Sunday, December 30, 2007

In Navitate Domino, Spes in Asia

Thought your place was crowded on Christmas?

The scene above: a Midnight Mass in Huai'an, China.

In his Christmas message, Fr Bernardo Cervellera, the editor of the Rome-based outlet AsiaNews and a member of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, wrote thus:

In our work as witnesses for the people and the Church in Asia, very often we have to denounce imprisonment, violence, wars, and trade in human lives. But this is just one side of the coin. The other speaks of mans’ rebirth, of the vitality of these Churches, of martyrdom and fertility. The multiple signs of life in the Church in Asia (in Iraq, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and even North Korea) and their witness of charity in their society, confirm to us that Christ is born and that he does not abandon man to a tragic destiny.

Too often for us in the West Christmas is a “celebration, without the Celebrated”, when we exchange gifts without ever really exchanging The Gift. Knowing and sharing the experiences of our many brothers and sisters in Asia, which we recount on these pages, is a way for us to rediscover within ourselves and our situations the dignity and the beauty of being a human person loved by God, who came to be close to us.

Remember, it's still the Octave -- today's gift: Geese-a-Laying -- so continued wishes for a Merry Christmas to you and yours.

PHOTO: Reuters/Patty Chen


The Privileged Sphere

Before the usual packed crowd in his front-yard -- and, via satellite, an estimated 1.5 million at a church-sponsored rally in Madrid -- B16 spoke to every family as a Holy Family at today's Angelus:
Speaking to them (in Spanish) the Pope said: “Contemplating the mystery of the Son of God who came into the world surrounded by the affection of Mary and Joseph, I urge Christian families to experience the loving presence of the Lord in their life. At the same time I urge them to bear witness before the world of the beauty of human love, marriage and family, finding inspiration in Christ’s love for mankind. Based on an indissoluble union between a man and a woman, it [the family] constitutes the privileged sphere in which human life is welcomed and protected, from its beginning to its natural end.”

In a veiled criticism of the Spanish government, which has legally recognised homosexual unions and has decided to eliminate religious education from schools, the Pontiff added: “Parents have the right and the fundamental duty to educate their children in their faith and the values that give dignity to human existence. It is worthwhile to work for the family and marriage because it is worthwhile to work for human beings, the most precious being created by God.”

Earlier Benedict XVI mentioned the significance of today’s celebration, the Feast Day of the Holy Family. He said: “In accordance with the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, let us look at Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and worship the mystery of a God who chose to be born from a woman, the Holy Virgin, and come into this world the way all men do. This way He sanctified the reality of the family, filling it with divine grace, fully revealing its vocation and mission.”

The Pope mentioned important teachings by the Second Vatican Council on the family. “[H]usbands and wives find their proper vocation in being witnesses of the faith and love of Christ to one another and to their children (cf Lumen gentium, 35). The Christian family loudly proclaims both the present virtues of the Kingdom of God and the hope of a blessed life to come” (ibid).

In remembering John Paul II for whom “what is good for people and society is strictly connected to the ‘good health’ of the family,” Benedict XVI reiterated that “the Church is committed to defend and promote the ‘the holiness and to foster the natural dignity” (Gaudium et spes, 47) of marriage and the family.”
PHOTO: AP/Andrew Medichini


Cormac Kicks the Poles

Days after new stats reported that, aided by a significant influx of Eastern Europeans, Catholic church attendance in Britain had surpassed that of the nation's Anglicans, the primate of England and Wales has brought his Tony Blair Conversion Honeymoon to a screeching halt by accusing the Polish newcomers of "creating a separate church":
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster, urged the Polish community to do more to learn English and integrate into local parishes, claiming the Catholic Church in the UK was in danger of dividing along ethnic lines as the number of Polish-speaking churches rose.

Leading Polish community figures said they felt "violated" and "spiritually raped" by his words and called for talks on the issue....

Murphy-O'Connor said: "I'm quite concerned that the Poles are creating a separate church in Britain. I would want them to be part of the Catholic life of this country.

"I would hope those responsible for the Polish church here, and the Poles themselves, will be aware that they should become a part of local parishes as soon as possible when they learn enough of the language."

Despite the archbishop's also using his Christmas message to appeal to the nation to be more welcoming to immigrants, Grazyna Sikorska, of the Polish Catholic Mission for England and Wales, said the community had been upset.

She told the Catholic newspaper The Tablet: "How can he demand that we stop praying in Polish? Is it a sin? I feel my inner conscience has been violated, leaving me spiritually raped."

Fr Tadeusz Kukla, the vicar-delegate for Poles in England and Wales, said: "If we lose our national identity, we lose everything."
Lest anyone think that the Brits have a monopoly on history's lessons, keep in mind what happened on this side of the Pond back in the 1890s, when the (Irish/German descent) US bishops sought to speed up the assimilation of Polish immigrants by attempting to block their culture from the (Irish/German-dominated) ecclesiastical mainstream...

...which strategy resulted in the creation of an actual Polish "separate church" and, thus, schism.

(To say nothing of how, in their homeland, the Poles proudly -- and unabashedly -- kept the faith alive and public through decade after decade of unabated Communist persecution.)

Murphy-O'Connor turned 75 in August and awaits a successor. Were today's news taking place in the last pontificate, an announcement would likely have appeared by tomorrow morning.

That is, if Wojtyla and Dziwisz could've held themselves that long.


Saturday, December 29, 2007

...With His Boots On

The nation's longest-serving parish priest has gone to his reward.

A priest of the archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, Msgr Heliodore Mejak died at 98 on Christmas Eve.

A native of Austria ordained in 1935, Mejak labored at Holy Family in Kansas City until the day of his death -- a pastorate that spanned 63 years and five months... or, to put it another way, six pontificates.
He will be remembered not only for his longevity but for his staunchly traditional Catholicism and his devotion to his parish, where he was also the church handyman, lawn cutter, financial manager and compiler of the weekly bulletin.

“He was a stellar priest,” said Mary Ann Grelinger, a former parishioner at Holy Family who wrote a 2006 biography on Mejak for a priests’ magazine called Homiletic & Pastoral Review. “He said Mass every day. He never took a day off or a vacation. Most priests do. He didn’t.”

Mejak celebrated Mass until about a week before he died, even though he had become progressively weaker, was losing his vision and used a walker.

“He couldn’t see,” said Kevin Fogarty, a Wyandotte County firefighter who has been attending Holy Family Church regularly for about 10 years. “He wore ‘welding goggles’ with huge magnifiers. When he said Mass, it was obvious he was reciting from memory. He couldn’t read it at all.”

Mejak may be best known for his resistance to changes in the church. Holy Family, a Slovenian parish, drew people who believed as he did. He was the last priest in the archdiocese to stop celebrating Mass in Latin in the wake of the Vatican II church reforms approved in the 1960s.

Mejak did not want laypeople to serve communion and said the host should only be served directly from a priest’s hand, rather than placing it in the hand of the recipient. He wanted people to kneel rather than stand for communion.

When Vatican II called on people to shake hands or hug as a sign of peace during Mass, Mejak ignored it....

Charles Andalikiewicz, 77, had known Mejak since he was a boy growing up in the neighborhood of the church. Andalikiewicz is priest of Immaculate Conception Church in Louisburg, Kan.

“He was very humble, very loyal and a gentle man,” Andalikiewicz said. “He was also very scholarly.”

Mejak was a train buff who built electric trains in the church basement that he liked to show children, Grelinger recalled. He built the trains using old pictures and drawings as a guide....

He served several churches in Kansas before being assigned to the Holy Family, where he had to learn the Slovenian language.
"We all knew that he wouldn’t live forever, but at times he certainly seemed indestructible," Archbishop Joseph Naumann told a local paper.

“Monsignor is somebody you don’t replace.”

While an administrator will be named shortly, Naumann said that, in time, Holy Family will likely be consolidated with two other parishes under the leadership of a shared pastor.

Indeed, in more ways than one, it's the end of an era.


The Power of "Sorry"

At a recent Mass to commemorate the 190th anniversary of a California mission built by native converts, the Miwok Indians, Sacramento's bishop-emeritus apologized for the church's mistreatment of the early community.

