Sunday, November 29, 2015

"The Salvation of God Will Ultimately Prevail" – In Church's "Peripheries," The Holy Year Begins

Just when you thought you've seen everything... Church, meet SuperPope.

At 5pm Central African time (11am ET) tonight, the climactic moment of this African PopeTrip came to pass – with the opening of the Holy Door of Bangui's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on this First Sunday of Advent, the 266th Bishop of Rome inaugurated the Holy Year of Mercy on the continent nine days before the Extraordinary Jubilee's universal launch in Rome....

(Mass fullvid.)

SVILUPPO (6pm Bangui): In a potent, extensive homily delivered with a striking drivenness of tone – and interrupted by several sustained ovations from the congregation in midstream – the Supreme Pontiff spoke not only to his desire to open the Jubilee in a suffering "periphery" and pleaded for peace in the war-torn CAR, but served up a broad vision statement of what the global Holy Year he's charted (timed to begin on the 50th anniversary of Vatican II's close) is intended to accomplish across the church.

Here, the the homily in its English translation:

On this first Sunday of Advent, the liturgical season of joyful expectation of the Saviour and a symbol of Christian hope, God has brought me here among you, in this land, while the universal Church is preparing for the opening of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. I am especially pleased that my pastoral visit coincides with the opening of this Jubilee Year in your country. From this cathedral I reach out, in mind and heart, and with great affection, to all the priests, consecrated men and women, and pastoral workers of the nation, who are spiritually united with us at this moment. Through you, I would greet all the people of the Central African Republic: the sick, the elderly, those who have experienced life’s hurts. Some of them are perhaps despairing and listless, asking only for alms, the alms of bread, the alms of justice, the alms of attention and goodness.

But like the Apostles Peter and John on their way to the Temple, who had neither gold nor silver to give to the paralytic in need, I have come to offer God’s strength and power; for these bring us healing, set us on our feet and enable us to embark on a new life, to “go across to the other side” (cf. Lk 8:22).

Jesus does not make us cross to the other side alone; instead, he asks us to make the crossing with him, as each of us responds to his or her own specific vocation. We need to realize that making this crossing can only be done with him, by freeing ourselves of divisive notions of family and blood in order to build a Church which is God’s family, open to everyone, concerned for those most in need. This presupposes closeness to our brothers and sisters; it implies a spirit of communion. It is not primarily a question of financial means; it is enough just to share in the life of God’s people, in accounting for the hope which is in us (cf. 1 Pet 3:15), in testifying to the infinite mercy of God who, as the Responsorial Psalm of this Sunday’s liturgy makes clear, is “good [and] instructs sinners in the way” (Ps 24:8). Jesus teaches us that our heavenly Father “makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good” (Mt 5:45). Having experienced forgiveness ourselves, we must forgive others in turn. This is our fundamental vocation: “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).

One of the essential characteristics of this vocation to perfection is the love of our enemies, which protects us from the temptation to seek revenge and from the spiral of endless retaliation. Jesus placed special emphasis on this aspect of the Christian testimony (cf. Mt 5:46-47). Those who evangelize must therefore be first and foremost practitioners of forgiveness, specialists in reconciliation, experts in mercy. This is how we can help our brothers and sisters to “cross to the other side” – by showing them the secret of our strength, our hope, and our joy, all of which have their source in God, for they are grounded in the certainty that he is in the boat with us. As he did with the apostles at the multiplication of the loaves, so too the Lord entrusts his gifts to us, so that we can go out and distribute them everywhere, proclaiming his reassuring words: “Behold, the days are coming when I will fulfil the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah” (Jer 33:14).

In the readings of this Sunday’s liturgy, we can see different aspects of this salvation proclaimed by God; they appear as signposts to guide us on our mission. First of all, the happiness promised by God is presented as justice. Advent is a time when we strive to open our hearts to receive the Saviour, who alone is just and the sole Judge able to give to each his or her due. Here as elsewhere, countless men and women thirst for respect, for justice, for equality, yet see no positive signs on the horizon. These are the ones to whom he comes to bring the gift of his justice (cf. Jer 33:15). He comes to enrich our personal and collective histories, our dashed hopes and our sterile yearnings. And he sends us to proclaim, especially to those oppressed by the powerful of this world or weighed down by the burden of their sins, that “Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it shall be called, ‘The Lord is our righteousness’” (Jer 33:16). Yes, God is righteousness; God is justice. This, then, is why we Christians are called in the world to work for a peace founded on justice.

The salvation of God which we await is also flavoured with love. In preparing for the mystery of Christmas, we relive the pilgrimage which prepared God’s people to receive the Son, who came to reveal that God is not only righteousness, but also and above all love (cf. 1 Jn 4:8). In every place, even and especially in those places where violence, hatred, injustice and persecution hold sway, Christians are called to give witness to this God who is love. In encouraging the priests, consecrated men and woman, and committed laity who, in this country live, at times heroically, the Christian virtues, I realize that the distance between this demanding ideal and our Christian witness is at times great. For this reason I echo the prayer of Saint Paul: “Brothers and sisters, may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all men and women” (1 Th 3:12). Thus what the pagans said of the early Christians will always remain before us like a beacon: “See how they love one another, how they truly love one another” (Tertullian, Apology, 39, 7).

