Saturday, March 31, 2012


Again, to one and all, every gift, grace and good thing you seek this Holy Week.

And as Palm Sunday dawns, back by popular demand, music for this day's Great Entrance, taken from Psalm 147....


Friday, March 30, 2012

From Path of Thorns To "Passing Over," You've Got Holy Week

A Week from this hour, everything falls to silence... and none of us can ever prepare enough.

...and for those seeking the Dolanesque take on what's ahead, as ever, you got it -- in 70 seconds flat:

Speaking of the rites of spring, as previously noted, the neo-Cardinale/USCCB Chief will be throwing out the First Pitch at the Yankees' home opener on Easter Friday in The House That Jeter Built.


This Holy Week, Let Us Love One Another

And so, folks, here we are -- already (or not soon enough), the last Friday of Lent.

Hard to believe, eh?

With Holy Week upon us, may each of you and yours, and those you serve, know all the blessings and richness of these days to come. And in the hope of starting it off right, as our "desert" road turns toward the annual roller-coaster of triumph, betrayal, service, sacrifice, death and glory, we begin again with a recent, but classic reflection on the journey just ahead: the final call of the great and mighty Sister Thea Bowman -- one of the Stateside church's brightest lights and most powerful voices of the last half-century -- given shortly before her death at 52 from bone cancer, 22 years ago today....
Let us resolve to make this week holy by claiming Christ’s redemptive grace and by living holy lives.

The Word became flesh and redeemed us by his holy life and holy death. This week especially, let us accept redemption by living grateful, faithful, prayerful, generous, just and holy lives.

Let us resolve to make this week holy by reading and meditating Holy Scripture.

So often, we get caught up in the hurry of daily living. As individuals and as families, reserve prime time to be with Jesus, to hear the cries of the children waving palm branches, to see the Son of Man riding on an ass' colt, to feel the press of the crowd, to be caught up in the "Hosannas” and to realize how the cries of acclamation will yield to the garden of suffering, to be there and watch as Jesus is sentenced by Pilate to Calvary, to see him rejected, mocked, spat upon, beaten and forced to carry a heavy cross, to hear the echo of the hammer, to feel the agony of the torn flesh and strained muscles, to know Mary’s anguish as he hung three hours before he died.

We recoil before the atrocities of war, gang crime, domestic violence and catastrophic illness. Unless we personally and immediately are touched by suffering, it is easy to read Scripture and to walk away without contacting the redemptive suffering that makes us holy. The reality of the Word falls on deaf ears.

Let us take time this week to be present to someone who suffers. Sharing the pain of a fellow human will enliven Scripture and help us enter into the holy mystery of the redemptive suffering of Christ.

Let us resolve to make this week holy by participating in the Holy Week services of the church, not just by attending, but also by preparing, by studying the readings, entering into the spirit, offering our services as ministers of the Word or Eucharist, decorating the church or preparing the environment for worship.

Let us sing, "Lord, have mercy," and "Hosanna." Let us praise the Lord with our whole heart and soul and mind and strength, uniting with the suffering church throughout the world -- in Rome and Ireland, in Syria and Lebanon, in South Africa and Angola, India and China, Nicaragua and El Salvador, in Washington, D.C., and Jackson, Mississippi.

Let us break bread together; let us relive the holy and redemptive mystery. Let us do it in memory of him, acknowledging in faith his real presence upon our altars.

Let us resolve to make this week holy by sharing holy peace and joy within our families, sharing family prayer on a regular basis, making every meal a holy meal where loving conversations bond family members in unity, sharing family work without grumbling, making love not war, asking forgiveness for past hurts and forgiving one another from the heart, seeking to go all the way for love as Jesus went all the way for love.

Let us resolve to make this week holy by sharing holy peace and joy with the needy, the alienated, the lonely, the sick and afflicted, the untouchable.

Let us unite our sufferings, inconveniences and annoyances with the suffering of Jesus. Let us stretch ourselves, going beyond our comfort zones to unite ourselves with Christ's redemptive work.

We unite ourselves with Christ's redemptive work when we reconcile, when we make peace, when we share the good news that God is in our lives, when we reflect to our brothers and sisters God's healing, God's forgiveness, God's unconditional love.

Let us be practical, reaching out across the boundaries of race and class and status to help somebody, to encourage and affirm somebody, offering to the young an incentive to learn and grow, offering to the downtrodden resources to help themselves.

May our fasting be the kind that saves and shares with the poor, that actually contacts the needy, that gives heart to heart, that touches and nourishes and heals.

During this Holy Week when Jesus gave his life for love, let us truly love one another.
...and in these days ahead, church, may we bring that prayer into being.

Again, to one and all, every gift and grace of The Week. Each in our own way, let us make it holy.


Thursday, March 29, 2012

On "A Spent Ideology" -- For Cuba, Via Miami, "A Transition Worthy of Man"

Much as the last week in Latin America was headlined by B16's visit, on its final leg, no shortage of the splash came courtesy of the cleric one op's dubbed "The Caribbean Pope."

If only the archbishop of Miami brought along his Harley to to ride through Havana, the triumph would've been complete.

For those who know him, what ensued was merely Vintage Tom Wenski. And for those who hadn't known him before this week, while the Universal Pope was meeting with President Raul Castro, footage of the US bishops' de facto policy chief on Island Affairs made the rounds on Tuesday's Stateside evening national newscasts as the 61 year-old prelate celebrated a Mass for Reconciliation in Havana Cathedral, joined by the thousand-some Stateside pilgrims, largely exiles, from South Florida and beyond.

Greeted by applause and tears, most of the group had not returned to Cuba in decades. And as the question of increasing political and religious freedoms in the West's last Communist country hovered over the visit, Miami's Polish-born, Cuban-bred, adopted-Haitian native son had a pointed thing or two to say about the island's future.

Here below, in full, Wenski's homily at the Havana Reconciliation Mass -- which, according to reports from the ground, was followed by a standing ovation from the cathedral crowd.

* * *
We are, like Pope Benedict XVI, pilgrims of charity here in Cuba. We come from Miami and the United States - in our group we have people born here, the children of people born here and people of other national heritages. We are united in one common faith.

As the theme of the jubilee of the 400th anniversary of the discovery and presence of Our Lady of Charity states so well: A Jesus por Maria, la caridad nos une (To Jesus through Mary, charity makes us one). Our presence here today in this historic cathedral is also another witness to this unity that is ours in the Body of Christ which is the Church.

On behalf of all of us, I wish to express our gratitude to His Eminence, Cardinal Ortega, for making it possible for us to celebrate Mass in this the Mother Church of the Archdiocese of Habana. The stones of this cathedral have witnessed over the centuries the unfolding of much of the history of Cuba - with all its lights and shadows. And these stones will witness in years to come the further unfolding of the history of Cuba and its people.

We come here as pilgrims to pray that - as Pope John Paul II said in his visit 14 years ago - that the Cuban people will be the protagonists of that history; and that inspired by the Word of God and the values of the Christian heritage that has shaped Cuban identity for more than 400 years, the Cuban people will build for themselves and their posterity a future of hope.

In the Psalm today we prayed: O Lord, hear my prayer and let my cry come to you. The psalmist prays: "Let this be written for the generations to come and let his future creatures praise the Lord. 'The Lord looked down from his holy height; from the heavens he beheld the earth. To hear the groaning of the prisoners, to release those doomed to die.'"

