Thursday, August 28, 2014

Cae La Bomba – With Madrid and Valencia, Francis Plays "Spanish Roulette"

In what could be considered the most decisive dealing of major posts he's made over his 18-month pontificate, at Roman Noon this Thursday the Pope defied most projections in appointing Carlos Osoro Sierra (right), the 69 year-old archbishop of Valencia, to the all-important archbishopric of Madrid – both Spain's capital and, with 3.4 million Catholics, the country's largest diocese.

His name only surfaced for the post in recent days, the succession to the retiring Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco Varela, 78, had been long and widely thought to be destined for the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera. Instead, the 68 year-old theologian – known as El Ratzingerino (the "Little Ratzinger") for his close ties to Benedict XVI – has been dispatched to succeed Osoro in Valencia, Spain's second-largest local church, which likewise happens to be his hometown.

No new prefect of CDW was named alongside Cañizares' transfer. As the handovers of the Curia's top posts are traditionally arranged with no small amount of detail, it is exceedingly rare for a congregation's top office to be vacant for any reason other than the occupant's death.

Notably, the year of buzz over the cardinal's future at CDW was able to continue as Cañizares had been the lone head of a Roman congregation who Francis did not reconfirm in office following his election. As the Pope reaches the year-and-a-half mark since his election on 13 September, it bears recalling that several other dicastery chiefs remain in a similar limbo, among them the prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, the Wisconsin-born Cardinal Raymond Burke.

After almost years eight years at the helm of the office overseeing the global church's liturgical life, Cañizares' (above) swan-song came in a July letter which concluded a years-long consultation aimed at avoiding "abuses" in the Sign of Peace at Mass.

Having preached the Spanish episcopate's 2006 retreat and sharing his native language with the group, the relative surprise of today's double move serves to further underscore Francis' determination to be his own man where he's sufficiently appraised on a given situation. What's more, however, given Osoro's lengthy background in pastoral work and adult education before going on to lead three dioceses, the Madrid pick – an ecclesial moderate said to have an "unequaled capacity for work," and reportedly dubbed "The Pilgrim" by Francis thanks to his zest for the trenches of ecclesial life – was apparently deemed a more optimal fit for the role of this Pope's de facto "face" of Spanish Catholicism in the wake of Rouco's oft-combative two-decade tenure.

As archbishop of Madrid, Osoro is all but certain to become a cardinal at the next consistory, all the more as no Spanish elector was elevated by Papa Bergoglio at last February's intake. Despite having merely 350,000 fewer Catholics than Madrid, meanwhile, the five-century old Valencia seat only received its first red hat in 2007, when Osoro's predecessor Agustín García-Gasco was given the scarlet by B16; García retired 15 months later.

At the now Pope-emeritus' first consistory in 2006, Cañizares was elevated to the College as archbishop of Toledo – as Spain's eldest diocese, the country's primatial see – which has a Catholic population of just 650,000. While Toledo has routinely been the seat of a Spanish cardinal alongside Madrid and Barcelona, at least to date, his successor there, 70 year-old Braulio Rodriguez, has not been called to follow suit.

In another unusual aspect to the shuffle, with today's moves both Osoro and Cañizares have been tapped to lead their third archdiocese.

Beyond Madrid, another key opening in the Spanish-speaking world has been pending for some time and is likewise expected to be filled in short order: Havana, where Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino turns 78 in October. As Ortega has been assailed by hard-liners for employing a diplomatic approach over his two-decade tenure which has yielded limited freedoms for the church by Cuba's Communist regime, the appointment of his successor will be interpreted as setting Francis' intended course for the Catholic response to the island's fraught political situation.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Bishop Danny Departs – After 10 Month Wait, Philly's Thomas to Toledo

Settling the US church's longest mainland vacancy, at Roman Noon this Tuesday – in a rare August nod – the Pope named Bishop Daniel Thomas, 55, the senior auxiliary of Philadelphia, as eighth bishop of Toledo.

In the post overseeing the 300,000-member Northwest Ohio fold, the nominee succeeds now-Archbishop Leonard Blair, who was transferred to Hartford last October, just shy of his tenth anniversary in the diocese.

A longtime staffer at the Congregation for Bishops, Thomas' appointment to a chair of his own has been heavily expected over recent months, with Toledo and the likewise-pending slots in Lexington and Greensburg cited as the potential destinations. In any event, the nod marks the third time since June that a Stateside appointment has gone to a well-regarded veteran auxiliary first named in his 40s, after Baltimore's Mitch Rozanski was sent to Springfield and Newark's Edgar da Cunha (the US' first-ever Brazilian-born prelate) was tapped for Fall River.

Always quick with a smile and immaculately turned out, over a 15-year tenure running the English Desk at Bishops (1990-2005), the warm, wiry prelate universally known as "Danny Thomas" became one of the Roman scene's most popular American mainstays. Having doubled up his Curial workload with ministry as a spiritual director at the Pontifical North American College, the degree of affection most memorably showed at the young bishop's ordination in July 2006, when it looked as if half the Vatican and its attendant circles had descended for the festivities.

Over the time since, Thomas – who initially served as pastor of an Italian parish on his return from Rome – has been responsible for a sprawling chunk of the 1.1 million-member Philly church, stretching from his boyhood home in the city's Northwest corner across the predominantly wealthy and densely populated Montgomery County corridor, in addition to guiding the Chancery departments for clergy and communications. Known for a particular sensitivity to the sick and suffering, in his spare time the bishop has helped care for his 102 year-old great-aunt, who's now staying in a local Catholic nursing home.

In Toledo, the incoming shepherd will find a charge whose challenges are far from unique, but where the lion's share of tough calls has already been handled. A mix of hard-hit industrial towns and stable rural areas spread across 19 counties, like much of Catholicism in the Northeast and upper Midwest, the 8,200 square-mile diocese has felt the brunt of an aging, declining population over the last several decades. In light of the demographic shift, Blair undertook two difficult cycles of pastoral planning in 2005 and 2011, which yielded the closing or consolidation of a combined quarter of what had been 161 parishes. Beyond the apparatus, meanwhile, the diocese was roiled by the case of Fr Gerald Robinson, which made national headlines on his 2006 conviction in the 1980 murder of a religious sister at a local Catholic hospital where they both worked. The tumult resurfaced during the interregnum upon Robinson's July death in prison at 76, especially given the decision to give the criminal cleric a full priest's funeral.

While friends have voiced concerns over the back trouble that's reportedly plagued the appointee for several years, especially in light of the long drives ahead of him, on the whole, what Thomas will find in Toledo might just feel relaxing when compared with a Philadelphia scene in which everything that could've possibly erupted over the last four years has done precisely that. Even as an all-but-officially-announced papal visit in September 2015 for the Vatican's World Meeting of Families has begun to generate a measure of good feeling and enthusiasm, the mountain of crises that emerged in the wake of the 2011 grand jury report will take some years yet to be fully resolved. Among other facets, one criminal (re-)trial remains in the spring before roughly a dozen civil abuse suits can proceed, a planning effort that's already seen the folding of nearly 50 parishes has another two years until completion, and a steady stream of sales and leases of archdiocesan holdings are just beginning to level a long-term deficit which topped out in the $300 million range. Having braved the most thankless assignment an American prelate has known in at least the last half-century, Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM Cap. marks his third anniversary in the post next week.

A 9am presser called by Toledo Chancery, Thomas' installation in the majestic Rosary Cathedral (above) is set for 22 October, now the feast of St John Paul II.

With today's appointment, all of three Stateside dioceses remain vacant, while the number of (arch)bishops serving past the retirement age of 75 now stands at seven following this summer's birthdays of Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe and Bishops William Dedinger of Grand Island, Michael Driscoll of Boise and David Fellhauer of Victoria. With the quartet's letters submitted to Rome, no other US ordinaries will follow suit in 2014; indeed, as the Latin church goes, the next domestic spot to come open due to age will be Long Island's 1.5 million-member diocese of Rockville Centre, where Bishop William Murphy turns 75 next May 14th.

Of course, topping the current docket is the all-important nod for Chicago – with 2.3 million members, Stateside Catholicism's third largest outpost. Quite possibly shaping up to be Pope Francis' lone selection for the US hierarchy's top rank, an appointment is currently expected in late autumn, with Cardinal Francis George's successor installed by Christmas.

On a side-note, this Appointment Day finds Blair just up the road from Toledo in his native Detroit, where the Hartford prelate has returned to preach the funeral of his mentor, Cardinal Edmund Szoka, the longtime Vatican financier and Polish confidant of John Paul, who died last week at 88.


Monday, August 18, 2014

No Wrap, Not Yet

SVILUPPO: An hour's exchange on topics ranging from bombing Iraq to visiting China and resigning the papacy, a full English transcript of the Pope's in-flight presser has been posted by America magazine.

A Korean Air jet for the return trip, the Volo Papale left Seoul at Midnight Eastern... keeping with Papa Bergoglio's custom, however, the last round of news from the long weekend journey has yet to hit.

The plane set to land in Rome at 5.45pm local (11.45am ET), only on wheels-down will Francis' press conference at cruising altitude emerge. On Thursday's inbound flight, the Pope promised a Q&A on the way back in what he termed "the lion's den" of the press cabin, but adding with a smile that "these lions don't bite."

After 13 hours in the air, the encounter's rollout should run more smoothly than that of the return presser from May's trip to the Holy Land, when the short flight coupled with a packed 40-minute back and forth made for a period of chaos once the plane touched down.

Everybody ready?


"This Is the Message I Leave You: Trust In the Power of Christ's Cross!"

18 AUGUST 2014

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As my stay in Korea draws to a close, I thank God for the many blessings he has bestowed upon this beloved country, and in a special way, upon the Church in Korea. Among those blessings I especially treasure the experience we have all had in these recent days of the presence of so many young pilgrims from throughout Asia. Their love of Jesus and their enthusiasm for the spread of his Kingdom have been an inspiration to us all.

My visit now culminates in this celebration of Mass, in which we implore from God the grace of peace and reconciliation. This prayer has a particular resonance on the Korean peninsula. Today’s Mass is first and foremost a prayer for reconciliation in this Korean family. In the Gospel, Jesus tells us how powerful is our prayer when two or three of us join in asking for something (cf. Mt 18:19-20). How much more when an entire people raises its heartfelt plea to heaven!

The first reading presents God’s promise to restore to unity and prosperity a people dispersed by disaster and division. For us, as for the people of Israel, this is a promise full of hope: it points to a future which God is even now preparing for us. Yet this promise is inseparably tied to a command: the command to return to God and wholeheartedly obey his law (cf. Dt 30:2-3). God’s gifts of reconciliation, unity and peace are inseparably linked to the grace of conversion, a change of heart which can alter the course of our lives and our history, as individuals and as a people.

At this Mass, we naturally hear this promise in the context of the historical experience of the Korean people, an experience of division and conflict which has lasted for well over sixty years. But God’s urgent summons to conversion also challenges Christ’s followers in Korea to examine the quality of their own contribution to the building of a truly just and humane society. It challenges each of you to reflect on the extent to which you, as individuals and communities, show evangelical concern for the less fortunate, the marginalized, those without work and those who do not share in the prosperity of the many. And it challenges you, as Christians and Koreans, firmly to reject a mindset shaped by suspicion, confrontation and competition, and instead to shape a culture formed by the teaching of the Gospel and the noblest traditional values of the Korean people.

