Monday, May 30, 2016

"To These, O Lord...."


More than any other, this solemn morning on which the US commemorates its fallen in our service is arguably the most fitting moment of all to recall the Prayer for the Nation written and first delivered in 1791 by the founding shepherd of these States, John Carroll of Baltimore....
We pray, Thee O Almighty and Eternal God! Who through Jesus Christ hast revealed Thy glory to all nations, to preserve the works of Thy mercy, that Thy Church, being spread through the whole world, may continue with unchanging faith in the confession of Thy Name.

We pray Thee, who alone art good and holy, to endow with heavenly knowledge, sincere zeal, and sanctity of life, our chief bishop, Pope Francis, the Vicar of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the government of his Church; our own bishop, N., all other bishops, prelates, and pastors of the Church; and especially those who are appointed to exercise amongst us the functions of the holy ministry, and conduct Thy people into the ways of salvation.

We pray Thee O God of might, wisdom, and justice! Through whom authority is rightly administered, laws are enacted, and judgment decreed, assist with Thy Holy Spirit of counsel and fortitude the President of these United States, that his administration may be conducted in righteousness, and be eminently useful to Thy people over whom he presides; by encouraging due respect for virtue and religion; by a faithful execution of the laws in justice and mercy; and by restraining vice and immorality. Let the light of Thy divine wisdom direct the deliberations of Congress, and shine forth in all the proceedings and laws framed for our rule and government, so that they may tend to the preservation of peace, the promotion of national happiness, the increase of industry, sobriety, and useful knowledge; and may perpetuate to us the blessing of equal liberty.

We pray for his[/her] excellency, the governor of this state, for the members of the assembly, for all judges, magistrates, and other officers who are appointed to guard our political welfare, that they may be enabled, by Thy powerful protection, to discharge the duties of their respective stations with honesty and ability.

We recommend likewise, to Thy unbounded mercy, all our brethren and fellow citizens throughout the United States, that they may be blessed in the knowledge and sanctified in the observance of Thy most holy law; that they may be preserved in union, and in that peace which the world cannot give; and after enjoying the blessings of this life, be admitted to those which are eternal.

Finally, we pray to Thee, O Lord of mercy, to remember the souls of Thy servants departed who are gone before us with the sign of faith and repose in the sleep of peace; the souls of our parents, relatives, and friends; of those who, when living, were members of this congregation, and particularly of such as are lately deceased; of all benefactors who, by their donations or legacies to this Church, witnessed their zeal for the decency of divine worship and proved their claim to our grateful and charitable remembrance.

To these, O Lord, and to all that rest in Christ, grant, we beseech Thee, a place of refreshment, light, and everlasting peace, through the same Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior. Amen.
To one and all, hope it's been a beautiful, easy and safe long weekend. For what it's worth, much as the last fortnight's been fairly quiet, the month ahead will more than make up for it.

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Friday, May 13, 2016

In "Humbled, Exposed" Twin Cities, "God Is Calling Us To Let Go of Everything But Jesus"


HOMILY OF
THE MOST REVEREND BERNARD ANTHONY HEBDA
NINTH ARCHBISHOP OF SAINT PAUL AND MINNEAPOLIS

SOLEMN MASS OF INSTALLATION
THE CATHEDRAL OF SAINT PAUL
ST PAUL

13 MAY 2016

My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Those words from today’s Gospel resonate in my heart as I reflect on God’s goodness in bringing me so unexpectedly to this day. It is overwhelming to know of the prayers that are being offered for me this afternoon — and for this local Church as we together strive to make the Lord’s love and mercy known in this part of His vineyard.

Our Gospel today, as well as the Feast that we celebrate, helps us to focus on God’s extravagant love for the lowly, the little ones. It’s beyond anything that Mary or Elizabeth, sensing new life surprisingly within them, could have imagined. It’s beyond anything that the simple children of Fatima – Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco – could have ever imagined. Our God is indeed a God who surprises us with His love, sustains us with His love, challenges us with His love—it’s a love that changes everything.

In one of my favorite Churches in Rome, the Chiesa Nuova – only in Rome could a Church that’s 400 years old be known as the “new church” – hangs a painting by the renaissance master, Federico Barocci, that depicts the moment of the encounter between Mary and Elizabeth that we heard about in the Gospel this afternoon. As Mary, carrying Jesus within her, gently touches the arm of Elizabeth, a brilliant light breaks into a world that is otherwise dark, lackluster and undefined, the world that has long been waiting for God to fulfill his promise. Barocci clearly understood what Mary proclaimed: we have a God who loves the lowly and indeed exalts them. God’s love is the game changer.

The Scriptures remind us how much God loves to make his power shine through our weakness. You’ll remember how he whittles down Gideon’s army from 3,200 to 300, so that it would be clear that the victory that they would win was the result not of their might but of his providential care. Or who could forget the scene where Samuel is called to anoint one of Jesse’s sons and has to pass over the strong and mature in favor of the youngest, David, no more than a lad. When they go into battle with the Philistines, it’s David—diminutive, inexperienced, ill-equipped David—whom the Lord uses to show His might.

It’s no accident that when Jesus sends his disciples out two-by-two, he sends them out without even a walking staff, or a bag, or money or a change of clothes (I suspect that in 2016 the command would be “without cellphone, internet, legal counsel, PayPal and Uber”). The Lord wants it to be clear that it’s not our things, our degrees, our resources that make the difference – but only Him, “only Jesus.”

Over the course of the past 11 months, I’ve come to believe that God the Father is calling us as a Church to let go of everything other than Jesus. The circumstances in which we find ourselves have left us humbled and exposed, and at times the object of public scorn and reproach. The bonds of communion that have long been the strength of this local Church have been tested and challenged as we come to grips with our past and strive to make plans for the future.

I consider it a great blessing that so many of you have recognized this moment as an opportunity for us to place our trust more completely in the Lord who has “shown his mercy from age to age,” and have called me to embrace rather than resist the purification that gives us the opportunity to be the Church that Christ desires us to be, the Church that Pope Francis calls us to be, that evangelizing Church, that “poor Church for the poor,” the Church of the Lucias, Jacintas and Franciscos of the World, the Church that is the field hospital for those in pain.

It’s been a blessing for me that I so consistently find our laity, our consecrated brothers and sisters and our clergy to be proclaimers of hope who are willing to embrace sacrifice so that with our Archdiocesan patron, St. Paul, we might “delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties” knowing that it is when are weak that we are strong (2 Cor. 12:10) and believe that we can “do all things through Him who gives us strength” (Phil. 4:13).

