Archbishop Dolan to Pope Benedict: Grace and mercy still abound

New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan greets Pope Benedict XVI

ROME — Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York addressed Pope Benedict Saturday on behalf of the bishops of New York state, telling the pope that God’s grace and mercy are as abundant among Catholics today as they were in the lives of past saints. His remarks came just before the pope delivered the first of five speeches he will give to groups of U.S. bishops making “ad limina” visits in coming months.

Here is the text of Archbishop Dolan’s talk:

Holy Father:

On Thursday, we in the United States celebrated our grand national feast of Thanksgiving.  For us bishops of the State of New York, to be here with you is indeed an occasion of thanksgiving! We praise Jesus for your ministry as successor of Saint Peter.

To visit you is more than a duty of canon law; for us, to borrow a phrase from one of our own, Dorothy Day, whom we hope one day will be a saint, it is a “duty of delight.”

We need not repeat to you statistics and reports, as these are carefully detailed in our required quinquennials, and in our pleasant conversations with you in the last two days.

Instead, we bishops come to you, as did the apostles to Jesus, to report with praise to God about all that His Word continues to accomplish in the eight dioceses of the State of New York. God’s grace and mercy are as abundant now as they once were in the lives of New Yorkers in the past whom we revere as saints or future saints.

The work of evangelization goes on, as it did centuries ago in our state through St. Isaac Jogues, John De Brebeuf, and the North American Martyrs. Our catechumens, children, young people and adults still respond to the invitation of Jesus to conversion of heart and the call to holiness, as our own Blessed Kateri Tekawitha and Father Paul Watson once did.

Our priests, consecrated religious, and faithful people continue to feed the poor, heal the sick, clothe the naked, and house the homeless as our hopefully future saints such as Pierre Toussaint, Monsignor Nelson Baker, Sister Rose Hawthorne, Mother Marianne Cope, Monsignor Bernard Quinn, and Dorothy Day did in the past.

Our children still learn about “the way, the truth, and the life” in excellent Catholic schools and programs of religious education, taught today as they once were by our own St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

Our priests continue to preach, serve, and sanctify, bolstered by the example of predecessors such as Felix Varela, Isaac Hecker, James Walsh, Thomas Price, Vincent Capodanno, Fulton Sheen, and Terrance Cooke, all of whom we hope one day to venerate as Saints.

Immigrants from Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and Asia, welcomed by the Statue of Liberty and Mother Church, are embraced now as once they were by Mother Francis Xavier Cabrini.

Holy Father, we have difficulties and worries galore. We have spoken to you about some of them over the last two days. The Church has had them since Pentecost; New York has had them since the first Catholics came three-and-a-half centuries ago. They do not crush us, but only prompt us to trust in Jesus and his promises, to rely on our faithful and generous people, zealous priests and deacons, indefatigable religious women and men.

They only move us to seek a blessing, and a word of hope from you as we commence Advent this very evening.

Vatican will welcome Christmas with carols this year

Every year, the Vatican unveils a Nativity scene at Christmas. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican is planning to sing its way into the Christmas season this year, with a chorus and orchestra leading Christmas carols at the annual unveiling of its Nativity scene.

The hour-long evening ceremony Dec. 24 will feature traditional Christmas songs in several languages, performed by a 100-person choir and orchestra in St. Peter’s Square.

The Vatican is arranging for worldwide television broadcast of the event, according to Archbishop Claudio Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. He described it as a “sung meditation” on Christmas.

As usual, Pope Benedict XVI is expected to bless the gathering from his apartment window above the square.

Vatican workers were already building this year’s Nativity scene, which features larger-than-life statues of the Holy Family and the Magi, plus new elements each year.

For seminarians, Thanksgiving a time of building fraternal bond

ROME — Under a cloudless sky with the lingering smell of barbequed hamburgers and the NFL theme song radiating from loudspeakers, young men lace up their sneakers for an old-fashioned football game. No, it is not a scene from the backyard of a fraternity house at a U.S. college in mid-September but rather a scene from a different kind of fraternity.

On the Sunday of every Thanksgiving weekend, seminarians from the Pontifical North American College in Rome, known as the NAC, trade in their clerics for flags and compete in the Spaghetti Bowl, a flag football game between the first year seminarians, or “new men” and seminarians from the three upper classes or “old men.”

U.S. seminarians in Rome play in the Spaghetti Bowl (PNACPHOTO/Brian Buettner)

The game, which was first played in 1953, not only signifies the culmination of the weekend but serves as a chance for the new men to earn the respect of the old men through friendly competition. The teams begin practicing weeks before the game, elect other seminarians as coaches and even have a fifth-year priest serve as a chaplain for the team.

Valuable bragging rights emerge from the game, prompting both the old men and the new men to take the competition very seriously. This year, the new men even designed their own shirts.

Earning respect, however, is not the only outcome of both this competition and the entire weekend. During Thanksgiving, many seminarians, especially first year men, experience homesickness since it is often the first time they will celebrate the holiday without their families. The seminarians organize various activities including preparing meals with one another, Thanksgiving Mass followed by a banquet, a skit organized and performed by both the old men and new men and, finally, the Spaghetti Bowl.

Before the game, Josh Laws, a second year seminarian reminisced about his experience as a first year seminarian last Thanksgiving, and he drew parallels between Thanksgiving at the NAC and his Thanksgivings at home.

“As a first year (seminarian), it was the first time I started to feel at home at the seminary since there are so many activities that bring us together. Since I love sports and competition,the Spaghetti Bowl is my favorite activity. But I also enjoy preparing breakfast on Thanksgiving morning with my entire hall since it reminds me of Thanksgiving morning back home when all my relatives would trickle into our house at various times,” he said.

The weekend activities highlight that the men have joined a new family, one consisting of their brother seminarians who are all traveling on the same journey. From planning the skit and practicing for the Spaghetti Bowl to sharing Thanksgiving dinner together, the seminarians further strengthen the foundation of the fraternity.

“When you enter the priesthood you understand that you are giving up having a family of your own, and one of the most important things to consider is building a family with your brother seminarians,” first year seminarian Joey Farrell said.

As the seminarians transition from new men to old men, the old men use this weekend as an opportunity to share past experiences and provide guidance for the first year seminarians while the new men gain a further sense of belonging at the seminary.

“The old men and faculty have been gracious from day one here at the NAC and no doubt when I am one of the old men I can pay those gifts forward to the new men entering the seminary. This entire weekend is an example of the domino effect of Christian hospitality that is embedded in the heart of the NAC,” Farrell explained.

Despite the old men claiming victory over the new men for the twelfth straight year, seminarians from both sides gathered at the center of the field to forge their brotherly bond through prayer and thanksgiving, signifying the deeper meaning of Thanksgiving for both the seminarians and Americans alike.

U.S. priest at doctrinal congregation named new nuncio to Ireland

VATICAN CITY — It’s official: as reported by the Irish press two days ago, Pope Benedict XVI has named U.S. Msgr. Charles J. Brown, a longtime official of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as the new apostolic nuncio to Ireland.

With the appointment, he was named archbishop of the titular see of Aquileia.

The appointment, announced today by the Vatican, comes at a delicate moment in Vatican-Irish relations. In July, the Vatican recalled its previous nuncio, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, after Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny and others sharply criticized the Vatican’s handling of clerical abuse.

In early November, the Irish government announced it was closing its embassy to the Holy See for economic reasons, although keeping diplomatic relations open.

Archbishop-designate Brown, a 52-year-old priest of the Archdiocese of New York, has worked since 1994 in the doctrinal congregation, which was headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger until his election as pope in 2005. As nuncio, he will act as the Holy See’s ambassador to Ireland and will also serve as a liaison with the Catholic Church community there.

Vatican officials said it was unusual to appoint a non-diplomat to such a position. Some observers pointed to the fact that the doctrinal congregation has overall responsibility over cases of clerical sex abuse of minors, and said the new nuncio’s familiarity with the issue would allow him to play a key role in the healing of the scandal.

Reaction to the appointment was generally favorable in the Irish media. The Irish Times said in an editorial that the new nuncio would arrive with two major advantages over his predecessors.

“As an Irish American he will have an intuitive understanding of the Catholic people of this state and of this island. As a man who has served at the (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) for 17 years he will be deeply familiar with the issue that has plagued the Irish Catholic Church for almost two decades,” it said.

Born Oct. 13, 1959, in New York, Archbishop-designate Brown graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1981, where he majored in history. He holds graduate degrees in theology from Oxford University, in medieval studies from the University of Toronto and in sacramental theology from the Pontifical Athenaeum Sant’Anselmo in Rome.

He was ordained a priest in 1989 in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, and served from 1989-91 as vicar at St. Brendan’s parish in the Bronx. He came to the doctrinal congregation in 1994, working in the doctrinal section, and in 2004 also became an adjunct secretary of the International Theological Commission.

Addressing U.S. bishops, pope defends church’s response to sex abuse crisis

Pope Benedict addresses U.S. bishops Nov. 26.

VATICAN CITY — In a speech today to U.S. bishops, Pope Benedict XVI defended the church’s “honest efforts” to confront the priestly sex abuse scandal with transparency, and said its actions could help the rest of society respond to the problem.

While the church is rightly held to high standards, all other institutions should be held to the same standards as they address the causes, extent and consequences of sexual abuse, which has become a “scourge” at every level of society, the pope said.

On wider issues, including the institution of marriage, the pope encouraged the bishops to speak out “humbly yet insistently in defense of moral truth.” Responding to the challenges of a secularized culture will first require the “re-evangelization” of the church’s own members, he said.

The pope made the remarks in a speech to bishops from the state of New York, who were in Rome for their “ad limina” visits. The group was led by Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, who as president of the U.S. bishops’ conference has spoken of the need to restore the church’s credibility and its evangelizing capacity.

The pope began his talk by recalling his 2008 visit to the United States, which he said was aimed at encouraging Catholics in the wake of the sex abuse crisis. He said he wanted to acknowledge the suffering inflicted on victims as well as the church’s efforts to ensure the safety of children and deal “appropriately and transparently with allegations” of abuse.

“It is my hope that the church’s conscientious efforts to confront this reality will help the broader community to recognize the causes, true extent and devastating consequences of sexual abuse, and to respond effectively to this scourge which affects every level of society,” the pope said.

“By the same token, just as the church is rightly held to exacting standards in this regard, all other institutions, without exception, should be held to the same standards,” he said.

Pope Benedict’s speech was the first in a series of five talks he is expected to deliver in coming months, as 15 groups of U.S. bishops make their consultative visits to Rome. He said he planned to focus primarily on the urgent task of “new evangelization.”

The pope said many of the U.S. bishops had shared with him their concern about the “grave challenges” presented by an increasingly secularized society in the United States. He said it was also interesting to note a widespread worry about the future of democratic society in general, by people who see “a troubling breakdown in the intellectual, cultural and moral foundations of social life” and growing insecurity about the future.

New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan addresses Pope Benedict at the Vatican Nov. 26.

He suggested that the church could and should have a key role in responding to these deep changes in society.

“Despite attempts to still the church’s voice in the public square, many people of good will continue to look to her for wisdom, insight and sound guidance in meeting this far-reaching crisis,” he said.

In that sense, he added, the present moment is “a summons to exercise the prophetic dimension of your episcopal ministry by speaking out, humbly yet insistently, in defense of moral truth, and offering a word of hope, capable of opening hearts and minds to the truth that sets us free.”

At the same time, the pope said, the seriousness of the challenges facing the church in the United States cannot be underestimated. He said one big problem was that secularization affects the lives of Catholic, leading at times to “quiet attrition” among the church’s members.

“Immersed in this culture, believers are daily beset by the objections, the troubling questions and the cynicism of a society which seems to have lost its roots, by a world in which the love of God has grown cold in so many hearts,” he said.

For that reason, he said, modern evangelization is not something aimed only at people outside the church.

“We ourselves are the first to need re-evangelization,” he said. That must include critical and ongoing self-assessment and conversion, and interior renewal in the light of the Gospel, he said.

The pope praised the U.S. bishops for their response to the issues raised by increasing secularization, and their efforts to articulate a common pastoral vision. He cited as examples the bishops’ recent documents on political responsibility and on the institution of marriage.

In the end, the pope said, the effectiveness of the church’s witness to the Gospel in the United States is linked to “the recovery of a shared vision and sense of mission by the entire Catholic community.”

He said Catholic universities have an important role in promoting this renewal and ensuring the success of “new evangelization,” especially among younger generations.

“Young people have a right to hear clearly the church’s teaching and, most importantly, to be inspired by the coherence and beauty of the Christian message, so that they in turn can instill in their peers a deep love of Christ and his church,” he said.

The pope also spoke about the implementation of the revised translation of the Roman Missal, which is being introduced in the United States during Advent. He thanked the bishops for making this a moment of catechesis about the liturgy, saying that a weakened sense of the meaning of Christian worship inevitably leads to a weakened witness of the faith.

He said consolidating America’s “proud tradition of respect for the Sabbath” would help renew U.S. society in accordance with God’s “unchanging truth.”

Here is the complete text of the pope’s remarks:

Dear Brother Bishops,

I greet you all with affection in the Lord and, through you, the Bishops from the United States who in the course of the coming year will make their visits ad limina Apostolorum.

Our meetings are the first since my 2008 Pastoral Visit to your country, which was intended to encourage the Catholics of America in the wake of the scandal and disorientation caused by the sexual abuse crisis of recent decades. I wished to acknowledge personally the suffering inflicted on the victims and the honest efforts made both to ensure the safety of our children and to deal appropriately and transparently with allegations as they arise. It is my hope that the Church’s conscientious efforts to confront this reality will help the broader community to recognize the causes, true extent and devastating consequences of sexual abuse, and to respond effectively to this scourge which affects every level of society. By the same token, just as the Church is rightly held to exacting standards in this regard, all other institutions, without exception, should be held to the same standards.

A second, equally important, purpose of my Pastoral Visit was to summon the Church in America to recognize, in the light of a dramatically changing social and religious landscape, the urgency and demands of a new evangelization. In continuity with this aim, I plan in the coming months to present for your consideration a number of reflections which I trust you will find helpful for the discernment you are called to make in your task of leading the Church into the future which Christ is opening up for us.

Many of you have shared with me your concern about the grave challenges to a consistent Christian witness presented by an increasingly secularized society. I consider it significant, however, that there is also an increased sense of concern on the part of many men and women, whatever their religious or political views, for the future of our democratic societies. They see a troubling breakdown in the intellectual, cultural and moral foundations of social life, and a growing sense of dislocation and insecurity, especially among the young, in the face of wide-ranging societal changes. Despite attempts to still the Church’s voice in the public square, many people of good will continue to look to her for wisdom, insight and sound guidance in meeting this far-reaching crisis. The present moment can thus be seen, in positive terms, as a summons to exercise the prophetic dimension of your episcopal ministry by speaking out, humbly yet insistently, in defense of moral truth, and offering a word of hope, capable of opening hearts and minds to the truth that sets us free.

At the same time, the seriousness of the challenges which the Church in America, under your leadership, is called to confront in the near future cannot be underestimated. The obstacles to Christian faith and practice raised by a secularized culture also affect the lives of believers, leading at times to that “quiet attrition” from the Church which you raised with me during my Pastoral Visit. Immersed in this culture, believers are daily beset by the objections, the troubling questions and the cynicism of a society which seems to have lost its roots, by a world in which the love of God has grown cold in so many hearts. Evangelization thus appears not simply a task to be undertaken ad extra; we ourselves are the first to need re-evangelization. As with all spiritual crises, whether of individuals or communities, we know that the ultimate answer can only be born of a searching, critical and ongoing self-assessment and conversion in the light of Christ’s truth. Only through such interior renewal will we be able to discern and meet the spiritual needs of our age with the ageless truth of the Gospel.

Here I cannot fail to express my appreciation of the real progress which the American Bishops have made, individually and as a Conference, in responding to these issues and in working together to articulate a common pastoral vision, the fruits of which can be seen, for example, in your recent documents on faithful citizenship and on the institution of marriage. The importance of these authoritative expressions of your shared concern for the authenticity of the Church’s life and witness in your country should be evident to all.

In these days, the Church in the United States is implementing the revised translation of the Roman Missal. I am grateful for your efforts to ensure that this new translation will inspire an ongoing catechesis which emphasizes the true nature of the liturgy and, above all, the unique value of Christ’s saving sacrifice for the redemption of the world. A weakened sense of the meaning and importance of Christian worship can only lead to a weakened sense of the specific and essential vocation of the laity to imbue the temporal order with the spirit of the Gospel. America has a proud tradition of respect for the sabbath; this legacy needs to be consolidated as a summons to the service of God’s Kingdom and the renewal of the social fabric in accordance with its unchanging truth.

In the end, however, the renewal of the Church’s witness to the Gospel in your country is essentially linked to the recovery of a shared vision and sense of mission by the entire Catholic community. I know that this is a concern close to your own heart, as reflected in your efforts to encourage communication, discussion and consistent witness at every level of the life of your local Churches. I think in particular of the importance of Catholic universities and the signs of a renewed sense of their ecclesial mission, as attested by the discussions marking the tenth anniversary of the Apostolic Constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae, and such inititiatives as the symposium recently held at Catholic University of America on the intellectual tasks of the new evangelization. Young people have a right to hear clearly the Church’s teaching and, most importantly, to be inspired by the coherence and beauty of the Christian message, so that they in turn can instill in their peers a deep love of Christ and his Church.

Dear Brother Bishops, I am conscious of the many pressing and at times apparently insoluble problems which you face daily in the exercise of your ministry. With the confidence born of faith, and with great affection, I offer you these words of encouragement and willingly commend you and the clergy, religious and lay faithful of your Dioceses to the intercession of Mary Immaculate, Patroness of the United States. To all of you I impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of wisdom, strength and peace in the Lord.

Spending a week on a food stamp diet ‘humbling, difficult’

In this season o’ plenty, with Thanksgiving behind us and Christmas feasting ahead, reporter George Raine’s story in a recent issue of Catholic San Francisco, the archdiocesan newspaper, gives a perspective on those trying to subsist on food stamps. He interviewed a U.S. representative from the Bay Area about the week she and other lawmakers spent living on the $4.50 daily allowance for food stamp recipients.

Rep. Jackie Speier, who represents California’s 12th District in Congress, told Raine the experience was “humbling and difficult.” She joined other House Democrats in a “Food Stamp Challenge” the first week of November to call attention to the program facing possible budget cuts in Congress.

A Vatican II Catholic tells why he loves Mass

(CNS photo/Gregory A.Shemitz)

As everyone knows, the English-translation of the new Roman Missal will gets its first use in the pews at Masses this weekend. And along comes a timely reflection from one Vatican II Catholic about what he loves about the Mass, reflecting on what it has meant to him at various stages of his life, starting when he was an altar boy.

“At Mass – no matter where or who or how many people are in the pews or folding chairs – I feel affirmed in my choice to be part of this 2,000-year-old tradition,” writes Bob Zyskowski in a Nov. 18 posting. “Note that word ‘choice.’ Nobody is forcing me to be at church. I go because I want to. Because I get something out of it. And what’s affirming is that I feel part of something good and valued by others.”

Zyskowski is associate publisher of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. His reflection is on, “A Minnesota Flavored Catholic Blog” launched by the newspaper earlier this year.

“This isn’t an exercise in apologetics on behalf of the new Roman Missal,” he says. “I’ve read at least a dozen explanations explaining the need for the changes and just as many commentaries questioning those explanations. Frankly, neither matter. I’ll still love Mass.”

Also worth a look is a CNS story about Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley’s new pastoral, “Jesus’ Eager Desire: Our Participation in the Sunday Mass.” The full text is available on the website of The Pilot, the Boston archdiocesan newspaper. Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput also offered his reflections on the first Sunday of Advent and use of the new missal in this letter to Catholics.

‘Mexodus’: Student journalists chronicle border issues

A bilingual student reporting project spotlights the flight of middle-class Mexican families, professionals and businesses from the violence of drug cartels.

Dominican Sisters Rene Weeks and Maureen Gallagher. CNS photo/Diana Parra, Borderzine

Mexodus” includes videos, slideshows, photos, info graphics, charts and 20 stories — including the tale of Dominican nuns from El Paso, Texas, who regularly cross the border to Ciudad Juarez to help poor families. Another tells how Catholic schools in the Diocese of El Paso are helping students fleeing Juarez.

The project was produced by nearly 100 student journalists from four universities: University of Texas El Paso, California State University Northridge, and Tecnologico de Monterrey in Chihuahua and Mexico City.

“Mexodus” is a project of Borderzine, a web community for Latino student journalists. Among its features is the tale of a crumbling mission chapel in the Diocese of El Paso.

Why Egypt’s elections might be good for Christians

On Nov. 28, Egypt’s first round of complicated parliamentary elections begin. Arab West Report has a good explanation of the procedures and breakdown this election, and editor Cornelis Hulsman explains why this election could be beneficial to the country’s Coptic Christian minority.

“Since in the past there were practically no districts with a Coptic majority, Copts only stood a chance at being elected if they were supported by a good share of the Muslim electorate,” Hulsman writes.

“In the new proportional system, Copts in governorates with a substantial Coptic minority, such as the governorate of Minia, which according to CAPMAS had a Coptic population of about 20 percent in 1996, will have much better chances to get elected.”

One of the reasons for the clashes in Cairo’s Tahrir Square is that Egyptians want presidential elections to begin in March, when parliamentary elections end. The military government, which took over after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak earlier this year, wants presidential elections held late in 2012 or in 2013. That, combined with a recent draft document that states the military and its budget would be exempt from civilian oversight, has led to clashes in which nearly two dozen protesters have been killed.

More than 25,000 youths and their chaperones descend on Indianapolis to celebrate faith, friendship, community

Kaleigh Gross of Atlanta attends youth conference. (CNS photo/Karen Callaway)

More than 25,000 Catholic youths and their adult chaperones are in Indianapolis for the National Catholic Youth Conference. Saturday is the last day of  what has been a three-day experience of prayer, community and empowerment for Catholic teens. Check out this photo gallery on the website of The Criterion, newspaper of the Indianapolis Archdiocese.

According to organizers, one of the signature activities for the youths at this biennial gathering is trading – buttons, pins, caps and other souvenirs that represent their hometown or state. This year, for the first time, they’ll be exchanging bishops’ trading cards during one of the final events on the closing day.

More than 100,000 of the cards were printed and each teen received five bishop trading cards in his or her registration packet. A complete set includes 28 different bishops from all over the country.

“The whole idea of the bishop trading cards was to get into the spirit of the thematic park, Victory Park (named and modeled after Indianapolis’ Victory Field),” said Marlene Stammerman, director of Catholic Youth Ministries for the Indianapolis Archdiocese’s New Albany deanery in Clarksville.

“There is a whole dynamic of trading items at NCYC. Some kids trade buttons, cow bells, and almost anything. Trading the bishops and trying to get the card with their diocesan bishop on it gives the kids one more thing to negotiate with when vying for that favorite item. It’s a fun way for them to start conversations and make new friends.”

Bishops planned to autograph their trading cards for the teens on Saturday from 2-6 p.m. at Victory Park.


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