Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Between Heaven and Earth

The caption from Brazil:
Roman Catholic priest Adelir Antonio de Carli, 42, flies in a harness-like seat suspended from 1,000 balloons of various colors in the southern port of Paranagua April 20, 2008.
Of course, he should've waited for Ascension Thurs/Sunday... but oh well.

SVILUPPO: Good God, this is terrible -- the guy went missing, and the Brazilian military's called off the search.

All he was trying to do was "raise money to build a rest stop and worship center for truckers."

Pray for his safe return.

PHOTO: Reuters/Handout


Monday, April 28, 2008

The Book of Names

For all the public moments and visuals of The Visit, it seems that the event that'll be most remembered took place in private: B16's emotional meeting with the small group of abuse survivors from Boston.

Held only after the Pope overruled a strong current of resistance to the gathering from within the Vatican ranks, the first-ever encounter's key advocate -- Beantown's Cardinal Sean O'Malley -- recounted the experience in the archdiocesan Pilot:
Q: Can you explain your involvement in that unannounced meeting in Washington that brought together the Holy Father with five local victims of sexual abuse by clergy?

A: After it was announced that the Holy Father was going to Washington and New York and that Boston was not included, the bishops of the region joined me in writing a letter to the Holy Father asking him to reconsider and talking about the pastoral needs that we have in New England. Then the response came back that, given the very taxing nature of the trip, that they (Vatican officials) really hesitated to add anything else. So I wrote back again asking if the Holy Father would meet with victims and after that the Holy Father responded and asked me to make the necessary arrangements.

Q: Why was this meeting not part of the official schedule?

A: We did our best to keep it a very discreet meeting because we did not want to turn it a media circus and we were afraid that if people found ahead of time that that was just what would happen. Also, some of the survivors who accompanied us wished to remain anonymous and it would have made it impossible for them to participate under the public scrutiny. So, I am just thankful that we were able to carry it off without becoming public before hand.

I was very grateful to the Holy Father. The many times he addressed the sexual abuse crisis indicate how deeply he understands the situation of our Church and what happens here. He obviously feels a great sorrow over what has happened and that he is ashamed but, at the same time, wants to encourage us on the path to healing and reconciliation.

At the Thursday morning Mass at the Nationals’ stadium he talked about the need of giving pastoral care to the victims, and then in the afternoon he gave us a very concrete example of that in his own encounter with them.

Q: Why do you think this was a crucial meeting?

A: I think it was important for the victims to feel as though they had access to the Holy Father. Obviously, not all victims but someone representing them and in a small enough group, in a context that it would allow for a very personal interchange between the Holy Father and the victims. It was not a formal address; the Holy Father made his initial comments and then he spoke with each of the victims individually, he clasped their hands, he blessed them, he prayed with them.

I think for the Holy Father, pastorally, it was very important to experience this. Certainly he has heard through the bishops and through others the devastation of sexual abuse but it is another thing to encounter personally the survivors and to learn first hand of their suffering and pain.

Q: There was a very moving moment when you handed a book to the Holy Father with over 1,000 names of victims…

A: Yes, over 1,000 names, first names, done in calligraphy and very beautifully and artistically prepared, with prayers and other reflections interspersed among the names. It was a way to try to underline the fact that the meeting was to be representative of all the victims, not just the ones who were there, or even the ones whose names appeared in the book, and also to underscore the dimension of the problem. The names in the book represent names that have come to us, of cases that have come to us in the last 50 years.

It was obvious from the Holy Father’s demeanor that it was a very poignant moment in the visit.
* * *

...speaking of the book of names, its genesis and creation was the focus of a Sunday piece in the Globe:
The book has no title, no author, no explanatory words - just a few quotes from The Bible, and page after page of first names.
Keith Robert Jeffrey Michael Michael Kim Curtis

Richard Scott John Steven Peter Michael

Jackie Robert Wayne Stephen Paul Linda
Much ink has been spilled over the clergy sexual abuse crisis in the last six years, but this work is different: a hand-painted list of 1,476 men and women who have reported being sexually abused by a Catholic priest, deacon, or nun in the Archdiocese of Boston.

Like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the AIDS Memorial Quilt, the book of names the Archdiocese of Boston gave to Pope Benedict XVI was an unusual effort to humanize a crisis of unimaginable scale, in this case for a pontiff who had once minimized the scope of abuse within the church. Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston presented the book at the historic Washington meeting between the pontiff and five abuse victims from Boston on April 17, midway through a papal trip to the United States during which Benedict spoke out four times about the pain and damage caused by clergy sexual abuse.
O'Malley later described the book as "a symbolic way of helping the Holy Father to experience the dimensions of the problem."
"We were trying to find a way that we could make present all of those who have been so hurt," said Barbara Thorp, the social worker who heads the archdiocese's victims' outreach efforts. "It isn't just 'the sexual abuse crisis,' but these are real people, with individual lives, and we felt a great responsibility to carry them with us in some tangible way."

The book was created by a West Roxbury calligrapher, Jan Boyd, who Thorp found by doing an Internet search. Boyd is not Catholic, and the bulk of her business is wedding invitations. At this time of year, she is usually swamped addressing envelopes for anxious brides.

"It was kind of overwhelming - she first gave me fifty names for a test, and that was enough," Boyd said. "Then she gave me a sheaf of papers that was too big to staple."
Thorp had little idea what she was looking for, other than a way to memorialize the names of the abused. She has worked for the archdiocese for more than 30 years, and has long seen the power of the personal. In one of her former roles, as head of the archdiocesan prolife office, she presented Cardinal Bernard F. Law a list of names that women who had had abortions had given their unborn children.

And last November, at a candlelight memorial Mass for people who had died, mostly from suicide or drug overdoses attributed to the damage done by clergy sexual abuse, she had people write the names of victims on pieces of paper, drop them in the basket, and then present them to O'Malley as part of the offertory....

"Our names are very precious," she said. "We are known by name to the Lord."...

Boyd said she had a little more than a month to work on the project, and that it became an obsession for her during that time.

"I felt like I had 1,500 people I needed to do something for," she said. "And when I came across a name where I knew a child with that name who had been raised in the Catholic church, I'd think about that person."

When O'Malley handed the book to the pope, "there was an audible intake of breath," akin to a gasp, from the pontiff, according to the Rev. John J. Connolly, an O'Malley aide who was there. And the pope then paged through the book, Connolly said....

Two days later, O'Malley choked up when asked about that moment by reporters. "Just seeing the book makes a great impact," O'Malley said. "I know the Holy Father was touched by it."
The number of names in the book is significantly higher than that previously acknowledged by the archdiocese, and suggests that the number of victims nationally could be substantially higher than the 10,667 tallied by John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 2004. Thorp said the list represents everyone the archdiocese could identify as having claimed abuse by a priest in Boston - the archdiocese did not attempt, she said, to verify the claims for the list, and the list is longer than previously known, she said, because it includes people who never filed legal claims, and allegations made well before the crisis erupted.

"We tried to be as inclusive as we could be," she said. "We didn't want to leave anyone out."

Faith Johnston, 23, of Haverhill, one of the five victims who met with the pope, said her name, Faith, "popped out of the page right at me" when she first looked at the book. Johnston was just 15 and working part time in her parish rectory when she was sexually assaulted by the Rev. Kelvin Iguabita. The priest was convicted of multiple charges and is serving a prison sentence.

"When the pope saw it, I think the realization of how huge this has been really hit him," Johnston said. "It helped him to realize there were real people, individuals, who were hurt by this."

The book now belongs to the Vatican, and archdiocesan officials say they hope the pope is sharing it with other Vatican officials. They also say they hope it may one day be loaned back to Boston for display here.

Already, some abuse victims have come forward as a result of publicity over the papal meeting, according to the archdiocese.

"People have been calling to ask, 'is my name in the book?' " Thorp said. "That seems to have really struck a chord with people. There is a sense that this encounter was for them."
As previously noted, pages in the book were left blank to symbolize those who've never come forward.

