Monday, April 29, 2013

At April's End, The Doctors Are In

As it has for some six centuries, this 29 April again marks the feast of one of the great saints of ecclesiastical renewal: Catherine of Siena (1347-80) – by turns as a nurse, mystic and Dominican tertiary... but a figure who remains most famous for her pen, with which she corresponded as adviser (and often scourge) of her day's hierarchs:

Even at a young age, Catherine sensed the troubled society around her and wanted to help. She dreamed of dressing up like a man to become a Dominican friar; more than once she ran into the street to kiss the ground where Dominicans walked.

Catherine's parents tried hard to discourage her from becoming religious, but eventually, when she was about sixteen-years-old, Catherine, with the help of the Holy Spirit, was permitted to enter the sisters of Penance of St Dominic, the Mantellate.

During her life as a religious, St. Catherine had numerous visions and long ecstasies, but she is most remembered for her writings...

Her bold letters, even today, have a way of shocking the reader into reality. The style of her letters was lean and direct. She sometimes broke with polite convention. For example, during the Great Western Schism, in defense of Pope Urban VI, she rebuked three Italian cardinals who were supporting the anti-pope, writing to them, "what made you do this? You are flowers who shed no perfume, but stench that makes the whole world reek."

These words are strong, and it is not recommended that we imitate them. St. Catherine had a unique call from God, which Pope Paul VI referred to as her "charism of exhortation." It was her great love and fidelity to the Pope and college of bishops that prompted her to respond to God's urgings that she be forthright with those who were against the Vicar of Christ.

Wanting Pope Gregory XI to leave his residency in Avignon and return to Rome, and knowing the Supreme Pontiff was afraid of being poisoned, Catherine wrote to him, "Be not a timorous child, but manly . . ." She spoke to him as a loving daughter would. In other parts of her letters to the Popes she used an affectionate pet name for them: Babbo, which means Daddy.

To Giovanna, the Queen of Naples, who supported the anti-pope and was accused of murdering her husband, St. Catherine wrote, "You know that you do ill, but like a sick and passionate woman, you let yourself be guided by your passions."

Catherine risked death by sending such words to the authorities of her time. But she was not afraid. "I trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, not in myself" was one of her favorite prayers.
In 1970, Paul VI broke precedent by making Catherine the first woman given the ancient accolade of "Doctor of the Church," along with the Carmelite foundress Teresa of Avila. In 1997, John Paul II added the Little Flower Therese of Lisieux to the roster of the faith's greatest teachers... and last year, B16 made it four with the elevation of St Hildegard of Bingen, the 12th century "Teutonic prophetess" and preacher Papa Ratzinger termed "a true master of theology."

Back to today's patroness, "What did she understand by renewal and reform of the church?" Papa Montini asked in conferring the title on Catherine. "Certainly not the subversion of its essential structures, rebellion against pastors, a way of liberty and personal charism, arbitrary innovations in worship and discipline-as some would wish in our day.

"To the contrary," Paul noted, "she repeatedly affirms [the desire] that the church retain the beauty of the Bride of Christ and that renewal could only come 'not with war, but peace and serenity, with humility and the ongoing prayer, sweat and tears of the servants of God.'"

Especially in these trigger-happy days, the role of women in the church ever on the front-pages, the lesson is particularly worth recalling.

* * *
St Catherine's Day follows the memorial of one of the most popular "modern saints" added to the roll of the canonized in the pontificate of John Paul II, one whose poignancy is only enhanced this time around.

For just the ninth time, yesterday marked the feast of St Gianna Beretta Molla, a Milanese pediatrician who died at 40 to save the life of her fourth child....
She diligently dedicated herself to studies during the years of her secondary and university education, while, at the same time, applying her faith through generous apostolic service among the youth of Catholic Action and charitable work among the elderly and needy as a member of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. After earning degrees in Medicine and Surgery from the University of Pavia in 1949, she opened a medical clinic in Mesero (near Magenta) in 1950. She specialized in Pediatrics at the University of Milan in 1952 and there after gave special attention to mothers, babies, the elderly and poor.

While working in the field of medicine-which she considered a “mission” and practiced as such-she increased her generous service to Catholic Action, especially among the “very young” and, at the same time, expressed her joie de vivre and love of creation through skiing and mountaineering. Through her prayers and those of others, she reflected upon her vocation, which she also considered a gift from God. Having chosen the vocation of marriage, she embraced it with complete enthusiasm and wholly dedicated herself “to forming a truly Christian family”.

She became engaged to Pietro Molla and was radiant with joy and happiness during the time of their engagement, for which she thanked and praised the Lord. They were married on September 24, 1955, in the Basilica of St. Martin in Magenta, and she became a happy wife. In November 1956, to her great joy, she became the mother of Pierluigi, in December 1957 of Mariolina; in July 1959 of Laura. With simplicity and balance she harmonized the demands of mother, wife, doctor and her passion for life.

In September 1961 towards the end of the second month of pregnancy, she was touched by suffering and the mystery of pain; she had developed a fibroma in her uterus. Before the required surgical operation, and conscious of the risk that her continued pregnancy brought, she pleaded with the surgeon to save the life of the child she was carrying, and entrusted herself to prayer and Providence. The life was saved, for which she thanked the Lord. She spent the seven months remaining until the birth of the child in incomparable strength of spirit and unrelenting dedication to her tasks as mother and doctor. She worried that the baby in her womb might be born in pain, and she asked God to prevent that.

A few days before the child was due, although trusting as always in Providence, she was ready to give her life in order to save that of her child: “If you must decided between me and the child, do not hesitate: choose the child - I insist on it. Save him”. On the morning of April 21, 1962, Gianna Emanuela was born. Despite all efforts and treatments to save both of them, on the morning of April 28, amid unspeakable pain and after repeated exclamations of “Jesus, I love you. Jesus, I love you», the mother died. She was 39 years old. Her funeral was an occasion of profound grief, faith and prayer. The Servant of God lies in the cemetery of Mesero (4 km from Magenta).

“Conscious immolation," was the phrase used by Pope Paul VI to define the act of Blessed Gianna, remembering her at the Sunday Angelus of September 23, 1973, as: “A young mother from the diocese of Milan, who, to give life to her daughter, sacrificed her own, with conscious immolation”. The Holy Father in these words clearly refers to Christ on Calvary and in the Eucharist.
While speculation has circulated over recent days that John Paul could be canonized as early as October, at Gianna's canonization in May 2004, the great saint-maker -- presiding over the last of his pontificate's 51 altar-raising ceremonies (which, between them, doubled the rolls of the formally-recognized heavenly host) -- said that the mom-doctor "was a simple, but more than ever, significant messenger of divine love.
In a letter to her future husband a few days before their marriage, she wrote: "Love is the most beautiful sentiment the Lord has put into the soul of men and women".

Following the example of Christ, who "having loved his own... loved them to the end" (Jn 13: 1), this holy mother of a family remained heroically faithful to the commitment she made on the day of her marriage. The extreme sacrifice she sealed with her life testifies that only those who have the courage to give of themselves totally to God and to others are able to fulfil themselves.
Having never remarried and raised their four kids alone, the saint's husband, Pietro, died at 97 in 2010.

