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The timing of the upcoming conclave seems to me rather fitting. A start date of the 12th may well lead to the inthronisation of the new Pope to take place on the 19th, which is the feast day of Saint Joseph. He is the patron of the Catholic Church, which is reason enough to note this (near) coinciding of events, but, as some readers may know, St. Joseph is of special significance to me as well. I took his name for my baptismal name and his intercession has been evident several times. One of the most notable examples did not even involve me directly: my fiancée, before our relationship started, prayed a novena to St. Joseph that I might return her feelings for me, which was exactly the rapid result. I only heard of this until after we got together.
The Pope emeritus’ birth name is Joseph, so perhaps Cardinals Josip Bozanic, Giuseppe Betori, Giuseppe Versaldi, Giuseppe Bertello or José Policarpo should be especially prepared… ?
All joking aside, I gladly follow Cardinal Dolan’s example in praying a novena to St. Joseph, starting tomorrow, and I will share it on the blog. A novena is a nine-day prayer for a special intention. Our intention can be that the conclave may be successful according to God’s will, that the cardinals may be open to the Holy Spirit and that the new Pope’s reign may start as and remain a blessing for the Church and the world.
The prayer and intention for the day will be published every morning from tomorrow until the 19th on this blog.
“We’ve got to keep in mind — you know what, even more important than the pope is what we’re doing right now. The life of the church goes on, and the life of the church centers around what we’re doing right now.”
It may not have seemed like it over the past days, but the above quote from Cardinal Timothy Dolan, spoken in his homily last Sunday, is right on the money. The selection of the Church’s new supreme shepherd is undoubtedly important, but it – and he – are only so, literally, by the grace of God.
If the Church can be said to have a core business, it is to lead people to God, and that doesn’t change when there is no Pope. Cardinals, even when they’re getting ready for the conclave, are still tasked with that all-encompassing duty, as is made especially clear on every Sunday. New York’s Cardinal Dolan was just one of, by now, 142 cardinals who have arrived in Rome, and who offered Masses throughout the city.
In these hectic days, it is important to remember that everything we do as Catholic Christians is rooted in the sacrifice of Christ, made present every day in the Eucharist. In that light, the conclave is not a popularity contest or the selection of a new CEO. In the Gospel of John, Jesus gives St. Peter the triple command to take care of His sheep. That very same command is handed down through the centuries to every successor of St. Peter, including whoever the future Pope may be. That is who we are talking about these days: the shepherd of Christ’s flock, acting according to the example of the Good Shepherd. In that way, the conclave and every blog post, article, speculation and discussion about it must be rooted in Christ. Without Him, there are no sheep and there is no need for a shepherd.
Photo credit: Alejandro Bermudez/CNA
Today, all the cardinals of the Church received the official letter summoning them to Rome. Cardinal Sodano, as dean of the College of Cardinals, signed the letter. Cardinal Simonis, emeritus archbishop of Utrecht, was one of the cardinals who received the summons, although, like many others, he is already in Rome. The image below shows the letter in the hands of the cardinal, who won’t be able to vote in the conclave, as he is over the age of 80. But all cardinals, elector or not, are expected to take their responsibilities in managing the goods and needs of the Church and the faithful during the sede vacante, as well as preparing for the conclave.Cardinal Sodano’s letter invites the cardinals to the first two General Congregations on Monday. A date for the conclave may be decided upon then, but that is by no means certain. All indications are that the cardinals want time to talk and think.
The electors number 117, although two of them have chosen to remain at home. So here they are, the 115 cardinal electors who will soon be entering the conclave, which they will not be leaving until they have elected a new Supreme Pontiff. As Emeritus Pope Benedict (how odd it is to write that!) said yesterday morning, the new Pope is among them.
