In their ongoing effort to attack the Catholic Church, it seems not even something as uncontroversial and routine as the pope canonizing new saints can happen without the liberal media find some way to work in an attack. Witness Claudio Lavanga’s May 12 post at NBCNews.com headlined “A saint-making record is also a diplomatic headache for Pope Francis.” [h/t Creative Minority Report]
“Pope Francis canonized more than 800 Catholics in Saint Peter’s Square Sunday – the largest number to be elevated to sainthood at once in the history of the Catholic Church,” Lavanga noted. But alas, “The choice of some of the new saints was also striking, touching on the already-fragile relationship between Christianity and Islam” because the “new saints included hundreds of laymen from the southern Italian port town of Otranto who were slain in the 15th century by the invading Ottoman Turkish army after they refused to convert to Islam.”
After giving readers a brief history lesson into the invasion in 1480, Lavanga groused that Pope Francis’s “choice to highlight their sacrifice may put a strain on the already fragile relationship between the Catholic Church and Islam.” So who did Lavanga cite to substantiate that claim? Well, no one, it turns out.
You’d think that Lavanga could have found at least one diplomat from a Muslim nation who found fault with the pick, but no. Lavanga had squat.
Well, that’s not true, exactly. What Lavanga did have was an attack on the pope emeritus, Benedict XVI, whom the media loved to attack as reactionary and as having an antipathy towards Muslims (emphasis mine):
[W]hy risk creating yet another inter-faith row with a celebration which some in the Muslim world may be seen as a provocation?
The answer is that it wasn’t Pope Francis’ choice in the first place. The decision to canonize the hundreds of Otranto martyrs was rubber-stamped by his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, on Feb. 11 – the same day he announced his resignation.
It was a departing act of a pontiff that had become concerned about the mounting discrimination suffered by Christian minorities living in the Middle East in the wake of the Arab spring.
Pope Francis shares his predecessor’s concern. “By venerating the martyrs of Otranto” he said at Sunday’s canonization mass, “We ask God to protect the many Christians who in these times, and in many parts of the world, are still victims of violence”.
The Vatican’s relationship with Islam took a nosedive in 2006 when Benedict – now the Pope Emeritus – enraged Muslims by quoting the 14th-century byzantine emperor Manuel II Palaiogolos, who said: “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”
It was an uncomfortable parting gift for his successor, who now faces an uphill struggle to rekindle ties with Islam.
Again, Lavanga had nothing to back up his claims, nothing to prove the narrative he wished to engrain into the reader’s imagination. Nor did Lavanga consider that the newly-canonized saints might be of great comfort to persecuted Catholics all throughout the world, regardless of whether they live in Muslim countries or not.
When Francis became pontiff, the liberal media saw glimmers of hope that he might be the liberal reformer they’d long hoped for. That appears to not be panning out, but the pontiff’s humility and kindness to the poor and marginalized in society has seemed to inoculate Francis from harsher criticism.
But as this piece shows, to the extent that Francis follows in Benedict’s footsteps, the liberal media will resurrect specious and unsubstantiated charges that conform to a left-wing narrative.
The more something changes, the more it stays the same. It’s a cliché, yes, but it seems to be an increasingly apt one to apply to the situation between women religious and the Vatican.
For those watching the situation unfold since April 2012, when the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith mandated that the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) be reformed by three U.S. bishops, this week promised to offer some explanations about where the new pope stands on the issue. Pope Francis even met with members of the International Union of Superiors General (UISG), a group of nearly 2,000 leaders of women religious throughout the world who have been meeting in Rome all week.
There have been high hopes for Pope Francis among those left spiritually bruised by the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI. Francis paid his own hotel bill after the conclave, took the bus with the rest of the bishops, refused to move into the papal apartment, claimed to want a “poor church,” and celebrated Holy Thursday at a juvenile detention facility where he washed the feet of 10 men and two women.
