Nearly 7,000 miles separate Iowa from Iraq, where Pope Francis made a historic journey last week to build bridges between Muslims, Christians and other religious minorities. Equally important, he offered encouragement to Christians, whose numbers have been decimated by war and persecution. His message about how to foster hope and peace is as relevant to Iowans as to Iraqis, as we struggle to make peace among Catholics with different views on how to live, practice and share our faith.
During his March 6 visit to the city of Ur, Iraq, Pope Francis said, “We raise our eyes to heaven in order to raise ourselves from the depths of our vanity; we serve God in order to be set free from enslavement to our egos because God urges us to love,” (Ines San Martin, CRUX, 3-6-21).
In Iowa, as elsewhere, sadly, we people of faith seem to be enslaved to our egos. That enslavement prevents us from conveying love toward the people with whom we disagree.
In that same meeting with religious representatives of different faiths, the pope said, “It is up to us to remind the world that human life has value for what it is and not for what it has. That the lives of the unborn, the elderly, migrants and men and women, whatever the color of their skin or their nationality, are always sacred and count as much as the lives of everyone else!”
How are we in Iowa demonstrating that every life has human value? Our Iowa Legislature, for example, is sending mixed signals. Legislators advanced some bills that affirm the dignity of the human person. One, a proposed constitutional amendment, states that no right to abortion exists in the Iowa Constitution. Another constitutional amendment proposal would allow people coming out of prison the right to vote. Other bills aim to increase affordable childcare, provide for additional legal protections to residents of mobile home parks, provide affordable housing funds/eviction protections, increase the tax credit for adoptive parents and establish penalties for elder abuse.
However, Iowa legislators also advanced legislation that would not affirm the dignity of the human person. Both the Senate and House Labor Committees passed versions of bills that would slice unemployment benefits for bigger families and implement a one-week waiting period for benefits, according to the Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC). Still another bill could potentially kick 50,000 people off food stamps in Iowa who qualify for that program because they qualify for another government assistance program. Landlords would be able to reject renters who pay rent with federal Section 8 housing assistance, under another proposed law. Reinstatement of the death penalty, fortunately, did not make the cut.
Affirming the dignity of the human person, as our church teaches, compels us to press our legislators to reject bills that contradict that teaching. The ICC is a good resource for current legislation and its impact on the dignity of the human person. Contact your legislators (legis.iowa.gov/legislators) and insist that they support bills that affirm the dignity of every human person — from womb to tomb.
A Lenten reflection that Father Jeff Belger, priest director of the Newman Catholic Student Center in Iowa, wrote for the third Sunday of Lent provides guidance that can put us back on course toward a right relationship with God and one another:
“If we are to become the signs we are meant to be, pointing to Christ, then we must root out that which contradicts Christ in our lives. Prayer (relationship with God), Fasting (being mindful and disciplined in what we consume), and Almsgiving, (extending God’s blessings to those in need) are the tools needed to make our signs have the desired effect of moving people in the direction of Christ and his Church.”
Iraq is nearly 7,000 miles from Iowa, but Pope Francis’ message of hope and peace, manifested in the dignity of every human person, echoes across the continents and oceans, to Iowa.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor