Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Prayer for "The Patriarch"

Before heading back into the "inferno," as many have cabled in over these weeks on the topic, a brief note on another recent local development that's made for considerable ripples of concern and sadness in parts afield.

As most are likely aware by now, one of the global church's most beloved figures -- this town's own John Cardinal Foley, the longtime Vatican hand and "patron saint" of the Catholic press best known for his 26 years as Rome's "Voice of Christmas" -- returned home last month... only this time, for good.

In a private audience in early February, the 75 year-old Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre submitted his resignation to Pope Benedict six months after being diagnosed with "an incurable type of leukemia," compounded by an aggressive anemia that saw him develop blood clots every time he would fly.

Despite keeping an intense schedule in his second Vatican post, the cardinal never completely rebounded from a 2005 surgery to remove a kidney tumor, which was performed at Rome's Gemelli Polyclinic, the "Pope's hospital."

While Foley sought to remain at the helm of the thousand year-old order long enough to complete a months-long round of travel commitments to its members, the blood cancer's increasing onset compelled him to take his leave early. Given the walking distances that would be required in the Faculty Wing of St Charles Borromeo Seminary -- where he kept his local base since leaving for Rome in 1984 -- the cardinal's taken up residence at Villa St Joseph in suburban Darby, a mile from where he grew up, and right next to the hospital where he was born.

As of last hearing, though, some of the Delco utilities were acting more Italian than American; Foley was still waiting for his internet to get hooked up.

* * *
Ever the kind colleague, dedicated pastor and faithful friend, "His Foleyness" called in shortly after his return for a conversation that touched on multiple things, replete with the Foleyisms that much of the church's orbit have come to know and cherish over the years. Attempts to craft a fitting piece have been in the works ever since, but in light of a 200-year crisis with frequent new outbreaks and a spreading impact, it's repeatedly had to be sidelined.

All apologies for that -- as ever, there's only so much energy to go around in the shop.

That said, one aspect is worth sharing at the outset. Having famously chided the Vatican press corps in years past for its use of anonymous sources -- a criticism only he could make without getting howled out of Rome -- the Columbia journalism grad had a touch of the impish in his voice as he apologized that other outlets had gotten news of his departure first.

On being told that, in fact, word of his move was first floated on Twitter minutes after he emerged from B16's study, Foley couldn't help but laugh.

"Well," he said, "when I make it to heaven, I look forward to finally learning who your sources are."

Clearly, his spirits are holding up. Asked how he was doing, though, all the famous voice could say was, "I'm weak."

And knowing the man's drive, discipline, and -- in whatever he's been asked to do -- his incomparable zeal to serve, the admission on its own was shattering enough, both to hear... and, so it felt, for him to face.

Lest we needed any reminding, these weeks in this town have revealed the worst of us. And that alone is brutal enough... that alone is enough to bruise and try one's soul. Given the scene, though, particularly now, it'd be all the more painful to likewise lose our best -- this city's most revered and cherished ecclesial figure, beyond doubt... but what's more, the standout son and brother whose example of humility, generosity, fidelity and support has inspired more pride and strength in the ranks here than any other.

Sure, from the days when John Krol bestrode the earth, the local crowd's had its distinctive moniker for the Ordinary. For Foley, however, a whole new designation had to be invented, one that'll likely ever be his alone.

Indeed, as they say, he is our "Patriarch." And from the newsroom, to the classroom, to the Upper Room, everywhere he's gone over 49 years of priesthood, his spirit of fatherhood has brought about life.

Yet especially in these days, that sense of life is needed most among his own.

This is all a long way of asking this readership to keep the cardinal's strength and well-being high in its prayers -- above all for him... but just as much, for all of us.

* * *
Late last week, a formal announcement of the cardinal's retirement was communicated to his Knights and Ladies -- who recently established new lieutenancies in, among other spots, Russia and South Africa, the latter being the first Holy Sepulchre group on the African continent.

The official text unable to hide its author's vintage flashes of personality, here below is Foley's message:

Your Excellencies:
On Thursday, February 10, 2011, I was granted a private audience with our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, to submit my resignation, for reasons of health, as Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.

I informed the Holy Father that, due to the advance of an incurable type of leukemia, along with other illnesses, I was unable to fulfill the duties of my office and that I did not wish to be a burden to our wonderful Order.

I told our Holy Father how grateful I was to him for my appointment as Grand Master, because my experience was like an extended spiritual retreat before entering the final phase of my life in preparation for eternal life with our risen Lord.

I told him also what a pleasure it has been to work with our Knights and Ladies around the world and how edified I have been by your love for the Holy Land, by your own spiritual development and by your ever increasing generosity to our brothers and sisters in Christ in that land truly made holy by the presence of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. When he heard of your great generosity and of the expansion of our Order into new lands, he asked me to express his gratitude to all of you to whom he sends his Apostolic Blessing.

Before the appointment of a new Grand Master, our Assessor, Archbishop Giuseppe De Andrea, will, with our Governor General Agostino Borromeo, carry on the daily work of our Order. I am sure that you will extend to them the magnificent cooperation you have shown to me over these last four years; those years have been all too brief -- but precious to me, and I ask that you continue to remember me in prayer as I pray for you every day.

May God continue to bless you, your loved ones and our dear Holy Land with His love and grace!
In a separate reflection, Foley told the order that "it has been my great privilege to be [your] admittedly unworthy leader."

While the cardinal's resignation has already taken effect, a public Vatican note on its acceptance by the Pope likely won't be made until his successor is named... and, well, there are some interesting possibilities floating around on that count.

Buona domenica a tutti -- as always, stay tuned.

For those who can't get enough of the Grand Master -- and judging by the mail, that's a lot of this crowd -- Foley's homecoming was likewise the top story in this Sunday's editions of his "hometown" paper, the suburban Delaware County Times.

Suffice it to say, as ever, it's money quotes galore... and just goes to show again -- as the oft-cited student from the now-cardinal's collegiate teaching assignment put it -- why "
we love Mr. Foley" as we do....

"Because he teaches us about Jesus."

And for everything that's changed in this town over the years -- and especially in these last days -- the "Patriarch's" lesson plan is one thing that hasn't.