Whispers in the Loggia

In the annals of the Premier See of these United States, two figures form the center of a legend born alongside the Constitution.

Yet even for all John Carroll and James Gibbons would bequeath to posterity, it’d fall to yet another to bring the Maryland Tradition of American Catholicism into the 21st century. And this morning, the cleric who made that mission his own has been called to his rest.

The only man ever to wear both the badge of an Eagle Scout and the scarlet of a Roman prince, William Henry Keeler – 14th archbishop of Baltimore, ninth President of the nation’s bench, only the third of Carroll’s heirs to be raised to the papal Senate – died overnight at 86 after a long, gradual illness.

Named to Charm City in 1989 – amid the 200th anniversary of the nation’s founding diocese – Keeler’s two-decade tenure at the helm of the Birdland fold didn’t merely burnish the crown jewel he inherited, but served to achieve some history of its own. Above all else, the cardinal brought a Pope to Birdland, as now-St John Paul II celebrated Mass at Camden Yards and lunched with the homeless at Our Daily Bread on the lone sunny day of his final Stateside tour in 1995. And at his ministry's end, only after a sound footing for the archdiocese’s schools and charities was ensured through over $100 million in fundraising, the third cardinal pursued his long-desired legacy project, restoring the nation’s first cathedral – the Basilica of the Assumption – to the simple splendor with which it was conceived, stripping away a century’s worth of darkness to the recapture the vision Carroll hatched with Benjamin Latrobe: Catholicism's tribute in stone to the American experiment of religious freedom, a dream fused together in light.

A son of Harrisburg and Philadelphia ordained first in his class in 1955, the future cardinal attracted early notice on the Roman scene, so much so that, as a student-priest, he was dubbed “Ruby Keeler” given the shoes that went with the red hat in that era. Not even ten years in, Keeler would have his first brush with the spotlight during the Second Vatican Council as the secretary who led the daily English-language press briefings, a heady task given the involvement of 2,500 bishops and the Council's business being conducted entirely in Latin. Despite being almost painfully shy – a trait that expressed itself in a soft-spoken and dignified reserve – the experience birthed a driven interest in and support of the press which would remain for the rest of his life.

The lone prelate to lead the nation's hierarchy both by prerogative of place as well as through election – likewise the first conference president to be given the red hat while at the bench's helm – the Keeler legacy on the broad stage is most intimately linked to another lifelong commitment: interfaith relations, above all with the Jewish community.

Having remained the church's lead figure on the national Catholic-Jewish dialogue well into his retirement, it was at Keeler's behest that, in the 1990s, John Paul conferred the first papal knighthoods on non-Catholics, to two rabbis who were the cardinal's counterparts in the effort. Such was the prelate's devotion to the cause that – even for an adherence to history that could border on the fanatical – Keeler shirked the almost sacred 19th century aesthetics of the "Gibbons Room" of the Archbishop's Residence on Charles Street to place one modern item within it: a menorah strikingly sculpted with six human figures, each one representing a million Jews killed during the Holocaust.

As with every prelate of his generation, Keeler's greatest challenge at home erupted in 2002 with the national revelations of clergy sex-abuse and cover-up. Yet while the storm placed an eternal cloud over several of his fellow cardinals and a host of other prelates, the unique response from Baltimore quickly made the scandals a local afterthought.

In a marked contrast to most places, where prosecutors or plaintiffs’ attorneys resorted to legal force to attain disclosures from the Chanceries, Keeler ordered the publication of the archdiocese's complete record of accused priests – a list of 57 names, their assignments, and the dates and nature of the alleged misconduct, all of it stretching back to the 1950s.

For much of the Baltimore presbyterate, the revelation – especially the list’s inclusion of the dead – proved an unforgiveable act of betrayal by their archbishop, who nonetheless remained unswayed in his conviction that it was “the right thing to do.” Almost 15 years later, his archdiocese spared the tide of charges, litigation and distrust which would devastate much of the East, the wisdom of the act almost speaks for itself… and in the eyes of those closest to the cardinal, his move to publish remains “his finest hour.”

All these aspects, however – the commitment to transparency and dialogue, the sense of history and community – are merely parts of a piece, its core found in the golden thread Keeler viewed as his unique treasure not merely to guard, but to revive for a new age.

As crafted by Carroll and reborn under Gibbons, the Maryland Tradition of Catholicism was forged as a leavening model of the church’s presence in American society: a distinctly home-grown and confident counter to the importing of Europe’s heavily-encrusted ecclesiology, all of whose variations failed to reflect the circumstances of a pluralistic society in formation an ocean away. In its vision, the American concept of freedom represented no threat to the faith, but a priceless gift, and the free institutions of state, press and religion were likewise no adversary, but partners for the common good, a goal which demands the church’s best contribution for the flourishing of all.

In a moment when both the civil and ecclesial order find themselves gravely challenged by breakdowns of trust and outbursts of selfishness – and, indeed, the very freedoms and promise that define this nation find themselves under siege – it could be said that the lessons of America’s founding fold provide an ideal antidote. And if the departure of the greatest champion of this heritage might bring about a return to learning and heeding its hard-won lessons, for the man, his dying breath would be worth it.

In any case, one lasting legacy on the national front still comes to the fore every year: on what would be the morning of the 9/11 attacks, during the USCCB's September Administrative Committee session in Washington, Keeler – then on his second stint as the bench's chair for Pro-Life Activities –  proposed that the November meeting be moved from the capital back to Baltimore, where the collegial governance of the nation's church (and, by extension, the entire concept of an episcopal conference) saw its inception more than a century earlier with the annual gathering of the archbishops.

Initially envisioned as a temporary gesture when the move was approved, the Fall Plenary hasn't returned to Washington since.

Never one to express emotion publicly – even after surviving a 2006 car accident that claimed the life of his best friend, and whose injuries kept him from his most cherished goal – the warm soul behind those steely blue eyes nevertheless had its ways of reaching out. Simply put, you knew Keeler’s affection when it was made clear that he wanted you close by... and just as being successor of John Carroll in Baltimore was the greatest love of his life, he had the self-awareness to know where he fell short.

Accordingly, it is a testament that the auxiliaries he chose – Fran Malooly, Mitch Rozanski, and Denis Madden – each were and remain more cherished than the other among the locals. And as a wider affirmation of what they learned at his side, it is no accident that the latter two have been chosen in turn to lead the US bishops’ arm for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, all the more that the votes were taken without the cardinal in the room... nor, indeed, likely aware that it was even happening.

Of course, all this is the life of the church in its living stones. Still, for a figure who became almost as much a part of Baltimore as Old Bay and the Orioles – or, these days, Under Armour – despite hailing from outside, for the 14th archbishop, his crowning joy was reclaiming the temple which had been built to serve as the symbol of the Catholic presence on these shores, a holy place which had fallen on hard times.

In the late 1990s, the city's resurgence underway with the development of the Harbor and building of Camden Yards, that new spirit had yet to make it up the hill to Carroll's cathedral. At its lowest point in those days, an attempted robbery of a homeless man ended with the victim's fatal stabbing on the basilica's front portico.

Given the prevailing mood of the time, a push for a $30 million restoration was widely panned within the archdiocese as a needless extravagance or the manifestation of an "edifice complex." Yet again, though, Keeler would prove immovable in the face of opposition, and when the finished product was previewed to the locals days before its rededication, another round of begrudging admissions that "he was right" only added to his serene satisfaction in the moment. And for the kicker, the basilica project ended up jump-starting the revival of its Mount Vernon neighborhood, transforming the area into an urban hub again bursting with life.

Upon the cardinal's retirement a year later, it shouldn't have come as a surprise that Keeler couldn't bear to leave American Catholicism's equivalent to the White House, and so he didn't; ever the gracious sort, the incoming archbishop, Edwin O'Brien, honored his predecessor's wishes by holing up in an apartment across town owned by the Sulpicians.

Yet even as he handed over the reins of Cathedral Street, the cardinal's eye for the long sweep of history pulled off one final stroke for the future: asked by O'Brien to select his priest-secretary in advance of his arrival, Keeler plucked a certain 35 year-old from his first pastorate for the job. Having become indispensable to the two archbishops since, the foresight of that call came full circle in January as Adam Parker, at 45, was ordained the youngest bishop in a Stateside diocese and the first to be born in the 1970s – the same decade that Msgr William Keeler, then likewise a priest-secretary in his 40s, became a bishop himself.

For all the shimmering grandeur of American Catholicism's mother-church, to cross the footbridge from 408 N. Charles into the basilica always brings a sobering sight: on making their entry from their house into the nation's first cathedral, a century of archbishops have been faced with the crypt where Carroll and seven of his early successors are laid to rest.

Since the opening of the "New Cathedral" of Mary Our Queen in 1956, the bishops of the Premier See have all opted instead for the ample burial space there. That is, until now: in fulfillment of his last wish, late Tuesday afternoon Keeler will be interred beneath the basilica's High Altar, the first committal within its walls since Archbishop Michael Curley – the last Baltimore prelate whose territory included Washington – died in 1947.

The stone already chiseled out with an expansive Latin text in 19th century font, it is eminently fitting that Birdland's third cardinal will be placed next to its first: the celebrated Gibbons, the native son and citizen-prince he always yearned to imitate most.

Posted: March 23, 2017, 6:28 pm
Amid a roiled political environment – and capping off a remarkable across-the-board protest of President Trump's signature policy commitment – the top leadership of the US bishops has used its first meeting of the year in Washington to issue a significant call that "It is necessary to safeguard the United States in a manner that does not cause us to lose our humanity."

As reports around the country indicate a broad spike in arrests and detainments by federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, and with the new administration's ban on travel from seven Muslim-majority countries stalled in the courts, the statement from the USCCB Administrative Committee' signals a further doubling-down of advocacy for the undocumented and at-risk refugees on the part of the nation's largest religious body, which has spent recent months ramping up numerous local initiatives ranging from very public prayer services in solidarity to programs informing parishioners of their rights and how to respond should they find themselves or their families targeted.

Comprised of all the bench's committee chairs and other prelates representing the US church's 15 regions, the 30-man Administrative meets four times a year, but only twice outside the June and November plenary sessions of the whole 270-member conference. In that light, a statement from the Admin is understood as representing the mind of the entire body of bishops.

Adding to its significance, this week's discussions at the DC Mothership marked the top board's first gathering led by the new conference executive, Houston's Cardinal Daniel DiNardo and Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles (top left), whose historic election as the bench's president and vice-president days after the White House vote was widely seen as a sign of the church's resolve on the immigration front in the face of the campaign season's scorching rhetoric on the issue.

With that context in mind, here's the entire Admin statement – billed as a "pastoral reflection" bearing the title "Living as a People of God in Unsettled Times":
The word of God is truly alive today. "When an alien resides with you in your land, do not mistreat such a one. You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; you shall love the alien as yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt" (Lev. 19:33-34).

To live as a people of God is to live in the hope of the resurrection. To live in Christ is to draw upon the limitless love of Jesus to fortify us against the temptation of fear. Pray that our engagement in the debate over immigration and refugee issues may bring peace and comfort to those most affected by current and proposed national policy changes.

Let us not lose sight of the fact that behind every policy is the story of a person in search of a better life. They may be an immigrant or refugee family sacrificing so that their children might have a brighter future. As shepherds of a pilgrim Church, we will not tire in saying to families who have the courage to set out from their despair onto the road of hope: "We are with you." They may also be a family seeking security from an increased threat of extremist violence. It is necessary to safeguard the United States in a manner that does not cause us to lose our humanity.

Intense debate is essential to healthy democracy, but the rhetoric of fear does not serve us well. When we look at one another do we see with the heart of Jesus? Within our diverse backgrounds are found common dreams for our children. Hope in the next generation is how the nation will realize its founding motto, "out of many, one." In doing so, we will also realize God's hope for all His children: that we would see each other as valued sisters and brothers regardless of race, religion or national origin.

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh (Jn. 1:14), strengthens us to bring our words to life. How might we, as Catholics and in our own small way, bring our words of solidarity for migrants and refugees to life?

1. Pray for an end to the root causes of violent hatred that force mothers and fathers to flee the only home they may have known in search of economic and physical security for their children.

2. Meet with members of your parish who are newcomers, listen to their story and share your own. Hundreds of Catholic parishes across the country have programs for immigrants and refugees both to comfort them and to help them know their rights. It is also important to reach out in loving dialogue to those who may disagree with us. The more we come to understand each other's concerns the better we can serve one another. Together, we are one body in Christ.

3. Call, write or visit your elected representative and ask them to fix our broken immigration system in a way that safeguards both our security and our humanity through a generous opportunity for legal immigration.

As Pope Francis said, "To migrate is the expression of that inherent desire for the happiness proper to every human being, a happiness that is to be sought and pursued. For us Christians, all human life is an itinerant journey towards our heavenly homeland."
Posted: March 22, 2017, 2:56 pm
(SVILUPPO: Following its most recent update, the Master List now comprises a record 120-plus US dioceses – fully two-thirds of the nation's Latin-church sees.)

Just because it's Lent doesn't mean there isn't some fun to be had... and in that light, this edition of the 40 Days just so happens to bring a long-awaited return to one of this shop's favorite exercises.

Eleven years ago, among the first splashes made here was a national take on what came to be termed the The Corned Beef Indult – that is, the dispensation granted by a diocesan bishop so the Irish faithful can enjoy the patronal sandwich with a clear conscience when St Patrick's Day falls on a Lenten Friday, thus pitting the feast against the obligatory abstinence from meat.

This year marks the first collision of the two observances since, and in most cases the announcements are just beginning to bubble up, numbering over 40 so far. As history goes, in 2006 the general permission was given by nearly half of the nation's 179 Latin-church jurisdictions.

In any case, this is indeed a thing – if you will, the "Amoris Wars" for the non-chattering class (just without the invective). That the story takes on a life of its own in local media and over dinner tables is a sound testimony to two linchpin realities an "anger first" discourse seems to easily forget: first, that the identity-marker of "Fish Fridays" holds an enduring place among the faithful, with the practice maintained by close to a supermajority of American Catholicism's 70 million souls (per CARA figures)... even more significantly, meanwhile, it just goes to show again that when it comes to widespread fascination with this faith, nothing beats even the relatively minor elements of the Catholic imagination (however much Dan Brown may try).

Before going into this edition's master list of dispensed dioceses, a couple pieces of context bear recalling.

First, in those places where the Apostle of Ireland is the patron of the diocese or of the parish church, within said territory Paddymas ranks as a proper solemnity, thus exempting the obligatory abstinence from meat by the law itself. Among other examples, this is the case in New York, and was clarified as such by Cardinal Timothy Dolan in a late January letter to his priests.

To be fully specific, that general rule only applies where Patrick is patron of the diocese, not diocese-wide where he's patron of the cathedral – unless his diocesan patronal status is likewise formally in place, the cathedral's name-day only ranks as a proper feast and mandatory abstinence remains intact. (In another related instance, as St Joseph's Day and Annunciation are universal solemnities, abstinence is not observed across the Catholic world whenever March 19th or 25th fall on a Friday.)

