Wednesday, October 31, 2007

To Be a Saint

Ask anyone who's been to Los Angeles' Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, and odds are they'll tell you that the most striking feature of the place is John Nava's tapestry portrayal of "The Communion of Saints."

More than just sometimes, you'll hear of folks -- even of the not-normally-emotional type -- who've wept at the sight of the simple figures, shown walking together toward the altar.

And why the tears? Most common answer: something along the lines of "they look normal... they look like us."

...because "us" is what they are, and they're what we're called to be.

On this All Saints Day, big tip to our good friend Greg Kandra -- first-year deacon, long-time journo, author of The Deacon's Bench -- whose homily for the feast is snipped below.

* * *

Shortly after he converted to Catholicism in the late 1930s, Thomas Merton was walking the streets of New York with his friend, Robert Lax. Lax was Jewish, and he asked Merton what he wanted to be, now that he was Catholic.

“I don’t know,” Merton replied, adding simply that he wanted to be a good Catholic.

Lax stopped him in his tracks.

“What you should say,” he told him, “is that you want to be a saint!”

Merton was dumbfounded.

“How do you expect me to become a saint?,” Merton asked him.

Lax said: “All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don’t you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let him do it? All you have to do is desire it.”...

Thomas Merton knew his friend was right. Merton, of course, would go on to become one of the great spiritual thinkers and writers of the last century. His friend Bob Lax would later convert to Catholicism himself -- and begin his own journey to try and be a saint.

But the words Lax spoke ring down through the decades to all of us today. Because they speak so simply and profoundly to our calling as Catholic Christians.

You should want to be a saint. And to be one, all you need is to want to be one.

Of course, if you only want to be a run-of-the-mill, average Christian, that’s probably all you’ll ever be. Every one can do just enough to get by. It’s not hard.

But the message Christ sends to all of us is an invitation to be something more. In the words of the old Army recruiting ad: be all that you can be....

Most of us are familiar with the phenomenal saintly stories of the Church. We grew up hearing of how John was beheaded, and Stephen was stoned; how Francis got the stigmata, or how Therese suffered humiliations and disease to die an early death. You hear stories like that and you can’t blame Thomas Merton for not really being eager to be a saint. It’s not only hard work, it often doesn’t have a happy ending.

But those are the stories we hear about. There are countless stories – millions, throughout the centuries – that we don’t. They are the anonymous saints who go about their daily lives quietly, peacefully, joyfully, finally entering into the fullness of grace without doing anything more dramatic than merely living the beatitudes.

They are the unsung saints.

If you visit the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, you’ll see magnificent tapestries lining the walls. And they really are magnificent, designed and executed by the artist John Nava. They remind me of the work of Norman Rockwell or Andrew Wyeth – dramatic, realistic, and contemporary depictions of ordinary people of extraordinary character. And they adorn the walls of the cathedral the same way that stained glass windows once decorated the great Gothic cathedrals of Europe.

In the tapestries, you can see all the familiar saints whose names we know, in a row, facing toward the altar, as if in line for communion. It is – literally and figuratively – the communion of the saints. There is St. Nicholas, St. Gregory, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis, St. Clare…and on and on, with their names over their heads.

But scattered among those saints are people without names – people you won’t find in Butler’s “Lives of the Saints.” A teenage girl. A young man from the barrio. Children in contemporary clothes. They are the saints whose names are known only to God. It is a beautiful and eloquent depiction of the day we celebrate today: All Saints.

And the message of those tapestries is the message of this feast day: these unknown saints are just as worthy as they ones who are known. They look like us. They look like people we might pass on the street. If they can be holy, can’t we all?

What does it take to join them?

As Bob Lax explained, to a man whom some people today consider a saint:

All you really need… is to want to.

And God will do all the rest.

Property John Nava/Archdiocese of Los Angeles


Boo: "Santa Muerte" Spooks US Church

To all the kiddies out there -- and, well, those of us who still have a bit of that young spirit on the inside -- Happy Halloween. Now, be careful and check your candy for razors, alright?

To weightier things -- and with All Souls Day (known in the Spanish-speaking world as the "Day of the Dead") at hand -- the arrival of the Mexican cult of the Grim Reaper has sent something of a chill through the pastoral ranks in Latino Catholicism's emergent hotspots north of the border.

TIME takes a look at the rise of "Santa Muerte":
In a small shop in one of this city's largest Mexican neighborhoods, Laura Martinez scans rows of candles bearing the images of Saint David, Saint Raphael, and Saint Jude. But she overlooks those and grabs two candles featuring Santa Muerte — Saint Death. "She's my patron saint," says Martinez, 24, who arrived here from a town outside Mexico City about six years ago. "You worship her," she says of Santa Muerte. "It's my religion."

Now appearing in New York, Houston and Los Angeles: Santa Muerte. The personage is Mexico's idolatrous form of the Grim Reaper: a skeleton — sometimes male, sometimes female — covered in a white, black or red cape, carrying a scythe, or a globe. For decades, thousands in some of Mexico's poorest neighborhoods have prayed to Santa Muerte for life-saving miracles. Or death to enemies. Mexican authorities have linked Santa Muerte's devotees to prostitution, drugs, kidnappings and homicides. The country's Catholic church has deemed Santa Muerte's followers devil-worshiping cultists. Now Santa Muerte has followed the thousands of Mexicans who've come to the U.S., where it is presenting a new challenge for American Catholic officials struggling with an increasingly multicultural population.

Santa Muerte's precise origins are a matter of debate. Some experts say its roots lie with Aztec spiritual rituals that mixed with Catholicism during Spanish colonial rule. What is clear, however, is that Santa Muerte developed a large following only in the last quarter century among Mexicans who had become disillusioned with the dominant Church and, in particular, the ability of established Catholic saints to deliver them from poverty. Residents of crime-tossed neighborhoods like Mexico City's Tepito began revering Santa Muerte more than Jesus Christ, experts say. Some of its devotees eventually split from the Catholic church and began vying for control of Catholic buildings. That's when Mexico's Catholic church declared it a cult.
...only when the real estate was at stake, of course.
Santa Muerte began appearing in U.S. neighborhoods with large Mexican populations only in the last decade. Walk down 26th Street in Little Village, one of Chicago's largest Mexican neighborhoods, and you'll notice the tiny shops, or botanicas, selling statues, candles and palm-sized prayer cards bearing Santa Muerte's image. There are references to Santa Muerte in Spanish-language newspapers. Young Mexican-American men are marking their bodies with Santa Muerte tattoos to prove their devotion. Middle-class, suburban-bred Mexican-Americans are snapping up black T-shirts bearing Santa Muerte's image to reconnect with what they perceive to be part of their heritage. Recently a Chicago art gallery opened an exhibit showcasing images from Tepito — with Santa Muerte figuring prominently. And Santa Muerte may gain even more credibility with the release of Saint Death, a new documentary about the phenomenon, narrated by Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal.

"It's become commercialized," observed Isabel Montalbo, manager of a botanica here. On a recent afternoon, Montalbo stood behind rows of oils with names like gota de amor (oil of love) and across from several jars of herbs, like epazote, cuassia chips and anise. Not far away were several large statues of Santa Muerte, some costing as much as $300.

Nearly 40% of the Chicago Catholic archdiocese's 2.3 million members are Latino, most of them Mexican. Catholic officials here have certainly taken notice of Santa Muerte's growing popularity: the archdiocese has encouraged priests with large Mexican populations to address the so-called saint's rise from the pulpit.
...and in Mexico itself, the hierarchy of its primatial see is battling the emergence of the hot import from the north: Halloween, itself.
"Those who celebrate Halloween are worshipping a culture of death that is the product of a mix of pagan customs," the Archdiocese of Mexico published in an article on its Web site Monday. "The worst thing is that this celebration has been identified with neo-pagans, Satanism and occult worship."

The archdiocese urged parents not to let their children wear Halloween costumes or go trick-or-treating — instead suggesting Sunday school classes to "teach them the negative things about Halloween," costume parties where children can dress up as Biblical characters, and candy bags complete with instructions to give friends a piece while telling them "God loves you."

The church suggested holding these activities Nov. 1 — the Catholic All Saints' Day — but didn't endorse the Day of the Dead, a traditional Mexican holiday that also appears to have "pagan" roots.

Pre-Hispanic cultures celebrated a similar holiday in August, but after the Spanish conquest, historians say the date was changed to Nov. 1 to coincide with the Catholic holiday.