Finally, the salvation proclaimed by God has an invincible power which will make it ultimately prevail. After announcing to his disciples the terrible signs that will precede his coming, Jesus concludes: “When these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Lk 21:28). If Saint Paul can speak of a love which “grows and overflows”, it is because Christian witness reflects that irresistible power spoken of in the Gospel. It is amid unprecedented devastation that Jesus wishes to show his great power, his incomparable glory (cf. Lk 21:27) and the power of that love which stops at nothing, even before the falling of the heavens, the conflagration of the world or the tumult of the seas. God is stronger than all else. This conviction gives to the believer serenity, courage and the strength to persevere in good amid the greatest hardships. Even when the powers of Hell are unleashed, Christians must rise to the summons, their heads held high, and be ready to brave blows in this battle over which God will have the last word. And that word will be love and peace!

To all those who make unjust use of the weapons of this world, I make this appeal: lay down these instruments of death! Arm yourselves instead with righteousness, with love and mercy, the authentic guarantors of peace. As followers of Christ, dear priests, religious and lay pastoral workers, here in this country, with its suggestive name, situated in the heart of Africa and called to discover the Lord as the true centre of all that is good, your vocation is to incarnate the very heart of God in the midst of your fellow citizens. May the Lord deign to “strengthen your hearts in holiness, that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints” (1 Th 3:13). Reconciliation. Forgiveness. Love. Peace. Amen.

"We Are All Brothers" – Between War and Mercy, Pope's African Mission Reaches Its Peak

Another day on the road, another "Matthew 25 stop"... but even as they go, this one's truly extraordinary – shortly after his arrival in the Central African Republic this morning, the Pope's half-hour visit to a refugee camp, surrounded by UN peacekeeping troops in the war-torn country (fullvid; Francis appears at the 5-minute mark):

...and here, a translation of his impromptu remarks (14:30 of video):

I greet all of you who are here.

Let me say that I've read [the signs; seen below] the kids have written: "peace," "forgiveness," "unity," so many things... "love." We must work and pray and do everything for peace. But peace without love, without friendship, without tolerance, without forgiveness, isn't possible. Each of us must do something. To you and all Central Africans, I wish for peace, a great peace among you. That you might be able to live in peace whatever your background, culture, religion or social situation. But all in peace! Everybody! Because we are all brothers. I would like it if we all could say it together: "We are all brothers." [Crowd repeats.] Again! ["We are all brothers."] And for this, because we're all brothers, we want peace.

I'll give you the Lord's blessing too. May the Lord bless you.... And pray for me! Pray for me, got it?
Among the signals that a remarkable moment was unfolding: the sight of the editor of the Vatican daily L'Osservatore Romano, Gianmaria Vian – i.e. one of the traveling crew who's seen everything before, and multiple times at that – breaking the entourage's usual reserve to unabashedly snap photos on his iPhone.

* * *
For all its visceral power, Francis' visit to the displaced – representing the million or more forced to flee their homes amid the country's years-long violence spree – was merely the kickoff to this centerpiece day of the Pope's weeklong, three-nation African trek, the journey's symbolic high-point to come at a 5pm local (11am ET) Mass tonight in the CAR capital Bangui as the pontiff opens the Holy Door of the city's Notre Dame Cathedral (above), launching the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy in the church's "peripheries" nine days before he presides over the Holy Year's global inauguration at the Vatican.

With the local launches of the Holy Year slated to take place on 13 December, Francis will open the Holy Door on that Sunday in Rome's cathedral, St John Lateran, followed by St Mary Major in an evening Mass on the New Year's Day feast of the Mother of God. Back to Bangui, to further emphasize the core of the Holy Year observance, following the Mass Papa Bergoglio will hear an undisclosed number of Confessions from young people as part of a prayer service outside the African cathedral. While Francis' celebration of the sacrament he cites with the greatest frequency – and, indeed, urgency – is a standard part of his visits to Roman parishes, he's only taken up in the confessional once before while on an overseas trip: during the 2013 World Youth Day in Rio, keeping the practice for the mega-event begun by his predecessor.

Underscoring the significance of all this, it's hard to recall the last time a Pope's been on the road for the beginning of Advent and its beginning of the liturgical year. Then again, with what's likely to be the most ambitious initiative of his entire papacy just days away from its start, the "new year" opening today is just the prelude.


Friday, November 27, 2015

"How Can I Not Denounce the Injustices You Suffer?" – In Nairobi Slum, Pope Defends the "Neighbors"

As papal travel has evolved over the last half-century, the journeys of successive Popes have come to be among the most revealing moments for the personality of each – part from being on display for days on end at close range, sure, but above all in the commitments each chooses for himself.

On a broad-stroke level, beyond the major, practically default set-piece events – large, open-air Masses; relatively private encounters with civil officials and leaders of the local church, and a stop at a relevant landmark or two – the last three pontiffs have each carved out occasions on the road to reflect their own personal affinities and, through them, their priorities in governance. For John Paul II, that meant a prevalence of stops at seminaries, meetings with young people (and anything else for which a massive crowd could be rustled up), while Benedict XVI's life before Rome saw Papa Ratzinger veer for the friendly confines of universities or engaging the world of culture and the rarefied public square.

In his turn at the pontifical triptik, over 11 overseas journeys to date Francis' concerted insistence for his "open time" has become more than clear, and – surprise, surprise – it's a conspicuous shift: in a nod to what he's repeatedly cited as "the protocol by which we all will be judged," every visit now hinges upon what can be called the "Matthew 25" stops: that is, an outreach to some mix of the sick, migrants, prisons, the poor... in a word, "the least brothers" of whom Jesus said "whatever you did for [them], you did for me."

"I examine my conscience with this chapter," Francis told a 2014 audience – "Every day."

Granted, the significance of the stops often flies over the heads of those mining everything else for secular intrigue or culture-war ammo, but the local organizers of today's visits don't have that luxury – if anything, while doing its initial site searches on the margins, the Vatican advance team quickly puts the hosts on notice that "these [moments] mean the most to the Pope." And they're accordingly situated as such: indeed, it was anything but accidental that Francis went straight from addressing Congress to visit Washington's homeless, or the moving yet logistically-challenging stop at Philadelphia's major prison was Papa Bergoglio's last event before his US visit's climactic final Mass. As each unfolds, meanwhile, it has at least gone noticed that Francis' fleeting returns to his beloved "peripheries" – albeit accompanied by a phalanx of media, security and the ticking clock – find the pontiff at his happiest and most unguarded: simply put, he's back among his own, far from the pomp and pretense of civic or ecclesial officialdom.

All that sets the backdrop for this morning's first stop in Nairobi. In a city where 60 percent of the population are said live in overcrowded slums, the Pope visited the Kangemi shantytown not merely to connect with its residents, but to deliver an unusually long and loaded speech (given the context) which, in an echo of July's social manifesto in Bolivia, drew heavily from his own magisterium and that of his predecessors to decry the situation his hosts – and untold millions elsewhere – have been made to face....
I feel very much at home sharing these moments with brothers and sisters who, and I am not ashamed to say this, have a special place in my life and my decisions. I am here because I want you to know that your joys and hopes, your troubles and your sorrows, are not indifferent to me. I realize the difficulties which you experience daily! How can I not denounce the injustices which you suffer?

First of all, though, I would like to speak about something which the language of exclusion often disregards or seems to ignore. It is the wisdom found in poor neighbourhoods. A wisdom which is born of the “stubborn resistance” of that which is authentic” (cf. Laudato Si’, 112), from Gospel values which an opulent society, anaesthetized by unbridled consumption, would seem to have forgotten. You are able “to weave bonds of belonging and togetherness which convert overcrowding into an experience of community in which the walls of the ego are torn down and the barriers of selfishness overcome” (ibid., 149)....

I want in first place to uphold these values which you practice, values which are not quoted in the stock exchange, are not subject to speculation, and have no market price. I congratulate you, I accompany you and I want you to know that the Lord never forgets you. The path of Jesus began on the peripheries, it goes from the poor and with the poor, towards others.

To see these signs of good living that increase daily in your midst in no way entails a disregard for the dreadful injustice of urban exclusion. These are wounds inflicted by minorities who cling to power and wealth, who selfishly squander while a growing majority is forced to flee to abandoned, filthy and run-down peripheries.

This becomes even worse when we see the unjust distribution of land (if not in this neighbourhood, certainly in others) which leads in many cases to entire families having to pay excessive and unfair rents for utterly unfit housing. I am also aware of the serious problem posed by faceless “private developers” who hoard areas of land and even attempt to appropriate the playgrounds of your children’s schools. This is what happens when we forget that “God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favouring anyone” (Centesimus Annus, 31).

One very serious problem in this regard is the lack of access to infrastructures and basic services. By this I mean toilets, sewers, drains, refuse collection, electricity, roads, as well as schools, hospitals, recreational and sport centres, studios and workshops for artists and craftsmen. I refer in particular to access to drinking water. “Access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights. Our world has a grave social debt towards the poor who lack access to drinking water, because they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity” (Laudato Si’, 30). To deny a family water, under any bureaucratic pretext whatsoever, is a great injustice, especially when one profits from this need.

This situation of indifference and hostility experienced by poor neighbourhoods is aggravated when violence spreads and criminal organizations, serving economic or political interests, use children and young people as “canon fodder” for their ruthless business affairs. I also appreciate the struggles of those women who fight heroically to protect their sons and daughters from these dangers. I ask God that that the authorities may embark, together with you, upon the path of social inclusion, education, sport community action, and the protection of families, for this is the only guarantee of a peace that is just, authentic and enduring.

These realities which I have just mentioned are not a random combination of unrelated problems. They are a consequence of new forms of colonialism which would make African countries “parts of a machine, cogs on a gigantic wheel” (Ecclesia in Africa, 52). Indeed, countries are frequently pressured to adopt policies typical of the culture of waste, like those aimed at lowering the birth rate, which seek “to legitimize the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized” (Laudato Si’, 50).

In this regard, I would propose a renewed attention to the idea of a respectful urban integration, as opposed to elimination, paternalism, indifference or mere containment. We need integrated cities which belong to everyone. We need to go beyond the mere proclamation of rights which are not respected in practice, to implementing concrete and systematic initiatives capable of improving the overall living situation, and planning new urban developments of good quality for housing future generations. The social and environmental debt owed to the poor of cities can be paid by respecting their sacred right of the “three Ls”: Land, Lodging, Labour. This is not philanthropy; it is a moral duty upon all of us.

I wish to call all Christians, and their pastors in particular, to renew their missionary zeal, to take initiative in the face of so many situations of injustice, to be involved in their neighbours’ problems, to accompany them in their struggles, to protect the fruits of their communitarian labour and to celebrate together each victory, large or small. I realize that you are already doing much, but I ask to remember this is not just another task; it may instead be the most important task of all, because “the Gospel is addressed in a special way to the poor” (Benedict XVI, Address to the Bishops of Brazil, 11 May 2007, 3).

Dear neighbours, dear brothers and sisters, let us together pray, work and commit ourselves to ensuring that every family has dignified housing, access to drinking water, a toilet, reliable sources of energy for lighting, cooking and improving their homes; that every neighbourhood has streets, squares, schools, hospitals, areas for sport, recreation and art; that basic services are provided to each of you; that your appeals and your pleas for greater opportunity can be heard; that all can enjoy the peace and security which they rightfully deserve on the basis of their infinite human dignity.
Following the slum visit, Francis headed to an outdoor stadium for another exuberant – if not downright raucous – meeting with young people, responding off-the-cuff and at length to questions from several (fullvid) before emptying his pocket to "share a secret": the two things he "always" keeps in it that allow him to "never lose hope"....

This afternoon sees Francis' departure for his African tour's second leg in Uganda, where – after civil formalities tonight – a Saturday morning Mass will take place at the shrine that pays joint tribute to the country's 19th century Catholic and Anglican martyrs, the former of which were canonized by now-Blessed Paul VI on the first ever papal visit to the continent in 1964.

As a critical mass of historians cites the roots of the execution of the 45 men in their resistance to the aggressive homosexuality of a tribal king, the Pope's message at the site could potentially make for a flashpoint that resonates well beyond this weeklong trek.


Thursday, November 26, 2015

"The Bride, Bedecked" – Pope's Thanksgiving, African Style

Before anything else, a blessed and Happy Thanksgiving to everyone in the States, and to those you love and serve so well day in and day out... and as gratitude and blessings go on this end, for the grace of getting away with doing this work lo these many years, to those of you who've made it possible and been part of the ride, no words could ever say thanks enough.

Back to the news, it's 8pm in East Africa, and the Pope's wrapping up the first full day of his first-ever trek to the continent – a weeklong, three-country mission set to intensify toward its final stop in the violence-ridden Central African Republic, the first papal visit in recent memory into an active war zone.

In the meantime, Francis' first major event of the tour came this morning in Nairobi, long one of the de facto capitals of a burgeoning African church, today home to some 3 million Catholics who comprise the majority of the population in Kenya's capital. (For context, the continent's largest diocese – Kinshasa, capital of a Democratic Republic of the Congo long worked by the colonial era's Belgian missionaries – now boasts some 6 million faithful: a nearly six-fold increase... since 1980.)

Lest anyone forgot, Eucharist means "thanksgiving," so especially in the spirit of this holiday, here's fullvid of this morning's mud-soaked yet exuberant Mass (homily text) on the grounds of Kenya's national university, which – as with the opening liturgies of Francis' recent visits to Latin America and the US in September – was focused on the evangelization of peoples and affirming the church's "missionary impulse" in the vein of Evangelii gaudium, Papa Bergoglio's governing manifesto which marks its second anniversary of release this week:

And tonight, on a soccer field, the Pope's meeting with the country's clergy and religious, at which the Pope (again) ditched his prepared text to speak off-the-cuff, with English translation:

Already well in evidence above, given the linchpin role of dance and chant that isn't Gregorian in African worship – and the epileptic fits they're bound to cause in at least some quarters over these days – what's arguably the most consequential piece of Evangelii again bears fresh recalling:

The People of God is incarnate in the peoples of the earth, each of which has its own culture. The concept of culture is valuable for grasping the various expressions of the Christian life present in God’s people. It has to do with the lifestyle of a given society, the specific way in which its members relate to one another, to other creatures and to God. Understood in this way, culture embraces the totality of a people’s life. Each people in the course of its history develops its culture with legitimate autonomy. This is due to the fact that the human person, “by nature stands completely in need of life in society” and always exists in reference to society, finding there a concrete way of relating to reality. The human person is always situated in a culture: “nature and culture are intimately linked”. Grace supposes culture, and God’s gift becomes flesh in the culture of those who receive it.

In these first two Christian millennia, countless peoples have received the grace of faith, brought it to flower in their daily lives and handed it on in the language of their own culture. Whenever a community receives the message of salvation, the Holy Spirit enriches its culture with the transforming power of the Gospel. The history of the Church shows that Christianity does not have simply one cultural expression, but rather, “remaining completely true to itself, with unswerving fidelity to the proclamation of the Gospel and the tradition of the Church, it will also reflect the different faces of the cultures and peoples in which it is received and takes root”. In the diversity of peoples who experience the gift of God, each in accordance with its own culture, the Church expresses her genuine catholicity and shows forth the “beauty of her varied face”. In the Christian customs of an evangelized people, the Holy Spirit adorns the Church, showing her new aspects of revelation and giving her a new face. Through inculturation, the Church “introduces peoples, together with their cultures, into her own community”, for “every culture offers positive values and forms which can enrich the way the Gospel is preached, understood and lived”. In this way, the Church takes up the values of different cultures and becomes sponsa ornata monilibus suis, “the bride bedecked with her jewels” (cf. Is 61:10)”.

When properly understood, cultural diversity is not a threat to Church unity. The Holy Spirit, sent by the Father and the Son, transforms our hearts and enables us to enter into the perfect communion of the blessed Trinity, where all things find their unity. He builds up the communion and harmony of the people of God. The same Spirit is that harmony, just as he is the bond of love between the Father and the Son. It is he who brings forth a rich variety of gifts, while at the same time creating a unity which is never uniformity but a multifaceted and inviting harmony. Evangelization joyfully acknowledges these varied treasures which the Holy Spirit pours out upon the Church. We would not do justice to the logic of the incarnation if we thought of Christianity as monocultural and monotonous. While it is true that some cultures have been closely associated with the preaching of the Gospel and the development of Christian thought, the revealed message is not identified with any of them; its content is transcultural. Hence in the evangelization of new cultures, or cultures which have not received the Christian message, it is not essential to impose a specific cultural form, no matter how beautiful or ancient it may be, together with the Gospel. The message that we proclaim always has a certain cultural dress, but we in the Church can sometimes fall into a needless hallowing of our own culture, and thus show more fanaticism than true evangelizing zeal.