Second, even as the bulk of the 70 million Stateside faithful will likely get the green light at the diocesan level owing to large-scale Irish populations and simple concern for the welfare of souls, it bears recalling that – in cases where a diocesan indult hasn't been granted – pastors of parishes may dispense their own people from avoiding meat given "just cause" as with any Lenten Friday; this is usually done on an individual basis by request (for example, for a parishioner attending a wedding rehearsal dinner with meat on the menu).

Just to name three, Detroit, Portland (Oregon) and Salt Lake have gone that route this year in lieu of the blanket indult, while the diocese of Trenton and archdiocese of St Louis are only granting the permissions to functions held on church property (for the latter, a notably more restrictive stance than then-Archbishop Raymond Burke took there last time). Elsewhere, keeping with their shared reputation for seeking to bolster an ironclad Catholic identity, the archdiocese of Denver and diocese of Lincoln are the lone US sees to have publicly denied granting a broad dispensation.

Thirdly, to be clear, nobody's getting off scot-free regardless of local policy – in each instance where the indult's been granted, the move is accompanied by a pro forma encouragement (albeit not an order) that abstinence should either be transferred to the prior or following day, or that some other act of penance or charity be substituted for digging into the beef. In any event, those traveling on the 17th itself are bound by the decision of the diocese in which they happen to be, not that of the place where they reside.

All that said, just because you don't see your own local church listed below doesn't mean you're out of luck – if anything, these announcements are usually made with little fanfare, or simply circulated internally to the parishes.

Ergo, as the following was initially compiled from publicly available notices, the list will be kept updated as the day approaches, so wherever a permission has been granted and isn't noted here, please do send it along – you can email it, tweet it... and given the priority on getting word around, even the combox is open. (NB: anything not germane to the topic will not be published.)

And lastly, much as keeping you lot out of Hell (at least, on this count) is its own reward, alas, that alone can't pay the bills – as ever, these pages keep afloat solely by means of your support....

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For the commemoration of St Patrick, 17 March 2017, the following local churches are generally dispensed or granted a commutation from Lenten abstinence by act of the respective (arch)bishop or the proper solemnity of the diocesan patron – conditions/substitions may vary by jurisdiction:

All dioceses of Wisconsin and Georgia

Archdioceses of Anchorage, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dubuque, Galveston-Houston, Hartford, Indianapolis, Kansas City in Kansas, Los Angeles, Louisville, Miami, The Military Services USA, Mobile, Newark, New Orleans, New York, Omaha, Philadelphia, Saint Paul and Minneapolis, San Antonio, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington DC

Dioceses of Albany, Allentown, Arlington, Austin, Baton Rouge, Beaumont, Belleville, Birmingham, Boise, Bridgeport, Brooklyn, Brownsville, Buffalo, Burlington, Camden, Charleston, Cleveland, Colorado Springs, Corpus Christi, Covington, Dallas, Davenport, Des Moines, Duluth, Erie, Fall River, Fargo, Fort Wayne-South Bend, Fort Worth, Fresno, Gary, Gaylord, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Honolulu, Jackson, Jefferson City, Joliet, Juneau, Kalamazoo, Kansas City-St Joseph, Knoxville, Lafayette (La.), Las Cruces, Las Vegas, Lexington, Manchester, Memphis, Metuchen, Nashville, Norwich, Oakland, Ogdensburg, Owensboro, Palm Beach, Paterson, Pensacola-Tallahassee, Peoria, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Portland (Maine), Providence, Raleigh, Rochester, Rockford, Rockville Centre, Sacramento, St Augustine, St Cloud, St Petersburg, San Bernardino, San Diego, Scranton, Spokane, Springfield (Mass.), Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Steubenville, Stockton, Syracuse, Toledo, Tucson, Tyler, Venice (Florida), Victoria, Wheeling-Charleston, Wilmington, Winona, Worcester, Yakima, Youngstown
Posted: March 17, 2017, 3:36 pm
And on this third Friday of Lent, Top o' the Mornin' and Beannachtai la Fhéile – a blessed feast... at least, across most of the Stateside church.

Given the state of the discourse these days, it shouldn't come as a surprise that some folks have seen fit to scream about a sandwich. By and large, though, this year's edition of The Corned Beef Indult™ brought a record amount of consensus to St Paddy's table, with fully two-thirds of the US' 179 dioceses granting a deviation from Lenten abstinence for today's celebrations of the Apostle of Ireland.

Updated into this morning as the stragglers roll in, for the convenience of the faithful the full Master List of the dispensed is below. That said, as the overwhelming bulk of permissions come with the stipulation or encouragement that another sacrifice be substituted instead of avoiding meat, those who plan to partake are advised to check their local church's website/social media for the specific conditions that apply.

Again, to one and all, however you celebrate (or not), here's to a day of grace... and to everyone who pitched in on compiling The List, Go raibh míle maith agat – a thousand thanks.
For the commemoration of St Patrick, 17 March 2017, the following local churches are generally dispensed or granted commutation from Lenten abstinence by act of the respective (arch)bishop or the proper solemnity of the diocesan patron – conditions/substitions may vary by jurisdiction:

All dioceses of Wisconsin and Georgia (by common action)

Archdioceses of Anchorage, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dubuque, Galveston-Houston, Hartford, Indianapolis, Kansas City in Kansas, Los Angeles, Louisville, Miami, The Military Services USA, Mobile, Newark, New Orleans, New York, Omaha, Philadelphia, Saint Paul and Minneapolis, San Antonio, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington DC

Dioceses of Albany, Allentown, Arlington, Austin, Baton Rouge, Beaumont, Belleville, Birmingham, Boise, Bridgeport, Brooklyn, Brownsville, Buffalo, Burlington, Camden, Charleston, Cleveland, Colorado Springs, Corpus Christi, Covington, Dallas, Davenport, Des Moines, Duluth, Erie, Fall River, Fargo, Fort Wayne-South Bend, Fort Worth, Fresno, Gary, Gaylord, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Honolulu, Jackson, Jefferson City, Joliet, Juneau, Kalamazoo, Kansas City-St Joseph, Knoxville, Lafayette (La.), Las Cruces, Las Vegas, Lexington, Manchester, Memphis, Metuchen, Nashville, Norwich, Oakland, Ogdensburg, Owensboro, Palm Beach, Paterson, Peoria, Pensacola-Tallahassee, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Portland (Maine), Providence, Raleigh, Rochester, Rockford, Rockville Centre, Sacramento, St Augustine, St Cloud, St Petersburg, San Bernardino, San Diego, Scranton, Spokane, Springfield (Mass.), Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Steubenville, Stockton, Syracuse, Toledo, Tucson, Tyler, Venice (Florida), Victoria, Wheeling-Charleston, Wilmington, Winona, Worcester, Yakima, Youngstown
Posted: March 17, 2017, 3:35 pm
(Updated with press conference video.)

When one senior American prelate recently termed the new Nuncio to Washington "a real Speedy Gonzalez" on the appointments front, he wasn't kidding – even if Archbishop Christophe Pierre's prior assignment ostensibly went forgotten in the moment.

As fresh proof of a striking acceleration on the Stateside files since Pierre's Border-crossing last summer, Roman Noon this Thursday brings quite the "speedy" surprise: after a vacancy of just over five months, the Pope has named Fr Steve Biegler, 58 next week – until now vicar-general of Rapid City and Rector of Western South Dakota's Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help – as the ninth bishop of Cheyenne: Wyoming's statewide diocese of 60,000 members, spread across almost 100,000 square miles.

Once described in the same breath as "low-key [and] super-organized" and elsewhere as "humble with a quick smile," the bishop-elect – one of 13 children born onto his family's ranch – succeeds now-Archbishop Paul Etienne, who earned sky-high marks among the Cowboy State's priests and people before being quickly promoted to Anchorage last October. While Biegler's Indiana-born predecessor famously reveled in the outdoorsman's paradise that came with the Wyoming post, the incoming bishop is quite possibly even better adapted to his new turf given the proximity of the move; located along the far edge of the SoDak's "West River" half, Rapid City is only some 30 miles from the eastern border of the Cheyenne church.

Ordained from the Pontifical North American College in 1993 at age 34 (after several years spent working on the family farm), until becoming the diocese's #2 in 2011, Biegler spent his priesthood in full-time ministry as a pastor and school chaplain with two exceptions: a three-year return to the NAC as its pastoral formation chief (2003-6) and his election from the trenches in 2010 as diocesan administrator of Rapid City – one of the nation's smallest and poorest local churches – amid a yearlong vacancy in the bishop's office.

The latter instance is especially notable in this case, as Biegler became administrator in the wake of then-Bishop Blase Cupich's departure for Spokane. Now a cardinal-member of the Congregation for Bishops – and, from that seat, the linchpin figure on practically any move in the American West – Cupich would've enjoyed a considerable amount of "steering clout" on the Wyoming nod. Along the same lines, that Etienne was a year ahead of his now-successor at the NAC is likewise something one shouldn't easily discount.

According to the Rapid Chancery, Biegler's ordination and installation in Cheyenne is set for June 5th.

Upon today's move, six Stateside Latin church sees remain vacant, another four led by (arch)bishops serving past the retirement age.

On the broader front, with the recent openings in three million-member dioceses now put to bed, in terms of prominence the current diocesan docket is led by the Pope's impending picks for Indianapolis and Cleveland, both of which are said to be gathering steam and likely to come in relatively short order.

That said, however, given the relatively small number of current diocesan vacancies, the focus and energy-level of the Stateside files is quickly shifting toward resolving the massive backlog of requests for auxiliary bishops from coast to coast, many of which have been piled up for two years or more. With roughly a dozen of the slots already filled over the last several months, it is likely that at least some 20 more assistant hats will be named over the coming year – a development which won't merely have ramifications in their respective dioceses, but above all on the shape of the (voting) membership of the conference of bishops, thus securing Francis' stamp on the church's national leadership and direction for the next decade and beyond.

SVILUPPO: And here, via Cheyenne's diocesan Facebook – in the relaxed style unique to the rural West on occasions like these – this morning's presser introducing the Ninth Bishop to his new charge....

Alas, no tales involving power tools this time.... Then again, given the burden that comes with the call, it could be said that just once was enough.

Posted: March 16, 2017, 9:06 pm

“And Jesus came into the quarters of Caesarea Philippi: and he asked his disciples, saying: Whom do men say that the Son of Man is?

But they said: Some John the Baptist, and other some Elias, and others Jeremias, or one of the prophets.

Jesus saith to them: But whom do you say that I am?

Simon Peter answered and said: Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God.

And Jesus answering, said to him: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven.

And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven....
...just so we're clear, did He miss something?

With this stuff, see, it always helps to remember where to start.

Posted: March 14, 2017, 11:05 am
A journey and grace at least a few of us need even more this time around, to one and all, every blessing and richness of these 40 Days....

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Usually cited as the most-crowded day of the church year across the Anglophone world – a reality most powerfully underscored by the upwards of 60,000 who customarily flock for ashes at St Patrick's Cathedral in New York – this Lent's opening word nonetheless comes from the first Roman Station: the centuries-old practice continued tonight on the Aventine Hill, as the Pope led the penitential procession from the Benedictine mother-house at Sant'Anselmo to the Dominican-run Santa Sabina for Mass (readings).

Here, the official translation of Francis' homily:
“Return to me with all your heart… return to the Lord” (Jl 2:12, 13). The prophet Joel makes this plea to the people in the Lord’s name. No one should feel excluded: “Assemble the aged, gather the children, even infants at the breast, the bridegroom… and the bride” (v. 16). All the faithful people are summoned to come and worship their God, “for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (v. 13).

We too want to take up this appeal; we want to return to the merciful heart of the Father. In this season of grace that begins today, we once again turn our eyes to his mercy. Lent is a path: it leads to the triumph of mercy over all that would crush us or reduce us to something unworthy of our dignity as God’s children. Lent is the road leading from slavery to freedom, from suffering to joy, from death to life. The mark of the ashes with which we set out reminds us of our origin: we were taken from the earth, we are made of dust. True, yet we are dust in the loving hands of God, who has breathed his spirit of life upon each one of us, and still wants to do so. He wants to keep giving us that breath of life that saves us from every other type of breath: the stifling asphyxia brought on by our selfishness, the stifling asphyxia generated by petty ambition and silent indifference – an asphyxia that smothers the spirit, narrows our horizons and slows the beating of our hearts. The breath of God’s life saves us from this asphyxia that dampens our faith, cools our charity and strangles every hope. To experience Lent is to yearn for this breath of life that our Father unceasingly offers us amid the mire of our history.

The breath of God’s life sets us free from the asphyxia that so often we fail to notice, or become so used to that it seems normal, even when its effects are felt. We think it is normal because we have grown so accustomed to breathing air in which hope has dissipated, the air of glumness and resignation, the stifling air of panic and hostility.

Lent is the time for saying no. No to the spiritual asphyxia born of the pollution caused by indifference, by thinking that other people’s lives are not my concern, and by every attempt to trivialize life, especially the lives of those whose flesh is burdened by so much superficiality. Lent means saying no to the toxic pollution of empty and meaningless words, of harsh and hasty criticism, of simplistic analyses that fail to grasp the complexity of problems, especially the problems of those who suffer the most. Lent is the time to say no to the asphyxia of a prayer that soothes our conscience, of an almsgiving that leaves us self-satisfied, of a fasting that makes us feel good. Lent is the time to say no to the asphyxia born of relationships that exclude, that try to find God while avoiding the wounds of Christ present in the wounds of his brothers and sisters: in a word, all those forms of spirituality that reduce the faith to a ghetto culture, a culture of exclusion.

Lent is a time for remembering. It is the time to reflect and ask ourselves what we would be if God had closed his doors to us. What would we be without his mercy that never tires of forgiving us and always gives us the chance to begin anew? Lent is the time to ask ourselves where we would be without the help of so many people who in a thousand quiet ways have stretched out their hands and in very concrete ways given us hope and enabled us to make a new beginning.

Lent is the time to start breathing again. It is the time to open our hearts to the breath of the One capable of turning our dust into humanity. It is not the time to rend our garments before the evil all around us, but instead to make room in our life for all the good we are able to do. It is a time to set aside everything that isolates us, encloses us and paralyzes us. Lent is a time of compassion, when, with the Psalmist, we can say: “Restore to us the joy of your salvation, sustain in us a willing spirit”, so that by our lives we may declare your praise (cf. Ps 51:12.15), and our dust – by the power of your breath of life - may become a “dust of love”.
Posted: March 1, 2017, 5:10 pm
Eleven years ago this week, at his ordination to the helm of his hometown church, these pages dubbed the Eleventh Bishop of Nashville a "mitred teddy bear."

On getting to know Bishop Dave Choby after the fact, the line just became more true – at his behest, it's admittedly the only thing this scribe has called him ever since. Yet now, the wonderfully sweet, soft-spoken prelate is in need of prayers far beyond Opryland.

After years of health struggles stemming from a septuple (read: 7-artery) heart bypass surgery in 2010, weeks following his 70th birthday, a major fall at home in early February has seen Choby invoke an extraordinary provision of canon law, declaring Central Tennessee's 80,000-member, 38-county diocese "impeded" and entrusting its governance to his lead vicar-general, Fr David Perkin.

According to the norms of law, a see is impeded when "by reason of captivity, banishment, exile, or incapacity a diocesan bishop is clearly prevented from fulfilling his pastoral function in the diocese, so that he is not able to communicate with those in his diocese even by letter." Given the bishop's ability to designate a caretaker – a task required of each ordinary at the outset of his tenure, lest an emergency arise – the canons stipulate that, once the arrangement is invoked, said delegate "is bound by the obligations and possesses the power in the exercise of the pastoral care of the diocese which a diocesan administrator has by law," creating the scenario of a de facto vacant see.

Announced in a letter read at this weekend's Masses, the declared impediment of a diocese is without any recent precedent in the US church. Himself a Rome-trained canonist – and Nashville's elected administrator at its last vacancy – while Choby's letter cited "more than a handful of occasions where this has happened" domestically, the two Stateside instances the bishop recalled to aides from his sickbed in preparing the note never actually took place.

In any case, the gravity of the situation – both canonically and in terms of Choby's health – was further underscored this week by a bedside visit from the metropolitan, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, and reported consultation with the Nuncio to Washington, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, before Choby moved to trigger the impeded see.

Though the Tennessee fold formally numbers some 80,000 Catholics in the state's middle third, its reality is considerably larger. According to local ops, a massive flood of Hispanic migration (and its lack of legal or ecclesial documentation) unofficially comprises a silent membership of some 200,000 more – a circumstance especially common to every diocese in the American South, and all the more pronounced given the region's relatively small numbers on the books.

That aspect helps explain the principal act of Choby's tenure: the Nashville church's recent acquisition of the compound of the onetime Two Rivers Evangelical mega-church as the diocesan pastoral center, anchored by the move-in of the Chancery and the dedication of its 3,500-seat sanctuary as Sagrado Corazon (Sacred Heart) the city's parish-hub for its booming Latino flock, with further space on the property to accommodate the anticipated future growth.

Along the way, despite his own rough health, the bishop trekked to San Antonio at the last minute in late 2014 to ordain one of his seminarians, William Carmona, to the priesthood on his deathbed (above) in the face of terminal cancer. A Colombia-born late vocation in studies at Assumption Seminary, Fr William passed two days later at age 50.

All that said, even for the reporting to be had in the moment, this scribe's first concern remains for a beloved brother and friend, and likewise for all the wonderful folks who've given their bishop such selfless care and support, thus making possible his wish to keep on, even for the considerable burden it's placed on him through these years.

In that light, again, please keep our "Teddy Bear" and all the Nashville crew in your prayers over these days ahead... and at this point, a special word is owed to Deacon Jim McKenzie, whose dual experience in nursing and ministry, and moving dedication of both to his pastor-boss at home and on the road, has been a priceless blessing all around.

With a difficult hint at a farewell in its close, here's Choby's letter announcing the handover of governance, dated Saturday, 25 February:
My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I write to share with you my current health condition and its impact on the governance of the diocese.

As many of you know, over the past four years I have sustained two falls. The first resulted in a broken arm from which I was able to recover while continuing my ministry and duties as your bishop. This second and most recent fall has caused damage to my spinal column including fractures of the vertebrae which are the supporting structures of the spinal cord. During the course of treatment, I developed an infection in the bloodstream. This complication has been the cause of my stay in the intensive care unit. The antibiotics have done their job in stabilizing my vital signs but recent tests have shown that bacteria has begun to grow in my heart. The next steps of my care are still being evaluated, and I continue to need your prayers and support.

My current health condition prevents me from fulfilling all of my pastoral functions within the diocese. Church law addresses and makes provision for such circumstances. There has been more than a handful of occasions where this has happened in other dioceses around the country. In fact, every bishop is required to designate in advance, the priest he wishes to exercise diocesan governance, should the need to invoke this provision arise.

By virtue of my incapacity, the Diocese of Nashville is impeded. I remain your bishop, but the governance of the diocese during this period of impediment is to be assumed by one of my vicars general, Very Reverend David R. Perkin, effective, February 25, 2017. He has graciously accepted this responsibility and I am sincerely grateful to him for his kind and generous willingness to serve. I am confident he will provide able leadership for the wellbeing of our diocese. In this position, as described in Church law, he is bound by the obligations and possesses the authority which belong to a diocesan administrator. I am comforted in knowing you will support him in this new role.

I express my thanks to all the people who have sent their prayers and words of support during this hospitalization. I want all of you to know it has been the happiest and most rewarding years of my life serving you, the Church, and almighty God as your bishop. You remain in my prayers and thoughts.

Wishing you every blessing, I am

Sincerely in Christ,

Most Reverend David R. Choby
Bishop of Nashville
Posted: February 27, 2017, 2:20 am
Amid a wider scene dominated by no shortage of noise and flash whether inside or beyond Churchworld, what's happening on an apparently quieter plane is arguably well more significant.

Look at it this way: on November 1st – nearly four years into this pontificate – just one of Pope Francis' appointees had taken his place among the heads of the US' ten largest dioceses....

Now, that figure stands at four. (And if you're surprised, you're not paying attention.)

Put another way, though, as an unusual flurry of major moves in the American hierarchy wraps up, with the recent handovers on Long Island, in Newark, Arlington, St Petersburg (read: Tampa), Salt Lake and Dallas all decided within some ten weeks, the combined result is no less striking: new leadership for almost a tenth of the nation's 70 million faithful. What's more, meanwhile, with the lead trio among the bunch comprising either the "shoulders" of the nation's largest media market – or, in Big D's case, the church's anchor in what's become the country's fourth-largest metro area – even the numbers don't fully explain the impact...

...and, to be sure, that was true even before a cardinal was parachuted onto the "other" bank of the Hudson.

Tempting as it is to muse at length on the shape of things elsewhere, suffice it to say this: in a moment when hype is too often confused for "news" – by producers and consumers alike – the key lies in knowing the difference. And with that, let's pick up the latest installment of the shift at hand.

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Despite one of the most illustrious academic resumes among the US bishops – Princeton undergrad, an MBA from NYU, and advanced Roman degrees in both theology and the canons – over seven and a half years in Upstate Pennsylvania's land of "iron and coal, and chromium steel," Bishop John Barres resisted the role of an ecclesial "public intellectual," choosing instead to keep his head down and do the work of a pastor.

Along the way, however, the 57 year-old has nonetheless amassed a quiet yet formidable following among much of the Stateside bench. So when Pete Carril's onetime JV point-guard took the reins of Long Island's 1.6 million-member diocese based at Rockville Centre on Tuesday, a picturesque snowfall framing the scene, the prodigal New Yorker marked his return with a splash – an extraordinary turnout of over 60 prelates: that is, almost double the crew an event of the kind would normally see.

The son of Protestant ministers who would become leaders among Manhattan's 1960s convert scene, from boyhood Barres had an almost unique immersion in the modern history of Catholic evangelism in the United States: Frank Sheed guided the future bishop's parents into the faith, Fulton Sheen would baptize him, Avery Dulles was another longtime family friend who'd attend his first Mass.

But even if those are the well-known figures, the most pivotal player in the making of the Island's Fifth Bishop might just be a less-prominent, even more beloved character: Mickey Saltarelli, the lifer in the North Jersey trenches who, as bishop of Wilmington, "coached" his young Chancellor for a future in the top rank and hung on to see its start, dying of cancer two months after he served as Barres' co-consecrator in Allentown. (As for the meaning of said tutelage, the most emblematic "Mickey moment" remains the time when, on welcoming John Paul II at the door of Newark Cathedral as its rector, all anyone could notice was the black thick of a tab shirt popping out of his bishop's choir dress.... Long story short: if he ain't a saint, nobody else stands a shot.)

Reflecting the richness of his background and the moment, Barres' opening preach to the Island's mega-church proved an according tour de force – probably the first of its kind to draw from one of the Great American Novels... definitely the first in a good while to cite Pius XII... and – with the ever-dreaded challenge of overhauling the parish structure looming in his new charge's future – a very stirring, yet clear-eyed kicker, "asking the Holy Spirit for new and creative approaches... to pastoral and strategic planning that are both Spirit-driven and data-driven, and that break through a tired and broken, 'us vs. them,' self-referential mentality."

As there's well more where that came from – with thanks to the diocese's own Telecare – here's the fullvid:

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With this month's dual New York leg of the tour now put to bed, the focus to come happily shifts southward to the Metroplex, now overflowing with "human sunshine" after Bishop Ed Burns' arrival yesterday to prep for his installation as Dallas' eighth shepherd next Thursday.

Given the Pittsburgh native's own dedicated fan-base among the bench – and, conveniently, the confluence of the National Catholic Bioethics Center's annual bishops' seminar in town through the week – as with Rockville Centre, a very healthy contingent is slated to be on hand. Even so, amid a local church grown nearly seven times in size since 1990, the top line on the move remains the staggering shift of scale facing the Pope's pick: for every member of the flock he leaves behind in Juneau (the nation's smallest Latin-church diocese), no less than 130 of 'em await in Cowboys Country.

For a good while now, "Everything's bigger in Texas" has been a good slogan for Stateside Catholicism at large... and, well, few stats better sum up the "why" behind it than that.

As ever, more to come.

Posted: February 4, 2017, 8:13 am
One week ago tonight – cigars all around, surrounded by his Roman students, and on the eve of what would inevitably be the most-watched moment of his life (leading the Scripture readings at the Inauguration of an American President) – it should be no surprise that the Cardinal-Archbishop of New York was even more fired up than usual...

...yet even as he carried the Church's patriotic part onto the Capitol's West Front, to know Timothy Michael Cardinal Dolan is to know how the "other shoe" still had yet to drop.

While the reigning occupant of 452 Madison ripped the leading Republican contender for the Presidency with the loaded charge of "nativism" during the primaries in light of Donald Trump's draconian stance on immigration, the eventual GOP nominee from just up Fifth Avenue responded in kind by defacing Gotham's long-sacred comity of the Al Smith Dinner as the Tenth Archbishop of the "Capital of the World" presided from the center of the Waldorf dais and a global audience looked on....

And, among other bits, that backstory brings us to tonight.

In his role as the US bishops' chair for pro-life activities – given the portfolio's significance, the bench's lone post always held by a cardinal – and all of 24 hours since the body's current scarlet-clad chief raised an oddly muted "alarm" from his Texas base over the 45th President's first Executive Orders on immigration (thus fulfilling the campaign's signal pledges), in leading the masses of the faithful toward tomorrow's March for Life in the capital, Dolan himself took up the wider pro-family, pro-Francis call with vigor... yet the packed crowd's customary rounds of applause to begin the rally somehow turned to crickets.

Arguably a reflection on the wider hierarchy's guarded stance toward the new administration – even for the firm pledges (and, indeed, first actions) from Trump & Co. on the ever-critical abortion front – this time around, the traditional flood of bishops on hand to kick off this year's nightlong Vigil in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception ended up looking like more of a trickle.

And for the cardinal-chair to use a certain charged term on another life issue as the springboard for his marquee preach in the nation's largest church, well, do the math....

Posted: January 29, 2017, 7:16 am
As the 45th President of these United States takes office at Noon today, we return again to the prayer first delivered in 1791 by the nation's founding shepherd, John Carroll of Baltimore.

Oft-misdubbed as a "Prayer for the Nation" or "for Government," per Carroll's original notes, the following text was intended to seek God's protection upon "all ranks of society and the Welfare of the Republic"....
We pray, Thee O Almighty and Eternal God! Who through Jesus Christ hast revealed Thy glory to all nations, to preserve the works of Thy mercy, that Thy Church, being spread through the whole world, may continue with unchanging faith in the confession of Thy Name.

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

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

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

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

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

To these, O Lord, and to all that rest in Christ, grant, we beseech Thee, a place of refreshment, light, and everlasting peace, through the same Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior. Amen.
Posted: January 20, 2017, 7:18 am
BALTIMORE – This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad.

In a tradition dating to 1800 – when Leonard Neale, the second archbishop of this Premier See, was consecrated by John Carroll alone – today brings the latest chapter with the ordination of two new auxiliaries: Bishops Adam Parker, 45, and Mark Brennan, 68.

The dual appointments awaited for over two years, each of the Pope's picks brings a new element to the life of this storied local church: until now the pastor of one of suburban Washington's largest and most diverse parishes, Brennan crosses the "Hindenburg line" as the first prelate to be named for a newly emergent Hispanic community here... while Parker – the beloved native son and vicar-general of the 600,000-member archdiocese – augurs a new generation for the American hierarchy: the nation's first Latin-church bishop born in the 1970s.

* * *
The liturgy now concluded, a limited on-demand feed is available (starting with the Nuncio's remarks); uploading the full video is in the works.

Posted: January 20, 2017, 7:06 am
...and here, live from Orange's Crystal For a Day, the opening of the 2017 Hat Cycle with this afternoon's ordination of Bishop-elect Tim Freyer:

Posted: January 19, 2017, 1:27 am
Even if it isn't time for baseball just yet, a pleasant Tuesday to you, wherever you may be.

While this New Year's most consequential installation has already taken place, Stateside Catholicism's 2017 Hat Cycle kicks into gear today in the church's Western anchor of Southern California, as Bishop-elect Tim Freyer is ordained the lone auxiliary of the 1.3 million-member Orange diocese.

A veteran pastor who's served until now as the local clergy chief, the 53 year-old Pope's pick has garnered frequent comparisons to his hyper-relational, nearly omnipresent boss, thus inspiring another new title: the "Mini-Vann." Having led a majority-Hispanic parish of some 7,000 families (read: 25,000 people) for nearly a decade before being called to the diocesan post – and what tends to be every local church's most difficult job, at that – it's much in keeping with Francis' desired identikit for his appointees that Freyer's nonetheless kept his pre-Chancery commitments as a police chaplain and in hospital ministry, holding down the Sunday night shift on the latter so the priests in the trenches can catch a break after the weekend.

On another front, meanwhile – in possibly the most SoCal thing this beat has yet seen in a new bishop – Freyer is ostensibly the first cleric to come to the bench with a work-history in fast food; through high school and into his seminary days, the ordinand held a job at an outpost of the region's famous hot dog mecca... so even for the copious incense of this day, where it counts, the "whiff of the Wienerschnitzel" won't be far from the scene.