While Gianna enjoys considerable popularity in the trenches on this side of the Pond, her feast hasn't made it to the local calendars in North America... at least, not yet.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Francis' Name-Day "Joy": Poking Fun at CDF

In a rare glimpse of his usual, unscripted daily preaching style – and with the closest camera-shots of the new pontiff to date – here's video of Papa Bergoglio's homily at his onomastico Mass this morning in the Pauline Chapel with the cardinals currently in Rome....

...and, per Vatican Radio, the English rendering of Pope Francis' off-the-cuff text:

I thank His Eminence, the Cardinal Dean, for his words: thank you very much, Your Eminence, thank you. 
I also thank all of you who wanted to come today: Thank you. Because I feel welcomed by you. Thank you. I feel good with you, and I like that. 
The reading today makes me think that the missionary expansion of the Church began precisely at a time of persecution, and these Christians went as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, and proclaimed the Word. They had this apostolic fervor within them, and that is how the faith spread! Some, people of Cyprus and Cyrene - not these, but others who had become Christians - went to Antioch and began to speak to the Greeks too. It was a further step. And this is how the Church moved forward. Whose was this initiative to speak to the Greeks? This was not clear to anyone but the Jews. But ... it was the Holy Spirit, the One who prompted them ever forward ... But some in Jerusalem, when they heard this, became 'nervous and sent Barnabas on an "apostolic visitation": perhaps, with a little sense of humor we could say that this was the theological beginning of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: this apostolic visit by Barnabas. He saw, and he saw that things were going well. 
And so the Church was a Mother, the Mother of more children, of many children. It became more and more of a Mother. A Mother who gives us the faith, a Mother who gives us an identity. But the Christian identity is not an identity card: Christian identity is belonging to the Church, because all of these belonged to the Church, the Mother Church. Because it is not possible to find Jesus outside the Church. The great Paul VI said: "Wanting to live with Jesus without the Church, following Jesus outside of the Church, loving Jesus without the Church is an absurd dichotomy." And the Mother Church that gives us Jesus gives us our identity that is not only a seal, it is a belonging. Identity means belonging. This belonging to the Church is beautiful. 
And the third idea comes to my mind - the first was the explosion of missionary activity; the second, the Mother Church - and the third, that when Barnabas saw that crowd - the text says: " And a large number of people was added to the Lord" - when he saw those crowds, he experienced joy. " When he arrived and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced ": his is the joy of the evangelizer. It was, as Paul VI said, "the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing." And this joy begins with a persecution, with great sadness, and ends with joy. And so the Church goes forward, as one Saint says - I do not remember which one, here - "amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of the Lord." And thus is the life of the Church. If we want to travel a little along the road of worldliness, negotiating with the world - as did the Maccabees, who were tempted, at that time - we will never have the consolation of the Lord. And if we seek only consolation, it will be a superficial consolation, not that of the Lord: a human consolation. The Church's journey always takes place between the Cross and the Resurrection, amid the persecutions and the consolations of the Lord. And this is the path: those who go down this road are not mistaken. 
Let us think today about the missionary activity of the Church: these [people] came out of themselves to go forth. Even those who had the courage to proclaim Jesus to the Greeks, an almost scandalous thing at that time. Think of this Mother Church that grows, grows with new children to whom She gives the identity of the faith, because you cannot believe in Jesus without the Church. Jesus Himself says in the Gospel: " But you do not believe, because you are not among my sheep." If we are not "sheep of Jesus," faith does not some to us. It is a rosewater faith, a faith without substance. And let us think of the consolation that Barnabas felt, which is "the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing." And let us ask the Lord for this "parresia", this apostolic fervor that impels us to move forward, as brothers, all of us forward! Forward, bringing the name of Jesus in the bosom of Holy Mother Church, and, as St. Ignatius said, "hierarchical and Catholic." So be it.
*   *   *
For those who've been reading closely these last six weeks – and, perhaps for a few, into the Buenos Aires archives – the preach's closing words are well familiar. But for the benefit of those for whom that hasn't been the case, it seems a scrapped piece from this house's cutting-room floor, scribbled out in the days just following the election under the headline "Que Así Sea," can help explain it....

You might want to get used to these words – odds are you'll see them a lot going forward.

Reading through then-Cardinal Bergoglio's homilies, you'll find the term over and over at the close of practically every one – and even at his first PopeMass, albeit in italiano, there it was again:

Que así sea.... Così sia.

In English, we'd translate the phrase as "So be it" or "Let it be so." Even that doesn't convey the full meaning, though – whatever the language, the term is more often expressed in faith as "Amen." But it seems the the use of it offers a glimpse into the mind of this new Francis – perhaps that in a culture which has lost the shared reference-point that comes with belief, even the understanding of "Amen" shouldn't be taken for granted; that it's better to just break it down and express it without pretense... that is, to make the "confession" of faith so unmistakably accessible and clear that it might be received.
And even without a single word in English, that sense of communicating clearly seems to have taken hold over these weeks.

Even if that's the case in Rome, though, may it be so for us... so be it. Amen.


"We're Gonna Be Judged On Whether or Not We Welcome the Stranger" – On Immigration Reform, The Titans Go to Bat

Normally, the legislative advocacy of the US bishops is expressed in writing by the chair of the relevant conference committee....

Then there was what happened yesterday.

With tensions already flaring as the Senate approaches a high-stakes battle on an immigration reform bill, the Stateside church's twin top guns came together to push for action on the issue in an afternoon conference call – a rare, if not unprecedented joint charge by the conference president, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, the head of nation's largest diocese. (A
 Mexican-born immigrant, Gomez likewise chairs the bench's Migration committee.)

Among other notable elements of the hourlong, Dolan-dominated "policy call" were the cardinal's emphasis that the church's support for migrants "isn't some wild, left-wing cause, this is classic Catholic teaching," going so far as to term it "an essential element of Catholic doctrine"; the Gotham prelate's comparison of the current hostility toward Muslim emigres with the cultural bigotry faced by Catholic immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries, and a pointed prod to his conservative flank that the church's grassroots "momentum" in advocating against abortion and for religious freedom be applied to the immigration fight.

Employing unusually strong language, Dolan said that on the matter of reworking the current immigration protocols, "We bishops believe that now is the time. 

"We've been dallying on this for way too long, and now just seems to be a providential time – we can't, we can't wait any longer to reform a [immigration] system that's broken, unjust and unfair. Right now, it dawns on us that thousands of people are being deported and an untold number of families are being divided. 

"These are human beings made in God's image and likeness and redeemed by the Precious Blood of Jesus," Dolan said, "and we moral leaders cannot just stand by and let that happen."

Calling the current policy "tight, mean [and] unfair," the cardinal-president ripped attempts to stall or halt the legislation in the wake of last week's Boston bombings as "illogical, unfair and unjust."

*   *   *
For the church beyond Capitol Hill, as American Catholicism continues to undergo the most sweeping demographic shift it's known in nearly two centuries, the high profile given yesterday's briefing made for perhaps the most symbolic reinforcement yet of the "changing of the guard" in the Stateside church.

Much as the storyline doesn't normally get the regard it deserves, the migration patterns of recent decades have already transformed the face of the domestic faithful, whose second and third largest dioceses – New York and Chicago – now have de facto Hispanic majorities, as the 5 million-member, 70 percent-Latin LA behemoth (doubled in size since 1985) has become the largest fold ever to exist on these shores.

