- On the feast of Italy’s patron saint – well, one of the four… at least, one of the four formally declared ones – the Pope received the credentials of the Bel Paese’s new ambassador to that little sovereign enclave tucked into the heart of its capital. In his welcome to Ambassador Antonio Zanardi Lardi – a career diplomat, yet one appointed by the leftist Premier Romano Prodi – Benedict XVI intriguingly quoted Gaudium et Spes’ exhortation that “the church and the political community in their own fields are autonomous and independent from each other. Yet both, under different titles, are devoted to the personal and social vocation of the same men.” “For its part,” Benedict said in prefacing the quote, “the Catholic church will not cease to offer to civil society, as it has in the past, its specific contribution, promoting and elevating that which is true, good and beautiful” in the world. “[T]he church,” the Pope said, “doesn’t seek the aims of power, nor claims of privilege [n]or aspirations to positions of economic and social advantage. Its only sphere is to serve man, that he might inspire himself to the supreme norm of conduct, the words and example of Jesus Christ who ‘went about doing good and healing all,’” he said, quoting from the Acts of the Apostles. In exchange, Benedict closed, all the church seeks is “that its specific nature might be considered and it be able to freely develop its unique mission for the good not only of its own faithful, but that of all Italians.” Even more pointedly, the pontiff repeated his own statement from last year’s Convocation of the Italian church – lay, professed and ordained – at Verona that while “the church is not intended to be a political agent,” at the same time it “has a profound interest for the good of the political community, whose soul is justice, and offers its special contribution on a double level.” The Thursday address from Rome might just echo in Baltimore in a few weeks’ time as the US bishops take on their quadrennial rite of the presidential election year letter “Faithful Citizenship.” Alongside the aforementioned election of its top officers, among other agenda items announced for the 12-15 November meeting include doctrinal standards for high-school catechesis and norms for the weekday celebration of the Liturgy of the Word, with reception of Communion, in the absence of a priest.
- Speaking of church and politics (yet with no lack of the latter), Poland’s parliamentary election campaign is on, and not far out of the shadows looms the nation’s contentious religious broadcaster, Radio Maryja. However, after a summer of radioactive press, the outlet remains even higher on the ecclesiastical radar. In late September, initial moves were made to ensure that no European Union development grants would go to the media academy founded by the Radio’s “Father-Director” Tadeusz Rydzyk. Then, last weekend, as friends of Coadjutor Archbishop Mietek Mokrzyski of Lviv gathered in Rome for the episcopal ordination of the former deputy papal secretary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow was observed to have gone “incandescent” at the sheer mention of Rydzyk, and the Pope is understood to remain similarly livid over the media mogul’s appearance at an August post-Angelus photo-op at Castel Gandolfo, the aftermath of which saw the director running his papal photos in newspapers as tantamount to an endorsement, only to be subsequently countered by an unusually public assertion by the Holy See that, in light of the networks’ most notorious content and Rydzyk’s own questionable statements, the baciamano didn't signal any change to the church’s teachings deploring anti-Semitism. The global coverage might've died down, the Redemptorists place a heavy emphasis on their devolved government and the Vatican is keen to show no signs of direct intervention. Yet even for all these, the director’s grip on his empire appears to remain tenuous.
- The sensitivity of the Radio Maryja situation was recently underscored in an interview given by the president of the Polish Episcopal conference, Archbishop Josef Michalik of Premsyl, to the nation’s Catholic Sunday Weekly. Speaking to a priest-journalist, Michalik sidestepped the interviewer’s intimation that the bishops moved in favor of Rydzyk’s ouster at a meeting in late August, deciding instead to go on the offensive. Although the networks “should show more concern for ecclesiality and their social involvement should not be identified with any political party,” the archbishop said that the radio and its sister-network, TV Trwam, “have been very successful and useful for the church.” “Can the work that yields such fruit stop functioning?” Michalik asked, noting that Rydzyk is “sometimes very tired, living in constant stress and has gaffes that should be eliminated but has great achievements as well.” Bottom line: “If there is some lack one should repair it, improve the work, but not to eliminate it,” the archbishop said. “And the church has its ways to find a remedy.” On a related note, next week the Polish church marks "Pope Day," the now-annual major observance commemorating the 16 October 1978 election of John Paul II.