Apparently, the gesture had quite an impact:
You could have heard a pin drop when Bishop Francis A. Quinn, during a Mass at the Church of St. Raphael in San Rafael, apologized to the Miwok Indians for cruelties the church committed against them two centuries ago.

Indians who were present seemed stunned.

The retired bishop, in green brocade robes, lofty miter and carrying a shepherd's crook, lent heart and historical gravitas to the Mass, part of the 190th birthday celebration of Mission San Rafael Arcangel the other day.

Coast Miwok Indians once occupied the lands from the Golden Gate to north of Bodega Bay. When Spanish padres launched the San Rafael mission in 1817, the Indians built it, maintained it and helped it survive, according to anthropologist Betty Goerke, who has studied the Indians for 30 years.

But they paid dearly for their participation. Bishop Quinn conceded that the church authorities "took the Indian out of the Indian," destroying traditional spiritual practices and "imposing a European Catholicism upon the natives."

He conceded that mission soldiers and priests had sexual relations with Indian women and inflicted cruel punishments - caning, whipping, imprisonment - on those who disobeyed mission laws. He acknowledged that the Indians had a civilization of their own - one that valued all of nature - long before the Spanish imposed an alien, European-type life upon them.

"I was teary-eyed" at his words, Goerke said. "There have been other anniversary events at other missions, one where a priest hinted that they were sorry, but this surpassed them all."

Greg Sarris, who heads the Miwok tribal council, formally called the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, said the apology was historic. "I have not heard of this happening anywhere else in this country," he said.

He was not only astounded at the apology - "it was huge" - but also by the bishop's appreciation of the culture.

After the Mass, Sarris spoke at a gathering in the St. Raphael's school gym.

"With the permission of my people," he said, gazing at Bishop Quinn, "I accept your apology."

Most of those in attendance probably were unaware that many of the remaining 1,000 Coast Miwoks still feel the pain of their early subjugation.

"Many, many of us are Catholics," Sarris said. "Some who are Catholics don't think much about the past. Others who are Catholics are still angry. And many of us left the church because of colonization, for which the church was the main instrument."...

"It was magical to have priests and Miwoks together again, in a peaceful setting, celebrating and honoring one another."

Says Sarris: "It gave me great hope that we could move forward hand in hand and make a home for all of us in this land."
After his 1993 retirement from the church's helm in the California capital, Quinn literally hit the road, living in a mobile home and serving as a mission priest for American Indian communities in Arizona.

In a 2005 interview to mark his 25th anniversary as a bishop, he offered some impressions on his ministry there, and the state of the wider church:
Q: You have been retired for more than 10 years now. Your primary ministry during that time has been with the Yaquis (Native Americans) in Arizona. What are the main aspects of your ministry and your impressions? In what ways has this ministry affected your life?

A: I’m serving as an associate pastor. There’s a freshness about it, even though I’m 83 years old, because I was never an associate pastor except for three months at St. Monica Parish in the Richmond District of San Francisco.

Now as an associate pastor, I don’t have to worry about finances or personnel. I can just do purely essential priestly work — Masses for the Indians, all the sacraments, funerals, days of recollection — all the things the associate pastor does. I enjoy it very much. The Yaquis have about seven churches, but all under one parish. Most of them are just lean-to churches, as they are very poor. I rotate around those seven churches and I work with two Trinitarian priests.

Once in a while I go out to the Papago Indian reservation — about two hours’ drive west of Tucson. Their real name is Tohono O’odham, which means “desert people” in the Papago language. They have a reservation that is 90 miles by 90 miles, and they have about 45 communities, most of which have a church. They are very small communities, so I help them out on occasion too. It’s a full life. I also say Mass daily for some sisters who live near where I have my R.V....

The Yaquis have rituals — deer dancing and other things — that are laced with Latin prayers; they are Roman Catholic to the core — about 85 percent Catholic among the population. And we’ve learned such things as rope dancing at the offertory, a Yaqui doing smoke blessings in the four directions instead of the penitential rite. Circles are big to them. They go to confession by writing their sins on slips of paper, which the priest reads silently. Then he gives them individual absolution. It’s amazing that, out of a church of 200 people, about 150 will go to confession. I’ve told priests who are not on an Indian reservation that they might consider doing this....

Q: You’ve said before that the spiritual life is a lifelong journey for everyone. Can you elaborate on this?

A: I’m now finding this so true as I get into my 80s. If I could only shortcut the spiritual journey of others, especially the young, to say, “Please do this and your life will be so much happier and you won’t have regrets.” But I think we all have to learn it from experience. It is a journey...a hierarchy of spiritual values that often comes with age.

The breviary I used to find more of a burden — it’s called the Divine Office and “officium” means burden — and now I get something out of it reading it. I’ll say to myself, “I think this is beautiful.” Even at night when I pick up Robert Ludlum or John Grisham and try to read, if I still have some breviary to say, I think this is good. I’m still enjoying it. That’s how you grow spiritually and to know the meaning of prayer. The Mass means more to me now. I don’t know why it takes so long truly to appreciate what the Mass is. In many ways you realize that things like advancement and position are not important. What is important is keeping your friendships, your prayer life, and simplicity of life.

Q: Have you realized this more because you no longer have the responsibilities you had as bishop?

A: I think that’s probably true. I think I am just as busy, but there’s a pace of life now that allows you to think of these things. And you know you are coming more to the end of your life and you reflect more on what’s important. It is a spiritual journey — journey is a good word for it — because you are learning all the time.

There are times when we may wonder about the institutional church and question it, but all the alternatives don’t quite measure up, and one comes to realize that more.

Q: In an article you wrote for America magazine in April 2003, you said the institutional church today has some real challenges. For instance, many young people do not practice their faith or connect with the church in any way.

A: Many young people see the institutional church as irrelevant, and mostly around sex. It seems that all the problems within the church have something to do with gender or sex — whether it’s extramarital sex, homosexuality, divorce, the ordination of women and so on. Young people feel the pressures of the culture with the Internet and MTV and movies.

I don’t think we should be enemies of the culture and we shouldn’t be enemies of secularism or science — they are all part of God’s way of having created life. We can work with them to find where there is truth. Science needs religion as a moral guide, and we need science to find the physical facts.

With the young, we have a long way to go. If the young see Jesus Christ in us — as the saying goes, “If we build Jesus Christ, they will come.” Some youth may have turned off the institution, but it’s rare to find young people who don’t respect Jesus Christ. He seems to have remained a hero through it all, as do other people, like worldly celebrities, Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln.

Q: Perhaps the institutional church needs to look at new ways to talk about Catholic beliefs about sexuality and other issues.

A: We have to go where their minds are. Often we’re preaching, but not to the reality of their lives. And it’s hard for us who are older to do that with the young, but we should do it to all people: with young adults, with the middle-aged, the elderly. Where are their needs? What are they worrying about? What are their lives tied up with? We’re talking about alienation in the family, problems in the workplace, getting enough to make ends meet.

We really have to reach them where they are — we can’t stay in the theoretical world. I don’t think many young people are against the institutional church, they just dismiss it. They aren’t angry at the church — it’s just not part of their world. We have to listen, listen and listen more. We may listen, but we may not really hear what people are saying....

Q: Many who work for the church believe the church’s credibility has been greatly damaged with the public because of the clergy sex abuse scandal. What are your thoughts?

A: I think we have lost credibility. I wish this weren’t the case. I think we have projected the image of the church as only being clergy, hierarchy and religious. And the official leadership can be weak; we are all human.

If the people see the church as Jesus Christ — his person and his teaching — the people won’t lose credibility in that. They can lose credibility in those who are in leadership roles handling the crisis, but that shouldn’t make them depart from Jesus Christ. The credibility will come back, I believe, if it is for the right reasons.

Q: What advice do you have for anyone becoming a bishop today?

A: First of all I would say, be transparent. Let the people see what you are and who you are. You certainly don’t want to be a bishop because of position or prestige, even though that’s a natural thing, but you’ll be very unhappy if you do, because position and prestige do not go a long way.

