In 1890 when Pope Leo XIII wrote that “Christians are…born for combat,” he was speaking of the defensive position of Christians struggling to engage the world around them. He certainly couldn’t have predicted the bitter 2016 election cycle that has shamefully divided Christians—and particularly Catholics—of all backgrounds.
Yet sadly, his words of combat are an apt descriptor of the type of infighting that we’ve just endured over the past year.
Leo XIII, however, was no stranger to conflict. He was elected pope in 1878 and the forces of social change around him compelled a response from the Church.
That response was found in Rerum Novarum, arguably the defining legacy of his papacy, where he called on the Church to serve as a prophetic voice in the modern world—fighting for vulnerable and oppressed individuals, just working conditions and wages, and a rebuilding of Christian morality and virtue.
If there’s one thing this election has revealed, it’s that there’s a growing majority of Catholics, and young Catholics in particular, who are disaffected by the traditional tug-of-war of partisan politics and looking for a new ways to reengage the world around them.
Enter the Leonine Forum, a program from the Catholic Information Center (CIC) in the heart of Washington, D.C., which takes its inspiration from Pope Leo’s vision of a Church that serves as prophetic voice to the world around it.
Founded in 2013, the Leonine Forum gathers emerging Catholic leaders from across the nation’s capital to explore the principles of Catholic Social Teaching and their practical application in professional, political, and civic life.
Now in its fourth year, applications skyrocketed this past fall.
According to founder Mitch Boersma, “It seems that in this costly election cycle, more and more young professional Catholics from across the political spectrum are looking for new ways to engage their faith and build up a community committed to restoring virtuous leadership in our capital.”
The CIC boasts a storied history, and has long been an integral part of the D.C. Catholic scene. While it started out as a bookstore and place of spiritual direction and prayer (and has claim to being “the closest tabernacle to the White House”), in recent years it has become a second home of sorts to Catholics from across the professional realm.
While the CIC is often a stopping point for Catholic authors to give book talks and for panel discussions on recent papal documents or world events, the Leonine Forum is an essential part of CIC 2.0, if you will.
According to Boersma, both he and Father Arne Panula, the CIC’s Director, felt a keen sense that there was “a large cohort of young professionals who were yearning to deepen their understanding of their Catholic faith, and find a way to live out that faith in a city where there’s so much temptation to be pulled into partisan divides.”
That’s why the Leonine Forum is intent on bringing together both Catholic theologians and practitioners alike—from the likes of intellectual heavyweights such as Patrick Deneen, Chad Pecknold, Mary Eberstadt, and Charles Camosy, to those on the front lines of their respective fields, such as Jonathan Reyes, Arthur Brooks, and Kathryn Jean Lopez.
On the whole, they represent the full spectrum of how Catholics are integrating Church teaching in the public and professional realms, and provide a rare opportunity for fellows to engage with these leaders in an intimate setting.
The impressive lineup of fellows to the program past and present likewise come from across the professional spectrum – from the front lines of Catholic Relief Services and other nonprofits, finance professionals and entrepreneurs, Supreme Court clerks and Congressional aides, military and State Department personnel, doctors, lawyers, nurses, pro-life advocates, and the list goes on—all of whom take their faith seriously, and are committed to closing the gap between the intellectual tradition of their faith and its practical application
Over the course of a year, these fellows gather at the CIC to discuss how the Catholic Social Teaching can inform pressing issues such as immigration, health care policy, religious liberty, and bioethics—but as Catholics are called to do, these ideas don’t just stay in the walls of the CIC, but are coupled with spiritual development, communications training, and community service activity throughout the city.
Perhaps most importantly, the Leonine Forum provides an alternative to those that are interested in something greater than just the four-year election cycle.
And with eyes towards expanding outside the beltway, the Leonine Forum reminds us that while Catholics may not be strangers to combat, the path to eternity is better sustained through building a different kind of community that redirects the cultural currents away from the city of man and towards the city of God.