Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Pole Position and Beyond

Ash Wednesday may be a day under three weeks away, but it's been said that, in the Pope's thought, the church in Poland is already undergoing Lent.

As you know, that perception derives from the month of turmoil surrounding the resignation of Archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus of Warsaw moments before what was supposed to be his installation, and the spill-over effect revelations of Wielgus' collaboration with the Communist-era authorities have wrought on the psyche of the predominantly Catholic country.

Benedict XVI is believed to be keen to settle the Warsaw succession in advance of the penitential season's liturgical opening. Names abound, and both of the Curia's top Poles -- education czar Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski and Archbishop Stanislaw Rylko, the president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity -- have been called in for private audiences since the Epiphany-day hara-kiri. The 58 year-old archbishop of Lublin, Josef Zycinski, is tipped as a front-runner for the Polish church's top post.

Wielgus may have sung for the SB, but closer to home a consensus reports that a trained musician is in line for another soon to be vacant capital see. Unlike Warsaw, however, we could say that, if green-lighted, the latter scenario wouldn't so much enhance turmoil, but a new belle époque -- both of music and ministry.

Remember well that this pontiff is a Mozart superfan and, as always, stay tuned.


Ace Ventura

Keeping with our focus on things Canadian, it bears repeating that the papal nuncio to Ottawa, Archbishop Luigi Ventura, made a star-turn yesterday with his installation remarks.

Sometimes buzzed about as a potential Sostituto of the Secretariat of State, Ventura arrived in Canada on, literally, the eve of 9/11. As a priest in San Damaso, he was the top personal aide to the late, legendary and beloved Cardinal Agostino Casaroli in the days of the Ostpolitik, and after his elevation as an archbishop-nuncio in 1995 has served the Holy See as its pointman in the Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chile.

Since coming here, it appears that the appointments prepared under his watch presaged the B16 trend of singling out engaging, positive nominees, and the processes -- 42 to date with quite a few impending -- have been marked by a tangibly broad level of consultation and outreach.

Then again, when the nunciature is viewed by its top occupant as "The Pope's House" and its doors accordingly and frequently thrown open, good things happen. I've never heard of a nuncio who's on an intimate, first-name basis with as many people as Ventura is. (Of course, though, it looks as if Luigi's counterpart to the south is well on his way to sharing that distinction in time.) His affability and easy-going nature is nearly praised in song among the clan here, who find in him a staunch ally and keen counsel.

Gratefully, the nuncio's short but sweet text has been posted. The money quote actually draws from one of the many unsung gems of a prior pontificate:

Speaking of the mystery of the Church, especially as it is reflected in the life and ministry of a diocese, Pope Paul VI (1963-1978), shared the following reflections:

“It is in the local Church ... where we can recognize the point of effective contact, where human persons meet Christ, who opens for them access to the concrete plan of salvation: here there is the ministry, here the faith, here the community, here the Word, here the grace, here Christ offers himself to the faithful inserted in the universal Church. The local Church is therefore in the Catholic religious life, the starting and final point; like the fruit in relation to the roots, the tree, and the branches.” (Homily, 16 September 1972)

In this local church, the bishop is the cornerstone, and the image of Christ, priest and pastor, giving solidity to all the living stones that make up the household of God. (Eph. 2: 19-22)

Dear Archbishop Collins, the responsibilities entrusted to you may seem at times overwhelming but the Lord repeats to you as he did to Peter: “have no fear”. (Luke 5:10) And St. Paul assures us: “We are poor and weak but we count on the grace of God.” (2 Cor. 12:9) This grace will be the object of the prayer that is offered daily in the celebration of the Mass when, in the heart of the Eucharistic Prayer, these words are pronounced:

“Strengthen in faith and love your pilgrim Church on earth; your servant, Pope Benedict, our bishop Thomas, and all the bishops, with the clergy and the entire people your Son has gained for you.” (Eucharistic Prayer III)


Installations All Around

So St Michael's cathedra cushions magically turned back to green yesterday, and the new archbishop's homily (html; mp3) yesterday was worthy, as one cleric said, of a "Father of the Church." The full-length video'll be up at some point, but in advance of the festivities Salt + Light produced a half-hour doc on Thomas Collins' last days in Edmonton. Here's that in full, it's a real treat to watch.

Oh, and the Redemptorists want you to know that there's another new archbishop north of the 49th -- one of their own, Gerald Pettipas, who was ordained head of the Alberta metropolia of Grouard-McLennan last week. Full coverage from the WCR.

It was also installation day in Monterey as Bishop Richard Garcia said his first Mass before a convention-center crowd of 1,700. Word is that the papal nuncio Archbishop Sambi won a new crop of fans with his post-Communion talk, much as the prelate seemingly known to one and all simply as "Luigi" did here in Toronto whilst implementing his 42nd Canadian appointment.

In Youngstown, it was announced that Bishop Murry will mark his mainland homecoming on March 28. (Another local story here.) He's more than ready and said to be quite excited.

And don't be surprised if Bernstein's "Simple Song" returns for an encore performance at the liturgy.

Archdiocese of Toronto


Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The New Jerusalem, A New Beginning

A transition marked by a level of hope and excitement befitting the Second Coming hits its peak today when Thomas Christopher Collins formally takes the reins of Canada's largest local church as Toronto's 10th archbishop.

Underscoring the demand on space in St Michael's Cathedral for the Mass, which begins at 10.30am local time (1530GMT), invitations to the local presbyterate have largely been limited to the pastors of the archdiocese.

After his first public engagement since arriving in the 1.6 million-member local church -- a Sunday evening Vespers and Lectio Divina service arranged at the last minute and still able to attract a large, and largely young, crowd to downtown's St Basil's Church -- Collins spent yesterday with the media, including back-to-back sessions with the editorial boards of the two main national dailies and a sit-down with the Toronto Star where he cited the church's imperative to be engaged in a wider variety of issues.
"Look at what we say. Look at what we are engaged in. The Catholic Church is at the forefront of social justice issues," Thomas Collins says.

He points to the many food banks, soup kitchens, housing projects and clothing and toy drives run by Catholic parishes as evidence of the commitment of the church to addressing the needs of the poor.

"These people are there every day," he says....

Catholic leaders, acting on instructions from the Vatican, have become more engaged in the political process over the past year.

This means urging parishioners to consider Catholic teachings when voting, and lobbying politicians to do the same when setting public policy.

Collins says that mandate must apply to fighting poverty.

But too often, he frets, Catholic leaders are called upon to comment only on such issues as reproductive rights or same-sex marriage.

As important as those issues are, the church also needs to get its voice heard on social justice topics such as poverty and housing, he says.

"We need to speak, to be engaged in the dialogue of the broader community."

His first priority, however, will be to become reacquainted with Toronto and the Ontario political scene after 10 years in Alberta, where he was named archbishop of Edmonton in 1999.

"God gave us two ears and one mouth. We need to listen more than we speak."

But before long, Collins says, the church will speak out more about finding solutions to the root causes of poverty – including inadequate incomes, social supports and housing – while still addressing the immediate needs of the poor.

"There has to be that immediate reaction. If someone is hungry, we feed them. If someone is homeless, we house them," he says.

"But we also need to look at the roots of those sorts of things. Are there policies of the society that could be changed?"

All churches and church leaders, he says, have not only a right but also a reponsibility to be active in such political and policy discussions.

"We are part of society. We've been here since the beginning and are massively involved."

Although no media outlets took up the 60 year-old prelate's offer of beginning interviews as early as 6.30 am, his installation day is getting its public start with a live interview on CBC television's national morning show.

Slated to run in the area of 15 minutes, Collins' homily today will play to his strengths as a Scripture scholar, hinging on the Book of Revelation's vision of the "New Jerusalem" and its message for the life of the church.

Archdiocese of Toronto


Back To the Mainland, At Last

Ending the second-longest vacancy of a US diocese, in one of the more intriguing appointments of the modern era the Pope has named George Murry SJ, currently bishop of St Thomas in the Virgin Islands, as bishop of Youngstown. The Ohio see has been open since the last day of March 2005, when Bishop Thomas Tobin was transferred to Providence in one of Pope John Paul II's deathbed provisions.

A Jesuit of the Maryland Province, Murry -- who turned 58 over Christmas -- is a native of the Philadelphia area, born across the river in Camden. Ordained a priest of the Company in 1979, he earned his Master's and Doctorate in American Cultural History from George Washington University in the capital, and was named an auxiliary bishop of Chicago in 1995. He was transferred to the US Virgin Islands as coadjutor in 1998, succeeding Bishop Elliot Thomas the following year.

