Friday, February 05, 2016

"By the Grace of God" – In Ecumenical Earthquake, The Pope Lands The Patriarch

Simply put, for relations between the Christian churches it is the biggest development in decades: after weeks of rumors – and discounted ones, at that – a joint statement issued this morning announced the first-ever meeting between the Pope of Rome and the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, slated to take place in Cuba on Friday, 12 February, as Francis heads toward his six-day trek in Mexico.

The unrealized dream of successive pontiffs, Francis' success at scoring a face-to-face encounter with Patriarch Kirill I represents a seismic ecumenical breakthrough, one on a par with Paul VI's first outreach to the Orthodox world: Papa Montini's precedent-shattering embrace with the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras in Jerusalem in 1964 – a step which began the path to the following year's joint declaration, which saw the primates of East and West revoke the mutual excommunications imposed in the Great Schism of 1054. Yet even as Constantinople represents the "first among equals" of Eastern Christianity, there's no question that its "muscle" resides in Moscow, with the Russians comprising the largest and most influential of the Orthodox churches, and likewise, by far, the one most comfortable with throwing its weight around.

With some 140 million faithful, the ROC is the Christian world's second-largest hierarchical communion after the 1.2 billion-member Roman church itself.

With today's announcement, two mysteries surrounding what had been Francis' first overseas journey to a single country are now solved. First, the news answers why next week's trip – which, at least until now, has had the Pope's intent to entrust the Jubilee of Mercy to Our Lady of Guadalupe as its principal purpose – was headed to Mexico alone...and on just two months' notice at that. And given Kirill's presence in Cuba next week for an official visit, the meeting divulges the reason why Papa Bergoglio had scheduled the trip over the first week of Lent, which 
over the last century has been reserved as the period when the Pope traditionally vanishes to begin the penitential season on a weeklong retreat with his Curia. (This year, the exercises will take place in Lent's second week as Francis continues his practice of bringing his senior officials on a road-trip to a retreat center outside Rome.)

To be sure, Kirill is anything but a stranger to the Vatican. Prior to his 2009 election as 16th Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, the 69 year-old served as the ROC's external relations chief – and thus his church's point-man with Rome – in which capacity he met on a regular basis with both John Paul II and Benedict XVI (seen above with Kirill shortly after his 2005 election).

Accordingly Rome's preferred choice to succeed the long-reigning, fiercely protective Alexei II – a development which sparked rejoicing in Catholic circles when it happened – since assuming the patriarchate, Kirill has publicly adopted the unstinting line of his predecessor, insisting that no meeting with the Pope would take place "unless we see some real progress in the issues that have long been problematic in our relations." If anything, as Kirill's election aroused fears of a "capitulation to the West" among his church's more outspoken elements, simply getting the ROC to a point of consensus on an implication-rich sit-down with the Pope is a remarkable accomplishment in itself.

In terms of the issues at stake, to use the now-Patriarch's phrase Moscow's top "problematic" concern has long been its claims of "proselytism" by Catholics on what the ROC views as its canonical territory, with the prime front of the dispute centering on the prominence of the Greek-Catholic Church in the Ukraine (UGCC), which the Russian church considers its own soil. In that light, despite a close friendship with the UGCC's global head, Major-Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, dating to their days together in Argentina, over his papacy Francis has pointedly kept the Ukrainian church within his own fold – whose 6 million members worldwide comprise the largest of the Eastern Catholic churches – at arm's length, withholding both the church's customary red hat from Shevchuk and the UGCC's long-desired Roman approval of a patriarchate for it, ostensibly for the sake of dialogue with the Russians. (Amazingly, the very same fault-line topped the Roman News five years ago this week.)

The fruit of two years of very discreet negotiations according to today's word from the VatiSpox, Jesuit Fr Federico Lombardi, the announcement of the meeting included the key aspect that Francis and Kirill would sign a formal joint declaration, which will set the basis for the understanding between the churches going forward. While the contents of the document won't be released until after the signing – and some details could well be finessed straight through the week to come – any resolution to the canonical disputes and other complex questions will likely be left for future discussions, to let the sheer history of the moment stand for itself without distractions.

That said, one topic of common commitment that can be expected to figure in the talks and text alike is the churches' shared defense of the family, which Francis has repeatedly spoken of as being under assault from "ideological colonization" as, for his part, Kirill has blasted the West's embrace of same-sex marriage and the redefinition of gender as creating an "unholy world" and "godless civilization."

In addition, with the Orthodox patriarchs having overcome their traditional penchant for squabbling to universally agree to a critical pan-Orient summit of their churches this June – the first meeting of its kind in almost a millennium – Francis' prior call to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew for the churches to envision a redefined papal primacy in order to facilitate a united Christendom is a discussion at which Moscow is a necessary element, and where the Russians would undoubtedly want to be heard.

With the Pope originally slated to arrive in Mexico City at 7.30pm local time next Friday, the flight will now depart Rome five hours earlier than scheduled to accommodate the meeting with Kirill at Havana's Jose Martí Airport, where the Volo Papale will land at 2pm Cuba time (2030 Rome).

