Is your neighbor a Saint?

SebastianAssisi

Historically speaking, the church had to take root somewhere. When in the early 30’s AD Jesus of Nazareth was executed, rose from the dead and sent his Spirit to be with his little band of disciples, Rome was the dominant political and social player. Peter and Paul brought the faith to Rome before being executed there, and the institutional church has been intimately tied with the city ever since.

Four hundred and fifty years later, the Roman Empire fell and the then predominant Christian religion became the last surviving bastion of Roman memory and culture. It’s with good reason then, that we call it the Roman Catholic Church. The natural result of this planting of the church in a particular city and country has been the ‘Romanization,’ and in modern history the ‘Italianization,’ of the Catholic Church.

Among other things, the Roman and Italian church has produced a huge percentage of our saints and blesseds – men and women held up as models of the Christian life. Many have been influential, not only in the development of the Christian faith, but also in the development of what we know today as the Western world. St. Francis of Assisi is arguably the greatest, and certainly the most beloved example.

Another dominant figure is Benedict of Nursia (“Norcia” in Italian), the founder of Western monasticism. Living some seven hundred years before Francis, Benedict sought refuge from the wild city life of Rome at a place called Subiaco in central Italy before moving to Monte Cassino where he established a monastery based on his Rule.

The vast influence of both Benedict and Francis is undeniable. And so it’s quite remarkable that they were born only a short distance from each other; it’s about 80 kilometers from Assisi to Norcia, through the hills and mountains of Umbria.

I recently made the trip from Assisi to Norcia to visit the birthplace of St. Benedict, and what struck me most was the proximity of the two cities. And, I discovered, Sts. Francis and Benedict aren’t even the only saints in the region! Coming from a country like Canada, where we have only a handful of saints, I was taken aback.

I spoke to the Franciscan Sisters I was with as well as a few of the locals and the question arose as to why Italy has so many saints; so many saints from so many small and peripheral cities! Almost every little Italian town or city, it seems, has its own saint or blessed, most of whom we’ve never heard of and are venerated especially in his or her hometowns.

The fact that the church has been established in Italy for so many centuries was the obvious answer. But then the idea of a simple and practical sanctity arose, and the fact that historically, the Italian people may have a gift for recognizing holiness in others. This, I thought, was a great topic and lesson for those of us from some of the “younger” parts of the world.

Imagine, the ability to see a simple and perhaps a common holiness in the people around us. I immediately recalled those wonderful words of Pope John Paul I, the smiling pope who was known for his simplicity and humility: “Lived holiness is very much more widespread than officially proclaimed holiness… Coming into Paradise, we will probably find mothers, workers, professional people, students, set higher than the official saints we venerate on earth.” (Omnia opera, vol. VI)

There are many things we can do on a daily basis to become better Christians, and the church certainly provides good examples for us in the lives of the saints. Do we need, perhaps, to spend a bit more time recognizing the saints around us: people in our parish, coworkers, community activists, parents, teachers, family members? Could holiness really be an inclusive rather than an exclusive quality? There certainly is a case to be made, as Pope Francis has said, “I have a dogmatic certainty: God is in every person’s life.” (The Jesuit Interview)

Know the Scriptures, know Christ

At Salt and Light, we make a concerted effort to keep alive the memory of the Second Vatican Council. It’s not, as some might think, because we appreciate history. It’s because we look to the future.

Those Catholics who are familiar with the history and context of Vatican II and with the sixteen official documents it produced can appreciate the courage and wisdom of the Council Fathers to construct a road map for our times on essential issues like the Church in the modern world (Gaudium et Spes) and the role of the Laity in the life of the church (Apostolicam Actuositatem).

But, interestingly enough, a strong argument can be made, and is made, for the primacy of another Council document that at first may not appear to be particularly novel.  It’s the document on Divine Revelation, the word of God (Dei Verbum).

Today access to the Scriptures is taken for granted. We even hear Pope Francis regularly instructing the faithful to carry a little book of the Gospels around, “in your purse, in your pocket, and read a passage from the Gospel during the day.” (Morning homily, Sept. 1, 2014)

But widespread reading and study of the Scriptures is a modern phenomenon. It was indeed a development when in 1965 the Council Fathers urged all Christians:

“…to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures the “excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:8). “For ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” Therefore, they should gladly put themselves in touch with the sacred text itself, whether it be through the liturgy, rich in the divine word, or through devotional reading, or through instructions suitable for the purpose and other aids…” (Dei Verbum, 25)

This document on Divine Revelation is not merely one element of the ecclesial vision of Vatican II. It is a cornerstone, precisely because it is a perpetual starting point; with the Scriptures a church can always be built.

