Saturday, December 20, 2014

Grand Traditions

'Twas the weekend before Christmas, and everybody was calm... right?

Of course, that's decidedly not the case for most of us, whatwith the rush of the last-minute shopping, planning, cooking, decorating, gatherings, travel and all the rest. Among our crowd, it's especially true for two groups in particular – parents of young kids and our ministry teams, each and all pulling out all the stops to make it beautiful for everybody else.

So especially for these, but wherever it's needed, folks, take a minute right now and breathe – see, even if it's for a fleeting few moments, the peace and light of these days belong to you, too, even if giving it permission to break in is usually easier said than done.

In one way or another, we all go a little crazy around this point. That's not a bad thing in itself – for starters, it's the price of being human... most of all, though, it's done in the hope that others might feel The Gift in ways they otherwise wouldn't. Still, all the zipping around and mounting bills can only get us so far. As Advent's last lap begins, then, it just feels useful to pass along the words that, amid another round of all the hubbub, suddenly started echoing in this scribe's head the other day....

"Just make it count."

Sure, what that'll take has a different meaning for each of us... and for at least a few (this guy included), it might take some figuring out. Either way, with five days to go – and on the day that, so they say, is now the most frenzied of the cycle – it just seems like a good way to focus on the week ahead.

* * *
With an eye to keeping things light – at least, for now – it's hard to believe that we're only three weeks out from mid-January's PopeTrip to the Philippines: a journey that, between the near-certainty of world-record crowds and the visitor's drive to delve into the areas still digging out from last year's Typhoon Yolanda, promises to quickly become one of the most intense and visually powerful moments of the Francis Era.

In the meantime, the Filipinos' famously intense piety – and its burgeoning presence in the Stateside church – always plays a sizable role in these days in the observance of the Simbang Gabi, the pre-dawn "Doorbuster Mass" over the nine days before Christmas, the turnouts for which across the islands make these shores' Black Friday crowds look paltry by comparison.

Indeed, the custom has been heavily integrated into parish and diocesan life in the US (the shot above comes from the annual launch in Seattle) even taking on new life in the embrace of non-Pinoys. Back in the Philippines, however, the novena provided the basis for the one time you'll ever see Mass as a McDonald's ad.

No joke:

To everyone hitting the road over these days, safe travels and have a blast. And wherever we are or find ourselves doing through it, may we not forget those who seek this Coming most: the sick, the suffering, the poor and lonely... "the people who walk in darkness" and most deserve the Light.

Merry Christmas, Church.... "Make it count."


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Whatever Francis Wants, Francis Gets – Pope Clinches US-Cuba Pact

Not many people get to celebrate their birthday with a diplomatic romp... but as he turns 78 this Wednesday, the Pope can now claim precisely that.

Announced this morning by President Obama in a televised White House address, the US' "reset" paving the way toward full bilateral relations with Cuba and enhanced economic ties has largely been credited to the influence of Francis and concerted back-channel work on the part of the Holy See's geopolitical apparatus.

As Obama put it, at their March meeting in the Vatican, "His Holiness Pope Francis issued a personal appeal to me" to enter into talks with President Raul Castro to negotiate the release of Alan Gross, the American humanitarian worker imprisoned on the island for five years, while the pontiff urged Castro to pursue the reeturn of three Cubans jailed in the US with the White House. After initial discussions indicated a mutual openness toward resolutions, a November meeting of both sides at the Vatican sealed the agreement that saw Gross returned to the US this morning (along with a long-jailed US intelligence operative) and the Cubans likewise freed to the island.

"In particular," Obama said in closing his speech, "I want to thank His Holiness Pope Francis, whose moral example shows us the importance of pursuing the world as it should be, rather than simply settling for the world as it is."

Shortly thereafter, in a rare evening statement, the Vatican Secretariat of State said that Francis "wishes to express his warm congratulations for the historic decision taken by the Governments of the United States of America and Cuba to establish diplomatic relations, with the aim of overcoming, in the interest of the citizens of both countries, the difficulties which have marked their recent history." The Holy See promised to continue "its support for initiatives which both nations will undertake to strengthen their bilateral relations and promote the wellbeing of their respective citizens."

In sum, as Papa Bergoglio's June Holy Land peace summit scored global headlines yet failed to achieve discernible progress, today's development after a half-century standoff represents the signal diplomatic triumph of Francis' 21-month pontificate. Behind the scenes, meanwhile, even if the initial push came from the Pope, the breakthrough represents a no less sizable victory for Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Secretary of State who Francis chose for the role with a mandate to restore the Vatican's traditional standing as a geopolitical powerhouse in its ability to serve as both a peerless "listening post" and trusted mediator in international disputes.

In this case, the experience of Rome's key players provided an even more critical advantage: in his prior posting as Nuncio to Venezuela, Parolin had a rare insight into Cuba as the Vatican's mission-chief to what's become Havana's most significant Western ally, while his top deputy, the Sostituto Archbishop Angelo Becciu, had been Nuncio to the island itself for two years before returning to Rome as the Curia's "chief of staff" in 2011.

On another major front, the Vatican's role in securing the deal has likely been the reason for the holdup on Francis' intensely-awaited appointment of the next archbishop of Havana, which ops in Rome and Latin America have expected to take place sometime this fall following August's celebrations for the 50th priestly anniversary of Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino, who at 78 is three years past the canonical retirement age.

While the Cuban church has been granted an enhanced space with which to work over Ortega's two-decade tenure at the helm – a reality sizably aided by two papal visits (in 1998 and 2012) – the new inroads have come at the expense of unrelenting criticism and suspicion toward the cardinal by the influential exile community, which has assailed Ortega as an accommodationist to the island's Communist regime in exchange for the church's increased freedoms.

The US deal's announcement notably comes 48 hours after the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, met with Parolin for the second time at the Vatican.

As Francis' SegStat was ostensibly briefed in confidence on the accord's release by his Stateside visitor, the Holy See's readout of the conversation revealed that Kerry sought the Vatican's aid on finding "adequate humanitarian solutions" for the treatment of terrorism-related prisoners at the US' detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, which the Obama administration has long aimed to close.

Back to the White House, yesterday likewise saw an appearance in the Oval Office from the USCCB President, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, for his first meeting with both Obama and Vice President Joe Biden (all above). No statement on the sit-down was given from either side.

