Seminary grounds now quiet and still

I returned to St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers the other day, where it was beyond quiet.

I was standing on the fields behind the seminary, where the papal youth rally took place on April 19. It was empty, just grass and dirt. I actually had trouble getting my bearings: Where had the stage been? Where were the incredibly long lines for food? Where were priests listening to confessions?

tjndc5-5jopkzury01rr6lykxn_layout.jpgAfter turning around a few times, I was finally able to walk over to the hill where the “press pen” was. From 34,700 people (the final count on the total number of people there) to just me.

The grounds are so quiet this week because seminarians are on retreat before tomorrow’s ordination Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Then seminarians get two weeks off before heading for their summer parish assignments.

But Father Luke Sweeney, head of vocations for the Archdiocese of NY, has been busy.

The hope was that the papal visit would inspire men to listen for a call to the priesthood. The archdiocese desperately needs vocations, as the number of active priests just drops and drops.

Since the papal visit, Sweeney (that’s him) has received dozens of calls and emails from men who say they may be hearing such a call.

I’ll be writing about Sweeney’s experience during the next few days.

By the way, there are rumblings — loud rumblings — of major changes coming with the archdiocese. Much of it has to do with Cardinal Egan’s upcoming (when?) retirement. But lots of church officials may be changing roles. I’m spending a lot of time on the phone these days…

Vocations coming?

tjndc5-5jnvbyb0psn12s1ibitk_layout.jpgI’m heading to St. Joseph’s Seminary this morning, my first visit there since I was one among 25,000 a couple of weeks back.

It should be a lot quieter this morning. Too quiet — with the numbers of seminarians way down these days.

I hope to chat with Father Luke Sweeney, head of vocations for the Archdiocese of NY, about the many inquiries he’s received since the pope was in town.

I’ll post something about it later.

Boy, I just came across a fascinating sliver of the papal visit that I never heard about. Maybe others missed it, too…

1209235229_0835.jpgWhen Benedict XVI met in Washington with victims of sex abuse from Boston, he was given a very unusual book by Cardinal Sean O’Malley.

It was a memorial, a work of art, a hand-painted list of 1,476 men and women who have reported being abused by a priest, deacon, or nun in the Archdiocese of Boston.

The Boston Globe’s Michael Paulson wrote about it.

His Eminence vs. Hizzoner

So I added yesterday to my post-papal respite, and I was proud of myself for not checking my emails. Not once.

And I missed this zinger from the Archdiocese of NY:

The following is a statement issued by Edward Cardinal Egan:

“The Catholic Church clearly teaches that abortion is a grave offense against the will of God. Throughout my years as Archbishop of New York, I have repeated this teaching in sermons, articles, addresses, and interviews without hesitation or compromise of any kind. Thus it was that I had an understanding with Mr. Rudolph Giuliani, when I became Archbishop of New York and he was serving as Mayor of New York, that he was not to receive the Eucharist because of his well-known support of abortion. I deeply regret that Mr. Giuliani received the Eucharist during the Papal visit here in New York, and I will be seeking a meeting with him to insist that he abide by our understanding.”

Oh boy. And the Catholic blogosphere is ringing with commentary today.

Working backward, it seems that a few voices out there, including that of Bob Novak, had taken aim at Cardinal Egan and Washington’s Archbishop Wuerl for allowing pro-abortion rights politicians to receive Communion during the papal visit.

Novak wrote:

In New York, Giuliani receiving Communion was even more remarkable. Unlike Pelosi and Kennedy, who are regular Mass attendees, the former mayor of New York says he goes to church only “occasionally,” usually for holidays or funerals. Abortion aside, Giuliani’s third marriage would make him ineligible for Communion because his second marriage was not annulled by the church. But in New York, Cardinal Egan is no more apt than Cardinal McCarrick was to offend the powerful, and Giuliani was invited to the Mass.

0600f101288e47c2b664220994842b761.jpgThere will be much speculation about why Cardinal Egan chose to react the way he did. In the past, he seemed to be quite reluctant to get involved in the messy debate about whether pro-choice Catholic pols should get Communion.

Just a year ago, in a TV interview, Egan avoided a question about pro-choicers Giuliani, Hillary Clinton and George Pataki, saying they were all “friends of mine.” His comments were roundly criticized by anti-abortion advocates.

I suppose that the cardinal might say that he chose to deal with such matters privately, staying out of the public fray. The most interesting thing about his statement is that he supposedly had a private agreement with Giuliani.

That’s a great picture, by the way, from the AP’s Chris La Putt, of Giuliani waiting for Communion at St. Pat’s.

And now, 1,200 emails to sort through…

A semi-lucid thought

Ah, the morning after.

I’m so exhausted that I don’t know that I can wrap things up in any meaningful way (although that’s going to have to change, since I’m writing a pope wrap-up today for tomorrow’s paper).

44a2e2d14bfb4570b69629c19e17b3f01.jpgThere’s no reason that people should care all that much about what the media went through. But, boy, it was harsh. Waiting for hours — sitting, standing, riding in buses. More than a few people got cranky. I tried to keep my cool. It was nothing personal, I told myself. The powers that be had to keep the pope safe and the media were just in the way.

But we did get to St. Joseph’s Seminary, Yankee Stadium and everywhere else. We got our texts of the pope’s homilies and talks (which I, for one, really needed. When I really, really tried to listen to the pope talk at St. Joseph’s Church, I simply couldn’t understand him).

So what did I take from the whole thing?

Yes, it was significant that Benedict spoke so often about the sex-abuse crisis. He clearly wanted to show that it had hurt him personally, but should he have said more about how and why it happened? Just a bit?

Yes, he challenged America’s Catholics to enjoy their nation’s freedoms and to fully engage its politics and culture without giving in to religious assimilation and the temptations of relativism. (I have to say, I’m kind of proud of the article I did a few weeks back about Benedict’s fear of relativism. This turned out to be one of the main themes of his trip.)

Yes, B16 did show some warmth and personality, particularly at the seminary. He’ll never be a great orator, but he won the people over, no doubt.

But the main thing I take away from the papal extravaganza is this: it’s about the office, not the man.

When I covered JPII a few times, I saw tens of thousands reaching for him, crying for him, and assumed that they were drawn to the man in white, the Polish fellow with the round face and undeniable charisma. And they were, to a degree.

But here comes Benedict. Very different personality. Very different style. German. Shy. Bookish. And the people reach out in the same way, cry for him in the same way.

The only conclusion that I can draw is that it’s about the papacy, not the pope. For Catholics, it’s about the man they believe to be the vicar of Christ, the successor to Peter — no matter who he is. (And for everyone else, it’s about the man who represents, spiritually, 1 out of every 6 people in the world.)

If someone else had been elected in 2005, the same crowds would have been out there. People still would have lined up for hours for a glimpse of the popemobile. People still would have called out “Papa! Papa!” but for a different Papa. There still would have been 25,000 kids at Dunwoodie, talking about how it was a “once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity-to-see-the-pope.”

I’m not knocking Benedict, mind you. He got the job done and deserves a nice rest. But I’m sure that he would be the first one to say that it’s all about the papacy and not Joseph Ratzinger.

Looking ahead for a moment…

When Pope Benedict XVI arrives at JFK tomorrow morning, he’ll be greeted by Cardinal Egan and Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio of Brooklyn.

You have to figure that Egan will share much of the papal spotlight for the next few days.

images.jpegSo I have to mention a report on, which I understand to be a “traditionalist” Catholic website in Europe. The one paragraph report in German (which someone translated for me) says that Cardinal William Levada, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, will soon become the next archbishop of New York.

Levada’s name (that’s him) has been circulating for some time among those trying to figure out who may replace Egan.

Much food for thought in B16’s talk

Some thoughts on the pope’s address to his bishops:

  • On the one hand, to say that the sex-abuse scandal was sometimes “very badly handled” by the bishops is a pretty direct comment from the pope. On the other hand, it’s also terribly obvious. The pope talked about how society’s moral underpinnings are rotting, contributing to social problems like sexual abuse. But he did not say what contributed to the Catholic hierarchy’s misdeeds.
  • When Benedict talked about the influence of affluence and materialism, he could have been addressing the suburbs. He probably doesn’t even know that suburban kids go to high school in sports cars. “People today need to be reminded of the ultimate purpose of their lives,” he said.
  • Asking about the challenge of secularism, the pope said: “I believe that the Church in America, at this point in her history, is faced with the challenge of recapturing the Catholic vision of reality and presenting it, in an engaging and imaginative way, to a society which markets any number of recipes for human fulfillment. I think in particular of our need to speak to the hearts of young people, who, despite their constant exposure to messages contrary to the Gospel, continue to thirst for authenticity, goodness and truth.” This comment made me think that Benedict really does have a handle on what’ s going on in this country. It also made me wonder what he might say at Saturday’s youth rally in Yonkers. What “engaging and imaginative way” will he use to capture the attention of Catholic youth?
  • The pope’s answer to a question about the decline in vocations to the priesthood must have made some New Yorkers wince. The Archdiocese of NY is ranked near the bottom of all dioceses in the U.S. in terms of the percentage of Catholics who become priests. The pope said: “Let us be quite frank: the ability to cultivate vocations to the priesthood and the religious life is a sure sign of the health of a local Church.”
  • The speech, overall, was direct, clear and provocative. The more of this pope’s words that I read and hear, the less I am surprised.

‘…a moral order based on the dominion of God the Creator’

And here are the pope’s remarks at the White House:


Mr. President,
Thank you for your gracious words of welcome on behalf of the people of the United States of America. I deeply appreciate your invitation to visit this great country. My visit coincides with an important moment in the life of the Catholic community in America: the celebration of the two-hundredth anniversary of the elevation of the country’s first Diocese – Baltimore – to a metropolitan Archdiocese, and the establishment of the Sees of New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Louisville. Yet I am happy to be here as a guest of all Americans. I come as a friend, a preacher of the Gospel and one with great respect for this vast pluralistic society. America’s Catholics have made, and continue to make, an excellent contribution to the life of their country. As I begin my visit, I trust that my presence will be a source of renewal and hope for the Church in the United States, and strengthen the resolve of Catholics to contribute ever more responsibly to the life of this nation, of which they are proud to be citizens.

From the dawn of the Republic, America’s quest for freedom has been guided by the conviction that the principles governing political and social life are intimately linked to a moral order based on the dominion of God the Creator. The framers of this nation’s founding documents drew upon this conviction when they proclaimed the “self-evident truth” that all men are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights grounded in the laws of nature and of nature’s God. The course of American history demonstrates the difficulties, the struggles, and the great intellectual and moral resolve which were demanded to shape a society which faithfully embodied these noble principles. In that process, which forged the soul of the nation, religious beliefs were a constant inspiration and driving force, as for example in the struggle against slavery and in the civil rights movement. In our time too, particularly in moments of crisis, Americans continue to find their strength in a commitment to this patrimony of shared ideals and aspirations.

In the next few days, I look forward to meeting not only with America’s Catholic community, but with other Christian communities and representatives of the many religious traditions present in this country. Historically, not only Catholics, but all believers have found here the freedom to worship God in accordance with the dictates of their conscience, while at the same time being accepted as part of a commonwealth in which each individual and group can make its voice heard. As the nation faces the increasingly complex political and ethical issues of our time, I am confident that the American people will find in their religious beliefs a precious source of insight and an inspiration to pursue reasoned, responsible and respectful dialogue in the effort to build a more humane and free society.

Freedom is not only a gift, but also a summons to personal responsibility. Americans know this from experience – almost every town in this country has its monuments honoring those who sacrificed their lives in defense of freedom, both at home and abroad. The preservation of freedom calls for the cultivation of virtue, self-discipline, sacrifice for the common good and a sense of responsibility towards the less fortunate. It also demands the courage to engage in civic life and to bring one’s deepest beliefs and values to reasoned public debate. In a word, freedom is ever new. It is a challenge held out to each generation, and it must constantly be won over for the cause of good (cf. Spe Salvi, 24). Few have understood this as clearly as the late Pope John Paul II. In reflecting on the spiritual victory of freedom over totalitarianism in his native Poland and in eastern Europe, he reminded us that history shows, time and again, that “in a world without truth, freedom loses its foundation”, and a democracy without values can lose its very soul (cf. Centesimus Annus, 46). Those prophetic words in some sense echo the conviction of President Washington, expressed in his Farewell Address, that religion and morality represent “indispensable supports” of political prosperity.