If you’re going to be a bishop, try to be a bishop for the right reasons — that is, to spread Christ’s word and really live it. Be good, have courage, be wise, be honest.

“Good, guts, wise and true.” I’ve carried these four four-letter words in my wallet for more than 30 years. They are in my wallet. They are not in my character. I suspect they are the pillars on which a bishop (or any person) can live an effective, moral life. It’s easy enough to say the four words, but to do them is another thing.
After pressure from his family, Quinn returned to Sacramento shortly after his 86th birthday in September.

Parting gift to his Arizona flock: his RV.


Launching "Onions and Melons," Marini Goes Motu-Mad

As if Archbishop Piero Marini's new treatise on the liturgical reform wasn't already providing enough grist for the chattering circles, the former papal MC upped the ante a bit further in an interview (fulltext) with John Allen running in the current National Catholic Reporter.

NCR : You’ve called on the church to “take up with enthusiasm the liturgical path traced by the council.”
Marini: First of all, it’s important that I spoke about a path, one that I believe is irreversible. I often think about the journey of the ancient Israelites in the Old Testament. It was a difficult journey, and sometimes the people became nostalgic for the past, for the onions and the melons of Egypt and so on. In other words, sometimes they wanted to go back. But the historical journey of the church is one which, by necessity, has to move forward.

We’re in the liturgical season of Advent right now, which tells us that the Lord is in front of us, not behind us. If you want a lesson about the dangers of going back, I’ll limit myself to the woman from the Old Testament who turned around and became a pillar of salt!

What’s the essential content of this path?
We have to keep in mind two fundamental principles. First is the relationship with scripture, because in the liturgy we celebrate what’s contained in the Bible. That’s why the liturgical reform gave so much space to scripture. Second, we have to always be grounded in the church of the Fathers. ... I’m talking about the era of Augustine, Ambrose, the early period of the church.

Then, of course, there are the other elements emphasized by Vatican II. First of all, the priesthood of the faithful is something that we can’t afford to forget. Of course, we know that the Protestants thought they had “discovered” the priesthood of the faithful, because they saw that in the Bible the word “priest” referred only to Christ and to the holy people of God, not to the apostles. For that reason, the church of the Reformation rejected the idea of an institutional priesthood. The Catholic church naturally defended it, and created a liturgy, the Tridentine liturgy, which made a sharp distinction between the priest and the people of God. The liturgy became something priests do.

Vatican II helped us to rediscover the idea of the priesthood as something universal. The faithful don’t receive permission from priests to participate in the Mass. They are members of a priestly people, which means they have the right to participate in offering the sacrifice of the Mass. This was a great discovery, a great emphasis, of the council. We have to keep this in mind, because otherwise we run the risk of confusion about the nature of the liturgy, and for that matter, the church itself.

Your book creates the impression that you’re concerned about the current liturgical direction of the church, warning of a return to a “preconciliar mindset.”
I see a certain nostalgia for the past. What concerns me in particular is that this nostalgia seems especially strong among some young priests. How is it possible to be nostalgic for an era they didn’t experience? I remember this period. From the age of 6 until I was 23, in other words for 18 years, I lived with the Mass of Pius V. I grew up in this rite, and I was formed by it. I saw the necessity of the changes of Vatican II, and personally I don’t have any nostalgia for this older rite, because it was the same rite that had to be adapted to changing times. I don’t see any step backward, any loss. I’m always surprised to see young people who feel this nostalgia for something they never lived with. ‘Nostalgia for what?’ I find myself asking.

How do you explain this nostalgia?
In part, I suppose, because implementation of the liturgy of the council has been difficult. It’s true that many times there were exaggerations, which happened for the most part in a time when we could say there was disorder in the church. This was the period of great debates over new Eucharistic prayers, private adaptations, and so on. The danger today, on the other hand, is a ‘neo-ritualism,’ meaning a sort of exhaustion that one sees in many priests who celebrate the rite almost as if it’s a magical formula rather than a real participation of life. I see, therefore, a certain separation between celebration and life. Obviously, this separation can induce nostalgia for the past, for a time when everything was easier … when we used a language that no one understood, the rites were often incomprehensible, there were signs of the Cross everywhere, and so on. There wasn’t the same expectation that liturgy should speak to life. If one doesn’t insist on the link, it’s easy to see the liturgy more in terms of theatre. I believe this, to some extent, is the basis of the nostalgia we see today.

I also ask myself, what sort of instruction is being given on liturgy in the seminaries? How much time is devoted to it? It ought to be a principal subject, but speaking at least about Italy, including the great seminaries in the largest urban areas, sometimes no more than two hours a week are devoted to the liturgy. It’s impossible to form priests in a deep experience of the liturgy this way.

Would you see Benedict XVI’s motu proprio of July 7, granting wider permission to celebrate the old Mass, as part of this nostalgia?
Look, I don’t really want to get into this subject. I’ll just make two points.

First, the pope said that he was motivated to issue the motu proprio out of a concern for unity. [Note: The reference is to the split following Vatican II involving followers of French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who rejected the new Mass and other reforms.] In that sense, the basis of the motu proprio has a positive aspect. One has to respect the pope, who certainly has to keep this concern for unity close to his heart. Obviously I’m not in his position, and while I might have different ideas, as Catholics we must respect the role he plays.

Second, the pope himself wrote in the letter that accompanied the motu proprio that it takes nothing away from the authority of the Second Vatican Council. In the same way, the pope said that this is no way detracts from the validity of the liturgical reform. From my point of view, therefore, the motu proprio does not change the need to keep moving forward with renewal of the liturgy....

What personal memories have stayed with you from the death of Pope John Paul II?
From a personal point of view, for me these were the sort of moments that all of us live through when we lose someone in our families with whom we’ve been very close for a long time. I remember not only the great public celebrations, the funeral rites, but also much more private moments. For example, I remember the last time I saw the pope. It was the day before his death, Friday. He was in his bed, with the respirator, and he reached out for me, wanting to take my hand in his. He couldn’t speak, but he wanted to make contact.
As previously mentioned, the archbishop's rollout tour to plug A Challenging Reform: Realizing the Vision of the Liturgical Renewal hits the States in mid-February.

While the jaunt will also find Marini in Chicago, Boston, and at Notre Dame, its main launch-event will come in New York on the 16th. The archbishop will celebrate a Saturday evening Vigil Mass at the UN's "parish church" -- Holy Family on 47th Street -- followed by a reception and book-signing in the parish hall.

Suffice it to say, leave the salt at home.


Thursday, December 27, 2007

"And So, Peace Further Removes Itself"

Two days after the Pope cited Pakistan in his Christmas thoughts of "those places where the grim sound of arms continues to reverberate," the Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi SJ has conveyed the Holy See's shock and grief at the assassination earlier today of the Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.

Bhutto, 54, the country's former prime minister, was shot by an attacker who subsequently detonated a bomb that killed himself and at least 20 others, according to wire reports. The attack occurred in advance of the 8 January elections in which Bhutto, who recently returned to Pakistan after years in exile, sought a return to power. In the wake of the murder, the nation is said to be "erupting" into protests as moves to avoid further bloodshed were being attempted.

In comments to the Italian wires, Lombardi said that Benedict XVI was immediately informed of Bhutto's death. The attack, he said, "shows how extremely difficult it is to bring peace to a nation so ravaged by violence." As a result, "peace further removes itself."

"The Holy See shares the sorrow of the Pakistani people," Lombardi said. "One cannot see signs of peace in this tormented region."

The Vatican enjoys full diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic, as it does with 175 other countries. Since early 2006, Filipino Archbishop Adolfo Yllana has served as the papal representative in Islamabad.

Across the border in India, a community of the Missionaries of Charity was attacked overnight by a group of Hindu fundamentalists.

PHOTO: Toby Melville/Reuters File


French Hens, Anyone?

Merry Christmas, gang... everybody enjoying it?

