Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Resignation... and Explanation

Early Saturday, Pope Benedict accepted the resignation of Bishop Raymond Lahey of Antigonish, on Nova Scotia's north coast, for undisclosed "personal reasons."

Having inked a CAN$15 million (US$ 14 million) settlement with the diocese's clergy sex-abuse victims in mid-August, the lack of transparency behind the move -- and the 69 year-old's talk of seeking "personal renewal" in his departure letter -- led to buzz that the strains of office simply proved too much for the well-regarded prelate.

Against that backdrop, the true motivator emerged earlier today:
A Roman Catholic bishop from Nova Scotia, who resigned suddenly over the weekend, has been charged with possessing and importing child pornography.

Lahey, a native of Newfoundland who was with the Antigonish diocese until his resignation, was returning to Canada from the United States on Sept. 15 when he was arrested at the Ottawa Airport after members of the Canada Border Services Agency performed a random check of his laptop computer.

No court date has been set.
Ordained a bishop in his native Newfoundland in 1986, Lahey was transferred to Antigonish in 2003.

As the bishop's resignation was announced, the Holy See named the Maritime province's metropolitan -- Archbishop Anthony Mancini of Halifax -- as apostolic administrator of the 130,000-member northern church pending the appointment of a permanent successor.

As word trickles out, more developments.....
[The bishop] was released at the airport pending further investigations. Police say a warrant was issued for the arrest of Lahey when charges were laid on Friday.

Father Paul Abbass, a spokesman for the Archdiocese [sic] of Antigonish, said he learned of the charges from media reports and hadn't been told about the charges before the bishop resigned Saturday.

"I'm sad, I'm shocked," he said from Frenchvale, N.S., where he is the parish priest. "I think I'm mostly concerned about our people, about our priests, about our diocese."

Abbass said he had learned a couple of days before Lahey issued his letter of resignation that he was considering stepping down, but knew nothing more about the personal reasons the bishop cited.

He said he didn't know where Lahey was when he tendered his resignation, saying only that he had been away on meetings "for last week or so."

The Road to St Chad's

With the recent reports of a papal visit to Britain next fall now essentially confirmed in substance, and with Birmingham heavily tipped to be on the itinerary, several ops have sent word that a new archbishop for John Henry Newman's hometown will be named as early as tomorrow morning.

And the winner is....

Actually, just wait for it.

Home to some 290,000 Catholics, the West Midlands church has been vacant since early April, when Archbishop Vincent Nichols was transferred to Westminster, the premier ecclesial post in England and Wales. Nichols' successor in St Chad's Cathedral will be the city's tenth bishop since the see's founding at the 1850 restoration of the English hierarchy.

While we're at it, it remains the case that -- at least officially -- the date remains nebulous for Newman's beatification, which Pope Benedict formally approved in early July.

Though a mid-July report tipped next 2 May as the choice, in recent weeks a statement from the Birmingham chancery said only that the event would take place in the archdiocese, most likely "on a Sunday during late May or early June 2010."

While the release added that, according to its indications, Benedict XVI "will not make an exception" from his standard practice to lead Newman's beatification himself, the chancery note was published before the papal visit plans ostensibly became solid.

Speaking of saints, it's a providential coincidence that buzz of a Birmingham appointment has centred on tomorrow's feast of St Therese of the Child Jesus -- the celebrated "Little Flower" -- just days after her relics made a weekend stop in the Midlands, where they were greeted by thousands.

Currently midway through a monthlong UK tour, the relics have already attracted larger-than-expected throngs and, on tomorrow's feast, won't spend the night in a Catholic sanctuary, but York Minster, the seat of the Church of England's second-ranking prelate.


Respect Life... at All Its "Borders"

With this weekend seeing the US church's observance of Respect Life Sunday, the national message for the annual event turns to the ongoing debate over health-care reform, calling for the inclusion of "the unborn, the poor, the elderly," and -- regardless of legal status -- "the immigrant" in any proposed Federal package.

Issued earlier today, here's the fulltext of the message from the US bishops' chair for Pro-Life Activities, Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia:

The statement is the Philly cardinal's swan-song as holder of the USCCB's most prominent policy portfolio; elected to the pro-life chair late last year, Cardinal Dan DiNardo of Galveston-Houston begins his three-year term at the body's November Meeting in Baltimore.

In a likely preview of his tenure's message-strategy, the South's first cardinal recently said that the church "cannot be used to support sides that have only their own agenda" in the reform debate.

"Instead, we must make clear and repeat the major principles that need to be safeguarded while the various sides of the debate engage in the difficult legislative work of providing what is genuine universal coverage," DiNardo wrote in an August column, summarizing the principles as follows:
[W]e support universal health coverage which protects the life and dignity of each person, a coverage that is thus truly universal, especially for the poor and the vulnerable. This coverage must also be assured for all from conception to natural death. For this same reason, we oppose any efforts to expand abortion funding, mandate abortion coverage or endanger the conscience rights of health care providers and religious institutions. There are long standing current policies on these issues that must be preserved – policies at the federal level that have received wide support. Such policies cannot be compromised now.

30 Years Ago: "The Pope Is Not Finished! Let the Pope Finish!"

B16's 13th journey abroad might now be in the books, but an even more momentous PopeTrip milestone is upon us: tomorrow brings the 30th anniversary of John Paul II's arrival in Boston for the freshly-elected pontiff's first visit to the States -- a seven-day, six-city trek that provided most American Catholics' first chance ever to see the Man in White.

More on it as the week drags on... before crossing the Atlantic, though, the Great Wojtyla Road Show stopped first in Ireland for a 72-hour jaunt that ground the country to a halt, seeing half its population turn out and seven words near the close of the Pope's preach to a Youth Mass in Galway steal the show ( some Vatican aides eyed their watches to time what became a raucous, 14-minute ovation).

In an anniversary retrospective, one witness recalled it thus:
We didn't have big rock festivals in those days, so we'd never seen the like of the youth mass. It was a big camp out. The morning was cold and fresh and misty and when he took over it was magnificent....

Galway was about the future. At the end he said the famous line – 'Young people of Ireland I love you!' Everyone thought he was finished and [well-known "Singing Priest"] Mick Cleary had to shout, 'The Pope is not finished, the Pope is not finished. Let the Pope finish!'"
In a nutshell, what "One small step for man" was 'round these parts, "Young people of Ireland..." became on the Emerald Isle -- a moment that defined an era.

To hear audio of what happened in full, go here, fast-forward to 41:20... and, well, just soak it up.

Needless to say, it's the kind of thing we'll never see again... and not just as, stem to stern, the whole shebang was arranged on roughly a month's notice.

The long downward spiral from 1979's giddy, triumphant Irish Catholicism to the present has been reflected in the milestone's approach: in recent weeks, one prominent cleric called for the anniversary to be observed as a "day of atonement" for the sexual abuse of children on the church's watch, the Isle's staggering history of which would begin flooding the public consciousness over the decade that followed.

Indeed, one need look no further than the Galway Mass to find elements of the Irish church's subsequent fall from grace on prominent display: only in later years would it come to light that the Pope's pre-Mass cheerleaders -- the "Singing Priest" Cleary and the western city's ordinary, Bishop Eamonn Casey -- had both fathered children in clandestine relationships in the years before the visit.

To hear how the "Holy Show" was received on this side of the Pond, video of the US leg's opening event -- John Paul's rain-soaked Mass on Boston Common -- is up and streaming in two parts.

The Ireland and US visits were among the Pilgrim Pole's eight foreign journeys made within his first year on Peter's chair.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Nuns' Visitation... On the Bishops' Dime

As the Apostolic Visitation of the nation's womens' communities enters its second phase, the Holy See has asked the US bishops to foot the controversial inquest's proposed budget of $1.1 million.

Broken yesterday by the National Catholic Reporter, news of the funding pitch -- made to the bishops in a July letter from the Vatican's lead overseer of religious, Slovenian Cardinal Franc Rodé CM -- has provoked a fierce outcry from critics of the three-year study:
Since the Vatican announced the study last December, it has never publicly stated how much it estimates the comprehensive inquiry will cost or who will pay for it. A Vatican document sent to the heads of U.S. women’s congregations last summer suggested that those chosen for on-site visitations defray costs by paying for and hosting visitation teams, “and, if at all possible, transportation costs related to the visit.”...

Rodé’s July letter came in the form of a general appeal to U.S. bishops. It was addressed: “Your Eminence/Your Excellency” and began with an explanation: “My dear brother bishops in the United States, as you are aware, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, in an audience on Nov. 17, 2008, authorized an apostolic visitation of the principal institutes of apostolic women religious in the United States.”

His letter went on to say, “We count on your support in this effort to:
  • “look into the quality of the life of apostolic women religious in the United States
  • “learn more about the varied and unique ways in which apostolic women religious contribute to the welfare of the church and society
  • “assist the church to strengthen, enhance and support the growth of the apostolic congregations to which approximately 59,000 women religious in the United States belong.”
The letter said, “May I suggest that the donations you wish to make be sent to the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life [CICLSAL], 00120 Vatican City State, Europe. Please specify that it is to be used for the ‘Apostolic Visitation of Institutes of Women Religious in the United States.’ ”

Since the Vatican announced the investigation it has had both supporters and critics among women religious. Those favoring the study point to a decline in numbers among women religious as well as a relative independence from Rome as they carry out their apostolic missions. Those critical of the study say it is unnecessary, demeaning, deflects focus from more pressing problems among the clergy, and is being carried out in secrecy. When the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an umbrella organization for 95 percent of U.S. women religious, met in New Orleans in August, it called upon the Vatican to be transparent in conducting the study and open in sharing results before any recommendations are made.

The Vatican apostolic visitation working paper, officially called an instrumentum laboris, specifies that [lead Apostolic Visitor Mother Mary Clare] Millea is to be responsible for transmitting a detailed and confidential report to the Vatican congregation upon completion of the study.
With the process' initial phase -- Millea's outreach to the superiors -- now completed, earlier this month saw the start of its second element as each institute received a detailed questionnaire on its life, apostolate and procedures of governance.

Upon the completion of the form, the Visitor and her team will select a limited number of orders to receive on-site visits. Each of the nearly 350 communities, however, will be individually reported on to CICLSAL.


Pope to Priests: Go Out Into the Whole... 'Net

Keeping with longtime custom for this feast of the Archangels, this morning the Vatican announced the theme of next year's observance of World Communications Day: "The priest and pastoral ministry in a digital world: new media at the service of the Word."

Chosen by Pope Benedict as a nod to the ongoing Year for Priests, the thread will be the focus of the pontiff's annual message for the Day, which is released on the 24 January feast of St Francis de Sales, the patron of writers and journalists.

Instituted by Pope Paul VI in 1967, the WCD is celebrated each year on the Seventh Sunday of Easter, which is now observed as Ascension Day in most of the global church.

Explaining the rationale behind the choice, a release from the Pontifical Council for Social Communications said that the coming papal message "seeks to invite priests, in a particular way... to consider new media as a great resource for their ministry of service to the Word, and to encourage them to address the challenges born from the new digital culture."

The statement went on to praise the new technologies for offering the possibility of "forms of collaboration and a growth of communion impossible in the past."

Coupled with the announcement of a Vatican partnership with Google, the Pope's 2009 WCD message focused on the utilization of new media as a builder of "respect, dialogue and friendship."

Of course, the choice of topic could provide yet another opportunity for Papa Ratzi to reinforce the imperative of his message with the visual (yet unknown) of himself at a keyboard. If experience is any indicator, however, he won't... and the moment's greatest potential will yet again be lost.


Monday, September 28, 2009

Youth Message? Czech.

At the close of today's St Wenceslaus Mass in front of the martyr-prince's final resting place, the Pope extended a lengthy greeting to the young people in attendance.

While a meeting with local youth has become a routine element of B16's foreign visits, one wasn't scheduled on the three-day Czech pilgrimage which ends later today.

Regardless, here's the fulltext:
Dear Young Friends,

At the conclusion of this celebration I turn to you directly and I greet you warmly. You have come here in great numbers from all over the country and from neighbouring countries; you camped here yesterday evening and you spent the night in tents, sharing an experience of faith and companionship. Thank you for your presence here, which gives me a sense of the enthusiasm and generosity so characteristic of youth. Being with you makes the Pope feel young! I extend a particular word of thanks to your representative for his words and for the wonderful gift.

Dear friends, it is not hard to see that in every young person there is an aspiration towards happiness, sometimes tinged with anxiety: an aspiration that is often exploited, however, by present-day consumerist society in false and alienating ways. Instead, that longing for happiness must be taken seriously, it demands a true and comprehensive response. At your age, the first major choices are made, choices that can set your lives on a particular course, for better or worse. Unfortunately, many of your contemporaries allow themselves to be led astray by illusory visions of spurious happiness, and then they find themselves sad and alone. Yet there are also many young men and women who seek to transform doctrine into action, as your representative said, so as to give the fullness of meaning to their lives. I invite you all to consider the experience of Saint Augustine, who said that the heart of every person is restless until it finds what it truly seeks. And he discovered that Jesus Christ alone is the answer that can satisfy his and every person’s desire for a life of happiness, filled with meaning and value (cf. Confessions, I.1.1).

As he did with Augustine, so the Lord comes to meet each one of you. He knocks at the door of your freedom and asks to be welcomed as a friend. He wants to make you happy, to fill you with humanity and dignity. The Christian faith is this: encounter with Christ, the living Person who gives life a new horizon and thereby a definitive direction. And when the heart of a young person opens up to his divine plans, it is not difficult to recognize and follow his voice. The Lord calls each of us by name, and entrusts to us a specific mission in the Church and in society. Dear young people, be aware that by Baptism you have become children of God and members of his Body, the Church. Jesus constantly renews his invitation to you to be his disciples and his witnesses. Many of you he calls to marriage, and the preparation for this Sacrament constitutes a real vocational journey. Consider seriously the divine call to raise a Christian family, and let your youth be the time in which to build your future with a sense of responsibility. Society needs Christian families, saintly families!

And if the Lord is calling you to follow him in the ministerial priesthood or in the consecrated life, do not hesitate to respond to his invitation. In particular, in this Year of Priests, I appeal to you, young men: be attentive and open to Jesus’s call to offer your lives in the service of God and his people. The Church in every country, including this one, needs many holy priests and also persons fully consecrated to the service of Christ, Hope of the world.

Hope! This word, to which I often return, sits particularly well with youth. You, my dear young people, are the hope of the Church! She expects you to become messengers of hope, as happened last year in Australia, during World Youth Day, that great manifestation of youthful faith that I was able to experience personally, and in which some of you took part. Many more of you will be able to come to Madrid in August 2011. I invite you here and now to participate in this great gathering of young people with Christ in the Church.

Dear friends, thank you again for being here and thank you for your gift: the book of photographs recounting the lives of young people in your dioceses. Thank you also for the sign of your solidarity towards the young people of Africa, which you have presented to me. The Pope asks you to live your faith with joy and enthusiasm; to grow in unity among yourselves and with Christ; to pray and to be diligent in frequenting the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Confession; to take seriously your Christian formation, remaining ever obedient to the teachings of your Pastors. May Saint Wenceslaus guide you along this path through his example and his intercession, and may you always enjoy the protection of the Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus and our Mother. I bless all of you with affection!....

Dear young friends, your enthusiasm for the Christian faith is a sign of hope for the Church that is present and active in these lands. In order to give a fuller meaning to your youth, follow the Lord Jesus with courage and generosity as he knocks on the door of your hearts. Christ asks you to welcome him as a friend. May the Lord bless you and bring to fulfilment every good plan that you make for your lives!
PHOTO: Reuters


"Is Holiness Still Relevant?"


Dear Cardinals,
My Brother Bishops and Priests,
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Dear Young People,

It gives me great joy to be with you this morning, as my apostolic visit to the beloved Czech Republic draws to a close, and I offer all of you my heartfelt greeting, especially the Cardinal Archbishop, to whom I am grateful for the words that he addressed to me in your name at the start of Mass. My greeting goes also to the other Cardinals, the Bishops, the priests and consecrated persons, the representatives of lay movements and associations, and especially the young people. I respectfully greet the President of the Republic, to whom I offer cordial good wishes on the occasion of his name-day; and I gladly extend these wishes to all who bear the name of Wenceslaus and to the entire Czech people on the day of this national feast.

This morning, we are gathered around the altar for the glorious commemoration of the martyr Saint Wenceslaus, whose relics I was able to venerate before Mass in the Basilica dedicated to him. He shed his blood in your land, and his eagle, which – as the Cardinal Archbishop has just mentioned – you chose as a symbol for this visit, constitutes the historical emblem of the noble Czech nation. This great saint, whom you are pleased to call the “eternal” Prince of the Czechs, invites us always to follow Christ faithfully, he invites us to be holy. He himself is a model of holiness for all people, especially the leaders of communities and peoples. Yet we ask ourselves: in our day, is holiness still relevant? Or is it now considered unattractive and unimportant? Do we not place more value today on worldly success and glory? Yet how long does earthly success last, and what value does it have?

The last century – as this land of yours can bear witness – saw the fall of a number of powerful figures who had apparently risen to almost unattainable heights. Suddenly they found themselves stripped of their power. Those who denied and continue to deny God, and in consequence have no respect for man, appear to have a comfortable life and to be materially successful. Yet one need only scratch the surface to realize how sad and unfulfilled these people are. Only those who maintain in their hearts a holy “fear of God” can also put their trust in man and spend their lives building a more just and fraternal world. Today there is a need for believers with credibility, who are ready to spread in every area of society the Christian principles and ideals by which their action is inspired. This is holiness, the universal vocation of all the baptized, which motivates people to carry out their duty with fidelity and courage, looking not to their own selfish interests but to the common good, seeking God’s will at every moment.

In the Gospel we heard Jesus speaking clearly on this subject: “What will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?” (Mt 16:26). In this way we are led to consider that the true value of human life is measured not merely in terms of material goods and transient interests, because it is not material goods that quench the profound thirst for meaning and happiness in the heart of every person.

This is why Jesus does not hesitate to propose to his disciples the “narrow” path of holiness: “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (16:25). And he resolutely repeats to us this morning: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (16:24). Without doubt, this is hard language, difficult to accept and put into practice, but the testimony of the saints assures us that it is possible for all who trust and entrust themselves to Christ. Their example encourages those who call themselves Christian to be credible, that is, consistent with the principles and the faith that they profess. It is not enough to appear good and honest: one must truly be so. And the good and honest person is one who does not obscure God’s light with his own ego, does not put himself forward, but allows God to shine through.

This is the lesson we can learn from Saint Wenceslaus, who had the courage to prefer the kingdom of heaven to the enticement of worldly power. His gaze never moved away from Jesus Christ, who suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should follow in his steps, as Saint Peter writes in the second reading that we just heard. As an obedient disciple of the Lord, the young prince Wenceslaus remained faithful to the Gospel teachings he had learned from his saintly grandmother, the martyr Ludmila. In observing these, even before committing himself to build peaceful relations within his lands and with neighbouring countries, he took steps to spread the Christian faith, summoning priests and building churches. In the first Old Slavonic “narration”, we read that “he assisted God’s ministers and he also adorned many churches” and that “he was benevolent to the poor, clothed the naked, gave food to the hungry, welcomed pilgrims, just as the Gospel enjoins. He did not allow injustice to be done to widows, he loved all people, whether poor or rich”. He learned from the Lord to be “merciful and gracious” (Responsorial Psalm), and animated by the Gospel spirit he was even able to pardon his brother who tried to kill him. Rightly, then, you invoke him as the “heir” of your nation, and in a well-known song, you ask him not to let it perish.

Wenceslaus died as a martyr for Christ. It is interesting to note that, by killing him, his brother Boleslaus succeeded in taking possession of the throne of Prague, but the crown placed on the heads of his successors did not bear his name. Rather, it bears the name of Wenceslaus, as a testimony that “the throne of the king who judges the poor in truth will remain firm for ever” (cf. today’s Office of Readings). This fact is judged as a miraculous intervention by God, who does not abandon his faithful: “the conquered innocent defeated the cruel conqueror just as Christ did on the cross” (cf. The Legend of Saint Wenceslaus), and the blood of the martyr did not cry out for hatred or revenge, but rather for pardon and peace.

Dear brothers and sisters, together let us give thanks to the Lord in this Eucharist for giving this saintly ruler to your country and to the Church. Let us also pray that, like him, we too may walk along the path of holiness. It is certainly difficult, since faith is always exposed to multiple challenges, but when we allow ourselves to be drawn towards God who is Truth, the path becomes decisive, because we experience the power of his love. May the intercession of Saint Wenceslaus and of the other patron saints of the Czech Lands obtain this grace for us. May we always be protected and assisted by Mary, Queen of Peace and Mother of Love. Amen!


Sunday, September 27, 2009

To the "Indispensable" Academy

Fresh off the wire from Prague, the speech of "one who has been a professor" to the Czech capital's community of scholars....

