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On Day One, The "Build" Began

Even if the general scene more easily recalls the new Pope's "Buonasera" and request for the crowd's blessing at his first appearance before a stunned world, in more ways still, what transpired five years ago today more concretely set the stage for a whirlwind which hasn't let up since.

By lunchtime on his first full day as Bishop of Rome, Francis had fled the Vatican, heading first to St Mary Major to pray before the city's patroness, the Salus Populi Romani – an act which didn't just underscore Jorge Bergoglio's intense Marian devotion, but marked the debut of the blue sedan lacking the traditional "SCV 1" license plate reserved for the pontiff, in place of the bulletproof Mercedes-Benz donated to his predecessor. Yet only afterward came the day's keenest sign that business as usual was being upended, as Papa Bergoglio insisted on returning to Via della Scrofa – the clerical hostel that had been his routine lodging in Rome – to settle his bill (above).

From the very outset, it was a cannily-executed "plan of attack" on the culture and trappings surrounding his new office, which scored the intended result as everyone from the papal entourage to the crowds in the streets looked on slack-jawed. But the method behind the exercise is worth recalling: though his election had come as a broad surprise, having had almost eight years to privately mull over the "What if's" as runner-up at the 2005 Conclave, Papa Bergoglio came to the role with a degree of mental preparedness that, even now, tends to be discounted.

Indeed, especially for a Vatican used to a glacial pace and a habit of reserve, those first days were nothing less than a shock to the system... and by that first weekend, the notion of a "pontificate of chaos" had already taken hold.

After five years, that might feel like the new normal. Still, it helps to remember how astonishing it was as it unfolded.

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On the evening of that first day, the traditional post-script of the Conclave took place as the new Pope returned with his electors to the Sistine Chapel for his first Mass in office.

In 2005, Benedict XVI delivered a lengthy, programmatic address in Latin at the end of the liturgy. Yet for his first extended turn at the global pulpit, Francis again charted a distinct path from his predecessors, shirking the celebrant's throne to stand at the ambo, leaving behind his mitre to launch into one of his trademark, unscripted fervorini on the scriptures – one which, in its comparison of a Christ-less church to a sterile "NGO" (non-governmental organization), birthed a genre of papal communication-by-analogy which has arguably become more defining than this reign's major texts.

As that first homily succinctly sketched out a threefold agenda for the church, it's useful to return to as a yardstick for the "movement" since....
In these three readings [Isaiah 2:2-5, 1 Peter 2:4-9, Matthew 16:13-19] I see that there is something in common: it is movement. In the first reading, movement is the journey [itself]; in the second reading, movement is in the up-building of the Church. In the third, in the Gospel, the movement is in [the act of] profession: walking, building, professing.

Walking: the House of Jacob. “O house of Jacob, Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” This is the first thing God said to Abraham: “Walk in my presence and be blameless.” Walking: our life is a journey and when we stop, there is something wrong. Walking always, in the presence of the Lord, in the light of the Lord, seeking to live with that blamelessness, which God asks of Abraham, in his promise.

Building: to build the Church. There is talk of stones: stones have consistency, but [the stones spoken of are] living stones, stones anointed by the Holy Spirit. Build up the Church, the Bride of Christ, the cornerstone of which is the same Lord. With [every] movement in our lives, let us build!

Third, professing: we can walk as much we want, we can build many things, but if we do not confess Jesus Christ, nothing will avail. We will become a pitiful NGO, but not the Church, the Bride of Christ. When one does not walk, one stalls. When one does not built on solid rocks, what happens? What happens is what happens to children on the beach when they make sandcastles: everything collapses, it is without consistency. When one does not profess Jesus Christ - I recall the phrase of Leon Bloy – “Whoever does not pray to God, prays to the devil.” When one does not profess Jesus Christ, one professes the worldliness of the devil.

Walking, building-constructing, professing: the thing, however, is not so easy, because in walking, in building, in professing, there are sometimes shake-ups - there are movements that are not part of the path: there are movements that pull us back.

This Gospel continues with a special situation. The same Peter who confessed Jesus Christ, says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. I will follow you, but let us not speak of the Cross. This has nothing to do with it.” He says, “I’ll follow you on other ways, that do not include the Cross.” When we walk without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, and when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord. We are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, Popes, but not disciples of the Lord.

I would like that all of us, after these days of grace, might have the courage - the courage - to walk in the presence of the Lord, with the Cross of the Lord: to build the Church on the Blood of the Lord, which is shed on the Cross, and to profess the one glory, Christ Crucified. In this way, the Church will go forward. 

My hope for all of us is that the Holy Spirit, that the prayer of Our Lady, our Mother, might grant us this grace: to walk, to build, to profess Jesus Christ Crucified. So be it.

On Francis' 5th, "Credere In Deum"

In the solitary yet complete awareness of the history he would make over its course, to mark a half-century from the opening of Vatican II, in late 2011 the 265th Bishop of Rome summoned his 1.2 billion-member fold to observe a Year of Faith.

