Sunday, January 31, 2010

"Groups of Anglicans"... Group of Catholics

As noted on the "Back Page," tomorrow morning will see B16's address to the bishops of England and Wales on their first ad limina visit of his pontificate.

While the pontiff's much-awaited assessment of the British church -- well, two-thirds of it -- remains a matter of mystery at this hour, it's worth wagering that Benedict's recent outreach to groups of traditional Anglicans will come up, as it reportedly has over the course of the prelates' meetings with the dicasteries of the Roman Curia.

Along these lines, in what appears to be the highest-profile Stateside engagement to date of Anglicanorum coetibus, the "Cardinal of the South" recently appeared at his own diocese's Anglican Use parish to discuss November's historic Apostolic Constitution.

Here, snips from a VirtueOnline report:
[Cardinal Daniel DiNardo] would not hazard a guess as to when the Anglican Ordinariate would be formally established other than to say that Pope Benedict XVI in the Anglicanorum Coetibus has mandated the Ordinariates, therefore, they will happen in Rome's good timing. He urged abundant patience as Vatican wheels churned out the details.

In fact, the Cardinal hopes that his established warm relationship with [Houston's Our Lady of Walsingham parish] will continue even after the Anglican Use parish becomes a formal part of the Anglican Ordinariate. He would like to have a close fraternal bond with the first Ordinary -- whom he hopes is a Catholic bishop and not a Pastoral Provision priest, even one who formerly may have been an Episcopal bishop -- of the new Ordinariate. He would welcome invitations to visit OLW since the church would remain tucked within the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston much like the Vatican is located within the city walls of Rome.

Looking towards the future actuality of an American Ordinariate, Cardinal DiNardo has already joined with Archbishop José Gomez of the Archdiocese of San Antonio -- home to Our Lady of the Atonement Anglican Use Catholic Church and OLA Academy -- and Bishop Kevin Vann of the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth -- home to St. Mary the Virgin Anglican Use Catholic Church in putting their mitered heads together and forging a way for the three Latin Rite jurisdictions to transfer their Anglican Use parish and school properties to the Anglican Ordinariate when the Vatican-designed ecclesial structure gets up and running.

"Who gets the property?" Cardinal DiNardo asks teasingly tongue-in-cheek, sounding much like an Anglican in so doing.

For the Catholic Archdioceses of Galveston-Houston and San Antonio and Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth the transfer of established Anglican Use properties to the new Ordinariates will be relatively smooth.

However, in the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, where there is some notable interest in entire Episcopal parishes converting such as St. Bartholomew's did in 1994, thus becoming St. Mary the Virgin Anglican Use Catholic Church, the smooth transfer of property could be more problematic with The Episcopal Church's on-going property litigations in that diocese.

Although Cardinal DiNardo is very supportive of the Anglican Use personal parish and the fruition of the Anglican Ordinariates, he advises caution in the fleshing out of the skeletal structure put into place by Pope Benedict with the Anglicanorum Coetibus and its accompanying Norms.

He noted that the Anglicanorum Coetibus was not only a work of the Holy See, but more importantly the document was a work of the Holy Spirit seeking unity.

Cardinal DiNardo also sees the Anglican Use parish as an effective Catholic evangelization tool to not only reach out to the spiritual marooned Episcopalians in this country and Anglicans abroad to bring them into the fullness of faith in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church through the See of Peter and to also bring those disenfranchised Catholics who have left the Church and discovered Her again through the beauty and majesty of the Anglican Use liturgy.

However, the Cardinal warned against Anglican Use parishes becoming a select group and failing to enter into the cross pollination of liturgical and spiritual enrichment with the wider Latin Rite Catholic Church. He did note that the Liturgy is celebrated in at least 15 different languages within his archdiocese.

A check with the Galveston-Houston Archdiocesan directory shows that Mass is celebrated in several languages and dialects including but not limited to: English, Spanish, Latin, Chinese, Korean, Polish and Vietnamese. So the Anglican Use Elizabethan English adds a nice complement to the multi-linguistic Archdiocesan liturgical celebrations.

Cardinal DiNardo feels that it would be very prudent if once the Ordinariate gets up and running that the transferring Ordinariate priests continue to receive some monetary assistance from their local Latin Rite dioceses for on-going financial support at least in the terms of health insurance and retirement benefits until the Ordinariate can afford to foot the entire cost of a married priest and his family needs. He explained that in the beginning the Ordinariate will be small with few self-sustaining parishes and would therefore be financially strapped while the Ordinariate will have to immediately be able to support its own Ordinary and his immediate chancellery structure.

"Go slow." Cardinal DiNardo emphasized, reminding his Anglican Use audience several times to be patient as the internal workings of the Ordinariate are developed and put into place, reminding the group that the Anglican Ordinariates are a work in process.

He noted that patience, common sense and good humor will be needed by all as the details of the Ordinariates are developed and hammered into place while imploring the intercession of the Virgin Mary under her title of Our Lady of Walsingham and realizing that eventually things will fall into place.

"Everything can be worked out," the Cardinal explained.
While the particulars -- and, indeed, the number of Tiber-swimmers via Canterbury -- remain to be seen, the Roman expression of their liturgical patrimony is, of course, already in place... and for those who haven't yet seen it, a copy of the Anglican Use Book of Divine Worship is available for online reading.

As for the rest, expect B16's fulltext here as soon as it emerges.


Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Back Page

Don't know about where you are, gang, but as it's a frigid Saturday 'round these parts, more snow beginning to fall, later on is looking like high time for another live-feed.

(For those who could use a catch-up, here's the last one... and the one before that.)

To those who won't be seeing it in real-time form, no worries -- as ever, the full fill will remain available in the box below, on-demand for your viewing pleasure. As I'm still getting the feel of it and toying with options, the more practice I get, the better it becomes... well, I hope. And as it continues taking shape, a comfortable name's finally presented itself: "The Back Page" -- an allusion to, well, what it is: a fuller look at the picture with all those things that, due to the volume of news (and, indeed, this scribe's limited energies), are well worth noting, but for whatever reason don't receive the "front page" treatment.

Suffice it to say, the exercise has already proven its utility: it was in the first of these sessions, after all, that the following balloon went up: "B16 could name as many as three coadjutor archbishops on these shores in 2010... even for places larger than one might usually expect...."

It was beyond tempting at the time to say "LArger." But the story wasn't ready for prime time just yet.

Lest anyone didn't get the hint then, now you know.

While we're at it, many thanks to those folks who've sent feedback on Thursday's mega-piece -- that was a month's (and some 1,200 burned-up phone minutes) worth of work, and it's a relief to hear that it wasn't in vain.

More LA buzz in the feed... in the meanwhile, though, with another seismic story on our hands and so many of you looking to this place to cover it not just live, but get it right, it's come time again for the back-office's occasional, yet ever-needed reminder that these pages are brought to you by just one person: you -- and that the feed here can't keep plugging along without your support.

That's the only commercial you'll ever see here -- and for most of us, sure, it's still one too many. Even on a shoestring budget, though, the lights (and, of course, the phone and 'net) need to stay on -- and as we can't really get away with this kind of coverage anywhere else, this work's survival all comes down to what it always has: your helping hand to the famous "guitar case" (located, as ever, just along the right sidebar).

Every blessing and gift of the weekend to one and all -- hope it's going restful where you are, and most of all, that you're keeping warm.

