IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller
By Rhina Guidos
WASHINGTON (CNS) — The chairman of the U.S. bishops’
Committee on International Justice and Peace met with the country’s top
diplomat, Rex Tillerson, March 23, for a policy-packed 35-minute conversation about immigration,
the Middle East, Africa and the role of the Catholic Church’s efforts toward
building “the common good.”
“After some small talk about Texas,” the two spoke about the
Middle East, about Iraq and Syria, reaching out to Central America and Mexico,
and the situation in Africa, said Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las
Cruces, New Mexico, explaining his initial meeting in Washington with
Tillerson, the U.S. secretary of state, who, like Bishop Cantu, hails from
Bishop Cantu said the meeting was about letting Tillerson
know “that our only motive is to help build the common good, that we don’t have
ulterior motives,” and explaining the bishops’ peace and justice committee’s
work in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and the Far East.
Bishop Cantu, as the chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, has spoken for a two-state solution in the Israel-Palestine conflict,
against the construction of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories, for
reducing the United States’ nuclear arsenal, and raised concerns about an
executive order that targets refugees from some countries with predominantly
Muslim populations, which are at odds with stances taken early by the Donald Trump
“I have concerns,” he said in an interview with Catholic
News Service, but said the meeting with Tillerson was about establishing a relationship
that can help the church advocate for policy issues to help the common good.
“We bring a unique perspective,” said Bishop Cantu. “One of
our principles in Catholic social teaching is the common good and that goes
beyond our own church needs.”
Bishop Cantu said he talked about the church’s efforts in
Congo and South Sudan and the need for stability in such places. U.N. agencies
said in February that famine and war in the area are threatening up to 5.5
million lives in the region.
Because of the church’s humanitarian agencies, its
solidarity visits, and long-term contact with local governments and populations
around the world, the church lends a credible voice, Bishop Cantu said.
“He expressed that he was eager to have open lines of
communication with us and to listen to our perspective on things,” Bishop Cantu
“The two areas we especially touched on were the Middle East
and how to rebuild in Iraq and Syria. And the second topic that he wanted to
hear our perspective on is the immigration issue, particularly how to reach out
to Central America and Mexico,” said Bishop Cantu.
He said he emphasized to Tillerson the importance of having
countries where religious minorities have a say in the government and of
investing in rebuilding countries. The proposed Trump administration budget has
been criticized for its plans to slash funding for the State Department up to
28 percent, or $10.9 billion. The cuts would greatly affect the department’s Food for Peace
Program, which reduces hunger and malnutrition in poor countries, while proposing
a $54 billion, or 10 percent, increase in military spending.
Bishop Cantu said he left information with Tillerson about the church’s concerns
with the proposed budget.
“We’re concerned about the very steep increase in the
military budget, the cutting back on foreign aid, we’re very concerned about
that. I did want to emphasize how important development is in regions that need
to be stabilized,” he said, “that those are wise investments of time and funds.”
The meeting also included a discussion about Christians in
the Middle East, Bishop Cantu said, “and that Christians don’t want to live in
a ghetto. ‘ They believe it’s important that they live in an integrated society
that is safe and secure,” to have a voice in local, regional as well federal
government. He said he also emphasized “the fact that the (Catholic) church in the
Middle East can act as a voice between the Sunnis and the Shia” and the
importance of the church remaining in places such as Iraq and Syria.
“Any wise government official wants to listen to the voice
of people who have a stake in different areas and to listen to the wisdom of
experience,” Bishop Cantu said. “We have our brothers and sisters there, the
church, who do live there. The fact is that ‘ we bring a trusted voice.
bring some wisdom to the conversation,” he added. “Our vision is to build a society that’s
stable, that’s just, that’s peaceful, and ultimately, that’s the goal of the
state department … and so I think that’s why our voice is valuable to them.”
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