Saturday, July 30, 2016

In Krakow, The Shadow of Memory... and "The Lord of Risk"

Given this weekend's "homecoming" of World Youth Day to the place that birthed its founder, we'd be remiss to start anywhere but with St John Paul II and the zenith of the moment he made into the church's "Olympic event" – the historic throng of 5 million at Manila in 1995, which stood for two decades as the largest crowd ever to gather for a Pope:

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Even as the choice of Krakow made for a deeply evocative link to Papa Wojtyla – whose enduring hold on hearts has brought out the largest turnout of bishops ever for a WYD – the feeling emerging from this edition is a bit different from the usual exuberance for an ostensible few reasons.

First, 11 years since his death, the immense shadow of John Paul in absentia is palpable above all in a Poland where reminders of his presence remain part of daily life. Second, with that void especially underscored by the reigning pontiff's nightly appearances (above) at the "Pope's Window" of the Krakow Archbishop's House which his predecessor had made his own – and where a life-sized image of John Paul is placed the rest of the time – this five-day trip's other emotional centerpiece spoke even more powerfully of sorrow: Francis' rending visit yesterday to the concentration camp at Auschwitz (fullvid), for which the Pope scrapped a planned speech, wishing to remain silent throughout as he visited the "death wall" at which Nazi firing squads shot their prisoners and – in a particiularly harrowing moment – prayed alone in the darkened cell where the future St Maximilian Kolbe spent two weeks starving until his death, the Franciscan friar offering himself to die in lieu of a young father.

(Adding to the power of the latter moment (left), by pure coincidence the Pope's visit came 75 years exactly to the week when Kolbe was condemned to die.)

Lastly, meanwhile, far from the electric jolt of the last World Youth Day in Rio de Janiero – when, four months after his election, the first Latin American Pope returned home, spurring an ecstatic crowd of 3 million to converge on the fly – this WYD takes place amid a jittery fear in the West, above all in Europe, as violence and uncertainty reign, a sense only heightened when masses of people are gathered.

Accordingly, before heading to tonight's penultimate vigil with the pilgrims, Francis made an unscheduled stop at a Krakow church to venerate the relics of two martyred, now-beatified Polish missionaries in Peru killed in the 1990s by the latter's Communist-inspired Shining Path guerrillas.

During the visit, the Pope debuted a "Prayer for Peace and protection from violence and terrorism," its fulltext below in English:
O almighty and merciful God, Lord of the universe and of history. All that You have created is good and your compassion for the mistakes of mankind knows no limits.

We come to You today to ask You to keep in peace the world and its people, to keep far away from it the devastating wave of terrorism, to restore friendship and instill in the hearts of your creatures the gift of trust and of readiness to forgive.

O Giver of life, we pray to You also for all those who have died as victims of brutal terrorist attacks. Grant them their eternal reward. May they intercede for the world that is torn apart by conflicts and disagreements.

O Jesus, Prince of Peace, we pray to You for the ones who have been wounded in these acts of inhuman violence: children and young people, old people and innocent people accidentally involved in evil. Heal their bodies and hearts; console them with Your strength and, at the same time, take away any hatred and a desire for revenge.

Holy Spirit Consoler, visit the families of the victims of terrorism, families that suffer through no fault of their own. Wrap them in the mantle of Your divine mercy. Make them find again in You and in themselves the strength and courage to continue to be brothers and sisters for others, above all for immigrants, giving witness to Your love by their lives.

Touch the hearts of terrorists so that they may recognize the evil of their actions and may turn to the way of peace and goodness, of respect for the life and for the dignity of every human being, regardless of religion, origin, wealth or poverty.

O God, Eternal Father, in Your mercy hear our prayer which we raise up to You amidst the deafening noise and desperation of the world. We turn to You with great hope, full of trust in Your infinite Mercy. Made strong by the examples of the blessed martyrs of Perú, Zbigniew and Michael, who have rendered courageous testimony to the Gospel, to the point of offering their blood, we entrust ourselves to the intercession of Your Most Holy Mother. We ask for the gift of peace and of the elimination from our midst of the sore of terrorism.

Through Christ our Lord.
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Upon arriving at the field dubbed the Campus Misericordiae for the traditional Saturday night vigil – with a group of pilgrims packed in the Popemobile (fullvid) – Francis and a crowd estimated at 1.6 million heard testimonies from a group of young people on the challenges they face and the strength and encouragement born of their faith. In the process, a series of related scenes were dramatized by a group of silent actors, including John Paul's memorable embrace in prison of Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turkish gunman who attempted to assassinate the Polish pontiff in 1981 (and, in his latest spate of comments last month, expressed his desire to be a priest).

Having been given the texts of the witness-talks in advance, the Pope responded with a rousing call for the young "to make your mark" in the world:
Dear Young Friends, good evening!

It is good to be here with you at this Prayer Vigil!

At the end of his powerful and moving witness, Rand asked something of us. She said: “I earnestly ask you to pray for my beloved country”. Her story, involving war, grief and loss, ended with a request for prayers. Is there a better way for us to begin our vigil than by praying?

We have come here from different parts of the world, from different continents, countries, languages, cultures and peoples. Some of us are sons and daughters of nations that may be at odds and engaged in various conflicts or even open war. Others of us come from countries that may be at “peace”, free of war and conflict, where most of the terrible things occurring in our world are simply a story on the evening news. But think about it. For us, here, today, coming from different parts of the world, the suffering and the wars that many young people experience are no longer anonymous, something we read about in the papers. They have a name, they have a face, they have a story, they are close at hand. Today the war in Syria has caused pain and suffering for so many people, for so many young people like our good friend Rand, who has come here and asked us to pray for her beloved country.

Some situations seem distant until in some way we touch them. We don’t appreciate certain things because we only see them on the screen of a cell phone or a computer. But when we come into contact with life, with people’s lives, not just images on a screen, something powerful happens. We all feel the need to get involved. To see that there are no more “forgotten cities”, to use Rand’s words, or brothers and sisters of ours “surrounded by death and killing”, completely helpless. Dear friends, I ask that we join in prayer for the sufferings of all the victims of war, of this war today in the world. Once and for all, may we realize that nothing justifies shedding the blood of a brother or sister; that nothing is more precious than the person next to us. In asking you to pray for this, I would also like to thank Natalia and Miguel for sharing their own battles and inner conflicts. You told us about your struggles, and about how you succeeded in overcoming them. Both of you are a living sign of what God’s mercy wants to accomplish in us.

This is no time for denouncing anyone or fighting. We do not want to tear down, we do not want to give insult. We have no desire to conquer hatred with more hatred, violence with more violence, terror with more terror. We are here today because the Lord has called us together. Our response to a world at war has a name: its name is fraternity, its name is brotherhood, its name is communion, its name is family. We celebrate the fact that coming from different cultures, we have come together to pray. Let our best word, our best argument, be our unity in prayer. Let us take a moment of silence and pray. Let us place before the Lord these testimonies of our friends, and let us identify with those for whom “the family is a meaningless concept, the home only a place to sleep and eat”, and with those who live with the fear that their mistakes and sins have made them outcasts. Let us also place before the Lord your own “battles”, our “battles”, the interior struggles that each carries in his or her heart. And so, to live as a family, in fraternity, I invite all of you together to stand, to take each other’s hand and to pray in silence. All of us.


As we were praying, I thought of the Apostles on the day of Pentecost. Picturing them can help us come to appreciate all that God dreams of accomplishing in our lives, in us and with us. That day, the disciples were together behind locked doors, out of fear. They felt threatened, surrounded by an atmosphere of persecution that had cornered them in a little room and left them silent and paralyzed. Fear had taken hold of them. Then, in that situation, something spectacular, something grandiose, occurred. The Holy Spirit and tongues as of fire came to rest upon each of them, propelling them towards an undreamt-of adventure. This brings about a total change!

We have heard three testimonies. Our hearts were touched by their stories, their lives. We have seen how, like the disciples, they experienced similar moments, living through times of great fear, when it seemed like everything was falling apart. The fear and anguish born of knowing that leaving home might mean never again seeing their loved ones, the fear of not feeling appreciated or loved, the fear of having no choices. They shared with us the same experience the disciples had; they felt the kind of fear that only leads to one thing. Where does fear lead us? The feeling of being closed in on oneself, trapped. Once we feel that way, our fear starts to fester and is inevitably joined by its “twin sister”, paralysis: the feeling of being paralyzed. Thinking that in this world, in our cities and our communities, there is no longer any room to grow, to dream, to create, to gaze at new horizons – in a word to live – is one of the worst things that can happen to us in life, and especially at a younger age. When we are paralyzed, we miss the magic of encountering others, making friends, sharing dreams, walking at the side of others. This paralysis distances us from others, it prevents us from taking each other’s hand, as we saw [on the stage], all closed within the small rooms of glass.

But in life there is another, even more dangerous, kind of paralysis. It is not easy to put our finger on it. I like to describe it as the paralysis that comes from confusing happiness with a sofa. In other words, to think that in order to be happy all we need is a good sofa. A sofa that makes us feel comfortable, calm, safe. A sofa like one of those we have nowadays with a built-in massage unit to put us to sleep. A sofa that promises us hours of comfort so we can escape to the world of videogames and spend all kinds of time in front of a computer screen. A sofa that keeps us safe from any kind of pain and fear. A sofa that allows us to stay home without needing to work at, or worry about, anything. “Sofa-happiness”! That is probably the most harmful and insidious form of paralysis, which can cause the greatest harm to young people. And why does this happen Father? Because, little by little, without even realizing it, we start to nod off, to grow drowsy and dull. The other day, I spoke about young people who go into retirement at the age of 20; today I speak about young persons who nod off, grow drowsy and dull, while others – perhaps more alert than we are, but not necessarily better – decide our future for us. For many people in fact, it is much easier and better to have drowsy and dull kids who confuse happiness with a sofa. For many people, that is more convenient than having young people who are alert and searching, trying to respond to God’s dream and to all the restlessness present in the human heart. I ask you: do you want to be young people who nod off, who are drowsy and dull? [No!] Do you want others to decide your future for you? [No!] Do you want to be free? [Yes!] Do you want to be alert? [Yes!] Do you want to work hard for your future? [Yes!] You don’t seem very convinced… Do you want to work hard for your future? [Yes!]

The truth, though, is something else. Dear young people, we didn’t come into this work to “vegetate”, to take it easy, to make our lives a comfortable sofa to fall asleep on. No, we came for another reason: to leave a mark. It is very sad to pass through life without leaving a mark. But when we opt for ease and convenience, for confusing happiness with consumption, then we end up paying a high price indeed: we lose our freedom. We are not free to leave a mark. We lose our freedom. This is the high price we pay. There are so many people who do not want the young to be free; there are so many people who do not wish you well, who want you to be drowsy and dull, and never free! No, this must not be so! We must defend our freedom!

This is itself a great form of paralysis, whenever we start thinking that happiness is the same as comfort and convenience, that being happy means going through life asleep or on tranquillizers, that the only way to be happy is to live in a haze. Certainly, drugs are bad, but there are plenty of other socially acceptable drugs, that can end up enslaving us just the same. One way or the other, they rob us of our greatest treasure: our freedom. They strip us of our freedom.

