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Preparing for Pope Francis’ Visit to Turkey

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On Thursday while Americans feast on turkey on Thanksgiving Day, Pope Francis prepares for his three-day Apostolic Journey to Turkey for another kind of feast: of ecumenical relations, interreligious dialogue and peace. Breaking another record for papal trips, Pope Francis on Friday sets off on his second international journey this week alone, travelling to the Turkish cities of Ankara and Istanbul. Just three days after his trip to Strasbourg for meetings with the European Parliament and Council of Europe, the Pope is responding to the invitation of both the government of Turkey and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual leader of the Orthodox world.

Francis is the fourth pope to travel to Turkey, following in the footsteps of his predecessors, Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, while Archbishop Angelo Roncalli is also remembered with great affection by the Turkish people, as he served as apostolic delegate there for nine years before being elected Pope John XXIII.

Let us join Pope Francis in praying that “Peter’s visit to his brother Andrew may bring fruits of peace, sincere dialogue between religions and harmony in the Turkish nation.”

Visits of Ecumenical Patriarchs to Rome and Popes to the Ecumenical Patriarchate

The official meetings of the Primates of the Churches have always been ecclesiastical events of great importance, for the reinforcement, and hopefully, the restoration of the unity of faith in the nexus of love. Such visits are in accordance with the commandment of the Divine Founder of the Church, our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate, with its open and ecumenical spirit, developed a series of ecumenical initiatives of historical importance in the well-known Encyclicals of 1902, 1904 and 1920. These encyclicals aimed at the unity of all Christians in the communion of faith and sacraments. These initiatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate have led to a Theological Dialogue of the Orthodox Church with the sister Roman-Catholic Church “on equal terms.”

It has been the goal that beyond all other fraternal gestures, the mutual visits of Popes to Constantinople and Ecumenical Patriarchs to Rome have marked a new era in the relations between the two Churches. It has helped in the understanding of the people of God, that there be effort, from both sides, for the achievement of the unity, so “that all may be one”, according to the words of the Lord in His High Priestly Prayer (John: 17).

The Visits of the Popes of Rome to Constantinople during the First Millennium

During the first millennium, there were no visits of the Primate of Constantinople to Rome, because New Rome had become the capital of the Empire.

In 536, Pope Agapetus of Rome accompanied by five bishops, visited Constantinople on a diplomatic mission for the Ostrogoth King Theodahad of Italy.

Vigilius, who was a Papal representative in Constantinople before his election as Pope, ascended the Papal Throne of Rome with the assistance of the Empress Theodora. Pope Vigilius came to Constantinople in 547 during a period of theological upheaval. He returned again in 552, but died before he could return.

The Papal Throne was not officially invited and did not participate in the Quinisext Ecumenical Council, which was convened for the institution of Canons. Pope Constantine went to Constantinople with an entourage of clergy and laity, where he was welcomed with great honours. He then departed for Nicomedia, where he met with Emperor Justinian II. Pope Constantine recognized under these terms the Quinisext Ecumenical Council and returned to Rome in 711.

The Efforts for Unification of the Two Churches after the Schism (1054)

The journey of Patriarch Joseph of Constantinople to Italy (1438-1439)

The Emperor of Byzantium John VIII Palaiologos headed the mission of the Orthodox that would discuss the issue of the reunification of the Churches in the Council of Ferrara-Florence (1438-1439). Among the members of this delegation was Patriarch Joseph who was accompanied by many hierarchs. During his meeting with the Pope in Ferrara the protocol that demanded kissing the foot of the Pontiff was not followed, and so they exchanged the kiss of peace standing. The main goal of the Orthodox delegation in this Council was to accomplish the union of the Churches without surrendering in matters of faith. Nevertheless, even from the preliminary discussions, the Orthodox were divided in two groups: the ones who were in favor of the union and those who were against it. This division grew even more after the transfer of the Council to Florence.

Patriarch Joseph was hesitantly following the unionist policy of the Emperor, who was interested mainly in securing military aid from the West, in order to save the state from the Ottoman threat. The participation of Patriarch Joseph in the work of the Council was limited, because he suffered from dropsy, whereas most of the Orthodox bishops refused to surrender in matters of faith. The Emperor, watching this situation, was worried about the outcome of this Council and he pressured the bishops for a conciliatory signing of the union. In the end, the Synodical members of the Eastern Church, with the exception of Mark of Ephesus, Eugenikos, came together in the residence of the ill Patriarch and signed the document of the unification (3 June 1439). After a few days, but before the Council of Florence came to an end, the ill Patriarch Joseph passed away and was buried in the Church of Santa Maria Novella. The so-called Union of Florence was never accepted in the East.

The first contacts of Patriarch Athenagoras with the Roman-Catholic Church

This Patriarch from Epirus, Greece with his discernment, his diligence, hard work and the spirit of love that distinguished him, gave new inspiration to the ecumenical mission of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Besides his primary interest for the improvement of the relations of all Orthodox Churches, he worked with intense zeal and dedication for the rekindling of the relations of the Orthodox with the other Churches.

From the illness of Pope Pius XII that led to his death on October 9, 1958, and through the entire reign of Pope John XXIII, Patriarch Athenagoras expressed his friendly intentions, his fraternal feelings and his genuine interest for the rapprochement of the two Churches. Alongside the numerous exchanges of letters, there had been frequent mutual visits in Constantinople and Rome of the members of pertinent Committees for the promotion of the issue of unification.

The relations between the two Churches began to make slow but firm steps of progress. When Patriarch Athenagoras was informed about the dire state of the health of Pope John XXIII, he sent a telegram (30 May 1963) wishing for a fast recovery. The passing away of the elder Pope John XXIII of Rome deeply saddened him.

Paul VI, who ascended the Throne of Rome after Pope John XXIII, continued the efforts for better relations between the two Churches.

The Patriarch was informed also officially by a Papal delegate, (9 December 1963) about an upcoming pilgrimage of the Pope to Jerusalem. The Patriarch wrote to the Pope (26 December 1963), telling him of his desire to meet with him in Jerusalem. With a telegram to the Patriarch (30 December 1963), the Pope expressed his joy about their upcoming meeting.

The Meeting of the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras with the Pope Paul VI in Jerusalem (5-6 January 1964)

The Primates of the two Churches met in an atmosphere of joy and excitement on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, where they exchanged the kiss of peace. Patriarch Athenagoras in addressing Pope Paul VI during his visit to the Delegation of the Holy See to the Mount of Olives (5 January 1964) described their meeting as historical and blessed, and he added: “the Christian world lived for centuries the night of division. Its eyes have become heavy by looking at the darkness. May our meeting here become the twilight of a shining and holy day, in which the Christian generations to come, will receive the sacred body and blood of our Lord from the same Cup, in love and peace and unity, praising and glorifying the one Lord and Savior of all.”

The historic meeting of Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras in Jerusalem. (January 5-6, 1964.) 

In his reply, Pope Paul VI during his visit to the Patriarchal residence in the Mount of Olives (6 January 1964) referred to the unrealized wish of the Patriarch for a meeting with his predecessor, Pope John XXIII due to the untimely death of the latter. He highlighted the fact that their present meeting bore witness to the will “that brings us to the very skillful task of overcoming the discords and removing obstacles; for it is this will, to follow steadily the way that is acknowledged by all, that leads towards concord and reconciliation.”

The visit of Pope Paul VI to the Ecumenical Patriarchate (25 July 1967)

After these auspicious ecclesiastical events, Pope Paul VI wrote a letter to Patriarch Athenagoras (13 July 1967) expressing his desire to visit the Phanar “in order to strengthen the bonds of faith, love and friendship.” The Patriarch welcomed with excitement this historical decision, and the Pope went to Constantinople on 25 July 1967. In his address to Patriarch Athenagoras, in the Patriarchal Church, he noted: “In the light of our love to Christ and in our fraternal love to one another we discover even more the deep identity of our faith, and the points in which we still disagree, must not prevent us from comprehending this deep unity.”

In his reply, Patriarch Athenagoras, underlined as their main goal: “to join that which is divided, with mutual ecclesiastical actions, wherever that might be possible, affirming the common points of faith and rule, directing thus the Theological Dialogue to the beginning of a wholesome community, in the most foundational of faith and of the devout and structural freedom of theological thought, that has been inspired by our common Fathers, and of the variety of local traditions, as it has been pleasing to the Church from the very beginning.”

The visit of the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras to the Church of Rome (26-28 October 1967)

Following this historical and successful visit of the Pope to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Patriarch Athenagoras notified the Pope with a letter (6 October 1967) of his desire to visit Rome. This visit took place on 26 October 1967.

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Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras at the Basilica of St. Peter, 1967.

In the common declaration of the two Church leaders that was issued at the end of the Patriarch’s visit to Rome (28 October 1967), it was stressed that “while recognizing that in the journey towards the unity of all Christians there is still a long way to go, and that between the Roman-Catholic and Orthodox Churches there still exist points to be clarified and obstacles to be overcome before arriving at the unity in the profession of faith which is necessary for reestablishment of full communion, they rejoice at the fact that their meeting has played a part in helping their Churches to make a further discovery of themselves as sister Churches.”

On 30 November 1979, the feast day of the Holy and Glorious Apostle Andrew, the First-Called, and also Feast Day of the Throne of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Pope John Paul II of Rome, of blessed memory, together with his entourage, visited the Ecumenical Patriarchate and attended the Divine Liturgy that was celebrated in the Patriarchal Cathedral. The Pope was welcomed by Patriarch Demetrios of blessed memory, together with all the Synodical and local Hierarchs, as well as with other Hierarchs from abroad.

Pope John Paul II and Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios, November 30, 1979.

In the Joint Declaration of the Pope and the Patriarch, which was issued in the Phanar on 30 November, after the end of the discussion of the two Primates and with the participation of memebers of the two Commissions on the Dialogue, they stressed their gratitude to their predecessors, Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras. They stated that the Theological Dialogue does not aim only at the restoration of full communion between the two sisters Churches, Roman-Catholic and Orthodox, but also at the unity of the entire Christian world.

The visit of the Ecumenical Patriarch Demetrios to the Church of Rome (3-7 December 1987)

To reciprocate the visit of Pope John Paul II of Rome to the Ecumenical Patriarchate on 29-30 November 1979, Patriarch Demetrios visited the Church of Rome from 3 to 7 December 1987. His stay in Rome affirmed the will of the Patriarch and of the Church in Constantinople to strengthen the relations from both sides and the bonds of love for reconciliation and unity.

This visit was not simply one of etiquette. It was an historic meeting of the Primates of the Churches of the East and West, as well as a message that was addressed to the entire world. It coincided also with the anniversary of 1200 years from the convening of the 7th Ecumenical Council in Nicaea in 787 that led to the triumph of the Orthodox faith.

The Pope and the Patriarch, together from the Balcony of Blessings, addressed a greeting to the people who had gathered on St. Peter’s Square.

The First Visit of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to the Church of Rome (27-30 June 1995)

After his election and enthronement on the Patriarchal Throne of Constantinople, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew visited the Church of Rome with his entourage from 27 to 30 June 1995, in order to participate in the festivities of the Feast Day of the Throne of Rome. The Patriarch was welcomed by a numerous delegation of Pope John Paul II of Rome, of blessed memory.

During his stay in the Church of Old Rome, the Ecumenical Patriarch visited the Community of Saint Egidio, the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere, the Basilica of St. John of the Lateran, as well as the homonymous Pontific University. He visited also the French Seminary, where he stayed during his Post-Graduate studies (1963-1966).

On 29 June, the Feast Day of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, the Ecumenical Patriarch attended together with his entourage, the festive Divine Liturgy that was celebrated by the Pope, in the Basilica of St. Peter. After the reading of the biblical passages, the two Primates, recited the Creed in Greek without the addition of the Filioque. In the evening of the same day, in the residence of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the Tower of St. John, the two Primates signed a Joint Declaration on the end of the visit of His All Holiness to the Pope.

In this Declaration, they commended the initiatives of their Predecessors, of blessed memory, Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI, and their meetings in Jerusalem, and later on in the Phanar and in Rome for the lifting of the old anathemas, the peace of the Churches, and reconciliation; they also referred to the mutual visits of Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Demetrios for the encouragement of the Dialogue of love and truth, which was proven very fruitful. It was therefore possible for this dialogue to continue in an effective way and to proclaim that the two Churches recognize each other as Sisters, jointly responsible for the preservation of the One Church of God, in faith to the divine plan, especially in the matter of unity.

The Second Visit of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to the Church of Rome (23-25 January 2002)

On 23 January 2002, His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, together with His entourage, visited Rome once again. The following day, 24 January, he participated in the Day of Prayer for Peace, organized by Pope John Paul II of Rome. This Prayer Day took place in Assisi, and among the participants were His Beatitude, Patriarch Ignatius of Alexandria, and His Beatitude, Archbishop Anastasios of Albania, as well as representatives of many other Orthodox Churches and numerous representatives of many denominations and religions. During this event, the Ecumenical Patriarch prayed for peace in the world and gave a speech on “Testimony to Peace.”

On 25 January, the Ecumenical Patriarch had a private meeting with the Pope.

The Third Visit of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to the Church of Rome (28 June – 2 July 2004)

The third visit of His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to the Church of Rome took place after the official invitation from Pope John Paul II, of blessed memory, to participate in the Feast Day of the Throne of the Church of Rome, and to celebrate the 40th Anniversary from the historical meeting of their predecessors in the Holy Land. In the evening of 29 June, the Ecumenical Patriarch, together with his entourage, attended the Divine Liturgy that was celebrated by the Pope, in honor of the Firsts among the Apostles, Peter and Paul in the square of the Basilica of St. Peter. The two Primates exchanged the kiss of peace and blessed the faithful who were gathered there.

The Vatican Common Declaration of the two Patriarchs took place on the 40th Anniversary of the meeting of the Primates, of blessed memory, of the two Churches, Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras in Jerusalem.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope John Paul II sign the Common Declaration at the Vatican. 

In the morning of Wednesday, 30 June, the official bilateral discussions of the Delegations of the two Churches took place. His All-Holiness, expressing a Pan-Orthodox request, asked the Pope for the return of the Holy Relics of the Holy Patriarchs and Great Teachers of the Undivided Church, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom to the Church of Constantinople, a request that was granted during the fourth visit.

The Fourth Visit of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to the Church of Rome (26-27 November 2004)

On Friday, 26 November, His All Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew traveled, together with his entourage, to the Church of Rome in order to receive, by the Primate of the Roman-Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II, of blessed memory, the Holy Relics of the two Holy Hierarchs, Great Teachers of the Undivided Church, and His Predecessors on the Throne of the Holy and Great Church of Christ in Constantinople, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom. The Sacred shrines of the two Holy men were kept in the Venerable Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople until 1204, when they were removed and taken away by the Crusaders and were brought first to Venice, and later on to Rome, to be safeguarded in the Venerable Church of St. Peter.

Pope John Paul II and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at the ceremony returning the relics of St. John Chrysostom and St. Gregory the Theologian to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. 

On the morning of 27 November, during a fitting ceremony in the Basilica of St. Peter, the Pope himself, of blessed memory, handed over the Holy Relics of the two Holy Fathers to His All Holiness for their return to their home, after the passing of eight whole centuries. The Holy Relics, on their journey from Rome to Constantinople, were accompanied by the Ecumenical Patriarch and his entourage, together with an official Pontific Delegation, headed by Cardinal Walter Kasper, who attended the Feast Day of the Throne of the Ecumenical Patriarchate on 30 November.

The Journey of His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to the Church of Rome for the funeral service of Pope John Paul II of Rome (7-8 April 2005)

Late in the evening on Saturday, 2 April 2005, Pope John Paul II of Rome, fell asleep in the Lord, after a long illness.

The same evening the Ecumenical Patriarchate issued an official Statement on the passing away of His Holiness. His All-Holiness, together with His entourage, went to Rome in the evening of Thursday, 7 April, in order to personally attend the following day the funeral service for His Holiness, with whom he had met four times in the last decade and had cooperated closely to promote relations between the two Churches.

The Patriarch, after arriving at the airport, went straight to Saint Peter’s Basilica, where he prayed in front of the deceased, who was lying in state for the people to pay their last respects to the Pope of blessed memory. The Patriarch placed on the body of the Pope a cross of white flowers.

The Visit of Pope Benedict XVI of Rome to the Ecumenical Patriarchate (November 29 – December 1, 2006)

In November of 2006, the official visit of His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI of Rome to the Phanar during the Feast-day of the Throne of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, continued this radiant tradition of the past decades.

Pope Benedict XVI continued the work of his predecessors, initiating this visit shortly after his enthronement on the Apostolic Throne of Rome, after the official invitation of His All-Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, to attend the festivities on November 30, the Feast Day of the Holy and Glorious Apostle Andrew the First-Called, the Feast Day of the Throne of the Holy and Great Church of Christ in Constantinople.

Pope Benedict and Ecumenical Patriarch at the Phanar, November 30, 2006.

This visit to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the leading Church in the Orthodox world, of His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI of Rome, who is a profound Theologian and a renowned University Professor and who knows well the Orthodox Church and Theology, constituted a point of hope for the reinforcement of the climate of mutual trust between the two Churches, as well as for the successful continuation and outcome of the Theological Dialogue which aims at the unity of the Churches, when the Lord will grant it.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew attends Interfaith Peace Summit hosted by Pope Benedict XVI in Naples (21 October 2007)

His All-Holiness was invited by Pope Benedict XVI to attend the 3rd interfaith peace summit, which was held in Naples. Previous summits were in Assisi by Pope John Paul II (1986 and 2002).

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew visits Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican (6 March 2008)

On the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the Oriental Pontifical Institute, where His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew completed his doctoral studies in canon law, the Ecumenical Patriarch was invited to address the faculty and students of the institute on the subject of “Theology, Liturgy and Silence.” He also visited Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican, where he held private conversations and joint prayers in the papal chapel.

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Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew visits Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican (28-30 June 2008)

On the occasion of the official inauguration of the Pauline Year, His All-Holiness attended the vesperal service at the abbey of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew participated in the XII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops at the Sistine Chapel (18 October 2008)

For the first time in history, at the invitation of the Pope of Rome, the Ecumenical Patriarch addressed the Synod of Roman Catholic bishops in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican. The subject of the address by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew was: “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church.” For the full text of the Ecumenical Patriarch’s address, click here.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew attends Interfaith Peace Summit hosted by Pope Benedict XVI in Assisi (27 October 2011)

His All-Holiness attended and addressed the 4th interfaith peace summit, which was hosted by Pope Benedict in Assisi.

The Visit of His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to the Church of Rome on the Occasion of the 50th Anniversary of Vatican Council II (10-11 October 2012)

In October of 2012, His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew traveled, together with his entourage, to the Church of Rome on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of Vatican Council II. At the invitation of the Pope, His All-Holiness addresses the crowds at St. Peter’s Square.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican, 2012.

The Journey of His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to the Church of Rome for the inaugural mass of Pope Francis (19-20 March 2013)

His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew becomes the first Ecumenical Patriarch to ever attend the installation of a Pope.

Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at the Vatican after Pope Francis’ installation as Pope. 

The Apostolic Pilgrimage of Pope Francis and His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to Jerusalem to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras (25-26 May 2014)

Now once again, Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew will meet in Jerusalem to commemorate the 50th anniversary of their predecessors’ meeting.  This meeting of the venerable Primates of the leading Sees of Christendom has great significance. On the one hand, because is constitutes the unanimous recognition of the fruitful Dialogue of Charity for the relations of the two Churches, and on the other hand, because it lights, through the validity of their exemplary authority, the way of the official Theological Dialogue for overcoming the traumatic experiences of the past. This common course in the way of unity is a command of the divine Founder of the Church, our Lord Jesus Christ, and it is the common mission of the venerable Primates of the two Churches.

Information courtesy of Vatican Radio SEDOC.

Vatican Connections: October 31, 2014

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Things are returning to a normal pace at the Vatican after the end of the extraordinary synod. Pope Francis kept a full schedule this week, which included his daily masses, a meeting with members of popular movements from around the world (non-religious movements that advocate for worker’s rights, indigenous land rights, fair wages, and access to housing) and he unveiled a bronze bust of a his predecessor. At that unveiling he also said the so-called “big bang theory” is not incompatible with faith. This sparked a media frenzy, quickly quelled when Catholic scholars pointed out that it was indeed a Catholic priest who first developed the big bang theory.

Another memorable quote was delivered during the pope’s talk to the members of popular movements. He said “we see with sadness that [these three things] are increasingly unattainable for most people: land, roof, and work. It’s strange but when I talk about these things, some people feel the pope is communist.” Pope Francis went on to say that these three things are actually at the heart of the Church’s social doctrine. This leads to an interesting point: how many people actually know what is in the Church’s social doctrine? For those who are curious, the compendium of social doctrine of the Church can be found here.

Other notable events this week: a new batch of consultors have been named to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

 

Pope Francis Writes to Exorcists – Perspectives Daily

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Today on Perspectives, Pope Francis unveils a bust of his predecessor, writes to exorcists meeting in Rome, a new church is built in Cuba for the first time in over half a century and CNS goes to El Salvador.

Jesus’ Resurrection: A Footprint Within History but Pointing Beyond

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Easter Sunday – Sunday, April 20, 2014

In reading the resurrection chapters of the four gospels, the differences of the four accounts are very obvious. Not one of the evangelists recounts Jesus’ resurrection itself. It is an event taking place within the mystery of God between Jesus and the Father. By its very nature the resurrection event lies outside human experience. What lessons can we learn about resurrection from each of the Gospel accounts, particularly from Matthew’s story that we hear proclaimed today?

Mark’s account

In the earliest Gospel account in Mark’s Gospel (chapter 16) the last scene is a startling one… for the story ends with (v 8) “[The women] came out and fled from the tomb, for they were possessed by fear and trembling, and they said nothing to anyone. The most striking aspect of Mark’s ending is we never encounter the Risen Lord. Instead, we see an awe-inspiring, almost eerie scene. In the darkness of early morning, the women arrive at the tomb to accomplish a nearly impossible task. These women are the only ones who follow Jesus to the foot of the cross and to the tomb. They find the tomb opened and empty, and are greeted by a heavenly figure who gives them a commission: “Go and tell his disciples and Peter that he goes before you into Galilee; there you will see him as he told you” (v 7). Mark’s resurrection account is meant to disturb the Christian reader; to undo the ease that makes one forget that the call to discipleship is the call to the cross. Readers of Mark’s account are invited to view their lives in the shadow of the cross.

Matthew’s account

Matthew tells the story of the resurrection in four scenes: the women’s experience at the tomb (28:1-7); their short encounter with the risen Lord (8-10); the Jewish leaders’ attempt to suppress the story (11-15); the appearance to the disciples in Galilee (16-20). The final scene, ending with the Great Commission (19-20) stands on its own as a programmatic conclusion to the entire gospel. The women present in Matthew’s resurrection chapter do not witness the resurrection. They do experience the earthquake, the appearance of the angel, the emptiness of the tomb- all of which are signs or traces of divine activity that has brought these things about.

Matthew literally makes Jesus present in the last scene of the gospel on the mountain where Jesus had directed the disciples to go (28:16-20). At the end of the gospel, he points us back to the first programmatic sermon of Jesus on the mountain in Galilee (5:1-7:21). Matthew’s meek and humble Jesus is the teacher as well as the example of meekness and humility. In revising Mark’s Gospel, Matthew deliberately completes the picture of Jesus and of the Christian life. The bleak image and invitation of the cross and the dead Jesus are filled out with a living and present Jesus, whose words, reflected upon the Scriptures of Israel, offer a consoling and learnable “way” to disciples willing to learn from him. Matthew issues the call to learn of the meek and humble Jesus.

Luke’s account

The Easter chapter of Luke’s Gospel (24), like a beautiful symphony, presents us with a biblically oriented pastoral practice and distinct way of Christian living: in the first movement (vv.1-12) God, alone breaks open a helpless situation. In the second movement of the marvelous story of Jesus and the disciples on the road to Emmaus (13-35), God, in the person of Jesus, accompanies people on their journeys through despair. The stories of the third movement (36-53) lead people into an experience of community.

John’s account

John tells of appearances of the Risen Lord in both Jerusalem and Galilee. The resurrection stories of the fourth gospel are a series of encounters between Jesus and his followers that reveal diverse faith reactions. Whether these encounters are with Simon Peter and the Beloved Disciple, Mary Magdalene, the disciples or Thomas, the whole scenario reminds us that in the range of belief there are different degrees of readiness and different factors that cause people to come to faith.

The nature of Jesus’ resurrection

Pope Benedict XVI writes about “The Nature of Jesus’ Resurrection and Its Historical Significance” in “Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week – From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection” (Ignatius Press, San Francisco – USA – 2011). I would like to highlight several points made by Pope Benedict in this masterful text:

“Jesus did not simply return to normal biological life as one who, by the laws of biology, would eventually have to die again.”

“Jesus is not a ghost (“spirit”). In other words, he does not belong to the realm of the dead but is somehow able to reveal himself in the realm of the living.”

“…the encounters with the risen Lord are not the same as mystical experiences, in which the human spirit is momentarily drawn aloft out of itself and perceives the realm of the divine and eternal, only to return then to the normal horizon of its existence. Mystical experience is a temporary removal of the soul’s spatial and cognitive limitations.” (pp. 272-273)

Benedict continues:

“[The resurrection] is a historical event that nevertheless bursts open the dimensions of history and transcends it. Perhaps we may draw upon analogical language here, inadequate in many ways, yet still able to open up a path toward understanding: as already anticipated in the first section of this chapter, we could regard the Resurrection as something akin to a radical “evolutionary leap”, in which a new dimension of life emerges, a new dimension of human existence.” (p. 273)

“As something that breaks out of history and transcends it, the Resurrection nevertheless has its origin within history and up to a certain point still belongs there. Perhaps we could put it this way: Jesus’ Resurrection points beyond history but has left a footprint within history. Therefore it can be attested by witnesses as an event of an entirely new kind.” (p. 275)

Fathoming the Resurrection Today

In our highly technological world, the reality of the resurrection becomes increasingly difficult to fathom. So many spend their lives explaining it away rather than probing the depths of its mystery. And they try to do this alone, separated from a believing community of Christians, locked in the prison of self and of ideas, frozen before a computer screen as they try to fathom what happened on Easter morning. Some people state quite frankly that the whole story is simply out of date. But resurrection is not a matter of the head, of theory and ideas, but a matter of the heart that can only be experienced and learned through a community’s worship and liturgy. To be fully experienced and grasped, the resurrection requires an environment of hauntingly beautiful music, of smoke and incense, bread and wine, murmurs of greeting and shouts of joy, dazzling colors and most of all, three-dimensional bodies of real people, even those who aren’t necessarily “regulars” of our parish communities, who gather together every year to hear the Easter proclamation.

One doesn’t sit at a computer and tap out “Jesus is risen.” It has to be performed and enacted. If the resurrection were meant to be a historically verifiable occurrence, God wouldn’t have performed it in the dark without eyewitnesses. Resurrection was an event transacted between God the Father and God the Son by the power of God the Holy Spirit. Not a single Gospel tells us how it happened. We don’t know what he looked like when he was no longer dead, whether he burst the tomb in glory or came out like Lazarus, slowly unwrapping his shroud and squinting with wonder against the dawn of Easter morning in a garden in Jerusalem.

The proper environment for resurrection

How shall we find words for the resurrection? How can we give expression to the conquest of death and the harrowing of hell and the washing which has joined us to God’s life? There are no words– there are only the wrong words – metaphors, chains of images, verbal icons – that invite us into a mystery beyond words.

For four years I lived in the Holy City of Jerusalem and visited the remains of the Church building that houses the place of Calvary and the Holy Sepulcher hundreds of times. It is truly holy ground for Christians and being there never failed once to move me. That old building is truly a microcosm of our own lives, our hearts and our Church. In the midst of the dark, dirty and chaotic Holy Sepulcher Basilica is the tomb of Jesus, a shrine to the risen Christ. But he is not there. All around that tomb are the remnants of 2000 years of dreadfully human corruption. Nevertheless it is the most important shrine and holy place for Christians. Christ is risen from the dead!

At Calvary, and elsewhere in the Holy Land, corruption seems so rampant…but God shall be victorious, because 70 feet away from Calvary there is a tomb which is empty. And there is also another startling truth about that Church and the moments which it commemorates: every single one of us has within us a shrine to the risen Christ. That shrine is our first love for him, and him alone. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. Do we truly live as children of the light, of the Living One? The Resurrection of Jesus is the sign that God is ultimately going to win.

In the midst of all the chaos found in the Holy Sepulcher building, I found that if I knelt long enough in some corner of the Church amidst religious groups seemingly at war with each other, disquiet disappeared and I often experienced a strange peace and deep joy and consolation because of the resurrection of the man who was God’s Son and our Savior. The only way to discern, detect and discover the presence of the Risen Lord is on one’s knees, in the midst of the chaos of the Church and the world.

Jesus’ victory over death belongs to the Church’s ongoing pastoral and sacramental life and its mission to the world. The church is the community of those who have the competence to recognize Jesus as the risen Lord. It specializes in discerning the Risen One. As long as we remain in dialogue with Jesus, our darkness will give way to dawn, and we will become “competent” for witness. In an age which places so much weight on competency, we would do well to focus every now and then on our competence to discern resurrection.

What is the resurrection? Pope Benedict explains it so well in his book “Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week – From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection”:

“It is part of the mystery of God that he acts so gently, that he only gradually builds up his history within the great history of mankind; that he becomes man and so can be overlooked by his contemporaries and by the decisive forces within history; that he suffers and dies and that, having risen again, he chooses to come to mankind only through the faith of the disciples to whom he reveals himself; that he continues to knock gently at the doors of our hearts and slowly opens our eyes if we open our doors to him. And yet—is not this the truly divine way? Not to overwhelm with external power, but to give freedom, to offer and elicit love. And if we really think about it, is it not what seems so small that is truly great?” (p. 276)

[The readings for Easter Sunday are: Acts 10.34a, 37-43; Colossians 3.1-4 or 1 Corinthians 5.6b-8; and John 20.1-18.]

This reflection first appeared on the Zenit International News Service in 2011 as well as on the Salt + Light Blog. The complete collection of reflections for Year B, entitled “Words made Flesh,” is now available in book form through our online store. Book editions for Year A and C reflections are coming soon.

Sacramentum and Exemplum: the Gift and the Task

Last Supper cropped

Holy Thursday – Thursday, April 17, 2014

Holy Thursday formally concludes the Lenten season. On this night we enter into the three days that are the center of our liturgical year, and indeed of the Christian faith. The scripture readings root us deeply in our Jewish past…celebrating the Passover with the Jewish people (Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14), receiving from St. Paul (I Cor 11:23-26) that which was handed on to him, namely the Eucharist, and looking at Jesus square in the face as he kneels before us to wash our feet in humble service (John 13:1-15). Remembering is at the heart of this celebration.

On this night, Lord invites us to return with him to the Upper Room, to enable us to penetrate the depths of his Paschal Mystery. On the eve of his death, he gave us two signs that are renewed every year in the liturgy. First, the sign of the washing of the Apostles’ feet, through which Jesus left his friends an example of love that reveals itself in humble, concrete service. Second, Jesus consecrated bread and wine as the sacrament of his Body and his Blood, given in sacrifice for our salvation.

A night of remembering

Let us first consider the Eucharist as a memorial. In the Book of Exodus, we read: “God remembered his covenant with ‘Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob” (Exodus 2:24). The book of Deuteronomy states: “You shall remember the Lord your God” (8:18). “You shall remember what the Lord your God did” (7:18). The memory of God and men and women in the Bible is intimately linked together and constitutes a fundamental component of the life of the people of God. However, this remembering is not a mere commemoration of something that happened long ago, but rather of a “zikkaron,” (Hebrew) namely, a “memorial.” It is the proclamation of the mighty works that God has done for us throughout the ages and continues to do for us now. In the liturgical celebration of these events, they become in a certain way present and real (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1363). The memorial recalls a bond of the covenant that never fails: “The Lord has been mindful of us; he will bless us” (Psalm 115:12). Authentic biblical faith involves the fruitful remembrance of the wonderful works of our salvation.

In the Old Testament, the “memorial” par excellence of God’s works in history was the paschal liturgy of Exodus. Every time the people of Israel celebrated Passover, God offered them the gift of freedom and salvation. In the celebration of Passover, the two memories intersected, the divine and the human, – saving grace and acknowledged faith: “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast of the Lord…. And it shall be to you as a sign on your hand and as a memory between your eyes, that the law of the Lord may be in your mouth; for with a strong hand the Lord has brought you out of Egypt” (Exodus 12:14; 13:9).

At the heart of the Eucharist: remembering

This meeting of the memory of God and of human beings lies at the center of the Eucharist, which is the “memorial” of the Christian Passover par excellence. At the heart of the celebration of the sacrifice of Christ is the act of remembering. We remember the sacrifice of Christ, this unique event, fulfilled “once and for all” (Hebrews 7:27; 9:12,26; 10:12), whose graces we continue to receive throughout history. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). The Eucharist therefore is a memorial of the death of Christ, but it is also the presence of his sacrifice and anticipation of his glorious coming. We can certainly understand Paul’s exhortation to Timothy: “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David” (II Timothy 2:8). This remembrance lives and works in a special way in the Eucharist.

To remember is to bring the heart back in memory and affection, but it is also celebration of a presence ever with us. The Eucharist arouses in us the memory of Christ’s love. In the Eucharist, Christians nourish the hope of the final meeting with their Lord. The Eucharist is the memorial in the full sense: the bread and the wine, through the action of the Holy Spirit, truly become the Body and Blood of Christ, who gives himself to be the food of men and women on their earthly pilgrimage. To stay faithful to this mandate, to abide in him like branches joined to the vine and to love as he loved, it is necessary to be nourished with his Body and his Blood. In telling the Apostles: “Do this in memory of me,” the Lord bound the Church to the living memorial of his Passover.

The New Passover

In his masterful book “Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week – From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection” (Ignatius Press, San Francisco – USA – 2011), Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI explains very carefully and clearly what the Last Supper really was. He writes:

“One thing emerges clearly from the entire tradition: essentially, this farewell meal was not the old Passover, but the new one, which Jesus accomplished in this context. Even though the meal that Jesus shared with the Twelve was not a Passover meal according to the ritual prescriptions of Judaism, nevertheless, in retrospect, the inner connection of the whole event with Jesus’ death and Resurrection stood out clearly. It was Jesus’ Passover. And in this sense he both did and did not celebrate the Passover: the old rituals could not be carried out – when their time came, Jesus had already died. But he had given himself, and thus he had truly celebrated the Passover with them. The old was not abolished; it was simply brought to its full meaning.” (p. 114)

The Washing of the Feet

Pope Benedict writes beautifully about the washing of the feet that is at the heart of the Holy Thursday Gospel (Jn 13:1-15). Benedict explains:

“Let us return to chapter 13 of Saint John’s Gospel. “You are clean”, says Jesus to his disciples. The gift of purity is an act of God. Man cannot make himself fit for God, whatever systems of purification he may follow. ‘You are clean’—in Jesus’ wonderfully simple statement, the grandeur of the mystery of Christ is somehow encapsulated. It is the God who comes down to us who makes us clean. Purity is a gift.” (p. 61)

“Yet an objection springs to mind. A few verses later, Jesus says: ‘If I, then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you’ (Jn 13:14–15). Does this not after all suggest a purely moral conception of Christianity?” (p. 61)

Sacramentum and exemplum

“The Fathers expressed the difference between these two aspects, as well as their mutual relationship, using the categories of sacramentum and exemplum: by sacramentum they mean, not any particular sacrament, but rather the entire mystery of Christ—his life and death—in which he draws close to us, enters us through his Spirit, and transforms us. But precisely because this sacramentum truly ‘cleanses’ us, renewing us from within, it also unleashes a dynamic of new life. The command to do as Jesus did is no mere moral appendix to the mystery, let alone an antithesis to it. It follows from the inner dynamic of gift with which the Lord renews us and draws us into what is his.” (p. 62)

“The gift—the sacramentum—becomes an exemplum, an example, while always remaining a gift. To be a Christian is primarily a gift, which then unfolds in the dynamic of living and acting in and around the gift.” (p. 65)

Concluding his reflection on the washing of the feet, Benedict writes:

“…Looking back over the whole chapter on the washing of the feet, we may say that in this humble gesture, expressing the entire ministry of Jesus’ life and death, the Lord stands before us as the servant of God—he who for our sake became one who serves, who carries our burden and so grants us true purity, the capacity to draw close to God. In the second Suffering Servant Song from Isaiah, there is a phrase that in some sense anticipates the essence of John’s theology of the Passion: The Lord said to me, ‘You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.’” (pp.74-75)

Holy Thursday and the Ministerial Priesthood

As I write these words for Holy Week, this Saturday I mark 28 years of ordained priesthood. Over these years I have returned to the Holy Thursday Gospel countless times to draw strength and inspiration for what I strive to be each day: an ordained minister who keeps alive the memory of Jesus among the people, and who serves the community as foot washer and servant. What an incredible model of priesthood we find in tonight’s Gospel: the Lord and Saviour of the world who kneels before us to wash our feet in a gesture of humility and service!

The very nature of the Eucharist implies a bond with God and with the community. Our destinies are intertwined. It is this “intertwining” that lies at the heart of the priesthood of Jesus Christ, and our priesthood. When we receive the Eucharist, we partake of the one who becomes food and drink for others. So must it be for us who receive the Lord’s body and blood: our lives, too, must become a feast for the poor. We too must become food and drink for the hungry.

Throughout his life, Jesus is a priestly model of compassion. He was a priestly person who lived for others, who offered up everyone and everything to the God who loved him. That’s the only kind of priesthood that makes a difference, and that matters, then and now. The very opposite of a priest is a consumer, one who buys and amasses things. A priestly person is one who spends himself or herself gladly for others. This evening’s celebration of the Lord’s supper invites us to look at what we have done with our baptism, and how we are a Eucharistic and Priestly people. We must look at our own priesthood, whether it be the priesthood of the baptized or the ministerial priesthood, and ask ourselves for whom we really live and who we really love. Do we spend ourselves gladly for others?

If I am an ordained priest and called “Father”, it is not simply because I have a prestigious academic background, a good formation, a title, or a place of privilege in society or in the Church. The crises facing the priesthood at present throughout the world remind us that there is no place for prestige, privilege, rank or upward mobility. It is about humble service and intercessory prayer for those entrusted to us by the Lord.

One is a priest because one is ultimately a servant. This means that I try to lay down my life publicly for the community. The title “Father” reflects the relationship that exists between priests and the people they serve. It is an awesome, daunting, beautiful relationship that at its best, generates life and communicates love. Jesus teaches us in the profound Gospel story for Holy Thursday that the true source of authority in the Church comes from living the life of a servant, from laying down our lives for our friends. The only authority and power found in the priesthood is Gospel authority that comes from living the Paschal mystery. Tonight in particular, I and all ordained ministers must ask ourselves: do we really function as one who keeps the memory of Jesus alive in the community; as one who elicits the act of faith from people; as one who builds up God’s community that is the Church? Are we foot washers and servants? Do we pattern our living and dying on Jesus Christ, the eternal priest of compassion and service?

I give thanks to God in a very special way for the privilege granted to me these past years, in particular, to break open God’s Word for the world through these weekly reflections. I am grateful for the countless messages I receive every week from people throughout the world who have found these reflections helpful. Oremus pro invicem.

Holy Thursday in Summary

Here are some key points to remember about Holy Thursday from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

In what way did Christ offer himself to the Father?

620. The entire life of Christ was a free offering to the Father to carry out his plan of salvation. He gave “his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45) and in this way he reconciled all of humanity with God. His suffering and death showed how his humanity was the free and perfect instrument of that divine love which desires the salvation of all people.

How is Jesus’ offering expressed at the Last Supper?

621. At the Last Supper with his apostles on the eve of his passion Jesus anticipated, that is, both symbolized his free self-offering and made it really present: “This is my Body which is given for you” (Luke 22:19), “This is my Blood which is poured out…” (Matthew 26:28) Thus he both instituted the Eucharist as the “memorial” (1 Corinthians 11:25) of his sacrifice and instituted his apostles as priests of the new covenant.

What happened in the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane?

612. Despite the horror which death represented for the sacred humanity of Jesus “who is the Author of Life” (Acts 3:15), the human will of the Son of God remained faithful to the will of the Father for our salvation. Jesus accepted the duty to carry our sins in his Body “becoming obedient unto death” (Philippians 2:8).

What are the results of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross?

622-623. Jesus freely offered his life as an expiatory sacrifice, that is, he made reparation for our sins with the full obedience of his love unto death. This love “to the end” (John 13:1) of the Son of God reconciled all of humanity with the Father. The paschal sacrifice of Christ, therefore, redeems humanity in a way that is unique, perfect, and definitive; and it opens up for them communion with God.

[The readings for Holy Thursday are: Isaiah 61.1-3a, 6a, 8b-9; Revelation 1.4-8; and Luke 4.16-21.]

This reflection first appeared on the Zenit International News Service in 2011 as well as on the Salt + Light Blog. The complete collection of reflections for Year B, entitled “Words made Flesh,” is now available in book form through our online store. Book editions for Year A and C reflections are coming soon.

Vatican Connections: Friday, February 14, 2014

When Fr. Han Lim Moon is ordained to the episcopate on May 4 he will make history. Bishop Elect Moon will become Auxiliary Bishop for San Martin, Argentina.. He will be the first South Korean-born prelate to be appointed to the episcopate outside his native country. It will also be the first time an Asian-born prelate joins the Argentine Episcopal Conference.

At 58 years of age, however, he has lived more of his life in Argentina than in South Korea.

Bishop Elect Moom immigrated to Argentina at the age of 21 along with his mother and brother. When he arrived in country he had nine years of minor and major seminary studies under his belt. The young seminarian moved straight away to ask the Archbishop of Buenos Aires for admission to the diocesan seminary.

In 1984 he was ordained to the priest hood for the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires and served as a hospital chaplain, parish pastor, and a point of reference for the Korean community living in Flores, a suburb of Buenos Aires.

When asked if he expected to me made a bishop he told journalists that just before being told he was being appointed auxiliary bishop, he was in the chapel praying before the Blessed Sacrament. He said, “it occurred to me to ask God if there was anything he wanted to tell me and he dictated to my heart a prayer that I have in which He asks me to be a blank page so He can do with my life what He wills.”

Bishop Elect Moon met then-bishop Bergoglio in 1994 when he wanted to invite the Little Servants of the Holy Family of Seoul to Flores. Bergoglio gave his permission to invite the sisters, and from then on was invited to all the major feasts celebrated by the Korean community in Flores. Despite the long standing connection to Pope Francis, Bishop Elect Moon said only God knows why the Holy Father decided to make him a bishop.

*****

Next week will be a full week at the Vatican. On Monday, February 17 the Council of Cardinals will meet for the third time. The council will meet from February 17 to 19.

Pope Francis will then hold a Consistory or consultation with the entire College of Cardinals on February 20 and 21.

On February 22, the feast of the Chair of St. Peter, Pope Francis will meet with the College of Cardinals again, this time to officially create 19 new cardinals. The following day the new cardinals will celebrate Mass at St. Peter’s with Pope Francis and their brother cardinals.

After the October session of the Council of Cardinals the Vatican that Pope Francis had called for an Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the context of Evangelization. In December, during the Council’s second session, it was announced that Pope Francis would create a Commission for the Protection of Minors.

During the last meetings of the Council of Cardinals the Vatican’s spokesperson, Father Federico Lombardi said the cardinals had been reviewing each Vatican dicastery, examining what needed to be changed or restructured. At the time Fr. Lombardi said the cardinals felt it was too early to begin announcing changes to the structure of the curia, but changes would be made in due time.

Given the number of meetings scheduled in the week ahead, we could see more announcements about new initiatives approved by the pope.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Address of the Holy Father: Ecumenical Prayer Service in Erfurt

pope_with_lutheran

Pope Benedict XVI gave the following homily at an ecumenical prayer service in Erfurt, Germany during his last papal visit to that country in 2011.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through them” (Jn 17:20). According to the Gospel of John, Jesus spoke these words to the Father in the Upper Room. He intercedes for coming generations of believers. He looks beyond the Upper Room, towards the future. He also prayed for us. And he prayed for our unity. This prayer of Jesus is not simply something from the past. He stands before the Father, for ever making intercession for us. At this moment he also stands in our midst and he desires to draw us into his own prayer. In the prayer of Jesus we find the very heart of our unity. We will become one if we allow ourselves to be drawn into this prayer. Whenever we gather in prayer as Christians, Jesus’ concern for us, and his prayer to the Father for us, ought to touch our hearts. The more we allow ourselves to be drawn into this event, the more we grow in unity.
[Read more…]

Remembering September 11, 2001


From Pope John Paul II’s Evening Address to young people
Toronto, Downsview Park
Saturday July 27, 2002

The new millennium opened with two contrasting scenarios: one, the sight of multitudes of pilgrims coming to Rome during the Great Jubilee to pass through the Holy Door which is Christ, our Savior and Redeemer; and the other, the terrible terrorist attack on New York, an image that is a sort of icon of a world in which hostility and hatred seem to prevail.

The question that arises is dramatic: on what foundations must we build the new historical era that is emerging from the great transformations of the twentieth century? Is it enough to rely on the technological revolution now taking place, which seems to respond only to criteria of productivity and efficiency, without reference to the individual’s spiritual dimension or to any universally shared ethical values? Is it right to be content with provisional answers to the ultimate questions, and to abandon life to the impulses of instinct, to short-lived sensations or passing fads?

The question will not go away: on what foundations, on what certainties should we build our lives and the life of the community to which we belong?

Prayer of Pope Benedict XVI
Visit to Ground Zero, New York
Sunday April 20, 2008

O God of love, compassion, and healing,
look on us, people of many different faiths and traditions,
who gather today at this site,
the scene of incredible violence and pain.
We ask you in your goodness
to give eternal light and peace
to all who died here—
the heroic first-responders:
our fire fighters, police officers,
emergency service workers, and Port Authority personnel,
[Read more…]

What Benedict stored, Francis scatters…Some Reflections on the Papal Transition

Francis and Benedict seated cropped

The following address was given to over 500 Catholic journalists and those working in Catholic Media in Canada and the United States at the Presidential Medallion Awards Luncheon of the Catholic Media Convention in Denver, Colorado on June 21, 2013.

Dear Colleagues and Friends,

First of all I wish to thank you for the great work that you all did during the Papal transition.  I had the pleasure of dealing with many of you during those momentous days from my position in Rome and was able to witness up close your dedication, zeal and journalistic excellence.  I wish to thank in particular our friends from Catholic News Service for their outstanding work and assistance to the secular media, and many television and radio networks.  CNS, along with Catholic News Agency helped us to fill in the gaps of solid, Catholic information on many occasions.

For four solid weeks this past Lent, through the momentous transition in the papacy, we had a golden opportunity to teach, catechize and evangelize the nations and put the Synod on the New Evangelization into practice.    Pope Benedict’s resignation on 2/11, shifted the plates of the earth for the Church.  We had no playbook, script, notes or film footage left behind by that Benedictine monk, Pietro Morrone who would later become Pope Celestine V.  Overwhelmed by the demands of the office, Celestine stepped down after five months as pope in 1294.

Almost six hundred years later, acknowledging what he called his “incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me,” Benedict told us that we must be painfully honest with the human condition, that we cannot be enchained by history.  A man who has been the champion of tradition and labeled “conservative” left us with one of the most progressive gestures made by any pope. This man known for brilliant writing, exquisite kindness, charity, gentleness, humility and clarity of teaching, offered us the epitome of a courageous and humble decision that will forever mark the papacy and the life of the Church.

Two Popes in PrayerOne of the most poignant moments of my Roman sojourn took place on February 28, the last day of Benedict’s pontificate.  His carefully orchestrated departure from the Apostolic Palace and the Vatican captured the heart and mind of the world.  The touching farewell from his co-workers on that crisp, Italian afternoon, the brief helicopter flight to Castel Gandolfo, his final words as Pope, reminding us that he would become “a pilgrim” in this final stage of his life, moved the world.  I experienced that moment with the heads of many of the television networks of the world.  There were no dry eyes in Rome that evening.

Then began the ‘Sede Vacante.’  We were off to the races!  I cannot tell you enough what a great pleasure it was to work closely with Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ throughout the entire transition.  He is a good and honest man skilled in communicating.  We owe him an immense debt of gratitude.  Sitting at his side, spending hours with him on daily scavenger hunts for Vatican information, admiring his patience with journalists taught me many lessons about patience, charity and the necessity of humor through it all!

The Vatican strategy of spreading the multi-lingual banquet table of information during the papal transition bore much fruit this past Lent. As Cardinals gathered in Rome and met in secret sessions (at least we thought they were secret!) to assess the state of the Church and trace a profile of the next pope, many of you saw Fr. Lombardi, Msgr. Gil Tamayo and me answering hundreds of questions on a daily basis from the media around the world.  Those daily televised press conferences and briefings topped some of the Italian soap operas for viewership.

Questions coming to us at press conferences and briefings revealed an immense interest (some would say obsession) in things Church!  From the Italian fascination with the retired Pope’s abandonment of the red shoes; to the Mexicans’ delight with the emeritus Pope’s predilection for brown loafers from Leon, Mexico; to the Germans’ intense preoccupation with environmental dangers of black and white smoke pollution over the city of Rome; to the French “souci” with just about everything, and again to the Italian preoccupations with the sealing of Papal apartments and the smashing of Papal seals… we had our hands full.  The world was watching and listening.  I chuckled several times thinking that the Church had made such great strides these past years in the area of social communications.  But for such a major event and happening as a conclave, we still relied on smoke signals.

I was asked to handle the media requests in English (and later French) and thus worked 18-hour days with television, print and radio media from every corner of the globe.  My young colleague, Sebastian Gomes guided me through the maze of media requests and kept me steady through it all.  I lost count after doing 165 television and radio interviews with every possible network you can imagine… first in English, then French, Spanish, Italian, and German.

The Conclave

When the College of Cardinals finally entered into the conclave on Tuesday, March 12, the excitement and expectation were palpable.  As much as Italy tried to dominate the whole process, and delight in the so-called Vatileaks that continued to flow during the pre-conclave meetings, they got it all wrong… as did many others throughout the world who stared in utter amazement at the man who appeared on the loggia of St. Peter’s basilica the night of March 13.

With the “Habemus Papam” came the name of a stranger, and outsider, who instantly won over the crowd in the Piazza and the entire world with the words, “Fratelli e Sorelle, buona sera!” (Brothers and sisters, good evening!)  Who would believe a pontificate beginning with those simple, common words?  Never in my wildest imaginings did I expect a Pope to be called Francis!  Nor could I comprehend the scene of well over one hundred thousand cheering people suddenly becoming still and silent as Papa Franceso bowed and asked them to pray for him and pray over him.  It was the most moving moment I have ever experienced at a Vatican celebration.  His words “Pray for me…” still resound in my ears.

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.

Francis the “defibrillator”

Some have called the man from Argentina a “tweetable” Pope made for 140 characters! We delight in his words of wisdom telling us: “Eternity will not be boring”; “Long faces cannot proclaim Jesus”; “War is madness.  It is the suicide of humanity”; “We are not part-time Christians”; and “The Church is not ‘spa therapy’.”  He’s got the world talking, and listening!  With each day’s new provocative statements, Pope Francis tells those privileged to work at the Vatican and for the Vatican that it’s time for a change, that the Church does not belong to them, that the movement of the Holy Spirit cannot be managed or scripted. He is sending a message with the style, as well as the substance, of his remarks.

Pope Francis embraces emeritus Pope Benedict XVI at papal summer residence in Castel GandolfoA French journalist recently referred to Francis as a “defibrillator” pope. We need defibrillators when we have serious heart problems.  Defibrillation is a common treatment for life-threatening heart rythms, blocked arteries, and problems with pulses.  Defibrillation consists of delivering a therapeutic dose of electrical energy to the affected heart.  This depolarizes a critical mass of the heart muscle, terminates the dysrhythmia, and allows rhythm to be reestablished by the body’s natural pacemaker.  Francesco is a badly needed ecclesial defibrillator for our times!

Let’s look at a few of Francis’ electroshocks over the past three months:  He started changing the tune of the papacy from day one, when he returned to the Casa Paolo VI to pack his bags and pay his bills!  He has made it pretty clear to us that he is not fascinated with a certain form of unhealthy traditionalism and pomp which seemed to be on the rise.

He jolted some liturgists and canonists on Holy Thursday night when, in a Roman prison, he washed the feet of outcasts, including two women and two Muslims in a gesture of profound service.

He has established a new form of magisterium at Domus Sanctae Marthae, by celebrating mass with various groups of Vatican employees each morning and giving a homily  which has become a staple in spiritual nourishment for millions around the world – Chrstian and non-Christian.  The colorful, provocative and off-the-cuff homilies he delivers have become one of the distinctive features of his pontificate.  Perhaps some curial types are wringing hands and quietly singing a new version of one of Rogers and Hammerstein’s masterpieces: “How do we solve a problem like Francesco?  How do we hold a moonbeam in our hands?”

He has railed against the scandal of poverty and stressed the importance of personal involvement with the poor.  Money must “serve” man, not “rule” over him.  The pope’s condemnation of runaway capitalism and an exclusive focus on profit are ideologically in line with Pope Benedict, but the energy and frequency with which Francis strikes these chords are definitely new.

He has decried the “self-referential” mentality of Catholics.  He has challenged the mentality of ecclesial framework managers and been critical of a Church  that loses its dynamic spiritual principles.

He has challenged priests and bishops in the exercise of their ministry and their stewardship of material goods.  This morning, in a long, heartfelt address to a rare meeting of the Nuncios of the world gathered in Rome, Francis told them that pastors “must know how to be ahead of the herd to point the way, in the midst of the flock to keep it united, behind the flock to prevent someone being left behind, so that the same flock… has the sense of smell to find its way.”

Christianity, for Francis, is not a “salon Christianity” where we sit around at high tea and discuss religious or theological things that do not have a direct impact on our lives.

He has cried out against hypocrisy, clericalism, duplicity, narcissism, consumerism and hedonism in all their ugly forms.

To representatives of communities and movements gathered in Rome on Pentecost weekend,  Francis asked them if they were open to surprises of God?   Are we brave enough to go through the new paths that the novelty of God offers us, or do we defend ourselves, trapped in obsolete structures that have lost the purpose?

Pope Francis’ daily mantra can be summed up in one expression: “Go out to the peripheries.”  He calls us out of our cocoons to go to “the existential peripheries.”  Think outisde the box.  Go to uncharted places on the fringes.  You will be surprised who you find there!  For the Pope, the Church is Missionary or she will die.  Do we really want to go to these “existential peripheries”?  How many times do we feel assaulted and challenged by them?

Personally, I needed to experience these “Franciscan” electroshocks.  I think the Church needed to experience them.  They are never pleasant, but they often reverse death-dealing powers, unblock arteries of life, give us back our pulse, depolarize our atrophied muscles and help us to live again and love again.  They invite us into a deep conversion of mind and heart.

Benedict and Francis

My favorite biography of St. Francis of Assisi is that of the great British writer, G.K. Chesterton. I have read that work many times throughout my life, and one passage has taken on new meaning for me over the past months.  Listen to Chesterton’s words:

“St. Francis must be imagined as moving swiftly through the world with a
sort of impetuous politeness; almost like the movement of a man who
stumbles on one knee half in haste and half in obeisance.  The eager
face under the brown hood was that of a man always going somewhere, as
if he followed as well as watched the flight of the birds.  And this
sense of motion is indeed the meaning of the whole revolution that he
made; for the work that has now to be described was of the nature of an
earthquake or a volcano, an explosion that drove outwards with dynamic
energy the forces stored up by ten centuries in the monastic fortress or
arsenal and scattered all its riches recklessly to the ends of the
earth.

In a better sense than the antithesis commonly conveys, it is
true to say that what St. Benedict had stored St. Francis scattered; but
in the world of spiritual things what had been stored into the barns
like grain was scattered over the world as seed.  The servants of God
who had been a besieged garrison became a marching army; the ways of the
world were filled as with thunder with the trampling of their feet and
far ahead of that ever swelling host went a man singing; as simply he
had sung that morning in the winter woods, where he walked alone.”

“What Benedict had stored, Francis scattered…”  Yesterday Pope Francis marked his first 100 days in office next week, but what is that in light of an institution that thinks in centuries?  These days offer us a time to look back, to give thanks, and to look forward.  Many of us in both religious and secular media have been a bit too quick to interpret Francis’ gestures as a sign of discontinuity with the work of his predecessor. What we forget is that more than any of the choices made by Francis, it was Benedict XVI’s resignation that represented the greatest change of the papal office.  Benedict’s decision does not in any way undermine the papacy.  It really does make little difference what vestments the Pope choses to wear or not to wear, or whether he wears a fanon at a canonization mass or prefers fancy thrones or heavy golden crosses.

There is no question that all of these external things place proper emphasis on the sacredness, uniqueness and universality of the papal ministry.  Benedict, the great teacher also taught us something else: that the Petrine ministry is not about externals, power, prestige and privilege.  Pope Benedict brilliantly emphasized the need for intense theological life, constant prayer and quiet contemplation which would naturally give way to good moral living, a commitment to others, and a life of charity and justice. With Francis, it seems that the perspective is the other way around – it is concrete, charitable actions and visible human affection that redefine the theological life, giving it depth and breath.  And such actions attract others to Christ and the Church and serve as privileged instruments of evangelization.

Francesco Piazza JeepWhat Benedict stored, Francis scatters…  Francis has not yet promulgated any encyclicals or “moto proprios.”  But his striking symbolism is becoming substance. Francesco seeks a simpler church, more closely identified with the poor.  He is undoubtedly aware of the scandals, the corruption, the hypocrisy, the challenges, the leaks and the lobbies, and the things that need to be fixed inside the Vatican.  But many around the world, inside and outside the Church, from the left, right and centre of the Church are witnessing something new happening.  Smallness of mind and meanness of spirit are slowly transformed into wideness of thought and generosity of spirit.  We have heard that many people are returning to the Sacrament of Reconciliation because of what is happening in Rome.  Could this not be a gift of the Spirit and a sign that the New Evangelization has begun in some unexpected places?

What Benedict stored, Francis scatters…  “In the world of spiritual things what had been stored into the barns like grain was scattered over the world as seed… .”  Let us never forget the deep continuity between Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, Bishop of Rome. It is manifested in their outlook on faith and their awareness that it is the Lord who leads the Church, not the Pope.  Francis teaches the doctrine identical to that of his predecessors.  He reminds us of the words of his predecessor Blessed John over 50 years ago at the beginning of the Second Vatican Council: “The substance of the ancient doctrine of the Deposit of Faith is one thing, and the way it is presented is another.”  With Francis, it’s the same Petrine brand but the packaging has changed!

And now, in the frequent words of the reigning Supreme Pontiff, Vicar of Christ,  Successor of St. Peter, Prince of The Apostles; Patriarch of The West; Servant of the Servants of God; Primate of Italy; Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province; and Sovereign of Vatican City State and Bishop of Rome:

Buon pranzo!

Buen provecho!

Buon appetito!

Have a good day and a good lunch!

Thank you!

Photo of the Day: Praying in the Mater Ecclesia Chapel

materecclesia_chapel

Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI pray together in the chapel of the Mater Ecclesia monastery where the retired pope will live from now on. The two prayed side by side, “like brothers.”

Photo by L’Osservatore Romano