Beatification will stir memories of JPII

I was in St. Peter’s Square when Pope John Paul II died in 2005 and very little time went by before people started talking about his inevitable canonization.

It was a given that this pope — whom so many called John Paul the Great — would be on the fast-track to beatification. So here we are, six years later, and JPII will be beatified on Sunday.

What is there to say about JPII? It’s still kind of hard to believe that he’s gone, because he was around for so long. His pivotal role in Catholic history, in world history, is clear.

Archbishop Dolan writes about seeing him “up close,” when Dolan was rector of the North American College in Rome from 1994 to 2001. He writes:


It’s said you just sort of know when you’re in the presence of sanctity. You don’t need much proof or clinical verification; nope — our “gut,” our hearts, our souls just sense it.

Holy Mother Church doesn’t stop here, of course, and I’m glad she doesn’t. She requires some “proofs,” such as widespread public veneration, miracles and a scrupulous study of the holy one’s life. I suppose she has been burned enough to know you always can’t trust your “gut.”

In the case of Blessed Pope John Paul II, we’ve got both.

My heart, soul and (rather considerable) “gut” can testify, from the vantage point of a box seat for at least seven years of his remarkable pontificate, that this was a man of remarkable, extraordinary, heroic sanctity.


Many still wonder about how active John Paul was during the final years of his pontificate, when his illnesses were more evident by the day, and whether he did enough to curtail and respond to sexual abuse. His steadfast support of Marcial Maciel, the since-disgraced founder of the Legionaries of Christ, is a blight on his record, the size of which is in the eye of the beholder.

But few people know about the Maciel scandal. When most people see images of JPII on TV this weekend, they’ll think of his worldwide travels and his incredible ability to…inspire.

I always think of running into Father Benedict Groeschel in Rome in 2001, when we were there for the consistory where Cardinal Egan got his red hat.

Groeschel said to me:


I was saying to myself this morning in St. Peter’s Square, `Who is the holiest person here right now?’ and I figured it was probably some dear old lady in the crowd, someone who is close to God. Then I was looking at the pope up on his chair. I thought of how hard he works and of his complete service to all who want him. And I thought that he just might be the holiest person. It doesn’t always work out that way, but in his case, it does.”


(AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)

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 at the papal weather

Hours before the pope arrives in Washington, I can’t help looking at the weather forecast for New York for Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

And it’s mighty iffy.

Friday, the pope’s first day in New York, looks great. About 70 and sunny.

bi-clouds-weather_1.jpgBut for Saturday and Sunday, when tens of thousands will be outdoors all day to be near the pope, things are less clear.

The Weather Channel shows occasional showers for both days. 68 degrees on Saturday for the youth rally in Yonkers, but only 58 degrees on Sunday for the Mass at the stadium.

But the National Weather Service forecast for the Bronx shows mostly sunny with only a 10 percent chance of rain on Saturday, and cloudy with a 20 percent chance of rain for Sunday.

The archdiocese will have 100,000 ponchos on hand (no umbrellas allowed).

But pray for sun.

How do you sum up Catholic-Jewish relations — in 6 inches

The day is young and I’ve already had two calls complaining about the headline on my article in the Journal News today. It reads:

Pope strains Catholic-Jewish relations

By comparison, the headline on is: Jewish leaders have mixed feelings


I have to go with the LoHud headline, which is very general but more on the mark.

A bit of background: I set out to talk to Jewish leaders about the pope. What is their impression of him so far? How is he doing following John Paul II, who dramatically changed the course of Catholic-Jewish relation? How big a deal is the flap over the Latin Good Friday prayer “for the conversion of the Jews?”

I spoke to several significant Jewish leaders, including two who will officially greet the pope at an interreligious gathering in Washington. In general, the reviews were good. Very good.

Although there are real concerns about the Good Friday prayer (I’m not going to get into them right here), Jewish leaders respect Benedict. They are aware of what he’s written about Judaism, going back decades. They respect him as a serious scholar. They like him — and they believe that he likes them.

So…Pope strains Catholic-Jewish relations just doesn’t do it. (The subhead is: Leaders question move on controversial prayer.)

Of course, the headline writer had only about 6 inches of space to work with. Headlines are difficult to write. What would have been better?

How about:

Jewish leaders respect pope’s record

But want to hear more

about Good Friday prayer

(Papal) Pride of the Yankees

I got my “2008 Ticket Information & Fan Guide” from the Yankees yesterday (but are there any tickets left that I can afford?).

small-mv021308planner03.jpgThere’s a whole page dedicated to the papal Mass on April 20. The Yankees note:

Yankee Stadium has a unique history and special relationship with Vatican City. Not only is Yankee Stadium the site of the first-ever Mass celebrated by a Roman pontiff in the United States — Pope Paul VI during his 1964 visit — it is also the only venue to host more than one papal mass in this country. Pope Benedict’s Mass will be the third. In 1979, Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass in Yankee Stadium during his first papal trip to the United States.


