Saturday, March 31, 2018

"He Is Not Here!" – On Easter Night, "The Stone of the Tomb Cried Out"

31 MARCH 2018

We began this celebration outside, plunged into the darkness of the night and the cold. We felt an oppressive silence at the death of the Lord, a silence with which each of us can identify, a silence that penetrates to the depths of the heart of every disciple, who stands wordless before the cross.

These are the hours when the disciple stands speechless in pain at the death of Jesus. What words can be spoken at such a moment? The disciple keeps silent in the awareness of his or her own reactions during those crucial hours in the Lord’s life. Before the injustice that condemned the Master, his disciples were silent. Before the calumnies and the false testimony that the Master endured, his disciples said nothing. During the trying, painful hours of the Passion, his disciples dramatically experienced their inability to put their lives on the line to speak out on behalf of the Master. What is more, not only did they not acknowledge him: they hid, they escaped, they kept silent (cf. Jn 18:25-27).

It is the silent night of the disciples who remained numb, paralyzed and uncertain of what to do amid so many painful and disheartening situations. It is also that of today’s disciples, speechless in the face of situations we cannot control, that make us feel and, even worse, believe that nothing can be done to reverse all the injustices that our brothers and sisters are experiencing in their flesh.

It is the silent night of those disciples who are disoriented because they are plunged in a crushing routine that robs memory, silences hope and leads to thinking that “this is the way things have always been done”. Those disciples who, overwhelmed, have nothing to say and end up considering “normal” and unexceptional the words of Caiaphas: “Can you not see that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed?” (Jn 11:50).

Amid our silence, our overpowering silence, the stones begin to cry out (cf. Lk 19:40) and to clear the way for the greatest message that history has ever heard: “He is not here, for he has been raised” (Mt 28:6). The stone before the tomb cried out and proclaimed the opening of a new way for all. Creation itself was the first to echo the triumph of life over all that had attempted to silence and stifle the joy of the Gospel. The stone before the tomb was the first to leap up and in its own way intone a song of praise and wonder, of joy and hope, in which all of us are invited to join.

Yesterday, we joined the women in contemplating “the one who was pierced” (cf. Jn 19:36; cf. Zech 12:10). Today, with them, we are invited to contemplate the empty tomb and to hear the words of the angel: “Do not be afraid… for he has been raised” (Mt 28:5-6). Those words should affect our deepest convictions and certainties, the ways we judge and deal with the events of our daily lives, especially the ways we relate to others. The empty tomb should challenge us and rally our spirits. It should make us think, but above all, it should encourage us to trust and believe that God “happens” in every situation and every person and that his light can shine in the least expected and most hidden corners of our lives. He rose from the dead, from that place where nobody waits for anything, and now he waits for us – as he did the women – to enable us to share in his saving work. On this basis and with this strength, we Christians place our lives and our energy, our intelligence, our affections and our will, at the service of discovering, and above all creating, paths of dignity.

He is not here... he is risen! This is the message that sustains our hope and turns it into concrete gestures of charity. How greatly we need to let our frailty be anointed by this experience! How greatly we need to let our faith be revived! How greatly we need our myopic horizons to be challenged and renewed by this message! Christ is risen, and with him, he makes our hope and creativity rise so that we can face our present problems in the knowledge that we are not alone.

To celebrate Easter is to believe once more that God constantly breaks into our personal histories, challenging our “conventions”, those fixed ways of thinking and acting that end up paralyzing us. To celebrate Easter is to allow Jesus to triumph over the craven fear that so often assails us and tries to bury every kind of hope.

The stone before the tomb shared in this, the women of the Gospel shared in this, and now the invitation is addressed once more to you and to me. An invitation to break out of our routines and to renew our lives, our decisions, and our existence. An invitation that must be directed to where we stand, what we are doing and what we are, with the “power ratio” that is ours. Do we want to share in this message of life or do we prefer simply to continue standing speechless before events as they happen?

He is not here... he is raised! And he awaits you in Galilee. He invites you to go back to the time and place of your first love and he says to you: Do not be afraid, follow me.


Friday, March 30, 2018

Today, "Jesus Gave His Life for Love"

Let us resolve to make this week holy by claiming Christ’s redemptive grace and by living holy lives. The Word became flesh and redeemed us by his holy life and holy death. This week especially, let us accept redemption by living grateful, faithful, prayerful, generous, just and holy lives.

Let us resolve to make this week holy by reading and meditating Holy Scripture.