With the vaunted centerpiece of the Crystal complex (above) now targeted for an early 2019 opening, today's rites at 2pm Pacific (5 ET) will take place at the nearby St Columban's in Garden Grove.

Featuring a bit of a surprise, here's your live/on-demand stream – worship aid likewise to come.

From Trout Country, the trail continues on Thursday to the Premier See of these States, with Mother Baltimore's first dual ordination since 1984, and yet another remarkable moment all around.

For it and all the rest, as always, stay tuned.

Posted: January 18, 2017, 1:45 am
As papers across the country lead with local takes on this Sunday before a Presidential Inauguration unlike any these United States have seen – at least since the Jacksonian Age – in the context of the nation's largest religious body, it's hardly an accident that the Man in White has seen fit to send a word.

Per longstanding custom, these post-Epiphany days have marked the Stateside Church's annual National Migration Week... yet never before has the moment been anchored by a personal message from the Pope – and one intended specifically for the nation's newcomers, at that.

Given the sizable fear among US Catholicism's formidable immigrant presence ahead of Friday's swearing-in of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President amid draconian promises on the charged issue, the national week's close in the fold's premier migrant hub brought an extraordinary moment as Francis himself sent a "message of hope": one pointedly rooted in the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe from her 1531 apparitions to St Juan Diego – the critical point of the faith's journey to the Americas, which served to spur the largest mass conversion in the history of Christendom.

Recorded as part of an interview Papa Bergoglio granted the SoCal-based El Sembrador (The Sower) apostolate – the full exchange to be released later this month – the Pope's prod was delivered at an early-morning Mass celebrated by LA's Archbishop José Gomez, whose November ascent as Vice-President of the US bishops was arguably secured by his own loaded message at a hastily-called liturgy in the election's wake in his cathedral, thus affirming on the broad scale a rapid, firm doubling-down on the church's prime fault-line with the incoming administration.

Against said backdrop, here's film of the scene in LA's Dolores Mission as Francis' message was shown, followed by its translation in English, y entonces el texto en español...

Do not forget that we have a mother. When Juanito, now St. Juan Diego, would try to run away from the Virgin, our mother, because she would complicate things for him…she said to him: “My son, Juanito, do not be afraid. Am I not here, I, who am your Mother?”

We are a community that also has a mother and Jesus gave her to us – his mother and our mother – and a community with a mother should feel safe.

Russian monks from the medieval period or before had a lovely saying...back then they would say: “when there is spiritual turbulence, take refuge under the mantle of the Holy Mother of God.” And this is what I want to tell you, she said it to Juan Diego in his language: “Do not be afraid. Am I not here, I, who am your Mother?”

Sometimes I think….that the best thing we could do for many Christians is to sell them mothballs…so they can put them on their clothes and go about their lives so they do not become moth-eaten. Because if you are closed off you will become moth-eaten. You must go out. You must go out. You must share the message of Jesus. It is not enough to talk about the message of Jesus – you must give the message of Jesus – as I receive it from Him through a brother or sister, who gives me grace and then I give it. This is what all Christians must do. I must not keep the message of Jesus to myself.

It is not to keep, it is to give. So each time the message passes through my hands, I am delivering it and by doing this I will rise from the cave.

Of course, the parishes should go to the streets, any organization should be on the streets. By go to the streets, I mean go out and look for open doors. My heart is on the streets, that is, my Christian heart is open to a message, to those who suffer and to those who are going through bad times and to those who are ill. It means the works of mercy, which are the spine of the gospel. If we read the questions that Jesus will ask when he judges us – they are the works of mercy. Matthew 25. I was hungry and you gave me food.

Go forward with courage, prayer and much tenderness – much tenderness.

May Almighty God bless you + Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

[En español] No se olviden que tenemos una madre. Cuando Juanito el hoy San Juan Diego le escapaba un poco a la Virgen, a la Madre, porque... esta señora me pone complicaciones... ella le dijo: ''niño Juanito, no tengas miedo, acaso no estoy yo aquí que soy tu madre?''

Nosotros somos un pueblo que también tiene una madre, y Jesús nos las dejó, su madre y nuestra madre, y un pueblo con madre tiene que sentirse seguro.

Los monjes rusos de la época medieval o antes, tienen un consejo muy lindo...antes...decían ''cuando hay turbulencias espirituales, acogerse bajo el manto de la Santa Madre de Dios"; y eso es lo que puedo y quiero decirles, ella se lo dijo a Juanito en su lengua, no tengas miedo...acaso no estoy yo aquí que soy tu Madre? y ese es como el saludo que les quiero dar.

A veces creo que... el mejor negocio que podemos hacer con muchos cristianos, es venderles naftalina... para que se la pongan en la ropa y en su vida y no se apolillen, porque están encerrados y se van a apolillar, tienen que salir, tienen que salir, tienen que ir a llevar el mensaje de Jesús; el mensaje de Jesús no es para conservarlo para mí, el mensaje de Jesús es para darlo; así como yo lo recibo de Él a través de un hermano o de una hermana me viene esa gracia, yo la doy; eso es lo que tienen que hacer todos los cristianos, yo no me puedo guardar en conserva el mensaje de Jesús.

No es para guardarlo, es para darlo entonces, cada uno vez que ese mensaje pasa por mis manos lo voy entregando y de esa manera salgo de la cueva.

Por supuesto o sea las parroquias a la calle,
cualquier institución a la calle,
a la calle en el sentido de salir a buscar ehh puertas abiertas
mi corazón ala calle, es decir
mi corazón cristiano abierto a un mensaje
al que sufre, al que esta pasando un mal momento, al enfermo
es decir las obras de misericordia
que son como la columna vertebral del evangelio
si nosotros leemos las preguntas que nos va a hacer Jesús cuando nos juzgue
son las obras de misericordia, de Mateo 25 –
[que] tuve hambre me diste de comer.

Adelante con encoraje, oración, y mucha blandura – mucha blandura.

La bendición de Dios + Padre, Hijo y Espíritu Santo. 
*   *   *
While recent weeks have seen a host of related interventions from key US prelates – from the op-ed plug of the national CLINIC network by its chair, Bishop Kevin Vann of Orange, to New Orleans' Archbishop Gregory Aymond's local reminder of the inviolability of the family, and an extraordinary turn in the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano from the issue's elder statesman, LA's retired Cardinal Roger Mahony – in light of Gomez's unique triple role as an immigrant himself, head of the largest local church American Catholicism has ever known, and now the bench's first Chief-in-Waiting to hail from Southern California (home to some one in seven members of the entire national fold), Don José's Thursday preface to Francis' message nonetheless serves as the top line to chart the path ahead....
My dear brothers and sisters,

It is a joy to be with you this morning and to be with your families to celebrate National Migration Week.

The Catholic Bishops of the United States celebrate this week every year to remind us — that we are not alone, that we are all in this together.

The Church is a “family of families” — a people called together from every part of the world. All of us coming together to share our faith, our traditions, our values and our gifts. So we celebrate today with the Bishops and with our Catholic brothers and sisters everywhere across this country.

I know that these times are a challenge for many of us. God’s family always goes through times of testing. That is the point of that first reading we heard this morning.

The children of Israel wandered in the desert for 40 years! God was walking with them, he was leading his people. But it was never easy. In fact, some days it was really hard for them.

It is the same today. We are a nation of immigrants, that’s true! But immigration to this country has never been easy. We come to this beautiful country — many at great personal sacrifice. And we all come with dreams of building a better life.

But immigrants have always faced resentment and backlash. Think about the Irish, the Italians, the Polish, the Japanese. It is no different with the today’s immigrants.

I know it gets frustrating, sometimes we get afraid — because we don’t know the future, we don’t know what’s going to happen.

But when times get hard, we have to be careful not to let our hearts get hard, too. That’s the message that we hear today in the Word of God. “Harden not your hearts!” Never give in to the temptation to anger, to be bitter.

My brothers and sisters, Always trust God! Always! Never, never give up on him! Because he is never, never going to give up on you. God goes with us. Jesus goes with us! The Holy Family goes with us!

We remember the Posada, right? Mary and Joseph were looking for a place to stay — and nobody would take them in, nobody welcomed them. But God was with them, and Mary and Joseph were strong and trusted him — and they brought the Child Jesus into this world.

There is a beautiful line in that first reading this morning: “Encourage yourselves daily while it is still ‘today.’” We need to have solidarity in our communities.

We need to stand together, in the Church, with the Church. We are one family of God! And when one of us is hurting, the rest of us need to offer a helping hand. To show love, compassion and healing.

In our Gospel passage today, Our Lord is moved with pity by the leper who comes to him. He stretches out his hand, he touches the leper and Our Lord speaks to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.”

We are like that leper. We are outcast, we are on the margins. And yet this is how much Jesus loves us, this is how much our Blessed Mother loves us, Our Lady of Guadalupe.

If you notice, Jesus always makes contact with people, he always looks on them with love and he wants to touch them and speak personally to them. We need to have that same kind of tenderness and care for one another.

My brothers and sisters, in this Mass we are going to hear a message from Pope Francis himself — a message of hope that Our Holy Father is sending because he wants us to hear it. So this is really a special day.

So keep encouraging yourselves and let us keep the faith strong in our families. Let us be a good example for our country. Let us reach out to the people in our communities.

Let us open our arms to welcome every one, let us find room for everyone. Let us keep praying and working for immigration reform in our country!

Never forget, my brothers and sisters: Jesus loves you, and our Blessed Mother loves you — and the whole Church loves you!

¡Que Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe!
¡Que viva San Juan Diego!

¡Que viva San Junípero Serra!
¡Que viva Cristo Rey!
Posted: January 16, 2017, 4:28 am
Even as the embers – and, in some quarters, tempers – are still smoldering from the Pope's first round of a retooled and more responsive Synodal process, nine months since the Amoris Wars began their ongoing tear at the conversational extremes, Francis has nonetheless seen fit to re-drop one of his favorite words: "Avanti" – that is, "Forward."

Its topic announced last fall, earlier today saw the release of the baseline text for the next Synod, slated for October 2018 on the theme of "Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment." In a change from its predecessors, however, today's release is not referred to as a Lineamenta, but simply a "Preparatory Document" fulfilling the same function. Yet again, as the Synod chief Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri confirmed at the text's release this morning, the input sent to Rome from across the global church on this text will be processed and summarized to form the Instrumentum Laboris – the "working paper" which forms the springboard of the Synod's discussions.

As with the launch of the three-year process on the family culminating in last April's Apostolic Exhortation, this first document is anchored by a questionnaire, albeit one far more streamlined than the 2013 opening queries which began the prior Synodal cycle. And in another change from the last round, ostensibly given the flood of responses received in many local churches – which created massive logjams both for the respective episcopal conferences and the Vatican's beefed-up Synod Secretariat – there's a considerably more ample window of time for these questions to be discerned and processed both in the trenches and as the reports wend their way "upward."

In a separate letter released today with the Preparatory Document, the Pope aimed to directly address the youth and young adults of the global church, saying that he wants them "to be the center of attention" for the entire process "because you are in my heart."

Entrusting the Prep Doc to the young as the "compass" for the discussion to come, Francis told them that "a better world can be built also as a result of your efforts, your desire to change and your generosity.

"Do not be afraid to listen to the Spirit who proposes bold choices; do not delay when your conscience asks you to take risks in following the Master.

"The church also wishes to listen to your voice, your sensitivities and your faith; even your doubts and your criticism. Make your voice heard, let it resonate in communities and let it be heard by your shepherds of souls."

Toward that end, while the full English text of the Prep Doc may be found here (Ed.: 27-page pdf), below is the slimmed-down question piece at its close. In each case, entities in the local churches which seek to add their voices are to do so to their respective diocese, which is charged with coordinating the first stage of the consultation.

*   *   *

The aim of the questions is to assist the customary ecclesial bodies “by right” to express their understanding of the world of young people and assess their experience of vocational accompaniment, in order to gather information for drafting the work- document or Instrumentum laboris.

So as to take into account the various situations on the different continents and regions, three specific questions for each geographic area have been inserted after question 15, to generate response from the interested ecclesial bodies.

To facilitate and make tenable this work, the respective bodies are requested to limit their response to approximately one page for the question on statistics, one page each for the questions assessing the situation and one page for the three experiences for the continents and regions. If necessary or desired, other texts can be attached to support or supplement the contents of the responses.

1 Gathering Statistics

Please indicate, where possible, the source of the statistics and make reference to the year. Other pertinent information can be attached to better understand the situation in various countries.

- Number of inhabitants in the country / countries and the birth rate.

- Number and percentage of young people (ages 16-29) in the country / countries.

- Number and percentage of Catholics in the country / countries.

- Average age (for the last 5 years) for marrying (distinguishing between men and women), for entering the seminary and the consecrated life (distinguishing between men and women).

- In the 16-29 age group, the percentage of students, workers (if possible specify the type of work), unemployed, NEET.

2. Evaluating the Situation

a) Young People, the Church and Society

These questions refer both to young people who take part in Church programmes, as well as those who do not take part or have no interest to participate.

1. In what manner does the Church listen to the lived situations of young people?

2. What are the main challenges and most significant opportunities for young people in your country / countries today?

3. What kinds and places of group gatherings of youth, institutionalized or otherwise, have a major success within the Church, and why?

4. What kinds and places of group gatherings of youth, institutionalized or otherwise, have a major success outside the Church, and why?

5. What do young people really ask of the Church in your country / countries today?

6. What possibilities for participation exist in your country / countries for young people to take part in the life of the ecclesial community?

7. How and in what manner is contact made with young people who do not frequent Church surroundings?

b) Pastoral Vocational Programmes for Young People

8. How are families and communities involved in the vocational discernment of young people?

9. How do schools and universities or other educational institutions (civil or ecclesial) contribute to young people’s formation in vocational discernment?

10. In what manner are you taking into account the cultural changes resulting from the development of the digital world?

11. How can World Youth Days or other national or international events become a part of ordinary pastoral practice?

12. In what manner is your diocese planning experiences for the pastoral vocational programme for young people?

c) Pastoral Care Workers with Young People

13. How much time and in what manner do clergy and other formators provide for personal spiritual guidance?

14. What initiatives and opportunities for formation are in place for those who provide pastoral vocational guidance?

15. What personal guidance is offered in seminaries?

d) Specific Questions According to Geographic Areas


a. What plans and structures in pastoral vocational care for young people best respond to the needs of your continent?

b. What does “spiritual fatherhood” mean in places where a person grows without a father figure? What formation is offered?

c. How do you communicate to young people that they are needed to build the future of the Church?


a. How does your community care for young people who experience extreme violence (guerrilla warfare, gangs, prison, drug addiction, forced marriages) and accompany them in various ways in their life?

b. What formation is offered to support the engagement of young people in society and civil life, for the common good?

c. In a world which is greatly secularized, what pastoral activities are most effective for continuing the journey of faith after the Sacraments of Christian Initiation?


a. Why and how do religious gatherings by those who are non-Catholic exercise an attraction on young people?

b. In what way can the values of a local culture be combined with Christian teaching, while also giving importance to popular piety?

c. How is the language used in a young people’s world incorporated in the pastoral care of young people, especially in the media, sports and music?


a. What assistance is offered to young people to look to the future with confidence and hope, beginning with the richness of Christian roots of Europe?

b. Young people often feel sidelined and excluded in the political, economic and social surroundings in which they live. In what way do you take into consideration the feeling to protest so that it can be transformed into participation and collaboration?

c. At what levels do relations between generations still work? If they do not function, how can they be renewed?