PHOTO: Getty


Quote of the Day

“It is clear that we are experiencing today a period of intense and critical struggle in the advancement of the culture of life in our nation. The administration of our federal government openly and aggressively follows a secularist agenda. While it may employ religious language and even invoke the name of God, in fact, it proposes programs and policies for our people without respect for God and His Law. In the words of the Servant of God Pope John Paul II, it proceeds 'as if God did not exist'....

One of the ironies of the present situation is that the person who experiences scandal at the gravely sinful public actions of a fellow Catholic is accused of a lack of charity and of causing division within the unity of the Church. In a society whose thinking is governed by the 'tyranny of relativism' and in which political correctness and human respect are the ultimate criteria of what is to be done and what is to be avoided, the notion of leading someone into moral error makes little sense. What causes wonderment in such a society is the fact that someone fails to observe political correctness and, thereby, seems to be disruptive of the so-called peace of society. Lying or failing to tell the truth, however, is never a sign of charity. A unity which is not founded on the truth of the moral law is not the unity of the Church. The Church's unity is founded on speaking the truth with love. The person who experiences scandal at public actions of Catholics, which are gravely contrary to the moral law, not only does not destroy unity but invites the Church to repair what is clearly a serious breach in Her life. Were he not to experience scandal at the public support of attacks on human life and the family, his conscience would be uninformed or dulled about the most sacred realities.
--Archbishop Raymond L. Burke
Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura
"Reflections on the Struggle to Advance the Culture of Life"
InsideCatholic Partnership Dinner
18 September 2009

Apparent target of the above: the archbishop of Boston... among others... and that's just on the ad intra side.

And on and on it goes.

PHOTO: Jeff Geerling


For CT College, a New "Heart"

Later today, Sacred Heart University in Fairfield's doing something rare for this moment in history as the Connecticut school dedicates a $17 million, 500-seat chapel on the campus quad.

Its exterior formed of glass and copper, the main gem of the Chapel of the Holy Spirit is found inside, thanks to mosaics created by the same Jesuit priest behind John Paul II's redesign of the Redemptoris Mater chapel, the Vatican space used for semi-private papal events, including the Roman Curia's annual Lenten retreat.

In advance of this afternoon's Opening Mass, no less than the Times wanted a first look:
Astonishingly, the nearly 2,000 square feet of mosaic were installed in 12 days by Father [Marko Ivan] Rupnik and 15 co-workers, including Eastern Orthodox Christians and Eastern- and Latin-rite Catholics. They began each day with a liturgy, worked until lunch (the contract specified that wine be served) and then until a late dinner. They had the finished faces of two dozen biblical figures shipped in from Rome, but assembled over 200,000 pieces by hand.

“It was a remarkable, spiritual two weeks,” recalls David Coppola, the university’s assistant vice president.

Brad Prestbo, the architect who has overseen the project for the Sasaki Associates firm in Boston, said the masons and tile setters on the job “were in awe of the craftsmanship.”

Where the chapel’s art is overtly dramatic, its architecture is subtle. The design emerged from reflection on the Second Vatican Council’s themes of the church as the pilgrim people of God and as engaged in dialogue with the contemporary world. The roof and one wall use different tones of copper to suggest the folds and fabric of a nomadic tent, a note repeated in the main chapel’s ceiling. And the clear glass of the large, inviting narthex, or entry space, opens the chapel to the rest of the campus.

The exterior walls have finely detailed panels that faintly echo the stacks in the library across the central quadrangle. These walls are inscribed with the Corporal Works of Mercy (feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, and so on) that the church draws from Chapter 25 of Matthew’s Gospel....

But why a new $17 million chapel in the first place, and not just a chapel but one elaborately conceived in specific theological terms and prominently located in the center of the campus?

That is something you normally find on the nation’s oldest, now often completely secular, campuses. But does it make sense when students typically avow that they are striving to be spiritual but certainly not religious?

This week, Dr. Coppola noted aspects of the chapel in keeping with this spiritual seeking: its motifs of pilgrimage and dialogue as well as the interreligious meditation garden. “Definitely a Catholic chapel, but also a place for people all along the pilgrimage,” he said. Students, he felt confident, would remember it long after graduation as “a place of spirituality, doubt, belief, learning.”

Anthony J. Cernera, the president of Sacred Heart — a layman and a theologian — did not disagree, but said the chapel was a challenge to the “spiritual but not religious” catchphrase.

“It would be a terrible mistake to fall into the trap of accepting that dichotomy,” he said. “The best way to be spiritual in the Catholic tradition is to celebrate the Eucharist and to use all the signs of the faith.”
PHOTO: Christopher Capoziello/The New York Times


"Age of the Nones"

As the church gathers for another Sunday, another sobering reminder's come that we're not all that we could be... if anything, sad to say, far from it.

Echoing prior studies over recent years, a report released last week by Trinity College in Hartford honed in on the proportion of Americans identifying with no religious affiliation -- dubbed "Nones" -- which doubled (to 15%) from 1990 to 2008.

Of the influx (or outflux), 35% of first-generation "Nones" surveyed said they were Catholic at age 12 -- by far, the largest slice of the group. Among the regions most impacted by the shift is New England, where one in five residents now claim no affiliation.

The survey was an outgrowth of Trinity's 20-yearly study on American religious identification. Released in March, the college's ARIS report tracked the dramatic movement of the Stateside church's center of gravity away from the Northeast toward points South and West, with significant growth in Texas and California offsetting precipitous declines in the nation's traditional Catholic base.

Among the roughly 64 million who remain, national figures say that under a quarter assist at Mass at least once a week. That said, though, last year's widely-circulated Pew Study on the nation's religious landscape put the state of things in its starkest light with its finding that a tenth of the US' population -- a figure as high as 30 million -- had left the church.

To be sure, there's been no shortage of herd-riding on this from the very top of the ecclesial food chain, and well prior to the surveys at that. Long before B16 begged down a "new Pentecost" and urged a "renewal" in American Catholicism on his East Coast visit last year, earlier this month saw five years pass since John Paul II reminded a group of Northeastern bishops that "experience shows that when priority is mainly given to outward stability, the impetus to personal conversion, ecclesial renewal and missionary zeal can be lost and a false sense of security can ensue.

"The painful period of self-examination provoked by the events of the [clergy sex-abuse scandals] will bear spiritual fruit," he added, "only if it leads the whole Catholic community in America to a deeper understanding of the church’s authentic nature and mission, and a more intense commitment to making the church in your country reflect, in every aspect of her life, the light of Christ’s grace and truth."

Then as now, the pointers went largely unheeded.

Bottom line, gang: there's no shortage of work to do... and only when everybody goes all in can it ever begin to get done.

Buona domenica a tutti... let's get to it.