In the listening sessions last Fall, the Faithful who gathered consistently shared their hope for a Church that is more transparent, more accountable, more collaborative, more reconciling, more engaged in the work of evangelization. I’m all in… but like you, I recognize that we’re going to have success only to the extent that we can stay focused on Jesus and only Jesus—and embrace his call to humility and simplicity and finding Him as we serve those most in need . We’re blessed to have this glorious Cathedral on Summit and Selby, but we can’t ever lose the passion and focus of those Pilgrims to the Northland who first brought the faith to Pig’s Eye. If they, by God’s grace, could build, I’m confident that we, by that same grace, can rebuild.

As you’ve probably realized already in these past 11 months, the Lord has once again set the stage for the victory to be clearly His. He’s given you a shepherd with more than his share of faults and failings, a shepherd who still has so much to learn about this local Church and region and its history and its culture, a shepherd who has never yet eaten Lutefisk, a shepherd whose feet don’t even reach the ground when he sits on the cathedra. But with your help, your prayers, and especially with God’s grace, I’m confident that we can together begin the process of healing, of evangelizing, of reconciling, or rebuilding, brick by brick, stone by stone.

The commemorative card that you have received today bears a portion of a prayer composed by Blessed John Henry Newman, a prayer that I learned from the Sisters of our soon-to-be-saint, Mother Teresa of Calcutta. I hope that you will take it home and allow it to touch your heart as it has touched mine. May it be our fervent prayer this day and always:
Dear Jesus,
help me to spread thy fragrance everywhere I go.
Flood my soul with Thy spirit and love.
Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly
that all my life may be only a radiance of thine.
Shine through me and be so in me
that every soul I come in contact with may feel Thy presence in my soul.
Let them look up and see no longer me
but 
ONLY JESUS.

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Pope To Tulsa: "Gig 'Em. Again" – Aggie Pastor Named OK Bishop

Over recent years, it's become no secret that one of US Catholicism's most vibrant centers of life and vitality is found deep in the heart of Texas. While that's now come to apply to the whole state – where, late in the last decade, Catholics surpassed Southern Baptists to comprise the largest religious group – in a particular way, among the Lone Star church's brightest spots is the Catholic Center at Texas A&M: a place that routinely leads the country in numbers of graduates entering seminary and religious life (roughly a dozen this year alone), and where the standing-room only crowds for weekday Mass would easily pass for Sundays (if not Christmas or Ash Wednesday) most anywhere else.

And so, barely three years after the first time the pastor of St Mary's was named a bishop, it should come as no surprise that lightning's struck twice for the Aggies: at Roman Noon this Friday, the Pope named Fr David Konderla (above), the 55 year-old lead chaplain in College Station since 2005, as fourth bishop of Tulsa, retiring Bishop Edward Slattery nine months after the longtime head of the 60,000-member church turned 75. Given the prominence of the assignment the bishop-elect leaves behind, however, who ends up being sent to Aggieland's storied "vocation factory" feels about as crucial, if not even more.

Notably, the Tulsa pick is just the latest of several Francis has given to priests who've been college chaplains at some point in their ministry, clearly seeing that experience as a critically important mission-field for the church's future on these shores. (Indeed, another among the group is Archbishop Bernie Hebda, who formally takes the reins of the beleaguered church in the Twin Cities later today.) Meanwhile, in just the latest boast for a diocese whose energy level is widely reputed to be off the charts, Konderla is the fourth Austin priest to be elevated since the turn of the decade, following last year's selection of a first-ever auxiliary, now Bishop Danny Garcia, and two others tapped to lead their own sees: Bishops Michael Mulvey, the onetime vicar-general, sent to Corpus Christi in 2010, and Mike Sis – likewise Austin's second-in-command after launching the rise of the A&M juggernaut – named to San Angelo in late 2013, and whose crozier was memorably made by today's appointee from the limbs of a tree on the St Mary's property.

According to an early-morning drop from Austin Chancery, the bishop-elect will be ordained and installed on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, 29 June. With Konderla already in Tulsa for the announcement, the Oklahoma diocese announced that the appointee will help distribute food to the poor at a Catholic Charities center before today's noontime presser.

With the nod, just one Stateside Latin diocese stands vacant – Salt Lake City, now pending for over a year – with another six led by (arch)bishops serving past the retirement age pending the arrival of their successors. The latter group is led by Long Island's 1.6 million-member fold based in Rockville Centre, where Bishop William Murphy turns 76 tomorrow. And then, of course, there's the question of Newark.....

Developing – more to come.

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On "Deaconesses," A Commission Doesn't Equal The Result

Weeks after closing out one years-long process that served to convulse much of the Catholic conversation, the Pope has opened the door to another live-wire discussion: at a Q&A yesterday with some 900 members of the Union of International Superiors General – the umbrella-group for the leaders of women religious orders worldwide – Francis accepted a sister's proposal for a commission which would study and "clarify" the history of women's service in diaconal roles in the church.

Even as the hours since have made for an Olympic-grade onslaught of Rohrshach tests reflecting the many reactions to the charged question, the only clear thing at this point is that there'll be a commission. To use a similar example, given the labyrinthine path of Papa Bergoglio's Curial reform task-force – now in its fourth year, a far "easier" work than a diaconal commission would face – no one should be holding their breath on a result for either anytime soon.

In addition, it bears particular underscoring that the host of variables at hand break down onto two very important fronts: first, given the immediate emergence of rival factions on the question, the personnel named to the panel – and the early-church scholarship the group will admit – will be critical to the outcome... and in the event the commission should find that the historic deaconesses indeed had some kind of standing in holy orders – and, if so, one almost certain to be distinct from that of men – the shape of an analogous role today would need to be fleshed out.

Notably, it is from the patristic era that one of the church's critical understandings of the diaconate is derived: the 4th century reflection of St Hippolytus that deacons are ordained "not to the priesthood, but to the ministry" – a differentiation which is immensely significant given the Catholic tradition's affirmation of priesthood as reserved to men alone, something Francis has frequently reiterated as a "closed door." What's more, the timing is significant amid the specter of two related upcoming events: first, at month's end, Francis will preside over a Jubilee event for the world's deacons, several thousand of whom will be in Rome for the festivities; and down the line, in what's become by far the global church's largest outpost of permanent deacons, the US church recently began planning a major national observance of the 50th anniversary of the restored order, which occurs in 2018.

Back to yesterday, while the bulk of coverage has focused on the surprise announcement of the commission, the entire session provided some remarkable words from the pontiff on the role and leadership women should exercise in the church, including a clear statement that – even if the non-ordained of either gender are precluded from preaching at Mass – "it's not a problem" for "a religious or laywoman" to "do the preaching" in a celebration of the Liturgy of the Word, as well as revealing that he had recently named a woman religious as secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (the second-ranking office, normally held by a bishop), but that the unnamed appointee had declined the post.

All that said, since Francis is routinely apprised in advance of the questions he'll be asked in these dialogue sessions, even as the notion of a commission wouldn't have been as spontaneous as it might appear, the Pope's setup immediately preceding the question – namely, a firm warning against the "danger" of clericalism, making explicit reference to the diaconate – was likewise no accident.

In light of the fracas that's erupted since the story went viral, in a tweet posted this afternoon in Rome, the Sostituto of the Secretariat of State Archbishop Angelo Becciu – in essence, the Curia's "chief of staff" – said that Francis "had phoned me with surprise about... deaconesses!

"He's thinking about a commission," Becciu added. "Don't jump to conclusions!"

Given the attention surrounding the topic – and, indeed, to present the many issues treated in their full context – below is a house English translation of the first two exchanges which addressed the role of women in the church, as released this morning in the Vatican transcript:
Q: Pope Francis, you have said that "the feminine genius is necessary in all expressions of the life of the Church and society," and still women are excluded from the decision-making processes in the church, above all at the highest levels, and from preaching at the Eucharist. An important obstacle to the Church's full embrace of the "feminine genius" is the link that either decision-making processes or preaching have with priestly ordination. Do you see a way to separate from ordination the roles of leadership and preaching at Mass, so our Church might be more open to receiving the genius of women, in the near-term future?

Pope: There are different things here that we have to distinguish. The question is linked to functionality, it's linked much to functionality, while the role of the woman is otherwise. But I'll now respond to the question, then we can talk about it.... I've seen that there are other questions that go elsewhere. It's true that women are kept out of the decision processes of the Church: not excluded, but it's a great need to include women there, in decision-making. We must go ahead. For example – truly I don't see a difficulty [with this] – I believe that in the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace going forward the secretary might be a woman, a religious woman. Another was proposed and I appointed her, but she preferred not to do it, that she might go to another part and do other work in her Congregation. So it must go forward otherwise, because for many aspects of decision-making processes ordination isn't necessary. It's not necessary. In the reform of the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus [Ed. on the composition of the Roman Curia], in terms of the dicasteries, when there's not jurisdiction [involved] that comes from ordination – that is, pastoral jurisdiction – it'll go unwritten that it can be a woman, I don't know if as head of the dicastery, but.... For example, migrants: at the dicastery [pontifical council] for migrants, a woman could go there. And when there's the need – now that migrants are entering into [a larger, merged] dicastery – for jurisdiction, it'll be the Prefect who can give this permission. But ordinarily it can go forward, in the execution of decision-making. For me, the forming of a decision is very important: not only the execution, but also the process of it, and it's there that women, whether consecrated or lay, can enter into reflection on the process and in discussion. Because woman looks at life with her own eyes and we men can't see it so. It's the way of looking at a problem, of seeing everything, in a woman is different relative to how a man sees it. These must be complementary, and in consultations it's important that women are there.

I had the experience of [looking at] an issue in Buenos Aires: seeing it with the presbyteral council – therefore, all men – it was well treated; then, seeing it with a group of religious women and laity enriched it so much, so much, and improved the decision with a complementary vision. It's necessary, this is necessary! And I think that we should go forward on this, then the decision process will play out.

Then there's the issue of preaching in the Eucharistic Celebration. There's not any problem that a woman – a religious or lay – does the preaching in a Liturgy of the Word. It's not a problem. But in the Eucharistic Celebration it is a liturgical-dogmatic issue, because the celebration is one – Liturgy of the Word and Liturgy of the Eucharist, it's united – and he who presides is Jesus Christ. The priest or the bishop who presides does it in the person of Jesus Christ. It's a theological-liturgical reality. In that situation, there not being the ordination of women, they can't preside. But it can be studied more and explained more than what I've just said quickly and a bit simply.

Instead, in leadership, there's no problem: in this we should go forward, with prudence, but seeking solutions.... There are two temptations here, of which we must look out for.

The first is feminism: the role of woman in the Church isn't feminism, it's a right! It's a right of the baptized with the charisms and gifts that the Spirit has given. It doesn't need to fall into feminism, because this would reduce the importance of a woman. I don't see, in this moment, a great danger regarding this among religious women. I don't see it. Maybe at one time, but in general it isn't there.

The other danger, which is a very strong temptation and of which I've spoken of a lot, is clericalism. And this is very strong.

Let's think that, today, more than 60 percent of parishes – of the dioceses I don't know, but maybe a little less – don't have a financial council nor a pastoral council. What does this say? That that parish and that diocese is guided by a clerical spirit, only by priests, that it doesn't have a synodality of parish life, a diocesan synodality, which is not a novelty of this Pope. No! It's in Canon Law, it's an obligation of the pastor to have the advice of laity, for and with the lay men, women and religious for pastoral care and economic matters. And they don't do this. And this is the danger of clericalism today in the Church. We must go forward and treat this danger, because the priest is a servant of the community, the bishop is a servant of the community, but not the boss of a business. No! This is important. In Latin America, for example, clericalism is very strong, very deeply marked. The laity don't know what to do, they don't ask things of the priest... It's very strong. And for this the awareness of the role of the laity in Latin America has greatly been halted. Some of this is salvaged a bit only by popular piety: because the protagonist is the people and the people have done it on their terms, and among the priests this doesn't interest them much, and some don't look well upon this phenomenon of popular piety. But clericalism is a negative attachment. And it has an accomplice, because it takes two, like the Tango takes two... that is: the priest who wants to clericalize the laity, the religious, the laity who asks "please let me be clericalized," because it's more comfortable. This is curious. In Buenos Aires, I had this experience three or four times: a great pastor, who comes and tells me "You know, I have an amazing layman in the parish: he does this and this, he knows how to organize things, he does things on his own, he's really a valuable man.... So do we make him a deacon?" That is to say: do we "clericalize" him? "No! Let the layman remain a layman. Do not make him a deacon." This is important. This can happen to you too, that many times clericalism keeps you from the right development of things.

I will ask – and maybe the President [of UISG] will make it happen – that the Congregation for [Divine] Worship might explain this well, in a deeper way, what I've said a little briskly on preaching in the Eucharistic Celebration. Because I don't have the sufficient theology and clarity to explain it now. But one needs to distinguish well: preaching at the Liturgy of the Word is one thing, and this can be done; the Eucharistic Celebration is another, here there's another mystery. It's the Mystery of Christ present and the priest or bishop who celebrates in persona Christi.

For leadership it's clear.... I believe this can be my general response on the first question. Let's see what the second one is.