But a month after his election, a fly got caught in the balm Francis was pouring over the church’s body. LCWR leaders were informed in a meeting with the doctrinal congregation’s lead cleric, Archbishop Gerhard Müller, that the new pope had reaffirmed the mandated reform of the their organization.
Many Catholics who support both the LCWR and the new pope were at a loss to understand the news. Some imagined Francis simply wasn’t up to speed about the injustices behind the mandate. Speculation ran high that Müller hadn’t even spoken to Francis about the issue in any depth and that, somehow, Müller was speaking on behalf of Francis without the new pope’s approval.
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There was hope this week that all this conjecture was accurate when Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Religious, told the sisters at the UISG meeting that the doctrinal congregation made its fateful decision without his knowledge and that it caused him “much pain.”
Less than a day later after his stunning admission, Cardinal Braz de Aviz was apparently taken to the doctrinal congregation’s woodshed. The Vatican quickly released a statement claiming that the media (namely, the report in NCR) had misinterpreted Braz de Aviz’s words and that Braz de Aviz and Müller “reaffirmed their common commitment to the renewal of Religious Life, and particularly to the Doctrinal Assessment of the LCWR and the program of reform it requires, in accordance with the wishes of the Holy Father.”
The statement made two realities clear. First, as has typically been the case throughout the church’s history, the doctrinal congregation wields more power than any other congregation in the Curia. Second, Francis is more familiar with the saga between the doctrinal congregation and LCWR than some had hoped.
In a press conference the following day, Braz de Aviz claimed not to have seen this statement from the Vatican and affirmed NCR‘s report as “precise.” He said the only idea that got lost in translation was his explanation of authority.
Braz de Aviz went on to reassert what Pope Francis had said earlier in the day about authority and obedience during his speech to the UISG.
“Christ and the church. The two have to be together. For some people, Christ is fine, but the church isn’t. You can’t separate the two,” the cardinal told the press.
Braz de Aviz was echoing Francis’ statement to women religious: “It is an absurd dichotomy to think of living with Jesus but without the church, of following Jesus outside of the church, of loving Jesus without loving the church.”
Francis has offered this idea more than once over the last few weeks, but when directed at women religious, as it was on Wednesday, it takes on a particular weight.
At the UISG meeting the previous day, Congregation of Jesus Sr. Martha Zechmeister, an Austrian professor of systematic theology, told the gathering of 800 women superiors, “Religious obedience ultimately can only respond to God’s authority. In the traditional language, fulfilling the will of God is the only legitimate reason for religious obedience.”
It is a sentiment we’ve heard often since the doctrinal congregation’s crackdown on LCWR, and one for which the new pope apparently has little sympathy. Francis makes it clear that it is impossible to follow Jesus and not follow the church. In Francis’ eyes, it seems, to love and obey God is to love and obey the church.
Though Francis was the first pope to meet with the UISG, those who expected a dialogue with the new pontiff were likely disappointed. Francis offered a 15-minute reflection on religious life, then shook hands and exchanged brief pleasantries with the UISG’s executive board and staff.
As NCR‘s Joshua J. McElwee reported from Rome, Francis’ speech “focused on three themes, telling the sister leaders to keep their lives centered on Christ, to think of authority in terms of service, and that they must hold a ‘feeling with the church that finds its filial expression in fidelity to the magisterium.’ “
In other words, the way to be a true daughter of the church is to be faithful and obedient to the teachings of the pope and bishops.
With ideas that are no different from those of Pope John Paul II and Benedict, Francis told the sisters they should accept a “fertile chastity” because women religious are “mothers” who “generate spiritual children in the church.”
The new pope maintained his and his predecessors’ belief in the “special” (but not equal) role of women in the church, telling the sisters that without them, the church “would be missing maternity, affection, tenderness.” He went on to tell them to put themselves “in an attitude of adoration and service.”
If there is a point on which both Francis and the sisters agree, it is the importance of “touching the flesh of the poor Christ in the humble, the poor, the sick, and in children.”
But Francis does not seem to understand that it is precisely because women religious regularly touch that wounded body of Christ that they have such rich theological imaginations and a longing to delve into the spiritual questions of our time. Their intensely sacramental lives of service help clarify their priorities in their pursuits of justice and mercy.
All that women religious have done — the work they have committed to, the leadership style they have developed and the theologians they invite to their meetings — has been inspired by their ministry to the broken body of Christ. What Francis and the doctrinal congregation may interpret as a “deviation from doctrine” or a “failure to obey” are really just the fruits of women religious fulfilling their vocation as a prophetic life form.
Perhaps the greatest irony is that the Vatican is punishing women religious for failing to strictly adhere to doctrines that they have had no voice in developing and no role in shaping — precisely because they are women.
The look and feel of the papacy may be changing under Francis, but the fundamental understanding magisterium’s authority and the requirement that the women obey the men, I’m afraid, will continue to stay the same.
[Jamie L. Manson received her Master of Divinity degree from Yale Divinity School, where she studied Catholic theology and sexual ethics. Her NCR columns have won numerous awards, most recently second prize for Commentary of the Year from Religion Newswriters (RNA).]
Editor’s note: We can send you an email alert every time Jamie Manson’s column, “Grace on the Margins,” is posted to NCRonline.org. Go to this page and follow directions: Email alert sign-up.
In May each year there are many celebrations of Confirmation and First Communion, Graduations, and sometimes, Ordinations. In the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, we annually gather to honor couples marking their 50th Anniversaries of Marriage. This year that will happen a little later on June 23, 2013, at the Cathedral.
This week we celebrate Jubilees with two gatherings: Wednesday, May 1, we had a dinner with all our priests to thank God for the accomplishments of 25, 40, and 50 years of ordained service as priests. Friday Evening, May 3, we come together at the Cathedral to offer Holy Mass in thanksgiving for 25 years of service as a bishop of Bishop Raymond Boland. The Mass, to which you are all invited, is at 7:00 p.m. with a reception at the Catholic Center to follow.
This year we are noting these many examples of faithfulness within the Year of Faith, begun by Pope Benedict XVI last fall, and continued by Pope Francis with its completion on the Feast of Christ the King, November 24, 2013.
Faith, of course, is wonderfully expressed in the work of “being faithful,” what we call faithfulness, or faithful love. “God so loved the world …” St John’s Gospel (Jn 3;16) teaches, that He sent His Son to share our human experience: to suffer, die, and rise. Faithfulness often includes the gracious act of “being with” those whom we love. God is faithful in His love despite our unworthiness and sins. We, in turn, live our Catholic faith in many ways, but also by being faithful to our calling and commitments. When all is said and done, we know that it is God’s grace, His faithful and never-ending love, which makes it possible for us to be faithful; and we must make the decision to be faithful over and over again in our lives.
The Jubilee celebrations this week – and next month – draw attention to this dynamic power of God in the lives of those He calls. The names of the priests, whose anniversaries we know about, and that are currently living and working in the Diocese are these:
50 YEARS OF PRIESTHOOD
Reverend A. James Blumeyer, S.J.
Reverend Kenneth Criqui
Reverend Joel Derks, O.S.B.
Reverend Charles Jones
Reverend Quentin Kathol, O.S.B.
Reverend William Miller, CPPS
Reverend Xavier Nacke, O.S.B.
Right Reverend Abbot Marcel Rooney, O.S.B.
Reverend Reginald Sander, O.S.B.
Reverend Thomas Wiederholt
40 YEARS OF PRIESTHOOD
Reverend Martin DeMeulenaere, O.S.B.
25 YEARS OF PRIESTHOOD
Reverend Matthew Brumleve
Reverend Gregory Lockwood
Reverend Benedict Neenan, O.S.B.
25TH ANNIVERSARY OF EPISCOPAL ORDINATION
Most Reverend Raymond J. Boland, DD
Twenty-five-year old Raymond James Boland was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington D.C. on June 16, 1957, and spent more than 30 years serving there.
On February 2, 1988, he received his call to become a bishop, and was ordained Bishop of Birmingham, Alabama on March 25 of that year. After serving for five years as the Second Bishop of Birmingham, Pope John Paul II named him Fifth Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph on June 22, 1993. He came to this place he now calls home and was installed on September 9, 1993. The Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI accepted his letter of retirement on May 24, 2005.
God continues to bless Bishop Boland, and our Diocese through him. He has weathered some health challenges recently and remains joyful and active. On the occasion of this special anniversary I know you join me in a hymn of praise to God for Bishop Boland and all our Jubilarians. We thank God for their faithfulness which shows itself in generosity, wisdom and dedication. May God continue to watch over you all. Ad multos annos!
VATICAN CITY, April 19 (UPI) — Pope Francis plans to visit a Roman parish in late May for his first pastoral visit as bishop of Rome, the Vatican announced Friday.
The pope will visit Santi Elisabetta and Zaccaria and attend a mass at which 44 children are to receive their first communion, the Italian news agency ANSA reported. It is scheduled for May 26.
Francis was archbishop of Buenos Aires from 1998 until his election March 13 to succeed Pope Benedict XVI. He was known for his modest lifestyle, living in an apartment and preparing his own meals.
The pope celebrated mass at a school for troubled teenagers on Holy Thursday, also known as Maundy Thursday.
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.
Books will help readers explore world of popes
By Therese O’Halloran
Kenosha Public Library
With extensive media coverage of the recent resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and election and installation of Pope Francis, inquiring minds want to know: Who are the men who wield power within the Catholic Church, why do the internal workings of one religion demand such world-wide attention, what is the history and the future of the Church in the Americas and world-wide, what do Catholics believe and why, etc.
The Kenosha Public Library houses an extensive collection of materials to answer these questions and more, many written in very readable and intriguing styles.
“Chronicle of the Popes” is a chronological, “Reign-by-Reign Record of the Papacy” beginning with St. Peter and continuing through Pope John Paul II. This well-illustrated history of the popes, the Catholic Church, and its influence on world history, can be read beginning to end, or used as a reference source for information about various popes and the times in which they ruled. “A History of the Popes from Peter to the Present” by John W. O’Malley explores in more depth not only the history of the papacy but its involvement in and influence on world events.
For some true-life espionage and intrigue, check out Eric Frattini’s “The Entity: Five Centuries of Secret Vatican Espionage.” The author claims the Vatican has used the Holy Alliance, now known as the Entity, as its own secret service and through it has been deeply involved in international intrigue, assassinations, money-laundering, manipulations of financial markets, and more.
Another fascinating book is John L. Allen Jr.’s “Opus Dei,” which claims to be “an objective look behind the myths and reality of the most controversial force in the Catholic Church.” The organization that played such a major part in Dan Brown’s “Da Vinci Code” is examined in detail.
To get a fuller, balanced view of the church, read Thomas E. Woods Jr.’s “How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization.” It extols the influence the Church has had in science, law, art, music, economics, and education, and gives credit to the Church for ensuring the survival of western Civilization as we know it.
The “Catholicism Answer Book: The 300 Most Frequently Asked Questions about the Church” by the Rev. John Trigilio Jr. and the Rev. Kenneth Brighenti answers in concise sections questions about Catholic theology, Sacraments, history, and practices — interesting reading for Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
Finally, for the armchair traveler, “The Vatican Revealed” is an AE documentary DVD covering Vatican City itself, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and many more beautiful sites. If you wish you had been in Rome for recent events, enjoy this visual tour.
Off the Shelves is published Sundays. Each week a different Kenosha Public Library or Community Library staff member organizes reviews of a handful of books (all centered around a certain theme) available through the library system.
