BALTIMORE, MD. (CNA/EWTN News) - After the recent presidential election, the new president of the U.S. Bishops is adamant about standing with all vulnerable persons, including the unborn and immigrants.
"I would want our work as shepherds and leaders to bring Catholics together to recognize the beauty of the human person, even if someone disagrees with you," Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston-Galveston, the new president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said on Tuesday.
"From our point of view, we certainly respect the government," he noted of the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump. However, "we also have a shepherd's heart," he added, insisting that the Church will continue to serve the hungry and thirsty and welcome the stranger.
Cardinal DiNardo spoke at a press conference at the fall general assembly of the U.S. bishops in Baltimore, Md. As the vice president of the bishops conference, he had been elected president earlier on Tuesday. Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles was elected vice president.
A major underlying theme of the meeting was the recent presidential election, with concerns expressed about the polarization and divisive rhetoric, particularly toward minorities and immigrants.
When asked about dealing with negativity towards minorities, the cardinal stated that the Church would continue defending the vulnerable.
He insisted upon "our capacity to look at the human person and to always raise the issue of how can we most respect the human person who's in our midst, whether he or she is documented or undocumented."
Concern for the human person is shown in many issues, he said, noting that "the beginnings and ends of life are extremely crucial" but other issues like torture, the treatment of refugees, and the treatment of civilians in wartime "are all important, crucial issues."
"I think the current situation both invites some hope that there could be a share of perspectives on the common good," he noted, and added "we are always going to champion those who are voiceless...but we always want to do it respectfully."
He pointed to the mass of the previous day, where after the first day of the general assembly, bishops boarded buses for a trip across town to West Baltimore. There they concelebrated mass at St. Peter Claver parish, the oldest African-American congregation in the city and a part of the community where riots happened last April over the death of Freddie Gray.
At the mass that focused on continuing racial reconciliation, Cardinal DiNardo noted that "we came to pray" and "we came to also proclaim the importance of the human person."
It is these two actions that are "extremely important in these at times divisive issues," he said.
Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, the newly-elected vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and former chair of the bishops' migration committee, agreed that prayer and advocating for human dignity must be top priorities for the bishops.
Latinos living in U.S. churches and communities is an "important aspect to keep in mind," he insisted.
When asked how the bishops conference would dialogue with the Trump administration on pro-life and religious freedom issues, Cardinal DiNardo admitted he didn't know with certainty what the policies of the Trump administration would be.
"At this point, I'm not sure where the administration is coming from," he said, adding that "they haven't quite yet made known" their specific policies on these issues aside from statements made during the 2016 campaign.
The cardinal expressed hope that with the new Trump administration issues would be discussed like the HHS birth control mandate and the religious freedom of groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor, and an extension of the Hyde Amendment which would continue to prohibit federal dollars from funding abortions.
"Pro-life issues are very dear to me. I used to be the chair of the pro-life committee at the bishops' conference," Cardinal DiNardo said.
Archbishop Gomez said that promoting a "culture of life" is one of the priorities of the bishops' 2017-20 strategic plan, and it will be seen as a priority.
Educating Catholics to be good citizens must also be a priority, he said. "We Catholics need to know the faith better," he said. "That way, we can make good decisions in how we act in public life."