Below is the English text of the joint announcement issued today by both parties:

The Holy See and the Patriarchate of Moscow are pleased to announce that, by the grace of God, His Holiness Pope Francis and His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia will meet on February 12 next. Their meeting will take place in Cuba, where the Pope will make a stop on his way to Mexico, and where the Patriarch will be on an official visit. It will include a personal conversation at Havana’s José Martí International Airport, and will conclude with the signing of a joint declaration.

This meeting of the Primates of the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church, after a long preparation, will be the first in history and will mark an important stage in relations between the two Churches. The Holy See and the Moscow Patriarchate hope that it will also be a sign of hope for all people of good will. They invite all Christians to pray fervently for God to bless this meeting, that it may bear good fruits.
SVILUPPO: Echoing what you've just read, in a press conference shortly after the meeting's announcement, Kirill's successor as the Moscow Patriarchate's top ecumenical hand, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokamsk, said that while hopes for the meeting had existed "for a long time," the Ukrainian Greek-Catholics proved the Russians' "principal problem" and "principal obstacle" which kept a Pope-Patriarch encounter from taking place, as well as "proselytism of Catholic missionaries in the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate."

Among Moscow's objections against the UGCC, Hilarion (above right, in white kamilavka, or headdress) cited the Greek-Catholics' 2005 move of the church's seat from Lviv to Kiev – the historic birthplace of Russian Christianity – as well as the UGCC's good relationship with the country's autocephalous Orthodox church, which the ROC views as "schismatic" given that body's independence from the Russian Patriarchate, which has its own branch in Ukraine. And sure enough, the metropolitan likewise cited the Greek-Catholics' "persistent desire... to give [their] church the status of patriarchate" as a hurdle to ROC-Vatican relations.

Using the pejorative term "Unia" to describe the Greek-Catholics, Hilarion said their prominence in Ukraine "remain[s] a never-healing bleeding wound that prevents the full normalization of relations between the two churches."

Nevertheless, Hilarion added that (at least, from the Russian side) the meeting's "main topic" – and the prime impetus for it at this time – is born from "the situation as it has developed today in the Middle East, in North and Central Africa and in some other regions, in which extremists are perpetrating a real genocide of the Christian population, has required urgent measures and closer cooperation between Christian Churches.

"In the present tragic situation," the metropolitan said, "it is necessary to put aside internal disagreements and unite efforts for saving Christianity in the regions where it is subjected to the most severe persecution."

As for the site of the sit-down, Hilarion said that, "from the very beginning," Kirill "did not want it to take place in Europe, since it is with Europe that the grave history of divisions and conflicts between Christians is associated." In that light, the overlap of the Pope's and Patriarch's schedules in Latin America "has become an opportunity for holding the meeting in the New World, and we hope that it will open a new page in the relations between the two churches."

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Friday, January 22, 2016

As Comm. Day Message Rolls Out, The Genius Bar Comes to The Pope

While today was long scheduled to bring the traditional release of the Pope's message for World Communications Day, as he ever tends to do, Francis suddenly gave the news something of a Turbo Boost: a week after granting the first private audience in memory to a leading corporate executive – the Google chief Eric Schmidt – the noontime Holy See briefing announced that the pontiff met this morning with the Apple CEO Tim Cook (above).

Unless Vatican diplomacy's amazingly been called upon for mediation between the oft-warring Silicon Valley titans, the dots look to be lining up for something very interesting in terms of the church's digital engagement. Yet even beyond the massive institutional significance of the Roman pontiff receiving the head of the world's most valuable company in the Vatican – a moment without precedent in itself – given Cook's 2014 disclosure of his sexuality, today's encounter appears to be the first time an openly gay person has ever been hosted for a full-tilt private audience in the Papal Apartment.

Whatever else might come of the meeting, in the protocol-crazed world of the Holy See, that in itself represents a watershed, all the more in light of Cook's heavy commitment of Apple's clout and visibility to progressive social causes, including LGBT efforts. On another key front, meanwhile, the outreach to major corporations likewise raises the sense of Francis' realization that, in a globalized marketplace, the fate of the "integral ecology" the Pope championed in Laudato Si' – and its corresponding social ethic – rests at least as much in the hands of multinational commerce as it does with nation-states, a reality in which the longstanding criticism of labor and environmental practices at Chinese manufacturing plans run by Apple contractors is but a prime example.

All that said, as a matter of routine practice, reports of private audience discussions are not released by the Holy See except when the Pope is receiving a head of state or government.

Scheduled to run the standard 15 minutes, Papa Bergoglio's sit-down with Cook caps a very full morning of news, with Francis having approved the miracle to secure the canonization of Argentina's first saint; warning the "columns of the church" – bishops – at his Domus Mass that, when they fail to pray, "the church also weakens" and "suffers," and, of course, published his message for the 50th World Communication Day, keeping the longtime custom for the feast of St Francis de Sales (the patron of writers and journalists), which falls on Sunday this year.

The lone observance called for by Vatican II, the annual churchwide focus on media doesn't actually take place until the Seventh Sunday of Easter, in keeping with the Catholic emphasis on communication as part of Jesus' Ascension mandate. In any case, with this year's celebration reflecting the Jubilee Year in the chosen theme "Communication and Mercy: a fruitful encounter," below is the official English translation of the Pope's text.

