Thursday, December 07, 2017

Habemus POPEQUAKE – In Stunning Twin Shot, Francis Flips Mexico. And Paris.

(Updated with analysis/context.)

As appointment days go, folks, This. Is. Simply. Beyond.

Filling two of global Catholicism's foremost posts in one fell swoop, even before Roman Noon hit this Thursday, the Italian desk of Vatican Radio published the Pope's twin selections of Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes, 67 – until now archbishop of suburban Tlalnepantla, already a former president of both the Mexican bishops and the continental mega-conference CELAM – as archbishop of Mexico City: with some 8 million members, the world's largest diocese...

...and, together with it, Francis' choice of Bishop Michel Aupetit of Nanterre, 66 – a physician, bioethicist and med-school professor for two decades, ordained a priest at 44 – as archbishop of Paris: the 1.3 million-member fold that's both the largest and most prominent charge in the land long known as the church's "eldest daughter."

In terms of dates and places, the CVs of both picks were released by the Vatican in the English edition of today's Bollettino.

The duo respectively succeed Cardinals Norberto Rivera and Andre Vingt-Trois, both of whom reached the retirement age of 75 just within the last six months. In the latter case, the departing Paris prelate – who'll be succeeded by his second-in-command from 2006-13 – marked his birthday on November 7th, while the retirement of Rivera (who turned 75 last June) ends a landmark, yet frequently controversial 22-year run atop the Mexican church, a reign with which the first American Pope memorably made his frustration clear on his visit to it in early 2016.

Together with Francis' June pick of Auxiliary Bishop Mario Delpini (above) as archbishop of Milan – his hometown and Italy's marquee diocese – today's moves round out 2017's foreseen extraordinary round of placements into the church's top dozen or so diocesan seats around the world, with a couple more impending shifts still in the offing.

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In the case of Aguiar, that sound you hear is the new Cardinal-Primate vaulting to the front of the Papabile file... albeit to a lesser degree than if a Latin American weren't already on Peter's Chair.

Nonetheless, the Scripture scholar and veteran seminary rector has long been the frontrunner for the capital of Mexico, whose 90 million Catholics nationwide form the church's second-largest bloc after Brazil, even as church-state issues there remain an equally-sized challenge.

Hailing the pick as a "renaissance man," a Whispers op close to both Francis and Aguiar called the Pope's choice "extremely smart and very close to the people," noting the incoming Primate's ability to make headway in the public realm to a degree that eluded the polarizing Rivera, whose long tenure became mired in moral and financial scandals within the massive archdiocese – and who, unlike his successor, was never elected by the Mexican bishops as their president despite occupying the hierarchy's biggest post (a twin role which, in Latin America, is normally a given).

Indeed, arguably more than anything, the choice of Aguiar serves to again underscore Papa Bergoglio's emphasis on the role – and trust in the judgment – of episcopal conferences.

Having known the younger prelate for the better part of two decades – from when Aguiar was overseeing the CELAM offices as its secretary-general – like so much else with the now-Francis, the bond between the duo was ostensibly sealed at Aparecida in 2007. At the once-a-generation meeting of the Latin American bishops, this time in Brazil's patronal shrine, then-Cardinal Bergoglio oversaw the drafting of the missionary "charter" for the region that's home to a plurality of the Catholic world, while after the fact, the rising Mexican would carry the torch for the Aparecida call as the continental body's vice-president, then president.

Along the way, in 2009 Benedict XVI gave Aguiar the archbishopric of Tlalnepantla, all of 15 miles north of Mexico City. But once the papacy switched hands, to signal his impatience with the state of things down the road, Francis would replicate his biggest US ground-shift last year, placing an unprecedented red hat at the "periphery" of the capital itself.

Now, his protege's journey to El Zócalo – Mexico City's central square, bordered by the gargantuan Cathedral (above) to one side and the government's historic seat to the other – is complete. The choice arrives as ready for global prime-time as anyone could be, but come Aguilar's installation in February, the task that awaits is widely seen as the need for a thorough "cleanup" at home. (Much as it didn't surprise the CDMX crowd, Rivera marked the announcement of his resignation by leaving the country; said to be in Rome today, the cardinal shared the news in a letter released by the archdiocese.)

Long story short, and for the millionth time, the essence of this most significant of moves marks just another return to Evangelii Gaudium – merely an adaptation of Aparecida for the global fold, the "blueprint" of Francis' church in more ways than most have begun to understand... even as the fifth anniversary of this pontificate approaches in March.

And on a day when the appointment of the archbishop of Paris is merely the second biggest thing going, the shape of the moment only goes to prove one of Francis' core principles in his charter text: namely, "Reality is bigger than ideas."

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Wednesday, December 06, 2017

At Last, The "Vice-Wuerl" Gets The Call – Pope Taps DC's Knestout For Richmond

After months of rumblings over his future, Bishop Barry Knestout can finally breathe easy – expected from very early in the year, the Pope's choice of the 55 year-old vicar-general of Washington as the 13th bishop of Richmond indeed came to pass at Roman Noon yesterday.

In the post overseeing the massive 33,000 square mile bulk of Virginia stretching from the Atlantic's Eastern Shore to the Kentucky border – all of it home to some 250,000 Catholics – the top deputy to Cardinal Donald Wuerl (duo seen above) succeeds Bishop Francis DiLorenzo, whose death from kidney failure in August remains a shock to his many friends.

Having reached the retirement age of 75 last April, the process for DiLorenzo's replacement was already well in the works at the time the vacancy occurred. On speaking to him a week before his passing – and not expecting to lose him in the least – this scribe admitted to DiLorenzo of wondering what was taking the appointment "so long," to which he characteristically shot back, "Me too."

Even then, it bears noting that Knestout – from his days as secretary to Cardinals James Hickey and Theodore McCarrick, a familiar figure in church circles for nearly two decades – was the only potential pick whose name came up in the conversation.

Founded in 1820 to initially encompass Virginia and the future West Virginia, the Richmond church is one of the eight oldest in the US.

The first son of a cleric to be named a bishop in the global church since the permanent diaconate was restored in 1968, Knestout's arrival brings a quieter, conciliatory hand to a diocese led over the last four decades by larger-than-life personalities at opposite ends of the ecclesiological spectrum. Before DiLorenzo – an ever-candid, big-hearted Philadelphian known for his impatience with business meetings – the three-decade tenure of Bishop Walter Sullivan made Richmond one of the few Eastern outposts to retain a post-Conciliar progressive bent, defying a wider trend toward reinforcing identity and doctrine. (Once asked by a local TV reporter whether the church would ever ordain women as priests – despite John Paul II's definitive statement that it lacked the authority to do so – Sullivan famously replied "Not in my lifetime.")

In that light, amid the raw fallout of August's clashes between white supremacists and counter-protestors in Charlottesville (in the diocese's western tier), which saw one of the latter killed by a car driven into the crowd, not to mention the wake of a bitterly divisive governor's race this fall that made the Old Dominion's trove of Confederate monuments an unusual flashpoint of tribal politics, it's easy to sense that Knestout's calming, hyper-diligent skillset is the optimal antidote to a charged, heavily-partisan moment.

At the same time, while some two-thirds of Virginia's booming Catholic population lives in the 19 northern counties that form the diocese of Arlington (which was spun off from Richmond in 1974), the turf he inherits is experiencing its own degree of recent growth, albeit on a more gradual scale.

Having been the Washington Chancery's point-man on guiding the capital church through a remarkable decade that's seen its Catholic presence expand by roughly a quarter to an estimated 750,000 in its pews – most of them packed into teeming parishes and schools in the archdiocese's Maryland suburbs – the upward trends in Richmond's population core of Hampton Roads (the military-heavy Eastern flank encompassing Virginia Beach and Newport News) and the diocese's central axis along Interstates 95 and 64 will be very familiar to the new arrival from the outset. (Among other examples of the growth, seen below is the newly-expanded plant at St Bede's in Williamsburg, where a church that isn't yet 15 years old was bolstered by last spring's opening of an $11 million, 40,000 square-foot addition to house its ministries and religious education classes, anchored by a 600-seat parish hall.)

If anything, the one fresh challenge facing Knestout will be enhancing the effectiveness of the diocese's operations given the sprawl of the territory and the population imbalance between the coast and a heavily rural, mostly sparse edge in the Blue Ridge and Appalachian mountains. As DiLorenzo put the spread into context, if the distance of crossing the diocese's lower edge was turned on its side, a drive from the westernmost point would put you in Detroit. Accordingly, while a division of Richmond's eastern portion into its own diocese has been considered in the past, it's been deemed unfeasible as the redrawn mother-see would lack the resources to support itself.

