Thursday, March 31, 2011

Shot of the Day... and Prayer for the Month

So it seems these days, when people "see" the Pope, they don't actually look at him.

Sure, the way things are, the above is a common phenomenon... but still.

In the month to come, lest we forget, B16 marks the sixth anniversary of his election, alongside his 84th birthday... and in keeping with the visual above, it's worth noting that -- for his general intention in April -- the pontiff has stated his prayer "That the church may offer new generations, through the believable proclamation of the Gospel, ever-new reasons of life and hope."

And, well, church, as that's ever a work for the lot of us, God give us the grace to keep to it.

PHOTO: Reuters


On Opening Day, High Hopes....

Well, church, even if our "40-day Spring Training" is just reaching the bottom of the 3rd, for many of us, this Thursday sees life's definitive return to the world.

For the 142nd time (or thereabout), hope springs anew far and wide just after 1pm Eastern with the first pitch of Opening Day -- thanks be to God, the radiant dawn of another season of baseball... and at long last, the end of the five-month "void" that marks many of the journeys among us.

Like most of The Show, as the River City's first turn on the field won't come til tomorrow, more later. In the meanwhile, though, it's worth recalling the one virtue that, even for Mets fans, marks this day more than any other -- and something that all of us, ballfans and not, can use along the road of Lent.....

Ergo, Harry, sing us in:

Whatever your home-team's outlook for the next 162, God love you lot this Opening Day and forever... and gratefully, finally -- after another brutal winter -- Play Ball.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

In Laker Nation, The Work Takes The Court

On a lighter note, a year ago this week, when the nation's lone prelate of Opus Dei roots was named to head the Stateside church's largest diocese, some elements of the British press lived up to their reputation for hysteria over news in blaring that, by sending Archbishop José Gomez to Los Angeles, the Vatican had exacted its "revenge on Hollywood" for the DaVinci Code.

As that's the kind of conjecture one can't seriously engage with a straight face -- well, unless you've gone the way of the Dan Brown Kool-Aid -- best to recall Gomez's reported crack to the LA priests when the topic of "The Work" came up: namely, that "I left my albino in San Antonio."

In the comedic sense, they say the line killed. Still, in one of the many things that Brown couldn't make up if he tried, the new Californiano closed out a busy first month at the helm of the largest local church in American Catholicism's four-century history with a quintessentially LA ritual for the city's high-profile newcomers: attending the Lakers' morning shootaround earlier today, and bringing along a visiting friend -- Peru's top prelate, Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne of Lima.

The confluence was fairly natural; its fold including no shortage of LA's 5 million Catholics, Laker Nation is arguably Southern California's largest religious community... while, among his other claims to fame, Cipriani played for the Peruvian national hoops squad for six years before entering the seminary and remains a superfan. Still, the Laker beat-writers missed out on perhaps the story's most colorful angle -- the Peruvian primate is likewise the global church's senior Opus Dei hierarch, named the personal prelature's first cardinal in 2001.

This week's swing-through was Cipriani's second trip to LA in the last year; the cardinal was one of seven red-hats present at last May's Welcome Mass for Gomez, which marked the start of the Mexican-born prelate's year-long transition into the archbishop's chair, not to mention the beginning of his "conversion" from his beloved San Antonio Spurs.

Heading to Rome from the City of Angels, Cipriani told the LATimes that the Opus duo were invited to a Lakers' game on their return, and he was keen to take it up. Along the way, the prelates promised prayers for the two-time defending NBA champs and talked with coach Phil ("Zen Master") Jackson, Spanish-born center Pau Gasol, and star guard Kobe Bryant -- the longest-tenured Laker in franchise history -- who later described the visit as "pretty cool," telling the paper that in his 15 years in the league, he'd never seen anything like it.

If only Ron Artest were around, the moment would've been all the more priceless. Then again, maybe he was kept away on purpose.

All that said, here are the post-shoot interviews, first with the cardinal...

...and the archbishop:

With each team left to face roughly eight more games in the league's regular season, the NBA Playoffs begin on April 16th.

Currently three and a half games behind the Spurs in the West, the Lakers have already clinched a postseason spot.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Capturing "the Great"

With the 1 May beatification of Pope John Paul II drawing ever closer, the run-up to Rome's biggest gathering since the Polish pontiff's 2005 funeral has seen a re-emergence of many of the personalities and stories which marked the 27 years of The Reign That Was.

While, to be sure, the Wojtyla revival would be more conspicuous by its absence given the news, particularly compelling among the veterans returning to the fore is the figure through whose eyes the world got to see John Paul more closely than any other: the longtime papal photographer Arturo Mari, who retired in 2007 after a half-century of snapping the Popes at close range, but whose trailing of the "pontifex massmediaticus" took the job's scope to completely uncharted turf.

The house's favorite of his millions of memories (one he was ordered not to capture) shown above, in a brief interview, Mari reminisces, closing with the story of his most-cherished John Paul image... one taken on what might well have made for the last pontificate's most emotional night:

And for those of us who remember the moment -- above all, the striking images of it -- nothing else really needs to be said.

Though the beatification rites will take place on the "liturgical anniversary" of the late Pope's return to "the Father's House," this Saturday sees six years since John Paul's death, six weeks shy of his 85th birthday.

Next Tuesday, a Vatican press conference will provide the most extensive preview yet of the week of festivities, which'll climax with a Beatification Eve prayer vigil at Rome's Circus Maximus, a Thanksgiving Mass on 2 May in St Peter's Square -- and, of course, the relocation of John Paul's tomb to the main floor of the Vatican Basilica, where he'll rest in a side-chapel adjacent to Michelangelo's Pietà.

All that said, as the Vatican's de facto "Year of JPII" isn't so much meant to be watched from afar as observed in the field, it's worth wondering how well it's being picked up in the trenches.

Either way, to get us all into the spirit, let the clip-reel tell the story....

...and, lastly, a personal thought -- one hopefully at least some will understand:

PHOTO: Arturo Mari


Priority 1: The Patriarchate

Fresh off his upset win to head global Catholicism's second-largest branch, the new chief of the Ukrainian church has hit the ground running... even if, at 40, time's very much on his side.

On leaving this morning for his first meetings in Rome as leader of the dominant Eastern church in communion with the Holy See, Major-Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev revealed his intent to move on the most delicate aspect of his fold's relations with the Vatican right out of the box, announcing that he'll push for Pope Benedict's formal designation of the UGCC as a patriarchate.

"We're really going to tell of how our church is developing and that each developing church [becomes] a patriarchate," the hierarch -- accompanied by his four metropolitans -- said to the local press.

"A patriarchate is a period in the completion of the development of a church."

Shevchuk added his thought that the last two decades since the much-persecuted UGCC emerged from its clandestine existence under Communist rule had comprised a sufficient span of development.

As history goes, it's been a half-century since Rome was first petitioned to grant the patriarchal title to the church's then-head, Cardinal Josef Slipyj. Instead, Pope Paul VI responded by devising the rank of "major-archbishop," which grants all the prerogatives of an Eastern patriarch to the head of a self-governing church in full communion, just without the title itself. Four other Eastern mother-sees have since been designated major-archbishoprics, two of them in India.

