Monday, May 29, 2017

From A Soup Kitchen to The Panhandle – For Summer Kickoff, Pope Plays Wack-The-Noles

(Updated 1pm ET with Press Conference video.)

Over recent weeks, the growing community at St Ignatius Martyr parish in Austin has been planning a “bash” for their pastor’s 50th birthday.

However, the Pope now sends word that their late June event for Father Bill will now double as a farewell... to Bishop-elect Wack.

In an unheard-of act on a US civil holiday, this Memorial Day indeed brings an appointment – at Roman Noon, Francis named the South Bend-born priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross (a onetime vocation director at Notre Dame) as sixth bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee, tapped to lead a minority fold of 70,000 across the broad swath of the heavily-Evangelical Florida Panhandle: a charge spanning two time zones and some 14,000 square miles. (In a shot circulated this past March, the bishop-elect is seen test-piloting the new parking lot on his parish plant.)

Even as Papa Bergoglio has long taken any notion of holiday weekends for the Stateside press to the shredder, today's move is simply on a different plane, and in more ways than one at that.

His ordination reportedly set for late August, Wack succeeds Bishop Gregory Parkes, the Florida State alum sent on a fittingly giant leap across the Sunshine State late last year with his transfer to St Petersburg, the province’s second-largest post. Yet where Parkes was already quite familiar with and devoted to Noles Country from his college days, his successor arrives sight unseen... so in this instance, any expectation that a lifelong son of the Fighting Irish will lead The Chop on Day One might be a bit much to ask.

Described by Whispers ops as “a simply joyful priest” and “the kind of guy you’d want for everything [in ministry],” the bishop-elect’s road since his 1994 ordination has been unusually varied, and features an especially potent example of the identikit Francis has repeatedly demanded for those to whom he entrusts the mitre and crozier.

Before his stint until today at the Austin parish, Wack served for seven years as director of Andre House, a homeless shelter and soup kitchen in a Phoenix drug corridor where, according to a recent interview, he and his team would serve more than 500 plates every night on top of caring for the daily laundry and lodging of anyone who came.

Already a veteran of social media – a trait which will serve him well given the spread he inherits – Wack posts audio of his homilies online... his reasons for being “really keyed up” about yesterday’s preach now in the open:

Said by an associate to “not be given to administration” – a common (but not universal) lack among Francis' recent Stateside appointees – that hasn’t stopped the Panhandle pick from making his goal in pledges for a $2.5 million capital campaign for his Texas parish. Still, Wack nonetheless has the good fortune of inheriting a charge where the locals report no major pressing issues. Meantime, with the diocese’s Hispanic population steadily ticking up due to an influx for its service industries, the elect brings ample proficiency in Spanish, a first for the bishop there.

As local media were quietly alerted on Friday – and, Florida being Florida, was then brazenly announced in Pensacola Cathedral at yesterday’s Masses – a 10am Central presser has already been called at the western hub’s Chancery. One of the US church’s few twin-seat dioceses, the joint see cities are some 200 miles apart, a roughly three-hour drive.

Among other aspects, it is of note that Wack’s appointment marks but the latest instance of Francis choosing an American bishop from a remarkably large family. The seventh of ten kids born to a doctor and a nurse, Bill was eventually followed into the CSCs by his brother, Neil, who was ordained a decade later and now holds his brother’s onetime vocations post at Notre Dame. Yet as the brothers' social feeds are each unusually sparse, it's even more salient how both follow the son of another Midwestern "tribe" who ostensibly shepherded this appointment across the finish line from his seat on the Congregation for Bishops – namely, Blase.

All that said, just a few weeks ago, an Austin pastor was but a face in the crowd among the 5,000-odd faithful who converged from across Texas for the church’s annual Advocacy Day at the Lone Star Capitol (above) – an event highlighted by the bishops' breakfast with the turf's first governor from the fold since Mexican rule.

And with today’s move, Bill Wack suddenly becomes Catholicism’s principal voice in the capital of what's now the third-largest state.

Just further proof of how these days, in this church, life really comes at you fast.

As chaos reigns in Raleigh, Indianapolis collects advice for its next occupant – and an ongoing "Auxnado" reshapes the bench's voting ranks more than anything else afoot – six Stateside Latin sees remain vacant, with another four led by (arch)bishops serving past the retirement age.

SVILUPPO: A feast of "oversharing" – a tendency the bishop-elect easily admitted to – here's fullvid of this morning's presser, which saw the Pope's pick riff at length without a scripted text....


Thursday, May 25, 2017

On "Collection Thursday" – or "Fauxcension Sunday" – The Song Remains The Same

To one and all in the Northeast, Nebraska, The Vatican (yet not Italy) – and the handful of other places where this is still Ascension Day – a blessed and buona festa with all its joys and graces.... everyone else, no news for you. At least, not 'til the weekend.

Given the unique patchwork of how American Catholicism observes this 40th Day of Easter (or, for the most part, doesn't), it bears recalling how the split decision – and its ever-resulting confusion – owes itself to a 1994 vote granted by Rome to the bishops of each of the nation's 33 Latin-church provinces: a concession which followed a five-year "experiment" that initially allowed the five Westernmost jurisdictions to move their Ascension date to the then-Seventh Sunday of Easter and see how it unfolded.

To put it mildly, no shortage of things have changed since then, above all the makeup of the bench. Indeed, it's hard to think of more than five still-active prelates (of some 250) who would've cast a vote on this question, and all but one of them are now in very different provinces than they were at the time.

More to the point, the last two decades have brought something of a tidal shift across the board, even as its wake has pulled in two very different directions: in the Northeast, where 1994's ample numbers of priests and people have largely been obliterated due to aging and atrophy, the region's historic premium on "tradition" – read: the Obligatory Collection – is a lot more costly these days... while even as a thousand and more new communities have bloomed to points South and West, amid presbyterates that've either grown or, at best, barely kept pace to serve the boom, in many places said epochal ascent has brought a more deeply-rooted sense of Catholic identity to the fore, one in which days like this make for a particular flashpoint, and a very desirable one to maintain at that.

