Thursday, October 31, 2013

So, folks, clearly we're off and rolling – well, trying to keep up might be more like it....

Whatever the case, as a frantic Fall continues and the agenda continues to load up, the reminder's in order that these pages keep plugging along solely through the sustenance of their readership.

Hard as it is to believe, this extraordinary year is starting to reach its close, but not without at least one more round of high drama... and, indeed, more surprises. In the short-term, the road begins in Newark with Tuesday's Welcome Mass for Archbishop Bernie Hebda... and most of all, just 10 days remain 'til lights-up in Baltimore for a Fall Classic that's even more crucial than usual – the USCCB's first business meeting since the Conclave, headlined by The Making of the President... and, with it, the message its outcome sends to the Domus.

Of course, the intent is to do the usual on-site full-bore for the whole week... but without the budget, that can only be the hope. If it – let alone anything else – is going to come your way here, gang, the "expense account" is only what you allow, and the added costs of coverage can only be taken on once the normal load of bills are put to bed.

Put bluntly, no other aspect of this work makes this scribe "eye the door" like the ledgers... and if that was the only "bottom line" which counted on this end, in all honestly, the lights would already be out.

So, Church, what happens from here? As ever, the answer's simple – your call:


For Family Synod, An Extraordinary Intro

Over these last weeks, it's been a constant point here that – as the head of the Gang of Eight subsequently put it – the Synod of Bishops "will be transformed"... and that said evolution could prove the linchpin of the Franciscan reform of the church's universal governance.

As a corollary, it bears noting that – for all the optical changes to reflect the Conciliar ecclesiology – fifty years since Vatican II, the authority of the papacy has remained almost entirely unaltered (or, if anything, became even further amplified)... at least, until now. Yet even as a recalibration of the Petrine role in light of the Council is now underway, perhaps the greatest irony of recent events is that the forces who've historically favored a maximal clout for Rome have suddenly sought to downplay the Pope.

In any event, to punctuate the point of the Synod's intended reboot – apparently in a way that's finally become graspable elsewhere – earlier this month the Holy See (under Francis' close watch) prepared an initial summary to guide the preparations for next October's Extraordinary Synod on "The Pastoral Challenges of the Family," with specific questions for the local churches to answer over the year to come with an eye to aiding the process.

Dated 18 October, the summary with a cover-letter from the newly-named Secretary-General of the Synod, Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, was circulated yesterday to the US bishops via the conference, seeking the body's input by December 31st to forward to Rome. (Ostensibly released to the bench via the private "bishops-only website," a copy of the package was obtained by Whispers earlier today.) In keeping with Baldisseri's request that Chanceries share the text "as widely as possible to deaneries and parishes" for their input, some Stateside dioceses have already begun to move toward extending the consultation process into the local level.

Along the way, Baldisseri revealed Francis' "expressed will" to hold a second Synod – the larger, more intensely-prepped ordinary assembly – in 2015 to mark the 50th anniversary of the organ's establishment in the wake of Vatican II. As previously noted, another meeting of the Synod's permanent Council will be the closing bookend of the Consistory announced today for February 22nd. (During the body's last sit-down earlier this month, the papal Ford Focus rolled down the Via della Conciliazione twice to quietly shuttle the Pope to consecutive days' sessions of the group.)

While only two extraordinary Synods have previously been held (the last in 1985), the distinction from the norm lies largely in a more intimate, less clunky – and as a result, arguably more effective – format; unlike the ordinary assembly (comprised of scores of elected bishop-delegates and appointed observers), an extraordinary Synod's makeup consists mostly of the presidents of the episcopal conferences ex officio, with a select number of papal appointees. In addition, the 2014 gathering's two-week duration – 5-19 October – is a reduction by half of the Synods' eventual length over most of John Paul II's pontificate; on his ascent, Benedict XVI slashed a week off the assemblies, while adding a widely-praised hour of open exchange at the end of each day's business. Still, having won plaudits as Relator-General of the 2001 assembly on the role of the bishop, the now-Pope is keenly aware that for no shortage of Synod Fathers, the greatest benefit of the experience has been a healthy amount of nap-time during the sessions.

Further information on the Synod's altered modus operandi will be given next Tuesday at a Vatican press conference featuring Baldisseri and Francis' chosen leaders for the 2014 gathering: Cardinal Peter Erdö of Budapest and Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto, the widely-lauded Italian theologian. For now, the jump-link below will bring up the full text of the 3,600-word "Preparatory Document," which the bishops of England and Wales took the unusual step of publishing online earlier this week, alongside an online version of the questionnaire which concludes the text.

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Francis' First "Red Dawn" – Four Months Early, Pope Calls Consistory

As another precedent-shattering move comes to pass in the new Franciscan Rule, suffice it to say, "Eminences, start your engines...."

Even if the timing of consistories for the creation of new cardinals has long been one of the Vatican's worst-kept secretslast time excepted – never has definitive word come like this: confirming a Tuesday report by the French agency iMedia, this morning the VatiSpox Fr Federico Lombardi SJ announced that, indeed, Papa Bergoglio intends to dole out his first batch of red hats on the feast of the Chair of Peter, 22 February 2014. (This adds further heft to a joke that's been making the rounds lately: in a 180 from past practice, these days, "If you want to know a pontifical secret, just ask the Pope – he'll tell you himself.")

What's more, Lombardi detailed a full plate of events surrounding the first gathering of the Pope's "Senate" since the Conclave. Bookended by the third meeting of Francis' "Gang of Eight" and another summit of the (newly-)all-important Synod Council, Francis will maintain the tradition begun by his predecessor and hold a consultation day with the entire College on the eve of the Consistory, its focus reportedly centered on the reform of the Curia.

Far from the usual means of announcement – a declaration by the Pope himself either at the Wednesday Audience or Sunday Angelus a month before the Consistory date – the date was given this far in advance to allow the nearly 200 red-hats to work the week into their schedules. Though the speculation of prior Consistory dates had largely panned out, far-flung cardinals have long complained that the lack of a formal confirmation until weeks before had the effect of holding their calendars hostage.

By late February, at least 14 voting seats will be available to return the College to its statutory maximum of 120 electors younger than 80. However, as both John Paul II and B16 did at points – Wojtyla having famously ballooned the electorate to 135 in the same 2001 Consistory at which Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elevated – the Pope is perfectly free to dispense from the limit, which was established by Paul VI in 1975.

As for the composition of the new intake, it's fair to say that – with a "Pope of Surprises" who's shown little reluctance about setting his own course – all bets are off. Still, it would be little shock if the first non-European Pope in a millennium started into an effort to significantly shift the geographic makeup of the College, which has habitually seen his home-continent (which contains half the world's Catholics) and much of the global church's emerging standard-bearers significantly underrepresented.