Though today's policy reboot will widen the US' permissions for citizens to travel to Cuba and enable Cuban-Americans to increase their ability to send fiscal aid to their families and friends on the island, it's important to emphasize that the Federally-approved Stateside Catholic entity to help fund the Cuban church – the Boston-based Friends of Caritas Cubana – was already limit-free before the shift and is able to continue its work without change.

* * *
While the USCCB's international policy chief, Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces, issued a statement welcoming the Cuba accord as "past due" and urging even "more engagement" across the 93-mile strait, on this day, the national church's lead word comes from a different Mothership... the one "so close to the United States."

Amid no shortage of blaring speculation on the Pope's so-called "possibilities" for the red hat at next February's Consistory – even as, by the Faith and law alike, the Roman Pontiff freely acts however he deems fit – it's admittedly been rather amusing that mention of the archbishop of Miami has been conspicuous by its absence. Then again, when it comes to the bearer of the most self-aware motto of any American bishop, commentators of whatever stripe would simply have too hard a time fitting Tom Wenski into any kind of secular political dynamic.

Ever since the native son took his talents back to South Beach in 2010, the first-ever red hat for the American Southeast – lest anybody forgot, the site of the now-US' oldest Catholic settlement – has hung in the balance. Add in that, over the time since, the 64 year-old championed Bergoglio's manifesto at Aparecida long before it became fashionable and counts two of Francis' lead confidants as his own longtime allies – all in the context of leading what's now a 1.4 million-member church in a key continental outpost – and all around, whatever happens in early January, the church's lead voice in what'll soon be the third-largest state has become a force to be reckoned with well beyond these shores... and that's just how he likes it.

Having grown up in the context of the Cuban Revolution's seismic impact on South Florida, ministry among the exiles has been a fixture of Wenski's life from his days as a seminarian – so much so that the community's legendary "godfather," the late, saintly Bishop Agustín Roman, preached his first Mass. Later, as head of Miami's Catholic Charities, the young auxiliary coordinated 75-ton food drops onto the island while moonlighting as a fixer for fresh immigrants, zipping his Harley past the bench's crop of exiles in the process to become the US church's de facto spokesman for Cuban affairs.

Accordingly, as today's news hit Calle Ocho with the force of a bomb, a horde of TV trucks instead charged Miami Chancery, which gave the place the feel of what an on-site op termed "a war room." And fresh off being honored by the local Hispanic press, it was just another instance of the man in his moment.

In a prepared statement, Wenski echoed the call he gave from the chair of the archbishop of Havana during a 2012 Mass in the capital's cathedral, where he implied in his homily that the Cuban leadership was "doomed to die... in their sins because they have refused to recognize [Jesus] as the 'I am' of human history," while urging "a 'soft landing'" for the island's people, "a landing that is open to a future of hope."

Ready to ride as ever, here's Wenski's response today:

Both President Obama and Raul Castro expressed appreciation to the role of Pope Francis in making possible what seems to be a real game changer in the historically strained relationship between Cuba and the United States. Pope Francis did what popes are supposed to do: Build bridges and promote peace. He acted much like his namesake, Francis of Asissi, who during the fifth crusade, went to Egypt to meet with the Sultan al Kamil in the interest of peace.

The Church in Cuba has always opposed the embargo, arguing that it was a blunt instrument that hurt the innocent more than the guilty; and the U.S. Church has supported the Catholic Church in Cuba. We have consistently advocated that the U.S. should revise this policy, in the hope that engagement and dialog would prove more helpful in improving conditions in Cuba than a policy of confrontation and isolation.

In comments that Raul Castro made, he seemed to indicate that his government was open to engage in conversations with the U.S. on issues related to democracy and human rights. Progress in this area is normally the result, and not the precondition, of such talks - and so the prospect of such talks is a positive development. As president Obama said, to seek the collapse of Cuba is not sound policy. Cuba needs change. Today's announcement is a game changer as I said - but as Cuba transitions through such changes we all should encourage a soft landing - that is, change that is peaceful and offers real hope for the Cuban people on both sides of the Florida Straits.
True to form, with ferocious protests over the policy-shift having emerged from much of South Florida's exile leadership, late word from Miami says Wenski's slated an early Thursday meeting with the group.

All that said, however, the Quote of the Day – at least, on the ecclesial front – belongs regardless to Francis' marquee domestic appointee to date: in his own quickly-released statement, Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago observed that while "usually people receive gifts on their birthday," thanks to his involvement in the lead-up to the accord, as he turned 78, today's news instead made for a gift the Pope "has generously given to the world."


Monday, December 15, 2014

Next Up: The Nuns

SVILUPPO – 11.25 Rome (5.25am ET): As anticipated below, here's livefeed on-demand video of this morning's Vatican presser unveiling the findings of the years-long Apostolic Visitation of the US' apostolic communities of women....

...and at long last, the English fulltext of the Holy See's conclusions.

* * *
Nearly six years since the Holy See stoked widespread shock by opening an Apostolic Visitation of the US' orders of women's religious engaged in apostolic work – and almost three years since its findings were received in Rome – at long last, the probe's final verdict is at hand.

At a late-morning Vatican press conference tomorrow, the closing report of the process conducted by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (CICLSAL) will be presented, with the heads of both the distinct umbrella-groups for Stateside nuns – the progressive Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) and the more traditional Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR) – together on the podium for its release.

Before anything else, it bears particular emphasis that the CICLSAL process is in no way connected to the ongoing oversight of LCWR being exercised by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, an arrangement launched in 2012. While the former probe examined each of the nation's 340 communities of non-cloistered sisters in depth, the CDF guidance is solely taken with the national body of the superiors for roughly 80 percent of the US' 50,000 religious women, whose number in full has fallen by one-sixth since 2010 according to CARA figures. (On a key contextual note, though the Pope formally affirmed the CDF's action on LCWR shortly after his election, in comments to a June 2013 private meeting with Latin American religious, Francis advised the group that, should the doctrine office ever seek to look into their activities, "Don't let it bother you.")

According to early indications, the report is expected to deliver a broadly positive and affirming assessment of the work and witness of the nation's sisters... but with one key exception: a reaffirmation of the Vatican's long-standing fury over some communities' exploration of cosmic theories not in keeping with church teaching.