PHOTOS: Barbara Thorp/Archdiocese of Boston; John Souza Photography


Egan to Rudy: "Outta Line"

In the aftermath of The Visit, it's been noted in not a few quarters that five Catholic politicians on-record as pro-choice -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Sens. John Kerry and Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts and Chris Dodd of Connecticut and former New York Mayor and presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani -- received the Eucharist at one B16 Mass or another.

Within the hour, Gotham's Cardinal Edward Egan issued a statement on the taking of Communion by the thrice-married ex-mayor during the papal liturgy in St Patrick's Cathedral:
The Catholic Church clearly teaches that abortion is a grave offense against the will of God. Throughout my years as Archbishop of New York, I have repeated this teaching in sermons, articles, addresses, and interviews without hesitation or compromise of any kind. Thus it was that I had an understanding with Mr. Rudolph Giuliani, when I became Archbishop of New York and he was serving as Mayor of New York, that he was not to receive the Eucharist because of his well-known support of abortion. I deeply regret that Mr. Giuliani received the Eucharist during the Papal visit here in New York, and I will be seeking a meeting with him to insist that he abide by our understanding.
In its response, Team Rudy said it would welcome the meeting, but with a twist: Giuliani's faith "is a deeply personal matter and should remain confidential" according to his spokeswoman.

The move is a notable change of public tack by the occupant of 452 Madison. In an early 2007 TV interview, when asked how he'd "come down" on public officials who defy church teaching -- Giuliani included -- Egan said that the politicos named were "all friends of mine."

"I wish them all the best, and they've been very good to us" the cardinal told WNBC's David Ushery.

Suffice it to say, compare and contrast... and connect the dots.

SVILUPPO: Need anyone be reminded, backdropping the Gotham theater of the "Communion Wars" is Egan's expected retirement in short order from the archbishopric; the cardinal tendered his age-mandated walking papers to Pope Benedict at his 75th birthday last year.

For what it's worth, the current edition of New York magazine sizes up the field of likely successors.

The mag might have a contextual error or two to fix... but you get the idea.

PHOTO: AP/Chris LaPutt


The Church's Doctors, Old and New

Today's the feast of one of the most popular "modern saints" canonized in the pontificate of John Paul II: Gianna Beretta Molla, a Milanese pediatrician who died at 40 to save the life of her fourth child....
She diligently dedicated herself to studies during the years of her secondary and university education, while, at the same time, applying her faith through generous apostolic service among the youth of Catholic Action and charitable work among the elderly and needy as a member of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. After earning degrees in Medicine and Surgery from the University of Pavia in 1949, she opened a medical clinic in Mesero (near Magenta) in 1950. She specialized in Pediatrics at the University of Milan in 1952 and there after gave special attention to mothers, babies, the elderly and poor.

While working in the field of medicine-which she considered a “mission” and practiced as such-she increased her generous service to Catholic Action, especially among the “very young” and, at the same time, expressed her joie de vivre and love of creation through skiing and mountaineering. Through her prayers and those of others, she reflected upon her vocation, which she also considered a gift from God. Having chosen the vocation of marriage, she embraced it with complete enthusiasm and wholly dedicated herself “to forming a truly Christian family”.

She became engaged to Pietro Molla and was radiant with joy and happiness during the time of their engagement, for which she thanked and praised the Lord. They were married on September 24, 1955, in the Basilica of St. Martin in Magenta, and she became a happy wife. In November 1956, to her great joy, she became the mother of Pierluigi, in December 1957 of Mariolina; in July 1959 of Laura. With simplicity and balance she harmonized the demands of mother, wife, doctor and her passion for life.

In September 1961 towards the end of the second month of pregnancy, she was touched by suffering and the mystery of pain; she had developed a fibroma in her uterus. Before the required surgical operation, and conscious of the risk that her continued pregnancy brought, she pleaded with the surgeon to save the life of the child she was carrying, and entrusted herself to prayer and Providence. The life was saved, for which she thanked the Lord. She spent the seven months remaining until the birth of the child in incomparable strength of spirit and unrelenting dedication to her tasks as mother and doctor. She worried that the baby in her womb might be born in pain, and she asked God to prevent that.

A few days before the child was due, although trusting as always in Providence, she was ready to give her life in order to save that of her child: “If you must decided between me and the child, do not hesitate: choose the child - I insist on it. Save him”. On the morning of April 21, 1962, Gianna Emanuela was born. Despite all efforts and treatments to save both of them, on the morning of April 28, amid unspeakable pain and after repeated exclamations of “Jesus, I love you. Jesus, I love you», the mother died. She was 39 years old. Her funeral was an occasion of profound grief, faith and prayer. The Servant of God lies in the cemetery of Mesero (4 km from Magenta).

“Conscious immolation," was the phrase used by Pope Paul VI to define the act of Blessed Gianna, remembering her at the Sunday Angelus of September 23, 1973, as: “A young mother from the diocese of Milan, who, to give life to her daughter, sacrificed her own, with conscious immolation”. The Holy Father in these words clearly refers to Christ on Calvary and in the Eucharist.
At her canonization in 2004, the great saint-maker said that St Gianna "was a simple, but more than ever, significant messenger of divine love.
In a letter to her future husband a few days before their marriage, she wrote: "Love is the most beautiful sentiment the Lord has put into the soul of men and women".

Following the example of Christ, who "having loved his own... loved them to the end" (Jn 13: 1), this holy mother of a family remained heroically faithful to the commitment she made on the day of her marriage. The extreme sacrifice she sealed with her life testifies that only those who have the courage to give of themselves totally to God and to others are able to fulfil themselves.
While Gianna enjoys considerable popularity in the trenches on this side of the Pond, her feast hasn't been placed on the local calendars in North America... at least, not yet.

...and tomorrow falls the feast of one of the great saints of ecclesiastical renewal: Catherine of Siena, who served in turns as a nurse, mystic and Dominican tertiary... but most famously acted as adviser (and often scourge) of her day's hierarchs:
Even at a young age, Catherine sensed the troubled society around her and wanted to help. She dreamed of dressing up like a man to become a Dominican friar; more than once she ran into the street to kiss the ground where Dominicans walked.

Catherine's parents tried hard to discourage her from becoming religious, but eventually, when she was about sixteen-years-old, Catherine, with the help of the Holy Spirit, was permitted to enter the sisters of Penance of St Dominic, the Mantellate.

During her life as a religious, St. Catherine had numerous visions and long ecstasies, but she is most remembered for her writings...

Her bold letters, even today, have a way of shocking the reader into reality. The style of her letters was lean and direct. She sometimes broke with polite convention. For example, during the Great Western Schism, in defense of Pope Urban VI, she rebuked three Italian cardinals who were supporting the anti-pope, writing to them, "what made you do this? You are flowers who shed no perfume, but stench that makes the whole world reek."

These words are strong, and it is not recommended that we imitate them. St. Catherine had a unique call from God, which Pope Paul VI referred to as her "charism of exhortation." 3 it was her great love and fidelity to the Pope and college of bishops that prompted her to respond to God's urgings that she be forthright with those who were against the Vicar of Christ.

Wanting Pope Gregory XI to leave his residency in Avignon and return to Rome, and knowing the Supreme Pontiff was afraid of being poisoned, Catherine wrote to him, "Be not a timorous child, but manly . . ." She spoke to him as a loving daughter would. In other parts of her letters to the Popes she used an affectionate pet name for them: Babbo, which means Daddy.

To Giovanna, the Queen of Naples, who supported the anti-pope and was accused of murdering her husband, St. Catherine wrote, "You know that you do ill, but like a sick and passionate woman, you let yourself be guided by your passions."

Catherine risked death by sending such words to the authorities of her time. But she was not afraid. "I trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, not in myself" was one of her favorite prayers.
In 1970, along with Teresa of Avila, Paul VI broke precedent by making Catherine the first woman to be given the accolade "Doctor of the Church."

"What did she understand by renewal and reform of the church?" Papa Montini asked in conferring the title. "Certainly not the subversion of its essential structures, rebellion against pastors, a way of liberty and personal charism, arbitrary innovations in worship and discipline-as some would wish in our day.

"To the contrary," Paul noted, "she repeatedly affirms [the desire] that the church retain the beauty of the Bride of Christ and that renewal could only come 'not with war, but peace and serenity, with humility and the ongoing prayer, sweat and tears of the servants of God.'"

