“It’s like being captain ball of a team,” said Sen. Pia Cayetano of her role as an endorser of candidates for tomorrow’s polls. “When you choose your possible teammates, you choose the most capable, most qualified and proven people to join your team. You choose the best.”
Which is why, in a press con last Friday, Cayetano joined another senator, the outspoken and feisty Miriam Defensor-Santiago, in making public their endorsement of senatorial candidate Risa Hontiveros.
“Other candidates have approached me and asked for my endorsement,” announced Santiago. “But my priority is to give support to Risa.”
That the two women senators would stand by Risa and raise her arms to signify their support for her candidacy may be understandable, because Cayetano was the main sponsor in the Senate, and Santiago the author, of the reproductive health bill, which Risa advocated and campaigned for even after she had left the House of Representatives.
In fact, critics and anti-RH activists seemed to have zeroed in on Risa in the runup to tomorrow’s elections. “Why engage in the politics of hatred?” Santiago wanted to know.
For her part, Hontiveros bemoaned what she called the “matinding pagkamuhi” (extreme dislike, to put it mildly) of some groups, who have expressed their feelings for (or against) her in leaflets, text messages, posters and even Sunday homilies and pastoral letters. But, she added, she was confident that in her campaign, platform and advocacy, she was “going in the right direction and right in my choice of allies.”
To this Cayetano added that Risa need not fret too much. “A lot of members of the Catholic clergy are also praying for us,” she assured her “adopted” sister.
Then Pope Benedict XVI was right when he said in February that his then impending depature from the papacy was no flight from the Cross. Proof of this is his continuing crucifixion by critics of the Church and pseudo-fans of Pope Francis. The latter extol the simplicity of the new Pope at the cost of tarnishing the character of the old one. They equate the Pope Emeritus with their own poor notion of the Middle Ages—dark, backward and decadent—and speak as if the saintliness of the new Pontiff is an anomaly among the Successors of Saint Peter.
It is fantastic that Pope Francis is conveying a resounding message of Gospel simplicity to the world by shunning the popemobile, wearing a silver rather than more bejeweled pectoral cross, donning simpler-looking liturgical vestments and choosing indefinitely to live in the Domus Sancta Martha rather than in the Apostolic Palace. Nevertheless, Church watchers, especially Christians, because they ought to suffer with the crucified rather than help those who nail him; especially journalists, because they are supposedly paragons of accuracy, fairness and balance ought to resist jumping to the conclusion that Pope Emeritus Benedict stood for a triumphalism, opulence or tyranny.
Those who take issue with the previous Pontiff’s official and liturgical garments would be well advised to brush up on their understanding of the meaning behind such garb, which does not rest on a taste for kingly style but grows out of the conviction that craftsmanship is a means to suggest the majesty of and give praise to the Almighty. Before those who carp start clamoring for churches without stained glass windows, manicured gardens or intricately designed adoration chapels, they need to meditate on why the Magi brought gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Child of Bethlehem, why Mary of Bethany poured a jar of nard onto her Master’s feet, why the Savior of mankind accepted acclaim from a crowd while making a glorious entrance into Jerusalem prior to his passion and death.
So-called Vaticanistas who praise Pope Francis for being more outgoing and in touch with the people than Benedict only evince how they limited their coverage of the Church to occasions like conclaves, a new Pope’s honeymoon with the media or an archdiocese’s payment of settlement money to victims of sexual abuse by priests. It is easy, since Pope Emeritus Benedict has a staggeringly weighty intellect, to typecast him as a professorial shepherd who was out of touch with his flock. That poor sketch persists in part because there were not five thousand journalists from around the globe who covered the moments when Pope Benedict cried with the molested, ate with and comforted the aged in a home, had to be prevailed upon by aides to spend the night in warmer accommodations rather than outdoors in a winter vigil with hundreds of thousands of youth, or celebrated Mass with children in conflict with the law. And does not launching Twitter, Facebook and YouTube accounts count as outreach? How about authorizing a catechism stylized for young people?
The crucifixion of Pope Benedict persists among those who deride him for being allegedly obsessed with theology when in fact his speeches and writings that point to the Gospel were and are messages that the world needs to heed. “Deus Caritas Est” is timeless source of inspiration. “Love is the light—and in the end, the only light—that can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working. Love is possible,” he said in this letter, “and we are able to practise it because we are created in the image of God. To experience love and in this way to cause the light of God to enter into the world—this is the invitation I would like to extend.” “Spe Salvi” is a potent cure for despair. Consider what he wrote: “It is when we attempt to avoid suffering by withdrawing from anything that might involve hurt, when we try to spare ourselves the effort and pain of pursuing truth, love, and goodness, that we drift into a life of emptiness, in which there may be almost no pain, but the dark sensation of meaninglessness and abandonment is all the greater. It is not by sidestepping or fleeing from suffering that we are healed, but rather by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it and finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love.”
For all the critics’ claim that a juggernaut Church under Benedict habitually imposed its will and refused to listen to the faithful, he was actually the only Pope who wrote treatises that he insisted should not be taken as magisterial, but as an intimate sharing of his own search for the face of God. I am referring to his “Jesus of Nazareth” trilogy of books that should be standard reading for anyone who wishes to deepen their familiarity with the person of Christ. In this book, Pope Benedict set out his philosophy of stewardship of the Church that would have prompted those who thought or think it a community with an deep will to naked power room to pause. If only they cared enough to read and ponder. The Pope said that as he did with Saint Peter, the Lord has to be vehement and tell us, “Get thee behind me, Satan!” when our way of doing things contradicts God’s essentially skirting the path of renunciation and the Cross. We can see in this reflection the root of Pope Benedict XVI’s dialog with the peoples of different faiths and convictions.
In one of his Palm Sunday homilies, Pope Benedict said happiness comes from saying “yes” to the will of God. People will have missed the point if they continue interpret the Pope Benedict’s renunciation of the Chair of Saint Peter as a surrender in the face of the weight of the problems besetting the Church militant. Early in his pontificate, Pope Benedict said a pope does not shine his own light but only that of Christ. In receding into the background Benedict XVI simply underscored that no pope is a master, they are only stewards who serve at the pleasure of a Supreme Judge and Christ alone is the light of the Church and the world.
CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) – Every sin is a failure. However, there is a lot that we can learn every time we say no to the Lord. Every moment of sin is a moment to love more. During the Last Supper, Peter assured the Lord of his love. Nevertheless, Jesus predicted that he would deny him three times.
Sometimes pride causes us to sin. We feel confident that we can handle certain situations. Pride can even blind us from the memory of past experiences, and we fall in the same hole over and over again.
In this Sunday’s gospel narrative, Jesus asks Peter three times if he really does love him. The triple profession of love that Peter makes after the Resurrection overcomes his threefold denial before the Passion.
When Peter denied the Lord, the Scriptures tell us that he went away and wept bitterly. Through repentance and compunction, Peter was able to mistrust his own abilities and put his trust entirely in the Lord. He discovered that left to his own abilities, he would continue to fall. However, united to the power of God’s grace, he could overcome himself and persevere in fidelity.
There must be a reason why Jesus chose Peter to be the head of his Apostles. He trusted Peter and he knew that he would return loving even more.
Perfect people do not exist.
God always chooses the weak in order to bring about great tasks.
People who recognize their weaknesses, sinfulness and limitations are humble. Humility allows them to rely on God’s grace and not on their own capabilities. The arrogant do not allow God to work in their lives, or through them, in the lives of others.
“Peter, do you love me?” Peter was asked this question three times. Three times Peter assured the Lord that he loved him, and three times Peter was commissioned to show his love by feeding the flock. This reminds us that love is not comprised of empty promises. Love is made manifest in giving ourselves to others.
Easter is all about the new way of life called Christianity.
Feeding lambs and feeding sheep means that because of Jesus, we no longer can live for ourselves. We need to be kind to each other, affirm and encourage one another, serve and forgive one another.
Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future. Many of the greatest saints of the Catholic Church were at one time great sinners. Simply consider the sins of David, Magdalen, Paul and Augustine. Nevertheless, they, like many others, were able to turn their lives around and love even more.
This Sunday’s gospel passage reminds us that our own personal sin is never the end of the story. Every day God gives us a blank piece of paper to write the history of a new day.
“Peter, do you love me?” Jesus asks us the same question: Do you love me? Every day, we have many moments to show Jesus how much we really do love him.
“Peter, do you love me more than these?” Do you love me more than your possessions? Do you love me more than your money? Do you love me more than your house? Do you love me more than you spouse, your children, your mother and your father? Do you really love me more than yourself?
In order to really love the way Jesus calls us to love, we must truly die to ourselves. Only those who are free from any attachment, any obsession and any addiction can truly love. When you really die to yourself, love possesses you.
When you can truly love, you will never fear failure and sin because failure and sin become opportunities to love even more intensely.
For all those who call themselves disciples of Jesus, failure is an opportunity to love better and stronger. By beginning again and again, failure is an opportunity to love God and neighbor even more.
Father James Farfaglia is a
contributing writer for Catholic Online. You can visit him on the web at www.fatherjames.org
and listen to the audio podcast of this Sunday homily. Apps for Father James’ homilies are now
available for Android and iPhone.
I was wondering what to write about in this Easter Sunday column when a package arrived from my friend from high school, Marissa Ampil. I remember she had told me she would send over a copy of the book “Sharper than the Sword,” a compilation of Sunday homilies by Fr. James McTavish of the Verbum Dei Missionaries. Thank you, Marissa, for the timely gift and for saving my hide!