Meanwhile, the conservative Internet magazine Yo Influyo called on teachers to "eradicate" Halloween and "defend our culture."

"Halloween has not only invaded our daily lives, but what's worse, our workplaces," wrote columnist Roger Aguilar, referring to the Halloween decorations that are now common in offices and schools.
A senior Vatican official once gave a memorable reaction when he first learned what Wicca was...

If only we could publicize that, maybe our lives could be a good bit easier.



Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Rockies' Golden Prince

On Sunday, Denver's Cathedral-Basilica of the Immaculate Conception hosted a Mass to mark the golden jubilee of one of the church's great gentlemen: the Rockies' third archbishop, now Cardinal James Francis Stafford.

A son of the Premier See, following his ordination in Rome and two years at Catholic University in Washington, where he earned his master's in social work, Cardinal Lawrence Shehan entrusted his young protege with responsibility for the church's charitable efforts; Stafford spent many years leading Baltimore's Catholic Charities before being named an auxiliary there at the age of 43.

After three years as bishop of Memphis and a memorable decade in Denver -- highlighted by the 1993 World Youth Day that spurred a new birth, both for the triennial event and the local church that hosted it -- John Paul II brought the warm, scholarly cleric to Rome in 1996 as president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, giving him primary oversight for the planning of the "Catholic Woodstock" that was Papa Wojtyla's pride and joy. He received the red hat two years later, and in 2003 was named to the Penitentiary, the Roman tribunal that oversees matters pertaining to the "internal forum" -- indulgences, questions of conscience, and the forgiveness of those sins reserved to the Holy See.

Aside from his main post in the Curia, the cardinal sits on the key Congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith, Bishops, and the Evangelization of Peoples. Last year, in a personal milestone, he got to return to his hometown as the specially-appointed papal legate for the rededication of Baltimore's Basilica of the Assumption, the first American cathedral.

To note the anniversary in his adopted home, Jean Torkelson of the Rocky Mountain News pitched the proverbial "five questions" Stafford's way.
Q: How is being a priest different from what you thought it would be at your ordination 50 years ago?

A: In the beginning of my priesthood, I recall having found God's love as imaged in people, in my work, in creation. Furthermore, God's love is embodied in Christ Jesus and God's love is sacramentally present in the Church. Now at the end of 50 years it isn't different; Only the awareness of God's love has deepened and it is full of more surprises. I know God's love more profoundly in each of those areas, in people, in creation, in Jesus and in the Church. And because of that my gratitude is fuller and richer. So the beginning and the ending are one. The only difference is in the quality of the love that I experience in God and in Christ and in the Church.

One way that God's love as imaged in people has grown more visible in my life is in the nobility of elderly people. They are noble in the sense of the profound dignity of their lives even in great pain or increasing weakness. Their humanity shows humility through gentleness, through generosity, through humor. I also have a much keener sense of what God the Father has done for us in sending his only Son to die for us.

And in the Church, I've met some great persons in my life, holy persons. Archbishop Helder Camara, Arcbishop of Recife, Brazil, was visiting the archdiocese in late 80's and was staying at my home. He was like entertaining St. Francis of Assisi in his simplicity and in his perfection. Mother Teresa, in the darkness of her night for so many decades, became a light for us in Denver. I remember when she came in the late 80's and stayed at St. Walburga Abbey, then in Boulder. She was passing down a corridor, saw an image of the crucified Christ, and stopping in deep meditation, she said one word "sitio" (I thirst), one of the last words of Jesus on the Cross. And that happened in the period of her dark night.

Q: What's the most significant change in the Catholic Church in the last 50 years?

A: On the positive side, lay people are actively in search of holiness; not a cheap holiness, not a holiness that comes from an inexpensive grace. Wallace Stevens, one of the great poets of the 20th century and a convert to Catholicism on his death bed, wrote, and I paraphrase: Sanctity is produced out of the condition of winter, that is a wintry cold climate. He describes a holiness produced out of a mind of winter....

On the negative side, what has changed is the self-inflicted and mortal wound of many Catholic universities and colleges that have attempted to live in two diametrically opposed cultural worlds; one, a culture based upon freedom as the pursuit of excellence and the other, freedom of indifference. The first is from the tradition of St. Augustine and St. Thomas and the other is from the period of the Enlightenment beginning with Kant.

Q: What's the best thing and the worst thing about living in Rome?

A: The best thing is that the city has a tradition of holiness that is still living. Invariably you can go into churches and see lay men and women praying and you know that they are contemplatives or close to it; they inherited that from their parents and grandparents, and, even further, from undisclosed past generations.

The worse thing is that Rome is losing its coherent image of being the Eternal City. It's fast. Traffic is mortally dangerous. It is increasingly becoming an acquisitive, instrumentalizing, and commercial city. People become instruments that are limiting their freedom, dignity, interior beauty and goodness. In the past, pilgrims came to Rome to visit the grave of the Apostle Peter and would cross the Bernini bridge in front of Castel St. Angelo and on that bridge they would meditate on the passion of Christ. Now they are invited to much baser passions through advertisements and through public media as they travel through the streets of modern Rome.

Q: How much do you interact with Pope Benedict on Church business and on social occasions?...

I've known Pope Benedict XVI personally since 1988-89 and as a friend he is one of the greatest blessings of my life. Now he is Peter. I have known him as a friend, yes, but also as the one who has been given the keys of the kingdom and whose faith is the foundation of the Church. I've been at the Sistine chapel with the Pope and a limited number of persons for a choir concert. I've been with him at dinners that were more public than private. His life is filled with tension-creating events that require his decisions. We all recognize he has immense gifts for the Church. To use those gifts requires that he conserve his strength. We respect that. I can write to him personally and he reads the letter and always sends a response. That is my contact with him outside of work....

Q: The world was both puzzled and fascinated by the accounts of Blessed Mother Teresa's "dark night of the soul" — not that she lost her faith, but that she lost the comforting feelings that God was there. Have you ever experienced that, and if so, how was it resolved?

A: When I was a young priest I read and memorized part of the 13th chapter of the Ascent of Carmel by St. John the Cross. It has remained a foundation for my life. In sum, it says, "To come to be all, desire to be nothing. To come to know all, desire to know nothing etc." It is that kind of distinction that John of the Cross has made that is foundational to understanding the spiritual life of Mother Teresa.

I have been fascinated with the descriptive drawing of St. John of the Cross of his poem, the Ascent of Mt. Carmel. The ascent is made by a series of steps and on each of the steps is written "nada", "nada", "nada", five times—"nada." Nothing. No desire for joy, or happiness, or peace as one climbs these steps. When one goes up to the last step, again John has written "nothing." On the summit St. John again writes "nothing" with the essential addition of the words "the honor and glory of God." That's the kind of knowledge that Mother Teresa had been given. Even though spiritual writers call it the dark night, even in such darkness there is special light, a unique light that surpasses in brilliance everything else. We have forgotten this experience today. What the Church must learn anew is this mystical night.
* * *

Early on the afternoon of Archbishop Edwin O'Brien's recent installation in the Premier See, Stafford was spotted in an extended moment of private prayer before the tomb of his mentor, Cardinal Shehan.

Noting afterward to friends that he had been praying intently for the newcomer's successful ministry in his hometown, the cardinal let slip that he'd also made a quiet pilgrimage to Emmitsburg's Shrine of St Elizabeth Ann Seton to that end. As the sons of Baltimore's saint were Navy men, he thought, hopefully she'd keep a special eye out for the former pastor of the nation's military -- another New Yorker who, like her, found his way to Maryland.

Most of his fellow red-hats had already left the grounds of the "New Cathedral," but the native son held court, standing on a quiet side lawn for well over an hour.

Still clad in his choir dress, the understated figure's scarlet robes stood out. But even so, no entourage trailed him, no fanfare nor frills -- just old friends, new stories, a stream of smiles and warm conversations that stretched into the early evening.

And looking on, you could tell it was just how he liked it.


In Beer City, Bishop-elect Fits the Bill

Now, that's one happy Timmy. And rightfully so.

As a friend and fan of the wonderful crew at the Basilica of St Josaphat, the legend of "Fr Bill" is no secret in these parts.

Now, with Fr William Callahan's elevation to the episcopacy, the lore spreads a good bit further... and, in Milwaukee, the gang is celebrating his "homecoming."

At a St Francis Seminary prayer service and press conference this morning, "che gioia" all around was the order of the day:
Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan called [Callahan] a "successful pastor at one of our most legendary parishes" in reference to his years of service as pastor and rector of the Basilica of St. Josaphat, from 1994-2005.

