Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Media Is the Message

In his first major appearance last week as the Vatican point-man on communication in the church, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli warned against "fundamentalism" on the part of Catholic media:
It is essential to be aware, the prelate added, that "our media is directed not just to Catholics, but to all men. They are not media for Catholics, but rather are the presence of a Catholic reality that is open to man, all men."

He offered the example of Catholic newspapers or radio. "It is undeniable," Archbishop Celli said, "that they don't exist only for -- or are directed only to -- people who already belong to the Church, rather they should also give careful attention to what exists in the soul of man, in his heart, where sometimes there can be distance from God, or many times, a deep nostalgia for God."

Our media, he summarized, "should search, and help in the search. Our media should not become, allow me to say it this way, instruments of a religious or cultural fundamentalism."

Archbishop Celli contended that Catholic media should be at the service of the culture.

He explained that media should know how to enter "in this search that man embarks upon every day […] as instruments of this 'diaconia' of the culture […] instruments that teach what it means to dialogue, to be men who respect others' positions, who know how to welcome, who know how to understand."

"I emphasize it again," Archbishop Celli stated, "We are not seeking a religious fundamentalism, because sometimes this is the risk. And the Church itself is not that; it is not a 'tower of marble'" that proudly stands "in its possession of the truth, but rather a Church that knows how to welcome, understand, dialogue, respect."
...and in a recent column, Maryknoll Fr William Grimm, the editor of the Japanese Catholic weekly Katorikku Shimbun, sounds a call for "real journalism" in the church (tip to NewsHub):
Some news sources such as the independent UCA News and Catholic News Service (owned by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops but operating with editorial independence) hold to professional standards of timeliness, attribution, accuracy, balance and verification. There are also news "retailers" (newspapers, blogs, etc.) that hold themselves to the same standards.

However, there has been a proliferation of Catholic "news sources" that do not follow those examples. Bias, distortion, refusal to cover the "bad news," lack of balance, deference to officials and failure to verify are common.

Catholic media outlets with editorial freedom to accurately present the face of the Church to its audience rather than being mouthpieces for "Church authorities" -- Religious superiors, pastors, bishops, curial officials and popes -- are few. One diocesan newspaper I saw had 11 pictures of the bishop on its first nine pages. It was clearly not a paper that intended to present the life of the Church in all its variety.

The chief news that Catholic media must convey is the life of the men and women who are the main body of the Church, the laity. Their story is the story of the Church in the world today, and is too seldom the focus of Church journalism....

Why does it matter if the Church does not have a media voice like that which should prevail in the secular world?

One reason is that if the Church is incapable or unwilling to report on its life and activities with transparency, others will step in. However, leaving honest reporting of the Church to outside media leaves us open to misunderstanding and even sensationalism. It is hard to refute charges of "cover-up" when, in fact, Catholic journalism either consciously or inadvertently fails to present a full picture of the Church, "warts and all."

We need a trustworthy professional Catholic journalism in order to present the true face of the Church to the world and each other.

Being trustworthy means having a commitment to the truth rather than to looking good. If Church media are seen as PR rather than journalism, others will not believe us when we actually have good news -- as well as the Good News -- to convey, nor will they look to us for information and insight.

Maciel Dead

Fr Marcial Maciel Degollado, the controversial founder of the Legionaries of Christ who was forced from ministry by the Vatican under a cloud of sex-abuse allegations, died yesterday aged 87.

In a statement released earlier today, the Legion announced the "departure of its dear Father Founder... to the heavenly homeland." In a letter to the communities of the Legionaries and its lay arm, Regnum Christi, Maciel's successor Fr Álvaro Corcuera said that he died at an unspecified location in the United States "with the peace that always filled his soul." (Wire reports subsequently indicated the place of death as a "group home" in Houston.)

The community's formal notice said that Maciel passed away "in the bosom of the Catholic church."

A favorite of the late Pope John Paul II, the Mexican-born cleric -- known to his faithful as "Padre Nuestro" -- founded the Legion in 1941, three years before his priestly ordination. In time, particularly under the backdoor patronage of the Polish pontiff, the community known for its strict organization and staunch conservatism spread to 40 countries, its membership growing to over 750 priests, 2,500 seminarians and 70,000 laity in Regnum Christi.

Having approved the latter's governing statutes in the months before his 2005 death, the late Pope also gave the Legion its first high-profile bishop -- Brian Farrell, the secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The Irish-born curialist had previously served in the influential post of English-language desk chief in the Vatican Secretariat of State. (Farrell's brother Kevin, currently bishop of Dallas, was likewise ordained for the community, but left it in the 1980s to incardinate into the archdiocese of Washington.) Two other Legion priests had been named bishops in Mexico, the first in 1974.

Shortly before John Paul's death, the then-prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger pushed forward with a long-shelved investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct by Maciel -- an inquiry which, reportedly, found resistance in the papal apartment.

While the abuse reported by several former Legionaries could have resulted in the founder's forced dismissal from the clerical state, the Holy See -- now with Ratzinger as Pope -- triangulated its response. Issuing its decision in May 2006, the arrangement allowed the once-omnipresent Maciel to remain a priest, albeit "invited" to "a reserved life of prayer and penance, renouncing all public ministry." 

The move might've spared him from a canonical trial in light of his age and health. Nonetheless, it remained a high-profile rebuke without precedent.

Interpreted as a strong signal that Benedict XVI would "clean house" following global revelations of abuse and cover-up, the judgment made international news as Maciel -- who emphatically denied the allegations -- became the most prominent cleric ousted on sex charges.

While at the time, the Vatican was also careful to note that "irrespective of the person of the founder," the community's "distinguished" service was "acknowledged with gratitude," recent reports in foreign media indicate that Benedict has since nullified two private vows taken by Legionaries to maintain secrecy in the order and to refrain from criticism of a superior.

In 2005, at age 84, Maciel stood down from the LC's leadership.

Ostensibly due to the fallout of the CDF inquest, the Legion said today that, in accordance with Maciel's wishes, his funeral would take place "within a climate of prayer, in a quiet and private manner."


PopeMass DC... A Showcall Production

Just when some thought recent papal liturgies couldn't get any more spectacular, a Maryland-based event firm has been selected "to produce" B16's 17 April Mass at Washington's Nationals Park...
Showcall, Inc. will provide stage and set design and layout, audio visual production, and overall show direction of the public Mass. Showcall will utilize its unique skill set in producing high-profile, high-threat level events and will coordinate with the Washington Nationals to host the first major event in its new baseball stadium. Showcall will work closely with GEP Washington, the overall DMC firm for the visit.

"We are deeply honored to participate in Pope Benedict's visit and of course, we are delighted that the planning committee has agreed that Showcall's resume of large scale special events and lighting, audio and video equipment inventory are the right fit for executing a Papal celebration of this significance and magnitude." said Ajay R. Patil, co-founder and senior partner of Showcall, Inc.

Showcall Inc. was founded in 2001 by Ajay R. Patil and A. Blayne Candy. Since that time, Showcall has provided turnkey production services on an international basis for Summits, White House Conferences, Fortune 100 companies, associations, and national entertainment.
In other PopeTrip run-up news, the winning designs for the furnishings at the capital liturgy have been unveiled.

The winners (above) are grad students in architecture at the capital's Catholic University of America... which is, of course, running high on the pontiff's schedule.

And to pique Papa Ratzi's well-tuned ear, the cantor who sang then-Bishop Donald Wuerl's 1988 installation in Pittsburgh has been tapped as director of music for the Mass.

Now a DC resident, Tom Stehle starts auditions next month for a 250-voice choir, to be comprised of music ministers from the Washington archdiocese.

