An Interview With Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone

In 2019, when Archbishop Cordileone joined the Cross Catholic Outreach board of directors. “I look forward to helping Cross Catholic in its collaboration with the Universal Catholic Church and it’s support of the charitable works of the Holy Father,” he said. We were blessed to sit down with the archbishop at the beginning of 2022 to answer some more detailed questions about our mission of helping the poorest of the poor.

CCO: Archbishop Corleone, thank you for welcoming us to the Cathedral of St. Mary. As a member of our Board of Directors, how do you believe the works of Cross Catholic Outreach relates to Catholic social teaching?

Archbishop Corleone: Catholic social teaching has its basic principles about the dignity of the human person, about solidarity, about the spiritual and social nature of the human person, that we are essentially spiritual beings destined for a transcendent goal or life of heaven. And we work out our salvation in the context of society, sharing generously of our gifts. This is perfectly what Cross Catholic Outreach’s mission is about, sharing generously of the gifts that God has given to us in solidarity with the poor, and in that way, spreading the love of Jesus Christ, to those who need that love. And when we share it with that generous heart, with the love of Christ, for the good of the other without expecting anything in return, that’s when we experience the real blessings.

CCO: At Cross Catholic Outreach, we have seven core values, and one of them is preference for the poor. Can you talk about why we all should have a preference for the poor?

Archbishop Corleone: Certainly, anyone who professes to be a follower of Jesus Christ has to have that preference for the poor, he became poor, he was God and became man born into a working-class family and then lived as a poor itinerant preacher. He not only came to bring healing to the poor, but he identified with them. So, anyone who wants to be a disciple of Jesus Christ and identify with him must have that preference for the poor.

CCO: Archbishop, never before has the human race enjoyed such an abundance of wealth. Still, so many people live in poverty. How can the church expand its ministry to the poor?

Archbishop Corleone: In a number of ways, first of all, by encouraging that spirit of generous sharing of the blessings that God has given to each one, but it has to go beyond a sharing of material blessings, there has to be that personal encounter, I think one of the best things we can do is to bring people who are from areas of means to encounter those who are struggling and experiencing material poverty, that human interaction is what really changes hearts, and to make it a spiritual endeavor, which begins with that personal human encounter. So, it’s a matter of, as Pope St. John Paul II, defined solidarity, whereas each gives and each receives, we all have something to give, no matter how materially poor one is, we all have something to give. And with an open heart, we all have something to receive as well.

CCO: There’s a document from the Second Vatican Council that says subhuman living conditions are among the many things that poison human society. How do you think we can make people in our country more aware of poverty around the world?

Archbishop Corleone: Certainly, we need to highlight this more through the media opportunities that we have. But again, I would go back to the personal encounter, one thing that many of our schools do, and other faith formation programs that we have, such as for confirmation, they bring the young people to actually serve the poor, where they encounter them. Whether it’s helping out in a dining facility to feed the hungry, whether it’s visiting an orphanage, such as assisting with building homes for the poor, there are so many of these opportunities. When it’s done in a way that is with a true spirit and formative, not just giving some of your time to do something nice for the poor and then go back to the way your life was, but making it a regular experience, and then reflecting on it spiritually, so it’s truly formative. That’s what sensitizes the hearts to the plight of the poor and to help people understand that there are many of our brothers and sisters living in those subhuman conditions.

CCO: Over the past few decades, the church has used the phrase “integral human development is the best way to address poverty”. Why is this model of helping the poor so effective?

Archbishop Corleone: Again, it’s not just a matter of those who have means giving from their surplus, sort of a handout to those who are in need. Integral human development means not only the material, but the spiritual, emotional and psychological, and social as well. It is the whole person that we have to attend to. And when we do that, we build up the sense of what started with Pope St. John Paul II and then Pope Benedict talked a lot about it and certainly Pope Francis has about human ecology, that all areas of life affect the others the economic, the physical environment, the moral virtues, the spiritual, all of them are interconnected and we cannot attend only to one and ignore the others. If we think we’re going to make an improvement and help people truly develop their whole person, so, we need to attend to all of them together.

CCO: A couple of years ago, Pope Francis, was addressing Italy’s pro-life movement. And he said, “Defending unborn babies is the cornerstone of the common good”. How do you see the church responding to that imperative?

Archbishop Corleone: The church is responding to that imperative, I’m so proud of my fellow Catholics and other people of faith as well for providing the real love and support that women in crisis, pregnancy needs. Every child in the mother’s womb would be welcomed with open arms in our society. But so many women need support, they need not only medical care – again, this is integral – not only medical care, they need emotional support, moral support, sometimes they need counseling, they need spiritual support, and other types of material support after the baby is born as well. It’s a matter of working. Pope Francis is always speaking about accompanying them, it’s working with her, not just up to the time the baby is born, but afterward, as well, she needs blankets, diapers, job training, teach her how to fill out a resume and all that integral development that people of faith are providing women this opportunity. So, I see the church is responding. We need to be ever more attentive to that and build that up as much as possible. That is the Christian response to a woman in a situation such as that.

CCO: In his message for the recent World Day for the Poor, Pope Francis wrote, “The poor evangelize us”. What can our brothers and sisters living in poverty teach us about the Lord?

Archbishop Corleone: I spoke a moment ago about schools and other faith formation programs for students. I used to – well still do – I know they’ve done an experience like that, when I have confirmations to ask them to reflect on it. And they all say the same thing. “They were so poor, they had nothing, but they were so happy. We just gave a little bit of our time, and they were so grateful”. So, I told them that gives you something to think about. Here we have everything and people are depressed and miserable. They have nothing and they’re happy. So, it’s a very valuable lesson the poor can teach us about where real happiness in life lies.

CCO: Several years ago, Cross Catholic Outreach launched a ministry called, Box of Joy, specifically to bring Christmas presents to children in poverty. And of course, we’ve seen in the gospel that Jesus has a great affinity for children, He loves them, He wants them to be around Him. Can you speak to how important it is we show children around the world God’s love?

Archbishop Corleone: Well, children are in that very formative stage in life, when experiences in childhood one carries with one for the rest of one’s life. So, for children to experience that love of Christ through a box of joy as material things but it’s also has a spiritual message to it as well. So, it’s very sacramental, right? We’re using tangible physical reality to communicate the love of Christ. Again, it doesn’t take much, children don’t need big fancy toys, expensive toys. The greatest joys are in the simple things that engages their imagination and their creativity. And through that, we can touch their hearts with the love of Christ.

CCO: As the Archbishop of San Francisco and you have many demands on your time and you no doubt you get many invitations to be involved in all kinds of organizations. What does it mean to you personally, to lend your support as a member of the Board of Directors of Cross Catholic Outreach?

Archbishop Corleone: I’m very proud of all that Cross Catholic Outreach accomplishes in serving the poor and those in destitute situations. Again, it’s only when we give generously of ourselves for the good of others that we experience any real joy. And even if it is a step removed from the on sight personal encounter, I know that lending support as a bishop is helping the mission greatly. So, that is why I find my gratitude to God for this opportunity and the joy that comes from serving others.

CCO: Archbishop, thank you for your time, on behalf of everybody in Cross Catholic Outreach, thanks for being part of our board.

Archbishop Corleone: You’re welcome and thank you.