Those doomed to die, Jesus tells us in the Gospel today, are those who die in their sins because they have refused to recognize him as the "I am" of human history. In yesterday's feast of the Annunciation, when the Word was made flesh, Jesus is revealed both as the human face of God and the divine face of man. As Pope Benedict said yesterday in Santiago:

“God has created us as the fruit of his infinite love; hence, to live in accordance with his will is the way to encounter our genuine identity, the truth of our being, while apart from God we are alienated from ourselves and are hurled into the void. The obedience of faith is true liberty, authentic redemption which allows us to unite ourselves to the Love of Jesus in his determination to conform himself to the will of the Father."

Again as the Pope said yesterday: "...when God is put aside, the world becomes an inhospitable place for man, and frustrates creation's true vocation to be a space for the covenant, for the 'Yes' to the love between God and humanity."

Jesus Christ fulfills the desire of the longing of our hearts that the world may become a home worthy of humanity. For the world to become a home worthy of humanity it cannot close itself to transcendence, it cannot shut itself off to God and to our vocation as men and women to live with God, not only in this present moment but for all eternity.

Ideological materialism, represented in this country and in those countries of what was the Eastern bloc, denied man's transcendence; it denied that that human person was created for more than just to die one day. As the Pope observed on his flight to Mexico, Marxism is a spent ideology. This caused a bit of a furor among the press corps; however, as Archbishop Dionisio Garcia [of Santiago de Cuba] observed, "the Pope's comments about Marxism didn't tell us anything we, in Cuba, didn't already know."

However, as Cuba transitions, the Pope and the Church want a transition that is worthy of the Cubans’ aspirations, a transition worthy of man. To go from the ideological materialism of Marxism to a practical materialism such as that of many Western societies would not be worthy of man. The Church certainly wants a "soft landing" but a landing that is open to a future of hope. As the Holy Father wrote in Spe Salvi, a world without God is a world without hope, a world without a future. To people intoxicated with the love of power, the Church witnesses to hope by sharing with the world -- and with the Cuban people -- the power of love.



Wednesday, March 28, 2012

In Prime Time, The Dolan Factor

As his ongoing Neo-Porporato Tour -- and, even more, the Stateside bishops' continuing battle for religious freedom amid the looming Federal contraceptive mandate -- wends on, earlier tonight the USCCB president, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, took to the country's highest-rated program on cable news: Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor....

As an average nightly viewership approaching 3 million tuned in, Dolan's latest TV turn is the second high-profile intervention in as many days by a top American hierarch on religious liberty and Catholic witness in the nation's public square, following yesterday's release of A Heart on Fire, an eBook by Philadelphia's Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM Cap.

Selling for 99 cents, the 6,200-word treatise cracked Amazon's Top 100 bestsellers in its first day of publication.


Hola, Comrade

No explanation needed, here's your Shot of the Day.

During their half-hour meeting at the Apostolic Nunciature in Havana, Fidel Castro reportedly urged B16 to canonize Blesseds John Paul II and Teresa of Calcutta, and apparently had some liturgical questions for the pontiff, according to the Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Fr Federico Lombardi.

The Pope leaves Cuba at 5pm local time (6 Eastern) for the 10-hour return flight to Rome.

PHOTO: L'Osservatore Romano


"Cuba Needs Change": The Pope's Island Farewell


28 MARCH 2012

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

“Blessed are you, Lord God…, and blessed is your holy and glorious name” (Dan 3:52). This hymn of blessing from the Book of Daniel resounds today in our liturgy, inviting us repeatedly to bless and thank God. We are a part of that great chorus which praises the Lord without ceasing. We join in this concert of thanksgiving, and we offer our joyful and confident voice, which seeks to consolidate the journey of faith in love and truth.

“Blessed be God” who gathers us in this historic square so that we may more profoundly enter into his life. I feel great joy in being here with you today to celebrate Holy Mass during this Jubilee Year devoted to Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre.

I greet with cordial affection Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino, Archbishop of Havana, and I thank him for the kind words which he has addressed to me on your behalf. I extend warm greetings to the Cardinals and to my brother Bishops of Cuba and other countries who wished to take part in this solemn celebration. I also greet the priests, seminarians, men and women religious, and all the lay faithful gathered here, as well as the civil authorities who join us.

In today’s first reading, the three young men persecuted by the Babylonian king preferred to face death by fire rather than betray their conscience and their faith. They experienced the strength to “give thanks, glorify and praise God” in the conviction that the Lord of the universe and of history would not abandon them to death and annihilation. Truly, God never abandons his children, he never forgets them. He is above us and is able to save us by his power. At the same time, he is near to his people, and through his Son Jesus Christ he has wished to make his dwelling place among us in.

“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:31). In this text from today’s Gospel, Jesus reveals himself as the Son of God the Father, the Saviour, the one who alone can show us the truth and give genuine freedom. His teaching provokes resistance and disquiet among his hearers, and he accuses them of seeking to kill him, alluding to the supreme sacrifice of the Cross, already imminent. Even so, he exhorts them to believe, to keep his word, so as to know the truth which redeems and dignifies.

The truth is a desire of the human person, the search for which always supposes the exercise of authentic freedom. Many, however, prefer shortcuts, trying to avoid this task. Some, like Pontius Pilate, ironically question the possibility of even knowing what truth is (cf. Jn 18:38), proclaiming that man is incapable of knowing it or denying that there exists a truth valid for all. This attitude, as in the case of scepticism and relativism, changes hearts, making them cold, wavering, distant from others and closed. They, like the Roman governor, wash their hands and let the water of history drain away without taking a stand.

On the other hand, there are those who wrongly interpret this search for the truth, leading them to irrationality and fanaticism; they close themselves up in “their truth”, and try to impose it on others. These are like the blind scribes who, upon seeing Jesus beaten and bloody, cry out furiously, “Crucify him!” (cf. Jn 19:6). Anyone who acts irrationally cannot become a disciple of Jesus. Faith and reason are necessary and complementary in the pursuit of truth. God created man with an innate vocation to the truth and he gave him reason for this purpose. Certainly, it is not irrationality but rather the yearning for truth which the Christian faith promotes. Each human being has to seek the truth and to choose it when he or she finds it, even at the risk of embracing sacrifices.

Furthermore, the truth which stands above humanity is an unavoidable condition for attaining freedom, since in it we discover the foundation of an ethics on which all can converge and which contains clear and precise indications concerning life and death, duties and rights, marriage, family and society, in short, regarding the inviolable dignity of the human person. This ethical patrimony can bring together different cultures, peoples and religions, authorities and citizens, citizens among themselves, and believers in Christ and non-believers.

Christianity, in highlighting those values which sustain ethics, does not impose, but rather proposes Christ’s invitation to know the truth which sets us free. The believer is called to offer that truth to his contemporaries, as did the Lord, even before the dark omen of rejection and the Cross. The personal encounter with the one who is Truth in person compels us to share this treasure with others, especially by our witness.

Dear friends, do not hesitate to follow Jesus Christ. In him we find the truth about God and about mankind. He helps us to overcome our selfishness, to rise above our ambitions and to conquer all that oppresses us. The one who does evil, who sins, becomes a slave of sin and will never attain freedom (cf. Jn 8:34). Only by renouncing hatred and our hard and blind hearts will we be free and a new life will well up in us.

Convinced that it is Christ who is the true measure of man, and knowing that in him we find the strength needed to face every trial, I wish to proclaim openly Jesus Christ as the way, the truth and the life. In him everyone will find complete freedom, the light to understand reality more deeply and to transform it by the renewing power of love.

The Church lives to make others sharers in the one thing she possesses, which is none other than Christ, our hope of glory (cf. Col 1:27). To carry out this duty, she must count on basic religious freedom, which consists in her being able to proclaim and to celebrate her faith also in public, bringing to others the message of love, reconciliation and peace which Jesus brought to the world. It must be said with joy that in Cuba steps have been taken to enable the Church to carry out her essential mission of expressing her faith openly and publicly. Nonetheless, this must continue forwards, and I wish to encourage the country’s Government authorities to strengthen what has already been achieved and advance along this path of genuine service to the true good of Cuban society as a whole.

