Before a ballroom packed with people who once might have shunned his words, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, Roman Catholic archbishop of New York, told an audience of evangelical Christians on Saturday night that "the transformation of a culture is a most heroic cause indeed."
Cardinal Dolan, who also is president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, received the 2013 William Wilberforce Award from the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, founded by Charles W. Colson, the former counsel to President Nixon and creator of Prison Fellowship Ministries who died last year.
Timothy George, dean of the Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala., lauded the archbishop for his "unique combination of courage and compassion" and his "humility and humor" in having "gone above and beyond" to promote religious freedom, especially in the face of encroaching federal mandates on birth control funding that breech the conscience of Catholic organizations.
That humor was readily evident when Cardinal Dolan, acknowledging the heavily evangelical Protestant cast to the Wilberforce Award dinner crowd at the Renaissance Arlington Capital View Hotel, drew appreciative laughter when he said that in earlier years an appearance by a Catholic leader at a function such as this "would've felt like, as the old saying goes, 'Yasser Arafat at a bar mitzvah.'"
"Today, though, thanks be to God, evangelicals and Catholics are together," Cardinal Dolan continued. "Co-workers in the vineyard, especially in bringing the light of the gospel to a culture often in the dark, on noble issues such as the defense of innocent, vulnerable life; the defense of marriage as revealed by God's word, instilled in reason and natural law, antecedent of any church or government; and the advocacy of our first and most cherished freedom."
Saying that his opportunity, on Easter Monday, to baptize his "latest grandnephew" as a Roman Catholic was his "happiest day of late," Cardinal Dolan emphasized the changes this firstborn brought to the lives of his parents, whose priorities went from caring for themselves, their home and careers to putting the baby first.
"That's how it should be. That's how God intended it to be. The human project," Cardinal Dolan continued, "is all about the baby. Culture is simply humanity's best effort to protect the baby, the mother and the father."
He noted the experience of a young, unmarried woman who decided to keep her baby, even in the face of tests indicating the child had Down syndrome. She lost her job, boyfriend and a few other friends, but now also feels "disdain" from some assigned to help her child, since, he said, "The life of that baby could have been so easily and legally terminated." Those charged with helping the child, he said, were reporting more and more cutbacks in funding.
"Now that's not society at all, is it," Cardinal Dolan asked. "National Socialism, maybe, but that's not a 'culture.' A culture of death, yes, to borrow the phrase of the Blessed John Paul, but that's not a culture of life."
Those who attended the dinner cheered Cardinal Dolan's remarks, including standing applause when the archbishop received the award and when he finished his speech.
Nancy Schulze, a Colson Center-trained "centurion" who spent a year studying a biblical worldview curriculum designed by Colson, said Cardinal Dolan's stand for human life and religious liberty overcame any sectarian differences between evangelicals and Catholics.
"The conditions of our culture are way beyond holding to any boundaries that may divide us," Ms. Schulze said.
Joanne Kemp, widow of former Rep. Jack Kemp and an 18-year member of the Colson Center board, said its namesake, who died just more than a year ago, "would have been thrilled to see what has happened here tonight."
Colson Center President Alan Terwilleger echoed Mrs. Kemp's remarks, saying the Saturday event "is exactly the kind of moment [Mr. Colson] lived for," and that the Wilberforce program "is living on this legacy that Chuck Colson established. Cardinal Dolan represents the same concerns he had."
And Jim Liske, Prison Fellowship Ministries' chief executive officer, lauded Cardinal Dolan as one who was "winsome in the midst of the debate. He's the real deal."
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