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Julián Castro: Catholicism ‘has never been far from my life’

Julián Castro speaks at the start of the general session at the Texas Democratic Convention in Fort Worth, Texas, on June 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Richard W. Rodriguez)

(RNS) — A few weeks after former San Antonio Mayor and former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro announced his candidacy for president, the Democrat spoke with Religion News Service in January to discuss how his Catholicism intersects with his family, his heritage and his politics. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

When you made your official announcement for president, you did it in Plaza Guadalupe, across from our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church — and you mentioned your baptism. What about that image is important to you?

I had my announcement at the heart of the west side of San Antonio, where I grew up. The Our Lady of Guadalupe Church was really where my story started on the west side of the city, because I was baptized there, I grew up not far from there and went to school close to there.

I wanted my announcement to present to the American people who I am, and my family and I had been Catholic for generations. I can’t say that I go to church as much as I’d like, but I grew up Catholic, got married in the Catholic Church. My children have been baptized in the Catholic Church and my son currently goes to a Catholic learning center that my daughter previously went to. So it’s been a part of our lives.

How do you remember your faith as a part of your childhood and your rearing?

I grew up going to church, sometimes more often than in other times in my life. I went to one year of Catholic school. I grew up with a grandmother who used to go to church and wear a veil like women would a couple of generations ago. And I grew up with religious imagery all around. When I spoke at the DNC a few years ago, I talked about when my brother and I would leave the house to go to school in the morning, my grandmother would say, “Que Dios los bendiga.” “May God bless you.”

So the Catholic faith has never been far from my life. At the same time, I don’t want to give people the impression that I go to Mass every Sunday, but it is a part of who I am, for sure.

You often mention your grandmother, who came to the United States as an orphan immigrant. Does it speak to the intermingling of a Mexican-American identity and a Catholic identity?

The Catholic Church, in many ways, was a refuge for a generation of Mexican immigrants who came to places like Texas and lived a tough life. … Certainly my grandmother grew up in a lower-income household and they struggled with a lot. For women and for people of color, those are very difficult times. And the Catholic Church provided a sense of place and belonging and also a hope — a faith that things would get better.

My mother went to 13 straight years — well actually, more than that — I guess 16 straight years of Catholic school because she went into through 12 and then she went to a Catholic University, Our Lady of the Lake University.

But to me, what has always attracted me to the Catholic faith is the social justice aspect of it, and the vision that I articulated for the country (in my announcement speech) very much is in keeping with the social justice component of the Catholic faith, of caring for the poor, of understanding that everybody counts in our society, of trying to do what all of us can to sacrifice together so that we can lift everybody up.

So in that way, I think it was fitting to be there right next to Our Lady of Guadalupe.

You’ve vocally opposed President Trump’s proposed border wall and his family separation policy, all while calling for the protection of Dreamers. Do you also find resonance in the Catholic faith for your positions regarding the border?

Oh, absolutely. In the Catholic faith and many other faiths — and even people who do not subscribe to a faith — I’ve always seen a common denominator (that includes Catholicism) of ‘I’m treating everyone humanely.’ And there’s no better example of where we’ve gone astray than the family separation policy that this administration ramped up last year or over the last couple of years.

So I’ve been pleased to hear Pope Francis speak out against those kinds of policies. His is an important voice, just like I know that other religious leaders, faith leaders, have spoken out. I’m glad to see that.

I’ll answer a question you haven’t asked: Obviously the issue of religion and politics is one that over the last 40 years has been principally dominated by the right, and I’m not quite sure why that is. But there are a lot of people of faith on the left as well, many of whom I’ve met over the years. My mother at one time was a part of that Network, the Catholic social justice lobbying group.

I didn’t know that.

Yeah, and what I love about faith is the ability to bring people to a common understanding, a common humanity and compassion and peace and just … trying to get along. What I don’t like is that religion is used by some to try to encourage finger-pointing or blaming. I completely disagree with that approach.