A Mass "On Hope"


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

"Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Mt 11:28). Jesus invites each of his disciples to spend time with him, to find comfort, sustenance and renewal in him. This invitation is addressed in a special way to our liturgical assembly which, in accordance with the ecclesial ideal, brings the whole of your local Church together with the Successor of Peter. I greet each and every one of you: firstly the Bishop of Brno, to whom I am grateful for the kind words he addressed to me at the start of the Mass, and also the Cardinals and the other Bishops present. I greet the priests, deacons, seminarians, men and women religious, the catechists and pastoral workers, the young people and the many families here. I pay my respects to the civil and military authorities, particularly to the President of the Republic and the First Lady, to the Mayor of the City of Brno and the President of the Region of Southern Moravia, a land rich in history and in cultural, industrial and commercial activity. I should also like to extend warm greetings to the pilgrims from the entire region of Moravia and the nearby dioceses of Slovakia, Poland, Austria and Germany.

Dear friends, regarding the character of today’s liturgical assembly, I gladly supported the decision, mentioned by your Bishop, to base the Scripture readings for Mass on the theme of hope: I supported it in consideration of the people of this beloved land as well as Europe and the whole of humanity, thirsting as it does for something on which to base a firm future. In my second Encyclical, Spe Salvi, I emphasized that the only "certain" and "reliable" hope (cf. no. 1) is founded on God. History has demonstrated the absurdities to which man descends when he excludes God from the horizon of his choices and actions, and how hard it is to build a society inspired by the values of goodness, justice and fraternity, because the human being is free and his freedom remains fragile. Freedom has constantly to be won over for the cause of good, and the arduous search for the "right way to order human affairs" is a task that belongs to all generations (cf. ibid., 24-25). That, dear friends, is why our first reason for being here is to listen, to listen to a word that will show us the way that leads to hope; indeed, we are listening to the only word that can give us firm hope, because it is God’s word.

In the first reading (Is 61:1-3a), the Prophet speaks as one invested with the mission of proclaiming liberation, consolation and joy to all the afflicted and the poor. Jesus took up this text and re-applied it to himself in his preaching. Indeed, he stated explicitly that the prophet’s promise was fulfilled in him (cf. Lk 4:16-21). It was completely fulfilled when by dying on the cross and rising from the dead he freed us from our slavery to selfishness and evil, to sin and death. And this is the message of salvation, ancient and ever new, that the Church proclaims from generation to generation: Christ crucified and risen, the Hope of humanity!

This word of salvation still resounds with power today, in our liturgical assembly. Jesus addresses himself lovingly to you, sons and daughters of this blessed land, in which the seed of the Gospel has been sown for over a thousand years. Your country, like other nations, is experiencing cultural conditions that often present a radical challenge to faith and therefore also to hope. In fact, in the modern age both faith and hope have undergone a "shift", because they have been relegated to the private and other-worldly sphere, while in day-to-day public life confidence in scientific and economic progress has been affirmed (cf. Spe Salvi, 17). We all know that this progress is ambiguous: it opens up possibilities for good as well as evil. Technical developments and the improvement of social structures are important and certainly necessary, but they are not enough to guarantee the moral welfare of society (cf. ibid., 24). Man needs to be liberated from material oppressions, but more profoundly, he must be saved from the evils that afflict the spirit. And who can save him if not God, who is Love and has revealed his face as almighty and merciful Father in Jesus Christ? Our firm hope is therefore Christ: in him, God has loved us to the utmost and has given us life in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10), the life that every person, even if unknowingly, longs to possess.

"Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." These words of Jesus, written in large letters above the entrance to your Cathedral in Brno, he now addresses to each of us, and he adds: "Learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Mt 11:29-30). Can we remain indifferent in the face of his love? Here, as elsewhere, many people suffered in past centuries for remaining faithful to the Gospel, and they did not lose hope; many people sacrificed themselves in order to restore dignity to man and freedom to peoples, finding in their generous adherence to Christ the strength to build a new humanity. In present-day society, many forms of poverty are born from isolation, from being unloved, from the rejection of God and from a deep-seated tragic closure in man who believes himself to be self-sufficient, or else merely an insignificant and transient datum; in this world of ours which is alienated "when too much trust is placed in merely human projects" (Caritas in Veritate, 53), only Christ can be our certain hope. This is the message that we Christians are called to spread every day, through our witness.

Proclaim it yourselves, dear priests, as you remain intimately united to Jesus, as you exercise your ministry enthusiastically, certain that nothing can be lacking in those who put their trust in him. Bear witness to Christ, dear religious, through the joyful and consistent practice of the evangelical counsels, indicating where our true homeland lies: in Heaven. And you, dear young people, dear lay faithful, dear families, base on the firm foundation of faith in Christ whatever plans you have for your family, for work, for school, for activities in every sphere of society. Jesus never abandons his friends. He assures us of his help, because nothing can be done without him, but at the same time, he asks everyone to make a personal commitment to spread his universal message of love and peace. May you draw encouragement from the example of Saints Cyril and Methodius, the principal patrons of Moravia, who evangelized the Slavic peoples, and of Saints Peter and Paul, to whom your Cathedral is dedicated. Look to the shining testimony of Saint Zdislava, mother of a family, rich in works of religion and works of mercy; of Saint John Sarkander, priest and martyr; of Saint Clement Maria Hofbauer, priest and religious, born in this diocese and canonized one hundred years ago, and of Blessed Restituta Kafkova, a religious sister born in Brno and killed by the Nazis in Vienna. May you always be accompanied and protected by Our Lady, Mother of Christ our Hope. Amen!

PHOTOS: Getty(1); AP(2); Reuters(3)


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Libertas in Veritate

Prior to tonight's Vespers in Prague Cathedral, the Pope addressed the Czech Republic's civil leadership, gathered in a riverside castle that, once upon a time, housed the offices of the Holy Roman Emperors.

As the talk's worth a deep, complete read given the subject matter, here below, its fulltext:

PHOTO: Reuters


"Christ Is For Everyone!"


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I greet all of you in the words of Saint Paul that we have just heard in our Scripture reading: Grace and peace to you from God our Father! First of all I address these words to the Cardinal Archbishop, whom I thank for his gracious words. I extend my greeting to the other Cardinals and Bishops present, to the priests and deacons, the seminarians, men and women religious, to the catechists and pastoral workers, to the young people, the families, and to the representatives of ecclesial associations and movements.

We are gathered this evening in a place that is dear to you, a place that is a visible sign of the power of divine grace acting in the hearts of believers. The beauty of this thousand-year-old church is indeed a living testimony to your people’s rich history of faith and Christian tradition: a history that is illuminated in particular by the faithfulness of those who sealed their adherence to Christ and to the Church by martyrdom. I am thinking of Saint Wenceslaus, Saint Adalbert and Saint John Nepomuk, milestones in your Church’s history, to whom we may add the example of the young Saint Vitus, who preferred to die a martyr’s death rather than betray Christ, and the examples of the monk Saint Procopius and Saint Ludmila. From the twentieth century, I recall the experiences of two Archbishops of this local Church, Cardinals Josef Beran and František Tomášek, and of many Bishops, priests, men and women religious, and lay faithful, who resisted Communist persecution with heroic fortitude, even to the sacrifice of their lives. Where did these courageous friends of Christ find their strength if not from the Gospel? Indeed, they were captivated by Jesus who said: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mt 16:24). In the hour of trial they heard another saying of Jesus resounding deep within them: “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you” (Jn 15:20).