* * *
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Holy Year of Mercy invites all of us to reflect on the relationship between communication and mercy. The Church, in union with Christ, the living incarnation of the Father of Mercies, is called to practise mercy as the distinctive trait of all that she is and does. What we say and how we say it, our every word and gesture, ought to express God’s compassion, tenderness and forgiveness for all. Love, by its nature, is communication; it leads to openness and sharing. If our hearts and actions are inspired by charity, by divine love, then our communication will be touched by God’s own power.

As sons and daughters of God, we are called to communicate with everyone, without exception. In a particular way, the Church’s words and actions are all meant to convey mercy, to touch people’s hearts and to sustain them on their journey to that fullness of life which Jesus Christ was sent by the Father to bring to all. This means that we ourselves must be willing to accept the warmth of Mother Church and to share that warmth with others, so that Jesus may be known and loved. That warmth is what gives substance to the word of faith; by our preaching and witness, it ignites the “spark” which gives them life.

Communication has the power to build bridges, to enable encounter and inclusion, and thus to enrich society. How beautiful it is when people select their words and actions with care, in the effort to avoid misunderstandings, to heal wounded memories and to build peace and harmony. Words can build bridges between individuals and within families, social groups and peoples. This is possible both in the material world and the digital world. Our words and actions should be such as to help us all escape the vicious circles of condemnation and vengeance which continue to ensnare individuals and nations, encouraging expressions of hatred. The words of Christians ought to be a constant encouragement to communion and, even in those cases where they must firmly condemn evil, they should never try to rupture relationships and communication.

For this reason, I would like to invite all people of good will to rediscover the power of mercy to heal wounded relationships and to restore peace and harmony to families and communities. All of us know how many ways ancient wounds and lingering resentments can entrap individuals and stand in the way of communication and reconciliation. The same holds true for relationships between peoples. In every case, mercy is able to create a new kind of speech and dialogue. Shakespeare put it eloquently when he said: “The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed: it blesseth him that gives and him that takes” (The Merchant of Venice, Act IV, Scene I).

Our political and diplomatic language would do well to be inspired by mercy, which never loses hope. I ask those with institutional and political responsibility, and those charged with forming public opinion, to remain especially attentive to the way they speak of those who think or act differently or those who may have made mistakes. It is easy to yield to the temptation to exploit such situations to stoke the flames of mistrust, fear and hatred. Instead, courage is needed to guide people towards processes of reconciliation. It is precisely such positive and creative boldness which offers real solutions to ancient conflicts and the opportunity to build lasting peace. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Mt 5:7-9)

How I wish that our own way of communicating, as well as our service as pastors of the Church, may never suggest a prideful and triumphant superiority over an enemy, or demean those whom the world considers lost and easily discarded. Mercy can help mitigate life’s troubles and offer warmth to those who have known only the coldness of judgment. May our way of communicating help to overcome the mindset that neatly separates sinners from the righteous. We can and we must judge situations of sin – such as violence, corruption and exploitation – but we may not judge individuals, since only God can see into the depths of their hearts. It is our task to admonish those who err and to denounce the evil and injustice of certain ways of acting, for the sake of setting victims free and raising up those who have fallen. The Gospel of John tells us that “the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:32). The truth is ultimately Christ himself, whose gentle mercy is the yardstick for measuring the way we proclaim the truth and condemn injustice. Our primary task is to uphold the truth with love (cf. Eph 4:15). Only words spoken with love and accompanied by meekness and mercy can touch our sinful hearts. Harsh and moralistic words and actions risk further alienating those whom we wish to lead to conversion and freedom, reinforcing their sense of rejection and defensiveness.

Some feel that a vision of society rooted in mercy is hopelessly idealistic or excessively indulgent. But let us try and recall our first experience of relationships, within our families. Our parents loved us and valued us for who we are more than for our abilities and achievements. Parents naturally want the best for their children, but that love is never dependent on their meeting certain conditions. The family home is one place where we are always welcome (cf. Lk 15:11-32). I would like to encourage everyone to see society not as a forum where strangers compete and try to come out on top, but above all as a home or a family, where the door is always open and where everyone feels welcome.

For this to happen, we must first listen. Communicating means sharing, and sharing demands listening and acceptance. Listening is much more than simply hearing. Hearing is about receiving information, while listening is about communication, and calls for closeness. Listening allows us to get things right, and not simply to be passive onlookers, users or consumers. Listening also means being able to share questions and doubts, to journey side by side, to banish all claims to absolute power and to put our abilities and gifts at the service of the common good.

Listening is never easy. Many times it is easier to play deaf. Listening means paying attention, wanting to understand, to value, to respect and to ponder what the other person says. It involves a sort of martyrdom or self-sacrifice, as we try to imitate Moses before the burning bush: we have to remove our sandals when standing on the “holy ground” of our encounter with the one who speaks to me (cf. Ex 3:5). Knowing how to listen is an immense grace, it is a gift which we need to ask for and then make every effort to practice.