The Verbum Dei Missionaries was founded in 1963 by Fr. Jaime Bonet in Spain and was granted pontifical approval in 2000. Now present in over 30 countries around the world, the community is also present in Manila, Quezon City, Tagaytay and Cebu, with a lay community in Cagayan de Oro. The order’s charism is centered on evangelization and formation of lay people.
One of them was Father McTavish, who hails from Scotland (though we haven’t met, I can just imagine his accent), and who was a practicing pediatric plastic surgeon (he is a graduate of Cambridge University) until he heard his “call.”
Describing this call, Father McTavish says: “I realized that the Word of God is so sharp, sharper than any sword or scalpel. I just wanted to announce it and set the world on fire with love for Jesus. As a plastic surgeon I had enjoyed my career so much, trying to reconstruct various wounds, but Jesus, the ‘Good Doctor’, asked me to reconstruct his people.”
Below are excerpts from Father McTavish’s homily for Easter Sunday. For the full text and for the rest of his homilies for the year, you may buy your own copies of “Sharper than the Sword” at the Verbum Dei House in Varsity Hills Subdivision, Loyola Heights in Quezon City.
* * *
When I first met the Verbum Dei community in Sydney, Australia, after a few months I got the chance to go to the Philippines to spend time with the Verbum Dei community there. While I was away I lent the Sisters my little car, it was a Daihatsu Charade. A severe hailstorm struck Sydney and damaged property and cars. When I returned to Sydney after the enjoyable Philippines trip I phoned up the Sisters to inquire about my beloved little car. I was worried about it and asked them if the front windscreen had been smashed. I was relieved upon hearing that it was not. As I walked to their house to pick up my car I was thanking God that my car had been saved. That was until I saw my car. True enough the front windscreen was intact but the rest of the car was smashed to smithereens! The other windows were broken and it had hundreds of deep dents where the large hailstones had struck it. I started to complain to God. Then I discovered that all cars affected by the storm would get a full insurance rebate so I thanked God once again! One way we can live a risen life is by being more generous, especially with what we have.
* * *
The Lord is also risen in our relationships, in that relationship that maybe we have taken for granted, in the relationship that maybe is strained or dead. Here the Lord has resurrected! It reminds me of the Christian art in catacombs. Sometimes the Lord’s resurrection is symbolized by the phoenix. This mythical bird after its death in fire would rise up again from the ashes. St. Clement (the fourth Pope) in his first epistle to the Corinthians cites the phoenix as an emblem of the resurrection. “Let us consider that wonderful sign (of the resurrection) which takes place in Eastern lands, that is, in Arabia and the countries round about. There is a certain bird which is called a phoenix. This is the only one of its kind, and lives five hundred years. And when the time of its dissolution draws near that it must die, it builds itself a nest of frankincense, and myrrh, and other spices, into which when the time is fulfilled, it enters and dies. But as the flesh decays a certain kind of worm is produced, which, being nourished by the juices of the dead bird, brings forth feathers. Then, when it has acquired strength, it takes up that nest in which are the bones of its parent, and bearing these it passes from the land of Arabia into Egypt, to the city called Heliopolis. And, in open day, flying in the sight of all men, it places them on the altar of the sun, and having done this, hastens back to its former abode. The priests then inspect the registers of the dates, and find that it has returned exactly as the five hundredth year was completed.”
* * *
Of course the description of St. Clement is rather colorful—well, he is writing in the second century AD and if he had Google, one quick search would have confirmed that the phoenix is actually a mythical creature. Still, it is beautiful to cite from early Christian writing and see that the analogy of faith still holds true today. St. Clement then asks: “Do we then deem it any great and wonderful thing for the Maker of all things to rise up again those who have piously served Him in the assurance of a good faith, when even by a bird He shows us the mightiness of His power to fulfill His promise?”
* * *
Christ is risen, like the phoenix and death no longer has power over him. We are all called to be witnesses of his resurrection. How can we be witnesses?
…Well, we can eat and drink with Jesus in the Eucharist, the sacrament of his body and blood, a privileged place to open our eyes of faith, to see his risen presence there… We need to pray, folks! We need to contemplate the Easter mystery and in our prayer to experience the risen Christ. In this way we can truly become witnesses of the resurrection!