For their part, the religious themselves have already begun to ready the ground for a once-unthinkable smooth landing. Under a headline trumpeting "Sisters Reevaluate View of Apostolic Visitation," a piece published this morning by the Jesuit-run America magazine quotes a former LCWR president's reflection that "in the end, grace did prevail," while a professor studying the sisters observed that even as the process "began in a very negative place... by the end, there was this sudden outpouring of the Spirit" which birthed a "sense of community, of togetherness, of wholeness" among the sisters.

In terms of Roman stage management, it's telling that the planned set of speakers for the rollout presser will be pointedly balanced between men and women, with the CICLSAL prefect and secretary, Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz and Archbishop José Rodríguez Carballo OFM being joined by the Visitation's head, Mother Mary Clare Millea, and the respective chiefs of LCWR and CMSWR, Sister Sharon Holland IHM and Mother Agnes Mary Donovan of the New York-based Sisters of Life; the Vatican liaison for English-speaking press, Basilian Fr Thomas Rosica – likewise an aide to the Visitation team – rounds out the group.

With Braz and Rodríguez (above) both major allies of Francis, it was conspicuous that the Pope met alone with the CICLSAL #2 on Friday, ostensibly to prep for tomorrow's event.

At the time of Papa Bergoglio's election, Rodríguez was Minister-General of the Friars Minor (Franciscans), until the current pontiff named him to the Religious post within weeks to succeed the Redemptorist Joseph William Tobin – arguably the sisters' staunchest champion in overseeing the Visitation's close – who was sent home as archbishop of Indianapolis by B16 in the waning days of the last pontificate.

Slated to begin at 11.30 Rome time (5.30am ET), the press conference will be livestreamed, then available on-demand, right on these pages.


Rome Wants Reality, Not "Doctrine" – The Synod's Second Half Begins

Eventful as the last few days have been at the Vatican, it's largely had the feel of "Sequels Week."

For starters, Thursday brought the formal announcement that the Pope will hold his second consistory to elevate new cardinals over Valentine's Day weekend – 14-15 February – preceded by a two-day consultation with the College focusing on the reform of the Roman Curia. As the calling of both events was reported here back in October, anyone who's surprised might want to ask Santa for an attention span this Christmas.

Most significantly of all, meanwhile, as the embers of discussion from last October's Synod keep smoldering, the week saw the rollout in earnest of the process' second stage leading to next October's assembly, which will propose concrete policy on the church's pastoral care and outreach to families in "irregular" situations.

The push came in the form of two key developments: first, there was Francis' introduction of a new series of Wednesday talks at his General Audiences on the family, beginning with his recap of the October gathering. Most significantly, however, was the official release of the prior Synod's final report as the lineamenta (baseline) for the 2015 edition, highlighted by the addition of a 3,600-word, 46 question survey to facilitate "the involvement... [of] all levels of the local church[es]" in the preparation of next year's agenda, led by the respective episcopal conference or Eastern Synod of a given area.

Building from October's closing Relatio – an initial English translation of which was pulled and redone amid concerns over its accuracy  the new questions were ostensibly formulated by the 15-prelate Synod Council at its mid-November meeting, at which the Pope again presided.

* * *
Of course, the first edition of the Synod's call for feedback spurred a response from the trenches that came as a heartening shock to most bishops, who undertook the consultation through means ranging from online surveys to "town-hall" meetings or discussions with their existing advisory bodies. This time, the questions are intended to sharpen the focus of the submissions, with the Synod's General Secretariat urging that, using October's findings as a "point of departure," "it is important to be guided by the pastoral approach initiated at the Extraordinary Synod which is grounded in Vatican II and the Magisterium of Pope Francis."

That said, the most pointed warning of all is the new survey's introductory statement that the various constituencies "avoid, in their responses, a formulation of pastoral care based simply on an application of doctrine, which would not respect the conclusions of the [October] Assembly and would lead their reflection far from the path already indicated."

While the first round of input was conducted on a tight timeframe, this time the feedback from the episcopal conferences is due in Rome on April 15th, with the second Instrumentum Laboris – next October's working document – again targeted for release in late June before the Curia's summer recess.

All that said, the launch of the Synod's second phase has brought little change to the first edition's key tension-point: the question of pastoral practice in relation to church teaching.

Though Francis explicitly stated in his Wednesday summary that, in October's discussions, "No intervention questioned the fundamental truths of the Sacrament of Matrimony, namely: indissolubility, unity, fidelity and openness to life. This was not touched," in a recently-surfaced interview given during a November trip to Austria, the most prominent defender of the current praxis – Cardinal Raymond Burke – stressed that "one of the most insidious arguments used at the Synod to promote practices which are contrary to the doctrine of the Faith [was] the argument that, 'We are not touching the doctrine; we believe in marriage as the Church has always believed in it; but we are only making changes in discipline.'"

"[Y]ou cannot say that you are changing a discipline not having some effect on the doctrine which it protects or safeguards or promotes," the newly-transferred patron of the Order of Malta told an unidentified priest in the session, which was filmed and released last week.

Asked whether a "dishonest use of the term 'mercy' [was] exposed during the Synod," Burke said "it was," adding that "there were Synod Fathers who spoke about a false sense of mercy which would not take into account the reality of sin."

For his part, in his homily at this morning's Domus Mass, the Pope himself returned to the theme of teaching vs. practice, using the example of how Pope Pius XII "freed us from the very heavy cross" of the traditional Eucharistic fast, which for centuries was required from the midnight prior to one's reception of Communion.

"Some of you might remember," Francis said, "you couldn’t even drink a drop of water. Not even that! And to brush your teeth, it had to be done in such a way that you didn’t swallow the water. But I myself as a young boy went to confession for having made the Communion, because I thought a drop of water had gone in. Is it true or no? It’s true. When Pius XII changed the discipline: ‘Ah, heresy! No! He touched the discipline of the Church.’ So many Pharisees were scandalized. So many. Because Pius XII had acted like Jesus: he saw the need of the people. ‘But the poor people, with such warmth.’ These priests who said three Masses, the last at one o’clock, after noon, fasting. The discipline of the Church. And these Pharisees [spoke about] ‘our discipline’ – rigid on the outside, but, as Jesus said of them, ‘rotting in the heart,’ weak, weak to the point of rottenness."

In a line likely to further roil his ad intra critics, the pontiff added that "sometimes, I confess something to you, when I have seen a Christian, a Christian of that kind, with a weak heart, not firm, not fixed on the rock — Jesus – and with such rigidness on the outside, I ask the Lord: ‘But Lord, throw a banana peel in front of them, so that they will take a good fall, and feel shame that they are sinners, and so encounter You, [and realize] that You are the Savior.

