“We can breathe again, a weight has been lifted and I somehow feel lighter”. So says Donal Godfrey SJ, speaking in the wake of the 2020 elections in America. Donal is an Irish Jesuit working as a chaplain in the Jesuit University of San Francisco and he spoke recently to Pat Coyle of Irish Jesuit Communications about a number of issues arising from the historic election which saw one of the highest voter turnouts ever in the lifetime of the United States.
In the interview above Donal gives his own reaction and that of his fellow Jesuits to the defeat of sitting President Donald Trump by former Vice-President Joe Biden. He says the result is a great relief to many because the country was “on a precipice”, with its democracy was under threat. In the university where he works as a chaplain, there is a number of undocumented students. He says they too have come to him to express their relief that they can feel secure again as they try to study and get a good education.
Donal also notes that this feeling of relief was a worldwide sentiment and tells about a Jesuit from Italy who contacted him saying the process was almost akin to an ‘exorcism’. Donal himself uses an insight from Ignatian spirituality: “We were in desolation for the last four years,” he says.
But he is also keen to point out that almost half of the electorate, 70 million people, voted for Donald Trump, “and we can’t ignore or ‘other ‘ them.” He says that they must be listened to and understood. But he also says that there is a delicate balance to be made between respectfully listening to someone and at the same time not endorsing unacceptable and unChristian positions.
He discusses at length the role played by different religious groups and leaders in the run-up to the election, including the Catholic Church and Protestant evangelicals. He welcomes the fact that slightly more Catholics voted for Biden than did for Trump in 2016 and says that this could well have made a difference in states like Pennsylvania. But he is critical of some members of the Catholic hierarchy whom he did little to voice hope and vision for the country and instead gave ‘disgraceful’ endorsements to the President.
Regarding Joe Biden, he was keen to dismiss those who say his Catholicism was just a ruse. “I did not vote for him because of his Catholicism but he is a committed Catholic. He’s given an address in the Vatican and met with Pope Francis who impressed him deeply when he spoke to him about his late son Beau.”
Donal also notes that Biden has suffered deeply in his life and he believes his learning from what he has been through and his clearly visible empathy will be a great resource to him during his presidency.
Nonetheless, he is all too aware of the challenges facing a man “who is not perfect”. America is a very divided country, he notes, in need of healing on so many fronts, not least in the area of racial inequality.
Add to that the resistance by Donald Trump to concede, and his determination to challenge the result all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary. This means that Joe Biden and his VP Kamala Harris have a mountain to climb. Donal met Kamal Harris who worked in the attorney’s office in San Francisco and welcomes the fact that a young woman of colour will assume the second-highest office in the land for the first time.
The road ahead is not easy he says, but for the moment, he and his community are rejoicing.