From Cardinals to Cossacks

Each year for the past 10 years, Inside the Vatican has chosen 10 “People of the Year” — men and women of courage, vision, learning and faith. Here below are our choices for this past year

By Robert Moynihan, reporting from America


The Inside the Vatican “Top Ten” for 2009

Each year for the past 10 years, Inside the Vatican has selected 10 people to bring to the attention of our readers because of the important work that they do, and the courage, wisdom and charity with which they carry out that work.

We make no claim that this list is exhaustive; we wish we could choose 100 persons instead of just this small number. (One reader has just written us asking us to expand the list to the “Top 50”!)

The essential point, however, remains: that there are people in the world today who are “signs of hope.”

This year we felt that we wished especially to focus on people who are working in situations of political and theological conflict.

Men like Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos of Colombia, a recently retired Vatican cardinal who has spent many years working to keep open lines of communication with tradition-minded Catholics. He is our choice for “Man of the Year,” and we have given him the #1 spot on our list.

The #3, #9 and #10 spots are given to men who have labored for many years in the difficult field of ecumenism, where deeply held beliefs must be discussed in depth in order to find ways to seek a new understanding and communion without leaving aside any essential element of Christian truth: the Russian Orthodox layman Leonid Sevastianov, the Austrian Catholic layman Dr. Johann Marthe, and the Italian Catholic Archbishop Antonio Mennini.

In fact, in keeping with Jesus’ teaching that “the last shall be first,” we have given special attention to the work of Archbishop Mennini, since we regard his success in helping build a climate of trust between Catholics and Orthodox in Russia as of enormous significance… also in light of the promise of Fatima. That is why Mennini’s profile, the 10th profile below, is the longest of all — and perhaps the most significant to read at this time. —The Editor

P.S. We welcome nominations from readers for next year’s “Top 10.” We also welcome all new subscribers, whether to the printed edition of the magazine, or to this emailed newsflash. In this regard, you can help us by sending us one or several additional email addresses of people you believe might wish to receive these newsflashes, for us to add to our list. Thank you.


The Top Ten People of 2009

1. Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos

Former Prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, he is the former President of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei

2. Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson

The new president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, he is a leader of the Church in Africa

3. Leonid Sevastianov

Executive Director of the St. Gregory Nazianzus Foundation, he is working for the renewal of Russia and Europe

4. Don Luigi Maria Epicoco

A parish priest in L’Aquila, Abruzzo, he saved people during the earthquake in the region in April 2009

5. Suor Giovanna Gentili

An Italian nun, she retired this year after 25 years of service in the Vatican Press Office

6. Abbess Maria Tekla Famiglietti

She is the energetic head of a religious order of nuns in rapid expansion worldwide

7. Bishop Mario Toso

The new secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, he advised the Pope on his last encyclical

8. Professor Antonio Paolucci

The director of the Vatican Museums, he has great responsibility for the cultural patrimony of the Church

9. Dr. Johann Marthe

An Austrian scholar, his work with the “Pro Oriente” Foundation has brought Christians closer together

10. Archbishop Antonio Mennini

An Italian papal diplomat, he this year successfully negotiated the upgrade in Vatican relations with Russia


1. Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos

The life of Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos took a dramatic turn with the release of the motu proprio “Summorum Pontificum,” the papal document which “rehabilitated” the pre-Vatican II liturgy, on July 7, 2007.

Since then, for two and a half years, the Church has been entering into a new phase in which the pre-conciliar tradition is once again appreciated and integrated into Catholic life. And no one has done more to implement this integration than Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos.

Our choice of him as the first of our “People of the Year” is in part a choice of all those in the Church who have labored over the decades to preserve the treasures of the Catholic tradition, especially her liturgy, in a time of much confusion and forgetfulness of ancient things.

Beginning in July 2007, even the Ecclesia Dei Commission had to reposition itself, from the role of a defender of the old rite from oblivion to that of an agent for its spreading and promotion, as noted by Msgr. Fernando Areas Rifan, the first traditional bishop consecrated by Rome since Vatican II.

As the head of Ecclesia Dei, Cardinal Castrillon Hoy­os was called to play a pivotal role in the strategy of Benedict XVI to restore the sacred in the Church.

But what he did to accomplish the will of the Holy Father, in full loyalty and obedience, went well beyond his mandate, since he did not limit himself to preaching, but actually practiced what he preached. And what better way to preach than by example?

It started well before the release of Summorum Pontificum, on May 24, 2003, when for the first time in decades a senior prelate of the Curia still fully in office, like Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos, celebrated a pontifical Mass in the old Latin rite in one of the major four basilicas in Rome, St. Mary Major.

“I had not celebrated anymore according to the missal of 1962, after the post-conciliar liturgical reform,” Castrillon Hoyos was quoted as saying in an interview in the Osservatore Romano on March 27, 2008. “Today in resuming sometimes the extraordinary rite, I myself have rediscovered the richness of the old liturgy that the Pope wants to keep alive, preserving that age-old form of Roman tradition.”

An old Italian proverb says that “appetite grows by eating”: since the pontifical in St. Mary Major, and especially after the motu proprio, Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos has celebrated the old rite on an increasing number of occasions: in Rome, outside of Rome and even in other countries, and it would not be possible to keep record of all of them in our limited space.

But most of all, his tireless zeal has by no means dwindled after he had to retire on July 8, 2009 following his 80th birthday (he was born on July 4, 1929) — on the very day when Benedict XVI attached the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith with the motu proprio “Ecclesiae Unitatem.”

“I was prefect of the Ecclesia Dei, my concern is for the Church, and I’ll do all I can for her full unity, my interest will be devoted to her sanctification as well as the wonderful wealth of her traditional rites,” he was quoted as saying in an interview by Süddeutsche Zeitung on September 25, 2009.

But more than that, Castrillon Hoyos is also living up to his words “traditional rites” in the plural: for example, he administered the Sacrament of Confirmation according to the old rite on December 12, 2009, to a number of youth in the personal parish of Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini.

On Immaculate Conception day, December 8, 2009, he led a traditionalist public procession of almost a thousand people in the very heart of Rome promoted by the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest from the Church of Gesù e Maria al Corso, where they are headquartered, to the Cathedral of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva.

Interestingly, in the morning of the same day, a pontifical in the extraordinary or Gregorian rite was being celebrated by Cardinal Franc Rodé, Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, in the church of Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini.

It would really seem that in the footsteps of Castrillon Hoyos, an increasing number of cardinals are starting to celebrate the old rite, as was also the case with Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, who celebrated a traditional pontifical in Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini on All Saints Day November 1, 2009, after having previously done so in the stately basilica of St John Lateran.

In a press conference on the sidelines of the pontifical he celebrated on June 14, 2008, in the cathedral of Westminster in London, the first time after some three decades, with more than 1,500 people in attendance, Cardinal Castrillon-Hoyos revealed that the Pope’s intention was for the extraordinary rite to be made available at every parish.

Should this ever materialize, Castrillon Hoyos should be also credited for it.

And last but not least, should talks with the Lefebvre-founded Society of St. Pius X be successful, ample merit must also be attributed to his contribution in terms of charity, patience and diplomatic skills that enabled him to begin the talks in 2000 after they were discontinued in 1988. —Alberto Carosa

2. Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson

Some think he could be the next Pope.

He himself doesn’t waste a thought on the idea — he is focused on doing what he can now to help bring the Gospel to Africa, and in so doing, to bring a better life to the people of his troubled continent.