"Many times," he said, "a sin will make us feel shame, and make us encounter the Lord, Who pardons us, as the sick who were there and went to the Lord for healing."

More specifically, in last weekend's interview with his hometown paper – Buenos Aires' La Nacion – Francis lamented that while the divorced and civilly remarried "have not been excommunicated... they cannot be godfathers to any child being baptized, mass readings are not for divorcees, they cannot give communion, they cannot teach Sunday school.

"[T]here are about seven things that they cannot do," the Pope said. "I have the list over there. Come on! If I disclose any of this it will seem that they have been excommunicated in fact! Thus, let us open the doors a bit more."

Asked about the discernment process toward that end – and the concerns raised over it – Francis told his biographer Elisabetta Piqué that "You know, some people are always afraid because they don't read things properly, or they read some news in a newspaper, an article, and they don't read what the synod decided.

"Different bishops had different approaches, but we will all move on together," the Pope said. "I am not afraid."

Against this backdrop, below is the Synod Secretariat's complete English translation of the new questionnaire. On a final point of context, it bears emphasizing that – as some church entities reformulated the last survey set in what was termed an attempt to make the exercise "more accessible" – the Holy See has doubled-down on enforcing the integrity of this text, insisting "that the contents are not altered in any way" and that copies of any local reproductions be sent to the Synod Office. All paragraph citations correspond to October's final Relatio Synodi.

* * *

Questions Aimed at a Response to
and an In-Depth Examination of
the Relatio Synodi

Preliminary Question Applicable to All Sections of the Relatio Synodi

Does the description of the various familial situations in the Relatio Synodi correspond to what exists in the Church and society today? What missing aspects should be included?

Part I
Listening: The Context and Challenges of the Family
As indicated in the Introduction (ns. 1 - 4), the Extraordinary Synod was intended to address all the families of the world in a desire to share their joys, struggles and hopes. At the same time, considering the many Christian families who faithfully live their vocation, the Synod expressed to them a sense of gratitude and encouraged them to become involved more decisively, as the Church strives to “go out of herself”, and to rediscover the family’s vital character in the work of evangelization, primarily in nourishing for themselves and for families in difficulty the “desire to form a family”, which endures and underlies the conviction that an effective proclamation of the core message of the Gospel must necessarily “begin with the family”.

The path of renewal delineated by the Extraordinary Synod is set within the wider ecclesial context indicated by Pope Francis in his Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, namely, starting from “life’s periphery” and engaging in pastoral activity that is characterized by a “culture of encounter” and capable of recognizing the Lord’s gratuitous work, even outside customary models, and of confidently adopting the idea of a “field hospital”, which is very beneficial in proclaiming God's mercy. The numbers in the first part of the Relatio Synodi are a response to these challenges and provide a framework for reflecting on the real situation of families.

The proposed questions which follow and the reference numbers to the paragraphs in the Relatio Synodi are intended to assist the bishops’ conferences in their reflection and to avoid, in their responses, a formulation of pastoral care based simply on an application of doctrine, which would not respect the conclusions of the Extraordinary Synodal Assembly and would lead their reflection far from the path already indicated.

The Socio-Cultural Context (ns. 5 - 8)

1.  What initiatives are taking place and what are those planned in relation to the challenges these cultural changes pose to the family (cf. ns. 6 - 7): which initiatives are geared to reawaken an awareness of God’s presence in family life; to teaching and establishing sound interpersonal relationships; to fostering social and economic policies useful to the family; to alleviating difficulties associated with attention given to children, the elderly and family members who are ill; and to addressing more specific cultural factors present in the local Church?

2.  What analytical tools are currently being used in these times of anthropological and cultural changes; what are the more significant positive or negative results? (cf. n. 5)

3.  Beyond proclaiming God’s Word and pointing out extreme situations, how does the Church choose to be present “as Church” and to draw near families in extreme situations? (cf. n. 8). How does the Church seek to prevent these situations? What can be done to support and strengthen families of believers and those faithful to the bonds of marriage?

4.  How does the Church respond, in her pastoral activity, to the diffusion of cultural relativism in secularized society and to the consequent rejection, on the part of many, of the model of family formed by a man and woman united in the marriage and open to life?

The Importance of Affectivity in Life (ns. 9 - 10)

5.  How do Christian families bear witness, for succeeding generations, to the development and growth of a life of sentiment? (cf. ns. 9 - 10). In this regard, how might the formation of ordained ministers be improved? What qualified persons are urgently needed in this pastoral activity?

Pastoral Challenges (n. 11)

6.  To what extent and by what means is the ordinary pastoral care of families addressed to those on the periphery? (cf. n. 11). What are the operational guidelines available to foster and appreciate the “desire to form a family” planted by the Creator in the heart of every person, especially among young people, including those in family situations which do not correspond to the Christian vision? How do they respond to the Church’s efforts in her mission to them? How prevalent is natural marriage among the non-baptized, also in relation to the desire to form a family among the young?

Part II
Looking at Christ: The Gospel of the Family

The Gospel of the Family, faithfully preserved by the Church from the time of Christ’s Revelation, both written and transmitted through the ages, needs to be proclaimed in today's world with renewed joy and hope, continuing all-the-while to look at Jesus Christ. The vocation and mission of the family is fully configured to the order of creation which develops into that of redemption, as summarized by the desire of the Council, “let the spouses themselves, made to the image of the living God and enjoying the authentic dignity of persons, be joined to one another in equal affection, harmony of mind and the work of mutual sanctification. Thus, following Christ who is the principle of life, by the sacrifices and joys of their vocation and through their faithful love, married people can become witnesses of the mystery of love which the Lord revealed to the world by his dying and his rising to life again” (Gaudium et Spes, 52; cf. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1533-1535). From this vantage point, the questions arising from the Relatio Synodi are devised to prompt a faithful and bold response from the Pastors and the People of God in a renewed proclamation of the Gospel of the Family.

Looking at Jesus and the Divine Pedagogy in the History of Salvation (ns. 12 - 14)

Accepting the invitation of Pope Francis, the Church looks to Christ in his enduring truth and inexhaustible newness, which also sheds light on the family. “Christ is the ‘eternal Gospel’ (Rev 14:6); he ‘is the same yesterday and today and forever’ (Heb 13:8), yet his riches and beauty are inexhaustible. He is for ever young and a constant source of newness” (Gaudium Evangelii, 11).

