En route to Malta, pope speaks of wounds of sins

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict arrived in Malta this afternoon for an overnight visit. The pope spoke briefly to reporters aboard his plane, including CNS correspondent Carol Glatz, who reports that the pope said the church as the body of Christ has been “wounded by our sins.”

Although he did not specifically use the term “sex abuse,” the Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said the pope was indeed referring to the continuing scandal over sex abuse by priests.

UPDATE: Rather than take questions from reporters, the pope delivered an impromptu talk to the journalists based on written questions submitted in advance. Here is Vatican Radio’s English-language translation of the remarks by Father Lombardi and the pope:

Fr. Federico Lombardi:

Dear friends, His Holiness is among us once again for the first of those five trips that are already planned for this year. We are very pleased to have him with us at the beginning of this trip so that we may also give him our best wishes for the two anniversaries, his birthday yesterday and the anniversary of the coming Monday. The Holy Father has received the questions that some of you submitted and which to some extent express the expectations that we all have at the beginning of this trip and therefore he will give some reflections, make some considerations on the basis of our questions. We will not follow the usual formula of question and answer, we will let the Holy Father, for his part, give us a brief speech. Thank you Your Holiness and bon voyage

Pope Benedict XVI:

Dear friends, good evening! Let us hope we have a good journey, without this dark cloud that is hanging over part of Europe.

So why this trip to Malta? The reasons are manifold.

The first is St. Paul. The Pauline Year of the universal Church is over, but Malta is celebrating 1,950 years since the shipwreck and this is my opportunity to once again bring to light the great figure of the Apostle to the Gentiles, with his important message even [for] today. I think we can summarize the essence of his journey with the words with which he himself summarised it at the end of the letter to the Galatians: Faith working through love.

These are the important things today: faith, the relationship with God, which then turns into love. I also think the memory of the shipwreck says something to us. For Malta, the opportunity to have the faith was born with the shipwreck. We can also think about how the shipwrecks of life can be part of God’s project for us, and be useful for a new beginning in our life.

The second reason: I am glad to live in the midst of lively church, which the Church in Malta is. Even today it is fruitful in vocations, full of faith in the midst of our time, responding to the challenges of our time. I know that Malta loves Christ and loves his Church which is his body and knows that, even if this body is wounded by our sins, God loves this church and its gospel is the true force that purifies and heals.

Third point: Malta is the point where the waves of refugees arrive from Africa and knock at Europe’s door. This is a great problem of our time, and, of course, cannot be resolved by the island of Malta. We must all respond to this challenge, work so that everyone can live a dignified life in their homeland and on the other hand do everything possible so that these refugees find here, where they arrive, that they find a decent living space. A response to a great challenge of our time: Malta reminds us of these problems and also reminds us that their faith is the force that gives charity, and thus also the imagination to respond well to these challenges. Thank you

In his speech at Malta’s Luqa International Airport, the pope spoke of St. Paul’s shipwreck off the island 1,950 years ago, and he encouraged the predominantly Christian nation to keep standing up for the indissolubility of marriage and the sanctity of human life.

Here’s the original text of the pope’s remarks:

Mr President,

Dear Brother Bishops,

Distinguished Authorities,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Jien kuntent ħafna li ninsab fostkom! [I am delighted to be here with you!]It gives me great joy to be here in Malta with you today. I come among you as a pilgrim to worship the Lord and to praise him for the wonders he has worked here. I come also as the Successor of Saint Peter to confirm you in the faith (cf. Lk 22:32) and to join you in prayer to the one living and true God, in the company of all the Saints, including the great Apostle of Malta, Saint Paul. Though my visit to your country is short, I pray that it will bear much fruit.

I am grateful, Mr President, for the kind words with which you have greeted me in your own name and on behalf of the Maltese people. I thank you for your invitation and for the hard work that you and the Government have done in order to prepare for my visit. I thank the Prime Minister, the civil and military authorities, the members of the Diplomatic Corps and everyone present, for honouring this occasion by your presence and for your cordial welcome.

I greet in a special way Archbishop Paul Cremona, Bishop Mario Grech and Auxiliary Bishop Annetto Depasquale, as well as the other Bishops present. In greeting you, I wish to express my affection for the priests, deacons, men and women Religious and all the lay faithful entrusted to your pastoral care.

The occasion of my visit to these islands is the nineteen hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Saint Paul’s shipwreck off the island of Malta. Saint Luke describes this event in the Acts of the Apostles, and it is from his account that you have chosen the theme of this visit: “Jeħtieg iżda li naslu fi gżira” [“But we are to be stranded on some island”] (Acts 27:26). Some might consider Saint Paul’s arrival in Malta by means of a humanly unforeseen event to be a mere accident of history. The eyes of faith, however, enable us to recognize here the workings of divine Providence.

Malta, in fact, has been at the crossroads of many of the great events and cultural exchanges in European and Mediterranean history, right up to our own times. These islands have played a key role in the political, religious and cultural development of Europe, the Near East, and North Africa. To these shores, then, in the mysterious designs of God, the Gospel was brought by Saint Paul and the early followers of Christ. Their missionary work has borne much fruit over the centuries, contributing in innumerable ways to shaping Malta’s rich and noble culture.

On account of their geographical position, these islands have been of great strategic importance on more than one occasion, even in recent times: indeed, the George Cross upon your national flag proudly testifies to your people’s great courage during the dark days of the last world war. Likewise, the fortifications that feature so prominently in the island’s architecture speak of earlier struggles, when Malta contributed so much to the defence of Christianity by land and by sea. You continue to play a valuable role in the ongoing debates on European identity, culture and policy. At the same time, I am pleased to note your Government’s commitment to humanitarian projects further afield, especially in Africa. It is greatly to be hoped that this will serve to promote the welfare of those less fortunate than yourselves, as an expression of genuine Christian charity.

Indeed, Malta has much to contribute to questions as diverse as tolerance, reciprocity, immigration, and other issues crucial to the future of this continent. Your Nation should continue to stand up for the indissolubility of marriage as a natural institution as well as a sacramental one, and for the true nature of the family, just as it does for the sacredness of human life from conception to natural death and for the proper respect owed to religious freedom in ways that bring authentic integral development to individuals and society.

Malta also has close links to the near East, not only in cultural and religious terms, but even linguistically. Allow me to encourage you to put this ensemble of skills and strengths to ever greater use so as to serve as a bridge of understanding between the peoples, cultures and religions which surround the Mediterranean. Much has still to be done to build relationships of genuine trust and fruitful dialogue, and Malta is well placed to hold out the hand of friendship to her neighbours to north and south, to east and west.

The Maltese people, enlightened for almost two millennia by the teachings of the Gospel and continually fortified by their Christian roots, are rightly proud of the indispensable role that the Catholic faith has played in their nation’s development. The beauty of our faith is expressed in various and complementary ways here, not least in the lives of holiness which have led Maltese to give of themselves for the good of others. Among these we must include Dun Ġorɍ Preca, whom I was pleased to canonize just three years ago (3 June, 2007). I invite all of you to invoke his intercession for the spiritual fruitfulness of this, my first pastoral visit among you.

I look forward to praying with you during my time in Malta and I wish, as a father and as a brother, to assure you of my affection for you and my eagerness to share this time with you in faith and friendship. With these thoughts, I entrust all of you to the protection of Our Lady of Ta’ Pinu and your father in the faith, the great Apostle Paul.

Il-Mulej ibierek lill-poplu kollu ta’ Malta u ta’ Għawdex! [God bless all the people of Malta and Gozo!].

Bill canceling Haiti’s debt heads to White House

Congress has sent President Barack Obama legislation that would cancel $828 million that Haiti owes international financial institutions. (CNS/Reuters)

Legislation that in effect cancels more than $800 million in debt owed by Haiti to world financial institutions has cleared both houses of Congress and is on its way to White House.

The Debt Relief for Earthquake Recovery in Haiti Act, H.R. 4573, does not officially cancel Haiti’s debt. That will be the decision of international financial institutions such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, the Inter-American Development Bank and the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

What the bill does is direct Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner to instruct the U.S. executive directors of the aforementioned institutions to “use the voice, vote and influence of the United States” to encourage them to cancel Haiti’s debt.

It also calls for the suspension of debt service payments and for the financial institutions to provide grants for the next five years before making additional loans to Haiti. The grants would help the poverty-stricken country recover from the Jan. 12 earthquake and boost economic development.

Historically, what the U.S. wants in those institutions, the U.S. gets. So once President Barack Obama signs the bill, it will be only a matter of time before the $828 million Haiti owes is forgiven.

The bill was supported by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., ushered the bill through the House and made sure the Senate did not slow it down. From introduction to final passage April 14, the legislative process took less than 10 weeks.

Year for Priests: Asking students what they want from life

By Basilian Father Chris Valka
One in a series

Over the past few weeks, I have spent a lot of time talking with students about life after high school.  College is a given for my students, but few really know what they want to do with their education.  Their imagination conjures lofty ideas of success, measured by objects and a level of happiness.  Like most high school students, they hope for an exciting career with stability, disposable income, family, and plenty of time for their favorite sport.

Most of the time, I simply smile and chuckle a little. But this past week I decided it was time for a different approach.  I asked my students to make a list of 15 things or events that brings them excitement.  At first, they thought this would be easy as they quickly rattled off numbers one through five . . . or six, but then it began to get tough.