The radio stations might've killed the carols already as the shops brim with returns, but as the Octave is supposed to be experienced as a single day, continued wishes for a Beato e Buon Natale to all of you and your loved ones. With Advent's preparations past, hope you're getting something of a breather to bask in the company of friends and family, or -- for those who've already had enough of 'em by now -- whatever else floats your boat.

Before all else, just a reminder that nominations for The Churchman -- and '07's more memorable stories for the Year in Review package -- are still being taken; deadline for submissions is Friday Noon. A ton of thanks to everyone who's dropped a line... and for the rest, remember that the product will only be as good as its collaborative input is high.

The package (general wrap-up piece, global and US Churchman designees, and honorable mentions) will be published on New Year's Eve; to clarify a question that's come up, nominees need not be clerics, nor men -- simply someone on the scene whose impact has been felt on the wider stage this year.

Between writing the review and the usual Octave get-togethers, light posting will continue. A very full year is in the wings, so "rest now or forever blow your peace" seems to be a wise star of advice to follow in these days of grace (...and, admittedly, very delayed card-sending).

Soak 'em up to the full, folks -- the days, that is. Indeed, they're a gift in themselves. And thanks to all of you who are, day in and day out, a gift to more people than you might realize... this scribe included.

Again, all the joy, peace, comfort, richness and light of Christmas to you and yours.


Tuesday, December 25, 2007

"A Great Light Has Come"

At Christmas noon in Rome, Pope Benedict delivered the traditional Urbi et Orbi from the central balcony of St Peter's Basilica.

Official translation in full:
"A holy day has dawned upon us.

Come you nations and adore the Lord.

Today a great light has come upon the earth."

(Day Mass of Christmas, Gospel Acclamation)

Dear Brothers and Sisters! "A holy day has dawned upon us." A day of great hope: today the Saviour of mankind is born. The birth of a child normally brings a light of hope to those who are waiting anxiously. When Jesus was born in the stable at Bethlehem, a "great light" appeared on earth; a great hope entered the hearts of those who awaited him: in the words of today’s Christmas liturgy, "lux magna". Admittedly it was not "great" in the manner of this world, because the first to see it were only Mary, Joseph and some shepherds, then the Magi, the old man Simeon, the prophetess Anna: those whom God had chosen. Yet, in the shadows and silence of that holy night, a great and inextinguishable light shone forth for every man; the great hope that brings happiness entered into the world: "the Word was made flesh and we saw his glory" (Jn 1:14).

"God is light", says Saint John, "and in him is no darkness at all" (1 Jn 1:5). In the Book of Genesis we read that when the universe was created, "the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep." "God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light." (Gen 1:2-3). The creative Word of God – Dabar in Hebrew, Verbum in Latin, Logos in Greek – is Light, the source of life. All things were made through the Logos, not one thing had its being but through him (cf. Jn 1:3). That is why all creatures are fundamentally good and bear within themselves the stamp of God, a spark of his light. Nevertheless, when Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, the Light himself came into the world: in the words of the Creed, "God from God, Light from Light". In Jesus, God assumed what he was not, while remaining what he was: "omnipotence entered an infant’s body and did not cease to govern the universe" (cf. Saint Augustine, Sermo 184, No. 1 on Christmas). The Creator of man became man in order to bring peace to the world. For this reason, during Christmas night, the hosts of angels sing: "Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to those whom he loves" (Lk 2:14).

"Today a great light has come upon the earth". The Light of Christ is the bearer of peace. At Midnight Mass, the Eucharistic liturgy begins with this very chant: "Today true peace has come down to us from heaven" (Entrance Antiphon). Indeed, it is only the "great" light manifested in Christ that can give "true" peace to men: that is why every generation is called to welcome it, to welcome the God who in Bethlehem became one of us.

This is Christmas – the historical event and the mystery of love, which for more than two thousand years has spoken to men and women of every era and every place. It is the holy day on which the "great light" of Christ shines forth, bearing peace! Certainly, if we are to recognize it, if we are to receive it, faith is needed and humility is needed. The humility of Mary, who believed in the word of the Lord and, bending low over the manger, was the first to adore the fruit of her womb; the humility of Joseph, the just man, who had the courage of faith and preferred to obey God rather than to protect his own reputation; the humility of the shepherds, the poor and anonymous shepherds, who received the proclamation of the heavenly messenger and hastened towards the stable, where they found the new-born child and worshipped him, full of astonishment, praising God (cf. Lk 2:15-20). The little ones, the poor in spirit: they are the key figures of Christmas, in the past and in the present; they have always been the key figures of God’s history, the indefatigable builders of his Kingdom of justice, love and peace.

In the silence of that night in Bethlehem, Jesus was born and lovingly welcomed. And now, on this Christmas Day, when the joyful news of his saving birth continues to resound, who is ready to open the doors of his heart to the holy child? Men and women of this modern age, Christ comes also to us bringing his light, he comes also to us granting peace! But who is watching, in the night of doubt and uncertainty, with a vigilant, praying heart? Who is waiting for the dawn of the new day, keeping alight the flame of faith? Who has time to listen to his word and to become enfolded and entranced by his love? Yes! His message of peace is for everyone; he comes to offer himself to all people as sure hope for salvation.
Finally, may the light of Christ, which comes to enlighten every human being, shine forth and bring consolation to those who live in the darkness of poverty, injustice and war; to those who are still denied their legitimate aspirations for a more secure existence, for health, education, stable employment, for fuller participation in civil and political responsibilities, free from oppression and protected from conditions that offend against human dignity. It is the most vulnerable members of society – women, children, the elderly – who are so often the victims of brutal armed conflicts, terrorism and violence of every kind, which inflict such terrible sufferings on entire populations. At the same time, ethnic, religious and political tensions, instability, rivalry, disagreements, and all forms of injustice and discrimination are destroying the internal fabric of many countries and embittering international relations. Throughout the world the number of migrants, refugees and evacuees is also increasing because of frequent natural disasters, often caused by alarming environmental upheavals.
On this day of peace, my thoughts turn especially to those places where the grim sound of arms continues to reverberate; to the tortured regions of Darfur, Somalia, the north of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia; to the whole of the Middle East – especially Iraq, Lebanon and the Holy Land; to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, to the Balkans and to many other crisis situations that unfortunately are frequently forgotten. May the Child Jesus bring relief to those who are suffering and may he bestow upon political leaders the wisdom and courage to seek and find humane, just and lasting solutions. To the thirst for meaning and value so characteristic of today’s world, to the search for prosperity and peace that marks the lives of all mankind, to the hopes of the poor: Christ – true God and true Man – responds with his Nativity. Neither individuals nor nations should be afraid to recognize and welcome him: with Him "a shining light" brightens the horizon of humanity; in him "a holy day" dawns that knows no sunset. May this Christmas truly be for all people a day of joy, hope and peace!

"Come you nations and adore the Lord." With Mary, Joseph and the shepherds, with the Magi and the countless host of humble worshippers of the new-born Child, who down the centuries have welcomed the mystery of Christmas, let us too, brothers and sisters from every continent, allow the light of this day to spread everywhere: may it enter our hearts, may it brighten and warm our homes, may it bring serenity and hope to our cities, and may it give peace to the world. This is my earnest wish for you who are listening. A wish that grows into a humble and trustful prayer to the Child Jesus, that his light will dispel all darkness from your lives and fill you with love and peace. May the Lord, who has made his merciful face to shine in Christ, fill you with his happiness and make you messengers of his goodness. Happy Christmas!
PHOTOS: Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi


"Does He Find Room in Us?"

Before the traditional packed house and a worldwide audience near a billion, the Pope celebrated Midnight Mass in St Peter's Basilica... but not before keeping his tradition of placing a lit candle for peace in his apartment window.

