Friday, February 29, 2008

"At the Mercy of Terror"

Last October, some might remember the kidnapping of two Syrian-rite clerics in the Iraqi city of Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad.

Earlier today, after presiding at the Stations of the Cross in his cathedral, the city's Chaldean prelate Bishop Faraj Raho (above) was similarly abducted, and three companions -- including his driver -- were killed.
The kidnappers are said to have already made a request. The abduction took place at 5.30 pm local time, Ishtar TV reported. Bishop Raho had just left Mosul’s Holy Spirit Cathedral.

“The bishop is in terrorist hands,” Mgr al-Qas said, “but we don’t know in what physical state. The three men who were with him, including his driver, were killed.”

“It is a terrible moment for our Church. Please, pray for us,” Arbil bishop said in an appeal to the world.
Shortly after the news reached the Vatican, a rare nighttime statement from Pope Benedict was released calling for the captors "to find it within their hearts to allow Mons. Raho to return to his flock.

"Embittered by this new shameful act which deeply affects the Church in the country and the Chaldean Church in particular, the Pope stands next to patriarch Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly and to the entire Christian community under duress, and his heart also goes out to the families of the victims," the statement said, according to Italian wire reports.

The pontiff "invites the universal Church to join him in prayer renewing the hope that the Iraqi people may soon find the path of peace and reconciliation," it added.

At last November's consistory, Benedict elevated Delly -- the Baghdad-based head of the Chaldean church -- to the college of cardinals; the 81 year-old patriarch became the first-ever Iraqi cardinal.

During the conferral ceremony itself, the Eastern cardinal was the lone designee of the 24-member class explicitly mentioned in the Pope's homily, as Benedict cited his wish to express "in a concrete way" his own "spiritual closeness and affection" and "the solidarity of the whole church" with the persecuted Christian community in the war-ravaged country.

Traveling with Delly for the Rome festivities, Raho offered a candid assessment of the state of Mosul.

As US forces "move[d] up" -- northward from Baghdad and southern Iraq -- "so do the terrorists, who are now concentrated in Mosul," the bishop said.
The bishop said there is a move to empty the city of its Christian inhabitants, though he said "such a plan does not target Christians alone, but the intelligentsia and the professional class as well, Muslims included."

"However, if Christians are only 3% of the city's total population, they represent 35% of those with a higher education. Forcing these people to leave means preventing the country from rising again. It means fueling ignorance, which is a support for terrorism," Bishop Raho explained....

"The main message of our prayers shall be peace […] which we have been trying to achieve despite threats and violence."
PHOTO: AsiaNews


Leap Day = Groundhog Day?

In light of this morning's CDF decision on baptisms, it might be wise to go back and check the christening videos -- if yours was performed "in the name of the Creator..." you've gotta do everything all over again:
"I think if you are over the age of 45 to 50 you have nothing to fear" regarding the validity of baptisms, said Father Tom Weinandy, a Capuchin Franciscan who is executive director of the U.S. bishops' Secretariat of Doctrine. Those in the younger generation shouldn't "have a huge amount of fear" either, he added.

According to the statement released by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Feb. 29, a baptism administered "in the name of the Creator, and of the Redeemer and of the Sanctifier" or formulas that do not say "in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" is not a baptism at all. If the baptism is invalid, so are the other sacraments the person may have received, such as matrimony.

"If you are not validly baptized," and thus not validly married, "a person needs to get rebaptized and remarried," explained Father Weinandy.

However, unless a witness at the baptism knows that an incorrect formula was used, "it is assumed they used the right formula," he said. "The presumption is the obvious truth that the baptism is valid."

The Vatican's statement was released "because of the abuse (by priests and Protestant ministers at baptisms) and the questions that have come from it," said Father Weinandy.

The Vatican "wants to make sure the formula is the proper formula," he told Catholic News Service Feb. 29.

Instances in which a baptism has been considered invalid have been "very, very, very few and far between," he said.

Welcome, Madam Ambassador

This morning, the Pope received the credential letters of the newly-arrived US ambassador to the Holy See, Mary Ann Glendon.

The first woman to ever head a Vatican delegation (to the UN's 1995 Beijing conference on women), Glendon, 69, was also the first woman to serve as president of a pontifical academy, leading the Holy See's think-tank of social scientists until taking up her new duties. Given that background, the Harvard Law prof comes to the post as the most well-steeped American representative in the ways of the church's top tiers. But her mission is only expected to last about a year -- the coveted Vatican assignment will likely get a new holder shortly after the new administration gets settled into the White House come January.

Over almost three years as Pope, B16 has spoken publicly of the States at any length only on one prior occasion. Given that -- and the impending delivery of many more papal words on America (whilst in America, of course) -- here's the fulltext of today's PopeTalk:
Your Excellency,

It is a pleasure for me to accept the Letters by which you are accredited Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America and to offer my cordial good wishes as you take up your new responsibilities in the service of your country. I am confident that the knowledge and experience born of your distinguished association with the work of the Holy See will prove beneficial in the fulfillment of your duties and enrich the activity of the diplomatic community to which you now belong. I also thank you for the cordial greetings which you have conveyed to me from President George W. Bush on behalf of the American people, as I look forward to my Pastoral Visit to the United States in April.

From the dawn of the Republic, America has been, as you noted, a nation which values the role of religious belief in ensuring a vibrant and ethically sound democratic order. Your nation’s example of uniting people of good will, regardless of race, nationality or creed, in a shared vision and a disciplined pursuit of the common good has encouraged many younger nations in their efforts to create a harmonious, free and just social order. Today this task of reconciling unity and diversity, of forging a common vision and summoning the moral energy to accomplish it, has become an urgent priority for the whole human family, which is increasingly aware of its interdependence and the need for effective solidarity in meeting global challenges and building a future of peace for coming generations.

The experience of the past century, with its heavy toll of war and violence, culminating in the planned extermination of whole peoples, has made it clear that the future of humanity cannot depend on mere political compromise. Rather, it must be the fruit of a deeper consensus based on the acknowledgment of universal truths grounded in reasoned reflection on the postulates of our common humanity (cf. Message for the 2008 World Day of Peace, 13). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, whose sixtieth anniversary we celebrate this year, was the product of a world-wide recognition that a just global order can only be based on the acknowledgment and defense of the inviolable dignity and rights of every man and woman. This recognition, in turn, must motivate every decision affecting the future of the human family and all its members. I am confident that your country, established on the self-evident truth that the Creator has endowed each human being with certain inalienable rights, will continue to find in the principles of the common moral law, enshrined in its founding documents, a sure guide for exercising its leadership within the international community.

The building of a global juridic culture inspired by the highest ideals of justice, solidarity and peace calls for firm commitment, hope and generosity on the part of each new generation (cf. Spe Salvi, 25). I appreciate your reference to America’s significant efforts to discover creative means of alleviating the grave problems facing so many nations and peoples in our world. The building of a more secure future for the human family means first and foremost working for the integral development of peoples, especially through the provision of adequate health care, the elimination of pandemics like AIDS, broader educational opportunities to young people, the promotion of women and the curbing of the corruption and militarization which divert precious resources from many of our brothers and sisters in the poorer countries. The progress of the human family is threatened not only by the plague of international terrorism, but also by such threats to peace as the quickening pace of the arms race and the continuance of tensions in the Middle East. I take this occasion to express my hope that patient and transparent negotiations will lead to the reduction and elimination of nuclear weapons and that the recent Annapolis Conference will be the first of a series of steps towards lasting peace in the region. The resolution of these and similar problems calls for trust in, and commitment to, the work of international bodies such as the United Nations Organization, which by their nature are capable of fostering genuine dialogue and understanding, reconciling divergent views, and developing multilateral policies and strategies capable of meeting the manifold challenges of our complex and rapidly changing world.