Per the provisions of canon law, Murry must be installed in his new charge within two months of this morning's appointment. The diocese of Youngstown counts 230,000 Catholics in the six counties of northeast Ohio.

Home to fewer than 10 parishes and 30,000 Catholics, St Thomas -- the lone suffragan of the nation's capital -- falls vacant for the second time in its diocesan history. The first opening came following the return of the island see's second bishop to a mainland diocese. After two more transfers, said prelate ended up in the red.


Monday, January 29, 2007

TB: No Exceptions

Capping a week of church-state tensions in the UK, Downing Street will not grant an exemption to regulations mandating equal opportunity for same-sex couples who wish to adopt.
After a week of intense debate, which reportedly split the Cabinet, the Prime Minister confirmed that faith-based organisations would not be exempt from the new Equality Act, which prohibits discrimination against people on the basis of their sexual orientation.

Instead the groups will be given until the end of 2008 to adapt to the regulations. In the intervening period, they will have to refer same-sex clients to other agencies that can offer non-discriminatory services.
i.e. the San Francisco solution will be imposed, as opposed to being agreed to.
"I start from a very firm foundation. There is no place in our society for discrimination. That’s why I support the right of gay couples to apply to adopt like any other couple," said Mr Blair. "And that way there can be no exemptions for faith-based adoption agencies offering public funded services from regulations that prevent discrimination."

The final amendments to the Equality Act are expected to come before Parliament next month and be passed before the Act is due to come into force on April 6.

New laws forbidding discrimination on the grounds of sexuality have caused extreme consternation among Catholic adoption services, whose religious beliefs prohibit them from allowing children to be placed with gay couples.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the spiritual head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, warned Mr Blair last week that the agencies, which handle handle around 30 per cent of voluntary sector adoptions, would close rather than obey the legislation.

The debate about the so-called "conscientious objection" to the new legislation by Christian and Muslim groups led to strong disagreements in the Cabinet.

According to reports last week, Mr Blair was having to decide whether or not to support Ruth Kelly, the staunchly Catholic minister of Communities and Local Government, and offer a compromise to the organisations.

But an increasing number of ministers, including John Reid, the Home Secretary, and Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, publicly stated their opposition to an exemption for the religious organisations.
After the archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams voiced his support for Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor's stance objections to the statute last week, cartoonist Peter Brookes responded thus in Thursday's editions of The Times:

And, speaking of Rowan, the Anglican primate will be making an already-politically-charged visit here to Canada in the spring.


"A Church That Says 'Yes'" -- And Bishops Who Do, Too

Coinciding with tomorrow's installation here, a piece has popped up with a good, long look at how Canadian appointments are made, with two top clerics breaking taboo and going on-record.

Toto, I don't think we're in the US anymore.

A key difficulty felt not just in Canada also gets noted: the shrinking talent pool.
According to Father Frank Morrisey, a canon law expert at St. Paul University here, three men have a “significant influence” in the appointing of bishops. The pope, who makes the appointment, usually from a list of three names, though he is not bound to that list; Canada’s Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Luigi Ventura; and Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, the prefect of the Congregation of Bishops. For some northern dioceses, still considered missionary areas, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples is involved instead.

There have been two few major appointments under Benedict to tell whether there will be a difference between a Benedict bishop or a John Paul II bishop, Father Morrisey said, though he notes the late pope tended to pick “safe” or more conservative bishops in the latter part of his pontificate. “They were looking for doctrinal integrity.”

Archbishop Ventura, Father Morrisey said, seems to have been putting forward names of candidates with “good pastoral experience and that’s an essential quality.”...

The nuncio presents three names to the Congregation for Bishops, which goes then goes through the detailed dossier on each candidate. Archbishop Ventura, however, does not “just pick a name out of a hat,” according to the nuncio’s first secretary, Msgr. Michael Crotty, an Irish priest who has spent nearly three years in Ottawa after previously serving in Kenya. Archbishop Ventura relies on Canada’s bishops who, according to canon law, are to meet in their ecclesiastical provinces every three years and supply the nunciature with a list of prospective candidates. When there is a vacancy, the process of consultation begins. Msgr. Crotty said nunciature deals with five to seven vacancies a year in Canada.

The Edmonton Archdiocese, the Edmonton Ukrainian Eparchy, the Kingston Archdiocese and Saint John Diocese are vacant. Ottawa’s archbishop has announced he will retire in June. Five bishops reach the age of 75 this year, though that doesn’t mean the pope will accept their mandatory resignations. Some bishops are already past age 75. Each diocese has its own special needs, to be matched with the right candidate.

“[The bishops] have a major say,” said Archbishop Prendergast, noting the ecclesiastical provinces in the Maritimes meet together. There each bishop presents names of priests that would be good bishops. Prendergast also sends out a letter to priests to find out whom they would recommend. Each meeting comes up with 10 to 12 names.

“Some names are not found to be suitable. Some people don’t handle stress well. To be a bishop you have to handle stress. Some people have a hard time making decisions,” Archbishop Prendergast said.

The archbishop said doctrinal reasons may form an obstacle for a candidate. According to canon law, a candidate must be “outstanding in strong faith, good morals, piety, zeal for souls, prudence and human virtues,” and other gifts necessary for the job.

He said he never approaches a priest enquire if he’d be interested in being a bishop or to let him know he’s on a “bishop’s track.”

Archbishop Prendergast does not know about any jockeying for power or people actually seeking to be bishops. “Maybe I’m very naïve,” he said. Instead he finds that priests tend to have a have a high regard for the episcopacy, but do not seek to become bishops. Some will have that attitude out of humility, some from concern for the pressures of the office. “When they have a good bishop, they admire them.”...

“The reality of the Church is very wounded in contemporary society,” said Msgr. Crotty, noting the breakdown of marriage, increased divorce and the legal recognition of same-sex marriage.

“Nobody can be in any doubt about what the church teaches on marriage, on life issues, but there is a large misunderstanding,” he said. “The pastoral challenge is to explain, catechize, set forth the church’s teaching.”...

The challenge is to keep the enthusiasm of the young people alive, he said. These Catholic youth are seeing the church as “countercultural,” he said, adding that they want to know why. “The big pastoral thrust is to reach out to young people and give them answers why.”

The pope is framing those answers in a positive fashion, he said, proving false his unearned reputation as a scold and naysayer, who as Cardinal Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was portrayed as always saying “No.”

Instead he is laying out a vision of “being positive, of being open,” Msgr. Crotty said.

“The church is a church that says, ‘Yes!’ Yes, to life, yes, to marriage,” he said.

The pope is inviting people to be positive, to say “yes,” accepting a new life in Christ, he said. Christ doesn’t ask us to say “no,” Msgr. Crotty said, “he asks us to say “yes” because he wants what is good for us.

Msgr. Crotty noted how the nuncio’s address to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (CCCB) annual plenary last October stressed the importance of three of the pope’s major texts. They included: his encyclical God is Love; his Regensburg speech on the crucial relationship between faith and reason; and his Dec. 2005 address to the Roman curia where he talked about two views of the Second Vatican Council. One view sees the council as “one of discontinuity and rupture,” the pope said, and the other as one of “reform and renewal in the continuity” of the church. The pope critiqued the view that the “spirit” of the council could be separated from its texts.

Msgr. Crotty notes a more liberal paradigm has operated over the past 30-40 years that seemed to suggest the church’s teachings had to change to “go where the people are going.”

“That paradigm has actually failed,” he said. “You can’t change the teaching of the church because it belongs to Christ. Christ’s message doesn’t change. We have to change. Sometimes it’s easier to ‘change Jesus’ than to change ourselves.”

”Those who set out in the 1960s to go out and change the world and wanted to change the church didn’t succeed,” he said. “The process of trying to ‘changing Jesus’ has been going on for a long time,” he said referring to society as a whole with its Jesus Seminar and now the new Jesus Project, aimed at debunking Jesus’ historical existence.

Now it’s time to “allow Jesus to change us,” he said.

The Canadian Church’s challenges concerning vocations go hand in hand with growing secularization. “God is less and less a part of people’s lives and culture,” he said. “Vocations are the fruit of the faith community. It’s not a question of increasing church personnel, there is a need to grow the faith, to nourish the faith, and the faith will bear fruit in more vocations for the priesthood and religious life.”

“We need to be full of enthusiasm,” he said. “You don’t attract people to your ranks if you lack enthusiasm about who we are and what we are.”
Ben fatto.


