Friday, July 04, 2014

Facing "A False Choice," At Fortnight's Close, The Church's Case

For the third year running, this 4th of July marks the finale of the US church's Fortnight for Freedom, the national initiative born amid the specter of the Obamacare contraceptive mandate's impact on Catholic entities and their ability to serve in sound conscience.

This time around, coming in the wake of ecclesial celebrations over Monday's 5-4 Supreme Court decision which green-lighted the Hobby Lobby craft chain's objection to the mandate on religious liberty grounds, the bench's closing message was delivered by the USCCB president, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, at today's Noon Mass in the nation's largest church, Washington's Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception:


"The Blessing of Equal Liberty"

We pray, Thee O Almighty and Eternal God! Who through Jesus Christ hast revealed Thy glory to all nations, to preserve the works of Thy mercy, that Thy Church, being spread through the whole world, may continue with unchanging faith in the confession of Thy Name.

We pray Thee, who alone art good and holy, to endow with heavenly knowledge, sincere zeal, and sanctity of life, our chief bishop, Pope Francis, the Vicar of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the government of his Church; our own bishop, N., all other bishops, prelates, and pastors of the Church; and especially those who are appointed to exercise amongst us the functions of the holy ministry, and conduct Thy people into the ways of salvation.

We pray Thee O God of might, wisdom, and justice! Through whom authority is rightly administered, laws are enacted, and judgment decreed, assist with Thy Holy Spirit of counsel and fortitude the President of these United States, that his administration may be conducted in righteousness, and be eminently useful to Thy people over whom he presides; by encouraging due respect for virtue and religion; by a faithful execution of the laws in justice and mercy; and by restraining vice and immorality. Let the light of Thy divine wisdom direct the deliberations of Congress, and shine forth in all the proceedings and laws framed for our rule and government, so that they may tend to the preservation of peace, the promotion of national happiness, the increase of industry, sobriety, and useful knowledge; and may perpetuate to us the blessing of equal liberty.

We pray for his excellency, the governor of this state, for the members of the assembly, for all judges, magistrates, and other officers who are appointed to guard our political welfare, that they may be enabled, by Thy powerful protection, to discharge the duties of their respective stations with honesty and ability.

We recommend likewise, to Thy unbounded mercy, all our brethren and fellow citizens throughout the United States, that they may be blessed in the knowledge and sanctified in the observance of Thy most holy law; that they may be preserved in union, and in that peace which the world cannot give; and after enjoying the blessings of this life, be admitted to those which are eternal.

Finally, we pray to Thee, O Lord of mercy, to remember the souls of Thy servants departed who are gone before us with the sign of faith and repose in the sleep of peace; the souls of our parents, relatives, and friends; of those who, when living, were members of this congregation, and particularly of such as are lately deceased; of all benefactors who, by their donations or legacies to this Church, witnessed their zeal for the decency of divine worship and proved their claim to our grateful and charitable remembrance.

To these, O Lord, and to all that rest in Christ, grant, we beseech Thee, a place of refreshment, light, and everlasting peace, through the same Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior. Amen.
Keeping with house custom for the great feasts of state, the preceding is the Prayer for the Nation penned and first delivered in August 1791 by American Catholicism's Founding Father, John Carroll of Baltimore – the first bishop on these shores, and a cousin of the lone Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence.

The text has a special significance this July 4th; as today brings the Declaration's 238th birthday, this coming November 6 marks the 225th anniversary of the establishment of a diocese for the 13 founding states – then a fold of 22,000 Catholics, served by 22 "known priests."

Back to today, from the place where the "great experiment" was born, a Happy 4th to one and all – hope you're in for a safe, easy and beautiful weekend. Miss Smith, take us out:


Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Barque Rocks On

Simply put, it is the oldest continuous office on Earth.

One thousand nine hundred eighty one years in existence.... Two hundred sixty-six occupants.... A line that encompasses great saints and walking scandals both, and every historical circumstance from the glories of human empire and the magnificence of monument to bloody rivers of war, imprisonment and persecution.

Just on the turns of the ages, even a nonbeliever can marvel at the papacy, and especially at the big moments, no shortage do. And for everything else that's surrounded it for close to two millennia, perhaps that's the greatest miracle of all – not that the institution founded upon Peter merely still exists, but how, whether in the heights of affection or political drives for its occupant's suppression, it's retained its relevance, recovering from the lulls as little more than a fleeting spell.

Indeed, just when it was supposedly rational to think that another spin of the wheel really could be curtains, all of a sudden, a new springtime dawns again....

Two thousand years later, just further proof that Somebody knew what He was doing at the start.

Buona festa to one and all.


"The Problem For Us Is Fear" – On Pope's Day, Francis Calls Bishops To "Follow"

Marking the patronal feast of Rome – and, indeed, the papacy itself – on this solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul the city's 266th bishop led the 30th anniversary of the tradition instituted by St John Paul II, conferring the pallium on 24 new metropolitan archbishops named over the last year.

What's more, though, in the process Pope Francis gave himself a new one.... Well, a new-old one.