Like no one could foresee at the outset, the celebration would end just as he planned – in life, with his successor on Peter's Chair, bearing the bones of the first Pope in the sight of the world as never before... and with them in his hands, bringing the foundational charism of Christianity into a new era.

For all the attempts at analysis of this day and the extraordinary half-decade now past, at least to begin, it'd all be dust and ashes if the Church at its core didn't remind itself of why this moment means what it does, and why this historic exercise was so carefully and meaningfully borne out in the first place....

I Believe in one God,
The Father almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.

I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
he suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures.
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead
and his kingdom will have no end.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.

I believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins
and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come.


Finalmente, The Dome's Rose Es "De Oro" – Rio Grande's "Mother Teresa" Named Laetare Laureate

Amid a second spring for American Catholicism's most storied and prestigious honor, it's still a rarity for the University of Notre Dame to tap a Laetare Medal recipient who checks the proverbial boxes both within the church and the world outside....

But they sure did it this time.

In a historic choice for the accolade envisioned as the US equivalent of the ancient "Golden Rose" conferred by the Popes, this Fourth Sunday of Lent brought word of the prize's 135th laureate: Missionaries of Jesus Sister Norma Semi Pimentel (above), head of Catholic Charities in South Texas' 1.6 million-member Brownsville diocese, a figure rocketed to broad prominence as her frontline role in ministering to immigrants and refugees has increasingly taken a polarizing center stage on church and civic fronts alike.

With today's announcement, Sister Norma becomes the first Latina ever to be awarded the Laetare, and just the second Hispanic laureate in the prize's history – the last one, in 1997, was likewise Tex-Mex: Fr Virgilio Elizondo, the early theologian-prophet of the US church's Latin ascendancy. (The founder of San Antonio's Mexican-American Catholic College and long affiliated with Notre Dame, Elizondo committed suicide in 2016 after an accusation of sexual abuse against him was reported.)

In another sign of this edition's significance, Pimentel is the first woman of color to receive the medal since 1990's selection of the Servant of God Sister Thea Bowman, a prize which would become posthumous as the mighty, Mississippi-born Franciscan of Perpetual Adoration – the apostle of Black Catholicism's "second golden age" of the 1970s and '80s – died of bone cancer at 52 before it could be conferred. Among the nation’s women religious at large, Pimentel is the first nun-winner since 2013's joint award to the co-founder's of Chicago's SPRED ministry for people with special-needs, Sisters Susanne Gallagher and Mary Therese Harrington.

Developing – more to come.


With Pope's Call for "New Paths," Amazon Synod Starts Down The Aisle

Viewed from its inception as likely to be the most charged moment of one of the Pope's major efforts at reform, next year's Special Edition of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon region has taken a further stride toward being just that.

Echoing the phrases Francis employed last fall in announcing the October 2019 gathering, at Roman Noon Thursday the event's guiding theme – chosen by the pontiff – was revealed to be "Amazonia: New Paths for the Church and an Integral Ecology."

Even more substantially, though, the release was accompanied by Francis' rollout of an 18-member Pre-Synodal Council – the event's preparatory group – comprised of prelates both from the trenches and heavy hitters on either side of the Atlantic. Among the latter are the Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson – now head of the Curia's consolidated arm for social justice and the ongoing pointman on Laudato Si'; the Holy See's English-born "foreign minister" Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Papa Bergoglio's own successor as president of the Argentine bench, Bishop Oscar Ojea of San Isidro; and the freshly-installed head of Catholicism's largest diocese, Cardinal Carlos Aguiar of Mexico City.

Just to be clear, as Mexico is far afield from the nine nations across which the Amazon forest spans, Aguiar's placement on this task-force is but the latest proof of his ever-rising role on the global stage. Still, having already committed himself to an extreme makeover of the capital church – some 9 million in its pews – "Don Carlos" doesn't lack for experience with the jungle to the south thanks to his days as secretary-general and president of CELAM, the regional mega-conference of the Latin American bishops.

On a separate yet related note, having spent this week in Rome for his first tour since taking the reins in CDMX, don't be surprised to see Aguiar start pulling his weight north of the Rio Grande in due course.

Conversant in English and amid an era that finds the life of the Stateside fold bound ever more to points south than east, the 68 year-old cardinal is the most US-savvy Arzobispo Primado in recent times – in the early 1970s, the future chief was one of the last students of the Montezuma Seminary, the Jesuit house near Las Vegas established to form Mexican priests outside the country due to the persecution of the local church.

*   *   *
Even as the prep-team includes a layman and woman religious alongside the prelates (both a first for a Synodal Council of any kind), Francis' key pick to the group lay elsewhere – and came just as expected... at least, 'round these parts. Nonetheless, the choice of Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes for the lead seat of the Synod's prep-team brings to full circle a context a decade and more in the making.

Now 83 and long relieved of the helm of the Congregation for the Clergy, while the Franciscan son of German immigrants has made the Amazon's future his focus since leaving Rome, Hummes is the first retired prelate to be given an institutional role in the planning of a Synod, let alone in a time when the assembly's significance and clout has been turbo-charged as never before.

