Tuesday, November 26, 2013



THE JOY OF THE GOSPEL fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew. In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come....


A "Joy"-ful Thanksgiving

So, folks, above you'll find what's already being described as "the manifesto" of Francis for The Church – 224 pages in book-form... whatever file-code you fancy, some 48,000 words.

If you're looking for a "primer," it's fairly simple: don't insult your intelligence – just take the time to actually read it.

For now, only two other things are worthwhile: a comment that came over the wires a couple minutes ago saying that this document was "best read on one's knees," and – in a Vatican first – a word that the English translations of the "liner notes" (the introductory statements from this morning's pub-day press conference) have been rapidly released.

Those aside, a Pope who's succeeded masterfully at making himself understood to the entire world on his own terms has no need to be exegeted through any lens other than the one he's seen fit to set.

Keeping with said principle, Roma locuta est, so that's it from here for the holiday. Happy Reading to all... in a special way, meanwhile, to everyone here in the States, safe travels for those hitting the road, and may each of you, your loved ones and those you serve know the gift of a beautiful, easy, richly blessed and wonderfully Happy Thanksgiving – not to mention this time around, an especially "joy"-ous one, to boot.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

"You Ask Him to Remember You, And He Brings You Into His Kingdom"

Credo in unum Deum, Patrem omnipotentem....

As an emotional closing Mass of the global church's Year of Faith was highlighted by the presence of the relics of St Peter in their first-ever public exposition (below), just before the bronze casket containing the eight small fragments of the first Pope's bones were brought to his the current successor to cradle during the Creed (above), the 266th Bishop of Rome – the first to call himself Francis... the first from outside Europe in over a millennium – delivered the following homily, below in its Vatican English translation:

Today’s solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, the crowning of the liturgical year, also marks the conclusion of the Year of Faith opened by Pope Benedict XVI, to whom our thoughts now turn with affection and gratitude. By this providential initiative, he gave us an opportunity to rediscover the beauty of the journey of faith begun on the day of our Baptism, which made us children of God and brothers and sisters in the Church. A journey which has as its ultimate end our full encounter with God, and throughout which the Holy Spirit purifies us, lifts us up and sanctifies us, so that we may enter into the happiness for which our hearts long.

I offer a cordial greeting to the Patriarchs and Major Archbishops of the Eastern Catholic Churches present. The exchange of peace which I will share with them is above all a sign of the appreciation of the Bishop of Rome for these communities which have confessed the name of Christ with exemplary faithfulness, often at a high price.

With this gesture, through them, I would like to reach all those Christians living in the Holy Land, in Syria and in the entire East, and obtain for them the gift of peace and concord.

The Scripture readings proclaimed to us have as their common theme the centrality of Christ. Christ as the centre of creation, the centre of his people and the centre of history.

1. The apostle Paul, in the second reading, taken from the letter to the Colossians, offers us a profound vision of the centrality of Jesus. He presents Christ to us as the first-born of all creation: in him, through him and for him all things were created. He is the centre of all things, he is the beginning. God has given him the fullness, the totality, so that in him all things might be reconciled (cf. Col 1:12-20).

This image enables to see that Jesus is the centre of creation; and so the attitude demanded of us as true believers is that of recognizing and accepting in our lives the centrality of Jesus Christ, in our thoughts, in our words and in our works. When this centre is lost, when it is replaced by something else, only harm can result for everything around us and for ourselves.

2. Besides being the centre of creation, Christ is the centre of the people of God. We see this in the first reading which describes the time when the tribes of Israel came to look for David and anointed him king of Israel before the Lord (cf. 2 Sam 5:1-3). In searching for an ideal king, the people were seeking God himself: a God who would be close to them, who would accompany them on their journey, who would be a brother to them.

Christ, the descendant of King David, is the “brother” around whom God’s people come together. It is he who cares for his people, for all of us, even at the price of his life. In him we are all one; united with him, we share a single journey, a single destiny.

3. Finally, Christ is the centre of the history of the human race and of every man and woman. To him we can bring the joys and the hopes, the sorrows and troubles which are part of our lives. When Jesus is the centre, light shines even amid the darkest times of our lives; he gives us hope, as he does to the good thief in today’s Gospel.

While all the others treat Jesus with disdain – “If you are the Christ, the Messiah King, save yourself by coming down from the cross!” – the thief who went astray in his life but now repents, clinging to the crucified Jesus, begs him: “Remember me, when you come into your kingdom” (Lk 23:42). And Jesus promises him: “Today you will be with me in paradise” (v. 43). Jesus speaks only a word of forgiveness, not of condemnation; whenever anyone finds the
courage to ask for this forgiveness, the Lord does not let such a petition go unheard.

Jesus’ promise to the good thief gives us great hope: it tells us that God’s grace is always greater than the prayer which sought it. The Lord always grants more than what he has been asked: you ask him to remember you, and he brings you into his Kingdom!

Let us ask the Lord to remember us, in the certainty that by his mercy we will be able to share his glory in paradise.

And as this long, surreal liturgical year – one that's been historic, astonishing and emotional in ways we'll never see again – reaches its end, we'd be remiss to not go back to the Source of the shock, the prayers, the hope, its realization anew and all the reactions that, to a stunning degree, have marked the roller-coaster of these last nine months, the memories and effects of which will live with all of us so long as we remain on this Earth....
When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.

And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.

I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”


The End of "Faith"

Live – or, for you later risers, on-demand – from St Peter's Square on this Christ the King morning, what promises to be an epic PopeMass (worship aid) marking the close of global Catholicism's 14-month Year of Faith...


Saturday, November 23, 2013

"We Have Something in Common: The Desire for God"

On this vigil of the "culmination" of the Year of Faith, the Pope again broke precedent to preside at a reception of catechumens – adults who seek to be baptized – in St Peter's. (While a papal embrace into the catechumenate is new, the Bishop of Rome traditionally christens infants on early January's feast of the Baptism of the Lord, and receives adults into full communion at the Easter Vigil.)

Even for those who don't speak Italian, per usual for these days, tonight's visuals do the trick:

"You come from many different countries, from different cultural traditions and experiences," Francis told the group. "Yet tonight we feel we have many things in common among us. We have one in particular: the desire for God."

The 14 month observance's closing rites in the Square to begin at 10.30 Rome tomorrow, the liturgy will include three unique, significant moments.

First, before the Mass begins, a special freewill offering will be taken up for the suffering Church in the Philippines in the catastrophic wake of Super-Typhoon Yolanda. (Note: For all the panoply of the place, one thing the Home Office doesn't do is collections at Masses... at least, until now.)

Then, echoing the last days of Vatican II, Papa Bergoglio will symbolically entrust his first solo magisterial document – set for public release early Tuesday – to a representative group...

...and lastly, for the first time ever, the small, fragmented relics believed to be the bones of St Peter will be exposed.

Big day? Well, you better believe it.

PHOTO: Reuters


Thursday, November 21, 2013

"...And Where There Is No Vision, The People Perish"

So they say, it was the day everything changed forever – The President of the United States, the first Catholic to hold the office, gunned down at 46 in Dallas.

50 years later, while the tributes on the airwaves are running rampant on this side of the Pond, the image here comes from the one place that could rival, and arguably even exceed what the Yanks among us are seeing. It's the JFK memorial slipped at the last minute into Galway's Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven and St Nicholas, the towering edifice dedicated some 18 months after the assassination by Richard Cardinal Cushing... and – at least, as the old Boston line goes –
 only subsequently "paid for by Humberto Cardinal Medeiros."

As this month dedicated to the Four Last Things begins its close, a half-century's worth of American Catholics have come to see this anniversary as an even more emphatic reminder of what awaits us all in time. Given that, especially on this milestone, below is fullvideo of the eulogy given at the 25 November 1963 Pontifical Requiem Mass in Washington's St Matthew's Cathedral by the capital's auxiliary, one eminent Philip Michael Hannan....

(Along the way, for those who missed it earlier, here's a full retrospective of the day and what followed as they played out at Vatican II.)

A celebrated World War II chaplain in the field, then "quiet" adviser to the eventual POTUS after both returned home, while protocol dictated the choice of the auxiliary's superior – then-Archbishop Patrick O'Boyle – for the funeral's last word, Jacqueline Kennedy reportedly insisted that "It’s going to be Hannan or no one."

Named archbishop of New Orleans within two years – and having become the Crescent City's "first citizen" in his own right over a 23-year tenure and another quarter-century there in retirement – the venerable field-marshal of a prelate went to his reward at 98 in 2011.

Keeping to his interminable form, unlike much of the clan to whom he remains eternally linked, the Archbishop who wore combat boots departed precisely on his own terms: in the bed in which he was born... and with his beloved protege as the first native son to hold the chair of St Louis Cathedral.


Pro Orantibus, Francis Edition

To mark today's feast of the Presentation of Mary – observed in the church since 1953 as a universal day of prayer for contemplative religious – just before 5pm Rome (11am ET), the Pope will head to Rome's monastery of Camaldolese Benedictine nuns to preside at Vespers and meet the cloistered community.

Set to go live momentarily, Now on-demand, here's the Vati-feed:

Amid an unusually – at least, relatively – quiet spell in a pontificate whose breathers have been few and far between, today's stop begins a busy weekend set to climax with Sunday's outdoor closing Mass of the global Year of Faith, opened last October by B16 in token of the 50th anniversary of Vatican II.

In addition, Tuesday brings the rollout of Evangelii gaudium ("The joy of the Gospel") – the Apostolic Exhortation formally closing the October 2012 Synod for the New Evangelization, which B16 left as part of his unfinished business on Peter's chair.

The first magisterial text Francis will release on his own – the July encyclical Lumen fidei having been a product "of four hands" begun by his predecessor – the doc will be presented in the Holy See Press Office by three significant Curial figures: the head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, along with the heads of the ever-rising Synod of Bishops and the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, respectively Archbishops Lorenzo Baldisseri and Claudio Maria Celli.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Eight Score and Several Popes Ago....

On this 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, as part of a Ken Burns project, Lincoln's immortal words as recited by another iconic President, albeit of more recent times:

(Tip to NCR.)

A historian of the American church by trade, Tim Dolan preached at the battlefield town's parish church during a July Mass marking the sesquicentenary of the key turning point in the Civil War, its 50,000 casualties the greatest single toll of the four-year conflict.

For purposes of context, made an archdiocese – then but the second on the Eastern seaboard – just 13 years before Gettysburg, it would still be another decade after the War Between the States was resolved before the Heir of Hughes (New York's John McCloskey) became the first American cardinal.


In A First, Fort Worth Holds Its Own – Native Son Olson Named Metroplex Bishop

(Updated below with added context and full press conference video.)

Over recent years, the booming church in the North Texas Metroplex has seen some rather extraordinary things: erupting parishes, spiking numbers of seminarians, a balance of vitality in diversity – and, of course, the memorable six-year run of the Brothers Kevin....

But this might just take the cake.

Finally moving on the smaller of the area's two dioceses – one nearly doubled in size over the last decade – after a 14-month vacancy, at Roman Noon this Tuesday the Pope named Msgr Michael Olson, 47, currently rector of Holy Trinity Seminary in Irving, as bishop of Fort Worth, his home diocese, where he served as vicar-general from 2006 until his 2008 appointment to lead the nearby formation house just over the Dallas border.

With the move, Olson – born in Chicago but ordained for Fort Worth in 1994 – becomes the first priest of the diocese ever elevated to the episcopacy, signifying an important passage for the North Texas church into the hands of homegrown leadership. For the Irving seminary, meanwhile – its enrollment more than tripled over the last decade – the bishop-elect becomes the second straight rector to receive a diocese, following the now-Bishop Michael Duca of Shreveport, and the third overall; in its first "golden age" of the early 1980s, HTS was led by the future Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe.

A Basselin scholar during his philosophy days at the Catholic University of America in Washington, Olson went on to earn a doctorate in moral theology with a specialty in bioethics, spending four years along the way teaching at the health care ethics center of the Jesuit-run St Louis University. After a separate five-year run as a professor and formator at East Texas' major seminary – St Mary's in Houston – the appointee returned home to take up double-duty as a pastor and chief deputy to Bishop Kevin Vann, whose seven years at the diocese's helm saw the Fort Worth church take flight, its population growing from 400,000 on his 2005 arrival to some 750,000 today, with Hispanics comprising a growing majority. (Like Vann, Olson comes speaking the language.)

Shown above with his now-successor, Vann was transferred in September 2012 to Southern California's 1.3 million-member Orange church, where he's inherited one of American Catholicism's dream projects – the acquisition of the landmark Crystal Cathedral and its years-long transition into the diocese's new seat. Slated to be closed for an extensive renovation in early December, the future Christ Cathedral is slated to see its dedication for Catholic worship sometime in late 2015 or early 2016.

The Fort Worth diocese comprises 28 counties of North-Central Texas. With the usual Appointment Day presser slated for a 10am Central start (livestream included), Olson's ordination has already been announced for January 29, 2014 in the see-city's convention center.

In a statement this morning, the appointee said that "he is very humbled and deeply moved by Pope Francis’ appointment of me to serve as the bishop of Fort Worth. In a very special way, I am delighted to return home to the diocese of Fort Worth to serve the priests, deacons, religious, and all of the faithful as their bishop."

As the diocese noted, by a margin of five months, the bishop-elect now becomes the second-youngest head of a US diocese following Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces.

SVILUPPO: Amid cheering, español and a Francis-esque priority for "those who would fall through the margins of society," here's fullvid of Olson's homecoming presser:

With the bishop-elect already slated to keynote Sunday's diocesan closing of the global church's 13-month Year of Faith, two additional bits of context on this morning's move.

First, it is a sign of no small confidence in Olson that he's been given an extraordinarily large diocese – for purposes of context, a place with as many Catholics as Pittsburgh or Hartford, and far more than, say, San Francisco, Louisville or Denver – without any episcopal experience to date. It's the second time this year a simple priest has been so elevated, and even Michael Barber SJ's ascent to Oakland in May involved a diocese with roughly a third less faithful than today's nominee returns to in Fort Worth.

While Vann was thrust into a similar surreal reality on his ordination, it wasn't supposed to be that way; a parish priest in Springfield, Illinois when the call came in, the now-prior bishop had been named as coadjutor, but came immediately into the reins as the ailing Bishop Joseph Delaney died the day before the rites took place. Of course, Olson's native knowledge of the turf will help the transition... even for the
 leg-up, however, he'll still have to learn how to be a bishop, to boot.

And lastly, it's notable that the Fort Worth nod came earlier than a resolution to the longest-standing vacancy on these shores: Maine's statewide diocese of Portland, which opened up four months before Vann's SoCal transfer upon Bishop Richard Malone's transfer to Buffalo. (Malone's been doubling up as apostolic administrator of his former charge ever since.)

While an uptick of chatter before the summer tipped a Portland appointment in late June or July – with a name attached to it – the cited prospect seems to have petered out, and as things stand, the outcome remains up for grabs.

With this morning's move, nine Stateside Latin-church sees remain vacant, with another six – led by the nation's third-largest diocese, Chicago – awaiting successors to ordinaries serving past the retirement age.

As the all-important Windy City handover goes, no movement is expected at least until after Cardinal Francis George marks his golden jubilee as a priest on 18 December, and all told, likely not until well in the New Year.


Saturday, November 16, 2013

"We Bishops Are Responsible" – At Guadalupe, Chaput's "New World"

For everything that was different about this week's Baltimore Plenary, there was still a bit of deja vu in the air... well, besides Archbishop Allen Vigneron being denied the Divine Worship chair for the fourth straight time – now an apparent custom of the bench, going all the way back to 2005.

In one of this week's great surprises, for the second time running, Archbishop Charles Chaput was the runner-up for a seat in the USCCB's topmost leadership. The result made for a rather striking contrast to this meeting's run-up as, g
oing into the sessions, many felt this was his protege's hour, with the votes accordingly to swing – beyond being head of the largest diocese these shores have ever known, Archbishop José Gomez had become the first Hispanic in recent memory to make the USCCB's presidential slate, and the choice of the Mexican-born Angeleno ecclesially bred in Texas was advanced by his champions as an evocative, providential amplification of both the Latino ascendancy into Stateside Catholicism's largest ethnic group, as well as the source of the first-ever American pontificate, albeit south of the border.

Yet when Decision Time came, Don José's mentor – a veteran of the last five 10-man slates (more than any other contender) – edged again into the runoff by all of one vote.