Six years after the chief MC Msgr Guido Marini devised a "Papal Pallium" adorned with red crosses for B16, at today's rites Francis ditched the model, restoring the same black-crossed version (above) worn by centuries of his predecessors and identical to that given every other archbishop. The sign of the "fullness of the episcopal office" which each metropolitan is entitled to wear at Masses within his province, the return to the common pallium serves to more fully underscore the woolen vestment's intended symbolism over the centuries – namely, a visible sign of the bond between the archbishops of the entire church and the See of Peter.

With the US represented by just one prelate – Archbishop Leonard Blair of Hartford – among others invested today were Archbishops Malcolm McMahon OP of Liverpool (head of the UK's largest diocese), Leo Cushley of St Andrews and Edinburgh, Paul Bui of Ho Chi Minh City, Wojciech Polak of Gniezno (the new Polish primate) and Franz Lackner OFM of Salzburg, a post whose centuries-old privilege of donning a cardinal's red vesture made him stand out among the violet zucchetti of the rest of the group.

While Papa Bergoglio's homily did not feature a similar bomb to last year's preach, in which Francis' unscripted call for a deepening of "synodality" in the church's governance sent shockwaves through the Vatican's Old Guard, today's text did see him launch a pointed examination of conscience for the prelates in attendance, asking them "Are we afraid?" and "if we are, what escapes do we seek to feel safe?"

"Do we seek the approval of the powers of this world?" Francis wondered, "or do we let ourselves be taken in by that pride which seeks gratification and recognition?" In the face of those temptations, the needed answer was to trust in "God's fidelity," he said, which must be "the source of our confidence and our peace."

Outside St Peter's, meanwhile, the pontiff returned to the front page of the newspapers in his own voice. For the second time in ten days, an interview with the Pope was released, this time in Il Messaggero, the dominant Rome-based daily, featuring his tidings to the city on its patronal feast. At the same time, the conversation focused much on what Francis called "moral" and "cultural degradation," which he said was visible in issues ranging from corruption and child prostitution to income inequality (the "golden calf" of "the money god") and poverty as well as – repeating an earlier comment – the "phenomenon" of valuing pets over people.

The first Pope-chat Francis has held with a female reporter, the Domus sit-down with Messaggero's Franca Giansoldati – which, notably, took place during Tuesday's infamous Italy-Uruguay World Cup match – likewise dwelt at length on the role of women in the church. (At right, Giansoldati is seen in an airplane selfie with Francis en route to last month's Holy Land tour.)

Saying that "Women are the most beautiful thing God has made," the Pope reiterated his call in Evangelii Gaudium that the "feminine question" in ecclesial life "must be deepened, otherwise you can't understand the church herself."

While Giansoldati explicitly set aside the question of female clergy, she asked Francis whether a woman would be named as head of a Curial dicastery, a prospect which the pontiff left the door wide open to by replying with a chuckle that "Well [orig: 'Beh'], many times priests [already] end up under the authority of their housekeepers."

Along the way, the pontiff exalted the figure of Pope Paul VI, who he'll beatify on 19 October at the close of the Synod for the Family. In Francis' judgment, Paul's 1975 exhortation on evangelization Evangelii Nuntiandi "remains an unsurpassed pastoral document," adding that, being "the first Pope who studied theology after the Council... for us Paul VI was the great light."

Asked where "the church of Bergoglio" is headed, the Pope said "Thank God I don't have a church, I follow Christ. I haven't founded anything." Programmatically speaking, though, he emphasized that "I've done nothing on my own," that his course of governance was merely "the fruit of the meetings before the Conclave" in the priorities and aspirations laid out by the cardinals. Still, as pertains to his own missionary vision, Francis again repeated that "the church must go out into the streets, seek the people, go into the houses, visit families, go toward the peripheries. It can't be a church that only receives, but one which offers."

Back to the basilica, today's rites made for the Pope's last major event before the Curia's summer hiatus, during which the release of his morning homilies at the Domus and the Wednesday audiences will be suspended.

That's not to say all will be quiet, however – beyond whatever spontaneous things come up (and they will), Tuesday brings the fifth meeting of Francis' "Gang of Eight" cardinal-advisers on the reform of the Curia; set to run four days, the session will be the group's longest to date. In addition, on Friday the Irish Catholic reported that the pontiff's first meeting with survivors of sexual abuse – the first papal meeting with victims at the Vatican – is expected to take place next weekend.

* * *
Here below, meanwhile, the Vatican's English translation of the Pope's homily at this morning's Mass for the Petrine feast....
On this Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, the principal patrons of Rome, we welcome with joy and gratitude the Delegation sent by the Ecumenical Patriarch, our venerable and beloved brother Bartholomaios, and led by Metropolitan Ioannis. Let us ask the Lord that this visit too may strengthen our fraternal bonds as we journey toward that full communion between the two sister Churches which we so greatly desire.

“Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod” (Acts 12:11). When Peter began his ministry to the Christian community of Jerusalem, great fear was still in the air because of Herod’s persecution of members of the Church. There had been the killing of James, and then the imprisonment of Peter himself, in order to placate the people. While Peter was imprisoned and in chains, he heard the voice of the angel telling him, “Get up quickly… dress yourself and put on your sandals… Put on your mantle and follow me!” (Acts 12:7-8). The chains fell from him and the door of the prison opened before him. Peter realized that the Lord had “rescued him from the hand of Herod”; he realized that the Lord had freed him from fear and from chains. Yes, the Lord liberates us from every fear and from all that enslaves us, so that we can be truly free. Today’s liturgical celebration expresses this truth well in the refrain of the Responsorial Psalm: “The Lord has freed me from all my fears”.

The problem for us, then, is fear and looking for refuge in our pastoral responsibilities.

I wonder, dear brother bishops, are we afraid? What are we afraid of? And if we are afraid, what forms of refuge do we seek, in our pastoral life, to find security? Do we look for support from those who wield worldly power? Or do we let ourselves be deceived by the pride which seeks gratification and recognition, thinking that these will offer us security? Dear brother Bishops, where do we find our security?

The witness of the Apostle Peter reminds us that our true refuge is trust in God. Trust in God banishes all fear and sets us free from every form of slavery and all worldly temptation. Today the Bishop of Rome and other bishops, particularly the metropolitans who have received the pallium, feel challenged by the example of Saint Peter to assess to what extent each of us puts his trust in the Lord.

Peter recovered this trust when Jesus said to him three times: “Feed my sheep” (Jn 21: 15,16,17). Peter thrice confessed his love for Jesus, thus making up for his threefold denial of Christ during the passion. Peter still regrets the disappointment which he caused the Lord on the night of his betrayal. Now that the Lord asks him: “Do you love me?”, Peter does not trust himself and his own strength, but instead entrusts himself to Jesus and his mercy: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you” (Jn 21:17). Precisely at this moment fear, insecurity and cowardice dissipate.

Peter experienced how God’s fidelity is always greater than our acts of infidelity, stronger than our denials. He realizes that the God’s fidelity dispels our fears and exceeds every human reckoning. Today Jesus also asks us: “Do you love me?”. He does so because he knows our fears and our struggles. Peter shows us the way: we need to trust in the Lord, who “knows everything” that is in us, not counting on our capacity to be faithful, but on his unshakable fidelity. Jesus never abandons us, for he cannot deny himself (cf. 2 Tim 2:13). He is faithful. The fidelity which God constantly shows to us pastors, far in excess of our merits, is the source of our confidence and our peace. The Lord’s fidelity to us keeps kindled within us the desire to serve him and to serve our sisters and brothers in charity.

The love of Jesus must suffice for Peter. He must no longer yield to the temptation to curiosity, jealousy, as when, seeing John nearby, he asks Jesus: “Lord, what about this man?” (Jn 21:21). But Jesus, in the face of these temptations, says to him in reply: “What is it to you? Follow me” (Jn 21:22). This experience of Peter is a message for us too, dear brother archbishops. Today the Lord repeats to me, to you, and to all pastors: Follow me! Waste no time in questioning or in useless chattering; do not dwell on secondary things, but look to what is essential and follow me. Follow me without regard for the difficulties. Follow me in preaching the Gospel. Follow me by the witness of a life shaped by the grace you received in baptism and holy orders. Follow me by speaking of me to those with whom you live, day after day, in your work, your conversations and among your friends. Follow me by proclaiming the Gospel to all, especially to the least among us, so that no one will fail to hear the word of life which sets us free from every fear and enables us to trust in the faithfulness of God. Follow me!

Friday, June 27, 2014

In Michigan, A Spartan Shift – Lansing Chancellor Raica to Gaylord

As the Curia's "end of school" desk-clearing reaches its close, the US' longest-standing vacancy has been settled.

At Roman Noon this Friday, the Pope tapped Msgr Steven Raica, 61 – chancellor of Lansing and, from 1999-2005, head of the Casa Santa Maria (the Roman residence for American priests in advanced studies) – as fifth bishop of Gaylord, the 65,000-member church comprising the northern 21 counties of Michigan's Lower Peninsula.

Born on the Upper Peninsula and rumored for its opening in Marquette earlier this year, in the slightly warmer rural post Raica succeeds another prominent figure from the Rome scene: now-Archbishop Bernard Hebda, the Harvard and Columbia-trained canon and civil lawyer who wept on being made to leave for the roiled, 1.4 million-member archdiocese of Newark as its coadjutor last fall.

A product of Michigan State, where he earned a bachelor's in mathematics before a JCD from the Gregorian, the "gentle and industrious" bishop-elect is believed to be the first US prelate who's fluent in sign language; for the first decade of his priesthood, Raica served as Lansing's diocesan director for deaf ministry alongside parish work. Beyond his assignments, the bishop-elect has been chaplain to the local Legatus as well as immersing himself in Communion and Liberation, the Milan-based movement which rose to even greater prominence in the last pontificate as B16's favorite.