On February 28, Pope Benedict XVI became the first Pope in nearly 600 years to resign from the position citing declining health as the reasoning behind the move. Following his resignation, Pope Francis of Buenos Aires, Argentina, was elected by the cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church on March 13 in what was the shortest papal conclave in the history of the Catholic Church.
The selection of Pope Francis has historical significance as he is the first Pope to be selected from a country outside of Europe as well as the first Jesuit Pope. The following is an interview with Quinnipiac University’s professor of sociology Grace Yukich. Professor Yukich is a sociologist of religion who has studied Catholicism specifically.
Q: How significant is the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI to the Roman Catholic Church and its followers?
A: I think it’s pretty significant. His resignation seemed to shock the world and certainly shocked most Catholics. I think one of the things that really surprised people about it is now they are going to have to completely rethink the whole idea of whether a Pope is always a Pope because now you have a situation where there are two living Popes. We don’t really know what that is going to look like and if there is going to be any conflicts in the halls of power.
Q: Do you believe Pope Benedict’s health is the only reason for his resignation, or does the story go deeper?
A: I know there has been some speculation about whether there are some scandals that might have led to him stepping down. I don’t know if that’s the case or not but I think it’s possible but it’s doubtful that that’s what made him step down. I think he has been very taxed by those situations and all those scandals just wore him out whereas other recent Popes haven’t had to deal with those issues on such a large scale.
Q: Has Pope Francis differentiated himself at all from the traditional view of a Pope?
A: He is certainly different from Pope Benedict although I feel like he has more in common with Pope John Paul II in that John Paul was more of a pastor than Benedict who was more of a theologian. Certainly the thing that really sets him apart is that he is the first Pope in 1200 years that is not from Europe. If you look at where most Catholics live today and where Catholicism is growing the most, it is in Latin America, Africa and Asia. There are fewer Catholics in Europe and the United States then there used to be. So I think that was an intentional choice on the part of the Cardinals and I think it was a good choice to be honest.
Q: How will having a Pope outside of Europe affect Catholicism around the world?
A: I think it could really affect Catholicism in Latin America because one of the things that has been happening over the last 30 years across Latin America is people have been converting to Evangelical Protestantism and so the Catholic Church has been losing a lot of its members to these other Christian traditions. Having a Pope from Latin American could put a hold on that because there may be some people who just feel so proud that the Church has picked someone from their part of the world and as a result, feel affirmed as Catholics.
More importantly, I think this reaffirms for all Catholics around the world that the Church is a universal church. It is not just a church for Europeans, it’s not just a church for Americans, it’s a church for the world and this decision helps to affirm that.
Q: What are some areas of the Church Pope Francis will chose to focus on first?
A: We have already seen Pope Francis distinguishing himself as really having a focus on the poor which could have a really important impact on the Church. So if he really sticks to that and really tries to get Catholics to focus more on the teachings of Jesus and how you are supposed to treat the poor, then that could potentially transform the Church but I don’t know if he will continue his focus on that or not.
Q: Pope Francis has been vocal with his stance against gay marriage. How, if at all, will this affect the social viewpoints of Catholics around the world?
A: When it comes to issues on gender and sexuality certainly his is orthodox regarding those issues. I think there are going to be some people who are really happy about that and some people that will be upset about that. In the United States I think his stances will be relatively unpopular. According to a recent Gallup poll, 87 percent of Catholics said that birth control is completely morally acceptable and he is taking a different stance. If Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul didn’t convince them that birth control is wrong then I don’t think Francis will either. In fact, it might make them more irritated with the Church.
It is the same thing with gay marriage. At least in the United States over half of Catholics say that they support gay marriage or civil unions for same sex couples. I don’t think this Pope is going to change their minds about this especially with things moving in that direction so strongly. People in other parts of the world aren’t as supportive of these issues as Americans are so they may see Pope Francis stance on these issues as wonderful and be really happy about it.