Emails, text messages, social networks and chats can also be fully human forms of communication. It is not technology which determines whether or not communication is authentic, but rather the human heart and our capacity to use wisely the means at our disposal. Social networks can facilitate relationships and promote the good of society, but they can also lead to further polarization and division between individuals and groups. The digital world is a public square, a meeting-place where we can either encourage or demean one another, engage in a meaningful discussion or unfair attacks. I pray that this Jubilee Year, lived in mercy, “may open us to even more fervent dialogue so that we might know and understand one another better; and that it may eliminate every form of closed-mindedness and disrespect, and drive out every form of violence and discrimination” (Misericordiae Vultus, 23). The internet can help us to be better citizens. Access to digital networks entails a responsibility for our neighbour whom we do not see but who is nonetheless real and has a dignity which must be respected. The internet can be used wisely to build a society which is healthy and open to sharing.

Communication, wherever and however it takes place, has opened up broader horizons for many people. This is a gift of God which involves a great responsibility. I like to refer to this power of communication as “closeness”. The encounter between communication and mercy will be fruitful to the degree that it generates a closeness which cares, comforts, heals, accompanies and celebrates. In a broken, fragmented and polarized world, to communicate with mercy means to help create a healthy, free and fraternal closeness between the children of God and all our brothers and sisters in the one human family.

From the Vatican, 24 January 2016

FRANCISCUS
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Thursday, January 21, 2016

On March Eve, The Chairman's Call: "In the Culture of Life, We Need the Heart of Francis"

Even with some two feet of snow forecast to hit Washington tomorrow, it remains one of Stateside Catholicism's marquee liturgies of the year – before hordes of priests and seminarians, the lion's share of the American hierarchy, as many people as the nation's largest church can fit and tens of thousands more at overflow locations and watching on TV, the National Vigil for Life opened in DC's Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception tonight before tomorrow's March for Life on the 43rd anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade.

Despite the looming conditions in the capital – where untreated roads and a thin coating of snow last night already managed to cause widespread havoc – the March will go on as always. If anything, getting home from Washington's biggest annual demonstration will prove the tough part; with the capital's Metro system planning to halt service tomorrow night as the storm arrives with blizzard conditions of an inch an hour expected, at least some of the thousands of groups who bus in from across the country for the events will have little choice but to either head home early or extend their stays through the cleanup. To one and all, safe travels.

Against the already fraught backdrop of a presidential election year (albeit one in which, among other unusual aspects, abortion has largely taken a backseat role to date), tonight's liturgy was celebrated for the first time by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, now two months into his three-year term as USCCB chair for Pro-Life Activities – the lone conference slot whose prominence always sees a cardinal elected to it.

Echoing Dolan's written message for this year's Roe anniversary, his preach focused on the tone and credibility of the pro-life movement's witness, taking a recent story in New York media as a poignant springboard. That said, while in times past the Vigil homily has taken on the flair of a "State of the Movement" address brimming with applause lines, with Dolan maintaining the more understated style employed by Boston's Cardinal Sn O'Malley OFM Cap. over his term in the Shrine pulpit, any cheering tonight was conspicuous by its absence.

Here, the homily in full:


In the Stateside church, January 22nd is designated in particular law as a day of prayer and penance "for the legal protection of unborn children." The Votive Mass for Justice and Peace or the new proper texts "for giving thanks to God for the gift of human life" may be used.

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For Washing of the Feet, Pope Legalizes "All Are Welcome"


Three years after bringing his longtime practice in Buenos Aires to Rome – and infuriating traditionalists in the process – the Pope has employed his prerogative to alter liturgical law and officially open the Holy Thursday Washing of the Feet to "those chosen from among the People of God," abolishing the rubric that (at least, technically) restricted the rite to men.

Even as the now-superseded rule tended to be honored as much in the breach as the observance, Francis directed the formal change to the Roman Missal, which was enacted by means of a 6 January decree from the Congregation for Divine Worship and released today.

In a personal letter to the CDW prefect Cardinal Robert Sarah published alongside the legal text, the pontiff conveyed his sense that the change to the rite was intended to better reflect Jesus' "giving of himself 'once and for all' for the salvation of the world, his love without limits." The decree itself, meanwhile, says that "pastors may choose a group of faithful representing the variety and unity of every part of the People of God... consist[ing] of men and women, and ideally of the young and the old, healthy and sick, clerics, consecrated persons and laypeople."

The Last Supper ceremony only restored to use in Pius XII's 1950s reform of the Holy Week liturgies, while centuries of tradition had limited participation in the Washing of the Feet – officially known as the Mandatum – to "chosen men" (
"viri selecti") in representation of the twelve apostles, the post-Conciliar practice in many places of including women (and, sometimes, young children) received de facto approval in a 1987 clarification from the US bishops' liturgy arm, which stated that, although "this variation may differ from the rubric of the Sacramentary which mentions only men, it may nevertheless be said that the intention to emphasize service along with charity in the celebration of the rite is an understandable way of accentuating the evangelical command of the Lord... that all members of the church must serve one another in love."

To be sure, enforcement of the prior rubric as stated has been far from widespread, and the few bishops who've openly urged against the adapted practice have tended to take a public drubbing among parishioners and the press even beyond their respective dioceses. For his part, Francis' decision to stick with his Argentine custom of celebrating the Holy Thursday Evening Mass in prisons, hospitals or rehab centers and include women, children and non-Catholics in the foot-washing has become a regularly-cited example of the Pope's "inclusive" shift of tone; in their turns at the rite – which, by custom, would historically take place in Rome's cathedral at the Lateran Basilica – prior pontiffs usually washed the feet of 12 elderly priests.

