The American people have elected Barack Obama president of the United States. Though racism remains in our culture, the election sends a signal that America finally has turned a corner in its painful history of race relations — from slavery to segregation to the opening of civil rights under the law to the call of an African-American man to the highest office. As a nation, we’ve taken a major step toward judging all people by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.

The president-elect and his family are also a sign for young African-Americans that in this country, if one works hard and builds a close, loving family life, anything, even the presidency, is possible.

As significant as Obama’s achievement is, it also speaks about how far the nation has come, and where it is going. Cultural spanersity, including the gifts of African Americans and contributions of recent immigrants from all over the world, tightens our nation’s fabric and enables us to face present challenges with the strength that comes from unity.

We live in a time of war, economic distress and deep spanisions about our national priorities. First among them is how we treat the most vulnerable Americans, including the frail elderly and most especially those Americans alive in the wombs of their mothers but not accorded the basic human right to life.

Catholics do not grapple with these issues in a vacuum. We do so in communion with the body of Christ, the Church, united through Christ’s real Eucharistic presence with us.

Our shepherds, the Bishops of the United States, met this week to consider priorities and policies for the Church in America in the years ahead. The Bishops discussed policy goals in five areas including cultural spanersity, strengthening marriage, faith formation and sacramental practice, life and dignity of the human person and vocations to priesthood and consecrated life.

Putting into place the concrete objectives of each goal, which readers may find in detail, can enable Catholic Americans to lead the nation toward a renewal of civic life for the common good of all. Upcoming editions of this newspaper will further explore the Bishops’ priorities and goals.

The Church embraces the spanersity that Obama represents, while Catholics and all people of good will work to protect the rights to human life and dignity. Catholics must pray constantly for our president-elect and the nation he will soon lead.