L.A.'s new cathedral ignore spiritual needs of the poor.

October 19, 1998|ROGER MAHONY | Cardinal Roger Mahony is archbishop of Los Angeles

As the Catholic community has planned for the new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, we have had the support and encouragement of many Catholics and non-Catholics alike who look forward to that day when Los Angeles, like all the other great cities of the Western world, will have a significant cathedral reflecting our people's spiritual aspirations and loftiest values.

It is truly unfortunate, then, that the few who oppose the cathedral, such as the members of the Los Angeles Catholic Worker, resort to misrepresentation of the facts and confrontational tactics to impose their myopic vision of the church's mission.

Founded by the late social activist Dorothy Day, the Catholic Worker ministers to the poor and homeless in cities across the nation. In Los Angeles, the Worker community lives with the poor and feeds them through their soup kitchen. The archdiocese has been and will continue to be supportive of all the good things the Catholic Worker does in the name of Jesus Christ and his gospel.

But the Catholic Worker and others shortchange the poor when they adopt the stance that the church should be attentive only to the material concerns of the needy. This is out of step with church history and with the teaching of Jesus, who said that people do not live by bread alone.

There are various kinds of poverty, of which material poverty is but one. When the hunger for the spiritual and the aesthetic is unsatisfied, we can experience a poverty in our souls. Throughout the Christian era, believers have built churches and cathedrals as expressions of their love of God and as sacred oases where rich and poor can find refuge, beauty and inner peace.

Churches and cathedrals have been effective teaching tools for proclaiming and explaining the mysteries of the faith. In every age, the church uses art, including architecture, to satisfy spiritual hunger and the human longing for the beautiful. The church has done this without neglecting its obligation to feed the hungry, welcome the homeless, nurse the sick and educate the ignorant. In short, the church has kept faith with the poor.

We have believed for 20 centuries that the church, as the body of Christ, must do what Jesus did--preach, teach, heal, reconcile and sanctify. To accomplish this mission, we have built schools, hospitals, shelters, nurseries, homes for the aged, social service centers and, yes, cathedrals.

Contrary to what protesters say, ours is not an "either-or" situation. We do not face the false dichotomy of tending to the dispossessed or building a cathedral. Rather, our circumstances are "both-and," in which the Catholic community ministers to the materially poor and addresses the spiritual needs of all.

This holistic vision of the church's mission encompasses the ministry of the Catholic Worker movement as well as the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Los Angeles, on the brink of the Third Millennium, needs both.

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