Tuesday, December 12, 2017

As US Celebrates Su Madre, "Guadalupe Is Speaking To the 'Dreamers'"

Saludos y alegria a todos en esta Noche Grandísima de la Iglesia en estos Estados – to one and all, greetings from Stateside Catholicism's Biggest Night: the first leg of today's feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of the one American land, above all those in need within it.

With churches great and small packed from coast to coast – and staying that way all through this 486th anniversary of the Morenita's appearance at Tepeyac – a full roundup will come later.

For now, as the US bishops have continued the practice begun in the wake of last year's election in designating this feast as the national church's Day of Solidarity with Immigrants, the principal message for the occasion has come late (or early) from the largest US diocese, as the bench's Chief-in-Waiting – the current USCCB vice-president, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles – delivered a pointed homily to a standing-room crowd in the 4,700-seat Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels at the traditional Midnight Mass.

With undocumented immigrants estimated to comprise at least a fifth of LA's 5 million Catholics – all told, the largest local church American Catholicism has ever known – here, Don José's fulltext in English (tambien disponibile en español):
My dear brothers and sisters,

What a beautiful night! And what a joy it is to worship God tonight and to thank him for the gift of Tepeyac. 
In our prayers tonight, let us keep close to our heart — all those who are suffering because of the fires.

Let us entrust them all to the Virgin’s maternal tenderness and may she help them by her prayers and example — to go forward with courage and faith and hope in God.

This past summer, I had the blessing to lead a pilgrimage from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalpe.

Like many of you, I had made that pilgrimage many times with my family, since I was a young child.

But as a priest, it is something special to be there.

It causes strong emotions for me to now be a priest and to have the privilege to celebrate the Holy Mass at the main altar in the Basilica.

As you know, the altar sits directly underneath the miraculous image of the Virgin.

And I have to share with you, when you are there, you can truly feel the warmth of her tender eyes. You really know that you are loved in a special way by the Mother of God.

And this is true for all of us. This is what we are celebrating tonight.

Those words that we all know that she spoke to St. Juan Diego, she speaks to us:

“No dejes que se aflija tu corazón. No temas. ... ¿Qué no estoy yo aquí, que soy tu madre?, ¿No estás bajo mi sombra y protección? ¿No estás en los cruce de mis brazos? ¿Qué otra cosa necesitas?”

"Do not let your heart be disturbed. Do not fear....  Am I, your Mother, not here. Are you not under my shadow and protection? Are you not in the folds of my arms? What more do you need?”

My brothers and sisters, Our Mother is speaking these words to the Church today. And to each one of us. 
Tonight Our Lady is speaking these words to all of you who are worried about your immigration status and the changes in our country.

She is speaking these tender words of assurance especially to the “Dreamers.” Tonight we ask her in a special way to speak to the hearts of our leaders in Washington, to open their hearts to the pain, the human suffering going on in our families and in our communities and find a permanent legislative solution to bring peace and stability to our young brothers and sisters and their families.

My brothers and sisters, tonight we lay our fears and hopes at the feet of the Virgin. We ask for the grace to contemplate these times we are living in under the gaze of her loving eyes.

We know that she is our protector, our advocate. In that great vision from the Book of Revelation that we heard tonight in the second reading — we see Mary defending her child, defending the Church against the devil.

This is her role. She wraps us in her mantle, in the beautiful tilma. And she guides us, all the days of our lives, like a mother, to the throne of God.

Our Lady comes to help us — to intercede for us. Just as she went to her cousin, Elizabeth, in her hour of need, as we heard in our Gospel reading tonight.

Our Lady is still making her “visitation” to us. She hears our cries, our cares — and she comes to us. Always! This is what families do! We stand together, we help one another!

My brothers and sisters, we need to be more like Our Blessed Mother.

What is it about Mary? What is the most important thing? In her life, she said “yes” to God with her whole heart. She did not hold anything back. What God wanted, she would try to do.

Now, that means two things — first, it means she had to listen to God. You cannot know what God wants you to do, unless you are trying to listen.

So we have to try to listen. Read the Gospels every day. It is great reading and that is Jesus is speaking to you — as a child of God, as a child of Mary. Or to spend some time in prayer, listening and asking God for his will in your personal life.

So the first thing about Mary is listening. The second thing is service. When we pray the Rosary, the first mystery is the Annunciation — where Mary hears the Word of God and says “yes.”

The second mystery is the Visitation — where Mary goes off and serves her cousin Elizabeth, who is elderly, and is with child, with the Child St. John the Baptist.