On a related note, completing the troika, the aforementioned diaries of Dorothy Day have hit the shelves.


The Road Ahead

Sorry for the continued slow posting, folks. I'm still trying to process the events of last week... and in the feeble effort to do so, my brain remains a bit of a mess (...and the two-week e.mail backlog is growing even longer).

Some of you might be saying, "Well, what's new?" Of course, there's something to that... but this time, it's a bit more the case than usual.

Thing is, we're a bit luckier than the early church; they had ten days to prep for Pentecost... luckily, we've still got another two weeks. And something seems to say that, this year, the unleashing of the Holy Spirit -- the birthday of the church -- should be celebrated in an even more special way.

Why? Because we've been called to re-create it, on our own turf and in our own time. And if you missed any bit of our call to it, well, then thank God for massive bandwith.

Most of you probably aren't like me and, ergo, you caught every nuance and detail the first time around. But for the maybe-handful who could use a repeat showing of what went down over five magical days along the Eastern seaboard, on-demand video of every event is still up and streaming courtesy of the USCCB, Boston's Catholic TV and EWTN.

Even more important, however, there is the message of the so-called "Pope of Words"... who just so happened to pull out a stunning A-game of radiant energy on these shores, more than he's done over the rest of his three years on Peter's chair.

Lest anyone still be looking for a program, a roadmap for the future of the American Catholic project, it's in our midst. We've got it. And soon -- now -- the prayer and work begins to make it a reality.

Just like the best of everything in this church, it takes all comers and none among us is exempt from helping to bring it about. The twist, however, is that our old, defective ways won't suffice -- we can't just throw money at it, nor establish a diocesan office for it and say our work is done; if anything, the path ahead begins in the intimacy of every heart and mind, its fruits evident only in a renewed commitment on the part of us all, the standard by which we will be judged (...starting with the bishops at their ad liminae next year).

It's a three-legged stool, church, and its pillars are succinct, but can often be difficult to put into practice: Unity. Renewal. Hope.

In order of reach, let's return to the texts together...
...and there you have it.

Everybody in? Hopefully so -- it's the only way we can make it happen.

Indeed, the visit was primarily a commemoration of history -- "the first great chapter" of the project's growth, as the Yankee homily put it.

They didn't have highways, nor cars, phones, e.mail, nor even steady clergy, parishes, any heat, electricity or running water in the beginning... but for everything they lacked, they were able to lay the foundations for the future we've inherited thanks to one simple quality: they believed.

And, really, who are we to do anything less?

I could go on and on... but even a week out, it'd still read like gibberish. Thankfully, the program given above is anything but -- it's serious stuff, and anyone who's serious about trudging forward and doing it effectively doesn't just owe this message a close, prayerful read, but to share it with those around us, those we serve, those we need to walk with us along the way.

In the meantime, though, one last quick word.

Almost unanimously, the PopeTrip's been deemed a success, the first glimmer of hope this national church has seen in quite some time.

But it didn't just happen out of thin air.

For the better part of a year, a phalanx of planners have spent every waking hour (or close to it) turning orders, plans and ideas into an event. Even before the Volo Papale touched down, some had bloodshot eyes from long days in the office, and others, having done everything they could in the hope that it'd all just come together, even admitted to crying themselves to sleep some nights.

But in the end, it all did come together. Masterfully.

From communications and liturgies to security and logistics, folks civil and ecclesiastical -- many of 'em members of this little family of ours -- gave tens of thousands of hours to give the rest of us an experience we'll never forget.

Some won't see comp days or lost considerable time with their families, others are just relieved to still be vertical with the days of grace behind and glad to finally have a breather.

They are too many to name, but each and all deserve a ton of thanks. It never could've happened without 'em... and like those who came before us, we're all the better for the depth of their devotion.

PHOTOS: Reuters(1-4)


Sunday, April 27, 2008

"If You Love Me"

As promised, below is a full translation of B16's homily at today's ordination of 29 priests in St Peter's Basilica.

Brothers and sisters,

Today, in a very special way, the words that say “You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing” (Is 9:2) are realised for us. In fact, the joy of celebrating the Eucharist on the Lord’s Day is united with the exultation of Easter time on this sixth Sunday, and above all by the feast of celebrating the ordination of these new priests. Together with you I wish to warmly greet these 29 deacons who will shortly be ordained presbyters. I express my gratitude to all who have contributed to their journey of preparation and I invite all of you to give thanks to the Lord for this gift of these new pastors to the Church. Through our intense prayer, let us give them our support during this celebration in a spirit of fervent praise of the Father who has called them, the Son who has drawn them to Him, and the Spirit who has formed them. Usually the ordination of new priests takes place on the fourth Sunday of Easter, known as Good Shepherd Sunday, which is also world day of prayer for vocations, but this year that was not possible because I was preparing for my journey to the United States of America. More than ever, the icon of the Good Shepherd is one which highlights the role of ministers to the priesthood within the Christian community. But even the Bible passages offered to us for reflection by today's Liturgy illuminate the mission of the priest.

The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles narrates the mission of Philip of Samaria. I wish to draw our attention to the phrase which closes the first part of the text: “There was great joy in that city”. This expression does not communicate a theological concept, or idea, but refers to an event; something has changed in the life of these people: in that city of Samaria, during the period of persecution of the Church of Jerusalem, something has taken place that has caused “great joy”. So what has happened? The sacred author narrates that, in order to flee the persecution that had broken out against all those who had converted to Christianity, all of the disciples, with the exception of the Apostles, abandoned the holy city and fled into the surrounding areas. From this painful event, a new impulse to spread the Gospel is mysteriously and providentially born. Also among those who had fled was Philip, one of the seven deacons of the community, a deacon like you, my dear ordinandi, even if in a different way, because during the unrepeatable season of the birth of the Church, the Apostles and deacons were gifted with an extraordinary power by the Holy Spirit both in preaching and in action. Now it is that the people of the city of Samaria unanimously welcome Philip’s call and, thanks to their adhesion to the Gospel, he was able to heal many of the sick. In that city of Samaria, traditionally despised and almost excommunicated by the Jews, the call of Christ’s Gospel resounds, opening the hearts of all those who listen to a great joy. That is why – St Luke emphasizes – there was great joy in that city.
My dear friends, this is also your mission: to bring the Gospel to all, that all may experience the joy of Christ and that there may be great Joy in every city. What could be more beautiful than this? What could be greater, what could create greater enthusiasm, than cooperating to spread the Word of Life that communicates the living water of the Holy Spirit? Announce and witness this joy: this is the very heart of your mission, my dear deacons who will soon be priests. The apostle Paul calls ministers of the Gospel “servants of joy”. In his second letter he writes to the Christians of Corinth: “Not that we lord it over your faith; rather, we work together for your joy, for you stand firm in the faith”. These are words destined for every priest. In order to be collaborators in the joy of others, in a world that is often sad and negative, the fire of the Gospel needs to burn brightly inside each of you, that the joy of the Lord might live in you. Only then can you be messengers of this joy, only then will you bring it to all, especially those who are sad and disillusioned.

Let us return to the first reading, which offers us another element for meditation. It speaks of a prayer gathering which takes place in the Samarian city evangelised by the deacon Philip. The Apostles Peter and John, two pillars of the Church who had come from Jerusalem to visit the new community and confirm it in its faith, preside over the meeting. Thanks to the imposition of their hands, the Holy Spirit came down on all those baptised. In this episode we see an early reference to the rite of “Confirmation”, the second sacrament of Christian initiation. For us gathered here today too, the reference to the imposition of hands is of great significance. It is in fact the central gesture of the rite of Holy Orders, through which I will confer upon you priestly dignity. This sign is inseparable from prayer, which is constituted by a prolonged silence. Without saying a word the consecrating Bishop, followed by the other priests who are present, places his hands on the heads of the ordinands, thus expressing our invocation that God infuse them with the Holy Spirit, making them participants in Christ’s priestly ministry. It is a matter of seconds, the shortest of times, but filled with an extraordinarily dense spirituality.

