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Bold headlines in the news yesterday. A brief selection from the ones I came across: “Pope wants to unite religions against gay marriage“, “Pope: Homosexuals destroy human nature“, “Pope: Gay marriage bad for future of family” and “Pope considers gay marriage threat to world peace“.
What was the reason for this flood of headlines? Pope Benedict XVI’s annual Christmas address to the Roman Curia, often considered to be the Holy Father’s ‘State of the Church’ address. In it, he looks back on the past year, summarising some of the high points and expounding on the general trends and topics that he considers significant. This year, the pope spoke about his visits to Cuba, Mexico and Lebanon, the International Meeting of Families in Milan, the Synod of Bishops on the new evangelisation and the Year of Faith. The bulk of the text, however, is a reflection of gender and the family, and how the understanding of both is interconnected and how they have changed in recent years. Rather than the male and female nature of humanity as a God-given reality, gender is now treated as something we can decide for our own. “Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will,” the Holy Father writes.
A second topic is that of the dialogue between religions and what form it should take, and a third issue is that of the proclamation of the Good News. Especially the latter passages can be considered good food for meditation and prayerful reflection.
Upon reading the text, something which I strongly suggest you do (be it in English via the link above, or in Dutch) you will find that not once does the pope raise the topic of homosexuality or marriage, or any combination of both. The headlines I mentioned above are therefore strongly deceptive, the product of willful ignorance, laziness or suggestive reporting.
This is a very serious issue. When the media so easily chooses pandering to what they perceive the masses should think about a topic, in this case the pope, over reporting what was actually said and done, they have become unreliable sources, little better than paparazzi and gossip magazines. The text of the address in question was available online on the very same day it was read out, in seven languages no less, and although it requires some concentration, it is not a difficult one to understand. There is really no excuse for reporting these untruths. Sadly, many readers will accept what these media write without question, assuming they write what is true.
It is up to as, as Catholics faithful to the Church and the magisterium, to correct these wrongs, because, quite simply, no one else will. That is why I worked hard to present a Dutch translation so soon, and publish it quite visible on Facebook on Twitter. The truth not only deserves, but also must be known. What the media failed to do yesterday not only hurts us and the Church, but also the truth.
More than two years ago, Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput, then of Denver, suggested in a different context that we should not rely on what the secular media tell us if we can read what the pope himself actually said. That is no less true in this case.
Erstwhile diplomat and retired Major Penitentiary Fortunato Cardinal Baldelli passed away yesterday at the age of 77. The College of Cardinals now numbers 205, of whom 116 are electors.
Fortunato Baldelli was born in 1935, as one of eight children in the mountains of Perugia in Italy. He entered seminary in Assisi in 1947 and was able to continue his priestly formation despite the death of his parents, thanks to his brother priests and Bishop Giuseppe Nicolini of Assisi. It did take until 1961 before he was ordained for the Diocese of Assisi-Nocera Umbra-Gualdo Tadino. In those 14 years he studied at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome, earning a licentiate in theology, and at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, where he studied diplomacy.
Following his ordination, Father Baldelli became vice-rector of Assisi’s minor seminary. In 1966, he earned a doctorate in canon law and entered the Holy See’s diplomatic service. After assignments in Cuba and Egypt, Fr. Baldelli returned to Rome, where he worked at the Secretariat of State and later at the Council for the Public Affairs of the Church. In 1979 he was tasked to be a special envoy, with the duties of a permanent observer, at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.
In 1983, Blessed Pope John Paul II consecrated Fr. Baldelli as titular archbishop of Bevagna, and sent him to Angola as apostolic delegate. In 1985 he also became Apostolic pro-Nuncio to São Tomé and Principe. In 1991, he left Africa to become Nuncio in the Dominican Republic, where he was succeeded in 1994 by one Archbishop Bacqué, who would later become Nuncio to the Netherlands. From 1994 to 1999, Archbishop Baldelli was Nuncio in Peru, and after that in France. In 2009 he returned to Rome, and was appointed as Major Penitentiary of the Apostolic penitentiary.
Archbishop Baldelli was created a cardinal in the consistory of 2010, and became cardinal deacon of Sant’Anselmo all’Aventino (incidentally the seat of the Primate of the Benedictine Order, Notker Wolf, re-elected as such today). In January of this year, Cardinal Baldelli retired as Major Penitentiary.
Cardinal Baldelli was a member of the Secretariat of State and the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints.
At the end of another successful apostolic journey, it’s time to look back at the days the Holy Father spent in Cuba. The island nation may be officially Communist, but that does not mean that Pope Benedict XVI was not welcome. On the contrary. In addition to an official welcome by President Raúl Castro and a private meeting with his brother Fidel, the faithful of the country came out in droves to welcome the Holy Father enthusiastically. As in Mexico, this did much to energise the pope, who at times seemed quite fatigued, judging by the many press photos I have come across.
