Thursday, January 30, 2014

To Fighting Irish, Francis Spikes the Ball... For the Bishops

Nearly 11 months into the new Franciscan Rule, for all the shifts of style and governance Papa Bergoglio has indeed set into place, it's no secret that the new pontiff's treatment of moral issues has aroused the biggest interest on the wider front.

Over time, the propagated notion of a Pope bent on "changing" those aspects of church teaching that conflict with secularized Western society has aroused increasing concern among Francis' team, spurring a new strategy of increasingly explicit rebuttals. The latest example came just yesterday amid the cover piece for the forthcoming Rolling Stone – the first-ever papal fronting on the iconic magazine – which included a sidebar on "10 conservatives who have gone liberal" and was promptly rapped by the VatiSpox, Fr Federico Lombardi, as having "disqualified itself" by "falling in the usual mistake of a superficial journalism."

Today, the clarification of substance fell to Francis himself, during a mostly effusive hourlong meeting with a group from the University of Notre Dame, in Rome for the opening of the Golden Dome's new base in the city, and the winter meeting of its board of trustees. This time, there's also an old friend newly in town – the recently-arrived US ambassador to the Holy See, Ken Hackett, is a prior recipient of Notre Dame's Laetare Medal, American Catholicism's most revered and prestigious honor.

Of course, the nation's flagship Catholic university became the piñata par excellence of the Stateside church's conservative wing for some time following its 2009 conferral of an honorary degree on President Obama as he delivered the school's commencement address – an act critics charged to be in defiance of the USCCB's 2004 ad hoc protocols on Catholics in Political Life due to Obama's support for legal abortion. A Dome tradition dating back to FDR, a Notre Dame degree for the Commander-in-Chief was only recently denied to Bill Clinton, a Georgetown grad and the last pro-choice POTUS before the incumbent.

More recently, meanwhile, after a Federal court denied Notre Dame temporary relief 
from the HHS mandate for contraceptive coverage in benefit plans amid its second lawsuit against the Obama administration, earlier this month the university acceded to the policy, with the explicit proviso that it would be suspended should the ongoing court fights over the mandate side with the roughly 100 non-exempt church-affiliated entities nationwide which have sued to block it on religious freedom grounds. The move provided the backdrop to an unusually pointed remark: a papal call for "the defense of [the church's] freedom, precisely in and through her institutions," that they might "uphold [the moral] teaching as authoritatively proclaimed by the magisterium of her pastors," adding his "hope that the University of Notre Dame will continue to offer unambiguous testimony to this aspect of its foundational Catholic identity, especially in the face of efforts, from whatever quarter, to dilute that indispensable witness."

"This is important: its identity, as it was intended from the beginning," Francis repeated. "To defend it, to preserve it and to advance it!"

Despite the under-the-gun call – which, given Notre Dame's iconic place in American Catholic lore, was treated with an outsize significance – university officials remain impassioned in their commitment to an "ongoing fight." Emergency hearings to press the university's push for a block on the mandate are slated for early February, and the delegation present today took the "warmly smiling" Pope's comment as an encouragement for its continuing efforts.

Back in South Bend, a Federal appeals court recently granted standing in the court battle to three Notre Dame students seeking birth-control coverage in university-granted plans. The trio are being represented by a liberal interest-group. On a separate plane, meanwhile, a Notre Dame philosophy professor took to the pages of the New York Times last week "to explore the possibility... that the pope might be open to significant revision of the absolute ban on abortion," a thought Francis directly shot down today by urging an "uncompromising witness of Catholic universities to the church’s moral teaching."

In his piece on the Times' "Opinionator" blog, Gary Gutting cited Evangelii gaudium in seeking to advance that while "for most pregnancies abortion would be morally wrong... a woman’s right to control her reproductive life can, as in the case of rape, offset even a person’s right to life; and at least at the earlier stages of pregnancy, the embryo has only the moral standing of potential, not actual, human life, which may be overridden by harm to humans with full moral standing."

Back to the mandate, had the move on the HHS "final rule" not been taken, the Feds' stated $100 per employee per day fine for non-compliance would've risked Notre Dame upwards of $1 million a day in civil penalties. Along the way, however, several other ecclesial entities have moved to accept the "accommodation" with far less controversy, including the nation's Catholic hospitals and the Domers' longtime ad intra rival on the national stage – Georgetown – which implemented the policy for its faculty and student plans at the start of this academic year, a decision the Jesuit school's president, John diGioia, praised for enabling "the opportunity to reconcile our religious identity and our commitment to providing access to affordable healthcare."

As the wider mandate scene goes, while not formally taking the case yet, the Supreme Court has issued two temporary injunctions on behalf of the Little Sisters of the Poor, allowing the heroic community of carers for the aged poor to continue resisting the rule without risk of the crippling fines. Though no penalties have yet been levied anywhere to date, the Sisters' injunctions don't apply to any other non-exempt entities which have refused to comply. In late December, a lower court granted a similar temporary stay to the pending suit filed by the Pennsylvania dioceses of Pittsburgh and Erie.

On another front, while the Vatican readout of Secretary of State John Kerry's mid-January meeting with Francis' SegStat, Cardinal-designate Pietro Parolin, noted that the latter raised the bishops' concerns over the mandate with the Massachusetts Catholic, in a lengthy recap with reporters afterward, Kerry made no reference to that aspect of the talks. In any event, today's papal reference to the church-state spat signals its very likely place on the agenda when the President and Pope have their first meeting on March 27th at the Vatican.

For their part, it bears noting that the US bishops failed to reach consensus on a unanimous local response to the policy high-wire as its effective date loomed at their November Meeting in Baltimore. While the body on a national level vowed to "stand united in our resolve to resist this heavy burden and protect our religious freedom," their statement's very next sentence provided that "each bishop struggles to address the mandate" for his own circumstances. Accordingly, as one senior prelate quietly shrugged minutes after the closed-door debate ended, "I'm not going to lose any sleep over" implementing the policy for the entities in his charge.

Back to Rome today, in token of the import of the Pope's message, the Holy See released an English translation of Francis' remarks alongside their original Italian text. Here, then is the full, brief talk – which, let's not forget, coincides with the 40th annual observance of Catholic Schools Week in the US and parts beyond:

Dear Friends,

I am pleased to greet the Trustees of Notre Dame University on the occasion of your meeting in Rome, which coincides with the inauguration of the University’s Rome Center. I am confident that the new Center will contribute to the University’s mission by exposing students to the unique historical, cultural and spiritual riches of the Eternal City, and by opening their minds and hearts to the impressive continuity between the faith of Saints Peter and Paul, and the confessors and martyrs of every age, and the Catholic faith passed down to them in their families, schools and parishes. From its founding, Notre Dame University has made an outstanding contribution to the Church in your country through its commitment to the religious education of the young and to serious scholarship inspired by confidence in the harmony of faith and reason in the pursuit of truth and virtue. Conscious of the critical importance of this apostolate for the new evangelization, I express my gratitude for the commitment which Notre Dame University has shown over the years to supporting and strengthening Catholic elementary and secondary school education throughout the United States.