Q: Consecrated women already work much with the poor and the marginalized, teaching catechesis, accompanying the sick and dying, distributing Communion, in many countries they guide public prayer in the absence of priests and in some cases give the homily. In the Church there's the office of permanent deacon, but it's only open to men, married and not. What keeps the Church from including women among permanent deacons, as was the case in the early Church? Why not set up a commission that can study the question? Can you give us an example of where you see the possibility of a better inclusion of women and consecrated women in the life of the Church?

This question goes into the sense of "doing": consecrated women already work so much with the poor, they do many things... they "do." And it touches the issue of the permanent diaconate. Someone will want to say that the "permanent deaconesses" in the life of the Church are mothers-in-law. [Pope, crowd laugh] In effect it's there in antiquity: there was a beginning... I remember that it was a theme that quite interested me when I once came to Rome for meetings and stayed at the Domus Paulus VI; there was a Sirian theologian there, great man, who wrote the critical edition of the translation of the Hymns of Ephrem the Syrian. And one day I asked him about this, and he explained that in the first days of the Church there were some "deaconesses." But what are these deaconesses? Were they ordained or not? The Council of Chalcedon (451) speaks of them, but it's a bit obscure. What was the role of the deaconesses in those times? It seems – this man told me, he's now dead, he was a great, wise, scholarly professor – it seems that the role of the deaconesses was to help in the baptism of women, the immersion, they baptized them, for decorum's sake, also doing the anointing of the body of the woman, in baptism. And also something else that's curious: when there was a marital trial because the husband hit his wife and she went to the bishop to make a complaint, the deaconesses were tasked with seeing the wounds left on the woman's body from her husband and reporting back to the bishop. This I recall. There are some publications on the diaconate in the Church, but it's not clear how this was done. I believe that I will ask the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to refer me to its studies on this theme, because I'm only responding to you in a basic way, from what I remember from this priest who was a scholarly and valid researcher, on the permanent diaconate. And otherwise I would like to set up an official commission that can study the question: I believe it will do the Church good to clarify this point; I agree, and I will talk about doing something of this kind.

Then you say, "We agree with you, Holy Father, that many times you've spoken of the necessity for a more incisive role of women in decision-making processes in the Church." This is clear. "Can you give us some example of where you see the possibility of a better involvement of women and consecrated women in the life of the Church? I will say something is coming later, because I see that this is a general question. In the consultations of the Congregation for religious, in the assemblies [of communities], consecrated women must move forward: this is sure. In discussions on the many problems that come up, consecrated women must move forward. Something else: a better involvement. At the moment, concrete things don't come to my mind, but always that which I said earlier: to seek the judgment of the consecrated woman, because woman sees things with an originality different from that of men, and this enriches it: whether in consultations, decisions, in making things concrete.

These works that you do with the poor, the marginalized, in catechesis, accompanying the sick and dying, they are very "maternal" works, where the motherhood of the Church expresses itself ever more. But there are men who do the same, and do it well: professed, hospitaller orders... And this is important.

Then, on the diaconate, yes, I accept and it seems useful to have a commission that will better clarify this, above all with regard to the first days of the Church.

Regarding a better involvement, I repeat what I said before. If there's something to make concrete, I ask you now: over what I've said, is there something more you'd like to ask that'd help me think? Let's keep going.
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Thursday, May 05, 2016

On Ascension Day – Or Not – The Church Retains Its "Option"

To one and all in the Northeast, Nebraska, The Vatican – and anywhere else this is still Ascension Thursday – a blessed and buona festa with all its joys and graces....

...to everyone else, well, re-read this on Sunday.

Given the unique patchwork of how American Catholicism observes this 40th Day of Easter (or doesn't), it bears recalling how the split decision – and its still-resulting confusion – owes itself to a 1994 vote granted by Rome to the bishops of each of the nation's 33 Latin-church provinces: a concession which followed a five-year "experiment" that initially allowed the five Westernmost jurisdictions to move their Ascension date to the weekend.

To put it mildly, no shortage of things have changed since then, above all the makeup of the bench. Indeed, it's hard to think of more than five still-active prelates (of some 250) who would've cast a vote on this question, and all but one of them are now in very different provinces than they were at the time.

More to the point, the last two decades have brought something of a tidal shift across the board, even as its wake has pulled in two very different directions: in the Northeast, where 1994's ample numbers of priests and people have largely been obliterated due to aging and atrophy, the region's historic premium on tradition – and, to be sure, the ever-sacred Holy Day Collection – is a lot more costly these days... while even as a thousand and more new communities have bloomed to points South and West, amid presbyterates that've either grown or, at best, barely kept pace to serve the boom, in many places said epochal ascent has brought a more deeply-rooted sense of Catholic identity to the fore, one in which days like this make for a particular flashpoint, and a very desirable one to maintain at that.

In other words, since there's no need whatsoever for the prior generation's judgment to hold today's Church hostage, the Ascension Day vote can be retaken at any time... and if it were, one way or another, odds are the resulting map would look rather different. It wouldn't exactly be rocket-science to pull off, either – the majority of diocesan bishops in any given province would be able to petition for a change on their respective turf. Toward that end, the exigencies of a different Church in a different age make this question feel like something at least worth discerning anew, that the needs and aspirations of God's People in our situations today might best be served as they are, instead of as they were two decades and an ecclesial age ago.

All that said, in the grand scheme of things, the date is but window dressing. For all the hand-wringing that remains over when this feast is (or isn't) celebrated, to engage in that while missing out on what the day actually means – and the responsibility and work that it requires – only creates yet another vapid distraction from the lone thing that matters most....

Evangelization takes place in obedience to the missionary mandate of Jesus: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20). In these verses we see how the risen Christ sent his followers to preach the Gospel in every time and place, so that faith in him might spread to every corner of the earth.

The word of God constantly shows us how God challenges those who believe in him “to go forth”.... The Church which “goes forth” is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice. An evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, that he has loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:19), and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast. Such a community has an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of its own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy.