My friends, Jesus is the Lord of risk, he is the Lord of the eternal “more”. Jesus is not the Lord of comfort, security and ease. Following Jesus demands a good dose of courage, a readiness to trade in the sofa for a pair of walking shoes and to set out on new and uncharted paths. To blaze trails that open up new horizons capable of spreading joy, the joy that is born of God’s love and wells up in your hearts with every act of mercy. To take the path of the “craziness” of our God, who teaches us to encounter him in the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, the friend in trouble, the prisoner, the refugee and the migrant, and our neighbours who feel abandoned. To take the path of our God, who encourages us to be politicians, thinkers, social activists. The God who encourages us to devise an economy marked by greater solidarity than our own. In all the settings in which you find yourselves, God’s love invites you bring the Good News, making of your own lives a gift to him and to others. This means being courageous, this means being free!

You might say to me: Father, that is not for everybody, but just for a chosen few. True, and those chosen are all who are ready to share their lives with others. Just as the Holy Spirit transformed the hearts of the disciples on the day of Pentecost, and they were paralyzed, so he did with our friends who shared their testimonies. I will use your own words, Miguel. You told us that in the “Facenda” on the day they entrusted you with the responsibility for helping make the house run better, you began to understand that God was asking something of you. That is when things began to change.

That is the secret, dear friends, and all of us are called to share in it. God expects something from you. Have you understood this? God expects something from you, God wants something from you. God hopes in you. God comes to break down all our fences. He comes to open the doors of our lives, our dreams, our ways of seeing things. God comes to break open everything that keeps you closed in. He is encouraging you to dream. He wants to make you see that, with you, the world can be different. For the fact is, unless you offer the best of yourselves, the world will never be different. This is the challenge.

The times we live in do not call for young “couch potatoes”, but for young people with shoes, or better, boots laced. The times we live in require only active players on the field, and there is no room for those who sit on the bench. Today’s world demands that you be a protagonist of history because life is always beautiful when we choose to live it fully, when we choose to leave a mark. History today calls us to defend our dignity and not to let others decide our future. No! We must decide our future, you must decide your future! As he did on Pentecost, the Lord wants to work one of the greatest miracles we can experience; he wants to turn your hands, my hands, our hands, into signs of reconciliation, of communion, of creation. He wants your hands to continue building the world of today. And he wants to build that world with you. And what is your response? Yes or no? [Yes!]

You might say to me: Father, but I have my limits, I am a sinner, what can I do? When the Lord calls us, he doesn’t worry about what we are, what we have been, or what we have done or not done. Quite the opposite. When he calls us, he is thinking about everything we have to give, all the love we are capable of spreading. His bets are on the future, on tomorrow. Jesus is pointing you to the future, and never to the museum.

So today, my friends, Jesus is inviting you, calling you, to leave your mark on life, to leave a mark on history, your own and that of many others as well.

Life nowadays tells us that it is much easier to concentrate on what divides us, what keeps us apart. People try to make us believe that being closed in on ourselves is the best way to keep safe from harm. Today, we adults need you to teach us, as you are doing today, how to live in diversity, in dialogue, to experience multiculturalism not as a threat but an opportunity. You are an opportunity for the future. Have the courage to teach us, have the courage to show us that it is easier to build bridges than walls! We need to learn this. Together we ask that you challenge us to take the path of fraternity. May you accuse us, if we choose the path of walls, the path of enmity, the path of war. To build bridges… Do you know the first bridge that has to be built? It is a bridge that we can build here and now – by reaching out and taking each other’s hand. Come on, build it now. Build this human bridge, take each other’s hand, all of you: it is the first of bridges, it is the human bridge, it is the first, it is the model. There is always a risk, as I said the other day, of offering your hand but no one taking it. But in life we need to take a risk, for the person who does not take a risk never wins. With this bridge we can move forwards. Here, this is the primordial bridge: take each other’s hand. Thank you. This is a great bridge of brotherhood, and would that the powers of this world might learn to build it… not for pictures and ulterior motives, but for building ever bigger bridges. May this human bridge be the beginning of many, many others; in that way, it will leave a mark.

Today Jesus, who is the way, the truth and the life, is calling you, you, and you to leave your mark on history. He, who is life, is asking each of you to leave a mark that brings life to your own history and that of many others. He, who is truth, is asking you to abandon the paths of rejection, division and emptiness. Are you up to this? [Yes!] Are you up to this? [Yes!] What answer will you give, and I’d like to see it, with your hands and with your feet, to the Lord, who is the way, the truth and the life? Are you up to this? [Yes!] May the Lord bless your dreams. Thank you!

Thursday, July 07, 2016

The Table Has Turned – Pope Sets Bishops A-Blase

Well, that was quick – less than a month since Cardinal William Levada's 80th birthday left Washington's Cardinal Donald Wuerl as the lone American member of the Congregation for Bishops, the Pope has added a second hand in his top Stateside pick to date.

At Roman Noon today, Francis tapped Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago to join the all-important Thursday Table, which recommends appointees to the pontiff across the developed world. The first Windy City prelate to sit among the 30 Hatmakers, the move provides a significant boost in the handling of the US' sprawling docket of nods, and likewise ensures that the process will produce choices in the "pastoral" mold which the Pope explicitly indicated to the membership shortly after its 2013 reboot, and then reinforced to the Stateside bench in a potent message during last September's visit.

Having made a sound impression on Papa Bergoglio and his allies with his contributions at last year's Synod, it is nonetheless rather rich that Cupich – no stranger to the process from his days as an aide at the Washington Nunciature – has been named to the very body which Francis bypassed on the Chicago appointment, taking the file to himself upon its arrival in Rome to conduct his own consultations and make the choice alone. In any case, as Wuerl and Cupich have long had a sound working relationship in managing the rungs of the USCCB, the new arrangement is certain to make for a minimum of conflict, with the duo likely to split the respective oversight of nods East and West of the Mississippi, and forging a solid consensus in terms of votes. In other words, the role long played by Cardinal William Wakefield Baum's salon overlooking St Peter's Square – where the bulk of two generations' worth of Stateside appointments were decided – has effectively moved to the Rectory of Holy Name Cathedral.

Along those lines, it's critically important to recall the task both Wuerl and Cupich will trade off for the States as the ponente – the designated member who, in each case, is assigned to review the reams of documentation in depth to present a summary and recommendation to the entire congregation to guide its choice. Had just one American remained on board, the home workload involved could've seen some files entrusted to the other two English-speaking members – Cardinals Vincent Nichols of Westminster or George Pell, the Australian prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy. Now, the domestic files will remain in domestic hands, and given the congregation's freedom to disregard a Nuncio's terna – which has been exercised with some frequency over the last decade on US picks – some interesting results are practically bound to crop up.

At the same time, another competence of the congregation bears noting: far more than merely providing for appointments, Bishops enjoys sweeping authority to investigate prelates for alleged misconduct and recommend their removal from office. Having scored high marks for his handling of abuse, child protection and other good-governance issues both as a diocesan bishop and USCCB chair, as Cupich has already made a public call to urge the effective implementation of Francis' new norms to combat abuse of office by bishops and religious superiors, he's now been placed squarely in a position to push the project to a thorough conclusion.

As the Stateside docket goes, topping the current pile are three key spots in the Northeast: Rockville Centre, Arlington and Newark – all in the range of a million Catholics and each disproportionately influential with their respective places in the New York and Washington metropolitan zones – rounded out by a host of long-pending requests for auxiliaries from coast to coast.

While said Northeastern trio is likely to set off a chain reaction of other openings as current prelates are moved up, the new duo might be in for yet more company at the Hatmakers' Table, as wide speculation over recent weeks has tipped an American to be named as the first head of the newly-merged super-dicastery for Family, Laity and Life which launches on September 1st, a post which will in all likelihood come with its own seat on Bishops.


Monday, July 04, 2016

"Yes, America, All This Belongs To You...."

And from the place where it all began, a blessed, Happy 4th to one and all – hope it's been a beautiful weekend.

Somewhere between the barbecues, fireworks, ballgames and parades, though, this day affords us all a chance to reflect. Given the shape of the moment, this year seems to call for it a bit more than usual – and luckily, that's aided by some things we didn't have until some months ago.

While the first American Pope delivered his principal message to this nation before an unprecedented joint meeting of Congress during last September's visit, Francis gave an even sharper reflection on the challenge and responsibility of our time two days later, in the first-ever papal stop at the very site where the Founding was accomplished (fullvid)....

Dear Friends,

Good afternoon. One of the highlights of my visit is to stand here, before Independence Hall, the birthplace of the United States of America. It was here that the freedoms which define this country were first proclaimed. The Declaration of Independence stated that all men and women are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, and that governments exist to protect and defend those rights. Those ringing words continue to inspire us today, even as they have inspired peoples throughout the world to fight for the freedom to live in accordance with their dignity.

History also shows that these or any truths must constantly be reaffirmed, re-appropriated and defended. The history of this nation is also the tale of a constant effort, lasting to our own day, to embody those lofty principles in social and political life. We remember the great struggles which led to the abolition of slavery, the extension of voting rights, the growth of the labor movement, and the gradual effort to eliminate every kind of racism and prejudice directed at further waves of new Americans. This shows that, when a country is determined to remain true to its principles, those founding principles based on respect for human dignity, it is strengthened and renewed. When a country is mindful of its roots, it keeps growing, it is renewed and it continues to embrace newcomers, new individuals and new peoples.

All of us benefit from remembering our past. A people which remembers does not repeat past errors; instead, it looks with confidence to the challenges of the present and the future. Remembrance saves a people’s soul from whatever or whoever would attempt to dominate it or to use it for their own interests. When individuals and communities are guaranteed the effective exercise of their rights, they are not only free to realize their potential, they also, through their talents and their hard work, contribute to the welfare and enrichment of society as a whole....

Dear friends, let us preserve freedom. Let us cherish freedom. Freedom of conscience, religious freedom, the freedom of each person, each family, each people, which is what gives rise to rights. May this country and each of you be renewed in gratitude for the many blessings and freedoms that you enjoy. And may you defend these rights, especially your religious freedom, for it has been given to you by God himself. May he bless you all. I ask you, please, say a little prayer for me. Thank you.
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All that said, as those observations were from a rookie to these shores, another figure bears recalling – the Roman Pontiff who knew these States best, and arguably loved this land more than any other.

From his days as a cardinal-archbishop immersed in the struggle of a persecuted church, the future John Paul II found a powerful beacon in America: one that was both philosophical in the nation's embrace of liberty, and likewise practical given the ample support its Catholics provided for the church's grueling mission in Communist Poland.

Indeed, it was a romance solidified over numerous visits and scores of strong friendships forged well before his election to Peter's Chair... and once that came to pass, the six PopeTrips that followed were marked by powerful, poetic messages – not merely tributes to what this place is, but reminders of what it is called to be.

Among these, perhaps the most moving and urgent is the farewell Papa Wojtyla gave in Detroit at the close of his longest US tour – the 10-day, nine-city 1987 joyride that coincided with the bicentennial of the Constitution, and likewise remains the last time a Pope has seen Stateside Catholicism's most vibrant and growing outposts.

To be sure, these lines aren't as sprawling as the bench's Faithful Citizenship pastoral has become over recent cycles... but when it comes to the same purpose, something says this is even more effective (emphases original):
As I leave, I express my gratitude to God also for what he is accomplishing in your midst. With the words of Saint Paul, I too can say with confident assurance "that he who has begun the good work in you will carry it through to completion, right up to the day of Christ Jesus" (Phil. 1, 6-7). And so I am confident too that America will be ever more conscious of her responsibility for justice and peace in the world. As a nation that has received so much, she is called to continued generosity and service towards others.

As I go, I take with me vivid memories of a dynamic nation, a warm and welcoming people, a Church abundantly blessed with a rich blend of cultural traditions. I depart with admiration for the ecumenical spirit that breathes strongly throughout this land, for the genuine enthusiasm of your young people, and for the hopeful aspirations of your most recent immigrants. I take with me an unforgettable memory of a country that God has richly blessed from the beginning until now.

America the beautiful! So you sing in one of your national songs. Yes, America, you are beautiful indeed, and blessed in so many ways:

- in your majestic mountains and fertile plains;
- in the goodness and sacrifice hidden in your teeming cities and expanding suburbs;
- in your genius for invention and for splendid progress;
- in the power that you use for service and in the wealth that you share with others;
- in what you give to your own, and in what you do for others beyond your borders;
- in how you serve, and in how you keep alive the flame of hope in many hearts;
- in your quest for excellence and in your desire to right all wrongs.

Yes, America, all this belongs to you. But your greatest beauty and your richest blessing is found in the human person: in each man, woman and child, in every immigrant, in every native-born son and daughter.

For this reason, America, your deepest identity and truest character as a nation is revealed in the position you take towards the human person. The ultimate test of your greatness in the way you treat every human being, but especially the weakest and most defenceless ones.

The best traditions of your land presume respect for those who cannot defend themselves. If you want equal justice for all, and true freedom and lasting peace, then, America, defend life! All the great causes that are yours today will have meaning only to the extent that you guarantee the right to life and protect the human person:

- feeding the poor and welcoming refugees;
- reinforcing the social fabric of this nation;
- promoting the true advancement of women;
- securing the rights of minorities;
- pursuing disarmament, while guaranteeing legitimate defence; all this will succeed only if respect for life and its protection by the law is granted to every human being from conception until natural death.

Every human person - no matter how vulnerable or helpless, no matter how young or how old, no matter how healthy, handicapped or sick, no matter how useful or productive for society - is a being of inestimable worth created in the image and likeness of God. This is the dignity of America, the reason she exists, the condition for her survival-yes, the ultimate test of her greatness: to respect every human person, especially the weakest and most defenceless ones, those as yet unborn.

With these sentiments of love and hope for America, I now say goodbye in words that I spoke once before: "Today, therefore, my final prayer is this: that God will bless America, so that she may increasingly become - and truly be - and long remain one Nation, under God, indivisible. With liberty and justice for all."

May God bless you all.
God bless America!

Friday, July 01, 2016

From the West, The Saint of "Moving Forward"

It's a fitting kickoff to this holiday weekend: 240 years since Fr Junipero Serra was building his "jewel" mission out West while the Declaration of Independence was signed, for the first time, today the Stateside church marks the feast of the "Apostle of California" as a saint.

Thirty years since his beatification, Serra's elevation to the full honors of the altar didn't come via the usual second miracle, but another kind of "gift from above": the decision of the Pope to declare the "equipollent canonization" of the Franciscan friar, given both the longstanding veneration toward him among the faithful and in testimony to the decades of labor which saw Serra become (as Francis put it on announcing the move) "the evangelizer of the western United States." (Above, the Pope is seen making a stop at Serra's statue in the Capitol's Statuary Hall following the unprecedented papal address to a joint meeting of Congress.)

Indeed, last September's canonization was especially historic, not simply as it brought the first time a pontiff had raised a saint bound to the American West, but likewise chose to do the honors on US soil. So to commemorate the moment for today's feast, here below is fullvid of the Mass at Washington's Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, with the English text of Francis' homily – a message almost less about Serra than the church's ongoing mission he so embodied....

Rejoice in the Lord always! I say it again, rejoice! These are striking words, words which impact our lives. Paul tells us to rejoice; he practically orders us to rejoice. This command resonates with the desire we all have for a fulfilling life, a meaningful life, a joyful life. It is as if Paul could hear what each one of us is thinking in his or her heart and to voice what we are feeling, what we are experiencing. Something deep within us invites us to rejoice and tells us not to settle for placebos which simply keep us comfortable.

At the same time, though, we all know the struggles of everyday life. So much seems to stand in the way of this invitation to rejoice. Our daily routine can often lead us to a kind of glum apathy which gradually becomes a habit, with a fatal consequence: our hearts grow numb.

We don’t want apathy to guide our lives... or do we? We don’t want the force of habit to rule our life... or do we? So we ought to ask ourselves: What can we do to keep our heart from growing numb, becoming anesthetized? How do we make the joy of the Gospel increase and take deeper root in our lives?

Jesus gives the answer. He said to his disciples then and he says it to us now: Go forth! Proclaim! The joy of the Gospel is something to be experienced, something to be known and lived only through giving it away, through giving ourselves away.

The spirit of the world tells us to be like everyone else, to settle for what comes easy. Faced with this human way of thinking, “we must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and for the world” (Laudato Si’, 229). It is the responsibility to proclaim the message of Jesus. For the source of our joy is “an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of our own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy” (Evangelii Gaudium, 24). Go out to all, proclaim by anointing and anoint by proclaiming. This is what the Lord tells us today. He tells us:

A Christian finds joy in mission: Go out to people of every nation!
A Christian experiences joy in following a command: Go forth and proclaim the good news!
A Christian finds ever new joy in answering a call: Go forth and anoint!