"Pope Benedict has chosen well," said the archbishop. "This is a boy from the upper Midwest. Although from the wrong side of the tracks - Chicago."

During the prayer service with diocesan staff, Bishop-elect Callahan shared the story when he was asked to be Milwaukee's auxiliary bishop.

"My life took a dramatic change, obviously, a week ago yesterday," he told the crowd. He was taken into [Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re's] living area, so he said he knew something big was happening, and was told, "The Holy Father has decided to name you the auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, what do you say to the Holy Father?

"What does one say," he said with a laugh. "First and foremost what shot through my head at that moment was the second sentence of the rule of St. Francis - 'Friar Francis promises obedience to the pope and his elected successors.' There was no doubt in my mind of my response to the Holy Father. It is with a great deal of respect and thanksgiving that I remember him and say 'thank you' to Pope Benedict XVI."...

Callahan was asked what adjustments he foresees coming from his religious order to a diocesan auxiliary bishop.

"The internal aspects of my life will change by virtues of my vows and practical living," he said. "I will stay faithful and true to my vows of chastity and obedience and poverty and to remain simple in my life."

He described his religious order as stressing the importance of community life, work in urban, city settings and education ministries.

Archbishop Dolan remarked that the need for Bishop-elect Callahan to live in community will be fulfilled since he will live at Saint Francis Seminary.

"This will provide community and structure," said the archbishop.

The archbishop also applauded Bishop-elect Callahan's fund-raising work at the Basilica of St. Josaphat during his time as pastor, but stopped short of saying his gift for fundraising was the reason he was selected by the pope.

"I don't think those skills were in the pope's mind, but (Callahan) has major fund-raising skills, so yeah, that's going to be one of his duties," said Archbishop Dolan....

Archbishop Dolan said that it wasn't until recently that he asked if he could ask Pope Benedict XVI for another auxiliary bishop. When he was granted permission, the archbishop was also asked to make recommendations to the pope for this position. Without listing any other names he may have recommended, Archbishop Dolan simply said, "I was not surprised" at Bishop-elect Callahan being named auxiliary bishop.

Bishop-elect Callahan said he already has ideas for what he hopes to accomplish in Milwaukee.

"I expect to be responsive to the needs of the archdiocese as expressed by the archbishop," he said. "To be responsive to the ways the church asks me to be faithful, have a generous heart, and be open to the promptings of grace as it manifests and be confident that God is provident and he can't outdo me in generosity."
...and more from the Journal-Sentinel:
Callahan's installation will give Dolan and Auxiliary Bishop Richard J. Sklba a fellow bishop who has local pastoral experience and a reputation for both fund-raising and administrative skills. Much of the fund raising and work on a multimillion-dollar renovation of St. Josaphat basilica and the construction of its visitors center took place under his leadership as pastor.

Dolan said in an interview Tuesday, moments before a news conference at St. Francis Seminary, that, among other things, he hopes Callahan eventually will serve as a kind of chief financial officer, easing some of the other two bishops' administrative duties. What form that might take, however, will depend upon the results of strategic planning that is under way to reassess the entire administrative structure of the archdiocese and to find ways to run it more effectively, Dolan said later with Callahan standing at this side.

Callahan said he experienced an overwhelming emotion after a cardinal in the Vatican told him this month that the pope wanted him to serve as an auxiliary bishop in Milwaukee and needed to know if he would accept the appointment. Exhibiting a touch of Dolan's Irish humor, Callahan added, "So, at that point I felt like Ralph Kramden (Jackie Gleason's character on "The Honeymooners" TV series), kind of 'Hamma, hamma, hamma.' But I knew exactly what was in my heart and what I needed to say, and that was, 'Yes.' And so, service to the church is exactly what it's all about."

Dolan said that Callahan will participate in teaching, governance and sanctification, including performing confirmations and being at parish Masses on weekends. "He's got a great reputation as a good administrator, as very sound in preaching the values of stewardship, and he did a bang-up job at the basilica," Dolan said....

Callahan will face some challenging transitions as the archdiocese continues efforts to sell the Cousins Center and its approximately 44-acre site in St. Francis, where the central offices and some other ministries are based. That is being done both to help pay for a multimillion-dollar settlement of clergy abuse lawsuits and to get quarters that are more cost-efficient than the underutilized, aging center.

The archdiocese also is launching a $105 million capital campaign this fall, by far the largest in its history, as Dolan seeks to establish a stronger tradition of stewardship and inspire the area's Catholics with a challenging new vision.
PHOTO: Archdiocese of Milwaukee


Post-Op Reports

Following up on the early-morn post, and just to keep the Friends of Milt out there looped-in, he got out of surgery a little after noon; "doctor says it couldn't have gone any better" is the word.... However, as is standard with even the best of bypass procedures, "the next 24 hours are critical."

Thanks to all the many Jordanites who've sent in prayers and messages, literally from around the world. He'll get to read 'em all by the weekend... and you know he'll get a kick out of it. Keep the prayers comin'.

* * *

And yesterday in the Upstate, Fr Tim's funeral was celebrated by Bishop-emeritus James Timlin of Scranton.

A friend sent in the following summary:
All events were held in St. Nicholas Church in Wilkes-Barre. This was the church Tim had been an associate pastor at before becoming pastor for the first (and only) time. St. Nicholas is an old, German church with three distinct spires on the outside and a beautiful sanctuary made of dark wood. The church holds at least 1500 people, if not more, and for 3 hours last Sunday evening the center aisle was occupied with visitors passing by the simple wooden box up at the front to say goodbye to their friend.

Tim's sisters were there along with their spouses and children. I think everyone had prepared for Tim's death long ago since he had been seriously sick so often that we felt we were ready for it. Honestly, for me, I don't think it has really set in fully yet.

The funeral on Monday morning was celebrated beautifully. Our retired Bishop, James Timlin, was the celebrant and his good friend and Holy Cross priest, Tom Looney, gave the homily. Tom's words were honest and funny, true to Tim's life and the wishes Tim had shared with Tom were carried out to the fullest.

Father Tom made mention that if Tim were to write an autobiography, he would call it "A Wimp in Wonderland." Tim always felt he was a "wimp" due to his illness, due to his battles with alcohol (he was a recovering alcoholic), and due to the anxiety he faced everyday in order to live life. Father Tom dispelled each of those notions with the elegance of an orator and with the compassion of a friend.

Highlighted were Tim's love of music and liturgy. He prayed his daily prayers using the New Jerusalem Bible since its words were so poetic in tone. He would sit alone in his chair and imagine the choirs of saints and of angels singing the holy psalms.

Tim also loved to lament. Not about his own problems, but of those of the world...the people of Africa being slaughtered with no help. Our children being killed in our war in Iraq. The rapists and drug dealers and murderers Tim befriended at our local prison. Tim always told me while I was discerning my vocation,"A good priest allows his heart to break." Tim's heart broke often and usually for those people the world had forgotten....

I leave you with a quote from St. Paul that Tim used so often, "You are are young and strong and living a great adventure."

Now the same can be said of Tim...and living a great adventure.
And may the rest of us have the courage to do the same.


B16 Makes "Black" History; Conv. Franciscan Named Milwaukee Aux.

These days, the state of the appointment docket is such that most heads of large US dioceses could be forgiven for betting on what'll come first: the return of the Lord or the arrival of a new auxiliary bishop.

Though long in coming, the requesting bishops are finding that the wait is worth it -- by and large, they're getting their choices. And in keeping with the trend, a favorite of Archbishop Timothy Dolan has been recalled from Rome to assist the Milwaukee prelate.

This morning, Pope Benedict appointed Conventual Franciscan Friar Fr William Callahan, 57, as auxiliary bishop for the Wisconsin flock of 675,000. Known as "Black" Franciscans due to the color of their habit, Callahan is the first Conventual Friar to ever be raised to the episcopacy in the United States.

A native of Chicago and, since 2005, spiritual director at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, the bishop-elect is an adopted son of Milwaukee, where he served two tours at the see city's Basilica of St Josaphat, the site of his 1977 priestly ordination.

Well-loved both by the Milwaukeeans and the Gianicolo crowd -- and known to enjoy Dolan's particular trust and esteem -- the appointee is preceded by a sterling reputation; as one of Callahan's friends once summed up the bishop-elect, "I don't know anyone who loves being a priest more than Bill."

