Sunday, October 25, 2020

Red Hats... Black History – Because He Can, The Pope Packs His "Senate"

First it was coming, then it wasn't....

But, finally, it's here – finally, in more ways than one.

At the close of today's noontime Angelus, the Pope announced his seventh intake of new cardinals – 13 in all; nine younger than 80 and thus eligible to enter a Conclave – who'll receive the red hat and cruciform ring on Saturday, 28 November, the eve of the First Sunday of Advent.

Here, the names of the cardinals-designate, listed in the strict order of precedence that dictates their seniority in the papal "Senate" – first, the electors:

–Bishop Mario Grech, 63, Secretary-General of the Synod for Bishops (Maltese);
–Bishop Marcelo Semeraro, 72, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints (Italian);
–Archbishop Antoine Kambanda, 62, of Kigali (Rwanda);
–Archbishop Wilton Daniel Gregory, 72, of Washington DC;
–Archbishop José Advincula, 68, of Capiz (Philippines);
–Archbishop Celestino Aós Braco OFM Cap., 75, of Santiago de Chile;
–Bishop Cornelius Sim, 69, vicar-apostolic of Brunei;
–Archbishop Paolo Lojudice, 56, of Siena (Italy);
–Fr Mauro Gambetti OFM Conv., 55, custodian of the Convent of Assisi (Italian)

...and alongside them, the four picks older than 80, given the red hat for "lifetime achievement": 

–Bishop Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel, 80, emeritus of San Cristobal de las Casas (Mexico);
–Archbishop Silvano Tomasi CS, 80, retired Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the UN Offices in Geneva;
–Fr Raniero Cantalamessa OFM Cap., 86, preacher of the Papal Household 
–Msgr Enrico Feroci, parish priest of Rome, 80, pastor of Our Lady of Divine Love at Castel di Leva

The Holy See has provided biographical notes on each of the designates.
With today's picks, the College will have 128 voting cardinals once the Consistory is held – eight over the customary limit set by St Paul VI in 1975, but nowhere near the 135 to which the group was ballooned by John Paul II in 2001, when he created 37 electors in one fell swoop.
Upon the new class' entrance, Francis will have chosen 73 voters in a hypothetical Conclave, comprising just shy of 60 percent of the total. 
For context, the Roman Pontiff is elected by a supermajority of two-thirds. Yet far more significantly, the electors don't merely choose the next Pope – one of them will be next the Pope.
In light of the ongoing travel restrictions due to the pandemic, it's worth noting that cardinals-designate need not be present at the Roman ceremonies to formally take their places in the College. Regardless of their whereabouts, the designees enjoy the title "Eminence" and the right to enter a Conclave upon the Pope's publication of the biglietto – literally, the "ticket" – listing their names, which currently takes place at the beginning of the Consistory itself. 
It remains to be seen whether, as in times past, Francis will need to send the scarlet 
birette and rings to at least some of the new cardinals for them to receive at home. While, today, the insignia would ostensibly be conferred on the pontiff's behalf by the local Nuncio or another nearby cardinal, in Catholic countries that privilege was historically carried out by the head of state. (Above right, the future St John XXIII – then-Archbishop Angelo Roncalli, the Nuncio to Paris – is seen receiving his biretta from the French President Vincent Auriol, a Socialist, on his elevation in 1953.)
*  *  *
Before anything else, given Cantalamessa's invariable presence in his brown Capuchin habit – to say nothing of his penchant for controversy over four decades as the household preacher – the sight of Padre Raniero in cardinal red is going to give more than a few natives the vapors. On a related front, the friar's deluxe following among the Catholic Charismatic renewal is likewise set to make next month's rites the first "Scarlet Bowl" to feature en masse speaking in tongues among the moment's usual kaleidoscope of the church's universality.
And speaking of the church's Catholicity... here at home, this Sunday is nothing short of a watershed. 

Of course, the elevation of Wilton Gregory gives Stateside Catholicism its first African-American ever to don the red hat – indeed, the first US cardinal of non-European descent. 
For Francis, the call is legacy-defining. For the cardinal-designate, it's simply been a long time coming.
Appointed a bishop at 35 – the youngest possible age under canon law – the DC prelate (a favorite of the last three pontificates) now becomes the oldest American to be elevated to a Conclave seat since St Paul VI limited the electoral age to 80 in 1975. Having echoed the meteoric rise of his own mentor in many ways – among them, becoming the first Black president of the US bishops at all of 53 – while today's announcement has been gleefully received across all sorts of divides, if anything, it comes as an overdue recognition of a ministry that, by any standard, has been one of the landmark tenures in American Catholic history, one often saddled with equally historic and unique burdens.
To be sure, there is a poetic – and, even more, a Providential – timing to the news, coming amid a societal reckoning over systemic racism and the ties that bind the body politic. Yet while much of the wider world will make the mistake of conflating the man with the moment, anyone who's watched Gregory's ascent onto the national, then global stage over the last 30 years knows the extraordinary blend of skill, dignity, self-effacement and, yes, tolerance for pain that have paved the road to today, and how this elevation is the most merited of any these shores have seen in living memory.
Three decades ago, the walk began with his arrival in rural Southern Illinois, an early hotbed of abuse scandals, which saw him take the then unheard-of move to suspend one-sixth of the priests he inherited. Not long after, within six weeks of Gregory's election as USCCB chief in late 2001, the crisis' national eruption began in Boston, and despite the resistance of many of the young president's elders on the bench – let alone potent opposition in Rome – "one strike and you're out" didn't just become the church's buzzword, but national law. And now, just when he was beginning to coast toward retirement after 15 years leading Catholicism's emergence as the dominant religious bloc in the "Capital of the South" – seeing Atlanta's 69-county church more than double in size to 1.3 million members, usually featuring the nation's largest RCIA classes of adult converts (2,000 or more each year) – not only did another atomic-grade cleanup come calling, but one to be carried out in the hyper-polarized, omni-media glare of the nation's capital.
Far from the hurricane-like experience of the long, torrid summer of 2018, these days, nary a peep is heard out of Washington. And that's pretty much what was hoped on his arrival – as no shortage of the designate's confreres remarked upon his appointment, "Thank God it's him... and (even more) thank God it isn't me." 
Lest it sounded easy, accomplishing any of these was no mean feat. What's more, however, doing so while Black has required the churchman's equivalent of tackling it "Backwards and in heels." And all the while, from those early days in Belleville and the conference – as Atlanta received, then quickly lost, the first two African-American archbishops – the expectations grew, gradually yet widely, that Wilton would be "the one."
For any man, that can be a crushing weight to live with. But most of us can't imagine being the vessel of an aspiration that isn't your own, yet held by a community of 3.5 million – the US' Black Catholic population, itself larger than the entire Episcopal Church. 

By every account, the man has never sought the scarlet for himself. Yet if the day never came, there would still be the weight – of wondering whether the "wrong" thing was said or done somewhere along the way, of somehow letting down those for whom his red hat would've been perceived as their church's way of seeing them and speaking their name.
But we don't have to worry about that now. And on top of the grace of the news, knowing that we don't – that he doesn't – is a gift and a balm all its own.
For longer than most folks can remember, many have believed that, more than any other man in red, Wilton Gregory was born for it. Maybe now, he might begin to believe that. Either way, the decades of expectation placed upon Miss Etta Mae's son are behind him... and as Wilton Cardinal Gregory, he can finally be himself.

*   *   *
National monument aside, today's class builds upon several of Francis' now well-burnished traits among his intakes: only two of the designates – Gregory and Aós (himself leading the Chilean church's sprawling post-scandal cleanup) – come from the customary "cardinalatial sees," with the bulk hailing yet again from "the peripheries," albeit in several senses of the word. 
Beyond the duo who'll be the first-ever cardinals from their respective countries (Rwanda's Kambanda and Brunei's native-born Sim), while technically a Curial cardinal in light of his new post, Grech – who recently gave a notable, extended reflection on the shape of a post-COVID church – becomes the first Maltese prelate with a Conclave vote in two centuries. 

In addition, Papa Bergoglio has continued his practice begun last time in elevating a simple priest – here, Gambetti (above), the superior of the Assisi complex containing the Basilica and tomb of St Francis – to an electoral seat. 
Given how the friar's role as custos (guardian) is subject to his Franciscan superiors, and the reality that cardinals answer only to the Pope, the 55 year-old is certain to receive a new assignment determined by the pontiff. (As now-Cardinal Michael Czerny SJ was already a Vatican official on being catapulted from priest-to-cardinal elector last year, a similar change of his day-job wasn't similarly needed.)
As none of the priests on today's list are Jesuits, Gambetti and the trio of 80-something designates will all be ordained bishops before the Consistory, in accord with the 1962 stipulation of John XXIII now inserted into the canons.

Sunday, October 04, 2020






“FRATELLI TUTTI”. With these words, Saint Francis of Assisi addressed his brothers and sisters and proposed to them a way of life marked by the flavour of the Gospel. Of the counsels Francis offered, I would like to select the one in which he calls for a love that transcends the barriers of geography and distance, and declares blessed all those who love their brother “as much when he is far away from him as when he is with him”. In his simple and direct way, Saint Francis expressed the essence of a fraternal openness that allows us to acknowledge, appreciate and love each person, regardless of physical proximity, regardless of where he or she was born or lives.

This saint of fraternal love, simplicity and joy, who inspired me to write the Encyclical Laudato Si’, prompts me once more to devote this new Encyclical to fraternity and social friendship. Francis felt himself a brother to the sun, the sea and the wind, yet he knew that he was even closer to those of his own flesh. Wherever he went, he sowed seeds of peace and walked alongside the poor, the abandoned, the infirm and the outcast, the least of his brothers and sisters.