As for what lies ahead, meanwhile, what Hebda referred to as "the needs of the church in Gaylord" would seem to mesh well with the profile of his successor: on his transfer to Newark after four years, Bishop Bernie just beginning to focus the diocese on planning its mid-range future, a challenge that's been particularly acute across Michigan given demographic shifts as harsh as the state's infamous winters. Alongside the structural realities, priestly vocations have proven another hurdle upstate, while Lansing has long bucked the trend, ordaining five in this year's batch, including identical twins who were profiled in The New York Times. (Gaylord will ordain one tomorrow, with His Grace-in-Waiting returning to perform the rite.)

In a statement released this morning, the bishop-elect mused on the confluence of his appointment and today's solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a figure whose "love and mercy" has repeatedly been part of his life and ministry.

Raica's ordination is scheduled for 28 August, the feast of St Augustine.

With today's move, the number of Stateside Latin-church vacancies falls to four – a group with Toledo now topping the pile – with another five led by ordinaries serving past the retirement age of 75. Earlier this month, it emerged that for the most prominent of the docket – of course, the heavily anticipated Chicago appointment – Cardinal Francis George had submitted his report on the state of the 2.3 million-member archdiocese, featuring his shortlist of preferred successors.

As the process can't reach Rome until the major investigation by the Nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, is completed, it bears repeating that no movement is expected until the Congregation for Bishops reconvenes in September. Ergo, things will feel like this for a while....

That said, it's not yet safe to call the end of appointments for the summer – anything decided in the last lap before the recess can drop until July 15th, give or take.

Speaking of Michigan and archbishops, Sunday's feast of Saints Peter and Paul will see Pope Francis confer the pallium on just one American, the Detroit-born Archbishop Leonard Blair of Hartford, among 24 new metropolitans named over the last year around the globe.

Even so, folks, the most important thing for now is far simpler: it's a summer weekend – enjoy it.

SVILUPPO: Describing himself as "thrilled" at the news, a Lansing op sends this portrait of the bishop-elect....

This may sound a bit cliché, but he is truly one of the most kind, gentle, intelligent and faithful people I know.... He is very deliberate and thoughtful, has a great sense of humor and yet is very attentive. He is big on using technology and communications for evangelization....

If this is the sort of bishop Pope Francis is naming, I'm thrilled. He is solid but not an ideologue. He has chancery, Rome and parish experience. Though he loves pasta, travel and culture, he lives very simply. He's an excellent cook. His desk is very messy! He is bright, faithful and yet has no ax to grind.

I have never witnessed him to have an appetite for the sort of rhetoric we see from others in the U.S. hierarchy on the hot button issues. Like Pope Francis, I don't see +Raica watering anything down but I think his emphasis will be in line with this pope - on the positive aspects of our faith. I hope this is a sign of more good appointments to come. I think +Raica really reflects what we are hearing that Pope Francis wants – shepherds who are gentle, approachable, smell like the sheep and are open to bringing everyone closer to the Lord.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Stacking out at 73 pages and released at Roman Noon, the all-important Instrumentum Laboris for October's Synod on the Family is available as both html and pdf.

Don't let somebody else be your brain, folks – do yourself a favor and actually read it.


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Quote of the Day

Papa Francesco si è fermato a casa nostra...

In English, that's "Pope Francis stopped at our house" – the caption on the following Facebook post from earlier today in Cassano:

And, well, if this is being "reportedly ill," would that the rest of us were, too.


In Calabria, The Pope's Hit – "The Mafia Is Excommunicated"

Even as today's papal visit to Cassano all'Ionio saw Francis deliver moving messages to prisoners and priests alike, as expected, the day's headline came elsewhere.

Closing out the daylong trek with a Mass – in a rarity for pontifical liturgies, a Sunday vigil – along the shore of the Ionian Sea, the Pope tackled the area's tormented legacy of organized crime, declaring that 'ndrangheta,
 the locally-based syndicate widely thought to be Italy's most feared Mafia branch, "is this: the adoration of evil and contempt of the common good."

Going further, and lifting his head from his prepared text, Papa Bergoglio said that "those who in their lives have taken this evil road, this road of evil, such as the mafiosi, they are not in communion with God – they are excommunicated!"

The massive crowd responded by erupting into applause and cheers. Video:

In January, the Mafia murder of a 3 year-old boy in a Cassano car-bombing sparked outrage across Italy and saw Francis deliver prayers and a rebuke for the perpetrators at his Sunday Angelus. Prior to today's Mass, the Pope met the grandparents and father of the young victim, Coco Campolongo. On another front, Papa Bergoglio's "Mob hit" comes a day after Francis made global headlines for decrying the legalization of "any type of drug" as "a veiled way of surrendering to the phenomenon" of addiction in society.

Back to today, while canonists will take pains to emphasize that the "excommunicated" statement is by no means a formal decree with legal effect, in terms of the symbolics and public perception, its potency would be difficult to overestimate. For purposes of context, when a veteran prosecutor of Mob cases relayed last year that Francis had rattled 'ndrangheta amid his attempts to reform the Vatican's "power centers" – an agenda which "put [the Pope] at risk" – the official noted that "the church has never excommunicated a mobster."