Here, some history bears recalling: two decades since the US bishops' election of Archbishop John Raphael Quinn as a mere delegate to the 1997 Synod for America was rejected by Rome, citing the San Francisco prelate's retired status – the moves on both sides arguably exacerbated by the recently-departed prelate's famously strong views – put simply, the world today is rather different.

That Francis would summon the same John Raphael shortly after his election to absorb the latter's well-honed reflections on synodality just serves to underscore the shift. But as the broader outlook is rooted in what took place five years ago this week (above), let's return to the reporting on the day of the Synod's announcement....
[D]espite being supposedly "retired," the Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes OFM is certain to play a critical role in the preparations given his ongoing role as head of the Pan-Amazon Ecclesial Network, the multi-national coordinating body of the region's bishops, founded in 2014 at Francis' behest.

While the group lacks the juridic standing of an episcopal conference per se, the void is more than compensated for by direct papal imprimatur: seated next to Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio by seniority at the 2013 Conclave, the former archbishop of Sao Paulo famously urged the Pope-to-be "Don't forget the poor!" as the votes piled up in his favor – a word that, as the the first American on Peter's Chair later admitted, would lead him to shatter even more precedent by taking the name Francis upon accepting his election.

In a gesture that brought their closeness into the spotlight, the new pontiff upended yet another custom (remember: all this took place within the first 15 minutes) by plucking Hummes out from the Sistine Chapel rows to join him on the central balcony of St Peter's for his appearance before the world – a perk traditionally enjoyed solely by the senior cardinal from each of the College's three orders.

Yet what made the moment even more extraordinary was its rich backstory: on his arrival in Rome in late 2006 as Benedict's choice to head the Congregation for the Clergy, Hummes was promptly slapped down within the Vatican for comments he made just before departing Brazil that, in terms of mandatory priestly celibacy, "the majority of the apostles were married," then punctuating the point by saying "the church has to observe these things... [and] advance with history."

By bringing his "good friend" with him on his debut in white, Francis was sending a signal to the Curia he inherited – namely, that the Brazilian behind his shoulder was back at the center of things. As for what that means from here, with both Papa Bergoglio and Hummes stating since that the Amazon's church "must" have an "Amazonian face," with an "indigenous clergy" – and the region's unique culture and challenges having spurred calls from its bishops for the possibility of married priests – at first blush, the 2019 gathering has the prospect of being the most charged moment of Francis' push for an enhanced synodality in the church.
...and as another cardinal-elector likes to say, "To use a Catholic word, 'Bingo.'"

Adding to that sense in the present, another choice for the Synod's preparatory group is no less conspicuous: likewise retired from his missionary vicariate in the Brazilian Amazon, 78 year-old Bishop Erwin Kräutler – an Austrian-born Precious Blood Father – has long been the region's most outspoken advocate not merely for the ordination of married tribesmen to the priesthood, but women to the diaconate, to boot. (Of course, Francis' 2016 study commission on the history of the latter question quietly continues its work.)

Following the Synod's announcement, Kräutler (above) said his push on optional celibacy had even obtained Francis' support; according to the prelate, the pontiff encouraged him to collect "valid proposals" from the bishops.

For his part, meanwhile, Hummes has largely kept circumspect on the high-octane angle – at least, explicitly so. Speaking last week to the Italian religious news outlet AgenSIR, the cardinal said that, amid the Amazon's deepening shortage of ordained ministers, their presence "is essential for the evangelization of Amazonian peoples, especially indigenous peoples.... But they ask for priests with an encultured Christian message so that the church may become truly indigenous. Thus the Synod will certainly address this issue."

Asked what the possible solutions to the crunch might look like, Hummes foresaw the gathering's since-announced theme, obliquely remarking that "The Pope said we should identify 'new paths.'"

To repeat: "Bingo."

As it's ostensibly been forgotten in some quarters, in terms of priestly celibacy, recent history has seen a similar accommodation of a cultural phenomenon for the sake of souls – indeed, two of them: the Pastoral Provision chartered by John Paul II in 1980, then the Anglican Ordinariates established by Benedict XVI, both of which opened the Latin priesthood to married former clergy of Protestant communities (who, obviously, were received into the Catholic fold as laymen). That the recipients of both concessions aren't confined to remote forests, but serving well and clearly in the mainstream of ecclesial life across the English-speaking world shouldn't be lost on anyone, either; in other words, the door's already been cracked, then opened further, and all of it before this pontificate.

During his January visit to Peru, the Pope made his lone public comment on the Synod since convoking it, touching on both sides of his chosen theme in an address to representatives of the Amazonian communities:
I consider it essential to begin creating institutional expressions of respect, recognition and dialogue with the native peoples, acknowledging and recovering their native cultures, languages, traditions, rights and spirituality. An intercultural dialogue in which you yourselves will be “the principal dialogue partners, especially when large projects affecting your land are proposed”. Recognition and dialogue will be the best way to transform relationships whose history is marked by exclusion and discrimination.