At the same time, there is the great challenge today of educating Christians about the Scriptures. Valid questions from our contemporaries can be asked of any of us: how well do you know the Scriptures? What does it mean to know the Scriptures? How do you interpret the vicissitudes of history in light of the Scriptures? What do the Scriptures say in the context of our world today? How are they unique from other religious texts or holy books?

In our educational series The Church Alive, the Scriptures are brought to life in the context of our ongoing discussion on the New Evangelization. The accompanying study guide contains thirteen in-depth biblical reflections for personal use or group study sessions. It was natural for us to include this most essential element in the project. As the Bishops at the 2012 Synod on the New Evangelization wrote:

“Frequent reading of the Sacred Scriptures… is not only necessary for knowing the very content of the Gospel, which is the person of Jesus in the context of salvation history. Reading the Scriptures also helps us to discover opportunities to encounter Jesus, truly evangelical approaches rooted in the fundamental dimensions of human life: the family, work, friendship, various forms of poverty and the trials of life.” (Message to the People of God, 4)

Today there are all kinds of programs and self-help initiatives designed to help people live more deeply meaningful or happy lives. In the Church we are encouraged to practice spiritual exercises, to participate in the sacraments and pray on a daily basis.  An informed and educated frequent reading of the Scriptures should be near the top of that list.  And remember, there are two moments of encounter with the Real Presence at Mass: in the Eucharist, and in the word of God.

Evangelizing the culture

One of the differences between The Church Alive and other S+L series is that it wasn’t filmed in our own studios.  Admittedly, from the outset Cheridan and I succumbed to the “go big or go home” syndrome, because we were convinced that any serious attempt to appeal to young people and non-Catholics meant being visually on par with the best secular media productions.

So we reached out to the biggest and, in many ways, the best television production company in Toronto: the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).  We ended up with a team of about twenty people, many of whom work on popular programs like The National and Hockey Night in Canada.  Apart from being extremely professional and efficient, we found them to be curious (dare I say interested) and highly supportive of what we were trying to do.

When we returned to our S+L studios after each day of filming, we would always comment to each other on this delightfully unexpected experience.  And it was affirming for us that such an organization, which from the outside looks indifferent or at least neutral to all matters Catholic, has within it people open to hearing about how God is working in the world.

The Catholic Church has a great story to tell, but it has to be told well.  And when we “do our thing” with confidence and joy, the results are staggering.  This is what I call evangelizing culture.  It sounds like a broad, theoretical idea.  But it’s really about one-on-one encounters and fostering relationships.

As you’ll see from this latest promotional video for The Church Alive, it was our desire for visual quality that brought us to the CBC studios.  Without them the series wouldn’t have happened.  I can’t help but think, in the context of the New Evangelization, that maybe our best and most penetrating work is done in collaboration with those outside the church as well.

The Gospel for the 21st century

How do you take the timeless truths of the Gospel and present them in new ways to the world of the 21st century?  Our new series The Church Alive seeks to start a discussion around that question.  But it’s not just about raising questions; we didn’t want to keep the New Evangelization in the philosophic sphere.  No, we also wanted to tell stories of where the New Evangelization is happening!

In this clip from our first episode entitled: What is the New Evangelization?, we bring you one of these stories about a hand written, hand illuminated Bible for the 21st century commissioned by the monks of Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota.  As you’ll see, a mixture of faith, creativity, tradition and love can be very potent, and can indeed bring life and light to a world in desperate need of the good news.

Inside the Basilica of Saint Francis: a lesson in catechetics

LadyPoverty

St. Francis weds Lady Poverty in the presence of the risen Christ (From the main apse in the lower church of the Basilica of St. Francis)

Protruding from the mountainside town of Assisi is the medieval Basilica of Saint Francis. From a distance the basilica looks almost as big as the town itself; a simultaneous testament to the Saint’s widespread influence and modest origins.

Still, the basilica is what most moderns would expect from an important medieval church: majesty, stunning architecture and extraordinary artistry. But look a little closer and the details also reveal a living spirit, with a keen pastoral and theological sense, and a bold effort to evangelize and catechize by adapting the timeless teachings of the Gospel to the lives of ordinary people.

The Second Vatican Council made the unprecedented decision of issuing a document that would look carefully at the Church’s relationship with the modern world. There is no authoritative document quite like Gaudium et Spes in the history of the Church. But it is not the first time an attempt to bridge the Church and the contemporary world has been made. The Basilica of Saint Francis is a perfect example.

The basilica consists of three levels: the upper church, the lower church (which was designed as a crypt), and the tomb of Saint Francis that lies beneath. Today it is quite common to see the old Romanesque arches and vaulted ceilings in churches across Europe. The lower church of the Basilica of Saint Francis was, in fact, one of the first major ecclesial structures to be built entirely in that style.

Both the upper and lower levels are lined with beautiful 13th and 14th century frescos depicting the life of Christ juxtaposed to the life of Francis. They are the largest medieval frescos, in terms of surface area, in the world.

Never in the history of Christian art had the life of an individual been so clearly compared with the life of Christ. The anonymous Italian painter known as the “Master of St. Francis” was, together with the Franciscan community, making a powerful and provocative statement about Francis.

The frescos themselves had a very practical purpose: they were the teaching tools for the people. In a world where very few could read or write, catechesis was done through images. The four-paneled apse of the lower basilica is a masterful work of pastoral and theological catechesis. The panel behind the altar depicts Francis enthroned in glory surrounded by the heavenly host. The painting is such that the angels appear in three dimensions, a technique which would define the Renaissance period approx. one hundred years later.

The other three panels depict the cardinal virtues of Franciscan life: poverty, chastity and obedience. They are filled with symbolism and images that must have sparked the imagination and provoked deep reflection. For the first time in Christian art we see images in the context of the natural world, that is, with trees, vines, grass and flowers in the background. This was a development, and a highly appropriate one considering Francis’ love of the natural world.

Many of the frescoes depict secondary characters and bystanders in the clothing of the day. This can easily go unnoticed, but the people of the 13th century would have recognized, for example, the familiar Florentine dress on the three magi above the right transept.  Imagine today walking into the church of a contemporary saint and seeing characters painted in jeans or a suit and tie!

The objective of these marvelously talented 13th artists was quite simple: bring the people of their day into the story of St. Francis, which was really the story of Christ. Spark the imagination of the masses and open the path of discipleship to anyone and everyone.  We might do well to think a bit more outside-of-the-box and take risks in order to entice and inspire the people of our time with our timeless message.

Check out Sebastian’s first post from Assisi! 

What is a Catholic education anyway?

STUDENTS ATTEND CLASS AT SETON HALL UNIVERSITY IN NEW JERSEY

Regardless of background, ethnicity or faith tradition, almost everyone in our society today would argue that education is important.  We all acknowledge that becoming an “educated” person is worthwhile.  We spend a huge portion of our earnings and savings (or all of them and more!) on achieving that goal.  But, what does it mean to be an educated person?

This is an especially important question for those seeking a “Catholic” education.  What does a “Catholic education” look like in 2014?  What is its goal?  How is it unique?

There has been a trend, of sorts, developing in the area of Catholic institutions across North America and particularly in the United States whereby a school tries to be more Catholic by becoming more isolated or removed.  An attitude of protectionism from the disintegrating culture drives these initiatives.  Granted, there aren’t many of them, but there are enough to draw attention and sway popular opinion towards a presumption that the attitude behind them is, in fact, that of the mainline Catholic Church.

In his address during the plenary session of the Congregation for Catholic Education in February of this year, Pope Francis warned that this kind of isolationism is not the answer to the problems facing our societies today, but rather, Catholic institutions must “know how to enter, with courage, into the Areopagus of contemporary cultures and to initiate dialogue, aware of the gift they are able to offer to all.”  He went on to say that “education in our times is guided by a changing generation, and that, therefore, every educator – and the Church as a whole is an educating mother – is required to change, in the sense of knowing how to communicate with the young.”