As the thought has likely crossed the mind of not a few Italian bishops, they now have the clearance to proceed with it. Repeating an earlier word, the Mafia theme is fairly certain to resurface on July 5th, when Francis visits Campobasso, home to Italy's most outspoken prelate against the syndicates, Archbishop Giancarlo Bregantini.

On a side-note, the Mass came after a stop at a hospice (below) during which, according to wire reports, Papa Bergoglio asked one of the doctors to remove a splinter from his finger.

More to come... (SVILUPPO: Significant as the preceding is, it was equaled – if not eclipsed – by a moment on the road into town.)

...for now, here's the Vatican's English translation of the Pope's homily for the vigil Mass of Corpus Christi (the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ), which is transferred to tomorrow in Italy and most of the global church:

On the feast of Corpus Domini, we celebrate Jesus “living bread that came down from heaven” (Jn 6,51), food for our hunger for eternal life, strength for our journey. I thank the Lord, who today allows me to celebrate Corpus Domini with you, brothers and sisters of this Church, which is in Cassano allo Jonio. Today’s feast is that on which the Church praises the Lord for the gift of the Eucharist. While on Holy Thursday, we recall its institution at the Last Supper, today thanksgiving and adoration predominate. And, in fact, it is tradition on this day to have the procession with the Blessed Sacrament. To adore Jesus Eucharist and to walk with him. These are the two inseparable aspects of today’s feast, two aspects that mark the entire life of the Christian people: a people that adores God and walks with him.

Before all else, we are a people who adores God. We adore God, who is love, who in Jesus Christ gave himself for us, offered himself on the cross to expiate our sins and by the power of this love he rose from death and lives in his Church. We do have no other God than this!

When adoration of the Lord is substituted by adoration of money, the road to sin opens to personal interest ... When one does not adore the Lord, one becomes an adorer of evil, like those who live by dishonesty and violence. Your land, which so beautiful, knows the signs of the consequences of this sin. The ‘ndrangheta is this: adoration of evil and contempt of the common good. This evil must be fought, must be expelled. It must be told no. The Church, which is so committed to educating consciences, must always expend itself even more so that good can prevail. Our children ask this of us. Our young people ask this of us, they, who need hope. To be able to respond to this demands, faith can help us. Those who in their lives have taken this evil road, this road of evil, such as the mobsters, they are not in communion with God, they are excommunicated!

Today, we confess this with our gaze turned to Corpus Domini, to the Sacrament of the altar. And, for this faith, we renounce Satan and all of his temptations; we renounce the idols of money, vanity, pride and power. We, Christians, do not want to adore anything or anyone in this world except Jesus Christ, who is present in the Holy Eucharist. Perhaps we do not always realize what this means in all its depth, the consequences our profession of faith has or should have. Today we ask the Lord to enlighten us and to convert us, so that we truly adore only him and we renounce evil in all its forms.

But our faith in the real presence of Jesus Christ, true God and true man, in the consecrated bread and wine, is authentic if we commit to follow him and to walk with him, seeking to put into practice his commandment which he gave to the disciples at the Last Supper: “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (Jn 13,34). A people who adores God in the Eucharist is a people who walks in charity.

Today, as bishop of Rome, I am here to confirm you not only in faith but also in charity, to accompany you and to encourage you in your journey with Jesus Charity. I want to express my support to the bishop, the priests and the deacons of this Church, and also of the Eparchy of Lungro, rich in its Greek-Byzantine tradition. But I extend it to all the pastors and faithful of the Church in Calabria, courageously committed to evangelization and to promoting lifestyles and initiatives which put at the centre the needs of the poor and of the. And I also extend it to the civil authorities who seek to live political and administrative commitment for what it is—a service to the common good.

I encourage all to witness practical solidarity with your brothers, especially those who most need justice, hope and tenderness. Thank God, there are many signs of hope in your families, parishes, associations and ecclesial movements. The Lord Jesus does not cease to inspire acts of charity in his people who journey! The Policoro Project is a concrete sign of hope for young people who want to get in the game and create work possibilities for themselves and for others. You, dear young people, do not let yourselves to be robbed of hope! Adoring Jesus in your hears and remaining united to him you will know how to oppose evil, injustice, violence with the force of good, truth and beauty.

Dear brothers and sisters, the Eucharist has gathered us together. The Body of the Lord makes of us one, one family, the people of God united around Jesus, Bread of Life. That which I said to the young people, I say to all of you: if you will adore Christ, follow him and walk with him, your diocesan Church and your parishes will grow in faith and charity, in the joy of evangelizing. You will be a Church in which fathers, mothers, priests, religious, catechists, children, the elderly and the young walk alongside each other, support each other, help each other, love each other like brothers, especially in moments of difficulty.

Mary, eucharistic Woman, whom you venerate in many sanctuaries, especially at the one in Castrovillari, precedes you in this pilgrimage of faith. May she always help you to stay united so that, even by means of your witness, the Lord may continue to give life to the world.