- Down Under, a funny thing seems to have happened to the target number for next summer’s World Youth Day in Sydney. Originally tipped for a turnout as high as two million (800K more than came to Cologne in 2005), as an agreement to relax visa rules for pilgrims to the July event was announced last week, the projection was suddenly placed at 300,000, including 140,000 from overseas (and about half of those from the States, Italy and Germany). Make of it what you will. In other News from Oz, while the Australian bishops recently sought to kick in aid to the equestrian community amid concerns over an epidemic of horse flu, the gesture of outreach promptly boomeranged back to the continent-nation’s father of all controversies (or so it seems) – Sydney’s Cardinal George Pell – as affected horse trainers (among the prime beneficiaries of the bishops’ outreach) lashed out over the prelate’s confidence in stating that the city's Randwick Racecourse (the site of JPII's 1986 liturgy for a bona fide million-plus) will serve as site of WYD’s climactic Vigil and Mass over objections from the racing crowd, who claim that the cost and time needed to transfer its equine occupants and transform the venue "could force [trainers] out of the industry." Ironically enough given the spat, Rome chose the feast of the Patron of Animals to make public the appointment of Pell's new auxiliary: Fr Terry Brady, pastor of Mosman, one of the Sydney church's wealthiest parishes. News of the elevation of Brady, 60, has been known in Australian circles for over a month. Despite the added joy to his St Francis' Day, the cardinal wasn't spotted celebrating a horse-blessing at Randwick... but he will be celebrating Mass in the Extraordinary Form at Sydney's St Mary's Cathedral on the First Saturday of November.
- Benedict XVI might've recently sent several dozen pairs of his shoes to a Minneapolis homeless shelter, but the way his new release keeps racking up sales, he could fill the Apostolic Palace with replacements if he wanted to. It emerged on Friday that Jesus of Nazareth has sold over 2 million copies in under five months of global release. While not a few of the Roman folk have made a standard practice of ribbing the professor-pontiff for “spending all his time with [writing] that book” – the project on the historical Jesus that then-Cardinal Ratzinger foresaw as his retirement project – the gamble appears to have been a successful one. Sure, not as successful as The DaVinci Code (over 60 million sold) or John Paul II’s 1994 Q&A Crossing the Threshold of Hope (over 20 million sold), but remember that in this business of faith, success isn’t tracked by numbers; B16’s subject, after all, didn’t begin his work with 12 million apostles. The Pope spent most of his summer in the Alban Hills working on the chronicle’s second volume and, in a recent chat, a friend of the Apartment recently underscored how intensely committed Benedict is to finishing the work in his lifetime. Despite the criticism, it’s a fitting bookend – just as, forty years ago, then-Fr Ratzinger put himself on the map with his Introduction to Christianity; now, from the office of Teacher-in-Chief, what’ll likely be his final expansive work is his “Introduction to Christ.” Once the new series is completed, they’ll probably be taken together as one definitive work… that is, if they haven’t been already.
- And, lastly, ad multos annos to the twenty-one students of the Pontifical North American College ordained to the transitional diaconate on Thursday in St Peter’s by the Man of the Hour – the Pro-Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, Archbishop John Foley. Back on the cardinale subito’s home turf (from which not one transitional deacon has been ordained in Rome since... 1970), the locals might be mourning Saturday night’s quick dispatch of the Fightin’ Phils from the post-season, but with this town's World Series hopes dashed in a (painful) three-game sweep, Philliedelphia now transforms even more into Foleydelphia, with an eye to next month’s anticipated consistory, expected to be held on the 24th. The latest contribution to the love train comes via Toronto – the latest episode of Salt + Light’s “Witness” features the first extended interview with the native son, taped in the Sala Andrzej Deskur, the screening-room of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, the great goober's curial home of 23 years. In the course of the encounter with the network’s head, Basilian Fr Tom Rosica, Foley announces that he’s got the “authorization of the Secretary of State” to continue serving as the voice of Christmas Eve, i.e. the English-language commentator of the Pope’s Midnight Mass. Among its other goodies, the sit-down also includes the media man’s memories of John Paul, impressions on the press (and good ones at that), and commentary on Vatican life. Just in case anyone’s been so curious as to why this town loves Foley so much, check it out.
As always, more to come.