Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Bishop Holley Goes To Graceland – Pope Taps DC Aux. for Memphis

(Updated below with presser video/installation date.)

Roman Noon, Tuesday 23 August – As Cardinal Theodore McCarrick gradually returns to kicking after knee-replacement surgery earlier this month, the hits just keep on coming for his onetime top aides. (Put another way, Ted's reaping the "Wuerlwind"... still in all, as "get well" gifts go, it's hard to beat.)

Six days after dear Uncle's lead deputy in Washington was called to Rome as head of a Vatican dicastery, at Noon today – in an unusual August nod – the Pope named the cardinal's last "son," the veteran DC auxiliary Martin Holley, 61, as fifth bishop of Memphis in succession to the venerable Terry Steib SVD, a prelate of some 32 years and the longtime convener of the African-American bishops, who reached the retirement age in May 2015.

An exceedingly warm, kind, ever-smiling figure, Holley spent his life and priesthood as a pastor in the Florida Panhandle until his 2004 appointment as Washington's customary auxiliary with primary responsibility for its sizable Black church. Notably, before heading north the Pope's pick was assigned to the vocations office in his home diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee – a particularly key area for the 80,000-member Memphis church, which has boasted a disproportionately high number of seminarians over recent years, ordaining no less than five priests in 2014.

Among other unique attributes of the western Tennessee fold, Steib's stewardship of the diocesan schools is likewise a particular standout. In a move practically unheard of elsewhere, the retiring bishop reopened six shuttered inner-city schools in 1998, entrusting their future to a first-of-its-kind partnership model whose success has led to attempts to imitate it far afield. (Here's lookin' at you, Mary McDonald.)

On another front, as the bench's last active heir of one John Lawrence May – the St Louis archbishop/bench chief whose liturgical preferences were famously summarized as "wine, women and song" – Steib has been increasingly focused on the church's outreach to gays and lesbians, chartering one of the few diocesan offices dedicated to ministry to the same-sex attracted and, in January, devoting his last pastoral letter to what he termed "a new season" in the church, marked by a "compassionate response" to those in irregular situations vis a vis church teaching: a stance heavily echoed three months later by the Pope himself in Amoris Laetitia.

A Divine Word Father born in Louisiana, Steib became the first African-American bishop in the long history of St Louis Catholicism on his 1984 appointment as an auxiliary there, taking the reins in Memphis eight years later in succession to the Benedictine Daniel Buechlein upon his return to Indianapolis.

While Buechlein's own predecessor along the Mississippi – the princely Francis Stafford – would go on to become a cardinal in the Curia, as never before Steib's tenure saw Rome's spotlight fall on Memphis' homegrown clergy with the rise of Peter Sartain, a son of Graceland's Whitehaven neighborhood, who would be launched over a decade from being Steib's Chancellor to the helm of the million-member Seattle archdiocese.

SVILUPPO: Per Memphis Chancery, the installation has been scheduled for Wednesday, October 19th, to be held in the city's Convention Center.

Meanwhile, keeping to his custom for the province he's led for the last decade, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville made the trip west to preside at this morning's presser. His presidency of the USCCB now in its home-stretch before wrapping in November, Kurtz marked another milestone last week – his 70th birthday on Thursday, so belated auguri to the Father-Prez.

All that said, here's fullvid of Holley's introduction to his new charge:


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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

As "Journey of Faith and Challenge" Begins, The Prefect Speaks

SVILUPPO – 3pm ET: And here, (almost) live from Dallas Chancery, the full afternoon presser given by Bishop Kevin Farrell on his appointment today by the Pope as founding Prefect of the new Vatican Dicastery for Family, Laity and Life...


While a Curial head being named from afar has traditionally learnt of his appointment in a phone call from the Secretary of State, in an extraordinary sign of this nod's import, Farrell said above – amid flashes of his trademark dry humor – that the call informing him of his selection came from Francis himself... and, confirming a morning report here, that he needed to be "convinced" to accept the job. (If you haven't clicked in already: 1. you'll want to hear the story for yourself; 2. stop being illiterate.)

In an additional headline, the Pope's pick as the church's lead spokesman for pro-life issues notably used his new pulpit to appeal to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) – the state's first Catholic chief since Mexican rule – to "show mercy" amid another execution scheduled for next week. Despite the longstanding advocacy of the Lone Star bishops on ending capital sentences – a call the Pope himself starkly amplified in last September's historic address to a joint meeting of Congress – Texas has led the US in exercising the death penalty, accounting for roughly a third of the nation's executions over recent years.

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2.30pm ET – For all the cited qualities that've suddenly landed him a catbird's seat in the heights of the Roman Curia, one thing Kevin Farrell has rarely gotten credit for is his strength as a preacher: it's carried modestly, to be sure, but it's there nonetheless.

Accordingly – all the more given the lack of a press conference upon his appointment today as founding Prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life (presser's coming later) – below is the aforementioned homily the K-Far gave at February's ordination of his latest auxiliary in Dallas, Bishop Greg Kelly: a reflection on Pope Francis' vision of what it means to be a bishop for today's church, one that now doubles as a statement to the scene at large... including an especially relevant spin on Papa Bergoglio's oft-cited exhortation that true pastors bear "the smell of the sheep."


Building upon the morning line, discussions are indeed underway toward the appointment of Farrell's successor at the helm of the 1.3 million-member Dallas fold, which the new Prefect reportedly had to be "convinced" to leave, apparently to the point of turning down the Rome offer before finally coming to accept it. Given the visibility and voice of the church's lead post in what's now become the US' fourth-largest metropolitan area, at least on a symbolic level, the impending pick for Cowboys Country now jumps to the front of the nation's appointment docket, even if the waiting sees of Newark and Rockville Centre (whose incumbents are past the retirement age) are larger still. That said, today's move likewise brings a bit of history: for the first time ever, a Curial chief has been called to Rome from the American Southwest – yet another fitting nod to a Texas Catholicism which is still adjusting to its newfound status as the largest religious body in the second-biggest state.

On another facet, meanwhile, having distinguished himself on social media with a moving real-time stream of prayer and reflection as Dallas was shaken last month with the shooting of a dozen police officers amid a protest – five of them killed – it is especially telling that the prelate who now becomes the top Vatican voice on pro-life issues has become particularly and increasingly outspoken on reforming the nation's gun laws, which he recently termed "an invitation to kill" and, amid the ongoing spate of mass shootings, the enabling of a reality that "would be ludicrous if the situation were not so tragic." Accordingly, today's move is likely to bolster the nascent push for enhanced gun control measures that's been quietly building among leading US bishops over recent months, on the grounds that it is a "life issue."

To date, the most prominent prod on the topic has come in a rare public intervention from the Pope's principal Stateside adviser, Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, who called the inaction on gun laws "very frustrating" and "a pale response" in a June interview during the USCCB's closed-door triennial retreat in the diocese of Orange.

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For K-Far, The "Home" Office – Pope Taps Big D Prelate To Launch Family-Laity Super-Arm

SVILUPPO – 3pm ET: Fullvid of appointment presser and more analysis.