Friday, June 20, 2014

For the Synod, The Baseline Cometh

After months of anticipation – and, in no shortage of parts elsewhere, presumptions and agitation galore – the core document for October's Extraordinary Synod finally has its pub-date.

Its drafting guided by the questionnaire circulated worldwide by the Holy See last fall, earlier today it emerged that the instrumentum laboris for the assembly on "the pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization" will be released next Thursday, 26 June, with a midday press conference featuring the meeting's key officials, led by the Pope's hand-picked Synod chief, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri.

Ostensibly delayed by the torrent of feedback received from the local churches, an initial draft of the text was reviewed by the 15-prelate Synod Council last month under Francis' close watch.

Though the Pope's earnest desire is for the assembly of representatives of the 5,000-member global episcopate to become a significantly more "real and effective tool" for collegial governance than it has in the past – a dynamic which should make for some surprises in the Aula – the document will set the baseline both for the topics envisioned for discussion, and Papa Bergoglio's expectations for the first stage of the process that'll culminate with a second Family Synod in October 2015.

* * *
When they circulated the survey to the episcopal conferences with the request that they "distribute [it] to the dioceses" for local input, Baldisseri & Co. likely weren't banking on the confusion that would reign in its wake.

For starters, progressive lobby groups in several countries took to pouncing on their respective conferences for letting the dioceses take the initiative in circulating the questions, even though the intent was precisely to get an optimal snapshot of the reality in the trenches instead of ideological boilerplate. Then, once the national responses were compiled and sent to Rome, several of the English-speaking bodies declined to release theirs, citing a request for confidentiality from Baldisseri, while extensive, brow-raising reports were published by others, most prominently the Japanese and German bishops. (The latter bench is now led by Europe's lone diocesan bishop on Francis' "Gang of Eight," Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, who's talked up some of his own thoughts on related matters over recent months.)

In any case, Baldisseri has made clear that while "the doctrine on the family is not in discussion" come October, "the approach to pastoral problems is" – and it "can change."

"We're starting from a conviction that we don't know everything," the Synod chief said in a November interview, "and that study and seeking might open new horizons, previously unknown ones."

After having processed the responses (which were due at January's end), over another press sit-down in April, the cardinal let slip that among other issues raised, two stood out: first, he said, "communication is lacking between the institutional church and the real church, which is the people." And secondly, "the awareness of the Christian doctrine on marriage is scarce," adding that "the same could be said for the theme of openness to life.

"Paul VI's Humanae Vitae is rather ignored, the no to contraception has stopped," the cardinal said. "On this theme, the church has much to do."

Lest anybody forgot, Francis will beatify Paul VI – likewise the Synod's founder – at the two-week assembly's closing liturgy on October 19th.

All that said, during last week's June meeting in New Orleans, the USCCB relented slightly on its earlier reticence as the conference president, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, delivered a public report on what he called "some thoughts... some general trends" on the feedback received at the Mothership, joined by the lead American on the 15-man Synod Council, Washington's Cardinal Donald Wuerl.

Here, fullaudio of the briefing:

As the elected leader of the Stateside bench, under the current rules for an Extraordinary Synod – only the third of its kind, the last having taken place in 1985 on the 20th anniversary of Vatican II's close – Kurtz is the lone US prelate assured of a seat at the October assembly. (Since the Synod's founding in 1967, 18 of the 20 prior editions have been the larger and longer "general" or "special" meetings, at which episcopal conferences with over 100 members would each elect three delegates.) That said, 
with Francis and Baldisseri currently retooling the gathering's "methodology" and the Pope ostensibly itching to broaden the "experiences" present for the discussions, the prez is still likely to have some company from home, whether ordained, lay, or both.


For Summer "Vacation," Francis Meets the Mob

Fifteen months into his tenure as Primate of Italy, Papa Francesco has yet to visit Venice, Milan, Genoa or Naples, but in his fourth domestic trek beyond Rome, the weekend brings another stop at the "periphery" – and yet again, one which has already impacted his vision for the church in the "boot."

Early tomorrow, Francis will helicopter some 300 miles southward, to Cassano all'Ionio in the peninsula's lower arch. The visit makes good on a promise Francis made last December as part of his attempt at restitution for plucking the town's bishop, Nunzio Galantino (above), to come to the capital last December as his designated secretary-general of the Italian bishops' conference, the CEI.

Traditionally chosen from among the bishops, the secretary of the Italian bench has invariably given up his prior post on taking the reins of the CEI. Prior to his appointment, however, Galantino sought to do double-duty in overseeing both his diocese and the conference's Rome headquarters. While Francis has allowed the arrangement so far, the setup could prove complicated in the long term given the distance between the two and the size of the workload. Accordingly, in a letter he wrote to "ask permission" of the people of Cassano to take their bishop, the Pope said Galantino's twin roles would continue "at least for a certain time," the six-month point of which is coming next week.