The Church, for her part, wishes to contribute to building a world ever more worthy of the human person, created in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen 1:26-27). She is convinced that faith sheds new light on all things, and that the Gospel reveals the noble vocation and sublime destiny of every man and woman (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 10). Faith also gives us the strength to respond to our high calling, and the hope that inspires us to work for an ever more just and fraternal society. Democracy can only flourish, as your founding fathers realized, when political leaders and those whom they represent are guided by truth and bring the wisdom born of firm moral principle to decisions affecting the life and future of the nation.

For well over a century, the United States of America has played an important role in the international community. On Friday, God willing, I will have the honor of addressing the United Nations Organization, where I hope to encourage the efforts under way to make that institution an ever more effective voice for the legitimate aspirations of all the world’s peoples. On this, the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the need for global solidarity is as urgent as ever, if all people are to live in a way worthy of their dignity – as brothers and sisters dwelling in the same house and around that table which God’s bounty has set for all his children. America has traditionally shown herself generous in meeting immediate human needs, fostering development and offering relief to the victims of natural catastrophes. I am confident that this concern for the greater human family will continue to find expression in support for the patient efforts of international diplomacy to resolve conflicts and promote progress. In this way, coming generations will be able to live in a world where truth, freedom and justice can flourish – a world where the God-given dignity and rights of every man, woman and child are cherished, protected and effectively advanced.

Mr. President, dear friends: as I begin my visit to the United States, I express once more my gratitude for your invitation, my joy to be in your midst, and my fervent prayers that Almighty God will confirm this nation and its people in the ways of justice, prosperity and peace. God bless America!

Back with my press pass

Be glad you’re not waiting for media credentials to see the pope.

I just got back from several hours on line and, well, there are more than a few glitches.

But I’m back. I passed by St. Joseph’s Seminary while on the Westchester Cross County Parkway (which will be closed Saturday, by the way) and saw the great stage that is being constructed for Saturday’s youth rally. It should be something.

Here is the joint statement from the White House and Holy See on this morning’s meeting between the president and the pope:


His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI and President George W. Bush met today in the Oval Office of the White House.

President Bush, on behalf of all Americans, welcomed the Holy Father, wished him a happy birthday, and thanked him for the spiritual and moral guidance, which he offers to the whole human family. The President wished the Pope every success in his Apostolic Journey and in his address at the United Nations, and expressed appreciation for the Pope’s upcoming visit to “Ground Zero” in New York.

During their meeting, the Holy Father and the President discussed a number of topics of common interest to the Holy See and the United States of America, including moral and religious considerations to which both parties are committed: the respect of the dignity of the human person; the defense and promotion of life, matrimony and the family; the education of future generations; human rights and religious freedom; sustainable development and the struggle against poverty and pandemics, especially in Africa. In regard to the latter, the Holy Father welcomed the United States’ substantial financial contributions in this area. The two reaffirmed their total rejection of terrorism as well as the manipulation of religion to justify immoral and violent acts against innocents. They further touched on the need to confront terrorism with appropriate means that respect the human person and his or her rights.

The Holy Father and the President devoted considerable time in their discussions to the Middle East, in particular resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict in line with the vision of two states living side-by-side in peace and security, their mutual support for the sovereignty and independence of Lebanon, and their common concern for the situation in Iraq and particularly the precarious state of Christian communities there and elsewhere in the region. The Holy Father and the President expressed hope for an end to violence and for a prompt and comprehensive solution to the crises which afflict the region.

The Holy Father and the President also considered the situation in Latin America with reference, among other matters, to immigrants, and the need for a coordinated policy regarding immigration, especially their humane treatment and the well being of their families.

Someone’s taking his vitamins

tjndc5-5jlqu199sqg1as84e3tn_layout.jpgI wonder if my initial impression is shared by others.

Boy, the pope looks good for a fellow who is turning 81 tomorrow. He practically skipped down the stairs from the plane — and we’re talking about after a long flight.

I’m half his age, and when I take a transatlantic flight, I can hardly straighten my back for an hour afterward.

B16 looks strong and fit.

He’ll have to be to keep up with his schedule for the next week…