Go ahead, give it a try for yourself.  Make a list of 15 things/events that brings you excitement.

Difficult?  We would like to think that it is easy, but I find that there are few things that we really get excited about.  I explained to my students that excitement requires humility.  Excitement comes with surprise.  When we expect a certain level of fulfillment or believe we are entitled to this or that — there is often little excitement involved.  Think about it — when have you been the most excited?  I would guess that it is usually when you had no idea an event or gift was coming.

So the lesson here is:  more humility = more excitement in life.

Years ago, I read an article by Kathleen McAlpin in Review for Religious where she wrote, “What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination will affect everything.  It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do in the evening, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, what amazes you with joy and gratitude.”

As I paraphrased this quote off the top of my head, I asked my students a second question:  “What are you convicted about?”

Based on the classroom discussion, I would guess 90 percent of my seniors know what they want in life, but they have no idea how to get it.  They are influenced by media-driven images of success and self-centered notions of duty; and yet, I believe their heart is in the right place.  My students, like all young adults, are a reflection of their environment, so all it takes is a different environment for them to see a different path.  As we discussed it all, my students determined that the quality of their education is not simply measured by the number of books they read, but by how many people they encounter.

I find many adults short-change the ability of young people to contribute to the world.  There are many days when my students frustrate me, but there are also days when I am amazed at their goodness and creativity.  If young people seem selfish, I wonder if it is because we, as the adults, have not empowered them to take on a challenge they feel is worthy of the risk and effort.

Father Adolfo Nicolás, the superior general of the Jesuits, said,  “We must recover our ability to dream great things.  We need dreams that cannot be sold, dreams that say maybe there is something for me to contribute.  Our lives must reflect the reality:  the only security we have is hope.”

If we are to be a model for our young people today, perhaps we can start by dreaming a little more and a little bigger than usual.  Perhaps we can share those dreams with the young people in our lives.  Perhaps the humility we are looking for will come from the excitement in their lives.

Father Chris Valka, CSB, was ordained a priest for the Congregation of St. Basil last May and is teaching at Detroit Catholic Central High School in Michigan.

Click here for more in this series.

Rector’s Dinner: Big night at NAC

Seminarians at Mass at the Pontifical North American College. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The Rector’s Dinner is one of the events of the year at the Pontifical North American College. It’s a fund-raiser, but it’s much more — for an evening, the college is a crossroads for seminarians and alumni, benefactors and Roman Curia officials, diplomats and Italian nobility.

Msgr. James F. Checchio, the current rector, was able to report that this year’s dinner was the most successful ever. It was a record crowd, which was fitting, because the college itself is enjoying a renaissance.

Enrollment is at a 40-year high, with 225 students at the seminary on the Janiculum Hill and 72 priests at the Casa Santa Maria in downtown Rome. A sabbatical program is about to move into a newly refurbished Casa O’Toole on the grounds of the seminary, which can accommodate 35 priests each semester.

And in these days of seminarian soccer tournaments, one should not overlook installation of the new and safer artificial turf on NAC’s impressive practice field.

The dinner featured the presentation of the 2010 Rector’s Award, which is given for dedication and devotion to the faith and support of priestly and religious vocations. There were three recipients this year:

— Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, who was rector at NAC from 1994-2001.

— Francis and Kathleen Rooney, strong supporters of the college and other religious organizations. Francis Rooney was U.S. ambassador to the Vatican from 2005-2008.

As usual, the seminarian students did usher and waiter duty. Then, at the end of the evening, they wowed the crowd with a singing performance of classic American popular music. The rendition of “Duke of Earl” by the seminarians’ Doo-Wop Octet was a real slice of Americana.

Pope: ‘The world that speaks to us of our sins’

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI apparently gave a remarkable homily at Mass today with members of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, speaking about the clerical sex abuse crisis as an opportunity for the church to do real penance. (UPDATE: Full story.)

The pope first referred to a “subtle or not so subtle aggression against the church” as a form of modern conformism “under which it becomes obligatory to think as everyone thinks, to act as everyone acts.” Such conformism can become a dictatorship, he said.

Then he said the “attacks” against the church present an opportunity for purification and transformation through penance.

I must say that we Christians, even in recent times, have often avoided the word ‘penance,’ which seemed too harsh to us. Now, under the attacks of the world that speaks to us of our sins, we see that being able to do penance is a grace and we see how it is necessary to do penance, that is, to recognize what is mistaken in our life, to open oneself to forgiveness, to prepare oneself for forgiveness, to allow oneself to be transformed. The pain of penance, that is to say of purification and of transformation, this pain is grace, because it is renewal, and it is the work of Divine Mercy.

As Vatican officials were still preparing the release of the papal text, Vatican Radio posted the main quotes on its Web site.