In the note to the people, Francis said that – even if their bishop "would surely prefer to remain with you" – he "need[ed]" Galantino in Rome "for an important mission in the Italian church."

"I ask you, please, to understand me, and to forgive me," the Pope wrote, adding that their evident "brotherly and fatherly love" for the prelate "moves me and makes me thank God."

As previously reported, Francis stunned the home-turf Establishment on selecting Galantino, who served for 27 years as pastor of the same parish prior to his 2012 appointment to Cassano and didn't figure in the preliminary consultations for the national post. As a result, the new CEI chief has become the "poster prelate" of the type of episcopal nominee Papa Bergoglio seeks, the identikit for which he laid out most extensively in February on addressing his reconstituted Congregation for Bishops. Over the months since, Galantino made waves with comments criticizing his confreres for a perceived lack of enthusiasm for Francis' program and voicing his hope that the church could discuss controversial issues "without taboos." In addition, last month the Pope tapped his new confidant's local deputy, the Cassano vicar-general Francesco Oliva, to lead his own diocese adjacent to Sicily.

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Backdrop aside, while the one-day jaunt was primarily intended as a bright, flashing sign of Francis' regard for Galantino and his gratitude to the people for letting him go, the church context became just half the story after the January Mafia killing of a 3 year-old boy in Cassano, Nicola Campolongo, sparked a national outcry against the stranglehold organized crime continues to have in southern Italy.

At his Angelus on the weekend of the attack, the Pope himself weighed in, saying that the boy's death in a car bombing – an act of retaliation against his grandfather's unpaid debts – "seems not to have any precedent in the history of criminality."

Using the boy's nickname, Francis said "we pray with Coco, who surely is with Jesus in heaven, for the people who committed this crime, that they might repent and convert to the Lord."

While a public Mass on the shore of the Ionian Sea is slated to close the day, the Pope's schedule begins with an hour-long mid-morning stop at the local prison, at which a public speech is planned. Afterward, visits are scheduled with the local sick and elderly at two separate care facilities, the priests of the diocese in the cathedral. Francis will have lunch with the poor served by the diocese's charity arm.

In announcing the visit in March, Galantino warned that the day was not to become a moment of "unjustified expense" for either the church or the local authorities. The bishop likewise rapped "the temptation" some would have to seek "preferred treatment or privileged places," adding that any aspiring donors or others aiming for "front row" or similar perks for the day were "dispensed" from offering any contribution they'd expect a reward for.

"The only privileged ones here," he said, "will be the sick and those who've been coming to Caritas for a long time."

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The Cassano stop is just one of two summer getaways within Italy which Francis has planned – at least, so far.

On 5 July, the Pope is slated to go to Campobasso in the central province of Molise, another venue where the Mafia's toll has been prominent. And as with Galantino, the plan doubles as a "thank you" to another of Bergoglio's domestic allies.

This past Good Friday, Francis chose Campobasso's Archbishop Giancarlo Bregantini to write this year's reflections for the Way of the Cross at the Colosseum. Another career pastor and teacher before his appointment as a bishop, the bearded 65 year-old heads up the Italian church's national efforts on social justice, peace and the pastoral care of workers. It bears adding that Bregantini's most well-known target of criticism over the years has been 'ndrangheta, the group widely reputed to be Italy's most vicious crime syndicate, and one whose leaders were said last year to be "nervous [and] agitated" by Francis' attempts at "dismantling the centers of economic power in the Vatican."

Speaking of PopeTrips, it seems some could use reminding that while Francis has only left Italy twice since his election, three overseas journeys are now confirmed to take place before mid-January.

Following mid-August's visit to South Korea for a pan-Asian youth congress – which he intends to conclude in Seoul's cathedral with a "Mass for Peace and Reconciliation" between the country and the Communist North – at Sunday's Angelus the Pope suddenly added his first stop within Europe: a one-day trek on 21 September to the Albanian capital of Tirana, in order "to confirm in faith the church [there] and witness my encouragement and love to a country which has long suffered the consequences of past ideologies."

While an African trip is expected to emerge somewhere in 2015, next year's first stop is again to an Asian church which, on several fronts, arguably best represents this pontificate's "dream" of a vibrant, engaged and inculturated "missionary discipleship" – and thanks to it, has become the biggest winner under Francis to date.

Reportedly to begin with two days in Sri Lanka (a 12-hour flight from Rome) in mid-January, Francis will then head to the Philippines – global Catholicism's third-largest outpost – with the prime item said to be an outreach to the communities affected by November's Typhoon Yolanda, which claimed more than 6,000 lives and directly impacted over a million households. The Vatican advance team visit to plan both legs of the tour will take place in July.

Of course, that's not all. Awaiting little more than the Holy See's formal announcement, Francis' envisioned multi-city US stop in September 2015 has ostensibly added Mexico to the itinerary, according to indications there from church and civil quarters alike.

While the Pope has sworn off returning to lower Latin America until at least 2016, adding Mexico – the world's second-largest Catholic country – to the Stateside card makes sense: much as these shores' Anglo chattering-class has been embarrassingly late to the game, the influx of some 30 million Mexicans north of the border has, among other things, kept the US church from both aging precipitously and posting a net loss of roughly half its membership.

