Monday, June 29, 2009

NOLA Meets Papa

As the wire didn't run a shot of Archbishop-elect Greg Aymond of New Orleans getting his pallium earlier in the day, best to give the newly-surfaced photo its own post.

Of the five US metropolitans who received the lambswool band on this feast of Rome's patrons, the incoming Crescent City prelate is the first native son of NOLA's 14 archbishops, one of two in this year's American class given the reins of his home church. (The other is Detroit's Allen Vigneron, likewise the first local to become the Motor City's ordinary.)

Bishop of Austin from 2001 until his transfer home earlier this month, Aymond will be installed in St Louis' Cathedral-Basilica on Jackson Square on August 20th.

L'Osservatore Romano


Hotlanta: "Grain Once Scattered"... Now a Juggernaut

In a recent list of the Stateside church's "hot spots," the archdiocese of Atlanta topped the bunch -- and not just alphabetically, either.

"The diocesan staff are openly disciples," the cite read, "orthodox, wonderfully creative and not driven by fear."

Suffice it to say, the fruit is considerable -- in the heart of the Bible Belt, the North Georgia church has seen a more than fivefold increase in membership over the last two decades, exploding from 150,000 in 1990 to within striking distance of 800,000 today... and -- as if that wasn't enough -- a concurrent increase by half of the diocesan presbyterate (121 in 1990 to 181 today), with eight more priests ordained last weekend... and, what's more still, they can't build or expand the schools quickly enough.

Oh, and -- while we're at it -- over 2,700 adults were received into the local church there over the last year.

If all keeps up -- and by the looks of it, the rate of the rise just keeps accelerating -- it won't be long before a red-bird comes home to Peachtree Street. In the meantime, though, earlier this month the Southeast's second-largest local church (after Miami) hosted another edition of what's become its marquee event: the Eucharistic Congress, which (again) grew by half this year to an estimated attendance of some 30,000 and, in its 14th year, has entered the rarified realm of Stateside Catholicism's largest gatherings alongside Los Angeles' Religious Education Congress (40,000 yearly) and the 100,000-plus who throng to suburban Chicago's Maryville Shrine every 12 December for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

A full state of podcasts from the weekend are up and running and, in its last edition, the local Georgia Bulletin devoted the entire shebang to the weekend-long event -- its closing Eucharist presided over by the patron saint of the press -- so get up to speed....

Meanwhile, in an even more recent development, against his protests, The Wilt has gone a-Twitter.

PHOTO: Archdiocese of Atlanta


Timmy and the Mets

(From left: Archbishops Timothy Dolan of New York, Gregory Aymond of New Orleans,
Robert Carlson of St Louis, George Lucas of Omaha, and Allen Vigneron of Detroit)

So, gang, here's a group shot of your Big Five, taken last night during a reception for the Pallium Class at the home of the American Ambassador to the Holy See, Villa Richardson -- which, of course, currently awaits its next occupant.

All thanks to our sometime content partners at Gotham's "hometown paper" for providing the pic.

PHOTO: Joanna Molloy/New York Daily News


Pope to POTUS: "Thank You"?

In a normal year, today's feast of Saints Peter and Paul would be the Vatican's "last hurrah" before the summer exodus.

Suffice it to say, this ain't a normal year -- there's a good bit more to come before Pope & Co. skip town.

For one, early July will (at long last) see the release of the new encyclical, a "fire sale"-style clearout of Curial and diplomatic moves (including, so they say, some of interest to North Americans) is also reportedly at hand... and -- maybe the most awaited moment of all -- the Pope will receive President Obama in a rare afternoon audience on 10 July.

While no shortage of opinion's circulated from all sides on what the pontiff will (actually, more like should) tell the Commander-in-Chief since their first meeting was confirmed early last week, Joseph Ratzinger's mind on Barack Obama is largely a mystery, and even the usually omniscient Italians are left wondering whose leanings among the Apartment's inner circle will shape B16's talking points with his impending guest.

That said, quite possibly the first authoritative glean into the day's message comes from none other than Benedict's hand-picked choice for the States' most prominent ecclesial post:
[The New York Daily News] asked [Archbishop Timothy Dolan] what he thought Pope Benedict might say to President Obama when he meets him during the G-8 economic summit in Rome on July 10.

"When we preach, we say you're supposed to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable," Dolan said. "We believe in what you call the via media, the middle way. We would always condemn unbridled cutthroat capitalism as well as socialism. So we think, as Aristotle said, in the middle you find virtue.

"So, with President Obama, I think Pope Benedict will say, 'Thank you for trying to see that health care will be expanded. Thank you for the overtures you are making for peace and justice, particularly the bridges you are building with the Islamic world.'

"He would say, never forget the needs of the poor. But while you're at it, let's not forget the virtues of private capital.

"Economic freedom, the freedom that comes from a man or woman's opportunity to make his or her own living, to take care of their families and others.

"It's tough to achieve, the balance. It's a tightrope. But you'll always hear the Pope calling us back to the middle, to virtue."
And, well, there you have it.

PHOTO: Getty


Live from Rome... of Sorts

Now streaming via CatholicTV -- Pallium Mass Part One.... and Part Two (beginning with the Rite of Conferral itself).

PHOTO: Reuters


"Love" Is On the Way

At the noontime Angelus following this morning's Pallium Mass, the Pope announced that, as expected, he had signed his third encyclical earlier in the day -- a long-awaited, long-delayed text which, indeed, bears the title Caritas in Veritate ("Love in Truth").

"Recalling the social themes contained in Populorum Progressio" -- the 1967 encyclical of Paul VI -- B16 said that "this document... intends to focus on some aspects of the integral developments of our time, in the light of love in truth.

"I entrust to your prayers this latest contribution the church offers to humanity in its task of sustainable progress," he added, "with full respect for human dignity and the real circumstances of all."

Leaking what it claimed to be some of the document's key grafs, a weekend report in Italy's Corriere della Sera said the text is expected to drop on either 6 or 7 July, just before the Bel Paese hosts the G8 Summit in L'Aquila, at whose close the pontiff will receive President Obama in a private audience on the late afternoon of the 10th.

PHOTO: Reuters


Behold the Lamb(swool)....

While waiting on video, let's start with the shots, fresh off the wire.

(In order of seniority, by date of appointment.)

Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit (who's blogging his pilgrimage)....

Archbishop Tim Dolan of New York....

Archbishop Robert Carlson of St Louis....

Archbishop-elect George Lucas of Omaha....

But sorry, N'Awlins -- no shot of Archbishop-elect Greg Aymond getting his moment.

Blame the wire.

Archdiocese of Detroit(1); AP(2,3,4)


Plus Ça Change....