The vision which guided Father Edward Sorin and the first religious of the Congregation of Holy Cross in establishing the University of Notre Dame du Lac remains, in the changed circumstances of the twenty-first century, central to the University’s distinctive identity and its service to the Church and American society. In my Exhortation on the Joy of the Gospel, I stressed the missionary dimension of Christian discipleship, which needs to be evident in the lives of individuals and in the workings of each of the Church’s institutions. This commitment to "missionary discipleship" ought to be reflected in a special way in Catholic universities (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 132-134), which by their very nature are committed to demonstrating the harmony of faith and reason and the relevance of the Christian message for a full and authentically human life. Essential in this regard is the uncompromising witness of Catholic universities to the Church’s moral teaching, and the defense of her freedom, precisely in and through her institutions, to uphold that teaching as authoritatively proclaimed by the magisterium of her pastors. It is my hope that the University of Notre Dame will continue to offer unambiguous testimony to this aspect of its foundational Catholic identity, especially in the face of efforts, from whatever quarter, to dilute that indispensable witness. And this is important: its identity, as it was intended from the beginning. To defend it, to preserve it and to advance it!

Dear friends, I ask you to pray for me as I strive to carry out the ministry which I have received in service to the Gospel, and I assure you of my prayers for you and for all associated with the educational mission of Notre Dame University. Upon you and your families, and in a particular way, upon the students, faculty and staff of this beloved University, I invoke the Lord’s gifts of wisdom, joy and peace, and cordially impart my Blessing.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

"Jesus Wants Followers, Not Admirers" – At Long Last, Fort Worth Has Its Hat

It's taken 43 years before the diocese of Fort Worth would see one of its priests ordained a bishop. And almost as if to make up for the wait, it happened at home today, as the native son Mike Olson formally took the reins of the still-growing 750,000-member North Texas juggernaut as its fourth bishop.

Swept into the sanctuary after his first blessings on a wave of cheers, and now the US' second-youngest diocesan head at 47, here's Olson's post-rite remarks....

On his appointment, the new bishop remarked of being informed that Papa Francesco "holds our diocese in great esteem as part of the New Evangelization" and realized its place as "part of a vital area of growth in the Church." Within five weeks, the point was loudly reinforced as Msgr Steve Berg – Fort Worth's administrator during the 16-month vacancy – was named bishop of Pueblo. No other Stateside diocese has seen a dual call-up of the kind in such rapid order in recent times, if ever. (From left, Berg and Olson are shown below at today's lunch with their shared mentor, Bishop Kevin Vann, whose seven-year tenure transformed the Metroplex fold before his 2012 transfer to an even bigger boomtown – Southern California's 1.3 million-member Orange church.)

At points both reverent and raucous, today's full-out jubilant scene – complete with Chandler-cameo – was a marked contrast from his predecessor's 2005 arrival. Named as coadjutor to an ailing Bishop Joseph Delaney, Vann – a pastor in his native Springfield, Illinois on his appointment – ended up becoming diocesan bishop immediately due to Delaney's death at 70 the day before the ordination, placing the event under a sudden cloud of shock and grief.

It had been decades since an American bishop was made to take on a diocese that large without any episcopal experience, but thankfully, the man fit the mission: described by turns as both an "Energizer bunny" and "social butterfly," the new bishop's habit of running 800-mile weekend circuits around the 28 county, 24,000 square-mile turf (and his knack for calling, texting – or as seen above, tweeting – every corner of the place when he wasn't there) had the effect of creating remarkably strong senses of mission, momentum and cohesion alike.

To be sure, happy as it is, growth has its challenges – while the number of seminarians have more than doubled over recent years, many of the diocese's pastors remain in the saddle well past retirement age to keep things moving, and building roughly a score of new, exponentially larger churches to meet the new demands requires no small amount of resources. Then again, it's no accident that Vann's first point-man is now his successor and can hit the ground running.

More than usual, Olson has to do just that; the new bishop's first order of business is no less than naming his own vicar-general in the wake of Berg's move to Southern Colorado, a posting twice Fort Worth's land-size.

Amid a stunning collision of demographic spikes that's seen Catholics become Texas' largest religious group, one final note. Given the twin "raid" on Fort Worth and now-Bishop Mike Sis' Monday arrival in San Angelo, within six weeks, the trio of figures who had been the Lone Star church's top prospects to move up have all now been given their nods. Looking across the wider scene, meanwhile, though the state's current diocesan docket is now filled, the occupants of two other sees – Victoria and Lubbock – reach the retirement age of 75 before late 2015 and a second auxiliary's still needed in Galveston-Houston, as is a replacement in Dallas for Bishop Mark Seitz, who was named to El Paso last May.

The recent hat-trick brings the number of Texas priests named bishops since 2008 to 12. So, then, who's next?

SVILUPPO: As today's principal consecrator – Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of San Antonio – noted in a relaxed, lighthearted homily, despite Olson's family's move to Fort Worth in his teens and his priesthood there, his first roots were in Chicago.

Perhaps its no surprise, then, that given the rare design of the new bishop's miter – that is, in the word splayed across the front of it – several of the Windy City crowd have registered John Cody flashbacks....


Monday, January 27, 2014

"I Believe In His Promise" – At "Sismas," A Family Affair

In the annals of American Catholicism, and indeed beyond, the shot there is without any sort of known precedent: a deacon proclaiming the Gospel at his son's ordination as a bishop, the latter looking on from the background.

Today in San Angelo marked the third time a deacon's son has been raised to the episcopacy in the last five years. Unlike both instances before, though, this time the Reverend Dad was able to take part, and did... and his son now leads a diocese, to boot.

Sure, it might be far from the newfound rush of interest in near-Pope-bird-watching, etc... yet as a new reality keeps unfolding inside the walls, not even a sudden onslaught of cardinals could trump a moment like this.

* * *
The Man. The Myth. The Legend – for the last several years, the top prospect of a blossoming Texas Catholicism... and now, Aggies and Church beyond, at long last, here's today's post-ordination remarks from Deacon Ray's son, Bishop Mike Sis:

Apologies for the wide shot – at least on things like this, you've gotta work with what you're given.

On a host of fronts, this Monday's made for something extraordinary... and for the Lone Star Church beyond, it was just the beginning.

A two-fer without recent precedent, the "Texas Throne 'Em" series now begun is set to culminate on Wednesday in Fort Worth with the ordination of Bishop-elect Michael Olson, the 750,000-member fold's first priest ever to be called to the bench, let alone as the hometown boss.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Up the Frozen Turnpike

Hard to believe it's been three and a half years since this first ran here – just the first heartbroken farewell to a brother we all loved so, so much.

I miss you terribly, Joe. But Midstate Church – indeed, well earlier than projected – it's time....

Lest anybody's gotten ahead of themselves on the above, though, not so fast:

Per usual, the weights drop at Roman Noon.


Francis On Media

Keeping with Vatican custom around tomorrow's feast of St Francis de Sales – the patron of writers and journalists – this morning saw the release of the Pope's message for the church's annual World Communications Day: now in its 48th year, the lone observance created by the fathers of Vatican II.

Always marked on the Sunday before Pentecost to highlight the missionary aspect of the work, below is the fulltext of Francis' first tilt at the occasion, dedicated to his chosen theme, Communication at the Service of an Authentic Culture of Encounter. In the video above, meanwhile, amid a year of unforgettable moments, the @Pontifex – who, despite over 11 million Twitter followers, once told a friend he wouldn't know how to work a CD player that had more than two buttons – is shown last July entering his biggest "encounter" to date: the World Youth Day vigil at Copacabana Beach in Rio, which drew a crowd estimated at 3 million.

