SYNOD UPDATE: DAY 6, SATURDAY, OCTOBER 12 – SYNOD UPDATE: DAY 7, MONDAY, OCTOBER 14

Depending on the time of day you read this, you might want a second cup of coffee or perhaps a glass of prosecco!

Synod participants in coming days will meet in the circuli minores, the smaller language groups, where they will discuss the themes heard in recent days in the synod hall as well as make comments, reflections and suggestions. Under Popes John Paul and Benedict, the names of the participants in each language group and the names of the moderators of each group were published. That is not currently happening in this synod.

SYNOD UPDATE: DAY 6, SATURDAY, OCTOBER 12

The first week of the three-week Special Synod for the Pan-Amazon region concluded on Saturday evening, 12 October. Along with the Pope, there were 166 Synod Fathers in the hall, along with others participating in the Synod.

Vatican News – Vatican City

One of the themes put forward in the eighth General Congregation of the Special Synod for the Pan-Amazon region on Saturday afternoon was the centrality of Christ in the Church’s mission. “How many know the Gospel?”, one of the Synod participants asked. In addition, it was affirmed that the Good News must be announced not only in the Amazon, but in the entire world. Since evangelization is never undertaken alone, the creation of a team was proposed. The hope is that this team would be able to both respond adequately to the multiple pastoral challenges facing the region and witness to the joy of evangelization.

A Reflection on celibacy and the priesthood
Once again, the proposal for viri probati returned in more than one intervention. Some contributions highlighted that the lack of vocations is not particular to the Amazon. This led to the question, “Why make an exception exclusively for that region?” Taking up this theme in a future Synod was also suggested. Another observed that it is precisely because of celibacy that priests are welcomed by some indigenous populations. Furthermore, it was also stated that today’s world sees celibacy as the last rampart to be demolished using the pressure of a hedonistic and secular culture. It is, therefore, necessary to carry out an attentive reflection on the value of a celibate priesthood.

Others pointed out that a discussion regarding new models of priesthood is both inevitable and desirable. If on the one hand, sending priests to other dioceses and regions is encouraged, then on the other hand, ordaining wise men of proven faith should also be recommended. This hypothesis would not wound communion in the Church, nor would it undermine the value of celibacy. Rather, it might represent a decisive step toward achieving an ordained ministry that does not just visit a territory, but comes from and remains present in it. Another argument is that this response is not being put forward to solve the lack of vocations, but that the Church might have an identity that is truly Amazonian. It was also suggested that the Synod could lay the foundation for this new step forward in faith in the Holy Spirit that must be stronger than the fear of making a mistake.

Involving women: an antidote to clericalism
The theme of women in the Church was also brought up again in the afternoon, with the request that they be given more pastoral responsibility and effective participation, even at decision-making levels. Discerning the institution of women deacons in the region was also requested. Women today have already acquired greater roles in the life of the Christian community, not only as catechists or mothers, but also as persons capable of taking on new ministries. In addition, it was proposed that the inclusion of women, under the sign of reconciliation of the covenant, could lay the foundation for a less clerical Church. Clericalism is still present in the Church today, one Synod participant emphatically stated, and is an obstacle to service, fraternity and solidarity.

Listening to the Holy Spirit
A Synod exists to listen constantly to the Holy Spirit. This attitude of listening was proposed as the attitude that might guide and inspire an ecological conversion necessary to counteract the environmental destruction that threatens our planet. The Synod participants were reminded that the Creator entrusted the Amazon to our care. It is the most beautiful and vital garden on the planet. But unfortunately, we risk transforming this “terrestrial paradise” into a “hell” because of the fires raging which could deprive certain indigenous peoples of their indispensable heritage. Walking together means listening to “the agony of Mother Earth” and becoming aware of the “violence behind extractive ethnocide.” The appeal made by indigenous Amazonian organizations is that of reversing the tide so as not to fall into greater danger.

Everything is connected
We are all connected to each other. “Good living” (“buen vivir”) does not mean living “the good life”. Rather, it means that we are connected to each other and to the earth. The fragmentation of human existence that leads to disparity in terms of social condition needs to be rejected and condemned. Even though globalization has brought undeniable benefits to our lives, it has also opened the door to “wild capitalism” and a materialism that has created an extremely harmful form of consumerism. While the developed world demands cheap products, the indigenous populations who make them often pay the price in blood. From this reality emerged the appeal for a more simple style of life and for an ecological conversion that embraces fairer trade in the name of justice and peace.

Toward a Church with an indigenous face
Once again the request was heard in the Synod hall to be constantly aware of the suffering of the indigenous population who have a sovereign right to exist in the Amazon. Discovering the seeds of the word of God in the cultures and traditions of the region means recognizing that Christ already lives in the peoples who have not yet heard the Gospel. The Gospel, in fact, is not the exclusive patrimony of any one culture. It is this approach that favours the existence of an indigenous and Amazonian Church, one person said. One proposal is that an a new regional structure be instituted which would continue the momentum created by the positive experience of the networks created in the pre-Synod process and the inspirations of the Spirit received during the Synod.

Gift of religious life in the Amazon
Those at the Synod also heard a precious example of an indigenous person whose life has been offered to God through the religious life, thus helping the Church assume an indigenous face. Men and women religious struggle together for the rights of the people. They also feel called to pursue in their own ongoing formation the discovery of connections between their own indigenous heritage and Christian spirituality. In this way they hope to contribute to an integral ecology leading to the protection of both humankind and nature.

SYNOD UPDATE: DAY 7, MONDAY, OCTOBER 14

Following is a Vatican News summary of the content of the 10th general congregation on Monday afternoon, October 14. Following that is the Vatican News summary of the early afternoon October 14 press briefing.

Vatican News – Vatican City

During the 10th General Congregation that took place on the afternoon of 14 October, the participants in the Special Amazon Synod continued their work. In addition to Pope Francis, there were 177 Synod Fathers present, as well as other auditors, experts and invited guests.

Rethinking ministry in the Church in the light of the parameters of synodality so that the Church might be more and more formed by the Word of God was defined as one of the challenges of the Church in the Amazon region. Several interventions given this afternoon in the Synod Hall highlighted this.

The Word of God
The Word of God is an active and merciful presence; it is educative and prophetic, formative and performative. It underpins that challenge of integral ecology and can be a means for social, economic, cultural and political development and a new humanism. New ministers of the Word, including women, are needed to provide new responses to contemporary challenges. The Church must, therefore, invest in the formation of a well-prepared laity who, in a missionary spirit, will know how to proclaim the Gospel in every part of the Amazon. Providing an adequate formation for committed laity, it was noted, is also fundamental for promoting indigenous vocations to the religious life and ordained ministries.

The role of the laity and women
It was also said in the Hall that the gifts of the laity need to be better expressed and appreciated in a ministerial Church. Thanks to the laity, the Church is manifesting itself as a Church moving outward, distancing itself from clericalism. One intervention in particular suggested that the question of the so-called viri probati and the discussion regarding ministries open to women should be treated in an Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops since this theme affects the universal Church. Others suggested that women could be included in non-ordained ministries, ministries intended as service, so as to guarantee the dignity and equality of women in the entire Pan-Amazonian territory. Such ministries could be, for example, that of presiding over celebrations of the Word, or leading the activity of a social-charitable nature.

Viri probati
Another intervention counselled that prior to having viri probati priests, it would be necessary to think of viri probati deacons—that is, that the viri probati priests would come from the ranks of permanent deacons. The Permanent Deaconate can, therefore, be an appropriate “laboratory” for the possible future inclusion of married men to the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

Care for minors and vulnerable adults
Regarding the care of minors and vulnerable adults in the Amazon, the terrible scourge of pedophilia and other forms of sexual abuse requires that the Church be ever vigilant and courageous. It was emphasized that the greatest challenge is that of transparency and responsibility so that these crimes can be prevented and combated.

Sexual exploitation of the young was a recurring theme. One person said that criminal networks rob children of their infancy, making them also victims of the trafficking of organs. One statistic alone suffices to illustrate how dramatic the situation is: in 2018 in Brazil alone, 62,000 rapes were recorded. This is one of the highest numbers in the Amazon region.

