I am writing this column on a bumpy motor coach just a few miles from the old city of Jerusalem. Our bus is headed to Bethlehem, where we will venerate the traditional site of the nativity of Jesus, one of several stops on America’s 2019 pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Each year, we invite our readers to join us on this special journey in the footsteps of Our Lord, and I am pleased to say that more than 100 of your fellow readers have signed up for the pilgrimage this year. In just four years, we have led more than 700 pilgrims to the Holy Land, Spain and Rome, with additional destinations planned for the years ahead.
Before I arrived in the Holy Land last week, I spent several days at meetings in Rome, which I’ve visited three times in a year that has taken me to several other countries as well. It is ironic, I suppose, that the editor in chief of a magazine named America would so often find himself traveling abroad. But the notion does not seem so crazy when one considers just what we mean by America—the magazine, that is.
As I like to remind our editors and staff, the founders of this review made it clear in their opening editorial in 1909 that the name America is not a synonym for the United States, that “the name America embraces both North and South America, in fact, all this Western Hemisphere… [while presenting] to its readers all that interests Catholics in any part of the world…. True to its name and to its character as a Catholic review, America [is] cosmopolitan, not only in contents but also in spirit.”
The name America is not a synonym for the United States.
For a couple of reasons, that cosmopolitanism is as important today as it was 110 years ago. First, Catholicism is a global religion. In fact, that is pretty much what the word catholic means: global, universal. Yet American Catholics often think that our ecclesiastical problems and their solutions are the same as those of the church writ large. Sometimes that’s true, but sometimes it’s not. The church is 1.3 billion people, spread across five continents, a myriad of cultures, traditions and languages. The 70 million U.S. Catholics constitute 5 percent of Catholics worldwide. When Catholics in the United States, for example, think that certain church reforms are obviously and urgently needed, we should remember that such views are more than likely minority opinions among the world’s Catholics.
But the second reason why America’s cosmopolitan spirit still matters is that, for better or for worse, the United States, the home of this magazine for more than a century, is leading the world at this particular moment in human history—or not, as the case may be.
But no one can deny that the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence in global affairs. It is important, therefore, that we the people of the United States have some knowledge of what is happening in the rest of the world, if for no other reason than to better understand the consequences of the choices our government makes in our name across the world. As Antonio De Loera-Brust reports in this issue from the Colombia-Venezuela border, the ruinous regime of Hugo Chavez gained “popular support even as he weakened democratic institutions and repressed his political opponents, whom he painted as proxies for the United States.”
For these reasons, America will continue to report international news, and our network of international correspondents will continue to analyze issues at the intersection of the church and the world from their unique vantage points. Last year, our award-winning team filed stories from more than two dozen countries—from Johannesburg to Hong Kong, from Rome to Los Angeles. At a time when many media outlets are closing foreign bureaus and cutting back on international correspondents, we are still adding to our masthead—the latest is our correspondent in São Paulo, Brazil.
In 1909, the editors relied on the telegraph to stay connected to their international network. Today, even the editor in chief can use his iPhone to file a column from a bus en route to Bethlehem. Come to think of it, I guess it is appropriate that I’m writing about this topic from this particular place. After all, that angel who appeared to the shepherds in the Gospel of Luke was a correspondent of sorts: What was it he said? “Do not be afraid. For behold, I bring you good news.”
While I can’t promise you that all the news we report will bring you “great joy,” I do promise our continued best efforts to help you make sense of your world, far and near, seen and unseen.