The Bishops of Oceania asked that the Church “develop an understanding and a presentation of the truth of Christ working from the traditions and cultures of the region” and invited “all missionaries to work in harmony with indigenous Christians so as to ensure that the faith and the life of the Church be expressed in legitimate forms appropriate for each culture”. We cannot demand that peoples of every continent, in expressing their Christian faith, imitate modes of expression which European nations developed at a particular moment of their history, because the faith cannot be constricted to the limits of understanding and expression of any one culture. It is an indisputable fact that no single culture can exhaust the mystery of our redemption in Christ.
With tomorrow's schedule starting on a visit to a Nairobi slum, more as the weekend ensues. For now, again, a beautiful Thanksgiving to one and all.


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

In Anglicanorum First, US Ordinariate Lands A "Flying Bishop"

Almost four years since Benedict XVI created a continent-wide jurisdiction for US and Canadian Anglicans entering communion with Rome, the Houston-based Ordinariate of the Chair of Peter has reached a watershed moment: at Roman Noon, the founding head of the 42-parish fold, Msgr Jeffrey Steenson, stepped aside at 63 on his own request as the Pope named Msgr Steven Lopes, 40 – the San Francisco-bred CDF staffer who began his decade there as Cardinal William Levada's personal aide – as the first bishop-ordinary for any of the three local churches founded under the terms of Anglicanorum coetibus.

With the appointment, the bishop-elect – a double NAC alum who's been the Holy See's prime specialist on the ordinariates over recent years – becomes the youngest Latin-church hierarch to be named in the US since 1988, when Franciscan Fr Roberto Gonzalez (now archbishop of San Juan) was tapped as an auxiliary of Boston at 38. On another front, meanwhile, the timing of the appointment coincides with this weekend's introduction of Divine Worship: The Missal, the culmination of a years-long effort which saw centuries of Anglican texts culled into a single volume for the ordinariates' universal use, replacing the US-centric Book of Divine Worship in use since 2003. With the new work's preparation overseen by Rome, Lopes handled the bulk of its coordination as secretary of the special commission charged with integrating Anglican traditions into Catholic liturgy. (The bishop-elect is seen above presenting the new Missal to the Pope, aided by the top American at the "Holy Office," Archbishop Gus diNoia OP, who likewise aided in the project.)

While the choice of a Roman-rite cleric as "flying bishop" of the sprawling Anglo-Catholic diocese might appear unusual on the surface, beyond being steeped in the ordinariates from their inception given CDF's lead responsibility for the Anglicanorum project, Lopes' disposition fulfills both the theological and practical requirements for the unique post to function as effectively as possible. For one, as Steenson as well the heads of the English and Australian ordinariates – all of whom were Anglican bishops before "swimming the Tiber" – are married, the founding ordinaries couldn't become Catholic bishops, even whilst being granted all the jurisdiction and insignia of the episcopacy, save for the ability to ordain. As having a bishop of their own has been seen as a key aspect toward affirming the project's ecclesial "maturity," then, a celibate was needed. Practically speaking, meanwhile, as the securing of a bishop frees the ordinariate from having to call on Latin-church prelates to ordain the steady stream of clerics who've joined its ranks – 62 so far, most of them married – Lopes' youth and lack of a family will likewise make it easier to handle the ferocious traveling Steenson took on to be present to his scattered flock.

In a message to the ordinariate released this morning, the retiring prelate – a onetime sportswriter and Oxford-trained patristic scholar – indicated that the choice of the new ordinary was made using the "significant consultative process" laid out by the retired pontiff in Anglicanorum, under which the ordinariate's 13-cleric governing council prepared the terna from which Lopes was chosen.

Beyond the completion of the missal project, earlier this year the Stateside Ordinariate dedicated an ample headquarters of its own: a jewel-box of a Chancery (above) adjacent to its "principal church," Houston's Our Lady of Walsingham parish, which now becomes a cathedral in the proper sense with the arrival of a bishop. Upon his ordination on Candlemas Day, 2 February, Lopes will be based there, inheriting a staff led by now-Msgr Larry Gipson, the onetime pastor of the largest parish of the Episcopal Church, H-Town's St Martin's, where his congregation included former President George H.W. Bush.

The ordinariate's administrator until Lopes' arrival – after which he'll bear the title "Ordinary-emeritus" – Steenson will introduce his successor at a 10.30 Central press conference today in the Walsingham Chancery. For reasons of space, the bishop-elect's ordination is most likely to be held in Houston's Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, with the CDF prefect Cardinal Gerhard Müller ostensibly to preside. Given the spread of the ordinariate's charge, with the appointment Lopes becomes the sole Latin-church bishop to hold joint membership in the episcopal conferences of both Canada and the US, a distinction likewise enjoyed by a handful of Eastern-church hierarchs.


Monday, November 23, 2015

For "The Hill," A New Man – Pastoral Chief Named Rector of NAC

While several Stateside seminaries have reported upticks in enrollment over the last decade, the largest of the bunch remains across the Atlantic... and as the trend has only served to bolster the Pontifical North American College's standing as the lodestar of priestly formation (and a good bit else) back home, this Monday brings the accordingly consequential word of a change at its helm.