Coming in a week already focused on the nation's capital given Friday's dedication of the massive Trinity Dome in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception – and with it, what's widely expected to be the beginning of Wuerl's pre-retirement "victory lap" – the promotion of the DC prelate's #2 over his decade-long tenure further fuels the perception of desk-clearing by the cardinal, who turned 77 last month. However, despite prior forecasts tipping a transition sometime in the first half of 2018, over recent weeks Whispers ops close to Wuerl have begun to sense a longer timeframe toward the appointment of Washington's sixth resident archbishop, a move almost certain to be Francis' last major selection for the American hierarchy's top rank.

In any case, even before today's nod was officially made, no shortage of attention has already turned toward the critical "other shoe" to drop: Wuerl's choice of Knestout's replacement as vicar-general, essentially the DC church's chief operating officer – a selection in which the departing prelate's brother, Fr Mark, is said to be a leading contender.

Beyond the post's significance within the capital itself, it's worth recalling that, over the now-cardinal's three decades as a diocesan bishop, each of his vicars-general have quickly been named as auxiliaries, all then going on to lead a local church in their own right.

The Richmond installation is slated for Friday, 12 January... and here below, fullvid of yesterday's appointment presser, highlighted by Knestout's call for his new charge to be "a strong voice for unity and charity" in the face of "a time when we are challenged by many divisions" – bishop begins at 6:15 mark:



With the Richmond call finally in the can, all of one Stateside Latin diocese is vacant – north Kansas' outpost in Salina, from which Bishop Edward Weisenburger was transferred to Tucson in September.

Alongside Washington, just two others are led by prelates serving past the retirement age and awaiting their respective successors: central California's diocese of Stockton, where Bishop Stephen Blaire reached the milestone last February, and the largest opening the US church will have for the foreseeable future – what's become an 850,000-member fold in Las Vegas, guided since 2001 by Bishop Joe Pepe, one of DiLorenzo's closest friends and the preacher at his funeral.

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Friday, December 01, 2017

"The Presence of God Is Called 'Rohingya'" – Meeting Refugees, Pope Pleads for "Forgiveness"

Closing out a packed day that began with a rare ordination of priests on the road, the prime diplomatic fault-line of this weeklong PopeTrip to Southeast Asia saw a closing flourish as Francis met with 16 Rohingya refugees – 12 men and four women – who fled Myanmar for Bangladesh, using the charged term for the first time on this visit.

Taking place just after a gathering with local interfaith leaders at the Archbishop's Residence in Dhaka, the encounter was not a surprise – as previously noted, the plan was revealed early this week by Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai (a member of the pontiff's "C-9" council of lead advisers) in a conversation with the Rome-based AsiaNews agency. Nonetheless, after Francis came in for a rare dose of wide criticism over explicitly avoiding the topic during this trek's first leg with the party responsible for the crisis, the images and tone of today's meeting – which highlighted both Papa Bergoglio's compassion and a global call to action (his second in as many days) – is likely to assuage the storm over the long haul.

Here, a house English translation of the Pope's brief, off-the-cuff message to the group – currently housed in a refugee camp – after meeting them individually:
Dear brothers and sisters, we are all close to you. There's not much that we can do because your tragedy is so great. But we make space for you in our hearts. In the name of all, of those who've persecuted you, of those who've done this evil, above all for the indifference of the world, I ask forgiveness. Forgiveness. Many of you have spoken of the great heart of Bangladesh which has welcomed you. Now I appeal to your great hearts, that you might be able to give us the forgiveness we seek.

Dear brothers and sisters, the Judeo-Christian account of creation says that the Lord who is God created man in his own image and likeness. All of us are this image, even these brothers and sisters. They, too, are the image of the living God. A tradition of your religions says that God, in the beginning, took a little bit of salt and tossed it into water, that was the soul of all people; and each of us carries within ourselves a little of this divine salt. These brothers and sisters carry within them the salt of God.

Dear brothers and sisters, we only have to look at the world to see its selfishness with the image of God. Let us continue to do good by you, to help you; let us continue to act so that they may recognize your rights. Let us not close our hearts, not look somewhere else. The presence of God today is also called "Rohingya." May each of us give our own response.
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