Yesterday was, as I briefly noted, the feast day of St. John Paul II and it was also the 40th anniversary of the inauguration of his pontificate on October 22, 1978. At his death on April 2, 2005, almost 27 years later, his was the third longest papacy after Pius IX (31 years, 7 months, 21 days) and St. Peter (precise dates unknown).
I met John Paul almost 20 times when I worked at VIS, the Vatican Information Service, had a number of occasions to actually speak to him and actually have a video I really cherish, a close up of the two of us talking before I left for China on the Holy See delegation to the UN’s women conference in 1995. He met the delegation before we left the next day for three weeks in Beijing. (I had no knowledge of the audience beforehand or I’d have worn a dark color outfit instead of a pink dress)
For 15 years in my job at VIS, I read every speech or homily John Paul gave and every document he wrote – how my faith and knowledge of the Church, the Universal Church grew!
The first time we met after Mass in his private chapel: there’s an hysterical story associated with this meeting in December 1985!
My favorite moments were attending Mass in his private chapel and making cookies for him. Yes, I started making chocolate chip cookies for John Paul as soon as I learned he loved chocolate. I’m a chocaholic so it was natural to share my favorite food. I always hand delivered them to his then secretary – now Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz – and I always got a note or phone call of thanks from Msgr. Stanislaw.
World Youth Day, Denver 1993-
One day I decided to research for VIS the countless “firsts” of John Paul’s pontificate. To name but a few: first Pope to ever visit a synagogue; to visit a mosque (Omayyad Great Mosque of Damascus); to hold press conferences in airplanes and one in the Holy See Press Office; the first Pope to stay in a hotel during a trip instead of residing in the apostolic nunciature or the bishop’s residence as is tradition during papal trip: he stayed at the Irshad Hotel in Baku, Azerbaijan, in May 2002. The hotel had diplomatic status for the duration of his stay. There was no bishop in Azerbaijan and there were only 120 faithful, the smallest ever number of Catholics in a country visited by a Roman Pontiff.
Pope John Paul visited the Holy See Press Office in January 1994
I was a lector at Christmas Midnight Mass, December 1993
A few more “firsts” of the dozens and dozens of this papacy: St John Paul added five new mysteries to the Rosary, the Luminous Mysteries; he said Mass in an airplane hangar at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport on the December 10th feast day of Loreto: Our Lady of Loreto is the patron saint of aviators; he called for a Day of Pardon in the Great Jubilee Year 2000); said Mass in the northernmost Catholic community in the world, over 350 kilometers north of the Arctic Polar Circle (Tromso, Norway 1989); first Pope (and I think the only one!) to use a letter on his papal crest: he put “M” for Mary. The rules of heraldry allow letters or words only around a crest, not on it.
The final time we met: December 14, 2004
I have always felt tremendously sorry for people who did not live during this papacy, who never knew St. John Paul! We were blessed beyond telling!
SYNOD OF BISHOPS: YOUNG PEOPLE ARE USED-LESS, NOT USELESS
At the Tuesday briefing for the Synod of Bishops on Young People, Cardinal Tagle from the Philippines said that the young women present with the bishops provided a much-needed expansion of horizons at the Synod.
By Russell Pollitt, SJ (vaticannews)
The draft of the final document was presented to the Synod Fathers on Tuesday morning and was greeted with a long round of applause, said Dr Paolo Ruffini Prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Communication. On Wednesday, the Synod Fathers will put forward proposals for integration into the final document. Dr Ruffini said that the document is different than the working document, the Instrumentun Laboris, but reflects many of the issues that were outlined in that document. He said that the icon for the entire document is the Scriptural account of the Road to Emmaus. He also said that a letter is being prepared and addressed to young people.
Wisdom and strength move us forward
Mr Joseph Sepati Moeono-Kolio, an auditor representing Caritas International and Oceania from Somoa, said the Synod has been an overwhelming experience. He said that it has been a time in which the Church has been reflecting on its engagement with the world, being acutely aware of the challenges the Church faces and proactively going out to meet those challenges. He said that the Synod spoke about Catholic Social Teaching and how to equip young people to go and use it in the world to face the issues that are before them.
Mr Sepati said that an image of the Synod for him from his own context in the Pacific region is an older wise person and young person in a canoe. The older person knows how to read the stars and navigate the oceans, the younger person has the strength to move things forward.
The Synod was like a school
Cardinal Charles Maung Bo from Myanmar said that after the Synod he personally and the Church in Myanmar will give more attention to young people. He said that he realised that young people have not be listened to as they deserve to be. He said that the Church needs to realise that young people are used-less and not useless. He said that he hopes that the whole Church will give attention to young people and follow up on the recommendations of the Synod.
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle from the Philippines said that he doesn’t like comparing Synods, as each one that he has attended, seven in all, is unique. This Synod has been like a school, young people have been teaching us, by sharing their dreams and desires but most especially by telling their stories, the Cardinal explained.
Cardinal Tagle said that this has also been a different Synod as the feminine voice has certainly been a focal point. He said that it was suggested often that female figures in Scripture should be used as interpretative lights for young people today. He said that the testimony of the young women at the Synod provided a much-needed expansion of horizons. The Cardinal said that when we talk about diversity it is not just about cultures but also the experience of women which is unique.
Migration and education
Archbishop Bienvenu Manamika Bafouakouahou from Congo said that he uses this image for the Synod: the final document of the Synod will be one that launches the bishops into orbit, like satellites, they in turn will give the signal back to young people on earth.
He said that in different parts of the world the issues were different for young people. For him, he said, migration is a real issue. Young people are looking for a better life but they are also driven from their homes, expelled from their land. This was caused, for example, by the degradation of the ecosystem at the hands of multinationals. He said that things like COP21 are often not adhered too despite all the promises made.
The Archbishop went on to say that another big concern is formation and education. He said that in Europe education was advanced but that in many African countries this is still a serious problem. Something must be done so that young people can grow and integral development can take place on the continent, the Archbishop concluded.
Holy Father to attend a book launch
At the briefing Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro spoke about a book that will be launched tonight at which Pope Francis will be present and answer questions. The book is entitled The Wisdom of Time and is aimed at bridging and connecting different generations. Fr Spadaro said that the Pope has been involved in the book in three ways: The Holy Father wrote the preface, he wrote about his own experience as an older man himself and then also contributed as a spiritual guide by commenting on the stories in the book.
BEHIND THE SCENES OF THE SYNOD
From “The Catholic Thing”: “On the Verge – by Robert Royal
The first draft of the final document of the Synod on Youth is being given to the bishops today – many of you may already know something about that by the time you read this, given the six-hour time difference between Rome and the East Coast of America. As I write, I don’t yet.
Italian journalists with long experience here say to expect a relatively uncontroversial text – on the surface. It will, they say, include ambiguous language about LGBTs designed not to provoke too strong a reaction, but formulations that can be turned in several desired directions in the future.
This seems only too likely. And that’s why the bishops who truly get what’s going on must push strongly for language that allows for no blurring of Catholic teaching, explicit or implicit, anywhere in the final document.
The synod fathers were on a kind of brief vacation Monday and will be back in session reading this text and proposing changes Tuesday and Wednesday. Their proposed changes will then be incorporated, or not, by the committee doing the writing of a second draft later in the week and finally voted on Saturday. Or at least that’s the schedule – which Pope Francis can always decide to change – as Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the Communications Office of the Holy See, regularly reminds audiences.
We can’t yet know, of course, what the draft will say, but we can make informed guesses on the basis of the few things we have seen at recent briefings. For example, on Saturday, Diane Montagna of LifeSite News asked three English-speaking bishops (Cardinal Cupich of Chicago, Cardinal Rabat of Papua New Guinea, and Archbishop Comensoli of Melbourne) a perfectly reasonable – and perfectly clear – question.
Are you distinguishing, on the one hand, between “welcoming and accepting and including” people who are same-sex attracted as persons, who like all persons deserve our respect and goodwill, and on the other hand, are you making it clear, as the Catechism does, that homos exual orientation, let alone behavior, is not being “welcomed”? Especially since young people want the truth.
You would think that this is something any Catholic bishop, archbishop, or cardinal could answer in a couple of words: Of course, yes. You can watch the reaction here (he gave a link to a video), in which Archbishop Comensoli goes through a roundabout way of saying we are all sinners on a pilgrimage to the foot of the Cross.
Well, yes, of course, but that’s not exactly what’s being questioned at the moment.
Cardinal Cupich gave an even more puzzling response that we have to be sure “not to place obstacles” to the workings “of God’s grace.” Presumably, this means that you don’t simply, and obstinately, repeat Church teaching and neglect real human engagement with people who are same-sex attracted, but are also seeking Jesus Christ.
But this is only to say that, when dealing with someone who’s searching, you shouldn’t be a jerk. No argument there, of course. But it’s a real question whether it may also be an obstacle to the working of grace not to urgently – also sensitively, if you will – convey to the same-sex attracted or to anyone how serious all sin is.
There’s something in this “accompanying” that in one way is what the Church has always done – reaching out to all of us as we return again and again to confess, repent, make a firm resolution to avoid future sin.
But in another way, there’s something else being introduced here. Sure the Church wants to walk on a pilgrimage with God’s people, which means dealing with sinners who progress and relapse. But if there’s no sense of urgency and the pilgrimage begins to stretch out seemingly without limit, maybe the real call of the Gospel is not being proposed.
Besides, as the wisdom of all good theology and even pagan philosophy reminds us, none of us knows the hour of our death.
Asking for a real decision – here and now – may be a more merciful and compassionate, even more realistic and essential, than an obstacle.
It’s fair to speculate that we’ll see some attempt to get non-committal, open-ended language like this into the first draft. Amoris laetitia has already given us the example for it, the “walking with” people in second marriages and the half-expressed change in teaching that it’s going to be fine for everyone to receive the sacraments even though there is no intention to change a sinful life.
For multiple reasons, our time finds it particularly difficult to make traditional moral affirmations about homosexuality. The ashes of Matthew Shephard, a homosexual prostitute and drug dealer who was horribly murdered in Wyoming years ago, but has been falsely mythologized as a gay saint, will be interred at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. this week. The Episcopal Church is quite lost at present, in many ways, not least in trying to normalize and celebrate and even sacralize what until recently that church regarded as sin.
And even American Evangelicals have been affected. Evangelicals have been poorly educated in their churches lately and are now confused about many core Christian beliefs, as a study released in the past week by an evangelical outfit has discovered. But the largest shift in attitudes has occurred over homosexuality. Around half of evangelicals say they believe that “The Bible’s condemnation of homosexual behavior doesn’t apply today.”
The Catholic embrace of both faith and reason, Scripture and tradition, has long been a point of pride about how we differ from other faith groups, especially when they become unmoored, and go along with wherever the culture, often a decidedly non-Christian culture, is going.
We will see in the next few days how such things stand among the gathered bishops.