Friday, February 12, 2016

"It Is With Joy That We Have Met Like Brothers"

Released by the Holy See immediately upon its signing in Havana, below is the official English text of today's Joint Declaration of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia following the first-ever meeting between the heads of Christianity's two largest branches.

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The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father and the fellowship of the holy Spirit be with all of you” (2 Cor 13:13).

1. By God the Father’s will, from which all gifts come, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the help of the Holy Spirit Consolator, we, Pope Francis and Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, have met today in Havana. We give thanks to God, glorified in the Trinity, for this meeting, the first in history.
It is with joy that we have met like brothers in the Christian faith who encounter one another “to speak face to face” (2Jn12), from heart to heart, to discuss the mutual relations between the Churches, the crucial problems of our faithful, and the outlook for the progress of human civilization.

2. Our fraternal meeting has taken place in Cuba, at the crossroads of North and South, East and West. It is from this island, the symbol of the hopes of the “New World” and the dramatic events of the history of the twentieth century, that we address our words to all the peoples of Latin America and of the other continents.
It is a source of joy that the Christian faith is growing here in a dynamic way. The powerful religious potential of Latin America, its centuries–old Christian tradition, grounded in the personal experience of millions of people, are the pledge of a great future for this region.

3. By meeting far from the longstanding disputes of the “Old World”, we experience with a particular sense of urgency the need for the shared labour of Catholics and Orthodox, who are called, with gentleness and respect, to give an explanation to the world of the hope in us (cf.1Pet3:15).

4. We thank God for the gifts received from the coming into the world of His only Son. We share the same spiritual Tradition of the first millennium of Christianity. The witnesses of this Tradition are the Most Holy Mother of God, the Virgin Mary, and the saints we venerate. Among them are innumerable martyrs who have given witness to their faithfulness to Christ and have become the “seed of Christians”.

5. Notwithstanding this shared Tradition of the first ten centuries, for nearly one thousand years Catholics and Orthodox have been deprived of communion in the Eucharist. We have been divided by wounds caused by old and recent conflicts, by differences inherited from our ancestors, in the understanding and expression of our faith in God, one in three Persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are pained by the loss of unity, the outcome of human weakness and of sin, which has occurred despite the priestly prayer of Christ the Saviour: “So that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you … so that they may be one, as we are one” (Jn17:21).

6. Mindful of the permanence of many obstacles, it is our hope that our meeting may contribute to the re–establishment of this unity willed by God, for which Christ prayed. May our meeting inspire Christians throughout the world to pray to the Lord with renewed fervour for the full unity of all His disciples. In a world which yearns not only for our words but also for tangible gestures, may this meeting be a sign of hope for all people of goodwill!

7. In our determination to undertake all that is necessary to overcome the historical divergences we have inherited, we wish to combine our efforts to give witness to the Gospel of Christ and to the shared heritage of the Church of the first millennium, responding together to the challenges of the contemporary world. Orthodox and Catholics must learn to give unanimously witness in those spheres in which this is possible and necessary. Human civilization has entered into a period of epochal change. Our Christian conscience and our pastoral responsibility compel us not to remain passive in the face of challenges requiring a shared response.

8. Our gaze must firstly turn to those regions of the world where Christians are victims of persecution. In many countries of the Middle East and North Africa whole families, villages and cities of our brothers and sisters in Christ are being completely exterminated. Their churches are being barbarously ravaged and looted, their sacred objects profaned, their monuments destroyed. It is with pain that we call to mind the situation in Syria, Iraq and other countries of the Middle East, and the massive exodus of Christians from the land in which our faith was first disseminated and in which they have lived since the time of the Apostles, together with other religious communities.

9. We call upon the international community to act urgently in order to prevent the further expulsion of Christians from the Middle East. In raising our voice in defence of persecuted Christians, we wish to express our compassion for the suffering experienced by the faithful of other religious traditions who have also become victims of civil war, chaos and terrorist violence.

10. Thousands of victims have already been claimed in the violence in Syria and Iraq, which has left many other millions without a home or means of sustenance. We urge the international community to seek an end to the violence and terrorism and, at the same time, to contribute through dialogue to a swift return to civil peace. Large–scale humanitarian aid must be assured to the afflicted populations and to the many refugees seeking safety in neighbouring lands.
We call upon all those whose influence can be brought to bear upon the destiny of those kidnapped, including the Metropolitans of Aleppo, Paul and John Ibrahim, who were taken in April 2013, to make every effort to ensure their prompt liberation.

11. We lift our prayers to Christ, the Saviour of the world, asking for the return of peace in the Middle East, “the fruit of justice” (Is32:17), so that fraternal co–existence among the various populations, Churches and religions may be strengthened, enabling refugees to return to their homes, wounds to be healed, and the souls of the slain innocent to rest in peace.
We address, in a fervent appeal, all the parts that may be involved in the conflicts to demonstrate good will and to take part in the negotiating table. At the same time, the international community must undertake every possible effort to end terrorism through common, joint and coordinated action. We call on all the countries involved in the struggle against terrorism to responsible and prudent action. We exhort all Christians and all believers of God to pray fervently to the providential Creator of the world to protect His creation from destruction and not permit a new world war. In order to ensure a solid and enduring peace, specific efforts must be undertaken to rediscover the common values uniting us, based on the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

12. We bow before the martyrdom of those who, at the cost of their own lives, have given witness to the truth of the Gospel, preferring death to the denial of Christ. We believe that these martyrs of our times, who belong to various Churches but who are united by their shared suffering, are a pledge of the unity of Christians. It is to you who suffer for Christ’s sake that the word of the Apostle is directed: “Beloved … rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly” (1Pet4:12–13).

13. Interreligious dialogue is indispensable in our disturbing times. Differences in the understanding of religious truths must not impede people of different faiths to live in peace and harmony. In our current context, religious leaders have the particular responsibility to educate their faithful in a spirit which is respectful of the convictions of those belonging to other religious traditions. Attempts to justify criminal acts with religious slogans are altogether unacceptable. No crime may be committed in God’s name, “since God is not the God of disorder but of peace” (1Cor14:33).

14. In affirming the foremost value of religious freedom, we give thanks to God for the current unprecedented renewal of the Christian faith in Russia, as well as in many other countries of Eastern Europe, formerly dominated for decades by atheist regimes. Today, the chains of militant atheism have been broken and in many places Christians can now freely confess their faith. Thousands of new churches have been built over the last quarter of a century, as well as hundreds of monasteries and theological institutions. Christian communities undertake notable works in the fields of charitable aid and social development, providing diversified forms of assistance to the needy. Orthodox and Catholics often work side by side. Giving witness to the values of the Gospel they attest to the existence of the shared spiritual foundations of human co–existence.

15. At the same time, we are concerned about the situation in many countries in which Christians are increasingly confronted by restrictions to religious freedom, to the right to witness to one’s convictions and to live in conformity with them. In particular, we observe that the transformation of some countries into secularized societies, estranged from all reference to God and to His truth, constitutes a grave threat to religious freedom. It is a source of concern for us that there is a current curtailment of the rights of Christians, if not their outright discrimination, when certain political forces, guided by an often very aggressive secularist ideology, seek to relegate them to the margins of public life.