More from this Column:
- Easter and the phoenix
- Bruce Lee and faith
- Gender and the media landscape
- Celebrity meltdowns
- A motoring mystery
Short URL: http://opinion.inquirer.net/?p=49653
Verbum Dei Missionaries
Conrad Black’s piece today is bewildering. Just at a time when even some non-papal audiences have become sick of the bill of poisonous goods the feminist revolution made women and men sign up for in the name of faux freedom, he hopes Pope Francis not only abandons Catholic theology but good sense. It is surrender to the sexual revolution that has, in part, led to the catechetical and public-witness crisis we’re in. And while, of course, it is true that Catholics can tend to be just like everyone else when it comes to sex as “a mere extension of the pleasures of heterosexual affection,” it is meant to be something more. Don’t we want our children to see it as something more? Don’t we want something more? In her surveying, Mary Hasson of the Ethics and Public Policy Center has found even women who aren’t on board with all of Church teaching wanting to know more about it in Sunday homilies. At a time when we can see clearly in our midst so much of what Paul VI warned of in Humanae Vitae, why wouldn’t we want to repropose a beautiful understanding about men and women, the Sacrament of marriage, and God’s love for us? Why wouldn’t we want a further unpacking of the teachings of Pope John Paul II on human sexuality? We’d all lose out if the Church caved to critics who want it to “modernize.” The Church needs to communicate better, teach more, but not cave.
My reading recommendation for Mr. Black is Mary Eberstadt’s Adam and Eve after the Pill. I suspect he might find himself agreeing with it more than he’d think.
Don’t expect the pope to “Say Yes to the Pill,” but expect him to make it all the more clear why it is we believe what we believe (so that the world does not erroneously see only the word NO when it comes to Catholics and sex). That’s my bet on the new pope. That’s my hope. That’s my prayer.
Keeping the faith on Facebook
Churches use social media to communicate with congregations
By Karen Mahoney
Kenosha News Correspondent
The use of social media — Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and podcasts — is changing the way churches communicate with their congregations. The church bulletin is not going away, but it’s being augmented by the instant, interactive communication of the laptop, tablet and smartphone.
“It’s a better way to reach people where they are at these days,” said Connie Jacob, communications director for First Christian Church in Kenosha. “I find people stay together better when connected with Twitter and Facebook. Our church family stays connected by posting things that are going on in their lives and in the church’s life. We all like to know what is going on as a church family.”
First Christian Church has an interactive Facebook page with over 400 fans, and allows members to check at various times during the day to see what activities are taking place.
While there are no official statistics, Jacob believes that the addition of Twitter and Facebook has increased membership.
“We have had new members and when they fill out the communications card on Sundays, they will check the box that says they heard about us from a website,” said Jacob. “We also have a specific box for Facebook, so we have a better idea exactly where they are hearing about us.”
Sermons are posted on the church website where they are linked to iTunes to listen to the podcast, and videos are often linked on Twitter.
“When we have our baptism Sunday we often post the video on Twitter and then people watch them and link them on their own Facebook pages,” said Jacob. “It is a very easy way to connect with everyone, especially when there is not a lot of time to talk face to face.”
Social networking has even reached the Vatican. There is a smartphone app that broadcasts information from the Holy See and a You Tube channel broadcasting papal messages around the world.
The New York-based Holy Name Province of the Franciscans started a service called, “Text a Prayer Intention to a Franciscan Friar.” Those who wish to request prayer simply text the word “prayer” to 306-44 and hit “send.” Senders receive a welcome message inviting them to send in their prayer intentions. Afterwards, senders receive confirmation that their prayer was received and they will be prayed for. Intentions are received on a website and will be included collectively in the friars prayers twice a day.
At St. Anne Parish in Pleasant Prairie, Facebook is included as part of their evangelization efforts, said Margie Mandli, minister leader for parish outreach, and it is their way of staying connected with parishioners and reaching out to the broader community.
“It’s simply a wonderful conduit to the people of our church,” she said. “We’ve done a number of things in the area of digital media because we no longer can rely just on the weekly bulletin to connect with parishioners. More and more people of all ages are using Facebook to be informed, to learn and grow in faith.”
Mandli said Facebook and Twitter are no longer just for the younger generation.
“My 67-year-old mom is a perfect example of someone from the ‘senior’ generation who relies on Facebook to help in her faith journey,” she said. “We also see this as an opportunity to reach out to those who may be searching for a church or who are thinking of coming back to the Catholic Church.”
Through the interactive Facebook page, their 325 fans are able to share St. Anne postings on their Facebook pages, which continues to expand the St. Anne audience.
“Along with Facebook, we’ve given our Website a facelift, produced and posted videos, started a blog series with parishioners giving witness to their faith,” said Mandli. “Facebook is a remarkable conduit to evangelize, allowing us to bring these communications directly to viewers.”
In addition to bringing new interest to the parish, it has brought the parish family closer together with photos of parish-sponsored events, such as Date Night, Golf Outing, and the Winter Social.
St. Anne’s Facebook page has been operating for two years, since the Rev. Robert Weighner became pastor of the parish. It was his belief that digital media is an essential component to evangelization. His Sunday homilies are available, as well as the readings from the United States Council of Catholic Bishops.
