Monthly Archives: April 2012

Statement from Leadership Conference of Women Religious

LCWR Statement from Presidency on CDF Doctrinal Assessment

[Silver Spring, Maryland] The presidency of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious was stunned by the conclusions of the doctrinal assessment of LCWR by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Because the leadership of LCWR has the custom of meeting annually with the staff of CDF in Rome and because the conference follows canonically-approved statutes, we were taken by surprise.

This is a moment of great import for religious life and the wider church. We ask your prayers as we meet with the LCWR National Board within the coming month to review the mandate and prepare a response.

For further information, contact:

Annmarie Sanders, IHM
LCWR Director of Communications
asanders@lcwr.org
Work: 301-588-4955
Cell: 301-672-3043
http://www.lcwr.org

From LCWR

CDF assesses Leadership Conference of Women Religious

On Wednesday, April 18, the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued the following assessment concerning the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in the United States of America:

Congregatio
Pro Doctrina Fidei
Doctrinal Assessment
of the
Leadership Conference of Women Religious

I. Introduction
The context in which the current doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Conference
of Women Religious in the United States of America is best situated is articulated by Pope
John Paul II in the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Vita consecrata of 1996.
Commenting on the genius of the charism of religious life in the Church, Pope John Paul
says: “In founders and foundresses we see a constant and lively sense of the Church, which
they manifest by their full participation in all aspects of the Church’s life, and in their ready
obedience to the Bishops and especially to the Roman Pontiff. Against this background of
love towards Holy Church ‘the pillar and bulwark of truth’ (1 Tim 3:15), we readily
understand…the full ecclesial communion which the Saints, founders and foundresses, have
shared in diverse and often difficult times and circumstances. They are examples which
consecrated persons need constantly to recall if they are to resist the particularly strong
centrifugal and disruptive forces at work today. A distinctive aspect of ecclesial communion
is allegiance of mind and heart to the Magisterium of the Bishops, an allegiance which must
be lived honestly and clearly testified to before the People of God by all consecrated persons,
especially those involved in theological research, teaching, publishing, catechesis and the use
of the means of social communication. Because consecrated persons have a special place in
the Church, their attitude in this regard is of immense importance for the whole People of
God” (n. 46).
The Holy See acknowledges with gratitude the great contribution of women Religious
to the Church in the United States as seen particularly in the many schools, hospitals, and
institutions of support for the poor which have been founded and staffed by Religious over the
years. Pope John Paul II expressed this gratitude well in his meeting with Religious from the
United States in San Francisco on September 17, 1987, when he said: I rejoice because of
your deep love of the Church and your generous service to God’s people…The extensive
Catholic educational and health care systems, the highly developed network of social services
in the Church – none of this would exist today, were it not for your highly motivated
dedication and the dedication of those who have gone before you. The spiritual vigor of so
many Catholic people testifies to the efforts of generations of religious in this land. The
history of the Church in this country is in large measure your history at the service of God’s
people. The renewal of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious which is the goal of
this doctrinal Assessment is in support of this essential charism of Religious which has been
so obvious in the life and growth of the Catholic Church in the United States.
While recognizing that this doctrinal Assessment concerns a particular conference of
major superiors and therefore does not intend to offer judgment on the faith and life of
Women Religious in the member Congregations which belong to that conference,
nevertheless the Assessment reveals serious doctrinal problems which affect many in
Consecrated Life. On the doctrinal level, this crisis is characterized by a diminution of the
fundamental Christological center and focus of religious consecration which leads, in turn, to
a loss of a “constant and lively sense of the Church” among some Religious. The current
doctrinal Assessment arises out of a sincere concern for the life of faith in some Institutes of
Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. It arises as well from a conviction that the
work of any conference of major superiors of women Religious can and should be a fruitful
means of addressing the contemporary situation and supporting religious life in its most
“radical” sense—that is, in the faith in which it is rooted. According to Canon Law,
conferences of major superiors are an expression of the collaboration between the Holy See,
Superiors General, and the local Conferences of Bishops in support of consecrated life. The
overarching concern of the doctrinal Assessment is, therefore, to assist the Leadership
Conference of Women Religious in the United States in implementing an ecclesiology of
communion founded on faith in Jesus Christ and the Church as the essential foundation for its
important service to religious Communities and to all those in consecrated life.
II. The doctrinal Assessment
The decision of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) to undertake a
doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) was
communicated to the LCWR Presidency during their meeting with Cardinal William Levada
in Rome on April 8, 2008. At that meeting, three major areas of concern were given as
motivating the CDF’s decision to initiate the Assessment:
o Addresses at the LCWR Assemblies. Addresses given during LCWR annual
Assemblies manifest problematic statements and serious theological, even doctrinal
errors. The Cardinal offered as an example specific passages of Sr. Laurie Brink’s
address about some Religious “moving beyond the Church” or even beyond Jesus.
This is a challenge not only to core Catholic beliefs; such a rejection of faith is also a
serious source of scandal and is incompatible with religious life. Such unacceptable
positions routinely go unchallenged by the LCWR, which should provide resources for
member Congregations to foster an ecclesial vision of religious life, thus helping to
correct an erroneous vision of the Catholic faith as an important exercise of charity.
Some might see in Sr. Brink’s analysis a phenomenological snapshot of religious life
today. But Pastors of the Church should also see in it a cry for help.
o Policies of Corporate Dissent. The Cardinal spoke of this issue in reference to letters
the CDF received from “Leadership Teams” of various Congregations, among them
LCWR Officers, protesting the Holy See’s actions regarding the question of women’s
ordination and of a correct pastoral approach to ministry to homosexual persons, e.g.
letters about New Ways Ministry’s conferences. The terms of the letters suggest that
these sisters collectively take a position not in agreement with the Church’s teaching
on human sexuality. It is a serious matter when these Leadership Teams are not
providing effective leadership and example to their communities, but place themselves
outside the Church’s teaching.
o Radical Feminism. The Cardinal noted a prevalence of certain radical feminist
themes incompatible with the Catholic faith in some of the programs and presentations
sponsored by the LCWR, including theological interpretations that risk distorting faith
in Jesus and his loving Father who sent his Son for the salvation of the world.
Moreover, some commentaries on “patriarchy” distort the way in which Jesus has
structured sacramental life in the Church; others even undermine the revealed
doctrines of the Holy Trinity, the divinity of Christ, and the inspiration of Sacred
Scripture.
Subsequently, in a letter dated February 18, 2009, the CDF confirmed its decision to
undertake a doctrinal Assessment of the LCWR and named Most Rev. Leonard Blair, Bishop
of Toledo, as the CDF’s Delegate for the Assessment. This decision was further discussed
with the LCWR Presidency during their visit to the CDF on April 22, 2009. During that
meeting, Cardinal Levada confirmed that the doctrinal Assessment comes as a result of
several years of examination of the doctrinal content of statements from the LCWR and of
their annual conferences. The Assessment’s primary concern is the doctrine of the faith that
has been revealed by God in Jesus Christ, presented in written form in the divinely inspired
Scriptures, and handed on in the Apostolic Tradition under the guidance of the Church’s
Magisterium. It is this Apostolic teaching, so richly and fully taught by the Second Vatican
Council, that should underlie the work of a conference of major superiors of Religious which,
by its nature, has a canonical relationship to the Holy See and many of whose members are of
Pontifical right.
Most Rev. Leonard Blair communicated a set of doctrinal Observations to the LCWR
in a letter dated May 11, 2009, and subsequently met with the Presidency on May 27, 2009.
The LCWR Presidency responded to the Observations in a letter dated October 20, 2009.
Based on this response, and on subsequent correspondence between the Presidency of the
LCWR and the Delegate, Bishop Blair submitted his findings to the CDF on December 22,
2009.
On June 25, 2010, Bishop Blair presented further documentation on the content of the
LCWR’s Mentoring Leadership Manual and also on the organizations associated with the
LCWR, namely Network and The Resource Center for Religious Institutes. The
documentation reveals that, while there has been a great deal of work on the part of LCWR
promoting issues of social justice in harmony with the Church’s social doctrine, it is silent on
the right to life from conception to natural death, a question that is part of the lively public
debate about abortion and euthanasia in the United States. Further, issues of crucial
importance to the life of Church and society, such as the Church’s Biblical view of family life
and human sexuality, are not part of the LCWR agenda in a way that promotes Church
teaching. Moreover, occasional public statements by the LCWR that disagree with or
challenge positions taken by the Bishops, who are the Church’s authentic teachers of faith and
morals, are not compatible with its purpose.
All of the documentation from the doctrinal Assessment including the LCWR
responses was presented to the Ordinary Session of the Cardinal and Bishop Members of the
CDF on January 12, 2011. The decision of that Ordinary Session was:
1) The current doctrinal and pastoral situation of the LCWR is grave and a matter of
serious concern, also given the influence the LCWR exercises on religious
Congregations in other parts of the world;
2) After the currently-ongoing Visitation of religious communities of women in the
United States is brought to a conclusion, the Holy See should intervene with the
prudent steps necessary to effect a reform of the LCWR;
3) The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will examine the various forms of
canonical intervention available for the resolution of the problematic aspects present in
the LCWR.
The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, in an Audience granted to the Prefect of the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal William Joseph Levada, on January 14,
2011, approved the decisions of the Ordinary Session of the Congregation, and ordered their
implementation. This action by the Holy Father should be understood in virtue of the
mandate given by the Lord to Simon Peter as the rock on which He founded his Church (cf.
Luke 22:32): “I have prayed for you, Peter, that your faith may not fail; and when you have
turned to me, you must strengthen the faith of your brothers and sisters.” This Scripture
passage has long been applied to the role of the Successors of Peter as Head of the Apostolic
College of Bishops; it also applies to the role of the Pope as Chief Shepherd and Pastor of the
Universal Church. Not least among the flock to whom the Pope’s pastoral concern is directed
are women Religious of apostolic life, who through the past several centuries have been so
instrumental in building up the faith and life of the Holy Church of God, and witnessing to
God’s love for humanity in so many charitable and apostolic works.
Since the Final Report of the Apostolic Visitation of women Religious in the United
States has now been submitted to the Holy See (in December, 2011), the CDF turns to the
implementation of the above-mentioned decisions approved by the Holy Father as an
extension of his pastoral outreach to the Church in the United States. For the purpose of this
implementation, and in consultation with the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life
and Societies of Apostolic Life (CICLSAL) and the Congregation for Bishops, the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has decided to execute the mandate to assist in the
necessary reform of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious through the appointment
of a Archbishop Delegate, who will – with the assistance of a group of advisors (bishops,
priests, and women Religious) – proceed to work with the leadership of the LCWR to achieve
the goals necessary to address the problems outlined in this statement. The mandate given to
the Delegate provides the structure and flexibility for the delicate work of such
implementation.
The moment for such a common effort seems all the more opportune in view of an
implementation of the recommendations of the recent Apostolic Visitation of women
Religious in the United States, and in view of this year’s 50th anniversary of the beginning of
the Second Vatican Council, whose theological vision and practical recommendations for
Consecrated Life can serve as a providential template for review and renewal of religious life
in the United States, and of the mandate of Church law for the work of this conference of
major superiors to which the large majority of congregations of women Religious in the
United States belong.
III. Implementation: Conclusions of Doctrinal Assessment and Mandate
1) Principal Findings of the Doctrinal Assessment
LCWR General Assemblies, Addresses, and Occasional Papers
One of the principal means by which the LCWR promotes its particular vision of
religious life is through the annual Assemblies it sponsors. During the Assessment process,
Bishop Blair, in his letter of May 11, 2009, presented the LCWR Presidency with a study and
doctrinal evaluation of keynote addresses, presidential addresses, and Leadership Award
addresses over a 10 year period. This study found that the talks, while not scholarly
theological discourses per se, do have significant doctrinal and moral content and implications
which often contradict or ignore magisterial teaching.
In its response, the Presidency of the LCWR maintained that it does not knowingly
invite speakers who take a stand against a teaching of the Church “when it has been declared
as authoritative teaching.” Further, the Presidency maintains that the assertions made by
speakers are their own and do not imply intent on the part of the LCWR. Given the facts
examined, however, this response is inadequate. The Second Vatican Council clearly
indicates that an authentic teaching of the Church calls for the religious submission of
intellect and will, and is not limited to defined dogmas or ex cathedra statements (cf. Lumen
gentium, 25). For example, the LCWR publicly expressed in 1977 its refusal to assent to the
teaching of Inter insigniores on the reservation of priestly ordination to men. This public
refusal has never been corrected. Beyond this, the CDF understands that speakers at
conferences or general assemblies do not submit their texts for prior review by the LCWR
Presidency. But, as the Assessment demonstrated, the sum of those talks over the years is a
matter of serious concern.
Several of the addresses at LCWR conferences present a vision or description of
religious life that does not conform to the faith and practice of the Church. Since the LCWR
leadership has offered no clarification about such statements, some might infer that such
positions are endorsed by them. As an entity approved by the Holy See for the coordination
and support of religious Communities in the United States, LCWR also has a positive
responsibility for the promotion of the faith and for providing its member Communities and
the wider Catholic public with clear and persuasive positions in support of the Church’s
vision of religious life.
Some speakers claim that dissent from the doctrine of the Church is justified as an
exercise of the prophetic office. But this is based upon a mistaken understanding of the
dynamic of prophecy in the Church: it justifies dissent by positing the possibility of
divergence between the Church’s magisterium and a “legitimate” theological intuition of