And now Pope Benedict has called him to Rome to become the highest-ranking African in the Roman Curia, following the retirement of Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria. He will head the Vatican’s Justice and Peace Council, which deals with the great social issues of our time.

Our selection of Cardinal Turkson as one of our “Top Ten” of 2009 is in part the selection of all those in Africa, and around the world, who labor to bring justice and pecae in their countries.

Africa is always present in the mind and heart of Peter Kodwo (Monday) Appiah Turkson. He was born on a Monday, and according to his country’s tradition, his first name, Kodwo, is that of the day he was born.

This cardinal from Ghana, 61 years on October 11 during the bishops synod on Africa in the Vatican, is a man who knows media well. And that is not small news. Especially in a time when the communication of the Church is in deep crisis.

He is also a man with a profound insight into the great global problems of our time, including the emerging conflict between the West and Islam. Turkson told the Synod on Africa,m which met in Rome this October, that in his native Ghana, but also in many other countries, religious diversity has never been a problem, that in the same family there may be Catholic, Methodist and even Islamic brothers and sisters.

What does this mean? For Turkson, the intrusive and dangerous Is­lam now emerging is not the “classical” Islam but a new, politicized Islam which spreads and sneak into the souls of simple people. This is a concern for everybody, not only for Christians.

Among the internal problems of the Church, on the other hand, Turkson believes one of the most serious problems in Africa is the education of priestsand faithful alike. The catechists often only have a superficial education, and old beliefs often continue to live in the hearts of the converts. If some of them choose to become priests, the danger is doubled.

What should be done? The cardinal believes that the future priests should study in Africa, and not be sent to study in Europe before their ordination. Local seminaries must be strengthened and African anthropology and philosophy must be studied deeply in order to shape a formative and informed theology, he says. As bishop of Cape Coast in Ghana, Turkson invited deacons to live with him some months before their ordination, in order to know each other better and to learn to work together.

What else should be done? This cardinal from Ghana believes that the most important thing of all is to stimulate the Africans’ capacity, their positivity, their richness, their “Africanness.”

At the Synod, the cardinal shook his fellow bishops and told them not to feel sorry for themselves but to act and react. And they, the African bishops gathered in the Vatican, celebrated him three times in 21 days: October 11th because it was his 61st birthday; October 17th because his country, Ghana, defeated Brazil in the Under-20 soccer World Cup; and on October 24th, the day before the end of the Synod, for his appointment as President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

As relator of the Synod he spent many nights correcting propositions and summarizing emendments, but also talking and getting to know people.

His curriculum of studies starts in Ghana, continues in New York and at the Gregoriana University in Rome with a Doctorate at the Biblical Institute in 1992, and with the unexpected appointment to bishop of Cape Coast, after the sudden death of his predecessor. He is at ease with languages: English, French, Italian and German, not to mention Greek, Hebrew and Latin.

As new President of Justice and Peace he talks about justice in Africa in the family, in the relationship between man and woman, with their children, and says: “When I talk about family I also think about the tribe, which in Africa is a broader family. We don’t even have a word for cousins and nephews: in our country, my cousin is my brother.”

In the text of the propositions of the Synod there is also a piece of advice for Iustitia et pax. The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace is asked “to promote an African Peace and Solidarity Initiative.” In Ghana, Turkson presided over the National Peace Council, composed of five religious leaders and of six cultural, economic and social leaders. “I have discussed it with the bishops of Togo, where there will be elections in February. We must not leave the politicians to their own devices, they must feel that someone is controlling their actions.”

On October 24, 2009, Cardinal Turkson was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI as president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, replacing Cardinal Renato Martino, who had reached the retirement age. Cardinal Turkson will work with the secretary, Bishop Mario Toso, appointed two days previously, on behalf of peace and justice around the world.

And in future?

“If God would wish to see a black man also as Pope, thanks be to God,” Turkson once said. —Angela Ambrogetti

3. Leonid Sevastianov

 We have chosen as our #3 “Person of the Year” a remarkable young Russian whose father was a leader of the “Old Believer” community in Russia and who is close to the new Russian Orthodox Patriarch, Kirill, and to the new “Foreign Minister” of the Russian Orthodox Church, Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev.

Kirill and Alfeyev have asked this young layman, Leonid Sevastianov, 31, to promote traditional Christian values in Europe by means of a new foundation called The St. Gregory Nazianzus Foundation, set up in mid-2009.

We think Sevastianov’s appointment may signal the return of the Old Believer community to a more prominent position in the life of the Russian Orthodox Church, and that this is a development worth watching. Given Sevastianov’s friendships, his fast rise, and his young age, he could be in a very prominent place in Russia in the years ahead.

Sevastianov was born in 1978 in Rostov-on-Don, a Cossack region, into a family of Russian Old Believers. His grandfather was a Cossack who served as a bodyguard of the last Czar, Nicholas II, and after the 1917 revolution fought in the White Army during the civil war.

His father “never accepted the Bolshevik regime,” Sevastianov told me. “He never was a member of Communist Party. During his life, he combined his job of antique dealer with serving as a leader in Rostov’s Old Believer community. From the time I was a boy, I understood the truth from my father that a man can be a Christian, a free, moral person, no matter what political regime he lives under. From my father I also understood that prosperity, freedom and final happiness come from traditional Christian values. The whole history of the Old Believers’ movement demonstrated this.”

After his graduation from high school at the age 17, Sevastianov entered the Moscow seminary where he got to know then-Metropolitan Kirill and then-Father Hilarion Alfeyev. After graduating from the seminary, he was sent by Kirill and Hilarion to to the Gregorian University in Rome to study political philosophy from 1999 to 2002 (he speaks Italian fluently). He was then sent to Georgetown University in Washington DC from 2002 to 2004 to complete an MA in international relations (he also speaks English fluently).

When he returned to Russia, he decided not to become a priest because he wanted to strengthen the lay component in Russian Orthodoxy in order to have a greater impact on society.

What are his plans for the new Foundation? “We want to attract the attention of religious believers, in Russia and abroad, who believe in traditional Christian values,” Sevastianov told me. “We want to promote the idea of the unity between the West and Russia on the basis of common Christian roots. We believe in this alliance among traditional Christian countries, and we believe we need to talk with one voice in the face of secularism and a false ‘liberalism.’

“We believe traditional Christian values are the basis for a more just, prosperous, open and free society, and we can find an example of this at the beginning of the 20th century, when leading Russian Old Believers, the most traditional wing of Russian Orthodoxy, like Pavel Ryabushinsky and Savva Timofeyevich Morozov, attempted to reform Russian society.”

At the begining of 2009, Sevastianov introduced an initiative that was seen as revolutionary not only by Russians but also worldwide. After the death of Patriarch Alexi II and before the election of the new Church leader, he opened a website where all Russian Orthodox believers could express their opinion about who should be the next Patriarch. On that website, 702,000 voters expressed their preference, with 72% supporting Kirill. The site was so popular that the delegates of the Council could not help but take it into consideration when they voted, Sevastianov says.

Sevastianov is now working very closely with Archbishop Hilarion, 43, as his financial and economic advisor, after helping him to organize concerts in Rome and the US in 2007. They now plan to found a theological academy similar to the ?Vatican’s pontifical diplomatic academy.

“We were on Mt. Athos (in Greece) on the 11th of August this year, and we went to the monastery where are kept the holy remains of St. Gregory Naz­i­anzus the Theologian,” Sevastianov told me. “The archbishop called me to his side, and together we venerated the relics. Just at that precise moment, my cellphone rang. It was Moscow calling. A government official informed me that the St. Gregory Foundation had been registered that morning. Just at that moment! We took it as a sign.”