7am ET – For a good while now, you've known that the founding head of the new Vatican super-office for Laity, Family and Life would be an American... and indeed it is – at Roman Noon this Wednesday, the Pope named Bishop Kevin Farrell, the 68 year-old head of Dallas' 1.3 million-member fold since 2007, as the first Prefect of the combined entity, formally designated a "Dicastery," which officially launches on September 1st.

Now the ranking US prelate in the Roman Curia – where his brother, Brian, has long served as bishop-secretary of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity – even as the move short-circuits the long-held wish for the nation's sixth-largest city to be elevated as seat of a third metropolitan province in Texas, the Vatican statement announcing the move conspicuously did not include Farrell's elevation to the rank of archbishop, which has always been customary practice for appointments of this kind.

While the pick of the Dublin-born ex-Legionary of Christ might come as a surprise in some quarters, the threads explaining it can be gleaned on several fronts.

First, and most crucially, while no one would see the low-key yet driven (and, quietly, quite funny) Irishman as some kind of wild-haired progressive, he has been notably unstinting in his affection for and loyalty to the reigning Pope; among other examples, Farrell used his homily at February's ordination of his latest auxiliary, Greg Kelly, to lay out Francis' vision of being a bishop in depth.

Secondly, by every account Farrell has succeeded at the high-wire challenge that marked the first stage of his tenure in the Metroplex – unifying a roiled Dallas church after the divisive tenure of his predecessor, Bishop Charles Grahmann, when the diocese's staggering growth (a more than sixfold increase of Catholics since 1990) was coupled with an eruption of abuse scandals. In addition, with Hispanic fluency steeped in Mexico from his days in the Legion, the bishop has has successfully navigated the Latin and Anglo realities of the mammoth diocese, whose 67 parishes are effectively teeming at the seams, and the replacement of parish churches with significantly larger new buildings has been a common occurrence. (He would open new parishes, he's often said, if only he had the priests – or, as one pastor memorably put the crunch, "We're forbidden to die.")

Third, he enjoys close ties and clear goodwill among four prominent figures in Francis' orbit: having served as vicar-general and auxiliary of Washington under Cardinals Theodore McCarrick and Donald Wuerl until his southern transfer, the sister of the ever-influential head of Francis' "Gang of 9," Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, lives in Dallas, while the work that brought him to DC to begin with saw him succeed then-Bishop Sean O'Malley as director of the capital's Centro Catolico Hispano, which the Capuchin founded a decade earlier as Latinos began to arrive in the city en masse, only leaving the role on his appointment to the Virgin Islands.

Lastly, having been a key figure in the USCCB boiler room over his 14 years on the bench – leading various elements of the conference's temporalities and serving as its executive-level treasurer – while Farrell is an administrative whiz and knows the church's tendency to be obsessed with process, he doesn't exactly revel in it and understands its place as an element of the greater good. Beyond the sheer challenge of setting up a new ministry that will combine two pontifical councils – and likely bring its share of tough decisions – the organizational element is critical as the combined dicastery will oversee the preparations for the global church's two largest regular events: World Youth Day and the World Meeting of Families, the latter's next edition to be held in 2018 in the new prefect's native Dublin.

On top of all this, having become adept at social media with his own blog and Twitter feed, even if the Pope's pick isn't the type who'd be knocking over people to get to a camera, Farrell's always played well in the spotlight. That public role will likewise be of high import given his new post's natural role of serving as the church's lead spokesman on family issues, and in particular at the helm of the dicastery most pointedly tasked with the ongoing implementation of Amoris Laetitia, as a palpable amount of head-banging over the Pope's Post-Synodal Exhortation continues four months since its release.

In tandem with today's appointment, Francis published a motu proprio formally establishing the new Dicastery and suppressing the respective Pontifical Councils for Laity and the Family, merging the duo alongside the Pontifical Academy for Life into Farrell's office. In the text, the Pope writes of his desire that the church "offer sustenance and help" to laity and families, "that they might be active witnesses of the Gospel in our time" and might "make manifest the love of the merciful Lord toward all humanity."

On a related note, given the vivid debate among canonists over which rank the consolidated office should hold as it exercises some jurisdiction – which, in the strict sense, is the mark of a Curial congregation – only today has the generic, unusual designation of "Dicastery" emerged for the new organ, which presages a further breakdown of the traditional ranking of the offices as Francis' overhaul of the Holy See's governing structures continues apace.

Lastly for now, as some fireworks are bound to ensue in the top rank with the appointment for a now-vacant Dallas church – where Farrell was already laying the groundwork to receive another auxiliary – it bears recalling that, with the new Prefect to be aided by three Secretaries for each of the new office's areas of competence, the legislation establishing the Dicastery provides that (in a first for a top Curial organ) the lead deputies need not be clergy, but may likewise be named from among religious or the laity.

SVILUPPO: In a statement posted on his blog – after plugging Amoris right off the bat – Farrell hinted at a rapid appointment of his successor in Dallas, adding that, as sole auxiliary, Kelly will be apostolic administrator during the vacancy... and, quite possibly, his top choice for the permanent nod:
I am extremely humbled that our Holy Father Pope Francis has selected me to lead this newly formed dicastery. I look forward to being part of the important work of the universal Church in the promotion of the laity and the apostolate of the laity and for the pastoral care of the family in accordance with the Pope’s recent apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, the Joy of Love, and the support of human life.

While I am grateful for the Holy Father’s confidence in me, I meet this news with mixed emotions.

Dallas has been my home for 10 years and, from the beginning, I quickly grew to love the beautiful people and culture here. The strong faith, kindness and generosity of the people in the Diocese of Dallas surpassed all of my expectations. My brother priests were among the first to welcome me and I am extremely grateful for their collaboration, friendship, wise counsel and prayers. A bishop can get nothing of significance done in a diocese without the hard work and cooperation of the pastors, priests, diocesan staff and people. Together, I believe we have accomplished many goals, and put others in motion, that will continue to build up the Catholic Church in North Texas.

I cannot express enough my gratitude for all that the priests, staff and people have done and continue to do for me and the Diocese of Dallas. I know our Holy Father is working, as we speak, to find the right man to serve as the new chief shepherd. I am confident that, upon my departure, Bishop Greg Kelly will handle the needs of the diocese in the interim. Please pray for him. I also ask that you please pray for me as I begin this next unexpected chapter of my priesthood. May God continue to bless the Diocese of Dallas.
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Sunday, July 31, 2016

"For Him, You Are Important!" – From Krakow, "World Youth Day Continues Tomorrow At Home"

And so, for the 14th time since John Paul II called young people to Rome in 1986, the global World Youth Day drew to a close this Sunday morning with the climactic "field Mass" the Polish Pope took with him onto the global stage... yet this time, the custom had returned to the land of its birth.