16. The process of European integration, which began after centuries of blood–soaked conflicts, was welcomed by many with hope, as a guarantee of peace and security. Nonetheless, we invite vigilance against an integration that is devoid of respect for religious identities. While remaining open to the contribution of other religions to our civilization, it is our conviction that Europe must remain faithful to its Christian roots. We call upon Christians of Eastern and Western Europe to unite in their shared witness to Christ and the Gospel, so that Europe may preserve its soul, shaped by two thousand years of Christian tradition.

17. Our gaze is also directed to those facing serious difficulties, who live in extreme need and poverty while the material wealth of humanity increases. We cannot remain indifferent to the destinies of millions of migrants and refugees knocking on the doors of wealthy nations. The unrelenting consumerism of some more developed countries is gradually depleting the resources of our planet. The growing inequality in the distribution of material goods increases the feeling of the injustice of the international order that has emerged.

18. The Christian churches are called to defend the demands of justice, the respect for peoples’ traditions, and an authentic solidarity towards all those who suffer. We Christians cannot forget that “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, that no human being might boast before God” (1Cor1:27–29).

19. The family is the natural centre of human life and society. We are concerned about the crisis in the family in many countries. Orthodox and Catholics share the same conception of the family, and are called to witness that it is a path of holiness, testifying to the faithfulness of the spouses in their mutual interaction, to their openness to the procreation and rearing of their children, to solidarity between the generations and to respect for the weakest.

20. The family is based on marriage, an act of freely given and faithful love between a man and a woman. It is love that seals their union and teaches them to accept one another as a gift. Marriage is a school of love and faithfulness. We regret that other forms of cohabitation have been placed on the same level as this union, while the concept, consecrated in the biblical tradition, of paternity and maternity as the distinct vocation of man and woman in marriage is being banished from the public conscience.

21. We call on all to respect the inalienable right to life. Millions are denied the very right to be born into the world. The blood of the unborn cries out to God (cf.Gen4:10).
The emergence of so-called euthanasia leads elderly people and the disabled begin to feel that they are a burden on their families and on society in general.

We are also concerned about the development of biomedical reproduction technology, as the manipulation of human life represents an attack on the foundations of human existence, created in the image of God. We believe that it is our duty to recall the immutability of Christian moral principles, based on respect for the dignity of the individual called into being according to the Creator’s plan.

22. Today, in a particular way, we address young Christians. You, young people, have the task of not hiding your talent in the ground (cf. Mt25:25), but of using all the abilities God has given you to confirm Christ’s truth in the world, incarnating in your own lives the evangelical commandments of the love of God and of one’s neighbour. Do not be afraid of going against the current, defending God’s truth, to which contemporary secular norms are often far from conforming.

23. God loves each of you and expects you to be His disciples and apostles. Be the light of the world so that those around you may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father (cf. Mt5:14,16). Raise your children in the Christian faith, transmitting to them the pearl of great price that is the faith (cf. Mt13:46) you have received from your parents and forbears. Remember that “you have been purchased at a great price” (1Cor6:20), at the cost of the death on the cross of the Man–God Jesus Christ.

24. Orthodox and Catholics are united not only by the shared Tradition of the Church of the first millennium, but also by the mission to preach the Gospel of Christ in the world today. This mission entails mutual respect for members of the Christian communities and excludes any form of proselytism.
We are not competitors but brothers, and this concept must guide all our mutual actions as well as those directed to the outside world. We urge Catholics and Orthodox in all countries to learn to live together in peace and love, and to be “in harmony with one another” (Rm15:5). Consequently, it cannot be accepted that disloyal means be used to incite believers to pass from one Church to another, denying them their religious freedom and their traditions. We are called upon to put into practice the precept of the apostle Paul: “Thus I aspire to proclaim the gospel not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on another's foundation” (Rm15:20).

25. It is our hope that our meeting may also contribute to reconciliation wherever tensions exist between Greek Catholics and Orthodox. It is today clear that the past method of “uniatism”, understood as the union of one community to the other, separating it from its Church, is not the way to re–establish unity. Nonetheless, the ecclesial communities which emerged in these historical circumstances have the right to exist and to undertake all that is necessary to meet the spiritual needs of their faithful, while seeking to live in peace with their neighbours. Orthodox and Greek Catholics are in need of reconciliation and of mutually acceptable forms of co–existence.

26. We deplore the hostility in Ukraine that has already caused many victims, inflicted innumerable wounds on peaceful inhabitants and thrown society into a deep economic and humanitarian crisis. We invite all the parts involved in the conflict to prudence, to social solidarity and to action aimed at constructing peace. We invite our Churches in Ukraine to work towards social harmony, to refrain from taking part in the confrontation, and to not support any further development of the conflict.

27. It is our hope that the schism between the Orthodox faithful in Ukraine may be overcome through existing canonical norms, that all the Orthodox Christians of Ukraine may live in peace and harmony, and that the Catholic communities in the country may contribute to this, in such a way that our Christian brotherhood may become increasingly evident.

28. In the contemporary world, which is both multiform yet united by a shared destiny, Catholics and Orthodox are called to work together fraternally in proclaiming the Good News of salvation, to testify together to the moral dignity and authentic freedom of the person, “so that the world may believe” (Jn17:21). This world, in which the spiritual pillars of human existence are progressively disappearing, awaits from us a compelling Christian witness in all spheres of personal and social life. Much of the future of humanity will depend on our capacity to give shared witness to the Spirit of truth in these difficult times.

29. May our bold witness to God’s truth and to the Good News of salvation be sustained by the Man–God Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, who strengthens us with the unfailing promise: “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom” (Lk12:32)!
Christ is the well–spring of joy and hope. Faith in Him transfigures human life, fills it with meaning. This is the conviction borne of the experience of all those to whom Peter refers in his words: “Once you were ‘no people’ but now you are God’s people; you ‘had not received mercy’ but now you have received mercy” (1Pet2:10).

30. With grace–filled gratitude for the gift of mutual understanding manifested during our meeting, let us with hope turn to the Most Holy Mother of God, invoking her with the words of this ancient prayer: “We seek refuge under the protection of your mercy, Holy Mother of God”. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, through her intercession, inspire fraternity in all those who venerate her, so that they may be reunited, in God’s own time, in the peace and harmony of the one people of God, for the glory of the Most Holy and indivisible Trinity!

Bishop of Rome
Pope of the Catholic Church

Patriarch of Moscow
and all Russia

12 February 2016, Havana (Cuba)


In Cuba, To Russia With Love

It's almost like deja vu... but it isn't – just shy of five months since his first trek to Cuba, this afternoon sees the Pope return to Havana's José Martí Airport, only this time for a moment no one could've predicted last September or even days ago: the first-ever meeting between a Roman Pontiff and Patriarch of Christianity's second-largest communion, the Russian Orthodox Church.

SVILUPPO (2.45pm): With Francis landed slightly behind schedule just after 2pm local/US Eastern time, here's Vatican TV's fullvid of the historic moment – the initial embrace between the Pope and Patriarch Kirill and a brief opening photo-op before two hours of private talks:

Again, the duo are slated to emerge from closed-door discussions at 4.30pm ET, at which point they'll exchange speeches and the much-awaited joint declaration will be signed.

