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A Lion of the American Church: Thoughts on the Passing of Cardinal George

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By Very Rev. Robert Barron

Father Robert Barron is the founder of the global ministry,Word on Fire, and the Rector/President of Mundelein Seminary. He is the creator of the award winning documentary series, “Catholicism”  and “Catholicism:The New Evangelization.

Cardinal Francis George, who died last week at the age of 78, was obviously a man of enormous accomplishment and influence. He was a Cardinal of the Roman Church, a past president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Archbishop of one of the largest and most complicated archdioceses in the world, and the intellectual leader of the American Church. A number of American bishops have told me that when Cardinal George spoke at the Bishops’ meetings, the entire room would fall silent and everyone would listen.

But to understand this great man, I think we have to go back in imagination to when he was a kid from St. Pascal’s parish on the Northwest side of Chicago, who liked to ride his bike and run around with his friends and who was an accomplished pianist and painter as well. At the age of thirteen, that young man was stricken with polio, a disease which nearly killed him and left him severely disabled. Running, bike riding, painting, and piano playing were forever behind him. I’m sure he was tempted to give up and withdraw into himself, but young Francis George, despite his handicap, pushed ahead with single-minded determination. The deepest longing of his heart was to become a priest, and this led him to apply to Quigley Seminary. Convinced that this boy with crutches and a brace couldn’t make the difficult commute every day or keep up with the demands of the school, the officials at Quigley turned him away. Undeterred, he applied to join the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a missionary congregation. Recognizing his enormous promise and inner strength, they took him in.

I bring us back to this moment of the Cardinal’s life, for it sheds light on two essential features of his personality. First, he was a man who never gave up. I had the privilege of living with Cardinal George for six years and thus I was able to see his life close-up. He had an absolutely punishing schedule, which had him going morning, noon, and night, practically every day of the week: administrative meetings, private conversations, banquets, liturgies, social functions, public speeches, etc. Never once, in all the years I lived with him, did I ever hear Cardinal George complain about what he was obliged to do. He simply went ahead, not grimly but with a sense of purpose. When he first spoke to the priests of the Archdiocese as our Archbishop, he said, “Never feel sorry for yourself!” That piece of advice came, you could tell, from the gut.

Second, his identity as an Oblate of Mary Immaculate deeply marked him as a man of mission. The OMI’s are a missionary congregation, whose work takes them all over the world, from Africa and Asia to Latin America, the Yukon, and Alaska—not to mention Texas and Belleville, Illinois. When he was a novice and young OMI seminarian in Belleville, Francis George heard the stories of missioners from the far reaches of the globe, and he imbibed their adventurous spirit. As the vicar general of his order, he undertook travels to six continents, dozens of countries, visiting with thousands of OMI evangelist priests. I was continually amazed at his detailed knowledge of the politics, culture, and history of almost any country or region you could name. It was born of lots of direct experience.

This missionary consciousness is precisely what informed the intellectual and pastoral project that was closest to his heart, namely, the evangelization of the contemporary culture. In this, he showed himself a disciple of his great mentor Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II. What Cardinal George brought rather uniquely to the table in this regard was a particularly clear grasp of the philosophical underpinnings of the Western and especially American cultural matrix. Cardinal George often signaled his impatience with the term “counter-cultural” in regard to the Church’s attitude vis-à-vis the ambient culture. His concern is that this can suggest a simple animosity, whereas the successful evangelist must love the culture he is endeavoring to address. But he saw a deeper problem as well, namely, that, strictly speaking, it is impossible to be thoroughly counter-cultural, since such an attitude would set one, finally, against oneself. It would be a bit like a fish adamantly insisting that he swims athwart the ocean. Therefore, the one who would proclaim the Gospel in the contemporary American setting must appreciate that the American culture is sown liberally with semina verbi (seeds of the Word).

The first of these, in Cardinal George’s judgment, is the modern sense of freedom and its accompanying rights. Following the prompts of Immanuel Kant, modern political theorists have held that all human beings possess a dignity which dictates that they should never be treated merely as a means but always as an end. It is interesting to note that the young Karol Wojtyla, in his early work in philosophical ethics, put a great premium on this second form of the Kantian categorical imperative. What Cardinal George has helped us see is that, at its best, this modern stress is grounded in a fundamentally theological understanding of the human person as a creature of God. Were the human being construed simply as an accidental product of the evolutionary process, then he would not enjoy the irreducible dignity that is assumed by Kant. Indeed, Kant’s contemporary Thomas Jefferson rather clearly indicated that his understanding of human rights was conditioned by the Christian theological heritage when he specified that those rights are granted, not by the state, but by the Creator.

The Kantian-Jeffersonian philosophical anthropology must be distinguished, Cardinal George insisted, from Thomas Hobbes’ account. On the Hobbesian reading, rights are grounded, not so much in divine intentionality, but in the unavoidability of desire. Hobbes opined—and John Locke essentially followed him—that we have a right to those things that we cannot not desire. For Hobbes this meant the sustenance of biological life and the avoidance of violent death, whereas for Locke, it was somewhat broadened to mean life, liberty, and property. The problem is that Hobbes’s interpretation is thoroughly non-theological and his consequent understanding of the purpose of government is non-teleological, purely protective rather than directive. Government exists, not for the achievement of the common good, but for the mutual protection of the citizens. That the Hobbesian strain found its way into the American political imagination is clear from Jefferson’s refusal to characterize the nature of happiness, even as he insisted on the universal right to pursue it. In a word, therefore, the Church can and must affirm, at least in its basic form, the Kantian understanding of freedom and rights, even as it can and must stand against the purely secularist Hobbesian notion.

Cardinal George knew that the prime spokesperson for this deft act of affirmation and negation was Pope John Paul II, who emerged, in the late twentieth-century, as the most articulate and vociferous defender of human rights on the world stage. The Cardinal drew attention to a speech that the Pope made in Philadelphia in 1979. John Paul sang the praises of our Declaration of Independence, with its stress on God-given rights, but he filled in the theological background by referencing the Genesis account of our creation in the image and likeness of God. Pressing well past any sort of Hobbesian secularism and utilitarianism, the Pope insisted that Jefferson’s ideal should inspire Americans to build a society that is marked by its care for the weakest and most vulnerable, especially the aged and the unborn.