The heroism of these witnesses to the faith reminds us that only through personal intimacy and a profound bond with Christ is it possible to draw the spiritual vitality needed to live the Christian vocation to the full. Only the love of Christ can make the apostolate effective, especially in moments of difficulty and trial. Love for Christ and for one’s fellow men and women must be the hallmark of every Christian and every community. In the Acts of the Apostles we read that “the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul” (4:32). Tertullian, an early Church writer, noted that pagans were impressed by the love that bound Christians together (cf. Apologeticum XXXIX). Dear brothers and sisters, imitate the divine Master who “came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45). Let love shine forth in each of your parishes and communities, and in your various associations and movements. According to the image used by Saint Paul, let your Church be a well-structured body with Christ as Head, in which every member acts in harmony with the whole. Nourish your love for Christ by prayer and listening to his word; feed on him in the Eucharist, and by his grace, be builders of unity and peace wherever you go.

Twenty years ago, after the long winter of Communist dictatorship, your Christian communities began once more to express themselves freely, when, through the events triggered by the student demonstration of 17 November 1989, your people regained their freedom. Yet you are well aware that even today it is not easy to live and bear witness to the Gospel. Society continues to suffer from the wounds caused by atheist ideology, and it is often seduced by the modern mentality of hedonistic consumerism amid a dangerous crisis of human and religious values and a growing drift towards ethical and cultural relativism. In this context there is an urgent need for renewed effort throughout the Church so as to strengthen spiritual and moral values in present-day society. I know that your communities are already actively engaged on several fronts, especially in charitable work, carried out under the auspices of Caritas. Your pastoral activity in the field of educating new generations should be undertaken with particular zeal. Catholic schools should foster respect for the human person; attention should also be given to the pastoral care of young people outside the school environment, without neglecting other groups of the faithful. Christ is for everyone! I sincerely hope that there will be a growing accord with other institutions, both public and private. It is always worth repeating that the Church does not seek privileges, but only to be able to work freely in the service of all, in the spirit of the Gospel.

Dear brothers and sisters, may the Lord in his goodness make you like the salt spoken of in the Gospel, salt that gives savour to life, so that you may be faithful labourers in the Lord’s vineyard. Dear Bishops and priests, it is your task to work tirelessly for the good of those entrusted to your care. Always draw inspiration from the Gospel image of the Good Shepherd, who knows his sheep, calls them by name, leads them to safe pastures, and is prepared to give his life for them (cf. Jn 10:1-19). Dear consecrated persons, by professing the evangelical counsels you recall the primacy that each of us must give to God in our lives. By living in community, you bear witness to the enrichment that comes from practising the commandment of love (cf. Jn 13:34). By your fidelity to this vocation, you will help the men and women of today to let themselves be captivated by God and by the Gospel of his Son (cf. Vita Consecrata, 104). And you, dear young people in seminaries or houses of formation, be sure to acquire a solid cultural, spiritual and pastoral preparation. In this Year of Priests, with which I chose to mark the 150th anniversary of the death of the Curé d’Ars, may you learn from the example of this pastor who was completely dedicated to God and to the care of souls; he was well aware that it was his ministry, nourished by prayer, that constituted his path to sanctification. Dear Brothers and Sisters, with gratitude to the Lord, we shall be marking a number of anniversaries this year: the 280th anniversary of the canonization of Saint John Nepomuk, the 80th anniversary of the dedication of Saint Vitus’ Cathedral, and the 20th anniversary of the canonization of Saint Agnes of Bohemia, the event which heralded your country’s deliverance from atheist oppression. All these are good reasons for persevering in the journey of faith with joy and enthusiasm, counting on the maternal intercession of Mary, Mother of God, and all your Patron Saints. Amen!



Czech List

Earlier today, the Pope arrived in Prague for his three-day visit to the Czech Republic -- a land of great historic fidelity, but where contemporary Europe's widespread aversion to faith currently runs high.

Here below, the trek's first two speeches -- first, B16's arrival remarks at the city's airport....

...and the pontiff's greeting on a visit to the church that houses the famous statue of the Infant of Prague:

Later today, the Pope will meet with the country's civil leadership, then preside at Vespers in the capital's cathedral church.

PHOTO: Getty


Friday, September 25, 2009

The Empire Has Passed, The Church Remains

While it's been five years since the archdiocese of Boston vacated most of its "Little Rome" after selling the 65-acre Brighton compound to Boston College for $172 million, one condition of the deal is still to be executed: the exhumation of the city's first cardinal, the grandiose native son William Henry O'Connell, from his chapel-mausoleum (above) overlooking St John's Seminary, the lone archdiocesan property remaining on the estate that likewise housed its administrative offices and Archbishop's Residence for nearly a century.

But after years of talk involving the Chancery, the College and O'Connell's clan, the departure of "Number One" finally appears at hand after the Boston church -- now headquartered in a suburban office park -- submitted a joint filing with the BC board late last week, petitioning a state court to green-light the removal of the cardinal's remains and their transfer to St Sebastian's, a boys' day school founded by the prelate, who served as Boston's archbishop for 37 years, from 1907 until his 1944 death at age 84.

Lest the more triumphalistic among us be moved to weep, wail, fume, etc., it's worth noting that the once-stately monument has fallen into disrepair over recent decades; the chapel's front windows are speckled with what appear to be bullet-holes, the surrounding carved statues have deteriorated, and local lore says that the site was once a popular venue for "Black Masses" conducted by intruders in the night.

BC's plans for the site call for the construction of a parking garage near the tomb's hilltop perch.

As O'Connell biographer Jim O'Toole once noted, whenever it happens, the exhumation promises to be "a major production" -- at the cardinal's internment, a horde of cement trucks were on hand to seal the burial niche in the chapel's floor, the bronze coffin said to be 15ft underneath.

Given the selection of the school site, it's worth noting that Boston's Cathedral of the Holy Cross contains a crypt beneath its high altar for the deceased ordinaries; O'Connell opted not to use it, and each of his successors have followed suit. Among the nation's traditional cardinalatial sees, only Chicago and Detroit lack cathedral burial-space for their prior holders; while a crypt was initially planned for Houston's recently-dedicated Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, the proposal was scrapped due to budgetary considerations.

Long in disrepair, the Boston crypt was recently renovated. Only three of its nine niches are filled.

And in one last strange coda to it all, a great-grandnephew of O'Connell's, former Democratic National Committee chairman Paul Kirk, was named yesterday to temporarily fill the Senate seat vacated by last month's death of Ted Kennedy.

An alum of the school where his illustrious forbear's body is slated to move, the Senator-designate is said to have a record of support for abortion rights in defiance of church teaching.


"Racism," Cont'd.

So it seems, Memphis Bishop Terry Steib's flag-raiser of "racism" in the church got some brows raised after appearing in last week's edition of the River City's beloved Thursday Visitor.

Given the hubbub -- and after getting told that the Tennessee prelate "doesn't talk to the media" -- Religion News Service's Dan Burke landed a transcript of Steib's original comments courtesy of hometown freelancer Lou Baldwin, who broke the story in the Catholic Standard & Times.