In other words, a visit to the church in the States would be incomplete without due focus on (and, indeed, tribute to) the driving force behind its new de facto majority... and to go full-bore toward that end, a report from Mexico's semi-official news service earlier this week said that – in the vein of Francis' penitential pilgrimage to Lampedusa and sudden stop at the Israeli wall in Bethlehem – the Pope was "consulting various trusted people" in Mexico's northern cities on his "wish" to spend a moment at the barrier separating it from the US.

In a way, the gesture could be seen as an outgrowth of the outdoor Mass at the border celebrated April 1st by several US bishops, led by Francis' principal North American adviser, Boston's Cardinal Seán O'Malley OFM Cap., who said in a recent interview with the Daily Beast that the Pope subsequently made reference to the "powerful" images of the event which had reached the Domus.


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Baltimore Gets the Berkshires: Charm City's Rozanski Tapped for Springfield, Mass.

Just last month, a sixth-grade religion class at a Baltimore parochial school got a surprise guest teacher: Auxiliary Bishop Mitch Rozanski.

What made the visit unusual, however, was how it came about – meeting the 55 year-old prelate after a Mass on Divine Mercy Sunday, one of the students simply asked if he'd come.

"I thought he would be busy," the student who issued the invitation said afterward.... And so it seems, the kid was onto more than practically anybody else.

At Roman Noon, Pope Francis appointed the well-regarded Rozanski – named a Charm City auxiliary at all of 45 in 2004 – as bishop of Springfield, Massachusetts, the picturesque spread comprising 220,000 Catholics in the state's western third. He succeeds Bishop Timothy McDonnell, who reached the retirement age of 75 in December 2012.

As fits go, there's at least one early providential sign: given the nominee's Polish heritage and ties to the Divine Mercy devotion, the national shrine to St Faustina Kowalska's visions is in the Springfield diocese. Practically speaking, meanwhile, when it comes to the challenges facing the place, "mercy" might be the key quality to have.

In 2003, McDonnell – the Bronx native who famously rescued Covenant House in the 1980s after the fall of its founder, the late Fr Bruce Ritter, in sexual and financial scandal – was parachuted into the post following the sudden resignation of Bishop Thomas Dupre after revelations that he had abused two pre-teen boys in the 1970s. While the scenario made for more than enough of a hurdle to heal, the diocese's way forward was complicated even further by the sting of a parish consolidation process that would see nearly half of its parishes shuttered over the last decade.

Fraught as planning efforts always are, the latter aspect has been unusually bruising in Western Mass., complete with sit-in vigils, Roman appeals that saw some churches reopened on a limited scale as other closings were upheld, and calls for McDonnell's own departure amid the anger the decisions stoked.

With Baltimore having undergone its own difficult waves of pastoral planning in recent years – a road still being traveled there – the incoming bishop is no stranger to the heady mix. Such is the earthiness of the Charm City church, however, that the processes to date have been accomplished with a rare degree of calm and no outbreak of rifts between parishioners and administrators.

Until his appointment as an auxiliary to Cardinal William Keeler, Rozanski had never held a Chancery assignment, spending the two decades of his priesthood entirely in parishes. In the most recent administrative setup of the Premier See, he's been responsible for roughly half of the archdiocese, overseeing 66 parishes in seven counties. On another front, for those keeping score at home, the appointment indeed bears the trace of the reconstituted Congregation for Bishops – today's nominee would be very familiar to DC's Cardinal Donald Wuerl through their work together in the Maryland Catholic Conference. (Beyond the capital, the Washington archdiocese stretches across five Maryland counties.)

On the brighter side of his new charge, meanwhile, Rozanski's surprise cameo at the religion class was onto another significant aspect of the Springfield church: education. The far end of the Mass. Pike is home to an exceptionally high concentration of prominent secular colleges, led by the main campus of the University of Massachusetts and rounded out by a trio of the nation's premier liberal arts schools, Smith, Amherst and Mount Holyoke Colleges.

Rozanski will be installed on August 12th. With today's appointment, five Stateside Latin-church sees remain vacant, with another five led by (arch)bishops serving past the retirement age pending the arrival of their successors. Notably too, the appointment is the second of four coming in relatively short order in the Boston province, which comprises the bulk of New England; alongside last December's move of the Sox Nation vicar-general (and CDF veteran) Robert Deeley to Portland and today's nod, Vermont's Burlington diocese remains vacant following November's transfer of Bishop Salvatore Matano to Rochester, while along Cape Cod in Fall River, Bishop George Coleman sent in his letter on his March 1 birthday.

Back to the docket at large, though the latter figure rises to six on 9 July as Michael Sheehan – the venerable archbishop of Santa Fe and one last remaining figures of the conference's "golden age" – turns 75, of course, the group in wait is led by Chicago, the nation's third-largest local church, where Cardinal Francis George's successor is expected to be revealed sometime around October.