Thursday, April 28, 2005

America: What Does That Mean?

What does "America" mean? What is it to be an "American"?

These questions and more I will have some better idea of come the next few days. No posting this weekend. Tonight I am on my way to a conference on the above themes, with the keynote address by none other than Victor Davis Hanson himself. Should be stimulating.

Some of the topics to be covered throughout the weekend:

Culture and Creed in the Formation of Americans
Immigration and America
E Pluribus Unum
What Should It Mean To Be An American Citizen?

Since I have to write a reflection on the talks and the overall conference, I will post some of those thoughts here sometime in the near future.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Il Papa, Holy "Father," and Blasphemy?

During the excitement of the conclave, a caller to the Hugh Hewitt Show voiced not only her dislike for all the coverage the Catholic Church and especially "the Pope" was getting, but she also threw out one of those now-traditional criticisms levied against the Catholic (and Orthodox too, if not more) practice of calling priests "Father." Moreover, how could we even go so far as to call the Bishop of Rome the "Holy Father." What blasphemy! she charged.

Leaving aside the former issue of the extensive coverage (what Pope John Paul the Great did during his pontificate for people around the world, especially behind the Iron Curtain of Communism, has changed the worldwide significance and reach of the person who is called "Il Papa"), was this caller on to something with her additional charge that Catholics are going against the Bible when they call priests "Father"? Is there any meat to this critique?

Well, let's see.

And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. (Mt 23: 9)

How does a Catholic reconcile this command of Jesus Christ with the time-honored tradition of calling a priest “father”? Should this apparent contradiction cause a Catholic to become either ashamed of the use of the title of “father” or, worse still, ashamed of the Gospel itself? Was Christ speaking of all references to anyone with the title of father? These are questions that may stump a Catholic when asked to explain such a practice. I, however, suggest that they are good questions that further vindicate Catholic Tradition in the light of Sacred Scripture. As well, I put forth that such a title does not contradict the command of Christ but, in fact, is even in sync with Sacred Scripture.

Christ could not have possibly meant to literally never call a man “father,” for, if so, we would be wrong in addressing our male parent as such. Is he not called “father”? To many, this is an exception that was not forbidden in Christ’s command. I grant that. But, I offer more.

When Christ speaks of the rich man and Lazarus (cf. Lk 16), he, himself, uses the title of “father” when speaking of someone other than God the Father. Christ quotes the rich man: “And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy upon me ...” The text continues with the rest of the story, yet Christ never mentions the reference to Abraham as "Father" as being wrong. In fact, Abraham is seen as a spiritual father to all children of God.

The same applies to the spiritual leaders of the Catholic Church. Catholics are merely following and attesting to the Word of God when they identify priests as “fathers.” St. Paul opens his First Letter to Timothy by addressing him as “my true child in the faith.” If St. Paul calls Timothy his “true child,” then basic logic tells us that Paul possesses some type of fatherhood. Since Timothy is not only a “child,” but a “child in the faith,” then Paul’s fatherhood is, as well, rooted in the faith.

Another scriptural text that highlights the distinctions of each in the faith is 1 Jn 2:12-14. St. John distinguishes between little children, young men, and fathers. It is interesting to note that in the ensuing lines the Apostle instructs the "children" and not the "fathers," nor for that matter the "young men" he has just spoken of. I merely said interesting.

Lastly, and most explicitly, if we turn our attention back to St. Paul we see that he is very clear about the fatherhood of priests, those who serve in the person of Christ (2 Cor 2:10). (On "person," see * NOTE below.) The Apostle writes, “I do not write this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (1 Cor 4:14-15; emphasis added) That’s right. The Apostle Paul identifies himself as father. He became our "father" ... and it was done "through the gospel" itself.

Does St. Paul contradict the Savior? To answer that, one must first ask if Sacred Scripture contradicts itself? As a Christian who believes in the “sacred writings which are able to instruct [...] for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15), the answer is no.

As a Christian who believes that “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17), the answer is no.

St. Paul does not contradict Christ Jesus. Rather, he faithfully follows His commands and teachings, while exhorting us to do the same: Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ (1 Cor 11:1). We will, Father Paul, for we are “not ashamed of the gospel” (Rom 1:16).

And neither is our new Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI (to the consternation of many in the media and any others who dislike what Christ established).

* NOTE: Depending on the context, the Greek word "prosopon" can be translated as “person,” “continence,” “face,” or “presence.” However, it is translated into Latin as “persona” in the Church’s official Bible. As well, this word, prosopon, is the word used by Church fathers and the Council of Chalcedon to refer to the one person of Christ, who possesses two natures, divine and human, that are “preserved and coalescing in one prosopon…” Since the Latin version of the Bible reads, “in persona Christi,” and since some Church fathers used prosopon for the person of Christ, I follow suit.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Had Your Vitamins Today?

This one is hilarious! Enjoy. Remember to get your daily dosage. Take your B16!

And this one too is great news for the Truth. Down with Da Vinci! The Da Vinci Code, that is. "New Pope's books knock out bestselling Da Vinci Code." Here is a bit:

The Da Vinci Code, the global best-seller criticised by the Vatican, has just been named book of the year at the British Book Awards, but it has lost its supremacy on Amazon's bestseller list to two books written by the new Pope Benedict XVI.
Canada's CBC reports that as of yesterday afternoon, seven of the Pope's books ranked in the top 25 of's bestseller list, two of the titles beating The Da Vinci Code. On the Barnes & Nobel website, one of the pontiff's books was ranked among the top 20, as was Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI: Pontiff for a New Era, an as-yet-unreleased biography by Greg Tobin, papal commentator and former editor of The Catholic Advocate. Two more were in the top 50.
A new collection of the Pope's letters, essays and lectures, entitled Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith, is also scheduled for release this spring, [Ignatius Press president Mark] Brumley said.

Writings of the New Pontiff

Two qualities Pope Benedict XVI is known for are his intellect and his writing talents. He has been quite prolific. The Ratzinger Fan Club has a listing of many of his writings that can be accessed online.

Here is a listing of some of my favorites:

*** "Europe's Crisis of Culture," given at Subiaco the day before Pope John Paul the Great passed away and a talk where Ratzinger stressed the need for another Benedict (hmmm) ***

*** Funeral Homily for Msgr. Luigi Giussani, where Ratzinger received enthusiastic applause after the homily ***

*** "The Theology of Kneeling" from The Spirit of the Liturgy. ***

"Interreligious Dialogue and Jewish-Christian Relations"in Many Religions, One Covenant.

The Question of Suffering, the Response of the Cross, from God and the World: A Conversation with Peter Seewald.

On the Meaning of the Eucharist (April 2003)

Answers to Main Objections to Dominus Iesus (Sept 2002)

*** Truth and Freedom *** Highly recommended.

Reason Separated From God Is Obstacle to Peace, excerpts from an address delivered June 4, 2004 on the 60th anniversary of the Normandy invasion.

*** "The Feeling of Things, the Contemplation of Beauty", given at the Communion and Liberation meeting at Rimini, Italy (August 2002). ***

Culture and Truth: Some Reflections on the Encyclical Letter, Fides et Ratio, given in 1999 at St. Patrick's Seminary in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Question of Truth Lies at the Center of Theology, given in December 1996.

Relativism: The Central Problem for the Faith Today, given in Guadalajara, Mexico, in May 1996.

Mellifluous Benedict XVI?

Ok, I know St. Bernard is the Mellifluous Doctor but the public may be demanding something. In the Bavarian village of Marktl, honey is now being sold as "Pope Honey."

Mellifluous, indeed. It must be the sweetness of his love for Christ that comes forth in his writings and homilies.

Pours forth ever so mellifluously!

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Friday, April 22, 2005

Poetizing the Blogless Times

On why I too am not posting anything further tonight, see One Clear Call:

Blogless Friday

I'm stuck tonight, without a post
On blogging, I am overdosed
It's Friday night, a time for fun
That's why I can't get blogging done.

For the rest of this fine and pithy poem by Kathy Carroll , check out Happy Weekend.

The other reason is I have some philosophy to read
and hopefully some of my papers to complete.

Hegel, Heidegger, and Epistemology.
Oh, what joy comes
when I get to finally say "Finis!"

Ok, I know, not as good as "Blogless Friday," but it's a start.

Pope Benedict XVI: A True Liberal?

Just got an email from the Acton Institute with Fr. Sirico's latest article, this one dealing with the thought of the new Holy Father and its relationship to true liberalism. For the whole article, go to the links. Here are some bits from that piece:

"As counterintuitive as this may sound, I believe that insofar as the new papacy has implications for economics and politics, it is in the direction of a humane and unifying liberalism. I speak not of liberalism as we know it now, which is bound up with state management and democratic relativism, but liberalism of an older variety that placed it hopes in society, faith, and freedom."

"Benedict XV was pope from 1914 to 1922 -- the pope who witnessed the age of peace, prosperity and hope turn to one of bloodshed, violence, and the total state. He is remembered mostly for his anguished encyclical Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum, which sought to end the conflicts and battles that became what we now call World War I, the war which so violently dashed the hopes of many generations of 19th century classical liberals."

"Pope Benedict XV wrote the following terrifying passage in 1914:

"On every side the dread phantom of war holds sway: There is scarce room for another thought in the minds of men. The combatants are the greatest and wealthiest nations of the earth; what wonder, then, if, well provided with the most awful weapons modern military science has devised, they strive to destroy one another with refinements of horror. There is no limit to the measure of ruin and of slaughter; day by day the earth is drenched with newly-shed blood, and is covered with the bodies of the wounded and of the slain. Who would imagine as we see them thus filled with hatred of one another, that they are all of one common stock, all of the same nature, all members of the same human society? Who would recognize brothers, whose Father is in Heaven? Yet, while with numberless troops the furious battle is engaged, the sad cohorts of war, sorrow and distress swoop down upon every city and every home; day by day the mighty number of widows and orphans increases, and with the interruption of communications, trade is at a standstill; agriculture is abandoned; the arts are reduced to inactivity; the wealthy are in difficulties; the poor are reduced to abject misery; all are in distress.

"Obviously these sad words served as foreshadowing of what would follow: crimes and terrors of Communism and Nazism, the end of European unity, the advent of weapons of mass destruction, the takeover of the West by ideologies of social management, secularism, consumerism, and every kind of horror. These were the worldly concerns of popes that followed Benedict XV, all the way to John Paul II, who was singularly instrumental in overthrowing the great tyrannies of the last century. It was a debilitating time for anyone who believed in the spirit of Lord Acton [see whole article for significance of this comment] and his contemporaries."

"And what became of Christian hope? We find it in documents of the Second Vatican Council, the most important event to shape the lives of both John Paul and the German theologian Joseph Ratzinger. This was the council that did not turn its back on religious freedom but rather embraced it more fully with a confidence that the setbacks that followed the end of the temporal power would be temporary. This council looked forward to a world of renewed spiritual and material progress in which a global order of freedom -- along with technological advance -- would serve all peoples in all places. It was the council that made it the Church’s mission to not only care for souls but also for the well being of all societies in which people live and breath."

"This is a vision that was warmly embraced by John Paul II, and we can expect a full continuity with that vision under Benedict XVI. The very name of the latter gives us hope that the bloodshed between World War I and the fall of the Berlin Wall need not be our common destiny. Certainly Cardinal Ratzinger has not contradicted John Paul II's liberal teachings on economics, which found great merit in the market economy and even condemned European-style welfare states.

"Cardinal Ratzinger .... has written with great optimism about the prospects for a new and unified Europe -- not unified by the state but by faith and cooperation. He has written very powerful condemnations of the total state as we know it and decried the way in which the secularist social-managerial project of the overweening state has displaced the Christian vision of unity in faith.

"Mostly, Ratzinger has written in defense of authentic freedom. He has written of the 'real gift of freedom that Christian faith has brought into the world. It was the first to break the identification of state and religion and thus to remove from the state its claim to totality; by differentiating faith from the sphere of the state it gave man the right to keep secluded and reserved his or her own being with God… Freedom of conscience is the core of all freedom.' (Freedom and Constraint in the Church, 1981)"

Go check out the whole article, and while you're at it, check out this other essay on their site: "Dignitatis Humanae: Root Words for a Free Society."

"Be not afraid!" From One Pope to Another

Some more words from his homily:

"I consider this a grace obtained for me by my venerated predecessor, John Paul II. It seems I can feel his strong hand squeezing mine; I seem to see his smiling eyes and listen to his words, addressed to me especially at this moment: 'Do not be afraid!'"

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Thursday, April 21, 2005

Writing and Preparing Another "Zinger" of Truth

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"A Telltale Sign": A Ratzinger Homily and Applause

(Image from Communion and Liberation magazine Traces, Vol. 7, No. 3, p. 12)

In today's LA Times, there is an article analyzing the "Groundswell" that "Swept Ratzinger Into Office." In discussing the "increasing speculation" that Ratzinger drew "as a papabile, or papal candidate," they make mention of another great and holy man: the late Monsignor Luigi Giussani, the founder of Communion and Liberation:

A telltale sign of his ascent took place at the funeral of Msgr. Luigi Giussani, the founder of Communion and Liberation. The Mass in Milan's Duomo cathedral on Feb. 24 drew Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and other notables.

Representing the ailing pope, Ratzinger presided over the funeral Mass instead of Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, archbishop of Milan, against the expectations of some. Ratzinger's homily brought enthusiastic applause. The audience responded to remarks by Tettamanzi, a rival candidate for pope, with silence.

"Ratzinger's homily"? Well, it is about time people turn to this homily. (We also need to find a translation of the homily he gave at Subiaco just before Pope John Paul the Great passed away.) What about this homily that "brought enthusiastic applause"? Well, let's see. Here is the text of the homily with certain passages and phrases emphasized in blue:

Milan Cathedral, February 24, 2005.

Funeral Mass for Fr Giussani

Homily of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger,
Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Dear Brothers in the episcopate and in the priesthood, “the disciples rejoiced to see Jesus.” These words of the Gospel just read indicate the centre of the personality and of the life of our dear Fr Giussani.

Fr Giussani grew up in a home—as he himself said—poor as far as bread was concerned, but rich with music, and thus from the start he was touched, or better, wounded, by the desire for beauty. He was not satisfied with any beauty whatever, a banal beauty, he was looking rather for Beauty itself, infinite Beauty, and thus he found Christ, in Christ true beauty, the path of life, the true joy.

Already as a boy, along with other young men, he created a community called Studium Christi. Their program was to speak of nothing else but Christ, because everything else seemed to be a waste of time. Naturally, he was able to overcome the unilaterality, but he always kept the substance. Only Christ gives meaning to the whole of our life. Fr Giussani always kept the eyes of his life and of his heart fixed on Christ. In this way, he understood that Christianity is not an intellectual system, a packet of dogmas, a moralism, Christianity is rather an encounter, a love story; it is an event.

This love affair with Christ, this love story which is the whole of his life was however far from every superficial enthusiasm, from every vague romanticism. Really seeing Christ, he knew that to encounter Christ means to follow Christ. This encounter is a road, a journey, a journey that passes also—as we heard in the psalm—through the “valley of darkness.” In the Gospel, we heard of the last darkness of Christ’s suffering, of the apparent absence of God, when the world’s Sun was eclipsed. He knew that to follow is to pass through a “valley of darkness,” to take the way of the cross, and to live all the same in true joy.

Why is it so? The Lord himself translated this mystery of the cross, which is really the mystery of love, with a formula in which the whole reality of our life is explained. The Lord says, “Whoever seeks his life, will lose it and whoever loses his life, will find it.”

Fr Giussani really wanted not to have his life for himself, but he gave life, and exactly in this way found life not only for himself, but for many others. He practised what we heard in the Gospel: he did not want to be served but to served, he was a faithful servant of the Gospel, he gave out all the wealth of his heart, he gave out all the divine wealth of the Gospel, with which he was penetrated and, serving in this way, giving his life, this life of his gave rich fruit—as we see in this moment—he has become really father of many and, having led people not to himself, but to Christ, he really won hearts, he has helped to make the world better and to open the world’s doors for heaven.

This centrality of Christ in his life gave him also the gift of discernment, of deciphering correctly the signs of the times in a difficult time, full of temptations and of errors, as we know. Think of 1968 and the following years. A first group of his followers went to Brazil and found itself face to face with extreme poverty, with extreme misery. What can be done? How can we respond? And there was a great temptation to say, “for the moment we have to set Christ aside, set God aside, because there are more pressing needs, we have first to change the structure, the external things, first we must improve the earth, then we can find heaven again.” It was the great temptation of that moment to transform Christianity into a moralism and moralism into politics, to substitute believing with doing. Because what does faith imply? We can cay, “in this moment we have to do something.” And all the same, in this way, by substituting faith with moralism, believing with doing, we fall into particularisms, we lose most of all the criteria and the orientations, and in the end we don’t build, but divide.

Monsignor Giussani, with his fearless and unfailing faith, knew that, even in this situation, Christ, the encounter with Him, remains central, because whoever does not give God, gives too little, and whoever does not give God, whoever does not make people find God in the Fact of Christ, does not build, but destroys, because he gets human activity lost in ideological and false dogmatisms.

Fr Giussani kept the centrality of Christ and, exactly in this way, with social works, with necessary service, he helped mankind in this difficult world, where the responsibility of Christians for the poor in the world is enormous and urgent.

Whoever believes has also to pass through the “valley of darkness,” the dark valleys of discernment, as well as adversities, opposition and ideological hostilities that even took the form of threats to eliminate his people physically, so as to get rid of this other voice that is not content merely with doing things, but brings a greater message , and thus also a greater light.

In virtue of the faith, Monsignor Giussani passed fearlessly through these dark valleys and naturally, with the novelty he carried with him, found it difficult to find a niche inside the Church. Even though the Holy Spirit, according to the needs of the times, creates something new, which is really the return to the origins, it is difficult to see one’s way and to find peaceful harmony in the great communion of the Universal Church. Fr Giussani’s love for Christ was also love for the Church, and thus he always remained a faithful servant, faithful to the Holy Father and faithful to his Bishops.

With his foundations he also gave new interpretation to the mystery of the Church.

Communion and Liberation brings to mind immediately this discovery proper of the modern era, freedom. It also brings to mind St Ambrose’s phrase, “Ubi fides est libertas.” Cardinal Biffi drew our attention to the near coincidence of this phrase of St Ambrose with the foundation of Communion and Liberation. Focussing on freedom as a gift proper of faith, he also told us that freedom, in order to be true, human freedom, freedom in truth, needs communion. An isolated freedom, a freedom only for the “I,” would be a lie, and would destroy human communion. In order to be true, and therefore in order to be efficient, freedom needs communion, and not just any kind of communion, but ultimately communion with truth itself, with love itself, with Christ, with the Trinitarian God. Thus is built community that creates freedom and gives joy.

The other foundation, the Memores Domini, brings to mind again the second Gospel read today: the memory that the Lord gave us in the Holy Eucharist, memory that is not merely a remembrance of the past, but memory that creates present, memory in which He gives Himself into our hands and into our hearts, and thus makes us live.

Through valleys of darkness. In the last period of his life, Fr Giussani had to pass through the dark valley of sickness, of infirmity, of pain, of suffering, but here, too, his eyes were fixed on Jesus, and thus he remained true in all the suffering, seeing Jesus, he was able to rejoice; the joy of the Risen One was present, who even in the passion is the Risen One and gives us the true light and joy, and he knew that—as the psalm says—even passing though this valley, “I fear no evil because I know that You are with me, and I will dwell in the Father’s house.” This was his great strength, knowing that “You are with me.”

My dear faithful, dear young people above all, let us take this message to heart, let us not lose sight of Christ and let us not forget that without God nothing good can be built and that God remains enigmatic if he is not recognized in the face of Christ.

Now your dear friend Fr Giussani has reached the other world, and we are convinced that the door of the Father’s house has opened, we are convinced that now this word is fully realized: they rejoiced to see Jesus. He is rejoicing with a joy that no one can take from him. In this moment we wish to thank the Lord for the great gift of this priest, of this faithful servant of the Gospel, of this father. We entrust his soul to the goodness of his Lord and ours.

In this hour we wish to pray particularly, too, for the health of the Holy Father, taken once more into Hospital. May the Lord accompany him and give him strength and health. And let us pray that the Lord enlighten us, give us the faith that builds the world, the faith that makes us find the path of life, true joy. Amen.

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Blessing Coffin of Msgr. Giussani

(Photo from Communion and Liberation magazine Traces, Vol. 7, No. 3, pp.8-9) Posted by Hello

The Eucharist: "Heart of Christian Life"

In his now famous homily from the Mass the day after he was elected, Pope Benedict XVI stressed many things. One in particular is the Eucharist:

"In a very significant way, my pontificate starts as the Church is living the special year dedicated to the Eucharist. How can I not see in this providential coincidence an element that must mark the ministry to which I have been called? The Eucharist, the heart of Christian life and the source of the evangelizing mission of the Church, cannot but be the permanent center and the source of the petrine service entrusted to me.

"The Eucharist makes the Risen Christ constantly present, Christ Who continues to give Himself to us, calling us to participate in the banquet of His Body and His Blood. From this full communion with Him comes every other element of the life of the Church, in the first place the communion among the faithful, the commitment to proclaim and give witness to the Gospel, the ardor of charity towards all, especially towards the poor and the smallest.

"In this year, therefore, the Solemnity of Corpus Christi must be celebrated in a particularly special way. The Eucharist will be at the center, in August, of World Youth Day in Cologne and, in October, of the ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops which will take place on the theme
The Eucharist, Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church.' I ask everyone to intensify in coming months love and devotion to the Eucharistic Jesus and to express in a courageous and clear way the real presence of the Lord, above all through the solemnity and the correctness of the celebrations.

"I ask this in a special way of priests, about whom I am thinking in this moment with great affection. The priestly ministry was born in the Cenacle, together with the Eucharist, as my venerated predecessor John Paul II underlined so many times. 'The priestly life must have in a special way a 'Eucharistic form', he wrote in his last Letter for Holy Thursday. The devout daily celebration of Holy Mass, the center of the life and mission of every priest, contributes to this end."

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Fr. Fessio, SJ: The Pope's Friend and Student

Fr. Fessio, SJ, and others at Ave Maria University in Naples, Florida react to the announcement that Cardinal Ratzinger had been elected Pope.

Today Hugh Hewitt had one of his best interviews ever.

(Ok, I am a bit biased here. It was with a former professor of mine and a priest who truly is, as he has said of other truly good and holy men--Cardinal de Lubac and Pope Benedict XVI--a man of the Church:
homo ecclesiaticus.)

He interviewed Fr. Joseph Fessio, SJ. As
Hugh tells it:

Pope Benedict XVI is a scholar, and a teacher. Scholar/teachers have students, and they stay close with many of them. Father Joseph Fessio, Provost of Ave Maria University in Naples, Florida, studied under the new pope in the early '70s, and has stayed a friend and student for thirty years. He was my guest today. Here is a short and important --in fact crucial-- excerpt from that conversation. A complete transcript will be posted later at Radioblogger:

"His deepest love is the Mass. And so he wrote a book called The Spirit of the Liturgy, and it is clear that he believes that what happened after Vatican II, that Council, was that the way the Mass was celebrated really represented a break from tradition. It was no longer in continuity. So, he has said publicly that the previous rite should never have been abolished because it was a rite that had nourished saints for centuries. At the same time, he was the one who had to negotiate with Lefebrve and others, and who had to tell the pope, 'We can't take anymore, they ahve broken the rules here, they have ordained bishops.' So he deeply wants to have the Mass celebrated as he says in his homily [today] with solemnity and rectitude. So I think he will reach out to those who have a love for the pre-[Vatican II] Mass."