While the program is "still being finalized," smart money says "Out of Darkness" would be conspicuous by its absence.

PHOTO: Tony Fiorini/Catholic University of America(2)


Reinhard Marx the Spot

Fresh from a private audience earlier this week with his second predecessor, Archbishop-elect Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising formally touched down in his new charge yesterday in advance of his Saturday installation.

As rain fell on the Marienplatz -- the great square outside Munich's Cathedral of Our Lady -- the long-awaited successor to 79 year-old Cardinal Frederich Wetter performed the traditional homage to the Mariensaule, the statue of Mary that's stood atop a pillar there since 1638 as a "monument of peace."

Joined by the city's mayor and other top politicians as a large crowd looked on, the rite was the final "station" of the customary three-stop tour that sees each incoming head of Germany's Catholic heartland whisked to the ancient see's most venerable foundations: the 12th century Benedictine monastery at Scheyern, and Ss. Peter and Paul at Feldmoching, along the city's northern edge, where a church was first built in the 6th century.

At Saturday's installation, Marx becomes the 73rd successor of St Corbinian, the "apostle of Bavaria" who settled at Freising in the year 723, his relics still enshrined in its cathedral.

The Pope surprised most observers with his November appointment of the 54 year-old bishop of Trier to the post for which Fr Joseph Ratzinger was made a bishop and held from 1977-81.

Described as "outspoken" and a "larger-than-life" character who's shown a flair for mixing it up in Germany's political and media circles, the sociologist-by-training -- and longtime head of the episcopate's social justice efforts -- had largely been viewed as in line for the archbishopric of Berlin. After an unusually protracted yearlong vacancy, however, his dispatch instead to Papa Ratzi's home diocese places an even more pointed stamp of papal approval on him, one which could well see the sometime biker (above right) riding off in mid-February with the chair of the German bishops' conference in succession to its longtime head, Cardinal Karl Lehmann of Mainz, who cited a "necessary generational shift" at the helm among his reasons for leaving the influential post midway through his fourth six-year term.

With Wetter's 80th birthday just three weeks away and the pontiff's longing for his homeland remaining strong, better still are Marx's odds of donning the red hat of a cardinal at his predecessor's next consistory.

In accord with the longstanding practice of Munich's archbishops, the post's 13th holder has incorporated the traditional Moor's head onto his coat of arms, but leaving Corbinian's famous pack bear behind in Rome... with the Pope.

PHOTOS: Thomas Klinger(1,3)


Teachers "Light the Way"

As many of you know, this is Catholic Schools Week here in the States, and observances are abounding in more places than they aren't.

It's an ever-needed reminder that the daily mission of Catholic education keeps on in our midst thanks to the almost 200,000 teachers, overwhelmingly layfolk, who serve in an untold number of schools and institutes at all levels.

Not for nothing has the Pope's voice on these shores termed them "the greatest artists" we've got. And whether their venue is sectarian or public, the work of teaching too often exacts a just-as-great level of sacrifice on the part of those who, day after day, "sculpt the best of [them]selves, of who you are and what you know, not in a piece of marble, but in living, breathing human beings, who are the glory of God."

Especially in these days of rising costs, falling enrollments -- and, ergo, even greater sacrifices -- theirs is just another of the many vocations in the life of the church, and its life in the world, for which we don't always give sufficient thanks, encouragement and support.

Along these lines, one nearby diocese's Catholic educators were joined by hundreds of others last night in a call for the restoration of their union, which its central administration recently announced it would no longer recognize.

Scranton Diocese Association of Catholic Teachers President Michael Milz stood in the flatbed of a red pickup truck and spoke to the throng, many holding candles or signs with slogans including, “Practice what you preach or we won’t teach.”

Milz recounted the strong support the Catholic Church and the local diocese have shown for unionized labor in the past, holding up a picture of former Bishop Michal Hoban, President Theodore Roosevelt and United Mine Workers President John Mitchell together on the steps of Holy Savior Church in Wilkes-Barre during the miners’ struggle for better wages and working conditions.

“Bishop Hoban was not there for window dressing,” Milz said. “It was an acknowledgment that the Church in Scranton had supported the cause of the miners. And the cause for which they were fighting was nothing less than human dignity.”

Milz noted Mitchell was not born Catholic but converted after the church backed the union cause, ultimately being buried in the nearby St. Peter’s Cathedral cemetery.

“I’m sure the lights on his grave are shining just a little brighter tonight because we are here.”

UMW representative Ken Klinkel said about 20 from his union came to show support because “it’s the right thing to do.” Klinkel called the diocese’s rejection of the union “unjust.”

He noted there were representatives from the Teamsters, pipefitters, electricians, machinists and Scranton Fire Department unions....

The union first asked the diocese for recognition as sole bargaining agent for teachers under the new system when it was announced in November 2006 but where told such recognition would have to come from the regional boards.

When the boards were formed in October 2007, the union sought recognition from three of them, including the one overseeing Luzerne County schools, but were told to wait until the boards organized and settled other pressing issues. In December, the union asked those three boards for a firm answer by Jan. 10. That answer came through an article in the Jan. 24 edition of the Catholic Light, the diocesan newspaper.

That article said the three boards had each adopted a new “employee relations program” and rejected the union’s request to represent teachers. The union has insisted this runs counter to Catholic teachings dating back to 1891 when Pope Leo XIII issued an encyclical called “Rerum Novarum,” which supported organized labor.

After his speech, Milz said the rejection was “very troubling” and promised the union will not give up its effort to reverse it.

“They have to change their decision because they can’t change the teachings of the church,” Milz said.

Among the many students in the large crowd, Joel, Tara and Paul Ignatovich stood on the curb before the rally holding candles and smiling. Tara, a senior at Holy Redeemer High School in Wilkes-Barre, said their mother is a band instructor at the school, and the musical talent has been passed on. She plays the French horn while her brothers – twins in 10th grade – play trombone and trumpet.

“The church’s decision doesn’t make sense,” Tara said. “We (our teachers) should have the same rights as other teachers.”

Behind her, an adult shouted out: “United we bargain, divided we beg.”

...more specs:
In the six days since the diocese announced the Scranton Diocese Association of Catholic Teachers will not be recognized as a collective bargaining unit, teachers have expressed their discontent and have vowed to keep fighting for the union.

“What’s at stake here is really the stability of the schools,” said Michael Milz, president of the teachers association. “The quality of Catholic education is going to slip.”

Instead of recognizing the union, the diocese will implement an employee relations program composed of employee councils and wage and benefit, health care and grievance committees.

In the year since the diocese reorganized its school system, Mr. Milz said teacher benefits have been cut and the workload and workday have increased. And although all school employees received a 3-percent pay increase, it went to insurance costs, he said.

The schools’ clerical workers have also seen an increase in their workday. In the summer, instead of working half-days like the employees had in previous years, they will work a full day with no pay increase, Mr. Milz said.

In a statement released Tuesday, the diocese said it was committed to “fair and just treatment of all its employees,” and that the employee relations program will fulfill the commitment.

“Implementation of this program is proceeding, and there will be no change by the diocese in this matter,” according to the statement. “The provision of affordable Catholic education continues to be the diocesan goal in which all are called to cooperate.”
For the record, as many of you already know, your narrator isn't a product of Catholic education -- like this work, I'm a very grateful, very proud "public." But many of my own teachers -- the folks responsible for whatever's good in me -- came from its embrace, and the years have blessed me with knowing so many great servants of the work, particularly those who, amid the difficulties of the inner-city, bring life and hope in the places where they're needed most.