That is why we heard the story again in our Gospel passage tonight. God wants us to be deeply involved in the lives of others — especially in the lives of those in our families.

We need to stick together. We need to make our families and our communities strong — by being strong people ourselves. By living with virtue — just living the “Golden Rule.” This is the foundation for a good life — trying to be like Jesus.

And what Jesus said is that we need to treat others as we want to be treated. Very simple. But we need to keep being reminded.

Brothers and sisters, Our Lady of Guadalupe entrusted St. Juan Diego with a task — to build a shrine in her name. She wanted this shrine to be a place where people would find God’s “love, compassion, help, comfort and salvation.”

And tonight she is calling each one of us to “build a shrine” with our lives. To be a beautiful example in our own lives of the men and women that God wants us to be.

Our Lady is calling us to show God’s love and compassion to our brothers and sisters and to work for a society that is worthy of the dignity of the human person.

So let us go out and do that tonight! So let us fly to her to her protection tonight — and every day. She will never let us down. And let us try to live by her example — listening to God and serving others. And let us pray, as always, with our whole hearts:

¡Que Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe!
¡Que viva San Juan Diego!
¡Que viva San Junípero Serra!
¡Que viva Cristo Rey!
¡Que viva la Virgen de Guadalupe!
¡Que viva la Virgen de Guadalupe!
¡Que viva la Virgen de Guadalupe!

Monday, December 11, 2017

Sí, Madre, Estás Aquí... Y Estamos Contigo

María, la mujer del sí, también quiso visitar a los habitantes de estas tierras de América en la persona del indio san Juan Diego. Así como se movió por los caminos de Judea y Galilea, de la misma manera caminó al Tepeyac, con sus ropas, usando su lengua, para servir a esta gran Nación. Y, así como acompañó la gestación de Isabel, ha acompañado y acompaña la gestación de esta bendita tierra mexicana. Así como se hizo presente al pequeño Juanito, de esa misma manera se sigue haciendo presente a todos nosotros; especialmente a aquellos que como él sienten «que no valían nada». Esta elección particular, digamos preferencial, no fue en contra de nadie sino a favor de todos. El pequeño indio Juan, que se llamaba a sí mismo como «mecapal, cacaxtle, cola, ala, sometido a cargo ajeno», se volvía «el embajador, muy digno de confianza».

En aquel amanecer de diciembre de 1531 se producía el primer milagro que luego será la memoria viva de todo lo que este Santuario custodia. En ese amanecer, en ese encuentro, Dios despertó la esperanza de su hijo Juan, la esperanza de un pueblo. En ese amanecer, Dios despertó y despierta la esperanza de los pequeños, de los sufrientes, de los desplazados y descartados, de todos aquellos que sienten que no tienen un lugar digno en estas tierras. En ese amanecer, Dios se acercó y se acerca al corazón sufriente pero resistente de tantas madres, padres, abuelos que han visto partir, perder o incluso arrebatarles criminalmente a sus hijos.

En ese amanecer, Juancito experimenta en su propia vida lo que es la esperanza, lo que es la misericordia de Dios. Él es elegido para supervisar, cuidar, custodiar e impulsar la construcción de este Santuario. En repetidas ocasiones le dijo a la Virgen que él no era la persona adecuada, al contrario, si quería llevar adelante esa obra tenía que elegir a otros, ya que él no era ilustrado, letrado o perteneciente al grupo de los que podrían hacerlo. María, empecinada —con el empecinamiento que nace del corazón misericordioso del Padre— le dice: no, que él sería su embajador.

Así logra despertar algo que él no sabía expresar, una verdadera bandera de amor y de justicia: en la construcción de ese otro santuario, el de la vida, el de nuestras comunidades, sociedades y culturas, nadie puede quedar afuera. Todos somos necesarios, especialmente aquellos que normalmente no cuentan por no estar a la «altura de las circunstancias» o por no «aportar el capital necesario» para la construcción de las mismas. El Santuario de Dios es la vida de sus hijos, de todos y en todas sus condiciones, especialmente de los jóvenes sin futuro expuestos a un sinfín de situaciones dolorosas, riesgosas, y la de los ancianos sin reconocimiento, olvidados en tantos rincones. El santuario de Dios son nuestras familias que necesitan de los mínimos necesarios para poder construirse y levantarse. El santuario de Dios es el rostro de tantos que salen a nuestros caminos…

Al venir a este Santuario nos puede pasar lo mismo que le pasó a Juan Diego. Mirar a la Madre desde nuestros dolores, miedos, desesperaciones, tristezas, y decirle: «Madre, ¿qué puedo aportar yo si no soy un letrado?». Miramos a la madre con ojos que dicen: son tantas las situaciones que nos quitan la fuerza, que hacen sentir que no hay espacio para la esperanza, para el cambio, para la transformación.

