Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter: The Celebration of the Sacrament of Transformation

'The tomb was empty,' the Scriptures said later, metaphorically perhaps but pointedly, nevertheless. People had known His presence again, not the same as before the crucifixion, true, but real, nevertheless. Transformed. Somehow or other Jesus had defeated death, had snatched new life from its cavernous throat. The implications were overwhelming. Death, even once transcended, could never be permanent again. In fact, life itself could never be the same again. Jesus risen from the dead made life the stuff of eternity. Jesus transformed leads us to look beyond the obvious, to allow for the presence of God in alien places in unanticipated ways. Resurrection begs the scrutiny of the obvious, the celebration of the sacrament of transformation.

– Joan Chittister, OSB

See also the previous PCV posts:
Easter Sunday: Resurrection
"You Will See Him"

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Francis Criticized Vatican at Conclave; Warned Bishops of the "Dangers of Stagnation"

By Andrea Rodriguez

Note: This article was first published March 26, 2013 by the Associated Press.

Pope Francis issued a strong critique of the church before the College of Cardinals just hours before it selected him as the new pontiff, according to comments published Tuesday by a Roman Catholic magazine in Cuba.

According to Havana Cardinal Jaime Ortega, then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio urged the Vatican to eschew self-absorption and refocus its energies outward.

"The church is called on to emerge from itself and move toward the peripheries, not only geographic but also existential (ones): those of sin, suffering, injustice, ignorance and religious abstention, thought and all misery," Bergoglio said.

Ortega said Bergoglio's comments were made to cardinals as they gathered to select Benedict XVI's replacement, and reflect his vision of the contemporary Catholic Church. He said Bergoglio later gave him a handwritten version and permission to divulge its contents.

"Cardinal Bergoglio made a speech that I thought was masterful, insightful, engaging and true," Ortega said.

Ortega added that the remarks offer insight about the direction in which the new pope could take the church following his March 13 election.

In his statements, the future pontiff also warned of the dangers of stagnation.

"When the church does not emerge from itself to evangelize, it becomes self-referential and therefore becomes sick. ... The evils that, over time, occur in ecclesiastical institutions have their root in self-referentiality, a kind of theological narcissism." Bergoglio said.

He also criticized "a mundane church that lives within itself, of itself and for itself."

Finally Bergoglio said that whoever became the new pope should be "a man who ... helps the church to emerge from itself toward the existential outskirts."

Orgeta first revealed Bergoglio's comments in a weekend Mass, and they were published Tuesday on the website of Palabra Nueva magazine, along with a photo of the two men embracing after Bergoglio had donned the papal white robes and rechristened himself Francis.

Related Off-site Links:
Pope Francis Rejects Apostolic Palace, Will Live in Guest Apartment – Christopher Hale (Millennial, March 26, 2013).
Francis' Election Full of Symbols, Signs of New EraNational Catholic Reporter (March 23, 2013).
Something to Think AboutThe Wild Reed (March 24, 2013).

See also the previous PCV posts:
Reflections on a New Face
Francis the 'Slum Pope': Jorge Mario Bergoglio Remembered for Ministering to Buenos Aires' Poorest

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Reflections on a New Face

By Richard Rohr, O.F.M.

Note: This commentary was first published March 15, 2013 by HuffPost Religion.

As a Franciscan, I was, of course, elated that one of the the first decisions of the new pope was to take a name that has not been taken by a pope before – "Francisco" – which in itself says an awful lot. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) is surely the most wonderful example of a joyful "para-church" approach to church reform. He was never a company man. "Don't fight it directly," Francis modeled for us, "just do it very differently yourself." As we say at the Center for Action and Contemplation, "The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better." The Recovery people put it uniquely in their Twelve Traditions: "Grow more by attraction than self-promotion."