Whether private, public, parochial or whatever else, to all our teachers, no words could ever say enough thanks...

Danny, look out for 'em.

PHOTO: Pete G. Wilcox/The Times-Leader


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Hanoi Abp.: Jail Me for My Flock

As the aforementioned clashes continue in Hanoi -- and fears increase that the Vietnamese military is preparing a "show of force" against demonstrators at prayer -- the shepherd's put himself on the line:
Hanoi’s Catholics continue their sit-in in the gardens of the ex-nunciature, despite the government ultimatum to free the area by 5pm Sunday last. State newspapers launch a new wave of insults directed at the bishop and faithful. Some Catholics believe this slander campaign is preparing the ground for a show of force.

Since December 23 the former residence of the Vatican nunciature in the capital has been the focus of gatherings for thousands of Catholics who demand the building sequestered by the government in 1959 and set to become a restraint and night club be returned. The local government has already threatened “extreme action” if the group of faithful persists in holding prayer vigils in front of the building and in the garden and if they do not desist in “undermining public order”.

Fr. Joseph Nguyen tells AsiaNews: “At the moment there are hundreds of religious together with many lay faithful gathered in the garden of the ex nunciature in prayer. But there are also a great many police in uniform and in plain clothes. These mix among the people taking photos and making films with video cameras. I fear an attack at any moment.

The Archbishop, Msgr. Joseph Ngô Quang Kiệt, has told us that praying is a basic human right protected by the law and that he is ready to even go to jail for his flock, if the government makes a show of force”.

Meanwhile a fresh press campaign accuses the Catholic faithful of “naivety” and in trusting too much in their leader. Papers also accuse them of aiming to “illegally take possession of the building”. Even the police newspaper Capital security, accuses the Hanoi clergy of “lying to their people” and of “forcing them to demonstrate against the government”.

Joseph Vu Van Khoat, who has been taking part in the sit-in in the residence garden since last Friday has described the paper’s claims as “nonsense”. He told AsiaNews: “I don’t care what they say. You go out and ask anyone on the streets. No one believes them. In fact, those who have written such articles know well that we have gathered here voluntarily to pray peacefully for justice. But it’s their job to spread lies”.

“Why don’t they publish the Archbishops statement in the papers?” wonders Maria Doan Thi Tuyet. In fact on January 28th, he issued a statement explaining that the nuciature residence was never “donated” (as the local government claims). The communiqué also affirms that the gathering of the Catholics is perfectly legal.
Elsewhere in Asia, Pope Benedict this morning named Auxiliary Bishop John Tong of Hong Kong as coadjutor to the city's bishop, Cardinal Joseph Zen SDB.

Zen, 76, and Tong, 68, were ordained bishops together by the protectorate's first cardinal, the late John-Baptist Wu, in the months before its 1997 handover from British to Chinese oversight. The cardinal has been a key go-between in the Holy See's sensitive path toward rapprochement with the Communist authorities on the Chinese mainland, a role he'll likely step up in his eventual retirement.


For BC, A Brown Bishop

Later today, the papal nuncio to Ottawa Archbishop Luigi Ventura will ordain Br John Corriveau, the former global head of the Capuchins, as bishop of Nelson in British Columbia.

The late November appointment of the 66 year-old friar, who served two terms as minister-general of the 11,000-member community, caught quite a few of his confreres by surprise. Twice provincial of the world's smallest Capuchin province and a parish priest in Toronto before a combined two decades at the order's central offices in Rome, Corriveau returned to Canada in late 2006 and -- at his own request -- promptly headed to the heart of the Capuchin charism, serving the homeless at a TO soup kitchen.

"He is truly humble," friends say, likeable, energetic, joyful, and respected... even by those who might not see eye-to-eye with him on everything.

The ordination brings North America's delegation of Capuchin prelates to three -- the others are, of course, Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston and Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver. And in the mold of the community's tenth red-hat in its 400-year history, the bishop-elect said he's sticking with his habit.

In an extended interview (stream) with Salt + Light taped shortly after his appointment, Corriveau said that -- besides being "a very comfortable garment" -- the signature brown robe "is my identity."

"I hope it won't be offensive to anyone," the bishop-elect said, "but it's who I am."

"If Pope Benedict had appointed a Capuchin Franciscan as bishop," he added, "then I'd presume he wants me to be present in my charism." For "formal occasions," however, Corriveau said he'll don the standard purple that comes with the office.

Its see city located about 60 miles north of the Washington-Idaho border, the Nelson diocese spans 48,000 square miles (125,000 square km) of the province's southeast corner, counting a fold of 65,000 served by 36 priests in 31 parishes.

For purposes of convenience, today's ordination will be held at a parish church in Kelowna, an outpost closer by half to Vancouver. The installation will take place at Nelson's Cathedral of Mary Immaculate tomorrow night.


Keeping Vigil with Vietnam

Recent peaceful demonstrations by Vietnamese Catholics seeking the restoration of church property seized by the state have entered unsettling terrain, with participants placed under police investigation...
Parishioners and priests have been holding daily vigils for over a month near Hanoi's main St. Joseph's Cathedral, demanding the return of a house and a block of church land seized by the communist government in the late 1950s.

Tuesday evening more than 100 faithful again defied authorities, praying and singing hymns on the disputed property, where they have erected a large white cross and placed candles and flowers on the building's steps and walls.

They put up rain shelters and lit fires against the winter chill on the 1.1 hectare (2.7 acre) property, which the Hanoi People's Committee has used as a community centre and for parking motorcycles.

After Friday's rallies, when the protestors placed the cross on the site, police launched an investigation into the alleged crimes of property damage, causing social disorder and obstructing officials, the An Ninh Thu Do daily reported.

Lieutenant-Colonel Nguyen Manh Hung, from the capital's central Hoan Kiem district investigative unit, signed a decision Saturday to launch the criminal investigation and sent it to prosecutors, said the police-run newspaper.

A police officer contacted at the investigative unit only told AFP: "I can confirm the signature on this decision but I do not want to exchange views or comments about this matter with you on the telephone."

The state-controlled Hanoi Moi (New Hanoi) newspaper accused leaders of the Hanoi archdiocese of "abusing the belief and trust of followers to turn them into their instruments for their own goals."

Vietnam's government last week stressed that there is no private property in the communist nation, only land-use rights granted by the state.
...more from AsiaNews:
On January 26th last the Peoples Committee of Hanoi released a statement, threatening “extreme action” if demonstrations and the sit-in – ongoing since December 23rd last – were not called off by 5pm yesterday evening.

Signed by Ngo Thi Thanh Hang, the deputy chairwoman of the People's Committee in Hanoi, the statement “ordered” the Hanoi Archbishop to remove the cross and all statues of the Virgin Mary out of the site, and “to submit a report” to her “before 6pm of Sunday 27”.

Meanwhile government media have begun a campaign of misinformation regarding scuffles which took place January 25th, in which some Catholics entered the residence gardens to aid a women being beaten by police because she had entered the area to bring flowers to the statue of the Virgin present in the garden.

Press accuse Hanoi’s Catholics of having forcibly attacked security forces and ask the government to restore order taking severe measures if necessary.

Fr. Joseph Nguyen, who witnessed the January 25th episode, decried the press coverage as a “shameful distortion of the facts”. He tells AsiaNews: the protest prayer was held at 11:30, after the mss. During the demonstration a Hmong woman jumped over the Nunciature fence and placed some flowers at the feet of the statue which is in the grounds of the building”.

“Security personnel found her there and tried to grab hold of her. Without paying any6 attention to her explanation they began to beat her and kick her. There were at least 2 thousand Catholics there as witnesses. A commander of the security guards even shouted orders to his men to beat her to death”.