In today’s Gospel, Peter asks the Lord: “If my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” To which the Lord replies: “Not seven times, I tell you, but seventy times seven” (Mt 18:21-22). These words go to the very heart of Jesus’ message of reconciliation and peace. In obedience to his command, we ask our heavenly Father daily to forgive us our sins, “as we forgive those who sin against us”. Unless we are prepared to do this, how can we honestly pray for peace and reconciliation?

Jesus asks us to believe that forgiveness is the door which leads to reconciliation. In telling us to forgive our brothers unreservedly, he is asking us to do something utterly radical, but he also gives us the grace to do it. What appears, from a human perspective, to be impossible, impractical and even at times repugnant, he makes possible and fruitful through the infinite power of his cross. The cross of Christ reveals the power of God to bridge every division, to heal every wound, and to reestablish the original bonds of brotherly love.

This, then, is the message which I leave you as I conclude my visit to Korea. Trust in the power of Christ’s cross! Welcome its reconciling grace into your own hearts and share that grace with others! I ask you to bear convincing witness to Christ’s message of reconciliation in your homes, in your communities and at every level of national life. I am confident that, in a spirit of friendship and cooperation with other Christians, with the followers of other religions, and with all men and women of good will concerned for the future of Korean society, you will be a leaven of the Kingdom of God in this land. Thus our prayers for peace and reconciliation will rise to God from ever more pure hearts and, by his gracious gift, obtain that precious good for which we all long.

Let us pray, then, for the emergence of new opportunities for dialogue, encounter and the resolution of differences, for continued generosity in providing humanitarian assistance to those in need, and for an ever greater recognition that all Koreans are brothers and sisters, members of one family, one people. They speak the same language.

Before leaving Korea, I wish to thank President Park Geun-hye, the civil and ecclesiastical authorities and all those who in any way helped to make this visit possible. I especially wish to address a word of personal appreciation to the priests of Korea, who daily labor in the service of the Gospel and the building up of God’s people in faith, hope and love. I ask you, as ambassadors of Christ and ministers of his reconciling love (cf. 2 Cor 5:18-20), to continue to build bridges of respect, trust and harmonious cooperation in your parishes, among yourselves, and with your bishops. Your example of unreserved love for the Lord, your faithfulness and dedication to your ministry, and your charitable concern for those in need, contribute greatly to the work of reconciliation and peace in this country.

Dear brothers and sisters, God calls us to return to him and to hearken to his voice, and he promises to establish us on the land in even greater peace and prosperity than our ancestors knew. May Christ’s followers in Korea prepare for the dawning of that new day, when this land of the morning calm will rejoice in God’s richest blessings of harmony and peace! Amen.


Sunday, August 17, 2014

In Korea, Francis Is Spreading. Literally.

Even with a day to go, the stories coming out of the Pope's weekend in South Korea have been flooding the space: from estimates of a crowd as big as a million for yesterday's beatification of 124 local martyrs to Francis' earthy, unarmored Kia Popemobile, shirking a helicopter to ride a public bullet-train, taking enough selfies to make a Kardashian blush and – in an unscheduled stop at Seoul's Jesuit base – decrying how "much damage" has been done to the church by "our clerical attitudes."

Of course, all these share the common thread of a focus far less drawn from the "script" of talks and events than the spontaneous moments that've come up. Along those lines, then, the shot above might just take the cake: in a private moment this morning at the Nunciature in Seoul, Papa Bergoglio baptized and confirmed Lee Ho Jin – the father of a Sewol ferry victim who asked Francis to confer the sacrament during a Friday meeting with relatives of those lost in the April sinking that killed 300 on-board.

After the ceremony, it emerged that Lee took Francis as his baptismal name. The catechumen had reportedly been preparing to become a Christian for some time prior to meeting the Pope.

Amplified by wall-to-wall coverage on the state broadcaster KBS, the rapturous scenes of the days have served yet again to bolster Francis' status as a mega-draw on the road, and the freewheeling energy he's brought to the intense schedule should (but, for some, likely won't) suffice to rebut another round of speculation on the state of the 77 year-old's health.

It should be noted here that, aside from the three-yearly global observance of World Youth Day, overseas papal travel in August has traditionally been avoided until this visit. If anything, Assumption Day – the Ferragosto holiday which marks Italians' exodus to the beach and hillsides – invariably saw the Popes offer their one public Mass of the summer residency at Castel Gandolfo's parish church. While Francis made his lone trip to the Alban town to follow suit last year, this vacation season has seen Castel completely shut out.

Tomorrow's closing day of the Korea trek brings a poignant coda as the Pope celebrates a morning Mass in Seoul's cathedral for peace and reconciliation between North and South Korea, both of which marked the 69th anniversary of the peninsula's independence from Japan on Friday. While the Communist North refused the invite to send a delegation to the liturgy, the democratic South's President Park Geun-hye – a daughter of the country's military dictator of the 1960s and '70s – is expected to attend.

Speaking of this trip's geopolitical angle, meanwhile, after reports that Beijing had demanded the return of Chinese priests from Korea and blocked young people from traveling for the visit, AsiaNews reported earlier today that some 300 Chinese youth were in attendance at today's closing Mass for the continent's Youth Day, the next of which will be held in Indonesia (the world's largest Muslim country) in 2017.