Already numbering 60 percent of Stateside Catholics younger than 30 – a figure which rises all the higher as the age decreases – Hispanics have become the dominant bloc fueling the emergence of a new generation of ecclesial hotspots in Atlanta, Miami, Seattle, Denver, Dallas and Phoenix (to name just a few) as significant waves are just beginning to swell into the greater South and Midwest. And on the whole, the massive, ongoing Anglo exodus from the pews – said to comprise fully ten percent of the entire US population (read: some 30 million souls) – has only sped up the Latin arrival at the ultimate tipping-point: the majority of the nation's 70 million-member church, one projected to grow to as large as 100 million by mid-century, a spike predicated upon the ingress and birthrates of the new intake. Add in the unprecedented ascent of the son of immigrants to America to the papacy, and what was already a "perfect storm" becomes all the more formidable.

In his weekend column for the diocesan Tidings – headlined "A time for immigration reform" – Gomez (shown left while concelebrating with the American Pope earlier this month) wrote as follows....

April 23 marks the 20th anniversary of the passing of César Chávez, the great Mexican-American civil rights leader.

Chávez inspires me. He lived his Catholic faith with deep devotion and courage. And his love for God led him to struggle for justice and dignity for the poor.

It is fitting that we remember this anniversary as Congress begins debating comprehensive immigration reform. The legislation that is being introduced this week in the U.S. Senate is long overdue. Immigration reform is the civil rights test of our generation.

Many people still don’t understand the Church’s commitment to this cause. For me it’s a question of human rights and human dignity. It is a question of who we are as people and as a nation.

It’s true that many immigrants crossed our borders without first getting a visa from our government. Others came in through proper channels but decided to stay after their visas or other temporary permits ran out.

This is not good. We are a nation of laws. But for almost 20 years, our nation chose not to enforce our laws. We looked the other way because we needed these immigrants for our construction companies, service industries and farms. That’s a difficult truth. These men and women came here to work — and all of us have been depending on and benefitting from their work.

Undocumented immigrants should be held accountable. The question is, How?

Is it fair for our country not to enforce its laws for many years, and then suddenly to start punishing people who broke these laws? I don’t think so. But that’s our policy right now.

And it’s a cruel policy. The problem is the people we are punishing have become our neighbors. Most of those we call “illegal” have been living here for five years or more — two-thirds have been here for at least a decade. Almost half are living in homes with a spouse and children.

In the last four years alone we have deported more than 1 million people. About a quarter of them were living in a home with their children and families.

Of course, we are not just talking about “statistics.” We are talking about families.

We’re talking about parents who, with no warning, won’t be coming home for dinner tonight — and who may not see their families again for a decade at least.

Because of the broken logic of our current laws, it can take more than 10 years to get into this country legally. The waiting lists are even longer for applicants from most Latin American countries.

So we need to understand what it really means when politicians and people in the media say things like, “Illegal immigrants should leave the country and get back in line to enter the country legally.”

When we say that, we’re asking them to choose not to see their spouse, their children, their relatives for a decade or more. Is that a fair question to ask them? What would we do if we were faced with that kind of choice? Would we follow a law that means maybe never seeing our families again?

These are some of the hard questions that we have to ask ourselves as our leaders begin debating immigration reform. How we respond is a challenge to our conscience — and a measure of our humanity.
For the rest, below is the fullaudio of yesterday's conference call:


Buen Día del Santo

As this 23rd of April is the feast of St George, it's likewise the onomastico – saint's day – of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now the Pope.

In a shot circulated to mark the feast by the Italian vaticanista Francesco Grana, the pontiff's shown with a gourd of his beloved Argentinian maté in the new Papal Apartment – Suite 201 at the Domus – a statue of his homeland's patroness, the Madonna de Luján, atop the coffee table.

As some will have noticed, Francis was snapped wearing a simple cassock without the usual oversleeves and shoulder-cape, which he's taken to sporting around the Vatican guesthouse over recent weeks. While a similar model was employed by B16 during his downtime, following Joseph Ratzinger's 2005 election the now Pope-emeritus tried to wear it in public, but was pressured against doing so by his handlers. (Before their respective ascents to the papacy, both pontiffs primarily made use of capeless cassocks.)

In a similar vein, six weeks into his mandate as bishop of Rome, few have remarked that the new Pope has yet to – and likely will not – maintain the practice of his predecessors in wearing a sash embroidered with his coat of arms, instead still using the unadorned, sparsely-fringed band that awaited the Conclave's choice in the Room of Tears.

To mark his name-day, the pontiff celebrated his daily morning Mass not in the usual spot at his Vatican residence, but in the Pauline Chapel with the cardinals present in Rome.


Sunday, April 21, 2013

"You Are Pastors, Not Functionaries" – At Priestly Ordination, Francis Fisks the Rite

In his first turn at the Vatican's observance of this "Good Shepherd Sunday" – for the 50th time, the church's annual World Day of Prayer for Vocations – this morning Pope Francis ordained ten new priests, sending them forth with some pointed words of his own amid the ritual's script.

Of the group, eight of the men were ordained for the 2.4 million-member diocese of Rome – four full-time, the other four formed by and available as needed for the missionary work of the Neocatechumenal Way. The remaining two belong to an Italian-founded community, the Oblates of Divine Love.

For the first time at a major liturgy since his 19 March inauguration as the 266th bishop of Rome, at today's rites Papa Bergoglio donned vestments that were not the mitre he brought from Buenos Aires and its matching chasuble, this time using a favorite garment of Blessed John Paul II and what appeared to be a new headpiece, albeit designed in the spirit of his favored one. Keeping with his now-established practice, the Pope wore the Fisherman's Ring with which he was invested during the Mass, but switched back to his personal silver band marked with a cross for the noontime Regina Caeli at the window of his "office," attended by yet another epic crowd in the piazza and streets below.

Today's ordination began a five-week series of public Sunday PopeMasses at the Vatican, the next four of which will be in St Peter's Square – a rare papal liturgy featuring Confirmations next week, followed respectively by a day for for the various confraternities linked to devotions of popular piety and Francis' first canonizations (though ones approved by his predecessor), then culminating on Pentecost with a Eucharist to close out a two-day Vatican gathering of the global church's ecclesial movements, echoing B16's memorable 2006 convocation of the "new" groups. 

All of the aforementioned events were planned well before Papa Ratzinger's resignation in light of the ongoing Year of Faith, which runs through late November's feast of Christ the King. And all that said, the following is the Vatican's English rendering of Francis' homily – a papal "fisking" of the Roman Pontifical's provided preach for a priestly ordination, thanks to the pontiff's addition of some impromptu commentary over the traditional (optional) text....

Beloved brothers and sisters: because these our sons, who are your relatives and friends, are now to be advanced to the Order of priests, consider carefully the nature of the rank in the Church to which they are about to be raised.

It is true that God has made his entire holy people a royal priesthood in Christ. Nevertheless, our great Priest himself, Jesus Christ, chose certain disciples to carry out publicly in his name, and on behalf of mankind, a priestly office in the Church. For Christ was sent by the Father and he in turn sent the Apostles into the world, so that through them and their successors, the Bishops, he might continue to exercise his office of Teacher, Priest, and Shepherd. Indeed, priests are established co-workers of the Order of Bishops, with whom they are joined in the priestly office and with whom they are called to the service of the people of God.