In other words, since there's no need whatsoever for the prior generation's judgment to hold today's Church hostage, the Ascension Day vote can be retaken at any time... and if it were, one way or another, odds are the resulting map would look rather different.

It wouldn't exactly be rocket-science to pull off, either – the majority of diocesan bishops in any given province would be able to petition for a change on their respective turf at any time, but a spirit of collegiality seems to prod something more, well, "catholic" for the broader scene. Toward that end, the exigencies of a different Church in a different age make this question feel like something at least worth discerning anew, that the needs and aspirations of God's People in our situations today might best be served as they are, instead of as they were two decades – and an ecclesial epoch – ago.

All that said, in the grand scheme of things, the date is but window dressing. For all the hand-wringing that remains over when this feast is (or isn't) celebrated, to engage in that while missing out on what the day actually means – and the responsibility and work that it requires – only creates yet another vapid distraction from the lone thing that matters most....

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

"Welcome" – For Pope and Trump, The Main Event

(Updated 12pm ET with White House readout.)
After weeks of anticipation – and a rhetorical flare from the host's side – just before 8.30 this morning President Trump arrived at the Apostolic Palace for his reception by the Pope.

On reaching the Private Library in the Papal Apartment, the duo spent a half-hour in one-on-one talks behind closed doors. In what's become a sign of welcome under Francis for visiting heads of state, the American flag was again flown over the San Damaso courtyard, where the POTUS' 70-car motorcade rolled up.

While Papa Bergoglio appeared unusually somber or apprehensive as he emerged to welcome the beaming President upon his arrival, Francis returned to his smiling, animated form after the private discussion, seeming especially charmed by First Lady Melania Trump. Meanwhile, in a notable break from the standard practice for bilateral meetings, the US side didn't bring its own translator, leaving Msgr Mark Miles – the Gibraltar-born chief of the English desk in the Secretariat of State – as the sole interpreter for both parties.

Keeping the custom of his predecessors for every meeting with a major political leader, the pontiff gave Trump copies of his own principal texts – Evangelii Gaudium, Laudato Si' and Amoris Laetitia – adding alongside them a signed edition of this year's message for the World Day of Peace (1 January), in which he urged a politics of "nonviolence." Per the White House pool, the President's main gift was a boxed set of the published works of Dr Martin Luther King Jr., who Francis quoted in the Peace Day message and highlighted at length in his 2015 address to a joint meeting of Congress, the first such speech ever given by a Pope.

Here, the Vatican feed of the encounter's public moments before and after the private visit, which wrapped up with the traditional exchange of gifts and greeting of the US delegation:

As with every other diplomatic guest, after the audience itself the US principals – the President, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster – sat for detailed policy talks with the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and his British-born "foreign minister," Archbishop Paul Gallagher.

With the Pope zipping off for this morning's general audience, the second meeting reportedly stretched for 50 minutes.

In the one unique aspect of today's summit – at least, beyond the overpowering security presence that comes with this visitor alone – given Trump's first visit to the Vatican, the President, First Lady and their retinue were given a private tour of the Sistine Chapel (right) and St Peter's Basilica, which were closed to the public for the occasion.

While the new administration's domestic turmoil has taken a backseat to the spectacle of Trump's first overseas tour – and the Holy See, as a matter of course, steers clear of a country's internal politics – the US bishops notably minced few words in criticizing yesterday's release of the President's first budget, terming the plan's drastic cuts to social benefits for the poor and vulnerable (while increasing defense spending) as "profoundly troubling" and "a threat to the security of our nation and world."

SVILUPPO (5.50am ET): Just released, the Vatican's readout summarizing the private discussions as Francis and his team saw it....
This morning, Wednesday 24 May 2017, the Honorable Donald Trump, President of the United States of America, was received in Audience by the Holy Father Francis and subsequently met with His Eminence Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, accompanied by His Excellency [Archbishop] Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States.

During the cordial discussions, satisfaction was expressed for the good existing bilateral relations between the Holy See and the United States of America, as well as the joint commitment in favour of life, and freedom of worship and conscience. It is hoped that there may be serene collaboration between the State and the Catholic Church in the United States, engaged in service to the people in the fields of healthcare, education and assistance to immigrants.

The discussions then enabled an exchange of views on various themes relating to international affairs and the promotion of peace in the world through political negotiation and interreligious dialogue, with particular reference to the situation in the Middle East and the protection of Christian communities.
And in the first US comment on the audience, Trump lauded the moment in one of his trademark tweets:
SVILUPPO 2 (12PM ET): Only several hours after the motorcade pulled away, the White House released the following communiqué on the talks, featuring a marked difference of emphasis from much of the Vatican's summary:
President Donald J. Trump met today with His Holiness Pope Francis and Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin. This was the President’s first engagement with the Holy See. In their meetings, the President focused on how the United States, the Holy See, and the international community can work together to combat terrorism.

The Pope and the President discussed how religious communities can combat human suffering in crisis regions, such as Syria, Libya, and ISIS-controlled territory. The President affirmed that the United States and the Holy See share many fundamental values and seek to engage globally to promote human rights, combat human suffering, and protect religious freedom.

The President also renewed the commitment of the United States to fighting global famine. As he relayed at the Vatican, the United States is proud to announce more than $300 million in anti-famine spending, focused on the crises in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, and Nigeria.
Briefing members of the traveling press pool as Air Force One headed toward a NATO summit in Brussels, Tillerson mentioned another issue that came up in the meting with Parolin and Gallagher: climate change – specifically, the Holy See's interest in the US' remaining a signatory to the 2015 Paris Agreement which committed most of the world's governments to implementing targeted limits on carbon emissions.

While Francis himself played a key behind-the-scenes role in securing the accord – now ratified by nearly 150 nations – the Trump administration has pledged to withdraw from it.


Sunday, May 21, 2017

Another Scarlet Jolt – With Firsts All Around, Pope Adds 5 More Red Hats

For all the tools every Pope has at his disposal, it could be said that Francis wields none more effectively than the element of surprise.

Ergo, at today's noontime Regina Caeli from the Window of the Apostolic Palace, Papa Bergoglio called a Consistory – his fourth – on the vigil of Peter and Paul, 28 June, for the creation of 5 new cardinals, all of them electors:
  • Archbishop Jean Zerbo of Bamako, Mali (73)
  • Archbishop Juan José Omella of Barcelona (71)
  • Bishop Anders Arborelius OCD of Stockholm (67)
  • Bishop Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun, vicar-apostolic of Paksé, Laos (73)
  • Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chavez, auxiliary of San Salvador (74)
Here, a rush translation of the Pope's announcement, in which Francis framed the rationale for his choices:
Dear brothers and sisters, 
I wish to announce that on Wednesday, 28 June, there will be a Consistory for the naming of five new cardinals. Their hailing from different parts of the world manifests the Catholicity of the church spread across the whole world and the assignment of a titular or diaconal church in the City expresses the attachment of the cardinals to the diocese of Rome that, as the well-noted expression of St Ignatius says, "presides in charity" over all the churches. 
On Thursday, 29 June, the solemnity of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, I will concelebrate Mass with the new cardinals, the College, with the new metropolitan archbishops, bishops and some priests.... Let us entrust the new cardinals to the protection of Saints Peter and Paul, that with the intercession of the Prince of the Apostles, they might be authentic servants of ecclesial communion and, with that of the Apostle of the Gentiles, they might be joyful messengers of the Gospel for the whole world, and, with their witness and advice, they might sustain me more intensely in my own service as Bishop of Rome and universal Pastor of the Church.
*   *   *
With the new additions, the electoral College will be restored to 121 members – one over the now-traditional limit of 120 set by Blessed Paul VI in 1975. Of the total group, 49 (40%) will have been elevated by Francis.

Even for their nomination today, cardinals-designate don't enjoy their voting rights until their names are published within the Consistory itself.

Following quickly on the heels of November's intake of 17 new cardinals, while some buzz has circulated over recent weeks tipping a late June encore, the rumors had foreseen what would've been a historic super-sizing of the voting ranks – an idea which has circulated for some time, possibly ballooning the papal electorate as high as 145 or even 150 members.

Even on just a temporary basis, there is precedent for such a move: at his first Consistory after the Jubilee Year of 2000, now-St John Paul II had expanded the voting College to 135 cardinals by elevating 44 prelates younger than 80 – Jorge Bergoglio among them. (Speaking of John Paul, it also bears noting that each of today's designates were named bishops by the Polish Pope.)

In any case, even if the final Biglietto is far smaller than would've been expected, the group strikes a fresh blow for the inclusion of the church's "peripheries" in the ranks of the Pope's "Senate" – with the exception of Omella, each of the designates are the first cardinals ever to hail from their respective countries; aside from the Spanish-speaking picks, the new crop all lead miniscule Catholic communities comprising less than five percent of their general populations.

The first native Swede named a bishop since the Reformation (after centuries of missionaries serving the country's small Catholic community), Arborelius will be the first-ever cardinal on duty in Scandinavia. And in the choice of Rosa Chavez – one of the closest collaborators of Blessed Oscar Romero – at least for the first time in the post-Conciliar period, not only has an auxiliary bishop been given the red hat, but likewise a cleric currently serving as pastor of a parish (which is, of course, the historic foundation of the office, the original cardinals having been the pastors of Rome, hence the task of electing the city's Bishop).

As for the timing, beyond the topping up of the voting ranks, it is likely that this Consistory will see Francis convene the now-routine daylong consultation with the entire College on the eve of the elevations, which was conspicuous by its absence in November. Despite the short notice, a hefty chunk of the far-flung cardinals already tend to be in Rome in late June as the dicasteries of the Curia wrap up their last plenary meetings before the summer exodus.

Developing – more to come.


Thursday, May 18, 2017

For Communications Day, "Big Red" Seeks "Bridges," Not "Tunnels"

Four months into an experiment without precedent in American Catholic life, to speak of "the Cardinal-Archbishop of Newark" still takes some getting used to. And even more, when you've been around long enough to recall the relentless dumping on the place in which a certain late occupant of the chair across the Hudson took mountains of relish, the new state of things is all the more extraordinary.

To be sure, the "Clash of the Titans" for which some partisans have been salivating has not come to pass – at least, not yet. But little by little – with subtle swings on "evil empires," gays and lesbians, polarization, Amoris and the like – Cardinal Joe Tobin has taken to carving out his own niche, both in the church's top rank and the nation's largest media market.

Catapulted into the scarlet and the Northeast to the shock of many – elsewhere, that is – the place the former Redemptorist general and top Curial official holds in the current dynamic has a rough equivalent in recent times: just as another Midwestern-born religious superior in Rome was vaulted from relative obscurity into becoming the articulator of the Stateside church's mission in the zeitgeist, to Mamma Tobin's eldest boy now belongs the role occupied by Francis George over the prior generation of the bench. (Indeed, it bears recalling that Tobin's November elevation coincided with the start of his three-year term at the helm of the USCCB arm for clergy, consecrated life and vocations – one of the Mothership's "Big Four" committee chairs – in which he'll oversee the national implementation of the Holy See's new global guidelines for priestly formation.)

At January's installation (video), perhaps the most striking element of the scene was the full descent of the New York press corps – which packed a transept of the Cathedral-Basilica of the Sacred Heart, as every TV station's live trucks lined the street outside – in the biggest media throng Jersey Catholicism had seen since the Papal Visit of 1995.

Three years earlier in the same place, the "press box" for Bernie Hebda's ultimately-thwarted start as the next archbishop was made up of this scribe and crickets, so the contrast was as stark as the blinding Klieg lights that came out for Tobin's entrance (above). And as Francis' second, finally successful pick for Newark stomped around every aisle of the French-Gothic cathedral to show his letter of appointment (holding the parchment bull over his head), it was no less telling that Jim Goodness, the long-suffering archdiocesan spokesman, was heard to exult to no one in particular that "We have a showman!"

While the initial frenzy's calmed down, having spent the spring in "town hall" meetings and regional Masses across his new, 1.3 million-member turf, yesterday saw "Big Red" in his most high-profile Gotham turn since his launch, headlining the Brooklyn diocese's annual gathering of Catholic and secular press pros for World Communications Day – marked across the church on the so-called "Ascension Sunday," the lone ecclesial event called for by Vatican II.

Long on-record blasting what he's termed a "Fox News" approach that "keep[s] people coming back because they keep them afraid," albeit without naming the cable outlet this time, the thread returned again in Tobin's keynote, which focused on the imperative of "communicating hope" in a time of societal tumult, drawing heavily from a widely-covered intervention he made in March on behalf of an undocumented immigrant facing deportation.

Here, the fullvid:


Monday, May 15, 2017

For Wilton, The Ned Hat – Pope Taps Raleigh's "Top Gun" as Atlanta Aux.

For the better part of the last decade, one of the house's Raleigh ops has invariably plugged a local standout there with these words: "Ned Shlesinger is a saint."

To be sure, that judgment ultimately belongs to God. In the meantime, though, Ned is now a bishop – and as whoever replaced the "Taz" would need all the help he can get, having holiness locked up is a sound place to start.

In a rapid turnaround for the second deputy's slot in what's now a fold of 1.2 million, at Roman Noon this Monday the Pope poached Shlesinger, 56 (left) – who precisely no one calls by his given name of "Bernard" – from the eastern North Carolina ranks as auxiliary bishop of Atlanta, the move coming barely six months since Bishop David Talley was sent to reap the whirlwind in southern Louisiana.

Until now on loan as a spiritual director at St Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, the bishop-elect – the latest in a flood of auxiliaries rolling out nationwide over the course of this year – marks an early 70th birthday present for Archbishop Wilton Gregory, who reaches the milestone in December. Fluent in Spanish (a key trait given the Atlanta church's Hispanic plurality of membership), a veteran of the Air Force (where he made Captain and flew C-130s) and product of Virginia Tech and the North American College, the Pope's pick had been slated to head home to a parish over this summer, and reacted to Francis' change of plans this morning with one of several instances of bursting into tears.

While his response has been the opposite of ambition – no surprise to anyone who knows him, even just by reputation – that the figure described among his own as "the best priest of the diocese" has landed a hat fulfills the path charted for Shlesinger by his now-former boss, Bishop Michael Burbidge, who marked out today's pick by sending his onetime vocation director to the Overbrook house (read: Burbidge's Valhalla) after Shlesinger racked up a significant increase of seminarians in the diocesan post.

That said, the loss of one of the Triangle church's major clerics comes amid what's already been described as a chaotic vacancy following Burbidge's transfer to Arlington last fall, and as Raleigh prepares to open its new Cathedral of the Holy Name of Jesus (above) on July 26th. Though the prior occupant is slated to perform the liturgy dedicating his dream project for worship, it is credibly expected that the next Raleigh prelate will be appointed in advance of the rites, and then installed in the $41 million, 2,000-seat cathedral shortly after its formal launch.

Notably, today's nod marks the second time in recent weeks that – bucking the usual practice – an Anglo auxiliary has been parachuted into a sizable archdiocese from outside its presbyterate; the first was Bishop-elect Dan Mueggenborg, the former NAC vice-rector called in from Tulsa, who'll be ordained a second auxiliary of Seattle at month's end.

In both cases, the choices have long been in the pipeline and enjoy sterling reputations, but it likewise bears recalling how starting from scratch with a fully local search – and, ergo, finding someone who can clear the vetting – inevitably means a wait that can drag on for several years. On the other hand, however, it is the distinct reality in both spots that – with Atlanta and Seattle each having experienced exponential growth over the last two decades – the respective booms have been overwhelmingly fueled by the arrival of transplants from outside, clergy included. Even if it's not the general norm, then, in these particular instances auxiliary bishops who share that experience simply makes pastoral sense... and in today's case, indeed, there is a uniquely Wiltonian sense of history to it.

Given the schedules that need to be juggled, Shlesinger's ordination date remains to be determined; per the norms of the canons, it must take place within four months. In any event, today's move comes just ahead of Atlanta's major gathering of the year – the Eucharistic Congress, which sees a crowd of 30,000 take over the city's convention center through Corpus Christi weekend, comprising the church's largest annual gathering in the American South.

And here, featuring a new bishop as weepy as his new boss was downright giddy, the video of this morning's intro presser at Tara, albeit filmed sideways:


Saturday, May 13, 2017

"My One Hope of Glory Is This" – In Fatima, The Lady of "Light" Meets "The Bishop in White"

As every and any lodging anywhere near Fatima had already been booked solid with pilgrimages well before the headliner was announced for this weekend's centennial of the first apparition there, its eve saw that rarest of things – The Pope not as Main Event, but merely the icing on the cake.

Still, as his presence tends to swell crowds – all the more given this first trek to the Iberian peninsula – the turnout estimates for the days were almost doubled, from 600,000 to over a million expected to be on hand. As for its makeup, given the milestone for the Lady of the Cova – one of the Catholic world's three principal Marian meccas, alongside Lourdes and Guadalupe (now the most-visited Christian shrine of all) – this weekend has a considerably more global crop of attendees than the usual PopeTrip throng.

Keeping the practice he began before another Madonna of Portuguese-speakers – Brazil's patroness of Aparecida – upon his arrival at the small chapel outside the shrine's Basilica on the site of the apparitions themselves, "at the feet of our Virgin Mother," Francis delivered a self-penned prayer of dedication to Our Lady, joined by the people in a refrain he writes into the text.

The moment only came, however, after another extraordinary instance of the Pope drawing a massive crowd into the silence of prayer – in this case, one which lasted over five minutes.

Significant, even emotional, as each of his Marian moments are on a deeply personal level – arguably providing the clearest glimpse into Jorge Mario Bergoglio's childlike faith at its very core – one aspect here raises this edition to a different plane: in referring to himself at Fatima as "a bishop robed in white," Francis connected himself to perhaps the most harrowing piece of the apparitions' message, a part only revealed 17 years ago this weekend, when the "Third Secret" was finally made public at the beatification of the seers on 13 May 2000....
And we saw in an immense light that is God: ‘something similar to how people appear in a mirror when they pass in front of it' a Bishop dressed in White ‘we had the impression that it was the Holy Father'. Other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious going up a steep mountain, at the top of which there was a big Cross of rough-hewn trunks as of a cork-tree with the bark; before reaching there the Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins and half trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow, he prayed for the souls of the corpses he met on his way; having reached the top of the mountain, on his knees at the foot of the big Cross he was killed by a group of soldiers who fired bullets and arrows at him....
Kept under seal by the Vatican for decades, that final message has principally been viewed as a prophecy of John Paul II given the assassination attempt that took place on 13 May 1981 – the very anniversary of the first Fatima apparition – with the now-saint having credited the Madonna with saving his life.