As ever, all thanks to one and all for passing the time here, all the feedback, and all your help keeping the shop afloat.

In a bit, church, away we go again. See you then... and buckle up.


Thursday, January 28, 2010

For Mahony, Twilight... and "Shadow"

Over recent months, a growing wildfire of chatter -- both from the West Coast and points beyond -- has carried word of an expedited timetable on what'll arguably be Benedict XVI's most important pick for the Stateside bench: the pontiff's choice of a successor to Cardinal Roger Mahony as head of the nation's largest local church, the 5 million-member archdiocese of Los Angeles.

While this desk has spent practically all of January tracking the talk -- hence the low posting of late -- the story broke into the open late last week after the American Papist blogger Thomas Peters reported that Mahony "has approved a coadjutor bishop [sic] recently selected for him," and that "this news – and the name – will be publicly announced 'soon.'"

For the record, any claims of a selection already made cannot be confirmed and, as the lay of the land is looking at present, would appear premature. What's more, lacking an announcement from the Holy See, it should -- but, given the hysteria surrounding appointments, can't -- go without saying that anything can change at any time.

Keeping that important corollary in mind, scores of reports in church circles have circulated since November that, over a year before he reaches the retirement age of 75, Mahony is "widely known" to have petitioned for an understudy on his own initiative. In early January, three independent sources outside the archdiocese indicated to Whispers that the consultation stage of a selection process had been underway at least since mid-autumn, with one adding that the cardinal's request for a coadjutor had been granted by the Holy See in October. From there, the cardinal is credibly understood to have been given the privilege of approving the terna of his potential successors -- not the final choice -- with at least one Mahony aide anticipating an announcement sometime around the cardinal's 74th birthday, February 27th.

Once named, then installed with the customary "Mass of Welcome" some two months after his appointment, a coadjutor would spend roughly a year assisting the ordinary and learning the ropes before immediately succeeding to the archbishopric upon its vacancy -- in this case, on the acceptance of Mahony's resignation by the Pope shortly after the cardinal turns 75. Though such provision is often sought by prelates seeking a smooth transition of governance, it's likewise a savvy move; a departing ordinary usually stands a better chance of getting the coadjutor of his choice than a successor who's selected outright.

That said, while a putative version of the shortlist has made the rounds, given Benedict's commitment to intense personal study of case-files and making his choices his own, especially for major assignments, all bets are genuinely off until the Apartment has spoken. As for what's already on-record, Mahony let slip in a recent posting on his new blog that 2010 would be "my final full year" as head of his hometown fold, American Catholicism's progressive seat and one of the global church's most complex, energetic and diverse diocesan set-ups.

Long a flashpoint figure in the US church's eternal culture wars, the cardinal will mark his 25th anniversary at the LA church's helm in September. The longest-serving American cardinal named since the Council (and Paul VI's subsequent institution of a retirement age for bishops), the archdiocese has more than doubled in size since the native son's 1985 appointment, with Hispanics -- Mahony's most-cherished constituency and staunchest "base" of support -- now said to comprise approximately 70 percent of its total membership.

* * *
Even more than the pontiff's appointment of Tim Dolan to New York early last year, Benedict's choice to become LA's fifth archbishop will be thrust headlong into the three key threads of this chapter in the American Catholic story.

For one, the West's mega-see is still feeling the brunt of 2007's mammoth $660 million settlement of over 500 abuse cases -- the largest such payout by a Catholic diocese worldwide -- whose aftermath led the archdiocese to sell its famed Wilshire Boulevard chancery, birthed ongoing fiscal turmoil and, more recently, sparked a Federal grand jury investigation into the archdiocese's handling of accused priests. (LA's former vicar for clergy, Msgr Richard Loomis, recently appeared before the panel, for which he was granted immunity.)

On another crucial front, lacking both the institution-as-cult Irish tradition of the Northeast and the Bible Belt DNA of the country's newest cardinalatial post, the left-leaning SoCal ecclesiology that's made Mahony a lightning rod is unique among the US church's major hubs. Given the cardinal's endorsement of liturgical and theological concepts long panned as heretical or praised as visionary, the enduring polarization of the top tier and the moment's strong Roman currents toward traditional worship and a beyond-pure doctrinal fidelity, an LA selection will inevitably be viewed as the Vatican's definitive verdict on the archdiocese's Catholic culture: put bluntly, a "thumbs-up" choice... or a "crackdown" one.

(On a related note, claims of a possible revolt over a "more conservative" pick among the faculty of the archdiocesan seminary, St John's in Camarillo, appear to lack foundation, particularly as the house's days as part of the LA church could well be numbered. In tandem with Mahony's eventual departure, a division of the immense jurisdiction is said to be under consideration, with the most-proffered scenario eyeing the creation of a new diocese comprising the suburban counties of Ventura and Santa Barbara -- the former of which includes Camarillo. If implemented, a pared-down archdiocese would retain the lion's share of its Catholic population -- some 4 million in Los Angeles County, where the church is said to count 70 percent of its total inhabitants.)

Ultimately, however, the dominant storyline hovering over a Los Angeles process would be its staggering Hispanic supermajority… and with it, the distinct possibility -- if not likelihood -- of a watershed moment: a pick who would become the nation's first Latino cardinal.

To be clear, that outcome is by no means assured. Yet with key players in the process known to believe that "the moment has come" for two-fifths of the nation's 65 million Catholics to finally see one of their own reach the pinnacle of the Stateside hierarchy, the reality of the LA church -- and, nationally, the bench's relative dearth of genuinely "bi-cultural" figures in its topmost posts -- signals that, if not winning the day, the prospect of a Hispanic appointee will receive exponentially more consideration than any major opening has known to date on these shores.

Just as the Angeleno see's roughly 3.5 million Hispanic Catholics would, on their own, constitute the nation's largest diocese -- the figure's a million more the total Catholic population of the second-largest see, New York -- national trends indicate Rome's willingness to provide the burgeoning bloc with homegrown leadership.

Stepping briefly away from the case at hand, but pertinent to it, at his Appointment Day press conference on Tuesday, newly-named Austin Bishop Joe Vasquez said that his selection as the first Latino to head the church in Texas' capital likely owed itself to Benedict's keen awareness of the linchpin role played by Hispanics in the sustained, exponential growth and vitality that's seen Catholics recently eclipse Evangelicals as the Lone Star state's largest religious group, and drastically shifted the demographic center of the Stateside church away from its faltering Northeastern birthplace toward Southern and Western locales which would've seemed unlikely hotspots even twenty years ago.

Once the youngest American bishop, the 52 year-old Vasquez might be freshly off-the-market, but he's just one member of a rising generation of American-born, Hispanic-bred clerics whose native fluency with both Anglo and Latino communities has become the most desired quality for appointees in no shortage of spots over recent years -- if only a sufficient supply existed.

In a time when most of the country's major cities see the local Univision and Telemundo affiliates battling, and even besting, English-language TV in the ratings, this small but growing "crossover" group (which, among others, likewise includes Bishops Jaime Soto of Sacramento, Richard Garcia of Monterey, Brownsville's Daniel Flores, and San Antonio auxiliary Oscar Cantú) stands poised to reshape the face and extend the reach of the Stateside bench over the years to come.

All told, it's a far cry from 1917, when the vicar-general of San Francisco, John Cantwell, was named bishop of Monterey-Los Angeles, ending a two-year vacancy that saw four other clerics decline what was then an ecclesiastical backwater.