My dear Ordinandi, in the future you must frequently return to this moment, to this gesture which while not magic is rich in mystery, because this is the origin of your new mission. In that silent prayer two freedoms meet: the freedom of God, working through the Holy Spirit, and the freedom of man. The imposition of hands expresses the specific nature of this meeting: the Church, represented by the Bishop who stands tall with his hands outstretched, who prays that the Holy Spirit consecrate the candidate; the deacon, who kneels, receiving the imposition of the hands and who entrusts himself to the mediation. The union of these gestures is important, but the invisible movement of the Spirit which it expresses is infinitely more important; a movement that is perfectly evoked by sacred silence, which embraces all, internally and externally.

We find this mysterious Trinitarian "movement," which guides the Holy Spirit and the Son to dwell in the disciples, in today’s Gospel passage. Here it is Christ himself who promises to pray to the Father to send the Spirit, described here as ‘another Advocate’ down upon his followers. The first Advocate is in fact the incarnate Son who came to defend man from the antonomastical accuser, who is Satan. In the moment in which Christ, his mission fulfilled, returns to the Lord, they send the Spirit, as Defender and Consoler, that he might always remain with the faithful, to live within them. Thus, through the workings of the Son and the Holy Spirit, an intimate relationship of reciprocity is created between the Father and his disciples: Christ says “that I am in my Father, and you are in me and I in you”. All of this, however, depends on one condition that Christ makes at the very beginning: “If you love me”. Without love for Christ, which lies in the observance of his commandments, the faithful excludes himself from the Trinitatian movement and begins to fall back on himself, losing all capacity to receive or communicate God.
“If You Love me”. Dear friends, these words were pronounced by Christ during the last supper at the moment when he instituted both the Eucharist and Priesthood. While addressed to the Apostles, in a certain way they are also addressed to all their successors and to priests, who are the closest collaborators of the successors of the Apostles. We hear them again today as an invitation to live our vocation to the Church more coherently: you, dear ordinandi, hear them with particular emotion, because today Christ makes you participants in his priesthood. Receive them with faith and love! Let them be imprinted in your heart, to accompany you along your lifelong journey. Don't forget them, do not lose them along the way! Read them over and over, mediate on them often and above all pray over them. So you will remain faithful to Christ’s Love and you will become aware with an ever new joy how His Divine Word will "walk" beside you and "grow" within you.

An observation, too, on the second Reading: it's taken from the first Letter of Peter, above whose tomb we find ourselves and to whose intercession, in a special way, I entrust you. I make his words my own and, with affection, with them I send you forth: "Adore the Lord, Christ, in your hearts, always ready to respond to whoever seeks account for the hope that is in you" (1 Pt 3:15). Adore Christ the Lord in your hearts: that is, carve our a personal relationship of love with Him, love him first and greatest, only and totally in that which lives, purifies, illumines and makes holy all your other relationships. The "hope that is within you" is linked to this "adoration," to this loving of Christ, that through the Spirit which, we might say, lives in us. Our hope, your hope in God, in Jesus and in the Spirit. Hope that from today is born in you a "priestly hope," that of Jesus the Good Shepherd, who lives in you and gives shape to your desires in the mold of his divine Heart: hope of life and forgiveness for the people who will be entrusted to your pastoral care; hope of holiness and apostolic fruitfulness for you and for all the Church; hope of openness to faith and to the encounter with God for the many that will draw near to you in their seeking of the truth; hope of peace and comfort for the suffering and injured of life.

Dearest ones, here is my wish in this day so important for you: may the hope rooted in faith always and ever more be yours! May you always be witnesses and wise and generous givers, sweet and strong, respectful and confident. May you be accompanied in this mission and protected always by the Virgin Mary, who I exhort you to welcome anew, as did the apostle John beneath the Cross, as your Mother, the Star of your life and your priesthood. Amen!
[Rush translation via Vatican Radio; cleaned up and omitted passages added by the narrator.]

* * *

...and for musical reinforcement, the immortal Tallis setting....

PHOTOS: Reuters/Tony Gentile(1-3)


Buona Pascha

On this Sunday of "Eastern Easter," B16 ordained 29 new priests -- 28 for the diocese of Rome, and one missionary deacon from the College of the Propaganda Fide... from Iraq.

Full homily translation to come; in the meantime, the AsiaNews summary:
“Where Christ is preached with the power of the Holy Spirit and welcomed with open heart, society becomes a ‘city of Joy’ despite its many problems as the title of a famous book dedicated to Mother Teresa’s work in Kolkata says.” Benedict XVI extended this wish to the new priests and referred to it in his homily before 40,000 people in St Peter’s Square for the Regina Caeli, inspired by Chapter 8 of the Acts of the Apostles which says “There was great joy in that city” (Acts, 8: 8) which converted to the new faith.

“Dear friends, this is your mission,” he told the 29 ordinands; “bringing the Gospel to everyone so that everyone can try the joy of Christ and that there be joy in every city. What greater joy can there be than this? What is there that is greater, more enthusiastic, than to cooperate in spreading the Word of life around the world, communicating the living water of the Holy Spirit? Announcing and bearing witness to this joy is the central core of your mission.”

The Pope then talked about the imposition of hands which is done during the rite. “It is inseparable from prayer, of which it is the silent extension. Without saying a word, the consecrating bishop, and after him the other priests, place their hands on the head of the ordinands, thus expressing the invocation to God that he may effuse his Spirit upon them and transform them so that they can share in the Priesthood of Christ. It is but a few seconds, a short moment, but one that is charged with extraordinary spiritual density. In that silent prayer,” he added, “two freedoms meet: God’s freedom, operating via the Holy Spirit, and man’s freedom.”
Lastly, the Pope turned to the Gospel to stress the evangelical words “If you love me.’ “Dear friends,” he said, “Jesus uttered these words during the Last Supper when he contextually instituted the Eucharist and the Priesthood. Although they were for the Apostles, in a certain sense they were directed to all their successors and to the priests, who are the closest collaborators of the Apostles’ successors. We listen to them again today as an invitation to live more coherently our vocation in the Church. You, dear Ordinands, listen to them with particular emotion because today Christ makes you share in his Priesthood. Welcome them with faith and love! Let them become imprinted in your heart; let them accompany you along the path of your existence. Do not forget them, nor lose them along the way! Read them again and again, meditate them and especially pray them. This way you will remain faithful to the love of Christ and will realise with renewed joy how this divine Word ‘will walk’ with and ‘grow” in you.

He concluded saying: “Dearest, here is my wish in this day so important for you. May the hope rooted in faith always and increasingly be yours! May you bear witness and be wise and generous givers, sweet and strong, respectful and confident.”...
[Intriguingly, "sweet and strong" is the exact impression of Benedict given by one of his electors... who went on to note that the description also applied to another special person in his life: "my mother."]

The Pope ended the long morning with an appeal for Africa. “The news that come from some African countries continue to cause deep suffering and great concern,” he said. “I call upon you not to forget the tragic events in which your brothers and sisters are caught up. I urge you to pray for them and act as their voice. In Somalia, especially in Mogadishu, heavy fighting has made the humanitarian situation even worse, oppressed by too many years by brutality and misery. Despite a momentary ray of home, the Darfur remains an endless tragedy for hundreds of thousands of defenceless people left on their own. Finally, Burundi; after the bombing of the last few days which have hit and terrorised the residents of the capital Bujumbura, with the risk of another civil war looming, reaching the Apostolic Nunciatura as well, I urge all the parties involved in the conflict to resume without delay talks and get back on the path of reconciliation. I am confident that local political authorities, the international community and every person of good will not neglect all the efforts made to end the violence and honour the commitments undertaken so as to lay more solid foundations for peace and development. Let us entrust our intentions,” he concluded, “to Mary, Queen of Africa.”
In keeping with his custom following an apostolic journey, the Pope's topic at this week's Wednesday Audience will be a recap of his trip to the US.

If anything, that's the wrap-up you'll want to keep an eye out for.

PHOTO: AP/Plinio Lepri(1,2); AFP/Christophe Simon(3)


Saturday, April 26, 2008

Musical Chairs

Thursday night, the music-loving Pope attended a concert in the Vatican's Paul VI Hall held to mark his 81st birthday and third anniversary of election.