At the bottom of all of this are grave economic inequality and the lack of government intervention capable of combating such horrendous crimes both at the local and international levels. Thus arose the appeal for an increased commitment in the area of prevention, including the involvement of the Episcopal Conferences and religious congregations.

The fight against human trafficking, which also heavily involves minors and women, was brought to the attention of those in the Synod hall. They were reminded that the victims of this drama are among the most dehumanized in the world. It was proposed that through the Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development, large companies be made to comply with international policy regarding human trafficking and that a Special Pastoral Commission be instituted to deal specifically with this crime.

Pastoral work for vocations and youth ministry
From other interventions, there emerged the importance of the pastoral work for vocations that cannot be left out of the work of evangelization. Furthermore, all evangelization must be accompanied by youth ministry which is a call to, and at the same time, a proposal for, a personal encounter with Christ. Those in the Hall were reminded that young people who wish to follow Christ need to be supported by adequate formation through the witness of holy and committed lives. It follows that priests must be capable of understanding completely the specific needs of the Amazon region. Their formation cannot be excessively academic, but most proceed with a missionary spirit and the heart of a shepherd.

Water: a primary resource
Forming catechists toward an integral ecology was underlined again, particularly regarding caring for and safeguarding water, a primary resource and source of life. This theme was also repeated by several auditors and invited guests. One provided the statistic that thousands of children die every day due to water related diseases. Another recalled what Pope Francis has said in the past that the next world war will be connected with water. It is urgent that there be a global awareness of the need to protect our common home, and that we be reconciled with creation. “Later will be too late”, those in the hall were told. An “ecological conversion” consists also in looking at the ethical dimension underpinning contemporary life styles which are often too technocratic, whose ultimate objective is that of turning everything into profit to the detriment of the vision of the human being as an integral human person.

The challenge of communication
A theme from the morning’s 9th General Congregation was repeated in the afternoon: that of communication. It was affirmed that through the mass media we must be open to communicate to every culture and in every language in order to support the Amazonian peoples. Church-sponsored media should, therefore, be a place to consolidate local knowledge that can be done through the formation of indigenous communicators.

Other reflections made by various Synodal Fathers included defending the indigenous peoples, which could also be carried out through education and through other small projects aimed at social development. Because they are often marginalized from society, indigenous populations should not be viewed as “incapable”, but must be empowered, listened to, understood and welcomed. From this theme, emerged the invitation for greater cooperation between the Justice and Peace Commission and that for promoting human rights.

Pope Francis’ reflection
When the Congregation concluded, Pope Francis spoke, reflecting on various themes that had emerged during the afternoon and highlighted a few things that had struck him the most.

OCTOBER 14 – PRESS BRIEFING

Amazon Synod Briefing: New challenges and new solutions
Four participants at the Synod for the Amazon met journalists in the Holy See Press Office on Monday afternoon for an exchange of experiences and impressions regarding the 9th General Congregation.

By Vatican News

The 9th General Congregation, held on Monday morning, was attended by 179 Synod Fathers, together with Pope Francis, who opened the session with a prayer for Ecuador. This was confirmed by the Prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Communications, Dr Paolo Ruffini, before he invited Jesuit Fr Giacomo Costa, Secretary of the Information Commission, to provide a summary of what was discussed in the Synod Hall.

Summary by Fr Giacomo Costa SJ
Fr Costa began by affirming how Pope Francis’ Encyclical, Laudato sì, is proving to be more than just a text, but truly rooted in the realities discussed at the Synod. This is being demonstrated by the way “everything is connected,” he said.

Amazon Synod: The Church’s commitment against violations of the rights of peoples
Summarizing what was discussed in the Synod Hall on Monday morning, Fr Costa listed several themes: dialogue with indigenous people, and the importance of participating in their lives, protecting local peoples’ rights and safeguarding nature. He said the need to remain rooted in the ground of experience coming from local territory was also mentioned.

The Synod Fathers discussed the challenges to local ministries, he said, how to inculturate the liturgy, and how to respond better to the needs and cultures of the people. The Eucharist, continued Fr Costa, was presented as “a source of unity and light.” Participants at the General Congregation, he said, confirmed we are “custodians of nature,” and stressed the integral and ecological focus of the Synod.

Participants at the morning session, said Fr Costa, affirmed the Church’s role of protecting and promoting the local people, of accompanying those without a voice. A suggestion was put forward to set up an international ecclesiastical observatory on the rights of indigenous people. Some Synod participants confirmed the importance of the Church integrating her perspectives into practices concerning human rights.

Fr Costa continued his summary of the proceedings that included the topic of “circular economic models”: access to food that respects the environment, and has a positive impact on local populations. These models can be achieved through an “integral education” that helps promote an equitable consumption of goods, he reported.

Not just education, but information too, was a topic that came under discussion, said Fr Costa. According to Synod participants, the “communication culture” is growing rapidly in the Amazon Region, and we need to “bridge the communications gap.” This means training local indigenous communicators, and establishing communications networks based on community and solidarity.

Ms Josianne Gauthier, Secretary General CIDSE (Canada)
CIDSE, the “Coopération Internationale pour le Développement et la Solidarité,” an umbrella organization for Catholic development agencies from Europe and North America. She began her presentation by saying how CIDSE has spent over 50 years supporting communities, including in the Amazon, promoting integral ecology and defending human rights.

We are here at the Synod, she said, in a “listening position,” to hear stories and to begin work on how to support these messages outside the Synod “in political spaces.” The task of CIDSE, she explained, is to ”take struggles and turn them into political pressure.”

Ms Gauthier said those of us who live “from the benefits of the tragic exploitation” that takes places in that part of the world, have a “heightened responsibility.” We need to recognize that “our well-being and comfort comes at a cost,” she said: human life, security, peace, and ecological justice.

Ms Gauthier concluded saying we need to promote consciousness and concentrate on “doing what we can after the Synod to transmit these messages.”

Bishop José Ángel Divassòn Cilveti, S.D.B. of Bamaccora (Venezuela)
Bishop Divassòn Cilveti is a Salesian. The Salesians, he said, have been working in the south of Venezuela since 1957. Reflections after the Second Vatican Council led to a new approach that began in 1976, he said: developing new forms of evangelization that support people and help them “take control of their own destinies.” Priests, laypeople, men and women religious, are all involved in this mission and have developed criteria based on participating in people’s live, and respecting communities, educating them, and assisting them with projects, he said.

In order to evangelize effectively, said Bishop Cilveti, we need to be familiar with people’s feelings, to understand what they think. Speaking in terms of his own experience, he said people “want to follow Jesus Christ, they want to change.” The Gospel has brought new concepts like mercy and forgiveness, he said, and these become the keys to solving many problems and conflicts.

The Bishop concluded by describing the Church in his region as a “young Church with different features,” one that helps people to help themselves.

Bishop Carlo Verzeletti of Castanhal (Brazil)
Bishop Carlo Verzeletti comes from Castanhal, in Brazil. His diocese comprises over 1,000 villages beside the mouth of the Amazon River. His priests, he added, “are few and aging.” They are able to meet people only a few times a year when they visit to celebrate Mass. This “running from one place to another,” does not offer the “presence and proximity, the support and comfort,” the people desire, he said.

The priest becomes the “distributor of the sacraments,” he added. This is why Bishop Verzeletti supports the ordination of “viri probati,” approved married men, “so that the Eucharist can become a reality that is closer to people and communities.” These would not be “second-rate priests,” he added, but men who are formed accordingly, “devoting their lives to others.”

Bishop Verzetti said his region has been severely affected by colonization and globalization: the result is secularization, religious indifference, and the influence of the Pentecostal churches. “Popular piety cannot resist the impact,” he said.

As an example, Bishop Verzetti said there are 750 Pentecostal churches in his city alone, and only 50 Catholic churches.

He has ordained 110 Permanent Deacons, he said, and works at empowering laypeople, “but with difficulty.” Were the Pope to consider the reality of “viri probati,” concluded the Bishop, “we have worthy people who could be ordained priests.”

José Gregorio Dìaz Mirabal (Venezuela)
Mr José Gregorio Dìaz Mirabal is Coordinator of COICA, the Congress of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin. His organization represents 4 million indigenous people spread over 4,500 communities in all six countries of the Amazon Region.

The Catholic Church, he said in his presentation, is the only organization calling for the world “to wake up.” Speaking as an indigenous person, he said, “we will disappear if we don’t do something.”

The presence of COICA at the Synod, said Mr Mirabal, is to support those who are struggling to protect the land, to stop the “violent invasion of development projects,” including hydroelectric schemes, uncontrolled mining, and the agri-food industry. He spoke of those who are imprisoned and murdered for speaking out against land grabbing, or while trying to stop the pollution of the air and water.

Mr Mirabal concluded by inviting the media to help disseminate these messages.

A question about statistics
The first question was addressed to Dr Paolo Ruffini and concerned statistics from the Amazon Region. The Prefect of the Vatican Communications Dicastery responded that, while pre-Synod preparations had produced statistical materials, this is not a study conference that requires statistical data. The Church is reflecting on “how to serve the Amazon though pastoral activities,” he said.

The Synod is not about “percentages,” he added, but about “how the Universal Church relates to a territory.” And a territory is best described by those who live there, said Dr Ruffini.

Bishop José Ángel Divassòn Cilveti confirmed that studies on the Church in the Amazon Region have been made by REPAM, and that this data was collected and published in preparation for the Synod.

A question about sovereignty
Responding to a question on possible interference in the Synod by local governments in the Amazon Region, Bishop Carlo Verzeletti re-affirmed the Church’s respect for the sovereignty of Brazil, in particular. The Church does not give “technical solutions,” he added, but guidelines so that life and rights in the Amazon Region are respected. Resolving economic problems in Brazil doesn’t mean opening up areas in the Amazon that will improve the lives of the rich, but not “the lives of our people,” he said.

With regard to a meeting in the Vatican between the Vice President of Brazil and the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Parolin, Dr Ruffini said it had “no influence on the Synod.” The meeting was about “diplomatic relations between States,” he said, and there was “no connection” with the Synod for the Amazon.

A question about future Pan-Amazonian organization
A question was asked about the possibility of setting up a future Pan-Amazonian organization after the Synod. It was confirmed that the topic had been raised in one of the small working groups, but there was a concern about multiplying too many organizations when the REPAM network already exists.

Ms Josianne Gauthier added that any form of collaboration is helpful when it comes to defending human rights. As long as there is “clarity of intention,” she said her organization would work with whatever structure is decided upon.

A question about viri probati
In connection with the ordination of approved married men, or “viri probati,” Jesuit Fr Giacomo Costa stressed the desire of the Pope that “all issues” be discussed in order to discern appropriate solutions. Fr Costa confirmed there are “different positions” on this issue, but that “everyone is listening in a respectful way.”

Dr Ruffini added that while some may be in favour and others against, in the end it is not the Synod that decides. The Synod will eventually entrust its reflections to the Holy Father as “something that is still in progress.”

A question about Ecuador
Responding to a question about the ongoing violence in Ecuador, José Gregorio Dìaz Mirabal said that what is happening throughout the region, “pains all of us.” There are so many challenges in search of solutions, he said.

Bishop José Ángel Divassòn Cilveti added that it is important to be aware of what is happening in these situations. We can only understand if we “look at the overall picture,” he said.

A question about Church investments
A question was asked regarding Church investments in projects in the Amazon Region. Fr Costa responded saying the Church has already disinvested and is disinvesting from certain products and companies.

Ms Josianne Gauthier added that disinvestment is a way by which the Church can show her “coherence with Laudato sì and integral ecology,” the connection between “words and actions.”

A question about the Church’s Amazonian face
The last question was about the kinds of changes that need to be made if the Church in the Amazon Region is truly to have an “Amazonian face.”

José Gregorio Dìaz Mirabal responded by repeating that it is not up to the Synod to make decisions. He confirmed, however, that the Church “must reach out” and must be reflected in the realities of the local people. He admitted that the Church needs support, and needs to build greater unity with the indigenous people in some parts of the Amazon Region.
In order to make one another stronger, he concluded, we need to “walk together – even if it means going barefoot.”

A PRIEST IS “A MAN WHO STANDS IN THE PLACE OF GOD, A MAN CLOTHED WITH ALL THE POWERS OF GOD”

At 11 am yesterday Saturday, September 28, at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica, Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of Sacraments, celebrated Mass to mark the 50th anniversary of his priestly ordination and the 40th of his ordination as a bishop. Scores of cardinals, bishops and priests concelebrated with the cardinal.

I was privileged to attend this very beautiful and meaningful Eucharist and to be present after Mass in the Paul VI Hall for the reception to which Cardinal Sarah invited his friends and colleagues. It was a joy to meet him, even if briefly, and to thank him for his life, his priesthood and his consistent defense of the faith.

Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, one of the concelebrants at Mass, joined the festivities at the Paul VI Hall and I felt blessed to have a few minutes with him as well.

I had a copy in Italian of Cardinal Sarah’s homily and followed along as he gave it during Mass. I was so moved by his extraordinary words about the priesthood, about the Eucharist that I decided to translate the entire homily into English and I offer it to you today to read and savor and share. You surely know a priest or two who would benefit enormously by the cardinal’s beautiful thoughts on the priesthood, and perhaps see his own priesthood in a new, almost divine light.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

(photos by Evandro Inetti CNA-EWTN)

You might want to look at one or all of these books by Cardinal Sarah: The Day Is Now Far Spent, The Power of Silence, A Conversation on Faith, and God or Nothing (three of which are book-length interviews with Nicolas Diat)

A PRIEST IS “A MAN WHO STANDS IN THE PLACE OF GOD, A MAN CLOTHED WITH ALL THE POWERS OF GOD”

Your Eminences,
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,
Ambassadors,
Dear Priests,
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

We are here in St. Peter’s Basilica to celebrate the Eucharist, that is, to give thanks to the Lord on the occasion of my fiftieth anniversary of priestly Ordination and the fortieth anniversary of the Episcopate. The heart of this celebration is Jesus Christ, the Heavenly High Priest … “holy, innocent, without blemish, separated from sinners and raised above the heavens” (Heb 7:26). But also the Virgin Mary, our Most Holy Mother, finds herself among us and invokes upon us the outpouring of the Spirit of Love, of Truth and Holiness.

Before having the joy and the privilege of offering you a brief meditation on the priesthood, starting from the biblical texts we have heard, let me first of all thank you, each and every one, from the bottom of my heart, as you have gathered here to surround me with your affection, your prayer and the strength of your Faith: I really need your Faith, the support of your friendship and your Christian fervor, to help me raise my gratitude to the Lord on this blessed day.

In fact, alone, I am too inadequate, too covered with miseries and sins. Alone, I am a no one who dares to present myself before God and express my immense gratitude for having called me to the priesthood and for the countless wonders that he has worked in me, in the course of my whole life. God amazes with his choices. He is wonderful and surprising in his generosity and in his love for each of us. This fiftieth is actually the anniversary of us all. Listen to what he says to each of us today: “Before forming you in the womb, I knew you, before you came out into the light, I consecrated you; I have made you a prophet of the nations”(Jer 1: 5).

Here is what the Lord has been for me: I was born in a humble and poor environment like that of Nazareth and in an animist and pagan culture, and He made me a Christian, a priest and a Bishop. Through baptism and priestly ordination he transformed me from nothing into his humble servant, into his beloved son. What I have become is truly the work of God and the fruit of the enormous sacrifices and heroic renunciations of Spiritan missionaries.

What I have become I also owe to my parents: Alexandre and Marie Claire. The priest – here is the most magnificent work, the most generous gift that God has given to humanity – is the most precious and inconceivable treasure that exists on earth: the Curé of Ars, Saint John-Mary Vianney was deeply convinced of it.

He said: “If we had faith, we would see God hidden in the priest like a light behind the glass, like wine mixed with water. How great is the priest! If he really understood (this), he would die. … God obeys him: he says two words and Our Lord descends from heaven at hearing this voice and closes himself in a small host.” The priest is “a man who stands in the place of God, a man who is clothed with all the powers of God. …Look at the power of the priest! His tongue makes God of a piece of bread!”

However, this happens only if we priests agree to be crucified with Christ, if each of us is ready to say, like Saint Paul, in the concrete web of our existence: “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (cf .Gal 2.19-20). Christ, the Son of God, only through the Cross and at the end of an extraordinary descent into an abyss of humiliation, comes to confer on priests the divine power to celebrate the Eucharist and to tear men, his earthly brothers, from the slavery of sin and death, to make them partakers of his divinity.

The Eucharist takes place only if our life is marked by the Cross. According to St. Josemaría Escrivà, the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ is the vital motivation of the priest, the pillar on which his priestly existence is built. In his motto he wrote it this way: “in laetitia nulla dies sine cruce: in joy, no day without the Cross”. The priest lives joy in its fullness in the Holy Mass, which is the raison d’être of his existence, what gives meaning to his life.

During the Mass, on the paten and in the chalice, the priest is close to the Host, he is truly before and together with our Lord Jesus Christ: Jesus looks at him and he looks at Jesus. Are we really fully aware of what the real presence of Christ himself really means before our eyes, under the Eucharistic species? During daily Mass the priest comes face to face with Jesus Christ and at that precise moment, he is identified, he becomes identified with Christ, becoming not only an Alter Christus, another Christ, but he is really Ipse Christus, Christ Himself. He is conscious of being invested by the Person of Christ himself, configured in a specific sacramental identification with the High Priest of the eternal Covenant (cf. Ecclesia de Eucharistia n.29).

St. Josemaria says again: “All priests – whether we are sinners or saints – when they celebrate Holy Mass are no longer themselves. They are Christ who renews his divine Calvary Sacrifice on the Altar.” In fact, on the altar I do not preside over anything, not even this Eucharist that gathers us here today. Although unworthily, Jesus is truly in me, I am Christ: what a terrifying statement! What a fearful responsibility! It makes me tremble with terror, but it is true: I am at the altar in His name and in His stead. It is in persona Christi that I consecrate the bread and wine, after having given him my body, my voice, my poor heart, profaned so many times by my many sins and that I ask him to purify.

On the eve of every Eucharistic celebration, the Virgin Mary, who welcomes us as children in her arms, prepares us herself and urges us to consign ourselves, soul and body, to Jesus Christ so that the miracle of the Eucharist may be fulfilled. The Cross, the Eucharist and the Virgin Mary shape, structure, nourish and consolidate our Christian and priestly life. You will understand why all Christians, but especially priests, must build their inner life on these three realities: CRUX – HOSTIA and VIRGO; Cross, Eucharist and Virgin Mary. The Cross makes us born into divine life. Without the Eucharist we cannot live and the Virgin watches over our spiritual development as a mother and educates us to grow in faith. Jesus reveals to us the secret of this heavenly food, in which His very flesh that nourishes us allows us to live in his own life, in the unheard-of intimacy of friendship with him. Priests and faithful Christians are truly Jesus’ friends.

The term “friend” introduces us to today’s Gospel. Jesus addresses these wonderful words to us: “You are my friends, if you do what I command you. I no longer call you servants … but I have called you friends, because all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you”(Jn 15,14-15). Of course, we often have the feeling of being useless servants (cf. Lk 17:10), an absolute and incontestable truth, but the Lord calls us his friends, he makes us his friends, he generously offers us his friendship.

Note that the Lord defines friendship by emphasizing two essential aspects. First of all He teaches us that among friends there are no secrets, friends say it all, with the utmost confidence and transparency. Precisely because we are his friends, the Lord told us priests what He learned from his Father. He then explains to us that friends trust each other blindly: Jesus therefore has complete trust in us and for this reason offers us a perfect knowledge of Himself and his Father, reveals his face and his heart to us, shows us his tenderness and his passionate love that will reach the folly of the cross.

He trusts us completely, giving us the power to speak on his name and in his place: for this we can say: “This is my Body … This is my Blood. Take it and eat it all … Take it and drink it all …”. He entrusts in our hands his body, his Church, the unfathomable mystery of the One and Triune God, the God who so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son as a ransom for many (Cf. Jn 3, 16; Mk 10:45).

If God has loved and chosen us, are we able to understand all the consequences that derive from being his friends and therefore introduced into his intimacy? Do we understand that if he has loved us and chosen us as priests, it is to go and bear much fruit? The Love, Friendship and Faith received from God must be revealed to others: we have received the faith to pass it on to others. We are priests to be humbly at the service of God and our brothers and sisters up to the oblation of our lives.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Pray for priests, pray for me, because today the priesthood is going through a deep crisis. In this Eucharist we entrust the Church and all priests to the maternal goodness of the Virgin Mary, our Mother and Mother of the Church. Once again, thank you very much for being present at this Mass of thanksgiving and God bless you. Amen.

POPE WRITES LETTER TO PRIESTS: GRATITUDE, ENCOURAGEMENT, PRAISE

Thanks to the Knights of Columbus, the incorrupt heart of St Jean Marie Vianney was on a tour of the United States from November 2018 to June 2019. These photos were taken by ChurchPOP English editor Jacqueline Burkepile:

POPE WRITES LETTER TO PRIESTS: GRATITUDE, ENCOURAGEMENT, PRAISE

Written in Spanish, Pope Francis’ Letter to Priests on the 160th anniversary of the death of the Cure d’Ars, St. Jean Marie Vianney, was also released by the Holy See Press Office in Italian, French, English, German, Portuguese, Polish and Arabic. He died on August 4, 1859.

Jean Baptiste Marie Vianney was a parish priest in Ars, France, known for his sanctity of life. Canonized in Rome in 1925 by Pope Pius X, he is venerated as the patron saint of pastors in the Church. His incorrupt body and heart are in the shrine dedicated to him in Ars.

Pope Francis’ letter begins: “Dear Brothers, A hundred and sixty years have passed since the death of the holy Curé of Ars, whom Pope Pius XI proposed as the patron of parish priests throughout the world. On this, his feast day, I write this letter not only to parish priests but to all of you, my brother priests, who have quietly “left all behind” in order to immerse yourselves in the daily life of your communities. Like the Curé of Ars, you serve “in the trenches”, bearing the burden of the day and the heat, confronting an endless variety of situations in your effort to care for and accompany God’s people.

“I want to say a word to each of you who, often without fanfare and at personal cost, amid weariness, infirmity and sorrow, carry out your mission of service to God and to your people. Despite the hardships of the journey, you are writing the finest pages of the priestly life. Some time ago, I shared with the Italian bishops my worry that, in more than a few places, our priests feel themselves attacked and blamed for crimes they did not commit. I mentioned that priests need to find in their bishop an older brother and a father who reassures them in these difficult times, encouraging and supporting them along the way.

“As an older brother and a father, I too would like in this letter to thank you in the name of the holy and faithful People of God for all that you do for them, and to encourage you never to forget the words that the Lord spoke with great love to us on the day of our ordination. Those words are the source of our joy: “I no longer call you servants… I call you friends” (Jn 15:15).”

The Holy Father writes of the pain of the sex abuse scandal and of gratitude for vocation, recalling that, “vocation, more than our choice, is a response to a free call from the Lord.” He thanks his brother priests “for their fidelity to their commitments”. It is “truly significant” – he observes – that in a “ephemeral” society and culture, there are people who discover the joy of giving life.

Pope Francis writes that the “heart of a pastor is one who has developed a spiritual taste for being one with his people, a pastor who never forgets that he has come from them…this in turn will lead to adopting a simple and austere way of life, rejecting privileges that have nothing to do with the Gospel.”

Another important word for Francis is encouragement: The mission to which we are called does not exempt us from suffering, pain and even misunderstanding. Rather, it requires us to face them squarely and to accept them, so that the Lord can transform them and conform us more closely to himself.”

The papal letter ends: “Brothers, once again, I continually give thanks for you… May we allow our gratitude to awaken praise and renewed enthusiasm for our ministry of anointing our brothers and sisters with hope. May we be men whose lives bear witness to the compassion and mercy that Jesus alone can bestow on us.”

Click here to read more: https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2019-08/pope-writes-to-priests-thank-you-for-your-service.html

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.

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)

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.