*   *   *
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today we are living in a world which is growing ever "smaller" and where, as a result, it would seem to be easier for all of us to be neighbours. Developments in travel and communications technology are bringing us closer together and making us more connected, even as globalization makes us increasingly interdependent. Nonetheless, divisions, which are sometimes quite deep, continue to exist within our human family. On the global level we see a scandalous gap between the opulence of the wealthy and the utter destitution of the poor. Often we need only walk the streets of a city to see the contrast between people living on the street and the brilliant lights of the store windows. We have become so accustomed to these things that they no longer unsettle us. Our world suffers from many forms of exclusion, marginalization and poverty, to say nothing of conflicts born of a combination of economic, political, ideological, and, sadly, even religious motives.

In a world like this, media can help us to feel closer to one another, creating a sense of the unity of the human family which can in turn inspire solidarity and serious efforts to ensure a more dignified life for all. Good communication helps us to grow closer, to know one another better, and ultimately, to grow in unity. The walls which divide us can be broken down only if we are prepared to listen and learn from one another. We need to resolve our differences through forms of dialogue which help us grow in understanding and mutual respect. A culture of encounter demands that we be ready not only to give, but also to receive. Media can help us greatly in this, especially nowadays, when the networks of human communication have made unprecedented advances. The internet, in particular, offers immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity. This is something truly good, a gift from God.

This is not to say that certain problems do not exist. The speed with which information is communicated exceeds our capacity for reflection and judgement, and this does not make for more balanced and proper forms of self-expression. The variety of opinions being aired can be seen as helpful, but it also enables people to barricade themselves behind sources of information which only confirm their own wishes and ideas, or political and economic interests. The world of communications can help us either to expand our knowledge or to lose our bearings. The desire for digital connectivity can have the effect of isolating us from our neighbours, from those closest to us. We should not overlook the fact that those who for whatever reason lack access to social media run the risk of being left behind.

While these drawbacks are real, they do not justify rejecting social media; rather, they remind us that communication is ultimately a human rather than technological achievement. What is it, then, that helps us, in the digital environment, to grow in humanity and mutual understanding? We need, for example, to recover a certain sense of deliberateness and calm. This calls for time and the ability to be silent and to listen. We need also to be patient if we want to understand those who are different from us. People only express themselves fully when they are not merely tolerated, but know that they are truly accepted. If we are genuinely attentive in listening to others, we will learn to look at the world with different eyes and come to appreciate the richness of human experience as manifested in different cultures and traditions. We will also learn to appreciate more fully the important values inspired by Christianity, such as the vision of the human person, the nature of marriage and the family, the proper distinction between the religious and political spheres, the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity, and many others.

How, then, can communication be at the service of an authentic culture of encounter? What does it mean for us, as disciples of the Lord, to encounter others in the light of the Gospel? In spite of our own limitations and sinfulness, how do we draw truly close to one another? These questions are summed up in what a scribe – a communicator – once asked Jesus: "And who is my neighbour?" (Lk 10:29). This question can help us to see communication in terms of "neighbourliness". We might paraphrase the question in this way: How can we be "neighbourly" in our use of the communications media and in the new environment created by digital technology? I find an answer in the parable of the Good Samaritan, which is also a parable about communication. Those who communicate, in effect, become neighbours. The Good Samaritan not only draws nearer to the man he finds half dead on the side of the road; he takes responsibility for him. Jesus shifts our understanding: it is not just about seeing the other as someone like myself, but of the ability to make myself like the other. Communication is really about realizing that we are all human beings, children of God. I like seeing this power of communication as "neighbourliness".

Whenever communication is primarily aimed at promoting consumption or manipulating others, we are dealing with a form of violent aggression like that suffered by the man in the parable, who was beaten by robbers and left abandoned on the road. The Levite and the priest do not regard him as a neighbour, but as a stranger to be kept at a distance. In those days, it was rules of ritual purity which conditioned their response. Nowadays there is a danger that certain media so condition our responses that we fail to see our real neighbour.

It is not enough to be passersby on the digital highways, simply "connected"; connections need to grow into true encounters. We cannot live apart, closed in on ourselves. We need to love and to be loved. We need tenderness. Media strategies do not ensure beauty, goodness and truth in communication. The world of media also has to be concerned with humanity, it too is called to show tenderness. The digital world can be an environment rich in humanity; a network not of wires but of people. The impartiality of media is merely an appearance; only those who go out of themselves in their communication can become a true point of reference for others. Personal engagement is the basis of the trustworthiness of a communicator. Christian witness, thanks to the internet, can thereby reach the peripheries of human existence.

As I have frequently observed, if a choice has to be made between a bruised Church which goes out to the streets and a Church suffering from self-absorption, I certainly prefer the first. Those "streets" are the world where people live and where they can be reached, both effectively and affectively. The digital highway is one of them, a street teeming with people who are often hurting, men and women looking for salvation or hope. By means of the internet, the Christian message can reach "to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Keeping the doors of our churches open also means keeping them open in the digital environment so that people, whatever their situation in life, can enter, and so that the Gospel can go out to reach everyone. We are called to show that the Church is the home of all. Are we capable of communicating the image of such a Church? Communication is a means of expressing the missionary vocation of the entire Church; today the social networks are one way to experience this call to discover the beauty of faith, the beauty of encountering Christ. In the area of communications too, we need a Church capable of bringing warmth and of stirring hearts.

Effective Christian witness is not about bombarding people with religious messages, but about our willingness to be available to others "by patiently and respectfully engaging their questions and their doubts as they advance in their search for the truth and the meaning of human existence" (BENEDICT XVI, Message for the 47th World Communications Day, 2013). We need but recall the story of the disciples on the way to Emmaus. We have to be able to dialogue with the men and women of today, to understand their expectations, doubts and hopes, and to bring them the Gospel, Jesus Christ himself, God incarnate, who died and rose to free us from sin and death. We are challenged to be people of depth, attentive to what is happening around us and spiritually alert. To dialogue means to believe that the "other" has something worthwhile to say, and to entertain his or her point of view and perspective. Engaging in dialogue does not mean renouncing our own ideas and traditions, but the claim that they alone are valid or absolute.

May the image of the Good Samaritan who tended to the wounds of the injured man by pouring oil and wine over them be our inspiration. Let our communication be a balm which relieves pain and a fine wine which gladdens hearts. May the light we bring to others not be the result of cosmetics or special effects, but rather of our being loving and merciful "neighbours" to those wounded and left on the side of the road. Let us boldly become citizens of the digital world. The Church needs to be concerned for, and present in, the world of communication, in order to dialogue with people today and to help them encounter Christ. She needs to be a Church at the side of others, capable of accompanying everyone along the way. The revolution taking place in communications media and in information technologies represents a great and thrilling challenge; may we respond to that challenge with fresh energy and imagination as we seek to share with others the beauty of God.

From the Vatican, 24 January 2014, the Memorial of Saint Francis de Sales.


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Emperor's New Pope – On March Eve, O'Malley on Roe, Francis... and Judgment

Always given on the eve of the anniversary of the Supreme Court's 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade which legalized abortion in the US – and the 22 January March for Life – the homily at the National Vigil Mass for Life in Washington's Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is invariably one of the most significant messages from an American Catholic leader in light of the issue's centrality to the church's public witness.

This year, however, the preach's prominence and import is even bigger still. While Boston's Cardinal Seán O'Malley OFM Cap. returned to the pulpit for his second year (of three) as USCCB chair for Pro-Life Activities, of course, events on the wider scene since last time – the ascent of Francis and the Pope's designation of the 69 year-old cardinal as his principal North American adviser – have recast the context, both in terms of the ecclesial turf and, indeed, the negative perceptions of the new pontiff maintained by some of the base's more vocal exponents.