Fr. Fessio's relationship with the new pope goes back many years. In this article from the Naples Daily News, Fr. Fessio, SJ, reacts to the news of his friend, our new pope:

Ave Maria provost studied with new pope in Germany

Naples Daily NewsApril 20, 2005

He twirls his rosary ring, pacing back and forth like a professor in his cabana by the pool at Ave Maria University.

The Rev. Joseph Fessio has been repeating himself for almost three hours now, proudly talking to journalists by phone from all over the world, sharing stories of his friendship and admiration for Pope Benedict XVI, elected Tuesday to succeed Pope John Paul II who died earlier this month.

"I want people to know what a saint we have. He's good, good," says Fessio, the AMU provost, while inhaling a bowl of bean salad before his next interview. "I'm so full of joy."

By 4 p.m., he has 20 unheard messages on his cell phone. He needs to return calls to People magazine, the Washington Post and CNN. He organizes his interviews with the help of three AMU employees recruited to field phone calls and he's reminded periodically to take sips of water so his throat won't dry from talking too much.

Fessio is so popular this day that you'd think he was the one named the new pope.

He jokingly calls himself a hot media property because he's one of the few, perhaps the only person in America, who can speak of the new pope as people speak of old classmates. Their friendship dates back to the early 1970s, when Fessio was pursuing his doctorate in then-West Germany.

He studied under then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and was intrigued by the man who is now the leader of the world's 1 billion Catholics.

Ratzinger, a cardinal for the past 27 years, worked closely with Pope John Paul II, making him a popular choice to lead the church.

"I thought about him right from the beginning because he was so friendly with Pope John Paul," says Joseph Friel, of Bonita Springs, who serves as Grand Knight for the St. Leo Catholic Church's council of the Knights of Columbus.

"I know he can't do what Pope John Paul did because they said no one will match him."
Fessio says Pope Benedict XVI will continue Pope John Paul II's legacy.

With the bowl of salad, now empty, Fessio says, "God bless," to a reporter in Rome and hangs up the phone. He falls into his chair. He's got more than 25 journalists to call back and is trying to digest his late lunch. The last free moment he had was around 1 p.m. when he toasted with champagne to celebrate the announcement of the new pope with three close friends. They toasted the pope's health.

Fessio says he's ready for another journalist.

"Do you need to do anything first?" asks Michael Dauphinais, AMU associate dean of faculty, who serves as Fessio's agent this day.

"I wanna call Cardinal (Christoph) Schonborn," Fessio says.

And just like that, he did.

He dialed the cardinal's phone number and, after three rings, Schonborn of Austria picked up his cell phone in Vatican City. Fessio first greets him in German.

"This is so wonderful! What a gift for the church, what a gift for the church!" Fessio says, shaking his right fist in victory. "You must stand by his side, stand by his side ... I won't ask you how you voted because I don't want you to break your seal, so I'm gonna take a guess."

Schonborn also studied with Fessio under the now former cardinal. Their relationships grew after graduation and the two have since kept in touch. Schonborn, Fessio and Ratzinger see each other at least once a year.

Fessio is also editor and founder of Ignatius Press, the exclusive publisher of the 12 books written by the former cardinal.

Fessio says Schonborn told him that after the pope made his first appearance Tuesday from the St. Peter's Basilica balcony, he turned to Schonborn and said, "We must keep our friendship."

Fessio speaks highly of the pope just as one would of a relative: kind, gracious, soft spoken, thoughtful. He brings presents to Fessio whenever they meet.

"He's everything I'm not," Fessio chuckles.

Maureen Boylan of Bonita Springs, a Catholic, says she is pleased a pope has been selected, no matter who he is or where he is from. She says she saw Pope John Paul II at World Youth Day in Toronto in 2002 and feels Pope Benedict XVI will continue the previous pope's work with youth.
With the next World Youth Day — an event where youth from around the world gather to meet and share their faith — being held in Germany, Pope Benedict's native country, Boylan feels Pope Benedict will follow John Paul II's footsteps.

"I'm delighted because we've been praying for the election of this pope and we know the Holy Spirit is the one who chooses the pope," Boylan says. "We didn't think it would be an American cardinal. We had a feeling it would be someone who worked closely with the pope and he did."

The focus now shifts to Sunday, when Pope Benedict XVI formally will be installed.

Dauphinais recites Fessio's schedule today like he's a movie star whose date book is full of talk-show appointments. He's got ABC, "Fox and Friends," the Fox morning show, a date with a television crew from Miami, and whatever else might come up.

Then talk of traveling to Rome arises. Fessio planned to visit in May, but now that his friend and mentor is pope, those plans may be rushed.

"I better go," he says

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Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Pope for a Few Hours and Already the Attacks Begin

Pope Benedict XVI before the faithful.

Not a few hours passed and already many in the media are finding their means of attack. The most vicious and actually ignorant attack implies that the new pope was complicit with the Nazis during WWII. I guess they are showing their colors. They did not get what they wanted. Actually, they do not understand what the Church is, apparently. They think the teachings can change. They think Truth is relative to the current fads and intellectual (or anti-intellectual) trends. They think Truth will bend to their fancies.

In response to those making the Hitler connection, here is a bit of a response and the actual record. With more time, I am sure more of a rebuttal could be given to these atrocious suggestions, but for now this will have to do.

From the Ignatius Press/Insight biography:

"[In] Milestones: Memoirs 1927 - 1977 (Ignatius, 1999), Ratzinger depicts his family life as quite happy. Family and Church were, for him, inseparable - and he clearly saw Hitler and the Third Reich as the enemy to both. He has said of his father, '…He saw that a victory of Hitler would not be a victory for Germany but a victory of the Antichrist…'."

Added to that is the fact that Ratzinger actually deserted from the German army and his family actually hosted American soldiers in their home. Yes, he was taken as a POW, but was soon let go. Let us remember that being in the Hitler Youth was compulsory. You either joined or you paid the price.

As an MSNBC article points out, "Ratzinger's personal experience left him convinced that the church was the only institution that could stand up to false ideologies."

Further, in his book Milestones, Ratzinger wrote: "No one doubted that the church was the locus of all our hopes. Despite many human failings, the church was the alternative to the destructive ideology of the brown [Nazi] rulers; in the inferno that had swallowed up the powerful, she had stood firm with a force coming to her from eternity. It had been demonstrated: The gates of hell will not overpower her."


"I hope that he will continue to build on the legacy of Pope John Paul II’s special relationship with the Jewish people," said Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. "The new Pope, like his predecessor, was deeply influenced by the events of WWII," he said. "As a child, Pope Benedict XVI grew up in an anti-Nazi family. Nonetheless he was forced to join the Hitler Youth movement during the Second World War."

Rabbi Hier continued, "Pope John Paul II dramatically changed the Catholic Church forever in reaching out to other religions, particularly Judaism. I am confident that the Vatican under the leadership of Pope Benedict XVI will continue to build on those remarkable achievements and organizations like the Simon Wiesenthal Center look forward to being partners in that process."

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Light: a Symbol of Life ... Resurrected Life

The then-Cardinal Ratzinger carries the Light which bespeaks the Resurrection of our Lord, of our Friend.

In his "Reflections on the Symbolism of Easter," the now Pope Benedict XVI then elucidated:

"Easter is concerned with something unimaginable. ... Since, however, we can only think by employing sense images, the faith of the Church has always translated the Easter message into symbols which point to things that the word cannot express. The symbol of light (including the fire) plays a special part; the praise of the Paschal candle--a symbol of life in the midst of the darkened church--is actually a praise of Him who proved victor over death. Thus the event of long ago is translated into our present time: where light conquers darkness, something of the Resurrection takes place."

