April 23, 2015, Thursday — Quiet Day in Rome

Feast of St. George

“St. George is a reminder that sometimes good people are called upon to bother to be brave and offer that protection in place of Jesus.”— Father Peter Fleetwood, commenting on the Feast of St. George, which was celebrated in Rome today with a Vatican holiday, because it is the “name day” of Pope Jorge (“George”) Mario Bergoglio, that is, of Pope Francis

St. George’s Day is celebrated on 23 April, the traditionally accepted date of St. George’s death in 303 AD. For Eastern Orthodox Churches (which use the Julian calendar), “23 April” currently falls on 6 May of the Gregorian calendar.

ROME — Today was a sunny, cool, quiet day in Rome.

The Vatican was closed… it was a holiday for the employees of the Holy See, because it was the Feast of St. George — and Pope Francis’ name is Jorge (George) Mario Bergoglio, so today was his “name day” (onomastico, in Italian).

About 90% of the Vatican’s employees were off, with only a “skeleton crew” of 10% or so checking in to work in order to keep the “wheels of the city” turning.

With April nearly over, it is clear that the next eight months, closing out the year 2015, will be a critical period in this now more than 2-year-old pontificate — and likely a critical period for our world, which faces a rare constellation of economic, geopolitical, environmental and moral-cultural problems, which will require great wisdom, patience, courage and goodwill to address in a way that avoids great tragedy and suffering.

A brief summary: the Pope will soon issue his encyclical on the environment (expected before mid-summer); he will travel to Latin America in July; he will rest, plan and pray during August; he will undertake a very important trip to Cuba and the United States in September; he will preside over the second session of the bishops’ synod on the family in October; and he will open the Holy Door for the beginning of the special Jubilee of Mercy on December 8.

The city was quiet today, but throughout the Vatican there is a sense that Pope Francis thus far has merely been preparing for what is about to take place.

And what is that?

There are many different viewpoints, of course, and each viewpoint has its strengths and weaknesses. In these past few days, I have heard many opinions, and I am weighing and measuring these as best I can, to synthesize the essence of the situation in these letters.

The bottom line seems to be that expressed by Pope Francis himself: that the Gospel of Christ must be preached — must be proclaimed — and, if necessary, sometimes in words.

In other words, mostly in actions.

That is, through Christians loving their “neighbors” in such a way that the “neighbors” give praise and glory to God — and are attracted to that reality which (that person who) has ignited such courageous love in the hearts of Christians, that is… Christ.

Certainly there are emphases in this pontificate which are different than those of Pope Benedict. That is true. Pope Benedict had a profound sense of the truth that “lex orandi, lex credendi” — in other words, that the “law” or “way” of praying (including the way of celebrating the liturgy, the highest prayer of the Church) affects, determines, teaches, infuses, the “law” or “way” of believing. That faith is deepened by the deepening of prayer. That faith is strengthened through a more profound liturgical practice. And it is true that, at least in appearance, at least thus far in this dramatic and dense with activity pontificate, this great truth, so important to Pope Benedict, seems — seems — to occupy a less central place in the thought of Pope Francis.

But Francis is a different person, with different gifts, so this is only to be expected (and for many, only to be applauded!).

And some of these gifts are extraordinary.

Evidently one of these gifts is his utter fearlessness — his willingness to risk even misunderstandings in order to break through layers of superficial and often hypocritical religiosity to demand from people the very best that they have, their true personal commitment to live deeply, to love deeply, to confess sins and shortcomings, and to start again, trusting in the mercy of God, in the mercy of Christ, in the mercy of the Church. To truly live, in Christ, through Christ, with Christ…. in forgiveness, in pardon, in mercy…

So, in the streets of Rome, in the corridors of the Curia, there is, yes, some concern about what Francis may say and do next, and some — some — concern that what he may say and do may be misunderstood.

But there is also a profound respect for the fact that this man, with such energy and such courage, is attempting to be like… St. George himself… as he attempts to “slay the dragon” who looms over our time, the dragon who would consume human beings in the fire of his breath, in the fire of despair, in the fire of superficial pleasure, in the fire of injustice and oppression, in the fire of division and hatred and general indifference.

In this perspective, I am going to try to do more than I have done up to now to chronicle what Francis is doing and saying, to explain his intentions and hopes, and to cut through the mystifications and tendentious misrepresentations so common in the coverage of this pontificate.

And, at the outset, I must stress one insight I have struggled to come to: that there is a profound continuity between this pontificate and the one of the theologian-Pope, Benedict XVI.

Benedict tried to warn the Church, but also humanity as a whole, of the dangers of a new type of “Promethean humanism” which he argued — in his very deep, rich, thoughtful way — must be tempered with wisdom and humility if mankind is to avoid great confusion and unnecessary suffering. We do not want to let too many “genies” out of the bottle, lest they turn on us and rend us, he seemed to be telling us, rightly…

Francis, even more eloquently and dramatically than Benedict, has made clear that he, that the Church, that the Christian faith, does not wish to “burden” men and women with burdens “impossible to bear,” but rather to free us from ways of thinking and acting that will, in the end, diminish and harm us.

Both of these Popes, in an age of rapid technological and scientific innovation, have wished to remind mankind of certain deep, eternal truths, which are often mocked, but which underlie and support the actual well-springs of true human happiness.

On this matter, of course, there would be more to say, more voices to cite, more issues to explore in greater detail, but there will be time for that, in future.

For the moment, my first point is that there is a continuity, beneath all the apparent differences, between these two pontificates.

And so, the message I am hearing, and the message that I am persuaded is fundamentally true, is that this successor of Peter, like Benedict XVI, and like previous pontiffs, intends to guide the bark of Peter through the very rough seas of our time in accordance with the perennial teaching and wisdom of the Church. In this difficult and almost — humanly speaking — impossible task, the most important thing Francis needs to have some chance of success in his efforts, in these coming months, is Church unity.

Debate, discussion, yes… of course. Only in this way can we come to a reasonable conclusion.

But division, or disunity, no. Division and disunity would be tragic, and would weaken the Church greatly in her mission.

I will try to give evidence, and arguments, to support this position, in coming days and weeks.

Here is a piece from Vatican Radio published today, about Pope Francis, and his patron saint, St. George.

The Pope is a modern-day St George fighting the forces of evil


The Argentine Monsignor Guillermo Karcher (cited in the article below) is on the left standing next to the newly-elected Pope Francis on March 13, 2013, just after his election — Karcher is holding the microphone into which the new Pope will speak his first words

(Vatican Radio) Monsignor Guillermo Karcher is an Argentinian priest and pontifical usher and has known the Pope for over 20 years.

It was he who held Pope Francis’ microphone when he addressed his first words to the world from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica following his election.

In an interview with Vatican Radio marking the Pope’s name-day of Jorge or George, Monsignor Karcher described the Pope as a modern-day St. George because “he is a great fighter against the forces of evil and does this with a truly Christian spirit.”

Monsignor Karcher said Pope Francis showed the same strength and same characteristics when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires where he sowed good in order to fight evil and was much loved by his flock.

Despite the Pope’s huge popularity, Monsignor Karcher was asked if Francis gets upset when criticisms are leveled against him, including from those within the Catholic Church.

He replied saying that the Pope responds to such criticisms by laughing and saying “OK, it’s better that we know what people are like.”

He says this reaction is due to Pope Francis’ freedom of spirit and his interior strength.

The Pope, he continued, is carrying forward a ministry entrusted to him for the good of the Church and the world and he does it with a tranquil heart and a feeling of certainty. He also has a strong spirituality and every morning dedicates two hours to prayer and reflection.

Asked what greeting or wish he would like to give the Pope on his name-day, Monsignor Karcher said he hopes the Holy Father will continue to be himself, with his consistency and his transparency because “he is doing so much good.”

I hope, he concluded, that St. George protects him and that he continues “this battle for good, by sowing the good that he is already doing.”

And here is a second Vatican Radio story, about the celebration today of the Pope’s “name day.”

VATICAN RADIO, April 23, 2015 — Here in the Vatican we are marking St. George’s Day in a special way. Yes, Cardinal Bergoglio may have taken the name Francis as Pope, but his Christian name is Jorge, George to you and me.

That’s why we’ve chosen to bring you a timely reflection for his Feast day on the 23rd of April. Especially as in England our patron Saint is St. George. One who’s most often depicted as a soldier fighting a dragon to save someone else’s life.

Monsignor Peter Fleetwood reflects for us on the meaning of this symbolism explaining how dragons may be mythical animals, but myths contains symbols and symbols sum up some aspect of life that is very important or powerful: “I suspect the dragon represents evil in any form,” he said. “Some people may not like to hear this , but the dragon may represent evil people.”

Listen to Monsignor Peter Fleetwood in a program presented and produced by Veronica Scarisbrick for the series “Why Bother? Staying Catholic despite it all”:

We would have to apologise to the Chinese in this respect, Father Peter Fleetwood specifies, for according to an ancient tradition they believe dragons are symbols of good, so exactly the opposite.

But this is no Chinese story for as he tells us here in the West: “The dragon is a symbol of the power evil people can wield in this world. They can force good people into submission and either damage them or humiliate them or lead them astray.

“This is a frightening reality, and it is a reminder that sometimes goodness and holiness mean bravery in the face of wickedness.

“At a baptism, the new Christian is exorcised, not because she or he is possessed , but because the Christian Church recognises where human power runs out and we simply have to rely on God.

“St. George is a reminder that we need help to survive when evil is about. It may be a naive symbolism, but the pictures and statues of St. George are all about the battle between good and evil.

“They also hark back to what Jesus said about his sheep. He was there to protect them, because they needed protection.

“St. George is a reminder that sometimes good people are called upon to bother to be brave and offer that protection in place of Jesus.”


Note: For those who would like to travel with us on pilgrimage:

(1) In mid-July 2015, we will travel with a small group of Inside the Vatican readers on our annual “Urbi et Orbi” pilgrimage to Russia, Turkey and the Vatican, to visit eastern Orthodox leaders, shrines and monasteries, and to talk with Vatican officials about ecumenical relations between Catholics and Orthodox;

(2) On December 8, 2015, and again on November 20, 2016, we will be gathering in Rome to be present when Pope Francis opens the Holy Door to begin his Special Jubilee of Mercy, and when he closes the door to end the Jubilee Year. If you would like to join us on one or more of these pilgrimages, email now for more information…

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What is the glory of God?

“The glory of God is man alive; but the life of man is the vision of God.” —St. Irenaeus of Lyons, in the territory of France, in his great work Against All Heresies, written c. 180 A.D.

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