At the same time, it is right to acknowledge the existence of promising initiatives coming from your own communities and organizations, which advocate that the native peoples and communities themselves be the guardians of the woodlands. The resources that conservation practices generate would then revert to benefit your families, improve your living conditions and promote health and education in your communities. This form of “doing good” is in harmony with the practices of “good living” found in the wisdom of our peoples. Allow me to state that if, for some, you are viewed as an obstacle or a hindrance, the fact is your lives cry out against a style of life that is oblivious to its own real cost. You are a living memory of the mission that God has entrusted to us all: the protection of our common home.

The defence of the earth has no other purpose than the defence of life. We know of the suffering caused for some of you by emissions of hydrocarbons, which gravely threaten the lives of your families and contaminate your natural environment.... How can we fail to remember Saint Turibius, who stated with dismay in the Third Council of Lima “that not only in times past were great wrongs and acts of coercion done to these poor people, but in our own time many seek to do the same....” Sadly, five centuries later, these words remain timely. The prophetic words of those men of faith are the cry of this people, which is often silenced or not allowed to speak. That prophecy must remain alive in our Church, which will never stop pleading for the outcast and those who suffer.

This concern gives rise to our basic option for the life of the most defenceless. I am thinking of the peoples referred to as “Indigenous Peoples in Voluntary Isolation” (PIAV). We know that they are the most vulnerable of the vulnerable. Their primitive lifestyle made them isolated even from their own ethnic groups; they went into seclusion in the most inaccessible reaches of the forest in order to live in freedom. Continue to defend these most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters. Their presence reminds us that we cannot use goods meant for all as consumerist greed dictates. Limits have to be set that can help preserve us from all plans for a massive destruction of the habitat that makes us who we are....

Dear brothers and sisters of Amazonia, how many missionaries, men and women, have devoted themselves to your peoples and defended your cultures! They did so inspired by the Gospel. Christ himself took flesh in a culture, the Jewish culture, and from it, he gave us himself as a source of newness for all peoples, in such a way that each, in its own deepest identity, feels itself affirmed in him. Do not yield to those attempts to uproot the Catholic faith from your peoples. Each culture and each worldview that receives the Gospel enriches the Church by showing a new aspect of Christ’s face. 
The Church is not alien to your problems and your lives, she does not want to be aloof from your way of life and organization. We need the native peoples to shape the culture of the local churches in Amazonia. And in this regard, it gave me great joy to hear that one of Laudato Si’s passages was read by a permanent deacon of your own culture. Help your bishops, and help your men and women missionaries, to be one with you, and in this way, by an inclusive dialogue, to shape a Church with an Amazonian face, a Church with a native face.

Double Halo – With Miracle Decrees, Pope Green-Lights Canonization of Paul VI, Romero

To be sure, this morning's news doesn't come in its surprise, just the sheer significance.

Opening the week of his fifth anniversary with a splash, it was announced early today that the Pope had formally signed the decrees to secure sainthood for Blesseds Paul VI and Óscar Romero. Following the affirmation of miraculous healings under the intercession of the first post-Conciliar pontiff and the Salvadoran martyr, the double approval completes a concerted ramp-up of both causes under Francis, who moved the duo's respective beatifications in 2014 and 2015.

Per custom, the formal last step – the canonization rites for each – will only be scheduled at a routine consistory sometime this spring. Nonetheless, in late February Francis told the priests of Rome that Papa Montini "will be a saint this year," and just yesterday, Francis' top deputy, the Cardinal-Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, reportedly linked the date to the closing of October's Synod of Bishops on young people; the founder of the Synod in Vatican II's wake, Paul was beatified on the final day of the gathering's 2014 edition. In addition, this July marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Humanae Vitae, whose reaffirmation of the church's prohibition on artificial contraception arguably created the Catholic conversation's enduring fault-line in the developed world.

Keeping with the practice for other modern pontiffs upon their canonizations, the feast of Saint-to-Be Paul – celebrated on his birthday, September 26th – will be added to the global calendar as an optional memorial.

As Paul now becomes the third Pope of the late-20th century to be beatified and/or canonized within this decade, it bears recalling that the heroic virtue of Pope John Paul I – conferring the title "Venerable" – was likewise approved in late 2017, his beatification likely to proceed quickly once a miracle is identified.

As for Romero, today's announcement comes just shy of the 38th anniversary of the Salvadoran prelate's assassination while celebrating Mass in a San Salvador hospital, ending a three-year ministry which won the prelate global acclaim for his unstinting advocacy on behalf of El Salvador's downtrodden amid the rise of a military dictatorship.

While the push for Romero's sainthood has long been a cause celebre among social-justice advocates far beyond Central America, the opposition of several key Vatican cardinals – principally Latin Americans with ties to right-wing juntas in their own homelands – kept any movement on it halted until late 2012, when then-Pope Benedict XVI oversaw its clearance from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in one of his final acts before resigning. (Romero's tomb is seen above during a 2011 visit by then-President Barack Obama.)

As Blessed Óscar's feast is observed in El Salvador on the 24 March anniversary of his martyrdom – now likewise marked by the United Nations as a global day of solidarity with victims of oppressive regimes – with his sainthood the option for its celebration in the wider church becomes available to the national conferences of bishops which seek to add it to their respective calendars.

According to the US-based SuperMartyrio site – the lead clearinghouse for all things Romero – the miracle approved today involved the healing of a 34 year-old Salvadoran woman, who went blind and suffered multiple organ failure following a difficult childbirth in 2015, fully recovering within days after her family and friends undertook prayers to Romero, including a vigil at the blessed's tomb.

After an initial examination by the local church, the case was forwarded to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints a year ago this month.

His own affection for Romero ever in evidence, though Francis couldn't mark the centennial of the archbishop's birth last year by declaring him a saint, the pontiff devised an even more unique way of commemorating the milestone with last June's surprise elevation (above) of Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chavez – one of the blessed's lead collaborators – as the first-ever cardinal from El Salvador.

Even more pointedly, the 75 year-old prelate – who remains pastor of a parish alongside his diocesan duties – became the first auxiliary bishop anywhere in the Catholic world to be given the red hat.

Back to Paul VI, today's announcement is Francis' second bouquet within this week alone to his Brescian predecessor – on Saturday, a decree was released conveying the Pope's decision to add a universal memorial to "Mary, Mother of the Church" to the calendar, celebrated on the Monday after Pentecost; in other words, the day immediately following the "birthday of the church."

The Marian title first declared by Paul at Vatican II and frequently invoked by him for the remainder of his life, the new feast of Our Lady is the first to be given a liturgical day since Papa Montini designated January 1st as the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God in the 1969 reform of the calendar. That change replaced the prior observance of Jesus' Circumcision on the eighth day of Christmas.


"Pope" To "Pilgrim," Five Years On

For all the chaos of The Bolt – and a fallout that kept this scribe awake for 46 hours straight – it would take another 17 days before the full brunt of what was happening really hit.

Or began to, as much as it humanly could.

Even for the passage of time, few words can suitably describe the events that transpired five years ago this morning and tonight – "emotional" and "surreal" begin to grasp it... all told, though, "disorienting" still fits the bill better than anything else.

For the sake of history, then – and especially for the benefit of anyone who wasn't here in the moment – here's the Unmaking of a Pope as Benedict XVI made manifest his will on 28 February 2013. (All times Rome.)

*   *   *
10.30am – A final audience with the College of Cardinals which would choose his successor from their number, and from which the next Pope would be chosen....

Dear beloved brothers,

I welcome you all with great joy and cordially greet each one of you. I thank Cardinal Angelo Sodano [dean of the college], who as always, has been able to convey the sentiments of the College, Cor ad cor loquitur [heart speaking to heart]. Thank you, Your Eminence, from my heart.

And referring to the disciples of Emmaus, I would like to say to you all that it has also been a joy for me to walk with you over the years in light of the presence of the Risen Lord. As I said yesterday, in front of thousands of people who filled St. Peter's Square, your closeness, your advice, have been a great help to me in my ministry. In these 8 years we have experienced in faith beautiful moments of radiant light in the Churches’ journey along with times when clouds have darkened the sky. We have tried to serve Christ and his Church with deep and total love which is the soul of our ministry. We have gifted hope that comes from Christ alone, and which alone can illuminate our path. Together we can thank the Lord who has helped us grow in communion, to pray to together, to help you to continue to grow in this deep unity so that the College of Cardinals is like an orchestra, where diversity, an expression of the universal Church, always contributes to a superior harmony of concord. I would like to leave you with a simple thought that is close to my heart, a thought on the Church, Her mystery, which is for all of us, we can say, the reason and the passion of our lives. I am helped by an expression of Romano Guardini’s, written in the year in which the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council approved the Constitution Lumen Gentium, his last with a personal dedication to me, so the words of this book are particularly dear to me.

Guardini says: "The Church is not an institution devised and built at table, but a living reality. She lives along the course of time by transforming Herself, like any living being, yet Her nature remains the same. At Her heart is Christ. "

This was our experience yesterday, I think, in the square. We could see that the Church is a living body, animated by the Holy Spirit, and truly lives by the power of God, She is in the world but not of the world. She is of God, of Christ, of the Spirit, as we saw yesterday. This is why another eloquent expression of Guardini’s is also true: "The Church is awakening in souls." The Church lives, grows and awakens in those souls which like the Virgin Mary accept and conceive the Word of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. They offer to God their flesh and in their own poverty and humility become capable of giving birth to Christ in the world today. Through the Church the mystery of the Incarnation remains present forever. Christ continues to walk through all times in all places. Let us remain united, dear brothers, to this mystery, in prayer, especially in daily Eucharist, and thus serve the Church and all humanity. This is our joy that no one can take from us.

Prior to bidding farewell to each of you personally, I want to tell you that I will continue to be close to you in prayer, especially in the next few days, so that you may all be fully docile to the action of the Holy Spirit in the election of the new Pope. May the Lord show you what is willed by Him. And among you, among the College of Cardinals, there is also the future Pope, to whom, here to today, I already promise my unconditional reverence and obedience. For all this, with affection and gratitude, I cordially impart upon you my Apostolic Blessing.
* * *
5pm – Without words (just weeping), the Pope's departure by helicopter from the Apostolic Palace....

*    *    *
6.30pm – from the window of his beloved Castel Gandolfo, a last public word and blessing from Joseph Ratzinger – "no longer Pope, just a pilgrim":

Thank you – thank you from my heart!

Dear friends, I'm happy to be with you, that I can see the Creator's beauty around us, and all the goodness you've given to me – thank you for your friendship and your affection!

You know that this day of mine hasn't been like those before. I'm no longer the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic church – at least, at 8 o'clock I won't be – now I'm just a pilgrim beginning the last part of his journey on earth.

With all my heart, with all my love, with my prayer and all my strength – with everything in me – I'd like to work for the common good of the church and all humanity. I feel your kindness so much.

Let us always move together toward the Lord for the good of the church and of the world. Thank you for bringing yourselves [here] – with all my heart, I give you my blessing…. 
Thank you and goodnight!
*    *    *
And at the designated hour of 2000 – 8pm – the ritual devised at the portal of the papal "Camp David" to signify the canonical end of the pontificate and the vacancy of Peter's Chair:


For Vegas, The Pope's Payout – Amid Growth and Grief, Helena's Thomas Hits The Strip

Resolving the US' largest open seat a bit more quickly than expected, at Roman Noon this Wednesday the Pope named Bishop George Thomas (above) – the 67 year-old head of western Montana's Helena diocese since 2004 – as the third bishop of Las Vegas: carved into a stand-alone diocese just two decades ago, now boomed to some 850,000 Catholics amid Sin City's marked growth.

In the post overseeing the five counties of southern Nevada, the Seattle-bred prelate – once the top aide to Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen at the end of his tumultuous tenure – succeeds Bishop Joseph Pepe, who reached the retirement age of 75 last June.

A prodigal Philadelphian who landed in Vegas in 2001 after a decade on loan in New Mexico, the departing bishop already moved into his emeritus home last fall. Yet even so, there's arguably one person who's looked forward to this day even more: the bishop's 97 year-old mother, still living in the Roxborough house where he grew up, to which "Joe Pep" plans to return during the warmer months while serving as a hospital chaplain.

Needless to say, the road to today's move has unfolded in the shadow of immense tragedy: the October 1st massacre that killed 58 and wounded several hundred concert-goers at the Mandalay Bay casino – the deadliest mass shooting in the nation's history, and just a couple blocks from Guardian Angel Cathedral (below) at that.

Given the unique context, it's especially notable that – having been prominently mentioned for several other major postings over the last couple years – Thomas brings to Vegas a significant background in "community mental health." (Along these lines, the bishop's training in counseling was cited as a rationale for his appointment to Newark, because – as one op mused during the late-2016 process – "the whole place needs therapy." Of course, Francis would have his own eye-popping way of reflecting that concern in the outcome.)

Beyond the fallout of the shooting, the priority issues of Vegas Catholicism boil down to three words: growth, immigration, and vocations.

On the latter front, the diocese's 1995 spinoff from Reno left the new fold with all of 19 active incardinated priests in the trenches today, the rest of the gaping need filled by externs and religious clerics. At the same time, the Catholic expansion in the US' fastest-growing metro area saw the construction of a massive high school at a cost approaching $100 million, the project since become the focus of bitter litigation between the diocese and the contractor.

Here again, the new arrival's travails are quite well-suited – in Helena, Thomas oversaw the diocese's year-long bankruptcy due to 360 abuse cases he inherited, which resulted in a $21 million settlement alongside a mediation process that's been hailed as a model for resolving the suits in an approach that's more pastoral than legal.

In that light, it's especially conspicuous that, with today's nod, Thomas becomes the first US bishop ever to receive a more prominent post after taking a diocese through Chapter 11.

As it's early out West, the installation date and other usual bits remain to emerge.... More to come.

(SVILUPPO: Per a Whispers op, Thomas' Strip-stallation is set for Tuesday, 15 May – two weeks past the normal threshold of the canons, a delay likely due to the normal franticness of the Easter season and Thomas' larger-than-normal plate to wrap up in Big Sky Country.)


Whither The Reform? – Amid a Move to Korea, Aftershocks in Rome

As the news-cycle already begins to immerse itself in the coming fifth anniversary of Francis' pontificate in two weeks' time, this Monday brings another inflection-point for one of the Pope's key projects – and yet again, one that leaves more questions than answers in its wake.

Topping today's batch of appointments, Papa Bergoglio named Msgr Alfred Xuereb (above left) – the 59 year-old Maltese best known for his years as deputy secretary to Benedict XVI – as Nuncio to South Korea and Mongolia, elevating him to the rank of archbishop. Yet while the pick's history with the Pope-emeritus has garnered no shortage of sentimental headlines, the move's real ramifications lie elsewhere, reaching right to the heart of both the reigning Pope's foreign policy, not to mention Francis' attempts at reform within the Vatican itself.

First, given the current drama surrounding North Korea's nuclear ambitions, even if the Nunciature in Seoul is long accustomed to being a global hotspot, in the present moment it's arguably one of the most critical postings in papal diplomacy. As the Holy See has no bilateral relations with the Communist North, Xuereb now becomes Francis' de facto legate to the whole of a divided peninsula facing the threat of an epoch-defining war, but the irony is that the new Nuncio has never served in the diplomatic corps, his career spent instead as a nuts-and-bolts administrator.

All that said, Xuereb's closeness to Francis – who inherited the Maltese as his top personal aide upon his election – portends an effectiveness of a different sort, and the archbishop-elect's background in organization could well come in handy for humanitarian efforts. Still, as each prior Nuncio to Korea since the South's democratic rebirth in the mid-1980s had come to the posting with decades of experience around the globe, the break from convention is conspicuous, all the more amid the region's backdrop today.

Beyond the fluid situation with the North, the incoming legate will face two other notable aspects in the role. First, for just the second time, South Korea's head of state – and the lead figure on any talks with Pyongyang – President Moon Jae-In, is a Catholic, part of a fold whose extraordinary rate of conversions has seen it come to comprise some 15 percent of the South's population within a matter of decades. And with the Korean Church's profile as a dynamic, mission-based outpost – its emergence into the mainstream coming in tandem with a remarkable run on building institutions of education and social service – Xuereb's arrival comes months before the 75th birthday (and hence the succession) of Seoul's Cardinal Andrew Yeom. Ergo, it'll fall to the new Nuncio to lay the groundwork of Francis' first choice to a seat that hasn't merely become one of Asian Catholicism's top pulpits, but one of the global church's most sensitive ones, to boot; with the North almost hermetically sealed off from the outside world, the last several archbishops of Seoul have likewise been tasked with pastoral oversight of the church's small, heavily-monitored remaining presence above the DMZ.

Significant and full as the Korean plate is, on the internal front, the one Xuereb leaves behind is even more charged.

After Francis took note of the Maltese's adeptness at management, by the end of 2013 the pontiff dispatched his then-secretary to undertake the studies which quickly culminated in the creation of the Secretariat of the Economy – and, with it, a seismic upending of the many-headed financial apparatus which had long been the proverbial "800-lb gorilla" of Vatican scandals.

Having tapped the Australian Cardinal George Pell to lead the new organ as the Holy See's first-ever "CFO," armed with a sweeping mandate to wrest all its fiscal, budgetary and personnel operations under his control, Francis named Xuereb as his deputy. And now, after a four-year turf-war saw no shortage of wrenches thrown into the works, both are literally gone: while still holding the title of Prefect, Pell has been in Australia since last July after he was charged there on decades-old allegations of unspecified "sexual offenses," which are slated to come to trial in his home-state of Victoria next month.

Regardless of the outcome of the court process, the hostilities aroused by the famously hard-charging Pell's full-on battle for financial supremacy, combined with the stain of the abuse claims and the 76 year-old Aussie's prior complaints of difficult health, have virtually assured that the cardinal won't be returning to Rome. To avoid the appearance of a rush to judgment by the Vatican, however, any successor to him as Prefect for the Economy ostensibly wouldn't be named until after his trial concludes.

Meanwhile, no successor in Xuereb's Economy role was named today, either, leaving Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich – the chair of the 15-person Council which supervises the office – as the last man standing of the three main figures to whom the reform was entrusted, the other lead posts (and only full-time ones) now lacking functioning occupants.

Again, today's move brings more questions than answers... but as Francis' 5th comes increasingly into focus and the assessments abound, one of his marquee attempts at a Roman shakeup was just dealt a sizable blow, and maybe even a fatal one.

Together with another diplomat elevated today – Msgr José Bettencourt, 54, a Portuguese-born immigrant to Canada named a Nuncio without posting (thus to remain in Rome) – Xuereb is expected to be ordained a bishop by Francis on March 19th: St Joseph's Day, and with it the fifth anniversary of the Pope's inauguration as the church's Universal Pastor.


For These 40 Days, Francis Pushes "Pause"

Even as this Ash Wednesday invariably draws the hordes to churches across the globe from dawn to well past dusk, for the Popes, the launch to Lent is always relatively sparse.

For some eight centuries, the Bishops of Rome have marked this day away from their daily centers of power – first the Lateran, then the Vatican – instead heading up the Aventine Hill for a penitential procession that, in times past, saw the pontiffs stripped of their splendor, wrapping up with a simple Mass at the Dominican base of Santa Sabina, the first of the traditional station churches.

Further marking the sobriety of the day, protocol dictates that the Pope wears the traditional "simplex" miter reserved to him – unadorned white silk, with a thin border in gold – only employed in life on this day, Good Friday and at funerals: most notably of all, the headpiece in which he will eventually be buried. (On this front, Francis has slightly altered the custom, alternating between the customary model and one trimmed in silver, the latter used today.) In addition, while the cardinals resident in the city are present as ever for the rite, the starkness of the occasion sees none of them concelebrate.

While last week saw the release of this year's formal Lenten message calling for a turn away from indifference, today's homily took an even more practical look at how to live these 40 Days, delivered in Francis' oft-used style of "three words" – here, its English translation:
The season of Lent is a favourable time to remedy the dissonant chords of our Christian life and to receive the ever new, joyful and hope-filled proclamation of the Lord’s Passover. The Church in her maternal wisdom invites us to pay special attention to anything that could dampen or even corrode our believing heart.

We are subject to numerous temptations. Each of us knows the difficulties we have to face. And it is sad to note that, when faced with the ever-varying circumstances of our daily lives, there are voices raised that take advantage of pain and uncertainty; the only thing they aim to do is sow distrust. If the fruit of faith is charity – as Mother Teresa often used to say – then the fruit of distrust is apathy and resignation. Distrust, apathy and resignation: these are demons that deaden and paralyze the soul of a believing people.

Lent is the ideal time to unmask these and other temptations, to allow our hearts to beat once more in tune with the vibrant heart of Jesus. The whole of the Lenten season is imbued with this conviction, which we could say is echoed by three words offered to us in order to rekindle the heart of the believer: pause, see and return.

Pause a little, leave behind the unrest and commotion that fill the soul with bitter feelings which never get us anywhere. Pause from this compulsion to a fast-paced life that scatters, divides and ultimately destroys time with family, with friends, with children, with grandparents, and time as a gift… time with God.

Pause for a little while, refrain from the need to show off and be seen by all, to continually appear on the “noticeboard” that makes us forget the value of intimacy and recollection.

Pause for a little while, refrain from haughty looks, from fleeting and pejorative comments that arise from forgetting tenderness, compassion and reverence for the encounter with others, particularly those who are vulnerable, hurt and even immersed in sin and error.

Pause for a little while, refrain from the urge to want to control everything, know everything, destroy everything; this comes from overlooking gratitude for the gift of life and all the good we receive.

Pause for a little while, refrain from the deafening noise that weakens and confuses our hearing, that makes us forget the fruitful and creative power of silence.

Pause for a little while, refrain from the attitude which promotes sterile and unproductive thoughts that arise from isolation and self-pity, and that cause us to forget going out to encounter others to share their burdens and suffering.

Pause for a little while, refrain from the emptiness of everything that is instantaneous, momentary and fleeting, that deprives us of our roots, our ties, of the value of continuity and the awareness of our ongoing journey.

Pause in order to look and contemplate!

See the gestures that prevent the extinguishing of charity, that keep the flame of faith and hope alive. Look at faces alive with God’s tenderness and goodness working in our midst.

See the face of our families who continue striving, day by day, with great effort, in order to move forward in life, and who, despite many concerns and much hardship, are committed to making their homes a school of love.

See the faces of our children and young people filled with yearning for the future and hope, filled with “tomorrows” and opportunities that demand dedication and protection. Living shoots of love and life that always open up a path in the midst of our selfish and meagre calculations.

See our elderly whose faces are marked by the passage of time, faces that reveal the living memory of our people. Faces that reflect God’s wisdom at work.

See the faces of our sick people and the many who take care of them; faces which in their vulnerability and service remind us that the value of each person can never be reduced to a question of calculation or utility.

See the remorseful faces of so many who try to repair their errors and mistakes, and who from their misfortune and suffering fight to transform their situations and move forward.

See and contemplate the face of Crucified Love, who today from the cross continues to bring us hope, his hand held out to those who feel crucified, who experience in their lives the burden of failure, disappointment and heartbreak.

See and contemplate the real face of Christ crucified out of love for everyone, without exception. For everyone? Yes, for everyone. To see his face is an invitation filled with hope for this Lenten time, in order to defeat the demons of distrust, apathy and resignation. The face that invites us to cry out: “The Kingdom of God is possible!”

Pause, see and return. Return to the house of your Father. Return without fear to those outstretched, eager arms of your Father, who is rich in mercy (cf. Eph 2:4), who awaits you.

Return without fear, for this is the favourable time to come home, to the home of my Father and your Father (cf. Jn 20:17). It is the time for allowing one’s heart to be touched… Persisting on the path of evil only gives rise to disappointment and sadness. True life is something quite distinct and our heart indeed knows this. God does not tire, nor will he tire, of holding out his hand (cf. Misericordiae Vultus, 19).

Return without fear, to join in the celebration of those who are forgiven.

Return without fear, to experience the healing and reconciling tenderness of God. Let the Lord heal the wounds of sin and fulfil the prophecy made to our fathers: “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezek 36: 26).

Pause, see and return!

"Repent and Believe"

Sure, this has become the most packed church-day of the year... but, for once, to focus on that angle is to miss the point.

To one and all on this Ash Wednesday, may every blessing, joy and goodness of Lent be yours – whatever the path, may we all know the grace to make something of these 40 Days ahead.