I cannot fail to note with gratitude the importance which the United States has attributed to interreligious and intercultural dialogue as a positive force for peacemaking. The Holy See is convinced of the great spiritual potential represented by such dialogue, particularly with regard to the promotion of nonviolence and the rejection of ideologies which manipulate and disfigure religion for political purposes, and justify violence in the name of God. The American people’s historic appreciation of the role of religion in shaping public discourse and in shedding light on the inherent moral dimension of social issues - a role at times contested in the name of a straitened understanding of political life and public discourse - is reflected in the efforts of so many of your fellow-citizens and government leaders to ensure legal protection for God’s gift of life from conception to natural death, and the safeguarding of the institution of marriage, acknowledged as a stable union between a man and a woman, and that of the family.

Madam Ambassador, as you now undertake your high responsibilities in the service of your country, I renew my good wishes for the success of your work. Be assured that you may always count on the offices of the Holy See to assist and support you in the fulfillment of your duties. Upon you and your family, and upon all the beloved American people, I cordially invoke God’s blessings of wisdom, strength and peace.
In other things Vatican today, the Pope formally rejected two illicit formulae of baptism as invalid.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a "response" to a query on the validity of formulas such as "I baptize you in the name of the Creator, and of the Redeemer, and of the Sanctifier" and "I baptize you in the name of the Creator, and of the Liberator, and of the Sustainer" in the rite.

Replying that the formulas were, indeed, invalid, the Congregation also specified that anyone who had been baptized with said exhortations must be baptized again by a minister of the sacrament in forma absoluta -- the traditional baptism "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

Dated 1 February but only made public this morning, the response was issued with the explicit approval of Benedict XVI. The decision dropped in Italian, French, Spanish, English and German alongside the definitive Latin.

PHOTO: Reuters


Thursday, February 28, 2008

"Super-Nuncio" Gets His Close-Up

Longtime readers of these pages are well-acquainted with the Holy See's man in Washington Archbishop Pietro Sambi, whose appointment as apostolic nuncio to the United States in late 2005 was -- in keeping with tradition -- one of B16's first major personnel moves in the Vatican's diplomatic corps.

As he marks the second anniversary of his arrival at the "bank vault" on Massachusetts Avenue -- and gets the place ready for the white-clad VIP who'll be staying there for his three nights come mid-April -- word on the "Super-Nuncio" is getting out. In a big way.

In his first interview with a national outlet, USA Today's Cathy Lynn Grossman checks in with the 69 year-old prelate, who's redefined the DC post by force of personality:
Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the veteran Vatican diplomat who serves as the Holy See's U.S. ambassador, knows exactly why the world will see — but not hear — Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the bedrock at Ground Zero during the pope's first visit to the USA.

The silence is Sambi's idea.

"This will be a moment of solidarity with those who died and their families. He will walk alone to indicate the loneliness of those who went to their deaths and the loneliness of the survivors. He will light a lamp. He will pray silently and make a public prayer (the only portion to be broadcast) for the remembrance of those who died, and for peace.

"There must be only silence and prayer here because not a single word will be enough to be convincing. Nothing will be adequate to touch the loneliness of those who died there and those who lost someone. Silence and prayer are what is required."...

Sambi, 69, is a model of Italian charm who engages visitors with warm hazel eyes and expressive hands emphasizing his conversation. He has a 40-year résumé of serving in world hot spots: Jerusalem, Cuba, Indonesia and more.

He follows the late Colombian Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo in the post, which is officially known as the Papal Nuncio. But while Montalvo was "old school" in the job of communicating behind closed doors between the Vatican and U.S bishops, Sambi engages in "a public and pastoral way," says church historian Matthew Bunson, editor of The Catholic Almanac.

One of Sambi's first actions was to visit with New Orleans relief workers, for example.

Now, the nuncio wants to correct many people's image of Benedict, drawn from when the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, enforcing John Paul II's strict vision of Catholic teachings.

"Anyone who lives by first impressions will simply see very quickly they were wrong about this Pope Benedict," Sambi says.

"The great surprise for people will be that the professor is a very simple man, human and warm in the ways in which he expresses himself. He came down from the chair of the teacher and accepted the role of preacher."...

Benedict's U.S. visit is built around his address to the United Nations April 18, where he will likely speak out for "peace and human dignity," including care for the poor, for refugees and for the environment, "God's creation," Sambi says....

"Hope is the transcendent theme. A person or a people without hope is already dead," Sambi says. "In his humble, simple, kind way, this pope is bringing us this clear message: that the way to happiness is to know that God loves you, and because God loves you, you love your neighbor."

The pope also will confront the ugly wounds of clergy sexual abuse. The scandal, which involved nearly 5,000 priests and more than 12,000 victims, rocked the nation in 2002. Settlements and legal bills have surpassed $1.5 billion.

The pope "will address this — and more than once," Sambi says.

But he does not elaborate on when or where, or whether the pope will meet with abuse victims. On that, the voluble Sambi falls diplomatically silent.

Neither will the pope say anything about the contentious U.S. presidential elections, Sambi adds.

Young people are drawn to the pope's message of "obedience to God as the way to happiness" and away from the self-centeredness of modern life, Sambi says.

"If you stop believing that you are God, it will be easy to believe in Him."

Catholics believe the pope is infallible in questions of faith and morals, but "he very rarely makes infallibility an issue. There is so much absolutism, so much infallibility in each of us, the pope uses it very little by comparison."

Sambi, eyes twinkling, repeats, "People will be surprised."

Tip to New Advent.

PHOTO: Joe Brier/USA Today


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Conversion "That Lasts a Lifetime"

One last bit of Hippo from the Pope at today's General Audience:
The humanity of today "needs to rediscover that God is love", and to found its hope upon this, as Saint Augustine did sixteen centuries ago. Augustine is a figure to whom Benedict XVI feels himself "closely connected", toward whom he feels "personal devotion and gratitude", and who has "influenced" his life as "priest and theologian".

This was the pope's fifth and final reflection on the bishop of Hippo at the general audience. Today's audience was divided between Saint Peter's basilica and the Paul VI audience hall, because of the great numbers of the faithful. To the more than 10,000 people present, Benedict XVI on this last occasion wanted to highlight Augustine as "one of the greatest converts of Christian history", a man who carried out a "true journey" of conversion "that lasted his entire life", "a model for everyone".

Personal tones and accents today highlighted, beyond his words alone, the relationship that Benedict XVI feels he has with Augustine. He had recalled this before, during his visit to Pavia last April, when "I offered at the tomb of this great lover of God my first encyclical", dedicated in its title to divine love, or when he recalled "the dream" of the young Augustine to remain in the monastery to dedicate himself to study and contemplation....

And then as now, the encounter with God is "the only response to the disquiet of our hearts", and "still today, just as in his time, humanity needs to know and live this fundamental reality", that God is "the only saviour who saves us, purifies us, gives us true joy and true life"; it needs to "know and above all live this reality, that God is love".
PHOTO: AP/Plinio Lepri


A Home for the "Politically Homeless"

This week, the annual Catholic Social Ministry gathering's taking place in Washington. And with, among other things, the Pope reportedly preparing to unleash a social encyclical in the coming weeks, it's worth noting.

The National Catholic Reporter's John Allen is there and filing away with some of the conference's flavor....

Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta's reflections on the USCCB's election-year pastoral on "Faithful Citizenship":
In a Feb. 23 op/ed piece in the Washington Post, former NCR Washington correspondent Joe Feuerherd summarized the message of “Faithful Citizenship” this way: “Tap the touch screen for a pro-abortion-rights candidate, and you’re probably punching your ticket to Hell.”

Gregory, however, said that’s not what “Faithful Citizenship” teaches.

“Defending the right to life is obviously a primary concern,” Gregory said. “It’s the point of departure for everything else.”

Nonetheless, Gregory said, it is “at least possible” that a Catholic who carefully weighs the issues could decide that, on balance, a candidate who is not explicitly pro-life is preferable to one who opposes the legalization of abortion but who does not share Catholic positions on other matters of moral importance. Gregory was speaking in the abstract, without reference to any specific candidate.

In that sense, Gregory said, “Faithful Citizenship” cannot be reduced to an absolute obligation to vote for a pro-life candidate, regardless of his or her stances on anything else.

“It’s a complicated document,” Gregory said. “It suggests that people have to think hard about their choices.”

Gregory, a former president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, drew attention to another op/ed piece on "Faithful Citizenship," this one in the Feb. 26 Chicago Tribune. It's written by Charles W. Murdock, a law professor at Loyola University of Chicago.

In the piece, Murdock asserts that “Faithful Citizenship” is “far more balanced and nuanced than its critics acknowledge.”

"No one candidate or political party has a monopoly on moral positions," Murdock wrote. "The sooner that liberals and conservatives within the church accept this complexity and find a way to talk about the issues, the better off the Catholic Church will be. And, for that matter, the country."

Adopted during the bishops’ fall meeting in Baltimore, “Faithful Citizenship” addresses the role of Catholics in political life. Beginning in 1976, the bishops have produced such a document regularly during election years.

In his remarks to the Social Ministry Gathering, Gregory encouraged Catholics to carry several messages to Capitol Hill:
• “The lives of unborn children need protection”;
• “Poor children need justice”;
• “Families need affordable health care”;
• “Immigrants need to be treated as brothers and sisters, not enemies”;
• “The hungry of the world need food”;
• “Those living and dying with HIV/AIDS need compassionate care”;
• “The people of the Holy Land need a just peace”;
• “The unending war in Iraq requires a responsible transition.”

Each item on the list drew applause, and Gregory himself received a standing ovation both at the beginning and the end of his comments.

“We are not a lobby,” Gregory told the social ministers, “but a community that serves the poor and vulnerable every day. We are not an interest group, nor are we advocating our own narrow interests, but speaking for the voiceless and standing up for the common good.”

Gregory described the journey to Capitol Hill as “not a secular mobilization, but, in a sense, a pilgrimage.”

We go not to impose some sectarian doctrine,” Gregory said, “but to add our voices and our convictions to the debates and decisions on what kind of nation we are becoming, what kind of world we are shaping.”...

“In supporting the basic right to life, we cannot allow mothers and children to be forced into poverty, malnutrition and hunger because the resources are not made available,” Gregory said.

Gregory conceded that some people have been surprised and even angered by the bishops’ position on immigration – “including,” he said, “even some Catholics.” He lamented what he called a “coarse and polarizing” debate on immigration policy.

“I would envision another kind of public dialogue,” he said, “where the centuries-old experience of Christianity can help balance the harsh exigencies of law.”
Also among the attendees is Bolivian Cardinal Julio Terrazas Sandoval CSSR of Santa Cruz.....
You came to the United States in part to meet with several members of Congress about U.S. policy towards Latin America, and Bolivia in particular. What have you found?

In general, I would say that the understanding is more theoretical than practical, in part because Latin America is enormously diverse, and that’s not always clear from a distance. I sense an intention to have a new kind of relationship, but they haven’t yet figured out, it seems to me, how to do that in a very practical way.

With regard to Bolivia, because we’re relatively small from an economic point of view, we’re not seen as a country to which the United States should be paying much attention – despite the fact that there are high levels of poverty that desperately need attention. For the people I met, Bolivia is often seen as a card that can be played as part of the larger diplomatic game, especially with regard to Colombia and the desire for a free trade agreement. Obviously, we don’t like to think of ourselves as a lasso that can be used to pull along other issues.
I’ve also tried to encourage people to consider the plight of the Bolivian people and not exclusively the language of the government, which at this stage is fairly hot with regard to the United States. If they cut these trade preferences that we’ve had for twenty years, it will dramatically effect Bolivians, particularly 40,000 small businesses and tens of thousands of people who depend on them. The message that would send to the Bolivian people is obviously not a good one.

At the same time, people have been very kind, very polite, and they’ve listened to what I have to say. It’s not very clear, however, how they intend to advance our case in Congress.

From the outside, [Bolivian President Evo] Morales seems like a left-wing populist similar in some ways to Castro and Chavez. How are relations with the church?

First of all, not everything that seems like it’s leaning left necessarily is left-wing. It’s clear, however, that Bolivians have put their faith in a change that was absolutely necessary. There was tremendous injustice that had endured for centuries, and it was important to open that up to make possible greater opportunities for the majority of Bolivians. Unfortunately, what they’ve done is to focus on what happened in the past, and they’ve tried to make such a clean break with the past that it’s leaving a lot of people out of the march towards the future. For example, there’s a deep tension between those who live in the highlands of Bolivia and those who live in the plains that is being provoked in the current political situation. The government doesn’t like it when we say it, but they really are losing a historical moment to move forward and to combat some of these injustices.

So far relations with the church have been fairly good, and they don’t go after us very frequently. There have been some moments of tension, but by and large the church is still quite respected....

Another source of tension in Latin America these days is the coming election in Paraguay, and the candidacy of Bishop Fernando Lugo for the presidency. As you know, Lugo requested laicization but the Holy See refused, telling him to stay out of politics. He’s running anyway on a left-wing populist platform, and the polls suggest he could well win. How is he seen by the Latin American bishops?

I don’t think we see it as a real source of worry, or as something that demands a major response from us. Even though he’s very committed and dedicated, Lugo doesn’t seem to have been able to draw from the wells of his faith to figure out how to advance his goals from within the context of his episcopal ministry, so he’s decided to go into politics. We hope that he manages to achieve a balanced vision, and that he also avoids some of the temptations that always seem to come with being in a position of power.

If he’s elected, how will CELAM [the conference of Latin American bishops] react?

I don’t think the mere fact of him being a cleric involved in politics will, in itself, generate a huge reaction, because as you know we’ve seen it before. At the same time, we won’t feel limited or intimidated because there’s now a bishop, or an ex-bishop who’s now in elected office. We’ll still speak our mind and advocate for our issues as we always have, and as we would with any regime.

But you wouldn’t refuse to deal with him until he resolves his canonical problems with the Holy See?

You can’t ignore the president of a country. We’d interact with him as we would any elected official.

What policies could the United States adopt that would be of greatest help to your people?

What we’re looking for is a gesture that expresses the values, the good values, that we know the American people have. We’re also asking, despite some of the conflicts that go on at the level of governments, for you to think about the poor people in Bolivia and extend a hand to them. What we need to see from the United States is that you’re not so worried about these words that provoke conflicts among leaders, and that you’re really on the side of life and the life of the Bolivian people.

The trade preferences we spoke about a moment ago are very important in this regard. What extending them would show is that the United States is concerned about Bolivia, a poor country still struggling to escape its poverty. It would show that the United States really does want Bolivia to advance, not to fall back.
And John Carr -- the longtime justice-and-peace director for the nation's bishops -- said that, in reality, American Catholics seeking to be faithful to the church's teaching end up being "politically homeless":
“We don’t fit with the right or the left, with Democrats or Republicans,” said John Carr, who directs the office for Justice, Peace and Human Development.

Referring to the annual Social Ministry Gathering, Carr said, “I sometimes think of us as a self-help group for the politically incorrect, for people who insist on standing both with the unborn and the undocumented.”

Nevertheless, Carr said this morning, this makes it “a great time to be a Catholic preacher, teacher or leader, because no one can accuse us of being shills for a partisan position.”

Carr, a veteran staffer of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, argued that a genuinely Catholic approach to politics cannot "cherry-pick" or be "selective."

“Catholic progressives ought to be measured by how they stand up for human life,” he said, “and Catholic conservatives by how they defend human dignity.” The “consistent ethic of life,” Carr said, “doesn’t give any of us a free pass.”

