Monday, November 24, 2008

Daughter of the Church, Mother of the State

It's not every day that the Pope sends his condolences on the death of an American politician, let alone one from the side of the aisle a senior aide of his recently referred to as the "party of death."

But that's exactly what happened on Friday as Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Harrisburg read a papal message lamenting the passage of the "blessed soul" of Pennsylvania's Lieutenant Governor, Catherine Baker Knoll.

This didn't take place, mind you, in the capital's St Patrick Cathedral, but in the rotunda of the Capitol, before an audience of the state's top brass, joined for the day by a special guest-speaker, now in line to become the nation's top diplomat.

Two days later, after a civil funeral that attracted overflow crowds, the body of the highest-ranking woman in the Commonwealth's 326-year history -- who died on 14 November at 78 after a four-month battle with neuroendocrine cancer -- was taken to her hometown of Pittsburgh for a second viewing... not in the usual venues of its City-County Building or the State Offices, mind you, but in the Steel City's St Paul's Cathedral.

It's been said that Her Excellency sought to avoid a full-blast sendoff. But if that was bound to happen regardless, she wouldn't have wanted it to unfold any other way than it has.

Come tomorrow, it's the cathedral's turn to fill, as the Keystone State's cardinal-metropolitan, the city's ordinary and the archbishop of the nation's capital lead a flock of shepherds and CBK's army of tight-knit family and lifelong friends in a final Mass for the soul of the Steel City's self-described "steel woman."

Sure, the rites will recall the accomplishments of a distinguished public servant, the trailblazer who always had the touch of class, a bit of grit and a knack for coming from behind, winning four statewide races over the years, along the way racking up the most votes ever entrusted to any Pennsylvanian listed on a ballot. But to an equal degree, they will give thanks for the life and witness of a former teacher and mother of four, ardent pro-lifer and just-as-staunch Democrat, the boss who treated faithful generations of aides as her own kids and the people not as an electorate to be pandered to, but her family to be cared for -- and, through it all, above all else, remained no mere regular in the pews, but an ever-devoted daily communicant.

For CBK, these things could never be divvied up -- each and all came from the same place.

As Rhoades -- who MC-ed the hourlong state memorial -- put it, "it was Catherine's faith in God that inspired her, and motivated her, to public service." And from generosity to gaffes, quiet deliveries of cakes and groceries to her rectory at home and quilts and DVDs for the wounded soldiers freshly returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, the stories are legion... but for now, suffice it to say that tomorrow's homegoing will be well worth watching, and praying along with.

Scheduled to begin at noon local time (1600GMT), the state network PCN will livestream the liturgy. In the meantime, here below is the text of the Pope's sympathies, as conveyed in a letter to the Harrisburg prelate from the apostolic nuncio to Washington, Archbishop Pietro Sambi:
Having learned with sadness of the recent death of the Honorable Catherine Baker Knoll, Lieutenant Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I wish to convey to her entire family -- and especially to her children Charles, Mina, Albert and Kim Eric -- the heartfelt condolences, paternal affection and spiritual closeness of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI.

As the Holy Father recently said on All Souls Day, November 2nd, "Today we renew the hope in eternal life truly founded in Christ's death and resurrection. 'I am risen and I am with you always,' the Lord tells us, 'and my hand supports you. Wherever you may fall, you will fall into my hands, and I will be there, even to the gates of death. Where no one can accompany you any longer, and where you can take nothing with you, there I will wait for you, to transform for you the darkness into light.'"

Fervently praying that God, the Father of Mercies, will grant the fullness of eternal life and joy to the blessed soul of Catherine Baker Knoll and spiritual consolation to all those who mourn her passing, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI imparts to her family the Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of peace in Christ Jesus, our Hope.

Offering my own expression of prayerful sympathy, I remain, with sentiments of sympathy and respect,

Sincerely Yours in Christ,

+Pietro Sambi
Titular Archbishop of Belcastro
Apostolic Nuncio in the United States of America
On a related note, not even this bacimano-light pontificate could keep CBK from getting one with B16 in 2006, three years after she met John Paul II -- a photo every visitor to her office was shown, right alongside the family shots.

As her own home pastor (he of, among many things, ponytail fame) put it, "Scripture has a saying: 'gigantes autem erant super terram in diebus illis' -- 'there were giants in those days' -- and she was one of those giants.

"We won't see her like again for a very long time."

God grant Her Excellency a blessed rest... and ever protect and prosper the Commonwealth she leaves behind.