A New Vatican Dicastery

The Vatican announced today the creation of an entirely new curial office, the first created by Pope Benedict XVI. It will focus on the “re-evangelization” of the once-evangelized regions of the world. Meanwhile, a consistory to create new cardinals, it is rumored, may be announced as early as tomorrow during the Pope’s Wednesday General Audience…

By Robert Moynihan, reporting from Rome

Consistory Announcement Tomorrow?

In her blog this evening, the American journalist Joan Lewis, the popular Vatican correspondent for the EWTN television network in Rome, writes that she has it “on good authority” that there “might be some big news tomorrow.”

Joan continues: “I was told last Thursday on very good authority that there will be a consistory to create new cardinals on November 20, and that the announcement by the Holy Father could come as early as tomorrow at the weekly general audience, a traditional venue (along with the Sunday Angelus) for announcing consistories.”

(Here is the link to Joan’s excellent blog: https://www.ewtn.com/news/blog.asp?blog_ID=1).

Now, just by chance, I happened to see Joan this evening. It was about 7 pm next to the gate leading to the Synod, not far from the Holy Office, outside and to the left of Bernini’s colonnade surrounding St. Peter’s Square in its sweeping marble embrace.

We stood together and spoke for a few minutes in the cool Roman evening — but she didn’t breathe a word of this consistory news to me; I had to read it on her web blog this evening.

Perhaps she didn’t mention it because our conversation was unexpectedly interrupted. As we walked away from the Vatican toward via Gregorio VII in front of the Holy Office, a Roman taxi came hurtling around the colonnade and then halted just next to us, near the massive front portals of the Holy Office.

The rear door of the taxi made a creaking sound and opened outwards. Within a large figure leaned backwards and grasped the door frame with a meaty hand in order to launch himself out of the vehicle. I glanced inside the car, and I could dimly discern, in the inadequate light of the Roman evening, the pale face of someone who seemed familiar to me.

Then out of the rear seat of the taxi, unfolding his powerful, lanky frame, emerged perhaps the tallest and most athletic of all the cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church: Cardinal George Pell (photo), 69, of Sydney, Australia. Pell was made a cardinal by Pope John Paul II in 2003.

Now, Pell’s father was a heavyweight boxing champion, and young George followed in his father’s footsteps with regard to rugged athletic prowess. When he studied at St Patrick’s College in his native Ballarat, he played as a ruckman, a key position in Australian rules football, usually played by the tallest, strongest player on the team, because he must contest at center bounces and stoppages (such as boundary throw-ins and ball-ups). Pell played on his team’s first XVIII from 1956 to 1959, and even signed to play with the professional Richmond Football Club.

I do not know of any other cardinal who was also a professional athlete… except one: Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne (photo below), 66, the cardinal archbishop of Lima, Peru, who as a child (one of eleven boys) dedicated himself to basketball and became a star, being invited to join the Peruvian national team in the 1960s.

 Pell had come to meet with Father Mark Withoos, a young Australian priest (age 39), who was at that moment standing by the great doors, as he had just gotten off work.

Withoos has worked only for a short time, a few years, in the Roman Curia. He recently was transferred from a post at the Congregation for Divine Worship to the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, which handles matters concerning the traditional liturgy and the ongoing dialogue with the Society of St. Pus X. Withoos is replacing the American Monsignor Arthur Calkins, a Marian scholar, who is leaving his post after two decades of service. (The Ecclesia Dei offices are on the ground floor inside the Palace of the Holy Office, and that’s where Withoos was coming from when we bumped into him.)

Withoos was waiting for Pell to arrive in order to join him for dinner, and Joan and I just happened to be there at the moment of Pell’s arrival.

We all exchanged greetings. Pell said he had come to Rome for the canonization on Sunday of Blessed Mary MacKillop — the 19th century Australian nun who is famous because she was for a time excommunicated by her bishop. This makes her one of the most fascinating ecclesial figures of the entire modern period; I do not know of another case of a person who was excommunicated being canonized.

Also in conjunction with her canonization — which will occur along with four others on Sunday — the Vatican Museums will be hosting an exhibition of “Australiana” — art and artifacts from Australia.

So tonight the Australian presence made itself felt in Rome, in the aging cardinal-athlete, Pell, in the young and energetic curial official, Withoos, in the excommunicated and then un-excommunicated saintly nun, Mary MacKillop, who is about to be canonized and whose spirit seems somehow to be present in the city this evening.