A short primer on who’s who among the electors, ordered by precedence (and from left to right and top to bottom, starting at top left and ending at bottom right, in the collage above):
Giovanni Cardinal Re, Prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Bishops
- Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone, Secretary of State and Chamberlain of the Holy Roman Church
- Antonios Cardinal Naguib, Patriarch emeritus of Alexandria of the Copts
- Béchara Cardinal Raï, Patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites
- Godfried Cardinal Danneels, Archbishop emeritus of Mechelen-Brussels
- Joachim Cardinal Meisner, Archbishop of Köln
- Nicolás Cardinal López Rodríguez, Archbishop of Santo Domingo
- Roger Cardinal Mahony, Archbishop emeritus of Los Angeles
- Jaime Cardinal Ortega y Alamino, Archbishop of Havana
- Jean-Claude Cardinal Turcotte, Archbishop emeritus of Montréal
- Vinko Cardinal Puljic, Archbishop of Vrhbosna
- Juan Cardinal Sandoval Íñiguez, Archbishop emeritus of Guadalajara
- Antonio Cardinal Rouco Varela, Archbishop of Madrid
- Dionigi Cardinal Tettamanzi, Archbishop emeritus of Milan
- Polycarp Cardinal Pengo, Archbishop of Dar-es-Salaam
- Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna
- Norberto Cardinal Rivera Carrera, Archbishop of Mexico
- Francis Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago
- Zenon Cardinal Grocholewski, President of the Congregation for Catholic Education
- Crescenzio Cardinal Sepe, Archbishop of Naples
- Walter Cardinal Kasper, President emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity
- Ivan Cardinal Dias, Prefect emeritus of the Congregation fo the Evangelisation of Peoples
- Geraldo Cardinal Agnelo, Archbishop emritus of São Salvador da Bahia
- Audrys Cardinal Backis, Archbishop of Vilnius
- Francisco Cardinal Errázuriz Ossa, Archbishop emritus of Santiago
- Julio Cardinal Terrazas Sandoval, Archbishop of Santa Cruz de la Sierra
- Wilfrid Cardinal Napier, Archbishop of Durban
- Oscar Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga, Archbishop of Tegucigalpa
- Juan Cardinal Cipriani Thorne, Archbishop of Lima
- Cláudio Cardinal Hummes, Prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Clergy
- Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires
- José Cardinal Policarpo, Patriarch of Lisbon
- Severino Cardinal Poletto, Archbishop of Turin
- Karl Cardinal Lehmann, Bishop of Mainz
- Angelo Cardinal Scola, Archbishop of Milan
- Anthony Cardinal Okogie, Archbishop emeritus of Lagos
- Gabriel Cardinal Zubeir Wako, Archbishop of Khartoum
- Carlos Cardinal Amigo Vallejo, Archbishop emeritus of Sevilla
- Justin Cardinal Rigali, Archbishop emeritus of Philadelphia
- Ennio Cardinal Antonelli, President emeritus of the Pontifical Council for the Family
- Peter Cardinal Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace
- Telesphore Cardinal Toppo, Archbishop of Ranchi
- George Cardinal Pell, Archbishop of Sydney
- Josip Cardinal Bozanic, Archbishop of Zagreb
- Jean-Baptiste Cardinal Pham Minh Man, Archbishop of Ho Chi Minh City
- Philippe Cardinal Barbarin, Archbishop of Lyon
- Péter Cardinal Erdö, Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest
- Marc Cardinal Ouellet, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops
- Agostino Cardinal Vallini, Archpriest of St. John Lateran
- Jorge Cardinal Urosa Savino, Archbishop of Caracas
- Jean-Pierre Cardinal Ricard, Archbishop of Bordeaux
- Antonio Cardinal Cañizares Llovera, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments
- Seán Cardinal O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston
- Stanislaw Cardinal Dziwisz, Archbishop of Kraków
- Carlo Cardinal Caffarra, Archbishop of Bologna
- Seán Cardinal Brady, Archbishop of Armagh
- Lluís Cardinal Martínez Sistach, Archbishop of Barcelona
- André Cardinal Vingt-Trois, Archbishop of Paris
- Angelo Cardinal Bagnasco, Archbishop of Genoa
- Théodore-Adrien Cardinal Sarr, Archbishop of Dakar
- Oswald Cardinal Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay
- Francisco Cardinal Robles Ortega, Archbishop of Guadalajara
- Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston
- Odilo Cardinal Scherer, Archbishop of São Paulo
- John Cardinal Njue, Archbishop of Nairobi
- Raúl Cardinal Vela Chiriboga, Archbishop emeritus of Quito
- Laurent Cardinal Monsengwo Pasinya, Archbishop of Kinshasa
- Paolo Cardinal Romeo, Archbishop of Palermo
- Donald Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington
- Raymundo Cardinal Assis, Archbishop of Aparecida
- Kazimierz Cardinal Nycz, Archbishop of Warsaw
- Albert Cardinal Patabendige Don, Archbishop of Colombo
- Reinhard Cardinal Marx, Archbishop of Munich and Freising
- George Cardinal Alencherry, Major Archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly of the Syro-Malabars
- Thomas Cardinal Collins, Archbishop of Toronto
- Dominik Cardinal Duka, Archbishop of Prague
- Willem Cardinal Eijk, Archbishop of Utrecht
- Giuseppe Cardinal Betori, Archbishop of Florence
- Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York
- Rainer Cardinal Woelki, Archbishop of Berlin
- John Cardinal Tong Hon, Bishop of Hong Kong
- Baselios Cardinal Thottunkal, Major Archbishop of Trivandrum of the Syro-Malankars
