Published July 4, 2013
Throughout the past several months, The Georgia Bulletin has been showcasing a few of the many world events that happened in 1963, the year that the newspaper itself was established by our first Archbishop Paul J. Hallinan. With this issue, The Georgia Bulletin is now introducing a fresh new format as part of its own 50th birthday observance. They asked me to save my closing column for this cycle in order to help them to inaugurate this new design. I was happy to accommodate their request.
There were many important global events that took place in 1963, and some of them directly shaped and formed our beloved nation and Catholic Church in extraordinary ways. The universally admired Pope John XXIII died, and his remarkable successor Pope Paul VI was elected to the Chair of Peter with the task of completing the work of the Second Vatican Council.
In 1963 the then still very youthful Archdiocese of Atlanta was but a fledging presence in North Georgia. At that moment from Atlanta, the indomitable voice of justice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led the March on Washington that year. It was also a year of tragic deaths as four little girls were slaughtered by a bombing at a church in Birmingham, Alabama, and President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.
However, not every event in 1963 was quite so dismal or distressing. There were also some noteworthy births that year—and for sports fans important ones—Michael Jordan, Karl Malone and Charles Barkley were all born in 1963.
The year contained both loss and promise, both dismal times and happy ones as well.
Now 50 years later, we live in a categorically much different world, and the Church in North and Central Georgia has become a potent force for good, not only locally but globally as well. We do face countless new challenges at this moment—including the staggering erosion during the past 50 years of reverence for all manner of human life that now spans the entire spectrum of life, beginning with conception to the very closing seconds before natural death.
We have become a nation where immigrant peoples in our midst often are described in such belligerent and offensive terms that if these were applied to other people from other races or conditions they would incur swift and widespread condemnation.
We have reinstated the death penalty for those who have committed horrendous crimes as a warped example of true justice.
We now rationalize the experimentation on embryonic human life as an acceptable way to prolong or improve our own lives.
Many of the social and political events from the past 50 years have desensitized us in many different ways that would have been unthinkable in 1963, including those that impact how we are now admonished even to describe marriage and our human sexuality. Moreover, many people continue to define those changes as signs of progress for humanity.
As people of faith, we continue to face these and many other challenges to the religious and moral landscape of the world in which we live—as has always been the case in each age—as would have been the case in 1963 when the social norms of the day were undergoing change.
Fifty years ago, organized religion was a generally valued component of public life. Even those who did not belong to a formal religious denomination or who even denied the very existence of God acceded to the presence of religious discourse in the public arena—even when they themselves might have disagreed with the opinions and moral visions that were offered.
Today many people and organizations are attempting to remove religious opinions from public discourse and to limit severely the free expression of religious practices and activities in the public arena. The milieu has certainly changed in the past 50 years and obviously not always for the better.
Nevertheless, in spite of the shadows there have also been glimpses of brilliance during these past 50 years. One of the great blessings of the past 50 years has been the development of our now extraordinary social media—the Internet, cyberspace, and our capacity to be connected with other people across the globe. We now possess the power to communicate almost instantaneously with our neighbors—wherever those neighbors might live. Like any gift, this potent force for communication also has a shadow element. While we now have the ability to speak the truth across the world, we can also deceive, denounce and misinform others with the very same lightning speed.
Fifty years has brought us many blessings but also many challenges, which we must address in the next 50 years that God offers us and our children to correct the mistakes and to cultivate the benefits of the world that God has given us.