“And that’s not all,” Withoos then said to me.

“What do you mean?” I replied.

“There are 8,000 Australians coming for the canonization Mass. Eight thousand!”

And he broke into a joyful laugh of national pride.

I asked about Monsignor Calkins.

“He’s gone,” Withoos said.

“Gone?” I said.

“Well, actually, he’s leaving Rome tomorrow, but today was his last day in the office,” Withoos said.

I felt a bit regretful, as I had expected in these days to call on Calkins and sit down with him for a chat.

(When I brought a small group of pilgrims to the Holy See last Easter, Calkins agreed to meet with us on the morning of Good Friday, and offered us his reflections on the sorrow of Mary at the foot of the cross, and its meaning. His eloquence on that first morning of the Triduum moved and instructed us profoundly.)

So I am using this occasion, this newsflash, to wish “Godspeed” to Monsignor Arthur Calkins, who remained throughout his years in Rome a careful scholar and (as the Pope said of himself upon his election as Pope) a humble servant in the Lord’s vineyard.

Deserts, Exterior and Interior

“They soon realized the interior desert that is born when man — thinking himself the architect of his own nature and destiny — finds himself lacking that which is fundamental to everything.”
—Benedict XVI, on the strange contradiction which emerges from the “freedom” brought by modern secular humanism: it sets aside all belief in God only to create an interior desert; writing in the document constituting the newest Vatican dicastery, the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization, published today, October 12, 2010, in Rome

As I write in Rome, it is long after midnight. There is a light rain falling, and the occasional vehicles in the streets below make sweeping sounds as they roll over the rain-drenched streets.

So it is difficult to think of deserts while the rain falls.

But the Pope is thinking about deserts, and so let us follow him.

The deserts the Pope is thinking about are not literal ones of sand, and wind, and rock, and scorpions.

No, the deserts he is thinking about are far worse, and drier, and more lonely by far.

He is thinking about interior deserts — the deserts of the human heart.

Of the human soul.

And if a great promise of modern technology is to make a physical desert bloom — if it is the great vaunt, the great glory, of the civil engineers and agriculturalists of Israel that they, with great effort and skill, have caused the deserts of the Holy Land to bloom into gardens, and vineyards, using deep wells and drip irrigation to bring water to the roots of thirsty plants and vines — it is the great promise of the God of Israel, who is also the God of Christians, that He will cause another more intractable and more important desert to be irrigated with a word of hope, forgiveness and peace, and so made fruitful.

That more intractable, more important desert is the desert of the human heart.

Hearts of all men and women, and therefore also, the hearts of Israeli and Palestinians as well.

The Pope referred to that “interior desert” in the very first homily he gave as Pope, on April 24, 2005. (Here is a link to the entire text of that homily: https://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/homilies/documents/hf_ben-xvi_hom_20050424_inizio-pontificato_en.html)

For Benedict, in fact, the word “desert” is of central important; he returns to it again and again and again.

“There are so many kinds of desert,” Benedict said on the first day of his pontificate, in front of 200,000 people in St. Peter’s Square. (I too was there, and that is why I remember these words, because at that moment it seemed clear to me that they were key to understanding correctly the Pope’s mind and heart.)

“There is the desert of poverty,” he said, “the desert of hunger and thirst, the desert of abandonment, of loneliness, of destroyed love.”

(I remember thinking, when he spoke those words, “Yes.”)

“There is the desert of God’s darkness,” he continued, “the emptiness of souls no longer aware of their dignity or the goal of human life.

“The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast.

“Therefore the earth’s treasures no longer serve to build God’s garden for all to live in, but they have been made to serve the powers of exploitation and destruction.

“The Church as a whole and all her Pastors, like Christ, must set out to lead people out of the desert, towards the place of life, towards friendship with the Son of God, towards the One who gives us life, and life in abundance.”

This is the profound reason the Pope called the Synod on the Middle East: because, as beautiful as it is to make deserts bloom with oranges and apricots, and grapes, and olives, it is more beautiful still to make the deserts of the human heart bloom with faith, and hope, and love.

Which then bring forth peace.

And this is also the profound reason why the Pope decided to create an entirely new bureaucracy in the Roman Curia, his first such act of governance (though some wonder if there is truly any need for one more Vatican office among so many already existing).

Because, despite the fact that apostles and martyrs have been preaching and witnessing to the Gospel for nearly 2,000 years, many nations, many lands which were once “irrigated” with the hope brought by the news of the Resurrection, which is the news of the defeat of sin and death, have once again become dry, infertile, desert-like.