Hosted by the Italian President Giorgio Napolitano with a program including works of Brahms and Beethoven, B16 was joined by his brother, Msgr Georg Ratzinger, who flew into Rome on Benedict's return from the States.

In keeping with his brother's usual post-travel practice, the Papstbruder -- a former director of the Regensburg cathedral choir -- was to join the pontiff during his recharge at Castel Gandolfo, the papal retreat outside Rome. However, the Castel jaunt had to be scrapped due to the funeral of Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, the church's "family czar," who died on Saturday; the Pope presided at Lopez Trujillo's burial liturgy in St Peter's on Wednesday, which was celebrated by the Cardinal-Dean Angelo Sodano.

The death of the Colombian cardinal -- one of the Vatican's lead commanders in the culture wars -- opens just another crucial spot in the Curial ranks, several of which are in for another wave of reshuffling in the short-term future. Of these, though, the vacancy at the Pontifical Council for the Family (the first time a dicastery head has died in office since the saintly Vietnamese Cardinal Francois Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan passed in 2002) is of special note as Lopez Trujillo had been the Holy See's lone prominent voice from a key section of the Catholic world: Spanish-speaking Latin America.

Two other curial chiefs -- the Brazilian prefect of Clergy Cardinal Claudio Hummes and the president of the Council for Health Care Workers Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan -- might likewise hail from south of the border, but neither could command the visibility that naturally fell to the Roman official whose purview included leading the charge against abortion and gay marriage.

Already, so it's said, the region is being looked to for Lopez Trujillo's successor... and not just because the next World Meeting of Families is scheduled for early next year in Mexico City, quite possibly with Benedict in attendance.

* * *

Beyond the Family, the retirement age of 75 has the Pope in need of new lead-hands at the church's central offices for Worship, Causes of Saints, Justice and Peace and Migrants and Itinerants. (To date, Benedict has named new heads for four of the curia's nine congregations, and five of its eleven pontifical councils.)

Already well-floated in the Italian press, the most current scenario for the top opening has the Vatican liturgy chief Cardinal Francis Arinze being succeeded by the former Cardinal Ratzinger's deputy at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Angelo Amato. Arinze marked his 75th in November.

A Salesian confrere of his predecessor in the CDF post (the "Vice-Pope" Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone) and ghost-author of its controversial 2000 decree Dominus Iesus, prior tippings had Amato in line for the Congregations for Catholic Education or Causes of Saints (particularly the latter after an Easter Sunday lead article in L'Osservatore Romano on the witness of the martyrs). The Pope's high regard for his former deputy is no secret, and a prefect's job (with its ex officio red hat) has been seen as long in the planning for him. What's more, the foreseen move would defuse one of the more tense tandems in the Curia's top ranks; longstanding reports have indicated a level of friction between Amato and his current boss, Cardinal William Levada, with some even musing that the former "Holy Office" is effectively governed by a triumvirate that's seen the California cardinal outnumbered by the two Salesians.

To succeed Amato, the current buzz points to Bishop Rino Fisichella, the Rome auxiliary dubbed the "chaplain to Parliament." Long a fixture of the Urb's media and policy circles, Fisichella and Levada have long enjoyed good ties. Another key post in play is that of the Vicariate of Rome -- the day-to-day operator of the Pope's diocese -- and the long-expected move of Cardinal Agostino Vallini, currently the church's "chief justice" as prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, is still perceived as a go. In succession to the all-powerful Cardinal Camillo Ruini (arguably Italy's most influential political player of recent decades) Vallini's selling-point for the post is said to be his reluctance for a high public profile, a trait which would strengthen the hand of Bertone, who's made little secret of his intent to be the church's lead in relations between the Vatican and the Italian state.

Adding to the drama, reports just prior to the Pope's arrival in Washington noted that the controversial #2 at Divine Worship, Sri Lankan Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, had been overheard voicing a desire to skip town. A former Vatican diplomat exiled from the Curia once before, Ranjith, 60, was restored to Rome by B16 shortly after his election and has long been thought the prefect-in-waiting of the dicastery that oversees the Latin church's liturgical rites.

Sharing the Pope's affinity for what's now called the "extraordinary rite" -- the pre-Conciliar Missal of Bl John XXIII -- Ranjith made waves in the aftermath of Summorum Pontificum by chastising the disobedience of bishops over the decree permitting wider celebration of the Tridentine Mass, stoking even further resistance when he advocated a reconsideration of the reception of communion in the hand. (A posture recently banned in Peru's capital by Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani of Lima.)

It's been noted that Sri Lanka's largest local church -- the 700,000-member archdiocese of Colombo -- is in need of a new head; Archbishop Oswald Gomis reached the retirement age in December. Ranjith was an auxiliary of the capital see from 1991 to 1995.

So that's the snapshot... for all the rest, stay tuned.

PHOTOS: AFP/Getty(1); Reuters(2)


Prelate-Emeritus... President-Elect

Last weekend, the Vatican's nightmare became reality when Fernando Lugo -- the former bishop of Paraguayan diocese of San Pedro -- was elected the nation's president.

A member of the Divine Word Fathers once known as the "bishop of the poor," Lugo, 57, left office in 2005 to seek "other solutions" to the nation's problems. At Sunday's general election, the ex-bishop's Patriotic Alliance for Change won on 41 percent of the vote, ending the four-decade run of the Colorado Party, the world's longest-reigning political dynasty. He takes office on 15 August.

While Lugo resigned his ministry and petitioned Rome for laicization, the Vatican refused to grant the latter. In that light, his former confreres are trying to figure out how to handle the situation:
The Paraguayan bishops' conference made no official statement after the elections, but the Paraguayan newspaper ABC quoted Bishop Adalberto Martinez Flores of San Pedro, secretary of the Paraguayan bishops' conference, as saying that the conference "accepts and acknowledges the victory of (Bishop) Lugo as president-elect of Paraguay."

Although several media outlets reported that the Vatican could be considering a dispensation for Bishop Lugo, the apostolic nunciature in Paraguay said there had been no change in the retired bishop's status.

A brief message dated April 14 and posted on the Web site of the bishops' conference said that "the practice of the Holy See is to respond to events when they occur," and that the church's position "on the canonical situation and political-partisan activity of Bishop Fernando Lugo has not changed."

However, the Italian news agency ANSA reported April 22 that Bishop Martinez said the bishops' conference was willing to collaborate on a solution to the canonical problem.

Bishop Martinez said the bishops will work with Archbishop Orlando Antonini, papal nuncio to Paraguay, in a "process of reflection" that must take a verdict to Pope Benedict XVI before Aug. 15, when Bishop Lugo takes office for a five-year term, reported ANSA.

Passionist Father Ciro Benedettini, vice director of the Vatican's press office, said April 21 and 22 that the Vatican will not be making any statements regarding Bishop Lugo.
...and from The Tablet, a more personal look at the prelate-emeritus/president-elect:
Fernando Lugo Méndez, in his first public pronouncement after the exit polls in Paraguay unanimously showed he was the winner, promised that his would be "a humble and a modest presidency". The former bishop was casually dressed in an open-necked shirt and sleeveless anorak: he never wears a suit. He spoke very briefly, as is his custom, but said the result had shown that "the little ones" were capable of winning - a good expression from someone identified with liberation theology.

I first met Fernando Lugo in 1996, when he was hosting the Fifth Latin American Congress of Basic Ecclesial Communities in his diocese. San Pedro de Ycuamandyju is one of the poorest regions of the country. To get there I drove all night with a friend in a rattling old banger, trying to hold a straightish line on a strip of dust. Other participants at the congress had arrived by a bus, which broke down on the journey back. Lugo said it was a miracle that the congress had come to his diocese. It was.

"I wish I had arms enough to embrace you all," he declared in his closing homily, expressing the warmth that always characterised his addresses. He was less at home the next time I met him, in Rome for the synod for America in 1997. "Do you like this sort of thing?" he said, looking round the synod hall, where all (including him) were togged up in their red and purple robes. "Don't you?" I asked. "It's a spectacle," he replied coolly.

