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"The Dream Remains A Work In Progress" – At the Red Mass, American History, Latin Style

By long tradition the most prominent preaching slot in American Catholicism, this Sunday before the first Monday in October brought a fresh twist of history to the Washington Red Mass: with the choice of Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, for the first time, a Hispanic – and, for good measure, a naturalized citizen – took the pulpit before the usual majority of the Supreme Court, scores of Federal officials and the capital's legal community.

A canny, deeply symbolic pick amid the current political context, Gomez's turn in St Matthew's Cathedral caps a momentous year for the 65 year-old head of the largest diocese the Stateside church has ever known. Days after issuing an emotional plea on behalf of LA's massive immigrant community from his own cathedral in the wake of Donald Trump's election, the Mexican-born prelate was catapulted into the vice-presidency of the US bishops – a move which both signaled the church's primary fault line with the new administration and, with Latinos emerging ever more as the largest bloc of the nation's 75 million-member fold, placed one of their own as never before in line for the bench's helm.

Even if Gomez's ascent to the top post is still two years in the future, the current USCCB chief Cardinal Daniel DiNardo has already given his deputy an unusually broad portfolio and sizable public role, so much so that the duo – whose ties go back to their days as the twin archbishops of Texas – essentially functions as more of a joint presidency than a 1-2 arrangement.

With five of SCOTUS' nine members fronting the pews – Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito – per custom, today's focus was less on the dynamics of what's expected to be a "momentous" term (beginning with a major religious-freedom case) than the guiding principles of law, justice, public service and the common good.

As for the context of the moment, today's 65th edition of the liturgy was likely the last to be celebrated by Cardinal Donald Wuerl – soon to be two years past the retirement age of 75, Wuerl's successor at the helm of the 700,000-member capital church is currently expected to emerge sometime in the first half of 2018.

Per the protocol surrounding the Red Mass – always celebrated as a votive Mass of the Holy Spirit to bless the judicial year ahead – a new archbishop of Washington normally gives its homily in his first year in office.

Back to today's preacher, keeping to a thread he's employed in other major venues, Gomez rooted his reflection far from the East, looking instead to California's role in the American founding and its lessons for the present, with a pointed note on "our struggles today with racism and nativism" and other civic divisions among the challenges at hand.

With video of the Mass prohibited per Supreme Court custom, here's audio of the homily...

...and Gomez's full text (emphases original):
*    *    *
My dear brothers and sisters,

I am so honored to be with you this morning. I bring you greetings from the family of God in Los Angeles, the City of the Angels.

The Church in Los Angeles is the largest Catholic community in the country. We are a global church, an immigrant church, made up of people who come from all over the world. We have about 5 million Catholics in L.A. and every day, we pray and worship and we serve in more than 40 different languages.

The Franciscan missionaries who founded Los Angeles named our city for the Mother of God, the Queen of the Angels.

One of those missionaries was St. Junípero Serra, our newest American saint. St. Junípero was Hispanic, a migrant from Spain, and he entered this country after living for more than a decade in Mexico.

In his time, there were many in the California colonial government who denied the full humanity of the indigenous peoples living in this land. St. Junípero became their champion. He even wrote a “bill of rights” to protect them. And by the way — he wrote that bill of rights — three years before America’s Declaration of Independence.

Most Americans do not know this history. But Pope Francis does.

That is why, when the Holy Father came to this country in 2015, his first act was to hold a solemn Mass where he canonized St. Junípero. He held that Mass — not in Los Angeles, but right here in the nation’s capital.

Pope Francis was making a point. He believes we should honor St. Junípero as “one of the founding fathers of the United States.”[i]

I agree. I think we should, too. Because remembering St. Junípero and the first missionaries changes how we remember our national story. It reminds us that America’s first beginnings were not political. America’s first beginnings were spiritual.

The missionaries came here first — long before the Pilgrims, long before George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Long before this country even had a name.

These missionaries — together with the colonists and the statesmen who came later — they laid the spiritual and intellectual groundwork for a nation that remains unique in human history. A nation conceived under God and committed to promoting human dignity, freedom and the flourishing of a diversity of peoples, races, ideas and beliefs.

That is why this Red Mass is so important each year. There is a time for politics and a time for prayer. This is a day for prayer.

We acknowledge today, as America’s founders did — that this is still one nation under God; that his laws still govern the world we live in; and that we go forward still “with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence.”[ii]

We ask the Holy Spirit today to open our hearts and help us to see our duties — in the light of God’s Word, in the light of his plans for creation.

The first reading we heard this morning, the story of that first Pentecost — reveals the Creator’s beautiful dream for the human race.

As we heard, there were men and women there in Jerusalem — from “every nation under heaven.” And the Spirit of God spoke to all of them in their own “native tongues.”

Pentecost is the “birthday” of the Church and the first day of her mission. And the mission that Jesus gave her is the beautiful mission of gathering all the peoples of the earth into one family of God.

In God’s eyes, there are no foreigners, there are no strangers! All of us are family. When God looks at us, he sees beyond the color of our skin, or the countries where we come from, or the language that we speak. God sees only his children — sons and daughters made in his image.

My brothers and sisters, the truth is this: Before God made the sun and the moon, before he placed the first star in the sky or started to fill the oceans with water — before the foundation of the world — God knew your name and my name. And he had a plan of love for our lives.

Every life is sacred and every life has a purpose in God’s creation! Every one of us is born for greater things. This is not just a beautiful-sounding idea. This is what Jesus Christ came to teach us! And we are still trying to learn it.

The people who wrote this country’s laws and formed our institutions — they understood this teaching. They understood it so well that they called these truths “self-evident.”

America’s founders believed that the only justification for government is to serve the human person — who is created in God’s image; who is endowed with God-given dignity, rights and responsibilities; and who is called by God to a transcendent destiny.

My brothers and sisters, you all share in the responsibility for this great government. Public service is a noble vocation. It takes honesty and courage. It takes prudence and humility. And it takes prayer and sacrifice.

So today, let us ask the Holy Spirit for his gifts and renew our commitment to this vision of a government that serves the human person.

Let us commit ourselves to an America that cares for the young and the elderly, for the poor and the sick; an America where the hungry find bread and the homeless a place to live; an America that welcomes the immigrant and refugee and offers the prisoner a second chance.

Of course, we can always talk about the ways our nation has failed to live up to its founding vision. From the start, Americans have engaged in passionate arguments about these things, and these conversations are vital to our democracy.

From the original sins of slavery and the cruel mistreatment of native peoples, to our struggles today with racism and nativism — the American dream is still a work in progress.

We have come a long way. But we have not come nearly far enough. That should not make us give in to cynicism or despair. For all our weakness and failure: America is still a beacon of hope for peoples of every nation, who look to this country for refuge, for freedom and equality under God.

Throughout our history, men and women of faith have always led movements for justice and social change.

I am thinking of the efforts to abolish slavery and to give women the right to vote. I am thinking of the civil rights movement, the farmworkers movement, the peace movement and the right-to-life movement. It was a book by a Catholic Worker that helped launch the “war on poverty” in the 1960s.[iii]

This is why religious freedom is so essential to who we are as Americans. We should never silence the voices of believers. They connect us to our founders’ vision. Today more than ever, we need their spirit of peacemaking and searching for nonviolent solutions.

In the Gospel passage that we heard this morning, Jesus comes to his disciples, he shows them his wounds, and then he “breathes” on them.

What we are witnessing in this scene — is a new creation.

In the beginning, the Creator formed man and woman in his own image. And then, the Book of Genesis tells us, God “blew into his nostrils the breath of life.”[iv]

In this passage we heard this morning, Jesus comes to create a new humanity — a new people formed in the image of his forgiveness and made alive by the power of his Spirit.

This scene is rich in meaning. When Jesus breathes on his disciples and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” — yes, he is giving his Church the power to forgive sins in his name.

But more than that, he is giving every one of us — the power to forgive those who trespass against us.

And that power to forgive — it is the greatest power that men and women possess under heaven. If only we could understand that! Because when we forgive, we are imitating Jesus Christ.

The power to grant forgiveness and show mercy is the image of God. In many ways, to forgive is what makes us fully human.

My brothers and sisters, let me conclude by suggesting that forgiveness is part of the unfinished revolution in American society.

Forgiveness does not mean forgetting what has happened or excusing what is wrong; it does not mean ignoring what divides us.

True forgiveness sets us free from the cycles of resistance and retaliation; it sets us free to seek reconciliation and healing.

And this is what we need in America today — a new spirit of compassion and cooperation, a new sense of our common humanity.

We need to treat “others” as our brothers and our sisters. Even those who oppose or disagree with us. The mercy and love that we desire — this is the mercy and love that we must show to our neighbors.

May God bless you all for your service to this great country! And may God bless America!

And may Our Blessed Mother Mary, help us all to renew the promise of America. To commit ourselves once again to the truths that our founders entrusted to us.

[i] Homily, Pontifical North American College (May 2, 2015).
[ii] Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776).
[iii] Michael Harrington, The Other America (Macmillan, 1962).
[iv] Gen. 2:7.


"I Want To Repeat Clearly" – On Amoris, The Pope's "Dominic Option"

Almost 18 months since the publication of Amoris Laetitia, a fresh round of skirmishes mounted over last weekend as a group of 62 clerics and lay scholars issued a 25-page "filial correction" of the Pope, charging seven instances of "words, deeds and omissions" of Francis' which, they said, have "serve[d] to propagate... heretical propositions."

While the letter garnered an unsurprising firestorm in the Catholic conversation's more pyromaniac quarters, that the lone prelate among the initial signatories was Bishop Bernard Fellay – the no-longer-excommunicated, yet still not-in-communion head of the traditionalist Society of St Pius X – effectively served to blunt what could've been a significantly more potent act of defiance. (On a related front, meanwhile, as the issuing group said their missive had been hand-delivered to Francis in August – and, as of its public release, received no response – it's worth noting that what had been rampant expectation before the summer hiatus that a reconciliation of the three-decade-old Lefebvrist schism was within reach has since palpably cooled.)

Between the new document and the prior dubia over Amoris submitted last year by four cardinals – two of whom have since died – a central argument of the efforts' champions has been that Papa Bergoglio has further manifested the alleged "errors" by not answering the claims against him. Yet during his standard informal meetup with his fellow Jesuits (above and below) during his trek to Colombia earlier this month – its transcript only revealed this morning by the Society's Italian journal, La Civiltà Cattolica – Francis delivered his clearest reply to date.

The dialogue published simultaneously in the original Spanish, as well as in Italian and English, at the tail-end of a half-hour among his confreres, the Pope was queried and responded as follows – raising Amoris on his own volition:
Fr. Vicente Durán Casas stands to ask another question: “Holy Father, again thank you for your visit. I teach philosophy and I would like to know, and I speak for my teaching colleagues in theology too, what do you expect from philosophical and theological reflection in a country such as ours and in the Church generally?”

[Pope:] To start, I’d say let’s not have laboratory reflection. We’ve seen what damage occurred when the great and brilliant Thomist scholastics deteriorated, falling down, down, down to a manualistic scholasticism without life, mere ideas that transformed into a casuistic pastoral approach. At least, in our day we were formed that way… I’d say it was quite ridiculous how, to explain metaphysical continuity, the philosopher Losada spoke of puncta inflata [Ed. "an inflated point"]... To demonstrate some ideas, things got ridiculous. He was a good philosopher, but decadent, he didn’t become famous…

So, philosophy not in a laboratory, but in life, in dialogue with reality. In dialogue with reality, philosophers will find the three transcendentals that constitute unity, but they will have a real name. Recall the words of our great writer Dostoyevsky. Like him we must reflect on which beauty will save us, on goodness, on truth. Benedict XVI spoke of truth as an encounter, that is to say no longer a classification, but a road. Always in dialogue with reality, for you cannot do philosophy with a logarithmic table. Besides, nobody uses them anymore.

The same is true for theology, but this does not mean to corrupt theology, depriving it of its purity. Quite the opposite. The theology of Jesus was the most real thing of all; it began with reality and rose up to the Father. It began with a seed, a parable, a fact... and explained them. Jesus wanted to make a deep theology and the great reality is the Lord. I like to repeat that to be a good theologian, together with study you have to be dedicated, awake and seize hold of reality; and you need to reflect on all of this on your knees.

A man who does not pray, a woman who does not pray, cannot be a theologian. They might be a living form of Denzinger, they might know every possible existing doctrine, but they’ll not be doing theology. They’ll be a compendium or a manual containing everything. But today it is a matter of how you express God, how you tell who God is, how you show the Spirit, the wounds of Christ, the mystery of Christ, starting with the Letter to the Philippians 2:7.... How you explain these mysteries and keep explaining them, and how you are teaching the encounter that is grace. As when you read Paul in the Letter to the Romans where there’s the entire mystery of grace and you want to explain it.

I’ll use this question to say something else that I believe should be said out of justice, and also out of charity. In fact I hear many comments – they are respectable for they come from children of God, but wrong – concerning the post-synod apostolic exhortation. To understand Amoris Laetitia you need to read it from the start to the end. Beginning with the first chapter, and to continue to the second and then on ... and reflect. And read what was said in the Synod.

A second thing: some maintain that there is no Catholic morality underlying Amoris Laetitia, or at least, no sure morality. I want to repeat clearly that the morality of Amoris Laetitia is Thomist, the morality of the great Thomas. You can speak of it with a great theologian, one of the best today and one of the most mature, Cardinal Schönborn.

I want to say this so that you can help those who believe that morality is purely casuistic. Help them understand that the great Thomas possesses the greatest richness, which is still able to inspire us today. But on your knees, always on your knees....
* * *
As for an elucidation of the answer, of course, this isn't the first occasion on which Francis has highlighted Schönborn, now the Dominican archbishop of Vienna who, as a 41 year-old professor, was tapped by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as principal editor of what would become the Catechism of the Catholic Church – the first universal volume of its kind since Trent  overseeing a daunting six-year process which drew input from two millennia of texts and a cast of thousands, including all the bishops of the world.

In a foreshadowing snub of his since-deposed CDF prefect, the current pontiff instead tapped the Austrian to present Amoris on the day of its release (above) in the Vatican Press Office, a choice that came after Schönborn reportedly navigated the sole German-speaking group at the 2015 Synod (which, for clarity, indeed included Cardinal Gerhard Müller) to adopt a "unanimous" consensus for a case-by-case "discernment" on the integration of civilly remarried couples.

The agreed-to framework was modeled on a five-point examen the cardinal – himself a child of divorce – had previously devised in Vienna.

While Schönborn re-sketched the concept in a subsequent conversation with Civiltà's editor – the papal confidant Fr Antonio Spadaro – in mid-July the cardinal gave his most extensive treatment on the document, including its most contested piece, in English at a conference on family life in Ireland ahead of next summer's World Meeting of Families in Dublin, which Francis is all but officially confirmed to attend.

Much as the full 83-minute talk is worth a spin, here below is the salient piece given the fresh developments....


For Oklahoma, and Beyond, A Blessed "Shepherd"

(Updated 2pm ET with video, etc.)
Out in the Plains, this Saturday morning brings a historic moment for the Stateside Church – the first major beatification to take place on American soil, and of the nation's first declared martyr at that.

Beginning at 10am Central (11am ET, 5pm Rome) in Oklahoma City's 15,000-seat Cox Convention Center, the Mass declaring Fr Stanley Francis Rother (right) among the ranks of the Blessed will be celebrated by the Vatican's Saintmaker-in-Chief, Cardinal Angelo Amato, serving per usual as the papal legate for the occasion. 

Though one earlier instance of the step before sainthood has taken place in the US since the rites were returned to the local churches by then-Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, the 2014 liturgy in Newark that elevated a Bayonne-born nun as Blessed Miriam Teresa Demjanovich garnered far less prominence than the cause of Rother, a missionary in Guatemala who was murdered in 1981 by a guerrilla death squad.

Today's Mass is the first of two beatifications taking place in the US over the coming weeks: on 18 November, the Capuchin Fr Solanus Casey will be raised to the rank in a massive ceremony to be held at Ford Field, the 60,000-seat NFL stadium in his hometown of Detroit.

Back to Rother, it bears recalling that – as beatification provides solely for the veneration of a person on the local level – the celebration of the new Blessed's feast on the July 28th anniversary of his martyrdom will initially be restricted to the archdiocese of Oklahoma City alone. Should a critical mass of petitions from other US bishops arise, the USCCB may proceed to placing the feast on the national calendar, with an affirmative vote from the bench subject to recognitio by the Holy See.

*    *    *
SVILUPPO – 12.30CT: While full on-demand video of the rites won't surface until later (Ed.: here it is) – and as the arena-sized venue ended up exceeding its sizable capacity – here's the Rite of Beatification itself...

Amato's powerhouse of a homily – a rare English-speaking turn for the onetime lead aide to B16:

...the Post-Communion remarks of OKC's Archbishop Paul Coakley – the figure who steered the process to today's result and, like Rother, a product of Mount St Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg:

And lastly, as a souvenir of the event, here's your copy of the 60-page worship aid – highlighted by the debut of the proper Collect used today, which'll now mark Blessed Stanley's feast:

O God,
who gave your priest Blessed Stanley
the heart of a pastor and the fidelity of a martyr,
grant, through his intercession,
that the humble flock may reach
where the brave Shepherd has gone before.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

"Please, I Ask You For Passion" – On the Church as "Sacrament of Unity, Sacrament of Hope"

Like it or not, as the enduring image of last week's five-day trek to Colombia will end up being the shiner to Francis' left eye after a sudden Popemobile stop, given his quick rebound from the head-bump, the old Timex watch slogan comes to mind: in this case, "He takes a licking and keeps on ticking."

Then again, considering the daily bruising to which he's openly subjected – just from within the church – you already knew that.

Speaking of ticking, with his fifth anniversary on Peter's chair now just six months away, it's an allegory of Jorge Bergoglio's methodical consistency of chipping away at things that the visit marked his 20th overseas jaunt as Bishop of Rome. Two more are already in the works – the latter of which, slated for January, brings another return to Latin America (this time, Chile and Peru)... and with it, at least the possibility of what'd immediately become his most profound and far-reaching act on his home continent: a last-minute swing to El Salvador to canonize Blessed Oscar Romero, whose reported miracle to be cleared for sainthood was forwarded to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in March. (As 2017 marks the centenary of the Salvadoran martyr's birth – which the Pope already observed with a historic red hat to the keeper of Romero's flame at home – last month the cause's postulator, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, tipped the canonization to come within the year.)

Back to the present, while the Colombia tour brought its usual share of the now-expected evocative and freewheeling reflections, on the programmatic front, one address in particular stands out. So even for the usual input overload these visits tend to be in the moment, for the long haul, it's important that it not be lost in the sea of all the rest.

For the wider world – and, indeed, the host-nation itself – the trip's main emphasis was on reconciliation, in light of last year's hard-won peace accord which ended the decades-long scourge of violence by left-wing guerrillas. In church terms, however, the core element lay elsewhere, its ramifications likely to spread across the continent and beyond.

One of global Catholicism's five largest outposts – at least until 2002, when three additional dioceses were spun off from it – today's "downsized" see of Bogotá still comprises some 4 million members. In more ways than one, though, on the continent which claims a plurality of the worldwide fold of 1.2 billion, Colombia's lead metropolis is the de facto capital of the Latin American church; a distinction first born from the country’s historic standing as a bastion of learning and culture, but now owed in particular to Bogotá’s place as the headquarters of CELAM – the mega-conference of the region’s 1,500-odd bishops.

In all, CELAM encompasses the 21 national benches of Latin America and the Caribbean, which between them lead some 500 million faithful. Yet while each country retains its own proper conference, to view the wider body as some kind of weak confederation would be a grave mistake – if anything, it’s the closest thing the global church has to a ministry lab, policy shop and megaphone at the broadest possible level, and this pontificate has only served to amplify its unique role all the more.

Interestingly enough, on the death of the retired English prelate Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor earlier this month, the insight resurfaced that the now widely-known “St Gallen group” of progressive red-hats committed to Vatican II’s call for enhanced collegiality only saw its inception after John Paul II’s Curia sought to clip the wings of CELAM and its less-formidable European counterpart, the CCEE. As circumstances would have it, though, the 2013 Conclave saw the pendulum swing their way: in the watershed choice of the primate of Argentina, the lead architect of the Latin American bishops’ current operative charter – built upon the concept of a church in “a permanent state of mission” – garnered the mandate to bring the rest of the global fold under its umbrella.

Six years after the now-Pope led the drafting of said Message at Aparecida, Francis’ universal adaptation of it came in Evangelii gaudium – then as now, the blueprint of his ministry as the church's "Supreme Pastor." Accordingly, just as the preview of that overarching program was shared at Rio de Janiero months after his election during an address to CELAM’s leadership, so last week in Bogotá, another major talk to the conference’s summoned top brass serves as both a progress-check and an eye to what’s ahead.

In that light, a couple context notes bear recalling.

First, when it comes to Papa Bergoglio’s ideal of a more synodal church at every level – most palpably expressed by him on the 50th anniversary of the Roman Synod in 2015 – for Francis, the Latin conference is the template which best embodies the goal. It was CELAM, after all, which made the imperative of “the preferential option for the poor” not just part of the lexicon of the modern church, but one which has bled into wider society.

Second, as the wider group’s direction hinges upon its principal figures in the member-countries, arguably the whole of Latin America is currently on tenterhooks as it awaits the major decision currently pending before the pontiff: Francis' appointment of the next archbishop of Mexico City – the global church’s largest diocese all told, not to mention the center of gravity for Catholicism’s second-largest national bloc, its 95 million members surpassed only by Brazil's 130 million. (Fittingly, the impact said choice will have was foreshadowed by the 8.0 magnitude earthquake which struck the Pacific coast there last week, the shockwaves reported to have reached the capital.)

And lastly, while Francis himself mused to his old confreres that "the treasure of Aparecida" remains "to be fully exploited," it is curious that – with CELAM essentially toting a blank check for whatever it wants from Rome these days – seemingly no groundwork has yet been plotted for a next plenary of the entire Latin American episcopate, which have tended to occur roughly every decade and a half.

Convoked by the Pope at the behest of the body, then with several more years spent in preparation, the five CELAM assemblies have each served to reorient a continent-wide church around a shared vision and set of general priorities. While that’s no small feat in itself, given a Stateside church whose present and future are driven more from points South than East, what ensues on that front in due course will have an unprecedented effect above the Rio Grande – a state of affairs which only grows with each passing day.

All that said, marking an opening to some interesting possibilities – at least, if its operative word is heeded – as delivered last week at the Bogotá Nunciature, here’s the full English (emphases original) of Francis’ “Blueprint 2.0,” intended both for his home-turf and far afield.

* * *

Dear Brothers,

I thank you for our meeting and for the warm words of welcome by the President of the Latin American Episcopal Council.  Were it not for the tight demands of my schedule, I would have liked to visit you at the CELAM offices.  I thank you for your thoughtfulness in meeting me here.

I appreciate your efforts to make this continental Episcopal Conference a home at the service of communion and the mission of the Church in Latin America, as well as a centre for fostering a sense of discipleship and missionary spirit.  Over these decades of service to communion, CELAM has also become a vital point of reference for the development of a deeper understanding of Latin American Catholicism.  I take this occasion to encourage your recent efforts to express this collegial concern through the Solidarity Fund of the Latin American Church.

Four years ago, in Rio de Janeiro, I spoke to you about the pastoral legacy of Aparecida, the last synodal event of the Church in Latin America and the Caribbean.  I stressed the continuing need to learn from its method, marked in essence by the participation of the local Churches and attuned to God’s pilgrim people as they seek his humble face revealed in the Virgin fished from the waters.  That method is also reflected in the continental mission, which is not meant to be a collection of programmes that fill agendas and waste precious energies.  Instead, it is meant to place the mission of Jesus at the heart of the Church, making it the criterion for measuring the effectiveness of her structures, the results of her labours, the fruitfulness of her ministers and the joy they awaken.  For without joy, we attract no one. I went on to mention the ever-present temptations of making the Gospel an ideology, ecclesial functionalism and clericalism.  At stake is the salvation that Christ brings us, which has to touch the hearts of men and women by its power and appealing to their freedom, inviting them to a permanent exodus from themselves and their self-absorption, towards fellowship with God and with our brothers and sisters.

When God speaks to us in Jesus, he does not nod vaguely to us as if we were strangers, or deliver an impersonal summons like a solicitor, or lay down rules to be followed like certain functionaries of the sacred.  God speaks with the unmistakable voice of the Father to his children; he respects the mystery of man because he formed us with his own hands and gave us a meaningful purpose.  Our great challenge as a Church is to speak to men and women about this closeness of God, who considers us his sons and daughters, even when we reject his fatherhood.  For him, we are always children to be encountered anew.

The Gospel, then, cannot be reduced to a programme at the service of a trendy gnosticism, a project of social improvement or the Church conceived as a comfortable bureaucracy, any more than she can be reduced to an organization run according to modern business models by a clerical caste.

The Church is the community of Jesus’ disciples.  The Church is a Mystery (cf. Lumen Gentium, 5) and a People (cf. ibid., 9).  Better yet, in the Church the Mystery becomes present through God’s People.

Hence my insistence that missionary discipleship is a call from God for today’s busy and complicated world, a constant setting out with Jesus, in order to know how and where the Master lives.  When we set out with him, we come to know the will of the Father who is always waiting for us.  Only a Church which is Bride, Mother and Servant, one that has renounced the claim to control what is not her own work but God’s, can remain with Jesus, even when the only place he can lay his head is the cross.

Closeness and encounter are the means used by God, who in Christ has drawn near to us to continually meet us.  The mystery of the Church is to be the sacrament of this divine intimacy and the perennial place of this encounter.  Hence, the need for the bishop to be close to God, for in God he finds the source of his freedom, his steadfastness as a pastor and the closeness of the holy people entrusted to his care.  In this closeness, the soul of the apostle learns how to make tangible God's passion for his children.

Aparecida is a treasure yet to be fully exploited.  I am certain that each of you has seen how its richness has taken root in the Churches you hold in your hearts.  Like the first disciples sent forth by Jesus on mission, we too can recount with enthusiasm all that we have accomplished (cf. Mk 6:30).

Nonetheless, we have to be attentive.  The essential things in life and in the Church are never written in stone, but remain a living legacy.  It is all too easy to turn them into memories and anniversaries to be celebrated: fifty years since Medellín, twenty since Ecclesia in America, ten since Aparecida!  Something more is required: by cherishing the richness of this patrimony (pater/munus) and allowing it to flourish, we exercise the munus of our episcopal paternity towards the Church in our continent.

As you well know, the renewed awareness born of an encounter with the living Christ requires that his disciples foster their relationship with him; otherwise, the face of the Lord is obscured, the mission is weakened, pastoral conversion falters.  To pray and to foster our relationship with him: these are the most essential and urgent activities to be carried out in our pastoral mission.

When the disciples returned excited by the mission they had carried out, Jesus said to them: “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place” (Mk 6:31).  How greatly we need to be alone with the Lord in order to encounter anew the heart of the Church’s mission in Latin America at the present time.  How greatly we need to be recollected, within and without!  Our crowded schedules, the fragmentation of reality, the rapid pace of our lives: all these things might make us lose our focus and end up in a vacuum.  Recovering unity is imperative.

Where do we find unity?  Always in Jesus.  What makes the mission last is not the generosity and enthusiasm that burn in the heart of the missionary, even though these are always necessary.  It is rather the companionship of Jesus in his Spirit.  If we do not we set out with him on our mission, we quickly become lost and risk confusing our vain needs with his cause.  If our reason for setting out is not Jesus, it becomes easy to grow discouraged by the fatigue of the journey, or the resistance we meet, by constantly changing scenarios or by the weariness brought on by subtle but persistent ploys of the enemy.

It is not part of the mission to yield to discouragement, once our initial enthusiasm has faded and the time comes when touching the flesh of Christ becomes very hard.  In situations like this, Jesus does not feed our fears.  We know very well that to him alone can we go, for he alone has the words of eternal life (cf. Jn 6:68).  So we need to understand and appreciate more deeply the fact that he has chosen us.

Concretely, what does it mean to set out on mission with Jesus today, here in Latin America?  The word “concretely” is not a mere figure of speech: it goes to the very heart of the matter.  The Gospel is always concrete, and never an exercise in fruitless speculation.  We are well aware of the recurring temptation to get lost in the cavils of the doctors of the law, to wonder how far we can go without losing control over our own bailiwick or our petty portion of power.

We often hear it said that the Church is in a permanent state of mission.  Setting out with Jesus is the condition for this.  Setting out, yes, but with Jesus.  The Gospel speaks of Jesus who, having proceeded from the Father, journeys with his disciples through the fields and the towns of Galilee.  His journeying is not meaningless.  As Jesus walks, he encounters people.  When he meets people, he draws near to them.  When he draws near to them, he talks to them.  When he talks to them, he touches them with his power.  When he touches them, he brings them healing and salvation.  His aim in constantly setting out is to lead the people he meets to the Father.  We must never stop reflecting on this and examining our consciences.  The Church has to re-appropriate the verbs that the Word of God conjugates as he carries out his divine mission.  To go forth to meet without keeping a safe distance; to take rest without being idle; to touch others without fear.  It is a matter of working by day in the fields, where God’s people, entrusted to your care, live their lives.  We cannot let ourselves be paralyzed by our air-conditioned offices, our statistics and our strategies.  We have to speak to men and women in their concrete situations; we cannot avert our gaze from them.  The mission is always carried out by one to one contact.

A Church able to be a sacrament of unity

What lack of focus we see all around us!  I am referring not only to the squandering of our continent’s rich diversity, but also to a constant process of disintegration.  We need to be attentive lest we let ourselves fall into these traps.  The Church is not present in Latin America with her suitcases in hand, ready, like so many others over time, to abandon it after having plundered it.  Such people look with a sense of superiority and scorn on its mestizo face; they want to colonize its soul with the same failed and recycled visions of man and life; they repeat the same old recipes that kill the patient while lining the pockets of the doctors.  They ignore the deepest concerns present in the heart of its people, the visions and the myths that give strength in spite of frequent disappointments and failures.  They manipulate politics and betray hopes, leaving behind scorched land and a terrain ready for more of the same, albeit under a new guise.  Powerful figures and utopian dreams have promised magic solutions, instant answers, immediate effects.  The Church, without human pretensions, respects the varied face of the continent, which she sees not as an impediment but rather a perennial source of wealth.  She must continue working quietly to serve the true good of the men and women of Latin America.  She must work tirelessly to build bridges, to tear down walls, to integrate diversity, to promote the culture of encounter and dialogue, to teach forgiveness and reconciliation, the sense of justice, the rejection of violence.  No lasting construction in Latin America can do without this unseen yet essential foundation.

The Church appreciates like few others the deep-rooted shared wisdom that is the basis of every reality in Latin America.  She lives daily with that reserve of moral values on which the life of the continent rests.  I am sure that, even as I say this, you can put a name on this reality.  We must constantly be in dialogue with it. We cannot lose contact with this moral substratum, with this rich soil present in the heart of our people, wherein we see the subtle yet eloquent elements that make up its mestizo face – not merely indigenous, Hispanic, Portuguese or African, but mestizo: Latin American!

Guadalupe and Aparecida are programmatic signs of the divine creativity that has bought this about and that underlies the popular piety of our people, which is part of its anthropological uniqueness and a gift by which God wants our people to come to know him.  The most luminous pages of our Church’s history were written precisely when she knew how to be nourished by this richness and to speak to this hidden heart.  For it guards, like a small spark beneath a coat of ashes, the sense of God and of his transcendence, a recognition of the sacredness of life, respect for creation, bonds of human solidarity, the sheer joy of living, the ability to find happiness without conditions.

To speak to this deepest soul, to speak to the most profound reality of Latin America, the Church has no other way than to continually learn from Jesus.  The Gospel tells us that he spoke only in parables (cf. Mk 4:34).  He used images that engaged those who heard his word and made them characters in his divine stories.  God’s holy and faithful people in Latin America understand no other way of speaking about him.  We are called to set out on mission not with cold and abstract concepts, but with images that keep multiplying and unfolding their power in human hearts, making them grain sown on good ground, yeast that makes the bread rise from the dough, and seed with the power to become a fruitful tree.

A Church able to be a sacrament of hope

Many people decry a certain deficit of hope in today’s Latin America.  We cannot take part in their “moaning”, because we possess a hope from on high.  We know all too well that the Latin American heart has been taught by hope. As a Brazilian songwriter has said, “hope dances on the tightrope with an umbrella” (João Bosco, O Bêbado e a Equilibrista).  Once you think hope is gone, it returns where we least expect it.  Our people have learned that no disappointment can crush it.  It follows Christ in his meekness, even under the scourge.  It knows how to rest and wait for the dawn, trusting in victory, because – deep down – it knows that it does not belong completely to this world.

The Church in these lands is, without a doubt and in a special way, a sacrament of hope.  Still, there is a need to watch over how that hope takes concrete shape.  The loftier it is, the more it needs to be seen on the faces of those who possess it.  In asking you to keep watch over the expression of hope, I would now like to speak of some of its traits that are already visible in the Latin American Church.

In Latin America, hope has a young face

We often speak of young people and we often hear statistics about ours being the continent of the future.  Some point to supposed shortcomings and a lack of motivation on the part of the young, while others eye their value as potential consumers.  Others would enlist them in drug trafficking and violence.  Pay no attention to these caricatures of young people.  Look them in the eye and seek in them the courage of hope.  It is not true that they want to return to the past.  Make real room for them in your local Churches, invest time and resources in training them.  Offer them incisive and practical educational programmes, and demand of them, as fathers demand of their children, that they use their gifts well.  Teach them the joy born of living life to the full, and not superficially.  Do not be content with the palaver and the proposals found in pastoral plans that never get put into practice.

I purposely chose Panama, the isthmus of this continent, as the site of the 2019 World Youth Day, which will propose the example of the Virgin Mary, who speaks of herself as a servant and is completely open to all that is asked of her (cf. Lk 1:38).  I am certain that in all young people there is hidden an “isthmus”, that in the heart of every young person there is a small strip of land which can serve as a path leading them to a future that God alone knows and holds for them.  It is our task us to present the young with lofty ideals and to encourage them to stake their lives on God, in imitation of the openness shown by Our Lady.

In Latin America, hope has a woman’s face

I need not dwell on the role of women on our continent and in our Church.  From their lips we learned the faith, and with their milk we took on the features of our mestizo soul and our immunity to despair.  I think of indigenous or black mothers, I think of mothers in our cities working three jobs, I think of elderly women who serve as catechists, and I think of consecrated woman and those who quietly go about doing so much good.  Without women, the Church of this continent would lose its power to be continually reborn.  It is women who keep patiently kindling the flame of faith.  We have a grave obligation to understand, respect, appreciate and promote the ecclesial and social impact of all that women do.  They accompanied Jesus on his mission; they did not abandon him at the foot of the cross; they alone awaited for the night of death to give back the Lord of life; they flooded the world with the proclamation of his risen presence.  If we hope for a new and living chapter of faith in this continent, we will not get it without women.  Please, do not let them be reduced to servants of our ingrained clericalism.  For they are on the front lines of the Latin American Church, in their setting out with Jesus, in their persevering amid the sufferings of their people, in their clinging to the hope that conquers death, and in their joyful way of proclaiming to the world that Christ is alive and risen.

In Latin America, hope passes through the hearts, the minds and the arms of the laity

I would like to repeat something I recently said to the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.  It is imperative to overcome the clericalism that treats the Christifideles laici as children and impoverishes the identity of ordained ministers.

Though much effort has been invested and some steps have been taken, the great challenges of the continent are still on the table.  They still await the quiet, responsible, competent, visionary, articulated and conscious growth of a Christian laity.  Men and women believers, who are prepared to contribute to the spread of an authentic human development, the strengthening of political and social democracy, the overturning of structures of endemic poverty and the creation of an inclusive prosperity based on lasting reforms capable of preserving the common good.  So too, the overcoming of inequality and the preservation of stability, the shaping of models of sustainable economic development that respect nature and the genuine future of mankind, which unfettered consumerism cannot ensure, and the rejection of violence and the defence of peace.

One more thing: in this sense, hope must always look at the world with the eyes of the poor and from the situation of the poor.  Hope is poor, like the grain of wheat that dies (cf. Jn 12:24), yet has the power to make God’s plans take root and spread.

Wealth, and the sense of self-sufficiency it brings, frequently blind us to both the reality of the desert and the oases hidden therein.  It offers textbook answers and repeats platitudes; it babbles about its own empty ideas and concerns, without even coming close to reality.  I am certain that in this difficult and confused, yet provisional moment that we are experiencing, we will find the solutions to the complex problems we face in that Christian simplicity hidden to the powerful yet revealed to the lowly.  The simplicity of straightforward faith in the risen Lord, the warmth of communion with him, fraternity, generosity, and the concrete solidarity that likewise wells up from our friendship with him.

I would like to sum up all of this in a phrase that I leave to you as a synthesis, a synthesis and reminder of this meeting.  If we want to serve this Latin America of ours from CELAM, we have to do so with passion, a passion that nowadays is often lacking.  We need to put our heart into everything we do.  We need to have the passion of young lovers and of wise elders, a passion that turns ideas into viable utopias, a passion for the work of our hands, a passion that makes us constant pilgrims in our Churches.   May I say that we need to be like Saint Toribius of Mogrovejo, who was never really installed in his see: of the twenty-four years of his episcopacy, eighteen were passed visiting the towns of his diocese.  My brothers, please, I ask you for passion, the passion of evangelization.

I commend you, my brother bishops of CELAM, the local Churches that you represent, and all the people of Latin America and the Caribbean, I commend you to the protection of Our Lady under the titles of Guadalupe and Aparecida.  I do so, in the serene certainty that God who spoke to this continent with the mestizo and black features of his Mother, will surely make his kindly light shine in the lives of all.  Thank you.


"O God of Love..." – On 9/11, One Prayer... From Two Popes

In the annals of the modern papacy, it is essentially unheard of for the same non-liturgical text to be employed by successive Bishops of Rome.

There is, however, one exception – and it's rooted in the memory of this very morning.

To mark this 16th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, per custom here for the day, here again the Prayer at Ground Zero first used by Pope Benedict XVI on his 2008 visit to the site...

...the moment then reincarnated in turn two years ago this month by Pope Francis at an interfaith service during his own pilgrimage to the newly-built memorial:

O God of love, compassion, and healing,
look on us, people of many different faiths
and traditions,
who gather today at this site,
the scene of incredible violence and pain.

We ask you in your goodness
to give eternal light and peace
to all who died here—
the heroic first-responders:
our fire fighters, police officers,
emergency service workers, and
Port Authority personnel,
along with all the innocent men and women
who were victims of this tragedy
simply because their work or service
brought them here on September 11, 2001.

We ask you, in your compassion
to bring healing to those
who, because of their presence here that day,
suffer from injuries and illness.
Heal, too, the pain of still-grieving families
and all who lost loved ones in this tragedy.
Give them strength to continue their lives
with courage and hope.

We are mindful as well
of those who suffered death, injury, and loss
on the same day at the Pentagon and in
Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Our hearts are one with theirs
as our prayer embraces their pain and suffering.

God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world:
peace in the hearts of all men and women
and peace among the nations of the earth.
Turn to your way of love
those whose hearts and minds
are consumed with hatred.

God of understanding,
overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy,
we seek your light and guidance
as we confront such terrible events.
Grant that those whose lives were spared
may live so that the lives lost here
may not have been lost in vain.

Comfort and console us,
strengthen us in hope,
and give us the wisdom and courage
to work tirelessly for a world
where true peace and love reign
among nations and in the hearts of all.

"A Heartbreaking Moment" – For US Church, DACA Repeal "Reprehensible"

Upon this morning's announcement that the Trump administration would rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the US' Catholic leadership has responded with an exceptional degree of fury, its pointedness matched only by the rare united front of church entities which have pushed for months to support the survival of the Obama-era effort protecting some 800,000 undocumented young people from deportation and authorizing them to study and work.

In a form reserved solely for the most significant policy pronouncements of the Stateside bishops, the USCCB president and vice-president, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, issued a searing response within minutes of Attorney General Jeff Sessions' confirmation that DACA permits would begin expiring in six months and gradually be "phased out," pending a new arrangement enacted by Congress:
The cancellation of the DACA program is reprehensible. It causes unnecessary fear for DACA youth and their families. These youth entered the U.S. as minors and often know America as their only home. The Catholic Church has long watched with pride and admiration as DACA youth live out their daily lives with hope and a determination to flourish and contribute to society: continuing to work and provide for their families, continuing to serve in the military, and continuing to receive an education. Now, after months of anxiety and fear about their futures, these brave young people face deportation. This decision is unacceptable and does not reflect who we are as Americans.

The Church has recognized and proclaimed the need to welcome young people: 'Whoever welcomes one of these children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me' (Mark 9:37). Today, our nation has done the opposite of how Scripture calls us to respond. It is a step back from the progress that we need to make as a country. Today's actions represent a heartbreaking moment in our history that shows the absence of mercy and good will, and a short-sighted vision for the future. DACA youth are woven into the fabric of our country and of our Church, and are, by every social and human measure, American youth.

We strongly urge Congress to act and immediately resume work toward a legislative solution. We pledge our support to work on finding an expeditious means of protection for DACA youth.

As people of faith, we say to DACA youth – regardless of your immigration status, you are children of God and welcome in the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church supports you and will advocate for you.
From the helm of the nation's largest diocese, while Gomez pleaded for the program's survival in his own name ahead of the White House move, as reports circulated yesterday that President Trump would honor his campaign pledge to eliminate DACA, a group statement from the California bishops – remarkably issued amid the quiet of the Labor Day holiday – preemptively slammed the move as "capricious" and "ill-conceived."

"As bishops, every day we see the impact of the failure of a political leadership that washes its hands while immigrants suffer," the Western prelates said. "We choose to continue to serve, comfort, and protect our brothers and sisters," likewise pledging that they would "not allow reckless rhetoric to bully us from the course of compassion and basic decency" – one of several thinly-veiled critiques of the president himself.

A defeat for what's arguably been the US church's most concerted issue-advocacy of the Trump era, the fierce response marks yet another prominent break by the nation's largest religious body with a Republican administration that – despite an accord with Catholics on matters of abortion and religious liberty – has been found wanting in church circles for either opposing other top-tier priorities for the bishops, or failing to deliver on its stated goals in cases of agreement (most vividly the case on a broad conscience exemption from the contraceptive mandate in health-care plans).

As a similar drivenness to today's comments characterized the church's opposition to the GOP majority's thwarted efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, another protracted fight in Congress signals the bench's return as a key arbiter on the acceptability of dueling proposals for DACA's substitute, a standing born both from the historic role of Catholic entities in serving immigrant communities, not to mention the demographic reality that, today, sees Hispanics comprise roughly two-thirds of American Catholics younger than 30 – the very group most affected by today's policy change and the debate now ahead.


In Harvey's Wake, All Hands On Deck

Before anything else, to all our folks on the Texas Gulf Coast, you're in more prayers over these days than you know – hope you're hanging in there, and as things allow, please send word on how you're getting through and what things are looking like on your end.

For the rest of us, meanwhile, with the weekend storm now on record as the worst single rainfall ever to hit the continental US – 40 to 50 inches across four dioceses and tens of thousands of square miles – and making a second land-drop later tonight into Louisiana, it's time to do what the Church does best: reach out, and pitch in.

For a sense of the scope, early projections have pegged the eventual damage costs in the realm of $50-80 billion. And with rivers just now cresting and levees and dams still threatening to fail, both for families and institutions, the full shape of the recovery and rebuilding ahead simply can't begin to be broached. Right now, though, with Catholic entities on the ground already mobilizing to provide imminent aid, shelter and services – and which, outside of metro Houston, were already stretched to the limit in meeting the usual needs of rural, scattered populations – they're going to need a quick infusion of support to get this part of the job done.

While a national collection for the relief programs will be taken up over the next two weekends and administered by Catholic Charities USA, it'll be some time yet before those proceeds reach their destination. On another critical front, both the indefinite suspension of mail service and the impossibility of travel across much of the zone only add more complications to the scene.

Ergo, if you're looking to send a helping hand that'll have the most direct and immediate impact where it's most needed, your best bet is to donate straight to the diocese-based aid efforts in Corpus Christi, Victoria, Beaumont or Galveston-Houston – as everything from cots, blankets and towels to diapers, walkers, bottled water and more needs to be amassed and put to use in rapid order, your goodness will help get it done by the folks who know their turf and people best.

Yet even for a best-case scenario that has the locals stranded and boiling water for some time to come, the relatively few ops who haven't lost power (or have been lucky enough to charge up in non-submerged cars) have all been asking for one thing most: prayers. Given the historic role of New Orleans' Our Lady of Prompt Succour as Protectress of the American South, seeking her intercession has pride of place over these days... but whoever one might choose to beam yours to, let's just do it well and often.

Again, to everyone facing the storm and the road ahead, we're pulling for you – stay safe, and touch base as you can, especially if there's anything y'all can use from the rest of us.


"In the Breach of the Divide" – On Day One, ArchChuck Talks Church's Checkered Flag

All of six years ago, Fr Chuck Thompson was a parish priest in Louisville and vicar-general to its archbishop.... And today, a rapid rise completes itself – across the Ohio River from his hometown, he’s now his former boss’ equal as head of Indiana’s metropolitan church.

For the first time in the reign of Francis, an appointee of his own holds the distinction of being the youngest American archbishop. Yet anyone who’d conflate the 56 year-old’s youth with "inexperience" is sorely mistaken; whether as an alum and professor of Indy’s Benedictine seminary at St Meinrad, his lifelong closeness to his now-predecessor, Archbishop Daniel Buechlein, or his time already served on the Indiana bench, as transitions go, this one’s as seamless as it gets.

Nevertheless, there are some things even the “ArchChuck” still has to learn – for one, the Pallium “nail” (pin) is worn over one’s left shoulder, not the right.

Having marked the hour of his June appointment by taking a run through the streets he’s long known as an “adopted son” of Indianapolis, after breaking into tears on being seated in its Chair, the Pope’s pick formally took the reins today with an unusual, but fitting break from custom, sharing his vision for the 300,000-member church’s road ahead – a call from polarization to reconciliation rooted in what (a decade ago this week) Benedict XVI once termed the church’s “Great ‘Et Et’... and doing so as two of this pontificate’s Stateside “great powers” – one of them his cardinal-predecessor – approvingly looked on.

Given the possibility that the preach was really a stealth plea for BBN loyalties to be accepted in Hoosier Country, well, even an archbishop can dream....

For the substance, meanwhile, here’s the game-film:

Moving rapidly to bridge the long divide within Stateside Catholicism's most gerrymandered outpost – uniquely carved so that Meinrad would remain within its lines – the traveling Chuck-show begins this very weekend with a Sunday Mass two hours and over 100 miles to the south in New Albany: a significant nod to his new charge's heavily-Protestant, oft-disregarded rural tier... or, as the archbishop of Anchorage calls it, "home."


In Raleigh, The Church Has Arrived

Over the decade ending next spring, the Stateside church will have opened four new cathedrals. The sign of the times, however, lies in the specifics – all but one have been built to serve Catholicism's epic emergence in the heart of the American South.

Though the cycle doesn't wrap up until early 2018, yesterday saw the dedication of the largest of the group: Raleigh's 2,000-seat, $46 million Cathedral of the Holy Name of Jesus – the new hub for a 550,000-member fold not only doubled in size over the last decade, but tripled since 1990 on the back of massive migration both from the Rust Belt and Latin America.

Impressive as the upgrade is on its own, that's all the more the case considering what the new structure replaces: the 250-seat downtown church dedicated to the Sacred Heart, designated as the diocesan seat upon Raleigh's founding in 1924, and until now the smallest cathedral in the continental United States. Given the population boom, the parish's dozen weekend Masses have invariably drawn overflow crowds stretching past its doors; over the site's final Sunday, it was said that some of the liturgies saw people gathered around the windows outside and straining to follow along. (Even with the expanded space, the new cathedral parish will still celebrate seven liturgies each weekend.)

Built on a century-old property initially acquired by Maryknoll missionaries, while local officials have aimed to compare Holy Name's size to St Patrick's in New York and the Stateside fold's other storied outposts, another stat is more telling: with its launch, Raleigh is now home to the largest mother church of an American see that isn't an archdiocese. As Catholics barely comprised a single percent of North Carolina's population until the last quarter-century, the milestone further consolidates the faithful's historic ascent in the Tar Heel State, which has likewise birthed what's said to be the nation's largest parish – the 10,000-family behemoth at St Matthew's in suburban Charlotte.

Its copper dome already an established presence on the Raleigh skyline, the finished cathedral represents an evolved design from its first draft; after the early plans garnered criticism over their cost and concept, a scaled-back reworking based on wider consultation expanded the narthex, loaded the transepts with altar-facing pews and ditched a number of bells and whistles like an underground parking garage. At the same time, as a nod to its local context, the Romanesque-inspired product features quintessentially American touches – mostly red brick on the outside, and apart from the stained glass and life-size statues of 26 saints around the nave, a lack of interior adornment in favor of a strikingly white decor, both a traditional hallmark of the South’s Protestant churches as well as a choice reminiscent of the nation's first cathedral, Baltimore's Basilica of the Assumption, which was conceived with an eye to architecturally inculturating Catholicism to the American experiment. (In this particular instance, the latter piece is all the more significant: North Carolina’s first resident bishop, James Gibbons, was baptized in the Baltimore shrine and was sent to Wilmington as the state’s founding vicar-apostolic, serving there from 1868-72 before returning home to the Premier See, where he would become its first cardinal-archbishop and reign for 45 years.)

Marked in turns by reverence and exuberance, yesterday's rites capped an unusually emotional year for the project's builder, who fittingly – and gratefully – returned to do the honors with relish.

Upon learning of his transfer to Arlington last fall as nearly a decade of planning, fundraising and construction neared the finish line, Bishop Michael Burbidge understandably wept. And on coming back to see his vision brought fully to life – delivering it on-time, on-budget and without any enduring debt – as he said early yesterday, "My knees buckled."

In the end, however, the moment was nonetheless bound to be fleeting. Handed the keys to the building by the construction team as the first of multiple ovations thundered through the space, Burbidge promptly passed them to his successor, Bishop Luis Zarama, who takes possession of the cathedral and its marble and gilt throne as his own in late August.

And if that poetic moment – the handover from a Northeast-born Anglo to a Hispanic immigrant in the church's "New South" – doesn't sum up the reality of this era in the nation's Catholic history, then nothing ever could.

*   *   *
Here, fullvid of the three-hour Dedication Mass – and its 70-page worship aid:

...and to mark the occasion, a prime-time special aired last night on the city's NBC affiliate, WRAL:

In the short term, the final lap of the US' new cathedral crop comes early next year – of course, again in the South. Amid the church's exponential growth in East Tennessee, Knoxville's $28 million, 1,500-seat replacement for Sacred Heart Cathedral will be opened on March 3rd, overflowing with frescoes and capped by a Florentine-style dome.

That said, what's arguably the Stateside fold's most prominent and intensely-watched project of the kind is now formally underway out West: within the last six weeks, construction finally began for the conversion of Orange County's landmark Crystal Cathedral into the seat of its 1.3 million-member diocese, with completion currently eyed for sometime in mid-2019.

Five years since the 34-acre campus made famous by Dr Robert Schuller's "Hour of Power" was purchased for a song by the growing Orange church, the work on its centerpiece belies the reality that the rest of the site's half-dozen buildings have already been put to ecclesial use, with the diocesan Chancery, a school, several media entities and more already based there at full tilt.

Liturgically, meanwhile, the campus' first worship space – the 1960s-era Arboretum – is serving as the de facto Cathedral church for the time being, hosting most of the diocese's major events and drawing over 12,000 people every weekend across 14 Masses in four languages: English, Spanish, Vietnamese and Chinese.