The final farewell

Although it was not his last day on the Chair of Peter, Pope Benedict received the best farewell we could have given him during his last general audience, yesterday morning. And, in turn, it was the best sendoff he could have given us.

general audience, st. peter's square

Secular media reluctantly reported “several thousand” faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square, but the official numbers were 150,000, which does not include the pilgrims who were forced to remain in the surrounding streets. In total, the number of faithful who wanted a last glimpse of the Holy Father may have been as high as 400,000.

I watched the audience via a livestream provided by SQPN, with live commentary by Fr. Roderick (recording available here). Nobody really knew what to expect until the audience had gotten underway. The Pope’s extra long tour across the square was no surprise, but as he had taken his place on the platform in front of the facade of the basilica, his very personal reflection did take many by surprise. Rather than a reflection on a Gospel passage or theological topic, Pope Benedict took the opportunity to express his gratitude: to God, the cardinals and the entire Curia, all of those working behind the scenes, the Diocese of Rome, and the entire people of God. Several times, he expressed his desire to remember in prayer everyone he ever encountered. A very touching passage, I found, was how people would write to the Holy Father:

“It’s true that I receive letters from the world’s greatest figures – from the Heads of State, religious leaders, representatives of the world of culture and so on. I also receive many letters from ordinary people who write to me simply from their heart and let me feel their affection, which is born of our being together in Christ Jesus, in the Church. These people do not write me as one might write, for example, to a prince or a great figure one does not know. They write as brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, with the sense of very affectionate family ties. Here, one can touch what the Church is – not an organization, not an association for religious or humanitarian purposes, but a living body, a community of brothers and sisters in the Body of Jesus Christ, who unites us all. To experience the Church in this way and almost be able to touch with one’s hands the power of His truth and His love, is a source of joy, in a time in which many speak of its decline.”

Although today we will get our last glimpse of the man who has been our spiritual father for almost eight years, he is not leaving us, he said yesterday:

“The “always” is also a “forever” – there is no returning to private life. My decision to forgo the exercise of active ministry, does not revoke this. I do not return to private life, to a life of travel, meetings, receptions, conferences and so on. I do not abandon the cross, but remain in a new way near to the Crucified Lord. I no longer wield the power of the office for the government of the Church, but in the service of prayer I remain, so to speak, within St. Peter’s bounds. St. Benedict, whose name I bear as Pope, shall be a great example in this for me. He showed us the way to a life which, active or passive, belongs wholly to the work of God.”

Today, we are saying our final goodbyes, but it really isn’t a farewell. Although we may not see or even be aware of it, in the gardens of Vatican City there will be a loving heart, continuously praying for all of us.

Tomorrow, the frenzy of conclave preparation gets underway, but today, let’s remember, let’s say our goodbyes and let’s pray.

general audience

The rollercoaster starts

benedict tiredAnd here we go… Today we enter the last two days of the 265th papacy. As Benedict undoubtedly looks forward to starting the twilight years of his service to the Church, in St. Peter’s  Square, the crowds have been lining up since the early hours of the morning to get their final glimpse of our Holy Father.

Set to begin at 10:30 local time, Pope Benedict XVI’s final general audience promises to be only a slight departure from the norm. The Holy Father will teach one last time, but we’ll have to wait and see what his choice of topic will be. He will take an extra long tour across the square before returning to the Apostolic Palace, where he will meet with some of the dignitaries who have travelled to Rome today. There will be no brief meetings with visiting prelates and pilgrim groups at the end of the audience this time around.

And at the same time this will be like no other general audience before. It will be a historical event: an abdicating Pope bidding farewell to his flock – present in the tens of thousands in Rome, and in the hundreds of millions across the globe. And without doubt it will be emotional. Unavoidable distant in space, the Holy Father is still close in the hearts of many, not least mine.

Sure, we will see him in images and video tomorrow, as he bids his farewells to the cardinals and the Curia, with Cardinal Bertone seeing him off from the Vatican, and Cardinal Sodano greeting him one last time on the helicopter pad at 5pm tomorrow afternoon. Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, the Governor of the Vatican City State, will welcome the Pope at Castel Gandolfo. Appearing on the balcony of the traditional papal summer residence, we will what now seems to be our last glimpse of the Pope, hours before he becomes Pope Emeritus. at 8pm. At that point the Swiss Guards will  salute and depart – tasked as they are with the protection of the Roman Pontiff, and tomorrow evening there will be no such person…

And after that rollercoaster ride the next will probably stand ready on Monday, as the cardinals will start their General Congregations in preparation of the conclave.