Por eso creo que hoy nos va a hacer bien un poco de silencio, y mirarla a ella, mirarla mucho y calmamente, y decirle como lo hizo aquel otro hijo que la quería mucho:

«Mirarte simplemente, Madre,
dejar abierta sólo la mirada;
mirarte toda sin decirte nada,
decirte todo, mudo y reverente.

No perturbar el viento de tu frente;
sólo acunar mi soledad violada,
en tus ojos de Madre enamorada
y en tu nido de tierra trasparente.

Las horas se desploman; sacudidos,
muerden los hombres necios la basura
de la vida y de la muerte, con sus ruidos.

Mirarte, Madre; contemplarte apenas,
el corazón callado en tu ternura,
en tu casto silencio de azucenas».

Y en silencio, y en este estar mirándola, escuchar una vez más que nos vuelve a decir: «¿Qué hay hijo mío el más pequeño?, ¿qué entristece tu corazón?» «¿Acaso no estoy yo aquí, yo que tengo el honor de ser tu madre?».

Ella nos dice que tiene el «honor» de ser nuestra madre. Eso nos da la certeza de que las lágrimas de los que sufren no son estériles. Son una oración silenciosa que sube hasta el cielo y que en María encuentra siempre lugar en su manto. En ella y con ella, Dios se hace hermano y compañero de camino, carga con nosotros las cruces para no quedar aplastados por nuestros dolores.

¿Acaso no soy yo tu madre? ¿No estoy aquí? No te dejes vencer por tus dolores, tristezas, nos dice. Hoy nuevamente nos vuelve a enviar, como a Juanito; hoy nuevamente nos vuelve a decir, sé mi embajador, sé mi enviado a construir tantos y nuevos santuarios, acompañar tantas vidas, consolar tantas lágrimas. Tan sólo camina por los caminos de tu vecindario, de tu comunidad, de tu parroquia como mi embajador, mi embajadora; levanta santuarios compartiendo la alegría de saber que no estamos solos, que ella va con nosotros. Sé mi embajador, nos dice, dando de comer al hambriento, de beber al sediento, da lugar al necesitado, viste al desnudo y visita al enfermo. Socorre al que está preso, no lo dejes solo, perdona al que te lastimó, consuela al que está triste, ten paciencia con los demás y, especialmente, pide y ruega a nuestro Dios. Y, en silencio, le decimos lo que nos venga al corazón.

¿Acaso no soy yo tu madre? ¿Acaso no estoy yo aquí?, nos vuelve a decir María. Anda a construir mi santuario, ayúdame a levantar la vida de mis hijos, que son tus hermanos.
* * *
Mary, the woman of “yes”, wished also to come to the inhabitants of these American lands through the person of the Indian St Juan Diego. Just as she went along the paths of Judea and Galilee, in the same way she walked through Tepeyac, wearing the indigenous garb and using their language so as to serve this great nation. Just as she accompanied Elizabeth in her pregnancy, so too she has and continues to accompany the development of this blessed Mexican land. Just as she made herself present to little Juan, so too she continues to reveal herself to all of us, especially to those who feel, like him, “worthless”. This specific choice, we might call it preferential, was not against anyone but rather in favour of everyone. The little Indian Juan who called himself a “leather strap, a back frame, a tail, a wing, oppressed by another’s burden,” became “the ambassador, most worthy of trust”.

On that morning in December 1531, the first miracle occurred which would then be the living memory of all this Shrine protects. On that morning, at that meeting, God awakened the hope of his son Juan, and the hope of a People. On that morning, God roused the hope of the little ones, of the suffering, of those displaced or rejected, of all who feel they have no worthy place in these lands. On that morning, God came close and still comes close to the suffering but resilient hearts of so many mothers, fathers, grandparents who have seen their children leaving, becoming lost or even being taken by criminals.

On that morning, Juancito experienced in his own life what hope is, what the mercy of God is. He was chosen to oversee, care for, protect and promote the building of this Shrine. On many occasions he said to Our Lady that he was not the right person; on the contrary, if she wished the work to progress, she should choose others, since he was not learned or literate and did not belong to the group who could make it a reality. Mary, who was persistent — with that persistence born from the Father’s merciful heart — said to him: he would be her ambassador.

