Tuesday, September 08, 2009

In Scranton, Pharaoh = Hero

On Sunday, the apostolic administrator of Scranton celebrated his first Eucharist in St Peter's Cathedral since taking command of the 350,000-member diocese early last week.

It wasn't a normal Lord's Day liturgy, but the traditional Mass in Italian (fullvideo) for the Electric City's annual Festa Italiana, which drew 150,000 revelers to a nearby plaza over the Labor Day weekend.

Given the mix of Cardinal Justin Rigali's fluency in the language and, indeed, the peacemaking skills he likewise acquired over three decades in the Holy See's service, the metropolitan's first turn proved to be no mere crowd-pleaser but, as one Upstate columnist put it, a balm for the local soul.

After a fraught ride that's seen one of Stateside Catholicism's staunchest bastions become dubbed the nation's "most dysfunctional diocese," that the lone American ever to head the Vatican's diplomacy school would be sent in to calm the waters has only made an already unique situation all the more exceptional. And to wit, the usually guarded Rigali broke form during the two-hour celebration, turning in a comforting, animated, driven performance that served to back up his mandate of putting the roiled northeastern church back together and moving it forward.

While even a single mention of Bishop Joseph Martino was conspicuous by its absence, Rome's reinforcement aimed to shred a week's worth of wide speculation that sought to portray the controversial 63 year-old's outspoken anti-abortion stance as the principal motivator behind his early departure, officially submitted and accepted for "health reasons."

Entering the last weeks of his three-year stint overseeing of the US bishops' pro-life efforts, Rigali devoted half of his 20-minute homily to the church's teaching on human dignity, underscoring its "root" in the unstinting defense of "the child in the womb."

At its close, the message met with an ovation from the packed house. Thanks to even more recent developments, though, it was doubly pointed -- a day prior to the Mass, Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty publicly declared himself pro-choice.

Currently seeking a third term at the city's helm, Doherty's likewise weighing a run in next year's Democratic primary for governor of Pennsylvania.

Before winning the mayor's seat in 2001, the Jesuit-trained father of six ran his family's church-goods business.

* * *
Like it or not, it's fairly indicative of the state of things up the Blue Route that just greeting the people post-Mass without "attempting to rush through a conversation or move down the sidewalk to the cathedral rectory" could score the new sheriff brownie points. And sure enough, that's exactly what happened as Rigali took his time with the "hundreds" who queued up for a handshake or photo on the cathedral steps.

After the meet-ups, facing a horde of camera lights that he compared to being in a "dentist's chair," the cardinal took questions from the press, including one on the qualities he seeks in a permanent successor....
[Rigali] hopes the next bishop of the 11-county church will be a generous pastor who is involved "in the life of his people" and takes a "deep interest" in the changing parishes he leads....

He also said the person who assumes the post should be a teacher who will "encourage the people in this moment in their lives."

"He's always supposed to help uplift and walk with the people, just as Christ walks with us, so that nobody in the church has the impression of being isolated, being alone, being abandoned," he said.

"We have problems? Good, we share those problems. We have joys? We share those joys. That's what it is to be a bishop."
And with that, suffice it to say, the Congregation has spoken.

For a deeper study of the context behind Martino's early exit, a worthwhile look at the factors ran in Sunday's local Times-Tribune... one of whose columnists rightly observed that, away from the spotlight, the fallen prelate "is not his persona."

PHOTO: Niko J. Kallianiotis/Wilkes-Barre Times Leader