The homily in full:
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

“The time came for Mary to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Lk 2:6f.). These words touch our hearts every time we hear them. This was the moment that the angel had foretold at Nazareth: “you will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High” (Lk 1:31). This was the moment that Israel had been awaiting for centuries, through many dark hours – the moment that all mankind was somehow awaiting, in terms as yet ill-defined: when God would take care of us, when he would step outside his concealment, when the world would be saved and God would renew all things. We can imagine the kind of interior preparation, the kind of love with which Mary approached that hour. The brief phrase: “She wrapped him in swaddling clothes” allows us to glimpse something of the holy joy and the silent zeal of that preparation. The swaddling clothes were ready, so that the child could be given a fitting welcome. Yet there is no room at the inn. In some way, mankind is awaiting God, waiting for him to draw near. But when the moment comes, there is no room for him. Man is so preoccupied with himself, he has such urgent need of all the space and all the time for his own things, that nothing remains for others – for his neighbour, for the poor, for God. And the richer men become, the more they fill up all the space by themselves. And the less room there is for others.

Saint John, in his Gospel, went to the heart of the matter, giving added depth to Saint Luke’s brief account of the situation in Bethlehem: “He came to his own home, and his own people received him not” (Jn 1:11). This refers first and foremost to Bethlehem: the Son of David comes to his own city, but has to be born in a stable, because there is no room for him at the inn. Then it refers to Israel: the one who is sent comes among his own, but they do not want him. And truly, it refers to all mankind: he through whom the world was made, the primordial Creator-Word, enters into the world, but he is not listened to, he is not received.

These words refer ultimately to us, to each individual and to society as a whole. Do we have time for our neighbour who is in need of a word from us, from me, or in need of my affection? For the sufferer who is in need of help? For the fugitive or the refugee who is seeking asylum? Do we have time and space for God? Can he enter into our lives? Does he find room in us, or have we occupied all the available space in our thoughts, our actions, our lives for ourselves?
Thank God, this negative detail is not the only one, nor the last one that we find in the Gospel. Just as in Luke we encounter the maternal love of Mary and the fidelity of Saint Joseph, the vigilance of the shepherds and their great joy, just as in Matthew we encounter the visit of the wise men, come from afar, so too John says to us: “To all who received him, he gave power to become children of God” (Jn 1:12). There are those who receive him, and thus, beginning with the stable, with the outside, there grows silently the new house, the new city, the new world. The message of Christmas makes us recognize the darkness of a closed world, and thereby no doubt illustrates a reality that we see daily. Yet it also tells us that God does not allow himself to be shut out. He finds a space, even if it means entering through the stable; there are people who see his light and pass it on. Through the word of the Gospel, the angel also speaks to us, and in the sacred liturgy the light of the Redeemer enters our lives. Whether we are shepherds or “wise men” – the light and its message call us to set out, to leave the narrow circle of our desires and interests, to go out to meet the Lord and worship him. We worship him by opening the world to truth, to good, to Christ, to the service of those who are marginalized and in whom he awaits us.

In some Christmas scenes from the late Middle Ages and the early modern period, the stable is depicted as a crumbling palace. It is still possible to recognize its former splendour, but now it has become a ruin, the walls are falling down – in fact, it has become a stable. Although it lacks any historical basis, this metaphorical interpretation nevertheless expresses something of the truth that is hidden in the mystery of Christmas. David’s throne, which had been promised to last for ever, stands empty. Others rule over the Holy Land. Joseph, the descendant of David, is a simple artisan; the palace, in fact, has become a hovel. David himself had begun life as a shepherd. When Samuel sought him out in order to anoint him, it seemed impossible and absurd that a shepherd-boy such as he could become the bearer of the promise of Israel. In the stable of Bethlehem, the very town where it had all begun, the Davidic kingship started again in a new way – in that child wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. The new throne from which this David will draw the world to himself is the Cross. The new throne – the Cross – corresponds to the new beginning in the stable. Yet this is exactly how the true Davidic palace, the true kingship is being built. This new palace is so different from what people imagine a palace and royal power ought to be like. It is the community of those who allow themselves to be drawn by Christ’s love and so become one body with him, a new humanity. The power that comes from the Cross, the power of self-giving goodness – this is the true kingship. The stable becomes a palace – and setting out from this starting-point, Jesus builds the great new community, whose key-word the angels sing at the hour of his birth: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to those whom he loves” – those who place their will in his, in this way becoming men of God, new men, a new world.
Gregory of Nyssa, in his Christmas homilies, developed the same vision setting out from the Christmas message in the Gospel of John: “He pitched his tent among us” (Jn 1:14). Gregory applies this passage about the tent to the tent of our body, which has become worn out and weak, exposed everywhere to pain and suffering. And he applies it to the whole universe, torn and disfigured by sin. What would he say if he could see the state of the world today, through the abuse of energy and its selfish and reckless exploitation? Anselm of Canterbury, in an almost prophetic way, once described a vision of what we witness today in a polluted world whose future is at risk: “Everything was as if dead, and had lost its dignity, having been made for the service of those who praise God. The elements of the world were oppressed, they had lost their splendour because of the abuse of those who enslaved them for their idols, for whom they had not been created” (PL 158, 955f.). Thus, according to Gregory’s vision, the stable in the Christmas message represents the ill-treated world. What Christ rebuilds is no ordinary palace. He came to restore beauty and dignity to creation, to the universe: this is what began at Christmas and makes the angels rejoice. The Earth is restored to good order by virtue of the fact that it is opened up to God, it obtains its true light anew, and in the harmony between human will and divine will, in the unification of height and depth, it regains its beauty and dignity. Thus Christmas is a feast of restored creation. It is in this context that the Fathers interpret the song of the angels on that holy night: it is an expression of joy over the fact that the height and the depth, Heaven and Earth, are once more united; that man is again united to God. According to the Fathers, part of the angels’ Christmas song is the fact that now angels and men can sing together and in this way the beauty of the universe is expressed in the beauty of the song of praise. Liturgical song – still according to the Fathers – possesses its own peculiar dignity through the fact that it is sung together with the celestial choirs. It is the encounter with Jesus Christ that makes us capable of hearing the song of the angels, thus creating the real music that fades away when we lose this singing-with and hearing-with.
In the stable at Bethlehem, Heaven and Earth meet. Heaven has come down to Earth. For this reason, a light shines from the stable for all times; for this reason joy is enkindled there; for this reason song is born there. At the end of our Christmas meditation I should like to quote a remarkable passage from Saint Augustine.

Interpreting the invocation in the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father who art in Heaven”, he asks: what is this – Heaven? And where is Heaven? Then comes a surprising response: “… who art in Heaven – that means: in the saints and in the just. Yes, the heavens are the highest bodies in the universe, but they are still bodies, which cannot exist except in a given location. Yet if we believe that God is located in the heavens, meaning in the highest parts of the world, then the birds would be more fortunate than we, since they would live closer to God. Yet it is not written: ‘The Lord is close to those who dwell on the heights or on the mountains’, but rather: ‘the Lord is close to the brokenhearted’ (Ps 34:18[33:19]), an expression which refers to humility. Just as the sinner is called ‘Earth’, so by contrast the just man can be called ‘Heaven’” (Sermo in monte II 5, 17). Heaven does not belong to the geography of space, but to the geography of the heart. And the heart of God, during the Holy Night, stooped down to the stable: the humility of God is Heaven. And if we approach this humility, then we touch Heaven. Then the Earth too is made new. With the humility of the shepherds, let us set out, during this Holy Night, towards the Child in the stable! Let us touch God’s humility, God’s heart! Then his joy will touch us and will make the world more radiant. Amen.
PHOTO 1-2, 4: AP/Pier Paolo Cito
PHOTO 3: Reuters/Max Rossi


Monday, December 24, 2007

"In the Sixteenth Moon"

Because the Latin chant of the "Kalends of the Octave of January" -- vastly superior to its English rendering, both lyrically and melodically -- isn't available anywhere in viral form, your narrator's favorite carol will have to suffice for your (anticipatory) Christmas Eve "Good Morning"....


...and, as a bonus, a homespun taste of il Santo Natale:


Happy "Speed-Decorating" to parish staffs, everyone.


Bishop Bill's "Holy Friday"

Before 20 bishops, leaders and brothers from his religious community and a phalanx of revelers from the Pontifical North American College (among others), the tears and love flowed for Bishop Bill Callahan at the Milwaukee auxiliary's Friday ordination:
At 57, he was years and miles away from his childhood roots in Chicago's Bridgeport neighborhood, where he and his cousins played with the late Mayor Richard J. Daley's kids.

