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Cardinal Gibbons Opens the Parliament of World Religions: September 11, 1893

Archbishop Satolli had come to the United States, in part, to accompany maps and charts from the Vatican Library that would be on display at the 1893 World’s Fair and Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The United States bishops had planned a Catholic Columbian Congress in conjunction with the World’s Fair, where Catholic laymen and clergy would address a variety of topics. Archbishop Ireland was appointed the bishops’ representative to work with the laymen at the congress.

Archbishop John Ireland

Ireland had been involved in a similar lay congress four years earlier in Baltimore. There he had pointed to the work he hoped American Catholics would undertake — “to make America Catholic, and to solve for the Church universal the all-absorbing problems with which religion is confronted in the present age.” He said the Church had the answers for what chiefly concerned the modern world — “reason, education, liberty, the amelioration of the masses.” American Catholics, he said, were to show the world how to reconcile the Faith with democracy and social progress. Laymen, he insisted, had a special part to play in this task. “Priests,” he said, “are officers, laymen are soldiers.”

"The hardest fighting is often done by the soldier in the warfare against sin and error, the soldier is not always near the officer, and he must be ready to act without waiting for the word of command. Laymen are not anointed in confirmation to the end that they may merely save their own souls, and pay their pew rent. They must think, work, organize, read, speak, act, as circumstances demand, ever anxious to do good to their fellow-men. "

During the Chicago Columbian Congress, Archbishop Satolli seemed to share Ireland’s optimism about America. Satolli told laymen that they needed to go forth into the world “in one hand bearing the Book of Christian Truth and in the other the Constitution of the United States.”

Archbishop Satolli, after he had been made a cardinal

Besides the maps and charts from the Vatican, Catholics had other displays at the Chicago World’s Fair — such as the Catholic Educational Exhibition, featuring pictures, pamphlets, and books from Catholic institutions throughout the United States. A Catholic school for blacks in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, displayed various crafts made by the children. Such participa­tion in an essentially secular event was unob­jectionable. The same could not be said for Catholic participation in the Parliament of World’s Religions, which began September 11. Bishop McQuaid echoed the sentiments of many Catholics when he protested that the parliament put “the Catholic Church, the religion of Christ, with its unerring teaching” on the same footing “with every pretense of religion.”

Cardinal Gibbons, who opened the par­liament by reciting the Lord’s Prayer, had himself pressed for Catholic participation in the assembly. And he had received the hearty endorsement of Archbishop Ireland and Bishop Keane.

In defense of the parliament, Keane wrote:

Cardinal Gibbons

"It is only by a friendly and brotherly comparison of convictions that reasonable men can ever come to an agreement about the all-important truths which are the foundation of religion, and that an end can be put to the religious divisions and antagonisms which are a grief to our Father in Heaven. Such an assemblage of intelligent and conscientious men, presenting their religious convictions without minimizing, without acrimony, without controversy, with love and truth and humanity, will be an honorable event in the history of religion and cannot fail to accomplish much good. "

But Bishop McQuaid remained unconvinced. Two years after the parliament, he wrote, “of late years, a spirit of liberalism is springing up in our body . . . that if not checked in time, will bring disaster on the Church. Many a time Catholic laymen have remarked that the Catholic Church they once knew seems to be passing away, so greatly shocked are they at what they see passing around them.” It seems Pope Leo at least belatedly shared McQuaid’s sentiments, for he forbade future participation in such ecumenical gatherings.

Only a month after the Parliament of the World’s Religions, Ireland was in Baltimore preaching for the Vespers service held in honor of Cardinal Gibbons’ silver jubilee as a bishop. Referring to the great inventions of the time, Ireland declared, “Let all things be new, is the watchword of humanity today, and to make all things new is humanity’s strong resolve . . . To conquer the new world to Christ, the Church must herself be new, adapting herself in manner of life and in method of action to the conditions of the new order, thus proving herself, while ever ancient, to be ever new, as truth from heaven is and ever must be . . .” The age, said Ireland, “became hardened in its secularism, and taught itself to despise and hate religion” because it had been “irritated by the isolation and unfriendliness of the Church.” Ireland said he preached “the new, the most glorious crusade. Church and age. Unite them in the name of humanity, in the name of God.”

Pope Leo XIII

Throughout 1893 and 1894, the progressives and Archbishop Ireland continued to receive Rome’s favor. Ireland’s belief that the Church should adapt herself to the times seemed to mirror Pope Leo XIII’s policy towards France. The pope had urged the French clergy, who had long opposed the French republican government for its official atheism, to reconcile themselves with it. Those among the French clergy who favored this approach were encour­aged by Ireland, and one of their number, Abbé Felix Klein, translated Ireland’s speeches into French.

In 1895, however, the tide seemed to turn against the progressives. Pope Leo issued an apostolic letter to the Church in the United States. In Longinqua Oceani, Pope Leo praised American liberty and the freedom the United States accorded the Catholic Church; but with this praise, came a warning: “It would be very erroneous to draw the conclusion that in America is to be sought the type of the most desirable status of the Church or that it would be universally lawful or expedient for State and Church to be, as in America, dissevered and divorced.”

Archbishop Ireland, it seemed, held somewhat different views from the pope on the rela­tion between Church and state. In a homily he gave in April 1896, Ireland spoke glowingly of the relations between Church and state in America. “The Church recognizes as her own sphere faith and morals,” he said. “She possesses and claims no mission in civil and political matters. The State appropriates to itself civil and political matters and assumes no authority in the domain of faith and morals. There is no room for conflict between Church and State; both move in separate and distinct spheres.” Throughout his speech, Ireland repeated the phrase, “Separation of Church and State! Most assuredly . . .”

Bishop John Keane

Bishop Keane, too, favored separation of Church and state. Writing in the March 1898 issue of the Paulist journal, The Catholic World, Keane said European Catholics found “a condition in which the church neither seeks patronage nor fears persecution” to be “almost inconceivable”; nor could they “imagine a separation of church and state” where “each leaves and is bound to leave the other free and independent in the management of its own affairs; each, however, respecting the other, and giving the other moral encouragement and even substantial aid when circumstances require or permit.”

Such a “physical separation of church and state, would be in reality their moral union,” said Keane — and he continued: "European Catholics would," he said, “acknowledge that a moral union of the kind would probably be more advantageous to both church and state than a union which would tend to blend and entangle their functions, with probable con­fusion of wholly distinct ends and methods, likely to prove pernicious to both sides.” The American, said Keane, could assure the European “that, considering the circumstances of the times,” a “moral union” of church and state (as Keane said existed in the United States) “is the only practicable or even desirable one.” Keane then evoked Longinqua Oceani, as if the pope’s warning in Longinqua Oceani indicated approval of the Church/state relations in America:

"From this we can understand with how great wisdom our Holy Father, Leo XIII, has warned us that we must beware of proposing as a norm for the nations at large the condi­tions which we find so satisfactory and so advantageous to the church in our country. Their situation, traditions, tendencies, dispositions, are totally different, and what fits us admirably would not fit them at all."

More from the New World

The year 1893 witnessed not only the Parliament of World Religions but another New World event – the composition of the Symphony 9, "From the New World," by the Czech composer, Antonin Dvořák. Dvořák wrote this symphony while he was the director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York City (1892-1895). Here is an excerpt (Movement 4) from a performance of the symphony, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel. (Note the special guest in the background.)

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