Friday, November 30, 2012

Quote of the Day

Today we're called to walk together in a new way toward that land of promise, and to celebrate who we are and Whose we are. 
If we, as church, walk together... Don't let nobody separate you – that's one thing Black folk can teach you! Don't let folk divide you or, you know, 'Put the layfolk over here, and the clergy over here; put the bishops in one room and the clergy in the other room; put the women over here and the men over here.'

The church teaches us that the church is a family – it's a family of families – and the family got to stay together. And we know that if we do stay together – come here, brother – we know that if we do stay together; if we walk, and talk, and work and play and stand together in Jesus’ name, we’ll be who we say we are: truly Catholic...  
...and we shall overcome – overcome the poverty, overcome the loneliness, overcome the alienation, and build together a holy city, a new Jerusalem, a city set apart where they’ll know we are His because we love one another....
* * *
Church, we'd be remiss to let November pass without mention that this has been Black Catholic History Month. 

Instituted in 1990, the annual celebration is always marked in November to align with the feast of St Martin de Porres – the first African to receive the honors of the altar in modern times – who was canonized by Blessed John XXIII fifty years ago this spring.

Much as today's ecclesial conversation tends to focus more on the Episcopal church as if it were Catholic, it's worth recalling that, right now, there are a million more African-American – and, now, so-called "African-African" – Catholics on these shores than the entire membership of the Episcopal church. 

To be sure, that's no commentary on another Christian community – just this one... because, see, when a church fails to celebrate, affirm and stand with its own, in-house attitudes of the sort send a signal to the outside world that there isn't much to celebrate, affirm or stand by within it. Fix that, and chances are a good many of the very grave challenges of these days – ones often blamed on external forces – would either vanish quick, or at least be considerably blunted. Put another way, when a convincing argument can be made that Barack Obama's done more to highlight the Black Catholic community than has the Holy See or the bulk of the leadership and faithful of the Stateside church over recent years... well, complete the sentence. (Perhaps that's why no less than a new cardinal has gone on-record as, "obviously," a POTUS fan.)

Albeit far from the spotlight and an ad intra chattering class that tends to be anything but diverse, our Black-Church's legacy is rich and – often with a vibrance and strength of witness one would be hard-pressed to find elsewhere – gratefully, even heroically, continues onward. Still, as the all-around state of affairs remains much the same as it was a quarter-century back, and in tribute to this month's observance, it's high time for a re-air of the source behind today's Quote: the luminous, provocative 1989 testimony unleashed on the US bishops by American Catholicism's most effective figure of unity in the post-Conciliar era – the brilliant and mighty Sister Thea Bowman, talking to the bench from a wheelchair nine months before her death at 52 from bone cancer....

*   *   *
This might come as a surprise to some, but when folks ask who these pages would've loved to cover should this scribe have been around in their time, more than any other, there's your answer – even for an Italian kid whose only Southern home is in Philly, see, the preach above stands as an inspired text.

And as we turn into a new month, a closely-related milestone is soon upon us – raised as Bertha Bowman in a Methodist family in Yazoo City, Mississippi, Thea's 75th birthday would've been this December 29th.


The Pope's Advent Prayer: To Welcome the Stranger

Amid the current domestic context on several fronts – ecclesial and otherwise – B16's general Prayer Intention for December is even more notable....
That migrants throughout the world may be welcomed with generosity and authentic love, especially by Christian communities.
For the record, the timing isn't connected to the news or any local situation, but the Christmas story. Determined by the pontiff and circulated through the Apostleship of Prayer, B16's monthly intentions (one general, another for the missions) are always set during the prior calendar year. Accordingly, 2013's topics are already out and about. 

Still, amid the coming days that – more than any other – highlight the new migrant ascendancy that's already birthed American Catholicism's most epochal demographic shift in a century and a half, the reminder from Rome couldn't have hit at a better moment.

*    *    *
In that light, another year of these shores' defining festival of faith at this hour of history begins this weekend with just the first round of parades and devotions in spots around the country... not for the Immaculate Conception, of course, but the de facto American Catholic "Super Bowl" that culminates four nights later, all while the Anglo contingent is mostly asleep. 

Now in its 81st year, the opening leg of the national Guadalupe Event is thought to see its marquee rite in this Sunday's traditional afternoon march through East Los Angeles, capped by Mass in an open-air stadium before an annual crowd in the range of 25 to 30,000. 

Home to some 5 million Catholics – twice its 1990 size – the LA church, 70 percent of it Hispanic, is the largest diocese in the five-century history of the Stateside church by a slim margin of some 2 million (put another way, by the size of the archdiocese of Boston). Nationally, meanwhile, Latinos comprise fully three-fifths of the domestic faithful younger than 30, and above all – precise figures of the undocumented being difficult to pinpoint – form either a plurality or an outright majority of the roughly 70 million-member fold coast to coast. 

Keeping with tradition here, the calendar's signal moment of this emergence will be these pages' Big Story over the next fortnight... because, well, what's Bigger than this?

And so, let the Storm Troopers of the New Evangelization among us kick off another year of the Parade....


Thursday, November 29, 2012

The "iPope" Becomes @Pope: Coming Soon, A Tweeting Benedict

(SVILUPPO: At the briefing reported below, it was announced that the Pope's official Twitter account will be @Pontifex – it's set to launch on 12 December.)

In the Vatican's latest move to leverage its profile on social media, a Monday morning press conference will be held on a topic that, not long ago, would've been unthinkable: "The Pope on Twitter."

In the works from early 2012 – and initially promised to launch as early as last Lent – the rollout of a papal handle will be led by a rare full-court press of the Holy See's lead communicators: the twin chiefs of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli and Msgr Paul Tighe; the Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Fr Federico Lombardi; the editor of L'Osservatore Romano Gian Maria Vian and Greg Burke, the former Fox News correspondent (and Opus Dei numerary) hired earlier this year as a media guru based in the Secretariat of State. 

The quintet will be joined by Twitter's California-based director of social innovation, Claire Diaz Ortiz.

Within five years of its launch, the micro-messaging platform now counts some 600 million users worldwide. In early October, Facebook announced that it was being accessed by over a billion users a month.

Monday's presser comes almost 17 months since the Pope clicked on an iPad (above) to launch the Vatican's portal, and sent a tweet in five languages to announce it. While Benedict – who was recently reported to have an Apple tablet of his own, using it to "skim the [news]papers" – won't be clicking away in 140 characters himself, the PopeTweets are expected to synthesize his talks and messages in a sufficiently-sized format. 

For several months, rumors have pegged @BenedictusPPXVI – the pontiff's signature – as the chosen avatar, yet no firm details of the Pope's account are expected to emerge before the late morning briefing in the Holy See Press Office. Italian reports have stated that the account will be up and running some days after the press conference. 

While several organs of the Holy See – most prominently the Social Communications dicastery and the Vatican's in-house news division already run Twitter feeds, the new foray reflects Rome's growing awareness of a key reality of digital culture: namely, that for something to take off and be fully embraced in the social media sphere, it needs to emerge from a person, not an institution.

*   *   *
Even if B16's arrival in the Twitterverse brings Catholicism's biggest fish to the conversation, Papa Ratzinger won't be the first hierarch to make a splash in it. Notable prelates already in the mix include several cardinals – Angelo Scola of Milan, Timothy Dolan of New York, the Vatican Culture Czar Gianfranco Ravasi, the Mexican Francisco Robles Ortega of Guadalajara and Brazil's Odilio Scherer of Sao Paulo, South Africa's Wilfrid Fox Napier OFM of Durban and Boston's Sean O'Malley OFM Cap. – alongside an ever-growing number of bishops whose investment ranges from a lone daily message to a morning stream that runs the gamut. (In the most recent of the latter, as part of his transition to Southern California, Bishop Kevin Vann – who'll be installed in Orange on December 10th – announced last week that he'd be jumping in, along with rebooting the blog he's maintained in Fort Worth since late 2010.)

For those who could use the warning, if recent experience is any indicator, Monday's presser will likely spark a rush by newsrooms on church entities in the field, with the angle of "The Pope's on Twitter now... what's happening here at home on that front?"

In some places, the question might still be greeted less with the sound of tweets than crickets. Gratefully, though, those are far fewer than they used to be.

Beyond the @Pope rollout, another Vatican plank on digital media is already lined up – set to be published on January 24th, Benedict's message for the next World Communications Day will yet again focus on social networks, this time as "portals of truth and faith; new spaces for evangelization." 

More as it happens... well, where else?

SVILUPPO: No sooner had the preceding gone up when the following article appeared in tomorrow's edition of L'Osservatore (which publishes in the late afternoon), under the headline "How to speak of God in 140 characters":
It is clear that there are some people on the net who are in turmoil [sic]. Despite the fact that it has not been officially presented, the news of the Benedict XVI's next tweet is circling the globe. The “140 character” social network Twitter is about once again to welcome the Pope. 
The first time the Pope tweeted was in June 2011 when he launched the Vatican portal Now we must wait a week or two before the Holy Father will take up tweeting again. 
“The initiative”, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, said, “comes from the Pope's desire to utilize all opportunities for communication which technology offers and are characteristic in the world today”. The Archbishop explained further: “Just yesterday at the General Audience, the Pope once again demonstrated his desire to be able to speak of God to all people through every possible means. He recalled the fundamental importance of communication for the transmission of the faith. He spoke about God's method to communicate, the method of humility by which God did not hesitate to make himself one of us. He spoke about Jesus, communicator who addressed the people of his time, using their own language”. 
Then Archbishop Celli made a meaningful clarification: “The Pope, entering the world of digital communications, is acting in an original way in the history of the Church. In a certain sense he explained this yesterday speaking to the faithful in the Paul VI Audience Hall when, referring to the Letter to the Corinthians, he quoted the Apostle Paul: '...when I came to you, brethren, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God in lofty words or wisdom...'. It is precisely in this that the meaning of the Pope's presence on Twitter – that world of microblogging, of modern, quick, immediate communication, unforgiving in its allowance of 140 characters with which you must say everything – is rooted”.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

"Bishop Joe, It's Your Time"

This scribe's waited many years to say this... Lord knows no shortage of us have likewise burned to see it... 

...and in Providence's time – but not soon enough – the moment is here. Or, alternatively – at long, blessed last – the "Rector's Ark" has finally, literally, come home.

So here we go – in an expectedly memorable set of remarks (capped by an ad orientem prayer) at the close of his Ordination Mass this afternoon, church, meet Bishop Joe Strickland:

On a ritual note, even if the Eminent One of the South oddly (again) dodged the Roman rubric that, "in his own [local] church," a newly-ordained diocesan bishop is to become the principal celebrant of his inaugural Eucharist (irrespective of the rank his principal consecrator holds), another unusual element – at least, for the Western liturgy – that bled into today's rites hit the nail squarely on the head: "Axios!"

SVILUPPO: Before entering "the biggest place we could find" – his hometown's 2,000-seat civic auditorium – the ordinand got the diocesan schoolkids on hand to send him in right....

To be sure, the new bishop's "work" will begin with the same young-church – first thing tomorrow morning, the now-"Bishop Joe" will inaugurate his episcopal ministry by celebrating an early Mass with the students of the see-city's Catholic elementary school (at which time he'll take possession of his Cathedral chair), then another at the middle and high school where, alongside his duties as vicar-general, Strickland served as chaplain – and, many days, a crossing-guard – until his appointment as the permanent shepherd of the 86,000-member East Texas church.

SVILUPPO 2: Even if the liturgical signals got crossed at points, for his homily, the "Cardinardo" – now chair-elect of the US bishops' Worship arm – delivered a masterful, and just as Texas-style catechesis on the role of a shepherd, one applicable to both the wider church's "lungs." 

Here, the preach in full: 

PHOTOS: CatholicTV(1,3); KLTV(2)


At Last – In Tyler, It's Time

Eleven years ago on Assumption Day, the most exuberant episcopal ordination American Catholicism has seen in modern times took place in St Louis as a crowd of 2,700 – including, so it was said, "seminarians hanging from balconies" – thronged the city's Cathedral-Basilica to watch a certain wildly beloved former rector of the Pontifical North American College become his hometown's auxiliary bishop.

The hubbub of that afternoon could rightfully be called "Dolan-sized" – after all, it was his ordination. And today, deep in the big heart of East Texas' "little diocese that could" – 33 counties, home to 86,000 Catholics and barely a quarter-century old – odds are it will have met its match. 

For anyone who could use a hearty shot of an ecstatic church at its witnessing, worshipping best – and, really, who couldn't these days? – do yourself a favor and click into the livestreams at either CatholicTV or EWTN (iOS feed) at 2pm Central today (3 Eastern, 9 Rome, 7am tomorrow in Sydney, 2000GMT for the rest) to watch the church of Tyler go over the moon as its own "Father Joe" Strickland is ordained its fourth bishop. 

Of course, there's a not-so-local element too: with the liturgy, the hometown vicar-general/high-school chaplain (who served for 15 years as rector of what'll now be his cathedral) formally becomes global Catholicism's first blogging priest to take the reins as a diocesan bishop.

On the 53 year-old's appointment in late September, every effort was made to nab "the biggest place we could find," and officials thought the city's 2,000-seat Caldwell Auditorium would do the trick. But in just the latest testimony to what's been termed the "intense loyalty" the natives feel toward the bishop-elect – and, from experience, even that's putting it mildly – even the amphitheater would come to require ticket-only admission given the crush of locals who sought to attend; a drawing was held to allot the available spots. A reception open to the general public will follow the Mass in the city's convention center.

More to come... in the meanwhile, here's video of the ordinand's appearance on a local morning show early yesterday:

As memorable as expected, fullvideo of Strickland's ordination remarks has been posted.

"We Must Without Fear": On Communicating Faith

From the Pope's catechesis at today's General Audience....
How do we speak of God in our times? How can we communicate the Gospel to open the way to its salvific truth?

Speaking about God requires a continual growth in faith, familiarity with Jesus and His Gospel, a profound knowledge of God and strong passion for His plan for salvation, without giving in to the temptations of success....

We must not fear the humility of taking small steps, trusting in the leaven that makes the dough rise slowly and mysteriously. In speaking about God, in the work of evangelisation under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we must return to the simple and essential nature of proclamation: the concrete Good News of God Who cares about us, the love of God which Jesus Christ brought close to us, even unto the Cross, and which in the Resurrection opens us to life without end, to eternal life....

To speak about God, we must make space for Him, confident that He acts upon our weakness. We must make space for Him without fear, with simplicity and joy, in the profound conviction that the more we place Him – and not ourselves – at the centre of our lives, the more fruitful our communication will be....

This also holds true for Christian communities. They are called to communicate the transforming action of God's grace, overcoming individualism, closure, selfishness and indifference, bringing the love of God to daily relationships. We must must act to ensure [that] we always announce Christ, not ourselves....

From the Gospel we see how Jesus was interested in every human situation He encountered, He immersed Himself in the lives of the men and women of His time, with complete trust in the help of the Father.... In Him, proclamation and life were entwined: Jesus acted and taught, always taking as a starting point His intimate relationship with God the Father. This approach gives fundamental indications to Christians: living in faith and charity is a way of speaking about God in our times, because it demonstrates the credibility of what we say in words through a life lived in Christ. We must take care to grasp the signs of our times, and thereby to identify the potential, the desires and the obstacles we encounter in contemporary culture, in particular the desire for authenticity, the yearning for transcendence, the sensibility for protecting creation. And we must communicate without fear the answer offered by faith.
PHOTO: Reuters


Monday, November 26, 2012

No Peeking

...and, well, feel free to Bring Your Own Caption.

Even if Consistory Time always makes for a shutterbug's paradise, the snap above might just take the cake.