While, in practice, the UGCC clergy and faithful predominantly refer to their leader as "patriarch" -- and, even when the post's holder is a cardinal, employ the Eastern rank's traditional style of "His Beatitude" -- Rome's formal concession on the status has been stalled due to one or another external factor over the decades since 1963. Most recently, the calls have been turned aside in the years following Ukrainian independence so as not to exacerbate tensions with the country's considerable Orthodox churches, whose leaderships have often clashed with the UGCC over the former's accusations of Catholic "proselytism" on what the Orthodox claim is their "canonical territory."

In a 2006 interview, the now-retired major-archbishop, Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, said that, shortly after his election, B16 "encouraged" the Ukrainians "to keep working on" the question of the patriarchate. At the time, Husar had just accomplished the return of the church's home-base to the capital, "where we had been driven from 200 years before," and the temporary Greek-Catholic chapel built to accommodate the move had already been torched.

In a significant sign of improving ties, however, the patriarchs of two of Ukraine's three Orthodox communities (including the local branch tied to Moscow) and a leading hierarch of the other were on hand for Sunday's enthronement of Shevchuk in the church's new seat, Kiev's still-rising Cathedral of the Resurrection. The delegations' presence was said to be unprecedented.

Where the Rome talks will go is anyone's guess... still, what's been said before bears repeating -- by choosing their youngest member to enjoy a decades-long reign, the Ukrainian Synod made its man a force to be reckoned with.

Not to mention that, among seven other languages, he's fluent in Italian... and German, too.

PHOTO: Getty


Monday, March 28, 2011

Quote of the Day

“We ask ourselves today: what is the meaning of this extraordinary event, the meaning of this canonization? It is the celebration of holiness. And what is holiness? It is human perfection, human love raised up to its highest level in Christ, in God.
At the time of John Neumann, America represented new values and new hopes. Bishop Neumann saw these in their relationship to the ultimate, supreme possession to which humanity is destined. With Saint Paul he could testify that “all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Cor. 3, 22). And with Augustine he knew that our hearts are restless, until they rest in the Lord.

His love for people was authentic brotherly love. It was real charity: missionary and pastoral charity. It meant that he gave himself to others. Like Jesus the Good Shepherd, he lay down his life for the sheep, for Christ’s flock: to provide for their needs, to lead them to salvation. And today, with the Evangelist, we solemnly proclaim: “There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Io. 15, 13).

John Neumann’s pastoral zeal was manifested in many ways. Through faithful and persevering service, he brought to completion the generosity of his initial act of missionary dedication. He helped children to satisfy their need for truth, their need for Christian doctrine, for the teaching of Jesus in their lives. He did this both by catechetical instruction and by promoting, with relentless energy, the Catholic school system in the United States. And we still remember the words of our late Apostolic Delegate in Washington, the beloved Cardinal Amleto Cicognani: “You Americans”, he said, “possess two great treasures: the Catholic school and the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. Guard them like the apple of your eye” (Cfr. Epistola 2 iunii 1963).

And who can fail to admire all the loving concern that John Neumann showed for God’s people, through his priestly ministry and his pastoral visitations as a Bishop? He deeply loved the Sacramental of Reconciliation: and like a worthy son of Saint Alphonsus he transmitted the pardon and the healing power of the Redeemer into the lives of innumerable sons and daughters of the Church.

He was close to the sick; he was at home with the poor; he was a friend to sinners. And today he is the honor of all immigrants -- and from the viewpoint of the Beatitudes, the symbol of Christian success.

John Neumann bore the image of Christ. He experienced, in his innermost being, the need to proclaim by word and example the wisdom and power of God, and to preach the crucified Christ. And in the Passion of the Lord he found strength and the inspiration of his ministry: Passio Christi conforta me! [Passion of Christ, comfort me!]

The Eucharistic Sacrifice was the center of his life, and constituted for him what the Second Vatican Council would later call “the source and summit of all evangelization.” With great effectiveness, through the Forty Hours Devotion he helped his parishes become communities of faith and service.

But to accomplish his task, love was necessary. And love meant giving; love meant effort; love meant sacrifice. And in his sacrifice, Bishop Neumann’s service was complete. He led his people along the paths of holiness. He was indeed an effective witness, in his generation, to God’s love for his Church and the world.

There are many who have lived and are still living the divine command of generous love. For love still means giving oneself for others, because Love has come down to humanity; and from humanity love goes back to its divine source! How many men and women make this plan of God the program of their lives! Our praise goes to the clergy, religious and Catholic laity of America who, in following the Gospel, live according to this plan of sacrifice and service. Saint John Neumann is a true example for all of us in this regard.

It is not enough to acquire the good things of the earth, for these can even be dangerous, if they stop or impede our love from rising to its source and reaching its goal. Let us always remember that the greatest and the first commandment is this: “You shall love the Lord your God” (Matth. 22, 36).

True humanism in Christianity. True Christianity -- we repeat -- is the sacrifice of self for others, because of Christ, because of God. It is shown by signs; it is manifested in deeds. Christianity is sensitive to the suffering and oppression and sorrow of others, to poverty, to all human needs, the first of which is truth.

Our ceremony today is indeed the celebration of holiness. At the same time, it is a prophetic anticipation -- for the Church, for the United States, for the world -- of a renewal in love: love for God, love for neighbor.

And in this vital charity, beloved sons and daughters, let us go forward together, to build up a real civilization of love.

Saint John Neumann, by the living power of your example and by the intercession of your prayers, help us today and forever!
--Pope Paul VI
Homily at the Canonization of John Nepoumecene Neumann, C.SS.R
19 June 1977
* * *
The first Redemptorist to be professed in America and fourth bishop of Philadelphia, today marks the 200th birthday of the lone bishop, sole cleric -- indeed, the one male citizen of these States -- to, at least as yet, attain the honors of the altar.

"Saint John Neumann, help us today and for ever"....

"Dearest God, give us holiness."

PHOTO: Statue of St John Neumann: St Patrick's Cathedral, New York


Sunday, March 27, 2011

"Axios, Axios, Axios...."

To add some flavor to the recap of this morning's enthronement in Kiev, some key footage from the vivid, historic rites....

For those of us who don't know Ukrainian, the visuals will have to suffice... and suffice it to say, they do:

Remember, Latin folk, for the world's largest Catholic flock after Rome, what you see above is the astonishing launch of a very significant new era... led by the third-youngest bishop in the global church.

A standard feature of Eastern ordination and installation liturgies, the threefold chants of "Axios" -- "worthy" in Greek -- symbolize the people's approval of the cleric being elevated, and their consent to the proceedings.

Among the other hierarchs in attendance was Ukraine's top Latin-church prelate -- Archbishop Mietek Mokrzycki of Lviv, the longtime deputy private secretary to Pope John Paul II... who, strangely, donned his pallium for the event.

Tip to Rorate.


"Holiness United God's People": In Kiev, and Beyond, A New "Patriarch"... A New Epoch

Even before its full picture would become clear, this morning in Ukraine's capital promised to make for a striking scene, as a living head of global Catholicism's second-largest branch watched the reins pass to his successor for the first time in centuries.

Given the Synod's choice of its youngest member to lead the 6 million-member church, however, the moment became all the more one for the books.

Like their Orthodox counterparts, the rank of a Greek-Catholic hierarch is distinguishable by the number of bars that adorn the base of their ormophrion -- the stole worn atop their robes. Three bars designate a bishop, metropolitans have four, with five reserved to the church's head alone.

Still short of his 41st birthday, as Major-Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk was invested with the symbol of his new office under the dome of a still-rising cathedral in the region's birthplace of Christianity, the standing-room crowd of faithful crammed into every inch of the massive space and the unfinished church still glittered. Yet hovering over it all, a powerful message resounded, less of a new day than a new epoch -- a reign likely to extend to the midway point of this century.

In picking a leader who was just starting seminary as the long-persecuted UGCC emerged from the underground and its leadership returned home from exile, the bishops of the Catholic world's biggest non-Latin fold voted to recast the template at the helm of their church, and dramatically so. On its canonical territory, the "transitional" generation of Ukrainian eparchs who ministered through the years of the church's public reestablishment there have been passed over in favor of a decisive option for the future and long-term consistency as the church's rebuilding continues on its native turf. And further beyond, the selection of the pastor of Argentina's 300,000 UGCC faithful signals both an open hand to the church's diaspora -- home to the majority of its membership -- and with the Lviv native's rise, a choice able to unite its domestic and overseas factions.

Above all, though, the Synod tapped a figure who's rapidly become one of its brightest lights. Fluent in seven languages, a summa cum laude theologian from a Roman university, former head of the Patriarchal Curia and popular preacher known for his prodigious work-ethic, the successor to Cardinal Lubomyr Husar represents fairly equal degrees of continuity and change. Yet unlike a de facto "patriarch" destined for a shorter reign, by picking their junior hierarch to lead the country's third-largest Christian community, Shevchuk's confreres have made their man a force to be reckoned with -- and not merely within the region, nor just along the center of the Catholic-Orthodox axis.

In a global fold that places a heavy premium on seniority, relatively speaking, it won't be too much time before the new UGCC chief becomes the longest-standing top leader in the Catholic world, all told. And even then, he'll still be shy of 60, with over two decades of voting eligibility in a Roman conclave still ahead of him. But what's more, with the venerable Husar freshly turned 78 -- just one of a glut of cardinals set to lose their electoral rights on reaching their 80th birthdays over the next two years -- his heir could receive the post's traditional red hat as soon as age 42, five years ahead of the youngest cardinal of the modern era, and no less than a decade and a half faster than the junior member of today's papal "senate."

Ordained a bishop less than two years ago, while Shevchuk's qualifications on paper were already well-burnished, his lack of seasoning in high office apparently pushed the Synod's deliberations to their final day.

The young star could've been made to ride out an elder cleric's brief reign. But so it seems, a majority of the hierarchs had found their man of the future, and they saw no sufficient reason to delay his launch any longer.

Fresh from his shocking upset of the leadership's more established figures, the four metropolitans Shevchuk now oversees will accompany the new major-archbishop to Rome later this week, where he'll be welcomed by Pope Benedict and briefed at the Congregation for the Oriental Churches.

In the meanwhile, with Eastern Christianity observing "Cross Sunday" -- the midway point of its Great Lent -- here below is a rough translation of the new Ukrainian chief's inaugural talk, given at this morning's hierarchical Divine Liturgy of Enthronement.

* * *
Beloved in Christ, brothers and sisters!

Glory to Jesus Christ!

"We praise your Cross, Lord, and glorify Your holy resurrection!”

With these words today, the Church of Christ focuses on the Honest and True Cross. Today, as we pass the halfway point of our Lenten journey, the Life-Giving Tree is given to us, that we might find in it a source of strength and courage to go on to the Resurrection, to put the Sign of the Cross at the center of our lives.

In his Epistle to the Philippians, St Paul has left us a unique early Christian hymn that a young Church, newly enlivened by the Holy Spirit, solemnly sang in its Liturgy.

The Apostle calls to us this way:
Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God, something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (2:6-11).
In these words, the word of the Cross is central. Here, on the one hand, we see an icon of the earthly life of Jesus Christ -- his everyday humanity en route to his death on the cross. But the Cross is the greatest moment of his humiliation, extreme humility and divine self-giving. In the second part of this hymn, however, we see Christ, who glorifies the Father. That from the death of the Cross begins the Resurrection -- the praise and triumphant discovery of his divine glory, which is the glory of the Father.

As a disciple of Christ, every Christian who follows his Lord must witness in their personal lives to the effectiveness of his paschal mystery. Only in the celestial glory of the Resurrection can one enter through its only door, through His honest and True Cross. Our vocation is to follow the Savior to the end, even until the death of the Cross. His True Cross is the lowest degree of humility and obedient disgrace, but it is exactly the place from which the Father proceeds to raise him, that we might praise the divine glory which lay before the knee that bends in heaven, on earth, and under the earth.

"We praise Your Cross Lord, and glorify Your holy resurrection!”

These words come as a special sound to us today! For us, the martyrs of the Church -- which is true inheritor of the faith of the apostles -- sing them in this Patriarchal Cathedral of the Resurrection! Is this not an eloquent sign of God for all of us?

Our Church in the twentieth century has walked with our Savior to the end -- until the total destruction, and seeming death, of their native land. However, the death of hundreds of thousands of our laity, priests, monks and nuns, led by our bishops, was death on a cross, and therefore the giver of life! Our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents thus make known to us, their descendants, and through us -- a free Ukraine, the strength and invincibility of the Holy and the True Cross. In its slavery, humiliation and self-giving, our church was brought to this place: the place of resurrection, where the Father glorified it and raised up its imperishable glory, a glory that was there before it always, that every tongue, through the power of the Church's testimony in the Holy Spirit, confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

"We worship Your Cross Lord, and glorify Your holy resurrection!

For me, a young father and head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, these words are a result of their past and current meaning, and guidance for the future.

Today, we are heirs of Volodymyr's Baptism, we feel the unity and continuity with our history and tradition, adopting the precious heritage of our great predecessors: Servant of God Metropolitan Sheptytsky, Patriarch Joseph [Slipyj], and Myroslav Ivan [Lubachivsky], and Lubomyr [Husar]. Today, these men, most cherished Lubomyr, bless us that we might make this treasure an alive and eloquent witness for the Ukraine of today. "Holiness united the people of God" is and will be the strategy of our Church.

She lives and acts as one body in the world, as the church, on a universal scale -- it is the soul and will of the Ukrainian people to be made holy, to open its heart to its brothers and neighbors, to preserve our nation as people of God and lead it to salvation and eternal life.

Today we are experiencing a new spring of our Church, which in its resurrection by the Holy Spirit begins to get younger and smile anew to the world with the light of Christ's Gospel. For her, the ancient and eternally new, sings psalms, saying: she "fills your days with good things, and renews your youth as the eagle’s" (Ps. 102.5). Today, especially on this festive day, let us realize anew that we are renewed and rejuvenated by the Church. So I want to especially appeal to our mostly still young clergy, religious, and the entire Ukrainian youth! Today, Christ calls us, the young, to account for His Church! Let us embrace it, put the Honest and True Cross of our Savior in the center of our lives and bring Him forward as Moses' rod brought forward sweet water in the desert! Let us boldly carry out our Christian vocation in the world and together we can renew the face of our nation and its state.