Having accomplished a well-known item on his "bucket list" with his first-ever visit to Asia, Francis already has plans to double down: in mid-January, the Pope will open his 2015 calendar with a weeklong swing through Sri Lanka and the Philippines.

As that'll be just his fourth overseas trip following next month's one-day jaunt to Albania, at least temporarily, Asia will have the unprecedented boast of the lion's share of a pontiff's time on the road. For now, once this visit enters the books, a key gauge of its success won't take long to be found: whether a Korean church which has posted phenomenal numbers of adult converts over the last several decades sees even more of an uptick next Easter.


"Asian Youth, Wake Up! Go Forward!"

17 AUGUST 2014

Dear Young Friends,

The glory of the martyrs shines upon you! These words – a part of the theme of the Sixth Asian Youth Day – console and strengthen us all. Young people of Asia: you are the heirs of a great testimony, a precious witness to Christ. He is the light of the world; he is the light of our lives! The martyrs of Korea – and innumerable others throughout Asia – handed over their bodies to their persecutors; to us they have handed on a perennial witness that the light of Christ’s truth dispels all darkness, and the love of Christ is gloriously triumphant. With the certainty of his victory over death, and our participation in it, we can face the challenge of Christian discipleship today, in our own circumstances and time.

The words which we have just reflected upon are a consolation. The other part of this Day’s theme – Asian Youth! Wake up! – speaks to you of a duty, a responsibility. Let us consider for a moment each of these words.

First, the word “Asian”. You have gathered here in Korea from all parts of Asia. Each of you has a unique place and context where you are called to reflect God’s love. The Asian continent, imbued with rich philosophical and religious traditions, remains a great frontier for your testimony to Christ, “the way, and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6). As young people not only in Asia, but also as sons and daughters of this great continent, you have a right and a duty to take full part in the life of your societies. Do not be afraid to bring the wisdom of faith to every aspect of social life!

As Asians too, you see and love, from within, all that is beautiful, noble and true in your cultures and traditions. Yet as Christians, you also know that the Gospel has the power to purify, elevate and perfect this heritage. Through the presence of the Holy Spirit given you in Baptism and sealed within you at Confirmation, and in union with your pastors, you can appreciate the many positive values of the diverse Asian cultures. You are also able to discern what is incompatible with your Catholic faith, what is contrary to the life of grace bestowed in Baptism, and what aspects of contemporary culture are sinful, corrupt, and lead to death.

Returning to the theme of this Day, let us reflect on a second word: “Youth”. You and your friends are filled with the optimism, energy and good will which are so characteristic of this period of life. Let Christ turn your natural optimism into Christian hope, your energy into moral virtue, your good will into genuine self-sacrificing love! This is the path you are called to take. This is the path to overcoming all that threatens hope, virtue and love in your lives and in your culture. In this way your youth will be a gift to Jesus and to the world.

As young Christians, whether you are workers or students, whether you have already begun a career or have answered the call to marriage, religious life or the priesthood, you are not only a part of the future of the Church; you are also a necessary and beloved part of the Church’s present! You are Church’s present! Keep close to one another, draw ever closer to God, and with your bishops and priests spend these years in building a holier, more missionary and humble Church, a holier, more missionary and humble Church, a Church which loves and worships God by seeking to serve the poor, the lonely, the infirm and the marginalized.

In your Christian lives, you will find many occasions that will tempt you, like the disciples in today’s Gospel, to push away the stranger, the needy, the poor and the broken-hearted. It is these people especially who repeat the cry of the woman of the Gospel: “Lord, help me!”. The Canaanite woman’s plea is the cry of everyone who searches for love, acceptance, and friendship with Christ. It is the cry of so many people in our anonymous cities, the cry of so many of your own contemporaries, and the cry of all those martyrs who even today suffer persecution and death for the name of Jesus: “Lord, help me!” It is often a cry which rises from our own hearts as well: “Lord, help me!” Let us respond, not like those who push away people who make demands on us, as if serving the needy gets in the way of our being close to the Lord. No! We are to be like Christ, who responds to every plea for his help with love, mercy and compassion.

Finally, the third part of this Day’s theme – “Wake up!” – This word speaks of a responsibility which the Lord gives you. It is the duty to be vigilant, not to allow the pressures, the temptations and the sins of ourselves or others to dull our sensitivity to the beauty of holiness, to the joy of the Gospel. Today’s responsorial psalm invites us constantly to “be glad and sing for joy”. No one who sleeps can sing, dance or rejoice. I don’t like to see young people who are sleeping. No! Wake up! Go! Go Forward! Dear young people, “God, our God, has blessed us!” (Ps 67:6); from him we have “received mercy” (Rom 11:30). Assured of God’s love, go out to the world so that, “by the mercy shown to you”, they – your friends, co-workers, neighbors, countrymen, everyone on this great continent – “may now receive the mercy of God” (cf. Rom 11:31). It is by his mercy that we are saved.

Dear young people of Asia, it is my hope that, in union with Christ and the Church, you will take up this path, which will surely bring you much joy. Now, as we approach the table of the Eucharist, let us turn to our Mother Mary, who brought Jesus to the world. Yes, Mother Mary, we long to have Jesus; in your maternal affection help us to bring him to others, to serve him faithfully, and to honor him in every time and place, in this country and throughout Asia. Amen.

Asian youth, wake up!

[Ed. Note: At the close of the liturgy, the site of the next Asian Youth Day was announced: Indonesia – the world's largest Muslim country – in 2017.]


