NCR: In a few words, what is the significance of this visit?
Archbishop Sambi: The purpose is to go back to the roots of the church in the United States. We celebrate this year the 200th anniversary of the foundation of four very important dioceses: New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and what is now Louisville. We also mark the anniversary of the promotion of Baltimore as the first metropolitan archdiocese in the United States. To return to your roots means to go back to the sources of your identity, and by doing so, to find a path to the future.
There is another fundamental reason for the trip, which is found in the Gospel. One of the main duties of the Successor of Peter is to confirm his brothers and sisters in the faith.
A third important element is that the United States is a superpower, with a great influence on almost everything in the world. To be a real superpower, however, brute strength is not enough. Of course, great military, economic and political strength is very important. But you must also have solid and consistent values -- human, moral and spiritual values.
America has had many of these values, such as freedom, democracy, respect for human beings and fundamental human rights. Today, the United States exports many things around the world. What it could export more, however, are the great values that a superpower should have.
To interpret a bit - He is saying that the USA is a major player in the world and in the Church, but that many Catholics are not taking hold of being Catholic, but remain Catholic in name only. In other words, we need the revitalization of our Church (which has already started) to continue.
Have you personally shared some thoughts with the Holy Father about the trip?AKA - duh!
I'm not paid to sit here and do nothing!
How would you analyze the situation facing the Catholic church in the United States?
When you are a minority, as Catholics are in this culture, you need three strong principles. The first is a clear identity, a clear sense of what you are and what you want to be. As a minority, if you lack a clear identity, you're like a drop of wine in a glass of water … you'll disappear. The second thing is a strong sense of belonging. I would express it in this way: you need a community, and the community needs you. Whoever walks alone sooner or later will be lost in the desert. Third, when you are a minority, you need a deep commitment to excellence. You must excel in human qualities, in family qualities, in professional qualities, in the qualities of Christian life, in order to be a light for others. If you don't have a sense of excellence, you will be submerged by the majority.
When you have these three qualities -- a clear identity, a sense of belonging, and a sense of excellence -- then you're ready to collaborate with everybody, ready to engage yourself for a better humanity and a better future.
A great feel for the problems and the solutions.
Let's talk about the meeting with Catholic educators, including the presidents of Catholic colleges and universities. There's been some speculation that the pope is going to read educators the riot act on matters of Catholic identity.
Even in the Catholic church, nobody has the right to instrumentalize the visit of the pope to serve their personal interests!
You feel there's been some of that?
Yes, there has been. Look, for a great part of his life, the pope was an educator. Actually, as pope he's still an educator. It's simply normal, therefore, that the pope would address the educators of the United States. He will touch the problem of Catholic identity, of course, but this is absolutely normal. If you don't have a clear sense of identity in education, you don't produce happy people, you produce disoriented people. One of the main purposes of education is to show young people how to face life, how to find joy in life, not just momentary satisfaction that creates a sense of emptiness. These are deep truths that shouldn't be abused in internal church arguments.
You feel that speculation about the pope reprimanding educators has been stoked by people with axes to grind?
The problem is that there are too many people here who would like to be the pope …and who attribute to themselves a strong sense of their own infallibility!
Can I get an "Amen!"?
Some critics say that the American bishops weren't as forceful on the war as they might have been, in part because they were divided, in part because they were distracted by the sex abuse crisis. Do you think that's true?
No, the American bishops took a very clear position. They were not in favor of the war, but once it happened, they supported a "responsible transition" out of Iraq. We shouldn't leave the local population in an even worse situation.
That's the official position, but some say the bishops weren't effective in making the case.
They articulated that position very clearly. It's not the bishops who declared the war, and it's not the bishops who can conclude the war. They've done what it is the mission of the bishops to do.
At the end of the day, how will the Catholic church in the United States be different because of this trip?
I would say that the church in the United States should make more and more evident a spirit of service to the faithful in the name of Jesus Christ. My experience is that where you have a parish priest who is truly dedicated to the service of his parish, the sex scandals have not produced great damages. In dioceses where the bishop is a really good pastor, at the service of the Gospel and of the faithful, the sex scandal has not had a very bad impact. The way to move forward is through a deeper spirituality in serving God and serving others. This trip will be a strong push in that direction.
Archbishop Sambi, you just made me a fan. Thank you.