PHOTO: Getty/Vatican Pool


An Ever-Changing College... Ever More, Benedict's Supermajority

Much as last weekend's events highlighted the reality in the elevation of the two youngest members – by far – of the Pope's Senate (and, in time, the electorate that'll choose his successor), a 2010 analysis long ago set the stakes for what's now upon us....
Already, in the red hats he doled out in March 2006 and November 2007, the pontiff has named thirty -- that is, at least a quarter of his successor’s eventual electorate -- so restoring the “papal senate” to its voting maximum would give Papa Ratzinger 42% of “his” cardinals in the electoral college, the remainder named by John Paul II.
But here’s where it really gets interesting. Between now and the end of 2012, at least an additional 23 seats will open up just on account of electors “aging out.” The result: within seven years of his own election, B16 will have an unfettered hand to choose not just a majority of the voting College, but a contingent just shy of the two-thirds necessary to elect the Roman pontiff. What’s more, while John Paul II -- who repeatedly broke with Paul VI’s 120 limit, once ballooning it as high as 135 -- tended to name his cardinals significantly older, especially toward the end of his reign, as of today Benedict’s additions to the scarlet tide have an average age of just over 68 -- a figure bound to fall considerably once the new class takes its seats.

This rapid turnover of the College presents the specter of a scenario that could end up being a rather pointed last word on John Paul’s legacy: the distinct -- and, with time, ever-growing -- possibility that one of Karol Wojtyla’s chosen cardinals will never don the papal white.....
*   *   *
So, that was then... and two years later, the master-count now stands at 53 electors chosen by John Paul, to 67 by Benedict. 

On age-outs alone – read: barring deaths – fifteen more voting slots will open by the end of March 2014, giving Joseph Ratzinger the potential of filling at least 82 seats in a hypothetical Conclave by that point. (For the less numerical, that's all of 15 months away.)

In an electoral college numbering the statutory maximum of 120, a supermajority of 80 – two-thirds, without the former plus-one – is required to elect a Pope. Should no new red hats be made by then and the dreaded, rightly fearful need arise, the requisite margin to pick Peter's successor would be 70 or less.

That said, it bears recalling how, at February's intake – clearly seeing the number of impending vacancies ahead – a Papa Ratzinger who had previously been a rigid follower of Paul VI's 1975 Conclave-cap expanded the potential electorate to 125 cardinals, a full eleven of whose spots would come open before the most recent Consistory was held, before quickly being replenished in this go-round. 

In other words, as Popes get older, they tend to get bolder... and over the next 18 months, even more than usual, anything is possible.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Worthy Is the Lamb

Maybe it's just this scribe's own idiosyncrasy, but given the calendar's rhythm this year, hearing Christmas music around while we've still got another week of Ordinary Time ahead just feels odd, if not woefully inappropriate.

Then again, today's feast might just have its way of coming to the rescue. 

Even if it's an Advent tradition in the Anglophone world, it'd be hard to think of a better reflection for this Christ the King Sunday than Handel's Messiah... so in that light, as performed at the site of its New World premiere – New York's Trinity Church on Wall Street – have at it, church:

As ever, but especially amid this weekend, buona domenica to one and all – safe and easy travels to those among us heading home... yet whatever your commute, hope the holiday's been a great grace and gift.


For All the Cardinals, "The Demanding Responsibility To Bear Witness"

Here below, the Pope's homily at this morning's Mass concelebrated with the new intake of the College of Cardinals on this solemnity of Christ the King.

* * *
Today’s Solemnity of Christ, King of the Universe, the crowning of the liturgical year, is enriched by our reception into the College of Cardinals of six new members whom, following tradition, I have invited to celebrate the Eucharist with me this morning. I greet each of them most cordially and I thank Cardinal James Michael Harvey for the gracious words which he addressed to me in the name of all. I greet the other Cardinals and Bishops present, as well as the distinguished civil Authorities, Ambassadors, priests, religious and all the faithful, especially those coming from the Dioceses entrusted to the pastoral care of the new Cardinals.

In this final Sunday of the liturgical year, the Church invites us to celebrate the Lord Jesus as King of the Universe. She calls us to look to the future, or more properly into the depths, to the ultimate goal of history, which will be the definitive and eternal kingdom of Christ. He was with the Father in the beginning, when the world was created, and he will fully manifest his lordship at the end of time, when he will judge all mankind. Today’s three readings speak to us of this kingdom. In the Gospel passage which we have just heard, drawn from the account of Saint John, Jesus appears in humiliating circumstances – he stands accused – before the might of Rome. He had been arrested, insulted, mocked, and now his enemies hope to obtain his condemnation to death by crucifixion. They had presented him to Pilate as one who sought political power, as the self-proclaimed King of the Jews. The Roman procurator conducts his enquiry and asks Jesus: “Are you the King of the Jews?” (Jn 18:33). In reply to this question, Jesus clarifies the nature of his kingship and his messiahship itself, which is no worldly power but a love which serves. He states that his kingdom is in no way to be confused with a political reign: “My kingship is not of this world … is not from the world” (v. 36).