At this hour atop the Gianicolo, the 156 year-old seminary is slated to introduce Fr Peter Harman, 42 – a priest of Springfield in Illinois who's served since 2013 as the NAC's top pastoral formator – as its 23rd Rector. The choice formally made by the Congregation for the Clergy, which accepted the recommendation of the college's 15-bishop Board of Governors, the appointment takes effect on February 1st. In the post, Harman succeeds Msgr Jim Checchio, who returns to his Mom and clan in South Jersey after a ten-year tenure that's significantly solidified the the NAC's resources while likewise growing its enrollment by some 60 percent. (The duo are shown above, with Harman at right.)

For purposes of context, it's no stretch to say that when the NAC sneezes, the US church catches a cold... and, indeed, a good chunk of global Catholicism starts sniffling, to boot. Even beyond its current 250-plus seminarians – a high over recent decades – the reach of "The Hill" is even more tellingly explained in the students' presence from nearly 100 dioceses, comprising a majority of the nation's Latin-church outposts, as well as a handful each from Australia and Canada. (An additional 75 priests in graduate studies live at the college's Casa Santa Maria, the NAC's original home in the city's core until the Gianicolo compound opened in 1953.) Yet whether they come as theologians preparing for ordination or advanced degrees afterward, its alums have formed the modern backbone of American hierarchical leadership: today, no less than two-thirds of the nine Stateside cardinal-electors – including three of the four who lead dioceses – are products of the college and/or the Casa, along with a heavy plurality of the nation's bishops and a wider network that leaves practically no church entity on these shores untouched. Borrowing from another field, it's a profession-wide impact comparable to having the graduate pools of Harvard Law and Yale Law rolled into one.

Six months since just the latest Papal Mass in the NAC's chapel, it still bears repeating that the Hill's dominance stretches across ecclesiological lines: the most diametrically differing figures of the home-crop's top rank as it stands – Cardinal Raymond Burke, now patron of the Order of Malta, and Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago – are both members of the NAC Class of 1975, as are at least six other US bishops. And all around, given its legacy of leadership from the sweep of its hilltop campus in sight of St Peter's – newly anchored by an $8 million, 10-story tower (left) opened in January – the college's role as Rome's unquestioned hub of American Catholic life gives its rector an outsize influence not just on the next generation of shepherds he forms, but the current one which calls the place home whenever they're in town. Lest anyone forgot the principal proof of it, the hospitality and charisma of the 20th Rector created a cult following that, within a decade of his departure from the Hill, would catapult Tim Dolan into the archbishopric of New York... and when Dolan went on to write his own history in becoming the first Big Apple prelate ever elected to lead the national bench, the deciding votes came from the younger appointees whose own priesthoods were marked by the book of conferences he gave his NAC seminarians.

Back to the latest of the line, Harman's appointment to the Rector's Office comes as a surprise given both his background and place in the college's pecking order. In marked contrast to his predecessors who were elevated from within, the new chief isn't the incumbent vice-rector on the Gianicolo, nor anywhere close – indeed, the formal listing ranks his current post ninth among the faculty. As for biography, while being an alum of the seminary, Harman didn't return to Rome for later studies but instead rose rapidly in his home diocese, becoming rector of Springfield's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (and guiding the end of its $11 million, stem-to-stern restoration) within a decade of his ordination in 1999.

His undergrad work done at St Meinrad, Harman's doctorate in theology comes from the Catholic University of America in Washington, with a dissertation on St John Paul II's enrichment of a "theology of suffering." Only in 2013 was the now-incoming Rector called back to Rome to oversee the NAC's program which forms its priests-to-be in preaching, celebrating the sacraments, and works of charity. In addition, he's served as the college's media liaison.

Developing – more to come.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

For the Bishops, It's Election Day

Tuesday's USCCB agenda topped by the election of six committee chairs and three votes that'll lock in the direction of the US church's policy agenda for the remainder of this decade,  the live-text feed of the results, etc. as it all happened is below the jump... and here's on-demand video for the whole of this meeting's final public session.

(Livefeed pulled due to cost.)


Monday, November 16, 2015

Live from The Fall Classic

Good morning from Baltimore and Opening Day of this 97th Plenary of the US bishops – here's the livefeed from the Floor...

(Ed. The day having wrapped, on-demand video of the Monday sessions is available via the Mothership.)

...and with the morning session bringing the usual kickoff speeches from the president, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, and the Nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò (in his farewell appearance before reaching the retirement age in mid-January), updates to come.

SVILUPPO: Before the morning's speeches, the body approved two statements – the already-released text (composed Saturday by the top-level Administrative Committee) expressing solidarity with France following Friday's terrorist attacks in Paris, and a strikingly-worded presidential message on the global persecution of Christians, its fulltext below:

"Lord Jesus Christ."

These three whispered words rose above the sound of the surf to overcome death, as 21 Coptic Christians – brothers as dear to us as our own family – knelt in the sand before the executioner's sword. The body and blood of Christ were offered on the Mediterranean shore that all too recent February day. Our body and blood were offered, for as St. Paul teaches us, we are one body in Christ and "if one suffers, all the parts suffer with it" (1 Cor 12:26).

The words of our Lord Jesus Christ are alive and with us now. "If they persecuted me, they will persecute you as well" (Jn 15:20). Places of worship that have stood for centuries in the very cradle of Christianity are being destroyed. Families are fleeing from beheadings, sexual slavery and even crucifixion. In places such as Mosul, Christmas bells that have heralded the birth of our Savior uninterrupted for nearly two thousand years have fallen silent as our brothers and sisters in the faith have been scattered. It is nothing short of genocide.

This Sunday, more than 20 million Catholics will attend Mass throughout the United States, kneeling in preparation to receive Holy Communion. In the week ahead, they will read the Bible, teach their children to pray, and practice Christian virtue in the workplace. We will do so, largely, without fear of being targeted for simply worshipping God. This Sunday, when we kneel, let us draw near to all those dying in the name of our faith. Let us then rise, renewed in our solidarity with the suffering of people of all faiths.

