“Praised be” – Encyclical day is here

LaudatoSi-255x397So today is the big day. I’ve not seen such excitement for the launch of an encyclical, but, then again, I’ve only been around as a Catholic for four of them. But this time around, everyone has an opinion, in part because they’ve seen the leaked early draft of Laudato Si’*, but mostly because the encyclical’s topic is such a heavily politicised one. Especially on the American side of the Atlantic, I notice that the question of the environment, and especially global warming, is seen as inherently connected and opposed to questions of population control and, more often than not, economic concerns. The issue of the scientific validity of what Pope Francis is a distant third element of the opposition.

Are these concerns warranted? Will Laudato Si’ suddenly advocate population control to protect the environment? That would be highly unlikely, considering that Pope Francis has time and again spoken against such things as abortion, euthanasia and curtailing the rights of people, which would all be means to the end of population control. Will Pope Francis speak against economic concerns as the driving force in our lives and actions? That seems almost certain, at least if these concerns plunge others in poverty and destroy their environment. Pope Francis’ chief concerns do not lie with western multinationals or millionaires, but with the poor and marginalised of the world. He is all for the common good, but not at the expense of others, or of the environment in which we all live. And that is also the Catholic attitude,and not without reason has Pope Francis said that Laudato Si’ will lie fully within the whole of Catholic social teaching.

In the end, it all boils down to the Creation stories of Genesis, in which we learn that man’s place in Creation is that of a steward. Yes, he can make use of what the world offers, but also has a duty to maintain it and not exploit or destroy it. Man is a part of Creation. He is not separate. If we destroy or exploit the world around us, we ultimately destroy ourselves. God has given us a world to live in and care for.

Are the concerns we hear against a major focus on the environment without any basis then? Not if our environmental concerns overshadow the care we must have for the people in our society and in other societies across the world. We must balance these concerns.

In the end, Laudato Si’ will be a document that needs to be read positively. It wants to invite us to act towards the betterment of ourselves and all of creation,not force us to stop and change what is good about our use of the environment.

*As an aside, this encyclical will be the first one since 1937 not to have an official Latin title. Encyclicals are titled after their opening words,which in this case happen to come from Saint Francis’ Caticle of the Sun,which was written in the Umbrian dialect of Italian. In 1937, Pope Pius XI wrote his encyclical Mit brennender Sorge in German, as it was directed against the Nazi dictatorship in Germany.

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The Cardijn Cause

cardijnIn recent weeks, the dean of Diest in the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels, Father Felix Van Meerbergen, has been using his social media accounts on Twitter and Facebook to promote the cause of Josef-Léon Cardinal Cardijn. As the founder of the International Coordination of Young Christian Workers, he was particularly concerned with the formation and evangelisation of labourers, inspired by Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum from 1891, as well as people around him. His approach and inspiration continues in various lay movements around the world, most notably Catholic Action.

Fr. Van Meerbergen shares a prayer (which I translated in Dutch here) for Cardinal Cardijn’s cause:

Heavenly Father, you are the source of every good thing that comes unto us. We are thankful to you for the gift of Joseph Cardinal Cardijn to the world at large.

Cardinal Cardijn was a champion of workers who are co-labourers with you in re-creating a new world where love, equality and justice will reign in the spirit. He toiled all his life for the empowerment of the workers so that they may move from being powerless to be powerful with your divine help.

We, the present and former members of the Cardijn movements and those who have accepted or having known Cardijn’s spirituality, vision and SEE-JUDGE-ACT methodology seek your divine intervention to declare the apostle of the workers a saint of the Holy Mother the Church.

This we ask you through Christ our Lord,

Amen.

Joseph-Léon Cardijn was born in 1882, in Schaerbeek near Brussels. In 1906, he was ordained a priest and decided to devote his life to the evangelisation of the working classes. He travelled abroad and developed his ideas in earnest while a parish priest in Laeken. Following World War I, during which he was imprisoned twice, he left Laeken in 1919 and started working fulltime for the workers. He established what would become the Young Catholic Workers movement in 1919, and saw it unofficially recognised in 1925 by Pope Pius XI. In 1967, Father Cardijn’s movement was active in 69 countries and had 2 million members. Pope Paul VI recognised this success in 1965 by creating him a cardinal. Cardinal Cardijn became Cardinal-Deacon of San Michele Arcangelo.