Jesus sends his disciples out to all nations. To every people. We too were part of all those people
of two thousand years ago. Jesus did not provide a short list of who is, or is not, worthy of receiving his message, his presence. Instead, he always embraced life as he saw it. In faces of pain, hunger, sickness and sin. In faces of wounds, of thirst, of weariness, doubt and pity. Far from expecting a pretty life, smartly-dressed and neatly groomed, he embraced life as he found it. It made no difference whether it was dirty, unkempt, broken. Jesus said: Go out and tell the good news to everyone. Go out and in my name embrace life as it is, and not as you think it should be. Go out to the highways and byways, go out to tell the good news fearlessly, without prejudice, without superiority, without condescension, to all those who have lost the joy of living. Go out to proclaim the merciful embrace of the Father. Go out to those who are burdened by pain and failure, who feel that their lives are empty, and proclaim the folly of a loving Father who wants to anoint them with the oil of hope, the oil of salvation. Go out to proclaim the good news that error, deceitful illusions and falsehoods do not have the last word in a person’s life. Go out with the ointment which soothes wounds and heals hearts.

Mission is never the fruit of a perfectly planned program or a well-organized manual. Mission is always the fruit of a life which knows what it is to be found and healed, encountered and forgiven. Mission is born of a constant experience of God’s merciful anointing.

The Church, the holy People of God, treads the dust-laden paths of history, so often traversed by conflict, injustice and violence, in order to encounter her children, our brothers and sisters. The holy and faithful People of God are not afraid of losing their way; they are afraid of becoming self-enclosed, frozen into élites, clinging to their own security. They know that self-enclosure, in all the many forms it takes, is the cause of so much apathy.

So let us go out, let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ (Evangelii Gaudium, 49). The People of God can embrace everyone because we are the disciples of the One who knelt before his own to wash their feet (ibid., 24).

The reason we are here today is that many other people wanted to respond to that call. They believed that “life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort” (Aparecida Document, 360). We are heirs to the bold missionary spirit of so many men and women who preferred not to be “shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security... within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving” (Evangelii Gaudium, 49). We are indebted to a tradition, a chain of witnesses who have made it possible for the good news of the Gospel to be, in every generation, both “good” and “news”.

Today we remember one of those witnesses who testified to the joy of the Gospel in these lands, Father Junípero Serra. He was the embodiment of “a Church which goes forth”, a Church which sets out to bring everywhere the reconciling tenderness of God. Junípero Serra left his native land and its way of life. He was excited about blazing trails, going forth to meet many people, learning and valuing their particular customs and ways of life. He learned how to bring to birth and nurture God’s life in the faces of everyone he met; he made them his brothers and sisters. Junípero sought to defend the dignity of the native community, to protect it from those who had mistreated and abused it. Mistreatment and wrongs which today still trouble us, especially because of the hurt which they cause in the lives of many people.

Father Serra had a motto which inspired his life and work, a saying he lived his life by: siempre adelante! Keep moving forward! For him, this was the way to continue experiencing the joy of the Gospel, to keep his heart from growing numb, from being anesthetized. He kept moving forward, because the Lord was waiting. He kept going, because his brothers and sisters were waiting. He kept going forward to the end of his life. Today, like him, may we be able to say: Forward! Let’s keep moving forward!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

"I Have Prayed For You, Francis" – On Peter's Day, The Pope on The Keys

Before anything else, a refresher on this feast's context from the Catechism of the Catholic Church...
When Christ instituted the Twelve, "he constituted [them] in the form of a college or permanent assembly, at the head of which he placed Peter, chosen from among them." Just as "by the Lord's institution, St. Peter and the rest of the apostles constitute a single apostolic college, so in like fashion the Roman Pontiff, Peter's successor, and the bishops, the successors of the apostles, are related with and united to one another."

The Lord made Simon alone, whom he named Peter, the "rock" of his Church. He gave him the keys of his Church and instituted him shepherd of the whole flock. "The office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of apostles united to its head." This pastoral office of Peter and the other apostles belongs to the Church's very foundation and is continued by the bishops under the primacy of the Pope.

The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter's successor, "is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful." "For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered."
...along these lines, then, here follows the reigning Pope's morning preach for this solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul – the foundational observance of a Christianity rooted in Rome, born from the blood of the Princes of the Apostles:
The word of God in today’s liturgy presents a clear central contrast between closing and opening. Together with this image we can consider the symbol of the keys that Jesus promises to Simon Peter so that he can open the entrance to the kingdom of heaven, and not close it before people, like some of the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees whom Jesus reproached (cf. Mt 23:13).

The reading from the Acts of the Apostles (12:1-11) shows us three examples of “closing”: Peter is cast into prison; the community gathers behind closed doors in prayer; and – in the continuation of our reading – Peter knocks at the closed door of the house of Mary, the mother of John called Mark, after being set free.

In these three examples of “closing”, prayer appears as the main way out. It is a way out for the community, which risks closing in on itself out of persecution and fear. It is a way out for Peter who, at the very beginning of the mission given him by the Lord, is cast into prison by Herod and risks execution. And while Peter was in prison, “the church prayed fervently to God for him” (Acts 12:5). The Lord responds to that prayer and sends his angel to liberate Peter, “rescuing him from the hand of Herod” (cf. v. 11). Prayer, as humble entrustment to God and his holy will, is always the way out of our becoming “closed”, as individuals and as a community. It is always the eminent way out of our becoming “closed”.

Paul too, writing to Timothy, speaks of his experience of liberation, of finding a way out of his own impending execution. He tells us that the Lord stood by him and gave him strength to carry out the work of evangelizing the nations (cf. 2 Tim 4:17). But Paul speaks too of a much greater “opening”, towards an infinitely more vast horizon. It is the horizon of eternal life, which awaits him at the end of his earthly “race”. We can see the whole life of the Apostle in terms of “going out” in service to the Gospel. Paul’s life was utterly projected forward, in bringing Christ to those who did not know him, and then in rushing, as it were, into Christ’s arms, to be “saved for his heavenly kingdom” (v. 18).