At the legendary Polish masterpiece on the city's south side, where he became the first non-Pole to serve as its rector-pastor in 1994, Callahan oversaw the $7.5 million restoration of the grand 1901 edifice, Milwaukee's largest church. A preservationist by nature, as a rookie curate at the basilica the bishop-to-be hid one of its original lamps (first used in Chicago's 19th century Main Post Office) in its attic. Returning as pastor, he returned to to find that the lamp had remained untouched since his prior encounter with it. The antique fixture was subsequently cloned, and the replicas re-adorn the basilica's walls.

Years in the making, the appointment comes on the heels of Dolan's fifth anniversary as archbishop of Milwaukee, and as his wider profile continues to grow. While a continuing consensus sees him at the front of the pack of Cardinal Edward Egan's possible successors in New York, with an eye to the mid-November balloting in Baltimore, an informal canvass of his peers indicates the 57 year-old archbishop's emergence as a leading contender for the vice-presidency of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The first auxiliary named to Milwaukee since Bishop Richard Sklba was appointed in 1979, Bishop-elect Callahan will be formally introduced at a press conference later this morning. His ordination is slated for 21 December in the Cathedral of St John the Evangelist.

SVILUPPO: In his prepared statement, Dolan calls the appointment "a providential moment":
“Father Callahan’s spiritual and pastoral leadership has been and will be a blessing for our Church and we are grateful the Holy Father has appointed him to serve the faithful people of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.”...

“I was humbled by the news from the Holy Father,” Callahan said. “My only desire is to serve the Church and I am honored to be asked to do so as auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. It is already home for me and I am eager to get to know more of the priests and people of this great archdiocese and for them to know me.”

“The fact that he is from a religious order affirms the strong tradition and presence of religious orders in southeastern Wisconsin,” Archbishop Dolan said. “The service of men and men religious are an essential part of our Church in southeastern Wisconsin.”

More for the Prayerline

Forgive the deviation from the norm, but a couple more things have come up from, well, where it counts.

Late word from the Capital reports that Fr Milt Jordan -- pillar and institution of this church, great and beloved friend to half the universe (or so it seems) -- has been scheduled for an emergency heart-bypass surgery later this morning. This comes as no small shock; he sounded fine just the other day, and was gearing up for his customary star turn (cassock, black zucchetto, ferraiolo and all) at this weekend's annual investiture for the Mid-Atlantic Lieutenancy of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, which he serves as spiritual director.

Currently pastor -- and blogging pastor at that -- of Our Lady of Victory in the Palisades section of Northwest Washington, Fr Milt is one of those intrepid, self-effacing, good-hearted souls (and, lest anyone hasn't noticed, we've got a lot of 'em) who, truly, to know is to love. Always involved in everything, remembered dearly by thousands ranging from the students he taught four decades back, to the folks in Rome, to the many he got to know as executive director of the Papal Foundation here in Pharaohville or his ministerial assignments in New York, Pittsburgh and Jacksonville (among many others), he's one of our living legends.

Grazie Dio
that this speed bump was caught in sufficient time... even though said timing will cause him to miss one of his favorite events of the year.

I'm not alone in owing much to Fr Milt and his friendship -- without the gifts of his constant encouragement, advice and support, these pages probably would've been gone long ago. So if you could please join me and the many Friends of Milty out there in sending up a good word for a successful surgery, for his comfort and, most of all, his quick recovery, it'd mean a great deal and I couldn't thank you enough.

Gratefully, we won't be alone in this. From the other side, the same words that would bring priests in need a big sigh of relief in decades past are still ringing true for Milt: "Jim McGrath is on the case."

The two shared a wonderful friendship. And even now, as some of you know well, none could dream of a better advocate.

* * *

On a tougher note -- and as if it hasn't already been brutal enough these last months -- it's come in that the Good Lord has called home another of the precious ones who've kept me company and taught me much behind the scenes.

Only 57, Fr Tim Delaney slipped away in his sleep last Thursday night in a rectory in his beloved Scranton. At an age when most of his confreres are still at the top of their game, the Lord had marked out a different path for Timmy -- the path of suffering. And did Tim ever walk it with Him: faithfully, lovingly, devotedly, desiring each day just to do it a bit better than he did the day before, as if every last bit of agony were the most precious gift.

For most of his 28 years of priesthood, Fr Tim suffered from Lupus. While he never wanted to leave ministry -- and, more than his condition would normally permit, got his wish, even to the end -- a massive heart attack seven years ago forced his recusal from full-time parish work.

Even weeks ago, however, Tim was still mustering all his effort to say the one public Mass he had for the week: a Sunday Eucharist for the inmates of a local prison. (Over his short time there, it must be noted, his good heart and steadfast faith increased the size of his weekly congregation by multiples -- he had 20 or so at the start, and the number became something like 200. Ever humbly, he did get a good bit of joy out of that. Suffice it to say, it kept him going.)

Even when his breathing was labored -- and, more often than not, it was -- Tim would call, or take my calls. He loved the stories -- loved hearing 'em, loved telling 'em... and, now, among his many gifts, I feel like I know Carroll McCormick, who from his deathbed asked Tim to send along one message (one the Scranton crowd already knew full well): "Tell them I loved Philadelphia."

About a month back, though, the protege of the late great bishop -- who compared his first encounter with McCormick to "meeting the Infant of Prague" -- sent a message that caused me a bit of panic.

It was already a customarily hectic afternoon, but a note came in from Timmy with a simple request: "I can't breathe, but I'm trying. Please pray for me."

He asked me to keep the prayers up for three hours, and I did, with an added hope that he'd go to the hospital (which, gratefully, he did, but only after getting over his initial intent not to bother anyone).

Tim's heart was failing, but all he wanted, all he cared about, was the prayers. And even then, he was at peace -- worried only that he wasn't giving enough acceptance to what was being asked of him.

Tim was another of the folks I never would've known by sight. But in allowing me to walk with him, becoming a part of his journey, however small, to know his great heart and be touched by it, and to know that, even on the worst days, he was always close by with a lot of prayers and an open ear is another of the priceless gifts that have changed my life and filled me with pain at his loss, but also with just as many thanks for the gift of his friendship, his witness and, truly, his brotherly love.

Much as I wished to, I didn't need to meet him in the flesh to know, to feel, to be blessed and enriched by any of this.

Gang, much as these remembrances of our own barely scratch the surface of their just due, and the experiences of knowing them are blessing upon blessing, I hate writing them. It drives me up a wall because... well, two things really.

First, in human terms, it means we've lost another one too soon, another selfless soul whose moment might've come but who gave everything, literally to the last, that the rest of us would have something, that we might have life.

Yet even so -- and, secondly -- these are the ones who've given that final "yes" in peace only in the hope that each of us who they've touched won't let everything they've given us, everything they've lived and died for, languish. Just as, all through their lives, they died ever more to themselves that ever more we might live, so their loss ups our responsibility in owing them nothing less than to keep that faith and love going stronger, better, realizing ever more intensely, as they did, that the task is accomplished not in the great strides, but day by day, breath by breath, soul by soul.

As if it all wasn't difficult enough already....

They're OK now, they've gotten their reward -- one that, in his purity of heart, Tim sought, but never would've expected, nor ever thought he had earned. But for us who remain, to give that "yes" again, to make it stronger again, to let it live with a new energy: that's what we can and must do for them now. It's how we keep them alive.

There is a tie-in, of course. All Saints' Day is upon us, and in not a few places the kids might dress up like Francis, Therese or Kateri, as classes and messages highlight Gianna, John Paul or John Vianney.

That's beautiful, sure... but it misses the point.

The famous ones already have their tributes and tapestries, the pilgrimages, the shrines, feast days, church-namings, the statues, hymns and novenas. But the point of 1 November is that, for each one of the formally canonized, there are a thousand and more of the same rank, known only to God and to the people they touched in life, day by day, breath by breath, soul by soul.

It might be hard to comprehend sometimes, but the point is that each of us have known the saints not in books, but literally in flesh and blood, and that they remain with us still. The point is that saints are made not in death, but in life, and that they live among us even now -- whether on the phone, over e.mail, the occasional catch-up, the daily kitchen table; or, for those who have gone, they live still in memory, in example, in the things they've taught us, even face-to-face.

Truly, we've all known them... truly, I know I've known them in spades.

And I don't know about you, but that frightens me to no end.