(Behold the Pierced One, 112-113)

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The New Pope Benedict XVI and His Thoughts on the Papacy

Pope Benedict XVI is widely respected for his intellect and his breadth of knowledge. In one particular book, Called to Communion, he meditates upon "The Primacy of Peter and the Unity of the Church." Here are some selections:

Many non-Catholics affirm the necessity of a common center of Christianity. It is becoming evident that only such a center can be an effective protection against the drift into dependence on political systems or the pressures emanating from our civilization; that only by having such a center can the faith of Christians secure a clear voice in the confusion of ideologies. (47)

The Church is founded upon forgiveness. Peter himself is a personal embodiment of this truth, for he is permitted to be the bearer of the keys after having stumbled, confessed and received the grace of pardon. The Church is by nature the home of forgiveness, and it is thus that chaos is banished from within her. She is held together by forgiveness, and Peter is the perceptual living reminder of this reality: she is not a communion of the perfect but a communion of sinners who need and seek forgiveness. (64)

[T]principle of tradition in its sacramental form--apostolic succession--played a constitutive role in the existence and continuance of the Church. Without this principle, it is impossible to conceive of a New Testament at all, so that we are caught in a contradiction when we affirm the one while wanting to deny the other. ... [T]he site of Peter's martyrdom nonetheless appears clearly as the chief bearer of his supreme authority and plays a preeminent role in the formation of tradition--which is constitutive of the Church--and thus in the genesis of the New Testament as Bible; Rome is one of the indispensable internal and external conditions of its possibility. (71)

The Roman primacy is not an invention of the popes, but an essential element of ecclesial unity that goes back to the Lord and was developed faithfully in the nascent Church. (72)

The men in question are so glaringly, so blatantly unequal to this function that the very empowerment of man to be the rock makes evident how little it is they who sustain the Church but God alone who does so, who does so more in spite of men than through them. The mystery of the Cross is perhaps nowhere so palpably present as in the primacy as a reality of Church history. That its center is forgiveness is both its intrinsic condition and the sign of the distinctive character of God's power. ... (73)

For with the same realism with which we declare today the sins of the popes and their disproportion to the magnitude fo their commission, we must also acknowledge that Peter has repeatedly stood as the rock against ideologies, against the dissolution of the word into the plausibilities of a given time, against subjection to the powers of this world. (73-74)

When we see this in the facts of history, we are not celebrating men but praising the Lord, who does not abandon the Church and who desired to manifest that he is the rock through Peter, the little stumbling stone ... . Therefore the Petrine promise and its historical embodiment in Rome remain at the deepest level an ever-renewed motive for joy: the powers of hell will not prevail against it ... (74)

Joy of Redemption


Some words from then-Cardinal Ratzinger:

Jesus "gave us true freedom: 'Not my will, but your will be done'. In this communion of wills our redemption takes place: being friends of Jesus to become friends of God. How much more we love Jesus, how much more we know him, how much more our true freedom grows as well as our joy in being redeemed. Thank you, Jesus, for your friendship!"

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Pope Benedict XVI: A Brief Biography

Here then-Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, blesses the coffin of Pope John Paul the Great.

Here is a very good and brief bio on the new pope: Pope Benedict XVI. It is published by Ignatius Press and their on-line web magazine, Ignatius Insight:

As Pope John Paul II's chief doctrinal officer and key advisor, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger has been Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith since 1981. He is the most revered prelate, scholar, theologian, teacher and Catholic author of our time, under Pope John Paul II - having spoken on everything from sexual consumerism, private revelation and the "crisis of faith," to human rights, roles of men and women today, marriage, the priesthood, and the future of the world.

Yet, the depth, candor and humble servitude of this highest-ranking Cardinal will likely be his lasting hallmark, as he is most engaging in God and the World (Ignatius, 2002), perhaps even more than in previous writings.Ratzinger was born in Germany (Bavaria) on Holy Saturday, April 16, 1927, and baptized that same day. He has said of his early baptism, "To be the first person baptized with the new water was seen as a significant act of Providence. I have always been filled with thanksgiving for having had my life immersed in this way in the Easter Mystery…".

His father worked as a rural policeman, which kept his family continually moving from town to town. In his memoirs about his early life (prior to his appointment as Archbishop of Munich), Milestones: Memoirs 1927 - 1977 (Ignatius, 1999), Ratzinger depicts his family life as quite happy. Family and Church were, for him, inseparable - and he clearly saw Hitler and the Third Reich as the enemy to both. He has said of his father, "…He saw that a victory of Hitler would not be a victory for Germany but a victory of the Antichrist…".

Following his father's retirement while Joseph Ratzinger was a teenager, the younger Ratzinger initiated study of classical languages, and in 1939, entered the minor seminary in Traunstein. In 1943 while still in seminary, he was drafted at age 16 into the German anti-aircraft corps. (Though he was opposed to the Nazis, he was forced to join at a young age.) Ratzinger then trained in the German infantry, but a subsequent illness precluded him from the usual rigors of military duty. As the Allied front drew closer to his post in 1945, he escaped from the Nazis and returned to his family's home in Traunstein, just as American troops established their headquarters in the Ratzinger household. As a German soldier, he was put in a POW camp but was released a few months later at the end of the War in summer 1945. He re-entered the seminary, along with his brother Georg, in November of that year.

Ratzinger and his brother Georg were ordained to the priesthood on June 29, 1951, in the Cathedral of Freising on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul.He received his doctorate in theology in 1953 from the University of Munich. Beginning in 1959, he taught theology at the University of Bonn.

Ratzinger became more widely known when, during the Second Vatican Council and at the age of 35, he was appointed chief theological advisor for the Archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Joseph Frings, for the four-year duration of the Council. After continuing his teaching at several German universities, Ratzinger was appointed by Pope Paul VI in March 1977 as Archbishop of Munich and Freising. In June 1977, he was elevated to Cardinal.

Pope John Paul II summoned Cardinal Ratzinger to Rome in November 1981, and named him Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, President of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, and President of the International Theological Commission. He has published several best-selling books which clarify faith practice and Catholic doctrine for today's Catholic and Christian: The Ratzinger Report (1985); Salt of the Earth (1996); The Spirit of the Liturgy (2000); God and the World (2002), and the recently published God Is Near Us: The Eucharist, The Heart of Life (2003).

Additionally, he worked with some 40 collaborators and over a thousand bishops to produce the 900+ page Catechism of the Catholic Church.Ratzinger works more closely with Pope John Paul II than perhaps anyone else. On Tuesdays, Ratzinger and members of the Congregation meet with the Pope for an hour-and-a-half lunch meeting. Then Ratzinger meets alone with the Pope every Friday evening to discuss critical problems facing the Church and the deliberations of the Congregation. "Then the Pope decides," says Ratzinger.

Ratzinger has wielded spiritual influence and worldwide respect even from those who don't hold to the Catholic faith. As papal biographer for John Paul II, George Weigel, has said, "…not even his [Ratzinger's] implacable enemies ever questioned Joseph Ratzinger's erudition: his encyclopedic knowledge of theology; his command of biblical, patristic, scholastic, and contemporary sources; his elegance as a thinker and writer."

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Pope Benedict XVI: His First Message

Habemus Papam!

We have a Pope!

Here is the text of Pope Benedict XVI's first message:

Dear brothers and sisters,

After the Great Pope John Paul II, the cardinals have elected me, a simple, humble worker in the Lord’s vineyard.

I am comforted by the fact that the Lord knows how to work and act even with insufficient instruments. And above all, I entrust myself to your prayers.

With the joy of the risen Lord and confidence in his constant help, we will go forward. The Lord will help us, and Mary his most holy mother will be alongside us.

Thank you.

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Homily from Conclave Mass

Then-Cardinal Ratzinger preaching.

On April 18, Cardinal Ratzinger delivered the homily during the Mass to begin the Conclave.
Here is the text of his homily, which is one that echoes many themes he has stressed over the years and one that is sure to be remembered, especially now that he is Pope Benedict XVI.

Cardinal Ratzinger's Homily

The Dean of the Sacred College was the chief-celebrant at the Votive Mass for the Election of a New Pope. The following is the text of his homily.

At this hour of great responsibility, we hear with special consideration what the Lord says to us in his own words. From the three readings I would like to examine just a few passages which concern us directly at this time.