The finale of an emotional five-day trek, while the crowd stacked out at roughly half of the initial estimates of 3 million – despite the largest-ever US delegation for an overseas edition of the "Olympic event" – this WYD nonetheless marks a crossroads on several fronts. Having marked his swan song as archbishop of Krakow over this week after four decades as Papa Wojtyla's omnipresent first aide, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz is soon to retire at 77, possibly to be succeeded by the last hometown cleric from John Paul's inner circle: Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, now 71, whose tenure at the helm of the Pontifical Council for the Laity – the Vatican office which oversees WYD planning – ends on September 1st with the opening of the new, consolidated dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life, its founding leadership still to be announced and its precise canonical status yet to be clarified.

On another key front, this PopeTrip likewise brings another key player's victory lap as Fr Federico Lombardi hands over the reins of the Holy See Press Office tomorrow to St Louis' own Greg Burke and the Spanish journalist Paloma Garcia Ovejero – the first all-lay team to oversee the Vatican's media relations, with Garcia the first woman given a lead public role. Even if the generous yet guarded Lombardi was already spotted traipsing around this weekend in a traditional pilgrim's hat and backpack, the well-loved Jesuit isn't home free just yet – for one, he retains his role as one of four top counselors to the Society's Father-General at least until this fall's 36th Congregation which'll elect a new "Black Pope"... even more, though, he has one last in-flight press conference to referee on today's return trip to Rome.

And lastly, at the end of today's closing liturgy, the Pope announced that the next WYD will be held in 2019 in Panama City, Panama – beyond being a place in Francis' cherished "peripheries," the event's first edition in Central America, as well as further evidence of an obvious affection for a country to which he had already given its first-ever cardinal last year (albeit not in the capital itself).

Even if only Providence knows who will lead that celebration, the choice of a site away from a "global capital" of commerce or culture marks a shift of focus and mission for World Youth Day, a change whose full shape will emerge over the course of the planning process.

All that said, below is this morning's fullvid...



...and English text of the Pope's homily today – yet another preach relying on analogies to modern technology, on which he tends to lean heavily when driving home a message to the next generation:
Dear young people, you have come to Krakow to meet Jesus. Today’s Gospel speaks to us of just such a meeting between Jesus and a man named Zacchaeus, in Jericho (cf. Lk 19:1-10). There Jesus does not simply preach or greet people; as the Evangelist tells us, he passed through the city (v. 1). In other words, Jesus wants to draw near to us personally, to accompany our journey to its end, so that his life and our life can truly meet.

An amazing encounter then takes place, with Zacchaeus, the chief “publican” or tax collector. Zacchaeus was thus a wealthy collaborator of the hated Roman occupiers, someone who exploited his own people, someone who, because of his ill repute, could not even approach the Master. His encounter with Jesus changed his life, just as it has changed, and can daily still change, each of our lives. But Zacchaeus had to face a number of obstacles in order to meet Jesus. It was not easy for him; he had to face a number of obstacles. At least three of these can also say something to us.

The first obstacle is smallness of stature. Zacchaeus couldn’t see the Master because he was little. Even today we can risk not getting close to Jesus because we don’t feel big enough, because we don’t think ourselves worthy. This is a great temptation; it has to do not only with self-esteem, but with faith itself. For faith tells us that we are “children of God… that is what we are” (1 Jn 3:1). We have been created in God’s own image; Jesus has taken upon himself our humanity and his heart will never be separated from us; the Holy Spirit wants to dwell within us. We have been called to be happy for ever with God!

That is our real “stature”, our spiritual identity: we are God’s beloved children, always. So you can see that not to accept ourselves, to live glumly, to be negative, means not to recognize our deepest identity. It is like walking away when God wants to look at me, trying to spoil his dream for me. God loves us the way we are, and no sin, fault or mistake of ours makes him change his mind. As far as Jesus is concerned – as the Gospel shows – no one is unworthy of, or far from, his thoughts. No one is insignificant. He loves all of us with a special love; for him all of us are important: you are important! God counts on you for what you are, not for what you possess. In his eyes the clothes you wear or the kind of cell phone you use are of absolutely no concern. He doesn’t care whether you are stylish or not; he cares about you, just as you are! In his eyes, you are precious, and your value is inestimable.

At times in our lives, we aim lower rather than higher. At those times, it is good to realize that God remains faithful, even obstinate, in his love for us. The fact is, he loves us even more than we love ourselves. He believes in us even more than we believe in ourselves. He is always “cheering us on”; he is our biggest fan. He is there for us, waiting with patience and hope, even when we turn in on ourselves and brood over our troubles and past injuries. But such brooding is unworthy of our spiritual stature! It is a kind of virus infecting and blocking everything; it closes doors and prevents us from getting up and starting over. God, on the other hand, is hopelessly hopeful! He believes that we can always get up, and he hates to see us glum and gloomy. It is sad to see young people who are glum. Because we are always his beloved sons and daughters. Let us be mindful of this at the dawn of each new day. It will do us good to pray every morning: “Lord, I thank you for loving me; I am sure that you love me; help me to be in love with my own life!” Not with my faults, that need to be corrected, but with life itself, which is a great gift, for it is a time to love and to be loved.

Zacchaeus faced a second obstacle in meeting Jesus: the paralysis of shame. We spoke a little about this yesterday. We can imagine what was going on in his heart before he climbed that sycamore. It must have been quite a struggle – on one hand, a healthy curiosity and desire to know Jesus; on the other, the risk of appearing completely ridiculous. Zacchaeus was public figure, a man of power, but deeply hated. He knew that, in trying to climb that tree, he would have become a laughingstock to all. Yet he mastered his shame, because the attraction of Jesus was more powerful. You know what happens when someone is so attractive that we fall in love with them: we end up ready to do things we would never have even thought of doing. Something similar took place in the heart of Zacchaeus, when he realized that Jesus was so important that he would do anything for him, since Jesus alone could pull him out of the mire of sin and discontent. The paralysis of shame did not have the upper hand. The Gospel tells us that Zacchaeus “ran ahead”, “climbed” the tree, and then, when Jesus called him, he “hurried down” (vv. 4, 6). He took a risk, he put his life on the line. For us too, this is the secret of joy: not to stifle a healthy curiosity, but to take a risk, because life is not meant to be tucked away. When it comes to Jesus, we cannot sit around waiting with arms folded; he offers us life – we can’t respond by thinking about it or “texting” a few words!

Dear young friends, don’t be ashamed to bring everything to the Lord in confession, especially your weaknesses, your struggles and your sins. He will surprise you with his forgiveness and his peace. Don’t be afraid to say “yes” to him with all your heart, to respond generously and to follow him! Don’t let your soul grow numb, but aim for the goal of a beautiful love which also demands sacrifice. Say a firm “no” to the narcotic of success at any cost and the sedative of worrying only about yourself and your own comfort.