Two decades later, the boom having arrived, the Irish-born prelate became the city's first archbishop.

On another historic note, just two American cardinals have previously received coadjutors: Bishop Michael Corrigan of Newark was named to aid and succeed the nation's first red-hat, New York's John McCloskey, in 1880, and out West, Mahony's predecessor, the future Cardinal Timothy Manning, was appointed coadjutor to Cardinal James McIntyre in May 1969, succeeding California's first clerical prince eight months later. And speaking of cardinals, it bears especial underscoring that two of Mahony's Camarillo classmates will likely shepherd the process' penultimate stage from their seats on the Congregation for Bishops: Philadelphia's Justin Rigali, and the CDF prefect William Levada (who was Mahony's auxiliary for a year before his 1986 promotion to Portland in Oregon). The trio have remained friends since their seminary days.

Asked on 5 January for comment on the coadjutor reports, the cardinal's influential and omnipresent spokesman, Tod Tamberg, pulled out his A-game, memorably telling Whispers that "speculation is for people who watch football," but conspicuously avoided any denial of the buzz. Some days later, another member of the cardinal's inner circle replied simply that "Cardinal Mahony will turn 75 a year from this February 27 and is looking forward to submitting his letter."

* * *
Regardless of when or how the moment comes, or even one's impressions of the man, at least one truth transcends opinion: that Mahony's departure will bring down the curtain on one of the monumental reigns in the four-century history of the American church.

Named an auxiliary bishop of Fresno 35 years ago this month, the cardinal's episcopate has seen him march with Caesar Chavez, spar with Mother Angelica, bless a Democratic convention, bury Joseph Bernardin and -- in a move his critics should've appreciated, but ignored -- help short-circuit the 11th-hour opposition to the impending Roman Missal at last November's USCCB plenary in Baltimore.

Considerable as all that is, it's not even the top line of the story. We won't see Mahony's duration repeated anytime soon, if ever… nor, perhaps more significantly, the scope of his influence.

Beyond his own turf, the cardinal's spent most of his quarter-century as the lone red hat West of the Mississippi, his onetime auxiliaries now run dioceses from the Rio Grande to the Pacific, and among his former clergy are found the head of California's other metropolitan church and, indeed, the two most influential Americans in the history of the Holy See.

Even for that, though, his empire's mostly been built at home, among a crowd where he's more revered than loved. And what's more, even amid the scandals and controversies of the years, the long eye of history has its way of looking at matters differently than many might see them today.

For any student of the church's journey on these shores, the story is familiar: an ethnic "old guard" wrought by divisions, chatter and complacency finds its model of church wiped off the map by a mass infusion of fresh blood, true believers in the faith and the promise of the land. Even within the church, this "immigrant church" of great fervor and hard work experiences scorn or disdain just as it births both renewal and a considerable growth spurt. Yet still, for all its talents and testimony, it would take the emergence of one transformative leader to integrate the newcomers' gifts into ecclesial life, to shepherd them to their rightful place and, indeed, to herald their arrival -- not just as a presence, but a force, both within the walls and on the streets.

Faced with a rapidly changing, growing local reality, this "born fighter" builds an epic cathedral both to gather his own and make immortal the church of his vision. He defends his institutional prerogatives with the same vigor he devotes to his beloved migrants. He revels in the prestige and possibilities of politics, quells ethnic strife as he divides public opinion… and by the end of the day, himself becomes an icon -- not so much a leader of the church as, among his own, the very personification of it.

Sure, that's a rough sketch of the Mahony legacy… one that finds its precursor in John Hughes.

Perhaps that's why Our Lady of the Angels happened to be built one foot longer than the "Dagger"-wielder's dream project -- read: St Patrick's, New York. Still, for the titan-pastors of both coasts, the tale would end the same way: for all their work and the transformation they oversaw, all the controversies braved in the moment and accomplishments birthed for generations onward, each bore his respective charge to the threshold of the brass ring… but only under their successors would the local churches they revolutionized become American Catholicism's capital see.

Who'll bring that title Westward is the choice we await.

For all of it, as always, stay tuned.

PHOTOS: Getty(1), Newscom(5)


The Road to "Red Dawn"

As veteran readers will recall, the following clip traditionally heralds Consistory Week 'round these parts.

That said, don't read anything into it just yet -- like everyone else, the house is still just... anticipating.

With the College of Cardinals' voting membership now nine hats short of its full complement of 120 -- and at least ten more seats to open this year -- 2010 is virtually certain to see a fresh batch of scarlet moiré make the rounds at some point... the only question is when.

As timing goes, the most common and credible possiblities floated so far have been late June's feast of Saints Peter and Paul -- a favorite of John Paul II -- and a late November repeat of the last intake, which took place over Christ the King weekend in 2007.

While a consistory's timing only formally emerges when a pontiff "calls" the gathering and announces the list of cardinals-designate roughly six weeks in advance (i.e. "Red Dawn"), the eventual date tends to make the rounds even further in advance as the College's current members are quietly advised to keep their calendars clear for the summons to Rome... and not just to greet the new class; the first cardinal-dean elected Pope since the 17th century, B16 has added a daylong consultation with his red-hats to the standard program for the days-long event.

Citing unnamed "Vatican experts," Catholic News Agency speculated earlier this week that "an immediate consistory called for by the Pope around the end of February or the beginning of March wouldn't be a surprise" -- but it would be, not to mention that the clock has practically already run out on a timetable of that sort.

As for the even more compelling question -- namely, "Who?" -- the Washington Times' Julia Duin took soundings in the DC daily's pages last week. Still, it's worth recalling here -- and not just as a hypothetical, either -- that the confluence of several variables, many of them unprecedented, means the makeup of the field remains an open question... a very. open. question.

Yesterday saw Anglophone Canada lose its lone vote in a conclave as Toronto's retired Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic reached his 80th birthday. Three more cardinals superannuate before the end of March, and another five by late September.

For all the rest, as always, stay tuned.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Renewed... and Reconciled

With the Vatican's Year for Priests now past its halfway point, it's been widely noted that this week's seeing a pretty exceptional gathering in the Philippines: some 5,500 priests -- three-quarters of the national presbyterate -- spending the week on group retreat (above) in Manila.

Sometime today, one of the week's high points is expected to take place -- a mass reconciliation rite, with individual confessions:
Monsignor Pedro Quitorio, spokesman for the [Filipino] bishops, said that, while priests lining up before a confessional box is not a common sight, they were also humans and not without sin.

"It's the same process. There's also penance and absolution," he told reporters.

Quitorio said priests, including bishops, were free to approach any of their colleagues to make their confession.

"It will be face-to-face. They can choose whoever they want to confess to," he said.
Impressive as the sight would be, the confession hall isn't open to cameras.

Alongside improving priestly solidarity and re-energizing the clerics' zeal for their ministry, the wire notes that the National Congress of the Clergy is likewise intended to help Pinoy priests "define their role in the May 2010 Presidential elections."



Tuesday, January 26, 2010

And Austin Makes Three

And in just six weeks, the "Texas triangle" has completed itself.

Seven months after B16 transferred Austin's fourth bishop back to his hometown after a decade of exponential growth and a staggering spike in vitality, this morning the pontiff named Auxiliary Bishop Joe Vasquez of Galveston-Houston to the boomtown church in Texas' capital, home to some 50 seminarians and a Catholic population of 500,000 that's more than double what it was two decades ago... and, indeed, is projected to double again in size over the next 15 to 20 years.