When the topic of education arises, especially regarding Catholic education, it is important to be aware of these two approaches: the isolationist and the dialogical-adaptive.  Catholics must ask themselves – not least because we are frequently being asked by others – what is a Catholic education?  It is clear how Pope Francis would answer the question.

This question is also the theme of one episode of Salt and Light’s series The Church Alive.  In the episode, we go to the foundation of the Church’s teaching on education and discuss how it must adapt to the modern world in order to effect change.  This program is essential for educators at the high school and university levels, and for adult faith formation groups at parishes.

Purchase The Church Alive at the Salt and Light store

Assisi: A place of living history

Basilica of St. Francis, Assisi

Basilica of St. Francis, Assisi

Perched on the side of a mountain in the central Italian province of Umbria is the historic town of Assisi, best known as the hometown of St. Francis, one of Christianity’s most revered saints.

I’ve spoken to many visitors to Assisi over the past few years – especially since Cardinal Bergoglio was elected pope and took the name of St. Francis – and they all seem to describe the little town in the same way: perfectly magical.

You can imagine my excitement and expectation then, when I discovered I would be living in Assisi for five weeks to study Italian at the Language Academy!  In my brief but fully immersed time here, I have experienced what many of those visitors preached.

Despite its compact layout, Assisi is home to seven major ecclesial sites including two basilicas dedicated to St. Francis and St. Clare, where their remains can be found for veneration.

Town of Assisi

Assisi, Italy

It is a hustling and bustling place; a mix of locals and tourists.  But this doesn’t seem to affect the quaint atmosphere.  The old stone buildings that make up the town, and the many narrow streets, stairways and shortcuts transport the visitor back to the 13th century when it first became a place of pilgrimage after Francis’ death.

This feeling of history, which is really a living history, makes Assisi one of those few places in the world where the past encounters the present and sparks the imagination.  Medieval history as we know it is often conceived from the perspective of those centers of the world that once composed ‘Christendom:’ Rome, Paris or Aachen or any number of places once dominated by the movers and shakers of that history.

Assisi is quite different, and yet is as historically significant.  It was never the center of major temporal power struggles or cultural battles.  It was, and is, a little town perched on the side of a mountain.  It is ‘off the beaten trail’ and ‘out of the way’ and all the more enticing for it.

It was only two years after Francis of Assisi died that he was declared a saint.  The foundations of the basilica built in his name that now dominates the Assisi skyline on the edge of the town were laid only a few decades later.  The countless pilgrims and visitors to Assisi over the centuries experienced what we experience: a small, charming town that is home to two of the most widely reverenced and highly respected individuals in Christian history.  It’s a place where your imagination can run free, as St. Francis’ did eight hundred years ago.

#WeAreN and the Importance of Christian Solidarity

 WeIt’s always interesting to see what’s “going viral.”  Oftentimes it’s a hit pop song or music video, or some other video giving a quick dose of ridiculous comic relief.  But sometimes the world of social media provides a sudden and real opportunity for all people of good will to unite behind a cause for justice on behalf of an individual or a particular group.  In the case of the hashtag “#WeAreN,” that recently spread rapidly through the Twittersphere, it is a cause for solidarity.

The trending hashtag is a response to the official announcement that the radical Islamist group known as ISIS (the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) has successfully ridded the city of Mosul, located in northern Iraq in the biblical region of Nineveh, of its Christian population.  The 2,000 year old faith community had little choice than to leave when the radicals threatened to kill them if they refused to convert, pay a tax or leave the city without their belongings.

The letter “N” in the hashtag stands for “Nazarene,” i.e. a Christian, which the Islamists have been branding on the houses of Christians in Arabic for identification purposes.  The derogatory tone in using such symbolic lettering blatantly resembles the Nazi tactic of identifying German Jews prior to and during WWII. Speaking to Pope Francis via telephone last Sunday, the Patriarch of the Syriac Catholic Church Ignatius Youssef III Younan called the ISIS efforts a “massive religious cleansing campaign.”

In response, a global outcry has arisen on behalf of Mosul’s Christians including some Muslim communities.  Pictures are being shared over the internet, for example, of Christians and Muslims standing side-by-side in Baghdad protesting the extremism in the north.