Photo credit: Looking more tired than we have seen him before, Pope Benedict XVI sits before his last Angelus prayer on Sunday [l’Osservatore Romano].

Cardinal watch: Cardinal Husar turns 80

husarIn the last such event before the sede vacante begins, Ukrainian Lubomyr Cardinal Husar marks his 80th birthday today, and as such can not take part in the conclave.

Born in Lviv, which at the time was a Polish city, in 1933, young Lubomyr’s childhood was marked by the violence of World War II. In 1944, this caused his parents to flee to the west. After some years in Salzburg in Austria, the family emigrated to the United States in 1949. A year later, Lubomyr started studying at the Ukrainian Catholic St. Basil College Seminary in Stamford, Connecticut. After time at the Catholic University of America and Fordham University, he was ordained to the priesthood in 1958. Fr. Husar was a priest for the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Stamford, which covers parts of New York and New England.

From his ordination until 1969, Fr. Husar taught at the seminary where he himself was educated, and he was a parish priest from 1966 to 1969. In that latter year, he went to Rome to study theology at the Pontifical Urbaniana University. Now a doctor of theology, he entered the Studity monastery at Grottaferrata in Italy in 1972, and two years later, he became the superior there.

Fr. Husar’s consecration to bishop in 1977, to go with his new task as Archimandrite of all the Studite monks in Europe and America, from 1978 onwards, caused a bit if a stir, since the Pope had not given his apostolic mandate, something that Roman Canon Law required, but the Law of the Eastern Churches did not.

In 1995, as his homeland reopened its borders to the rest of the world, Bishop Husar was elected as Exarch of Kiev and Vysshorod. Upon his return to the Ukraine, he relinquished his American citizenship. In 1996, he was appointed as auxiliary bishop of Lviv, and in 2001, as that see had fallen vacant, Eparch Husar was elected as Major Archbishop of Lviv. In that same year, he was created a cardinal, with Santa Sofia a Via Boccea as his title church. With Ignace Daoud, Cardinal Husar was the only Eastern Catholic to participate in the 2005 conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI.

In 2005, the see of Lviv was moved to Kiev, and Cardinal Husar became Major Archbishop of that city. In 2011, failing eyesight caused him to retire, although he had performed the Ukrainian Catholic liturgy from memory when his sight had gotten too bad.

As Major Archbishop of Kiev, Cardinal Husar received an honorary doctorate from the Catholic University of America, and he was decorated by the President of Ukraine “for his outstanding personal contribution in spiritual revival of the Ukrainian nation, longstanding church work, and to mark his 75th birthday”.

Cardinal Husar was a member of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, the Pontifical Council for Culture, and the Special Council for Europe of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops.

There are now 117 cardinal electors who are allowed to participate in next month’s conclave.

Photo credit: Edmond Fountain/St Petersburg Times

The questions of O’Brien

Cardinal Keith O'BrienAlthough his resignation was generally expected to take place some time in the coming months, it was still a surprise that the Holy See today accepted the resignation of Keith Cardinal O’Brien, the archbishop of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh. It did so in accordance with canon 401 § 1 of the Code of Canon Law, which covers the obligation of a diocesan bishop to offer his resignation as he reaches the age of 75. Cardinal O’Brien will reach that age next month and, according to his official statement, his resignation had been accepted “nunc pro tunc” back in November.

But is that the whole story? Of course, we must treat carefully here, because it is all speculation, but that speculation arises from some recent developments surrounding Cardinal O’Brien. He has recently been accused of sexual misconduct by three priests and one former priest from his diocese, stretching back over the past 30 years. Cardinal O’Brien strongly denies these accusations, but they unavoidable raised questions about what, if anything, really happened. And today, his unexpected resignation as well as his decision not to attend the conclave, has raised even more questions. But any answers will most likely depend on ecclesiastic and secular legal actions, if and when they take place. For now, we have the cardinal’s word and explanation to go on.

