After reciting together the Lord's Prayer, found in the Book of Matthew, students and faculty listened as Cardinal Francis George, O.M.I. President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, addressed the BYU campus forum held in the Marriott Center on Tuesday, Feb. 3.
He spoke of the importance of a partnership between the Catholic faith and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the defense of religious freedom.
"I come before you today as a religious leader who shares views about [society's] moral health as a good society," Cardinal George said. "In recent years, the Catholics and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have stood more frequently side by side in the public square to defend human life and dignity."
Cardinal George, who was the first Chicago native to be appointed Archbishop of Chicago in 1997 and appointed Cardinal by the Vatican in 1998, shared personal experiences he has had with encounters with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. One of the stories he shared was when he was able to conduct the Mormon Tabernacle Choir during one of its tour stops in Chicago in 2007. As he stood in front of the choir, its members sang the words of the folk song "This Land Is Your Land."
"This land is our land, the land of many peoples of differing religious convictions and political views who will continue to differ in those convictions, who can come together for the sake of social harmony and the common good," he said.
Speaking specifically of Catholic beliefs and the need to join forces with Latter-day Saints, Cardinal George shared three main points.
First, he spoke of the Catholic faith's understanding of religious freedom, and how it is similar to Latter-day Saint beliefs.
"Religious freedom cannot be reduced to freedom of worship or even freedom of private conscience," he said. "Religious freedom means that religious groups as well as religious individuals have a right to exercise their influence in the public square."
Along with the importance of exercising religious influence publicly, Cardinal George spoke of the importance of the family.
"Society is based not on individuals, but on families," he said. "On mothers and fathers with duties and obligations to their children. On children who learn to be human in the school of love, which is family."
Cardinal George spoke of times in the history of the Catholic Church and society in which important doctrines were taught. Some of the topics he discussed included the importance of relationships and the influence of society on the family.
Second, he discussed further some of the new threats to those topics today. He spoke of three issues in society — health care, abortion and sexual orientation — to illustrate his point.
"It is hard to just be a moral voice, understandably, in the context that we live," he said. "But it doesn't mean we can give up. We have to keep making the moral points as clearly as possible."
Third, both The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Catholic beliefs are similar on these issues, Cardinal George pointed out, and create an opportunity for both faiths to stand together as one in defending the rights of conscience and religion.
"Mormons and Catholics can come together with a great deal of agreement to be sure that our society doesn't have that cultural fault line that continually pits personal individual liberties against objective truth, or at least the search for it," he said.
As Catholics and Latter-day Saints stand together as one to defend religious rights and moral values, good things will happen, Cardinal George said.
"If we stay together and go forward together, the good sense, the common sense and the generosity of I think the majority of people … will in the end bear much fruit," he said. "When government fails to protect the conscience of its citizens, it falls to religious bodies, especially those formed by the gospel of Jesus Christ to become the defenders of human freedom."
The result will allow religion to not be reduced to a purely private reality, and religious views will be heard in the public square.
"We will be together in this struggle for the good of society itself, believing … that churches and religious bodies play a crucial role, a mediating role, in fostering a nation's civic life," he said. "And finally, we'll work together because it is for the good of the people whom we shepherd in our own communities."