EWLC Keynote: Priest sees hope for ending divisions
As his 10 years as chaplain to Congress ended in COVID times, Fr. Pat Conroy SJ recognized the particular difficulties of these times but noted that being in Washington, D.C., in the best of times is difficult.
As COVID struck, many legislative activities were left to the "real workers," the D.C. staff who take the calls and read letters while members are in their districts.
"My ministry turned to be one with this community of workers who are important to the work of government in providing for the common good," he said.
Turning to the people gathered Jan. 22 on Zoom for the Eastern Washington Legislative Conference, he said in a pre-recorded video that their responsibility as faithful citizens is to work to provide more hope, and to lessen and end the divisiveness in the political sphere.
"How do we engage in what Pope Francis considers "the holy work of politics and legislating," knowing politics is about providing for the common good?" he asked.
"There is plenty of division, anger, judgment in the battleground on the political scene. What we bring to the battleground is none of that," Fr. Pat said. "We are engaged in this work to bring hope, healing and reconciliation. If we engage in the political process with the hope of mobilizing for the future with more compassion and healing, we must address the divisiveness in our own hearts.
"Politicians are used to and expect argument. They live in a dynamic of winners and losers. We do not need to contribute to that," he said, hoping that those at the conference seeking the common good will engage with their minds at peace.
He advised that when they encounter political workers and politicians to see them not as an enemy but as children of God who, if they are properly motivated, are also working for the common good.
"Then there is hope of a positive future of saying goodbye to divisiveness," he said.
In COVID times when normal ways are set aside, Fr. Pat said it is particularly important for people of faith to bring hope and healing in the midst of brokenness.
He also urged them to work to free themselves from bringing their own demons, anger or hurt to engagement with politicians.
"That way we can converse with and convert others to a vision of the future that is more inclusive and can work with politicians to produce a healthy future," Fr. Pat said.
"At best, politics is about the common good. At worst, it can be divisive and lead to anger, frustration and negative energy that lead to more poverty, despair and hopelessness," he said. "If we take care of our personal business and ask the Divine to help us be an avatar of hope, a presenter of peace and reconciliation, we can encounter the best selves of politicians, so we engage them as public servants, not adversaries.
"As we encounter them as public servants, we can enter in hope for an effort to make politics a servant to the common good," he said.
"In the U.S. experience as a republic democracy, we can be a shining light to all God's children," Fr. Pat challenged.