For clarity's sake, it bears noting that the new law has no impact the Extraordinary Form of the Roman liturgy, which will maintain the men-only rule as stipulated in the 1962 Missal used in its communities.

Here below, the English translation of the CDW decree as released this morning by the Holy See:

The reform of the Holy Week, by the decree Maxima Redemptionis nostrae mysteria of November 1955, provides the faculty, where counselled by pastoral motives, to perform the washing of the feet of twelve men during the Mass of the Lord's Supper, after the reading of the Gospel according to John, as if almost to represent Christ's humility and love for His disciples.

In the Roman liturgy this rite was handed down with the name of the Mandatum of the Lord on brotherly charity in accordance with Jesus' words, sung in the Antiphon during the celebration.

In performing this rite, bishops and priests are invited to conform intimately to Christ who 'came not to be served but to serve' and, driven by a love 'to the end', to give His life for the salvation of all humankind.

To manifest the full meaning of the rite to those who participate in it, the Holy Father Francis has seen fit to change the rule by in the Roman Missal (p.300, No. 11) according to which the chosen men are accompanied by the ministers, which must therefore be modified as follows: 'Those chosen from among the People of God are accompanied by the ministers' (and consequently in the Caeremoniale Episcoporum No. 301 and No. 299 b referring to the seats for the chosen men, so that pastors may choose a group of faithful representing the variety and unity of every part of the People of God. This group may consist of men and women, and ideally of the young and the old, healthy and sick, clerics, consecrated persons and laypeople.

This Congregation for Divine Worship and the Disipline of the Sacraments, by means of the faculties granted by the Supreme Pontiff, introduces this innovation in the liturgical books of the Roman Rite, recalling pastors of their duty to instruct adequately both the chosen faithful and others, so that they may participate in the rite consciously, actively and fruitfully.
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Friday, January 15, 2016

"Where We Find Our God" – At Nursing Home, The Pope's "Mercy Friday"

In the day-to-day of his Petrine ministry, it's no secret that Francis likes linking what some might see as diametrically opposed realities of the center and the peripheries in the hope of bringing them closer together. And so, just as he went straight from addressing a joint session of Congress to a Washington soup kitchen for the homeless, just after meeting this morning with the CEO of Google did word of another surprise break: an unanticipated afternoon visit to a retirement home (left) on the outskirts of Rome.

The drop-in only announced once the Pope had spent more than an hour with the 30 residents, while "Matthew 25 stops" have become the spiritual core of Francis' travels and his celebrations of the Holy Thursday Evening Mass (in keeping with his practice in Buenos Aires), today's outing is part of the monthly "Mercy Fridays" which will see the pontiff personally take up the works of mercy around his own diocese to underscore the message of this Jubilee Year. Accordingly, Papa Bergoglio was accompanied by the Curial official tasked with planning the celebrations, the president of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization Archbishop Rino Fisichella.

After their departure, the New Evangelization council released several photos of the visit and a statement that the site was chosen to highlight the Pope's repeated calls "against the 'throwaway culture' and [for] the great value that the elderly and grandparents should have in the church and society." The release likewise noted that Francis visited patients in vegetative states at another nearby facility, joined by the family members who care for them.

While any record of what the Pope said hasn't emerged, in his now-released treatise on the Extraordinary Holy Year, Francis was asked if the traditional works of mercy as taught through the centuries remain relevant today, offering this in reply:
They are still valid, still current. Perhaps some aspects could be better “translated,” but they remain the basis for self-examination. They help us open up to the mercy of God, to ask for the grace to understand that without mercy a person cannot do a thing, that you cannot do a single thing, that “the world would not exist,” in the words of the elderly lady I met in 1992.

Let us examine the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, dress the naked, house the pilgrims, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned, bury the dead. I do not think there is much to explain. And if we look at our situation, our society, it seems to me that there is no lack of circumstances or opportunities all around us. What should we do for the homeless man camped in front of our home, for the poor man who has nothing to eat, for the neighboring family who cannot make it to the end of the month due to the recession, because the husband lost his job? How should we behave with the immigrants who have survived the crossing and who land on our shores? What should we do for the elderly who are alone, abandoned, and who have no one?

We have received freely, we give freely. We are called to serve Christ the Crucified through every marginalized person. We touch the flesh of Christ in he who is outcast, hungry, thirsty, naked, imprisoned, ill, unemployed, persecuted, in search of refuge. That is where we find our God, that is where we touch the Lord. Jesus himself told us, explaining the protocol for which we will all be judged: “whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did it for me” (Matthew 25:40)....

By welcoming a marginalized person whose body is wounded and by welcoming the sinner whose soul is wounded, we put our credibility as Christians on the line. Let us always remember the words of Saint John of the Cross: “In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone.”
* * *
As a papal pit-stop at a retirement home will inevitably set off some chatter about whether Francis himself will follow the modern precedent set by his predecessor and renounce the papacy, one thing beyond clear is that nothing of the sort will take place upon his 80th birthday in December, nor anywhere close.

Lest some forgot, just because you can bet the house on such things being said around that time – or, indeed, even already – doesn't make them reality-based.