Describing the political context for Catholic social ministry, Carr spoke of tremendous polarization in Washington.

“The debate used to be within the 40-yard-lines,” Carr said. “Today everybody’s in the end zones.”

Carr related, for example, that when the U.S. bishops were recently asked to meet with members of Congress to discuss the war on Iraq, they requested that the session be bipartisan – only to be told, Carr said, “that’s not how we do things here.”

Carr described a sort of hyper-individualism on both the political right and left that both obstruct compassionate social policy.

“On the right, there’s the individualism of the market,” he said. “On the left, there’s lifestyle individualism, so that choice becomes the defining virtue of public life.”...

Carr argued that the recent document from the U.S. bishops on Catholics and politics, “Faithful Citizenship,” provides a template for “lifting up our church and changing our nation.” It deliberately does not tell people how to vote, he said, but it seeks to form consciences in accord with the full range of Catholic teaching.

"We don’t need Catholic Pat Robertsons or Jesse Jacksons,” Carr said. “It’s not about religious leaders telling people how to vote.”

In that connection, Carr referred to a Feb. 23 op/ed piece in the Washington Post by former NCR Washington correspondent Joe Feuerherd, who suggested that “Faithful Citizenship” marked a “right-wing lurch” by the conference.

Carr was among the drafters of the document on behalf of the bishops’ conference.

“Ironically, you could write an identical column about how ‘Faithful Citizenship’ sold out the unborn and provides a roadmap for voting for a pro-choice candidate,” Carr said. “But you know, and I know, that our reality is much more complicated.”

Carr’s address was frequently laced with humor. For example, expressing astonishment on the overwhelming vote in favor of the “Faithful Citizenship” document at the U.S. bishops’ fall meeting in Baltimore, he said: “It’s not clear that even the Trinity would pass with only four negative votes.”

"Oh Boy... ea": Lansing Gets its Bishop

It might be a tad late. Then again, it's still... Earl-y.

Quite a few got the hint yesterday, and this morning Pope Benedict named Auxiliary Bishop Earl Boyea of Detroit as bishop of Lansing. Boyea, 56, succeeds Bishop Carl Mengeling, who reached the mandatory retirement age of 75 in October 2005.

A native of suburban Pontiac -- as in... the car -- Boyea was ordained for the Motor City See in 1978. A product of Detroit's Sacred Heart Seminary and the Pontifical North American College in Rome, the appointee earned graduate degrees in both theology and history, completing a doctorate in the latter from the Catholic University of America in 1987 (with a dissertation that examined the old National Catholic Welfare Conference, the forerunner to today's USCCB).

After seven years in parish work and 13 years on the faculty of the Detroit seminary, Boyea was named rector-president of Columbus' Pontifical College Josephinum in 2000 in succession to Msgr Thomas Olmsted, who had been named coadjutor-bishop of Wichita. In 2002, the rector returned home as auxiliary bishop to Cardinal Adam Maida, since which time he's overseen the Northeast Region of the 1.47 million-member archdiocese -- which likewise awaits a new head.

Home to 230,000 Catholics, the ten-county Lansing diocese was established in 1937. Among its resident institutions are two of the nation's largest college campuses: Michigan State in East Lansing (46,000 students) and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor (41,000).

According to the timetable's latest revision, Detroit's new archbishop can be expected "after Easter, but before the pallium [29 June]." Boyea will be installed in an East Lansing church on 29 April, with a Vespers service the preceding night in St Mary's Cathedral.

SVILUPPO: From the statements....

The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI’s, decision to entrust to me the leadership of and the care for the Church of Lansing moves me not only to giving thanks to God and to His Holiness but also brings me great joy. Who would not be joyful to become a part of such a faith-filled and love-filled family? The reputation of this diocese for its devotion to Christ Jesus is widespread. So being asked to be the presence of the Holy Apostles in this local church does me great honor.

However, my heart is not only filled with a desire to give thanks and with a fullness of joy. It is also home to anxiety. The words of St. Augustine, from several of his homilies, can best articulate that concern: “For you I am a bishop, with you, after all, I am a Christian. The first is the name of an office undertaken, the second the name of grace; the former means danger, the latter salvation. … The turbulent have to be corrected, the faint-hearted cheered up, the weak supported;
… the gospel’s opponents need to be refuted, its insidious enemies guarded against; the unlearned need to be taught, the indolent stirred up, the argumentative checked; the proud must be put in their place, the desperate set on their feet, those engaged in quarrels reconciled; the needy have to be helped, the oppressed to be liberated, the good to be given your backing, the bad to be tolerated; all must be loved.”

St. Augustine noted in another homily: “I shall be giving [an account] both for myself and for you.” This request of mine is thus offered to all of you, my brothers and sisters in Christ in this Diocese of Lansing, to help me do my task well: “lead good lives” and let us pray for one another so that my time as your bishop will be fruitful both for me and for you. Let us pray especially that together we may all reach heaven. May our loving God grant us such a blessing.
For 12 years, I have met with Bishop Boyea on various occasions and I know:

Above all, he loves being a priest and bishop who loves Christ and his church.

He seeks to be a eucharistic priest with a servant’s heart.

He is a “people person” friendly, relational, engaging and an available, willing and generous servant, blessed with a sharp mind and sense of humor;

He is gifted with high energy and enthusiasm for the mission of the church;

I believe he will be a Good Shepherd – inviting, welcoming, teaching, sanctifying and serving all in the name of Christ in these 10 mid-Michigan counties.

My brother, Bishop Earl, the community of believers in this local church freely and fully accepts you as our bishop. We thank our Lord and his Petrine servant, Benedict XVI, for naming you bishop of Lansing. We heartily offer you our respect, confidence and fidelity and especially our prayers. Now, in the name of all, I joyfully welcome you, Bishop Earl Boyea - my bishop - our bishop - to the Diocese of Lansing.
PHOTO: Diocese of Lansing


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

All the (Vice-)Pope's Men

It seems that everyone and their, well, everyone has a reaction of some sort to the significant numerical decrease of US Catholics brought to light by yesterday's Pew survey on the nation's religious landscape...

...and, per usual, Pope Benedict's closest aide is no exception.

For the record: no, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone SDB wasn't asked about the study as he met earlier today with the new Cuban President Raul Castro. However, in an interview given last May during the plenary of the Latin American bishops in Brazil, the omnipresent "Vice-Pope" used Vatican Radio's airwaves to warn of an "exodus of our Catholic Christians"... and offered his theory behind the crisis:
"The problem -- and I always say this to bishops and priests -- is a problem of bishops and priests being able to welcome and listen to people."

Cardinal Bertone pointed to the example of current and previous pastors of the Church.

He encouraged "being close to people, being welcoming -- as the great saints who were bishops have taught us, and as Pope John Paul II spoke about in his autobiography when he said: 'I have tried and I try to be welcoming, to be near people.'

"And how Pope Benedict XVI teaches us in his ability to listen, his closeness to people -- the people he meets, even just for a moment, during audiences, feel transfigured because they have the perception of being treated as a friend, as if you were meeting with old friends."

"This is a very beautiful thing. It is a teaching," Cardinal Bertone said. "It is also a simple but effective way to stop this exodus of our Catholic Christians." his latest ride aboard the blunt-talk express, at a press conference yesterday in Havana, Bertone reiterated the Holy See's judgment that the long-standing US embargo of Cuba was "ethically unacceptable":
"[The blockade] is an oppression for the Cuban people and it is not a means to help the Cuban people win their dignity and independence. It's a violation of the independence of the people."

The cardinal revealed that he asked the U.S. government to facilitate the reunification of Cuban families, of which many members have emmigrated to the United States.

Cardinal Bertone said this gesture would be a "humanitarian" one. "We will make every effort possible in that direction," he added.

Cubans residing in the United States are by law only allowed to visit their families every three years.
* * *
Just as the Vatican #2 boarded his return flight to Rome earlier tonight, his answer to "old home week" was preparing its own descent on the Eternal City.

