Friday, May 30, 2014

For Francis, The Synod "Makes Good"... and Other June Notes

Once upon a time – read: until a year ago – June in the Vatican was a time of dotting "i"s, crossing "t"s and a steady, happy stream of desk-clearing as the Curia prepared for its two-month hiatus.

Now, the start of summer is anything but the "end of school." With Francis, the traditional September-to-June action cycle is no more, and as opposed to winding down, next month's calendar just got heavier over the last week with the Pope's "peace prayer" alongside the Israeli and Palestinian presidents now confirmed for June 8, and Papa Bergoglio's first encounter with victim-survivors of clergy sex-abuse taking place around the same time.

All told, it doesn't mean the Curia lacks a break: for this Pope, the fewer bureaucrats around, the better....

That is, with one exception. And fittingly, that's where the next round sees its start.

Late this afternoon in St Peter's, Francis will personally ordain the recently-named #2 of the Synod of Bishops, Fabio Fabene, a bishop in his own right. As the under-secretary of the Synod has never previously known the rank, the move only further underscores the Pope's concept of the assembly as the linchpin of his governing model (a shift which, as relayed earlier in the week, has deeply positive ramifications for the Catholic world's ever-warming ties with the Orthodox).

Along those lines, while the new edition of the Annuario Pontificio – the Vatican's annual "Yellow Pages" – shows no increase in staff to date to handle the larger workload, an expansion of the Synod's office-space on the Via della Conciliazione (where the Pope is a regular visitor) has reportedly been completed over recent weeks. That said, perhaps it remains the most telling sign of all that, on making the Synod's Secretary-General, Lorenzo Baldisseri, a cardinal at February's Consistory, the Pope placed the longtime diplomat second on the slate, right behind the Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, and ahead of the CDF prefect Gerhard Ludwig Müller, thus upending a Curial pecking-order that stretches back to the 16th century.

With the recent formation of the Secretariat of the Economy under Cardinal George Pell – whose successor in Sydney is tipped to be named in June – the three Secretariats (State, Synod, Economy) now rank atop the evolving flow-chart, with the onetime "Holy Office of the Inquisition," the eldest of the congregations founded in 1542, now placed fourth. The dominant topic over his soon to be five meetings with the eight-man Council of Cardinals, though the complete shape of Francis' reconstitution of the Curia isn't expected to roll out until this time next year – and, to be sure, no shortage of aspects remain to be decided – when it comes to what has, the hints just keep on coming.

*  *  *
As for Fabene, meanwhile, the story is one you'd expect Francis to smile on (and top with a hat). A native of Rome who left town to be ordained for the outlying diocese of Montefiascone, the 55 year-old Italian served under Baldisseri at the Congregation for Bishops before the new Synod chief took him along to aid in Francis' mandate for a bulked-up body with an amplified emphasis on meaningful consultation and discussion.

Before entering into the service of the Holy See in 1998, however, Fabene spent 14 years as pastor of the same parish alongside Chancery work and teaching in the local seminary. Alongside his day work, the bishop-to-be has delved into another key governing item of the Pope's by serving as a chaplain to the Italian church's national forum for women. As Francis pursues ways to better integrate the feminine presence in Vatican roles, the latter aspect comes especially in handy.

On another front, almost a year since the Pope's unscripted call for the church to "go forward on the path of synodality" on the feast celebrating his papal authority rattled much of the Old Guard he inherited, beyond voicing his general expectations for episcopal ministry, today's homily will allow Francis another opportunity to sketch out his hopes and expectations for "Synod 2.0," especially as October's assembly on the pastoral challenges of the family – the first of two on the topic – draws ever nearer. Yet even that would only build upon the unusual letter Papa Bergoglio sent Baldisseri to explain his decision to make Fabene a bishop, which the Vatican released alongside the news of the elevation.

Emphasizing that it was the union of "the bishop of Rome with the bishops" which "the Holy Spirit has constituted to govern the church" (emphases original), Francis wrote of his drive to "seek ever more profound and authentic forms of the exercise of synodal collegiality, to better realize ecclesial communion and to promote [the church's] ceaseless mission."

Comparing himself to the Synod's founder – the soon-to-be Blessed Paul VI, who founded the body shortly after Vatican II's close – the Pope wrote that, "having likewise discerned the signs of the times and in the awareness that my exercise of the Petrine Ministry, however long, will serve to revive ever more its close link with all the church's shepherds, I wish to value this precious inheritance of the Council." In keeping with that, he advanced Fabene's elevation as a means of "making more manifest the appreciated service [the Synod Office] is giving to help the collegiality of bishops with the bishop of Rome."

While Francis himself took to swatting down the oft-circulated hysteria in the press 
(and again warned church-folk against the dangers of "casuistry"surrounding the October gathering on his flight home from the Holy Land, it bears noting that the all-important Instrumentum Laboris – the extensive text which sets the scene (and the foul-posts) for the fall meeting – remains to be released. Its preparation guided by the responses to the questionnaire Baldisseri urged to be circulated in the local churches of the world, a draft of the Instrumentum was critiqued by the 15-prelate Synod Council over a two-day meeting in mid-May, with the Pope present for the discussion. As the document was initially expected to publish earlier this month, the delay is ostensibly owed to the torrent of input that poured in, and the seriousness with which it's been received.

Elsewhere on the Synod scene, at its last meeting the aforementioned Council was introduced to what was termed "a new methodology" for how the meetings are carried out. Being the Synod's President, though Francis is free to dispense from the assembly's established rules however he wishes, it is likely that a reboot of the sessions' protocols will be enacted and published before the October assembly. Accordingly, while the present norms limit an "Extraordinary Synod" to the heads of the Eastern churches, the presidents of all the episcopal conferences and representatives of the "clerical religious orders," it's a pretty safe bet that a major ecclesial discussion on the situations faced by families won't be restricted to the ordained.

* * *
Returning to the schedule in general, while both Francis' "Camp Domus Summit" with Presidents Mahmoud Abbas and Shimon Peres and his two-day hosting of abuse victims will be heavily watched both within and beyond the church, two other commitments of internal significance in June's first half were likewise announced this week.

First, on Sunday night – in keeping with a years-long closeness to the movement (extending across denominational lines), and his own keen focus on the Holy Spirit – Francis will attend a major gathering of some 50,000 members of the Charismatic Renewal in Rome's Olympic Stadium. Then, on June 16th, the pontiff will have his second meeting in a year with Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury and head of the global Anglican Communion.