"With My Identity, My Empathy and Openness, I Walk With the Other" – The Pope's Roadmap for the Asian Church

17 AUGUST 2014

I offer you a warm and fraternal greeting in the Lord as we gather together at this holy site where so many Christians gave their lives in fidelity to Christ. I have been told that some are nameless martyrs, since we do not know all their names: they are saints without a name. But this makes me think about the many, many holy Christians in our churches: children and young people, men, women, elderly persons… so very many of them! We do not know their names, but they are saints. It is good for us to think of these ordinary people who are persevering in their lives as Christians, and the Lord alone recognizes their sanctity. Their testimony of charity has brought blessings and graces not only to the Church in Korea but also beyond; may their prayers help us to be faithful shepherds of the souls entrusted to our care. I thank Cardinal Gracias for his kind words of welcome and for the work of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences in fostering solidarity and promoting effective pastoral outreach in your local Churches.

On this vast continent which is home to a great variety of cultures, the Church is called to be versatile and creative in her witness to the Gospel through dialogue and openness to all. This is the challenge before you! Dialogue, in fact, is an essential part of the mission of the Church in Asia (cf. Ecclesia in Asia, 29). But in undertaking the path of dialogue with individuals and cultures, what should be our point of departure and our fundamental point of reference, which guides us to our destination? Surely it is our own identity, our identity as Christians. We cannot engage in real dialogue unless we are conscious of our own identity. We can’t dialogue, we can’t start dialoguing from nothing, from zero, from a foggy sense of who we are. Nor can there be authentic dialogue unless we are capable of opening our minds and hearts, in empathy and sincere receptivity, to those with whom we speak. In other words, an attentiveness in which the Holy Spirit is our guide. A clear sense of one’s own identity and a capacity for empathy are thus the point of departure for all dialogue. If we are to speak freely, openly and fruitfully with others, we must be clear about who we are, what God has done for us, and what it is that he asks of us. And if our communication is not to be a monologue, there has to be openness of heart and mind to accepting individuals and cultures. Fearlessly, for fear is the enemy of this kind of openness.

The task of appropriating and expressing our identity does not always prove easy, however, since – being sinners – we will always be tempted by the spirit of the world, which shows itself in a variety of ways. I would like to point to three of these. One is the deceptive light of relativism, which obscures the splendor of truth and, shaking the earth beneath our feet, pulls us toward the shifting sands of confusion and despair. It is a temptation which nowadays also affects Christian communities, causing people to forget that in a world of rapid and disorienting change, “there is much that is unchanging, much that has its ultimate foundation in Christ, who is the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Gaudium et Spes, 10; cf. Heb 13:8). Here I am not speaking about relativism merely as a system of thought, but about that everyday practical relativism which almost imperceptibly saps our sense of identity.

A second way in which the world threatens the solidity of our Christian identity is superficiality, a tendency to toy with the latest fads, gadgets and distractions, rather than attending to the things that really matter (cf. Phil 1:10). In a culture which glorifies the ephemeral, and offers so many avenues of avoidance and escape, this can present a serious pastoral problem. For the ministers of the Church, it can also make itself felt in an enchantment with pastoral programs and theories, to the detriment of direct, fruitful encounter with our faithful, and others too, especially the young who need solid catechesis and sound spiritual guidance. Without a grounding in Christ, the truths by which we live our lives can gradually recede, the practice of the virtues can become formalistic, and dialogue can be reduced to a form of negotiation or an agreement to disagree. An agreement to disagree… so as not to make waves… This sort of superficiality does us great harm.

Then too, there is a third temptation: that of the apparent security to be found in hiding behind easy answers, ready formulas, rules and regulations. Jesus clashed with people who would hide behind laws, regulations and easy answers.... He called them hypocrites. Faith by nature is not self-absorbed; it “goes out”. It seeks understanding; it gives rise to testimony; it generates mission. In this sense, faith enables us to be both fearless and unassuming in our witness of hope and love. Saint Peter tells us that we should be ever ready to respond to all who ask the reason for the hope within us (cf. 1 Pet 3:15). Our identity as Christians is ultimately seen in our quiet efforts to worship God alone, to love one another, to serve one another, and to show by our example not only what we believe, but also what we hope for, and the One in whom we put our trust (cf. 2 Tim 1:12).

Once again, it is our living faith in Christ which is our deepest identity, our being rooted in the Lord. If we have this, everything else is secondary. It is from this deep identity – our being grounded in a living faith in Christ – it is from this profound reality that our dialogue begins, and this is what we are asked to share, sincerely, honestly and without pretence, in the dialogue of everyday life, in the dialogue of charity, and in those more formal opportunities which may present themselves. Because Christ is our life (cf. Phil 1:21), let us speak “from him and of him” readily and without hesitation or fear. The simplicity of his word becomes evident in the simplicity of our lives, in the simplicity of our communication, in the simplicity of our works of loving service to our brothers and sisters.

I would now touch on one further aspect of our Christian identity. It is fruitful. Because it is born of, and constantly nourished by, the grace of our dialogue with the Lord and the promptings of his Spirit, it bears a harvest of justice, goodness and peace. Let me ask you, then, about the fruits which it is bearing in your own lives and in the lives of the communities entrusted to your care. Does the Christian identity of your particular Churches shine forth in your programs of catechesis and youth ministry, in your service to the poor and those languishing on the margins of our prosperous societies, and in your efforts to nourish vocations to the priesthood and the religious life? Does it make itself felt in their fruitfulness? This is a question I raise, for each of you to think about.