The right to freedom of religion, both in its private and in its public dimension, manifests the unity of the human person, who is at once a citizen and a believer. It also legitimizes the fact that believers have a contribution to make to the building up of society. Strengthening religious freedom consolidates social bonds, nourishes the hope of a better world, creates favourable conditions for peace and harmonious development, while at the same time establishing solid foundations for securing the rights of future generations.

When the Church upholds this human right, she is not claiming any special privileges for herself. She wishes only to be faithful to the command of her divine founder, conscious that, where Christ is present, mankind becomes more human and founds its consistency. This is why the Church seeks to give witness by her preaching and teaching, both in catechesis and in schools and universities. It is greatly to be hoped that the moment will soon arrive when, here too, the Church can bring to the arenas of knowledge the benefits of the mission which the Lord entrusted to her and which she can never neglect.

A shining example of this commitment was the outstanding priest Félix Varela, educator and teacher, an illustrious son of this city of Havana, who has taken his place in Cuban history as the first one who taught his people how to think. Father Varela offers us a path to a true social transformation: to form virtuous men and women in order to forge a worthy and free nation, for this transformation depends on man’s spiritual life, in as much as “there is no authentic fatherland without virtue” (Letters to Elpidio, Letter 6, Madrid 1836, 220). Cuba and the world need change, but this will occur only if each one is in a position to seek the truth and chooses the way of love, sowing reconciliation and fraternity.

Invoking the maternal protection of Mary Most Holy, let us ask that each time we participate in the Eucharist we will also become witnesses to that charity which responds to evil with good (cf. Rom 12:51), offering ourselves as a living sacrifice to the one who lovingly gave himself up for our sake. Let us walk in the light of Christ who alone can destroy the darkness of error. And let us beg him that, with the courage and strength of the saints, we may be able, without fear or rancour but freely, generously and consistently, to respond to God. Amen.



Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Quote of the Day

“Saint Augustine reminds us that the City of Man and the City of God intermingle. We have obligations to each. But our final home and our real citizenship are not in this world. Politics is important, but it’s never the main focus or purpose of a Christian life. If we do not know and love Jesus Christ, and commit our lives to him, and act on what we claim to believe, everything else is empty. But if we do, so much else is possible—including the conversion of the world around us. The only question that finally matters to any of us is the one Jesus posed to his apostles: “Who do you say I am?” (Mk 8:29). Everything depends on the answer. Faith leads in one direction, the lack of it in another. But the issue is faith—always and everywhere, whether we’re scholars or doctors or priests or lawyers or mechanics. Do we really believe in Jesus Christ, or don’t we? And if we do, what are we going to do about it?

A genuinely Catholic life should feed the soul as well as the mind; should offer a vision of men and women made whole by the love of God, the knowledge of creation, and the reality of things unseen; should enable us to see the beauty of the world in the light of eternity; and should help us recapture the nobility of the human story and the dignity of the human person.

This is the kind of witness that sets fire to the human heart. It starts the only kind of revolution that really changes anything: a revolution of love. Jesus said, I came to cast fire upon the earth, and would that it were already kindled.

Our task is to start that blaze and then help it grow.
* * *
Sure, these might be the closing lines of the new Boss' freshly-released e-treatise on "the next America"... amid the scene at home, though, odds are they can be read just as accurately as yet another call for a new fire upon this earth.

And as the tragic truths of a haunting history dominate the headlines over the coming weeks, suffice it to say that the difference between the blazes is something worth keeping in mind.


In Che's Shadow

For the second time, tomorrow in Havana brings one of the most dramatic spectacles of the Traveling Pope Show, as Benedict XVI celebrates Mass under the looming gaze of Che Guevara, whose iconic etching overlooks the Cuban capital's Revolution Square.

Set for 9.30am local time (10.30 Eastern), the liturgy is the final scheduled event of the pontiff's six-day second trek to Latin America. With the Volo Papale not slated to depart for Rome until evening, however, it's always possible that the remainder of the day could bring a surprise or two.

Having visited the shrine of the island's patroness, the Caridad de Cobre, earlier today (right), tonight brings an official meeting with President Raul Castro and a private dinner with the Cuban bishops. While no shortage of speculation has anticipated a papal courtesy call to former President Fidel Castro, the Vatican has remained mum, and an encounter between the two would likely only be announced after it took place.

Back in Rome, meanwhile, this morning brought the release of the Pope's message for the church's annual World Youth Day, which is marked in Rome on Palm Sunday in years between its triennial summertime observance. The next of those, of course, is slated for Rio de Janiero in July 2013, which would point to a third B16 jaunt to the continent that's home to half the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.

In the dioceses of the United States, the annual WYD takes place on the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Or, at least, it's supposed to.

Once the soon-to-be 85 year-old Pope returns to Rome, Benedict is staying off-road until the fall -- a September trip to Lebanon was confirmed by the Vatican last week.


Monday, March 26, 2012

In Philadelphia, The Hour of Trial

Ten years since the eruption of Boston sparked the gravest scandal American Catholicism has ever known, today brought another high-profile milestone in the the clergy sex-abuse crisis as, for the first time, a US church official accused of cover-up entered a Philadelphia courtroom to stand criminal trial.

Thirteen months after a second grand jury probing the Philly church's handling of allegations levied indictments against three suspended or laicized clerics and a lay teacher accused of abusing two boys in the late 1990s, as well as charging the Chancery's former clergy-personnel chief, Msgr William Lynn (above) on two counts of endangering the welfare of a minor, the proceedings -- expected to last roughly three months -- are likely to be the most intense public examination of a US diocese's culture of conduct toward accused priests and victim-survivors in the era prior to the zero tolerance policy of the Dallas Charter.

As it unfolds, several bishops and other onetime archdiocesan administrators are likely to be called to testify, and the eerie possibility remains that the trial will witness the final public words of the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua through the showing of two days of videotaped testimony recorded weeks before the retired prelate's late January death at 88.

With a gag order barring media comment from all parties to the case, little of what's to come is known beyond matters disclosed in open court over months of pre-trial hearings. Among key aspects of what has emerged, however, a February ruling granted a prosecution request to admit evidence from a trove of alleged "prior bad acts" -- the archdiocese's handling of some 30 abuse claims beyond those directly at issue in the trial. Some of the files date back half a century.

Another major face-off is expected to take place over a freshly-produced document: a confidential 1994 report prepared by Lynn which named 37 priests who were either suspected or found "guilty" of abusing minors in canonical processes. At the time, most of the men remained in ministry, or retained full faculties in retirement.

According to a handwritten note found with the new evidence, four copies of the list -- thought to comprise the original and all its duplicates -- were shredded "on the basis of a directive" from Bevilacqua after the document was discussed at a senior staff meeting. Written by the then-deputy moderator of the curia, Msgr James Molloy, the memo's postscript said that the shredding was witnessed by then-Fr Joseph Cistone, then an assistant to the vicar-general, who became an auxiliary of Philadelphia a decade later and was named to head Michigan's Saginaw diocese in 2009. (Molloy died in early 2006, shortly after the release of the first grand jury report.)

Said to have been discovered in 2006 in a neglected Chancery safe, the file was given to the court by the archdiocese in the days following Bevilacqua's death. Responding to the document's appearance, Lynn's lawyers amplified their recently-introduced strategy of asserting that the prime culpability for a cover-up lay with his superiors, and moved that the monsignor's charges be dropped. For its part, a prosecution rebuttal left open the possibility that the "smoking gun" could lead to further charges, whether for Lynn or others.