3. Sharing Activities

1. List the main types of pastoral activity in accompaniment and vocational discernment in your present situation.

2. Choose three activities you consider the most interesting and relevant to share with the universal Church, and present it according to the following format (no more than one page for each experience).

a) Description: In a few sentences, roughly describe the activity. Who are the leading characters? How does the activity take place? Where? Etc.

b) Analysis: Evaluate the activity, even in layman’s terms, for a better understanding of the important elements: what are the goals? What is the theoretical basis? What are the most interesting insights? How have they developed? Etc.

c) Evaluation: What are the goals? If not achieved, why? Strengths and weaknesses? What are the consequences on the social, cultural and ecclesial levels? Why and in what way is the activity important / formative? etc.

Posted: January 14, 2017, 3:59 am
While Utah’s 300,000 Catholics have spent the last 21 months anticipating their 10th bishop, another vigil has extended far longer: the hopes of the nation’s 5 million faithful of Asian birth or descent to see one of their own take the reins of a US diocese.

And now, on both counts, The Wait Is Over – at Roman Noon this Tuesday, the Pope has named Bishop Oscar Solis (above), the Filipino-born, 63 year-old auxiliary of Los Angeles, to lead a Salt Lake City fold growing at a remarkable clip.

The Installation is set for Tuesday, 7 March.

In the center seat of one of Stateside Catholicism’s most picturesque home-bases – the venerable Cathedral of the Madeleine – Solis succeeds now-Archbishop John Wester, who was promoted to Santa Fe in April 2015 after eight years on the Wasatch. Despite his transfer to the “Land of Enchantment,” the San Francisco native – who proved very popular in Utah – has kept an unusually high level of presence in his former charge during the vacancy due to the state’s lack of a resident bishop, leading priests’ funerals and other episcopal functions, and even penning an op-ed for the state's paper of record calling for an end to capital punishment.

In terms of the state of the diocese itself, the appointment brings a fittingly historic resolution to one of the most unique and complex realities among the nation’s 180 Latin-church jurisdictions. As the see city boomed as a center of commerce and tourism, a surge of migration has more than quadrupled the Salt Lake diocese in size since 1990 – an uptick overwhelmingly comprised of Hispanics, but with a healthy number of Asians, too. (Indeed, such was the communities’ new prevalence that no less than Wester’s barber was a Vietnamese priest.)

Alongside the added challenge of the impressive rate of growth, the chair of the Madeleine (below) already placed an unusual level of responsibility upon its occupant. Beyond being chief shepherd of a sprawling, 85,000 square-mile turf that can be daunting to traverse, as head of Utah’s statewide church, the Salt Lake bishop is principal caretaker for the Catholic Church’s relations with the locally headquartered Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS; the 18 million-member global community oft known as the Mormons), as well as being one of the dozen US prelates who serve as sole agent for this church’s advocacy before the respective state government given the leadership of a whole-state diocese.

On the whole, it was this scene of often divergent pressing needs and realities that produced Stateside Catholicism’s longest vacancy in close to a decade – that is, in the search for a pick who could sufficiently tackle the post's various roles, above all the rare skill-set of bringing a pastoral experience and presence among immigrants alongside the kind of administrative seasoning that can handle the massive budgetary and practical burdens that come with building for epic growth.

At least in this context, that Francis & Co. finally found their man in a protege of the modern era’s emblematic pastor-builder for an immigrant church – LA's retired Cardinal Roger Mahony – should come as little surprise.

Born in central Luzon, north of Manila, and ordained there in 1979, within five years Solis emigrated to the US amid a call for pastoral workers to serve a rapidly-growing Filipino diaspora, first heading to (where else?) Newark before eventually settling in southern Lousiana’s Houma-Thibodaux diocese. Within a decade, the young cleric became a dean and pastor of one of the diocese’s twin cathedrals, then – just shy of his silver jubilee as a priest – came the call to a different LA: the largest diocese American Catholicism has ever known, where each of the five pastoral regions led by an auxiliary bishop has more faithful than the entire Bayou State.

The third and last Asian named a bishop for the US’ Latin church (all until now auxiliaries), as well as the first to be ordained in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, before taking the helm of the San Pedro Region – comprising 70 parishes, 8 high schools, four hospitals and more in southern LA County – Mahony entrusted his new deputy with a unique assignment upon Solis’ 2004 arrival: shepherding the cultural diversity of the mammoth, 5 million-member archdiocese (itself doubled in size over the last quarter-century) in the hopes of integrating its scores of ethnic blocs across the whole of ecclesial life.

Between that latter aspect, a fluency in Spanish, and the administrative profile from his time as a regional bishop, the Pope’s pick – known as a gentle, dedicated hard worker never in search of a high profile – checks the main boxes needed for Salt Lake. Yet as some will undoubtedly wonder why a Hispanic cleric wasn’t chosen – as reported here in prior instances – the national trend remains one of demand for Latino appointees far outstripping the supply of available candidates. Meanwhile, in an additional circumstance unique to the Utah church, given the strong history of Catholic-LDS relations from the Roman church’s days as a very small minority in the state, as the recent Mormon growth among Latinos has already led to pockets of tension in the trenches, in some quarters the prospect of a Hispanic prelate in Salt Lake has been viewed as something which could stoke concerns over Catholic “proselytism,” and thus made for an outcome best avoided.

That said, between Solis’ fluency, experience and the simple reality that the famously devout Filipino piety shares its roots in an era of Spanish colonization, little difficulty is foreseen. If anything, that the 10th bishop arrives as an immigrant himself – all the more amid the US church’s annual National Migration Week – sends the most potent signal of all, and one not just intended for the Wasatch.

With today's move, seven Stateside Latin sees remain vacant, with another four led by bishops serving past the retirement age.

Posted: January 10, 2017, 1:11 pm
The Holy See's principal intervention of each year on the geopolitical stage, this morning brought the Pope's "New Year's greeting" to the ambassadors accredited to the Vatican – an address informally and widely known as the "State of the World" speech, and one all the more critical this time around given what Francis termed a climate of "general apprehension" in these days of escalating conflicts, a resurgence of nationalism, mass migrations and "useless slaughter," echoing Pope Benedict XV's famous appraisal as World War I raged a century ago.

As the church's central government – that is, distinct from the sovereignty of the Vatican City-State – the Holy See currently enjoys full bilateral relations with 182 countries and is designated a neutral party in international law. Due to the sprawling collection of Catholic works present in every corner of the globe, and their coordination from religious orders or other entities in Rome, the Vatican is seen in diplomatic circles as an invaluable "listening post," all the more given the church's deep investment in justice and peace efforts and humanitarian work.

For Francis' part, the burnishing of the Vatican's traditional "soft power" as an influential moral voice has been a key piece of the Pope's wider impact over his four-year pontificate. Accordingly, much as successive Popes and their Secretaries of State have long invested a heavy premium on laying out the full roster of the Holy See's areas of concern in this speech, Francis' high-octane brand of advocacy – reminiscent as it is of John Paul II in his prime, yet arguably even more prominent now due to its amplification – adds to the "megaphone" with which the church's take registers in foreign capitals.

While the church's relations with governments is traditionally handled by the Secretariat of State and the respective Nuncios it oversees in the field, it bears recalling that this year brings a new Curial player to the table: the recently launched super-Dicastery for "Promoting Integral Human Development," with the Pope himself overseeing its section on migrants and refugees, and all matters from ecology to business and war likewise falling under its purview.

On a domestic note, the New Year and its change of Presidential administrations again brings a handover of the US' posting. Traditionally a political appointment – i.e., not one given to a career diplomat – Ambassador Ken Hackett is heading home after almost four years, with President-elect Donald Trump's choice of his successor likely to arrive late this year following Senate confirmation.

As the posting has been given to both veteran public officials and significant campaign donors since US-Holy See relations were established in 1984, to date, the incoming administration's preferred profile for the next ambassador has yet to emerge.

Likewise the event that customarily marks the Vatican's return to full operations following the Christmas lull, below is the English translation of today's address.

* * *
Your Excellencies, dear Ambassadors,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I offer you a cordial welcome. I thank you for your presence in such numbers at this traditional gathering, which permits us to exchange greetings and good wishes that the year just beginning will be for everyone a time of joy, prosperity and peace. I express particular gratitude to the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, His Excellency Armindo Fernandes do Espírito Santo Vieira, the Ambassador of Angola, for his courteous greetings on behalf of the entire Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, which has recently been enlarged following the establishment of diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic of Mauritania a month ago. I likewise express my gratitude to the many Ambassadors resident in Rome, whose number has grown this past year, and to the non-resident Ambassadors, whose presence today is a clear sign of the bonds of friendship uniting their peoples to the Holy See. At the same time, I would like to express heartfelt condolences to the Ambassador of Malaysia for the death of his predecessor, Dato’ Mohd Zulkephli Bin Mohd Noor, who passed away last February.

In the course of the past year, relations between your countries and the Holy See were further consolidated, thanks to the welcome visit of many Heads of State and Government, also in conjunction with the numerous events of the recently concluded Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. So too, a variety of bilateral Agreements were signed or ratified, both those of a general nature aimed at recognizing the Church’s juridical status, with the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Benin and Timor East, and those of a more specific character, the Avenant signed with France, the Convention on fiscal matters with the Republic of Italy, recently entered into force, and the Memorandum of Understanding between the Secretariat of State and the Government of the United Arab Emirates. Furthermore, in the context of the Holy See’s commitment to the obligations assumed by the aforementioned Agreements, the Comprehensive Agreement with the State of Palestine, which took effect a year ago, was fully implemented.

Dear Ambassadors,

A century ago, we were in the midst of the First World War. A “useless slaughter”,[1] in which new methods of warfare sowed death and caused immense suffering to the defenceless civil population. In 1917, the conflict changed profoundly, taking on increasingly global proportions, while those totalitarian regimes, which were long to be a cause of bitter divisions, began to appear on the horizon. A hundred years later, it can be said that many parts of the world have benefited from lengthy periods of peace, which have favoured opportunities for economic development and unprecedented prosperity. For many people today, peace appears as a blessing to be taken for granted, for all intents an acquired right to which not much thought is given. Yet, for all too many others, peace remains merely a distant dream. Millions of people still live in the midst of senseless conflicts. Even in places once considered secure, a general sense of fear is felt. We are frequently overwhelmed by images of death, by the pain of innocent men, women and children who plead for help and consolation, by the grief of those mourning the loss of a dear one due to hatred and violence, and by the drama of refugees fleeing war and migrants meeting tragic deaths.

For this reason, I would like to devote today’s meeting to the theme of security and peace. In today’s climate of general apprehension for the present, and uncertainty and anxious concern for the future, I feel it is important to speak a word of hope, which can also indicate a path on which to embark.

Just a few days ago, we celebrated the Fiftieth World Day of Peace, instituted by my blessed predecessor Paul VI “as a hope and as a promise, at the beginning of the calendar which measures and describes the path of human life in time, that peace with its just and beneficent equilibrium may dominate the development of events to come”.[2] For Christians, peace is a gift of the Lord, proclaimed in song by the Angels at the moment of Christ’s birth: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours” (Lk 2:14). Peace is a positive good, “the fruit of the right ordering of things” with which God has invested human society;[3] it is “more than the absence of war”.[4] Nor can it be “reduced to the maintenance of a balance of power between opposing forces”.[5] Rather, it demands the commitment of those persons of good will who “thirst for an ever more perfect reign of justice”.[6]

In this regard, I voice my firm conviction that every expression of religion is called to promote peace. I saw this clearly in the World Day of Prayer for Peace held in Assisi last September, during which the representatives of the different religions gathered to “give voice together to all those who suffer, to all those who have no voice and are not heard”,[7] as well as in my visits to the Synagogue of Rome and the Mosque in Baku.

We know that there has been no shortage of acts of religiously motivated violence, beginning with Europe itself, where the historical divisions between Christians have endured all too long. In my recent visit to Sweden, I mentioned the urgent need for healing past wounds and journeying together towards common goals. The basis of that journey can only be authentic dialogue between different religious confessions. Such dialogue is possible and necessary, as I wished to show by my meeting in Cuba with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, as well as by my Apostolic Journeys to Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan, where I sensed the rightful aspiration of those peoples to resolve conflicts which for years have threatened social harmony and peace.

At the same time, it is fitting that we not overlook the great number of religiously inspired works that contribute, at times with the sacrifice of martyrs, to the pursuit of the common good through education and social assistance, especially in areas of great poverty and in theatres of conflict. These efforts advance peace and testify that individuals of different nationalities, cultures and traditions can indeed live and work together, provided that the dignity of the human person is placed at the centre of their activities.

Sadly, we are conscious that even today, religious experience, rather than fostering openness to others, can be used at times as a pretext for rejection, marginalization and violence. I think particularly of the fundamentalist-inspired terrorism that in the past year has also reaped numerous victims throughout the world: in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Belgium, Burkina Faso, Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, the United States of America, Tunisia and Turkey. These are vile acts that use children to kill, as in Nigeria, or target people at prayer, as in the Coptic Cathedral of Cairo, or travellers or workers, as in Brussels, or passers-by in the streets of cities like Nice and Berlin, or simply people celebrating the arrival of the new year, as in Istanbul.

We are dealing with a homicidal madness which misuses God’s name in order to disseminate death, in a play for domination and power. Hence I appeal to all religious authorities to join in reaffirming unequivocally that one can never kill in God’s name. Fundamentalist terrorism is the fruit of a profound spiritual poverty, and often is linked to significant social poverty. It can only be fully defeated with the joint contribution of religious and political leaders. The former are charged with transmitting those religious values which do not separate fear of God from love of neighbour. The latter are charged with guaranteeing in the public forum the right to religious freedom, while acknowledging religion’s positive and constructive contribution to the building of a civil society that sees no opposition between social belonging, sanctioned by the principle of citizenship, and the spiritual dimension of life. Government leaders are also responsible for ensuring that conditions do not exist that can serve as fertile terrain for the spread of forms of fundamentalism. This calls for suitable social policies aimed at combating poverty; such policies cannot prescind from a clear appreciation of the importance of the family as the privileged place for growth in human maturity, and from a major investment in the areas of education and culture.

In this regard, I was interested to learn of the Council of Europe’s initiative on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue, which in the past year discussed the role of education in preventing radicalization leading to terrorism and estremist violence. This represents an occasion for a better understanding of the role of religion and education in bringing about the authentic social harmony needed for coexistence in a multicultural society.