Of course, the demographic and Roman fronts aren't the only ways the world has changed since the 2010 Fall Classic. Keeping with Rome's long-standing habit for the almost-vice-president of the US bishops, eight months after last time's near-miss, Chaput was sent to the country's next open cardinalatial see... yet even if he's become the sole US prelate to occupy the chair once held by a saint, to describe the modern-day archdiocese of Philadelphia as any sort of "consolation prize" would simply be perverse.

The figures speak for themselves: a second grand jury that charged four clerics for abuse and its coverup; a former clergy-personnel chief convicted, his three-to-six year jail sentence still on appeal; a score of priests suspended, some 30 schools shut in one fell swoop, along with as many parishes (and more coming through 2015), all of it amid heated protests; long-term deficits in excess of $350 million, with at least a dozen civil suits still pending (the latest of which – a wrongful death claim in a victim-survivor's drug overdose – dropped this week); a quarter of the Chancery staff laid off, the museum-like Cardinal's Residence sold, and the crown jewel of the clericalist behemoth – the "Lower Side" seminary that, on its 1928 opening, was the largest formation house ever built – now likewise on the market... to say nothing of a landscape full of hardened hearts and lasting wounds that remain to be restored and made whole again – and all of it up against the deadline of a seemingly bankable September 2015 PopeTrip for the Vatican-chartered World Meeting of Families, to say nothing of the global focus it brings.

From the outset – indeed, even before a months-long forensic audit revealed a quarter-century of "chronic... crippling" mismanagement in a starkly full light – this was already perceived to be the most difficult situation an American bishop has faced in the last half-century. Now, having watched the most determined, unflappable figure on the US bench look as if he's aged 20 years over the last 26 months – at points doubled over in anguish and grabbing his head over what he was made to inherit – it seems safe to say that taking on this inferno would've killed anyone else. But to know Chaput – the guy who once famously played a younger priest into a heart attack on the racquetball court – is to know that, where it matters most, the Capuchin comes to win.

Along those lines, just surviving the multi-tiered horror of the last two years has been quite a victory in itself, and the full thrust of setting a "fire upon the earth" after all this cleanup is yet to come. Still, having laid out a clear, resolute vision of church, culture and the public square in writings, talkspodcasted preaches and best-selling books that've spanned the last decade and a half, in the context of American Catholicism's present, it could be said that the dream he's dreamed in time gone by could only ever fully prove itself in the the crucible of the US church's once-dominant, now-decimated Northeastern beast.

With said experiment now well underway, at the place an earlier Charles Joseph declared the spiritual center of the American continent, and amid Chaput's own 25th anniversary as a bishop, these pages' shepherd delivered the following major address earlier today as one of the keynotes at this weekend's Vatican-organized Mexico City conference on Guadalupe, the New Evangelization, and the Continental Mission declared by the now-Pope Francis – emphases original, links added for context.

*   *   *


+Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.
Archbishop of Philadelphia
Mexico City, 11.16.13

Sixteen years ago today, November 16, I began my work as a delegate to the Special Assembly for America of the Synod of Bishops.  Those weeks in Rome so many years ago, serving with brothers from around the hemisphere, were an extraordinary education and blessing.  They’ve shaped the course of my life as a bishop ever since.  Thanks to that meeting, I have on my desk at home a picture of Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, a gift from the then-coadjutor archbishop of Buenos Aires.  As some of you may know, he has since gone on to other duties.

A lot has changed since 1997.  The world is a very different place.  For the Church in America, much of the change has been good.  Dialogue between bishops North and South has grown.  So has cooperation across borders.  We differ in language and culture.  But these differences are a gift, not an obstacle.  As bishops, I think we understand as never before that our common Catholic faith is a bridge that abolishes the distance between us.  The only thing that can separate us is our own unwillingness to live what we claim to believe about Jesus Christ and to strengthen the unity we find in him.

We need each other as brothers.  And we need to remember that God is always with his Church.  The millions of people, especially the young, who greeted Pope Francis so joyfully in Brazil this year were not a mirage.  They were not an accident.  They were the voice and soul of a continent.  The human heart in every age, in every corner of the world, hungers for something more than itself -- for something or Someone beyond the horizon of this life.  Man needs God.  So it has always been.  So it will always be.  And so too, the message of Jesus Christ will always be life-giving, and the mission of his Church will always remain urgent.  As St. Augustine once said, the human heart is restless until it rests in God.

That’s the good news.  The more sobering news is this.  Much of human history has resembled the drift of tectonic plates, with our learning and culture pushed forward on long, slow currents of time.  That season is now over.  We live today in a moment of colliding plates; a time unlike anything since the confusion and anxieties of the Reformation; a civilizational change that throws down the old and elevates the new with indifference.  As a result, we need to see and respond to the world as it really is.  We harm our people and deceive ourselves if we let ourselves become complacent; if we misread the shape of the world now emerging around us.

As Pope Francis told La Repubblica last month, the beginning and the end of life today can be times of equal desperation.  The elderly are too often trapped in loneliness, while the young are “crushed under the weight of the present [without] a memory of the past and without the desire to look ahead to the future by building something; a future, a family.”  Crushed under the weight of the present: These are hard words, but they’re true.  And material, programmatic solutions to problems like these, no matter how good they might be, will never work unless they begin with direct human contact and the tenderness of Christian love.

My task today is to talk about the challenges and responsibilities of the American continent in the work of the new evangelization.  Blessed John Paul II's apostolic exhortation, Ecclesia in America, did this in a comprehensive way in 1999.  I don't need to repeat its content here.  