Well, they did it... again.

In a move deemed "illegitimate" by the Vatican that especially raised the ire of the German bishops, the Society of St Pius X completed its global cycle of ordinations earlier today with the making of eight priests and ten deacons at the fraternity's home-base of Econe in Switzerland.

Earlier in the week, the SSPX -- whose four bishops were recently de-excommunicated by Rome, but remain barred from ministry in the Catholic church -- ordained 13 at its seminary in Winona, Minnesota, and another three at its German house near the pontiff's hometown of Regensburg. In the latter instance, Society leaders lamented the "bullying" of the German bishops,

The ordinations brought the number of SSPX priests over 500 -- in its announcement, the group maintained that the clerics "hand down the Catholic priesthood of Our Lord Jesus Christ in all its doctrinal purity."

While the SSPX claims "emergency" faculties to carry out its ordinations, by accepting the sacrament outside the bounds of canon law, all the ordinands are automatically suspended.

With the lead traditionalist group soon to undertake reconciliation talks with the Holy See, the Society's German superior, Fr Franz Schmidberger, recently said that the Lefebvrites would likely enjoy a "personal prelature" status following its readmission to full communion.

Presently enjoyed only by Opus Dei, the unique canonical status would render the SSPX independent of any local church in which it chooses to operate, answerable only to its superior and the Vatican.

Despite the Holy See's clarification on the recent rites, the Society's top prelate recently turned aside the German bishops' view that the move was "a provocation"; in an interview with an Austrian newspaper, Bishop Bernard Fellay said that "in Rome, there is sympathy for these ordinations, even if they say it is illegal."

The move comes on the 21st anniversary of Archbishop Marcel Lefevbre's ordination of Fellay and three other prelates to the episcopacy -- the act that garnered the now-revoked excommunications.

PHOTO: Reuters


Ite Missa Est

Mornin', gang... and away we go.

PHOTO: Getty


Sunday, June 28, 2009

"A Bond of Love, An Incentive to Courage"

So, church, welcome to Palliumfest '09 -- at 9.30 Rome time tomorrow (3.30 Eastern, 0730GMT), the 34 metropolitan archbishops named from across the globe this year will receive the symbol of their new office from Pope Benedict on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul (for which, as you can see, the famous statue of the first pontiff traditionally gets all decked out).

Thanks to this year's contingent of five Americans -- the highest this decade -- interest is running especially high on these shores... and, with the archbishops of Westminster, Vancouver, Rio, Bangkok and Florence among others in the mix, well beyond, too.

Regardless of where you are, though, a front-row seat is yours... and even if you don't get up in the middle of the night.

While it'll join its friendly competitors in livestreaming the Mass, CatholicTV plans to have the two-hour liturgy viewable at your on-demand pleasure as soon as possible afterward.

Following the rite, early word from Rome adds that the Yanks might just be holding a press conference... but word'll more likely filter out on that one.

A buona festa to one and all... as always, stay tuned -- and a domani, enjoy the sights and sounds.


The Great Gotham Road Show

In the morning, 34 metropolitan archbishops from across the globe will receive the pallium from the Pope on the solemnity of Ss. Peter and Paul, the patrons of Rome.

That said, guess who brought the party to town.

Detroit might have over 100 pilgrims for Archbishop Allen Vigneron and some 40 St Louisans made the trip with Archbishop Robert Carlson, but the "spiritual conga line" following the archbishop of New York runs closer to 300.

(Just wait -- when the red hat comes, the over-under's already set at 10,000... and smart money says "over.")

Returning to the city where he held court for seven years as "the ultimate host" -- officially, rector of the Pontifical North American College -- it's Tim Dolan's first appearance in the Urb since his appointment to the "capital of the world"... and so it seems, the Pope's man in Midtown is making the most of it.

From the ground, the Daily News' Joanna Molloy sends a dispatch:
Dolan played pied piper to nearly 100 New Yorkers and others who followed him through the streets of Rome on an impromptu - and hilarious - walkabout [tour]....

Dolan's audience, many of whom traveled from New York City, Ireland and Dolan's hometown of Ballwin, Mo... turned to leave [after Mass in St Mary Major].

But the jovial, outgoing cleric in his vestments and bishop's miter, called out from the altar: "It's a beautiful day! It's about a 45-minute walk back, but that's what I'm going to do if anybody wants to join me!"

About half did, and what a time they had.

"This is the Trastevere neighborhood," Dolan called out to the group as it wended its way through cobblestoned alleys, pointing out the super-secret nooks and crannies.

"It's got so many great places to eat, but watch for pickpockets! It's not as safe as New York!"

"Hey! Let's go across the Tiber," said Dolan, who lived in Rome for years as a young priest. Stopping on the ancient bridge, he pointed north.

"See that big circle in the archway? When the water rose up to there, Romans knew the river was about to flood and it was time to flee."

The cleric then asked the modern-day pilgrims, here to see Pope Benedict honor him in St. Peter's Square Monday, "Should we all stop for ice cream? No, be strong, be strong!"

He continued the tour.

"Every piazza has a painting of the Blessed Mother in glass in one corner," Dolan noted. Stopping in front of an obelisk built on a giant carved elephant, he added, "There are nine obelisks in Rome, so remember them. I'm giving a pop quiz at the end."

Dolan so exulted like a lark with his flock and passersby that we expected him to poke his head into taxis and start talking to the drivers.

"Hey, I've been looking for these hats!" Dolan exclaimed to one street vendor as he grabbed a white straw fedora. He refused one pilgrim's offer to pay for it, forking over 20 euros.

Then he immediately held it out, "I'll pass the hat to pay for it!"

"He's never known a stranger," said Sister Rosario from Missouri. "I've known him for 40 years."...
"He's charismatic," said young lawyer Natalia Murphy, whose husband Daniel Murphy, also a lawyer in Manhattan, added to the pilgrim look, hobbling around on crutches.

"I tore a ligament, but had to come anyway."
In another report, Molloy wrote that the tenth archbishop was kicking around the idea of writing a blog.

Sure, that'd be lovely... as of last report, though, Dolan was still trying to figure out how to get these pages into his morning briefing.

PHOTO: New York Daily News


Discovering Paul

Earlier tonight, the yearlong celebration of St Paul's 2,000th birthday closed with Vespers in Rome's major basilica dedicated to the "Apostle of the Gentiles."

Presiding at the rites, B16 ended the global Pauline Year with a bang by making an "historic" announcement:
With “great emotion” [the Pope] announced that a recent scientific probe confirmed what Catholic tradition has always held, namely that the body of the Apostle Paul is located under the papal altar in the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls....

