Are young Catholics cynical about politics? Nope, Cardinal Dolan says

By Elise Harris

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Cardinal Timothy Dolan. Archdiocese of Boston via Flickr (CC BY ND 2.0).

With political discourse taking a turn for the nasty(er) as the U.S. presidential elections draw near, are youth disillusioned by the inflammatory, insulting remarks that have come to define this year's race?

“You hear two things among the young people that in one way would bother them and challenge them and discourage them,” Cardinal Dolan told journalists July 29, speaking from his own personal experience.

One of these things, he said, is “a sort of meanness, an incivility, an inability to lift people up instead of dragging them down that they discover in political discourse. Not only here, but throughout the world.”

The other, he noted, is the “legitimate understandable” fear that comes in the face of violence, terrorism and religious persecution.

However, the cardinal said that when speaks with youth, what he hears instead is that these two things “become diving boards to prayer. They become rocket launchers. They don't depress (youth),” but rather, youth say “we need to pray even harder.”

Cardinal Dolan spoke to journalists during a short media briefing after leading the July 29 morning session of catechesis for WYD and celebrating Mass for the thousands of young people who attended the session.

During the briefing, it was noted that while four years ago Cardinal Dolan had prayed for civility at both party conventions, this year, the political environment has clearly taken turn for the worst.

Instead of being civil, the rhetoric of this election cycle has largely involved personal attacks against the other candidate and derogatory remarks about certain races and nationalities. The year has also been plagued by an increase in terrorist attacks throughout the world, including in Western nations.

However, Cardinal Dolan said from what he’s seen, instead of becoming depressed or discouraged, youth are responding with prayer and action.

As an example, he cited the brutal July 26 murder of Fr. Jacques Hamel by sympathizers with the Islamic State in Rouen, France, which took place on the eve of the launch of WYD in Krakow.

Not only do the young people talk about it, “they cry about it. They didn’t know him, but they know about him and they say ‘what are we going to do?’” the cardinal said.

“That’s what our young people are saying. So what do you do? In the eyes of the world when you get problems, when you get discouraging and depressing things like…a meanness and a nastiness in politics.”

While a worldly response tempts us to be just as unkind, mean and vindictive in return, “our young people, they know this is not the way. They know there has to be something else.”

Cardinal Dolan then recalled hearing Archbishop Bashar Warda, who heads the Chaldean archdiocese of Erbil, Iraq, speak during one of the WYD sessions.

While it would be perfectly understandable for him to have “a nervous breakdown” given his current situation, Cardinal Dolan said that instead, Warda shared how in his nation “people are coming back to Christ.”

“They’ve exhausted all other options. Politics isn’t working, nations aren’t coming to their aid, weapons have only exacerbated things. Reprisals, vindictiveness, anger, division. It ain’t workin,” the cardinal said, explaining that according to Warda, Iraqi Christians “are saying wow, we need our faith more than ever.”

In July 29 comments to CNA, Cardinal Dolan said that he was moved “more than ever” by the testimony of a young Iraqi woman who spoke during the catechesis earlier that morning. She was born in a refugee camp in Turkey after her family was forced to leave their homes due to bombing in 1991.

While she and her family were eventually able to move to Detroit, several of her relatives still living in Iraq have been killed amid the country’s ongoing violence and political instability. Though it’s hard to forgive those who have murdered her relatives, she prays daily for ISIS’ conversion.

Her story, the cardinal said, was especially impactful given his recent trip to Erbil in April of this year.

He again noted how, according to Archbishop Warda, “it’s phenomenal” that Christianity in Iraq “is undergoing revival as it’s being persecuted. As it’s literally having it’s head cut off, it’s religion is being strengthened.”

Despite the fact that many of these people have lost their homes, lost children, or had to leave their parents behind because they couldn’t make the journey, they are still at Mass singing and building their homes and schools.

Recalling Warda’s words, Dolan said this is because the only thing the people have left “is their faith, and they’ve learned, ‘put not you trust in princes.’”

“You think they’re going to trust politicians, they’re going to trust weapons, they’re going to trust reprisal, they’re going to trust violence, they’re going to trust blood oaths?” he asked. “No, all of them have bombed miserably, so they’re saying what do we got?”

The answer, he said, is that “maybe we ought to start listening to the Gospel again, maybe we ought to take our faith seriously, so you see this revival there. It’s phenomenal.”

It’s this attitude he sees reflected in American Catholic youth in the run-up up to this year’s presidential election, though not on quite as drastic of a scale.

“You saw this young lady today, if anybody should have been cynical, sarcastic, depressed, despaired, spitting in God's face, it was she,” but “she's just the opposite isn’t she? So you talk about inspiration, wow.”

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