Jesus clearly had no political ambitions. After the multiplication of the loaves, the people, enthralled by the miracle, wanted to take him away and make him their king, in order to overthrow the power of Rome and thus establish a new political kingdom which would be considered the long-awaited kingdom of God. But Jesus knows that God’s kingdom is of a completely different kind; it is not built on arms and violence. The multiplication of the loaves itself becomes both the sign that he is the Messiah and a watershed in his activity: henceforth the path to the Cross becomes ever clearer; there, in the supreme act of love, the promised kingdom, the kingdom of God, will shine forth. But the crowd does not understand this; they are disappointed and Jesus retires to the mountain to pray in solitude (cf. Jn 6:1-15). In the Passion narrative we see how even the disciples, though they had shared Jesus’ life and listened to his words, were still thinking of a political kingdom, brought about also by force. In Gethsemane, Peter had unsheathed his sword and began to fight, but Jesus stopped him (cf. Jn 18:10-11). He does not wish to be defended by arms, but to accomplish the Father’s will to the end, and to establish his kingdom not by armed conflict, but by the apparent weakness of life-giving love. The kingdom of God is a kingdom utterly different from earthly kingdoms.

Read more »

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Tears of A Cardinal.... The Hope of A Church?

And now, of course, where else to end this Red-Letter Day but with the "star" of the show.

Even as the timing of another intake might've made for a surprise, it's fair to say this Consistory's safest bet was that, at some point, Chito Tagle would burst into tears.

As the wider church has come to learn over recent months, that's a rather common occurrence. And right on the money, no sooner did the 55 year-old "golden child" of Manila kneel before Benedict XVI this morning to receive The Ultimate "Like" than the weeping commenced, prompting a moved Pope to cradle the new cardinal's face in his hands and offer a word of encouragement as, holding onto the armrests of the papal throne, a trembling Tagle lowered his head and broke down. Notably – yet perfectly in keeping with the unspoken "script" evident from this gathering's outset – the moment likewise seemed to spark B16's warmest expressions of the day.

Say what you will, but on a day when the Roman Curia – and, for that matter, its home-Continent as a whole – was pointedly and completely shut out of a Consistory's center stage for the first time in nearly nine decades, it sure beat the giddy triumphalism we've seen from other neo-Porporati in our time. And whether it's expressed through tears, song or preaching, the unfailingly effusive heart-on-sleeve quotient provides a big key to understanding the lure surrounding the head of Asia's marquee diocese, around whom an admittedly predictable chorus has already sprouted to wield that ominous, unfortunate, but maybe just as inevitable word – "Papabile." (Among at least some traditionalists, meanwhile, the Filipino prelate has conjured a different epithet, with the Vatican II historian of the progressive "Bologna School" being portrayed as "Syncretism" Incarnate... irrespective of what the Pope of Summorum Pontificum has just as clearly and authoritatively determined in this case.)

Installed in the capital just 11 months ago, the unexpectedly quick elevation of the Philippines' seventh native cardinal caps a meteoric year for the Washington-trained theologian, who had the even rarer privilege of receiving the red hat with both of his parents on-hand to witness the moment. 

Following his globally-televised cry, Rome Reports caught up with Tagle during the evening's courtesy visits, where he explained his emotiveness.... 

Even before leaving Manila, meanwhile, the welling up had already begun as Tagle admitted to a quasi-apocalyptic fear of the new role in the most recent edition of his weekly TV catechesis on the Sunday readings:

And as no Chitofest would be complete without singing, here's earlier footage of the neo-Cardinale backed up by a school choir at home:

Barely three months after Tagle's predecessor, Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales, "aged out" of a hypothetical Conclave on turning 80, the elevation of a new Filipino elector restores the lone vote for a Pope held by one of the world's most densely-Catholic countries, whose 75 million faithful comprise a larger group than its 67 million-member counterpart in the US. 

By contrast, with today's elevation of the Milwaukee-born Vatican "lifer" James Harvey, the Stateside church now returns to a bloc of 11 cardinal-electors.

*    *    *
Touching down at Fiumicino on Wednesday clad in a windbreaker, a backpack strapped on and bottled water hanging out, it wouldn't be a surprise if at least a few untrained observers mistook the boyish cardinal-designate for a returning student-priest... if only the welcome from the Filipino ambassador to the Holy See (below) hadn't blown his cover.

Like much else on all sides these days, the sheer existence of a College of Cardinals – to say nothing of its makeup and traditions – is enough to make a good chunk of the Catholic conversation foam at the mouth. Ask what a better substitute would be, though, and when you get as many differing answers as there are critics, any constructive discussion from there tends to fall by the wayside. 

Put simply, as the system's roots date back some 1,900 years – and any thoughts of outliving it prove less a commentary on the needs of the church than the state of one's ego – highlighting what's good with what is and encouraging its spread tends to be a much healthier use of time. And when a figure who, as a bishop, has declined the use of a car in favor of buses and his bike, does his pastoral rounds alone and has repeatedly called the church to divest itself of arrogance is brought into the Papal Senate, many of today's supposedly "knowledgable" or "enlightened" criticisms and claims suddenly ring rather hollow, and could be deemed as willfully blind or even disingenuous. 

Then again, since the temptation to talk more, listen less and look to the rest to testify stands as a towering danger for the church in an internet age, perhaps it was especially fitting that Rome's Man of the Hour – already Catholic new media's most popular prelate – counterintuitively used his talk at last month's Synod for the New Evangelization to press instead for an ecclesial rediscovery of "silence" and, soul by soul, a return to "a simpler witness to Jesus, meek and humble of heart."

