Thursday, December 31, 2009

These Years of Grace

On this final day of the year, the church's long-standing tradition invites the public sing-along of its great hymn of thanksgiving in gratitude for all the blessings of the months gone by....

Ergo, in one of its more recent settings (lyrics), let's all say thanks for 2009:

* * *
Of course, the tune always sounds rather different 'round these parts:

To one and all, every blessing, gift and joy of the New Year... and to the gang all here at home on 2 Street, for the 111th time, Happy Strut.

* * *
Speaking of the passage of time, the songs of thanks are doubly appropriate in these days.

Your narrator's keen to not make too much of it, but for those of you who might enjoy knowing, last week saw five years since the day when -- on a wing and, er, a brain-fart -- these pages were born with a readership of three... and the rest, as they say, is history... or, closer to home, ontologically deficient history.

If you're thinking "speech," think again -- for one, too little gets done to bask in anything or toot the horn. More to the point, as gold-standard communication goes, nothing can top the heroism, sacrifice and selflessness shown day in and day out, often amid difficult or trying circumstances, by our folks in the trenches -- young and old, right and left, saints and seekers, teachers and workers; married, partnered and single; lay, professed and ordained... in a word, by this church.
And as these pages exist for it (that is, for the lot of us), far be it from just one to hog the spotlight from its rightful place.

See, gang, covering the doings is the easy part; making a song of one's spirit is the harder, more important one. Along these lines, the inspiration and example shown and given by so many of you over these years is a lifetime's gift and challenge -- so to everyone who's blessed the journey and, along the way, touched this scribe's life more than you might realize, all I can justly say here is thanks to the heavens for everything you are and do, and may I know the grace to be more like you with each passing day. And to those of you who've done the legwork of keeping these pages afloat, whether through your prayers, your friendship, your encouragement -- and, of course, your helping hand for the "guitar case" -- just know that, together, we've done something special... and on its better days, something good... I hope.

Bottom line, church: just like these pages, this milestone is more yours than it's mine, so hopefully you get some joy in it -- because on this side of things, all the kindness has just meant more work and pressure, and less time and ability to handle an ever-raising bar. That said, for all the times I haven't measured up to your expectations and trust, I beg your forgiveness and, hopefully, the chance to do better tomorrow. And, again, as the one thing that's been the toughest to bear remains my inability to keep on top of all the notes and all the things to say thanks for, just know how I wish I could let each of you know how this work couldn't exist without you... but this is what happens when there's just one set of hands tending the shop, and a very flawed set at that. So barring a welcome miracle of omnipresence, just know the place you've always got in my mind and heart.

It's been said this space is "influential"... and, well, your narrator'll believe that when he can move out from under his folks' roof. Still, that's never been the name of the game here -- all I've ever shot for, all I ever learned, could fit into three qualities that bridge the gulf between the sacristy and the newsroom: honesty, charity, fidelity.

To be sure, each remains a very rough draft on this end, but thanks to all the kindness, patience, closeness and support you've given through these years, they're a lot better off than when we started... and, with your help, here's to making 'em better still in the years ahead for the sake of the work... and, of course, The Work.

Church, for every grace and gift of an unexpected job and an incredible ride, all thanks to the skies. God love you lot in the New Year and forever more.


For '10, Five to Watch

And just like that, gang, we've come to the gate of the year….

Hard to believe, Harry.

Hope you've all been enjoying Christmas -- on a housekeeping note, with much of the scene on holiday hiatus for another fortnight or so, light posting will continue (barring anything breaking, of course) for a little while longer....

On this beat, see, you take the breathers you can get.

The Churchman of the Year will be announced in the coming days; nominations are still being taken, so keep in mind that prospective picks need not be ordained nor male, just one (or more) of us all who's had a singular impact on how 2009 will be viewed in the long run.

