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“A Quiet Departure” – In Cardinal Law’s Last Days, Boston (and Rome) Braces

SVILUPPO (10pm ET, Tuesday 19 December): Per reports from three senior Whispers ops, Bernard Cardinal Law died shortly after Midnight Wednesday, 20 December, in Rome.

While the Archdiocese of Boston has yet to release a formal announcement of the passing, according to custom, Roman Noon (6am Eastern) will see the release of the usual condolence telegram from Pope Francis upon the death of a cardinal.

According to the ops, the traditional funeral rites in St Peter's Basilica could be held as soon as Friday. (Ed.: Update with Wednesday's developments.)

For the many late to the story, it's all explained below – here's Sunday night's first report on what's now come to pass, and what happens from here.

*  *  *
(Sunday, 17 December – 9pm Eastern)  

Even with the Pope’s 81st birthday – and the usual attempts at controversies – dominating center stage in this run-up to Christmas, per usual, the story you're not hearing about is the most significant of them all.

Fifteen years to the week since his resignation as archbishop of Boston amid the fallout of a scandal that would spread across the global church, Cardinal Bernard Law is facing his final illness in a Roman hospital, according to several Whispers ops informed of the situation.

Said to be undergoing “a slow, steady decline,” several of his devoted aides at his bedside, church officials on both sides of the Atlantic are in active preparation for the death of the 86 year-old prelate – a day long dreaded given the ongoing fury the cardinal evokes as the perceived emblematic figure of a cover-up for abusive priests, a tragedy whose local reporting in 2002 sparked the greatest crisis American Catholicism has ever known.

As one authoritative source relayed to Whispers before the weekend, “anything can happen at any time.”

Whenever it does, much as the moment is bound to bring a “media circus” to the American city Law bestrode as a colossus for close to two decades, according to long-determined plans, none of the eventual sendoff will take place in Boston. Instead, the cardinal’s farewell is expected to follow the customary ritual for a top-level hierarch resident in Rome – one which would take place within hours of his passing, and will inevitably involve the presence of the Pope, who traditionally enters St Peter’s Basilica at the close of a Mass to lead the Final Commendation at the Altar of the Chair. (In addition, as with the death of every cardinal, Francis will issue a telegram of condolence, the wording of which will prove especially sensitive – not to mention closely watched – in this case.)

Though the venue would reflect the cardinal’s radioactive standing in the US’ public eye, it nonetheless serves to underscore the equally heated reaction to John Paul II’s 2004 appointment of Law as archpriest of St Mary Major, a sinecure which made him the pontiff’s delegate to one of Rome’s four principal basilicas. In light of that role (from which he was retired by then-Pope Benedict XVI within days of turning 80 in 2011), Law will be buried in the crypt beneath the Liberian Basilica – Christendom’s oldest church dedicated to the Mother of God, the gold adorning its ceilings said to have been brought back by Christopher Columbus from his journeys to the “new world.”

Even if the focus will be in Rome, among other unresolved questions is the role Law’s successor, Cardinal Seán O’Malley OFM Cap., will take upon the announcement. Having returned from the Vatican on Saturday from this week’s meetings of Francis’ “Gang of 9” on the reform of the Curia, the presence of the Pope’s principal North American adviser at the Roman rites would ostensibly be contingent on his schedule, which is less flexible than usual given the Christmas cycle of commitments at home: a marathon that runs through to one of his most cherished events of the year – his annual Mass in Kreyol for Haiti's Independence Day on January 1st.

Whatever the case, while the Capuchin is likely to offer a comment shortly after the news emerges, the moment of his predecessor’s passing is virtually certain to make for O’Malley’s most challenging bout at the helm of the 1.9 million-member Boston church since late 2004, when the merger of almost 70 parishes in the wake of the abuse disclosures spurred a fresh outpouring of anger and protests. (Shortly after taking the reins of the archdiocese in mid-2003, O'Malley settled 550 lawsuits for $85 million, all filed over the prior year of the scandals' outbreak.)

Long dogged by health issues – and, indeed, a forced loneliness born of the circumstances – Law returned to the US on but a handful of occasions since his resignation at 71 was accepted in person (above) on 13 December 2002, mostly for off-the-radar visits with old friends far from New England.

In his last open appearance on American soil, the cardinal concelebrated the August 2015 funeral of his close confidant, the longtime Curial Cardinal William Wakefield Baum, in Washington’s St Matthew’s Cathedral, his presence attracting scant notice in the sparse crowd, but garnering warm greetings from the prelates in attendance, several of whom Law championed during his two decades as a voting member of the Congregation for Bishops.

With no shortage of Law’s proteges and favorites still in the thick of active ministry, many are already weighing an overseas trip to join the farewell. As one resolved to making the journey put it, “What can I say? I have a great affection for a very flawed human being.”

Asked for a formal comment on the matter, the Boston Chancery spokesman Terry Donilon has not replied. In his absence, it can be reported that several Boston ops have relayed word of a significant push over recent days to finalize a "balanced" statement to mark Law's passing, aiming to recognize both the cardinal's global contributions across several decades – most notably his diplomatic success in securing John Paul's historic 1998 visit to Cuba and the genesis of what would become the Catechism of the Catholic Church – and the enduring toll of his failures of governance at home, above all in the lives of victim-survivors and their families.

Sensitive as the moment might feel with Christmas at hand, it merely echoes the beginning of the dramatic arc now approaching its close. On Epiphany Sunday 2002, the Boston Globe's Spotlight desk unleashed its first report on the serial predator John Geoghan, whose abuse of 130 boys across several parish assignments over the tenures of three archbishops resulted in convictions shortly after the pieces made print.

After a year of the paper's coverage and its repercussions across the wider church resulted in Law's resignation (which he had offered to John Paul early in 2002, only for it to be declined for months), the Globe went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service – the most prestigious category of journalism's top accolade – and, in time, a Hollywood depiction of the investigative team's story was given the Academy Award for Best Picture, notably to the applause of a new generation of the nation's Catholic leadership.

In his last public word in English – released as his exit from office took effect – Law gave the following statement:
I am profoundly grateful to the Holy Father for having accepted my resignation as Archbishop of Boston.

It is my fervent prayer that this action may help the Archdiocese of Boston to experience the healing, reconciliation and unity which are so desperately needed.

To all those who have suffered from my shortcomings and mistakes I both apologize and from them beg forgiveness.

To the bishops, priests, deacons, religious and laity, with whom I have been privileged to work in our efforts to fulfil the Church's mission, I express my deep gratitude. My gratitude extends as well to so many others with whom I have been associated in serving the common good; these include those from the ecumenical, Jewish, and wider interreligious communities as well as public officials and others in the civil society.

The particular circumstances of this time suggest a quiet departure. Please keep me in your prayers.

As US Celebrates Su Madre, "Guadalupe Is Speaking To the 'Dreamers'"

Saludos y alegria a todos en esta Noche Grandísima de la Iglesia en estos Estados – to one and all, greetings from Stateside Catholicism's Biggest Night: the first leg of today's feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of the one American land, above all those in need within it.

With churches great and small packed from coast to coast – and staying that way all through this 486th anniversary of the Morenita's appearance at Tepeyac – a full roundup will come later.

For now, as the US bishops have continued the practice begun in the wake of last year's election in designating this feast as the national church's Day of Solidarity with Immigrants, the principal message for the occasion has come late (or early) from the largest US diocese, as the bench's Chief-in-Waiting – the current USCCB vice-president, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles – delivered a pointed homily to a standing-room crowd in the 4,700-seat Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels at the traditional Midnight Mass.

With undocumented immigrants estimated to comprise at least a fifth of LA's 5 million Catholics – all told, the largest local church American Catholicism has ever known – here, Don José's fulltext in English (tambien disponibile en español):
My dear brothers and sisters,

What a beautiful night! And what a joy it is to worship God tonight and to thank him for the gift of Tepeyac. 
In our prayers tonight, let us keep close to our heart — all those who are suffering because of the fires.

Let us entrust them all to the Virgin’s maternal tenderness and may she help them by her prayers and example — to go forward with courage and faith and hope in God.

This past summer, I had the blessing to lead a pilgrimage from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalpe.

Like many of you, I had made that pilgrimage many times with my family, since I was a young child.

But as a priest, it is something special to be there.

It causes strong emotions for me to now be a priest and to have the privilege to celebrate the Holy Mass at the main altar in the Basilica.

As you know, the altar sits directly underneath the miraculous image of the Virgin.

And I have to share with you, when you are there, you can truly feel the warmth of her tender eyes. You really know that you are loved in a special way by the Mother of God.

And this is true for all of us. This is what we are celebrating tonight.

Those words that we all know that she spoke to St. Juan Diego, she speaks to us:

“No dejes que se aflija tu corazón. No temas. ... ¿Qué no estoy yo aquí, que soy tu madre?, ¿No estás bajo mi sombra y protección? ¿No estás en los cruce de mis brazos? ¿Qué otra cosa necesitas?”

"Do not let your heart be disturbed. Do not fear....  Am I, your Mother, not here. Are you not under my shadow and protection? Are you not in the folds of my arms? What more do you need?”

My brothers and sisters, Our Mother is speaking these words to the Church today. And to each one of us. 
Tonight Our Lady is speaking these words to all of you who are worried about your immigration status and the changes in our country.

She is speaking these tender words of assurance especially to the “Dreamers.” Tonight we ask her in a special way to speak to the hearts of our leaders in Washington, to open their hearts to the pain, the human suffering going on in our families and in our communities and find a permanent legislative solution to bring peace and stability to our young brothers and sisters and their families.

My brothers and sisters, tonight we lay our fears and hopes at the feet of the Virgin. We ask for the grace to contemplate these times we are living in under the gaze of her loving eyes.

We know that she is our protector, our advocate. In that great vision from the Book of Revelation that we heard tonight in the second reading — we see Mary defending her child, defending the Church against the devil.

This is her role. She wraps us in her mantle, in the beautiful tilma. And she guides us, all the days of our lives, like a mother, to the throne of God.

Our Lady comes to help us — to intercede for us. Just as she went to her cousin, Elizabeth, in her hour of need, as we heard in our Gospel reading tonight.

Our Lady is still making her “visitation” to us. She hears our cries, our cares — and she comes to us. Always! This is what families do! We stand together, we help one another!

My brothers and sisters, we need to be more like Our Blessed Mother.

What is it about Mary? What is the most important thing? In her life, she said “yes” to God with her whole heart. She did not hold anything back. What God wanted, she would try to do.

Now, that means two things — first, it means she had to listen to God. You cannot know what God wants you to do, unless you are trying to listen.

So we have to try to listen. Read the Gospels every day. It is great reading and that is Jesus is speaking to you — as a child of God, as a child of Mary. Or to spend some time in prayer, listening and asking God for his will in your personal life.

So the first thing about Mary is listening. The second thing is service. When we pray the Rosary, the first mystery is the Annunciation — where Mary hears the Word of God and says “yes.”

The second mystery is the Visitation — where Mary goes off and serves her cousin Elizabeth, who is elderly, and is with child, with the Child St. John the Baptist.

That is why we heard the story again in our Gospel passage tonight. God wants us to be deeply involved in the lives of others — especially in the lives of those in our families.

We need to stick together. We need to make our families and our communities strong — by being strong people ourselves. By living with virtue — just living the “Golden Rule.” This is the foundation for a good life — trying to be like Jesus.

And what Jesus said is that we need to treat others as we want to be treated. Very simple. But we need to keep being reminded.

Brothers and sisters, Our Lady of Guadalupe entrusted St. Juan Diego with a task — to build a shrine in her name. She wanted this shrine to be a place where people would find God’s “love, compassion, help, comfort and salvation.”

And tonight she is calling each one of us to “build a shrine” with our lives. To be a beautiful example in our own lives of the men and women that God wants us to be.

Our Lady is calling us to show God’s love and compassion to our brothers and sisters and to work for a society that is worthy of the dignity of the human person.

So let us go out and do that tonight! So let us fly to her to her protection tonight — and every day. She will never let us down. And let us try to live by her example — listening to God and serving others. And let us pray, as always, with our whole hearts:

¡Que Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe!
¡Que viva San Juan Diego!
¡Que viva San Junípero Serra!
¡Que viva Cristo Rey!
¡Que viva la Virgen de Guadalupe!
¡Que viva la Virgen de Guadalupe!
¡Que viva la Virgen de Guadalupe!

Sí, Madre, Estás Aquí... Y Estamos Contigo

María, la mujer del sí, también quiso visitar a los habitantes de estas tierras de América en la persona del indio san Juan Diego. Así como se movió por los caminos de Judea y Galilea, de la misma manera caminó al Tepeyac, con sus ropas, usando su lengua, para servir a esta gran Nación. Y, así como acompañó la gestación de Isabel, ha acompañado y acompaña la gestación de esta bendita tierra mexicana. Así como se hizo presente al pequeño Juanito, de esa misma manera se sigue haciendo presente a todos nosotros; especialmente a aquellos que como él sienten «que no valían nada». Esta elección particular, digamos preferencial, no fue en contra de nadie sino a favor de todos. El pequeño indio Juan, que se llamaba a sí mismo como «mecapal, cacaxtle, cola, ala, sometido a cargo ajeno», se volvía «el embajador, muy digno de confianza».

En aquel amanecer de diciembre de 1531 se producía el primer milagro que luego será la memoria viva de todo lo que este Santuario custodia. En ese amanecer, en ese encuentro, Dios despertó la esperanza de su hijo Juan, la esperanza de un pueblo. En ese amanecer, Dios despertó y despierta la esperanza de los pequeños, de los sufrientes, de los desplazados y descartados, de todos aquellos que sienten que no tienen un lugar digno en estas tierras. En ese amanecer, Dios se acercó y se acerca al corazón sufriente pero resistente de tantas madres, padres, abuelos que han visto partir, perder o incluso arrebatarles criminalmente a sus hijos.

En ese amanecer, Juancito experimenta en su propia vida lo que es la esperanza, lo que es la misericordia de Dios. Él es elegido para supervisar, cuidar, custodiar e impulsar la construcción de este Santuario. En repetidas ocasiones le dijo a la Virgen que él no era la persona adecuada, al contrario, si quería llevar adelante esa obra tenía que elegir a otros, ya que él no era ilustrado, letrado o perteneciente al grupo de los que podrían hacerlo. María, empecinada —con el empecinamiento que nace del corazón misericordioso del Padre— le dice: no, que él sería su embajador.

Así logra despertar algo que él no sabía expresar, una verdadera bandera de amor y de justicia: en la construcción de ese otro santuario, el de la vida, el de nuestras comunidades, sociedades y culturas, nadie puede quedar afuera. Todos somos necesarios, especialmente aquellos que normalmente no cuentan por no estar a la «altura de las circunstancias» o por no «aportar el capital necesario» para la construcción de las mismas. El Santuario de Dios es la vida de sus hijos, de todos y en todas sus condiciones, especialmente de los jóvenes sin futuro expuestos a un sinfín de situaciones dolorosas, riesgosas, y la de los ancianos sin reconocimiento, olvidados en tantos rincones. El santuario de Dios son nuestras familias que necesitan de los mínimos necesarios para poder construirse y levantarse. El santuario de Dios es el rostro de tantos que salen a nuestros caminos…

Al venir a este Santuario nos puede pasar lo mismo que le pasó a Juan Diego. Mirar a la Madre desde nuestros dolores, miedos, desesperaciones, tristezas, y decirle: «Madre, ¿qué puedo aportar yo si no soy un letrado?». Miramos a la madre con ojos que dicen: son tantas las situaciones que nos quitan la fuerza, que hacen sentir que no hay espacio para la esperanza, para el cambio, para la transformación.

Por eso creo que hoy nos va a hacer bien un poco de silencio, y mirarla a ella, mirarla mucho y calmamente, y decirle como lo hizo aquel otro hijo que la quería mucho:

«Mirarte simplemente, Madre,
dejar abierta sólo la mirada;
mirarte toda sin decirte nada,
decirte todo, mudo y reverente.

No perturbar el viento de tu frente;
sólo acunar mi soledad violada,
en tus ojos de Madre enamorada
y en tu nido de tierra trasparente.

Las horas se desploman; sacudidos,
muerden los hombres necios la basura
de la vida y de la muerte, con sus ruidos.

Mirarte, Madre; contemplarte apenas,
el corazón callado en tu ternura,
en tu casto silencio de azucenas».

Y en silencio, y en este estar mirándola, escuchar una vez más que nos vuelve a decir: «¿Qué hay hijo mío el más pequeño?, ¿qué entristece tu corazón?» «¿Acaso no estoy yo aquí, yo que tengo el honor de ser tu madre?».

Ella nos dice que tiene el «honor» de ser nuestra madre. Eso nos da la certeza de que las lágrimas de los que sufren no son estériles. Son una oración silenciosa que sube hasta el cielo y que en María encuentra siempre lugar en su manto. En ella y con ella, Dios se hace hermano y compañero de camino, carga con nosotros las cruces para no quedar aplastados por nuestros dolores.

¿Acaso no soy yo tu madre? ¿No estoy aquí? No te dejes vencer por tus dolores, tristezas, nos dice. Hoy nuevamente nos vuelve a enviar, como a Juanito; hoy nuevamente nos vuelve a decir, sé mi embajador, sé mi enviado a construir tantos y nuevos santuarios, acompañar tantas vidas, consolar tantas lágrimas. Tan sólo camina por los caminos de tu vecindario, de tu comunidad, de tu parroquia como mi embajador, mi embajadora; levanta santuarios compartiendo la alegría de saber que no estamos solos, que ella va con nosotros. Sé mi embajador, nos dice, dando de comer al hambriento, de beber al sediento, da lugar al necesitado, viste al desnudo y visita al enfermo. Socorre al que está preso, no lo dejes solo, perdona al que te lastimó, consuela al que está triste, ten paciencia con los demás y, especialmente, pide y ruega a nuestro Dios. Y, en silencio, le decimos lo que nos venga al corazón.

¿Acaso no soy yo tu madre? ¿Acaso no estoy yo aquí?, nos vuelve a decir María. Anda a construir mi santuario, ayúdame a levantar la vida de mis hijos, que son tus hermanos.
* * *
Mary, the woman of “yes”, wished also to come to the inhabitants of these American lands through the person of the Indian St Juan Diego. Just as she went along the paths of Judea and Galilee, in the same way she walked through Tepeyac, wearing the indigenous garb and using their language so as to serve this great nation. Just as she accompanied Elizabeth in her pregnancy, so too she has and continues to accompany the development of this blessed Mexican land. Just as she made herself present to little Juan, so too she continues to reveal herself to all of us, especially to those who feel, like him, “worthless”. This specific choice, we might call it preferential, was not against anyone but rather in favour of everyone. The little Indian Juan who called himself a “leather strap, a back frame, a tail, a wing, oppressed by another’s burden,” became “the ambassador, most worthy of trust”.

On that morning in December 1531, the first miracle occurred which would then be the living memory of all this Shrine protects. On that morning, at that meeting, God awakened the hope of his son Juan, and the hope of a People. On that morning, God roused the hope of the little ones, of the suffering, of those displaced or rejected, of all who feel they have no worthy place in these lands. On that morning, God came close and still comes close to the suffering but resilient hearts of so many mothers, fathers, grandparents who have seen their children leaving, becoming lost or even being taken by criminals.

On that morning, Juancito experienced in his own life what hope is, what the mercy of God is. He was chosen to oversee, care for, protect and promote the building of this Shrine. On many occasions he said to Our Lady that he was not the right person; on the contrary, if she wished the work to progress, she should choose others, since he was not learned or literate and did not belong to the group who could make it a reality. Mary, who was persistent — with that persistence born from the Father’s merciful heart — said to him: he would be her ambassador.

In this way, she managed to awaken something he did not know how to express, a veritable banner of love and justice: no one could be left out of the building of that other shrine, the shrine of life, the shrine of our communities, our societies and our cultures.

We are all necessary, especially those who normally do not count because they are not “up to the task” or because “they do not have the necessary funds” to build all these things. God’s Shrine is the life of his children, of everyone in whatever condition, especially of young people without a future who are exposed to endless painful and risky situations, and the elderly who are unacknowledged, forgotten and out of sight. The Shrine of God is our families in need only of the essentials to develop and progress. The Shrine of God is the faces of the many people we encounter each day....

Visiting this Shrine, the same things that happened to Juan Diego can also happen to us. Look at the Blessed Mother from within our own sufferings, our own fear, hopelessness, sadness, and say to her, “What can I offer since I am not learned?”. We look to our Mother with eyes that express our thoughts: there are so many situations which leave us powerless, which make us feel that there is no room for hope, for change, for transformation.

And so, I think that some silence may do us good today as we pause to look upon her and repeat to her the words of that other loving son:

Simply looking at you, O Mother, / having eyes only for you, / looking upon you without saying anything, / telling you everything, wordlessly and reverently. / Do not perturb the air before you; / only cradle my stolen solitude / in your loving Motherly eyes, / in the nest of your clear ground. / Hours tumble by, / and with much commotion, / the wastage of life and death / sinks its teeth into foolish men. Having eyes for you, O Mother, simply contemplating you / with a heart / quieted in your tenderness / that silence of yours, / chaste as the lilies.

And in the silence, and in this looking at her, we will hear what she says to us once more, “What, my most precious little one, saddens your heart?... Yet am I not here with you, who have the honour of being your mother?”

Mary tells us that she has “the honour” of being our mother, assuring us that those who suffer do not weep in vain. These ones are a silent prayer rising to heaven, always finding a place in Mary’s mantle. In her and with her, God has made himself our brother and companion along the journey; he carries our crosses with us so as not to leave us overwhelmed by our sufferings.

Am I not your mother? Am I not here? Do not let trials and pains overwhelm you, she tells us. Today, she sends us out anew; as she did Juancito, today, she comes to tell us again: be my ambassador, the one I send to build many new shrines, accompany many lives, wipe away many tears. Simply be my ambassador by walking along the paths of your neighbourhood, of your community, of your parish; we can build shrines by sharing the joy of knowing that we are not alone, that Mary accompanies us. Be my ambassador, she says to us, giving food to the hungry, drink to those who thirst, a refuge to those in need, clothe the naked and visit the sick. Come to the aid of those in prison, do not leave them alone, forgive whomever has offended you, console the grieving, be patient with others, and above all beseech and pray to God. And in the silence tell him what is in our heart.

Am I not your mother? Am I not here with you? Mary says this to us again. Go and build my shrine, help me to lift up the lives of my sons and daughters, who are your brothers and sisters.
Homilia de Papa Francisco/Homily of Pope Francis
Basilica de Guadalupe
Mexico, DF
13 de febrero 2016

For A Quarter-Century, The Man of This Hour

On the Sunday before the Pope arrived on US soil, the headline was unforgettable.

Above the fold and down the right A1 column, some half-million copies of The Philadelphia Inquirer blared the week's Top Story in these words:

"Bishop: Church's answers lie with the laity."

On one ecclesial bank of the Delaware River, the 2008 comment didn't merely arrive as "news," but was viewed as tantamount to a declaration of war. Just across the three bridges, though, for Bishop Joe Galante (above) the line was simple reality – at least, if his church's best days weren't going to be behind it.

Now retired from the helm of South Jersey's 600,000-member fold based in Camden, today marks Galante's 25th anniversary as a bishop. And as these pages are just one of the thousands upon thousands of spots touched by his ever-faithful, generous goodness in ministry through the years, this scribe would be remiss to fail in paying a word of tribute.

Alas, they don't make cards for days like this – of some 350-odd US bishops, only about a third reach this milestone. And even if there were a stock greeting for the moment, it just wouldn't be able to capture the measure of this jubilarian, whose rare fortune at seeing history smile on him in life is matched only by how richly he's earned it.

In attempting to explain Galante to people who've never known him, I've always tended to cite three things.

First, even for knowing a good few of the bench, I've seldom known another among them who, without fail, has spent his every vacation in his own diocese. To be sure, being assigned to the lower half of the Jersey Shore might sound like the dream job of every Philly-born priest – at least in theory – but not knowing what you'll get strung up about by the faithful while pushing your cart around the Wildwood Acme in shorts can, in practice, make it a bit easier to take one's downtime somewhere else. Bishop Joe wouldn't have wanted it any other way than staying home, in the house he kept there from his priesthood.

Second, on any given day – Mondays above all given the weekend Masses – most every Chancery in the land gets a phone call, often several, from a fired-up parishioner driven to give the Boss a piece of their mind. The topic can be anything under the sun, and the staff are usually well-trained to assuage the concerns on their own while keeping the call far from the corner office.

In Galante's case, whenever the outrage arrived, the approach was unique: once the line was transferred to his devoted secretary, Dolores Orihel would answer with some variation of, "You'd like to talk to Bishop Galante? Here he is."

As he only ever used the formal office for major meetings – splitting Dolores' cubicle with her the rest of the time – she'd just hand the phone over. And one by one, however long the person needed to come away at ease would be theirs.

Again, it sounds like a no-brainer in theory, but given the most difficult act of his tenure – a sweeping realignment that merged South Jersey's 132 parishes by roughly half (and all of it announced at once) – no shortage of soothing was needed.

And thirdly, much as he worked for and was dear to John Paul II – who named him first as Undersecretary of the Congregation for Religious, then to four diverse, oft-challenging assignments as a bishop – only in recent years has it become clear how much of Bishop Joe's pastoral ethic echoes that of another auxiliary appointed and ordained in 1992: another son of Italian immigrants to America... now known to the world as The Man in White.

To be sure, it's always been fashionable in church circles to compare a prelate's qualities to those of the reigning Pope. Yet in this case, it has the added benefit of not just being accurate, but true at a cost – while these days see Francis garnering widespread plaudits for decrying clericalism as a rot on the church's soul, and Jersey's first-ever cardinal is lionized as the champion of the nation's religious women in the belly of the Vatican beast, Joe Galante was fighting these battles in the very same places well before anyone knew of Bergoglio, with far less support... so much so that, now it can be told, a concerted push was once made to have him forced from office.

Gratefully, it didn't happen. And beyond seeing two of his own ministry's core emphases – qualities more recently defined as "pastoral conversion" and "missionary discipleship" – now promulgated by his twin as the gold standard of what it means to be a shepherd, that this anniversary likewise brings the beginning of Francis' 23rd meeting with his "Gang of 9" for the reform of the Curia adds a good bit to the providence and joy of the milestone.

A lesser man would see the turn of events as a vindication. But that word isn't in Bishop's vocabulary – what satisfaction he finds in it comes from seeing the church act more like its Lord, and striving afresh to do better in earning the fidelity and credibility of its people.

Even more than usual, the phone will be ringing off the hook today at the ranch house down the Shore where, as things normally go, five minutes rarely pass between incoming calls. Yet now, there are no complaints, just the legion of friends from all walks of life always wanting to check in, as the Eagles or Phillies game plays out on the muted TV and the cooking of his live-in caretaker, Steve, scores another compliment.

As ever, it might sound easy, but there's more than meets the eye. As it's been for the last six years, Mondays are a little rough – the first of the three days a week he spends six hours at a time hooked up to a dialysis machine. Not even a Silver Jubilee can exempt him from that. And now, the road's about to get more trying still: following a diagnosis of prostate cancer over the summer, next month sees the start of radiation that'll need to be worked around the kidney treatments.

Just as this piece is coming as a surprise to him, I know he'd seek your prayers... and as he's owed the appreciation of a grateful Church, that's the least any of us can do.

You know, the more these years wear on, the harder it is to put many things into words – the more you've been around, the less you stop sensing how much more there is to every story. Along those lines, it's par for the course that we haven't even touched the memory of the day when Galante became the first and only Catholic prelate ever to take a seat on Oprah Winfrey's couch. Nonetheless, from Nuns to "nones," the Latinos and Irish he's adopted as family to our own Italian crew – and perhaps most impressively, from Cowboys fans to Eagles Nation – much as he keeps thanking everybody else for the graces of this quarter-century, if anything, the blessing of it has been ours in the gift of him... and just like the example of his "alter ego" now in the Domus, it's on us to not just admire the richness we've been given, but to share and imitate it for the rest.

Among his horde of priceless quotes, and knowing the strains of being Publisher of a Catholic news-outlet, Bishop Joe's long been on this scribe to "Start raising money from the bishops"... just with one bit of added advice: "You can charge one rate for guys who want to be mentioned, and even more for those who don't want to be."

Suffice it to say, he's "paid" for this in the way that matters most – really, the only way that matters: in lavishing me and so many of us with his loyalty, love, support and faithfulness through the years, his "Yes" has given us life, and Lord knows how we can't begin to repay him for that.

*  *  *
As tributes go, this one pales in comparison to the 44-page mega-supplement produced over the weekend by Bishop's "baby" – Camden's Catholic Star Herald, whose survival into the present owes itself more to his determination than anything else.

Yesterday, meanwhile, the 25th was marked by some 400 of Galante's extended family who crammed into the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception for an intimate, moving Mass (above) and dinner.

Here, the jubilarian's closing word:


Habemus POPEQUAKE – In Stunning Twin Shot, Francis Flips Mexico. And Paris.

(Updated with analysis/context.)

As appointment days go, folks, This. Is. Simply. Beyond.

Filling two of global Catholicism's foremost posts in one fell swoop, even before Roman Noon hit this Thursday, the Italian desk of Vatican Radio published the Pope's twin selections of Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes, 67 – until now archbishop of suburban Tlalnepantla, already a former president of both the Mexican bishops and the continental mega-conference CELAM – as archbishop of Mexico City: with some 8 million members, the world's largest diocese...

...and, together with it, Francis' choice of Bishop Michel Aupetit of Nanterre, 66 – a physician, bioethicist and med-school professor for two decades, ordained a priest at 44 – as archbishop of Paris: the 1.3 million-member fold that's both the largest and most prominent charge in the land long known as the church's "eldest daughter."

In terms of dates and places, the CVs of both picks were released by the Vatican in the English edition of today's Bollettino.

The duo respectively succeed Cardinals Norberto Rivera and Andre Vingt-Trois, both of whom reached the retirement age of 75 just within the last six months. In the latter case, the departing Paris prelate – who'll be succeeded by his second-in-command from 2006-13 – marked his birthday on November 7th, while the retirement of Rivera (who turned 75 last June) ends a landmark, yet frequently controversial 22-year run atop the Mexican church, a reign with which the first American Pope memorably made his frustration clear on his visit to it in early 2016.

Together with Francis' June pick of Auxiliary Bishop Mario Delpini (above) as archbishop of Milan – his hometown and Italy's marquee diocese – today's moves round out 2017's foreseen extraordinary round of placements into the church's top dozen or so diocesan seats around the world, with a couple more impending shifts still in the offing.

*   *   *
In the case of Aguiar, that sound you hear is the new Cardinal-Primate vaulting to the front of the Papabile file... albeit to a lesser degree than if a Latin American weren't already on Peter's Chair.

Nonetheless, the Scripture scholar and veteran seminary rector has long been the frontrunner for the capital of Mexico, whose 90 million Catholics nationwide form the church's second-largest bloc after Brazil, even as church-state issues there remain an equally-sized challenge.

Hailing the pick as a "renaissance man," a Whispers op close to both Francis and Aguiar called the Pope's choice "extremely smart and very close to the people," noting the incoming Primate's ability to make headway in the public realm to a degree that eluded the polarizing Rivera, whose long tenure became mired in moral and financial scandals within the massive archdiocese – and who, unlike his successor, was never elected by the Mexican bishops as their president despite occupying the hierarchy's biggest post (a twin role which, in Latin America, is normally a given).

Indeed, arguably more than anything, the choice of Aguiar serves to again underscore Papa Bergoglio's emphasis on the role – and trust in the judgment – of episcopal conferences.

Having known the younger prelate for the better part of two decades – from when Aguiar was overseeing the CELAM offices as its secretary-general – like so much else with the now-Francis, the bond between the duo was ostensibly sealed at Aparecida in 2007. At the once-a-generation meeting of the Latin American bishops, this time in Brazil's patronal shrine, then-Cardinal Bergoglio oversaw the drafting of the missionary "charter" for the region that's home to a plurality of the Catholic world, while after the fact, the rising Mexican would carry the torch for the Aparecida call as the continental body's vice-president, then president.

Along the way, in 2009 Benedict XVI gave Aguiar the archbishopric of Tlalnepantla, all of 15 miles north of Mexico City. But once the papacy switched hands, to signal his impatience with the state of things down the road, Francis would replicate his biggest US ground-shift last year, placing an unprecedented red hat at the "periphery" of the capital itself.

Now, his protege's journey to El Zócalo – Mexico City's central square, bordered by the gargantuan Cathedral (above) to one side and the government's historic seat to the other – is complete. The choice arrives as ready for global prime-time as anyone could be, but come Aguilar's installation in February, the task that awaits is widely seen as the need for a thorough "cleanup" at home. (Much as it didn't surprise the CDMX crowd, Rivera marked the announcement of his resignation by leaving the country; said to be in Rome today, the cardinal shared the news in a letter released by the archdiocese.)

Long story short, and for the millionth time, the essence of this most significant of moves marks just another return to Evangelii Gaudium – merely an adaptation of Aparecida for the global fold, the "blueprint" of Francis' church in more ways than most have begun to understand... even as the fifth anniversary of this pontificate approaches in March.

And on a day when the appointment of the archbishop of Paris is merely the second biggest thing going, the shape of the moment only goes to prove one of Francis' core principles in his charter text: namely, "Reality is bigger than ideas."


At Last, The "Vice-Wuerl" Gets The Call – Pope Taps DC's Knestout For Richmond

After months of rumblings over his future, Bishop Barry Knestout can finally breathe easy – expected from very early in the year, the Pope's choice of the 55 year-old vicar-general of Washington as the 13th bishop of Richmond indeed came to pass at Roman Noon yesterday.

In the post overseeing the massive 33,000 square mile bulk of Virginia stretching from the Atlantic's Eastern Shore to the Kentucky border – all of it home to some 250,000 Catholics – the top deputy to Cardinal Donald Wuerl (duo seen above) succeeds Bishop Francis DiLorenzo, whose death from kidney failure in August remains a shock to his many friends.

Having reached the retirement age of 75 last April, the process for DiLorenzo's replacement was already well in the works at the time the vacancy occurred. On speaking to him a week before his passing – and not expecting to lose him in the least – this scribe admitted to DiLorenzo of wondering what was taking the appointment "so long," to which he characteristically shot back, "Me too."

Even then, it bears noting that Knestout – from his days as secretary to Cardinals James Hickey and Theodore McCarrick, a familiar figure in church circles for nearly two decades – was the only potential pick whose name came up in the conversation.

Founded in 1820 to initially encompass Virginia and the future West Virginia, the Richmond church is one of the eight oldest in the US.

The first son of a cleric to be named a bishop in the global church since the permanent diaconate was restored in 1968, Knestout's arrival brings a quieter, conciliatory hand to a diocese led over the last four decades by larger-than-life personalities at opposite ends of the ecclesiological spectrum. Before DiLorenzo – an ever-candid, big-hearted Philadelphian known for his impatience with business meetings – the three-decade tenure of Bishop Walter Sullivan made Richmond one of the few Eastern outposts to retain a post-Conciliar progressive bent, defying a wider trend toward reinforcing identity and doctrine. (Once asked by a local TV reporter whether the church would ever ordain women as priests – despite John Paul II's definitive statement that it lacked the authority to do so – Sullivan famously replied "Not in my lifetime.")

In that light, amid the raw fallout of August's clashes between white supremacists and counter-protestors in Charlottesville (in the diocese's western tier), which saw one of the latter killed by a car driven into the crowd, not to mention the wake of a bitterly divisive governor's race this fall that made the Old Dominion's trove of Confederate monuments an unusual flashpoint of tribal politics, it's easy to sense that Knestout's calming, hyper-diligent skillset is the optimal antidote to a charged, heavily-partisan moment.

At the same time, while some two-thirds of Virginia's booming Catholic population lives in the 19 northern counties that form the diocese of Arlington (which was spun off from Richmond in 1974), the turf he inherits is experiencing its own degree of recent growth, albeit on a more gradual scale.

Having been the Washington Chancery's point-man on guiding the capital church through a remarkable decade that's seen its Catholic presence expand by roughly a quarter to an estimated 750,000 in its pews – most of them packed into teeming parishes and schools in the archdiocese's Maryland suburbs – the upward trends in Richmond's population core of Hampton Roads (the military-heavy Eastern flank encompassing Virginia Beach and Newport News) and the diocese's central axis along Interstates 95 and 64 will be very familiar to the new arrival from the outset. (Among other examples of the growth, seen below is the newly-expanded plant at St Bede's in Williamsburg, where a church that isn't yet 15 years old was bolstered by last spring's opening of an $11 million, 40,000 square-foot addition to house its ministries and religious education classes, anchored by a 600-seat parish hall.)

If anything, the one fresh challenge facing Knestout will be enhancing the effectiveness of the diocese's operations given the sprawl of the territory and the population imbalance between the coast and a heavily rural, mostly sparse edge in the Blue Ridge and Appalachian mountains. As DiLorenzo put the spread into context, if the distance of crossing the diocese's lower edge was turned on its side, a drive from the westernmost point would put you in Detroit. Accordingly, while a division of Richmond's eastern portion into its own diocese has been considered in the past, it's been deemed unfeasible as the redrawn mother-see would lack the resources to support itself.

Coming in a week already focused on the nation's capital given Friday's dedication of the massive Trinity Dome in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception – and with it, what's widely expected to be the beginning of Wuerl's pre-retirement "victory lap" – the promotion of the DC prelate's #2 over his decade-long tenure further fuels the perception of desk-clearing by the cardinal, who turned 77 last month. However, despite prior forecasts tipping a transition sometime in the first half of 2018, over recent weeks Whispers ops close to Wuerl have begun to sense a longer timeframe toward the appointment of Washington's sixth resident archbishop, a move almost certain to be Francis' last major selection for the American hierarchy's top rank.

In any case, even before today's nod was officially made, no shortage of attention has already turned toward the critical "other shoe" to drop: Wuerl's choice of Knestout's replacement as vicar-general, essentially the DC church's chief operating officer – a selection in which the departing prelate's brother, Fr Mark, is said to be a leading contender.

Beyond the post's significance within the capital itself, it's worth recalling that, over the now-cardinal's three decades as a diocesan bishop, each of his vicars-general have quickly been named as auxiliaries, all then going on to lead a local church in their own right.

The Richmond installation is slated for Friday, 12 January... and here below, fullvid of yesterday's appointment presser, highlighted by Knestout's call for his new charge to be "a strong voice for unity and charity" in the face of "a time when we are challenged by many divisions" – bishop begins at 6:15 mark:

With the Richmond call finally in the can, all of one Stateside Latin diocese is vacant – north Kansas' outpost in Salina, from which Bishop Edward Weisenburger was transferred to Tucson in September.

Alongside Washington, just two others are led by prelates serving past the retirement age and awaiting their respective successors: central California's diocese of Stockton, where Bishop Stephen Blaire reached the milestone last February, and the largest opening the US church will have for the foreseeable future – what's become an 850,000-member fold in Las Vegas, guided since 2001 by Bishop Joe Pepe, one of DiLorenzo's closest friends and the preacher at his funeral.


"The Presence of God Is Called 'Rohingya'" – Meeting Refugees, Pope Pleads for "Forgiveness"

Closing out a packed day that began with a rare ordination of priests on the road, the prime diplomatic fault-line of this weeklong PopeTrip to Southeast Asia saw a closing flourish as Francis met with 16 Rohingya refugees – 12 men and four women – who fled Myanmar for Bangladesh, using the charged term for the first time on this visit.

Taking place just after a gathering with local interfaith leaders at the Archbishop's Residence in Dhaka, the encounter was not a surprise – as previously noted, the plan was revealed early this week by Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai (a member of the pontiff's "C-9" council of lead advisers) in a conversation with the Rome-based AsiaNews agency. Nonetheless, after Francis came in for a rare dose of wide criticism over explicitly avoiding the topic during this trek's first leg with the party responsible for the crisis, the images and tone of today's meeting – which highlighted both Papa Bergoglio's compassion and a global call to action (his second in as many days) – is likely to assuage the storm over the long haul.

Here, a house English translation of the Pope's brief, off-the-cuff message to the group – currently housed in a refugee camp – after meeting them individually:
Dear brothers and sisters, we are all close to you. There's not much that we can do because your tragedy is so great. But we make space for you in our hearts. In the name of all, of those who've persecuted you, of those who've done this evil, above all for the indifference of the world, I ask forgiveness. Forgiveness. Many of you have spoken of the great heart of Bangladesh which has welcomed you. Now I appeal to your great hearts, that you might be able to give us the forgiveness we seek.

Dear brothers and sisters, the Judeo-Christian account of creation says that the Lord who is God created man in his own image and likeness. All of us are this image, even these brothers and sisters. They, too, are the image of the living God. A tradition of your religions says that God, in the beginning, took a little bit of salt and tossed it into water, that was the soul of all people; and each of us carries within ourselves a little of this divine salt. These brothers and sisters carry within them the salt of God.

Dear brothers and sisters, we only have to look at the world to see its selfishness with the image of God. Let us continue to do good by you, to help you; let us continue to act so that they may recognize your rights. Let us not close our hearts, not look somewhere else. The presence of God today is also called "Rohingya." May each of us give our own response.

Pope To (Myanmar's) Church: "The Way of Revenge Is Not of Jesus"

Thanks principally to the 104 overseas tours undertaken by John Paul II, there aren't many places left on earth where a Pope could say Mass for the first time – China and Russia are the big ones, Vietnam isn't far behind, and most of the Middle East is in there, too.... But now, one of the few others remaining can be struck from the list.

Early this morning, Francis celebrated Myanmar's first-ever papal liturgy on a Yangon racetrack, drawing roughly a quarter of the country's 700,000 Catholics.

Trading in his usual silver pastorale (staff) for a wooden one more in keeping with the Asian context (above), the Mass on a stage resembling a pagoda – the first of this weeklong visit's mostly-in-English liturgies – saw Papa Bergoglio shift focus from the diplomatic fracas that framed the trek's wider storyline to a meditation on how the Cross should inform the life, challenges and gifts of a church living as a distinct minority (often coupled with dire poverty), and the contribution such a community can make to society at large.

Set to meet tonight with Myanmar's bishops (Ed.: English text), before departing for Bangladesh on Thursday afternoon, the Pope's final event on his first stop will be a relatively intimate Mass with young people, its message likely to resonate far beyond Southeast Asia amid the approach to next October's global Synod on the young and vocational discernment. (Speaking of the coming Synod, the deadline for the online consultation of young people on the gathering's topics – originally set for tomorrow – has been extended to 31 December following reports of a low response rate from the trenches.)

Given the relative uniqueness of today's Mass, here's fullvideo...

...and the English text of Francis' homily (emphases original):
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Before coming to this country, I very much looked forward to this moment. Many of you have come from far and remote mountainous areas, some even on foot. I have come as a fellow pilgrim to listen and to learn from you, as well as to offer you some words of hope and consolation.

Today’s first reading, from the Book of Daniel, helps us to see how limited is the wisdom of King Belshazzar and his seers. They knew how to praise “gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood and stone” (Dn 5:4), but they did not have the wisdom to praise God in whose hand is our life and breath. Daniel, on the other hand, had the wisdom of the Lord and was able to interpret his great mysteries.

The ultimate interpreter of God’s mysteries is Jesus. He is the wisdom of God in person (cf. 1 Cor 1:24). Jesus did not teach us his wisdom by long speeches or by grand demonstrations of political or earthly power but by giving his life on the cross. Sometimes we can fall into the trap of believing in our own wisdom, but the truth is we can easily lose our sense of direction. At those times we need to remember that we have a sure compass before us, in the crucified Lord. In the cross, we find the wisdom that can guide our life with the light that comes from God.

From the cross also comes healing. There, Jesus offered his wounds to the Father for us, the wounds by which we are healed (cf. 1 Pet 2:24). May we always have the wisdom to find in the wounds of Christ the source of all healing! I know that many in Myanmar bear the wounds of violence, wounds both visible and invisible. The temptation is to respond to these injuries with a worldly wisdom that, like that of the king in the first reading, is deeply flawed. We think that healing can come from anger and revenge. Yet the way of revenge is not the way of Jesus.

Jesus’ way is radically different. When hatred and rejection led him to his passion and death, he responded with forgiveness and compassion. In today’s Gospel, the Lord tells us that, like him, we too may encounter rejection and obstacles, yet he will give us a wisdom that cannot be resisted (cf. Lk 21:15). He is speaking of the Holy Spirit, through whom the love of God has been poured into our hearts (cf. Rom 5:5). By the gift of his Spirit, Jesus enables us each to be signs of his wisdom, which triumphs over the wisdom of this world, and his mercy, which soothes even the most painful of injuries.

On the eve of his passion, Jesus gave himself to his apostles under the signs of bread and wine. In the gift of the Eucharist, we not only recognize, with the eyes of faith, the gift of his body and blood; we also learn how to rest in his wounds, and there to be cleansed of all our sins and foolish ways. By taking refuge in Christ’s wounds, dear brothers and sisters, may you know the healing balm of the Father’s mercy and find the strength to bring it to others, to anoint every hurt and every painful memory. In this way, you will be faithful witnesses of the reconciliation and peace that God wants to reign in every human heart and in every community.

I know that the Church in Myanmar is already doing much to bring the healing balm of God’s mercy to others, especially those most in need. There are clear signs that even with very limited means, many communities are proclaiming the Gospel to other tribal minorities, never forcing or coercing but always inviting and welcoming. Amid much poverty and difficulty, many of you offer practical assistance and solidarity to the poor and suffering. Through the daily ministrations of its bishops, priests, religious and catechists, and particularly through the praiseworthy work of Catholic Karuna Myanmar and the generous assistance provided by the Pontifical Mission Societies, the Church in this country is helping great numbers of men, women and children, regardless of religion or ethnic background. I can see that the Church here is alive, that Christ is alive and here with you and with your brothers and sisters of other Christian communities. I encourage you to keep sharing with others the priceless wisdom that you have received, the love of God welling up in the heart of Jesus.

Jesus wants to give this wisdom in abundance. He will surely crown your efforts to sow seeds of healing and reconciliation in your families, communities and the wider society of this nation. Does he not tell us that his wisdom is irresistible (cf. Lk 21:15)? His message of forgiveness and mercy uses a logic that not all will want to understand, and which will encounter obstacles. Yet his love, revealed on the cross is ultimately unstoppable. It is like a spiritual GPS that unfailingly guides us towards the inner life of God and the heart of our neighbour.

Our Blessed Mother Mary followed her Son even to the dark mountain of Calvary and she accompanies us at every step of our earthly journey. May she obtain for us the grace always be to messengers of true wisdom, heartfelt mercy to those in need, and the joy that comes from resting in the wounds of Jesus, who loved us to the end.

May God bless all of you! May God bless the Church in Myanmar! May he bless this land with his peace! God bless Myanmar!

Between Diplomacy and "Risk" – In Myanmar, Francis' Moment of Truth

The tension has been mounting for months.

And on finally taking his own turn to speak earlier today, at least in the eyes of some, the Pope punted.

With Myanmar increasingly in the crosshairs of the international community over the country's perceived aggression toward the persecuted Muslim minority known as the Rohingya, the run-up to this first-ever papal visit there has been dominated by whether or not Francis would seek to confront his hosts by using the group's name for itself, which is "taboo" among the Buddhist majority. Yet in his late-afternoon speech to the leaders of the onetime Burma, the pontiff ostensibly heeded the pressure from his own diplomats and the country's first-ever cardinal, avoiding the thicket head-on while calling nonetheless for "respect for the dignity and rights of each member of society, respect for each ethnic group and its identity, respect for the rule of law, and respect for a democratic order that enables each individual and every group – none excluded – to offer its legitimate contribution to the common good."

Of course, this was just the end of the first day of a weeklong trek – one whose final leg, in heavily-Muslim Bangladesh, will head to the place to which tens of thousands of Rohingya have fled. Still, today's address to Myanmar's ruling elite was arguably the principal indicator of the degree to which Francis was willing to push the issue, above all given the presence of the Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, whose global fame as a champion of human rights has been tarnished by her silence on the military-led campaign against her own country's religious minority, who are viewed by the authorities as "illegal immigrants."

Now holding the posts of "State Counselor" and Foreign Minister after last year's limited return to democratic rule, Suu Kyi – who remains constitutionally barred from Myanmar's presidency due to a provision inserted by the country's prior military regime to keep her from the role – met for nearly an hour with the Pope today, then going on to host Francis' encounter with the civil authorities (seen at top).

Further underscoring her standing as the nation's supreme figure in fact if not title, Papa Bergoglio's time with the official head of state, President Htin Kyaw, ran considerably shorter and was designated as a mere "courtesy visit."

After Suu Kyi's private audience with Francis in the Vatican last May, Myanmar became the latest country to establish full diplomatic relations with the Holy See, having been one of the last few holdouts.

Notably, the contretemps over the Rohingya – who the Pope last referred to by name in August while pleading for their "full rights" – has overshadowed the stark poverty he will find on both stages of this visit. As the front page of yesterday's L'Osservatore Romano sought to highlight, roughly a third of Myanmar's population of 53 million lives in "absolute indigence."

While Catholics comprise only some 700,000 Myanmarese, the country now has a cardinal in the Salesian Charles Maung Bo, 69 (above right) – the archbishop of its largest city, Yangon, who Francis elevated to the scarlet in 2015.

A lead public voice against the pontiff's explicit use of the term "Rohingya" ahead of this week's trip – and long seen in Roman circles as a decidedly influential figure across the growing Asian church – it bears recalling that Bo's entrance into the papal "Senate" had been anticipated at the Vatican well before the current pontificate, extending as far back as 2010.

Before departing for the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, on Thursday afternoon local time, the Pope will celebrate two Masses (including one strictly for young people) and hold formal meetings with Myanmar's bishops and its leading Buddhist monks.

Albeit not on the Pope's public schedule in Bangladesh, a meeting with Rohingya who've left Myanmar has been hinted at by Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay, one of Francis's "Gang of Nine" advisers, its exact timing unknown. In a rarity for any papal road trip, meanwhile, Francis will perform priestly ordinations on Friday morning at a Dhaka park.

Like Myanmar, the pontiff's next stop has its own first red hat given by Francis: Dhaka's Patrick D'Rozario, 74, the first member of the Congregation of Holy Cross to become a cardinal in some six decades.


"It Happened To Our Fathers...."

we do well to join all creation,
in heaven and on earth,
in praising you, our mighty God
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

You made man to your own image
and set him over all creation.
Once you chose a people
and, when you brought them out of bondage to
freedom, they carried with them the promise
that all men would be blessed
and all men could be free.

What the prophets pledged
was fulfilled in Jesus Christ,
your Son and our saving Lord.
It has come to pass in every generation
for all men who have believed that Jesus
by his death and resurrection
gave them a new freedom in his Spirit.

It happened to our fathers,
who came to this land as if out of the desert
into a place of promise and hope.
It happens to us still, in our time,
as you lead all men through your Church
to the blessed vision of your peace....
Granted, the text above is no longer in use, but as it's the old proper Preface for this Thanksgiving Day, it still makes for a worthwhile reflection.

Whether your centerpiece is dinner with family, the marathon football, a raid on the mall (God forbid), or something else, with thanks for all the blessings of these years, may all this day's joy and goodness be yours.