That was, in fact, my next question. Relatedly, the Democratic Party has some of the most and least religious Americans in the country under the same umbrella. How do you as a presidential candidate speak to those who find deep resonance for their progressive values in faith as well as those who come to those conclusions without having any faith affiliation?

It starts with respect for people’s own opinions and beliefs. I have a deep respect for both people who believe in God and practice their faith and also people who choose not to believe. And I recognize that our Constitution respects both of those types of Americans and that whether you choose to believe or not, you have a great role to play in shaping the future of our country. So I’m confident that I can speak to both people of faith in our country and also people who may not believe.

You have supported same-sex marriage and abortion rights. How do you reconcile that with your faith?

I separate any one faith or belief system from the responsibility that one has in public service — to represent everyone. I recognize that I do have those disagreements (with the pope), but I also recognize that if I’m president of the United States I need to serve everybody in the country.

And I also have just a personal belief in support of members of the LGBTQ community — I believe in their equality — and also support a woman’s right to choose. I believe that those things are sound public policy.

In an address at the American Academy of Religion Conference shortly after Trump was elected, you called on religious academics and faith leaders to “show light” during his administration. Do you think faith groups have done that?

They always do. They always do. Especially now, when I believe we have an administration that has taken us in the wrong direction in terms of how people should be treated and violated the tenets of many faiths. But people of faith always have a role, and always should play an important role in helping to shape the future of our country.

What are the challenges that we have ahead? What we have now, what we’ll have in years to come, is to forge a common sense of purpose in this country. And I believe that that common sense of purpose should be to lift up every single human being by investing in their education, invest in their health care, investing in their ability to retire and respecting everyone. And people of faith are preaching that and practicing that all the time.

So they have a tremendous role to play in our nation’s future.

Finally, is there anything you think people miss in discussions of religion and politics?

I think there is a tendency to associate faith with only the right, with only conservatives — in the press and media — and that couldn’t be further from the truth. Except for, of course, folks who write about religion and cover that more in depth. But I mean, just in the mainstream media, there’s a tendency to identify faith with conservatives, and there are many progressives who are also people of faith that I wish that more attention were spent on, on how they see the world as well.

About the author

Jack Jenkins

Jack Jenkins is a national reporter for RNS based in Washington, covering U.S. Catholics and the intersection of religion and politics.

66 Comments

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  • Dear Julian,

    tI recommend some updating of one of your favorite prayers before hitting the “I am Catholic” lever again.

    Apostles’ Creed 2019: (updated by yours truly and based on the studies of
    historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven??

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
    Jerusalem.

    Said Jesus’ story was embellished and “mythicized” by
    many semi-fiction writers. A descent into Hell, a bodily resurrection
    and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    Amen

    (references used are available upon request)

  • “But I mean, just in the mainstream media, there’s a tendency to identify faith with conservatives, and there are many progressives who are also people of faith that I wish that more attention were spent on, on how they see the world as well.”

    Of course these progressive are progressive, not over-the-top pro-abortion, open border, male-hating, LGBT zanies.

  • “I separate any one faith or belief system from the responsibility that one has in public service — to represent everyone.”

    So the state is more important than faith. That is unfortunate.

  • Hardly unfortunate.

    When one is running for a position of leadership in “the state” that is important. It means they value their service to the entirety of its populace over personal sectarian concerns. Doing what one’s faith commands and doing what is right, legal and in the interests of those governed are seldom one in the same.

  • If their personal faith concerns are so easily side-stepped, then how can they be entrusted with authority over mere secular matters? If they can throw their religious concerns under the bus, then nothing is sacred.

    There have been plenty of leaders who did not see their religion as being at odds with their public service. That hasn’t meant shoving their beliefs down others’ throats, and sometimes they just admit that some of their beliefs are different from the doctrine of their religious community.

    But coming out and just saying that you stick your personal beliefs in a corner because they are inconvenient, and expect others to do the same… that is just gross. Why bother subscribing to any religion other than politics if it means so little?