Sure, many takes are looking back in these days... but as we've always done things a little differently 'round here, let's look ahead at five stories that'll likely find themselves high on the radar in 2010 and, ergo, bear watching.......
  • First, while both have long been staples of the chattering circuit, two Roman initiatives on the ground are in for an uptick of note in the New Year as they reach new stages that, put bluntly, will see them "hit home" to a yet unseen degree. Announced in early 2009 and subject to fierce blowback through the year, the coming months will see the Apostolic Visitation of the US' women religious begin its most intensive phase: the Vatican team's on-site investigations of selected communities. While reports have emerged of resistance to the study's mandatory questionnaire -- parts of which were removed after an outcry from many communities -- the visits, slated to begin in the spring, will bring the process face to face with at least some of its critics… which raises the scintillating question of what'll happen "when worlds collide." (Tied in with this, of course, is the ongoing "doctrinal assessment" of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious -- the umbrella organization representing some 95% of the communities, roughly four-fifths of the nation's 65,000 sisters. Announced last April, CNS reported earlier this month that "the assessment was continuing," but no further details had emerged.) Even more prominently, a decade after the 1998 Sacramentary was mooted and Liturgiam authenticam changed the principles of liturgical translations, most American Catholics will finally learn what the clerical class has known and fought about for a seeming eternity: that, like it or not, a stem-to-stern revision of the Mass in English is parish-bound, and quickly. Rome's recognitio for the Anglophone translation of the Missale Romanum, editio tipica tertia is expected in the first half of 2010, and the global catechetical effort to ease implantation of the new texts will roll out even sooner... yet while a widely-publicized petition calling for a delay garnered significant buzz earlier this month, both Fr Mike Ryan's "wait" initiative and a countering drive saying "finally" garnered just over 10,000 signatures between them -- a telling indication of how, for a project that's shown little neutrality of reaction over the years, an astonishing bulk of English-speaking Catholics apparently remain unaware of the coming change… but, again, not for long. While most of the wide-scale attention given the Missal to date has come due to the protests it's received -- most prominently those of its longtime lead opponent, Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie -- with the battles behind and the texts' debut in the pews looming, the story now crosses from the realm of "inside baseball" to impending weekly reality for some 80 million Anglophone Catholics worldwide… that is, if any religion reporters are left to cover it. (The ongoing disappearance of full-time, specialized religion journalists from the mainstream press -- which, so he recently said, now threatens to claim the Boston Globe's highly-regarded Michael Paulson -- is a high-import story in itself, but one to revisit more deeply down the line.)
  • B16's Year of the Priest might be halfway through, but the New Year is looking to bring at least one significant development to the clerical map in Stateside Catholicism's fallen flagship of the Northeast. Almost seven years since the sex-abuse scandal erupted in Boston, no shortage of the national scene's yielded hordes of parish closings and administrative cuts, but one area of church life that's remained almost completely intact -- even amid continuing low numbers of recruits -- has been the shape of seminary formation… but again, possibly, not for long. In recent weeks, a top-level team of officials from each of metro New York's three local churches have begun meeting to study options for consolidating their four major and minor seminaries, most prominently Rockville Centre's Immaculate Conception in Huntington and Gotham's own St Joseph's, Dunwoodie. With the two holding a combined 65 theologians (as of the last published numbers), a plan for "improved collaboration" between the houses -- along with the collegiate programs of Neumann Residence (New York) and Cathedral College, Douglaston (Brooklyn) -- could emerge by late spring, its execution reportedly eyed for after the 2010-11 academic year. In the wake of the abuse crisis, the lone change to the makeup of the Northeast's 12 major diocesan houses came in Boston, where then-Archbishop Sean O'Malley shuttered the college division of St John's Seminary in 2005, dispatching its minor sems elsewhere. (Brighton's theologate, however, has since reported a "stunning turnaround.") While some Gothamites have expressed surprise in Archbishop Tim Dolan's backing of the process, it's worth recalling that, in his prior post, the freshly-arrived Strongman of 452 oversaw both the folding of Milwaukee's archdiocesan seminary into the formation program at nearby Sacred Heart School of Theology, and the near-sale of the Beer City's chancery to a local Catholic university, which deal fell through amid the rough economic climate. All that said, it bears reminding that, in its final report on the 2005 Apostolic Visitation of Stateside formation houses, the Congregation for Catholic Education opined that the question of "whether there are too many seminaries in the US" was "worth asking," and recommended the matter to an episcopal commission... the formation of which, as of this writing, is.....
  • Next, with the College of Cardinals currently eight members short of its full voting complement of 120 and at least 11 more openings to arise in 2010, all sides expect a consistory to create new red-hats in the New Year, likely within its first half. And with two Stateside seats opening up (among a total of six over the next two years and change), the question presents itself: Who's next? Of course, the 2007 intake stunned observers -- at least, elsewhere -- with the elevation of the archbishop of Galveston-Houston as the first cardinal of the American South, but the move placed B16 on-record as ready and willing (the first time a pontiff's so been in over a half-century) to pass over the nation's traditional princely sees and instead reward the new centers of "dynamic growth and vitality" on an American Catholic map whose energy and numbers have shifted dramatically to the South and West over the last three decades. Keeping that in mind, any talk of a 2010 class bears an important qualifier at the outset: for the first time, New York has a living retired cardinal, one whose voting rights in a conclave remain intact for the next two-plus years. As for the rest, Detroit's retired Cardinal Adam Maida loses papal suffrage on his 80th birthday in March, as does Washington's Ted McCarrick in July, while Cardinals William Keeler and Bernard Law reach the milestone in 2011. All that said, the coming consistory will almost assuredly see at least one American red hat augmenting not the modern low of five cardinal-archbishops on these shores, but the historically high contingent at the Home Office (currently four) with the expected elevation of the church's oft-controversial "chief justice," Archbishop Raymond Burke, now likewise a member of the Congregation for Bishops.
  • However you cut it, one of the year's top stories was the resurgence of the US bishops as a public-policy force, an emergence signified chiefly in the debate over health-care reform and capped by the conference's success in lobbying the Stupak Amendment to a successful floor vote in the House, one held in defiance of the pro-choice leanings of its leadership, but which assured the chamber's passage of President Obama's health-care reform package with bipartisan support. Sure, several aspects of the Senate bill -- most prominently, its language on abortion-funding -- fell short of the bench's standards, and the final outcome of the push remains to be seen, but Epiphany weekend raises the curtain on the next intended front of broad-scale ecclesial engagement: immigration reform, long a top cause of the bishops, which is widely expected to be Congress' next big-ticket agenda item following the health-care fight. While the effectiveness of the bishops' advocacy for an "abortion-neutral" health care package owed itself to the Catholic orbit's ability to present a sizable united front encompassing both sides of both the highly-polarized body and the church's grassroots, the coalition's ability to hold over immigration might prove tougher given the lack of affinity for the issue from significant elements on the right, which perceive border policy as a matter of prudential judgment, regardless of the issue's hierarchical interpretation as one of the basic rights of the family (namely, that no just law can divide the natural unit). Either way, more than the abortion fight, the immigration story has the potential either to manifest a stunning, possibly unprecedented unification of the US church's oft-divided camps on an issue beyond the foundational life plank, or to reveal American Catholicism's ideological and ethnic chasm to a heretofore unseen degree on the national stage. In other words, just when you thought the issue alone was high-stakes enough….
  • Speaking of the conference and its divides, late year will see the end of Cardinal Francis George's mandate as the US bishops' president, a three-year tenure that's been masterful in the Chicagoan chief's unique ability to craft consensus among a body where, it sometimes seems, what two plus two equals could spark a heated hourlong debate. With the presidency almost certain to pass to the current vice-president, Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, the dynamic shifts, too, but the extent of the change depends mightily on the body's choice of its next vice-president -- a vote that, still over ten months hence, is already garnering much buzz. While George's 2004 victory for the #2 slot saw him become the first cardinal since 1971 placed in line for the president's chair, the vote likewise began a seeming trend of alternating prelates affiliated with the right and left in the top post, so the prevailing wind would appear to indicate a more conservative lieutenant to the Bernardin-bred Arizonan. Still, as previously noted, the final vice-presidential ballot in the 2000s birthed an even more significant trend: the victors might've gone on to six years atop a ballroom dais, but the vanquished each landed something more prestigious -- a ticket to the "papal senate"; all the decade's runners-up for VP (Justin Rigali in 1998 and 2001, Donald Wuerl in 2004 and Tim Dolan in 2007) were placed in cardinalatial sees within roughly 18 months of losing the vote. So as the early goings shape up, it'd be wise to keep in mind that the presidency passes, but a red hat is forever. (As a bonus, the final months of George's term will see the development of the cardinal's announced, but yet unspecified, task forces to deal with Catholic identity as it's fleshed out by "Catholic universities, media claiming the right to be a voice in the church, and organizations that direct various works under Catholic auspices" -- a swan song that could well make for some fireworks in itself.)
  • And lastly, the talk invariably pops up 'round the edges, but with sex-abuse remaining front and center in other parts of the Anglophone world and keeping high on the Vatican's radar, the New Year will see at least one, and possibly two, significant echoes of the scandals in the US church: the finished "causes and contexts" report prepared for the bishops by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and, maybe, at long last, a return to the Dallas Charter, whose term in force was extended indefinitely by the Holy See after its intended 2005 "sunset," and ever since slated for reworking in light of the experiences that followed its initial passage in 2002. Amid continuing reports indicating either instances of lax adherence to the text's protocols as they relate to the rights of the accused, the need for better frameworks for restoring exonerated clerics to ministry or the oversight of those forcibly dismissed from the clerical state (and, ergo, beyond ecclesiastical supervision), the question of revision only becomes more pressing with each passing year and, with it, an added toll of morale, reputations and, most importantly of all, the renewal of church life Rome called for (and, in some places, still awaits) in the crisis' wake.....
OK, that was more than five, but it's easy to get carried away... still, the lot of it leads us to what could become the biggest story of 'em all -- that is, if it happens next year at all.

This refers, of course, to the next ad limina visit of the American bishops to the Holy See -- supposed to have come in 2009, but thrown off its traditional five-year timetable due to a backlog of other benches.

Last taken in 2004, the USCCB remains one of the few major conferences still to make the quinquennial pilgrimage in Benedict XVI's pontificate. While dates for the region-based trips have yet to emerge, at least the first American groups could be heading over before year's end both to brief the Pope and Curia on the state of their dioceses… and, indeed, to hear B16's judgment on the life of the Stateside church.

As always, more awaits, folks, so here's to it -- again, every wish for a Blessed New Year to one and all... for all the rest, as always, stay tuned.

