I am honored to be here to talk about these important issues of Catholic social teaching.
And I want to begin our conversation with a brief snapshot of our experience in Los Angeles.
As you know, we are the largest Catholic community in the country. We cover a territory about the size of New Jersey — we have about 5 million Catholics in an overall population of 11 million.
Our churches are filled with people who come from other nations. Every day we carry out our ministries in more than 40 languages.
Our Church is young and it is daily growing. Just to give you a sense: in Los Angeles we baptize about 60,000 infants every year. That is more than the total number of infant baptisms in Chicago and New York combined.
I tell people: if you want to see what the Church will look like in the future, you should come to Los Angeles.
But my friends, there is another side to LA, a more sobering set of statistics.
Every night in the Los Angeles area, we have 55,000 people who have no place to call home. They are sleeping on sidewalks and under bridges, in parking lots in their cars. There are “tent cities” now in many of our neighborhoods, even in the suburbs. The fastest growing category of homeless is children.
In the shadow of our Cathedral downtown, we have one of the world’s largest prisons. All told, we have about 20,000 men and women behind bars, the vast majority are black and Latino.
And just down the road from the Cathedral, in a neighborhood that is almost entirely Spanish-speaking, there are nine abortion clinics within a one-mile radius. Sadly, they are busy. More abortions are performed in Los Angeles than any city except New York — and most of the women targeted are poor and minorities.
Everywhere we see signs of the breakdown of marriage and the family. We have 30,000 kids in the LA foster care system.
Nearly 20 percent of the people in Los Angeles live below the poverty line. And every day it seems like the distance is growing between those who have what they need to lead a dignified life, and those who do not.
We see this in obvious and also not-so-obvious ways — like the high rates of pollution and groundwater contamination in our poorest communities.
Finally, there are more than 1 million undocumented immigrants in Los Angeles. And every day we deal with the realities of deportations. That means mothers and fathers being torn from their homes, from their children and loved ones.
So, that is a snapshot of Los Angeles “by the numbers.” And of course, for those of us in the Church, every one of these “numbers” represents a soul who has been made in the image of our Creator and redeemed by the sacrifice of God’s only Son.
The point I want to make is this: The issues we deal with in Los Angeles are unique only in scale. Every day in every city across the country, Catholic communities confront these same types of injustice and insults to human dignity.
The question we all face is this: where do we start in the face of so much human misery? How do we set priorities, what criteria are we going to use? How do we change our society so there is less suffering, less injustice?
We are living in a society where God no longer matters and the human person is on the verge of being forgotten too. The sense of our great dignity as children of God, the sense of God’s loving design for creation and the divine meaning of our lives — all of this is fading from the hearts and minds of this generation.
Friends, in this moment — as a Church, as Christians — we need to be united in the urgent mission of proclaiming and defending the mystery of the human person in our times.
This is the central task for Catholic social teaching today. Even more, it is a challenge for our whole project of the new evangelization.
This is a call to you and to me — to everyone in the Church. We need to be thinking in new ways about our identity and mission as Christians, as followers of Christ.
The Church exists to evangelize. Period. There is no other reason for the Church. We are not called to be social workers or advocates. We are called to be apostles and saints.
Our mission is to share the good news that Jesus has revealed to us — about who God is and how much he loves us; about who we are, and the way he has shown us to live.
In our work of evangelization, we need to be careful that our message does not get tangled up in politics or today’s fashionable ideas about happiness or “well-being.”
We are not here to provide solutions to problems in society. What we proclaim is true liberation — the pathway that leads to eternal life.
Blessed Oscar Romero was martyred for his defense of human rights and social justice. But when you read his homilies, it is striking how often he speaks out against abortion, artificial contraception, and divorce.
In fact, I was reading one his homilies the other day, and I want to share this thought with you. Blessed Romero said: “Matrimonial fidelity and the morality of preserving the life that begins in the womb of a woman are ancient themes, not new ones. And the Church must defend them even if it means losing applause and being attacked by the public.”
Friends, in our defense of the human person, we need to remember what Blessed Romero and all the saints know. If we want to promote the sanctity and dignity of the human person in our times, then we also must protect the sanctity and permanence of married love and promote the beauty of family life.
We also need to have a special care to defend the most vulnerable.
In the logic of God’s love, the weakest and most vulnerable in society must always be our priority in the Church. That is why abortion will always be the fundamental social injustice and priority in the Church — because it means the direct killing of the most defenseless members in the human family.
But like the saints, we cannot stop there. We need to fight for the human person. We need to defend the sanctity and dignity of the person everywhere and to work for his salvation.