Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The March and the Last Goodbye

As you all know, we're coming up on Life Weekend.

For those not in this country, 22 January is the anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, which legalized first-trimester abortions. So Washington's biggest annual protest gets into gear as hordes of pro-lifers show up every year on that date and take over the capital: families, schoolkids, seminarians, "real Catholics," "authentic Catholics," "faithful Catholics," "orthodox Catholics," "conservative Catholics," "magisterial Catholics" (and every other suburb of Catholicism you can think of), bishops on planes and the faithful busing it in from every corner of America. (More delegations than you'd imagine drive 30 hours or more from the Midwest. No kidding.)

Of course, the festivities kick off the night before, with the Mass for Life in the Great Upper Church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on the campus of the Catholic University for America. It's known as the "Giganta-Mass" as, aside from a papal celebration of the Eucharist, it's the biggest liturgy that takes place in the United States -- people pouring out the doors, packed in the aisles, families stacked on top of families.

As many of the marchers don't have the means, nor does the city have the lodging space, to get a private place to sleep, the continent's biggest church becomes the National Shrine Hotel for a night as thousands camp out in every available space.

Imagine curling up in a sleeping bag next to a tiara.... Not my idea of a good time, but we know people who'd beg, beg and beg some more to differ, don't we now?

Yet again, the celebrant of the Giganta-Mass is Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore, in his last turn as Chairman of the USCCB's Committee for Pro-Life Activities, alongside whom will be all the American cardinals and the bulk of the episcopate. (Gearing up for his November takeover is the Pro-Life Chair-elect, Justin Rigali, probably already writing his homily for the 2007 Giganta-Mass.) They're joined by rivers of priest-concelebrants.

Last year, Keeler's introduction welcomed everybody, every group, greeted every last mosaic in the place, as you do on these kind of occasions. But he notably singled out the archbishop of Washington for particular praise of his commitment to the cause of life issues.

Cardinal McCarrick was being savaged at the time by the rabid fringe (deja vu moment of the day) and the effusive praise was the chairman's way of taking a crozier (the sharp side of it) to the fringe and saying, in effect, "You're not helping anything but your loud, divisive selves."

We all know how well their loud, divisive selves listened.

This is all a long-way of introing an added event to the what is an already hectic prelatial calendar. Of course, the Mass and March for Life is the one time of the year alongside the USCCB's November plenary when the American bishops converge on Washington en masse. So it's an almost-unparalleled time to see and be seen -- while standing up for the most defenseless, of course.

Well, besides the favored restaurant being booked solid (with a waiting list from here to Rome), the convenience factor of having all the boys in town is yielding yet another farewell party for the outgoing apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo.

Last November, Montalvo had a dinner for all the bishops on the first night of the November meeting, as word swirled around that his resignation was a matter of weeks away. Now the USCCB is hosting one last goodbye soiree on Sunday before Archbishop Pietro Sambi arrives to take the reins of mission at month's end and Montalvo jets off for a well-deserved retirement in Rome, the veteran diplomat having chosen the Eternal City over a return to his native Columbia.

As the goodbyes soon turn to hellos, one Smoking Nuncio leaves and another one arrives, the word from all sides these days is that Montalvo will be greatly missed.