SVILUPPO: Just to be clear, in further proof that the aforementioned ad limina's timetable remains up in the air, CNS' Rome chief John Thavis writes in his look-forward that " it now appears that US bishops... will not be making their visits until 2011 -- or even later."

Another year, another crapshoot... away we go, gang.

PHOTO: Reuters


Ar Dheis Dé Go Raibh a Anam

For six years the successor of St Patrick, Ireland's senior prelate -- the Isle's retired primate Cardinal Cahal Daly -- died tonight in Belfast aged 92.

Archbishop of Armagh from 1990-96, Daly was created a cardinal by John Paul II at the consistory of 1991. Prior to his appointment to Ireland's premier see, he served as bishop of Down and Connor -- the North's largest diocese -- from 1982, three years after reportedly writing the famous homily at Drogheda on the country's "fratricidal struggle" given by the late pontiff on his 1979 pilgrimage there.

In his retirement, Daly remained active, penning several books... and telling the national press just earlier this month that the revelations of decades of abuse and cover-up recently exposed in Dublin were "almost beyond belief."


Friday, December 25, 2009

Born for Us... "The 'Us' of the Church"

Here below, the Pope's noontime Urbi et Orbi Christmas Greeting:
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Rome and throughout the world,
and all men and women, whom the Lord loves!

"Lux fulgebit hodie super nos,
quia natus est nobis Dominus.

A light will shine on us this day,
the Lord is born for us"

(Roman Missal, Christmas, Entrance Antiphon for the Mass at Dawn)

The liturgy of the Mass at Dawn reminded us that the night is now past, the day has begun; the light radiating from the cave of Bethlehem shines upon us.

The Bible and the Liturgy do not, however, speak to us about a natural light, but a different, special light, which is somehow directed to and focused upon "us", the same "us" for whom the Child of Bethlehem "is born". This "us" is the Church, the great universal family of those who believe in Christ, who have awaited in hope the new birth of the Saviour, and who today celebrate in mystery the perennial significance of this event.

At first, beside the manger in Bethlehem, that "us" was almost imperceptible to human eyes. As the Gospel of Saint Luke recounts, it included, in addition to Mary and Joseph, a few lowly shepherds who came to the cave after hearing the message of the Angels. The light of that first Christmas was like a fire kindled in the night. All about there was darkness, while in the cave there shone the true light "that enlightens every man" (Jn 1:9). And yet all this took place in simplicity and hiddenness, in the way that God works in all of salvation history. God loves to light little lights, so as then to illuminate vast spaces. Truth, and Love, which are its content, are kindled wherever the light is welcomed; they then radiate in concentric circles, as if by contact, in the hearts and minds of all those who, by opening themselves freely to its splendour, themselves become sources of light. Such is the history of the Church: she began her journey in the lowly cave of Bethlehem, and down the centuries she has become a People and a source of light for humanity. Today too, in those who encounter that Child, God still kindles fires in the night of the world, calling men and women everywhere to acknowledge in Jesus the "sign" of his saving and liberating presence and to extend the "us" of those who believe in Christ to the whole of mankind.

Wherever there is an "us" which welcomes God’s love, there the light of Christ shines forth, even in the most difficult situations. The Church, like the Virgin Mary, offers the world Jesus, the Son, whom she herself has received as a gift, the One who came to set mankind free from the slavery of sin. Like Mary, the Church does not fear, for that Child is her strength. But she does not keep him for herself: she offers him to all those who seek him with a sincere heart, to the earth’s lowly and afflicted, to the victims of violence, and to all who yearn for peace. Today too, on behalf of a human family profoundly affected by a grave financial crisis, yet even more by a moral crisis, and by the painful wounds of wars and conflicts, the Church, in faithful solidarity with mankind, repeats with the shepherds: "Let us go to Bethlehem" (Lk 2:15), for there we shall find our hope.

The "us" of the Church is alive in the place where Jesus was born, in the Holy Land, inviting its people to abandon every logic of violence and vengeance, and to engage with renewed vigour and generosity in the process which leads to peaceful coexistence. The "us" of the Church is present in the other countries of the Middle East. How can we forget the troubled situation in Iraq and the "little flock" of Christians which lives in the region? At times it is subject to violence and injustice, but it remains determined to make its own contribution to the building of a society opposed to the logic of conflict and the rejection of one’s neighbour. The "us" of the Church is active in Sri Lanka, in the Korean peninsula and in the Philippines, as well as in the other countries of Asia, as a leaven of reconciliation and peace. On the continent of Africa she does not cease to lift her voice to God, imploring an end to every injustice in the Democratic Republic of Congo; she invites the citizens of Guinea and Niger to respect for the rights of every person and to dialogue; she begs those of Madagascar to overcome their internal divisions and to be mutually accepting; and she reminds all men and women that they are called to hope, despite the tragedies, trials and difficulties which still afflict them. In Europe and North America, the "us" of the Church urges people to leave behind the selfish and technicist mentality, to advance the common good and to show respect for the persons who are most defenceless, starting with the unborn. In Honduras she is assisting in process of rebuilding institutions; throughout Latin America, the "us" of the Church is a source of identity, a fullness of truth and of charity which no ideology can replace, a summons to respect for the inalienable rights of each person and his or her integral development, a proclamation of justice and fraternity, a source of unity.

In fidelity to the mandate of her Founder, the Church shows solidarity with the victims of natural disasters and poverty, even within opulent societies. In the face of the exodus of all those who migrate from their homelands and are driven away by hunger, intolerance or environmental degradation, the Church is a presence calling others to an attitude of acceptance and welcome. In a word, the Church everywhere proclaims the Gospel of Christ, despite persecutions, discriminations, attacks and at times hostile indifference. These, in fact, enable her to share the lot of her Master and Lord.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, how great a gift it is to be part of a communion which is open to everyone! It is the communion of the Most Holy Trinity, from whose heart Emmanuel, Jesus, "God with us", came into the world. Like the shepherds of Bethlehem, let us contemplate, filled with wonder and gratitude, this mystery of love and light! Happy Christmas to all!
Per custom, the greeting was followed by Christmas tidings in 65 languages.

PHOTO: Getty


Thursday, December 24, 2009

"Transform Me. Renew Me. Change Me, Change Us All"

Here below in full, B16's homily at tonight's Christmas Mass:
Dear Brothers and Sisters! "A child is born for us, a son is given to us" (Is 9:5). What Isaiah prophesied as he gazed into the future from afar, consoling Israel amid its trials and its darkness, is now proclaimed to the shepherds as a present reality by the Angel, from whom a cloud of light streams forth: "To you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord" (Lk 2:11). The Lord is here. From this moment, God is truly "God with us". No longer is he the distant God who can in some way be perceived from afar, in creation and in our own consciousness. He has entered the world. He is close to us. The words of the risen Christ to his followers are addressed also to us: "Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Mt 28:20). For you the Saviour is born: through the Gospel and those who proclaim it, God now reminds us of the message that the Angel announced to the shepherds. It is a message that cannot leave us indifferent. If it is true, it changes everything. If it is true, it also affects me. Like the shepherds, then, I too must say: Come on, I want to go to Bethlehem to see the Word that has occurred there. The story of the shepherds is included in the Gospel for a reason. They show us the right way to respond to the message that we too have received. What is it that these first witnesses of God's incarnation have to tell us?