So often, we get caught up in the hurry of daily living. As individuals and as families, reserve prime time to be with Jesus, to hear the cries of the children waving palm branches, to see the Son of Man riding on an ass' colt, to feel the press of the crowd, to be caught up in the "Hosannas” and to realize how the cries of acclamation will yield to the garden of suffering, to be there and watch as Jesus is sentenced by Pilate to Calvary, to see him rejected, mocked, spat upon, beaten and forced to carry a heavy cross, to hear the echo of the hammer, to feel the agony of the torn flesh and strained muscles, to know Mary’s anguish as he hung three hours before he died.

We recoil before the atrocities of war, gang crime, domestic violence and catastrophic illness. Unless we personally and immediately are touched by suffering, it is easy to read Scripture and to walk away without contacting the redemptive suffering that makes us holy. The reality of the Word falls on deaf ears.

Let us take time this week to be present to someone who suffers. Sharing the pain of a fellow human will enliven Scripture and help us enter into the holy mystery of the redemptive suffering of Christ.

Let us resolve to make this week holy by participating in the Holy Week services of the church, not just by attending, but also by preparing, by studying the readings, entering into the spirit, offering our services as ministers of the Word or Eucharist, decorating the church or preparing the environment for worship.

Let us sing, "Lord, have mercy," and "Hosanna." Let us praise the Lord with our whole heart and soul and mind and strength, uniting with the suffering church throughout the world -- in Rome and Northern Ireland, in Syria and Lebanon, in South Africa and Angola, India and China, Nicaragua and El Salvador, in Washington, D.C., and Jackson, Mississippi.

Let us break bread together; let us relive the holy and redemptive mystery. Let us do it in memory of him, acknowledging in faith his real presence upon our altars.

Let us resolve to make this week holy by sharing holy peace and joy within our families, sharing family prayer on a regular basis, making every meal a holy meal where loving conversations bond family members in unity, sharing family work without grumbling, making love not war, asking forgiveness for past hurts and forgiving one another from the heart, seeking to go all the way for love as Jesus went all the way for love.

Let us resolve to make this week holy by sharing holy peace and joy with the needy, the alienated, the lonely, the sick and afflicted, the untouchable.

Let us unite our sufferings, inconveniences and annoyances with the suffering of Jesus. Let us stretch ourselves, going beyond our comfort zones to unite ourselves with Christ's redemptive work.

We unite ourselves with Christ's redemptive work when we reconcile, when we make peace, when we share the good news that God is in our lives, when we reflect to our brothers and sisters God's healing, God's forgiveness, God's unconditional love.

Let us be practical, reaching out across the boundaries of race and class and status to help somebody, to encourage and affirm somebody, offering to the young an incentive to learn and grow, offering to the downtrodden resources to help themselves.

May our fasting be the kind that saves and shares with the poor, that actually contacts the needy, that gives heart to heart, that touches and nourishes and heals.

During this Holy Week when Jesus gave his life for love, let us truly love one another.
*   *   *
While these words have marked this Week here since time immemorial – at least, in digital-age terms – they echo even more poignantly on this Good Friday.

For starters, it was 28 years ago today that Sister Thea Bowman, whose deathbed preach this was, went home at 52 after a long fight with cancer. Yet even more than the coincidence of the calendar, earlier this year her native church of northern Mississippi began the journey toward opening her long-sought cause for beatification.

As Bishop Joseph Kopacz of Jackson said this week about pursuing the process, the Franciscan dynamo's "prophetic spirit, brilliant mind and boundless stamina inspired many, and became a beacon for the Church to embrace more authentically the essence of its Catholicity." Most of all, especially in the context of today's double anniversary, Thea's "suffering united her to the Cross of the Lord Jesus, and served to deepen her love and her graceful spirit.

"Indeed, she lived until she died."

Sometimes it's more visible than others, but on this darkest of days, each one of us brings our own cross to the Cross... and just as the Crucified would triumph over death itself, so may we know the fullness of new life.

To one and all, may every blessing and gift of this Triduum be yours – may these days be a truly Holy Week.


Sunday, March 25, 2018

"Dear Young People, You Have It In You To Shout... Please, Make That Choice"

Over his prior Palm Sundays as Pope, Francis has consistently stuck to the rubrical request for a "brief" meditation, while shirking his usual practice for major liturgies in reflecting without a prepared text on the Passion of the Lord and the days ahead.

This year, however, the opening message of Holy Week was prepared, significantly longer – and, in a rarity for any homily of Papa Bergoglio's, footnoted.

While this day has marked the Roman celebration of World Youth Day in years when the global gathering isn't held since the concept was instituted by now-St John Paul II, that focus was heightened this time around by the past week's Pre-Synodal meeting of 300 young people, culminating in yesterday's release of a landmark message from the group, now the clearest indicator of the agenda for October's Vatican summit of the world's bishops on youth in the church and their vocational discernment.

(As ever the principal text for a Synod, the fall assembly's Instrumentum Laboris or "working paper" remains to be released, but will be drawn largely from this week's sessions, along with a similarly unprecedented online outreach to the world's young people. For purposes of context, until now the gatherings' starting points have solely been dictated by consultations of the Roman Curia, the episcopal conferences and the 15-prelate Synod Council.)

The first word of a long, dramatic Week, here's the English translation of Francis' homily (Readings) – as always, the year's first Mass in St Peter's Square.

*   *   *
25 MARCH 2018

Jesus enters Jerusalem. The liturgy invites us to share in the joy and celebration of the people who cry out in praise of their Lord; a joy that will fade and leaves a bitter and sorrowful taste by the end of the account of the Passion. This celebration seems to combine stories of joy and suffering, mistakes and successes, which are part of our daily lives as disciples. It somehow expresses the contradictory feelings that we too, the men and women of today, experience: the capacity for great love… but also for great hatred; the capacity for courageous self-sacrifice, but also the ability to “wash our hands” at the right moment; the capacity for loyalty, but also for great abandonment and betrayal.

We also see clearly throughout the Gospel account that the joy Jesus awakens is, for some, a source of anger and irritation.

Jesus enters the city surrounded by his people and by a cacophony of singing and shouting. We can imagine that amid the outcry we hear, all at the same time, the voice of the forgiven son, the healed leper, or the bleating of the lost sheep. Then too, the song of the publican and the unclean man; the cry of those living on the edges of the city. And the cry of those men and women who had followed Jesus because they felt his compassion for their pain and misery… That outcry is the song and the spontaneous joy of all those left behind and overlooked, who, having been touched by Jesus, can now shout: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”. How could they not praise the one who had restored their dignity and hope? Theirs is the joy of so many forgiven sinners who are able to trust and hope once again. And they cry out. They rejoice. This is joy.

All this joy and praise is a source of unease, scandal and upset for those who consider themselves righteous and “faithful” to the law and its ritual precepts.[1] A joy unbearable for those hardened against pain, suffering and misery. Many of these think to themselves: “Such ill-mannered people!” A joy intolerable for those who have forgotten the many chances they themselves had been given. How hard it is for the comfortable and the self-righteous to understand the joy and the celebration of God’s mercy! How hard it is for those who trust only in themselves, and look down on others, to share in this joy.[2]

And so here is where another kind of shouting comes from, the fierce cry of those who shout out: “Crucify him!” It is not spontaneous but already armed with disparagement, slander and false witness. It is a cry that emerges in moving from the facts to an account of the facts; it comes from this “story”. It is the voice of those who twist reality and invent stories for their own benefit, without concern for the good name of others. This is a false account. The cry of those who have no problem in seeking ways to gain power and to silence dissonant voices. The cry that comes from “spinning” facts and painting them such that they disfigure the face of Jesus and turn him into a “criminal”. It is the voice of those who want to defend their own position, especially by discrediting the defenceless. It is the cry born of the show of self-sufficiency, pride and arrogance, which sees no problem in shouting: “Crucify him, crucify him”.

And so the celebration of the people ends up being stifled. Hope is demolished, dreams are killed, joy is suppressed; the heart is shielded and charity grows cold. It is cry of “save yourself”, which would dull our sense of solidarity, dampen our ideals, and blur our vision... the cry that wants to erase compassion, that “suffering with” that is compassion, that is the weakness of God.

Faced with such people, the best remedy is to look at Christ’s cross and let ourselves be challenged by his final cry. He died crying out his love for each of us: young and old, saints and sinners, the people of his times and of our own. We have been saved by his cross, and no one can repress the joy of the Gospel; no one, in any situation whatsoever, is far from the Father’s merciful gaze. Looking at the cross means allowing our priorities, choices and actions to be challenged. It means questioning ourselves about our sensitivity to those experiencing difficulty. Brothers and sisters, where is our heart focused? Does Jesus Christ continue to be a source of joy and praise in our heart, or does its priorities and concerns make us ashamed to look at sinners, the least and forgotten?

And you, dear young people, the joy that Jesus awakens in you is a source of anger and even irritation to some, since a joyful young person is hard to manipulate. A joyful young person is hard to manipulate!

But today, a third kind of shouting is possible: “And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He replied, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out”” (Lk 19: 39-40).

The temptation to silence young people has always existed. The Pharisees themselves rebuke Jesus and ask him to silence them.

There are many ways to silence young people and make them invisible. Many ways to anaesthetize them, to make them keep quiet, ask nothing, question nothing. “Keep quiet, you!” There are many ways to sedate them, to keep them from getting involved, to make their dreams flat and dreary, petty and plaintive.

