Monday, November 28, 2016

Out of the Ordinary – In "Giant" Florida Move, Panhandle's Parkes to St Pete

(Updated 11am ET with installation date/presser video.)

If we've got any Gator fans in the greater Tampa area here, so it seems, no less than Rome's taken to rubbing in Saturday night... while the Florida State crowd down there can just keep chopping away.

At Roman Noon, less than 36 hours after a fourth straight FSU win at the annual in-house faceoff, the Pope transferred the church's Chief Nole, 52 year-old Bishop Gregory Parkes of Pensacola-Tallahassee (above), to the Sunshine State's second-largest market as the fifth bishop of St Petersburg, succeeding Bishop Bob Lynch, the venerable USCCB titan of three decades who reached the retirement age of 75 in late May after 20 years at the helm of the 475,000-member church.

A spiritual son of the state's metropolitan, Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, Parkes' return down I-75 after four years in the Panhandle doesn't merely place him closer to his family in Orlando, but represents a significant change of scene and elevation of profile – at least, as much as a figure stacking out at 6-foot-8 could become even more prominent. As the scope of it goes, try this on for size: while Catholics comprise a single-digit percentage of the population (some 70,000 souls) on the pick's prior turf, that proportion's closer to a quarter in St Pete's five counties, where no shortage of mega-parishes have opened and flourished over Lynch's tenure as the fold's numbers nearly doubled. (In addition, the last two years' ordination classes of five new priests each have represented the diocese's largest crops in the last quarter-century.)

At the same time, the move indeed presents a study in contrasts: a quintessential son of the "John Paul II generation" of priests – a NAC product and Gregorian-trained canonist – coming to succeed one of the Stateside bench's most formidable and influential progressives, whose clashes with the church's right flank (even into recent weeks) have more than occasionally borne all the intensity of SEC rivalry at its finest.

That said, while some of us simply refer to Parkes as "The Giant," how he's a thoroughly sweet and gentle one bears underscoring... and given the almost uniquely beloved standing his predecessor enjoys among his priests and people, suffice it to say, the Lynch legacy is so massive that....

Well, complete the sentence.

While a springtime transition has long been forecast for the post, its announcement before the New Year comes as a surprise, albeit one that might be due in part to recent events. Having fallen ill earlier this month during a visit to Alaska for the installation of his first protege, Paul Etienne, as archbishop of Anchorage, Lynch was hospitalized there for over a week – forcing his absence from the USCCB Plenary – and cleared to head home just before Thanksgiving, yet with the understanding that his recovery still had a ways to go. (To date, the cause of the health scare has not been publicly disclosed, but there is some history to recall; Lynch endured a bruising battle with cancer for two years at the beginning of this decade.)

Per long-standing plans he shared nearly a year ago, the onetime General Secretary of the national bench intends to leave the diocese for a year on the evening of his successor's installation to allow the new prelate a fresh start, and likewise to fold The Mother of All Episcopal Blogs, which has consistently provided the most candid public reflections of any American prelate since its inception in 2008.

A 10.30am presser has been called, possibly to take place in St Jude's Cathedral (above), which was rededicated in 2013 following a $9 million expansion and complete overhaul.

As Parkes' installation date remains to be announced, per the norms of the canons, it must take place within two months of this morning's appointment.

SVILUPPO (11am): Held not at the Cathedral, but the Chancery, the press conference saw a clearly exuberant Parkes introduced by an emotional-as-ever Lynch, whose voice cracked as the retiring prelate spoke of his "joy to pray this morning for Gregory, our bishop."

More of a generational handoff than most given the 23-year spread in age between predecessor and successor, both bishops remarked that the appointment represents a sort of homecoming for the Pope's pick: as a rising banking executive in his early 30s, Parkes lived in Tampa and discerned his vocation at the city's Christ the King parish, one of the largest communities in the diocese he now inherits.

In an unusually quick transition, Parkes announced that his Installation will take place on Wednesday, 4 January – a date picked due to its confluence with the usual yearly retreat for the bishops of the Southeast at the St Pete church's crown jewel: the diocese's Bethany Center, which has become known as one of the nation's finest retreat facilities.

Here, the morning's fullvid (begins at the 5:30 mark):


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Saturday, November 26, 2016

"Fidel Has Died.... Now He Awaits Judgment."

Querido Don Agustín, Fidel falleció.

If there's a place to start amid this early morning's news, we'd be remiss to not look first to the heroic witness, courage, sanctity and charity of Bishop Agustín Roman, who led South Florida's Cuban faithful in exile for five decades until his death in early 2012.

Yet even as thousands of El Padrino's own who fled their homeland for these shores would be laid to rest facing the island 93 miles away, awaiting the day of its freedom, that wasn't the burial Román chose for himself... barring the future that – at least, on a symbolic level – suddenly begins with this moment.

Late Friday night, the Cuban President Raúl Castro announced the death of his Communist regime's "historic leader" – his brother, Fidel, the island's de facto ruler for nearly a half-century – at the age of 90.

One of the West's most polarizing characters all through and even beyond his reign, while the colorful, oft-impulsive Comandante had formally handed the office to his younger sibling nearly a decade ago, the passing of the island's totemic personage – the guiding force behind no less than three papal visits to an officially-atheist country – represents a watershed point in what church officials on all levels have long hoped will be Cuba's "soft landing" into a liberated reality, a scenario already beginning to make marked headway following the landmark 2014 pact between Washington and Havana which, at Pope Francis' behest, began to thaw the half-century blockade between the island and the US.

All that said, the scene feels rather surreal. And with Miami's exile base at Calle Ocho (8th Street) choked through the night with revelers – in part as the nearby Orange Bowl, kept on reserve for decades as the community's Ground Zero for this occasion, no longer exists – the ecclesial reaction could only begin in one spot....

Within an hour of the news breaking (read: 2am), Archbishop Thomas Wenski – the first native son to lead his hometown's 1.4 million-member fold... yet, for these purposes, the "honorary Cuban" who so immersed himself in ministry to the exiles as a seminarian that Román would preach his first Mass – was on the Whispers Hatline, sounding little different than not a few Cubs fans just a couple weeks ago. (And as his own shock took root, word emerged that the Ermita de la Caridad – the bayfront shrine to Cuba's Marian patroness: the Caridad de Cobre, Our Lady of Charity – was being opened overnight for an all-hours vigil for the island.)

Fittingly born amid a hurricane, the cigar-chomping, Harley-riding prelate might be battling a cold, but to know Wenski is to know how no bug could keep him from the flourishes of the moment... at least, under normal circumstances.

Clearly, though, this scene was anything but.

Having held the US bishops' de facto portfolio for Cuban affairs for most of his 20 years on the bench – he did, after all, oversee multiple food-drops on the island as priest-head of Miami's Catholic Charities – at the outset, the current lead pastor of the exiles  (seen at left in the chair of the archbishop of Havana during a 2012 Cathedral Mass) could muster all of one line:

"The death of Castro represents the end of an era, and a beginning of hope for the island."

As the reality began to sink in, however, the onetime Colbert guest's usual verve began to return – shortly after 4am, the following statement emerged, given here in both its conveyed languages....
En el libro de Eclesiastés del Antiguo Testamento leemos: “Al justo y al malvado los juzgará Dios pues hay un tiempo para toda obra y un lugar para toda acción. “ (Eclesiastés 3: 17). Fidel Castro se murió. Ahora le toca a él el juicio de Dios que es misericordiosa y también justo. Su muerte provoca muchas emociones – dentro y fuera de la Isla. Sin embargo, más allá de todas las posibles emociones, el deceso de esta figura debe llevarnos a invocar a la patrona de Cuba, la Virgen de la Caridad pidiendo la paz por Cuba y por su pueblo.

“A Jesús por Maria, la caridad nos une.” Que Santa Maria de la Caridad escuche al pueblo y adelante para Cuba la hora de la reconciliación en la verdad acompañada de la libertad y la justicia. Que, por la intercesión de la Virgen mambisa, los cubanos sepan transitar ese camino estrecho entre el miedo que cede al mal y la violencia que bajo ilusión de luchar contra el mal solamente lo empeora. Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, cúbranos con tu manto!

* * * 
In the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes, we read: “...both the just and the wicked God will judge, since a time is set for every affair and for every work.” (Ecclesiastes 3: 17) Fidel Castro has died. Now he awaits the judgment of God who is merciful but also just. His death provokes many emotions –both in and outside the Island. Nevertheless, beyond all possible emotions, the passing of this figure should lead us to invoke the patroness of Cuba, the Virgen of Charity, asking for peace for Cuba and its people.

“To Jesus through Mary, Charity unites us”. May Holy Mary, Our Lady of Charity, hear her people’s prayers and hasten for Cuba the hour of its reconciliation in truth, accompanied by freedom and justice. May through the intercession of the “Virgen Mambisa” the Cuba people will know how to traverse that narrow road between fear which gives in to evil and violence which under the illusion of fighting evil only makes it worse. “Our Lady of Charity, cover us with your mantle.”
In an even more pointed commentary from the exile's home-base, one prominent Cuban in the South Florida fold cabled overnight that "My parents and my grandparents long[ed] to live this day and did not see it. To hell he [i.e. Castro] goes."

As of press-time, no statement has yet emerged from the Vatican – further developments to follow.

SVILUPPO (7.30am ET): Addressed to Raúl Castro as Cuba's head of state, the following message from the Holy See to Havana was released around 1pm in Rome.

Unusually for a text of this sort, yet duly reflecting the Pope's keen investment in the Cuban situation, the telegram was signed not by the Cardinal-Secretary of State, but Francis himself – here, the note's full English translation:
On receiving the sad news of the death of your dear brother, His Excellency Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz, former President of the Council of State and the Government of the Republic of Cuba, I express my sentiments of grief to Your Excellency and the rest of the family of the late dignity, as well as to the government and the people of the beloved nation.