Sevastianov told me the Russian Orthodox have decided to engage with Catholics, and others, in a collaboration which can be compared to an actual alliance against the great social evils of our day, not only in Russia, but also throughout Europe and the world.

Therefore, with the spiritual blessing of Kirill, Archbishop Hilarion decided to set up the St. Gregory Nazianzus Foundation in order to work together with Catholics and others in the West, to support traditional spiritual values in Russia, but also throughout the world. (St. Gregory was a theologian in the 300s, well before the division of the Church into East and West, and so is venerated both by the Catholics and by the Orthodox. He is a Father of the Church for all Christians.)

Hilarion chose Sevastianov to head up the foundation and direct its activity. We will see what he does. —Robert Moynihan

4. Don Luigi Maria Epicoco

Many of us saw him next to the Pope on that April 28th in L’Aquila, close to his young friends in front of the ruins of the “Home of the Student.”

Luigi Maria Epicoco is the young parish priest of San Giuseppe Artigiano, the university parish in this town in the region Abruzzo, which on April 6th was hit by a violent earthquake.

Dozens of building collapsed. Hundreds were trapped in the rubble. Dozens died. Many of the victims were young people, students. And they had to be buried.

Don Gino, as everybody calls him, never lost his courage. And our selection of him as one of out “Top Ten” of 2009 is really in part a selection of all those who confront a great tragedy and retain their courage and hope, and keep going.

“Communication is important,” he wrote on his blog, “not only because it keeps the attention focused on the problems, but because communication is the first way we have of sharing what we are and what we experience.”

That was the easiest and most direct way he could find of continuing his conversations with “his” young friends (55 among them are not here any more).

But there are so many others to take care of. The university parish of L’Aquila has 30.000 members, the entire pastoral activity must be reorganized. Also through the web site of the parish and through the social network Facebook with photo and posts of the students and the priests.

“We are trying to reorganize the pastoral activity in the light of what has happened. We don’t even have a pastoral geography any more. We are reconsidering the limits of the parish, because the population has moved and now lives in places which we never reached before, but which now are full of people.”

Don Luigi always uses the present tense talking about his parish and its activities and catechesis. It is a quite particular parish, a personal parish for the pastoral care of the university students. It has no defined territory. “In the entire diocese, wherever there is a university student, professor or technician, there is the parish.” And in the summer, thanks to the Erasmus program, there are the European students, so the activity never stops.

He has had to deal with the problem that his parish was scattered, but soon the activities could start again although slowly. Don Luigi tells his young parishioners that they can learn something from the earthquake.

“The earthquake taught us something that we used to preach but that we now know is true, that the Church is not made of stones but of people. The earthquake has almost forced our conversion. It has also taught us that people don’t have to come to us, but that we have to go to them. We are shepherds who must run after these lambs wherever they have been scattered.”

For Don Gino, the parish is wherever his young parishioners are. In the faculties, in the tents, in the few remaining student houses.

“Almost nobody has managed to return to the house where they lived before. The most lucky have managed to bring with them some of their things. All the free homes have been requisitioned by their owners who lived in other houses which have been damaged, or as potential homes for families which have lost everything. The university students will get their lodging after the others, and that is a pity, because the students are an entire people in L’Aquila. The ancient city centre as a matter of fact was dominated by the university. And that night it was almost empty, because the students were on their spring holidays. Otherwise it would have been a massacre.”

One particular day marked the watershed between before and after the earthquake: the Pope’s visit. On the web site of the parish, Don Luigi wrote: “The Home of the Student is now not only the macabre theater of those who have seen their future betrayed and were buried beneath those walls. But it is a reminder for those who will reconstruct, that engineering must not consist only in correct calculations but also in the awareness that life is more important than any other interest. This is what Peter’s successor did. He turned horror into an opportunity, ‘our mourning into dancing’ (PS 30:12).

“I think that the stress has helped people to deepen and mature, but also to learn to deal with this sorrow, because if you don’t, you remain in an immense frustration. So it really is an opportunity. Either this experience makes us better, or it makes us frustrated… and this is what the pastoral work is about: how to stand up in front of this sorrow.”

I asked the young pastor what his plans are now.

“Simply to allow reality to guide us instead of our pastoral programs,” he told me. “We are playing it by ear, but we are not lost. I continue to think that the Word of God and the Holy Spirit are not only beatiful words that we preach from the pulpit. They are a compass which helps us in dark moments, in the mist and in the struggle.

“I notice this now when I celebrate and when I read the Gospel, that these words are not only true, they are real, concrete, much more than beautiful. The temptation of the fear of being left alone is always there outside our door. But if Christ says that he will not leave us alone until the end of the world, he will find a way of staying with us, especially in the hour of the Cross.” —Angela Ambrogetti

5. Sister Giovanna Gentili

With her efficiency and cordiality, Sister Giovanna was the image of the Vatican press room for 25 years. The presence of this Pauline nun, discreet and reserved, but at the same time reliable, reassured with her kind smile those entering the Vatican press room for the first time.

Sister Giovanna, in fact, while helping a newcomer to fill in the application form for admittance to the press room, found a way to start a pleasant conversation with the newcomer, thereby putting him or her at ease immediately.

Actually, I can confirm all this, since, when I first entered the press room, it was Sister Giovanna who directed me to her desk to give me all the information I needed. I remember that she also showed me round the press room, telling me where to find the various bulletins and pointing me to the little buffet.

It was customary, I dare say even ritual, for everyone entering the main door of the press office to turn toward the right and catch Sister Giovanna’s eye for a simple hello.

“God’s post woman,” as she was affectionately called in an interview published by the diocesan weekly Vita Trentina (Life of Trent), was also entrusted with the task of getting admission tickets to Vatican events for journalists, sometimes a heavy duty when a groups of foreign journalists arrived in Rome for a ceremony, e.g., a consistory, and to be organized and directed in a few brief minutes.

In the same interview, Sister Giovanna remembered with affection the directors she had worked for: Dr. Joaquin Navarro-Valls, for whom she worked for more than 20 years, and Father Federico Lombardi, S.J., for whom she had been working since 2006.

This is what she said of Dr. Navarro-Valls: “He enjoyed the Pope’s complete confidence like no other, he was extraordinarily faithful to the Pope and had an extraordinary sense of duty: a reserved man, he cultivated a deep attitude of prayer: He read all that the Pope wrote to the point of identifying with him and being able to interpret his thoughts.”

Of Father Lombardi, who coordinates the press room, the TV station and Vatican Radio, she said: “I am deeply impressed by his memory and intellectual faculties, as well his helpfulness with journalists.”

On July 1, 2009, Sister Giovanna left her job at the Press Office. After holding an important post for many years, she resigned amidst colleagues and journalists saying good-bye to her.

During the meeting organized to say good-bye to Sister Giovanna and thank her for her job which on a daily basis brought her in touch with journalists accredited to the Holy See, she was awarded the Croce pro Ecclesia et Pontifice (Cross for the Church and the Pope), an honor conferred on clergy and laymen who have distinguished themselves for their service to the Church. Sister Giovanna received the cross from Archbishop Claudio Celli, President of the Pontifical Council for the media, who handed it to her on behalf of the Pope.