It's far too easy and all too human to look up to them, to praise their names... and leave the hard part of continuing their work, of imitating their lives' lessons, to others. But faith is in the work, friends, and God knows it's no easy task at all, but He's given each of us our own saints not for the easy work of canonizing them, but the very uneasy part that is our common vocation -- that is, to be like them... and, in being like them, to be like the One who placed them in our midst.

Having known them, having been loved by them, is a gift and a responsibility, a blessing and a challenge. May each of us always do our best in living up to both, and may their help and protection surround us always.

Parrillo, you've got another dinner-guest. Timmy, I kiss your heart.

Both of you, pray for us.

God love them and grant them rest. And God love all of you who, day by day, breath by breath, soul by soul, keep their witness alive... and so continue to make the magic happen.


Monday, October 29, 2007

Everything's New in Moscow

On Saturday, before a cathedral packed with Italians and Russians, Catholics and Orthodox alike, the Italian-born cleric Paolo Pezzi was ordained archbishop of "Mother of God" of Moscow, as the Latin-rite community in the Russian capital is known. 

A member of the priestly arm of Comunione e Liberazione -- Benedict XVI's favorite "new movement" -- the 47 year-old archbishop served until his September elevation as a seminary rector in St Petersburg. He succeeds Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, who was returned to the top hierarchical post in his home country of Belarus. The departing Moscow prelate -- who's spoken in interviews of his regret at not being able to forge better coexistence with the dominant and influential Russian Orthodox church -- served as principal consecrator at the three-hour long liturgy.

Reflecting the Roman consensus that Pezzi's appointment would offer yet another sign of Vatican goodwill to the Russian Orthodox, a high-ranking representative of the Moscow Patriarchate attended the liturgy and offered a message from Patriarch Alexei II which expressed hopes for improved relations between the two churches and an "early resolution" of the issues that divide them.

The patriarchate's claims of Catholic "proselytism" on its canonical territory have caused prominent diplomatic and ecumenical tensions in recent years, and the reigning pontiff has made no secret of the high priority he places on better ties with Moscow. As Alexei and his lieutenants have responded in kind, the possibility of a meeting between Pope and Patriarch has advanced at a substantial clip over the course of Benedict's pontificate, with some estimates expecting it within two years.

To reflect his newly-intensified status with the land where he's served much of his priesthood, a senior Catholic official announced that Pezzi's change of title wouldn't be his only new moniker:
Father Igor Kovalevski, secretary-general of Russia's bishops' conference, told Archbishop Pezzi that he would no longer be known by his Italian name, "Paolo," but by its Russian equivalent, "Pavel."...

During the ordination Mass, celebrated in Russian, Latin and Italian, Archbishop Kondrusiewicz highlighted the difficult responsibility of a bishop: "To teach how to love God -- Christ calls the bishop to be his apostle and continues through him his mission. It is God who guides his people through the bishop."

Referring to the passage of the Gospel of John that recounts Peter's triple confession, Archbishop Kondrusiewicz affirmed that the role of the bishop is to serve every person until the end.

"A bishop is like a guardian angel," he affirmed, making reference to the role that his successor will now fulfill. "On the one hand, the Church in Russia has existed for more than a century, but on the other hand, it is still very young. It is for that reason that Archbishop Pezzi will now be a type of guardian angel, to him is commended the heart of the Catholic Church in Russia.

"With love, tell Jesus, 'Yes, Lord, I love you,' and he will make you 'strong with his Holy Spirit.'"...

Archbishop Antonio Mennini, apostolic nuncio in Russia, addressed the cathedral full of priests, men and women religious, diplomats and faithful, including many Italians. He said that Archbishop Pezzi, like Archbishop Kondrusiewicz had been for 16 years, needs to be an prelate "of the heart."

The nuncio recalled that the new prelate knows Russia very well, saying he is anything but a stranger in that lands. He affirmed that Benedict XVI would not have made the appointment without the certainty of the young archbishop's love for the Russian people. "Together, we will build the Kingdom of God," Archbishop Mennini affirmed.

After being ordained, Archbishop Pezzi explained that in his life from the beginning, he sensed a call to listen to God and serve him. He particularly thanked the representatives present from various Christian confessions: "I see signs of love from the Orthodox Church."
A leading patriarchate-watcher noted that he could see the love, too -- and that the appointment was being welcomed in Orthodox circles as a "concession" to Alexei & Co.
“By this transfer, Vatican actually makes Russian Orthodox Church understand that it is high time to improve the relations,” said Alexander Dugin, who is the church analyst. “In substance, the Pope made concession, as Russian Orthodox Church had been long seeking Kondrusiewics’ replacement from Vatican.”

According to Dugin, the Moscow Patriarchy associated Kondrusiewics with the time of Joan Paul II, when the relations of two churches had been particularly tense. The target that was set to Pezzi is rather complicated, the analyst went on, he is expected to prove “that the Catholic Church can be a friend.” “I think the historical meeting of Patriarch and Pope will eventually take place,” Dugin forecasted.
In an extended interview with the Russian news agency Interfax, Pezzi remarked that his community formation had taught him to "see the Christian message... as enthusiasm in the Glory of Christ."

"[I]f all of us -- both Catholics and Orthodox -- practice 'mission'" along these lines, he said, "we can develop good understanding and pursue unity."

And the result, according to the prelate: "there will be no place left for conflicts!"

Vasily Shaposhnikov/Kommersant


A Prayer for Atlanta

The following announcement came this morning from Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta:
On Monday morning, Nov. 5, I will undergo prostate surgery at Emory University Hospital. I was diagnosed with the early stage prostate cancer after a biopsy in September. I have sought additional medical advice, and I have decided to have this surgery as the best response to my condition. This means that I will be out of commission for the next several weeks. I must cancel all of my scheduled appointments at least through November and then begin again with a limited calendar in December. I apologize to all those who have scheduled events that I must now retract. I am sure that you will understand....

I have urged our priests to take care of their health on several different occasions over the years. I renew that admonition now with the witness of my personal experience. We men (I hope that doesn’t sound absolutely chauvinistic) often neglect regular attention to our health—and priests may be near the top of the list in that category. I urge all of my brothers to attend to your health. I urge any man who may be in a high risk category to be screened for prostate cancer or any other illness that can be detected by simple testing (ladies, you know that you also have your own list of medical concerns that need similar proactive attention).

I am very much at peace with this situation since I believe that I have received expert medical advice and that I will have the best of medical care. I have enjoyed wonderful health throughout my life, and I anticipate returning to a fully active schedule after my recuperation.

Some of you might now wonder why I am being so candid about my health. Well, you are my family, and you have a right to know: Besides if I were to be absent for an entire month, the rumors would be far worse than telling you the simple truth up front. I have never been restricted in my activity for such a long time, and I look forward to getting some reading done that I have not had the opportunity to do. I anticipate that I will be bored quickly, and so I’ll need to practice patience with myself—not an easy task to be certain.

...and local coverage from the Journal-Constitution:
Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta is a fighter. He has fought to expose sexually abusive priests, stop anti-immigrant legislation, reduce abortions and end the death penalty, reminding Georgia lawmakers that Jesus Christ was victim of it.

Now he is fighting the second-leading cause of death by cancer of men in the United States. He told his staff this weekend that he has been diagnosed with prostate cancer, said Pat Chivers, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Atlanta....

She said the announcement stunned her because she saw Gregory as not only the leader of 650,000 Catholics in 69 counties in northern Georgia but also the paragon of health.

"He rises early, he exercises, and he eats healthy," Chivers said. "He is feeling very peaceful about [the cancer] and very confident it has been found early,"

The five-year survival rate for prostate cancer is 100 percent if caught early enough, according to the American Association for Cancer Research.

Doctors then will be able to evaluate whether he will need any follow-up treatments such as radiation or, if the cancer is advanced, chemotherapy, according to the cancer research association.
In two weeks' time down in Baltimore, it won't feel like November Meeting without Gregory -- formerly president and vice-president of the US bishops, still one of the body's most respected and effective voices.

Even far from the floor, though, he'll still have a better grasp of what's doing than most of us who are actually there.

All prayers and every wish for the archbishop's complete recovery and (very) quick return to the scene.


The Papal Paper Trail

A couple statements worthy of note have recently slipped out from behind the Vatican walls....

First, to mark the close of his first year as prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy -- the dicastery also chiefly responsible for catechesis -- Cardinal Claudio Hummes OFM released a message to the catechists of the world on the feast of St Luke.
I want to express my admiration for your often untiring ecclesial service in the area of the transmission of Catholic faith to so many catechumens and those entrusted to you who have been already baptized.