The Jesuit GC might be wrapping up (see below), but right now the most-prominent religious community in the Vatican spotlight is none other than Bertone's own Salesians of Don Bosco.

Sure, they've long been one of the global church's largest communities (now with 14,000 priests and brothers and over 40,000 when the sisters and lay associates are added in), but the order -- which marks its 150th anniversary next year -- has come to renewed prominence thanks, of course, to its best-known member, the first religious of any stripe to serve as the Holy See's "prime minister" since the early 1800s.

The Salesians can count five of their own among the college of cardinals -- a number surpassed only by the Franciscans (with eight) and, of course, the Jesuits (with ten). But his current post has given the Secretary of State a singular platform to project the charism into which he was professed in 1950 onto the global stage.

Keen to remain a "friend of the young" in the spirit of St John Bosco himself, B16's top lieutenant often seems more comfortable with youth and in his occasional turns as a soccer commentator than in the summits and diplomatic encounters that comprise the public side of his "day job."

When the cardinal announced that Pope John Paul II had appeared to him in a 2006 dream, he underscored that they spoke "about the young." And last year in Nashville, he even nudged the Knights of Columbus to recruit more young members.

"I have seen among the Knights a very good representation of young people," Bertone said at a press conference during the 125th Supreme Convention. At the same time, however, he noted that the group's "average age [was] a little bit high" for his tastes.

In that light, the Salesians have gathered in Torino for a pilgrimage in advance of their 26th General Chapter, which begins in Rome next Monday. At the gathering's Sunday opening, held at the site of Don Bosco's first Mass, the community's Rector-Major Fr Pascual Chavez exhorted the 233 delegates to "Be signs and bearers of the love of God for the young."

To amplify the celebrations -- which coincided with the 150th anniversary of the founder's first trip to Rome -- B16 visited a Roman parish run by the order on Sunday, and an article written by Chavez was given prime space in the pages of L'Osservatore Romano. (Last year, the Salesian rector was elected president of the Union of Superiors General, the congress of his counterparts.)

The Pope will, of course, receive the chapter for a full-dress Vatican welcome before its mid-April close. In the meantime, though, don't be surprised if Bertone ends up keeping his confreres frequent company over the course of their stay... and, if recent history's any indicator, with a hand-truck of mitres maybe at the ready.

Come Sunday, the "Vice-Pope" flies again, this time to Armenia and Azerbaijan. Among his scheduled commitments during the weeklong jaunt are an ecumenical dialogue with Karekin II, the Catholicos (patriarch) of the Armenian Orthodox, and a meeting with the top Islamic cleric of the Caucasus region, Sheik ul-Islam Allashukur Pashazade.

The journey will be Bertone's first to countries where Catholics comprise a small minority of the population.

PHOTO: AP/Javier Galeano


Reunited... Again

Last week, the Pope received the General Congregation of the Jesuits, led by new Father-General Adolfo Nicolás, who greeted B16 in the name of the group.

At long last, an official translation of Benedict XVI's entire 21-minute address to the gathering has been rolled out.

Your Congregation takes place in a period of great social, economic and political changes, sharp ethical, cultural and environmental problems, conflicts of all kinds, but also of a more intense communication among peoples, of new possibilities of acquaintance and dialogue, of a deep longing for peace. All these are situations that challenge the Catholic Church and its ability to announce to our contemporaries the Word of hope and salvation. I very much hope, therefore, that the entire Society of Jesus, thanks to the results of your Congregation, will be able to live with a renewed drive and fervour the mission for which the Spirit brought it about and has kept it for more than four centuries and a half with an extraordinary abundance of apostolic fruit. Today I should like to encourage you and your confreres to go on in the fulfilment of your mission, in full fidelity to your original charism, in the ecclesial and social context that characterizes this beginning of the millennium. As my predecessors have often told you, the Church needs you, counts on you, and continues to turn to you with confidence, particularly to reach the geographical and spiritual places where others do not reach or find it difficult to reach. Those words of Paul 6th have remained engraved in your hearts: “Wherever in the Church, even in the most difficult and exposed fields, in the crossroads of ideologies, in the social trenches, there has been or is confrontation between the burning exigencies of humanity and the perennial message of the Gospel, there have been and are the Jesuits” (3 December 1974, to the 32nd General Congregation).

As the Formula of your Institute states, the Society of Jesus was founded chiefly “for the defence and propagation of the faith”. At a time when new geographical horizons were being opened, Ignatius’ first companions placed themselves at the Pope’s disposal “so that he might use them where he judged it would be for God’s greater glory and the good of souls” (Autobiography, n. 85). They were thus sent to announce the Lord to peoples and cultures that did not know him as yet. They did so with a courage and zeal that still remain as an example and inspiration: the name of St. Francis Xavier is the most famous of all, but how many others could be mentioned! Nowadays the new peoples who do not know the Lord or know him badly, so that they do not recognize him as the Saviour, are far away not so much from the geographical point of view as from the cultural one. The obstacles challenging the evangelisers are not so much the seas or the long distances as the frontiers that, due to a mistaken or superficial vision of God and of man, are raised between faith and human knowledge, faith and modern science, faith and the fight for justice.

This is why the Church is in urgent need of people of solid and deep faith, of a serious culture and a genuine human and social sensitivity, of religious priests who devote their lives to stand on those frontiers in order to witness and help to understand that there is in fact a profound harmony between faith and reason, between evangelical spirit, thirst for justice and action for peace. Only thus will it be possible to make the face of the Lord known to so many for whom it remains hidden or unrecognisable. This must therefore be the preferential task of the Society of Jesus. Faithful to its best tradition, it must continue to form its members with great care in science and virtue, not satisfied with mediocrity, because the task of facing and entering into a dialogue with very diverse social and cultural contexts and the different mentalities of today’s world is one of the most difficult and demanding. This search of quality and human solidity, spiritual and cultural, must also characterize all the many activities of formation and education of the Jesuits, as it meets the most diverse kinds of persons wherever they are.

In its history the Society of Jesus has lived extraordinary experiences of proclamation and encounter between the Gospel and the cultures of the world – suffice it to think of Matteo Ricci in China, Roberto de Nobili in India, or the “Reductions” in Latin America – of which you are justly proud. Today I feel I have the duty to exhort you to follow in the footsteps of your predecessors with the same courage and intelligence, but also with as profound a motivation of faith and passion to serve the Lord and his Church. All the same, while you try to recognize the signs of the presence and work of God in every part of the world, even beyond the confines of the visible Church, while you endeavour to build bridges of understanding and dialogue with those who do not belong to the Church or who have difficulty accepting its position and message, you must at the same time loyally fulfill the fundamental duty of the Church, of fully adhering to the word of God, and of the authority of the Magisterium to preserve the truth and the unity of the Catholic doctrine in its totality. This does not apply solely to the personal task of each Jesuit; since you work as members of one apostolic body, you must be attentive so that your works and institutions always maintain a clear and explicit identity, so that the purpose of your apostolic work does not become ambiguous or obscure, and many other persons may share your ideals and join you effectively and enthusiastically, collaborating in your task of serving God and humanity.

As you well know because you have so often made the meditation “of the Two Standards” in the Spiritual Exercises under the guidance of St Ignatius, our world is the stage of a battle between good and evil, with powerful negative forces at work, which cause those dramatic situations of spiritual and material subjection of our contemporaries against which you have repeatedly declared your wish to combat, working for the service of the faith and the promotion of justice. These forces show themselves today in many forms, but with particular evidence through cultural tendencies that often become dominating, such as subjectivism, relativism, hedonism, practical materialism. This is why I have asked you to renew your interest in the promotion and defence of the Catholic doctrine “particularly in the neuralgic points strongly attacked today by secular culture”, some of which I have mentioned in my letter. The issues, constantly discussed and questioned today, of the salvation in Christ of all human beings, of sexual morale, the marriage and the family, must be deepened and illumined in the context of contemporary reality, but keeping the harmony with the Magisterium, which avoids creating confusion and bewilderment among the People of God.