On this Palm Sunday, as we celebrate World Youth Day, we do well to hear Jesus’ answer to all those Pharisees past and present, even the ones of today: “If these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Lk 19:40).

Dear young people, you have it in you to shout. It is up to you to opt for Sunday’s “Hosanna!”, so as not to fall into Friday’s “Crucify him!”... It is up to you not to keep quiet. Even if others keep quiet, if we older people and leaders – so often corrupt – keep quiet, if the whole world keeps quiet and loses its joy, I ask you: Will you cry out?

Please, make that choice, before the stones themselves cry out.

[1] Cf. R. Guardini, El Señor, 383.
[2] Cf. Apsotolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 94.


Wednesday, March 14, 2018

On Day One, The "Build" Began

Even if the general scene more easily recalls the new Pope's "Buonasera" and request for the crowd's blessing at his first appearance before a stunned world, in more ways still, what transpired five years ago today more concretely set the stage for a whirlwind which hasn't let up since.

By lunchtime on his first full day as Bishop of Rome, Francis had fled the Vatican, heading first to St Mary Major to pray before the city's patroness, the Salus Populi Romani – an act which didn't just underscore Jorge Bergoglio's intense Marian devotion, but marked the debut of the blue sedan lacking the traditional "SCV 1" license plate reserved for the pontiff, in place of the bulletproof Mercedes-Benz donated to his predecessor. Yet only afterward came the day's keenest sign that business as usual was being upended, as Papa Bergoglio insisted on returning to Via della Scrofa – the clerical hostel that had been his routine lodging in Rome – to settle his bill (above).

From the very outset, it was a cannily-executed "plan of attack" on the culture and trappings surrounding his new office, which scored the intended result as everyone from the papal entourage to the crowds in the streets looked on slack-jawed. But the method behind the exercise is worth recalling: though his election had come as a broad surprise, having had almost eight years to privately mull over the "What if's" as runner-up at the 2005 Conclave, Papa Bergoglio came to the role with a degree of mental preparedness that, even now, tends to be discounted.

Indeed, especially for a Vatican used to a glacial pace and a habit of reserve, those first days were nothing less than a shock to the system... and by that first weekend, the notion of a "pontificate of chaos" had already taken hold.

After five years, that might feel like the new normal. Still, it helps to remember how astonishing it was as it unfolded.

*   *   *
On the evening of that first day, the traditional post-script of the Conclave took place as the new Pope returned with his electors to the Sistine Chapel for his first Mass in office.

In 2005, Benedict XVI delivered a lengthy, programmatic address in Latin at the end of the liturgy. Yet for his first extended turn at the global pulpit, Francis again charted a distinct path from his predecessors, shirking the celebrant's throne to stand at the ambo, leaving behind his mitre to launch into one of his trademark, unscripted fervorini on the scriptures – one which, in its comparison of a Christ-less church to a sterile "NGO" (non-governmental organization), birthed a genre of papal communication-by-analogy which has arguably become more defining than this reign's major texts.

As that first homily succinctly sketched out a threefold agenda for the church, it's useful to return to as a yardstick for the "movement" since....
In these three readings [Isaiah 2:2-5, 1 Peter 2:4-9, Matthew 16:13-19] I see that there is something in common: it is movement. In the first reading, movement is the journey [itself]; in the second reading, movement is in the up-building of the Church. In the third, in the Gospel, the movement is in [the act of] profession: walking, building, professing.

Walking: the House of Jacob. “O house of Jacob, Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” This is the first thing God said to Abraham: “Walk in my presence and be blameless.” Walking: our life is a journey and when we stop, there is something wrong. Walking always, in the presence of the Lord, in the light of the Lord, seeking to live with that blamelessness, which God asks of Abraham, in his promise.

Building: to build the Church. There is talk of stones: stones have consistency, but [the stones spoken of are] living stones, stones anointed by the Holy Spirit. Build up the Church, the Bride of Christ, the cornerstone of which is the same Lord. With [every] movement in our lives, let us build!

Third, professing: we can walk as much we want, we can build many things, but if we do not confess Jesus Christ, nothing will avail. We will become a pitiful NGO, but not the Church, the Bride of Christ. When one does not walk, one stalls. When one does not built on solid rocks, what happens? What happens is what happens to children on the beach when they make sandcastles: everything collapses, it is without consistency. When one does not profess Jesus Christ - I recall the phrase of Leon Bloy – “Whoever does not pray to God, prays to the devil.” When one does not profess Jesus Christ, one professes the worldliness of the devil.

Walking, building-constructing, professing: the thing, however, is not so easy, because in walking, in building, in professing, there are sometimes shake-ups - there are movements that are not part of the path: there are movements that pull us back.