SVILUPPO 2 (4.15pm): With Pope and Patriarch slated to emerge momentarily, here's the livefeed, with English translation....

...and here, the full English text of the Joint Declaration as signed by the Pope and Patriarch.


На Кубе, В день в течение веков

Before anything else, as no shortage of coverage elsewhere over the last week has shown a staggering depth of ignorance, one thing apparently bears clarifying: in the historic context of today's first-ever meeting between the Pope of Rome and the Patriarch of Moscow, any mention of "a 1,000 year-old split" would be enough to flunk the exam on what all this means.

To be sure, this afternoon's encounter in Cuba between Francis and Kirill I is a deeply significant moment, but its resonance lies far more on the geopolitical plane than a theological one. Even if religion and politics are often conflated and confused for each other these days, the distinction is critical – and as the historical sketch seems necessary, well, let's try to make it quick.

In essence, Christianity in modern-day Russia was barely at its inception at the time of the East-West Schism of 1054, when the mutual excommunications were levied between the Pope of Rome and the Patriarch of Constantinople – of course, the respective successors of the apostles Peter and Andrew. By contrast, the en masse baptism of the Kievan Rus (the precursors of the future empire, based in what's now Ukraine) took place less than seven decades earlier, in 988; a patriarchate at Moscow wasn't established until the late 1500s, and the rise of the Russian church as a major player beyond its borders roughly coincided with the empire-building which progressed from that period, culminating in Peter the Great's turn toward Europe a century later.

Fast-forwarding into the present (and away from Moscow), the lifting of the Catholic-Orthodox excommunications in 1965 by now-Blessed Paul Paul VI and the Ecumenical (read: "universal") Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople paved the way toward today's ongoing East-West dialogue, an international effort which has grown past cooperation on common social causes to broach theological and ecclesiological questions – the shape of papal primacy now among them – with an eye to resolving what the most recent joint text has termed "the search for full communion." Yet as modern Constantinople merely enjoys "first among equals" status among the world's 14 autocephalous (self-governing) Orthodox churches, the participation of the others has sometimes been a matter of fits and starts. Nevertheless, most of the lead Eastern bodies are already at the table with Rome.

Today, however, is a different animal: while Moscow has aimed to bill a shared concern over Christian persecution in the Middle East as the catalyst for the meeting its hardline faction has long resisted, with a "Great and Holy Council" of global Orthodoxy's broad swath of branches – the first gathering of its kind in some eight centuries – set to convene in June amid the groups' usual thicket of rivalry and intrigue, the largest, most forceful (and, indeed, most politically consequential) of the Eastern churches gets to showcase its clout by commanding the world's attention as its leader sits down with the Pope on what're essentially the Russians' terms.

All that said, lest any illusions exist of Moscow somehow eclipsing Constantinople's place at the wheel of Catholic-Orthodox relations – or, for that matter, any significant reshaping of the Eastern dialogue at the expense of Rome's longtime partners in it – think again... or, if nothing else, just don't hold your breath.

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As the schedule goes, with Francis & Co. departing Rome before 8am today, the Volo Papale – known in the States by the call-sign "Shepherd One" – will land at Havana's Jose Martí Airport at 2pm local/Eastern (2000 Rome), the Pope being whisked to the waiting Kirill in a terminal suite after being welcomed on the tarmac by President Raul Castro.

After just over two hours of private talks, Pope and Patriarch are slated to emerge before the cameras at 4.30 for the signing of the first-ever joint declaration between the Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches. To (what should be) no one's surprise, the months of negotiations over the text have stretched into the very last hours before the summit, with Russia's Interfax agency citing the expectation of ROC officials that further alterations or additions to the document could even be made during the closed-door meeting itself.

Beyond the joint text itself – its content only to be released after it's signed – both Francis and Kirill will deliver public speeches before parting ways: the patriarch to continue his official visit on the island, and the pontiff to Mexico City, where he'll arrive at 7.30pm local to begin a six-day trek that's loaded in every sense of the word.

On a context note, while the Russian church's ecumenical chief, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokamsk, has issued a steady stream of interventions on his patriarch's behalf, and viewpoints of every stripe have come out of the woodwork over recent days, it is a sign of the situation's delicacy that the Vatican team aiding the Pope – led by the Christian Unity Czar Cardinal Kurt Koch – has maintained an almost absolute silence since last week's announcement.

In the lone exception to the Roman lull, the Holy See's full-time liaison to the Orthodox churches, the French Dominican Fr Hyacinthe Destivelle, revealed on Vatican Radio earlier this week that while Francis and Kirill's joint declaration will be "a long statement, very substantial, it will not be a theological document," dealing instead with "different aspects of collaboration... that the Russian Orthodox church and the Catholic church can give in our world today."

Among other issues slated to figure in the text, Destivelle – who arrived yesterday in Havana with Koch to handle last-minute preparations – cited Christian persecution, "secularization, the protection of life from conception to its natural end; the question of the family, marriage and youth."

After stressing again that the document will have no theological bearing, the Dominican added that "the role of this meeting is in the frame of the dialogue of charity, not of the dialogue of truths."

Keeping that in mind, for everything as it happens, stay tuned.


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

"We Are Far From God" – For Jubilee's Lent, Pope Talks "Doors"... and "Traps"

While the Papal Mass of Ash Wednesday is always held in the evening, amid the context of this Holy Year of Mercy, its 2016 edition featured some unique aspects.

First, as opposed to the traditional Lenten station-church of Santa Sabina on the Avventine Hill, this year's Mass was moved to St Peter's due to the presence of the Missionaries of Mercy, who were present in Rome from around the world to be commissioned by the Pope for the remainder of the Jubilee.

Numbering some 1,000 priests chosen on the recommendation of their local bishop or religious superior – a palpably small number, given the Catholic world's 4,000-odd dioceses – on returning home the Missionaries will take on a significant amount of preaching and hearing Confessions to underscore this Holy Year's message in their own communities. Beyond the standard mandate, the clerics have notably been granted the blanket faculty to lift the excommunications for several canonical crimes which are normally reserved to the Holy See, including violations of the seal of confession by a priest, the use of physical force against the person of the Pope, and desecration of the Eucharist for occult purposes. (On a related note, while most priests in the English-speaking world have long had the delegation to absolve the automatic penalties associated with direct participation in an abortion – which universal law reserves to the diocesan bishop – Francis caused a bit of a stir in Europe last year by granting the ability to do so to every confessor worldwide until the Jubilee's November close.)

To highlight the centrality of sacramental Reconciliation to the Missionaries' task – and this Holy Year all told – tonight's liturgy was the centerpiece event for the weeklong presence in Rome of the glass caskets containing the remains of Padre Pio, the Capuchin mystic long the focus of fanatical devotion worldwide, and the Croatian-born Italian friar St Leopold Mandic, their relics called in by Francis given the duo's shared devotion to the ministry of the Confessional. Likely to be this Jubilee Year's largest Vatican event in terms of crowds, the display of both saints' bodies in St Peter's ends tomorrow.

