Whispers in the Loggia

Much as the journey is the same, the scene today is rather different.

For one, no prelate in his right mind would be caught dead wearing the old Cappello Romano in these times...

...yet most of all, here we go again – another crop of new cardinals drawn mostly, like the Pope who made them, "from the edge of the world."


In a shift from ancient practice, the Consistory to create five voting members of the papal "Senate" will take place in the afternoon – 4pm Rome time on this Wednesday's vigil of Saints Peter and Paul. (The live video will appear here at the time, and the ritual booklet – with English translations – is already up.)

Among other benefits, the change of hour ends the routine early-morning havoc around the Vatican preceding a Scarlet Bowl, as the usual crush of far-flung pilgrims would start queuing up from 2 or 3am to ensure their spots in the Basilica. In any event, given the size of the crop – the smallest since Blessed Paul VI inducted four with his final class in 1977 (four decades ago this week) – the logistics are much more manageable than with the "mega-Consistories" elevating a dozen or more Porporati, which've been the usual case over recent decades.

That said, for the second time running, the entire College has not been summoned to Rome for this week's doings, and the daylong consultation both Francis and Benedict XVI have usually held with the body likewise won't take place again.

While no one should be surprised that the session's absence has been ideologized in some quarters, in reality the rationale is the result of Francis' procrastination. Unlike the pontiff's first two classes – which were slated several months in advance – both last November's intake and this one were decided upon at the last minute, and having once been a cardinal an ocean away with better things to do than upend a full schedule for a long flight and week in Rome, convoking the global College on a month's notice is a practice the Pope has been resolutely determined to avoid.

As an example of the haul, though many US and Latin American red-hats have direct flights or something close, among more recent creations, Tonga's Cardinal Soane Paini Mafi – the first ecclesial "prince" to be given the island's minority fold of 15,000 Catholics – has to make three or four connections over a 24-hour trip and, despite being a relatively young 55, collapsed while making the journey for Curial meetings in April.

Yet speaking of the "peripheries" which form this pontificate's philosophical core, this Consistory marks a particularly salient milestone: while Francis will have chosen forty percent of his successor's eventual electors once the new crop's names are formally pronounced at the rites, another stat puts the new shape of things in an even clearer context – with this wave's additions of Mali, Sweden, Laos and El Salvador, Papa Bergoglio has named 13 cardinals with voting rights who are each the first representatives of their home-countries in the College.

In other words, that group now comprises more than 10 percent of the total electorate for the first time.

Still, even that doesn't completely put the ramifications of this shift in full light... one needs a completely different angle of looking at it.

Over days like these, see, the world is told almost ad nauseam that the College of Cardinals "chooses the next Pope." The actual point, however, is hidden within that: 

One of them will be the next Pope.

And when you remember how Conclave Math works, even if nothing else changes after this morning, the "shape of the pieces" when that day comes has already shattered the mould from anything that's preceded it.

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As recent history goes, each of Francis' addresses to his new red-hats ranks among the most loaded messages he's given as Pope, and another of the line is duly expected at this morning's liturgy.

That said, though, the text which seems to have made the greatest impression on this front is a far shorter, simpler one: the letter the pontiff sent to his first class of 19 cardinals-designate on revealing their names in January 2014, and subsequently released by the Vatican....
Dear brother,

On the day that your designation as part of the College of Cardinals is made public, I wish to send you a cordial greeting along with the guarantee of my closeness and prayer. It is my hope that, joined with the Church of Rome and “clothed in the virtues and sentiments of the Lord Jesus,” you may help me with fraternal efficacy in my service to the Universal Church.

The cardinalate does not imply promotion; it is neither an honour nor a decoration; it is simply a service that requires you to broaden your gaze and open your hearts. And, although this may appear paradoxical, the ability to look further and to love more universally with greater intensity may be acquired only by following the same path of the Lord: the path of self-effacement and humility, taking on the role of a servant. Therefore I ask you, please, to receive this designation with a simple and humble heart. And, while you must do so with pleasure and joy, ensure that this sentiment is far from any expression of worldliness or from any form of celebration contrary to the evangelical spirit of austerity, sobriety and poverty.

Until we meet, then, on 20 February... I remain at your disposal and ask you, please, to pray for me and to ask for prayers on my behalf.

May Jesus bless you and the Holy Virgin protect you. 
FRANCIS
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Posted: June 28, 2017, 4:46 am
Twenty-five years ago, Fr Jorge Mario Bergoglio lived in "exile," the enemies who consigned him to it resting comfortably in the thought that the polarizing Jesuit would never meaningfully resurface again.

But then, all of a sudden, he came back even stronger.

Early this morning, as the 266th Bishop of Rome marked the silver jubilee of his banishment's surprise end with his ordination as an auxiliary of Buenos Aires (above), that past is prologue... and facing yet another crop of internal critics who'd like to similarly cast him off the map, the message from the now-Pope Francis can be paraphrased in four simple words:

"I'm not dead yet."

Observed with a low-key Mass in the Pauline Chapel – the same venue where the newly-elected Papa Bergoglio later said he was "transformed" as he prayed before facing the world in white for the first time – today's anniversary is far from the top line of this week's news, but it arguably provides the key to understanding the rest.

More on that later – for now, here's the Vatican translation of Francis' homily for the occasion:
In the first Letter we have heard how the dialogue continues between God and Abraham, that dialogue that begins with that “Go from your country…” (Gen 12: 1). And in this continuation of the dialogue, we find three imperatives: “Arise!”, “Look!”, “Hope!”. Three imperatives that mark the road Abraham must travel, and also the way in which he must do so, the inner attitude: arise, look, hope.

“Arise!”. Get up, walk, do not stay still. You have a task, you have a mission and you must fulfil it on the move. Do not stay seated: get up, on your feet. And Abraham begins to walk. On the move, always. And the symbol of this is the tent. The Book of Genesis says that Abraham went forth with a tent, and when he stopped he pitched his tent. But Abraham had made a house for himself, while there was this imperative: “Arise!”. He built only an altar: the only thing. To adore Him, He Who ordered him to get up, to go on the road, with his tent. “Arise!”

“Look!”. The second imperative. “Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west” (Gen, 13: 14). Look. Look to the horizon, do not build walls. Always look. And go ahead. And the mysticism of the horizon is that the more you go ahead, the farther away the horizon it. Look ahead, head forward, walking, but always towards the horizon.

The third imperative is, “Hope!”. There is that beautiful dialogue: “[Lord], you have given me no children, so a servant in my household will be my heir” – “A son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir”. Hope! (cf. Gen 15: 3-4). And this, said to a man who could not have had offspring, due both to his age and to his wife’s barrenness. But he will be “your own flesh and blood”. And your offspring will be “like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted” (Gen 13: 16). And a little later: “Look up at the sky and count the stars – if indeed you can count them. … So shall your offspring be”. And Abraham believed, and the Lord credited to him as righteousness (cf. Gen 15: 5-6). In the faith of Abraham there begins that righteousness that [the Apostle] Paul will carry on in his explanation of righteousness.

“Arise! Look! The horizon, no walls, the horizon – hope!” And hope is without walls, it is pure horizon.

But when Abraham was called, he had more or less our age: he was about to retire, to rest…. He started at that age. An elderly man, with the burden of old age, that old age that brings pains, illnesses. … But you, as if you were a youngster, get up, go, go! As if he were a scout: go! Look and hope. And this Word of God is also for us, who are about the same age as Abraham… more or less – there are some young ones here, but the majority are at that age – and to us today the Lord says the same thing: “Get up! Look! Hope!” He tells us that it is not the time to close up our lives, not to bring our history to a close, not to start compiling our history. The Lord tells us that our history is open, still: it is open right up to the end, it is open with a mission. And with these three imperatives He indicates the mission: “Arise! Look! Hope!”

Some, who does not wish us well say that we are the gerontocracy of the Church. It is an insult. They do not understand what they are saying: we are not geriatrics, we are grandfathers, we are grandfathers. And if we do not feel this, we must ask for the grace to feel it. Grandparents whom our grandchildren look up to. Grandparents who must give a meaning to their life with our experience. Not grandparents wrapped up in the melancholy of our history, but open to give this. And for us, this “arise, look, hope” is called “dreaming”. We are grandfathers called upon to dream and to give our dream to the youth of today: they are in need of it. Because they will take from our dreams the strength to prophesy and to go ahead in their task.

There comes to my mind that passage from the Gospel of Luke (2: 21-38), Simeon and Anna: two grandparents, but how much capacity for dreaming they had, those two! And all this dream they told to St. Joseph, to Our Lady, to the people… And Anna went around chatting here and there, and said, “It is He! It is He!”, and she told the dream of His life. And this is what the Lord asks of us today: not to close ourselves up, but to give the best of ourselves: they expect this from our experience, from our positive dreams, to carry ahead the prophecy and the work.

I ask the Lord for all of us that He give us this grace. Also for those who have not yet become grandfathers: let us see the president of [the bishops of] Brazil [Ed.: Cardinal Sergio da Rocha of Brasilia, 57], he is a youngster... but he will get there! The grace of being grandfathers, the grace of dreaming, of giving that dream to our young people: they need it.
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Posted: June 27, 2017, 9:31 pm
(Updated 2.30pm ET with presser video, etc.)

For the last twenty years, Msgr Al Schlert has been the closest collaborator to the last three bishops of Allentown.

And now, he's the Fifth Bishop of Allentown.

Deciding the next chapter of the 280,000-member upstate Pennsylvania fold in just over six months, at Roman Noon this Tuesday the Pope named the 55 year-old native son as successor to Bishop John Barres, who was transferred to Long Island's 1.6 million-Catholic behemoth of Rockville Centre last December. (At left, Schlert's seen at a 2016 event to support the horses of a local mounted police unit.)

With the move, the bishop-elect becomes the first Lehigh Valley product to head its local church since Allentown was spun off from the archdiocese of Philadelphia in 1961 (fittingly, the year of Schlert's birth). Then again, that independence was fairly cosmetic for most of the last half-century – until Barres' appointment in 2009, the diocese's first three bishops had all been auxiliaries down the Northeast Extension of the Turnpike, a quirk which made the place seem less its own shop than a vicariate of the Pharaohs, even as Allentown priests came to be named bishops elsewhere.

Ordained in 1988, Schlert spent a decade in the trenches before becoming secretary to then-Bishop Thomas Welsh, quickly rising to vicar-general a year later (at 37) on the arrival of Bishop Edward Cullen and remaining in the #2 post ever since. Along the way, he's become well-steeped in the church's activity at state level thanks to a longtime involvement with the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference – the bishops' joint lobbying arm in Harrisburg – of which he's already vice-president.

During his early years in ministry, meanwhile, today's pick notably echoes several of Francis' other Stateside appointees in having served in college campus ministry, in Schlert's case three years as chaplain at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, during which time he doubled up as a teacher at his high-school alma mater, Notre Dame in Easton.

While it's indeed rare that an administrator is tapped to permanently fill the vacancy he's managing, it seems almost as elusive of late that the lead deputy to a departing bishop is even elected to the temporary post. Just over recent months, the consultors of both Raleigh and Nashville each went beyond the respective officials already in place, in both cases choosing well-regarded retired pastors as diocesan administrator in the hope of keeping their Chanceries in check until the respective next bishops arrive.

To be clear, moves of the kind send a potent signal to the Hatmakers on the state of a place... even if it seems not everyone in North Carolina has gotten the memo. (Read: "Yep, still chaotic.") In any case, that Schlert had obtained the local vote of confidence – one which, again, can't be taken for granted these days – allowed Rome to register its own in fairly rapid order.

As the scene in Allentown goes, even if Schlert's done two decades' worth of legwork behind the scenes, the fifth bishop steps into the spotlight with most of a sizable parish consolidation project – which merged the previous 121 communities into 84 – already in the can. (Just yesterday, the diocese announced the Vatican's rejection of another round of appeals from members of closed churches.) At the same time, however, with a sizable recent influx of Hispanic immigration ballooning the upstate fold's Latino bloc to almost 40 percent – by far the largest presence of its kind in a Pennsylvania diocese, per USCCB figures – it is conspicuous that the bishop-elect doesn't speak Spanish, at least not enough for the skill to be listed in the usual spot of his Vatican-issued biography, which does note his ability in Italian.

On another critical front, Allentown is one of six suffragan see currently under investigation by a statewide grand jury, which was empaneled last year after a similar probe uncovered decades of abuse and cover-up in the Midstate diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.

Begun last September with subpoenas of priests' records from the 1940s into the present from the dioceses of Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton alongside Allentown, the probe – in terms of scope, the most sprawling abuse inquiry to date into the US church – is expected to extend for several years.

With an 11am presser called at the Cathedral of St Catherine of Siena, Allentown Chancery has already announced that Schlert's ordination will take place there on Thursday, 31 August.

Upon today's move – and as the last appointments begin to roll out before the Curia's summer hiatus – five Stateside Latin-church sees remain vacant, with another five led by (arch)bishops serving past the retirement age of 75.

While the latter crop is led by Washington – where the ever-influential Cardinal Donald Wuerl reached the milestone in November 2015 – a transition in the nation's capital is not expected until at least the first half of next year. To that end, this December's dedication of the Trinity Dome – the massive mosaic "capstone" of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception – is being sensed in ranking circles as the beginning of the cardinal's "victory lap."

SVILUPPO: Brimming with enthusiasm for "teaching" – the church's, that is – here's fullvid of this morning's local introduction (presser begins at 4-minute mark)....


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Posted: June 27, 2017, 8:05 pm
For the second time in a month, the City of St Francis is made to bury an archbishop... yet this time, it's the "Big One."

The figure who enshrined a progressive style of Catholicism to fit the nation's most liberal city, Archbishop John Raphael Quinn died early this morning at 88.

Head of the San Francisco church from 1977-95, the San Diego native – ordained a bishop at 38 – led the US bench as the modern conference's fourth president from 1977-80, amid the hierarchy's post-Conciliar zenith of action and activism.

Despite months of declining health, the news came suddenly nonetheless; Quinn had just been released from hospital last week and was said to be settling well into a nursing home, until his breathing became labored early today.

Referred to almost majestically in church circles as "John Raphael," the archbishop's condition had first taken a downturn last November in Rome, where he was on hand for the elevation of one of his proteges, now-Cardinal Blase Cupich, who tapped Quinn to pronounce the papal bull granting the Chicago prelate his titular church, St Bartholomew's on Tiber Island, as Cupich took possession of it. (In a similar vein, no shortage of eyebrows were raised at the latter's 2014 installation in Chicago, as the new archbishop pointedly placed Quinn at his side among the major concelebrants at the altar of Holy Name Cathedral, even with most of the American cardinals in attendance.)

Over his two decades at the helm by the Bay, Quinn's sense of the church's role in public life saw the archbishop become the first US prelate to meaningfully tackle the outbreak of AIDS, marshaling his Catholic Charities into its enduring role as the city's lead caregiver to the stricken, while most other locales remained stuck in misunderstandings on the epidemic or a lacking sense of its potential spread. Along the way, history was made in 1987 as – during his sprawling two-week Stateside tour – Pope John Paul II first met victims of the disease in San Francisco, among them two priests.

At the same time, by its mid-1990s end the archbishop's tenure had become mired under a cloud of controversies ranging from his handling of sex-abuse to parish closings, leading Quinn to seek a coadjutor at 66 as his allies accused the local media of "journalistic terrorism." In prior years, meanwhile, he had become the first known American Catholic leader to openly admit to a struggle with depression, entering treatment during a sabbatical in the late 1980s.

Having dedicated his retirement to research and writing on ecumenism – and, consequently, the reform of ecclesial structures to facilitate it – Quinn experienced something of a second spring under Pope Francis, who eagerly sought out the retiree as a sounding board for his own plans to enhance synodality in the Western church.

As the topic was the focus of the archbishop's 1999 book The Reform of the Papacy – written with an eye to rethinking the Pope's role in the name of Christian unity – much of Quinn's vision has come to bleed into Francis' mindset, a meld the pontiff expressed most daringly alongside the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew during the Pope's 2014 visit to Jerusalem, and in his landmark address in October 2015 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Synod of Bishops.

Even before the current pontificate, though, the Quinn renaissance was already underway with then-Pope Benedict XVI's elevation of several of his aides and favorites to the episcopacy, most of them shepherded onto the bench by his San Francisco successor, William Levada, from his eventual cardinal's seat on the Congregation for Bishops.

Led in tandem by Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe (Quinn's onetime secretary) and Bishop Bob McElroy of San Diego – his last vicar-general, now making an increasingly "disrupt"-ive imprint on the national stage – as one of the group once underscored to Whispers, "You say we're Levada's but, really, we're Quinn's."

In a notably effusive statement on the passing of his predecessor – reflecting the devotion with which the elder churchman was held – current San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone (above, with Quinn at his side) said in announcing the death that "our hearts are breaking at losing such a great priest and friend."