  • Because one does not elect someone to public office in this nation to be “Defender of the Faith”. We elect them to uphold the Constitution and laws of the nation.

    All matters of government are secular matters. Government office means dealing with the concerns and interests of people outside one’s own faith group/sect. Entangling religious belief with government actions is a recipe for sectarian discrimination. The needs of the state and the people who give it a mandate to lead by their nature ARE greater than the personal faith needs of a government official.

    “There have been plenty of leaders who did not see their religion as being at odds with their public service. ”

    Plenty of others saw their religious beliefs to be at conflict with their duty of public service and abused their powers to the detriment of all. Frankly back in the day religion was not so easily cheapened as easily with association with politics. Religious beliefs are by their nature personal ones. To demand a political stance be taken with regards to it is to attack any kind of moral and spiritual authority of that religion.

    “That hasn’t meant shoving their beliefs down others’ throats”

    Yet that is precisely what most politicians who claim a strong adherence to religious doctrines promise to do as a campaign platform and how they act when taking office. They cheapen religious communities by demanding a political position be associated with it. They choose their religious belief over the duties of seeing to the needs of those they represent.

  • That is a strawman. There is not a necessary dichotomy between being faithful and also holding to promises made for public service.

    Religious beliefs are personal and communal. They are not individualistic. We don’t even have a way of categorizing an individual’s religion unless we recognize them as a part of a community.

    Political positions can be informed by religion, just as most abolitionists and de-segregationists were also quite religious.

  • No, its a hypocritical argument one only sees when speaking of politicians of with Christian belief.

    The typical rather bigoted argument used against people of a minority faith running for public office is the fear they will act in ways which are in accordance with their faith but antithetical to secular concerns and duties to the constituents. Yet you are practically demanding those of a Christian faith to do just that.

    Religions cheapen and undermine their spiritual/moral authority by entangling themselves with the political.

    There clearly is a greater interest in using one’s political power in service of those being governed than there is in serving one’s own personal religious sectarian beliefs.

    “Political positions can be informed by religion, just as most abolitionists and de-segregationists were also quite religious.”

    As were segregationists and slavers. But at the end of the day its secular concerns which informed their actions.

  • “The typical rather bigoted argument used against people of a minority faith running for public office is the fear they will act in ways which are in accordance with their faith but antithetical to secular concerns and duties to the constituents. Yet you are practically demanding those of a Christian faith to do just that.”

    I have never made such an argument against someone of a minority faith. Strawmen are fun though, huh?

    “Religions cheapen and undermine their spiritual/moral authority by entangling themselves with the political.”

    That is your opinion. I frankly find it to be an odd cognitive disassociation to think that parts of our community are allowed to teach us about our souls, but silly little secular things like caring for the poor or not killing is too much. Whether one values the secular or the religious more, the separation cannot help but be ridiculous.

    “As were segregationists and slavers. But at the end of the day its secular concerns which informed their actions.”

    One side did so while at odds with their tradition and their fellow believers around the world. They were not equally valid positions. Their secular concerns were informed by and tied up in their religious ones. Its hard to say that there is a creator God who cares about and acts within creation, and still call anything truly secular.

  • “I have never made such an argument against someone of a minority faith. Strawmen are fun though, huh?”

    But it has been always been a given as campaign points against those of a minority faith. Typically against Jews, Catholics and Muslims. There is this expectation that if such politicians rely on their faith they will be more loyal to Israel, The Pope, or Islamicist clerics than to the Constitution. But somehow Christians are expected to follow dogma rather than the concerns of law according to you. It is not a matter of religious beliefs guiding political actions, it is religious beliefs that YOU SHARE guiding political actions.

    “Whether one values the secular or the religious more, the separation cannot help but be ridiculous.”

    Hardly. As I said, one is not elected to be defender of the faith. Political concerns are by their nature secular. If you want to cheapen the authority of your church with involvement with base partisan politics, that is on you. But do not expect that to be the norm, nor should be.