The first thing we are told about the shepherds is that they were on the watch they could hear the message precisely because they were awake. We must be awake, so that we can hear the message. We must become truly vigilant people. What does this mean? The principal difference between someone dreaming and someone awake is that the dreamer is in a world of his own. His "self" is locked into this dreamworld that is his alone and does not connect him with others. To wake up means to leave that private world of one's own and to enter the common reality, the truth that alone can unite all people. Conflict and lack of reconciliation in the world stem from the fact that we are locked into our own interests and opinions, into our own little private world. Selfishness, both individual and collective, makes us prisoners of our interests and our desires that stand against the truth and separate us from one another. Awake, the Gospel tells us. Step outside, so as to enter the great communal truth, the communion of the one God. To awake, then, means to develop a receptivity for God: for the silent promptings with which he chooses to guide us; for the many indications of his presence. There are people who describe themselves as "religiously tone deaf". The gift of a capacity to perceive God seems as if it is withheld from some. And indeed our way of thinking and acting, the mentality of today's world, the whole range of our experience is inclined to deaden our receptivity for God, to make us "tone deaf" towards him. And yet in every soul, the desire for God, the capacity to encounter him, is present, whether in a hidden way or overtly. In order to arrive at this vigilance, this awakening to what is essential, we should pray for ourselves and for others, for those who appear "tone deaf" and yet in whom there is a keen desire for God to manifest himself. The great theologian Origen said this: if I had the grace to see as Paul saw, I could even now (during the Liturgy) contemplate a great host of angels (cf. in Lk 23 :9). And indeed, in the sacred liturgy, we are surrounded by the angels of God and the saints. The Lord himself is present in our midst. Lord, open the eyes of our hearts, so that we may become vigilant and clear-sighted, in this way bringing you close to others as well!

Let us return to the Christmas Gospel. It tells us that after listening to the Angel's message, the shepherds said one to another: "'Let us go over to Bethlehem' they went at once" (Lk 2:15f.). "They made haste" is literally what the Greek text says. What had been announced to them was so important that they had to go immediately. In fact, what had been said to them was utterly out of the ordinary. It changed the world. The Saviour is born. The long-awaited Son of David has come into the world in his own city. What could be more important? No doubt they were partly driven by curiosity, but first and foremost it was their excitement at the wonderful news that had been conveyed to them, of all people, to the little ones, to the seemingly unimportant. They made haste they went at once. In our daily life, it is not like that. For most people, the things of God are not given priority, they do not impose themselves on us directly And so the great majority of us tend to postpone them. First we do what seems urgent here and now. In the list of priorities God is often more or less at the end. We can always deal with that later, we tend to think. The Gospel tells us: God is the highest priority. If anything in our life deserves haste without delay, then, it is God's work alone. The Rule of Saint Benedict contains this teaching: "Place nothing at all before the work of God (i.e. the divine office)". For monks, the Liturgy is the first priority. Everything else comes later. In its essence, though, this saying applies to everyone. God is important, by far the most important thing in our lives. The shepherds teach us this priority. From them we should learn not to be crushed by all the pressing matters in our daily lives. From them we should learn the inner freedom to put other tasks in second place however important they may be so as to make our way towards God, to allow him into our lives and into our time. Time given to God and, in his name, to our neighbour is never time lost. It is the time when we are most truly alive, when we live our humanity to the full.

Some commentators point out that the shepherds, the simple souls, were the first to come to Jesus in the manger and to encounter the Redeemer of the world. The wise men from the East, representing those with social standing and fame, arrived much later. The commentators go on to say: this is quite natural. The shepherds lived nearby. They only needed to "come over" (cf. Lk 2:15), as we do when we go to visit our neighbours. The wise men, however, lived far away. They had to undertake a long and arduous journey in order to arrive in Bethlehem. And they needed guidance and direction. Today too there are simple and lowly souls who live very close to the Lord. They are, so to speak, his neighbours and they can easily go to see him. But most of us in the world today live far from Jesus Christ, the incarnate God who came to dwell amongst us. We live our lives by philosophies, amid worldly affairs and occupations that totally absorb us and are a great distance from the manger. In all kinds of ways, God has to prod us and reach out to us again and again, so that we can manage to escape from the muddle of our thoughts and activities and discover the way that leads to him. But a path exists for all of us. The Lord provides everyone with tailor-made signals. He calls each one of us, so that we too can say: "Come on, 'let us go over' to Bethlehem to the God who has come to meet us. Yes indeed, God has set out towards us. Left to ourselves we could not reach him. The path is too much for our strength. But God has come down. He comes towards us. He has travelled the longer part of the journey. Now he invites us: come and see how much I love you. Come and see that I am here. Transeamus usque Bethlehem, the Latin Bible says. Let us go there! Let us surpass ourselves! Let us journey towards God in all sorts of ways: along our interior path towards him, but also along very concrete paths the Liturgy of the Church, the service of our neighbour, in whom Christ awaits us.

Let us once again listen directly to the Gospel. The shepherds tell one another the reason why they are setting off: "Let us see this thing that has happened." Literally the Greek text says: "Let us see this Word that has occurred there." Yes indeed, such is the radical newness of this night: the Word can be seen. For it has become flesh. The God of whom no image may be made because any image would only diminish, or rather distort him this God has himself become visible in the One who is his true image, as Saint Paul puts it (cf. 2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15). In the figure of Jesus Christ, in the whole of his life and ministry, in his dying and rising, we can see the Word of God and hence the mystery of the living God himself. This is what God is like. The Angel had said to the shepherds: "This will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger" (Lk 2:12; cf. 2:16). God's sign, the sign given to the shepherds and to us, is not an astonishing miracle. God's sign is his humility. God's sign is that he makes himself small; he becomes a child; he lets us touch him and he asks for our love. How we would prefer a different sign, an imposing, irresistible sign of God's power and greatness! But his sign summons us to faith and love, and thus it gives us hope: this is what God is like. He has power, he is Goodness itself. He invites us to become like him. Yes indeed, we become like God if we allow ourselves to be shaped by this sign; if we ourselves learn humility and hence true greatness; if we renounce violence and use only the weapons of truth and love. Origen, taking up one of John the Baptist's sayings, saw the essence of paganism expressed in the symbol of stones: paganism is a lack of feeling, it means a heart of stone that is incapable of loving and perceiving God's love. Origen says of the pagans: "Lacking feeling and reason, they are transformed into stones and wood" (in Lk 22:9). Christ, though, wishes to give us a heart of flesh. When we see him, the God who b ecame a child, our hearts are opened. In the Liturgy of the holy night, God comes to us as man, so that we might become truly human. Let us listen once again to Origen: "Indeed, what use would it be to you that Christ once came in the flesh if he did not enter your soul? Let us pray that he may come to us each day, that we may be able to say: I live, yet it is no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me (Gal 2:20)" (in Lk 22:3).

Yes indeed, that is what we should pray for on this Holy Night. Lord Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem, come to us! Enter within me, within my soul. Transform me. Renew me. Change me, change us all from stone and wood into living people, in whom your love is made present and the world is transformed. Amen.