Funeral arrangements remain pending. Ever himself, however, Quinn will still have the final word – long in the works, the late prelate's last book was almost completed at the time of his passing, its focus on the First Vatican Council (1869-70), an event headlined by its definition of papal infallibility on matters of faith and morals.

According to Whispers ops close to John Raphael, the author spent his last weeks poring over the galleys from his sickbed.

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Posted: June 23, 2017, 9:08 am
While late last week was supposed to be given to the Midsummer Classic – eventful as it was for a June meeting – more pressing developments have pushed the bench to the side... at least, the Stateside one.

As ever, news has its ways of disrupting the best-laid plans. Still, as sidetracks go, this instance brings the specter of a blockbuster: the most important personnel choice Pope Francis will make, bar none, is said to be on deck.

According to mounting reports from Italy over recent days, Papa Bergoglio has settled upon his pick for the archbishopric of Milan: with 5 million Catholics, Europe's largest diocese by far – above all, the Italian church's most critical assignment outside Rome thanks to the city's place as the country's financial and media hub, not to mention its top population center.

Upon his unveiling, Francis' choice will succeed Cardinal Angelo Scola, who reached the retirement age of 75 last November.

Long a favorite of Benedict XVI, the 2011 choice of Scola – Papa Ratzinger's decades-long collaborator on numerous fronts, above all in seeking to set the goalposts for a dialogue with post-modern culture – was merely the latest instance of how every Pope of the modern era has sought to send an unmistakable message with his appointment to the seat of Saints Ambrose and Charles (Borromeo).

Among others, three more recent turnovers of the post likewise stand out: Pius XII's 1954 call of his Co-Secretary of State, Msgr Giovanni Battista Montini, to the Lombard church, from which he would be elected nine years later as Pope Paul VI; now-St John Paul II's 1979 shock tap of the then-rector of the Gregorian, Fr Carlo Maria Martini, which served to launch the Jesuit Scripture scholar into cult figure status across broad swathes of progressives and others worldwide, then the 2002 choice of his successor, Dionigi Tettamanzi – already cardinal-archbishop of Genoa and, a decade prior, the primary ghostwriter of JPII's pro-life manifesto, Evangelium Vitae.

As a pontiff's ability to run the table only extends for the course of his own reign, beyond the confidence of his Maker in White – and with it, the Milanese prelate's day-to-day influence over the life of a mega-fold spread across 1,000-plus parishes – that five of the city's nine archbishops over the last century have either been beatified or elected to the papacy (or both) speaks to an enduring imprint long beyond their respective turns at its helm.

Indeed, in an act underscoring the post's nonpareil standing in papal eyes, Benedict continued the tradition (begun with Martini) of conferring Scola's pallium privately, in this case at Castel Gandolfo (above), instead of doing so alongside the world's other newly-named archbishops. In its last instance, however, the move echoed the 2002 moment when – breaking the norm that restricts the wool band to metropolitans – John Paul II placed it on the shoulders of Joseph Ratzinger, effectively singling out his eventual successor.

Accordingly, that Scola's considerable buzz as Papabile in 2013 was only short-circuited, at least in part, by sudden civil investigations into the cardinal's allies in local government – a probe which curiously leaked onto the front-pages of Italian papers on the very morning before the cardinals entered Conclave – just emphasized further both the outsize shadow of Milan and B16's unspoken "message" bolstering it. And in one of the most priceless "comic relief" moments that are Italian ecclesiastics' stock-in-trade, when the election was accomplished within 24 hours, the country's bishops' conference famously didn't let the the choice's actual identity prevent them from issuing a statement exulting over Scola as the new "Pope." (And especially these days, how that hasn't birthed a Fiat factory's worth of conspiracy theories is anyone's guess.)

In light of said lineage, then, whether the Milan pick comes this week, next month or (at the latest) early next year, it's nonetheless the ultimate venue for Francis – as both the first non-European Pope in over a millennium, and ever the son of Northern Italian emigres – to set his stamp, both for the direction of Catholicism on the "Boot" and across the wider church... let alone, on a personal level, serving as an especially meaningful act given his marked devotion both to the now-Blessed Montini – whose post-Conciliar efforts Francis sees himself as "picking up" after a half-century of Curial obstruction – and the late Martini, whose posthumously-released final interview given just before his August 2012 death (read: six months before the last Conclave) could be read as a "tell" into the election that followed on its heels, and the current moment writ large.

Within Italy itself, a new occupant for the Lombard seat – the place which, 18 centuries ago, witnessed the conversion and baptism of a certain Augustine – would cap an epochal hat-trick by Papa Bergoglio over recent weeks, following last month's appointment of now-Archbishop Angelo De Donatis, 63, a "career pastor" and spiritual director to priests, as Francis' Vicar for Rome, then his assent to the Italian bishops' choice of Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti of Perugia as the new president of their national conference, known as the CEI.

In both cases, the respective choices merely capped off trajectories signaled by the Pope himself: the preacher of the Lenten retreat for pontiff and Curia in 2014, De Donatis was catapulted into Rome's diocesan leadership a year later – when, in a rarity for one of his auxiliaries, Francis performed the ordination himself (right) in St John Lateran – while, in another shock to the system, Bassetti (a prior vice-president of the Italian bench) was plucked for the red hat in the Pope's first intake, as the cardinalate's traditional destinations in Venice and Turin were (and remain) bypassed.

On the other hand, meanwhile, both choices were the result of freshly-amplified attempts at consultation ordered from the Domus: for the Roman seat (technically the Pope's vicar-general), earlier this year Francis issued an open call for input among the clergy and faithful to be sent to him by mid-April, while in a first for the CEI's corner office – a key power-center of Italian life in the not-so-distant past – Bassetti's selection only came after the Italian bishops voted on a terna (three-man shortlist) of preferred presidents at last month's plenary, with the cardinal handily coming out on top.

That said, it is indeed conspicuous that – as the vicariate of Rome invariably brings its holder a red hat – despite having decided on De Donatis prior to his announcement of a Consistory next week, the Pope still opted against making a cardinal of the de facto head of his own diocese.

In a perfect world, that alone should end any complaints about any other place not seeing the scarlet again. Yet in an age that prefers decibel levels to actual context, it won't.

As speculation goes for Milan, listing potential names is only healthy as clickbait; in factual terms it's simply pointless in this case. Keeping with his established practice for other critical nods, it's an easy call that Francis will reserve the file to himself, taking his own soundings by phone, private letter or face-to-face and short-circuiting any debate or vote from the Congregation for Bishops.

While no shortage of possibilities have been buzzed about among Roman ops for months on end, the most scintillating among them – Pierbattista Pizzaballa, 52, the longtime head of the Franciscans' centuries-old mission in the Holy Land – is ostensibly off the table due to early days into his new assignment as archbishop-administrator of Jerusalem's Latin Patriarchate, armed with a mandate to remedy what he's termed "a critical situation, mainly financial" facing the jurisdiction which encompasses Israel, Palestine and Jordan. (And as one op summed up the scene facing the widely-regarded friar, "When an Italian's been sent in to fix the money, you really know it's bad.")

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Immense as the expectation's running for Milan, however, Italy's super-seat is just one of three of the world's premier local churches awaiting the Pope's choice of a new leader in short order.

Likewise Catholicism's most sizable outposts on their respective continents, the archdioceses of Kinshasa and, as of early this month, Mexico City are now in play as their respective occupants have submitted their retirement letters. On the latter front, lest anyone forgot a certain "bombshell" address in the heart of global fold's second-largest national turf some 16 months ago – widely seen as Francis' pointed critique on Cardinal Norberto Rivera's leadership of the Mexican hierarchy over two decades at its helm – well, do the math.

What's more still, considering the ample audience el Arzobispo Primado de México now enjoys North of the Border – in light of Univision and Telemundo (the networks of choice for the Stateside Church's emerging majority bloc) often besting ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC and in major-market TV ratings – as the future of the US fold goes, Rivera's succession is a move of almost unparalleled domestic consequence, to boot.

Speaking of (fading European) numbers, it's a sign of the times that Italy's largest diocese is now the smallest among the A-list trio pending before Francis: the principal seat of the onetime Belgian Congo, Kinshasa's growing fold comprises over over 6 million Catholics, and while Mexico City – the global church's largest diocese of all – is said to number close to 8 million members, that figure is likely low-balled due to migration patterns and iffy record-keeping.

Though last Thursday brought the antique celebration of Corpus Christi – a holy day within Vatican City itself (read: all offices closed) – in a rarity, the Holy See apparently saw fit to troll the Italian press' outbreak of "Milanese fever" by opening shop to roll out a number of appointments in Albania, Mexico and Colombia.

Meanwhile, in a first, the Vatican observance's traditional outdoor Mass at St John Lateran and procession to St Mary Major was moved to Sunday, ending a longtime work-week ritual which tended to reflect some degree of liturgical schizophrenia and/or longing for the restoration of the Papal States.

Simply put, in choosing to match the Monstrance-march to Italy's actual calendar, the Pope didn't just opt to facilitate the convenience of the faithful, but – like so much else in the works – chose to abide by the decision of the episcopal conference... even if it took some four decades after the fact.

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Posted: June 20, 2017, 10:08 pm
(Updated with presser feed, Installation date, etc.)

True story: amid the frigid splendor of Cardinal Joe Tobin’s installation at Newark in early January, this scribe hitched a couple bus rides with the amply sized Indiana delegation, which made the trek to see their former boss to his new home.

Along the way, the shop’s daily mailbag essentially came to life as, at one point or another, what seemed like the bulk of the Hoosiers on-board leaned in, warmly besieging a reporter with just one question:

“Who’s coming to Indy?”

Especially in these days of a process that’s anything but linear, one can see how the chips will fall only so far in advance…. Still, even for the usual caginess that comes with the turf, it was even more impossible to be fully candid with them, at least in words – for most of the trips, the already-tipped frontrunner happened to be sitting at my side. And now, he is indeed the Pope’s choice… or, as some might put it, the “Heir to the Joe.”

In the least surprising major move Stateside Catholicism has seen in some time, at Roman Noon this Tuesday, Francis named Bishop Charles Thompson of Evansville (right) as the Seventh Archbishop of Indianapolis, the move coming smack in the midst of the USCCB's June Meeting in the city, whose public sessions start tomorrow.

At 56, the Louisville native – an established social media presence known always and everywhere as “Chuck” – becomes the nation’s youngest metropolitan, ending the nearly five-year run over which the distinction was held by Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland, the last provincial head named by Benedict XVI. Yet perhaps most poignantly, having been a spiritual son and protege of two archbishops – Louisville’s late Tom Kelly OP and Indy’s retired Daniel Buechlein OSB – over his 30 years of priesthood, it seems no accident that Thompson has risen to the rank himself.

Wiry and easygoing with a self-described "social justice" bent dating to his teens, the archbishop-elect was said to be "anxious, but ready" for today's rollout, according to a Whispers op informed of the appointment.

A resolutely "Francis man" among a bench whose extremes tend to make disproportionate noise, Thompson outlined the pontiff's imprint on his vision at considerable length in a 2016 pastoral letter to the Evansville church, a text built around the Pope's imperative of "missionary discipleship." And speaking of emphases, that the Indy pick recently took to issuing a rare public message from a Catholic prelate to his local Muslim community – "our brothers and sisters in Abraham" – to mark Islam's penitential month of Ramadan... well, it didn't hurt.

Despite his roots in Marion County – the heart of Kentucky’s centuries-old Catholic mecca, the celebrated “Holy Land” – the archbishop-elect has long been as steeped as any “outsider” could be in the life of Indiana’s principal church, now home to some 300,000 members.

For starters, Thompson's hometown lies just across the Ohio River from the Indy archdiocese’s mostly Protestant, sparsely populated southern tier… but in particular, the fold he now inherits was his home as a seminarian in formation at St Meinrad – the source of his bond with Buechlein, then its rector – before returning to the Benedictine house in the early 2000s as a professor of the canons, juggling that role with a Louisville pastorate (with the then-retired Kelly as his "parochial vicar") and Chancery work as vicar-general to Archbishop Joseph Kurtz. Upon his 2011 appointment to Evansville – a heavily rural outpost in Indiana’s southwest corner – that familiarity was only burnished given his seat on the Hoosiers’ provincial bench and the strong history of coordination among the state’s bishops on common causes.

All this goes to underscore the backstory and needs which framed today’s move – much of the paradigm reportedly set by Tobin himself. On one critical front, the move toward a “young” choice speaks to a premium on stability; upon his installation, “Archbishop Chuck” will be the fourth prelate to lead the Indy church in the last six years – named in 2011 due to Buechlein’s declining health, then-auxiliary Chris Coyne served a year as apostolic administrator with full powers until Tobin’s late 2012 arrival from Rome, then was quickly whisked home to New England as head of Vermont’s statewide diocese of Burlington.

At the same time, a significant ongoing concern within the archdiocese has been the apparent balkanization between the population core within the see city’s metro area and feelings of neglect in the south, which Thompson’s experience almost uniquely equips him to bridge. Most of all, however, the repeated turnover of leadership and other pressing challenges – among them a parish planning effort begun by the now-cardinal – will now be remedied by an extraordinarily smooth and easy transition, with little to no time needed in terms of learning curve. And along with it, the incoming archbishop brings a decent knowledge of Spanish, an ever more necessary skill given his new charge’s growing Latino bloc.

As first reported here yesterday, a 10am Eastern presser has been called at the Chancery – here, the livefeed for on-demand video of the event... and with it, the text of the archbishop-elect's first statement:



Per the norms of the canons, Thompson must be installed within two months of today’s move. With this pick, Francis has now named a quarter of the 32 Stateside Latin archbishops.

(SVILUPPO: Per the archdiocese, the Installation is scheduled for Friday, 28 July – and, with the archbishop-elect now slated to head to Rome to receive his Pallium at month's end alongside two other prelates with Hoosier ties, will be invested with the metropolitan gear at the same time.)

Developing – more to come.

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Posted: June 14, 2017, 6:08 pm
(SVILUPPO: The appointment reported below was formally announced by the Vatican at Roman Noon on Tuesday, 13 June.)

Of course, this week brings the Midsummer Classic – the June Meeting of the US bishops, the bench’s first plenary of both a Donald Trump White House and a Dan DiNardo Presidency. Yet while the former’s ascent provides no shortage of things to be discussed, such is the latter’s disposition that no session will run a second longer than it absolutely has to.

But, no, the reason for that is not – repeat: is not – politics.

While a handful of committee meetings got underway this morning, the full Floor business opens on Wednesday morning. Though the agenda's full shape won’t be plotted out until tomorrow’s meeting of the Administrative Committee, the most prominent item of the first day will come at its end: an evening Mass of Prayer and Penance “for survivors of sex-abuse within the church” – the US’ first response to last year’s call by the Pope for each episcopal conference to designate a national day toward the effort.

Notably, the liturgy falls precisely 15 years to the week since the fateful 2002 summer meeting, when the nationwide revelations of abuse and cover-up made the issue the sole item of the plenary, culminating in the passage of the Charter and Norms now known by where they were approved – Dallas.

The Dallas meeting memorably closed with a “Mass for the Gift of Tears,” no similar national gesture has been replicated since, until now. And fittingly, the “face” of the church’s response in those days – Wilton Gregory, providentially suited to tackling a storm unknown upon his election as president – will preach this week’s encore, with DiNardo celebrating as the incumbent Chief.

* * *
All that said, as this week approached, the statisticians had some brushing up to do – given this meeting’s venue, no one could remember an instance when the bench had convened in a city which was lacking a bishop as host.

Of course, that was by accident – the traveling June circus is booked years in advance, and it was just in November that the Pope shocked many by plucking Joe Tobin from Indianapolis on the eve of a watershed red hat, parachuting his oldest Stateside friend into Newark with a mission to heal the roiled Jersey fold.

In any case, with remarkable timing, the notion of a host-less meeting is now moot – in a message sent to the Brickyard clergy and lay leaders this morning, the Indy administrator Msgr Bill Stumpf invited the locals to a Chancery press conference at 10am tomorrow, its purpose stated only as “news affecting the archdiocese.”

Among Whispers ops, it is indeed understood that the event – couched as it is in the usual code – will introduce the Pope’s pick to be Indiana’s seventh archbishop, the appointment itself arriving at Roman Noon (6am ET). And given the surreal nature of some 150 prelates all landing in the place at the same time, well, this admittedly feels more like the Flying Elvises scene from Honeymoon in Vegas than anything this scribe ever thought to expect on this beat.

By virtue of his appointment alone, the impending archbishop-elect will complete a unique Hoosier troika heading to Rome at month’s end to celebrate Saints Peter and Paul alongside the Pope and receive the pallium with which he’ll be invested after his installation: alongside tomorrow’s pick and his now-predecessor, Archbishop Paul Etienne of Anchorage is an Indy native with a local fanbase as big as his family’s two-century roots in the diocese run deep...

...and if only the Alaska file came up a couple weeks later than it did last September... er, complete the sentence.

Alas, such is the budget that these pages can’t be on-site for the week’s events... but if that's the price for not being bought by an overlord, it's well worth paying. Still, as the usual stem-to-stern coverage rolls into gear – not to mention a Consistory on tap... and all the other curveballs to be had as the "Vatican year" winds to a close – the reminder's ever in order that these pages can only keep coming your way by means of your support....


And yet again, folks, buckle up.

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Posted: June 13, 2017, 11:59 am
For the better part of the last decade, one of the house's Raleigh ops has invariably plugged a local standout there with these words: "Ned Shlesinger is a saint."

To be sure, that judgment ultimately belongs to God. In the meantime, though, Ned is now a bishop – and as whoever replaced the "Taz" would need all the help he can get, having holiness locked up is a sound place to start.

In a rapid turnaround for the second deputy's slot in what's now a fold of 1.2 million, at Roman Noon this Monday the Pope poached Shlesinger, 56 (left) – who precisely no one calls by his given name of "Bernard" – from the eastern North Carolina ranks as auxiliary bishop of Atlanta, the move coming barely six months since Bishop David Talley was sent to reap the whirlwind in southern Louisiana.

Until now on loan as a spiritual director at St Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, the bishop-elect – the latest in a flood of auxiliaries rolling out nationwide over the course of this year – marks an early 70th birthday present for Archbishop Wilton Gregory, who reaches the milestone in December. Fluent in Spanish (a key trait given the Atlanta church's Hispanic plurality of membership), a veteran of the Air Force (where he made Captain and flew C-130s) and product of Virginia Tech and the North American College, the Pope's pick had been slated to head home to a parish over this summer, and reacted to Francis' change of plans this morning with one of several instances of bursting into tears.

While his response has been the opposite of ambition – no surprise to anyone who knows him, even just by reputation – that the figure described among his own as "the best priest of the diocese" has landed a hat fulfills the path charted for Shlesinger by his now-former boss, Bishop Michael Burbidge, who marked out today's pick by sending his onetime vocation director to the Overbrook house (read: Burbidge's Valhalla) after Shlesinger racked up a significant increase of seminarians in the diocesan post.

That said, the loss of one of the Triangle church's major clerics comes amid what's already been described as a chaotic vacancy following Burbidge's transfer to Arlington last fall, and as Raleigh prepares to open its new Cathedral of the Holy Name of Jesus (above) on July 26th. Though the prior occupant is slated to perform the liturgy dedicating his dream project for worship, it is credibly expected that the next Raleigh prelate will be appointed in advance of the rites, and then installed in the $41 million, 2,000-seat cathedral shortly after its formal launch.

Notably, today's nod marks the second time in recent weeks that – bucking the usual practice – an Anglo auxiliary has been parachuted into a sizable archdiocese from outside its presbyterate; the first was Bishop-elect Dan Mueggenborg, the former NAC vice-rector called in from Tulsa, who'll be ordained a second auxiliary of Seattle at month's end.

In both cases, the choices have long been in the pipeline and enjoy sterling reputations, but it likewise bears recalling how starting from scratch with a fully local search – and, ergo, finding someone who can clear the vetting – inevitably means a wait that can drag on for several years. On the other hand, however, it is the distinct reality in both spots that – with Atlanta and Seattle each having experienced exponential growth over the last two decades – the respective booms have been overwhelmingly fueled by the arrival of transplants from outside, clergy included. Even if it's not the general norm, then, in these particular instances auxiliary bishops who share that experience simply makes pastoral sense... and in today's case, indeed, there is a uniquely Wiltonian sense of history to it.

Given the schedules that need to be juggled, Shlesinger's ordination date remains to be determined; per the norms of the canons, it must take place within four months. In any event, today's move comes just ahead of Atlanta's major gathering of the year – the Eucharistic Congress, which sees a crowd of 30,000 take over the city's convention center through Corpus Christi weekend, comprising the church's largest annual gathering in the American South.

And here, featuring a new bishop as weepy as his new boss was downright giddy, the video of this morning's intro presser at Tara, albeit filmed sideways:


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Posted: June 8, 2017, 7:39 pm
(Updated 1pm ET with Press Conference video.)

Over recent weeks, the growing community at St Ignatius Martyr parish in Austin has been planning a “bash” for their pastor’s 50th birthday.

However, the Pope now sends word that their late June event for Father Bill will now double as a farewell... to Bishop-elect Wack.

In an unheard-of act on a US civil holiday, this Memorial Day indeed brings an appointment – at Roman Noon, Francis named the South Bend-born priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross (a onetime vocation director at Notre Dame) as sixth bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee, tapped to lead a minority fold of 70,000 across the broad swath of the heavily-Evangelical Florida Panhandle: a charge spanning two time zones and some 14,000 square miles. (In a shot circulated this past March, the bishop-elect is seen test-piloting the new parking lot on his parish plant.)

Even as Papa Bergoglio has long taken any notion of holiday weekends for the Stateside press to the shredder, today's move is simply on a different plane, and in more ways than one at that.

His ordination reportedly set for late August, Wack succeeds Bishop Gregory Parkes, the Florida State alum sent on a fittingly giant leap across the Sunshine State late last year with his transfer to St Petersburg, the province’s second-largest post. Yet where Parkes was already quite familiar with and devoted to Noles Country from his college days, his successor arrives sight unseen... so in this instance, any expectation that a lifelong son of the Fighting Irish will lead The Chop on Day One might be a bit much to ask.

Described by Whispers ops as “a simply joyful priest” and “the kind of guy you’d want for everything [in ministry],” the bishop-elect’s road since his 1994 ordination has been unusually varied, and features an especially potent example of the identikit Francis has repeatedly demanded for those to whom he entrusts the mitre and crozier.

Before his stint until today at the Austin parish, Wack served for seven years as director of Andre House, a homeless shelter and soup kitchen in a Phoenix drug corridor where, according to a recent interview, he and his team would serve more than 500 plates every night on top of caring for the daily laundry and lodging of anyone who came.

Already a veteran of social media – a trait which will serve him well given the spread he inherits – Wack posts audio of his homilies online... his reasons for being “really keyed up” about yesterday’s preach now in the open:

My homily from this morning (Ascension). For some reason I was really keyed up today! https://t.co/m4x7KnOqTj
— Fr. Bill Wack, CSC (@FrWack) May 28, 2017
Said by an associate to “not be given to administration” – a common (but not universal) lack among Francis' recent Stateside appointees – that hasn’t stopped the Panhandle pick from making his goal in pledges for a $2.5 million capital campaign for his Texas parish. Still, Wack nonetheless has the good fortune of inheriting a charge where the locals report no major pressing issues. Meantime, with the diocese’s Hispanic population steadily ticking up due to an influx for its service industries, the elect brings ample proficiency in Spanish, a first for the bishop there.

As local media were quietly alerted on Friday – and, Florida being Florida, was then brazenly announced in Pensacola Cathedral at yesterday’s Masses – a 10am Central presser has already been called at the western hub’s Chancery. One of the US church’s few twin-seat dioceses, the joint see cities are some 200 miles apart, a roughly three-hour drive.

Among other aspects, it is of note that Wack’s appointment marks but the latest instance of Francis choosing an American bishop from a remarkably large family. The seventh of ten kids born to a doctor and a nurse, Bill was eventually followed into the CSCs by his brother, Neil, who was ordained a decade later and now holds his brother’s onetime vocations post at Notre Dame. Yet as the brothers' social feeds are each unusually sparse, it's even more salient how both follow the son of another Midwestern "tribe" who ostensibly shepherded this appointment across the finish line from his seat on the Congregation for Bishops – namely, Blase.

All that said, just a few weeks ago, an Austin pastor was but a face in the crowd among the 5,000-odd faithful who converged from across Texas for the church’s annual Advocacy Day at the Lone Star Capitol (above) – an event highlighted by the bishops' breakfast with the turf's first governor from the fold since Mexican rule.

And with today’s move, Bill Wack suddenly becomes Catholicism’s principal voice in the capital of what's now the third-largest state.

Just further proof of how these days, in this church, life really comes at you fast.

As chaos reigns in Raleigh, Indianapolis collects advice for its next occupant – and an ongoing "Auxnado" reshapes the bench's voting ranks more than anything else afoot – six Stateside Latin sees remain vacant, with another four led by (arch)bishops serving past the retirement age.

SVILUPPO: A feast of "oversharing" – a tendency the bishop-elect easily admitted to – here's fullvid of this morning's presser, which saw the Pope's pick riff at length without a scripted text....


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Posted: May 29, 2017, 9:51 pm
To one and all in the Northeast, Nebraska, The Vatican (yet not Italy) – and the handful of other places where this is still Ascension Day – a blessed and buona festa with all its joys and graces....

...to everyone else, no news for you. At least, not 'til the weekend.

Given the unique patchwork of how American Catholicism observes this 40th Day of Easter (or, for the most part, doesn't), it bears recalling how the split decision – and its ever-resulting confusion – owes itself to a 1994 vote granted by Rome to the bishops of each of the nation's 33 Latin-church provinces: a concession which followed a five-year "experiment" that initially allowed the five Westernmost jurisdictions to move their Ascension date to the then-Seventh Sunday of Easter and see how it unfolded.

To put it mildly, no shortage of things have changed since then, above all the makeup of the bench. Indeed, it's hard to think of more than five still-active prelates (of some 250) who would've cast a vote on this question, and all but one of them are now in very different provinces than they were at the time.

More to the point, the last two decades have brought something of a tidal shift across the board, even as its wake has pulled in two very different directions: in the Northeast, where 1994's ample numbers of priests and people have largely been obliterated due to aging and atrophy, the region's historic premium on "tradition" – read: the Obligatory Collection – is a lot more costly these days... while even as a thousand and more new communities have bloomed to points South and West, amid presbyterates that've either grown or, at best, barely kept pace to serve the boom, in many places said epochal ascent has brought a more deeply-rooted sense of Catholic identity to the fore, one in which days like this make for a particular flashpoint, and a very desirable one to maintain at that.

In other words, since there's no need whatsoever for the prior generation's judgment to hold today's Church hostage, the Ascension Day vote can be retaken at any time... and if it were, one way or another, odds are the resulting map would look rather different.

It wouldn't exactly be rocket-science to pull off, either – the majority of diocesan bishops in any given province would be able to petition for a change on their respective turf at any time, but a spirit of collegiality seems to prod something more, well, "catholic" for the broader scene. Toward that end, the exigencies of a different Church in a different age make this question feel like something at least worth discerning anew, that the needs and aspirations of God's People in our situations today might best be served as they are, instead of as they were two decades – and an ecclesial epoch – ago.

All that said, in the grand scheme of things, the date is but window dressing. For all the hand-wringing that remains over when this feast is (or isn't) celebrated, to engage in that while missing out on what the day actually means – and the responsibility and work that it requires – only creates yet another vapid distraction from the lone thing that matters most....

Evangelization takes place in obedience to the missionary mandate of Jesus: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20). In these verses we see how the risen Christ sent his followers to preach the Gospel in every time and place, so that faith in him might spread to every corner of the earth.

The word of God constantly shows us how God challenges those who believe in him “to go forth”.... The Church which “goes forth” is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice. An evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, that he has loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:19), and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast. Such a community has an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of its own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy.


Let us try a little harder to take the first step and to become involved. Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. The Lord gets involved and he involves his own, as he kneels to wash their feet. He tells his disciples: “You will be blessed if you do this” (Jn 13:17). An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others. Evangelizers thus take on the “smell of the sheep” and the sheep are willing to hear their voice. An evangelizing community is also supportive, standing by people at every step of the way, no matter how difficult or lengthy this may prove to be. It is familiar with patient expectation and apostolic endurance. Evangelization consists mostly of patience and disregard for constraints of time. Faithful to the Lord’s gift, it also bears fruit. An evangelizing community is always concerned with fruit, because the Lord wants her to be fruitful. It cares for the grain and does not grow impatient at the weeds. The sower, when he sees weeds sprouting among the grain does not grumble or overreact. He or she finds a way to let the word take flesh in a particular situation and bear fruits of new life, however imperfect or incomplete these may appear. The disciple is ready to put his or her whole life on the line, even to accepting martyrdom, in bearing witness to Jesus Christ, yet the goal is not to make enemies but to see God’s word accepted and its capacity for liberation and renewal revealed. Finally an evangelizing community is filled with joy; it knows how to rejoice always. It celebrates every small victory, every step forward in the work of evangelization. Evangelization with joy becomes beauty in the liturgy, as part of our daily concern to spread goodness. The Church evangelizes and is herself evangelized through the beauty of the liturgy, which is both a celebration of the task of evangelization and the source of her renewed self-giving.

I am aware that nowadays documents do not arouse the same interest as in the past and that they are quickly forgotten. Nevertheless, I want to emphasize that what I am trying to express here has a programmatic significance and important consequences. I hope that all communities will devote the necessary effort to advancing along the path of a pastoral and missionary conversion which cannot leave things as they presently are. “Mere administration” can no longer be enough. Throughout the world, let us be “permanently in a state of mission”....

There are ecclesial structures which can hamper efforts at evangelization, yet even good structures are only helpful when there is a life constantly driving, sustaining and assessing them. Without new life and an authentic evangelical spirit, without the Church’s “fidelity to her own calling,” any new structure will soon prove ineffective.

I dream of a “missionary option” – that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her [own] self-preservation. The renewal of structures demanded by pastoral conversion can only be understood in this light: as part of an effort to make them more mission-oriented, to make ordinary pastoral activity on every level more inclusive and open, to inspire in pastoral workers a constant desire to go forth and in this way to elicit a positive response from all those whom Jesus summons to friendship with himself.
–Pope Francis
Evangelii Gaudium ("The Joy of the Gospel")
24 November 2013
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Posted: May 25, 2017, 8:08 pm
(Updated 12pm ET with White House readout.)
After weeks of anticipation – and a rhetorical flare from the host's side – just before 8.30 this morning President Trump arrived at the Apostolic Palace for his reception by the Pope.

On reaching the Private Library in the Papal Apartment, the duo spent a half-hour in one-on-one talks behind closed doors. In what's become a sign of welcome under Francis for visiting heads of state, the American flag was again flown over the San Damaso courtyard, where the POTUS' 70-car motorcade rolled up.

While Papa Bergoglio appeared unusually somber or apprehensive as he emerged to welcome the beaming President upon his arrival, Francis returned to his smiling, animated form after the private discussion, seeming especially charmed by First Lady Melania Trump. Meanwhile, in a notable break from the standard practice for bilateral meetings, the US side didn't bring its own translator, leaving Msgr Mark Miles – the Gibraltar-born chief of the English desk in the Secretariat of State – as the sole interpreter for both parties.

Keeping the custom of his predecessors for every meeting with a major political leader, the pontiff gave Trump copies of his own principal texts – Evangelii Gaudium, Laudato Si' and Amoris Laetitia – adding alongside them a signed edition of this year's message for the World Day of Peace (1 January), in which he urged a politics of "nonviolence." Per the White House pool, the President's main gift was a boxed set of the published works of Dr Martin Luther King Jr., who Francis quoted in the Peace Day message and highlighted at length in his 2015 address to a joint meeting of Congress, the first such speech ever given by a Pope.

Here, the Vatican feed of the encounter's public moments before and after the private visit, which wrapped up with the traditional exchange of gifts and greeting of the US delegation:


As with every other diplomatic guest, after the audience itself the US principals – the President, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster – sat for detailed policy talks with the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and his British-born "foreign minister," Archbishop Paul Gallagher.

With the Pope zipping off for this morning's general audience, the second meeting reportedly stretched for 50 minutes.

In the one unique aspect of today's summit – at least, beyond the overpowering security presence that comes with this visitor alone – given Trump's first visit to the Vatican, the President, First Lady and their retinue were given a private tour of the Sistine Chapel (right) and St Peter's Basilica, which were closed to the public for the occasion.

While the new administration's domestic turmoil has taken a backseat to the spectacle of Trump's first overseas tour – and the Holy See, as a matter of course, steers clear of a country's internal politics – the US bishops notably minced few words in criticizing yesterday's release of the President's first budget, terming the plan's drastic cuts to social benefits for the poor and vulnerable (while increasing defense spending) as "profoundly troubling" and "a threat to the security of our nation and world."

SVILUPPO (5.50am ET): Just released, the Vatican's readout summarizing the private discussions as Francis and his team saw it....
This morning, Wednesday 24 May 2017, the Honorable Donald Trump, President of the United States of America, was received in Audience by the Holy Father Francis and subsequently met with His Eminence Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, accompanied by His Excellency [Archbishop] Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States.

During the cordial discussions, satisfaction was expressed for the good existing bilateral relations between the Holy See and the United States of America, as well as the joint commitment in favour of life, and freedom of worship and conscience. It is hoped that there may be serene collaboration between the State and the Catholic Church in the United States, engaged in service to the people in the fields of healthcare, education and assistance to immigrants.

The discussions then enabled an exchange of views on various themes relating to international affairs and the promotion of peace in the world through political negotiation and interreligious dialogue, with particular reference to the situation in the Middle East and the protection of Christian communities.
And in the first US comment on the audience, Trump lauded the moment in one of his trademark tweets:
Honor of a lifetime to meet His Holiness Pope Francis. I leave the Vatican more determined than ever to pursue PEACE in our world. pic.twitter.com/JzJDy7pllI
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 24, 2017
SVILUPPO 2 (12PM ET): Only several hours after the motorcade pulled away, the White House released the following communiqué on the talks, featuring a marked difference of emphasis from much of the Vatican's summary:
President Donald J. Trump met today with His Holiness Pope Francis and Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin. This was the President’s first engagement with the Holy See. In their meetings, the President focused on how the United States, the Holy See, and the international community can work together to combat terrorism.

The Pope and the President discussed how religious communities can combat human suffering in crisis regions, such as Syria, Libya, and ISIS-controlled territory. The President affirmed that the United States and the Holy See share many fundamental values and seek to engage globally to promote human rights, combat human suffering, and protect religious freedom.

The President also renewed the commitment of the United States to fighting global famine. As he relayed at the Vatican, the United States is proud to announce more than $300 million in anti-famine spending, focused on the crises in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, and Nigeria.
Briefing members of the traveling press pool as Air Force One headed toward a NATO summit in Brussels, Tillerson mentioned another issue that came up in the meting with Parolin and Gallagher: climate change – specifically, the Holy See's interest in the US' remaining a signatory to the 2015 Paris Agreement which committed most of the world's governments to implementing targeted limits on carbon emissions.

While Francis himself played a key behind-the-scenes role in securing the accord – now ratified by nearly 150 nations – the Trump administration has pledged to withdraw from it.

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Posted: May 24, 2017, 5:21 pm
For all the tools every Pope has at his disposal, it could be said that Francis wields none more effectively than the element of surprise.

Ergo, at today's noontime Regina Caeli from the Window of the Apostolic Palace, Papa Bergoglio called a Consistory – his fourth – on the vigil of Peter and Paul, 28 June, for the creation of 5 new cardinals, all of them electors:
  • Archbishop Jean Zerbo of Bamako, Mali (73)
  • Archbishop Juan José Omella of Barcelona (71)
  • Bishop Anders Arborelius OCD of Stockholm (67)
  • Bishop Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun, vicar-apostolic of Paksé, Laos (73)
  • Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chavez, auxiliary of San Salvador (74)
Here, a rush translation of the Pope's announcement, in which Francis framed the rationale for his choices:
Dear brothers and sisters, 
I wish to announce that on Wednesday, 28 June, there will be a Consistory for the naming of five new cardinals. Their hailing from different parts of the world manifests the Catholicity of the church spread across the whole world and the assignment of a titular or diaconal church in the City expresses the attachment of the cardinals to the diocese of Rome that, as the well-noted expression of St Ignatius says, "presides in charity" over all the churches. 
On Thursday, 29 June, the solemnity of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, I will concelebrate Mass with the new cardinals, the College, with the new metropolitan archbishops, bishops and some priests.... Let us entrust the new cardinals to the protection of Saints Peter and Paul, that with the intercession of the Prince of the Apostles, they might be authentic servants of ecclesial communion and, with that of the Apostle of the Gentiles, they might be joyful messengers of the Gospel for the whole world, and, with their witness and advice, they might sustain me more intensely in my own service as Bishop of Rome and universal Pastor of the Church.
*   *   *
With the new additions, the electoral College will be restored to 121 members – one over the now-traditional limit of 120 set by Blessed Paul VI in 1975. Of the total group, 49 (40%) will have been elevated by Francis.

Even for their nomination today, cardinals-designate don't enjoy their voting rights until their names are published within the Consistory itself.

Following quickly on the heels of November's intake of 17 new cardinals, while some buzz has circulated over recent weeks tipping a late June encore, the rumors had foreseen what would've been a historic super-sizing of the voting ranks – an idea which has circulated for some time, possibly ballooning the papal electorate as high as 145 or even 150 members.

Even on just a temporary basis, there is precedent for such a move: at his first Consistory after the Jubilee Year of 2000, now-St John Paul II had expanded the voting College to 135 cardinals by elevating 44 prelates younger than 80 – Jorge Bergoglio among them. (Speaking of John Paul, it also bears noting that each of today's designates were named bishops by the Polish Pope.)

In any case, even if the final Biglietto is far smaller than would've been expected, the group strikes a fresh blow for the inclusion of the church's "peripheries" in the ranks of the Pope's "Senate" – with the exception of Omella, each of the designates are the first cardinals ever to hail from their respective countries; aside from the Spanish-speaking picks, the new crop all lead miniscule Catholic communities comprising less than five percent of their general populations.

The first native Swede named a bishop since the Reformation (after centuries of missionaries serving the country's small Catholic community), Arborelius will be the first-ever cardinal on duty in Scandinavia. And in the choice of Rosa Chavez – one of the closest collaborators of Blessed Oscar Romero – at least for the first time in the post-Conciliar period, not only has an auxiliary bishop been given the red hat, but likewise a cleric currently serving as pastor of a parish (which is, of course, the historic foundation of the office, the original cardinals having been the pastors of Rome, hence the task of electing the city's Bishop).

As for the timing, beyond the topping up of the voting ranks, it is likely that this Consistory will see Francis convene the now-routine daylong consultation with the entire College on the eve of the elevations, which was conspicuous by its absence in November. Despite the short notice, a hefty chunk of the far-flung cardinals already tend to be in Rome in late June as the dicasteries of the Curia wrap up their last plenary meetings before the summer exodus.

Developing – more to come.

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Posted: May 21, 2017, 5:01 pm
Four months into an experiment without precedent in American Catholic life, to speak of "the Cardinal-Archbishop of Newark" still takes some getting used to. And even more, when you've been around long enough to recall the relentless dumping on the place in which a certain late occupant of the chair across the Hudson took mountains of relish, the new state of things is all the more extraordinary.

To be sure, the "Clash of the Titans" for which some partisans have been salivating has not come to pass – at least, not yet. But little by little – with subtle swings on "evil empires," gays and lesbians, polarization, Amoris and the like – Cardinal Joe Tobin has taken to carving out his own niche, both in the church's top rank and the nation's largest media market.

Catapulted into the scarlet and the Northeast to the shock of many – elsewhere, that is – the place the former Redemptorist general and top Curial official holds in the current dynamic has a rough equivalent in recent times: just as another Midwestern-born religious superior in Rome was vaulted from relative obscurity into becoming the articulator of the Stateside church's mission in the zeitgeist, to Mamma Tobin's eldest boy now belongs the role occupied by Francis George over the prior generation of the bench. (Indeed, it bears recalling that Tobin's November elevation coincided with the start of his three-year term at the helm of the USCCB arm for clergy, consecrated life and vocations – one of the Mothership's "Big Four" committee chairs – in which he'll oversee the national implementation of the Holy See's new global guidelines for priestly formation.)

At January's installation (video), perhaps the most striking element of the scene was the full descent of the New York press corps – which packed a transept of the Cathedral-Basilica of the Sacred Heart, as every TV station's live trucks lined the street outside – in the biggest media throng Jersey Catholicism had seen since the Papal Visit of 1995.

Three years earlier in the same place, the "press box" for Bernie Hebda's ultimately-thwarted start as the next archbishop was made up of this scribe and crickets, so the contrast was as stark as the blinding Klieg lights that came out for Tobin's entrance (above). And as Francis' second, finally successful pick for Newark stomped around every aisle of the French-Gothic cathedral to show his letter of appointment (holding the parchment bull over his head), it was no less telling that Jim Goodness, the long-suffering archdiocesan spokesman, was heard to exult to no one in particular that "We have a showman!"

While the initial frenzy's calmed down, having spent the spring in "town hall" meetings and regional Masses across his new, 1.3 million-member turf, yesterday saw "Big Red" in his most high-profile Gotham turn since his launch, headlining the Brooklyn diocese's annual gathering of Catholic and secular press pros for World Communications Day – marked across the church on the so-called "Ascension Sunday," the lone ecclesial event called for by Vatican II.

Long on-record blasting what he's termed a "Fox News" approach that "keep[s] people coming back because they keep them afraid," albeit without naming the cable outlet this time, the thread returned again in Tobin's keynote, which focused on the imperative of "communicating hope" in a time of societal tumult, drawing heavily from a widely-covered intervention he made in March on behalf of an undocumented immigrant facing deportation.

Here, the fullvid:


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Posted: May 19, 2017, 3:01 am
A hundred years to the hour since "a lady in white" first appeared to three shepherd children in the Portuguese countryside, here's the centerpiece of the milestone's observance at Fatima – this morning's papal Mass with the formal declaration of the seers as Saints Jacinta and Francisco Marto....


And below, the English translation of Francis' homily.

* * *
“There appeared in heaven a woman clothed with the sun”. So the seer of Patmos tells us in the Book of Revelation (12:1), adding that she was about to give birth to a son. Then, in the Gospel, we hear Jesus say to his disciple, “Here is your mother” (Jn 19:27). We have a Mother! “So beautiful a Lady”, as the seers of Fatima said to one another as they returned home on that blessed day of 13 March a hundred years ago. That evening, Jacinta could not restrain herself and told the secret to her mother: “Today I saw Our Lady”. They had seen the Mother of Heaven. Many others sought to share that vision, but… they did not see her. The Virgin Mother did not come here so that we could see her. We will have all eternity for that, provided, of course, that we go to heaven.

Our Lady foretold, and warned us about, a way of life that is godless and indeed profanes God in his creatures. Such a life – frequently proposed and imposed – risks leading to hell. Mary came to remind us that God’s light dwells within us and protects us, for, as we heard in the first reading, “the child [of the woman] was snatched away and taken to God” (Rev 12:5). In Lucia’s account, the three chosen children found themselves surrounded by God’s light as it radiated from Our Lady. She enveloped them in the mantle of Light that God had given her. According to the belief and experience of many pilgrims, if not of all, Fatima is more than anything this mantle of Light that protects us, here as in almost no other place on earth. We need but take refuge under the protection of the Virgin Mary and to ask her, as the Salve Regina teaches: “show unto us… Jesus”.

Dear pilgrims, we have a Mother. Clinging to her like children, we live in the hope that rests on Jesus. As we heard in the second reading, “those who receive the abundance of the grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:17). When Jesus ascended to heaven, he brought to the Heavenly Father our humanity, which he assumed in the womb of the Virgin Mary and will never forsake. Like an anchor, let us fix our hope on that humanity, seated in heaven at the right hand of the Father (cf. Eph 2:6). May this hope guide our lives! It is a hope that sustains us always, to our dying breath.

Confirmed in this hope, we have gathered here to give thanks for the countless graces bestowed over these past hundred years. All of them passed beneath the mantle of light that Our Lady has spread over the four corners of the earth, beginning with this land of Portugal, so rich in hope. We can take as our examples Saint Francisco and Saint Jacinta, whom the Virgin Mary introduced into the immense ocean of God’s light and taught to adore him. That was the source of their strength in overcoming opposition and suffering. God’s presence became constant in their lives, as is evident from their insistent prayers for sinners and their desire to remain ever near “the hidden Jesus” in the tabernacle.
In her Memoirs (III, 6), Sister Lucia quotes Jacinta who had just been granted a vision: “Do you not see all those streets, all those paths and fields full of people crying out for food, yet have nothing to eat? And the Holy Father in a church, praying before the Immaculate Heart of Mary? And all those people praying with him?” Thank you, brothers and sisters, for being here with me! I could not fail to come here to venerate the Virgin Mary and to entrust to her all her sons and daughters. Under her mantle they are not lost; from her embrace will come the hope and the peace that they require, and that I implore for all my brothers and sisters in baptism and in our human family, especially the sick and the disabled, prisoners and the unemployed, the poor and the abandoned. Dear brothers and sisters, let us pray to God with the hope that others will hear us; and let us speak to others with the certainty that God will help us.

Indeed, God created us to be a source of hope for others, a true and attainable hope, in accordance with each person’s state of life. In “asking” and “demanding” of each of us the fulfillment of the duties of our proper state (Letters of Sister Lucia, 28 February 1943), God effects a general mobilization against the indifference that chills the heart and worsens our myopia. We do not want to be a stillborn hope! Life can survive only because of the generosity of other lives. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn 12:24). The Lord, who always goes before us, said this and did this. Whenever we experience the cross, he has already experienced it before us. We do not mount the cross to find Jesus. Instead it was he who, in his self-abasement, descended even to the cross, in order to find us, to dispel the darkness of evil within us, and to bring us back to the light.

With Mary’s protection, may we be for our world sentinels of the dawn, contemplating the true face of Jesus the Saviour, resplendent at Easter. Thus may we rediscover the young and beautiful face of the Church, which shines forth when she is missionary, welcoming, free, faithful, poor in means and rich in love.
SVILUPPO: While closing the Canonization Mass with Exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament – performed with a fittingly epic monstrance – the Pope made a point of adding a specific word to the sick pilgrims in attendance, and all those beyond joined in the one body of the Church:
Dear brothers and sisters who are sick,

As I said in the homily, the Lord always goes before us. Whenever we experience a cross, he has already been there ahead of us. In his passion, he took upon himself all our suffering. Jesus knows the meaning of sorrow and pain. He understands us, he comforts us and he gives us strength, as he did to Saint Francisco Marto and Saint Jacinta, and to the saints of every time and place. I think of the Apostle Peter, in chains in the prison of Jerusalem, as the whole Church prayed for him. The Lord comforted Peter. That is the Church’s ministry: the Church asks the Lord to comfort the afflicted like yourselves, and he comforts you, even in ways you cannot see. He comforts you in the depths of your hearts and he comforts you with the gift of strength.

Dear pilgrims, we have before us Jesus hidden yet present in the Eucharist, just as we have Jesus hidden yet present in the wounds of our brothers and sisters who are sick and suffering. On the altar, we worship the flesh of Jesus; in these our brothers and sisters, we encounter the wounds of Jesus. The Christian adores Jesus, the Christian seeks Jesus, the Christian can recognize the wounds of Jesus. Today the Virgin Mary asks all of us the same question that, a hundred years ago, she asked the shepherd children: “Do you want to offer yourselves to God?” Their answer - “Yes, we do!” – makes us able to understand and imitate their lives. They lived life, with its share of joy and suffering, as an offering to the Lord.

I invite those of you who are sick to live your lives as a gift. Like the shepherd children, tell Our Lady that you want to offer yourselves to God with all your heart. Don’t think of yourselves simply as the recipients of charitable solidarity, but feel that you share fully in the Church’s life and mission. Your silent presence, which is more eloquent than a flood of words, your prayers, the daily offering of your sufferings in union with those of Jesus crucified for the salvation of the world, the patient and even joyful acceptance of your condition – all these are a spiritual resource, an asset to every Christian community. Do not be ashamed of being a precious treasure of the Church.

Jesus will pass close to you in the Blessed Sacrament as a sign of his closeness and love for you. Entrust to him your sorrows, your sufferings, all your weariness. Count on the prayer of the Church, which from every corner of the world rises up to heaven for you and with you. God is our Father, and he will never forget you.
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Posted: May 13, 2017, 3:51 pm
As every and any lodging anywhere near Fatima had already been booked solid with pilgrimages well before the headliner was announced for this weekend's centennial of the first apparition there, its eve saw that rarest of things – The Pope not as Main Event, but merely the icing on the cake.

Still, as his presence tends to swell crowds – all the more given this first trek to the Iberian peninsula – the turnout estimates for the days were almost doubled, from 600,000 to over a million expected to be on hand. As for its makeup, given the milestone for the Lady of the Cova – one of the Catholic world's three principal Marian meccas, alongside Lourdes and Guadalupe (now the most-visited Christian shrine of all) – this weekend has a considerably more global crop of attendees than the usual PopeTrip throng.

Keeping the practice he began before another Madonna of Portuguese-speakers – Brazil's patroness of Aparecida – upon his arrival at the small chapel outside the shrine's Basilica on the site of the apparitions themselves, "at the feet of our Virgin Mother," Francis delivered a self-penned prayer of dedication to Our Lady, joined by the people in a refrain he writes into the text.

The moment only came, however, after another extraordinary instance of the Pope drawing a massive crowd into the silence of prayer – in this case, one which lasted over five minutes.