At the same time, I offer prayers to the Lord for his rest and I entrust all the Cuban people to the maternal intercession of Our Lady of the Caridad del Cobre, Patroness of your Land.


Francisco PP.
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Monday, November 21, 2016


FRANCIS

TO ALL WHO READ THIS APOSTOLIC LETTER

MERCY AND PEACE

MISERICORDIA ET MISERA is a phrase used by Saint Augustine in recounting the story of Jesus’ meeting with the woman taken in adultery (cf. Jn 8:1-11). It would be difficult to imagine a more beautiful or apt way of expressing the mystery of God’s love when it touches the sinner: “the two of them alone remained: mercy with misery”. What great mercy and divine justice shine forth in this narrative! Its teaching serves not only to throw light on the conclusion of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, but also to point out the path that we are called to follow in the future.

1. This page of the Gospel could easily serve as an icon of what we have celebrated during the Holy Year, a time rich in mercy, which must continue to be celebrated and lived out in our communities. Mercy cannot become a mere parenthesis in the life of the Church; it constitutes her very existence, through which the profound truths of the Gospel are made manifest and tangible. Everything is revealed in mercy; everything is resolved in the merciful love of the Father.

A woman and Jesus meet. She is an adulteress and, in the eyes of the Law, liable to be stoned. Jesus, through his preaching and the total gift of himself that would lead him to the Cross, returned the Mosaic Law to its true and original intent. Here what is central is not the law or legal justice, but the love of God, which is capable of looking into the heart of each person and seeing the deepest desire hidden there; God’s love must take primacy over all else. This Gospel account, however, is not an encounter of sin and judgement in the abstract, but of a sinner and her Saviour. Jesus looked that woman in the eye and read in her heart a desire to be understood, forgiven and set free. The misery of sin was clothed with the mercy of love. Jesus’ only judgement is one filled with mercy and compassion for the condition of this sinner. To those who wished to judge and condemn her to death, Jesus replies with a lengthy silence. His purpose was to let God’s voice be heard in the conscience not only of the woman, but also in those of her accusers, who drop their stones and one by one leave the scene (cf. Jn 8:9). Jesus then says: “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?… Neither do I condemn you. Go your way and from now on do not sin again” (vv. 10-11). Jesus helps the woman to look to the future with hope and to make a new start in life. Henceforth, if she so desires, she can “walk in charity” (Eph 5:2). Once clothed in mercy, even if the inclination to sin remains, it is overcome by the love that makes it possible for her to look ahead and to live her life differently....


FULLTEXT (HTML/PDF)

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Jubilee Is Closed, But "The True Door of Mercy Always Remains Wide Open"

After 20 million pilgrims crossed its threshold at the Vatican – and tens of millions more engaged the observance across the globe – at 10am on this Roman Sunday, the Pope closed the Holy Door of St Peter’s, ending this Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy....


To mark the moment, Francis is taking to several forums to chart the path ahead from the Jubilee. Having given a major interview in print to the Italian bishops’ daily Avvenire on Friday, a 40 minute on-air chat is scheduled to air tonight on the Italian church’s broadcast outlet, TV2000.

Meanwhile, following in the footsteps of John Paul II’s Novo Millennio Ineunte (issued at the close of the 2000 Holy Year), tomorrow brings the surprise release of what’s shaping up to be a similarly significant Apostolic Letter from Papa Bergoglio, titled Misericordia et Misera – “Mercy and Misery.” (SVILUPPO: Fulltext of document.)

* * *
Unlike standard Holy Years – which begin and end over Christmas – the off-calendar nature of the Jubilee of Mercy allowed Francis the opportunity to choose this feast of Christ the King as its finale.

Given the confluence of events, then, today's homily and its focus on how Christians integrate the Lord's kingship into their own lives doesn't merely take on a higher import than usual, but has a special relevance for the 17 clerics made "princes of the church" yesterday, the group front and center today as this liturgy's lead concelebrants....
The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, is the crown of the liturgical year and this Holy Year of Mercy. The Gospel in fact presents the kingship of Jesus as the culmination of his saving work, and it does so in a surprising way. “The Christ of God, the Chosen One, the King” (Lk 23:35,37) appears without power or glory: he is on the cross, where he seems more to be conquered than conqueror. His kingship is paradoxical: his throne is the cross; his crown is made of thorns; he has no sceptre, but a reed is put into his hand; he does not have luxurious clothing, but is stripped of his tunic; he wears no shiny rings on his fingers, but his hands are pierced with nails; he has no treasure, but is sold for thirty pieces of silver.

Jesus’ reign is truly not of this world (cf. Jn 18:36); but for this reason, Saint Paul tells us in the Second Reading, we find redemption and forgiveness (cf. Col 1:13-14). For the grandeur of his kingdom is not power as defined by this world, but the love of God, a love capable of encountering and healing all things. Christ lowered himself to us out of this love, he lived our human misery, he suffered the lowest point of our human condition: injustice, betrayal, abandonment; he experienced death, the tomb, hell. And so our King went to the ends of the universe in order to embrace and save every living being. He did not condemn us, nor did he conquer us, and he never disregarded our freedom, but he paved the way with a humble love that forgives all things, hopes all things, sustains all things (cf. 1 Cor 13:7). This love alone overcame and continues to overcome our worst enemies: sin, death, fear.

Dear brothers and sisters, today we proclaim this singular victory, by which Jesus became the King of every age, the Lord of history: with the sole power of love, which is the nature of God, his very life, and which has no end (cf. 1 Cor 13:8). We joyfully share the splendour of having Jesus as our King: his rule of love transforms sin into grace, death into resurrection, fear into trust.

It would mean very little, however, if we believed Jesus was King of the universe, but did not make him Lord of our lives: all this is empty if we do not personally accept Jesus and if we do not also accept his way of being King. The people presented to us in today’s Gospel, however, help us. In addition to Jesus, three figures appear: the people who are looking on, those near the cross, and the criminal crucified next to Jesus.

First, the people: the Gospel says that “the people stood by, watching” (Lk 23:35): no one says a word, no one draws any closer. The people keep their distance, just to see what is happening. They are the same people who were pressing in on Jesus when they needed something, and who now keep their distance. Given the circumstances of our lives and our unfulfilled expectations, we too can be tempted to keep our distance from Jesus’ kingship, to not accept completely the scandal of his humble love, which unsettles and disturbs us. We prefer to remain at the window, to stand apart, rather than draw near and be with him. A people who are holy, however, who have Jesus as their King, are called to follow his way of tangible love; they are called to ask themselves, each one each day: “What does love ask of me, where is it urging me to go? What answer am I giving Jesus with my life?”

There is a second group, which includes various individuals: the leaders of the people, the soldiers and a criminal. They all mock Jesus. They provoke him in the same way: “Save yourself!” (Lk 23:35,37,39). This temptation is worse than that of the people. They tempt Jesus, just as the devil did at the beginning of the Gospel (cf. Lk 4:1-13), to give up reigning as God wills, and instead to reign according to the world’s ways: to come down from the cross and destroy his enemies! If he is God, let him show his power and superiority! This temptation is a direct attack on love: “save yourself” (vv. 37,39); not others, but yourself. Claim triumph for yourself with your power, with your glory, with your victory. It is the most terrible temptation, the first and the last of the Gospel. When confronted with this attack on his very way of being, Jesus does not speak, he does not react. He does not defend himself, he does not try to convince them, he does not mount a defence of his kingship. He continues rather to love; he forgives, he lives this moment of trial according to the Father’s will, certain that love will bear fruit.

In order to receive the kingship of Jesus, we are called to struggle against this temptation, called to fix our gaze on the Crucified One, to become ever more faithful to him. How many times, even among ourselves, do we seek out the comforts and certainties offered by the world. How many times are we tempted to come down from the Cross. The lure of power and success seem an easy, quick way to spread the Gospel; we soon forget how the Kingdom of God works. This Year of Mercy invites us to rediscover the core, to return to what is essential. This time of mercy calls us to look to the true face of our King, the one that shines out at Easter, and to rediscover the youthful, beautiful face of the Church, the face that is radiant when it is welcoming, free, faithful, poor in means but rich in love, on mission. Mercy, which takes us to the heart of the Gospel, urges us to give up habits and practices which may be obstacles to serving the Kingdom of God; mercy urges us to orient ourselves only in the perennial and humble kingship of Jesus, not in submission to the precarious regalities and changing powers of every age.

In the Gospel another person appears, closer to Jesus, the thief who begs him: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (v. 42). This person, simply looking at Jesus, believed in his kingdom. He was not closed in on himself, but rather – with his errors, his sins and his troubles – he turned to Jesus. He asked to be remembered, and he experienced God’s mercy: “Today you will be with me in paradise” (v.43). As soon as we give God the chance, he remembers us. He is ready to completely and forever cancel our sin, because his memory – unlike our own – does not record evil that has been done or keep score of injustices experienced. God has no memory of sin, but only of us, of each of us, we who are his beloved children. And he believes that it is always possible to start anew, to raise ourselves up.

Let us also ask for the gift of this open and living memory. Let us ask for the grace of never closing the doors of reconciliation and pardon, but rather of knowing how to go beyond evil and differences, opening every possible pathway of hope. As God believes in us, infinitely beyond any merits we have, so too we are called to instil hope and provide opportunities to others. Because even if the Holy Door closes, the true door of mercy which is the heart of Christ always remains open wide for us. From the lacerated side of the Risen One until the very end of time flow mercy, consolation and hope.