Heavily influenced in his formation by the Benedictine tradition, the 104th successor of Augustine – who came to the post at the same time as Francis did his (under almost equally surprising circumstances) – seems to have made a running start with the 265th successor of Peter... so much so that, as London's Daily Telegraph floated back in April, Welby's entourage this time might just include Nicky Gumbel – the primate's own spiritual mentor and the formidable vicar of the Church of England's largest parish, whose Alpha Course of evangelization is said to have engaged some 20 million people in over 100 languages while recently getting off the ground in a Catholic format.


Thursday, May 29, 2014

"Go, Therefore"... and "Transform Everything"

Evangelization takes place in obedience to the missionary mandate of Jesus: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20). In these verses we see how the risen Christ sent his followers to preach the Gospel in every time and place, so that faith in him might spread to every corner of the earth.

The word of God constantly shows us how God challenges those who believe in him “to go forth”.... The Church which “goes forth” is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice. An evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, that he has loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:19), and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast. Such a community has an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of its own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy.

Let us try a little harder to take the first step and to become involved. Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. The Lord gets involved and he involves his own, as he kneels to wash their feet. He tells his disciples: “You will be blessed if you do this” (Jn 13:17). An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others. Evangelizers thus take on the “smell of the sheep” and the sheep are willing to hear their voice. An evangelizing community is also supportive, standing by people at every step of the way, no matter how difficult or lengthy this may prove to be. It is familiar with patient expectation and apostolic endurance. Evangelization consists mostly of patience and disregard for constraints of time. Faithful to the Lord’s gift, it also bears fruit. An evangelizing community is always concerned with fruit, because the Lord wants her to be fruitful. It cares for the grain and does not grow impatient at the weeds. The sower, when he sees weeds sprouting among the grain does not grumble or overreact. He or she finds a way to let the word take flesh in a particular situation and bear fruits of new life, however imperfect or incomplete these may appear. The disciple is ready to put his or her whole life on the line, even to accepting martyrdom, in bearing witness to Jesus Christ, yet the goal is not to make enemies but to see God’s word accepted and its capacity for liberation and renewal revealed. Finally an evangelizing community is filled with joy; it knows how to rejoice always. It celebrates every small victory, every step forward in the work of evangelization. Evangelization with joy becomes beauty in the liturgy, as part of our daily concern to spread goodness. The Church evangelizes and is herself evangelized through the beauty of the liturgy, which is both a celebration of the task of evangelization and the source of her renewed self-giving.

I am aware that nowadays documents do not arouse the same interest as in the past and that they are quickly forgotten. Nevertheless, I want to emphasize that what I am trying to express here has a programmatic significance and important consequences. I hope that all communities will devote the necessary effort to advancing along the path of a pastoral and missionary conversion which cannot leave things as they presently are. “Mere administration” can no longer be enough. Throughout the world, let us be “permanently in a state of mission”....

There are ecclesial structures which can hamper efforts at evangelization, yet even good structures are only helpful when there is a life constantly driving, sustaining and assessing them. Without new life and an authentic evangelical spirit, without the Church’s “fidelity to her own calling,” any new structure will soon prove ineffective.

I dream of a “missionary option” – that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her [own] self-preservation. The renewal of structures demanded by pastoral conversion can only be understood in this light: as part of an effort to make them more mission-oriented, to make ordinary pastoral activity on every level more inclusive and open, to inspire in pastoral workers a constant desire to go forth and in this way to elicit a positive response from all those whom Jesus summons to friendship with himself.
–Francis, Bishop of Rome
Evangelii Gaudium ("The Joy of the Gospel")
24 November 2013

Monday, May 26, 2014

"From Here, The Church Set Out... From Here, She Goes Forth Again"

26 MAY 2014

It is a great gift that the Lord has given us by bringing us together here in the Upper Room for the celebration of the Eucharist. I greet you with fraternal joy and I wish to express my affection to the Oriental Catholic Patriarchs who have taken part in my pilgrimage during these days. I want to thank them for their significant presence, particularly dear to me and I assure them of a special place in my heart and in my prayers. Here, where Jesus shared the Last Supper with the apostles; where, after his resurrection, he appeared in their midst; where the Holy Spirit descended with power upon Mary and the disciples, here the Church was born, and she was born to go forth. From here she set out, with the broken bread in her hands, the wounds of Christ before her eyes, and the Spirit of love in her heart.

In the Upper Room, the risen Jesus, sent by the Father, bestowed upon the apostles his own Spirit and with his power he sent them forth to renew the face of the earth (cf. Ps 104:30).

To go forth, to set out, does not mean to forget. The Church, in her going forth, preserves the memory of what took place here; the Spirit, the Paraclete, reminds her of every word and every action, and reveals their true meaning.

The Upper Room speaks to us of service, of Jesus giving the disciples an example by washing their feet. Washing one another’s feet signifies welcoming, accepting, loving and serving one another. It means serving the poor, the sick and the outcast, those whom I find difficult, those who annoy me.

The Upper Room reminds us, through the Eucharist, of sacrifice. In every Eucharistic celebration Jesus offers himself for us to the Father, so that we too can be united with him, offering to God our lives, our work, our joys and our sorrows… offering everything as a spiritual sacrifice.

The Upper Room also reminds us of friendship. “No longer do I call you servants – Jesus said to the Twelve – but I have called you friends” (Jn 15:15). The Lord makes us his friends, he reveals God’s will to us and he gives us his very self. This is the most beautiful part of being a Christian and, especially, of being a priest: becoming a friend of the Lord Jesus, and discovering in our hearts that he is our friend.

The Upper Room reminds us of the Teacher’s farewell and his promise to return to his friends: “When I go… I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (Jn 14:3). Jesus does not leave us, nor does he ever abandon us; he precedes us to the house of the Father, where he desires to bring us as well.

The Upper Room, however, also reminds us of pettiness, of curiosity – “Who is the traitor?” – and of betrayal. We ourselves, and not just others, can reawaken those attitudes whenever we look at our brother or sister with contempt, whenever we judge them, whenever by our sins we betray Jesus.

The Upper Room reminds us of sharing, fraternity, harmony and peace among ourselves. How much love and goodness has flowed from the Upper Room! How much charity has gone forth from here, like a river from its source, beginning as a stream and then expanding and becoming a great torrent. All the saints drew from this source; and hence the great river of the Church’s holiness continues to flow: from the Heart of Christ, from the Eucharist and from the Holy Spirit.

Lastly, the Upper Room reminds us of the birth of the new family, the Church, our holy Mother the hierarchical Church established by the risen Jesus; a family that has a Mother, the Virgin Mary. Christian families belong to this great family, and in it they find the light and strength to press on and be renewed, amid the challenges and difficulties of life. All God’s children, of every people and language, are invited and called to be part of this great family, as brothers and sisters and sons and daughters of the one Father in heaven.

These horizons are opened up by the Upper Room, the horizons of the Risen Lord and his Church.

From here the Church goes forth, impelled by the life-giving breath of the Spirit. Gathered in prayer with the Mother of Jesus, the Church lives in constant expectation of a renewed outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Send forth your Spirit, Lord, and renew the face of the earth (cf. Ps 104:30)!


Memorial Day, Pope Edition

Keeping with the thread of yesterday's wall-stop in Bethlehem – and the truisms of Francis-style communication in general – before his speech today at Yad Vashem, the Pope was introduced to six Holocaust survivors, and while no words could be heard, an unprecedented act of homage took place: not to the Bishop of Rome, but from him....


"Let Us Be Vigilant Before the Tempter"

26 MAY 2014

“He came out and went… to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him” (Lk 22:39).

At the hour which God had appointed to save humanity from its enslavement to sin, Jesus came here, to Gethsemane, to the foot of the Mount of Olives. We now find ourselves in this holy place, a place sanctified by the prayer of Jesus, by his agony, by his sweating of blood, and above all by his “yes” to the loving will of the Father. We dread in some sense to approach what Jesus went through at that hour; we tread softly as we enter that inner space where the destiny of the world was decided.

In that hour, Jesus felt the need to pray and to have with him his disciples, his friends, those who had followed him and shared most closely in his mission. But here, at Gethsemane, following him became difficult and uncertain; they were overcome by doubt, weariness and fright. As the events of Jesus’ passion rapidly unfolded, the disciples would adopt different attitudes before the Master: closeness, distance, hesitation.

Here, in this place, each of us – bishops, priests, consecrated persons, and seminarians – might do well to ask: Who am I, before the sufferings of my Lord?

Am I among those who, when Jesus asks them to keep watch with him, fall asleep instead, and rather than praying, seek to escape, refusing to face reality?

Do I see myself in those who fled out of fear, who abandoned the Master at the most tragic hour in his earthly life?

Is there perhaps duplicity in me, like that of the one who sold our Lord for thirty pieces of silver, who was once called Jesus’ “friend”, and yet ended up by betraying him?

Do I see myself in those who drew back and denied him, like Peter? Shortly before, he had promised Jesus that he would follow him even unto death (cf. Lk 22:33); but then, put to the test and assailed by fear, he swore he did not know him.

Am I like those who began planning to go about their lives without him, like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, foolish and slow of heart to believe the words of the prophets (cf. Lk 24:25)?

Or, thanks be to God, do I find myself among those who remained faithful to the end, like the Virgin Mary and the Apostle John? On Golgotha, when everything seemed bleak and all hope seemed pointless, only love proved stronger than death. The love of the Mother and the beloved disciple made them stay at the foot of the Cross, sharing in the pain of Jesus, to the very end.

Do I recognize myself in those who imitated their Master and Lord to the point of martyrdom, testifying that he was everything to them, the incomparable strength sustaining their mission and the ultimate horizon of their lives?

Jesus’ friendship with us, his faithfulness and his mercy, are a priceless gift which encourages us to follow him trustingly, our failures, our mistakes and betrayals notwithstanding.

But the Lord’s goodness does not dispense us from the need for vigilance before the Tempter, before sin, before the evil and the betrayal which can enter even into the religious and priestly life. We are fully conscious of the disproportion between the grandeur of God’s call and of own littleness, between the sublimity of the mission and the reality of our human weakness. Yet the Lord in his great goodness and his infinite mercy always takes us by the hand lest we drown in the sea of our fears and anxieties. He is ever at our side, he never abandons us. And so, let us not be overwhelmed by fear or disheartened, but with courage and confidence let us press forward in our journey and in our mission.

You, dear brothers and sisters, are called to follow the Lord with joy in this holy land! It is a gift and it is a responsibility. Your presence here is extremely important; the whole Church is grateful to you and she sustains you by her prayers.

Let us imitate the Virgin Mary and Saint John, and stand by all those crosses where Jesus continues to be crucified. This is how the Lord calls us to follow him.

“Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also” (Jn 12:26).

As an epic visit reaches its close, suffice it to say, whatta ride – and, well, it ain't done just yet....

Indeed, this Memorial Weekend has witnessed a trip that won't be forgotten anytime soon. Still, the only sane excuse for giving up the holiday is that it's one's job to do so... and on this end, it is, right?

If that's the case, then the reminder's in order that these pages come your way thanks only to one thing: this readership's support. And with some newly exciting days ahead – even before Francis spends the whole of his second summer in the saddle at the Vatican (read: no escape to Castel) – be forewarned that Rome's usual "dog days" will again be anything but.

Put bluntly, gang, the costs of the servers, technology and other expenses add up quick, to say nothing of the time and energy that goes into pulling all this together in a hopefully salient form. Ergo, much as moments like this make the experience especially sweet and a grace to keep at, just remember that, without you, it simply can't be done....

As always, all thanks for too much. Once these days are cleaned up, the donors'll have another briefing on... well, some things.


Holy Land, Home Stretch

In the run-up to this PopeTrip, Rabbi Abraham Skorka often anticipated the moment when "The Pope and I will embrace at the Wailing Wall."

And finally, at 9am (2am ET) local time – with Francis' Argentine Muslim friend Omar Abboud in tow – the scene came to pass (above), followed by this visit's most evocative talk to date: Papa Bergoglio's harrowing reflection on the Holocaust at Jerusalem's Yad Vashem memorial to the 6 million Jews exterminated by the Nazis, which began with a long, shaken pause.

The morning's events now completed, the Vatican livefeed will pick up at 3.30pm Jerusalem time (1430 Rome, 7.30am ET) with the Pope's visit to Patriarch Bartholomew at an Orthodox church on the Mount of Olives....

Following that and a private Mass in the Cenacle – the Upper Room where the Last Supper and Pentecost took place – the Volo Papale is slated to take off shortly after 8pm local.

Still, again, keep in mind that won't be all: with Francis having pledged a press conference to the onboard media after three manically-scheduled days, reports of the Q&A will only emerge once the plane lands at 11pm Rome time (5pm ET). So pace yourselves and – where applicable – brace yourselves.