As O'Malley himself sized up the dynamic in an August speech, "some people think that the Holy Father should talk more about abortion," giving the response that Francis "speaks of love and mercy to give people the context for the church’s teaching on abortion.

"We oppose abortion not because we are mean or old fashioned," the cardinal said, "but because we love people. And that is what we must show the world."

In years past, the March Eve homily reflected a tone akin to a "State of the Union" speech for the pro-life movement: a pep talk brimming with applause-lines to affirm and prod on the faithful. But this time around, O'Malley drove a very different message, a shift underscored by his choice of Gospel for tonight's Mass – John's account of Jesus' encounter with the woman caught in adultery... and most pointedly, those who would seek to judge her.

Accordingly, the cardinal received no applause until he finished, and compared with the customary vibe in the room, the ovation was palpably tepid at that. Then again, in last year's Life Mass message, O'Malley shared a story from his own past, which has proven rather prophetic given his life over the time since:

I am always a little surprised when I’m invited to preach here. You see, many years ago as a young priest I was preaching at a big Mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral. It was the Independence Day for Argentina during a very difficult period of their history [i.e. the military dictatorship and the "Dirty War"]. I spoke on John Paul the Second’s teachings on human rights; and the whole congregation got up and left during the homily. Instinctively I knew that 800 people were not all going to the restroom.

I was, of course, concerned what the Archbishop would do to me. When the affair was reported to Cardinal Baum, he said, “Whenever Friar Seán preaches, I want the collection taken up before the Gospel.” It would appear that no one has warned them here tonight since the collection has not yet been taken up.
* * *
Working in numerous citations from the Argentine who's since become Pope – and going beyond abortion to touch on life issues ranging from adoption to poverty and immigration – here's full video of O'Malley's preach tonight before the packed Shrine, its 5,000 seats overflowed into the usual standing-room crowd despite several inches of snow.

Through the night, "Mary's House" traditionally becomes the capital's biggest hotel as, by the thousands, marchers take up every inch of the nation's largest church with sleeping bags to keep vigil and get at least a bit of rest before the midday demonstrations on the National Mall.

Before step-off time, two other major liturgies will mark the morning: the 7.30am close of the all-night watch in the Shrine, to be celebrated by the Nuncio to Washington, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, and at 10am downtown, the capital archdiocese's own mega-Mass and rally for some 28,000 in the Verizon Center (plus closed-circuit overflows elsewhere), led by DC's Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the freshly-named US member of the Congregation for Bishops. (While Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM of Philadelphia was scheduled to preside at the former liturgy, the day's 13 inches of snow on the city made the trip impossible. It is no small thing, however, that – in Viganò's presence – Chaput sent the text of his high-octane homily to be delivered in his absence.)

Across the Stateside church, meanwhile, January 22nd is observed as a day of prayer and penance "for the legal protection of unborn children."

SVILUPPO: As part of a Roe anniversary media push, O'Malley gave an interview for Wednesday's editions of the Boston Herald to highlight both the church's pro-life work and, indeed, how "this Holy Father [is] making such an emphasis on the church’s ministry as a ministry of mercy and of healing."

Asked along the way about Francis' widely-blared statement in the Antonio Spadaro interview that the church "cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods," Bergoglio's counselor gave the following notable response....

“The normal Catholic in the parish might hear a sermon on abortion once a year. They’ll never hear a sermon on homosexuality or gay marriage. They’ll never hear a sermon about contraception. But if you look at the New York Times, in the course of a week, there will be 20 articles on those topics. So who is obsessed? Now, the Church’s positions are very clear and very consistent. For us, life is at the very center of our social teachings. Life is precious. It is a mystery. It must be nurtured, protected, the transmission of life is sacred. And our defense of human life is a great service to society. When the state begins to decide who is worthy of living and who isn’t, all human rights are put in jeopardy, but the voice of the church is very clear. And we’re not just saying that life is precious in the womb but life is precious when someone has Alzheimer’s when someone has AIDS when someone is poor when someone has mental illness. Their humanity is not diminished – and they have a claim on our love and on our services. So the church’s position is a very consistent one. It is a consistent life ethic. I don’t think that we are obsessed, however, when the New York Times is writing 20 articles a week about these things and make reference to the Church in half of those articles, it gives the impression. But I think in the parishes, these things are talks, in a routine way, in CCD classes, along with the rest of the Catholic doctrine but all of our teachings fit together. They’re part of a whole. There’s a consistency in our life ethic.”

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Scarlet Night in Canada – The Secret of Quebec's "Success"

For those who've been taken aback about the lack of a Stateside presence on the list of cardinals-designate, there's a bit of context you'll want to keep in mind.

Despite having over 30 million more faithful than the US church – and, lest anybody forgot, providing sufficient numerical cover for the enduring Anglo hemorrhage on this side of the border, to boot – Mexico won't be represented at the impending Consistory, either.

For the second-largest Catholic country of all, in this first-ever Latin American pontificate, that elision is an infinitely more glaring one than its Northern counterpart. For starters, no Mexican prelate has received the red hat since 2007, and with the occupant of one of the country's traditional trio of cardinalatial posts (the 63 year-old archbishop of Monterrey, Rogelio Cabrera Lopez) yet to be elevated, half of what had been a four-man electoral bloc aged out of their Conclave privileges in 2013 alone.

To repeat the math: a Catholic population 45 percent larger than the US... yet with less than 20 percent of its electorate – and still, for the fourth Consistory running, 0 Hats.

Just in case, everybody ready for a long wait?

On a brighter angle, meanwhile, with Francis having called one superannuated thinker-bishop he admired before the papacy – 
this intake's lone Spaniard, the Pamplona emeritus Fernando Sebastian Aguilar, now 84 – out of the wilderness and into the Sacred Purple this time, perhaps the same fate awaits another closer to home in a future round....

Nomen est? John Raphael, of course.

*   *   *
In the meanwhile, Francis' lone American pick north of his "Vice-Pope" was an extraordinarily curious one, and the stats don't easily explain it. Then again, as those who tried cobbling prospective lists in the run-up to Selection Sunday learned the hard way, crunching numbers – and, indeed, even scouring the record-books – in this pontificate won't do you much good.

Yet again, church, recall the time-honored advice of our revered Sisters: these days, you've just gotta "leave some room for the Holy Spirit."

On the Pope's choice of the archbishop of Quebec City, Gerald Lacroix, several theories have been buzzed, ranging from the designate's close ties to his predecessor – the Hatmaker-in-Chief Cardinal Marc Ouellet, whose auxiliary Lacroix fleetingly was – to the US ties born of his New Hampshire boyhood, to this year's 350th anniversary of his cathedral, or the desire of sending a lift to a woefully secularized modern Quebec, where a proposed provincial charter of values has aroused heated protest from a wide array of church leaders over its perceived infringements on religious freedom.

Alas, all of these miss the mark – at least, the seemingly key one which has suddenly made the 56 year-old lumberjack's son the youngest North American to receive the red hat since one Roger Mahony was elevated in 1991. (Shortly before addressing the US' religious superiors of men on the New Evangelization last August in Nashville, the cardinal-designate is shown above left with Francis following a springtime audience.)

Ordained a priest at 31 after several years as a graphic designer, Lacroix spent a decade of his first 12 years in ministry as a missionary in Colombia, beginning there as pastor of a church on a mountaintop, from which the parish encompassed "72 small villages and 13 towns."