Father of the House

Back home, Fr Bob Drinan -- the Jesuit who, to the fury of his superiors on both sides of the Atlantic, served a decade as a Democrat in Congress, died yesterday at 86:
He stepped down only after a worldwide directive from Pope John Paul II barring priests from holding public office.

During his Congressional tenure, Drinan continued to dress in the robes of his clerical order and lived in a simple room in the Jesuit community at Georgetown.

But he wore his liberal views more prominently. He opposed the draft, worked to abolish mandatory retirement and raised eyebrows with his more moderate views on abortion and birth control.

"Father Drinan's commitment to human rights and justice will have a lasting legacy here at Georgetown University and across the globe," said Georgetown President John Degioia.

"Few have accomplished as much as Father Drinan and fewer still have done so much to make the world a better place," said Alex Aleinikoff, dean of the George University Law Center.

Drinan, dean of the Boston College Law School from 1956 to 1970, called for the desegregation of Boston public schools during the 1960s and challenged Boston College students to become involved in civil rights issues.

"He'll be remembered in the country for his advocacy for the poor and underprivileged," said John Garvey, the Boston law school's current dean.

Drinan was elected in 1970, after he beat longtime Democratic Rep. Philip Philbin in a primary — and again in the November election, when Philbin was a write-in candidate. The only other priest to serve in Congress was a non-voting delegate from Michigan in 1823.

Although a poll at the time showed that 30% of the voters in his district thought it was improper for a priest to run for office, Drinan considered politics a natural extension of his work in public affairs and human rights.

His run for office came a year after he returned from a trip to Vietnam, where he said he discovered that the number of political prisoners being held in South Vietnam was rapidly increasing, contrary to State Department reports. In a book the next year, he urged the Catholic Church to condemn the war as "morally objectionable."

He became the first member of Congress to call for the impeachment of Richard Nixon — although the call wasn't related to the Watergate scandal, but rather what Drinan viewed as the administration's undeclared war against Cambodia.

"Can we be silent about this flagrant violation of the Constitution?" Drinan demanded angrily back then. "Can we impeach a president for concealing a burglary but not for concealing a massive bombing?"

Decades later, at the invitation of Congress, he testified against the impeachment of another president: Bill Clinton. Drinan said Clinton's misdeeds were not in the same league as Nixon's, and that impeachment should be for an official act, not a private one.

After leaving office in 1980 — "with regret and pain" — Drinan continued to be active in political causes. He served as president of the Americans for Democratic Action, crisscrossing the country giving speeches on hunger, civil liberties, and the perils of the arms race.

Drinan received more than 20 honorary degrees, and traveled extensively throughout the world in both official congressional delegations and privately funded trips. He wrote a number of books.
PHOTO: H. Darr Beiser/USA Today


Sunday, January 28, 2007

The View from My Window

All this talk of darkness is a bit shortsighted, friends -- look closely enough, and you can see a lot of light.

In that vein, good evening from Toronto. More to come.


Lectio Sancti Evangelii Secundum Reggiemagne

Always worth the price of admission (which he refuses to charge), the Pope's Latinist, Milwaukee-born Carmelite Fr Reginald Foster, held forth anew on the state of the church and the language he loves in yesterday's Telegraph:
Although Pope Benedict grew up with Latin, and is fluent in the language, Fr Foster said he did not "have time" to compose and translate the hundreds of documents that the Vatican issues. Paul VI insisted on greater use of Latin within the Vatican, but Fr Foster said more junior members of the Catholic hierarchy were less enthusiastic now.

"I'm worried that if one Cardinal makes one or two decisions it could all go," he said. "Already, we are sending congratulation letters to some Cardinals and they say can we please provide a translation. They want to read them out in the church and so on. Of course, I won't provide translations. We might as well be writing in Mandarin."

He said reports that Pope Benedict will reintroduce the Tridentine Mass, which dates from 1570 and is largely conducted in Latin, were wrong – not least because of the Pope's desire to avoid more controversies. A speech last year offended Muslims and more recently he gave initial support to a Polish archbishop who was eventually forced to resign, after admitting that he had collaborated with the communist-era secret police.

"He is not going to do it," Fr Foster said. "He had trouble with Regensberg, and then trouble in Warsaw, and if he does this, all hell will break loose." In any case, he added: "It is a useless mass and the whole mentality is stupid. The idea of it is that things were better in the old days. It makes the Vatican look medieval."

He condemned the loss of Latin teaching in schools across most of Europe, and said that as a result students were missing out on important elements of history. "Like classical music, Latin will always be there. If we cannot understand it, it is we who are losing out."

Italy is, however, different: all schoolchildren, except those who attend technical colleges, must be taught Latin for at least four hours a week until they are 18. But Fr Foster said the techniques used to teach Latin were outdated. "You need to present the language as a living thing," he said. "You do not need to be mentally excellent to know Latin. Prostitutes, beggars and pimps in Rome spoke Latin, so there must be some hope for us."

Last year Fr Foster was fired from the Gregorian University for allowing too many students to study without charging them.

"I was not going to play the policeman," he said. "I was happy to teach anyone who wanted to learn. Many of my students studied for three, four, five years -without -paying a single cent."

He argued that the only solution to the decline of Latin was for the Pope to lead by example. "Instead of a siesta, he should announce that from 2pm to 4pm every day he will read Latin at the Vatican."

He added with a twinkle: "People who come will get assignments. You will be picked on to answer questions, and if you mess up, the Pope will make you disappear. He can do that, you know."

It's TC Time

At a Vespers/Lectio Divina tonight in Toronto, Archbishop Thomas Collins kicks off the public festivities to mark his arrival as the 12th head of Canada's largest diocese. The media rollout, however, is already up and running.

The Sun is impressed:
[W]hat is most striking about Toronto's new Archbishop Thomas Collins is how supremely human he is.

Talking to him is like talking to a thoughtful, engaging next-door neighbour, excited about his future responsibilities, yet clearly in touch with his roots....

He's an open book. No question goes unanswered. Nothing is off the record....

Though he considered being a teacher -- "I was always a studious type" -- or a lawyer -- "because of my mother's work" -- those aspirations changed with the inspiration of one special priest.

Collins will never forget Father Newstead who went to the hospital every day to visit the sick, he said. "That kind of faithfulness really impressed me."

Newstead was also Collins' Grade 11 English teacher at Bishop Macdonnell Catholic High School, and one day, he said, "Tom, you should really think about becoming a priest," and that influenced him profoundly.
The paper also runs a fun Q&A.

The Lord of the Rings.


I don't really get magazines and if I do, they relate to my religious life. The one I subscribe to is First Things.


A Man for All Seasons


I don't watch a lot of movies.


I don't watch TV very much, but I sometimes watch the Antiques Road Show.


I like classical music, Bach. My favourite piece is the Christmas Oratorio.


Oh, shucks. Gosh. Interesting. I love reading biographies of American presidents, so Abraham Lincoln.


I used to be a take-out waiter in a drive-in restaurant, it used to be that we took the stuff out to the cars. This was a long time ago now, but it was my first job. We served hamburgers and French fries and I remember once knocking over a big thing of chocolate milk shake. And at the end of the night, when we were finished our shift, we all got to eat all the left over French fries.


Gosh, I don't know because I'm in one of those situations where I am what I want to be. I love being a priest and I love being a bishop. I love being what I am.


This is a question too profound and deep for a humble soul like me. Too profound. Too profound.


(Laughs) Depends if it's Friday. No. Oh, I like them both. I don't have any preference. I'm not very clear on these things, am I?"
And on the op-ed page, Basilian Fr Thomas Rosica -- CEO of Salt and Light TV, who interviewed Collins earlier this month for the network -- writes that the city should "Rejoice."
[From Edmonton] I have never heard of so many people, especially young people, who are so sad to be losing their bishop to Toronto. That's quite a statement in this day and age in the church -- and for that matter in any organization. Archbishop Collins spoke to the mind, but even more so, to the hearts of many people. He knows how to walk humbly, and listen compassionately, yet he is no ecclesiastical wallflower. He is a teacher at heart and a man of the church in the best sense of the word.

Archbishop Collins learned how to teach and reach people not only in the pews in church, nor in a formal classroom or lecture settings (even though he did a great job at that!)

Legend are the teaching moments that took place in Tim Hortons' doughnut shops in Edmonton, meeting young people and spending time in conversation with them. They listened to Archbishop Collins in Alberta. And they will listen to him in Toronto. God knows how much we need good teachers in the church today....