Celli remembered Sister Giovanna’s dedication, which won her the esteem of the Pope and the Holy See. “We must be thankful to Sister Giovanna,” said Father Lombardi, “who defined the Vatican press room as her home and community, for her long service, commitment, faithfulness, along with the attention and patience that she dedicated to the journalists accredited to the press room, resulting from her scrupulous work and extraordinary dedication, especially during the transition from one pontificate to the other.”

At the end of the ceremony Sister Giovanna, visibly moved as she had never been, thanked everybody.

We know that we will still meet her on occasion, just the period it will take her to hand over to a good successor, who, by the way, already works at the Accreditation Office. Yet we feel a bit like orphans now that she is gone. Thank you, Sister Giovanna, for guiding, protecting, and sometimes for reproaching us, not without good reason. If we have grown, it is thanks to you. —Micaela Biferali

Special note: Sister Giovanna, for more than 25 years, handled the requests, pressures and complaints of the members of the world’s media, nearly 1,000 journalists from around the world at any one time, more in moments of great historic importance. She was a “gatekeeper.” Sometimes had to keep the gates closed, and sometimes was able to open them a little bit. On all occasions, she fulfilled her duties with a dignity appropriate to her task, which was to make sure the news about the Holy Father and the Holy See was reported with as much truthfulness and clarity as possible for the sake of the Gospel. I would like to take this opportunity to thank her personally for all she did to help Inside the Vatican over the years. Godspeed, Suor Giovanna. —Robert Moynihan

6. Mother Tek­la Famiglietti

“Even if only for the salvation of just one soul, who otherwise might never have been able to meet Christ, the opening of a new house would be thoroughly worthwhile.”—Mother Tek­la Famiglietti, General Abbess of the Bridgettine Order

As 2010 begins, important anniversaries have recently marked or will soon mark the life of the Order of the Most Holy Saviour of St. Bridget (in Latin Ordo Sanctissimi Salvatoris Sanctae Brigittae, O.SS.S.), popularly known as the Bridgettine or Birgittine Order, after the name of its foundress, St. Bridget (or Birgitta) of Sweden (1303-1373).

The anniversaries began almost three years ago, on April 24, 2007, with the 50th anniversary of the “pious transit” (passing away) of Blessed Mother Maria Elisabeth Hesselblad in Rome in 1957.

More recently, Oc­tober 1, 2009, marked the 10th an­niversary of the proclamation in 1999 of St. Bridget as Copatroness of Europe.

Coming up, April 24, 2010, will mark the 10th anniversary of the beatification of Blessed Mother Hesselblad.

Finally, September 8, 2011, will mark the 100th anniversary of Blessed Mother Hesselblad’s re-establishment in 1911 of the Swedish branch of the Bridgettine Order after a gap of several centuries.

Many good and propitious developments in the Church go unreported. The phenomenal expansion of the Bridgettine Order, especially in the Third World, under the guidance of the present General Abbess, Mother Tekla Famiglietti, is one such story.

Under the direction of Mother Tekla Famiglietti, head of the Order for almost 30 years now, since 1979, no less than 16 new houses have been opened around the world, most recently in Cuba, the Philippines and Indonesia. The Order is presently active in Europe, and more exactly in Italy (Rome, Farfa Sabina, Assisi, Naples-Camaldoli), Sweden (Djursholm, Falun), Norway (Heimdal), Finland (Turku, Stella Maris), Denmark (Maribo), Estonia (Tallinn), Poland (Czestochowa, Gdansk), Germany (Bremen), the Netherlands (Weert), England (Iver Heath, Birmingham and Holywell in Wales), and Switzerland (Lugano). The Order is also present in the Middle East, both in Palestine (Bethlehem) and in Israel (Jerusalem), and in Asia, especially in India (Marikunnu, Bangalore, Kalamassery, Pallavaram, Mysore, Nantoor, Trivandrum, Puttur, Sipcot, Goa, Chikmagalur, Kurnool, Belgaum, Mumbai, Kannur, Amachal), and in the Philippines (Tagaytay, Montevista), in Indonesia (Bali, Maumere). The Order is also present in the United States (Darien, Connecticut, Tel. (203) 655-1068. E-Mail: [email protected]) and in two countries of Central America, Mexico (Tacambaro, Mexico City, La Paz, Colima, Guadalajara) and Cuba (Havana).

Today some 700 Bridgettine sisters are scattered in 50 religious houses, with an average of 30 new vocations every year, about 4% growth per year.

As a sign of the increasing importance of Asia for the Order’s apostolate, Mother Tekla told us when we met that she was about to leave for India for several weeks to visit her numerous houses.

This presence in India began in the 1930s. On April 10, 1937, 12 sisters (there is a significant precedent for this number in the history of the Church!) left from Brindisi to go to Malabar.

Interestingly, Mother Hesselblad, who would have led the group herself had her health not already been compromised, on that occasion reminded her nuns that the eastern vocation was deeply rooted in the Order, dating as far back as its first foundation under St. Bridget. In fact the first Indian sister, Maria Caterina from the East (familiarly called Maria Caterina the Black in the Order), joined St. Bridget and her daughter Caterina first in Naples and then in Rome. After the former’s death, the Indian sister decided to accompany the daughter on her way back to Sweden to bury Bridget’s mortal remains and finally entered as nun the newly-built convent in Vadstena, where she conducted a holy life which ended with a holy death.

But how was this expansion achieved? Certainly it cannot but be the result of a sound accomplishment of their charisma and vocation.

On the Order’s web site, such charisma is described as “the happy synthesis of active and contemplative life, based on the meditation of the Word of God, on the apostolate and religious formation, and on a profound Christ-centric spirit, having Christ as the fulcrum of ecclesial life with the consequent emphasis on the importance of the Eucharist.”

Asked about whether the Asian territories were difficult locations for new houses, Mother Tekla agreed in principle, although pointing out that they were “not impossible,” because “everywhere the people are eager for the presence of religious sisters and for words coming out from the mouth of religious sisters.”

Each person is today in search of values “and with a religious sister they open their heart to dialogue and start asking questions,” thus revealing what Mother Tekla calls “their hidden treasure.” As a matter of fact, she points out, “they start dealing with God, yes, exactly with God, and want to know, to figure out, to see how much you know, and this is wonderful.”

Because in so doing, she concludes, “they may even say things that are private to a certain extent, but end up opening their heart to God. And this a real grace of God.” —Alberto Carosa

7. Bishop Mario Toso

 He was consecrated a bishop on December 12, 2009, by none other than the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Ber­tone, also a member of the Salesian Order.

Mario Toso, born in 1950, comes from the northern Italian region of Veneto, and in October became the Secretary of the Pontifical Council Iustitia et Pax, which sets the Vatican’s policy on many social questions. It has been presided over by personalities like François-Xavier Nguyên Van Thuân, Vietnamese martyr bishop and later Cardinal, on the road for sainthood, and after him by Renato Raffaele Martino, a Cardinal with 16 years of experience at the United Nations as the Pope’s representative.

Benedict XVI has now called an African to guide “his” social doctrine: the African Cardinal Peter Turkson (see elsewhere among our “Top Ten” for his profile).

And with Turkson, Bishop Toso, a professor, who was involved in the preparatory work on the Pope’s latest encyclical, Caritas in veritate.

Mario Toso is a simple and shy man who made his first appearance in public at a press conference a few days after his consecration, together with Cardinal Martino, former President of Iustitia et Pax, for the presentation of the Pope’s message for World Peace Day 2010.

In few minutes, he traced the most important lines of Benedict XVI’s message, and recalled the themes of Caritas in veritate: the defnse of justice and peace in social life, locally, nationally and internationally.