The first Hispanic prelate tapped to lead the 25-county Central Texas diocese -- and as bishop of the capital, become the church's lead public presence in state government -- the 52 year-old pick will be installed on 8 March at a location still to be determined.

With the move, the 1.5 million-member Houston church loses its lone active auxiliary; a native of West Texas' San Angelo diocese, Vasquez was named an H-Town bishop in 2002, serving since as the lead administrator of the South's largest diocese.

Today's appointment follows early December's homecoming selection of Detroit auxiliary Daniel Flores for the million-member diocese of Brownsville (where the 48 year-old Downstate native will be installed next week) and last week's pick of Austin's administrator, Msgr Michael Mulvey, as bishop of Corpus Christi.

More as the morning moves along.

PHOTO: Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston/Diocese of Austin


Saturday, January 23, 2010

"Even In Our Darkest Hour...."

With some attendees sitting in pews salvaged from the fallen cathedral a few yards away, this morning saw a funeral liturgy celebrated not just for Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot of Port-au-Prince and his vicar-general, but for all those lost in last week's quake, a count now estimated at around 100,000.

As previously noted, while the US church was officially represented at the rites by Archbishop Tim Dolan of New York (the chair of Catholic Relief Services) and the USCCB general secretary, Msgr David Malloy, likewise present was Bishop Thomas Wenski of Orlando -- a veteran of Haitian ministry both in the country and for its diaspora in his native Miami.

A friend of Miot's for over three decades, Wenski said yesterday that he was going to bid his own farewell and to "assess the needs" of the Haitian church "going forward."

Here, the first report from the AP:
"If Monsignor Miot were alive, he would tell us to have courage, to be strong in starting over," said Marie-Andre Baril, a 53-year-old bank teller, whose home was destroyed. "With my faith, I hope to have what he would want us to have. I'm not going anywhere. I'm staying here."

A devout Catholic population here has lost the head of its church, a vivid example of one of the quake's cruelest outcomes. Many of those killed were the very people who, in times of disaster and tragedy, would be sought out for solace and explanation.

Miot, 62, was memorialized as one of those people.

A pastor devoted to the poor, a shy man who came alive in moments of need, he died in his church, among the people he sought to guide through the tragedies, man-made and natural, that too often shake this country....

Hundreds of Haitians made their way from makeshift camps amid the rising tide of garbage and waste to the service, dressed in dark suits and spotless dresses. They lowered their surgical masks, standard wear here against the nauseating smell of death, as they took seats in pews or folding metal chairs.

"You will never find another man like him," said Eric Bruno, a 48-year-old mechanic in a gray wool suit despite the gathering heat. "He would have been the first person here to help, trying to get people everything they need."

The Haitian National Police band played mournful hymns as the crowd settled in.Many pushed handkerchiefs to wet eyes.

Rows of nuns works their rosaries in small, rough hands. The music stopped, and people began singing the words of Psalm 33, a favorite of Miot.

In a message released today to the head of the Haitian bishops, Archbishop Louis Kebreau of Cap-Haitien, Pope Benedict offered his "fervent prayers" and "great spiritual closeness" for "all those touched by this catastrophe," imploring the intercession of the country's patroness -- Our Lady of Perpetual Help -- to "be a mother" who directs every heart toward solidarity with the suffering.

In his own letter, likewise delivered earlier today, the president of the US bishops, Chicago's Cardinal Francis George OMI, assured Kebreau that "the church in the United States stands with you."

"We recall that Jesus too wept at the tomb of one whom he loved," George added. "With you, we recall in trust that He is the resurrection and the life, offering Himself to us and calling is to Himself even in our darkest hour."

PHOTO: Getty


For Comm. Day, the Pope Says "Blog"

Earlier today, the Holy See released B16's annual message for World Communications Day, this year's dedicated to the pastoral ministry of the priest online in this Year for Priests.

Though WCD is observed each Seventh Sunday of Easter -- now Ascension Sunday in much of the global church -- the message is traditionally released for 24 January, the feast of St Francis de Sales, patron of writers, journalists... and, indeed, the hearing impaired.

Here below, the pontiff's message in full:

On a related note, the Vatican additionally observed print media's patronal feast by kicking off a Twitter feed.

Behind the scenes here, meanwhile, folks frequently ask the meaning behind a word often seen on these pages: SVILUPPO.

And, well, here's your answer: in a literal sense, that's the Italian word for "development" -- so on a practical level, it's just a more streamlined way of noting corrections, additions, etc.

That said, it has a sentimental meaning, too -- it's an evocation of Lo Rapido Sviluppo: "The Rapid Development," a 2005 Apostolic Letter to those responsible for communications released apart from that year's WCD message.

That first Sviluppo called the church to "towards a sort of pastoral and cultural revision, so as to deal adequately with the times in which we live." And appropriately enough, it was the final major document released under the signature of the "pontifex massmediaticus," John Paul II.

So, hopefully that answers the question.

SVILUPPO: Has the Vatican Twitter feed been hijacked?


Friday, January 22, 2010

First off, gang, Happy Friday to one and all -- hope you've got a treat of a weekend in store.

As some have asked, barring anything that upends the shop over the course of the day, the livefeed will be returning sometime around Happy Hour, so feel free to send whatever questions, stories, feedback, etc. you might have.

Long hours in the office last night... so for now, scribe needs a nap. In the meanwhile, thanks for reading, hope you're enjoying and, as always, stay tuned.

(OK, there's your window to the world... as some of the Eastern folks groused about going live after close of business, we've adapted. Thanks for the q's and comments so far -- keep 'em comin'.)


Pro-Life... Pro-Active

As always, this 22 January is a national day of Prayer and Penance in the Stateside church to observe the 37th anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion on these shores.

Sure, it might never be far from center stage of late given recent months' battle over health-care reform, but the pro-life movement's traditional moment in the ecclesial sun ensues over these days; last night saw the usual throng of some 18-20,000 fill every open inch of Washington's Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for the annual Vigil Mass for Life, led by some six cardinals, 150 bishops and enough priests to fill an hourlong processional... then around 2,000 visitors camp out at CUA for the night before another 20,000 fill the capital's Verizon Center for the DC archdiocese's Mass and Youth Rally, the tickets for which were snapped up in 45 minutes; this year's event will have "satellite" sites due to the high demand, all while other diocesan groups in attendance hold scores of individual liturgies across the city.

All, of course, are preludes to the afternoon's March for Life, an all-faith gathering which draws an invariable throng of some 150,000, long making it Washington's largest annual demonstration.

CatholicTV will be streaming the Verizon Center Mass at 11am ET (1600GMT)... and, well, here's hoping someone from EWTN (which ran last night's liturgy) can rustle up on-demand video of the Vigil -- at least, the homily.

While the USCCB's freshly-installed pro-life chair, Cardinal Dan DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, had a prepared text for his first "State of the Movement" address (as the Eve's preach has become over the years), the draft ended up getting upended as the extemp-friendly prelate delivered some of his strongest passages off-the-cuff, preserving his usual pop in the process.

For now, suffice it to say this: the core of DiNardo's message laid out the three core qualities of genuine pro-life witness -- joy, caritas, and dependence on Christ... and just in case the full treatment doesn't materialize (or even if it does), one sister's call for the church to not just be "pro-life," but "pro-active" is well worth a read, to boot.