And so the Pope today announced an new Vatican office to try to “re-irrigate” the deserts of societies, of nations, especially in the West, which once were marked by Christian hope and faith, and by Christian laws and customs, so that human rights and the right to life were enshrined in noble laws, and families cherished and protected, and workers’ rights safeguarded.

The Christian vision is a vision in which human is able to flourish and prosper like a garden in a wasteland when it is protected by walls against rough winds, and irrigated by water brought from far streams and rivers.

The New Dicastery

The AP reporter Nicole Winfield today wrote a clear and useful account of this papal decision:

Pope takes biggest step to revive Christianity

By NICOLE WINFIELD (AP) – 9 hours ago

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI on Tuesday outlined his most tangible initiative yet to try to revive Christianity, creating a Vatican office for re-evangelizing Europe and other traditionally Christian regions where the faith is falling by the wayside.

In an official decree, Benedict said the new office would work with bishops to promote Church doctrine, use modern communication methods to get the Church’s message out and mobilize missionary-type activities using members of religious orders and new religious movements…

The head of the new office, Monsignor Rino Fisichella (photo), said he… planned to have language sections in his department to deal with the faithful in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, German and Slavic languages…

Fisichella denied the creation of the office was a mere bureaucratic attempt to fix a complex cultural phenomenon, saying Benedict had made an astute, pastoral decision to focus attention on a growing problem that had preoccupied Popes for decades.

Benedict has made reviving Europe’s Christian roots a priority of his papacy and has concentrated his foreign travels on the continent. While the decree listed no specific geographical areas where it will concentrate, the evangelization office is also expected to pay attention to Latin America, where evangelical movements are making inroads in traditionally Catholic countries such as Brazil.

In the decree, Benedict lamented that with tremendous scientific, social and cultural progress over the past century, parts of the world that once had strong Christian roots had grown to believe that they can exist without God.

“While some greeted this as a freedom, they soon realized the interior desert that is born when man — thinking himself the architect of his own nature and destiny — finds himself lacking that which is fundamental to everything,” Benedict wrote.

(end AP report)

The Latin Name

American Father John Zuhlsdorf, who also has a quite useful internet blog on Church affairs, wrote today: “I wanted it [the new dicastery] to be called the Consilium pro Repropaganda Fidei. Instead it is called Consilium de Nova Evanglizatione Promovenda.”

(For a link to his blog, go here: https://wdtprs.com/blog/2010/10/ubicumque-et-semper-new-motu-proprio-and-new-vatican-office/)

And he adds with a touch of skepticism about the real usefulness of another bureaucratic structure in Rome: “We shall have to wait and see what effect this new office will have.”

Too Late?

For me it is late now, past 3 in the morning, so I cannot stay up much longer.

It is too late for me to go into the controversy surrounding Archbishop Fisichella, which some of you will be aware of, and the reasons the Pope chose him for this rather important post.

And it is too late to include summaries of all the texts read today by the Synod Fathers, as the work of the Synod on the Middle East proceeds.

But one Synod Father’s text is worth citing.

And it is a text which also says that it is very late — indeed, too late… for the Christians in the Middle East.

Twenty-two Synod Fathers spoke this morning in the presence of Pope Benedict, who listened attentively.

One, Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni of Babylon of the Chaldeans in Iraq, said the Synod “is a blessed, courageous and necessary step… to study the difficult problems that concern us all.”

But, he said, the Synod “came too late.”

“We should have undertaken this a long time ago,” he said, “because of its importance and the serious issues that we are discussing, related to our existence or non-existence…”

Bishop Warduni continued: “We have to create a strong foundation and repair the destroyed and weak foundations if we want to bear witness to Jesus Christ and to live the heavenly commitments He gave to us, to revitalize our behavior and fulfill the communion between us.

“We must seek peace and stability in our countries, and shout in one voice: no to war, yes to peace; no to destructive weapons, yes to disarmament; no to terrorism, yes to universal brotherhood; no to divisions and strife and fanaticism, yes to unity, to tolerance and dialogue.

“We must focus strongly on the fact that the Christians of the Middle East are true citizens and they have, according to international statutes, two privileges: the right to citizenship and the right to maintain their presence and not be excluded from the building of the Middle Eastern countries.”

And so, perhaps, as Bishop Warduni said this morning, this Synod is much too late.

But, better late than never.

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