Significant, even emotional, as each of his Marian moments are on a deeply personal level – arguably providing the clearest glimpse into Jorge Mario Bergoglio's childlike faith at its very core – one aspect here raises this edition to a different plane: in referring to himself at Fatima as "a bishop robed in white," Francis connected himself to perhaps the most harrowing piece of the apparitions' message, a part only revealed 17 years ago this weekend, when the "Third Secret" was finally made public at the beatification of the seers on 13 May 2000....
And we saw in an immense light that is God: ‘something similar to how people appear in a mirror when they pass in front of it' a Bishop dressed in White ‘we had the impression that it was the Holy Father'. Other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious going up a steep mountain, at the top of which there was a big Cross of rough-hewn trunks as of a cork-tree with the bark; before reaching there the Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins and half trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow, he prayed for the souls of the corpses he met on his way; having reached the top of the mountain, on his knees at the foot of the big Cross he was killed by a group of soldiers who fired bullets and arrows at him....
Kept under seal by the Vatican for decades, that final message has principally been viewed as a prophecy of John Paul II given the assassination attempt that took place on 13 May 1981 – the very anniversary of the first Fatima apparition – with the now-saint having credited the Madonna with saving his life.

Precisely a year later, as the Polish pontiff went to the shrine to give thanks, he famously brought one of the bullets which had struck him, which was placed in the crown of Fatima's Virgin and has remained there ever since. Even so, while the reigning Pope's move to resurrect the image could say one of any number of things, rushing to interpretations is best avoided; if history's any guide, he'll explain it soon enough.

All that said, here's the English text of Francis' prayer to the Madonna on her century at Fatima with the video of its delivery, and the memorable pause which preceded it...


Hail Holy Queen,
Blessed Virgin of Fatima,
Lady of Immaculate Heart,
our refuge and our way to God!

As a pilgrim of the Light that comes to us from your hands,
I give thanks to God the Father, who in every time and place
is at work in human history;
As a pilgrim of the Peace that, in this place, you proclaim,
I give praise to Christ, our peace, and I implore for the world
concord among all peoples;
As a pilgrim of the Hope that the Spirit awakens,
I come as a prophet and messenger to wash the feet of all,
at the same table that unites us.


Refrain:
Ave O Clemens, Ave O pia!
Salve Regina Rosarii Fatimae.
Ave O clemens, Ave O pia!
Ave O dulcis Virgo Maria!

[Hail, O Clement; Hail, O Loving
Hail Fatima, Holy Queen of the Rosary!
Hail O Clement, Hail O Loving!
Hail O Sweet Virgin Mary!]

Hail, Mother of Mercy,
Lady robed in white!
In this place where, a hundred years ago
you made known to all the purposes of God’s mercy,
I gaze at your robe of light
and, as a bishop robed in white,
I call to mind all those who,
robed in the splendour of their baptism,
desire to live in God
and tell the mysteries of Christ in order to obtain peace.


(Refrain.)

Hail, life and sweetness,
Hail, our hope,
O Pilgrim Virgin, O Universal Queen!

In the depths of your being,
in your Immaculate Heart,
you keep the joys of men and women
as they journey to the Heavenly Homeland.
In the depths of your being,
in your Immaculate Heart,
you keep the sorrows of the human family,
as they mourn and weep in this valley of tears.
In the depths of your being,
in your Immaculate Heart,
adorn us with the radiance of the jewels of your crown
and make us pilgrims, even as you were a pilgrim.

With your virginal smile,
enliven the joy of Christ’s Church.
With your gaze of sweetness,
strengthen the hope of God’s children.
With your hands lifted in prayer to the Lord,
draw all people together into one human family.


(Refrain.)

O clement, O loving,
O sweet Virgin Mary,
Queen of the Rosary of Fatima!
Grant that we may follow the example of Blessed Francisco and Blessed Jacinta,
and of all who devote themselves to proclaiming the Gospel.
Thus we will follow all paths
and everywhere make our pilgrim way;
we will tear down all walls
and cross every frontier,
as we go out to every periphery,
to make known God’s justice and peace.

In the joy of the Gospel, we will be the Church robed in white,
the whiteness washed in the blood of the Lamb,
blood that today too is shed in the wars tearing our world apart.
And so we will be, like you, an image of the column of light
that illumines the ways of the world,
making God known to all,
making known to all that God exists,
that God dwells in the midst of his people,
yesterday, today and for all eternity.


(Refrain.)

[Pope and people together:]

Hail, Mother of the Lord,
Virgin Mary, Queen of the Rosary of Fatima!
Blessed among all women,
you are the image of the Church robed in Easter light,
you are the honour of our people,
you are the victory over every assault of evil.

Prophecy of the merciful love of the Father,
Teacher of the Message of Good News of the Son,
Sign of the burning Fire of the Holy Spirit,
teach us, in this valley of joys and sorrows,
the eternal truths that the Father reveals to the little ones.

Show us the strength of your protective mantle.
In your Immaculate Heart,
be the refuge of sinners
and the way that leads to God.

In union with my brothers and sisters,
in faith, in hope and in love,
I entrust myself to you.
In union with my brothers and sisters, through you,
I consecrate myself to God,
O Virgin of the Rosary of Fatima.

And at last, enveloped in the Light that comes from your hands,
I will give glory to the Lord for ever and ever.

Amen.
*   *   *
Together with his act of consecration, Francis brought another centenary gift to the Cova – the Golden Rose (above), the centuries-old honor once bestowed by the Popes on Catholic queens, but now solely conferred as an exceptional homage to precious few Marian shrines.

As the Rose can be given to a Madonna by successive pontiffs as a mark of their respective affection, Francis' is the third accorded Fatima, following ones from now-Blessed Paul VI and Benedict XVI. For his own part, Fatima's third Rose is just the second granted by Papa Bergoglio; within a year of his election, he sent his first to Guadalupe – a historic gift from the first-ever American Pope to the Mother of the American continent – then bringing her a crown on his visit in February 2016.

In any case, the daytime rites were just the half of it. Returning to the shrine after dusk to lead the Rosary and join the nightly candlelit procession (fullvid), the Pope engaged in a rare form of sharing on his own depth of Marian devotion: a love born from the faith and example of the Italian immigrants who raised him.

Normally, whenever Francis has focused on the Theotokos, the words have either come in the form of a solemn written prayer or a homily at a public Mass – the one and only time when he puts his more animated style of delivery aside and dourly sticks to the script.

At the Fatima vigil, however, looking to greet the "oceanic" crowd outside of the context of prayer, his fervor for Our Lady and a forum to express it in full color finally came together....
Dear Pilgrims to Mary and with Mary!

Thank you for your welcome and for joining me on this pilgrimage of hope and peace. Even now, I want to assure all of you who are united with me, here or elsewhere, that you have a special place in my heart. I feel that Jesus has entrusted you to me (cf. Jn 21:15-17), and I embrace all of you and commend you to Jesus, “especially those most in need” – as Our Lady taught us to pray (Apparition of July, 1917). May she, the loving and solicitous Mother of the needy, obtain for them the Lord’s blessing! On each of the destitute and outcast robbed of the present, on each of the excluded and abandoned denied a future, on each of the orphans and victims of injustice refused a past, may there descend the blessing of God, incarnate in Jesus Christ. “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace” (Num 6:24-26).

This blessing was fulfilled in the Virgin Mary. No other creature ever basked in the light of God’s face as did Mary; she in turn gave a human face to the Son of the eternal Father. Now we can contemplate her in the succession of joyful, luminous, sorrowful and glorious moments of her life, which we revisit in our recitation of the rosary. With Christ and Mary, we abide in God. Indeed, “if we want to be Christian, we must be Marian; in a word, we have to acknowledge the essential, vital and providential relationship uniting Our Lady to Jesus, a relationship that opens before us the way leading to him” (PAUL VI, Address at the Shine of Our Lady of Bonaria, Cagliari, 24 April 1970). Each time we recite the rosary, in this holy place or anywhere else, the Gospel enters anew into the life of individuals, families, peoples and the entire world.

Pilgrims with Mary... But which Mary? A teacher of the spiritual life, the first to follow Jesus on the “narrow way” of the cross by giving us an example, or a Lady “unapproachable” and impossible to imitate? A woman “blessed because she believed” always and everywhere in God’s words (cf. Lk 1:42.45), or a “plaster statue” from whom we beg favours at little cost? The Virgin Mary of the Gospel, venerated by the Church at prayer, or a Mary of our own making: one who restrains the arm of a vengeful God; one sweeter than Jesus the ruthless judge; one more merciful than the Lamb slain for us?

Great injustice is done to God’s grace whenever we say that sins are punished by his judgment, without first saying – as the Gospel clearly does – that they are forgiven by his mercy! Mercy has to be put before judgment and, in any case, God’s judgment will always be rendered in the light of his mercy. Obviously, God’s mercy does not deny justice, for Jesus took upon himself the consequences of our sin, together with its due punishment. He did not deny sin, but redeemed it on the cross. Hence, in the faith that unites us to the cross of Christ, we are freed of our sins; we put aside all fear and dread, as unbefitting those who are loved (cf. 1 Jn 4:18). “Whenever we look to Mary, we come to believe once again in the revolutionary nature of love and tenderness. In her, we see that humility and tenderness are not virtues of the weak but of the strong, who need not treat others poorly in order to feel important themselves… This interplay of justice and tenderness, of contemplation and concern for others, is what makes the ecclesial community look to Mary as a model of evangelization” (Ap. Exhort. Evangelii Gaudium, 288). With Mary, may each of us become a sign and sacrament of the mercy of God, who pardons always and pardons everything.

Hand in hand with the Virgin Mother, and under her watchful gaze, may we come to sing with joy the mercies of the Lord, and cry out: “My soul sings to you, Lord!” The mercy you have shown to all your saints and all your faithful people, you have also shown to me. Out of the pride of my heart, I went astray, following my own ambitions and interests, without gaining any crown of glory! My one hope of glory, Lord, is this: that your Mother will take me in her arms, shelter me beneath her mantle, and set me close to your heart. Amen.
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Posted: May 13, 2017, 3:09 pm
Even as the 19th overseas visit of this pontificate makes for yet another formidable (news-)hill to climb, it bears recalling that the Pope has a harder time still going down steps.

In that light, as Francis embarks on a weekend pilgrimage to Fatima to lead the centenary of the celebrated Portuguese apparitions – whose young seers he will canonize on but a few weeks' notice – lest anyone forgot, here's an encore of Papa Bergoglio's first encounter with the Madonna of the Cova da Iria, which came to pass at the Vatican within months of his election....

*    *    *
13 October 2013 – As previously noted, whenever the Theotokos comes around, the 266th Bishop of Rome simply loses himself and is spiritually transported to another place.

Yet again, it was visible last night in the Square, as a clearly overcome Pope spontaneously bolted down the Sagrato – the steps of St Peter's – to receive the original statue of Our Lady of Fatima, refusing to take up his designated place until she had reached hers....


To be sure, a very simple explanation underpins all this.

For those who grasp it, no words are necessary... for those who can't, nothing will ever suffice.

In sum, Jorge Mario Bergoglio is possessed of a Marian devotion as traditional and intense as that of the famously "Totus Tuus" John Paul II – a zeal much of Francis' horizontally-focused fan-base only begins to acknowledge in their condescension to it.

At the same time, the Pope's passion for the Madonna isn't something he sees as meaningful merely for his own spirituality, nor as part of a push to "turn the clock back" – his term, of course – but instead as an emphatic endorsement of the life-giving, ever-potent popular piety which remains a cornerstone of his desired "poor church for the poor": the essence of being Catholic for those who rely on and endure in the faith amid life's gravest tests... a practice which the church's shepherds are called to embrace and integrate into the very heart of their ministries if they genuinely seek to attain the now-omniquoted "smell of the sheep."

Indeed, as the Son himself has now expressed the thought on several occasions....
"If you want to know who Mary is, go to the theologian and he will tell you. But if you want to know how to love Mary, go to the People of God who teach it better....

"[The people] are always asking for something closer to Jesus, they are sometimes a bit insistent in this. But it is the insistence of those who believe."
*      *      *
Returning to May 2017, at least when one's got the signals right, this weekend has been anticipated for just shy of four years.... Because, to repeat, if you don't see the moment with the eyes of faith, you miss everything.

At that time of his first meeting with the original Fatima image, the Pope composed and delivered an Act of Entrustment to her – the second he had done to a Madonna (after beginning the practice in tears at Aparecida), but in this case a prayer set to be be expanded upon this weekend.

With a good many centennial celebrations long booked in the local churches and set to occur over the coming days, Francis' original text is their best place to start....
Blessed Virgin Mary of Fatima,
with renewed gratitude for your motherly presence
we join in the voice of all generations that call you blessed.

We celebrate in you the great works of God,
who never tires of lowering himself in mercy over humanity,
afflicted by evil and wounded by sin,
to heal and to save it.

Accept with the benevolence of a Mother
this act of entrustment that we make in faith today,
before this your image, beloved to us.

We are certain that each one of us is precious in your eyes
and that nothing in our hearts has estranged you.

May that we allow your sweet gaze
to reach us and the perpetual warmth of your smile.

Guard our life with your embrace:
bless and strengthen every desire for good;
give new life and nourishment to faith;
sustain and enlighten hope;
awaken and animate charity;
guide us all on the path to holiness.

Teach us your own special love for the little and the poor,
for the excluded and the suffering,
for sinners and the wounded of heart:
gather all people under you protection
and give us all to your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus.

Amen.
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Posted: May 12, 2017, 8:42 pm
Having secured the President of the United States for a starkly early-morning audience in 18 days' time, during an impromptu Q&A earlier today with Italian high-school students committed to working for peace, the Pope engaged in an apparent rehearsal for his impending Main Event with Donald Trump....


“I tell you this here because you’re a school of peace, but I tell you: the world is at war. That if this one bombs over here – a hospital, a school: sick people, babies – it doesn’t matter, and so the bomb is dropped.

See, I don’t know – I was ashamed by the name of a bomb: the “Mother of All Bombs.” Look – a Mother gives life, but this brings death! And this is what we casually call it? What on earth is happening here?....

God created the world and placed at its center man and woman – the human being – God created the world, with us at the center! But today, the world moves forward with man and woman not at the center of it.

If I could ask you a question – and I don’t know if you can answer – but I’d like [you] to… you’ll do it? If today, man and woman aren’t at the center of the life of the world, what is at the center of all the world's movement now?

[Student: "Evil, money and power."]

[Pope:] There it is! Well done! “Evil, money and power,” eh? Good, thank you!

You understand evil, but then you said the two other words: “money” and “power” – money is the power. At the center of the world’s life today is God: not God the Father, but the Money God, eh? It’s all about the money....
Lest anyone missed the broader context, it bears recalling how the bulk of the American public came to know the figure who would be elected as the 45th Commander-in-Chief:



And as if said scene wasn't wild enough, that Francis' only major event between today and the 24th is Fatima – a place whose apocalyptic message of clashes of powers has inspired controversy and conversion in equal measure over the last century – should prove yet again how when it comes to this beat at its best, try as some might, you just can't make it up.

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Posted: May 7, 2017, 5:04 am
After months of the kind of hemming and hawing normally reserved for a courtship, it's finally official – the Pope will receive President Trump for a private audience at 8.30 am on Wednesday, 24 May.

Five days after Francis told the traveling press en route from Egypt that no request for a meeting had yet been received from the White House, late-morning leaks from administration officials that the Vatican had been added to the President's schedule for his first overseas tour – a weeklong trip centered on the late-month G7 summit in Sicily – were confirmed by the Holy See shortly before 6pm Rome tonight.

The announcement of the summit coincided with the US' annual National Day of Prayer, which Trump is marking with a Rose Garden ceremony to sign an executive order on religious liberty, its precise contents not yet disclosed. Several prominent Catholic figures were present at the event, which notably began with a prayer from Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, one of Francis' closest US advisers.

Of course, the context of the coming audience arguably makes this meeting the most intensely-awaited Pope-President sitdown of recent times, thanks to a history of direct and prominent clashes that knows no precedent.

Among other sacred cows Trump skewered on his path to the presidency, the New York developer openly slammed Francis in February 2016 after the pontiff – in reference to then-candidate's signature pledge to build a wall along the Mexican border – said that "a person who thinks only of making walls, wherever they might be, and not of building bridges, is not Christian." Within minutes, Trump replied in a statement that "if and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS... I can promise you that the Pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been President because this would not have happened."

While neither succeeded in convincing the other of their respective stance, upon Trump's January inauguration as the 45th Commander-in-Chief – a moment made possible by the Republican's win of a majority among white American Catholics – the rhetoric was muted, yet no less pointed, as the Pope sent a formal message praying that "America’s stature [may] continue to be measured above all by its concern for the poor, the outcast and those in need who, like Lazarus, stand before our door."

In keeping with longstanding custom for visiting heads of state or government, the Holy See noted tonight that the President will engage in more detailed talks with the Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and the Vatican's "foreign minister," the Liverpool-born Archbishop Paul Gallagher, following his time with Francis.

Speaking of protocol, the timing of Trump's audience is exceptionally unusual for the Vatican, which serves to underscore Francis' intent for this encounter to take place. Under normal circumstances, a Pope doesn't receive dignitaries until 10am, with the various audiences running until lunch. Along these lines, a similar extraordinary accommodation was made in 2009, when Benedict XVI received then-President Barack Obama at 4.30 in the afternoon for their first meeting (above).