But we do need to recall that, in his text, John Paul paid special attention to the words "From those who have received much, much will be required" in the Gospel of Luke (12:48).  That passage applies not just to the wealthy and powerful persons in our care.  It also applies to all of us -- we bishops who have the privilege of serving and leading the Church.  Ecclesia in America reminds us that "the greatest gift which America has received from the Lord is the faith which has forged its Christian identity" (14).  Part of the stewardship of that faith is in our hands.  And God will hold us accountable for it.

The challenges we face as a Church in America – pastoral, social, economic and political -- are as many as they are serious.  I want to focus briefly today on three of those problems.  The first two are poverty and drugs.  I’ll turn to the third problem in due course.  But when we speak of “poverty and drugs,” we probably need to understand those words in a much broader sense than we normally use them.

Ecclesia in America speaks of “social sins which cry to heaven” because they demean human dignity and create hatred and division (56).  Poverty is an acid that destroys human kinship.  It burns away the bonds of mutual love and obligation that make individuals into a community.  The United States is the richest, most powerful nation in history.  But one in every six persons in my country now lives below the poverty line.  And poverty always, inevitably comes with a family of other ugly issues: hunger, homelessness, street crime, domestic violence, unemployment, human trafficking.  

All of these evils now belong to the shadow side of both urban and rural life in my country.  They eat away at our sense of justice.  They undermine the integrity of our public discourse.  The trouble is that the economy of the United States still succeeds so well for so many of its people that the poor become invisible.  And being invisible, they can be ignored.

Of course, poverty in the United States is one thing.  Poverty in the favelas of Brazil is another.  Many people in my country – even when they understand the economic inequalities of Latin America – have no real experience of the human suffering involved.  Many of us who live in the North have no experience of poor health care, poor education, poor housing, poor sanitation, no electricity, serious corruption or mass unemployment – at least, not on the scale common to some other countries of America.  We have no experience of crippling foreign debt that prevents basic development.  And we have no experience of the gulf between rich and poor that exists in other regions of the hemisphere.

None of this subtracts from the economic and political progress made across the continent in recent years.  But it does reveal to us another kind of poverty.  I mean the moral poverty that comes from an advanced culture relentlessly focused on consuming more of everything; a culture built on satisfying the self; a culture that runs on ignoring the needs of other people.  That kind of poverty, as Mother Teresa saw so well, is very much alive in my country.  It’s like a parasite of the soul.  It leaves us constantly eating but constantly hungry for something more – all the while starving the spirit that makes us truly human.

And like material poverty, moral poverty has consequences.  It brings fear of new life, a turning away from children, confused sexuality and broken marriages.  It results in greed, depression, ugliness and aggression in our popular culture, and laws without grounding in truth.  Real human development takes more – much more – than better science, better management and better consumer goods, though all these things are wonderful in their place.  Human happiness can’t be separated from the human thirst for meaning.  Material things can’t provide that meaning.  Abundance can murder the soul as easily as scarcity can.  It’s just a different kind of poverty.  This is why Ecclesia in America rightly wondered “whether a pastoral strategy directed almost exclusively to meeting people’s material needs has not in the end left their hunger for God unsatisfied, making them vulnerable to anything which claims to be of spiritual benefit” (73).  

To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, the devil is happy to cure our fevers if he can give us cancer in the process.  To heal a suffering man is a noble and beautiful thing.  But there’s a difference between dulling his pain, and making him whole and well.  

Likewise, solving poverty of the body by replacing it with a starving soul is not a solution.  Marx called religion the opiate of the people.  But the real opiate of the people – the coca leaves of modern culture that we’re all expected to chew – is the river of consumer comforts and distractions that we use to damp down our deeper hunger for God and our gnawing sense of obligation to so many other people.  

Modern life in developed countries is becoming a cocoon of narcotics, from pornography and abortion to crack cocaine.  And that brings us to the issue of drugs, the second of the three problems I mentioned at the start.  In a way, drugs are just the symptom, not the root cause, of a deeper social dysfunction.  Poverty is the more fundamental problem in understanding a troubled society.  But the two issues are closely linked.  Poverty drives despair, which seeks relief in drugs.  Drugs destroy lives, which end up in poverty and crime.  The two problems feed on and compound each other.  

All of us here know the impact of the drug trade on the life of our continent.  Ecclesia in America lists it among the sins that cry out to heaven for justice.  Drug-related violence has killed tens of thousands of people.  Drug money deforms entire economies.  It cripples development.  It corrupts law enforcement agencies.  It poisons the courts and the political process.  It spreads poverty and despair.  It traps women and children in prostitution.  And it robs young people of the future.  

Something genuinely hellish resides in every transaction that profits from the suffering of an innocent young person.  That same hellishness infects every man and woman complicit in sustaining the criminal drug industry, from wealthy consumers in New York, to cartel bosses in Mexico, to chemists in the jungles of Colombia.  The United States bears special responsibility for the problem because of its enormous demand for the illegal substances.  And as Pope Francis stressed in his visit to Brazil earlier this year, decriminalizing the drug trade will not control or solve the drug scourge.  Only deeper social and personal reform can do that.

Of course, none of these words about poverty and drugs is new.  They’ve all been said before, and said better, by others. The point I want to make in saying them again is that poverty, drugs and so many of the other painful issues facing our people both derive from and make worse a larger crisis of the spirit.  It’s a crisis of identity and purpose.  It touches every corner of the American continent.  It crosses every border and language group.  And it brings us to the third of the three problems I hope we can discuss with each other during this pilgrimage.  