For Cardinal Bergoglio to identify himself so clearly with a reformer of Christian lifestyle, instead of a doctrinal apologist, is extremely telling and very hopeful. To quote Pope Paul VI, "The world will no longer believe teachers unless they are first of all witnesses." The simple details of his apartment, his use of mass transit, his visits to wash the feet of AIDS patients, his passion for the poor, cooking his own food, all tell us that this man is about lifestyle Christianity more than perpetual doctrinal food fights, which bear so little real fruit anyway.

Let's look at his non-verbals in the first hours of his papacy, which experts believe are much more truthful than language, anyway. All of Pope Francis' early actions tell me that this man is first of all a man who knows who he is, before he is a churchman, a man fulfilling a role, a celebrity or a man taking an office. Here are some of Pope Francis' early non-verbal give-aways:

• According to insiders, he did not ascend the throne to greet the new cardinals who elected him, but stayed at their ground level. This made bowing, groveling and ring kissing very difficult. His self image is grounded, if this is true.

• He wore simple white in his first presentation of himself to the world, without a golden cross, red cape or priestly stole. In fact, he wore a plain wooden cross. He accepted the stole for the official blessing, but then, with a reverent kiss, immediately took it off for his personal "good night" to the people. (Any priest knows that this is a calculated decision.) I am told that he is still wearing his ordinary black shoes, having eschewed the three sizes of Prada red that had been crafted to fit any possible papal shoe size.

• He immediately called the people "brother and sister," and stood before them without the smiles or exaggerated hand waving of a celebrity. Rather, he presented himself in an almost "Ecce Homo" (John 19:5) way: "Here I am, as I am," it shouted to the world. Not much ego inflation for someone in his first moments of international exposure.

• The fact that almost every account of him uses the word "humility" or "humble" to describe him, is indicative of how we pick up people's actual energy much more than their words, clothes or precise actions. It might also reveal how we have not come to expect this from those who hold the papal office. Apparently, most were surprised, and also drawn to, this ordinariness and accessibility. I believe I would go to him for confession.

• We hear that the next morning he returned to the hotel where he stayed the previous night to pick up his own luggage and pay his own bill! I wonder how he got away with it. Only by insisting, I would think. This sounds like one who "came to serve and not to be served" (Mark 10:45).

• Perhaps most striking to any Catholic who has received many magnanimous blessings from priests and prelates, we have a pope first asking the people to bless him – and bowing down before them to receive it! He had just asked for a moment of silence, which stunned the crowd into exactly that. Those of us who teach contemplative prayer were given hope that our church might move beyond its largely exclusive use of memorized and recited prayers in public. But even there, he recited the three memorized prayers that every Catholic child first learns: the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Doxology to the Trinity (also called the Glory Be). He might just know how to do things "both ways," which is the only way he can be a pontifex, a "bridge builder."

I am sure there will be things we disagree with in this papacy. I have had personal contact with the former Jesuit, now living in Germany, whom he apparently "persecuted." His quoted statements on gay adoption sound highly uninformed and fear-based. But my hope is that his love for the poor and the excluded will win out; now he has no higher-ups to please or placate. Let's hope and pray that this will allow Pope Francis to be a man of the Gospel more than a mere churchman. Then the world will be forever grateful, and grace will flow more freely in what has been a dry stream for some time.

Fr. Richard Rohr is a Franciscan priest of the New Mexico Province. He founded the New Jerusalem Community in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1971, and the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1986, where he presently serves as Founding Director.

Related Off-site Link:
Francis at Inaugural Mass: Pope Must Be Servant, 'Inspired by Lowly' – Joshua J. McElwee (National Catholic Reporter, March 19, 2013).

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Francis the 'Slum Pope': Jorge Mario Bergoglio Remembered for Ministering to Buenos Aires' Poorest

By Luis Andres Henao

Note: This article was first published March 15, 2013, by The Huffington Post.

For more than a billion Roman Catholics worldwide, he's Pope Francis. For Argentina's poorest citizens, crowded in "misery villages" throughout the capital, he's proudly known as one of their own, a true "slum pope."