His appointment to Toronto has been hailed as an emblematic appointment by Benedict XVI. Why should Toronto be thrilled and grateful to be getting a bishop like Thomas Collins? The first and most fundamental quality any bishop must have is personal holiness. We Catholics understand holiness as not being "otherworldly," pie-in-the-sky spirituality, but rather a description of someone who walks humbly among us, reflecting in one's life love of God, personal integrity, humility, decency, honesty, intelligence, kindness, uprightness and sincerity....

What do we desire in a new bishop and shepherd? A preacher who can convert souls; a prudent administrator and disciplinarian, shrewd in finances and not governed by human respect; honest; experienced as a parish priest -- not symbolic, but a real, lifelong pastor; highly intelligent and learned in theology and scripture; familiar with secular culture and able to address it in its terms, and effective with -- and not intimidated by -- the media.

To Archbishop Collins: Welcome to Toronto, you breath of fresh, crisp, Western Canadian air! "Toronto the good" will be "Toronto the better" because you said 'yes' to Benedict's invitation to come to this great metropolis.

And to the rest of us who are watching and waiting, let us work together to make his burden light, and to be open to the many lessons this new shepherd will teach us.
A couple notes to bring you all up to date: the final numbers are out on Tuesday morning's installation, which is expected to pack 1,000 guests (Canada's three cardinals, 60 bishops, 300 priests and leaders of government, commerce and culture) into St Michael's Cathedral downtown. The lone American among the hierarchy in attendance will be Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM Cap. of Denver, a friend of the man of the hour.

Collins' feline "furry friend" Frodo made the trip from Edmonton with the archbishop. At least for the time being, however, the cat's staying with the prelate's sisters at the family home in Guelph.

And while Tuesday's installation marks the formal inauguration of Collins' ministry as archbishop of Toronto, the legal formalities have already taken place. In a private meeting of the archdiocese's college of consultors on Friday morning, the archbishop presented his bull of appointment to its seven members, at which point he took canonical possession of the post.


Saturday, January 27, 2007

In the Northwest, Echoes of Levada

Seattle's bike-riding auxiliary, Bishop Joseph Tyson, testified at a state legislative hearing this week on a proposed Washington initiative to offer domestic partnership benefits to same-sex couples.

The strategy advanced by Tyson -- representing the state's Catholic conference -- and other opponents of the pending legislation wasn't the usual push to scrap the bill, but to "broaden" its provisions, extending the definition of partnership to relationships beyond that of unmarried couples, to prevent discrimination against an elderly parent, a sibling, housemate or another in residence.

Suffice it to say, it's deja vu all over again. The Washington debate on partnership takes place exactly a decade after the exact same compromise was hammered out in San Francisco, solving a heated impasse between the city government and the church there on the question of legal benefits for same-sex couples.

The dispute had the potential of ceasing government funding to the Bay Area's Catholic Charities, its largest private social service agency, and exiling the Catholic voice from an influence in policy-making. Citing the importance of health care to the building-up of a culture of life,
however, the city's then-archbishop pushed to have the benefits extended to "any legally domiciled member" of a household. The city signed off on the idea, and a crisis was averted.

As a result, Catholic Charities kept its funding and was able to continue its work, the archdiocese's savvy was acclaimed and solidified its place at the political table, and the then-archbishop's ability to work constructively outside the box was given the ultimate seal of Magisterial approval when the newly-elected Benedict XVI tapped the deal-maker, his longtime friend William Levada, to take his place as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith but three weeks after Cardinal Ratzinger's election vacated the post. The highest-ranking American in Vatican history, Levada was given his red hat last March.

Along with fellow Seattle auxiliary Eusebio Elizondo, Tyson, 49, was named a bishop in Benedict's first batch of US appointments following his election. The story's just another reminder that the 900,000-member archdiocese, the second-largest in the West, is well worth watching.

AP/Dustin Snipes


Island Party

Yesterday, Malta celebrated as native son and local pastor Paul Joseph Cremona OP was ordained the Catholic mecca's 12th home-grown archbishop.

It was a double celebration in Valletta's Co-Cathedral of St John the Baptist: Cremona turned 61 the day before. Born in the city, he was ordained for the Order of Friars Preachers in 1969 and after studied in Rome returned to the island where he served as superior of the Dominicans there and in various diocesan posts before becoming a parish pastor in 2005. (The ring given the archbishop yesterday was a gift of his confreres.)

Oh, and it's said that his doctoral dissertation in theology looked at "the Concept of Peace" in the life and ministry of Bl John XXIII.

A blog on the island has full coverage (including the commemorative postage stamps released for the occasion), and there's a Flickr page, whence these shots come. Cremona was driven into the city in an open-topped car, after which the lavish ordination liturgy took place, presided over by retiring Archbishop Giuseppe Mercieca, standing down after three decades at the helm.

(For the record, I can't read Maltese for the life of me but, if you can, here's a link to the new archbishop's remarks at the end of Mass.)

Cremona kicked off his big week by starting a dialogue with the young people of the diocese.
"My youth was a happy time, but there wasn't much to do really. We used to go to Valletta's Upper Barrakka or stroll up and down Strada Rjali (Republic Street)," he reminisced. "Guess what time we had to be in," he asked. "Eight o'clock and if we didn't it was trouble... They were different times."

The occasion was a tour de force he made in the heart of Malta's entertainment industry in an evident bid to open a dialogue with youth.

He first visited Paceville, followed by a programme at the St Julians parish church and then back again to Paceville, on foot, accompanied by a loyal flock of people, youngsters and clergy, who turned up for the event.

Speaking of his calling as a priest, he said he felt something very early on but he could not explain it. "For instance, I never had a steady girlfriend. You know you would have sympathies but it's as though I felt that my calling was for a different path. Frankly, I cannot really explain it. It's like when you ask someone who is about to get married why her or him, for instance, and they can't explain."

Besides issues pertaining to the Church, such Holy Mass and the possibility of making it more lively, the youngsters present asked about social issues including how the Church could reconcile its philosophy in respect to the poor with its material riches but also regarding the price of property.

On the first issue, he said that while he believed the Church could not do away with the riches of its churches as this was heritage, it should and could have the courage to say no to people who are willing to add more to what there already is. He even recounted how he once refused a man's offer to have a new gold ornament installed in the parish church he was attached to.
Looks like yet another textbook B16 appointment.


We Sons of Bevy

It's part of a bigger story I haven't yet told, but on making my first public appearance in this gig, I found myself on the apron of Mary's House, surrounded by a flock of shepherds.

Just outside the circle stood Bishop Edward Cullen of Allentown, who I knew from my boyhood as vicar-general of the local church which served as my first template of, well, everything. As it'd been awhile, I knew I had to pop over and say hello. So, breaking through the mini-gaggle, I went up to Cullen and asked if he remembered me.

I'd grown about a foot-and-a-half since I last saw him, so it took just a tad of prompting, but he did. "Oh, my God," he said. "I remember you when you were this high," putting his hand up to his stomach, "coming up to see the cardinal."

"He's so proud of you," Cullen told me. And at that, I could've wept on the spot, and almost did.

A lot of us in this church are blessed to owe the inspiration for our work, what we know, what we've seen, and the things we're able to do to an extraordinary person (or, if we're really lucky, a handful of them) whose excellence, encouragement and example in our formative period calls us to a level of love, belief and commitment we strive to imitate in spite of our limitations. For me, that figure remains Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua.

It was on Bevilacqua's elevation to the college of cardinals 16 years back that my ecclesiastical journey has its roots. The greatest mentor I could've ever wished for, it was the cardinal who invited me at a young age into the life of the church, who gave me the keys and the vantage to explore it, to learn its ways, to see the best of its people, its work and its life, and in knowing it, to fall in love with it. Ever the teacher through the years since, what I knew first and know best I learned in his classroom, and if at the end of my days I'm able to process, integrate and live out but the half of what he imparted to me by word and example, I'll have succeeded, and I know that whatever good I've been able to do here is but the yield of His Eminence's encouragement and the love for all this he instilled in me.

One of the great blessings of this experience has been to realize that I'm far from alone in this. Every time I mention him, the e.mails seem to come out of the woodwork, each with a story, an experience, a moment from some point of his 58 years of priesthood where the cardinal taught or gave the writer something that's stayed with them long past the time it took to polish that effective homily, go that extra mile, spend that added bit of time with someone who needed it. Despite the passage of time, the continuing effect of each stands as testament to the big power of little kindnesses and a ministry of presence whose blessings and impact have remained long after they've been given.