Cardinal Cardijn passed away in 1967 and his funeral Mass was attended by the then-Prince Albert, now King Albert II. In 2005, Belgian television viewers voted Cardinal Cardijn to number 23 in the Greatest Belgian vote.

Fr. Van Meerbergen is not only promoting the cause of Cardinal Cardijn, but also invites people to submit information about him, especially those who may have known the late cardinal. Her may be contacted via the social media channels mentioned above.

The light of faith – Pope Francis’ first encyclical

pope francisAs announced today, Pope Francis will be releasing his first encyclical on Friday. Titled Lumen fidei, “The light of faith”, it has been co-authored by Pope emeritus Benedict XVI. Pope Francis has reworked a draft created by the emeritus pontiff, and as such the encyclical will be the third in a series on the theological virtues of hope, charity and faith. Benedict XVI published Deus caritas est – on Christian love – in 2005, and Spe Salvi – On Christian hope – in 2007.

Lumen fidei is published very early in this pontificate – less than four months into it – , a fact no doubt due to the fact that the previous Pope already drafted an initial version. In 2005, Pope Benedict XVI took eight months to release his first encyclical. Pope John Paul II, in 1979, released his first five months after his election. Pope Paul VI took more than a year, Pope John XXIII eight months, Pope Pius XII seven months, Pope Pius XI ten months, and Pope Benedict XV released his first a mere two months after his election in 1914.

The encyclical will be presented on Friday morning at the Vatican by Cardinal Marc Ouellet and Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella and Gerhard Müller, the heads of the Vatican offices for bishops, new evangelisation and the doctrine of the faith. That, in itself, may give us some hints at how we should read Lumen fidei: as an integral element of the Year of Faith and the new evangelisation, and with perhaps a special focus on the role of the bishops in that endeavour.

Now that the date has been set, how long until we have a Pope?

conclaveAlthough I have consciously avoided much speculation about possible papabile, what goes on behind the scenes, or even who I prefer to be the new Pope (as I don’t think this is a political election in which the popularity of a given cardinal plays any part, and besides, it’s not up to me to decide who should be Pope – thank God!), there is some merit in thinking about the question that is the headline of this post: how long can we expect the conclave to take? At the very least it will be informative.

Of the conclaves held in the 20th and 21st centuries, the longest was the 1922 one, in which Pius XI was elected. His election took 14 ballots, or five days. The shortest was the next one, in 1939, electing Pius XII. This took only three ballots, or less than two full days. On average, a conclave in the specified period took roughly 7 ballots, which coincides with 4 or 5 days.

Oddly enough, the larger number of electors in the most recent conclaves, as compared to earlier conclaves, does not lengthen an election significantly. The conclaves of 2005 (115 electors choosing Benedict XVI) and the first of 1978 (111 electors; John Paul I) were among the shortest with 4 ballots each. The conclaves of 1914 (57 electors; Benedict XV) and 1922 (53 electors) needed 10 and 14 ballots respectively.

Generally, based on the numbers, we may expect the upcoming conclave to take between 4 and 6 ballots, as those were the numbers needed in the past four elections (with the exception of the second conclave of 1978, which elected Pope John Paul II – this had 8 ballots). With a starting date of 12 March, we may expect the “Habemus papam!” to resound across St. Peter’s Square and the world on 13, 14 or 15 March, or maybe the 16th or 17th (but this is, in my opinion, less likely).

But, as with all predictions regarding the elections of Popes, all this may turn out to be wrong. The conclave may be over within less than two days, or take a week or longer. In the end, there’s really no telling what will transpire.

Here is a little table with some information about the conclaves of the 20th and 21st centuries:

  • 31 July – 4 August 1903: 62 cardinals elected Giuseppe Melchiore Cardinal Sarto, the Patriarch of Venice, as Pope Pius X. The election took 7 ballots. This was the last conclave in which a veto was used.
  • 31 August – 3 September 1914: 57 cardinals elected Giacomo Cardinal della Chiesa, the Archbishop of Bologna, as Pope Benedict XV. The election took 10 ballots.
  • 2 – 6 February 1922: 53 cardinals elected Achille Cardinal Ratti, the Archbishop of Milan, as Pope Pius XI. The election took 14 ballots.
  • 1 – 2 March 1939: 62 cardinals elected Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, the Secretary of State, as Pope Pius XII. The elections took 3 ballots. It is said that the third ballot was on the request of Cardinal Pacelli, who had already won the majority vote after the second ballot, to confirm his election.
  • 25 – 28 October 1958: 49 cardinals elected Angelo Cardinal Roncalli, the Patriarch of Venice, as Pope John XXIII. The election took 11 ballots.
  • 19 – 21 June 1963: 80 cardinals elected Giovanni Battista Cardinal Montini, the Archbishop of Milan, as Pope Paul VI. The election took 6 ballots.
  • 25 – 26 August 1978: 111 cardinals elected Albino Cardinal Luciani, Patriarch of Venice, as Pope John Paul I. The election took 5 ballots.
  • 14 – 16 October 1978: 111 cardinals elected Karol Cardinal Wojtyla, Archbishop of Kraków, as Pope John Paul II. The election took 8 ballots. This was the first conclave in modern times in which a non-Italian was elected.
  • 18 – 19 April 2005: 115 cardinals elected Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as Pope Benedict XVI. The election took 4 ballots.

Building digital bridges – @Pontifex launches

pope twitter press conferenceToday, Pope Benedict XVI officially entered what he has previously called “the digital continent”, with the launch of @Pontifex, the official Twitter account of the Holy Father.

This unique step has been in the making for quite some time now. The pope used Twitter once before, although he made use of the Vatican news account. His own personal account is a unique development, one which is comparable to the first papal radio broadcast (Pius XI) and television appearance (Pius XII).

There are several separate Twitter accounts for the pope’s use, one for each of the following languages: English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, Italian, French and Arabic. It is striking that the English account seems to be the prime account, one of the few times that another language trumps Italian for official Vatican communications.

The pope will first make use of his account on 12 December, when he will answer a selection of questions on faith posted by users using the #AskPontifex hashtag. As is typical of Twitter, anyone can ask his or her questions, although there is of course no guarantee that the Holy Father will answer your question.

As for the pope following anyone on Twitter, that’s not going to happen for now. The pope will not be posting his Tweets himself, although they will all be approved by him. As the Holy See’s new media advisor, Greg Burke said, “no one’s going to be putting tweets into the Pope’s mouth”.

Within 90 minutes of its launch, the papal account has already crossed the 20,000-follower mark. Let’s take that as a warm welcome for our Holy Father as he enters the Twitterverse.

As an explanation to the launch of the papal account, the Holy See press office released the following statement:

The Pope’s presence on Twitter is a concrete expression of his conviction that the Church must be present in the digital arena. This initiative is best understood in the context of his reflections on the importance of the cultural space that has been brought into being by the new technologies. In his Message for World Communications Day 2009, which was published on the same day as the Vatican’s Youtube channel was opened, Pope Benedict spoke of the necessity of evangelizing the ‘digital continent’ and he invited young believers, in particular, to introduce into the culture of this new environment of communications and information technology the values on which you have built your lives.

In 2010, he invited priests to see the possibility of sharing the Word of God through their engagement with new media: the new media offer ever new and far-reaching pastoral possibilities, encouraging them to embody the universality of the Church’s mission, to build a vast and real fellowship, and to testify in today’s world to the new life which comes from hearing the Gospel of Jesus, the eternal Son who came among us for our salvation. In his Message for 2011, he specified that: The web is contributing to the development of new and more complex intellectual and spiritual horizons, new forms of shared awareness. In this field too we are called to proclaim our faith that Christ is God, the Saviour of humanity and of history, the one in whom all things find their fulfilment (cf. Eph 1:10). In this year’s Message, the Holy Father was even more precise: Attention should be paid to the various types of websites, applications and social networks which can help people today to find time for reflection and authentic questioning, as well as making space for silence and occasions for prayer, meditation or sharing of the word of God. In concise phrases, often no longer than a verse from the Bible, profound thoughts can be communicated, as long as those taking part in the conversation do not neglect to cultivate their own inner lives.

