Holy Land journey: Challenges for the church in Lebanon

By Bishop Gerald Kicanas
One in a series

(Editor’s Note: Bishop Gerald Kicanas (right) of Tucson, Ariz., vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is on a trip to Lebanon, his ancestral homeland, and to Israel and the Palestinian territories, where he will attend an international meeting of  bishops in support of the church in the Holy Land. He has agreed to be a guest blogger for us during the trip.)

DAY THREE: Jan. 7, 2010

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Today was planned to be focused on learning more about the life of the Catholic Church in Lebanon as well as the place of interfaith dialogue in this land so rich with diverse expressions of faith.

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We left rather early for Harissa to meet with the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Gabriele Caccia. Traffic in Beirut is not unlike traffic in Tucson or most cities, a nightmare. Congested streets coupled with very aggressive drivers make for quite an adventure. Horns bark as cars cut in and out seeking to get an inch up on another car in order to turn into a lane or make a U-turn from anywhere at any time. We had an experienced driver who seemed to delight in the battle. Honk and move is the strategy. Pedestrians beware.

The nunciature was moved during the war from central Beirut to Harissa, which is located outside the city in the suburban area. We drove along the ever-present turquoise blue sea glimmering in the early morning sun. Mark pointed out to us the Armenian compound as we passed and the Maronite and Greek Orthodox Centers high up on the mountain. Like Tucson, Beirut has its mountains on which many homes and structures have been built. However in the city there is little open space or gardens. The city and its environ are dense with homes and businesses.

We climbed the road leading to the nunciature and entered a beautiful garden space. A religious woman greeted us with a warm welcome in several languages and escorted us in for a brief wait until the nuncio, Archbishop Caccia entered. He is a very young man, new to Lebanon. His family is from Milan and he served in the diplomatic corps in Tanzania and in the Secretariat of State in the Vatican before being named to this challenging and complex responsibility. He was ordained by Pope Benedict XVI as archbishop in September and arrived in Beirut in October.

The group with Archbishop Gabriele Caccia. (Photo courtesy Bishop Kicanas)

He said — at times depending on whom he is talking to — that he tells people he has only been in Beirut for a very short time, just a few months, and, at other times, that he has been here a year since he arrived in Beirut in 2009 and it is now 2010.

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Pope visits Cardinal Etchegaray in hospital

ROME — Pope Benedict went to Rome’s Gemelli hospital this evening to visit French Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, who was injured when a woman rushed the pope at the start of his Christmas Eve liturgy in St. Peter’s.

Cardinal Roger Etchegaray in a 2006 file photo at the Shrine of Our Lady of Lebanon in Harissa, Lebanon. (CNS photo)

The pope chatted for a half-hour with the 87-year-old cardinal, who underwent hip replacement surgery after the incident. The Vatican said the cardinal was able to walk the pope to the door of his hospital room at the end of the visit.

The two spoke in French, and the pope asked about the recovery and rehabilitation program the cardinal is undergoing. The Vatican said Cardinal Etchegaray’s condition is very good, and he is expected to leave the hospital sometime next week.

Susanna Maiolo, 25, jumped a security barrier at the start of the Dec. 24 liturgy as Pope Benedict processed into St. Peter’s Basilica. Although Vatican guards tackled her, she was able to grab the pope’s vestments, causing him to lose his balance and tumble to the floor. He was apparently unharmed, but Cardinal Etchegaray suffered a broken hip when he fell in the confusion.

Pope marks 150 years of North American College

VATICAN CITY — The Pontifical North American College, the U.S. national seminary in Rome, is celebrating its 150th anniversary and today Pope Benedict XVI marked the event in an audience with the institution’s students, superiors, faculty and alumni.

The pope said he was confident NAC would continue to produce “wise and generous pastors capable of transmitting the Catholic faith in its integrity, bringing Christ’s infinite mercy to the weak and the lost, and enabling America’s Catholics to be a leaven of the Gospel in the social, political and cultural life of their nation.”

It was Pope Pius IX who inaugurated the college on Dec. 8, 1859, having donated the site on Via dell’Umilta in downtown Rome. In 1953, the college moved to a larger new facility on the Janiculum Hill, not far from the Vatican.

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

Your Eminences,
Dear Brother Bishops and Priests,

I am pleased to welcome the alumni of the Pontifical North American College, together with the Rector, faculty and students of the seminary on the Janiculum hill, and the student priests of the Casa Santa Maria dell’Umiltà. Our meeting comes at the conclusion of the celebrations marking the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the College’s establishment by my predecessor, Blessed Pius IX. On this happy occasion I willingly join you in thanking the Lord for the many ways in which the College has remained faithful to its founding vision by training generations of worthy preachers of the Gospel and ministers of the sacraments, devoted to the Successor of Peter and committed to the building up of the Church in the United States of America.

It is appropriate, in this Year for Priests, that you have returned to the College and this Eternal City in order to give thanks for the academic and spiritual formation which has nourished your priestly ministry over the years. The present Reunion is an opportunity not only to remember with gratitude the time of your studies, but also to reaffirm your filial affection for the Church of Rome, to recall the apostolic labors of the countless alumni who have gone before you, and to recommit yourselves to the high ideals of holiness, fidelity and pastoral zeal which you embraced on the day of your ordination. It is likewise an occasion to renew your love for the College and your appreciation of its distinctive mission to the Church in your country.

During my Pastoral Visit to the United States, I expressed my conviction that the Church in America is called to cultivate “an intellectual ‘culture’ which is genuinely Catholic, confident in the profound harmony of faith and reason, and prepared to bring the richness of faith’s vision to bear on the pressing issues which affect the future of American society” (Homily at Nationals Stadium, Washington, 17 April 2008). As Blessed Pius IX rightly foresaw, the Pontifical North American College in Rome is uniquely prepared to help meet this perennial challenge. In the century and a half since its foundation, the College has offered its students an exceptional experience of the universality of the Church, the breadth of her intellectual and spiritual tradition, and the urgency of her mandate to bring Christ’s saving truth to the men and women of every time and place. I am confident that, by emphasizing these hallmarks of a Roman education in every aspect of its program of formation, the College will continue to produce wise and generous pastors capable of transmitting the Catholic faith in its integrity, bringing Christ’s infinite mercy to the weak and the lost, and enabling America’s Catholics to be a leaven of the Gospel in the social, political and cultural life of their nation.

Dear brothers, I pray that in these days you will be renewed in the gift of the Holy Spirit which you received on the day of your ordination. In the College chapel, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of the Immaculate Conception, Our Lady is portrayed in the company of four outstanding models and patrons of priestly life and ministry: Saint Gregory the Great, Saint Pius X, Saint John Mary Vianney and Saint Vincent de Paul. During this Year for Priests, may these great saints continue to watch over the students who daily pray in their midst; may they guide and sustain your own ministry, and intercede for the priests of the United States. With cordial good wishes for the spiritual fruitfulness of the coming days, and with great affection in the Lord, I impart to you my Apostolic Blessing, which I willingly extend to all the alumni and friends of the Pontifical North American College.