On two other side-notes: first, while the VatiSpox Fr Federico Lombardi refused "to confirm or deny anything" at a briefing yesterday, reports continue to circulate that Francis' "prayer for peace" (or "Camp Domus Summit") with the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his Israeli counterpart, Shimon Peres, will take place at the Pope's Vatican residence on Friday, 6 June, straddling the Muslim and Jewish Sabbaths.

And secondly, it wouldn't be a stretch to call yesterday the most daring and ambitious moment of Francis' 14-month pontificate. While the stunning peace initiative was the example that's topping global headlines, the other came in the Pope's speech alongside Patriarch Bartholomew in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, when the 265th Successor of Peter sought to "reiterate my hope... for a continued dialogue with all our brothers and sisters in Christ, aimed at finding a means of exercising the specific ministry of the Bishop of Rome which, in fidelity to his mission, can be open to a new situation and can be, in the present context, a service of love and of communion acknowledged by all."

Put bluntly, that means a reform of the papacy – a goal toward which Papa Bergoglio has already garnered very positive attention in the Eastern churches, above all through his wish to realize a Synodal form of governance. On another key front, the Orthodox sensed something big was afoot when, from the moment of his election, Francis depicted his mandate in the terms of the early Eastern doctor St Ignatius of Antioch, who wrote of the Roman See as "presiding in charity" among the churches, as opposed to the modern entity whose occupant holds what canon law terms "full, immediate, universal and ordinary" jurisdiction over the Catholic world.

While Benedict XVI sought to make inroads with the Orthodox by dropping the title "Patriarch of the West" and keeping close ties among the East's various branches as his top ecumenical priority, a rethinking of papal governance wasn't in the cards... at least, until his resignation recast the sense of the office. Of course, whether Francis can succeed where his predecessor didn't would still require something close to the miraculous – after all, the millennium of the Great Schism is but 30 years away. That said, if the Pope keeps prodding Catholicism toward a devolved Petrine ministry in the service of Christian unity, Francis might just find an internal ally as formidable as it'd be astonishing: his critics among church conservatives, who've suddenly soured on a maximal definition of papal power after championing it for nearly four decades.

Lest anyone forgot, all major texts and developments here in the main and – either here or down your right sidebar – Page Three for all the rest in real time.


"Never Again, Lord! Never Again!"

26 MAY 2014

“Adam, where are you?” (cf. Gen 3:9). Where are you, o man? What have you come to? In this place, this memorial of the Shoah, we hear God’s question echo once more: “Adam, where are you?” This question is charged with all the sorrow of a Father who has lost his child. The Father knew the risk of freedom; he knew that his children could be lost… yet perhaps not even the Father could imagine so great a fall, so profound an abyss! Here, before the boundless tragedy of the Holocaust, That cry – “Where are you?” – echoes like a faint voice in an unfathomable abyss…

Adam, who are you? I no longer recognize you. Who are you, o man? What have you become? Of what horror have you been capable? What made you fall to such depths?

Certainly it is not the dust of the earth from which you were made. The dust of the earth is something good, the work of my hands. Certainly it is not the breath of life which I breathed into you. That breath comes from me, and it is something good (cf. Gen 2:7).

No, this abyss is not merely the work of your own hands, your own heart… Who corrupted you? Who disfigured you? Who led you to presume that you are the master of good and evil? Who convinced you that you were god? Not only did you torture and kill your brothers and sisters, but you sacrificed them to yourself, because you made yourself a god.

Today, in this place, we hear once more the voice of God: “Adam, where are you?”

From the ground there rises up a soft cry: “Have mercy on us, O Lord!” To you, O Lord our God, belongs righteousness; but to us confusion of face and shame (cf. Bar 1:15).

A great evil has befallen us, such as never happened under the heavens (cf. Bar 2:2). Now, Lord, hear our prayer, hear our plea, save us in your mercy. Save us from this horror.

Almighty Lord, a soul in anguish cries out to you. Hear, Lord, and have mercy! We have sinned against you. You reign for ever (cf. Bar 3:1-2). Remember us in your mercy. Grant us the grace to be ashamed of what we men have done, to be ashamed of this massive idolatry, of having despised and destroyed our own flesh which you formed from the earth, to which you gave life with your own breath of life. Never again, Lord, never again!

“Adam, where are you?” Here we are, Lord, shamed by what man, created in your own image and likeness, was capable of doing.

Remember us in your mercy.


Sunday, May 25, 2014

"Every Time We Build Unity, We Confess That Christ Is Truly Risen!"

25 MAY 2014

In this Basilica, which all Christians regard with the deepest veneration, my pilgrimage in the company of my beloved brother in Christ, His Holiness Bartholomaios, now reaches its culmination. We are making this pilgrimage in the footsteps of our venerable predecessors, Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras, who, with courage and docility to the Holy Spirit, made possible, fifty years ago, in this holy city of Jerusalem, an historic meeting between the Bishop of Rome and the Patriarch of Constantinople. I cordially greet all of you who are present. In a special way I express my heartfelt gratitude to those who have made this moment possible: His Beatitude Theophilos, who has welcomed us so graciously, His Beatitude Nourhan Manoogian and Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa.

It is an extraordinary grace to be gathered here in prayer. The empty tomb, that new garden grave where Joseph of Arimathea had reverently placed Jesus’ body, is the place from which the proclamation of the resurrection begins: “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead’” (Mt 28:5-7). This proclamation, confirmed by the testimony of those to whom the risen Lord appeared, is the heart of the Christian message, faithfully passed down from generation to generation, as the Apostle Paul, from the very beginning, bears witness: “I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4). This is the basis of the faith which unites us, whereby together we profess that Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of the Father and our sole Lord, “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead” (Apostles’ Creed). Each of us, everyone baptized in Christ, has spiritually risen from this tomb, for in baptism all of us truly became members of the body of the One who is the Firstborn of all creation; we were buried together with him, so as to be raised up with him and to walk in newness of life (cf. Rom 6:4).

Let us receive the special grace of this moment. We pause in reverent silence before this empty tomb in order to rediscover the grandeur of our Christian vocation: we are men and women of resurrection, and not of death. From this place we learn how to live our lives, the trials of our Churches and of the whole world, in the light of Easter morning. Every injury, every one of our pains and sorrows, has been borne on the shoulders of the Good Shepherd who offered himself in sacrifice and thereby opened the way to eternal life. His open wounds are the cleft through which the torrent of his mercy is poured out upon the world. Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of the basis of our hope! Let us not deprive the world of the joyful message of the resurrection! And let us not be deaf to the powerful summons to unity which rings out from this very place, in the words of the One who, risen from the dead, calls all of us “my brothers” (cf. Mt 28:10; Jn 20:17).

Clearly we cannot deny the divisions which continue to exist among us, the disciples of Jesus: this sacred place makes us even more painfully aware of how tragic they are. And yet, fifty years after the embrace of those two venerable Fathers, we realize with gratitude and renewed amazement how it was possible, at the prompting of the Holy Spirit, to take truly significant steps towards unity. We know that much distance still needs to be travelled before we attain that fullness of communion which can also be expressed by sharing the same Eucharistic table, something we ardently desire; yet our disagreements must not frighten us and paralyze our progress. We need to believe that, just as the stone before the tomb was cast aside, so too every obstacle to our full communion will also be removed. This will be a grace of resurrection, of which we can have a foretaste even today. Every time we ask forgiveness of one another for our sins against other Christians and every time we find the courage to grant and receive such forgiveness, we experience the resurrection! Every time we put behind us our longstanding prejudices and find the courage to build new fraternal relationships, we confess that Christ is truly risen! Every time we reflect on the future of the Church in the light of her vocation to unity, the dawn of Easter breaks forth! Here I reiterate the hope already expressed by my predecessors for a continued dialogue with all our brothers and sisters in Christ, aimed at finding a means of exercising the specific ministry of the Bishop of Rome which, in fidelity to his mission, can be open to a new situation and can be, in the present context, a service of love and of communion acknowledged by all (cf. JOHN PAUL II, Ut Unum Sint, 95-96).

Standing as pilgrims in these holy places, we also remember in our prayers the entire Middle East, so frequently and lamentably marked by acts of violence and conflict. Nor do we forget in our prayers the many other men and women who in various parts of our world are suffering from war, poverty and hunger, as well as the many Christians who are persecuted for their faith in the risen Lord. When Christians of different confessions suffer together, side by side, and assist one another with fraternal charity, there is born an ecumenism of suffering, an ecumenism of blood, which proves particularly powerful not only for those situations in which it occurs, but also, by virtue of the communion of the saints, for the whole Church as well.

Your Holiness, beloved brother, dear brothers and sisters all, let us put aside the misgivings we have inherited from the past and open our hearts to the working of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of love (cf. Rom 5:5) and of truth (cf. Jn 16:13), in order to hasten together towards that blessed day when our full communion will be restored. In making this journey, we feel ourselves sustained by the prayer which Jesus himself, in this city, on the eve of his passion, death and resurrection, offered to the Father for his disciples. It is a prayer which we ourselves in humility never tire to make our own: “that they may all be one… that the world may believe” (Jn 17:21).

* * *
Ed. Note: Alongside the PopeText above, two others from tonight's event are of keen import – Bartholomew's own address alongside Francis, and the Joint Declaration signed by the duo during a private meeting before the service, which ran an hour longer than scheduled.


"All Of Us Want Peace" – In Bethlehem, Two Messages: Tear Down This Wall... and Build Up The World

Fourteen months into the new Rule of Francis, it's well beyond clear that this pontificate's most resonant moments of communication come without words... well, with a few exceptions. And even if this Sunday's schedule has another seven hours ahead of it, already today, we've seen potent proof of both.

Along those lines, at the start of Day Two of a Holy Land trip whose set plans were rich in symbolism – and one whose announced schedule was parsed to the core – while en route to the late-morning Mass at Bethlehem's Manger Square, the Pope suddenly halted his motorcade, stepped off the Jeep, and caused a chaotic moment as he waded through a crowd to stop and pray for several minutes at the barrier separating Israel and Palestine as an advocate for the new state blared its people's case over loudspeakers in English.

Here, the Vatican video:

As if that wasn't enough, the Regina Caeli at the liturgy's close – usually an afterthought given the looming prevalence of the homily – contained the morning's most loaded line.

"In this place where the Prince of Peace was born," Francis said, "I desire to invite you, [Palestinian] President Mahmoud Abbas, and [the Israeli] President Shimon Peres, to raise together with me an intense prayer to God for the gift of peace. And I offer my house in the Vatican to host you in this encounter of prayer."

For the unsteeped, that means peace talks – clearly, in the hope of a "Camp Domus Accord"... and, again, it's still early in the day.

(SVILUPPO: Within a half-hour of the Pope's noontime proposal – one interrupted by the midday muezzin (Muslim call to prayer) – the Associated Press reported that both sides had accepted Francis' invite; according to an Abbas' spokesman, the "encounter" will take place in June, before Peres' term as Israel's head of state expires in mid-July.)

Here below, the Pope's homily at the Lord's birthplace, then the fulltext of the closing Marian reflection with its call for peace.

* * *
"This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger" (Lk 2:12).

What a great grace it is to celebrate the Eucharist in the place where Jesus was born! I thank God and I thank all of you who have welcomed me on my pilgrimage: President Mahmoud Abbas and the other civil authorities; Patriarch Fouad Twal and the other bishops and ordinaries of the Holy Land, the priests, the good Franciscans, the consecrated persons and all those who labor to keep faith, hope and love alive in these lands; the faithful who have come from Gaza and Galilee, and the immigrants from Asia and Africa. Thank you for your welcome!

The Child Jesus, born in Bethlehem, is the sign given by God to those who awaited salvation, and he remains forever the sign of God’s tenderness and presence in our world. The angel announces to the shepherds: "This will be a sign for you: you will find a child…".

Today too, children are a sign. They are a sign of hope, a sign of life, but also a "diagnostic" sign, a marker indicating the health of families, society and the entire world. Wherever children are accepted, loved, cared for and protected, the family is healthy, society is more healthy and the world is more human. Here we can think of the work carried out by the Ephpheta Paul VI institute for hearing and speech impaired Palestinian children: it is a very real sign of God’s goodness. It is a clear sign that society is healthier.

To us, the men and women of the twenty-first century, God today also says: "This will be a sign for you", look to the child…

The Child of Bethlehem is frail, like all newborn children. He cannot speak and yet he is the Word made flesh who came to transform the hearts and lives of all men and women. This Child, like every other child, is vulnerable; he needs to be accepted and protected. Today too, children need to be welcomed and defended, from the moment of their conception.

Sadly, in this world, with all its highly developed technology, great numbers of children continue to live in inhuman situations, on the fringes of society, in the peripheries of great cities and in the countryside. All too many children continue to be exploited, maltreated, enslaved, prey to violence and illicit trafficking. Still too many children live in exile, as refugees, at times lost at sea, particularly in the waters of the Mediterranean. Today, in acknowledging this, we feel shame before God, before God who became a child.

