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Every year at the start of Lent, the Pope and the Roman Curia go on a weeklong retreat. They don’t go anywhere, but remain at the Vatican in prayer and reflection, and all appointments and regular duties are postponed. Every retreat is led by a prelate personally chosen by the Holy Father, and this year the honour fell to the President of the Pontifical of Council of Culture, and a papabile himself, Gianfranco Cardinal Ravasi (pictured at left, with the Holy Father in the background, in the seclusion of retreat).
What makes this retreat different is that Cardinal Ravasi not only offers reflections on the prayer of the Psalms to the prelates on retreat, but also to all the faithful. He has been tweeting short quotes and Vatican Radio has been posting summaries of his talks.
These days, leading up to the conclave, it is very interesting to be able to read and reflect on the theological thoughts of one of the cardinal electors, but, perhaps more importantly, it also offers us a guide through this important season of the Church year. A week in, it is perhaps good to ask: “How is your Lent going?”
Cardinal Ravasi’s tweets may offer us a hint of where to start. Short as they are, they can not offer very deep and detailed reflections, but they may point the way, so to speak. Let’s take a look at some and use them to reflect on our own life in the faith. I have put some tweets together, since they clearly form one line of thought.
“1st Meditation: breathe, think, struggle, love: the verbs of prayer. Prayer is not just emotion, it must be reason and will, reflection and passion, truth and action. Not just “speaking about” God, but “speaking to” God, in a dialogue in which we look lovingly at each other in the eye.”
“The longest of the Psalms (Ps 119) invites us to listen to the divine Word present in the Bible. In the verses of Ps 119 we can hear the love for this Word which shines even in the darkness of existence.”
“3rd Meditation: The song of the twofold sun: the Creator God. Psalm 19. The high and impressive silences of the starry heavens are symbolically broken by the song of faith. Biblical faith does not see space as a neutral thing, but as an epiphanic horizon, where God is present. Authentic ascesis is not only negation, it is also harmony between bodiliness and interiority; renouncing and practice for genuine fullness. The word of God irradiates its splendour in the horizon of the conscience, melting our coldness and spreading light and hope. Before creation in its richness, we can raise our thanksgiving to God for our existence and for so many marvels.”
“Our journey becomes a real pilgrimage towards the “meeting tent”, the sanctuary in its sacred culmination. The divine Person is there, manifesting himself, speaking and embracing the faithful. “As an eagle watching its nest, flying over its offspring, the Lord unfolded his wings, took him and raised him up” (Dt 32).”
“The great gestures of God’s love: creation; exodus from Egypt, sign of liberation and hope for a people experience of the desert guided by a pastor who protects from every natural and historical danger, and the journey towards freedom. We consider the Lord as an ally, a strong and loving companion on our journey.”
“Son of God, priest and just: these three features of the messianic figure at the centre of the psalms we meditate. The prophets criticised the prevarications of power and indifference in the face of injustice. God is the advocate for the undefended, the “father of the poor and defender of widows” (Ps 68,6). Before us shines the face of the Messiah, the Christ of God.”
Meeting with bishops from all over Europe in the plenary assembly of the Concilium Conferentiarum Episcoporum Europæ (CCEE), Cardinal Eijk, the archbishop of Utrecht, spoke to Vatican Radio about one of the topics that has determined his work as a bishop: clear faith in the face of radical individualism. I have translated some snippets from the original German. You can find the full recording here.
“Modern radical individualism… the individual sees it as his duty to invent himself, his own religion, his own worldview, his own value… making the individual see himself as the centre of the world, and ‘the other’ merely as spectator… this individual is locked within himself and isn’t open to what others have to say, not to mention to any transcendental reality…. This makes it very difficult to return the faith to the people of Europe.
The Christian faith requires a personal decision, a conscious decision, from us for Christ and His Church… When the individual, who is expressive and locked within himself, when he even makes a choice, it needs to be a choice for something that is clear, that is distinct. And perhaps we have made the mistake of describing the faith to children in seemingly vague terms in the hope that many will remain in the Church. And that hasn’t worked, nor can it when one considers the essence of the Church: we must continue the work of Christ here, in this world. Then we should also proclaim His message, His Gospel, very clearly. And when we do, we are also able to give the faith back to people. We see that the parishes where the sacraments are celebrated according to the liturgy of the Church, where the faith of the Catholic Church are clearly proclaimed, these are the parishes which still have vitality, these can still attract people, also young people. And I believe that we should go that path to proclaim the faith fruitfully, also in western Europe.”
For the first time in Pope Benedict XVI”s papacy, the reflections for the Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum will be written by two lay people. Danilo and Anna Maria Zanzucchi are an Italian married couple founded the New Families Movement and will fittingly be writing their reflections with a focus on the family. Vatican Radio features a short interview with them.
As Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict wrote the reflections for Blessed John Paul II’s last Via Crucisin 2005, and he has continued the custom of selecting various people to write new meditations every year. Among these have been the vicar-general for Vatican City, Archbishop (now Cardinal) Angelo Comastri (2006), Msgr. (now Cardinal) Gianfranco Ravasi (2007), Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-Kiun (2008), Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil of Guwahati, India (2009, Cardinal Camillo Ruini (2010) and Sister Maria Rita Piccione in 2011. From an initial trend to look beyond Rome, it now seems that the laity are being chosen. It’s perhaps a recognition of the fact that, when it comes to reflecting on the mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ, the Holy Spirit does not only work in the ordained.
Come Good Friday, the Stations of the Cross will once again feature prominently on this blog, although in what way, shape or form remains to be seen. In the meantime, remember that the Via Crucis is not limited to Good Friday. You can pray, walk and reflect upon Christ’s unimaginable sacrifice every day if you please.
Photo credit: Pool/Getty Images Europe
The annual yearbook of the Church, the Annuario Pontificio, edition 2012, was presented to Pope Benedict XVI this morning. The book lists basically everything there is to be listed about the Church in the preceding year, although the actual statistics are from 2010.
Vatican Radio gives a short summary of the most interesting statistics, although it seems to be getting the number of professed religious wrong. It either rose to some unknown number, or dropped to the 721,935.
In absolute numbers the Church is growing, although locally, especially in Europe, the trend is the opposite. Relatively to the world population, the numbers stayed about the same.
The ten new jurisdictions established by the pope in 2011 are:
- Diocese of Bo, Sierra Leone
- Diocese of Kondoa, Tanzania
- Diocese of Naviraí, Brazil
- Diocese of Sylhet, Bangladesh
- Diocese of Kabwe, Zambia
- Diocese of Gaoua, Burkina Faso
- Diocese of La Ceiba, Honduras
- Chaldean Eparchy of Mar Addai of Toronto, Canada
- Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, United Kingdom
- Military Ordinariate of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Will or won’t Father Karl Josef Becker be created a cardinal today? Since yesterday, we can safely answer that question with a yes, as the photo below shows.
Seated next to Mar George Alencherry, Fr. Becker, the only non-bishop of the 22-member cardinal class of 2012, attended yesterday’s day of reflection and prayer. During the day, in addition to the new evangelisation, such topics like the religious situation in China and interreligious dialogue in India were discussed.
Set to start in less than 90 minutes, I’ll be following the consistory’s proceedings – with a special eye on my own former bishop, now the highest-ranking prelate in the Netherlands, Archbishop Wim Eijk, via the Vatican Radio stream.
Photo credit: Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images
Tomorrow, a new nation will be born from the tropical southern part of Sudan. Simply named South Sudan, the new state will be home to anything from 7.5 to 13 million people. An estimated 3 million of these are Catholics, with another 1.1 million living in the remainder of Sudan, which is predominantly Muslim.
The breaking away of South Sudan from Sudan also divides the Catholic community of that country. All signs indicate that, for now, the bishops of both states will continue to meet in one conference, but they may also part ways (as far as any bishop ever can from his brethren) in the future to form their own bishops’ conferences. Most countries in the world, barring the smaller states, have their own bishops’ conferences, after all. And neither Sudan nor South Sudan can be consider a small state.
The map above shows the nine dioceses of both countries, with the ones in yellow belonging to the north, the rest forming the south. In a way, a future establishment of new bishops’ conferences is easy, as there are already two metropolitan archdioceses which form the heart of both Church communities. The first, in the north, is Khartoum (2), with El Obeid (2) as suffragan diocese. Large jurisdictions with a relative small number of Catholic faithful, headed by Archbishop Gabriel Cardinal Zubeir Wako and Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Adwok in Khartoum, and Bishops Macram Gassis and Michael Adgum Mangoria (as coadjutor) in El Obeid.
In South Sudan, the picture is more varied, with six dioceses gathered around the Archdiocese of Juba (8), led by Archbishop Paulino Lukudu Loro and Auxiliary Bishop Santo Loku Pio Doggale. The other dioceses are Malakal (5) (vacant), Rumbek (4) (Bishop Cesare Mazzolari), Tombura-Yambio (6) (Bishop Edward Kussala), Torit (9) (Bishop Akio Mutek), Wau (3) (Bishop Rudolf Deng Majak) and Yei (7) (Bishop Erkolano Lodu Tombe).
What directions to the two Church communities will take remains to be seen, but it can be reasonably expected that the southern Catholics will orient themselves more towards the Church in east Africa, while their northern brethren will start to look more towards north Africa and the Middle East. At the very least, the northern dioceses will be odd ones out in the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa. On the other hand, ever since 1993, when Eritrea regained independence from Ethiopia, the bishops of these countries have continued to work together in one conference, the Eritrean and Ethiopian Episcopal Conference. Maybe this will also be an option for the two Sudanese countries, but one can never be certain in as volatile a region as the horn of Africa.
Cardinal Zubeir Wako is hopeful, at least: “Politically, the nation will be divided into two – the old and the new Sudan – but, religiously, the two Sudans will remain united,” he told Vatican Radio. Catholic Herald has more.