Let us try a little harder to take the first step and to become involved. Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. The Lord gets involved and he involves his own, as he kneels to wash their feet. He tells his disciples: “You will be blessed if you do this” (Jn 13:17). An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others. Evangelizers thus take on the “smell of the sheep” and the sheep are willing to hear their voice. An evangelizing community is also supportive, standing by people at every step of the way, no matter how difficult or lengthy this may prove to be. It is familiar with patient expectation and apostolic endurance. Evangelization consists mostly of patience and disregard for constraints of time. Faithful to the Lord’s gift, it also bears fruit. An evangelizing community is always concerned with fruit, because the Lord wants her to be fruitful. It cares for the grain and does not grow impatient at the weeds. The sower, when he sees weeds sprouting among the grain does not grumble or overreact. He or she finds a way to let the word take flesh in a particular situation and bear fruits of new life, however imperfect or incomplete these may appear. The disciple is ready to put his or her whole life on the line, even to accepting martyrdom, in bearing witness to Jesus Christ, yet the goal is not to make enemies but to see God’s word accepted and its capacity for liberation and renewal revealed. Finally an evangelizing community is filled with joy; it knows how to rejoice always. It celebrates every small victory, every step forward in the work of evangelization. Evangelization with joy becomes beauty in the liturgy, as part of our daily concern to spread goodness. The Church evangelizes and is herself evangelized through the beauty of the liturgy, which is both a celebration of the task of evangelization and the source of her renewed self-giving.

I am aware that nowadays documents do not arouse the same interest as in the past and that they are quickly forgotten. Nevertheless, I want to emphasize that what I am trying to express here has a programmatic significance and important consequences. I hope that all communities will devote the necessary effort to advancing along the path of a pastoral and missionary conversion which cannot leave things as they presently are. “Mere administration” can no longer be enough. Throughout the world, let us be “permanently in a state of mission”....

There are ecclesial structures which can hamper efforts at evangelization, yet even good structures are only helpful when there is a life constantly driving, sustaining and assessing them. Without new life and an authentic evangelical spirit, without the Church’s “fidelity to her own calling,” any new structure will soon prove ineffective.

I dream of a “missionary option” – that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her [own] self-preservation. The renewal of structures demanded by pastoral conversion can only be understood in this light: as part of an effort to make them more mission-oriented, to make ordinary pastoral activity on every level more inclusive and open, to inspire in pastoral workers a constant desire to go forth and in this way to elicit a positive response from all those whom Jesus summons to friendship with himself.
–Pope Francis
Evangelii Gaudium ("The Joy of the Gospel")
24 November 2013
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Tuesday, May 03, 2016

In Metuchen, The Mission Begins

A few weeks ago, when the newly-named Bishop Jim Checchio got a personal moment to thank the Pope for his appointment, Francis asked for his pick's ordination date and kept repeating it to himself "so I can remember to pray for you then."

So it seems, the Man in White didn't just recall the date, but he must've somehow gotten wind of the motto Checchio chose – at the monthly General Audience for Jubilee pilgrims on Saturday, Francis focused his talk on the same four words: St Paul's exhortation to "Be reconciled to God."

As the beginnings of an episcopal ministry go, it's all been rather auspicious... then again, for the rector who led the Pontifical North American College through an extraordinary decade of growth and vitality, it was always bound to be.

And so, just a week after the son of Camden marked his 50th birthday, at the close of one of the largest ordinations these shores have seen in recent years – featuring five cardinals, 60 bishops and some 300 priests – below are the prodigal Jerseyite's inaugural remarks this afternoon on coming home (albeit up the Turnpike) and landing in the reins of the 680,000-member Metuchen diocese:



On a historic note, as this summer marks 15 years since the last time a NAC rector was returned home to receive the hat, it's worth highlighting that said figure – now the Cardinal-Archbishop of New York – was duly present for today's rites, seated alongside his predecessor atop The Hill, now the Cardinal-Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher.

In other words, wherever the road may lead from here, this isn't where the story ends.

Along those lines, part of today's drama will have to wait – but not too long – as a certain piece of it begins to unfold in full over the weeks and months ahead.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

In Havana, The Revolution Continues – After Cuban Church's "Prince," Pope Picks A Pastor

For the last four years, this has arguably been the global church's most important pending appointment... and over that time, the stakes have only increased.

After the long wait – and a geopolitical shift that revolutionized the context – it's finally come to pass: at Roman Noon this Tuesday, the Pope named Juan García Rodríguez, the 68 year-old archbishop of Camagüey in central Cuba, as archbishop of Havana and de facto chief of the island's church, retiring Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino after a landmark reign of almost 35 years.

In an unusual shot for its time, the archbishop-elect – then the president of the Cuban bishops – is seen above at the right hand of President Raul Castro during the 2010 dedication of the new national seminary outside Havana, which marked the island's first opening of a religious building since the 1959 Revolution that swept Communism into power. And with today's nod, García – a native son of the diocese he's led until today – now fully trades the intimate, earthy confines of "cow country" for the religious and political gauntlet of the capital in an ongoing moment of massive transition, one whose outcome is far from settled.

On one side, the incoming archbishop becomes the church's principal voice in Cuba and its lead representative to the Communist government, a role which saw Ortega secure major incremental concessions for the church's freedom from the officially atheist state, but likewise made him a magnet for scorn among the influential exile community, which accused the cardinal of turning a blind eye to the regime's human-rights violations in exchange for the increased openings for Catholic life and activity in the open.

As if navigating that tightrope wasn't enough, the 2.8 million-member Havana church is said to be in need of better cohesion in light of both the diversity of its presbyterate and a sense of listlessness at the helm given Ortega's priority on working the political stage both at home and abroad, a legacy whose capstone came in the cardinal's role as a linchpin intermediary in securing the watershed 2014 agreement between Cuba and the US which marked the most significant breakthrough between the estranged countries since the 1959 Revolution. Already a figure close to the now-Pope – whose game-changing "mission statement" given during the pre-Conclave General Congregations of the cardinals was released by Ortega days after Francis' election – the Cuban's victory lap saw another triumphant moment on Palm Sunday when, minutes after President Obama became the first US head of state to visit the island since the 1920s, the cardinal was the First Family's tour-guide as they visited Havana Cathedral (right).

While Ortega's critics have seen fit to deride him for his realpolitik strategy and the "prince"-like style he took up as the capital's archbishop, one meaningful backstory nonetheless bears recalling: like many other young Cuban priests and religious who chose not to flee the island during what's been called "the worst repression" of the faith in the Revolution's wake, the future cardinal was imprisoned in a government "re-education camp" with the intent to break the remnant's commitment to the church and their ministry. As a ranking op mused about the experience, "the generation that stayed went to hell and back [to] keep the faith alive" in their homeland.

Amid the multi-tiered scene, following the Pope's mobilization of his diplomatic A-team to facilitate the pact – which brought the restoration of full bilateral relations and a major easing of half-century old financial and travel restrictions for Americans – the choice of Ortega's successor only became a more charged matter for Francis and his team, especially as one of its key players (the Sostituto of the Secretariat of State, Archbishop Angelo Becciu) was himself Nuncio to Havana from 2009-11.