But the spiritual lessons he learned from priests there, and the practical lessons that ward politics taught about the virtues of community service, were not far behind....

But he also reflected on his man-of-the-people heritage as a Conventual Franciscan priest trying to follow in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi, one of his role models. In an interview this week, and in his statements in the cathedral, he spoke of wanting to be a servant to the servants by supporting the archdiocese's priests and people.

Callahan opened by telling the crowd, "Praised be Jesus Christ. . . . This prayer, one way or another, has been a part of my life almost every day of my life for as long as I can remember. And, yes, I learned it in kindergarten."

After telling how working with seminarians had deepened his faith, he said, "I've prayed about this moment. I have reflected for the past few months to find some way of standing before you peacefully, that I might share my feelings as I assume this ministry. I am not a great scholar nor a theological educator. I am not some whiz kid fund-raiser or inside trader. I'm not the outsider come to fix things. And I'm still trying to work out allegiances for NFL teams."
After laughter about his Packers-Bears reference erupted, he added, "Thank goodness I can, from time to time, enjoy a Lite beer from Miller."...

"The area where I have had some level of success is being a simple parish priest," Callahan said in an interview. "I love being a parish priest. And so, as much as I can possibly be a resource, a help . . . and, most importantly, a brother to priests, I see that as being . . . most significant to whatever duties the archbishop has for me."...

Lessons that Callahan took from the politics and priests of his childhood?

"It's all about people," he said. "It's all about service and being available, being aware of the fact that you have a public responsibility and an obligation to maintain yourself before the people of God, to act responsibly, to act according to the teachings of the church."
A veteran pastor and former vocation director for the community, Callahan is the first-ever "Black" Franciscan to become a bishop in the United States.

Later this week, emotional "homecoming" Masses are on tap at the two parishes he's led: Milwaukee's Basilica of St Josaphat on Christmas Day, and Sunday at his first pastorate, Holy Family in Peoria, Illinois, for its patronal feast.

PHOTO 1: Holy Family, Peoria
PHOTO 2: Kristyna Wentz-Graff/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel


B16: Go, Tell it On the Mountain

At yesterday's Angelus, the Pope put up a "Help Wanted" sign for Christmas messengers:
The evangelizing mission of the Church is the answer to the cry "Come, Lord Jesus," which runs through the whole of salvation history and which continually goes up from the lips of believers. "Come, Lord, to transform our hearts so that justice and peace are spread throughout the world." This is meant to bring to mind the doctrinal note on some aspects of evangelization just published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The document proposes, in effect, to remind all Christians -- in a situation in which the reason for being itself of evangelization is often no longer clear -- that the welcoming itself of the glad tidings of the faith moves us to communicate the salvation received as a gift.

In fact, the truth that saves life, that became flesh in Jesus, ignites in those who receive it a love of neighbor that moves our freedom to give as a gift that which has been freely received. Being reached by the presence of God, who draws near to us at Christmas, is an inestimable gift, a gift that is capable of making us live in the universal embrace of the friends of God, in that network of friendship with Christ that binds heaven and earth, that directs human freedom toward its fulfillment and that, if lived in its truth, flourishes in a gratuitous love and a concern for the good of all people.

Nothing is more beautiful, urgent and important than freely giving to people what we have freely received from God. Nothing can exempt or discharge us from this fascinating duty. The joy of Christmas of which we already have a foretaste, as we are filled with hope, moves us at the same time to proclaim to all the presence of God in our midst.

Mary is the incomparable model of evangelization, she who did not communicate an idea to the world but rather Jesus, the incarnate Word. Let us invoke her with confidence so that also the Church in our time proclaims Christ the Savior. Every Christian and every community feels the joy of sharing with others the good news that God so loved the world to give his only begotten Son so that the world might be saved through him. This is the authentic meaning of Christmas, that we must always rediscover and live intensely.
PHOTO: Reuters/Max Rossi


Getting Through a "Blue Christmas"

I've heard it over and over again that, for not a few of us, this has been a devastating year and '08 can't begin quickly enough.

Friends who've lost parents, spouses, siblings, close friends and a brutal number of the most incomprehensible loss of all: parents who've had to walk their kids to the grave.

The loss always remains, of course, but it's always tougher at the holidays, especially when the grief's still fresh.

As NCR reports, the Ohio State's Newman Center is just one of a growing number of places across the ecumenical spectrum filling a crucial need with a "Blue Christmas" Mass for those who mourn.
Though it shares a name with an Elvis Presley song, the “Blue Christmas” Mass at the St. Thomas More Newman Center in Columbus has nothing to do with the King. It does, however, have everything to do with welcoming and offering healing to those who feel blue during the holiday season.

“It’s a Christmas Eve Mass we do that is really for people who have a hard time with the holidays,” said Paulist Fr. Larry Rice, director of the Newman Center at Ohio State University.

With most of Ohio State’s 52,000 students out of town for their holiday break, Christmas is a natural time to reach out to those in the wider community, Rice said.

“There are so many people who are lonely or grieving loss or bad family histories,” Rice said. “For them, a holiday with all the expectations of merriment can be alienating.”

To advertise beyond its own congregation, the Newman Center sends announcements to funeral directors, counseling services and other agencies that help those who are grieving.

For the most part, “Blue Christmas” is indistinguishable from a traditional Christmas Eve Mass, but Rice said he has made some important adjustments to establish a different tone.

“There’s a very clear and explicit welcome at the start that acknowledges there are people who struggle with the holidays,” he said. “It’s very low-key. We invite people to bring whatever they are struggling with.”

Rather than including hymns that are joyful and triumphant and meant to be sung with full heart and voice, musicians select a repertoire that’s quiet, reflective and primarily instrumental.

“Creating a peaceful atmosphere for folks is really important,” Rice said.

The evening’s preaching takes on a different tone as well, he said. “The homily is directed more toward the core, theological meaning of the Incarnation, of God joining us in all of our struggles and our pain.”

Rice first conceived the idea for Blue Christmas after reading about Protestant communities that offer a similar service on Dec. 21 -- the winter solstice and the longest night of the year.

Rice decided to adopt the idea, making one intentional alteration: the date.

“We felt we really wanted to do it on Christmas Eve, when people are feeling their loss most acutely,” he said.

This Christmas, the Newman Center will offer the Blue Christmas Mass for the third year in a row. Last year, the liturgy attracted 350 people.

“People afterward said it was the first time they felt comfortable at a Christmas Eve Mass in 25 years,” Rice said. There’s definitely a need out there.”
Many have written of an especially difficult loss this past year. Know that all of you, and anyone else for whom this Christmas is feeling less bright than usual, are keeping a special place in my prayers and heart over these days. As the most emotional Christmas homily I've ever heard put it, "Remember that, in a special way, God is with you and God loves you."...

Hope you're hanging in there, and that the warmth and comfort of the coming Night brings you a little something to make it a bit easier. May its peace, love and light be yours in a special way.

Tip to Jim Lackey at CNS' NewsHub.


Sex, Drugs... and Catholic Education?

In a blistering presentment late last week, Philly DA Lynne Abraham -- whose 2005 grand jury report on clergy sex-abuse (and its cover-up) is still resonating in the pews and trenches here -- announced another grand jury's indictment, this time charging a (Brown) Franciscan who headed the city's largest archdiocesan high school with taking $900K from the school and his community...

...and, um, worse:
In presenting a grand jury's multi-count theft-and-forgery indictment against the Rev. Charles Newman, 57, Abraham said at least $53,000 in checks and cash went to the late Arthur Baselice, who in the 1990s attended Archbishop Ryan, Philadelphia's largest Roman Catholic high school.

Abraham said that many of the payments were made openly, in front of bookkeepers and other staff who became concerned and complained to administrators about the apparent impropriety.

Before his death of a drug overdose in 2006, which Abraham characterized as "suicide," Baselice filed an unsuccessful civil suit against the archdiocese, saying Newman "routinely performed oral sex" on him while plying him with drugs and alcohol.

