Even in the city you can sometimes be surprised, if you have an eye for it, by birdlife. I was strolling through town the other day when a little black bird, about the size of a sparrow, perhaps a little bit bigger, flew ahead of me and quietly looked at me as if I had committed some grave crime. I’d probably chased it from a favourite spot or some tasty bugs or something. Seeing the little black bird and then it’s dark red tail actually stopped me in my tracks. My first black redstart, and in the middle of the city no less. Some rapid browsing taught me that black redstarts do like hanging out in urban areas and that they return from their wintering areas in mid-March, so it certainly wasn’t out of place. But seeing a bird, or any animal, that you’ve only known from books before is special. I truly consider it a treat. I always have..
I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment, while I was hoeing
in a village garden, and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance
that I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn. - Henry David Thoreau
Almost two hours ago, Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Malta. He was met by President George Abela and government representatives, the Archbishop and the auxiliary bishop of Malta, the Bishop of Gozo and various other important people. During his address at the airport, the pope acknowledged the welcome he received and praised the nation and people of Malta for the crucial role in the development and history of Europe and the Mediterranean, located as they are on a crossroads of cultures. He also rooted this identity of the Maltese in the Catholic faith, linking their identity firmly to the arrival of St. Paul to Malta following his shipwreck.
Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp has written a letter for the upcoming World Day of Prayer for Vocations (25 April). Nothing extraordinary: the pope has published a message and so did the Dutch bishops. But Bishop Bonny’s letter has a very appealing personal tone, aimed exactly at young men who, at most, have only fleetingly considered some career in the Church.
Like large parts of Europe, Belgium too suffers from a shortage of priests. The practical problems caused by that will be evident, but another problem caused by this shortage is that the possibility of a vocation to the priesthood is no longer considered by many young men. After all, they don’t see many priests around them and if they do, they’re often old men, distant in age and experience. To counter that, to reach people again at their own level and in their own experiences, the Church must adopt a tone that can achieve that. In the case of finding prospective candidates for the priesthood the Church can’t take anything for granted: discerning a vocation must be presented as something new, something different, not as something that is normal and logical to aspire to. For many people it isn’t. But we do need those people, and they need to be aware of what their vocation may possibly be.
I think Bishop Bonny, in being open and inviting, and by very personally appealing to the reader, achieves that. I doubt that the Diocese of Antwerp will immediately see a massive influx of candidates, and I don’t think the bishop does either. These things take time. But, together with the new archbishop in Brussels, this letter may be another step in the right direction for the Church in Belgium.
Later today, Pope Benedict XVI will board a plane and fly to Malta for a two-day pastoral visit. The program, missal and other important facts about the trip are or will be published by the Vatican here, and of course there are plenty of reporters tagging along. One of them is Anna Arco, who is already previewing the visit at her blog.
An item not on the program but which may be included nonetheless, is a meeting between the pope and Maltese victims of sexual abuse. A group of men who were abused as boys have already met with Archbishop Paul Cremona of Malta and they have requested to meet the pope as well. Archbishop Cremona said he would forward the request to the Vatican.
Pope Benedict XVI has met with victims of abuse in the past, most notable during his trips to the United States and Australia. Those meetings have always been private and never part of the program of the trip. While it is theoretically possible that the Holy Father meets with the men, a look at the program shows there won’t be much time for it. Maybe on Sunday afternoon, in between the luncheon and the farewell at the nunciature.
A point of minor concern is the virtually omnipresent ash cloud over Europe. Some airports in northern Italy are closing down today, but Rome is expected to remain open. If not, the pope could always follow the example of Saint Paul and travel to Rome by boat… But without a shipwreck on Malta, please.