So many pilgrims have crossed the threshold of the Holy Doors, and far away from the clamour of the daily news they have tasted the great goodness of the Lord. We give thanks for this, as we recall how we have received mercy in order to be merciful, in order that we too may become instruments of mercy. Let us go forward on this road together. May our Blessed Lady accompany us, she who was also close to the Cross, she who gave birth to us there as the tender Mother of the Church, who desires to gather all under her mantle. Beneath the Cross, she saw the good thief receive pardon, and she took Jesus’ disciple as her son. She is Mother of Mercy, to whom we entrust ourselves: every situation we are in, every prayer we make, when lifted up to his merciful eyes, will find an answer.
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Saturday, November 19, 2016

To 17 New Cardinals, Pope's Job Description: "To Be Merciful In The Heart of The Church"

For the third time in less than three years, this morning the Pope furthered his stamp on the "Senate" that elects his successor – and from which the next pontiff will be chosen – with the creation of 17 new cardinals, 13 of them under 80 and thus eligible to enter a Conclave.

Here, the on-demand feed of the Consistory (which, with Francis in even more of a hurry than usual, began 10 minutes early):



Beyond the widely-noted presence of Papa Bergoglio's first three red hats from the US – the country's largest crop of new electors since 1969 – among other distinctions of the new intake is the College's youngest member by far (49 year-old Dieudonne Nzapalainga from the war-torn Central African Republic, the first cardinal born after Vatican II); in Italian Cardinal Mario Zenari, the first scarlet-clad figure in memory to be serving as a Nuncio, in his case to a roiled Syria; and while nearly half of the electoral class are religious – an unusually high five of the 13 – in Bangladesh's Cardinal Patrick D'Rozario of Dhaka, not only does the country often cited as the world's poorest have its first red hat, but the 73 year-old prelate is the first member of the Congregation of Holy Cross elevated into the Roman clergy since 1958. (On top of the return to red for one of the Golden Dome's community, it bears noting that Notre Dame went a full 3-for-3 with this class' Stateside delegation: Cardinal Kevin Farrell earned his MBA there, and even before today, Cardinals Blase Cupich and Joe Tobin were already among the most prominent hierarchs in the Fighting Irish cheering section.)

While Francis continued the long-standing custom of elevating distinguished clerics older than 80 – four, in today's case – having completed three rounds of topping off the College, one significant tweak to the practice has now clearly established itself as a pattern: in keeping with St Ignatius' exhortation against his spiritual followers receiving earthly honors, the first-ever Jesuit Pope hasn't given the red hat to a single one of his confreres, whose eminent contributions in theology were routinely honored by prior pontiffs.

In another change, for the first time since his resignation, Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI didn't attend today's rites. Instead, Francis and the new "princes of the church" boarded mini-buses immediately after the Consistory to visit Papa Ratzinger in the chapel of his residence at the old Mater Ecclesiae convent.

* * *
Here below is the English text of the Pope's homily today – for the second time this week, a call to be "immune" from "polarization" and avoid seeing differences as an invitation to "animosity":
The Gospel passage we have just heard (cf. Lk 6:27-36) is often referred to as the “Sermon on the Plain”. After choosing the Twelve, Jesus came down with his disciples to a great multitude of people who were waiting to hear him and to be healed. The call of the Apostles is linked to this “setting out”, descending to the plain to encounter the multitudes who, as the Gospel says, were “troubled” (cf. v. 18). Instead of keeping the Apostles at the top of the mountain, their being chosen leads them to the heart of the crowd; it sets them in the midst of those who are troubled, on the “plain” of their daily lives. The Lord thus shows the Apostles, and ourselves, that the true heights are reached on the plain, while the plain reminds us that the heights are found in a gaze and above all in a call: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (v. 36).

This call is accompanied by four commands or exhortations, which the Lord gives as a way of moulding the Apostles’ vocation through real, everyday situations. They are four actions that will shape, embody and make tangible the path of discipleship. We could say that they represent four stages of a mystagogy of mercy: love, do good, bless and pray. I think we can all agree on these, and see them as something reasonable. They are four things we can easily do for our friends and for those more or less close to us, people we like, people whose tastes and habits are similar to our own.

The problem comes when Jesus tells us for whom we have do these things. Here he is very clear. He minces no words, he uses no euphemisms. He tells us: love your enemies; do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you; pray for those who mistreat you (cf. vv. 27-28).

These are not things we spontaneously do in dealing with people we consider our opponents or enemies. Our first instinctive reaction in such cases is to dismiss, discredit or curse them. Often we try to “demonize” them, so as to have a “sacred” justification for dismissing them. Jesus tells us to do exactly the opposite with our enemies, those who hate us, those who curse us or slander us. We are to love them, to do good to them, to bless them and to pray for them.