Villa 21-24 is a slum so dangerous that most outsiders don't dare enter, but residents say Jorge Mario Bergoglio often showed up unannounced to share laughs and sips of mate, the traditional Argentine herbal tea shared by groups using a common straw.

People here recall how the Buenos Aires archbishop ditched a limousine and would arrive on a bus to their little chapel; how he sponsored marathons and carpentry classes, consoled single mothers and washed the feet of recovering drug addicts; how he became one of them.

"Four years ago, I was at my worst and I needed help. When the Mass started he knelt down and washed my feet. It hit me hard. It was such a beautiful experience," said Cristian Marcelo Reynoso, 27, a garbage collector trying to kick a cocaine addiction through the church's rehab program.

"When I saw the news on the TV, I began screaming with joy, and look, I'm still trembling," Reynoso said. "El Chabon (The Dude) is so humble. He's a fan of San Lorenzo (the soccer club), like me. You talk to him like a friend."

Long after he became a cardinal in 2001, this "prince of the church" wore a simple black T-shirt with a white collar. For many at the slum's Caacupe Virgin of the Miracles Church, it's nothing short of a miracle that their friend is the pope.

"He was always part of our slum," housewife Lidia Valdivieso, 41, said after praying while resting her palm on a statue of St. Expeditus, patron saint of urgent and impossible causes. Her 23-year-old son has cerebral palsy and is learning carpentry at the church's technical school.

"When I heard the news I couldn't believe it. Having a `papa villero' (slum pope) is the most beautiful thing that can happen to us. I still remember him going on long walks through our muddy streets or talking to our children," Valdivieso said.

Inside the concrete block chapel, there's a painted message commemorating Bergoglio's inauguration, and another big painting of Pope John Paul II, but no sign of Benedict XVI whatsoever. Near the altar, there's a large black-and-white poster of Carlos Mugica, an iconic Argentine slum priest who was killed in 1974 by a right-wing death squad intent on eliminating the "liberation theology" he preached.

Bergoglio never favored liberation theology because of its [alleged] alliances with armed leftist guerrilla movements in the 1970s. But he has done much to follow in Mugica's footsteps, sponsoring all sorts of outreach programs in Argentina's slums.

This can be messy work, obliging priests to challenge drug dealers for the slum-dwellers' allegiances, and putting their beliefs, even their lives, at risk. Sometimes compromises must be made.

Just a few steps from the chapel, melted candles stand in a red shrine to the pagan folk hero Antonio "Gauchito" Gil, a 19th century outlaw revered among Argentina's poor for sharing his stolen bounty with the poor.

Many Argentines are as likely to pray for miracles from "Gauchito" as they are from authorized Catholic saints, but Bergoglio didn't object to the shrine's presence next to his chapel.

"For more than 20 years he came here. He's always been close to us and his impact on this slum is huge," said the parish priest, Lorenzo "Toto" de Vedia.

Cameras followed Bergoglio once as he washed the feet of 12 young men at a rehab center. "Then he kept coming back, taking confession and counseling them," Vedia said. On the priest's desk lay a newspaper with a huge, one-word headline: "FRANCISCO."

"You can tell that the church is going to change," Vedia said. "The fact that he chose the name Francisco says it all. It says: Let's stop messing around and devote ourselves to the poor. That was St. Francis message and now `Francisco' can live it."

In his first appearance at St. Peter's Square, the first Latin American pope bowed to the crowds and asked for their blessing. Back in Argentina, his friends in the slums recognized the gesture as the same sort of humility that won their hearts.

In the 13th century, St. Francis of Assisi made it his mission to respond to the poor and show that through simplicity and love, a stronger foundation for the church could be built.

Pope Francis' "mission is now to go on a pilgrimage to all lands, to walk with the people, to lead a church that walks," said Mercedes Trovato, 24, a youth volunteer who wore a wooden cross around her neck.

Bergoglio's friends say he's fundamentally shy. He hardly ever grants media interviews, preferring to speak from the pulpit. But he did agree to chat recently with Jaidr Flores, a 22-year-old host on the parish's Radio FM La 96.