    It stops being about looking out for what is best for mankind in a spiritual way. It becomes grabbing power for your specific religious group/position. In all cases it ends up compromising moral authority and professed core values. As politics does to people seeking specific goals.

    “They were not equally valid positions”

    From a religious standpoint they were equally valid. Being that there is no such thing as an objective religious argument. Tradition and fellow believers generally leaned against individual freedom and towards support of slavery and discrimination.

    Religion in most cases when dealing with the political is nothing more than a method of making irrational appeals for secular goals. When it comes to public office, ALL concerns are secular. What one believes God commands is between God and themselves. What one does in public office is between them and the people affected by their actions.

  • “But somehow Christians are expected to follow dogma rather than the concerns of law according to you.”

    No, as I stated earlier, religious office holders can hold their views in tension with the promises they make when entering public office. That might even involve going against their beliefs. I just can’t take someone seriously who comes out and says that religion automatically has no place in policy discussion, especially when they will quote Pope Francis and other faith leaders on policy when it matches their ideals.

    “It is not a matter of religious beliefs guiding political actions, it is religious beliefs that YOU SHARE guiding political actions.”

    I’d gladly vote for a person of another faith who displays virtue and who I agree with enough on policy. If they were unapolagetically religious and didn’t throw that side of themselves and their beliefs under the bus, all the better. You seem to confuse having a seriously held religion with being a sectarian extremist.

    “From a religious standpoint they were equally valid.”

    Just saying a thing doesn’t make it true. Their churches had to separate from their national bodies to hold pro-slavery policies, they had to go against the stance of every other Church outside their nation. One could only call it valid if they assume there is no rationality necessary to religion. That doesn’t require a purely objective truth, it only requires consistency within the system of the faith.

    “Religion in most cases when dealing with the political is nothing more than a method of making irrational appeals for secular goals. When it comes to public office, ALL concerns are secular. What one believes God commands is between God and themselves. What one does in public office is between them and the people affected by their actions.”

    There are garbage people who use their faith for awful justifications in the political realm, yes. There are many who do the same with secular ideas as well, but the answer to either isn’t to wipe the board of all beliefs and say that no ideal is valid.

    All concerns are secular in public office, but the secular world is included in the spiritual for most religions.

  • ” I just can’t take someone seriously who comes out and says that religion automatically has no place in policy discussion, especially when they will quote Pope Francis and other faith leaders on policy when it matches their ideals.”

    It really doesn’t. I will be the first person to say doing so is hypocritical and an inappropriate appeal to authority. I never quote faith leaders in support of a political issue. I find it ridiculous to do so because it undermines the religious authority of the faith leaders.

    “There are garbage people who use their faith for awful justifications in the political realm, yes. There are many who do the same with secular ideas as well, but the answer to either isn’t to wipe the board of all beliefs and say that no ideal is valid.”

    Its all well and good to claim that one’s faith is guiding their decisions. But really at the end of the day, they are making decisions on secular concerns for a secular government. They may think they are answerable to God for their decisions, but they know they are answerable to their constituents for them.

    ” but the secular world is included in the spiritual for most religions.”

    Depends. Most religions avoid entanglement in mundane secular concerns where possible. Entangling the two is a great way to cheapen the authority of a given faith. Separation of church and state was originally a religious concept as a way to preserve the reputation and authority of both.

  • I think we are at least on agreement on Julian Castro’s position being problematic.

    I haven’t heard about separation in such a way before. At least not historically. Do you have any examples?

  • OF COURSE the state is more important than (particular) faith. The state in America is the “provider of freedom from” all the other faiths so you can practice the one you like. Do you think this freedom comes from God? If you do, you must have a hard time understanding how dictatorial regimes ever came into power anywhere, whether atheist like North Korea or Muslim, like Saudi Arabia and Iran. PEOPLE and STATES are what ensure religious freedom, not anything else.

  • I do not agree that is the case at all.