Beside being thrust into the task with little command of Spanish, as the cardinal-designate recounted in an earlier interview, "from the center of the parish to one extreme of the territory, it took 18 hours walking on foot, and to the other edge it took ten hours."

"It was almost a diocese," he said. "But it was marvelous."

Underpinning the sense behind the selection is Lacroix's native grasp of two concepts which have repeatedly resonated in Francis' word and witness both before and since his election: the "continental mission" that Cardinal Bergoglio articulated at Aparecida, an impetus now spreading to the global church... and, with it, the understanding – an admittedly rare one among senior North American clerics – of what the Pope's expressed "want" of "a church which is poor and for the poor" means in its fullest light.

But who needs any of that when you've got sex and politics? At least, that seemed to be the thrust of the local media's interest when Lacroix met with them on Monday afternoon. Usually held on Selection Day itself, the delay on the presser came as – in a wild shift from at least a century of precedent – the cardinals-designate themselves received no advance notice of their elevations.

While the Quebecker learned the news on checking to see why his iPhone was suddenly buzzing non-stop just after 6 last Sunday morning, among other examples of how the biglietti found out, Loris Capovilla (arguably the "star" of the coming Consistory) happened to be tuned into the Angelus while tooling away at his desk... Orlando Quevedo heard when a frenzied Chito Tagle tracked him down with congratulations... and Gualtiero Bassetti, having just finished a Confirmation, was suddenly rushed by "one of the women in the parish... out of breath, [who] told me the Pope had just named me a cardinal."

"I almost fainted," the pastor of Perugia – the city's first cardinal since the future Leo XIII – said.

To put it mildly, he wasn't alone in that. And not just in Italy, either.

Back to Quebec, here's the Anglophone piece of Lacroix's presser – which only came after Francis' choice read the Pope's "austerity" order to the assembled....

Speaking of Papa Bergoglio's missive that his new cardinals approach their elevations with "self-abasement and humility" and accordingly shirk ostentatious celebrations, in Quebec's case that'll mean a heavily scaled-back presence at the Consistory rites: an "official delegation" of four – a priest and three laywomen – will represent the diocese, and no public pilgrimage is being offered.

The oldest of seven kids, while a number of the neo-Porporato's family will also be present, in the kind of move that would've been unthinkable for a new cardinal's team not all that long ago, such is the low-key spirit on the broad level that even the primate's formidable communications chief, Jasmin Lemieux-Lefebvre, is staying home.

With a long week down and a full month ahead, more clean-up and ramp-up to come. For now, as the calendar turns back to green, a pastoral clip of the designate from this side of the border, as he closed out a 2010 Mass at his alma mater, Trinity High School in ManchVegas, four months before his appointment to succeed Ouellet as archbishop:

Now, unless you were looking closely, you'll have missed something very interesting there.

Long before silver pectoral crosses became fashionable again with Francis' ascent, Lacroix's seen in the above wearing the unmistakable pewter rendering of the Good Shepherd with the sheep on his shoulders: the very same one that, three years later, the Pope would retain as his own.

Truth be told, for all the sound, fury, ideology and errors you'll find elsewhere, these days aren't terribly hard to figure out. It just takes seeing what's actually there, as opposed to looking for something else.


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

For Rome, Fort Worth's Become Fort Knox – Metroplex VG Berg to Pueblo

Live On-demand from Pueblo Chancery, the Appointment Day presser introducing Bishop-elect Steve Berg....

For the record, the last time a diocesan administrator was snapped up before completing his mandate came in early 2010, and likewise involved Texas as the interim overseer of Austin's rising church, Msgr Michael Mulvey, was named to Corpus Christi.

As for the last time two priests of the same diocese were made ordinaries within two months – or anywhere near as close – however... anyone got a guess? The house is stumped.

* * *
6.15am ET – Lest it wasn’t already clear, Fort Worth, the eyes of Francis are upon you.

There's a new bishop in town... Again: for the second time in two months – indeed, for just the second time in the entire 45-year history of the northwest Texas church.

A fortnight before its first native son ever to be named a bishop takes the reins of the booming fold of 750,000 in the western Metroplex, at Roman Noon the Pope named another of the diocese’s key figures, Msgr Stephen Berg, 62 – Fort Worth’s vicar-general, then administrator through the 14-month vacancy now reaching its end – as bishop of Pueblo.

At the helm of the diocese comprising Colorado’s southern third, the Montana-born nominee succeeds Bishop Fernando Isern, the Miami-bred Cuban exile who was granted an early resignation last June at age 54 for publicly unspecified health reasons. (See, when the players deign to drag a simple, decent, hard-working pastor who's spent his whole life in the Caribbean and South Florida across the country, dropping him into a place where bursting pipes made for part of his arrival due to sub-freezing temperatures, the odds are fairly stacked against things ending well.)

Then as now, the stats illustrate the challenge: while Berg’s new charge has less than a tenth of Fort Worth’s Catholic population (70,000), Pueblo covers some 48,000 square miles, a turf twice the size of the diocese he leaves behind. For purposes of context, Fort Worth’s land area alone is roughly equivalent to that of the Republic of Ireland. Despite the name, meanwhile – and until today, two Hispanic bishops in a row spanning over three decades – Pueblo's Latino bloc is only said to number about a quarter of the diocese; by contrast, to the north Hispanics have comprised a majority of the 600,000-member Denver juggernaut for several years.

A quiet, kind, consistent and über-diligent sort who studied and taught music, then worked for several years as a for a national retail nursery chain, rising from store manager to vice-president before entering seminary, the episcopacy is literally in Berg’s blood. The bishop-elect’s uncle, Joseph Charron CPpS, was the "revered" head of Iowa’s Des Moines diocese from 1994 until his early resignation in 2007 due to an inflammatory arthritis that inhibited his ability to serve.

After his 2008 appointment as vicar-general of Fort Worth, and then as diocesan administrator, today's nominee – ordained a priest by Charron in 1999, when Berg was 47 – kept a parish assignment amid the diocese's extraordinary growth. In addition to the two full-time posts, he's remained an adjunct spiritual director at Holy Trinity Seminary in Irving, now enjoying its largest enrollment in four decades. (In his interim capacity after Bishop Kevin Vann's September 2012 transfer to Orange, the bishop-elect is shown below leading the groundbreaking of yet another new church last August.)

This Wednesday’s nod is just the latest in what’s become a historic cycle of moves over the last 16 months which have spotlighted the ecclesial eruption of the North Texas Metroplex – now the nation’s fourth-largest metropolitan area, whose Catholic population between its two dioceses has mushroomed from some 350,000 in 1990 to nearly 2 million today... and all in a Lone Star State where (with an unprecedented cardinal – now likewise vice-president of the US bishops – leading the way) the faithful have suddenly become Texas' largest religious body.

With the ordination of Bishop-elect Michael Olson – Berg's predecessor as vicar-general of Fort Worth – as the hometown shepherd two weeks from today, right alongside that of the celebrated Aggie Mike Sis in San Angelo two days earlier, Pueblo Chancery's already announced that its bishop-elect will be ordained and installed with unusual speed, the rites slated for February 27th. The traditional Appointment Day presser is slated for 10.30am Mountain time.

On his arrival for good, Berg will be the first bishop to be ordained by Archbishop Samuel Aquila, who returned home to Denver as metropolitan 18 months ago this week.