I assure you of my affection, as my dearest brothers and sisters, committed to the good fight of faith, which often requires heroic sacrifices, to which, nonetheless, you respond with joy and perseverance.

In daily faithfulness to God and man, you continue to be and represent a real asset for your parish communities. You are one of the most promising signs with which the Lord endlessly comforts and surprises us.

In a dedicated fashion and with passion, seek to acquire and exhibit that image, which is required of teachers, educators and witnesses of the truth, by faithfully passing on that truth to contemporary man, in all of its fullness and integrity.

Be able to strengthen your faith, “always ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope" (1 Peter 3:15), with prayer, with continuing education, with charity. Be always joyful and zealous so that, also through your work, "in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong glory and dominion" (1 Peter 4:11).

I urge you to pray and cultivate with trust a relationship of love, devotion, attentiveness and silence with the Lord.

In a world which is often hopeless, in the grip of violence and selfishness, let every gesture, every smile, every word of yours be a living testimony that the Lord is victorious over sin and death, and that love is possible!...

Reveal the face of Christ to all those you meet, through the grace and faithfulness of your service.

May the Spirit of the Lord render your life new and make communion among you grow.

“May the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the Good News not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervor, who have first received the joy of Christ, and who are willing to risk their lives so that the kingdom may be proclaimed and the Church established in the midst of the world” ("Evangelii Nuntiandi," 80).
And on Friday, receiving the bishops of Gabon at the close of their ad limina visit, the Pope's final speech underscored the importance of engaging the young in the life of the church, and some other pointed observations:
The Holy Father noted that the people of Gabon "sometimes let themselves be attracted by the consumerist permissive society, paying less attention to the poorest people of their country. I encourage them to increase fraternal sentiment and solidarity. Furthermore, a certain relaxation has been noted in the lives of Christians, taken in by the attractions of the world. It is my hope that their conduct become ever more exemplary in terms of spiritual and moral values."

Benedict XVI identified one of the most vital tasks of the Church in Gabon as "transmitting the faith and acquiring a deeper knowledge of the Christian mystery. In order to meet the challenges they face, the faithful need a thorough formation that enables them to found their Christian life upon clear principles."

"Ecclesial communities will be more vibrant and the faithful will draw strength from the liturgy and from individual, family and community prayer, so that, in all fields of social life, they become witnesses of the Good News and workers for reconciliation, justice and peace in this world of ours which needs these things more than ever," he said....

The Pope emphasized the role of youth in Gabon, expressing the hope that the young may become "the first evangelizers of their peers. Many times, through friendship and sharing, people come to discover the person of Christ and to join themselves to him."

After noting the bishops' concern about the low numbers of vocations to the priesthood and the religious life, the Holy Father noted that "the seminary in Libreville must be watched over with particular care because the future of evangelization and of the Church are at stake." This, he said, "will not cease to be a stimulus so that, in each diocese, pastoral care of vocations develops and intensifies."...

With reference to priests, the Pope stressed that, "living in constant intimacy with Christ, they will have a sharper awareness of the need to remain faithful to the commitments made before God and the Church, especially [...] chastity and celibacy. In this way, they will experience their priestly ministry ever more as a service to the faithful."
Oh, and the music-loving pontiff was treated to another classical concert over the weekend -- again courtesy of his native Bavarian Radio Symphony.

The program: Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. The papal post-program speech: a plug for hope...
Beethoven's "Ninth" is one of the best-known compositions of Western music and was written when the composer was almost completely deaf. Its finale, "Ode to Joy," uses soloists, chorus and orchestra.

The pope said he was increasingly amazed at the work, which was Beethoven's last complete symphony, written after years of self-isolation.

"Beethoven had to fight internal and external problems that brought him depression and deep bitterness and threatened to suffocate his artistic creativity," the pope said.

Then, in 1824, Beethoven surprised the public with "a composition that broke the traditional form of the symphony" and elevated it to an expression of joy and optimism, he said.

The pope said the careful listener can follow this drama in the music itself, as it progresses from the dark tones and famous "empty fifths" of the strings at the beginning of the overture to an explosion of jubilation at the end.

The sense of joy that emerges from the music is "not something light and superficial, but a sentiment acquired through much work, overcoming the emptiness of someone who had been pushed into isolation by deafness," the pope said.
That joyful optimism is, of course, the topic of B16's forthcoming second encyclical.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

PopeTrip'08: In the Capital, the "State of the Unum"

Keeping with the steady drip of firmed-up plans for next April's papal pilgrimage to these shores, it's emerged that the Washington leg of Benedict XVI's journey will see what promises to be the trek's most significant ad intra moment: a meeting with the bishops of the United States, papal address included.

As all but a few members of the US hierarchy have gotten little direct exposure to Benedict's mind, aside from the routine practice of a brief baciamano greeting following his General Audiences, the foreseen speech would serve as this pontificate's first in-depth public assessment of the state of American Catholicism.

What's more, the timing of the talk will also provide an advance glimpse into what the church in the States can expect to hear in greater detail shortly down the line; the quinquennial ad limina visit of the American bishops begins early in 2009. By that time, the US hierarchy will be the last major group to make the five-yearly pilgrimage to Rome in Benedict's reign.

In the meantime, a seeming sneak-preview of April's message was given by the Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone SDB on his visit to last August's Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus in Nashville.

Some might've read the "Vice-Pope's" major address at the time... but you might want to read it again.

And for all the rest, stay tuned.


Saturday, October 27, 2007

PopeTrip '08: The Plans, v.2.0

Even behind the scenes, the good souls of Ecclesiastical Officialdom have taken a warming of late to the line that "Nothing is confirmed until the Holy Father signs off on it."

And who could blame 'em?

Especially in this pontificate of detail and deliberation, no one would, of course, ever deny that. Yet, as with everything across the Tiber, plans for a papal visit don't just drop out of the sky -- Papa Ratzi having bigger things to do than book flights and all.

And so, earlier this week the head of Benedict XVI's travel advance team, Alberto Gasparri, was in Washington and New York to firm up arrangements for the Pope's mid-April trek to the East Coast, whose first extensive "rough sketch" was presented on these pages six weeks ago.

Since that first report, the foreseen itinerary for the first apostolic journey to the States in nearly a decade has evolved in notable ways.

Most significant of all, multiple indications are that, for a second time, plans for a Boston leg of the trip -- which had been placed on the schedule as of the first key meeting on the visit in late August -- have been scuttled amid a previously-reported push from the upper rungs of the pontiff's inner circle.

While Cardinal Sean O'Malley is understood to be fighting on to keep his archdiocese, the epicenter of the sexual abuse crisis that has rocked American Catholicism from 2002, in the mix, at a recent meeting of his provincial bishops (which featured the trip as part of its agenda) the Capuchin cardinal was said to have made no mention of a Popestop in New England. Furthermore, the papal advance team hadn't been spotted in Boston, which had once been placed as the voyage's climactic final destination.

As things presently stand, the plan now looks to give B16 three days in New York, including a culminating Mass on the final day in Yankee Stadium, as opposed to the previously-proffered option of Central Park.

First reported yesterday by Spero News, the Big Apple leg was hammered out at a Thursday meeting in Cardinal Edward Egan's Madison Avenue residence. Alongside the cardinal and Gasparri, those present included Archbishops Celestino Migliore and Pietro Sambi, the respective nuncios to the United Nations and the US, Msgrs David Malloy and Anthony Sherman, the general secretary and incoming Liturgy Czar of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Msgr Robert Ritchie, the rector of St Patrick's Cathedral.

While the chief item of the visit -- a papal address at the UN -- is the only commitment currently foreseen for Friday, 18 April, the following morning has been given to a liturgy for priests and religious in the cathedral. The Saturday coincides with the third anniversary of Benedict's election to the papacy.

That afternoon, another newly-planned event reportedly has the pontiff heading north to Yonkers and the campus of St Joseph's Seminary, Dunwoodie, for an encounter with seminarians and young people. The meeting's exact setting on the property remains undecided, but odds are that it'll be an outdoor venue in order to accommodate the expected number of attendees.

The next morning, Benedict is slated to head north again, this time to the Bronx and the House That Ruth Built. The choice of Yankee Stadium would mark a historic return to the site of the first papal Mass on the American continent (celebrated by Paul VI on his whirlwind visit to the New York in 1965), but would also likely be the last significant non-baseball event the hallowed turf would see; a new stadium is currently being built adjacent to the current ballpark, and is expected to open in 2009. Though Yankee's game-day capacity currently stands in the high 50,000s, a configuration of seats to hold 65,000 has been foreseen.