    I find the intrusion of Catholic conservatives and the effort to drag the church into partisan politics an effort which cheapens its spiritual authority. It attacks the church’s ability to speak on moral concerns.

    “I haven’t heard about separation in such a way before. At least not historically. Do you have any examples?”

    Look to its progenitor. Roger Williams. It also is the basis for a good deal of Anabaptist belief.

  • He calls on faith leaders to push policies he likes, while saying that faith should have nothing to say on policies he disagrees with. That is just hypocrisy.

    I respect Roger Williams, but I was hoping for more of an example of how “Most religions avoid entanglement in mundane secular concerns where possible.”

  • That is what happens when you use religion to justify the political. It is why it cheapens religious authority.

    ” “Most religions avoid entanglement in mundane secular concerns where possible.””

    It is far easier to count the ones which entangle themselves than the multitudes who do not. Even within the Catholic Church, it is only the most conservative members here who try to equate dogma with political alignment. Especially when the majority of Catholics in this country do not follow the church’s dogma on a good number of positions. The church itself had a rather strained history with democratic government.

  • Your juvenile mockery of Christian beliefs is no different from that of Roman authorities during the first three centuries A.D.
    In the end, however, whose ideas prevailed? “There is nothing new under the Sun.”

  • We have a representative form of government.

    That doe not require that you abandon your persona and your beliefs to represent your constituents.

  • You find the “intrusion” of Catholic conservatives into politics offensive because they more often than not oppose your positions.

    The rest is blather.

  • Julian Castro is not the type of “progressive” that is considered presidential material by the DNC. His identity as a Catholic at all makes him suspect. For true Catholic social justice is not well received by them. Every step “progressives” make leads away from ownership of the means of production, distributed over the mass of the people.

  • Ideas persist but governments always fall. Not a valid argument. Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism have survived. So has Wicca and now some on the alt-Right are reviving the Norse religions.

  • America doesn’t need a preacher in chief, nor do we need a cardinal in chief. As america become less religious, soon to be post christian, we don’t need to go backwards.

    Christianity is killing itself with archaic beliefs and practices that hurt gays and women, people with wild beliefs causing them to do horrible things in the name of jesus/god. God kills 158 separate times in the bible, whole cultures and populations at a time, is ok with rape and slavery, and divides people whose views are different. Let it die on its own.

  • he pretends and panders but I don’t believe it. he talks like an atheist. puts on a show. he defends separation of church and state using the language of an atheist.

  • true. they have looked at a nearby graveyard where the romans buried the crucified men. there were over 30 graves with the name jesus. a very common name. josephus writes about 4 prophets named jesus. the grave may not be unmarked, we just don’t know which jesus it was.

  • prevailed because rome made the worship of all other religions illegal, under punishment of death. christianity has never spread on it’s own merits. always by force. spanish inquisition anyone?

  • I have no evidence Obama’s anything other than a Christian but such a concept threatens me deeply so I’m going to pretend he’s an atheist.

    Fify

  • I watched the video and saw nothing that supports your Jesus grave commentary . You might want to read the many studies of Professors J D Crossan and G Ludemann to find the historical Jesus.

  • I read about this a lot. I don’t remember where I saw the grave story. If I do I’ll get it to you.

  • ” Even within the Catholic Church, it is only the most conservative
    members here who try to equate dogma with political alignment.”

    The United Church of Christ and the Episcopal Church, for just two examples, have no problem equating dogma with political alignment as pro-abortion, pro-LGBT, and both hemorrhaging members.

    The ONLY time you kvetch and whine about religion in politics is when it is a religion which disagrees with you.

  • they destroyed the pagan temples, tore up the texts, broke up the idols, and made christianity the established religion of rome. no they didn’t kill non christians by law. they made it impossible to worship them.

  • “For true Catholic social justice is not well received by them”

    Thank you for cheapening the Catholic Church to a base partisan political platform. There goes any attempt to pretend they have any moral or spiritual authority.