“We praise Thy passion, O Christ, your appearance and your glorious resurrection!"


SVILUPPO: Video from the rites has been posted.

PHOTOS: Getty, Reuters


Saturday, March 26, 2011

"A Wonderful Challenge": Quebec's Way of Lacroix Begins

Escorted to the chair by an ebullient predecessor -- now, of course, Rome's Kingmaker-in-Chief -- Gérald Cyprien Lacroix was installed on Annunciation Night as archbishop of Quebec: the 24th successor of François de Laval, Canada's first resident prelate... but far more importantly for today's purposes, the heir of Marc Ouellet.

Ordained a bishop less than two years ago, the 53 year-old primate of Canada comes, much like his mentor, from an unusual pedigree. A member of the Pius X Secular Institute -- a new movement dedicated to a fresh approach to evangelization -- the new archbishop has been rocketed to the leadership of the church in the Francophone province after a priesthood (and, indeed, a life) that've seen significant stints outside of Quebec.

As a teenager, Lacroix and his family lived in Manchester, New Hampshire, where the future prelate attended a diocesan high school and the Benedictines' St Anselm's College. A decade later, the new primate was assigned to serve as a missionary in Colombia, where he spent ten years working the fields. Both English and Spanish figured into the archbishop's homily, where Lacroix underscored his commitment to a new evangelization of the famously-secularized "New France."

"In this country that is mine," he prayed, "I long to carry Your Name."

And, clearly, Hatman's heir is open to every means to accomplish the goal. Having launched a Twitter feed to mark his appointment, an iPad (with a Bible app installed on it) was among the offertory gifts presented at the Installation Mass -- held in the city's convention center -- along with a gift of a drum from the local First Nations, and a map of the Quebec church.

While most of Lacroix's opening interventions in the press have been, as one would expect, Francophone, the primate did make an English-speaking splash in a Q&A with Holy Post, the religion blog of Canada's leading conservative paper, the National Post.

Here, some snips:
Q. [With weekly Mass attendance now hovering around 20%] what can you do to bring more people back into the pews?

A. I think the first thing is not to try to bring people back to the pews. People in Quebec will resist that. They don’t want us to use them as instruments that fill our pews and raise our statistics. That’s not our mission. Our mission is to bring people to a deeper relationship with the Lord and the Gospel and by doing that the rest falls into place. If God becomes the center of your life that changes everything and then people will find their way back to the Church. The Pope has said very clearly we’re not looking to build up numbers and statistics....

Q. Many of those in Quebec felt there was a time when the Church and the government were too close and the views of the Vatican were imposed on them. How do you deal with those fears?

Because of our history here and our recent history a lot of people are really afraid that we are going to start imposing things through the government. I have absolutely no nostalgic feelings for that time. I want to go forward. Of course, we have nothing to impose on anyone — not the government nor the people. We want to propose but not impose. We propose and present the message and people are free to accept it. In other times in Quebec history there was a greater closeness between government and the Church and it was hard to distinguish who was who. But we’re not there any more and we don’t want to go back. We want to look forward and see what kind of relationship we will have with the people. We need to find the right balance between what we had and what we have today. It’s a wonderful challenge.
And, lastly, as for the primate's mentor, while the global docket of episcopal appointments over which Ouellet now presides is never-ending, the short-term future will see the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops spending a disproportionate amount of time tending the chairs at home.

Half of Quebec's 19 ordinaries reach the retirement age within the next two years. The province's departing group is led by Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte of Montreal, who turns 75 in June.


Friday, March 25, 2011

From Ukraine, a Shocker

And, in a word, now we know why the Ukrainian Synod took so long....

The buzz of a shocker from Lviv began circulating last night, and this morning it was confirmed: the bishops of the largest Eastern fold in communion with Rome have elected the youngest of their number -- 40 year-old Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the apostolic administrator of the UGCC's eparchy in Argentina -- as head of the church.

A former private secretary to his now-predecessor, Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, and head of the UGCC's central curia, the new de facto patriarch of the 6 million-member global fold was named an auxiliary of the Argentine diocese in 2009, and temporarily given its helm last April. A moral theologian and graduate of Rome's Angelicum, Shevchuk has spent practically all his 16-year priesthood in priestly formation, serving as a vice-dean of theology, vice-rector and rector at the UGCC's seminary in Lviv, now the church's former seat.

Six weeks shy of his 41st birthday, the Synod's choice is the third-youngest of the Catholic world's 5,000-odd bishops, now launched into a post long held by a cardinal. Historically speaking, though, it's worth recalling that Ukraine's considerable Greek-Catholic branch has a significant history of youthful leaders: the global fold's most consequential chiefs of the 20th century -- Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky, who served from 1900-1944, and his successor, the future Cardinal Josepf Slipyj, who headed the global UGCC for another four decades until his 1984 death -- both took office in their late thirties.

Going into this week's Synod of the 40 Ukrainian bishops at home and in the church's diaspora, the front-runner for the post was widely tipped to be the church's #2 figure under Husar, the metropolitan of Lviv Ihor Vozniak, 58. A Redemptorist, Vozniak served as temporary administrator of the global fold following the cardinal's retirement last month.

The decision confirmed by Pope Benedict this morning, the church's hierarchy will enthrone the junior eparch as major-archbishop of Kiev on Sunday at the new patriarchal seat, still under construction, in the historic birthplace of Russian Christianity.

Developing -- more to come.


Dominus Ingrediens Mundum....

And so, church, on this Annunciation Day, a buona festa to one and all... especially as, on this Friday, abstinence doesn't apply.

While our usual Moment of Lent is superseded by this feast of the Incarnation -- when, lest anyone forgot, the Creed calls for genuflection, as on Christmas -- there remains a fitting reflection, courtesy of a former Catholic schoolteacher... and, so they say, onetime priestly aspirant:


Thursday, March 24, 2011

"The Charter Remains Strong": The Mothership, on Abuse

As foreseen some weeks back, the fallout of last month's second grand jury into the archdiocese of Philadelphia figured prominently at this week's meeting of the USCCB Administrative Committee -- the first gathering of the 30-prelate body (the Stateside bench's top authority outside its twice-yearly plenary sessions) to be held under the presidency of Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York.

Just before 5pm Eastern, the Conference President issued the following statement at the Admin's behest:
In light of the recent disclosures about the Church’s response to the sexual abuse of minors by priests, I have been asked by my brother bishops, gathered for the recent meeting of the Administrative Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, to offer reassurances that this painful issue continues to receive our careful attention, that the protection of our children and young people is of highest priority, and that the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People that we adopted in 2002 remains strongly in place.

Over the past nine years, we have constantly reviewed the high promises and rigorous mandates of the Charter, as we continually try to make it even more effective. Thanks to the input of our National Review Board, Catholic parents, professionals, the victim-survivor community, law enforcement officials, and our diocesan victim-assistance coordinators, we keep refining the efficiency of the Charter. We want to learn from our mistakes and we welcome constructive criticism. In fact, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has a long-planned review of the Charter scheduled for our June meeting.

The arrival of April, National Child Abuse Prevention Month, provides us the providential opportunity to unite with all Americans in a renewed resolve to halt the scourge of sexual abuse of youth in our society.