Along those lines, following Tuesday's piece here on Tagle's unparalleled new-media cred for a top hierarch, it bears noting that an American priest who's no stranger in wider church-circles wrote to say that the post had missed the mark....

And to a big degree, he was right.

While "it is good to know that thousands and thousands 'like' him on Facebook," the cleric – for purposes of context, pretty firmly a man of the center – mused that "few outside of the Philippine community understand why so many don't just like" the new cardinal, "but love him, or [know] just what an extraordinary man he really is. 

"I am not Filipino," he added, "but was able to experience [Tagle's] character as a truly GOOD shepherd in a very special way."

Having requested to speak on background, here's the story he told....

"After finishing [a lengthy, high-profile assignment], I took a few months of sabbatical in the Philippines. A priest friend of mine arranged with then Bishop Chito to direct a thirty-day Ignatian retreat for me. I was the given a small room in a convent in Tagaytay, a resort town that is part of his former diocese of Imus, in Cavite [province]. For thirty days, this bishop with plenty else to do [Ed. Note: the Imus diocese numbers some 2.3 million Catholics] took an hour out of his day to come by the convent and visit with me, guiding me gently and assuredly towards a deeper and ever more rich experience of God's presence in my life. He also shared much of his own life with me. I was able to meet as much in him Jesus, the Good Shepherd, as in my own meditations on the various scripture passages he offered to me for prayer.

Just one moment of grace among many: One evening, he invited me to join him and his seminarians for dinner at their nearby seminary, where he served as rector and bishop. What a lovely surprise when dinner was served to find the seminary staff, the cooks, the maintenance boys, the shepherds just in from the barn, all take their seats with their bishop and the seminarians for the meal together. No rank, no superiority or inferiority, no cleric versus laity, no rich versus poor, just one family enjoying a simple meal together. 
Besides being a fine theologian, a master of the internet and mass media, a very competent administrator, in a society filled with extraordinary corruption, Chito Tagle stands as one of the few public figures who is absolutely unbribable. And on top of that, he is authentically humble. He is simply the smartest, holiest, most courageous, most sacrificial, most pastoral man, priest, bishop, archbishop… and now cardinal I have ever met anywhere. These are the reasons he is so popular in the Philippines and why he has so many "likes" on his Facebook page. This is why politicians and government officials, not to mention priests and seminarians, religious and laity, seek his counsel in their difficult moments. 
More than any single person in the Catholic Church today, this simple and loving shepherd gives me, by far, the most hope and joy.

For him and those like him, today I give thanks...."
And especially on this Thanksgiving weekend, so should we all give thanks for all the many, many great lights among us... because, even for the high challenges and roiled scene of these times, what Church could ever ask for more than these? 

May the lot of us know the grace to be ever more like them – in truth, to be them – today, tomorrow, and always.


"Receive the Red Biretta...."

For anybody just waking up, here's full video of the centerpiece moment at this morning's "rites of creation" – the Pope's conferral of the red hat and ring on new Cardinals James Harvey (archpriest of St Paul's Outside the Walls), Bechara al-Raï (Maronite patriarch of Antioch), Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal (major-archbishop of Trivandrum of the Syro-Malankars), John Onaiyekan (archbishop of Abuja), Ruben Salazar Gomez (archbishop of Bogotá) and Luis Antonio Tagle (archbishop of Manila):

VIDEO: The Holy See


A Rookie Among Rookies: For India's Syro-Malankars, A Historic Red Hat

Perhaps fittingly for an intake that was decidely Eastward-looking – or, as the Italians would have it, "soli stranieri" (read: "all strangers") – it bears noting that this morning brought the elevation of the youngest member of the Pope's Senate in the figure of the 53 year-old head of India's Syro-Malankara Catholics, now Cardinal Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, shown above making the rounds following his induction.

Only granted quasi-patriarchal status as a major archbishopric in early 2005, the first-ever red hat for the 600,000-member community comes as a rather rapid triumph on several accounts. Over the last two decades, all of two clerics were younger still on entering the College: the Hungarian primate Peter Erdö (now head of the European bishops' conference) at 51 in 2003 and Sarajevo's Vinko Puljic, who John Paul II elevated at 49 in 1994 as the late pontiff's sign of solidarity with the war-torn city, to which he was unable to travel amid the conflict over the breakup of Yugoslavia. 

An alum of Rome's Angelicum – where he received his doctorate in ecumenical theology in 1997 – Cleemis is a full two years' junior to the next-youngest "prince" of the church, Manila's Chito Tagle, who was likewise created today. As previously noted, the "50 barrier" last broken by Puljic is next expected to lift in the mid-term future with the all-but-certain elevation of the leader of the largest Eastern fold: the major-archbishop of the 6 million-member Ukrainian Greek-Catholic church, 42 year-old Sviatoslav Shevchuk.
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Not to be confused with the larger and more established Syro-Malybar Catholic community – which likewise traces its lineage to St Thomas – the Syro-Malankars' scarlet nod comes just on the heels of the church's establishment of a first jurisdiction outside their home-turf in India's Kerala state: an exarchate (vicariate) for the US, based on Long Island and led by a hierarch chosen by the body's Synod.

As of this writing, the Stateside branch – headed by 52 year-old Bishop Thomas Eusebius, a former secretary-general of the Syro-Malankars' central Curia – numbers some 10,000 members in 15 parishes around the country. (The new cardinal is shown above center, Eusebius to his left, and flanked by then-Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York and Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre at the US exarchate's launch.) 