All that said, despite a time of year when news customarily slows down, Papa Bergoglio's agenda will hardly be letting up over these 40 Days. Come Friday, the Pope heads to Mexico for a six-day swing set to feature deeply evocative scenes at the capital's Guadalupe Basilica (Christianity's most-visited pilgrimage site) and in violence-riddled Michoacan before wrapping up next Wednesday at the US border, and all that after the trip's historic opening leg in Cuba for Friday's unprecedented meeting with the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill. On an even more pressing front, meanwhile, this Lent is widely expected to bring the release of Francis' all-important final word on the two-year synodal process on the family, with the planned Apostolic Exhortation tipped for publication sometime in March.

And now, back to Lent – below is Vatican Radio's translation of the Pope's homily at tonight's liturgy (emphases original)....

The Word of God, at the beginning of our Lenten journey, offers two invitations to the Church and to each one of us.

The first is that of Saint Paul: “Be reconciled to God.” It is not simply good paternal advice, much less merely a suggestion; it is a true and proper plea in the name of Christ: “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” Why so solemn and heartfelt an appeal? Because Christ know how fragile we are, that we are sinners, He knows the weakness of our heart; He sees the wounds of the wrongs we have committed and suffered; He knows how much we need forgiveness; He knows how much we need to feel loved in order to do good. By ourselves we are not up to it: that’s why the Apostle doesn’t tell us, “do something,” but rather, “to be reconciled to God,” to allow Him to forgive us, with confidence, because “God is greater than our hearts.” He overcomes sin and lifts us from our misery, if we trust in Him. It is for us to recognize that we are in need of mercy: It is the first step of the Christian journey; it comes in through the open door that is Christ, where He Himself awaits us, the Saviour, and He offers us a new and joyful life.

There can be some obstacles that close the doors of the heart. There is the temptation to bolt the doors, that is, to live with our own proper sins, minimizing them, always justifying ourselves, thinking we are no worse than others; so, then, the locks of the soul are closed, and we remain closed within, prisoners of evil. Another obstacle is the shame in opening the secret door of the heart. Shame, in reality, is a good symptom, because it indicates we want to break away from evil; above all we must never transform it into fear or dread. And there is a third trap, that of moving away from the door: this happens when we dwell on our miseries, when we brood over them continually, to the point where we plunge ourselves into the darkest cellars of the soul. Then we become even more familiar with the sadness we don’t want, we grow discouraged, and are weaker in the face of temptations. This happens because we remain alone with ourselves, closing in on ourselves and fleeing from the light; while it is only the grace of the Lord that frees us. Let us allow ourselves, then, to “be reconciled,” let us listen to Jesus who says to the tired and oppressed “Come to me!” (Mt 11:28). Do not remain in ourselves, but go to Him! There we will find refreshment and peace.

At this celebration the Missionaries of Mercy are present, to receive the mandate to be signs and instruments of the forgiveness of God. Dear brothers, you will be able to help open the doors of the heart, to overcome shame, to not flee from the light. May your hands bless and lift up your brothers and sisters with paternity; that through you the gaze and the hands of the Father might rest on His sons and cure their wounds!

There is a second invitation from God, who says, by way of the prophet Joel, “Return to me with your whole heart” (2:12). If we need to return it is because we are far away. It is the mystery of sin: we are far from God, from others, even from ourselves. It is not difficult to understand: we all see how we struggle to truly have confidence in God, to trust in Him as a Father, without fear; how difficult it is to love others, instead of thinking ill of them; how much it costs us to work for our own true good, while we are attracted to and seduced by so many material realities that fade away, and in the end, leave us impoverished. Beside this story of sin, Christ has inaugurated a story of salvation. The Gospel that opens Lent invites us to be the protagonists of this story, embracing three remedies, three medicines that heal us from sin (cf. Mt 6:1-6; 16-18).

In the first place is prayer, an expression of openness to and confidence in the Lord: it is the personal encounter with Him, which shortens the distance created by sin. To pray is to say “I am not self-sufficient, I need you, You are my life and my salvation.” In the second place is charity, to overcome estrangement in our relations with others. True love, in fact, is not an exterior act, it is not giving something in a paternalistic way to quiet our conscience, but accepting the one who needs our time, our friendship, our help. It is living out an attitude of service, overcoming the temptation to satisfy ourselves. In the third place is fasting, penance, to free ourselves from dependence in our relationship to what is passing, and to train ourselves to be more sensitive and merciful. It is an invitation to simplicity and to sharing: taking something away from our table and from our goods, to rediscover the true good of freedom.

“Return to me,” the Lord says, “with your whole heart”: not only with some external act, but from the depths of your very being. In fact, Jesus calls us to live out prayer, charity, and penance with coherence and authenticity, conquering hypocrisy. Lent should be a time of beneficial “pruning away” of falsehood, worldliness, indifference: in order not to think that everything is ok as long as I’m ok; to understand that what counts is not the approval of others, or search for success or consensus, but cleanness in one’s heart and in one’s life; in order to rediscover the Christian identity – that is, the love that serves, not the selfishness that is served. Let us set out on this journey together, as the Church, receiving the Ashes and keeping our gaze fixed on the Crucified One. Loving us, He invites us to be reconciled with God and to return to Him, in order to rediscover ourselves.

"Be Merciful, O Lord...."

Even as it's crept up quick and early this year, with Ash Wednesday upon us, away we go....


To one and all, every blessing of these 40 Days, especially to those of us who tend to feel that we make a mess of the journey. And as it begins, given the chaos that comes with this most crowded church-day of the whole year, to everyone who'll be handling the crush everywhere you can think of over these hours to come, good luck and enjoy it.


Friday, February 05, 2016

"By the Grace of God" – In Ecumenical Earthquake, The Pope Lands The Patriarch

Simply put, for relations between the Christian churches it is the biggest development in decades: after weeks of rumors – and discounted ones, at that – a joint statement issued this morning announced the first-ever meeting between the Pope of Rome and the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, slated to take place in Cuba on Friday, 12 February, as Francis heads toward his six-day trek in Mexico.

The unrealized dream of successive pontiffs, Francis' success at scoring a face-to-face encounter with Patriarch Kirill I represents a seismic ecumenical breakthrough, one on a par with Paul VI's first outreach to the Orthodox world: Papa Montini's precedent-shattering embrace with the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras in Jerusalem in 1964 – a step which began the path to the following year's joint declaration, which saw the primates of East and West revoke the mutual excommunications imposed in the Great Schism of 1054. Yet even as Constantinople represents the "first among equals" of Eastern Christianity, there's no question that its "muscle" resides in Moscow, with the Russians comprising the largest and most influential of the Orthodox churches, and likewise, by far, the one most comfortable with throwing its weight around.

With some 140 million faithful, the ROC is the Christian world's second-largest hierarchical communion after the 1.2 billion-member Roman church itself.