We bishops recommit ourselves to the rigorous mandates of the Charter, and renew our confidence in its effectiveness. We repeat what we have said in the Charter: “We make our own the words of His Holiness, Pope John Paul II: that the sexual abuse of young people is by every standard wrong and rightly considered a crime by society; it is also an appalling sin in the eyes of God” (Address to the Cardinals of the United States and Conference Officers, April 23, 2002). We remain especially firm in our commitment to remove permanently from public ministry any priest who committed such an intolerable offense.

The annual outside audits by forensic experts will continue, checking that we remain faithful to the processes in place to protect our young people, promote healing of victims/survivors and restore trust. We also thank our diocesan review boards, and those who lead our extensive programs of child protection and background checks for all priests, deacons, teachers, youth workers and volunteers in our expansive apostolates to young people.

In short, the progress made must continue and cannot be derailed; we want to strengthen it even more; we can never stop working at it, because each child and young person must always be safe, loved and cherished in the Church. We are encouraged in this resolve by the words of Pope Benedict XVI to the bishops of the United States during his Apostolic Visit in 2008: “It is your God-given responsibility as pastors to bind up the wounds caused by every breach of trust, to foster healing, to promote reconciliation and to reach out with loving concern to those so seriously wronged.“
* * *
In a prior Mothership intervention on the Philadelphia case, the conference's lead guardian of the "zero-tolerance" policy enacted at Dallas in 2002 said the second grand-jury report had "put a cloud over everything" the US church had accomplished on the abuse front over the decade since.

Speaking to Catholic News Service, the director of the USCCB Office for Child and Youth Protection, Teresa Kettelkamp, said that the findings had "demoralize[d] so many people who have worked so hard" to make the "spirit and the letter" of the Charter and its Essential Norms take hold in the church's life.

"We have a good charter and a good audit," the OCYP director added, "but we'd be foolish and irresponsible not to take a fresh look at everything we do."

Along those lines, any review of the Dallas protocols will likely need to revisit the particular law's mechanisms of enforcement. At the Charter and Norms' inception at the bishops' June 2002 plenary, the conference's more conservative powers won out, leaving the aforementioned audit and fraternal correction on a provincial scale as the means of assuring the compliance of the nation's 197 dioceses and eparchies.

While several prominent commentators have seen fit to deem the scandals' latest eruption as a "failure" of the Dallas standards, the Philadelphia church was found to be compliant with the Charter at the last audit of the local churches, which took place in 2009.

From 2002 until the present, the OCYP audits have been conducted by The Gavin Group, an independent investigative firm founded by a veteran FBI agent.

Back in the River City, meanwhile, tomorrow brings the second round of pre-trial hearings for the two priests, laicized cleric and lay teacher charged with abuse, and Msgr William Lynn, the first diocesan official on these shores indicted on allegations of a cover-up.


"Big East" Weekend, Church Edition

In a confluence of events apparently without precedent, this coming weekend will see the two largest Eastern Catholic churches formally install new heads.

Chosen a week ago, tomorrow brings the enthronement of Lebanon's newly-elected Maronite patriarch of Antioch, 71 year-old Beshara Peter Rai (above), whose worldwide fold includes some 4 million members.

Given its concentration at home, the Maronite church is the largest Catholic body in the Middle East.

A surprise choice for the Antioch chair -- its roots deriving from St Peter's brief time there prior to the First Apostle's settlement in Rome -- Rai's elevation is said to cast a more moderate direction for the Maronite leadership from his predecessor, Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, who led the church for a quarter-century prior to his retirement at 91 late last month.

Hailed as a "pioneer of unity," the 77th patriarch of Antioch and the Whole Levant -- who, in keeping with the tradition of his predecessors, has added "Peter" to his name -- has chosen "Communion and Charity" as the leitmotif of his ministry at the church's helm.

* * *
On Sunday in Ukraine, meanwhile, the 6 million-member Ukrainian Greek Catholic church will inaugurate the successor to Cardinal Lubomyr Husar with a liturgy in its still-rising new cathedral (below) in the historic cradle of Russian Christianity, Kiev.

Lacking the patriarchal designation -- at least, formally -- while the next major-archbishop of the UGCC was reportedly elected earlier today, the choice's identity won't be revealed until his ascent has been confirmed by the Holy See.

Notably, the 40 bishops of the Ukrainian Synod took all four days of their gathering -- the total time allotted under the UGCC's particular law -- to select the church's new head. According to a brief from the Kiev-based curia after Day Three closed without a winner, on the final day of balloting the required threshold for election switches from a two-thirds margin to a simple majority between the two leading candidates from the previous vote, the scenario indicating that no contender could garner overly broad support from the other eparchs.

Either way, the next Ukrainian chief is likely to mark a generational shift and more from the 77 year-old Husar, who's led the worldwide fold since 2001 until retiring last month amid years of poor health.

With the church persecuted severely on its home-turf, as the last three generations of UGCC hierarchs have either governed from exile or spent at least part of their ministry underground, Husar's potential successors have been able to function openly in a free Ukraine -- not one without its challenges, of course, but a markedly different landscape from the experience of their predecessors. As the de facto patriarch himself said on his retirement, "a new situation is approaching and new strengths are needed."

Husar likewise voiced his wish for the election of a considerably younger successor. "My peers are retirees," he said. "To hand down the office to someone of my age would not be serious.... I hope and I am sure that during our electoral Synod the bishops will seek a man who will have [a] vision for the future."

For all the divergences of custom and challenges between their two churches, one thing both Rai and the next UGCC head both inherit is the reality of complex, high-stakes political situations.

In a religiously-divided Lebanon -- where, by law, the president must be a Maronite -- the patriarch plays a significant role in the national discourse, a prerogative Sfeir prominently exercised often. Accordingly, the country's political establishment flocked to the patriarchal seat at Bkirki in the wake of Rai's election, representatives from Hezbollah included. (Rai is shown above with the Lebanese president, Michel Suleiman, on the latter's congratulatory visit hours after the patriarch's election.)

Among other significant gestures at the outset of his tenure, the new Maronite chief has indicated his wish to visit the church's membership in Syria -- a sizable tone-shift from his predecessor, who rapped Damascus' "interference" in Lebanese politics during his reign. During his 25 year patriarchate, Sfeir never journeyed to see his Syrian fold.

In Ukraine, meanwhile, Husar's successor will have the daunting task of following the cleric deemed the nation's "most respected moral voice," alongside stepping into the leadership of a flock that's repeatedly clashed with the local Russian Orthodox church, which has received an increasing amount of support from the state over the UGCC's protests. What's more, depending on his leanings, the Synod's choice could either further pave the way toward Pope Benedict's much-cherished ambition of an unprecedented meeting with the patriarch of Moscow, or galvanize the Russian church's hard-liners, whose suspicion of Rome has made progress toward a summit between B16 and Patriarch Kirill I a plodding, often-halting path.

Beyond their respective situations at home, the Maronite patriarch and the Ukrainian major-archbishop share a significant distinction on the church's universal stage: for the last half-century, theirs are the only two Eastern seats whose occupants have consistently been elevated to the college of cardinals as papal electors.

As patriarchates are lifetime posts, most Oriental chiefs who are given the red hat receive it following their 80th birthdays. Before the Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria, Antonios Naguib, was inducted into the college at last November's consistory at age 75 -- and that only after an outcry from the delegates to last year's Synod of Bishops for the Middle East -- the last resident Eastern leader become a Roman elector was Husar, hours after his 2001 election as head of the Ukrainian church.

