On 'ad limina' trip, bishops talk about defense of traditional marriage
VATICAN CITY — A few hours before voters in North Carolina were to go to the polls to vote on a referendum defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman, Bishop Peter J. Jugis of Charlotte, N.C., prayed with his brother bishops for the courage always to defend the Gospel.
Bishop Jugis said May 8 that he and Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Raleigh had been criticized publicly for their support of the amendment to the state constitution and for their defense of "something so beautiful and foundational to society."
He said when he told another bishop about the criticism, "he encouraged me by saying, 'Wear it as a badge of honor.'"
Bishop Jugis was the principal celebrant and homilist at a morning Mass in St. Peter's Basilica with Bishop Burbidge and the bishops of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.
In his homily, Bishop Jugis said North Carolina was "the last state in the South" to consider a referendum on defining marriage.
While marriage between same-sex couples is already illegal in North Carolina, supporters of the amendment said it would add more protection for traditional marriage.
In Georgia, voters passed a similar referendum in 2004, and it was upheld by the Georgia Supreme Court in 2006.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta told Catholic News Service that the institution of marriage "predates the church and predates the state, and now people are saying it's up for grabs."
Young people today are growing up in a world "that easily jettisons things that have 'lost their relevancy'" and, he said, they don't realize there are some things that can never be rendered irrelevant or redefined according to current trends or people's whims.
"Marriage is by God's design, by human nature, the union of a man and a woman for the procreation of the human race and for the sanctification and augmentation of the partners. That doesn't pass out of vogue," he said.
The church needs to address this "cultural attack" more effectively with improved teaching and by listening to the reasons why people are more accepting of current trends against the institution of marriage, he said.
One of the problems is that people have equated tolerance toward others with a complete abandonment of moral principles, the archbishop said.
Catholics are called to be compassionate, understanding and tolerant, but not at the expense of proclaiming what is right and wrong.
"Tolerance does not always mean that one loses the capacity to make a judgment based on faith and human reason," he said.
"That type of excessive tolerance is destructive not just of marriage but, ultimately, of society itself," because people no longer follow the laws of nature that protect humanity and no longer recognize real aberrations in human behavior.
The problem of separation and divorce also needs pastoral support, he said.
"Sadly, human imperfection has always manifested itself and allowed for couples to go through great periods of a dysfunctional relationship and sometimes ultimately abandon the relationship," he said.
"I myself am the son of a single parent, so I know that there are good people that sometimes encounter just insurmountable obstacles to their union," he said.
One cannot pretend that there will not be painful or difficult moments in every marriage, but the church must help people maintain hope and belief in aiming for greater holiness.
"The issue is should we abandon even the hope of having good healthy unions," he asked.
At the bishops' morning Mass, Bishop Jugis spoke about criticism of the bishops' support for marriage, and he reminded his fellow bishops of how Blessed John Paul, citing the words of late Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski of Warsaw, Poland, said being a bishop often involves taking up Christ's cross.
"Taking up one's cross is not easy, even if it is made of gold and studded with jewels," Bishop Jugis said, quoting the late pope.
"All of us bishops have experienced the suffering of the cross," he said.
"We know the lines in the sand are drawn not only on this issue" of marriage, "but also on other issues: religious liberty and the defense of the right to life of the unborn," Bishop Jugis said.
Saying a bishop must be "a courageous witness," he led his fellow bishops in prayer for "the grace to never stop" preaching the truth and teaching the faith.
The Mass May 8 was planned for the altar over the tomb of Blessed John Paul II, but an African priest reached the altar first and already had begun his Mass when the U.S. bishops' procession arrived. The basilica's ushers were flustered, but after a few seconds' pause, the U.S. bishops turned left and proceeded to the altar over the tomb of Blessed John XXIII.
The prayers and Bishop Jugis' homily also were prepared for a celebration in memory of Blessed John Paul. Smiling broadly to the accompaniment of a bit of laughter from his fellow bishops, Bishop Jugis adapted his remarks to refer to both of the beatified popes as sources of inspiration for their ministry.
When they had finished the Mass, the U.S. bishops walked in procession back to the tomb of Blessed John Paul, knelt there in silent prayer for several minutes, then sang a Marian hymn.
— Cindy Wooden and Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service
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