Friday, September 25, 2020

Breaking Form, Pope "Decapitates" A Cardinal – With Becciu's Exile, A Monster Vatican Precedent

In a 2016 interview with his hometown paper, Pope Francis told La Nación one key to his governing style: 

"I don't cut off heads," he said. "I've never liked doing that."

Yet now, the pontiff has done just that, effectively stripping one of his inner circle of the red hat in stunning, dramatic fashion.

At 8pm Thursday in Rome, the Holy See Press Office slipped out a very late, one-sentence addendum to the noontime Bollettino, stating that Francis had "accepted the resignation of the office of Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and of the rights connected to the Cardinalate presented by His Eminence Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu." 

Unaccompanied by any explanation – and likened by many to either a "lightning bolt" or an "earthquake" – what the announcement lacked in length, it made up for in impact... and, at least at first, a flood of unanswered questions.

In modern times, three other men have either been forced to renounce either the prerogatives of membership in the papal "Senate" or the rank altogether. In each of those cases – the Austrian Hans Hermann Groer in 1998, the Scotsman Keith O'Brien in 2015 and, in 2018, the American Theodore McCarrick – the move was taken after multiple allegations of sexual abuse were levied against each. 

That is not the case here: in a first, Becciu's ouster owes itself to financial misconduct, which in itself creates a monster of a precedent for an institution that's seen its share of fiscal scandal at very high levels. Yet just as much, while the prior trio of de facto ex-cardinals were figures in the distant trenches (albeit prominent ones in their respective countries), this time, Francis moved on a key Vatican figure in a way not seen in memory, exiling Becciu not just from his Roman office, but a seat in the next Conclave. 

A lifer in papal diplomacy, the Sardinian-born prelate was brought to the pinnacle of the Vatican by Benedict XVI, who named him Sostituto of the Secretariat of State (effectively the Holy See's "chief of staff") in 2011, after a brief but formidable stint as Nuncio to Cuba. Upon Francis' election two years later, Becciu's combination of background and skill won a quick admirer in the new Pope, who famously crashed a lunch at his aide's apartment on his first Holy Thursday in office, having learned that the then-archbishop was hosting rank-and-file parish priests. 

Accordingly, while Papa Bergoglio took less than six months to replace Benedict's "Vice-Pope," Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, at the Secretariat's helm, Becciu remained atop the power structure alongside Francis and Cardinal Pietro Parolin past the pontificate's five-year mark, going to the saint-making office in 2018 with the post's traditional red hat. Before departing, however, his prior experience had helped the pontiff rack up two legacy-defining achievements – thanks to his time in Cuba and its resulting contacts, Becciu played a role in brokering what became the US' watershed 2014 "opening" to the Communist-run island under President Barack Obama, as well as securing Havana as the site of the first-ever meeting between a Roman pontiff and the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church in 2016, the latter a coveted ecumenical goal of the Popes for over a half-century.

While most outside guessing in the wake of Thursday's move focused on long-simmering rumblings over Becciu's potential role in an investment of over €100 million (US$116 million) of Vatican funds into a high-end apartment building in London (dubbed the "palace of luxury" in the Italian press), only after the announcement did the ostensible cause surface, as the Italian outlet L'Espresso – the Sunday magazine of the country's largest newspaper, the leftist La Repubblica – revealed that this weekend's edition would allege a "real and proper method" of financial corruption on the part of the cardinal. Among the claims: Becciu's authorization of spending from the Holy See's charitable accounts (most pointedly, the Peter's Pence collection from the world's faithful) for speculative investments, among them with entities involving his brothers. (As a point of context, it bears noting that Francis himself is close to the leadership of La Repubblica, above all the paper's co-founder and longtime editor, the atheist Eugenio Scalfari, whose multiple, loosely-constructed interviews with the Pope have garnered fury among church conservatives.)

Adding to the furore, barely 12 hours after telling a handful of reporters that he "prefer[red] silence" in the wake of Francis' decision, Becciu abruptly changed tack Friday morning, holding a press conference to profess his innocence and reaffirm his "confidence" in the Pope. 

According to Italian reports, the cardinal thought he was going to a standard 6pm audience to present Francis with decrees on causes of canonization when, Becciu said today, the Pope told him "that he no longer trusts me." 

"I felt a little dazed," Becciu said. "Until 6.02, I thought I was his friend, a faithful executor for the Pope.... I don't think I'm corrupt." 

In light of "the good done" over his years of service, the cardinal added that Francis had permitted him to keep his Vatican apartment.

*   *   *
Again, the sweeping nature of the move itself doesn't mean we've heard the entirety of what's happened. At least, not yet.

Even as the effective "decapitation" of a cardinal is among the most potent tools in a Pope's arsenal of clerical punishment, it remains to be seen whether Becciu will face charges in Vatican City's justice system, or if Francis – the sovereign of the city-state – will see the cardinal's exile as having sent enough of a message. Just as much, given years of claims surrounding abuse of resources by other top prelates, the million-dollar question is whether this is a one-off penalty, or something the pontiff will see fit to extend to other egregious instances. 