"He was hesitant at first. But I convinced him, and at the end of the interview, he started laughing and said: "You did it! You got me on air!'" said Flores. "One day I went to visit him at his office and I was amazed to see how many pictures of the volunteers and recovered drug addicts from this community he had on his desk. He truly cares for us."

Related Off-site Links:
Francis Emerges – Andrew Sullivan (The Daily Dish, March 16, 2013).
Pope Francis' First Moves Hint at Break with Past – David Willey (BBC World News, March 16, 2013).
Francis Drops First Hint That Reform May Be Real – John L. Allen, Jr. (National Catholic Reporter, March 16, 2013).
In First Since Great Schism, Orthodox to Attend Papal Mass – Joshua J. McElwee (National Catholic Reporter, March 16, 2013).

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Questions from a 'Dirty War'


What did Pope Francis do during
Argentina's 'Dirty War'?

By Eugene Robinson

Note: This commentary was first published March 14 by The Washington Post.

They are impolite questions, but they must be asked: What did Jorge Mario Bergoglio know, and when did he know it, about Argentina’s brutal “Dirty War” against suspected leftists, in which thousands were tortured and killed? More important, what did the newly chosen Pope Francis do?

When a military junta seized power in Argentina in 1976, Bergoglio — elected Wednesday by the College of Cardinals as the first Latin American to become pope — was the head of the Jesuit order in the country. His elevation to the papacy occasioned great joy and national pride in his homeland — but also, for some, brought back memories of Argentina’s darkest and most desperate days.

In other South American countries that suffered under military rule during the 1970s, the Catholic Church served as a focal point of resistance. In Chile, for example, the church crusaded for human rights and pressed the government of Gen. Augusto Pinochet to account for the many activists who “disappeared” into custody, often never to be seen again.

The dictatorship in Argentina was the most savage of all. At least 10,000, and perhaps as many as 30,000, people suspected of leftist involvement were killed. Victims would be snatched from their homes or places of work, interrogated under torture for weeks or months, and then executed. Some were dispatched by being drugged, loaded into aircraft and shoved out into the wide Rio de la Plata or the Atlantic Ocean to drown.

The church in Argentina, however, was comparatively passive in the face of this horror — some would say complicit. Church leaders never confronted the military regime the way their counterparts in Chile did; nor did they encourage or even permit grass-roots activism at the parish level, as developed in Brazil. On the contrary, the church allowed Argentina’s ruling generals and admirals to cloak themselves in religiosity and claim that somehow, in their sinister rampage, they were serving God’s will.

Questions about Bergoglio involve an incident that took place in 1976, shortly after the military seized power: Two Jesuit priests under his command were kidnapped, held without charges, interrogated and tortured. They were finally released after five months; several laypeople arrested in the same operation were killed.

Both priests were followers of the left-wing “liberation theology” movement; Bergoglio was not. As their superior, he had told them to cease the work they were doing in a slum neighborhood on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. The allegation is that Bergoglio, knowing the men were in danger of being targeted by the military, withdrew the Jesuit order’s protection from them because of their disobedience — effectively throwing them to the wolves.

This charge was first made in 1986 by Emilio Mignone, one of Argentina’s most respected human rights activists, in a book about the relationship between the church and the dictatorship. Left-leaning journalist Horacio Verbitsky took it up again in his 2005 book El Silencio.

Bergoglio has consistently denied the allegation. He told a biographer that the priests left the order voluntarily and that he appealed privately to leaders of the junta for the priests’ release.

Bergoglio also told the biographer that he often allowed people sought by the military to hide on church property. In testimony before an official tribunal in 2010, he said he was unaware of the military government’s worst excesses until after the fact. He specifically denied knowing that babies born to pregnant detainees were forcibly taken from their mothers and given to politically connected families for adoption — although there is evidence suggesting he did know about this practice.