I know and understand well that this is a particularly sensitive and demanding point for you and not a few of your confreres, especially those engaged in theological research, interreligious dialogue and dialogue with contemporary culture. Precisely for this reason I have invited you. and am inviting you today, to further reflect so as to find again the fullest sense of your characteristic “fourth vow” of obedience to the Successor of Peter, which not only implies readiness to being sent in mission to far away lands, but also – in the most genuine Ignatian sense of “feeling with the Church and in the Church – to “love and serve” the Vicar of Christ on earth with that “effective and affective” devotion that must make of you his precious and irreplaceable collaborators in his service of the universal Church.
* * *
Yesterday, the Jesuit Curia announced that the GC -- which began on 6 January -- will end on 6 March.

Even with a week left in the congregation's span, however, Nicolás has hit the ground running in the ordinary governance of the church's largest religious community.

Alongside an initiative toward increased decentralization of the Society's central government, the new General has also sought to keep the delicate Roman waters calm by selecting two veteran Vatican hands to aid him in the top ranks of his Curia.

While the more public of the moves was last week's election of the Holy See's chief spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi as one of Nicolás' four senior assistants, just as -- if not more -- significant was the Spaniard's appointment of Fr Pasquale Borgomeo as his private secretary. Long a well-regarded Vatican hand, Borgomeo served for 23 years as general director of Vatican Radio, where Lombardi succeeded him in 2005. At 75, Nicolás' new secretary is three years older than his boss.

Closer to ground-level, Nicolás has already begun to plowing through the backlog of ternae for the appointment of new provincials; yesterday, word came from Rome that the General had named new heads for three of the ten US provinces, including a new "big daddy" for the nation's largest regional community: New York.

By the looks of it, though, the Vatican's kept up its pointed signals of its hopes for the 29th successor of Ignatius Loyola.

The day after the Jesuits met with the Pope, the cover-page of the Vatican daily L'Osservatore Romano ran a photo of a beaming B16 warmly greeting not the new "Black Pope," but Nicolás' predecessor Fr Peter-Hans Kolvenbach as the new superior merely stood by, looking on.

It might've been one last affectionate farewell to the General-emeritus -- a favorite of Papa Ratzi's whose 25 years of "precious service" (as B16 termed it last week) augured a conciliatory period between the two Curiae. But even so, it was just another reminder of the shoes "Nico" has been called to fill... and how one simple Jesuit will continue to loom large over the Roman scene, even from Beirut.

PHOTO: L'Osservatore Romano


Called to the Aula

As plans continue apace for this fall's Synod of Bishops on the Word of God, the American delegation to the October 5-26 gathering has been revealed.

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops will be represented by its president and vice-president -- respectively Chicago's Cardinal Francis George and Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson -- along with Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington.

While nominations from the episcopal conferences were collected and sent to Rome over recent months, the Pope enjoys final word over the appointment of delegates.

The Stateside church's master catechist (and, come April, Pope Benedict's first American host), Wuerl's appointment makes him 2-for-2 as a delegate to synods during the current pontificate; as bishop of Pittsburgh, the DC prelate was named to the October 2005 Synod on the Eucharist before being transferred to the capital the following spring. DiNardo's first call to the "big dance" is just the latest Pope-backed profile-raiser for the reigning Churchman, a patristic scholar who received the American South's first-ever red hat at last November's consistory.

Just over three months after being elected the US bishops' second-in-command/ leader-in-waiting, Kicanas will likewise be making his debut in the Aula, while the fall Synod will be the fourth for the cardinal-president, who served as a top official of the 1997 meeting dedicated to the Americas. Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia and the USCCB's immediate past president, Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane, were named the conference alternates.

In total, the 200-plus delegates for the three-week gathering will be comprised of bishop-representatives drawn from the national conferences, others chosen by papal appointment (including priests, religious and lay experts and observers); and the prefects and presidents of the Roman dicasteries, who enjoy membership on an ex officio basis.

In late January, B16 named Cardinal Marc Ouellet as the Synod's relator, or recording secretary. Still to come are the pontiff's choices of presidents-delegate -- the troika of red-hats who take turns leading the daily sessions. While the CDF prefect Cardinal William Levada will almost certainly be among the group as president of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, the identities of the other two are as yet unknown... at least, officially speaking.

The Pope is understood to be zeroing in on an Asian cardinal to fill one of the presiding slots, with the other expected to go to the college's only active member with a degree in the Scriptures -- Ghana's Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson of Cape Coast.

PHOTO: Max Rossi/CPP


Coming In for a Lansing

In Michigan's capital, Bishop Carl Mengeling has called a press conference... for tomorrow morning... at which the 77 year-old prelate will announce his retirement and introduce his successor.

Earl-y word says they're keeping it in the province.


Wake-Up Time

Building on yesterday's reports of the freshly-released survey on the nation's religious landscape, today's Washington Times presents the figures in an even starker light.

Headline: "Catholic tradition fading in US."
Evangelical Christianity has become the largest religious tradition in this country, supplanting Roman Catholicism, which is slowly bleeding members, according to a survey released yesterday by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Evangelical Protestants outnumber Catholics by 26.3 percent (59 million) to 24 percent (54 million) of the population, according to the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, a massive 45-question poll conducted last summer of more than 35,000 American adults.

"There is no question that the demographic balance has shifted in past few decades toward evangelical churches," said Greg Smith, a research fellow at the Pew Forum. "They are now the mainline of American Protestantism."

The traditional mainline Protestant churches, which in 1957 constituted about 66 percent of the populace, now count just 18 percent as adherents.

Although one in three Americans are raised Roman Catholic, only one in four adults describe themselves as such, despite the huge numbers of immigrants swelling American churches, researchers said.

"Immigration is what is keeping [US Catholicism] afloat," said John Green, a Pew senior fellow. "If everyone who was raised Catholic stayed Catholic, it'd be a third of the country."

Those who leave Catholicism mostly either drop out of church entirely or join Pentecostal or evangelical Protestant churches, Pew Forum director Luis Lugo said. One out of every 10 evangelicals is a former Catholic, he said, with Hispanic Catholics leaving at higher rates; 20 percent of them end up in evangelical or Pentecostal churches.

"It's a desire for a closer experience of God," he said. "It's not so much disenchantment with the teachings of the Catholic Church but the pull of what they see in Pentecostalism."
And that would be, well... fire -- and not the "angry-breathing-dragon" kind, either.

We've still got a bit of it around, right?

(*Looks around*)


(Cue the Dave.)

A little more of that, please, folks....

Come on, gang -- everybody together.

Or else.



Monday, February 25, 2008

"We Will Build Bridges"

In a formal "agreement of cooperation and understanding" inked last week, the leaders of South Jersey's Catholic and Muslim communities pledged to "uphold mutual respect for each other's belief" and to "champion each other's just causes."

Signed at a local Islamic center (above) by Bishop Joseph Galante of Camden and Zia Rahman, a leader of the area's Muslim community, the accord is the second of its kind in the US -- the first was reached in 2003 by the diocese of Rochester and Muslims in the upstate New York diocese.

Under Galante's predecessor, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio (now in Brooklyn) the 500,000-member Camden church reached a similar agreement with the local Jewish community in 2001.
The agreement contains five articles with commitments to uphold freedom of speech, thought, religion and conscience; to challenge religious and ethnic intolerance; to foster a deeper relationship; to build bridges between the two faith communities; and to establish a joint committee and Catholic-Muslim Institute to promote education about their faiths.

In a statement released before the signing, Galante called the agreement a "significant step toward deepening respect and understanding" between the two faiths.