In the wake of the memo's disclosure, a retired cleric cited as "guilty" on the list was placed on administrative leave for a four decade-old act with a 17 year-old girl, and the archdiocese's longtime in-house attorney, Timothy Coyne, was suddenly removed and replaced by a new legal team.

An announcement circulated to the archdiocese's pastors and staff attributed Coyne's leave to unspecified "current legal circumstances."

In a separate instance, the 2011 grand jury reported that the Chancery counsel "could not explain why" several pages subject to its subpoena "were not handed over... until [prosecutors] learned that they existed and asked for them specifically."

On the bench, meanwhile, trial Judge M. Theresa Sarmina stoked protests from the defense during jury selection with a late January remark in open court, reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer, that "Anybody that doesn't think there is widespread sexual abuse within the Catholic church is living on another planet."

* * *
All in all, the proceedings promise to yet again embroil the church in the nation's fourth-largest media market through the summer, and are already drawing considerable attention worldwide.

The trial begins as much of the 1.2 million-member Philadelphia fold is still reeling from the recently-announced closing or merger of some 36 parish elementary schools -- the largest single consolidation of an education system ever undertaken by an American diocese. The final figure was reduced from an initial proposal to cut 49 schools after an appeal process devised by the freshly-arrived Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM Cap. upended over a quarter of the recommendations made by a year-long Blue Ribbon study chartered by his predecessor. In addition, a last-minute lay-led effort that raised $12 million within days salvaged the four archdiocesan high schools the panel targeted for closure.

At the same time, Lynn isn't the only onetime top official of Philadelphia Chancery currently under court scrutiny: earlier this month saw the arrest of the archdiocese's former chief financial officer, Anita Guzzardi, on charges of stealing more than $900,000 from church funds over six years.

Long the archdiocesan controller, Guzzardi was named CFO in the final days of Cardinal Justin Rigali's tenure last June. She was removed from the post within two weeks of her appointment, after an external report of discrepancies triggered an in-house investigation, which led to a civil probe.

Beyond the criminal courts, the archdiocese faces a pending civil docket of at least seven abuse-related lawsuits.

In a December message to the faithful on his new charge's challenges, the Capuchin prelate wrote that "the harsh media environment likely to surround the criminal trial ... will further burden our lay people and our clergy. But it cannot be avoided."

Having inherited what many church observers consider to be the most fraught situation an American bishop has been tasked to face in the last half-century, Chaput said that his archdiocese's task going forward would be "to renew the witness of the church; to clear away the debris of human failure from the beauty of God’s word and to restore the joy and zeal of our Catholic discipleship."

While national and local victim-survivors and their advocates have trumpeted the trial as a "landmark" in their quest for the accountability of church administrators implicated in the transfer of accused clerics, the famously cohesive Philadelphia presbyterate has largely rallied around Lynn, viewing the former Secretary for Clergy as the proverbial "fall guy" for the decisions enacted by those above him.

* * *
Returning to the case at hand, while today's opening arguments were scheduled from last August, a last-minute guilty plea on Thursday from one of the ex-clerics charged with abuse led the defense to petition for a new jury, alleging that the late shift could bias the panel.

Heard at the start of this morning's session, the motion -- whose acceptance would've delayed arguments for several weeks -- was declined.

Having accepted a plea bargain with the prosecution, Edward Avery's potential maximum jail sentence of 35 years was reduced to two and a half to five years. A foster parent of several Hmong children during his ministry, he is not required to testify as part of the agreement.

Avery was charged with six abuse-related counts and an added conspiracy claim, which was leveled on each of the defendants following the grand jury's indictments. He was dismissed from the clerical state by Rome in March 2006.

Even as the cover-up counts against Lynn have made this trial the public centerpiece of the Philadelphia imbroglio, a religious priest and the lay teacher likewise charged by the 2011 investigation are slated to be tried separately in September. Placed on administrative leave in the grand jury's wake, the monsignor -- who was transferred from the Chancery post to a high-profile suburban pastorate in 2004 -- is being tried alongside a suspended archdiocesan priest, Fr James Brennan, whose alleged abuse Lynn is accused of having covered up.

While Lynn's attorneys have increasingly implicated his superiors as the core of his defense, Brennan's counsel is expected to undermine the credibility of his accuser, citing the alleged victim's history of crime and drug abuse.

On a related note, tomorrow brings a preliminary hearing for Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St Joseph, who was indicted last fall on a misdemeanor count of failing to report suspicions of child abuse in a case involving a priest accused of possessing child pornography.

The first US prelate to be charged amid the scandals' decade-long fallout, Finn pled not guilty to the count. A subsequent deal with prosecutors in another county of his Missouri diocese avoided a second indictment.

At tomorrow's proceeding, local reports say that the bishop's lawyers will seek to have the charge dismissed.

PHOTOS: Reuters


"Cuba Needs Your Witness"


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I give thanks to God who has allowed me to come to you and to make this much anticipated trip. I greet Bishop Dionisio García Ibáñez, Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba, and I thank him for his warm words of welcome offered on behalf of everyone. I greet the Bishops of Cuba and those who have come from elsewhere, and the priests, religious men and women, seminarians and lay faithful present for this celebration. I cannot forget all those who, for reasons of illness, advanced age or for other motives, are not able to join us. I also greet the civil Authorities who have graciously wished to join us.

This first Holy Mass which I have the joy of celebrating during my pastoral visit to this country, takes place in the context of the Marian Jubilee Year called to honour and to venerate Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, Patroness of Cuba, in this fourth centenary of the discovery and presence of her venerable statue in this blessed land.

I cannot forget the sacrifices and the dedication with which this jubilee has been prepared, especially spiritually. I was deeply touched to hear of the fervour with which Mary has been welcomed and invoked by so many Cubans during her journey to every corner of the island.
These important events in the Church in Cuba take on a special lustre because of the feast celebrated today throughout the universal Church: the Annunciation of the Lord to the Virgin Mary. The Incarnation of the Son of God is the central mystery of the Christian faith, and in it Mary occupies a central place. But, we ask, what is the meaning of this mystery? And, what importance does it have for our concrete lives?

First of all, let us see what the Incarnation means. In the Gospel of Saint Luke we heard the words of the angel to Mary: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Lk 1:35). In Mary, the Son of God is made man, fulfilling in this way the prophecy of Isaiah: “Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel, which means ‘God-with-us’” (Is 7:14).

Jesus, the Word made flesh, is truly God-with-us, who has come to live among us and to share our human condition. The Apostle Saint John expresses it in the following way: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14). The expression, “became flesh” points to our human reality in most concrete and tangible way. In Christ, God has truly come into the world, he has entered into our history, he has set his dwelling among us, thus fulfilling the deepest desire of human beings that the world may truly become a home worthy of humanity. On the other hand, when God is put aside, the world becomes an inhospitable place for man, and frustrates creation’s true vocation to be a space for the covenant, for the “Yes” to the love between God and humanity who responds to him. Mary did so as the first fruit of believers with her unreserved “Yes” to the Lord.

For this reason, contemplating the mystery of the Incarnation, we cannot fail to turn our eyes to her so as to be filled with wonder, gratitude and love at seeing how our God, coming into the world, wished to depend upon the free consent of one of his creatures. Only from the moment when the Virgin responded to the angel, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38), did the eternal Word of the Father began his human existence in time.

It is touching to see how God not only respects human freedom: he almost seems to require it. And we see also how the beginning of the earthly life of the Son of God was marked by a double “Yes” to the saving plan of the Father – that of Christ and that of Mary. This obedience to God is what opens the doors of the world to the truth, to salvation. God has created us as the fruit of his infinite love; hence, to live in accordance with his will is the way to encounter our genuine identity, the truth of our being, while apart from God we are alienated from ourselves and are hurled into the void.