For starters, while Francis' oft-cited "model" predecessor, Blessed Paul VI, famously contemplated leaving office as he approached the same milestone he introduced for the retirement of cardinals, for a practice still in its "experimental" phase to be tied to reaching a certain age would, albeit unintentionally, bind the hands of future Popes merely by setting an expectation for it.

To be sure, the incumbent has said as much himself, telling the Mexican network Televisa last year that "it does not appeal to me, this idea of setting an age [for retirement]. Because I believe that the papacy has an element of being the final authority.

"So," he added, "saying 'OK, this fellow is 80 years old,' creates the sensation of the ending of a pontificate which would not be good. Too predictable, no?"

Of course, hardly anything's more anathema to Francis than being "too predictable." And speaking of which, to recall the line he quietly slipped into the last homily of November's Africa trek, "the fact is that we have not yet reached our destination... in a certain sense we are in midstream."

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In Today's Audiences, The Pope's "Google Hangout"

As it tends to do often these days, this Friday's Noontime Bollettino of the Holy See Press Office carried an interesting bit of news... and this one more notable than most – for the first time in memory, the Pope had granted a full-tilt private audience to a major corporate exec, and a very conspicuous one at that: the Google CEO Eric Schmidt (above).

In terms of protocol, the sheer occurrence of the sit-down and its announcement alongside the usual crop of routine meetings with prelates is nothing short of extraordinary. As a matter of course – above all given the Vatican's paranoia about playing into any kind of advertising or "product placement" involving the pontiff – secular executives coming to Rome have only ever met Popes in one of two ways: in the bacimano lines alongside the stage at the Wednesday General Audience (when brief handshakes take place after the gathering), or if a business figure were part of a group being received privately for charitable or ecumenical purposes without reference to their work. (In an example of the former, Claire Diaz-Ortiz – the top Twitter exec who served as the Vatican's lead collaborator in 
creating the @Pontifex feed – was briefly presented to B16 at the platform's public launch in December 2012.)

At least, that's been the case until today. While the Vatican has had a partnership with the digital giant since 2009 – when its television arm started running papal events on YouTube – Francis has upped the connection by employing the company's video-chat "Hangout" service (below) on several occasions to hold cyber-encounters with groups of young people far from Rome, with the chats usually tied to his upcoming travel.


Even as the reigning pontiff has put his foot to the gas on internet outreach – most recently taking his monthly prayer intentions to viral video and naming the Holy See's lead social media "apostle" as a bishop in the Curia – it bears reminding that, despite a keen grasp of the medium's import and style, Francis' actual command of technology is almost exceedingly limited. Having revealed last year that he hasn't watched television in a quarter-century to fulfill a promise to the Madonna, before his election the now-Pope once advised an aide that he couldn't operate any device with "more than two buttons." That said, after saying as a cardinal that he planned to delve into the internet after retiring as archbishop of Buenos Aires – a day that, obviously, never came – it has emerged that Papa Bergoglio now keeps a personal email address to hear from old friends and a privileged few prelates, with the account likely being handled by his almost invisible private secretary, Msgr Fabian Pedacchio.

With Schmidt reportedly bringing the head of Google's product-planning Ideas division, Jared Cohen, to the audience, the timing of today's sit-down is especially curious. Keeping with the half-century tradition for the feast of St Francis de Sales (the patron of writers and journalists), a week from today brings the release of the annual papal message for World Communications Day, with 2016's observance dedicated to the theme "Communication and Mercy: a fruitful encounter." As the WCD rollout in 2009 brought the initial announcement of the Vatican's Google partnership, it's quite possible that today's offline "hangout" might be related to some developments to it.

Reflecting the new arrangement at the helm of the Holy See's media operation – and with it, the preparation of the the Communications Day message – for the first time next Friday's briefing on the text won't be led by the president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, but Msgr Dario Viganò, the chief of the recently-established Secretariat for Communications, into which the PCCS, Vatican Radio and Television and the Holy See's Press Office and Photo Service are all being consolidated on a gradual timeframe with an eye to enhanced coordination and effectiveness.

Notably, Viganò isn't slated to be joined at the presser by any of his new department heads, but the director of TV2000, the national Catholic station founded and overseen by the Italian bishops.

SVILUPPO: Hosted via Google servers – as are these pages – here's footage of the audience via Rome Reports....


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Monday, January 11, 2016

"Now We Hear Rachel, Weeping For Her Children" – In "State of the World," Pope Sounds Old Testament "Cry" For Refugees

Beginning the Vatican's work-cycle for 2016, per tradition, this first day after Christmas brought the annual exchange of New Year's greetings between the Pope and the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See, long the occasion for what's come to be known as the pontiff's "State of the World" speech.

With 180 countries currently enjoying full bilateral relations with the Holy See – that is, the central government of the Catholic Church, not the city-state in which it's headquartered – the Vatican assignment is seen as a crucial "listening post" by no shortage of nations, regardless of their religious makeup, given both the "soft power" of the worldwide church as a moral arbiter and influence for its 1.2 billion members and beyond, as well as Rome's status as the de facto global hub of the Catholic networks of health care, education, humanitarian aid and other social services which extend to every corner of the planet, often more effectively than any secular NGO.