- John Cardinal Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja
- Jesús Cardinal Salazar Gómez, Archbishop of Bogotá
- Luis Cardinal Tagle, Archbishop of Manila
- Jean-Louis Cardinal Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue
- Attilio Cardinal Nicora, President of the Financial Information Authority
- William Cardinal Levada, Prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
- Franc Cardinal Rode, Prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life
- Leonardo Cardinal Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches
- Giovanni Cardinal Lajolo, President emeritus of the Governorate of the Vatican City State
- Paul Cardinal Cordes, President emeritus of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum”
- Angelo Cardinal Comastri, Archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica
- Stanislaw Cardinal Rylko, President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity
- Raffaele Cardinal Farina, Librarian emeritus of the Vatican Apostolic Library
- Angelo Cardinal Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints
- Robert Cardinal Sarah, President of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum”
- Francesco Cardinal Monterisi, Archpriest emeritus of St. Paul-Outside-the-Walls
- Raymond Cardinal Burke, Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura
- Kurt Cardinal Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity
- Paolo Cardinal Sardi, Partron of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta
- Mauro Cardinal Piacenza, Prefect of the Congregation for Clergy
- Velasio Cardinal De Paolis, Pontifical Delegate for the Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ
- Gianfranco Cardinal Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture
- Fernando Cardinal Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples
- Manuel Cardinal Monteiro de Castro, Major Penitentiary of the Apostolic Penitentiary
- Santos Cardinal Abril y Castelló, Archpriest of St. Mary Major
- Antonio Cardinal Vegliò, President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People
- Giuseppe Cardinal Bertello, President of the Governorate of the Vatican City State
- Francesco Cardinal Coccopalmerio, President of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts
- João Cardinal Bráz de Aviz, Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life
- Edwin Cardinal O’Brien, Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem
- Domenico Cardinal Calcagno, President of the Adminstration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See
- Giuseppe Cardinal Versaldi, President of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See
- James Cardinal Harvey, Archpriest of St. Paul-Outside-the-Walls
Who we will see in white on the balcony of St. Peter’s sometime later this month remains anyone’s guess. Only Our Lord knows and, as Cardinal Pell said, it is up to the electors to find out.
Photo credit:  RKK.nl,  collage my own.
Opening the thirteenth general congregation on Tuesday morning, Archbishop Nikola Eterovic read a special message from the 90-year-old bishop of Fengxiang in China, Msgr. Lucas Ly Jingfeng, who wrote:
“Most Reverend and Excellent Fathers of the XIII Assembly of the Synod,
I would like to congratulate you, who could participate at the Synod and give homage to the Sepulcher of Saint Peter. I am very sad that you could not listen to any of the voices of the Chinese Church. Wishing to share at least some words with you, and above all with our Pope Benedict XVI, I am sending this brief message. I would like to say that our Church in China, in particular the laity, has always maintained up to today piety, faithfulness, sincerity and devotion to the first Christians, even while undergoing fifty years of persecutions. I would also like to add that I pray intensely and constantly to God the Omnipotent so that our piety, our faithfulness, our sincerity and our devotion may turn around tepidness, unfaithfulness and the secularization that have arisen abroad because of an openness and freedom without reins. In the Year of the Faith, in your synodal discussions you can see how our faith in China could be maintained unfailingly until today. And as the great Chinese philosopher Lao Tse said: “Just as calamity generates prosperity, thus in weakness calamity hides itself”. In the Church outside of China, tepidity, unfaithfulness and secularization of the faithful has spread to much of the clergy. Instead, in the Chinese Church the laity is more pious than the clergy. Could not perhaps piety, faithfulness, sincerity and the devotion of the Christian laity shake up the external clergy? I was very moved by the lament by Pope Benedict XVI: “As we know, in vast areas of the earth faith risks being extinguished, like a flame that is no longer fed. We are facing a profound crisis of faith, a loss of the religious sense that constitutes the greatest challenge to the Church today. The renewal of faith must therefore take priority in the commitment of the entire Church in our time” (Speech by the Holy Father Benedict XVI to the participants of the plenary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, January 27th 2012). However, I believe that our faith as Chinese Christians could console the Pope. I will not mention politics, which is always transeunte.