Now, let’s highlight some of the words that the Holy Father addressed to nthe people of Cuba and the world. The original texts are, as usual, available here.
Rebirth of society
“Many parts of the world today are experiencing a time of particular economic difficulty, that not a few people regard as part of a profound spiritual and moral crisis which has left humanity devoid of values and defenceless before the ambition and selfishness of certain powers which take little account of the true good of individuals and families. We can no longer continue in the same cultural and moral direction which has caused the painful situation that many suffer. On the other hand, real progress calls for an ethics which focuses on the human person and takes account of the most profound human needs, especially man’s spiritual and religious dimension. In the hearts and minds of many, the way is thus opening to an ever greater certainty that the rebirth of society demands upright men and women of firm moral convictions, with noble and strong values who will not be manipulated by dubious interests and who are respectful of the unchanging and transcendent nature of the human person” (Welcoming ceremony, Santiago de Cuba, 26 March).
A home for humanity
“In Christ, God has truly come into the world, he has entered into our history, he has set his dwelling among us, thus fulfilling the deepest desire of human beings that the world may truly become a home worthy of humanity. On the other hand, when God is put aside, the world becomes an inhospitable place for man, and frustrates creation’s true vocation to be a space for the covenant, for the “Yes” to the love between God and humanity who responds to him” (Homily, Santiago de Cuba, 26 March).
“It is touching to see how God not only respects human freedom: he almost seems to require it. And we see also how the beginning of the earthly life of the Son of God was marked by a double “Yes” to the saving plan of the Father – that of Christ and that of Mary. This obedience to God is what opens the doors of the world to the truth, to salvation” (Idem).
The lofty mission of the family
“The mystery of the Incarnation, in which God draws near to us, also shows us the incomparable dignity of every human life. In his loving plan, from the beginning of creation, God has entrusted to the family founded on matrimony the most lofty mission of being the fundamental cell of society and an authentic domestic church. With this certainty, you, dear husbands and wives, are called to be, especially for your children, a real and visible sign of the love of Christ for the Church” (Idem).
“The truth is a desire of the human person, the search for which always supposes the exercise of authentic freedom. Many, without a doubt, would prefer to take the easy way out, trying to avoid this task. Some, like Pontius Pilate, ironically question the possibility of even knowing what truth is (cf. Jn 18:38), claiming is incapable of knowing it or denying that there exists a truth valid for all. This attitude, as in the case of scepticism and relativism, changes hearts, making them cold, wavering, distant from others and closed. There are too many who, like the Roman governor, wash their hands and let the water of history drain away without taking a stand.
On the other hand, there are those who wrongly interpret this search for the truth, leading them to irrationality and fanaticism; they close themselves up in “their truth”, and try to impose it on others. These are like the blind scribes who, upon seeing Jesus beaten and bloody, cry out furiously, “Crucify him!” (cf. Jn 19:6). Anyone who acts irrationally cannot become a disciple of Jesus. Faith and reason are necessary and complementary in the pursuit of truth. God created man with an innate vocation to the truth and he gave him reason for this purpose. Certainly, it is not irrationality but rather the yearning for truth which the Christian faith promotes. Each man and woman has to seek the truth and to choose it when he or she finds it, even at the risk of embracing sacrifices.” (Homily, Havana, 28 March).
Freedom of religion
“The Church lives to make others sharers in the one thing she possesses, which is none other than Christ, our hope of glory (cf. Col 1:27). To carry out this duty, she must count on basic religious freedom, which consists in her being able to proclaim and to celebrate her faith also in public, bringing to others the message of love, reconciliation and peace which Jesus brought to the world.
The right to freedom of religion, both in its private and in its public dimension, manifests the unity of the human person, who is at once a citizen and a believer. It also legitimizes the fact that believers have a contribution to make to the building up of society. Strengthening religious freedom consolidates social bonds, nourishes the hope of a better world, creates favourable conditions for peace and harmonious development, while at the same time establishing solid foundations for securing the rights of future generations.
When the Church upholds this human right, she is not claiming any special privileges for herself. She wishes only to be faithful to the command of her divine founder, conscious that, where Christ is present, we become more human and our humanity becomes authentic” (Idem).
 Javier Galeano/AFP/Getty Images
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 Esteban Felix/AFP/Getty Images
With the first half of the ongoing apostolic journey to Mexico and Cuba virtually behind us, it is time to take a look at some of the things that Pope Benedict XVI said to the faithful of Mexico, Latin America and the entire world, as the Church and the faith she teaches is never limited to geographical borders. Later today, the Holy Father will arrive in Cuba, and once that visit is wrapped up on Wednesday, we’ll take a look at the speeches and homilies given on the largest Caribbean island.