With today's nod, six Stateside Latin sees remain vacant, with another four led by (arch)bishops serving past the retirement age of 75. As Pueblo wasn't the longest-standing vacancy – that distinction continues to be held by Wichita, whence Bishop Michael Jackels was named archbishop of Dubuque last April – the rapid action on the file is likely due to the presence of the diocese's northern neighbor, Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs, as apostolic administrator since Isern's retirement.

As ever, more to come.


Monday, January 13, 2014

Pope to New Cardinals: "Don't Let the Hat Go To Your Head"

On his own call to the College in 2001, Jorge Bergoglio was typically circumspect – so the story goes in Buenos Aires, the cardinal-designate didn't order a new set of scarlet for himself, but just had the robes of his rotund predecessor, the late Cardinal Antonio Quarracino, taken in to fit him. And in a move he'd repeat on his election as Pope, the future Francis – who continued to ride the city buses, cook his meals and do his own laundry – likewise nixed a Consistory pilgrimage, urging anyone who sought to make the trip to donate whatever they would've spent to the poor.

Over time, the rites creating new cardinals and the week surrounding it have come to be known as the "Scarlet Bowl" for a reason – outside a Conclave (or, quite possibly, maybe even more than one), no Vatican event draws so much of the global church's leadership caste to Rome: all the cardinals, of course, along with the customary throngs of senior clergy, prominent laity, media, lobbyists and hangers-on of all sorts. Accordingly, beyond the central rites themselves, the week is a frenzied blur of receptions, dinners and other meetings that, candidly, often don't just border on the deluxe.

At least, that's been the case until now. In a "personal letter" to his 19 picks that was made public by the Holy See this morning, Francis urged the cardinals-designate to an "evangelical spirit of austerity, sobriety and poverty" in their acceptance of the red hat as they began their preparations for the 22 February ceremonies.

Time will tell how the call's been heeded by the new intake and the rest of the scene. For now, here's the English rendering of the message, dated yesterday....

Dear brother,

On the day that your designation as part of the College of Cardinals is made public, I wish to send you a cordial greeting along with the guarantee of my closeness and prayer. It is my hope that, joined with the Church of Rome and “clothed in the virtues and sentiments of the Lord Jesus,” you may help me with fraternal efficacy in my service to the Universal Church.

The cardinalship does not imply promotion; it is neither an honour nor a decoration; it is simply a service that requires you to broaden your gaze and open your hearts. And, although this may appear paradoxical, the ability to look further and to love more universally with greater intensity may be acquired only by following the same path of the Lord: the path of self-effacement and humility, taking on the role of a servant. Therefore I ask you, please, to receive this designation with a simple and humble heart. And, while you must do so with pleasure and joy, ensure that this sentiment is far from any expression of worldliness or from any form of celebration contrary to the evangelical spirit of austerity, sobriety and poverty.

Until we meet, then, on 20 February, when our two days of reflection on the family commence. I remain at your disposal and ask you, please, to pray for me and to ask for prayers on my behalf.

May Jesus bless you and the Holy Virgin protect you.
Speaking of the logistics, one aspect of the ceremonies that's repeatedly proven problematic over recent rounds will again bear watching – all the more this time as it's bound to get worse with Papa Francesco.

From 1998 until the intake of November 2007, each Consistory and following day's Mass were held outside in the Square to accommodate the tens of thousands of pilgrims who came to cheer on their hometown cardinals. Since B16 moved the rites inside St Peter's, however, the change of venue has made for chaos and disappointment as many travelers, despite being queued up before dawn, have consistently not been able to make it inside due to over-ticketing of the sections in the 10,000-seat basilica. At both the Consistories of 2007 and 2010, even relatives of new cardinals (bearing the premium tickets reserved for family and close friends) were among those stuck outside.

While the rites are already a big draw all their own, the prospect of seeing Francis will arguably add to the lure of making the trip for many in the designates' dioceses. With a class of this size, however, avoiding another edition of shut-out pilgrims should make for an even more daunting exercise.

On another front, meanwhile, the evening after the Consistory itself has long brought an event that's much cherished both by natives and visitors alike. To symbolize the cardinals' role as "princes" of the church given their particular bond with the Pope, the Apostolic Palace is traditionally opened to the public for the only time and gets swarmed (above) as the new crop spread out across the building's sumptuous state rooms to receive "courtesy visits" marking their elevations.

Given the spirit of today's letter – and, indeed, that Francis has effectively renounced the building – one can't help but wonder if that custom goes by the wayside.


For the First Time, Francis Spins the Globe

By longstanding custom, Christmas at the Vatican is bookended by twin major speeches from the Pope – the pre-holiday message to the Curia that's become something of a "State of the Church" speech, and the New Year's greeting to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See, long referred to as the "State of the World" talk.

Precisely ten months after his election, Francis delivered the latter of the two today before the bulk of the 180 ambassadors for the first time. While tradition sees the address given in the grandiose Sala Regia – the frescoed upstairs "lobby" of the Apostolic Palace which links the Sistine and Pauline Chapels – the pontiff kept to his own practice of not delivering his text seated upon a throne.

Even more than usual, the text is notable not just given the new pontificate and the arrival of Papa Bergoglio's own team at the Secretariat of State – led, of course, by the longtime "foreign minister," now Cardinal-designate Pietro Parolin –  but for even further pointers on how the 266th bishop of Rome (and, by extension, the worldwide diplomatic and humanitarian operations under his command) is aiming to employ both the church's standing, as well as his own, on the geopolitical front.

Speaking of the global square beyond today, meanwhile, Francis has placed it squarely on the front-burner for 2014 with his confirmation last week of a 72-hour late May pilgrimage to the Holy Land, a trip which promises to be closely scrutinized for its balancing of the region's ever-fraught constituencies.

Back to the "State of the World," though, following is a Vatican English translation of Francis' message this morning.

*   *   *
Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is now a long-established tradition that at the beginning of each new year the Pope meets the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See to offer his greetings and good wishes, and to share some reflections close to his heart as a pastor concerned for the joys and sufferings of humanity. Today’s meeting, therefore, is a source of great joy. It allows me to extend to you and your families, and to the civil authorities and the peoples whom you represent, my heartfelt best wishes for a new year of blessings and peace.

Before all else, I thank your Dean, Jean-Claude Michel, who has spoken in your name of the affection and esteem which binds your nations to the Apostolic See. I am happy to see you here in such great numbers, after having met you for the first time just a few days after my election. In the meantime, many new Ambassadors have taken up their duties and I welcome them once again. Among those who have left us, I cannot fail to mention the late Ambassador Alejandro Valladares Lanza, for many years the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, whom the Lord called to himself several months ago.

The year just ended was particularly eventful, not only in the life of the Church but also in the context of the relations which the Holy See maintains with states and international organizations. I recall in particular the establishment of diplomatic relations with South Sudan, the signing of basic or specific accords with Cape Verde, Hungary and Chad, and the ratification of the accord with Equatorial Guinea signed in 2012. On the regional level too, the presence of the Holy See has expanded, both in Central America, where it became an Extra-Regional Observer to the Sistema de la Integración Centroamericana, and in Africa, with its accreditation as the first Permanent Observer to the Economic Community of West African States.

In my Message for the World Day of Peace, dedicated to fraternity as the foundation and pathway to peace, I observed that “fraternity is generally first learned within the family…”, for the family “by its vocation… is meant to spread its love to the world around it” and to contribute to the growth of that spirit of service and sharing which builds peace. This is the message of the Crib, where we see the Holy Family, not alone and isolated from the world, but surrounded by shepherds and the Magi, that is by an open community in which there is room for everyone, poor and rich alike, those near and those afar. In this way we can appreciate the insistence of my beloved predecessor Benedict XVI that “the language of the family is a language of peace”.