Finally, together with a clear sense of our own Christian identity, authentic dialogue also demands a capacity for empathy. For dialogue to take place, there has to be this empathy. We are challenged to listen not only to the words which others speak, but to the unspoken communication of their experiences, their hopes and aspirations, their struggles and their deepest concerns. Such empathy must be the fruit of our spiritual insight and personal experience, which lead us to see others as brothers and sisters, and to “hear”, in and beyond their words and actions, what their hearts wish to communicate. In this sense, dialogue demands of us a truly contemplative spirit of openness and receptivity to the other. I cannot engage in dialogue if I am closed to others. Openness? Even more: acceptance! Come to my house, enter my heart. My heart welcomes you. It wants to hear you. This capacity for empathy enables a true human dialogue in which words, ideas and questions arise from an experience of fraternity and shared humanity. If we want to get to the theological basis of this, we have to go to the Father: he created us all; all of us are children of one Father. This capacity for empathy leads to a genuine encounter – we have to progress toward this culture of encounter – in which heart speaks to heart. We are enriched by the wisdom of the other and become open to travelling together the path to greater understanding, friendship and solidarity. “But, brother Pope, this is what we are doing, but perhaps we are converting no one or very few people....” But you are doing it anyway: with your identity, you are hearing the other. What was the first commandment of God our Father to our father Abraham? “Walk in my presence and be blameless”. And so, with my identity and my empathy, my openness, I walk with the other. I don’t try to make him come over to me, I don’t proselytize. Pope Benedict told us clearly: “The Church does not grow by proselytizing, but by attracting”. In the meantime, let us walk in the Father’s presence, let us be blameless; let us practice this first commandment. That is where encounter, dialogue, will take place. With identity, with openness. It is a path to greater knowledge, friendship and solidarity. As Saint John Paul II rightly recognized, our commitment to dialogue is grounded in the very logic of the incarnation: in Jesus, God himself became one of us, shared in our life and spoke to us in our own language (cf. Ecclesia in Asia, 29). In this spirit of openness to others, I earnestly hope that those countries of your continent with whom the Holy See does not yet enjoy a full relationship, may not hesitate to further a dialogue for the benefit of all. I am not referring to political dialogue alone, but to fraternal dialogue… “But these Christians don’t come as conquerors, they don’t come to take away our identity: they bring us their own, but they want to walk with us”. And the Lord will grant his grace: sometimes he will move hearts and someone will ask for baptism, sometimes not. But always let us walk together. This is the heart of dialogue.

Dear brothers, I thank you for your warm and fraternal welcome. When we look out at the great Asian continent, with its vast expanses of land, its ancient cultures and traditions, we are aware that, in God’s plan, your Christian communities are indeed a pusillus grex, a small flock which nonetheless is charged to bring the light of the Gospel to the ends of the earth. A true mustard seed! A very small seed… May the Good Shepherd, who knows and loves each of his sheep, guide and strengthen your efforts to build up their unity with him and with all the members of his flock throughout the world. And now, together, let us entrust your Churches, and the continent of Asia, to Our Lady, so that as our Mother she may teach us what only a mother can teach: who you are, what your name is, and how you get along with others in life. Let us all pray to Our Lady.

[Ed. Note: Off-script additions included in text.]


Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Bishop, "Guardian of Memory and Guardian of Hope"

14 AUGUST 2014

Dear Brother Bishops,

I greet all of you with deep affection and I thank Bishop Peter U-il Kang for his words of fraternal welcome on your behalf. It is a blessing for me to be here and to witness at first hand the vibrant life of the Church in Korea. As pastors, you are responsible for guarding the Lord’s flock. You are guardians of the wondrous works which he accomplishes in his people. Guarding is one of the tasks specifically entrusted to the bishop: looking after God’s people. Today I would like to reflect with you as a brother bishop on two central aspects of the task of guarding God’s people in this country: to be guardians of memory and guardians of hope.

To be guardians of memory. The beatification of Paul Yun Ji-chung and his companions is an occasion for us to thank the Lord, who from the seeds sown by the martyrs has brought forth an abundant harvest of grace in this land. You are the children of the martyrs, heirs to their heroic witness of faith in Christ. You are also heirs to an impressive tradition which began, and largely grew, through the fidelity, perseverance and work of generations of lay persons. It is significant that the history of the Church in Korea began with a direct encounter with the word of God. It was the intrinsic beauty and integrity of the Christian message – the Gospel and its summons to conversion, interior renewal and a life of charity – that spoke to Yi Byeok and the noble elders of the first generation; and it is to that message, in its purity, that the Church in Korea looks, as if in a mirror, to find her truest self.

The fruitfulness of the Gospel on Korean soil, and the great legacy handed down from your forefathers in the faith, can be seen today in the flowering of active parishes and ecclesial movements, in solid programs of catechesis and outreach to young people, and in the Catholic schools, seminaries and universities. The Church in Korea is esteemed for its role in the spiritual and cultural life of the nation and its strong missionary impulse. From being a land of mission, yours has now become a land of missionaries; and the universal Church continues to benefit from the many priests and religious whom you have sent forth.

Being guardians of memory means more than remembering and treasuring the graces of the past; it also means drawing from them the spiritual resources to confront with vision and determination the hopes, the promise and the challenges of the future. As you yourselves have noted, the life and mission of the Church in Korea are not ultimately measured in external, quantitative and institutional terms; rather, they must be judged in the clear light of the Gospel and its call to conversion to the person of Jesus Christ. To be guardians of memory means realizing that while the growth is from God (cf. 1 Cor 3:6), it is also the fruit of quiet and persevering labor, past and present. Our memory of the martyrs and past generations of Christians must be one that is realistic, not idealized or “triumphalistic”. Looking to the past without hearing God’s call to conversion in the present will not help us move forward; instead, it will only hold us back and even halt our spiritual progress.