A loving and heartfelt message from the Church in China.
Following this, interventions continued, by 22 Synod fathers and 7 auditors in the morning sessions. The first speaker was Telesphore Cardinal Toppo, archbishop of Ranchi in India, who pulled few punches in his call towards religious congregation to become missionary again:
“I would like to make a humble appeal to the religious orders to become missionary again! In the history of evangelization, all the religious orders led by the Holy Spirit have done outstanding and marvelous work. Can we say the same of the Religious Congregations today? Could it be that they have begun working like Multinationals, doing very good and necessary work to meet the material needs of humanity, but have forgotten that the primary purpose of their founding was to bring the kerygma, the Gospel, to a lost world? We must appreciate many Youth Groups and new Ecclesial Movements who are taking up the challenge. But, in my opinion this Synod must appeal to the Religious men and women to explicitly and directly take up the work of evangelization and transmission of faith in collaboration with the local bishops! I would also like to call upon the Sacred Congregation for Consecrated life to be pro active in promoting the sensus ecclesiae among all religious.”
Bishop Joseph Zziwa of Kiyinda-Mityana in Uganda called for the Church to fight for the return of religious education in schools, identifying the problem as follows:
“[I]n some countries, in recent years, catechesis or teaching religion has been sidelined or removed from the education system even in Catholic-founded Schools or institutions of learning. The situation is aggravated in public institutions where there are no programs of catechesis or Christian religious education at all for our Catholic students. Religious education is considered to be a private matter, to be attended to only in the church or at home.”
This is certainly the situation in the west, not least here in the Netherlands.
A topic that some noted seemed to be missing from the Synod deliberations, was touched upon by Archbishop Geraldo Lyrio Rocha, of Mariana in Brazil, when he said:
“As the liturgy is the special place where the presence of the Gospel is alive and therefore the privileged place for education in the faith, or rather “the permanent holy mystagogy of the Church”, this must appear in the very manner in which it is celebrated. The fascinating and contagious beauty of the mystery hidden in rites and symbols must be capable of being expressed in all its strength for the liturgy to truly evangelize. Therefore the new evangelization depends to a great extent on the capacity to make the liturgy the source of spiritual life. Probably our most demanding task and the greatest challenge is to succeed in ensuring that our liturgical celebrations are ever more beautiful and transparent in their divine beauty, source of new and renewing strength that brings joy and hope to the Christian, in order to live in Christ and in the love of the Lord.”
Without the liturgy, the earthly reflection of the divine worship of God, we are unable to know and relate to our heavenly Father, let alone let others come to know Him.
Archbishop Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo, of Jakarta in Indonesia, shares a personal anecdote to illustrate that evangelisation is sometimes as simple as leading by example:
“I would like to share with you a simple experience I had during my visit to a parish where I met a local catechist. I asked him, “How many catechumens do you have?” I was surprised to hear that he had more than ninety catechumens. It was quite a lot. I asked him further, “Have you ever asked your catechumens why they wish to be baptized into the Catholic Church?” He answered, “Many of them said that they were touched by the way Catholics pray during public events such as wedding feasts or funeral services”. The prayers are so touching to their hearts, because in those occasions the invocations and benedictions are delivered in their vernacular mother tongue so that they readily understand the content, whereas before they usually heard prayers recited in a foreign language, as Muslims pray in Arabic.”
One of the auditors, experts in various fields, who offered an intervention, was Mikhail Fateev of a St. Petersburg, Russia, television channel. He pointed at that, i the necessary ecumenical outreach in Russia people are less interested in meeting ‘fellow Christians’ than ‘Catholic Christians’:
“[I]n search for unity we should not reject or forget our Catholic identity. The people are more ready to speak with us as exactly with the Catholics, not as with “common Christians”. We could see this after a meeting organized by the lay Catholics in one of the largest bookstores of Saint Petersburg. The event attracted much interest in media. So we decided to start a series of public meetings and discussions on Catholic Church, its faith and traditions. We, Catholics, went out to meet the people and were met with a great interest!”
Something to keep in mind in our own ecumenical efforts: our own identity is the first step towards commonality.