After his small stature, after the paralysis of shame, there was a third obstacle that Zacchaeus had to face. It was no longer an interior one, but was all around him. It was the grumbling of the crowd, who first blocked him and then criticized him: How could Jesus have entered his house, the house of a sinner! How truly hard it is to welcome Jesus, how hard it is to accept a “God who is rich in mercy” (Eph 2:4)! People will try to block you, to make you think that God is distant, rigid and insensitive, good to the good and bad to the bad. Instead, our heavenly Father “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good” (Mt 5:45). He demands of us real courage: the courage to be more powerful than evil by loving everyone, even our enemies. People may laugh at you because you believe in the gentle and unassuming power of mercy. But do not be afraid. Think of the motto of these days: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” (Mt 5:7). People may judge you to be dreamers, because you believe in a new humanity, one that rejects hatred between peoples, one that refuses to see borders as barriers and can cherish its own traditions without being self-centred or small-minded. Don’t be discouraged: with a smile and open arms, you proclaim hope and you are a blessing for our one human family, which here you represent so beautifully!

That day the crowd judged Zacchaeus; they looked him over, up and down. But Jesus did otherwise: he gazed up at him (v. 5). Jesus looks beyond the faults and sees the person. He does not halt before bygone evil, but sees future good. His gaze remains constant, even when it is not met; it seeks the way of unity and communion. In no case does it halt at appearances, but looks to the heart. Jesus looks to our hearts, your heart, my heart. With this gaze of Jesus, you can help bring about another humanity, without looking for acknowledgement but seeking goodness for its own sake, content to maintain a pure heart and to fight peaceably for honesty and justice. Don’t stop at the surface of things; distrust the worldly cult of appearances, cosmetic attempts to improve our looks. Instead, “download” the best “link” of all, that of a heart which sees and transmits goodness without growing weary. The joy that you have freely received from God, please, freely give away (cf. Mt 10:8): so many people are waiting for it! So many are waiting for it from you.

Finally let us listen to the words that Jesus spoke to Zacchaeus, which to be seem meant for us today, for each one of us: “Come down, for I must stay at your house today” (v. 5). “Come down, for I must stay with you today. Open to me the door of your heart”. Jesus extends the same invitation to you: “I must stay at your house today”. We can say that World Youth Day begins today and continues tomorrow, in your homes, since that is where Jesus wants to meet you from now on. The Lord doesn’t want to remain in this beautiful city, or in cherished memories alone. He wants to enter your homes, to dwell in your daily lives: in your studies, your first years of work, your friendships and affections, your hopes and dreams. How greatly he desires that you bring all this to him in prayer! How much he hopes that, in all the “contacts” and “chats” of each day, pride of place be given to the golden thread of prayer! How much he wants his word to be able to speak to you day after day, so that you can make his Gospel your own, so that it can serve as a compass for you on the highways of life!

In asking to come to your house, Jesus calls you, as he did Zacchaeus, by name. All of us, Jesus calls by name. Your name is precious to him. The name “Zacchaeus” would have made people back then think of the remembrance of God. Trust the memory of God: his memory is not a “hard disk” that “saves” and “archives” all our data, his memory is a heart filled with tender compassion, one that finds joy in “erasing” in us every trace of evil. May we too now try to imitate the faithful memory of God and treasure the good things we have received in these days. In silence, let us remember this encounter, let us preserve the memory of the presence of God and his word, and let us listen once more to the voice of Jesus as he calls us by name. So let us now pray silently, remembering and thanking the Lord who wanted us to be here and has come here to meet us.
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Saturday, July 30, 2016

In Krakow, The Shadow of Memory... and "The Lord of Risk"

Given this weekend's "homecoming" of World Youth Day to the place that birthed its founder, we'd be remiss to start anywhere but with St John Paul II and the zenith of the moment he made into the church's "Olympic event" – the historic throng of 5 million at Manila in 1995, which stood for two decades as the largest crowd ever to gather for a Pope:



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Even as the choice of Krakow made for a deeply evocative link to Papa Wojtyla – whose enduring hold on hearts has brought out the largest turnout of bishops ever for a WYD – the feeling emerging from this edition is a bit different from the usual exuberance for an ostensible few reasons.

First, 11 years since his death, the immense shadow of John Paul in absentia is palpable above all in a Poland where reminders of his presence remain part of daily life. Second, with that void especially underscored by the reigning pontiff's nightly appearances (above) at the "Pope's Window" of the Krakow Archbishop's House which his predecessor had made his own – and where a life-sized image of John Paul is placed the rest of the time – this five-day trip's other emotional centerpiece spoke even more powerfully of sorrow: Francis' rending visit yesterday to the concentration camp at Auschwitz (fullvid), for which the Pope scrapped a planned speech, wishing to remain silent throughout as he visited the "death wall" at which Nazi firing squads shot their prisoners and – in a particiularly harrowing moment – prayed alone in the darkened cell where the future St Maximilian Kolbe spent two weeks starving until his death, the Franciscan friar offering himself to die in lieu of a young father.

(Adding to the power of the latter moment (left), by pure coincidence the Pope's visit came 75 years exactly to the week when Kolbe was condemned to die.)

Lastly, meanwhile, far from the electric jolt of the last World Youth Day in Rio de Janiero – when, four months after his election, the first Latin American Pope returned home, spurring an ecstatic crowd of 3 million to converge on the fly – this WYD takes place amid a jittery fear in the West, above all in Europe, as violence and uncertainty reign, a sense only heightened when masses of people are gathered.

Accordingly, before heading to tonight's penultimate vigil with the pilgrims, Francis made an unscheduled stop at a Krakow church to venerate the relics of two martyred, now-beatified Polish missionaries in Peru killed in the 1990s by the latter's Communist-inspired Shining Path guerrillas.

During the visit, the Pope debuted a "Prayer for Peace and protection from violence and terrorism," its fulltext below in English:
O almighty and merciful God, Lord of the universe and of history. All that You have created is good and your compassion for the mistakes of mankind knows no limits.

We come to You today to ask You to keep in peace the world and its people, to keep far away from it the devastating wave of terrorism, to restore friendship and instill in the hearts of your creatures the gift of trust and of readiness to forgive.

O Giver of life, we pray to You also for all those who have died as victims of brutal terrorist attacks. Grant them their eternal reward. May they intercede for the world that is torn apart by conflicts and disagreements.

O Jesus, Prince of Peace, we pray to You for the ones who have been wounded in these acts of inhuman violence: children and young people, old people and innocent people accidentally involved in evil. Heal their bodies and hearts; console them with Your strength and, at the same time, take away any hatred and a desire for revenge.

Holy Spirit Consoler, visit the families of the victims of terrorism, families that suffer through no fault of their own. Wrap them in the mantle of Your divine mercy. Make them find again in You and in themselves the strength and courage to continue to be brothers and sisters for others, above all for immigrants, giving witness to Your love by their lives.

Touch the hearts of terrorists so that they may recognize the evil of their actions and may turn to the way of peace and goodness, of respect for the life and for the dignity of every human being, regardless of religion, origin, wealth or poverty.