“Lawyer Lê Quoc Quan, present at the scene came to the woman’s rescue accusing the guards of breaking the law. So then they turned on him dragging him off to an office inside”....

Yesterday in churches throughout the capital Catholics were informed of the ultimatum. Yet despite this they decided to demonstrate once again in front of the Nunciature, with song and prayer.

Today the office of the Archdiocese of Hanoi released a communiqué criticizing state media for not presenting the facts surrounding recent events in a “correct” manner.

State-controlled radio, television and news papers reported that the archdiocese in no way can challenge the ownership of the building because “on 24 November 1961, Fr. Nguyễn Tùng Cương,….. donated the property to the government”.

The archbishop has responded, setting the record straight; ‘.. the competent authority is the diocesan bishop with the consent of the finance council, the college of consulters and those concerned. The diocesan bishop himself also needs their consent to alienate the goods of the diocese”. The communiqué moreover clarifies “we know for sure he [Fr. Nguyễn Tùng Cương] never made any donation, as he had no authority to do so”. ...

State media accuses Hanoi Catholics of attacking security personnel, disturbing public order, erecting illegally the cross in the garden of the site, and spreading distortions about the government on Internet.
Vietnam's 6 million faithful form Southeast Asia's largest Catholic population after the Philippines; on a 2005 trip there, Rome's then-Missions Czar ordained 57 new priests in one fell swoop. The energy and commitment of its diaspora in the States has led to the group's christening as the US church's "New Irish."

PHOTO: AFP/Frank Zeller


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

In Grief, Unity

The end of ecumenism's peak week saw the passing of key interfaith partners, both at home and beyond.

First, Pope Benedict led tributes to the Greek Orthodox Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens, who died yesterday at 69.

Primate of Greece since 1998, Christodoulos made significant strides to improve his branch's relations with the Holy See, becoming the first top Greek hierarch to meet with a Roman pontiff. He received John Paul II on his 2001 visit to Greece, then calling on Benedict for a Roman audience in 2006.

A colorful prelate, wire reports noted that the archbishop was often voted the country's "most popular" public figure, despite his penchant for courting controversy.

In his telegram to the interim head of the Greek church, the Pope praised Christodoulos for "open[ing] a new era of cordial co-operation" between the two churches, "leading to increased contacts and improved friendship in the search for closer communion." In an October message to an Orthodox-Catholic dialogue, the pontiff made special mention of his closeness in prayer to the Greek primate, then in treatment for liver cancer at a Miami hospital.

The spiritual leader of 90% of Greece's 11 million residents, Christodoulos will receive a state funeral on Thursday. His successor will be elected by Greek Orthodoxy's synod of bishops on 7 February.

* * *

In the States, the six million members of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints are mourning the loss of their top leader, President Gordon Hinckley, who died at 97 Sunday night in the Mormon home base of Salt Lake City.

Revered by the world's 13 million LDS as a modern prophet, Hinckley's 13 years as the church's 15th head saw not only a rapid expansion of its numbers (particularly overseas), but an increased outreach beyond the walls of its temples. While Utah's growing Catholic fold has long enjoyed a solid bond with the state's Mormon majority and their leadership, the current ties of friendship and collaboration between the two are arguably the closest they've ever been.

Under Hinckley, the LDS lent a substantial hand to the restoration of Salt Lake's Cathedral of the Madeleine, and -- often with the deployment of its own volunteers and other aid -- staunchly supported World Youth Day and the other travels of Pope John Paul II, who the president and his faithful admired as a prophet of peace. And along the Tiber, maintaining good relations with the LDS were reportedly a key factor in last year's appointment of a new bishop for Utah's statewide diocese.

A positive-thinking, media-friendly sort almost viewed by journalists as one of their own, the Mormon chief's death was publicly mourned by neighbor-bishops past and present.

In comments to the Salt Lake Tribune, Archbishop George Niederauer of San Francisco said that "it was a challenge to us to be as open and respectful as they were being to us."

Over his 11 years in Utah, the San Fran prelate recalled that the two communities kept a "harmony of vision and purpose" that he expects will continue under Hinckley's likely successor: his first counselor and heir apparent, 80 year-old Thomas Monson. On Niederauer's 2006 departure for San Francisco, the LDS First Presidency acclaimed the newly-named archbishop as its "faithful friend," "a man of quick wit and good humor, unyielding integrity and immense capacity."

Illness might've kept Hinckley from his commitment to attend Bishop John Wester's installation as Salt Lake's ninth ordinary last year, but the two still formed a friendship of their own. In his statement to the paper, the bishop called the late prophet "a real man of bridge-building. A real man of God.

"He wasn't exclusive, he wasn't insulated," Wester said. "He showed a genuine interest in me personally, and a genuine interest in our church."

Hinckley's funeral is scheduled for Saturday. While masses of mourners are expected to flock to Salt Lake, attendance at the rites is limited to the 21,000-seat capacity of the LDS' Conference Center.

PHOTOS: Reuters/Yiorgos Karahalis(1); Deseret Morning News(2)


Cause on the Move

As previously mentioned, Fr Isaac Hecker's cause for canonization was opened Sunday at a Manhattan Mass celebrated by the cardinal-archbishop:
Paulist Father Isaac Thomas Hecker was "a real-life saint like you and me," Cardinal Edward M. Egan of New York said Jan. 27, describing the founder of the Paulist Fathers.

"He was a person who suffered, who made his way through life bearing crosses and who taught that sanctity can be captured in many different ways," the cardinal added.

He made the comments during a Mass that marked the opening of the cause for Father Hecker's canonization and the 150th anniversary of the Church of St. Paul the Apostle, the parish he established on Columbus Avenue in New York.

More than 1,000 people attended the bilingual Mass, concelebrated by several priests. Before the processional, Cardinal Egan blessed the tomb of Father Hecker, which is inside the church in the northeast corner.

In his homily, Cardinal Egan traced the "troubles and tribulations" that led Father Hecker to found the Paulists as a distinctly "American approach to announcing the Gospel."...

Father John Duffy, president of the Paulist Fathers, said it was Father Hecker's "driving conviction that if the principles of freedom and democracy of this country were combined with the teachings of Jesus Christ as proclaimed by the Catholic Church then America could become a light to the nations."

Cardinal Egan recounted that Father Hecker's vision was incompatible with that of his religious superiors in Rome and he was dismissed from the Redemptorists. Fortunately, said Cardinal Egan, Father Hecker had the support of Pope Pius IX, who encouraged him to establish a congregation of priests dedicated to evangelizing North America.

In 1858, Archbishop John Hughes of New York gave a parish to Father Hecker and his fledgling order, formally known as the Missionary Society of St. Paul the Apostle. It was the first religious congregation of Catholic men established in the U.S....

Father Duffy said Father Hecker was certain the Holy Spirit would guide the Paulists to meet the church's needs in the modern age.

He said that the present-day Paulist mission consists of "evangelization, proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ to the unchurched; reconciliation, reaching out to those who find themselves cut off from the community of faith and/or at the margins of society; seeking unity for the body of Christ and seeking dialogue with those of other world religions."

"With Father Hecker looking over our shoulders, I am reminded of what he would say: God is not finished with us yet. The Holy Spirit has so much more to bring forth!" Father Duffy said.
The Paulist founder joins a number of New York causes long underway, among them the 19th century Haitian emigré Pierre Toussaint, the Catholic Worker foundress Dorothy Day, and the city's seventh archbishop, Cardinal Terence Cooke.


Rector's Ark.

