IN BRIEF (MORE OR LESS)

Today was a very busy day for Pope Francis, and will only end when his 6 p.m. meeting with the Cursillos Movement (underway as I write) ends. A lot of news today so I offer the top stories in a more or less shortened form.

Tomorrow, May 1, feast of St. Joseph, is Labor Day in Italy and a huge holiday in both Italy and the Vatican. Pope Francis’ sole scheduled activity is a video link at noon with Expo Milan 2015 to participate in opening this 184-day long exposition on the theme: “Feeding the Planet, energy for life.” I’ll bring you that story and any other breakling news and will update you on this week’s “Vatican Insider.”

And now, on to the news:

IN BRIEF (MORE OR LESS)

POPE FRANCIS ON THURSDAY ADRESSED members of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission – known as ARCIC – and told them the cause of unity is not an option undertaking. The 18 Anglican and Catholic members of the commission, known as ARCIC III, are holding their annual meeting this week outside Rome. ARCIC was founded after an historic meeting in 1966 between Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey of Canterbury – the first since the Reformation and the Church of England’s breakaway from Rome. And thus the Anglican-Catholic dialogue was started. (photos: news.va)

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The Pope said: “There is a strong bond that already unites us which goes beyond all divisions. It is the testimony of Christians from different Churches and traditions, victims of persecution and violence simply because of the faith they profess. And not only now, that there are many of them; I think also of the martyrs of Uganda, half Catholics and half Anglicans. The blood of these martyrs will nourish a new era of ecumenical commitment, a fervent desire to fulfil the last will and testament of the Lord: that all may be one. The witness by these our brothers and sisters demands that we live in harmony with the Gospel and that we strive with determination to fulfil the Lord’s will for his Church. Today the world urgently needs the common, joyful witness of Christians, from the defence of life and human dignity to the promotion of justice and peace.”

NEW COMMISSION INSTITUTED TO STUDY REFORM OF VATICAN COMMUNICATIONS (VIS) – During the April 13-15 meeting of the Council of Cardinals who assist the Holy Father in the governance of the universal Church and the reform of the Roman Curia, the final report of the committee charged with proposing a reform of Vatican communications, the so-called Vatican Media Committee (VMC), was examined. The C9 subsequently proposed to Pope Francis the institution of a commission to study this final report and to suggest feasible approaches to its implementation. The Pope accepted the proposal and, on April 23, instituted the commission and appointed its members. Commission chairman is Msgr. Dario Vigano, director of the Vatican Television Center.

MSGR DARIO VIGANO

Members are Paolo Nusiner, director general of “Avvenire” daily newspaper, Msgr. Lucio Adrian Ruiz, head of the Vatican Internet Service, Jesuit Fr. Antonio Spadaro, director of “La Civiltà Cattolica,” and Msgr. Paul Tighe, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.

POPE FRANCIS SENT A TELEGRAM of condolences to Cardinal Agostino Vallini, vicar for Rome, upon learning of the death Thursday at the age of 97 of Cardinal Giovanni Canestri. He was archbishop of Genoa, Italy from 1987 to 1995. Originally from the diocese of Alessandria, the late cardinal belonged to the clergy of Rome and was at one point an auxiliary bishop there. Francis wrote, in part: “The passing of the venerated cardinal elicits in my heart profound emotion and sincere admiration for an esteemed man of the Church who lived with humility and devotion his long and fruitful priesthood and episcopate in the service of the Gospel and of the souls entrusted to him.”

THURSDAY MORNING POPE FRANCIS WELCOMED TWO CATHOLIC ASSOCIATIONS, the Community of Christian Life in Italy and the Missionary League for Italian Students.  He asked them – and Italian Catholics, through these organizations –  to spread a culture of justice and peace, support families in difficulties and show solidarity with the world’s poorest and most needy.  In fact, the two have come together to work on a joint project calling for greater support on the part of Europe in welcoming migrants from overseas and to help Christians in Syria.

THE POPE ALSO WELCOMED President James Alix Michel of the Republic of the Seychelles.

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AT 6 P.M. THURSDAY IN THE PAUL VI HALL, the Pope met with members of the Cursillos in ChristianityCursillos de Cristiandad (meaning “short course in Christianity”). Cursillos is an apostolic movement founded in Majorca, Spain by a group of lay people in 1944 seeking to refine a technique to train pilgrimage Christian leaders. The Cursillo focuses on showing Christian lay people how to become effective Christian leaders over the course of a three-day weekend. The weekend includes fifteen talks – known as “rollos” – some given by priests and some by lay people. The major emphasis of the weekend is to ask participants to take what they have learned back into the world, on what is known as the “fourth day.” The method stresses personal spiritual development, as accelerated by weekly group reunion (after the weekend). Cursillos always operates within a diocese with the permission and blessing of the bishop.