Precisely a year later, as the Polish pontiff went to the shrine to give thanks, he famously brought one of the bullets which had struck him, which was placed in the crown of Fatima's Virgin and has remained there ever since. Even so, while the reigning Pope's move to resurrect the image could say one of any number of things, rushing to interpretations is best avoided; if history's any guide, he'll explain it soon enough.

All that said, here's the English text of Francis' prayer to the Madonna on her century at Fatima with the video of its delivery, and the memorable pause which preceded it...

Hail Holy Queen,
Blessed Virgin of Fatima,
Lady of Immaculate Heart,
our refuge and our way to God!

As a pilgrim of the Light that comes to us from your hands,
I give thanks to God the Father, who in every time and place
is at work in human history;
As a pilgrim of the Peace that, in this place, you proclaim,
I give praise to Christ, our peace, and I implore for the world
concord among all peoples;
As a pilgrim of the Hope that the Spirit awakens,
I come as a prophet and messenger to wash the feet of all,
at the same table that unites us.

Ave O Clemens, Ave O pia!
Salve Regina Rosarii Fatimae.
Ave O clemens, Ave O pia!
Ave O dulcis Virgo Maria!

[Hail, O Clement; Hail, O Loving
Hail Fatima, Holy Queen of the Rosary!
Hail O Clement, Hail O Loving!
Hail O Sweet Virgin Mary!]

Hail, Mother of Mercy,
Lady robed in white!
In this place where, a hundred years ago
you made known to all the purposes of God’s mercy,
I gaze at your robe of light
and, as a bishop robed in white,
I call to mind all those who,
robed in the splendour of their baptism,
desire to live in God
and tell the mysteries of Christ in order to obtain peace.


Hail, life and sweetness,
Hail, our hope,
O Pilgrim Virgin, O Universal Queen!

In the depths of your being,
in your Immaculate Heart,
you keep the joys of men and women
as they journey to the Heavenly Homeland.
In the depths of your being,
in your Immaculate Heart,
you keep the sorrows of the human family,
as they mourn and weep in this valley of tears.
In the depths of your being,
in your Immaculate Heart,
adorn us with the radiance of the jewels of your crown
and make us pilgrims, even as you were a pilgrim.

With your virginal smile,
enliven the joy of Christ’s Church.
With your gaze of sweetness,
strengthen the hope of God’s children.
With your hands lifted in prayer to the Lord,
draw all people together into one human family.


O clement, O loving,
O sweet Virgin Mary,
Queen of the Rosary of Fatima!
Grant that we may follow the example of Blessed Francisco and Blessed Jacinta,
and of all who devote themselves to proclaiming the Gospel.
Thus we will follow all paths
and everywhere make our pilgrim way;
we will tear down all walls
and cross every frontier,
as we go out to every periphery,
to make known God’s justice and peace.

In the joy of the Gospel, we will be the Church robed in white,
the whiteness washed in the blood of the Lamb,
blood that today too is shed in the wars tearing our world apart.
And so we will be, like you, an image of the column of light
that illumines the ways of the world,
making God known to all,
making known to all that God exists,
that God dwells in the midst of his people,
yesterday, today and for all eternity.


[Pope and people together:]

Hail, Mother of the Lord,
Virgin Mary, Queen of the Rosary of Fatima!
Blessed among all women,
you are the image of the Church robed in Easter light,
you are the honour of our people,
you are the victory over every assault of evil.

Prophecy of the merciful love of the Father,
Teacher of the Message of Good News of the Son,
Sign of the burning Fire of the Holy Spirit,
teach us, in this valley of joys and sorrows,
the eternal truths that the Father reveals to the little ones.

Show us the strength of your protective mantle.
In your Immaculate Heart,
be the refuge of sinners
and the way that leads to God.

In union with my brothers and sisters,
in faith, in hope and in love,
I entrust myself to you.
In union with my brothers and sisters, through you,
I consecrate myself to God,
O Virgin of the Rosary of Fatima.

And at last, enveloped in the Light that comes from your hands,
I will give glory to the Lord for ever and ever.

*   *   *
Together with his act of consecration, Francis brought another centenary gift to the Cova – the Golden Rose (above), the centuries-old honor once bestowed by the Popes on Catholic queens, but now solely conferred as an exceptional homage to precious few Marian shrines.

As the Rose can be given to a Madonna by successive pontiffs as a mark of their respective affection, Francis' is the third accorded Fatima, following ones from now-Blessed Paul VI and Benedict XVI. For his own part, Fatima's third Rose is just the second granted by Papa Bergoglio; within a year of his election, he sent his first to Guadalupe – a historic gift from the first-ever American Pope to the Mother of the American continent – then bringing her a crown on his visit in February 2016.

In any case, the daytime rites were just the half of it. Returning to the shrine after dusk to lead the Rosary and join the nightly candlelit procession (fullvid), the Pope engaged in a rare form of sharing on his own depth of Marian devotion: a love born from the faith and example of the Italian immigrants who raised him.

Normally, whenever Francis has focused on the Theotokos, the words have either come in the form of a solemn written prayer or a homily at a public Mass – the one and only time when he puts his more animated style of delivery aside and dourly sticks to the script.

At the Fatima vigil, however, looking to greet the "oceanic" crowd outside of the context of prayer, his fervor for Our Lady and a forum to express it in full color finally came together....
Dear Pilgrims to Mary and with Mary!