And we have to ask ourselves: Who are we, as we stand before the Child Jesus? Who are we, standing as we stand before today’s children? Are we like Mary and Joseph, who welcomed Jesus and care for him with the love of a father and a mother? Or are we like Herod, who wanted to eliminate him? Are we like the shepherds, who went in haste to kneel before him in worship and offer him their humble gifts? Or are we indifferent? Are we perhaps people who use fine and pious words, yet exploit pictures of poor children in order to make money? Are we ready to be there for children, to "waste time" with them? Are we ready to listen to them, to care for them, to pray for them and with them? Or do we ignore them because we are too caught up in our own affairs?

"This will be a sign for us: you will find a child…". Perhaps that little boy or girl is crying. He is crying because he is hungry, because she is cold, because he or she wants to be picked up and held in our arms… Today too, children are crying, they are crying a lot, and their crying challenges us. In a world which daily discards tons of food and medicine there are children, hungry and suffering from easily curable diseases, who cry out in vain. In an age which insists on the protection of minors, there is a flourishing trade in weapons which end up in the hands of child-soldiers, there is a ready market for goods produced by the slave labor of small children. Their cry is stifled: the cry of these children is stifled! They must fight, they must work, they cannot cry! But their mothers cry for them, as modern-day Rachels: they weep for their children, and they refuse to be consoled (cf. Mt 2:18).

"This will be a sign for you": you will find a child. The Child Jesus, born in Bethlehem, every child who is born and grows up in every part of our world, is a diagnostic sign indicating the state of health of our families, our communities, our nation. Such a frank and honest diagnosis can lead us to a new kind of lifestyle where our relationships are no longer marked by conflict, oppression and consumerism, but fraternity, forgiveness and reconciliation, solidarity and love.

Mary, Mother of Jesus,
you who accepted, teach us how to accept;
you who adored, teach us how to adore;
you who followed, teach us how to follow. Amen.

* * *
In this, the birthplace of the Prince of Peace, I wish to invite you, President Mahmoud Abbas, together with President Shimon Peres, to join me in heartfelt prayer to God for the gift of peace. I offer my home in the Vatican as a place for this encounter of prayer.

All of us want peace. Many people build it day by day through small gestures and acts; many of them are suffering, yet patiently persevere in their efforts to be peacemakers. All of us – especially those placed at the service of their respective peoples – have the duty to become instruments and artisans of peace, especially by our prayers.

Building peace is difficult, but living without peace is a constant torment. The men and women of these lands, and of the entire world, all of them, ask us to bring before God their fervent hopes for peace.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As we prepare to conclude our celebration, our thoughts turn to Mary Most Holy, who here, in Bethlehem, gave birth to Jesus her Son. Our Lady is the one who, more than any other person, contemplated God in the human face of Jesus. Assisted by Saint Joseph, she wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in the manger.

To Mary we entrust this land and all who dwell here, that they may live in justice, peace and fraternity. We entrust also the pilgrims who come here to draw from the sources of the Christian faith – so many of them are also present at this Holy Mass.

Mary, watch over our families, our young people and our elderly. Watch over those who have lost faith and hope. Comfort the sick, the imprisoned and all who suffer. Watch over the Church’s Pastors and the entire community of believers; may they may be "salt and light" in this blessed land. Sustain all educational initiatives, particularly Bethlehem University.

Contemplating the Holy Family here in Bethlehem, my thoughts turn spontaneously to Nazareth, which I hope to visit, God willing, on another occasion. From this place I embrace with affection the Christian faithful living in Galilee and I express my support for the building of the International Centre for the Family in Nazareth.

We entrust the future of our human family to Mary Most Holy, that new horizons may open in our world, with the promise of fraternity, solidarity and peace.

Regina Caeli, laetare, alleluia!....

* * *
Not even these, however, can be the last word – at least, not under these circumstances.

See, per immemorial custom for Bethlehem, the liturgy Francis celebrated on this Sunday wasn't that of this day in Easter, but the Mass of Christmas Midnight – the Nativity of the Lord... so given the setting, at this point, we'd be remiss and much more to not recall our own beloved "Patriarch": the great father, brother and friend to so many of us whose lifetime of heroic work and witness finally found its crown in the service and protection of Christ's home-crowd in the Holy Land....


Day Two: Bethlehem and Jerusalem

As the Holy Land PopeTrip keeps ramping up, here again is the livestream of the events....

Set to arrive in the Palestinian State at 9.20 local time (2.20am ET, 8.20 Rome) and after starting with a courtesy visit to President Mahmoud Abbas, Francis will celebrate Mass in Bethlehem's Manger Square at 11am, followed by a lunch with Palestinian families – a traveling nod toward his long-stated top priority for this year and next.

Going from the meal to a brief private visit at Jesus' birthplace in the Basilica of the Nativity (3pm), this visit's second meeting with refugees will take place, from which the Pope will be whisked to Israel, where he'll meet privately with the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I before a 7pm joint service in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre.

Again, major texts and developments will be here on "Page One," and Page Three – either directly or down the right sidebar – for the rest. In other words, the info's all right here, in real time: if you choose to be lazy or illiterate about accessing it, that's on you – don't blame the house.

In the meanwhile, as relayed there earlier, if you had any sort of reaction to "Who am I to judge?" well, get ready for the sequel: during yesterday's inbound flight – between selfies, of course – the Pope promised the traveling press corps that he'd give his second in-flight press conference on the return trip home Monday night.

Much as Francis' freewheeling style has made the encounter as significant an event as anything on the ground – or, indeed, even more than most of it – it's worth recalling that a Q&A in the media cabin has long been part and parcel of practically every overseas papal visit; in large part, it's the understood "reward" to the outlets that pay the exorbitant fares for a seat on the Volo Papale, which traditionally foots the costs of the entire flight.

With the plane not set to depart Tel Aviv until after 8pm and land in Rome before midnight – that is, mid-afternoon US time, albeit on a holiday – the session already has a working title: "What's he gonna say?" Accordingly, as Francis has publicly griped over the press' more sensational and imaginative tendencies twice in just the last week, it might be wise to expect the unexpected – or, at least, a challenge to the facile caricature that has widely continued to circulate.

With all that in mind, folks, buona domenica a tutti.


Saturday, May 24, 2014

To Refugees, "You Have A Place In God's Heart and My Prayers"

The Pope's visit to the site of Jesus' Baptism began with another of those moments most of us probably thought we'd never see – Francis being driven in a golf cart by Jordan's King Abdullah to the river's overflowing banks... it starts the fullvideo of the stop below:

And, of course, Francis' text.