“I see social media as one more tool for evangelizing,” he said. “We have a fairly young parish, and many families are accustomed to finding things online. Having a good Website is important, and this Facebook feed helps a number of people to stay connected and speak about things of faith. I know that a good number of people who hear something interesting or challenging in the homily like to go back and listen again, so I like this feature.”
To find these churches online:
— Kenosha First Christian Church
— St. Anne Catholic Church
While visiting a remote mountain barangay in Negros Oriental, Congresswoman (and LP candidate for governor) Jocelyn “Josy” Sy-Limkaichong talked with the mother of a young child who told her that the child had missed her last two immunizations because her husband had forbidden it. “The mother told me that her husband was scared to bring the child to the health center because, he claimed, under the RH Law, once the health personnel found out that this was their sixth child, they would take the child from them and put her up for adoption.”
Guests at the media forum Bulong Pulungan sa Sofitel gasped at the enormity of such disinformation, and its potentially tragic consequences both for the child and the parents. “When I told her that there was no such provision in the RH Law, the mother said she was bringing her child to the health center the very next day,” said the gubernatorial candidate.
Another time, talking with a senior citizen, Limkaichong found out that the older folks in the town were running scared “because they were told that under the RH Law, government health workers could put to death anyone who was too old or too ill.”
Countering misconceptions and disinformation about the Reproductive Health Law is just part of the challenges Limkaichong faces in her uphill battle for governor of Negros Oriental. Aside from being potentially the first woman governor of the province (before now, she was the first congresswoman of Negros Oriental, and the first woman mayor of the town of La Libertad), Josy is also the only congressional representative from the region (which includes Cebu, Siquijor and Negros Occidental) who voted in favor of the RH bill. Thus, she has become a target of opponents of reproductive health, particularly of Catholic bishops and clergy, who have been singling her out in their Sunday homilies.
* * *
It’s fortunate, then, that Limkaichong’s running mate is a medical doctor, orthopedic surgeon Mark Macias, who has a political lineage (his father was the late Gov. Emilio Macias) but who is trying out the political waters for the first time.
Aside from having the medical and health credentials to counter disinformation about the RH measure, Macias says he plans to concentrate on improving the health situation in Negros Oriental. Calling himself an “accidental politician,” Macias says that while medical practice allowed him “to help one person at a time,” as a government official, “I can help a lot more people.”
The doctor left a lucrative practice in Manila and set up a practice in the province soon after his father’s passing, although he had made it a point to go home and conduct weekly clinics even before this. “There is a lot of fixing to do,” he observed on the overall health and economic situation in Negros Oriental.
In neighboring Siquijor, another doctor, obstetrician-gynecologist Joey Pernes, is also trying his hand at politics for the first time, running for congressman under the LP banner. “This is my first press conference,” he confessed to the media forum.
Battling an entrenched dynasty in Siquijor, Pernes says he would like to concentrate on lifting the economy in the island-province, which he says has rich potential for tourism. “There is a 90-percent unemployment and underemployment rate in Siquijor, with 55 percent of the population classified as poor, 40 percent of whom lives below the hunger line,” he observed. If and when he wins, Pernes would truly face a daunting challenge.
* * *
The many controversies that hounded her in her early days in office may have ebbed by now, but LTO (Land Transportation Office) chief Virginia Torres still has her plate full of difficult decisions.
She has to deal with powerful and moneyed interests, who in the past two years or so mounted a noisy public relations campaign against her. But this “kabarilan” of P-Noy has stuck to her guns (hopefully not literally), and the news she shared with the media is that the reforms the administration instituted are now bearing fruit.
One of these reforms is a change in supplier of car plates, which in the past were easily faked, replaceable, and of poor quality. The new car plate design, she said, would provide for “better identification through security features and a standardized design.” It also comes with a “plate lock” which, if tampered with, would damage the entire plate. The lock is meant to prevent tampering and/or replacement of the plates, a common enough tactic among car theft syndicates, as well as of criminals who rely on getaway vehicles. “These new plates should be available by June,” Torres assured.
* * *
The LTO, said Torres, is also launching a renewed campaign to get vehicle owners to carry and use reflectorized early warning devices (EWDs).
“This is a mandatory accessory,” she reiterated, even if until recently most motorists were rather blasé about carrying such devices. Now the LTO, said Torres, will be implementing strictly the P150-penalty for “failure to carry” an EWD, which, she observes, “the public seems to have forgotten already.”
Also part of the LTO’s public information campaign, Torres added, is the drive to accredit and license “proper” motorcycle helmets, which need a sticker issued by the Department of Trade and Industry before they can be sold or used by motorcycle riders.
Checking the safety of helmets is no small matter; Torres says the two-wheeled vehicles currently make up 53 percent of all registered vehicles in the country and, probably, in my view, the majority of road collisions and accidents, with often tragic consequences. The LTO, said Torres, is helping the DTI verify the ICC stickers on helmets, since some, she says, were simply torn off boxes of imported Christmas lights.
