FEBRUARY 28, 2013: POPE BENEDICT ENDS PAPACY

FEBRUARY 28, 2013: POPE BENEDICT ENDS PAPACY

Is it possible that it has already been six years since Benedict XVI became Pope emeritus!

I think most people over the age of reason remember that day, as they well recall him announcing on February 11 that he would leave the papacy at the end of the month. We all lived history on those days!

In the past six years I have received countless numbers of letters, emails and postings on Facebook from people who have asked me to tell Benedict how much is loved and respected and admired and prayed for – and missed! To the best of my ability I have passed those on.

Now, I offer you a link to our coverage of that amazing 2013 event, a papal resignation, six years ago tonight at 8 pm!

Continue your prayers for our Holy Father emeritus!

FEBRUARY 11 IN NUMBERS – A PAPAL RESIGNATION, AN UNFOLDING STORY – THE DISMAY, SURPRISE, AMAZEMENT OF CARDINALS AT PAPAL ANNOUNCEMENT – POPE BENEDICT SAYS RUMORS HE WAS FORCED TO RESIGN ARE “ABSURD”

FEBRUARY 11 IN NUMBERS

February 11 commemorates some important moments for the Catholic Church:

Today is the 161st anniversary of the apparition of Our Lady of Lourdes to St. Bernadette.

It is the 90th anniversary of the establishment of Vatican City State via the 1929 Lateran Pacts. Today is a holiday in Vatican City State to mark that event.

It is the 27th World Day of the Sick, established in May 1992 by St. John Paul II, a year after he learned that he had Parkinson’s.

It is the 6th anniversary of the announcement by Pope Benedict XVI that he would resign the papacy effective at the end of the month.

The 11th hour of the 11th Day….

Today I focus on that last anniversary because of its unique nature and because of what it entailed for me – and hundreds of others – as a vaticanista. How to handle history as it is actually being made! Getting it right!.

Where does one start to write about a day that is historical, stunning, amazing and also sad – there were so many reactions and emotions. Having lived in Rome for decades and having worked for or covered the Vatican and the papacy for all but two of those years, all of the above emotions were part of that incredible February 11, 2013 when we heard Pope Benedict XVI tell the world he would resign the papacy effective February 28, 2013!

Over the years, from my first visit to Rome as a college student to this very day, I have met or been in the presence of Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis and have actually spoken to the last four. I was at the 1978 Mass when John Paul I was installed as Pope but never did meet him during his very brief pontificate.

Up to February 11, 2013, the whole world knew that the death of a Pope was the only way the papacy was vacated, that there could be a “sede vacante,” literally, a vacant chair.

No one is alive on this earth today who had ever heard a Pope say what Pope Benedict did on that fateful, historical morning exactly six years ago – Monday, February 11, 2013.

I remember every moment of that day and subsequent ones like it just happened yesterday – the resignation, the TV appearances, the press conferences, the preparations for a conclave, the mountains of research need to answer questions and to prepare for EWTN’s live television coverage of all events, the visits prepared for the media to Castelgandolfo where Benedict would be living until his permanent home was ready to receive him, and the monastery where Benedict now lives.

I look back at February 11, 2013 with amazement, with gratitude for being here during an historical period, with awe at the events of the months that followed, and once again with gratitude for a Church that could so beautifully transition from one papacy to another.

I look back at the courage and humility and love of the Church that prompted Pope Benedict to resign as he feared, sensed, realized he could not serve the Church he loved as she deserved.

Benedict XVI had become a role model for so many people, for millions of Catholics – and others – who miss him terribly today and wish him well and pray for him on a daily basis. More frequently than you might imagine – still today, six years later – people write me to ask me to please extend to Pope emeritus Benedict their regards, their love, their prayers and their thanksgiving for his pontificate. I try to pass on what I can!

I vividly remember telling U.S. television the night of Benedict’s resignation that Pope John Paul II, in his long suffering, taught us how to die and Pope Benedict, in his humility, courage and love, was teaching us how to live!

Too often we live and make decisions based on what others might think of us. We want to “look good,” we need approval before we act. We rarely look inside ourselves to see – even pray – what is the right thing to do. That is what Benedict XVI did. He looked inside himself and, with great honesty, unbelievable courage and his noted humility, he knew he had to leave the papacy.

In my mind’s eye today I’ve relived every encounter I had with Pope Benedict over the years – the brief exchanges, his soft smile, his wonderful blue eyes, his total sincerity. I will go to Mass and say a rosary today for Benedict, out of love, respect and gratitude.

My favorite photo:

And now a look back at history….

A PAPAL RESIGNATION, AN UNFOLDING STORY

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Fr. Federico Lombardi, papal spokesman and head of the Holy See Press Office and Vatican Radio gave a very interesting and informative press briefing today for the world’s media now converging in Rome following Benedict XVI’s stunning announcement that he will “renounce” the office of Pope, the Petrine ministry on February 28.

He said he had little to add to what he told reporters yesterday, and then proceeded to speak and answer questions for almost 90 minutes. He thanked the media for its coverage, saying that in general it was abundant, informative, timely, respectful and, in some instances, “reflective.” He reiterated what he said about the Pope’s decision to resign, namely, that he made the decision with lucidity and serenity and that it was “spiritually well-founded from a human and faith perspective.”

We did learn that the Holy Father has had a pacemaker since the 1990s – before his pontificate – and that as recently as several months ago he went privately to Pius XI clinic in Rome to have the batteries replaced – something he has done regularly over the years.

All the activities, meetings, speeches and liturgies that were on Pope Benedict’s calendar before his announcement for the month of February remain unchanged, including his retreat with members of the curia that starts next Sunday evening, February 17 and ends the following Saturday in late morning. The Pope will receive the presidents of Romania and Guatemala, will meet with the Roman clergy Thursday morning (live in Vatican television), and will continue to meet Italy’s bishops on their ad limina visits.

Two events will have venue changes to accommodate larger crowds.

Tomorrow’s Ask Wednesday Mass in Santa Sabina Basilica that usually follows a procession from St. Anselm’s to Santa Sabina will take place in St. Peter’s Basilica, starting at 5 pm and scheduled to last two hours.

Pope Benedict’s final weekly general audience will be held on February 27th in St. Peter’s Square to accommodate what is expected to be a very large crowd of faithful

One journalist asked why the Pope is resigning specifically at 8 pm on February 28th. Fr. Lombardi said the Pope always considered 8 pm the end of his working day.

The Pope’s promised encyclical on faith will not be ready by February 28. It is not known if it would be released at a future date and possible under Benedict XVI /Joseph Ratzinger.

Benedict XVI will move to a small monastery in Vatican City that is currently being renovated. He will spend in days in prayer and reflection and, many hope, further writing. Pope John Paul years earlier had given this building to an order of cloistered nuns, and he invited a new order to come every five years. The last group of nuns left in November 2012 and the renovation started on the monastery, which has a small chapel, after that.

The Pope knows the monastery well and had visited the cloistered nuns on a number of vocations.

Vatican television went this morning to shoot images for the media.

The Pope’s decision to retire began to “mature” during his Mexico and Cuba trip last year, and became set in his mind in recent months. He had, however, given indications in speeches, in the book/interview, “Light of the World” and in a December talk at a senior citizens’ home in Rome that, if he were to find himself in circumstances where he could not perform the duties of the Petrine ministry, then renouncing the papacy would be a possibility.

Many questions were asked at the press briefing to which Fr. Lombardi said he did not have a specific answer but would inquire:

1. Would Benedict participate in the inaugural Mass of is successor?

2. Have the cardinals been formally notified of the conclave, etc.?

3. Have the current residents of the Vatican’s Casa Santa Marta where conclave cardinals reside been informed of a date they must vacate their rooms?

4. What happens to the papal ring and seal and other objects that are usually broken or destroyed when a Pope dies? In this case, Benedict will still be with us

5. Could Pope Benedict himself now write a document and solve some of these issues?

6. How will people refer to Benedict XVI after his resignation? His title? We do know he is now the Bishop of Rome so he will be the former Bishop of Rome.

The date for the start of the conclave to elect Benedict’s successor has not been announced but Msgr. Guido Marini, master of papal ceremonies, has said it would start 15 to 20 days, after the Pope leaves. This is according to John Paul’s 1996 Apostolic Constitution “Universi dominici gregis”, though people are still studying this to determine events.

THE DISMAY, SURPRISE, AMAZEMENT OF CARDINALS AT PAPAL ANNOUNCEMENT

From the February 12 (2013) edition of L’Osservatore Romano:

“Dismay, surprise, amazement and emotion at the words of Benedict XVI who announced his decision to ‘renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome’. These sentiments were etched on the faces of the cardinals, bishops and prelates – assembled for the Ordinary Public Concistory on Monday morning, 11 February, in the Concistory Hall of the Apostolic Palace – who heard the unexpected announcement in the Pope’s own voice.

“Everyone’s eyes met, a light murmur swelled in the hall and astonishment faded into sorrow. Yet, after the first few moments of confusion, the unanimous recognition that the Pope’s act was a very lofty act of humility made headway among those present – who included the papal masters of ceremony, representatives of the postulations, choristers of the Sistine Chapel Choir, papal chair bearers and technicians.

“It was a decision that took everyone by surprise. As did the fact that the Pope – accompanied by Archbishop Georg Gänswein, Prefect of the Papal Household, and Archbishop Guido Pozzo, the Pope’s Almoner, Mons. Leonardo Sapienza, Regent of the Papal Household, and Alfred Xuereb of the Pope’s Private Secretariat – chose to communicate it personally when, at the end of the celebration of Midday Prayer and after the announcement that the three canonizations on the agenda of the Concistory would be held next 12 May, he read the Latin text of the Declaratio written in his own hand. Speaking in a firm, calm voice, while those present listened to him in an almost unreal silence, he explained the reasons for his decision, made “with full freedom”, and “after having repeatedly examined my conscience before God”.

“The prayerful, joyous atmosphere turned into sadness. The spokesman who rose to the occasion was Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Dean of the College of Cardinals who immediately took the floor on behalf of all the cardinals. “Your Holiness, beloved and venerable Successor of Peter”, he said, “your moving message rang out in this hall like a bolt from the blue. We heard it with a sense of bewilderment, almost totally unbelieving. In your words we noted the great affection which you have always had for God’s holy Church, for this Church which you have so deeply loved”.

“Now, he added, ‘may I be permitted to tell you on behalf of the apostolic ‘upper room’, the College of Cardinals, on behalf of your dear co-workers, that we are closer to you than ever, as we have been especially close in these luminous eight years of your pontificate’”.

“The Cardinal assured Benedict XVI that ‘before 28 February, as you said, the day on which you wish to give the last word to your papal service, carried out so lovingly, so humbly, before 28 February we will have an opportunity to express our sentiments to you better. A great number of pastors and of the faithful, scattered across the world, will do likewise, as will numerous people of good will, together with the authorities of a great many countries”. He then made a reference to the upcoming commitments of the Pope.

During this month we shall have the joy of hearing your voice as a pastor: on Ash Wednesday, then on Thursday with the clergy of Rome, at the Angelus on the coming Sundays, at the Wednesday General Audiences. There will thus be many occasions on which to hear your fatherly voice again”. “Your mission”, he concluded, “will nevertheless continue”. You said that you will always be close to us with your witness and with your prayers. Of course, the stars of heaven always continue to shine and thus the star of your pontificate will always shine among us. We are close to you, Holy Father, and please bless us’.”

POPE BENEDICT SAYS RUMORS HE WAS FORCED TO RESIGN ARE “ABSURD”

Just days before the first anniversary of his February 28, 2013 resignation, Pope emeritus Benedict wrote a letter to an Italian journalist and said media speculation that he was forced by a group of cardinals to resign because of issues such as the Wikileaks scandal and clerical sex abuse cases was “simply absurd.”

Andrea Tornielli of La Stampa had written to the former pontiff with three questions: he asked about the reason for his resignation, why he continues to wear white and why he kept the name Benedict. Tornielli’s questions to the Pope emeritus arose because of press reports that Benedict was pressured to quit by a group of cardinals opposed to him, and for this reason his resignation was invalid. The charge was that Benedict considered himself still to be Pope, and continued to wear the papal white and keep his papal name.

Tornielli’s article appeared in the February 26  (2014) edition of the Italian daily “La Stampa.” He said Pope emeritus Benedict personally penned answers to the question in a simple and direct fashion.

Before he stepped down a year ago, Benedict on several occasions, most notably on February 11 when he announced his impending resignation to a group of cardinals, spoke of failing physical strength due to old age as the reason for his resignation.

In his letter to Tornielli, he wrote: “There is absolutely no doubt regarding the validity of my resignation from the Petrine ministry.” He said the only condition for the validity of his resignation was the complete freedom of his decision.

In 2010, in the book/ interview with Peter Seewald, “Light of the World,” Benedict said at one point: “If a Pope realizes with clarity that he is no longer able, physically, psychologically and spiritually, to absolve the duties of his office, then he has the right and, in some circumstances even the obligation, to resign.”

As to his wearing white, Benedict XVI said that, at the time of his resignation, no other clothes were available so he kept the white cassock for “purely practical reasons.” He also noted that he wears it in a different way than Francis, without the sash and the cape. The Pope emeritus said questions about his attire was another example of “completely unfounded speculation.” He kept the name Benedict also “for practical reasons.”

It is known that Pope Francis and Pope emeritus Benedict have a close friendship and are in touch with each other on a very frequent basis.

“ECUMENISM IS NOT OPTIONAL”

“ECUMENISM IS NOT OPTIONAL”

At the end of today’s general audience in the Paul VI Hall, Pope Francis appealed for prayers for the upcoming Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

“Next Friday,” he began, “with the celebration of Vespers in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins on the theme: “Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue,” inspired by Deuteronomy 16:18-20. This year too we are called to pray that all Christians return to be one family, coherent with the divine will that wishes “that all may be one” (Jn 17:21). Ecumenism is not optional. The intention will be to develop a common and consistent witness in the affirmation of true justice and in the support of the weakest, through concrete, appropriate and effective responses.

Almost seven years ago to the day, at the January 18, 2012 general audience, Pope Benedict explained the history of this annual week of prayer:

“Dear Brothers and Sisters,

“The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins today. For more than a century it has been celebrated every year by Christians of all Churches and ecclesial communities in order to invoke the extraordinary gift for which the Lord Jesus himself prayed at the Last Supper, before his Passion: “that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (Jn 17:21).

“The practice of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was introduced in 1908 by Fr. Paul Wattson, the founder of an Anglican religious community who later entered the Catholic Church. The initiative received the blessing of Pope St. Pius X and was later promoted by Pope Benedict XV, who encouraged its celebration throughout the Catholic Church with the Brief Romanorum Pontificum of 25 February 1916.

“The Octave of Prayer was developed and perfected in the 1930s by Abbé Paul Couturier of Lyons, who supported the prayer “for the unity of the Church as Christ wants her and in conformity with the instruments that he desires”. His last writings show that Abbé Couturier saw this Week as a means which enables Christ’s universal prayer “to enter and penetrate the entire Body of Christians”; it must grow until it becomes “an immense, unanimous cry of the entire People of God”, asking God for this great gift. Moreover the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is in itself one of the most effective expressions of the impetus the Second Vatican Council gave to the search for full communion among all Christ’s disciples.

“May this spiritual event that unites Christians of all traditions increase our awareness that the true unity for which we strive cannot be solely the result of our own efforts but, rather, will be a gift from on high, to be ceaselessly prayed for.

“Every year the booklets for the Week of Prayer are compiled by an ecumenical group from a different region of the world. …”

A CHALICE GOES HOME…..

I originally posted the story of this chalice on April 16, 2012 when both the chalice and Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI turned 95. I had two wonderful dreams for this chalice over the years – you will see how I realized those dreams by reading this story!

A CHALICE GOES HOME…..

Once upon a time…..
My paternal grandparents had two lovely summer homes on a large piece of property on Lake Michigan that were used alternately by my parents and my Dad’s sisters and brother throughout June, July and August every summer. The main home was called White Ledge and was a legend in the area for many reasons but mainly because it could accommodate about 30 guests on a weekend – many bedrooms and baths and, of course, a huge dining room and kitchen. My grandmother spent six months a year at this home and hosted many philanthropic events for the Church in the house or gardens.

One of my grandfather’s brothers – our great-Uncle Frank and great-Aunt Julia Lewis- had a rather large estate about a mile up the road from our property. Because the Catholic populace grew so much when people came up for the summer, the small local church could not handle everyone, even with multiple Sunday morning Masses (no evening Masses in those years), and so my aunt and uncle obtained permission to have Mass outdoors at their home on Sunday.

They were known for their philanthropy and the fact that the Church was the focus of their lives, along with their very large family! It was quite common for them to invite some of their closest friends – cardinals, bishops, priests and seminarians – to spend the weekend at their Michigan summer home. The main house was quite large and they a number of almost equally large year-round homes on the property for their large family and for guests.

Every Saturday night, the Belarussian-born caretaker, Ignatz would set up the “pews” – the benches and kneelers – for one hundred plus people. And every Sunday morning, before the 10 a.m. Mass, big bunches of gladioli were cut and put into tall vases near the altar – which was at the top of some steps going up to the home’s main porch. My brothers and some of our young cousins served as altar boys in those years.

My Dad and uncles served as ushers and Sunday morning Mass at Aunt Julia’s and Uncle Frank’s was largely a family affair! I do remember Aunt Julia telling us once, years later that, for 30 summers, it never rained on a Sunday morning between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m.! I know she had several relics she would bring out each Sunday and place on her pew.

Over the years I met many prelates, as you can imagine. I just wish I had thought at the time of keeping a diary! But one doesn’t often think of doing that at the age of 8 or 10!

One of the priests I remember meeting a number of time was Fr. Toohey. I remember him as a delightful man who always wore a big smile and was very grandfatherly.

Years later, when I was home from Rome on vacation, I noticed a beautiful chalice in my parents’ home and asked them about it. Dad told me that his parents – my grandparents – had paid for a young man to attend seminary on Chicago and on his ordination day, and had given him this chalice – Fr. Leo Toohey.

Fr. Toohey was ordained on April 16, 1927! The very day Pope Benedict was born! And, of all the truly amazing things, the chalice was made in Germany!

I have been told – and have to explore this further! – that several markings on the bottom of the chalice indicate exactly where in Germany this was made and by whom.

The bottom of the chalice reads: “Presented to Rev. Leo Raphael Toohey by Mr. and Mrs. William H. Lewis on his ordination day – April 16 AD 1927.”

The chalice was purchased at Edward Koenig Company in Chicago. It was given to my grandfather when Fr. Toohey died at 53 on January 8, 1950, later was given to my Dad, and my parents eventually gave this chalice to me. Fr. Toohey for years was pastor at St. Simon Church in Ludington, Michigan. I found articles about him on the Internet!

I’ve had two big dreams for this chalice: The first was to get to know a seminarian from Chicago to whom I could give the chalice so that, after many decades, the chalice makes a “round trip,” returning from whence it came.

My second dream was to have Pope emeritus Benedict XVI celebrate Mass with this chalice.

Both have now come true!

First, let me tell you about my second dream….

OCTOBER 19, 2013:

I attended Mass this morning in the chapel of the monastery where Pope emeritus Benedict XVI lives in retirement with Abp. Georg Gaenswein and four consecrated women. Benedict XVI said Mass with Fr. Toohey’s chalice, Abp. Gaenswein did the readings. It was beautiful and intimate and very moving for me. The Pope came from the sacristy after Mass and we spoke for about 5 minutes. It was as moving and wonderful as the Mass itself. I have written an account elsewhere.

Pope Em. Benedict gave me a rosary and 2 holy cards for the young man who will receive this chalice some day and he gave me – for myself – a rosary and 2 holy cards. Abp. Gaenswein handed me an envelope and inside was a note with his crest that stated that Pope Em. Benedict said Mass with this chalice on October 19, 2013.

I had written Msgr. Georg a few times before this day, asking if Pope Benedict (I started writing when Benedict was still the Holy Father) could say Mass with the chalice. I told him the story that you just read. I only wanted the chalice to be used at Mass. I never thought of my actually being present at Mass so this was a huge gift for me.

This photo was taken in my home after that Mass with Pope emeritus Benedict:

The person who actually got the ball rolling was a German friend of mine, Michael Hesemann (yes, the well-known prolific author) who knew the story of the chalice and, in the summer of 2013, when he was in Rome, asked if my dream had come true – had Pope Benedict said Mass with the chalice? I said ‘no’, adding that I was a little disappointed.

Michael knows the Pope’s brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger and he asked me to write down the story which he then translated into German and a few weeks later handed to Msgr. Georg at his home in Regensburg, Germany. Msgr. Georg shortly after that came to Rome to visit his brother, the Pope emeritus, told him the story, handed him the written story and not long after that I got a phone call from the papal secretary to tell me that Mass was indeed possible and did I wish to be present!!!

This story has been printed and is in a folder, along with 2 photos of Fr. Toohey, the rosary and holy cards that Pope Benedict gave to me after Mass on Saturday, October 19, 2013. The folder is under the chalice in my crystal cabinet.

I have to add one more small detail about October 19, 2013:

Three hours after attending Mass in Pope Benedict’s monastery chapel, I met Pope Francis for the first time! The Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums was celebrating its 30th anniversary in Rome and, as a patron, I joined the group for the papal audience. Francis met each one of us individually – his wish! – after a brief speech.

How many of us on this earth can say we were with two Popes – a reigning pontiff and an emeritus Holy Father – on the same day!

And now, the final dream has come true!

On December 22 in Chicago, I finally met Ryan Brady, a second year seminarian from Mundelein with whom I had been corresponding for some time and about whom I had heard wonderful things from priests in the diocese.

From all I learned, I knew that Ryan would be the seminarian to receive the chalice.

And so we met for dinner, along with Msgr. Michael Boland, director of Catholic charities in Chicago, and Deacon Stan Strom.

Ryan knew nothing about the chalice.

During the dinner conversation, Msgr. Boland (who knew what I was about to do) made a statement about something that was the perfect introduction to the story about the chalice. I told the story as written above and when I got to the part about my dream for the chalice to go to a seminarian, I pointed to Ryan, and said with a big smile, “You are that future priest.”

I took photos but none of that very moment!

I had gift wrapped the chalice, along with the papal rosary and holy cards, the pictures of Fr. Toohey and Msgr. Gaenswein’s certificate about the Mass, and Ryan slowly unwrapped everything. It was a beautiful, memorable moment for all of us!

The letter he wrote to me after the dinner merely affirmed my belief that this almost century-old chalice should go to Ryan Brady.

And so a dream does not end but rather continues!

Bless you, Ryan! May God sit on your shoulder!

VATICAN INSIDER PAYS TRIBUTE TO CARDINAL TAURAN – PRIESTS AND MARRIAGE PREPARATION

There have been quite a few repercussions around the world following remarks by Cardinal Kevin Farrell who has said in several interviews that priests have “no credibility for marriage preparation.” I have received emails about this and have seen posts on Facebook by priests who have expressed their incredulity at this statement by the head of the Dicastery for Family, Laity and Life.

A particularly eloquent response to the cardinal’s remarks was written by Fr. Roger Landry for the National Catholic Register, and I offer you his thoughts on the subject. I know many priests will thank him.

VATICAN INSIDER PAYS TRIBUTE TO CARDINAL TAURAN

This week in the interview segment of “Vatican Insider,” I want to pay tribute to the late Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, a man I got to know both during and after the years I worked at the Vatican Information Service. As you probably know, he died on July 5 in the United States after years of struggling with the debilitating effects of Parkinson’s disease.

What you’ll hear today is my interview with him shortly after Pope Benedict’s 2009 trip to the Holy Land. What most amazed me as I listened to our conversation was how timely the Cardinal’s message still is today. I know you’ll agree as you listen to this most able and astute diplomat as we discuss his work, especially relations with Muslims.

Here are some photos from the day in 2009 that Benedict XVI met with Muslim leaders at the al-Hussein bin Talal Mosque in Amman, Jordan. I covered that event and, as you will see, the women journalists had to be dressed in a certain manner to enter. You’ll see Cardinal Tauran in several of these photos.

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PRIESTS AND MARRIAGE PREPARATION

(National Catholic Register) COMMENTARY: Rather than being an insurmountable handicap, my priesthood is actually an asset.
By Father Roger Landry

One of the duties of parish priests is to prepare couples for the sacrament of matrimony. Many priests love this work. Others admit they find parts of it taxing. But almost all parish priests do it, dedicate quite a lot of time to doing it, and, like other aspects of priestly work, try to do it well.

That’s why it came as quite a shock earlier this month when Cardinal Kevin Farrell, the prefect for the Vatican’s Dicastery of Laity, Family and Life, which is in charge of the Church’s universal care for the family, declared that priests are basically incompetent to do this work.

In an interview printed in the July/August edition of Intercom magazine, published by the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Farrell made headlines when he said, “Priests are not the best people to train others for marriage. They have no credibility. They have never lived the experience. They may know moral theology, dogmatic theology in theory, but to go from there to putting it into practice every day … they don’t have the experience.”

This was not the first time he has alleged universal priestly ineptitude with regard to marriage preparation. Last September, at a conference in Belfast, he emphasized that priests have “no credibility in this area” because they have “no credibility when it comes to living the reality of marriage.” What is needed, he said, is accompaniment by other married couples “who have walked in [married couples’] shoes.”

He implied that his comprehensive assertions might be partly autobiographical extrapolations because, he said, he didn’t “have a clue” when his own nieces and nephews asked him some questions about marital difficulties. “I have no experience of that, and the majority of priests don’t have that experience,” he said.

But in the Intercom interview he also contended that priests’ lack of competence and credibility is matched by a lack of commitment. Basing himself on his previous experience as the bishop of Dallas, he said, priests, with all of their duties, “are not going to be interested in organizing marriage meetings.”

Priests who are in fact interested in organizing meetings with couples to help them get ready for the sacrament of marriage found his comments disheartening and disturbing. Many married couples likewise found them bewildering.

Earlier this month I was in Lubbock, Texas, giving four talks at the “Diocesan Family Camp” on how marital love is free, full, faithful and fruitful. Several of the married couples present, in the wake of Cardinal Farrell’s comments, sent me emails thanking me once again for my work and saying that they found my talks, and Bishop Robert Coerver’s opening keynote, credible, helpful and attuned to the realities of marriage and family life. I similarly got emails from various couples I’ve prepared for marriage over the last 19 years, saying how grateful they were for what they received from the hours we spent together.

It’s one thing to make the obvious point that effective marriage preparation involves not just parish priests but well-trained married couples, something that happens in most parish, diocesan and online marriage-preparation courses in the United States. Cardinal Farrell’s regrettable emphasis, however, was not to encourage lay involvement, but to undermine priests’ involvement and credibility – as if, because they’ve never been married, priests have nothing to contribute. This led Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin humorously to tweet, “It seems fair to ask, then, if a celibate cleric has sufficient ‘credibility’ to lead a dicastery devoted to laity, family and life.”
Cardinal Farrell’s comments made me wonder how familiar he is with St. John Paul II’s works on marriage, which take up his objections and persuasively refute them.

In the opening words of the introduction to his book Love and Responsibility, for example, the future pope took up the objection:
“There exists a view that only married people may speak about marriage, and that only persons who experience love between a man and a woman may speak about such love. This view demands personal and direct experience as the basis for speaking in a given field. Thus, priests, religious and celibate persons cannot have anything to say on matters of love and marriage.”

Then he responded: “A lack of their own personal experience does not hinder them since they possess a very rich indirect experience proceeding from pastoral work … [where] they encounter precisely these problems so often and in such a variety of ways and situations that another experience is created, experience that is undoubtedly more indirect and ‘foreign,’ but at the same time much more extensive.”

Even though priests don’t have firsthand experience of marital life, St. John Paul underlined, they have a far more extensive secondhand experience than almost anyone because of their pastoral work hearing confessions, counseling couples, and sharing the joys and struggles of their married spiritual sons and daughters. They also have their firsthand exposure to the reality of family life from growing up in a family.

His Eminence, however, not only seems to have forgotten John Paul II’s insights, but also seems unaware of what Pope Francis has said about priests and marriage preparation.

Speaking to parish priests in the Vatican Feb. 25, 2017, Pope Francis commented, “In most cases, you are the first people to be approached by young people desiring to form a new family and marry in the sacrament of matrimony. And it is again you to whom married couples turn in crisis as a result of serious relationship problems, with a need to rekindle their faith and rediscover the grace of the sacrament. …No one better than you knows and is in touch with the reality of the social fabric of the territory and experiences the various complexities: unions celebrated in Christ, de facto unions, civil unions, failed unions, happy and unhappy families and young people.”

“With each person and in each situation,” the Pope continued, “you are called to be traveling companions who can offer witness and support. May your primary concern be to bear witness to the grace of the sacrament of matrimony and the primordial good of the family, vital cell of the Church and of society, by announcing that marriage between a man and a woman is a symbol of the spousal union between Christ and the Church. Such witness is put into practice concretely when you prepare engaged couples for marriage, making them aware of the profound meaning of the step which they are about to take, and when you journey with young couples with attentiveness, helping them experience the divine strength and the beauty of their marriage through light and shadow, through joyful and difficult times.”

He went on to say that he wanted marriage preparation to be a “true catechumenate” that could accompany engaged couples similar to the way the Church for months accompanies adults preparing for the sacrament of baptism.

“This catechumenate,” he said, “is principally entrusted to you, parish priests. …I encourage you to implement it despite any difficulties you may encounter.”

Those are not the words of someone with a low estimation of the credibility, competence and commitment of priests with regard to the sacrament of matrimony.

I have had the joy to do clergy workshops on marriage preparation in various dioceses in the U.S. and Canada and to speak throughout the U.S. and beyond on John Paul II’s theology of the body. I have also had the chance to prepare several hundred couples for marriage.

I normally meet with couples cumulatively for about 10 hours because I’m convinced that in a culture that doesn’t support marriage as the lifelong, faithful and fruitful union of one man and one woman, this time is indispensable to help them build their marriage on the rock of faith.

In addition to Marriage Encounter or other pre-Cana programs I have them take, I give them 12 short essays to write, so that I can better meet them where they’re at and help bring them to where the Church hopes they’ll be on their wedding day. I give them videos to watch and websites to visit. I administer FOCCUS tests (a pre-marriage inventory) to them and review with them their responses.

Over the course of our conversations, we discuss their family backgrounds, how they met, how they determined the other was the “right one,” how the proposal happened, what marriage means, why Christian marriage is a sacrament, what role God plays in their relationship, what is distinctive about marital love, what they love about the other and how the other has shown love to them, what their desires are for children, how to grow in prayer and faith as a couple, how to forgive, and what marriage experts say are best practices on communication, finances and relations with in-laws.

We go over in depth the necessary intentions for a valid marriage. We cover the what and why of the Church’s teachings about natural family planning, adoption, infertility, cohabitation, contraception, in vitro fertilization and pornography. We even tackle what to do if they happen to fall in love with someone else.

In all of this, rather than being an insurmountable handicap, my priesthood is actually an asset.

My chaste celibacy allows me to be more objective in talking about human sexuality in God’s plan than someone whose experiences are marked too much by personal experience.

My seminary training is likewise a plus. So many generous Catholic couples who volunteer to lead marriage-preparation courses, like my parents, certainly can talk effectively and eloquently about various practical realities of living a Catholic marriage, but, in general, they cannot speak to the theology and sacramentality of marriage the way priests can and couples deserve. Not even most permanent deacons can address the “tough issues” with regard to the Church’s moral teaching with the same clarity and confidence as priests. These priestly contributions are an indispensable service to couples who are often beguiled by our secular age to look at marriage in a desacralized way.

Most helpful of all, however, I think, is simply a priest’s presence and prioritized concern for the couple. Many young people, including Catholics, don’t know priests personally, because they see them only in chasubles. Many come to marriage preparation not practicing the faith, in one way or many, and have lots of unanswered questions and misconceptions that will impact their marriage and spiritual life overall if left unaddressed.

Over the course of the hours we have together, those questions can come up. Trust can build. The practice of the faith can return. Doubts about “credibility” can be overcome. Real evangelization or re-evangelization can take place.

When a priest shows how much he cares in making the time to get to know and form them, and then brings the fruit of that burgeoning friendship to their rehearsal, wedding homily, reception, future baptisms and more, it can have a favorable long-term influence on their relationship with all priests and with the Church.

I hope that the intense reaction that Cardinal Farrell’s unintentionally offensive remarks have provoked among priests and the faithful might lead him to reassess his conclusions.
I also hope that it will help him, and the dicastery he directs, to better support priests in the trenches in their important labor – together with married laypeople – in preparing couples not just for marriage, but for the sacrament of matrimony in its fullness.

The future of the Church depends on that crucial and ongoing work.

Father Roger Landry is a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts.

VATICAN INSIDER MEETS THE BENEDICTINE ABBOT PRIMATE

I wish Pope emeritus Benedict XVI God’s choicest blessings as today he marks 67 years of priesthood! God sit on your shoulder!

VATICAN INSIDER MEETS THE BENEDICTINE ABBOT PRIMATE

Join me this weekend for my conversation with Abbot Primate of the Benedictine Confederation Gregory Polan. Born near Chicago Illinois, Abbot Polan is a linguist, a scripture and theology scholar, a translator and, I have heard, is quite the organist. As abbot primate of the Confederation, he is also the abbot of St. Anselm in Rome and chancellor of the Pontifical Athenaeum of St. Anselm and its Pontifical Liturgical Institute.

Abbot Polan was ordained a priest on May 26, 1977. After some years of teaching and pastoral experience in a parish, he completed his doctorate in Biblical Theology at the Pontifical Faculty of Saint Paul University in Ottawa, Canada. He served in the administration at Conception Seminary College from 1985 until 1996. In 1996, he was elected Abbot of Conception Abbey, and subsequently in September 2016 was elected Abbot Primate of the Benedictine Confederation.

Listen as Abbot Polan tells us about St. Benedict, the history of the order, its famous motto, his specific ministry as Abbot primate, what it means to be a monk, the difference between monastery, abbey and priory, the Benedictine Oblates and so much more.

IN THE UNITED STATES, you can listen to Vatican Insider (VI) on a Catholic radio station near you (stations listed at http://www.ewtn.com) or on channel 130 Sirius-XM satellite radio, or on http://www.ewtn.com. 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.” VI airs at 5am and 9pm ET on Saturdays and 6am ET on Sundays. On the GB-IE feed (which is on SKY in the UK and Ireland), VI airs at 5:30am, 12 noon and 10pm CET on Sundays. Both of these feeds are also available on the EWTN app and on http://www.ewtnradio.net ALWAYS CHECK YOUR OWN TIME ZONE! For VI archives: http://www.ewtn.com/multimedia/audio-library/index.asp (write Vatican Insider where it says Search Shows and Episodes)

BISHOP FOLEY, KEEN INTELLECT, PASTORAL SENSITIVITY, POWERFUL PREACHING – VATICAN REPORTEDLY REJECTS GERMAN BISHOPS’ PROPOSAL FOR INTERCOMMUNION OF SPOUSES – “BENEDICT XVI: IN HONOR OF TRUTH” :WHY HE REALLY RESIGNED

The unrelenting pace I have kept since March 29 when I flew to New York finally caught up with me, as it always does. I had a dinner party Monday night for Michael Warsaw of EWTN, the latest on a merry-go-round of events, invitations, hosting friends, attending meetings, researching, writing, editing and trying to memorize and then filming new episodes of Joan’s Rome videos, etc. etc.

Michael is in town for the annual three-day communications conference hosted by the Pontifical University of Holy Cross as EWTN this year is the principal sponsor of the event. I was there this morning for Michael’s talk entitled “Religious Information in a ‘fake news’ Society.”

I felt a cold coming on Monday, found the strength to continue activities and appointments but it hit me with a bang yesterday, the morning I was to do the commentary for the Pope’s weekly general audience. I asked the Holy Sprit to be with me for at least an hour and to make sure I could stop sneezing and coughing so that I could actually speak and do the commentary. I spoke to the right person and for an hour was fine (although there were microphone issues in Alabama for a short period of time). In any event, I came home, everything hit me and I spent the rest of the day in bed, except for my usual Wednesday appearance on Catholic Connection, Teresa Tomeo’s radio show.

I wanted to be in fine fettle for Michael’s talk today and a parish council meeting this evening, then dinner with priest friends from Chicago.

I was sorry to hear of Bishop Foley’s death but knew he had been suffering. Even more than that, he was totally ready to meet the Lord. Below is Michael Warsaw’s message.

On the other hand, I was delighted to hear what seems to be good news from the CDF – Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

And I was truly delighted to hear of the documentary about Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI that explains “the truth about his resignation.” It is the same truth, the same story I have been telling people since the day Benedict resigned on February 11, 2013. I have written about it and have talked about the “real reason” on TV and radio. In fact, my first TV appearance on February 11, 2013 was with Shep Smith on FoxNews: “So, Joan, tell us why Pope Benedict really resigned.” My answer – and a bit more – could have been summed up in the piece you’ll read below.

BISHOP FOLEY, KEEN INTELLECT, PASTORAL SENSITIVITY, POWERFUL PREACHING

Michael Warsaw, CEO of EWTN network, issued the following statement on the death Tuesday night of Bishop emeritus Foley of Birmingham, AL:

“All of us at EWTN are saddened by the death of The Most Reverend David Foley who served the Diocese of Birmingham as Bishop for over a decade. I had the privilege of first knowing Bishop Foley thirty years ago when he was a pastor in the Archdiocese of Washington. Throughout his life and wherever his service to the Church took him, he was always known for his keen intellect, pastoral sensitivity and powerful preaching.

During his time as Bishop of Birmingham, he served as a member of the EWTN Board of Governors. He also took great joy in hosting “Pillars of Faith”, a weekly live call-in television program that examined the Catechism of the Catholic Church from cover to cover.

Despite their occasional disagreements, when Mother Angelica suffered her stroke and brain hemorrhage in 2001, Bishop Foley was one of the first to be at her bedside and he remained a frequent visitor to pray for her. He never waivered in his respect for all that Mother had accomplished and was always supportive of the Network she founded.

May God reward him for his life of service to the church, and may he rest in peace.”

VATICAN REPORTEDLY REJECTS GERMAN BISHOPS’ PROPOSAL FOR INTERCOMMUNION OF SPOUSES

(CNA/EWTN News).- The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has reportedly rejected a planned proposal by the German bishops’ conference to publish guidelines permitting non-Catholic spouses of Catholics to receive the Eucharist in some limited circumstances.

Austrian news site kath.net has reported that Vatican sources say the CDF, with papal approval, has suspended the German bishops’ proposal, and sources close to the congregation have confirmed this to CNA.

It is not clear whether the Vatican has asked the bishops’ conference to modify the contents of the draft guidelines, whether they have suspended the development of a draft while the matter is considered further, or whether it has been entirely rejected.

In February, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising announced that the German bishops’ conference would publish a pastoral handout for married couples that allows Protestant spouses of Catholics “in individual cases” and “under certain conditions” to receive Holy Communion, provided they “affirm the Catholic faith in the Eucharist”.

The announcement was made “after intensive debate” at the conclusion of the general assembly of the German bishops’ conference, which was held Feb. 19 – 22 in the Bavarian city of Ingolstadt, and attended by 62 members of the bishops’ conference under the leadership of conference chairman Cardinal Marx.

Last month, seven German bishops sent a letter to the CDF and to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity asking for clarification on the matter. The signatories did not consult beforehand with Cardinal Marx.

The seven bishops asked whether the question of Holy Communion for Protestant spouses in interdenominational marriages can be decided on the level of a national bishops’ conference, or if rather, “a decision of the Universal Church” is required in the matter.

The letter was signed by Cardinal Rainer Woelki of Cologne, Archbishop Ludwig Schick of Bamberg, Bishop Gregor Hanke of Eichstätt, Bishop Konrad Zdarsa of Augsburg, Bishop Stefan Oster of Passau, Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg, and Bishop Wolfgang Ipolt of Görlitz.

“From the view of the signatories, the goal in a question of such centrality to the Faith and the unity of the Church must be to avoid separate national paths and arrive at a globally unified, workable solution by way of an ecumenical dialogue,” the Archdiocese of Cologne told CNA Deutsch April 4.

The Code of Canon Law already provides that in the danger of death or if “some other grave necessity urges it,” Catholic ministers licitly administer penance, Eucharist, and anointing of the sick to Protestants “who cannot approach a minister of their own community and who seek such on their own accord, provided that they manifest Catholic faith in respect to these sacraments and are properly disposed.”

“BENEDICT XVI: IN HONOR OF TRUTH” – WHY HE REALLY RESIGNED

His closest collaborators deny that the cause was the leaking of documents to the press or the issue of sexual abuse (From a story on Aleteia by Sylvia Costantini)

It was February 11, 2013, when Benedict XVI communicated to the world his decision to resign from the exercise of the papal ministry. This historic event has left many open questions.

Five years later, on the occasion of the Pope Emeritus’ 91st birthday, a documentary has been presented in the Vatican, called “Benedict XVI: in Honor of Truth,” precisely in order to clarify the reasons for that decision.

Some of the people closest to Joseph Ratzinger relive that moment—including his brother, Georg; Fr. Federico Lombardi, former spokesman of the Holy See; and the Prefect of the Papal Household, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, who was his personal secretary for years.

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the archbishop of Vienna and one of the theological disciples of Professor Joseph Ratzinger, is visibly moved when he shares some of his memories.

Cardinal Schönborn, remembering the Pope’s deceased sister, Maria, who was particularly beloved by the Pope Emeritus, reveals: “The day after the conclave [in which he was elected Pope], when he entered the Casa Santa Marta for breakfast, in the morning, dressed in white… —our beloved professor, our friend, yes, dressed in white…—he greeted each one of us personally, and I said to him, ‘Holy Father, yesterday, during your election, I thought about your sister, Maria, and I asked myself if she had said to the Lord, “take my life, but leave my brother here.”‘ And he answered me, ‘I think so.’”

One decisive moment of the documentary helps us to understand Ratzinger’s decision to retire. It is explained by Stephan Horn, who had been his assistant at the University of Regensburg, and is his disciple and friend: “The doctor had told him he wouldn’t be able to travel to Brazil to participate in the World Youth Day. So, he decided to resign before the event.”

Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, describes the impressive responsibility proper to a Pope, and the daily marathon of commitments, both public and private, that characterize it (liturgical ceremonies, journeys, long meetings, audiences…). Pope Ratzinger would not have been able to face such exertion, with his inexorable natural loss of strength due to age. According to the Jesuit priest, it is clear that this was the true motive for Benedict’s resignation.

Archbishop Georg Gänswein categorically denies that the motive for Pope Benedict’s resignation was the leak to the press by his butler (the famous “Vatileaks”), a betrayal which caused his heart profound suffering, or the burden of having to face the crisis caused by sexual abuse by Church representatives.

The documentary, which is 48 minutes long, was produced by the Rome Reports television agency, in collaboration with the Italian episcopate’s television channel, TV2000, and the Joseph Ratzinger Foundation of the Vatican, thanks to the patronage of the Doctor Ramón Tallaj Foundation.
During the presentation of the documentary at the Vatican Film Library in the presence of Archbishop Gänswein, Dr. Ramón Tallaj—president of SOMOS, a network of doctors in the New York area particularly committed to humanitarian causes—emphasized the continuity between the pontificate of Pope Benedict and that of Pope Francis, at the service of the Church and of humanity.

Gänswein confirmed that Pope Benedict retains all his intellectual lucidity, and acknowledged the gradual loss of his physical strength. He underlined the peacefulness of the Pope Emeritus’ life in retirement, spent with the small community of the monastery where he lives in the Vatican.

The documentary “Benedict XVI: In Honor of Truth” was produced in English, Spanish, and Italian, and will now be distributed around the world.