I'll admit that few things make me happier than when the little flashes of the things I've learned from him come out in me, and others, as they sometimes do, pick them up. When word of one policy proposal was coming down the pike, I called a friend and let my inner canonist go off, saying that there was nothing in the law that allowed a subset of the church to move forward with the plan in question.

"Good God," he said, "you really are one of Bevilacqua's, aren't you?"

On another instance, sitting around a table with a group of clerics, I babbled on for a bit about how important it was for us to not lose sight of that "good" humanity at the heart of the church. We only hear that "the church is a human institution" when things go bad, but the more important, the more amazing thing is that the church is human when things are good, and the beauty in that lies in the fact that we're able to reach beyond the limitations of our nature and, in touching the face of God, we bring him to others, all the good stuff.

One of the cardinal's seminary students was there. And when he said "You really are his student," again, I could've sobbed on the spot, and almost did.

There are three aspects where the Bevy experience plays out most in my ecclesial mind and reflects itself in these pages. The first is that appointments matter -- after all, that he was my archbishop as I was coming up was nothing short of a stroke of Providence; if it'd been another, things could've panned out quite differently and I'd likely be pushing paper in a suburban office park right now. The second is that, in the life of the church, our continuing curiosity, formation, and education matters, whether we're clerical or lay, whether it's in the disciplines, the spiritual life, the news or the current trends, because it's through keeping up with things outside our particular situations that we maintain communion of mind with its life, our ability to serve and serve well is enhanced, and we become ever more able to actually think with the church, as opposed to being ahead of or, worse, behind the curve that its life and movement impels us to be mindful of.

And the last of these is arguably the most important: there is nothing so life-giving, nothing that opens more doors to good things in the work, than a bishop who says "yes," both in pushing himself and in helping others. Not only does it encourage those around him and call them to a higher standard, it simply enables beautiful things to happen.

In his episcopal ministry, the cardinal always had a tinge of aversion to the "Ecce Sacerdos Magnus," which for the three decades prior to his arrival here was, for all intents and purposes, his predecessor's theme song (along with "How Great Thou Art"). However, there's a line in it that fits perfectly, both for what he was able to entrust to so many of us and for what his years of "yes" have been able to accomplish: "Ideo iureurando fecit illum Dominus crescere in plebem suam" -- "Thus by an oath, the Lord made him grow for his people." It was his oath, his "yes," and his "growth," that gave life, growth, strength and hope to more of God's people than the Boss himself could probably realize.

It wasn't for nothing that my letter to him on the golden jubilee of his priesthood began with that line, and that in the days when these pages were a nightmare in the mind of God (let alone the hierarchy), the foundation of what you see here day in and day out was crafted and honed over years of conversations and correspondence with the first reader and sounding board of my musings on things ecclesiastical.

For my part, words fail to explain all this as it deserves, but the best nutshell is found in a recent interview, where I said that "After my father," the cardinal remains "the most influential male figure in my life."

I still owe him a long, long note and the recounting of all the tributes to him that I've received,
but he remains beside me and with me everyday, in my thoughts, my prayers, and in my heart.

All this is a long introduction to a similar testimony sent my way by one of the Big Guy's prize students and truest heirs.

Another of the Bevy alums I've found along this path is Msgr Ronald Marino, director of the Catholic Migration Office of the diocese of Brooklyn. Thirty-five years ago, the Brooklyn Migration Office -- the first of its kind in the church -- was founded, and its leadership entrusted to the then-Fr Bevilacqua. Himself the son of immigrants who struggled to build a life in this country for themselves and their ten children, the founding director emblematically went back to school in his early 50s to earn a law degree, so he could be a more effective advocate for those who came to the church's embrace in need and, in reflection of the Lord's mandate, could further give of himself that they might have life and have it in abundance.

Of all his many postings at every level of the church universal, I'd dare to say that leading the Migration Office was the job the cardinal loved the most. Despite his subsequent appointments in the Brooklyn curia as chancellor and, in 1980, auxiliary bishop, Bevilacqua remained its director until departing his hometown as bishop of Pittsburgh in 1983.

Brought aboard by the cardinal as his assistant, Marino just marked his 25th anniversary in the office and has continued our mentor's cherished work in the director's chair since 1991. This piece will soon run in the pages of the august Brooklyn Tablet. With a grateful heart, however, I'm honored to share it here first.


What I Learned After 25 Years
By Rev. Msgr. Ronald T. Marino
Vicar for Migrant and Ethnic Apostolates

I didn’t really want to work in the Catholic Migration Office. I was a very happy parish priest for nine years already and, considering the fact that I studied for years to be a parish priest, I didn’t feel prepared for a specialized ministry. I had just finished graduate school with a shiny new Master’s Degree in Counseling which I worked very hard to obtain, and I was only in my second parish assignment. Then I got the phone call.

Msgr. Anthony Bevilacqua, the Chancellor, wanted to see me. He had been my teacher in the seminary, the Director of the Catholic Migration Office, and a friend. He told me that “the Bishop wants…” me to work with him in the Catholic Migration Office on a full time basis. I was surprised and flattered, but I said “no.” I had no interest in immigration and I loved being a parish priest. He gave me one of his special looks with eyebrows raised all the way up his forehead, and said: “As for working in a 'job' the Bishop wants this and you promised obedience. As for not knowing about immigration, the immigrants themselves will teach you everything you need to know.” I began the next month.

The profound words of Cardinal Bevilacqua never left my mind. For over 25 years now I have been ministering in various capacities in the Migration Office of the Diocese and learning some of the most important lessons I could ever learn as a priest from the immigrants themselves. Here are some of the things I have learned:

• The Catholic Church stands very tall and has always done so on the issue of immigration.
• The Church views immigration as a moral issue not a political one. This has tremendous implications for what we say and do as Catholics, and what we ought to do.
• Apart from those who come here for studies, most immigrants do not really want to come here to stay. Their dream is to work hard, send money home to their children and families, and go home one day to reap the rewards of having worked hard and honestly for their families.
• Immigrants hear important things with their eyes.
• Throughout our American history, immigrants have always been blamed for every problem which exists, while most of them only work hard and want safety and security for themselves and their families like the rest of us.
• The presence of immigrants in our parishes has been the cause of constant renewal, change, and creativity in our ministry.
• Many immigrants make great sacrifices for the good of their children: leaving everything behind, often risking their lives to get here, accepting work much lower than their education qualifies them for in order to survive, and will work two and three jobs if necessary. This is not to become rich, but for the children whose pictures they carry in their pockets that they hope to see again one day.
• Migration is a complex event involving economics, sociology, psychology and theology. Through the experience of migration immigrants are in the process of finding meaning in their lives. This is theology in practice.
• While many were not the “best” Catholics in their own country, when they come here they rediscover their faith and hold onto it as their only consolation in their struggles.
• Not every immigrant comes from poverty. In fact, the poorest of the poor cannot afford to move at all.
• Immigrants do not compete with Americans for jobs, they compete with other immigrants.

These are only some of the lessons I have learned. I will write about others in the future. For now, let me explain some of these.

The Catholic Church’s position is based on moral considerations. Pope John Paul II once said: “The fact that he is a citizen of a particular state does not deprive him of membership in the human family.” (October 1985) The Church does not ask first if a person is legal or illegal but rather looks at the immigrant as a human person. This is how the Church looks at everyone.

Therefore we believe that it is morally wrong for families to be separated because they cannot survive living together in their own country. It is morally wrong for people to die everyday in the desert because there are no laws available to allow people to come to work for employers who seek them. It is wrong to imprison asylum seekers without due process of law. It is wrong to prevent family members from joining each other because of tremendous multi-year backlogs in paper processing by a broken immigration system. It is morally wrong to force people to live in fear and hiding while using their labor openly without fear of punishment for the employer. It is wrong to continue to allow people to use their life’s savings to be smuggled into the US by unscrupulous trafficking. It is wrong to continue to allow people to profit from undocumented immigrants by posing as attorneys, selling them false and worthless documents, and disappearing soon thereafter. It is wrong for landlords to allow immigrants to live in horrendous conditions because they know that the immigrants are too scared to report them. The human face of the immigration debate turns the issue inside out.

For those who think that immigration is a law and order problem, I can assure you that every single undocumented immigrant would give anything to be here legally if our laws could only be reformed enough to address the human situation of immigration not just the political situation. This includes addressing the root causes of immigration as well as the situation here in the United States. People have a right to live in dignity in the place where they were born.