In a 2003 speech to the church's Synod – which elected Thottunkal as its de facto patriarch in February 2007 – John Paul II lauded it as Catholicism's "fastest-growing" branch worldwide. And now, as the community reaches a fresh landmark moment, here's a snip of video from its liturgy, the Holy Qurbono, as led by its first cardinal during a 2009 visit to Dallas:

Thottunkal will offer his Qurbono of Thanksgiving tomorrow afternoon in the Basilica of Saints John and Paul on the Coelian Hill – the headquarters of the Passionists which, for seven decades until earlier this year, had been the titular church traditionally given to the cardinal-archbishop of New York.
PHOTOS: Reuters(1); Mary Iapalucci/The Long Island Catholic(2)


The Redbirds Take Flight

Well, that was quick – between the expected lower turnout of the veteran cardinals and the short biglietto (literally, the papal "ticket" granting a prelate entry into the College) at this intake, the Consistory was over and done and B16 whisked out within an hour flat. (Above, Cardinal Ruben Salazar Gomez of Bogotá is shown after receiving his red hat.)

It remains to be heard whether everybody who came for the rites actually made it into St Peter's this time; should that have come to pass, it'd be a first since the Consistories returned indoors from the Square outside in 2007. Either way, despite the traditional enjoinders against piping up, today's crowd was considerably more lively than its recent predecessors, which seemed to reflect the Pope's repeatedly-stated aim this time of infusing a beleaguered Vatican with a shot of the "church of Pentecost" – "the polyphony of the various voices, rais[ing] a single harmonious song to the living God."

Their induction now complete, the new cardinals break for lunch and receptions with their own groups before returning behind the walls at 4pm for the traditional evening "courtesy visits" to the newly-elevated members – the only occasion for which the state rooms of the Apostolic Palace are open to the general public. Always a colorful moment as the fresh crop of scarlet meets the sumptuous backdrop and all sorts of characters mill about (above), the ritual meet-and-greet runs 'til 6.30. 

The marathon day ends with a round of dinners before another early start tomorrow as the new class concelebrates Mass with Benedict at 9.30. The official celebrations end Monday as the pilgrimage groups close out their stay with a private papal audience.

PHOTOS: Reuters


"A Variety of Faces... The Face of the Universal Church"

Here below, fulltext of the Pope's homily at this morning's public consistory for the creation of six new cardinals.

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“I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church”

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

These words, which the new Cardinals are soon to proclaim in the course of their solemn profession of faith, come from the Niceno-Constantinopolitan creed, the synthesis of the Church’s faith that each of us receives at baptism. Only by professing and preserving this rule of truth intact can we be authentic disciples of the Lord. In this Consistory, I would like to reflect in particular on the meaning of the word “catholic”, a word which indicates an essential feature of the Church and her mission. Much could be said on this subject and various different approaches could be adopted: today I shall limit myself to one or two thoughts.

The characteristic marks of the Church are in accordance with God’s plan, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us: “it is Christ who, through the Holy Spirit, makes his Church one, holy, catholic and apostolic, and it is he who calls her to realize each of these qualities” (no. 811). Specifically, what makes the Church catholic is the fact that Christ in his saving mission embraces all humanity. While during his earthly life Jesus’ mission was limited to the Jewish people, “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt 15:24), from the beginning it was meant to bring the light of the Gospel to all peoples and lead all nations into the kingdom of God. When he saw the faith of the centurion at Capernaum, Jesus cried out: “I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 8:11). This universalist perspective can be seen, among other things, from the way Jesus applied to himself not only the title “Son of David”, but also “Son of Man” (Mk 10:33), as in the Gospel passage that we have just heard. The expression “Son of Man”, in the language of Jewish apocalyptic literature inspired by the vision of history found in the book of the prophet Daniel (cf. 7:13-14), calls to mind the figure who appears “with the clouds of heaven” (v. 13). This is an image that prophesies a completely new kingdom, sustained not by human powers, but by the true power that comes from God. Jesus takes up this rich and complex expression and refers it to himself in order to manifest the true character of his Messianism: a mission directed to the whole man and to every man, transcending all ethnic, national and religious particularities. And it is actually by following Jesus, by allowing oneself to be drawn into his humanity and hence into communion with God, that one enters this new kingdom proclaimed and anticipated by the Church, a kingdom that conquers fragmentation and dispersal.

Jesus sends his Church not to a single group, then, but to the whole human race, and thus he unites it, in faith, in one people, in order to save it. The Second Vatican Council expresses this succinctly in the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium: “All men are called to belong to the new people of God. Therefore this people, while remaining one and unique, is to be spread throughout the whole world and through every age, so that the design of God's will may be fulfilled” (no. 13). Hence the universality of the Church flows from the universality of God’s unique plan of salvation for the world. This universal character emerges clearly on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit fills the first Christian community with his presence, so that the Gospel may spread to all nations, causing the one People of God to grow in all peoples. From its origins, then, the Church is oriented kat’holon, it embraces the whole universe. The Apostles bear witness to Christ, addressing people from all over the world, and each of their hearers understands them as if they were speaking his native language (cf. Acts 2:7-8). From that day, in the “power of the Holy Spirit”, according to Jesus’ promise, the Church proclaims the dead and risen Lord “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The Church’s universal mission does not arise from below, but descends from above, from the Holy Spirit: from the beginning it seeks to express itself in every culture so as to form the one People of God. Rather than beginning as a local community that slowly grows and spreads outwards, it is like yeast oriented towards a universal horizon, towards the whole: universality is inscribed within it.