7.  A fixed gaze on Christ opens up new possibilities. “Indeed, every time we return to the source of the Christian experience, new paths and undreamed of possibilities open up” (n. 12). How is the teaching from Sacred Scripture utilized in pastoral activity on behalf of families. To what extent does “fixing our gaze on Christ” nourish a pastoral care of the family which is courageous and faithful?

8.  What marriage and family values can be seen to be realized in the life of young people and married couples? What form do they take? Are there values which can be highlighted? (cf. n. 13) What sinful aspects are to be avoided and overcome?

9.  What human pedagogy needs to be taken into account — in keeping with divine pedagogy — so as better to understand what is required in the Church’s pastoral activity in light of the maturation of a couple’s life together which would lead to marriage in the future? (cf. n. 13)

10.  What is being done to demonstrate the greatness and beauty of the gift of indissolubility so as to prompt a desire to live it and strengthen it more and more? (cf. n. 14)

11.  How can people be helped to understand that a relationship with God can assist couples in overcoming the inherent weaknesses in marital relations? (cf. n. 14) How do people bear witness to the fact that divine blessings accompany every true marriage? How do people manifest that the grace of the Sacrament sustains married couples throughout their life together?

The Family in God's Savific Plan (ns. 15 - 16)

In creation, the vocation of the love between a man and woman draws its full realization from the Paschal Mystery of Christ the Lord, who, in his total gift of self, makes the Church his Mystical Body. Christian marriage, in drawing on the grace of Christ, thus becomes, for those who are called, the path leading to the perfection of love, which is holiness.

12.  How can people be made to understand that Christian marriage corresponds to the original plan of God and, thus, one of fulfillment and not confinement? (cf. n. 13)

13.  How can the Church be conceived as a “domestic Church” (Lumen Gentium, 11), agent and object of the work of evangelization in service to the Kingdom of God?

14.  How can an awareness of this missionary task of the family be fostered?

The Family in the Church’s Documents (ns. 17 - 20)

The Church’s Magisterium in all its richness needs to be better known by the People of God. Marital spirituality is nourished by the constant teaching of the Pastors, who care for the flock, and grow through their continual attentiveness to the Word of God and to the sacraments of faith and charity.

15.  The Lord looks with love at the Christian family and through him the family grows as a true community of life and love. How can a familial spirituality be developed and how can families become places of new life in Christ? (cf. n. 21)

16.  What initiatives in catechesis can be developed and fostered to make known and offer assistance to persons in living the Church’s teaching on the family, above all in surmounting any possible discrepancy between what is lived and what is professed and in leading to a process of conversion?

The Indissolubility of Marriage and the Joy of Sharing Life Together (ns. 21 - 22)

“Authentic married love is caught up into divine love and is governed and enriched by Christ's redeeming power and the saving activity of the Church, so that this love may effectively lead the spouses to God and may aid and strengthen them in the sublime mission of being father and mother. For this reason, Christian spouses have a special sacrament by which they are fortified and receive a kind of consecration in the duties and dignity of their state. By virtue of this sacrament, as spouses fulfil their conjugal and family obligation, they are penetrated with the spirit of Christ, which suffuses their whole lives with faith, hope and charity. Thus they increasingly advance the perfection of their own personalities, as well as their mutual sanctification, and hence contribute jointly to the glory of God” (Gaudium et Spes, 48).

17.  What initiatives can lead people to understand the value of an indissoluble and fruitful marriage as the path to complete personal fulfilment? (cf. n. 21)

18.  What can be done to show that the family has many unique aspects for experiencing the joys of human existence?

19.  The Second Vatican Council, returning to an ancient ecclesial tradition, expressed an appreciation for natural marriage. To what extent does diocesan pastoral activity acknowledge the value of this popular wisdom as fundamental in culture and society? (cf. n. 22)

The Truth and Beauty of the Family and Mercy Towards Wounded and Fragile Families (ns. 23 - 28)

After having considered the beauty of successful marriages and strong families and shown appreciation for the generous witness of those who remain faithful to the bonds of marriage, even when abandoned by their spouses, the Pastors at the Synod asked themselves — in an open and courageous manner but not without concern and caution — how the Church is to regard Catholics who are united in a civil bond, those who simply live together and those who, after a valid marriage, are divorced and remarried civilly.

Aware of the obvious limitations and imperfections present in many different situations, the synod fathers assumed the positive outlook indicated by Pope Francis, according to which “without detracting from the evangelical ideal, they need to accompany with mercy and patience the eventual stages of personal growth as these progressively occur.”(Evangelii Gaudium, 44).

20.  How can people be helped to understand that no one is beyond the mercy of God? How can this truth be expressed in the Church’s pastoral activity towards families, especially those which are wounded and fragile? (cf. n. 28)

21.  In the case of those who have not yet arrived at a full understanding of the gift of Christ’s love, how can the faithful express a friendly attitude and offer trustworthy guidance without failing to proclaim the demands of the Gospel? (cf. n. 24)

22.  What can be done so that persons in the various forms of union between a man and a woman — in which human values can be present — might experience a sense of respect, trust and encouragement to grow in the Church’s good will and be helped to arrive at the fulness of Christian marriage? (cf. n. 25)

Part III
Confronting the Situation: Pastoral Perspectives

In examining Part III of the Relatio Synodi, it is important to be guided by the pastoral approach initiated at the Extraordinary Synod which is grounded in Vatican II and the Magisterium of Pope Francis. The episcopal conferences have the responsibility to continue to examine this part thoroughly and seek the involvement, in the most opportune manner possible, all levels of the local Church, thus providing concrete instances from their specific situations. Every effort should be made not to begin anew, but to continue on the path undertaken in the Extraordinary Synod as a point of departure.

Proclaiming the Gospel of the Family Today in Various Contexts (ns. 29 - 38)

Because of the needs of the family and, at the same time, the many complex challenges that are present in the world today, the Synod emphasized making a renewed commitment to proclaiming the Gospel of the Family in a bold and more insistent manner. 

23.  How is the family emphasized in the formation of priests and other pastoral workers? How are families themselves involved?

24.  Are people aware that the rapid evolution in society requires a constant attention to language in pastoral communication. How can an effective testimony be given to the priority of grace in a way that family life is conceived and lived as welcoming the Holy Spirit?