During the ceremony, Galante said both faiths worship and acknowledge God in a culture that is increasingly secular. Galante and Rahman both credited God for enabling the two groups to agree.

"Without God, without faith, we are lost," Rahman said....

The first such agreement was forged in 2003 between Catholics and Muslims in the Rochester Diocese in New York.

The agreement has led to greater dialogue between Christians and Muslims there, said Deacon John Brasley, the ecumenical and interreligious officer for the diocese.

Other dioceses around the country have expressed interest in the interfaith agreement, Brasley said during a phone interview Wednesday. He applauded the South Jersey accord, calling it a "tribute to their dedication and their faith."

"It's not an easy thing to do, I can tell you," Brasley said. "It takes a lot of patience and prayer and some negotiation. It really takes a lot of listening and understanding to reach this kind of agreement."
Afsheen Shamsi, spokeswoman for the New Jersey affiliate of the Council on American Islamic Relations, was delighted.

"I think that's great," Shamsi said. "It's wonderful that people of faith should get together and talk about what we share in common, the values we share in common and how much our religions have in common. It's a wonderful step toward peace and will hopefully bring many good things."

In 2007, New Jersey Muslims reported a 25 percent increase in civil rights complaints and a 9 percent increase in hate crimes, Shamsi said.

She said she hopes the agreement will help the public realize Muslims have much in common with Christians and Jews.

The relationship between the Camden Diocese and the Voorhees Muslim community began about eight years ago following a formal agreement between the diocese and the Jewish community, said Father Joseph Wallace, ecumenical and interreligious affairs director for the Camden Diocese.

A committee worked on the Catholic-Muslim agreement for months, Wallace said.

Wallace said the Voorhees Muslim community is warm and welcoming.

"They're people of deep faith and prayer," Wallace said. "They reach out in many ways to all the religions in their communities."

Rubina Ahmad of Voorhees, a coalition member, said she expects the agreement will allow the two faith communities to work together on issues like education and poverty.

"I think it's a big milestone," said Ahmad. "It's going to take us many steps forward."
Galante is one of three Stateside bishops who have held a post of "superior" rank in the Roman Curia; from 1987-92, the native Philadelphian served as the #3 official of the Vatican's "Congregation for Religious."

A former head of the US bishops' media arm, the 69 year-old prelate's candid, friendly and easygoing style has made Galante the lead local voice on church matters. In a recent interview with his six-country diocese's largest mainstream daily, the bishop addressed issues ranging from pastoral planning for an aging Catholic population to a need for "attitude adjustment" on the part of churches alongside the challenge of finding and reaching out to immigrants and the young.

"I think we've done a very poor job over the past 40 years of catechizing people," Galante told the Courier-Post.

"Faith is about relationships," he added, "it's not about the rules, and we didn't teach that enough. We do now, but there's not enough people around to hear it."

"I want the lay people to take ownership of the church," the bishop said.

* * *
In other developments along the Mecca-Rome axis, the Holy See's top-ranking expert on Islam -- Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, the former president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and current papal nuncio in Egypt -- called for greater efforts of learning between members of the two faiths.
"Rather than just knowing persons, we must know their religion more deeply in order to understand the people," Fitzgerald told Vatican Radio.

The archbishop was interviewed Feb. 24, the evening before the annual Catholic-Muslim dialogue meeting of Vatican representatives with representatives of Cairo's al-Azhar University.

"We know that among Muslims and Christians there are common points, although certainly not a common faith in Christ," Archbishop Fitzgerald said. "We must respect the differences while trying to find spheres in which it would be possible to collaborate and help one another."

The dialogue with the Cairo-based university, a point of reference for many Muslims around the world [oft-called the "Muslim Vatican"], was marking its 10th annual session.

Archbishop Fitzgerald said the theme chosen for the meeting was "Faith in God and Love for One's Neighbor as a Foundation for Interreligious Dialogue."

"I hope that this can give a new impulse to relations between Christians and Muslims in the world," he said.
Building upon last October's open letter to Pope Benedict signed by 138 Muslim leaders, a dialogue between a representative group of the writers and top Vatican officials is expected to take place later this year in Rome.

PHOTOS: Chris LaChall/(Cherry Hill) Courier-Post


There's Something About Mickey

In mid-January, 2008's first US bishop to mark his 75th birthday was Wilmington's Michael Saltarelli, who's served the 230,000-and-growing fold of Delaware and Maryland's Eastern Shore since 1996.

Despite the milestone, there was no trip to the post office for Saltarelli on the day his "walking papers" were due -- his letter had already been in for close to a year.

Much could be said about "Bishop Mickey," but one story without words seems to say more than any other.

Shortly before being transferred down I-95 from his native Newark, the bishop -- then also rector of the Jersey archdiocese's Cathedral of the Sacred Heart -- received Pope John Paul II at its doors (at which time the late pontiff spontaneously declared the Gothic masterpiece a basilica).

It was only the most historic night in the archdiocese's century-long history (and the crowning event of the Reign of Ted) -- for the first time, a Pope had come to the Garden State, with the then-President and First Lady in the cathedral's front pew for Vespers. Yet for all the fuss and spotlight, clearly visible beneath Saltarelli's choir robes wasn't the standard prelate's collar, but the thick black rim of a humble tab shirt.

The mix-n-match might've sent the more vesturally-minded into vapors, but its unconscious message was even more worthwhile: the "gloria mundi" might've dropped in for the night, but the host of Pope and POTUS was still just a simple parish priest.

In his adopted home, the locals have come to realize the same... and Wilmington's paper of record recently paid a birthday tribute to the prelate it dubbed "the people's priest":
He doesn't know when he'll get a call saying that it's time to step aside as shepherd of the largest faith on the Delmarva Peninsula.

It might be at 7:30 a.m. on a Monday as Bishop Michael Saltarelli arrives at his gray-walled office west of Wilmington's Trolley Square to get a start on the day, opening mail before the phones ring.

It might be one evening two years from now as he tucks into a take-out Boston Market dinner in the aging, no-frills brick bishop's manse on Bancroft Parkway.

After turning 75 on Jan. 17, Saltarelli must retire, according to Roman Catholic Church rules. He will leave office when Pope Benedict XVI names a new bishop to the Diocese of Wilmington. The process has begun.

Whenever the end comes, Saltarelli said, he is ready to step aside after 12 years.

He will miss the direct contact with people and parishioners. He will not miss the paperwork that punctuates his daily life as administrator of a $50 million budget.

"Believe me, no one becomes a priest because they want to balance a budget," Saltarelli said Wednesday in an interview that ranged over talk of his tenure, the coming election and pop-culture messages the faithful face....

"My strength," Saltarelli said, "is that I love being with people."

A trim, smallish man, he wears a black clerical outfit and a silver chain pulled diagonally across his chest. At the end of the chain is a cross tucked into a pocket to keep it from dangling as he talks with his hands.

Mostly bald, he has a strong Roman profile and a throaty Jersey City accent that's not as broad as the cast of "The Sopranos," but still there.

He's quick-witted, thoughtful in replies, and every so often shows a flash of impatience.

The bishop, says a close friend, has a strong personality that's softened by prayer.

Saltarelli often visits the parishes as part of his mission to teach, sanctify and govern, driving himself. He enjoys the trees and fields he didn't see as a child growing up amid the tenements and "hot-tar streets" of Jersey City.

He jokes that people should "talk to my car," a gray Mercury Grand Marquis, if they don't think he gets around.

Even with all the church and clergy bashing he has faced, "I never regret becoming a priest," Saltarelli said.

In his Jersey City childhood, the church was a haven and teen hangout. One of seven children from a working-class family, Saltarelli said his mother and father had a deep faith. They attended weekly Mass, saved to send the kids to Catholic school and kept a crucifix and holy water next to statues of St. Theresa, St. Joseph and the Virgin Mary.