The Pontiff said that recently the tomb was “subject to a scientific investigation. A small hole was drilled in the sarcophagus, unopened for centuries, and a probe was introduced. It found traces of a valuable purple fabric, in linen and gold layer-laminated, and a blue fabric with linen threads. Red incense grains and substances containing proteins and limestone were also discovered. Small fragments of bone were found and radiocarbon dated by experts who did not know their place of origin. Results indicate that they belong to someone who lived between the 1st and 2nd century A.D. This seems to confirm the unanimous and undisputed tradition according to which these are the mortal remains of the Apostle Paul. All this fills our soul with deep emotion.”
And homily snips:
“In the last few decades the expression ‘grown-up faith’ has spread,” Benedict XVI said. “It is often used in relation to the attitudes of those who no longer pay attention to what the Church and its Pastors say—which is to say, those who choose on their own what to believe or not believe in a sort of ‘do-it-yourself’ faith. Expressing oneself against the Magisterium of the Church is presented as a sort of ‘courage’, whereas in fact not much courage is needed because one can be certain that it will get public applause. Instead courage is needed to adhere to the Church’s faith, even if it contradicts the mould of today’s world. Paul calls this non-conformism a ‘grown-up faith’. For him following the prevailing winds and currents of the time is childish. For this reason dedicating oneself to the inviolability of life from its beginning, radically opposing the principle of violence, in the defence precisely of the most defenceless; recognising the lifetime marriage between a man and a woman in accordance with the Creator’s order, re-established again by Christ is also part of a grown-up faith. A grown-up faith does not follow any current here and there. It is against the winds of fashion.”

A grown-up faith is the one that grows by living the truth in love (cf Ephesians, 4:15). Both are necessary because God is both. “The Apostle told us that by living the truth in love, we can make the whole—the universe—grow by aiming for Christ. . . . The ultimate purpose of Christ’s work is the universe—the transformation of the universe, of mankind’s entire world, of the whole of creation. Those who with Christ live the truth in love contribute to the world’s progress. Yes! Here it is clear that Paul is aware of the idea of progress. Through his life, suffering and resurrection, Christ was the real great leap of progress for humanity and the world. Now the universe must grow in view of Him. Where the presence of Christ grows, there is real progress in the world.”

In order for this renewal to occur it is necessary to strengthen the inner self (Ephesians, 3:16). “Men are often empty inside and thus must grasp for promises and drugs, which end up adding to their inner sense of emptiness,” the Pope explained. “This inner emptiness, man’s inner weakness, is one of today’s great problems. The inner self—the heart’s perceptiveness, the capacity to see and understand the world and man from within, with the heart—must be strengthened. We need reason enlightened by the heart to learn to act in accordance to the truth in love. This cannot be done without an intimate relationship with God, without a life of prayer. We need to meet God, something which is given to us in the Sacraments. And we cannot speak to God in prayer if we do not let Him speak first, if we do not listen to him in the word he gave us.”

In his final thoughts the Pope turned to the cosmic dimensions of the mystery of Christ, about its “breadth and length and height and depth” (Ephesians, 3:18). “The mystery of Christ has a cosmic vastness. He does not belong only to a given group. The crucified Christ embraces the whole universe in all its dimensions. He takes the world in his hands and raises it towards God . . . . In the Cross Christ’s love has embraced the lowest depth—the darkness of death—and the supreme height—God’s own nobility. He has taken in his arms the breadth and the vastness of humanity and the world in all their distances. He always embraces the universe—for all of us.”
Of course, the calendar already has its orientation for the year ahead: to observe the 150th anniversary of the death of the priestly patron St John Vianney, the Pope opened a Year of the Priest last week at the Vatican.

Intended to focus on and enhance the clergy's commitment "toward spiritual perfection" and renewal in ministry, the celebration will run through June 2010.

Getty(1); AP(2)


Saturday, June 27, 2009

"Love"... Lost in Translation?

As B16 prepares to preside over Monday's celebration of Rome's twin patrons -- and with it, his 58th anniversary as a priest -- the feast of Saints Peter and Paul won't be what it usually is: namely, the "period ending" to another Vatican year.

On the morning of the solemnity, the Pope will reportedly sign his long-awaited social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate ("Love in Truth"), a text repeatedly delayed due to snags in the drafting, the revolving door of advisers who lent a hand and, indeed, the evolution of the global economic crisis.

With the author having teased out his themes over two years of his talks, all that remains to be seen is what's made the final cut. As of this writing, though, the Holy See has still to announce the press conference that invariably accompanies an encyclical's publication.

Since a week's notice is customarily given for the late-morning session to herald a major text's noontime release, odds would indicate an early July doc-drop....

That is, at the earliest.

Yesterday, a report from UCA News said that the pontiff's third encyclical "will be published" before the 8 July start of the G8 Summit in L'Aquila, prior to which the pontiff will receive the Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso, the post's first Catholic holder to visit the Vatican.

As reports are popping up of difficulties with preparing Caritas' translations, however, there might just be one final delay.

* * *
Against this backdrop, another "impending" document has taken center-stage in some circles: a motu proprio placing the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei -- the Vatican liaison to the traditionalist communities (most notably the Society of St Pius X) -- under the oversight of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and its prefect, SoCal's own Cardinal William Levada.

Said to be "imminent" by both the SSPX's Bishop Bernard Fellay (who said he was told to expect it before June 20) and the Holy See itself in its prior declaration that the Swiss fraternity's currently underway priestly ordinations would be considered "illegitimate," the move is seemingly experiencing a hold-up of its own... and in one of his recent "Newsflashes" from Rome, Inside the Vatican's Bob Moynihan offers one possible reason why:

According to one friend here, "Behind the pretext of changing Ecclesia Dei, and merging it into the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Pope wants to reopen a theological dialogue concerning Vatican II."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"The Second Vatican Council provoked an earthquake in the Church," my friend said. "The clergy, the laity, and the Vatican itself — everything was shaken. And now, 45 years later, there is only one group which wants a thorough debate on the meaning of the conciliar documents: the Society of St. Pius X. And the purpose of moving Ecclesia Dei under the CDF is to prepare the way for a thorough debate on the conciliar documents."

"So what is the problem with that?" I asked.

"Look," my friend said. "The document regulating the role of Ecclesia Dei is all written. It has three parts: 1) some technical points concerning how it will function; 2) some measures about its relationship to the CDF, within the CDF; and 3) an outline of a program for discussing Vatican II and how the Council should be interpreted in keeping with the perennial tradition of the Church."

"And?" I asked.

"That's the problem."

"What's the problem?" I asked.

"Some people don't want these questions opened up again."...