Baselice's lawyer, Jay N. Abramowitch, said in court filings that the abuse caused his client's lifelong problems with cocaine, marijuana and alcohol.

It was not immediately clear whether Newman had retained a lawyer. A message left at the Wisconsin friary where prosecutors said he now lives was not immediately returned.

The archdiocese said yesterday in a statement: "The fraudulent use of funds was a betrayal. The greater tragedy was the sexual abuse of a minor which was discovered by the archdiocese during the financial audits."

Officials said Baselice made the sexual-assault allegations after the deadline for filing sex-abuse charges had passed.

Newman, a teacher and principal at the Northeast Philadelphia school for 22 years, became president of the school in July 2002 and was fired in November 2003 after a forensic audit revealed some of the alleged thefts.

At that time, said Abraham, Newman admitted he had made mistakes and was ordered by the church to undergo counseling and treatment for "sexual predatory conduct."

Pressuring students for sex and using drugs and alcohol to seduce them, Newman led them "from the office, then to the rectory, then to his bedroom," Abraham said.

Among the alleged financial improprieties, she said, were accusations that he exchanged the school's "two very expensive grand pianos" for inferior replacements and pocketed the cash difference.

A subsequent investigation by the district attorney revealed the thefts from the friary.

Abraham said she was convinced that Newman was "hopelessly lost in his relationship and guilt" and that Baselice was not blackmailing him.

"I don't believe it was extortion. If you're going to extort someone, you don't do it in front of a bookkeeper," she said.

Cases involving clergy sexual abuse are particularly thorny, Abraham said.

"Sexual involvement with a person of high regard is doubly difficult," Abraham said, "because you are essentially accusing someone who represents God's word on Earth."
The accused, however, has his defenders:
"The guy was a saint," McLaughlin said yesterday of Newman. "We went to him if we needed someone to talk to, and he was always there."...

[F]ormer students, saying they are "shocked" to hear of the charges, said the Franciscan friar was known to give money to poor students in need.

McLaughlin, who said he is the youngest of 10 brothers and sisters, said that Newman used money from the archdiocese to pay the entire tuition for him and his siblings one year.

For instance, the year McLaughlin started ninth grade, he said he had a brother and a sister in the 12th grade. He said Newman paid tuition for all three McLaughlin siblings that year.

"You're talking about a tuition of $10-, $11-, or $12,000 a year each back then," said McLaughlin, a truck driver.

"That's the kind of thing that Father Charles and the other friars would do for us," McLauglin said.

"He only gave money to people who needed it, people who needed lunch money, calculators or other things for school," McLaughlin said. "He'd toss me a $5 bill and say, 'Here, get some lunch.' "

Justin Kain, another man who identified himself as a former Ryan student, e-mailed the Daily News to say:

"You couldn't have been more wrong about this man! . . . IF he did take any money from the school, it was to help out students in need. . . . , " Kain wrote.

"I would consider him a modern day Robin Hood because IF he did take any money it was for the students who had sick parents dying from cancer or poor students who couldn't afford tuition. He NEVER used any money for personal fulfillment because he wore rags!!!!!"...

McLaughlin also said that he didn't believe that Newman had sexually molested Bacelice or anyone else because he and four brothers attended Ryan and Newman "never laid a hand on any of us."
Currently resident in the Midwest, the DA demanded Newman's return before Christmas.

So far, though, no sign of his wheels-down.


Saturday, December 22, 2007

Reformation, Undone

Try this Christmas Proclamation on for size:

In the fifth century since Henry VIII's break with Rome /
the one hundred fifty-eighth year of the re-establishment of the hierarchy in England and Wales /
the eighty-second Advent from Graham Greene's conversion /
the twenty-fourth hour of Tony Blair's reception /
the whole Anglican Communion (and much of Catholicism) being at conflict...

...Britain has "become a 'Catholic country,'" the Sunday Telegraph reports:
Roman Catholics have overtaken Anglicans as the country's dominant religious group. More people attend Mass every Sunday than worship with the Church of England, figures seen by The Sunday Telegraph show.

This means that the established Church has lost its place as the nation's most popular Christian denomination after more than four centuries of unrivalled influence following the Reformation.

Last night, leading figures gave warning that the Church of England could become a minority faith and that the findings should act as a wake-up call.

The statistics show that attendance at Anglican Sunday services has dropped by 20 per cent since 2000. A survey of 37,000 churches, to be published in the new year, shows the number of people going to Sunday Mass in England last year averaged 861,000, compared with 852,000 Anglicans worshipping.

The rise of Catholicism has been bolstered by an influx of immigrants from eastern Europe and Africa, who have packed the pews of Catholic parishes that had previously been dwindling.

It is part of the changing face of churchgoing across Britain in the 21st century which has also seen a boom in the growth of Pentecostal churches, which have surpassed the Methodist Church as the country's third largest Christian denomination.

Worshipping habits have changed dramatically with a significant rise in attendance at mid-week services and at special occasions - the Church of England expects three million people to go to a parish church over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

In an attempt to combat the declining interest in traditional religion, the Anglican Church has launched radical new forms of evangelism that include nightclub chaplains, a floating church on a barge and internet congregations.
...and in an op-ed piece for the paper, the editor of The Tablet Catherine Pepinster writes on the new reality:
Speak to people who have been received into the Catholic Church and the comment they make is nearly always the same: "I feel as if I have come home".

People don’t choose to become Catholics lightly....

[I]t would seem that Tony Blair has come to Catholicism slowly, getting to know the Church through his wife, his children, through friends and colleagues.

His reception into the Church on Friday evening will have taken place after months of more formal instruction from priests responsible for his spiritual formation.

Mr Blair’s conversion is certainly something that the media have talked about for a long time. And that interest is very telling.

For despite there being around a million Mass-going Catholics in Britain, plenty of them in public life (Shirley Williams, Chris Patten, Ruth Kelly, Baroness Scotland, Charles Kennedy, to name but a few of Mr Blair’s fellow Catholic politicians) and warm relations between the Roman Catholic Church and other Christian denominations, there is still a view in the media that Catholicism is exotic and different.

But when a former Prime Minister becomes a Catholic, that must be a sign that Roman Catholicism really has come in from the cold in this country.

I would hope that my fellow Catholics will welcome Tony Blair into the Church, just as they welcome other converts.

That someone shares your faith is a moment for joy, but not for unseemly triumphalism.

There may be some, though, within the Catholic Church, who will not acknowledge this reception with graciousness, pointing to Mr Blair’s voting record on issues such as abortion.

Mr Blair, no longer an MP and having said during his reception: "I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches and proclaims to be revealed by God", may of course take a different view today as to what he believes and accepts on controversial life issues.

This is not to say that the Catholic Church should, or does, operate its own whip on certain ethical issues.

Politicians, including those such as a Middle East negotiator, have to act according to their conscience and negotiate the tricky path between their own beliefs and their work in the public arena.

And yet, all of us who are Catholics are encouraged to realise that your belief is not parked to one side when you are not at Mass.

Life and faith are a seamless robe. As he prepares for Christmas, a new Catholic, meditating on the Incarnation, I have no doubt that Mr Blair will feel profound happiness at the step he has taken.
The great irony in all this, of course, is that Catholics -- and Catholics alone, and anyone married to one -- remain barred from ascent to the British throne.

While the UK monarch serves by law as supreme governor of the church of England, the 1701 Act of Settlement specifically prohibits the crown to be claimed by "papists" or the spouses thereof. No other religious group is similarly prohibited, and in keeping with the provision, several senior royals who have married Catholics have been forced to relinquish their places in the line of succession.

The latest -- and, to date, highest-ranking -- disqualification will likely take place in May, as Queen Elizabeth's eldest grandchild marries a Canadian Catholic.

Eleventh in line to the throne, Peter Phillips and Autumn Kelly will wed in a royal -- read: Anglican -- ceremony at Windsor Castle's St George's Chapel. The firstborn of the monarch's only daughter, Princess Anne, Phillips' engagement to Kelly, a Montreal-born management consultant, has re-ignited the push to scrap the 18th century law crafted to protect the state-church (and, by extension, the kingdom itself) from the specter of Roman control.