After mature deliberation and prayer, these, our brothers, are now to be ordained to the priesthood in the Order of the presbyterate so as to serve Christ the Teacher, Priest, and Shepherd, by whose ministry his body, that is, the Church, is built and grows into the people of God, a holy temple.

In being configured to Christ the eternal High Priest and joined to the priesthood of the Bishops, they will be consecrated as true priests of the New Testament, to preach the Gospel, to shepherd God’s people, and to celebrate the sacred Liturgy, especially the Lord’s sacrifice.

Now, my dear brothers and sons, you are to be raised to the Order of the Priesthood. For your part you will exercise the sacred duty of teaching in the name of Christ the Teacher. Impart to everyone the word of God which you have received with joy. Remember your mothers, your grandmothers, your catechists, who gave you the word of God, the faith ... the gift of faith! They transmitted to you this gift of faith. Meditating on the law of the Lord, see that you believe what you read, that you teach what you believe, and that you practise what you teach. Remember too that the word of God is not your property: it is the word of God. And the Church is the custodian of the word of God.

In this way, let what you teach be nourishment for the people of God. Let the holiness of your lives be a delightful fragrance to Christ’s faithful, so that by word and example you may build up the house which is God’s Church.

Likewise you will exercise in Christ the office of sanctifying. For by your ministry the spiritual sacrifice of the faithful will be made perfect, being united to the sacrifice of Christ, which will be offered through your hands in an unbloody way on the altar, in union with the faithful, in the celebration of the sacraments. Understand, therefore, what you do and imitate what you celebrate. As celebrants of the mystery of the Lord’s death and resurrection, strive to put to death whatever in your members is sinful and to walk in newness of life.

You will gather others into the people of God through Baptism, and you will forgive sins in the name of Christ and the Church in the sacrament of Penance. Today I ask you in the name of Christ and the Church, never tire of being merciful. You will comfort the sick and the elderly with holy oil: do not hesitate to show tenderness towards the elderly. When you celebrate the sacred rites, when you offer prayers of praise and thanks to God throughout the hours of the day, not only for the people of God but for the world—remember then that you are taken from among men and appointed on their behalf for those things that pertain to God. Therefore, carry out the ministry of Christ the Priest with constant joy and genuine love, attending not to your own concerns but to those of Jesus Christ. You are pastors, not functionaries. Be mediators, not intermediaries.

Finally, dear sons, exercising for your part the office of Christ, Head and Shepherd, while united with the Bishop and subject to him, strive to bring the faithful together into one family, so that you may lead them to God the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit. Keep always before your eyes the example of the Good Shepherd who came not to be served but to serve, and who came to seek out and save what was lost.

"We Must Build A Civilization of Love, Or There Will Be No Civilization At All"

Closing out a week that saw his appointment as the lone North American on Pope Francis' eight-member "governing council" suddenly eclipsed by the brutal horror of Monday's bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon and its aftermath, following is the homily given by Cardinal Seán O'Malley at a Mass for the victims – four dead, over 170 injured, and a still-reeling region beyond – this morning in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross....

In the attack's wake, the South End cathedral – seat of the nation's fourth-largest diocese – likewise hosted the city's interfaith prayer service, its keynote reflection (video/text) given by President Obama.

SVILUPPO: Speaking with reporters following the liturgy, the cardinal – the current chair of the US bishops' pro-life efforts – said that, "obviously as a Catholic," he opposed the death penalty for the surviving suspect in the bombings.

"There are other ways of punishing people, and protecting society, without killing them," O'Malley said, terming capital punishment "one more manifestation of the culture of death in our midst.

"Forgiveness does not mean that we do not realize the heinousness of the crime. But in our own hearts, when we are unable to forgive, we make ourselves a victim of our own hatred."

While the delivery saw several additions, the homily's text as prepared for the pulpit read as follows:

Jesus said “they will strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter”; that is what happened to His disciples after the Crucifixion, as they scattered in fear, doubt and panic.

On Easter the Good Shepherd returns to gather the scattered; Mary Magdalene in grief, Thomas in doubt, Peter in betrayal. We too are scattered and need the assurance of the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for us, who comes to gather us in our scattered in our brokenness and pain, scattered by failed marriages, lost employment, estranged children, illness, the death of a loved one, soured relationships, disappointments and frustrations.

This week we are all scattered by the pain and horror of the senseless violence perpetrated on Patriots Day. Last Sunday at the 11:30 Mass here at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Fr. O’Leary led a special blessing for the many runners who participated in the Mass. Some people here were among those injured and those who witnessed the terrible events that unfolded at the finish line of the Marathon, but everyone was profoundly affected by the wanton violence and destruction inflicted upon our community by two young men unknown to all of us.

It is very difficult to understand what was going on in the young men’s minds, what demons were operative, what ideologies or politics or the perversion of their religion. It was amazing to witness, however, how much goodness and generosity were evidenced in our community as a result of the tragic events they perpetrated.

It reminds me of a passage in Dorothy Day’s autobiography where she speaks about experiencing a serious earthquake in California when she was a young girl. Suddenly neighbors that never spoke were helping each other, sharing their food and water, caring for children and the elderly. She was amazed and delighted, but a few weeks later people retreated to their former individualism and indifference.

Dorothy Day spent the rest of her life looking to recapture the spirit of community. That led her to the Communist Party and eventually it led her into the Catholic Church and to found the Catholic Worker Movement, dedicating herself to the care of the homeless, the drug addict

This past week we have experienced a surge in civic awareness and sense of community. It has been inspiring to see the generous and at times heroic responses to the Patriots Day violence. Our challenge is to keep this spirit of community alive going forward. As people of faith, we must commit ourselves to the task of community building.

Jesus teaches us in the Gospel that we must care for each other, especially the most vulnerable; the hungry, the sick, the homeless, the foreigner; all have a special claim on our love. We must be a people of reconciliation, not revenge. The crimes of the two young men must not be the justification for prejudice against Muslims and against immigrants.

The Gospel is the antidote to the “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” mentality. The parable of the Good Samaritan is the story about helping one’s neighbor when that neighbor was from an enemy tribe, a foreign religion, a hostile group. The Samaritan cuts through centuries of antipathy by seeing in the Jewish man who had been beaten and left for dead not a stranger or an enemy, but a fellow human being who has a claim of his humanity and compassion.

We know so little about the two young men who perpetrated these heinous acts of violence. One said he had no friends in this country, the other said his chief interests were money and his career. People need to be part of a community to lead a fully human life. As believers one of our tasks is to build community, to value people more than money or things, to recognize in each person a child of God, made in the image and likeness of our Creator.

The individualism and alienation of our age has spawned a culture of death. Over a million abortions a year is one indication of how human life has been devalued. Violent entertainment, films and video games have coarsened us and made us more insensitive to the pain and suffering of others. The inability of the Congress to enact laws that control access to automatic weapons is emblematic of the pathology of our violent culture.

When Pope John Paul II visited Madrid in 2003, addressing one million young people, he told them; “Respond to the blind violence and inhuman hatred with the fascinating power of love.” We all know that evil has its fascination and attraction but too often we lose sight of the fact that love and goodness also have the power to attract and that virtue is winsome. Passing on the faith means helping people to lead a good life, a moral life, a just life. Thus part of our task as believers is to help our people become virtuous.