some of the faithful. “Prophecy,” as a methodological principle, is here directed at the
Magisterium and the Church’s pastors, whereas true prophecy is a grace which accompanies
the exercise of the responsibilities of the Christian life and ministries within the Church,
regulated and verified by the Church’s faith and teaching office. Some of the addresses at
LCWR-sponsored events perpetuate a distorted ecclesiological vision, and have scant regard
for the role of the Magisterium as the guarantor of the authentic interpretation of the Church’s
faith.
The analysis of the General Assemblies, Presidential Addresses, and Occasional
Papers reveals, therefore, a two-fold problem. The first consists in positive error (i.e.
doctrinally problematic statements or formal refutation of Church teaching found in talks
given at LCWR-sponsored conferences or General Assemblies). The second level of the
problem concerns the silence and inaction of the LCWR in the face of such error, given its
responsibility to support a vision of religious life in harmony with that of the Church and to
promote a solid doctrinal basis for religious life. With this Assessment, the CDF intends to
assist the LCWR in placing its activity into a wider context of religious life in the universal
Church in order to foster a vision of consecrated life consistent with the Church’s teaching. In
this wider context, the CDF notes the absence of initiatives by the LCWR aimed at promoting
the reception of the Church’s teaching, especially on difficult issues such as Pope John Paul
II’s Apostolic Letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis and Church teaching about homosexuality.
The Role of the LCWR in the Doctrinal Formation of Religious Superiors and Formators
The program for new Superiors and Formators of member Communities and other
resources provided to these Communities is an area in which the LCWR exercises an
influence. The doctrinal Assessment found that many of the materials prepared by the LCWR
for these purposes (Occasional Papers, Systems Thinking Handbook) do not have a sufficient
doctrinal foundation. These materials recommend strategies for dialogue, for example when
sisters disagree about basic matters of Catholic faith or moral practice, but it is not clear
whether this dialogue is directed towards reception of Church teaching. As a case in point,
the Systems Thinking Handbook presents a situation in which sisters differ over whether the
Eucharist should be at the center of a special community celebration since the celebration of
Mass requires an ordained priest, something which some sisters find “objectionable.”
According to the Systems Thinking Handbook this difficulty is rooted in differences at the
level of belief, but also in different cognitive models (the “Western mind” as opposed to an
“Organic mental model”). These models, rather than the teaching of the Church, are offered
as tools for the resolution of the controversy of whether or not to celebrate Mass. Thus the
Systems Thinking Handbook presents a neutral model of Congregational leadership that does
not give due attention to the responsibility which Superiors are called to exercise, namely,
leading sisters into a greater appreciation or integration of the truth of the Catholic faith.
The Final Report of the Apostolic Visitation of Religious Communities of Women in
the United States (July, 2011) found that the formation programs among several communities
that belong to the LCWR did not have significant doctrinal content but rather were oriented
toward professional formation regarding particular issues of ministerial concern to the
Institute. Other programs reportedly stressed their own charism and history, and/or the
Church’s social teaching or social justice in general, with little attention to basic Catholic
doctrine, such as that contained in the authoritative text of the Catechism of the Catholic
Church. While these formation programs were not directly the object of this doctrinal
Assessment, it may nevertheless be concluded that confusion about the Church’s authentic
doctrine of the faith is reinforced, rather than corrected, by the lack of doctrinal content in the
resources provided by the LCWR for Superiors and Formators. The doctrinal confusion
which has undermined solid catechesis over the years demonstrates the need for sound
doctrinal formation—both initial and ongoing—for women Religious and novices just as it
does for priests and seminarians, and for laity in ministry and apostolic life. In this way, we
can hope that the secularized contemporary culture, with its negative impact on the very
identity of Religious as Christians and members of the Church, on their religious practice and
common life, and on their authentic Christian spirituality, moral life, and liturgical practice,
can be more readily overcome.
2) The Mandate for Implementation of the Doctrinal Assessment
In the universal law of the Church (Code of Canon Law [C.I.C.] for the Latin
Church), Canons 708 and 709 address the establishment and work of conferences of major
superiors:
Can. 708: Major superiors can be associated usefully in conferences or councils so
that by common efforts they work to achieve more fully the purpose of the individual
institutes, always without prejudice to their autonomy, character, and proper spirit, or to
transact common affairs, or to establish appropriate coordination and cooperation with the
conferences of bishops and also with individual bishops.
Can. 709: Conferences of major superiors are to have their own statutes approved by
the Holy See, by which alone they can be erected even as a juridic person and under whose
supreme direction they remain.
In the light of these canons, and in view of the findings of the doctrinal Assessment, it is clear
that greater emphasis needs to be placed both on the relationship of the LCWR with the
Conference of Bishops, and on the need to provide a sound doctrinal foundation in the faith of
the Church as they “work to achieve more fully the purpose of the individual institutes.”
Therefore in order to implement a process of review and conformity to the teachings
and discipline of the Church, the Holy See, through the Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith, will appoint an Archbishop Delegate, assisted by two Bishops, for review, guidance
and approval, where necessary, of the work of the LCWR. The Delegate will report to the
CDF, which will inform and consult with the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life
and Societies of Apostolic Life and the Congregation for Bishops.
The mandate of the Delegate is to include the following:
1) To revise LCWR Statutes to ensure greater clarity about the scope of the mission
and responsibilities of this conference of major superiors. The revised Statutes will be
submitted to the Holy See for approval by the CICLSAL.
2) To review LCWR plans and programs, including General Assemblies and
publications, to ensure that the scope of the LCWR’s mission is fulfilled in accord
with Church teachings and discipline. In particular:
– Systems Thinking Handbook will be withdrawn from circulation pending
revision
– LCWR programs for (future) Superiors and Formators will be reformed
– Speakers/presenters at major programs will be subject to approval by
Delegate
3) To create new LCWR programs for member Congregations for the development of
initial and ongoing formation material that provides a deepened understanding of the
Church’s doctrine of the faith.
4) To review and offer guidance in the application of liturgical norms and texts. For
example:
-The Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours will have a place of priority in
LCWR events and programs.
5) To review LCWR links with affiliated organizations, e.g. Network and Resource
Center for Religious Life.
The mandate of the Delegate will be for a period of up to five years, as deemed
necessary. In order to ensure the necessary liaison with the USCCB (in view of Can. 708),
the Conference of Bishops will be asked to establish a formal link (e.g. a committee structure)
with the Delegate and Assistant Delegate Bishops. In order to facilitate the achievement of
these goals, the Delegate is authorized to form an Advisory Team (clergy, women Religious,
and experts) to assist in the work of implementation.
It will be the task of the Archbishop Delegate to work collaboratively with the officers
of the LCWR to achieve the goals outlined in this document, and to report on the progress of
this work to the Holy See. Such reports will be reviewed with the Delegate at regular
interdicasterial meetings of the CDF and the CICLSAL. In this way, the Holy See hopes to
offer an important contribution to the future of religious life in the Church in the United
States.

Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

Bishops on The New Evangelization

The Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has issued a major statement on The New Evangelization. Title is: Disciples Called to Witness: The New Evangelization

http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/how-we-teach/new-evangelization/disciples-called-to-witness

The Concho Padre

Our First, Most Cherished Liberty

The Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, today issued a statement on Religious Liberty. It is excellent.

Here is the link:

http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/our-first-most-cherished-liberty.cfm

The Concho Padre

Cardinal Dolan: separation of church and state should not block religion

As controversy continues over the Obama administration’s contraception mandate, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York said that separation of church and state should not restrict the Church from offering its valuable contribution to society.

In an interview on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” on Easter Sunday, the cardinal described the mandate as “a dramatic, radical intrusion of a government bureaucracy into the internal life of the church.”

He emphasized that while the Church “didn’t ask for the fight” over contraception and religious freedom, “we’re not going to back away from it.”

The public square, he pointed out, is enriched when people bring their religious and moral convictions to the discussion of national issues and impoverished when they are prevented from doing so.

Host Bob Schieffer asked the cardinal to respond to John F. Kennedy’s famous campaign speech that endorsed a vision of separation of church and state “where no Catholic prelate would tell the President, should he be Catholic, how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote.”

Last November, Republican presidential contender Rick Santorum said that he “almost threw up” when he read the speech.

He said that Kennedy “threw faith under the bus in that speech,” which he described as “the beginning of the secular movement of politicians to separate their faith from the public square.”

Cardinal Dolan said that he agreed with Kennedy that there should be a separation of church and state because such a separation benefits not only the U.S., but also the Church.

However, he said, Santorum is also accurate in noting the secularizing effects of the speech, which has been widely misinterpreted to require “a wall between one’s faith and one’s political decisions.”

“I don’t think John Kennedy meant a cleavage between faith and politics,” the cardinal said, “but I would agree with Senator Santorum that unfortunately that has been misrepresented to mean that faith has no place in the public square.”

This view misrepresents “what the American genius is all about,” he added.

Cardinal Dolan said that the false understanding of this principle can be seen in the ongoing debate over the Obama administration’s insurance mandate, which will soon require employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their conscience.

The cardinal said that President Obama had initially assured him that “the government would do nothing to impede religion” or to prevent the Catholic Church from continuing its valuable work in the areas of health care, charity and education.

However, he said, it’s hard to see how the new regulations “do anything but that.”