More from this Column:
- Battling disinformation in Negros Or.
- A favorite place
- Interesting time to be Filipina
- Assessing the 4Ps
- Rare—and special—children
Short URL: http://opinion.inquirer.net/?p=48669
Caption: Marian Kolodziej’s artwork offers disturbing images of life in Auschwitz. “These are words locked in drawings,” he noted. “It is a rendering of honor to all those who have vanished in ashes.” DECEMBER 2ND PRODUCTIONS
Story by Paula Doyle, The Tidings
He’s a Valley boy and retired Army lieutenant colonel who has had not one but two late vocations.
Jesuit Father Ron Schmidt, a son/brother/father to acclaimed Hollywood film editors, is now a grandfather/priest/filmmaker whose mid-life Holocaust documentary, “The Labyrinth,” about a Polish Catholic Auschwitz survivor, has just been accepted this year for national airing on PBS television stations.
His filmmaking career was sparked in the seminary, which he entered at age 50 following a conversion experience during a Jesuit retreat that he had attended a few years after his wife’s death from cancer.
As he has admitted during his Sunday homilies, one of his three sons asked him when he announced that he was going to become a Jesuit priest: “Don’t you have to go to Mass, Dad?”
“We were Christmas/Easter Catholics,” Father Schmidt, 69, told The Tidings with a chuckle during a recent interview at Blessed Sacrament Church in Hollywood, the office location of his film production company where he spends most of his weekdays. On weekends, he can be found celebrating Mass at St. Francis de Sales in Sherman Oaks or Holy Family in South Pasadena, where his homilies sometime mention the antics of his seven grandchildren.
Jesuit Father Ron Schmidt is part of an award-winning family of filmmakers.
VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI, the German pope who some feared would spend his pontificate scourging liberal Roman Catholics, focused on preaching about God’s love.
But it’s how he ended his papacy, as the first pope in 600 years to resign, that is guaranteed to make the history books.
“In one fell swoop, he brought the papacy into the modern world. It was a very courageous act that has probably been needed for a long time,” said John Thavis, the former Vatican bureau chief of Catholic News Service and author of “The Vatican Diaries: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Power, Personalities and Politics at the Heart of the Catholic Church,” which will be published this week.
“A very tradition-minded pope made a very untraditional decision.”
He is an introvert who followed the 26-year reign of an extrovert who had redefined the papacy. Elected at 78, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who had presided over the Vatican’s doctrinal office for 24 years, didn’t expect a long papacy. He set out to build on the call of Pope John Paul II for a “new evangelization” that would appeal to secularized Westerners who were abandoning the faith. But his intended messages often were overshadowed by world-shaking gaffes, such as an unvetted speech on faith and reason in 2006 that triggered rioting in parts of the Muslim world.
He did far more than his predecessor to root out priests who had molested minors, but he is blamed for not forcing out bishops who had protected predators. He surprised many people, however, by looking beyond ecclesiastical matters to become an outspoken advocate of justice for the poor.
Born nearly 86 years ago in Germany, he is the son of a police officer whose anti-Nazi views caused difficulties for the family. Forced by authorities to join the Hitler Youth, the future pope dodged meetings and at age 12 entered a minor seminary. In 2006, he said he chose priesthood to confront an “anti-human culture” that had rejected God.
Ordained in 1951, he became a theology professor who advised bishops at the Second Vatican Council from 1962 to 1965. Pope Paul VI made him archbishop of Munich and Freising in 1977 and elevated him to cardinal. In 1981, Pope John Paul II made him head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He was in charge of quashing heresy until his election on April 19, 2005.
At his inaugural Mass, he proclaimed what had become clear at Pope John Paul’s funeral, when millions of young Catholics poured into Rome.
“The church is alive!” he told the cheering crowd of 350,000 people. “And the church is young!”
He set out to keep it that way.
His first encyclical, “Deus Caritas Est” or “God is Love,” drew high praise from even the most liberal wing of the church.
“One of his greatest legacies is his first encyclical, on love. It’s one of the few encyclicals I can actually quote in Sunday homilies, and people understand it,” said the Rev. Louis Vallone, pastor of two parishes in Pittsburgh.
Benedict “refined Pope John Paul’s and the (Second Vatican) Council’s desire to put Christ and the foundational doctrines of the church back at the center of Christian life,” said Michael Sean Winters, a journalist at the liberal National Catholic Reporter.
During his pontificate, the Vatican required national churches worldwide to adopt new liturgies based on a strict translation from the Latin, which were widely criticized for sounding awkward or arcane. One of the harshest critics was retired Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie, a former two-time chairman of the U.S. bishops’ committee on liturgy, but he insists that Benedict only inherited the project from Pope John Paul.