The next time I travelled towards San Pedro I was in Lugo's car at his invitation, so that we could talk while he travelled. He had quite a comfortable jeep, no doubt donated from abroad for the missions - "an episcopal car" he joked, mock-pompously - to force its way through when rain turned the road to mud.

Because of his work in San Pedro, Lugo is identified with the struggle of the poor, but he himself comes from an educated, though relatively modest, home. He chose to make a statement to the press on Christmas Day 2006, when he confirmed he would be willing to stand for the presidency, from his parents' wood-and-tile house in Encarnación, which he described as "the most humble house in the neighbourhood". But his uncle was Epifanio Méndez, who was the most important opposition politician exiled by Alfredo Stroessner, and who died in exile before the 34-year dictatorship came to an end.

Born in 1951, Lugo began his working life as a teacher in a country school so remote that he was able to escape the usual rule that teachers had to be members of the ruling Colorado Party. He joined the Divine Word congregation and studied sociology in Rome. Then he worked for a while as a missionary with the indigenous people of Ecuador. He was ordained bishop in 1994, and was a strong supporter of basic ecclesial communities in the diocese. Lugo was one of the few bishops who would regularly attend national meetings of base communities - the local church groups that are associated with liberation theology - and the only one who would be always be there for the whole of the congress.

In San Pedro he had problems with drug traffickers and landowners, and received death threats: it was all in a day's work. He resigned from his diocese of San Pedro in 2005, and became prominent on the national scene again when he organised a massive demonstration on 29 March 2006 against a return to dictatorship, at a moment when President Nicanor Duarte Frutos seemed to be showing tendencies in that direction. After the success of that march, Lugo began to think about running for president.

Clergy who go into active political life are severely censured by the Church: warned, suspended from their ministry, expelled from their religious orders, and publicly criticised. Lugo anticipated the problems by writing his own letter to Pope Benedict asking to be suspended a divinis, that is, from the exercise of his ordained ministry. It received a frosty reception, and the Vatican claimed that there was no need for Lugo to offer his services to politics, because Paraguay was a democracy and there were plenty of lay people who could take his place. The truth is that no one other than Lugo could have beaten the Colorados last Sunday. The Catholic Church is held in high esteem in Paraguay, while politicians are seen as thieves and liars, so being a bishop was crucial to Lugo's victory. It made him trusted among the poor majority, so that when his opponents tried to blacken his name with the unlikely charges of being a kidnapper and terrorist, the people simply laughed.
PHOTO: Reuters/Atilio Fernandez


"Thou Shalt Not Lift"

The story floated around some months ago, and now it's back again: the Polish church is attempting to crack down on clerics who illegally use web texts as their own preaching....
The book, "To Plagiarize or Not to Plagiarize?" is an attempt to set boundaries in the wake of pulpit plagiarism claims that have hit not just Catholic clerics in Poland but ministers from other Christian denominations in the United States.

Temptation is just the click of a mouse away as more and more churches post their sermons online, not to mention the availability of books and church-sponsored magazines that provide inspiration for sermons.

There is a thin line between drawing inspiration and lifting the text outright, said the Rev. Wieslaw Przyczyna, one of the book's editors....

Paul Hasser of the Center for the Liturgy of St. Louis University in Missouri said he remembered seeing priests reading their Sunday sermons directly from a book when he was a boy.

"That bothered no one then," said Hasser, who runs the Center's sermon Web site.

But with the quick dissemination of sermons on the Internet, and the involvement of copyright law, times have changed.

Now, in Poland, a priest caught using a plagiarized sermon can face stiff fines or even as long as three years in prison, though no one has actually been charged or sentenced.

The concern about ensuring that priests follow a righteous path is what led to the publication of the church's book last month, said Przyczyna, who helped edit the 150-page text that is available to Poland's 28,000 priests for about $13.

Przyczyna, a sermon expert at Krakow's Pontifical Academy of Theology, told The Associated Press that existing sermons can be used — "but according to rules" that forbid a word-for-word citation without properly acknowledging their source.

"You need to give a clear signal: The text is not mine," he said. "If priests lack this kind of sensitivity, they should at least be afraid of the law."

In Poland, he said more and more clergy and churchgoers have reported a "spreading problem" of the lifting of sermons, but no precise research has been done and exact figures are just guesses.

It is an issue that is particularly sensitive in this country of 38 million people, where more than 90 percent of the population is Catholic and many attend Sunday Mass. Priests enjoy great moral authority, especially in rural areas.

Przyczyna said that offending priests "were not aware" that "they were acting immorally and ignoring the copyright law" but "believed they were using the Church's public domain."

"Saying a sermon means bearing witness to one's own faith, and how can you do that using someone else's text?" he said. "It is falsehood creeping into the preaching of truth that God is."

Przyczyna recounted a recent encounter with a nun in Krakow who said she had stopped attending Masses by her favorite priest after he delivered — word-for-word — a sermon she'd seen on the Internet written by someone else.

Parishioners at another church — suspecting their priest of plagiarizing — attended Mass with their own copies of a sermon posted online for that specific Sunday.

When the priest delivered it verbatim, they met with him afterward and privately rebuked him for the plagiarism.

The concern is not just local. The Biblioteka Kaznodziejska, a bimonthly magazine that publishes sermons, was checking whether a Polish text offered for the February edition was actually a translation from the Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, an aide to Pope Benedict XVI.

It's chief editor, the Rev. Maciej Kubiak, said that the people lifting sermons mostly have been young priests in cities who are Web-savvy but lack experience in speaking publicly.

"You see it in their approach to the Internet: You can draw freely from whatever is there," Kubiak said. "Preparing a sermon means an effort but you must be honest in it."
For what it's worth, experience shows that, when translated and posted promptly, the Pope's weekly Angelus/Regina Caeli meditations have been of widespread use to preachers in a bind. And, really, given the quality, that's not the worst thing in the world... so long as it's applied to the needs of the flock.


Friday, April 25, 2008

The People's Pio

Arguably the most beloved Italian saint, the body of Padre Pio -- exhumed last month -- has gone on display to mark the 40th anniversary of his death... and, as expected, the masses have converged on his shrine at San Giovanni Rotondo:
The economy of this southern town revolves around the cult of Padre Pio and heaving crowds waited to see his body, displayed in a crystal, marble and silver sepulcher in the crypt of the monastery where he spent most of his life.

His face was reconstructed with a lifelike silicone mask of the type used in wax museums because it was apparently too decomposed to show when the body was exhumed.

"He seems like he is sleeping. Even if they had to re-do the face, its better remembering him this way than looking at a slab of cold marble," said Domenico Masone, deputy mayor of Pietralcina, the town where Padre Pio was born.

Some 15,000 devotees attended a Mass said by Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, head of the Vatican department that oversees the Catholic Church's saint-making process, before the body went on display in the afternoon.

"He knows what I want from him," said Antonio Zimbaldi, 19, who attended Mass with his face, except for his lips, covered with white gauze.

"I have been devoted to him for as long as I can remember." Zimbaldi's entire body was burned in a fire caused by a gas explosion two years ago.

The body of the bearded Capuchin monk was exhumed from a crypt on March 3 and found to be in "fair condition" after 40 years. Since then a team of medical examiners and biochemists has worked to preserve and reconstruct the corpse....

A poll in 2006 by Catholic magazine Famiglia Cristiana found that more Italian Catholics prayed to Padre Pio than to any other figure, including the Virgin Mary or Jesus. His picture is stuck to the dashboards of many taxis and cars throughout Italy.

Eighty-year-old Assunta Antico attended the Mass sitting in a wheelchair and was covered with a shawl in the same deep brown that Padre Pio wore. "I had a stroke two years ago. I'm paralyzed and I want to walk again."

This town is home to a large hospital founded by the monk and many hotels and restaurants cater to the pilgrim trade.

As of Friday, the first of 750,000 people who have made reservations to see the body between now and December will file past the glass coffin at a rate of about 7,200 a day.


Thursday, April 24, 2008

In the Beginning....

His legacy plugged by no less than The Pope Himself -- who recalled him with "admiration and gratitude" in addressing his many heirs last week -- the father of American Catholicism, John Carroll of Baltimore, took center stage in a major lecture given Tuesday night in the cathedral he envisioned, but never saw completed: Charmopolis' Basilica of the Assumption.

