For Red Hat 2, Pope Francis looks even further beyond the expected

Well, at least I guessed one new cardinal right… With Pope Francis, it turns out that it is exceedingly difficult to see who he wants to see as new cardinals. Today, he appointed 20 new cardinals, the majority of whom will come from places few people will be familiar with, let alone associated with the red hat. In his first consistory he appointed only one cardinal who was not an archbishop, but this time around there are four. This consistory class is perhaps even more peripheral than the previous one, in the good and Franciscan sense of the word. And one of the new cardinals hails from Germany, and has links to Belgium and Luxembourg.

Some interesting facts that appear with a glance at the list of names. But who are the new cardinals? First, a list of those who are below 80 and can thus participate in a future conclave and will hold offices in the Curia:

  • mambertiArchbishop Dominique François Joseph Mamberti: Appointed by Pope Francis as Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura and President of the Supreme Court of the Vatican City State. This office is traditionally held by a cardinal. Cardinal-designate Mamberti was born in Marrakech, Morocco, but has French nationality. He was a priest of the Diocese of Ajaccio, and has a diplomatic career behind him as Apostolic Nuncio in Somalia, Sudan and Eritrea, followed by six years as Secretary for the Relations with States (something like the foreign secretary of the Holy See).
  • macario do nascimento clementePatriarch Manuel José Macário do Nascimento Clemente: Also a recent appointment and a traditional cardinalatial see, Patriarch Manuel has been the archbishop of Lisbon in Portugal since May of 2013. Before that he was an auxiliary bishop of Lisbon from 1999 to 2007, and Bishop of Porto from 2007 to 2013. He is a prolific author and early adopter of social media in Portugal.
  • souraphiel20Church1[1]Archbishop Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel: The Archdiocese of Addis Abeba, which is part of the Ethiopic Rite of the Catholic Church, gets his second cardinal in this 66-year-old Lazarist bishop. Archbishop Souraphiel has been archbishop of the Ethiopian capital since 1999. Before that he was Provincial Superior of his order from 1990 to 1994, Vicar Apostolic of Jimma-Bonga from 1994 to 1997 ad Apostolic Administrator of Addis Abeba from 1997 to 1999. He is also the Chancellor of the Catholic University of Eastern Africa.
  • JohnDewArchbishop John Atcherley Dew: The archbishop of Wellington in New Zealand stands in a tradition of cardinals: his three immediate predecessors were all cardinals as well. Archbishop Dew was Auxiliary Bishop of Wellington from 1995 to 2004, Coadjutor Archbishop of the same see from 2004 to 2005 and ultimately Archbishop.
  • menichelliArchbishop Edoardo Menichelli: The archbishop of Ancona-Osimo since 2004 is not the first cardinal from this see, but he is the first in 110 years. Before this, he was Archbishop of Chieti-Vasto between 1994 and 2004.