O Raucous Night

Those who're watching/will watch B16's 10pm Mass of Christmas in St Peter's will have noticed a disturbance of the procession not captured by the cameras that held things up for several minutes.

The AP reports what happened:
A Vatican spokesman says a woman jumped the barriers in St. Peter's Basilica and knocked down Pope Benedict XVI as he walked down the main aisle to begin Christmas Eve Mass.

The Rev. Ciro Benedettini said the pope quickly got up and was unhurt. Benedict, 82, calmly resumed his walk to the basilica's main altar and began the Mass late Thursday.

Benedettini said the woman who pushed the pope appeared to be mentally unstable and had been arrested by Vatican police. He said she also knocked down Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, who was taken to hospital for a check up.
Now retired as head of the Cor Unum -- the Holy See's humanitarian arm -- but still an occasional Vatican emissary, Etchegaray, 87, is vice-dean of the College of Cardinals.

Before the Mass, the pontiff placed the traditional Christmas Eve "light of peace" in his apartment window (above), to remain there through the night.

SVILUPPO: Via the crowd, video of the attack:

And from the BBC, an even closer view.

PHOTO: Reuters


In Dublin, "Christmas Transforms!"

Given the post-Murphy coverage here these last weeks, tonight's Midnight Mass homily from Dublin's archbishop makes for especially worthwhile reading.

Here below, Diarmuid Martin's fulltext:

Again, to one and all, Nollaig shona duit!

Apparently, not even this holiest of days can keep new developments from cropping up....

In a statement released just before Christmas Midnight, Dublin auxiliaries Ray Field and Eamonn Walsh announced that they would submit their resignations to Pope Benedict.

"As we celebrate the Feast of Christmas, the Birth of our Saviour, the Prince of Peace, it is our hope that our action may help to bring the peace and reconciliation of Jesus Christ to the victims/survivors of child sexual abuse," the prelates said.

"We again apologise to them," they went on. "Our thoughts and prayers are with those who have so bravely spoken out and those who continue to suffer in silence."


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Cardinal's Christmas Gift: Coming Home

As previously noted, this Christmas sees the loss of one much-cherished Yuletide tradition: after a quarter-century as the Vatican's "voice" of the Holy Night, the River City's own Cardinal John Foley won't be providing the commentary for the Pope's Midnight (, 10pm) Mass, the world's most-watched religious broadcast of each year.

That said, Foley's departure from the booth comes in the service of what he'd easily consider a greater good. For the first time since his 1984 "exile" to Rome as president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, the 74 year-old "patriarch" of Philadelphia Catholicism is home for Christmas -- and lest anyone's keen and able to join in, he'll be basking in the joy with two local liturgies over the coming days.

On Christmas morning, the cardinal will preside and preach the 11.30 Mass at Sacred Heart in Manoa, his first assignment as a priest which he's held as his home-church ever since, and a 10.30 on Holy Family Sunday at his boyhood parish, Holy Spirit in Sharon Hill. (If you're going, head out early -- Manoa might be an 1,800-seater, but much like his daily Lenten Masses there as a young curate, Foley packs the place out the doors every time he returns.)

It's been said before but bears repeating: if Macy's really knew what it was doing, they'd scrap Julie Andrews and have the church's John Facenda narrate the Light Show....

More on that another day; in the meanwhile, for those who missed it before (or just want to see it again), let's give the famous sign-off one last spin:


After Murphy, Resignation #2

As noted in an update to yesterday's post on the situation in Ireland, a second bishop has proffered his resignation in the wake of the Murphy Report on the Dublin archdiocese's handling of clergy sex-abuse.

Now 73, Bishop Jim Moriarty of Kildare and Leighlin served as an auxiliary in the capital from 1991 to 2002. Moriarty came under the state inquiry's scrutiny in one case where, having received an allegation against a serially abusive priest, he passed the report on to other top archdiocesan officials and the then-archbishop, Cardinal Desmond Connell, but no follow-up into the priest's history was either called for nor made inside Archbishop's House.

One of five prelates whose resignations have been sought by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin in an effort to restore credibility in the Irish church's top rank, as recently as early last week Moriarty maintained he had done "nothing wrong" and felt "no grounds" to depart his post. The bishop's thought apparently began to change late last week following discussions with his advisers and the Dublin archbishop's ultimatum that he'll petition the Holy See to remove any of the report's named prelates who don't leave on their own.

In announcing the move, Moriarty made the following statement:
On the Sunday after the ‘Murphy Report’ into the Archdiocese of Dublin was published (29th November 2009), I stated the following in Carlow Cathedral;

“As you are aware, I served as an Auxiliary Bishop in the Archdiocese of Dublin from 1991 until my appointment here in 2002. While the Murphy Report does not criticise me directly, I feel it is important to state that I fully accept the overall conclusion of the Commission – that the attempts by Church authorities to ‘protect the Church’ and to ‘avoid scandal’ had the most dreadful consequences for children and were deeply wrong.”

I do not want to dwell here on individual criticism as I have already responded to that. As I acknowledged in radio interviews last week, the Murphy report covers far more than what individual Bishops did or did not do. Fundamentally it is about how the leadership of the Archdiocese failed over many decades to respond properly to criminal acts against children.

Over the last few weeks, I have been reflecting on what should be my response to the overall conclusion of the Murphy report – particularly because I was part of the governance of the Archdiocese prior to when correct child protection policies and procedures were implemented.

It does not serve the truth to overstate my responsibility and authority within the Archdiocese. Nor does it serve the truth to overlook the fact that the system of management and communications was seriously flawed. However, with the benefit of hindsight, I accept that, from the time I became an Auxiliary Bishop, I should have challenged the prevailing culture.

I know that any action now on my part does not take away the suffering that people have endured. I again apologise to all the survivors and their families. I have today offered my resignation as Bishop of Kildare & Leighlin to the Holy Father. I hope it honours the truth that the survivors have so bravely uncovered and opens the way to a better future for all concerned.

I will endeavour to continue to do my best, as I have throughout my 48 years of ministry, to share Christ’s light and hope for the world. We are about to celebrate Christmas, a time when we welcome Christ as the ‘light that darkness could not overpower’. It is this truth that leads us forward. Christ is our Light.

May the blessing, the grace and the peace of Christmas be with us all.
PHOTO: Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin


Vatican on Pius: "Venerable" Doesn't Mean Perfect

And, well, so much for a clean break.

Following an outcry from a wide array of Jewish leaders on Saturday's papal assent to Pope Pius XII's decree of heroic virtue, late this morning the following "note" was released by the chief Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Fr Federico Lombardi:
"The Pope's signing of the decree 'on the heroic virtues' of Pius XII has elicited a certain number of reactions in the Jewish world; perhaps because the meaning of such a signature is clear in the area of the Catholic Church and of specialists in the field, but may merit certain explanation for the larger public, in particular the Jewish public who are understandably very sensitive to all things concerning the historical period of World War II and the Holocaust.

"When the Pope signs a decree 'on the heroic virtues' of a Servant of God - i.e., of a person for whom a cause for beatification has been introduced - he confirms the positive evaluation already voted by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. ... Naturally, such evaluation takes account of the circumstances in which the person lived, and hence it is necessary to examine the question from a historical standpoint, but the evaluation essentially concerns the witness of Christian life that the person showed (his intense relationship with God and continuous search for evangelical perfection) ... and not the historical impact of all his operative decisions".