Cardinal O’Brien has stated that he will not travel to Rome next month, although his resignation does not prevent him from attending, because “I do not wish media attention in Rome to be focussed on me – but rather on Pope Benedict XVI and on his Successor.” That means that 115 electors will participate in the conclave. As reported earlier, Ukrainian Cardinal Husar will reach the age of 80 tomorrow, before the sede vacante begins, and Indonesian Cardinal Darmaatmadja will stay at home because of health reasons. Great Britain will have no elector at the conclave, although the United Kingdom will, since the Irish primate, Cardinal Brady, resides within Northern Ireland.

Cardinal O’Brien has been archbishop of Scotland’s primatial see since 1985, and he was created a cardinal in 2003 with the title church of Santi Gioacchino ed Anna al Tuscolano.

Photo credit:  Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

The last Angelus

benedict angelusCrowds spilling out of St. Peter’s Square, and a grateful Pope who didn’t do much different for his last public Angelus prayer. Speaking about today’s Gospel reading about the Lord’s Transfiguration on the mountain, he briefly spoke about his own future, which he clearly considers a new calling:

“Dear brothers and sisters, I feel that this Word of God is particularly directed at me, at this point in my life. The Lord is calling me to “climb the mountain”, to devote myself even more to prayer and meditation. But this does not mean abandoning the Church, indeed, if God is asking me to do this it is so that I can continue to serve the Church with the same dedication and the same love with which I have done thus far, but in a way that is better suited to my age and my strength. Let us invoke the intercession of the Virgin Mary: may she always help us all to follow the Lord Jesus in prayer and works of charity.”

Out of retreat, entering the home stretch

Pope Benedict this morning ended his Lenten retreat. In a short address, he thanked Cardinal Ravasi for leading the retreat, as well as the other participants for being a “community of prayerful listening”. Below an excerpt of the address:

“The art of believing, the art of praying” was the theme. I was reminded of the fact that the medieval theologians translated the word “Logos” not only as “Verbum”, but also as “ars”: “Verbum” and “ars” are interchangeable. For the medieval theologians, it was only with the two words together that the whole meaning of the word “Logos” appeared. The “Logos” is not just a mathematical reason: the “Logos” has a heart, the “Logos” is also love. The truth is beautiful and the true and beautiful go together: beauty is the seal of truth.

And yet, starting from the Psalms and from our everyday experience, you have also strongly emphasized that the “very good” of the sixth day – expressed by the Creator – is permanently contradicted by the evil of this world, by suffering, by corruption. It’s almost as if wickedness wills permanently to spoil creation, to contradict God and make its truth and its beauty unrecognizable. In a world so marked even by evil, the “Logos,” the eternal beauty and the eternal “art”, must appear as a “caput cruentatum.” The incarnate Son, the incarnate “Logos” is crowned with a crown of thorns and nevertheless is just that: in this suffering figure of the Son of God we begin to see the deepest beauty of our Creator and Redeemer; in the silence of the “dark night” we can, nevertheless, hear the Word. And believing is nothing other than, in the darkness of the world, touching the hand of God, and in this way, in silence, hearing the Word, seeing love.

ravasi benedictThe Holy Father also thanked Cardinal Ravasi personally, in a letter. Among other things, he wrote that the theme chosen by the President of the Pontifical Council for Culture was particularly helpful in this time of silence and prayer: “We have been able to tap into the source of plenty and pure water that is God’s Word … from the Book of Psalms, the place par excellence where the Word of the Bible becomes prayer.” In closing, Pope Benedict XVI told Cardinal Ravasi that “the Lord will know to reward you for this effort”, a wish that gains special significance in the light of the coming conclave, in which Cardinal Ravasi will vote. Many outside the conclave consider him papabile, a likely successor of Pope Benedict XVI on the Chair of St. Peter.

But luckily that choice ultimately lies in the hands of 116 electors and most importantly, the Holy Spirit. Let’s pray for a fruitful final six days of this papacy, blessing and guidance or the cardinals in the conclave, and also for the new Pope, whoever he may be.

Cardinal watch: Cardinal Ries passes away

Monsignor Julien Ries of Belgium, a formA cardinal for only one year and five days, Julien Ries did not receive his red hat as the result of a succesful career in the hierarchy. The Belgian prelate rather received it for his work in the quiet of his study and the lecture hall. This morning he passed away at the age of 92.