* * *
Lastly, in a salient development on the Russian front, in a high-profile speech in Germany over recent days, the Moscow church's lead point-man on external relations, Metropolitan Hilarion -- who succeeded Kirill in the ecumenical post -- gave a significantly beefed-up voice to "an old idea" of his: namely, "a strategic alliance with the Catholics."

"I... am asking us to act as allies," Hilarion said, "without being a single Church, without having a single administrative system or common liturgy, and while maintaining the differences on the points in which we differ.

"This is especially important in light of the common challenges that face both Orthodox and Catholic Christians," the Russian hierarch added.

"These are first and foremost the challenges of a godless world, which is equally hostile today to Orthodox believers and Catholics, the challenge of the aggressive Islamic movement, the challenge of moral corruption, family decay, the abandonment by many people in traditionally Christian countries of the traditional family structure, liberalism in theology and morals, which is eroding the Christian community from within.

"We can respond to these, and a number of other challenges, together."

PHOTOS: Getty(1); Reuters(3)


Tomorrow: The "Incarnation Indult"

Amid everything else afoot, a quick, pertinent Lenten note... one that the carnivores among us will especially enjoy.

Given tomorrow's Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, the provision of Canon 1251 nullifies the obligation of abstinence from meat.

Last year, this was likewise the case when St Joseph's Day fell on Friday... then there's the whole matter of the famous "Corned Beef Indult," which -- while not deriving from the law itself -- is still granted in many places where St Patrick's Day is not a solemnity, but coincides nonetheless with the Lenten day of sacrificing beef and bacon. (Last come to pass in 2006, the latter scenario won't occur again 'til 2016.)

Bottom line: have a steak for the Savior tomorrow -- no need for guilt.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Prayer for Japan

In the wake of the magnitude 9.0 earthquake, resulting tsunamis and nuclear chaos that have ravaged Japan over the last 12 days, in a message over the weekend the president of the Japanese bishops, Archbishop Leo Jun Ikenaga SJ of Osaka, issued the following prayer, requesting its circulation that the church "might all pray in unity" for the victims of the disaster:
Merciful God, you never depart from us even in the worst of times; be with us in both our joy and in our sadness. Grant your aid and encouragement to those who suffer in the face of this great calamity. We, too, continue to offer you our prayers and sacrifices for their sake. Bring us with all possible haste to the day when all can live in safety. May all those who have lost their lives in the devastation find peaceful repose in your presence. Mother Mary, pray for us.

Through Christ our Lord, Amen.
With Caritas Japan coordinating long-term recovery efforts on the ground -- and the US' Catholic Relief Services seeking out "pathways" to funnel aid in from these shores -- Ikenaga said "it is to be hoped that we will all offer whatever concrete forms of assistance we have the means to provide."

Their toll compounded by the planet's most severe nuclear emergency since Chernobyl in 1986, the quake and tsunamis have claimed over 9,000 lives. Early estimates of the damage have veered into the $300 billion range, making the quake the world's costliest natural disaster to date.

PHOTO: Getty


At Congress' Close, "I Have Been Amazed"

His iconic predecessor looking on from the shadows (but still conspicuous in his damasked miter), Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles weaved reflections on the Japanese earthquake with a message of discipleship on Sunday as he closed his first edition of the mega-fold's marquee annual gathering, the Religious Education Congress.

Given before the usual tens-of-thousands crowd in the arena of the Anaheim Convention Center, here's video of Gomez's preach...

...and for those seeking a quick read, the text.

Likewise up: video and text of Gomez's opening homily at Congress' Youth Day.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

"60" Meets 452

Here in full, the 60 Minutes profile of the USCCB president, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York....

Before the broadcast piece aired on the Sunday night institution, a 60 Minutes Overtime feature was posted by CBS News with added footage from the package....


"Son of Man, Son of God...."

In the spirit of the New Evangelization, it's worth noting that more twenty-and-thirtysomethings of all stripes have arguably found their prime catechesis about this Sunday's Gospel thanks to this meditation on it....


Not that the exegete exactly enjoys talking about his faith... but as they say, the proof's in the pudding.

While we're at it, as the Transfiguration involves two-thirds of the "family of God," let's have another....

Buona domenica a tutti... and again, gang, hope your journey through these 40 Days is everything you've been looking for.


Saturday, March 19, 2011

"Even the Moon Hastens Close Tonight"

As the biggest, brightest full moon in nearly two decades graces the planet tonight, a certain memorable talk of Il Buon Papa -- on this St Joseph's Day, himself a Giuseppe -- can't help but come to mind.

Translated from its original Italian, the following -- known to posterity as the "Moonlight Speech" -- was given off the cuff by Blessed John XXIII from his study window on 11 October 1962, the night of the opening of the Second Vatican Council... the day now observed in the church as his feast.
Dear sons and daughters,

I feel your voices! Mine is just one lone voice, but it sums up the voice of the whole world.

And here, in fact, all the world is represented here tonight. It could even be said that even the moon hastens close tonight, that from above, it might watch this spectacle that not even St Peter's Basilica, over its four centuries of history, has ever been able to witness.

We ask for a great day of peace. Yes, of peace! 'Glory to God, and peace to men of goodwill.'' If I asked you, if I could ask of each one of you: where are you from? The children of Rome, especially represented here, would respond: ah, we are the closest of children, and you're our bishop. Well, then, sons and daughters of Rome, always remember that you represent 'Roma, caput mundi' ['Rome, the capital of the world'] which through the design of Providence it has been called to be across the centuries.

My own person counts for nothing -- it's a brother who speaks to you, become a father by the will of our Lord, but all together, fatherhood and brotherhood and God's grace, give honor to the impressions of this night, which are always our feelings, which now we express before heaven and earth: faith, hope, love, love of God, love of brother and sister, all aided along the way in the Lord's holy peace for the work of the good. And so, let us continue to love each other, to look out for each other along the way: to welcome whoever comes close to us, and set aside whatever difficulty it might bring.

When you head home, find your children. Hug and kiss your children and tell them: 'This is the hug and kiss of the Pope.' And when you find them with tears to dry, give them a good word. Give anyone who suffers a word of comfort. Tell them 'The Pope is with us especially in our times of sadness and bitterness.' And then, all together, may we always come alive -- whether to sing, to breathe, or to cry, but always full of trust in Christ, who helps us and hears us, let us continue along our path.
...and for good measure, some reel footage from that resonant evening:


Friday, March 18, 2011

"Pietà, Signore...."

Keeping with the house custom for the Fridays of these 40 Days, here it is, your moment of Lent....


Again, church, hope your journey's going great... and for those of us who still have our work cut out, luckily there's still time.

A Happy Friday and Blessed Second Sunday to one and all.


"A New Conversion of Heart"

In his first turn at leading the largest gathering of the Stateside church's ministerial crowd -- indeed, global Catholicism's biggest convocation of its kind anywhere -- here's Archbishop José Gomez's remarks from this morning's opening of the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress in Anaheim, which'll see a turnout of 40,000-plus over this weekend:


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Pastores Dabo Vobis, Erin Edition

On this blessed feast -- the 1,550th anniversary of the death of the Apostle of Ireland -- the thread of this morning's gate-starter is worth returning to.