Let us return to Peter. The Gospel account (Mt 16:13-19) of his confession of faith and the mission entrusted to him by Jesus shows us that the life of Simon, the fishermen of Galilee – like the life of each of us – opens, opens up fully, when it receives from God the Father the grace of faith. Simon sets out on the journey – a long and difficult journey – that will lead him to go out of himself, leaving all his human supports behind, especially his pride tinged with courage and generous selflessness. In this, his process of liberation, the prayer of Jesus is decisive: “I have prayed for you [Simon], that your own faith may not fail” (Lk 22:32). Likewise decisive is the compassionate gaze of the Lord after Peter had denied him three times: a gaze that pierces the heart and brings tears of repentance (cf. Lk 22:61-62). At that moment, Simon Peter was set free from the prison of his selfish pride and of his fear, and overcame the temptation of closing his heart to Jesus’s call to follow him along the way of the cross.

I mentioned that, in the continuation of the passage from the Acts of the Apostles, there is a detail worthy of consideration (cf. 12:12-17). When Peter finds himself miraculously freed from Herod’s prison, he goes to the home of the mother of John called Mark. He knocks on the closed door and a servant by the name of Rhoda comes. Recognizing Peter’s voice, in disbelief and joy, instead of opening the door, she runs to tell her mistress. The account, which can seem comical, and which could give rise to the “Rhoda complex”, makes us perceive the climate of fear that led the Christian community to stay behind closed doors, but also closed to God’s surprises. Peter knocks at the door. Behold! There is joy, there is fear… “Do we open, do we not?...”. He is in danger, since the guards can come and take him. But fear paralyzes us, it always paralyzes us; it makes us close in on ourselves, closed to God’s surprises. This detail speaks to us of a constant temptation for the Church, that of closing in on herself in the face of danger. But we also see the small openings through which God can work. Saint Luke tells us that in that house “many had gathered and were praying” (v. 12). Prayer enable grace to open a way out from closure to openness, from fear to courage, from sadness to joy. And we can add: from division to unity. Yes, we say this today with confidence, together with our brothers from the Delegation sent by the beloved Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to take part in the celebration of the Holy Patrons of Rome. Today is also a celebration of communion for the whole Church, as seen by the presence of the metropolitan archbishops who have come for the blessing of the pallia, which they will receive from my representatives in their respective sees.

May Saints Peter and Paul intercede for us, so that we can joyfully advance on this journey, experience the liberating action of God, and bear witness to it before the world.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Papa Ratzi's "Thanksgiving" – On His Priestly 65th, B16 Seeks "The Transubstantiation of the World"

Forty months into an unprecedented experience in the modern life of the church, this morning saw another of those moments that still feels a bit surreal: two men in white in the Sala Clementina of the Apostolic Palace, as the Pope led a Vatican celebration (fullvid) marking his predecessor's 65th anniversary of priesthood.

Having referred to his ordination day in his 1997 memoir as "the high point of my life," the figure who'd become Benedict XVI was praised by the reigning pontiff for a "whole life spent in priestly service and true theology that" Joseph Ratzinger had "not accidentally described as 'the search for the Beloved.'"

Amid the first papal retirement since the 13th century – and a far more peaceful one than prior attempts at it – Francis underscored to his predecessor that "you, Holiness, continue to serve the church, [you] do not cease to truly contribute with vigor and wisdom to her growth," adding that Benedict's "hidden" life in a converted Vatican convent "reveals itself to be altogether something other than one of those forgotten corners in which the disposable culture of today tends to relegate individuals when, with age, their strength fails."

For his part, meanwhile, Papa Ratzinger closed the gathering by offering an unscripted word, marking the first public talk he's given since leaving Peter's chair on 28 February 2013, when Benedict told the waiting crowd at Castel Gandolfo that – whatever his secretary may have to say about it these days – "I'm no longer the Pope; now I'm just a pilgrim, beginning the last part of his journey on Earth."

Here below, video and a rush English translation of B16's remarks today:

Holy Father, dear brothers,

65 years ago, a brother ordained with me decided to inscribe on the prayer card of his first Mass just one thing: leaving out his name and the date, one word, in Greek, "Eucharistomen," convinced that with that word, in all its many dimensions, already said everything one could in that moment. "Eucharistomen" speaks of a human thanks, thanks to all. Thanks above all to you, Holy Father! Your goodness, from the first moment of your election, in each moment of my life here, moves me, it really carries me interiorly. More than in the Vatican Gardens, with their beauty, your goodness as the place where I live: I feel protected. Thank you, too, for the word of appreciation, for everything. And we hope that you will carry us all forward on this way of Divine Mercy, showing the way of Jesus, toward Jesus, towards God.

Thanks as well to you, Eminence [Cardinal Sodano], for your words which have truly touched my heart: "Cor ad cor loquitur." You have made the hour of my priestly ordination present again, as well as my 2006 visit to Friesing, where I relived it. I can only say that, with these words, you have interpreted the essentials of my vision of the priesthood, of my work. I'm grateful for the bond of friendship that has stretched over all this time, even now roof to roof: it's so present and tangible.

Thank you, Cardinal Muller, for the work you did on presenting my texts on the priesthood, in which I also seek to help our brothers to enter ever more into the mystery which the Lord himself puts into our hands.

"Eucharistomen": in that moment, my friend Berger sought to emphasize not only the dimension of human gratitude, but naturally the more profound word hidden within it, which appears in the Liturgy, in Scripture, in the words "gratias agens benedixit fregit deditque" ["giving You thanks, blessed and broke it, saying..."]. "Eucharistomen" recalls that reality of gratitude, that new dimension which Christ has given us. He has transformed in gratitude, and so in blessing, the cross, suffering, all the evil of the world. And so he has fundamentally transubstantiated life and the world and has given us and gives us each day the Bread of true life, which conquers the world through the strength of His love.

In the end, let us place ourselves in this "thanks" of the Lord, so to really receive newness of life and help for this transubstantiation of the world: that there may be a world not of death, but of life; a world in which love has conquered death.