Especially when combined with the seeming lack of a Boston stop, the move to a venue unable to fit the hundreds of thousands who could, and did, throng Central Park for John Paul II's celebrations there in 1979 and 1995 would spike demand for tickets from the dioceses of the Northeast and beyond. Considering Benedict's relative aversion to lengthy travel, along with the widespread belief that the spring trek could well be the only US journey of his pontificate, and the frenzy to see the Pope looks set to become even more intense.

As currently planned, the trip's first full day will see the pontiff's 81st birthday. As reported in mid-September, the plans continue to point toward the visit's start in Washington. While most of the previously-noted itinerary of the Catholic University of America and diplomatic courtesies at the White House appear to remain in place, one reported change has the venue for Benedict's DC Mass pegged not for the expanse of the National Mall, but -- as with New York -- the new stadium of the Washington Nationals, currently projected to open barely a week before the visit takes place. (On a related note, Major League Baseball's scheduling for 2008 is still in its tentative stages and has not been publicly released.) Built to house a game capacity of 41,000, Nationals Park would likely seat closer to 50,000 for a papal liturgy.

A final word of caution -- to reiterate the standard protocol, papal trips are not formally announced by the Vatican until three months prior to a visit's taking place, and the detailed final itineraries are held until weeks before the journey.

Bottom line: everything can, and very well might, change. But this is where things are heading as of the present... even if "Nothing is confirmed until the Holy Father signs off on it."

As always, stay tuned.


Fruits of Disco Decade: Bell Bottoms... and Baby Bishops

The Catholic hierarchy has entered the 1970s.

Some might be looking for a punchline, but there is none... as of earlier in the hour, it's simply fact.

The Holy See announced this morning that Pope Benedict had assented to the choice of two new bishops by the synod of the Romanian Greek-Catholic church. Both assigned to aid the head of the 750,000 member community, Major Archbishop Lucian Muresan of Fagaras and Alba Iulia, Bishops-elect Mihai Fratila and Vasile Bisau are, respectively, 36 and (barely) 38. Following their ordination, the duo will be the youngest of the world's 4,000-odd bishops.

(In the Eastern rites in communion with Rome, the synods choose and transfer their own personnel, a relative autonomy that merely requires papal confirmation of the moves.)

A former rector of Rome's Romanian College, Fratila -- who turns 37 in December -- was ordained in 1996. He studied at the Eternal City's "Orientale" and Paris' Institut Catholique, where he earned a doctorate in liturgical theology. Ordained a priest in 1997, Bisau has spent eight years as a moral theology professor in his home eparchy of Maramures in the north of Romania.

Alongside the six eparchies (dioceses) in its home country, the presence of a Romanian-rite community in the US was recognized in 1987 with the establishment of the church's lone branch outside Romania, with its seat at Canton, Ohio. Counting approximately 5,000 faithful, the eparchy of St George in Canton is the smallest of the 195 American dioceses.

On a side note, the church in the States hasn't seen a thirty-something prelate since 1988, when Franciscan Fr Roberto Gonzalez was named an auxiliary bishop of Boston at the age of 38.

Subsequently bishop of Corpus Christi after seven years in Boston, Gonzalez -- the last of a string of US bishops named under 40 in the '70s and '80s -- became archbishop of San Juan on Puerto Rico in 1999.

In other papal doings on this Saturday, three weeks after seeking counsel from his closest ally in his homeland over a low-key dinner, the Pope received Bishop Wilhelm Schraml of Passau in a similarly inconspicuous (but simultaneously conspicuous) private audience.

Whether Schraml --72 years old and previously auxiliary of the Ratzinger home-base of Regensburg -- was likewise called in to give advice, or to accept the archbishopric of Munich, is an open question.... For the time being, of course.


From the TO Desk

After the annual Cardinal's Dinner in Toronto wrapped the other night, it didn't take long for the lauds to flow in for the event's main address, Archbishop Thomas Collins' first since taking the helm of Canada's largest local church earlier this year.

A crowd of 1,800 showed up for the annual funder for local charities, including the papal nuncio Archbishop Luigi Ventura and contingents from the business, political and media communities of Canada's commercial capital.

TC's address -- drawing on the upcoming Pauline Year -- is up as an mp3... and, for the more text-friendly, fullcopy.


The life of St. Paul is an adventure story, and so is ours. We need to recognize that. Like Paul, we are engaged in the grand adventure of winning the world for Christ.

Paul experienced a profound conversion when the Lord appeared to him on the road to Damascus. He courageously set out through dangers of all kinds to witness to his new found faith – to his new found Master. He faced down all kinds of opposition, and found creative ways to keep moving forward despite daunting obstacles outside and within the Christian community. There is nothing timid in St. Paul. He launched into Europe, and planned to go to distant Spain. He returned to mortal danger in Jerusalem, and gave the ultimate witness of martyrdom in Rome. Paul was not a man of small plans. He did great things for Christ. He shows us the way.

The spirit of Paul was found in the Jesuit martyrs whose shrine in Midland is the spiritual heart of our archdiocese. They left the comfort of their homeland, for the love of Jesus. They died for Christ, but first of all they lived for Christ, and Paul did both.

As I pray in the tiny chapel in the rectory of our Cathedral, I am conscious of the example of the saintly Bishop Michael Power, who prayed there in 1847, and who set out daily from there to celebrate Mass at St. Paul’s, and then walked to the fever sheds where he ministered to the Irish immigrants, ultimately giving his life for them. Like other generous men and women in those early days of Toronto he lived and died in the courageous spirit of St. Paul.

When we, as a family of faith, engage the secular world we too face challenges and opportunities. We can miss the opportunities, and be disheartened by the challenges. St. Paul shows us the way to rejoice in the bold adventure of discipleship. He never missed an opportunity to reach out to the world around him with the Good News of Jesus, and he was not intimidated by the magnitude of the task at hand. When he came to the Athens, he went to the meeting place of the Areopagus, and engaged the sceptical Athenians in conversation about the Risen Lord. He did not shy away from the marketplace, nor should we if we follow in his footsteps. He did not retreat into the security of the inner world of believers, but entered into dialogue with the alien world of unbelief. So must we, with humility, and with the confidence born not of natural bravado, but of the serene faith that gave courage to Paul.

Some practical implications for us in our archdiocese:

  • We need to become involved wholeheartedly in the world of popular culture and the media. People spend more time at the computer and TV than in Church. We should also not be shy in engaging in the public conversation regarding social issues, and Christians need to be encouraged to engage in public service as politicians.

  • We need to give a reason for the hope we have to the people we meet day by day. That means we have to know our faith, and also be ready to explain it and, if necessary, defend it.

  • Paul did preach to the choir, but not only to the choir. We too need to seek creative ways to shine the light of the Gospel into every corner of our society. We can do this most effectively by the witness of a life well lived in our families and in the wider community, and amid the activities of the secular world of work and entertainment. Vatican II spoke of the universal call to holiness, and whatever our role in society or the Church we can make our baptismal commitment real by living day by day with Christian integrity as we go about our tasks in the world. All that we do, we do well, for we do all for the Lord.
St. Paul was apostolically energetic as he established communities of faith around the Roman world, but all his activity was fruitful because it arose out of his encounter with Christ the Lord. He certainly had an unusually dramatic experience on the road to Damascus: someone as strong-willed as Paul needed quite a jolt. But he also went away for prayer and study before embarking on his apostolic labours, and he speaks of the spiritual communion with the Lord that was granted to him. In Paul we see a man of action who is fundamentally a man of prayer.

In our lives as individual disciples, and as communities of faith, we should like Paul be contemplatives in action. Through our lives and our example we proclaim the Lord whom we have first encountered in prayer. All our bold apostolic initiatives – so necessary if we are to follow in the footsteps of St. Paul and engage our world as effectively as he engaged his – will be mere busyness if we do not like Paul root our creative action in the experience of Christ. Fruitful action flows out of adoration, and in adoration we realize that all life-giving action is a response to the grace of God. We do not save the world. We are only servants, and we must be attentive to our Master, in whom alone we find our strength....

As we look to the path ahead, St. Paul shows us the way. He helps us to build Christian communities that are shaped by faith, hope, and love, while recognizing the turmoil that can arise because of the inner struggles Paul describes in Romans 7: “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” (Romans 7:19). Our communities, like his, need to get beyond being absorbed with our internal issues, in order to reach out practically to help the needy, and to witness to Christ in this world, boldly, and creatively, and joyfully, in the adventure of discipleship.