For example, despite boasting the bulk of 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide, Latin Americans only comprised 12 percent of the electors at the March Conclave, its 15 voting cardinals just one more than the North American bloc from a church less than one fifth of its southern neighbor's size. Among other instances of the stark imbalances, among the most glaring is a stack-up between the US church and the Philippines – though both comprise a roughly equal number of members in the range of 70 million, the Stateside voters outnumbered the islands' Cardinal Chito Tagle 11-1 in the Sistine Chapel this spring.

While another 13 seats come open between the February date and April 2015, several ops have indicated that one means Francis intends to use to achieve a geographic reboot is a significant curtailing of the red hats given to Vatican officials, along with a gradual drop of the "cardinalatial sees" in Europe. Taken together, the Curial and Continent blocs accounted for 67 of the 111 electors in March, or precisely three-fifths of the Conclave, just 11 shy of the requisite two-thirds margin needed to produce a Pope.

Among the few bankable names on the coming biglietto – at least, at this point – are but three Curial officials: the new Secretary of State, Archbishop Pietro Parolin, the CDF chief Gerhard Ludwig Müller, and Francis' hand-picked head of the newly-amplified Synod, Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri.

On the residential front, meanwhile, Bergoglio's successor as archbishop of Buenos Aires, Mario Poli, especially after his election dropped Argentina's number of resident voters to zero. Yet even more notably, as part of an expected increase of the College's Eastern presence, both protocol and personal ties would see a seat going to the head of the largest Oriental body in communion with Rome – the major-archbishop of the 6 million-member Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Sviatoslav Shevchuk, who at 43 would become the youngest cardinal elevated in the last century.

Lastly, as was noted at the February 2011 Consistory, with that round's elevation of the archbishop of New York, the US posts traditionally given a red hat either had a sitting cardinal-archbishop, or his predecessor who remained of electoral age – a scenario which (barring deaths) will remain the case until April 2015. In other words, these shores' quota under the customary understanding is more than satisfied for the foreseeable future.

Accordingly, the case then remains in play now – should Francis seek to further expand the Stateside bloc (already, after the Italians, the second-largest electoral group), a Pope of limited familiarity with the domestic scene will have to choose from one of two possibilities: ramp up the elevation of archbishops whose predecessors still have a vote... or continue Papa Ratzinger's project of reflecting a drastically changed Stateside fold by conferring the scarlet on places it's never gone before.

All in all, it bears watching... and as the timetable of today's announcement blew away the norm – for the sake of i Gammarelli and the arrangement of the pilgrimages – don't be surprised one bit to see the designates' names emerge well before January.


Monday, October 28, 2013

The Council's "Unfinished Business," The Church's "Return to Jesus"... and Dreams of "The Next Pope" – A Southern Weekend with Francis' "Discovery Channel"

Over the weekend, something rather extraordinary happened on these shores... and with Halloween upon us, it's a particular treat to share around.

Even if Father Francis feels his limits in English and won't likely make it to the US for another two years, to get things rolling in the meantime, the Pope sent his frighteningly-fluent principal adviser to light up the scoreboard.

To put it another way, the last time a Roman pontiff's Salesian top op came to lay out the program for the Stateside Church, it was two and a half years into the pontificate. Under the new regime, the same cycle took all of seven months.

Then again, for those who've been paying attention to the substance of things in an extraordinary moment, the speed should come as anything but a surprise – Bergoglio & Co. are well aware that time is short... while the vision to be implemented is sweeping.

As the scene's already been well set before, let's just get to it: below you'll find the text of a 5,500 word-keynote and audio of another 40-minute talk given during a two-day Southern swing by the coordinator of Francis' unprecedented "Gang of Eight" (or "C-8"), Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, on no less a topic than "The State of the Church" through the lens of the New Evangelization

Respectively delivered on Friday at the University of Dallas Ministry Conference in Irving and Saturday's closing assembly of Miami's year-long Archdiocesan Synod, while the same copy was initially slated for both events, the globe-trotting, sax-playing Honduran "super-cardinal" veered into a heavily-improvised reflection on the latter stop which turned the Miami speech into something very different – and, indeed, considerably more raucous (even Pentecostal). Still, if you're looking to grasp the concepts at play in these days and the "future reformations" yet to come, you'll want to take the time and effort to read and listen alike and in full.

Along those lines, given the state of things in more places than we'd like to think about, wishing that this package not be casually pieced up and the context hacked to bits in parts beyond can almost feel like hoping against hope. Still, it's worth another try – not only do readers deserve better in seeing the full picture, but in an age when we're blessed with freedom from copy-inches and time-limits, to respect the integrity and nuance of content, especially of this significance, doesn't just tell the story as was intended to be heard, even more, it's simply the decent thing to do.

Ergo, from this side, 'nuff said – beginning with the audio of the Miami talk (featuring spontaneously-singing Cubans and shouts from the crowd), then to the Dallas text (all emphases and highlights original), here's the vision of this pontificate through the eyes of the closest thing Francis has to a "Vice-Pope."

*    *    *

Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga SDB
Archbishop of Tegucigalpa
University of Dallas Ministry Conference
Irving Convention Center
25 October 2013

1. Introduction: It is not possible to talk about the Church, or about the Church today, without referring to the crucial moment in contemporary history that Vatican II has been for her, both as an event of grace and a paradigmatic reference.
The Church is rising. There is a significant increment of the faith in Africa, where the Church has grown tremendously during the 20th century. Such vitality can also be seen in some sectors of the Church in Asia –in India, Vietnam, the Philippines. But, at the same time, we are seeing in Europe institutions of considerable size but little energy, as well as a very hostile culture, fed by secularism and laicism. At the same time, we are watching a continent that “is committing demographic suicide at an alarming pace.” Similarly, here, in the United States of America, not everything is gloom, not everything is scandal and sin. No. Here, the Gospel of Christ is also alive and effective. For instance, George Weigel assures us in The Courage To Be Catholic: Crisis, Reform, and the Future of the Church (Basic Books, 2000) that, 200,000 people embraced the Catholic faith in the United States in Easter of 2002, a number that for us is cheerful, and optimistic, and “a vital sign.”
2. Vatican II
The Second Vatican Council was the main event in the Church in the 20
th Century. In principle, it meant an end to the hostilities between the Church and modernism, which was condemned in the First Vatican Council. On the contrary: neither the world is the realm of evil and sin –these are conclusions clearly achieved in Vatican II—nor is the Church the sole refuge of good and virtue. Modernism was, most of the time, a reaction against injustices and abuses that disparaged the dignity and the rights of the person.
The Vatican II Council officially acknowledged that things had changed, and captured the need for such a change in its Documents, which emphasized truths such as these:

The Church is not the hierarchy, but the people of God. “The People of God” is, for the Council, the all-encompassing reality of the Church that goes back to the basic and the common stuff of our ecclesial condition; namely, our condition as believers. And that is a condition shared by us all. The hierarchy has no purpose in itself and for itself, but only in reference and subordination to the community. The function of the hierarchy is redefined in reference to Jesus as Suffering Servant, not as “Pantocrator” (lord and emperor of this world); only from the perspective of someone crucified by the powers of this world it is possible to found, and to explain, the authority of the Church. The hierarchy is a ministry (diakonia = service) that requires lowering ourselves to the condition of servants. To take that place (the place of weakness and poverty) is her own, her very own responsibility.

