A papal chair made from American walnut

Pope Benedict XVI, seated in a chair specially made from American walnut, looks on during a meeting with U.S. bishops at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington April 16. (CNS/Paul Haring)The papal chair used by Pope Benedict XVI for yesterday’s vespers service and his address to the U.S. bishops afterward was fashioned from American walnut, a wood “characteristic of America,” said Lou Dicocco.

His family-run company received the commission to make the high-backed papal seat, two side chairs and two kneelers for the pope’s visit to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

“What better than the traditional American walnut” for Pope Benedict for his first visit to the United States as pope, said DiCocco. He spoke to Catholic News Service in a telephone interview in the days leading up to the papal visit. His company is the St Jude Shop in the Philadelphia suburb of Havertown.

St. Jude Shop, with its team of artists and artisans, has a long history of designing, building and installing pieces for church interiors. “We’re liturgical consultants by trade,” said DiCocco, whose mom and dad founded the business more than 40 years ago. The company recently completed one of the newest chapels at the shrine — Our Lady of La Vang chapel, a gift from Vietnamese-Americans. So the shrine was very familiar with the company’s work, he said.

He shared other details about the pope’s chair: The fabric used for the seat and back cushions was an ivory-colored damask. Just above the back cushion was a small oval shape bearing the papal coat of arms, whose intricate details were woven into the fabric with old-fashioned needlework. 

At first “we treated it like any other commission,” Dicocco said of the papal project, but then it hit the team that it was a project “like no other.” To craft something for the pontiff “is the highest honor in our faith,” he said.  

Text of pope to Jewish community

Here is the text as released by the Vatican of Pope Benedict’s message today to the Jewish community:

My dear friends,

I extend special greetings of peace to the Jewish community in the United States and throughout the world as you prepare to celebrate the annual feast of Pesah. My visit to this country has coincided with this feast, allowing me to meet with you personally and to assure you of my prayers as you recall the signs and wonders God performed in liberating his chosen people. Motivated by our common spiritual heritage, I am pleased to entrust to you this message as a testimony to our hope centered on the Almighty and his mercy.

* * *
To the Jewish community on the Feast of Pesah

My visit to the United States offers me the occasion to extend a warm and heartfelt greeting to my Jewish brothers and sisters in this country and throughout the world. A greeting that is all the more spiritually intense because the great feast of Pesah is approaching. “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as an ordinance for ever” (Exodus 12: 14). While the Christian celebration of Easter differs in many ways from your celebration of Pesah, we understand and experience it in continuation with the biblical narrative of the mighty works which the Lord accomplished for his people.

At this time of your most solemn celebration, I feel particularly close, precisely because of what Nostra Aetate calls Christians to remember always: that the Church “received the revelation of the Old Testament through the people with whom God in His inexpressible mercy concluded the Ancient Covenant. Nor can she forget that she draws sustenance from the root of that well-cultivated olive tree onto which have been grafted the wild shoots, the Gentiles” (Nostra Aetate, 4). In addressing myself to you I wish to re-affirm the Second Vatican Council’s teaching on Catholic-Jewish relations and reiterate the Church’s commitment to the dialogue that in the past forty years has fundamentally changed our relationship for the better.

Because of that growth in trust and friendship, Christians and Jews can rejoice together in the deep spiritual ethos of the Passover, a memorial (zikkaron) of freedom and redemption. Each year, when we listen to the Passover story we return to that blessed night of liberation. This holy time of the year should be a call to both our communities to pursue justice, mercy, solidarity with the stranger in the land, with the widow and orphan, as Moses commanded: “But you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this” (Deuteronomy 24: 18).

At the Passover Seder you recall the holy patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the holy women of Israel, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachael and Leah, the beginning of the long line of sons and daughters of the Covenant. With the passing of time the Covenant assumes an ever more universal value, as the promise made to Abraham takes form: “I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing… All the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you” (Genesis 12: 2-3). Indeed, according to the prophet Isaiah, the hope of redemption extends to the whole of humanity: “Many peoples will come and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths’” (Isaiah 2: 3). Within this eschatological horizon is offered a real prospect of universal brotherhood on the path of justice and peace, preparing the way of the Lord (cf. Isaiah 62: 10).

Christians and Jews share this hope; we are in fact, as the prophets say, “prisoners of hope” (Zachariah 9: 12). This bond permits us Christians to celebrate alongside you, though in our own way, the Passover of Christ’s death and resurrection, which we see as inseparable from your own, for Jesus himself said: “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4: 22). Our Easter and your Pesah, while distinct and different, unite us in our common hope centered on God and his mercy. They urge us to cooperate with each other and with all men and women of goodwill to make this a better world for all as we await the fulfillment of God’s promises.

With respect and friendship, I therefore ask the Jewish community to accept my Pesah greeting in a spirit of openness to the real possibilities of cooperation which we see before us as we contemplate the urgent needs of our world, and as we look with compassion upon the sufferings of millions of our brothers and sisters everywhere. Naturally, our shared hope for peace in the world embraces the Middle East and the Holy Land in particular. May the memory of God’s mercies, which Jews and Christians celebrate at this festive time, inspire all those responsible for the future of that region-where the events surrounding God’s revelation actually took place-to new efforts, and especially to new attitudes and a new purification of hearts!

In my heart I repeat with you the psalm of the paschal Hallel (Psalm 118: 1-4), invoking abundant divine blessings upon you: “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever. Let Israel say, ‘His steadfast love endures forever.’ … Let those who fear the Lord say, ‘His steadfast love endures forever’.”

What the well-stocked reporter brings

When covering a major event like a papal visit in situations when you don’t know when you’re going to be back at the office, one needs to be both compact and resourceful.

Here’s a personal checklist, augmented by CNS International Editor Barb Fraze, of things reporters — well, at least this one — has on their person or carrying in a bag:

ID. Check. I’m wearing four lanyards with eight separate pieces of identification. One or more of them should enable me to get where I need to be.

Cell phone. Check. Luddite that I am, I only got one two weeks ago. If you call, think twice about leaving a message. I’m not sure I’ve learned yet how to retrieve them.

Cell phone charger. Check. You can’t leave yourself incommunicado by your own negligence.

Cell phone instruction manuals. Check. In case I had time to learn a new feature. On the third day of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit, they’re still new to me.

Pocket change. No. Too much trouble to scoop out of pockets and return there if going through security checkpoints.

Pens. Check. One black (my preferred color), one blue and one red. When note-taking is fast and furious, it helps to be able to differentiate or highlight when the situation warrants it.

Camera and extra film. Check. I’m not a photographer by trade, but even amateur (but not amateurish) work can help tell the story if no one else is on the scene.

Cassette recorder. Check. You never know when you need to talk to someone who talks so fast you couldn’t possibly keep up with written note-taking. Also helpful when covering important personages who don’t speak from prepared remarks.

Wallet. Check. Clear out the clutter — charge- and debit-card slips, old ATM receipts — and stock with fresh bills. Not everywhere you go will accept plastic.

Business cards. Check. In case an interview subject has something to add or amend after the interview is over.

Subway fare card. Check. In case you need to get from someplace where the reporter shuttle buses can’t or won’t go.

Handkerchief. Check. When I was 9, my mom told me, “It’s a long day without a hankie.” At first I doubted her; isn’t the day going to be 24 hours long anyway? But thanks to her adage, I learned the theory of relativity.

Jacket. I regretted bringing it yesterday when the sun warmed up the packed-tight White House crowd. I left it behind for the today’s papal Mass without regrets.

Notebook. Check. I brought two, in fact, just in case note-taking gets out of hand.

Book with the liturgical texts of all of the Masses and prayer services led by the pope. Check. A handy reference. Note to self: Be sure to make it available for reporters on New York leg of trip.

Masking tape. Check. CNS staff had prepared pens with duct tape wrapped around them. A nice thought, but I found it a pain to peel off withough scissors or a knife — a big no-no when passing through metal detectors. Need to secure something? Masking tape, generously applied, turns the trick.

CNS placards. Check. I used my allotment of two at the papal visit media center in Washington to secure some prime real estate in the front row. I got two more in case I needed to secure a similar spot in the press box in Nationals Park. Outside the Vatican Embassy, I was prepared, had the need arisen, to use both placards and masking-tape them around my shirt to make sure interview subjects came over to me.

Laptop computer. Check. The computer bag must be filled with all sorts of wires and connections.

Power strip. Check. Just in case a venue supplies electricity but not much else.

Printed e-mails. Check. In case you’re somewhere you can’t access e-mail from a laptop.

Comfortable shoes. Check. I have a pair of go-to-church shoes, but when going to church is part of going to work, as it was at Nationals Park, the go-to-work shoes win.

Text of pope to other religions

Here is the prepared text as released by the Vatican of Pope Benedict’s message this evening to representatives of other religions:

My dear friends,
I am pleased to have this occasion to meet with you today. I thank Bishop Sklba for his words of welcome, and I cordially greet all those in attendance representing various religions in the United States of America. Several of you kindly accepted the invitation to compose the reflections contained in today’s program. For your thoughtful words on how each of your traditions bears witness to peace, I am particularly grateful. Thank you all.

This country has a long history of cooperation between different religions in many spheres of public life. Interreligious prayer services during the national feast of Thanksgiving, joint initiatives in charitable activities, a shared voice on important public issues: these are some ways in which members of different religions come together to enhance mutual understanding and promote the common good. I encourage all religious groups in America to persevere in their collaboration and thus enrich public life with the spiritual values that motivate your action in the world.

The place where we are now gathered was founded specifically for promoting this type of collaboration. Indeed, the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center seeks to offer a Christian voice to the “human search for meaning and purpose in life” in a world of “varied religious, ethnic and cultural communities” (Mission Statement). This institution reminds us of this nation’s conviction that all people should be free to pursue happiness in a way consonant with their nature as creatures endowed with reason and free will.

Americans have always valued the ability to worship freely and in accordance with their conscience. Alexis de Tocqueville, the French historian and observer of American affairs, was fascinated with this aspect of the nation. He remarked that this is a country in which religion and freedom are “intimately linked” in contributing to a stable democracy that fosters social virtues and participation in the communal life of all its citizens. In urban areas, it is common for individuals from different cultural backgrounds and religions to engage with one another daily in commercial, social and educational settings. Today, in classrooms throughout the country, young Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and indeed children of all religions sit side-by-side, learning with one another and from one another. This diversity gives rise to new challenges that spark a deeper reflection on the core principles of a democratic society. May others take heart from your experience, realizing that a united society can indeed arise from a plurality of peoples – “E pluribus unum”: “out of many, one” – provided that all recognize religious liberty as a basic civil right (cf. Dignitatis Humanae, 2).

The task of upholding religious freedom is never completed. New situations and challenges invite citizens and leaders to reflect on how their decisions respect this basic human right. Protecting religious freedom within the rule of law does not guarantee that peoples – particularly minorities – will be spared from unjust forms of discrimination and prejudice. This requires constant effort on the part of all members of society to ensure that citizens are afforded the opportunity to worship peaceably and to pass on their religious heritage to their children.

The transmission of religious traditions to succeeding generations not only helps to preserve a heritage; it also sustains and nourishes the surrounding culture in the present day. The same holds true for dialogue between religions; both the participants and society are enriched. As we grow in understanding of one another, we see that we share an esteem for ethical values, discernable to human reason, which are revered by all peoples of goodwill. The world begs for a common witness to these values. I therefore invite all religious people to view dialogue not only as a means of enhancing mutual understanding, but also as a way of serving society at large. By bearing witness to those moral truths which they hold in common with all men and women of goodwill, religious groups will exert a positive influence on the wider culture, and inspire neighbors, co-workers and fellow citizens to join in the task of strengthening the ties of solidarity. In the words of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt: “no greater thing could come to our land today than a revival of the spirit of faith”.

A concrete example of the contribution religious communities make to civil society is faith-based schools. These institutions enrich children both intellectually and spiritually. Led by their teachers to discover the divinely bestowed dignity of each human being, young people learn to respect the beliefs and practices of others, thus enhancing a nation’s civic life.

What an enormous responsibility religious leaders have: to imbue society with a profound awe and respect for human life and freedom; to ensure that human dignity is recognized and cherished; to facilitate peace and justice; to teach children what is right, good and reasonable!

There is a further point I wish to touch upon here. I have noticed a growing interest among governments to sponsor programs intended to promote interreligious and intercultural dialogue. These are praiseworthy initiatives. At the same time, religious freedom, interreligious dialogue and faith-based education aim at something more than a consensus regarding ways to implement practical strategies for advancing peace. The broader purpose of dialogue is to discover the truth. What is the origin and destiny of mankind? What are good and evil? What awaits us at the end of our earthly existence? Only by addressing these deeper questions can we build a solid basis for the peace and security of the human family, for “wherever and whenever men and women are enlightened by the splendor of truth, they naturally set out on the path of peace” (Message for the 2006 World Day of Peace, 3).

We are living in an age when these questions are too often marginalized. Yet they can never be erased from the human heart. Throughout history, men and women have striven to articulate their restlessness with this passing world. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the Psalms are full of such expressions: “My spirit is overwhelmed within me” (Ps 143:4; cf. Ps 6:6; 31:10; 32:3; 38:8; 77:3); “why are you cast down, my soul, why groan within me?” (Ps 42:5). The response is always one of faith: “Hope in God, I will praise him still; my Savior and my God” (Ps 42:5, 11; cf. Ps 43:5; 62:5). Spiritual leaders have a special duty, and we might say competence, to place the deeper questions at the forefront of human consciousness, to reawaken mankind to the mystery of human existence, and to make space in a frenetic world for reflection and prayer.

Confronted with these deeper questions concerning the origin and destiny of mankind, Christianity proposes Jesus of Nazareth. He, we believe, is the eternal Logos who became flesh in order to reconcile man to God and reveal the underlying reason of all things. It is he whom we bring to the forum of interreligious dialogue. The ardent desire to follow in his footsteps spurs Christians to open their minds and hearts in dialogue (cf. Lk 10:25-37; Jn 4:7-26).

Dear friends, in our attempt to discover points of commonality, perhaps we have shied away from the responsibility to discuss our differences with calmness and clarity. While always uniting our hearts and minds in the call for peace, we must also listen attentively to the voice of truth. In this way, our dialogue will not stop at identifying a common set of values, but go on to probe their ultimate foundation. We have no reason to fear, for the truth unveils for us the essential relationship between the world and God. We are able to perceive that peace is a “heavenly gift” that calls us to conform human history to the divine order. Herein lies the “truth of peace” (cf. Message for the 2006 World Day of Peace).

As we have seen then, the higher goal of interreligious dialogue requires a clear exposition of our respective religious tenets. In this regard, colleges, universities and study centers are important forums for a candid exchange of religious ideas. The Holy See, for its part, seeks to carry forward this important work through the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies, and various Pontifical Universities.

Dear friends, let our sincere dialogue and cooperation inspire all people to ponder the deeper questions of their origin and destiny. May the followers of all religions stand together in defending and promoting life and religious freedom everywhere. By giving ourselves generously to this sacred task – through dialogue and countless small acts of love, understanding and compassion – we can be instruments of peace for the whole human family.

Peace upon you all!

Text of pope to educators

Here is the prepared text as released by the Vatican of Pope Benedict’s address to Catholic educators this afternoon:

Your Eminences,
Dear Brother Bishops,
Distinguished Professors, Teachers and Educators,

“How beautiful are the footsteps of those who bring good news” (Rom 10:15-17). With these words of Isaiah quoted by Saint Paul, I warmly greet each of you – bearers of wisdom – and through you the staff, students and families of the many and varied institutions of learning that you represent. It is my great pleasure to meet you and to share with you some thoughts regarding the nature and identity of Catholic education today. I especially wish to thank Father David O’Connell, President and Rector of the Catholic University of America. Your kind words of welcome are much appreciated. Please extend my heartfelt gratitude to the entire community – faculty, staff and students – of this University.

Education is integral to the mission of the Church to proclaim the Good News. First and foremost every Catholic educational institution is a place to encounter the living God who in Jesus Christ reveals his transforming love and truth (cf. Spe Salvi, 4). This relationship elicits a desire to grow in the knowledge and understanding of Christ and his teaching. In this way those who meet him are drawn by the very power of the Gospel to lead a new life characterized by all that is beautiful, good, and true; a life of Christian witness nurtured and strengthened within the community of our Lord’s disciples, the Church.

The dynamic between personal encounter, knowledge and Christian witness is integral to the diakonia of truth which the Church exercises in the midst of humanity. God’s revelation offers every generation the opportunity to discover the ultimate truth about its own life and the goal of history. This task is never easy; it involves the entire Christian community and motivates each generation of Christian educators to ensure that the power of God’s truth permeates every dimension of the institutions they serve. In this way, Christ’s Good News is set to work, guiding both teacher and student towards the objective truth which, in transcending the particular and the subjective, points to the universal and absolute that enables us to proclaim with confidence the hope which does not disappoint (cf. Rom 5:5). Set against personal struggles, moral confusion and fragmentation of knowledge, the noble goals of scholarship and education, founded on the unity of truth and in service of the person and the community, become an especially powerful instrument of hope.