Whatever the timing, though – and as the last two pontiffs have let the once-stringent dress code heavily lapse – one Vatican rule for diplomatic audiences remains ironclad: given Trump's long-standing preference to be joined by his aides for major meetings, in the Pope's house the principal enters the Private Library alone, their spouse and aides only greeted afterward as the event closes with the customary exchange of gifts. (For obvious reasons, the lone exception to the one-on-one rule is the presence of translators.)

Developing – more to come.

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Posted: May 5, 2017, 11:33 am
Even for his standard aversion to what had been the usual security precautions of papal travel – bulletproof glass, armored vehicles and the like – in his daily homily on Tuesday, the Pope appeared to acknowledge the particular risk of this weekend's visit to Egypt, but turned back any concern over it with his statement that "if a preacher seeks a life insurance policy, he is not a true preacher of the Gospel."

That the comment was made on St Mark's Day – the patronal feast of the Arab country's largest Christian group, the Coptic Orthodox – was more than mere coincidence, no less in the wake of several rounds of Isis-inspired attacks on the community, the most significant of which occurred on Palm Sunday, as coordinated blasts in two churches killed some 50 worshippers. (Above, Francis is seen paying tribute to the victims of a December siege on another Coptic church, at which he took part in an evening ecumenical service as the scars of the assault remained starkly in evidence.)

Despite Francis' resolve to proceed with the quickly-planned 24 hour stop in Cairo, the safety threat has made for a massive challenge to contend with – among other examples, the full slate of venues for this visit's events was still being determined into the days leading up to his arrival. By comparison, only the late 2015 trek which skirted war zones in the Central African Republic as UN peacekeepers guarded the streets has made for as much logistical agita. Yet not to be outdone, Papa Bergoglio's drive for yet another African stop later this year – to South Sudan, where conflict continues to flare and a famine has impacted millions – remains in the air given the tenuous state on the ground; should the trip indeed happen, unofficial rumblings have tipped an October date.

Back to Egypt, though the Coptic piece of this PopeTrip has increased in import amid the Isis attacks, the principal thrust of the journey – announced with barely a month's notice – was to seal the restored relations between the Vatican and the influential Sunni Muslim hub at Al-Azhar, which had halted its dialogue with Rome during the pontificate of Benedict XVI.

Especially under the shadow of the Holy Week bombings, the pontiff's message at one of Islam's top centers of learning would inevitably be viewed ever more in terms of what the Pope said, or didn't, about violence incited in the name of religion. (The Pope is seen above embracing the university's Grand Imam, Sheikh Ahmed al-Hayeb, at the afternoon event, billed as an international peace conference.)

For his response, as only happens with the pontiff's most significant and programmatic talks, the Al Azhar speech was amply footnoted, including with quotes from John Paul II's visit there in 2000. Already being cited as Francis' signal text on Catholic-Muslim relations and the specter of fundamentalist terror, below is his complete text in English.

*    *    *
As-salamu alaykum! [Peace be with you!]

I consider it a great gift to be able to begin my Visit to Egypt here, and to address you in the context of this International Peace Conference. I thank my brother, the Grand Imam, for having planned and organized this Conference, and for kindly inviting me to take part. I would like to offer you a few thoughts, drawing on the glorious history of this land, which over the ages has appeared to the world as a land of civilizations and a land of covenants.

A land of civilizations – From ancient times, the culture that arose along the banks of the Nile was synonymous with civilization. Egypt lifted the lamp of knowledge, giving birth to an inestimable cultural heritage, made up of wisdom and ingenuity, mathematical and astronomical discoveries, and remarkable forms of architecture and figurative art. The quest for knowledge and the value placed on education were the result of conscious decisions on the part of the ancient inhabitants of this land, and were to bear much fruit for the future. Similar decisions are needed for our own future, decisions of peace and for peace, for there will be no peace without the proper education of coming generations. Nor can young people today be properly educated unless the training they receive corresponds to the nature of man as an open and relational being.

Education indeed becomes wisdom for life if it is capable of “drawing out” of men and women the very best of themselves, in contact with the One who transcends them and with the world around them, fostering a sense of identity that is open and not self-enclosed. Wisdom seeks the other, overcoming temptations to rigidity and closed-mindedness; it is open and in motion, at once humble and inquisitive; it is able to value the past and set it in dialogue with the present, while employing a suitable hermeneutics. Wisdom prepares a future in which people do not attempt to push their own agenda but rather to include others as an integral part of themselves. Wisdom tirelessly seeks, even now, to identify opportunities for encounter and sharing; from the past, it learns that evil only gives rise to more evil, and violence to more violence, in a spiral that ends by imprisoning everyone. Wisdom, in rejecting the dishonesty and the abuse of power, is centred on human dignity, a dignity which is precious in God’s eyes, and on an ethics worthy of man, one that is unafraid of others and fearlessly employs those means of knowledge bestowed on us by the Creator.[1]

Precisely in the field of dialogue, particularly interreligious dialogue, we are constantly called to walk together, in the conviction that the future also depends on the encounter of religions and cultures. In this regard, the work of the Mixed Committee for Dialogue between the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Committee of Al-Azhar for Dialogue offers us a concrete and encouraging example. Three basic areas, if properly linked to one another, can assist in this dialogue: the duty to respect one’s own identity and that of others, the courage to accept differences, and sincerity of intentions.

The duty to respect one’s own identity and that of others, because true dialogue cannot be built on ambiguity or a willingness to sacrifice some good for the sake of pleasing others. The courage to accept differences, because those who are different, either culturally or religiously, should not be seen or treated as enemies, but rather welcomed as fellow-travellers, in the genuine conviction that the good of each resides in the good of all. Sincerity of intentions, because dialogue, as an authentic expression of our humanity, is not a strategy for achieving specific goals, but rather a path to truth, one that deserves to be undertaken patiently, in order to transform competition into cooperation.

An education in respectful openness and sincere dialogue with others, recognizing their rights and basic freedoms, particularly religious freedom, represents the best way to build the future together, to be builders of civility. For the only alternative to the civility of encounter is the incivility of conflict; there is no other way. To counter effectively the barbarity of those who foment hatred and violence, we need to accompany young people, helping them on the path to maturity and teaching them to respond to the incendiary logic of evil by patiently working for the growth of goodness. In this way, young people, like well-planted trees, can be firmly rooted in the soil of history, and, growing heavenward in one another’s company, can daily turn the polluted air of hatred into the oxygen of fraternity.

In facing this great cultural challenge, one that is both urgent and exciting, we, Christians, Muslims and all believers, are called to offer our specific contribution: “We live under the sun of the one merciful God… Thus, in a true sense, we can call one another brothers and sisters… since without God the life of man would be like the heavens without the sun”.[2] May the sun of a renewed fraternity in the name of God rise in this sun-drenched land, to be the dawn of a civilization of peace and encounter. May Saint Francis of Assisi, who eight centuries ago came to Egypt and met Sultan Malik al Kamil, intercede for this intention.


A land of covenants – In Egypt, not only did the sun of wisdom rise, but also the variegated light of the religions shone in this land. Here, down the centuries, differences of religion constituted “a form of mutual enrichment in the service of the one national community”.[3] Different faiths met and a variety of cultures blended without being confused, while acknowledging the importance of working together for the common good. Such “covenants” are urgently needed today. Here I would take as a symbol the “Mount of the Covenant” which rises up in this land. Sinai reminds us above all that authentic covenants on earth cannot ignore heaven, that human beings cannot attempt to encounter one another in peace by eliminating God from the horizon, nor can they climb the mountain to appropriate God for themselves (cf. Ex 19:12).

This is a timely reminder in the face of a dangerous paradox of the present moment. On the one hand, religion tends to be relegated to the private sphere, as if it were not an essential dimension of the human person and society. At the same time, the religious and political spheres are confused and not properly distinguished. Religion risks being absorbed into the administration of temporal affairs and tempted by the allure of worldly powers that in fact exploit it. Our world has seen the globalization of many useful technical instruments, but also a globalization of indifference and negligence, and it moves at a frenetic pace that is difficult to sustain. As a result, there is renewed interest in the great questions about the meaning of life. These are the questions that the religions bring to the fore, reminding us of our origins and ultimate calling. We are not meant to spend all our energies on the uncertain and shifting affairs of this world, but to journey towards the Absolute that is our goal. For all these reasons, especially today, religion is not a problem but a part of the solution: against the temptation to settle into a banal and uninspired life, where everything begins and ends here below, religion reminds us of the need to lift our hearts to the Most High in order to learn how to build the city of man.

To return to the image of Mount Sinai, I would like to mention the commandments that were promulgated there, even before they were sculpted on tablets of stone.[4] At the centre of this “decalogue”, there resounds, addressed to each individual and to people of all ages, the commandment: “Thou shalt not kill” (Ex 20:13). God, the lover of life, never ceases to love man, and so he exhorts us to reject the way of violence as the necessary condition for every earthly “covenant”. Above all and especially in our day, the religions are called to respect this imperative, since, for all our need of the Absolute, it is essential that we reject any “absolutizing” that would justify violence. For violence is the negation of every authentic religious expression.

As religious leaders, we are called, therefore, to unmask the violence that masquerades as purported sanctity and is based more on the “absolutizing” of selfishness than on authentic openness to the Absolute. We have an obligation to denounce violations of human dignity and human rights, to expose attempts to justify every form of hatred in the name of religion, and to condemn these attempts as idolatrous caricatures of God: Holy is his name, he is the God of peace, God salaam.[5] Peace alone, therefore, is holy and no act of violence can be perpetrated in the name of God, for it would profane his Name.

Together, in the land where heaven and earth meet, this land of covenants between peoples and believers, let us say once more a firm and clear “No!” to every form of violence, vengeance and hatred carried out in the name of religion or in the name of God. Together let us affirm the incompatibility of violence and faith, belief and hatred. Together let us declare the sacredness of every human life against every form of violence, whether physical, social, educational or psychological. Unless it is born of a sincere heart and authentic love towards the Merciful God, faith is no more than a conventional or social construct that does not liberate man, but crushes him. Let us say together: the more we grow in the love of God, the more we grow in the love of our neighbour.

Religion, however, is not meant only to unmask evil; it has an intrinsic vocation to promote peace, today perhaps more than ever.[6] Without giving in to forms of facile syncretism,[7] our task is that of praying for one another, imploring from God the gift of peace, encountering one another, engaging in dialogue and promoting harmony in the spirit of cooperation and friendship. For our part, as Christians – and I am a Christian – “we cannot truly pray to God the Father of all if we treat any people as other than brothers and sisters, for all are created in God’s image”.[8] All are brothers and sisters. Moreover, we know that, engaged in a constant battle against the evil that threatens a world which is no longer “a place of genuine fraternity”, God assures all those who trust in his love that “the way of love lies open to men and that the effort to establish universal brotherhood is not vain”.[9] Rather, that effort is essential: it is of little or no use to raise our voices and run about to find weapons for our protection: what is needed today are peacemakers, not makers of arms; what is needed are peacemakers, and not fomenters of conflict; firefighters and not arsonists; preachers of reconciliation and not instigators of destruction.

It is disconcerting to note that, as the concrete realities of people’s lives are increasingly ignored in favour of obscure machinations, demagogic forms of populism are on the rise. These certainly do not help to consolidate peace and stability: no incitement to violence will guarantee peace, and every unilateral action that does not promote constructive and shared processes is in reality a gift to the proponents of radicalism and violence.

In order to prevent conflicts and build peace, it is essential that we spare no effort in eliminating situations of poverty and exploitation where extremism more easily takes root, and in blocking the flow of money and weapons destined to those who provoke violence. Even more radically, an end must be put to the proliferation of arms; if they are produced and sold, sooner or later they will be used. Only by bringing into the light of day the murky manoeuvrings that feed the cancer of war can its real causes be prevented. National leaders, institutions and the media are obliged to undertake this urgent and grave task. So too are all of us who play a leading role in culture; each in his or her own area, we are charged by God, by history and by the future to initiate processes of peace, seeking to lay a solid basis for agreements between peoples and states. It is my hope that this noble and beloved land of Egypt, with God’s help, may continue to respond to the calling it has received to be a land of civilization and covenant, and thus to contribute to the development of processes of peace for its beloved people and for the entire region of the Middle East.

As-salamu alaykum!

_______________________

[1] “An ethics of fraternity and peaceful coexistence between individuals and among peoples cannot be based on the logic of fear, violence and closed-mindedness, but on responsibility, respect and sincere dialogue”: Nonviolence: a Style of Politics for Peace, Message for the 2017 World Day of Peace, 5.
[2] JOHN PAUL II, Address to Muslim Religious Leaders, Kaduna (Nigeria), 14 February 1982.
[3] John Paul II, Address at the Arrival Ceremony, Cairo, 24 February 2000.
[4] “They were written on the human heart as the universal moral law, valid in every time and place. Today as always, the Ten Words of the Law provide the only true basis for the lives of individuals, societies and nations. […] They are the only future of the human family. They save man from the destructive force of egoism, hatred and falsehood. They point out all the false gods that draw him into slavery: the love of self to the exclusion of God, the greed for power and pleasure that overturns the order of justice and degrades our human dignity and that of our neighbour” (John Paul II, Homily during the Celebration of the Word at Mount Sinai, Saint Catherine’s Monastery, 26 February 2000).
[5] Address at the Central Mosque of Koudoukou, Bangui (Central African Republic), 30 November 2015.
[6] “More perhaps than ever before in history, the intrinsic link between an authentic religious attitude and the great good of peace has become evident to all” (JOHN PAUL II, Address to Representatives of the Christian Churches and Ecclesial Communities and of the World Religions, Assisi, 27 October 1986: Insegnamenti IX, 2 (1986), 1268.
[7] Cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 251.
[8] SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Declaration Nostra Aetate, 5.
[9] ID., Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, 38.

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Posted: April 29, 2017, 10:42 am
Over the last decade or so, the TED talk – the 18-minute messages given by prominent artists, techies and other cultural figures – has become shorthand for showcasing the ideas the speaker most seeks to put into broad circulation. And at this week's marquee conference for the program in Vancouver, the usual roster of celebs and experts were joined by a very unusual rookie entry: a surprise contribution from the Bishop of Rome.

Marking his latest "bridge" into pop culture, an unannounced talk from the Pope – a year in the making, according to organizers – became the sudden centerpiece of this year's gathering upon its showing last night, at the end of the conference's first day. Stacking out just shy of TED's maximum allotted time for a speaker, the Domus-filmed message was highlighted by Francis' call for a future of increased solidarity, or as he put it, a world of "people who recognize the other as a 'you and themselves as part of an 'us.'"

An increasingly common format for the freewheeling pontiff to address far-flung events without the formality of a letter alone, the video was the second released yesterday alone: another Pope-talk was addressed to the people of Egypt ahead of Francis' two-day trip to Cairo, which begins Friday afternoon amid heightened security fears following the Palm Sunday bombings of Coptic churches by terrorists affiliated with the Islamic State, which killed over 40 worshippers.

Albeit a rehash of many of his most common themes both within the church and on the civic stage, the secular nature of the venue brought some notable nuances to the script; instead of his standard request for prayers, Papa Bergoglio asked his audience "think of me... with tenderness." Given that, when it comes to bringing the Gospel into a distinctly areligious space, this moment will likely resonate as a master-class on how to do it effectively.

Here below, the full video (with subtitles), and the English translation released by the conference organizers:

Good evening – or, good morning, I am not sure what time it is there. Regardless of the hour, I am thrilled to be participating in your conference. I very much like its title – "The Future You" – because, while looking at tomorrow, it invites us to open a dialogue today, to look at the future through a "you." "The Future You:" the future is made of yous, it is made of encounters, because life flows through our relations with others. Quite a few years of life have strengthened my conviction that each and everyone's existence is deeply tied to that of others: life is not time merely passing by, life is about interactions.

As I meet, or lend an ear to those who are sick, to the migrants who face terrible hardships in search of a brighter future, to prison inmates who carry a hell of pain inside their hearts, and to those, many of them young, who cannot find a job, I often find myself wondering: "Why them and not me?" I, myself, was born in a family of migrants; my father, my grandparents, like many other Italians, left for Argentina and met the fate of those who are left with nothing. I could have very well ended up among today's "discarded" people. And that's why I always ask myself, deep in my heart: "Why them and not me?"

First and foremost, I would love it if this meeting could help to remind us that we all need each other, none of us is an island, an autonomous and independent "I," separated from the other, and we can only build the future by standing together, including everyone. We don’t think about it often, but everything is connected, and we need to restore our connections to a healthy state. Even the harsh judgment I hold in my heart against my brother or my sister, the open wound that was never cured, the offense that was never forgiven, the rancor that is only going to hurt me, are all instances of a fight that I carry within me, a flare deep in my heart that needs to be extinguished before it goes up in flames, leaving only ashes behind.