Along with countless others, the Church of England changed its Twitter profile photo to the Arabic symbol for “N” in order to “stand with those showing solidarity for those Christians being persecuted in Mosul.” (@c_of_e)

Pope Francis has been no less outspoken, and his frequent references to an emerging “ecumenism of blood” over the past year seems to have found concrete expression as a result of the crisis in Mosel.

To see such widespread support for the suffering Christians is an incredible and inspiring thing and it reminds us of the amazing possibility of unity and reconciliation that is born of chaos.  But it is also an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of solidarity, how it shines forth from the heart of the Gospel, and why therefore it is one of the fundamental principles of the Church’s social teachings.

We have to say firstly that most people and most Catholics today are uninformed about what the Church means by solidarity.  It should also be said that the participation of so many well-intentioned and genuinely outraged individuals in the #WeAreN movement is not necessarily the full expression of what the Church means by solidarity.

As the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church states quite clearly, “Solidarity is… not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good.” (CSDCC, 193)

In other words, solidarity is not a fleeting emotion or a popular reaction to a particular event.  For the Church there’s no such thing as a kind of ‘solidarity à la carte,’ as Pope Francis might call it (Evangelii Gaudium, 180).  Solidarity means being in it for the long-run; it is recognizing in the great pain and suffering of other human beings the unacceptable lack of justice, inclusiveness and unity that are essential for every human society and our collective progress.  Solidarity is “a commitment to the good of one’s neighbor with the readiness, in the Gospel sense, to ‘lose oneself’ for the sake of the other instead of exploiting him, and to ‘serve him’ instead of oppress him for one’s own advantage.” (CSDCC, 193)

In a recent CNS article, Chaldean Archbishop Amel Shamon Nona of Mosul said that “Words do nothing,” and that his community expects “all Christians to show solidarity with concrete action” and “without being afraid to talk about this tragedy.”

In the same article, Chaldean Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni of Baghdad said, “We need action first. The world is not bothering with what is happening to Christians in Mosul.”

Through a few creative minds and the power of social media, millions of people are becoming aware of the crisis in Mosul and throughout Iraq.  The trending hashtag #WeAreN has united Christians, Muslims and many people of good will.  The common motivation to participate undoubtedly stems from some form of belief in the fundamental rights and equality of human beings.  It is a hopeful sign.

As Christians it is important to go deeper.  Solidarity, like being a Christian, is a way of life; it is about action.  In fact, it is through the lenses of faith that solidarity transforms into an even more powerful force, ultimately inspiring a person “to take on the specifically Christian dimensions of total gratuity, forgiveness and reconciliation.  One’s neighbor is then not only a human being with his or her own rights and a fundamental equality with everyone else, but becomes the living image of God the Father… One’s neighbor must therefore be loved, even if an enemy, with the same love with which the Lord loves him or her.” (CSDCC, 196)  Let us pray for our brothers and sisters from Mosul, and that we may have the strength to stand in solidarity with them.

New S+L Documentary tackles Syrian Refugee Crisis

middle eastIt was not too long ago that we heard about the Syrian civil war every night on the news.  As the original struggle of the Syrian people for greater liberty morphed into a violent tit-for-tat with Bashar al-Assad’s government, the eyes of the international community were fixed on the country, appalled daily by the skyrocketing death toll.

A significant result of that more than three-year war, of which there is yet no end in sight, has been the displacement of millions of Syrian citizens, mostly to the neighboring countries of Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.  While they have for the time being escaped the deadly violence of the conflict, their state of living has greatly deteriorated.

The fear of the citizens of the Middle East is that this extraordinary crisis will become ordinary, i.e. “the norm.”  Refugee camps have sprung up and continue to grow throughout the region, while a lack of resources and infrastructure in the host countries diminishes the hope that a more dignified social and economic co-existence can be nurtured between citizens and refugees.

In collaboration with the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, Salt and Light Television has moved into the initial stages of producing a feature documentary on the terrible reality faced by millions of Syrians and their families.  It will also look at how the host countries are dealing with the crisis and how the Catholic Church is responding through the work of Caritas and Development and Peace.  We hope to remind the world that this crisis is still just that: a crisis, and that the devastating prospect of a permanent refugee presence in the Middle East remains, and may be materializing before our eyes.

Stay tuned for more information in the coming months.  To learn more about the work of Development and Peace amidst the Syrian crisis click here.