Q: How do you believe Pope Francis would define a successful term as Pope?
A: From his point of view, I think that a successful term as Pope was one where he was a pastor to people. He seems like he really does care about people, and if he is able to properly convey that to people then he will see that as a successful papacy. I also think that he recognizes how important it is to address the sex abuse scandal and I certainly think that if he is able to do that then he will view that as being successful. The other thing I would say is that Pope Francis is really concerned with the poor, and whether that be trying to make a different through state policy or simplifying the Vatican itself, but if he is able to do one of those two things then that would be a success for him.
3 PhotosCardinal Wuerl delivers Easter message of Pope Francis
A standing-room-only crowd joined Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, in celebrating Easter Mass, where he explained how Pope Francis had the honor of leading the 2,000-year-old tradition for 1.2 billion Catholics around the world.
The heady aroma of incense hung above the thousands of worshippers at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, many of them dressed in pastel spring colors during a gray, rainy day. Parents muffled the cries of babies, and children likely full of chocolate candy from their Easter baskets fidgeted in their seats while Cardinal Wuerl explained how a 76-year-old Argentine Jesuit would connect the Catholic Church to the belief that Jesus Christ was resurrected after his death by crucifixion.
“The election of the pope, what does that have to do with Easter?” the cardinal asked. “The answer is everything.”“Because of the unbroken line from Peter through centuries to John Paul II to Benedict XVI and now to Francis, we have heard the same message,” Cardinal Wuerl said, referring to the discovery by Jesus‘ disciples that their mentor had risen from his grave. “We can say, ‘I have heard the voice of witnesses, I have heard the testimony of those who saw the risen Lord.’”
Jorge Mario Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, was elected by the College of Cardinals on March 13 to take the place of Pope Benedict XVI, who resigned in mid-February. Among the electors was Cardinal Wuerl, who stayed in Rome for several weeks for the election and began his homily on Sunday by saying, “It’s good to be back.”
Cardinal Wuerl told the packed basilica, “You and I can say we are part of this family, this living tradition.”
The Catholic Mass is perhaps the best-known Easter service in the District, but thousands gathered for the 35th annual Easter Sunrise Service at the Lincoln Memorial on the Mall. The Virginia-based interdenominational Capital Church held the popular service, which included sermons and choir performances, at 6:30 a.m.
In Vatican City, where a quarter-million people swarmed to the pope’s first Easter Sunday Mass, the message was one of world peace.
“And so we ask the risen Jesus, who turns death into life, to change hatred into love, vengeance into forgiveness, war into peace,” Francis said in his message to the world. “Yes, Christ is our peace, and through him we implore peace for all the world.”The Mass marked the end of a week in which the new pope took many by surprise. He broke from traditionally long services and washed and kissed the feet of two women during a Holy Thursday ritual normally reserved only for men.
Straying from tradition didn’t seem to bother worshippers in the District, and some who attended the Easter service said they were interested in what the new papacy could bring.
“I think everyone has rights they are born to have, that they deserve,” D.C. resident Bernadette Tolson said. “I’d like to hear him speak on gay marriage.”
Carolina Baker, a Catholic University student who attended Mass with her parents, Doug and Magda Baker, said she was excited to see a pope from Latin America because she is half Hispanic.
“That’s always good to know,” Ms. Baker said, adding that Pope Francis‘ willingness to stop during a procession to comfort a disabled man was something “anyone should be willing to do.”
“He’s like a Holy grandpa,” Mr. Baker said between puffs on his post-service cigar. “The cardinals did a good job of picking the right guy at the right time.”
Virginia Nagy, of Fairfax, lauded the cardinal’s modesty when talking about the pope.
“He did not use the word ‘I,’” she said, despite Cardinal Wuerl’s role in electing the pope. “I paid attention to that. I think he paid attention to that, too.”
© Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
This is proving to be an historic year for the Catholic Church. In an unexpected move, Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation in February, becoming the first pontiff to step down in nearly 600 years. His successor is a Jesuit from Latin America — a first for both — who will lead more than one billion Catholics worldwide.
In light of these monumental changes, we caught up with Matthew Butler, associate professor of modern Mexican history with research interests in Latin American Catholicism, to discuss the influence of Pope Francis and what the future holds for the Catholic Church.
A recent census indicates that only 65 percent of Brazilians identify as Catholic, down from more than 90 percent in 1970. What sparked this decline?
From the mid-20th century the Church faced real religious competition from new institutional rivals. It also faced a rapidly changing social context, one that sometimes it was slow or ill-equipped to understand. Protestantism — which in countries like Brazil, Chile and now even Mexico accounted for big depletions in the numbers affiliated to the Catholic Church — made enormous inroads in some indigenous communities and urban diasporas, the last of which grew prodigiously from the mid-20th century.
Slippage in Catholicism has been driven by the search for spiritual alternatives in emerging social constituencies that saw orthodox Catholicism as remote or irrelevant, combined with enormous increases in the variety of religious goods on offer. Some new religious actors proved themselves far more agile than the Catholic clergy in embedding themselves in these new sectors. You could even say that secularization in Latin America has really just meant, at least until now, the fragmentation of religious identities, rather than outright loss of faith. It is only the most recent census returns, at least for Mexico, that show significant numbers of people saying they have no religious affiliation at all.
Will a Latin American pope lure some of those Catholics back to the fold?
The short answer is “no.” The longer one is “wait and see.” People haven’t left the Catholic Church because popes were Italians or Polish, but because for some the Church was too rigid and ceased to express their spiritual and social yearnings adequately or at all. So, it would be naïve to expect the Latin American Church to revitalize itself on a wave of identification with an Argentine pope.
The success of Francis’s papacy from a Latin American perspective will depend on what kind of a pope he turns out to be rather than any kind of nationalistic or regional identification. The media coverage in Latin America — which shifted within a matter of hours from a congratulatory tone expressing surprise and excitement at the election of the first Latin American pope to a far more critical appraisal of Francis’s social mission and political trajectory — gave instant evidence of that. In Argentina and Mexico, for instance, there were critical reflections almost at once on Francis’s affection for celebrating Mass among Catholics in the poorest barrios in Buenos Aires, his opposition to gay civil marriage or his stance during Argentina’s military juntas, with which the Argentine Church maintained bitterly controversial ties.
There has been much discussion about the uniqueness of a papal resignation. Will there be more?
It’s always possible, but I doubt it. The papacy is a kind of elected sacral-monarchical office for which there are clear rules of succession. Benedict’s resignation seems to reflect a specific conjuncture of circumstances, including ill health. The change is ad hoc, not a permanent innovation.
Pope Francis has been described as a champion of the poor. Why is it important for the pope to advocate human rights?
It will depend on which rights, and on whose behalf, Francis decides to advocate. If he can steer the Latin American Church beyond its current fixation on moralistic issues and touch on broader social questions, this role could still be important. A lot has been made of the fact that Francis has chosen the name of the saint of the poor, which might suggest that he will privilege their concerns.
Less has been made of the fact that the followers of St. Francis were also the first friars to begin evangelizing the Americas in the 1520s. It would be exciting if Francis turned out to be a rebuilder of the American Church in that tradition and allowed the Church to speak with a more independent voice from the grassroots of Latin American society.
Matthew Butler is the author of “Popular Piety and Political Identity in Mexico’s Cristero rebellion: Michoacán, 1927-1929” (Oxford, 2004), and editor of “Faith and Impiety in revolutionary Mexico” (New York, 2007). He has published numerous articles on 20th-century Latin American religious history, with special emphasis on the history of the Catholic Church in revolutionary Mexico.
For a longer version of this interview, visit Life and Letters.
By John Heuertz
“ … They called the church together and reported what God had done with them and how he had opened the door of faith …” (Acts 14:27).