Many of us, nowadays, seem to believe that a happy future is something impossible to achieve. While such concerns must be taken very seriously, they are not invincible. They can be overcome when we don't lock our door to the outside world. Happiness can only be discovered as a gift of harmony between the whole and each single component. Even science – and you know it better than I do – points to an understanding of reality as a place where every element connects and interacts with everything else.

And this brings me to my second message. How wonderful would it be if the growth of scientific and technological innovation would come along with more equality and social inclusion. How wonderful would it be, while we discover faraway planets, to rediscover the needs of the brothers and sisters orbiting around us. How wonderful would it be if solidarity, this beautiful and, at times, inconvenient word, were not simply reduced to social work, and became, instead, the default attitude in political, economic and scientific choices, as well as in the relationships among individuals, peoples and countries. Only by educating people to a true solidarity will we be able to overcome the "culture of waste," which doesn't concern only food and goods but, first and foremost, the people who are cast aside by our techno-economic systems which, without even realizing it, are now putting products at their core, instead of people.

Solidarity is a term that many wish to erase from the dictionary. Solidarity, however, is not an automatic mechanism. It cannot be programmed or controlled. It is a free response born from the heart of each and everyone. Yes, a free response! When one realizes that life, even in the middle of so many contradictions, is a gift, that love is the source and the meaning of life, how can they withhold their urge to do good to another fellow being?

In order to do good, we need memory, we need courage and we need creativity. And I know that TED gathers many creative minds. Yes, love does require a creative, concrete and ingenious attitude. Good intentions and conventional formulas, so often used to appease our conscience, are not enough. Let us help each other, all together, to remember that the other is not a statistic or a number. The other has a face. The "you" is always a real presence, a person to take care of.

There is a parable Jesus told to help us understand the difference between those who'd rather not be bothered and those who take care of the other. I am sure you have heard it before. It is the Parable of the Good Samaritan. When Jesus was asked: "Who is my neighbor?" - namely, "Who should I take care of?" - he told this story, the story of a man who had been assaulted, robbed, beaten and abandoned along a dirt road. Upon seeing him, a priest and a Levite, two very influential people of the time, walked past him without stopping to help. After a while, a Samaritan, a very much despised ethnicity at the time, walked by. Seeing the injured man lying on the ground, he did not ignore him as if he weren't even there. Instead, he felt compassion for this man, which compelled him to act in a very concrete manner. He poured oil and wine on the wounds of the helpless man, brought him to a hostel and paid out of his pocket for him to be assisted.

The story of the Good Samaritan is the story of today’s humanity. People's paths are riddled with suffering, as everything is centered around money, and things, instead of people. And often there is this habit, by people who call themselves "respectable," of not taking care of the others, thus leaving behind thousands of human beings, or entire populations, on the side of the road. Fortunately, there are also those who are creating a new world by taking care of the other, even out of their own pockets. Mother Teresa actually said: "One cannot love, unless it is at their own expense."

We have so much to do, and we must do it together. But how can we do that with all the evil we breathe every day? Thank God, no system can nullify our desire to open up to the good, to compassion and to our capacity to react against evil, all of which stem from deep within our hearts. Now you might tell me, "Sure, these are beautiful words, but I am not the Good Samaritan, nor Mother Teresa of Calcutta." On the contrary: we are precious, each and every one of us. Each and every one of us is irreplaceable in the eyes of God. Through the darkness of today's conflicts, each and every one of us can become a bright candle, a reminder that light will overcome darkness, and never the other way around.

To Christians, the future does have a name, and its name is Hope. Feeling hopeful does not mean to be optimistically naïve and ignore the tragedy humanity is facing. Hope is the virtue of a heart that doesn't lock itself into darkness, that doesn't dwell on the past, does not simply get by in the present, but is able to see a tomorrow. Hope is the door that opens onto the future. Hope is a humble, hidden seed of life that, with time, will develop into a large tree. It is like some invisible yeast that allows the whole dough to grow, that brings flavor to all aspects of life. And it can do so much, because a tiny flicker of light that feeds on hope is enough to shatter the shield of darkness. A single individual is enough for hope to exist, and that individual can be you. And then there will be another "you," and another "you," and it turns into an "us." And so, does hope begin when we have an "us?" No. Hope began with one "you." When there is an "us," there begins a revolution.

The third message I would like to share today is, indeed, about revolution: the revolution of tenderness. And what is tenderness? It is the love that comes close and becomes real. It is a movement that starts from our heart and reaches the eyes, the ears and the hands. Tenderness means to use our eyes to see the other, our ears to hear the other, to listen to the children, the poor, those who are afraid of the future. To listen also to the silent cry of our common home, of our sick and polluted earth. Tenderness means to use our hands and our heart to comfort the other, to take care of those in need.

Tenderness is the language of the young children, of those who need the other. A child’s love for mom and dad grows through their touch, their gaze, their voice, their tenderness. I like when I hear parents talk to their babies, adapting to the little child, sharing the same level of communication. This is tenderness: being on the same level as the other. God himself descended into Jesus to be on our level. This is the same path the Good Samaritan took. This is the path that Jesus himself took. He lowered himself, he lived his entire human existence practicing the real, concrete language of love.

Yes, tenderness is the path of choice for the strongest, most courageous men and women. Tenderness is not weakness; it is fortitude. It is the path of solidarity, the path of humility. Please, allow me to say it loud and clear: the more powerful you are, the more your actions will have an impact on people, the more responsible you are to act humbly. If you don’t, your power will ruin you, and you will ruin the other. There is a saying in Argentina: "Power is like drinking gin on an empty stomach." You feel dizzy, you get drunk, you lose your balance, and you will end up hurting yourself and those around you, if you don’t connect your power with humility and tenderness. Through humility and concrete love, on the other hand, power – the highest, the strongest one – becomes a service, a force for good.

The future of humankind isn't exclusively in the hands of politicians, of great leaders, of big companies. Yes, they do hold an enormous responsibility. But the future is, most of all, in the hands of those people who recognize the other as a "you" and themselves as part of an "us." We all need each other. And so, please, think of me as well with tenderness, so that I can fulfill the task I have been given for the good of the other, of each and every one, of all of you, of all of us. Thank you.
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Posted: April 26, 2017, 9:44 am
(Updated 11am ET)

For the first time since 2002, what’s now a 1.3 million-member fold in San Diego has a new auxiliary bishop. But if anyone’s expecting a clone of the last one, well, have we got news for you.

Six weeks since Bishop Robert McElroy electrified progressive activists (and infuriated conservatives) with a fiery address at a national summit on social justice, at Roman Noon this Wednesday, the Pope bolstered the SoCal prelate’s arsenal with the appointment of Fr John Dolan, 54 – the "pastor to the priests" as McElroy’s vicar for clergy, likewise serving at the helm of two city parishes – as the first of two requested deputies for the border diocese.

According to Whispers ops, the choice of a second San Diego assistant prelate remains in process. As previously reported here, the Padres' Country picks are just part of a flood of auxiliaries to be named across the Stateside church over the next year.

In addition, Francis tapped Msgr Thomas Zinkula – his 60th birthday today, the rector of Dubuque’s 16-man St Pius X Seminary – as head of Southeast Iowa’s 100,000-member Davenport diocese upon the retirement of Bishop Martin Amos four months after the Cleveland-born prelate reached the age-limit of 75.

Over his decade in the post, Amos faced the daunting task of steering the diocese through a years-long Chapter 11 bankruptcy case amid well over 100 sex-abuse lawsuits. While the reorganization process closed in 2012 with a $37 million settlement to victim-survivors, the Davenport case featured an even rarer sign of purification: the removal of a prior bishop’s name from the library of the local Catholic college after revelations that the late prelate had demanded the silence of a victim in the 1970s.

Given the history, that Zinkula was a civil lawyer for several years before entering the seminary is especially notable; the bishop-elect went on to earn a degree in the canons from St Paul’s in Ottawa after ordination. That said, the most unique aspect of the Davenport pick's background lies far elsewhere – a star athlete as a student, Zinkula played football at (D-III) Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, which inducted him into its athletic hall of fame. Of course, while most bishops to date remain products of college seminaries – and, thus, didn't have the chance at NCAA sports – that an All-American's made the bench is just another sign of how times are changing, and changing quick.

Back to the coast, Dolan’s appointment marks the second time a SoCal clergy chief with an extensive history in parishes has been named a hometown auxiliary in recent months. Much like the first, Orange’s Bishop Tim Freyer, today’s pick is widely regarded among the brothers as a warm, dedicated pastor with a fluency in Spanish and an overtime work-ethic that extends to a number of other ministries – in Dolan's case, a longtime commitment to refugees and the church's outreach on mental health issues among others. Yet where the celebrated “Mini-Vann” to the north is more laid-back in terms of the spotlight, McElroy’s protege has already taken to making a splash on the wider scene.

After last October’s opening round of a newly-devised San Diego Synod – a Francis-inspired consultation on family life and its optimal accompaniment in a post-Amoris church – Bishop-elect Dolan sketched two kinds of of ecclesial life in an interview with the National Catholic Reporter....
"There are two different forms of doing church," he said. "One is very dialogical, from a dialogical sense, and the other is from a monological sense. And we have dealt with that monological world: Things come from on high, they get shelved in some pastor's corner, then there's some thought that comes down, but ultimately it's all 'We're going to tell you what to think.'"
Given his current experience as pastor of a “welcoming parish” in the city’s gay and lesbian district, the incoming auxiliary (right) likewise remarked that “Young adults have an acceptance of the LGBT experience. It is simply a part of their world, and they look at [the church], and say, 'What is the problem?’"

Of course, it's one thing when zingers of the kind are made by a parish priest or even a diocesan official. Yet with today’s nod, it's a whole new ballgame – put another way, the US' episcopal discourse is further set a-Blase.

Far from any burning issues, however, behind the scenes in this shop, Dolan is simply known as one of us – a donor to these pages through the years, and someone to whose kindness and generosity of time and encouragement this scribe can gladly (and gratefully) attest. If the Man in White keeps poaching our funding-base like this, though, Whispers might have little choice but to go bankrupt unless more of this crowd starts stepping up.


Described by a close collaborator in Dubuque as "just an awesome dude" – and one "you can't get a read on" ideologically – Zinkula is being introduced at a 10am presser in Davenport, its video headed here once it wraps up. In a nod to his life before priesthood, the Iowa prelate will be ordained on 22 June – the feast of St Thomas More, the patron of lawyers.

In San Diego, meanwhile, a media rollout won't be held due to the thin staffing on-hand given Easter Week. However, Dolan will be presented and make remarks at a mid-morning event in the Chancery. The full shape of his new duties still to be determined, an ordination date in early June is said to be in the works.

SVILUPPO:Per San Diego Chancery, Dolan will be ordained on his 55th birthday, June 8th.

And complete with some impromptu stand-up, the fullvid of Zinkula's own birthday intro to Davenport:


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Posted: April 20, 2017, 3:06 am
Still The Fluffiest of 'em all, Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI marked his 90th birthday on this Pasquetta (Easter Monday) afternoon, as a small group of Joseph Ratzinger's Bavarian countrymen toasted the milestone with music – and, indeed, some homeland drink – at his home in the Mater Ecclesiae convent in the Vatican Gardens.

An instant classic, the shot above was beamed around by one of the attendees, a German journalist; to the Birthday Pope's left is the Papstbruder-emeritus Msgr Georg Ratzinger, Benedict's older brother.

Ostensibly keen to avoid eclipsing his predecessor's day, however, the Pope didn't turn up – having forged a solid bond with Papa Ratzinger since his election, Francis had made a private visit last Wednesday to express his good wishes. Yet in a quiet tribute to his predecessor that apparently went over everyone's head, at yesterday morning's Easter Mass in the Square the Pope carried the gold ferula – the cross-topped papal crozier – made for Benedict in 2009. (Based on an earlier model used by Blessed Pius IX, it's a piece Francis has rarely employed.)

By all accounts, while his physical frailty has slowly but gradually taken hold, B16's mind has retained its celebrated scope and swiftness.

Of course, the whole reality of "two Popes" – well, the reigning occupant of Peter's Chair and a living former one – continues to prove something to which the Catholic world is still becoming accustomed four years after Benedict became the first Roman pontiff in some eight centuries to leave the office in life. Yet even as predecessor and successor warmly dote on each other with no shortage of visits, calls, notes and mutual praise, that their respective partisans instead seek to use their supposed "heroes" as totems in a polarized cage-match shows how little of either man, or the light of faith, the self-serving combatants actually understand.

With the exception of a brief speech on his 65th anniversary as a priest last year, and a book-length interview with his longtime collaborator Peter Seewald described as a "Last Testament," Benedict has gone unheard in public.

In that light, the confluence of Papa Ratzi's tenth decade with this year's Paschal Triduum only heightens the timeliness of a certain unsung text from his sprawling canon – the homily B16 gave over his last Easter in office, at a special Mass on the occasion of his 85th birthday in 2012: the move to resign already decided in his mind....
On the day of my birth and of my Baptism, 16 April, the Church’s liturgy has set three signposts which show me where the road leads and help me to find it. In the first place, it is the Memorial of St Bernadette Soubirous, the seer of Lourdes; then there is one of the most unusual Saints in the Church’s history, Benedict Joseph Labre; and then, above all, this day is immersed in the Paschal Mystery, in the Mystery of the Cross and the Resurrection. In the year of my birth this was expressed in a special way: it was Holy Saturday, the day of the silence of God, of his apparent absence, of God’s death, but also the day on which the Resurrection was proclaimed.

We all know and love Bernadette Soubirous, the simple girl from the south, from the Pyrenees. Bernadette grew up in the France of the 18th-century Enlightenment in a poverty which it is hard to imagine.

The prison that had been evacuated because it was too insanitary, became — after some hesitation — the family home in which she spent her childhood. There was no access to education, only some catechism in preparation for First Communion. Yet this simple girl, who retained a pure and honest heart, had a heart that saw, that was able to see the Mother of the Lord and the Lord’s beauty and goodness was reflected in her. Mary was able to appear to this girl and through her to speak to the people of the time and beyond it.

Bernadette could see with her pure and genuine heart. And Mary pointed out the spring to her: she was able to discover the spring of pure and uncontaminated living water; water that is life, water that gives purity and health. And down the centuries this living water has become a sign from Mary, a sign that shows where the sources of life are found, where we can purify ourselves, where we can find what is uncontaminated. This sign is all the more important in our time, in which we see the world so anxious and in which the need for water, pure water, becomes pressing. From Mary, the Mother of the Lord, from her pure heart, pure and genuine life-giving water also wells: water which in this century — and in centuries to come — purifies and heals us.

I think we can consider this water as an image of truth that comes to us in faith: not simulated but rather uncontaminated truth. Indeed to be able to live, to be able to be pure, we need to have within us a longing for pure life, for undistorted truth, for what is not contaminated by corruption, a longing to be unblemished. So on this day, this little Saint has always been a sign for me, who has shown me where the living water we need comes from — the water that purifies us and gives life — and a sign of how we ought to be: with all our knowledge and all our skills, although they are necessary, we must not lose our simple hearts, the simple gaze of the heart that can perceive the essential, and we must always pray the Lord to preserve in us the humility that enables the heart to remain clairvoyant — to see what is simple and essential, the beauty and goodness of God — and in this way to find the spring from which flows the purifying life-giving water.

Then there is Benedict Joseph Labre, the pious mendicant pilgrim of the 18th century who, after failing several times, at last found his vocation to go on pilgrimage as a beggar, without anything, without any support and keeping for himself nothing he received except what he absolutely needed. He was a pilgrim travelling across Europe to all the European shrines, from Spain to Poland and from Germany to Sicily: a truly European Saint! We can also say: a rather unusual Saint who begging, wandered from one shrine to another and wanted to do nothing other than to pray and thereby bear witness to what counts in this life: God. Of course, his is not an example to emulate, but a signpost, a finger pointing to the essential. He shows us that God alone suffices; that beyond anything in this world, beyond our needs and capacities, what matters, what is essential is to know God. He is enough on his own. And this “only God”, he shows us in a dramatic way. At the same time, this truly European life that, from shrine to shrine, embraces the entire continent of Europe makes it clear that whoever opens to God does not estrange himself from the world and from men, but rather finds brothers, because God causes all borders to fall, God alone eliminates the borders because, thanks to him, we all are brothers and sisters, we belong to one another. He makes it clear that the oneness of God means, at the same time, brotherhood and reconciliation among men, the demolition of frontiers that unites us and heals us. In this way he is a Saint of peace, just as he was a Saint without demands, who died deprived of all but blessed with everything.