Dear friends, the history of this nation includes many examples of the Church’s commitment in this regard. The Catholic community here has in fact made education one of its highest priorities. This undertaking has not come without great sacrifice. Towering figures, like Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton and other founders and foundresses, with great tenacity and foresight, laid the foundations of what is today a remarkable network of parochial schools contributing to the spiritual well-being of the Church and the nation. Some, like Saint Katharine Drexel, devoted their lives to educating those whom others had neglected – in her case, African Americans and Native Americans. Countless dedicated Religious Sisters, Brothers, and Priests together with selfless parents have, through Catholic schools, helped generations of immigrants to rise from poverty and take their place in mainstream society.

This sacrifice continues today. It is an outstanding apostolate of hope, seeking to address the material, intellectual and spiritual needs of over three million children and students. It also provides a highly commendable opportunity for the entire Catholic community to contribute generously to the financial needs of our institutions. Their long-term sustainability must be assured. Indeed, everything possible must be done, in cooperation with the wider community, to ensure that they are accessible to people of all social and economic strata. No child should be denied his or her right to an education in faith, which in turn nurtures the soul of a nation.

Some today question the Church’s involvement in education, wondering whether her resources might be better placed elsewhere. Certainly in a nation such as this, the State provides ample opportunities for education and attracts committed and generous men and women to this honorable profession. It is timely, then, to reflect on what is particular to our Catholic institutions. How do they contribute to the good of society through the Church’s primary mission of evangelization?

All the Church’s activities stem from her awareness that she is the bearer of a message which has its origin in God himself: in his goodness and wisdom, God chose to reveal himself and to make known the hidden purpose of his will (cf. Eph 1:9; Dei Verbum, 2). God’s desire to make himself known, and the innate desire of all human beings to know the truth, provide the context for human inquiry into the meaning of life. This unique encounter is sustained within our Christian community: the one who seeks the truth becomes the one who lives by faith (cf. Fides et Ratio, 31). It can be described as a move from “I” to “we”, leading the individual to be numbered among God’s people.

This same dynamic of communal identity – to whom do I belong? – vivifies the ethos of our Catholic institutions. A university or school’s Catholic identity is not simply a question of the number of Catholic students. It is a question of conviction – do we really believe that only in the mystery of the Word made flesh does the mystery of man truly become clear (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 22)? Are we ready to commit our entire self – intellect and will, mind and heart – to God? Do we accept the truth Christ reveals? Is the faith tangible in our universities and schools? Is it given fervent expression liturgically, sacramentally, through prayer, acts of charity, a concern for justice, and respect for God’s creation? Only in this way do we really bear witness to the meaning of who we are and what we uphold.

From this perspective one can recognize that the contemporary “crisis of truth” is rooted in a “crisis of faith”. Only through faith can we freely give our assent to God’s testimony and acknowledge him as the transcendent guarantor of the truth he reveals. Again, we see why fostering personal intimacy with Jesus Christ and communal witness to his loving truth is indispensable in Catholic institutions of learning. Yet we all know, and observe with concern, the difficulty or reluctance many people have today in entrusting themselves to God. It is a complex phenomenon and one which I ponder continually. While we have sought diligently to engage the intellect of our young, perhaps we have neglected the will. Subsequently we observe, with distress, the notion of freedom being distorted. Freedom is not an opting out. It is an opting in – a participation in Being itself. Hence authentic freedom can never be attained by turning away from God. Such a choice would ultimately disregard the very truth we need in order to understand ourselves. A particular responsibility therefore for each of you, and your colleagues, is to evoke among the young the desire for the act of faith, encouraging them to commit themselves to the ecclesial life that follows from this belief. It is here that freedom reaches the certainty of truth. In choosing to live by that truth, we embrace the fullness of the life of faith which is given to us in the Church.

Clearly, then, Catholic identity is not dependent upon statistics. Neither can it be equated simply with orthodoxy of course content. It demands and inspires much more: namely that each and every aspect of your learning communities reverberates within the ecclesial life of faith. Only in faith can truth become incarnate and reason truly human, capable of directing the will along the path of freedom (cf. Spe Salvi, 23). In this way our institutions make a vital contribution to the mission of the Church and truly serve society. They become places in which God’s active presence in human affairs is recognized and in which every young person discovers the joy of entering into Christ’s “being for others” (cf. ibid., 28).

The Church’s primary mission of evangelization, in which educational institutions play a crucial role, is consonant with a nation’s fundamental aspiration to develop a society truly worthy of the human person’s dignity. At times, however, the value of the Church’s contribution to the public forum is questioned. It is important therefore to recall that the truths of faith and of reason never contradict one another (cf. First Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith Dei Filius, IV: DS 3017; St. Augustine, Contra Academicos, III, 20, 43). The Church’s mission, in fact, involves her in humanity’s struggle to arrive at truth. In articulating revealed truth she serves all members of society by purifying reason, ensuring that it remains open to the consideration of ultimate truths. Drawing upon divine wisdom, she sheds light on the foundation of human morality and ethics, and reminds all groups in society that it is not praxis that creates truth but truth that should serve as the basis of praxis. Far from undermining the tolerance of legitimate diversity, such a contribution illuminates the very truth which makes consensus attainable, and helps to keep public debate rational, honest and accountable. Similarly the Church never tires of upholding the essential moral categories of right and wrong, without which hope could only wither, giving way to cold pragmatic calculations of utility which render the person little more than a pawn on some ideological chess-board.

With regard to the educational forum, the diakonia of truth takes on a heightened significance in societies where secularist ideology drives a wedge between truth and faith. This division has led to a tendency to equate truth with knowledge and to adopt a positivistic mentality which, in rejecting metaphysics, denies the foundations of faith and rejects the need for a moral vision. Truth means more than knowledge: knowing the truth leads us to discover the good. Truth speaks to the individual in his or her the entirety, inviting us to respond with our whole being. This optimistic vision is found in our Christian faith because such faith has been granted the vision of the Logos, God’s creative Reason, which in the Incarnation, is revealed as Goodness itself. Far from being just a communication of factual data – “informative” – the loving truth of the Gospel is creative and life-changing – “performative” (cf. Spe Salvi, 2). With confidence, Christian educators can liberate the young from the limits of positivism and awaken receptivity to the truth, to God and his goodness. In this way you will also help to form their conscience which, enriched by faith, opens a sure path to inner peace and to respect for others.

It comes as no surprise, then, that not just our own ecclesial communities but society in general has high expectations of Catholic educators. This places upon you a responsibility and offers an opportunity. More and more people – parents in particular – recognize the need for excellence in the human formation of their children. As Mater et Magistra, the Church shares their concern. When nothing beyond the individual is recognized as definitive, the ultimate criterion of judgment becomes the self and the satisfaction of the individual’s immediate wishes. The objectivity and perspective, which can only come through a recognition of the essential transcendent dimension of the human person, can be lost. Within such a relativistic horizon the goals of education are inevitably curtailed. Slowly, a lowering of standards occurs. We observe today a timidity in the face of the category of the good and an aimless pursuit of novelty parading as the realization of freedom. We witness an assumption that every experience is of equal worth and a reluctance to admit imperfection and mistakes. And particularly disturbing, is the reduction of the precious and delicate area of education in sexuality to management of ‘risk’, bereft of any reference to the beauty of conjugal love.

How might Christian educators respond? These harmful developments point to the particular urgency of what we might call “intellectual charity”. This aspect of charity calls the educator to recognize that the profound responsibility to lead the young to truth is nothing less than an act of love. Indeed, the dignity of education lies in fostering the true perfection and happiness of those to be educated. In practice “intellectual charity” upholds the essential unity of knowledge against the fragmentation which ensues when reason is detached from the pursuit of truth. It guides the young towards the deep satisfaction of exercising freedom in relation to truth, and it strives to articulate the relationship between faith and all aspects of family and civic life. Once their passion for the fullness and unity of truth has been awakened, young people will surely relish the discovery that the question of what they can know opens up the vast adventure of what they ought to do. Here they will experience “in what” and “in whom” it is possible to hope, and be inspired to contribute to society in a way that engenders hope in others.

Dear friends, I wish to conclude by focusing our attention specifically on the paramount importance of your own professionalism and witness within our Catholic universities and schools. First, let me thank you for your dedication and generosity. I know from my own days as a professor, and I have heard from your Bishops and officials of the Congregation for Catholic Education, that the reputation of Catholic institutes of learning in this country is largely due to yourselves and your predecessors. Your selfless contributions – from outstanding research to the dedication of those working in inner-city schools – serve both your country and the Church. For this I express my profound gratitude.

In regard to faculty members at Catholic colleges universities, I wish to reaffirm the great value of academic freedom. In virtue of this freedom you are called to search for the truth wherever careful analysis of evidence leads you. Yet it is also the case that any appeal to the principle of academic freedom in order to justify positions that contradict the faith and the teaching of the Church would obstruct or even betray the university’s identity and mission; a mission at the heart of the Church’s munus docendi and not somehow autonomous or independent of it.

Teachers and administrators, whether in universities or schools, have the duty and privilege to ensure that students receive instruction in Catholic doctrine and practice. This requires that public witness to the way of Christ, as found in the Gospel and upheld by the Church’s Magisterium, shapes all aspects of an institution’s life, both inside and outside the classroom. Divergence from this vision weakens Catholic identity and, far from advancing freedom, inevitably leads to confusion, whether moral, intellectual or spiritual.

I wish also to express a particular word of encouragement to both lay and Religious teachers of catechesis who strive to ensure that young people become daily more appreciative of the gift of faith. Religious education is a challenging apostolate, yet there are many signs of a desire among young people to learn about the faith and practice it with vigor. If this awakening is to grow, teachers require a clear and precise understanding of the specific nature and role of Catholic education. They must also be ready to lead the commitment made by the entire school community to assist our young people, and their families, to experience the harmony between faith, life and culture.

Here I wish to make a special appeal to Religious Brothers, Sisters and Priests: do not abandon the school apostolate; indeed, renew your commitment to schools especially those in poorer areas. In places where there are many hollow promises which lure young people away from the path of truth and genuine freedom, the consecrated person’s witness to the evangelical counsels is an irreplaceable gift. I encourage the Religious present to bring renewed enthusiasm to the promotion of vocations. Know that your witness to the ideal of consecration and mission among the young is a source of great inspiration in faith for them and their families.

To all of you I say: bear witness to hope. Nourish your witness with prayer. Account for the hope that characterizes your lives (cf. 1 Pet 3:15) by living the truth which you propose to your students. Help them to know and love the One you have encountered, whose truth and goodness you have experienced with joy. With Saint Augustine, let us say: “we who speak and you who listen acknowledge ourselves as fellow disciples of a single teacher” (Sermons, 23:2). With these sentiments of communion, I gladly impart to you, your colleagues and students, and to your families, my Apostolic Blessing.

Pope meets privately with victims of priestly sexual abuse

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI held an unscheduled meeting with victims of priestly sexual abuse, shortly after pledging the church’s continued efforts to help heal the wounds caused by such acts.

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No cheering in the press box

Baseball fan that I am, I’ve wangled my way into more than a few press boxes in my day.

Press boxes are now far too big to be considered boxes or boxlike. Some press boxes at newer ballparks are now called “media centers” in acknowledgment of the multiple forms of communication — radio, television, online and, yes, newspapers.

No matter what communication form or which practitioners are inside, the dictum remains: No cheering in the press box.

Well, what of a papal Mass with attendance bigger than any one ballgame in the same stadium could accommodate? And, unlike a game, there’s just one side on the field at a Mass.

Upon further review, there was no cheering in the press box during Pope Benedict XVI’s Mass at Nationals Park today. A little excitement, sure, when the popemobile first came into view from its route from a tunnel in center field, as reporters were craning their own necks to see with their own eyes something caught on the jumbo-screen television in right-center.

And that was about it. The only other thing that could remotely be described as “home-team” behavior was the occasional crossing of oneself at points in the Mass. I catch myself doing that while watching the “Mass for Shut-Ins” on TV, and I’ve never been a shut-in.

There are simply too many things to track during a Mass of this magnitude in terms of following texts and liturgical rubrics to spend much time shouting (or even murmuring) “Viva il papa!” And too many people are working — multitasking by typing or reading radio copy while following the Mass — to get caught up in the drama of any one moment.

Two things for sure, though: There’s a lot less wisecracking in a papal Mass press box than in a ballpark press box, and the papal Mass press-box denizens are dressed far better than their baseball conterparts.

Curse of the coffee achievers

In the three-week existence of Nationals Park as a functioning stadium, there probably had never been the demand for coffee as was experienced this morning before Pope Benedict XVI’s Mass.

For one thing, the Mass was a morning event, starting at 10 a.m. This meant that people had to get to the park early to go through the security measures.

And, because parking at the ballpark is at a premium even on game days — and made worse due to road closures to allow for the safe and smooth transit of Pope Benedict and other VIPs, most people coming to the Mass had to take the Metro to get to Nationals Park. And Washington’s Metro system has a strict rule against eating or drinking while inside the subway system.

On top of that, police allowed no food or beverages to be taken into the stadium, with very few exceptions. And coffee was not one of the exceptions.

That made coffee, er, lovers quite anxious to get a cup of the brew once inside. A lot of requests for coffee early on were met with “We don’t have any coffee” or “we don’t have any coffee yet.”

The ballpark ran out of coffee from the vending booths that did serve the stuff.

“I’m dyin’ for a cup of coffee,” said  Vinnie Bellezza of La Plata, Md. He was about 60th in line. He said he had done some “pre-emptive eating ” on a church bus from LaPlata to Nationals Park. By the time he, his wife and a friend had completed a brief interview with Catholic News Service, there were 26 additional people in line behind them.

At 8:15 a.m. one nun, tapping her wristwatch for emphasis, remarked how she had been in line for “nearly an hour” waiting for a cup of coffee. There were still four others in line behind her, and the line didn’t move in the five minutes after she tapped her watch.

“An example of poor planning,” said a woman fourth in line behind the nun. “They should realize that in the morning,” she added, slowing down her words for emphasis, “People. Want. Coffee.”

“I swindled my way into getting some coffee,” boasted Rachel Pantazis to her seatmates at Nationals Park. “There was a long line of people,” she told them, extending her left (non-coffee-holding) hand after far as it could go, “and there was this cashier at an empty stand. I walked up to her and said, `I want some coffee.’ She said, `It’s going to be 10 minutes.’ `That’s fine, I’ll wait right here,’” Pantazis said, using the same hand to indicate the stand she took.

“And I got my coffee.”

Strained glass

With all of the attention focused on Pope Benedict XVI’s Mass, with its altar in deep center field at Nationals Park in Washington, it’s likely that few worshippers took notice of the press box behind home plate.

If they had, they would have noticed a half-inch-thick pane of glass cracked in hundreds (if not thousands) of places, but still miraculously held together in one piece. It wasn’t some decoration planned for the papal Mass, nor was it some smart-alecky window display by Urban Outfitters. “Stained glass,” remarked one  press-box wag after Mass was over.

It wasn’t some foul ball hit by Ryan Zimmerman or Lastings Milledge that hit the glass just the wrong way.  Rather, a reporter in the press box tried to slide the pane to have an unfettered view of the baseball action on the diamond. But the pane got off the track, and the stress of the motion resulted in the fractured glass.

 

 

Breakfast at the ballpark

Washington Nationals management took great pride in convincing a lot of local restaurateurs to be vendors at Nationals Park: the Red Hot & Blue barbecue chain, the Five Guys hamburger shops, Gifford’s ice cream, Hard Times Cafe, Boardwalk Fries and others.

But when the concession stands opened at 6 a.m. today for Pope Benedict XVI’s Mass, the food fare was distinctly spartan: doughnuts, danishes, muffins and not much else.

And the beer kiosks? Reduced to selling soft drinks and bottled water — if they were open at all.

Ben’s Chili Bowl, a Washington institution for more than 40 years, has a couple of spaces in the ballpark to sell their chili dogs and half-smokes. But for the papal Mass, they offered the same limited assortment of breakfast foods as the other vendors. I bought a $2 chocolate muffin, still wraped in cellophane,  plucked from under a heat lamp.

By 6:30 a.m., it was not unusual to see lines of two dozen or more waiting for something, anything to buy and eat. A half-hour later, the lines had easily doubled.

Three youth-group leaders from Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in Takoma Park, Md., weighed in on what they usually eat for breakfast.

“We usually love coffee and juice — and bagels,” said Cecilia Hernandez.

“Bagels and cream cheese. Or maye an Egg McMuffin-type thing,” added Carolina Bustillo.

All Wendy Blanco could scare up for her friends were doughnuts, for sale at two for $2.

The concession stands started closing at 9 a.m. as people were getting ready for the celebration of Mass. They were given the OK to reopen at noon, after the Mass had ended — and were free to offer their typical fare.

 

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