  • nguyen van nhonArchbishop Pierre Nguyễn Văn Nhơn: Sure to have an influence on the relations between the Holy See and Vietnam, the appointment of the Archbishop of Hanoi gives the Vietnamese capital its fourth cardinal and Vietnam as a whole its second. Before his appointment as archbishop of Hanoi, Archbishop Nguyễn (Pierre is his Christian first name, Văn Nhơn his Vietnamese, which comes after the family name) was Coadjutor Bishop of Đà Lat from 1991 to 1994, Bishop of the same diocese from 1994 to 2010, and Coadjutor Archbishop of Hanoi in 2010.
  • suárez indaArchbishop Alberto Suárez Inda: The first Archbishop of Morelia in Mexico to be made a cardinal, Archbishop Suárez Inda has held the office since 1995. Before that he was Bishop of Tacámbaro since 1985. Morelia, west of Mexico City, is an area marked by drug violence, which may be an indication for why Pope Francis chose to make the bishop there a cardinal.
  • maung boArchbishop Charles Maung Bo: The Catholics in Myanmar are slowly winning more freedom, and see this recognised by the Archbishop of Yangon being made a cardinal, the first in the country’s  history. Archbishop Bo has been Archbishop of Yangon since 2003. Before that, he was Bishop of Lashio from 1990 to 1996 and Bishop of Pathein from 1996 to 2003.
  • kriengsakArchbishop Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovithavanij: Neighbouring Myanmar, Thailand also gets a cardinal, its second one. Arcbishop Kriengsak Kovithavanij was Bishop of Nakhon Sawan from 2007 to 2009, after which he was made Archbishop of Bangkok.
  • montenegroArchbishop Francesco Montenegro: In an apparently clear reference to the Mediterranean refugee crisis, the Archdiocese of Agrigento in Sicily gets its first cardinal since the 17th century. The archdiocese includes the island of Lampedusa, where many refugees from Africa first arrive. Archbishop Montenegro was Auxiliary Bishop of Messina-Lipari-Santa Lucia del Mela between 2000 and 2008, before coming to Agrigento.
  • sturla berhouetArchbishop Daniel Fernando Sturla Berhouet: The Archbishop of Montevideo was appointed by Pope Francis in February of last year and will be the second cardinal of the Uruguayan capital. He was Auxiliary Bishop of Montevideo between 2011 and 2014. It is said that one Fr. Jorge Bergoglio was involved in protecting Sturla Berhouet from the dictatorship in Uruguay.
  • blazquezperezricardoArchbishop Ricardo Blázquez Pérez: The first Archbishop of Valladolid to be made a cardinal in almost a century, Archbishop Blázquez Perez  is the current President of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference. He was Auxiliary Bishop of Santiago do Compostela from 1988 to 1992, Bishop of Palencia from 1992 to 1995, Bishop of Bilbao from 1995 to 2010, and Archbishop of Valladolid since then.
  • lacunza maestrojuanBishop José Luis Lacunza Maestrojuán: Only the third bishop and first cardinal from the Diocese of David in Panama. He will also be the first Panamanian cardinal. His diocese is located in the west of Panama, near the border with Costa Rica. In all senses a peripheral appointment, except for the fact that Bishop Lacunza Maestrojuán is the President of the Bishops’ Conference of Panama. Before coming to David, he was Auxiliary Bishop of Panama from 1985 to 1994, and Bishop of Chitré from 1994 to 1999.
  • gomes furtadoBishop Arlindo Gomes Furtado: From the island nation of Cape Verde, off the western African coast and closely connected to former coloniser Portugal, comes this bishop, the first cardinal in the country’s history. Cape Verde is largely Catholic, and Bishop Gomes Furtado is the Bishop of Santiago de Cabo Verde, the oldest of the nations two dioceses.
  • Bishop MafiBishop Soane Patita Paini Mafi: In the Pacific lies the island nation of Tonga, home to some 16,000 Catholics in one diocese. That diocese’s bishop is now being made the nation’s first cardinal. He is the President of the largest bishops’ conference in the world by territory, that of the Pacific, which covers almost all populated islands of the southern Pacific. Bishop Mafi was Coadjutor Bishop of Tonga from 2007 to 2008, and Bishop since 2008.

In addition to these cardinals, Pope Francis has also named five non-electors, cardinals over the age of 80 who are created in recognition of their work. They are:

  • pimiento rodriguezArchbishop José de Jesús Pimiento Rodriguez: Archbishop emeritus of Manizales in Colombia. He is the first cardinal to come from Manizales and the fourth living Colombian cardinal overall. He participated in all session of the Second Vatican Council. An Auxiliary Bishop of Pasto from 1955 to 1959, Bishop of Monteriá from 1959 to 1964, Bishop of Garzón from 1964 to 1975, and Archbishop of Manizales from 1975 to 1996.
  • De-MagistrisArchbishop Luigi de Magistris: Pro-Penitentiary of the Apostolic Signatura from 2001 to 2003, after having been Regent of the same tribunal since 1979.