The heart of the message was a call for a radical change of life style, a sobriety which is respect for one’s neighbor.

It was a true appeal for religious responsibility: man must recognize his vocation for giving. And Christian faith can help him to see the needs of the other.

Monsignor Toso expressed these ideas well last October at the inauguration of the academic year 2009-2010 at the “Studio Interdiocesano di Teologia e dell’Istituto Superiore di Scienze Religiose” of Alessandria in North Italy.

“Benedict XVI explains in a masterly fashion and with such rigorous persuasiveness the historic fruitfulness of Christianity in the integral development of the human family, that the faithful are reassured and encouraged to invest in their identity and to be proud of their faith. But that is not all.

“He wants to make them more conscious of the fact that the charity of Christ, who was incarnated among men in order to redeem mankind and free mankind from any negative factor, does not estrange from history, but drives the faithful to act in history, not with means of war or battle against an enemy to defeat or a hinder to destroy, but to build and fight to elevate and transfigure man.

“A true Christian works for the good, and defeats evil with love, not destroying it with another evil.

“Today, for many different reasons, the times of transfiguration seem to grow longer, and the creation of a new mankind seems to be delayed. Often, in many nations, the time of waiting grows, and thus also that of patience. Unfortunately, in many places the narrow road of silent witnessing is the only possible road. The tragic and heroic humanism with which the personalists of the last century have taught us is still a relevant revolution of charity in truth.”

Mario Toso studied in Milan and Rome, completing his degree in philosophy at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan in 1978 with a thesis was on the Thomistic thought of French historian and philosopher Etienne Gilson.

He later earned a Licentiate in Philosophy at the Pontifical Salesian University and one in Theology at the Pontifical Lateran University, both in Rome, where he then taught at both universities, as Professor of Social and Political Philosophy at the Salesian University and as Professor of Social Magisterium at the Lateran. He was also Rector of the Pontifical Salesian University from 2003-2009.

As a scholar, Toso has dedicated a great deal of reflection to the theme of the Welfare State. He is known for his many publications in this field, some of which have been translated into Spanish and Polish. He has also been vice director of the only Italian scholarly review in the field of Catholic social doctrine, La Società, sharing John Paul II’s conviction that the Church’s social doctrine is an “essential element of evangelization.”

As a scholar and a specialist of the Italian bishops’ conference, he followed the process of the National Office for Social Problems and Work, collaborating in the preparation of several documents on social and economic questions. He has been a Consultor to the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace on the themes of non-violence and the distribution of property. He gave an important contribution to the elaboration of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church published by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in 2004.

He is a man whose heart goes out to the poor — and his head as well. —Angela Ambrogetti

8. Professor Antonio Paolucci

Antonio Paolucci, 70 years old, Director of the Vatican Museums for the past two years, is in charge of the artistic patrimony of the Church, which is in some sense also the artistic patrimony of mankind.

Our choice of him among our “People of the Year” is also a choice of all those who work in the field of art, and believe that art can express man’s longing for God — sometimes more effectively than many homilies.

Paolucci is a whirlwind. Where­ver he passes, there is energy, movement, excitement. And he has begun to “shake up” the ancient routines of the Vatican museums.

An art historian and communicator, Paolucci has started to give the Vatican Museums a more “open” image, receiving praise and, of course, also some criticism.

Soon after the celebrations for the 500th anniversary of the Vatican collections, Paolucci began to try to open the Museums also for the citizens of Rome and not just for tourists. Last summer, he began to open the Museums late at night and to arrange public lectures. His idea is that the Vatican Museums are part of the city of Rome, and that they must belong to the citizens, as the Renaissance Popes wanted.

Each year the Museums are visited by about 4 million people, attracted by Michelangelo’s overcrowded Sistine Chapel, Raphael’s frescoed stanzas, the Greco-Roman classical sculptures, the Etruscan finds, the Ethnographic and Egyptian sections, and by the section of contemporary art created by Paul VI. But there is an imbalance.

“They all go directly to Michelangelo and then leave,” Paolucci complains. “Entire sections have been wiped out by the rigid time tables of the travel agencies.”

Paolucci wants to show also the rest. All of it.

“Already the many different materials make you curious, from the Egyptian papyri to modern acrylics, from the marble of the Roman sculpture to the Baroque goldsmith’s art, to wooden sculptures, paintings, frescoes,” he says.

The Vatican Museums are the oldest archetype of a museum, the model of all museums. Antonio Paolucci explains: “In the history of the Roman Catholic Church there are two constants. The first is the alliance with the arts in a risky confrontation with the representation of the visible truth. We would have had no modern artistic culture if the Church had not decided once and for all that the visible truth is no diabolic deceit but rather an epiphany of God, that is, something good. The second is what the Roman Catholic Church has given to the world, and this is demonstrated by the Museums, which are the cult of memory. The Museums were created in order to supply ‘pietas’ and memory of the generations of men who have lived in earlier centuries. This is what the museums have done in that part of the world which we call the West.”

But in order to appreciate certain masterpieces, it is necessary to regulate the stream of visitors and try to make them interested in all those parts of the Museums which are left out by the tour operators. “We must try to give life to the least seen parts of the museum, make them visited, and then also make the didactic services more efficient. Once the visitors came to see Laocoon or the Belvedere Apollo, and also Raphael is less appreciated than he used to be. Perhaps in a century’s time people will privilege Laocoon again, but today Michelangelo is the fatal attraction and of course we do not want to contest that. But I would at least like the visitors to get a glimpse of what richness the Museums have. I would simply like them to have a sensation of it. I am thinking, for example of the sarcophagi, or of the famous Gallery of Geographic Maps, which shows you all Italy, bell tower by bell tower.”

Few people know that Benedict XVI is familiar with art, artists and museums. Not only those in the Vatican. Sources inside the Vatican walls say that the young Joseph Ratzinger often visited the greatest museums and understood art and the importance of art history for mankind. He knows well the importance of culture for the image of the Holy See. Perhaps this is why he chose an art historian for his Museums.

“The museum is comforting and reassuring in front of the globalizing mediatic mush,” Professor Paolucci often repeats.

He used to contemplate the dome of Brunelleschi in Florence, but now Michelangelo’s dome in St. Peter’s has replaced it.

And it is not uncommon in the evening to meet Paolucci walking across St. Peter’s Square, or sitting on one of the marble benches in Via della Conciliazione watching the sunset with a cigar in his hand while he gazes upon the pink and blue shades which vanish behind the dome. —Angela Ambrogetti

9. Professor Johann Marthe

Working quietly, out of the headlines, a retired Austrian scholar has become one of the key figures in recent years in improving relations between Christians, and in trying to reunite Europe after the devastation of the Iron Curtain and its consequences.

His name: Dr. Johann Marthe.

Dr. Marthe, 76, is both the head and the heart of the small but highly respected “Pro Oriente” Foundation, headquartered in Vienna, Austria.

Since 1964, the “Pro Oriente” (“For the East”) Foundation, a project of the Vienna archdiocese, has conducted “unofficial” dialogues between Roman Catholics and the Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches.

The man who has made the key decisions at “Pro Oriente” for the past decade, the man who has traveled ceaselessly thoughout the East, from Romania and Bulgaria to Russia and down to Turkey, Syria, Egypt, and Iran, is Dr. Marthe.

Founded in 1964 by Austrian Cardinal Franz Koenig (who died just five years ago, on March 13, 2004, at the age of 98) the “Pro Oriente” Foundation is one of the leading promoters in the world of dialogue between Christians.