The obedience of faith is true liberty, authentic redemption, which allows us to unite ourselves to the love of Jesus in his determination to conform himself to the will of the Father. Redemption is always this process of the lifting up of the human will to full communion with the divine will (cf. Lectio Divina with the parish priests of Rome, 18 February 2010).

Dear brothers and sisters, today we praise the Most Holy Virgin for her faith, and with Saint Elizabeth we too say, “Blessed is she who believed” (Lk 1:45). As Saint Augustine said, Mary conceived Christ by faith in her heart before she conceived him physically in her womb; Mary believed and what she believed was came to be in her (cf. Sermo 215, 4: PL 38, 1074). Let us ask the Lord to strengthen our faith, to make it active and fruitful in love. Let us implore him that, like her, we may welcome the word of God into our hearts, and carry it out with docility and constancy.

The Virgin Mary, by her unique role in the mystery of Christ, represents the exemplar and model of the Church. The Church, like the Mother of Christ, is also called to embrace in herself the mystery of God who comes to live in her. Dear brothers and sisters, I know with what effort, boldness and self-sacrifice you work every day so that, in the concrete circumstances of your country, and at this moment in history, the Church will better present her true face as a place in which God draws near and encounters humanity.

The Church, the living body of Christ, has the mission of prolonging on earth the salvific presence of God, of opening the world to something greater than itself, to the love and the light of God. It is worth the effort, dear brothers and sisters, to devote your entire life to Christ, to grow in his friendship each day and to feel called to proclaim the beauty and the goodness of his life to every person, to all our brothers and sisters.

I encourage you in this task of sowing the word of God in the world and offering to everyone the true nourishment of the body of Christ. Easter is already approaching; let us determine to follow Jesus without fear or doubts on his journey to the Cross.

May we accept with patience and faith whatever opposition or affliction may come, with the conviction that, in his Resurrection, he has crushed the power of evil which darkens everything, and has brought the dawn of a new world, the world of God, of light, of truth and happiness. The Lord will not fail to bless with abundant fruits the generosity of your commitment.

The mystery of the Incarnation, in which God draws near to us, also shows us the incomparable dignity of every human life. In his loving plan, from the beginning of creation, God has entrusted to the family founded on matrimony the most lofty mission of being the fundamental cell of society and an authentic domestic church. With this certainty, you, dear husbands and wives, are called to be, especially for your children, a real and visible sign of the love of Christ for the Church. Cuba needs the witness of your fidelity, your unity, your capacity to welcome human life, especially that of the weakest and most needy.

Dear brothers and sisters, before the gaze of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, I appeal to you to reinvigorate your faith, that you may live in Christ and for Christ, and armed with peace, forgiveness and understanding, that you may strive to build a renewed and open society, a better society, one more worthy of humanity, and which better reflects the goodness of God. Amen.

PHOTOS: Getty; Reuters


"I Come to Cuba As a Pilgrim of Charity"

26 MARCH 2012

Mr President,
Dear Cardinals and Brother Bishops,
Distinguished Authorities,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear People of Cuba,

Thank you, Mr President, for your welcome and your kind words, with which you also conveyed the sentiments of respect of the Cuban government and people for the Successor of Peter. I greet the civil authorities here present, as well as the members of the diplomatic corps. I cordially greet the President of the Episcopal Conference, Archbishop Dionisio Guillermo García Ibáñez of Santiago de Cuba; the Archbishop of Havana, Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino, and my other Brother Bishops of Cuba, and I assure them of my deep spiritual closeness. Finally, I greet with heartfelt affection all the faithful of the Catholic Church in Cuba, the beloved people of this beautiful island, and all Cubans wherever they may be. You are always present in my heart and prayers, especially in the days preceding the much anticipated moment of my visit to you, which the grace and goodness of God has made possible.

Standing here among you, I cannot but recall the historic visit to Cuba of my predecessor, Blessed John Paul II, who left an indelible mark on the soul of all Cubans. For many, whether believers or not, his example and his teachings are a luminous guide for their personal lives and their public activity in the service of the common good of the nation. His visit to this island was like a gentle breath of fresh air which gave new strength to the Church in Cuba, awakening in many a renewed awareness of the importance of faith and inspiring them to open their hearts to Christ, while at the same time kindling their hope and encouraging their desire to work fearlessly for a better future. One of the important fruits of that visit was the inauguration of a new phase in the relationship in Cuba between Church and State, in a new spirit of cooperation and trust, even if many areas remain in which greater progress can and ought to be made, especially as regards the indispensable public contribution that religion is called to make in the life of society.

I am pleased to share your joy as you celebrate the four hundredth anniversary of the discovery of the holy statue of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre. Since the beginning she has been very much present in the personal lives of Cubans as well as in the great events of the nation, especially since independence, for she is honoured by all as the true mother of the Cuban people. Devotion to the Virgen Mambisa has sustained the faith and inspired the defence and promotion of all that gives dignity to the human condition and its fundamental rights, and continues to do so today with ever greater strength, giving visible witness to the fruitfulness of the preaching of the Gospel in these lands, and to the profound Christian roots which shape the deepest identity of the Cuban soul. Following in the footsteps of countless pilgrims down the centuries, I too wish to go to El Cobre to kneel at the feet of the Mother of God, to thank her for her concern for all her Cuban children, and to ask her to guide the future of this beloved nation in the ways of justice, peace, freedom and reconciliation.

I come to Cuba as a pilgrim of charity, to confirm my brothers and sisters in the faith and strengthen them in the hope which is born of the presence of God’s love in our lives. I carry in my heart the just aspirations and legitimate desires of all Cubans, wherever they may be, their sufferings and their joys, their concerns and their noblest desires, those of the young and the elderly, of adolescents and children, of the sick and workers, of prisoners and their families, and of the poor and those in need.

Many parts of the world today are experiencing a time of particular economic difficulty, that not a few people regard as part of a profound spiritual and moral crisis which has left humanity devoid of values and defenceless before the ambition and selfishness of certain powers which take little account of the true good of individuals and families. We can no longer continue in the same cultural and moral direction which has caused the painful situation that many suffer. On the other hand, real progress calls for an ethics which focuses on the human person and takes account of the most profound human needs, especially man’s spiritual and religious dimension. In the hearts and minds of many, the way is thus opening to an ever greater certainty that the rebirth of society demands upright men and women of firm moral convictions, with noble and strong values who will not be manipulated by dubious interests and who are respectful of the unchanging and transcendent nature of the human person.

Dear friends, I am convinced that Cuba, at this moment of particular importance in its history, is already looking to the future, and thus is striving to renew and broaden its horizons. Of great help in this enterprise will be the fine patrimony of spiritual and moral values which fashioned the nation’s true identity, and which stand out in the work and the life of many distinguished fathers of the country, like Blessed José Olallo y Valdés, the Servant of God Félix Varela, and the acclaimed José Martí. For her part, the Church too has diligently contributed to the cultivation of those values through her generous and selfless pastoral mission, and renews her commitment to work tirelessly the better to serve all Cubans.

I ask the Lord to bless abundantly this land and its children, in particular those who feel disadvantaged, the excluded and all those who suffer in body or spirit. At the same time, I pray that, through the intercession of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, he will grant to all a future of hope, solidarity and harmony. Thank you.

PHOTO: Getty


"The Purpose Is Pastoral" -- The Pope Goes to Cuba

At 2pm local time today (3 Eastern, 2100 in Rome), B16 arrives in Santiago de Cuba for a three-day stay on the island -- one which, according to reports, has garnered considerably less buzz than Blessed John Paul II's celebrated pilgrimage in 1998.