The single change that every practicing Catholic in America experienced during his tenure were changes to the Mass to make it a more literal translation from the Latin. The response “and also with you” became “and with your spirit.” The translation project was under way before he became pope, but he made no move to stop it.
Helen Hull Hitchcock, an activist who lobbied for the revisions, said the Latinesque language is precisely what the pope wanted.
“Some people misunderstand and think he was dragging the church back into the 18th century,” she said. “His point was to recover a sense of sacredness.”
His most enduring contribution may be his trilogy of books on the life of Jesus, said Scott Hahn, a professor of theology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio.
“He is a singular genius, not only in his scholarship, but in his ability to present the ideas he has researched in total clarity with real pastoral impact,” he said.
“Never in the history of Christianity has a world-renowned theologian and biblical scholar of his stature occupied the See of Peter … Yet he has never claimed these books as authoritative teaching of the church. He invites you to disagree with him. He tells you this is not infallible teaching. He is seeking the faith of Christ and the word of God.”
He launched a “new evangelization” that Pope John Paul had called for, attempting to reach secularized people in historically Christian nations. He created an office for it at the Vatican. Last year, he called bishops to a synod on the topic and opened a Holy Year of Faith intended to jump start grass-roots evangelization.
“He has spent the greater part of his ministry as pope calling on the Catholic Church to refocus on its evangelizing mission,” said Cardinal Donald Wuerl, of Washington, D.C. “The church and all the faithful have to re-propose to this modern world Christ as the answer to the enduring questions of the human heart.”
He also sought to convince secular leaders that shunting the voice of faith from public life would stunt society.
“He is constantly calling for the recognition in this very secular world that reason and faith are compatible. We are rational human beings and therefore have to use our intellect, but God’s word speaks to the same intellect,” Wuerl said.
In 2006, the first of his four major lectures on faith and reason, delivered at his former university in Regensburg, Germany, was derailed by his quotation of a medieval emperor who had said Islam’s only innovation was to spread faith by violence. Journalists reported the quotation as if it reflected the pope’s view, which he insisted it did not.
There were riots in some Muslim nations. A nun was murdered in Somalia. None of the pope’s staff had vetted the speech, a warning of failures to follow.
“He thought he was in a safe, academic environment and spoke as a university professor. But the world was listening and suddenly it blew up,” Thavis said. “It was a terrible moment for the pope. But he acted rather quickly and invited Muslim leaders to meet with him.”
With the resulting dialogue, “I think the damage of the Regensburg speech was more than repaired,” Thavis said.
The most visible repair work took place two months later in Turkey, where the pope meditated or prayed alongside a Muslim cleric in a mosque.
Regarding other faiths, he had warm words for Protestants — highlighting their common commitment to Jesus — but his deeds get mixed reviews. Lutheran Bishop Donald McCoid, a former bishop of Pittsburgh who represents the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to the Vatican, has met with him as both cardinal and pope.
“Cardinal Ratzinger was a scholar who had a very focused view defending the Catholic faith. Pope Benedict shared a warmth and kindness that was very obvious. His words were encouraging for ecumenical relationships,” McCoid said.
His creation of an “ordinariate” that allowed whole parishes of conservative Anglicans to enter the Catholic Church with married priests and their own liturgy was denounced by some as sheep-stealing. Defenders responded that groups of Anglo-Catholics had spent years begging for such an arrangement, so it wasn’t an effort to lure them.
Benedict’s relationship with the Jewish community had volatile ups and downs. His first speech reaffirmed Pope John Paul’s assurance that the Jewish covenant with God remains intact. Later, a few of his actions antagonized Jews, but he responded to their concerns and backpedaled. After authorizing wider use of the 1962 Latin Mass, he belatedly revised Good Friday prayers to remove pejorative references to Jews.
One of the worst fiascoes of his pontificate came in January 2009, when he lifted the excommunication of four traditionalist schismatics from Society of St. Pius X without knowing that one, Richard Williamson, was an outspoken anti-Semite and Holocaust denier. No one on his staff had even Googled their names for a background check.
He then wrote an unprecedented public letter to all bishops, apologizing and explaining what had happened. He thanked Jewish leaders for their willingness to “restore the atmosphere of friendship.”
Rabbi Alvin Berkun of Pittsburgh, a longtime representative of Conservative Judaism in dialogues with the Vatican, never doubted Pope Benedict’s desire for a good relationship.
Despite some missteps, “he has cemented the legacy of John Paul. He reaffirmed that anti-Semitism is a sin against the church,” he said. “Whenever he took a position that made the Jewish community uncomfortable, he listened to our protests and then sometimes changed his position — which is not something an infallible pope does easily.”