The fake war against the Beatles

VATICAN CITY — Many news headlines over the past week contained some variant of: “Vatican forgives/makes peace with/absolves the Beatles!”

The Beatles are pictured in an undated photo released by Capitol Records. From left are: George Harrison, Ringo Starr, John Lennon and Paul McCartney. (CNS photo/Capitol Records)

It came after the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, published an article April 10 praising the pop group, saying their “beautiful melodies are like precious jewels.”

It’s certainly not the first time the Vatican newspaper has paid tribute to the band. Here and here are just the most recent examples of praise.

So obviously the paper’s editors seemed surprised that the press would think the Fab Four had been on some sort of hate-list of theirs.

In an effort to show that the L’Osservatore Romano had never been part of the wave of contempt and condemnation that swept across America and other parts of the world in 1966 when John Lennon remarked that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus, the paper reprinted an article it ran Aug. 14, 1966 — the same month Lennon’s quip was taken out of context by an American teen magazine and sparked protests nationwide.

Today’s edition of the Vatican paper says that the Beatles never needed the paper’s absolution and that their 1966 story shows there was “already back then, an unexpected consonance between the Vatican newspaper and John Lennon.”

L’Osservatore Romano’s original 1966 story talked about the negative impact Lennon’s remark had on the public and how record sales had plummeted in just a few days. It said such an upheaval made Lennon publicly reflect on his comment, which the paper surmised, was not really a reflection of his being impious, but rather being flippant. He obviously hadn’t thought about the kind of impact a comment about Christ and religion would have on people, it said.

The 1966 article then provided ample quotes of a statement Lennon made in August in Chicago where the Beatles headed for the first leg of their first tour in the United States.

In the statement Lennon explained how it had never crossed his mind to say anything against religion. He said his remark that the group was bigger than Jesus was part of a larger discussion in which he deplored the fact that people, especially young people, cared more about the Beatles than Jesus and religion.

Lennon, in fact, spoke out often about how that remark had been taken out of context from the original interview that appeared in a British publication in March 1966.

Here are the transcripts of two interviews the Beatles did in Chicago explaining Lennon’s true intentions: Aug. 11, 1966 and Aug. 12, 1966.

Lennon also did an interview in Montreal with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in 1969 saying the Beatles were a Christian band that wanted to bring people closer to God and that Lennon considered himself as “one of Christ’s biggest fans.”

Papal secretary marks boss’ anniversary with a book

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI isn’t the only resident of the Apostolic Palace involved in writing and publishing.

After having collaborated on children’s books about Pope Benedict XVI, Msgr. Georg Ganswein — his personal secretary — is celebrating the fifth anniversary of the pope’s election with his own book, “Benedict XVI: Urbi et Orbi,” looking at the pope’s public encounters with the faithful and with other visitors in Rome and around the world.

Msgr. Ganswein and Pope Benedict XVI at a weekly general audience in January. (CNS/Paul Haring)

On all the trips and at each encounter, Msgr. Ganswein has had a front-row seat. But it’s not a tell-all book by any stretch of the imagination. Its 90-odd pages are filled with photographs and quotes from papal speeches, along with brief introductory notes from the papal secretary.

A joint project of the Vatican publishing house and Germany’s Verlag Herder, the book was distributed to journalists yesterday. So far, it is available only in Italian and German.

The main focus is on Pope Benedict’s trips abroad, but there also are pages dedicated to his visits to Rome parishes and Catholic charitable agencies and to cities throughout Italy.

Describing the pope’s April 2008 visit to the United States, Msgr. Ganswein said the pope arrived “in a country deeply wounded and suffering.”

“What would Benedict XVI say about the sexual abuse of minors by churchmen? What would he say at ground zero where the Twin Towers stood before a terrorist attack cut them down, causing the deaths of thousands of people?” Msgr. Ganswein asked.

“The pope was not afraid of calling the incomprehensible by name. He met privately with the victims of sexual abuse, and at the place where thousands died, he did not speak of vengeance, but of forgiveness,” the secretary wrote.

Msgr. Ganswein ends the book with an essay titled, “The End of a Trip is the Eve of Another.” He points out that the pope is going to Malta this weekend, to Portugal May 11-14, to Cyprus June 4-6, to England and Scotland Sept. 16-19; and to Spain Nov. 6-7.

He said that just as thousands of people want to come to Rome to meet the pope, the pope wants to travel to meet them.

“As Catholics even those who are not fortunate enough to meet the pope personally have the privilege of belonging — together with the Successor of Peter — to a worldwide community, which although not perfect, for 2,000 years has proclaimed in every tongue the good news that God loves humanity and that death does not have the last word, because that belongs to God, who is full of love for us.”

As for book writing, Msgr. Ganswein repeated what has been reported several times: the second volume of Pope Benedict’s book on Jesus of Nazareth “will appear soon.”