Free for all

Go to Mass at most churches and you may get a copy of the parish bulletin as you exit.

But at Nationals Park yesterday, Massgoers could, if they so chose, get a copy of the 72-page special papal preview edition of the Catholic Standard, the Archdiocese of Washington’s weekly newspaper. And, if they were so inclined, get a 60-page expanded edition of El Pregonero, the Spanish-language newspaper published by the Washington Archdiocese. At the ballpark entrances, there were plenty of people wearing red jackets bearing the logo of the Washington leg of Pope Benedict XVI’s U.S. visit, offering the newspapers to the ticketed faithful, and there were several 12″x12″x9″ boxes filled with copies of either paper so that supplies wouldn’t run out.

But wait, there’s more! Even bigger boxes — they were the mammoth “Office Movers” boxes that require more than one person to pick up and lug around — were filled with the papal Mass version of “goodie bags” for the faithful, with additional volunteers distributing them by the armful. Inside each bag was:

— The April issue of Catholic Digest magazine, a “special commemorative edition” (it said so on the cover) marking Pope Benedict’s impending visit.

— The May issue of Magnificat magzine, which contains morning prayer, evening prayer and Mass texts for each day of the month.

— The “papal Visit 2008” issue of Living With Christ magazine, with Mass texts for April 17 and 20, the dates of Pope Benedict’s U.S. stadium Masses.

— A pitch for Sirius Satellite Radio from the Catholic Channel, a Sirius channel operated by the Archdiocese of New York.

— A subscription offer for the weekly English edition of L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.

— An order form from for “commemorative merchandise,” that is, souvenirs.

— A miniature Vatican flag.

“Oh!” said one man walking along the 100-level concourse of Nationals Park a good two hours before Mass began. “I should have brought my papal flag with me.”

He evidently hadn’t peered yet into his goodie bag. But from the looks of things on a number of occasions later in the morning, he and 46,000 or so other worshipers had found one inside their bags.


Text of pope at ecumenical gathering

Here is the prepared text as released by the Vatican of Pope Benedict’s talk this evening at the ecumenical gathering at St. Joseph’s Church in New York:

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

My heart abounds with gratitude to Almighty God – “the Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:6) – for this blessed opportunity to gather with you this evening in prayer. I thank Bishop Dennis Sullivan for his cordial welcome, and I warmly greet all those in attendance representing Christian communities throughout the United States. May the peace of our Lord and Savior be with you all!

Through you, I express my sincere appreciation for the invaluable work of all those engaged in ecumenism: the National Council of Churches, Christian Churches Together, the Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, and many others. The contribution of Christians in the United States to the ecumenical movement is felt throughout the world. I encourage all of you to persevere, always relying on the grace of the risen Christ whom we strive to serve by bringing about “the obedience of faith for the sake of his name” (Rom 1:5).

We have just listened to the scriptural passage in which Paul – a “prisoner for the Lord” – delivers his ardent appeal to the members of the Christian community at Ephesus. “I beg you,” he writes, “to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called … eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:1-3). Then, after his impassioned litany of unity, Paul reminds his hearers that Jesus, having ascended into heaven, has bestowed upon men and women all the gifts necessary for building up the Body of Christ (cf. Eph 4:11-13).

Paul’s exhortation resounds with no less vigor today. His words instill in us the confidence that the Lord will never abandon us in our quest for unity. They also call us to live in a way that bears witness to the “one heart and mind” (Acts 4:32), which has always been the distinguishing trait of Christian koinonia (cf. Acts 2:42), and the force drawing others to join the community of believers so that they too might come to share in the “unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph 3:8; cf. Acts 2:47; 5:14).

Globalization has humanity poised between two poles. On the one hand, there is a growing sense of interconnectedness and interdependency between peoples even when – geographically and culturally speaking – they are far apart. This new situation offers the potential for enhancing a sense of global solidarity and shared responsibility for the well-being of mankind. On the other hand, we cannot deny that the rapid changes occurring in our world also present some disturbing signs of fragmentation and a retreat into individualism. The expanding use of electronic communications has in some cases paradoxically resulted in greater isolation. Many people – including the young – are seeking therefore more authentic forms of community. Also of grave concern is the spread of a secularist ideology that undermines or even rejects transcendent truth. The very possibility of divine revelation, and therefore of Christian faith, is often placed into question by cultural trends widely present in academia, the mass media and public debate. For these reasons, a faithful witness to the Gospel is as urgent as ever. Christians are challenged to give a clear account of the hope that they hold (cf. 1 Pet 3:15).

Too often those who are not Christians, as they observe the splintering of Christian communities, are understandably confused about the Gospel message itself. Fundamental Christian beliefs and practices are sometimes changed within communities by so-called “prophetic actions” that are based on a hermeneutic not always consonant with the datum of Scripture and Tradition. Communities consequently give up the attempt to act as a unified body, choosing instead to function according to the idea of “local options”. Somewhere in this process the need for diachronic koinonia – communion with the Church in every age – is lost, just at the time when the world is losing its bearings and needs a persuasive common witness to the saving power of the Gospel (cf. Rom 1:18-23).

Faced with these difficulties, we must first recall that the unity of the Church flows from the perfect oneness of the Trinitarian God. In John’s Gospel, we are told that Jesus prayed to his Father that his disciples might be one, “just as you are in me and I am in you” (Jn 17:21). This passage reflects the unwavering conviction of the early Christian community that its unity was both caused by, and is reflective of, the unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This, in turn, suggests that the internal cohesion of believers was based on the sound integrity of their doctrinal confession (cf. 1 Tim 1:3-11). Throughout the New Testament, we find that the Apostles were repeatedly called to give an account for their faith to both Gentiles (cf. Acts 17:16-34) and Jews (cf. Acts 4:5-22; 5:27-42). The core of their argument was always the historical fact of Jesus’s bodily resurrection from the tomb (Acts 2:24, 32; 3:15; 4:10; 5:30; 10:40; 13:30). The ultimate effectiveness of their preaching did not depend on “lofty words” or “human wisdom” (1 Cor 2:13), but rather on the work of the Spirit (Eph 3:5) who confirmed the authoritative witness of the Apostles (cf. 1 Cor 15:1-11). The nucleus of Paul’s preaching and that of the early Church was none other than Jesus Christ, and “him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). But this proclamation had to be guaranteed by the purity of normative doctrine expressed in creedal formulae – symbola – which articulated the essence of the Christian faith and constituted the foundation for the unity of the baptized (cf. 1 Cor 15:3-5; Gal 1:6-9; Unitatis Redintegratio, 2).

My dear friends, the power of the kerygma has lost none of its internal dynamism. Yet we must ask ourselves whether its full force has not been attenuated by a relativistic approach to Christian doctrine similar to that found in secular ideologies, which, in alleging that science alone is “objective”, relegate religion entirely to the subjective sphere of individual feeling. Scientific discoveries, and their application through human ingenuity, undoubtedly offer new possibilities for the betterment of humankind. This does not mean, however, that the “knowable” is limited to the empirically verifiable, nor religion restricted to the shifting realm of “personal experience”.

For Christians to accept this faulty line of reasoning would lead to the notion that there is little need to emphasize objective truth in the presentation of the Christian faith, for one need but follow his or her own conscience and choose a community that best suits his or her individual tastes. The result is seen in the continual proliferation of communities which often eschew institutional structures and minimize the importance of doctrinal content for Christian living.

Even within the ecumenical movement, Christians may be reluctant to assert the role of doctrine for fear that it would only exacerbate rather than heal the wounds of division. Yet a clear, convincing testimony to the salvation wrought for us in Christ Jesus has to be based upon the notion of normative apostolic teaching: a teaching which indeed underlies the inspired word of God and sustains the sacramental life of Christians today.

Only by “holding fast” to sound teaching (2 Thess 2:15; cf. Rev 2:12-29) will we be able to respond to the challenges that confront us in an evolving world. Only in this way will we give unambiguous testimony to the truth of the Gospel and its moral teaching. This is the message which the world is waiting to hear from us. Like the early Christians, we have a responsibility to give transparent witness to the “reasons for our hope”, so that the eyes of all men and women of goodwill may be opened to see that God has shown us his face (cf. 2 Cor 3:12-18) and granted us access to his divine life through Jesus Christ. He alone is our hope! God has revealed his love for all peoples through the mystery of his Son’s passion and death, and has called us to proclaim that he is indeed risen, has taken his place at the right hand of the Father, and “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead” (Nicene Creed).

May the word of God we have heard this evening inflame our hearts with hope on the path to unity (cf. Lk 24:32). May this prayer service exemplify the centrality of prayer in the ecumenical movement (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio, 8); for without it, ecumenical structures, institutions and programs would be deprived of their heart and soul. Let us give thanks to Almighty God for the progress that has been made through the work of his Spirit, as we acknowledge with gratitude the personal sacrifices made by so many present and by those who have gone before us.

By following in their footsteps, and by placing our trust in God alone, I am confident that – to borrow the words of Father Paul Wattson – we will achieve the “oneness of hope, oneness of faith, and oneness of love” that alone will convince the world that Jesus Christ is the one sent by the Father for the salvation of all.

I thank you all.

Not lost in translation

To demonstrate the great cultural and multicultural vitality of the church, the prayer of the faithful is often recited in different languages.

Yesterday’s papal Mass in Washington was one of those instances. Six languages were used. Here are the English translations of the five Mass intentions not said in English, followed in parentheses by the language in which the prayer was uttered:

— For peace in our world and for the safety of those who seek to achieve it in our fragile world. (Tagalog)

— For children everywhere, may they be blessed with good health and caring families. (Korean)

— That our actions of personal sacrifice will help to alleviate any suffering taking place in our city, nation and world. (Vietnamese)

— For those who are ill, may they be healed through God’s infinite mercy. (Igbo)

— For all who have died, that they may attain the fullness of life in the kingdom of heaven. (Spanish)


Text of pope at synagogue

Here is the prepared text as released by the Vatican of Pope Benedict’s remarks today at Park East Synagogue in New York:

Shalom! It is with joy that I come here, just a few hours before the celebration of your Pesah, to express my respect and esteem for the Jewish community in New York City. The proximity of this place of worship to my residence gives me the opportunity to greet some of you today. I find it moving to recall that Jesus, as a young boy, heard the words of Scripture and prayed in a place such as this. I thank Rabbi Schneier for his words of welcome and I particularly appreciate your kind gift, the spring flowers and the lovely song that the children sang for me. I know that the Jewish community make a valuable contribution to the life of the city, and I encourage all of you to continue building bridges of friendship with all the many different ethnic and religious groups present in your neighborhood. I assure you most especially of my closeness at this time, as you prepare to celebrate the great deeds of the Almighty, and to sing the praises of Him who has worked such wonders for his people. I would ask those of you who are present to pass on my greetings and good wishes to all the members of the Jewish community. Blessed be the name of the Lord!

Abundant blessings

Before the final blessing during Pope Benedict XVI’s April 17 Mass in Washington, a deacon in the sanctuary told the assembled faithful that the pope would then impart an apostolic blessing on all articles the faithful had brought with them to Mass for that purpose. (He’ll do the same thing for Sunday’s Mass at Yankee Stadium, so forewarned is forearmed.)

But Pope Benedict also blessed some religious items too big to fit in a pocket or purse. At Nationals Park, he blessed the cornerstone of the new chapel of Thomas Aquinas College in  Santa Paula, Calif., and the new cornerstone and tabernacle of Pope John Paul the Great Catholic High School, scheduled to open later this year in Dumfries, Va. Those items were on a platform below the papal altar.

At Yankee Stadium, the pontiff intends to bless a cornerstone for the St. Patrick’s Cathedral “bicentennial garden” in Manhattan and a crucifix to be placed in the chapel of the St. John Neumann Seminary residence in the Bronx, part of the archdiocese’s St. Joseph’s Seminary complex, affectionately known as “Dunwoodie” after the neighborhood in which it’s located.


Bush reflects on his meeting with pope

President George W. Bush speaks at the 5th Annual National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, held in Washington April 18. (CNS/Joshua Roberts)Even President George W. Bush, who is accustomed to meeting with world leaders on the world’s biggest stages for the seven-plus years of his presidency, was humbled when he met with Pope Benedict XVI in the Oval Office this week.

Speaking to 2,000 guests at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast this morning, Bush talked about the short private meeting in the Oval Office with the pope and the welcoming ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House and how much it meant to him. He was speaking even as the pope was leaving Washington for the short flight to New York City.

“This has been a joyous week,” he said to a loud round of applause. “It’s been a joyous time for Catholics, and it wasn’t such a bad week for Methodists either,” he added to laughs.

Bush is a Methodist.

Notes from a normal Catholic guy

After a long day writing at the press center and covering Pope Benedict XVI’s meeting with interreligious leaders at the John Paul II Cultural Center, I needed to have a drink with my fiance. He had spent the day as one of the thousands of excited Catholics waiting to see the pope drive by The Catholic University of America in his popemobile.

After we met up and started discussing the day, I discovered he had a lot to say about how Pope Benedict’s soft, gentle voice touched him and how the pope’s comments about religion’s contributions to a secular society and the importance of the family revived his faith.  So, like any editor, I told him to sit and write it down.

Here’s an excerpt from his comments, something I like to call “notes from a normal Catholic guy.”

“The words of the pope during his visit to our city have strengthened my faith in the church.  As a young man who is soon going to be married and start a family, the pope’s discussion of the importance of family and the values cultivated through family life given at the White House was very personal for me.

“The most eye-opening part of the Holy Father’s visit to Washington was his discussion on secularism in America today.  As a child of the 1990s I’ve frequently struggled with the continuous push to remove God from my public life. I was also moved by the pope’s historical recount of how the foundation of America was laid with a shared belief in God without forcing one specific belief over another.  He clarified that God and religion — any religion — should not be excluded from the state, government or public view.”

Sometimes it’s good to take off the reporter hat and get back to the basics of being a Catholic and appreciate the spiritual side of the pope’s trip to our country.