The third problem is we ourselves; each of us as a believer and bishop; our limitations; our weaknesses.  God called us to lead.  The Church ordained us to lead.  Therefore we’re responsible.  Yes, we bishops didn’t create the world in which we now live.  Yes, we don’t control most of the factors that will shape the world tomorrow.  I also don’t pretend to understand the unique and serious pressures my Latin American brothers face that I don’t.  I ask your indulgence for that, and I hope you will add to and correct what I say here according to your experiences.   

But I do know that when I spoke at the Special Assembly for America 16 years ago, I spoke from a moral consensus in the United States that was still largely Christian.  Today that is no longer the case.  I do know that the mass media of the United States shape the appetites, beliefs and prejudices of much of the rest of the world – including Catholic young people -- and with few exceptions, these media are no friend to the Catholic faith.  

I do know that Mass attendance and sacramental practice have been declining for decades in many North American dioceses, well before the clergy abuse crisis of recent years.  And I do know that millions of Catholics in my country and Canada are baptized and even catechized, but they don’t know Jesus Christ -- and therefore, for many of them, the language of Catholic Scripture, Catholic worship and Catholic moral reasoning is incomprehensible.

Again, we bishops are responsible – not for every failure; not for every mistake; and not for things over which we have no influence or control.  But we do have the duty to examine ourselves and our work honestly; to correct each other frankly; to reform our hearts; and to give our lives zealously, completely, without counting the cost, to serving God and our people.  A friend once sent me a line from the English poet, T.S. Eliot, and it has stayed in my memory ever since: For us, there is only the trying.  The rest is not our business.  Success in the work of evangelization belongs to God, in his own time, in his own way.  But the work belongs to us, now.  And it needs to involve more than passing along good doctrine.  It needs to lead our people – including the well-catechized – to embrace Jesus Christ and his teaching in a new, more personal way.

I want to turn now, in this last part of my comments, to the duties we have as a body of Catholic brothers in the task of the new evangelization. And we might begin with a few words from Augustine, who served the Church as a bishop in a world not unlike our own.  In his Sermons, Augustine once wrote:

Whoever does not want to fear, let him probe his inmost self.  Do not just touch the surface; go down into yourself; reach into the farthest corner of your heart.

Here’s what that means.

In an immediate sense, we need to be honest – and at times, that will mean self-critical – in the workgroup sessions that lie before us tomorrow.  For example, Ecclesia in America rightly notes that “one of the reasons for the Church’s influence on the Christian formation of Americans is her vast presence in the field of education, and especially in the university world . . . Another important area in which the Church is present in every part of America is social and charitable work” (18).  The achievements of Catholic higher education in America are beyond question.  But it’s also true that today, some Catholic universities and colleges, and some Catholic charitable ministries, seem to be “Catholic” in name only.  Are we willing to admit this?  And are we willing to do something about it?

The title of the session I chair tomorrow – Workgroup 8 – is “The missionary activity of the Church in colleges, universities and institutes of higher education.”  It may very well be that the Church’s missionary outreach at secular institutions is now more fruitful and a better use of resources than her presence on the campuses of many self-described “Catholic” universities.  And I find that curious and sad.

In the longer term, we need to grasp that the “new” evangelization is finally very much like the “old” evangelization.  We need to understand the hopes and fears of today’s world, and especially its young adults.  And we need to master the new technologies and methods to reach people as they are today.  But programs and techniques don’t convert the human heart.  Only the witness of other people can do that.  We can’t give what we don’t have.  If we as bishops don’t have a passion for Jesus Christ, a zeal for his Church and humility about our own weaknesses, then we’ll never be able to set others on fire with the Gospel.  Our own tepid hearts and pride will block the way.

We also need to see that the longer our history is as a local Church, and the greater our Catholic legacy and institutions might be as a diocese, then the more encumbered we are by nostalgia, and the harder it is to think creatively about the future.  The past is important.  We need to remember and revere it.  It anchors us in the on-going story of the Church and gives us our identity.  But the past cannot be allowed to capture us.  The past too easily becomes a kind of aerodynamic drag; an enemy of the nimbleness and radicalism we need in touching the lives of other people with our Christian witness.

If this temptation to inertia is true about the Church in Philadelphia after 250 years -- and too often it is -- then we need to be equally frank about the Church elsewhere in America, where her structures and history are much older.

We need, finally and urgently, to work together more closely to protect the dignity of families who find themselves caught between the poverty of their lives in the South and immigration laws in the North that often seem incoherent, unreasonable and even vindictive.  To borrow again the words of Pope Francis, too many immigrants find themselves “crushed by the weight of the present” – a present marked by gridlock in Washington, ambivalence and fear among many people in the North, and a pressing need to build a better life among so many people in the South.  

The right to life begins with the unborn child.  Nothing can excuse the violence or mitigate the evil of abortion.  In my country, the cult of abortion has poisoned our laws, our public discourse and even the faith and integrity of many people who consider themselves Christians.

But the right to life continues beyond the womb.  To thrive, children need families with a mother and father; and the integrity of the family depends on the freedom of parents to seek work, earn an honest wage, and support each other and the children that God sends to them.  

Laws that cripple a family’s right to survive and find work, even across borders when necessary, attack the family itself.  And in harming the family, bad laws attack the basic cell of human society.  The rights of the family connect intimately to the issue of justice in today’s immigration debates.  And in that spirit, I ask you and your people to please, please join us in Philadelphia in 2015 for the next World Meeting of Families.  The world urgently needs to see a witness of Christian family solidarity from across our continent – hundreds of thousands strong -- that transcends language, color, culture and borders.

I want to conclude with this last thought.