Ergo, via Burke, according to Baldwin, here's the relevant portion:
"I ... know there is a subtle racism that still exists within our Church that leads to a mistrust of the Church among our young African American men and women. (snip)

"Slowly we are moving away from that mistrust to trust in our Church and thereby trust in the Universal Church. You may ask, 'What do you mean by subtle racism?' Well, recently and particularly because of the awarding of a degree to President Obama at the University of Notre Dame, the question [of] racism among the bishops of the country has been raised. I am only raising it because [retired San Francisco] Archbishop [John] Quinn in an article in the America Magazine said that continuing confrontation with President Obama and his administration sends the message that the bishops are insensitive to the heritage and continued existence of racism in America. Archbishop Quinn said that.

"When President Obama was inaugurated four buses full of African Americans Catholics drove for more than 19 hours to be present for the historic moment. But they felt that their celebration was muted because they had heard that so many of our bishops did not seem to understand the significant moment. They seemed not to understand what the whole world took to heart -- that President Obama's election was creating or beginning a whole new era that rejected racial stereotypes and it was opening the door to more embracing international relationships.

"But many of our Church did not share that jubilation. And this, people, I will admit to you too. Nothing was done during other administrations, nothing was said when other presidents who favored the war in Iraq with its constant killing, or who favored capital punishment were given awards in the name of the Church, even though those presidents were not adhering to Catholic Right to Life principles. Because of his clearly unacceptable stand on abortion many who are leaders in the church are willing to pillory President Obama with direct confrontation rather than with clear moral teaching about abortion and public law."
So, there's the script... and as they say "we report, you decide."


Saint Damien's Cheering Section

Given all the moment's focus on health-care, it's worth noting that next month'll see the canonization of two figures already well famed and loved for their devoted service to the sick and aged.

Lest anyone's thinking politically, however, the timing's pure coincidence: the miracles securing sainthood for Blesseds Damien de Veuster and Jeanne Jugan cleared their final hurdles in early 2008, and their 11 October elevation to the honors of the altar was scheduled in the first weeks of this year.

To honor the foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor and Hawaii's Belgian-born "Leper Priest," hundreds of elderly and infirm folks in the care of their respective successors will lead the Roman pilgrimages to the rites... of them all, though, the most poignant group is likely to be a delegation of 11 leprosy patients from Kalaupapa, the island colony where Damien ministered before dying of the disease in 1889:
In the 1870s, the leprosy patients Damien cared for were shunned by most people, even doctors, because of an intense stigma that was associated with the disease.

Today's patients from Kalaupapa, the isolated peninsula where Hawaii's leprosy patients were banished for more than 100 years, feel particularly close to Damien.

Dr. Kalani Brady, their physician, said Thursday the trip to Rome will be an "energy-laden" voyage for many of his patients.

"They're going to see their personal saint canonized," said Brady, 53, who will accompany the group to Rome. It's "incredibly important, incredibly personal for them," he said.

The reverence for Damien transcends religious sects, Brady said, noting that one 84-year-old making the trip is Mormon.

"He's bound to a wheelchair, he's completely blind. So it's important enough for him to go, despite the hurdles which he has to overcome," Brady said....

The pope is expected to meet privately with the patients during their stay in Rome.

The 11 are among about 20 patients who still live at Kalaupapa. The Kingdom of Hawaii began banishing leprosy patients to the remote section of Molokai island in the 1860s to control an outbreak of the disease that was killing Native Hawaiians in large numbers....

Today, many patients still have to fight the indignity of stereotypes and misperceptions about the illness.

Leprosy, also known as Hansen's disease, is spread by direct person-to-person contact, although it's not easily transmitted. It can cause skin lesions and lead to blindness.

But it's been curable since the development of sulfone drugs in the 1940s, and people treated with drugs aren't contagious.

Damien built homes for the sick, changed their bandages and ate poi, a Hawaiian staple, from the same bowl as the patients. He put up no barriers between himself and those he ministered to.

He was diagnosed with leprosy 12 years after he arrived and died five years later in 1889.

Overall, some 650 people from Hawaii are traveling to Rome for the canonization. Most, between 520 and 550, are expected to be part of the Catholic Diocese of Honolulu's delegation.
In recent years, Damien's become an unofficial patron both for those afflicted with HIV/AIDS, and society's outcasts in general.

In the days following the canonization, several Mainland cities will join the celebrations as a relic of the American West's first saint makes its way back to Hawaii; after a tour of the islands, the piece of Damien's right heel will be kept at Honolulu's Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace, where the saint-to-be was ordained a priest in 1869.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

When It Rains....

All apologies for the slow posting, gang -- we've had a couple family emergencies behind the scenes over recent days, so your narrator's had to jump into duty as a utility nurse/fixer/gopher, and that's had to take priority over compiling your daily feed.

Hope you can understand -- some things are just more important.

Luckily, everything's beginning to return to the clear, so until the time and mental space to rev up fully is there again, I'll do my best to turn something around whenever the chance presents itself.... In the meantime, though, if you'd be so sweet as to send up a good word that everyone shakes out OK, it'd mean the world.

As ever, all thanks for your patience, and all the comments, kindnesses and moments of communion that make these pages a daily joy to do. As fall arrives and the days dwindle ever shorter, every blessing of health, happiness and peace to one and all -- God love you lot forever.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Pope to Wilt: Come to Rome

A week before leading the first episcopal ordination his booming Southern church has ever seen, the nation's highest-ranking African-American prelate has received an added sign of papal favor.

Earlier today, B16 named Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta as one of his personal appointees to next month's Second Synod of Bishops for Africa, which'll meet at the Vatican through most of October.

The lone US cleric tapped to attend the gathering, the 61 year-old archbishop was listed among a group of 15 senior prelates invited by the pontiff from outside the continent, among them the cardinals of Paris and Budapest and the heads of the regional bishops' councils of Europe, Asia, Oceania and Latin America. With some 200 members, the majority of a Synod's delegates are elected by the relevant episcopal conferences -- in this case, the African ones alone -- with the remainder of the body comprised of the heads of the Roman Curia (each with an ex officio seat), and papal appointees.

Ordained an auxiliary of his native Chicago at age 36, Gregory rose to national prominence in early 2002 when the clergy sex-abuse crisis erupted weeks after his election as president of the US bishops. Though unforeseen on his ascent to the post, the first minority prelate ever to lead the body came especially well-equipped to handle the moment -- on his arrival as bishop of Belleville in 1993, Gregory stepped into a diocese shaken by revelations of clerical misconduct after a tenth of its presbyterate had been suspended on credible allegations.

As the national spotlight bore down, the then-chief became the leading voice of the church's response, earning high marks for a performance that drew heavily upon his experience with the issue, innate conciliatory talents and considerable media savvy.