With today's announcement, two mysteries surrounding what had been Francis' first overseas journey to a single country are now solved. First, the news answers why next week's trip – which, at least until now, has had the Pope's intent to entrust the Jubilee of Mercy to Our Lady of Guadalupe as its principal purpose – was headed to Mexico alone...and on just two months' notice at that. And given Kirill's presence in Cuba next week for an official visit, the meeting divulges the reason why Papa Bergoglio had scheduled the trip over the first week of Lent, which 
over the last century has been reserved as the period when the Pope traditionally vanishes to begin the penitential season on a weeklong retreat with his Curia. (This year, the exercises will take place in Lent's second week as Francis continues his practice of bringing his senior officials on a road-trip to a retreat center outside Rome.)

To be sure, Kirill is anything but a stranger to the Vatican. Prior to his 2009 election as 16th Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, the 69 year-old served as the ROC's external relations chief – and thus his church's point-man with Rome – in which capacity he met on a regular basis with both John Paul II and Benedict XVI (seen above with Kirill shortly after his 2005 election).

Accordingly Rome's preferred choice to succeed the long-reigning, fiercely protective Alexei II – a development which sparked rejoicing in Catholic circles when it happened – since assuming the patriarchate, Kirill has publicly adopted the unstinting line of his predecessor, insisting that no meeting with the Pope would take place "unless we see some real progress in the issues that have long been problematic in our relations." If anything, as Kirill's election aroused fears of a "capitulation to the West" among his church's more outspoken elements, simply getting the ROC to a point of consensus on an implication-rich sit-down with the Pope is a remarkable accomplishment in itself.

In terms of the issues at stake, to use the now-Patriarch's phrase Moscow's top "problematic" concern has long been its claims of "proselytism" by Catholics on what the ROC views as its canonical territory, with the prime front of the dispute centering on the prominence of the Greek-Catholic Church in the Ukraine (UGCC), which the Russian church considers its own soil. In that light, despite a close friendship with the UGCC's global head, Major-Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, dating to their days together in Argentina, over his papacy Francis has pointedly kept the Ukrainian church within his own fold – whose 6 million members worldwide comprise the largest of the Eastern Catholic churches – at arm's length, withholding both the church's customary red hat from Shevchuk and the UGCC's long-desired Roman approval of a patriarchate for it, ostensibly for the sake of dialogue with the Russians. (Amazingly, the very same fault-line topped the Roman News five years ago this week.)

The fruit of two years of very discreet negotiations according to today's word from the VatiSpox, Jesuit Fr Federico Lombardi, the announcement of the meeting included the key aspect that Francis and Kirill would sign a formal joint declaration, which will set the basis for the understanding between the churches going forward. While the contents of the document won't be released until after the signing – and some details could well be finessed straight through the week to come – any resolution to the canonical disputes and other complex questions will likely be left for future discussions, to let the sheer history of the moment stand for itself without distractions.

That said, one topic of common commitment that can be expected to figure in the talks and text alike is the churches' shared defense of the family, which Francis has repeatedly spoken of as being under assault from "ideological colonization" as, for his part, Kirill has blasted the West's embrace of same-sex marriage and the redefinition of gender as creating an "unholy world" and "godless civilization."

In addition, with the Orthodox patriarchs having overcome their traditional penchant for squabbling to universally agree to a critical pan-Orient summit of their churches this June – the first meeting of its kind in almost a millennium – Francis' prior call to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew for the churches to envision a redefined papal primacy in order to facilitate a united Christendom is a discussion at which Moscow is a necessary element, and where the Russians would undoubtedly want to be heard.

With the Pope originally slated to arrive in Mexico City at 7.30pm local time next Friday, the flight will now depart Rome five hours earlier than scheduled to accommodate the meeting with Kirill at Havana's Jose Martí Airport, where the Volo Papale will land at 2pm Cuba time (2030 Rome).

Below is the English text of the joint announcement issued today by both parties:

The Holy See and the Patriarchate of Moscow are pleased to announce that, by the grace of God, His Holiness Pope Francis and His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia will meet on February 12 next. Their meeting will take place in Cuba, where the Pope will make a stop on his way to Mexico, and where the Patriarch will be on an official visit. It will include a personal conversation at Havana’s José Martí International Airport, and will conclude with the signing of a joint declaration.

This meeting of the Primates of the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church, after a long preparation, will be the first in history and will mark an important stage in relations between the two Churches. The Holy See and the Moscow Patriarchate hope that it will also be a sign of hope for all people of good will. They invite all Christians to pray fervently for God to bless this meeting, that it may bear good fruits.
SVILUPPO: Echoing what you've just read, in a press conference shortly after the meeting's announcement, Kirill's successor as the Moscow Patriarchate's top ecumenical hand, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokamsk, said that while hopes for the meeting had existed "for a long time," the Ukrainian Greek-Catholics proved the Russians' "principal problem" and "principal obstacle" which kept a Pope-Patriarch encounter from taking place, as well as "proselytism of Catholic missionaries in the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate."

Among Moscow's objections against the UGCC, Hilarion (above right, in white kamilavka, or headdress) cited the Greek-Catholics' 2005 move of the church's seat from Lviv to Kiev – the historic birthplace of Russian Christianity – as well as the UGCC's good relationship with the country's autocephalous Orthodox church, which the ROC views as "schismatic" given that body's independence from the Russian Patriarchate, which has its own branch in Ukraine. And sure enough, the metropolitan likewise cited the Greek-Catholics' "persistent desire... to give [their] church the status of patriarchate" as a hurdle to ROC-Vatican relations.

Using the pejorative term "Unia" to describe the Greek-Catholics, Hilarion said their prominence in Ukraine "remain[s] a never-healing bleeding wound that prevents the full normalization of relations between the two churches."

Nevertheless, Hilarion added that (at least, from the Russian side) the meeting's "main topic" – and the prime impetus for it at this time – is born from "the situation as it has developed today in the Middle East, in North and Central Africa and in some other regions, in which extremists are perpetrating a real genocide of the Christian population, has required urgent measures and closer cooperation between Christian Churches.

"In the present tragic situation," the metropolitan said, "it is necessary to put aside internal disagreements and unite efforts for saving Christianity in the regions where it is subjected to the most severe persecution."

As for the site of the sit-down, Hilarion said that, "from the very beginning," Kirill "did not want it to take place in Europe, since it is with Europe that the grave history of divisions and conflicts between Christians is associated." In that light, the overlap of the Pope's and Patriarch's schedules in Latin America "has become an opportunity for holding the meeting in the New World, and we hope that it will open a new page in the relations between the two churches."


Friday, January 22, 2016

As Comm. Day Message Rolls Out, The Genius Bar Comes to The Pope

While today was long scheduled to bring the traditional release of the Pope's message for World Communications Day, as he ever tends to do, Francis suddenly gave the news something of a Turbo Boost: a week after granting the first private audience in memory to a leading corporate executive – the Google chief Eric Schmidt – the noontime Holy See briefing announced that the pontiff met this morning with the Apple CEO Tim Cook (above).

Unless Vatican diplomacy's amazingly been called upon for mediation between the oft-warring Silicon Valley titans, the dots look to be lining up for something very interesting in terms of the church's digital engagement. Yet even beyond the massive institutional significance of the Roman pontiff receiving the head of the world's most valuable company in the Vatican – a moment without precedent in itself – given Cook's 2014 disclosure of his sexuality, today's encounter appears to be the first time an openly gay person has ever been hosted for a full-tilt private audience in the Papal Apartment.