Held to commemorate both the bicentennial of Carroll's elevation as the nation's first archbishop and the impending reception of the pallium by his 14th successor, Archbishop Edwin O'Brien, on-deck for the talk was one of the bench's handful of historian-prelates, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of Milwaukee.


For other media, Cathedral Street's posted both fulltext and podcast of the lecture... However you catch it, know your history and check it out.

(To think: 25,000 Catholics in thirteen colonies at The Founding... 22 priests... not a lot of money... and a whole lot of misunderstanding and discrimination... and you think we had it bad?)

On a related note, Carroll was also the launch-pad of O'Brien's homily at Baltimore's bicentennial liturgy earlier this month.
Bishop Carroll took possession of his See in December, 1790 and his inaugural sermon makes clear his state of mind. Of his appointment he said, “I have always dreaded it.” And given the immense challenge that faced him it is easy to see why. “Everything had to be raised from its foundation,” he said with scant resources at hand and a Catholic people among the poorest in the city and countryside. He specified the challenge in his sermon: canonical structures, schools, native clergy, a newly-founded seminary, schools and the evangelization of her near and distant flock.

His goal, he said, was “to have nothing in view but God and your salvation.” He went on to say, “My heart sinks almost under the impression of terror which comes upon it. In God alone can I find any consolation…He will not abandon me…Pray, dear brethren, pray incessantly (for me.).”

Pray, they must have. And no, God did not abandon him.

As founding bishop, this premier missionary and persevering evangelizer of our new nation truly laid the foundation of Catholicism in America . He convinced Rome and some skeptics at home of the compatibility of Catholicism and a free democracy. A friend and confidant of Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and a supporter of many civil causes and institutions, what Washington is to our country, John Carroll is to the Church in our country. In his 25 years of shepherding, the Catholic population of the expansive Church of Baltimore doubled as did our number of native priests. He founded three colleges and two seminaries and strongly promoted the foundation of many religious orders, receiving the vows of the now St. Elizabeth Seton. He would go on to encourage and support the establishment of both the first distinctly American community of religious women and of the first Catholic school in our land.

The list of Archbishop Carroll’s accomplishments could continue almost endlessly. But as we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday, and as we prayerfully mark The World Day of Prayer for Vocations, it is good to take stock of the spiritual wealth of the Church in our land and its humblest of all beginnings. A sheepfold few in number then, and now so vast – surely due to Christ’s good shepherding of a flock certain of his presence, and consequently full of hope: If the Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.

As we enter our third century as an Archdiocese, our challenges are different from those faced by Archbishop Carroll, but no less daunting. Now as then, the sheepfold, which is the Church, can never be an island, isolated and impervious to the people she serves. We Catholics cannot rest, and never have rested, contently and complacently in our secure sheepfold. Indeed in our midst are pastures poisoned with drugs, dark valleys overwhelmed with the hopeless homeless, fields plagued by abortion mills, reverberating with gunshots and murders. There are tables not filled, but empty of food both for the physically hungry and for the spiritually starved. And this, not solely in pockets of Baltimore City but in areas large and small, urban and suburban, indeed in all counties of our great Archdiocese.

Archbishop Carroll was proud and ever aware of this country’s blessings and insisted that they be shared by all, saying:

“Freedom and independence, acquired by the united efforts and cemented with the mingled blood of Protestants and Catholic fellow citizens, should be equably enjoyed by all.”...

Our culture, our Church of Baltimore, with hope looks forward to a new generation of American missionaries with John Carroll’s single and simple purpose: only God and our salvation.

I have also been privileged in recent years to witness the heroism of your generation, to see so many willing to give their lives totally and even to death for others in the service of this nation. I will continue to challenge you, young Catholics of Baltimore, to do so in service of God and Christ’s Church.

You might find stimulating the words of another Bishop of early Baltimore, the Sulpician William Louis DuBourg who founded the present St. Mary’s Seminary and University. In 1812, he was named administrator of the territory of Louisiana. Finding himself desperately short of priests in this new, French-speaking territory, he wrote to all the seminaries in France seeking seminarian volunteers to venture here as missionaries. Posters were placed throughout the dioceses of France with this unlikely promise:

We offer you: no salary, no recompense, no holidays, no pension. But much hard work, a poor dwelling, few consolations, many disappointments, frequent sickness, a violent or lonely death, an unknown grave.

And they came. They came because Jesus Christ was at the heart of it and was alive in them. They came in good numbers with the missionary heart of John Carroll: “In God alone can I find any consolation… He will not abandon me.”
The money-quote, however, came when the incumbent of the Premier See dropped the bomb that "Baltimore is as much a missionary diocese now as it was 200 years ago.

"Look around and have no doubt," he said.

Suffice it to say, it was a joy to be part of that celebration... and to begin the week of Stateside Catholicism's relaunch with a prayer at the tombs of Carroll and Gibbons, whose legacies remind us always that the church is only its best to the degree that it serves as "the friend of the people" and, thus, a witness to the world.

* * *

And speaking of Dolan -- a bear-hugging friend of the people if ever there were one -- the Pope's plane hadn't even left Brooklyn when the next Big Story on the beat began edging its way to center stage: the coming retirement of Cardinal Edward Egan and B16's appointment of a new archbishop of New York, a handover expected to take place within months, almost certainly before year's end.

Before Papa Ratzi even hit the field at Yankee Stadium, the Times started down the trail... followed quickly by the Daily News, both featuring the Milwaukee archbishop atop the papers' lists, yet with Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta close behind. For what it's worth, the subject was already treated extensively here on Easter Sunday... and, from all sides, there's more -- much more -- to come.

Given the Vatican's continuing view of Gotham as "capital of the world," from the Roman lens this process is building up to what'll likely be the Mother of All Appointments -- maybe, given the current American situation, the most important personnel move B16 will make in the course of his pontificate, period.

The shape of the speculation might not exactly match that of the terna, but the coverage does reflect the clarity of the two top qualities sought in the Big Apple's tenth archbishop: a candidate able to both restrengthen relationships with his priests and restore the office's traditional prominence in the public square, both in the city and beyond.

For his part, the only person who can definitively foresee what'll happen showed bits and pieces of his hand while in the city, including bringing its auxiliary bishops a good bit closer to him than usual so he could sound them out. But even so, "with God as [his] judge," Egan gleefully reported that the Pope's first words following his New York liturgies weren't ones of packing, but praise.

"The music here is marvelous!" Benedict gushed.

PHOTO: Gashwin/Flickr


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Healing in the Chapel

We interrupt this breather for a can't-miss story.

But first, a note on its author.

The first time I ever heard of Patricia Rice, her name was immediately followed by the memorable comment "She has a red phone to the Vatican."

And practically ever since, Pat -- now retired from the religion beat of the St Louis Post-Dispatch -- has been a great friend, immeasurable teacher, priceless sounding-board and enormous blessing to me, both personally and professionally. She was one of the first three readers of these pages (the only three people I've ever given the link to), and time's shown our friend's introductory comment to be but understatement -- no mainstream journalist before or since has had the grasp of this church as does Pat. Hands down.

Best known for posing The Question (i.e. "Would you give John Kerry communion?") to the Gateway City's then-newly-installed Archbishop Raymond Burke in early 2004 (and, ergo, opening the door to a national controversy that continues to this day), Pat returns to the beat with the most comprehensive account yet of last Thursday's encounter between Pope Benedict and a group of six survivors of clergy sex abuse from Boston.

The piece appeared in a new online daily in the onetime "Rome of the West," the St Louis Beacon.

Snips below... but do yourself a favor and read the whole thing.
Olan Horne, 48, a survivor of clerical sex abuse, believes that Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the United States marks a turning point in the way victims of sexual abuse are treated in the Catholic Church.

"I saw it in his face, heard his voice. He understands," said Horne, one of six survivors who met Thursday with the pope. He spoke with the St. Louis Beacon from his Massachusetts university food service office....

"Benedict told the bishops to meet with survivors as he had; this pope gets it," said Horne. "I like to say that I'm from Missouri and you are going to have to Show Me. Benedict showed me."...

