Grand Master R.I.P.

Knights of Malta Grand Master Fra Andrew W.N. Bertie stands next to a painting of himself in more traditional costume at the Knights' headquarters in Rome in this 2002 file photo. The lay Catholic religious organization is the world's oldest chivalric order, existing for 900 years. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)The grand master of the Knights of Malta, Fra Andrew Willoughby Ninian Bertie, died in Rome on Thursday. His passing means that Rome will host a new election — the Knights call it a conclave — sometime soon.

For those who met him, Bertie seemed one of a kind. Like all the Knights’ grand masters, he could trace back at least 200 years a noble bloodline on both sides of his family. But he didn’t lord it over anyone; he spent some of his afternoons helping out at Rome clinics, emptying bedpans and doing other volunteer tasks.

When Bertie was elected in 1988, Greg Erlandson — now publisher of Our Sunday Visitor — covered the event for the CNS Rome bureau. Greg’s lead described Bertie as a “58-year-old blue-blooded celibate judo expert,” which was somehow fitting. The man could not be easily categorized.

In 2002, I did a piece on the Knights and their headquarters in downtown Rome. The building had a prime location on Via Condotti but the décor inside was definitely faded grandeur. I later figured out that instead of spending money to refurbish their own offices, they had financed a state-of-the-art public clinic in the lower part of the building.

Bertie was modest and affable, with a dry wit. I began my interview by asking him how one addresses a grand master, and I’ll never forget his almost apologetic answer: “I suppose the easiest is, ‘Your Highness.'”

At that time, Bertie was annoyed — in the way one might be annoyed by flies at a picnic — by the counterfeit orders that were springing up on the Internet, with names and symbols similar to the Sovereign Military Order of the Knights of Malta. Some were selling memberships and titles.

“They’re an absolute pain,” he said.

The Knights — the real ones — have since upgraded their own U.S. and international Web sites, and they’re a good place to check for news about the upcoming choice of a new grand master.

PHOTO: Knights of Malta Grand Master Fra Andrew W.N. Bertie stands next to a painting of himself in more traditional costume at the Knights’ headquarters in Rome in this 2002 file photo. The lay Catholic religious organization is the world’s oldest chivalric order, existing for 900 years. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

Using ‘Big Brother’ to explain the Jesuit election process

Logo for Jesuit General CongregationFather Carlo Casalone, an Italian delegate to the Jesuit General Congregation, said it was interesting that “Grande Fratello,” the Italian version of the televison program “Big Brother,” had its season premiere Jan. 21, just two days after the Jesuits elected their new superior general, Father Adolfo Nicolas.

The Jesuit election was preceded by four days of prayer and “murmuratio,” private one-on-one conversations in which one voting delegate could ask another voting delegate concrete questions about the practical abilities and spiritual gifts of a third Jesuit. There were no candidates and no campaigning. A Jesuit could not volunteer to speak to others on behalf of his favorite. Each delegate could only ask concrete questions about another or respond to concrete questions about another.

Father Casalone told reporters Friday that the election process “was the opposite of the communication style used by ‘Grande Fratello.’ If you go to the ‘Grande Fratello’ Web site, you can spy on the house 24 hours a day. The private sphere is placed in the public sphere indiscriminately.”

The Jesuit election process, on the other hand, takes a large group of men (217 voting delegates) from around the world and tries to help them identify the one person who can best lead almost 20,000 Jesuits working in universities, parishes, schools, social centers, refugee camps and literally hundreds of other settings.

The Jesuit method, he said, “involves getting to know a person profoundly while maintaining discretion and privacy,” the very thing “Big Brother” and its clones is designed to destroy.

And although the entire General Congregation is surrounded by a bit of that same discretion, the Jesuits recognize that their members around the world, their collaborators and their friends want to know something about what is going on inside. So, Jesuit Fathers Daniel Villanueva and Pierre Belanger have come to the rescue. The two recently revamped the General Congregation Web site and keep it updated, including with comments from those watching from the outside. Father Villanueva, a Spaniard, is finishing his degree at the Weston School of Theology in Massachusetts and Father Belanger is based in Montreal where he directs JESCOM-Canada.

Is McCain pro-life?

Now that Sen. John McCain appears to be this year’s presumptive Republican presidential nominee, one developing storyline is whether he’ll have the support of the pro-life movement this fall. A glimpse into that debate can be found in the pages of the National Catholic Register. A column last week headlined “McCain Sits Down for Life,” which took the senator to task for being “weak” on the issue, led to a strong defense of his record this week by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., whose own race for the White House last fall had been endorsed by numerous pro-life leaders.

Repenting for sins they never committed

The lead sentence in this story in the Catholic Sentinel of Portland, Ore., says it all:

This Lent, some Portland Catholics are repenting for horrific sins they never committed.

What follows is how a Portland couple decided that, if the church is not just priests and bishops Quenton and Anne Czuba wear sackcloth patches. (Sentinel photo by Ed Langlois)but the whole body of believers, they too should show remorse for the clergy sex abuse scandal. Read on to see how their idea to distribute hundreds of burlap patches at their parish last weekend was approved by their archbishop and their pastor and how fellow parishioners embraced the project.

Resources for Lent

A purple cloth is draped over a cross on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 6, inside St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in Rochester, N.Y. The color purple in the Lenten season traditionally represents the idea of repentance. (CNS/Mike Crupi, Catholic Courier)As we begin our Lenten journey, St. Anthony Messenger magazine offers one woman’s reflection on “Getting Lost in Lent,” along with possible steps for those who “stumble into the Lenten season with bruised souls.”

And speaking of Lent, the Florida Catholic had a cute story last week about a retiree who burns palms for Ash Wednesday in a custom-made burner at home and what happened when a neighbor dialed 911.

Also for Lent, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a news release on Lenten resources, including a special USCCB Web page for Lent.

PHOTO: A purple cloth is draped over a cross on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 6, inside St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in Rochester, N.Y. The color purple in the Lenten season traditionally represents the idea of repentance. (CNS/Mike Crupi, Catholic Courier)

Year of the Rat

As Chinese, including Catholics, get ready to celebrate the Year of the Rat, Annie Lam, head of the China office for the Asian church news agency UCA News, talks about the impact the country’s heavy snowstorms have had on the lunar new year.

Pedestrians pass Sacred Heart Cathedral in Shenyang, China, last March after a heavy snowstorm. Now an open and functioning cathedral, it was among the churches forced to close during the Cultural Revolution. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)CNS photo editor Nancy Wiechec and I were in Beijing last March for the fireworks ending Chinese new year celebrations, which often stretch for weeks. When we visited the Great Wall, we were surprised to see snow on the steps, but the city of Shenyang got hit with more than a foot of snow. After hours of delays, when we finally reached the airport in Shenyang, it was astounding to see the limited amount of snow removal equipment and the drifting. People were trying to clear some of the large runways with shovels.

When we drove from Shenyang to Fushun, there was a little less snow, but very cold temperatures and lack of central heating meant the nuns in the Sisters of the Sacred Heart convent there wore sweatpants and down jackets under their habits.

Everywhere we went in China, we heard of the importance of the lunar new year to families and how people would travel for days to be with their loved ones. So as the Year of the Rat begins, our hearts go out to those stranded in airports, train and bus stations, and we commend those Chinese Catholics who are sacrificing to try to help those affected by the heavy snows.

PHOTO: Pedestrians pass Sacred Heart Cathedral in Shenyang, China, last March after a heavy snowstorm. Now an open and functioning cathedral, it was among the churches forced to close during the Cultural Revolution. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

A makeover and a scoop

Two men read L'Osservatore Romano at a newspaper stand outside St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Feb. 2. (CNS/Reuters)The Vatican newspaper is sporting a cleaner, more dynamic look, and it’s getting positive reviews.

L’Osservatore Romano’s new editor, Giovanni Maria Vian, promised changes when Pope Benedict appointed him last fall. The newspaper was badly in need of a makeover, and its circulation had fallen to life-support levels. The new layout features more photos, more color and less debris floating around the pages. (Some are reporting that color is appearing in the paper “for the first time ever,” which simply is not true.)

Not that L’Osservatore has turned into a tabloid. It’s still six columns wide, and unfolding it on a bus or train remains a challenge. The newspaper’s age is indicated in Roman numerals, and as always the masthead carries its mottos in Latin: “Unicuique suum” and “Non praevalebunt.”

How’s that again? The first, which means “To each his own,” refers to a principle of civil justice. The second, “They will not prevail,” comes from the Gospel and “they” refers to the powers of evil.

As for content, L’Osservatore readers have also noticed a change. There’s more international news, fewer evergreen pieces about the church and even some scoops.

Its pages also feature many more articles written by women — a specific request of Pope Benedict, according to Vian.

The newspaper continues the weird practice of dating each issue one day ahead. That used to lead Vatican officials to joke that with the Osservatore you could get “yesterday’s news tomorrow.”

But that’s no longer true.  Just today, for example, L’Osservatore was the first Vatican news outlet to carry the pope’s reformulated text of the 1962 Missal’s Good Friday prayer for Jews. For the first time in memory, Vatican employees rushed out to buy the newspaper.

PHOTO: Two men read L’Osservatore Romano at a newspaper stand outside St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Feb. 2. (CNS/Reuters)

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