Whatever else might come of the meeting, in the protocol-crazed world of the Holy See, that in itself represents a watershed, all the more in light of Cook's heavy commitment of Apple's clout and visibility to progressive social causes, including LGBT efforts. On another key front, meanwhile, the outreach to major corporations likewise raises the sense of Francis' realization that, in a globalized marketplace, the fate of the "integral ecology" the Pope championed in Laudato Si' – and its corresponding social ethic – rests at least as much in the hands of multinational commerce as it does with nation-states, a reality in which the longstanding criticism of labor and environmental practices at Chinese manufacturing plans run by Apple contractors is but a prime example.

All that said, as a matter of routine practice, reports of private audience discussions are not released by the Holy See except when the Pope is receiving a head of state or government.

Scheduled to run the standard 15 minutes, Papa Bergoglio's sit-down with Cook caps a very full morning of news, with Francis having approved the miracle to secure the canonization of Argentina's first saint; warning the "columns of the church" – bishops – at his Domus Mass that, when they fail to pray, "the church also weakens" and "suffers," and, of course, published his message for the 50th World Communication Day, keeping the longtime custom for the feast of St Francis de Sales (the patron of writers and journalists), which falls on Sunday this year.

The lone observance called for by Vatican II, the annual churchwide focus on media doesn't actually take place until the Seventh Sunday of Easter, in keeping with the Catholic emphasis on communication as part of Jesus' Ascension mandate. In any case, with this year's celebration reflecting the Jubilee Year in the chosen theme "Communication and Mercy: a fruitful encounter," below is the official English translation of the Pope's text.

* * *
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Holy Year of Mercy invites all of us to reflect on the relationship between communication and mercy. The Church, in union with Christ, the living incarnation of the Father of Mercies, is called to practise mercy as the distinctive trait of all that she is and does. What we say and how we say it, our every word and gesture, ought to express God’s compassion, tenderness and forgiveness for all. Love, by its nature, is communication; it leads to openness and sharing. If our hearts and actions are inspired by charity, by divine love, then our communication will be touched by God’s own power.

As sons and daughters of God, we are called to communicate with everyone, without exception. In a particular way, the Church’s words and actions are all meant to convey mercy, to touch people’s hearts and to sustain them on their journey to that fullness of life which Jesus Christ was sent by the Father to bring to all. This means that we ourselves must be willing to accept the warmth of Mother Church and to share that warmth with others, so that Jesus may be known and loved. That warmth is what gives substance to the word of faith; by our preaching and witness, it ignites the “spark” which gives them life.

Communication has the power to build bridges, to enable encounter and inclusion, and thus to enrich society. How beautiful it is when people select their words and actions with care, in the effort to avoid misunderstandings, to heal wounded memories and to build peace and harmony. Words can build bridges between individuals and within families, social groups and peoples. This is possible both in the material world and the digital world. Our words and actions should be such as to help us all escape the vicious circles of condemnation and vengeance which continue to ensnare individuals and nations, encouraging expressions of hatred. The words of Christians ought to be a constant encouragement to communion and, even in those cases where they must firmly condemn evil, they should never try to rupture relationships and communication.

For this reason, I would like to invite all people of good will to rediscover the power of mercy to heal wounded relationships and to restore peace and harmony to families and communities. All of us know how many ways ancient wounds and lingering resentments can entrap individuals and stand in the way of communication and reconciliation. The same holds true for relationships between peoples. In every case, mercy is able to create a new kind of speech and dialogue. Shakespeare put it eloquently when he said: “The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed: it blesseth him that gives and him that takes” (The Merchant of Venice, Act IV, Scene I).

Our political and diplomatic language would do well to be inspired by mercy, which never loses hope. I ask those with institutional and political responsibility, and those charged with forming public opinion, to remain especially attentive to the way they speak of those who think or act differently or those who may have made mistakes. It is easy to yield to the temptation to exploit such situations to stoke the flames of mistrust, fear and hatred. Instead, courage is needed to guide people towards processes of reconciliation. It is precisely such positive and creative boldness which offers real solutions to ancient conflicts and the opportunity to build lasting peace. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Mt 5:7-9)

How I wish that our own way of communicating, as well as our service as pastors of the Church, may never suggest a prideful and triumphant superiority over an enemy, or demean those whom the world considers lost and easily discarded. Mercy can help mitigate life’s troubles and offer warmth to those who have known only the coldness of judgment. May our way of communicating help to overcome the mindset that neatly separates sinners from the righteous. We can and we must judge situations of sin – such as violence, corruption and exploitation – but we may not judge individuals, since only God can see into the depths of their hearts. It is our task to admonish those who err and to denounce the evil and injustice of certain ways of acting, for the sake of setting victims free and raising up those who have fallen. The Gospel of John tells us that “the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:32). The truth is ultimately Christ himself, whose gentle mercy is the yardstick for measuring the way we proclaim the truth and condemn injustice. Our primary task is to uphold the truth with love (cf. Eph 4:15). Only words spoken with love and accompanied by meekness and mercy can touch our sinful hearts. Harsh and moralistic words and actions risk further alienating those whom we wish to lead to conversion and freedom, reinforcing their sense of rejection and defensiveness.

Some feel that a vision of society rooted in mercy is hopelessly idealistic or excessively indulgent. But let us try and recall our first experience of relationships, within our families. Our parents loved us and valued us for who we are more than for our abilities and achievements. Parents naturally want the best for their children, but that love is never dependent on their meeting certain conditions. The family home is one place where we are always welcome (cf. Lk 15:11-32). I would like to encourage everyone to see society not as a forum where strangers compete and try to come out on top, but above all as a home or a family, where the door is always open and where everyone feels welcome.

For this to happen, we must first listen. Communicating means sharing, and sharing demands listening and acceptance. Listening is much more than simply hearing. Hearing is about receiving information, while listening is about communication, and calls for closeness. Listening allows us to get things right, and not simply to be passive onlookers, users or consumers. Listening also means being able to share questions and doubts, to journey side by side, to banish all claims to absolute power and to put our abilities and gifts at the service of the common good.

Listening is never easy. Many times it is easier to play deaf. Listening means paying attention, wanting to understand, to value, to respect and to ponder what the other person says. It involves a sort of martyrdom or self-sacrifice, as we try to imitate Moses before the burning bush: we have to remove our sandals when standing on the “holy ground” of our encounter with the one who speaks to me (cf. Ex 3:5). Knowing how to listen is an immense grace, it is a gift which we need to ask for and then make every effort to practice.

Emails, text messages, social networks and chats can also be fully human forms of communication. It is not technology which determines whether or not communication is authentic, but rather the human heart and our capacity to use wisely the means at our disposal. Social networks can facilitate relationships and promote the good of society, but they can also lead to further polarization and division between individuals and groups. The digital world is a public square, a meeting-place where we can either encourage or demean one another, engage in a meaningful discussion or unfair attacks. I pray that this Jubilee Year, lived in mercy, “may open us to even more fervent dialogue so that we might know and understand one another better; and that it may eliminate every form of closed-mindedness and disrespect, and drive out every form of violence and discrimination” (Misericordiae Vultus, 23). The internet can help us to be better citizens. Access to digital networks entails a responsibility for our neighbour whom we do not see but who is nonetheless real and has a dignity which must be respected. The internet can be used wisely to build a society which is healthy and open to sharing.

