Archbishop Dolan to Pope Benedict: Grace and mercy still abound

New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan greets Pope Benedict XVI

ROME — Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York addressed Pope Benedict Saturday on behalf of the bishops of New York state, telling the pope that God’s grace and mercy are as abundant among Catholics today as they were in the lives of past saints. His remarks came just before the pope delivered the first of five speeches he will give to groups of U.S. bishops making “ad limina” visits in coming months.

Here is the text of Archbishop Dolan’s talk:

Holy Father:

On Thursday, we in the United States celebrated our grand national feast of Thanksgiving.  For us bishops of the State of New York, to be here with you is indeed an occasion of thanksgiving! We praise Jesus for your ministry as successor of Saint Peter.

To visit you is more than a duty of canon law; for us, to borrow a phrase from one of our own, Dorothy Day, whom we hope one day will be a saint, it is a “duty of delight.”

We need not repeat to you statistics and reports, as these are carefully detailed in our required quinquennials, and in our pleasant conversations with you in the last two days.

Instead, we bishops come to you, as did the apostles to Jesus, to report with praise to God about all that His Word continues to accomplish in the eight dioceses of the State of New York. God’s grace and mercy are as abundant now as they once were in the lives of New Yorkers in the past whom we revere as saints or future saints.

The work of evangelization goes on, as it did centuries ago in our state through St. Isaac Jogues, John De Brebeuf, and the North American Martyrs. Our catechumens, children, young people and adults still respond to the invitation of Jesus to conversion of heart and the call to holiness, as our own Blessed Kateri Tekawitha and Father Paul Watson once did.

Our priests, consecrated religious, and faithful people continue to feed the poor, heal the sick, clothe the naked, and house the homeless as our hopefully future saints such as Pierre Toussaint, Monsignor Nelson Baker, Sister Rose Hawthorne, Mother Marianne Cope, Monsignor Bernard Quinn, and Dorothy Day did in the past.

Our children still learn about “the way, the truth, and the life” in excellent Catholic schools and programs of religious education, taught today as they once were by our own St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

Our priests continue to preach, serve, and sanctify, bolstered by the example of predecessors such as Felix Varela, Isaac Hecker, James Walsh, Thomas Price, Vincent Capodanno, Fulton Sheen, and Terrance Cooke, all of whom we hope one day to venerate as Saints.

Immigrants from Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and Asia, welcomed by the Statue of Liberty and Mother Church, are embraced now as once they were by Mother Francis Xavier Cabrini.

Holy Father, we have difficulties and worries galore. We have spoken to you about some of them over the last two days. The Church has had them since Pentecost; New York has had them since the first Catholics came three-and-a-half centuries ago. They do not crush us, but only prompt us to trust in Jesus and his promises, to rely on our faithful and generous people, zealous priests and deacons, indefatigable religious women and men.

They only move us to seek a blessing, and a word of hope from you as we commence Advent this very evening.

Vatican will welcome Christmas with carols this year

Every year, the Vatican unveils a Nativity scene at Christmas. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican is planning to sing its way into the Christmas season this year, with a chorus and orchestra leading Christmas carols at the annual unveiling of its Nativity scene.

The hour-long evening ceremony Dec. 24 will feature traditional Christmas songs in several languages, performed by a 100-person choir and orchestra in St. Peter’s Square.

The Vatican is arranging for worldwide television broadcast of the event, according to Archbishop Claudio Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. He described it as a “sung meditation” on Christmas.

As usual, Pope Benedict XVI is expected to bless the gathering from his apartment window above the square.

Vatican workers were already building this year’s Nativity scene, which features larger-than-life statues of the Holy Family and the Magi, plus new elements each year.

For seminarians, Thanksgiving a time of building fraternal bond

ROME — Under a cloudless sky with the lingering smell of barbequed hamburgers and the NFL theme song radiating from loudspeakers, young men lace up their sneakers for an old-fashioned football game. No, it is not a scene from the backyard of a fraternity house at a U.S. college in mid-September but rather a scene from a different kind of fraternity.

On the Sunday of every Thanksgiving weekend, seminarians from the Pontifical North American College in Rome, known as the NAC, trade in their clerics for flags and compete in the Spaghetti Bowl, a flag football game between the first year seminarians, or “new men” and seminarians from the three upper classes or “old men.”

U.S. seminarians in Rome play in the Spaghetti Bowl (PNACPHOTO/Brian Buettner)

The game, which was first played in 1953, not only signifies the culmination of the weekend but serves as a chance for the new men to earn the respect of the old men through friendly competition. The teams begin practicing weeks before the game, elect other seminarians as coaches and even have a fifth-year priest serve as a chaplain for the team.

Valuable bragging rights emerge from the game, prompting both the old men and the new men to take the competition very seriously. This year, the new men even designed their own shirts.

Earning respect, however, is not the only outcome of both this competition and the entire weekend. During Thanksgiving, many seminarians, especially first year men, experience homesickness since it is often the first time they will celebrate the holiday without their families. The seminarians organize various activities including preparing meals with one another, Thanksgiving Mass followed by a banquet, a skit organized and performed by both the old men and new men and, finally, the Spaghetti Bowl.

Before the game, Josh Laws, a second year seminarian reminisced about his experience as a first year seminarian last Thanksgiving, and he drew parallels between Thanksgiving at the NAC and his Thanksgivings at home.

“As a first year (seminarian), it was the first time I started to feel at home at the seminary since there are so many activities that bring us together. Since I love sports and competition,the Spaghetti Bowl is my favorite activity. But I also enjoy preparing breakfast on Thanksgiving morning with my entire hall since it reminds me of Thanksgiving morning back home when all my relatives would trickle into our house at various times,” he said.

The weekend activities highlight that the men have joined a new family, one consisting of their brother seminarians who are all traveling on the same journey. From planning the skit and practicing for the Spaghetti Bowl to sharing Thanksgiving dinner together, the seminarians further strengthen the foundation of the fraternity.

“When you enter the priesthood you understand that you are giving up having a family of your own, and one of the most important things to consider is building a family with your brother seminarians,” first year seminarian Joey Farrell said.

As the seminarians transition from new men to old men, the old men use this weekend as an opportunity to share past experiences and provide guidance for the first year seminarians while the new men gain a further sense of belonging at the seminary.

“The old men and faculty have been gracious from day one here at the NAC and no doubt when I am one of the old men I can pay those gifts forward to the new men entering the seminary. This entire weekend is an example of the domino effect of Christian hospitality that is embedded in the heart of the NAC,” Farrell explained.

Despite the old men claiming victory over the new men for the twelfth straight year, seminarians from both sides gathered at the center of the field to forge their brotherly bond through prayer and thanksgiving, signifying the deeper meaning of Thanksgiving for both the seminarians and Americans alike.