At the start of the afternoon session, Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone spoke and announced a delegation to Syria to express the Holy See’s solidarity with the Syrian people, their spiritual closeness to the Christians there, and to encourage an agreement to resolve the ongoing civil war. The delegation is set to leave for Damascus next week, and will consist of Laurent Cardinal Monsengwo Pasinya (Archbishop of Kinshasa), Jean-Louis Cardinal Tauran (President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue), Timothy Cardinal Dolan (Archbishop of New York), Bishop Fabio Suescun Mutis (Military Ordinar of Colombia), Bishop Joseph Nguyen Nang (Bishop of Phat Diem), Archbishop Dominique Mamberti (Secretary for Relations with States) and Msgr. Alberto Ortega (official of the Secretariat of State).
Nine interventions followed in the course of the fourteenth general congregation, including one by Bishop Everard de Jong (pictured, far left), the single Dutch delegate to the Synod. He spoke about the importance of prayer, especially to the Holy Spirit, in the new evangelisation. “It was Pentecost that started the first evangelization, and we need a new Pentecost,” he said, suggesting also that the Holy Father introduce Benedictine prayers at the end of Mass, as was standard in the past, or perhaps a constant novena to the Holy Spirit.
“We do not only have to present the gospel and the catechism, but have to promote the spiritual exercises, in which we confront people with the Jesus of the gospels and the Church, and help them to compare the influence of His Spirit in their lives with the outcomes of a more hedonistic way of life (cfr. Ga. 5:29-23). Thus they will be led to the knowledge and recognition of the objective truth of their human nature, its deepest desires, and God in their conscience. In this way they will discover St. Peter and his successors, and the church (Cf. Bl. John Henry Card. Newman (1801-1890). This means we should give priests and religious a better spiritual formation, in order to be spiritual directors, to be real spiritual fathers and mothers.”
Bishop de Jong also spoke about family and life:
“Families are essential in the transmission of the gospel. In this context our society does not know sin anymore. Still, sin has its influence on the openness to the gospel-message. Pornography, sexuality outside marriage of man and woman, contraception, abortion, will close the heart. Who, indeed, can say yes to God, the giver of life in abundance, if he or she, consciously or unconsciously, says no to human life? This means that the Church should courageously promote the gospel of life, including the theology of the body, natural family planning, and at the same time announce the very merciful God.”
After the interventions from the Synod fathers, six fraternal delegates and one special guest also offered their thoughts, among them Brother Alois, the prior of Taizé, who spoke about the need for communion as a fruitful basis for hope and faith.
Photo credit:  Wilson Dias/ABr,  Lidy Peters/RKK
The Friday sessions, presided over by Cardinal Robles Ortega, of the Synod started normal enough, with a series of interventions by 23 Synod fathers.
Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Major Archbishop of Kyiv-Halyc and head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, suggested that the effectiveness of homilies be made a topic for a future assembly of the Synod. Before him, Bishop Javier Echeverría Rodríguez of Opus Dei had also mentioned the need for this, and suggested that could be achieved by the homilist directing is word also to himself, to lead by example, so to speak.
Cardinal Ravasi spoke, among others, about the tensions between science and faith:
“The incompatibility between science and faith and the prevarications of one against the other and vice versa, as has occurred in the past and continues to occur, should be replaced by mutual recognition of the dignity of their respective epistemological statuses: science is dedicated to the “scene”, that is the phenomenon, while theology and philosophy look to the “foundation”. A distinction, but not of separateness to the point of reciprocal exclusion, since they have a single common object, that is, being and existence. It is therefore comprehensible that overlaps and tensions occur, especially in the field of bioethics.
Dialogue is therefore indispensable, without arrogance and without confusion linked to specific levels and approaches. As John Paul II indicated in 1988, “it is absolutely important that each discipline continues to enrich, nurture and provoke the other to be more fully what it should be and to contribute to our vision of what we are and where we are going”. The great scientist Max Planck, father of quantum theory, also confirmed this: “Every serious and reflective person realizes… there can never be any real opposition between religion and science; for the one is the complement of the other”.
Archbishop Józef Michalik, of Przemysl, Poland, reminded the Synod that we can’t lay the blame for the current crisis of faith merely with others:
“If the faith of today becomes ever weaker, we must not only blame others, but rather ourselves. If the message of faith is not interesting or attractive – this is perhaps the case because that same message is no longer interesting or attractive to us, because it does not excite us, because we do not preach Christ to our families or on the streets of our cities.”
In the afternoon, Pope Benedict XVI hosted the Synod fathers, together with Patriarch Bartholomaois I of Constantinople and Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury, for a lunch in the Paul VI Hall. He followed the “lovely tradition initiated by Pope John Paul II to crown the Synod with a shared meal.” He likened the Synod experience to the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Jesus “lit up their hearts and illuminated their minds” allowing them to recognise Him at supper.