  • rauberArchbishop Karl-Josef Rauber: The German retired diplomat whose last position, from 2003 to 2009, was that of Apostolic Nuncio to Belgium and Luxembourg. Archbishop Rauber was involved with preliminary investigations into the succession of Cardinal Danneels as archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels and was almost called to explain to the Belgian government what Pope Benedict XVI meant with his comments about condom use in Africa to combat AIDS. Before coming to Belgium and Luxembourg, Archbishop Rauber was Nuncio in Uganda, Liechtenstein and Switzerland, Moldova and Hungary. He is currently residing in the Diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, where he is active in administring the sacrament of Confirmation.
  • villalbaArchbishop Luis Héctor Villalba: From Pope Francis’ native Argentina comes this retired Archbishop of Tucumán, which has never before had a cardinal. He was an auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires from 1984 to 1991 (before Pope Francis was archbishop there), Bishop of San Martín from 1991 to 1999 and Archbishop of Tucumán from 1999 to 2011.
  • Bishop Julio Duarte Langa:  Only the second native son of Mozambique to be made a cardinal, he was bishop of Xai-Xai from 1976 to 2004.

It seems that Pope Francis’ focus when it comes to cardinals is on the local situation: he does not feel limited by tradition, but appoints cardinals where he thinks they’ll do good. Of course, the contribution they can make to the Roman Curia is also an important factor, but that body in itself does not warrant the creation of cardinals except where necessary.

In this list, several appointment seem to support this: The archbishops of Hanoi, Yangon, Morelia and Agrigento all come from areas where the Church is in some situation of struggle or confronted with pressing social needs, such as drug violence in Morelia and the Mediterranean refugee crisis for Agrigento.

And the list of new cardinals is highly representative of the world Church: Africa, Asia, Latin America and even Oceania set the tone, with Europa represented with two Italians, and no North Americans on the list.

With the new cardinals, the total College of Cardinals will number 228, with 125 electors among them. That slightly exceeds the maximum of 120 set by Blessed Pope Paul VI, but that is the Pope’s prerogative. Barring any deaths, the limit of 120 will be reached again in February of 2016.

The upcoming consistory will include both the youngest and one of the oldest cardinals: Bishop Soane Mafi of Tonga is 53, more than 2 years younger than Cardinal Thottunkal, who is the youngest now; Archbishop José Pimiento Rodriguez is 95 and there are only two cardinals older than he is: Giovanni Canestri and Loris Capovilla.

Titles and deaconries

Of the twenty new cardinals, there will be one Cardinal-Deacon (Mamberti), while the rest will be Cardinal-Priests. As ever, the Pope si free to create new titles and deaconries for new cardinals, but in practice most will be given churches that are currently vacant. Among the deaconries there are 11 vacancies, while there are only 5 vacancies among the cardinal title churches. So we will undoubtedly see new title churches being created or cardinal deaconries being elevated to title churches. Anything’s possible, but still, some guesses:

  • San Antonio in Campo Marzo was the title of Cardinal Policarpo, the previous Patriarch of Lisbon, so the title may be given to his successor, Patriarch Macário do Nascimento Clemente.
  • San Marco has been the title of the Patriarchs of Venice since 1933, so it will probably remain vacant for now.
  • Santa Maria in Vallicella has previously been held by two cardinals from Oceania, so it is possible that this tradition will continue and it is given to Archbishop Dew of Bishop Mafi.
  • San Girolamo della Carità is a deaconry that may be elevated to a title church and given to Archbishop Villalba, as it was previously also held by an Argentinean, the recently deceased Cardinal Mejía.

One year of @pontifex

On year, two Popes, 215 archived Tweets, 10,778,852 followers at the time of my writing this. It’s been a year since Pope Benedict XVI tapped an iPad and sent the first papal tweet. It’s hard to argue that the presence of the Pope on Twitter has not been a success. If his followers were a country, it would be the 80th largest in the world, ranking between Greece and Portugal. They’d fill Vatican City about 13,500 times…


Of course, the Pope does not send his tweets as directly as we do. They are his own words, but the buttons are pushed by employees of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. Msgr. Paul Tighe, secretary of that Council, recently explained how they had to find the best way of working with Twitter on behalf of the Pope. When Benedict XVI launched the accounts, a certain level of interactivity was proposed and experimented with, with followers asking questions using a specific hashtag, and the Holy Father answering a selection of those questions. Considering the huge amount of followers and the workload of sifting the honest and good questions from the jokes, ad hominems and attacks, this proved unworkable.