Pilgrim of faith, hope and love
“I come as a pilgrim of faith, of hope, and of love. I wish to confirm those who believe in Christ in their faith, by strengthening and encouraging them to revitalize their faith by listening to the Word of God, celebrating the sacraments and living coherently. In this way, they will be able to share their faith with others as missionaries to their brothers and sisters and to act as a leaven in society, contributing to a respectful and peaceful coexistence based on the incomparable dignity of every human being, created by God, which no one has the right to forget or disregard. This dignity is expressed especially in the fundamental right to freedom of religion, in its full meaning and integrity” [Welcoming ceremony, Guanajuato, 23 March].
“Confidence in God offers the certainty of meeting him, of receiving his grace; the believer’s hope is based on this. And, aware of this, we strive to transform the present structures and events which are less than satisfactory and seem immovable or insurmountable, while also helping those who do not see meaning or a future in life” [idem].
An instrument of good
“The disciple of Jesus does not respond to evil with evil, but is always an instrument of good instead, a herald of pardon, a bearer of happiness, a servant of unity. He wishes to write in each of your lives a story of friendship. Hold on to him, then, as the best of friends. He will never tire of speaking to those who always love and who do good. This you will hear, if you strive in each moment to be with him who will help you in more difficult situations” [Meeting with young people, Guanajuato, 24 March].
A new heart
“The history of Israel relates some great events and battles, but when faced with its more authentic existence, its decisive destiny, its salvation, it places its hope not in its own efforts, but in God who can create a new heart, not insensitive or proud. This should remind each one of us and our peoples that, when addressing the deeper dimension of personal and community life, human strategies will not suffice to save us. We must have recourse to the One who alone can give life in its fullness, because he is the essence of life and its author; he has made us sharers in the same through his Son Jesus Christ” [Homily at Expo Bicenternario Park, Léon, 25 March].
Devotion to Mary
“Dear brothers and sisters, do not forget that true devotion to the Virgin Mary always takes us to Jesus, and “consists neither in sterile nor transitory feelings, nor in an empty credulity, but proceeds from true faith, by which we are led to recognize the excellence of the Mother of God, and we are moved to filial love towards our Mother and to the imitation of her virtues” (Lumen Gentium, 67). To love her means being committed to listening to her Son, to venerate the Guadalupana means living in accordance with the words of the blessed fruit of her womb” [Angelus, Léon, 25 March].
“Human evil and ignorance simply cannot thwart the divine plan of salvation and redemption. Evil is simply incapable of that … There is no reason, then, to give in to the despotism of evil. Let us instead ask the risen Lord to manifest his power in our weakness and need” [Vespers, Léon, 25 March].
 Reuters/Claudia Daut
 Reuters/Osservatore Romano
 Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images
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 Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images
On Friday, Pope Benedict will be departing on his 24th apostolic journey, during which the total number of countries he has visited will rise to 23. It will be the first of as many as five journeys the almost 85-year-old pontiff may undertake over the course of this year*. The weeklong journey to Mexico and Cuba will be the first time that the Holy Father visits these countries, and only his third visit to the New World.
The visit to Mexico and Cuba will start on Friday, with the papal plane expected to arrive in the afternoon at Guanajato International Airport, which will be the only official event of that day. The pope will remain in Guanajato and nearby Léon until Monday morning. Besides the regular courtesy visit to the president and the celebration of public Mass (on Saturday and Sunday respectively), the Holy Father will greet children on Saturday evening and celebrate Vespers with the bishops of Mexico and other parts of Latin America on Sunday.
On Monday morning, the papal plane will depart for Cuba, with a scheduled arrival at the international airport of Santiago de Cuba at 2pm. In that city, the pope will celebrate an early evening Mass to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the ‘Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre’, the patroness of Cuba, whose shrine he will visit on Tuesday morning, just before his departure for Cuba’s capital, Havana. There, the Holy Father with meet with the president and the council of ministers of Cuba, as well as the Cuban bishops later in the afternoon. A meeting with Fidel Castro is also said to be expected, depending on the latter’s health. On Wednesday, the last full day of the visit, Pope Benedict will be celebrating a public Mass, while the rest of the day is spent on preparation for the return home.
The visit to Cuba, especially, is rather politically charged, since the country is officially Communist. While the pope will be meeting with president and government, there is no planned meeting with dissidents scheduled, although the latter have been calling for it. But, as we have seen in previous papal journeys, there is always the possibility that time will be made for unscheduled events.
*Other apostolic journeys this year may be a visit to Ireland in June, although that seems highly unlikely; to Lebanon and possibly Syria in September (Lebanon is already confirmed, and a visit to Syria depends on the situation in that country); and to Monaco and the Ukraine.
Photo credit: Reuters/Mario Armas