Cardinal Dolan spoke out against recent comments by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who said that the mandate does an acceptable job of balancing the Church’s freedom with access to free contraception for women.

While he said that he appreciates the vice president’s counsel, the cardinal firmly disagreed with his assertion.

The mandate is unacceptable from a moral standpoint because it will still force Catholics to fund or facilitate the objectionable coverage, he explained, adding that the Catholic community will continue to speak out against the mandate not only from “a religious point of view but a constitutional point of view.”

But despite the challenges facing the Church in America today, Cardinal Dolan remains optimistic. He believes that religion in the U.S. “is vibrant” and “the commitment of the people is strong.”

Catholics should also remember that “the difficulties can purify us and strengthen us,” renewing the Church as she spreads her message of “light and freedom and hope.”

from EWTN

Read more: http://ewtnnews.com/catholic-news/US.php?id=5238#ixzz1rfkAlN1c

Pope makes Easter appeal for end to Syrian violence

Pope Benedict XVI implored the Syrian regime on Sunday to heed international demands to end the bloodshed and voiced hope that the joy of Easter would comfort Christians suffering because of their faith.

Benedict, struggling with hoarseness and looking tired, celebrated Mass on Christianity’s most joyous holy day on the flower-adorned steps of St. Peter’s Basilica, before a crowd of faithful that swelled to far over 100,000 by the end of the two-hour-long ceremony.

Only hours earlier the pontiff, who turns 85 on April 16, had led a long nighttime vigil service in the church.

At the end of Sunday’s Mass, Benedict moved to the basilica’s central balcony to read his Easter message ‘to the entire world,’ as he put it, delivering a ringing appeal for peace in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East, and particularly in Africa, citing coup-struck Mali and Nigeria, where Christians and Muslims alike have been hit by terrorist attacks.

‘May the risen Christ grant hope to the Middle East and enable all the ethnic, cultural and religious groups in that region to work together to advance the common good and respect for human rights,’ the pope said.

‘Particularly in Syria, may there be an end to bloodshed and an immediate commitment to the path of respect, dialogue and reconciliation, as called for by the international community,’ Benedict said, making Syria the first of several strife-torn countries he mentioned in his traditional ‘Urbi et Orbi’ (Latin for ‘to the city and to the world’) Easter speech.

The Syrian government on Sunday appeared to be backing out of a cease-fire deal aimed at ending the country’s crisis, saying that it will not withdraw its troops from cities without written guarantees from armed groups that they also will lay down their weapons. U.N. estimates put the number of dead in that conflict at some 9,000 since it began in March 2011.

Benedict also lamented that many Syrians who have fled the conflict are enduring ‘dreadful sufferings’ and urged humanitarian assistance and acceptance of them.

Christians throughout the world on Easter celebrate their belief that Jesus Christ rose from the dead after his crucifix, and the day symbolizes hope. Benedict said that Christ is ‘hope and comfort in a particular way for those Christian communities suffering most for their faith on account of discrimination and persecution.’

Sectarian violence in Iraq, often aimed at Christians, has prompted an exodus over the last years of many from the sizeable Christian community there.

Benedict also prayed that God sustain the Christian community in Africa, where the Catholic church has been enjoying vibrant growth in recent years. ‘To Nigeria, which in recent times has experienced savage terrorist attacks, may the joy of Easter grant the strength needed to take up anew the building of a society which is peaceful and respectful of the religious freedom of its citizens.’ Terrorism has hit both the Muslim and Christian community in Nigeria.

He prayed that Mali, wracked by a recent coup, would see ‘peace and stability.’

Various sources

Pope’s Easter Vigil homily

Here is the homily of His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, given at the Easter Vigil in St. Peter’s Basilica on Holy Saturday, April 7:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Easter is the feast of the new creation. Jesus is risen and dies no more. He has opened the door to a new life, one that no longer knows illness and death. He has taken mankind up into God himself. “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God”, as Saint Paul says in the First Letter to the Corinthians (15:50). On the subject of Christ’s resurrection and our resurrection, the Church writer Tertullian in the third century was bold enough to write: “Rest assured, flesh and blood, through Christ you have gained your place in heaven and in the Kingdom of God” (CCL II, 994). A new dimension has opened up for mankind. Creation has become greater and broader. Easter Day ushers in a new creation, but that is precisely why the Church starts the liturgy on this day with the old creation, so that we can learn to understand the new one aright. At the beginning of the Liturgy of the Word on Easter night, then, comes the account of the creation of the world. Two things are particularly important here in connection with this liturgy. On the one hand, creation is presented as a whole that includes the phenomenon of time. The seven days are an image of completeness, unfolding in time. They are ordered towards the seventh day, the day of the freedom of all creatures for God and for one another. Creation is therefore directed towards the coming together of God and his creatures; it exists so as to open up a space for the response to God’s great glory, an encounter between love and freedom. On the other hand, what the Church hears on Easter night is above all the first element of the creation account: “God said, ‘let there be light!’” (Gen 1:3). The creation account begins symbolically with the creation of light. The sun and the moon are created only on the fourth day. The creation account calls them lights, set by God in the firmament of heaven. In this way he deliberately takes away the divine character that the great religions had assigned to them. No, they are not gods. They are shining bodies created by the one God. But they are preceded by the light through which God’s glory is reflected in the essence of the created being.

What is the creation account saying here? Light makes life possible. It makes encounter possible. It makes communication possible. It makes knowledge, access to reality and to truth, possible. And insofar as it makes knowledge possible, it makes freedom and progress possible. Evil hides. Light, then, is also an expression of the good that both is and creates brightness. It is daylight, which makes it possible for us to act. To say that God created light means that God created the world as a space for knowledge and truth, as a space for encounter and freedom, as a space for good and for love. Matter is fundamentally good, being itself is good. And evil does not come from God-made being, rather, it comes into existence through denial. It is a “no”.