Here I would express my conviction that political authorities must not limit themselves to ensuring the security of their own citizens – a concept which could easily be reduced to a mere “quiet life” – but are called also to work actively for the growth of peace. Peace is an “active virtue”, once that calls for the engagement and cooperation of each individual and society as a whole. As the Second Vatican Council observed, “peace will never be achieved once and for all, but must be built up continually”,[8] by safeguarding the good of persons and respecting their dignity. Peacemaking requires above all else renouncing violence in vindicating one’s rights.[9] To this very principle I devoted my Message for the 2017 World Day of Peace, with the title, “Nonviolence: a Style of Politics for Peace”. I wished primarily to reaffirm that nonviolence is a political style based on the rule of law and the dignity of each person.

Peacemaking also demands that “those causes of discord which lead to wars be rooted out”,[10] beginning with acts of injustice. Indeed, justice and peace are intimately linked[11]. Yet, as Saint John Paul II observed, “because human justice is always fragile and imperfect, subject as it is to the limitations and egoism of individuals and groups, it must include and, as it were, be completed by the forgiveness that heals and rebuilds human relations from their foundations… Forgiveness is in no way opposed to justice. It is rather the fullness of justice, leading to that tranquillity of order” which involves “the deepest healing of the wounds which fester in human hearts. Justice and forgiveness are both essential to such healing”.[12] Those words remain most timely, and met with openness on the part of some Heads of State or Government to my request to make a gesture of clemency towards the incarcerated. To them, and to all those who promote dignified living conditions for prisoners and their reintegration into society, I would like to express my particular appreciation and gratitude.

I am convinced that for many people the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy was an especially fruitful moment for rediscovering “mercy’s immense positive influence as a social value”.[13] In this way, everyone can help bring about “a culture of mercy, based on the rediscovery of encounter with others, a culture in which no one looks at another with indifference or turns away from the suffering of our brothers and sisters”.[14] Only thus will it be possible to build societies that are open and welcoming towards foreigners and at the same time internally secure and at peace. This is all the more needed at the present time, when massive waves of migration continue in various parts of the world. I think in a special way of the great numbers of displaced persons and refugees in some areas of Africa and Southeast Asia, and all those who are fleeing areas of conflict in the Middle East.

Last year the international community gathered at two important events convened by the United Nations: the first World Humanitarian Summit and the Summit for Refugees and Migrants. With regard to migrants, displaced persons and refugees, a common commitment is needed, one focused on offering them a dignified welcome. This would involve respecting the right of “every human being… to emigrate to other countries and take up residence there”,[15] while at the same time ensuring that migrants can be integrated into the societies in which they are received without the latter sensing that their security, cultural identity and political-social stability are threatened. On the other hand, immigrants themselves must not forget that they have a duty to respect the laws, culture and traditions of the countries in which they are received.

Prudence on the part of public authorities does not mean enacting policies of exclusion vis-à-vis migrants, but it does entail evaluating, with wisdom and foresight, the extent to which their country is in a position, without prejudice to the common good of citizens, to offer a decent life to migrants, especially those truly in need of protection. Above all, the current crisis should not be reduced to a simple matter of numbers. Migrants are persons, with their own names, stories and families. There can never be true peace as long as a single human being is violated in his or her personal identity and reduced to a mere statistic or an object of economic calculation.

The issue of migration is not one that can leave some countries indifferent, while others are left with the burden of humanitarian assistance, often at the cost of notable strain and great hardship, in the face of an apparently unending emergency. All should feel responsible for jointly pursuing the international common good, also through concrete gestures of human solidarity; these are essential building-blocks of that peace and development which entire nations and millions of people still await. So I am grateful to the many countries which offer a generous welcome to those in need, beginning with various European nations, particularly Italy, Germany, Greece and Sweden.

I vividly remember my visit to the island of Lesvos in the company of my brothers Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Ieronymos. There I saw at first hand the dramatic situation of the refugee camps, but also the goodness and spirit of service shown by the many persons committed to assisting those living there. Nor should we overlook the welcome offered by other countries of Europe and the Middle East, such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, as well as the commitment of various African and Asian countries. In the course of my visit to Mexico, where I experienced the joy of the Mexican people, I likewise felt close to the thousands of migrants from Central America who, in their attempt to find a better future, endure terrible injustices and dangers, victims of extortion and objects of that deplorable trade – that horrible form of modern slavery – which is human trafficking.

One enemy of peace is a “reductive vision” of the human person, which opens the way to the spread of injustice, social inequality and corruption. With regard to this last phenomenon, the Holy See has taken on new commitments with its formal adherence, on 19 September last, to the United Nations Convention against Corruption, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 31 October 2003.

In his encyclical Populorum Progressio, issued fifty years ago, Blessed Paul VI noted how such situations of inequality provoke conflict. As he stated, “civil progress and economic development are the only road to peace”,[16] which public authorities have the duty to encourage and foster by creating conditions for a more equitable distribution of resources and by generating employment opportunities, especially for young people. In today’s world, all too many people, especially children, still suffer from endemic poverty and live in conditions of food insecurity – indeed, hunger – even as natural resources are the object of greedy exploitation by a few, and enormous amounts of food are wasted daily.

Children and young people are the future; it is for them that we work and build. They cannot be selfishly overlooked or forgotten. As I stated recently in a letter addressed to all bishops, I consider it a priority to protect children, whose innocence is often violated by exploitation, clandestine and slave labour, prostitution or the abuse of adults, criminals and dealers in death.[17]

During my visit to Poland for World Youth Day, I encountered thousands of young people full of life and enthusiasm. Yet in many of them I also saw pain and suffering. I think of the young people affected by the brutal conflict in Syria, deprived of the joys of childhood and youth, such as the ability to play games and to attend school. My constant thoughts are with them and the beloved Syrian people. I appeal to the international community to make every effort to encourage serious negotiations for an end to the conflict, which is causing a genuine human catastrophe. Each of the parties must give priority to international humanitarian law, and guarantee the protection of civilians and needed humanitarian aid for the populace. Our common aspiration is that the recently signed truce will be a sign of hope for the whole Syrian people, so greatly in need of it.

This also means working for the elimination of the deplorable arms trade and the never-ending race to create and spread ever more sophisticated weaponry. Particularly disturbing are the experiments being conducted on the Korean Peninsula, which destabilize the entire region and raise troubling questions for the entire international community about the risk of a new nuclear arms race. The words of Saint John XXIII in Pacem in Terris continue to ring true: “Justice, right reason and the recognition of human dignity cry out insistently for a cessation to the arms race. The stockpiles of armaments which have been built up in various countries must be reduced all round by the parties concerned. Nuclear weapons must be banned”.[18] In the light of this, and in view of the forthcoming Conference on Disarmament, the Holy See seeks to promote an ethics of peace and security that goes beyond that fear and “closure” which condition the debate on nuclear weapons.

Also with regard to conventional weapons, we need to acknowledge that easy access to the sale of arms, including those of small calibre, not only aggravates various conflicts, but also generates a widespread sense of insecurity and fear. This is all the more dangerous in times, like our own, of social uncertainty and epochal changes.

Another enemy of peace is the ideology that exploits social unrest in order to foment contempt and hate, and views others as enemies to be eliminated. Sadly, new ideologies constantly appear on the horizon of humanity. Under the guise of promising great benefits, they instead leave a trail of poverty, division, social tensions, suffering and, not infrequently, death. Peace, on the other hand, triumphs through solidarity. It generates the desire for dialogue and cooperation which finds an essential instrument in diplomacy. Mercy and solidarity inspire the convinced efforts of the Holy See and the Catholic Church to avert conflicts and to accompany processes of peace, reconciliation and the search for negotiated solutions. It is heartening that some of these attempts have met with the good will of many people who, from a number of quarters, have actively and fruitfully worked for peace. I think of the efforts made in the last two years for rapprochement between Cuba and the United States. I think also of the persevering efforts made, albeit not without difficulty, to end years of conflict in Colombia.

That approach aims at encouraging reciprocal trust, supporting processes of dialogue and emphasizing the need for courageous gestures. These are quite urgent in neighbouring Venezuela, where the effects of the political, social and economic crisis have long burdened the civil population. So too in other parts of the world, beginning with the Middle East, a similar approach is needed, not only to bring an end to the Syrian conflict, but also to foster fully reconciled societies in Iraq and in Yemen. The Holy See renews its urgent appeal for the resumption of dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians towards a stable and enduring solution that guarantees the peaceful coexistence of two states within internationally recognized borders. No conflict can become a habit impossible to break. Israelis and Palestinians need peace. The whole Middle East urgently needs peace!

I also express my hope that there will be a full implementation of the agreements aimed at restoring peace in Libya, where it is imperative to reconcile the divisions of recent years. I likewise encourage every effort on the local and international level to renew peaceful civil coexistence in Sudan and South Sudan, and in the Central African Republic, all plagued by ongoing armed conflicts, massacres and destruction, as well as in other African nations marked by tensions and political and social instability. In particular, I express my hope that the recently-signed agreement in the Democratic Republic of Congo may help enable political leaders to work diligently to pursue reconciliation and dialogue between all elements of civil society. My thoughts also turn to Myanmar, that efforts will be made to foster peaceful co-existence and, with the support of the international community, to provide assistance to those in grave and pressing need.

In Europe too, where tensions also exist, openness to dialogue is the only way to ensure the security and development of the continent. Consequently, I welcome those initiatives favouring the process of reunification in Cyprus, where negotiations resume today, and I express my hope that in Ukraine viable solutions will continue to be pursued with determination in order to fulfil the commitments undertaken by the parties involved and, above all, that a prompt response will be given to the humanitarian situation, which remains grave.

Europe as a whole is experiencing a decisive moment in its history, one in which it is called to rediscover its proper identity. This requires recovering its roots in order to shape its future. In response to currents of divisiveness, it is all the more urgent to update “the idea of Europe”, so as to give birth to a new humanism based on the capacity to integrate, dialogue and generate[19] that made the “Old Continent” great. The process of European unification, begun after the Second World War, continues to be a unique opportunity for stability, peace and solidarity between peoples. On this occasion, I can only reaffirm the interest and concern of the Holy See for Europe and its future, conscious that the values that were the inspiration and basis of that project, which this year celebrates its sixtieth anniversary, are values common to the entire continent and transcend the borders of the European Union itself.

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

To build peace also means to work actively for the care of creation. The Paris Agreement on the climate, which recently took effect, is an important sign of the shared commitment to bequeath a more beautiful and livable world to those who will come after us. It is my hope that the efforts made in recent times to respond to climate change will meet with increased cooperation on the part of all, for the earth is our common home and we need to realize that the choices of each have consequences for all.

Clearly, however, certain phenomena go beyond the possibilities of human intervention. I refer to the numerous earthquakes which have struck some areas of the world. I think especially of those in Ecuador, Italy and Indonesia, which has claimed numerous victims and left many others in conditions of great insecurity. I was able to visit personally some of the areas affected by the earthquake in central Italy. In addition to seeing the damage done to a land rich in art and culture, I shared the pain of many people, but I also witnessed their courage and their determination to rebuild what was destroyed. I pray that the solidarity which united the beloved Italian people in the days after the earthquake will continue to inspire the entire nation, particularly at this delicate time in its history. The Holy See and Italy are particularly close for obvious historical, cultural and geographical reasons. This relationship was evident in the Jubilee Year, and I thank all the Italian authorities for their help in organizing this event and ensuring the security of pilgrims from all over the world.

Dear Ambassadors,

Peace is a gift, a challenge and a commitment. It is a gift because it flows from the very heart of God. It is a challenge because it is a good that can never be taken for granted and must constantly be achieved. It is a commitment because it demands passionate effort on the part of all people of goodwill to seek and build it. For true peace can only come about on the basis of a vision of human beings capable of promoting an integral development respectful of their transcendent dignity. As Blessed Paul VI observed, “development is the new name for peace”.[20]

This, then, is my prayerful hope for the year just begun: that our countries and their peoples may find increased opportunities to work together in building true peace. For its part, the Holy See, and the Secretariat of State in particular, will always be ready to cooperate with those committed to ending current conflicts and to offer support and hope to all who suffer.

In the Church’s liturgy, we greet one another with the words: “Peace be with you”. With this same greeting, as a pledge of abundant divine blessings, I renew to each of you, distinguished members of the Diplomatic Corps, to your families and to the countries you represent, my heartfelt good wishes for the New Year.

Thank you.


[1] BENEDICT XV, Letter to the Leaders of the Peoples at War (1 August 1917): AAS 9 (1917), 423.

[2] Message for the Celebration of the First World Day of Peace (1 January 1968).

[3] SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes (7 December 1965), 78.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Address at the World Day of Prayer for Peace, Assisi, 20 September 2016.

[8] Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, 78.

[9] Cf. ibid.

[10] Ibid., 83.

[11] Cf. Ps 85:11 and Is 32:17.

[12] Message for the Thirty-fifth World Day of Peace: There is no Peace without Justice, There is no Justice without Forgiveness (1 January 2002), 3.

[13] Apostolic Letter Misericordia et Misera (20 November 2016), 18.

[14] Ibid., 20.

[15] JOHN XXIII, Encyclical Letter Pacem in Terris (11 April 1963), 25.

[16] Encyclical Letter Populorum Progressio (26 March 1967), 83.

[17] Cf. Letter to Bishops on the Feast of the Holy Innocents, 28 December 2016.

[18] Encyclical Letter Pacem in Terris, 112.

[19] Cf. Address at the Conferral of the Charlemagne Prize, 6 May 2016.

[20] Cf. Encyclical LetterPopulorum Progressio, 87.

Posted: January 9, 2017, 12:18 pm
Lest anyone missed the Big Show as it happened, here's the fullvid of Newark Cathedral's (and by extension, Northeastern Catholicism's) most surreal moment since the Pope's own turn in the Garden State – at least, his first one.

As the last piece of Whispers "Commemorative Edition" on this national watershed is still in the works – hey, the more one knows Jersey and this Church, the more all this is to process – the reminder's again in order that everything you see here is only possible thanks to your support.

In blunt terms, while the hotel for these days totaled an unusually easy $250, the $120 atop it in road-data charges to upload/beam out the video, shots and everything else (plus meals/rides) still puts a dent in the budget....

Long story short, folks, as there's more to come yet – and according expenses to duly cover it in full – this readership either helps the work, or helps to kill it:

Sure, this isn't the easiest way of paying the bills... but on this end, it just beats some Overlord stuffing this scribe's mouth with cash and looking to garner attention through clickbait.

At least if you're interested in journalism, here's hoping the difference makes some sense.

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Along those lines, we interrupt this pitch for some (more) Breaking News....