"At the beatification of Pope John XXIII and of Pope Pius IX, John Paul II said: 'holiness lives in history and no saint has escaped the limits and conditioning which are part of our human nature. In beatifying one of her sons, the Church does not celebrate the specific historical decisions he may have made, but rather points to him as someone to be imitated and venerated because of his virtues, in praise of the divine grace which shines resplendently in them'.

"There is, then, no intention in any way to limit discussion concerning the concrete choices made by Pius XII in the situation in which he lived. For her part, the Church affirms that these choices were made with the pure intention of carrying out the Pontiff's service of exalted and dramatic responsibility to the best of his abilities. In any case, Pius XII's attention to and concern for the fate of the Jews - something which is certainly relevant in the evaluation of his virtues - are widely testified and recognised, also by many Jews.

"The field for research and evaluation by historians, working in their specific area, thus remains open, also for the future. In this specific case it is comprehensible that there should be a request to have open access to all possibilities of research on the documents. ... Yet for the complete opening of the archives - as has been said on a number of occasions in the past - it is necessary to organise and catalogue an enormous mass of documentation, something which still requires a number of years' work.

"As for the fact that the decree on the heroic virtues of Pope John Paul II and Pope Pius XII were promulgated on the same day, this does not mean that from now on the two causes will be 'paired'. They are completely independent of one another and each will follow its own course. There is, then, no reason to imagine that any future beatification will take place together".

"It is, then, clear that the recent signing of the decree is in no way to be read as a hostile act towards the Jewish people, and it is to be hoped that it will not be considered as an obstacle on the path of dialogue between Judaism and the Catholic Church. Rather we trust that the Pope's forthcoming visit to the Synagogue of Rome will be an opportunity for the cordial reiteration and reinforcement of ties of friendship and respect".
As previously noted, B16's visit to Rome's Synagogue -- the second-ever trip there by a pontiff -- is slated for 17 January.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Once in Pharaoh's River City

So, church, as the Most Important News of these days comes amid the peace and quiet of Midnight -- or, at the Vatican, 10pm -- just a note that your pages are heading into a low posting zone for the next few, that we might all soak up the beauty and grace of Christmas as it's meant to be experienced: namely, in flesh and blood, with prayer and song... and, of course, Seven Fishes.

Along these lines -- and as the shop keeps digging out from The Storm, all 23.2 inches of it -- time for a couple Yuletide favorites that've become traditional 'round these parts over the years.

First (especially for you locals far from home who've loved it since birth), the classic Light Show at the place forever known as Wanamaker's -- shown here in its (pre-Macy's) "extraordinary form":'s Part Two.

From points elsewhere, a cherished carol for the more classically-minded (lyrics)...

...and we'd be remiss to leave out the great Roman classic, to boot (lyrics/translation):

* * *
In a perfect world, this part of the post was supposed to offer up a little meditation on these days -- just a thought on what, in its truest sense, the light of Christmas is... or, rather, should be.

But then, as tends to happen behind the scenes -- and many of you are doubtless familiar with, especially right about now -- the last-minute everything gummed up the works, what came out felt a little scatterbrained... and, ergo, it'll probably end up going the way of the five boxes of cards that were supposed to be written, but still await even one penstroke.

Thank God we've got an Octave. In the meantime, though, let John Chrysostom's sum-up suffice:

"He became what we are, that we might become what He is."

As you'd be hard-pressed to find a simpler, richer reflection, not just at Christmas but always, may that be our shared cause for thanks today, and our challenge and encouragement along the road ahead.

Safe travels to everyone hitting the road and the skies... and to all the troops running the four-day "Mass-a-thon" in the trenches, here's hoping everything goes smoother than smooth, with a nice breather on-deck at its close.

To each and all, here's to every gift and blessing of light, joy, comfort, peace and hope -- and every good thing you seek -- for you and yours, all-around, in the days to come and well beyond.

"Expergiscere, homo: quia pro te Deus factus est homo" -- venite adoremus!

Buon Natale a tutti -- a Blessed and Merry Christmas, gang!


On Last-Vote Eve, Bishops to Senate: "The Health-Care Bill Is Deficient"

Christmas might be coming, but on Capital Hill, the health-care reform battle rages on.

In their latest intervention in the debate, the US bishops' "three wisemen" -- the bench's chairs for Pro-Life Activities, Domestic Policy and Migration -- issued another letter late today, this time calling on the Senate "not to move its current health care reform bill forward without incorporating essential changes to ensure that needed health care reform legislation truly protects the life, dignity, consciences and health of all." Along the way, the chairs deemed the existing legislation "deficient" in "all the areas of [the church's] moral concern," saying the bill "should be opposed" barring remedies to the measure's "fundamental" problems.

The letter reiterates the conference's "priority criteria" -- provisions to "keep in place current federal law on abortion funding and conscience protections on abortion; protect the access to health care that immigrants currently have and remove current barriers to access; and include strong provisions for adequate affordability and coverage standards."

After last week's efforts at a near-ban on abortion funding failed both on the floor and in earning the bishops' "morally acceptable" sign-off, Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson -- the lone holdout among the 60-member majority -- threw his support behind the Senate bill after agreeing to compromise language on the hot-button issue that one USCCB official called "crazy" in today's Washington Post.

After a second procedural vote passed early this morning on a 60-39 margin, a final Senate vote on the bill was set for 7am Thursday.

Here below, today's letter from the USCCB chairs (either tap "fullscreen" or right-click for larger text):


O Christmas Tree, O Papal Tree....

Having tackled the lessons of the creche, over the weekend the Pope spoke of the symbolism of the Christmas tree as he thanked the Belgian donors of the Vatican's 100-foot, century-old spruce:
"In the forest," the Holy Father said, "the trees are close together and each one of them contributes to making the forest a shadowy, sometimes dark, place."

"But here," he continued, "chosen from among this multitude, the majestic tree that you offered us is today lit up and covered with brilliant decorations that are like so many marvelous fruits."

"Leaving aside its dark garments for a brilliant explosion, it has been transfigured, becoming a beacon of light that is not its own, but rather gives testimony to the true Light that comes to this world," the Pope suggested.
He compared the tree's destiny with that of the shepherds, who "keeping watch in the darkness of the night, are illumined by the message of the angels."

"The luck of this tree is also comparable to our own, we who are called to give good fruits to manifest that the world has truly been visited and rescued by the Lord."
As Zenit noted in its brief, this year's PopeTree is dedicated in the papal colors of gold and white.

While the Vatican's Christmas trappings long stayed in place until Candlemas Day -- 2 February's feast of the Presentation, 40 days after Christmas -- CNS noted that last year's ornaments were conspicuously removed following early January's feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the season's official end on the post-Conciliar calendar.



Jump or Get Pushed: After Murphy, Martin Declares War

During his year as coadjutor-archbishop of Dublin, it's been said that Diarmuid Martin had a difficult time finding a lunchmate.

Waiting in the wings as Cardinal Desmond Connell's successor, the longtime Vatican official might've been a native son of the Irish capital, but the Curia he'd soon inherit made its message clear: he wasn't one of them.