Communication, wherever and however it takes place, has opened up broader horizons for many people. This is a gift of God which involves a great responsibility. I like to refer to this power of communication as “closeness”. The encounter between communication and mercy will be fruitful to the degree that it generates a closeness which cares, comforts, heals, accompanies and celebrates. In a broken, fragmented and polarized world, to communicate with mercy means to help create a healthy, free and fraternal closeness between the children of God and all our brothers and sisters in the one human family.

From the Vatican, 24 January 2016


Thursday, January 21, 2016

On March Eve, The Chairman's Call: "In the Culture of Life, We Need the Heart of Francis"

Even with some two feet of snow forecast to hit Washington tomorrow, it remains one of Stateside Catholicism's marquee liturgies of the year – before hordes of priests and seminarians, the lion's share of the American hierarchy, as many people as the nation's largest church can fit and tens of thousands more at overflow locations and watching on TV, the National Vigil for Life opened in DC's Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception tonight before tomorrow's March for Life on the 43rd anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade.

Despite the looming conditions in the capital – where untreated roads and a thin coating of snow last night already managed to cause widespread havoc – the March will go on as always. If anything, getting home from Washington's biggest annual demonstration will prove the tough part; with the capital's Metro system planning to halt service tomorrow night as the storm arrives with blizzard conditions of an inch an hour expected, at least some of the thousands of groups who bus in from across the country for the events will have little choice but to either head home early or extend their stays through the cleanup. To one and all, safe travels.

Against the already fraught backdrop of a presidential election year (albeit one in which, among other unusual aspects, abortion has largely taken a backseat role to date), tonight's liturgy was celebrated for the first time by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, now two months into his three-year term as USCCB chair for Pro-Life Activities – the lone conference slot whose prominence always sees a cardinal elected to it.

Echoing Dolan's written message for this year's Roe anniversary, his preach focused on the tone and credibility of the pro-life movement's witness, taking a recent story in New York media as a poignant springboard. That said, while in times past the Vigil homily has taken on the flair of a "State of the Movement" address brimming with applause lines, with Dolan maintaining the more understated style employed by Boston's Cardinal Sn O'Malley OFM Cap. over his term in the Shrine pulpit, any cheering tonight was conspicuous by its absence.

Here, the homily in full:

In the Stateside church, January 22nd is designated in particular law as a day of prayer and penance "for the legal protection of unborn children." The Votive Mass for Justice and Peace or the new proper texts "for giving thanks to God for the gift of human life" may be used.


For Washing of the Feet, Pope Legalizes "All Are Welcome"

Three years after bringing his longtime practice in Buenos Aires to Rome – and infuriating traditionalists in the process – the Pope has employed his prerogative to alter liturgical law and officially open the Holy Thursday Washing of the Feet to "those chosen from among the People of God," abolishing the rubric that (at least, technically) restricted the rite to men.

Even as the now-superseded rule tended to be honored as much in the breach as the observance, Francis directed the formal change to the Roman Missal, which was enacted by means of a 6 January decree from the Congregation for Divine Worship and released today.

In a personal letter to the CDW prefect Cardinal Robert Sarah published alongside the legal text, the pontiff conveyed his sense that the change to the rite was intended to better reflect Jesus' "giving of himself 'once and for all' for the salvation of the world, his love without limits." The decree itself, meanwhile, says that "pastors may choose a group of faithful representing the variety and unity of every part of the People of God... consist[ing] of men and women, and ideally of the young and the old, healthy and sick, clerics, consecrated persons and laypeople."

The Last Supper ceremony only restored to use in Pius XII's 1950s reform of the Holy Week liturgies, while centuries of tradition had limited participation in the Washing of the Feet – officially known as the Mandatum – to "chosen men" (
"viri selecti") in representation of the twelve apostles, the post-Conciliar practice in many places of including women (and, sometimes, young children) received de facto approval in a 1987 clarification from the US bishops' liturgy arm, which stated that, although "this variation may differ from the rubric of the Sacramentary which mentions only men, it may nevertheless be said that the intention to emphasize service along with charity in the celebration of the rite is an understandable way of accentuating the evangelical command of the Lord... that all members of the church must serve one another in love."

To be sure, enforcement of the prior rubric as stated has been far from widespread, and the few bishops who've openly urged against the adapted practice have tended to take a public drubbing among parishioners and the press even beyond their respective dioceses. For his part, Francis' decision to stick with his Argentine custom of celebrating the Holy Thursday Evening Mass in prisons, hospitals or rehab centers and include women, children and non-Catholics in the foot-washing has become a regularly-cited example of the Pope's "inclusive" shift of tone; in their turns at the rite – which, by custom, would historically take place in Rome's cathedral at the Lateran Basilica – prior pontiffs usually washed the feet of 12 elderly priests.

For clarity's sake, it bears noting that the new law has no impact the Extraordinary Form of the Roman liturgy, which will maintain the men-only rule as stipulated in the 1962 Missal used in its communities.

Here below, the English translation of the CDW decree as released this morning by the Holy See:

The reform of the Holy Week, by the decree Maxima Redemptionis nostrae mysteria of November 1955, provides the faculty, where counselled by pastoral motives, to perform the washing of the feet of twelve men during the Mass of the Lord's Supper, after the reading of the Gospel according to John, as if almost to represent Christ's humility and love for His disciples.

In the Roman liturgy this rite was handed down with the name of the Mandatum of the Lord on brotherly charity in accordance with Jesus' words, sung in the Antiphon during the celebration.

In performing this rite, bishops and priests are invited to conform intimately to Christ who 'came not to be served but to serve' and, driven by a love 'to the end', to give His life for the salvation of all humankind.

To manifest the full meaning of the rite to those who participate in it, the Holy Father Francis has seen fit to change the rule by in the Roman Missal (p.300, No. 11) according to which the chosen men are accompanied by the ministers, which must therefore be modified as follows: 'Those chosen from among the People of God are accompanied by the ministers' (and consequently in the Caeremoniale Episcoporum No. 301 and No. 299 b referring to the seats for the chosen men, so that pastors may choose a group of faithful representing the variety and unity of every part of the People of God. This group may consist of men and women, and ideally of the young and the old, healthy and sick, clerics, consecrated persons and laypeople.

This Congregation for Divine Worship and the Disipline of the Sacraments, by means of the faculties granted by the Supreme Pontiff, introduces this innovation in the liturgical books of the Roman Rite, recalling pastors of their duty to instruct adequately both the chosen faithful and others, so that they may participate in the rite consciously, actively and fruitfully.

Friday, January 15, 2016

"Where We Find Our God" – At Nursing Home, The Pope's "Mercy Friday"

In the day-to-day of his Petrine ministry, it's no secret that Francis likes linking what some might see as diametrically opposed realities of the center and the peripheries in the hope of bringing them closer together. And so, just as he went straight from addressing a joint session of Congress to a Washington soup kitchen for the homeless, just after meeting this morning with the CEO of Google did word of another surprise break: an unanticipated afternoon visit to a retirement home (left) on the outskirts of Rome.