Sadly, this is often not the case, as the number of broken and troubled families is on the rise, not simply because of the weakening sense of belonging so typical of today’s world, but also because of the adverse conditions in which many families are forced to live, even to the point where they lack basic means of subsistence. There is a need for suitable policies aimed at supporting, assisting and strengthening the family!

It also happens that the elderly are looked upon as a burden, while young people lack clear prospects for their lives. Yet the elderly and the young are the hope of humanity. The elderly bring with them wisdom born of experience; the young open us to the future and prevent us from becoming self-absorbed. It is prudent to keep the elderly from being ostracized from the life of society, so as to preserve the living memory of each people. It is likewise important to invest in the young through suitable initiatives which can help them to find employment and establish homes.

We must not stifle their enthusiasm! I vividly recall my experience at the Twenty-Eighth World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro. I met so many happy young people! What great hope and expectation is present in their eyes and in their prayers! What a great thirst for life and a desire for openness to others! Being closed and isolated always makes for a stifling, heavy atmosphere which sooner or later ends up creating sadness and oppression. What is needed instead is a shared commitment to favouring a culture of encounter, for only those able to reach out to others are capable of bearing fruit, creating bonds of communion, radiating joy and being peacemakers.

The scenes of destruction and death which we have witnessed in the past year confirm all this – if ever we needed such confirmation. How much pain and desperation are caused by self-centredness which gradually takes the form of envy, selfishness, competition and the thirst for power and money! At times it seems that these realities are destined to have the upper hand. Christmas, on the other hand, inspires in us Christians the certainty that the final, definitive word belongs to the Prince of Peace, who changes “swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks” (cf. Is 2:4), transforming selfishness into self-giving and revenge into forgiveness.

It is with this confidence that I wish to look to the year ahead. I continue to be hopeful that the conflict in Syria will finally come to an end. Concern for that beloved people, and a desire to avert the worsening of violence, moved me last September to call for a day of fasting and prayer. Through you I heartily thank all those in your countries – public authorities and people of good will – who joined in this initiative. What is presently needed is a renewed political will to end the conflict. In this regard, I express my hope that the Geneva 2 Conference, to be held on 22 January, will mark the beginning of the desired peace process. At the same time, full respect for humanitarian law remains essential. It is unacceptable that unarmed civilians, especially children, become targets. I also encourage all parties to promote and ensure in every way possible the provision of urgently-needed aid to much of the population, without overlooking the praiseworthy effort of those countries – especially Lebanon and Jordan – which have generously welcomed to their territory numerous refugees from Syria.

Remaining in the Middle East, I note with concern the tensions affecting the region in various ways. I am particularly concerned by the ongoing political problems in Lebanon, where a climate of renewed cooperation between the different components of civil society and the political powers is essential for avoiding the further hostilities which would undermine the stability of the country. I think too of Egypt, with its need to regain social harmony, and Iraq, which struggles to attain the peace and stability for which it hopes. At the same time, I note with satisfaction the significant progress made in the dialogue between Iran and the Group of 5+1 on the nuclear issue.

Everywhere, the way to resolve open questions must be that of diplomacy and dialogue. This is the royal road already indicated with utter clarity by Pope Benedict XV when he urged the leaders of the European nations to make “the moral force of law” prevail over the “material force of arms” in order to end that “needless carnage” which was the First World War, whose centenary occurs this year. What is needed is courage “to go beyond the surface of the conflict” and to consider others in their deepest dignity, so that unity will prevail over conflict and it will be “possible to build communion amid disagreement.” In this regard, the resumption of peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians is a positive sign, and I express my hope that both parties will resolve, with the support of the international community, to take courageous decisions aimed at finding a just and lasting solution to a conflict which urgently needs to end. I myself intend to make a pilgrimage of peace to the Holy Land in the course of this year. The exodus of Christians from the Middle East and North Africa continues to be a source of concern. They want to continue to be a part of the social, political and cultural life of countries which they helped to build, and they desire to contribute to the common good of societies where they wish to be fully accepted as agents of peace and reconciliation.

In other parts of Africa as well, Christians are called to give witness to God’s love and mercy. We must never cease to do good, even when it is difficult and demanding, and when we endure acts of intolerance if not genuine persecution. In vast areas of Nigeria violence persists, and much innocent blood continues to be spilt. I think above all of the Central African Republic, where much suffering has been caused as a result of the country’s tensions, which have frequently led to devastation and death. As I assure you of my prayers for the victims and the many refugees, forced to live in dire poverty, I express my hope that the concern of the international community will help to bring an end to violence, a return to the rule of law and guaranteed access to humanitarian aid, also in the remotest parts of the country. For her part, the Catholic Church will continue to assure her presence and cooperation, working generously to help people in every possible way and, above all, to rebuild a climate of reconciliation and of peace among all groups in society. Reconciliation and peace are likewise fundamental priorities in other parts of Africa. I think in particular of Mali, where we nonetheless note the promising restoration of the country’s democratic structures, and of South Sudan, where, on the contrary, political instability has lately led to many deaths and a new humanitarian crisis.

The Holy See is also closely following events in Asia, where the Church desires to share the joys and hopes of all the peoples of that vast and noble continent. On this, the fiftieth anniversary of diplomatic relations with the Republic of Korea, I wish to implore from God the gift of reconciliation on the peninsula, and I trust that, for the good of all the Korean people, the interested parties will tirelessly seek out points of agreement and possible solutions. Asia, in fact, has a long history of peaceful coexistence between its different civil, ethnic and religious groups. Such reciprocal respect needs to be encouraged, especially given certain troubling signs that it is weakening, particularly where growing attitudes of prejudice, for allegedly religious reasons, are tending to deprive Christians of their liberties and to jeopardize civil coexistence. The Holy See looks, instead, with lively hope to the signs of openness coming from countries of great religious and cultural traditions, with whom it wishes to cooperate in the pursuit of the common good.

Peace is also threatened by every denial of human dignity, firstly the lack of access to adequate nutrition. We cannot be indifferent to those suffering from hunger, especially children, when we think of how much food is wasted every day in many parts of the world immersed in what I have often termed “the throwaway culture”. Unfortunately, what is thrown away is not only food and dispensable objects, but often human beings themselves, who are discarded as “unnecessary”. For example, it is frightful even to think there are children, victims of abortion, who will never see the light of day; children being used as soldiers, abused and killed in armed conflicts; and children being bought and sold in that terrible form of modern slavery which is human trafficking, which is a crime against humanity.

Nor can we be unmoved by the tragedies which have forced so many people to flee from famine, violence and oppression, particularly in the Horn of Africa and in the Great Lakes Region. Many of these are living as fugitives or refugees in camps where they are no longer seen as persons but as nameless statistics. Others, in the hope of a better life, have undertaken perilous journeys which not infrequently end in tragedy. I think in particular of the many migrants from Latin America bound for the United States, but above all of all those from Africa and the Middle East who seek refuge in Europe.

Still vivid in my memory is the brief visit I made to Lampedusa last July, to pray for the numerous victims of the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean. Sadly, there is a general indifference in the face of these tragedies, which is a dramatic sign of the loss of that “sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters,” on which every civil society is based. On that occasion I was also able to observe the hospitality and dedication shown by so many people. It is my hope that the Italian people, whom I regard with affection, not least for the common roots which unite us, will renew their praiseworthy commitment of solidarity towards the weakest and most vulnerable, and, with generous and coordinated efforts by citizens and institutions, overcome present difficulties and regain their long-standing climate of constructive social creativity.