The first reading gives us a prophetic depiction of the person of the Messiah - a depiction which takes all its meaning from the moment Jesus reads the text in the synagogue in Nazareth, when he says: "Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing" (Lk 4,21). At the core of the prophetic text we find a word which seems contradictory, at least at first sight. The Messiah, speaking of himself, says that he was sent "To announce a year of favor from the Lord and a day of vindication by our God" (Is 61,2). We hear with joy the news of a year of favor: divine mercy puts a limit on evil - the Holy Father told us. Jesus Christ is divine mercy in person: encountering Christ means encountering the mercy of God. Christ's mandate has become our mandate through priestly anointing. We are called to proclaim - not only with our words, but with our lives, and through the valuable signs of the sacraments, the "year of favor from the Lord". But what does the prophet Isaiah mean when he announces the "day of vindication by our God"? In Nazareth, Jesus did not pronounce these words in his reading of the prophet's text - Jesus concluded by announcing the year of favor. Was this, perhaps, the reason for the scandal which took place after his sermon? We do not know. In any case, the Lord gave a genuine commentary on these words by being put to death on the cross. Saint Peter says: "He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross" (1 Pe 2,24). And Saint Paul writes in his letter to the Galatians: "Christ ransomed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, 'Cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree', that the blessing of Abraham might be extended to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith." (Gal 3, 13s).

The mercy of Christ is not a cheap grace; it does not presume a trivialization of evil. Christ carries in his body and on his soul all the weight of evil, and all its destructive force. He burns and transforms evil through suffering, in the fire of his suffering love. The day of vindication and the year of favor meet in the paschal mystery, in Christ died and risen. This is the vindication of God: he himself, in the person of the Son, suffers for us. The more we are touched by the mercy of the Lord, the more we draw closer in solidarity with his suffering - and become willing to bear in our flesh "what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ" (Col 1, 24).

In the second reading, the letter to the Ephesians, we see basically three aspects: first, the ministries and charisms in the Church, as gifts of the Lord risen and ascended into heaven. Then there is the maturing of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, as a condition and essence of unity in the body of Christ. Finally, there is the common participation in the growth of the body of Christ - of the transformation of the world into communion with the Lord.

Let us dwell on only two points. The first is the journey towards "the maturity of Christ" as it is said in the Italian text, simplifying it a bit. More precisely, according to the Greek text, we should speak of the "measure of the fullness of Christ", to which we are called to reach in order to be true adults in the faith. We should not remain infants in faith, in a state of minority. And what does it mean to be an infant in faith? Saint Paul answers: it means "tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery" (Eph 4, 14). This description is very relevant today!

How many winds of doctrine we have known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking... The small boat of thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves - thrown from one extreme to the other: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism, and so forth. Every day new sects are created and what Saint Paul says about human trickery comes true, with cunning which tries to draw those into error (cf Eph 4, 14). Having a clear faith, based on the Creed of the Church, is often labeled today as a fundamentalism. Whereas, relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and "swept along by every wind of teaching", looks like the only attitude (acceptable) to today's standards. We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one's own ego and one's own desires.

However, we have a different goal: the Son of God, true man. He is the measure of true humanism. Being an "Adult" means having a faith which does not follow the waves of today's fashions or the latest novelties. A faith which is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ is adult and mature. It is this friendship which opens us up to all that is good and gives us the knowledge to judge true from false, and deceit from truth. We must become mature in this adult faith; we must guide the flock of Christ to this faith. And it is this faith - only faith - which creates unity and takes form in love. On this theme, Saint Paul offers us some beautiful words - in contrast to the continual ups and downs of those were are like infants, tossed about by the waves: (he says) make truth in love, as the basic formula of Christian existence. In Christ, truth and love coincide. To the extent that we draw near to Christ, in our own life, truth and love merge. Love without truth would be blind; truth without love would be like "a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal" (1 Cor 13,1).

Looking now at the richness of the Gospel reading, I would like to make only two small observations. The Lord addresses to us these wonderful words: "I no longer call you slaves...I have called you friends" (Jn 15,15). So many times we feel like, and it is true, that we are only useless servants. (cf Lk 17,10). And despite this, the Lord calls us friends, he makes us his friends, he gives us his friendship. The Lord defines friendship in a dual way. There are no secrets among friends: Christ tells us all everything he hears from the Father; he gives us his full trust, and with that, also knowledge. He reveals his face and his heart to us. He shows us his tenderness for us, his passionate love that goes to the madness of the cross. He entrusts us, he gives us power to speak in his name: "this is my body...", "I forgive you...". He entrusts us with his body, the Church. He entrusts our weak minds and our weak hands with his truth - the mystery of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; the mystery of God who "so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son" (Jn 3, 16). He made us his friends - and how do we respond?

The second element with which Jesus defines friendship is the communion of wills. For the Romans "Idem velle - idem nolle", (same desires, same dislikes ) was also the definition of friendship. "You are my friends if you do what I command you." (Jn 15, 14). Friendship with Christ coincides with what is said in the third request of the Our Father: "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven". At the hour in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus transformed our rebellious human will in a will shaped and united to the divine will. He suffered the whole experience of our autonomy - and precisely bringing our will into the hands of God, he gave us true freedom: "Not my will, but your will be done". In this communion of wills our redemption takes place: being friends of Jesus to become friends of God. How much more we love Jesus, how much more we know him, how much more our true freedom grows as well as our joy in being redeemed. Thank you, Jesus, for your friendship!

The other element of the Gospel to which I would like to refer is the teaching of Jesus on bearing fruit: "I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain" (Jn 15, 16). It is here that is expressed the dynamic existence of the Christian, the apostle: I chose you to go and bear fruit...". We must be inspired by a holy restlessness: restlessness to bring to everyone the gift of faith, of friendship with Christ. In truth, the love and friendship of God was given to us so that it would also be shared with others. We have received the faith to give it to others - we are priests meant to serve others. And we must bring a fruit that will remain. All people want to leave a mark which lasts. But what remains? Money does not. Buildings do not, nor books. After a certain amount of time, whether long or short, all these things disappear. The only thing which remains forever is the human soul, the human person created by God for eternity. The fruit which remains then is that which we have sowed in human souls - love, knowledge, a gesture capable of touching the heart, words which open the soul to joy in the Lord. Let us then go to the Lord and pray to him, so that he may help us bear fruit which remains. Only in this way will the earth be changed from a valley of tears to a garden of God.

In conclusion, returning again to the letter to the Ephesians, which says with words from Psalm 68 that Christ, ascending into heaven, "gave gifts to men" (Eph 4,8). The victor offers gifts. And these gifts are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Our ministry is a gift of Christ to humankind, to build up his body - the new world. We live out our ministry in this way, as a gift of Christ to humanity! But at this time, above all, we pray with insistence to the Lord, so that after the great gift of Pope John Paul II, he again gives us a pastor according to his own heart, a pastor who guides us to knowledge in Christ, to his love and to true joy. Amen.

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Habemus Papam!

Habemus Papam!

The suspense builds.

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Sunday, April 10, 2005

The Pope's Outlook on Youth

"There is something in man which never changes ...."

"As a young priest and pastor I came to this way of looking at young people and at youth, and it has remained constant all these years. It is an outlook which also allows me to meet young people wherever I go. ... [A]nywhere the Pope goes, he seeks out the young and the young seek him out."

"We need the enthusiasm of the young. We need their joie de vivre. In it is reflected something of the original joy God had in creating man. ... The young know how to express this joy in their own special way."

"Even though he [the Pope] is getting older, they [the young] urge him to be young, they do not permit him to forget his experience, his discovery of youth and its great importance for the life of every man."

Pope John Paul the Great,
Crossing the Threshold of Hope, "Is There Really Hope in the Young?"

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Wednesday, April 06, 2005

The Pope's Humanity and a Jewish Girl

In one of the most moving stories I have read about Pope John Paul the Great, his humanity and Christ-like love shine forth ... once again. Thank you, Martin, for sending this my way.

The Polish Seminary Student and the Jewish Girl He Saved

Published: April 6, 2005

International Herald Tribune

Here is a family story of Pope John Paul II, an intimate tale of his humanity.

During the summer of 1942, two women in Krakow, Poland, were denounced as Jews, taken to the city's prison, held there for a few months and then sent to the Belzec death camp, where in October they were killed in primitive Nazi gas chambers by carbon monoxide from diesel engines.