Per house ops, Whispers can report that, come Tuesday – after an extraordinary 21-month vacancy owed to a host of (long anticipated) complicating factors and then some – the Pope (finally) intends to name the 11th Bishop of Salt Lake City, to lead a Utah church quadrupled in size over the last two decades.

As ever, more in due course... for now, though, as the Madeleine Choir under the direction of Greg Glenn remains one of American Catholicism's greatest treasures, the most important word of all is this... and may the lot of us ever live up to it:

Lord, you bless with words assuring: 'I am with you to the end.'
Faith and hope and love restoring, may we serve as you intend
And, amid the cares that claim us, hold in mind eternity.
With the Spirit's gifts empower us for the work of ministry.
Posted: January 9, 2017, 12:12 pm
6 JANUARY 2017
At a dinner party, recently, I was asked what is the greatest challenge the Church faces today. I thought a moment and replied: the chasm between faith and life. My questioner looked at me quizzically and remarked that she didn’t expect that answer. I imagine that she was ready for any one of the so-called “hot-button” issues that dominate the discourse, both inside and outside the Church. As noisy and divisive as those questions might be, they don’t worry me as a growing trend that seems to isolate us, convincing us to neatly compartmentalize our life, subtly seducing us to go to Mass on Sunday, and for the rest of the week, do whatever we think we need to do to get by.

During this Christmas season, God makes every effort to convince us that faith has everything to do with life – all of life. The proclamation of the birth of Emmanuel announces God-with-us. We do well to listen to that proclamation again and again; to hear over and over again that God is present in the midst of God’s people. This certainty, which we renew each year, is the source of our joy and hope. We just heard in the reading from the First Letter of John:
And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever possesses the Son has life; whoever does not possess the Son of God does not have life.
The gist of the proclamation of Emmanuel is that eternal life is given in Christ and nowhere else. More important, to possess the Son is not acceptance of a doctrine a moral code, but of a person who lives now and is the source of life – and not just on Sunday morning!

Jesus lives in the Church

The words of John the Baptist in today’s Gospel remind us that through the life-giving baptism with the Holy Spirit (Mk 1:8), Jesus will create a new people of God. But first he identifies himself with the people of Israel in submitting to John’s baptism of repentance and in bearing on their behalf the burden of God’s decisive judgment. The decisive judgement is this: in Jesus we all become the beloved daughters and sons of God.

Jesus Christ lives today in His body, the Church, which is neither an elite club nor static container of truth. The Church is a set of interlocking and dynamic relationships among people and with the Triune God.

The Church is the place where believers speak and listen to each other, and it is the community of faith that speaks with and listens to the world. The Church senses a responsibility for the world, not simply as yet another institutional presence or a benevolent NGO, but as a movement of salt, light and leaven for the world's transformation. For this reason, our kindness must be known to all.

An appointment to Newark

Through the decision of Pope Francis, the Church has called me to serve the Archdiocese of Newark. It is a daunting proposition, not because of the size, rich history or wonderful diversity of this portion of the Vineyard. Rather, the appointment reminds me that stakes are incredibly high, for if we permit the chasm between faith and life to continue to expand, we risk losing Christ, reducing him simply to an interesting idea or a comforting, nostalgic memory. And, if we lose Christ, then the world has lost the salt, light and leaven that could have transformed it. If we lose Christ, how will anyone find eternal life that is not simply an empty wish that can be dismissed as “pie-in-the-sky,” but the abundant, joyful life that God intends for us even now?

Standing before you in the presence of Emmanuel to whom I must render an account for the service I assume today, I am comforted by the words Paul wrote to his beloved friends in Philippi:
Rejoice in the Lord always, I say it again, rejoice! ... Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.
Let’s think a moment about the author and addresses of that letter, lest we dismiss it as pure Pollyanna. Paul’s letter to the Christians at Philippi was written while he was in a prison somewhere and in danger of death. Although Philippi was an important city in the eastern Mediterranean, the Christians there were an insignificant minority, living with the daily danger of disappearing, either because of external persecution or internal bickering. An imprisoned apostle writing to a feeble and fragile community. Yet Paul uses the words, “joy” and “rejoice” more times than in any other of his letters. The whole book is shot through with gratitude and confidence.

Paul reveals his human sensitivity and tenderness, his enthusiasm for Christ as the key to life and death, and his deep feeling for those in Christ who dwell in Philippi. With them he shares his hopes and convictions, his anxieties and fears, revealing the total confidence in Christ that constitutes faith. His faith illuminates his life, even the otherwise hopeless conditions in which he finds himself.

Rejoice in the Lord

So, with the confident belief that my assignment to this Archdiocese is part of the saving plan of God, I can say to my beloved brothers and sisters of this Church: Rejoice in the Lord! Rejoice, because God is with us. Rejoice, because we will grow in unity and humility and, in the process, discover joy and peace in our life together. Rejoice, because our kindness will be known to all: to the searching young and the forgotten elderly, to the stranger and the voiceless, to the powerful and the cynical.

I thank God for summoning me to the Archdiocese of Newark. I am grateful to all of you for your warm welcome. And, laying any anxiety that can too easily morph into fear, I make my request for you known to God:
…that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

[Ed.: All emphases original.]

Posted: January 6, 2017, 9:07 pm
NEWARK – ...and on the 12th Day of Christmas, Il Papa gave Jersey no dozen of anything – just one red hat.

The first-ever installation of a cardinal at the helm of an American diocese, the rites entrusting Joe Tobin CSSR with this 1.4 million-member fold begin at 2.30pm Eastern.

To kick off the handover, the 2,500-seat Cathedral-Basilica of the Sacred Heart already filled up last night for the usual first Vespers for the local clergy and religious, joined by some 100 members of the Tobin clan and other assorted Hoosiers, Redemptorists and the like. In a poignant touch, North Jersey's Fourth Archbishop – now Washington's retired Cardinal Theodore McCarrick – soldiered himself out of a wheelchair to make his entrance on foot, soaking up the exuberant response to an appointment he reportedly brought over the finish line with a direct appeal to Pope Francis.

With retiring Archbishop John Myers absent (ostensibly owing to the November hip injury that, until the last minute, threatened to keep him from one last trip to the chair at today's Mass) and the prodigal coadjutor, now Twin Cities' Archbishop Bernie Hebda, just a visitor in the pews (albeit one swarmed by emotional well-wishers), Tobin had one of Stateside Catholicism's most majestic stages to himself, using his first ascent to the basilica's "floating" Gothic pulpit to underscore that "if there was ever a place for one to separate being a bishop from being a missionary, it can no longer hold"... and leveling one jab at his old coworkers in the Vatican that brought down the house....

Posted: January 6, 2017, 12:32 pm
One hundred sixty-four years ago here in the Northeast, the first Redemptorist to be professed on these shores ceded part of his territory for the founding of a diocese at Newark.

And now, on the very day when the church commemorates said missionary bishop as Saint John Neumann, the sons of Alphonsus are back to reclaim the turf with the arrival of another shepherd from the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer... and this time, a Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church, to boot.

Indeed, even The New York Times is ecstatic – for purely altruistic reasons, of course.

Even, or maybe especially, to know history, what we're seeing in these days is simply off the charts: A Cardinal in Jersey... Two red hats in the nation's largest media market (which, between its various outposts, comprises some 10 million Catholics)....

And, sure enough, is the Tri-State big enough for them both? (To be clear, that's not a commentary on either's diet.)

Long story short, every Pope makes a certain rarefied handful of appointments which define his legacy long after he leaves the stage, or simply his prime... and for Francis, parachuting a scarlet-clad Joe Tobin into the Meadowlands might well be this pontificate's paramount move in the United States.

Granted, it's not Chicago, but that's precisely the point: it's "just" the peripheries, yet no less a behemoth in its own right – a wildly diverse, complex local church of 1.4 million souls, some of the nation's richest and poorest enclaves in the closest range of each other; three seminaries, a diocesan-owned major university, scores of religious communities and "new movements" galore, all of which can make for enough headaches in a day to last a lifetime – and that's not counting the traffic on the Turnpike.

Most of all, though, as has only happened at one other time in the last six decades, an American city has its first cardinal at the helm... and with that, the entire map of prominence and influence for the nation's largest religious body is recast.

Still, the task ahead in this case begins not on the wide stage, but with the calming of a roiled, hurting local scene.

In a couple dozen conversations with various stakeholders in the Newark church, asked what their top pointers would be to the Sixth Archbishop, practically every summary boiled down to two words: "Restore Trust."

While that's not terribly surprising amid the financial, legal and morale troubles that dogged Archbishop John Myers' 15-year tenure, the fascinating thing was how each group was looking out for the others – the religious said the priests needed to be tended to, the clergy noted how the laity were hurting, and so on. But especially after the palpable hope born of Archbishop Bernie Hebda's early arrival as coadjutor was scuttled – first by high-level Chancery obstruction, then the understudy's departure for the Twin Cities – as the angst mounted before Tobin's name finally emerged from the rare direct consultations undertaken by Francis himself, the challenge facing the Hatmakers was simple: "Go big or go home."

And for the result, well, for even cardinals to say "Oh my God" on learning of the choice goes to show how it just doesn't get any bigger than this.

With Jersey's Cardinal-Archbishop slated to make his first appearance at a Vespers tonight for clergy and religious, the Installation Mass itself begins at 2.30pm Eastern Friday – you can find the livestream and full coverage here then... in the meantime, it's no mere coincidence that the liturgical plans reek of Christmas. (SVILUPPO: Vespers report/homily video.)

*   *   *
Going into the moment – especially as the incoming redbird isn't often one to speak from a prepared text – it's worth recalling a moment significant enough that he did.

Overshadowed as it was by the following day's election and other quick-moving events, at his November introduction to North Jersey, Tobin claimed not to arrive with a "vision," but proceeded to sketch one nonetheless, terming it "three convictions" which would underpin his ministry and the mission ahead:
Good morning. Thank you for coming to this press conference, which marks another stage in the long history of the Archdiocese of Newark. Two weeks ago, I learned that Pope Francis was entrusting to me the pastoral care of this storied archdiocese. Two weeks earlier I discovered that the Holy Father had named me to the College of Cardinals. I am not sure my central nervous system can take much more news. You will forgive the occasional stutter or facial twitch.

The news of my appointment to the Archdiocese of Newark evoked both shock and sadness. I recently marked four years as the Archbishop of Indianapolis and had come to love deeply the people of central and southern Indiana. It is gut-wrenching to think of leaving the wonderful clergy, religious and faithful of that local Church, as well as the many friends I have among people of other faiths and those of no faith.

On the other hand, I have understood that God has called me to live my baptism as a missionary disciple: one who is called by Jesus to be with Him and to be sent forth to preach and to heal. This vocation has led me to minister in parishes in Detroit and Chicago, lead the world-wide family of Redemptorist missionaries, serve Pope Benedict XVI in the Roman Curia and, most recently, to oversee the steady growth of the Church in Indiana. Now, I accept this assignment to Newark and understand it as God’s will for me. God’s grace has sustained me so far and I trust I will have what I need to serve well the People of God in this great Archdiocese.

When I arrived in Indianapolis four years ago, I had to fend off daily the dreaded “V question”. People would ask me, “What is your vision for the Archdiocese?” “Don’t have one,” I would answer – which evoked a look of wonderment. I explained, “I don’t have a vision right now but, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we will have one." 
Today it is not my intention to offer a plan or to devise a strategy; that would be arrogant and stupid. Instead, I would like to share some convictions about the vision. These principles will guide my ministry as I discern with the people of this archdiocese the way forward.

Three convictions about the vision


The way forward is always and must be a response. We respond in love to God who loved us first. God has always been out in front of humanity as Creator, Redeemer and life-giving Spirit. The clearest sign of this is Jesus, sent to us because God “so loved the world”. So, the criterion by which I want to be judged is whether, by word and actions, I led people to a deeper love for Jesus, who is the merciful face of God. My first conviction is that I am called to watch over the unity of this Archdiocese and to encourage in charity the journey of all toward an ever-greater knowledge, faith and love of Christ.

Field hospital

My second conviction is that the love of Christ is made manifest through His Body, the Church. Pope Francis has helped Roman Catholics understand how that Body ought to be understood today. He uses the graphic image of a “field hospital,” dedicated to healing the wounds of human hearts. In describing the mission of the Church, the Holy Father outlined the tasks of the Archdiocese of Newark: to heal the wounded hearts, to open doors, to free [people], to say that God is good, God forgives all, that God is our Father, God is tender, that God is always waiting for us ...

Continuing the double miracle of Pentecost

Thirdly, I believe that the Church in every age is challenged to reproduce the double miracle that accompanied her birth. The first miracle is dramatic: on the day of Pentecost, people from many lands heard the Good News proclaimed by the apostles, each in his or her own language. This miracle produced an abundant response of faith.

The second miracle is understated but nonetheless wonderfully real. There is no evidence that the response of faith erased the richness of culture. The Parthians, Medes, Elamites and all those other tongue-twisting nationalities did not “melt” into some celestial “pot”. The first Christians retained the richness of their cultures while discovering a principle of unity. This principle is nothing less than the Holy Spirit.

I grew up in a multi-cultural neighborhood of southwest Detroit. I was a little jealous of classmates that went home and spoke a different language, ate different food, thought differently. My service of the Church obliged me to live many years in cultures different from the Irish-American ambient of my family. So I am excited to lead an archdiocese where the Eucharist is celebrated each Sunday in twenty languages. The Holy Spirit will help us prolong the double miracle of Pentecost.

The Spirit in which we need to work

Besides those three convictions, I would like to mention three qualities that I believe the Archdiocese will need and which I intend to promote.
The first is joy. I am not talking about a sort of superficial giddiness but rather the “joy which we experience daily, amid the little things of life, as a response to the loving invitation of God our Father,” the joy that was promised us by Jesus, joy that is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. 
The second is transparency. I intend to be in regular and effective communication with the people of this Archdiocese, city and state. I will promote policies that recognize that we preach the Gospel, not only with words but with actions. 
The third quality is freedom. While believing people today have a justifiable interest in the cherished freedom of religion that is a part of our nation’s heritage, I am even more concerned that the Catholics strive to be free from fear. As we grow in love of God and our neighbor, that love will drive out fear (1 John 4:18).

But the most precious quality any of us can manifest to a skeptical, cynical world is gratitude. Gratitude accepts life itself and everything that comes with it, even times of suffering and sorrow, as a gift. I am grateful:

  • to the power of the Gospel which has brought about remarkable growth of Christ’s Church in this Archdiocese and enabled its generous contribution, past and present, to American society and to the world;
  • to Pope Francis, for his leadership of the Church and the example of his life, which teaches me how to be a bishop;
  • to Archbishop John Joseph Myers, the fifth Archbishop of Newark, for the fifteen years he has spent laboring for the good of the Church. I am very grateful for his welcome to me.
  • To my beloved Archdiocese of Indianapolis, her clergy, religious and faithful: in thanksgiving for all we have been able to do together, for the love and respect we share, for the unity that we will continue to enjoy in the communion of saints and the breaking of the bread.
Hope for the future

I never close a talk by saying “in conclusion”, since someone once defined “second wind” as what happens after a bishop says “in conclusion.” I would leave you with one last conviction: that hope is a characteristically Christian virtue, really, a sine qua non for disciples of Jesus. One of the first disciples, the apostle Peter, admonishes us to “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” (1 Peter 3, 14).