This Gospel continues with a special situation. The same Peter who confessed Jesus Christ, says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. I will follow you, but let us not speak of the Cross. This has nothing to do with it.” He says, “I’ll follow you on other ways, that do not include the Cross.” When we walk without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, and when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord. We are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, Popes, but not disciples of the Lord.

I would like that all of us, after these days of grace, might have the courage - the courage - to walk in the presence of the Lord, with the Cross of the Lord: to build the Church on the Blood of the Lord, which is shed on the Cross, and to profess the one glory, Christ Crucified. In this way, the Church will go forward. 

My hope for all of us is that the Holy Spirit, that the prayer of Our Lady, our Mother, might grant us this grace: to walk, to build, to profess Jesus Christ Crucified. So be it.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

On Francis' 5th, "Credere In Deum"

In the solitary yet complete awareness of the history he would make over its course, to mark a half-century from the opening of Vatican II, in late 2011 the 265th Bishop of Rome summoned his 1.2 billion-member fold to observe a Year of Faith.

Like no one could foresee at the outset, the celebration would end just as he planned – in life, with his successor on Peter's Chair, bearing the bones of the first Pope in the sight of the world as never before... and with them in his hands, bringing the foundational charism of Christianity into a new era.

For all the attempts at analysis of this day and the extraordinary half-decade now past, at least to begin, it'd all be dust and ashes if the Church at its core didn't remind itself of why this moment means what it does, and why this historic exercise was so carefully and meaningfully borne out in the first place....

I Believe in one God,
The Father almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.

I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
he suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures.
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead
and his kingdom will have no end.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.

I believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins
and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come.


Sunday, March 11, 2018

Finalmente, The Dome's Rose Es "De Oro" – Rio Grande's "Mother Teresa" Named Laetare Laureate

Amid a second spring for American Catholicism's most storied and prestigious honor, it's still a rarity for the University of Notre Dame to tap a Laetare Medal recipient who checks the proverbial boxes both within the church and the world outside....

But they sure did it this time.

In a historic choice for the accolade envisioned as the US equivalent of the ancient "Golden Rose" conferred by the Popes, this Fourth Sunday of Lent brought word of the prize's 135th laureate: Missionaries of Jesus Sister Norma Semi Pimentel (above), head of Catholic Charities in South Texas' 1.6 million-member Brownsville diocese, a figure rocketed to broad prominence as her frontline role in ministering to immigrants and refugees has increasingly taken a polarizing center stage on church and civic fronts alike.

With today's announcement, Sister Norma becomes the first Latina ever to be awarded the Laetare, and just the second Hispanic laureate in the prize's history – the last one, in 1997, was likewise Tex-Mex: Fr Virgilio Elizondo, the early theologian-prophet of the US church's Latin ascendancy. (The founder of San Antonio's Mexican-American Catholic College and long affiliated with Notre Dame, Elizondo committed suicide in 2016 after an accusation of sexual abuse against him was reported.)

In another sign of this edition's significance, Pimentel is the first woman of color to receive the medal since 1990's selection of the Servant of God Sister Thea Bowman, a prize which would become posthumous as the mighty, Mississippi-born Franciscan of Perpetual Adoration – the apostle of Black Catholicism's "second golden age" of the 1970s and '80s – died of bone cancer at 52 before it could be conferred. Among the nation’s women religious at large, Pimentel is the first nun-winner since 2013's joint award to the co-founder's of Chicago's SPRED ministry for people with special-needs, Sisters Susanne Gallagher and Mary Therese Harrington.

Developing – more to come.


Friday, March 09, 2018

Lest it's gone too quickly out there as well, a blessed and Happy "Halftime" of Lent to you and yours... if only it came with a show. Still, hope it's going great all around.

Just as the name of the game in these 40 Days is keeping focused on the long haul, that's no less the case with the news in every season. Along those lines, while everything you see here is the result of a journey – a crafted product of context, discernment, institutional memory... and maybe too much else – what's currently in the pipeline has those qualities ramped up more than usual.

Please God, the next crop will be up to snuff in short order. Yet as the work comes with its share of costs and bills, the reminder's in order that keeping this shop's screens and servers up and running comes solely by means of your support:

As ever, all thanks for too much. And for now, just as this very week five years ago provided the ultimate spectacle of the difference between news and noise on this beat, suffice it to say, by no means is that unique to a Conclave....

Ergo, back to the haul.

SVILUPPO: With thanks to those who've pitched in – and for your patience, to boot – below you'll find the first part of the drop... more to come?


With Pope's Call for "New Paths," Amazon Synod Starts Down The Aisle

Viewed from its inception as likely to be the most charged moment of one of the Pope's major efforts at reform, next year's Special Edition of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon region has taken a further stride toward being just that.