Either way, as the closest analog to Becciu – the Chicago-born Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, hounded by a long trail of seedy allegations from the Vatican's banking scandals of the 1970s and '80s – was permitted to depart Rome for a golf course in Arizona and live a quiet, un-punished life for some two decades until his 2006 death, yesterday's move makes for a sizable game-changer on one of the Curia's keenest weak-spots, and arguably signals a turning point in Francis' pontificate halfway through its eighth year.

While Becciu retains the title of cardinal, his renunciation of "the rights connected to it" goes well beyond a vote in an eventual Conclave, which he would've enjoyed through 2028. 

As the pontiff's principal advisers – and given the sensitive missions on which they're often sent – the members of the College enjoy universal faculties in the law (in other words, they are not subject to a local bishop when traveling and ministering), as well as the prerogatives to advise the Pope and collaborate with him in the universal governance of the church, whether as a group in consistories or through their membership of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia. All that said, as the move on Becciu did not include the imposition of sanctions upon his ministry as priest and bishop, he may celebrate Mass and the sacraments publicly without any issue.

In that light, the cardinal's ouster has significantly complicated at least one top-level coming event – on 31 October, Becciu was slated to be in Hartford, presiding in his role as Saints Czar at the Beatification Mass of Fr Michael McGivney, the Connecticut-born founder of the Knights of Columbus. 

With his departure from the post, another figure must now be tapped as papal legate to lead the rites. As of press-time, no developments have emerged in light of the sudden change.


Tuesday, August 25, 2020

On St Louis' Day, The Arch's Call – "We Must Be 'Gateways,' Not Gatekeepers"

(Updated with homily.)

One hundred sixty years ago, on the eve of a Civil War whose echoes have eerily resurfaced in these days, the bond between Catholicism's oldest diocese in these States and the mother-church of the American West was created when Baltimore and St Louis were respectively led by Dublin-born brothers named Kenrick.

Today, as the Premier See's own Mitch Rozanski crosses the Mississippi to become the ninth successor of the younger of the siblings, the MetroLink comes full-circle. And much like Peter Richard – the founding archbishop who would hold office for 52 years (the record tenure of any US prelate) – the nation's newest metropolitan now outranks his "older brothers," becoming the first Baltimore priest named to an archdiocese in nearly four decades.

Gratefully, there is no need today to say "Noli Irritare Leonen" – the Kenrick motto once memorably translated by a successor as "Don't mess with the lion." Here, if anything, facing a roiled scene of pandemic-induced turmoil, one of the nation's outsize venues of civil unrest over racial injustice – and, indeed, a local ecclesiology encrusted by history that has led to strong perceptions of a disconnect with the people it's supposed to serve – the more fitting opening line is drawn from the 1791 prayer of Baltimore's John Carroll, the nation's founding shepherd: namely, "[T]hat they may be preserved in union and in peace."

With that in mind, it's Arch-time – from the sumptuous "New Cathedral" named for the city's patron on his feast-day, the livefeed of the Installation Mass, beginning at 2pm Central – and, here, the rite's ample libretto:

...and in a potent answer to the call given by today's papal legate for the event – that is, Rome's wish for a ministry of "unity and prophecy" (citing Francis' loaded Peter and Paul preach in June) – here below, the new Arch's opening word.

*   *   *

25 AUGUST 2020 

It is with a heart that is deeply humbled that I am in your midst this day: grateful to God for calling me to priesthood; grateful to Pope Francis for calling me to shepherd this Church of St. Louis; grateful to his representative in our country, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, who has shown me such great kindness over these past two months. 

As Archbishop Pierre could not be with us, I thank Msgr. Dennis Kuruppassery, the Chargé d’Affaires of the Apostolic Nunciature, who so graciously bestowed the Pallium earlier in our celebration in the name of our Holy Father. This past Sunday’s Gospel reminds us powerfully how our Lord built his Church on the “rock” of Peter’s faith. And so as a Catholic, even more as a pastor, I pledge my own fidelity and unity, and that of God’s People in this “Rome of the West,” to Peter’s successor among us, without whom we cannot know the Lord who sent him, the Lord who seeks to send us. 

As we are graced with the presence of our Seventh Archbishop, Justin Cardinal Rigali, Your Eminence, welcome home. And to all my brother Bishops who honor us with your presence here today, many of you sons of this illustrious local Church we now share, I offer not only my personal gratitude, but that of all of us here. What a joy it is to gather with brother priests, deacons, women and men in consecrated life, seminarians and the good people of this venerable Church of St Louis – it is a privilege, it is my joy, to be able to serve the Lord with you! 

Bishop Mark Rivituso and Bishop Robert Hermann have been so welcoming in sharing with me their great love of our archdiocese and her people; I pray that I may have that same share of enthusiasm and joy in serving here for which they are so well loved. 

On the day I received the phone call from Archbishop Pierre with the surprising news that the Holy Father had appointed me to St. Louis, the next person I spoke with was Archbishop Robert Carlson. Serving here as Archbishop for the past eleven years, he is a shepherd truly dedicated to the Lord Jesus and His people. We are all so grateful to Archbishop Carlson for his generous response to the call of Jesus to serve as priest of fifty years, and a remarkable 37 years as bishop across no less than four dioceses. Archbishop, please know of the gratitude of the entire Church for your solicitous care for everyone in this Archdiocese and beyond! 

