Priest sharing: a new trend?

An article in the Sept. 12 edition of The Catholic Sentinel, newspaper of the Portland Archdiocese, illustrates a changing picture of U.S. Catholic churches: priests serving as pastors for at least two parishes. 

Although writer Ed Langlois is just writing about the situation in Oregon, he quotes a Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate report estimating that 30 percent to 40 percent of U.S. Catholic parishes are sharing a priest. The story also notes that the Official Catholic Directory shows that more than 3,000 parishes nationwide are without a resident pastor.  One of the priests Langlois interviewed had this to say about the double-pastoring role: “It is a compromise solution in an imperfect world.”

Canada votes in October, and they’re watching us, too

Did you know that the United States is not the only major North American country having national elections this fall? Canada is, too, and they have many of the same debates we do here over things like how Catholic politicians should vote on the important social justice and life issues of the day. We had a story yesterday (which you can read here) giving a glimpse of how that debate plays out in Canada, where elections will take place Oct. 14.

And where the American bishops have issued a call for “Faithful Citizenship” for U.S. Catholic voters, the Canadian bishops have similar advice for their Catholic citizens in a new “Federal Election 2008 Guide.”

But just because we Americans are largely ignoring the Canadian elections (quick: name for me two of the major Canadian political parties) doesn’t mean that the Canadians are ignoring us. Our good friend Joe Sinasac, publisher and editor of The Catholic Register in Toronto, wrote this yesterday:

We know Canadians love hearing about the American election. Barack Obama and Sarah Palin are just way more interesting than our blancmange politicians up here.

(Note to self: look up “blancmange” on the Internet.)

Joe’s point to his Canadian readers was to plug our new CNS Election 2008 page as a way of getting “a truly Catholic perspective on the U.S. campaign.” Nice guy that he is, he said that CNS had “compiled a truly impressive Web site for its election articles.”

So it’s only fair that we plug his paper’s “Election Canada ’08” page, too. If you’re the least bit curious about how the church in other countries, in the words of the The Catholic Register, “views the duty of Catholic voters and politicians,” make sure you spend some time there.

Presidential candidates respond to U.S. Catholic

U.S. Catholic, the Chicago-based magazine published by the Claretians, has put out a special election issue for October featuring an interview with the major parties’ presidential candidates based on questions submitted to each of them by e-mail.

The questions answered by Republican Sen. John McCain and Democratic Sen. Barack Obama cover a wide range of topics such as abortion, stem-cell research, the death penalty, economy, the environment, health care and immigration. Claretian Father John Molyneux, the magazine’s editor, said he was pleased the candidates took the time to address concerns of Catholic voters. He also said the interview with presidential candidates is a first for the 73-year-old magazine.

“The Catholic Church’s positions don’t fit neatly with either of the two parties,” the priest said in a statement. “Our strong commitment to respect for life is complemented by an equally proud tradition of Catholic social teaching which promotes social justice, a preferential option of the poor, the common good, and peace.”

Vatican Museums tour integrates art history, philosophy and theology

I’ve taken a lot of tours over the decades, from an audio-guided exploration of Alcatraz near San Francisco to a human-directed excursion through the seedy streets of London for a Jack the Ripper expedition.

But when I took a trip through the Vatican Museums with an art history professor named Elizabeth Lev, I felt like I experienced the mother of all tours.

Lev — who teaches art history at Duquesne University’s Italian campus — took me and a group of my fellow journalists through the museums. We were attending a seminar called The Church Up Close: Covering Catholicism in the Age of Benedict XVI, held Sept. 8-14 at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross School of Church Communications in Rome.

Her enthusiasm for art, history, philosophy and theology was infectious as she took us on a journey through a Christian time capsule. She used the stone, canvas, architecture and painted walls and ceilings as props in conveying the stories of Nero, St. Peter, Michelangelo and more popes than I could possibly mention.

In the former papal apartments leading up to the Sistine Chapel, Lev showed us how the artist Raphael married reality with spirituality, and philosophy with theology.

I have to admit, I hate crowds and don’t go through tourist attractions often because I dislike being crammed into rooms with too many other people. But Lev made enduring the swarm of sightseers worthwhile and the lessons learned became one of the highlights of the seminar.

Bravo, Elizabeth!

Getting to school on time

In the U.S., the typical student takes the big yellow bus to school. But children in Kenya run for miles and students in the Philippines will hop on motorcycles to ride in crowded traffic to get to school before the bell rings.

This interesting look into how children around the world get to school was compiled by the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging, a lay Catholic organization.

Church’s role isn’t to be ‘party boss,’ telling people how to vote, says bishop

“When church leaders speak on issues such as immigration, poverty, health care, abortion, war or embryonic stem-cell research, we are not telling people how to vote,” writes Miami Archbishop John C. Favalora. “We are reminding them of the moral teachings that should inform their lives, and as a result, their votes.”

The archbishop made the comments in a Sept. 12 column headlined: “Why we don’t take sides on candidates.” He was writing in response to an announcement from the Alliance Defense Fund that it plans a nationwide challenge Sept. 28 to Internal Revenue Service rules that prohibit preaching in support of one candidate over another from the pulpit.

In France, Pope Benedict shows the many dimensions of his ministry

(Cross-posted from Catholic News Service)

Pope Benedict XVI waves to pilgrims as he arrives to celebrate a Mass for the sick at the Marian sanctuaries of Lourdes, France, Sept. 15. The pope was in Lourdes primarily to mark the 150th anniversary of Mary's appearances to St. Bernadette Soubirous. (CNS/Reuters)

Pope Benedict XVI waves to pilgrims as he arrives to celebrate a Mass for the sick at the Marian sanctuaries of Lourdes, France, Sept. 15. The pope was in Lourdes primarily to mark the 150th anniversary of Mary's appearances to St. Bernadette Soubirous. (CNS/Reuters)

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

LOURDES, France (CNS) — Being pope is not a one-dimensional job, a fact that was clearly evident during Pope Benedict XVI’s four-day visit to France.

Arriving in Paris Sept. 12, the pope first engaged in an important political encounter that attempted to build on the new openness shown the church by President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Next, in a brief meeting with Jews, he managed to capsulize in 20 graceful lines the church’s respect for Judaism and its firm rejection of anti-Semitism.

That evening, the pope slipped into his academic role and delivered a lecture on monasticism’s influence on Western civilization to 700 scholars and intellectuals.

He then switched gears and led vespers in Notre Dame Cathedral with priests and religious, emphasizing that while their ranks may be thinning their role in the church has lost none of its value and, indeed, is irreplaceable.

Finally, he stepped outside and energized a waiting crowd of 40,000 young people, drawing roars of approval when he said the church needs them and has confidence in them.

It was a whirlwind beginning and demonstrated a remarkable pastoral versatility on the part of the 81-year-old pontiff.

The next day, after celebrating Mass for a larger-than-expected crowd in Paris, he went to Lourdes and showed another side of his role as universal pastor — a Marian side.

It’s no secret that, as a theologian and bishop, Pope Benedict was not always comfortable with Marian devotion and claims of apparitions. But over the years he has widened his views, saying in 2002 that, “the older I am, the more important the mother of God is to me.”

So at Lourdes pilgrims heard the scholarly pope preach the value of “humble and intense prayer” like the rosary. He told his listeners that devotion to Mary was not a form of “pious infantilism” but an expression of spiritual maturity.

When he took a drink from the Lourdes spring that many pilgrims believe to be the font of miraculous cures, he was demonstrating that the Christian lives by simple signs and symbols as well as by theological ideas.

The pope’s trip to Lourdes was bound to be compared to Pope John Paul II’s moving visit to the shrine in 2004. Ailing and unsteady, the late pope had to ask for help on the altar; it was his last foreign trip.

Pope Benedict was not a personal witness to suffering like his predecessor, but he left no doubt that ministry to the sick is a benchmark of Catholicism.

At his Mass with thousands of sick people Sept. 15, the final day of his visit, he thanked Catholics at Lourdes and all over the world who volunteer their time and effort to help the infirm.

That highlighted a key theme of Pope Benedict’s pontificate, one he has underlined in encyclicals but which is sometimes overlooked: that personal charity — love in action — is the ultimate expression of faith in Jesus Christ.

Another difference between Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul surfaced during the visit. The late pope, on his first trip to France in 1980, sternly critiqued the French drift from the faith, asking Catholics, “France, the eldest daughter of the church, are you faithful to the promise of your baptism?”

Pope Benedict took a softer approach, alluding to pastoral problems but keeping the focus on the positive — for example, the enthusiastic crowd of 260,000 people at his Paris liturgy. In his final talk to French Catholics, he praised them for their “firm faith” and said he had been likewise encouraged by the strong turnout of youths at a Paris vigil.

Where he offered more instructional advice was in his talk to French bishops. He touched on a sore point when he urged the bishops to show flexibility toward traditionalists who want to take advantage of his 2007 rule change on the use of the Tridentine rite, the Mass rite used before the Second Vatican Council.

As a whole, though, the pope framed his message in optimistic terms. Whether talking to politicians, pastoral workers, scholars, the sick or the young, he emphasized that the church is at home in France, and its voice — including the voice of prayer — must continue to be heard.