For those who see immigration as an economic problem, it is important to know that undocumented immigrants alone have contributed over $ 7 billion dollars into the Social Security system and over $ 1 billion more into Medicare and they will not see one penny of this money. Yes, many pay taxes. And the money which they send home each year is often more than our government’s foreign aid programs. Mexico alone in 2005 received over $ 18 billion dollars from immigrants here. This money has taken care of children and the elderly and revived many local communities more than local government social service programs can do by themselves. (UN Dept. of Public Information).

However, we must be clear. The Catholic Church strongly opposes the breaking of law and the illegal entry of people into our country except for reasons of survival. The Church recognizes the sacred right of every nation to control its borders and to establish laws to allow admission into the country. We are not in favor of “letting everybody in” as some people would say. But once they are here, the Church has a responsibility to assist those in need.

In his encyclical Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict wrote that: "…charitable acts define the basic nature of the Church.” When Jesus, describing the last judgment, said: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” He was making it clear that this is one of the hallmarks of a true Christian. It is a simple fact that the Church is bound to obey what the Lord teaches. I am proud to say that the Diocese of Brooklyn has made heroic efforts to obey the Lord’s command. When I go to immigrant celebrations in parishes, when I hear our American priests and religious trying hard to learn and speak foreign languages, when I see our Bishops speaking out forcefully on immigration and even raising money to fund our own programs, when I watch my staff each day using all their talents and professional training to serve immigrants with the best we can offer, when I travel around the country giving speeches or attending meetings and I see how much respect there is for Brooklyn’s immigrant ministry from every corner, then I am more and more convinced that we are truly obeying the Lord’s command to welcome the stranger. Bishop Daily used to like to quote the Lord when He said: “By their fruits you will know them.”

As the Congress of the United States prepares to take on the issue of immigration reform, it is important to understand the debate as a Catholic should. Many things will be said about national security and terrorism protection, but the real debate on these issues concerns intelligence issues and defense matters, not the thousands of people who work here because we need them, or the thousands who want to be with their families again, or the thousands who are fleeing hunger, oppression and violence in their own countries to live in dignity and freedom. Immigration is not a national security issue. It is part and parcel of our American history. It is about people like those in almost every American family who came here only to provide a better existence for themselves and their children.

Cardinal Bevilacqua was right again. I have learned many things from the immigrants themselves and I take great comfort in knowing that I am obeying what is asked of me. I believe that God’s plan includes those who risk it all to leave their homelands, and I believe that His plan also includes the years of service I have been privileged to offer those who come here.


Friday, January 26, 2007

Vatican Warms to Climate Change

Later this year, today's edition of The Tablet reports that two organs of the Holy See will host the church's first top-level conference on global climate change.

According to the paper, Gordon Brown, the British chancellor of the Exchequer, "is understood to have played a key role in persuading Rome to back the summit plan"; Brown proposed the conference to Vatican officials last year.

The planning for the meeting is understood to belong to the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the Pontifical Academy for Sciences. As an added indicator of the Roman trend toward environmental awareness, Robert Mickens cited Pope Benedict's 2007 message for the World Day of Peace, where the pontiff said that a genuine desire for peace "must be increasingly conscious of the links between natural ecology, or respect for nature, and human ecology."

"[Benedict] said there was an 'inseperable link' between peace with creation and peace among men," Mickens wrote, "and both of these presupposed peace with God."


Tapping Gold

A great article from St Anthony Messenger's floating around on the church's most successful outreach to young people, and one of its most worthwhile initiatives on the broad scale: the "Theology on Tap" barroom chats.
Each of them shares a common objective: to celebrate faith, to find fellowship in others and to explore the riches of the Catholic tradition. No longer satisfied with going through the motions of Mass, many young Catholics across the country gather to celebrate and invigorate. Theology-on-Tap quenches two thirsts at once.

Rachel Sacksteder, 34, craved community when she moved back to her hometown of Dayton, Ohio, after spending more than two years working at a Honduran orphanage. She found it in Theology-on-Tap.

“It was a great way to meet other people who would want to go deeper into their faith,” she said. “That was a big motivation for me. I wanted to find a community. I wanted people who could help me get to heaven, outside of my family.”

Sacksteder is not alone. Thousands of young Catholics have harbored a similar wish. Dioceses in approximately 44 states offer the Theology-on-Tap series for both married and single people. Sessions can be weekly or monthly, sometimes arranged into a series with breaks in between.

And it’s spreading globally: Six other countries – Canada, Italy (Rome), Taiwan, the Philippines, Ireland and Hong Kong – offer the series. The formula is simple and effective. Each session tackles a different topic and is usually spearheaded by one or two speakers. A question-and-answer session follows.

Topics vary. In Washington, D.C., one assembly covered “Anger Management: Peace Through Forgiveness.” In New York City they addressed intimacy with “Sex and the City: The Truth About Men, Women and What God Really Intended.” And in Colorado it was “Who’s Your Daddy? Meeting My Real Father.”

Father John Cusick, a resident at Old St. Patrick’s Parish near Chicago’s Loop and director of Young Adult Ministry for the archdiocese, co-founded the series with Father Jack Wall in the summer of 1981 in Arlington Heights, Ill.

Originally designed to be a six-week summer program for young-adult Catholics, Theology-on-Tap grew rather quickly. On the first night, 200 people showed up at St. James Parish in Arlington Heights. Six weeks later, there were more than 400.

The following year, four additional parishes were added to accommodate the growing number of faith-hungry, college-age Catholics. Father Cusick estimated that somewhere between 130 and 150 parishes in Chicago have participated in the program at some time. He believes it is needed more now than ever before.

“What gets me nervous is that every generation appears to be more secular than the same age group one generation ahead of them. And that’s sort of alarming,” he said. “Everybody keeps saying, ‘The young adults are the future of the church.’ No, they’re not. They are the present church.” ...

Father Cusick has sage words for young Catholics who find they are drifting from their faith. “Just stay on the reservation because when you get older, you’re going to need this stuff.”
I've always been impressed with what I've seen at ToTs, and gotta figure out quickly how to add productively to the tradition; my first turn at the mic comes on 9 March in Denver, and other gigs are being arranged.


Thursday, January 25, 2007

Looking North, Looking Up

Our friends at Salt & Light marked yesterday's feast of St Francis deSales (patron of journalists, should anyone be unawares) with the rollout of "Zoom!" -- advertised as the first daily Catholic webcast with an eye to presenting "a four-minute window to the Catholic world."

And a blog for the Canadian cable outlet's newly up and running, to boot.... C'est tout en français aussi: "blogue" et video.

Apparently, S&L's showing Abbe Pierre's funeral tomorrow. Now there's something you likely won't see on EWTN.


Quote of the Day

Speaking of conversion, Beliefnet's got up a snip of a 1964 Joseph Ratzinger sermon on the salvation of non-Christians, taken from the recently-translated What It Means to be a Christian, published by Ignatius. The Benedictine thread of "It's not them, it's us" is clearly visible 41 years before the conciliar peritus ascended Peter's chair.

Key, quasi-prophetic part:
We are staring at the trials of everyday Christianity and forgetting on that account that faith is not just a burden that weighs us down; it is at the same time a light that brings us counsel, gives us a path to follow, and gives us meaning. We are seeing in the Church only the exterior order that limits our freedom and thereby overlooking the fact that she is our spiritual home, which shields us, keeps us safe in life and in death. We are seeing only our own burden and forgetting that other people also have burdens, even if we know nothing of them. And above all, what a strange attitude that actually is, when we no longer find Christian service worthwhile if the denarius of salvation may be obtained even without it! It seems as if we want to be rewarded, not just with our own salvation, but most especially with other people's damnation—just like the workers hired in the first hour. That is very human, but the Lord's parable is particularly meant to make us quite aware of how profoundly un-Christian it is at the same time. Anyone who looks on the loss of salvation for others as the condition, as it were, on which he serves Christ will in the end only be able to turn away grumbling, because that kind of reward is contrary to the loving-kindness of God.

Caritas Lex Suprema

Today's the feast of the Conversion of St Paul. Greetings on it as I await my own.

Sure, this is one of the most ancient and solemn observances of the calendar. But in a strange coincidence, it's also the day that three of contemporary Catholicism's more joyous red-letter events took place. Indeed, we could say this is the day the modern church was born.

That milestone came on this day in 1959 when, in a snap announcement to the cardinals after the customary Mass at St Paul's Outside the Walls, the newly-elected John XXIII revealed three initiatives: a synod of the diocese of Rome, a revision of the Code of Canon Law and, most seismically of all, the 21st ecumenical council of the Christian era.