Within the people, there is not a dual classification of Christians –laity and clergy, essentially different. The Church as a “society of unequals” disappears: “There is, therefore, in Christ and in the Church no inequality” (LG 12 32).

No ministry can be placed above this dignity common to all. Neither the clergy are
“the men of God,” nor are the laity “the men of the world.” That is a false dichotomy. To speak correctly, we should not speak of clergy and laity, but instead of community and ministry. All the baptized are consecrated as a spiritual house and a holy priesthood (LG 10). Therefore, not only we clergymen are “priests,” but also, side by side with the ordained ministry, there is the common priesthood of the faithful. This change in the concept of priesthood is a fundamental one: “In Christ the priesthood is changed” (Hebrews 7: 12). Indeed, the first trait of the priesthood of Jesus is that “he had to be made like his brothers in every respect.”

The original priesthood of Jesus is the one that has to be continued in history. And it is the basis for understanding the presbyterium and, of course, common priesthood. Thus, the whole Church, the people of God, continues the priesthood of Jesus without losing their lay character, in the realm of the profane and the unclean, the
“cast out;” a priesthood that does not focus themselves exclusively in the cult at the temple, but in the entire world, with a Samaritan praxis of justice and love. This priesthood belongs to the substantive plane; the other –the presbyterium —is a ministry and cannot be conceived apart from the common priesthood.

Fifty years have passed since these ideas were first proclaimed. But, even today, the greatest challenge is to examine the mission of the Church to conform it to the mission of Jesus. For that reason we speak in Latin America of a
“Continental Mission” on par with a “pastoral conversion;” the documents of the Conference of Bishops in Aparecida in May of 2007 assert that, to make the right choice, and to become authentic, the Church needs only to return to Jesus.
Nowadays, the Church finds herself facing a demanding change, the most profound change in her history since primeval times. From being a European Church, more or less culturally uniform, and hence monocentric, the Church is on her way to become a universal Church, with multiple cultural roots and, in this sense, culturally polycentric. The Vatican II Council can be understood as the manifested expression of this step at the institutional level ( Cf. Concilium, “Unidad y pluralidad: problemas y perspectivas de la inculturación” [Unity and Plurality: Problems and Perspectives of Inculturation] No. 224, July 1989.p. 91). Thus, it is symbolic indeed that the last three Popes have not been Italian; the temptation of Europeanizing and Italianizing the Church has always been one tied to pretenses to power. Fortunately, things have changed.

3. The challenges that this situation presents to us as Christians

The new thought of the Vatican II Council had been slowly brewing in the Christian conscience, and the time had come to articulate it clearly before the universal Church. The socio-ecclesial reality posited problems and questions, serious challenges to which the Council wanted to respond. I would like to point out the following ones:

3. 1.-
Returning to Christ, the founding and fundamental rule of the Church

There is no possible reform of the Church without a return to Jesus. The Church only has a future and can only consider herself great by humbly trying to follow Jesus. To discern what constitutes abuse or infidelity within the Church we have no other measure but the Gospel. Many of the traditions established in the Church could lead her to a veritable self-imprisonment. The truth will set us free, humility will give us wings and will open new horizons for us.
If the Church seeks to follow Jesus, all she has to do is to continue telling the world what happened to Jesus, proclaiming His teachings and His life. Jesus was not a sovereign of this world, He was not rich, but instead He lived as a poor villager, He proclaimed his program –the Kingdom of God—and the great of this world (Roman Empire and Synagogue together) persecuted and eliminated Him. His sentence to die on the cross, outside the city, is the clearest evidence yet that He did not want to ingratiate himself with the powers of this world. Shattered by their power, He is the Suffering Servant, an image of innumerable other servants, defeated by the ones who rule and call themselves “lords;” but it was He, poor, silenced, and humiliated, who was designated by his Father as His Beloved Child and whom God Himself resurrected on the third day.

With the New Evangelization we restart (start anew) from the beginning: we once more become the Church as proclaimer, servant, and Samaritan.

“The Church receives the mission to proclaim and to spread among all peoples the Kingdom of Christ and of God” (LG 5). If the Church has a mission at all, it is to manifest the deeds of Jesus. The Church has never been her own goal. Salvation comes from Jesus, not from the Church. The Church is mediation; it is not an end in herself or of herself. She has never served a different Lord. That is the reason why Pope Francis is telling us that we have to reach out to the removed; we have to reach out to the periphery of the world, to the new missionary frontiers of the contemporary world.
The calling of the Church, in the likeness of Jesus, is to proclaim the Kingdom of God. Even Christ himself did not proclaim or preach Himself, but the Kingdom. The Church, as His disciple and His servant, ought to do the same. Her calling is to serve, not to rule: “Servant of Humanity,” called her Pope Paul VI. She must do this service living in the world, herself a part of the world and in solidarity with it, because “the world is the only subject that interests God.”

And there the Church, in humble company, helps making life intelligible and dignified, making it a community of equals, without castes or classes; without rich or poor; without impositions or anathemas. Her foremost goal is to care for the penultimate (hunger, housing, clothing, shoes, health, education…) to be then able to care for the ultimate, those problems that rob us of sleep after work (our finiteness, our solitude before death, the meaning of life, pain, and evil…). The answer the Church gives to the “penultimate” will entitle her to speak about the “ultimate.” For that reason, the Church must show herself as a Samaritan on earth –so she can some day partake of the eternal goods.
For this task of mission and testimony, the Church should always come equipped with faith and a spirit of service to humanity. Too many times she gives the impression of having too much certitude and too little doubt, freedom, dissension or dialogue. No more excommunicating the world, then, or trying to solve the world’s problems by returning to authoritarianism, rigidity and moralism, but instead keeping always the message of Jesus as her sole source of inspiration.