More than 500 years ago, men came from the Old World of Europe to the New World of America.  They brought with them their pride and avarice, their illnesses and sins.  But they also brought a treasure beyond price -- the Word of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  And this continent we now share is different and better because of it.  My own Native American ancestors, people of the Prairie Band Potawatomi tribe, heard the Gospel preached by Holy Cross and Jesuit missionaries and chose to be baptized.  They passed down to me the greatest gift of my life, my Catholic faith.  

The New World of the conquistadors became, in too many ways, a world of power and greed and the abuse of human dignity.  In our day, God calls us to build a new “New World” – a world of mercy, justice, patience and love.  A new “New World” founded on the words of his Son: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.  Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:6-10).

The biggest obstacle to that new “New World” is not the enemies who hate us, and not the unbelievers who revile the Church and the Gospel.  The biggest obstacle is the Old World that lives in our own hearts, even in those of us who are bishops, and maybe especially in some of us who are bishops: our pride, our cowardice, our lack of trust in the promises of God.

Jesus said, “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev 21:5).  We need to make those words come alive in the flesh and blood of our own lives; and in the passion of our own Christian witness.  In these final days of the Year of Faith, as we pray together here at Mary’s great shrine, may Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Star of the New Evangelization, lead each of us to be made new in her Son – Jesus Christ the Word of God; Jesus Christ the Lord, Jesus Christ the King of this world, and all worlds.

Friday, November 15, 2013

American Bishops, Southern Desk

While the Pope's spending this afternoon in St Peter's presiding at his second episcopal ordination of the month – this time of the new "vice-mayor" of Vatican City, now Bishop Fernando Vérgez – the more significant elevation for Curiaworld took place last weekend, in perhaps the furthest setting possible from the splendors of Rome.

Staying true to his roots amid a "Cinderella"-esque ascent to one of the Holy See's most influential desks, Msgr Ilson Montanari became an archbishop in a gym (photos) in his home diocese of Riberão Preto in Brazil, in rites led by his own ordinary. A pastor and local dean until being sent to the Congregation for Bishops in 2008, the 54 year-old's launching from 2nd class minutante (junior desk-clerk) to second-in-command of the all-powerful Hat Shop – a post traditionally reserved for the Vatican's most-decorated diplomats – has continued to arouse slack-jawed reactions since its announcement last month; over the week just past in Baltimore, one Rome vet termed the move nothing less than "unconscionable."

With but a handful of rare exceptions (usually owing to an immediate family member unable to make the trip), top Curial officials and nuncios have invariably been elevated to the episcopacy in Rome – predominantly in St Peter's – with the Pope, his Secretary of State or another senior cardinal presiding. In Montanari's case, beyond the change of setting – which allowed for an open-invite crowd – the lone cardinal on hand appeared to be Sao Paulo's Odilio Scherer, himself a veteran of Bishops, who served as a principal co-consecrator. (Of course, Scherer was the most publicly cited Latin American contender preceding the Conclave.)

Speaking of American bishops, this weekend brings a significant gathering of the episcopates of North and South in Mexico City convened by the Holy See, focusing on the figure of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the contexts of both the New Evangelization and the Continental Mission sketched out by the now-Pope in the 2007 Aparecida Charter of the Latin American bishops.

With Francis slated to deliver a video message to the gathering tomorrow, among other A-list prelates on-hand will be Cardinals Oscar Rodríguez, Seán O'Malley, Marc Ouellet, Juan Luís Cipriani and Timothy Dolan, as well as Archbishops José Gomez of Los Angeles, Orani Tempesta of Rio, Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, Thomas Wenski of Miami, Allen Vigneron of Detroit, the new Canadian bench-chief Paul-Andre Durocher, and, in his first turn as USCCB President, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz.

Then again, such are the days that the key player at the conference might just be a layman. Named #2 of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America – a post previously held by successive archbishops – by Benedict XVI in 2011, the facilitator of the weekend will be the Uruguayan Guzmán Carriquiry, one of Cardinal Bergoglio's few friends in the Curia before his election, now said to be an influential broker and sounding-board for Francis.


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Handover, Accomplished

At Baltimore Noon this Thursday, the transition of leadership quietly took effect – Archbishop Joe Kurtz is now The President of the United States (Conference of Catholic Bishops), the 16th to hold the post since the body's modern formation in 1966.

Before leaving the Mothership after a historic, extraordinary three-year term, however, the bench's first-ever New York chief took to the morning shows to introduce his successor to the nation....

And for those who missed it, there's likewise fullvid of Tuesday's post-election presser with the new top team: the Louisville prelate and his now Vice-President, Cardinal Dan DiNardo of Galveston-Houston.


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

On "Coercive, Frustrating" HHS Mandate, Bishops "Stand United to Resist"

As a nearly two-year fight now stands within seven weeks of its ultimate judgment-call, at the close of today's six-hour executive session, the following statement on the HHS contraceptive mandate and its looming specter on church ministries has just been released as a unanimously-approved "Special Message from the Bishops of the United States":

The bishops of this country have just concluded their traditional fall meeting in Baltimore and have spent time on issues important to them and their people: help to those suffering from Typhoon Haiyan; an update on the situation in Haiti; matters of worship and teaching; service to the poor; and comprehensive immigration reform. Among those priorities is the protection of religious freedom, especially as threatened by the HHS mandate.

Pope Francis has reminded us that “In the context of society, there is only one thing which the Church quite clearly demands: the freedom to proclaim the Gospel in its entirety, even when it runs counter to the world, even when it goes against the tide.”

We stand together as pastors charged with proclaiming the Gospel in its entirety. That Gospel calls us to feed the poor, heal the sick, and educate the young, and in so doing witness to our faith in its fullness. Our great ministries of service and our clergy, religious sisters and brothers, and lay faithful, especially those involved in Church apostolates, strive to answer this call every day, and the Constitution and the law protect our freedom to do so.