Plato thought that virtue was knowledge. As Chain Ginott, the concentration camp survivor, reminds us, doctors, nurses, scientists and soldiers were part of the Holocaust machinery, showing that knowledge is not virtue, and often science and technology have been put at the service of evil. It is only a culture of life and an ethic of love that can rescue us from the senseless violence that inflicts so much suffering on our society.

Like Christ our Good Shepherd, we who aspire to be Jesus’ disciples and to follow His way of life, we too must work to gather the scattered, to draw people into Christ’s community. It is in His Gospel that we find the answers to the questions of life and the challenging ideals that are part of discipleship; mercy, forgiveness, self sacrifice, service, justice and truth.

John Lennon once said, ‘Everything will be OK in the end. If it’s not OK, it’s not the end.’ Our faith goes beyond that optimism. Love is stronger than death. We are going to live forever in the Resurrection Christ won for us on the Cross. The innocent victims who perished this week; Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell, Lu Lingzi, Officer Sean Collier, will live in eternity. Life is not ended, merely changed – that is the message of Easter. As Martin Luther King expressed, ‘Death is a comma, not a period at the end of a sentence.’

Although the culture of death looms large, our Good Shepherd rose from the grave on Easter and His light can expel the darkness and illuminate for us a path that leads to life, to a civilization of solidarity and love. I hope that the events of this past week have taught us how high the stakes are. We must build a civilization of love, or there will be no civilization at all.

Monday, April 15, 2013

"In the Darkness of This Tragedy, We Turn To the Light of Christ"

In the wake of this afternoon's bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon which claimed three lives and injured over 130 others, the city's Cardinal Seán O'Malley OFM Cap. issued the following statement from the Holy Land, where he's currently on a pilgrimage:
The Archdiocese of Boston joins all people of good will in expressing deep sorrow following the senseless acts of violence perpetrated at the Boston Marathon today.  Our prayers and concern are with so many who experienced the trauma of these acts, most especially the loved ones of those who lives were lost and those who were injured, and the injured themselves.

The citizens of the City of Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are blessed by the bravery and heroism of many, particularly the men and women of the police and fire departments and emergency services who responded within moments of these tragic events.  Governor Patrick, Mayor Menino and Police Commissioner Davis are providing the leadership that will see us through this most difficult time and ensure that proper procedures are followed to protect the public safety.

In the midst of the darkness of this tragedy we turn to the light of Jesus Christ, the light that was evident in the lives of people who immediately turned to help those in need today.  We stand in solidarity with our ecumenical and interfaith colleagues in the commitment to witness the greater power of good in our society and to work together for healing.
On behalf of the US bishops, a comment likewise emerged from the body's president, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York:
The tragic end to the Boston Marathon April 15 reminds us all that evil exists and that life is fragile.

The deaths and injuries of people gathered for the celebration on Patriots Day in Boston calls on all of us to pray for the souls of those killed the healing of those injured and the restoration of peace for all of us unsettled by the bombings at a world renowned sporting event.

Our special prayers are with the Archdiocese of Boston and the people there who are working in the aftermath of this crisis to address those wounded in so many ways by these events.

The growing culture of violence in our world and even in our country calls for both wise security measures by government officials and an examination by all of us to see what we can personally do to enhance peace and respect for one another in our world.
In the wake of the tragedy, the Boston church circulated this image on its social-media sites....

PHOTOS: John Tlumacki/Boston Globe(1); Archdiocese of Boston(2)


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Francis' Friar – O'Malley, The "Super-Cardinal"

To repeat a line once said of Seán O'Malley among his Capuchin confreres, "The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone."

So the more recent story goes, in the days after Pope Francis' election, the cardinal-archbishop of Boston dispatched his priest secretary to the Domus with a note for the new pontiff, ordering the aide "to give this letter to someone who will put it into the Pope’s hands."

As it turned out, Fr Jonathan Gaspar didn't just end up delivering the message – he was received by the Pope.

While we don't know the contents, they were clearly appreciated – this morning, O'Malley was the lone North American named to Papa Bergoglio's eight-cardinal "task force" chartered both to advise Francis in his universal role and study the reform of the Roman Curia.

Given the significance of the call, perhaps it's to be expected that some have wondered why the nod fell to the 68 year-old Capuchin as opposed to others. 

In that light, the choice can be explained on three fronts:

Language -- Put simply, Francis' English is cursory at best; before his election, Cardinal Bergoglio conceded that it was the "toughest" tongue for him to grasp. Ergo, with a doctorate in Spanish and Portuguese literature and having spent the bulk of his priesthood happily engaged in Hispanic ministry, O'Malley – who still says his private prayers in Spanish – is the most fluent North American cardinal in the Pope's home-idiom, at least until Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles receives the red hat.

Speaking of Gomez, writing from Rome following his first meeting with the new pontiff (above), the Mexican-born LA prelate gushed in his weekly column that "It is so great to be able to speak to the Pope in Spanish, which we share as our native language!" (On a side-note, it made for yet another breach of Vatican protocol that Francis clearly had no qualms over receiving the head of the 5 million-member SoCal juggernaut – by far, the largest diocese in the history of American Catholicism – while Gomez wore a suit; per custom, prelates attend the Pope clad in cassock.)

While Francis has exclusively employed Italian at public events, on either account, a divide that English-speakers in Vatican circles haven't experienced for quite some time now returns – those who know enough else to speak to the Pope directly... and those who don't.

Relationship -- Asked the day after the election whether it'd be "fair to say you know [Bergoglio] very well," O'Malley answered with one word: "Yes."

Again, it's not a claim every Stateside elector could make – in reality, no more than a handful had more than a cursory sense of the now-Pope before his ascent. In O'Malley's case, the bond is the product of 
an intense focus on and connection with the Latin American church through his ministry as priest and bishop, giving him an intimate knowledge of the scene and all its many players. 

That wasn't just a matter of personal affinity – the now cardinal's first assignment as a bishop in the Virgin Islands (1984-93) placed the founder of the capital's Centro Catolico Hispano in a Latin-dominant ecclesial sphere. Along the way, though, there was something else that would be a keen tie-in to today's news: among the few prelates from outside New England who O'Malley invited to his scaled-back installation in Boston in 2003 – only one of two cardinals in attendance on the day – was Oscar Rodríguez, one of the Capuchin's closest friends on the wider scene, now the "coordinator" of Francis' super-group.

Given his savvy and wide swath of connections, Rodríguez is believed to have been the discreet "driver" behind the significant first-ballot showing for Bergoglio – largely the product of a cohesive Latin American bloc – which suddenly launched the Argentinian Jesuit onto this Conclave's map, culminating with his election in an astonishingly rapid five ballots.

In his first comment since this morning's nod, during a cameo appearance on the Italian news-channel TG24, the Honduran said that the group's remit would include advising Francis on the fate of the Institute for the Works of Religion – the
 ever-controversial "Vatican Bank," which several allies of the new Pope have intimated that Papa Bergoglio may likely aim to close.

Beyond the geographic ties, the Bostonian and Bergoglio have a natural simpatico on the personality side, reflected most prominently in their shared preference for simplicity and concern for the poor. In Buenos Aires for a working trip, O'Malley had a "very personal, very informal" visit with the then-cardinal in 2010, spending time with Francis in the Chancery apartment he had taken in lieu of the archiepiscopal residence.