25.  In proclaiming the Gospel of the Family, how can the conditions be created so that each family might actually be as God wills and that society might acknowledge the family’s dignity and mission? What “pastoral conversion” and what further steps towards an in-depth examination are being done to achieve this?

26.  Are people aware of the importance of the collaboration of social and civil institutions on behalf of the family? How is this actually done? What criteria are used to inspire it? In this regard, what role can be played by family associations? How can this collaboration be sustained even in a bold repudiation of the cultural, economic and political processes which threaten the family?

27.  How can relations between family, society and civil life be fostered for the benefit of the family? How can the support of the State and the international community be fostered on behalf of the family?

Guiding Engaged Couples in Their Preparation for Marriage (ns. 39 - 40)

The Synod recognized the steps taken in recent years to facilitate an effective preparation of young people for marriage, stressing, however, a need for a greater commitment of the entire Christian community in not only the preparation but also the initial years of family life.

28.  How is marriage preparation proposed in order to highlight the vocation and mission of the family according to faith in Jesus Christ? Is it proposed as an authentic ecclesial experience? How can it be renewed and improved?

29.  How does the catechesis of Christian initiation present an openness to the vocation and mission of the family? What practices are seen as most urgent? How is the relation among Baptism, Eucharist and marriage proposed? What emphasis is given to the character of the catechumenate and mystagogy which is often a part of marriage preparation? How can the community be involved in this preparation?

Accompanying Married Couples in the Initial Years of Marriage (n. 40)

30.  Does marriage preparation and accompanying couples in the initial years of married life adequately value the important contribution of the witness and sustenance which can be given by families, associations and family movements? What positive experiences can be reported in this regard?

31.  The pastoral accompaniment of couples in the initial years of family life — as observed in synodal discussion — needs further development. What are the most significant initiatives already being undertaken? What elements need further development in parishes, dioceses or associations and movements?

Pastoral Care of Couples Civilly Married or Living Together (ns. 41 - 43)
The Synod discussed diverse situations resulting from a multiplicity of cultural and economic factors, practices grounded in tradition, and the difficulty of young people to make lifetime commitments.

32.  What criteria in a proper pastoral discernment of individual situations are being considered in light the Church’s teaching in which the primary elements of marriage are unity, indissolubility and openness to life?

33.  Is the Christian community able to be pastorally involved in these situations? How can it assist in discerning the positive and negative elements in the life of persons united in a civil marriage so as to guide and sustain them on a path of growth and conversion towards the Sacrament of Matrimony? How can those living together be assisted to decide to marry?

34.  In a particular way, what response is to be given to problems arising from the continuity of traditional forms of marriage in stages or those between families?

Caring for Wounded Families (Separated, Divorced and Not Remarried, Divorced and Remarried, Single-Parent Families) (ns. 44 - 54)

Synod discussion highlighted the need for a pastoral based on the art of accompaniment, “the pace of [which] must be steady and reassuring, reflecting our closeness and our compassionate gaze which also heals, liberates and encourages growth in the Christian life”(Evangelii Gaudium, 169).

35.  Is the Christian community in a position to undertake the care of all wounded families so that they can experience the Father’s mercy? How does the Christian community engage in removing the social and economic factors which often determine this situation? What steps have been taken and what can be done to increase this activity and the sense of mission which sustains it?

36.  How can the identification of shared pastoral guidelines be fostered at the level of the particular Church? In this regard, how can a dialogue be developed among the various particular Churches cum Petro and sub Petro?

37.  How can the procedure to determine cases of nullity be made more accessible, streamlined and possibly without expense?

38.  With regard to the divorced and remarried, pastoral practice concerning the sacraments needs to be further studied, including assessment of the Orthodox practice and taking into account “the distinction between an objective sinful situation and extenuating circumstances” (n. 52). What are the prospects in such a case? What is possible? What suggestions can be offered to resolve forms of undue or unnecessary impediments?

39.  Does current legislation provide a valid response to the challenges resulting from mixed marriages or interreligious marriages? Should other elements be taken into account?

Pastoral Attention towards Persons with Homosexual Tendencies (ns. 55 - 56)

The pastoral care of persons with homosexual tendencies poses new challenges today, due to the manner in which their rights are proposed in society.

40.  How can the Christian community give pastoral attention to families with persons with homosexual tendencies? What are the responses that, in light of cultural sensitivities, are considered to be most appropriate? While avoiding any unjust discrimination, how can such persons receive pastoral care in these situations in light of the Gospel? How can God’s will be proposed to them in their situation?

The Transmission of Life and the Challenge of a Declining Birthrate (ns. 57 - 59)

The transmission of life is a fundamental element in the vocation and mission of the family: “They should know they are thereby cooperators with the love of God the Creator, and are, so to speak, the interpreters of that love in the task of transmitting human life and to raising children; this has to be considered their proper mission” (Gaudium et Spes, 50).

41.  What are the most significant steps that have been taken to announce and effectively promote the beauty and dignity of becoming a mother or father, in light, for example, of Humanae Vitae of Blessed Pope Paul VI? How can dialogue be promoted with the sciences and biomedical technologies in a way that respects the human ecology of reproduction?

42.  A generous maternity / paternity needs structures and tools. Does the Christian community exercise an effective solidarity and support? How? Is it courageous in proposing valid solutions even at a socio-political level? How can adoption and foster-parenting be encouraged as a powerful sign of fruitful generosity? How can the care and respect of children be promoted?

43.  The Christian lives maternity / paternity as a response to a vocation. Is this vocation sufficiently emphasized in catechesis? What formation is offered so that it might effectively guide the consciences of married couples? Are people aware of the grave consequences of demographic change?

44.  How does the Church combat the scourge of abortion and foster an effective culture of life?

Upbringing and the Role of the Family in Evangelization (ns. 60 - 61)

45.  Fulfilling their educational mission is not always easy for parents. Do they find solidarity and support from the Christian community? What suggestions might be offered in formation? What steps can be taken to acknowledge the role of parents in raising children, even at the socio-political level?

46.  How can parents and the Christian family be made aware that the duty of transmitting the faith is an intrinsic aspect of being a Christian?


Friday, December 12, 2014

"Suplico a Guadalupe – La Señora Mia, Mi Jovencita, Mi Pequeña – Acompañar y Proteger Nuestro Pueblo"


“All the people praise you, Lord, all the people. Have mercy on us and give us your blessing; Lord, turn your eyes toward us. The earth knows your goodness and the people your salvific works. The nations sing of you with jubilation, because you judge the world with justice.” (Psalm 66).

