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Catholic Communications in the Age of Pope Francis

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Below you will find the full text of Fr. Thomas Rosica’s inaugural address for the Catholic Press Month lecture presented by the Catholic Courier and El Mensajero Católico, at the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Rochester, New York. 

Bishop Matano,

Bishop Clark,

Brother Priests and Sisters,

Dear Karen and Friends in Rochester,

It is a privilege for me to be home tonight and speak here in this Cathedral that is the mother Church of my home diocese.  Thank you for your kind invitation and for all the hard work that went into this evening. I am also very happy to join my voice to a chorus of many others who recently celebrated the 125th Anniversary of the Courier Journal of Rochester! In many ways, my “career” in media and communications began with the Courier Journal as a high school student back in late 1970’s at Aquinas Institute. I was conscripted to be part of “RapAround,” a weekly section that featured reporting from young Catholics from Catholic High Schools in the diocese. Little did I know then what would be in store for me back in 1975. The Courier was one of the first newspapers in the country to engage young men and women as journalists and communicators.  That initial experience would mark me for the rest of my life. Though I left Rochester in 1980, I have followed closely the growth, transformation and progress of the Courier, first and foremost through my friendship with and great admiration of Karen Franz, with whom I had the privilege of studying at what was then St. Ambrose parochial school.

What has always impressed me about the Courier Journal has been the ways that this Catholic newspaper has lived up to the standards of the broader journalistic profession to which it belongs.  The Courier has resisted that growing tendency to “tabloidism” in sectors of the Catholic press and risen above the folly of some of the blogs which are not just filled with sectarian, half truths, but are at times galaxies away from the Gospel charity with which our Catholic story should be told.

At his first public audience with nearly 6000 journalists in Rome on March 16, three days after his election in March 2013, Pope Francis said: “Ecclesial events are certainly no more intricate than political or economic events! But they do have one particular underlying feature: they follow a pattern which does not readily correspond to the “worldly” categories which we are accustomed to use, and so it is not easy to interpret and communicate them to a wider and more varied public. The Church is certainly a human and historical institution with all that that entails, yet her nature is not essentially political but spiritual: the Church is the People of God, the Holy People of God making its way to encounter Jesus Christ. Only from this perspective can a satisfactory account be given of the Church’s life and activity”. The Courier Journal took those words to heart from the beginning of its existence over a century ago.

You have asked me to speak about “Catholic Communications in the Age of Pope Francis.” In doing so, I wish to share a conversation I had just two days ago as I met with senior journalists at the ABC Television Network in New York City. A gentleman who headed up the network’s massive coverage of the Papal Transition two years ago remarked: “Look, Fr. Tom, whether one is Catholic or Protestant, Jew or Muslim, left or right, or nothing at all, for many of us for whom the Church was on a  distant horizon, we have all been brought into the heart of the Church and the Gospel and find the story fascinating and inviting.”

It is precisely this fascination that has gripped the world over the past two years. This evening, I would like to take a look at it with you.  But let me begin with this fundamental point: if today we are basking in the Franciscan light, it is because we owe a debt of gratitude to Pope emeritus Benedict XVI and his courageous decision to step down two years ago February 11, an important moment in the life of the Catholic Church and in the life of the world.

Benedict’s resignation provides a rare but profound example of humility in action. True leaders put their cause before their power and self-interest. Far from a failure or weakness, his resignation was the most shining moment of Benedict’s papacy, and what will turn out to be a historically brilliant move. He has set a new course for the church.

In retrospection and commemoration of the second anniversary of Benedict’s resignation, many feel that in order to highlight the positive aspects of the “Franciscan” era, we must describe in negative terms the pontificate of Pope Benedict. That is not only absurd, but it is also indicates blindness, deafness and ignorance to what this great man accomplished. Comparisons between Francis and his predecessor are inevitable, and it’s no secret that Pope Francis is more appealing to the crowds… the huge numbers that continue to throng the Vatican to catch glimpse of the first Pope from the New World. There is a shift in tone under Francis in what could be described as a “moderate” or “pastoral” direction and a real concern for those on the peripheries of society and the Church.

Let us not forget however that many of the reforms now underway under Pope Francis’ leadership actually began on Benedict’s watch, especially in two chronic sources of scandal for the church: money and sex abuse.

Having had the privilege of serving as one of the “spokespersons” for the Vatican during the momentous papal transition two years ago, and now continuing in some small way in that capacity as I relate to English language media on a daily basis on behalf of the Holy See Press Office, I am an eye witness to this papacy and a transformation that is underway. Pope Francis has captivated the entire world, but why does he do and say the things he does? What makes this popular pontiff tick?

From the very first moments, Pope Francis stressed his role with the ancient title of “bishop of Rome” who presides in charity, echoing the famous statement of Ignatius of Antioch.  Francis has brought to the papacy a knack for significant gestures that immediately convey very powerful messages. Pope Francis’ vision of the Church challenges all of us. He has an amazing ability to find simple words to pose fundamental questions about the life of the Christian and of the Church. No one can deny that the “secular media” has been fascinated and mesmerized by his expressions that come from daily homilies, addresses, and messages:

  • “How I would like a church that is poor and for the poor!”
  • “Have a good Sunday, and a good lunch!”
  • “Priests must be shepherds with the smell of the sheep.”
  • “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!”
  • “We have fallen into a “globalization of indifference.”
  • “Who am I to judge?”
  • “I want things messy and stirred up in the church.  I want the church to take to the streets!”
  • “I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.”
  • “It was my authoritarian way of making decisions that created problems.”
  • “I see the Church as a field hospital after battle.”
  • “The image of the Church I like is that of the holy, faithful people of God.”
  •  “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”
  • “God never tires of forgiving us.”
  • “The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent.”
  • “I have a dogmatic certainty: God is in every person’s life.”
  • “An evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral.”
  • I dream of a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything.”
  • “Mercy is the greatest of all virtues.”
  • “The confessional must not be a torture chamber.”
  • “The Church is not a tollhouse.”
  • “I beg you bishops, avoid the scandal of being airport bishops!”
  • “We need to promote a culture of encounter.”
  • “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”

Asked if he would ever baptize Martians, Pope Francis responded: “Who am I to close the door?”

Initially perhaps many of us (myself included) may have thought that Pope Francis’ free-flowing interviews, homilies and quotes are more a source of consternation and frustration than opportunities to learn more about the Church, her founder and her message. But Francis has chosen many different opportunities to speak and encounter the world. No matter how fraught with the potential confusion and misinterpretation those methods may sometimes be, the world is now listening to the Pope in ways that have never happened before. No longer can we simply attribute this interest to an initial fascination, a “honeymoon period”, or other infantile ways of trying to analyze what is really happening.  Let me be very honest: we are no longer in the “honeymoon” period of this Pontificate.  The world is listening because Francis and the Church have something solid to say and to offer to a world plunged in chaos, war, terror, violence, despair and darkness.

What is the most important achievement of Pope Francis? He has rebranded Catholicism and the papacy. Prior to Pope Francis, when many people on the street were asked: “What is the Catholic church all about? What does the pope stand for?”, the response would often be, “Catholics, well they are against abortion, gay marriage and birth control.” “They are known for the sex abuse crisis that has terribly marred and weakened their moral authority and credibility.” Though the media rightly exposed our sins for the abuse crisis, at the same it often falsely portrays us for our teaching and values at the core of our Catholic beliefs.

Today, the response is different. What do they say about us now? What do they say about the Pope? People are speaking about our leader who is unafraid to confront the sins and evils that have marred us. We have a pope who is concerned about mercy, compassion and love, especially for the poor. Whether we wish to admit it our not, Pope Francis has won over the media. By no means is this an indication that the teachings of the Church and message of the Gospel have been fully understood or received by all.  Neverthless, something has shifted in terms of Church-media relations. Many of my colleagues in the “secular” media industry have said that Francis has made it fun to be a religion reporter and journalist again. He has changed the image of the church so much that our prestigious graduate schools of business and management could use him as a case study in rebranding.

To those in several countries who have said that the Pope is not speaking out enough against abortion, Pope Francis is profoundly Pro-Life. He is simply doing what the Bishop of Rome and successor of Peter should do, positioning the evil of abortion within its proper moral context, the failure to recognize the dignity of every single human person at every age and stage of life. Procured abortion is only one of the poisonous fruits from the rotted tree growing in the corrupted garden of a culture of death.

Over the past months, Pope Francis has strongly denounced efforts to redefine marriage, and issued a thundering condemnation of abortion, euthanasia, and in-vitro fertilization, calling them “sins against God.” In emphasizing these truths, Francis has never urged withdrawal from the public square; on the contrary, he has declared: “Getting involved in politics is a Christian duty. We Christians cannot be like Pilate and wash our hands clean of things.”

The inability of commentators to pigeonhole Francis into a single category is frustrating to some people. Francis is strongly opposed to ‘parties’ or ‘lobbies’ in the Church. He does not compromise on the hot-button issues that divide the Church from the secular West – a gap liberals would like to close by modernizing doctrine. Yet he is also not a pope for the Catholic Right. For him contrasting positions, held together in tension, loyal to fundamentals but open to the action of the Holy Spirit, are necessary to forge a new, better consensus and the differences make for an honest, open discussion.

“The principal mission of the Church,” Pope Francis has declared, “is evangelization, bringing the Good News to everyone.” This was also Pope Beneidict’s mantra at the 2012 Synod on the New Evangelization: “The Church exists to evangelize.” This is the only agenda of Pope Francis: to lead people to Jesus Christ, so that their lives and joy may be full.

In two years at the helm of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis has opened the floodgates of communication in an institution that has been effectively cloistered for centuries. While it is no exaggeration that a pope has never been so widely quoted by the secular press, it could also be said that a pope’s intentions have never been so widely misinterpreted. While it may seem like the pope is sending mixed signals, the truth may be that most of the press and non-Catholics are just projecting their own wishes and values on him.

He is not quite “conservative” nor entirely “progressive . His message is filled the paradoxes because life is a paradox and Christian life is a great paradox.  The world is listening to him because Francis models a solid consistency, the one between his words and deeds, and that between its current papal mission and life forever. It gives us great shepherd a beautiful model of the new evangelization.

Globalization of Indifference

Francis startled the world in July 2013, several months after his election, when he traveled rather spontaneously to the island of Lampedusa off the coast of Sicily- to that dangerous area were so many refugees have lost and continue to lose their lives in their journeys to freedom and safety.  The Holy Father’s voice rang out across the sea as he asked the world to reflect on:

“The culture of comfort, which makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people, makes us live in soap bubbles which, however lovely, are insubstantial; they offer a fleeting and empty illusion which results in indifference to others; indeed, it even leads to the globalization of indifference. In this globalized world, we have fallen into globalized indifference. We have become used to the suffering of others: it doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t concern me; it’s none of my business!”

The Challenges and Temptations of the Church

Speaking to Bishops in 2013 Rio de Janeiro, the Bishop of Rome spoke soberly and frankly about the temptations facing the Church: the temptation to turn the Gospel message into an ideology; the temptation to run the church like a business; and the temptation of clericalism. In an address July 28, 2013, to the episcopal council of CELAM, the Latin American conference of bishops, Pope Francis laid out these temptations and how the church should respond to them.

Making the Gospel message an ideology

This temptation to make the Gospel message an ideology has been present in the church from the beginning. It attempts to interpret the Gospel apart from the church or the Gospel itself. Francis says you must look at the Gospel with the eyes of a disciple. This temptation interprets the Gospel message through the lens of social science, whether from a Marxist or libertarian perspective and the Gospel is manipulated for political reasons. It is a temptation of both the right and the left to use the Gospel to serve political goals.

Functionalism

The second temptation of the church is to functionalism, which Pope Francis believes has the effect of paralyzing the church. “More than being interested in the road itself, it is concerned with fixing holes in the road.” It “has no room for mystery; it aims at efficiency.” This is the temptation of church bureaucrats. “It reduces the reality of the church to the structure of an (nongovernmental organization). What counts are quantifiable results and statistics.” Francis does not want the church to end up “being run like any other business organization.”

Clericalism

A third temptation is to clericalism, which, as its name implies, is a particular temptation for bishops, priests and deacons, but Francis argues that often, the laity is complicit. “The priest clericalizes the layperson and the layperson kindly asks to be clericalized because deep down it is easier.” Liberal clericalism tends to disdain popular piety while conservative clericalism fears giving the laity a greater role in the church. Although these were presented as temptations for the Latin American church, it is obvious that they are universal. They are alive and well in Rome and in North America.

But there were more temptations… At the end of the two-week Extraordinary Synod last October, Pope Francis gave a profoundly moving address to conclude the synod. He wove together the various strands of the spiritual and ecclesial experience of the Synod, fashioning them into a stunning tapestry for the Church. Without the Pope’s final speech – and to a lesser extent, his homily at the closing Mass, the Synod would have remained incomplete, and not been read with the interpretative or hermeneutical key of faith that truly inspired and motivated it, according to the mind of the Pope.

Pope Francis made clear to the whole Church that there should be no reason for fear or confusion in the church after such an extraordinary synod, in which not only had the traditional doctrine on the nature and indissolubility of marriage been confirmed, but also important pastoral questions relating to the family – including those related to the church’s approach to the divorced and remarried and to homosexual persons – remain on the table for the 2015 synod. More than anything else, this text indicated to the entire world that the barque of Church is indeed guided by the Lord and entrusted to a most able helmsman.

Allow me to share with you some of the highlights of Pope Francis’ concluding address to the Extraordinary Synod on Saturday evening, October 18, 2014:

And it has been “a journey” – and like every journey there were moments of running fast, as if wanting to conquer time and reach the goal as soon as possible; other moments of fatigue, as if wanting to say “enough”; other moments of enthusiasm and ardour. …And since it is a journey of human beings, with the consolations there were also moments of desolation, of tensions and temptations, of which a few possibilities could be mentioned:

-One, a temptation to hostile inflexibility, that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word, (the letter) and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God, by the God of surprises, (the spirit); within the law, within the certitude of what we know and not of what we still need to learn and to achieve. From the time of Christ, it is the temptation of the zealous, of the scrupulous, of the solicitous and of the so-called – today – “traditionalists” and also of the intellectuals.

-The temptation to a destructive tendency to goodness [it. buonismo], that in the name of a deceptive mercy binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them; that treats the symptoms and not the causes and the roots. It is the temptation of the “do-gooders,” of the fearful, and also of the so-called “progressives and liberals.”

-The temptation to transform stones into bread to break the long, heavy, and painful fast (cf. Lk 4:1-4); and also to transform the bread into a stone and cast it against the sinners, the weak, and the sick (cf Jn 8:7), that is, to transform it into unbearable burdens (Lk 11:46).

-The temptation to come down off the Cross, to please the people, and not stay there, in order to fulfill the will of the Father; to bow down to a worldly spirit instead of purifying it and bending it to the Spirit of God.

-The temptation to neglect the “depositum fidei” [the deposit of faith], not thinking of themselves as guardians but as owners or masters [of it]; or, on the other hand, the temptation to neglect reality, making use of meticulous language and a language of smoothing to say so many things and to say nothing! They call them “byzantinisms…”

Dear brothers and sisters, the temptations must not frighten or disconcert us, or even discourage us, because no disciple is greater than his master; so if Jesus Himself was tempted – and even called Beelzebul (cf. Mt 12:24) – His disciples should not expect better treatment.

And then, in what many have described as a magnificent crescendo, Pope Francis shared with us in the Synod Hall the nature and reality of the Church:

…And this is the Church, the vineyard of the Lord, the fertile Mother and the caring Teacher, who is not afraid to roll up her sleeves to pour oil and wine on people’s wound; who doesn’t see humanity as a house of glass to judge or categorize people. This is the Church, One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and composed of sinners, needful of God’s mercy. This is the Church, the true bride of Christ, who seeks to be faithful to her spouse and to her doctrine. It is the Church that is not afraid to eat and drink with prostitutes and publicans. The Church that has the doors wide open to receive the needy, the penitent, and not only the just or those who believe they are perfect! The Church that is not ashamed of the fallen brother and pretends not to see him, but on the contrary feels involved and almost obliged to lift him up and to encourage him to take up the journey again and accompany him toward a definitive encounter with her Spouse, in the heavenly Jerusalem.

This is the Church, our Mother! And when the Church, in the variety of her charisms, expresses herself in communion, she cannot err: it is the beauty and the strength of the sensus fidei, of that supernatural sense of the faith which is bestowed by the Holy Spirit so that, together, we can all enter into the heart of the Gospel and learn to follow Jesus in our life. And this should never be seen as a source of confusion and discord.

Many commentators, or people who talk, have imagined that they see a disputatious Church where one part is against the other, doubting even the Holy Spirit, the true promoter and guarantor of the unity and harmony of the Church – the Holy Spirit who throughout history has always guided the barque, through her Ministers, even when the sea was rough and choppy, and the ministers unfaithful and sinners.

And, as I have dared to tell you, as I told you from the beginning of the Synod, it was necessary to live through all this with tranquillity, and with interior peace, so that the Synod would take place cum Petro and sub Petro (with Peter and under Peter), and the presence of the Pope is the guarantee of it all.

When Pope Francis finished speaking, the synod fathers all rose in a spontaneous gesture and gave him a five-minute standing ovation. That said everything; it is the best answer to any fears people may have about the current direction of the Church.

Where does Francis want to lead the church? What does he want the bishops to do? What does he expect of us, ordained ministers?  And what is he modeling for laymen and women?

The Church is reconciler: In his address to the Brazilian bishops, Francis said that “from the beginning, God’s message was one of restoring what was broken, reuniting what had been divided,” Francis explained. “Walls, chasms, differences which still exist today are destined to disappear. The church cannot neglect this lesson: She is called to be a means of reconciliation.”

A Church of the heart: For Francis, faith enters the church through the heart of the poor, not through the heads of intellectuals. Francis confessed that “perhaps we have reduced our way of speaking about mystery to rational explanations, but for ordinary people the mystery enters through the heart.”

A church with a simple message: Francis has clearly stated: “The results of our pastoral work do not depend on a wealth of resources, but on the creativity of love.” Francis knows only too well that at times we lose people because they don’t understand what we are saying, because we have forgotten the language of simplicity. He argues that the message should be kept simple. Rather, let us present Jesus as the compassion of God.

The Church of Emmaus: Using the Gospel story of Emmaus, speaks openly about people who have left the church because they “now think that the church — their Jerusalem — can no longer offer them anything meaningful and important.” We need a church unafraid of going forth into their night. We need a church capable of meeting them on their way. We need a church capable of entering into their conversation. We need a church able to dialogue with those disciples who, having left Jerusalem behind, are wandering aimlessly, alone, with their own disappointment, disillusioned by a Christianity now considered barren, fruitless soil, incapable of generating meaning. …

Are we still a church capable of warming hearts? A church capable of leading people back to Jerusalem? Of bringing them home? Jerusalem is where our roots are: Scripture, catechesis, sacraments, community, friendship with the Lord, Mary and the apostles. … Are we still able to speak of these roots in a way that will revive a sense of wonder at their beauty?

The Church: A Field Hospital and a Guiding Torch

When the pope speaks of the church as a “field hospital after a battle” he is referring to this image of St. Ignatius of Loyola. He explains the role of the church in light of God’s gaze upon the world: “so many people that ask us to be close, that ask us for what they were asking of Jesus: closeness, nearness.” It is the opposite image of a fortress under siege. The image of a church as a field hospital is not just a simple, pretty poetic metaphor; from this very image we can derive an understanding of both the church’s mission and the sacraments of salvation.

Where are the battlefields today?

  • decline in birthrates and the aging population have reversed the relationships between young and old persons
  • contraception enables the splitting of sexuality and procreation; assisted procreation divides the process of giving birth from being a parent
  • stepfamilies lead to new bonds and new parental roles that have complex relational geographies; de facto couples place the social institutionalization of their relationships into question; homosexual persons ask why they cannot live a life of stable affective relationships while remaining practicing believers.

The church must shine with the light that lives within itself, it must go out and encounter human beings who – even though they believe that they do not need to hear a message of salvation—often find themselves afraid and wounded by life. The Lineamenta for the 2015 Synod, which reflects the discussion of October 2014, offers a clear direction for the Church. In one of his well-known poems, Blessed Cardinal J.H. Newman wrote about a “kindly light.” We also find this image of light in the Encyclical Lumen fidei: “Faith is not a light that dissipates all of our shadows, but rather a light that guides our steps in the night; and this is enough for the journey” (n. 57). According to Pope Francis today more than ever we need “a church that is again capable of restoring citizenship to so many of its children that walk as if in exodus. Christian citizenship is above all the result of God’s mercy.

Conclusion

With the surprising election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio to the See of Peter two years ago, I have frequently been asked this question: Is this all the work of a PR company, clever media strategists or slick spin doctors hired by the Vatican to rebrand its image? Or is there something else at work? What has happened in the church, and how can it be that a 77-year-old, retirement-bound archbishop from Buenos Aires has captivated the world? How can we describe the sense of springtime that has come upon the church? How is it fathomable in our day and age that not only Christians and Catholics but millions of others are speaking about “Papa Francesco” as if he were their own?

Let me tell you what I think is afoot! The new Pope took the name Francis upon his election as Bishop of Rome and told us he did so because of his love for Francis of Assisi. Over the past two years, many of us have been associating the Pope’s gestures and actions with the “Poverello” or “Little Poor One” of Assisi, perhaps the most beloved saint of the Catholic tradition.

One day as a young man, Francis heard the plea of Jesus from the crucifix in the dilapidated San Damiano chapel on Assisi’s outskirts. “Go and repair my Church,” he heard Jesus say. And he certainly did that in his lifetime and through the huge Franciscan family that he left behind to carry forward his dream and continue his work.

We become easily fixated on lots of eye-catching, buzz-causing externals and great photo opportunities: A Pope who abandoned the red shoes – that were never an official part of the papal wardrobe! A Pope who dresses modestly, pays his own lodging bills, rides around Vatican City in a Ford Focus, who invites street people to his birthday breakfast. This Roman pontiff specializes in kissing babies and embracing the sick, disfigured broken bodies, and the abandoned of society. A pope who knows how to use a telephone, and uses it often. A pope who waits in line for the coat check at the Vatican Synod Hall, lines up for coffee, and introduces himself: “Sono Francesco. Come ti chiami?” We sit back, smile and utter: “What simplicity!” “Wow!” “Awesome!” “Finalmente!”

And for many who are watching all of this with differing forms of anxiety, they ask “Will the Francis reform succeed?”  The answer is: “Yes.” And I will tell you why. Francis’ reform is inevitable because it is not emanating from Assisi, Loyola, Manresa or even from Rome, as significant as those holy places may be! It is coming from another land where we find Bethlehem, Nazareth, Nain, Emmaus, Mount Tabor, Galilee and Jerusalem: the land of the Bible.

Francis will succeed because his life, vision, hopes and dreams are founded in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are indeed living a moment of kairos, the appointed time and hour, when the Gospel story is unfolding before us once again in the life of Pope Francis. Everything the Pope is doing now is not just an imitation of his patron saint who loved the poor, embraced lepers, charmed sultans, made peace and protected nature. It’s a reflection of the child of Bethlehem who would grow up to become the man of the cross in Jerusalem, the Risen One that no tomb could contain, the man we Christians call Savior and Lord. Pope Francis has given us a powerful glimpse into the mind and heart of God.

This Bishop of Rome demands a lot while preaching about a God of mercy, by engaging joyfully with nonbelievers, atheists, agnostics, skeptics, and those sitting on the fences of life- many who thought that Christianity has nothing left to add to the equations of life. I go back to those words of my colleague at the ABC network: “We have all been brought into the heart of the Church and the Gospel and find the story fascinating and inviting.”

On the late afternoon of March 13, 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio received the call to go, rebuild, repair, renew and heal the church. What we have witnessed over the past two years is simply a disciple of Jesus, and a faithful disciple of Ignatius of Loyola and of Francis of Assisi, repairing, renewing, restoring, reconciling and healing the Church. There are those who delight in describing the new Pope as a bold, brazen revolutionary sent to rock the boat. Others think he has come to cause a massive shipwreck. But the only revolution that Pope Francis has inaugurated is a revolution of tenderness, the very words he used in his recent major letter on “The Joy of the Gospel.” [Evangelii Gaudium #88]

And the second revolution he has inaugurated is the revolution of normalcy.  What he is doing is normal human, Christian behavior. These are the revolutions at the heart and soul of Pope Francis’ ministry. It is his unflinching freedom that allows him to do what he does because he is unafraid and totally free to be himself at the same time of being such faithful son of the Church. It is his goodness, joy, kindness and mercy that introduce us to the tenderness of our God. No wonder why he has taken the world by storm, and why so many people are paying attention to him. No wonder why magazines and newspapers acclaim him as “Person of the Year”, “best Dressed man,” “Rolling Stone” icon and “Advocate” champion, to name but a few! No wonder why the Pope, and many of those who are trying to serve him and represent him are considered to be subversive! Pope Francis, himself shared that with us in his closing message to the recent Synod of Bishops last October when he said: “the temptations must not frighten or disconcert us, or even discourage us, because no disciple is greater than his master; so if Jesus Himself was tempted – and even called Beelzebul – His disciples should not expect better treatment.”

We need the Francis revolution of tenderness, mercy and normalcy now more than ever before. I invite you to join me in praying for the Holy Father tonight:

 

Lord our God,

We thank you for always providing shepherds to guide the Church.

We thank you most especially for Francis,

the one you have chosen to be our chief shepherd

and guide at this moment in history.

Bless him with health and vision, boldness and courage,

wisdom and compassion, and boundless joy and hope.

Make him an instrument of your peace, compassion and mercy,

In your mercy you called Francis and you call each of us

to cling to Jesus, the rock of fidelity and truth.

May Pope Francis inspire us to be better Christians,

faithful Catholics and architects and citizens

of the civilization of love that your son entrusted to us.

We ask this in Jesus’ name, who lives with you forever and ever.

Amen.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, pray for us, and watch over Pope Francis.

Rochester native talks of pope who ‘won over media’

Rosica_Courier

ROCHESTER — In just two years Pope Francis has “opened the floodgates of communication” in the Catholic Church, which effectively had been a cloistered institution, and has rebranded both Catholicism and the papacy, according to Basilian Father Thomas Rosica.

A Rochester native, Father Rosica as served since 2013 has served as English-language assistant to the Holy See Press Office. He spoke at Sacred Heart Cathedral Feb. 19  to deliver an inaugural Catholic Press Month lecture presented by the Catholic Courier and El Mensajero Católico.

In introducing Father Rosica’s talk on the topic “Catholic Communications in the Age of Pope Francis,” Karen M. Franz, the newspapers’ general manager and editor, said she hoped the annual lectures would create greater awareness of Catholic media, which provides the context necessary to help readers understand church teachings and positions.

The Courier served this mission well over the last several decades, said Father Rosica, who noted that his journalistic career began at the Courier in 1975, when as a student at Aquinas Institute he began reporting on his school’s events for the newspaper’s youth-run RapAround section.

“What has always impressed me about the Courier has been the ways that this Catholic newspaper has lived up to the standards of the broader journalistic profession to which it belongs,” said Father Rosica, who in addition to his duties at the Vatican also serves as chief executive officer of Canada’s Salt + Light Catholic Television Network.

In his role at Salt + Light, Father Rosica occasionally sends reporters out to ask people on the street what they think the Catholic Church is all about. Until a few years ago, respondents usually cited the priestly sex-abuse crisis and the church’s opposition to abortion, gay marriage and birth control, he said.

Gradually, however, those answers have been changing since Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, SJ, became Pope Francis in March 2013. Now people on the street talk about Pope Francis, frequently commenting on how much they like this pope, who is concerned about mercy, compassion and love, especially for the poor, Father Rosica said.

“Whether we wish to admit it or not, Pope Francis has won over the media. By no means is this an indication that the teachings of the church and the message of the Gospel have been fully understood or received by all. Nevertheless, something has shifted in terms of Church-media relations,” he added.

Although the pope’s messages are not always understood, the world is now listening to the pope in unprecedented ways, Father Rosica said. The world has been captivated by the Holy Father, who has a knack for making significant gestures that convey powerful messages, he said. Media outlets do an injustice, however, when they negatively compare Pope Benedict XVI to the current pontiff, he added.

“If today we are basking in the Franciscan light, it is because we owe a debt of gratitude to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and his courageous decision to step down two years ago. … It has changed the church forever, it has changed the world forever, and it certainly changed my life,” Father Rosica said. “Benedict’s resignation provides a rare but profound example of humility in action. … He has set a new course for the church.”

While many positively received reforms and actions now underway actually began under the watch of Pope Benedict XV, the current pontiff’s spontaneous public interactions with the public and unscripted conversations with the media are unique to Pope Francis, he noted. Many of Pope Francis’ actions, such as his decision to go to confession in public during a penance service last March, come as a complete surprise to even his closest aides, Father Rosica said, recalling his own shock at seeing the pope kneeling in front of a confessional, an action that was not included in the detailed script in Father Rosica’s hands.

“That’s the beauty of this pontificate. We don’t have a script, and he doesn’t have to be tamed,” Father Rosica said.

Pope Francis also surprised his aides just a few months after his election when he expressed a strong desire to visit the Italian island of Lampedusa, where thousands of African immigrants have died in recent years while trying to reach Europe. The pope’s team put him off, telling the Holy Father that it would take months to plan such an excursion, but news reports about hundreds of immigrants drowning en route to Lampedusa only strengthened Pope Francis’ resolve. Before long Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s spokesman, received a phone call alerting him to the fact that someone identifying himself as Pope Francis had been calling commercial airlines and inquiring about chartering a flight to Lampedusa, Father Rosica recalled.

When asked if he by chance had been the man behind those phone calls, Pope Francis said, “Well, you won’t take me, so I’ll get there myself,” Father Rosica continued, noting that the pope’s aides arranged the trip for the next month.

Those in attendance at the Feb. 19 lecture enjoyed hearing such anecdotes about the pope, noted Mercy Sister Marilyn Williams.

“Father Rosica made him come even more alive than we have experienced through the media so far,” said Sister Williams, who said she also appreciated the fact that Father Rosica set such stories in the context of the pope’s overarching philosophies and agenda.

“This is the only agenda of Francis: to lead people to Jesus Christ so their lives and their joy may be full,” Father Rosica said.

Many commentators are frustrated because they can’t pigeonhole the pope into a single category, yet Pope Francis’ words remain consistent with his actions, he added.

“He is not quite conservative and nor entirely progressive. His message is filled with paradoxes because life is a paradox and Christian life is a great paradox. The world is listening to him because Francis models a solid consistency, the one between his words and his deeds, and that between its current papal mission and life forever,”  he said.

This article was written by Jennifer Burke of the Catholic Courier. Find the original posting here

On the Significance and Role of Cardinals

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Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

In light of the important meetings of Cardinals taking place this week at the Vatican that culminate in tomorrow’s ceremony for the “creation” of 20 new cardinals, I offer this brief explanation of the role of Cardinals in the Roman Catholic Church.

Cardinals are chosen by the Holy Father to serve as his principal assistants and advisers in the central administration of church affairs. Collectively, they form the College of Cardinals. The word cardinal is derived from two early Latin terms, cardo and cardinis. The English translation has rendered these two words as “hinge,” to signify that important device that serves as a juncture for two opposing forces and that affords harmony as a result. As a hinge permits a door to hang easily upon a framed portal, it was believed that the cardinals facilitated an easy relationship between the theological and governmental roles of the hierarchy of the Church. The role of the College of Cardinals remains a pivotal one in the Church of our time.

The cardinals’ color red of his robes symbolizes the blood shed by martyrs and witnesses for the faith. Giving public, clear witness to the faith lies at the heart of each Cardinal’s mission. At the consistory of Cardinals in November 2010, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI addressed the new Cardinals at the Eucharistic celebration inaugurating their new ministry with these words:

“This ministry is difficult because it is not in line with the human way of thinking — with that natural logic which, moreover, continues to be active within us too. But this is and always remains our primary service, the service of faith that transforms the whole of life: believing that Jesus is God, that he is the King precisely because he reached that point, because he loved us to the very end. And we must witness and proclaim this paradoxical kingship as he, the King, did, that is, by following his own way and striving to adopt his same logic, the logic of humility and service, of the grain of wheat which dies to bear fruit.”

At last year’s ceremonies for the creation of new Cardinals (February 22, 2014), Pope Francis described the cardinal’s critical role with these words:

“And as we are thus “con-voked”, “called to himself” by our one Teacher, I will tell you what the Church needs: she needs you, your cooperation, and even more your communion, with me and among yourselves. The Church needs your courage, to proclaim the Gospel at all times, both in season and out of season, and to bear witness to the truth. The Church needs your prayer for the progress of Christ’s flock, that prayer – let us not forget this! – which, along with the proclamation of the Word, is the primary task of the Bishop. The Church needs your compassion, especially at this time of pain and suffering for so many countries throughout the world. Let us together express our spiritual closeness to the ecclesial communities and to all Christians suffering from discrimination and persecution. We must fight every form of discrimination! The Church needs our prayer for them, that they may be firm in faith and capable of responding to evil with good. And this prayer of ours extends to every man and women suffering injustice on account of their religious convictions.

The Church needs us also to be peacemakers, building peace by our words, our hopes and our prayers. Building peace! Being peacemakers! Let us therefore invoke peace and reconciliation for those peoples presently experiencing violence, exclusion and war.”

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Cardinals have the responsibility of advising the Pope when he convenes a Consistory (special meeting of cardinals). The primary role of cardinals is that of meeting together at the resignation or death of a pope to elect his successor. They have no real power, except during the period between popes known as sede vacante. Originally their role was devised as a sort of bridge between the theological and governing roles of the hierarchy of the Church.

In the case of Pope Francis, the new Cardinals assist him to enact the reforms he began shortly after his election as Bishop of Rome and leader of the Roman Catholic Church. This includes a revamp of the governance of the Catholic Church and the reform of the financial structures in the central government of the Church. Also under Pope Francis, cardinals are playing a key role in addressing head-on the sex abuse scandal and the protection of minors that has plagued the Catholic Church for the past years.

Opening the Consistory on February 12, 2015, Pope Francis stressed that the aim of the Curial reform “is always that of promoting greater harmony in the work of the various dicasteries and offices, in order to achieve more effective collaboration in that absolute transparency which builds authentic synodality and collegiality.”

“Reform is not an end in itself, but a way of giving strong Christian witness; to promote more effective evangelization; to promote a fruitful ecumenical spirit; and to encourage a more constructive dialogue with all.”

The Pope went on to say that this reform was “strongly advocated by the majority of cardinals” in the pre-conclave meetings, and is intended to “enhance the identity of the Roman Curia itself, which is to assist Peter’s successor in the exercise of his supreme pastoral office for the good and in the service of the universal Church and the particular Churches, in order to strengthen the unity of faith and the communion of the people of God, and to promote the mission of the Church in the world.”

When each new cardinal climbs the steps to the main altar of St. Peter’s Basilica and kneels before Pope Francis to receive the red berretta, he begins a form of public martyrdom. If he is a residential archbishop or bishop, He not only represents his local church but his entire nation. As Cardinal, he does not lord it over others, but continues to serve the Church through the logic of humility and service – a logic which has distinguished his priestly and episcopal ministry for many years.

WuerlTRIn becoming a cardinal, one becomes a hinge, a door, a public witness, and a peacemaker. Cardinals have the great responsibility of being instruments and agents of communion, harmony, compassion and mercy, constantly reaching out, listening to all generations, consulting, dialoguing with the secular and the sacred, and facilitating the complex but necessary relationship between the theological and governmental roles of the hierarchy of the Church. At the heart of the cardinal’s vocation and mission is a passion for the unity of the Church and a deep desire to be at the service of the successor of Peter.

An excellent example of a cardinal’s vocation and mission can be found in this moving text written this past week by the Cardinal archbishop of Washington, DC, Donald Wuerl. Cardinal Wuerl has taken to heart the critical role of cardinal at this moment in Church history.

Read it here: The Pope, Touchstone of Faith and Unity

 

From Synod to Synod Airs on S+L

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On October 2, 2014, Pope Francis said, “A synod means walking together and also praying together.” Three months ago, the Church was given a gift in the form of the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. We are very thankful that S+L could be a part of the historical moment in Church. Last year, Fr. Thomas Rosica led a S+L TV production team in Rome to cover the Synod in English, French and Chinese at the Vatican. It was a fruitful experience and a huge blessing for us all.

On January 26, 2015, we experienced yet another fruitful moment. We hosted a special presentation on the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family at St. Michael’s College School. The presentation was led by Fr. Thomas Rosica with three of our producers, Sebastian Gomes (who covered the Synod in English), Charles Le Bourgeois (who did the French coverage) and Rodney Leung (who led our Chinese coverage). The evening was a beautiful time to share our Synod experience with our board members and general public.

The evening kicked off with the premiere of a short S+L video production on the Synod, titled “This is the Synod of Bishops – 2014 Synod Recap.” Check it out below!

After the video premiere, Fr. Rosica gave a short summary of the evening to come and introduced our producers! Each producer then gave a short presentation ranging from 6-15 minutes on their own experience at the Synod. It was quite interesting to hear about all the stuff that happened INSIDE the Synod, stuff that wasn’t usually reported on by the media. And since our three reporters each reported in their own language, we lived three different experiences!

Following the short presentations came the Q&A period of the night. The audience members asked excellent questions on euthanasia and homosexual unions, just to name a few. The whole evening was a huge success! Afterwards, we received many positives remarks and compliments on all the great work our producers did.

(Check out a few photos of the evening at the end of the post!)

The Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops was just a preparatory stage for the Synod that is come in October 2015. There is still a long way to go for the Church and for the faithful.

Let us all learn not to judge, but to love and to pray with people and for all people.

Let us also keep Pope Francis, all the cardinals and bishops in our prayers. May the Holy Spirit be with them always and guide them in the upcoming Synod this October.

Lastly, thank you for your prayers and your generous support for us! We will broadcast this special program – “From Synod to Synod” soon. We would love to share this special moment with all of you and your family.

God Bless!

Holy Family of Nazareth, pray for us!

TomTSCR  SCR1

AudienceReception1 Reception NoelTony Emilie BillyTable

Check out our Facebook page for more photos!

From Synod to Synod airs Thursday, February 19, 2015.

 

Pope says it’s OK to spank children if you don’t demean them

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(CNN) Pope Francis has stirred up a hornet’s nest with remarks in which he said it’s OK for parents to spank children, so long as they do it with dignity.

The comments came in his general audience Wednesday in St. Peter’s Square, when Francis was talking about the importance of a good father within a family.

“I once heard at a wedding a father say, ‘I sometimes have to hit my children a little but never in the face, so as to not demean them.’ How nice, I thought, he has a sense of dignity,” the Pope said.

“When he punishes, he does it right and moves on.”

The principle of not humiliating the child while doling out the punishment appears to be central to the Pope’s justification of spanking, as is that of forgiveness.

“A good father knows how to wait and knows how to forgive from the bottom of his heart. Of course he can also discipline with a firm hand: he’s not weak, submissive, sentimental,” he said.

“This father knows how to discipline without demeaning; he knows how to protect without restraint.”

The issue of corporal punishment for children is divisive in many countries, and the Pope’s remarks prompted an outpouring of both support and criticism on social media.

Father Thomas Rosica, a Vatican spokesman, told CNN that it was important not to take the Pope’s words out of context — and that there was an important distinction to be made between discipline and punishment.

“It’s about time that we stop and allow the Pope to speak the language of most ordinary people, especially parents, who understand the Pope far better than those who parse every single word and statement that comes out of his mouth!” he said.

“Let us not read into the Pope’s words anything other than what is there. He speaks constantly of mercy and tenderness. He speaks as a pastor and loving father figure who loves children and wants the best for them.”

Francis showed this affection in a Google Hangout with disabled children from around the world Thursday, Rosica added, and “speaks about disciplining children and never punishing them.”

The pontiff also met with street children on a visit to a shelter in the Philippines last month.

According to the website of the Global Alliance to End Corporal Punishment of Children, children in at least 43 states are protected by law from all corporal punishment.

They include more than 20 European nations, as well as countries in Africa and Latin America.

The United States is not one of the nations where corporal punishment is banned, but an anti-spanking movement has gained momentum there.

The case of NFL star Adrian Peterson, given probation, a fine and community service in November after he admitted whipping his 4-year-old son, stirred up the debate. The NFL also suspended the Minnesota Vikings star running back for the rest of the season.

This article was originally published on CNN

Loyola online program geared to religious women

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The Loyola Institute for Ministry (LIM) has been shrinking the world one webinar and one online course at a time, and now it is embarking on a new program that will aid seven religious communities in the U.S. and Africa strengthen their social communications and transmit to the world who they are and what they do.   With a $900,000 grant from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation – which sets aside money in part to help Catholic religious communities – LIM is launching a web-based program to help Catholic sisters in the U.S. and Africa enhance their leadership skills, strengthen their ability to spread their charisms through social media and, it hopes, increase vocations.

Some of the grant money will be used to purchase new computers and faster Internet access for the various communities.

Teams with Salt+Light TV

In addition, LIM will partner with Toronto-based Salt+Light Television, headed by Father Thomas Rosica, to create short videos to promote their religious communities and their ministries. Father Rosica serves as the English-speaking assistant to the Vatican Press Office for the Synod on the Family.

“We’re really committed to distance learning, and through that commitment to distance learning we increasingly have had a focus on communication and the spirituality of communication,” said Dr. Thomas Ryan, director of LIM. “The central event of our faith is God’s communication of God’s word in Jesus. That’s what our faith is about. We are called, as a result, to be attentive to our communication and to imitate God’s pedagogy.”   Ryan said another aspect of why the program fits under the Loyola umbrella is LIM’s “interest in Catholic identity and how schools, as well as religious communities, can hand on their Catholic identity and charisms in this new era.”

The three African communities participating in the program are the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (Nigeria), Sisters of Our Lady of Kilimanjaro (Tanzania) and the Religious of the Sacred Heart (Uganda and Kenya).   The four U.S. congregations in the program have a large presence in the Archdiocese of New Orleans – the Daughters of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary of Chi Hoa (U.S. province of the Vietnamese order), Sisters of the Holy Family, Marianites of Holy Cross (U.S. and France) and the Sisters of Mount Carmel.

Ryan said the grant provides for a three-year, pilot program. The course will include studies on the theology and spirituality of communication and teach advanced social media skills.   “We’ll see if this can help these congregations, and we would like to expand it beyond these congregations,” Ryan said. “Basically, these congregations are ones we know because we have had graduates from them.”

Each congregation will have six nuns participate in the courses. Three of those will pursue graduate certificates in the theology of ministry, and three will take the courses for continuing education certificates.

“The end result, we hope, will be an increase in vocations, an increase in contributions from benefactors, an increase in leadership potential and an increased knowledge of the Catholic faith,” Ryan said.

No time zone problems

Because the participants are in different time zones, the courses will be “asynchronous,” which means students will take them when it fits their schedules. “We do hope to have a few live gatherings,” Ryan said.

Some of the communities will have to deal with infrastructure issues, Ryan said. In Tanzania, electricity is intermittent, so the grant provides for solar-powered equipment to run the computers and maintain an Internet connection.
Father Rosica’s role will be to coordinate Salt+Light’s production of high-quality videos – one being a longer-form documentary that conveys the individual community’s charism, and the other being a short one that can be used in a social media setting.

For more information, contact Ryan at 865-2069 or tfryan@loyno.edu. Information on LIM is available at www.lim.loyno.edu.

This article was originally published by Peter Finney Jr. on Clarion Herald.

Pope’s media messenger excited by wide tent

Fr Tom

 It seems Pope Francis is connecting with people of all faiths in a way that recent past popes have not. And, Basilian Father Tom Rosica, executive director of Salt + Light Media and the newly appointed English-language assistant to the Holy See press office, is witness to this.

“What strikes me is he has a handle on things,” Father Rosica said. “He is not a distant leader. He’s got a great sense of the situation, which means he is an excellent administrator. His pastoral skills are extraordinary. The human skills are amazing. And it’s the touch, the hugs, the compassion, the tears. It’s extraordinary what he is doing. He’s touching the world.”

Father Rosica was in New Orleans last week discussing with seven women religious congregations the best ways to use grant money through Loyola’s Institute for Ministry (LIM) for Salt + Light to highlight the rich charisms of each congregation and what consecrated life is today.

“The gift of religious life is a gift that needs to be told and shared,” Father Rosica said.
He spoke frankly about Salt + Light’s evangelization ministry, which he founded in 2003, and about his frequent experiences with Pope Francis.

“I get on a plane, dressed in a Roman collar, and the stewardess comes over and says, ‘Your pope is really cute,’” Father Rosica said. “I get in a taxi in Toronto, and the Sikh taxi driver says, ‘What a pope.’

“My Jewish friends ask me if it’s OK to consider him our pope, too? I tell them, ‘Yes, it’s fine.’ So, obviously, there’s something happening which is far beyond us. I am very aware of many people who have been on a shoestring and a prayer or on a lifeline to the Catholic faith and suddenly they are giving the church a chance. And, he’s touched many people.”

Father Rosica said people who come to him in confession said the example of Pope Francis brought them back.

“Obviously, the Lord is using this man,” Father Rosica said. “It’s really is a lesson for all of us – just when you have for plans for retirement (like Pope Francis did) and we want to wrap things up, his greatest work is being done now.”

Not exactly doing what he wanted

Father Rosica, who speaks seven languages, said his inspiration to become a priest came from excellent Sacred Heart Sisters and the Sisters of St. Joseph and the strong role Basilian priests played for him at a Basilian high school in Rochester and a college they started.

He was impressed by their “hard work, dedication and their genuine interest in young people. I owe much to their example.”

His goal as a priest was to be a high school French teacher, something he did for a few years. But God had other plans. He taught in the graduate school of theology at Canadian universities for 18 years (1990-2008), taking a year to chair the World Youth Day in Canada in 2002.

Then, in 2003, he was invited to be founding chief executive officer of Salt + Light Television, Canada’s first national Catholic television network. He soon will end a three-year term as president of Assumption University in Windsor, Ontario.

“I’ve done nothing I wanted to do,” he jokes. “Some people want everything mapped out for them. My line has been, ‘Somebody else is writing my script.’”

Whatever he is doing, he makes sure to keep young people around him, something Pope John Paul II advised him to do at World Youth Day in Canada, knowing they would keep him young.

At World Youth Day, he had a staff of 400, of which 295 were young adults between the ages of 25-35, and they didn’t let him down. He does the same at the television network, where he leads a staff of 35 people, all younger than he (he’s 55).

“They must be in the front lines,” he said. “That’s been my modus operandi since I have been a priest.”

Father Rosica became involved at the Vatican in 2008 when he was chosen as the English-speaking media attaché of the Synod of Bishops. In 2009, Pope Benedict appointed Father Rosica as a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, and again in 2012 he was the English-speaking interpreter for the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization.

That led him in 2013 to the Holy See press office in Rome for about six or seven weeks during the papal transition as Father Lombardi’s assistant for English-speaking reporters. Father Lombardi asked him to stay on to foster and develop the relationship with those journalists.

“One thing led to another, and now I relate to the (almost 800) English-language journalists in the name of the Vatican every morning to disseminate the text of the pope, help people to understand (the remarks) and, when necessary, when in Rome to do press conferences,” he said.

Knows about religious

While he works with a variety of religious orders through Salt + Light, he met many others as part of apostolic visitation of women religious in December as one of three male visitors among 75 women.

“It was a wonderful experience to work with an incredible team and learn from the different communities in the United States,” he said.

Father Rosica said he’s learned something from each of his posts, but his main piece of wisdom has been to get the message out clearly and simply. He will use that advice as he creates videos of women religious congregations for the grant project through LIM.

Father Rosica told the nuns some dos and don’ts as they begin to gather information, photos, interview subjects and locations to tell their congregation’s story.

“What we’re going to try to do is bring out the best, and many times we can bring out things you didn’t even know were there, you’ve taken them for granted,” Father Rosica told the sisters. “So trust us, pray for us. This is a great honor for us to do and especially launching this in the consecrated life year.”

Loves Pope Francis

Father Rosica said Pope Francis is “a brilliant communicator because he is a great pastor. I love Francis.”

“I’ve loved each of the popes, but there is something very moving about Francis,” he added. “There are two things about Francis. People are considering him to be this great revolutionary. The only revolutions he’s come to bring about are the revolutions of tenderness, which he speaks about in ‘Evangelii Gaudium,’ and the revolution of normalcy. What he’s doing is completely normal, and it’s quite outputting to some people.

“He’s a breath of fresh air, and he’s reaching the world. The world is listening, and we haven’t had this happen in quite a long time. Though some in the Catholic Church might have some question marks, the entire world is listening to and watching him. He is the most credible moral leader in the world.”

 

This article was originally published by Christine Bordelon on the Clarion Herald.

“To take Jesus in our hands and enfold him in our arms…”

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The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord – Monday, February 2, 2015

In 1997, Saint John Paul II established the special Day of Consecrated Life to coincide with the Feast of the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem (February 2).  The Pope gave three reasons for his selection of February 2 as a special day for religious women and men: first, to praise and thank the Lord for the gift of consecrated life; second, to promote the knowledge and appreciation of consecrated women and men by all the People of God; and third, to invite all those who have dedicated their life to the cause of the Gospel to celebrate the wonderful ways that Lord has worked through them.

The special scripture readings for the Feast are the readings for Sunday (Malachi 3:1-4; Psalm 24:7,8,9,10; Hebrews 2:14-18; and Luke 2:22-40).

Biblical background

According to the Mosaic law (Leviticus 12:2-8), a woman who gives birth to a boy is unable for forty days to touch anything sacred or to enter the temple area by reason of her legal impurity. At the end of this period she is required to offer a year-old lamb as a burnt offering and a turtledove or young pigeon as an expiation of sin. The woman who could not afford a lamb offered instead two turtledoves or two young pigeons, as Mary and Joseph do in today’s Gospel. They took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord: as the firstborn son (Luke 2:7) Jesus was consecrated to the Lord as the law required (Exodus 13:2, 12), but there was no requirement that this be done at the temple. The concept of a presentation at the temple is probably derived from 1 Sam 1:24-28, where Hannah offers the child Samuel for sanctuary services. The law further stipulated (Numbers 3:47-48) that the firstborn son should be redeemed by the parents through their payment of five shekels to a member of a priestly family. Luke remains silent about this legal requirement.

Let us reflect on the very poignant Gospel scene of the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple found in chapter 2 of Luke’s Infancy narrative (2:22-38). In this touching scene, we encounter four individuals who embrace the new life of Jesus held in their arms: the elderly and faithful Simeon, the old, wise prophetess Anna, and the young couple, Mary and Joseph, who in faithful obedience offer their child to the Lord.  Luke writes that “when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, the old Simeon took the baby into his arms and blessed God” (Lk 2:27-28). At that point the evangelist places on Simeon’s lips the canticle Nunc Dimittis – this beautiful prayer is really an anthology of the prayer of ancient Israel.  The liturgy has us repeat it daily at night prayer:  “My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all peoples, a light of revelation to the Gentiles and glory for your people Israel” (2:30-32).

The Holy Spirit was at work in Simeon and also in the life of the prophetess Anna who, having remained a widow since her youth, “never left the Temple, but worshipped night and day with fasting and prayer” (2:37). She was a woman consecrated to God and, in the light of God’s Spirit, especially capable of grasping God’s plan and interpreting God’s commands. “And coming forward at that very time, Anna gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem” (Lk 2:38). Like Simeon she too, without a doubt was moved by the Holy Spirit in her encounter with Jesus.

PL15.1The prophetic words of Simeon and Anna not only announced the Savior’s coming into the world and his presence in Israel’s midst, but also his redemptive sacrifice. This second part of the prophecy was directed precisely to Mary, mother of the Savior: “He is destined for the rise and fall of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (2:34-35).

Two important perspectives for the Consecrated life flow from this deeply touching Gospel story.  The Presentation of God’s own son into Jerusalem’s majestic temple takes place amidst the many comings and goings of various people, busy with their work: priests and Levites taking turns to be on duty; crowds of devout pilgrims anxious to encounter the God of Israel in his earthly dwelling in Jerusalem. Yet none of them noticed anything special about the scene unfolding before them. Jesus was a child like the others, a first-born son of very simple, humble, holy parents.

The temple priests, too, were incapable of recognizing the signs of the new and special presence of the Messiah and Saviour. Rather it was two elderly people, Simeon and Anna, who were able to discover the great newness present in the person of the child Jesus. Because they were led by the Holy Spirit, Simeon and Anna found in this Child the fulfillment of their patient waiting and faithful watchfulness.  Upon seeing the Child, Simeon and Anna understood that he was the long Awaited One.  He was the fulfillment of their hopes and dreams.

Simeon and Anna, coupled with the simplicity and piety of Mary, Joseph and the baby reveal the sheer humanity of this meeting.  The old man holds the child in his arms – the torch of life somehow spanning two generations of faithful Jews.  Holding this child in his arms, he knows that he is holding his very future close to his heart.  What contentment to know that he is embracing in his arms the continuity of his own life! Simeon has hoped, he has believed and now his hope, in the shape of a baby, is here, full of vitality and future promise.  The old man rejoices that others will continue his work; he is happy that in his own decline there is indeed a reawakening, a rebirth, a future that is opening up.

Anna, too, is not afraid to bless the newness and challenge that this child brings.  It is not easy for the old person that lies within each one of us to welcome the new, to take the baby up in our arms.  There is always the fear that the baby will not survive, that the newborn will not share the same ideals, that this child will betray our ideals and in so doing put us aside and take our place. Though elderly, Simeon and Anna embodied a hopeful, youthful vision. They were evergreen.

PL15.2This story is played out each time I have visited my elderly confrères in our various retirement homes and congregational infirmary.  There are those who rejoice in us younger brothers, like Simeon and Anna, because they see us carrying the torch forward.  And there are those who fear that we will not survive, that we will betray their ideals and not pay attention to them because they are simply old.  If we hope to be consecrated men and women of vision in the Church today, it is because we are standing on the shoulders of giants, of those who have gone before us.  We must never forget this fact.  Each time we have attempted to go forward, not remembering what and who went before us, we have paid a dear price.

The second unique perspective of Luke’s Presentation Gospel scene is that of bearing Christ to the world. If our religious congregations, our local communities, our educational institutions, our parish structures, our varied apostolic works do not bear Jesus to the world, and do not speak about him openly, then we are not fulfilling the mission entrusted to us by God and the Church.

The newness, effectiveness, power of proclamation of our educational and pastoral efforts do not primarily consist in the use of dazzling, original methods or techniques, which certainly have their effectiveness, but in being filled with the Holy Spirit and allowing ourselves to be guided by Him. The novelty of authentic proclamation of the Good News lies in immersing ourselves deeply in the mystery of Christ, the assimilation of His Word and of His presence in the Eucharist, so that He Himself, the living Jesus, can act and speak through poor instruments like us.

Pope Francis is a magnificent example of the New Evangelization in the flesh. He speaks so often about the “culture of encounter” that brings us face to face with other human beings.  If you want to know what Evangelization looks like, feels likes, smells like look at Francis, himself an elderly man, who lives the Gospel of Joy.  Pope Francis as not lost his hopeful, youthful vision.  He, too, is evergreen.

In paragraph #88 of his recent Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium,” the Bishop of Rome writes:

“Many try to escape from others and take refuge in the comfort of their privacy or in a small circle of close friends, renouncing the realism of the social aspect of the Gospel. For just as some people want a purely spiritual Christ, without flesh and without the cross, they also want their interpersonal relationships provided by sophisticated equipment, by screens and systems which can be turned on and off on command. Meanwhile, the Gospel tells us constantly to run the risk of a face-to-face encounter with others, with their physical presence which challenges us, with their pain and their pleas, with their joy which infects us in our close and continuous interaction. True faith in the incarnate Son of God is inseparable from self-giving, from membership in the community, from service, from reconciliation with others. The Son of God, by becoming flesh, summoned us to the revolution of tenderness.

A Kairos Moment

When Mary and Joseph arrived at Jerusalem’s Temple, with the Child Jesus in their arms, it was not just one more ordinary moment in the life of an old priest and a faithful prophetess on duty that day.  It was the divinely appointed moment.  Ordinary time “chronos” was suddenly transformed into “the moment from God.”

Because we live in this very same kairos, the “appointed time and hour” of our history, we cannot speak of the future of the Church, the future of our parish community, the future of our dioceses and religious congregations,, the future of our activities of education and evangelization, indeed the future of anything!  The only real issue for us is Jesus and the future of the Church, Jesus and the future of our parish community, Jesus and the future of our dioceses and religious communities, Jesus and the future of our educational and pastoral programs and activities, Jesus and the future of everything!  Too often our look at the future is purely scientific or sociological, with no reference to Jesus, the Gospel or the action of the Spirit in history and in the church.

On this special day when we give thanks to God for the Consecrated Life, we must ask ourselves some significant questions.   Why do some of our contemporaries – brothers and sisters in religious life – see and find Christ, while others do not? What opens the eyes and the heart? What is lacking in those who remain indifferent? Does our self-assurance, the claim to knowing reality, the presumption of having formulated a definitive judgment on everything not close us off and make our hearts insensitive to the newness of God? How often are we dead certain of the idea that we have formed of the world, of the Church, of the consecrated life, and no longer let ourselves be involved in the curiosity and intimacy of an adventure with God who wants to meet us and draw us closer to Him?

How frequently do we place our confidence in ourselves rather than in the Child of Bethlehem, and we do not think it possible that God could be so great as to make himself small so as to come really close to us?  How could it be that God’s glory and power are revealed in a helpless Baby?

The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, and the carefully chosen words of Simeon’s prayer invite us into contemplation and adoration of the Word made flesh, dwelling powerfully among us.  We all lead busy lives.  We do important, good works.  Many of our lives are deeply enmeshed with the institutions and enterprises we serve.  At times are we not so caught up with the comings and goings of so many people in our daily existence, that we forget to notice Jesus in our midst?

Jesus, who comes to us in the distressing disguise of the poor, the unbalanced, the angry, sad and confused people who make up our worlds?  Jesus, who comes to us from very simple, humble, holy parents who cannot do anything for us, except simply to be there?  Could it be that we consecrated women and men, like those in Jerusalem’s temple, are incapable of recognizing the signs of the new and special presence of the Messiah and Saviour?  And when we do encounter the radical newness that is Jesus, will we hold the baby in our arms, welcome him, make room for him in our lives?  Will the ‘newness’ he brings really enter into our lives or will we try to put the old and the new together hoping that the newness of God will cause us minimum disturbance?

How do we see God’s glory in our lives?  Do we thirst for justice and peace?    What are the new situations and who are the new people who have entered our lives in the last little while?  What new realities are we avoiding or afraid of or rebelling against?  How are we truly light and salvation for other people? Are we capable of warming human hearts by our lives?  Do we radiate joy or announce despair? Do we live the Gospel of joy?

I conclude with the striking words of a great theologian and teacher of the second century, Origen (185-223).  They are from his homily on Luke’s account of the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple:

“Simeon knew that no one could release a man from the prison of the body with hope of life to come, except the one whom he enfolded in his arms. Hence, he also says to him, “Now you dismiss your servant, Lord, in peace” (Lk 8,44). For, as long as I did not hold Christ, as long as my arms did not enfold him, I was imprisoned, and unable to escape from my bounds. But this is true not only of Simeon, but of the whole human race. Anyone who departs from this world, anyone who is released from prison and the house of those in chains, to go forth and reign, should take Jesus in his hands. He should enfold him with his arms, and fully grasp him in his bosom. Then he will be able to go in joy where he longs to go… .”

Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B., is CEO of the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation in Canada and President of Assumption University in Windsor, Ontario. He is also English Language Assistant to the Holy See Press Office.

[The readings for the Presentation of the Lord are: Malachi 3:1-4; Psalm 24:7,8,9,10; Hebrews 2:14-18; and Luke 2:22-40.]

Taking the Gospel of Life to the Streets…

FrancisBaby

Last year on April 11, 2014, Pope Francis addressed the Italian Pro-Life movement with these provocative words:

“We know that human life is sacred and inviolable. Every civil right rests on the recognition of the first and fundamental right, that of life, which is not subordinate to any condition, be it quantitative, economic or, least of all, ideological. “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills…. Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a ‘throw away’ culture which is now spreading” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, n. 53). And in this way life, too, ends up being thrown away. One of the gravest risks our epoch faces, amid the opportunities offered by a market equipped with every technological innovation, is the divorce between economics and morality, the basic ethical norms of human nature are increasingly neglected. It is therefore necessary to express the strongest possible opposition to every direct attack on life, especially against the innocent and defenseless, and the unborn in a mother’s womb is the example of innocence par excellence. Let us remember the words of the Second Vatican Council: “Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes” (Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, n. 51).”

Today we are living in the midst of a culture that denies solidarity and takes the form of a veritable “culture of death”. This culture is actively fostered by powerful cultural, economic and political currents that encourage an idea of society exclusively concerned with efficiency. It is a war of the powerful against the weak. There is no room in the world for anyone who, like the unborn or the dying, is a weak element in the social structure or anyone who appears completely at the mercy of others and radically dependent on them and can only communicate through the silent language of profound sharing of affection. Abortion is the most serious wound inflicted not only on individuals and their families who should provide the sanctuary for life, but inflicted as well on society and its culture, by the very people who ought to be society’s promoters and defenders. Let us never forget Pope Benedict XVI’s words at the opening ceremony of World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney, Australia, on July 17, 2008:

And so we are led to reflect on what place the poor and the elderly, immigrants and the voiceless, have in our societies. How can it be that domestic violence torments so many mothers and children? How can it be that the most wondrous and sacred human space – the womb – has become a place of unutterable violence?

The Roman Catholic Church holds a consistent ethic of life. The Church offers a teaching on the inviolability, the sacredness and dignity of the human person. However, opposition to abortion and euthanasia does not excuse indifference to those who suffer from poverty, violence and injustice. Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the dignity of the human person such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself, whatever insults human dignity such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, disgraceful working conditions where people are treated as instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons – all of these things and more poison human society.

In economically developed countries, legislation contrary to life is very widespread, and it has already shaped moral attitudes and praxis, contributing to the spread of an anti-birth mentality; frequent attempts are made to export this mentality to other states as if it were a form of cultural progress.

“Openness to life is at the centre of true development,” wrote Pope Benedict in his encyclical “Caritas in Veritate.” When a society moves toward the denial or suppression of life, it ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation and energy to strive for man’s true good. If personal and social sensitivity toward the acceptance of a new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away.” The Holy Father sums up the current global economic crisis in a remarkable way with these words: “Human costs always include economic costs, and economic dysfunctions always involve human costs.”

The burning issues of the promotion of human life must be high on the agenda of every human being on every side of the political spectrum. They are not only the concern of the far right of the political spectrum. Many people, blinded by their own zeal and goodness, have ended up defeating the very cause for which we must all defend with every ounce of energy in our flesh and bones.

The market push towards euthanasia

FrancisElderlyIf we look carefully at the great dramas of the last century, we see that as free markets toppled Communism, exaggerated consumerism and materialism infiltrated our societies and cultures. Aging populations, especially in the west, and resulting smaller workforces are now creating a market push towards euthanasia. As St. John Paul II wrote: “a right to die will inevitably give way to the duty to die.”

Most people who think that euthanasia and assisted suicide should be legal are not thinking the whole issue through. They are thinking about personal autonomy and choice. They think about what it would be like to suddenly become incapacitated and consider such a life as undignified or worthless. Perhaps they consider severely disabled people as having no quality of life. Our dignity and quality of life don’t come from what we can or cannot do. Dignity and quality of life are not matters of efficiency, proficiency and productivity. They come from a deeper place – from who we are and how we relate to each other. True compassion leads to sharing another’s pain, not killing the person whose suffering we cannot bear.

What is wrong with abortion, euthanasia, embryo selection, and embryonic research is not the motives of those who carry them out. So often, those motives are, on the surface, compassionate: to protect a child from being unwanted, to end pain and suffering, to help a child with a life-threatening disease. But in all these cases, the terrible truth is that it is the strong who decide the fate of the weak; human beings therefore become instruments in the hands of other human beings.

Being pro-life is one of the deepest expressions of our baptism: we stand up as sons and daughters of the light, clothed in humility and charity, filled with conviction, speaking the truth to power with firmness, conviction and determination, and never losing joy and hope. Being Pro-Life is not an activity for a political party or a particular side of the spectrum. It is an obligation for everyone: left, right and centre! If we are Pro-Life, we must engage the culture around us, and not curse it. We must see others as Jesus does, and we must love them to life, even those who are opposed to us. Being pro-life in this day and age is truly prophetic, and it will bring about authentic development and enduring peace in our world.

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB CEO,
Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation

 

(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The Duty and Obligation of being Pro-Life

ProLife

What does it mean to be pro-life?

To be actively pro-life is to contribute to the renewal of society through the promotion of the common good. It is impossible to further the common good without acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which all the other inalienable rights of individuals are founded and from which they develop. There can be no true peace unless life is defended and promoted. Remember the prophetic words of Pope Paul VI:

Every crime against life is an attack on peace, especially if it strikes at the moral conduct of people…But where human rights are truly professed and publicly recognized and defended, peace becomes the joyful and operative climate of life in society.

Abortion is without a doubt the most serious wound inflicted not only on individuals and their families who should provide the sanctuary for life, but inflicted as well on society and its culture, by the very people who ought to be society’s promoters and defenders. We must never lose sight of the atrocities against the unborn, the untold and too-seldom spoken of pain and lingering anguish experienced by those who have been involved in abortions.

I know about the tragedy of abortion and I know about the good work of many people involved in the pro-life Movement who work hard to prevent this tragedy. However a singular focus on abortion as the arbiter of what it means to be “pro-life” has severely narrowed our national discourse about moral values in the public square. People claiming to be fervently Catholic, always right, and blinded by their own zeal and goodness, have ended up defeating the very cause for which we must all defend with every ounce of energy in our flesh and bones. Their anger vitiates their efforts.

Could it be that some of us are turned off or even repelled by current definitions or behaviors of some of those people claiming to be pro-life, yet manifesting a tunnel vision? The Roman Catholic Church offers a consistent teaching on the inviolability, the sacredness and the dignity of the human person: a 20/20 vision for which we must strive each day if we claim to be pro-life. Opposition to abortion and euthanasia does not excuse indifference to those who suffer from poverty, violence and injustice. We must strive to see the whole picture, not with tunnel vision.

What is also troubling are those who claim to be on the “left”, always championing human and civil rights, respecting and upholding the dignity and freedom of others. This of course has included the protection of individual rights, and the efforts of government to care for the weak, sick and disadvantaged. Why then are the extension to the unborn of the human right to life, and opposition to the culture of death, not central issues on the “left?” They must be, for they are clearly matters of justice and human rights.

A few years ago, Cardinal Séan O’Malley wrote to the people of Boston with these words:

If any cause is motivated by judgment, anger or vindictiveness, it will be doomed to marginalization and failure. Jesus’ words to us were that we must love one another as He loves us… Our ability to change people’s hearts and help them to grasp the dignity of each and every life, from the first moment of conception to the last moment of natural death, is directly related to our ability to increase love and unity in the church, for our proclamation of the Truth is hindered when we are divided and fighting with each other.

We cannot ignore the other great challenge faced by humanity today–the serious question of mercy killing, or euthanasia as it is sometimes called, no longer found in abstract cases and theories. It concerns ordinary people and is debated not only in Parliament but also around dinner tables and in classrooms. Aging populations, especially in the west, and resulting smaller workforces are now creating a market push towards euthanasia. As Pope John Paul II wrote: “a right to die will inevitably give way to the duty to die.” This issue strikes to the very core of who we are and what we believe. Even when not motivated by the refusal to be burdened with the life of someone who is suffering, euthanasia must be called a false and misguided mercy. True compassion leads to sharing another’s pain, not killing the person whose suffering we cannot bear.

FrancisBaby

Furthering the Common Good

Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the dignity of the human person such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself, whatever insults human dignity such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, disgraceful working conditions where people are treated as instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons… all of these things and more poison human society.

It is impossible to further the common good without acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which all the other inalienable rights of individuals are founded and from which they develop. There can be no true peace unless life is defended and promoted.

In Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, (Truth in Charity), the Holy Father addresses clearly the dignity and respect for human life:

Openness to life is at the centre of true development… When a society moves toward the denial or suppression of life, it ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation and energy to strive for man’s true good. If personal and social sensitivity toward the acceptance of a new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away.

Engaging the Culture Around Us

Being pro-life does not give us the right and license to say and do whatever we wish, to malign, condemn and destroy other human beings who do not share our views. We must never forget the principles of civility, Gospel charity, ethics, and justice. Jesus came to engage the culture of his day, and we must engage the culture of our day. We must avoid the sight impairment and myopia that often afflict people of good will who are blinded by their own zeal and are unable to see the whole picture. Being pro-life is not an activity for a political party or a particular side of the spectrum. It is an obligation for everyone: left, right and centre! If we are pro-life, we must engage the culture around us, and not curse it. We must see others as Jesus does, and we must love them to life, even those who are opposed to us. Being pro-life in this day and age is truly prophetic, and it will bring about authentic development and enduring peace in our world.

We are all invited pray these words each day, especially during this week:

LupitaEternal Father, Source of Life, strengthen us with your Holy Spirit to receive the abundance of life you have promised.
Open our hearts to see and desire the beauty of your plan for life and love.
Make our love generous and self-giving so that we may be blessed with joy.
Grant us great trust in your mercy.
Forgive us for not receiving your gift of life and heal us from the effects of the culture of death.
Instill in us and all people reverence for every human life.
Inspire and protect our efforts on behalf of those most vulnerable especially the unborn, the sick and the elderly.
We ask this in the Name of Jesus, who by His Cross makes all things new. Amen.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us.

Father Thomas Rosica, CSB
CEO Salt + Light Catholic Media Foundation

(CNS photo/Bob Roller)
(CNS photo/Paul Haring)