There is an episode in the life of Saint Francis that shows his openness of heart, which knew no bounds and transcended differences of origin, nationality, colour or religion. It was his visit to Sultan Malik-el-Kamil, in Egypt, which entailed considerable hardship, given Francis’ poverty, his scarce resources, the great distances to be traveled and their differences of language, culture and religion. That journey, undertaken at the time of the Crusades, further demonstrated the breadth and grandeur of his love, which sought to embrace everyone. Francis’ fidelity to his Lord was commensurate with his love for his brothers and sisters. Unconcerned for the hardships and dangers involved, Francis went to meet the Sultan with the same attitude that he instilled in his disciples: if they found themselves “among the Saracens and other nonbelievers”, without renouncing their own identity they were not to “engage in arguments or disputes, but to be subject to every human creature for God’s sake”. In the context of the times, this was an extraordinary recommendation. We are impressed that some eight hundred years ago Saint Francis urged that all forms of hostility or conflict be avoided and that a humble and fraternal “subjection” be shown to those who did not share his faith.

Francis did not wage a war of words aimed at imposing doctrines; he simply spread the love of God. He understood that “God is love and those who abide in love abide in God” (1 Jn 4:16). In this way, he became a father to all and inspired the vision of a fraternal society. Indeed, “only the man who approaches others, not to draw them into his own life, but to help them become ever more fully themselves, can truly be called a father”. In the world of that time, bristling with watchtowers and defensive walls, cities were a theatre of brutal wars between powerful families, even as poverty was spreading through the countryside. Yet there Francis was able to welcome true peace into his heart and free himself of the desire to wield power over others. He became one of the poor and sought to live in harmony with all. Francis has inspired these pages....


Thursday, October 01, 2020

A Distanced Al Smith, With COVID At The Door

(1.20am ET – Updated with further developments.

Every fourth year, what's normally the third Thursday in October is always a moment to remember. But both in terms of its setting and the turmoil of a brutal campaign amid a crisis-ridden national scene, there's never been an Al Smith Dinner like this one.

Far from its usual home before a white-tie and ballgown-ed crowd at the Waldorf-Astoria in Midtown Manhattan before a crowd approaching 2,000, what was planned as a 50-person gathering in light of the ongoing pandemic was scrapped following concerns expressed by the New York state government. In its place, the ultimate church-state moment of six decades of presidential campaigns – by tradition, the nominees' lone joint appearance outside the debates – went all-virtual, with Cardinal Timothy Dolan performing livefeed "host" duties from his Madison Avenue residence.

Surreal as the context already was, it entered even more uncharted territory not long after – some five hours after President Trump used his remarks to declare that the end of COVID-19 "is in sight," the Republican contender announced just before 1am Eastern Friday that he and First Lady Melania Trump had contracted the virus. In that light, with the First Couple now set to be quarantined in the White House residence, Trump's pre-recorded remarks from Washington likely made for his last appearance for at least several days as the bruising campaign enters its home-stretch.

For the Democratic nominee's part, after days of strange silence by aides on whether he'd accept his invitation, Vice President Joe Biden's campaign only announced that he would participate an hour or so before the event took place. 

Named for the first Catholic nominated for the Presidency – whose faith saw him subjected to bigotry and suspicion in his 1928 run – while the Al Smith is customarily the candidates' final appearance, coming after their last debate, even for this edition's earlier place in the calendar and the virtual setup, the shape of this race (underscored by the visceral nature of Tuesday's opening debate) made the tension of the moment already higher than its predecessors. Add in the conventional wisdom that a small slice of Catholic voters – mostly across the Rust Belt, but quite possibly in the "New South" as well – will determine the outcome, and what's always a significant pitch to the pews might just be more electorally significant than it's ever been.

All that said, here below is fullvideo of tonight's event, headlined by speeches lacking this night's usual lighthearted, roast-like tone, while still vividly underscoring the divergence between the contenders:

On a final church-state note, the nexus of the Catholic world and the political scene continues into the weekend: as ever on the eve of the First Monday in October, Sunday morning brings the Red Mass in Washington's St Matthew's Cathedral to mark the Supreme Court's new term.

Usually not filmed in keeping with SCOTUS' ban on cameras, the 10am liturgy will be live-streamed for the first time due to restrictions on attendance. While the capital's Archbishop Wilton Gregory took the preaching duties last year – as is custom for a new DC prelate in his first and last years in office – this 68th edition of the rites returns to the norm of a visiting homilist, this time Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, the USCCB Communications chair.

Like the Al Smith, this year's Red Mass comes amid a more charged backdrop than usual given last month's death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Trump's nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett – a figure hailed by conservatives for an especially intense Catholic identity – in her stead, with Barrett's mid-month confirmation hearings set to make for not just a societal flashpoint, but one within the church's walls, to boot.

While the Mass normally draws a majority of the Court – which would comprise six Catholics (of nine) upon Barrett's likely confirmation – only Chief Justice John Roberts is expected to attend this year in light of COVID precautions. A committed member of his suburban Maryland parish, the Chief was active in the capital's John Carroll Society, the guild of Catholic lawyers which organizes the liturgy, long before his 2005 elevation to the bench.