Tuesday, July 21, 2009

"The Bishop of the Moon"

With yesterday seeing the 40th anniversary of Man's First Moonwalk, an anecdote from Baltimore about Charm City's much-beloved "Ironman" prelate... and the scope of his first diocese:
[Archbishop William Borders] was ordained bishop in 1968 and made the first Bishop of Orlando, Florida. The new diocese encompassed central Florida and included Cape Canaveral, from where, the following year, Apollo 11 launched, bound for the moon. After that historic launch and lunar landing, with all the images of our astronauts walking, golfing, and planting the flag, Borders made an ad limina visit to Rome to meet with Paul VI.

During their meeting, Borders rather nonchalantly observed, "You know, Holy Father, I am the bishop of the Moon."

Pope Paul looked at him rather perplexed - probably wondering where along the line this American prelate lost his mind. Borders then continued by explaining that by the existing (1917) Code of Canon Law, he was the de facto ordinary of this "newly discovered" territory.
For the record, Paul VI was genuinely taken with the advent of lunar landing; three months after their return, the telescope-toting pontiff received the Apollo 11 crew in a private audience, during which he praised the astronauts for their voyage's "tribute to the capacity of modern man to reach beyond himself, to reach beyond human nature, to attain the perfection of achievement made possible by his God-given talent."

In return, Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins gave Paul a piece of the Moon, still kept today at the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, soon to cease its longtime role as the headquarters of the Vatican Observatory.

As for the founding "lunar bishop," he's still alive and kicking -- a World War II chaplain still fairly active in ministry in the Premier See, Borders turns 96 in October. Meanwhile, the DisneyWorld diocese can now boast a second basilica within a stone's throw of Epcot.

Tip to the ever-keen New Advent, where even in the dead of summer, the news runneth over.