At Easter, on the morning of the first day of the week, God said once again: “Let there be light”. The night on the Mount of Olives, the solar eclipse of Jesus’ passion and death, the night of the grave had all passed. Now it is the first day once again – creation is beginning anew. “Let there be light”, says God, “and there was light”: Jesus rises from the grave. Life is stronger than death. Good is stronger than evil. Love is stronger than hate. Truth is stronger than lies. The darkness of the previous days is driven away the moment Jesus rises from the grave and himself becomes God’s pure light. But this applies not only to him, not only to the darkness of those days. With the resurrection of Jesus, light itself is created anew. He draws all of us after him into the new light of the resurrection and he conquers all darkness. He is God’s new day, new for all of us.

But how is this to come about? How does all this affect us so that instead of remaining word it becomes a reality that draws us in? Through the sacrament of baptism and the profession of faith, the Lord has built a bridge across to us, through which the new day reaches us. The Lord says to the newly-baptized: Fiat lux – let there be light. God’s new day – the day of indestructible life, comes also to us. Christ takes you by the hand. From now on you are held by him and walk with him into the light, into real life. For this reason the early Church called baptism photismos – illumination.

Why was this? The darkness that poses a real threat to mankind, after all, is the fact that he can see and investigate tangible material things, but cannot see where the world is going or whence it comes, where our own life is going, what is good and what is evil. The darkness enshrouding God and obscuring values is the real threat to our existence and to the world in general. If God and moral values, the difference between good and evil, remain in darkness, then all other “lights”, that put such incredible technical feats within our reach, are not only progress but also dangers that put us and the world at risk. Today we can illuminate our cities so brightly that the stars of the sky are no longer visible. Is this not an image of the problems caused by our version of enlightenment? With regard to material things, our knowledge and our technical accomplishments are legion, but what reaches beyond, the things of God and the question of good, we can no longer identify. Faith, then, which reveals God’s light to us, is the true enlightenment, enabling God’s light to break into our world, opening our eyes to the true light.

Dear friends, as I conclude, I would like to add one more thought about light and illumination. On Easter night, the night of the new creation, the Church presents the mystery of light using a unique and very humble symbol: the Paschal candle. This is a light that lives from sacrifice. The candle shines inasmuch as it is burnt up. It gives light, inasmuch as it gives itself. Thus the Church presents most beautifully the paschal mystery of Christ, who gives himself and so bestows the great light. Secondly, we should remember that the light of the candle is a fire. Fire is the power that shapes the world, the force of transformation. And fire gives warmth. Here too the mystery of Christ is made newly visible. Christ, the light, is fire, flame, burning up evil and so reshaping both the world and ourselves. “Whoever is close to me is close to the fire,” as Jesus is reported by Origen to have said. And this fire is both heat and light: not a cold light, but one through which God’s warmth and goodness reach down to us.

The great hymn of the Exsultet, which the deacon sings at the beginning of the Easter liturgy, points us quite gently towards a further aspect. It reminds us that this object, the candle, has its origin in the work of bees. So the whole of creation plays its part. In the candle, creation becomes a bearer of light. But in the mind of the Fathers, the candle also in some sense contains a silent reference to the Church,. The cooperation of the living community of believers in the Church in some way resembles the activity of bees. It builds up the community of light. So the candle serves as a summons to us to become involved in the community of the Church, whose raison d’être is to let the light of Christ shine upon the world.

Let us pray to the Lord at this time that he may grant us to experience the joy of his light; let us pray that we ourselves may become bearers of his light, and that through the Church, Christ’s radiant face may enter our world (cf. LG 1). Amen.

Vatican Informtion Service

Pope’s “Urbi et Orbi” address

Here is the English translation of the Holy Father’s Easter message “Urbi et Orbi”, given from the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica on Easter Sunday, April 8:

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Rome and throughout the world!

“Surrexit Christus, spes mea” – “Christ, my hope, has risen” (Easter Sequence).

May the jubilant voice of the Church reach all of you with the words which the ancient hymn puts on the lips of Mary Magdalene, the first to encounter the risen Jesus on Easter morning. She ran to the other disciples and breathlessly announced: “I have seen the Lord!” (Jn 20:18). We too, who have journeyed through the desert of Lent and the sorrowful days of the Passion, today raise the cry of victory: “He has risen! He has truly risen!”

Every Christian relives the experience of Mary Magdalene. It involves an encounter which changes our lives: the encounter with a unique Man who lets us experience all God’s goodness and truth, who frees us from evil not in a superficial and fleeting way, but sets us free radically, heals us completely and restores our dignity. This is why Mary Magdalene calls Jesus “my hope”: he was the one who allowed her to be reborn, who gave her a new future, a life of goodness and freedom from evil. “Christ my hope” means that all my yearnings for goodness find in him a real possibility of fulfilment: with him I can hope for a life that is good, full and eternal, for God himself has drawn near to us, even sharing our humanity.

But Mary Magdalene, like the other disciples, was to see Jesus rejected by the leaders of the people, arrested, scourged, condemned to death and crucified. It must have been unbearable to see Goodness in person subjected to human malice, truth derided by falsehood, mercy abused by vengeance. With Jesus’ death, the hope of all those who had put their trust in him seemed doomed. But that faith never completely failed: especially in the heart of the Virgin Mary, Jesus’ Mother, its flame burned even in the dark of night. In this world, hope can not avoid confronting the harshness of evil. It is not thwarted by the wall of death alone, but even more by the barbs of envy and pride, falsehood and violence. Jesus passed through this mortal mesh in order to open a path to the kingdom of life. For a moment Jesus seemed vanquished: darkness had invaded the land, the silence of God was complete, hope a seemingly empty word.