Their names were Frimeta Gelband and Salomea Zierer; they were sisters. As it happens, Frimeta was my wife's grandmother. Salomea - known as Salla - had two daughters, one of whom survived the war and one of whom did not.

The elder of these daughters was Edith Zierer. In January 1945, at age 13, she emerged from a Nazi labor camp in Czestochowa, Poland, a waif on the verge of death. Separated from her family, unaware that her mother had been killed by the Germans, she could scarcely walk.

But walk she did, to a train station, where she climbed onto a coal wagon. The train moved slowly, the wind cut through her. When the cold became too much to bear, she got down at a village called Jedrzejow. In a corner of the station, she sat. Nobody looked at her, a girl in the striped and numbered uniform of a prisoner, late in a terrible war. Unable to move, Edith waited.

Death was approaching, but a young man approached first, "very good looking," as she recalled, and vigorous. He wore a long robe and appeared to be a priest. "Why are you here?" he asked. "What are you doing?" Edith said she was trying to get to Krakow to find her parents.

The man disappeared. He came back with a cup of tea. Edith drank. He said he could help her get to Krakow. Again the mysterious benefactor went away, returning with bread and cheese. They talked about the advancing Soviet Army. Edith said she believed that her parents and younger sister, Judith, were alive.

"Try to stand," the man said. Edith tried and failed. He carried her to another village, where he put her in the cattle car of a train bound for Krakow. Another family was there. The man got in beside Edith, covered her with his cloak and made a small fire.

His name, he told Edith, was Karol Wojtyla. Although she took him for a priest, he was still a seminarian who would not be ordained until the next year. Thirty-three more years would pass before he became Pope John Paul II and embarked on a papacy that would help break the Communist hold on Central Europe and so transform the world.

What moved this young seminarian to save the life of a lost Jewish girl cannot be known. But it is clear that his was an act of humanity made as the two great mass movements of the 20th century, the twin totalitarianisms of Fascism and Communism, bore down on his nation, Poland.

Here were two people in a ravaged land, a 24-year-old Catholic and a 13-year-old Jew. The future pope had already lost his mother, father and brother. Edith, although she did not know it yet, had already lost her mother at Belzec, her father at Maidanek and her little sister at Auschwitz. They could not have been more alone.

Pope John Paul II is widely viewed as having been a man of unshakable convictions that some found old-fashioned or rigid. But perhaps he offered his truth with the same simplicity and directness he showed in proffering tea and bread and shelter from cold to an abandoned Jewish girl in 1945, when nobody was watching.

It was based in the belief that, as he once put it, "a degradation, indeed a pulverization, of the fundamental uniqueness of each human being" was at the root of the mass movements of the 20th century, Communism and Fascism.

Stalin once contemptuously asked, "How many divisions has the pope?" Starting with his 1979 visit to Poland, John Paul gave an answer.

Perhaps the strength that enabled him to play a central role in ending Communism and the strength that led him to save Edith Zierer did not differ fundamentally. Like his healing ecumenism, those acts required the courage born of a core certitude.

Edith fled from Karol Wojtyla when they arrived at Krakow in 1945. The family on the train, also Jews, had warned her that he might take her off to "the cloisters." She recalls him calling out, "Edyta, Edyta!" - the Polish form of her name - as she hid behind large containers of milk.

But hiding was not forgetting. She wrote his name in a diary, her savior, and in 1978, when she read in a copy of Paris-Match that he had become pope, she broke into tears. By then Edith Zierer was in Haifa, Israel, where she now lives.

Letters to him went unanswered. But at last, in 1997, she received a letter from the Vatican in which the pope recalled their meeting. A year later they met again at the Vatican. Edith thanked the pope for saving her. He put one hand on her head, another hand in hers, and blessed her. As she parted, he said, "Come back, my child."

Monday, April 04, 2005

Future Pope and Some JP II Rememberances

As a bishop when this photo was taken, the future Pope is here visiting the Parthenon (Greece) in 1963.

Following are excerpts of some articles/rememberances I have enjoyed. Click on title to see whole article. For a whole list of them, go to this special collection of articles prepared by RealClear Politics.

Mourning and Remembrance

by George Weigel

He once described his high-school years as a time in which he was "completely absorbed" by a passion for the theater. So it was fitting that Karol Jozef Wojtyla lived a very dramatic life. As a young man, he risked summary execution by leading clandestine acts of cultural resistance to the Nazi occupation of Poland. As a fledgling priest, he adopted a Stalin-era nom de guerre--Wujek, "uncle"--while creating zones of intellectual and spiritual freedom for college students; those students, now older men and women themselves, called him Wujek to the end. As archbishop of Krakow, he successfully fought the attempt by Poland's communist overseers to erase the
nation's cultural memory. As Pope John Paul II, he came back to Poland in June 1979; and over nine days during which the history of the 20th century pivoted, he ignited a revolution of conscience that helped make possible the collapse of European communism a decade later.

The Power of Faith

By Charles Krauthammer

It was Stalin who gave us the most famous formulation of that cynical (and today quite fashionable) philosophy known as "realism" -- the idea that all that ultimately matters in the relations among nations is power: "The pope? How many divisions does he have?"

Stalin could have said that only because he never met John Paul II. We have just lost the man whose life was the ultimate refutation of "realism." Within 10 years of his elevation to the papacy, John Paul II had given his answer to Stalin and to the ages: More than you have. More than you can imagine.

History will remember many of the achievements of John Paul II, particularly his zealous guarding of the church's traditional belief in the sanctity of life, not permitting it to be unmoored by the fashionable currents of thought about abortion, euthanasia and "quality of life." But above all, he will be remembered for having sparked, tended and fanned the flames of freedom in Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe, leading ultimately and astonishingly to the total collapse of the Soviet empire.

I am not much of a believer, but I find it hard not to suspect some providential hand at play when the white smoke went up at the Vatican 27 years ago and the Polish cardinal was chosen to lead the Catholic Church. Precisely at the moment that the West most desperately needed it, we were sent a champion. It is hard to remember now how dark those days were. The 15 months following the pope's elevation marked the high tide of Soviet communism and the nadir of the free world's post-Vietnam collapse.

It was a time of one defeat after another. Vietnam invaded Cambodia, consolidating Soviet hegemony over all of Indochina. The Khomeini revolution swept away America's strategic anchor in the Middle East. Nicaragua fell to the Sandinistas, the first Soviet-allied regime on the mainland of the Western Hemisphere. (As an unnoticed but ironic coda, Marxists came to power in Grenada too.) Then, finally, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan.

And yet precisely at the time of this free-world retreat and disarray, a miracle happens. The Catholic Church, breaking nearly 500 years of tradition, puts itself in the hands of an obscure non-Italian -- a Pole who, deeply understanding the East European predicament, rose to become, along with Roosevelt, Churchill and Reagan, one of the great liberators of the 20th century.

John Paul II's first great mission was to reclaim his native Eastern Europe for civilization. It began with his visit to Poland in 1979, symbolizing and embodying a spiritual humanism that was the antithesis of the soulless materialism and decay of late Marxist-Leninism. As millions gathered to hear him and worship with him, they began to feel their own power and to find the institutional structure -- the vibrant Polish church -- around which to mobilize.

And mobilize they did. It is no accident that Solidarity, the leading edge of the East European revolution, was born just a year after the pope's first visit. Deploying a brilliantly subtle diplomacy that never openly challenged the Soviet system but nurtured and justified every oppositional trend, often within the bosom of the local church, John Paul II became the pivotal figure of the people power revolutions of Eastern Europe.
The Poet and the Revolutionary

by Lorenzo Albacete

This piece, first published in 1998, on the eve of John Paul II’s historic
visit to Cuba, examines one of the Pope’s many missions, and his unexpected
relationship with Fidel Castro. The author, Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete, is a
professor of theology at St. Joseph’s Seminary, in New York.