“Thus in the Synod we are walking together with our contemporaries. We pray to the Lord that He may illuminate us, that He may light up our hearts so they may become prophetic, that He may illuminate our minds; and we pray that at supper, in the Eucharistic communion, we can really be open, see Him and thus also light up the world and give His light to this world of ours.”
The evening session, the Eighth General Congregation began later, as the Holy Father had already suggested during the lunch. First up was an intervention by Professor Werner Arber, professor of microbiology and President of the Pontifical Academy for Sciences. He gave a “Reflection on the relations between the sciences and religious faith”.
Following this, the members of the Commission for the Message were announced. Four of these, including the president, Cardinal Betori, and the Vice President, Archbishop Tagle, were appointed by the pope, while the remaining eight were elected by the Synod fathers. The members, tasked with composing the pastorl message related to the topic of the Synod, are:
Giuseppe Cardinal Betori, Archbishop of Florence, Italy
Archbishop Luis Tagle, Archbishop of Manila, Philippines
Polycarp Cardinal Pengo, Archbishop of Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanzania
Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna, Austria
Gianfranco Cardinal Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture
George Cardinal Alencherry, Major Archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly of the Syro-Malabars, India
Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, United States
Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, Belgium
Archbishop John Atcherley Dew, Archbishop of Wellington, New Zealand
Archbishop Sérgio Da Rocha, Archbishop of Brasilia, Brazil
Archbishop Socrates Villegas, Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan
Father Adolfo Nicolás Pachón, Superior General of the Society of Jesus
Photo credit:  Bishop Gerald Kicanas
“Somehow we have to recapture the notion that the Church isn’t primarily about running institutions or winning political debates. It’s about reaching deep inside the human heart and stirring what’s best in it, and then boldly going out into the world and insisting that the better angels of our nature can prevail, that cynicism and ego don’t have to be the last word about the kind of culture we pass on to our children, and that the Church is an ally in every positive stirring and hopeful current in that culture. That’s a vision worth devoting one’s life to, and if that’s not affirmative orthodoxy, what is?”
Timothy Cardinal Dolan,
from A People of Hope: Archbishop Timothy Dolan in Conversation With John L. Allen Jr.
It’s strange and sad that we find it so hard to be faithful Catholics – faithful to the teachings of Christ and His Church – without descending into arguments and disagreements. Apparently, it is often easier to pillory a person that we disagree with, be there a good reason or not, instead of communicating our disagreements in accordance with the joy that our faith calls for. But that’s also understandable: it is, after all, something very personal. Faith is, by definition. If someone then says or writes something that we think is in error, we feel the natural urge to correct them.
But what would be the Catholic approach to this correcting and the debate that will follow? I think the answer to that question is ‘affirmative orthodoxy’. True to Our Lord and the Church, but in a positive way. John L. Allen Jr., in a 2009 column, defines it as follows: “No compromise on essential points of doctrine and discipline, but the most positive, upbeat presentation possible.”
Our message is a very joyful one. How can we not present it with a smile? When we engage other people, we do so out of love: Christ teaches us to work towards what’s best for others. His salvation is the best thing that has ever, and could ever happen to us. While our presentation should not be of the “I’m okay, you’re okay” kind, it should reflect the content of what we try to communicate.
Faith in God also entails faith in the people He created, and that faith should not be crushed underneath relentless attacks, insinuations and arguments, but should flourish as we are open, honest and loving. Does that mean we can’t disagree? Of course it doesn’t. Errors are there to be corrected, and we have a framework by which to determine what is error and what is not: the teachings that the Church communicates.
In the Gospel of Matthew we find what to do if someone does something wrong:
“If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone, between your two selves. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you: whatever the misdemeanour, the evidence of two or three witnesses is required to sustain the charge. But if he refuses to listen to these, report it to the community; and if he refuses to listen to the community, treat him like a gentile or a tax collector” [Matt. 18:15-17].
Our first recourse should never be to publicly pillory a person for the mistake he made. Instead, we must discuss it one-on-one with that person, and if need be with one or two others. Only then does the community of faithful come into view. This is the honest approach, and it fits in well with affirmative orthodoxy, for some errors are serious indeed, and should be treated as such, but they are never reason to disavow the person making them. Even gentiles and tax collectors are able to mend their ways. We are all evidence of that.
And, lastly, let’s not forget that we are equally prone to mistakes. What we consider I mistake may not turn out to be one upon closer consideration, just as our own understanding of what is correct must also be properly considered and understood.