Beyond the usual state of things, the last three years have seen an uptick of activity – or, for those with long memories, a return to the "glory days" of the Iron Curtain era – as the activist foreign policy kicked into gear by Pope Francis, coupled with his high-octane advocacy on behalf of marginalized and suffering peoples, has again made the Vatican an unavoidable voice in the geopolitical conversation.

Following 2014's clinching in Rome of the watershed deal that began to ease a half-century impasse between the Cuban and US governments, last year saw the Pope's diplo-crew – led by his formidable, hand-picked Secretary of State, now Cardinal Pietro Parolin – again parachuting in to lend a hand on two key fronts: Europe's response to the tidal wave influx of Middle Eastern refugees (the continent's largest movement of a population since World War II), and the global "framework" talks on climate change last month in Paris at which, according to some reports, Francis & Co. were quietly involved in smoothing out the final agreement. (The climate summit likewise motivated the Pope's timeframe for June's release of his eco-cyclical, Laudato Si'.)

In other diplomatic briefs, one last quick look forward and another behind. First, with its initial plans scuttled due to November's Paris terror attacks on the eve of their slated meeting, later this month the Pope will reportedly receive the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani for the first sit-down between a Roman pontiff and head of the Islamic Republic since 1999, all against the backdrop of ongoing debate over the West's nuclear deal with the country (which Francis referenced today among other causes of "solid hope for the future").

Glancing back to one of 2015's more turbulent moments, meanwhile, today's "State of the World" marked Francis' first meeting with the ambassadors since the Holy See's move last spring to decline France's proposed Vatican envoy, Laurent Stefanini, with indications of the nominee's homosexuality widely cited as the reason. As a general rule, the Holy See will not extend its agrément (diplomatic clearance) to any proffered ambassador whose public life isn't in conformity with church teaching, with civilly remarried divorcees and cohabiting straight diplomats having met similar fates in the past as an exercise of sovereign prerogative. While it subsequently emerged that Pope quietly met with Stefanini amid the contretemps, the decision held and, nearly a year later, the French Embassy's lead post remains vacant.

A combination of 2015 travelogue and spin of the globe touching on most of these themes – and, indeed, even the "dramatic situation" at the Mexico-US border, which he'll be visiting this time next month – below the jump (click link) is the official English translation of the Pope's speech today: one which, in a departure from his predecessors, Francis delivers not in the standard diplomatic language of French, but Italian.....

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Sunday, January 10, 2016

"A Small Step Toward God... Even Just the Desire" – In Jubilee Book, The Pope's Call to "Mercy"

A key thread of a speech that dearly needs revisiting (coming as it did amid peak input overload), in his September talk to the US bishops the Pope sought to instruct the bench that, in episcopal ministry today, "Dialogue is our method, not as a shrewd strategy but out of fidelity to the One who never wearies of visiting the marketplace, even at the eleventh hour, to propose his offer of love."

Much as Francis' preference for conversations over lectures has fleshed itself out in any number of ways over nearly three years on Peter's chair, what would arguably be the boldest step of said "method" couldn't be guessed that morning, even by those of us sitting in St Matthew's Cathedral. But barely three months later, having already been set into motion by that point, it now arrives in print, introducing a new means of papal communication: dialogue as magisterial text.

Likely to be Papa Bergoglio's principal thematic document of this Holy Year, The Name of God Is Mercy – releasing Tuesday in six languages across some 90 countries – elevates the book-length Papal Q&A (now a two-decade old format) to an act of Petrine ministry given its focus. While St John Paul II's Crossing the Threshold of Hope (1995) consisted mostly of philosophical reflections, and Light of the World, Benedict XVI's 2011 discussions with his longtime collaborator Peter Seewald, took a wide-ranging survey of the state of the church, Francis has adapted the style to instead offer a conversational exegesis on a truth of the faith – as he underscores, "mercy is doctrine" – and the guiding principle behind an act of governance: the Extraordinary Jubilee now underway at his direction across the Catholic world.

Stacking out at 100 small pages in its English edition – a copy of which was obtained by Whispers – the book took shape in a series of summer interviews Francis had with the top Italian vaticanista, Andrea Tornielli of Turin's La Stampa, in the pontiff's room at the Domus.

The idea pitched by Tornielli in light of the Holy Year, while its result – extensive, casual answers to brief, lightly-steered questions – can be taken with the authority of a formal document, the manner of delivery reads less like the "World Series" of a promulgated text than the Pope's more comfortable style of "batting practice." In more ecclesial terms, a treatise that could've been produced as an encyclical (as John Paul himself did on mercy with 1980's Dives in Misericordia), has emerged in a significantly more concise, less intimidating format akin to a vademecum (practical guide-book) – or even a longish "bulletin column" from the church's Universal Pastor – making for an easy read that almost seems to have parishes and classrooms in its sights to fully explain the concept Francis himself has indicated from his pontificate's very outset, and again here, as a critical end for the church. In essence, then, the discussion he takes on boils down to three questions: What is mercy? How is it sought? How is it lived?