Julien Ries was born near Arlon and ordained a priest for the Diocese of Namur in 1945. After a few years working as a parish priest and history teacher, Father Ries taught history of religion at the Catholic University of Louvain. After that university was split in a Flemish and a Walloon section in 1968, he remained at the latter. He remained there until his retirement in 1990.

A highly  productive author, Fr. Ries was created a cardinal in the consistory of February 2012. Consecrated a bishop a week before the consistory, he held the titular see of  Belcastro, and later became Cardinal-Deacon of Sant’Antonio di Padova a Circonvallazione Appia.

With more than 600 publications to his name, Cardinal Ries was convinced that those were the reason for being made a cardinal. Pope Benedict XVI studied his work closely, and in 2012, Cardinal Ries said in an interview: “He phoned me more than once to congratulate me, when he had read a book of mine.”

Cardinal Ries’s work was best know for its focus on religious anthropology and humanities. In 2009, he donated his library and all his notes and correspondence to the Catholic University of Milan.

Cardinal Ries was never an elector. With his passing the total number of cardinals drops to 208.

Wrapping up business – Congregation for Bishops gets ready for the conclave

In the final days before the Congregation for Bishops ceases its regular work when the Pope’s abdication goes into effect, it seems it wants to close some open files. Yesterday and today we saw a whole raft of appointments in such diverse countries as Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, Tunisia and Congo, as well as in the Holy See’s diplomatic representation in several other countries.

Miguel Angel Olaverri Arroniz Standing out are the appointments of Archbishop Ilario Antoniazzi of Tunis and Bishop Miguel Angel Olaverri Arroniz (pictured) of Pointe-Noire in Congo. Tunis is one of northern Africa’s major archdioceses. The previous archbishop, Msgr. Maroun Elias Nimeh Lahham, was called to Jerusalem as an auxiliary bishop in January of last year. Pointe-Noire, then, lost her previous bishop, Msgr. Jean-Claude Makaya Loembe, when he was removed from his office because of mismanagement in March of 2011.  He was one of the handful of bishops who lost their jobs under Pope Benedict XVI.

Among the reassignments of Apostolic Nuncios (five were appointed or reassigned today) is Msgr. Ettore Balestrero, who was the Undersecretary for the Relations with States at the Secretariat of State until today. He was assigned as Nuncio to Colombia, and some see this as a result of his name having been mentioned in the context of the Vatileaks scandal. Whether that is true is anyone’s guess, of course, but it does stand out.

The Prefect of the Congregation for Bishop, Marc Cardinal Ouellet, is considered a papabile, so perhaps the Congregation is wise to get as much work done in these last days: who knows, she may lose her prefect during the conclave…

Photo credit: Javier Valiente

Risky business – German bishops allow abortive drugs, but only when they’re not abortive

Deutsche-Bischofskonferenz1At Ars Vivendi,we find English translations of statements from Joachim Cardinal Meisner and the spokesman for the press office of the Archdiocese of Cologne about the bishops’ conference’s decision to allow for the use of certain types of morning after pills in Catholic hospitals. For topics like this, it is always good to get information from the source, since there is such a  risk of words being twisted, taken out of context and changed to suit a particular agenda, and not just in secular circles.

Although the bishops’ reasoning makes sense, and fits with what the Church has consistently taught about these matters, it is an enormous leap of faith: since the reasoning hinges upon the apparent existence of pills which prevent fertilisation rather than the implantation of a fertilised egg, it is at the mercy of the medical lobby. I fervently hope that the bishops have some very good independent Catholic experts on their side in this matter.

pilledanachAlthough many would have us believe otherwise, this does not change much in the Catholic teaching about contraception and the dignity of life. Drugs like the morning after pill, even if they only prevent fertilisation, still can not be used without consequence. Sexual relations are inherently open to life. The willful blocking of the possibility of new life, such as happens with the use of condoms or, indeed, anti-fertilisation pills, is counter to Catholic teaching and sinful.

So, no, the German bishops are not saying that the morning after pill may be used whenever we want to. Rather, it is allowed in cases such as the one that triggered the whole debate: hospital treatment after a rape or other sexual crime, where the morning after pill may be used as part of the treatment. Treatment or medication which, as a side effect, may lead to the death of an unborn child, can in some cases also be used, but the intent can never be the willful killing of the child.