I thank our friends in the media who are sharing this Mass of Installation with the wider world, and I look forward to working closely with you. But for now, please know how your work is allowing two very, very special people to watch this Mass from their home in Baltimore, Maryland. My Mom and Dad, Jean and Alfred, are united with us here in prayer. Throughout their sixty-four years of married life, they have made a home where God is the center of who we are as family; living out the vocation of marriage in a heroic way. I would not be living out my vocation if they first did not show me the way of love, faith, devotion and gratitude. My two brothers, Ken and Albert, and my nephews, Kyle and Dalton, join with me in thanking you for everything, Mom and Dad! 

And now, I look to my new home. Alongside our Stanley Cup Champion Blues, baseball’s Eminent Cardinals, and delicious ribs, the defining symbol of St. Louis to the world is the Arch. A tangible symbol of this “Gateway to the West,” the span of the Arch reminds us of the hopes and dreams of so many, who either settled here in the early history of our country, or those who passed through here to move to a life on the great western frontier. They came with many hopes: for a better life, for a place to raise their families and to be a part of that great adventure in the growth of this nation. 

How much that hope is needed in our world today! Back in late February, just six months ago, could any of us have imagined how, within days, we would be plunged into the greatest pandemic to affect the human race in over a hundred years? As we mourn the passing of tens of thousands of our fellow citizens, and offer prayers for the millions among us who are still struggling with the impact of the coronavirus, we share in the frustration of its devastating impact on all of our lives, be they physical, emotional or economic. As one person remarked to me, “How much longer can we take all this?” 

But sisters and brothers, COVID-19 is not the only urgent cross facing us today. As a nation – and, indeed, as a Church – we find ourselves still struggling with the scars of systemic racism in our society. To quote a brother bishop who this area knows well, this crime against human life and dignity is another, no less devastating virus, this one a man-made plague that also isolates us from one another and diminishes the God-given humanity that we all must cherish if we are to be His children. 

Our civil discourse these days is not very civil; when a person shares a differing opinion, the tendency to demonize the other, often in deeply personal ways, eclipses any type of dialogue, common ground or understanding. And as Catholics – as Christians – we need to ask: Where is God in all this? 

We need only look at the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel: “Love one another as I have loved you.” How many times have we heard these words of Jesus from the Gospel of John? That Jesus wanted his own to “Love one another as he has loved us.” In the midst of a pandemic, a societal reckoning on the life issue of race relations, an atrophied civic discourse – and, yes, the often-sinful polemics we now face within our Church – loving one another seems to be a tough thing to do these days. Yet, my friends, we are called to be a people of hope! 

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI helps us to understand Jesus’ command when he wrote in Deus Caritas Est that “Love of neighbor, grounded in the love of God, is first and foremost a responsibility for each individual member of the faithful, but it is also a responsibility for the entire ecclesial community at every level: from the local community to the particular Church and to the Church universal in its entirety. As a community, the Church must practice love.” 

I am humbly called to be with you in this ecclesial community of St. Louis. This “Gateway City” provides us a rich imagery – for in order for us to live out this fundamental command to love one another, it must be carried out in action. We ourselves must be gateways, not gatekeepers: Gateways to healing, to evangelization, to mercy, to compassion – gateways to listening with the ears of Jesus. As Pope Francis has so clearly and repeatedly taught: “We must build bridges and not walls.” 

How do we put our love of others into action? How do we serve the Lord with gladness? How do we rejoice in the Lord always? It’s simple: Jesus calls us to encounter people just as He did. Jesus never shied away from anybody – but rather He knew how significant and fundamental it is to meet people face to face no matter their history, their sinfulness, their sanctimoniousness, their abilities or their shortcomings. And so we are called to do the same. 

Shortly after being elected Pope, our Holy Father Francis found and elevated Fr Konrad Krajewski – a junior staff-member at the Vatican – to be the papal almoner, the bishop who oversees the distribution of alms and goods to those in need. Having heard of Fr Konrad’s nightly ritual of feeding the poor of Rome with leftovers he was given from the city’s restaurants, Pope Francis gave him a very clear description for his new job: he said, “Here is your office and here is your desk and I don’t want to see you behind that desk because if you do you will not have this job very long.” 

On the feast-day of this illustrious city, how poignant a message this is for a diocese and community named for a saint who was holy not for the crown he wore, but the service it allowed him to give. My friends, in the spirit of St Louis, let us remember: parishes are not built from behind desks; communities are not built from behind desks; as a Church, evangelization does not happen from behind a desk. 

During this pandemic, most of us have been confined to Zoom calls and virtual “meetings.” Thank God we have these, but, like most of you, I yearn for the day when we can meet safely face to face and not through our TVs, computers or phones. While we are compelled to be our brother’s keeper and so live within these necessary public safety parameters for the time being, let us nonetheless be visible and encounter people as best we can to spread the joy of the Gospel. 

The call to leadership in the Church today is a call to a deeper love: a love for God and for His people, who are the Body of Christ in the world. This calling is a challenge to all of us to pour out our lives in service. Pope Francis reminds us of this in the Joy of the Gospel. Our Holy Father beautifully sets forth the way a bishop ought to be present and ceaseless in his pastoral activity and conversion: “The bishop must always foster [a] missionary communion in his diocesan Church, following the ideal of the first Christian communities, in which the believers were of one heart and one soul. To do so, he will sometimes go before his people, pointing the way and keeping their hope vibrant. At other times, he will simply be in their midst with his unassuming and merciful presence. At yet other times, he will have to walk after them, helping those who lag behind and – above all – allowing the flock to strike out on new paths. In his mission of fostering a dynamic, open and missionary communion, he will have to encourage and develop the means of participation proposed in the Code of Canon Law and other forms of pastoral dialogue, out of a desire to listen to everyone and not simply those who would tell him what he would like to hear. Yet, the principal aim of these participatory processes should not be Ecclesial organization but rather the missionary aspiration of reaching everyone." 

My brothers and sisters, let us walk together on this path – I need your help and your prayers. 

As we are encouraged to do so, let us be bold and creative in the task of rethinking goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization. With your prayers, voices and commitment, let us work together in wise pastoral discernment. 

In all our words and deeds – in everything we hope to do – may we remember the words of the prophet Sirach: “Compassionate and merciful is the Lord.”

So must we be “compassionate and merciful.” So must we be! 


Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Bishop Mitch Goes to “Rome” – Pope Taps Mass. Prelate For St Louis

As the Vatican’s working year wends toward its close at month’s end, a cycle interrupted by a historic outbreak is making up for lost time, and wrapping up with more than one bang.

Accordingly, Roman Noon this Wednesday brings another “end-of-school” treat, as the Pope named 61 year-old Bishop Mitchell Rozanski of Springfield (Mass.) as the Tenth Archbishop of St Louis.

The first East Coast figure to inherit the “Rome of the West” since the Brooklyn-born John Joseph Carberry – the last of three (non-baseball) cardinals on Lindell Blvd. – arrived in 1968, the archbishop-elect succeeds Archbishop Robert Carlson, who reached the retirement age of 75 last June after 35 years on the bench.

Now home to some 550,000 Catholics, the 175 year-old archdiocese – the mother church of the American West: a vaunted center of Catholicity dating to its initial settlement by the French – might not have much in common with Rozanski’s most recent assignment in the Berkshires, but indeed bears a stark resemblance to his hometown of Baltimore: similar in size and the inflections of Southern culture, both titanic venues of Catholic history on these shores, with the enduring legacy of a massive institutional presence to prove it. And the similarities don’t end at the church’s walls, either – with Ferguson just over St Louis’ western line, six years since Michael Brown was murdered by a police officer there, the current national moment merely underscores the cities’ shared thread of high-profile racial injustice, the brutality and tensions of which have extended into our own time.

In that light, it’s especially notable that Francis has sent a prelate with a warm and fuzzy pastoral style, an empathetic listener with a premium on conciliation – traits already well-affirmed by the bench, which chose Rozanski to helm its ecumenical and interfaith efforts over the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. Yet earthy as he is, Mitch – a "lifer" in the trenches before becoming an auxiliary to Cardinal William Keeler at 45 – won’t so much sweep onto the Mississippi's western bank with a flourish as much as he’ll be overawed by it.

Indeed, in the thinking of some, Rozanski’s healing traits had marked him out over recent months as a contender for the roiled, bankrupt diocese of Buffalo – an idea bolstered by his Polish heritage given the community’s prominence in Western New York. That he’s instead been sent to a far more prominent and happier charge (and the pallium that comes with it) isn’t simply a vote of confidence in his talents, but likewise a reflection of St Louis’ ongoing need for bridge-building of a different sort.

A solid moderate in the tradition of his hometown mentors – Keeler and his Baltimore predecessor, Archbishop William Borders – the notion of Mitch Rozanski as successor to now-Cardinal Raymond Burke (who led the St Louis church for four tumultuous years, 2004-08) is enough to make one’s head spin. Not that the archbishop-elect is some sort of raving leftist – far from it – but simply that the excoriating style with which Burke polarized the archdiocese to the point of instability, outrage (and, in the case of one parish, a formal schism) would be antithetical to Rozanski’s low-key, dialogue-heavy approach. On this front, as the remnants of Burke’s high-octane, Francis-skeptic ecclesiology endure in influential pockets of St Louis Catholicism, reinforcing the cohesion in diversity of the local church remains a formidable challenge.

Much as the destination is a surprise, Rozanski’s name has been floated for several major openings over the last year, including Washington and Philadelphia, yet as recently as three weeks ago, another name was tipped for this appointment.

Even so, St Louis hit “jackpot” with this pick – Cardinal fans, you’re gonna love this guy. He’s coming to you with an open hand and a heart of gold, and this scribe knows you’ll respond in kind, just as Whispers’ STL crew always has for this shop. It’s simply a wonderful match – the only thing missing is a branch of Royal Farms (Baltimore’s home of the World’s Best Fried Chicken)... all told, be good to him, and he will assuredly be good to you.

Having first flown to Baltimore to tell his parents of the move, the archbishop-elect will be in St Louis this morning for the usual 10am press conference (video), which have now resumed after the COVID-induced lockdowns. Per the norms of the canons, Rozanski must be installed within two months of today’s appointment. 

(SVILUPPO: Per the in-house Review, the handover is slated for August 25th, the diocese's patronal day as the feast of St Louis, King of France.)

At said installation in the mammoth, all-mosaic "jewel-box" named for the city's patron, it’s likely that the Tenth Archbishop will likewise be invested with his pallium as head of the church in Missouri – a rare doubling-up of the twin rites.

While the world's newly-named metropolitans are usually expected to join the Pope on the 29th’s feast of Saints Peter and Paul to receive the symbol of their office, the hurdles of international travel mid-pandemic is set to prevent most of this year’s class from being on hand for the moment. Regardless, the US’ contingent of five new archbishops – Paul Etienne of Seattle, Nelson Pérez of Philadelphia, Atlanta’s Gregory Hartmayer OFM Conv., the Vincentian Andrew Bellisario of Alaska’s newly-merged archdiocese of Anchorage-Juneau, and now the “Arch-Mitch” – is Francis’ largest to date over his seven years in office.

With today’s move, the reigning pontiff has named 13 of the nation’s 32 Latin-church metropolitans.

* * *
Of course, today’s handoff isn’t this week’s only blockbuster for the Stateside bench – capping years of anticipation among not a few church-folks, yesterday saw Francis give the hat to the longtime top prospect to enter the nation’s episcopal ranks.

All of 49, Msgr David Toups of St Petersburg has established himself as a bona fide rockstar, from a well-regarded stint at the national church’s Clergy office, to pastoring one of the Southeast’s marquee parishes (Tampa’s booming Christ the King), to nearly a decade as rector of the region’s lone major seminary, where he oversaw a rare expansion of a US formation-house in recent times – and raising the eight-figure construction budget to make it happen.

To be sure, the “if” of Toups becoming a bishop was never in question – it was only a matter of “where”… and after years of sparring among the Great Powers, we have our answer: he’s taking his talents to Beaumont, Texas, an extremely comfortable fit given its place on his native Gulf Coast, and a tight-knit, diverse community that’ll make for an ample proving ground for his considerable skill-set, all the more given its not-so-seldom experience of damaging hurricanes, to which he’s already well-accustomed.

In contrast to Rozanski, Bishop David will take Beaumont by storm – and the rest of Churchworld will be watching. Indeed, looking at his path to this point – Roman formation, a critical DC posting that put him on the wider radar, then presiding over marked growth and vitality at an A-list American seminary (and turning his charismatic Rector’s Conferences into a book) –the parallels are almost eerie to the trajectory of his own rector at the NAC: Tim Dolan, who likewise was rocketed onto the bench at the close of his seminary tenure. One significant difference, however, is that Toups is two years younger than was Dolan at his own appointment in 2001 – and unlike the now-cardinal-archbishop of New York, he’s starting out as a diocesan bishop as opposed to an auxiliary.

With public worship already well resumed in Texas, the bishop-elect will be ordained on August 21st. Yesterday’s press conference in the Cathedral-Basilica of St Anthony was notably the first in-person rollout since the COVID lockdowns pushed the events to virtual form:


Wednesday, May 06, 2020

"True Shepherds Don't Live For Themselves" – In Atlanta, "A Call To Action"

Always slated to be American Catholicism's Main Event of 2020 – yet now, an even more poignant and notable one amid the pandemic that's robbed it of a congregation – from Atlanta's empty Cathedral of Christ the King, the homecoming of Friar Gregory Hartmayer as the Seventh Archbishop of what's become a 1.2 million-member church in the "Capital of the South."

The Installation Mass set to begin at 12.30pm Eastern, here's the livefeed:

...and the worship aid for the drastically slimmed-down rites:

As ever, more to come.


Friday, May 01, 2020

Same "Mother"... Different Church

Fifty days into a Stateside Church in lockdown, this first of May brings the latest edition of a ritual as old as American Catholicism itself.

A practice employed both in hours of celebration and crisis over the last four centuries, the throes of  a pandemic that’s now claimed 65,000 lives across the US will see the nation’s bishops re-consecrate these shores to Our Lady, this time as "Mother of the Church" – a title declared by now-St Paul VI at the close of Vatican II and re-emphasized by the reigning Pope, who gave Mater Ecclesiae a universal feast on the Monday after Pentecost.

The distinct linkage of the Stateside fold to the Mother of God dates to the settlement of Maryland (the lone Catholic colony) on Annunciation Day 1634, a tie bolstered nearly two centuries later under the nation's founding bishop, John Carroll of Baltimore, who dedicated the new people's first Cathedral to Mary Assumed into Heaven, the venue in which Immaculate Conception would be declared the national patroness in 1846.

Yet even for reflecting that vaunted heritage, today's rite likewise underscores a markedly different era: far from the hierarchy's Anglo cradle, the consecration will be led on the opposite coast, in Los Angeles – another place named for the Madonna, whose 5 million faithful (their number doubled in three decades) now comprise the largest US diocese of all time – due to last year's ascent of the first Latino ever to lead the national bench, the Mexican-born Archbishop José Gomez.

With many, if not most diocesan bishops set to replicate the act from their respective quarantines, the brief liturgy in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels begins at Noon Pacific (3pm Eastern); as ever, here's the livefeed:

...and the text of the Prayer of Consecration itself:
Most Holy Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, you are the fairest fruit of God’s redeeming love;
you sing of the Father’s mercy and accompany us with a mother’s love.

In this time of pandemic we come to you, our sign of sure hope and comfort.
Today we renew the act of consecration and entrustment carried out by those who have gone before us.

With the love of a Mother and Handmaid,
embrace our nation which we entrust and consecrate once again to you, together with ourselves and our families.

In a special way we commend to you
those particularly in need of your maternal care.

Mary, Health of the Sick,
sign of health, of healing, and of divine hope for the sick, we entrust to you all who are infected with the coronavirus.

Mary, Mother of Consolation,
who console with a mother’s love all who turn to you,
we entrust to you all those who have lost loved ones in the pandemic.

Mary, Help of Christians,
who come to our rescue in every trial,
we entrust to your loving protection all caregivers.

Mary, Queen and Mother of Mercy,
who embrace all those who call upon your help in their distress,
we entrust to you all who are suffering in any way from the pandemic.

Mary, Seat of Wisdom,
who were so wonderfully filled with the light of truth,
we entrust to you all who are working to find a cure to this pandemic.

Mary, Mother of Good Counsel,
who gave yourself wholeheartedly to God’s plan for the renewing of all things in Christ, we entrust to you all leaders and policymakers.

Accept with the benevolence of a Mother
the act of consecration that we make today with confidence, and help us to be your Son’s instruments
for the healing and salvation of our country and the world.

Mary, Mother of the Church,
you are enthroned as queen at your Son’s right hand:
we ask your intercession for the needs of our country,
that every desire for good may be blessed and strengthened, that faith may be revived and nourished,
hope sustained and enlightened,
charity awakened and animated;
guide us, we pray, along the path of holiness.

Mary our Mother,
bring everyone under your protection
and entrust everyone to your beloved Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.


Sunday, April 12, 2020

On Easter Day, "This Is A Different 'Contagion'"

Again, Buona Pasqua – Happy Easter – to one and all, especially those among us seeking its light, joy and hope all the more this year.

A couple hundred feet, but really a world away from its usual site in the flower-laden "garden of the Resurrection" outside, again from a starkly empty Altar of the Chair, here's the video of the final event of this extraordinary Holy Week at the Vatican – the Pope's Mass of this Easter Day...

...which, as ever, was followed by the traditional Urbi et Orbi message and blessing – again, one which took place against the kind of backdrop never before seen, an all the more staggering visual (top) as it made for Francis' lone moment of the week in the mammoth nave of the Basilica:

Dear brothers and sisters, Happy Easter!

Today the Church’s proclamation echoes throughout the world: “Jesus Christ is risen!” – “He is truly risen!”.

Like a new flame this Good News springs up in the night: the night of a world already faced with epochal challenges and now oppressed by a pandemic severely testing our whole human family. In this night, the Church’s voice rings out: “Christ, my hope, has arisen!” (Easter Sequence).

This is a different “contagion”, a message transmitted from heart to heart – for every human heart awaits this Good News. It is the contagion of hope: “Christ, my hope, is risen!”. This is no magic formula that makes problems vanish. No, the resurrection of Christ is not that. Instead, it is the victory of love over the root of evil, a victory that does not “by-pass” suffering and death, but passes through them, opening a path in the abyss, transforming evil into good: this is the unique hallmark of the power of God.

The Risen Lord is also the Crucified One, not someone else. In his glorious body he bears indelible wounds: wounds that have become windows of hope. Let us turn our gaze to him that he may heal the wounds of an afflicted humanity.

Today my thoughts turn in the first place to the many who have been directly affected by the coronavirus: the sick, those who have died and family members who mourn the loss of their loved ones, to whom, in some cases, they were unable even to bid a final farewell. May the Lord of life welcome the departed into his kingdom and grant comfort and hope to those still suffering, especially the elderly and those who are alone. May he never withdraw his consolation and help from those who are especially vulnerable, such as persons who work in nursing homes, or live in barracks and prisons. For many, this is an Easter of solitude lived amid the sorrow and hardship that the pandemic is causing, from physical suffering to economic difficulties.

This disease has not only deprived us of human closeness, but also of the possibility of receiving in person the consolation that flows from the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist and Reconciliation. In many countries, it has not been possible to approach them, but the Lord has not left us alone! United in our prayer, we are convinced that he has laid his hand upon us (cf. Ps 138:5), firmly reassuring us: Do not be afraid, “I have risen and I am with you still!” (cf. Roman Missal, Entrance Antiphon, Mass of Easter Sunday).

May Jesus, our Passover, grant strength and hope to doctors and nurses, who everywhere offer a witness of care and love for our neighbours, to the point of exhaustion and not infrequently at the expense of their own health. Our gratitude and affection go to them, to all who work diligently to guarantee the essential services necessary for civil society, and to the law enforcement and military personnel who in many countries have helped ease people’s difficulties and sufferings.

In these weeks, the lives of millions of people have suddenly changed. For many, remaining at home has been an opportunity to reflect, to withdraw from the frenetic pace of life, stay with loved ones and enjoy their company. For many, though, this is also a time of worry about an uncertain future, about jobs that are at risk and about other consequences of the current crisis. I encourage political leaders to work actively for the common good, to provide the means and resources needed to enable everyone to lead a dignified life and, when circumstances allow, to assist them in resuming their normal daily activities.

This is not a time for indifference, because the whole world is suffering and needs to be united in facing the pandemic. May the risen Jesus grant hope to all the poor, to those living on the peripheries, to refugees and the homeless. May these, the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters living in the cities and peripheries of every part of the world, not be abandoned. Let us ensure that they do not lack basic necessities (all the more difficult to find now that many businesses are closed) such as medicine and especially the possibility of adequate health care. In light of the present circumstances, may international sanctions be relaxed, since these make it difficult for countries on which they have been imposed to provide adequate support to their citizens, and may all nations be put in a position to meet the greatest needs of the moment through the reduction, if not the forgiveness, of the debt burdening the balance sheets of the poorest nations.

This is not a time for self-centredness, because the challenge we are facing is shared by all, without distinguishing between persons. Among the many areas of the world affected by the coronavirus, I think in a special way of Europe. After the Second World War, this continent was able to rise again, thanks to a concrete spirit of solidarity that enabled it to overcome the rivalries of the past. It is more urgent than ever, especially in the present circumstances, that these rivalries do not regain force, but that all recognize themselves as part of a single family and support one another. The European Union is presently facing an epochal challenge, on which will depend not only its future but that of the whole world. Let us not lose the opportunity to give further proof of solidarity, also by turning to innovative solutions. The only alternative is the selfishness of particular interests and the temptation of a return to the past, at the risk of severely damaging the peaceful coexistence and development of future generations.

This is not a time for division. May Christ our peace enlighten all who have responsibility in conflicts, that they may have the courage to support the appeal for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world. This is not a time for continuing to manufacture and deal in arms, spending vast amounts of money that ought to be used to care for others and save lives. Rather, may this be a time for finally ending the long war that has caused such great bloodshed in beloved Syria, the conflict in Yemen and the hostilities in Iraq and in Lebanon. May this be the time when Israelis and Palestinians resume dialogue in order to find a stable and lasting solution that will allow both to live in peace. May the sufferings of the people who live in the eastern regions of Ukraine come to an end. May the terrorist attacks carried out against so many innocent people in different African countries come to an end.

This is not a time for forgetfulness. The crisis we are facing should not make us forget the many other crises that bring suffering to so many people. May the Lord of life be close to all those in Asia and Africa who are experiencing grave humanitarian crises, as in the Province of Cabo Delgado in the north of Mozambique. May he warm the hearts of the many refugees displaced because of wars, drought and famine. May he grant protection to migrants and refugees, many of them children, who are living in unbearable conditions, especially in Libya and on the border between Greece and Turkey. And I do not want to forget the island of Lesvos. In Venezuela, may he enable concrete and immediate solutions to be reached that can permit international assistance to a population suffering from the grave political, socio-economic and health situation.

Dear brothers and sisters,

Indifference, self-centredness, division and forgetfulness are not words we want to hear at this time. We want to ban these words for ever! They seem to prevail when fear and death overwhelm us, that is, when we do not let the Lord Jesus triumph in our hearts and lives. May Christ, who has already defeated death and opened for us the way to eternal salvation, dispel the darkness of our suffering humanity and lead us into the light of his glorious day, a day that knows no end.

With these thoughts, I would like to wish all of you a happy Easter.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

On A Unique Easter Night, "Be Strong, For With God Nothing Is Lost!"

Surrexit Dominus Vere, Alleluia – Buona Pasqua a tutti!

Happy Easter to all... yet even if the event and its message is the same, this time the feeling and the scene are all too different.

Again from an empty – and, per this night's custom, darkened – St Peter's, the fullvideo of tonight's "Mother of all Vigils":

...and the Pope's homily – a call for a virus-stricken world to "not yield to fear":
“After the Sabbath” (Mt 28:1), the women went to the tomb. This is how the Gospel of this holy Vigil began: with the Sabbath. It is the day of the Easter Triduum that we tend to neglect as we eagerly await the passage from Friday’s cross to Easter Sunday’s Alleluia. This year however, we are experiencing, more than ever, the great silence of Holy Saturday. We can imagine ourselves in the position of the women on that day. They, like us, had before their eyes the drama of suffering, of an unexpected tragedy that happened all too suddenly. They had seen death and it weighed on their hearts. Pain was mixed with fear: would they suffer the same fate as the Master? Then too there was fear about the future and all that would need to be rebuilt. A painful memory, a hope cut short. For them, as for us, it was the darkest hour.

Yet in this situation the women did not allow themselves to be paralyzed. They did not give in to the gloom of sorrow and regret, they did not morosely close in on themselves, or flee from reality. They were doing something simple yet extraordinary: preparing at home the spices to anoint the body of Jesus. They did not stop loving; in the darkness of their hearts, they lit a flame of mercy. Our Lady spent that Saturday, the day that would be dedicated to her, in prayer and hope. She responded to sorrow with trust in the Lord. Unbeknownst to these women, they were making preparations, in the darkness of that Sabbath, for “the dawn of the first day of the week”, the day that would change history. Jesus, like a seed buried in the ground, was about to make new life blossom in the world; and these women, by prayer and love, were helping to make that hope flower. How many people, in these sad days, have done and are still doing what those women did, sowing seeds of hope! With small gestures of care, affection and prayer.