* * *
24 MAY 2014

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As part of my pilgrimage I have greatly desired to meet with you who have had to leave your homes and your country as a result of violence and conflict. Here in Jordan you have found welcome and refuge. I have wanted also to meet with you, dear young people who bear the burden of physical disabilities.

The place where we are meeting commemorates Jesus’ baptism. Coming here to the Jordan to be baptized by John, Jesus showed his humility and his participation in our human condition. He stooped down to us and by his love he restored our dignity and brought us salvation. Jesus’ humility never fails to move us, the fact that he bends down to wounded humanity in order to heal us. For our part, we are profoundly affected by the tragedies and suffering of our times, particularly those caused by ongoing conflicts in the Middle East. I think particularly of Syria, rent by nearly three years of civil strife which has led to countless deaths and forced millions to flee and seek exile in other countries.

I thank the Jordanian authorities and people for the generous welcome they have extended to the immense number of refugees from Syria and Iraq. I also thank all those who offer them assistance and solidarity. I think too of the charitable work undertaken by Church institutions such as Caritas Jordan and others, who assist the needy regardless of their religious beliefs, ethnic origin or politics; in this way they reveal the radiant face of Jesus, full of kindness and love. May the Almighty and Merciful God bless all of you and every effort you make to alleviate the sufferings caused by war!

I urge the international community not to leave Jordan alone in the task of meeting the humanitarian emergency caused by the arrival of so great a number of refugees, but to continue and even increase its support and assistance. And I renew my heartfelt appeal for peace in Syria. May the violence cease and may humanitarian law be respected, thus ensuring much needed assistance to those who are suffering! May all parties abandon the attempt to resolve issues by the use of arms and return to negotiations. A solution will only be found through dialogue and restraint, through compassion for those who suffer, through the search for a political solution and through a sense of fraternal responsibility.

Dear young people, I ask you to join me in praying for peace. You can do this by offering your daily efforts and struggles to God; in this way your prayer will become particularly precious and effective. I also encourage you to assist, through your generosity and sensitivity, in building a society which is respectful of the vulnerable, the sick, children and the elderly. Despite your difficulties in life, you are a sign of hope. You have a place in God’s heart and in my prayers. I am grateful that so many of you are here, and for your warmth and enthusiasm.

As our meeting concludes, I pray once more that reason and restraint will prevail and that, with the help of the international community, Syria will rediscover the path of peace. May God change the hearts of the violent and those who seek war. And may he strengthen the hearts and minds of peacemakers and grant them every blessing.


The Spirit's Gifts: "To Beget Harmony... To Create Peace"

24 MAY 2014

In today’s Gospel, we hear Jesus promise the disciples: "I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Paraclete, to be with you forever" (Jn 14:16). The first Paraclete is Jesus himself; the other is the Holy Spirit.

We are not far from where the Holy Spirit descended with power on Jesus of Nazareth after his baptism by John in the River Jordan (cf. Mt 3:16) and today I will go there. Today’s Gospel, and this place to which, by God’s grace, I have come as a pilgrim, invite us to meditate on the Holy Spirit and on all that he has brought about in Christ and in us. In a word, we can say that the Holy Spirit carries out three actions – he prepares, he anoints and he sends.

At the baptism, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus to prepare him for his mission of salvation, the mission of one who is a Servant, humble and meek, ready to share and give himself completely. Yet the Holy Spirit, present from the beginning of salvation history, had already been at work in Jesus from the moment of his conception in the virginal womb of Mary of Nazareth, by bringing about the wondrous event of the Incarnation: "the Holy Spirit will come upon you, will overshadow you – the Angel said to Mary – and you will give birth to a son who will be named Jesus" (cf. Lk 1:35). The Holy Spirit had then acted in Simeon and Anna on the day of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple (cf. Lk 2:22). Both were awaiting the Messiah, and both were inspired by the Holy Spirit. Simeon and Anna, upon seeing the child, knew immediately that he was the one long awaited by the people. They gave prophetic expression to the joy of encountering the Redeemer and, in a certain sense, served as a preparation for the encounter between the Messiah and the people.

These various works of the Holy Spirit are part of a harmonious action, a sole divine plan of love. The mission of the Holy Spirit, in fact, is to beget harmony – he is himself harmony – and to create peace in different situations and between different people. Diversity of ideas and persons should not trigger rejection or prove an obstacle, for variety always enriches. So today, with fervent hearts, we invoke the Holy Spirit and ask him to prepare the path to peace and unity.

The Holy Spirit also anoints. He anointed Jesus inwardly and he anoints his disciples, so that they can have the mind of Christ and thus be disposed to live lives of peace and communion. Through the anointing of the Spirit, our human nature is sealed with the holiness of Jesus Christ and we are enabled to love our brothers and sisters with the same love which God has for us. We ought, therefore, to show concrete signs of humility, fraternity, forgiveness and reconciliation. These signs are the prerequisite of a true, stable and lasting peace. Let us ask the Father to anoint us so that we may fully become his children, ever more conformed to Christ, and may learn to see one another as brothers and sisters. Thus, by putting aside our grievances and divisions, we can show fraternal love for one another. This is what Jesus asks of us in the Gospel: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Paraclete, to be with you for ever" (Jn 14:15-16).

Lastly, the Holy Spirit sends. Jesus is the one who is sent forth, filled with the Spirit of the Father. Anointed by the same Spirit, we also are sent as messengers and witnesses of peace. The world has much need of us as messengers of peace, witnesses of peace! The world needs this. The world asks us to bring peace and to be a sign of peace!

Peace is not something which can be bought or sold; peace is a gift to be sought patiently and to be "crafted" through the actions, great and small, of our everyday lives. The way of peace is strengthened if we realize that we are all of the same stock and members of the one human family; if we never forget that we have the same Father in heaven and that we are all his children, made in his image and likeness.

It is in this spirit that I embrace all of you: the Patriarch, my brother bishops and priests, the consecrated men and women, the lay faithful, and the many children who today make their First Holy Communion, together with their families. I also embrace with affection the many Christian refugees; let us all earnestly turn our attention to them, to the many Christian refugees from Palestine, Syria and Iraq: please bring my greeting to your families and communities, and assure them of my closeness.