Thank you for your welcome and for joining me on this pilgrimage of hope and peace. Even now, I want to assure all of you who are united with me, here or elsewhere, that you have a special place in my heart. I feel that Jesus has entrusted you to me (cf. Jn 21:15-17), and I embrace all of you and commend you to Jesus, “especially those most in need” – as Our Lady taught us to pray (Apparition of July, 1917). May she, the loving and solicitous Mother of the needy, obtain for them the Lord’s blessing! On each of the destitute and outcast robbed of the present, on each of the excluded and abandoned denied a future, on each of the orphans and victims of injustice refused a past, may there descend the blessing of God, incarnate in Jesus Christ. “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace” (Num 6:24-26).

This blessing was fulfilled in the Virgin Mary. No other creature ever basked in the light of God’s face as did Mary; she in turn gave a human face to the Son of the eternal Father. Now we can contemplate her in the succession of joyful, luminous, sorrowful and glorious moments of her life, which we revisit in our recitation of the rosary. With Christ and Mary, we abide in God. Indeed, “if we want to be Christian, we must be Marian; in a word, we have to acknowledge the essential, vital and providential relationship uniting Our Lady to Jesus, a relationship that opens before us the way leading to him” (PAUL VI, Address at the Shine of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, 24 April 1970). Each time we recite the rosary, in this holy place or anywhere else, the Gospel enters anew into the life of individuals, families, peoples and the entire world.

Pilgrims with Mary... But which Mary? A teacher of the spiritual life, the first to follow Jesus on the “narrow way” of the cross by giving us an example, or a Lady “unapproachable” and impossible to imitate? A woman “blessed because she believed” always and everywhere in God’s words (cf. Lk 1:42.45), or a “plaster statue” from whom we beg favours at little cost? The Virgin Mary of the Gospel, venerated by the Church at prayer, or a Mary of our own making: one who restrains the arm of a vengeful God; one sweeter than Jesus the ruthless judge; one more merciful than the Lamb slain for us?

Great injustice is done to God’s grace whenever we say that sins are punished by his judgment, without first saying – as the Gospel clearly does – that they are forgiven by his mercy! Mercy has to be put before judgment and, in any case, God’s judgment will always be rendered in the light of his mercy. Obviously, God’s mercy does not deny justice, for Jesus took upon himself the consequences of our sin, together with its due punishment. He did not deny sin, but redeemed it on the cross. Hence, in the faith that unites us to the cross of Christ, we are freed of our sins; we put aside all fear and dread, as unbefitting those who are loved (cf. 1 Jn 4:18). “Whenever we look to Mary, we come to believe once again in the revolutionary nature of love and tenderness. In her, we see that humility and tenderness are not virtues of the weak but of the strong, who need not treat others poorly in order to feel important themselves… This interplay of justice and tenderness, of contemplation and concern for others, is what makes the ecclesial community look to Mary as a model of evangelization” (Ap. Exhort. Evangelii Gaudium, 288). With Mary, may each of us become a sign and sacrament of the mercy of God, who pardons always and pardons everything.

Hand in hand with the Virgin Mother, and under her watchful gaze, may we come to sing with joy the mercies of the Lord, and cry out: “My soul sings to you, Lord!” The mercy you have shown to all your saints and all your faithful people, you have also shown to me. Out of the pride of my heart, I went astray, following my own ambitions and interests, without gaining any crown of glory! My one hope of glory, Lord, is this: that your Mother will take me in her arms, shelter me beneath her mantle, and set me close to your heart. Amen.

"We Will Have All Eternity To See Her" – On Fatima's 100th, The Shepherds Become Saints

A hundred years to the hour since "a lady in white" first appeared to three shepherd children in the Portuguese countryside, here's the centerpiece of the milestone's observance at Fatima – this morning's papal Mass with the formal declaration of the seers as Saints Jacinta and Francisco Marto....

And below, the English translation of Francis' homily.

* * *
“There appeared in heaven a woman clothed with the sun”. So the seer of Patmos tells us in the Book of Revelation (12:1), adding that she was about to give birth to a son. Then, in the Gospel, we hear Jesus say to his disciple, “Here is your mother” (Jn 19:27). We have a Mother! “So beautiful a Lady”, as the seers of Fatima said to one another as they returned home on that blessed day of 13 March a hundred years ago. That evening, Jacinta could not restrain herself and told the secret to her mother: “Today I saw Our Lady”. They had seen the Mother of Heaven. Many others sought to share that vision, but… they did not see her. The Virgin Mother did not come here so that we could see her. We will have all eternity for that, provided, of course, that we go to heaven.

Our Lady foretold, and warned us about, a way of life that is godless and indeed profanes God in his creatures. Such a life – frequently proposed and imposed – risks leading to hell. Mary came to remind us that God’s light dwells within us and protects us, for, as we heard in the first reading, “the child [of the woman] was snatched away and taken to God” (Rev 12:5). In Lucia’s account, the three chosen children found themselves surrounded by God’s light as it radiated from Our Lady. She enveloped them in the mantle of Light that God had given her. According to the belief and experience of many pilgrims, if not of all, Fatima is more than anything this mantle of Light that protects us, here as in almost no other place on earth. We need but take refuge under the protection of the Virgin Mary and to ask her, as the Salve Regina teaches: “show unto us… Jesus”.

Dear pilgrims, we have a Mother. Clinging to her like children, we live in the hope that rests on Jesus. As we heard in the second reading, “those who receive the abundance of the grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:17). When Jesus ascended to heaven, he brought to the Heavenly Father our humanity, which he assumed in the womb of the Virgin Mary and will never forsake. Like an anchor, let us fix our hope on that humanity, seated in heaven at the right hand of the Father (cf. Eph 2:6). May this hope guide our lives! It is a hope that sustains us always, to our dying breath.