The second major feature of modernity that Cardinal George identified is an extreme valorization of the physical sciences, or in his own words, “the imposing of scientific method as the point of contact between human beings and the world and society into which they are born.” The founders of modernity appreciated the sciences not only for their descriptive and predictive powers, but also for their liberating potential. Bacon, Descartes, Leibniz, Newton, Kant, and many others, held that the mastery over nature provided by burgeoning physics, chemistry, medicine, etc. would free the human race from its age-old captivity to sickness and the strictures of time and space. But what this led to—and I see it practically every day in my evangelical work—was the development of a “scientism” which, as a matter of ideological conviction, excludes non-scientific or extra-scientific ways of knowing, including and especially religious ways. The scientistic attitude has also obscured the undeniably theological foundations for the scientific enterprise, namely the assumptions that the world is not God (and hence can be analyzed) and that the world is stamped, in every detail, by intelligibility. Both of these assumptions are predicated upon the doctrine of creation, which the founders of modern science took in, along with their astronomy, mathematics, and physics, at church-sponsored universities. In the measure that the sciences flow from and rest upon the properly theological presumptions that non-divine universe is well-ordered and intelligible, Catholic theology can involve itself in a very fruitful dialogue with them; but in the measure that scientism comes to hold sway, the Church must resist.

One of Cardinal George’s most memorable remarks is that liberal Catholicism is an exhausted project. It is important that we parse his words here carefully. By “liberal Catholicism” he means an approach to the Catholic faith that takes seriously the positive achievements of the modern culture. In this sense, Lacordaire, Lord Acton, Lamennais, von Dollinger, and Newman were all liberal Catholics—and their successors would include De Lubac, Rahner, Guardini, Ratzinger, and Congar. One of the permanent achievements of the liberal Catholic project, in Cardinal George’s judgment, is “restoring to the center of the Church’s consciousness the Gospel’s assertion that Christ has set us free, but also for the insight and analysis that enabled the Church herself to break free of the conservative social structures in which she had become imprisoned.” In the 1950’s Hans Urs von Balthasar called, in a similar vein, for a “razing of the bastions,” behind which the church had been crouching, in order to let out the life that she had preserved. And this is very much in line with Vatican II’s limited accommodation to modernity in service of the evangelical mission. Liberal Catholicism also took into account the second great achievement of modernity, stressing that certain doctrinal formulations and Biblical interpretations had to be reassessed in light of the findings of modern science. One thinks in this context of the vociferous interventions, made by a number of bishops on the Council floor at Vatican II, concerning certain naïvely literalistic readings of the Old Testament.

All of this assimilation of the best of the modern represents the permanent achievement of Catholic liberalism, and this is why Cardinal George never argued that liberalism is simply a failed or useless project. He said it was anexhausted project, parasitical on a substance that no longer exists. What are the signs of exhaustion? The Cardinal explains that the liberal project has gone off the rails inasmuch as it “seems to interpret the Council as a mandate to change whatever in the Church clashes with modern society,” as though, in the words of the notorious slogan from the 1960’s, “the world sets the agenda for the Church.” If the Church only provides vaguely religious motivation for the mission and work of the secular society, then the Church has lost its soul, devolving into a cheerleader for modernity. The other principal sign of the exhaustion of the liberal project is its hyper-stress on freedom as self-assertion and self-definition. In Cardinal George’s words: “the cultural fault line lies in a willingness to sacrifice even the Gospel truth in order to safeguard personal freedom construed as choice.” We might suggest that another shadow side of Catholic liberalism is a tendency to accept the scientific vision of reality as so normative that the properly supernatural is called into question. We see this both in a reduction of religion to ethics and the building of the kingdom on earth, as well as in extreme forms of historical critical biblical interpretation that rule out the supernatural as a matter of principle.

What is too often overlooked—especially in liberal circles—is that Cardinal George was just as impatient with certain forms of conservative Catholicism. Correctly perceiving that authentic Catholicism clashes with key elements of modern culture, some conservatives instinctively reached back to earlier cultural instantiations of Catholicism and absolutized them. They failed thereby to realize that robust Catholicism is, in Cardinal George’s words, “radical in its critique of any society,” be it second-century Rome, eighteenth-century France, or the America of the 1950’s. What he proposed, finally, was neither liberal nor conservative Catholicism, but “simply Catholicism,” by which he meant the faith in its fullness, mediated through the successors of the Apostles.

At the heart of this Catholicism in full is relationality. Cardinal George has often pointed out that Catholic ontology is inescapably relational, since it is grounded in the Creator God who is, himself, a communion of subsistent relations. More to it, the Creator, making the universe, ex nihilo, does not stand over and against his creatures in a standard “being-to-being” rapport; rather, his creative act here and now constitutes the to-be of creatures, so that every finite thing is a relation to God. Aquinas expressed this when he said that creation is “a kind of relation to the Creator, with freshness of being.”  This metaphysics of relationality stands in sharp distinction to the typically modern and nominalist ontology of individual things, which gave rise to the Hobbesian and Lockean political philosophy sketched above, whereby social relations are not natural but rather artificial and contractual. Since grace rests upon and elevates nature, we should not be surprised that the Church is marked by an even more radical relationality. Through the power of Christ, who is the Incarnation of the subsistent relation of the Trinity, creation is given the opportunity of participating in the divine life. This participation, made possible through grace, is far more intense than the relationship that ordinarily obtains between God and creatures and among creatures themselves, and Catholic ecclesiology expresses that intensity through a whole set of images: bride, body, mother, temple, etc.

In Cardinal George’s striking language: “the Church is aware of herself as vital, and so calls herself a body. The Church is aware of herself as personal, and so calls herself a bride who surrenders to Christ. The Church is aware of herself as a subject, as an active, abiding presence that mediates a believer’s experience, and so calls herself mother. The Church is aware of herself as integrated, and so describes herself as a temple of the Holy Spirit.” Notice please the words being used here: vital, personal, present, surrendering, mother, integrated. They all speak of participation, interconnection, relationship, what Cardinal George calls esse per (being through). This is the living organism of the Church which relates in a complex way to the culture, assimilating and elevating what it can and resisting what it must. This is simply Catholicism.

Cardinal George was a spiritual father to me. In his determination, his pastoral devotion, his deep intelligence, his kindness of heart, he mediated the Holy Spirit. For this I will always be personally grateful to him. I believe that the entire Church, too, owes him a debt of gratitude for reminding us who we are and what our mission is.

