I have had the privilege to travel all around the world. Each place I’ve visited has been unique. However, there was one thing I noticed to be a common denominator in every place I visited–American culture.
In Mexico, I couldn’t escape the Coca Cola products and advertisements. In Lima, Peru, there were billboards lining the streets advertising American movies. I heard more English music than Spanish music in Spain. In Paris, our waiter, who was born and raised in France, spoke English so well I doubted she was from France. When we asked how she spoke English so well, she said “I just watch a lot of American TV.”
America is a cultural powerhouse. You can’t travel anywhere without seeing the effects of American culture and media. For better or worse, right now, America is extremely wealthy in influence.
Perhaps Pope Saint John Paul II saw this too. JPII visited 129 countries. He would’ve experienced firsthand the influence of American culture around the world. He would’ve known that if America was on fire for Jesus and His Church, then the whole world would be affected. However, JPII saw the reality that sin was corrupting Western society; he even dubbed it the “culture of death” in his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae.
What is this culture of death? It is a real attack on the dignity of the human person. As soon as God is taken out of the center, the definition of “man” becomes foggy. When “man” is defined as whatever you want it to be, all of humanity loses its God-given worth and dignity. This culture of death is something I experience firsthand as a missionary on the streets of Baltimore. So many of our friends on the street will say that the deepest suffering they experience is being treated as less-than-human, a person without inherent dignity and worth.
In Evangelium Vitae, JPII stated, “There is certainly an enormous disparity between the powerful resources available to the forces promoting the “culture of death” and the means at the disposal of those working for a “culture of life and love”.”
America is the factor that promotes this disparity. It is our culture that is promoting this culture of death and it is permeating throughout the entire world.
Yet, just imagine what would happen if America had a conversion, and we used our cultural influence to promote the culture of life. The whole world would undoubtedly be affected. Perhaps this was what JPII had in mind during his trip to Baltimore in October of 1995. During his homily at Camden Yards, he said,
“The challenge of the great Jubilee of the Year 2000 is the new evangelization: a deepening of faith and a vigorous response to the Christian vocation to holiness and service. This is what the Successor of Peter has come to Baltimore to urge upon each one of you: the courage to bear witness to the Gospel of our Redemption….I wish to make an appeal to young Catholics to consider the missionary vocation.”
John Paul II visits Baltimore and of all the things he could’ve chosen to preach on, he chose to invite young men and women to step up as missionaries! Maryland is the birthplace of the Catholic Church in America. The first American diocese was here. The first American bishop was here. The first American Cathedral was built here. The first American seminary is here. Baltimore, Maryland, has a deep and rich Catholic history. Pope Saint John Paul II knew this about Baltimore. Father James, the rector at America’s First Cathedral, knows this too. That is why he constantly preaches that the Baltimore Basilica needs to be on fire for Jesus in the Eucharist and Mary. Because, if Baltimore is once again won over for Christ and His Church, it will echo throughout the whole country. If the whole country is won over for Christ and His Church, it will echo throughout the whole world.
Long gone are the days where we need to fly to a foreign country to go on mission. We need missionaries willing to serve within their own home country. We need public witnesses to step up and change the culture. We need people to fight for the culture of life and remind people of their dignity as a human person.
I’ll conclude with JPII’s powerful closing remarks from Camden Yards in 1995. His message is clear: If we want to set the world on fire with Christ’s love, change needs to begin right here in America.
“Catholics of America! Always be guided by the truth – by the truth about God who created and redeemed us, and by the truth about the human person, made in the image and likeness of God and destined for a glorious fulfillment in the Kingdom to come. Always be convincing witnesses to the truth. “Stir into a flame the gift of God” that has been bestowed upon you in Baptism. Light your nation – light the world – with the power of that flame! Amen.”