I would like to offer you one reason for my hope, using the words of the American Catholic writer, Walker Percy, to help me. In his essay, “A Cranky Novelist Reflects on the Church” he offered a clear-eyed description of the challenges faced by the Church and her ministers. But in these very challenges, Percy pointed out a startling simple reason for hope:

Never has there been a more fertile harvest for the seed and the harvest the Lord spoke of. All that is needed is a bearer of the Good News who speaks of it with such authenticity that it can penetrate the most exhausted hearing, revive the most jaded language.

I invite the bishops, priests, deacons, religious and faithful of the Archdiocese of Newark to pray for me, that, in my service to you, I might speak of the Good News with such authenticity that you may recognize in my words, the voice of the Good Shepherd.

Thank you for your attention. I will be happy to answer any questions you might have.
Posted: January 6, 2017, 12:31 pm
While Christmas at the Vatican continues for another week – that is, until the season's formal end and next Monday's "State of the World" speech from the Pope – after almost four years on Peter's Chair, it should come as no surprise that Francis just can't be kept down that long.

Ergo, a late addition to today's usual Bollettino rollout saw the sudden release of a previously undisclosed letter from Papa Bergoglio to the world's 5,000 bishops, bearing the date of last Wednesday's feast of the Holy Innocents.

Stacking out at 1,350 words, most initial attention to the text has focused on a paragraph urging continued vigilance to combatting clergy sex-abuse and the Pope's pledge of "complete commitment" to that end. On the whole, however, the letter is a pained cry over all the mass-level scourges afflicting the world's children, and thus amplifies yesterday's major stride in the ongoing reform of the Roman Curia – the official launch of the new (Super-)Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, which is responsible for coordinating the church's global response to the bulk of the issues cited by Francis here.

On the flip-side, meanwhile, given the common analogy in advocacy circles comparing the slaughter of newborns by Herod (in an attempt to kill the infant Jesus) to the modern reality of legalized abortion in the Western world, it is notable that, while using the same ancient event as his springboard on today's problems, Francis made no inference to abortion in this letter.

Here, the message's English fulltext in its Vatican translation:
Dear Brother,

Today, on the feast of the Holy Innocents, as the words of the angel to the shepherds still resound in our hearts – “I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour” (Lk 2: 10-11) – I feel the need to write to you. We do well to listen to that proclamation again and again; to hear over and over again that God is present in the midst of our people. This certainty, which we renew each year, is the source of our joy and hope.

In these days we experience how the liturgy leads us to the heart of Christmas, into the Mystery which gradually draws us to the source of Christian joy.

As pastors, we are called to help foster this joy among the faithful. We are charged with protecting this joy. I ask you once again that we not let ourselves be robbed of this joy, for we can be disillusioned at times, not unreasonably, with the world around us, with the Church, or even with ourselves, and feel tempted to indulge in a certain melancholy, lacking in hope, which can lay hold of our hearts (cf. Evangelii Gaudium 83).

Christmas is also accompanied, whether we like it or not, by tears. The Evangelists did not disguise reality to make it more credible or attractive. They did not indulge in words that were comforting but unrelated to reality. For them, Christmas was not a flight to fantasy, a way of hiding from the challenges and injustices of their day. On the contrary, they relate the birth of the Son of God as an event fraught with tragedy and grief. Quoting the prophet Jeremiah, Matthew presents it in the bluntest of terms: “A voice is heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children” (2:18). It is the sobbing of mothers bewailing the death of their children in the face of Herod’s tyranny and unbridled thirst for power.

Today too, we hear this heart-rending cry of pain, which we neither desire nor are able to ignore or to silence. In our world – I write this with a heavy heart – we continue to hear the lamentation of so many mothers, of so many families, for the death of their children, their innocent children.

To contemplate the manger also means to contemplate this cry of pain, to open our eyes and ears to what is going on around us, and to let our hearts be attentive and open to the pain of our neighbours, especially where children are involved. It also means realizing that that sad chapter in history is still being written today. To contemplate the manger in isolation from the world around us would make Christmas into a lovely story that inspires warm feelings but robs us of the creative power of the Good News that the Incarnate Word wants to give us. The temptation is real.

Can we truly experience Christian joy if we turn our backs on these realities? Can Christian joy even exist if we ignore the cry of our brothers and sisters, the cry of the children?

Saint Joseph was the first to be charged with protecting the joy of salvation. Faced with the atrocious crimes that were taking place, Saint Joseph – the model of an obedient and loyal man – was capable of recognizing God’s voice and the mission entrusted to him by the Father. Because he was able to hear God’s voice, and was docile to his will, Joseph became more conscious of what was going on around him and was able to interpret these events realistically. 
The same thing is asked of us pastors today: to be men attentive, and not deaf, to the voice of God, and hence more sensitive to what is happening all around us. Today, with Saint Joseph as our model, we are asked not to let ourselves be robbed of joy. We are asked to protect this joy from the Herods of our own time. Like Joseph, we need the courage to respond to this reality, to arise and take it firmly in hand (cf. Mt 2:20). The courage to guard this joy from the new Herods of our time, who devour the innocence of our children. An innocence robbed from them by the oppression of illegal slave labour, prostitution and exploitation. An innocence shattered by wars and forced immigration, with the great loss that this entails. Thousands of our children have fallen into the hands of gangs, criminal organizations and merchants of death, who only devour and exploit their neediness.

To illustrate this point, there are at present 75 million children who, due to prolonged situations of emergency and crisis, have had to interrupt their education. In 2015, 68% of all persons who were victims of sexual exploitation were children. At the same time, a third of all children who have to live outside their homelands do so because forcibly displaced. We live in a world where almost half of the children who die under the age of five do so because of malnutrition. It is estimated that in 2016 there were 150 million child labourers, many of whom live in conditions of slavery. According to the most recent report presented by UNICEF, unless the world situation changes, in 2030 there will be 167 million children living in extreme poverty, 69 million children under the age of five will die between 2016 and 2030, and 16 million children will not receive basic schooling.

We hear these children and their cries of pain; we also hear the cry of the Church our Mother, who weeps not only for the pain caused to her youngest sons and daughters, but also because she recognizes the sins of some of her members: the sufferings, the experiences and the pain of minors who were abused sexually by priests. It is a sin that shames us. Persons responsible for the protection of those children destroyed their dignity. We regret this deeply and we beg forgiveness. We join in the pain of the victims and weep for this sin. The sin of what happened, the sin of failing to help, the sin of covering up and denial, the sin of the abuse of power. The Church also weeps bitterly over this sin of her sons and she asks forgiveness. Today, as we commemorate the feast of the Holy Innocents, I would like us to renew our complete commitment to ensuring that these atrocities will no longer take place in our midst. Let us find the courage needed to take all necessary measures and to protect in every way the lives of our children, so that such crimes may never be repeated. In this area, let us adhere, clearly and faithfully, to “zero tolerance”.

Christian joy does not arise on the fringes of reality, by ignoring it or acting as if it did not exist. Christian joy is born from a call – the same call that Saint Joseph received – to embrace and protect human life, especially that of the holy innocents of our own day. Christmas is a time that challenges us to protect life, to help it be born and grow. It is a time that challenges us as bishops to find new courage. The courage that generates processes capable of acknowledging the reality that many of our children are experiencing today, and working to ensure them the bare minimum needed so that their dignity as God’s children will not only be respected but, above all, defended.

Let us not allow them to be robbed of joy. Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of joy, but guard it and nourish its growth.

May we do this with the paternal fidelity of Saint Joseph and guided by Mary, Mother of tender love, so that our own hearts may never grow hard.

With fraternal affection,

From the Vatican, 28 December 2016
Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs
Posted: January 2, 2017, 10:37 pm
And so, gang, for all 2016 has been – and everything the stories of these last 12 months have lined up for the road ahead – if there can just be one emblematic bit from this vantage, it's this: the deeply palpable moment in February when, after two years of angling to pull it off, the Pope arrived at the Mexico-US Border in Ciudad Juarez to pray... a scene intended as a "Lampedusa" call for his own continent.

Given Francis' subsequent punch-up on the plane home – and the according follow-up from the Stateside bench toward year's end – let this be a reminder of how, at the upper levels of this beat, nothing happens in a vacuum.

As for the full thrust of what that entails going forward, well, connect the dots.

And, of course, stay tuned.

*    *    *
Per the Church's immemorial tradition, the last day of the civil calendar insists upon our great hymn of thanksgiving, the Te Deum, regardless of what transpired over the cycle now entering into the past.

Ergo, albeit in more singable form (lyrics), let us all give thanks for what's been, or just that the year's over – and whichever the case, seek the grace to make the next one better, beginning with each one of us:

*    *    *
In that light, it's a blessing when your work owes itself to the goodness of a great crowd of witnesses – thanks to said grace, this scribe will see his Lord when He calls me home, instead of upon rendering how much clickbait I brought in last quarter.

Indeed, folks, navigating the straits of journalism these days (both doing it and funding it) is not easy. But beyond the need to keep the news clean, serious and honest, part of the job is making it look smooth... and 'round these parts, the degree any and all of this can be the case comes solely by means of your support.

As the back-end goes, the costs these pages incur remain a daunting weight – and on top of the standard pile, it's back on the road later in the week to see some history unfold, then even more later this month.

So, long story short, Whispers can pull it off only as much as you'll let it happen – as ever, the toughest part of all this is in this readership's hands....

All that said, hope you've had a joyous and brilliant Octave and all its graces keep going into the New Year...

...and as it's still Christmas, Church, don't forget to keep acting like it – Buon Natale e Buon Anno a tutti!

Posted: December 31, 2016, 8:14 pm
(Updated 10.30am ET with presser video, etc.)

While everyone's hopefully enjoying some Christmas downtime, even the Octave isn't stopping the US docket's most frenetic period of activity in nearly a decade.

At Roman Noon on this fourth day of Christmas, the Pope accepted the early retirement of Bishop Richard Lennon of Cleveland three months before the latter's 70th birthday. While the Boston-born prelate suffered a significant heart attack earlier this year – and has reportedly begun to struggle with "memory issues" – the move brings a rapid end to an extraordinarily fraught tenure marked by significant upheaval in the 700,000-member diocese, Ohio's largest local church (and once again a City of Champions).

In tandem with the move, as no permanent successor was immediately named, the Holy See has tapped Bishop Daniel Thomas of Toledo to temporarily lead the neighboring fold to his east as apostolic administrator. Once the lead staffer for English-language appointments at the Congregation for Bishops, the choice of the energetic, ever-sunny Philadelphia native signals an intent for the extensive local report on the state of the diocese (the first step in the search for its next occupant) to be handled with an expert's speed and an outsider's objectivity, thus increasing the odds for a permanent pick to emerge as soon as possible. (Just to avoid any confusion, Thomas remains at the helm of the Toledo diocese, doubling up his workload with the Cleveland post until Lennon's replacement is installed.)

Upon his appointment to the shores of Lake Erie in 2006, Lennon arrived marked by two experiences that yielded a reputation for storms: overseeing the Boston church as apostolic administrator between the collapse of Cardinal Bernard Law's tenure and the arrival of then-Archbishop Seán O'Malley, then leading the charge as vicar-general on the quick push to close nearly 70 Boston parishes as the embers of the scandals still smouldered.

In Cleveland, the second act proved no less eventful as Lennon's 2009 plan to consolidate 50 parishes – most of them early 20th century ethnic holdovers in a drastically changed city – saw him pilloried and heckled at practically every turn, then made to undergo an Apostolic Visitation on his stewardship of the diocese given what's been termed an unparalleled level of complaints sent both to Rome and the Nunciature in Washington.

Despite surviving the Vatican probe, part of which saw 11 of his closings reversed by the Holy See (and, in a rarity, the parishes fully reopened), Lennon's attempts at mending relationships in its wake seemed to come too late. In one especially bitter example, after a priest who formed an "independent community" with most of his closed parish got the result they wanted – the closing's nullification by Rome – they still refused to return, even despite the cleric's excommunication in 2013.

Though the bishop's friends invariably lament "the hand" he was made to deal with in both cities, such was Lennon's profile as a controversy-magnet in Boston that – following a bruising first three years that once saw O'Malley publicly express his prayer "that the Lord will take me home" – the confluence of the former's departure within weeks of the Capuchin's reception of the red hat is just as frequently seen as the critical moment that began turning the tide of the archdiocese. Much as with Newark – where, in an unprecedented moment for the Stateside church, a cardinal will be installed next week as archbishop – the priority for Cleveland's next bishop is on turning the page, as well as affirming the church's historically strong charitable and community presence on a struggling turf.

That said, however, with the gruntwork of parish planning now completed – and as Lennon's last year in office saw the finish line of a five-year capital campaign that topped out at $170 million – the next "Believeland" prelate will have his predecessor to thank for the considerably stabilized slate he'll inherit.

With today's move, eight Stateside Latin dioceses stand vacant, with another four led by (arch)bishops serving past the retirement age. Just over this month, the latter list grew by two as Bishops Martin Amos of Davenport (himself a Cleveland native) and Stephen Blaire of Stockton turned 75.

SVILUPPO – 10.30am ET: In brief remarks at the midmorning Chancery presser announcing the transition, Lennon confirmed the report above, revealing that a recent diagnosis with vascular dementia spurred his request for retirement, which was submitted in late November.

The departing prelate declined to take questions before yielding the podium to the newly-named administrator.

Here, fullvid of the session:

Meanwhile, given the sheer pricelessness of a River City priest ending up – even temporarily – as custos of the Sacred Birthplace of the Greatest Among The Pharaohs, there's only one thing Danny Thomas' home-crowd cares to know....
For Philly folks keeping score, Time Elapsed from +Danny's Admin nod til first mention of John Krol in Cleveland: 4 hours, 12 minutes.
— Rocco Palmo (@roccopalmo) December 28, 2016
That said, unlike the common habit of the Utmost High in speaking of his Lakeside roots, 'tis curious that any mention of one Frederick Ignatius Horstmann in this instance remained conspicuous by its absence.

On a more serious note, given the unusual state of the situation – and, with it, the not unexpected question of where Lennon would seek to live in retirement (put simply, Cleveland or a return to Boston) – a senior Tribe op tells Whispers that the bishop's plans remain "undecided."

In light of the circumstances at play, across multiple ecclesial fronts, the appointment of a permanent bishop is expected within roughly six months... in other words, just on the heels of the next Cavs parade.

Posted: December 29, 2016, 11:48 am
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