Back around the time of November's USCCB plenary, the administrator of the nation's longest-vacant diocese wrote of being tempted "to picket the meeting with a large sign reading 'LITTLE ROCK NEEDS A BISHOP!'"

It's taken 20 months, but it seems that Msgr Gaston Hebert's prayers have finally been answered -- the seventh bishop of Arkansas' statewide diocese will be named shortly, likely within the week.

Home to 112,000 Catholics, Little Rock "opened" on Bishop Peter Sartain's May 2006 appointment to the diocese of Joliet, which encompasses the western suburbs of Chicago.

In keeping with the template favored by B16 and his Super-Nuncio, the choice is reported to have fallen on a veteran pastor not lacking in administrative experience... a Texan just short of his 50th birthday. Described as a "people person," the presumptive bishop-elect is said to be "neither liberal nor conservative" and, yes, "a man of prayer."

In that light, he's currently on retreat.

With the Arkansas appointment in sight, a quick review of the docket shows eight US dioceses currently without a bishop, and another eleven with ordinaries serving past the retirement age of 75. While five more Stateside diocesans reach the milestone this year, last week's appointment to Springfield-Cape Girardeau didn't take place until almost 30 months after outgoing Bishop John Leibrecht sent his required "walking papers."

Two more US prelates born in 1930 remain in active ministry: Bishop Carl Mengeling of Lansing and, of course, Cardinal Adam Maida of Detroit.

As always, stay tuned.


Lent: "Spring Training" in the "Generosity of Love"

With eight days to go 'til Ash Wednesday -- on its earliest date since the mid-19th century -- the Pope's message for Lent 2008 was unveiled this morning.

(The photo at right shows the beginning of the day's traditional penitential procession along Rome's Aventine Hill, ending with the customary papal liturgy at S. Sabina....)

“Christ made Himself poor for you” (2 Cor 8,9)

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

1. Each year, Lent offers us a providential opportunity to deepen the meaning and value of our Christian lives, and it stimulates us to rediscover the mercy of God so that we, in turn, become more merciful toward our brothers and sisters. In the Lenten period, the Church makes it her duty to propose some specific tasks that accompany the faithful concretely in this process of interior renewal: these are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. For this year’s Lenten Message, I wish to spend some time reflecting on the practice of almsgiving, which represents a specific way to assist those in need and, at the same time, an exercise in self-denial to free us from attachment to worldly goods. The force of attraction to material riches and just how categorical our decision must be not to make of them an idol, Jesus confirms in a resolute way: “You cannot serve God and mammon” (Lk 16,13). Almsgiving helps us to overcome this constant temptation, teaching us to respond to our neighbor’s needs and to share with others whatever we possess through divine goodness. This is the aim of the special collections in favor of the poor, which are promoted during Lent in many parts of the world. In this way, inward cleansing is accompanied by a gesture of ecclesial communion, mirroring what already took place in the early Church. In his Letters, Saint Paul speaks of this in regard to the collection for the Jerusalem community (cf. 2 Cor 8-9; Rm 15, 25-27).

2. According to the teaching of the Gospel, we are not owners but rather administrators of the goods we possess: these, then, are not to be considered as our exclusive possession, but means through which the Lord calls each one of us to act as a steward of His providence for our neighbor. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, material goods bear a social value, according to the principle of their universal destination (cf. n. 2404)

In the Gospel, Jesus explicitly admonishes the one who possesses and uses earthly riches only for self. In the face of the multitudes, who, lacking everything, suffer hunger, the words of Saint John acquire the tone of a ringing rebuke: “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help?” (1 Jn 3,17). In those countries whose population is majority Christian, the call to share is even more urgent, since their responsibility toward the many who suffer poverty and abandonment is even greater. To come to their aid is a duty of justice even prior to being an act of charity.

3. The Gospel highlights a typical feature of Christian almsgiving: it must be hidden: “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,” Jesus asserts, “so that your alms may be done in secret” (Mt 6,3-4). Just a short while before, He said not to boast of one’s own good works so as not to risk being deprived of the heavenly reward (cf. Mt 6,1-2). The disciple is to be concerned with God’s greater glory. Jesus warns: “In this way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Mt 5,16). Everything, then, must be done for God’s glory and not our own. This understanding, dear brothers and sisters, must accompany every gesture of help to our neighbor, avoiding that it becomes a means to make ourselves the center of attention. If, in accomplishing a good deed, we do not have as our goal God’s glory and the real well being of our brothers and sisters, looking rather for a return of personal interest or simply of applause, we place ourselves outside of the Gospel vision. In today’s world of images, attentive vigilance is required, since this temptation is great. Almsgiving, according to the Gospel, is not mere philanthropy: rather it is a concrete expression of charity, a theological virtue that demands interior conversion to love of God and neighbor, in imitation of Jesus Christ, who, dying on the cross, gave His entire self for us. How could we not thank God for the many people who silently, far from the gaze of the media world, fulfill, with this spirit, generous actions in support of one’s neighbor in difficulty? There is little use in giving one’s personal goods to others if it leads to a heart puffed up in vainglory: for this reason, the one, who knows that God “sees in secret” and in secret will reward, does not seek human recognition for works of mercy.

4. In inviting us to consider almsgiving with a more profound gaze that transcends the purely material dimension, Scripture teaches us that there is more joy in giving than in receiving (cf. Acts 20,35). When we do things out of love, we express the truth of our being; indeed, we have been created not for ourselves but for God and our brothers and sisters (cf. 2 Cor 5,15). Every time when, for love of God, we share our goods with our neighbor in need, we discover that the fullness of life comes from love and all is returned to us as a blessing in the form of peace, inner satisfaction and joy. Our Father in heaven rewards our almsgiving with His joy. What is more: Saint Peter includes among the spiritual fruits of almsgiving the forgiveness of sins: “Charity,” he writes, “covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pt 4,8). As the Lenten liturgy frequently repeats, God offers to us sinners the possibility of being forgiven. The fact of sharing with the poor what we possess disposes us to receive such a gift. In this moment, my thought turns to those who realize the weight of the evil they have committed and, precisely for this reason, feel far from God, fearful and almost incapable of turning to Him. By drawing close to others through almsgiving, we draw close to God; it can become an instrument for authentic conversion and reconciliation with Him and our brothers.

5. Almsgiving teaches us the generosity of love. Saint Joseph Benedict Cottolengo forthrightly recommends: “Never keep an account of the coins you give, since this is what I always say: if, in giving alms, the left hand is not to know what the right hand is doing, then the right hand, too, should not know what it does itself” (Detti e pensieri, Edilibri, n. 201). In this regard, all the more significant is the Gospel story of the widow who, out of her poverty, cast into the Temple treasury “all she had to live on” (Mk 12,44). Her tiny and insignificant coin becomes an eloquent symbol: this widow gives to God not out of her abundance, not so much what she has, but what she is. Her entire self.

We find this moving passage inserted in the description of the days that immediately precede Jesus’ passion and death, who, as Saint Paul writes, made Himself poor to enrich us out of His poverty (cf. 2 Cor 8,9); He gave His entire self for us. Lent, also through the practice of almsgiving, inspires us to follow His example. In His school, we can learn to make of our lives a total gift; imitating Him, we are able to make ourselves available, not so much in giving a part of what we possess, but our very selves. Cannot the entire Gospel be summarized perhaps in the one commandment of love? The Lenten practice of almsgiving thus becomes a means to deepen our Christian vocation. In gratuitously offering himself, the Christian bears witness that it is love and not material richness that determines the laws of his existence. Love, then, gives almsgiving its value; it inspires various forms of giving, according to the possibilities and conditions of each person.