Confirmed in this hope, we have gathered here to give thanks for the countless graces bestowed over these past hundred years. All of them passed beneath the mantle of light that Our Lady has spread over the four corners of the earth, beginning with this land of Portugal, so rich in hope. We can take as our examples Saint Francisco and Saint Jacinta, whom the Virgin Mary introduced into the immense ocean of God’s light and taught to adore him. That was the source of their strength in overcoming opposition and suffering. God’s presence became constant in their lives, as is evident from their insistent prayers for sinners and their desire to remain ever near “the hidden Jesus” in the tabernacle.
In her Memoirs (III, 6), Sister Lucia quotes Jacinta who had just been granted a vision: “Do you not see all those streets, all those paths and fields full of people crying out for food, yet have nothing to eat? And the Holy Father in a church, praying before the Immaculate Heart of Mary? And all those people praying with him?” Thank you, brothers and sisters, for being here with me! I could not fail to come here to venerate the Virgin Mary and to entrust to her all her sons and daughters. Under her mantle they are not lost; from her embrace will come the hope and the peace that they require, and that I implore for all my brothers and sisters in baptism and in our human family, especially the sick and the disabled, prisoners and the unemployed, the poor and the abandoned. Dear brothers and sisters, let us pray to God with the hope that others will hear us; and let us speak to others with the certainty that God will help us.

Indeed, God created us to be a source of hope for others, a true and attainable hope, in accordance with each person’s state of life. In “asking” and “demanding” of each of us the fulfillment of the duties of our proper state (Letters of Sister Lucia, 28 February 1943), God effects a general mobilization against the indifference that chills the heart and worsens our myopia. We do not want to be a stillborn hope! Life can survive only because of the generosity of other lives. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn 12:24). The Lord, who always goes before us, said this and did this. Whenever we experience the cross, he has already experienced it before us. We do not mount the cross to find Jesus. Instead it was he who, in his self-abasement, descended even to the cross, in order to find us, to dispel the darkness of evil within us, and to bring us back to the light.

With Mary’s protection, may we be for our world sentinels of the dawn, contemplating the true face of Jesus the Saviour, resplendent at Easter. Thus may we rediscover the young and beautiful face of the Church, which shines forth when she is missionary, welcoming, free, faithful, poor in means and rich in love.
SVILUPPO: While closing the Canonization Mass with Exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament – performed with a fittingly epic monstrance – the Pope made a point of adding a specific word to the sick pilgrims in attendance, and all those beyond joined in the one body of the Church:
Dear brothers and sisters who are sick,

As I said in the homily, the Lord always goes before us. Whenever we experience a cross, he has already been there ahead of us. In his passion, he took upon himself all our suffering. Jesus knows the meaning of sorrow and pain. He understands us, he comforts us and he gives us strength, as he did to Saint Francisco Marto and Saint Jacinta, and to the saints of every time and place. I think of the Apostle Peter, in chains in the prison of Jerusalem, as the whole Church prayed for him. The Lord comforted Peter. That is the Church’s ministry: the Church asks the Lord to comfort the afflicted like yourselves, and he comforts you, even in ways you cannot see. He comforts you in the depths of your hearts and he comforts you with the gift of strength.

Dear pilgrims, we have before us Jesus hidden yet present in the Eucharist, just as we have Jesus hidden yet present in the wounds of our brothers and sisters who are sick and suffering. On the altar, we worship the flesh of Jesus; in these our brothers and sisters, we encounter the wounds of Jesus. The Christian adores Jesus, the Christian seeks Jesus, the Christian can recognize the wounds of Jesus. Today the Virgin Mary asks all of us the same question that, a hundred years ago, she asked the shepherd children: “Do you want to offer yourselves to God?” Their answer - “Yes, we do!” – makes us able to understand and imitate their lives. They lived life, with its share of joy and suffering, as an offering to the Lord.

I invite those of you who are sick to live your lives as a gift. Like the shepherd children, tell Our Lady that you want to offer yourselves to God with all your heart. Don’t think of yourselves simply as the recipients of charitable solidarity, but feel that you share fully in the Church’s life and mission. Your silent presence, which is more eloquent than a flood of words, your prayers, the daily offering of your sufferings in union with those of Jesus crucified for the salvation of the world, the patient and even joyful acceptance of your condition – all these are a spiritual resource, an asset to every Christian community. Do not be ashamed of being a precious treasure of the Church.

Jesus will pass close to you in the Blessed Sacrament as a sign of his closeness and love for you. Entrust to him your sorrows, your sufferings, all your weariness. Count on the prayer of the Church, which from every corner of the world rises up to heaven for you and with you. God is our Father, and he will never forget you.

Friday, May 12, 2017

On Fatima's 100th, The Shepherd's Message: "Honor Your Mother"

Even as the 19th overseas visit of this pontificate makes for yet another formidable (news-)hill to climb, it bears recalling that the Pope has a harder time still going down steps.

In that light, as Francis embarks on a weekend pilgrimage to Fatima to lead the centenary of the celebrated Portuguese apparitions – whose young seers he will canonize on but a few weeks' notice – lest anyone forgot, here's an encore of Papa Bergoglio's first encounter with the Madonna of the Cova da Iria, which came to pass at the Vatican within months of his election....

*    *    *
13 October 2013 – As previously noted, whenever the Theotokos comes around, the 266th Bishop of Rome simply loses himself and is spiritually transported to another place.

Yet again, it was visible last night in the Square, as a clearly overcome Pope spontaneously bolted down the Sagrato – the steps of St Peter's – to receive the original statue of Our Lady of Fatima, refusing to take up his designated place until she had reached hers....

To be sure, a very simple explanation underpins all this.

For those who grasp it, no words are necessary... for those who can't, nothing will ever suffice.

In sum, Jorge Mario Bergoglio is possessed of a Marian devotion as traditional and intense as that of the famously "Totus Tuus" John Paul II – a zeal much of Francis' horizontally-focused fan-base only begins to acknowledge in their condescension to it.

At the same time, the Pope's passion for the Madonna isn't something he sees as meaningful merely for his own spirituality, nor as part of a push to "turn the clock back" – his term, of course – but instead as an emphatic endorsement of the life-giving, ever-potent popular piety which remains a cornerstone of his desired "poor church for the poor": the essence of being Catholic for those who rely on and endure in the faith amid life's gravest tests... a practice which the church's shepherds are called to embrace and integrate into the very heart of their ministries if they genuinely seek to attain the now-omniquoted "smell of the sheep."

Indeed, as the Son himself has now expressed the thought on several occasions....
"If you want to know who Mary is, go to the theologian and he will tell you. But if you want to know how to love Mary, go to the People of God who teach it better....