Last year, Argentina’s bishops, under Bergoglio’s leadership, issued a blanket apology for having failed to protect the church’s flock during the dictatorship. That the church was tragically remiss is no longer in question, if it ever was.

Now that Bergoglio is Pope Francis, his record and recollections of nearly 40 years ago are important not so much because of what he did or did not do but because of what lessons he did or did not learn. There were Catholic prelates who openly collaborated with the dictators and those who openly opposed them. Bergoglio was somewhere in the middle. He disapproved, surely. He did what he could. But by his own admission, he didn’t try to change the world.

Now he has more than the duty to lead 1.2 billion Catholics. He also has a chance to atone.

Related Off-site Links:
Priest Kidnapped by Junta: Reconciled with Pope – David Rising (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, March 15, 2013).
Pope Francis and Argentina's 'Dirty War' (March 13, 2013).
Bergoglio Challenged Moral Authority of Argentina's Elected Leaders – Silvina Frydlewsky and Anthony Faiola (The Washington Post, March 14, 2013).
Pope Francis’ Junta Past: Argentine Journalist on New Pontiff’s Ties to Abduction of Jesuit PriestsDemocracy Now! (March 14, 2013).

Image: Stephen Perry.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Next Pope

By Tom Cahill

Note: Tom Cahill, the author of numerous books including How the Irish Saved Christianity and Pope John XXIII: A Life, was recently asked by The Wall St Journal to write a piece that would begin, "The new pope should be ..." The following was submitted but turned down because, Cahill believes, the paper did not care for its political implications.

The next pope should be a Christian, that is, a genuine follower of Jesus Christ. Most popes have not been that, especially over the past millennium and more. Indeed, the idea of a Christian pope takes us so far from the historical norm that we must completely replace the images in our head with startling new pictures.

A real Christian would not wear special clothes nor would he live in a palace. Jesus had neither bank account nor art collection. He didn’t even have a home to call his own, for as he said to one inquiring contemporary, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). “The Son of Man” was Jesus’s usual description of himself. It was not intended as an exalted description nor even as a special designation. A better translation might be “Humanity’s Child,” in other words, a plain human being. The new pope would live among the poor, as Jesus did, perhaps even be homeless on occasion.

The new pope would not enjoy being addressed by special titles, nor would he wish to be called “pope” (or “papa”). Gregory the Great, elected bishop of Rome toward the end of the sixth century, was one of the few truly great popes. He refused to be called “pope,” saying “Away with these words that increase vanity and weaken love!” A bishop, insisted Gregory, should be ever “a minister, not a master,” who tries “to subdue himself, not his brothers and sisters.” The only title Gregory would accept was “Servant of God’s Servants.”

If he is a true Christian, the new pope will "hunger and thirst for justice" for all, as Jesus recommends in his great Sermon on the Mount. Of course, with that kind of attitude we can only expect the new pope to get himself into enormous international trouble. Perhaps even more trouble will come his way if he feels called to be a peacemaker, another of Jesus’s recommendations, trying to make peace among those who are at war with one another. Of course, he will need to start with his fellow Christians.

The new pope would make no distinction among categories of persons. He wouldn’t care whether one was Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or a non-believer. Jesus obviously didn’t care about such things, since he made his great example of human goodness a Samaritan, one of those unthinkable heretics, whom all the upright of Jesus’s time despised. But the Good Samaritan halted his journey for the sake of rescuing a mugged man whom none of the conventionally “good” people wanted to help. Let him bleed to death on the side of the road, they shrugged. No, said the Samaritan, let me take care of him till he recovers. In this way, the new pope would be like his greatest predecessor, John XXIII, who made no difference between one set of believers (or non-believers) and another.

If the new pope is a true Christian, we will probably crucify him.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The People's Conclave

Tuesday, March 12, 2013
4:00 - 5:00 p.m.

In front of the chancery offices of the
Archdiocese of Saint Paul–Minneapolis
(226 Summit Ave., St. Paul)

Please join the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform and its member organizations for a peaceful demonstration on the public sidewalk in front of the chancery offices of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul–Minneapolis (across from the Cathedral).