On two defining issues of his papacy — the sex abuse crisis and response to doctrinal dissent — views are sharply divided.
Both liberal and conservative Catholics had expected him to devote his papacy to cracking down on dissent. Early on, he shocked both camps by inviting renegade liberal theologian Hans Kung — an old colleague long banned from teaching Catholic theology — to lunch.
“The biggest surprise was that he didn’t turn out to be the doctrinal bully that everyone imagined him to be,” Thavis said.
But liberal Catholics complain that theologians and clergy were disciplined for dissent without due process. High-profile cases included a Vatican takeover of an umbrella group for Catholic sisters and the forced retirement of an Australian bishop who had asked for discussion of women’s ordination.
Early in Benedict’s pontificate, the Rev. Thomas Reese was forced to resign as editor of the Jesuit magazine America for allowing articles that questioned aspects of church teaching.
Although the pope has a duty to uphold doctrine, Reese said, “The difficulty with his approach is it kills creativity in the church. The greatest challenge the church faces is how to preach the Gospel in a way that is understandable and attractive to people in the 21st century, and we aren’t doing that. …We need to let some people try new ideas, even if they make mistakes, so we can discover new ways of preaching the Gospel.”
Benedict’s strongest critics on sex abuse acknowledge that he did far more than his predecessor to apologize to victims and remove abusive priests. But his greatest supporters admit that he failed to remove bishops who had kept perpetrators in ministry.
“I think he did more than anyone else among the cardinals in 2001 in trying to tackle the abuse crisis,” said Jason Berry, the New Orleans journalist who first exposed the abuse scandal in 1985 and whose book “Render Unto Rome” documents related financial corruption. “But in the end he got swallowed by a system he could not change, and that was the culture of the hierarchy itself.”
He ordered every diocese to adopt policies for responding to complaints of sexual abuse and submit them to the Vatican for approval.
“As pope, he’s been very good. When he had final authority, he acted quickly to address problems,” said Nicholas Cafardi, a canon and civil lawyer who is dean emeritus of the Duquesne University School of Law in Pittsburgh and a former chairman of the board that oversees the American bishop’s response to abuse.
“But while the church is acting quickly with the actual perpetrators … they have yet to address the question of the bishops who enabled those people.”
When it came to basic sexual morality, Benedict also sent some mixed signals.
During a news conference on a 2009 flight to Africa, he ignited an international furor by saying that relying solely on condoms, without a commitment to moral behavior, would increase the spread of AIDS.
Yet he already had authorized a Vatican study of whether using condoms to prevent AIDS was morally acceptable in some circumstances. That study was never released. But in an interview for the 2010 book “Light of the World,” he named a case in which he said use of a condom might be more moral than not using one.
Benedict “threw open the door for discussion,” Thavis said. “There is no doctrine on such condom use and “I think he wanted to signal it to the world.”
But he hardened the church’s line against homosexuality, deciding that even celibate men with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” should not be ordained.
He never questioned the ban on female priests but passed up opportunities to declare that women could never become deacons, said Phyllis Zagano, senior research associate in religion at Hofstra University. Her efforts to promote women deacons include a 1988 discussion with Cardinal Ratzinger.
As pope, “he has clearly left the door open,” she said.
Although he never had his predecessor’s reputation as a statesman or social advocate, he spoke constantly to world events and the scourges of poverty and war.
In his 2009 encyclical “Charity in Truth,” he expounded on economics, insisting that all financial decisions are moral decisions and endorsed “the possibility of large-scale redistribution of wealth on a worldwide scale.”
“It would give the Tea Party heart attacks,” Reese said.
That encyclical inspired interdisciplinary conferences “about how the Christian faith can better inform the way we act as business people,” Senander said.
His lowest marks are for management in Rome. Many cardinals who elected him hoped he would address abuse of power in the curia. He enacted reforms to make Vatican finances more transparent. But a series of curial fiascoes culminated in the last year’s “Vatileaks” scandal, when the pope’s butler was found to have given the media secret Vatican documents, including reports of internal corruption.
Still, he changed the structure of meetings of bishops and cardinals in ways that may affect the choice of his successor. At synods of bishops, he made time for more open, spontaneous talk than had been allowed previously. He had the College of Cardinals share meals in language groups.
“In the past, the only people who knew all of the cardinals were the curial cardinals. Now these guys all know each other,” Vallone said, speculating that it could produce surprises in the conclave.
Hahn, the Franciscan University professor, converted to Catholicism after reading one of Cardinal Ratzinger’s books. For him, the legacy is personal.
“Here is a man who is a father figure to us all, and not just in a symbolic way,” he said. “But there comes a time, when a father becomes too old and infirm, that one of the most profound gestures of love might be to hand things over to the next one in line.”
(Contact reporter Ann Rodgers at firstname.lastname@example.org. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.)
Copyright 2013 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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