Echoing the phrases Francis employed last fall in announcing the October 2019 gathering, at Roman Noon Thursday the event's guiding theme – chosen by the pontiff – was revealed to be "Amazonia: New Paths for the Church and an Integral Ecology."

Even more substantially, though, the release was accompanied by Francis' rollout of an 18-member Pre-Synodal Council – the event's preparatory group – comprised of prelates both from the trenches and heavy hitters on either side of the Atlantic. Among the latter are the Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson – now head of the Curia's consolidated arm for social justice and the ongoing pointman on Laudato Si'; the Holy See's English-born "foreign minister" Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Papa Bergoglio's own successor as president of the Argentine bench, Bishop Oscar Ojea of San Isidro; and the freshly-installed head of Catholicism's largest diocese, Cardinal Carlos Aguiar of Mexico City.

Just to be clear, as Mexico is far afield from the nine nations across which the Amazon forest spans, Aguiar's placement on this task-force is but the latest proof of his ever-rising role on the global stage. Still, having already committed himself to an extreme makeover of the capital church – some 9 million in its pews – "Don Carlos" doesn't lack for experience with the jungle to the south thanks to his days as secretary-general and president of CELAM, the regional mega-conference of the Latin American bishops.

On a separate yet related note, having spent this week in Rome for his first tour since taking the reins in CDMX, don't be surprised to see Aguiar start pulling his weight north of the Rio Grande in due course.

Conversant in English and amid an era that finds the life of the Stateside fold bound ever more to points south than east, the 68 year-old cardinal is the most US-savvy Arzobispo Primado in recent times – in the early 1970s, the future chief was one of the last students of the Montezuma Seminary, the Jesuit house near Las Vegas established to form Mexican priests outside the country due to the persecution of the local church.

*   *   *
Even as the prep-team includes a layman and woman religious alongside the prelates (both a first for a Synodal Council of any kind), Francis' key pick to the group lay elsewhere – and came just as expected... at least, 'round these parts. Nonetheless, the choice of Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes for the lead seat of the Synod's prep-team brings to full circle a context a decade and more in the making.

Now 83 and long relieved of the helm of the Congregation for the Clergy, while the Franciscan son of German immigrants has made the Amazon's future his focus since leaving Rome, Hummes is the first retired prelate to be given an institutional role in the planning of a Synod, let alone in a time when the assembly's significance and clout has been turbo-charged as never before.

Here, some history bears recalling: two decades since the US bishops' election of Archbishop John Raphael Quinn as a mere delegate to the 1997 Synod for America was rejected by Rome, citing the San Francisco prelate's retired status – the moves on both sides arguably exacerbated by the recently-departed prelate's famously strong views – put simply, the world today is rather different.

That Francis would summon the same John Raphael shortly after his election to absorb the latter's well-honed reflections on synodality just serves to underscore the shift. But as the broader outlook is rooted in what took place five years ago this week (above), let's return to the reporting on the day of the Synod's announcement....
[D]espite being supposedly "retired," the Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes OFM is certain to play a critical role in the preparations given his ongoing role as head of the Pan-Amazon Ecclesial Network, the multi-national coordinating body of the region's bishops, founded in 2014 at Francis' behest.

While the group lacks the juridic standing of an episcopal conference per se, the void is more than compensated for by direct papal imprimatur: seated next to Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio by seniority at the 2013 Conclave, the former archbishop of Sao Paulo famously urged the Pope-to-be "Don't forget the poor!" as the votes piled up in his favor – a word that, as the the first American on Peter's Chair later admitted, would lead him to shatter even more precedent by taking the name Francis upon accepting his election.

In a gesture that brought their closeness into the spotlight, the new pontiff upended yet another custom (remember: all this took place within the first 15 minutes) by plucking Hummes out from the Sistine Chapel rows to join him on the central balcony of St Peter's for his appearance before the world – a perk traditionally enjoyed solely by the senior cardinal from each of the College's three orders.

Yet what made the moment even more extraordinary was its rich backstory: on his arrival in Rome in late 2006 as Benedict's choice to head the Congregation for the Clergy, Hummes was promptly slapped down within the Vatican for comments he made just before departing Brazil that, in terms of mandatory priestly celibacy, "the majority of the apostles were married," then punctuating the point by saying "the church has to observe these things... [and] advance with history."

By bringing his "good friend" with him on his debut in white, Francis was sending a signal to the Curia he inherited – namely, that the Brazilian behind his shoulder was back at the center of things. As for what that means from here, with both Papa Bergoglio and Hummes stating since that the Amazon's church "must" have an "Amazonian face," with an "indigenous clergy" – and the region's unique culture and challenges having spurred calls from its bishops for the possibility of married priests – at first blush, the 2019 gathering has the prospect of being the most charged moment of Francis' push for an enhanced synodality in the church.
...and as another cardinal-elector likes to say, "To use a Catholic word, 'Bingo.'"