Returning to the Church as “communion”

In other words, making equality among the members of the Church a reality, because the People of God is one,
“sharing a common dignity as members from their regeneration in Christ, having the same filial grace and the same vocation to perfection; possessing in common one salvation, one hope and one undivided charity. There is, therefore, in Christ and in the Church no inequality on the basis of race or nationality, social condition or sex, because “there is neither Jew nor Greek: there is neither bond nor free: there is neither male nor female. For you are all ‘one’ in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3: 28 gr.; Colossians 3: 11).” (LG 32) “All share a true equality with regard to the dignity and to the activity common to all the faithful for the building up of the Body of Christ.” (LG 32)

The communion of the Church is vital for her to be able to acquire credibility in today’s society. But this is not mere democratization; it is working to achieve an authentic coexistence as brothers and equals. And this goal certainly cannot be attained through a hierarchic mindset, understanding the Ministerial Order as a superior presbyterium, privileged and exclusive, in the way that it appeared to be configured, with absolute power concentrated at the apex and delegated down to the rest of the tiers of the hierarchy.

To undertake this journey, one has to go back to the life of Jesus, who, despite being a layman, caused
“a change in the priesthood” (Hebrews 7: 12). Jesus’ entire life was a priestly life, in the sense that He became a man, was poor, fought for justice, criticized the vices of power, identified Himself with the most oppressed and defended them, treated women without discrimination, clashed with the ones who had a different image of God and of religion, and was forced by His own faithfulness to be prosecuted and to die crucified outside the city. This original priesthood of Jesus is the one that has to be continued in history. Offering Himself on the Cross gives Christ the power so “many believed in Him” (John 8: 27 30), because it was evident that everyone would look “on him whom they have pierced” (Zechariah 12: 10-11). If the Church wants to stay faithful, she must also continue purifying herself through the martyrdom and the sanctity of the faithful.

Consequently, this is what Vatican II teaches:
“The baptized… are consecrated as… a holy priesthood” (LG 10). As the Apostle Paul teaches, there is a diversity of functions within the Church, but none of them translates into rank, superiority or domination. All are brothers and sisters, and, as a consequence, equal.

Vatican II does not make the foundations of the Church into a polarizing outline of two extremes, “clergy-laity,” thus robbing the Christian assembly of their own protagonism, participation and responsibility. A presbyter is, above all, a “minister of the Word,” who must communicate to all the life that emanates from Christ, and for that reason devotes himself primarily to the altar and to the celebration of the sacraments. No one can replace him in this regard. But the field of laity offers plenty of spaces, alternatives and scenarios where he still does not make his presence felt in an incisive, decisive and courageous manner. Certainly the Church is more than a democracy, since the religious experience of faith allows her to open herself to a dialogue in pluralism and to share in action the great common causes of life and of the whole being of the universe.

4. In a globalized world

“The globalization of the exchange of services, capital and patents has led over the past ten years to establish a world dictatorship of finance capital. The small transcontinental oligarchies that hold the financial capital dominate the planet… The lords of financial capital wield over billions of human beings a power of life and death. Through their investment strategies, their stock market speculations, their alliances, they decide day to day who has the right to live on this planet and who is doomed to die.” (J. Ziegler, Derechos humanos y democracia mundial [Human Rights and World Democracy], Latinoamérica 2007, p. 26).

The effects and consequences of the neoliberal dictatorships that rule democracies are not hard to uncover: they invade us with the industry of entertainment, they make us forget about human rights, they convince us that nothing can be done, that there is no possible alternative. To change the system, it would be necessary to destroy the power of the new feudal lords. Chimerical? Utopian?
The Church decidedly bets on living the globalization of mercy and solidarity.
How can the Church aim to counteract the deleterious effect of the preponderance of economism and its fundamental postulates?

5. Return to a Church of the poor
There was a considerable group of Bishops who took this option to the heart of the council, very likely stimulated by the words pronounced by Pope John XXIII on September 11
th, 1962: “Where the underdeveloped countries are concerned, the Church presents herself as she is. She wishes to be the Church of all, and especially the Church of the poor.”

The Council picked up in turn this profound doctrinal guidance:
“Christ was sent by the Father ‘to bring good news to the poor […].’ Similarly, the Church encompasses with love all who are afflicted with human suffering and in the poor and afflicted sees the image of its poor and suffering Founder. It does all it can to relieve their need and in them it strives to serve Christ.” (LG 8)

It was the Latin American Episcopate who, especially in their Medellín and Puebla conferences, pushed forward this fundamental conciliar guideline:
“The gross injustices in Latin America cannot leave the Latin American episcopate indifferent” (Iglesia y Liberación [Church and Liberation], Documentos Medellín, 14, I, 1); “The special mandate of the Lord to evangelize the poor should lead us to give actual preference to the poorest and the neediest sector, and to the ones that have been segregated for any reason” (Id., 14, III, 9). “Solidarity with the poor means making their problems and struggles ours, discussing them. This has to translate into denouncing injustice and oppression, into a Christian struggle against the intolerable situation often borne by the poor, into a willingness to dialogue with the groups responsible for that situation to make them understand their obligations”. (Id., 14, III, 10).

Certainly, this conciliar option made a good many Christians reconsider the curse of their own lives; it made many religious congregations review their rules and their ways of life; it brought about in much of the episcopate a spirit of reform, freedom, and prophecy; and in numerous places martyrdom flourished as a consequence of the commitment to liberation.

Primacy of the last. The Church ought to proclaim and testify, as a criterion of sociopolitical organization and education, that all men are brothers; and that, if we are brothers, we must fight for establishing relations of equality and to eliminate their greatest obstacles: money and power. We have to establish as a priority that those majorities who suffer poverty and exclusion (the last) will be the first. If Jesus calls the poor ‘blessed’ is because he is assuring them that their situation is going to change, and consequently it is necessary to create a movement that can bring about such a thing, restoring dignity and hope to them. We have to give primacy to the last:

“The original Christianity faces the reign of money and power as means of domination and introduces a passion into history: that the last stop being the last, that behaviors are adopted and politics and economies are put into place to give them primacy, so a society can be built without first or last, or, at least, with less inequality between human beings called to be brothers.” (R. Díaz Salazar, La Izquierda y el cristianismo [Left and Christianity], Taurus, 1998, p354.).

Putting first the needs of the last means to create a collective will capable of doing so, as well as of stipulating policies and social behaviors based on solidarity, subsequently adopting common efforts and sacrifices. If a passion for the last becomes a mobilizing idea and moral force, we will then have the possibility of creating international politics of solidarity, of economic democracy, the assumption of evangelical poverty, attaining the creation of new social subjects, with a new set of anthropological values and a new purpose for both collective and personal life, all inspired in Christ and His Beatitudes.

