Friday, January 21, 2011

On Agnes' Day, Send in the Lambs

Earlier today, a longtime Vatican tradition on this feast of the early martyr St Agnes returned again as the Pope blessed the two lambs whose wool will be shorn to make this year's editions of the pallium, which the metropolitan archbishops of the Latin church named over the prior year will receive from B16 on 29 June's feast of Saints Peter and Paul.

The name Agnes deriving from the Latin "agnus" -- "lamb," of course -- the baby sheep now head to the Benedictine convent of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, whose sisters are tasked with the weaving of the two-inch wide band marked with six crosses, which the metropolitans don within their respective provinces as the liturgical symbol of "the fullness of the episcopal office."

Though the Pope's appointment year is just past its halfway point, 2011's Pallium Class already has its share of still-rising figures, particularly from Latin America -- this year's group will include the new archbishops of Guatemala City, Quito, Bogotá, Santiago de Chile and Bahia in Brazil, all customarily cardinalatial sees. From points beyond, likewise among the 25 metropolitans named to date are the pontiff's freshly-tapped picks for Turin, Jakarta, Port-au-Prince, Pretoria, Riga, the Philippines' largest see of Cebu and the de facto Beninese capital of Cotonou, which Benedict is slated to visit in mid-November both to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the West African country's first evangelization, and to pay tribute to his closest friend in the Roman Curia: Cardinal Bernardin Gantin -- the first African ever to serve as dean of the College of Cardinals -- who left Rome to retire to his homeland in 2002 and died in 2008.

Likely to join the group before its convergence at the confessio of St Peter are the successors to the current cardinal-archbishops of Manila, Guadalajara, Seoul, possibly Cologne -- and above all, the next head of Europe's largest and most influential local church: the 5 million-member archdiocese of Milan, where Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi turns 77 in March as Italian reports indicate that the succession stakes for the mega-post have begun in earnest over recent weeks.

For the States, meanwhile, this year's "dance card" is already filled out in full, and historically so.

Though the American contingent of four new archbishops is consistent with the quotas of recent years, in a moment without precedent for the US church, two Hispanic metropolitans from these shores -- Archbishops José Gomez of Los Angeles and Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio -- will receive their pallia together.

With all of four Latino prelates named to lead Stateside provinces over the last century, never have two been tapped in the same year. And with Hispanics soon to comprise a majority among the nation's 68 million faithful, the duo's presence will make for Rome's clearest picture yet of the American Catholic future -- at least, until Gomez receives his red hat sometime around mid-decade.

The US delegation will be rounded out by Peter and Paul... literally: Archbishops Peter Sartain of Seattle and Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, who'll be installed on 11 February.

Speaking of Stateside metropolitans, it bears noting that, having named 19 of these shores' 33 archbishops in less than six years as Pope (no less than 12 of them in just the last 24 months), B16 has, in essence, cleared through the existing domestic docket for the senior posts. Though Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia reached the retirement age of 75 last April, it is widely presumed that he'll remain in post until the most sweeping reorganization the 1.1 million-member River City church has undergone in quite some time -- an extensive review and reboot of parish, school, and chancery configurations alike -- wraps up, seemingly toward the end of 2012.

As future openings go, Archbishop George Niederauer of San Francisco celebrates his 75th in June, with Cardinal Francis George of Chicago and Archbishop John Vlazny of Portland in Oregon marking the milestone early next year.