In this way, she managed to awaken something he did not know how to express, a veritable banner of love and justice: no one could be left out of the building of that other shrine, the shrine of life, the shrine of our communities, our societies and our cultures.

We are all necessary, especially those who normally do not count because they are not “up to the task” or because “they do not have the necessary funds” to build all these things. God’s Shrine is the life of his children, of everyone in whatever condition, especially of young people without a future who are exposed to endless painful and risky situations, and the elderly who are unacknowledged, forgotten and out of sight. The Shrine of God is our families in need only of the essentials to develop and progress. The Shrine of God is the faces of the many people we encounter each day....

Visiting this Shrine, the same things that happened to Juan Diego can also happen to us. Look at the Blessed Mother from within our own sufferings, our own fear, hopelessness, sadness, and say to her, “What can I offer since I am not learned?”. We look to our Mother with eyes that express our thoughts: there are so many situations which leave us powerless, which make us feel that there is no room for hope, for change, for transformation.

And so, I think that some silence may do us good today as we pause to look upon her and repeat to her the words of that other loving son:

Simply looking at you, O Mother, / having eyes only for you, / looking upon you without saying anything, / telling you everything, wordlessly and reverently. / Do not perturb the air before you; / only cradle my stolen solitude / in your loving Motherly eyes, / in the nest of your clear ground. / Hours tumble by, / and with much commotion, / the wastage of life and death / sinks its teeth into foolish men. Having eyes for you, O Mother, simply contemplating you / with a heart / quieted in your tenderness / that silence of yours, / chaste as the lilies.

And in the silence, and in this looking at her, we will hear what she says to us once more, “What, my most precious little one, saddens your heart?... Yet am I not here with you, who have the honour of being your mother?”

Mary tells us that she has “the honour” of being our mother, assuring us that those who suffer do not weep in vain. These ones are a silent prayer rising to heaven, always finding a place in Mary’s mantle. In her and with her, God has made himself our brother and companion along the journey; he carries our crosses with us so as not to leave us overwhelmed by our sufferings.

Am I not your mother? Am I not here? Do not let trials and pains overwhelm you, she tells us. Today, she sends us out anew; as she did Juancito, today, she comes to tell us again: be my ambassador, the one I send to build many new shrines, accompany many lives, wipe away many tears. Simply be my ambassador by walking along the paths of your neighbourhood, of your community, of your parish; we can build shrines by sharing the joy of knowing that we are not alone, that Mary accompanies us. Be my ambassador, she says to us, giving food to the hungry, drink to those who thirst, a refuge to those in need, clothe the naked and visit the sick. Come to the aid of those in prison, do not leave them alone, forgive whomever has offended you, console the grieving, be patient with others, and above all beseech and pray to God. And in the silence tell him what is in our heart.

Am I not your mother? Am I not here with you? Mary says this to us again. Go and build my shrine, help me to lift up the lives of my sons and daughters, who are your brothers and sisters.
Homilia de Papa Francisco/Homily of Pope Francis
Basilica de Guadalupe
Mexico, DF
13 de febrero 2016

For A Quarter-Century, The Man of This Hour

On the Sunday before the Pope arrived on US soil, the headline was unforgettable.

Above the fold and down the right A1 column, some half-million copies of The Philadelphia Inquirer blared the week's Top Story in these words:

"Bishop: Church's answers lie with the laity."

On one ecclesial bank of the Delaware River, the 2008 comment didn't merely arrive as "news," but was viewed as tantamount to a declaration of war. Just across the three bridges, though, for Bishop Joe Galante (above) the line was simple reality – at least, if his church's best days weren't going to be behind it.

Now retired from the helm of South Jersey's 600,000-member fold based in Camden, today marks Galante's 25th anniversary as a bishop. And as these pages are just one of the thousands upon thousands of spots touched by his ever-faithful, generous goodness in ministry through the years, this scribe would be remiss to fail in paying a word of tribute.

Alas, they don't make cards for days like this – of some 350-odd US bishops, only about a third reach this milestone. And even if there were a stock greeting for the moment, it just wouldn't be able to capture the measure of this jubilarian, whose rare fortune at seeing history smile on him in life is matched only by how richly he's earned it.

In attempting to explain Galante to people who've never known him, I've always tended to cite three things.

First, even for knowing a good few of the bench, I've seldom known another among them who, without fail, has spent his every vacation in his own diocese. To be sure, being assigned to the lower half of the Jersey Shore might sound like the dream job of every Philly-born priest – at least in theory – but not knowing what you'll get strung up about by the faithful while pushing your cart around the Wildwood Acme in shorts can, in practice, make it a bit easier to take one's downtime somewhere else. Bishop Joe wouldn't have wanted it any other way than staying home, in the house he kept there from his priesthood.