  • from that same page:

    Beginning of persecution of paganism
    Main article: Christian persecution of paganism under Constantius II

    A cult statue of the divinized Augustus, disfigured by a Christian cross carved into the emperor’s forehead.
    The actions of Constantius II, who reigned from 337 till 361, marked the beginning of the era of formal persecution against paganism by the Christian Roman Empire, with the emanation of laws and edicts which punished pagan practices.[23][24]

    From the 350s, new laws prescribed the death penalty for those who performed or attended pagan sacrifices, and for the worshipping of idols;[25] temples were shut down,[1][24] and the traditional Altar of Victory was removed from the Senate.[26] There were also frequent episodes of ordinary Christians destroying, pillaging, desecrating, and vandalizing many of the ancient pagan temples, tombs and monuments.

    The harsh imperial edicts had to face the vast following of paganism among the population, and the passive resistance of governors and magistrates.[1][31][32][33] The anti-pagan legislation, beginning with Constantius, would in time have an unfavourable influence on the Middle Ages and, in some ways, become the basis of the Inquisition.[

  • Indeed, Constantius II marked the beginning of the end.

    But it did not, as you had posted, mark the end, nor was there zero resistance, which is why six centuries later Greco-Roman polytheism still was extant.

  • The Catholic Church had no moral or spiritual authority according to you in hundreds of posts over some years.

    To give one example of what TiredCatholic refers to, no party which considers abortion a basic right can claim to support social justice.

  • actually it says I was right the first time. it did change over time. but pagans were killed for their beliefs for a century or so.

  • In some places, after 300 years of killing Christians in some places.

    It sucked to be under an emperor, eh?

  • Ah, you hold Catholics in high regard then? Or only Democrats who call themselves Catholics. For the record, I am not registered Republican.

  • I don’t go by one’s professed faith to measure my regard. I go by how they act.

    I find it interesting that you have all but declared yourself Pope. Determining who is a real Catholic and who is not. It’s funny how conservative religious belief seems to go hand in hand with narcissism.

    I find people who link their faith to partisan politics cheapen their faith. It undermines authority of a religion to speak for “a higher power”.

  • What exactly is Mr. Castro doing here? Linking his faith to partisan politics? I used the Gospel to speak to alot of this. But that hardly makes me Pope. Gee, I’m blushing 🙂

  • He is running for public office. Something which is far different than acting as a self professed defender of the faith.

    You pretend to be the sole authority as to who is and is not part of a given sect. A job left to its recognized hierarchy. Its funny how Conservative Catholics all seem to act like they are a self-appointed pope.

  • You want to turn your church into a PAC, go ahead. Just expect the same level of respect a PAC gets. 🙂

  • You respected me more, before Mr. Castro? I put out a plug for him on “The Hill,” as a test. Nobody paid the slightest attention.

  • “The Two Universal Sects

    They all err—Moslems, Jews,
    Christians, and Zoroastrians:

    Humanity follows two world-wide sects:
    One, man intelligent without religion,

    The second, religious without intellect. ”

    Al-Ma’arri

    , born AD 973 /, died AD 1058 / .

    Al-Ma’arri was a blind Arab philosopher, poet and writer.[1][2] He was a controversial
    rationalist of his time, attacking the dogmas of religion and rejecting the
    claim that Islam possessed any monopoly on truth.”

    Read more:
    http://www.answers.com/topic/resalat-al-ghufran#ixzz1lI6DuZmZ and http://www.humanistictexts.org/al_ma'arri.htm

    Death’s Debt is Paid in Full

    Death’s debt is then and there

    Paid down by dying men;

    But it is a promise bare

    That they shall rise again.

    Al-Ma’arri

  • So Friday on the “athiests have meetings” story I “tried” to be funny and tease Ben and spuddie going into the weekend.
    I called athiests meeting together a bunch of deviants.
    The response was fierce. I was caught off guard actually. I think using the term deviant really triggered a response.
    I was thinking about this over the weekend – I feel that normally we play defense.
    Anyway – just wanted to see what you think.

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