We'll gather on the occasion of the Papal Conclave and prayerfully ask the servant leadership of our Church:

Where are the women?

Where is the laity?

Where are LGBT folks?

Where are the poor?

Where are the survivors of clergy sex abuse?

Where is the Holy Spirit?

You're welcome to bring a banner or sign, the message of which respectfully addresses the issues and concerns we'll be raising.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Quote of the Day

Roman Catholics in the United States say that their bishops are out of touch, and that the next pope should lead the church in a more modern direction on issues like birth control and ordaining women and married men as priests, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

Seven out of 10 say Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican have done a poor job of handling sexual abuse, a significant rise from three years ago. A majority said that the issue had led them to question the Vatican’s authority. The sexual abuse of children by priests is the largest problem facing the church, Catholics in the poll said.

Three-fourths of those polled said they thought it was a good idea for Benedict to resign. Most wanted the next pope to be “someone younger, with new ideas.” A majority said they wanted the next pope to make the church’s teachings more liberal.

With cardinals now in Rome preparing to elect Benedict’s successor, the poll indicated that the church’s hierarchy had lost the confidence and allegiance of many American Catholics, an intensification of a long-term trend. They like their priests and nuns, but many feel that the bishops and cardinals do not understand their lives.

. . . Even Catholics who frequently attend Mass said they were not following the bishops’ lead on issues that the church had recently invested much energy, money and credibility in fighting — artificial birth control and same-sex marriage. . . .

– Laurie Goodstein and Megan Thee-Brenan
"Poll Shows Disconnect Between U.S Catholics & Church Hierarchy"
New York Times
March 5, 2013

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Save the Date!

Call To Action Minnesota
invites you to . . .

Out of the Ashes:
Birth of a New Community


Michael Crosby, ofm

WHEN: Saturday, April 6, 2013
Registration: 9:00 – 9:45 a.m.
Program: 9:45 a.m – 2:30 p.m.

WHERE: Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church
511 Groveland Ave., Minneapolis, MN 55403.
(For map and directions, click here)

COST: $35.00 (lunch included). After March 25, $40.
For information about scholarships, contact Sharon at 651-457-3249.
Checks to CTA-MN, PO Box 19406, Minneapolis, MN 55419.

An Apocalyptic Moment: Grieving the Old will be Michael's morning topic, while his afternoon topic will be Belonging to the Beloved Community of the Cosmic Christ.

Michael understands the Apocalypse as meaning "the end of an era that contains within it the seeds of something new and better."

The Church, as we have known it, is crumbling. The patriarchal, clerical, institutional model of Church, while alive and well for some, is dead for many more. It is a time of Apocalypse – when, out of the ashes, something new is being revealed. That revelation will fuel the building of a Church renewed. In the wake of a “restorationist” Church, we are Catholics grieving – grieving over the lost promise of Vatican II, especially in regard to church governance. We are Catholics “in exile”. We long for a church where all are welcome and where there is equality and collaboration among all its members. Some of us have left our parish “homes” where we were once nourished. We search in other places for open and joyful and participatory liturgy. Some have come together and formed intentional communities. Others have simply walked away.

There is perhaps no contemporary Catholic speaker and author better equipped than Michael Crosby to help us, through the eyes of faith, to see and understand the present crisis in the Church. Over a period of more than 30 years he has spoken brilliantly and prophetically about this Church that he loves.

Michael is a Capuchin Franciscan with degrees in economics and New Testament spirituality. He is the author of 18 books, including Spirituality of the Beatitudes, The Dysfunctional Church, Finding Francis, Following Christ and his most recent publication, Repair My House: Becoming a ‘Kindom’ Catholic. He has lectured at conferences all over the world and many of his talks are on CD’s and DVD’s. Since 1982, under the auspices of his order, he has worked in the area of socially responsible investments by religious orders.

For more information, including about scholarships,
call Sharon at 651-457-3249.