Please join us in prayer:

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January 16, 1937 – April 17, 

Prayer for Francis Cardinal George

O God of consolation,
our hearts are heavy
as we acknowledge our great sense of loss.

We look to you for comfort and solace
at the passing of your servant, Francis George.
Welcome him into the warmth of your embrace
and renew in us the consolation and hope of eternal life with you.

Even in times of doubt,
we know that your care reaches
into the depths of our hearts.
May the legacy of Cardinal George continue to inspire us
to be a holy people of love and compassion.

We ask this in the name of the One who came
to destroy sin and death,
your merciful Son, Jesus Christ,
who is Lord for ever and ever.

Amen.

Remembering Cardinal George: Chicago’s Archbishop celebrates 50 years of priestly ordination

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This post was originally published on December 18, 2013, when Cardinal Francis George celebrated 50 years of priestly ordination. 

Ad multos annos, Cardinal Francis George, OMI
Chicago’s Archbishop celebrates 50 years of priestly ordination

By Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

Today Cardinal Francis George, OMI, of Chicago celebrates his 50th Anniversary of priestly ordination. Sebastian Gomes and I will be present for the Eucharistic celebration in Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral as well as at the dinner to follow in the Windy City’s Drake Hotel.

Francis Eugene George was born in Chicago in 1937.  He entered the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate in 1957 and was ordained a priest in 1963.  He served his Oblate Congregation as Provincial Superior of the Midwestern US Province from 1973-1974, and was then elected the following year, at age 37, as Vicar General of his international Congregation, a position which he held in Rome from 1974-1986.  From 1987-1990, he served as the Coordinator of the Circle of Fellows at the Cambridge Centre for the Study of Faith and Culture.  The Church recognized his remarkable qualities when Pope John Paul II named him Bishop of Yakima, Washington in 1990.  In 1996, he was appointed Archbishop of Portland, Oregon, a position he held for less than one year.  In April 1987, the Pope appointed him to the very important See of Chicago in the USA to succeed the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin.  George was the  first native Chicagoan to be Archbishop of that city.  In February 1998, Francis George was created Cardinal priest by Pope John Paul II.

Cardinal Francis George is a philosopher and theologian, a man who possesses the rather remarkable qualities of a warm, humble gentleman, a distinguished scholar and  a listening, compassionate, shepherd and faithful servant.  He has been an outstanding, gifted, leader of the Universal Church who has become an articulate teacher and pastor to people far beyond the confines of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Cardinal George has been a very good friend for many years, and a great supporter of our work at Salt and Light Catholic Television Network from the very beginning.  My friendship with him was born in Rome in 1985 when I first met him at the Oblate Generalate on Via Aurelia.  I was a newly ordained deacon and had accompanied my Basilian confrère Cardinal George Flahiff to the Extraordinary Synod on Vatican II and a special meeting of  the College of Cardinals.  The Oblates extended hospitality to us for the duration of the meetings and the kindness of then Fr. Francis George. Vicar General of his Religious Congregation, left a lasting impression upon me.  Several years later, in February 1994, our paths crossed again when Fr. George, now bishop of Yakima, Washington arrived in Jerusalem to take part in an international conference Religious Leadership in Secular Society. I was attending that conference as graduate student at Jerusalem’s Ecole Biblique et Archéologique Française.  We renewed our friendship and spent some memorable moments together in the Holy City.

Over the past 29 years, our paths have crossed many times, including Cardinal George’s memorable visit to the Newman Centre Catholic Mission at the University of Toronto in 1998 and his great lecture on the Papacy.  We have been together at World Youth Days, congresses, assemblies and conventions of all kinds, and at the Synod of Bishops on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church in 2008.

During that Synod, the Cardinal gave a very eloquent address on the theme of reclaiming our biblical roots.  Synod Fathers had grappled with the fact that many of us had lost touch with the world of Scripture and of how important it was to see the hand of providence in life’s events. Cardinal George, in his role as then President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, spoke of the “lived contexts in which believers hear the Word of God and the need for pastoral attention to conversion of the imagination, the intellect and the will.”

I still remember Cardinal George’s pointed words:“Western culture has been historically shaped in conversation with the Bible,” he said. “References to ‘the prodigal son’ or ‘the Good Samaritan’ or ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’ could be taken for granted as images popularly recognizable.   …This familiarity, that has now largely disappeared from popular imagination, disappeared a generation ago from the world of art and theatre.”

“Behind this loss of biblical images lies the loss of a sense and an image of God as an actor in human history,” Cardinal George continued. “In Scripture, God is both the principal author and the principal actor. In Scripture, we encounter the living God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ.   …Our people, for the most part, do not live confidently in the biblical world of active spirit, of angels and demons, of the search for God’s will and God’s intentions in the midst of this world governed by God’s providence.”

“Scripture takes on the genre of fantasy fiction, and the biblical world becomes an uninhabitable embarrassment.”

“A love of Scripture,” Cardinal George said, “feeds the desire to worship in spirit and in truth, and, in turn, our worship gives God the opportunity to transform us more profoundly into the image of Christ.”

In a recent interview with Chicago’s Catholic newspaper, Cardinal George, reflecting on his priestly and episcopal ministry, said:

“What I would try to do is avoid mistakes I’ve made; but in terms in what I’ve done, it’s been what I’ve been told to do and I did it. The fundamental evangelical virtue is the obedience of faith in charity. Christ was obedient unto death. We don’t talk about obedience, but in fact we are all obedient to God or else we’re on our own, which is a way of saying we are sinners. If you’re in touch with God, you’re obedient to God. I’ve tried to be obedient to the Lord’s will as expressed by the church.”

The Cardinal has appeared in numerous interviews, programs and series of Salt and Light Television over the past decade. His intelligent, articulate reflections on so many topics have inspired our entire team and countless viewers of our programming.  We will long remember his warm hospitality to our crew when they filmed an extensive interview with the Cardinal at his Chicago residence for our major series “The Church Alive” several years ago.

Cardinal George’s WITNESS interview, gives us some great insights into his depth of knowledge and love of the Church.

You can watch that interview here:

I have learned much from this great shepherd, teacher and friend.  May the Lord grant him health, happiness and peace on this momentous occasion of 50 years of priestly ministry.

A few of Cardinal George’s favorite things

Favorite saints? St. Francis is my patron. I was taught to love him by the Franciscan sisters who taught me in grade school, so I’ve always had a devotion to him. My mother had a great devotion to St. Anthony, whom I pray to also when I lose something. St. Therese of Lisieux is the patroness of the missions. She had a great influence on Oblate missionaries. And I suppose the most important one for all of us of course is the Blessed Virgin Mary. I’ve always felt very protected by her. She was the mother of Christ and therefore our mother too.

Favorite prayers? I like to say the Memorare. The most important prayer is the Lord’s own, the Our Father. There’s a prayer also that is in 17th century French spirituality that isn’t perhaps so well known. “Jesus, living in Mary, come and live in your servants.” It’s a classical prayer, a short one, but I say it every morning at the end of meditation because it expresses who we are, united to Christ in Mary, and how we are expected to transform our lives day by day. So beyond that, every priest prays the office for his people, and the Psalms, the Psalms are tremendously important as prayers. They express so many sentiments that are always part of one’s relationship to God, even though they are 3,000 years old. The Mass of course is the most important prayer that the church has — a great gift.

Prayer for the archdiocese? Every day I pray for people who ask me to pray for them, especially the sick. My prayer is simply that we be a praying people, close to the Lord, and let him direct us. What we have to do is keep the infrastructure strong so that the ministries can be effective, but after that, it’s individuals who are living their life in the world who are to be the agents for converting the world. The purpose of the church is to convert the world to its Savior. I would hope that everything we do in the archdiocese would be oriented toward that goal more and more clearly.

What do you want your legacy as a priest to be? I’ve been a priest for 50 years. All that I would hope people would remember is, “He tried to be a good priest.” That’s what my father told me when I told him I wanted to be a priest: “If you’re going to be a priest, be a good one.” So I would hope that people would remember that I tried to be a good priest and a good bishop, and that’s enough.

Source: Office for Radio and Television, Archdiocese of Chicago

Photo: CNS/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World

Canadian Premiere of John Paul II in America

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Canadian Premiere on Salt + Light
Sunday April 12, at 9pm ET / 6pm PT

A new Knights of Columbus produced documentary on St. John Paul II and his relationship with North and South America will air April 12 on Salt + Light.

John Paul II in America: Uniting a Continent explores how the papacy of St. John Paul II left an indelible mark on the American continent. Driven by his singular conviction of a “United American Continent” under the patronage of Our Lady of Guadalupe, John Paul II’s papal travels from Argentina to Alaska generated massive crowds, shaped an entire generation and ultimately changed the course of history.

Narrated by actor Andy Garcia, the film features rare archival footage and insightful analysis from leading figures, including Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley of Boston, Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson, John Paul II biographer George Weigel and former Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro-Valls. Viewers will be both intrigued and moved by the documentary’s unprecedented framework for understanding one of the giant figures of our times.

Blessed Marcel Callo 1921-1945

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Today is 70th anniversary of death of Blessed Marcel Callo who was one of the patron blesseds and saints of World Youth Day 2002.

Marcel Callo was born on December 6, 1921, in Rennes, France, being one of nine children. He was a happy child, who was known to be a leader and a perfectionist. He helped with his household chores and he helped take care of his younger siblings. After completing his primary studies, he became an apprentice to a printer around age 13. He did not like associating with fellow workers who swore and told many improper stories. He preferred accompanying good Catholic friends who belonged to the JOC, Jeunesse Ouvriere Chretienne (Young Christian Worker). He had a good sense of humor and would like to wrestle, play football, ping pong, cards and bridge.

When Marcel was 20 he fell in love with Marguerite Derniaux. He did not degrade women like his fellow worker but instead had deep respect for women. He said, “I am not one to amuse myself with the heart of a lady, since my love is pure and noble. If I have waited until 20 years old to go out with a young lady, it is because I knew that I wanted to find real love. One must master his heart before he can give it to the one that is chosen for him by Christ.” It took him about one year to declare his love to Marguerite and an additional four months before they first kissed. After being engaged, they imposed a strict spiritual rule of life which included praying the same prayers and going to Mass and receiving the Eucharist as often as they could.

blog 2On March 8, 1943, the war (World War II) had gripped their city of Rennes. That day his sister, Madeleine was killed by one of the bombs that leveled her building. When the Germans later occupied France, Marcel was ordered and deported to Zella-Mehlis, Germany to the S.T.O.,Service du Travail Obligatoire (Service of Obligatory Work). If he did not comply, his family would be arrested, so he went.

Once there, he worked in a factory that produced bombs that would be used against his own countrymen. After three months or so of missing his family and missing Mass (there was no Catholic church in that town), Marcel became seriously depressed. He later found a room where Mass was offered on Sunday. This helped change his disposition. He reported that, “Finally Christ reacted. He made me to understand that the depression was not good. I had to keep busy with my friends and then joy and relief would come back to me.”

With his morale and hope restored, he cared for his deported friends. He organized a group of Christian workers who did activities together like play sports or cards. He also organized a theatrical group. He galvanized his friends despite him suffering from painful boils, headaches and infected teeth. For his French friends, he arranged a Mass to be celebrated in their native tongue. Eventually, his religious activities attracted unwanted attention from the German officials. The Germans arrested Marcel on April 19, 1944 saying that, “Monsieur is too much of a Catholic.”

The Germans interrogated Marcel. He admitted his Catholic activities and was imprisoned in Gotha. He secretly received the Eucharist while in prison and continued to pray and help his companions. He was considered dangerous to the Germans and was moved to a different prison at Mathausen. He suffered from various ailments such as bronchitis, malnutrition, dysentery, fever, swelling, and generalized weakness. He never complained. Despite his suffering, he encouraged his companions by saying, “It is in prayer that we find our strength.” He died on the feast of St. Joseph, March 19, 1945. The date was exactly two years from the day he left home.Pope John Paul II beautified Marcel Callo on October 4, 1987 along with two Italian martyrs, Antonio Mesina and Pierina Morosini.

Courtesty of: http://www.savior.org/saints/callo.htm

Freedom and authority: not just a church matter pt. 1

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A perennial and penetrating question exists within the Catholic Church that goes to the very heart of its institutional being, namely the freedom of individual conscience vis-à-vis authority in the Church. In terms of expressing one’s conscience, the question might be put this way: what are the limits to public opinion within the Church considering that she insists on adherence to central teachings and at the same time upholds and promotes the freedom of each person’s conscience? (CCC, 1782)

This question arose in a dramatic way five-hundred years ago around the criticisms of the Augustinian monk Martin Luther. Naturally, church authorities responded defensively. They couldn’t have predicted what was to come: a veritable tsunami of religious and social reform in the name of freedom that was hitherto unimaginable in the medieval world. The religious, social, cultural and political effects of the Protestant Reformation have been felt up to this day.

The Catholic Church came to terms with the reality of this question—at least officially—at the Second Vatican Council in the 1960’s. In the revolutionary constitution on the Church in the Modern World we find statements that express this development clearly, for example:

Let it be recognized that all the faithful, whether clerics or laity, possess a lawful freedom of inquiry, freedom of thought and of expressing their mind with humility and courage in those matters on which they enjoy competence.” (62)

Yet, in the five decades since the Council the question of public opinion in the Catholic Church has not gone away. St. John Paul II was pope for half of that period of time, and opinions among the faithful vary as to the degree to which he implemented and embodied this particular teaching of the Council.

One very clear articulation of his belief in it came in a 1995 encyclical called Ut unum sint (On the Commitment to Ecumenism)—a document that gets far too little publicity in the Catholic world but is indispensable for understanding contemporary ecumenism, and more immediately, the bureaucratic reforms of Pope Francis and the manner in which he exercises the Petrine ministry.

John Paul was conscious of the long and painful history of separation between Christians dating back to the Protestant Reformation and beyond. As a Council Father, he was also conscious of the deep and sincere desire for Christian unity expressed by Pope John XXIII and the vast majority of his brother bishops. Reflecting on the difficult work for unity in ut unum sint, he wrote:

“I am convinced that I have a particular responsibility in this regard, above all in acknowledging the ecumenical aspirations of the majority of the Christian Communities and in heeding the request made of me to find a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation.” (95)

To “find a way of exercising the primacy which is… open to a new situation” implies taking an honest and critical look at how it has been exercised up to this point, which in turn raises the question of freedom of expression of those within the Church who wish to offer their critique. The gravity of the question is even more pronounced when we realize that the “primacy” John Paul referred to is not some peripheral teaching, but a fundamental Catholic doctrine.

In his analysis of ut unum sint, Archbishop John Quinn dove into this question of criticism in the Catholic Church, pointing out the long history of disagreement between popes, bishops and the faithful and its implications for today:

“To attempt to create the illusion of unanimity or even consensus where it does not exist and cannot exist is to run the risk of diminishing the moral authority and credibility of the Church. To portray all criticism and disagreement as disloyalty or lack of faith is a grave injustice.” (The Reform of the Papacy)

In light of all this, one can appreciate the import of raising the question of freedom of expression vis-à-vis authority in the Church regarding ecumenism. But as I said above, this is a perennial and penetrating question and therefore transcends any one topic.

It’s fascinating, for example, to look through this lens at the current debate going on in the Church about marriage and family life. I say “debate” quite intentionally because that is exactly what it is. I don’t wish to get into the nuances of each argument. More broadly though, what is truly fascinating is not that the debate is taking place, but that it was sought and initiated by the pope—Pope Francis. He said explicitly at the close of last October’s synod on the family that, “I would be very worried and saddened… if all were in a state of agreement, or silent in a false and quietist peace.” (Read the address here)

A strong argument could be made that the approach of Pope Francis to the question of marriage and family life today is similar to the approach of Pope John Paul to the question of exercising the primacy back in 1995. Both expressed a desire for openness and honesty in a discussion on matters of grave import. The difference with Pope Francis—and this might account for the sense of novelty we feel—is that he communicates so clearly for all to understand.

The result of Francis’ unambiguous call for open discussion and debate on marriage and family life has been exactly that: open discussion and debate. Suddenly those who—for whatever reason—had previously tempered their call for an honest examination of the issue, now feel empowered to speak. Those who are fearful of any change to the current understanding of the Church’s teaching are equally vocal. Nobody knows what is going to happen in the end, but it is evident that the debate is a fruit of the seeds planted at the Council after a long and tumultuous history, nurtured by John Paul in his own way, and now growing rather quickly under Francis. A development, not in theory or doctrine, but in practice is taking place regarding this question of freedom of expression in the Catholic Church. As the saying goes, the toothpaste is out of the tube.

It was necessary to reflect briefly on this question inside the Catholic Church in order to be able to reflect on it outside as well. Freedom of expression vis-à-vis authority within a civil society is an equally weighty matter, and it happens to be front and center right now as the Canadian government moves forward with bill C-51 that would grant extraordinary powers to CSIS and the RCMP in their battle against domestic terrorism. For Canadians, questions of individual liberty and freedom of expression have been thrust on the table. What are we to make of the Conservatives’ approach to this discussion? How can the Church’s experience on the matter inform the debate? As the story develops, I will reflect on those questions next week…

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.

Kristallnacht: Night of the Broken Glass

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Kristallnacht: Night of the Broken Glass
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

On the night of November 9–10, 1938, the Nazis staged violent pogroms—state sanctioned, anti-Jewish riots—against the Jewish communities of Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland. These events came to be known as Kristallnacht (commonly translated as “Night of Broken Glass”), a reference to the broken windows of synagogues, Jewish-owned stores, community centers, and homes plundered and destroyed that night. Instigated by the Nazi regime, rioters burned or destroyed 267 synagogues, vandalized or looted 7,500 Jewish businesses, and killed at least 91 Jewish people. They also damaged many Jewish cemeteries, hospitals, schools, and homes as police and fire brigades stood aside.

Kristallnacht was a turning point in Nazi anti-Jewish policy that would culminate in the Holocaust—the systematic, state-sponsored mass murder of the European Jews.

On March 26, 2000, at the conclusion of his historic Jubilee pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Pope John Paul II visited the Western Wall, remnant of the ancient Jerusalem Temple, and placed a prayer in a crevice in the wall as Jews have done for centuries. This act crowned his lifelong commitment to furthering Catholic-Jewish understanding. The Pope’s prayer struck the major themes of his thoughts on Jews and Judaism: that Christians share with Jews reverence and worship of the same God, the common ancestry of Abraham to all who look to the Bible for inspiration, the unjust suffering directed against Jews over the millennia and the need for forgiveness for Christians and others who caused this suffering, the need to resolve to improve one’s future behavior in order to achieve genuine repentance, and, finally, recognition of Jews as the continuing people of God’s ongoing and eternal Covenant. After meditating at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, the Pope placed in the wall a written prayer to God expressing deep sadness for all wrongs done to Jews by Christians. The prayer read:

ben“God of our fathers,
You chose Abraham and his descendants
To bring Your name to the nations;
We are deeply saddened by the behavior of those
Who in the course of history have caused these children of Yours to suffer
And asking Your forgiveness
We wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood
With the people of the Covenant.”

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Throughout his priestly, episcopal and Petrine ministry, Pope John Paul II consistently condemned anti-Semitism as a sin and acknowledged the suffering of Jews throughout the ages and in the Holocaust. He used the Hebrew word ‘Shoah’ to speak about the Holocaust. John Paul II became a true embarkation point for Christians and for Jews. He taught both Christians and Jews not to be afraid of each other, nor to fear our deep, biblical narratives that unite, rather than divide us. Nothing can remove our sense of belonging to, participating in, and being the beneficiaries of God’s saving encounter with Israel and with the broken world, which occurred in the crucifixion of Jesus, who we Christians believe to be son of Israel and Son of God.

The photo below is of the Berlin Synagogue after it had been destroyed on this night. The other photos represent the healing that has taken place between Christians and Jews through the heroic gestures of St. John Paul II and Popes Benedict XVI and Francis.

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John Paul II: A Saint for Canada

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I once had a teacher who knew exactly how to keep her students focused during the day. She promised us that if we were very good, she would read us a few pages from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. She would only have to give the gentlest reminder that we would not have time for The Hobbit and there would be a swift end to our cavorting and carrying-on. As you can imagine, she had us eating out of her hand.

My love for a great story has continued, and I’ve found that the best stories are always those “based on a true story.” At Salt + Light we have a storytelling ritual, you could say, and Fr. Thomas Rosica is one of the best storytellers I know. Whenever Fr. Rosica returns to the office from a trip, he gathers everyone to celebrate Mass, and following that it’s time for our meeting around the conference table. After we have prayed and he has given us all a little token from his travels -usually a prayer card, a spiritual booklet, or some chocolates- he settles down to tell us about everything that happened.  As I said, Fr. Tom Rosica is a masterful storyteller. By the time the meeting has concluded, we feel as if we have lived through it all – the highs and the lows: the lost luggage, the inevitable poor internet connection fiascos, the exceptional encounters, the developments and the messages of encouragement.

My favourite stories, however, are the ones where he tells us of his encounters with Pope John Paul II. These stories are an incredible source of insight.  Sure, there’s something to be learned from reading great encyclicals, but to know a person firsthand and to get a sense of who he was and why he did what he did – this can only be imparted through personal experience; anything else simply doesn’t have the same impact. Moreover, Fr. Rosica’s stories are always full of meaning. Significant dates in history have moods and feelings attached to them, and there’s always a deep sense of what these things mean for us and for the world. As a scripture scholar, Fr. Rosica’s biblical imagination imbues his commentary on events with a profound love of scriptural images and also a great sense of humour.

Not everyone has the opportunity to listen to these stories firsthand, but you will certainly feel as if you are sitting around the Salt + Light conference table when you pick up the new release  John Paul II, A Saint for Canada. It’s a short book that can be read at a leisurely pace in a few hours. Filled with Fr. Rosica’s personal reflections on Pope John Paul II,  John Paul II, A Saint for Canada is a delight that will leave you with a deep appreciation for this saint and what he means for us in Canada.

To get a taste of what you can expect, you’re invited to watch our latest Catholic FOCUS featuring John Paul II.

Photo description: Father Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II, is pictured reading in a kayak in this photo dated from 1955. Three years later, he was on the water with friends when he learned he had been called to Warsaw for the announcement that he was to be made a bishop. He was canonized on April 27 with Pope John XXIII. (CNS photo)

 

A Saint for Canada: John Paul II

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On June 24 and 25, 2014, Zenit sat down with Fr. Thomas Rosica to discuss his new book, “John Paul II: A Saint for Canada.” Below you can find the full text of the interview:

A Saint for Canada: John Paul II
Interview on Zenit International News Service

There are many lenses through which to view Pope St. John Paul II. A book released this year by Basilian Father Thomas Rosica proposes the Polish Pontiff as a “saint for Canada” (Novalis 2014).

ZENIT spoke with Fr. Rosica about his insights into the Pope and saint who loved Canada and was loved by Canadians.

ZENIT: Why is a Polish Pope a “saint for Canada?”

Father Rosica: Pope John Paul II was the first Pope to set foot on Canadian soil. It was the longest pastoral visit ever made by any Pope in a single country back in 1984 — 12 days. With his arrival on September 9 in the Quebec City suburb of Ste. Foy, the Holy Father began a 15,000-kilometre marathon that took him from the Atlantic to the Pacific. When the visit ended on September 20 that year, he had visited Quebec City, Trois-Rivières, Montreal, St. John’s, Moncton, Halifax, Toronto, Midland (Ontario), Winnipeg/St. Boniface, Edmonton, Yellowknife, Vancouver and Ottawa/Hull. In some of those cities, he visited major Canadian pilgrimage sites: Sainte-Anne de Beaupré, Cap-de-la-Madeleine, St. Joseph’s Oratory and the Canadian Martyrs Shrine in Midland. Millions of Canadians turned out to greet the pontiff, pray with him and to celebrate, many of them deeply moved by his words and presence. His visit left a deep and lasting impression on our country.

During that historic 1984 visit, John Paul II endeared himself to Canadians and from the very beginning, and Canadians loved him. That affection reached its peak in 2002 when he returned to us as an elderly, infirm man and presided over World Youth Day 2002, his last great international youth event. He made us all feel young again. Though I did not choose the title for the book “A Saint for Canada,” more than any pope, John Paul II was ours in a very special way!

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ZENIT: Tell us about Pope John Paul II’s relationship with the First Nations     (Native Communities) in Canada?

Father Rosica: In 1984, bad weather had forced the cancellation of a visit prepared for Fort Simpson in the Northwest Territories, where John Paul II was to meet with First Nations peoples. The pope felt so deeply sad about missing this visit with them that he promised to return. And he did, in 1987, when he spoke to Aboriginal peoples gathered from across the North. His reverence for the First Nations peoples and compassion for their history of suffering helped change the way Canadians viewed their own troubled relationship with their Aboriginal sisters and brothers.

ZENIT: What was it like to know a saint personally?

Father Rosica: I think I visited with Pope John Paul II five times before I was appointed to World Youth Day 2002, at least 12 times in preparation for World Youth Day 2002 and six times following World Youth Day and prior to his death in 2005. The Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, gave a great emphasis to holiness, and the call to holiness extended to everyone. And it’s very important that we see this call embodied in a person’s life. John Paul II was a man who was in constant dialogue with God. He was the pope of holiness. I knew that there was something extraordinary about this man. It was pretty clear that he lived with God, and he lived with us. Whenever I spoke with him, I knew that I was talking with someone who was a friend of God. Each time I was with him, and for that matter each time I am with a holy person, I go away from that encounter with a deep desire to pray, to spend more time with God, and to be a better person. I think one of the great qualities of holy persons is that they give us a “holy jealousy” – making the rest of us thirst for God, desire to be holy and to be a better people.

ZENIT: You mention a theory for why young people had such a great love for John Paul II. What is that?

Father Rosica: John Paul II enjoyed an incredible popularity with young Catholics. At the World Youth Day in Rome in 2000, he called the young people of the world his “joy and his crown”. In July 2002 in Toronto, he showed us the same. Young people today are experiencing an extreme crisis of fatherhood. I am convinced that they flocked to him because in many cases he was the father they never had and the grandfather who had been so painfully absent in their lives. John Paul II was a rock, a moral compass, and a very demanding friend. He made all of us discover our youthfulness, generosity and joy as he invited us to become salt and light in a world, a society and a culture that is so cynical, so tasteless and so often devoid of the flavor and joy of the Gospel and the light and hope of Christ.

From the beginning of his Pontificate, he insisted on meeting young people whenever he visited Roman parishes or foreign countries. Building on a tradition begun by his predecessor, Paul VI in the twilight years of his reign (1976), John Paul II invited hoards of young people to Rome in 1984 for the Jubilee Year of the Redemption, and in March 1985 for the International Year of Youth, when, on Palm Sunday, he established World Youth Days as a permanent event. “No one invented the World Youth Days. It was the young people themselves who created them”, John Paul II wrote in his 1994 book, Crossing The Threshold of Hope. In actual fact, he first sought them out; they then discovered him. Most of the World Youth Days, including ours in Canada, have been something of a surprise for priests and bishops, in that they surpassed all our expectations!

John Paul II issued to young people a clarion call to commitment. To his young friends he said: “Many and enticing are the voices that call out to you from all sides: many of these voices speak to you of a joy that can be had with money, success, and power. Mostly they propose a joy that comes with the superficial and fleeting pleasure of the senses.” The alternative call was Jesus’ siren song. “He calls you to be the salt and light of the world, to live in justice, to become instruments of love and peace.” The choice was stark, self-denying, life-defining, irrevocable. It was between, “good and evil, between light and darkness, between life and death.” There were no shortcuts or compromises for John Paul II, only clarity. And that is what the young are seeking today, not quick answers but Gospel clarity.

How many people are not afraid anymore because they saw a Pope who was not afraid. How many young seminarians and religious have spoken their “yes” because of him! How many young couples have made permanent commitments in marriage because of his profound theology of the body! How many ordinary people have done extraordinary things because of his influence, his teaching and his gestures!

ZENIT: John Paul II wrote and preached volumes. Even in focusing on a specific element, such as his ministry to Canada, how does one begin to digest or sort through such a huge body of teaching and a powerful message?

Father Rosica: Pope John Paul II tirelessly travelled the world, bringing to women and men of every race, nation and culture, a message of hope; that human dignity is rooted in the fact that each human being is created in the image and likeness of God. The Holy Father’s courageous and steadfast witness to the power of the Risen Lord has been the hallmark of his Pontificate– in which he has opened wide the doors of many human hearts and of many nations to Christ. By his witness and preaching of the Catholic faith, the Holy Father has had a great part in changing the course of history. The body of teaching that he left us is staggering- immense, accessible, rich and transforming. It is now up to us to unpack the gift of his teaching and appropriate it in our lives.

The challenge to the Church in Canada, and for that matter to the Church in each country, is to deepen its relationship with the living communion of faith of the whole Church. Canada has much from its experience to offer to the universal Church – about tolerance, peace, social justice, a significant, rich heritage of Saints and Blesseds who brought us the faith. That is the mission of the Church in Canada as well. We cannot forget the deeply Christian roots and heritage of this country. This is not only a religious question but also of an anthropological order since human identity cannot be separated or divorced from its Christian identity. In an increasingly secularised world the place and role of religion in our cultural identity must be re-evaluated and re-vitalised. There can be no future without a past. Our present has been formed by a Christian heritage handed down to us; will future generations to come have a similar Christian heritage to hand on?

ZENIT: John Paul II is now set before us as a saint, as someone to emulate. Yet, how can one imitate someone as other-worldy as John Paul II?

Father Rosica: That a person is declared “Blessed” or “Saint” is not a statement about perfection. It does not mean that the person was without imperfection, blindness, deafness or sin. Nor is it a 360-degree evaluation of the Pontificate or of the Vatican. Beatification and Canonization mean that a person lived his or her life with God, relying totally on God’s infinite mercy, going forward with God’s strength and power, believing in the impossible, loving one’s enemies and persecutors, forgiving in the midst of evil and violence, hoping beyond all hope, and leaving the world a better place. That person lets those around him know that there is a force or spirit animating his or her life that is not of this world, but the next. Such a person lets us catch a glimpse of the greatness and holiness to which we are all called, and shows us the face of God as we journey on our pilgrim way on earth. Canonization and holiness is not some kind of perfection that erases all kinds of faults and errors. The first requirement to be a saint in the Church is you have to be a sinner – but a sinner who recognizes the power of God’s mercy and forgiveness, and lives in that experience.

One of the most profound lessons John Paul II taught us in the twilight of his pontificate was that everyone must suffer, even the Vicar of Christ. Rather than hide his infirmities, as most public figures do, he let the whole world see what he went through. The passing of John Paul II did not take place in private, but before television cameras and the whole world. In the final act of his life, the athlete was immobilized; the distinctive, booming voice silenced; the hand that produced voluminous encyclicals no longer able to write. John Paul II’s final homily was an icon of his Galilean Master’s final words to Simon Peter:

Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” … After this [Jesus] said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:18-19)

In the life of Karol Wojytyla, the boy from Wadowice who would grow up to be a priest and Bishop of Krakow, the Bishop of Rome, and a hero for the ages, holiness was contagious. We have all been touched and changed by it. Pope John Paul II was not only “Holy Father” but “a Father who was and is Holy.” At his funeral mass on April 8, 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger told the world that the Holy Father was watching us and blessing us ‘from the window of the Father’s House.”

Let us learn from this great, contemporary saint how to cross thresholds, open doors, build bridges, embrace the Cross of suffering and proclaim the Gospel of Life to the people of our time. May we learn how to live, to suffer and die unto the Lord. Let us pray to have a small portion of the fidelity of Peter’s witness and the boldness of Paul’s proclamation that were so mightily present in Karol Wojtyla – St. John Paul II. May he intercede for us and for all those who suffer in body and spirit, and give us the desire to become holy and to be saints.

In his homily at the Beatification of Pope John Paul II on May 1, 2011, Pope Benedict XVI summarized beautifully Karol Wojtyla’s life of holiness:

“… When Karol Wojtyla ascended to the throne of Peter, he brought with him a deep understanding of the difference between Marxism and Christianity, based on their respective visions of man. This was his message: man is the way of the Church, and Christ is the way of man. With this message, which is the great legacy of the Second Vatican Council and of its ‘helmsman’, the Servant of God Pope Paul VI, John Paul II led the People of God across the threshold of the Third Millennium, which thanks to Christ he was able to call ‘the threshold of hope’.

Throughout the long journey of preparation for the great Jubilee he directed Christianity once again to the future, the future of God, which transcends history while nonetheless directly affecting it. He rightly reclaimed for Christianity that impulse of hope which had in some sense faltered before Marxism and the ideology of progress. He restored to Christianity its true face as a religion of hope, to be lived in history in an “Advent” spirit, in a personal and communitarian existence directed to Christ, the fullness of humanity and the fulfillment of all our longings for justice and peace. …

“Blessed are you, beloved Pope John Paul II, because you believed! Continue, we implore you, to sustain from heaven the faith of God’s people. You often blessed us in this Square from the Apostolic Palace: Bless us, Holy Father! Amen.”

And on April 27 of this year, Pope Francis said of John Paul II:

“They (Wojtyla and Roncalli – John XXIII) were priests, bishops and popes of the twentieth century. They lived through the tragic events of that century, but they were not overwhelmed by them. For them, God was more powerful; faith was more powerful – faith in Jesus Christ the Redeemer of man and the Lord of history; the mercy of God, shown by those five wounds, was more powerful; and more powerful too was the closeness of Mary our Mother.

…In his own service to the People of God, John Paul II was the pope of the family. He himself once said that he wanted to be remembered as the pope of the family. I am particularly happy to point this out as we are in the process of journeying with families towards the Synod on the family. It is surely a journey which, from his place in heaven, he guides and sustains.”

ZENIT: From your continued work with the Holy See Press Office, as well as your work at Salt and Light, you have a unique perspective on the global response to (or interaction with) the Successor of Peter. As two Popes were just canonized, another is to be canonized, and as a Pope Emeritus and a reigning Pope live side-by-side in the Vatican, what overall reflections do you have about God’s ways in ruling his Church through the Bishops of Rome?

Father Rosica: It has been a tremendous, most unexpected privilege and a blessing to work closely with the Vatican during these momentous weeks, and years, especially over the past years of the momentous papal transition. What a lesson this has been in seeing the ministry of the Bishop of Rome up close! Having led a World Youth Day and served at two Synods of Bishops- in 2008 on the “Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church” and in 2012 on “The New Evangelization”, I thought that I had reached the summit of any great projects I could serve in the Church! I was wrong! When Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, Director of the Holy See Press Offices called me the day after Benedict’s resignation and asked me to come immediately to Rome, a new adventure began that continues to this day. For me, personally, Fr. Lombardi represents the religious communicator par excellence: intelligence, decency, kindness, patience, goodness and calm! I have learned much from him and admire him greatly.

People constantly ask me where I did my media training and film studies. I smile and tell them that I don’t even watch TV and I see few movies. I studied Scripture at the University of Toronto, at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, the Ecole Biblique et Arcéhologique Française de Jérusalem, and at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I learned about ancient texts, Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic verbs, and things of the past. I never studied filmmaking, media, public relations, and all the other hi-tech things that are now part of my new world.

But I also tell them that I had the privilege of having a master and mentor who knew the power of words and images, and who taught me everything I know about television, media, and Evangelization. It was a character study of nearly 27 years… a master class that I never sought out and certainly never deserved. That mentor is now a saint: Karol Wojtyla – John Paul II.

It is hardly any surprise then, in this world of faith and in the culture of the Church, that one of the first fruits of World Youth Day 2002, should be the establishment of a national, Catholic television network, truly born on the wings of World Youth Day 2002 – the project that was the driving force of my mentor’s life. This little book is merely a way of saying thanks to him.

To order your copy of “John Paul II: A Saint for Canada” visit:

http://saltandlighttv.org/store/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=180

Fr. Rosica may be reached at rosica@saltandlighttv.org

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, was National Director and CEO of World Youth Day 2002 in Canada. He is founder and CEO of Canada’s Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation and Television Network since 2003. Appointed by Pope Benedict as Consultor to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications in 2009, he served as English language Media Attaché at the Synods of Bishops of 2008 and 2012. He has been English language assistant to the Holy See Press Office since the Papal transition of 2013.A Saint for Canada: John Paul II

Fr. Rosica Speaks About Knowing a Saint Personally and Why Youth Loved John Paul So Much
Part 1 published June 24, 2014

Father Rosica Speaks About Living This Unique Time of the Papacy From the View of the Vatican Press Office
Part 2 published June 25, 2014

The Catholic Guy Show Features Fr. Rosica from S+L Studio

LINO RULLI , HOST OF 'THE CATHOLIC GUY,' PICTURED IN STUDIO AT VATICAN RADIO

The Catholic Guy Show with Lino Rulli went on the road this past week and stopped by the S+L studio for  three days of live broadcasting. S+L CEO Fr. Thomas Rosica joined Lino on Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014 for a fun afternoon full of stories on Popes, past and present, and much more. Listen to clips of Fr. Rosica on The Catholic Guy Show below:

The Catholic Guy Show airs on The Catholic Channel SiriusXM Radio Monday through Friday from 5-7 pm.