Billed as “The Year of Faith: A Faith Professed, Celebrated, Lived and Prayed,” the Institute for Religious Life held its Midwest regional meeting last Saturday at the Franciscan Prayer Center in Independence.
In proclaiming the “Year of Faith” that began last October 11, Pope Benedict XVI asked the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics to study and reflect on the documents of the Second Vatican Council and the Catechism of the Catholic Church to deepen their knowledge of the Catholic faith.
Catholics living a consecrated life as religious brothers, sisters and nuns have a key part in this deepening. “It’s a great day for religious to come together in solidarity to better understand their role in the Church’s New Evangelization of the world,” IRL Executive Director Michael Vick.
“The Institute for Religious Life … continues to carry out a wonderful work of the Church, providing sound teaching and formation for Religious, and inspiration for us all,” said Bishop Robert W. Finn in his homily during Mass for the 200 religious and laity at Saturday’s meeting.
IRL National Director Fr. Thomas Nelson, O.Praem. discussed “Deepening the Virtue of Faith in This Year of Faith.” He recalled Benedict XVI’s teaching that Christ opened the door of faith for the whole world by his Passion and Death, and that the door to faith is always open to all.
“Faith is like a door to a home of love, security and a network of relationships – a door to the Church,” he said. “The Church is like a family.”
Christ opens this door, enabling us to “see that God is also a man who reveals Himself as a triune God of love.”
But first we must believe in Christ, and “give humble assent to His word.”
Anyone with a humble mind, a trusting heart and an obedient will can give this assent. All the saints model it.
The Blessed Virgin Mary was the model of the perfect faith. “That’s why Saturdays are hers. The Apostles lost their faith on Friday and regained it on a Sunday.”
Atchison Benedictine Fr. Thomas Habiger, OSB discussed “The Essential Role of Consecrated Religious in Shaping and Evangelizing the Culture.”
He taught partly from Pope John Paul II’s 1996 Apostolic Letter “Vita Consecrata,” which says that both Catholic and Orthodox institutes of religious life flourish everywhere because “the choice of total self-giving to God in Christ is in no way incompatible with any human culture or historical situation.”
Fr. Habiger said that Catholics living a consecrated life express this total self-giving through competence in mission, a renewed commitment to the Church’s intellectual life, and especially through the prophetic dimension of religious life, since that life imitates the total self-giving of the Lord’s life in this world.
Catholic clergy and religious only make up one-tenth of one percent of the whole Church. “Our role is to bring the teachings of Jesus and the principles of the rightly lived Christian life to the 99.9 percent, and to encourage them to go out and live it,” Fr. Habiger said.
Benedictine College’s Dr. Jeremy Sienkiewicz echoed this sentiment when he spoke on “Vatican II and the Salvation of Modern Man.” As a fruit of Baptism rather than a separate Sacrament, “The religious life … moves people from saving one’s own soul to helping those in the Church save their souls to helping all humanity save theirs.”
This hierarchy of goals is key to the radical transformation of one’s own life that drives the New Evangelization, which aims to transform the world in Christ.
“Modern man thinks Christianity is all about bringing joy to people, but it’s not,” he said. “To Catholics, our religion is about the will and the intellect.”
“We have to get others to believe the Catholic faith is something to die for, and live that belief in our own lives.”
Because they’re the leaven in the Church’s New Evangelization, it’s especially important for consecrated Catholics to know what the Catechism and the documents of the Second Vatican Council actually say.
“We should read them because they’re magisterial and because they’re beautiful,” Dr. Sienkiewicz said. “And because they’re for us.”
Personal holiness is even more important. “Everyone is called to be a saint. To not be a saint is to be less than human.” o
Founded in 1974, the IRL is a collaborative effort of Catholic bishops, priests, religious and laity to foster and strengthen vocations to the consecrated life. For more information, visit the web site at www.religiouslife.com.
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