Indeed, at the US deal's inception, the delicacy surrounding the negotiations was so intense that when Becciu's successor on the island, Italian Archbishop Bruno Musaro, aimed to publicly accuse the Cuban government of "human and civil degradation" during a 2014 Mass while on vacation at home, he was quickly whisked out of the post. Yet even as the initial thaw has now been expanded to include regular US flights and cruises to Cuba and an ever-increasing flood of American investment has been allowed to pour onto its shores, last week's Communist Party Congress set the stage for more long-term tumult as Fidel Castro alluded to facing death in a rare public appearance, while the gathering's choice of hard-line figures for its top leadership posts signals little political change should President Raul Castro fulfill his pledge to leave office in 2018. (Whoever succeeds Raul as head of state, last week saw the president's reelection to the party's top post for the next five years.)

Against the challenging backdrop, meanwhile, the most striking thing about Francis' appointee is García's concerted lack of political involvement. Said by those who know him to be "very humble," "low-key" and "bearing the smell" of his flock, a 2013 primer on the Cuban bishops with an eye to Ortega's succession noted that – at least, at the time – the now-chosen prelate hadn't figured much in conversations for Havana, but pointedly perceived the eventual choice as "very much a bishop in the style of Pope Francis: known for his missionary spirit and as a man of prayer with the ability to remain calm in the midst of any storm."

Along these lines, Whispers' Havana Desk relayed that García's name began credibly circulating for the post shortly after Ortega's 50th anniversary as a priest in summer 2014, an event which was notably attended (left) by the Pope's principal North American adviser, Cardinal Seán O'Malley OFM Cap. of Boston, himself a figure with a long history of involvement in Cuban affairs. From the flip-side, meanwhile, with members of his own family living in the exiles' prime base of South Florida – where he was recently spotted on visits – García is no stranger to his opposite end of the 93 Mile strait, either.

On another significant front, having been president of the island's dozen-member bench from 2007-10, García led the Cuban delegation to the decennial plenary of the Latin American bishops at Aparecida in 2007, whose closing message – rooted in a call for the church to engage an ongoing "continental mission" – was drafted by then-Cardinal Bergoglio of Buenos Aires in a document that remains a very clear and specific manifesto of Francis' vision of the church. In his own diocese, meanwhile, the Havana pick is said to have an exemplary, unpretentious closeness with his priests in Camaguey, where he pastored several parishes before his appointment as the lone auxiliary in 1997. He was named to succeed his mentor, Archbishop Adolfo Rodríguez Herrera, five years later.

Asked about the role of bishops in the new evangelization as the lone Cuban present at the 2012 Synod on the topic, García defined his task as "going into the homes of the people.

"When I go out [to the people]," he said, "the priests follow, the deacons follow... the nuns follow, the laity follow, and often, they even get ahead of me."

"A mother doesn't rest," García replied when asked about the church's optimal style of outreach. "She wants to feed, she wants to teach. She always hopes her child says 'yes,' that he might learn, and she has patience and creativity" to accomplish that end.

Boiled down, it doesn't get more Francis than that. And while time will tell for certain whether the Pope's choice of a pastor from his ever-cherished "peripheries" was geared more toward achieving the church's internal conversion – or, indeed, to maintain Ortega's wide berth as the church's Negotiator-in-Chief with the Castros – odds are it's a bit of both. In any case, it's already been said that the choice of his successor has come as a "surprise" even to Ortega, himself.

The first indication of the new state of things is likely to come once the government broaches its rumored intent to "regularize" the fraught status of the island's church – a process which will involve high-wire talks over the return of parish and institutional property seized by the Communists after the fall of Batista – to say nothing of the ostensible, long-frame road toward a concordat: the treaty between the Holy See and Cuba which would establish the rights and conduct of the island's Catholic life in international law.

On the broad scene, with the retirement of the Cuban titan months before his 80th birthday, one last long-reigning cardinal holds the helm of his diocese as his ninth decade quickly approaches: Karl Lehmann of Mainz, long the godfather of German Catholicism's progressive wing, who ages out of his Conclave vote on 16 May.

The most prominent figure by far to express an openness to the resignation of John Paul II as the now-canonized Pope struggled through his final months – a move for which Lehmann was excoriated by conservatives (among other things which wouldn't happen today) – the cardinal chaired the German bench for an extraordinary 21 years as the conference's elected head from 1987 to 2008. Since 2014, the post has been held by Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich – a member of Francis' all-important "Gang of 9," whose ascent has seen him become no less a lightning rod.

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Sunday, April 24, 2016

To the Young, and Well Beyond, "Love Doesn't Happen Because We Talk About It, But When We Live It"

As the Amoris Wars rage on – with nary a glimmer of light nor witness to show for all the mountains of clickbait – this weekend saw one of the Vatican’s largest events of this 13-month Holy Year: a Jubilee pilgrimage for teenagers, which drew over 100,000 young people to Rome as the Pope pitched in to hear their Confessions yesterday in the Square (above) and the city’s Olympic Stadium hosted a prayer rally and concert.

Closing out the gathering this morning with the Jubilee’s biggest outdoor liturgy to date, Francis’ homily was more a life’s lesson from the high-school teacher he once was than any kind of high-church exegesis. If anything, though, it fits the moment – as recent days have shown how at least some of the ecclesial conversation needs to re-engage the faith at a far simpler level than magisterial documents, this message’s most important audience might just be a bit different than its intended one….
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35).

Dear young friends, what an enormous responsibility the Lord gives us today! He tells us that the world will recognize the disciples of Jesus by the way they love one another. Love, in other words, is the Christian’s identity card, the only valid “document” identifying us as Christians. It is the only valid document. If this card expires and is not constantly renewed, we stop being witnesses of the Master. So I ask you: Do you wish to say yes to Jesus’ invitation to be his disciples? Do you wish to be his faithful friends? The true friends of Jesus stand out essentially by their genuine love; not some “pie in the sky” love; no, it is a genuine love that shines forth in their way of life. Love is always shown in real actions. Those who are not real and genuine and who speak of love are like characters is a soap opera, some fake love story. Do you want to experience his love? Do you want this love: yes or no? Let us learn from him, for his words are a school of life, a school where we learn to love. This is a task which we must engage in every day: to learn how to love.

Before all else, love is beautiful, it is the path to happiness. But it is not an easy path. It is demanding and it requires effort. Think, for example, of when we receive a gift. It makes us happy, but receiving a gift means that someone generous has invested time and effort; by their gift they also give us a bit of themselves, a sacrifice they have made. Think too of the gift that your parents and group leaders have given you in allowing you to come to Rome for this Jubilee day dedicated to you. They planned, organized, and prepared everything for you, and this made them happy, even if it meant that they had to give up a trip for themselves. This is putting love into action. To love means to give, not only something material, but also something of one’s self: one’s own time, one’s friendship, one’s own abilities.