Days after wrapping his three-year term at the bench's helm, Gregory became the third Black prelate sent to lead the 69-county Atlanta church, albeit under vastly different circumstances than greeted his predecessors. Amid a mass migration driven by the region's booming economy and rising profile, the Catholic community in the "Capital of the South" now stands at the door of a million members (triple its 1990 size), with an all-around vibrance that's made it one of the Stateside church's bright lights at the close of a difficult decade... with even more eminent Roman recognition possibly to come.

On next Tuesday's feast of the Archangels, Gregory will ordain his new auxiliary, Bishop-elect Luis Zarama, at an afternoon Mass in the 404's Cathedral of Christ the King. Named in July, the Colombian-born prelate is the first added episcopal presence given to Atlanta in four decades, and the first to be named for reasons other than the illness of the city's archbishop.

In an interview with an Italian newspaper last November, Gregory looked to the day when "a Pope of color" would govern the church, drawing a parallel to the presidential election which had just occurred.

"[I]f Obama in the White House is akin to the first man on the Moon," the archbishop said, "surely the same could happen for the chair of Peter."

PHOTO: Michael Alexander/Georgia Bulletin


Coming 2010: B16 to UK?

Citing unnamed sources, London's Times reports that Pope Benedict will visit Britain late next year:
The Holy See will announce soon the first papal visit to Britain since Pope John Paul II made a pastoral visit in 1982.

The historic event will overshadow even the triumphant visit of Pope John Paul II, which almost did not take place at all because of the Falklands War.

During his time in the country, expected to take place in September next year, Pope Benedict will have a meeting with the Queen, Supreme Governor of the Church of England and will be accorded the full panoply of a state visit. It is possible the Pope will also stay with the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

[Prime Minister] Gordon Brown extended a formal invitation during a private audience in February and preparations have been under way for some time.

A draft itinerary is understood to include London, Birmingham, Oxford and Edinburgh.

As part of the visit next year Pope Benedict XVI is not expected to visit Northern Ireland, according to British officials.

It is thought he will visit Ireland on a separate occasion.

One issue likely to be central to the celebrations will be the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman, a ceremony that could take place with Benedict in Birmingham, where Newman founded his Oratory.
While Benedict has not presided at a beatification ceremony since returning the penultimate step to sainthood to the local churches shortly after his 2005 election, the pontiff's devotion to the 19th century cardinal-convert is well known.

Intriguingly enough, while an early July leak reported that Newman's beatification had been scheduled for next 2 May in Birmingham, a formal announcement to that end remains conspicuous by its absence.

In the meantime, the Papa Ratzi Road Show picks up again at the weekend with a three-day trip to the Czech Republic beginning early Saturday.

SVILUPPO: The "Beeb" is off and running with the same....
Pope Benedict XVI is to visit Britain in 2010, the BBC has learned....

Downing Street refused to comment on Pope Benedict's visit, saying it was a matter for the Vatican.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

For Paris, Pope Calls In the "Ace"

It wasn't even 7 o'clock before the grief began pouring in from Points North, with one message summing it best: "We've lost the greatest nuncio this country has ever seen."

At the same time, though, another thing's just as clear: B16 wants to give the French hierarchy an extreme makeover.

Word's been on the street since early summer, but today it became official as the Pope appointed Archbishop Luigi Ventura, the Holy See's man in Canada since 2001, to represent him in the church's "eldest daughter" as apostolic nuncio to France.

With the move, the 64 year-old Italian now holds one of Vatican diplomacy's three most prestigious postings -- a job whose prior occupants have invariably been placed in line for the cardinal's red hat.

Beloved across the vast Northern turf for his relaxed, jovial style, the prelate described as "an experience" and known by everyone from clerics to cameramen simply as "Luigi" has won wide praise both for a sense of warmth and inclusion that's seen the doors to the Nunciature -- "Peter's House," as he calls it -- constantly thrown open to church and community alike and, even more significantly, for spearheading a "revolution" in the Canadian hierarchy that's birthed a class of prelates able to mix doctrinal fidelity with pastoral concern, topped with a savvy, engaged touch.

The latter record is manifested in a trail of seventy appointments... with a few last ones, so they say, on deck.

Placed in the footsteps of Archbishop Fortunato Baldelli, who was named the church's Mercy Czar in early June, the City of Light hands Ventura a two-edged challenge as sizable as his talents: speaking for the Pope in the heartland of European secularism, its ways bled into the life of the national church, with a landscape populated by, among others, a hierarchy on orders to seek more priests and bolster its fidelity, a church that doesn't show on Sundays, and a pro-abortion rights Catholic currently on his third marriage as head of state.

Taken together, it's enough to make one's head spin... but still, the "Ace" seems undaunted.

Recorded in advance of this morning's announcement, the country's leading church outlet is running the following interview with the departing messenger...

...and an added tribute, to boot.

Ventura's successor in Ottawa wasn't named in the morning batch. A breather might be just as well, though -- he'll have enormous shoes to fill... and Luigi will be wildly missed.


Monday, September 21, 2009

On "Homecoming," the Chief Talks Migration

The most influential president of the US bishops in a generation might be content to leave the bulk of his conference's health-care response to its relevant committee chairs, but as he returned to his first episcopal assignment over the weekend, Cardinal Francis George talked up another proposed reform high and ever on his bench's radar -- namely, immigration:
George... said the church does not support breaking the law or illegal immigration.

"But we should also say you have to respect the people in front of you. If you have neighbors and family members who have been subjected to society financially, socially and religiously for decades, they should be able to live here with security," said George, who served as bishop of the Yakima Diocese for nearly six years in the 1990s.

George was in Yakima to participate in the lifetime award ceremony for Central Washington Catholics who received the award, a medallion, that is named for him.
Previously the Rome-based #2 official of his community, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, George led the Yakima diocese from 1990-96, when he was named archbishop of Portland. Less than a year later, the native Chicagoan was transferred home to succeed Cardinal Joseph Bernardin five months after the celebrated prelate's death from cancer at 68.

Given the topic at hand, it's worth noting that -- according to its official numbers -- Hispanics now comprise a majority of the 2.3 million-member Windy City church, the nation's third largest diocese.

While Federal-level movement on immigration reform isn't expected until next year at the earliest -- at least, as things currently stand -- George's comments came quickly on the heels of an unprecedented Capitol Hill summit last week that saw a delegation of Hispanic bishops meet with Congressional leaders from both sides of the aisle on a variety of issues, the border included.

All that said, the story topping the Northwest's ecclesial beat these days is the coming change at the helm of two of Washington state's three local churches; both Archbishop Alex Brunett of Seattle and Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane reached the retirement age of 75 earlier this year and await Rome's naming of their replacements.

While the Spokane prelate is well-known as the immediate past president of the US bishops, the choice of the next leader of the Seattle church bears especially close watching... and not because of its contentious recent history, either: now home to well over 900,000 Catholics, Brunett's charge has nearly tripled in size since the archbishop's 1997 arrival, rocketing the 160 year-old see into the list of Stateside Catholicism's 15 largest dioceses.

In a recent step-by-step primer on the process that'll name his successor, Brunett said he expected an appointment to drop "sometime in the not too distant future."

Beyond that, as with every other opening these days, all bets are off.

PHOTO: Andy Sawyer/Yakima Herald-Republic