Of course, such are the days we live in that, here in the States, the Vietnamese are viewed as the "new Irish," while on the Sod itself, talk abounds of "post-Catholic Ireland" (as if such a thing could exist). Even for these theories, though, the thread of Irish leadership in the church at home and beyond remains strong and significant, albeit developed considerably from the jingoistic days when the likes of Paul Cullen and John Hughes bestrode the earth.

Closer to home, one son of Dublin is experiencing a ministry unlike any he'd currently find in his birthplace. At 63, Bishop Kevin Farrell heads the 1.2 million-member church in Dallas -- a fold boomed some five times in size since 1990, its average parish counting upwards of 20,000 souls.

He'd build more, if only he had the priests. So for now, they're just expanding the buildings instead.

With the North Texas Metroplex become the nation's fourth largest metropolitan era -- and, in a reality once unthinkable, Catholics now comprising the most sizable religious group in the Lone Star State -- the Big D is expected by many to become the seat of a third province in Texas at some point after the impending USCCB ad limina to Rome, which begins in early November.

In the meanwhile, as he ordained Dallas' first-ever twin auxiliaries last year, K-Far offered up a memorable, shimmering definition of leadership in today's church and what it requires:

* * *
Meanwhile, back on the Blessed Soil made holy by Patrick's preaching, the archbishop of Dublin is in a fight for the church's future.

That doesn't mean, however, that Diarmuid Martin enjoys unanimous ad intra support. If anything, seemingly every sector of the Irish church's Old Guard finds something to complain about when it comes to the Republic's primate.

Still, not even the internal sniping can obscure the reality that, in a national square looking upon a rocked church, the media-friendly native son is Irish Catholicism's lone heeded major voice -- a standing largely due to his clean hands amid the country's epochal abuse scandals... but just as much, his drive to present the moment as God's call to clean house.

Viewed by many survivors and Catholics disaffected by the crisis as the Isle's sole leading churchman worthy of their trust -- an impression burnished further by his emotional talk at last month's public penance in Dublin's Pro-Cathedral -- the veteran Curialist recently sketched out his thoughts on the Irish church's present and future in a talk to a study group at Cambridge.

While Martin's fulltext is worthwhile reading for anyone interested in the shape of things to come both on the Isle and well beyond, here are some key snips:
At the time in which I received the invitation to this Conference I was holding meetings with the priests of the Archdiocese of Dublin about the challenges that they face and their priorities in ministry today. During the debate one priest, half seriously and half in jest, answered in candid terms: “The most we can do today is to keep the show on the road”. Hence the title of my talk.

It is not an easy task to be a priest in Ireland today. The numbers of priests are falling. There is more work to be done by priests who are getting older. The task of simply responding to the day-to-day demands of ministry leaves many priests with little time to take on new tasks and address radically new ways of life and ministry. There is a clear awareness that it is time for change; there is a willingness to change but the pressures of “keeping the show on the road” can be draining....

The abuse scandal has deeply wounded the trust that Irish people had in the Church and it will take much effort to regain the confidence of many, right across the generations. There is no way that such confidence can be regained without the truth being revealed. Denial will not generate confidence.

The change that has taken place in Irish culture requires radical change in the life of the Church of such an extent that in the face of it even experts in change management would feel daunted. Certainly I would have to say that despite all my efforts I am failing in my attempts to lead such change. Change management has to have the patience and the strategy to bring everyone along with it and that may not be my talent.

Change is inevitably painful. Radical change can be too radical for some to really face it. In the face of such daunting change the reaction can tempt us to stick to “keeping the show on the road”: we know its rules, it worked in the past, at least it is something I am good at. Anxiety about the pace of change can easily lead some into the temptation of denying the need for change....

Much of the leadership in a new sense of mission in the Irish Church will come through lay men and women. In the Archdiocese of Dublin we have introduced an initial cohort of lay pastoral workers, men and women, working full time in parishes alongside priests. Our training and formation of these workers is very demanding and the reaction to their initial presence in parishes has been very positive. They bring an enthusiasm and a sense of professionalism that is needed in pastoral planning. They have an ability to reach out to other lay people and engage them in programmes of formation and pastoral commitment. They are prayerful men and women who have no reticence about speaking of their own spirituality. They understand that all mission in the Church is calling and requires a self-understanding which is theological in essence.

At the same time we need to take a radical new look at the formation of future priests. I am working on plans to ensure that for the future in Dublin our seminarians, our prospective deacons and our trainee lay pastoral workers in the Archdiocese of Dublin will share some sections of their studies together, in order to create a better culture of collaborative ministry. The narrow culture of clericalism has to be eliminated. It did not come out of nowhere and so we have to address its roots from the time of seminary training onwards.

There is a movement of renewal among priests. There is creativity in mission and not just passivity in keeping the show on the road. The priests of the Dublin diocese provide a service and a witness which is admirable. They have remarkable support and the affection of their people, even at a time when these parishioners are angry about the Church....

A few weeks ago a very angry survivor of sexual abuse by a Dublin priest came to me to express his disgust and horror at what the Church had done to him. He wanted nothing more to do with a corrupt Church or any of its agents and listening to his story one could well understand his anger. Leaving me he thanked me and added: “I believe that you will be confirming my little lad later this month”. For many the sacraments are the social events of a civil religion rather than celebrations of the Church.

Young Irish people are among the most catechised in Europe but apparently among the least evangelized. Our schools are great schools; our young people are idealistic and generous, but the bond between young people and Church life ends up being very weak....

Probably my greatest discouragement as Archbishop of Dublin comes from the failure of interaction between the Church and young people. I visit parishes where I encounter no young people. I enquire what is being done to attract young people to parish life and the answers are vague. Many experiments flourish for a while and then die out. Everyone knows that there is a missing generation and perhaps more than one, yet there are not enough pastoral initiatives to reach out to young people.

Parishes offer very little outreach to young people and I feel that an increasing number of young people find parishes a little like alien territory. A form of religious education which is separated from the parish will inevitably collapse for most the day that school ends. We need a more demanding catechesis, within a parish framework, and more opportunities for young people to deepen their faith and to develop a Christian sense of their generosity and social commitment.

During these past months in Ireland we have been reflecting on the legacy of Cardinal Newman and his presence in Ireland to establish the Catholic University. Our Catholic education system is far from producing what Newman considered the characteristic of a Catholic laity: 'I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it' (The Present Position of Catholics in England, ix, 390).

As Pope Benedict noted in his homily at the Crofton Park Mass at the beatification of Cardinal Newman: "The service to which Blessed John Henry was called involved applying his keen intellect and his prolific pen to many of the most pressing 'subjects of the day'. His insights into the relationship between faith and reason, into the vital place of revealed religion in civilized society, and into the need for a broadly-based and wide-ranging approach to education... continue today to inspire and enlighten many all over the world”.

The Church in Ireland is very lacking in “keen intellects and prolific pens addressing the pressing subjects of the day”. The place of the Church in the current political discussion in Ireland is increasingly marginal. I would say that none of the political parties even thought of seeking the views of the Church around their policies for the current General Election. If anything they would seem to prefer not to be seen in any way to be associated with the Church.