Benedict, knowing that the Second Vatican Council was a watershed in the history of the Church, and knowing also that the interpretation of the Council has led in some unexpected and erroneous directions, has decided to face the basic problem — the problem of the interpretation of Vatican II — by placing the Ecclesia Dei commission in the heart of the most important doctrinal office in the Church, in the CDF.

And yet, for some reason, the implementation of that decision is being delayed.

Delays and all, as always, stay tuned.


"The Center of God's Will"

Injured in Iraq on the 12th anniversary of his ordination and fallen at home last week, a full cathedral of 1,200 mourned Fr Tim Vakoc yesterday in St Paul as the first military chaplain to die from war wounds since Vietnam was laid to rest:
During the homily, Father Stan Mader shared some lighthearted memories and serious thoughts about his friend and fellow seminarian — both were ordained in 1992.

He described Father Vakoc as a “collector of gadgets and electronics,” who stored his stuff at Father Mader’s rectory for a while.

“He was the most unmilitary and unpriestlike man I met in the seminary,” he said. But Father Vakoc was drawn to adventure and travel and service to the soldiers.

“Tim went to Iraq, not for war, but to provide the possibility of peace” to those he served, Father Mader said.

When Father Vakoc was injured, Father Mader said the priest died to many things, but rose to a new life and a ministry of prayer, of intercession, of listening for caregivers.

But now, Father Mader said, it was “time to let Tim go” from the bed that had been described as his altar of sacrifice.

“The greatest place for him to be is at the center of God’s will, and that is where he is now,” Father Mader said.

Father Vakoc’s older brother, Jeff Vakoc, hopes his brother is remembered as a priest who gave his life serving Christians and the troops.

“He firmly believed in what he was doing as an active duty chaplain in the army,” he said....

Father Vakoc received the Purple Heart and Bronze Star. He also received the 2007 Distinguished Alumnus Award from St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity and the Combat Action Badge in 2007, which is awarded to soldiers actively engaged in a hostile action by the enemy in a combat zone or imminent danger area.

Jeff is very proud of his brother, he said. “We all wished he had been around more, but he was doing what he considered his calling,” he said.

While stationed in Bosnia, Father Vakoc told his sister, “The safest place for me to be is in the center of God’s will, and if that is in the line of fire, that is where I will be.”
In comments to the Twin Cities' Star-Tribune, Auxiliary Bishop-elect Lee Piché said he was "struck by how Vakoc managed to affect so many people and retain his priestly devotion [despite] his injuries."

Just a few weeks ago, concelebrating Mass with Vakoc at his nursing home, finding the chaplain vested in his stole "was a very powerful sign of him still wanting to be a priest," Piché said.

"Even though he was incapacitated physically, he was still at heart a priest."

The longtime seminary professor will be ordained to the episcopacy on Monday. Meanwhile, the week's most prominent passing was mourned in Minneapolis with a marathon of the "King of Pop's" greatest hits... played on carillon bells.

PHOTO: Jim Gehrz/Minneapolis Star-Tribune


Thursday, June 25, 2009

On the Agenda....

While the Holy See's offered little to no public comment on Pope Benedict's 10 July meeting with President Obama since the audience's first report on Tuesday, the Roman reception came up at yesterday's White House press briefing.

Announcing the stop from his podium in Washington, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that "the President will visit with the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI to discuss a range of issues, including their shared belief in the dignity of all people."

The spokesman said that Obama will be accompanied by his wife, Michelle.

Anticipating another query that's come up lately in the briefing room, Gibbs added that the First Family still had yet to select a home-church in the capital five months into their stay in DC.

Tip to Paulson.

SVILUPPO: More from the wire's longtime man in Rome, Victor Simpson... who joins others in noting the significance of the 4pm audience's unusual timing:
Such meetings in the afternoon are unusual for the tradition-conscious Vatican — most are held [before] midday. The Vatican clearly sought to accommodate Obama's busy schedule, a sign of Benedict's interest in meeting the American president.
The President will make his first PopeVisit straight from quake-ravaged L'Aquila, where the Italian-led G8 Summit ends a few hours earlier.

For the record, though, don't expect an encore of last year's walk in the Gardens.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Gift of Summer

While the church in Volunteer Country bids a final farewell to one of its brightest lights this morning, Knoxville's new bishop sent the kids of the diocese a summer message a couple days back... which maybe some of us who're older could use, too:

To one and all, a Happy Summer and all its blessings.


Always a Priest, Always Present

Already, the moment's seemingly become part of the Gotham legend -- as the New York presbyterate hit 50th Street to process into St Patrick's Cathedral for the installation of the tenth archbishop, the sun broke out from behind the clouds.

Lest anyone forgot, the gang up there never misses a thing.

Since word began leaking in early February, much musing's been made of the qualities that landed Tim Dolan on Stateside Catholicism's hottest seat. Yet while the Appointed One's exuberance, candor, Midwestern folksiness, "people-as-oxygen" approach to ministry -- and, indeed, his Irishness -- rank high on the list, the key trait in the mix arguably lay elsewhere.

As the Pope's choice put it when asked why he thought B16 gave him the job, Dolan "savors his own priesthood." And so, after years of tension between the priests and his predecessor twice broke into the open toward the end of Cardinal Edward Egan's decade at the 1011 helm, it was no accident that the prelate who's become the US church's priesthood guru ended up with the keys to 452 Madison.

'Nuff said.

As he departs for his pallium pilgrimage with the usual "spiritual conga line" in tow, several listening sessions (and, yep, barbecues) with the presbyterate already under his belt, Dolan upped the outreach another notch late last week with the start of a "hopefully" monthly e.mail to the guys on the ground.

Judging by the dropped-jaw reaction -- from the oft-skeptical included -- you'd think he sent 'em gold... especially that bit about the numbers.

As what happens in New York is of wider ecclesial interest, especially given the historic place of its archbishops as the "nation's priest," here below are snips from Dolan's first Pastores Dabo Vobis ("I Will Give You Shepherds") note to his clergy, dated Friday, the feast of the Sacred Heart and the kickoff to the global Year of the Priest:
To: My brother priests

From: +Timothy M. Dolan....

1. At our gatherings in April, I mentioned my desire to keep in touch with you as frequently as I could, and in many different ways. This circular, hopefully coming out monthly, will be one such way. Here goes....

Of course, this presumes that my office has access to all of you by e-mail! I can only trust this is a valid assumption! When we know that a priest does not have e-mail access, I’ll see this circular is mailed....

I need your help in staying in touch. I enjoy telephoning you. I am finding, though, that the general phone numbers, the only ones I now seem to have, are not too helpful in reaching you....