Indeed, it's worth repeating that never before has a pontiff so old traveled this far -- while Benedict XVI turns 85 in three weeks, JPII was three years younger and far less mobile at his final journey outside Europe. Still, even as the country's religious landscape has opened considerably since the last PopeTrip, Papa Ratzinger's first visit to a Communist country presents a unique set of hurdles, risks and potential rewards on both sides of the church-state coin.

Highlighting the tensions at hand, the customary Sunday march to Mass by the Damas de Blanco -- the "Ladies in White," representing the wives, mothers, daughters and sisters of imprisoned dissidents -- took place under the glare of massive media coverage (above).

While some 70 members of the group were detained last weekend, a leader of the Damas said yesterday that another 25 of their number were held in Havana and Santiago on the eve of the pontiff's arrival. The group has requested a "brief meeting" with the Pope on the state of human rights on the island.

At the same time, a fresh challenge was thrown into the tightly-planned itinerary with yesterday's sudden arrival in the capital of the Venezuelan President, Hugo Chávez. Said to be undergoing radiation treatment in Cuba, the quasi-Marxist leader reportedly made no reference to the papal visit, yet when asked whether the Pope would meet with Chávez, the director of the Holy See Press Office, Jesuit Fr Federico Lombardi, left open the possibility, saying that "anything can change."

Benedict and Chávez first met in a Vatican audience in November 2006.

Notably, a top papal aide is intimately familiar with the island and its affairs. The recently-named Sostituto of the Secretariat of State -- in other words, the Roman Curia's "Chief of Staff" -- Archbishop Angelo Becciu served as Nuncio to Havana from 2009 until last May, when he received his first Vatican assignment in the senior slot.

* * *
To put it mildly, the scene is complicated all around. And to explain it, the Stateside church arguably has no keener exegete than the bench's de facto policy chief on Cuban Affairs: Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami -- a South Florida native, longtime laborer among the exile community and protege of its "godfather" who, as one friend put it, fluently "speaks, thinks, curses and prays in (strongly Cuban-accented) Spanish."

When the 61 year-old prelate made the 100-mile trip for a December Mass with the nation's bishops, it was only half-jokingly noted from the island that "with Wenski here, all the dioceses of Cuba will be present." (To be sure, the Haitians he pastored for 18 years feel no less a claim.)

Before embarking with close to 1,000 pilgrims from the Southeast's largest -- read: 1.3 million-member -- local church for the PopeTrip, in a Saturday intervention, the archbishop (who, as head of Miami's Catholic Charities, oversaw food drops on the island around the time of the 1998 visit) sized up Benedict's Cuban mission thus:
On Monday, March 26, Pope Benedict XVI will land on Cuban soil. The Cuban people, including Cubans from these shores, will receive him with the love and enthusiasm worthy of the one who "comes in the name of the Lord." He comes in his role as universal pastor of the Catholic Church — and since one of the most important responsibilities of the Pope is to confirm Catholics in the faith, the purpose of his visit to Cuba is pastoral: that is, to reaffirm the faith of Catholics on the island and, in turn, to highlight the importance of spiritual values to all Cubans. So, if the Pope is going to Cuba, it is also because he recognizes the valuable work of the Cuban Church — of its bishops, priests, religious and laity — who out of their poverty want to serve their people as a leaven of evangelical hope.

It is true that Cubans — here and there — want a more political change, but Benedict XVI's visit to Cuba is not expected to have political overtones but rather pastoral ones. Despite a climate of suspicion and mistrust that is often the result of life under totalitarian regimes, the Church in Cuba wants to help the Cuban people to overcome their lack of mutual trust and build unity on the basis of forgiveness and reconciliation. Only by traveling a road inspired by evangelical love, rather than ideological hatred, will the people be able to find secure guidelines to follow to build a future of hope in Cuba. This defines the purpose of the pope’s visit and also defines the mission of the Church in general.

As Oscar Espinosa Chepe, an independent journalist in Cuba, commented in the Miami Herald, March 22, "The Catholic Church has given ample evidence of having been at the side of Cuba’s citizens, without discrimination of any kind. The pressure — offspring of the desperation caused by so many years of suffering and repression — to have it take positions that are biased and divorced from reality, far from helping in the current national context, undermine the work of building consensus for change and the decisive role of the Church as a bridge of communication among all Cubans, including, of course, our compatriots living abroad, who are an inalienable part of our country."

We must recognize how difficult it is to assess from outside the thin line that exists between a cowardly retreat from a prophetic stance and prudence in the face of oppression in order to take advantage of the little space there is. Those who live in a different social context need to avoid committing grave injustices by applying simplistic criteria in their facile condemnations.

We who travel to Cuba from Miami as pilgrims also want to acknowledge the work of the Church in Cuba and to demonstrate our solidarity with her as she celebrates with joy, together with the Holy Father, the 400th anniversary of the finding and presence of the Virgin of Charity in Cuba. The words, "to Jesus through Mary, love unites us,'' also are directed, as affirmed by the Cuban bishops, to the "Cuban brethren living outside of Cuba, because the Virgin of Charity is a symbol of the homeland, of the bond that unites our families, our people and, above all, because she is the Mother of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Savior of all men.''

We go to Cuba because the Cuban Catholic Church is inviting us. And the presence among the pilgrims of a large group of Americans alongside Cuban Americans will highlight the close historic ties that bind Florida to Cuba. Let us remember that this territory, during the years of the Spanish colonization, was part of the then Diocese of Santiago de Cuba.

The visit of John Paul II marked a “before” and “after” among the Cuban people at the level of Church, although, at the time, no major changes were perceived in church-state relations. As a young Cuban priest said recently, "For everyone, those were days of joy on the streets, of energy, of a sense of freedom, it was spectacular; it was another people." Such were the effects of the visit of John Paul and we hope something similar will take place during this visit of Benedict XVI.
PHOTOS: Getty(1)


Sunday, March 25, 2012

"It Is Not Right For the Laity To Feel Treated Like Second-Class Citizens In the Church"

25 MARCH 2011

Your Eminences,
Dear Brother Bishops,

It gives me great joy to be able to pray with all of you in this Basilica-Cathedral of León, dedicated to our Lady of Light. In the lovely painting venerated in this basilica, the Blessed Virgin holds her Son in one hand with immense tenderness while extending her other hand to succour sinners. This is how the Church in every age sees Mary. We praise her for giving us the Redeemer and we put our trust in her as the Mother whom her divine Son bequeathed to us from the Cross. For this reason, we invoke her frequently as “our hope” because she has shown us Jesus and passed down to us the great things which God constantly does for humanity. She does so simply, as a mother teaches her children at home.

A decisive sign of these great things is given to us in the reading just proclaimed at these Vespers. The people of Jerusalem and their leaders did not acknowledge Christ, yet, by condemning him to death, they fulfilled the words of the prophets (cf. Acts 13:27). Human evil and ignorance simply cannot thwart the divine plan of salvation and redemption. Evil is simply incapable of that.

Another of God’s great works is evoked in the second of the psalms which we recited: “the rock” turns into “a pool, and flint into a spring of water” (Ps 113:8). What might have been a stumbling block and a scandal has, by Jesus’ triumph over death, become a cornerstone: “This is the work of the Lord, a marvel in our eyes” (Ps 117:23). There is no reason, then, to give in to the despotism of evil. Let us instead ask the risen Lord to manifest his power in our weakness and need.