If we learn from Paul, we will root our work of Christian witness, whatever form it takes, in continual prayer. And we who follow in the footsteps of Saint Paul face all challenges with the serene courage that comes from the vision of faith. Paul gave to the Christians of Philippi the energizing vision that shows us how to live. He wrote to them:

“If there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.

Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves.

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interest of others.

Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name,

That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

And every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

The Cathedral Lectio Divina might've taken October off -- due to scheduling issues -- but TO's rolled out its new Vocation site... with the archbishop YouTubing it up.

And, speaking of those who go beyond the choir in Toronto, the latest installment of Salt + Light's "Witness" features a real treat: Fr Tom Rosica's sit-down with Stephan Moccio, a star Canadian songwriter and pianist.

As those of us who bask in the "et et" that is Joni Mitchell and John Paul II are in rather short supply, check it out.


Friday, October 26, 2007

From West Africa, A Cardinal for Islam

Continuing with our coverage of "Scarlet Fever '07," while the rapid elevation of newly-named Archbishop John Njue of Nairobi took the top line among Africa's new entries among the College of Cardinals, the Pope indeed named two electors -- his first two -- from the continent where global Catholicism's biggest boom is taking place.

The senior African prelate heading into the papal senate next month is 70 year-old Archbishop Theodore-Adrien Sarr of Dakar in Senegal. Ordained a bishop at 37 and named to the capital see of the West African nation in 2000, the cardinal-designate follows his princely predecessor Hyacinthe Thiandoum, who was given his red hat in 1974 and died three years back.

What marks Sarr out, however, is his status as the top hierarch of a nation whose population is 95 percent Muslim. What's more, relations between Islam and the church in Senegal are reported to be unusually strong, cooperative and reciprocal.

As evidence of this, after his nomination was made public the cardinal-designate noted that his elevation had been sought in prayer... by one of the country's senior imams:
The Senegalese prelate disclosed hours after his nomination that Muslim cleric Habibou Tall had predicted publicly he would be made a cardinal before the end of the year.

"He said he was going to pray for that to happen," Sarr told reporters. "I know he has prayed for that to happen and I thank him for that."...

Christians in Senegal's breezy coastal capital expressed happiness at Sarr's appointment.

"There are countries where Christians are the biggest majority, but a cardinal was not named there, and we in small Senegal with a tiny population of Christians, we got one! We are simply blessed," said Alioune Ndiaye, 35, a brick maker.

Many Muslims expressed satisfaction at the appointment of the respected prelate.

"The new cardinal, Theodore Sarr, will work hard to strengthen the already good relations between Muslim and Christians," said Abdoulaye Diop, 45, a book-keeper of Muslim faith.
Among his post-Consistory curial assignments, expect Sarr to be named to the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

PHOTO: Reuters/Normand Blouni


Blessed Franz

Some might remember the story of Franz Jägerstätter, the Austrian husband, father, farmer and sacristan who was killed by the Nazis at 37 for thrice resisting mandatory conscription into the army of the Third Reich.

In June, after decades of Roman study of his cause found it worthy to be deemed martyrdom, Benedict XVI approved Jägerstätter's beatification. And today, on Austria's "National Day," with his widow and 5,000 others in attendance, the liturgy declaring him "Blessed" took place in his hometown of Linz.
Jaegerstaetter, an avowed conscientious objector, was executed outside Berlin on Aug. 9, 1943 for treason after his request to be excused from regular army service for religious reasons was denied. The married father of four was posthumously exonerated in 1997 by a Berlin court.

About 5,000 faithful and 27 crimson-robed cardinals and bishops from Austria and abroad joined Jaegerstaetter's 94-year-old widow, Franziska, at Friday's ceremony in the northwestern city of Linz, which was broadcast live on national television.

"I always prayed to the Lord God that he would let me live to experience this day," she said, surrounded by several dozen family members in a cathedral where a giant black and white portrait of Jaegerstaetter hung over the altar.

Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints, presided over the ceremony for Jaegerstaetter, whom Pope Benedict XVI declared a martyr in June.

The beatification gave Austrians a new opportunity to examine "our own wartime past: the war generation, inhumanity, and the terror of the Nazis," Austrian bishops Ludwig Schwarz and Manfred Scheuer said in a statement.

"He is a shining example in his fidelity to the claims of his conscience — an advocate of nonviolence and peace," they said, praising Jaegerstaetter for standing up to "the inhuman and godless system of Nazism."

"He gave up his life in magnanimous self-denial," the pope wrote in a letter read out by Saraiva Martins.

The beatification was held on Austria's National Day holiday, which marks the anniversary of a 1955 law declaring the country to be neutral.

In its official biography of Jaegerstaetter, the Diocese of Linz says he had a dream in 1938 warning of the horrors of Hitler's regime to come.

"In it, he saw a train carrying innumerable people to perdition, and its meaning was unveiled to him as representing the Nazis," it says.

After World War II, two Franciscan nuns brought an urn containing Jaegerstaetter's ashes back to the province of Upper Austria, where he had long been celebrated as a martyr — meaning he died for the church.
The official short bio of Jägerstätter cited above can be found here in English.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Pope to Catechists: No Clowning

At yesterday's General Audience catechesis, B16 ran with some metaphor for what to avoid in the ecclesial life, couched in a focus on St Ambrose:
Those who teach the faith “cannot run the risk of appearing like a type of clown who is playing a part; rather he must be like the beloved disciple who rested his head on the Master’s heart and learned therein how to think, speak and act”. Because “at the end of it all a true disciple is he who announces the Gospel in a credible and effective way”, in short “authentic witness”...

According to the Pope, an effective announcing of the Gospel can only occur there where the “witness” of the preacher’s life and the “exemplary conduct of the Christian community” are credible, as was the case with Saint Ambrose and his Church. As Augustine himself writes in his ”Confessions” what urged the young sceptical and desperate African to convert was in fact “Saint Augustine’s witness and that of his Milanese Church, which sang and prayed as one united body, capable of resisting the arrogance of the Emperor and his mother”, who demanded a building for the Arians. But in that building “the people held vigil ready to die together with their bishop”. “It is all too clear – commented Benedict XVI – which the witness of the preacher and the exemplary conduct of the Christian community condition the effectiveness of the spreading of the faith”.
Another crowd estimated at 30,000 crowded into St Peter's Square for the weekly meeting.

Reuters/Chris Helgren


Church Meets Mosque

At the US' biggest mosque in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, three days of Catholic-Muslim dialogue just wrapped:
They worshipped together and contemplated their ongoing collaboration, emerging Tuesday with a "mission statement" that will help guide the dialogue and relations between Muslims and Catholics well into the future.

Participants in the Midwest Dialogue of Catholics and Muslims, part of an initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Islamic Society of North America, said the 114-word declaration is aimed at encouraging members of both faiths to pursue greater understanding and offers hope the dialogue will benefit the country.

"Our common belief in the one God of mercy and love calls us into relationship with one another," the statement reads. "Therefore we see our dialogue as a spiritual journey. Common ethical concerns compel us to take responsibility for our relationship within U.S. society."

Some events around the globe suggest two religions in conflict. But the leaders say they are guiding collaboration that will affect Christianity and Islam, and the wider world, for decades to come.

"One of the themes that emerged is the fact that we see what we are doing as a spiritual journey," said Bishop Francis Reiss of the Archdiocese of Detroit. "We enter into what we are doing in a spirit of faith, in a spirit of respect for one another, in a spirit of wanting to learn more from each other."

The leaders make clear that they do not duck difficult issues. On Monday, they explored guidelines to govern attempts to convert Muslims to Catholicism and Catholics to Islam.

The work, which will eventually be considered by Muslims and Catholics nationally, is consistent with a long tradition of ecumenical outreach by Catholics to other faiths and denominations. Muslims also have pursued some interfaith experiences, and they hope the intensive, ongoing dialogue with Catholic leaders will spur similar relationships.

"The Catholic church is much older than our presence as Muslims in America," said Sayyid Syeed, secretary general of the Islamic Society of North America. "So they have had interfaith dialogue with others. We are latecomers.

"Catholics are 60 million in the U.S. We are hardly eight to 10 million, and we are still exploring ways of establishing our community and gaining the recognition and respect that we deserve as American Muslims," Syeed said. "And so, we truly appreciate this big brother relationship."