I’m asking [priest-secretary Fr] Jim Cruz to work with [personnel director Fr] Tom Devery in compiling a list of all the cell phone/private telephone numbers of our priests. I hope you will agree that it’s a good thing for me to have them.

4. Turn-about-is-fair-play. I have two cell phones: one for family and out-of-town friends; the second one is for you.

I told you that I wanted to be approachable and that you should be able to reach me at significant times. Here are my numbers:

[xxxxxxx] my private cell phone for priests;
leave a message if I do not answer.

[xxxxxxx] direct to office
5. While on the topic of communication, this September, I want to restore a custom I understand worked well in the past: on the first and third Thursdays (the day Jesus gave us the priesthood) I want to be available to any priest who wants to see me for any reason. The first Thursday of each month, I’ll be available at my home from 8:30—noon exclusively for priests; on the third Thursday of each month, I’ll be at the seminary from 9:00—11:30 for priests. (On that day as well, I’ll attend the priests’ personnel board meeting, have lunch with our auxiliaries, participate in the priests’ council meeting, and four times a year, meet with the college of consultors.) Let’s see how it works.

This does not mean you need to wait until Fall to see me. Since my arrival, I have been and intend to keep meeting with priests. Say but the word.

6. I renew to Cardinal Egan my heartfelt thanks for his help and support in my transition. He has been a blessing to me. He’s settled in his new residence... ([e]ven though The New York Times reports he has a fancy condo.)

7. And I renew to all of you my deep appreciation for your extraordinarily warm embrace and welcome! The vicariate visits, barbecues, meetings, pastoral visits to parishes, schools, and projects—you have made me feel very much at home. I need you and cherish you very, very much.

8. I’m looking forward to my upcoming pilgrimage to Rome to receive the pallium from Pope Benedict XVI on June 29th, the feast of Saints Peter and Paul. With me will be about 250 pilgrims, among them, I’m told, about two dozen priests. Alleluia! (I’m glad I had my physical prior to this “pasta pilgrimage,” since my doctor told me to lose weight.) Keep me in prayer, as I will you, especially at the tombs of the two princes of the apostles.

9. In my first months with you, I have found the counsel and cooperation of certain structures and individuals to be priceless in my interaction with priests: the priest council, as I look forward to our third meeting next week; the college of consultors, with whom I will now meet quarterly; the personnel board, with whom I have sat-down once to discuss how I can best work with them, and whose labors bear such obvious fruit this time of the year, as we prepare for new assignments.... I am grateful to them all and count on continued close collaboration.

10. I am also very inspired by those who care for our infirm brethren: Sister Monica Walsh, Deacon Don Quigley, and Mary Lynch. Thank you! Our [retired and infirm] bishops and priests... all gave me a warm welcome when I visited, and I look forward to staying in touch with them.

11. Thanks as well to our elders who remain active in assignments even after they could retire from an appointment. I am edified at how active and particularly zealous our senior priests remain, and deeply appreciate their ministry.

12. I trust all of you will get time away for a vacation these summer weeks. You deserve it.

13. Finally, today, my brothers, begins the Year of the Priest. Pope Benedict XVI invites the Church to dedicate this year to her priests, and opens it today, the 150th anniversary of the death of Saint John Vianney, the Curé of Ars.

With my recent arrival, I confess that I have not yet had the time to plan any special events to observe this special year. We did have a productive discussion about it during a priests’ council session. Some of the promising ideas that arose were: an assembly of priests in the Spring; days of recollection in Advent and Lent; and a priests’ pilgrimage for a retreat in Ars. Stay tuned and we’ll keep you posted.

Personally, I will try to use this year as a time to deepen and renew my own priesthood, “fanning into a flame” that gift given us by the laying-on of hands. And I will try to be more attentive to the high duty I have to love and serve you, my brother priests.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, we place all our trust in Thee!

Saint John Vianney, pray for us!
Speaking of the Priestly Year, in an EWTN appearance Sunday night (fullvideo) Dolan held court on the global observance alongside New York's own Fr Benedict Groeschel as the founder of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal marked his golden jubilee of ordination.

PHOTOS: Sam Lucero


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The "Pasta Pilgrimage" Countdown

Next Monday, five American archbishops -- the largest US contingent this decade -- will join some 30 new metropolitans from around the globe in receiving the pallium from Pope Benedict on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul.

Its origin dating to Christianity's earliest days, the two-inch woolen band worn over the shoulders symbolizes the "easy yoke" of the Lord. Representing the "fullness of the episcopal office," the liturgical vestment is used by metropolitan archbishops within their respective provinces as a sign of their union with Peter's successor -- further underscoring the significance, the pallia spend the night before their conferral in the Apostle's tomb.

For most of its history as a sign of authority, the pallium was sent from Rome and bestowed on a new archbishop in his cathedral; in 1984, the global rite was instituted by Pope John Paul II. The band's conferral is not automatic -- a newly-named archbishop must formally request it within three months of his appointment. Additionally, an archbishop-elect may receive the pallium in advance of entering his new charge, yet if he's transferred, it doesn't travel; an archbishop named to another metropolitan church must receive a new one tied to his new home, hence an encore appearance next week for Archbishops Tim Dolan of New York, given his first one (left) as archbishop of Milwaukee in 2003, and Vincent Nichols of Westminster, who received one as archbishop of Birmingham in 2000.

While the holders of the English-speaking church's two most influential posts will return in short order with larger pilgrimages on their elevation to the College of Cardinals, for most of the archbishops, next week is their lone moment in the Roman sun, and they're keen to make the most of it.

Almost all the prelates flood the city with groups of supporters from home. Traditionally the last major Vatican function before the Pope and Curia flee the city for their summer getaways, June's last days have become one of the Urb's standard booked-solid weeks as clerics, the committed and curious alike descend to see the pontiff and cheer on their own, and the traveling circuit pops in to wind down its official business for the year.

While Archbishops Allen Vigneron of Detroit, Bob Carlson of St Louis and the still to be installed George Lucas of Omaha and Gregory Aymond of New Orleans round out this year's Stateside class, the global contingent joining Nichols and the Americans is fairly impressive, including Archbishops Giuseppe Betori of Florence, Orani Tempesta of Rio de Janiero, Braulio Rodríguez Plaza of Toledo (the Spanish primate), José Luis Escobar Alas of San Salvador, the dual-citizen Basilian Michael Miller of Vancouver, the former CDW secretary Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo and Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki of Lviv, the beloved junior secretary of the Polish Pope.