PHOTO: Nancy Wiechec/CNS


Thursday, January 21, 2010


Late this afternoon, the New York chancery made the following announcement:
Archbishop Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York and Chairman of the Board of Catholic Relief Services, will attend the funeral Mass for Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot, Archbishop of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, who was killed in last week’s catastrophic earthquake. The funeral will be held on Saturday, January 23, 2010 in the plaza in front of the demolished Cathedral.

Because he is the Chairman of CRS, the Archbishop was asked to attend the funeral by the Papal Ambassador to Haiti, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, and the surviving bishops of Haiti. While in Haiti, the Archbishop will also take the opportunity to offer support to CRS workers already working in Haiti and assess the progress of relief efforts being undertaken by CRS so as to help determine how the Church in the United States can best respond. He is scheduled to return to New York sometime late in the evening of Sunday, January 24.

Catholic Relief Services has over 300 employees working in Haiti year-round, many of whom lost loved ones in the earthquake. Additional staff and support have been assigned to Haiti in light of the tremendous need that exists at this time. CRS has been present and working with the people of Haiti since 1954.

Archbishop Dolan will be travelling to Haiti via private jet, which is being donated by a generous benefactor. Accompanying him will be Ken Hackett, President of CRS, and Monsignor David Malloy, General Secretary of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. CRS is the official over-seas aid agency of the USCCB. They will also be bringing some supplies with them on their visit.
Having compared the quake-ravaged country to "the broken, bloodied body of Jesus" in the immediate aftermath of last week's first tremor, Dolan's shown above following the first of two Masses he's celebrated this week for Gotham's Haitian community -- with 400,000 members, the diaspora's largest hub.



In Corpus, an Appreciation

It's a tough truth, but let's face it: the last decade hasn't always been the kindest to the American bishops when it comes to press coverage.

Of course, how much of that reflects bias vs. fair critique is a matter for vigorous debate. Still, though, it's a reality of these days that the widespread disappearance or downgrading of the religion beat in local media (part of the wider hemorrhage of personnel and resources taken by outlets nationwide) mixed with the innate appetite for controversy has largely made for a scenario where, in the public square, no news is good news... even if there's a lot of good news to be had -- if only the mastheads had enough folks to cover it.

All that said, as he heads into retirement following Monday's appointment of his successor, the editorial board of Corpus Christi's paper of record took the time to pay warm tribute to Bishop Edmond Carmody, who's led the South Texas diocese of 400,000 since 2000... and along the way, became so beloved that the local minor-league baseball team had 2,500 Carmody bobbleheads made as a game-day promotion.

Born in Ireland, the 76 year-old prelate was ordained a priest for the archdiocese of San Antonio in 1957 and an auxiliary there in 1988. Before heading south, Carmody laid the foundations for one of American Catholicism's more heart-warming success stories in vocations and diocesan life, leading East Texas' Tyler church from 1992-2000.

Here, snips from today's editorial in the Caller-Times:
The retirement of Edmond Carmody as the bishop of the Diocese of Corpus Christi is a loss for the city and region. And that loss is not just because he is stepping down as spiritual leader of the Catholic community of South Texas.

During his 10 years as bishop, Carmody made himself a unifying point in the community. With a disarming smile, a kind word, the ready humor of his native Ireland and a demeanor worthy of the image of the biblical shepherd, Carmody has become one of the few people in a sometimes fractured community who are above everyday division and who ask that we act upon our better natures on behalf of our fellow citizens. Maybe that’s why he so often has been called to participate in community efforts, even when those activities might be considered outside the scope of his duties as bishop.

Imagine the surprised faces of some city families when they found Bishop Carmody on their doorsteps asking why their child had dropped out of school and what could be done to persuade the missing student to go back. Carmody was among the scores of volunteers who in 2008 walked the neighborhoods in an effort by the Corpus Christi Independent School District to call on families in hopes of retrieving dropouts. Many city, school and county leaders also participated, but there was only one Catholic bishop going onto porches, ringing doorbells and knocking on doors.

That dropout effort underscored one of Carmody’s three main community priorities: education, diabetes awareness and homelessness. His focus on education is why he lent so much of his personal attention, his name and his time to the establishment of John Paul II High School. Carmody was the prime force behind the creation of the school, which opened in 2004 in what had been a vacant diocesan building on Saratoga Boulevard.

But it ought not be forgotten, especially by non-Catholics, that more than a dozen parochial elementary schools, three middle schools and another high school lie within the diocese, most of them directly under Carmody’s supervision. All of which underscores the fact that Carmody has been the CEO of a large organization with many moving and far-flung parts. The diocese includes 68 parishes and 32 missions in 12 South Texas counties. Running such a large outfit takes more than a sweet disposition.

Some of those steelier qualities were on display when, to raise money for diabetes awareness, Carmody, 76, would regularly deliver a good-natured thrashing on the racquetball court to a much younger challenger. Getting beat in racquetball by the bishop has become something of a badge of honor. But for all the lightheartedness of the game, it was played for a serious cause. Some 40,000 residents of Nueces County alone suffer from diabetes.

Good shepherd that he is, Carmody never let Corpus Christi forget the unfortunate, especially the homeless. During his tenure, the Mother Teresa Day Shelter opened in 2003, providing a place for thousands of the homeless in Corpus Christi. He also devoted much energy to Catholic Social Services, whose programs have doubled here.

Caring for the homeless, providing for the sick and inspiring the young might all be considered the job description of a spiritual leader. But Carmody, who plans to stay in Corpus Christi after his retirement in March, has carried out his job on a high-profile stage. Through his presence at so many venues and activities and by identifying himself with key community issues like diabetes and education, Carmody sent the clear message that he cared, and by extension, that the Catholic Church cared.

His successor, Bishop-elect W. Michael Mulvey, has the proverbial big shoes to fill. Yet he will start with a big advantage: the good will and good name for the office of bishop sown by Carmody over his 10 years on the job.
Sure, that doesn't sound like a conciliar text... but when it comes to capturing an example of the modern episcopate at its most effective and exemplary, you'd be hard pressed to find a better read.


A Woman's Place: Atop the Curia

Over the summer of 2007, B16's second-in-command pledged a Roman Curia with more women in senior posts.

It took this long, but finally, they made a start earlier today.

With Cardinal Peter Turkson freshly arrived in Rome to take up his work as president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, this morning the Pope named Dr Flaminia Giovanelli, a longtime staffer at the dicastery, as its undersecretary, the third-ranking post.

As CNS notes, the slot had been open since April 2006, when then-Msgr Frank Dewane was sent back to the States as coadjutor of Venice in Florida. (A Wisconsin native, Dewane became head of the Gulf Coast diocese in early 2007.)

An expert on "the politics of development and work" who's held advisory posts at a host of global bodies, the new undersecretary, 61, becomes one of just three non-ordained officials to hold "superior" rank in the current Curia: the other two are Sr Enrica Rosanna, who broke the glass ceiling of the top-level offices when John Paul II named her undersecretary of the "Congregation for Religious" in 2004, and Dr Angelo Scelzo, the longtime #3 at the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, who's held his post since 2000. An Australian laywoman, Rosemary Goldie, first broke the barrier, serving as undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for the Laity from 1966-76.