We will soon begin to celebrate the Jubilee Year of Mercy announced by Pope Francis. During this special year, the Holy Father encourages us to rediscover the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, including feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, comforting the afflicted and praying for the living and the dead. How might we accompany our suffering fellow Christians and all people of good will?
Pray – Surrounded by death, the loving embrace of Jesus is often the modern martyr's only comfort. Let us pray their faith will sustain them as it inspires us to turn ever more fervently to Christ in our own lives. 
Witness – Our hearts never grow indifferent to the continuing stories of families forced from their homes, separated from those they love and facing an unknown future. We cannot be hesitant to speak their name, make their cause our own and ensure they are never forgotten by the powerful in a position to protect them.

Give – Last September, Catholic parishes in the United States gave generously to a special collection supporting our brothers and sisters in the Middle East. We can continue our generosity through organizations like Catholic Relief Services or the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. 
As Pope Francis reminds us, "authentic religion is a source of peace and not of violence." Ever confident in Christ's abundant grace, we look with hope to the day when people of every faith live in harmony with their neighbor.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

"Life Is Bigger Than Explanations" – To Rome's Lutherans, Pope Talks Conscience on Communion

Before anything else, greetings from Baltimore and the eve of this 97th November Plenary of the Stateside bishops, the public sessions beginning just after 10am Eastern Monday due to early regional meetings.

Even if the halls here are already full of conversation, yet again this Sunday's sudden top-line comes from Rome, where the Pope visited the city's Evangelical Lutheran church for an ecumenical dialogue. (Indeed, with an eye to the coming 500th anniversary of the German Reformation in 2017, today's event follows quickly on the heels of Declaration on the Way, a major joint statement from the USCCB and Evangelical Lutheran Church of America rolled out earlier this month as a roadmap for the path forward.)

Among the handful chosen to take part in today's Q&A, Francis heard from a member of the mostly German-Swiss congregation who, speaking of her marriage to a Catholic, addressed "the hurt we've felt together due to [their] difference of faith" and asked about their ability "to finally participate together in Communion."

In an answer that's almost certain to resonate broadly across the ecumenical scene (and elsewhere, quite possibly show his hand on his intended course following last month's Synod on the Family), the pontiff – clearly wrestling with the plea – pointedly appealed less to the standard prohibition of the Eucharist for Protestant communities than to the woman's discernment in conscience.

As if to reinforce the point, in a move clearly decided in advance, Francis publicly presented the pastor with a chalice which appeared identical to the ones the Pope gave the archbishops of Washington, New York and Philadelphia during his late September US trip.

On another context front, meanwhile, having employed Q&A as a favorite format with no shortage of groups over time, Papa Bergoglio is customarily appraised of the questions to be put to him in advance – and given the situation here, it'd be practically impossible to believe that Francis didn't anticipate the topic coming up.

All that said, as Cardinal Walter Kasper looked on between the current Ecumenism Czar Cardinal Kurt Koch and the Papal Vicar for Rome, Cardinal Agostino Vallini, below is the fullvideo of the exchange on intercommunion, and an English translation of the Pope's reply, which the congregation greeted with warm smiles and an ovation:

The question on sharing the Lord’s Supper isn’t easy for me to respond to, above all in front of a theologian like Cardinal Kasper – I’m scared!

I think of how the Lord told us when he gave us this mandatum to “do this in memory of me,” and when we share the Lord’s Supper, we recall and we imitate the same as the Lord. And there will be the Lord’s Supper in the final banquet in the new Jerusalem – it’ll be there! But that will be the last one… in the meantime, I ask myself and don’t know how to respond – what you’re asking me, I ask myself the question. To share the Lord’s banquet: is it the goal of the path or is it the viaticum [etym. “to accompany you on the journey”] for walking together? I leave that question to the theologians and those who understand.

It’s true that in a certain sense, to share means that there aren’t differences between us, that we have the same doctrine – underscoring that word, a difficult word to understand. But I ask myself: but don’t we have the same Baptism? If we have the same Baptism, shouldn’t we be walking together? And you’re a witness of a likewise profound journey, a journey of marriage: itself a journey of family and human love and of a shared faith, no? We have the same Baptism.

When you feel yourself a sinner – and I’m much more of a sinner – when your husband feels he’s sinned, you go forward to the Lord and ask forgiveness; your husband does the same and also goes to the priest and asks absolution, [thus] I’m healed and kept alive in my Baptism. When you pray together, that Baptism grows, becomes stronger. When you teach your kids who is Jesus? Why did Jesus come? What did Jesus do for us?, you’re doing the same thing, whether in the Lutheran language or the Catholic one, but it’s the same.

The question [Pope draws question mark with his finger].... The supper? There are questions that only if one is sincere with oneself and the little theological light one has, must be responded to on one’s own. See for yourself. This is my body. This is my blood. Do it in remembrance of me – this is a viaticum that helps us to journey on.

I had a great friendship with an Anglican bishop, 48 years old, married with two children, and he had this concern: a Catholic wife, Catholic children, and he a bishop. He accompanied his wife and children to Mass on Sundays and then went to worship with his community. It was a step of participating in the Lord’s Supper. Then he passed on, the Lord called him, a just man.

