NAPLES, Fla. — “If you want to get scoffed at, go to the halls of Congress and say, ‘I believe in abstinence,’” former President George W. Bush said recently.
But he wasn’t getting scoffed at here. Far from it. The 43rd president of the United States received a standing ovation at a lunchtime gathering during the annual Legatus Summit in Naples, Fla.
Bush headlined the international gathering of Legatus members, addressing the convention by drawing from his two terms in the White House.
The former president also addressed the controversial “contraceptive mandate” issued by the federal Department of Health and Human Services. Speaking Feb. 4, as Catholic-led protests of the Obama administration’s violation of religious liberty were building to a crescendo, Bush called himself a practicing Methodist who has great respect for the Catholic Church. “I also believe in religious freedom,” he said. “I don’t think the government should intrude on consciences.”
The conference, held at the Ritz-Carlton Beach Resort in Naples Feb. 2-4, included speakers from the Church hierarchy, national and local government officials and educational and business leaders.
Legatus is an organization of more than 2,200 Catholic chief executive officers who meet monthly in 73 local chapters in the U.S., Canada, Ireland and Poland and dedicate themselves to learn, live and spread the Catholic faith as genuine ambassadors of Christ to their families, their workplaces and the wider society. Tom Monaghan, the former owner of Domino’s Pizza, started the organization 25 years ago, modeling it after a secular organization called the Young Presidents Organization.
This year’s gathering was marked by an especially festive atmosphere to honor the group’s Silver Jubilee. Some 600 people were in attendance. Other speakers included Cardinal Raymond Burke, prefect of the Vatican’s Apostolic Signatura and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.
“As I look back over the last 25 years of Legatus, I am inspired by all the men and women who have lived our mission and impacted countless others in the process,” Monaghan said. “And looking forward to the future of Legatus, I truly believe that we can be a source of life and energy for the Church in accomplishing her mission of spreading the truth of the Gospel throughout the country and indeed the world.”
Cardinal Burke, at an opening dinner, spoke about the “Universal Vocation to Holiness and the New Evangelization.”
“How many Catholics, instead of carrying out the New Evangelization, with its promise of life and freedom, are in fact, ‘at war’ — to use the language of the Catholic secretary of Health and Human Services — with the dictates of a rightly formed conscience?” he asked. “How many Catholics, instead of giving a strong witness to the truth, which God has written on every human heart, daily scandalize their fellow citizens — that is, daily lead their fellow citizens into confusion and error by acting publicly and obstinately against the law of God?”
The recent mandate of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services requiring all employers, including religious institutions, to cover sterilization and contraceptives (some of which are abortifacient) in their insurance plans was a constant topic of discussion among those attending the conference, and it was strenuously objected to by the speakers. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., a devout Catholic, organized a special session to explain what the House of Representatives intended to do to protect the freedom of religion and freedom of conscience in light of the Obama administration’s mandate.
‘People Depend on Us’
The second day began with an address by William Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights on “Why Catholicism Matters,” which is also the topic of his book to be published this spring.
Jindal, who has served as governor of Louisiana since 2008, followed and spoke at length about his conversion from the Hindu faith to Catholicism while he was a college student at Brown University. He encouraged Legatus members to share their faith in simple, day-to-day ways. It was a friend who gave him a Bible for a birthday present that opened up Jindal to the saving truth of the Catholic faith. He said small gestures can lead to great things for people who are searching for meaning and truth throughout the world.
Legates then heard from one of their own, J. David Karam of the Columbus, Ohio, chapter. He is the former president of Wendy’s International. He spoke about how members can and must fulfill the Legatus mission to study, live and spread the faith. He compared the intense training that a Wendy’s employee undergoes in order to excel at fast-food delivery with the often sparse preparation that young Catholics have recently been receiving in order to fulfill their mission as Christ’s disciples. He called for a renewal of catechesis and education at every level of the Church and challenged Legatus members to be leaders in bringing about this change. “There is no room for tepidness,” Karam said. “People depend on us to fulfill the Legatus mission.”
Register correspondent Father Matthew Gamber writes from Chicago.