Detecting the causes of inequality. In accordance with this passion for the last, having the necessary sensitivity and judgment to be able to detect the causes and mechanisms in our world that produce the main problems of inequality and injustice, and the worst.

A Culture of Good Samaritans. Making our own the culture of the Good Samaritan before the neighbor in need; feeling as our own the pain of the oppressed, getting close to them, and freeing them. Without this commitment, all religiousness is false. As Paul said, “if I have not love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13: 1-13). The Eurocentric democracies are taking everything from them: life, culture, dignity, and freedom. And, before those crucified peoples, there is no honest stand other than “taking them down from the cross,” because God is present in them.
A culture of compassion cannot develop, the pain of others cannot be taken on, nor we can implicate ourselves in the reality of the suffering if we do not act out of love, like the Good Samaritan.
Thanks to injustice, many human beings die of hunger or are slaughtered. The kindness of God, who is kind to all his creatures, has to manifest in the concrete transformation of an unjust world into a just one. Justice opposes contempt, violence, deceit, slavery, death. To the extent that we eliminate those, life will be just and human.
In practice, the hyperventilation of the economy has produced great amounts of money, fruit of the erosion of governmental regulation and a symptom of the failure of materialism. But, as a result, there is always a particular category of victim: “the poor.” Jesus of Nazareth made a warning that should be heeded by all the powers: civil and religious, democratic, monarchic, socialist, of any type: “You know that those who are considered the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave.” (Mark 10: 41; Matthew 20: 25).

Returning to a profoundly humane Church that will establish a new relationship with the world

The Church could not continue posing as a reality facing the world, as a parallel
“perfect society,” which pursued her own autonomous course, strengthening her walls against the errors and the influence of the world. This antithesis of centuries needed to be overcome.
The council intended to apply the renovation within the Church herself, because the Church was not the Gospel, nor was she a perfect follower of the Gospel; she was inhabited by men and women, who, same as everywhere else, and according to their limited, sinful condition, had established within her many customs, laws and structures that did not respond to the teachings or the practice of Jesus.
There are many texts where the council speaks of “building a bridge to the world,” of “wanting to engage in dialogue with it,” “of feeling solidarity with their history,” etc. The council opened with enormous sympathy to the world, to science, to progress, to human values, to the collaboration between science and faith, to respecting the autonomy of the creation and the rights of reason, of science, and of liberty.
I am pleased to repeat these words from Pope Paul VI: “We call upon those who term themselves modern humanists… to recognize our own new type of humanism: we, too, in fact, we more than any others, honor mankind.” (Paul VI, 7-XII-1965, No. 8).

“The Catholic Church in the 21st Century is a church of mission, an emerging church,” says George Weigel, American intellectual and author of the bestseller Witness to Hope, a detailed biography of John Paul II. From this truth, that the Church is in a state of mission, propelled by the new evangelization, we can draw three lines of action:

6.1 First:
Presence of an open Church in constant dialogue:

The Church, bearer of the Gospel, knew that she could not close her doors to dialogue without annulling the truth that could spring forth from anywhere –since God Himself has generously planted it everywhere. The Church did not have a monopoly on truth anymore, nor could she pontificate on a thousand human matters, or hold stances denoting arrogance or superiority. Instead, she should go out into the common arena, plainly and humbly, and share in the common search for truth.
Dialogue should precede the mission, as a simple attitude of listening, to build on what is common, rather that to insist in what divides, and to count on the contribution of humanisms and of non-Christian religions, which will take us back to the foundation of any creed, any ideology. What is Christian has its substrata, first and foremost, in what is human. One cannot be a Christian without being a person first. And the person offers a structure and a panoply of traits and possibilities that are patrimony of no one in particular, but instead of humanity as a whole.

6.2 Second:
The New Evangelization

The Christian identity should be built on a par with what is truly human, as a ferment as well as a service, and that requires being present where the great human causes are being ventilated, even without publicity, without renown, with the barest visibility, but bearing the strength of testimony, of the commitment to action, of unconditional love. A hidden presence, like that of a fermenting agent.
This presence would be shared with all those who in one way or another carry inside their chests the fire of love, justice, and charity, and of the construction of human rights. We could call this presence political sainthood, as an anticipatory taste of eschatological plenitude.
Surely this presence was not going to rely on the full protection and power of the institution for having being created from the bottom up, from the ones who have been reduced to insignificance, and it would advance in the way of diaspora, in small groups or communities opening a new model of Christian living, where action would be more diluted, more infinitesimal, but testimonial and prophetic. Parishes are once again the main referent of Christian live, and groups, associations and movements are subordinate to them, but conglomerating in an active, complementary manner.
The missionary movement in the Church is the emergence of a deep undercurrent, brought forth 125 years ago by Pope Leon XIII and revitalized by the Vatican II Council, as well as by the authoritative interpretation of the Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. It points to a vision of hope in its mission of evangelization, amidst the challenges, conflicts and opportunities of the modern world. The mission is not new to the Church; instead, it is born with her, growing and developing along with her.
In contemporary pontifical magisterium, we have two significant benchmarks: John Paul II’s 1990 Encyclical Redemptoris Missio, and the apostolic letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, from the same pontiff, in 2001. “In Redemptoris Missio, the Pope teaches us that the Church is a mission. It is not that she has a mission, like she has other traits; she is herself a mission. Everything in the Church should be weighted and measured in regard to the mission of converting the world.”
And in Novo Millennio Ineunte, Blessed John Paul II challenges the Church at the end of the Great Jubilee of the year 2000, to leave behind the shallow waters of maintaining the institution and travel to the deep waters of evangelization. That is what Jesus tells his disciples in Chapter 12 of Luke, adding: “Duc in altum, put out into the deep.” [Luke 5: 4] This means that the Church will convert the world not by argument, but by example. There is no doubt that doctrinal argument is important, but people will be attracted by the humanity of Christians, those who live by the faith, who live in a human way, who irradiate the joy of living, the consistency in their behavior.