The prayer of the psalmist, pleads for forgiveness and blessing for the peoples and nations and, at the same time, expresses with joyful praise the spiritual sense of this Eucharistic celebration. Today, with gratitude and joy, the peoples and nations of our great Latin American homeland commemorate the feast of their “patron”, Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose devotion extends from Alaska to Patagonia. With the Archangel Gabriel and Saint Isabella, we begin our filial prayer: “Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with you.” (Luke 1:28).

On this feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, we gratefully remember her visitation to us and her maternal closeness. We sing with her the “Magnificat”, we entrust to her the lives of our people and the continental mission of the Church.

When she appeared to Saint Juan Diego in Tepeyac, she introduced herself as the “ever perfect Holy Virgin Mary, Mother of the True God” (Nican Mopohua), leading to a new visitation. She tenderly hastened to embrace the new people of the Americas at the dramatic moment they came into being: “A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet” (Rev 12:1). She assumed within herself the cultural and religious symbolism of the native people, announcing her Son and giving Him to the new and suffering people of mixed race. Many leapt for joy and hope before her visitation and before the gift of her Son, and the most perfect disciple of the Lord became the “great missionary who brings the Gospel to our America” (Aparecida, 269). The Son of Mary most Holy, his Immaculate Mother, reveals himself from the origins of this new peoples’ history, as the “true God who gives us Life,” as the good news of filial dignity of all the inhabitants of America.

No longer is anyone a servant, but we are all children of the same Father, brothers and sisters together. The Holy Mother of God not only visited these people, but she chose to remain with them. She left her sacred image mysteriously imprinted on the “tilma” (or cloak) of her messenger in order that we might keep in mind the symbol of Mary's covenant with these people, conferring her spirit and tenderness.

Through her intercession, the Christian faithful began to become the richest treasure of the soul of the American people, whose precious pearl is Jesus Christ. It is a patrimony which is transmitted and manifest today in the many baptism of multitudes of people, in the faith, hope and charity of many; in precious popular piety; and in that popular ethos that reveals itself in an awareness of human dignity, in the passion for justice, in solidarity with the poorest and suffering, in hope that is sometimes against every hope.

That’s why we here today can continue to praise God for the wonders he has done in the lives of the Latin American people. God “has hidden these things from the wise and the learned, [and has] revealed them to the childlike.” (Mt 11:25) In the wonders which the Lord has achieved in Mary, she recognizes her Son's style and way of acting in the story of Salvation. Sweeping away worldly judgments, destroying idols of power, riches, success at any cost, denouncing self-sufficiency, pride and a secularized Messiah complex which distances from God, the Mary’s Magnificat professes that God delights in subverting ideologies and worldly hierarchies.

He lifts up the lowly, comes to the aid of the poor and the little, he fills with goodness, blessings and hope those who trust in his mercy from generation to generation, while he casts down the rich, the powerful, and rulers from their thrones.

The “Magnificat” introduces us to the Beatitudes, the earliest synthesis of the Gospel. In the light of the Beatitudes we feel compelled to ask that the future of Latin America be forged for the poor and those who suffer, for the humble, those who hunger and thirst for justice, for the compassionate, the pure of heart, those who work for peace, and for those who are persecuted because of Christ's name, “for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” (Mt 5: 1-11).

And we make this request because Latin America is the “continent of hope”! Because she hopes in new ways of development which combine traditional Christianity and civil progress, justice and equity with reconciliation, scientific development and technology with human wisdom. Fruitful suffering with joyful hope. We can protect this hope only with great amounts of truth and mercy, the basis for all realities and revolutionary engines of an authentically new life.

We place these realities and these desires on the altar as a gift pleasing to God. Imploring his forgiveness and trusting in his Mercy, we celebrate the sacrifice and the paschal victory of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the only Lord, the “liberator” of all of our slavery and misery derived from sin. He calls us to live the true life, a more human life, to live together as children and brothers, now that the doors to “the new heaven and the new earth” are open (Rev 21:1). We implore the Blessed Virgin Mary, under the name “Our Lady of Guadalupe” – the Mother of God, our Queen, our Lady, the young woman, our Little One (as called Saint Juan Diego called her), and with all the loving names which popular piety has given her – that she may continue to accompany, help and protect our people.

May she lead by the hand all pilgrim children in these lands to the encounter with her Son, Jesus Christ Our Lord, present in the Church, in its holiness, especially in the Eucharist, present in the treasure of his Word and teachings, present in the faithful and holy people of God, in those who suffer and in the humble of heart. So be it. Amen!


Vida, Dulzura, Y Esperanza Nuestra, Dios Te Salve....

(de Grand Rapids, Michigan)
Padre de Misericordia,
que has puesto a este pueblo tuyo
bajo la especial protección de la siempre Virgen María de Guadalupe,
Madre de tu Hijo,
concédenos, por su intercesión,
profundizar en nuestra fe
y buscar el progreso de nuestra patria
por caminos de justicia y de paz.

Por nuestro Señor Jesucristo, tu Hijo,
que viva en re contigo en el Espiritú Santo,
es Dios, por los siglos y de los siglos.

Y aquí, de la celebración más grande de toda la Iglesia en estos Estados Unidos – este año con una multitud de algunos 150.000 fieles – por el primer tiempo, la homilía del Señor Arzobispo de Chicago (ahora una diocesís de mayoridad hispana entre sus 2.3 millones de católicos) en medianoche al Santuario de la Morenita a Des Plaines...

For those in need of subtitles, the above is Archbishop Blase Cupich's homily at Midnight Mass for this feast at Chicagoland's Guadalupe Shrine at Des Plaines.

With a throng of up to 150,000 expected for the 36-hour celebrations in sub-freezing temperatures, the Des Plaines feast is, by far, the biggest annual event in today's Stateside Church – the signal moment marking the ascendancy of a Hispanic flock in the nation's third-largest diocese that now comprises the de facto majority of Chicago's 2.3 million Catholics, to say nothing of the similar epochal shift taking place from coast to coast.

Despite the size and prominence of the mega-gathering, however, tonight's Blase-Mass marked the first time the midnight hour there has ever been led by the city's archbishop... who, in an astonishing allegory of his ascent to Chicago, got to look out on a crowd bigger than the entire diocese he led until last month.