Dear friends! Dear brothers and sisters! The Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the Jordan and thus inaugurated his work of redemption to free the world from sin and death. Let us ask the Spirit to prepare our hearts to encounter our brothers and sisters, so that we may overcome our differences rooted in political thinking, language, culture and religion. Let us ask him to anoint our whole being with the oil of his mercy, which heals the injuries caused by mistakes, misunderstandings and disputes. And let us ask him for the grace to send us forth, in humility and meekness, along the demanding but enriching path of seeking peace.


"Peter and Andrew" Again... And Now, A Rabbi and A Muslim – In the Holy Land, Francis' Ark

While the triple "minefields" of geopolitics, interfaith relations and safety concerns have seen no shortage of ink spilled – or, these days, more like a flood of pixels – across the globe in the run-up to this weekend's PopeTrip to the Holy Land, it's fitting that the starkest reminder of the tensions into which Francis wades comes from the visit's climactic point.

After yesterday's arrest of two Jews for hanging posters urging the Pope not to come to Jerusalem, the city's Post summarized the mood by saying that "the city braced itself for a security feat" in advance of Papa Bergoglio's touchdown tomorrow night. For a place all too accustomed to lockdowns and heightened caution, it's no mean assessment.

With every detail of the trip – from the Holy See's references to the "State of Palestine" to Francis' decision to make the journey with his chief Muslim and Jewish collaborators from Argentina, and beyond – subjected to intense public scrutiny, the Volo Papale is slated to touch down in Amman at 1pm local time (6am ET, Roman Noon). After the diplomatic formalities with Jordan's King Abdullah and his government, the day's centerpiece event will be a 4pm Mass at the capital's 25,000 seat International Stadium.

Given the security issues, which Francis has exacerbated by his insistence on not using an armored vehicle during the trip, the Amman liturgy is slated to be the largest event of the 55-hour pilgrimage, and only one of two public events, the other coming tomorrow with Mass in Bethlehem's Manger Square (the rather unique mural backdrop for which is shown below).

Following the Jordan Mass, Francis will meet with a group of refugees – the first of two such encounters scheduled.

As the trip's principal purpose is to mark the 50th anniversary of the historic meeting of the soon-to-be Blessed Paul VI and the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I, the sitting successor of St Andrew – Patriarch Bartholomew – arrived in Jerusalem yesterday and will meet with Francis both tomorrow night and on Monday. Yet even as the duo will imitate their predecessors in leading a joint service in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, the Catholic world's progress since 1964 in building ecumenical and interfaith bridges is even more potently seen in the joint presence of "The Pope's Rabbi" – the Argentine Jewish seminary rector Abraham Skorka – and Omar Amed Abboud, the secretary-general of Islam's interreligious dialogue in Francis' homeland.

With the duo said to be the first-ever leaders of other faiths to be part of a Pope's traveling party, it bears reminding that this visit's first announcement wasn't made by the Holy See, but by Skorka – Bergoglio's onetime co-author – who Francis sent out to tell reporters during a stay at the Domus last fall that he and the pontiff would be making the trip. Among the Vatican part of the entourage, Cardinal Edwin O'Brien – the New York-born head of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre – is the lone American of the five red-hats accompanying the Pope; the others are the Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin; the Interfaith Dialogue Czar Jean-Louis Tauran; the head of the desks for Christian Unity and Relations with Jews Kurt Koch, and Leonardo Sandri (likewise an Argentine), the prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches.

Notably, three of the five are distinguished veterans of Vatican diplomacy and accordingly well-steeped on the nuances at hand. On the eve of the trip, however, Parolin made some early waves with a plea on behalf of the shrinking number of Christians on Jesus' home-turf, warning that the Holy Sites risked becoming "museums" without the "living stones" of a Christian presence.

The full schedule and Missal for the liturgies are available; the latter is a curious mix of Arabic, Latin, Greek and Italian. As Francis is slated to deliver some 15 texts, however, only the major ones among them will publish in the prime page here – not all will have the same significance, and it'd simply be excessive. So to find all the texts and whatever other details don't make the cut in the main, again, keep an eye on Page Three (down your right sidebar), which'll keep the raw feed going in real-time.

For those in the States, meanwhile, hope a safe, restful and Happy Memorial Weekend is already underway for one and all – at least, except here. Still, welcome to what's going to be another eventful summer... and with that, away we go.


Friday, May 23, 2014

The "Reluctant Prince" at 65

For all the exceptional attributes that come with being the first Cardinal of the American South, the most "ordinary" of them remains the most salient – among the US' active red hats, Dan DiNardo is the only one to have served as pastor of a parish...

...and – much like the saintly mentor who crafted the Pittsburgher's ascent before imitating his return from Rome to the trenches – if DiNardo had his way, he wouldn't be anywhere else.

Even if the tale was told long ago, its central thread has only become more evident over the time since the epic 2007 elevation that made Houston these shores' first new scarlet hub since Los Angeles in 1953. Among other examples, despite strong leanings to decline his confreres' nomination to last November's 10-man slate for the USCCB leadership (as he had done before), the archbishop of Galveston-Houston only relented upon assurances that the presidency and vice-presidency would go elsewhere. In the end – the traditional ascent of the #2 being restored – DiNardo was given the VP's post by a margin of nearly 2-to-1... and, well, complete the sentence.

Sure, a story-arc that stretches from the corridors of the Vatican to two rooms in a suburban Steeler Nation office-park, the "true darkness" of nighttime driving down Iowa roads and, finally, the "happy chaos" of what'll soon be the nation's third-largest city is rich enough on its own. Still, it's just emblematic of what is rightfully – yet far too often, isn't – recognized as "Stateside Catholicism 3.0": a Church which, by far, remains the nation's largest religious body, but one just now seeing the largest diocese it's ever known, and one likewise become the biggest faith in Texas, atop whose largest diocese the founding cardinal – after all of eight years at the helm of a H-Town crowd grown five-fold since 1990 to 1.5 million Catholics – has dedicated some 30 new churches, each upwards of 1,500 seats.

Put bluntly, a reality of the sort begs – or, to many, should – one question: "What 'decline'?"

Now the lone North American prelate named by Francis to the Pope's new, broadly empowered Council for the Economy in addition to all the rest, today sees DiNardo's 65th birthday... as for slowing down, however, it's fair to say that he's yet to fully rev up.

In token of the occasion – and, indeed, his place as the home-bench's most energetic of preachers – below you'll find the cardinal's homily at last week's Baccalaurate Mass for this year's graduates of the Franciscan University of Steubenville, where he was born before the clan moved to Pittsburgh. Amid these days of Commencements all around, it doubles as both a congrats and an Easter reflection for all the grads among us....