The Catholic Church is a network of relationships that, if lived faithfully and openly, can show others how to live in harmony and with a sense of responsibility for the common good and the good of the planet, said Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago.
Presenting his new book, "The Difference God Makes: A Catholic Vision of Faith, Communion and Culture," the cardinal spoke Oct. 7 at Rome's Pontifical Lateran University.
A central point of the book, which includes revised versions of several of the cardinal's speeches and essays, is that an "ideology of individualism" is leading people, particularly in the United States, to emphasize their personal rights and dreams to such an extent that they are losing sight of the responsibilities and duties they have to the communities to which they belong: their families, their nation and the human race.
"In the United States, individualism as an ideology is so closely associated with creativity and personal freedom that the Gospel's injunction to surrender oneself to Christ and to others in order to be free has become largely incomprehensible," he wrote in the book's introduction.
Catholicism offers a remedy by emphasizing the fact that people are who they are because of their relationships with God and with one another, said the cardinal, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Because all people were created by God, they have the potential to move beyond their individual differences toward "harmony and peace, mutual love and love of God. Our mission is to call people to that level, which isn't only higher, but also more global. It is universal," he said in a summary of the book.
Cardinal George told his Rome audience that Pope Benedict XVI's insistence on human responsibility to protect the environment is based precisely on the recognition that all people are connected to each other and to future generations through a network of relationships.
A celebration or exaltation of the individual can never inspire the global consciousness needed to protect and heal the planet, to put a stop to violence and conflict or to reform economic practices that keep the poor in poverty, he said.
Responding to questions, Cardinal George said defending the traditional family is the obvious place to start combating individualism and to promote unity and solidarity.
"If, in fact, we are able to strengthen family life, when it seems to be dissolving, that would be a great step forward, because there people learn that they are not the most important person," he said.
By supporting families, building strong parishes, establishing dialogues and cooperative projects with other Christians, Jews, Muslims and anyone who gives priority to people's relationships with God and with one another, "eventually we will have some kind of impact on the larger social order," he said.
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