(It likewise bears noting that the head of the Holy See's Internet Office is an American-born religious, Long Island native Franciscan Sister of the Eucharist Judith Zoebelein.)

The nod adds to a lead lineup at Iustitia et Pax that was already worth watching; alongside Turkson -- the much-touted African papabile of the moment, who was named to head it in October, B16 tapped one of his lead advisers in the drafting of his social encyclical, now Bishop Mario Toso SDB, as its #2 in the late fall. (Significantly, Toso is a Salesian confrere of Benedict's all-powerful Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.)

As other Curial chairs go, reportedly tipped for the spring is the moment's most awaited shift: Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re's retirement from the helm of the Congregation for Bishops. Head of the "Thursday Table" that votes to recommend episcopal appointees to the pontiff since 2000, Re turns 76 at month's end.

Several other dicastery chiefs are likewise past the retirement age: Christian Unity czar Cardinal Walter Kasper turns 77 in March, and the lead overseer of Religious Cardinal Franc Rodé CM turned 75 last fall, as did Cardinals Claudio Hummes (Clergy), Paul Josef Cordes (Cor Unum), and Giovanni Lajolo (Governor of the Vatican City-State).

Oh, and Bertone turned 75 in early December, too... but the lack of chatter surrounding the milestone just served to reinforce the conventional wisdom -- that is, he ain't going anywhere, at least not anytime soon.

Speaking of matters Curial, Saturday will see the Vatican's traditional observance of the feast of St Francis deSales -- the patron of writers and journalists (and, indeed, of the deaf, too) -- and, with it, the annual release of the papal message for the church's World Communications Day, this year's dedicated to the pastoral ministry of priests "in a digital world."

PHOTO: Getty


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Return of the Irish... Again

Two months after the Murphy Report recounted a culture of staggering abuse and cover-up in the Dublin archdiocese in open view, and five weeks since Pope Benedict said he shared the "outrage, betrayal and shame" of the Irish people at the state inquiry's revelations, word's emerged that the Pope has called a second summit on the crisis' fallout, this time bringing together all of the Isle's 30 bishops:
The Irish Catholic has learned that the key meetings will take place on Monday and Tuesday, February 15 and 16, and it is believed, similar to the Pope's meeting with Cardinal Seán Brady and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin on December 11, that several senior Vatican officials will also be in attendance, according to Vatican sources.

The Pope's initiative will allow bishops who have concerns to voice their opinion directly to him.

After the Pope has listened to the bishops, he will then respond.

The initiative the confusion and uproar that has ensued from the publication of the Murphy Report and the divisions which have arisen among some clergy and laity over the resignations of auxiliary bishops, and a sense among others that there was a cover-up and the resignations were necessary.

It is believed that the Vatican is keen to address the public disunity that has emerged among members of the hierarchy, with a number of bishops disagreeing with each other over the fallout from the scandals.

By the end of the meetings, it is expected that concrete proposals will have emerged and the Pope will offer his conclusions.

Each bishop will then return to his diocese for the Ash Wednesday liturgies on February 17 where he will address the faithful on the way forward.
While four current or former Dublin auxiliaries have offered their resignations under massive public pressure since the report's late November release, only one prelate's walking papers have been accepted by Rome.

As word emerged of the unprecedented February session, one of the Isle's most prominent survivors announced that he had formally left the church.

The first victim of clergy sex-abuse to go public with a legal settlement from an Irish diocese, in an emotional letter announcing his decision, Andrew Madden said he had come to the conclusion that the church "will [n]ever change its ways or learn from what it has done."

By the time of next month's meeting, the Pope's promised pastoral letter to Ireland is understood to be released.

According to leaks floated in the Irish press, the text's recent drafts appear to "not be overly concerned with the current administrative, bureaucratic and organisational problems of the Irish church," but instead seem poised "to offer encouragement to the faithful, reminding them of the crucial role of the early Irish church in the spread of Christianity."

PHOTO: Reuters


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

"So Help Me God"

Before heading an hour south to take office as New Jersey's 55th chief executive, Gov.-elect Chris Christie began his Inauguration Day with an early-morning Mass at the Garden State's mother church -- Newark's Cathedral-Basilica of the Sacred Heart -- celebrated by the state's metropolitan, Archbishop John Myers.

From North Jersey's Star-Ledger, the early line:
The official inauguration ceremony is in Trenton, but Newark, the state's largest city, is playing the starring role. In addition to Mass, [Christie's] day ends with a reception at the Prudential Center. The holy ceremony opens a day of inaugural festivities that will bring the state's first Republican governor in eight years to office.

Government officials and dignitaries, such as former New Jersey governors, the New Jersey Congressional delegation, members of the State Senate and State Assembly and New Jersey Supreme Court, filled the pews of the church. Business leaders such as Donald Trump were seen walking up the aisle for communion....
Christie's oldest son, Andrew, 16, read a passage from the Book of Kings during service. In his homily, Archbishop Myers delved into the history of the Cathedral and the history of New Jersey.

"My brothers and sisters, look around you, and you will see the most beautiful, the most magnificent, building in the City of Newark," Myers said to the packed Cathedral. "It sits on the highest hill in New Jersey's largest city."

Myers brought the congregation through the history of the state from the Native American Lenape tribe, to the state's role in the revolution, before drawing on the wisdom of Solomon to counsel the incoming governor.

"History tells us that all was not perfect under the reign of Solomon," he said. "But that during the times that Solomon was faithful, the kingdom prospered."

Christie, a practicing Catholic, has promised to pursue an agenda largely in keeping with church doctrine, including opposition to abortion and gay marriage.
"We pray you will be blessed with wisdom, even more we pray you will be blessed with the wisdom of Solomon -- you will need it," Myers said....

The mass ended at about 9:30 a.m., with a chorus of "America the Beautiful" roaring through the church.
For the first time, the nation's most densely-populated state will be swearing in a lieutenant governor at today's civic rites in Trenton's War Memorial. Yet while Christie ran on a pro-life pledge, his running mate, Kim Guadagno, declared her support for abortion rights.

Previously the sheriff of GOP-heavy Monmouth County, Guadagno received the Eucharist at this morning's liturgy.

He might've been born in Newark -- and made his name as a corruption-busting US Attorney in the city -- but the incoming guv's Mendham home lies just outside the archdiocese's western line.

With 1.3 million members, the Newark church might be US Catholicism's tenth largest diocese by population, yet its 511 square miles likewise make it the nation's second smallest local church by area. (The smallest of 'em all -- the 179 square-mile Brooklyn church -- is the seventh-largest by population, with 1.8 million Catholics.)

Catholic Republicans swept the two governor's chairs up for grabs at last November's elections -- the other winner, Virginia's Bob McDonnell, was sworn in on Saturday in Richmond.

That said, while Christie's inaugural reflected his Catholic side, the Southerner's office-taking had a more Evangelical feel to it. McDonnell might've earned his bachelor's from Notre Dame, but his more prominent alma mater's been Virginia Beach's Regent University, the presence of whose founder, the ever-controversial Pat Robertson, made for the most prominent religious turn at the weekend ceremonies.

PHOTOS: John O'Boyle/The Star-Ledger


Monday, January 18, 2010

Transfer in Texas

Mornin', folks... the year's first appointment has dropped: the Pope has named Msgr Michael Mulvey, currently administrator of the vacant diocese of Austin, as bishop of Corpus Christi.

