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Two Eyes & a Smile, Innocence & Goodness

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Photo credit: Salt + Light


Remembering Cardinal Loris Capovilla & the Saint he served so well…

St. John XXIII’s personal secretary, Cardinal Loris Capovilla died Thursday at the age of 100. It is not possible to speak of him without speaking of Pope John XIII, and to speak of them both is to speak of the Second Vatican Council. Shortly after the canonization of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II two years ago, Sebastian Gomes and I had the great privilege of spending a day in Sotto il Monte and visiting with Cardinal Capovilla. I shall never forget our lively conversation that day, as well as the day I spent last year after the October 2014 Synod of Bishops at the Vatican when I returned to Sotto il Monte to film a long interview with the Cardinal who was then 99 and still going strong.

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Photo credit: Salt + Light

During our first visit with the Cardinal in 2014, he shared with us his memories of the Second Vatican Council and where the whole idea started. A few weeks after the conclave which elected Cardinal Angelo Roncalli as Pope in 1958, Pope John XXIII called his faithful young secretary, Monsignor Capovilla, to his office in the Apostolic Palace. The Pope told him, “My desk is piling up with problems: with questions, requests, hopes. What is really necessary is a Council.”

“I kept quiet,” said Capovilla.

The Pope responded, “I have asked myself why my secretary, when I confide in him says nothing! But I know why,” he continued, “You think I’m old. You worry! You mean well, but you think I’ll make a mess out of this enormous task; that I don’t have time! Because you think like a commander, like a bank director! But that’s not the way you reason with faith. To receive a great inspiration, and regard it with admiration, and imagine your pleasure in it, is already of great merit. If God allows one to carry on with collaborators, who encourage one to move ahead, even better! And if one begins only with the first preparatory commission, that is of great merit. If one dies, another will come. It is a great honor just to begin!”

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Photo credit: CNS

Cardinal Loris continued to tell us story after story about the behind the scenes activities that led to the opening of the historic Council on October 11, 1962. The time spent with this holy, little man has left a deep and lasting impression on me, on Sebastian, and on some friends who were with us.

Capovilla also spoke with much emotion about the death of the ailing pontiff on June 3, 1963, only a few months after the Council began. On that warm, Roman June evening, only a few people were gathered around the Pope’s death bed in the Papal apartment. Capovilla told us: “I said to him, Holy Father there are only a few of us here in this room, but if you were to look out of your window onto the piazza you would see crowds of people. I thought he’d reply in his usual reserved manner, but instead he responded: “naturally that’s the way it should be because the Pope is dying, I love them, they love me.”

Cardinal Capovilla also told us the story of when he was kneeling at the bedside of the dying Pope. The Pope called him over and whispered, “When this is all over, be sure and go see your mother.”

To the end, Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli was a human being, more concerned with his faithfulness than his image, more concerned with those around him than with his own desires.

Pope John’s personal secretary has often highlighted how rather than cultivate nostalgia, Papa Giovanni, the new saint proclaimed by Pope Francis, look towards the future. Capovilla told me last year in our final meeting and interview:

“We are not custodians of a shrine, a reliquary or a museum. As Pope John himself said we are called to cultivate a garden where the seed of the Word, of the Word Incarnate is set in an effort to foster the Advent of a New Pentecost, a new Easter, a new Spring. Not just for our personal happiness but for the happiness of all of humanity. It’s a long journey, we are far from our final destination, one that is not there merely to safeguard but to share with the people of the world”.

St. John XXIII has gone down in history as the ordinary man who astonished the world, by launching the Catholic Church into one of its most momentous epochs by calling the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. With an infectious warmth and vision, John stressed the relevance of the church in a rapidly changing society and made the church’s deepest truths stand out in the modern world. But according to Cardinal Capovilla, his faithful and loyal secretary and friend, to describe Pope John all that one need to say is: “Two eyes and a smile, innocence and goodness”.

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Photo credit: Archives in Sotto il Monte

Cardinal Capovilla also had high praise for Pope Francis, who created him a cardinal in February 2014. Speaking to me last year about Francis’ first Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Cardinal Capovilla reiterated to us how much the Gospel is the good news. But he also stressed this point to us: “What is this good news? It’s that I am a son of God and God does not abandon me. It’s wonderful to hear Pope Francis say almost every day that God does not reject anyone but accepts everyone”.

Now that Loris is united with his former boss and friend, John, may the two of them intercede for us and help us to keep alive the spirit and messages of the Second Vatican Council, and may they teach us to never forget that if we wish to change the world and the Church, what is required above is a smile, innocence and goodness.

Cardinal Capovilla’s funeral will take place on Monday morning, May 30 in the parish church of Sotto il Monte, near Bergamo.  He will be laid to rest in the cemetery of the ancient Abbey of Fontanella of Sotto il Monte, close to his priest friend Fr. David Maria Turoldo.

Loris and St. John, pray for us!

Pope Francis’ Homily for Corpus Christi

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On Thursday, May 26, 2016, Pope Francis celebrated Mass for the Feast of Corpus Christi. Below, find the full text of his homily:

« Do this in remembrance of me » (1 Cor 11 :24-25).

Twice the Apostle Paul, writing to the community in Corinth, recalls this command of Jesus
in his account of the institution of the Eucharist. It is the oldest testimony we have to the words of Christ at the Last Supper.

“Do this”. That is, take bread, give thanks and break it; take the chalice, give thanks, and
share it. Jesus gives the command to repeat this action by which he instituted the memorial of his own Pasch, and in so doing gives us his Body and his Blood. This action reaches us today: it is the “doing” of the Eucharist which always has Jesus as its subject, but which is made real through our poor hands anointed by the Holy Spirit.

“Do this”. Jesus on a previous occasion asked his disciples to “do” what was so clear to
him, in obedience to the will of the Father. In the Gospel passage that we have just heard, Jesus
says to the disciples in front of the tired and hungry crowds: “Give them something to eat
yourselves” (Lk 9:13). Indeed, it is Jesus who blesses and breaks the loaves and provides sufficient food to satisfy the whole crowd, but it is the disciples who offer the five loaves and two fish. Jesus wanted it this way: that, instead of sending the crowd away, the disciples would put at his disposal what little they had. And there is another gesture: the pieces of bread, broken by the holy and venerable hands of Our Lord, pass into the poor hands of the disciples, who distribute these to the people. This too is the disciples “doing” with Jesus; with him they are able to “give them something to eat”. Clearly this miracle was not intended merely to satisfy hunger for a day, but rather it signals what Christ wants to accomplish for the salvation of all mankind, giving his own flesh and blood (cf. Jn 6:48-58). And yet this needs always to happen through those two small actions: offering the few loaves and fish which we have; receiving the bread broken by the hands of Jesus and giving it to all.

Breaking: this is the other word explaining the meaning of those words: “Do this in
remembrance of me”. Jesus was broken; he is broken for us. And he asks us to give ourselves, to
break ourselves, as it were, for others. This “breaking bread” became the icon, the sign for
recognizing Christ and Christians. We think of Emmaus: they knew him “in the breaking of the
bread” (Lk 24:35). We recall the first community of Jerusalem: “They held steadfastly… to the
breaking of the bread” (Acts 2:42). From the outset it is the Eucharist which becomes the centre
and pattern of the life of the Church. But we think also of all the saints – famous or anonymous –
who have “broken” themselves, their own life, in order to “give something to eat” to their brothers and sisters. How many mothers, how many fathers, together with the slices of bread they provide each day on the tables of their homes, have broken their hearts to let their children grow, and grow well! How many Christians, as responsible citizens, have broken their own lives to defend the dignity of all, especially the poorest, the marginalized and those discriminated! Where do they find the strength to do this? It is in the Eucharist: in the power of the Risen Lord’s love, who today too breaks bread for us and repeats: “Do this in remembrance of me”.

May this action of the Eucharistic procession, which we will carry out shortly, respond to
Jesus’ command. An action to commemorate him; an action to give food to the crowds of today; an act to break open our faith and our lives as a sign of Christ’s love for this city and for the whole world.


CNS photo/Paul Haring

Pursuit | A Reflection on Mercy

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God is in pursuit of us. He loves us so much. We, in return, should let our hearts be captivated by Mercy, and in turn become pursuers of others, and missionaries of Love.

Behind Vatican Walls: New Custodian of the Holy Land

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(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

There is a new Franciscan Custodian of the Holy Land. The Order of Friars Minor elected Father Francesco Patton, OFM as the new Custos. He replaces Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa who ended a 12 year term as Custos in April.

Father Patton is 53 years old and comes from the Trent region of Italy. He was ordained a priest in 1983. Since then he completed a licentiate in Social Communication at the Salesian Pontifical University in Rome and is enrolled in the order of journalists. He has had a variety of posts within the Franciscan order and with his diocese. Most recently Fr. Patton has been Minister General (superior general) for the St. Anthony Province of the order, which includes all Franciscan Friars in northern Italy.

The Custos of the Holy Land is considered one of the Catholic ordinaries of the Middle East even though he is not ordained a bishop.His mandate lasts six years but can be extended if the Franciscans and the Holy See believe it is necessary. The Custos works with the heads of the Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Coptic, Syriac and Ethiopian Churches to maintain the status quo.

In regards to the Holy Land “status quo” refers to an agreement ratified in 1852 that lays out the ownership of the various christian sanctuaries and the spaces within them. The agreement also regulates the times and durations of religious functions celebrated in those sanctuaries by the different Christian churches. Any change to the status quo agreement requires the consent of all the churches represented by the agreement.

Given that the ownership of different sanctuaries is often linked to national interests of neighbouring countries, maintaining that status quo can be quite challenging.

New Custos, New Focus, New Story

The appointment of Fr. Patton could also signal a new approach to ministering in the delicate region of the Middle East. Father Patton holds a graduate degree in journalism and social communication while past custodians had extensive backgrounds in scripture and oriental churches.

During a recent visit to the Holy Land, representatives of various church organizations in the region told me one of the biggest challenges they face is telling the story of life in the Holy Land for Christians. The world is well aware of the plight of Christians in Syria and Iraq but less so about the challenges faced by Arabs, especially Arab Christians in Israel and Palestine. Various officials told me the information that makes it out to the international community about either overlooks the hardship faced by Arabs, or paints the picture of a menacing threat from which Israel needs to defend itself at all costs. There is little talk of severe water restrictions to Palestine, long waits at checkpoints, a near impossibility of getting permission to go to Jerusalem, or the seizing of land from private Palestinians for the construction of new sections of the Israeli wall. Another official told me tourists believe it is unsafe or not possible to visit Bethlehem. In reality tourism in pretty much the one industry Bethlehem has going for it.

Because of the hardships in the entire region, every year hundreds of Christian families leave the Holy Land. According to the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land, if emigration continues at current rates, within 50 years there will be no Christian community in the Holy Land.

Given the need to get the full story of the Holy Land in the public eye and stay on good terms with all the key players on the ground, the appointment of a Custos with a background in Social Communication could signal a shift in approach. While theology, scripture, and historical knowledge are important, in this modern mediatic age, knowing how to shape a message and get it out into the world is just as important.

This week’s episode of Vatican Connections will be available below shortly.


AliciaHeadShot

Every 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. Season 4 of Vatican Connections airs every Friday at 8:00 pm ET.

 

Reignite your parish by “Rebuilding Your Message”, on Subject Matters

 

SebBlogSM1Every Catholic knows what life is like in the parish: a faith-filled community that sometimes struggles to share its message, bring about change, or try new things.  A new episode of Subject Matters airing this Sunday tackles the phenomenon of communication in today’s fast-paced world, including what works and what doesn’t.  Rebuilding Your Message: Practical Tools to Strengthen Your Preaching and Teaching is the latest book in a series by best-selling authors Tom Corcoran and Fr. Michael White of Timonium, Maryland.

Based on years of study and practical pastoral experience, Tom and Fr. Michael have compiled a comprehensive list of axioms that can help pastors and parishioners reflect on how they communicate their message, and more importantly, how to improve at it.  Teaching and preaching don’t just happen from the pulpit, say Tom and Fr. Michael, but also in classes and small groups, in bulletins, on the church website and social media, and through volunteers who welcome visitors through its doors.  Stagnation in the parish is not inevitable, they say, if the pastor together with the right parishioners, reflect honestly and think creatively about the core message, and what makes church matter to people today.  Tune in to Subject Matters…

Sunday, May 22nd at 8:30pm ET / 5:30pm PT
featuring “Rebuilding Your Message:
Practical Tools to Strengthen Your Preaching and Teaching”

by Tom Corcoran and Fr. Michael White

 

Five Easy Tips to Change the Way you Pray

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Praying every day can seem an ambitious task to undertake. We think it’s a practice better suited to those who have “time” like sisters, religious, priests… or our grandmothers. However, the Church tells us it’s actually meant for everyone because we are all called to holiness.

Holiness is built on a continuous friendship with God. That’s why saints are most known for their intense prayer life. They have come to know the One whom they desire to resemble most. Dom Chautard, a Trappist monk, once said that in order to sanctify the world, we must first sanctify ourselves. According to him, this begins with personal prayer.

I certainly don’t know everything when it comes to prayer – and I know very little about what it means to be a saint! But I wanted to share with you what’s helped me when it came to personal prayer time. This blog is really just the fruit of many conversations with friends or friendly priests, since we all desire to draw closer to Christ and we have all been met, one day or another, with challenges in prayer.

Desire prayer

This probably seems self-explanatory. In order to take time to pray, you sort of have to want it. There must first be a desire to stop what we’re doing, speak to God and listen to Him. The practice is simple and yet it is often the first thing we remove from our busy schedules (mea culpa!) There’s a reason why in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we are told that prayer is a “battle”. In order to win that battle, we can turn to the Holy Spirit for he “helps us in our weakness” (Romans 8:26). We can therefore ask him to give us the desire to pray even before we begin to pray.

Know who it is you encounter in prayer

“Mental prayer, in my opinion, is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us” – Saint Teresa of Avila. Prayer should never be laborious. It should be freely given in the same way we freely make time for our friends. Saint Augustine tells us that Christ is the first to “[seek] us and [ask] us for a drink. Jesus thirsts; his asking arises from the depths of God’s desire for us. Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for him”.

Choose a time

This is a big one. It’s easy to say “I will pray when I have time” but there are so many times I missed out on my prayer time because I failed to set aside a specific time in the day for it. A million different excuses arose to keep me from praying. Some people choose to pray at the same time every day, which is something I’ve tried to do myself. Waking up to pray each morning helps me prepare for the day even if it is such a struggle to get out of bed when the alarm goes off. That’s what saint Josemaria Escriva called the heroic minute.

“Conquer yourself each day from the very first moment, getting up on the dot, at a fixed time, without yielding a single minute to laziness. If, with God’s help, you conquer yourself, you will be well ahead for the rest of the day… The heroic minute. It is the time fixed for getting up. Without hesitation: a supernatural reflection and… up! The heroic minute: here you have a mortification that strengthens your will and does no harm to your body.”

But let’s be real, some of us are not morning people so praying in the morning might not be for you! Ask yourself, then, if there is a time in the day when you would be the most alert for prayer. Is it in the evening? At lunch time? If you go to Mass regularly, you could arrive a little earlier or stay a little longer to have some alone time with God. If you cannot pray at the same hour every day, you could choose at the beginning of the day when you will do it. I have often been counselled to be consistent with the length of the prayer as well. If it is 10, 15, 30 minutes or more, stay faithful to the hour and the length you have committed to. “Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12). Again, think of it as a meeting set up with a friend!

Choose a place

Finding a good spot to pray is the easy part. Churches and chapels are not the only places where prayer can happen. I have prayed on a bus, on a plane, or even in the middle of the campus cafeteria. Some are lucky enough to find a nice chapel near their place of work or home but we don’t all have this luxury. So we do with what we have, where we are. Perhaps it is sitting on the couch or sitting at your desk in your bedroom or while sipping on a cup of coffee. I’m easily distracted so I try to find the quietest space in my apartment, which isn’t always easy when you live downtown and the windows are wide open in the summertime…

But I know I cannot wait for the perfect conditions before beginning to pray. They will never perfect. Even if there was absolute silence, distractions would surface anyway. What does the time and place you choose for prayer say about your relationship with God? A friend asked me this once and it changed my whole outlook on prayer.

Finding what works for you
And now, where to begin? Here’s a brief “how to”. Sometimes I feel somewhat useless when I first set out to pray. I have to remember that prayer should be simple and that I don’t have to be “useful” in order to have a conversation with God. The only condition required for prayer is to make ourselves available in humility. Even beginning with the Our Father can kickstart the conversation.

“[Jesus] said to them, ‘When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread; and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us; and lead us not into temptation” (Luke 11:2-4).

The Church offers us thousands of ways to draw nearer to God. There are the Liturgy of the Hours, Scripture and the Sacraments (receiving the Eucharist at Mass or adoration of the Blessed Sacrament), the Rosary, Lectio Divina (divine reading of Scripture), or going through a Living with Christ missal. But we have to be careful not to fill up our time with a list of things to do.

Prayer is a conversation in which there is a time to speak, to listen and to remain in silence. There will be times when nothing happens at all, when prayer seems empty and Scripture doesn’t speak to us, as though God had just disappeared. But Saint Paul tells us to persevere. Our willingness to remain there and be available, no matter what we may “feel” or not, is enough.

“The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for [us] according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27)


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Emilie Callan is a producer for Sel et Lumiere. Follow her on Twitter!

Pope Francis’ Homily during Pentecost Mass

Pope Francis celebrates Pentecost Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican May 24. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) See POPE-PENTECOST May 24, 2015.

“I will not leave you orphans” (Jn 14:18)

The central purpose of Jesus mission, which culminated in the gift of the Holy Spirit, was to renew our relationship with the Father, a relationship severed by sin, to take us from our state of being orphaned children and to restore us as his sons and daughters. The Apostle Paul, writing to the Christians in Rome, says: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship, which enables us to cry out, ‘Abba, Father’”

(Rom 8:14-15). Here we see our relationship renewed: the paternity of God is re-established in us thanks to the redemptive work of Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is given to us by the Father and leads us back to the Father. The entire work of salvation is one of “re-generation”, in which the fatherhood of God, through the gift of the Son and the Holy Spirit, frees us from the condition of being orphans into which we had fallen.

In our own day also, we see various signs of our being orphans: in the interior loneliness which we feel even when we are surrounded by people, a loneliness which can become an existential sadness; in the attempt to be free of God, even if accompanied by a desire for his presence; in the all-too-common spiritual illiteracy which renders us incapable of prayer; in the difficulty in grasping the truth and reality of eternal life as that fullness of communion which begins on earth and reaches full flower after death; in the effort to see others as “brothers” and “sisters”, since we are children of the same Father; and other such signs.

Being children of God runs contrary to all this and is our primordial vocation. We were made to be God’s children, it is in our DNA. But this filial relationship was ruined and required the sacrifice of God’s only-begotten Son in order to be restored. From the immense gift of love which is Jesus’ death on the cross, the Holy Spirit has been poured out upon humanity like a vast torrent of grace. Those who by faith are immersed into this mystery of regeneration are reborn to the fullness of filial life. “I will not leave you orphans”.

Today, on the feast of Pentecost, Jesus’ words remind us also of the maternal presence of Mary in the Upper Room. The Mother of Jesus is with the community of disciples gathered in prayer: she is the living remembrance of the Son and the living invocation of the Holy Spirit. She is the Mother of the Church. We entrust to her intercession, in a particular way, all Christians, families and communities that at this moment are most in need of the Spirit, the Paraclete, the Defender and Comforter, the Spirit of truth, freedom and peace.

The Spirit, as Saint Paul says, unites us to Christ: “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him” (Rom 8:9). Strengthening our relationship of belonging to the Lord Jesus, the Spirit enables us to enter into a new experience of fraternity. By means of our universal Brother – Jesus – we can relate to one another in a new way; no longer as orphans, but rather as children of the same good and merciful Father. And this changes everything! We can see each other as brothers and sisters whose differences can only increase our joy and wonder at sharing in this unique fatherhood and brotherhood.

Coast to Coast: May 8 to May 14

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Here is a look at the vast and varied things that we’ve been reading about across the country this week:

The Fort McMurray fire is still very much front and centre this week. The WCR has this special report about what its like to fight Alberta wild fires.

In Saskatoon, the Prairie Messengers is offering a five part series reflecting on the issues around euthanasia and the government’s push to bring in an assisted suicide law by June 6. Here is part one.

Vancouver is famous for its breathtaking natural beauty, astronomically high housing cost, and the squalor of the downtown east side. One couple in Van City is marking 20 years of doing what they can to help the poorest and neediest on Vancouver’s streets.

If you watched the tv show Flashpoint, you know his face. You probably don’t know that he grew up in a less than perfect family situation or that his refuge was his Catholic high school. The Catholic Register has Enrico Colantoni’s witness to the strengths of a Catholic school.

Behind Vatican Walls: Phoebe and the Deaconesses

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Pope Francis will ask the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation to study the issue of women deacons. The pope announced the decision during a question and answer session with participants of the International Union of Superiors General plenary assembly.

During a question and answer session with the nearly 900 religious sisters taking part in the meeting, Pope Francis was asked what prevents the Church from including women in the diaconate.

Speaking without a prepared text the pope said there is evidence that women were deacons in the early church.

In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul mentions “our sister Phoebe, a deaconess of the Church at Cenchreae” and asks that she be given a warm welcome. Deaconesses are also mentioned at the Council of Chalcedon. The council says deaconesses should not receive “the laying on of hands” under the age of 40. Once they do receive the laying on of hands, the council says they should not get married.

Pope Francis told the UISG members the evidence does not provide much detail about what women deacons did or if they were ordained ministers. It appears, he said,  the role of deaconesses in the early church was to help with the baptism of other women and to examine the wounds of abused women and report back to the local bishop.  

The pope went on to say he will ask the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to show him any studies that exist about the role of women deacons in the early church. He added that he will ask for a commission to be established to study the question of women deacons, “I think it will be good for the Church to clarify this point.”

At the same time Pope Francis warned against what he calls a desire to “clericalize” consecrated and lay women. He said when a lay person or a consecrated person shows a talent for pastoral work in the parish, has brains, and is organized, there is an instinctive reaction to want to give that person a clerical role. By that logic pushing for ordained women deacons is just another attempt to “clericalize” women.

Reaction to the pope’s comments were swift and divided. On social media three lines of thought were evident: those who were happy about the pope’s call to study the issue, those who were appalled he would consider such a thing, and those who were upset because they believe the pope did not go far enough.

After many news headlines proclaimed the pope is opening the door to women’s ordination, the Vatican issued a statement on May 13 saying “The Pope did not say he intends to introduce the ordination of female deacons and even less did he talk about the ordination of women as priests.”  

Reading the transcript of the Pope’s meeting with UISG participants it appears clear Pope Francis is calling for clarity on specific points: what were deaconesses in the early Church? What did they do? How did they do it? Were they ordained? If so, why? Why did the role of deaconess fall out use?

The answers to those questions do not lead straight line to women’s ordination. However they could lead to a wider vision of the role of consecrated women. Not to mention such a study could produce a better understanding of what roles lay people can and should take on in today’s church.

This week’s episode of Vatican Connections will be available below shortly.


AliciaHeadShot

Every 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. Season 4 of Vatican Connections airs every Friday at 8:00 pm ET.

That moment when the Church was founded – #SLPilgrimage at Caesarea Philippi

The flush region of Caesarea Philipi is about an hour’s drive north of the Sea of Galilee.  It was given to Herod the Great by Caesar Augustus around 20 BCE, who in turn handed it down to his son Philip.  Philip named it Caesarea in honor of Caesar, and his own name eventually became associated with it, thus Caesarea Philipi.  But the region also has another ancient name, Paneas, because at the time of Jesus there was a thriving religious cult around the fertility god Pan.  The temple of the cult was built around one of three natural springs feeding the Jordan River.  To pagans, these types of natural springs were gateways to the netherworld or Hades.

Seb3The scene must have been bustling with worshipers of all kinds when Jesus and his disciples ventured up there from their usual hang out in Capernaum.  There they had a conversation that would forever shape the history of the Church.  Surrounded by statues and images of the ancient gods, Jesus poses a pointed question, “who do people say that I am?”  Peter replies confidently, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  Jesus proclaims, “Blessed are you Simon son of Jonah!  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.  And I tell you, you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”

Peter’s proclamation of Jesus as the Son of the living God was an obvious rejection of the pagan cult and a vote of divine confidence in his teacher and friend.  Jesus’ pronouncement laid the foundation for the Petrine ministry embodied throughout history in the authority and primacy of the popes.  There are other suggestions of Peter’s primacy among the twelve in the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles, but this one is the most direct and consequential for how we understand the Petrine ministry.

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Reading this conversation between Jesus and Peter two thousand years later on the ruins of the pagan temple, a deeper question surfaced: why Peter?  By all Gospel accounts, Peter was not the ablest or most reliable disciple.  Surely Jesus could have built his church on a sturdier foundation.  In his commentary of this historic conversation, G.K. Chesterton captures the paradoxical truth hidden in Jesus’ choice of Peter:

“When Christ at a symbolic moment was establishing His great society, He chose for its cornerstone neither the brilliant Paul nor the mystic John, but a shuffler, a snob, a coward—in a word, a man. And upon this rock He has built His Church, and the gates of Hell have not prevailed against it. All the empires and the kingdoms have failed, because of this inherent and continual weakness, that they were founded by strong men and upon strong men. But this one thing, the historic Christian Church, was founded on a weak man, and for that reason it is indestructible. For no chain is stronger than its weakest link.”

Sebastian Gomes is an English producer for Salt + Light.