6. Dear brothers and sisters, Lent invites us to “train ourselves” spiritually, also through the practice of almsgiving, in order to grow in charity and recognize in the poor Christ Himself. In the Acts of the Apostles, we read that the Apostle Peter said to the cripple who was begging alms at the Temple gate: “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, walk” (Acts 3,6). In giving alms, we offer something material, a sign of the greater gift that we can impart to others through the announcement and witness of Christ, in whose name is found true life. Let this time, then, be marked by a personal and community effort of attachment to Christ in order that we may be witnesses of His love. May Mary, Mother and faithful Servant of the Lord, help believers to enter the “spiritual battle” of Lent, armed with prayer, fasting and the practice of almsgiving, so as to arrive at the celebration of the Easter Feasts, renewed in spirit. With these wishes, I willingly impart to all my Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, 30 October 2007


PHOTO: AP/Pier Paolo Cito


Transparency as Spirituality "For the Good of Others"

Even though the election of Father-General has come and gone, wide interest in the doings of the General Congregation of the Jesuits hasn't ebbed.

While the delegates continue prayer and discussion over the Society's future course and are still preparing to elect Fr Adolfo Nicolás top governing team, the Jesuit Curia has transcribed and translated the new General's Friday statement at his encounter with the Rome press corps.

Very interesting read... full:
First of all, I want to thank you for the interest you have shown in the Society of Jesus, in this General Congregation, and the positive view that you are taking of me.

I understand the difficulties you have in finding information. I am an unknown. Spanish journalists look for treasures where are there are none; they ask people, hoping for a small bit of drama, if I actually am the third of three brothers – in reality I am the third of four; if I studied in the Balmes Institute – I did but only for one year when I was 10 years old and I was suspended from two or three subjects…

I hope that in the future it will not be so difficult to find information, since we will be able to leave aside this less interesting material and inform you about what is more important: what we do in this present world, this church, this moment in our history.

These days I have found things in the press which are helpful, but also things that are not helpful. Among those that are least helpful, for example, is the search for conflict between Jesuits and the Holy Father, between Jesuits and the Vatican. I do not believe this to be true. The Society of Jesus has always been in communion with the Holy Father and we are happy to be so. Between spouses there are always difficulties; if any of you who are married say there are not I would not believe you. Only people who love each other can hurt each other. When as part of that relationship there is an effort to work together, difficulties can arise and that is normal. If any of you are married you know of what I speak. The Society of Jesus wants to work with the Holy See and obey the Holy Father. This has always been the common understanding among us. It has always been so, it has not changed nor do I believe it will change.

Some in the press have said that there is a theological distance between myself and Benedict XVI, which some wish to sensationalize. When I was a student I studied the works of Professor Ratzinger; in Tokyo we studied his books because he is a great professor. His books were interesting, they had creativity and inspiration which we all appreciated at that time. I speak of the years 1964-1968, when I was studying in Tokyo, and the works of Ratzinger were common among us. Later, when I came to Rome it was the same. The name of Ratzinger was that of a great teacher. And in Germany – although he did not teach in Frankfurt – all read his books.

Thus the distance is more something theoretical in people’s imagination. This is about a continuing conversation, because I think that theology is always a dialogue. What is most important is the search for the truth, the search for the truth inspired in the Word of God, in the life of the Church, in the life of Christians. In this dialogue one might perhaps find differences in some matters, but always part of the mutual search for the truth.

Some journalists say that I am like Arrupe, or like Kolvenbach, half and half, up to fifty percent; it would not be a surprise if someone said I am 10% Elvis Presley. All of this is false. I am not Fr. Arrupe. I love Fr. Arrupe, I admire him, he has influenced me, I had him as my Superior for four years in Japan, and in fact I had know him earlier, in studies, when he talked to us about the atomic bomb in Hiroshima…..but I am not Arrupe. So, who am I? If you ask I will say that I have been created for the reality in which I find myself, I am in process, in fieri, until I become what God wants of me, as with all of us. This applies to the relations with the Holy Father or to what comes out of this General Congregation. All depends on the ability I have to respond or not to respond to that reality and those who are around me and that which the General Congregation asks of me. This is always the open question.

Something of interest to the press has been my relationship with Asia. Here you can see a map which we put together a month ago in Manila, in the region where I have worked in recent years. This is a region that extends from Japan to China to Australia and to Micronesia in the Pacific. The greater part of my life has been lived in Asia, where I arrived when I was 24 years old, after I studied philosophy in Alcala. And Asia has been a challenge, a real challenge, in many ways.

The first years in Japan were not easy, not so much because of the raw fish – the Japanese diet is good – nor the language with which there was not much difficulty, nor even writing in Japanese characters. These are external things. The difficulties were more profound. The world was not as I thought of it in Spain, nor was it my way of seeing things, including the faith. Things that I considered commonly understood in Spain were not as they were in Spain. The encounter with a world so completely different put into question matters that I had considered givens. This became a normal experience, but it was difficult.

In this context I had to study theology, and it was most interesting. The task was one of reformulating faith itself not only in the context of Vatican II but in the context of Asia, of Japan, in a context where Buddhism and Shintoism and other religions have had a profound influence.

I believe that Asia has changed me, I hope for the good – the Japanese will have to decide that – it has changed me and has helped me to understand others, to accept what is different and try to understand why it is different, in what lies the difference and how I can learn from that difference.

And then it has taught me to smile at the difficulties, at human imperfection, the human reality. In Spain I was a little intolerant, thinking in terms of order, of commands, because I thought of religion as fidelity to religious practices, and in Japan I learned that true religiosity is more profound, that one must go to the heart of things, to the depths of our humanity, whether we are speaking of God or we are speaking of ourselves and of human life. This is a way of entering into a diverse world. I have learned that I could smile before the difficulties, something that in Spain would have made me very nervous. Human life is this way, we people are this way; imperfections are so natural that it is necessary to accept them from the very beginning.

The Japanese have the reputation of working 24 hours a day; yes, but they do it slowly, slowly; they don’t work like Americans, the French or much less like Spaniards, who perhaps work one hour, but very intensely. It is a different kind of rhythm, and this applies not only to work but to the way of understanding people, without imposing on them. It scandalizes them that we are so strict, intolerant, and incapable of accepting diversity; this is a scandal to them.

This was truly a challenge for us who came with the naivete of those born and educated in a country like Spain. Because of this I believe that Asia can enrich the universal church a great deal. Unfortunately we Jesuits are few in Asia and we have written little about this. Japan can contribute a great deal with her culture and her way of confronting problems with depth. If we look at Buddhism we see that it itself has changed a great deal throughout Asia; from India to Sri Lanka the south has one Buddhist tradition, but the north has another, the Mahayana which was open to a variety of situations and arrived in Japan where it found a way of entering deeply so that Zen took on Japanese citizenship. Questions were as deep as possible; all was questioned. We can all learn from this world, maintaining our own calm while facing the other as given to us.

Then there is China. China is a world with such a breadth of cultures and diversity of language, with more than 27 ethnic groups in the south of China where they speak Chinese mixed with Arabic, a world for which it is incredible to imagine a way to provide some kind of administrative unity. Then there are Korea and Vietnam, with their great diversity; the Philippines, which is sometimes called the Italy of Asia, because they have that same sense of humor and of life, and a sense of law that is a little broader that that of other countries. There is a saying that for them traffic laws are not laws but recommendations. his understanding of life I believe is good for the rest of Asia, as a kind of profound Asian humanism.