Here we find ourselves confronted with one of the very hallmarks of Jesus’ message, where its power and secret are concealed. Here too is the source of our joy, the power of our mission and our preaching of the Good News. My enemy is someone I must love. In God’s heart there are no enemies. God only has sons and daughters. We are the ones who raise walls, build barriers and label people. God has sons and daughters, precisely so that no one will be turned away. God’s love has the flavour of fidelity towards everyone, for it is a visceral love, a parental love that never abandons us, even when we go astray. Our Father does not wait for us to be good before he loves the world, he does not wait for us to be a little bit better or more perfect before he loves us; he loves us because he chose to love us, he loves us because he has made us his sons and daughters. He loved us even when we were enemies (cf. Rom 5:10). The Father’s unconditional love for all people was, and is, the true prerequisite for the conversion of our pitiful hearts that tend to judge, divide, oppose and condemn. To know that God continues to love even those who reject him is a boundless source of confidence and an impetus for our mission. No matter how sullied our hands may be, God cannot be stopped from placing in those hands the Life he wishes to bestow on us.

Ours is an age of grave global problems and issues. We live at a time in which polarization and exclusion are burgeoning and considered the only way to resolve conflicts. We see, for example, how quickly those among us with the status of a stranger, an immigrant, or a refugee, become a threat, take on the status of an enemy. An enemy because they come from a distant country or have different customs. An enemy because of the colour of their skin, their language or their social class. An enemy because they think differently or even have a different faith. An enemy because… And, without our realizing it, this way of thinking becomes part of the way we live and act. Everything and everyone then begins to savour of animosity. Little by little, our differences turn into symptoms of hostility, threats and violence. How many wounds grow deeper due to this epidemic of animosity and violence, which leaves its mark on the flesh of many of the defenceless, because their voice is weak and silenced by this pathology of indifference! How many situations of uncertainty and suffering are sown by this growing animosity between peoples, between us! Yes, between us, within our communities, our priests, our meetings. The virus of polarization and animosity permeates our way of thinking, feeling and acting. We are not immune from this and we need to take care lest such attitudes find a place in our hearts, because this would be contrary to the richness and universality of the Church, which is tangibly evident in the College of Cardinals. We come from distant lands; we have different traditions, skin colour, languages and social backgrounds; we think differently and we celebrate our faith in a variety of rites. None of this makes us enemies; instead, it is one of our greatest riches.

Dear brothers and sisters, Jesus never stops “coming down from the mountain”. He constantly desires to enter the crossroads of our history to proclaim the Gospel of Mercy. Jesus continues to call us and to send us to the “plain” where our people dwell. He continues to invite us to spend our lives sustaining our people in hope, so that they can be signs of reconciliation. As the Church, we are constantly being asked to open our eyes to see the wounds of so many of our brothers and sisters deprived of their dignity, deprived in their dignity.

My dear brothers, newly created Cardinals, the journey towards heaven begins in the plains, in a daily life broken and shared, spent and given. In the quiet daily gift of all that we are. Our mountaintop is this quality of love; our goal and aspiration is to strive, on life’s plain, together with the People of God, to become persons capable of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Today each of you, dear brothers, is asked to cherish in your own heart, and in the heart of the Church, this summons to be merciful like the Father. And to realize that “if something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life” (Evangelii Gaudium, 49).
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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

From The Boss' Desk, A Call To US: "Break Down Walls and Build Bridges"

While each USCCB plenary invariably opens with the sending of a telegram to the Pope to pledge the bench's fidelity and prayers, it is anything but custom that the Roman pontiff issues a reply...

This time, however, that has indeed happened.

As if the message of the elections needed further hammering home – let alone from the Man in White – Tuesday's closing public session on the Floor saw an unprecedented cameo from the Boss himself, addressing the body (and, by extension, the wider Stateside fold) by video... and in a way he rarely does: fully in English.

Though the express purpose of Francis' message was a plug for the coming fifth national Encuentro – a synod-esque process to build bonds, energy and mission among the Hispanic bloc which already comprises Catholicism's plurality on these shores – Papa Bergoglio's talk likewise served to set the goalposts on the wider scene amid the challenges of this national moment.

Along these lines, it bears recalling that the Pope's latest endorsement represents the third recent instance of Francis' concerted push on behalf of the Encuentro: following his speech last September at Philadelphia's Independence Hall – a talk focusing on religious freedom, immigration and globalization as parts of a piece – the gathering's trademark Cross was intentionally placed in the square behind to meet him alongside the project's leadership before he left (top)... then, over planning meetings at the Vatican earlier this fall, the coordinating team was invited to stay at the Domus, where the first American Pope/the first son of immigrants to occupy Peter's Chair accordingly re-commissioned the planning group and the Cross, which has been on display just off the Floor all week. (Above, Francis is seen blessing the Encuentro Cross anew alongside San Antonio's Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller.)

As one well-placed prelate cabled in to this shop following yesterday's historic vote, "La Virgen nos está guiando a favor de los olvidados" – that is, the result indicated how "Our Lady [of Guadalupe] is guiding us [bishops] to side with the forgotten." With that same sense clearly in mind from across the Tiber, here's the video and text of Francis' US message, which – unlike casual talks (e.g. the daily Mass homilies) – has been placed among the Pope's authoritative addresses on the Vatican website:


Dear Brother Bishops,

I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak to you. Just a year ago, I was with you during my Pastoral Visit to the United States. There I was impressed by the vitality and diversity of the Catholic community. Throughout its history, the Church in your country has welcomed and integrated new waves of immigrants. In the rich variety of their languages and cultural traditions, they have shaped the changing face of the American Church.

