Monday, January 21, 2008

View from "The Window"

As is well known, the "Pope of the Visual" rarely did anything without a camera clicking away within a few feet. Yet while Wojtyla's successor's been a bit more reticent in terms of his close-range access, a shutterbug from L'Osservatore Romano was permitted to snap away from the other side of the studio window of the papal apartment during yesterday's Angelus.

The frame was a first in this pontificate. And given the overflow crowd to support B16 post-Sapienza, as you can see, the set-up proved itself a masterstroke.

In an address today to the preparatory commission for this fall's Synod of Bishops -- which'll focus on "The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church" -- the Pope identified his two top tasks for modern Catholicism... both, he said, "centered on the Word":

"The great tasks facing the ecclesial community in the modern world -- and among the many I particularly stress evangelization and ecumenism -- are centered on the Word of God and, at the same time, draw therefrom their justification and support.

"Just as the Church's missionary activity [...] finds its inspiration and its goal in the Lord's merciful revelation, so ecumenical dialogue cannot base itself on the words of human wisdom or on skilful strategies, but must be animated exclusively by constant reference to the original Word, which God consigned to his Church to be read, interpreted and lived in communion."

Benedict XVI said that in this context, "St. Paul's doctrine reveals a particular strength."

The apostle's doctrine is, the Holy Father explained, "clearly founded on divine revelation but also on his own apostolic experience which, ever and anew, made it clear to him that not human wisdom and eloquence but only the force of the Holy Spirit builds the Church in faith."

He noted that the Synod will take place during the celebration of the June 28, 2008, - June 29, 2009, Pauline Year.

The meeting will provide pastors of the Church with an opportunity to reflect on "the witness of this great apostle and herald of the Word of God," the Pontiff said. "May his example be an encouragement for everyone to accept the Word of salvation and to translate it into daily life, in faithful discipleship of Christ."

...and in a weekend talk to Rome's seminarians, B16 stressed the prime import of a living friendship with Christ -- manifested in a "profound interior life" -- for their effectiveness in ministry:
The Holy Father emphasized the figure of Cardinal Domenico Capranica, who founded the institution 550 years ago, saying that a century before the Council of Trent, the cardinal was able to see "that the desired reform would not only have to involve ecclesiastical structures but, principally, the lives and choices of those people within the Church who were called to be [...] guides and pastors of the People of God."

He noted that Cardinal Capranica drew up the constitutions of the college, which regulate the various aspects of the formation of the young students.

With those "Constitutiones," the Pontiff explained, the cardinal "demonstrated his concern for the primacy of the spiritual dimension, and his awareness that the depth of a solid priestly formation -- and its consequent durability -- depend to a decisive degree on the completeness and overall structure of the educational syllabus."

"These aspects have even greater importance today," Benedict XVI affirmed, "considering the multiple challenges priests and evangelizers must face on their mission. In this context I have, on a number of occasions, reminded seminarians and priests of the urgent need to cultivate a profound interior life, a personal and constant contact with Christ in prayer and contemplation, a sincere longing for sanctity.

"In fact, without a true friendship with Jesus, it is impossible for Christians, and especially for priests, to carry out the mission with which the Lord entrusts them. For priests, it is clear that this also entails serious cultural and theological preparation."

* * *

In keeping with custom on this feast of St Agnes, the Pope blessed the two lambs whose shorn coats will be woven into the pallia he gives to the world's new crop of metropolitan archbishops on the 29 June feast of Ss. Peter and Paul.

While Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville was the lone US prelate to receive his woolen band symbolizing the "fullness of the episcopal office" in 2007, it's already clear that a larger American contingent will be in evidence this year. Archbishops Edwin O'Brien of Baltimore and John Nienstedt of St Paul and Minneapolis are queued up, likely to be joined by Detroit's next ordinary and, quite possibly, those of Mobile, Omaha and the Gran Manzana itself, New York.

(Updating prior reports, the Detroit process remains at mid-stage, with revised timetables estimating the appointment of Cardinal Adam Maida's successor to take place post-Easter. Bishop Allen Vigneron of Oakland is said to remain at the head of an "open field" of possibilities.)

However the delegations shake out, the pilgrims are in for a unique treat: 29 June pallium festivities that mark the traditional beginning of Roman Summer will be enhanced by the opening of the Pauline Year commemorating the 2000th anniversary of the birth of the "Apostle to the Gentiles." Presented at a Vatican press conference today, the program of the celebrations focuses on a "strong ecumenical element," including the conversion of the baptistery of the Basilica of St Paul's Outside the Walls into an interdenominational chapel.

Though not yet available in English, a website for the observance has been kicked off.

PHOTOS: L'Osservatore Romano