O God, Eternal Father, in Your mercy hear our prayer which we raise up to You amidst the deafening noise and desperation of the world. We turn to You with great hope, full of trust in Your infinite Mercy. Made strong by the examples of the blessed martyrs of Perú, Zbigniew and Michael, who have rendered courageous testimony to the Gospel, to the point of offering their blood, we entrust ourselves to the intercession of Your Most Holy Mother. We ask for the gift of peace and of the elimination from our midst of the sore of terrorism.

Through Christ our Lord.
Amen.
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Upon arriving at the field dubbed the Campus Misericordiae for the traditional Saturday night vigil – with a group of pilgrims packed in the Popemobile (fullvid) – Francis and a crowd estimated at 1.6 million heard testimonies from a group of young people on the challenges they face and the strength and encouragement born of their faith. In the process, a series of related scenes were dramatized by a group of silent actors, including John Paul's memorable embrace in prison of Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turkish gunman who attempted to assassinate the Polish pontiff in 1981 (and, in his latest spate of comments last month, expressed his desire to be a priest).

Having been given the texts of the witness-talks in advance, the Pope responded with a rousing call for the young "to make your mark" in the world:
Dear Young Friends, good evening!

It is good to be here with you at this Prayer Vigil!

At the end of his powerful and moving witness, Rand asked something of us. She said: “I earnestly ask you to pray for my beloved country”. Her story, involving war, grief and loss, ended with a request for prayers. Is there a better way for us to begin our vigil than by praying?

We have come here from different parts of the world, from different continents, countries, languages, cultures and peoples. Some of us are sons and daughters of nations that may be at odds and engaged in various conflicts or even open war. Others of us come from countries that may be at “peace”, free of war and conflict, where most of the terrible things occurring in our world are simply a story on the evening news. But think about it. For us, here, today, coming from different parts of the world, the suffering and the wars that many young people experience are no longer anonymous, something we read about in the papers. They have a name, they have a face, they have a story, they are close at hand. Today the war in Syria has caused pain and suffering for so many people, for so many young people like our good friend Rand, who has come here and asked us to pray for her beloved country.

Some situations seem distant until in some way we touch them. We don’t appreciate certain things because we only see them on the screen of a cell phone or a computer. But when we come into contact with life, with people’s lives, not just images on a screen, something powerful happens. We all feel the need to get involved. To see that there are no more “forgotten cities”, to use Rand’s words, or brothers and sisters of ours “surrounded by death and killing”, completely helpless. Dear friends, I ask that we join in prayer for the sufferings of all the victims of war, of this war today in the world. Once and for all, may we realize that nothing justifies shedding the blood of a brother or sister; that nothing is more precious than the person next to us. In asking you to pray for this, I would also like to thank Natalia and Miguel for sharing their own battles and inner conflicts. You told us about your struggles, and about how you succeeded in overcoming them. Both of you are a living sign of what God’s mercy wants to accomplish in us.

This is no time for denouncing anyone or fighting. We do not want to tear down, we do not want to give insult. We have no desire to conquer hatred with more hatred, violence with more violence, terror with more terror. We are here today because the Lord has called us together. Our response to a world at war has a name: its name is fraternity, its name is brotherhood, its name is communion, its name is family. We celebrate the fact that coming from different cultures, we have come together to pray. Let our best word, our best argument, be our unity in prayer. Let us take a moment of silence and pray. Let us place before the Lord these testimonies of our friends, and let us identify with those for whom “the family is a meaningless concept, the home only a place to sleep and eat”, and with those who live with the fear that their mistakes and sins have made them outcasts. Let us also place before the Lord your own “battles”, our “battles”, the interior struggles that each carries in his or her heart. And so, to live as a family, in fraternity, I invite all of you together to stand, to take each other’s hand and to pray in silence. All of us.

(SILENCE)

As we were praying, I thought of the Apostles on the day of Pentecost. Picturing them can help us come to appreciate all that God dreams of accomplishing in our lives, in us and with us. That day, the disciples were together behind locked doors, out of fear. They felt threatened, surrounded by an atmosphere of persecution that had cornered them in a little room and left them silent and paralyzed. Fear had taken hold of them. Then, in that situation, something spectacular, something grandiose, occurred. The Holy Spirit and tongues as of fire came to rest upon each of them, propelling them towards an undreamt-of adventure. This brings about a total change!

We have heard three testimonies. Our hearts were touched by their stories, their lives. We have seen how, like the disciples, they experienced similar moments, living through times of great fear, when it seemed like everything was falling apart. The fear and anguish born of knowing that leaving home might mean never again seeing their loved ones, the fear of not feeling appreciated or loved, the fear of having no choices. They shared with us the same experience the disciples had; they felt the kind of fear that only leads to one thing. Where does fear lead us? The feeling of being closed in on oneself, trapped. Once we feel that way, our fear starts to fester and is inevitably joined by its “twin sister”, paralysis: the feeling of being paralyzed. Thinking that in this world, in our cities and our communities, there is no longer any room to grow, to dream, to create, to gaze at new horizons – in a word to live – is one of the worst things that can happen to us in life, and especially at a younger age. When we are paralyzed, we miss the magic of encountering others, making friends, sharing dreams, walking at the side of others. This paralysis distances us from others, it prevents us from taking each other’s hand, as we saw [on the stage], all closed within the small rooms of glass.

But in life there is another, even more dangerous, kind of paralysis. It is not easy to put our finger on it. I like to describe it as the paralysis that comes from confusing happiness with a sofa. In other words, to think that in order to be happy all we need is a good sofa. A sofa that makes us feel comfortable, calm, safe. A sofa like one of those we have nowadays with a built-in massage unit to put us to sleep. A sofa that promises us hours of comfort so we can escape to the world of videogames and spend all kinds of time in front of a computer screen. A sofa that keeps us safe from any kind of pain and fear. A sofa that allows us to stay home without needing to work at, or worry about, anything. “Sofa-happiness”! That is probably the most harmful and insidious form of paralysis, which can cause the greatest harm to young people. And why does this happen Father? Because, little by little, without even realizing it, we start to nod off, to grow drowsy and dull. The other day, I spoke about young people who go into retirement at the age of 20; today I speak about young persons who nod off, grow drowsy and dull, while others – perhaps more alert than we are, but not necessarily better – decide our future for us. For many people in fact, it is much easier and better to have drowsy and dull kids who confuse happiness with a sofa. For many people, that is more convenient than having young people who are alert and searching, trying to respond to God’s dream and to all the restlessness present in the human heart. I ask you: do you want to be young people who nod off, who are drowsy and dull? [No!] Do you want others to decide your future for you? [No!] Do you want to be free? [Yes!] Do you want to be alert? [Yes!] Do you want to work hard for your future? [Yes!] You don’t seem very convinced… Do you want to work hard for your future? [Yes!]

The truth, though, is something else. Dear young people, we didn’t come into this work to “vegetate”, to take it easy, to make our lives a comfortable sofa to fall asleep on. No, we came for another reason: to leave a mark. It is very sad to pass through life without leaving a mark. But when we opt for ease and convenience, for confusing happiness with consumption, then we end up paying a high price indeed: we lose our freedom. We are not free to leave a mark. We lose our freedom. This is the high price we pay. There are so many people who do not want the young to be free; there are so many people who do not wish you well, who want you to be drowsy and dull, and never free! No, this must not be so! We must defend our freedom!