"[The people] are always asking for something closer to Jesus, they are sometimes a bit insistent in this. But it is the insistence of those who believe."
*      *      *
Returning to May 2017, at least when one's got the signals right, this weekend has been anticipated for just shy of four years.... Because, to repeat, if you don't see the moment with the eyes of faith, you miss everything.

At that time of his first meeting with the original Fatima image, the Pope composed and delivered an Act of Entrustment to her – the second he had done to a Madonna (after beginning the practice in tears at Aparecida), but in this case a prayer set to be be expanded upon this weekend.

With a good many centennial celebrations long booked in the local churches and set to occur over the coming days, Francis' original text is their best place to start....
Blessed Virgin Mary of Fatima,
with renewed gratitude for your motherly presence
we join in the voice of all generations that call you blessed.

We celebrate in you the great works of God,
who never tires of lowering himself in mercy over humanity,
afflicted by evil and wounded by sin,
to heal and to save it.

Accept with the benevolence of a Mother
this act of entrustment that we make in faith today,
before this your image, beloved to us.

We are certain that each one of us is precious in your eyes
and that nothing in our hearts has estranged you.

May that we allow your sweet gaze
to reach us and the perpetual warmth of your smile.

Guard our life with your embrace:
bless and strengthen every desire for good;
give new life and nourishment to faith;
sustain and enlighten hope;
awaken and animate charity;
guide us all on the path to holiness.

Teach us your own special love for the little and the poor,
for the excluded and the suffering,
for sinners and the wounded of heart:
gather all people under you protection
and give us all to your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus.


Saturday, May 06, 2017

Amid Mother of All Countdowns, Pope Drops "Bombs"

Having secured the President of the United States for a starkly early-morning audience in 18 days' time, during an impromptu Q&A earlier today with Italian high-school students committed to working for peace, the Pope engaged in an apparent rehearsal for his impending Main Event with Donald Trump....

“I tell you this here because you’re a school of peace, but I tell you: the world is at war. That if this one bombs over here – a hospital, a school: sick people, babies – it doesn’t matter, and so the bomb is dropped.

See, I don’t know – I was ashamed by the name of a bomb: the “Mother of All Bombs.” Look – a Mother gives life, but this brings death! And this is what we casually call it? What on earth is happening here?....

God created the world and placed at its center man and woman – the human being – God created the world, with us at the center! But today, the world moves forward with man and woman not at the center of it.

If I could ask you a question – and I don’t know if you can answer – but I’d like [you] to… you’ll do it? If today, man and woman aren’t at the center of the life of the world, what is at the center of all the world's movement now?

[Student: "Evil, money and power."]

[Pope:] There it is! Well done! “Evil, money and power,” eh? Good, thank you!

You understand evil, but then you said the two other words: “money” and “power” – money is the power. At the center of the world’s life today is God: not God the Father, but the Money God, eh? It’s all about the money....
Lest anyone missed the broader context, it bears recalling how the bulk of the American public came to know the figure who would be elected as the 45th Commander-in-Chief:

And as if said scene wasn't wild enough, that Francis' only major event between today and the 24th is Fatima – a place whose apocalyptic message of clashes of powers has inspired controversy and conversion in equal measure over the last century – should prove yet again how when it comes to this beat at its best, try as some might, you just can't make it up.


Thursday, May 04, 2017

For Pope and POTUS, The Audience Is Set

After months of the kind of hemming and hawing normally reserved for a courtship, it's finally official – the Pope will receive President Trump for a private audience at 8.30 am on Wednesday, 24 May.

Five days after Francis told the traveling press en route from Egypt that no request for a meeting had yet been received from the White House, late-morning leaks from administration officials that the Vatican had been added to the President's schedule for his first overseas tour – a weeklong trip centered on the late-month G7 summit in Sicily – were confirmed by the Holy See shortly before 6pm Rome tonight.

The announcement of the summit coincided with the US' annual National Day of Prayer, which Trump is marking with a Rose Garden ceremony to sign an executive order on religious liberty, its precise contents not yet disclosed. Several prominent Catholic figures were present at the event, which notably began with a prayer from Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, one of Francis' closest US advisers.

Of course, the context of the coming audience arguably makes this meeting the most intensely-awaited Pope-President sitdown of recent times, thanks to a history of direct and prominent clashes that knows no precedent.

Among other sacred cows Trump skewered on his path to the presidency, the New York developer openly slammed Francis in February 2016 after the pontiff – in reference to then-candidate's signature pledge to build a wall along the Mexican border – said that "a person who thinks only of making walls, wherever they might be, and not of building bridges, is not Christian." Within minutes, Trump replied in a statement that "if and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS... I can promise you that the Pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been President because this would not have happened."

While neither succeeded in convincing the other of their respective stance, upon Trump's January inauguration as the 45th Commander-in-Chief – a moment made possible by the Republican's win of a majority among white American Catholics – the rhetoric was muted, yet no less pointed, as the Pope sent a formal message praying that "America’s stature [may] continue to be measured above all by its concern for the poor, the outcast and those in need who, like Lazarus, stand before our door."

In keeping with longstanding custom for visiting heads of state or government, the Holy See noted tonight that the President will engage in more detailed talks with the Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and the Vatican's "foreign minister," the Liverpool-born Archbishop Paul Gallagher, following his time with Francis.

Speaking of protocol, the timing of Trump's audience is exceptionally unusual for the Vatican, which serves to underscore Francis' intent for this encounter to take place. Under normal circumstances, a Pope doesn't receive dignitaries until 10am, with the various audiences running until lunch. Along these lines, a similar extraordinary accommodation was made in 2009, when Benedict XVI received then-President Barack Obama at 4.30 in the afternoon for their first meeting (above).

Whatever the timing, though – and as the last two pontiffs have let the once-stringent dress code heavily lapse – one Vatican rule for diplomatic audiences remains ironclad: given Trump's long-standing preference to be joined by his aides for major meetings, in the Pope's house the principal enters the Private Library alone, their spouse and aides only greeted afterward as the event closes with the customary exchange of gifts. (For obvious reasons, the lone exception to the one-on-one rule is the presence of translators.)

Developing – more to come.