"I never gave up, I always had hope. I didn't have much faith, but I always had hope," said Horne who has not attended Mass in years and baptized his children but never took them to church or allowed them to make their First Communion.

Bernie McDaid, 52, another Boston survivor who is a painting contractor in Boston, tried to tell his story to Pope John Paul II in 2003. He traveled to Rome but saw only Vatican officials, he told the Beacon from a Boston construction site. This time was different....

About two weeks before the papal visit, Horne and McDaid were invited to meet the pope privately with other survivors in Washington, D.C., at the residence of Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the Vatican's diplomat to the U.S.

The six survivors of childhood sex abuse who accepted the invitation also were invited to the papal Mass at the new Nationals stadium before the gathering. Afterward they were whisked in a van under police escort to the meeting. Those who didn't know the other victims were introduced only by first name.

The pope entered the residence's small 25-by-15 foot chapel and immediately knelt in silent prayer. Then he spoke to the survivors for what Horne recalled was about 20 minutes. Then, each of the six had a private face-to-face visit with the pope.

A woman on the Boston archdiocesan victims' assistance staff handed the pope a book with 1,600 first names written on its pages. Cardinal Sean O'Malley explained to the pope that the list was of all victims of clerical sexual abuse in the Boston archdiocese who had asked its bishops for pastoral care. Pages were left blank to symbolize those victims who had never voiced their tragic complaints, O'Malley explained.

"The pope was shocked at the number," Horne said. "You could see the sincerity of the shock on his face. Benedict had never known that there was that many in Boston. He was stunned. So was the Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Pietro Sambi. That was a moment. They do have a tough role."

O'Malley asked the pope to pray for the victims listed in the book, and the pope promised to do so.

The pope may know more about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church than most American bishops. In his previous post leading the Congregation for the Faith, he reviewed all the cases of bishops' removing abusive priests. After late 2002, American cases fell into his in-basket like a torrent.

The pope spoke for about 20 minutes, asking forgiveness and speaking of his personal shame over the depraved priests who crushed the innocence of children, Horne and McDaid said.

The most dramatic moment of the gathering came when the only woman victim's turn came for her private time with Benedict, Horne said. With all the others' heads turned to give her privacy, she stood facing the standing pope. She wept as words escaped her.

"Her sounds were filled with sorrow, like an aria," said Horne. "So sorrowful, yet the sweetest sound, as if it were being exhaled. There was complete reverence around the room. No one interrupted. No one said anything like 'it's going to be all right.' Her sobs floated around the room, settled around all of us in the room. Then it was expelled. You saw the pain in Benedict's face."

Tears came to many eyes in the room, Horne said.

Horne surprised himself at what he said to the pope after years of calling for meetings between popes and survivors.

Since he became an adult, he has rarely gone to Mass. A couple of hours before the visit, Horne went with his college-age daughter to the Papal Mass at Nationals Stadium.

"At that Mass, I realized that I hadn't given my daughter faith, but I could give my daughter something," he said. "I could show her never to give up. There was the head of the whole Catholic Church. And in an hour he was prepared to meet with me and other survivors. I had never given up hope that things might change. Given up faith sometimes, but never given up hope."

Ten minutes before the pope arrived, Horne asked a priest to hear his sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, popularly called confession. Catholics believe that in this sacrament Jesus directly provides the grace of healing and forgiveness.

When Horne faced the pope, he found himself telling the pope about his spontaneous preparation.

"I told him that I had not gone to confession in 35 years, but I went 10 minutes before I met him to ask forgiveness because I had hated him for years, I hated the church, I hated my God. I told him I wanted forgiveness so that I could be in the same place that he was when I met him. So I could have an open heart."

Pain fractured the pope's face like a man standing before a jury, Horne said but as he finished Benedict smiled and grabbed Horne's hand.

Horne asked the pope to work to protect all children. "For a long time I have said that the church can show the world how to deal with this, how to protect children from abuse. The pope, the head of the whole church, has spoken out."...

"I think the pope is ready to lead on this issue; I have been saying that for years," Horne said....

McDaid rehearsed for days about what he might say to the pope. Then, he put most ideas aside and simply said that as an altar boy of 11, a priest had sexually abused him in the sacristy of his parish church.

"In the place where I prayed I was sexually abused," he said. The abuse was not just of his body but of his spirit because it came from someone the boy saw as a spiritual authority. McDaid told the pope that, at that moment, he lost his belief system and his respect for all authority, including his parents. For years he fought depression, addictions as well as his parents' wishes.

"The pope looked very sad, he looked me eye to eye, looked down at the floor, looked at me and held my hand, didn't let it go," McDaid said. "I saw his body language, his eyes, heard the sadness in his German (accented) English. I didn't have to say, did you get it?"

McDaid feels a sense of accomplishment that Benedict has listened to their stories. McDaid only regrets that such a meeting had not happened years earlier. Instead of opposing each other, bishops, lay Catholics, priests and victims must now begin to work together, McDaid said.

"We have to work collectively to help those who have been abused and to protect children from this treacherous abuse that steals your spirituality."

McDaid was so bursting with appreciation that he got a message to the pope on his plane just before takeoff.

McDaid's message said simply: "Thank you from my heart and soul."...

Now that Benedict has spoken to them and now that Sambi's antennae are on alert, change must come, Horne said.

"The pope gets it," Horne said.
As Van Morrison once sang it, "The healing has begun...."

And not soon enough.


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Forgive the silence, folks -- your narrator's crashed out after the most hectic, emotional, exciting and exerting ten days of my life.

More after a bit of rest, peace, and some time to process it all... in the meantime, for reading, all your patience, the many incredibly kind notes and helping hands of these days, all the prayers and everything else, no words could ever express sufficient thanks.

(First order of business on revving up again: a two-week e.mail backlog....)

'Til then, Zzzzzzzzzzzz....


Sunday, April 20, 2008

Farewell... and Thank You

20 APRIL 2008

Mr. Vice-President,
Distinguished Civil Authorities,
My Brother Bishops,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The time has come for me to bid farewell to your country. These days that I have spent in the United States have been blessed with many memorable experiences of American hospitality, and I wish to express my deep appreciation to all of you for your kind welcome. It has been a joy for me to witness the faith and devotion of the Catholic community here. It was heart-warming to spend time with leaders and representatives of other Christian communities and other religions, and I renew my assurances of respect and esteem to all of you. I am grateful to President Bush for kindly coming to greet me at the start of my visit, and I thank Vice-President Cheney for his presence here as I depart. The civic authorities, workers and volunteers in Washington and New York have given generously of their time and resources in order to ensure the smooth progress of my visit at every stage, and for this I express my profound thanks and appreciation to Mayor Adrian Fenty of Washington and Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York.

Once again I offer prayerful good wishes to the representatives of the see of Baltimore, the first Archdiocese, and those of New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Louisville, in this jubilee year. May the Lord continue to bless you in the years ahead. To all my Brother Bishops, to Bishop DiMarzio of this Diocese of Brooklyn, and to the officers and staff of the Episcopal Conference who have contributed in so many ways to the preparation of this visit, I extend my renewed gratitude for their hard work and dedication. With great affection I greet once more the priests and religious, the deacons, the seminarians and young people, and all the faithful in the United States, and I encourage you to continue bearing joyful witness to Christ our Hope, our Risen Lord and Savior, who makes all things new and gives us life in abundance.

One of the high-points of my visit was the opportunity to address the General Assembly of the United Nations, and I thank Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for his kind invitation and welcome. Looking back over the sixty years that have passed since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I give thanks for all that the Organization has been able to achieve in defending and promoting the fundamental rights of every man, woman and child throughout the world, and I encourage people of good will everywhere to continue working tirelessly to promote justice and peaceful co-existence between peoples and nations.

My visit this morning to Ground Zero will remain firmly etched in my memory, as I continue to pray for those who died and for all who suffer in consequence of the tragedy that occurred there in 2001. For all the people of America, and indeed throughout the world, I pray that the future will bring increased fraternity and solidarity, a growth in mutual respect, and a renewed trust and confidence in God, our heavenly Father.

With these words, I take my leave, I ask you to remember me in your prayers, and I assure you of my affection and friendship in the Lord. May God bless America!