We know that in the last few years, especially during the times of Pope Benedict XVI, much of the media commentary has generally expressed contempt, irony, and merciless criticism. There is evidence of a media “ambush” of the Catholic Church. The mass media have been so influential in their insidiousness that many Catholics have distanced themselves from the practice of their Christian faith, and have retreated emotionally from their own communities, parishes, and commitments.
After the papacy of Benedict XVI, a time that was virtuous and heroic, the person of Pope Francis has arrived. I do not find naively optimistic to say that we are in the beginning of a new and dynamic period in the history of Catholicism, where the Church will constitute a missionary movement for the conversion of culture, propitiating and multiplying the signs of growth, of great vigor and hope –like for instance the world youth days; the development of ecclesial movements; the grassroots communities; the young priests who are arising all over the world; the celebrants and delegates of the Word of God; the Lectio Divina; the new forms of consecrated life; the commitment of a very active laity in parishes that understand faith as a firebrand that should shine around; and so forth.


On September 6
th, during the daily Mass held in Santa Marta, Pope Francis reflected on two attitudes that a Christian should have in a wedding. Above all, “joy, because nuptials are a great celebration.” He explained that “the Christian is fundamentally joyful. For this reason, at the end of the Gospel, when they bring the wine, when he speaks of wine, it makes me think of the wedding at Cana – and for this reason Jesus works His miracle – this is why Our Lady, when she realized that there was no more wine… but if there is no wine there is no party ... imagining that the wedding feast might therefore end with the drinking of tea or juice: it would not do ... it is a feast, and Our Lady asks for the miracle. Such is the Christian life. The Christian life has this joyfulness of spirit, a joyfulness of heart.” (Cf. Zenit. 06.09.13)

Similarly, the Pope pointed out that there are moments of crucifixion, moments of pain,
“but there is ever that profound peace of joy, because Christian life is lived as a celebration, like the nuptial union of Christ with the Church.”

The second attitude a Christian ought to adopt, we find in the Parable of the Marriage of the King’s Son. The Pope explained,
“It occurs to us: ‘But, Father, how? These were found on street corners, and you ask of them a wedding garment? This is wrong... What does this mean? It is very simple! God asks only one thing of us in order that we gain admittance to the feast: our all. The Bridegroom is the most important. The Bridegroom fills all!”

Regarding the person of Jesus, Pope Francis has added that He is also the Head of the Body of the Church; He is the principle. And God gave to Him plenitude, totality, in order that, in Him, all things might be reconciled.
And the Pope has insisted that if the first attitude is celebration, the second is that of recognizing Him as the One. Furthermore, he has reminded us that we cannot serve two masters: one either serves God, or the world.

At the end, he spoke about the temptation of put the new wine into old wineskins:
“The old wineskins cannot hold the new wine. This is the novelty of the Gospel. Jesus is the bridegroom, the bridegroom who weds the Church, the groom who loves the Church, who gives his life for the Church.” The new wine of Evangelization cannot be poured into old wineskins, and that is why the first and foremost thing is pastoral conversion; in other words, the spiritual renewal of all the People of God. The New Evangelization entails pastoral conversion first, and pastoral conversion means returning to Jesus.

And to conclude, the Pope reminds us that the mission of the Church is the mission of Jesus Himself. And to do the right thing, and to become authentic, all she has to do is return to Jesus (ibid).

Thank you very much
PHOTOS: Agence France-Presse(1); Juan A. DiPrado, The Florida Catholic(2)


For Hartford, It's Lenny Time – Pope Taps Toledo's Blair for Conn. Pallium

Tuesday, 29 October, 7.10am – Filling a strategically important seat in American Catholicism's onetime Northeastern flagship, at Roman Noon this Tuesday the Pope named Bishop Leonard Blair, 64 – the Detroit native and longtime Vatican staffer who's led northwest Ohio's Toledo diocese since 2003 – as the fifth archbishop of Hartford.

The third US archbishop chosen to date by Francis (after Dubuque and Newark), Blair succeeds Archbishop Henry Mansell, who reached the retirement age of 75 a year ago this month. Head of the 700,000-member flock comprising most of Connecticut's western half also since 2003, the Bronx-born prelate first made his name as auxiliary and vicar-general of New York under John Cardinal O'Connor, who undertook a ferocious, yet ultimately futile lobbying effort in his final months to have Mansell named as his successor in Gotham.

A protege of the now-retired Cardinal Edmund Szoka who served as secretary to the Michigan money-whiz during Szoka's days as head of the prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See and Governor of Vatican City, the archbishop-elect is best known on the wider scene as a linchpin player in the Holy See's controversial doctrinal probe of the LCWR, the principal "umbrella-group" for the superiors of the nation's religious women. In 2009, Blair was tapped by Rome to conduct the initial inquest into LCWR's adherence to certain aspects of church teaching, at whose conclusion he became one of two bishop-assistants to the delegate for the CDF's ordered five-year "reform" process, Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle.

While the choice of a figure none would mistake for being part of the USCCB's centrist or progressive blocs will be portrayed as a clash with the widespread perception of Papa Bergoglio – however facile and lacking said storyline might be – at first glimpse, the standout elements in this case point more credibly to a match of Blair's managerial skill with a fold whose aging infrastructure and shifting demographics will require no shortage of tough calls over the tenure to come. (When it comes to cultural hot-buttons, a state court ruling made Connecticut the third US jurisdiction to legalize same-sex marriage in 2008.) At the same time, however, ecclesiological considerations would've undoubtedly come up to a lesser degree in seeking an archbishop who'd collaborate well with Hartford's most prominent church entity: the New Haven-based Knights of Columbus, global Catholicism's largest lay fraternal organization, whose 1.9 million members have long been celebrated as "the strong right arm of the church."

The traditional Appointment Day presser slated for 10am, Hartford Chancery has already announced an installation date of Monday, December 16th. In the meanwhile, it bears noting that – all of seven and a half months into his pontificate – Francis has already appointed two of the Constitution State's three diocesan bishops, following late July's pick of the Brooklyn-born "boy wonder" Frank Caggiano for Bridgeport.

In addition to the Hartford nod, Roman Noon today brought a resolution to the longest-standing US vacancy of all as the Pope named Fr Kurt Burnette, 58 next week, as the new head of the Jersey-based Byzantine Ruthenian eparchy of Passaic. Currently rector of the Slovak church's Pittsburgh-based seminary, the eparch-elect comes from a pretty fascinating background; before the priesthood, Burnett earned doctorates in both civil law and mathematics, receiving his license in the Oriental Canons in post-ordination studies in Rome.

Looking at the Big Board, with the double effect of this morning's Latin-church moves, fully ten Stateside dioceses – a five-year high – now stand vacant, with another three – a five-year low – led by (arch)bishops serving past the retirement age while awaiting their successors.

As ever, more to come.


Thursday, October 24, 2013

The "Bling Bishop" Exits... Of Sorts

Saying Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst "cannot, at the present moment, continue to exercise his episcopal ministry" after months of embarrassing revelations on the prelate's lavish spending for a new diocesan compound, while it was anything but surprising that Rome moved yesterday to depressurize the fraught situation in Limburg, the solution reached was a remarkable departure from the standard course of action.

