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A Pentecostal Reflection: Don Bosco and the Salesians

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Fr. Mike Pace, SDB

All around us, this miracle of nature reveals the life-giving work of the Holy Spirit. Fifty days after the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead, we celebrate the great Feast of Pentecost – when the same Spirit who at the dawn of time hovered over the chaos of nothingness to give us God’s gift of creation – breathed new life into the hearts, minds and souls of the once frightened Apostles, and the ever-faithful Virgin Mary, and in this way gave birth to the Church. From the Upper Room in Jerusalem, the Spirit of God, like a mighty wind and with tongues of fire, went forth to draw to the Risen Jesus people of every race and tongue.

Eighteen centuries later, that same Spirt worked a new Pentecost in Turin, Italy. The Holy Spirt breathed new life into the heart, mind and soul of a little boy who would grow up to be the voice of the Spirit for the young, St. John Bosco, whose bicentenary of birth we celebrate this year.

The Holy Spirit spoke to Don Bosco through many different means, including dreams. As a nine year old boy, the Spirit revealed to him the scope and purpose of his life: to teach the young the ugliness of sin (life outside the life giving power of the Spirit) and the beauty of virtue (a life crafted in response to the Spirit’s promptings).

To the young, the poor and the abandoned of Turin’s Industrial revolution, the Holy Spirit sent Don Bosco to stir up new flames of hope from the ashes of despair, to breathe transforming dignity into places of shame, and to enkindle a network of meaningful relationships through education, faith formation and responsible social service. Thus, generations were freed from the bleak, dehumanizing cycle of poverty and exploitation… and the ever-expanding Salesian family was born.

In apostolic times, the Holy Spirit commissioned Christian disciples to become witnesses of the Lord, even to the ends of the earth. That same Spirit would inspire Don Bosco to send Salesian missionaries beyond Italy to every continent on the planet. Ever since November 11, 1875, Salesian missionaries have brought the Gospel to every continent, to peoples awaiting the Springtime of Divine Love, inviting them to join the symphony of joy and optimism that comes through knowledge of Christ and active membership in his Body, the Church.

This year, the Great feast of Pentecost falls on May 24, which is also the feast day of Don Bosco’s Madonna, Mary Help of Christians. Just as Mary did for Don Bosco back then, so she does for us today: she helps us to fix our gaze on Jesus, to say YES to his life giving Spirit, so that we may continue the work of Pentecost, in the style and spirit of Don Bosco, praising God for our share in that symphony of life that is written in the “key of youth”, a privilege and a responsibility which divine providence has entrusted to us as sons and daughters of Don Bosco. Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created. And you shall renew the face of the earth.

Written by Father Michael Pace SDB, Pastor, guest blogger. 

Popes asks for prayers for Catholics in China – Perspectives Daily


Tonight on perspectives Pope Francis made a special appeal for prayer for Catholics in China and we take alook at today’s general audience

“The Pope’s economics message is hard to dismiss because the facts are so real,” says US economist

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Point of View: Interpreting the Francis Effect is an S+L series that goes deeper into the questions surrounding the person and pontificate of Pope Francis.  The series consists of a selection of the full interviews from S+L’s original documentary The Francis Effect. Find the full schedule for Season 2 of POV here.

All new tonight: Charles Clark, PhD

The highly anticipated visit of Pope Francis to the United States in September will help define his pontificate. He is one of the most popular and beloved global figures, but he will undoubtedly bring a challenging and potentially divisive message regarding economic ideologies and the Church’s resurging preferential option for the poor. Nowhere will his remarks on economics—whatever they entail—be felt more strongly than on North American soil.

The Pope has said just enough over the past two years to stir enormous controversy, not only in the economic world, but in the Church as well.  Disagreements among Catholic economists over the Pope’s statements in The Joy of the Gospel are common. Some critique his views as narrowly Latin American, while others see them as coming straight out of the Church’s long-standing social doctrine.

Charles Clark is a Catholic economist belonging to the latter group—he’s a professor of economics at St. John’s University, NY and an advisor to the Holy See Mission to the United Nations. He applauds Francis for pushing an evidence-based critique of the global economy, and says the Pope’s call to put human beings at the center of all economic activity has profound consequences for the way we think about money and wealth, and—more importantly—how we choose to use them.

Tonight for the first time on S+L TV, viewers can see the full interview I conducted with Charles Clark on the Pope’s economic ideas and vision for a Church that is inclusive; one that is of and for the poor.

Watch Episode 5 of Point of View: Interpreting the Francis Effect
Airs Wednesday, May 20, 2015
9:00pm ET / 6:00pm PT
Only on Salt and Light Television

Leadership Lessons of two Latin American Pastors: Oscar of San Salvador & Jorge of Buenos Aires (& Rome)

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In his message for the World Day of Peace on January 1, 1972, Blessed Paul VI wrote: “Convinced as we all are of this irrepressible cry, why do we waste time in giving peace any other foundation than Justice? …Is it just, for example, that there should be entire populations which are not granted free and normal expression of that most jealously guarded right of the human spirit, the religious right? What authority, what ideology, what historical or civil interest can arrogantly claim a right to repress and stifle the religious sentiment in its legitimate human expression?

…The problem is extremely serious and complex; it is not for us to make it worse, or to resolve it on the practical level. …But it is precisely from this place that the invitation we give to celebrate Peace resounds as an invitation to practice Justice: “Justice will bring about Peace” (Cf: Is 32:17). We repeat this today in a more incisive and dynamic formula: “If you want Peace, work for Justice”.

I would like to share with you some thoughts on two Latin American pastors and bishops who understand very well what the above words mean. The first Latin American pastor was an Archbishop – the chief Shepherd of San Salvador – Oscar Arnulfo Romero y Goldamez, born in 1917 in the town of Ciudad Barrios, in the mountains of El Salvador near the border with Honduras. After serving as a country pastor and rector of two seminaries, he became bishop then archbishop at time of great social unrest in his country. His pulpit became a source of truth when the government censored news. Romero walked among the people and listened. “I am a shepherd,” he said, “who, with his people, has begun to learn a beautiful and difficult truth: our Christian faith requires that we submerge ourselves in this world.”

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Through his life and ministry, Archbishop Romero taught us that thinking with the Church meant to be rooted in God, loving and defending the poor, and out of fidelity, paying the price for doing so. He risked his own life as he defended the poor and oppressed. He laid down his life for his friends.

The spirituality and faith behind his struggle for life flowed from his belief in the God of the living who enters into human history to destroy the forces of death and allow the forces of life to heal, reconcile, and lift up those who walk in the valley of death. Romero taught us that poverty and death go together.

Oscar Romero’s life also speaks to us today by virtue of his untiring call for dialogue and negotiation. In a society that was terribly polarized, a society in which the usual way to relate to persons with whom one disagreed was to assassinate them, Romero always tried to open a space for communication, conversation, and understanding. In 1980, Romero brought the opposing sides of the government of El Salvador together for hours of talks, urging that the junta be given another chance. His example of bridge-building can be of particular importance to any nation today where change is often seen as a process of the oppressed taking on the pinstripes of the oppressors.

Oscar Romero’s untiring efforts on behalf of the poor give flesh and blood to the words of Mary’s Magnificat in the New Testament. In making her own the words of Hannah of the Old Testament’s prayer of praise to God, Mary reminds us that “God has cast down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.” But God has not put the lowly up on the thrones of their oppressors! The problem is the thrones themselves that serve as a constant temptation to power, distortion, violence, abuse and manipulation. Romero’s life offers a completely different model of societal transformation. His plea for forgiveness, reconciliation and mercy is of paramount significance. Oscar Romero modeled for us the opposite of what the world models. The world thrives on manipulative, exploitative, competitive power. Romero embodied nutritive and integrative power: power on behalf of the other and a power shared with others.

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Murdered in cold blood by an assassin’s bullet as he celebrated Mass in a hospital on March 24, 1980, his last words in the sermon just minutes before his death reminded his congregation of the parable of the wheat. “Those who surrender to the service of the poor through love of Christ, will live like the grain of wheat that dies. It only apparently dies. If it were not to die, it would remain a solitary grain. The harvest comes because of the grain that dies…”

Archbishop Romero defended the right of the poor to organize and he was very critical of popular organizations that became overly or one-sidedly political. His wariness of politicization is especially important to us today as many nations, groups and even elements of the Church struggle to move from being narrowly political societies to becoming civil communities and forming a civilization of love.

Oscar Romero testified that the church must be the voice of the voiceless and the incessant defender of life. The church must passionately pursue justice, but without identifying itself with any one particular party or any one particular ideology. This can be a very difficult and challenging struggle, a veritable mine field or high wire balancing act. To walk this tightrope was especially challenging in the El Salvador of the ‘70s, which was so highly politicized that people were often not seen as persons, but instead, were identified only on the basis of their belonging to political parties or organizations. 

Jesuit Fr. Rutilio Grande, Archbishop Oscar Romero, the Maryknoll Missionaries and the Jesuit Martyrs of El Salvador were pastors, university professors, teachers and lay missionaries who were brutally murdered because of the questions which they asked about justice and peace; because they sought the truth of very difficult situations of suffering and massive injustice; because they believed dearly in the value of a Catholic, critical education, which put into practice what the best elements of our Church stand for. Each person was disciple, missionary, educator and evangelist and each was killed because the education and evangelization which they shared with their students and flocks touched the enormity of human suffering and pain all around them in El Salvador.

What happened in El Salvador to these men and women and what continues to happen to similar people around the world who are authentic teachers, disciples and witnesses is not so much a barbarous and bizarre anomaly… because authentic Catholic Education, true Evangelization and missionary discipleship must educate and evangelize men and women into the disciplined sensitivity toward the suffering in the world whoever and wherever they may be. This is part of the education and evangelization called for by the Gospel. For without a specific Gospel-rooted effort to bring about such a religious and humane education and evangelization in our educational and pastoral milieus today, we will simply graduate and form people unaware of pain, suffering and the real cost of being Christian and being disciples.

Pope kisses infant during World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro

The second is a Jesuit, the former Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires – Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now known to us as Pope Francis, the Bishop of Rome. As Cardinal Archbishop of Argentina’s capital – a diocese with more than three million inhabitants – Cardinal Bergoglio developed and implemented a pastoral missionary plan based on communion and evangelization. He had four main goals: open and brotherly communities, an informed laity playing a lead role, evangelization efforts addressed to every inhabitant of the city, and assistance to the poor and the sick. He asked priests and lay people to work closely together in the work of evangelization and education of the people. During many years of fruitful pastoral ministry, Cardinal Bergoglio insisted, “Teachers of the faith need to get out of their cave,” and the clergy “out of the sacristy.” He required parish priests to live with their people, and in the same conditions as their people, even in radical simplicity and poverty. Authentic pastors should have the “odor of the sheep” if they are to be effective and credible.

When Cardinal Bergoglio spoke of social justice, he called people first of all to pick up the Catechism and to rediscover the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes. His project was and remains very simple: if you follow Christ, you understand that “trampling upon a person’s dignity is a serious sin.”

“My people are poor and I am one of them”, Cardinal Bergoglio said so often, explaining his decision to live in an apartment above a school and cook his own meals. He frequented the Villas Miserias, advised his priests to show mercy and apostolic courage and to keep their doors open to everyone. One year before his election to the See of Peter, the Cardinal wrote a pastoral letter in which he reprimanded his own priests for refusing the Sacrament of Baptism to the children of single mothers.

His life was radically changed two years ago March 13 when “Padre Jorge,” as he was known by so many in Argentina, became Pope Francis. We have all witnessed and been recipients of his Petrine Ministry for the past two years. Since his election as Bishop of Rome, he has captured the mind and heart not only of the Church but also of the world. He has not changed a single doctrine of the Church but has ushered in a way of speaking, a new style of leadership that has shaken the Church and impacted the world.

Pope Francis kisses foot of inmate at Rome prison

Some call him a revolutionary. At the heart of his message is a transformative call to reconciliation and mercy. As leader of the Catholic Church, he asks us to let go of different forms of thinking and the desire to impose certain ideas at all costs. He proposes a humble way of committed people who base their lives on Gospel living. For Francis, compassion and mercy can truly change the world. This is the Christian revolution: namely a conversion to the origin of the Gospel message as a way to the future, a true revolution of tenderness and mercy.

Pope Francis’ electrifying homily to the new Cardinals in St. Peter’s Basilica on February 15, 2015, is one of the most significant addresses that he has given in his two-year pontificate. Centered on “the Gospel of the marginalized,” it provides a road map for Catholic Church leaders and educators. Commenting on Jesus’ cure of the leper in Mark’s Gospel, he said, “Compassion leads Jesus to concrete action: he reinstates the marginalized!” Jesus responds “immediately” to the leper’s plea “without waiting to study the situation and all its possible consequences” because “for Jesus, what matters above all is reaching out to save those far off, healing the wounds of the sick, restoring everyone to God’s family!”

“This is scandalous to some people! but Jesus is not afraid of this kind of scandal! He does not think of the closed-minded who are scandalized even by a work of healing, scandalized before any kind of openness, by any action outside of their mental and spiritual boxes, by any caress or sign of tenderness that does not fit into their usual thinking and their ritual purity. He wanted to reinstate the outcast, to save those outside the camp.”

Francis finds the contemporary Church at a crossroads: “There are two ways of thinking and of having faith: we can fear to lose the saved and we can want to save the lost.” There is “the thinking of the doctors of the law, which would remove the danger by casting out the diseased person,” and “the thinking of God, who in his mercy embraces and accepts by reinstating him and turning evil into good, condemnation into salvation and exclusion into proclamation.”

“These two ways of thinking are present throughout the church’s history: casting off and reinstating,” Francis said. He recalled that Sts. Peter and Paul caused scandal, faced criticism, resistance and even hostility for following the path of reinstatement. Francis, and many of those who have embraced his message and strive to follow his example are also being criticized today for the same things: for not casting off but striving to reinstate those who are on the peripheries for a variety of reasons. …In healing the leper, “Jesus does not harm the healthy. Rather, he frees them from fear. He does not endanger them, but gives them a brother.

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The Church of Francis is the Church of Jesus Christ

Francis wants the church to be an instrument of reconciliation and welcome, a church capable of warming hearts, a church that is not bent over on herself but always seeking those on the periphery and those who are lost, a church capable of leading people home.

Pope Francis is neither conservative nor liberal but a radical who wants to bring about a revolution of mercy. In Evangelii Gaudium, he invites and challenges all of us to move beyond our “comfort zones.” He wants us to be warm, welcoming and forgiving. He wants us to eat with tax collectors and sinners; he wants us to forgive the woman caught in adultery (while admonishing her to sin no more); he wants us to welcome and respect foreigners (even our enemies), and, above all, not to judge others. He has spoken simply, powerfully and beautifully about returning to lost unity, a desire to achieve a missing fullness, a disarming invitation to simply come together to witness to the beauty of the love of Christ. He wants to build bridges that everyone can cross. He is especially conscious of the poor and those who have been marginalized, social outcasts kept on the fringes of society.

For Pope Francis, authentic power is service: Power in the Church is not about who kisses one’s hand but how many feet one can wash in the service of Christ. Pope Francis made this clear when he visited a youth detention center on his first Holy Thursday in Rome in 2013 and chose to wash the feet of young offenders, including two young women and two Muslims. He continued that tradition last year by washing the feet of elderly women and men and those with severe handicaps. This year on Holy Thursday, he washed the feet of 12 prisoners at Rome’s Rebibbia prison – incarcerated women and men. If we do not learn this Christian rule, we will never be able to understand Jesus’ true message on power and be effective teachers, educators, pastoral workers, and agents of justice and peace.

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The Christian realism of the “Joy of the Gospel” is beyond reactionary ideology and pie-in-the sky spirituality. A little compassion can move the world, Francis says. That is the Christian revolution at the core of Francis’ Petrine ministry, a conversion to the origin of the Gospel message as a way to the future, a revolution of mercy.

Pope Francis has a passion for the poor, the immigrant, the forgotten, and the “throw-aways.” He is the first Pope from the Southern Hemisphere, and the first from Latin America; these are the areas of the world where poverty is so great. Francis is inviting us to become witnesses, missionaries and disciples. That is our mission today. It is not new. Francis has brought new urgency, new passion, and I would suggest, new authenticity to this mission.

Francis of Buenos Aires (and Rome) and Blessed Oscar Romero of San Salvador are disciples, shepherds and missionaries, role models and Gospel witnesses, agents of reconciliation and builders of communities of faith. Francis leads the Church on earth, and Oscar watches over us from the heavenly Jerusalem. Their longing for reconciliation of the human family and their desire for justice and peace compel us to work for justice and peace in our time. Let us learn from the bold examples of these two Latin American pastors.

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, is CEO of the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation in Canada and English language assistant to the Holy See Press Office.

 

Palestinian women canonized during Pope’s busy weekend – Perspectives Daily


Today on Perspectives: Palestine has two new saints, President Mahmoud Abbas and Pope Francis have a cordial meeting, and the Pope meets with different groups of religious men and women.

Bishop Gary Gordon on Prison Ministry – Perspectives Daily

Today on this special edition of Perspectives, Bishop Gary Gordon of Victoria, BC talks to us about prison ministry.

The Church in the Digital Age

White smoke billows from chimney of Sistine Chapel after cardinals elected new pope

For an institution that still uses smoke signals to communicate the election of a new leader one wonders how the Church will respond to the challenges of the digital age? When I reflect on this topic, I can’t help but remember when the good old Pope Benedict launched News.va. That’s right, in case you’ve forgotten, it was Pope Benedict’s finger that launched NEWS.VA.

Isn’t there something incredible about an image of a Council Father, like Pope Benedict, launching a news portal via an ipad. Two worlds literally meeting at the tip of a finger. Reminds me of the scene of Adam and God in the Sistine chapel.

In light of the World Communications Day, I caught up with Professor Daniella Zsupan-Jerome, Author of Connected Toward Communion: The Church and Social Communication in the Digital Age to share some insights with us:

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Professor Daniella Zsupan-Jerome with iPad that Pope Benedict used to launch @Pontifex

Today we celebrate the 49th World Day for Social Communications. Any thoughts on the Pope’s Message?

I recommend praying with this beautiful document. It invites us into the family of Jesus to re-learn some of the beauty and richness of human communication. The meditation on the Annunciation and the Visitation are especially profound as Pope Francis leads us to recognize how communication itself was made sacred in the Word becoming flesh through the yes of Mary. True to form, Pope Francis guides us from meditation to recognition in our own lives: to the reality of our own families and how communication emerges and grows from this basic human experience. I love his reflection on the womb as “the first school of communication” where the encounter between mother and child, “so intimately related while still distinct from each other, an encounter so full of promise, is our first experience of communication.”

I also appreciate the challenge he names regarding digital culture: “The great challenge facing us today is to learn once again how to talk to one another, not simply how to generate and consume information.” He is calling us back to encounter here, back to recognizing the person in front of us, back to the basic posture of relationship that we are made for in the image and likeness of God. He challenges us here I think to think creatively and faithfully about how to do this in and through digital communication.

The Church in many places seems to still prefer analogue communication like radio (or smoke signals), are we ready for the digital age?

One of the reasons I love the Roman Catholic Church is because of its long-history of being “multimedia” as well as its beautiful theology of communication. Our theology set us up to think in terms of mediation, sacramentality, and grace present in and through something that conveys or carries it. We think of God’s relationship with us as God’s self-communication. We consider Christ as the Word Incarnate. We live empowered by the Spirit who has given us the ability to speak. All of these are a solid foundation for thinking about communication today.
The Catholic tradition is a multimedia tradition: we honor the body as our primary medium, we embrace the stuff of the earth as our sacramental symbols, we have a long history of art, performance, music, manuscript, print and even electronic media to illuminate, educate and inspire. All this makes us not only ready for digital culture, but sets us in a position of thought-leadership in terms of how to do this well.

Ok, what are some of the practical implications for priestly and lay formation?

If we are living in a digital culture, then it is important to begin to think in cultural terms, rather than simply about specific tools, skills or platforms to use in ministry. For ministerial formation, this means thinking more broadly. For priestly formation, it raises questions about how to teach, govern and sanctify digital culture, or more specifically, the people we are called to serve in our digital culture. For the lay minister, it is about how to live a baptismal call to share the Gospel, to be a communicator of Good News in the digital age, whether at home, at work, in our social and professional contexts. For both lay and priestly formation, this brings an intentionality to communication, and engenders communication that is, at its core, an act of giving oneself in love. Even when it comes to a text or tweet, this is possible.

Pope Francis seems to be a pretty savvy communicator, judging from his twitter followers and famous selfies, anything we can learn from him?

Openness to learning and trying something new, courage to look “human” while doing it, and the commitment to seek encounter with people through the screen, especially those who need healing and reconciliation the most.

In your book you made an interesting observation about the location of the Media on the Council Father’s agenda. Mind letting us in on that ‘Conciliar joke’?

At the first session of the Second Vatican Council, the Council Fathers placed the discussion on Inter Mirifica (Decree on Mass Media) intentionally following the discussions on the liturgy and revelation, and preceding forthcoming discussions on Christian unity, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the church. Wedged between these heavier topics, the discussion on the topic of social communication was anticipated to be lighter, even called an “opportunity for relaxation” by Cardinal Cento, the president of the commission that oversaw the preparation of the schema on this topic. I am not sure how relaxing the discussion was, even if it dealt with the media. Over two and a half days, fifty-four Council Fathers gave a verbal address and an additional forty-three submitted written feedback. This sounds like work.

Stay tuned for an upcoming episode of Catholic Focus featuring an interview with Professor Daniella Zsupan-Jerome!

CherdianS1The Producer Diaries

Cheridan Sanders, a Producer at Salt and Light Television, reflects on her experiences as she travels the world telling Catholic’s stories.

 

 

 

Behind Vatican Walls: Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez

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Caritas Internationalis began its general assembly in Rome this week. The keynote speaker for the weeklong meeting is Father Gustavo Gutierrez, the Peruvian priest commonly considered the “father” of Liberation Theology. At a press conference before the start of the meeting Fr. Gutierrez spoke about why the Church and Caritas devote attention and resources to helping the poor. Of course Fr. Gutierrez was also asked several questions about Liberation Theology and his relationship with the Vatican. Here is a summary of some of his comments.

Speaking in Spanish and Italian Fr. Gutierrez answered several questions about theology, Liberation Theology, his relationship with the Vatican, and the work of helping the poor.

When asked about the role of theology, Fr. Gutierrez answered:

“There can be no charity without justice. Theological reflection must be tied to people’s daily life. Theology is not a religious mysticism but a reflection on the practice of charity, compassion, mercy and justice. Seen this way theology can help give a certain vision to those who are engaged in the practical work of justice and charity. It’s a modest role.”

He followed that by adding, “For the Christian the important thing is to follow Jesus and put into practice what he teaches, what we call spirituality. Theology is a secondary thing, less important than living the faith – but it is necessary because it helps make the practice of faith more effective. It helps, modestly.”

He emphasized his point saying, “Theology is not secondary in a derogatory sense, but I mean to say if I had not spoken of theology in the last 40 years I would still be Christian.”

Inevitably Fr. Gutierrez was asked about the Vatican’s position towards liberation theology. His answer:

“Liberation Theology was never condemned, never. If anyone said that, it was not true. There was dialogue with the congregation [for the doctrine of the faith] about Liberation Theology, a critical dialogue, that is true.”

Asked whether his appearance at the Vatican was a rehabilitation of Liberation Theology Fr. Gutierrez answered just as directly:

“Rehabilitation is not the exact word to use. At this moment the climate around this theology is different, that is true. But to say it is a rehabilitation means that as some point there was a ‘dis’ habilitation and this was never the case. It is just another time. What is important is a rehabilitation of the Gospel.”

***

On Thursday Caritas members elected Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle as the new president of the international confederation.

Watch Vatican Connections:

Photo – CNS/Paul Haring

AliciaEvery week brings new, exciting, and sometimes juicy headlines from behind Vatican walls and every week Alicia delves deeper into one of those headlines. For a full run down of what’s been happening behind Vatican walls, watch Vatican Connections. Already watch the program? Come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issue, headline or person.

Helping us see things a bit more clearly: remembering the late Cardinal George

+georgeCheridan and Sebastian pose with Cardinal George at his residence following an interview for The Church Alive series in 2012.

It’s been one month since the death of Cardinal Francis George of Chicago and personal stories and reflections continue to be shared across the media by people all over the world who either knew him or recognized his great contributions to the American Church and beyond.

I was not close to the Cardinal, but I did have the chance to meet him a number of times and on one occasion do an extended interview with him for S+L (the interview appeared in various episodes of The Church Alive).  So, I’m not surprised that people continue to write about him in the weeks after his death—a trend that will continue I’m sure.  Those who had the opportunity to meet him know that despite his small and fragile stature he was a giant of a man in so many ways, and the depth and richness of his Christian life warrant our enduring admiration and gratitude.

Allow me—a passerby of sorts—to contribute to the amassing collection of memories of Cardinal George and share the experience of our first meeting that remains fixed in my mind.

It was the spring of 2012 and I was part of an S+L team at DePaul University covering World Catholicism Week.  Connected to the trip was an arranged interview with Cardinal George at the historic Archbishop’s residence at 1555 North State Parkway just off Lincoln Park.

It was near the beginning of my time at S+L and the interview was my first “big one”.  I knew the Cardinal by reputation only: a brilliant and piercing intellect matched only by his personal warmth and gentleness.  I knew less about the residence and when we arrived with the help of GPS we looked at each other in daunting disbelief.

We did have an appointment, but I remember approaching the front door feeling like Frodo Baggins and co. outside the sealed walls of Moria.  We hesitatingly pressed the doorbell and a few moments later the door was slowly opened by a very serious-looking security guard (btw, we didn’t need to say “mellon”, the Elvish word for “friend”).

He didn’t say much but gestured us in, with cameras and lights in tow, and took us to an elegant room on the same floor in the north-east corner of the house.  We began setting up and about 10 minutes later the Cardinal limped in—he suffered from polio from age 13—and welcomed us to his home.

He was soft-spoken off camera and very gracious.  He asked us how long it would take to set up and when we told him about fifteen minutes he excused himself to take care of a few other business items.

When he returned, we told him a bit about our vision for The Church Alive series and he said, “very good, very good,” and sat down.  He was particularly interested in our episode on Catholic education, a subject that was very dear to him and a longtime focus of his episcopal ministry.

We had two things in mind when we prepared the questions for the interview.  First, because the show was about the new evangelization we knew we had to get back to basics, the fundamental principles of the Catholic faith.  Second, we were looking at the big picture, that is, how those fundamental principles could be arranged in a comprehensive and comprehensible way for people today.  So we focused on the Church’s understanding of things like education, religious liberty, the role of the media and, of course, politics.

For me sitting opposite the Cardinal, the interview was like travelling through hyperspace.  I was prepared, but it was one of the few times in my career that I became lost, in the best sense of the word, in the responses of my guest.  He answered very complex questions immediately, as though they required little reflection, but used language that was simple and direct, like a calculator.  He was precise, eager to go straight to the heart of the matter without wasting breath on peripheral considerations.

We had been talking about a force at work in the society, both in Canada and the US, seeking to purge all education of religious influence, and at one point I asked him what makes a Catholic education unique (as opposed to a secular or public education).  Very assuredly the Cardinal said:

“Well a Catholic school is the only place where you can have a serious conversation. You can talk about God; you can’t do that in a government school. You can talk about our future, not only here but after this life—who are we therefore? Why do we regard people as ends and not as means? What is the source of human dignity? You can’t raise those questions in a government school. And so they’re not free. We’re free.”

Later when I had time to review and process the interview, it struck me that he had this unique ability to remove the fog of complexity surrounding very significant issues and provide a rational and progressive (in the sense of forward-thinking) response.  To link the issue of what can be discussed in a school with the issue of freedom of thought and speech is enormously consequential.  A cry for the removal of religious matter from the education of young people is narrow and restrictive; it is precisely the opposite of freedom, and that’s why the Church opposes it.

Such was the ability of Cardinal Francis George to suddenly and unexpectedly open our minds and spark our imaginations.  After the interview he showed us a few monuments in the historic house and we took some photographs together.  He sent his best wishes to the S+L staff and encouraged us in our work.  We left on an intellectual high and confident in the direction we were taking our new TV series.

There is a lot of great content in The Church Alive, but the Cardinal’s contribution was singularly profound, in my opinion.  I’m grateful for having had the chance to interview him on that occasion; I will never forget that hour in which the fog was lifted and I was able to see things a little more clearly thanks to him.

May he rest in peace.

SebastianGOn Further Reflection
In the complex world of the 21st century there are more questions than answers. The challenge for the Church is to find new and effective ways of bringing the Gospel message into the conversation.  For her part, the Church can act as a much needed voice of dialogue, reason and charity. On Further Reflection invites readers to go beyond the headlines to see the deeper realities affecting the church and society.  Sebastian Gomes is a producer and correspondent for S+L TV.

Decline in Christianity in the United States- Perspectives Daily

Today on Perspectives, the Cuban Bishop’s Conference releases dates for the pope’s trip to the country, a new research survey shows Christianity has significantly declined in the US and we look at what remains in of Aramaic.