Given what's transpired since last month's release of the Murphy Report -- namely, the archbishop's all-out denunciation of the chancery culture that facilitated the history of abuse and cover-up the state inquiry uncovered -- that divide, never completely out of view, has come center stage in a seismic way.

Five years into his mandate, the 66 year-old prelate still largely finds himself a lone rider in the inquest's wake, handling its fallout without the teams of lawyers and spinners who've come to embody ecclesial damage control elsewhere. Yet just a week after the Pope expressed his own "outrage, betrayal and shame" at a Vatican summit on the crisis, and hours after the primate's public warning that "responsibility must be taken by all" archdiocesan leaders who failed to act as the "protection principle" endured, Ireland's largest paper reports the aftermath's wildest turn of events to date -- either the four active prelates who helped oversee the Dublin church as it routinely shuffled accused clerics step forward with their resignations over Christmas... or Martin will grease the skids:
THE Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin will seek to have four bishops fired by the Vatican if they refuse to step down over the Murphy report into child sex abuse cases in Dublin....

Sources told the Irish Independent that if the bishops -- who say they did no wrong -- do not stand down voluntarily on the principle of collective responsibility, Archbishop Martin will petition the Congregation of Bishops in Rome to fire them.
Of the four current and former Dublin auxiliaries who've been targeted, while Bishop Jim Moriarty of Kildare and Leighlin, 73, is reportedly moving toward the plank, other prelates on the archbishop's "hit list" have challenged their placement on it; Bishop Martin Drennan of Galway -- who, it should be noted, was not named in the report -- protested that his "integrity is being called into question" and termed the move "a spiral of revenge," and longtime Dublin Auxiliary Bishop Eamonn Walsh viewed calls for his departure as an "injustice" unto himself, adding that the torrential media coverage in the report's wake had served to "turn up the pain" of abuse survivors who, he said, "do not know how to cope with all the publicity."

Meanwhile, having tussled with his successor in court over the release of documents to the inquiry, a former spokesman of Connell's slammed Martin for what the aide called a "catastrophic" approach of "reputations being shredded" and "communicating with people who are [his] auxiliaries through" Irish state television.

In his 1 December appearance on RTE's Prime Time, the archbishop called for "answers that people can accept and believe" from those indicated in the report, adding that he was "not satisfied" with the responses given to that point and, indeed, going so far as to publicly name the prelates from whom he demanded sufficient explanations.

Along the way, Martin's push has received added, repeated heft from a high-profile church commentator with ties to Pope Benedict: a retired professor of moral theology at Ireland's national seminary, Fr Vincent Twomey -- a student of then-Fr Joseph Ratzinger at Regensburg -- likewise took to the media to back the resignation calls, warning that the embattled prelates' continuance in office was "causing great scandal" in itself.

"The longer they dig their heels in and refuse to resign, the greater damage they are doing to the church," Twomey said in a radio interview. "What was done to" the victims, he added, "is a crime that calls to God for vengeance."

Calling for an "honest investigation" of the Isle's Catholic culture -- which, he said, had produced a "sterile orthodoxy" at its highest levels -- Twomey likewise penned a lengthy op-ed for the Irish Times advocating "some other way of choosing suitable bishops, [one] which will involve some real participation by priests and laity."

After last week's first report-induced resignation -- Bishop Donal Murray's departure from the helm of the diocese of Limerick -- Martin said in a statement that, amid the investigation's findings of "serious difficulties of structure and communication" which resulted in further abuse, "accountability must be assumed... and radical reform is required in the archdiocese, not just in the area of child protection."

"Priests and people of this diocese see that there can be no healing without radical change," the Dublin prelate added. "Along with many others, I am committed to that change."

Lastly, though, yesterday saw a different outpouring of emotion as Kiltegan Fr Jeremiah Roche was remembered as a "mighty, mighty man" at his funeral.

The 68 year-old St Patrick Missionary had spent most of his four-decade priesthood ministering in Kenya, where he was murdered last week during a robbery of his home.

SVILUPPO: In yet another fresh development, it's emerged that the Irish government has ordered each of the country's 26 dioceses to hand over a list of every allegation they've received in the last five years before 8 January.

Termed a "dragnet," the "massive investigation" will be carried out by the state's Health Service Executive in conjunction with the church's National Board for Children.

While the Independent reported that the Dublin curia received 131 new claims of past misconduct even before the Murphy release, another 600 complaints are already under investigation by the authorities in the wake of May's Ryan Report, which detailed a staggering history of abuse in residential schools entrusted to religious orders.

SVILUPPO 2: As of early Wednesday morning, the ground keeps shifting -- reports have begun swirling that Moriarty (who, a fortnight ago, said he "did nothing wrong" and didn't feel "any grounds" to leave his post) was preparing to announce his resignation in the afternoon, and Drennan told a local radio program that, given his "guilt by association" with his Dublin confreres, "if there is a mass resignation called for, yes, it could come to me resigning."

An unscientific poll on a Galway newspaper's website found that 72% of respondents sought the latter's departure.



Monday, December 21, 2009

In Cinci, "Adjuticor" No More

This morning, as expected, Pope Benedict accepted the age-induced resignation of the nation's senior active prelate, Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk of Cincinnati, paving the way for the succession of his coadjutor, Archbishop Dennis Schnurr (above), who's been waiting in the wings since October 2008.

Having reached the retirement age of 75 in August, Pilarczyk's departure was delayed to allow him a fitting farewell from the helm of his hometown church, which took place yesterday as he celebrated a Mass commemorating his 27th anniversary as archbishop, 35th as a bishop and his golden jubilee of priestly ordination, each of which took place on 20 December.

Long regarded as one of the bench's finest minds, last month's USCCB plenary saw Pilarczyk named the body's parliamentarian following the retirement of longtime floor manager Henry Robert.

Given the archbishop's history of point-raising at the meetings, the move's announcement sparked a round of affectionate laughs from the body. The USCCB's president from 1989-92, Pilarczyk will likely be able to keep the parliamentarian's post in retirement.

A former general secretary of the Mothership and his now-predecessor's first choice to fill the post, the new Cinci chief, 61, comes to the cathedra with strengths as both a top-flight administrator and a keen recruiter of seminarians; Schnurr's seven years in Duluth saw the Northland diocese's formation crop nearly triple, numbering 23 on his departure.

The mother-diocese of Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and the Dakotas, the 500,000-member "Queen City" church is one of the nation's oldest archdioceses, elevated in 1850 alongside New Orleans and New York. What's more, Pilarczyk's 27-year reign has only been surpassed by one of his eight predecessors: the legendary John Baptist Purcell, who held the post from 1833 to 1883.

Lacking a formal liturgy to inaugurate his tenure, Schnurr released a video message to the archdiocese on the morning's news. The Iowa-born prelate becomes the US church's second member of the 2010 "pallium class" who'll receive the symbol of the archbishop's office from the Pope at next 29 June's feast of Saints Peter and Paul in Rome; as of this writing, the lone other heading over is Archbishop-elect Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee, who'll be installed there on 4 January.

By summer's start, though, the Midwestern duo will likely be joined by Archbishop Alex Brunett's successor in Seattle, where the incumbent is nearly a year past the retirement age. Home to roughly a million Catholics, the vibrant, richly diverse Washington church has tripled in size since 1990, becoming the West's second-largest metropolitan post after Los Angeles.

