Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Back at the Main Office, Catechesis... and Cats

Before a crowd of 20,000 at today's papal audience, B16 offered a notable warning:
Pastors have “the duty to preserve the faith among the people of God” and must remember that those who scandalize even one of those “little ones” who believe in Christ, will be subjected to a “terrible punishment”. This criteria, which “is still true today” is just one of the teachings of St Cyril of Alexandria, V century “father of the Church” who was the focus of Benedict XVI’s catechesis in today’s general audience.

During the audience, Benedict XVI also invited the faithful to learn from the example of St. Francis, whose feast day falls tomorrow, and his “evangelical radicalism”. The pope underlined how by “imitating Christ, he renounced all worldly goods” and thus “showed us that we must be simple, humble and pure, because leaving this world we will be recompensed for our love”.

Over 20 thousand people were in St Peter’s square, on a decidedly spring- like day to listen to the Pope’s latest instalment in what he himself defined as “a journey, retracing the steps of the fathers of the Church”. Today’s catechesis... was dedicated to a saint revered both in the Eastern and Western Churches and proclaimed “Doctor of the Church” by Leo XIII.

Two aspects of the teachings of this Saint who was bishop of Alexandria for over 32 years starting in 412 were highlighted: the unity of Christ, God and man, and the figure of Mary as “Mother of God”. Cyril made a very significant contribution to Christology defending the divinity and humanity of Christ united in the one Lord, Christ and Son. “We will profess one Lord Jesus Christ, not only because we adore both the man and the Logos, but in order not to teach separation, because his being man is not estranged from Logos”, because “beside the Father there are not two Sons”. One Son both before and after incarnation: there was not one Son before and another after....

From the teachings of the bishop of Alexandria, the Pope also highlighted an aspect which he himself has often dwelt upon: “the Christian faith is above an encounter with Christ, a person who gives life new horizons” and who “is with us each day, until the end of all times”: a certainty in which “we must find our life’s path”.
The Pope returned to the Vatican full-time from Castel Gandolfo earlier in the week.

Since departing for vacation in early July, several of the Curia's top deck-chairs have been shuffled, and a long-haul view had yielded a much chewed-over "restoration" of Italian dominance in the ranks... at which CNS' John Thavis takes a closer look:
The pontifical councils that deal with social communications, canon law and cultural issues -- until recently headed by an American, a Spaniard and a Frenchman -- are now in the hands of Italian bishops.

So are the Vatican Library and Secret Archives. The Vatican City governor's office, which had been headed by U.S. Cardinal Edmund C. Szoka, reverted to an Italian for the first time in 26 years.

An Italian Jesuit now directs the Vatican Press Office, taking over from a Spaniard.

A number of important middle-management posts at the Vatican, particularly in diplomatic and financial areas, also have gone to Italians.

Some suspect the Italian resurgence may reflect the influence of Italian Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican's energetic secretary of state, who took office a year ago.

In a recent interview with the Italian Catholic newspaper Avvenire, Cardinal Bertone was asked bluntly: "Is the era of the internationalization of the Roman Curia really over?"

The cardinal responded by pointing out that Italians were still outnumbered by non-Italians as heads of curial offices. He said internationalization was still the way to go, but that geographic identity should never be the determining factor in such appointments.

To illustrate that non-Italians were also being chosen, he cited the recent appointments of a Nigerian protocol chief and a Spanish head of the Vatican's almsgiving office -- not exactly top-level positions.

When the Polish Pope John Paul II was elected in 1978, he was the first non-Italian to sit on the throne of St. Peter in more than 450 years. Many Italians considered this an aberration and fully expected one of their own to succeed him.

When Pope Benedict, a German, was elected instead -- in a conclave that by all accounts did not field a strong Italian candidate -- it ended any lingering illusion that the papacy belonged to Italy....

So far, he has put nine Italians in charge of key Vatican offices, compared to five people from the rest of the world. When one includes the No. 2 and No. 3 positions in curial offices, the appointments total 18 Italians and seven from other countries.

The Italian presence is most visible in the Secretariat of State, where the top seven officials are now Italian, and in two important offices that control the Vatican's budget and investment affairs, where all the top people are Italian.

Yet those numbers do not tell the whole story. Of the Vatican's nine congregations, traditionally the most important of Vatican offices, eight are headed by non-Italians. The lone Italian is Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops.

Early in his pontificate, the pope named U.S. Cardinal William J. Levada as his successor at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It's an appointment that never went down well in some Italian quarters, and the Rome rumor mill regularly churns out speculation -- apparently unfounded -- that Cardinal Levada may soon be replaced by an Italian.

The pope has since brought in three other "foreigners": Indian Cardinal Ivan Dias at the evangelization congregation, Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes at the clergy congregation, and Argentine Archbishop Leonardo Sandri at the Eastern churches congregation.

That makes for an unprecedented international mix at the helm of the nine congregations: prelates from nine different countries and five different continents.

In the recent newspaper interview, Cardinal Bertone touched on a related hot topic when he said a reorganization of the Roman Curia was still under study as a hypothesis.

The first few months of Pope Benedict's pontificate brought reports of an imminent reduction of curial offices, tantalizing those who think the Vatican bureaucracy has grown too large and that the German pope would not hesitate to cut it back.

But as a veteran of the Roman Curia, Pope Benedict no doubt remembers that Pope John Paul had a similar plan at the start of his pontificate. When it was finally implemented after 16 years, it turned out to be a minireform instead of a major overhaul and created as many curial agencies as it eliminated.

Pope Paul VI, who also wrestled with the Vatican bureaucratic structure, once remarked that making major changes to the Roman Curia was like trying to "change tires on a moving car -- almost impossible."
In news from the pontifical extracurriculars, this week also sees the release of a children's book chronicling the Pope's life... through the eyes of a cat.

No, as with much of the best stuff on this beat, this ain't a joke.

Entitled Joseph and Chico: A Cat Recounts the Life of Pope Benedict XVI, the 44-page volume -- drawing on the pontiff's famous love of felines -- comes with the very public sanction of the papal apartment; its preface is written by none other than Benedict's private secretary, Msgr Georg Ganswein.
"Dear Children, here you will find a biography that is different to others because it is told by a cat and it is not every day a cat can consider the Holy Father his friend and sit down to write his life story," the Pope's personal secretary, Monsignor Georg Ganswein, says in the foreword....

The illustrated 44-page book is written by Italian author Jeanne Perego and set mostly in Germany in the years before Benedict was elected in April 2005.

Chico is a real cat who belongs to a German couple in the German city of Pentling, where the Pope lived until he moved to Rome in 1981. The couple are caretakers of the house where Ratzinger had hoped to retire had he not been elected Pope.

Chico tells the story of the life of "my best friend" from his birth in Germany in 1927, through his days as a young man, priest, bishop and cardinal. It ends with his election as Pope on April 19, 2005.

It recounts the Nazi era in Germany when the Pope was a teenager, calling the war years "one of the most dramatic and shameful times in the history of man".

"At that time, Joseph was forced to do something which was absolutely against his will: john the army and leave for the war. We cats do not make war," Chico narrates.

Chico recounts how each time then Cardinal Ratzinger returned to Germany for a vacation, the cat would run into his house and sit on his lap as he played the piano.

One Christmas, when the future pope tried to put the cat out of the house "I misbehaved" and scratched him. "He forgave me right away but told me: 'Don't do it again".

In his foreword Ganswein tells the children: "Keep in mind that the cat is writing from his point of view. At the end of the day he is a cat, even if he is a cat who is a friend."
The term hasn't been used here in a good while, but don't anyone ever say that Ratzi isn't Fluffy.

PHOTO 1: AP/Plinio Lepri
PHOTO 2: REUTERS/Edizione Messaggero Padova