At the helm of the border diocese of 400,000, the 60 year-old pick -- a leader of the Focolare movement on these shores -- succeeds Bishop Edmond Carmody, who reached the retirement age of 75 a year ago last week.

Well-known and highly-regarded across the Lone Star State, the second of the "Texas triangle" of vacancies goes to a cleric who's become something of a hot ticket on the church scene of late. Having served since 2004 as a top aide to then-Bishop Gregory Aymond (whose promotion to New Orleans last June triggered the Austin opening), Mulvey had been named vice-rector of St Mary's Seminary in his native Houston last spring, but returned home on his election to temporarily oversee the 450,000-member church in Texas' capital all of three weeks after taking up the seminary post.

Yet another member of the group of 359 priests ordained by Pope Paul VI on 29 June 1975 to get a high-hat, the bishop-elect served as pastor of three parishes, but also spent four years out of the booming central Texas diocese on Focolare work, first co-directing its school of formation for diocesan priests in Florence from 1997-99, then running the movement's Spirituality Center in New York from 1999-2001.

The first Corpus pick named to the diocese without prior episcopal experience since 1921, Mulvey will be ordained and installed on Annunciation Day, 25 March. According to the Austin church, he will remain administrator there "until a new bishop is appointed"....

Complete the sentence.

With today's nod, the number of US sees led by an ordinary over 75 falls to a recent low of four, with another six vacant.

Likewise this morning, the pontiff made official what had been reported for some days, appointing Bishop Andre Mutien Leonard as archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels in succession to the retiring Cardinal Godfried Danneels.

SVILUPPO: Fullvideo of Mulvey's Announcement Day presser is up and streaming.

PHOTO: Diocese of Austin


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Into the Temple

The beginning of the Vatican release was notable: "This afternoon, 17 January 2010 -- 2 Shevat 5770, Pope Benedict XVI will make a visit to the Jewish Community of Rome."

Greeted by Chief Rabbi Riccardo de Segni, the pontiff arrived at the city's Grand Synagogue just before 5pm local time (11am Eastern), and an hour later, is just completing his address, the fulltext of which will post as soon as it emerges.

In the meanwhile, Reuters' Phil Pulella reports from on-site that it didn't take long for the moment's prime flashpoint of Catholic-Jewish relations to come to the fore:
An Italian Jewish leader told Pope Benedict Sunday that his wartime predecessor Pius XII should have spoken out more forcefully against the Holocaust to show solidarity with Jews being led to the "ovens of Auschwitz."

The comments, from the president of Rome's Jewish community Riccardo Pacifici, were made during the pope's first visit to Rome's synagogue and were some of the bluntest ever spoken by a Jewish leader in public to a pope.

"The silence of Pius XII before the Shoah, still hurts because something should have been done," Pacifici told the pope, using the Hebrew word for the Holocaust.

"Maybe it would not have stopped the death trains, but it would have sent a signal, a word of extreme comfort, of human solidarity, toward those brothers of ours transported to the ovens of Auschwitz," he said.
Prior to departing the Vatican for the much-awaited visit, Benedict said at his noontime Angelus that "despite the problems and difficulties, between the followers of the two Religions breathes a climate of great respect and of dialogue, a testimony to how much relations have matured and the common charge of affirming that which unites us: faith in the one God, above all, but also the protection of life and the family, our aspiration to social justice and to peace."

More as it comes in.

SVILUPPO: Here below, the pontiff's fulltext in the Temple, in an "unofficial" English translation released by the Holy See Press Office:
"What marvels the Lord worked for them!
What marvels the Lord worked for us:
Indeed we were glad" (Ps 126)

"How good and how pleasant it is
when brothers live in unity" (Ps 133)
Dear Chief Rabbi of the Jewish Community of Rome,
President of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities,
President of the Jewish Community of Rome,
Distinguished Authorities,
Friends, Brothers and Sisters,

1. At the beginning of this encounter in the Great Synagogue of the Jews of Rome, the Psalms which we have heard suggest to us the right spiritual attitude in which to experience this particular and happy moment of grace: the praise of the Lord, who has worked marvels for us and has gathered us in his Hèsed, his merciful love, and thanksgiving to him for granting us this opportunity to come together to strengthen the bonds which unite us and to continue to travel together along the path of reconciliation and fraternity. I wish to express first of all my sincere gratitude to you, Chief Rabbi, Doctor Riccardo Di Segni, for your invitation and for the thoughtful words which you have addressed to me. I wish to thank also the President of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, Mr Renzo Gattegna, and the President of the Jewish Community of Rome, Mr Riccardo Pacifici, for their courteous greetings. My thoughts go to the Authorities and to all present, and they extend in a special way, to the entire Jewish Community of Rome and to all who have worked to bring about this moment of encounter and friendship which we now share.

When he came among you for the first time, as a Christian and as Pope, my Venerable Predecessor John Paul II, almost 24 years ago, wanted to make a decisive contribution to strengthening the good relations between our two communities, so as to overcome every misconception and prejudice. My visit forms a part of the journey already begun, to confirm and deepen it. With sentiments of heartfelt appreciation, I come among you to express to you the esteem and the affection which the Bishop and the Church of Rome, as well as the entire Catholic Church, have towards this Community and all Jewish communities around the world.

2. The teaching of the Second Vatican Council has represented for Catholics a clear landmark to which constant reference is made in our attitude and our relations with the Jewish people, marking a new and significant stage. The Council gave a strong impetus to our irrevocable commitment to pursue the path of dialogue, fraternity and friendship, a journey which has been deepened and developed in the last forty years, through important steps and significant gestures. Among them, I should mention once again the historic visit by my Venerable Predecessor to this Synagogue on 13 April 1986, the numerous meetings he had with Jewish representatives, both here in Rome and during his Apostolic Visits throughout the world, the Jubilee Pilgrimage which he made to the Holy Land in the year 2000, the various documents of the Holy See which, following the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration Nostra Aetate, have made helpful contributions to the increasingly close relations between Catholics and Jews. I too, in the course of my Pontificate, have wanted to demonstrate my closeness to and my affection for the people of the Covenant. I cherish in my heart each moment of the pilgrimage that I had the joy of making to the Holy Land in May of last year, along with the memories of numerous meetings with Jewish Communities and Organizations, in particular my visits to the Synagogues of Cologne and New York.

Furthermore, the Church has not failed to deplore the failings of her sons and daughters, begging forgiveness for all that could in any way have contributed to the scourge of anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism (cf. Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah, 16 March 1998). May these wounds be healed forever! The heartfelt prayer which Pope John Paul II offered at the Western Wall on 26 March 2000 comes back to my mind, and it calls forth a profound echo in our hearts: "God of our Fathers, you chose Abraham and his descendants to bring your Name to the nations: we are deeply saddened by the behaviour of those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to suffer, and asking your forgiveness we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant."

3. The passage of time allows us to recognize in the Twentieth Century a truly tragic period for humanity: ferocious wars that sowed destruction, death and suffering like never before; frightening ideologies, rooted in the idolatry of man, of race, and of the State, which led to brother killing brother. The singular and deeply disturbing drama of the Shoah represents, as it were, the most extreme point on the path of hatred that begins when man forgets his Creator and places himself at the centre of the universe. As I noted during my visit of 28 May 2006 to the Auschwitz Concentration camp, which is still profoundly impressed upon my memory, "the rulers of the Third Reich wanted to crush the entire Jewish people", and, essentially, "by wiping out this people, they intended to kill the God who called Abraham, who spoke on Sinai and laid down principles to serve as a guide for mankind, principles that remain eternally valid" (Discourse at Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp: The Teachings of Pope Benedict XVI, II, 1 [2006], p.727).

