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:

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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.

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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:

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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.”

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(AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)

Relics of two Catholic giants coming to NY

Relics of two significant Catholic figures will soon be coming to the New York area.

On Sept. 23, Archbishop Dolan will bless the first U.S. shrine dedicated to Cardinal John Henry Newman at the Church of Our Savior in New York City.

This will be only a few days after the pope beatifies Newman in England. That’s a big step toward possible sainthood.

The shrine will include a relic — a piece of Newman’s remains.

Newman was a priest in the Church of England who converted to Catholicism in 1845. He is much beloved by his fans for his intellectual approach to faith and his clear, powerful writing.

One week later, on Sept. 30, a relic of St. John Bosco, the founder of the Salesian order, will be at the Marian Shrine in Haverstraw-Stony Point. There will be a day-long youth rally and Dolan will celebrate Mass in the evening.

The relic (in this case, known to be an arm bone) will also be at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Oct. 1 and 2.

The relic is the middle of a five-year trip around the world to celebrate the Salesians’ 150th anniversary and Bosco’s 200th birthday. Here’s a full explanation from Father Mike Mendl of the Salesians’ Eastern Province, based in New Rochelle:

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St. John Bosco, very often called simply Don Bosco, was an Italian saint (1815-1888), apostle of young people, founder of a religious congregation of men (priests, brothers) whom he called the Salesians (after St. Francis de Sales as patron) and a congregation of sisters called the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians—commonly called the Salesian Sisters.  He also sent out missionaries to Latin America; today the Salesians are in 136 countries and are the second-largest order of religious men in the Catholic Church (about 16,000 in number), and the sisters are the largest order of women (about 14,000).

Last year our superiors started a relic from the body of Don Bosco on a trip around the world that will take over five years to complete, visiting every province (geographical division) of the Salesian world.  The occasion for this pilgrimage is to link the 150th anniversary of the Salesians (last December) and the 200th anniversary of Don Bosco’s birth (2015) while stirring up a renewed fervor for the spirit and apostolic work of Don Bosco (young people, missions, etc.), and among the Salesians themselves a rededication to our religious consecration, ideals, and mission to the young.

Catholics honor the relics of the saints as reminders that the saints were human beings like us, and we can imitate their virtues, welcome God’s grace, and become saints too.  In honoring the saints we honor God, who worked through them.

Insofar as some relics of saints are from their bodies (as distinguished from objects that they used), we also pay respect to the human body that will be raised up on the Last Day, as Jesus was raised from the dead.  The just will share in the eternal life of Christ.

Catholic scholars ask pope to go slow on Pius XII beatification

Still playing catch up from last week, I see that 19 Catholic theologians have signed a pretty provocative letter to the pope asking that he slow the process of possible beatification for Pope Pius XII.

The controversy over Pius’ efforts to save Jews from the Nazis is, of course, well known. I won’t attempt to restate it here.

APPOPEPIUSTWELVEBut the letter caught my eye because it was signed not only by several prominent Catholic scholars, but by Eugene Fisher, who for many years oversaw Catholic-Jewish relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Fisher undoubtedly understands the dynamics of this very complicated, emotionally charged debate as well as anyone in this country.

The letter, in general, makes the case that the historical record on Pius XII is still far from complete:

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Currently, existing research leads us to the view that Pope Pius XII did not issue a clearly worded statement, unconditionally condemning the wholesale slaughter and murder of European Jews.  At the same time, some evidence also compels us to see that Pius XII’s diplomatic background encouraged him as head of a neutral state, the Vatican, to assist Jews by means that were not made public during the war.  It is essential that further research be conducted to resolve both these questions.  As scholars of theology and history, we realize how important the historical critical method is to your own research and we implore you to ensure that such a historical investigation takes place before proceeding with the cause of Pope Pius XII.

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The letter also offers a more nuanced argument that the Pius debate must be seen in light of broader anti-Semitism “propogated” by Christians throught the centuries:

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For many Jews and Catholics, Pius XII takes on a role much larger than his historical papacy.  In essence, Pius XII has become a century old symbol of Christian anti-Judaism and antisemitism, which, for example, the late Reverend Edward H. Flannery has documented and spelled out in his work The Anguish of the Jews:  Twenty-Three Centuries of Antisemitism.  It is challenging to separate Pope Pius XII from this legacy.  Proceeding with the cause of Pope Pius XII, without an exhaustive study of his actions during the Holocaust, might harm Jewish-Catholic relations in a way that cannot be overcome in the foreseeable future.

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So the debate continues.

Not long ago, Dimitri Cavalli, a writer from the Bronx, had an op-ed published in the leading Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz that defended Pius XII. Cavalli made the case that there is simply no evidence to suggest that the wartime pope failed the Jews of Europe.

Cavalli outlined some of the pope’s actions and concluded with this:

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Throughout the war, the pope’s deputies frequently ordered the Vatican’s diplomatic representatives in many Nazi-occupied and Axis countries to intervene on behalf of endangered Jews. Up until Pius XII’s death in 1958, many Jewish organizations, newspapers and leaders lauded his efforts. To cite one of many examples, in his April 7, 1944, letter to the papal nuncio in Romania, Alexander Shafran, chief rabbi of Bucharest, wrote: “It is not easy for us to find the right words to express the warmth and consolation we experienced because of the concern of the supreme pontiff, who offered a large sum to relieve the sufferings of deported Jews … The Jews of Romania will never forget these facts of historic importance.”

The campaign against Pope Pius XII is doomed to failure because his detractors cannot sustain their main charges against him – that he was silent, pro-Nazi, and did little or nothing to help the Jews – with evidence. Perhaps only in a backward world such as ours would the one man who did more than any other wartime leader to help Jews and other Nazi victims, receive the greatest condemnation.