One last word on the format: three years into his reign, it'd seem that Francis is only now sufficiently self-assured to take his own advice and change things up. Despite his lament in Evangelii gaudium "that nowadays documents do not arouse the same interest as in the past and that they are quickly forgotten," the Pope felt little recourse but to unleash the sprawling programmatic monologue seven months after his election. Yet after pleading with the Italian bishops last spring to resist "the drawing up of documents — our own — in which the abstract theoretical-doctrinal aspect... for some scholars and specialists" was paramount,  urging that "instead we must endeavour to translate them into concrete and easily understood recommendations," his treatment of mercy arrives as an apparent stab not just at said approach, but an even clearer truth: "If you want something done right, do it yourself."

* * *
For all the hubbub surrounding the unprecedented Holy Year rooted in a theme (as opposed to a milestone of time), continuity looms large from the text's first lines – asked by Tornielli what inspired the declaration of the Jubilee, the Pope cited "the teachings and declarations of the Popes who preceded me," mentioning contributions from each back to John XXIII. Accordingly, no less than the book's title comes from a B16 quote the now Pope-emeritus wrote into his Angelus on Divine Mercy Sunday 2008 – a feast so designated by John Paul in tribute to the 20th century Polish devotion.

Yet as the questions delve deeper, even as the pontiff ventures into Greek etymology and obscure prayers from the Milan church's Ambrosian rite to make his points, what becomes the golden thread of the answers is uniquely Bergoglio's own, returning Francis to his strongest suit: his own experiences of "falling" and forgiveness, and those of the people whose paths he crossed in Buenos Aires as the bus-riding cardinal who spent his vacations in the city's slums until the day he left for the Conclave.

The characters are memorable, perhaps even relatable: prisoners; women forced into prostitution to support their families; the "spiritually mature" relative kept from the sacraments due to civil remarriage... indeed, "the weary eyes of a mother exhausting herself with work to bring food home to her drug-addicted son" who, as a living example of mercy, "loves him, in spite of his mistakes."

To be sure, no Francis text would be complete without some colorful language, and a hit or two at his favorite targets. Ergo, the Pope describes his beloved confessionalunsurprisingly, the topic of a whole chapter – as a place that must be neither "dry cleaner" nor "torture chamber"; a corrupt person is (using his grandmother's phrase) seen as someone for whom "butter wouldn't melt in his mouth," and when it comes to the "scholars of the law" the Jesuit pontiff almost delights in tweaking, he admits that "at times I have surprised myself by thinking that a few very rigid people would do well to slip a little, so that they could remember that they are sinners and thus meet Jesus."

If there is one curveball or piece that's bound to be sensationalized, it's almost certain to be Papa Bergoglio's return at Tornielli's behest to Francis' "Who am I to judge?" retort about "a person who is gay, seeks the Lord and has goodwill" at his first in-flight press conference.

In response, Francis repeated that entire context of the original 2013 statement, adding this time that "I am glad that we are talking about 'homosexual people' because before all else comes the individual person, in his wholeness and dignity. And people should not be defined only by their sexual tendencies: let us not forget that God loves all his creatures and we are destined to receive his infinite love.

"I prefer that homosexuals come to confession," he said, "that they stay close to the Lord, and that we pray all together. You can advise them to pray, show goodwill, show them the way, and accompany them along it."

All that said, it's a striking testimony to Francis' "Teflon" status in global media that "Pope Tells Gays To Confess" hasn't dominated the initial round of headlines on the release – Lord knows any similar utterance from his predecessor would've sparked eruptive coverage for days on end.

In sum, however, anyone looking to the book as fuel for ideological diatribes or point-scoring – whether ad intra or anywhere else – will come away disappointed. Then again, if and where that's the case, then perhaps the examination of conscience contained within its pages is ever more needed.

Yet far from any foodfight, just like the Jubilee he's charted, Francis' message and invitation here is directed to the wide world – especially those who've felt "wounded" in life, those distanced from or uncared for by the church, or even from God Himself...

“The most important thing in the life of every man and every woman is not that they should never fall along the way. The important thing is always to get back up, not to stay on the ground licking your wounds. The Lord of mercy always forgives me; he always offers me the possibility of starting over. He loves me for what I am, he wants to raise me up, and he extends his hand to me. This is one of the tasks of the Church: to help people perceive that there are no situations that they cannot get out of. For as long as we are alive it is always possible to start over, all we have to do is let Jesus embrace us and forgive us.”
SVILUPPO: Marking the eve of the book's release, Vatican Radio released further, extensive extracts from the English text on Monday morning.

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Friday, December 25, 2015


The 25th day of December, the fifteenth of the Moon:

Countless centuries past from the creation of the world,
when, in the beginning,
God created the heavens and the earth
and formed man in his own image;

Likewise many ages since after the Flood,
when the Most High extended the rainbow across the heavens
as the sign of his Covenant and of peace;

In the 21st century since the migration of Abraham, our father in faith,
from Ur of the Chaldeans;
the 13th century from the exodus of Israel out of Egypt, led by Moses,
roughly a millennium from the anointing of David as King;

In the 65th week, as prophesied by Daniel,
the 194th Olympiad,
the 752nd year from the foundation of the City of Rome,
the 42nd year of the reign of Caesar Octavian Augustus,
the whole world being at peace:

JESUS CHRIST,
Eternal God,
The Eternal Son of the Father,
seeking to consecrate the world by coming into it;
conceived by the Holy Spirit,
and nine months having passed since his conception,
in Bethlehem of Judea
was born of the Virgin Mary
and became man.

The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.

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