Adding to that sense in the present, another choice for the Synod's preparatory group is no less conspicuous: likewise retired from his missionary vicariate in the Brazilian Amazon, 78 year-old Bishop Erwin Kräutler – an Austrian-born Precious Blood Father – has long been the region's most outspoken advocate not merely for the ordination of married tribesmen to the priesthood, but women to the diaconate, to boot. (Of course, Francis' 2016 study commission on the history of the latter question quietly continues its work.)

Following the Synod's announcement, Kräutler (above) said his push on optional celibacy had even obtained Francis' support; according to the prelate, the pontiff encouraged him to collect "valid proposals" from the bishops.

For his part, meanwhile, Hummes has largely kept circumspect on the high-octane angle – at least, explicitly so. Speaking last week to the Italian religious news outlet AgenSIR, the cardinal said that, amid the Amazon's deepening shortage of ordained ministers, their presence "is essential for the evangelization of Amazonian peoples, especially indigenous peoples.... But they ask for priests with an encultured Christian message so that the church may become truly indigenous. Thus the Synod will certainly address this issue."

Asked what the possible solutions to the crunch might look like, Hummes foresaw the gathering's since-announced theme, obliquely remarking that "The Pope said we should identify 'new paths.'"

To repeat: "Bingo."

As it's ostensibly been forgotten in some quarters, in terms of priestly celibacy, recent history has seen a similar accommodation of a cultural phenomenon for the sake of souls – indeed, two of them: the Pastoral Provision chartered by John Paul II in 1980, then the Anglican Ordinariates established by Benedict XVI, both of which opened the Latin priesthood to married former clergy of Protestant communities (who, obviously, were received into the Catholic fold as laymen). That the recipients of both concessions aren't confined to remote forests, but serving well and clearly in the mainstream of ecclesial life across the English-speaking world shouldn't be lost on anyone, either; in other words, the door's already been cracked, then opened further, and all of it before this pontificate.

During his January visit to Peru, the Pope made his lone public comment on the Synod since convoking it, touching on both sides of his chosen theme in an address to representatives of the Amazonian communities:
I consider it essential to begin creating institutional expressions of respect, recognition and dialogue with the native peoples, acknowledging and recovering their native cultures, languages, traditions, rights and spirituality. An intercultural dialogue in which you yourselves will be “the principal dialogue partners, especially when large projects affecting your land are proposed”. Recognition and dialogue will be the best way to transform relationships whose history is marked by exclusion and discrimination.

At the same time, it is right to acknowledge the existence of promising initiatives coming from your own communities and organizations, which advocate that the native peoples and communities themselves be the guardians of the woodlands. The resources that conservation practices generate would then revert to benefit your families, improve your living conditions and promote health and education in your communities. This form of “doing good” is in harmony with the practices of “good living” found in the wisdom of our peoples. Allow me to state that if, for some, you are viewed as an obstacle or a hindrance, the fact is your lives cry out against a style of life that is oblivious to its own real cost. You are a living memory of the mission that God has entrusted to us all: the protection of our common home.

The defence of the earth has no other purpose than the defence of life. We know of the suffering caused for some of you by emissions of hydrocarbons, which gravely threaten the lives of your families and contaminate your natural environment.... How can we fail to remember Saint Turibius, who stated with dismay in the Third Council of Lima “that not only in times past were great wrongs and acts of coercion done to these poor people, but in our own time many seek to do the same....” Sadly, five centuries later, these words remain timely. The prophetic words of those men of faith are the cry of this people, which is often silenced or not allowed to speak. That prophecy must remain alive in our Church, which will never stop pleading for the outcast and those who suffer.

This concern gives rise to our basic option for the life of the most defenceless. I am thinking of the peoples referred to as “Indigenous Peoples in Voluntary Isolation” (PIAV). We know that they are the most vulnerable of the vulnerable. Their primitive lifestyle made them isolated even from their own ethnic groups; they went into seclusion in the most inaccessible reaches of the forest in order to live in freedom. Continue to defend these most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters. Their presence reminds us that we cannot use goods meant for all as consumerist greed dictates. Limits have to be set that can help preserve us from all plans for a massive destruction of the habitat that makes us who we are....