At 19, he knew he wanted to be a parish priest and also knew he didn't have to be perfect -- only willing to do his best.

Assigned to a Nutley, N.J., parish, he stayed for 17 years, honing his gifts as a parish priest.

It's in his pastoral role that he still worries about the messages the faithful are bombarded with by pop culture and the decisions they face in the next election.

Saltarelli was on his way back from Washington, D.C., and the March For Life when he was asked about the death last week of actor Heath Ledger, who was found dead in a New York apartment surrounded by prescription drugs.

It's sad, Saltarelli said, that the world promises so much, but people resort to drugs and pills to deaden what's supposed to feel like success.

Flash and glitter catches people's eyes, but often there's no substance there, he said.

And he still agrees with a statement he made in a 1998 News Journal interview:

"My concern is this: Is the Gospel being practiced? Are we tending to the needs of the poor, the lonely, the outcast, the needy?"

The nation faces another test of that this year when it elects a new president.

Saltarelli, who prefers to pray for a politician who votes for abortion rather than judge the person's conscience, has not yet found a presidential candidate he likes.

"I have a concern for life issues, not because it's the Catholic thing, but because it's the natural thing," he said. "Life is precious."

But he also says religion can't be the only thing you ask a candidate about.

"How he lives his life is more important," Saltarelli said....

Not everyone is thrilled with Saltarelli and his decisions, especially as it relates to the priest abuse scandal or the closing of schools.

At times, his "fan mail" has been angry and harsh.

"I understand -- these are places where people have placed their hearts and souls," Saltarelli said.

But he also drew praise last week for the way the diocese settled a priest abuse lawsuit.

The diocese paid a $450,000 settlement to Navy Cmdr. Kenneth J. Whitwell. He had sued the diocese, Archmere Academy, the Norbertine religious order and its priest, the Rev. Edward Smith, alleging that Whitwell was the victim of almost three years of rape by Smith while he was working at Archmere in Claymont in the 1980s.

The diocese expressed sorrow for the abuse and apologized.

"The experiences are very, very painful for the victims," Saltarelli said. "I condemn what's been done to victims with all my heart."

While some say he has not apologized enough, Thomas S. Neuberger, Whitwell's attorney, said, "I'm optimistic to see the bishop taking a different approach from most of the dioceses across the country, where they proceed with a scorched-earth policy when victims seek redress."

Saltarelli said a hard-line policy does not help victims heal.

"Our whole posture is not to subject someone who has been hurt so badly to a lengthy trial," he said. "We want to exercise all of the compassion and reconciliation that's possible."

He said he hopes people will see that, as a church family, "We're not on different sides, but that we're on the same side."...

When he seeks inspiration, Saltarelli often walks down to the basement of the bishop's residence, where there is a chapel. He rests in a comfy chair surrounded by the stations of the cross. The Scriptures are nearby.

At the chapel's opposite end are a tabernacle and statues of three saints. Saltarelli comes here for prayer and, for him, prayer is real.

"Even in the darkest days, and there have been dark days, what you feel is the people who are praying for you," he said. "They sustain you."

Saltarelli doesn't know exactly what he will do upon retirement, except that he will stay in the diocese.

He'll lend a hand where needed, probably with confirmations.

He has been invited to live in many rectories, but he doesn't want to impose.

He's considering a renovated suite in what was once a convent at St. John the Beloved on Milltown Road, where other priests live.

While he has been praised for the churches and schools that have been built under his watch, he doesn't believe in monuments.

"When you die, the Lord wants to know were you good, were you kind, were you compassionate," he said, "not whether you were a bishop."
It might only be a half-hour's drive from the River City of the Pharaohs -- and still in our media market -- but in the ecclesiastical sense, Wilmington is more like a universe away. A suffragan of the Premier See of Baltimore, the Delaware church has long maintained the warmth and comfort of Southern Catholicism, to say nothing of a distaste for the pomp and triumphalist tendencies oft-prevalent in Northeast.

Case in point: in 1956, the rector of the Philadelphia cathedral was named coadjutor there... only to be dead within months, cathedra still beyond his grasp.

It was the culture shock.

History aside, another Southern trait of the Delaware church is its intense growth in recent years. From the "bedroom suburbs" and renewed waterfront of its see city to the beach communities along routes 17 and 1, the Diamond State's Catholic population has boomed by 75% -- a net gain of 94,000 -- over the last decade.

To better serve the influx, building's gone into overdrive, with five new churches opening their doors in the last six months alone.

If word on the street's to be believed, its investment in better serving its newcomers has stretched the diocese's resources to the point that, whenever it comes, the installation of Wilmington's ninth bishop will be a relatively low-frills affair.

Not the best news for the traveling circuit, sure... but especially these days, a parish priest couldn't get a better tribute.

Ready though he is to hand over the desk at a moment's notice, Saltarelli hasn't slowed down, recently releasing one of the first pastoral letters on the Pauline Year from a US hierarch... and given the day's earlier news, his 2000 Pastoral on reaching out to inactive Catholics is sure worth another look.

PHOTO: Jennifer Corbett/Wilmington News-Journal


Comrade Bertone

After a sit-down today with Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque (above), Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone is set to meet new Cuban President Raul Castro tomorrow in Havana.

The "Vice-Pope" will be the first foreign leader to hold talks with Castro since his formal ascent to the Communist nation's top post yesterday.
Bertone told diplomats in Havana - in a speech that was later distributed by the Cuban Catholic Church - that Cubans "have the right to feel proud of being Cuban and to be respected, valued and represented by those who govern them."

Bertone said Raul Castro and the Cuban leadership must show the "ability to listen and interpret more and more" to the needs of the Cubans.

In a joint press conference with Perez, Bertone said he expected "clarity" and "sincerity" in his meeting with the new Cuban leader but continued to talk of Fidel Castro as "president."

Bertone, who is commemorating the historic visit of Pope John Paul II to the communist island 10 years ago, said his relations with Cuban officials during a six-day visit that ends Tuesday have been "excellent."

"I have never been able to talk to Cuban authorities as much as in this third visit," the cardinal said. "That is very important, favourable." [NB: Named Secretary of State in September 2006, Bertone's first two trips to the island took place before he became the Holy See's second-in-command.]

He offered the Cuban leadership the "closeness" of the Catholic Church to "work for the common good" of the Cuban people.

"New President Raul, the new Council of State, the Catholic Church itself all try to recognize, to perceive the aspirations of the people and answer them with all possible means, bearing in mind the difficulties of the Cuban people, especially the economic blockade," said the Vatican's number two.

The Cuban Catholic Bishops' Conference (COCC) earlier Monday gave a "vote of confidence" to new President Castro, who they said has promised to implement changes for the "welfare of the Cuban people."
PHOTO: AP/Javier Galeano


Losing Ground

This afternoon's top story from the New York Times is a freshly-released Pew Forum report on the "Religious Landscape" of the States -- a survey based on 35,000 interviews... for the "local" side of things, here's the picture:
The report shows, for example, that every religion is losing and gaining members, but that the Roman Catholic Church “has experienced the greatest net losses as a result of affiliation changes.” The survey also indicates that the group that had the greatest net gain was the unaffiliated. More than 16 percent of American adults say they are not part of any organized faith, which makes the unaffiliated the country’s fourth largest “religious group.”...

The percentage of Catholics in the American population has held steady for decades at about 25 percent. But that masks a precipitous decline in native-born Catholics. The proportion has been bolstered by the large influx of Catholic immigrants, mostly from Latin America, the survey found.

The Catholic Church has lost more adherents than any other group: about one-third of respondents raised Catholic said they no longer identified as such. Based on the data, the survey showed, “this means that roughly 10 percent of all Americans are former Catholics.” [Ed. Note: that stacks up to roughly 27 million.]

Immigration continues to influence American religion greatly, the survey found. The majority of immigrants are Christian, and almost half are Catholic.