Instead of accepting the 53 year-old prelate's resignation or announcing his forced removal from office, the Vatican instead relayed that Tebartz-van Elst was being "authorized" to spend "a period outside the diocese," pending the outcome of an investigation by the German bishops' conference. In addition, "by decision of the Holy See," a new vicar-general previously named by the embattled prelate and scheduled to take office in January was placed in post immediately to oversee the diocese in the absence of the so-called "luxury bishop."

With some 700,000 Catholics, the Limburg church encompasses the far larger city of Frankfurt and much of its sprawling metro area.

After disclosures that Tebartz-van Elst spent $475,000 on walk-in closets and $20,000 on a bathtub among other big-ticket items for his residence in the new facility adjacent to his cathedral, the Vatican's handling of the fallout is extraordinary on several fronts. First, because it precisely isn't the "suspension" that has been widely misreported – indeed, the move is not a formal canonical act of any kind – but likewise as it's a substantive instance of the intended fresh push for collegiality by Pope Francis. In other words, far from derailing a locally-called probe to impose a definitive, permanent resolution from on high, the Holy See has indicated that, in essence, the final verdict on Tebartz-van Elst's future lies with his confreres at home.

Even as fact-finding missions have long been employed to settle questions of alleged episcopal misconduct, they've always been chartered by Rome and carried out according to its whim... at least, until now. To repeat an earlier note, with the former president of an episcopal conference having ascended to the papacy for the first time, the role and influence of the national bodies is expected to markedly increase under Francis. In that light, the two-tiered response on Limburg – with most of the action being driven from outside the Vatican – could be a sign of things to come as similar cases arise elsewhere.

To be sure, it's not that Rome has exerted no authority in the matter – only the Pope can order a bishop to cool his heels, and for the Holy See to strongarm the appointment of a diocesan official is practically unheard of. Yet even on the latter front, the customary protocol that'd see the pontiff parachute in an apostolic administrator – a figure enjoying the full authority of the bishop for a temporary period (and something that can be done even when a diocese is not vacant) – has been disregarded in favor of a strictly local arrangement, one in which, even for all the ugly press that's made the rounds, the prelate could easily be returned to his full powers with minimal disruption.

Accordingly, as a vicar-general has only a limited, day-to-day purview normally contingent on the bishop, Tebartz-van Elst's chosen deputy, Wolfgang Rösch, would be unable, for example, to U-turn the controversial building project with its €31 million (US$43 million) price-tag. No timeframe was given for how long the odd state of affairs would endure.

* * *
While the practice of funding the church with state-collected revenues comprising around a tenth of each registered member's annual income tax is common across much of Europe, in the continent's largest country, German Catholicism is widely believed to be the global church's wealthiest national branch thanks to its government windfall. Accordingly, the Limburg debaçle has resurrected the country's occasional debate over whether to scrap the "church tax" (which, in Germany, sends 8 percent of a believer's amount owed to one's own religious group) while forcing several of the country's larger dioceses – among them Cologne, long thought to be the world's richest see – to take the unprecedented step of opening their books.

In addition, another typical element of Germano-church scandals has returned to the fore as the numbers of Catholics seeking to civilly de-affiliate from the faith are yet again reported to have spiked. Though the act is not equivalent to renouncing one's baptism – its only bearing is on a diocese's share of the "church tax" – the country's bishops made waves last year by declaring as a conference that those who've civilly left the church rolls should refrain from receiving the sacraments and would not be eligible for Catholic weddings, funerals or baptisms for their children.

Speaking of Germany, with Cologne's Cardinal Joachim Meisner set to turn 80 on Christmas Day and his well-delayed succession believed to be soon in the offing, the Nordrhein prelate – a cardinal for three decades, and long the German bench's lead conservative – had his own private audience with Francis on Tuesday shortly before Tebartz-van Elst was received.

Given the new Pope's concerted emphasis on a "poor church for the poor," the selection of Meisner's replacement in the super-flush Cologne church provides Bergoglio with a key opportunity to translate his priorities into the realm of policy as only his appointments can flesh out.

* * *
On the wider scene, the Limburg fiasco is just one piece of German theater that's been causing high-profile headaches in Rome these days. The other came earlier this month, when a vademecum on pastoral practice from the archdiocese of Freiburg opened the door to a local understanding where, in defiance of the universal norms, civilly-remarried Catholics could be permitted to receive the Eucharist.

Quickly garnering global attention given the hot-button topic – an issue intensely focused-upon in the German context – the move was quickly swatted down by the Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Fr Federico Lombardi, who rapped any attempt at lower-level moves prior to next year's extraordinary Synod called by Francis to address "the pastoral challenges of the family." More recently, Tuesday saw the publication of an extensive retort in L'Osservatore Romano by the German CDF prefect, Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, who bluntly stated that "there is no possibility of admitting remarried divorcees to the sacraments."

Francis, however, was conspicuously less absolute on the question when it was posed during the now-(in)famous press conference during his return from July's World Youth Day trip to Rio.

"This time is a kairos [appointed hour] of mercy," the Pope said. "We are moving towards a somewhat deeper pastoral care of marriage. And this is a problem for everyone, because there are so many [divorced and remarried couples], no?"

In any event, Freiburg likewise happens to be another top-shelf German vacancy on Francis' plate. One of the largest Deutsch dioceses with over 2 million Catholics, the post recently opened on the retirement of Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, who continues to serve as chairman of the country's episcopal conference until next spring.

Given his Chancery's opening of the proverbial can of worms right in the middle of the his successor's selection, who's sent in Zollitsch's stead could just provide a preview to this pontificate's approach to the divorce dilemma in the long haul.


Monday, October 21, 2013

Buon Compleanno, CTV – The VatiTube Turns 30

Especially in a spot like this, we'd be remiss to let a special milestone in the family over these days pass without a very warm, grateful word.

Tomorrow brings the 30th anniversary of the Vatican Television Center (CTV), the in-house crew whose extraordinary work in beaming papal events to the wider world has become an indispensable resource for outlets of every stripe... all the more over the beyond surreal ride of these last months.

Now armed with a Sony-made HD production truck, it's a special grace of the broadband and mobile age that the studio's real-time, commentary-and-graphics-free coverage can now be seen and shared anywhere without the need for a satellite linkup or closed-circuit feed. Even for today's much wider and more immediate audience, though, the very roots of its founding in the days of "rabbit ears," UHF and VHF manifested the project's closeness to the heart of the Pope: it's no accident that John Paul II formally established CTV on the third anniversary of his installation as the church's "universal pastor" – a day now kept as the Saint-to-Be's liturgical feast.