Second, on any given day – Mondays above all given the weekend Masses – most every Chancery in the land gets a phone call, often several, from a fired-up parishioner driven to give the Boss a piece of their mind. The topic can be anything under the sun, and the staff are usually well-trained to assuage the concerns on their own while keeping the call far from the corner office.

In Galante's case, whenever the outrage arrived, the approach was unique: once the line was transferred to his devoted secretary, Dolores Orihel would answer with some variation of, "You'd like to talk to Bishop Galante? Here he is."

As he only ever used the formal office for major meetings – splitting Dolores' cubicle with her the rest of the time – she'd just hand the phone over. And one by one, however long the person needed to come away at ease would be theirs.

Again, it sounds like a no-brainer in theory, but given the most difficult act of his tenure – a sweeping realignment that merged South Jersey's 132 parishes by roughly half (and all of it announced at once) – no shortage of soothing was needed.

And thirdly, much as he worked for and was dear to John Paul II – who named him first as Undersecretary of the Congregation for Religious, then to four diverse, oft-challenging assignments as a bishop – only in recent years has it become clear how much of Bishop Joe's pastoral ethic echoes that of another auxiliary appointed and ordained in 1992: another son of Italian immigrants to America... now known to the world as The Man in White.

To be sure, it's always been fashionable in church circles to compare a prelate's qualities to those of the reigning Pope. Yet in this case, it has the added benefit of not just being accurate, but true at a cost – while these days see Francis garnering widespread plaudits for decrying clericalism as a rot on the church's soul, and Jersey's first-ever cardinal is lionized as the champion of the nation's religious women in the belly of the Vatican beast, Joe Galante was fighting these battles in the very same places well before anyone knew of Bergoglio, with far less support... so much so that, now it can be told, a concerted push was once made to have him forced from office.

Gratefully, it didn't happen. And beyond seeing two of his own ministry's core emphases – qualities more recently defined as "pastoral conversion" and "missionary discipleship" – now promulgated by his twin as the gold standard of what it means to be a shepherd, that this anniversary likewise brings the beginning of Francis' 23rd meeting with his "Gang of 9" for the reform of the Curia adds a good bit to the providence and joy of the milestone.

A lesser man would see the turn of events as a vindication. But that word isn't in Bishop's vocabulary – what satisfaction he finds in it comes from seeing the church act more like its Lord, and striving afresh to do better in earning the fidelity and credibility of its people.

Even more than usual, the phone will be ringing off the hook today at the ranch house down the Shore where, as things normally go, five minutes rarely pass between incoming calls. Yet now, there are no complaints, just the legion of friends from all walks of life always wanting to check in, as the Eagles or Phillies game plays out on the muted TV and the cooking of his live-in caretaker, Steve, scores another compliment.

As ever, it might sound easy, but there's more than meets the eye. As it's been for the last six years, Mondays are a little rough – the first of the three days a week he spends six hours at a time hooked up to a dialysis machine. Not even a Silver Jubilee can exempt him from that. And now, the road's about to get more trying still: following a diagnosis of prostate cancer over the summer, next month sees the start of radiation that'll need to be worked around the kidney treatments.

Just as this piece is coming as a surprise to him, I know he'd seek your prayers... and as he's owed the appreciation of a grateful Church, that's the least any of us can do.

You know, the more these years wear on, the harder it is to put many things into words – the more you've been around, the less you stop sensing how much more there is to every story. Along those lines, it's par for the course that we haven't even touched the memory of the day when Galante became the first and only Catholic prelate ever to take a seat on Oprah Winfrey's couch. Nonetheless, from Nuns to "nones," the Latinos and Irish he's adopted as family to our own Italian crew – and perhaps most impressively, from Cowboys fans to Eagles Nation – much as he keeps thanking everybody else for the graces of this quarter-century, if anything, the blessing of it has been ours in the gift of him... and just like the example of his "alter ego" now in the Domus, it's on us to not just admire the richness we've been given, but to share and imitate it for the rest.

Among his horde of priceless quotes, and knowing the strains of being Publisher of a Catholic news-outlet, Bishop Joe's long been on this scribe to "Start raising money from the bishops"... just with one bit of added advice: "You can charge one rate for guys who want to be mentioned, and even more for those who don't want to be."