The day after the election, the Capuchin recalled the gift Bergoglio gave him: a copy of the Misa Criolla – the Argentine Mass-setting composed in the 1960s – calling it "a great CD that I enjoy very much."

Given Ariel Ramirez's emphasis on piano, guitars and tambourines in his vernacular liturgy, perhaps it's stating the obvious that not every American red-hat would share a similar affinity for the piece.

Reform -- This July marks a decade since O'Malley was thrust into the most thankless US assignment of the modern era... at least, until his Capuchin classmate was sent to a certain point south in 2011.

It was an epic situation – Boston, the cultural "flagship" of 160 years of Irish-dominant Catholicism in America, roiled by a tidal wave of sex-abuse and cover-up that served to engulf the landscape from coast to coast. And as the brown-robed friar arrived to take the chair whose prior occupants were household names – O'Connell, Cushing and Law – it's not a stretch to say that the world was watching.

More than any other Stateside prelate, "Archbishop Seán" was experienced with earlier eruptions of the sort. After all, he returned to the mainland in 1993 after the case of Fr James Porter rocked Cape Cod's Fall River diocese, then was sent to Palm Beach in the fallout of Bishop Anthony O'Connell's resignation after admitting that he had abused seminarians in the 1970s and 80s. Even if Boston was of another magnitude, the new archbishop knew to move quickly, both symbolically (vacating the palatial Cardinal's Residence in Brighton for an apartment in the gritty South End's cathedral rectory) and substantively, reaching an $85 million settlement of over 500 cases within a six weeks of taking the reins.

The hardest parts, however, were structural: the announcement of 67 parish closings in 2005 whose shockwaves and protests continued for years... and, indeed, the reform of his own Curia, which had been perhaps the most entrenched diocesan bureaucracy in the States.

The latter would be the greatest battle – it took the better part of three years for O'Malley to start turning the tide in the office, and so bruising was the struggle that, in a 2004 letter, he wrote that "At times I ask God to call me home and let someone else finish this job, but I keep waking up in the morning to face another day."

Almost eight years later, the hard-won result doesn't just act different, but looks different – a land of fiefdoms once arrayed in buildings spread across the Brighton campus, the vaunted plot was sold to neighboring Boston College for $172 million and bolstered by several top-flight hires from the private sector (who took pay cuts to join the project), the Chancery relocated to a consolidated hub in a suburban office-park.

O'Malley's reform record doesn't end at home – in 2010, B16 tapped the Capuchin as perhaps the kingpin player in the Apostolic Visitation of the abuse-shattered Irish church, assigning him with the review of the capital church of Dublin, where the release a state inquiry months earlier led to the resignation of several bishops found to have been involved in the transfer of priests despite known, and even serial, abuse allegations.

Most memorably during that process, the cardinal joined Archbishop Diarmuid Martin in prostrating before the altar of St Mary's Pro-Cathedral at the opening of an emotional Liturgy of Repentance largely written by survivors, which included the washing of the feet of victims, men and women alike.

In his reflection at the event, O'Malley said in part that....

On behalf of the Holy Father, I ask forgiveness for the sexual abuse of children perpetrated by priests and the past failures of the Church’s hierarchy, here and in Rome; the failure to respond appropriately to the problem of sexual abuse. Publicly atoning for the Church’s failures is an important element of asking the forgiveness of those who have been harmed by priests and bishops, whose actions -- and inactions -- gravely harmed the lives of children entrusted to their care....

Jesus is always on the side of the victim, bringing compassion and mercy. Jesus is not just the healer in the Gospel. He identifies with the sick, suffering, homeless, all innocent victims of violence and abuse and all survivors of sexual abuse. The Parable ends with injunction; ‘Go and do likewise!’; just as Jesus turns His love and compassion to those who have been violently attacked or sexually abused. We want to be part of a Church that puts survivors, the victims of abuse first, ahead of self-interest, reputation and institutional needs.

We have no doubt of Jesus’ compassion and love for the survivors even when they feel unloved, rejected, or disgraced. Our desire is that our Church reflect that love and concern for the survivors of sexual abuse and their families and be tireless in assuring the protection of children in our Church and in society.

From my own experience in several dioceses with the tragic evil of sexual abuse of minors I see that your wounds are a source of profound distress. Many survivors have struggled with addictions. Others have experienced greatly damaged relationships with parents, spouses and children. The suffering of families has been a terrible and very serious effect of the abuse. Some of you have even suffered the tragedy of a loved one having taken their own life because of the abuse perpetrated on them. The deaths of these beloved children of God weigh heavily on our hearts....

Based on the experience I have had with this Visitation, I believe there is a window of opportunity for the Church here to respond to the crisis in a way that will build a holier Church that strives to be more humble even as it grows stronger. While we have understandably heard much anger and learned of much suffering, we have also witnessed a sincere desire to strengthen and rebuild the Church here. We have seen that there is a vast resource, a reservoir of faith and a genuine desire to work for reconciliation and renewal.
And in the end, it all comes down to that – to "rebuild the church": the call of the Cross to the Seraphic Father and "universal brother," his name chosen for the first time by the 265th Pope.

Along those lines, maybe the Big Question is the Franciscan one: having groused in the Conclave's wake over being made to don the robes of office more during the transition than he had "in the last seven years," will O'Malley get to wear his beloved habit – as opposed to the normally requisite filettata – during October's "super-commission" summit?

Currently on retreat in the Holy Land with a group of his priests (above), the cardinal has yet to make any public comment on his appointment to Francis' "star chamber"....

That's not to say, however, that the Pope hasn't been on the phone.

PHOTOS: Archbishop José Gomez/Facebook(2); George Martell/Archdiocese of Boston (4)

For "Project of Revision," Francis Calls A Council

Precisely a month since his election, Pope Francis has served notice of even more changes in the Vatican – this time, on the all-important administrative front.

This morning, the pontiff announced the establishment of a group of eight cardinals with the sweeping remit "to advise him in the government of the universal church and to study a plan for revising the Apostolic Constitution on the Roman Curia, 'Pastor Bonus.'"

Said to have been inspired by "a suggestion that emerged during the General Congregations preceding the Conclave," as relayed in the move's formal notice, the membership of the group is:

–Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, president of the Governorate of Vatican City State;
–Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz Ossa, archbishop emeritus of Santiago de Chile;
–Cardinal Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Bombay;
–Cardinal Reinhard Marx, archbishop of Munich and Friesing;
–Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, archbishop of Kinshasa;
–Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley OFM Cap, archbishop of Boston;
–Cardinal George Pell, archbishop of Sydney;
–Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, SDB, archbishop of Tegucigalpa, in the role of coordinator;
–and Bishop Marcello Semeraro of Albano, Italy, who'll serve as the group's secretary.

In retrospect, this plan has apparently been on Francis' mind since the first days following his election – the new Pope had his first announced audience of any sort with Semeraro on the evening of March 17th, the same night he met with the Father-General of the Jesuits, Adolfo Nicolás.

While Benedict XVI summoned a group of cardinals to consult on the state of governance last June, in the wake of the first throes of the "Vatileaks" fiasco, in the early days of this pontificate the notion of a more formalized "crown council around [Francis]" was first floated by the Italian vaticanista Sandro Magister.

Even if the formation of an advisory body of this sort has repeatedly been proffered in the past, the idea has historically faced heavy resistance in the Vatican given the sense that it would undermine the traditional standing of the entire College of Cardinals as the principal counsel to the Pope.