To keep the folks at home plugged-in on Vigneron's journey, the Motor City's got a blog up and running... this time around, however, the week's stage arguably belongs to the "Rome of the West"; with the newly-arrived Carlson and native sons Dolan and Lucas all getting their turn before B16, the St Louis pilgrims are getting a hat-trick special.

It's not the red hat the Gateway City once enjoyed, but at least it's something.

More as the metros depart and Monday nears... as always, stay tuned.

PHOTOS: Reuters(1); Sam Lucero(2)


It's On

In a development that'll likely induce every known emotion under the sun for this crowd, the wire breaks the story:
Pope Benedict XVI will welcome U.S. President Barack Obama to the Vatican July 10 for an audience scheduled to begin at 4 p.m.
And, well, let the food-fights begin... again.


"A Man of Peace"

Believed to be the first military chaplain wounded in Iraq, Fr Tim Vakoc -- a priest of the Twin Cities serving as a major in the Army -- died Saturday at 49:
Father Vakoc... lost an eye and sustained brain damage when a roadside bomb exploded near his Humvee on May 29, 2004, as he was returning to his barracks after celebrating Mass for U.S. soldiers.
In recent years, Father Vakoc (pronounced VAH-kitch) had been showing signs of physical and cognitive improvement.

A June 11 entry on Father Vakoc’s CaringBridge site noted that he participated with family and friends in a special Mass June 10 celebrating the 17th anniversary of his ordination, five years of post-accident life and appreciation for all those who were contributing to his care.

“All of us in this Catholic archdiocese are grieving with the family of Father Vakoc,” Archbishop John Nienstedt said in a statement. “We are joined in that grieving, to be sure, by the men and woman whom he served as chaplain in Iraq and those who witnessed his extraordinary courage and faith at Walter Reed Hospital and here at our Veterans’ Hospital.”

Calling Father Vakoc “a man of peace,” Archbishop Nienstedt said “he chose to endure the horror of war in order to bring the peace of Christ to America’s fighting men and women. He has been an inspiration to us all and we will miss him.

“We ask everyone to remember him in prayer,” he added....

According to a National Catholic Register story printed just a month before his own accident, Father Vakoc flew to a combat surgical hospital to be with two soldiers who had just been injured in a roadside bombing in which two others had been killed. One died before he reached the hospital.

He prayed for the soldiers who died and with the injured soldier, and then prayed with the other soldiers in the convoy who were not injured, but “in the state of shock.”

Father Vakoc’s ministry — which earned him the rank “major” — also included presiding at a memorial service for a young man killed in a roadside explosion, who just days before had talked about faith with Father Vakoc and read at Mass.

“The bottom line in helping these soldiers through the grieving process is to be present to them and walk with them,” Father Vakoc told the Register in an e-mail. “I prayed with the soldiers who died. I brought the sacraments of the church and the light and love of Christ into the darkness of the situations.”

Father Vakoc called his ministry one of “intentional presence,” and it included counseling soldiers, ministering to Catholics and soldiers of all faiths, escorting the bodies of fallen soldiers, speaking with soldiers’ family members and keeping up morale.

“I live with the soldiers, work with them, eat with them, care for them, listen to them, counsel them,” Father Vakoc told the Register. “The soldiers know if you are real and genuinely care or not. The soldiers see me out there with them and that makes a difference.”

Monday, June 22, 2009

Fellay Speaks

On a Canadian visit last week, the recently re-communicated head of the Society of St Pius X Bishop Bernard Fellay sat down for an exclusive "Witness" interview with Toronto's Salt + Light TV.

Among other things, the Swiss prelate discusses the January "remit" of the excommunications following the SSPX bishops' illicit 1988 ordination to the episcopacy, the upcoming placement of the Society's reconciliation talks with Rome under the aegis of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and, indeed, the "grenade in [his] hand" that is Richard Williamson.

With thanks to Basilian Fr Tom Rosica and his crew for making the video embeddable, have at the whole thing:


In Dublin, "Martin of Television" Faces the Storm

With Ireland still reeling from last month's Ryan Report, a TV documentary aired nationally last week raised the curtain on the next major look into the Isle's staggering history of clergy sex-abuse and chancery cover-up: the Murphy Report of the state inquest on the archdiocese of Dublin, first expected this summer but seemingly to be delayed pending "ongoing court proceedings."

Yet while the testimony of victim-survivors has become crushingly commonplace in the reporting of their stories, what made TV3's Abuse of Trust unique and significant was the cooperation of the Republic's top prelate, the capital's Archbishop Diarmuid Martin (left, at mic), who spoke on the program of his "personal torment" at reading through some of the 60,000 in-house files he handed over to the state panel (but only after his predecessor dropped a court challenge to the papers' release).

"One weekend I decided to try and get through these documents," Martin said.

"I came to the stage when I simply threw them onto the ground because I couldn't keep reading.

"This is reality. It can't be hidden and it shouldn't be hidden," he said, adding that some of the decisions he's made along the way have kept him up at night.

Amid a wave of public incandescence that's seen the abuse likened to the Holocaust, the Irish church compared to the Taliban and, on the whole, made 2002's Stateside outbreak feel sedate by comparison, in the report's lead-up the former Vatican diplomat dubbed "Martin of Tours" for his oft-globe-trotting ways has arguably turned in the finest public response by a hierarch not just to the abuse, but the manner in which his predecessors and their aides mishandled the victims and the accused alike.

Lest any doubt remained, how the church chooses to face the revelations remains as important as the response is still, in many places, lacking... and for proof of the "second chance" a genuine (and genuinely contrite) tone can bring about, one Dublin broadcaster took to the papers to say that Martin deserves a shot at rebirthing the scandal-ridden church:
As the nation gets to grips with the horrors of the Ryan Report and prepares for the further revelations to come in the report into abuse in the Dublin Archdiocese, the Archbishop's voice is the only one in a position of authority that rings true and clear with genuine humility. If the Church has any future, it will be up to him to deliver it....

It would be easy to give up entirely on the Catholic Church, given the disgraceful way the victims allege they were treated by the clergy when they asked for help – from the parish priests all the way up to more senior figures. The Church has behaved appallingly and deserves to see the Irish public turn its back on it for good.

Having read the Ryan Report I, along with countless others, have been thoroughly disgusted by the attitude of the institution of the Catholic Church to the evil in its midst. I expected TV3's documentary to entrench that view, but then a truly Christian voice emerged from the hell of abuse and subsequent cover up.

Archbishop Martin is a man of the cloth who is visibly shaken by the knowledge that innocent children were raped and their lives ruined. He doesn't hide behind euphemisms for the terror they experienced, but allows himself to react with tears, like any other human being, to the abject torture that was inflicted upon them.