And lo, on the dawn of the day after the Sabbath, the tomb is found empty. Jesus then shows himself to Mary Magdalene, to the other women, to his disciples. Faith is born anew, more alive and strong than ever, now invincible since it is based on a decisive experience: “Death with life contended: combat strangely ended! Life’s own champion, slain, now lives to reign”. The signs of the resurrection testify to the victory of life over death, love over hatred, mercy over vengeance: “The tomb the living did enclose, I saw Christ’s glory as he rose! The angels there attesting, shroud with grave-clothes resting”.

Dear brothers and sisters! If Jesus is risen, then – and only then – has something truly new happened, something that changes the state of humanity and the world. Then he, Jesus, is someone in whom we can put absolute trust; we can put our trust not only in his message but in Jesus himself, for the Risen One does not belong to the past, but is present today, alive. Christ is hope and comfort in a particular way for those Christian communities suffering most for their faith on account of discrimination and persecution. And he is present as a force of hope through his Church, which is close to all human situations of suffering and injustice.

May the risen Christ grant hope to the Middle East and enable all the ethnic, cultural and religious groups in that region to work together to advance the common good and respect for human rights. Particularly in Syria, may there be an end to bloodshed and an immediate commitment to the path of respect, dialogue and reconciliation, as called for by the international community. May the many refugees from that country who are in need of humanitarian assistance find the acceptance and solidarity capable of relieving their dreadful sufferings. May the paschal victory encourage the Iraqi people to spare no effort in pursuing the path of stability and development. In the Holy Land, may Israelis and Palestinians courageously take up anew the peace process.

May the Lord, the victor over evil and death, sustain the Christian communities of the African continent; may he grant them hope in facing their difficulties, and make them peacemakers and agents of development in the societies to which they belong.

May the risen Jesus comfort the suffering populations of the Horn of Africa and favour their reconciliation; may he help the Great Lakes Region, Sudan and South Sudan, and grant their inhabitants the power of forgiveness. In Mali, now experiencing delicate political developments, may the glorious Christ grant peace and stability. To Nigeria, which in recent times has experienced savage terrorist attacks, may the joy of Easter grant the strength needed to take up anew the building of a society which is peaceful and respectful of the religious freedom of its citizens.

Happy Easter to all!

Vatican Information Service

Easter at the Cathedral

For those of you local folks, just a reminder of the Easter Schedule at the Cathedral Church of the Sacred Heart here in San Angelo, Texas:

    Holy Saturday, April 7:

The Easter Vigil at 8:00 p.m., with Bishop Michael D. Pfeifer, OMI, as principal celebrant.

    Easter Sunday, April 8:

Mass in English at 10:00 a.m.
Mass in Spanish at 11:45 a.m.

No evening Mass on Easter Sunday

A blessed Easter to all!

The Concho Padre

Good Friday homily at St. Peter’s from Father Cantalamessa

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 6, 2012 (VIS): Here is a translation of the homily that the preacher of the Pontifical Household, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, gave during the celebration of the Passion of the Lord today in St. Peter’s Basilica.

“I DIED, AND BEHOLD I AM ALIVE FOR EVERMORE”

(Revelation 1:18)

Some ancient Fathers of the Church enclosed in an image the whole mystery of the redemption. Imagine, they said, that an epic fight took place in the stadium. A courageous man confronted a cruel tyrant who had the city enslaved and, with enormous effort and suffering, defeated him. You were on the terraces; you did not fight, or make an effort or get wounded. However, if you admire the courageous man, if you rejoice with him over his victory, if you intertwine crowns, arouse and stir the assembly for him, if you kneel joyfully before the triumphant one, kiss his head and shake his right hand; in a word, if you rave so much as to consider his victory yours, I tell you that you will certainly have part of the victor’s prize.

However, there is more: imagine that the victor had himself no need of the prize he had won, but wished more than anything to see his supporter honored and considers as the prize of his combat the crowning of his friend, in that case, perhaps, will that man not obtain the crown also though he has not toiled on been wounded? He certainly will obtain it![1]

It happens thus, say the Fathers, between Christ and us. On the cross, he defeated the ancient enemy. “Our swords – exclaims Saint John Chrysostom – were not bloodied, we were not in agony, we were not wounded, we did not even see the battle and yet we obtain the victory. His was the fight, ours the crown. And because we are also the conquerors, let us imitate what soldiers do in such cases: with joyful voices let us exalt the victory, let us intone hymns of praise to the Lord!”[2] It is not possible to explain better the meaning of the liturgy we are celebrating.

However, is what we are doing itself an image, a representation of a reality of the past, or is it the reality itself? It is both things! “We – said Saint Augustine to the people – know and believe with very certain faith that Christ died only once for us […]. You know perfectly that all that happened only once, and yet the solemnity renews it periodically […]. Historical truth and liturgical solemnity are not opposed to one another, as if the second is fallacious and the first alone corresponds to the truth. In fact, of what history says occurred only once in reality, the solemnity repeatedly renews the celebration in the hearts of the faithful.”[3]

The liturgy “renews” the event: how many discussions have taken place for the past five centuries on the meaning of this word, especially when it is applied to the sacrifice of the cross and to the Mass! Paul VI used a verb that could smooth the way to an ecumenical agreement on such an argument: the verb “to represent,” understood in the strong sense of re-presenting, namely to render what happened again present and operative.[4]

There is an essential difference between the representation of Christ’s death and that, for example, of the death of Julius Caesar in Shakespeare’s tragedy of the same name. No one celebrates as a living person the anniversary of his own death; Christ does because he is risen. Only he can say, as he does in Revelation: “I died, and behold I am alive ever more” (Revelation 1:18). We must be careful on this day, visiting the so-called sepulchers or taking part in processions of the dead Christ, not to merit the reproach that the Risen One addressed to the pious women on Easter morning: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5).