Here in this place, how could we not remember the Roman Jews who were snatched from their homes, before these very walls, and who with tremendous brutality were killed at Auschwitz? How could one ever forget their faces, their names, their tears, the desperation faced by these men, women and children? The extermination of the people of the Covenant of Moses, at first announced, then systematically programmed and put into practice in Europe under the Nazi regime, on that day tragically reached as far as Rome. Unfortunately, many remained indifferent, but many, including Italian Catholics, sustained by their faith and by Christian teaching, reacted with courage, often at risk of their lives, opening their arms to assist the Jewish fugitives who were being hunted down, and earning perennial gratitude. The Apostolic See itself provided assistance, often in a hidden and discreet way.

The memory of these events compels us to strengthen the bonds that unite us so that our mutual understanding, respect and acceptance may always increase.

4. Our closeness and spiritual fraternity find in the Holy Bible - in Hebrew Sifre Qodesh or "Book of Holiness" – their most stable and lasting foundation, which constantly reminds us of our common roots, our history and the rich spiritual patrimony that we share. It is in pondering her own mystery that the Church, the People of God of the New Covenant, discovers her own profound bond with the Jews, who were chosen by the Lord before all others to receive his word (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 839). "The Jewish faith, unlike other non-Christian religions, is already a response to God’s revelation in the Old Covenant. To the Jews ‘belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs and of their race, according to the flesh is the Christ’ (Rom 9:4-5), ‘for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable!’ (Rom 11:29)" (Ibid).

5. Many lessons may be learnt from our common heritage derived from the Law and the Prophets. I would like to recall some of them: first of all, the solidarity which binds the Church to the Jewish people "at the level of their spiritual identity", which offers Christians the opportunity to promote "a renewed respect for the Jewish interpretation of the Old Testament" (cf. Pontifical Biblical Commission, The Jewish people and their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible, 2001, pp.12 and 55); the centrality of the Decalogue as a common ethical message of permanent value for Israel, for the Church, for non-believers and for all of humanity; the task of preparing or ushering in the Kingdom of the Most High in the "care for creation" entrusted by God to man for him to cultivate and to care for responsibly (cf. Gen 2:15).

6. In particular, the Decalogue – the "Ten Words" or Ten Commandments (cf. Ex 20:1-17; Dt 5:1-21) – which comes from the Torah of Moses, is a shining light for ethical principles, hope and dialogue, a guiding star of faith and morals for the people of God, and it also enlightens and guides the path of Christians. It constitutes a beacon and a norm of life in justice and love, a "great ethical code" for all humanity. The "Ten Commandments" shed light on good and evil, on truth and falsehood, on justice and injustice, and they match the criteria of every human person’s right conscience. Jesus himself recalled this frequently, underlining the need for active commitment in living the way of the Commandments: "If you wish to enter into life, observe the Commandments" (Mt 19:17). From this perspective, there are several possible areas of cooperation and witness. I would like to recall three that are especially important for our time.

The "Ten Commandments" require that we recognize the one Lord, against the temptation to construct other idols, to make golden calves. In our world there are many who do not know God or who consider him superfluous, without relevance for their lives; hence, other new gods have been fabricated to whom man bows down. Reawakening in our society openness to the transcendent dimension, witnessing to the one God, is a precious service which Jews and Christians can offer together.

The "Ten Commandments" call us to respect life and to protect it against every injustice and abuse, recognizing the worth of each human person, created in the image and likeness of God. How often, in every part of the world, near and far, the dignity, the freedom and the rights of human beings are trampled upon! Bearing witness together to the supreme value of life against all selfishness, is an important contribution to a new world where justice and peace reign, a world marked by that "shalom" which the lawgivers, the prophets and the sages of Israel longed to see.

The "Ten Commandments" call us to preserve and to promote the sanctity of the family, in which the personal and reciprocal, faithful and definitive "Yes" of man and woman makes room for the future, for the authentic humanity of each, and makes them open, at the same time, to the gift of new life. To witness that the family continues to be the essential cell of society and the basic environment in which human virtues are learned and practised is a precious service offered in the construction of a world with a more human face.

7. As Moses taught in the Shema (cf. Dt 6:5; Lev 19:34) – and as Jesus reaffirms in the Gospel (cf. Mk 12:19-31), all of the Commandments are summed up in the love of God and loving-kindness towards one’s neighbour. This Rule urges Jews and Christians to exercise, in our time, a special generosity towards the poor, towards women and children, strangers, the sick, the weak and the needy. In the Jewish tradition there is a wonderful saying of the Fathers of Israel: "Simon the Just often said: The world is founded on three things: the Torah, worship, and acts of mercy" (Avoth 1:2). In exercising justice and mercy, Jews and Christians are called to announce and to bear witness to the coming Kingdom of the Most High, for which we pray and work in hope each day.

8. On this path we can walk together, aware of the differences that exist between us, but also aware of the fact that when we succeed in uniting our hearts and our hands in response to the Lord’s call, his light comes closer and shines on all the peoples of the world. The progress made in the last forty years by the International Committee for Catholic-Jewish Relations and, in more recent years, by the Mixed Commission of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and of the Holy See, are a sign of our common will to continue an open and sincere dialogue. Tomorrow here in Rome, in fact, the Mixed Commission will hold its ninth meeting, on "Catholic and Jewish Teaching on Creation and the Environment"; we wish them a profitable dialogue on such a timely and important theme.

9. Christians and Jews share to a great extent a common spiritual patrimony, they pray to the same Lord, they have the same roots, and yet they often remain unknown to each other. It is our duty, in response to God’s call, to strive to keep open the space for dialogue, for reciprocal respect, for growth in friendship, for a common witness in the face of the challenges of our time, which invite us to cooperate for the good of humanity in this world created by God, the Omnipotent and Merciful.

10. Finally, I offer a particular reflection on this, our city of Rome, where, for nearly two millennia, as Pope John Paul II said, the Catholic Community with its Bishop and the Jewish Community with its Chief Rabbi have lived side by side. May this proximity be animated by a growing fraternal love, expressed also in closer cooperation, so that we may offer a valid contribution to solving the problems and difficulties that we still face.

I beg from the Lord the precious gift of peace in the world, above all in the Holy Land. During my pilgrimage there last May, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, I prayed to Him who can do all things, asking: "Send your peace upon this Holy Land, upon the Middle East, upon the entire human family; stir the hearts of those who call upon your name, to walk humbly in the path of justice and compassion" (Prayer at the Western Wall of Jerusalem, 12 May 2009).

I give thanks and praise to God once again for this encounter, asking him to strengthen our fraternal bonds and to deepen our mutual understanding.
"O praise the Lord, all you nations,
acclaim him, all you peoples.
Strong is his love for us,
He is faithful forever.
Alleluia" (Ps 117)
Today's visit coincided with both the Italian bishops' day for Catholic-Jewish dialogue and the anniversary of a sudden 1793 rainfall, regarded by Rome's Jews as miraculous, that allowed the community to "escape an attack by the populace of the city."

PHOTO: Reuters