 

Who will take ecumenical dialogue to the next level?

ecum2CNS Photo: Pope Francis meets with Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria, Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, during a private audience in the pontiff’s library at the Vatican May 10, 2013

By Sebastian Gomes

Last week I was at a parish in Vancouver giving a talk on Pope John XXIII in preparation for his canonization in April of this year, and a very important question was raised by one of the priests concerning ecumenism today.

Let me give some background information.  The talk focused primarily on the life of Angelo Roncalli: his spiritual development, his rise in the church’s diplomatic corps, and his unforeseen election to the papacy in 1958.  He is best remembered, of course, as the pope who convoked the Second Vatican Council, probably the most significant religious event of the 20th century.

When Pope John made the first public announcement of his intention to call a council on January 25th, 1959 he expressed his desire that the Council not only be for the Christian faithful, and that the church invite “the separated Communities to seek again that unity for which so many souls are longing in these days throughout the world.”

Once the preparatory work began for the Council, ecumenism was brought to the fore.  Pope John established the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity and insisted it have the same status as the other Commissions.  Over 150 ecumenical delegates attended the Council from 1962 to 1965 and they were given prime real estate in St. Peter’s Basilica, directly across from the Cardinals.

If you’re familiar at all with the history of Vatican II, you know that the initial schemas (draft documents) presented to the bishops during the opening session were thrown out because they simply reiterated the status quo.  What most people don’t know is that ecumenical motivations played a pivotal role in this decision.  The initial schema on “the Sources of Revelation,” for example, had to be completely revised because the bishops felt it would be a roadblock to deeper and more meaningful dialogue with non-Catholic Christians.

By the end of the Council, the Catholic Church had completely updated its position on its “separated brothers and sisters.”  Dr. Oscar Cullmann, a prominent Protestant observer, noted that “new ground has been broken.”  

Certainly we can say that something new happened at that historic meeting.  Over the past fifty years the dialogue has continued, but the hurdle of full unity remains to be overcome.  In light of this, people tend to ask: where do we go from here?  After my talk on Pope John, a priest of the Vancouver diocese raised another question that should probably get more attention, namely: who is capable of taking ecumenical dialogue to the next level?   

Throughout my talk I had noted the profound similarities between Pope John and Pope Francis.  And given that Francis is shaking things up at all levels of the Catholic Church, who’s to say he won’t launch an ecumenical rocket?  I immediately responded that Francis is probably the only person capable of pushing the dialogue forward with any decisiveness, and I noted his conscientious emphasis on synodality over papal primacy since he was elected.

I returned to Toronto and continued to ponder this question.  Then I recalled a meeting I had attended of the Ontario Bishops’ Assembly for Ecumenism and Interfaith Dialogue in November of last year.  Bishop Don Bolen of Saskatoon was the main presenter at the seminar, himself a great advocate for ecumenical dialogue having served on the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity from 2001-2008.

In one session Bishop Bolen drew our attention to the Pope’s Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium that had just been published that month.  In chapter four, section IV entitled Social Dialogue as a Contribution to Peace, Francis addresses the current state of ecumenical dialogue in the context of evangelization writing that Catholics, “…must have sincere trust in our fellow pilgrims, putting aside all suspicion or mistrust, and turn our gaze to what we are all seeking: the radiant peace of God’s face.” (Evangelii Gaudium, 244)

The Bishop astutely pointed out that this language of “sincere trust” was not attributable to the papacy until now, and suggested that even a small development – like such a change in tone or emphasis – can make a world of difference going forward.  Coming from someone who has worked so close to the engine room, his further observation that, “We are seeing this papal teaching develop before our very eyes,” is no small thing.

It is still early in Francis’ pontificate to speculate about what will happen on the ecumenical front.  But nobody doubts the sincerity of his words or the decisiveness with which he means to act.  His trip to Israel in May, where he and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the historic meeting of their predecessors Paul VI and Athenagoras, will be worth paying close attention to.

In our day-to-day lives as Christians, it might seem like everything is static.  Dialogue takes a long time to bear fruit.  Still, the work for Christian unity moves forward and we should never presume that ground-breaking shifts – such as we experienced at Vatican II – can’t happen.  We also can’t forget the remarkable similarities, in style and substance, of Pope John and Pope Francis.