The affirmation of certain Orthodox authors is bold but true. The anamnesis, namely the liturgical memorial, “renders the event truer than when it happened historically the first time.” In other words, it is more true and real for us who relive it “according to the Spirit,” than it was for those who lived it “according to the flesh,” before the Holy Spirit revealed the full meaning to the Church.

We are not only celebrating an anniversary but a mystery. Again, it is Saint Augustine who explains the difference between the two things. In the celebration “by way of anniversary,” nothing else is required – he says – than to “indicate with a religious solemnity the day of the year in which the recollection of the event itself takes place;” in the celebration by way of mystery (“in sacrament”), “not only is an event commemorated but it is also done in a way in which its meaning is understood and it is received devoutly.”[5]

This changes everything. It is not just a question of attending a representation, but of “accepting” the significance, of passing from spectators to actors. It is up to us therefore to choose what part we want to play in the drama, who we wish to be: Peter, Judas, Pilate, the crowd, the Cyrenean, John, Mary … No one can remain neutral; not take a position, means to take a very precise one: Pilate’s who washes his hands or the crowd “standing by, watching” (Luke 23:35).

If when going home this evening, someone asks us “Where are you coming from? Where have you been?” We must also answer, at least in our heart: “on Calvary!”

However, all this does not happen automatically, just because we have taken part in this liturgy. It is a question of “accepting” the meaning of the mystery. This happens with faith. There is no music where there is no ear to hear it, no matter how loud the orchestra sounds; there is no grace where there is no faith to receive it.

In an Easter homily of the 4thcentury, the bishop pronounced these extraordinarily modern, and one could say existentialist, words: “For every man, the beginning of life is when Christ was immolated for him. However, Christ is immolated for him at the moment he recognizes the grace and becomes conscious of the life procured for him by that immolation.”[6]

However, let us stay on the safe side; let us listen to a doctor of the Church. “What I cannot obtain by myself – writes Saint Bernard –, I appropriate (literally, I usurp!) with confidence from the pierced side of the Lord., because he is full of mercy. Hence my merit is the mercy of God. I am certainly not poor in merits, as long as he is rich in mercy. If the mercies of the Lord are many (Psalm 119:156), I will also abound in merits. And what about my own righteousness? O Lord, I will remember only your righteousness. In fact, it is also mine, because you are righteousness for me on behalf of God” (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:30).[7]

Did this way of conceiving holiness make Saint Bernard, perhaps, less zealous in good works, less committed to the acquisition of virtues? Did perhaps the apostle Paul neglect to mortify his body and reduce it to slavery (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:27), he who, before all and more than all, had made of this appropriation of Christ’s righteousness the purpose of his life and of his preaching (cf. Philippians 3:7-9)?

In Rome, as unfortunately in all big cities, there are so many homeless people, human persons who only have a few rags upon their body and some poor belongings that they carry along in a plastic bag. Let us imagine that one day this voice spreads: on Via Condotti (everyone knows what Via Condotti represents in Rome!) there is the owner of a fashion boutique who, for some unknown reason, whether out of interest or generosity, invites all the homeless of Termini rail way station to come to her shop; she invites them to take off their soiled rags, to have a good shower and then choose the garment they want among those displayed and take it away free of charge.

All say in their heart: “This is a fairy-tale, it never happens!” Very true, but what never happens among men is what can happen every day between men and God, because, before Him, we are those homeless people! This is what happens in a good confession: you take off your dirty rags, your sins, receive the bath of mercy and rise “clothed in the garments of salvation, covered with the robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10).

The tax collector of the parable went up into the temple to pray; he said simply but from the depth of his heart: “God, be merciful to me a sinner!”, and “he went down to his house justified” (Luke 18:14), reconciled, made new, innocent. The same could be said of us, if we have his same faith and repentance, when we go home after this liturgy.

Among the personages of the Passion with whom we can identify, I realize that I have neglected to name one that more than all awaits those who will follow his example: the good thief.

The good thief made a complete confession of sin; he says to his companion who insults Jesus: “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:40f.). Here the good thief shows himself an excellent theologian. Only God in fact, if he suffers, suffers absolutely as innocent; every other being who suffers should say: “I suffer justly,” because even if he is not responsible for the action imputed to him, he is never altogether without fault. Only the pain of innocent children is similar to God’s and because of this it is so mysterious and so sacred.

How many atrocious crimes in recent times remained anonymous, how many unresolved cases exist! The good thief launches an appeal to those responsible: do like me, come out into the open, confess your fault; you also will experience the joy I had when I heard Jesus’ word: “”today you will be with me in Paradise!” (Luke 23:43). How many confessed offenders can confirm that it was also like this for them: that they passed from hell to heaven the day that they had the courage to repent and confess their fault. I have known some myself. The paradise promised is peace of conscience, the possibility of looking at oneself in the mirror or of looking at one’s children without having to have contempt for oneself.

Do not take your secret to your grave; it would procure for you a far more fearful condemnation than the human. Our people are not merciless with one who has made a mistake but recognizes the evil done, sincerely, not just for some calculation. On the contrary! They are ready to be merciful and to accompany the repentant one on his journey of redemption (which in every case becomes shorter). “God forgives many things, for a good work,” says Lucia to the Unnamed in Manzoni’s novel “The Betrothed”; with greater truth we can say, he forgives many things by one act of repentance. He promised it solemnly: “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Isaiah 1:18).

Let us take up now and do what we heard at the beginning, it is our task this day: with joyful voices let us exalt the victory of the cross, intone hymns of praise to the Lord. “O Redemptor, sume carmen temet concinentium”[8]: And you, O our Redeemer, receive the song we raise to you.

Vatican Information Service