Indonesia is part of this same tradition. I also should include that Australia, with its Western character, has taken as its mission to be a bridge between Asia and the West. I have found great assistance and cooperation in Australia in the development of programs. Then we have new missions, like Burma, East Timor and Cambodia, new because they were closed; Jesuits had been expelled from Cambodia and from Burma by the military government. In Timor there had been a small group which has changed a great deal since independence. Now we have new vocations, but all is beginning anew. All of these nations bring new challenges and tasks.

About the future there is little I can say. The reason is simple: I have just begun. When in the Congregation meeting they speak of Father General, I always think they mean Fr. Kolvenbach; I do not yet realize that it is me. My current attitude is to listen, listen and obey. As you know, the General Congregation has authority over Fr. General. During the General Congregation I am subject to the Congregation. If the Congregation tells me what needs to be done, what direction to take in the future, I should obey, that is my mission. Therefore what is important to me now is to know what the General Congregation wishes; as well as how to respond to the challenges that the Holy Father has sent us, about which we are reflecting very seriously, so as to give a response that can help the Church, not ourselves. I hope to meet with the Holy Father soon whenever he calls me to have an initial meeting. After all this, when the Congregation Fathers have gone, I will begin to work, to see how to respond and make all of this into reality.

I hope that then we can have a meeting to respond to your questions. Now I have no answers; I can only respond “this depends, that depends….” In the dialogue which we will have I hope to follow the principles of Ghandi, who said that when we speak, it first must be true, because if it is not true it is not interesting; second, it must be charitable, and do good; and third, it must do good for others. Thus, news that, although true, does not do good but creates misunderstandings will not be interesting, and if it does not help people I think it is worthless.

I intend to be transparent. I have learned this in Indonesia, from a couple who were not Christians. In a context where there is fear of evil spirits, this couple took transparency as their spirituality to defend themselves against those threats, so that any evil that came passed on without leaving a trace and the good that arrived was passed on to others. I think this is a symbol we should keep in mind. Transparency is an attitude of responsibility for the good of others, not for ourselves. It is not so important what people think of me; more important is the good of others.

So, I am happy to have met with you, and I thank you for the positive tone I have found so far. I understand the difficulties you have found but I hope in the future we can work together. Thank you.
Intriguingly, it seems that one part of Father-General's statement ended up redacted by his aides.

Early on in the session, in talking about his school-boy days, CNS reported Friday that "a Spanish newspaper had been looking for his report card" from the Balmes Institute.

"It's terrible," Nico was quoted as saying. "[T]hat year I failed two subjects -- geography and another that I don't remember."

Suffice it to say, that part doesn't appear above, its absence marked with an ellipsis.

The new General might be extolling the virtues of transparency... but just like any other boss, it seems he'll have to keep his middle-management from being his lead obstacle.

PHOTO: Don Doll SJ


Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Southern Preacher

It's been a good week for the Churchman of the Year.

The February edition of Texas Monthly hit the shelves featuring Dan DiNardo as one of its "35 People Who Will Shape [the] Future" of the Lone Star State, but not before the Cardinal of the South headlined his first high-watt event: Tuesday morning's Mass for Life in Washington's Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

The archbishop of Galveston-Houston might've had to sacrifice his usual preaching venue -- i.e. the center aisle -- for the sake of EWTN's cameras, but (even at 7.30 in the morning) kept his usual disposition -- i.e. shot out of a cannon -- in making his maiden turn before a national, even international, audience.

The homily was unscripted... while the video would be more enjoyable, below is a transcription in full (emphases original):
Sisters and Brothers in Christ, I want to thank Archbishop Wuerl and Msgr Rossi and all the staff of the National Shrine here for their kind invitation to celebrate this liturgy this morning.

Great to see a whole group of you here... but it is 7.30 in the morning, friends. And I give you permission, if you've been vigiling all night, to doze through this homily. You are permitted... it is early.

Sisters and Brothers, my reflections begin in unpacking the wondrous readings of God's word that we hear this morning by a packet of information that was sent to all bishops through Cardinal Rigali's office -- the office of Pro-Life Activities for the bishops' conference. And this wonderful packet on the front has a magnificent painting, as it were.

Pictures say more than words, and this is a picture of Elizabeth greeting the Virgin Mary -- a scene we would've recalled last month in the season of Advent.

St Luke -- a great painter in words himself -- opens up his Gospel, his pages of introduction, by presenting to us two visible, and two invisible, persons. The visible persons are Elizabeth and the Virgin Mary -- the conception of John the Baptist, and then the conception of Jesus in the womb of his mother. And in a wonderful, wonderful bringing together of the main figures of this opening part of the Gospel, the Virgin Mary -- having heard that she was to be the mother of the savior, and having given her energetic acceptance of saying "yes," immediately -- without seeking the advice of PR people or without, in any fashion, even starting some independent group -- RUNS to see Elizabeth.

She fulfills what the Angel has said. And when Elizabeth sees her, JB -- John the Baptist -- stirs, and gives a kick, and that brings the Holy Spirit to gush forth from Elizabeth. And in that gushing forth, we see what the energy of acceptance does to others.

The Holy Spirit is active in Elizabeth through John the Baptist. Ah -- but Jesus is active in his mother, in a way beyond our comprehension.

What a pro-life scene, sisters and brothers! Elizabeth cries out "Blessed are you among women," and the Virgin Mary responds with one of the most joyful hymns we have in the New Testament.

I have a friend -- and you'll excuse this, it's typical of Southeast Texas... we're too far South maybe -- who claims that Mary yodeled the Magnificat. I don't think that's exegetically correct, but it's an interesting scene to fathom: the country girl who cries out in joy, certainly over the birth of the Savior, but who cries out in joy over the gift of life.

That should set the scene for us today, friends. "Blessed is she who trusted," in this house of Mary, to begin to look at these readings given to us today. Human beings -- how wonderful human beings are. And, yet, if we look at the prophet Isaiah, Isaiah has just finished scolding the people of Jerusalem, the people of Judea, the people of Israel -- that they are arrogant and look to purely political solutions instead of looking to their Maker and covenant-faithul lover, God.

Oh, you must've picked up the early parts of Isaiah before, occasionally. There you can hear Isaiah telling Israel, "You're arrogant! You must repent! On second thought, don't even bother -- you're so far gone, you couldn't repent if you tried."

Why does Isaiah say that? Because it's up to the covenant-faithfulness of God to transform Israel. Even if Israel's culture is a desert, God can make flowers bloom in the desert.

What a superb reading to put our focus on this day of abstinence and fasting, but a day of joy, friends -- it's a day of abstinence, it's a day when our food and nurture are first of all God's Word and God's gift of the Eucharist. From there, we rally into action. But it's a day of joy -- and if it's not a day of joy for us, then we've mistaken something. And that's what the Gospel is all about to set us in motion today, for the wonderful action that we will do.

By the way, friends, just coming from Houston and seeing -- were some of you here last night? Did you see all those seminarians coming down? I said to myself, "I just want 10% of them for Houston, just give me -- I'm not going to be picky, ten percent!" We need vital, active witnesses for Christ among our young people in a multitude of vocations, a multitude of professions, and we need an apostolic witness among our young people in priesthood and consecrated life. God be praised -- I hope that this pro-life rally will, indeed, internalize in many of you a more distinctive sense of calling.

In any case, back to the Beatitudes. Well, the Gospel today: Chapter Five, the first great sermon of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew.

Matthew organizes Jesus' marvelous speeches, talks sermons and parables into five great blocks of material. I think St Matthew must've been an architect. The great first sermon of Jesus is the Sermon on the Mount, and the opening words of the Sermon on the Mount are the Beatitudes. Friends, the Lord Jesus must've been wound up -- he talks on for two and a half chapters, this first great sermon -- but the opening of the sermon is not in the imperative. He does not put forth his hand and say "thou shalt not" -- though that will come in the sermon, and there's a good purpose for the "thou shalt nots" later on. But the opening of the sermon, for those of you who are in high school, is in the indicative mood, not the imperative mood.