Done Deal

Last night, Tony Blair "Poped" in the chapel of Archbishop's House, Westminster:
Cardinal [Cormac] Murphy O'Connor, who is the head of Catholics in England and Wales, said: "I am very glad to welcome Tony Blair into the Catholic Church.

"For a long time he has been a regular worshipper at Mass with his family and in recent months he has been following a programme of formation to prepare for his reception into full communion.

"My prayers are with him, his wife and family at this joyful moment in their journey of faith together."

Chief Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said the Catholic church in Rome shared Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor's "satisfaction".

"The choice of joining the Catholic church made by such an authoritative personality can only arouse joy and respect," Fr Lombardi added.

BBC correspondent David Willey said it had been no secret in Rome that Mr Blair had been taking instruction from a Catholic priest as a prelude to conversion.

He added that the Pope was informed of Mr Blair's intentions prior to his visit to the Vatican in June 2007, shortly before he left office.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, leader of the Anglican church, wished the former prime minister well in his spiritual journey.

He said: "Tony Blair has my prayers and good wishes as he takes this step in his Christian pilgrimage."...

Mr Blair's ex-spokesman, Alastair Campbell, once famously told reporters "We don't do God". But reacting to news of Mr Blair's conversion, Mr Campbell said: "I can't say it surprises me at all. His faith does matter an awful lot to him.

"It's something I suspect he probably felt he couldn't do when he was prime minister and he's done it now."

Mr Blair last year told ITV1 chat show host Michael Parkinson he had prayed while deciding whether to send troops into Iraq.

"In the end, there is a judgement that, I think if you have faith about these things, you realise that judgement is made by other people... and if you believe in God, it's made by God as well," he said.

And earlier this year, he told the BBC that he had avoided talking about his religious views while in office for fear of being labelled "a nutter".
PHOTO: L'Osservatore Romano/File


Friday, December 21, 2007

There's Always Room for "the Inns"

Just in case anyone's still seeing Guadalupe as Advent's lone siren announcing US Catholicism's ever-emerging Latin Revival, think again.

With each passing year, the Hispanic rite of Las Posadas merely grows even bigger where it's already tradition, to say nothing of its continued spread to new locations... Iowa, where it's taken on an ecumenical flavor.
“Las Posadas is a nine-night tradition which begins as Mary and Joseph seek lodging, seek to be welcomed in our homes and hearts,” said the Rev. Stacie Fidlar, pastor of St. John’s Church.

About 60 people from senior age to infant walked with Mary and Joseph in their search for shelter along darkened streets. Overhead shone a slice of moon but there was no trace of the star that guided the wise men in the nativity story.

The group made three stops as Mary begged for help but each time the homeowner or inn keeper said no as part of the ceremony. “The inn keeper pleads, ‘Just let me go back to bed.’ And Mary once again goes away sad,” the Rev. Fidlar said.

The couple finally found a warm haven inside the church and a fiesta with plenty of food. “I’ve been on journeys before where it was hard to find some place to stay so I guess I identified more with them,” said first-time participant Chuck Wilt of Rock Island.

Wilt is unsure if he wishes that long ago journey would have resulted in the couple finding help right away. Maybe that journey was the first of many struggles they went through, he said. Perhaps it built their faith for those future challenges. In the end, “it turned out good for all of us,” he said.

The shepherds featured in the nativity story probably felt they had plenty to fear on that topsy-turvy night, Fidlar said during a short reflection. What the angel says to them is one of the most powerful verses in the Bible. “Do not be afraid,” she said.

“The reason why I think that’s so powerful is often we are motivated by fear. Time and again God comes to us and says, ‘Do not be afraid.’ This is a God who will stand with us in the middle of our fears,” said Fidlar.

The service ended with praying the Lord’s Prayer (El Padrenuestro) in English and Spanish. “I’d heard about the tradition but it was fun to experience it in the real setting in both languages and to process with the candles,” Janet Stodd, of Moline and a first time participant, said. “I think it was fun to experience it with people of all ages.”
In Tucson, the annual 16-24 December vigils, when the faithful walk with the Holy Family as they seek lodging, marks its 70th anniversary this year. Elsewhere, the usual massive crowds flocked to the first night in downtown LA...

...and in Texas, the Bay Area, Seattle, North Carolina, Arkansas... and even the home of the "Fightin' Irish," South Bend, Indiana.

You get the idea... right?

As one pastor hosting the event put it, "By celebrating Posadas, Latinos re-learn a need for hospitality each year... it reaffirms their faith in God who became human in Jesus. Since Jesus has identified himself with the smallest, with the least ... they welcome the savior who has hidden himself in our humanity."

More from the rubric:
[Mary and Joseph] knock on a door along the way as they sing: “In the name of heaven I request you grant us shelter for my beloved wife cannot longer walk.”

From inside, they hear voices sing back: “This is not an inn, please continue ahead. I cannot open for you may be a robber.”

“Please do not be inhumane,” those outside reply. “Grant us charity. The King of heavens will reward you for that.”

“Go away and bother no more,” the voices say at last from inside. “Because if I get upset I will beat you up.”

The pilgrims continue their journey, hoping that their next stop is their last. But again, they are denied a place to stay so they have to try one more door. After pleading one last time, they are welcomed inside.

“Come in, holy pilgrims!” those inside finally say. “Receive this corner because even though the place is poor, I offer it to you from my heart.”
And then, "Noche de Paz" -- "Silent Night." And then, a party for everyone, down to piñatas for the angels.


As the Holy Family were the unwelcome migrants of their day, a "Posadas Project" aimed at promoting the observance has dedicated this year's vigils to the theme "Justice for Immigrants: A Journey of Hope."


Beaming Up?

Michigan... the final frontier?

Sure, the above lines are a nod to Oakland's rising Cathedral of Christ the Light (left). But they owe themselves even more to the growing rumblings that Bishop Allen Vigneron, who's shepherded the $190 million enterprise into reality, is headed home as the next archbishop of Detroit.

First noted here ten days back, the buzz has quickly taken on the air of inevitability along the East Bay -- a question of "not if, but when," as one put it -- with contingency plans being eyed in the event of a vacancy at the 540,000-member diocese's helm.

A former Detroit auxiliary and favorite of retiring Cardinal Adam Maida, Vigneron reportedly raised eyebrows at his presbyterate's last convocation by mentioning his homesickness for the Motor City. But even so, Oaklanders have come to embrace the 58 year-old prelate, whose conservative reputation initially aroused anxiety following his 2003 appointment there.

While he might be "very rigid when it comes to ecclesiology, theology and liturgy," one local mused that Vigneron "wasn't/isn't the disciplinarian we thought he'd be."

The presumptive Detroit appointee "is actually very pastoral and thoughtful," he said, a believer in broad consultation -- but one who "isn't afraid to make a decision." Adding that the bishop's had "some tough [calls] to make in" his tenure there, the cleric said that, "all in all, he's not a bad guy."

Provided the foreseen comes to pass, his current charge's wait might not be all that long. Already, ops spanning the map have tipped Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Edward Clark as holding the pole position for the Oakland post.

A veteran educator and onetime rector of the LA seminary, St John's in Camarillo, Clark, 61, was named an auxiliary of the nation's largest diocese in 2001. Given his background, that Oakland is home to three seminaries and three Catholic colleges would be a considerable factor in his corner... that his two principal co-consecrators have since become cardinal-members of the Congregation for Bishops doesn't really hurt, either.

The level of Bay Area buzz has gotten to the point that, over recent days, one cleric with close ties to the CDF prefect Cardinal William Levada sought to lobby the former San Francisco archbishop to keep Vigneron from leaving Oakland until after the cathedral's late September dedication. A member of the dicastery that recommends episcopal nominees to the Pope, Levada's longstanding closeness to Benedict has given him unparalleled clout on US appointments since his transfer to Rome within months of the pontiff's election.

Its native Angelenos both in attendance, the Congregation's final meeting of 2007 took place yesterday in Rome.

PHOTO: John Blaustein