Towards the end of the programme, Archbishop Martin makes a statement of intent. He wants full disclosure and acknowledgement of the full extent of the abuse.

He wants the Church to repent and compensate. He wants children to be protected, but most importantly, he accepts that Catholicism in Ireland will be utterly changed in the aftermath of this scandal and he admits that the Church will have to take what's left and rebuild an institution that operates in a completely new way.

It has been hard to stomach the Catholic Church and its pleas for forgiveness in recent weeks, but Archbishop Martin might just represent a new era and a rebirth of what it means to be a Catholic in Ireland.

He deserves to be given the chance to make a difference.

In a speech last week to the Dublin church's teachers, the archbishop said that Catholic education's "almost monopoly" of Ireland's schools system was "certainly not tenable" in the future.

With 92% of Irish schools "sponsored" by the church, Martin called the arrangement "a historical hangover that doesn't reflect the realities of the times and is, in addition, in many ways detrimental to the possibility of maintaining a true Catholic identity in Catholic schools."

Given the backdrop, the talk made national headlines.

PHOTO: Dara Mac Dónaill/
The Irish Times


Coming to Allentown: The Great Emancipator

For quite some time, John Barres' name has gone around this part of the world as a rising star to "keep on the radar screen."

There's always wisdom in the buzz, so it was little surprise when the chancellor of Wilmington got the call last month to lead upstate Pennsylvania's 270,000-member diocese of Allentown.

All of 48 and the first Delawarean tapped for the crozier since 1900, the son of converts with an Ivy pedigree doesn't take the reins 'til late next month, but he's already getting what'd normally be the Ordination Week treatment in the Lehigh Valley press, which followed the bishop-elect to the Diamond State stomping grounds he's been sharing with a certain Vice President:
Barres [pronounced Bar-riss] will become the fourth bishop of the diocese on July 30 and perhaps the first to find as much inspiration in a secular saint, Abraham Lincoln, as in more typical representatives from the heavenly rolls. The martyred president's name arose time and again in a daylong interview at his chancery last this week and in the homily of the noon Mass he celebrated in St. Joseph on the Brandywine, a handsome 1840s church built with the pennies of immigrant Irish workers in DuPont's blasting powder factories.

''Look at the virtues of Lincoln,'' Barres said, urging appreciation of the man through the lens of the Beatitudes, Christ's lessons of mercy and forgiveness from the Sermon on the Mount.

After all, Barres told parishioners, Lincoln was the president who ordered a military band to play ''Dixie'' out of respect for a vanquished foe. It's a perfect symbol of the kind of conciliatory outreach -- to other faiths, to the dispossessed, to abuse victims -- Barres considers essential to mending the fractures of a troubled world.

By all accounts, the bishop-elect is a man of quiet holiness and genial charisma who sometimes flirts with exhaustion from overwork in minding the umpteen tasks of a diocesan chancellor, which have ranged from mundane administrative errands to overseeing the installation of the bishop.

''An indefatigable worker,'' said Monsignor Joseph Rebman, St. Joseph's pastor and a longtime mentor to Barres. The monsignor warned, perhaps half-seriously, that Allentown shouldn't grow overly accustomed to its new bishop -- another way of underscoring Barres' rapid rise through the episcopal ranks. He is only 48, which won't make him the youngest bishop in the country but surely puts him near the top of that list. Who knows what's to come?

But that's getting ahead of the story. Right now, Barres is preparing to inherit a five-county diocese of 270,000 Catholics, many of them disaffected by last year's closing of dozens of parishes and many others barely hanging onto their religious identity.

Meanwhile, the ranks of priests and other religious continue to decline, and the task of drawing interest to a life of self-denial seems close to impossible in a culture of excess. When a young man considers seminary today, ''his manhood is questioned, his sanity is questioned,'' said Wilmington's retired bishop, the Rev. Michael Saltarelli. But in Barres, the bishop said, potential priests will see a model of the vocation: someone whose demeanor and discipline reflect a life that thrives beyond material yearnings.

''Your bishop,'' Saltarelli said, ''has shown me the face of Christ in so many ways.''...

Perhaps it was inevitable that Barres' path would lead him into the priesthood and episcopacy. He is the son of Oliver and Marjorie Barres, Protestant ministers who converted to Catholicism after growing convinced of its historical claim to be the church founded by Christ. The Barreses were brought into the church by Bishop Fulton Sheen of New York, a renowned prelate who preached to millions in the early days of television. Sheen, who also baptized the bishop-elect, is now a candidate for sainthood.

Barres attended seminary at Catholic University of America and studied canon law at the Opus Dei's Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome. He was ordained by Bishop Robert Mulvee in October of 1989 and served as an associate pastor at two churches before returning to the Pontifical University, where he earned a doctorate in theology in 1999.

In 2000, he was named chancellor of the Diocese of Wilmington, essentially second-in-command to the bishop....

He offered no grand vision for what's ahead -- indeed, he said he is still studying the major issues of the diocese identified during the Second Synod of Allentown, a gathering of clergy and lay people that charted a course for the future of Catholic education, vocations, church consolidation and other topics. But he's no a stranger to the Lehigh Valley. His father is a Bethlehem native who grew up on Linden Street near Liberty High School, and Barres made many summertime visits to his aunt, uncle and cousins as a boy.

Now, ''you're going to have to force him to take vacations,'' said the Rev. Joe Cocucci, one of Barres' closest friends. ''He begins his day early with prayer, and gets right to work. He's a priest's priest.''
And video, complete with a very happy Mickey:

Despite his youth, Barres is the second member of the Theological College Class of '89 to get the high-hat -- the first of the group was Seattle auxiliary Joseph Tyson, one of the first US bishops named by Benedict XVI after his 2005 election.

The two bishops are among 11 priests celebrating 20th anniversaries from the DC house.

Tip to the Bench.

PHOTO: Monica Cabrera/
Allentown Morning Call


In Domesday Redux, Bishops Back D'Arcy

Five weeks after the University of Notre Dame hosted President Obama as its commencement speaker and bestowed an honorary degree on the Commander-in-Chief, the last word on the controversial move comes from... the US bishops.

Sure, some 80 of the 365 active and retired prelates criticized the Golden Dome's choice in the run-up to the 17 May ceremony, but during the USCCB's executive session last week in San Antonio, the bench approved a group statement of support for the university's ordinary, Bishop John D'Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend, who boycotted its graduation over the invite, saying that Notre Dame "must ask itself if, by this decision, it has chosen prestige over truth."

D'Arcy did attend the university's Baccalaureate Mass over commencement weekend (right), leading a candlelight vigil on-campus afterward to pray for the protection of human life.