In addition to being guardians of memory, dear brothers, you are also called to be guardians of hope: the hope held out by the Gospel of God’s grace and mercy in Jesus Christ, the hope which inspired the martyrs. It is this hope which we are challenged to proclaim to a world that, for all its material prosperity, is seeking something more, something greater, something authentic and fulfilling. You and your brother priests offer this hope by your ministry of sanctification, which not only leads the faithful to the sources of grace in the liturgy and the sacraments, but also constantly urges them to press forward in response to the upward call of God (cf. Phil 3:14). You guard this hope by keeping alive the flame of holiness, fraternal charity and missionary zeal within the Church’s communion. For this reason, I ask you to remain ever close to your priests, encouraging them in their daily labors, their pursuit of sanctity and their proclamation of the Gospel of salvation. I ask you to convey to them my affectionate greeting and my gratitude for their dedicated service to God’s people.

If we accept the challenge of being a missionary Church, a Church which constantly goes forth to the world and, especially, to the peripheries of contemporary society, we will need to foster that “spiritual taste” which enables us to embrace and identify with each member of Christ’s body (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 268). Here particular care and concern needs to be shown for the children and the elderly in our communities. How can we be guardians of hope if we neglect the memory, the wisdom and the experience of the elderly, and the aspirations of our young? In this regard, I would ask you to be concerned in a special way for the education of children, supporting the indispensable mission not only of the universities, but also Catholic schools at every level, beginning with elementary schools, where young minds and hearts are shaped in love for the Lord and his Church, in the good, the true and the beautiful, and where children learn to be good Christians and upright citizens.

Being guardians of hope also entails ensuring that the prophetic witness of the Church in Korea remains evident in its concern for the poor and in its programs of outreach, particularly to refugees and migrants and those living on the margins of society. This concern should be seen not only in concrete charitable initiatives, which are so necessary, but also in the ongoing work of social, occupational and educational promotion. We can risk reducing our work with those in need to its institutional dimension alone, while overlooking each individual’s need to grow as a person and to express in a worthy manner his or her own personality, creativity and culture. Solidarity with the poor has to be seen as an essential element of the Christian life; through preaching and catechesis grounded in the rich patrimony of the Church’s social teaching, it must penetrate the hearts and minds of the faithful and be reflected in every aspect of ecclesial life. The apostolic ideal of “a Church of and for the poor” found eloquent expression in the first Christian communities of your nation. I pray that this ideal will continue to shape the pilgrim path of the Church in Korea as she looks to the future. I am convinced that if the face of the Church is first and foremost a face of love, more and more young people will be drawn to the heart of Jesus ever aflame with divine love in the communion of his mystical body.

Dear brothers, a prophetic witness to the Gospel presents particular challenges to the Church in Korea, since she carries out her life and ministry amid a prosperous, yet increasingly secularized and materialistic society. In such circumstances it is tempting for pastoral ministers to adopt not only effective models of management, planning and organization drawn from the business world, but also a lifestyle and mentality guided more by worldly criteria of success, and indeed power, than by the criteria which Jesus sets out in the Gospel. Woe to us if the cross is emptied of its power to judge the wisdom of this world (cf. 1 Cor 1:17)! I urge you and your brother priests to reject this temptation in all its forms. May we be saved from that spiritual and pastoral worldliness which stifles the Spirit, replaces conversion by complacency, and, in the process, dissipates all missionary fervor (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 93-97)!

Dear brother Bishops, with these reflections on your role as guardians of memory and of hope, I want to encourage you in your efforts to build up the faithful in Korea in unity, holiness and zeal. Memory and hope inspire us and guide us toward the future. I remember all of you in my prayers and I urge you constantly to trust in the power of God’s grace: “The Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one” (2 Thess 3:3). May the prayers of Mary, Mother of the Church, bring to full flower in this land the seeds planted by the martyrs, watered by generations of faithful Catholics, and handed down to you as a pledge for the future of your country and of our world. To you, and to all entrusted to your pastoral care and keeping, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.


Between South and North, "The Quest For Peace Is A Challenge For Each of Us"

14 AUGUST 2014

Madam President,
Honorable Government and Civil Authorities,
Distinguished Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Dear Friends,

It is a great joy for me to come to Korea, the land of the morning calm, and to experience not only the natural beauty of this country, but above all the beauty of its people and its rich history and culture. This national legacy has been tested through the years by violence, persecution and war. But despite these trials, the heat of the day and the dark of the night have always given way to the morning calm, that is, to an undiminished hope for justice, peace and unity. What a gift hope is! We cannot become discouraged in our pursuit of these goals which are for the good not only of the Korean people, but of the entire region and the whole world.

I wish to thank President Park Geun-hye for her warm welcome. I greet her and the distinguished members of the government. I would like to acknowledge also the members of the diplomatic corps, the civil and military authorities, and all those present who by their many efforts have assisted in preparing for my visit. I am most grateful for your hospitality, which has immediately made me feel at home among you.

My visit to Korea is occasioned by the Sixth Asian Youth Day, which brings together young Catholics from throughout this vast continent in a joyful celebration of their common faith. In the course of my visit I will also beatify a number of Koreans who died as martyrs for the Christian faith: Paul Yun Ji-chung and his 123 companions. These two celebrations complement one another. Korean culture understands well the inherent dignity and wisdom of our elders and honors their place in society. We Catholics honor our elders who were martyred for the faith because they were willing to give their lives for the truth which they had come to believe and by which they sought to live their lives. They teach us how to live fully for God and for the good of one another.

A wise and great people do not only cherish their ancestral traditions; they also treasure their young, seeking to pass on the legacy of the past and to apply it to the challenges of the present. Whenever young people gather together, as on the present occasion, it is a precious opportunity for all of us to listen to their hopes and concerns. We are also challenged to reflect on how well we are transmitting our values to the next generation, and on the kind of world and society we are preparing to hand on to them. In this context, I think it is especially important for us to reflect on the need to give our young people the gift of peace.