Thanks to all of you. May the Lord bless you all.

Thank you, Holy Father.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

In Armenia, The Pope's Prayer: "May Our Communion Be Complete"

Amid what's arguably been the most under-covered PopeTrip of recent times – all the more given the usual hysteria surrounding this pontificate – Francis' weekend trek to Armenia hasn't lacked for striking moments and, indeed, a pocket of controversy in the Pope's unscripted use of the charged word "genocide" in his remarks to the country's leadership: a move which, to the surprise of no one, set off another round of tension with the Turkish government.

All that said, however, the visit's core emphasis came earlier today as Papa Bergoglio attended a Divine Liturgy of the country's Oriental Orthodox Church in its home-base at Etchmiadzin, celebrated by the Catholicos (Patriarch) Karekin II.

Given the opportunity to deliver his own homily at the rite – and notably clad in a stole bearing the coat of arms of his predecessor (unusually topped by a tiara, to boot) – the Bishop of Rome echoed his prior messages to the Orthodox world in advancing the cause of full communion between East and West as "God's call," and ending with a request that the Armenian hierarch "bless me and the Catholic Church":
During this Divine Liturgy, the solemn chant of the Trisagion rose to heaven, acclaiming God’s holiness. May abundant blessings of the Most High fill the earth through the intercession of the Mother of God, the great saints and doctors, the martyrs, especially the many whom you canonized last year in this place. May “the Only Begotten who descended here” bless our journey. May the Holy Spirit make all believers one heart and soul; may he come to re-establish us in unity. For this I once more invoke the Holy Spirit, making my own the splendid words that are part of your Liturgy. Come, Holy Spirit, you “who intercede with ceaseless sighs to the merciful Father, you who watch over the saints and purify sinners”, bestow on us your fire of love and unity, and “may the cause of our scandal be dissolved by this love” (Gregory of Narek, Book of Lamentations, 33, 5), above all the lack of unity among Christ’s disciples.

May the Armenian Church walk in peace and may the communion between us be complete. May an ardent desire for unity rise up in our hearts, a unity that must not be “the submission of one to the other, or assimilation, but rather the acceptance of all the gifts that God has given to each. This will reveal to the entire world the great mystery of salvation accomplished by Christ the Lord through the Holy Spirit” (Greeting at the Divine Liturgy, Patriarchal Church of Saint George, Istanbul, 30 November 2014).

Let us respond to the appeal of the saints, let us listen to the voices of the humble and poor, of the many victims of hatred who suffered and gave their lives for the faith. Let us pay heed to the younger generation, who seek a future free of past divisions. From this holy place may a radiant light shine forth once more, and to the light of faith, which has illumined these lands from the time of Saint Gregory, your Father in the Gospel, may there be joined the light of the love that forgives and reconciles.

Just as on Easter morning the Apostles, for all their hesitations and uncertainties, ran towards the place of the resurrection, drawn by the blessed dawn of new hope (cf. Jn 20:3-4), so too on this holy Sunday may we follow God’s call to full communion and hasten towards it.

Now, Your Holiness, in the name of God, I ask you to bless me, to bless me and the Catholic Church, and to bless this our path towards full unity.
* * *
Once his 14th overseas trek enters the books this evening – finished off as ever with another in-flight press conference (its content likely to drop around 10pm Rome/4pm ET) – Francis returns to Rome for an eerily quiet wrap-up to the "Vatican year," culminating in Wednesday's celebrations of the solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul.

For the first time since 1984 – when St John Paul II began the practice of summoning the world's new metropolitans to bestow the pallium on 29 June – Peter's successor won't be flanked by the freshly-named archbishops on the feast, culminating Francis' desire for the insignia's conferral to take place in the respective local churches. As with last year's rites – when, due to already arranged pilgrimages from some spots, the archbishops were invited one last time – the Pope will bless the lambswool bands at Wednesday's morning Mass, after which they'll be sent to the world's Nuncios, who now impose the pallia on the new archbishops in their cathedrals. In the US, the newly-arrived Archbishop Christophe Pierre will have just one to give: the pallium for Archbishop Bernie Hebda in the Twin Cities, its conferral date at St Paul yet undetermined.

In addition to the feast, meanwhile, the 29th likewise brings the 65th anniversary of Benedict XVI's priestly ordination. While a non-liturgical celebration of the Pope-emeritus' milestone is scheduled to take place in the Apostolic Palace this week, it's likewise expected that Papa Ratzinger will be present in the Basilica for the liturgy, possibly as a concelebrant for just the second time since his resignation.

While the end of year likewise brings a batch of the annual plenary meetings for the Curial dicasteries and other final business before the summer exodus, barring any surprises – and there might just be some – attention's already turned to two matters for the next term: Francis' still-pending choice of leadership for the new mega-Office for Laity, Family and Life, which will consolidate two Pontifical Councils on September 1st, and the shape of the next intake into the College of Cardinals, with a Consistory widely expected to be called either late in the Fall or early next year.

By November's end, the voting College will be at least 13 members shy of the maximum 120, and given Francis' practice of anticipating future vacancies, his third crop of scarlet could see some 20 electoral red hats doled out – a figure which would give Bergoglio's picks just shy of a majority of the voters in a hypothetical Conclave. Though the possibilities of the Pope's precedent-shattering penchant for the peripheries are fairly endless, with the US having been shut out of back-to-back Consistories for the first time in four decades, and the second-largest voting bloc now reduced to a modern low of seven members – a drop of four in two years – the Stateside element of the mix bears particular watching.

Maintaining his usual practice of "staycationing" at the Domus, the Pope's morning homilies will again be on hiatus in July and August, with next month's trip to Poland for World Youth Day in Krakow the lone major event on tap. Yet while any last-round appointments are usually announced by July 15th, that might not be the case this year – at least, in one particular instance... and, well, more there in due course.