The drop-in only announced once the Pope had spent more than an hour with the 30 residents, while "Matthew 25 stops" have become the spiritual core of Francis' travels and his celebrations of the Holy Thursday Evening Mass (in keeping with his practice in Buenos Aires), today's outing is part of the monthly "Mercy Fridays" which will see the pontiff personally take up the works of mercy around his own diocese to underscore the message of this Jubilee Year. Accordingly, Papa Bergoglio was accompanied by the Curial official tasked with planning the celebrations, the president of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization Archbishop Rino Fisichella.

After their departure, the New Evangelization council released several photos of the visit and a statement that the site was chosen to highlight the Pope's repeated calls "against the 'throwaway culture' and [for] the great value that the elderly and grandparents should have in the church and society." The release likewise noted that Francis visited patients in vegetative states at another nearby facility, joined by the family members who care for them.

While any record of what the Pope said hasn't emerged, in his now-released treatise on the Extraordinary Holy Year, Francis was asked if the traditional works of mercy as taught through the centuries remain relevant today, offering this in reply:
They are still valid, still current. Perhaps some aspects could be better “translated,” but they remain the basis for self-examination. They help us open up to the mercy of God, to ask for the grace to understand that without mercy a person cannot do a thing, that you cannot do a single thing, that “the world would not exist,” in the words of the elderly lady I met in 1992.

Let us examine the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, dress the naked, house the pilgrims, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned, bury the dead. I do not think there is much to explain. And if we look at our situation, our society, it seems to me that there is no lack of circumstances or opportunities all around us. What should we do for the homeless man camped in front of our home, for the poor man who has nothing to eat, for the neighboring family who cannot make it to the end of the month due to the recession, because the husband lost his job? How should we behave with the immigrants who have survived the crossing and who land on our shores? What should we do for the elderly who are alone, abandoned, and who have no one?

We have received freely, we give freely. We are called to serve Christ the Crucified through every marginalized person. We touch the flesh of Christ in he who is outcast, hungry, thirsty, naked, imprisoned, ill, unemployed, persecuted, in search of refuge. That is where we find our God, that is where we touch the Lord. Jesus himself told us, explaining the protocol for which we will all be judged: “whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did it for me” (Matthew 25:40)....

By welcoming a marginalized person whose body is wounded and by welcoming the sinner whose soul is wounded, we put our credibility as Christians on the line. Let us always remember the words of Saint John of the Cross: “In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone.”
* * *
As a papal pit-stop at a retirement home will inevitably set off some chatter about whether Francis himself will follow the modern precedent set by his predecessor and renounce the papacy, one thing beyond clear is that nothing of the sort will take place upon his 80th birthday in December, nor anywhere close.

Lest some forgot, just because you can bet the house on such things being said around that time – or, indeed, even already – doesn't make them reality-based.

For starters, while Francis' oft-cited "model" predecessor, Blessed Paul VI, famously contemplated leaving office as he approached the same milestone he introduced for the retirement of cardinals, for a practice still in its "experimental" phase to be tied to reaching a certain age would, albeit unintentionally, bind the hands of future Popes merely by setting an expectation for it.

To be sure, the incumbent has said as much himself, telling the Mexican network Televisa last year that "it does not appeal to me, this idea of setting an age [for retirement]. Because I believe that the papacy has an element of being the final authority.

"So," he added, "saying 'OK, this fellow is 80 years old,' creates the sensation of the ending of a pontificate which would not be good. Too predictable, no?"

Of course, hardly anything's more anathema to Francis than being "too predictable." And speaking of which, to recall the line he quietly slipped into the last homily of November's Africa trek, "the fact is that we have not yet reached our destination... in a certain sense we are in midstream."


In Today's Audiences, The Pope's "Google Hangout"

As it tends to do often these days, this Friday's Noontime Bollettino of the Holy See Press Office carried an interesting bit of news... and this one more notable than most – for the first time in memory, the Pope had granted a full-tilt private audience to a major corporate exec, and a very conspicuous one at that: the Google CEO Eric Schmidt (above).

In terms of protocol, the sheer occurrence of the sit-down and its announcement alongside the usual crop of routine meetings with prelates is nothing short of extraordinary. As a matter of course – above all given the Vatican's paranoia about playing into any kind of advertising or "product placement" involving the pontiff – secular executives coming to Rome have only ever met Popes in one of two ways: in the bacimano lines alongside the stage at the Wednesday General Audience (when brief handshakes take place after the gathering), or if a business figure were part of a group being received privately for charitable or ecumenical purposes without reference to their work. (In an example of the former, Claire Diaz-Ortiz – the top Twitter exec who served as the Vatican's lead collaborator in 
creating the @Pontifex feed – was briefly presented to B16 at the platform's public launch in December 2012.)

At least, that's been the case until today. While the Vatican has had a partnership with the digital giant since 2009 – when its television arm started running papal events on YouTube – Francis has upped the connection by employing the company's video-chat "Hangout" service (below) on several occasions to hold cyber-encounters with groups of young people far from Rome, with the chats usually tied to his upcoming travel.

Even as the reigning pontiff has put his foot to the gas on internet outreach – most recently taking his monthly prayer intentions to viral video and naming the Holy See's lead social media "apostle" as a bishop in the Curia – it bears reminding that, despite a keen grasp of the medium's import and style, Francis' actual command of technology is almost exceedingly limited. Having revealed last year that he hasn't watched television in a quarter-century to fulfill a promise to the Madonna, before his election the now-Pope once advised an aide that he couldn't operate any device with "more than two buttons." That said, after saying as a cardinal that he planned to delve into the internet after retiring as archbishop of Buenos Aires – a day that, obviously, never came – it has emerged that Papa Bergoglio now keeps a personal email address to hear from old friends and a privileged few prelates, with the account likely being handled by his almost invisible private secretary, Msgr Fabian Pedacchio.

With Schmidt reportedly bringing the head of Google's product-planning Ideas division, Jared Cohen, to the audience, the timing of today's sit-down is especially curious. Keeping with the half-century tradition for the feast of St Francis de Sales (the patron of writers and journalists), a week from today brings the release of the annual papal message for World Communications Day, with 2016's observance dedicated to the theme "Communication and Mercy: a fruitful encounter." As the WCD rollout in 2009 brought the initial announcement of the Vatican's Google partnership, it's quite possible that today's offline "hangout" might be related to some developments to it.

Reflecting the new arrangement at the helm of the Holy See's media operation – and with it, the preparation of the the Communications Day message – for the first time next Friday's briefing on the text won't be led by the president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, but Msgr Dario Viganò, the chief of the recently-established Secretariat for Communications, into which the PCCS, Vatican Radio and Television and the Holy See's Press Office and Photo Service are all being consolidated on a gradual timeframe with an eye to enhanced coordination and effectiveness.

Notably, Viganò isn't slated to be joined at the presser by any of his new department heads, but the director of TV2000, the national Catholic station founded and overseen by the Italian bishops.

SVILUPPO: Hosted via Google servers – as are these pages – here's footage of the audience via Rome Reports....