Suffice it to say, he's "paid" for this in the way that matters most – really, the only way that matters: in lavishing me and so many of us with his loyalty, love, support and faithfulness through the years, his "Yes" has given us life, and Lord knows how we can't begin to repay him for that.

*  *  *
As tributes go, this one pales in comparison to the 44-page mega-supplement produced over the weekend by Bishop's "baby" – Camden's Catholic Star Herald, whose survival into the present owes itself more to his determination than anything else.

Yesterday, meanwhile, the 25th was marked by some 400 of Galante's extended family who crammed into the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception for an intimate, moving Mass (above) and dinner.

Here, the jubilarian's closing word:


Thursday, December 07, 2017

Habemus POPEQUAKE – In Stunning Twin Shot, Francis Flips Mexico. And Paris.

(Updated with analysis/context.)

As appointment days go, folks, This. Is. Simply. Beyond.

Filling two of global Catholicism's foremost posts in one fell swoop, even before Roman Noon hit this Thursday, the Italian desk of Vatican Radio published the Pope's twin selections of Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes, 67 – until now archbishop of suburban Tlalnepantla, already a former president of both the Mexican bishops and the continental mega-conference CELAM – as archbishop of Mexico City: with some 8 million members, the world's largest diocese...

...and, together with it, Francis' choice of Bishop Michel Aupetit of Nanterre, 66 – a physician, bioethicist and med-school professor for two decades, ordained a priest at 44 – as archbishop of Paris: the 1.3 million-member fold that's both the largest and most prominent charge in the land long known as the church's "eldest daughter."

In terms of dates and places, the CVs of both picks were released by the Vatican in the English edition of today's Bollettino.

The duo respectively succeed Cardinals Norberto Rivera and Andre Vingt-Trois, both of whom reached the retirement age of 75 just within the last six months. In the latter case, the departing Paris prelate – who'll be succeeded by his second-in-command from 2006-13 – marked his birthday on November 7th, while the retirement of Rivera (who turned 75 last June) ends a landmark, yet frequently controversial 22-year run atop the Mexican church, a reign with which the first American Pope memorably made his frustration clear on his visit to it in early 2016.

Together with Francis' June pick of Auxiliary Bishop Mario Delpini (above) as archbishop of Milan – his hometown and Italy's marquee diocese – today's moves round out 2017's foreseen extraordinary round of placements into the church's top dozen or so diocesan seats around the world, with a couple more impending shifts still in the offing.

*   *   *
In the case of Aguiar, that sound you hear is the new Cardinal-Primate vaulting to the front of the Papabile file... albeit to a lesser degree than if a Latin American weren't already on Peter's Chair.

Nonetheless, the Scripture scholar and veteran seminary rector has long been the frontrunner for the capital of Mexico, whose 90 million Catholics nationwide form the church's second-largest bloc after Brazil, even as church-state issues there remain an equally-sized challenge.

Hailing the pick as a "renaissance man," a Whispers op close to both Francis and Aguiar called the Pope's choice "extremely smart and very close to the people," noting the incoming Primate's ability to make headway in the public realm to a degree that eluded the polarizing Rivera, whose long tenure became mired in moral and financial scandals within the massive archdiocese – and who, unlike his successor, was never elected by the Mexican bishops as their president despite occupying the hierarchy's biggest post (a twin role which, in Latin America, is normally a given).

Indeed, arguably more than anything, the choice of Aguiar serves to again underscore Papa Bergoglio's emphasis on the role – and trust in the judgment – of episcopal conferences.

Having known the younger prelate for the better part of two decades – from when Aguiar was overseeing the CELAM offices as its secretary-general – like so much else with the now-Francis, the bond between the duo was ostensibly sealed at Aparecida in 2007. At the once-a-generation meeting of the Latin American bishops, this time in Brazil's patronal shrine, then-Cardinal Bergoglio oversaw the drafting of the missionary "charter" for the region that's home to a plurality of the Catholic world, while after the fact, the rising Mexican would carry the torch for the Aparecida call as the continental body's vice-president, then president.

Along the way, in 2009 Benedict XVI gave Aguiar the archbishopric of Tlalnepantla, all of 15 miles north of Mexico City. But once the papacy switched hands, to signal his impatience with the state of things down the road, Francis would replicate his biggest US ground-shift last year, placing an unprecedented red hat at the "periphery" of the capital itself.