Today, the papal Twitter account functions mainly as a source of inspiration based on recent homilies and publications and, especially under Pope Francis, a constant string of commentary from the Holy Father on certain current affairs. A year from now, who knows what the numbers and nature of the Pope’s Twitter activity will be…

Achievement unlocked – “One of Us” breaks the 1 million mark

one_of_us_logoThe European Citizen’s Initiative “One of Us“, which aims to collect 1 million signatures to block the financing of activities which require the destruction of human embryos, just reached its goal today.

With 1 million signatories from at least seven member states of the European Union, the Initiative organisers will now be heard by the European Commission and the European Parliament, before the Commission will formulate a response. The achieved goal is therefore not a guarantee that the EU will be taking steps to protect human life at all stages, but a chance for “One of Us” to be heard.

As part of the regulations for a European Citizen’s Initiative, a set number of signatures must be collected in every member state. This goal must be reached in seven states for the Initiative to be valid. “One of Us” reached that goal in Austria (almost 31,000 signatures), Germany (over 74,000), Spain (almost 62,000), France (almost 84,000), Hungary (almost 50,000), Italy (almost 360,000), Lithuania (over 9,000), the Netherlands (over 23,000), Poland (almost 160,000), Romania (almost 66,000) and Slovakia (almost 22,000). That’s 11 countries, while Portugal will most likely reach its goal in the next weeks.

 “One of Us” has until 1 November to collect signatures and has stated the desire to collect 1,500,000 in total.

Haven’t  signed yet? Do so here.

Francis’ first – bring out the pallia

palliumTomorrow we celebrate the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, the Stone and the Apostle, and, as always, the Church invests the newly appointed metropolitan archbishops with the sign of their office and authority: the pallium. This year 34 archbishops have travelled to Rome to receive their white band of lamb’s wool, while a 35th, Vietnamese Archbishop Le Van Hong, will receive his at home.

In alphabetical order they are:

  1. Archbishop Antonio Carlos Altieri, S.D.B., of Passo Fundo, Brazil
  2. Archbishop George Antonysamy of Madras and Mylapore, India
  3. Archbishop Rogelio Cabrera Lopez of Monterrey, Mexico
  4. Archbishop Sérgio Eduardo Castriani, C.S.Sp., of Manaus, Brazil
  5. Archbishop Murray Chatlain of Keewatin-Le Pas, Canada
  6. Archbishop Peter Loy Chong of Suva, Fiji
  7. Archbishop Salvatore Joseph Cordileone of San Francisco, USA
  8. Archbishop Alfonso Cortes Contreras of Leon, Mexico
  9. Archbishop Anil Joseph Thomas Couto of Delhi, India
  10. Archbishop Claudio Dalla Zuanna, S.C.I., of Beira, Mozambique
  11. Archbishop Ramon Alfredo Dus of Resistencia, Argentina
  12. Archbishop Joseph Effiong Ekuwem of Calabar, Nigeria
  13. Archbishop Carlos Maria Franzini of Mendoza, Argentina
  14. Archbishop Lorenzo Ghizzoni of Ravenna-Cervia, Italy
  15. Archbishop Gintaras Linas Grusas of Vilnius, Lithuania
  16. Archbishop Sergio Alfredo Gualberti Calandrina of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia
  17. Archbishop Duro Hranic of Dakovo-Osijek, Croatia
  18. Archbishop Michael Owen Jackels of Dubuque, USA
  19. Archbishop Marek Jedraszewski of Lodz, Poland
  20. Archbishop Jesus Juarez Parraga, S.D.B., of Sucre, Bolivia
  21. Archbishop Jozef Piotr Kupny of Wroclaw, Poland
  22. Archbishop Francois Xavier Le Van Hong of Hue, Vietnam
  23. Patriarch Manuel Jose Macario do Nascimento Clemente, patriarch of Lisbon, Portugal
  24. Archbishop Prakash Mallavarapu of Visakhapatnam, India
  25. Archbishop Fabio Martinez Castilla of Tuxtla Gutierrez, Mexico
  26. Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga, C.S.Sp., of Bangui, Central African Republic
  27. Archbishop Giuseppe Petrocchi of L’Aquila, Italy
  28. Archbishop Mario Aurelio Poli of Buenos Aires, Argentina
  29. Archbishop Carlo Roberto Maria Redaelli of Gorizia, Italy
  30. Archbishop Alexander King Sample of Portland in Oregon, USA
  31. Archbishop Moacir Silva of Ribeirao Preto, Brazil
  32. Archbishop Philip Tartaglia of Glasgow, Great Britain
  33. Archbishop Joseph William Tobin, C.Ss.R., of Indianapolis, USA
  34. Archbishop Rolando Joven Tria Tirona, O.C.D., of Caceres, Philippines
  35. Archbishop John Wong Soo Kau of Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