VATICAN PRESS CONFERENCE (VIS) – This morning a press conference was held in the Holy See Press Office to present the concert organized to support the Pope’s charitable work. It will take place on May 14, solemnity of the Ascension, at 6 p.m. in the Paul VI Hall. The concert will be conducted by Maestro Daniel Oren and performed by the Philarmonic Orchestra of Salerno, Italy, together with the choir of the diocese of Rome led by Msgr. Marco Frisina. The event is sponsored by the Papal Almoner, the Pontifical Council for Culture, the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, and the St. Matthew Foundation, in memory of Cardinal Van-Thuan, and unites culture with charitable concerns. For the occasion, the donations gathered will be entirely donated to the office of the Apostolic Almoner, the dicastery responsible for the Pope’s charity. The evening’s protagonists are the most needy, the poor and the sick, who will occupy the front rows and have been invited through charitable and voluntary associations: the Great Priory of Rome and the Order of Malta, the Circle of St. Peter, diocesan Caritas, the Sant’Egidio Community and the Centro Astalli, which assists migrants and refugees, the Daughters of Charity and other associations present in the diocese of Rome.

GOD’S MASTERPIECE, MAN AND WOMAN: THE MASTERPIECE OF SOCIETY, THE FAMILY

The technical problems related to security issues that arose when I was in Chicago have been overcome and I can finally post a blog. I was busy writing and tried to post while away but to no avail. I did, however, post my column on Facebook. In the future, if you do not see this column and I am not on vacation, always check here: facebook.com/joan.lewis.10420

Mercy Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a quiet nun with a keen wit who led a very public life as a journalist and a longtime spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, died on Tuesday (April 28) after a tough battle with cancer. She was 67 and passed away in a hospice in Albany next to the regional convent of the religious order she entered as a 17-year-old novice in 1964. Walsh had moved to her native Albany from Washington last September after it was discovered that the cancer that had been in remission since 2010 had returned.

No journalist who covered the Vatican, the Catholic Church and the Holy Father in recent decades failed to cross paths with Sister Mary Ann at some point – in Rome, on a papal trip, in the U.S. and at the USCCB.  Our paths crossed relatively few times, here in Rome for big events such as conclaves and often in the US, including during the 1993 World Youth Day in Denver and the 2008 visit to the U.S. by Pope Benedict.  Sister Mary Ann was warm, welcoming and always happy to help, and often that help came in the form of letting journalists know when they got the facts wrong on a Vatican story!

Click here for full RNS story: http://www.religionnews.com/2015/04/28/sister-mary-ann-walsh-catholic-journalist-longtime-bishops-spokeswoman-dies-67/

Rest in peace, Mary Ann!

GOD’S MASTERPIECE, MAN AND WOMAN: THE MASTERPIECE OF SOCIETY, THE FAMILY

I truly enjoyed Pope Francis’ catechesis on marriage and the family today and his many relevant comments about separations increasing, the number of children decreasing, the decreading number of marriages and the disparity in earning power between men and women.

Continuing his long series of general audience catecheses on the family, the Pope last week focused on God’s original plan for man and woman as a couple and this week spoke about marriage. He began by recalling that Jesus’ first miracle took place during the wedding at Cana when He transformed water into wine, thus ensuring that the celebrations could take place.

POPE FRANCIS - Audience on Marriage

“This fact reminds us of Genesis, when God completed His creation with his masterpiece: man and woman,” he said. “And Jesus began His miracles with this masterpiece, in marriage. … Thus Jesus teaches us that the masterpiece of society is the family: the man and the woman who love each other. … Since that time, many things have changed but that ‘sign’ of Christ contains a message that remains valid.”

Francis continued: “Nowadays it does not seem easy to describe marriage as a celebration that is renewed over time, in the different seasons in the entire life of spouses. It is a fact that fewer people marry. Instead, in many countries the number of separations is increasing, while the number of children is in decline. The difficulty of staying together – both as a couple and as a family – leads to bonds being broken with increasing frequency and rapidity. … In effect, many young people give up the plan of a permanent bond and a lasting family.” He then highlighted what he called “a kind of culture of the provisional: everything is temporary, and it seems that nothing is permanent.”

The Pope said we must ask ourselves why young people do not choose to get married, and seem to have little confidence in marriage and in the family. And he answered by saying, “the difficulties are not only of an economic nature, although these are very important.”

Then, extemporaneously, he said: “Many people believe that the changes of recent decades were caused by the emancipation of women. But this argument is not valid either. It is false, a kind of chauvinism that seeks to subjugate women. We risk behaving like Adam when God asked him, ‘Why did you eat the fruit of the tree?’ and Adam answered, ‘because the woman told me to’.” “Ah,” said Francis, “so it’s the woman’s fault! Poor woman!  We have to defend women!”

“In reality,” continued the Holy Father, “almost all men and women would prefer emotional security in the form of a solid marriage and a happy family … but, for fear of failure, many do not even want to think about it. … Perhaps it is precisely that fear of failure that is the greatest obstacle to receiving the word of Christ, Who promises His grace to the matrimonial union and to the family.” However, “marriage consecrated by God preserves that bond between man and woman that God has blessed ever since the creation of the world; and it is a source of peace and good for all married and family life.” He noted that, in the early times of Christianity, this great dignity of the marriage bond between man and woman overcame a then-popular abuse, the right of husbands to repudiate their wives, even for the most specious and humiliating reasons.”

Pope Francis stressed that, “the Christian seed of radical equality between spouses must bear new fruit today. … As Christians we must become more demanding in this respect. For example, in decisively supporting equal pay for equal work: Inequality is a scandal. Why is it taken for granted that women should earn less than men? No! They have the same rights. At the same time, the maternity of women and the paternity of men should be recognized as a richness that remains valid, especially for the benefit of children. Equally, the virtue of hospitality in Christian families today retains a crucial importance, especially in situations of poverty, degradation and domestic violence.”

“Do not be afraid of inviting Jesus to the wedding celebrations! And also His Mother Mary!” exclaimed Pope Francis. “When Christians marry ‘in the Lord’, they are transformed into an effective sign of God’s love. Christians do not marry only for themselves: they marry in the Lord in favor of all the community, of society as a whole.”

POPE FRANCIS ACCEPTS RESIGNATION OF U.S. BISHOP ROBERT FINN – POPE SPEAKS OF “SHOCKING VIOLENCE AGAINST INNOCENT CHRISTIANS IN LIBYA”

I leave very early tomorrow morning for Chicago to attend the farewell events for Cardinal Francis George, a very good friend of mine, as you known from these pages. I doubt I’ll be able to post tomorrow but always check in – you never know! I will do my best to post something while I am in Chicago. I’ll be downtown for three nights and then wil spend two nights with a cousin in Glenview before I return to Rome.

There’s always something big happening in Rome and today, April 21 is often the biggest day of the year for Romans and visitors. You see, April 21 is Rome’s birthday. The Eternal City is 2,768 years old – born in 753 BC!  There are endless events – cultural, musical, etc. – celebrated both on this day and during the weekend closest to this date. It is also a day of free entrance to monuments such as the Colosseum, etc.

Read on for two important stories: The first is dated today and concerns Bishop Finn’s resignation as shepherd of Kansas City-St. Joseph, and the second story is the papal message sent yesterday to the Patriarch of the Ethiopian Tewahedo Orthodox Church when the Holy Father learned of the killing of 28 Ethiopian Christians kidnapped in Libya by ISIS.

POPE FRANCIS ACCEPTS RESIGNATION OF U.S. BISHOP ROBERT FINN

(CNA/EWTN News).- Bishop Robert W. Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph has resigned, nearly two and a half years after being the first U.S. bishop convicted of a misdemeanor in failing to report suspected child abuse by a priest in his diocese.

The Vatican confirmed Pope Francis’ acceptance of Bishop Finn’s resignation according to Canon 104 Article 2 in the Code of Canon Law in an April 21 statement, released at noon local time. Article 2 of Canon 104, according to the Vatican’s website, refers to a situation when “a diocesan bishop who has become less able to fulfill his office because of ill health or some other grave cause is earnestly requested to present his resignation from office.”

Finn’s resignation will take effect immediately, and although he will still be a bishop, he will no longer lead a diocese. It is up to Pope Francis to choose his successor.

The brief Vatican statement gave no word as to what Bishop Finn will do following his resignation. Last September, two years after Bishop Finn’s trial and guilty verdict, an archbishop held a visitation on behalf of the Vatican and met with Bishop Finn. The reasons for the visitation were not revealed, however some reports indicate that the visitation was intended to evaluate the bishop’s leadership of his diocese.

In September 2012, Bishop Finn, now 62, was convicted on a misdemeanor count of failure to report suspected child abuse after he and his diocese failed to report that lewd images of children had been found on a laptop belonging to Fr. Shawn Ratigan, a priest of the diocese, in December 2010. The diocese’s vicar general had told Bishop Finn about one of the images, but the bishop did not see them himself.

Fr. Ratigan attempted suicide after the images were discovered and initially had not been expected to live. Diocesan officials told law enforcement officials about the images in May 2011, months after their discovery. A diocese-commissioned independent investigation said diocesan officials conducted “a limited and improperly conceived investigation” into whether a single image, which the vicar general did not see, constituted child pornography. The diocese’s legal counsel also said that that single image did not constitute child pornography.

Further investigation revealed that the photos had been taken in and around churches where the priest had worked. In 2012, Fr. Ratigan was sentenced to 50 years in federal prison on child pornography charges. Bishop Finn was sentenced to two years’ probation for failing to report suspected abuse.

The diocese settled two lawsuits from the parents of two girls photographed by Fr. Ratigan for a total of $1.8 million in February 2014. The Fr. Ratigan case has also triggered further legal action from an arbitrator who levied a $1.1 million penalty against the diocese, on the grounds that the diocese violated the terms of a 2008 abuse lawsuit settlement in which Bishop Finn and the diocese agreed to report suspected child abusers to law enforcement. The diocese objected to the arbitrator’s penalty, but it was upheld in court and the diocese paid the fine.

POPE SPEAKS OF “SHOCKING VIOLENCE AGAINST INNOCENT CHRISTIANS IN LIBYA”

(VIS) – Yesterday afternoon Pope Francis sent a message to the Patriarch of the Ethiopian Tewahedo Orthodox Church, His Holiness Abuna Matthias, upon hearing of the slaughter of 28 Ethiopian Christians kidnapped in Libya by the group ISIS. (photo from news.va)

ETHIOPIA

“With great distress and sadness I learn of the further shocking violence perpetrated against innocent Christians in Libya. I know that Your Holiness is suffering deeply in heart and mind at the sight of your faithful children being killed for the sole reason that they are followers of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. I reach out to you in heartfelt spiritual solidarity to assure you of my closeness in prayer at the continuing martyrdom being so cruelly inflicted on Christians in Africa, the Middle East and some parts of Asia.

“It makes no difference whether the victims are Catholic, Copt, Orthodox or Protestant. Their blood is one and the same in their confession of Christ! The blood of our Christian brothers and sisters is a testimony which cries out to be heard by everyone who can still distinguish between good and evil. All the more this cry must be heard by those who have the destiny of peoples in their hands.

“At this time we are filled with the Easter joy of the disciples to whom the women had brought the news that ‘Christ has risen from the dead’. This year, that joy – which never fades – is tinged with profound sorrow. Yet we know that the life we live in God’s merciful love is stronger than the pain all Christians feel, a pain shared by men and women of good will in all religious traditions.

“With heartfelt condolences I exchange with Your Holiness the embrace of peace in Christ Our Lord.”

CANONS REGULAR OF ST. JOHN CANTIUS, “A LIVING LEGACY” OF CARDINAL GEORGE – POPE EXPRESSES PAIN, SADNESS AT MIGRANT BOAT TRAGEDY – AMERICAN SEMINARY IN ROME READIES FOR PAPAL VISIT, MASS

It was a very busy weekend and Monday at the Vatican and also for yours truly as I attended a press conference today (see the Vatican Radio story and my photos below), had several appointments and spent time arranging for a trip to Chicago to participate in the farewell events for the archdiocese’s beloved Cardinal Francis George (and, as you know from these pages, a good friend of mine).  I leave Wednesday and will try to keep you updated, as far as time will allow.

Lots of news and interesting stories but just three highlights today….

CANONS REGULAR OF ST. JOHN CANTIUS, “A LIVING LEGACY” OF CARDINAL GEORGE

I received an email today from Fr. Joshua Caswell – a priest in Chicago who was ordained by Cardinal George for the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius. We have not met but I have known Fr. Frank Phillips of St. John Cantius for many years.

Fr. Joshua included a wonderful link about what he said was the legacy that Cardinal George left behind—the “restoration of the Sacred.” The link was put together by the community, wrote Fr. Joshua, as a “tribute for our spiritual father.” He also quotes Fr. Phillips who says, “We are a living legacy of this shepherd of souls.” From the beginning of the Canons Regular, it was Cardinal George who envisioned that a small community of men founded at a run-down Chicago church would become a flourishing order dedicated to the “Restoration of the Sacred.” http://www.canons-regular.org/go/news/read/cardinal-francis-george-chicago.

A beautiful and worthy tribute – and marvelous photos! – to a man for whom the title “Eminence” was richly deserved!

POPE EXPRESSES PAIN, SADNESS AT MIGRANT BOAT TRAGEDY

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has appealed to the international community to take swift and decisive action to avoid more tragedies of migrants seeking a better life.

His heartfelt cry to the world came following news of the sinking of yet another boat carrying migrants in the Mediterranean Sea in which it is feared 700 people may be dead.

The Pope was speaking on Sunday morning after the Regina Coeli prayer in St. Peter’s Square, where he told tens of thousands of people “They are men and women like us, our brothers seeking a better life, starving, persecuted, wounded, exploited, victims of war. They were looking for a better life”.

Faced with such a tragedy – Pope Francis continued – I express my most heartfelt pain and promise to remember the victims and their families in prayer.

“I make a heartfelt appeal to the international community to react decisively and quickly to see to it that such tragedies are not repeated,” he said, before asking the crowd to pray “for these brothers and sisters”.

The latest disaster happened when a boat carrying migrants capsized off the Libyan coast overnight, in one of the worst disasters seen in the Mediterranean migrant crisis.

Just Saturday Pope Francis joined Italian authorities in pressing the European Union to do more to help the country cope with rapidly mounting numbers of desperate people rescued in the Mediterranean during journeys on smugglers’ boats to flee war, persecution or poverty.

While hundreds of migrants took their first steps on land in Sicilian ports, dozens more were rescued at sea. Sicilian towns were running out of places to shelter the arrivals, including more than 10,000 in the week ending Saturday.

Since the start of 2014, nearly 200,000 people have been rescued at sea by Italy.

Italy says it will continue rescuing migrants but demands that the European Union increase assistance to shelter and rescue them. Since most of the migrants want to reach family or other members of their community in northern Europe, Italian governments have pushed for those countries to do more, particularly by taking in the migrants while their requests for asylum or refugee status are examined.

AMERICAN SEMINARY IN ROME READIES FOR PAPAL VISIT, MASS

(Vatican Radio) The Holy See Press Office was the scene Monday morning for the presentation of a Day of Reflection on the life and legacy of Blessed Junípero Serra – soon to be St. Junípero Serra, after his canonization in Washington, DC, scheduled for September of this year. Capping the Day, which is to focus on the theme: Fra Junípero Serra: Apostle of California, and Witness to Sanctity, is to be the visit of Pope Francis to the Pontifical North American College, host of the event, for Mass in the College chapel.

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“The highlight of the day, of course, for us, will be the end of the day, when [Pope Francis] comes to celebrate Mass with our community at 12 o’clock,” said the rector of the North American College, Msgr. James Checchio, in an exclusive interview with Vatican Radio ahead of the press conference on Monday. “It’s been quite a few years – thirty-five – since the Successor of Peter has been to the College, so it’s a great moment for us.” he added.

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Msgr. Checchio also told Vatican Radio about the enduring importance of Bl. Junípero  Serra’s spirit of service and sacrifice for the Gospel. “He obviously showed great heroic [valor] and sacrificed himself in the name of evangelization and Jesus Christ,” he explained. “Certainly that’s something of which we need to do more: we need to give all we have,” Msgr. Checchio said.

The Day of Reflection is organized by the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and the Pontifical North American College. Featured speakers are to include: Card. Marc Ouellet, President of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America; Archbishop José H. Gómez of Los Angeles; and Vincenzo Criscuolo, OFM Cap., General Relator of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

For the complete story and calendar of events for the May 2 Day of Reflection and papal Mass at NAC, click here: http://www.news.va/en/news/pnac-to-host-day-of-reflection-on-bl-junipero-serr

CARDINAL FRANCIS GEORGE: MEMORIES OF AN IRREPLACEABLE FRIEND

CARDINAL FRANCIS GEORGE: MEMORIES OF AN IRREPLACEABLE FRIEND

Since Cardinal George’s death Friday at the age of 78, I have spent hours reading tributes to this man who so blessed my life with his friendship and more hours looking through my photo archives for the many pictures I took over the years during his various visits to Rome.

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There was one remaining visit to Rome on Cardinal George’s list of travels: he so wanted to spend some private, one-on-one time with Pope Francis. The cardinal, of course, was one of the electors in the 2013 conclave and had met the new Pope shortly after his election on March 13 when Francis greeted each member of the College of Cardinals. But they had not met since that day.

Cardinal George – whose funeral will be held on Thursday, April 23, the feast of St. George – was a guest ever so many times in my home in Rome and reciprocated whenever I was in Chicago by inviting me to the residence at North State Parkway for a meal.  Every time we broke break was memorable, as you can well imagine.

But there was one dinner in Rome we never had.

When the cardinal’s health did not permit him to travel to Rome, we never had the dinner during which I would have asked him about Pope Francis. Some of the questions I had in mind were almost identical to those asked last November by John Allen in an interview in CRUX:

To begin, (Cardinal) George said he’d like to ask Francis if he fully grasps that in some quarters, he’s created the impression Catholic doctrine is up for grabs. Does Francis realize, for example, “what has happened just by that phrase, ‘Who am I to judge?’ ”

Francis’ signature sound-bite, George said, “has been very misused … because he was talking about someone who has already asked for mercy and been given absolution, whom he knows well,” George said.

(Francis uttered the line in 2013, in response to a question about a Vatican cleric accused of gay relationships earlier in his career.)

“That’s entirely different than talking to somebody who demands acceptance rather than asking for forgiveness,” George said.

 “Does he not realize the repercussions? Perhaps he doesn’t,” George said. “I don’t know whether he’s conscious of all the consequences of some of the things he’s said and done that raise doubts in people’s minds.”

“The question is why he doesn’t he clarify” these ambiguous statements, George said. “Why is it necessary that apologists have to bear the burden of trying to put the best possible face on it?” He said he also wonders if Francis realizes how his rhetoric has created expectations “he can’t possibly meet.”

You never had to ask Cardinal George to clarify something. He meant what he said and said what he meant, clearly, to the point, and purposefully.

I called him every so often when it became apparent that our paths might not soon cross, either in Chicago or Rome. My intent was always to get an update on his health, to update him on happenings here and to perhaps interject a small dose of cheer and humor. Whatever his bill of health, whatever the pain and suffering he was enduring, I always came away from our conversations feeling that I was the one who had been uplifted!

Whenever Cardinal George was in Rome for more than 48 hours, I arranged to have dinner at my place, always telling him to invite whomever he wished. On many occasions, especially when he was vice-president and then president of the USCCB, the other guests were the other USCCB officials in Rome with him on a working visit to the Holy Father and officials of the Roman Curia.

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Many dinners included priest and bishop friends in Rome, either from the Roman Curia or the North American College. Often his longtime director of Communications, Colleen Dolan, was also present. Fr. Dan Flens, his secretary and all around right-hand man – and true blessing as a friend – was always at dinner and it was a joy to host him because, fortunately for me, he was as comfortable in the kitchen as he was at the dining table!

Each occasion was special and memorable and unique, just like Cardinal George.

One very memorable evening was when I invited Archbishops Amel Nona of Mosul, Iraq and Bashar Warda of Erbil, Kurdistan, northern Iraq, to join us. They were in Rome for the October 2010 Synod of Bishops on the Middle East, and the conversation was fascinating for countless reasons, one of which was that Cardinal George, as a missionary priest, Oblate of Mary Immaculate, had a keen interest in the Church around the world, having visited so many countries. With this missionary sense, he always asked the right questions and was able to brilliantly synthesize the answers to a question and analyze the whole picture.

Archbishop Nona had been appointed to Mosul by the Chaldean Synod in January 2010 to succeed Bishop Paulos Faraj Rahho who had been kidnapped and killed by extremists.

Aged 42, Abp. Nona (r) was the youngest reigning bishop in the Catholic Church at that time.

Archbishop Warda (l) was appointed to Erbil on May 24, 2010

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A cheerleader for my first trip to Iraq in early 2010, Cardinal George had a keen interest in every detail I could recount about that trip during a separate dinner that took place before our evening with the Iraqi bishops.

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What did we talk about over my many dinner parties? In general – no surprise! – we spoke about the Church in Rome and around the world and the Roman Curia and the need for reform, but we also looked at the hot topics in world or U.S. news, politics, even sports.

I’ve given scores and scores of dinner parties but never have I written about one, about what was said by whom around the dining table. That table, that space, my home, is sacred to me. My guests all know that, when we meet on the street or in a restaurant or even for an interview, I am a friend but also journalist, writer and vaticanista. However, as guests in my home, they know we are all friends who can enjoy good food and wine, scintillating conversation and lots of laughs, without anything appearing in print.

Needless to say, if something came up that was absolutely newsworthy, I’d ask about reporting it on the record.

Cardinal George was always willing to speak on the record and be interviewed for “Vatican Insider,” and we all learned a great deal from this extraordinarily erudite man, whether he spoke about a synod, an ad limina visit, a conclave (not divulging, however, the inside story of what actually happened inside the Sistine Chapel), the Jubilee Year 2000 or his time in Chicago.

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It was always fun to learn something new about the cardinal. When I heard that he liked ice cream, especially chocolate, I made homemade chocolate ice cream for one dinner party. I learned early on that his preferred after-dinner liqueur was Fernet Branca and since that night there was always a bottle in my home with his name on it, so to speak. I also learned that some of my meals became his preferred foods!

One conversation I can write about: One night, we were all discussing cruises. Cardinal George said he had never been on a cruise ship nor was he drawn to the idea of being on a massive ship with thousands of passengers. However, he did offer the idea that, in retirement, he would like to take a freighter cruise where, on a large ship but with only a small number of guests, he could enjoy leisurely travel and visits to different ports and also spend quiet time reading and writing.

Even on a freighter ship, Cardinal George would have been a delightful guest – interesting, interested in others, an avid and brilliant conversationalist and a terrific listener as well.

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I will miss all of that. I will miss his towering intellect. I will miss listening to every single word he said because they all counted – not one was wasted. I will miss his brilliant analyses of just about everything – Church issues, political matters, books, people, you name it.  And I will really miss his laugh!

What I will miss, however, perhaps pales in comparison to how Cardinal George inspired me. His rock solid faith, his deeply-held convictions, his inspirational and passionate explanation and defense of the Magisterium were his gifts to me every time we met or broke bread together. His courage and humility, his humor and wit, his great empathy – all qualities to be emulated.

I have, of course, just touched the surface of my tales in this look back at the 17 years I shared a friendship with this saintly giant of a man.

All of this and more will be his legacy. Here is one report about his legacy (Chicago ABC Eyewitness news): In his last mass celebrated as Archbishop, Cardinal George spoke about what he hoped would be his legacy. “In short, you are my legacy,” he told those gathered in the pews of Holy Name Cathedral. “The people of the Archdiocese are what I will point to when the Lord asks me, ‘what have you done with my gift to you?'”

VATICAN INSIDER: FR. GENO SYLVA AND THE JUBILEE OF MERCY – POPE FRANCIS TO SAY MASS AT U.S. SEMINARY IN ROME – POPE FRANCIS WELCOMES MEMBERS OF PAPAL FOUNDATION

VATICAN INSIDER: FR. GENO SYLVA AND THE JUBILEE OF MERCY

Vatican Insider will be a very special edition this weekend as I am devoting almost the entire program to a conversation I had about the Extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy with Fr. Geno Sylva, an official at the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization. There will be a few news headlines, not a long news summary, and no Q&A this week on VI.

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The conversation is riveting –we talk all about the meaning of and the plans and preparations for one of the biggest forthcoming events on the Vatican calendar – – the Jubilee Year of Mercy whose plans were entrusted to this pontifical council by Pope Francis. The Holy Father only announced this a little over a month ago so the council is in the early stages of planning but working feverishly and with great enthusiasm so that all is ready by December 8 when the Holy Door will be opened at St. Peter’s Basilica.

I think I can safely say one thing: after listening to the final three minutes, you’ll sit back in silence and reflect!

As you know, in the United States, you can listen to Vatican Insider on a Catholic radio station near you (there is a list of U.S. stations at www.ewtn.com) or on Sirius-XM satellite radio. If you live outside the U.S., you can listen to EWTN radio on our website home page by clicking on the right side where you see “LISTEN TO EWTN.” Vatican Insider airs Saturday mornings at 9:30 am (Eastern time) and re-airs Sundays at 4:30 pm (ET). Check for your time zone. Past shows are found in Vatican Insider archives: http://www.ewtn.com/vondemand/audio/file_index.asp?SeriesId=7096&pgnu=

POPE FRANCIS TO SAY MASS AT U.S. SEMINARY IN ROME

Very exciting news for the U.S. seminary in Rome.

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis is scheduled to visit the Pontifical North American College on May 2 to celebrate Mass during a Day of Reflection with the title “Fra Junípero Serra: Apostle of California, and Witness to Sanctity.”

Junipero Serra –

JUNIPERO SERRA

Pope Francis has announced he intends to canonize Blessed Junípero Serra during his visit to the United States in September.

The Pontifical North American College is the national seminary for the United States, and is located on the Janiculum Hill, which overlooks St. Peter’s Basilica.

The event is being organized by the College and the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, and more information will be released at a Press Conference on April 20, 2015, at the Holy See Press Office.

POPE FRANCIS WELCOMES MEMBERS OF PAPAL FOUNDATION

Friday, Pope Francis greeted members of U.S.-based Papal Foundation  who are in Rome on their annual spring pilgrimage. The Papal Foundation was founded in the United States in 1988 to establish an endowment to support the mission of the Holy Father. The endowment has grown to over $220 million.

PAPAL FOUNDATION

As the Foundation website notes, nearly 130 Stewards, family members, cardinals and bishops from across the U.S. are in Rome as part of an annual pilgrimage that delivers millions of dollars to support the charitable work of the Holy Father during the coming year. “The Foundation’s annual pilgrimage to Rome is always a highlight,” reflects James Coffey, the Foundation’s Vice President for Advancement, “but this year we are especially grateful to be marking our 25th year of support for the Holy Father and his outreach to a world in need.”

Under the title, “Celebrating 25 Years of Giving,” the Foundation points out that it presented its first financial support to Pope (now Saint) John Paul II and the Holy See in April 1990. Since then, it has provided over $111 million in grants and scholarships to build the Church, educate and prepare leaders, and care for the most vulnerable people, young and old, around the world. The Foundation’s commitment is to walk in union with the Holy Father and the Magisterium of the Church, and to bring the love of Christ to a world in need.

In remarks this morning to the Papal Foundation the Pope noted that, “the wide variety of projects supported by the Foundation gives witness to the ceaseless efforts of the Church to promote the integral development of the human family, conscious as she is of the immense and ongoing needs of so many of our brothers and sisters.  Wisely does The Papal Foundation devote a sizeable percentage of its resources to the education and formation of young priests, religious and lay men and women, hastening the day when their local Churches may be self-supportive, and, indeed, pass on the fruits of such generosity to others.”

Expressing his gratitude for their work, the Holy Father spoke of the coming Jubilee of Mercy and said, “I ask our Lord Jesus Christ, ‘the face of the Father’s mercy’, to refresh and renew each one of you through his mercy, the greatest of his many gifts.”

REPORT AT END OF 3-YEAR ASSESSMENT BY VATICAN OF LCWR

REPORT AT END OF 3-YEAR ASSESSMENT BY VATICAN OF LCWR

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis met on Friday with members of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious as the group released a report on the implementation of its doctrinal assessment by the Vatican’s Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.

The LCWR is an association of the leaders of congregations of Catholic women religious in the United States and represents more than 80 percent of religious sisters in the US. The joint report was issued by the LCWR and Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle who led the three-year assessment process requested by the Vatican. The report marks the conclusion of the sensitive process, which the sisters say was carried out with a “spirit of cooperation among participants.”

Please find below the press release and joint report on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious

Press Release April 16

Officials of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), Archbishop Peter Sartain and officers of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) met April 16.  Archbishop Sartain and LCWR officers presented a joint report (attached) on the implementation of the CDF Doctrinal Assessment and Mandate of April 2012.  The joint report outlines the manner in which the implementation of the Mandate has been accomplished.  The Congregation accepted the joint report, marking the conclusion of the Doctrinal Assessment of LCWR.  Present for the April 16 meeting were His Eminence Gerhard Cardinal Müller, Archbishop Peter Sartain, Sr. Carol Zinn, SSJ, Sr. Marcia Allen, CSJ, Sr. Joan Marie Steadman, CSC, and Sr. Janet Mock, CSJ, and other officials of CDF.

During the meeting, Archbishop Sartain and LCWR officers outlined the process undertaken by the Bishop Delegates and LCWR over the past three years, noting the spirit of cooperation among participants throughout the sensitive process. Cardinal Müller offered his thoughts on the Doctrinal Assessment as well as the Mandate and its completion.  He expressed gratitude to those present for their willing participation in this important and delicate work and extended thanks to others who had participated, especially Archbishop Leonard P. Blair, Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki, and the past officers and Executive Directors of LCWR.

Following the meeting, Cardinal Müller said:  “At the conclusion of this process, the Congregation is confident that LCWR has made clear its mission to support its member Institutes by fostering a vision of religious life that is centered on the Person of Jesus Christ and is rooted in the Tradition of the Church.  It is this vision that makes religious women and men radical witnesses to the Gospel, and, therefore, is essential for the flourishing of religious life in the Church.”

Sr. Sharon Holland, IHM, President of LCWR, was unable to be present for the meeting but commented, “We are pleased at the completion of the Mandate, which involved long and challenging exchanges of our understandings of and perspectives on critical matters of Religious Life and its practice. Through these exchanges, conducted always in a spirit of prayer and mutual respect, we were brought to deeper understandings of one another’s experiences, roles, responsibilities, and hopes for the Church and the people it serves. We learned that what we hold in common is much greater than any of our differences.”

Archbishop Sartain added, “Over the past several years, I have had the honor of working with LCWR officers and meeting a large number of LCWR members through the implementation of the Mandate.  Our work included the revision of LCWR Statutes; review of LCWR publications, programs and speakers; and discussion of a wide range of issues raised by the Doctrinal Assessment, LCWR, and the Bishop Delegates. The assistance of CDF officials was essential to the great progress we made.  Our work together was undertaken in an atmosphere of love for the Church and profound respect for the critical place of religious life in the United States, and the very fact of such substantive dialogue between bishops and religious women has been mutually beneficial and a blessing from the Lord.  As we state in our joint final report, ‘The commitment of LCWR leadership to its crucial role in service to the mission and membership of the Conference will continue to guide and strengthen LCWR’s witness to the great vocation of Religious Life, to its sure foundation in Christ, and to ecclesial communion.’  The other two Bishop Delegates and I are grateful for the opportunity to be involved in such a fruitful dialogue.”

Joint Final Report

Following the publication of the Doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (April 18, 2012), the officers of LCWR and the Bishop Delegates began working in close collaboration toward the implementation of the Mandate which accompanied that document. From the beginning, our extensive conversations were marked by a spirit of prayer, love for the Church, mutual respect, and cooperation. We found our conversations to be mutually beneficial.  In this Joint Final Report, we set forth the manner in which the implementation of the Mandate has been accomplished.

LCWR Statutes:  The Statutes of the Conference were definitively approved for the first time by the Sacred Congregation for Religious in 1962; a revised text was subsequently approved by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life on June 29, 1989. LCWR had initiated a review of the Statutes prior to receiving the Mandate.   In response to the 2012 Mandate, a subcommittee representing LCWR and the Bishop Delegates reviewed that document, attentive to the Mandate’s request for greater clarity in expressing the mission and responsibilities of the LCWR as a Conference of Major Superiors under the ultimate direction of the Apostolic See.  Through a collaborative process of mutual learning and of refining several drafts, it was agreed that “the role of the Conference as a public juridic person centered on Jesus Christ and faithful to the teachings of the Church is to undertake through its membership and in collaboration with other sisters those services which develop the life and mission of women religious in responding to the Gospel in the contemporary world” (Statutes, Section 2).  At the conclusion of this drafting and refining process, the subcommittee’s work was considered ready to be submitted to the LCWR Assembly. The 2014 Assembly overwhelmingly approved the text, and it was forwarded to the Apostolic See.  Following a positive review by the CDF, the revised Statutes were approved on February 6, 2015 by Decree of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

Conference Publications and Programs:  The Mandate also called for a review of LCWR publications to ensure that the Conference’s mission would be fulfilled in accord with Church teaching.  The Conference’s mission is in service of its members and their positive role of collaboration in the Church’s mission.  At the same time, LCWR publications serve a larger audience in the Church. Many persons desiring spiritual growth have become readers of various publications. The nature of LCWR publications is intended to address spiritual matters rather than engage in formal theological inquiry.  Nevertheless, because of the vital link between spirituality and theology, and in order to inspire, help evaluate experience as Women Religious, and challenge to growth, publications need a sound doctrinal foundation.  To this end, measures are being taken to promote a scholarly rigor that will ensure theological accuracy and help avoid statements that are ambiguous with regard to Church doctrine or could be read as contrary to it.  This exercise of theological responsibility is for the sake of both Conference Members and other readers. At the same time, it serves to protect the credibility of the Conference itself as a long-standing canonical entity of the Church.  In addition, a publications Advisory Committee exists and manuscripts will be reviewed by competent theologians, as a means of safeguarding the theological integrity of the Conference.

The Mandate also addressed care in the selection of programs and speakers at General Assemblies and other LCWR-sponsored events.  The choice of topics and speakers appropriate to the Conference’s mission and service will be carried out in a prayerful, thoughtful and discerning manner.  As with written publications, LCWR expects speakers and presenters to speak with integrity and to further the aims and purposes of the Conference, which unfold within the wider context of the Church’s faith and mission.  When a topic explicitly addresses matters of faith, speakers are expected to employ the ecclesial language of faith.  When exploring contemporary issues, particularly those which, while not explicitly theological nevertheless touch upon faith and morals, LCWR expects speakers and presenters to have due regard for the Church’s faith and to pose questions for further reflection in a manner that suggests how faith might shed light on such issues. As with publications, this kind of professional integrity will serve the Members well.  Finally, a revised process for the selection of the Outstanding Leadership Award recipient has been articulated.

Other issues addressed by the Mandate:  Over the past three years, considerable time and attention were given to dialogue regarding other matters raised by the Mandate, including the importance of the celebration of the Eucharist; the place of the Liturgy of the Hours in religious communities; the centrality of a communal process of contemplative prayer practiced at LCWR Assemblies and other gatherings; the relationship between LCWR and other organizations; and the essential understanding of LCWR as an instrument of ecclesial communion.  These discussions had their origin in the Mandate and led to clarifying and fruitful conversation.

Conclusion:    Our work together in response to the Mandate has borne much fruit, for which we give thanks to God and the gentle guidance of the Holy Spirit.  The very fact of such substantive dialogue between bishops and religious has been a blessing to be appreciated and further encouraged. The Commitment of LCWR leadership to its crucial role in service to the mission and membership of the Conference will continue to guide and strengthen LCWR’s witness to the great vocation of Religious Life, to its sure foundation in Christ, and to ecclesial communion.

Most Rev. J. Peter Sartain, Archbishop of Seattle

Most Rev. Leonard Blair, Archbishop of Hartford

Most Rev. Thomas J. Paprocki, Bishop of Springfield in Illinois

Sr. Sharon Holland, IHM, LCWR President

Sr. Marcia Allen, CSJ, LCWR President-Elect

Sr. Carol Zinn, SSJ, LCWR Past President

Sr. Joan Marie Steadman,, CSC,  LCWR Executive Director