Friday, June 22, 2007

Archbishop's Day in Rome

A week from today, Benedict XVI will mark the 56th anniversary of his priestly ordination by conferring the pallium on the metropolitan archbishops of the world named within the past year.

The jurisdictional garment proper to their office symbolizing the light yoke of Christ, the narrow band of wool has roots dating from the 4th century AD. Woven from the sheared coat of lambs blessed annually on the feast of St Agnes (21 January), the pallium was imposed on an incoming archbishop in his cathedral by a papal delegation until 1984, when Pope John Paul II began the tradition of personally investing new metropolitans with it on the solemnity of Ss. Peter and Paul.

Every year, the new crop of the bands -- two inches wide in its contemporary form, adorned with six black crosses and concealing three slots for metal pins to keep it from flying off -- are blessed by the Pope at First Vespers of Rome's patronal feast. To underscore the gift's symbolism of an archbishop's bond with Peter and his successors, straight from the blessing, they're placed in the gilt coffin above St Peter's tomb, where they rest until the following morning.

Joined by groups from their respective archdioceses who pack the Vatican Basilica for one of the biggest days of its pilgrimage year, each year's class of recipients provides a rich glimpse into the universality of the church of Rome, and next week's is no exception. Upwards of 25 new metropolitans will concelebrate with Benedict, among them recently-named archbishops from places including Uganda, Papua New Guinea, Togo, Cuba, Guatemala, France, with two from Mexico, four from Brazil, and a record five from Canada.

While the pallium blitz offers a wider opportunity for local churches to have a hometown excuse to get to Rome, some among the group will likely be back in time to receive the red hat of a cardinal, among them Archbishops Odilio Scherer of São Paulo, Oswald Gracias of Bombay, Stanislaw Nycz of Warsaw, Thomas Collins of Toronto and, at the head of the queue, Angelo Bagnasco of Genoa, the president of the Italian episcopate whose recent experience of death threats will seemingly commandeer a larger-than-usual turnout of support from Liguria.

Permitted for use solely in the ecclesiastical province which he heads, the pallium is a non-transferable object; when an archbishop is transferred from one metropolitan post to another, he must petition the band anew from his local Vatican representative, the prior one never to be worn again.

And while most of the recipients have long been hard at work in their new charges, others have yet to see their installation day. An archbishop-elect may be invested with the symbol of his soon-to-be office, as is the case for Brendan O'Brien of Kingston a month in advance of his formal arrival there and the US' lone representative, Louisville's Joseph Kurtz, who'll be installed on 15 August, but with the lambswool already on his shoulders.

However, while that can happen, it doesn't have to. Named archbishop of Milwaukee five days before he could've received his pallium in 2002, Timothy Dolan asked for his reception to be delayed a year.

Reason behind the request: Dolan being Dolan, he wanted to bring Milwaukee to the party.