Yet with its coercive HHS mandate, the government is refusing to uphold its obligation to respect the rights of religious believers. Beginning in March 2012, in United for Religious Freedom, we identified three basic problems with the HHS mandate: it establishes a false architecture of religious liberty that excludes our ministries and so reduces freedom of religion to freedom of worship; it compels our ministries to participate in providing employees with abortifacient drugs and devices, sterilization, and contraception, which violates our deeply-held beliefs; and it compels our faithful people in business to act against our teachings, failing to provide them any exemption at all.

Despite our repeated efforts to work and dialogue toward a solution, those problems remain. Not only does the mandate undermine our ministries’ ability to witness to our faith, which is their core mission, but the penalties it imposes also lay a great burden on those ministries, threatening their very ability to survive and to serve the many who rely on their care.

The current impasse is all the more frustrating because the Catholic Church has long been a leading provider of, and advocate for, accessible, life-affirming health care. We would have preferred to spend these recent past years working toward this shared goal instead of resisting this intrusion into our religious liberty. We have been forced to devote time and resources to a conflict we did not start nor seek.

As the government’s implementation of the mandate against us approaches, we bishops stand united in our resolve to resist this heavy burden and protect our religious freedom. Even as each bishop struggles to address the mandate, together we are striving to develop alternate avenues of response to this difficult situation. We seek to answer the Gospel call to serve our neighbors, meet our obligation to provide our people with just health insurance, protect our religious freedom, and not be coerced to violate our consciences. We remain grateful for the unity we share in this endeavor with Americans of all other faiths, and even with those of no faith at all. It is our hope that our ministries and lay faithful will be able to continue providing insurance in a manner consistent with the faith of our Church. We will continue our efforts in Congress and especially with the promising initiatives in the courts to protect the religious freedom that ensures our ability to fulfill the Gospel by serving the common good.

This resolve is particularly providential on this feast of the patroness of immigrants, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini. She was a brave woman who brought the full vigor of her deep religious faith to the service of the sick, the poor, children, the elderly, and the immigrant. We count on her intercession, as united we obey the command of Jesus to serve the least of our brothers and sisters.

Behind Closed Doors, "High Noon" For the Mandate

(SVILUPPO – 4.45pm ET: At the close of Wednesday's eight-hour executive session, a "special message" from the bishops on the HHS mandate was released.)

Sure, the cameras might be gone – and the press, staff, merchants and observers already headed home – but only today in Baltimore does the key debate and decision of this USCCB Plenary's business arise, albeit in executive session.

Almost two years since the Obama administration announced compulsory coverage for contraceptives in benefit plans – a step called "unconscionable" from the outset by the bishops – all of seven weeks remain until the mandate takes effect for faith-based groups that don't meet the Feds' criteria for exemption, and today is the last chance the new rule's most impacted constituency has to forge a consensus on its response.

Should non-exempt church-owned entities – a sprawling national network of Catholic charities, hospitals and universities – not comply, each would be subject to a $100 penalty per employee per day. But as one bishop mused last night, "What if we stuck together and didn't pay the penalties? What would happen then?" To be clear, it's not a lone thought.

In the hopes of striking a balance everyone can live with, the HHS talks are expected to take up the lion's share of the daylong private session.

Unusually for a November Plenary, the head of the Catholic Health Association, Daughter of Charity Sr Carol Keehan, has been on-site through the week. A pivotal supporter of Obamacare – a move which led to no shortage of friction between CHA and, even now, much of the conference – Keehan's team signaled their ability to accept the policy with its "accommodations" in a July statement. While the bishops as a body have remained considerably more skeptical of the regulations' final form, no conclusions of the bench's "continued analysis" of the mandate have yet emerged.

On a related note, yesterday saw the brief absence of two prelates as Bishops David Zubik of Pittsburgh and Lawrence Persico of Erie returned to Pittsburgh to testify at a pre-trial hearing in their dioceses' lawsuits against the government on grounds of the mandate's violation of religious freedom in forcing the church into "complicity with evil" as determined by the Magisterium. (Roughly 100 such suits have been filed nationwide, with mixed decisions on the cases bolstering the odds of an eventual Supreme Court review.) A videotaped deposition of the departing President, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, likewise figured in the proceedings.

While some bishops have continued to pursue a stance of shutting down their non-exempt entities in the face of the challenge, that line was criticized from an exceptional quarter as, in a Monday interview with the Boston Globe, Cardinal Seán O'Malley OFM Cap. said that "closing the institutions down is also an evil for us."

Already the conference's Pro-Life chair before his April appointment as the North American member of Pope Francis' unprecedented "Gang of Eight" advisers, O'Malley added that he had "nixed" his September proposal for the USCCB's establishment of a 501(c)(4) national fund to help protect the church from antagonistic moves by legislatures or in referendums, saying the venture would feed perceptions of the bishops as "overly political."

As for any resolution from the mandate talks, the conference statutes prohibit voting in executive sessions – all binding business must be conducted in public. The body may, however, approve the release a message following today's discussions in the form of a "Statement of the President," signaling their unofficial force behind it by means of applause.

Tomorrow morning, the week of committee meetings and Floor sessions wraps up with a Holy Hour led by the newly-retired Archbishop John Vlazny of Portland. Then, without ceremony of any sort, on the 17th anniversary of the death of the conference's principal architect, Thursday Noon brings the transfer of leadership to the new President and Vice-President.

We're nowhere near done yet, folks – clean-up notes and all the rest to come... and, as ever, real-time updates via Page Three (either here or along your right sidebar).