“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15); “make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19). With these words, Jesus sends the Apostles to all creation, so that God’s saving action may reach everywhere. But if we consider the moment of Jesus’ ascension into heaven, as recounted in the Acts of the Apostles, we see that the disciples are still closed in their thinking, looking to the restoration of a new Davidic kingdom. They ask the Lord: “will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). How does Jesus answer? He answers by broadening their horizons and giving them both a promise and a task: he promises that they will be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, and he confers upon them the task of bearing witness to him all over the world, transcending the cultural and religious confines within which they were accustomed to think and live, so as to open themselves to the universal Kingdom of God. At the beginning of the Church’s journey, the Apostles and disciples set off without any human security, purely in the strength of the Holy Spirit, the Gospel and the faith. This is the yeast that spreads round the world, enters into different events and into a wide range of cultural and social contexts, while remaining a single Church. Around the Apostles, Christian communities spring up, but these are “the” Church which is always the same, one and universal, whether in Jerusalem, Antioch, or Rome. And when the Apostles speak of the Church, they are not referring to a community of their own, but to the Church of Christ, and they insist on the unique, universal and all-inclusive identity of the Catholica that is realized in every local church. The Church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic, she reflects in herself the source of her life and her journey: the unity and communion of the Trinity.
Situated within the context and the perspective of the Church’s unity and universality is the College of Cardinals: it presents a variety of faces, because it expresses the face of the universal Church. In this Consistory, I want to highlight in particular the fact that the Church is the Church of all peoples, and so she speaks in the various cultures of the different continents. She is the Church of Pentecost: amid the polyphony of the various voices, she raises a single harmonious song to the living God.

I cordially greet the official Delegations of the different countries, the bishops, priests, consecrated persons, and lay faithful of the various diocesan communities and all those who share in the joy of the new members of the College of Cardinals – their family, friends and co-workers. The new Cardinals, who represent different dioceses around the world, are henceforth associated by a special title with the Church of Rome, and in this way they reinforce the spiritual bonds that unite the whole Church, brought to life by Christ and gathered around the Successor of Peter. At the same time, today’s rite expresses the supreme value of fidelity. Indeed, the oath that you are about to take, venerable brothers, contains words filled with profound spiritual and ecclesial significance: “I promise and I swear, from now on and for as long as I live, to remain faithful to Christ and his Gospel, constantly obedient to the Holy Apostolic Roman Church”. And when you receive the red biretta, you will be reminded that it means “you must be ready to conduct yourselves with fortitude, even to the shedding of your blood, for the increase of the Christian faith, for the peace and well-being of the people of God”. Whereas the consignment of the ring is accompanied by the admonition: “Know that your love for the Church is strengthened by your love for the Prince of the Apostles”.
In these gestures and the words that accompany them, we see an indication of the identity that you assume today in the Church. From now on, you will be even more closely and intimately linked to the See of Peter: the titles and deaconries of the churches of Rome will remind you of the bond that joins you, as members by a very special title, to this Church of Rome, which presides in universal charity. Particularly through the work you do for the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia, you will be my valued co-workers, first and foremost in my apostolic ministry for the fullness of catholicity, as Pastor of the whole flock of Christ and prime guarantor of its doctrine, discipline and morals.

Dear friends, let us praise the Lord, who “with manifold gifts does not cease to enrich his Church spread throughout the world” (Oration), and reinvigorates her in the perennial youth that he has bestowed upon her. To him we entrust the new ecclesial service of these our esteemed and venerable Brothers, that they may bear courageous witness to Christ, with a lively growing faith and unceasing sacrificial love.

PHOTOS: Reuters


Friday, November 23, 2012

For the Church, It's Red Friday

Even as it feels like some sort of deja vu, yet again – for the first time in the same calendar year since 1929 – Consistory greetings to one and all on this eve of Scarlet Bowl V.

With a nod to the incoming class' "star" Porporato, as you can see, the morning's snack-bags are ready to go. (Lest anybody seeks to gripe about the spelling, though, the house budget doesn't allow for much customization, so we'll work with what we've got.)

The smallest intake to the Pope's Senate since 1977 – a crop which, as things turned out, unwittingly ended up producing the current pontiff – will, as previously noted, be formally received at 11am Rome time (5am Eastern; 1000GMT) tomorrow. As ever, the Vatican player (iOS English link via EWTN) will feature a high-def, commentary-free livestream, with the option for translations or commentary in six languages... and here's the worship aid. On this side, meanwhile, the opinion of this readership will determine whether a live-text feed here would be worth tapping out.

All that said, see you in the morning... yet for now, as an American "lifer" at the Holy See receives the red hat for only the second time in history, the following clip is all the more fitting... its words likely to be even more resonant for no few among us amid these days....

And lastly, as a special, personal bonus – even if the rites of creation have been extensively revised since – here, from the River City archives, video of this scribe's first introduction into an incredible foreign world, given 21 years ago last summer on late-night network TV by the first of the many booming, utterly heroic voices who've since been taken from our midst....

And ever the product of that strangest of ecclesial lineages – the Cardinal and the commentator, both – well, church, here we go... again.