Look to the Lord, who is never outdone in generosity. We receive so many gifts from him, and every day we should thank him… Let me ask you something. Do you thank the Lord every day? Even if we forget to do so, he never forgets, each day, to give us some special gift. It is not something material and tangible that we can use, but something even greater, a life-long gift. What does the Lord give to us? He offers us his faithful friendship, which he will never take back. The Lord is a friend forever. Even if you disappoint him and walk away from him, Jesus continues to want the best for you and to remain close to you; he believes in you even more than you believe in yourself. This is an example of genuine love that Jesus teaches to us. This is very important! Because the biggest threat to growing up well comes from thinking that no one cares about us - and that is always a sadness - from feeling that we are all alone. The Lord, on the other hand, is always with you and he is happy to be with you. As he did with his first disciples, he looks you in the eye and he calls you to follow him, to “put out into the deep” and to “cast your nets wide” trusting in his words and using your talents in life, in union with him, without fear. Jesus is waiting patiently for you. He awaits your response. He is waiting for you to say “yes”.

Dear young friends, at this stage in your lives you have a growing desire to demonstrate and receive affection. The Lord, if you let him teach you, will show you how to make tenderness and affection even more beautiful. He will guide your hearts to “love without being possessive”, to love others without trying to own them but letting them be free. Because love is free! There is no true love that is not free! The freedom that the Lord gives to us is his love for us. He is always close to each one of us. There is always a temptation to let our affections be tainted by an instinctive desire to “have to have” what we find pleasing; this is selfishness. Our consumerist culture reinforces this tendency. Yet when we hold on too tightly to something, it fades, it dies, and then we feel confused, empty inside. The Lord, if you listen to his voice, will reveal to you the secret of love. It is caring for others, respecting them, protecting them and waiting for them. This is putting tenderness and love into action.

At this point in life you feel also a great longing for freedom. Many people will say to you that freedom means doing whatever you want. But here you have to be able to say no. If you do not know how to say “no”, you are not free. The person who is free is he or she who is able to say “yes” and who knows how to say “no”. Freedom is not the ability simply to do what I want. This makes us self-centred and aloof, and it prevents us from being open and sincere friends; it is not true to say “it is good enough if it serves me”. No, this is not true. Instead, freedom is the gift of being able to choose the good: this is true freedom. The free person is the one who chooses what is good, what is pleasing to God, even if it requires effort, even if it is not easy. I believe that you young men and women are not afraid to make the effort, that you are indeed courageous! Only by courageous and firm decisions do we realize our greatest dreams, the dreams which it is worth spending our entire lives to pursue. Courageous and noble choices. Do not be content with mediocrity, with “simply going with the flow”, with being comfortable and laid back. Don’t believe those who would distract you from the real treasure, which you are, by telling you that life is beautiful only if you have many possessions. Be sceptical about people who want to make you believe that you are only important if you act tough like the heroes in films or if you wear the latest fashions. Your happiness has no price. It cannot be bought: it is not an app that you can download on your phones nor will the latest update bring you freedom and grandeur in love. True freedom is something else altogether.

That is because love is a free gift which calls for an open heart; love is a responsibility, but a noble responsibility which is life-long; it is a daily task for those who can achieve great dreams! Woe to your people who do not know how to dream, who do not dare to dream! If a person of your age is not able to dream, if they have already gone into retirement… this is not good.Love is nurtured by trust, respect and forgiveness. Love does not happen because we talk about it, but when we live it: it is not a sweet poem to study and memorize, but is a life choice to put into practice! How can we grow in love? The secret, once again, is the Lord: Jesus gives us himself in the Mass, he offers us forgives and peace in Confession. There we learn to receive his love, to make it ours and to give it to the world. And when loving seems hard, when it is difficult to say no to something wrong, look up at Jesus on the cross, embrace the cross and don’t ever let go of his hand. He will point you ever higher, and pick you up whenever you fall. Throughout life we will fall many times, because we are sinners, we are weak. But there is always the hand of God who picks us up, who raises us up. Jesus wants us to be up on our feet! Think of the beautiful word Jesus said to the paralytic: “Arise!”. God has created us to be on our feet. There is a lovely song that mountain climbers sing as they climb. It goes like this: “In climbing, the important thing is not to not fall, but to not remain fallen!. To have the courage to pick oneself up, to allow oneself to be raised up by Jesus. And his hand is often given through the hand of a friend, through the hand of one’s parents, through the hand of those who accompany us throughout life. Jesus himself is present in them. So arise! God wants us up on our feet, ever on our feet!

I know that you are capable of acts of great friendship and goodness. With these you are called to build the future, together with others and for others, but never against anyone! One never builds “against”; this is called “destruction”. You will do amazing things if you prepare well, starting now, by living your youth and all its gifts to the fullest and without fear of hard work. Be like sporting champions, who attain high goals by quiet daily effort and practice. Let your daily programme be the works of mercy. Enthusiastically practice them, so as to be champions in life, champions in love! In this way you will be recognized as disciples of Jesus. In this way, you will have the identification card of the Christian. And I promise you: your joy will be complete.
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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Four days.... Two major movements....

But, folks, we're not done yet – indeed, nowhere close.

If anything, Friday's release of Amoris Letitia and this morning's appointment of the new Stateside Nuncio are merely the beginning of storylines whose fallout will continue to loom large on the scene over the next several weeks.

Between those two, another round of the usual curveballs – and a "Final Four" soon in the offing – the spring cycle ahead should make for a very full plate. As it's always been 'round here, though, keeping at the news is only possible thanks to this readership's part at keeping the shop's bills paid.

Much as this scribe likes keeping the only ad you'll ever see here at a minimum, with the usual monthly expenses currently running into the annual tax onslaught, the Whispers budget faces another mountain to get past for these pages to continue doing what they do best.

Long story short: as it's the one thing the news-side can't pull off, Church, this one's all yours....


...and now, back to it. At least, here's hoping.

Even more than usual, this should be fun... and as it awaits, God reward you real good – all thanks as always.

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The Pope's Border Song – Francis Names Pierre as Nuncio to US

Expected for weeks, it's now real: at Roman Noon, the Pope named 70 year-old Archbishop Christophe Pierre as his Nuncio to the United States, retiring Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò three months after the post's holder since 2011 turned 75.

While the incoming occupant of 3339 Massachusetts Av NW may exercise the ecclesial prerogatives of his new posting immediately, the secular piece of Pierre's role – as the Holy See's ambassador to the Federal government – can only get underway once he presents his credentials to President Obama.