I have greatly looked forward to this meeting with you, the Pastors of Christ’s pilgrim Church in Mexico and in the different countries of this great continent. I see this meeting as an occasion to turn our gaze together to Christ, who has entrusted you with the splendid duty of preaching the Gospel among these peoples of sturdy and deep-rooted Catholic faith. Certainly your dioceses face a number of challenges and difficulties at the present moment. Yet, in the sure knowledge that the Lord is risen, we are able to move forward confidently, in the conviction that evil does not have the last word in human history, and that God is able to open up new horizons to a hope that does not disappoint (cf. Rom 5:5).

I thank the Archbishop of Tlalnepantla, President of the Mexican Bishops’ Conference and the Latin American Episcopal Council, for the cordial welcome offered me in your name. I ask you, the various Pastors of the local churches that, on returning to your Dioceses, you bring to your faithful the warm affection of the Pope, who holds all their sufferings and aspirations deep in his heart.

In you I see reflected the concerns of the flocks which you shepherd, and I am reminded of the Assemblies of the Synod of Bishops, where the participants applaud after an intervention by someone who exercises his ministry in particularly troubling situations for the Church’s life and mission. That applause is a sign of deep faith in the Lord and fraternity in the apostolate, as well as gratitude and admiration for those who sow the Gospel amid thorns, some in the form of persecution, others in the form of social exclusion or contempt. Neither are concerns lacking, for want of means and human resources, or for limitations imposed on the freedom of the Church in carrying out her mission.

The Successor of Peter shares these concerns and he is grateful for your patient and humble pastoral outreach. You are not alone amid your trials or in your successes in the work of evangelization. All of us are one in sufferings and in consolation (cf. 2 Cor 1:5). Know that you can count on a special place in the prayers of the one who has received from Christ the charge of confirming his brethren in faith (cf. Lk 22:31). He now encourages you in your mission of making our Lord Jesus Christ ever better known, loved and followed in these lands, and he urges you not to let yourselves be intimidated by obstacles along the way.

The Catholic faith has significantly marked the life, customs and history of this continent, in which many nations are commemorating the bicentennial of their independence. That was an historical moment in which the name of Christ continued to shine brightly. That name was brought here through the labours of outstanding and self-sacrificing missionaries who proclaimed it boldly and wisely. They gave their all for Christ, demonstrating that in him men and women encounter the truth of their being and the strength needed both to live fully and to build a truly humane society in accordance with the will of their Creator. This ideal of putting the Lord first and making God’s word effective in all, through the use of your own native expressions and best traditions, continues to provide outstanding inspiration for the Church’s Pastors today.

The initiatives planned for the Year of Faith must be aimed at guiding men and women to Christ; his grace will enable them to cast off the bonds of sin and slavery, and to progress along the path of authentic and responsible freedom. A great contribution will be made to this goal by the continental mission being launched from Aparecida, which is already reaping a harvest of ecclesial renewal in the particular Churches of Latin America and the Caribbean. This includes the study, dissemination and prayerful reading of sacred Scripture, which proclaims the love of God and our salvation. I encourage you to continue to share freely the treasures of the Gospel, so that they can become a powerful source of hope, freedom and salvation for everyone (cf. Rom 1:16). May you also be faithful witnesses and interpreters of the words of the incarnate Son, whose life was to do the will of the Father and who, as a man among men, gave himself up completely for our sake, even unto death.

Dear Brother Bishops, amid the challenges now facing us in our pastoral care and our preaching of the Gospel, it is essential to show great concern for your seminarians, encouraging them humbly “to know nothing … except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). No less fundamental is the need to remain close to your priests; they must never lack the understanding and encouragement of their Bishop, nor, if necessary, his paternal admonition in response to improper attitudes. Priests are your first co-workers in the sacramental communion of the priesthood, and you ought to show them a constant and privileged attention. The same should be said for the different forms of consecrated life, whose charisms need to be gratefully esteemed and responsibly encouraged, in a way respectful of the gift received. Greater attention is due to the members of the lay faithful most engaged in the fields of catechesis, liturgical animation, charitable activity and social commitment. Their faith formation is critical if the Gospel is to become present and fruitful in contemporary society. It is not right for them to feel treated like second-class citizens in the Church, despite the committed work which they carry out in accordance with their proper vocation, and the great sacrifice which this dedication at times demands of them. In all of this, it is particularly important for Pastors to ensure that a spirit of communion reigns among priests, religious and the lay faithful, and that sterile divisions, criticism and unhealthy mistrust are avoided.

With these heartfelt words of encouragement, I urge you to be vigilant in proclaiming day and night the glory of God, which is the life of mankind. Stand beside those who are marginalized as the result of force, power or a prosperity which is blind to the poorest of the poor. The Church cannot separate the praise of God from service to others. The one God, our Father and Creator, has made us brothers and sisters: to be human is to be a brother and guardian to our neighbour. Along this path, in union with the whole human family, the Church must relive and make present what Jesus was: the Good Samaritan who came from afar, entered our human history, lifted us up and sought to heal us.

Beloved Brother Bishops, the Church in Latin America, which has often been joined to Christ in his passion, must continue to be a seed of hope enabling the world to see how the fruits of the resurrection have come to enrich these lands.

May the Mother of God, invoked as Our Lady of Light, dispel the darkness of our world and illumine our path, so that we can confirm the faith of the people of Latin America amid their struggles and aspirations, with integrity, valour and firm faith in the One who can do all things and loves all men and women to the fullest. Amen.

PHOTO: Getty


"For God to Dwell In Us, We Need to Listen to Him"

25 MARCH 2012

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am very pleased to be among you today and I express my sincere gratitude to the Most Reverend José Guadalupe Martín Rábago, Archbishop of León, for his kind words of welcome. I greet the Mexican Bishops, and the Cardinals and other Bishops present here, and in a special way those who have come from Latin America and the Caribbean. I also extend a warm greeting to the authorities that are with us, as well as all who have gathered for this Holy Mass presided by the Successor of Peter.

We said, “A pure heart, create for me, O God” (Ps 50:12) during the responsorial psalm. This exclamation shows us how profoundly we must prepare to celebrate next week the great mystery of the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord. It also helps us to look deeply into the human heart, especially in times of sorrow as well as hope, as are the present times for the people of Mexico and of Latin America.

The desire for a heart that would be pure, sincere, humble, acceptable to God was very much felt by Israel as it became aware of the persistence in its midst of evil and sin as a power, practically implacable and impossible to overcome. There was nothing left but to trust in God’s mercy and in the hope that he would change from within, from the heart, an unbearable, dark and hopeless situation. In this way recourse gained ground to the infinite mercy of the Lord who does not wish the sinner to die but to convert and live (cf. Ez 33:11). A pure heart, a new heart, is one which recognizes that, of itself, it is impotent and places itself in God’s hands so as to continue hoping in his promises. Then the psalmist can say to the Lord with conviction: “Sinners will return to you” (Ps 50:15). And towards the end of the psalm he will give an explanation which is at the same time a firm conviction of faith: “A humble, contrite heart you will not spurn” (v. 19).

The history of Israel relates some great events and battles, but when faced with its more authentic existence, its decisive destiny, its salvation, it places its hope not in its own efforts, but in God who can create a new heart, not insensitive or proud. This should remind each one of us and our peoples that, when addressing the deeper dimension of personal and community life, human strategies will not suffice to save us. We must have recourse to the One who alone can give life in its fullness, because he is the essence of life and its author; he has made us sharers in the same through his Son Jesus Christ.