Last year, the order of the liturgy was changed somewhat to remove any suggestion that the imposition of the pallia is a sacrament, and that change remains in effect. For Pope Francis this first feast of Sts. Peter and Paul as Pope will see him meeting several of his erstwhile brothers from the Argentine bishops’ conference, including his own successor in Buenos Aires, one of his very first appointments as Pope, Archbishop Mario Poli.

The full texts of the liturgy, which starts at 9:30 tomorrow morning, can be found here.

With apologies for being late, Pope Benedict announces 22 new cardinals

After a busy morning in which he consecrated Archbishops Charles Brown and Marek Solczyński during today’s Epiphany Mass, the Holy Father appeared a bit later than usual for his noon Angelus address. He quickly moved to the big event that was already causing a considerable buzz among Catholics – journalists and otherwise – on Twitter: the announcement of a consistory on 18 February in which no less than 22 new cardinals – among them 18 electors – will be created.

Soon swapping the purple for red, Archbishop Eijk will be in need of a new official portrait

There are a few big names in the list, but standing out for us here in the Netherlands is that of Archbishop Willem Jacobus Eijk. Three years after his arrival in Utrecht, he will become the metropolitan see’s fifth cardinal in a row. Turning 59 in June, Cardinal-designate Eijk will be able to participate in at least two conclaves, I would think (unless the sucessor of Pope Benedict will pull a JPII and remain on the seat of St. Peter for 20 years or more).

The selection of Archbishop Eijk was not unexpected. His name was already mentioned in the run-up to the November 2010 consistory, but the 80th birthday of Cardinal Simonis, the only Dutch elector, cleared the way for Eijk to succeed him in the College of Cardinals. With the title of cardinal comes, of course, a title church in Rome and a whole bag of expectations. And certainly the local media, which has been seeing the Church and the archbishop in the light of the abuse crisis, will be asking a whole heap of questions about Eijk’s suitability for the red hat. But these are questions being asked too late. A candidate’s suitability as cardinal flows from his suitability as bishop or priest. Added to that is the issue of the College of Cardinals reflecting the world Church and the importance of a see or curial position reflected in a cardinal title. The Archdiocese of Utrecht under the guidance of Archbishop Eijk is, in the mind of the pope and most likely also in light of the future, deserving of a cardinal at the helm.

Here is the full list of future cardinals:

  • Fernando Filoni, 65, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of People
  • João Bráz de Aviz, 64, Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life
  • Manuel Monteiro de Castro, 73, Major Penitentiary of the Apostolic Penitentiary (only appointed as such yesterday!)
  • Giuseppe Bertello, 69, President of the Governorate of Vatican City State
  • Domenico Calcagno, 69, President of the Administration of the Patrimony of theApostolic See
  • Giuseppe Versaldi, 68, President of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See
  • Santos Abril y Castelló, 76, Vice-Chamberlain of the Apostolic Chamber and Archpriest of the Basilica of St. Mary Major
  • Edwin Frederick O’Brien, 72, Pro-Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem
  • Antonio Maria Vegliò, 74, President of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People
  • Francesco Coccopalmerio, 73, President of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts
  • Giuseppe Betori, 65, Archbishop of Firenze
  • George Alencherry, 66, Major Archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly
  • Thomas Christopher Collins, 65, Archbishop of Toronto
  • Willem Jacobus Eijk, 58, Archbishop of Utrecht
  • John Tong Hon, 72, Bishop of Hong Kong
  • Rainer Maria Woelki, 55, Archbishop of Berlin (the youngest member of the College of Cardinals)
  • Timothy Michael Dolan, 62, Archbishop of New York
  • Dominik Jaroslav Duka, 68, Archbishop of Prague
  • Prosper Grech, 86, Priest of the Order of St. Augustine
  • Karl Josef Becker, 83, Priest of the Society of Jesus
  • Lucian Muresan, 80, Major Archbishop of Fagaras si Alba Iulia (Romanian)
  • Julien Ries, 91, Priest of Namur, Belgium