I can only respond to your question with a question: what can I do with my husband that the Lord’s Supper might accompany me on my path? It’s a problem that each must answer [for themselves], but a pastor-friend once told me that “We believe that the Lord is present there, he is present” – you believe that the Lord is present. And what's the difference? There are explanations, interpretations, but life is bigger than explanations and interpretations. Always refer back to your baptism – one faith, one baptism, one Lord: this Paul tells us; and then consequences come later.

I would never dare to give permission to do this, because it’s not my own competence. One baptism, one Lord, one faith. Talk to the Lord and then go forward. [Pauses] And I wouldn't dare – I don’t dare say anything more.
SVILUPPO: In a Sunday afternoon email to its collaborators obtained by Whispers, the US-based Evangelical Lutheran Church of America announced that – at a Chicago meeting of its governing council today – the group "voted unanimously, and with warm enthusiasm, to accept the Statement of [32] Agreements" in its joint Declaration on the Way with the nation's Catholic bishops, and that "receiving the agreements recognizes that there are no longer church-dividing issues with respect to these Statements."


Friday, November 06, 2015

Amid Vatileaks Frenzy, Francis Deepens His Eurostamp

While Rome's chattering circuit is consumed with the latest round of leak theatrics surrounding Vatican finances and the excesses of some prelates, the Pope has instead taken to doubling down on work and complete a "lightning round" of appointments to several major European posts.

At Roman Noon this Friday, Francis named Bishop Josef De Kesel of Bruges, 68, as archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels and head of a Belgian church that might just be the most bitterly polarized in the Catholic world. In the capital post of the linguistically-split, heavily secularized nation of Dutch and French-speakers, the incoming primate succeeds Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, who only reached the retirement age of 75 in May, after a five-year tenure which has been dogged by controversy from the outset on fronts ranging from the prelate's comments on the moral culpability of AIDS patients to clergy sex-abuse, which saw Leonard civilly ordered to pay €10,000 earlier this year after being found to have failed to act on an allegation in his prior post in the 1990s. Highlighting the tensions on the wider scene, in two incidents that went viral the archbishop once was hit in the face with a pie during a liturgy and subsequently had water bottles dumped on him by topless feminists who stormed the stage at one of his speaking engagements. (Above, De Kesel and Leonard are seen from left at this morning's presser.)

A protege of Leonard's predecessor, the famously liberal Cardinal Godfried Danneels – whose auxiliary De Kesel had been from 2002-10 – the archbishop-elect (a Gregorian-trained theologian) was the first choice on the 
terna for the last Brussels succession, but the then-Nuncio, Archbishop Karl-Josef Rauber, was overruled by Benedict XVI, who personally chose the more traditional Leonard. Shortly after the appointment and his retirement shortly thereafter, a clearly displeased Rauber himself disclosed the face-off in an Italian magazine interview, going on to criticize both Papa Ratzinger and his eventual pick. Now 81, as a coda it bears noting that the former Nuncio was given a non-voting red hat by Francis at last February's Consistory.

In today's other major move, Francis has reportedly spurred shock in the Spanish church's Establishment by tapping 69 year-old Bishop Jose Omella of Calahorra as archbishop of Barcelona, Spain's second-largest diocese, ground zero in the ongoing fight over independence for Catalonia, the region based in Gaudí's city, where the 2010 dedication of the architect's Basilica of the Sagrada Familia provided one of the monumental moments of the last pontificate.

Named to succeed the native son Cardinal Lluis Martinez Sistach, now 78, according to local reports Omella was raised on the peripheries of the region and grew up speaking its distinctive Catalan tongue, but isn't said to be given to his new fold's widespread nationalist tendencies. In keeping with Francis' usual identikit for his picks, the Barcelona nominee has a long history in the church's social action work, including a stint as a missionary in Zaire. The Pope's move on the 2 million-member archdiocese is Papa Bergoglio's third major shift in Spain – whose hierarchy he knows well, having preached one of its retreats before his election – following last year's bombshell appointments on the same day to Madrid and Valencia, the latter going to Rome's then-Liturgy Czar, Cardinal Antonio Canizares.

Today's moves close out a cycle of top-level nods which began last week as – in his first turn at Italy's traditional "cardinalatial sees" – Francis yet again stunned the natives by naming an auxiliary of Rome, Bishop Matteo Zuppi, 59, as archbishop of Bologna and a 53 year-old Sicilian parish priest, Msgr Corrado Lorefice, (above) to the archbishopric of Palermo, the island's premier post. As with today's appointees, both have significant records of pastoring the church on the margins, with Zuppi – a lead figure in the progressive Sant'Egidio movement – having led one of Rome's largest outskirt parishes, while Lorefice has frequently cited his inspiration in the figure of Fr Pino Puglisi, a searing critic of Sicily's Mafia bosses who was gunned down outside his church in 1993.

Beatified in 2013, "Don Pino" is buried in the cathedral where Lorefice will soon have his seat. When the assassinated cleric's name was raised following his appointment, the archbishop-elect interjected to reporters that his selection was Puglisi's "fault."

In both appointments, meanwhile, it is understood that the Pope tossed aside the shortlists compiled during the formal consultation process, choosing instead to find his choices after taking his own soundings among the clergy of each place. 

Given his determination to not be "chained" to the custom of certain dioceses nearly guaranteed a spot in his Senate, as Francis has chosen to send his Italian red hats to places which have never had a cardinal or not seen one in generations, whether the duo will follow their respective predecessors into the College is an open question. In any case, while a February Consistory is again said to be on-deck, the mid-month timeframe when Francis has gathered the cardinals both in 2014 and 2015 is off the table next year due to the Pope's now-confirmed trip to Mexico, during which the first American pontiff is widely expected to make his long-desired stop somewhere along the US border... and possibly cross over it.