Its observance televised nationally over Univisión, much as today's feast is the the two-decade old Des Plaines shrine's high watermark of pilgrims, the site's average weekend crowd of some 10,000 for Sunday Masses have led to plans for the construction of a $60 million, 5,000-seat church that would rank among the US' largest worship sites.

With LA's Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels – seat of the largest diocese in American Catholicism's four-century history, now a 5 million-member (70 percent Latino) juggernaut – rocking through the night (above), a first-ever morning procession from Central Park to St Patrick's Cathedral will shut down Fifth Avenue before Cardinal Timothy Dolan celebrates a 10am Mass in the nation's second-largest outpost, now likewise in the range of a Latin plurality among its 2.5 million faithful.

And of course, the global celebrations will be capped with a particularly historic moment: in his first public Mass in Spanish since his election as the first Bishop of Rome from the Americas, the Pope will lead a feast-day liturgy in St Peter's at 6pm Rome time, specially timed to be seen on this continent in the middle of the day.

Having conferred his lone Golden Rose to date on the Empress of the Americas, the Mass will additionally mark the 50th anniversary of the Misa Criolla – the post-Conciliar suite (arguably the most famous vernacular Mass setting in Spanish) by the Argentine composer Ariel Ramirez, which has long been a favorite piece of Papa Bergoglio's. Joined by an orchestra from the Pope's homeland, Ramirez's son will conduct the piece's portions during the Eucharist.

As crowds in excess of seven million – a mass of humanity larger than Islam's annual Hajj to Mecca – have converged at the Guadalupe Basilica itself this week, it is notable that Mexico City's Cardinal Norberto Rivera is instead in Rome for the papal liturgy, fueling speculation that Francis could use the Mass to announce a long-expected 2015 trip to Mexico, a leg likely to immediately precede late September's US trip... and one which might just include a Pope-stop at the Border.

All that said, the most important thing today is far from news... porque como el himno de esta solemnidad dice, "hoy es una dia de fiesta con ganas de celebrar, desde el Tepeyac por [todo] el mundo." Que celebremos con alegría la bondad de Dios en el regalo de su Madre como Madre nuestra – este dia quando la Reina del Cielo se convierte la Emperatriz morena de toda la una America.

¡Virgencita de Guadalupe, ruega por nosotros!


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

No Me Dejes Nunca....

Storm Troopers, están listos?

Entonces, hermanos, start your engines:

Unless this scribe suddenly lives half an hour from Mexico, no – that ain't south of the border. Truth be told, it's actually north of Pharaohtown.

Indeed, Church, because She is America's Mother, this is America's Feast – now Stateside Catholicism's Biggest Night... especially these days, our happiest one, too. And from coast to coast, over the next 48 hours, here it comes again.

Matachines, go:

(de Kansas City, Kansas – el 5 dicembre 2014)

Morenita de Tepeyac, amadísima Madre del Pueblo de Dios en esta tierra, ayudanos a comprender el regalo de tu presencia entre nosotros, a renovarnos en toda la riqueza de la herencia y la vida de esta Fe, y que podemos comunicar y vivir siempre mejor la verdad que nadie es un extranjero para tu Hijo, y que todos sienten su hogar en el hueco del tu manto en esta Iglesia y este país.

All that said, for the 583rd time, let the global church's most watched and cherished ad orientem turn begin in earnest....

Virgencita Madre – Estrella de la Nueva Evangelización, Protectora del hijo en el seno, Pastora Buena de este rebaño – mil gracias para todos tus milagros.


Monday, December 08, 2014

"Merry Christmas – Go To Confession": The Pope's Tree-Lighting Message

As 2014 begins to wrap up, one of the year's indelible images bears recalling: the moment at the Lenten penance service in St Peter's when the Pope stunned his MC – and everyone else – by going to Confession himself before heading to his own box to conduct the sacrament for others.

Indeed, it was an unprecedented public sight of a Roman pontiff. And as was said at the time, having made Reconciliation his most frequent and urgent cause among the sacraments over 21 months in office – not to mention doing so infinitely more than his recent predecessors – Francis' affinity for the confessional stands as a principal proof that the reality of Jorge Bergoglio is far from the caricature accepted either by his champions or his castigators.

In the latest instance of the push, the Pope issued an appeal for penitents last night, while following in the footsteps of B16 at lighting the mega-tree of Gubbio – the evergreen-shaped display along a side of Mt Ingino that's won the Perugian town the distinction of "world's largest Christmas tree," even if it isn't one per se.

As his predecessor did in 2011, Francis lit the tree via a tap on a tablet... and here, video of his pre-lighting remarks with English translation:

Buona sera! I wish you a holy and happy Christmas.

When we turn on the lights of the creche [sic – he said "Presepio" but meant "albero" (tree)], we want the light of Christ to be in us. A Christmas without light isn't Christmas. So let there be light in our souls, in our hearts; let there be our forgiveness for others; and let there not be hatred, for this are darkness. Let there be the light of Jesus, which is so beautiful. This is my wish for all of you. Many thanks for your gift – it's beautiful. And I give you my warmest tidings of peace and happiness.

If you have something dark on your soul, ask the Lord's forgiveness. This is a beautiful chance Christmas gives us – to clean up our souls, eh! Don't be afraid – the priest is merciful, he forgives everything in the name of God, because God forgives everything. May the light be in your hearts, in your families, in your cities. And now, with this wish, let's turn on the lights.

May almighty God bless you, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Merry Christmas and pray for me!
* * *
While diocesan or regional initiatives to increase awareness and availability of confessions have become a popular – and, across the board, remarkably well-received – feature over Lent in recent years, this Advent sees only a handful of places making an amped-up Penance push before Christmas. The largest of them comes this Wednesday in Toronto, where the 225 parishes of Canada's largest diocese will be open through the day to offer the sacrament.

Back to Francis, meanwhile, the Gubbio tree event was just one box-driven statement from the Pope that came to light yesterday.

In his sweeping interview for the Sunday editions of Buenos Aires' La Nación, the native son reminded 
his biographer Elisabetta Piqué that upon his election as the 266th bishop of Rome at age 76, he was plotting out his retirement as archbishop of the Argentine capital, and with it "my mind was [already] focused on the confessionals of the churches where I would be hearing confession."

Clearly, the emphasis is important to Francis. How it's been reflected in next to none of the broader coverage of him, however, remains a mystery... yet still, even that "appalling strangeness" pales before attempting to conceive of the mercy of God.