This consistory is a fairly Italian affair. With 7 new cardinals, Italy easily overtakes the United States and Germany, which each gain two cardinals (Dolan and O’Brien; Woelki and Becker), Brazil (Bráz de Aviz), Portugal (Monteiro de Castro), Spain (Abril y Castelló), India (Alencherry), Canada (Collins), the Netherlands (Eijk), China (Tong Hon), the Czech Republic (Duka), Malta (Grech), Romania (Muresan) and Belgium (Ries) each have one new cardinal.

Four of the cardinal-designates: Filoni, Ries, Woelki and Duka

Papal Soundbytes, part I

Well, here is part 1 of the Cyprus edition of ‘Papal Soundbytes’. Just like I have done following Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Portugal, I will share a choice selection of quotations from the various addresses, speeches and homilies given by the Holy Father when he was in Cyprus this past weekend. They’re intended as highlights of what I think are important and interesting points raised. You may read the full texts here.

Pope Benedict XVI is received with full honours as he is welcomed by President Dimitris Christofias at a windy Paphos International Airport

The intention of the visit:

“Following in the footsteps of our common fathers in the faith, Saints Paul and Barnabas, I have come among you as a pilgrim and the servant of the servants of God. Since the Apostles brought the Christian message to these shores, Cyprus has been blessed by a resilient Christian heritage. I greet as a brother in that faith His Beatitude Chrysostomos the Second, Archbishop of Nea Justiniana and All Cyprus, and I look forward shortly to meeting many more members of the Orthodox Church of Cyprus. […] I hope to strengthen our common bonds and to reiterate the need to build up mutual trust and lasting friendship between all those who worship the one God. […] I come in a special way to greet the Catholics of Cyprus, to confirm them in the faith (cf. Lk 22:32) and to encourage them to be both exemplary Christians and exemplary citizens, and to play a full role in society, to the benefit of both Church and state.” (Welcome ceremony at Paphos International Airport.)

Pope Benedict XVI enthusiastically greets people gathered at the Church of Agia Kyriaki Chrysopolitissa

About communion in the Apostolic faith, and ecumenism:

“This is the communion, real yet imperfect, which already unites us, and which impels us to overcome our divisions and to strive for the restoration of that full visible unity which is the Lord’s will for all his followers. For, in Paul’s words, “there is one body and one spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph 4:4-5).” (Ecumenical celebration in the archeological area of the church of Agia Kiriaka Chrysopolitissa in Paphos.)

“The unity of all Christ’s disciples is a gift to be implored from the Father in the hope that it will strengthen the witness to the Gospel in today’s world. The Lord prayed for the holiness and unity of his disciples precisely so that the world might believe (cf. Jn 17:21).” (Idem)

“Today we can be grateful to the Lord, who through his Spirit has led us, especially in these last decades, to rediscover the rich apostolic heritage shared by East and West, and in patient and sincere dialogue to find ways of drawing closer to one another, overcoming past controversies, and looking to a better future.” (Idem)

About bearing witness:

“Like Paul and Barnabas, every Christian, by baptism, is set apart to bear prophetic witness to the Risen Lord and to his Gospel of reconciliation, mercy and peace.” (Idem)

On public service:

“From a religious perspective, we are members of a single human family created by God and we are called to foster unity and to build a more just and fraternal world based on lasting values. In so far as we fulfil our duty, serve others and adhere to what is right, our minds become more open to deeper truths and our freedom grows strong in its allegiance to what is good.” (Meeting with the civil authorities and diplomatic corps in Nicosia.)