John didn't inform his red-hats until after the news had been leaked to, and reported by, the media.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

His secretary, the still-living Archbishop Loris Capovilla, once recalled the day:
[T]he Pope rose at dawn starting his morning prayers with the Angelus said above the solemn embrace of Bernini's colonnade. He celebrated Mass in his private chapel and assisted at mine. He remained kneeling longer than usual. He paused at his desk for a quick glance at the newspapers and at some of the Secretariat of State's files. His question echoed in the air: "How can the Christian message be portrayed in its entirety to the people of our time? Modern man is not insensitive to the word of Christ, he is not averse to seizing the anchor of salvation that is offered to him".
The Council having come and gone, it took 24 years for the "Good Pope"'s other major project to reach completion. The revised Code of Canon Law was promulgated on this day in 1983 with the Apostolic Constitution Sacrae Disciplinae Leges of Pope John Paul II (shown above at its signing, a familiar figure over his shoulder).

In my thrice-great uncle's defense, it took Pietro Gasparri but 13 years to compile the first Code. All by his lonesome.

And, of course, it's been exactly a year since, marking the end of a labyrinthine path of scuttled drafts, translation battles, and a writing process spanning two pontificates, Benedict XVI unleashed his first encyclical into the world, carrying but one simple message: Deus Caritas Est -- "God Is Love."

It's been said that the seemingly easiest things are, in reality, the most difficult to do. And as one of the prophets of our time put it, probably without thinking of this day and its tie-ins:
"Peter said to Paul, you know all those words we wrote/
Are just the rules of the game and the rules are the first to go."
Especially in the latter case, these "rules" -- and the spirit behind 'em -- are too wise and valuable to let go as our road to conversion continues on.


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

"Báisteach Corcra, Báisteach Corcra..."

In case you don't have your Irish-English dictionaries on hand, that phrase roughly translates as what the archbishop of Dublin has deigned to sprinkle: "Purple Rain, Purple Rain."

Writing on the "purple honours" in today's Independent, John Cooney's having almost as much fun with the news as the honorees:
POPE Benedict XVI has bestowed a swish of purple on the Dublin clergy in order to restore pomp and bring back a sense of deference in the dwindling church pews.

Eleven priests of the Dublin archdiocese are now entitled to wear purple vestments traditionally associated with the Roman Court, and they are to be saluted by the faithful as 'Monsignore', or Monsignors.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin yesterday announced the nomination by Pope Benedict of four Prelates of Honour and ten Chaplains to His Holiness, each bearing the title Monsignor.

The Archbishop‘s announcement amounts to the unveiling of a Papal Honours List, or the award of Papal Oscars. It derives from the days in Roman protocol when the Pope was surrounded by his papal court.
Among those drinking from the fountain are the archdiocesan vicar-general Lorcan O'Brien and chief chaplain to the Irish Defence Forces Eoin Thynne, who've been gifted with the full soaking as Prelates of Honour, and two other Drumcondra curialists dancing in the "purple drizzle" as Chaplains of His Holiness -- Paul Tighe, head of the archdiocesan office of Public Affairs and Paul Callan, Archbishop Martin's private secretary.

Oh, and congrats on this side of the Pond to the newly-drizzled Msgr Patrick Dempsey of the archdiocese of Washington. (Lest anyone be confused: no, "Dr McDreamy" has not been given a papal honor... though stranger things have happened in this business. This Pat Dempsey is private secretary to Cardinal William Wakefield Baum and the legendary Msgr Gillen.)

As we wish our own here in the River City, may they never be made to wear alb-and-stole when choir dress'll do.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Words from a March

The two main homilies from yesterday's program in DC have been posted.

First, some snips from Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, chair of the USCCB's Committee for Pro-Life Activities, delivered at Sunday night's Vigil for Life in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception:
Tonight, our first reading from Sacred Scripture leads us to experience solidarity with the chosen people of Israel who assembled at the time of the Restoration of Jerusalem in the fifth century B.C. They came together with the priest Ezra, to listen to God’s word, to be challenged by His commandments and to find strength in His presence. We hear how the people of Israel, after enduring, in hope, both suffering and captivity, offered praise to God. As they listened attentively to His holy word they were moved to tears by the challenge that God’s law presented to them. At this point the prophet Nehemiah intervened, telling the people not to be overwhelmed, not to be sad. He proclaimed: " is holy to our Lord.... Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength."

What the prophet Nehemiah told the people of Israel applies to us, dear Friends, now. Today is holy and our celebration of life is holy to the Lord. Our attitude in the wake of the immense national tragedy of abortion is our sober rejoicing in hope. Indeed, "We have set our hope on the living God."

What then are our reasons for rejoicing?

In the conflict that exists between life and death, between the culture of life and the culture of death we see that something very encouraging is also taking place in our society.

The rate and number of abortions in the United States continue to decline, most notably among teens. Many teenagers are wisely choosing to abstain from sexual activity—motivated both by religious and moral values, and the desire to protect themselves from the epidemic of sexually-transmitted diseases that today afflict some sixty million Americans. To be free of disease, to be free of the fear of an ill-timed pregnancy, to be free of a broken heart—this is the freedom that we want for our young people, and we rejoice that it is unfolding.

Another reason to rejoice is that the American people are becoming more pro-life. According to a very significant poll last year, general support for Roe v. Wade fell under fifty percent for the first time since 1973. Most Americans do not support Roe v. Wade, and are against allowing most of the abortions the Court has made legal.

We can, moreover, take heart in knowing that spiritual, educational and legislative efforts are making a big difference in the hearts and minds of so many people of good will. More and more citizens are coming to question abortion and to recognize—as a starting point for deeper conversion—that there is something radically wrong with abortion and the support given it by our laws. There is a growing realization that human life and human dignity cannot be suppressed without immense damage to the entire fabric of our nation and numerous consequences. In the midst of the enormous challenge posed by threats to life, there are new reasons to hope that the truth of God’s law will prevail as a great light in our nation as our people move increasingly toward valuing human life from its earliest and most vulnerable stages onward. This is indeed cause for rejoicing in the Lord!

As we all move forward in hope as citizens confronted with the national disaster resulting from Roe v. Wade, we recall once more the crucial importance of humble and persevering prayer. We also realize how important it is to contribute to the exchange taking place among people of good will. Our position is one of profound concern for the unborn and deep compassion for all those affected by abortion. With utmost respect we express in the public debate our strong conviction that something terribly wrong has weakened our nation—something that flagrantly violates human rights and human dignity, in addition to the law of God. It is necessary for all of us to speak with lucidity in bearing witness to the truth that has such vast consequences.

A great example of this lucidity is found in the way in which Pope John Paul II spoke to Americans just eight years ago this month in the city of St. Louis. Permit me to offer you his own words:

"There are times of trial, tests of national character, in the history of every country. America has not been immune to them. One such time of trial is closely connected with St. Louis. Here, the famous Dred Scott case was heard. And in that case the Supreme Court of the United States subsequently declared an entire class of human beings—people of African descent—outside the boundaries of the national community and the Constitution’s protection.

"After untold suffering and with enormous effort, that situation has, at least in part, been reversed.

"America faces a similar time of trial today. Today, the conflict is between a culture that affirms, cherishes, and celebrates the gift of life, and a culture that seeks to declare entire groups of human beings—the unborn, the terminally ill, the handicapped, and others considered ‘unuseful’—to be outside the boundaries of legal protection. Because of the seriousness of the issues involved, and because of America’s great impact on the world as a whole, the resolution of this new time of testing will have profound consequences.... My fervent prayer is that through the grace of God at work in the lives of Americans of every race, ethnic group, economic condition and creed, America will resist the culture of death and choose to stand steadfastly on the side of life. To choose life...involves rejecting every form of violence: the violence of poverty and hunger, which oppresses so many human beings; the violence of armed conflict, which does not resolve but only increases divisions and tensions; the violence of particularly abhorrent weapons...; the violence of drug trafficking; the violence of racism; and the violence of mindless damage to the natural environment.

"Only a higher moral vision can motivate the choice for life. And the values underlying that vision will greatly depend on whether the nation continues to honor and revere the family as the basic unit of society: the family—teacher of love, service, understanding and forgiveness; the family—open and generous to the needs of others; the family—the great wellspring of human happiness."

And from Archbishop Donald Wuerl's Monday morning homily in the same Shrine:
Some months ago at a high school that I visited in this Archdiocese I was asked by one of the students: What does the Church bring to our culture, our society? What does the Church offer me? What does the Church have to say to the world today?