Here's the Mothership's release, hot off the press:
During their spring General Assembly, June 17-19, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops expressed their solidarity for Bishop John M. D’Arcy of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., in particular for his care and concern for the University of Notre Dame, which resides in his diocese.

The bishops made this show of support during executive session, but released the following statement:
The bishops of the United States express our appreciation and support for our brother bishop, the Most Reverend John D'Arcy. We affirm his pastoral concern for Notre Dame University, his solicitude for its Catholic identity, and his loving care for all those the Lord has given him to sanctify, to teach and to shepherd.
More frequently a staunch supporter of Notre Dame -- and invariably a fixture at the U's November reception for the bishops -- D'Arcy is currently the oldest active head of a US diocese; the Boston-born prelate reached the retirement age of 75 in August 2007.



Sunday, June 21, 2009

In Knoxville, "We Are All Crushed"

In one of the nation's fastest-growing dioceses, this Father's Day finds the folks mourning a Mom -- Nancy Feist, a mother of five and assistant to two bishops of Knoxville, died suddenly Friday night at 43, along with the sixth child she was expecting in September with her husband, Dave, an elementary school teacher in the East Tennessee church.

After suffering an embolism at a baseball game, Feist was rushed to a hospital. While attempts were made to save the baby -- quickly baptized by a local priest and named Peter -- both were lost.

Once parishioners of then-Msgr Joe Kurtz in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley, the Feists move South in 2000 saw them reunited with their former pastor, who became bishop of the sprawling Volunteer Country diocese two years earlier. By 2004, her eldest three in school next door to the Chancery, the former freelance writer took up in the Bishop's Office as executive secretary; Kurtz was transferred to Louisville in 2007, and Bishop Richard Stika arrived as the new boss earlier this year.

Also survived by both her parents and four siblings, a joint funeral for Nancy and Peter is scheduled for Wednesday in Knoxville, with Stika and Kurtz slated to lead the rites. On hearing the news, the bishop rushed home from the road; Stika will celebrate a first memorial Mass tomorrow in Sacred Heart Cathedral for the diocesan staff.

In the meantime, friends have set up a memorial page, the diocese is sponsoring a fund for the kids and efforts are underway to coordinate helpers for the family over the coming weeks and months.

On the ground, a friend of Feist's put it this way:
We are all crushed....

I've never known anyone so relentlessly cheerful -- not in a forced, fake way but genuinely cheerful, even under great stress. She always believed a positive outcome was ahead of us and that we could get there. She was a unifying force....

Nancy was a great reconciler -- always wanting to help people resolve their differences and work together for the good of the church.

She loved our priests and the two bishops she served, and she treated everyone who called or visited the bishop with the greatest respect.

Nobody was better at keeping a confidence. And I think she probably could have run a Fortune 500 company with one hand tied behind her back.
While no loss is ever easy, some are beyond words.

This is one of them, and Knoxville's loss is a loss for us all.

If you could, gang, storm the Smokies with your prayers.

PHOTOS: Mary C. Weaver/East Tennessee Catholic(1); Deacon Patrick Murphy-Racey(2)


Padre's Day at Pio's Place

In a pilgrimage that's been much awaited across Italy, today the Pope hopped across the Boot to visit San Giovanni Rotondo and the sanctuary of St Pio of Pietrelcina -- Padre Pio, the 20th century Capuchin mystic who's the most-turned to figure among Italians at prayer... Jesus included.

As one would expect given Pio's massive global cult, turnout was measured in the "hundreds of thousands":
At the beginning of the Year for Priests, Benedict XVI has launched another model for all priests showing to all the example of the friar from Pietrelcina: "A simple man of humble origins, 'seized by Christ' (Phil 3:12) ... to make of him an elected instrument of the perennial power of his Cross: the power of love for souls, forgiveness and reconciliation, spiritual fatherhood, effective solidarity with the suffering. The stigmata, that marked his body, closely united him to the Crucified and Risen Christ "....

In his homily, Benedict XVI reflected on the Gospel of the day, which recounts the miracle of the clamed storm (Mk 4, 35-41). “The solemn gesture of calming the stormy sea is clearly a sign of the lordship of Christ over the negative powers and it induces us to think of His divinity: "Who is He – ask the disciples in wonder - that even the wind and the sea obey him?" (Mk 4.41). Their faith is not yet steadfast, it is taking shape, is a mixture of fear and trust; rather Jesus trusting abandonment to the Father is full and pure. This is why He sleeps during the storm, completely safe in the arms of God - but there will come a time when Jesus will feel anxiety and fear: When His time comes, He shall feel upon himself the whole weight of the sins of humanity, as a massive swell that is about to fall upon Him. Oh yes, that shall be a terrible storm, not a cosmic one, but a spiritual one. It will be Evil’s last, extreme assault against the Son of God….. In that hour, Jesus was on the one hand entirely One with the Father, fully given over to him – on the other, as in solidarity with sinners, He was separated and He felt abandoned”.
Padre Pio too, said the pope, lived these “storms” together with Christ. “Remaining united to Jesus, - explains Benedict XVI - he always had his sights on the depths of the human drama, and this was why he offered his many sufferings, why he was able to spend himself in the care for and relief of the sick - a privileged sign of God's mercy, of his kingdom which is coming, indeed, which is already in the world, a sign of the victory of love and life over sin and death. Guide souls and relieving suffering: thus we can sum up the mission of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina: as the servant of God, Pope Paul VI said of him". “Padre Pio –he added - drew on the path of holiness by his own testimony, showing by example the "track" that leads to it: prayer and charity”. Benedict XVI recalls the intensity with which Padre Pio celebrated mass and how the hospital founded by him “the House for the Relief of Suffering”, is the fruit of his close bond with the Sacred Heart of Christ.

And speaking to the friars, the spiritual groups linked to Padre Pio and all those listening, he affirmed: “The risks of activism and secularization are always present, so my visit was also meant to confirm fidelity to the mission inherited from your beloved Father. Many of you, religious and laity, are so taken by the full duties required by the service to pilgrims, or the sick in the hospital, you run the risk of neglecting the real need: to listen to Christ to do the will of God. When you see that you are close to running this risk, look to Padre Pio: In his example, his sufferings, and invoke his intercession, because it obtains from the Lord the light and strength that you need to continue his mission soaked by love for God and fraternal charity”.
(The homily, in full.)

With well over 8 million visitors in a normal year -- and even more having flocked over recent months to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the saint's death -- San Giovanni Rotondo is said to be Christianity's second most-visited holy place, topped only by Mexico City's Guadalupe Basilica, where no less than six million pilgrims converged last year just in the days around the Morenita's mid-December feast.

PHOTOS: Reuters