Dear brothers and sisters of Amazonia, how many missionaries, men and women, have devoted themselves to your peoples and defended your cultures! They did so inspired by the Gospel. Christ himself took flesh in a culture, the Jewish culture, and from it, he gave us himself as a source of newness for all peoples, in such a way that each, in its own deepest identity, feels itself affirmed in him. Do not yield to those attempts to uproot the Catholic faith from your peoples. Each culture and each worldview that receives the Gospel enriches the Church by showing a new aspect of Christ’s face. 
The Church is not alien to your problems and your lives, she does not want to be aloof from your way of life and organization. We need the native peoples to shape the culture of the local churches in Amazonia. And in this regard, it gave me great joy to hear that one of Laudato Si’s passages was read by a permanent deacon of your own culture. Help your bishops, and help your men and women missionaries, to be one with you, and in this way, by an inclusive dialogue, to shape a Church with an Amazonian face, a Church with a native face.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Double Halo – With Miracle Decrees, Pope Green-Lights Canonization of Paul VI, Romero

To be sure, this morning's news doesn't come in its surprise, just the sheer significance.

Opening the week of his fifth anniversary with a splash, it was announced early today that the Pope had formally signed the decrees to secure sainthood for Blesseds Paul VI and Óscar Romero. Following the affirmation of miraculous healings under the intercession of the first post-Conciliar pontiff and the Salvadoran martyr, the double approval completes a concerted ramp-up of both causes under Francis, who moved the duo's respective beatifications in 2014 and 2015.

Per custom, the formal last step – the canonization rites for each – will only be scheduled at a routine consistory sometime this spring. Nonetheless, in late February Francis told the priests of Rome that Papa Montini "will be a saint this year," and just yesterday, Francis' top deputy, the Cardinal-Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, reportedly linked the date to the closing of October's Synod of Bishops on young people; the founder of the Synod in Vatican II's wake, Paul was beatified on the final day of the gathering's 2014 edition. In addition, this July marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Humanae Vitae, whose reaffirmation of the church's prohibition on artificial contraception arguably created the Catholic conversation's enduring fault-line in the developed world.

Keeping with the practice for other modern pontiffs upon their canonizations, the feast of Saint-to-Be Paul – celebrated on his birthday, September 26th – will be added to the global calendar as an optional memorial.

As Paul now becomes the third Pope of the late-20th century to be beatified and/or canonized within this decade, it bears recalling that the heroic virtue of Pope John Paul I – conferring the title "Venerable" – was likewise approved in late 2017, his beatification likely to proceed quickly once a miracle is identified.

As for Romero, today's announcement comes just shy of the 38th anniversary of the Salvadoran prelate's assassination while celebrating Mass in a San Salvador hospital, ending a three-year ministry which won the prelate global acclaim for his unstinting advocacy on behalf of El Salvador's downtrodden amid the rise of a military dictatorship.

While the push for Romero's sainthood has long been a cause celebre among social-justice advocates far beyond Central America, the opposition of several key Vatican cardinals – principally Latin Americans with ties to right-wing juntas in their own homelands – kept any movement on it halted until late 2012, when then-Pope Benedict XVI oversaw its clearance from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in one of his final acts before resigning. (Romero's tomb is seen above during a 2011 visit by then-President Barack Obama.)

As Blessed Óscar's feast is observed in El Salvador on the 24 March anniversary of his martyrdom – now likewise marked by the United Nations as a global day of solidarity with victims of oppressive regimes – with his sainthood the option for its celebration in the wider church becomes available to the national conferences of bishops which seek to add it to their respective calendars.

According to the US-based SuperMartyrio site – the lead clearinghouse for all things Romero – the miracle approved today involved the healing of a 34 year-old Salvadoran woman, who went blind and suffered multiple organ failure following a difficult childbirth in 2015, fully recovering within days after her family and friends undertook prayers to Romero, including a vigil at the blessed's tomb.

After an initial examination by the local church, the case was forwarded to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints a year ago this month.

His own affection for Romero ever in evidence, though Francis couldn't mark the centennial of the archbishop's birth last year by declaring him a saint, the pontiff devised an even more unique way of commemorating the milestone with last June's surprise elevation (above) of Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chavez – one of the blessed's lead collaborators – as the first-ever cardinal from El Salvador.

Even more pointedly, the 75 year-old prelate – who remains pastor of a parish alongside his diocesan duties – became the first auxiliary bishop anywhere in the Catholic world to be given the red hat.

Back to Paul VI, today's announcement is Francis' second bouquet within this week alone to his Brescian predecessor – on Saturday, a decree was released conveying the Pope's decision to add a universal memorial to "Mary, Mother of the Church" to the calendar, celebrated on the Monday after Pentecost; in other words, the day immediately following the "birthday of the church."

The Marian title first declared by Paul at Vatican II and frequently invoked by him for the remainder of his life, the new feast of Our Lady is the first to be given a liturgical day since Papa Montini designated January 1st as the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God in the 1969 reform of the calendar. That change replaced the prior observance of Jesus' Circumcision on the eighth day of Christmas.