The group's first meeting is slated to take place from 1-3 October – conspicuously, the days immediately prior to the feast of St Francis of Assisi. Beyond Bertello, the only other member of the group with Curial experience is Errázuriz, a member of the Schoenstatt movement who served as Secretary of the "Congregation for Religious" from 1990-96.

On another front, the retired Chilean prelate is a former president of the CELAM – the mega-conference of the Latin American bishops – while Gracias is the current head of the umbrella-group of the Asian episcopal conferences, the FABC, and Marx (a sociologist by training) oversees COMECE, the Brussels-based commission of European bishops' conferences.

As for the group's coordinator, despite having served as archbishop of the Honduran capital since 1993, Rodríguez (above) – like Errázuriz, another past president of CELAM – is a well-known figure both on the Roman scene and in the wider church thanks both to his days in the continental post and his current side-role as president of Caritas Internationalis, the federation of the global church's charitable and humanitarian-aid agencies. In the latter capacity, the 70 year-old cardinal was involved in a scrap with B16's Curia over its 2012 push to overhaul Caritas, a process which saw the forced departure of the group's secretary-general, Leslie Ann Knight, allegedly for having been overtly "critical of the Vatican machine." 

In a similar vein, the famously-combative Pell – the only non-Curialist in the four-man group convoked last year by Benedict – had been tipped in 2010 as the now-retired pontiff's choice to lead the Congregation for Bishops, but the plan fell apart after a vicious "dirty pool" effort behind the walls succeeded in its intent to block the Australian's appointment. 

Notably, in the run-up to the Conclave, even one of Pell's most strident critics conceded that the Sydneysider was one of the few electors who "ha[d] the stuff" to successfully broach a cleanup of the shambles-ridden Roman apparatus – a task many cardinals cited as an overarching concern in the choice of the new Pope.

Put bluntly, by calling in figures who have clashed to a considerable, highly-public degree with the Establishment he's inherited, Francis is bringing the Curia's chickens home to roost.

The last major reform of the Curia, Pastor Bonus – "The Good Shepherd" – was promulgated by John Paul II twenty-five years ago this June 28. 

As required by law in the days following his election, the Pope reconfirmed the chiefs of the Curia – who lose their posts during a papal vacancy – in the exercise of their functions, but only on a provisional basis. As the Holy See explained at the time, Francis wished "to reserve time for reflection, prayer, and dialogue before any final appointments or confirmations are made."

The Vatican said that Francis has already begun contact with the members of his working-group, ostensibly by his preferred means – the phone. 

Meanwhile, the pontiff's homily at this morning's "workers' Mass" in the Domus Sancta Marthae seemed to implicitly address the move.

In its report on Francis' latest daily liturgy for Vatican employees, Vatican Radio said that Papa Bergoglio cited the early church's conflict over "practical necessities" present in today's first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, on which the Pope "commented that, rather than openly address[ing] the problem, their first reaction is one of whispered criticism and gossip.

"'But this does lead to any solution' [he said], 'this does not give solutions.

"'The Apostles, with the help of the Holy Spirit, responded well: they summoned the group of disciples and spoke to them. And this is the first step: when there are difficulties, we need to look closely at them, and confront them and speak about them. But never hide them."

In a briefing following the announcement, the lead Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Fr Federico Lombardi, said that the council would not supplant the daily functions of the Roman Curia, adding that the body "will have no legislative power and that its main function is to 'help' and 'advise' the Pope."


Thursday, April 11, 2013

"Gallantry and Intrepidity" – For Father Kapaun, The Hall of Heroes

Sixty-two years after his death as a prisoner of war in Korea, Fr Emil Kapaun returned to the front pages today as the Kansas-born chaplain was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor by President Obama.

Adding to what was already a poignant tribute, the White House selected an image of Obama holding the stole the Army captain wore to celebrate a makeshift Easter Mass during his captivity as its Photo of the Day (above). The stole was brought by Kapaun's family, who met with the Commander-in-Chief in the Oval Office prior to the East Room conferral ceremony.

The culmination of a half-century campaign by his comrades – many of whom credit the priest with saving their lives – with Kapaun's Medal of Honor, the native of Pilsen, Kansas (population 40) becomes the fifth Catholic chaplain, but the first since Vietnam, to receive the military's supreme recognition for "conspicuous gallantry," joining Fathers Joseph O'Callaghan SJ, Vincent Capodanno, Charles Watters and Angelo Litecky. (A Vietnam chaplain who received the award after returning home, Litecky subsequently left the priesthood and – in his later work as a peace activist – became the lone Medal of Honor winner ever to renounce the prize.)

Against the backdrop of often intensely roiled church-state relations – above all over the impending Federal contraceptive mandate for health-care plans, which the US bishops have denounced as insufficient in protecting religious freedom – today's event made for a striking contrast, as Obama turned emotional and drew parallels between the priest and his own Kansas-born grandfather in paying tribute.

After a stringent vetting process that, in general, has been criticized over recent years for being excessively cautious, the president approved Kapaun's Medal of Honor in December, perhaps in part as an olive branch to the church as he began his second term.

As the conferral approached and all through today, meanwhile, the story has stoked an massive amount of glowing coverage in the US press, all of which is likely to give an added boost to the cause for the chaplain's canonization opened in 1993 by his native diocese of Wichita. 

Buried in an unmarked grave in Korea after his death at 35 from dysentery and malnourishment in the POW camp, Kapaun's remains have never been located.

The ceremonies will continue tomorrow as Kapaun is inducted into the Hall of Heroes at the Pentagon alongside the other 3,400 servicemen and women who've received the honor.

Given the significance of the moment, below is the text of the president's remarks at today's ceremony, followed by the formal citation awarding the medal, which was presented to Kapaun's nephew, Ray (below).

*   *   *
This year, we mark the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War -- a time when thousands of our prisoners of war finally came home after years of starvation and hardship and, in some cases, torture. And among the homecomings, one stood out.

A group of our POWs emerged carrying a large wooden crucifix, nearly four feet tall. They had spent months on it, secretly collecting firewood, carving it -- the cross and the body -- using radio wire for a crown of thorns. It was a tribute to their friend, their chaplain, their fellow prisoner who had touched their souls and saved their lives -- Father Emil Kapaun.

This is an amazing story. Father Kapaun has been called a shepherd in combat boots. His fellow soldiers who felt his grace and his mercy called him a saint, a blessing from God. Today, we bestow another title on him -- recipient of our nation’s highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor. After more than six decades of working to make this Medal a reality, I know one of Father Kapaun’s comrades spoke for a lot of folks here when he said, “it’s about time.”

Father, as they called him, was just 35 years old when he died in that hellish prison camp. His parents and his only sibling, his brother, are no longer with us. But we are extremely proud to welcome members of the Kapaun family -- his nephews, his niece, their children -- two of whom currently serve in this country's National Guard. And we are very proud of them.

We're also joined by members of the Kansas congressional delegation, leaders from across our armed forces, and representatives from the Catholic Church, which recognizes Father Kapaun as a “Servant of God.” And we are truly humbled to be joined by men who served alongside him -- veterans and former POWs from the Korean War.