What the Church brings to our world, to our culture, to our society, to our nation, to our lives, to you and to me, is the encounter with Jesus Christ, the risen Lord, and the Word of God, the voice and gospel of life.

The proclamation of the message of Jesus Christ is the proclamation of the gospel of life. When we ask, why does the Church struggle so hard to defend human life, the answer will be found, I believe, in what will be history’s reproach of this age that condones the single greatest moral plight in our nation since the days of slavery.

Have you ever wondered how the great atrocities of history came to be? How is it that there were concentration camps dedicated to the extermination of people? How could it be that slavery – the reduction of human beings to the status of property – was protected by law? How is it possible that the wholesale destruction of human life can be accepted by society? When we look at the magnitude of the evil we are dealing with, one wonders how such activities could be accepted by any people anywhere at any time.

Silence is the ally of atrocity. Sometimes the silence of individuals is compounded by the means of social communication. The full horror of what is taking place can be presented in a way that most people remain ignorant of what is really happening. Silence and ignorance are twin allies of atrocities....

When all of the arguments surrounding the abortion issue are viewed rationally, honestly and calmly, they do not justify the final and drastic decision to take the life of an unborn child. In varying degrees there can be vexing, painful and pressing circumstances that call for a great deal of assistance, understanding, compassion and support, but they never justify the taking of the innocent life of the baby in the womb.

A number of years ago, I had the opportunity to visit a maternity hospital, supported and sustained by the Diocese of Pittsburgh, in Chimbote, Peru — one of the poorest parts of a country with a large, struggling population of poor and needy. I had forgotten how strong a newborn child can be. At the invitation of the Sisters running the maternity ward, I picked up a newly born, one-day-old infant.

The baby latched onto my finger with all of his force and held tight. It was as if the baby already knew that his mother, because of her poverty, disability and many other needs, was going to give him up for adoption. He held on with all of his strength.

That infant can be a parable figure for us. Countless unborn infants are reaching out to hold on to us with all of their strength since we are the only voice they have in their struggle to find a place, a home, a life in this world.

Why does the Church speak so strongly, consistently and persistently in defense of human life? Why are you – we – here this morning? We are present in order that unborn children, in the millions around this world, have someone to hold onto, someone to cling to, someone who will speak for and protect them.

As we observe the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion on demand and removed the political consensus that sought to regulate this destructive human action, we must not lose sight of the fact that more that 1.5 million unborn children are killed each year in the United States alone.

What adds to the harm afflicted on our society by abortion is the concerted effort to make such violence acceptable. Through laws and public policy that justify the taking of human life solely because it is inconvenient to someone, we engender in the hearts of our people especially our young, the next generation, the idea that death is a solution to a problem. The lesson has been too well learned. Violence does beget violence.

CNS/Nancy Wiechec


Wojtyla, Incognito

Way back when, a friend told me that, as he came to grips with the Vatican fishbowl in the early days of his pontificate, John Paul the Great would slip out of the walls in a Panama hat, trousers and open-necked shirt, discreetly trailed by plainclothes security.

But as time wore on and his profile grew, people started noticing the more than curious resemblance, and the papal breakouts in the Urb had to be curtailed.

Not so for the late amato's beloved mountains, however, as Don Stasiu reveals in his new release, A Life with Karol, out this week in Italian and Polish:
Pope John Paul II made more than 100 clandestine trips to ski or hike in the Italian mountains and was rarely recognized by others on the slopes, his former secretary said....

The cardinal, who was Pope John Paul's personal secretary for 38 years, wrote that the pope, an avid skier and hiker in his youth, often felt pent up inside the Vatican.

In the winter of 1981, the pope, his secretary and two of his Polish aides decided to make a "getaway" to the mountains from the papal villa in Castel Gandolfo.

They packed into a car owned by one of the priests, in order not to raise suspicions, and when they passed the Swiss Guard post one prelate opened wide a newspaper to hide the pontiff in the back seat.

Then they drove to the central Italian ski town of Ovindoli without an escort, winding through mountain towns and carefully respecting the speed limits.

Once they arrived, they chose a deserted slope and the pope was able to ski all day long. On the way back, the pope smiled and said, "We did it!" It was the first of many such escapes, the papal secretary said....
One of the first people to recognize the pope was a young cross-country skier, a boy no more than 10 years old, who was lagging behind the rest of his family when he came upon the papal party. He asked them if they had seen his family go by, and one of the priests pointed to the trail.
At that moment, the pope arrived at the bottom of the slope.

The boy looked astonished, pointed to the pontiff and began yelling, "The pope! The pope!"

One of the pope's aides intervened quickly: "What are you saying, silly! You'd better think instead about hurrying up, you're going to lose your group."

The boy skied away, and the pope and his friends quickly returned to their car and headed for Rome before the word got out.
Another CNS report hones in on Dziwisz's look at life inside John Paul's Vatican:
Pope John Paul II consulted with top aides about possibly resigning in 2000 and set up a "specific procedure" for papal resignation....

Cardinal Dziwisz said the pope, in fact, decided at the time to consult on the question with his closest aides, including then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

The pope concluded that he would remain in office, saying that God had called him to the papacy and that "God will call me back, in the form that he wishes," Cardinal Dziwisz wrote.

"At the same time, John Paul II also established a specific procedure for giving his resignation, in case he would not have been able to carry out his ministry as pope to the very end," Cardinal Dziwisz said.

"So, as one can see, he considered this possibility," he said....
On 9/11, the pontiff got news of the attacks while at Castel Gandolfo:
"On the other end of the line was the frightened voice of Cardinal (Angelo) Sodano, the secretary of state. We turned the television on, and the pope was able to see those dramatic images, the collapse of the towers with so many poor victims imprisoned inside."

The pope passed the rest of the day going back and forth between the television and the chapel to pray, he said.

"He was worried, strongly worried that it wouldn't end there, and that the attack could set off an endless spiral of violence," Cardinal Dziwisz wrote.
And the final act:
"It was 9:37 p.m. We had noticed that the Holy Father had stopped breathing. But only in that precise moment did we see on the monitor that his great heart, after continuing to beat for a few moments, had stopped." Someone, he said, blocked the hands of the clock to mark the hour of the pope's passing. Those around the pope's bed began singing a "Te Deum" of thanksgiving, not a requiem.

"We were crying. How could one not cry! They were tears of both sadness and joy. It was then that all the lights in the house were turned on. ... And then, I can't remember. It was as if it had suddenly become dark. It was dark above me, and it was dark inside of me," he said.

Culture Wars, UK Edition

Yet again, a hierarchy v. government row has broken out in Britain -- this time over impending regulations that the rights of same-sex couples extend to equal opportunity in adoptions.

Cormac's jumped in seeking an exemption, and No. 10 is said to be "wavering":
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster, said the church would have "serious difficulty" with the proposed regulations, putting a total of 12 Catholic adoption agencies at risk of closure.

This morning the prime minister's official spokesman admitted that Mr Blair still had to make his mind up on the issue.

The regulations, part of the Equalities Act 2006, are designed to give gay and lesbian couples the same protection against discrimination under the law as ethnic minorities.

But Cardinal Murphy O'Connor has warned that the law would force Catholics to "act against the teaching of the church and their own consciences".

Mr Blair's official spokesman said: "This is an issue with sensitivities on all sides and the prime minister recognises that, and that is why it is worth having some discussions in government before we come to a decision.

"The key thing we have to remember in all of this is the interests of the children concerned and that there are arguments on both sides.

"This is not a straightforward black-and-white issue. This is an issue where there are sensitivities on all sides and we have to respect those but equally find a way through."

Weekend reports speculated that both Mr Blair, whose wife and family are Catholic, and Ruth Kelly, the communities secretary - who is a member of the Catholic sect Opus Dei - were in favour of allowing the church some form of exemption.

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor released a letter the church had sent to Downing Street, saying: "We believe it would be unreasonable, unnecessary and unjust discrimination against Catholics for the government to insist that if they wish to continue to work with local authorities, Catholic adoption agencies must act against the teaching of the church and their own consciences by being obliged in law to provide such a service."

The cardinal said it would be an "unnecessary tragedy" if Catholic agencies were forced to close - rather than being forced to consider homosexual couples as potential adoptive parents.

The act is due to come into power in April, but Downing Street would not be drawn on a timetable for discussions exempting Catholic adoption agencies.
Regrettably, no imitation of the San Francisco solution has yet been proffered.