But I don't want to do English class, I just want to say something about the indicative mood -- means the sermon, the Beatitudes, are first about Jesus. If one is looking at the Beatitudes for any kind of practical advice that will make you ultimately successful in the world by believing in Jesus, then they are the eight worst pieces of advice ever given! However, if our hardness of heart melts, and we let the Lord Jesus begin slowly, in trickling increments, to take us over in his grace, which he does, then in fact these eight words of Jesus -- the eight Beatitudes -- are the astatic entry into joy. And as we let them -- which means let him -- overtake us, then the movement towards preserving and saving and loving life in the midst of sometimes a desert culture here in the United States becomes all joy.

I can see it in the faces of the young people. In fact, in the ten years that I have been a bishop, one of the things that has struck me most is a line from the opening of the Gospel of St Luke that I see continuously manifest in so many of our young people, particularly those who give themselves over to witnessing for life. The line in St Luke is: "Theophilus, I'm writing what I'm writing so that you will know the kind of assurance you have in believing in Jesus." The Greek word for it -- parresia -- means conviction, assurance, truth!

It does not mean arrogance, by the way. It means a conviction.

Sisters and brothers, I see growing -- particularly within our young people, even in the midst sometimes of a desert culture here -- this wondrous parrhesia. I am impressed -- at times, whether in confirmations, or in meetings of young people, I am even overwhelmed. Don't get a big head, but stick with it. Because the parresia, the conviction, is not something you constructed, the parrhesia is not something we make -- its the gift that comes as hearts melt and as the Lord Jesus is the centerpiece: the one who is the son of the Virgin Mary, whose energetic acceptance of running from Nazareth to Galilee to greet Elizabeth and sing her Magnificat, her energetic acceptance of which takes her all through the life of her Son among us.

Now, you put those things together, friends -- you've got genuine power. But it's not a power of this world -- that's why Jesus announces the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of God. what is it? The beatitudes begin to unpack it, but by the end of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke you no longer ask "what" is the kingdom of God, you ask "WHO" is the kingdom of God? And you know who that is -- it's the Lord Jesus who has given us the Beatitudes.

And the central beatitude, from my point of view, you can make an argument it's the first one -- can't disagree: poverty in spirit -- you can say it's the final one because it's witnessing for Jesus in the world, even to persecution -- can't necessarily disagree with that one either. How about being merciful? Boy, that's a good one.

Why do I put as first purity of heart? It's because in the early church, friends, the early church -- the period of the fathers of the church -- it was considered the central beatitude. What is purity of heart? Everything gets out of the way, and you only see Jesus, and the life you get from that is what makes you witness -- by word, but by sheer... presence -- to so many facets of your personal, familiar, school and cultural life that is around.

Purity of heart... purity of heart is -- well, it's like Cardinal Rigali mentioned last night in the sermon about the Transfiguration, one of the scenes that's in the dome up there. You know, the Transfiguration is the central point of the public life of Jesus in Matthew, Mark and Luke -- it's dead center in the public life of Jesus. He goes up the mountain -- all of a sudden, he shows his true colors.

In the words of the high school students that I taught in the late 1970s, he blew their minds... He showed them who he really was -- just a glimpse, just a glimpse that was enough to make them... Why did that come through? What leads up to that? Jesus keeps telling the apostles: "We're going to Jerusalem." He keeps telling them: "I'm going obediently as my Father directs." And by the time they get to that mountain -- it's the mountain just like the mountain on the Sermon on the Mount -- once he gets up that mountain, the Father's joy can't be contained anymore and he just lets loose in his Son... and you see the Father shine. What makes the disciples at first run in fear -- because they don't have purity of heart completely yet -- but Jesus, whose purity burns away whatever is less than doing God's will, touches them, and when they look up they only see Jesus.

Sisters and brothers, you're going to rally today -- on behalf of life, on behalf of unborn children, on behalf of born children, on behalf of the elderly, on behalf of everyone who suffers from injustice, for this is indeed a justice issue we are rallying for today. But as you do it, make sure -- in the joy of the Beatitudes -- that you let the Lord Jesus shine through you in purity of heart. The more obedient you become to the Lord Jesus' face, who's looking on you, and letting it change you, the freer you are -- and the freer you are, your witness in culture becomes infectious. You'll become the Beatitudes -- the best virus that could ever be let loose in our culture.

We have some bad viruses around -- let's let loose a good virus, the virus of a purity of heart filled with the Beatitudes that lets God work in us and doesn't make us say, "God, if you're not gonna do it my way then I'm gonna find a better way than you."

That's generally our prayer: "Jesus, hear me! Jesus, you know I know best! Jesus, follow me!" Friends, we've got it all wrong -- even in the pro-life movement! "Jesus, you know best. You're the Beatitudes. You're purity of heart. In my desert heart, let the orchard grow -- that will be freedom, then I will know you and love you."

Sisters and brothers, do you realize if we get more and more people doing that what that does to the culture? It changes the culture towards one that grows in holiness -- that's what we need.

Sisters and brothers, Elizabeth and the Virgin Mary met and the joy that was unleashed of two unseen beings -- John the Baptist and Jesus, both in the wombs of their mothers -- that's power. There is much, much unseen in our own witness today. Let the unseen power of the Lord Jesus through the gift of the Holy Spirit touch you as you rally, make you joyful -- we may be fasting and abstaining today, but no, no bad looks today! Today is a day of joyful sadness or sad joy -- this is a day of remembrance of sadness, but it is joy at the Lord because we have been gathered by Jesus: first for this action of Eucharist, but then to rally, all on behalf of God's human beings -- born and unborn.

May the Lord bless you all, give you strength -- give you parrhesia, as they say -- that with conviction, you may wake the Lord alive in this culture.

Summit of the Popes

Father-General, Holy Father... Holy Father, Father General....

Jesuit Curia statement:
Adolfo Nicolás capped an eventful week as the newly elected superior general of the Jesuits with a private audience with His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. The Saturday audience began with a photo session and then the two sat down for a warm and friendly conversation. The Holy Father was pleased to hear that that the general congregation had formed a committee to study his letter to Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, the previous superior general, and then the conversation turned to Japan, where Fr. Nicolás had served for 33 years. The Holy Father encouraged the Jesuit leader to continue with dialogue with culture and evangelization and to ensure a thorough formation of young Jesuits. It was the opportunity for the new General of the Jesuits to reaffirm his personal respect for the Vicar of Christ as well as the esteem of the whole Society of Jesus; it was an occasion also to convey the desire of the Society to serve the Church all over the world.
Then Father Nicolás told Pope Benedict that the Jesuits have a custom that the newly elected superior general should renew his vows before the pope. Father Kolvenbach had done that in writing, so Father Nicolás had written out his vows, which he had in an envelope.

The pope opened the envelope right away and read the vows; then he said, 'This is a very good custom.'
Yesterday's quote of the day came from the man called "Nico" during his address to the Rome press corps.

Citing the many comparisons made since his election between himself and the post-Conciliar General Pedro Arrupe -- a legend in Jesuit circles -- Nicolás remarked that "no one has yet said I'm 10 percent Elvis Presley, although one could say this and it wouldn't surprise me."

Well, guess what some Jesuits have since taken to calling their new boss....

In other Black Conclave redux, the provincial of Calcutta has compared the new FG to a Jesuit John XXIII.

PHOTOS: L'Osservatore Romano