This is itself a great form of paralysis, whenever we start thinking that happiness is the same as comfort and convenience, that being happy means going through life asleep or on tranquillizers, that the only way to be happy is to live in a haze. Certainly, drugs are bad, but there are plenty of other socially acceptable drugs, that can end up enslaving us just the same. One way or the other, they rob us of our greatest treasure: our freedom. They strip us of our freedom.

My friends, Jesus is the Lord of risk, he is the Lord of the eternal “more”. Jesus is not the Lord of comfort, security and ease. Following Jesus demands a good dose of courage, a readiness to trade in the sofa for a pair of walking shoes and to set out on new and uncharted paths. To blaze trails that open up new horizons capable of spreading joy, the joy that is born of God’s love and wells up in your hearts with every act of mercy. To take the path of the “craziness” of our God, who teaches us to encounter him in the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, the friend in trouble, the prisoner, the refugee and the migrant, and our neighbours who feel abandoned. To take the path of our God, who encourages us to be politicians, thinkers, social activists. The God who encourages us to devise an economy marked by greater solidarity than our own. In all the settings in which you find yourselves, God’s love invites you bring the Good News, making of your own lives a gift to him and to others. This means being courageous, this means being free!

You might say to me: Father, that is not for everybody, but just for a chosen few. True, and those chosen are all who are ready to share their lives with others. Just as the Holy Spirit transformed the hearts of the disciples on the day of Pentecost, and they were paralyzed, so he did with our friends who shared their testimonies. I will use your own words, Miguel. You told us that in the “Facenda” on the day they entrusted you with the responsibility for helping make the house run better, you began to understand that God was asking something of you. That is when things began to change.

That is the secret, dear friends, and all of us are called to share in it. God expects something from you. Have you understood this? God expects something from you, God wants something from you. God hopes in you. God comes to break down all our fences. He comes to open the doors of our lives, our dreams, our ways of seeing things. God comes to break open everything that keeps you closed in. He is encouraging you to dream. He wants to make you see that, with you, the world can be different. For the fact is, unless you offer the best of yourselves, the world will never be different. This is the challenge.

The times we live in do not call for young “couch potatoes”, but for young people with shoes, or better, boots laced. The times we live in require only active players on the field, and there is no room for those who sit on the bench. Today’s world demands that you be a protagonist of history because life is always beautiful when we choose to live it fully, when we choose to leave a mark. History today calls us to defend our dignity and not to let others decide our future. No! We must decide our future, you must decide your future! As he did on Pentecost, the Lord wants to work one of the greatest miracles we can experience; he wants to turn your hands, my hands, our hands, into signs of reconciliation, of communion, of creation. He wants your hands to continue building the world of today. And he wants to build that world with you. And what is your response? Yes or no? [Yes!]

You might say to me: Father, but I have my limits, I am a sinner, what can I do? When the Lord calls us, he doesn’t worry about what we are, what we have been, or what we have done or not done. Quite the opposite. When he calls us, he is thinking about everything we have to give, all the love we are capable of spreading. His bets are on the future, on tomorrow. Jesus is pointing you to the future, and never to the museum.

So today, my friends, Jesus is inviting you, calling you, to leave your mark on life, to leave a mark on history, your own and that of many others as well.

Life nowadays tells us that it is much easier to concentrate on what divides us, what keeps us apart. People try to make us believe that being closed in on ourselves is the best way to keep safe from harm. Today, we adults need you to teach us, as you are doing today, how to live in diversity, in dialogue, to experience multiculturalism not as a threat but an opportunity. You are an opportunity for the future. Have the courage to teach us, have the courage to show us that it is easier to build bridges than walls! We need to learn this. Together we ask that you challenge us to take the path of fraternity. May you accuse us, if we choose the path of walls, the path of enmity, the path of war. To build bridges… Do you know the first bridge that has to be built? It is a bridge that we can build here and now – by reaching out and taking each other’s hand. Come on, build it now. Build this human bridge, take each other’s hand, all of you: it is the first of bridges, it is the human bridge, it is the first, it is the model. There is always a risk, as I said the other day, of offering your hand but no one taking it. But in life we need to take a risk, for the person who does not take a risk never wins. With this bridge we can move forwards. Here, this is the primordial bridge: take each other’s hand. Thank you. This is a great bridge of brotherhood, and would that the powers of this world might learn to build it… not for pictures and ulterior motives, but for building ever bigger bridges. May this human bridge be the beginning of many, many others; in that way, it will leave a mark.

Today Jesus, who is the way, the truth and the life, is calling you, you, and you to leave your mark on history. He, who is life, is asking each of you to leave a mark that brings life to your own history and that of many others. He, who is truth, is asking you to abandon the paths of rejection, division and emptiness. Are you up to this? [Yes!] Are you up to this? [Yes!] What answer will you give, and I’d like to see it, with your hands and with your feet, to the Lord, who is the way, the truth and the life? Are you up to this? [Yes!] May the Lord bless your dreams. Thank you!
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Thursday, July 07, 2016

The Table Has Turned – Pope Sets Bishops A-Blase

Well, that was quick – less than a month since Cardinal William Levada's 80th birthday left Washington's Cardinal Donald Wuerl as the lone American member of the Congregation for Bishops, the Pope has added a second hand in his top Stateside pick to date.

At Roman Noon today, Francis tapped Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago to join the all-important Thursday Table, which recommends appointees to the pontiff across the developed world. The first Windy City prelate to sit among the 30 Hatmakers, the move provides a significant boost in the handling of the US' sprawling docket of nods, and likewise ensures that the process will produce choices in the "pastoral" mold which the Pope explicitly indicated to the membership shortly after its 2013 reboot, and then reinforced to the Stateside bench in a potent message during last September's visit.

Having made a sound impression on Papa Bergoglio and his allies with his contributions at last year's Synod, it is nonetheless rather rich that Cupich – no stranger to the process from his days as an aide at the Washington Nunciature – has been named to the very body which Francis bypassed on the Chicago appointment, taking the file to himself upon its arrival in Rome to conduct his own consultations and make the choice alone. In any case, as Wuerl and Cupich have long had a sound working relationship in managing the rungs of the USCCB, the new arrangement is certain to make for a minimum of conflict, with the duo likely to split the respective oversight of nods East and West of the Mississippi, and forging a solid consensus in terms of votes. In other words, the role long played by Cardinal William Wakefield Baum's salon overlooking St Peter's Square – where the bulk of two generations' worth of Stateside appointments were decided – has effectively moved to the Rectory of Holy Name Cathedral.