Finally, I wish to mention another threat to peace, which arises from the greedy exploitation of environmental resources. Even if “nature is at our disposition”, all too often we do not “respect it or consider it a gracious gift which we must care for and set at the service of our brothers and sisters, including future generations.” Here too what is crucial is responsibility on the part of all in pursuing, in a spirit of fraternity, policies respectful of this earth which is our common home. I recall a popular saying: “God always forgives, we sometimes forgive, but when nature – creation – is mistreated, she never forgives!”. We have also witnessed the devastating effects of several recent natural disasters. In particular, I would mention once more the numerous victims and the great devastation caused in the Philippines and other countries of Southeast Asia as a result of typhoon Haiyan.

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Pope Paul VI noted that peace “is not simply the absence of warfare, based on a precarious balance of power; it is fashioned by efforts directed day after day towards the establishment of an order willed by God, with a more perfect justice among men and women”. This is the spirit which guides the Church’s activity throughout the world, carried out by priests, missionaries and lay faithful who with great dedication give freely of themselves, not least in a variety of educational, healthcare and social welfare institutions, in service to the poor, the sick, orphans and all those in need of help and comfort. On the basis of this “loving attentiveness,” the Church cooperates with all institutions concerned for the good of individuals and communities.

At the beginning of this new year, then, I assure you once more of the readiness of the Holy See, and of the Secretariat of State in particular, to cooperate with your countries in fostering those bonds of fraternity which are a reflection of God’s love and the basis of concord and peace. Upon you, your families and the peoples you represent, may the Lord’s blessings descend in abundance. Thank you.


Sunday, January 12, 2014

To Be Baptized... To Be Born Anew

Sing it again, Jim... one more time... for me.


On the Red Hat

Albeit under very different circumstances than we've known before, Church, Red Dawn has come again... and as a wild year just continues on, well, you can bet that the unpredictable will just keep coming.

Given recent months' uptick of wider interest in this beat, at least some here could seemingly use an explanation on the significance of the scarlet – and not just for the Cardinals-designate. Accordingly, here's an off-the-cuff reflection on what all this means from one of the red hat's more unique recent recipients – the subway-riding, Timbit-popping archbishop of Toronto, Thomas Cardinal Collins, who gave some thoughts on the responsibility on coming home to his boyhood parish, the hilltop Church of Our Lady in Guelph, shortly after his return from the Consistory of February 2012....

Speaking of boyhood parishes and all they've given us, for those of you who know what's been doing behind the page over these last days, thanks so much for your prayers, kindness and support. It's been one of those weeks... but so it seems, here we go again.


The Scarlet Is Served – Pope Reveals 19 New Cardinals

With nary a leak on the timing, at the Noon Angelus on this feast of the Baptism of the Lord Pope Francis unveiled the biglietto of 19 prelates – 16 electors, three "honorary" picks over age 80 – to whom he'll give the red hat at his first Consistory on February 22nd.

As expected, the list is topped by four Curialists – with, in a significant shift, the head of the newly-enhanced Synod of Bishops, Cardinal-designate Lorenzo Baldisseri, outranking the prefect of the CDF, Cardinal-designate Gerhard Ludwig Müller – but the big story is the likewise-foreseen predominance of names not just from well outside the Vatican, but considerably off the traditional path of membership in the papal "Senate," including the first-ever cardinals from Haiti, the outer Caribbean and the Philippines' majority-Muslim island of Mindanao... and with them, the heads of only two European sees.

In another notable feature of the slate, for the first time since Blessed John Paul's first class in 1979, no US prelate has made the cut, but that's little surprise – as previously noted, the Stateside church's traditional complement of cardinals is fully topped up, with none of the 11 electors from these shores set to turn 80 until 2015.

That said, the lone North American to get the call – Cardinal-designate Gérald Cyprien Lacroix of Quebec – spent the bulk of his formative years in New Hampshire, graduating from Manchester's Trinity High School and St Anselm's College before a meteoric rise that, at 53, saw him launched into the helm of the oldest diocese north of the Rio Grande.

For the Italian church, meanwhile, as reports in Rome have tipped for days, Papa Bergoglio has touched off yet another earthquake by passing over the heads of the historic "cardinalatial sees" of Venice and Turin both, elevating in their stead Archbishop Gualtiero Bassetti, 72 – a figure said to more faithfully reflect Francis' identikit of a shepherd with the "smell of the sheep." One of the three regional vice-presidents of the Italian bishops conference, Bassetti becomes the first archbishop of Perugia to enter the College since the late 19th century.

While Francis didn't significantly deviate from the customary maximum of 120 electors – with the new intake, there'll be 122 on Consistory Day – for practical purposes the limit established by Paul VI will remain intact. For one, the disgraced Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien, 75, who resigned as archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh and vanished into exile after admitting charges of sexual misconduct on the eve of the March Conclave, is not expected to take part in another papal election should one occur before he reaches the age of in
eligibility, and the Indonesian Cardinal Julius Riyadi Darmaatmadja of Jakarta, 79 – like Francis, a Jesuit – was likewise kept from the last election, in his case due to chronic ill health.

Among the "emeritus" selections over 80, the most-prominent figure is 
the venerable priest-secretary of Blessed John XXIII, now Cardinal-designate Loris Capovilla, who'll see his boss canonized by Francis on 27 April before turning 99 in October.

To convey the formal word of his choices, ecco Papa...

...and in the order of precedence by which they'll be elevated, here's the list as given by Francis – first, the electors:

Archbishop Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State (Italy)

Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops (Italy)

Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (Germany)

Archbishop Beniamino Stella, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy (Italy)

Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster (Great Britain)

Archbishop Leopoldo José Brenes Solórzano of Managua (Nicaragua)

Archbishop Gérald Cyprien Lacroix of Québec (Canada)

Archbishop Jean-Pierre Kutwa of Abidjan (Ivory Coast)

Archbishop Orani João Tempesta, O.Cist. of Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)

Archbishop Gualtiero Bassetti of Perugia-Città della Pieve (Italy)

Archbishop Mario Aurelio Poli of Buenos Aires (Argentina)

Archbishop Andrew Yeom Soo Jung of Seoul (South Korea)

Archbishop Ricardo Ezzati Andrello SDB of Santiago de Chile

Archbishop Philippe Nakellentuba Ouédraogo of Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso)

Archbishop Orlando B. Quevedo, OMI of Cotabato (Philippines)

Bishop Chibly Langlois of Les Cayes (Haïti)
...and the three cardinals-designate over 80:
Archbishop Loris Francesco Capovilla

Archbishop Fernando Sebastián Aguilar, CMF, emeritus of Pamplona (Spain)

Archbishop Kelvin Edward Felix, emeritus of Castries (St Lucia/Dominica)
In making the announcement, Francis confirmed that – as previously noted, and continuing the tradition begun by his predecessor – a two-day consultation will be held with the entire College on 20-21 February.

For the second time in two weeks, in light of October's Extraordinary Synod on the topic, "the theme of the family" was the only subject the Pope indicated for the discussions, but others are likely to arise.

The new cardinals will concelebrate Mass with the Pope on the 23rd. While that rite used to be the "Mass of the Rings," a revision of the rites at the Consistory of February 2012 moved the conferral of the redesigned gold band (left) right alongside the giving of the red hat itself.