This appeal has all the more resonance here in Korea, a land which has long suffered because of a lack of peace. I can only express my appreciation for the efforts being made in favor of reconciliation and stability on the Korean peninsula, and to encourage those efforts, for they are the only sure path to lasting peace. Korea’s quest for peace is a cause close to our hearts, for it affects the stability of the entire area and indeed of our whole war-weary world.

The quest for peace also represents a challenge for each of us, and in a particular way for those of you dedicated to the pursuit of the common good of the human family through the patient work of diplomacy. It is the perennial challenge of breaking down the walls of distrust and hatred by promoting a culture of reconciliation and solidarity. For diplomacy, as the art of the possible, is based on the firm and persevering conviction that peace can be won through quiet listening and dialogue, rather than by mutual recriminations, fruitless criticisms and displays of force.

Peace is not simply the absence of war, but “the work of justice” (cf. Is 32:17). And justice, as a virtue, calls for the discipline of forbearance; it demands that we not forget past injustices but overcome them through forgiveness, tolerance and cooperation. It demands the willingness to discern and attain mutually beneficial goals, building foundations of mutual respect, understanding and reconciliation. May all of us dedicate these days to peace, to praying for it and deepening our resolve to achieve it.

Dear friends, your efforts as political and civic leaders are directed to the goal of building a better, more peaceful, just and prosperous world for our children. Experience teaches us that in an increasingly globalized world, our understanding of the common good, of progress and development, must ultimately be in human and not merely economic terms. Like most of our developed nations, Korea struggles with important social issues, political divisions, economic inequities, and concerns about the responsible stewardship of the natural environment. How important it is that the voice of every member of society be heard, and that a spirit of open communication, dialogue and cooperation be fostered. It is likewise important that special concern be shown for the poor, the vulnerable and those who have no voice, not only by meeting their immediate needs but also by assisting them in their human and cultural advancement. It is my hope that Korean democracy will continue to be strengthened and that this nation will prove to be a leader also in the globalization of solidarity which is so necessary today: one which looks to the integral development of every member of our human family.

In his second visit to Korea, twenty-five years ago, Saint John Paul II stated his conviction that “the future of Korea will depend on the presence among its people of many wise, virtuous and deeply spiritual men and women” (8 October 1989). In echoing his words today, I assure you of the continued desire of Korea’s Catholic community to participate fully in the life of the nation. The Church wishes to contribute to the education of the young, the growth of a spirit of solidarity with the poor and disadvantaged, and the formation of new generations of citizens ready to bring the wisdom and vision inherited from their forebears and born of their faith to the great political and social questions facing the nation.

Madam President, Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you once more for your welcome and hospitality. May God bless you and all the beloved Korean people. In a special way, may he bless the elderly and the young people, who, by preserving memory and inspiring courage, are our greatest treasure and our hope for the future.

[Ed. Note: For the first time at a public event since his election in March 2013, Francis delivered the preceding speech in English – a language which he once termed "the toughest" for him to speak.]


Francis' "Continent of Hope" – In Korea, The Bridge-Building Continues

Before anything else, to those who've been asking after this scribe's whereabouts these last weeks, a heartfelt thanks. For now, just know that: 1. everything's fine, and 2. amid the first "normal" (read: quiet, easy) summer I've had in four years, a proper hiatus has been in order, and a tremendous gift.

...and now, back to work.

After an 11-hour flight that, in a first, took a Pope over Chinese airspace, early today saw Francis' arrival in Korea – Jorge Bergoglio's first-ever trip to Asia: the continent where, as a young Jesuit, he longed to serve as a missionary.

Beyond the personal facet, meanwhile, the long weekend visit brings a booming, home-grown Asian church face-to-face with its staunchest champion upon Peter's Chair in modern times, as well as providing a geopolitical story in the Pope's planned calls for reconciliation between the democratized South and the Communist North. (Having declined an invitation to send representatives to a Monday Mass in Seoul's cathedral for a peaceful resolution of the peninsula's long-simmering standoff, North Korea launched three short-range rockets into the East Sea about an hour before Francis' plane landed. The exercise has been interpreted as part of the North's protest over a joint US-South Korea military drill slated for later this month.)

Continuing the road-warrior scheduling unseen since the heyday of John Paul II, the four-day trip is set to include 11 major talks over 18 public events, with nary a break between them. While the visit's overarching purpose is for Francis to preside over Sunday's closing of Asia's three-yearly continental Youth Day, the keener thread in the wider church is likely to be Papa Bergoglio's first in-depth articulation of his rationale for seeing Asian Catholicism as his "continent of hope" – a moniker that, by pointed contrast, his predecessors reserved for Latin America.

The latter exercise begins at 5.30pm local time today with a speech to the Korean bishops, following a 4pm visit with President Park Geun-Hye and the South's top leadership at the head of state's residence, the Blue House. (All times are seven hours ahead of Rome, 13 hours from US Eastern, 16 Pacific.)

Here, the Vatican livefeed – texts, etc. will roll out on delivery....

(SVILUPPO: As the speech to the bishops was not broadcast, the video above is solely of the civil welcome ceremony.)

More to come – and, as always, everything in real-time via Page Three (either directly or down the right sidebar of the main page).

And lastly for now, with school already starting up in no shortage of spots – and, with it, many among us already headed back to the usual grind – here's hoping a beautiful summer's been had by one and all; hard to believe where it went. On this end, we remain a few weeks out until an almost surreal Fall Cycle kicks into full gear... still, as this "break from the break" begins, suffice it to say, it's good to be home.