The pope thanks violin players who welcomed him with music at the Presidential Palace in Nicosia

On the role of morality in public service:

“The ancient Greek philosophers also teach us that the common good is served precisely by the influence of people endowed with clear moral insight and courage. In this way, policies become purified of selfish interests or partisan pressures and are placed on a more solid basis. Furthermore, the legitimate aspirations of those whom we represent are protected and fostered. Moral rectitude and impartial respect for others and their well-being are essential to the good of any society since they establish a climate of trust in which all human interactions, whether religious, or economic, social and cultural, or civil and political, acquire strength and substance.” (Idem)

On how the pursuit of truth can bring greater harmony to the troubles regions of the world, in three steps:

“Firstly, promoting moral truth means acting responsibly on the basis of factual knowledge. […] A second way of promoting moral truth consists in deconstructing political ideologies which would supplant the truth. […] Thirdly, promoting moral truth in public life calls for a constant effort to base positive law upon the ethical principles of natural law.”(Idem)

On what individual faithful can do for the immediate needs of the Church:

“With regard to the immediate needs of the Church, I encourage you to pray for and to foster vocations to the priesthood and religious life. As this Year for Priests draws to a close, the Church has gained a renewed awareness of the need for good, holy and well-formed priests. She needs men and women religious completely committed to Christ and to the spread of God’s reign on earth. Our Lord has promised that those who lay down their lives in imitation of him will keep them for eternal life (cf. Jn 12:25). I ask parents to ponder this promise and to encourage their children to respond generously to the Lord’s call. I urge pastors to attend to the young, to their needs and aspirations, and to form them in the fullness of the faith.” (Meeting with the Catholic community of Cyprus in Nicosia.)

A Maronite cleric presents a gift to Pope Benedict XVI during the latter's visit to St Maron's school in Nicosia, where he addressed the small Catholic community of Cyprus

A preview of the pope’s trip to Cyprus

Tomorrow morning the pope departs for a three-day visit to Cyprus. What’s he going to do there and why is that important?

Before the trip to Portugal, John L. Allen already noted that this year’s papal visits seem to be “laid out in ascending order of difficulty”. Malta was a home game (although it included an unscheduled meeting with victims of sexual abuse), and Portugal was deemed a general success, nationally and internationally (although the Portuguese government did choose to allow same-sex marriage not even a week after the pope had spoken against it). Cyprus, though, seems of a different order of difficulty. Here, the Catholic Church is very much a minority. The 25,000 faithful in the island nation make up 3.15% of the entire population.

Archbishop Chrysostomos and the pope pictured at a meeting in 2007

It is the Orthodox Church which dictates the Christian landscape here. And there is protest in their ranks against the visit of Pope Benedict XVI: At least five of the eighteen members of the Holy Synod are opposed, causing Archbishop Chrysostomos II of Nova Justiniana and All Cyprus to issue a warning to these bishops that they place themselves outside the Church by not welcoming the pope as a visitor to Cyprus.

There is tension aplenty which dates back, in some respects, to the Great Schism of 1054. And while there has been rapprochement between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches since the pontificates of Blessed John XXIII and Paul V (and a possible meeting between the pope and Moscow Patriarch Kirill I seemingly just over the horizon), the disagreements go deep, centering on the authority of the bishop of Rome and certain theological teachings, for example about the Trinity.

The visit to Cyprus will obviously have a very strong ecumenical nature, and the things discussed here will, at least on the short term, be quite important for the ongoing relations between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. For Pope Benedict, the Orthodox Christians, who are closest to us in faith, are natural partners in many matters facing the western world today. Ecumenism with them is therefore of prime importance.

Back to my first question: what’s the pope going to do in Cyprus? Well, there will obviously be the official receptions and meetings with heads of state and Church, as well as meetings with the Catholic community. The liturgical celebrations planned in Paphos and Nicosia are all described as ‘Ecumenical’ and ‘Eucharistic Celebrations’ – not Masses: a sign that representatives from the Orthodox Church will be involved, perhaps?

On Saturday, the pope will visit and have a luncheon with Archbishop Chrysostomos II and on Sunday morning the Instrumentum laboris of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, planned for this autumn, will be published. The fact that that publication will happen in the presence of the pope and in Cyprus, and island that in ecclesiastic history has always had close ties with the Holy Land and the rest of the Middle East, is an indication of the importance that Pope Benedict XVI attaches to this special assembly. The Instrumentum laboris (meaning ‘working instrument’), is basically an outline of the topics, with notes and addenda, to be discussed at the assembly).

The two ‘legs’ – ecumenism with the Orthodox and the future of the Church in the Middle East – will both have important repercussions for the near future. This weekend’s papal visit will be one to watch.