Given the Frenchman's assignment until today as Nuncio to Mexico, his arrival is expected to take place within a quicker timeframe than the usual 6-8 weeks since, unlike any prior choice for the DC posting, Pierre doesn't need to move across an ocean to make it there.

For all the rest, the following piece anticipating the move was originally published here last month as reports of the choice began to emerge.

More to come... in the meantime, discerning readers might want to revisit Francis' now-famous February speech to the Mexican bishops, in whose drafting Pierre's voice is said to have held a significant weight.

* * *
10 March 2016 – Less than two months since Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò reached the retirement age of 75 – and, indeed, all of two days after the topic came up here – the choice of his successor as Apostolic Nuncio to the US is reportedly at hand: in a piece published earlier today on his Settimo Cielo blog, the conservative Italian vaticanista Sandro Magister indicated that Archbishop Christophe Pierre (above), the 70 year-old French-born legate to Mexico, is the Pope's selection for the Washington posting, with an announcement said to be "imminent."

A mission-chief for 20 years – and the Vatican's man in the global church's second-largest outpost since 2007 – the reported choice would mark another move by Francis to highlight the "peripheries" toward which the pontiff has ceaselessly prodded the church; Pierre's first assignment as a Nuncio was a four-year stint (1995-99) in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. In addition, two weeks after the Pope's long-desired stop at Mexico's US border – and subsequent doubling-down on the advocacy that spurred it – what would be a provocative transfer north given the US' current political climate would bring a figure intimately familiar with matters of immigration as the Holy See's representative to the US government, to say nothing of the Nuncio's role as the Pope's eyes, ears and voice to an American Catholic fold which has been transformed (and, in some quarters, roiled) by a historic influx from Latin America. On yet another key front, unlike the prior lead occupants of 3339 Massachusetts Av NW, Pierre would arrive in the States with an unusually well-steeped understanding of the church in the Southern and Western US, which have jointly surpassed the old bastions of the Northeast and upper Midwest over recent years to become the home of a majority of the nation's 70 million faithful.

All at once, the prospect of Pierre's appointment would both come as a surprise and not as one. While the name of the Frenchman has circulated in authoritative circles only over the last six weeks or so, from the outset of the succession planning, the most widely cited name for the DC post has been Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the bubbly Italian who won great acclaim and affection in New York's church and diplomatic circles over his eight years as the Holy See's permanent observer to the United Nations headquarters there.

Now 63 and transferred to Poland in 2010, the onetime "deputy foreign minister" in the Secretariat of State notably became the first quarterback for the Vatican's amplified environmental push under Benedict XVI, which Migliore championed on the Holy See's behalf in the UN's deliberations. That said, a current of opposition to Migliore's appointment to the US began circulating early this year, and given the word of Pierre's selection, the Mexico rep.'s experience with migration issues – and the Pope's ostensible desire to send another message on their import – would appear to have tipped the balance in his favor, as well as a likely reluctance to transfer the Nuncio to Warsaw with months to go before Francis' late July trek to Poland for World Youth Day in Krakow.

An informal cleric described as friendly and "savvy," one ranking op who knows Pierre praised the choice, telling Whispers that the archbishop "knows how to hold onto the rudder in the midst of storms." Given the tensions of the moment on church and civil fronts alike on this side of the border, that skill would be in for quite the test.

*   *   *
As Francis marks the third anniversary of his election on Sunday, it bears recalling that Papa Bergoglio has bucked the tradition of his predecessors in opting to stick with the US representative he inherited for a lengthy period of time. Over the last half-century and more, each new Pope has traditionally placed a diplomat of his own choosing in Washington within the first year or two of his pontificate, reflecting the assignment's immense clout both on geopolitical and ecclesial fronts, above all in the Nuncio's most consuming and consequential function: compiling the extensive amounts of consultation, research and reports which set the stage for the appointment of every American bishop.

Named to the US in October 2011, Viganò's assignment to the post was widely perceived as an "exile" from Rome in the wake of his unsuccessful campaign to root out mismanagement and graft in Vatican City's finances and contracts as the city-state's deputy mayor. Within weeks of his arrival in Washington, the archbishop's earlier pleas to Benedict for his support in the reform effort became a centerpiece of the incendiary "Vatileaks" document haul, which destabilized the Curia for the bulk of 2012 while winning Viganò a reputation for courage in the face of apparently irredeemable corruption.

In the wake of Francis' election, the new Pope's push for Curial accountability and a financial cleanup led to well-placed expectations that Viganò would see his triumphant return to Rome in a top post. The speculation turned to naught, however, after a smear campaign by the archbishop's enemies which circulated in the Italian press is believed to have short-circuited the move.

Having laid the groundwork for the Pope's markedly successful East Coast trip last September, the career diplomat landed in the center of another firestorm in the visit's wake when it emerged that Kim Davis – the Kentucky county clerk whose brief imprisonment for refusing to perform same-sex marriages on religious freedom grounds became a cause celebre in the culture wars – was quietly greeted by Francis at the DC Nunciature between public engagements. In a remarkable clarification issued in response to the furore caused by word of the meeting, a Vatican statement said that, with Davis among "several dozen" people present, "such brief greetings occur on all papal visits and are due to the Pope’s characteristic kindness and availability."

Emphasizing that "the Pope did not enter into the details of the situation of Mrs Davis and his meeting with her should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects," the statement sought to further distance Francis from the clerk in adding that "the only real audience granted by the Pope at the Nunciature was with one of his former students and his family." Long based in Washington, the former student was later found to be openly gay and had brought his partner to the encounter.

Having won wide esteem among the US bishops with his gracious style, quiet assists and commitment to a heavy travel schedule to take part in local church events, Viganò was feted by the bench at last November's plenary in Baltimore with the traditional champagne sendoff which the USCCB accords to a Vatican representative attending his final meeting. That said, as the archbishop's success at ultimately obtaining the appointments of those he's recommended has largely been stymied by the influence of the Stateside cardinals on the Congregation for Bishops – whose votes determine the ultimate endorsement of a candidate to the Pope – Viganò's "swan song" pick on these shores is understood to have been the July elevation of one of his favorites, Fr Robert Barron, as auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles. At the time, the move stoked widespread amazement among the American hierarchy given the highly unusual transfer of the Chicago-based media titan to the global capital of pop culture.

As previously reported, with almost a dozen of the nation's 197 dioceses currently awaiting new leadership, the bulk of the docket has been in a holding pattern over the last several months in anticipation of a new Nuncio. Once the transition has taken place, further delays are expected as the newcomer reviews the pending files and familiarizes himself with the lay of the land.

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