Today’s Gospel takes up the topic and shows us how this ancient desire for the fullness of life has actually been achieved in Christ. Saint John explains it in a passage in which the wish of some Greeks to see Jesus coincides with the moment in which the Lord is about to be glorified. Jesus responds to the question of the Greeks, who represent the pagan world, saying: “Now the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (Jn 12:23). This is a strange response which seems inconsistent with the question asked by the Greeks. What has the glorification of Jesus to do with the request to meet him? But there is a relation. Someone might think – says Saint Augustine – that Jesus felt glorified because the Gentiles were coming to him. This would be similar to the applause of the multitudes who give “glory” to those who are grand in the world, as we would say today. But this is not so. “It was convenient that, before the wonder of his glorification, should come the humility of his passion” (In Joannis Ev. 51:9: PL 35, 1766). Jesus’ answer, announcing his imminent passion, means that a casual encounter in those moments would have been superficial and perhaps deceptive. The Greeks will see the one they wished to meet raised up on the cross from which he will attract all to himself (cf. Jn 12:32). There his “glory” will begin, because of his sacrifice of expiation for all, as the grain of wheat fallen to the ground that by dying germinates and produces abundant fruit. They will find the one whom, unknown to them, they were seeking in their hearts, the true God who is made visible to all peoples. This was how Our Lady of Guadalupe showed her divine Son to Saint Juan Diego, not as a powerful legendary hero but as the very God of the living, by whom all live, the Creator of persons, of closeness and immediacy, of heaven and earth (cf. Nican Mopohua, v.33). At that moment she did what she had done previously at the wedding feast of Cana. Faced with the embarrassment caused by the lack of wine, she told the servants clearly that the path to follow was her Son: “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5).

Dear brothers and sisters, by coming here I have been able to visit the monument to Christ the King situated on top of the Cubilete. My venerable predecessor, Blessed Pope John Paul II, although he ardently desired to do so, was unable on his several journeys to this beloved land to visit this site of such significance for the faith of the Mexican people. I am sure that in heaven he is happy that the Lord has granted me the grace to be here with you and that he has blessed the millions of Mexicans who have venerated his relics in every corner of the country. This monument represents Christ the King. But his crowns, one of a sovereign, the other of thorns, indicate that his royal status does not correspond to how it has been or is understood by many. His kingdom does not stand on the power of his armies subduing others through force or violence. It rests on a higher power than wins over hearts: the love of God that he brought into the world with his sacrifice and the truth to which he bore witness. This is his sovereignty which no one can take from him and which no one should forget. Hence it is right that this shrine should be above all a place of pilgrimage, of fervent prayer, of conversion, of reconciliation, of the search for truth and the acceptance of grace. We ask Christ, to reign in our hearts, making them pure, docile, filled with hope and courageous in humility.

From this park, foreseen as a memorial of the bicentenary of the birth of the Mexican nation, bringing together many differences towards one destiny and one common quest, we ask Christ for a pure heart, where he as Prince of Peace may dwell “thanks to the power of God who is the power of goodness, the power of love”. But for God to dwell in us, we need to listen to him; we must allow his Word to challenge us every day, meditating upon it in our hearts after the example of Mary (cf. Lk 2:51). In this way we grow in friendship with him, we learn to understand what he expects from us and we are encouraged to make him known to others.

At Aparecida, the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean saw with clarity the need to confirm, renew and revitalize the newness of the Gospel rooted deeply in the history of these lands “on the basis of a personal and community encounter with Jesus Christ which raises up disciples and missionaries” (Final Document, 11). The Continental Mission now taking place in the various dioceses of this continent has the specific task of transmitting this conviction to all Christians and ecclesial communities so that they may resist the temptation of a faith that is superficial and routine, at times fragmentary and incoherent. Here we need to overcome fatigue related to faith and rediscover “the joy of being Christians, of being sustained by the inner happiness of knowing Christ and belonging to his Church. From this joy spring the energies that are needed to serve Christ in distressing situations of human suffering, placing oneself at his disposition and not falling back on one’s own comfort” (Address to the Roman Curia, 22 December 2011). This can be seen clearly in the saints who dedicated themselves fully to the cause of the Gospel with enthusiasm and joy without counting the cost, even of life itself. Their heart was centred entirely on Christ from whom they had learned what it means to love until the end.

In this sense the Year of Faith, to which I have convoked the whole Church, “is an invitation to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the only Saviour of the world […]. Faith grows when it is lived as an experience of love received and when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy” (Porta Fidei 6, 7).

Let us ask the Blessed Virgin Mary to assist us in purifying our hearts, especially in view of the coming Easter celebrations, that we may enter more deeply the salvific mystery of her Son, as she made it known in this land. And let us also ask her to continue accompanying and protecting her Mexican and Latin American children, that Christ may reign in their lives and help them boldly to promote peace, harmony, justice and solidarity. Amen.

PHOTO: Reuters


"God Wants Us To Be Happy Always"

In the Pope's first public event following his arrival in Mexico yesterday, late evening saw Benedict XVI deliver a brief greeting to the young people of Guanajuato from a balcony overlooking a city square.

Below, the pontiff's text in a Vatican English translation. And on a programming note, he marquee event of the three-day Mexican trek -- an open-air Mass for a crowd in excess of half a million -- begins at 10am local time (Noon Eastern, 1800 Rome) tomorrow.

All the events can be viewed either live or on-demand via the Vatican's video-player (iOS feed), which has options for translation/commentary in multiple languages.

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Dear Young People,

I am happy to be able to meet with you and to see your smiling faces as you fill this beautiful square. You have a very special place in the Pope’s heart. And in these moments, I would like all the children of Mexico to know this, especially those who have to bear the burden of suffering, abandonment, violence or hunger, which in recent months, because of drought, has made itself strongly felt in some regions. I am grateful for this encounter of faith, and for the festive and joyful presence expressed in song. Today we are full of jubilation, and this is important. God wants us to be happy always. He knows us and he loves us. If we allow the love of Christ to change our heart, then we can change the world. This is the secret of authentic happiness.

This place where we stand today has a name which expresses the yearning present in the heart of each and every person: “la paz,” Peace. This is a gift which comes from on high. “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:21). These are the words of the Risen Lord. We hear them during each Mass, and today they resound anew in this place, with the hope that each one of you will be transformed, becoming a sower and messenger of that peace for which Christ offered his life.

The disciple of Jesus does not respond to evil with evil, but is always an instrument of good instead, a herald of pardon, a bearer of happiness, a servant of unity. He wishes to write in each of your lives a story of friendship. Hold on to him, then, as the best of friends. He will never tire of speaking to those who always love and who do good. This you will hear, if you strive in each moment to be with him who will help you in more difficult situations.

I have come that you may know my affection. Each one of you is a gift of God to Mexico and to the world. Your family, the Church, your school and those who have responsibility in society must work together to ensure that you receive a better world as your inheritance, without jealousies and divisions.

That is why I wish to lift up my voice, inviting everyone to protect and to care for children, so that nothing may extinguish their smile, but that they may live in peace and look to the future with confidence.

You, my dear young friends, are not alone. You can count on the help of Christ and his Church in order to live a Christian lifestyle. Participate in Sunday Mass, in catechesis, in apostolic works, looking for occasions of prayer, fraternity and charity. Blessed Cristóbal, Antonio and Juan, the child martyrs of Tlaxcala, lived this way, and knowing Jesus, during the time of the initial evangelization of Mexico, they discovered that there is no greater treasure than he. They were children like you, and from them we can learn that we are never too young to love and serve.

How I would like to spend more time with all of you, but the time has already come for me to go. We will remain close in prayer. So I invite you to pray continually, even in your homes; in this way, you will experience the happiness of speaking about God with your families. Pray for everyone, and also for me. I will pray for all of you, so that Mexico may be a place in which everyone can live in serenity and harmony. I bless all of you from my heart and I ask you to bring the affection and blessing of the Pope to your parents, brothers and sisters, and other loved ones. May the Virgin accompany you. Thank you very much, my dear young friends.