Along those lines, it's critically important to recall the task both Wuerl and Cupich will trade off for the States as the ponente – the designated member who, in each case, is assigned to review the reams of documentation in depth to present a summary and recommendation to the entire congregation to guide its choice. Had just one American remained on board, the home workload involved could've seen some files entrusted to the other two English-speaking members – Cardinals Vincent Nichols of Westminster or George Pell, the Australian prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy. Now, the domestic files will remain in domestic hands, and given the congregation's freedom to disregard a Nuncio's terna – which has been exercised with some frequency over the last decade on US picks – some interesting results are practically bound to crop up.

At the same time, another competence of the congregation bears noting: far more than merely providing for appointments, Bishops enjoys sweeping authority to investigate prelates for alleged misconduct and recommend their removal from office. Having scored high marks for his handling of abuse, child protection and other good-governance issues both as a diocesan bishop and USCCB chair, as Cupich has already made a public call to urge the effective implementation of Francis' new norms to combat abuse of office by bishops and religious superiors, he's now been placed squarely in a position to push the project to a thorough conclusion.

As the Stateside docket goes, topping the current pile are three key spots in the Northeast: Rockville Centre, Arlington and Newark – all in the range of a million Catholics and each disproportionately influential with their respective places in the New York and Washington metropolitan zones – rounded out by a host of long-pending requests for auxiliaries from coast to coast.

While said Northeastern trio is likely to set off a chain reaction of other openings as current prelates are moved up, the new duo might be in for yet more company at the Hatmakers' Table, as wide speculation over recent weeks has tipped an American to be named as the first head of the newly-merged super-dicastery for Family, Laity and Life which launches on September 1st, a post which will in all likelihood come with its own seat on Bishops.

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Monday, July 04, 2016

"Yes, America, All This Belongs To You...."

And from the place where it all began, a blessed, Happy 4th to one and all – hope it's been a beautiful weekend.

Somewhere between the barbecues, fireworks, ballgames and parades, though, this day affords us all a chance to reflect. Given the shape of the moment, this year seems to call for it a bit more than usual – and luckily, that's aided by some things we didn't have until some months ago.

While the first American Pope delivered his principal message to this nation before an unprecedented joint meeting of Congress during last September's visit, Francis gave an even sharper reflection on the challenge and responsibility of our time two days later, in the first-ever papal stop at the very site where the Founding was accomplished (fullvid)....

Dear Friends,

Good afternoon. One of the highlights of my visit is to stand here, before Independence Hall, the birthplace of the United States of America. It was here that the freedoms which define this country were first proclaimed. The Declaration of Independence stated that all men and women are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, and that governments exist to protect and defend those rights. Those ringing words continue to inspire us today, even as they have inspired peoples throughout the world to fight for the freedom to live in accordance with their dignity.

History also shows that these or any truths must constantly be reaffirmed, re-appropriated and defended. The history of this nation is also the tale of a constant effort, lasting to our own day, to embody those lofty principles in social and political life. We remember the great struggles which led to the abolition of slavery, the extension of voting rights, the growth of the labor movement, and the gradual effort to eliminate every kind of racism and prejudice directed at further waves of new Americans. This shows that, when a country is determined to remain true to its principles, those founding principles based on respect for human dignity, it is strengthened and renewed. When a country is mindful of its roots, it keeps growing, it is renewed and it continues to embrace newcomers, new individuals and new peoples.

All of us benefit from remembering our past. A people which remembers does not repeat past errors; instead, it looks with confidence to the challenges of the present and the future. Remembrance saves a people’s soul from whatever or whoever would attempt to dominate it or to use it for their own interests. When individuals and communities are guaranteed the effective exercise of their rights, they are not only free to realize their potential, they also, through their talents and their hard work, contribute to the welfare and enrichment of society as a whole....

Dear friends, let us preserve freedom. Let us cherish freedom. Freedom of conscience, religious freedom, the freedom of each person, each family, each people, which is what gives rise to rights. May this country and each of you be renewed in gratitude for the many blessings and freedoms that you enjoy. And may you defend these rights, especially your religious freedom, for it has been given to you by God himself. May he bless you all. I ask you, please, say a little prayer for me. Thank you.
* * *
All that said, as those observations were from a rookie to these shores, another figure bears recalling – the Roman Pontiff who knew these States best, and arguably loved this land more than any other.

From his days as a cardinal-archbishop immersed in the struggle of a persecuted church, the future John Paul II found a powerful beacon in America: one that was both philosophical in the nation's embrace of liberty, and likewise practical given the ample support its Catholics provided for the church's grueling mission in Communist Poland.

Indeed, it was a romance solidified over numerous visits and scores of strong friendships forged well before his election to Peter's Chair... and once that came to pass, the six PopeTrips that followed were marked by powerful, poetic messages – not merely tributes to what this place is, but reminders of what it is called to be.

Among these, perhaps the most moving and urgent is the farewell Papa Wojtyla gave in Detroit at the close of his longest US tour – the 10-day, nine-city 1987 joyride that coincided with the bicentennial of the Constitution, and likewise remains the last time a Pope has seen Stateside Catholicism's most vibrant and growing outposts.

To be sure, these lines aren't as sprawling as the bench's Faithful Citizenship pastoral has become over recent cycles... but when it comes to the same purpose, something says this is even more effective (emphases original):
As I leave, I express my gratitude to God also for what he is accomplishing in your midst. With the words of Saint Paul, I too can say with confident assurance "that he who has begun the good work in you will carry it through to completion, right up to the day of Christ Jesus" (Phil. 1, 6-7). And so I am confident too that America will be ever more conscious of her responsibility for justice and peace in the world. As a nation that has received so much, she is called to continued generosity and service towards others.

As I go, I take with me vivid memories of a dynamic nation, a warm and welcoming people, a Church abundantly blessed with a rich blend of cultural traditions. I depart with admiration for the ecumenical spirit that breathes strongly throughout this land, for the genuine enthusiasm of your young people, and for the hopeful aspirations of your most recent immigrants. I take with me an unforgettable memory of a country that God has richly blessed from the beginning until now.

America the beautiful! So you sing in one of your national songs. Yes, America, you are beautiful indeed, and blessed in so many ways:

- in your majestic mountains and fertile plains;
- in the goodness and sacrifice hidden in your teeming cities and expanding suburbs;
- in your genius for invention and for splendid progress;
- in the power that you use for service and in the wealth that you share with others;
- in what you give to your own, and in what you do for others beyond your borders;
- in how you serve, and in how you keep alive the flame of hope in many hearts;
- in your quest for excellence and in your desire to right all wrongs.

Yes, America, all this belongs to you. But your greatest beauty and your richest blessing is found in the human person: in each man, woman and child, in every immigrant, in every native-born son and daughter.

For this reason, America, your deepest identity and truest character as a nation is revealed in the position you take towards the human person. The ultimate test of your greatness in the way you treat every human being, but especially the weakest and most defenceless ones.

The best traditions of your land presume respect for those who cannot defend themselves. If you want equal justice for all, and true freedom and lasting peace, then, America, defend life! All the great causes that are yours today will have meaning only to the extent that you guarantee the right to life and protect the human person:

- feeding the poor and welcoming refugees;
- reinforcing the social fabric of this nation;
- promoting the true advancement of women;
- securing the rights of minorities;
- pursuing disarmament, while guaranteeing legitimate defence; all this will succeed only if respect for life and its protection by the law is granted to every human being from conception until natural death.