The paradoxical thing is that the farther the Church goes in adapting to the culture of the times, the greater is the danger that it will no longer be able to confront the culture of the time. It will only be able to speak the language of the culture of the day and not the radical newness of the message of the Gospel which transcends all cultures. It could become a type of civil religion, politically correct, but without the cutting edge of the Gospel. There is a difficult path to tread between a fundamentalism which would pretend that the Church can have its own answer to all questions and a lack of courage to take up positions which may be culturally unpopular. The conformism of the mid-twentieth century remained unchallenged because it had support. Every generation has to allow the Gospel to challenge conformism, even a conformism which calls itself progressive.

Since the failure of Newman’s Catholic University project in Ireland the Irish Church has not really found the right path of a balanced Catholic presence in Irish culture. In the past Catholicism dominated. There was no perceived need to have focussed understanding of the role of being Catholic as such in intellectual and cultural life.

In part, this was due to a non-intellectual streak in the religious culture of Ireland, often located within a narrow clericalist framework. In particular, in the years following independence of Ireland in the mid-twentieth century, there developed a flourishing and fruitful collaboration between Church and State in social and education fields, but which due to clericalism and a desire for clerical control often sadly led a blurring of the correct boundaries of the roles of Church and State. The fault lay on both sides. Church leaders were often aided and abetted by politicians and at a particular moment especially by civil servants.

The result is that today Catholic culture in Ireland does not have the prominence or the intellectual leadership that it should have. While still a predominantly a Catholic country, Ireland does not produce a proportionate level of theological research. There are few forums for reflection on the relationship between faith and life. The intellectual level of preparation of future priests is very mixed. There is no Catholic press in Ireland on the level of the Catholic newspapers in France and Italy. There are few writers or artists who would present themselves as Catholic. So much coverage in the Catholic and in the mainstream secular media is only around controversy. I am not saying that controversy should be stifled. The problem is that media coverage of Church controversy can often end-up by being just sterile debate about Church-internal issues. A Church which becomes inward looking will never be one which can bring an insightful Christian message regarding the pressing issues of the day.

The Catholic Church in Ireland will have to learn a new manner of being present in society. Recently, a leader of one of the Protestant Churches in Dublin said to me that all our Churches were now wearing clothes which do not fit well because they had been tailored for us when we were fatter. The answer to today’s real religious challenges is not to seek more fashionable clothes to make us look better, or to follow the trends of the moment. We need functional clothes of the right fit for the current realities which we have to face....

When I was received by the Pope on the occasion of the ad limina visit four years ago, I arrived well prepared with all my statistics and my analysis of the bright spots and the shadows of Catholicism in Dublin. I had statistics about priests, about institutions, about Mass attendance. After greeting me the Pope started the conversation immediately by asking me “where are the points of contact between the Church in Ireland and those areas where the future of Irish culture is being formed”. Instead of asking me about the number of parishes he quizzed me about the relationship between faith and universities, and media, as well as literature and the arts and the fundamental ethical issues on economy and society....

Christian faith is not just a faith about doctrines or about rules and regulations or about ethical standards against which we have to measure our own moral behaviour. It is not just about reforming structures. It is about the ability to preach and witness to the message of Jesus. The leader in the Church is not a manager, but a witness and a prophet. Reform in the Church is not in the first place about the redistribution of power, but about the redefinition of power in terms of the way in which Jesus revealed who God is.

The message of the Church is the message of God who loves us before any merit on our part. It is a God who reveals; who speaks to us, engages with us and allows us to understand something of the inner life of God, which is a life of communication and of love. It is a faith which is about truth, but truth which is to be discovered in the life of a person, Jesus Christ, who revealed himself through total-self giving. It is about a God who is generous and whose followers should witness in their lives to the fact that being truly human has much more to do with giving and sharing and loving than with possession and power and dominance.

The God of love is revealed in the life and the works of Jesus Christ. I have often mentioned how in my own religious education in the sixties we were taught that Jesus proved that he was God by his power to work miracles. I do not deny that miracles prove that Jesus was God. What was not stressed was that miracles of Jesus prove to us above all what God is like, that he is a God who reveals his power as one you cares and has mercy, who heals and wants to free people from the burdens and addictions and obsessions that bind them, so that they can be taken up into the inner life of love of God and experience salvation and freedom.

I am convinced that one of the principal ways in which the Church can reform itself and bring its message more incisively to society is through developing a renewed biblical apostolate. The Irish Church at times in its recent history got so focussed on the formulae of orthodoxy that it failed to introduce its people into a real relationship with Jesus and his life and teaching. All our pastoral structures are still poor in scriptural content and approach. Such a biblical basis for its action is also a sound basis for ecumenical collaboration.

Faith is not about establishment. It is about taking the risk of abandoning one’s own security in order to be like the God who did not cling to the trappings of power and authority, but who gave himself totally for our sakes. This is a message which is difficult to comprehend and realise especially by those of us who have a leadership role in the Church and who are open to the perennial temptations to defend and even to abuse the power which was given into our hands to be servants.

The Church today more than ever needs saints and prophets. We should constantly remind ourselves that the one thing that even our most secularised societies really expect from the community of believers is that we witness to how Christ’s message can lead people in their search for the meaning of why we live and how we should live.

The Acts of the Apostles remind us how the early Church lived and was recognised. Christians gathered to hear the word of God and for the prayers and the breaking of bread. From this the Church in Jerusalem became a communion, with a unique life-style known for its sharing, not just of material goods but of the talents that belong to each and every member of the body of Christ. The Acts add that this life of communion of the early Christian had two effects: they had the goodwill of all the people and day by day the Lord added to their number (cf Acts 2:47). There is a lesson to be learned there for all us and for our Church.
And the point is this: what some have called "post-Catholic Ireland" won't ever really be that. What's more accurate to say is that the Irish church's future will merely be a "post-institutional" one -- in historic terms, an evolution from the Cullen-inspired model that's been in force for 150 years.

To be sure, there are those among us who conflate "institution" with Revelation. Yet wherever that mindset exists, above all, it shows a lacking grasp of history... not to mention what the church really is.

* * *

Late one recent night, in the West of Ireland, two priests were sitting around, winding down the day.

At 40, one was pastor of four parishes in a diocese where, due to retirements, the number of active clergy will tumble from 42 to 12 within a decade.

That's not a foreign scenario for Irish dioceses -- nor, proportionally, for many Stateside ones, either -- and almost every local church on Patrick's soil has become well accustomed to a year, or two, or even long stretches, without any ordinations. (For the second time in the last five years, even Dublin -- host of next year's International Eucharistic Congress -- will see no new priests in 2011.)

Given the strains, the men discussed what the church's future will look like, particularly for the elderly devout who form its faithful base. As one foresaw it, "things will come to the point where the parish will be too far [for Sunday Mass], so they'll stay home, say the Rosary, and say, 'Lord, we know you want us to make it, but we can't.'"

And as the other shot back, "Well, Father, that's what kept the faith alive in this country for 300 years."

Sure, three centuries of that reality might be an alien concept to the faithful on these shores. Still, over many decades -- indeed, a century and more -- it's how American Catholicism began... and if that austerity could birth everything that followed, then, perhaps, there are worse ways to start anew.