The Pope’s presence on Twitter can be seen as the ‘tip of the iceberg’ that is the Church’s presence in the world of new media. The Church is already richly present in this environment – there exist a whole range of initiatives from the official websites of various institutions and communities to the personal sites, blogs and micro-blogs of public church figures and of individual believers. The Pope’s presence in Twitter is ultimately an endorsement of the efforts of these ‘early adapters’ to ensure that the Good News of Jesus Christ and the teaching of his Church is permeating the forum of exchange and dialogue that is being created by social media. His presence is intended to be an encouragement to all Church institutions and people of faith to be attentive to develop an appropriate profile for themselves and their convictions in the ‘digital continent’. The Pope’s tweets will be available to believers and non-believers to share, discuss and to encourage dialogue. It is hoped that the Pope’s short messages, and the fuller messages that they seek to encapsulate, will give rise to questions for people from different countries, languages and cultures. These questions can in turn be engaged by local Church leaders and believers who will be best positioned to address the questions and, more importantly, to be close to those who question. Amid the complexity and diversity of the world of communications, however, many people find themselves confronted with the ultimate questions of human existence: Who am I? What can I know? What ought I to do? What may I hope? It is important to affirm those who ask these questions, and to open up the possibility of a profound dialogue (Communications Day Message, 2012).

Part of the challenge for the Church in the area of new media is to establish a networked or capillary presence that can effectively engage the debates, discussions and dialogues that are facilitated by social media and that invite direct, personal and timely responses of a type that are not so easily achieved by centralized institutions. Moreover, such a networked or capillary structure reflects the truth of the Church as a community of communities which is alive both universally and locally. The Pope’s presence in Twitter will represent his voice as a voice of unity and leadership for the Church but it will also be a powerful invitation to all believers to express their ‘voices’, to engage their ‘followers’ and ‘friends’ and to share with them the hope of the Gospel that speaks of God’s unconditional love for all men and women.

In addition to the direct engagement with the questions, debates and discussions of people that is facilitated by new media, the Church recognizes the importance of new media as an environment that allows to teach the truth that the Lord has passed to His Church, to listen to others, to learn about their cares and concerns, to understand who they are and for what they are searching. When messages and information are plentiful, silence becomes essential if we are to distinguish what is important from what is insignificant or secondary. Deeper reflection helps us to discover the links between events that at first sight seem unconnected, to make evaluations, to analyze messages; this makes it possible to share thoughtful and relevant opinions, giving rise to an authentic body of shared knowledge (Message, 2012). It is for this reason that it has been decided to launch the Pope’s Twitter channel with a formal question and answer format. This launch is also an indication of the importance that the Church gives to listening and is a warranty of its ongoing attentiveness to the conversations, commentaries and trends that express so spontaneously and insistently the preoccupations and hopes of people.

An (inter)national visit – Pope Benedict in Milan

It may not be a big international journey (although, from Vatican City, almost any journey is an international one), the weekend trip that Pope Benedict XVI is taking to Milan is certainly one with an international flavour. Billed as a twofold pastoral visit, to the Archdiocese of Milan and the Seventh World Meeting of Families, it includes no less than thirteen events which the pope will speak at or attend.

First up today are the official welcome at the airport, a meeting with the people of Milan in front of the iconic Duomo and a concert at the La Scala theatre.

Tomorrow will be mainly pastoral, as the Holy Father will mark several moments of prayer, as well as meeting with Confirmation candidates and attending an ‘evening of witness’.

Sunday, then, will be relatively low-key, fitting for both the Lord’s day and the papal stamina. Pope Benedict will celebrate a big public Mass in Bresso Park, and he will speak to the organisers of the World Day of Families.

Family will no doubt be a major topic in the papal addresses, from which I will share choice passages here as they appear.

A return to the Vatican is expected for early Sunday evening.

The Archdiocese of Milan, dating back to the first century, is one of Europe’s largest dioceses. Home to almost 5 million Catholics, boasting 30 basilicas, it has nevertheless been visited by a pope only twice before. Blessed John Paul II visited in 1983 and 1984. The archbishop if Angelo Cardinal Scola, and he has four auxiliary bishops to assist him. It has given the Church three popes (Paul VI, Pius XI and Urban III) and one antipope (Alexander V).

Photo credit: AP Photo/Luca Bruno

The Official Acts of the Holy See, and lots of them

A wealth of historical information has been made digitally available by the Vatican: the official Acts of the Holy See from 1865 to 2007. That covers the papacies of Popes Pius IX, Leo XII, Pius X, Benedict XV, Pius XI, Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, as well as the unification of Italy, two Vatican Councils, the challenge of modernism, the publication of the first Code of Canon Law, two world wars, the creation of the Vatican City State and the cold war. A lot of topics which directly affected the Vatican and the Catholic Church and which resulted in many hundreds of pages of documents.

Browsing is not really useful with this collection, since the PDF files take while to load, due to their size. And it requires a working knowledge of Italian, but all the same: it’s a treasure chest of information.

Now to learn Italian…