In a sense, Dr. Marthe is Cardinal Koenig’s spiritual son and heir. As such, Dr. Marthe is the torch-bearer for all those in the early 21st century who continue to labor, often without recognition, on behalf of Christian unity.

Cardinal Koenig’s work for the reconciliation of the various Christian confessions, and for world peace (after retiring as archbishop of Vienna in 1985, Koenig was elected president of the international Catholic peace organization, Pax Christi) “radiated far beyond the boundaries of his homeland,” the late Pope John Paul II said in a telegram of condolence after Koenig’s death.

John Paul asked Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, at the time the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to preside in his name at Cardinal Konig’s March 27, 2004, Funeral Mass in St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. Koenig had been a cardinal for more than 45 years and has been recognized widely as one of the leading promoters of the 1978 election of Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Krakow, Poland, as Pope John Paul II.

In a March 13, 2004 telegram to Cardinal Konig’s successor as archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, John Paul said Koenig had been committed to promoting “the truth in love” and praised him as “a special resource” for the Church.

The words could just as well have been spoken about Dr. Marthe. Marthe, a man of enormous dignity and exquisite manners, is committed to promoting “the truth in love” and he is a “special resource” for the entire Church, especially for Europe.

Marte traveled with the Cardinal Schoenborn, on an historic five-day visit to Iran in 2001 (February 17 to 21). The highlight of the visit was, he said, a “very friendly” meeting on February 21 with Iran’s supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, which had included a “sensational discussion” about Christian-Muslim ties. “He [Ayatollah Khamenei] talked about Jesus Christ and the prophet Mohammed, and smiled many times,” Marthe said. “Although we expected a good atmosphere in talks with other leaders, this show of friendliness came as a surprise.”

In 2006, Dr. Marthe helped organize an important conference on the delicate Union of Brest issue, held in Lviv (Ukraine) from August 20-23 of that year. This scholarly project, which began in 2002, is an attempt to analyze together the different positions and the circumstances which lead to the “Union of Brest” between 1595 and 1596. The “Union of Brest” remains a delicate topic today after 400 years because at that time most of the Orthodox bishops in the territory belonging then to the Polish-Lithuanian Republic – including today’s Ukraine and Belarus – officially recognized the Pope’s primacy. This led to a new schism that still complicates relations between Rome and Moscow.

Most recently, from September 22 to 26, 2009, Marthe was in Thessaloniki, Greece, at the 5th patristic colloquy of “Pro Oriente.” Some 25 professors and scholars of patristics, both Orthodox and Catholic, coming from 18 countries of Western and Eastern Europe (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Switzerland and Ukraine), participated.

The study of the heritage of the Fathers of the Church is one of the rare academic disciplines that can be pursued together by the two Churches, Dr. Marthe believes, and that is why “Pro Oriente” has chosen to sponsor these meetings.

Dr. Marthe was born and raised in Austria. His father was a soldier in the German army on the Eastern Front in World War II, and never returned, so Marthe grew up without a father.

In the 1990s, he went to Moscow and was able to obtain access to records that showed that his father had been taken prisoner at the end of the war, then shipped across Siberia to the Pacific, then back to Ukraine, then once again out to Siberia, where he died near Novosibirsk.

In a sense, Marthe’s life work has been dedicated to building a different and better world than the one which took the life of his father.

For that reason, we have chosen to honor this learned, kind and gentle man as one of our “Top Ten” people of 2009. —Robert Moynihan

10. Archbishop Antonio Mennini

A special character is needed to be a peacemaker – a special gift which enables a man to calm tensions and build trust.

The higher the stakes, the deeper and more ancient the distrust, the greater the need for a cool head and a steady pulse. One word out of place can ruin a negotiation, unravel a carefully thought out strategy to build consensus.

The Church has a global diplomatic service, and the Church’s diplomats are trained to be precisely the peacemakers that the Church, and the world, sorely needs.

And among these calm and careful peacemakers, whose work often goes un-noticed in remote places like Sudan or Sri Lanka, we would like this year to honor especially one man who has made extraordinary breakthroughs in a situation of rare stress and challenge.

The man is Archbishop Antonio Mennini, a 62-year-old Italian, who for the last seven years has been the Pope’s man in Moscow, the “Apostolic Delegate” from the Vatican to the Kremlin.

Mennini’s composure is legendary. Even in the most delicate moments, after long hours of travel and in the most difficult weather conditions – think of Moscow in January, or of St. Petersburg or places in Siberia in winter – Mennini has always kept his calm and carried out his mission in an exemplary way.

Navigating the corridors of the Kremlin, where once the Communist leadership laid their plans for world domination, Mennini, one of 14 children, has never forgotten the ultimate goal of his mission: to allow the Gospel to be preached again in Russia, after decades of state atheism and religious persecution.

The essential complication of Mennini’s task is that it cuts across two fault lines: the fault line between Russia and the West, and the fault line between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church, divided since 1054 A.D.

If Mennini’s primary task is to represent the Pope, and therefore, to be a support for the local Catholic Church in all of its many problems and needs in modern Russia, this task is only part of his brief.

He must also follow all of the twists and turns of Russian politics as this may affect the lives of believers in Russia, and develop working relations with the Russian Orthodox, who have expressed a desire to work together with Catholics, but who have also often accused Catholics of “poaching” on the Russian Orthodox “canonical territory” which they believe the Catholics should respect.

This brief essay cannot do justice to the complex and sometimes exhausting diplomatic activity Mennini has engaged in over the past year or so. But we can hope to catch a glimpse of some of the highlights, for even a glimpse will be enough to reveal the magnitude of this task.

The year 2009 drew to a close with a dramatic announcement in December: that Russia and the Holy See would “upgrade” their diplomatic relations to the highest level there is in international diplomacy, full diplomatic relations. Since 1990, the two sides have maintained representation below the rank of ambassador.

The new status means full-fledged embassies will be established in Moscow and Rome.

The announcement came after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev met Pope Benedict XVI on December 3 in the Vatican while on a visit to Italy.

This meeting was the capstone of Mennini’s work through the past seven years, making clear that relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Vatican, after decades of distrust, have improved enormously.

The Orthodox Church has long accused the Catholic Church of seeking to convert Russians to Catholicism.

The Vatican says its activities in the country cater largely for traditional Catholic minorities like Poles, Germans and Lithuanians, who have faced discrimination and persecution in the past.

Property disputes between the churches have also put them at odds.

Relations have improved since Metropolitan Kirill took over early this year as the leader of the Orthodox Church after the death of Patriarch Alexi II in December 2008, culminating in the establishment of full diplomatic relations.

But Mennini has done much more than simply prepare full diplomatic relations. He has been almost everywhere in Russia.

A year and a half ago, he was in Kazan, capital of the Republic of Tartarstan, about 600 miles east of Moscow, to consecrate a new Catholic church in that city, where the icon of Our Lady of Kazan is now kept after Pope John Paul returned it to Russia in 2004.

The consecration of the Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross took place on August 9, 2008. Along with many government officials from the city and the region, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the former Vatican Secretary of State and present Dean of the College of Cardinals, also participated, showing the high level of importance the Vatican gave to this ceremony.

The chairman of the Tatarstan State Council, Farid Moukhametshin, a Muslim, was also present, along with the mayors of three other cities where there have been appearances of Mary: Czestohova in Poland, Fatima in Portugal and Mariazell in Austria.

“I am very glad that we witness the historical event – the return of a Catholic church to the faithful of our city and republic,” the mayor of Kazan, Ilsur Metshin, said. “In 2004, John Paul II gave back one of the most venerated objects in Orthodoxy – the icon of the Mather of God of Kazan. She is venerated not only by Christians. A whole chapter in Koran dedicated to Virgin Mary, that is why all the faithful in Kazan venerate the holy image. We will do everything in order for Kazan and Tatarstan to be always a home for all of our citizens.”

For his part, Cardinal Sodano said: “Tatarstan has already become an example – and not only in the Russian Federation – of tolerance and friendship between various religions and cultures.”

A year ago, Mennini was instrumental is helping to publich in Russian the Pope’s book, Jesus of Nazareth. On December 2, 2008, in Mos­cow, the cultural center Library of the Spirit hosted the presentation of the Russian edition of Benedict XVI’s book. Speaking at the event were Fr. Igor Vyzhanov, secretary of the department for external relations at the patriarchate of Moscow, Archbishop Paolo Pezzi, Archbishop Mennini, and the director of the Azbuka publishing house, Denis Veselov.
The initial printing of the book, 20,000 copies, showed the publisher’s high expectations for the Pope’s book.

“We published it,”?Veselov said, “because it seemed to us an important book for everyone, which takes us back 1,000 years ago, when divisions were outweighed by a common Christian identity, when we were all Christians.”

The work of Cardinal Ratzinger is not unknown to the Russian public. In 2006, his Introduction to Christianity was published by the Library of the Spirit in Moscow, with a preface by Metropolitan Kirill, then president of the department for external relations at the patriarchate of Moscow.

Fr. Vyzhanov hailed the decision of the Azbuka publishing house, saying it shows the way authentic ecumenism can grow. “I often participate in international forums with other Christians, but too often they talk about the consequences of Christianity — protection of the environment, the cultural problems (which are certainly important) — but they forget that the foundation of everything is Christ,” Vyzhanov said. “This book brings us back to the center of our faith.”

Archbishop Mennini emphasized the centrality of the relationship between faith and reason in the book, and more generally in the teaching of Benedict XVI. The nuncio called attention to the common thread that connects, in this sense, the addresses of the Pope in Regensburg, at the La Sapienza University of Rome, and at the Collège des Bernardins in Paris.

Placing Jesus of Nazareth beside a classic like The Lord by Guardini, Archbishop Mennini then emphasized some points of harmony between Ratzinger’s thought and the Eastern Christian tradition: these include love of monasticism and insistence on the truth as an integral experience.

A few days later, Mennini was in Siberia. He was transporting relics of St. Nicholas, brought from Bari in Italy, to a Russian Orthodox bishop in Kemerowo, not far from Novosibirsk.

On December 19, during a solemn Orthodox liturgy, Catholic Bishop Josef Werth of the diocese of the Transfiguration of the Lord in Novosibirsk formally presented Russian Orthodox Bishop Aristarch of Kemerovo and Nowokuznesk (Siberia) with a relic of St. Nich­olas.

The Orthodox cathedral of Saint Nicholas in Kemerovo, despite the fact that it was a weekday, was filled to overflowing.

In his address at the solemn ceremony, Bishop Aristarch described the gift as “a true sign of love and esteem between the Russian Orthodox and the Catholic Church.” And he underlined the joy of the faithful over this relic, emphasizing that both Eastern and Western Christianity share a common veneration for numerous saints.

Bishop Werth, who described Bishop Aristarch as his “brother in the episcopate,” for his part emphasized that this day was an example of how relations between the Catholic and the Orthodox Church could be. He stated: “Orthodox and Catholic bishops, priests and faithful are meeting with one another and praying to the same Lord. I am certain that in future the same kind of cordial relationships will also develop in other cities and towns of Siberia.”

Mennini explained that the presentation of this relic was intended as a “gesture of fraternal love” on the part of the Holy Father Benedict XVI, who had personally expressed the wish that it should be handed to the Orthodox bishop and faithful of Kemerovo.

The city of Kemerovo is situated some 2,100 miles (3,400 km) east of Moscow in the Kusbas region.
Early in 2009, Mennini transmitted Pope Benedict’s good wishes to Metropolitan Kyrill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad as the new Russian Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow.

“I warmly congratulate you and wish you every strength and joy in the fulfillment of the great task that lies before you,” Benedict said in a telegram to the new patriarch.

Mennini also congratulated Kirill, 62, and wished him success in the cause of strengthening moral principles in Russian society.

“Together with Catholic communities living in Russia, at this solemn hour I am praying to the merciful God so that He helps you accept the legacy of the loving memory of Patriarch Alexi II Your predecessor,” the archbishop said in a congratulatory letter. “In these years I had a chance to get to know you as a profound theologian striving to revive the Russian Orthodox tradition after the hardships experienced by the Church in the 20th century, as well as a visionary pastor working zealously for the benefit of the God’s people and full of the desire to fulfill the Christ’s commandment, ‘That they all may be one,’” the letter says.

In part thanks to Mennini’s careful and persistent work, Kirill knows many Catholic prelates personally and this has led to more stable relations with the Vatican.

In Church circles in Russia and abroad, Kirill is known as a man of broad erudition, profound knowledge and intellectual prowess. He has published and presented over 600 papers and written several books. He remains the only senior clergyman to have hosted, for many years, the television programme entitled “The Word of the Shepherd.” Although he is rightly regarded as a powerful speaker, Kirill once confessed that he had been painfully self-conscious all his life until he was about 50, and only then did he learn to control this feeling.

Somewhat unexpectedly for a top cleric, His Eminence has a penchant for sports. After work, Kirill dons a tracksuit and walks his dogs. On vacation, he swims a couple of miles non-stop every day. In winter, he enjoys downhill skiing. The Patriarch says this has been his passion for the last 43 years.

In the past 20 years, the number of active Orthodox churches in Moscow has soared from 40 to 872. The number of parishes in the country has quadrupled globally, from 6,893 to 29,263.

On relations with the Vatican, Kirill has said: “The Russian Orthodox Church takes the same stand as before on the issue of a meeting between the Patriarch and the Pope. Our position ensues from the specific context of relations between the two Churches and that has nothing to do with the personalities of their respective leaders. The meeting between head of our Church and the Pope will only be possible when we see some real progress in resolving those issues that have upset our relations for a long time.”

Berl Lazar, Chief Rabbi of Russia, said of Kirill after his election: “We have very special feelings about Metropolitan Kirill being elected Patriarch. We have cooperated with him for many years and we can say with confidence that this is a man who listens — and make others listen when he speaks. As a Metropolitan, Kirill, together with the late Patriarch Alexiy II, was instrumental in reasserting moral values in Russian society, which we see as a paramount goal. We have felt his support on several occasions and have always found a common language to resolve any differences. It is clear to us that the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church has a broader concept of developing Russian fundamental traditions, beyond the limits of Orthodoxy.”

In February, Mennini was in Tashkent, in Uzbekistan, to presented his credentials to Uzbek Foreign Minister Vladimir Norov on February 10 (he had been appointed nuncio to the Central Asian country on July 26, 2008).

Mennini went on to have meetings with government and religious leaders to further interreligious dialogue in the country.

A law on religion in Uzbekistan bans any missionary activity and charitable work by religious communities. This restricts the mission of the Catholic Church to cultural events such as concerts, in addition to its religious ministry to Catholic Poles, Russians and expatriates in the country.

At present, the registration of two Catholic parishes is still pending, while registration of Caritas Uzbekistan, the local Church’s social-service wing, does not appear possible in the near future.
Mennini said he plans to visit Uzbekistan three to four times a year from Russia.

During a Mass at the Sacred Heart Church in Tashkent, the prelate also told Uzbek Catholics, “Let’s build bridges of friendship with other religions.”

Uzbekistan has about 500 practicing Catholics spread out among five parishes and two mission stations. Muslims form 88 percent of the 26.9 million people, while Russian Orthodox Church members form 9 percent.

In May, Mennini met with Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev, the newly-appointed head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department of Foreign Relations (succeeding Kirill). Archbishop Mennini discussed Orthodox-Catholic relations with Hilarion on May 14.

The meeting took place at Archbishop Mennini’s request at the St. Daniel Monastery in Moscow and passed “in an atmosphere of mutual understanding and openness,” the Russian Orthodox Church reported on its official website. During the meeting, the parties emphasized the importance of combined efforts in protecting traditional Christian values. Mennini also handed Archbishop Hilarion letters from Secretary of the Holy See Secretariat of State Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, and Holy See Secretary for Relations with States Archbishop Dominique Mamberti.

Throughout the summer, Mennini continued his careful work to prepare for full diplomatic relations with Russia.

Foreign Catholic clergy were finding it “significantly easier” to obtain permits to minister in Russia during 2009.

The Vatican and Russia first exchanged diplomatic envoys in 1990 following a historic Rome visit by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Closer ties were believed impeded by repeated Orthodox complaints that Catholics were trying to recruit their believers, as well as by Orthodox objections to the February 2002 creation of four Catholic dioceses in Russia.

In September, Mennini attended the 17th annual International Ecumenical Conference on Orthodox Spirituality organized by Prior Enzo Bianchi of the Monastery of Bose in Italy. The Catholic Church was represented by Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, vice dean of the College of Cardinals; Mennini; Bishop Brian Farrell, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity; and Jesuit Father Milan Zust, of that same dicastery.

Then, in December, came the announcement: full diplomatic relations would be established between Russia and the Vatican.

“For Rome and Moscow, It’s Spring Again,” the respected Italian Vatican observer Sandro Magister noted in a December 11 column. And this “springtime” has a goal, Magister argued: “the defense of the Christian tradition” in Europe and around the world.

What Mennini has been toiling quietly to accomplish is quite frankly one of the most exciting and important missions in the world today: friendship between two powers that have long distrusted each other, Rome and Russia.

Mennini brought his busy year to an end with a very special anniversary Mass on December 12. It was the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the reconsecration of the Catholic cathedral of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the cathedral church of the archdiocese of the Mother of God in Moscow.

The festival Mass was celebrated by the ordinary of the Moscow archdiocese, Archbishop Paolo Pezzi, but concelebrating with him were Mennini, and Bishop Kirill Klimovich, the ordinary of the diocese of St. Joseph in Irkutsk, and also about 50 Catholic priests. The festival liturgy was attended by a representative of the Russian Orthodox church, secretary for inter-Christian relations of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow patriarchate, Archpriest Vyzhanov. On this festival day a multitude of laity and monastics worshiped in the cathedral church.

In his homily at the liturgy, Archbishop Paolo Pezzi referred to the dramatic fate of the church, which was subjected to desecration and damage in the 20th century. He said: “The cathedral church, built at the beginning of the last century, shared the fate of the majority of churches of Russia, falling under the yoke of militant atheism.”

Speaking of the repressions to which many clergy and laity were subjected, Pezzi recalled only three names which are inextricably associated with the church of the Immaculate Conception: these were its first rector, Fr Mikhail Tsakul (1885-1938), who was shot in the Butovo Polygon; Fr Leonid Fedorov, exarch of Catholics of the Eastern Rite, who “between a time of release and of imprisonment” served on Malyi Gruzinskii his last Easter service; and vice-exarch of Russian Catholics Fr Sergei Soloviev, grandson of the famous Russian historian S.M. Soloviev and nephew of the no less famous Russian religious philosopher Vladimir Soloviev.

The memorial of the thousands of martyrs of the past century is always present in the daily celebration of the bloodless sacrifice throughout the world, Archbishop Pezzi noted.

He proposed remembering in prayer all those who built the church and regenerated it after many years of neglect, including Archbishop Tade­usz Kondrusiewicz, during whose time in the Moscow see the return and restoration of the cathedral occurred.

Now the Metropolitan of Minsk and Mogilev, Kondrusiewicz sent his own congratulations, read by the general secretary of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Russia, Fr Igor Kovalevskii. He recalled the celebration 10 years ago on the occasion of the reconsecration of the cathedral, which was performed by the papal legate, Vatican State Secretary Cardinal Angelo Sodano, with 35 bishops and 150 priests concelebrating and with an enormous crowd of people. According to Kondrusiewicz, this event marked a new stage in the life of the regenerated Catholic community of Russia.

“This decade has shown that the cathedral church has become not only the religious center of Catholic life in Russia, but also the center of a multiconfessional society and culture,” Kondrusiewicz wrote from Rome.

“This church has synthesized, in its history of the numerous sufferings which Christians of the Soviet Union experienced, the story of the martyrs and confessors of the 20th century,” Mennini said in his words of greeting.

“Although the Catholic community in Russia is small, it can have great significance for the entirety of Russian society to the degree that it will preach the good news of Christ and witness to the universality of the Gospel.”

Mennini then conveyed to the bishops, priests, and laity assembled for this festive day in the cathedral the greetings and blessings of Pope Benedict XVI.

Bishop Kirill Klimovich gave words of greeting to those assembled, devoting his speech to the special intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to whom the cathedral church is consecrated (it is the largest Catholic church in Russia).

It has been a very busy and productive year for Archbishop Meninni. He has accomplished much. But he is not slowing down. He still has more work to do in Russia. —Robert Moynihan

“He that takes truth for his guide, and duty for his end, may safely trust to God’s providence to lead him aright.” —Blaise Pascal (French mathematician, philosopher, physicist and writer, 1623-1662)

Note: We still have one spot open on our Easter pilgrimage to Assisi and Rome. If you would like information about this trip, please email us immediately at: [email protected].


Gift ideas:

(1) a Russian Christmas Concert DVD;

(2) a CD on the Pope’s decision to restore the old Mass;

(3) subscriptions to our magazine.

(1) Christmas Oratorio (Russian Concert) on DVD

The music tells the Christmas story in the deep, rich tradition of Russian ecclesial music, using the Russian language and English subtitles.

On December 17, 2007, a leading Russian orchestra performed an exceptional “world premiere” concert of Russian Christmas music at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC. Now you can order your copy of the concert on DVD, which includes English sub-titles.

The music is a completely new composition by a young Russian Orthodox Archbishop, Hilarion Alfeyev, 43. At the time, he was the Russian Orthodox bishop for all of central Europe, based in Vienna, Austria. He is now the head of the External Relations Department of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Makes a wonderful gift. Order one for yourself, one for a loved one and one for a friend… at three copies, the price is less! Click here to order


(2) A Talk by Dr. Robert Moynihan on CD

“The Motu Proprio: Why the Latin Mass? Why Now?”

To understand the motu proprio, one must know the history of the Mass. Dr. Moynihan gives a 2000-year history of the Mass in 60 minutes which is clear and easy to understand. Dr. Moynihan’s explanation covers questions like:

— How does the motu proprio overcome some of the confusion since Vatican II?
— Is this the start of the Benedictine Reform?
— The mind of Pope Benedict: How can the Church restore the sense of the presence of God in the liturgy?

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