At dawn the women went to the tomb. There the angel says to them: “Do not be afraid. He is not here; for he has risen” (vv. 5-6). They hear the words of life even as they stand before a tomb... And then they meet Jesus, the giver of all hope, who confirms the message and says: “Do not be afraid” (v. 10). Do not be afraid, do not yield to fear: This is the message of hope. It is addressed to us, today. These are the words that God repeats to us today, this very night.

Tonight we acquire a fundamental right that can never be taken away from us: the right to hope. It is a new and living hope that comes from God. It is not mere optimism; it is not a pat on the back or an empty word of encouragement, with a passing smile. No. It is a gift from heaven, which we could not have earned on our own. Over these weeks, we have kept repeating, “All will be well”, clinging to the beauty of our humanity and allowing words of encouragement to rise up from our hearts. But as the days go by and fears grow, even the boldest hope can dissipate. Jesus’ hope is different. He plants in our hearts the conviction that God is able to make everything work unto good, because even from the grave he brings life.

The grave is the place where no one who enters ever leaves. But Jesus emerged for us; he rose for us, to bring life where there was death, to begin a new story in the very place where a stone had been placed. He, who rolled away the stone that sealed the entrance of the tomb, can also remove the stones in our hearts. So, let us not give in to resignation; let us not place a stone before hope. We can and must hope, because God is faithful. He did not abandon us; he visited us and entered into our situations of pain, anguish and death. His light dispelled the darkness of the tomb: today he wants that light to penetrate even to the darkest corners of our lives. Dear sister, dear brother, even if in your heart you have buried hope, do not give up: God is greater. Darkness and death do not have the last word. Be strong, for with God nothing is lost!

Courage. This is a word often spoken by Jesus in the Gospels. Only once do others say it, to encourage a person in need: “Courage; rise, [Jesus] is calling you!” (Mk 10:49). It is he, the Risen One, who raises us up from our neediness. If, on your journey, you feel weak and frail, or fall, do not be afraid, God holds out a helping hand and says to you: “Courage!”. You might say, as did Don Abbondio (in Manzoni’s novel), “Courage is not something you can give yourself” (I Promessi Sposi, XXV). True, you cannot give it to yourself, but you can receive it as a gift. All you have to do is open your heart in prayer and roll away, however slightly, that stone placed at the entrance to your heart so that Jesus’ light can enter. You only need to ask him: “Jesus, come to me amid my fears and tell me too: Courage!” With you, Lord, we will be tested but not shaken. And, whatever sadness may dwell in us, we will be strengthened in hope, since with you the cross leads to the resurrection, because you are with us in the darkness of our nights; you are certainty amid our uncertainties, the word that speaks in our silence, and nothing can ever rob us of the love you have for us.

This is the Easter message, a message of hope. It contains a second part, the sending forth. “Go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee” (Mt 28:10), Jesus says. “He is going before you to Galilee” (v. 7), the angel says. The Lord goes before us, he goes before us always. It is encouraging to know that he walks ahead of us in life and in death; he goes before us to Galilee, that is, to the place which for him and his disciples evoked the idea of daily life, family and work. Jesus wants us to bring hope there, to our everyday life. For the disciples, Galilee was also the place of remembrance, for it was the place where they were first called. Returning to Galilee means remembering that we have been loved and called by God. Each one of us has our own Galilee. We need to resume the journey, reminding ourselves that we are born and reborn thanks to an invitation given gratuitously to us out of love, there, in my own Galilee. This is always the point from which we can set out anew, especially in times of crisis and trial. With the memory of my own Galilee.

But there is more. Galilee was the farthest region from where they were: from Jerusalem. And not only geographically. Galilee was also the farthest place from the sacredness of the Holy City. It was an area where people of different religions lived: it was the “Galilee of the Gentiles” (Mt 4:15). Jesus sends them there and asks them to start again from there. What does this tell us? That the message of hope should not be confined to our sacred places, but should be brought to everyone. For everyone is in need of reassurance, and if we, who have touched “the Word of life” (1 Jn 1:1) do not give it, who will? How beautiful it is to be Christians who offer consolation, who bear the burdens of others and who offer encouragement: messengers of life in a time of death! In every Galilee, in every area of the human family to which we all belong and which is part of us – for we are all brothers and sisters – may we bring the song of life! Let us silence the cries of death, no more wars! May we stop the production and trade of weapons, since we need bread, not guns. Let the abortion and killing of innocent lives end. May the hearts of those who have enough be open to filling the empty hands of those who do not have the bare necessities.

Those women, in the end, “took hold” of Jesus’ feet (Mt 28:9); feet that had travelled so far to meet us, to the point of entering and emerging from the tomb. The women embraced the feet that had trampled death and opened the way of hope. Today, as pilgrims in search of hope, we cling to you, Risen Jesus. We turn our backs on death and open our hearts to you, for you are Life itself.