And then, finally, we come to the Paschal Mystery. The same day on which I was born, thanks to my parent’s concern, I was also reborn through water and the Holy Spirit, as we have just heard in the Gospel. First, there is the gift of life that my parents gave me in very difficult times, and for which I thank them. But it cannot be taken for granted that human life in itself is a gift. Can it really be a beautiful gift? Do we know what will befall man in the dark days ahead — or in the brighter days that could come? Can we foresee to what troubles, what terrible events he might be exposed? Is it right to simply give life like this? Is it responsible or too uncertain? It is a problematic gift, if it is left to itself. Biological life is in itself a gift, but it is surrounded by a great question. It becomes a true gift only if, along with it, we are given a promise that is stronger than any evil that could threaten us, if it is immersed in a power that ensures that it is good to be human, that there will be good for this person no matter what the future brings. Thus, with birth is associated rebirth, the certitude that, truly, it is good to be alive, because the promise is stronger than evil. This is the meaning of rebirth by water and the Holy Spirit: to be immersed in the promise that only God can make — it is good that you exist, and you can be certain of that whatever comes. With this assurance I was able to live, reborn by water and the Holy Spirit. Nicodemus asks the Lord: “How can an old man possibly be reborn?”. Now, rebirth is given to us in Baptism, but we must continually grow in it, we must always let ourselves be immersed by God in his promise, in order to be truly reborn in the great, new family of God which is stronger than every weakness and than any negative power that threatens us. Therefore, this is a day of great thanksgiving.

The day I was baptized, as I said, was Holy Saturday. Then it was still customary to anticipate the Easter Vigil in the morning, which would still be followed by the darkness of Holy Saturday, without the Alleluia. It seems to me that this singular paradox, this singular anticipation of light in a day of darkness, could almost be an image of the history of our times. On the one hand, there is still the silence of God and his absence, but in the Resurrection of Christ there is already the anticipation of the “yes” of God, and on the basis of this anticipation we live and, through the silence of God, we hear him speak, and through the darkness of his absence we glimpse his light. The anticipation of the Resurrection in the middle of an evolving history is the power that points out the way to us and helps us to go forward.

Let us thank the good Lord for he has given us this light and let us pray to him so that it might endure forever. And on this day I have special cause to thank him and all those who have ever anew made me perceive the presence of the Lord, who have accompanied me so that I might never lose the light.

I am now facing the last chapter of my life and I do not know what awaits me. I know, however, that the light of God exists, that he is Risen, that his light is stronger than any darkness, that the goodness of God is stronger than any evil in this world. And this helps me to go forward with certainty. May this help us to go forward, and at this moment I wholeheartedly thank all those who have continually helped me to perceive the “yes” of God through their faith.

Finally, Cardinal Dean [Sodano], a warm thank you for your words of brotherly friendship, for all the collaboration during all these years. And a special thank you to all the collaborators over the 30 years in which I have been in Rome, who have helped me to carry the weight of my responsibilities. Thank you. Amen.
* * *
Speaking of Providence and timing, as this week likewise happens to mark nine years since Papa Ratzi's Stateside tour, the vision sketched out over those days bears no less recalling and reflection....

Per usual for every Pope, what he said then has only become more relevant with time.

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Posted: April 18, 2017, 10:26 am
HOMILY OF POPE FRANCIS
THE EASTER VIGIL IN THE HOLY NIGHT
ST PETER'S BASILICA
15 APRIL 2017

“After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb” (Mt 28:1). We can picture them as they went on their way… They walked like people going to a cemetery, with uncertain and weary steps, like those who find it hard to believe that this is how it all ended. We can picture their faces, pale and tearful. And their question: can Love have truly died?

Unlike the disciples, the women are present – just as they had been present as the Master breathed his last on the cross, and then, with Joseph of Arimathea, as he was laid in the tomb. Two women who did not run away, who remained steadfast, who faced life as it is and who knew the bitter taste of injustice. We see them there, before the tomb, filled with grief but equally incapable of accepting that things must always end this way.

If we try to imagine this scene, we can see in the faces of those women any number of other faces: the faces of mothers and grandmothers, of children and young people who bear the grievous burden of injustice and brutality. In their faces we can see reflected all those who, walking the streets of our cities, feel the pain of dire poverty, the sorrow born of exploitation and human trafficking. We can also see the faces of those who are greeted with contempt because they are immigrants, deprived of country, house and family. We see faces whose eyes bespeak loneliness and abandonment, because their hands are creased with wrinkles. Their faces mirror the faces of women, mothers, who weep as they see the lives of their children crushed by massive corruption that strips them of their rights and shatters their dreams. By daily acts of selfishness that crucify and then bury people’s hopes. By paralyzing and barren bureaucracies that stand in the way of change. In their grief, those two women reflect the faces of all those who, walking the streets of our cities, behold human dignity crucified.

The faces of those women mirror many other faces too, including perhaps yours and mine. Like them, we can feel driven to keep walking and not resign ourselves to the fact that things have to end this way. True, we carry within us a promise and the certainty of God’s faithfulness. But our faces also bear the mark of wounds, of so many acts of infidelity, our own and those of others, of efforts made and battles lost. In our hearts, we know that things can be different but, almost without noticing it, we can grow accustomed to living with the tomb, living with frustration. Worse, we can even convince ourselves that this is the law of life, and blunt our consciences with forms of escape that only serve to dampen the hope that God has entrusted to us. So often we walk as those women did, poised between the desire of God and bleak resignation. Not only does the Master die, but our hope dies with him.

“And suddenly there was a great earthquake” (Mt 28:2). Unexpectedly, those women felt a powerful tremor, as something or someone made the earth shake beneath their feet. Once again, someone came to tell them: “Do not be afraid”, but now adding: “He has been raised as he said!” This is the message that, generation after generation, this Holy Night passes on to us: “Do not be afraid, brothers and sisters; he is risen as he said!” Life, which death destroyed on the cross, now reawakens and pulsates anew (cf. ROMANO GUARDINI, The Lord, Chicago, 1954, p. 473). The heartbeat of the Risen Lord is granted us as a gift, a present, a new horizon. The beating heart of the Risen Lord is given to us, and we are asked to give it in turn as a transforming force, as the leaven of a new humanity. In the resurrection, Christ rolled back the stone of the tomb, but he wants also to break down all the walls that keep us locked in our sterile pessimism, in our carefully constructed ivory towers that isolate us from life, in our compulsive need for security and in boundless ambition that can make us compromise the dignity of others.

When the High Priest and the religious leaders, in collusion with the Romans, believed that they could calculate everything, that the final word had been spoken and that it was up to them to apply it, God suddenly breaks in, upsets all the rules and offers new possibilities. God once more comes to meet us, to create and consolidate a new age, the age of mercy. This is the promise present from the beginning. This is God’s surprise for his faithful people. Rejoice! Hidden within your life is a seed of resurrection, an offer of life ready to be awakened.

That is what this night calls us to proclaim: the heartbeat of the Risen Lord. Christ is alive! That is what quickened the pace of Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. That is what made them return in haste to tell the news (Mt 28:8). That is what made them lay aside their mournful gait and sad looks. They returned to the city to meet up with the others.

Now that, like the two women, we have visited the tomb, I ask you to go back with them to the city. Let us all retrace our steps and change the look on our faces. Let us go back with them to tell the news In all those places where the grave seems to have the final word, where death seems the only way out. Let us go back to proclaim, to share, to reveal that it is true: the Lord is alive! He is living and he wants to rise again in all those faces that have buried hope, buried dreams, buried dignity. If we cannot let the Spirit lead us on this road, then we are not Christians.

Let us go, then. Let us allow ourselves to be surprised by this new dawn and by the newness that Christ alone can give. May we allow his tenderness and his love to guide our steps. May we allow the beating of his heart to quicken our faintness of heart.

[Ed. Note: Lest the whoppers in the above didn't jump off the page at you, read it again.... More than anything, though, to one and all, every wish for una beata e Buona Pasqua – a Blessed Easter!]

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Posted: April 15, 2017, 10:04 pm
Despite the wider world's enduring interest in the Pope's traveling Holy Thursday Mass, for Francis himself, the most emotional time of this Week, and arguably his entire year, is instead tonight – the Good Friday Via Crucis, which brings back the evocative memory of the candlelit processions of Buenos Aires to which he was taken as a boy.

In keeping with the depth of the moment, Papa Bergoglio again closed the Colosseum rites with a personally-written prayer linking the crucifixion with the modern-day suffering of the innocent, here in an English translation....
O Christ,
left alone and then betrayed by your own
and sold for a fleeting price.

O Christ,
judged by sinners
and taken captive by the powerful.

O Christ,
your flesh torn,
crowned with thorns
and cloaked in purple.

O Christ
slapped and atrociously nailed.

O Christ,
pierced by the lance which ripped at your heart.

O Christ,
dead and buried,
You who are the God of life and existence.

O Christ,
our only Savior,
again we return to You this year
with our eyes lowered from shame
and a heart full of hope:

Shame for all the images
of devastation, destruction and shipwrecks
that have become ordinary in our life.


Shame for the innocent blood that has been shed
by women, children, immigrants and persecuted people
whether for the color of their skin,
their ethnic and social appearance
and for their faith in You.

Shame for the many times when,
like Judas and Peter,
we have sold you and betrayed you
and left you alone to die for our sins,
fleeing like cowards from our responsibilities.

Shame for our silence before injustices,
for our hands, lazy in giving yet
keen to snatch away and conquer,
for our shrill voices in defending our own interests
and timid in speaking of those of others,
for our fast feet along the way of evil,
yet paralyzed on the way of good.

Shame for all the times that us,
bishops, priests, consecrated men and women
have scandalized and wounded your body, the Church,
and have forgotten our first love, our first enthusiasm
and our complete availability,
letting our heart and our consecration turn to rust.

So much shame, Lord, but our heart still remembers
the hopeful trust that you don’t treat us according to our merits
but only by the abundance of your mercy,
that our own betrayals don’t come close
to the immenseness of your love,
that your heart, that of a mother and a father,
doesn’t forget us despite our own hardness.

Hope. The sure hope that our names are written in your heart
and that we are in your sight.

The hope that your Cross might transform our hardened hearts
to hearts of flesh, able to dream, to forgive and to love;

transform the darkness of this night into the radiant joy of your Resurrection.

The hope that your faithfulness is not based on our own.

The hope that the host of men and women faithful to your Cross
continues and will continue to live faithfully as the leaven that gives flavor
and as the light which opens new horizons in the body of our wounded humanity.

The hope that your Church will seek to be a voice that cries out in the desert of
humanity, to prepare the way for your return in triumph,
when you will come to judge the living and the dead.

The hope that good will win, even in the face of defeat!

O Lord Jesus, Son of God,
innocent victim of our redemption,
before your royal banner,
the mystery of your death and glory,
before this, your scaffold,
we fall to our knees, ashamed yet hopeful,
and we ask you to wash us clean in the solvent of the blood and water
which came from your broken heart;
to forgive our sins and our faults.

We ask you to remember our brothers and sisters cut down
by violence, by indifference, and by war.

We ask you to break the chains that keep us
as prisoners in our selfishness,
in our willful blindness
and in the vanity of our worldly calculations.

O Christ,
we ask you to teach us
to never be ashamed of your Cross,
to not instrumentalize it
but to honor and adore it,
because by it you have shown
the monstrousness of our sins,
the greatness of your love,
the injustice of our judgment
and the power of your mercy.

Amen.
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Posted: April 15, 2017, 11:53 am
HOMILY OF POPE FRANCIS
HOLY THURSDAY MASS OF THE CHRISM
ST PETER'S BASILICA
13 APRIL 2017

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Lk 4:18).

 Jesus, anointed by the Spirit, brings good news to the poor. Everything he proclaims, and we priests too proclaim, is good news. News full of the joy of the Gospel – the joy of those anointed in their sins with the oil of forgiveness and anointed in their charism with the oil of mission, in order to anoint others in turn.

Like Jesus, the priest makes the message joyful with his entire person. When he preaches – briefly, if possible! –, he does so with the joy that touches people’s hearts with that same word with which the Lord has touched his own heart in prayer. Like every other missionary disciple, the priest makes the message joyful by his whole being. For as we all know, it is in the little things that joy is best seen and shared: when by taking one small step, we make God’s mercy overflow in situations of desolation; when we decide to pick up the phone and arrange to see someone; when we patiently allow others to take up our time…

The phrase “good news” might appear as just another way of saying “the Gospel”. Yet those words point to something essential: the joy of the Gospel. The Gospel is good news because it is, in essence, a message of joy. The good news is the precious pearl of which we read in the Gospel. It is not a thing but a mission. This is evident to anyone who has experienced the “delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing” (Evangelii Gaudium, 10).

The good news is born of Anointing. Jesus’ first “great priestly anointing” took place, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in the womb of Mary. The good news of the Annunciation inspired the Virgin Mother to sing her Magnificat. It filled the heart of Joseph, her spouse, with sacred silence, and it made John leap for joy in the womb of Elizabeth, his mother.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus returns to Nazareth and the joy of the Spirit renews that Anointing in the little synagogue of that town: the Spirit descends and is poured out upon him, “anointing him with the oil of gladness” (cf. Ps 45:8).

Good news. A single word – Gospel – that, even as it is spoken, becomes truth, brimming with joy and mercy. We should never attempt to separate these three graces of the Gospel: its truth, which is non-negotiable; its mercy, which is unconditional and offered to all sinners; and its joy, which is personal and open to everyone.

The truth of the good news can never be merely abstract, incapable of taking concrete shape in people’s lives because they feel more comfortable seeing it printed in books.

The mercy of the good news can never be a false commiseration, one that leaves sinners in their misery without holding out a hand to lift them up and help them take a step in the direction of change.

This message can never be gloomy or indifferent, for it expresses a joy that is completely personal. It is “the joy of the Father, who desires that none of his little ones be lost” (Evangelii Gaudium, 237). It is the joy of Jesus, who sees that the poor have the good news preached to them, and that the little ones go out to preach the message in turn (ibid., 5) The joys of the Gospel are special joys. I say “joys” in the plural, for they are many and varied, depending on how the Spirit chooses to communicate them, in every age, to every person and in every culture. They need to be poured into new wineskins, the ones the Lord speaks of in expressing the newness of his message. I would like to share with you, dear priests, dear brothers, three images or icons of those new wineskins in which the good news is kept fresh, without turning sour but being poured out in abundance.

A first icon of the good news would be the stone water jars at the wedding feast of Cana (cf. Jn 2:6). In one way, they clearly reflect that perfect vessel which is Our Lady herself, the Virgin Mary. The Gospel tells us that the servants “filled them up to the brim” (Jn 2:7). I can imagine one of those servants looking to Mary to see if that was enough, and Mary signaling to add one more pailful. Mary is the new wineskin brimming with contagious joy. She is “the handmaid of the Father who sings his praises” (Evangelii Gaudium, 286), Our Lady of Prompt Succour [Ed.: Patroness of New Orleans; right], who, after conceiving in her immaculate womb the Word of life, goes out to visit and assist her cousin Elizabeth. Her “contagious fullness” helps us overcome the temptation of fear, the temptation to keep ourselves from being filled to the brim, the temptation to a faint-heartedness that holds us back from going forth to fill others with joy. This cannot be, for “the joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus” (ibid., 1)

A second icon of the good news is the jug with its wooden ladle that the Samaritan woman carried on her head in the midday sun (cf. Jn 4:5-30). It speaks to us of something crucial: the importance of concrete situations. The Lord, the Source of Living Water, had no means of drawing the water to quench his thirst. So the Samaritan woman drew the water with her jug, and with her ladle she sated the Lord’s thirst. She sated it even more by concretely confessing her sins. By mercifully shaking the vessel of that Samaritan women’s soul, the Holy Spirit overflowed upon all the people of that small town, who asked the Lord to stay with them.

The Lord gave us another new vessel or wineskin full of this “inclusive concreteness” in that Samaritan soul who was Mother Teresa. He called to her and told her: “I am thirsty”. He said: “My child, come, take me to the hovels of the poor. Come, be my light. I cannot do this alone. They do not know me, and that is why they do not love me. Bring me to them”. Mother Teresa, starting with one concrete person, thanks to her smile and her way of touching their wounds, brought the good news to all.

The third icon of the good news is the fathomless vessel of the Lord’s pierced Heart: his utter meekness, humility and poverty which draw all people to himself. From him we have to learn that announcing a great joy to the poor can only be done in a respectful, humble, and even humbling, way. Evangelization cannot be presumptuous. The integrity of the truth cannot be rigid. The Spirit proclaims and teaches “the whole truth” (cf. Jn 16:3), and he is not afraid to do this one sip at a time. The Spirit tells us in every situation what we need to say to our enemies (cf. Mt 10:19), and at those times he illumines our every small step forward. This meekness and integrity gives joy to the poor, revives sinners, and grants relief to those oppressed by the devil.

Dear priests, as we contemplate and drink from these three new wineskins, may the good news find in us that “contagious fullness” which Our Lady radiates with her whole being, the “inclusive concreteness” of the story of the Samaritan woman, and the “utter meekness” whereby the Holy Spirit ceaselessly wells up and flows forth from the pierced heart of Jesus our Lord.

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Posted: April 13, 2017, 2:03 pm
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