The Apostolic Journey of Pope Benedict will be, for many, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It is especially fitting that in its final year, Yankee Stadium will once again be the place for people to share in this very special event.

If only Bob Sheppard could introduce the pontiff. And now…celebrating Mass…by second base…Pope…Benedict…XVI…

Papal archives on ‘Catholic Channel’

I mentioned yesterday that the Catholic Channel on SIRIUS Satellite Radio, produced by the Archdiocese of New York, should get more exposure after SIRIUS merges with XM Satellite radio.

tjndc5-5basqbzhjfq1apa1e6bw_layout.jpgToday, I wanted to add that the Catholic Channel is really upping the ante for the papal visit.

The standard Catholic Channel (159 on SIRIUS) will provide 24-hour coverage of the pope. But in addition, SIRIUS channel 143 will rebroadcast key events.

And channel 119 — listen up history buffs — will play historic speeches by past popes, including the two who visited America: JPII and Paul VI. It will also have the earliest known recording of a pope, Leo XIII in 1902.

People often ask me this, so: In order to hear the Catholic Channel, you have to buy SIRIUS equipment and order a monthly service.

A priest’s dissent

I’ve heard quite a few people commenting on a recent blog post by Monsignor Harry Byrne, a retired New York priest.

If you’re not familiar with Monsignor Byrne, he has a long history of speaking his mind. In fact, I once referred to him in an article as “independent minded” and he let me know that he liked the tag.

He’s 87 and now shares his thoughts in a blog called Archangel.

A few days ago, he wrote a post: “What signal does the pope bring to New York?”

Now, not many priests these days criticize their bishop, their pope, the Vatican, their church or anyone else (one notable exception being the oft-quoted Father Richard McBrien of Notre Dame, who is always ready to let it rip).

But Byrne uses the occasion of the forthcoming papal visit to question not just Benedict XVI, but John Paul II. Here’s just one snippet:

This passion for centralized control and its failure to recognize and accept the conscience, the prudence, the spontaneity, and the intelligence of the individual Catholic and of the local churches may well be a factor in the departure of so many Catholics from the faith in which they were born and raised.

There’s plenty more. Plus, some comments in opposition.

Benedict expected to have some things to say about Catholic colleges

For almost 20 years, there has been a simmering debate in the world of Catholic higher education about how Catholic all those Catholic colleges and universities need to be.

In 1990, Pope John Paul II called for Catholic institutions to refocus on their Catholic identities — and to be careful about widening the scope of their liberal arts missions to the point of allowing un-Catholic theology to masquerade as the real thing.

A papal document, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, spelled things out like this:

13. Since the objective of a Catholic University is to assure in an institutional manner a Christian presence in the university world confronting the great problems of society and culture(16), every Catholic University, as Catholic, must have the following essential characteristics:

“1. a Christian inspiration not only of individuals but of the university community as such;

2. a continuing reflection in the light of the Catholic faith upon the growing treasury of human knowledge, to which it seeks to contribute by its own research;

3. fidelity to the Christian message as it comes to us through the Church;

4. an institutional commitment to the service of the people of God and of the human family in their pilgrimage to the transcendent goal which gives meaning to life”(17).

14. “In the light of these four characteristics, it is evident that besides the teaching, research and services common to all Universities, a Catholic University, by institutional commitment, brings to its task the inspiration and light of the Christian message. In a Catholic University, therefore, Catholic ideals, attitudes and principles penetrate and inform university activities in accordance with the proper nature and autonomy of these activities. In a word, being both a University and Catholic, it must be both a community of scholars representing various branches of human knowledge, and an academic institution in which Catholicism is vitally present and operative”(18).

tjndc5-5b4wpivnwoks8s2d7p4_layout.jpg John Paul II started a debate that hasn’t gone away or been resolved. What does it mean to be a Catholic college? This question came up in 2004, when I wrote about Iona College returning crucifixes to its classrooms at the request of a benefactor.

Now Pope Benedict XVI is expected to pursue the question further.

He’ll address Catholic education offices (including Catholic college presidents) in Washington on April 17. The expectation is that he will ask Catholic educational institutions to act more Catholic.

The Rev. Timothy Broglio, archbishop of the U.S. military services, tells the Washington Post: “It’ll be very clear and distinct ideas. . . There will be no mistaking what he wants to say.”

But Derry Connolly, president of John Paul the Great Catholic University in San Diego, says: “Whatever he says, I think, for the most part, it will fall on deaf ears. Universities are tough institutions to turn around, and faculty are very powerful. . . . I don’t think it will have much of an effect.”