The first time I went to Cuba, in February of 1989, I felt that I was on a secret mission. My “cover” (which, undramatically, was also one of my real-life jobs) was that of theological adviser to the Northeast Hispanic Catholic Center: I was helping to chaperon a pilgrimage. Among the center’s other activities, it arranges for groups of Latino parishioners to travel to their countries of origin, and that year we had finally won approval from the Cuban government to send a group of visitors. The center’s director and I were warned, however, that any religious objects we might bring would have to be for personal use only. The Cuban authorities frowned upon the importing of Bibles, rosaries, or pious books with intent to distribute.

My “secret” was related to this prohibition: we were bringing with us parts of an apparatus that makes the Communion wafers used in the Catholic Mass.
Apparently, most of this machine had already been carried into Cuba, and our
group was bringing in the last parts, which would finally allow the contraption
to work. We were to deliver the parts to a particular group of cloistered nuns,
who supported their order by supplying wafers to Catholic parishes.


Now it is apparent that Fidel Castro and Pope John Paul II sense some common purpose as well. Over the past two decades, they have been making fitful progress toward their historic public encounter this week in Havana. There have been frequent breakdowns, to be sure, along the way. (One Cuban friend of mine
compared the process to the island’s traditional danzón, in which dancers approach each other, then step back or turn away, only to approach again.) Yet the underlying impetus for this meeting has been strong enough to overcome all obstacles. The collapse of the Soviet Union gave it a new urgency and, by the same token, mooted Cold War objections to it. John Paul II, having helped destabilize the Communist governments of Eastern Europe, is dismayed by the corrosive materialism that has now taken hold there. One friend who has had meetings with Castro told me recently that Fidel regards himself and the Pope as the only world leaders willing to condemn the triumphalist neoliberal capitalism that both believe is widening the gap between rich and poor, especially in developing countries. To be sure, the superstructure of Castro’s anticapitalism is Communist, historical materialist, and secularist, whereas that of John Paul II is anti-Communist, spiritual, and formally religious. These are not trivial differences. But, with Communism dead as a global model and capitalism sweeping everything before it—even in Cuba—both men can afford to pay attention to the points where their views and interests converge. Both men, after all, are visionaries, and both, as a matter of philosophical belief, reject the free market’s implicit view of mankind as the sum of its material wants.

Can the transcendent social vision of the Revolution be squared with the transcendent spiritual vision of the Church? One of the Pope’s favorite quotations is from St. John of the Cross: “At the sunset of our lives, we shall be tested in love.” As Castro and John Paul consider what they will leave behind when darkness falls, these two masters of symbolism see great value in standing together against what both see, in different but overlapping ways, as the forces that threaten to undo the work of their lives. They believe, each for his own reasons, that this gesture may have a profound effect on the future of Cuba and of Latin America.

WhenI returned to Cuba, last month, I again accompanied the director of the Northeast Hispanic Catholic Center, but this time, in anticipation of the Pope’s visit, our group carried enough liturgical vessels, vestments, medals, and altar books to staff a parish. The Cuban customs official waved our cargo through with a smile.

John Paul the Great


IN the nearly two millennia of the Church's history, only two popes are known as "The Great": Leo the Great and Gregory the Great, in the fifth and sixth centuries respectively. I fully expect that in the not distant future John Paul II will regularly be referred to as John Paul the Great.

That is not a controversial suggestion, although there is considerable controversy over the reasons why he is generally recognized as one of the greatest of the 264 successors to the apostle Peter — to whom Jesus said, speaking of his faith and his person, "You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church."

Political historians will undoubtedly focus on John Paul's role in bringing down what it is no longer controversial to call the "evil empire" of Soviet communism. Having lived for years under Nazism and for many more years under communism, Karol Wojtyla, who would later become John Paul II, had no illusions about totalitarian tyranny.

He was among the few who was not taken in by the belief that the best we could hope for is "coexistence" between freedom and tyranny. That conviction was informed by his understanding of human dignity and the way in which we human beings are, so to speak, hard-wired for freedom and responsibility, both of which communism denied.


In his very first sermon after becoming pope, John Paul chose the theme, "Be not afraid." That was the greeting of the resurrected Jesus to his frightened disciples, and those words were repeated like a triphammer throughout the more than 26 years of John Paul's extraordinary pontificate.

He was telling people behind the Iron Curtain to be not afraid, but, in a deeper sense, he was telling all of humanity to be not afraid.

John Paul Was a Man of His Times


Karol Wojtyla, actor on the world stage, Pope John Paul II, Bishop of Rome, successor of Peter and Vicar of Christ, has died.

Pope John Paul was a man of apostolic faith, of constant prayer, of dedication to the church's mission in the world. He saw his work as Bishop of Rome to be the implementation of the goals and decrees of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). The council was called not to change the church in order to "catch up" with modern times but to plan changes so that the church could convert modern times to Christ. No matter how Pope John Paul II is judged now or in the future, what is certain was his fidelity to that vision and, behind it, to Christ himself.

The pope is dead. There will be another, as there has been for the last 2,000 years. The office is more important than its holder, for our faith is based on the office, not the person. Yet, Karol Wojtyla was a person who held the office of the papacy in a way that transformed it. Pastors of other Christian churches, leaders of other world religions, political officials and millions of ordinary people of good will who have met him personally or through the mass media have grown accustomed to his presence in ways that would have been unthinkable before Karol Wojtyla became pope. He was a man steeped in the tradition that unites us to Christ; he was also a man of his own time, our time, who understood contemporary experience even as he subjected it to criticisms which echoed Jesus' own criticisms of his society 2,000 years ago.

That critical voice gave hope, especially to young people. A girl who attended one of the World Youth Day celebrations commented, "The pope is the only strong person kids can look up to." A not-so-young Mikhail Gorbachev, when introducing his wife to Pope John Paul II, said, "Raisa, I should like to introduce His Holiness, who is the highest moral authority in the world."

“Theocrats” for Freedom: What’s faith got to do with it? Plenty.

by Rich Lowry

The word "theocrat" is a rapidly emerging swearword in American politics. If someone opposes gay marriage, or supports giving sustenance to Terri Schiavo, or has any strong moral convictions that inform his policy positions, he is a "theocrat" who secretly wishes to begin burning people at the stake. How odd, then, that this week we mourn the death and celebrate the life of a man, Pope John Paul II, who had "theocratic" trappings and convictions and yet is universally regarded as a great warrior for freedom.

Actually, it is not odd at all. Many of the great leaps of freedom in the West have come at the instigation of Christian believers. Their faith lends them an unbending belief in human dignity and an audacious hope in success against all odds that sweep aside excuses for inaction.

When the Quakers began agitating against slavery in 18th-century England, igniting a wave of moral revulsion against it, they didn't care that slavery was important economically to the country. They believed slavery was a violation of God's law — enough said. When Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his collection of (in secular terms) fellow religious fanatics began marching in the American South in the 1960s, even some pro-civil-rights liberals demurred, warning against "impatience." King responded that justice wouldn't wait. John Paul II acted in this tradition of Christian confrontation of evil in his titanic struggle against Communism in Eastern Europe.

His Gospel of Life: A Rabbi’s Eulogy of Pope John Paul II

By Rabbi Daniel Lapin

What meaningful eulogy can a rabbi possibly add to the many heartfelt tributes being paid to the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II?

Ancient Jewish wisdom advised that in this world a man is known by his father. Not only a man's last name, but much of his identity comes from his father. However, after the process of death transforms us to spirit, we look to our children and grandchildren for clues to our eternity. In the future world of the spirit where all is light and truth, Judaism teaches that each of us will be known by the actions of his children.

But children are not the only building blocks people leave behind. In the world to come we will be known by all our lasting accomplishments, including worthy children and powerful ideas.

Pope John Paul II is even now being warmly greeted in heaven as the father of a billion worthy children and the progenitor of one powerful idea.

We can condense the vast repertoire of courage and compassion, the dazzling virtuosity exhibited over decades by Pope John Paul II into one idea. This idea is so powerful that it welded the many facets of his life into one brilliant beam of clarity.
Pope John Paul II's singular coherence was the sanctity of life. His beam of clarity was the triumph of life over death. Terri Schiavo, clinging to life, alerted all Americans to the real distinction between the culture of death and that of life. Perhaps her final role was to herald on high, the imminent arrival of Karol Wojtyla.

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