For all the shop's accomplishments since, the Pope's message for the milestone wasn't merely congratulatory, but bore a word of advice that feels worthwhile beyond his own control room (emphases original):

"In these decades, technology has evolved with great speed, creating unexpectedly interconnected networks. It's necessary to maintain the evangelical perspective in these elements of the 'global communications highway'.... [I]n presenting events, your vantage cannot ever be 'worldly,' but ecclesial. We live in a world in which practically nothing exists without having something to do with the universe of the media. Ever more sophisticated instruments reinforce an always more pervasive role played by technologies, by languages and by forms of communication in the events of our everyday lives, and this isn't only [the case] in the world of the young.... All this likewise reflects itself in the life of the church. But if isn't a simple thing to recount historic events, all the more complex is to relay the happenings linked to the church, that which is 'sign and instrument of the intimate union with God,' that which is Body of Christ, People of God, Temple of the Holy Spirit....

"Finally, I'd like to recall that you don't merely fulfill a purely documentary function, 'neutral' in events, but you contribute toward bringing the church closer to the world, erasing distances, making the word of the Pope arrive for millions of Catholics, even to those places where professing one's own faith is a corageous choice. Thanks to the images, CTV walks with the Pope to bring Christ into the many forms of solitude of modern man, reaching also the 'sophisticated technological peripheries.' In this your mission, it's important to remember that the church is present in the world of communications, in all its varied expressions, above all to guide people to the encounter with the Lord Jesus. And in fact, it's only the encounter with Jesus which can change the heart and history of mankind."
Still, this is TV – a medium intended to be seen rather than talked about. Ergo, through the network's lens, this piece is topped by some of the VatiTube's most priceless Francis-film to date – a piece of the Pope's triumphant ride into last July's World Youth Day Vigil in Riode Janiero (fullvid), a sweeping, multi-camera, part-aerial shoot whose path gradually revealed that we were witnessing no less than the largest known gathering in the history of the Americas.

For all the stunning moments the crew has conveyed over this epochal year, however, the most intense and significant ones arguably didn't come after Bergoglio emerged from the Conclave, but on that fateful February 28th, when Benedict XVI – his secretary weeping behind him – departed the Vatican for the last time as Supreme Pontiff and literally flew off into the sunset...

...and shortly thereafter, the scene as the Castel Gandolfo clock struck 8pm – the hour at which the first resignation of Peter's Chair since the Middle Ages formally took effect:

As a year whose likes we will never see again begins to reach its close, the CTV director Msgr Dario Viganò has often shared that he and his crew shoot for a cinematic gold standard.

To put it mildly, mission accomplished.

VIDEOS/PHOTO: Centro Televisivo Vaticano


Friday, October 18, 2013

In Message to Manila, Francis Speaks English

For all the waves the 266th Bishop of Rome has made across the Anglophone world these last seven months, perhaps the most remarkable thing is that all of it's happened without Papa Bergoglio speaking a single word in English.

Then again, perhaps that's a modern nod to the effectiveness of the approach first espoused by the original Francis – "Preach the Gospel... if necessary, use words" – which the Pope who's taken his name has already taken to repeating.

After John Paul II, a wide linguistic fluency became broadly seen as a sine qua non of the papacy. While even most cardinals wouldn't disagree, such were the circumstances this time around that – not being able to engineer the "perfect candidate" from scratch – the Conclave's determined premium for an effective evangelist with the moxie to reform the Curia meant that, if the polyglot piece had to be given up in the trade-off, so be it.

Clearly, the judgment paid off even better than expected. And accordingly, since his election Francis has communicated almost entirely in Italian, usually leaving even his native Spanish aside. (The sole exception was Rio, when the pontiff talked in Portuguese for almost the entire week.) Even at the General Audiences, the summaries and greetings for non-Italian language-groups – long given by the Pope himself – are now handled entirely by aides. While the tack has the effect of not showing favorites beyond the faithful of his own diocese, it's likewise to avoid overplaying his hand in a skill-area where he falls short.

Given the shift, there's been a lot of curiosity over Francis' facility in English. Along those lines, one op who recently spent some days with the Pope said that, in conversation, "he's able to make out a few phrases" and not much else, while others have reported very fluid exchanges running several minutes. Being an admirer of Gerald Manley Hopkins – of course, a fellow Jesuit – however, he is able to read in the language. And now, the wide wondering was pretty much put to rest earlier today as the Vatican released Francis' first Anglophone message... but not to the Stateside church.

Taped at his "9-to-5" desk in the Pope's study of the Apostolic Palace (a format employed often by B16, whose white clip-on mic has returned to use), the message was shown this morning at the closing Mass of a national Conference on the New Evangelization organized by the 75 million-member church in the Philippines, starring the islands' Facebooking, YouTubing, singing, weeping "Golden Child," Cardinal Chito Tagle of Manila – with some 212,000 thumbs-up, by far the most-liked prelate on social media – who the newly-elected Bergoglio famously mistook for a seminarian on a bump-in at the Domus.

Here's the film, and the transcript as released:

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ,

I greet all of you with the peace and joy of Our Lord. The first Philippine Conference on the New Evangelization is a worthy offering to the Year of Faith. For this I thank all of you, my brother Bishops, the priests, religious men and women, seminarians and the lay faithful who organized and are participating in the conference. I am happy to learn that you came to Manila from different parts of the Philippines and Asia. The Holy Spirit is actively at work in you. The Church of Christ is alive!

Through this conference, I hope you would experience again the loving presence of Jesus in your lives, that you would love the Church more and that you would share the Gospel to all people with humility and joy. Don’t get tired of bringing the mercy of the Father to the poor, the sick, the abandoned, the young people and families. Let Jesus be known in the world of politics, business, arts, science, technology and social media. Let the Holy Spirit renew the creation and bring forth justice and peace in the Philippines and in the great continent of Asia that is close to my heart.

Please pray for me, I need it. I promise to pray for you, especially to Our Mother the Blessed Virgin Mary, Star of the New Evangelization.

Mabúhay ang Pilipínas! Mabúhay ang Asia! Pagpaláin kayó ng Dios! [Tagalog: Long live the Philippines! Long live Asia! God bless you!]

God bless you in the Name of the Father, of the Son, of the Holy Spirit.
On a related Anglophone note today, late this afternoon the Pope received the members and staff of ICEL – the body responsible for worldwide English liturgical translations – to mark the commission's 50th anniversary.

Returning to his usual habit, Francis gave his address in Italian.