Every human person - no matter how vulnerable or helpless, no matter how young or how old, no matter how healthy, handicapped or sick, no matter how useful or productive for society - is a being of inestimable worth created in the image and likeness of God. This is the dignity of America, the reason she exists, the condition for her survival-yes, the ultimate test of her greatness: to respect every human person, especially the weakest and most defenceless ones, those as yet unborn.

With these sentiments of love and hope for America, I now say goodbye in words that I spoke once before: "Today, therefore, my final prayer is this: that God will bless America, so that she may increasingly become - and truly be - and long remain one Nation, under God, indivisible. With liberty and justice for all."

May God bless you all.
God bless America!
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Friday, July 01, 2016

From the West, The Saint of "Moving Forward"

It's a fitting kickoff to this holiday weekend: 240 years since Fr Junipero Serra was building his "jewel" mission out West while the Declaration of Independence was signed, for the first time, today the Stateside church marks the feast of the "Apostle of California" as a saint.

Thirty years since his beatification, Serra's elevation to the full honors of the altar didn't come via the usual second miracle, but another kind of "gift from above": the decision of the Pope to declare the "equipollent canonization" of the Franciscan friar, given both the longstanding veneration toward him among the faithful and in testimony to the decades of labor which saw Serra become (as Francis put it on announcing the move) "the evangelizer of the western United States." (Above, the Pope is seen making a stop at Serra's statue in the Capitol's Statuary Hall following the unprecedented papal address to a joint meeting of Congress.)

Indeed, last September's canonization was especially historic, not simply as it brought the first time a pontiff had raised a saint bound to the American West, but likewise chose to do the honors on US soil. So to commemorate the moment for today's feast, here below is fullvid of the Mass at Washington's Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, with the English text of Francis' homily – a message almost less about Serra than the church's ongoing mission he so embodied....


Rejoice in the Lord always! I say it again, rejoice! These are striking words, words which impact our lives. Paul tells us to rejoice; he practically orders us to rejoice. This command resonates with the desire we all have for a fulfilling life, a meaningful life, a joyful life. It is as if Paul could hear what each one of us is thinking in his or her heart and to voice what we are feeling, what we are experiencing. Something deep within us invites us to rejoice and tells us not to settle for placebos which simply keep us comfortable.

At the same time, though, we all know the struggles of everyday life. So much seems to stand in the way of this invitation to rejoice. Our daily routine can often lead us to a kind of glum apathy which gradually becomes a habit, with a fatal consequence: our hearts grow numb.

We don’t want apathy to guide our lives... or do we? We don’t want the force of habit to rule our life... or do we? So we ought to ask ourselves: What can we do to keep our heart from growing numb, becoming anesthetized? How do we make the joy of the Gospel increase and take deeper root in our lives?

Jesus gives the answer. He said to his disciples then and he says it to us now: Go forth! Proclaim! The joy of the Gospel is something to be experienced, something to be known and lived only through giving it away, through giving ourselves away.

The spirit of the world tells us to be like everyone else, to settle for what comes easy. Faced with this human way of thinking, “we must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and for the world” (Laudato Si’, 229). It is the responsibility to proclaim the message of Jesus. For the source of our joy is “an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of our own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy” (Evangelii Gaudium, 24). Go out to all, proclaim by anointing and anoint by proclaiming. This is what the Lord tells us today. He tells us:

A Christian finds joy in mission: Go out to people of every nation!
A Christian experiences joy in following a command: Go forth and proclaim the good news!
A Christian finds ever new joy in answering a call: Go forth and anoint!

Jesus sends his disciples out to all nations. To every people. We too were part of all those people
of two thousand years ago. Jesus did not provide a short list of who is, or is not, worthy of receiving his message, his presence. Instead, he always embraced life as he saw it. In faces of pain, hunger, sickness and sin. In faces of wounds, of thirst, of weariness, doubt and pity. Far from expecting a pretty life, smartly-dressed and neatly groomed, he embraced life as he found it. It made no difference whether it was dirty, unkempt, broken. Jesus said: Go out and tell the good news to everyone. Go out and in my name embrace life as it is, and not as you think it should be. Go out to the highways and byways, go out to tell the good news fearlessly, without prejudice, without superiority, without condescension, to all those who have lost the joy of living. Go out to proclaim the merciful embrace of the Father. Go out to those who are burdened by pain and failure, who feel that their lives are empty, and proclaim the folly of a loving Father who wants to anoint them with the oil of hope, the oil of salvation. Go out to proclaim the good news that error, deceitful illusions and falsehoods do not have the last word in a person’s life. Go out with the ointment which soothes wounds and heals hearts.

Mission is never the fruit of a perfectly planned program or a well-organized manual. Mission is always the fruit of a life which knows what it is to be found and healed, encountered and forgiven. Mission is born of a constant experience of God’s merciful anointing.

The Church, the holy People of God, treads the dust-laden paths of history, so often traversed by conflict, injustice and violence, in order to encounter her children, our brothers and sisters. The holy and faithful People of God are not afraid of losing their way; they are afraid of becoming self-enclosed, frozen into élites, clinging to their own security. They know that self-enclosure, in all the many forms it takes, is the cause of so much apathy.

So let us go out, let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ (Evangelii Gaudium, 49). The People of God can embrace everyone because we are the disciples of the One who knelt before his own to wash their feet (ibid., 24).

The reason we are here today is that many other people wanted to respond to that call. They believed that “life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort” (Aparecida Document, 360). We are heirs to the bold missionary spirit of so many men and women who preferred not to be “shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security... within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving” (Evangelii Gaudium, 49). We are indebted to a tradition, a chain of witnesses who have made it possible for the good news of the Gospel to be, in every generation, both “good” and “news”.

Today we remember one of those witnesses who testified to the joy of the Gospel in these lands, Father Junípero Serra. He was the embodiment of “a Church which goes forth”, a Church which sets out to bring everywhere the reconciling tenderness of God. Junípero Serra left his native land and its way of life. He was excited about blazing trails, going forth to meet many people, learning and valuing their particular customs and ways of life. He learned how to bring to birth and nurture God’s life in the faces of everyone he met; he made them his brothers and sisters. Junípero sought to defend the dignity of the native community, to protect it from those who had mistreated and abused it. Mistreatment and wrongs which today still trouble us, especially because of the hurt which they cause in the lives of many people.

Father Serra had a motto which inspired his life and work, a saying he lived his life by: siempre adelante! Keep moving forward! For him, this was the way to continue experiencing the joy of the Gospel, to keep his heart from growing numb, from being anesthetized. He kept moving forward, because the Lord was waiting. He kept going, because his brothers and sisters were waiting. He kept going forward to the end of his life. Today, like him, may we be able to say: Forward! Let’s keep moving forward!
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