With Pilarczyk's retirement, six Stateside dioceses remain vacant, with just four others -- the smallest such grouping in memory -- led by prelates serving past 75 and, ergo, awaiting liberation.
* * *
Likewise this morning, in a move whose waves are already being felt far beyond Saskatchewan, the Pope named Msgr Don Bolen (above), vicar-general of his native Regina, as bishop of Saskatoon.

An alum of St Paul's in Ottawa and advanced studies at Oxford, the 48 year-old nominee became a beloved figure in Rome, where he ran the desk overseeing Anglican and Methodist relations at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity from 2000 until returning home in 2007. Alongside his day job, Bolen spent weekends serving on the ministry team of the Caravita, the open-door "community of sojourners" whose Sunday worship's become a popular destination for Urbites seeking "nourishing and often innovative Liturgy."

Against the backdrop of frayed Vatican-Lambeth in the wake of last month's Anglicanorum Coetibus -- the canonical framework to receive Anglican groups petitioning entry into the Catholic fold -- the nod notably elevates a figure who enjoys the archbishop of Canterbury's "affectionate and admiring" esteem and trust; Rowan Williams conferred the Anglican Communion's Cross for distinguished service on Bolen earlier this year, and when the Anglican primate celebrated a pontifical Eucharist in Rome's Basilica of Santa Sabina (the traditional venue of the pontiff's Ash Wednesday liturgy) in late 2006, the bishop-elect proclaimed the Gospel.

In leading the 86,000-member church in central Saskatchewan, Bolen succeeds now-Archbishop Albert LeGatt, who was promoted to Manitoba's Saint-Boniface archdiocese last July.

PHOTOS: Amie Dworecki/Cincinnati Enquirer(1); Jim Noelker/Hamilton Journal-News(2); Caravita Community(3)


Saturday, December 19, 2009

An Advent Wonderland

To everyone else snowed in on what's usually the busiest shopping day of the year, hope you're hanging in there and not getting cabin fever just yet, because this is gonna take some digging out.

For those checking in from elsewhere, the Northeast is getting walloped with what the weatherfolks tell us is the biggest December storm our part of the world's seen in a half-century -- as much as 20 inches of the white stuff is slated to fall here before it's all said and done, the same in Washington, and up to a foot in New York.

We all love the thought of a White Christmas, sure... when you're a serial procrastinator, though, this is quite the monkey wrench.

Anyways, lest anyone who could use a bit more warmth on a frigid day (or just a bit of background meditation), a musical treat for your Saturday afternoon: a full-length performance of this season's most cherished piece -- Handel's Messiah -- as given earlier in the week at Gotham's Trinity Church on Wall Street:

While we're at it, it's worth highlighting that the historic congregation -- its roots dating to 1696 -- livestreams its entire roster of services, events and concerts, then posts 'em on-demand in perpetuity.

As "come and see" goes, gang, that's a gold standard... and it's one worth imitating on this side of the ecumenical divide.

That said, every blessing of the weekend to one and all... and, well, enjoy the sounds.

PHOTO: Getty


In Gotham, Merry Timmukah

Seven nights after the archbishop of New York lit the Hannukah menorah's first candle (above) for his new Fifth Avenue neighbors -- and a month before B16 makes the second-ever papal visit to Rome's Synagogue -- late yesterday the following announcement came from the Big Apple chancery:
Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan will celebrate the 10:15 a.m. Mass for the Fourth Sunday of Advent on December 20, 2009 at the Cathedral of Saint Patrick in New York.

In a spirit of inter-faith friendship and good will, joining Archbishop Dolan at the Mass will be Rabbi David Posner, who will light the fourth candle on the Advent Wreath, marking the Fourth Sunday of Advent.

Rabbi Posner is the Senior Rabbi of Temple Emanu-El, located on Fifth Avenue at 65th Street in Manhattan. In a similar way, Rabbi Posner had Archbishop Dolan light the menorah for the first night of Hanukah on December 11 at Temple Emanu-El.
A member of the national Jewish-Catholic dialogue since 2004, Dolan formally became the US church's lead hand on Jewish relations last month in succession to Cardinal William Keeler, who led the dialogue's Catholic delegation since 1983.

Likewise home to 2.5 million Catholics who comprise the nation's second-largest diocese, New York's Jewish community is the world's largest outside Israel.

As ever, the 10.15 will be broadcast live over the archdiocese's satellite radio Catholic Channel on Sirius XM... and that's not all for the day, either -- Dolan and another rabbi are slated to co-host a live holiday special tomorrow afternoon at 3pm Eastern. (For non-subscribers to the pay-radio service, a free, 30-day online preview is available.)

Sure, all this was sufficiently newsworthy from the get-go... but this morning's Roman "surprise" -- the declaration of Pope Pius XII's heroic virtue, which could make for yet another speed-bump in Catholic-Jewish relations -- adds a new dimension to the interplay that, of course, makes it worth watching all the more.



Signed, Sealed... Sainted

As expected, this morning the Pope approved 21 decrees advancing causes for beatification and canonization... and, suffice it to say, the slate is full of notable names.

Among others, B16 declared:
  • the martyrdom "in odium fidei" of Fr (now Blessed-to-be) Jerzy Popieluzsko, the chaplain to Poland's Solidarity movement who was killed by the Communist regime's secret police in 1984;
  • and, most prominently of all, the heroic virtues of not one, but two pontiffs: Karol Wojtyla, better known as John Paul II... and Eugenio Pacelli, Pius XII, whose cause has sparked a significant amount of protest among Jewish leaders, and dueling pressures on the Vatican, amid charges that the wartime Pope failed to do enough to avert the Holocaust. (While John Paul's heroic virtue was reportedly approved by a unanimous vote of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints last month, Pius' decree has been pending before Benedict since it, too, was endorsed without opposition by the dicastery's 30-odd cardinals in May 2007.) Both now become "Venerable," and their causes permitted to present a first miracle in order to progress to beatification -- which, in the case of John Paul, could come as soon as next year.
  • And lastly, with the Pope slated to visit the UK next fall, likewise advanced was the cause of now-Venerable Mary Ward (1585-1645), the English foundress of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Inspired to start an Ignatian community for women in the spirit of the Jesuits -- one that, shockingly for its time, would be free from the obligations of the enclosure and a "specific" habit -- Ward's declaration, like MacKillop's, recognizes the sanctity of a life that endured ecclesiastical hardball; once jailed for two months by the Roman Inquisition (the historical antecedent of today's CDF), her community was suppressed in 1630, and only re-established sixty years after her death.
As far as timetables go, it bears noting that B16 has limited the canonization Masses to formally elevate groups of new saints to two each year: one in the spring, during the Easter Season, then again in the fall, usually in the first half of October. The dates for the respective canonizations will be fixed in consistories, the first of which should come in February.

Along these same lines, the pontiff has restored the traditional venue of the rites of beatification to the local church where the candidate(s) lived, with the ceremony usually performed there by a papal legate.

Papa Ratzinger is expected to break from said form, however, on the aforementioned (but still unconfirmed) trip to Britain, where he will reportedly lead the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman, the famed convert and apologist who was cleared for the penultimate step to sainthood in early July.

PHOTO: "The Communion of Saints"/John Nava, Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels