A friend’s view of Cardinal Dulles

Jesuit Father Jim Martin, who counted Cardinal Avery Dulles as a friend for the last 10 years, has a very personal tribute to the late cardinal in the On Faith blog sponsored by Newsweek and The Washington Post. Writing about a life that was “like something out of a Henry James novel,” Father Martin, associate editor of America magazine, gives examples of the cardinal’s lightheartedness and especially of the humility that made him reluctant to mention by name the Washington airport that honors his father, former U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles.

The cardinal’s multimedia “Christmas Puzzle”

ROME — It could easily be called “The Christmas Puzzle,” but in its only concession to formality, Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi’s Christmas letter to children in the Archdiocese of Milan is titled “God So Loved the World.”

godsolovedtheworldThe letter doesn’t look like a letter — it’s a short children’s book filled with drawings by two of Italy’s most accomplished children’s book illustrators.

It doesn’t read like an archbishop’s letter — it’s the tale of an archbishop who receives a mysterious package with torn scraps of paper inside.

And it doesn’t sound like a letter — it comes complete with a CD in which professional narrators read the story and one of Italy’s most famous children’s choirs, the Piccolo Coro Mariele Ventre dell’Antoniano, provides the soundtrack.

The letter is not only being distributed to children in Milan parishes; a partial clip is available on YouTube and bookstores throughout Italy are selling the book and CD for less than $5.

The scraps of paper in the archbishop’s mystery box turn out to be the torn pieces of a map of the world taken from an atlas.

Trying to figure out the meaning of the puzzle, the archbishop says, “It doesn’t take much to get it: wars, injustices, hunger and poverty, pollution and global warming, family breakups, loneliness and sadness even for children and the elderly.”

Yet the package is labeled “Anima Mundi,” which the archbishop finds odd since it’s a Latin phrase in a child’s writing.

Since the book is available only in Italian, I’m guessing I won’t ruin the reading/listening experience by revealing that a literally fabulous phone call helps the archbishop understand that it is up to him, to the world’s children and to all people of good will to help put the world back together again.

He also realizes that the real “Anima Mundi,” the saving “Spirit of the world,”  is the spirit of Jesus, “who heals the fractures of our world” with the power of his love.

The letter ends with a goodnight prayer and “Merry Christmas, children big and small. Your archbishop, Dionigi.”

Santa on his knees

A Virginia man has been playing Santa for more than 60 years, but 78-year-old John Buckreis’ portrayal at a local garden center is aimed at bringing people back to the real meaning of Christmas. He kneels in prayer before statues of the Holy Family and leads youngsters in singing “Silent Night” and “Oh Come, All Ye Faithful,” as well as more secular Christmas tunes. Gretchen R. Crowe of the Arlington Catholic Herald tells his story here.

Word to Life: We have seen the fruit of his coming

More Word to Life columns.

(Dec. 14, Third Sunday of Advent)

Cycle B Readings:

1) Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11

Psalm, Luke 1:46-50, 53-54

2) 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

Gospel: John 1:6-8, 19-28

– – –


"I am 'the voice of one crying out in the desert, Make straight the way of the Lord'" (John 1:23bc).

By Jeff Hensley
Catholic News Service

Jesuit Father Hubert Schiffer led quite a varied life as a priest. But his survival of the 1945 atomic bomb blast at Hiroshima is what brings him to mind in connection with today’s Advent readings.

Having removed most of the glass embedded in his skin by the explosion, he and other surviving members of his religious order went about gathering up orphans, caring for their needs and bringing them to the train station, so they could travel to safety away from the radioactive debris.

Jesus is coming.

Sister Mary Augustine Matzner, SSMN, had many stories of her service of others. One involved taking care of a number of infants in an isolated cabin in the Dakotas. A blizzard hit unexpectedly, and wood for the heating stove ran out. The only way she and her charges were able to survive the extreme cold was to huddle under blankets, the small children snuggled against her body to draw on her warmth. And survive they did.

Jesus is coming.

Another friend, Mary Schad, had a glow of holiness. Her simple, gentle nature was evident to anyone who met her. Mary would regularly join others to serve food to the homeless in the basement of a Dallas church. One day as she was dishing out cornbread, the line extended much further than the cornbread that remained in the serving tray. But as long as people came through the line, the meager amount of cornbread lasted.

Jesus is coming.

These are the acts of those who reflect the Isaiah Scripture: “He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted … to announce a year of favor from the Lord. …” They echo Mary’s proclamation when she says, “He has filled the hungry with good things,” and they reveal the One whom we await in Advent, the One of whom John the Baptist said, “I baptize with water; but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.”

We know this to be true because we have seen the fruit of his coming in those who serve him.

Jesus is coming.


As we walk through this season of waiting, can you identify people in your own life who have shown you evidence that Jesus has come? What did their revelation of God’s presence teach you?

New Vatican bioethics document available in Origins

Admit it: Sometimes you want a hard-copy text of a major document rather than bookmarking it on your computer (where it can get lost) or printing a dozen or more pages off the Internet that you have to staple together and file.

Well, you’re in luck, because copies of the Vatican’s new bioethics document, “Dignitas Personae,” are rolling off the press in the latest edition of Origins, the CNS documentary service that has been providing full texts of church statements and speeches for 38 years.

The single-copy price of this edition of Origins (Vol. 38, No. 28) is $8. Multiple-copy rates are also available. Call us at (202) 541-3290 to place your order.

(Subscribers to the online version of Origins can click here for that version of “Dignitas Personae.”)

Reading the Vatican’s new bioethics instruction

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican’s new instruction “Dignitas Personae” (“The Dignity of a Person”) draws heavily on a handful of previous documents when it addresses biotech issues like cloning, stem cells, embryonic experimentation and genetic therapy.

For those who want to examine several of the sources, here is where to click:

“Donum Vitae” (“The Gift of Life”), the 1987 instruction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on procreation, which laid the groundwork for the new document issued Friday.

“Evangelium Vitae” (“The Gospel of Life”), Pope John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical on the inviolability of human life at every stage of development.

The speech by Pope Benedict XVI to the Pontifical Academy for Life in 2006 on “The Human Embryo in the Pre-Implantation Phase.”

The speech by Pope Benedict XVI to participants of a 2006 symposium on the theme “Stem Cells: What Future for Therapy?” organized by the Pontifical Academy for Life.

The document treats a number of biotech issues that have come up before at the Vatican, and Catholic News Service has covered them:

In January, Pope Benedict XVI offered his take on the main issues of the document when it was under prepration.

Last year, a Vatican official was optimistic about efforts to reprogram cells to act as stem cells, without creating human embryos.

Also in 2007, church officials reacted to a British Parliamentary proposal to legalize laboratory creations of animal-human hybrid embryos.

In March last year, the Pontifical Academy for Life said Catholic health care professionals have an obligation to refuse to participate in any medical intervention or research that foresees the destruction of human life.

In 2006, a Vatican official said female egg donors, doctors and researchers involved in the destruction of embryos for stem-cell studies can face excommunication.

And in 2006, Pope Benedict had positive comments about stem-cell research — as well as warnings against any destruction of human life at its earliest stages.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas

An image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is displayed during a Mass in 2007 at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Rochester, N.Y. (CNS photo/Mike Crupi, Catholic Courier)

An image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is displayed during a Mass in 2007 at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Rochester, N.Y. (CNS/Mike Crupi, Catholic Courier)

Hispanic Catholic communities are celebrating the Dec. 12 feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas, this week through traditional prayer, procession and song.

The feast commemorates the appearance of Mary over several days in 1531 to peasant Juan Diego in the hills outside of Mexico City.

Mary had asked Juan Diego, who was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2002, that a church be built on the site. At first the local bishop hesitated in responding to the request from the saint-to-be and asked Mary for a sign. Juan Diego returned to the rocky mountaintop and gathered an assortment of roses, an impossibility in normally cold mid-December. As further evidence, Mary left her image on the peasant’s tilma, made of ayate, a low quality cactus cloth typically worn by the poor of the region.

The church on the site, the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, is the second most visited Catholic shrine in the world.

To this day, 477 years later, the tilma and its indelible image survive in remarkable condition. Experts are at a loss to explain why is still exists. Normally, such cloth deteriorates in 20 years.

Praying a nine-day novena, culminating on the feast day, is one of the most common ways Mexican Catholics celebrate the feast. During the period people visit the sick and homebound, provide food baskets for the needy and support mourners who have lost loved ones.

At Hispanic parishes people gather late on the night of Dec. 11 to pray and sing as they prepare to conclude the novena with Mass early the next morning.

And then it’s on to Christmas.