Cardinal Michael Czerny, S.J., one of Pope Francis’ closest collaborators, spoke about the pope’s legacy in the 10 years since his appointment and what the Georgetown University community can learn from his tenets at a Mar. 13 event.
The Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, which studies the impact of religion on diplomacy and globalization, and the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, a program that fosters discussion about Catholic social issues, hosted the event. Czerny highlighted the message of “Fratelli Tutti,” Francis’ October 2020 encyclical that called for international unity to prevent wars, in a series of questions and answers moderated by John Carr, the founder of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life.
Czerny said Francis has focused on helping displaced people as part of his goals mentioned in the encyclical.
“He has chosen these migrants and refugees because of their great need and suffering, but also because they so effectively symbolize all those who are marginalized,” Czerny said at the event. “I find the four verbs Pope Francis articulated striking because they apply to every marginalized group: welcome, protect, promote and integrate.”
In 2022, Francis appointed Czerny as prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, a department of the Roman Curia that focuses on serving forcibly displaced and marginalized populations. Czerny said the actions that define Francis’ global leadership over the past 10 years are those of mercy, including the opening of the Holy Door in St. Peter’s Basilica in 2015 for the Jubilee Year.
By opening the Holy Door, Francis initiated the Catholic Church’s “Year of Mercy,” a project that aimed to bring mercy to both Catholics and nonbelievers. Among other changes, the Year of Mercy permitted priests to absolve people who have had abortions.
Georgetown does not provide students with contraception materials and is committed to stay in line with the Catholic Church’s values, as seen when the university hosted the Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life, a student-run anti-abortion conference.
Czerny said helping those in need, such as individuals experiencing poverty, benefits everybody.
“One of the big challenges is to recognize that our generosity in responding to the cry of the poor is also an act of self-preservation,” Czerny said. “If we don’t respond, we’re not going to reestablish a common home for ourselves. We’re going to tear apart what we received from God.”
Halfway through the event, three additional speakers joined Czerny on stage: Anthony Annett, author of “Cathonomics: How Catholic Tradition Can Create a More Just Economy”; Joan Rosenhauer, executive director of an international refugee service dedicated to serving forcibly displaced people; and Gulzeyin Sharipova-Khalibaeva (GRD ’24), a graduate student from Kyrgyzstan.
Rosenhauer said “Fratelli Tutti” inspired her to further serve her community in any way possible.
“We can all do things in our daily lives that help people on the margins, such as working with Catholic charities,” Rosenhauer said at the event. “We may feel that we’re not changing the world or being the good Samaritan that is known globally, but we can all play our part.”
Given the recent one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Czerny addressed his previous trips to Ukraine and Francis’ goals for the nation.
“Pope Francis is making every effort to help make peace possible by treating everyone involved with humanity,” Czerny said. “Despite the fact that some people are completely wrong or extremely violent, it doesn’t mean they have lost their humanity.”
Carr said the kind manner with which Francis treated migrants and refugees during his visit to the United States is the most tangible demonstration of his character and mission to lead by example.
“He stood at the podium in our Capitol and challenged us to look at the faces of migrants,” Carr said. “Instead of enjoying a fancy lunch afterwards, he went to cafeterias and had a meal with the hungry and homeless in D.C. He told us what to do but more importantly, showed us what to do.”