Now, his protege's journey to El Zócalo – Mexico City's central square, bordered by the gargantuan Cathedral (above) to one side and the government's historic seat to the other – is complete. The choice arrives as ready for global prime-time as anyone could be, but come Aguilar's installation in February, the task that awaits is widely seen as the need for a thorough "cleanup" at home. (Much as it didn't surprise the CDMX crowd, Rivera marked the announcement of his resignation by leaving the country; said to be in Rome today, the cardinal shared the news in a letter released by the archdiocese.)

Long story short, and for the millionth time, the essence of this most significant of moves marks just another return to Evangelii Gaudium – merely an adaptation of Aparecida for the global fold, the "blueprint" of Francis' church in more ways than most have begun to understand... even as the fifth anniversary of this pontificate approaches in March.

And on a day when the appointment of the archbishop of Paris is merely the second biggest thing going, the shape of the moment only goes to prove one of Francis' core principles in his charter text: namely, "Reality is bigger than ideas."


Wednesday, December 06, 2017

At Last, The "Vice-Wuerl" Gets The Call – Pope Taps DC's Knestout For Richmond

After months of rumblings over his future, Bishop Barry Knestout can finally breathe easy – expected from very early in the year, the Pope's choice of the 55 year-old vicar-general of Washington as the 13th bishop of Richmond indeed came to pass at Roman Noon yesterday.

In the post overseeing the massive 33,000 square mile bulk of Virginia stretching from the Atlantic's Eastern Shore to the Kentucky border – all of it home to some 250,000 Catholics – the top deputy to Cardinal Donald Wuerl (duo seen above) succeeds Bishop Francis DiLorenzo, whose death from kidney failure in August remains a shock to his many friends.

Having reached the retirement age of 75 last April, the process for DiLorenzo's replacement was already well in the works at the time the vacancy occurred. On speaking to him a week before his passing – and not expecting to lose him in the least – this scribe admitted to DiLorenzo of wondering what was taking the appointment "so long," to which he characteristically shot back, "Me too."

Even then, it bears noting that Knestout – from his days as secretary to Cardinals James Hickey and Theodore McCarrick, a familiar figure in church circles for nearly two decades – was the only potential pick whose name came up in the conversation.

Founded in 1820 to initially encompass Virginia and the future West Virginia, the Richmond church is one of the eight oldest in the US.

The first son of a cleric to be named a bishop in the global church since the permanent diaconate was restored in 1968, Knestout's arrival brings a quieter, conciliatory hand to a diocese led over the last four decades by larger-than-life personalities at opposite ends of the ecclesiological spectrum. Before DiLorenzo – an ever-candid, big-hearted Philadelphian known for his impatience with business meetings – the three-decade tenure of Bishop Walter Sullivan made Richmond one of the few Eastern outposts to retain a post-Conciliar progressive bent, defying a wider trend toward reinforcing identity and doctrine. (Once asked by a local TV reporter whether the church would ever ordain women as priests – despite John Paul II's definitive statement that it lacked the authority to do so – Sullivan famously replied "Not in my lifetime.")

In that light, amid the raw fallout of August's clashes between white supremacists and counter-protestors in Charlottesville (in the diocese's western tier), which saw one of the latter killed by a car driven into the crowd, not to mention the wake of a bitterly divisive governor's race this fall that made the Old Dominion's trove of Confederate monuments an unusual flashpoint of tribal politics, it's easy to sense that Knestout's calming, hyper-diligent skillset is the optimal antidote to a charged, heavily-partisan moment.

At the same time, while some two-thirds of Virginia's booming Catholic population lives in the 19 northern counties that form the diocese of Arlington (which was spun off from Richmond in 1974), the turf he inherits is experiencing its own degree of recent growth, albeit on a more gradual scale.

Having been the Washington Chancery's point-man on guiding the capital church through a remarkable decade that's seen its Catholic presence expand by roughly a quarter to an estimated 750,000 in its pews – most of them packed into teeming parishes and schools in the archdiocese's Maryland suburbs – the upward trends in Richmond's population core of Hampton Roads (the military-heavy Eastern flank encompassing Virginia Beach and Newport News) and the diocese's central axis along Interstates 95 and 64 will be very familiar to the new arrival from the outset. (Among other examples of the growth, seen below is the newly-expanded plant at St Bede's in Williamsburg, where a church that isn't yet 15 years old was bolstered by last spring's opening of an $11 million, 40,000 square-foot addition to house its ministries and religious education classes, anchored by a 600-seat parish hall.)