Now, I obviously never met Father Kapaun. But I have a sense of the man he was, because in his story I see reflections of my own grandparents and their values, the people who helped to raise me. Emil and my grandfather were both born in Kansas about the same time, both were raised in small towns outside of Wichita. They were part of that Greatest Generation -- surviving the Depression, joining the Army, serving in World War II. And they embodied those heartland values of honesty and hard work, decency and humility -- quiet heroes determined to do their part.

For Father Kapaun, this meant becoming an Army chaplain -- serving God and country. After the Communist invasion of South Korea, he was among the first American troops that hit the beaches and pushed their way north through hard mountains and bitter cold. In his understated Midwestern way, he wrote home, saying, “this outdoor life is quite the thing” and “I prefer to live in a house once in a while.” But he had hope, saying, “It looks like the war will end soon.”

That’s when Chinese forces entered the war with a massive surprise attack -- perhaps 20,000 soldiers pouring down on a few thousand Americans. In the chaos, dodging bullets and explosions, Father Kapaun raced between foxholes, out past the front lines and into no-man’s land -- dragging the wounded to safety.

When his commanders ordered an evacuation, he chose to stay -- gathering the injured, tending to their wounds. When the enemy broke through and the combat was hand-to-hand, he carried on -- comforting the injured and the dying, offering some measure of peace as they left this Earth.

When enemy forces bore down, it seemed like the end -- that these wounded Americans, more than a dozen of them, would be gunned down. But Father Kapaun spotted a wounded Chinese officer. He pleaded with this Chinese officer and convinced him to call out to his fellow Chinese. The shooting stopped and they negotiated a safe surrender, saving those American lives.

Then, as Father Kapaun was being led away, he saw another American -- wounded, unable to walk, laying in a ditch, defenseless. An enemy soldier was standing over him, rifle aimed at his head, ready to shoot. And Father Kapaun marched over and pushed the enemy soldier aside. And then as the soldier watched, stunned, Father Kapaun carried that wounded American away.

This is the valor we honor today -- an American soldier who didn’t fire a gun, but who wielded the mightiest weapon of all, a love for his brothers so pure that he was willing to die so that they might live. And yet, the incredible story of Father Kapaun does not end there.

He carried that injured American, for miles, as their captors forced them on a death march. When Father Kapaun grew tired, he’d help the wounded soldier hop on one leg. When other prisoners stumbled, he picked them up. When they wanted to quit -- knowing that stragglers would be shot -- he begged them to keep walking.

In the camps that winter, deep in a valley, men could freeze to death in their sleep. Father Kapaun offered them his own clothes. They starved on tiny rations of millet and corn and birdseed. He somehow snuck past the guards, foraged in nearby fields, and returned with rice and potatoes. In desperation, some men hoarded food. He convinced them to share. Their bodies were ravaged by dysentery. He grabbed some rocks, pounded metal into pots and boiled clean water. They lived in filth. He washed their clothes and he cleansed their wounds.

The guards ridiculed his devotion to his Savior and the Almighty. They took his clothes and made him stand in the freezing cold for hours. Yet, he never lost his faith. If anything, it only grew stronger. At night, he slipped into huts to lead prisoners in prayer, saying the Rosary, administering the sacraments, offering three simple words: “God bless you.” One of them later said that with his very presence he could just for a moment turn a mud hut into a cathedral.

That spring, he went further -- he held an Easter service. I just met with the Kapaun family. They showed me something extraordinary -- the actual stole, the purple vestment that Father Kapaun wore when he celebrated Mass inside that prison camp.

As the sun rose that Easter Sunday, he put on that purple stole and led dozens of prisoners to the ruins of an old church in the camp. And he read from a prayer missal that they had kept hidden. He held up a small crucifix that he had made from sticks. And as the guards watched, Father Kapaun and all those prisoners -- men of different faith, perhaps some men of no faith -- sang the Lord’s Prayer and “America the Beautiful.” They sang so loud that other prisoners across the camp not only heard them, they joined in, too -- filling that valley with song and with prayer.

That faith -- that they might be delivered from evil, that they could make it home -- was perhaps the greatest gift to those men; that even amidst such hardship and despair, there could be hope; amid their misery in the temporal they could see those truths that are eternal; that even in such hell, there could be a touch of the divine. Looking back, one of them said that that is what “kept a lot of us alive.”

Yet, for Father Kapaun, the horrific conditions took their toll. Thin, frail, he began to limp, with a blood clot in his leg. And then came dysentery, then pneumonia. That’s when the guards saw their chance to finally rid themselves of this priest and the hope he inspired. They came for him. And over the protests and tears of the men who loved him, the guards sent him to a death house -- a hellhole with no food or water -- to be left to die.

And yet, even then, his faith held firm. “I’m going to where I’ve always wanted to go,” he told his brothers. “And when I get up there, I’ll say a prayer for all of you.” And then, as was taken away, he did something remarkable -- he blessed the guards. “Forgive them,” he said, “for they know not what they do.” Two days later, in that house of death, Father Kapaun breathed his last breath. His body was taken away, his grave unmarked, his remains unrecovered to this day.

The war and the awful captivity would drag on for another two years, but these men held on -- steeled by the memory and moral example of the man they called Father. And on their first day of freedom, in his honor, they carried that beautiful wooden crucifix with them.

Some of these men are here today -- including Herb Miller, the soldier that Father Kapaun saved in that ditch and then carried all those miles. Many are now in their 80s, but make no mistake, they are among the strongest men that America has ever produced. And I would ask all of our courageous POWs from the Korean War to stand if they're able and accept the gratitude of a grateful nation. (Applause.)

I’m told that in their darkest hours in the camp in that valley, these men turned to a Psalm. As we prepare for the presentation of the Medal of Honor to Father Kapaun’s nephew, Ray, I want to leave you with the words of that Psalm, which sustained these men all those years ago.

Even though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely, your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life.
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Ray, would you please join me on stage for the reading of the citation?

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[Citation:] The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, March 3, 1863, has awarded in the name of Congress the Medal of Honor to Chaplain Emil J. Kapaun, United States Army, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the all of duty.

Chaplain Emil J. Kapaun distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Calvary Division during combat operations against an armed enemy at Unsan, Korea, from November 1st to 2nd, 1950.

On November 1st, as Chinese Communist Forces viciously attacked friendly elements, Chaplain Kapaun calmly walked through withering enemy fire in order to provide comfort and medical aid to his comrades and rescue friendly wounded from no-man’s land.

Though the Americans successfully repelled the assault, they found themselves surrounded by the enemy. Facing annihilation, the able-bodied men were ordered to evacuate. However, Chaplain Kapaun, fully aware of his certain capture, elected to stay behind with the wounded.

After the enemy succeeded in breaking through the defense in the early morning hours of November 2nd, Chaplain Kapaun continually made rounds as hand-to-hand combat ensued. As Chinese Communist Forces approached the American position, Chaplain Kapaun noticed an injured Chinese officer amongst the wounded and convinced him to negotiate the safe surrender of the American forces.

Shortly after his capture, Chaplain Kapaun, with complete disregard for his personal safety and unwavering resolve, bravely pushed aside an enemy soldier preparing to execute Sergeant First Class Herbert A. Miller. Not only did Chaplain Kapaun’s gallantry save the life of Sergeant Miller, but also his unparalleled courage and leadership inspired all those present, including those who might have otherwise fled in panic to remain and fight the enemy until captured.

Chaplain Kapaun’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, the 1st Calvary Division and the United States Army.