In this context, I would commend the coming Fifth National Hispanic Pastoral Encuentro. The celebration of this Fifth Encuentro will begin in your Dioceses in this coming January and conclude with a national celebration in September 2018.

In continuity with its predecessors, the Encuentro seeks to acknowledge and value the specific gifts that Hispanic Catholics have offered, and continue to offer, to the Church in your country. But it is more than that. It is part of a greater process of renewal and missionary outreach, one to which all of your local Churches are called.

Our great challenge is to create a culture of encounter, which encourages individuals and groups to share the richness of their traditions and experiences, to break down walls and to build bridges. The Church in America, as elsewhere, is called to “go out” from its comfort zone and to be a leaven of communion. Communion among ourselves, with our fellow Christians, and with all who seek a future of hope.

We need to become ever more fully a community of missionary disciples, filled with love of the Lord Jesus and enthusiasm for the spread of the Gospel. The Christian community is meant to be a sign and prophecy of God’s plan for the entire human family. We are called to be bearers of good news for a society gripped by disconcerting social, cultural and spiritual shifts, and increasing polarization.

It is my hope that the Church in your country, at every level, will accompany the Encuentro with its own reflection and pastoral discernment. In a particular way, I ask you to consider how your local Churches can best respond to the growing presence, gifts and potential of the Hispanic community. Mindful of the contribution that the Hispanic community makes to the life of the nation, I pray that the Encuentro will bear fruit for the renewal of American society and for the Church’s apostolate in the United States.

With gratitude to all engaged in the preparation of the Fifth Encuentro, I assure you of my prayers for this important initiative of your Conference. Commending you, and the clergy, religious and lay faithful of your local Churches, to the prayers of Mary Immaculate, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of grace and peace in the Lord.
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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Houston and "Hollywood" – With New Top Team, US Bench Chooses the Spotlight... and History

To no one's surprise, the first ballot of this Tuesday's election produced the next President of the United States (Bishops) – keeping with the body's half-century custom, the incumbent VP, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, was given the chief's chair with an easy 55 percent of the vote.

Once the traditional formality wrapped up, the selection of DiNardo's deputy indeed produced a choice between the respective lead contenders from the "messenger" and "manager" schools, with the premier option among the former – Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles – taking the post in a 131-84 result over one of the top masters of Mothership process, New Orleans' Archbishop Gregory Aymond.

With the outcome, the incoming executive team already enjoys a solid relationship, DiNardo and Gomez having spent five years together as the twin archbishops of Texas. Given the fresh charge for solidarity with immigrants shared by Pope Francis and the Stateside bench, however, the collision course between the church's stance and that of the impending Trump administration makes the choice of a Mexican-born migrant, as well as the first Hispanic ever raised into the USCCB's topmost leadership – and with it, Gomez's positioning as the body's first Latino chief come 2019 – an all the more potent signal. (To be sure, from the outset of last weekend's committee meetings, the LA prelate's searing homily in defense of the undocumented at a sudden prayer service for healing in the secular campaign's wake was seen to have made a profound impact among this electorate.)

Considering DiNardo's longstanding all-in role helping to guide the Texas' bishops decades-old focus on immigration issues as the state's top prelate, the body's movement to put Gomez at his side on the national stage indeed represents a doubling-down on the premier fault-line between the US' largest religious body and January's reality of a Republican White House and Congress.

Developing – more to come.

SVILUPPO: While the new executive will make its first appearance at a 12.30pm ET news conference, Gomez's road-team onsite has released an extensive statement from the Vice President-elect:
I am honored and humbled by this election. And I am grateful to my brother bishops for their confidence in me.

This is really about the whole family of God in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, not only me. I think this is recognition that the Church is alive and growing in Los Angeles and that we are doing great things in spreading the Gospel and serving our brothers and sisters in need.

I also think this is a recognition of how important Latino Catholics are to the growth and the future of the Church.

So I look forward to working with my friend, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, and all my brother bishops, to serve the family of God here in the United States.

I am especially looking forward to working on the Fifth Encuentro and the Convocation on the Joy of the Gospel in the Americas. Both of these initiatives will bring great blessings to our Church and will help us to inspire and raise up a new generation of missionary disciples.

It is also a joy and a blessing that my brother, Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles, was elected today to be the chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis. I am happy for him and I know he will help the bishops do great things to advance the Church’s mission.

These are challenging times for the Church in our society. But we go with God and every Catholic knows that we have a great mission — to share the good news about God and to tell our brothers and about his mercy and his beautiful plan for our lives and our world.

We also need to continue our important work so that our society respects the sanctity and dignity of every human person — from the child in the womb, to the immigrant who does not have “papers,” to the elderly and the terminally ill.