If anything, the one fresh challenge facing Knestout will be enhancing the effectiveness of the diocese's operations given the sprawl of the territory and the population imbalance between the coast and a heavily rural, mostly sparse edge in the Blue Ridge and Appalachian mountains. As DiLorenzo put the spread into context, if the distance of crossing the diocese's lower edge was turned on its side, a drive from the westernmost point would put you in Detroit. Accordingly, while a division of Richmond's eastern portion into its own diocese has been considered in the past, it's been deemed unfeasible as the redrawn mother-see would lack the resources to support itself.

Coming in a week already focused on the nation's capital given Friday's dedication of the massive Trinity Dome in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception – and with it, what's widely expected to be the beginning of Wuerl's pre-retirement "victory lap" – the promotion of the DC prelate's #2 over his decade-long tenure further fuels the perception of desk-clearing by the cardinal, who turned 77 last month. However, despite prior forecasts tipping a transition sometime in the first half of 2018, over recent weeks Whispers ops close to Wuerl have begun to sense a longer timeframe toward the appointment of Washington's sixth resident archbishop, a move almost certain to be Francis' last major selection for the American hierarchy's top rank.

In any case, even before today's nod was officially made, no shortage of attention has already turned toward the critical "other shoe" to drop: Wuerl's choice of Knestout's replacement as vicar-general, essentially the DC church's chief operating officer – a selection in which the departing prelate's brother, Fr Mark, is said to be a leading contender.

Beyond the post's significance within the capital itself, it's worth recalling that, over the now-cardinal's three decades as a diocesan bishop, each of his vicars-general have quickly been named as auxiliaries, all then going on to lead a local church in their own right.

The Richmond installation is slated for Friday, 12 January... and here below, fullvid of yesterday's appointment presser, highlighted by Knestout's call for his new charge to be "a strong voice for unity and charity" in the face of "a time when we are challenged by many divisions" – bishop begins at 6:15 mark:

With the Richmond call finally in the can, all of one Stateside Latin diocese is vacant – north Kansas' outpost in Salina, from which Bishop Edward Weisenburger was transferred to Tucson in September.

Alongside Washington, just two others are led by prelates serving past the retirement age and awaiting their respective successors: central California's diocese of Stockton, where Bishop Stephen Blaire reached the milestone last February, and the largest opening the US church will have for the foreseeable future – what's become an 850,000-member fold in Las Vegas, guided since 2001 by Bishop Joe Pepe, one of DiLorenzo's closest friends and the preacher at his funeral.


Friday, December 01, 2017

"The Presence of God Is Called 'Rohingya'" – Meeting Refugees, Pope Pleads for "Forgiveness"

Closing out a packed day that began with a rare ordination of priests on the road, the prime diplomatic fault-line of this weeklong PopeTrip to Southeast Asia saw a closing flourish as Francis met with 16 Rohingya refugees – 12 men and four women – who fled Myanmar for Bangladesh, using the charged term for the first time on this visit.

Taking place just after a gathering with local interfaith leaders at the Archbishop's Residence in Dhaka, the encounter was not a surprise – as previously noted, the plan was revealed early this week by Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai (a member of the pontiff's "C-9" council of lead advisers) in a conversation with the Rome-based AsiaNews agency. Nonetheless, after Francis came in for a rare dose of wide criticism over explicitly avoiding the topic during this trek's first leg with the party responsible for the crisis, the images and tone of today's meeting – which highlighted both Papa Bergoglio's compassion and a global call to action (his second in as many days) – is likely to assuage the storm over the long haul.

Here, a house English translation of the Pope's brief, off-the-cuff message to the group – currently housed in a refugee camp – after meeting them individually:
Dear brothers and sisters, we are all close to you. There's not much that we can do because your tragedy is so great. But we make space for you in our hearts. In the name of all, of those who've persecuted you, of those who've done this evil, above all for the indifference of the world, I ask forgiveness. Forgiveness. Many of you have spoken of the great heart of Bangladesh which has welcomed you. Now I appeal to your great hearts, that you might be able to give us the forgiveness we seek.

Dear brothers and sisters, the Judeo-Christian account of creation says that the Lord who is God created man in his own image and likeness. All of us are this image, even these brothers and sisters. They, too, are the image of the living God. A tradition of your religions says that God, in the beginning, took a little bit of salt and tossed it into water, that was the soul of all people; and each of us carries within ourselves a little of this divine salt. These brothers and sisters carry within them the salt of God.

Dear brothers and sisters, we only have to look at the world to see its selfishness with the image of God. Let us continue to do good by you, to help you; let us continue to act so that they may recognize your rights. Let us not close our hearts, not look somewhere else. The presence of God today is also called "Rohingya." May each of us give our own response.