So I am entrusting everything to Our Lady of Guadalupe and I am grateful for this chance to proclaim the joy of the Gospel and help build God’s Kingdom here in the United States and throughout the Americas.
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For The Bench, A Time for Choosing

Just up the hill from this Plenary's meeting-site sits one of American Catholicism's most venerable and extraordinary spaces – what's now called the Gibbons Room of the Baltimore Archbishop's Residence (above).

Added onto 408 N. Charles in the mid-19th century, with John Carroll's chair in a corner and the croziers of the nation's first two archbishops flanking the fireplace, one can almost feel the ghosts of prelates past emerge from the walls... because, here,  the tradition of collegial governance on these shores finds its roots – first in the provincial and plenary councils held within this spot, then the annual meetings of the American archbishops into the early 20th century.

Today, that long tradition takes its latest turn with the election of the next head of the Stateside bishops, a democratic innovation only dating to the mid-1900s. As only happens every dozen years, however, this vote comes directly on the heels of the ascent of a new occupant of the "other" White House, with whose administration the next President of the United States (Bishops) will call the shots on the response of the nation's largest religious body.

Keeping the inviolate custom of the body of bishops – well, almost – every indication in the house remains that the sitting Vice-President, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, will duly be elevated to the chief's seat. Yet even as the outcome is hardly in doubt, the "Reluctant Prince" wouldn't be himself if he weren't entering as a reticent president.

Indeed, for most of this year, indications from Houston more than hinted that – having felt considerable qualms about the time-commitment required for the national job – the 67 year-old Curial veteran who happily fled home to Pittsburgh to begin a suburban parish from two rooms in an office-park was significantly tempted to decline the body's nomination, only bowing to accept his place on the slate at the last minute, and only after no small amount of pushing from others.

That context is key to the decision ahead as the dynamic of each executive team is fluid, and its effectiveness depends on the balance of personalities who comprise it.

Along these lines, according to estimates from Louisville, Archbishop Joe Kurtz's three-year term saw some 40 percent of his time taken for USCCB work – and that amid a local church of 240,000 Catholics. Given the needs of Houston's sprawling, 1.6 million-strong (and growing) fold – and all of one auxiliary to help with it all – well, do the math.... But despite all the ink that's been spilled over the de facto choice of Vice-President (elected from the other nine nominees), the decision the bench faces is neither one of ideology nor the potent specter of the Pope, but the ideal type to fill out the ticket: in a nutshell, is the moment best served by a next President-in-Waiting who's more of a messenger or a manager?

To be sure, there are compelling arguments on both ends – on the former front, the impending reality of a Trump administration and a more general sense of trouble in the land (and, indeed, among the pews) on any host of fronts could be deemed as demanding a standout voice to advocate for the confused and fearful, then carry the baton come 2019... or, from the latter side, with an incoming bench-prez who can use a hand with the workload – and quiet, yet significant talk around of potential tweaks that would make the conference's processes more reflective of Francis' amped-up synodal vision for the church – is a figure who can "land the plane" and keep things moving over a six-year frame a more ideal fit?

That said, the two aren't mutually exclusive, and in general the VP and subsequent chair-votes are far less cut-and-dried than the result of an algorithm of place, personality and skill-set, multiplied by some 270 electors.

This time around, the options for the #2 post are formidable, each bringing a wealth of experience and talent – the only question is which "package" best fits the task and the time: the consummate "conference man" and barometric center of the body's reaction on any given topic, whose success at healing his hometown church has expanded into a push to rid the discourse of its "evil spirit" (Aymond); depending on one's worldview, the bench's provocateur/prophet-in-chief, his second New York Times bestseller soon to hit shelves even as the fires to be battled at home never seem to let up (Chaput); an energetic, upstart metropolitan formed in a stewardship church, whose "conservative" reputation has kept the body's beloved CRS protected from politicized attacks (Coakley); the "crossover" poet of the Texas Borderland, already become a seasoned hand in the top rungs at 55, balancing it with the life of an erupting 1.7 million-member fold – most of it younger than 25 – leading it all on his own (Flores); the head of the largest diocese these shores have ever known, whose own immigrant story, and that of his people, stands as the most potent counter-witness to the age of Trump (Gomez); the heir of Carroll, Gibbons and Hickey who's overseen the bench's long fight to defend the church's "first freedom" (Lori); the native of the Motor City – and a certain Eternal one – currently leading his hometown church on its own synodal walk (Vigneron); the ultimate "man alive" – Miami's hometown pastor for all seasons (however one says it in Kreyòl)/spiritual son of John Paul II/Stephen Colbert guest, who's never seen a china shop he wouldn't want to run his Harley around in (Wenski); or the embodiment of suaviter – the protege of a CDF prefect and Stateside Catholicism's liberal lion, now become a conference heavyweight in his own right (Wester).

Again, it's a rich field – and as these results inevitably come down to a handful of votes and a 53-47 split (at most), when it comes to "polls" or projections, at least some of us have been around long enough to not even try calling it.

The balloting begins shortly after 9am Eastern – and as ever, the livefeed will be here.

However the brothers choose, may they simply choose well.

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