I picked a weird time last week to take a vacation, amidst a nine-day span of appointments and decisions from Pope Francis that will shape the Church for — potentially — decades to come.
I was in the mountains, with no cell phone service at all, soon after Pope Francis appointed a new prefect for the DDF, while he named participants for the synod on synodality, and up until the pontiff appointed 21 new cardinals on Sunday, including that (controversial) new DDF prefect.
Given that, I still have a lot to catch up on, even while The Pillar did a truly excellent week of coverage in my absence.
And, honestly, here’s where I was last week:
I spent a lot of time praying for you, readers, and a lot of time praying for the people who lead the Church. I also spent time asking the Lord for guidance — for direction on how best to cover and serve the Church, especially as the Barque of Peter navigates difficult waters.
Today, on the feast of St. Benedict, I think we’d all do well to remember the great saint’s exhortation to ora et labora — to remember that our work for the Kingdom must be rooted in a life of prayer, or it won’t bear good fruit.
I have to remind myself of that often. All good things begin and end with sacred worship — the prayer of the Church — and with our own commitment to pursuing an interior life of intimacy with God.
With that said, before the news, one other point — 219 years ago today, Alexander Hamilton was shot in a duel, by his political rival and sometime friend, Aaron Burr. That duel gave rise to the first, and best, of the “Got Milk” commercials, which began airing some 30 years ago.
So here you are.
Upon returning from vacation, I asked Ed to lay out for me his sense of Pope Francis’ seismic nine days this month, and especially to consider how the pope himself has understood his prodigious spate of appointments.
In short, I asked Ed how Pope Francis understands his very big week.
Ed offered this analysis:
“Accepting, for the moment, the theory that Francis’ busy week of appointments is a kind of legacy planning by the pope, at present he appears to be throwing both the synod and the conclave open to wildly different possible outcomes, dependent on his own longevity and the identity of whoever succeeds him.”
“But whatever he’s up to, it is a mistake to try to interpret the pope as a systematic and deliberative leader, executing moves like pieces on a chessboard. The math just doesn’t add up. In that light, the hermeneutic of “hagan lio,” is probably more helpful for understanding Francis — and history bears out his preference for that style.”
I’m not sure I agree entirely with what Ed has written, but I’m still chewing on it. In the meantime, it’s a stringent and thorough assessment of how the pope’s recent actions actually stack up. Give it a read.
So Brendan Hodge took a look at the numbers — to see how the composition of the College of Cardinals has changed over the years, and whether there is a discernible “Francis effect” among the college.
Indeed, since 2012, the College of Cardinals has gotten less European, and slightly less North American. There is now a greater share of cardinals from Asia and Africa. Latin American representation, to my surprise, has remained the same:
It’s also interesting to note which countries, like Australia, have no cardinals at all.
Among those new cardinals are two we’ve given a closer look:
First, meet the ‘Lynx’ of Lodz, Polish Cardinal-elect Grzegorz Ryś. In a thorough profile, Luke Coppen gives a clear picture of a diocesan bishop with a great love for his people, and for the mission of the Church.
Next, read about the appointment of U.S. apostolic nuncio Christophe Pierre to the College of Cardinals. As it happens, nearly 75% of the pope’s bishop-delegates to the U.S. have become cardinals, so Pierre’s red hat was not unexpected. But his nomination as a cardinal before his retirement from the apostolic nunciature is unusual — and it could have an effect on Pierre’s work in the U.S.
While we’re talking about the Holy See, Luke Coppen on Friday wrote an excellent analysis about the state of affairs at the Dicastery for Evangelization, once known as the Propaganda fide.
Prop fide, as it was, supports and oversees dioceses in missionary territory around the world, making it possible for the Church to operate in places with few Christians or little money.
But it turns out the dicastery is running out of money — causing, as one African bishop put it, a “growing inability of this Dicastery to provide financial and material assistance to mission areas like ours.”
Indeed, Prop fide’s budget is declining — it dropped by 16% between 2021 and 2022. But the budget tells only part of the story. The dicastery has also faced ambiguity about its leadership in recent years.
And those things could have profound effect on the ministry of the Church in mission territory around the world.
Next, we published on Friday a very interesting report on the state of Catholics in Goa, India, where a government official has said he wants to “wipe out” signs of Portuguese influence in the region.
Most Goan Christians say they’ve never felt before a conflict between their Indian heritage and the Portuguese-influenced culture of their state. But as Indian Hindu nationalism becomes a more prominent force in the country, new tensions are arising.
That could put Catholics in Goa under new kinds of persecution, especially if their churches are threatened.
The Pillar talked with Indian Christians and local leaders, and with government officials in Portugal about a unique cultural blend of Asian and European heritage — and why it sits now under threat.
Finally, a link not from The Pillar, but worth pointing out. Fr. Robert Imbelli, a New York priest who taught at Boston College, has published an insightful theological assessment of synodality that seems to me worth reading. I read Fr. Imbelli often, because he defies facile ideological categorization, and his conclusions often surprise me.
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Notes from camp
On a personal note, I’ve mentioned that I was on vacation last week in the mountains of Colorado.
I had the unusual opportunity to go to camp — I accompanied my son Max to Camp Wojtyla, a Catholic wilderness adventure camp in the alpine meadows of the Rocky Mountains.
Please allow me a couple of personal notes from camp:
— I’m very proud of my son Max. As readers know, Max has Down syndrome and a few other significant neurological challenges. He lives and thrives on routine, so I wasn’t sure how he would do in a wilderness adventure camp, sleeping in a tent, with a variable schedule, and with all kinds of unexpected surprises. Max did great. He persevered. He was courageous. He weathered several (big) lightning storms, took some long hikes, enjoyed the (odiferous) camaraderie of his fellow middle school boys, and even tolerated his dad’s hovering presence, reminding to put on a rain jacket or finish his oatmeal. It was a blessing to see my son build friendships at camp, to challenge himself, and to grow in Christian discipleship.
— Send your kids to Camp Wojtyla. This is an endorsement, not an advertisement. I paid full freight for Max to attend camp, and I’m not getting anything in exchange for this endorsement. But it comes from my heart, and my experience. This is camp lived as a Catholic apostolate of discipleship. The staff are living disciples of Jesus Christ, and dedicated to the formation of young people. One of Camp Wojtyla’s directors is Dr. Scott Powell, who you know from the Sunday School podcast. The other director is Scott’s wife, Annie, who is a saint, and a master catechist. The young people they hire to lead camp exude a living and joyful faith. The campers were great kids, many of them extremely well-formed, and all of them struck me by their charity and their joy. Send your kids here.
— At 40 years old, I’m a terrible camper. I mean, I like going camping, but I’m not so great at attending a middle school camp. The songs were so loud. There was no bourbon. I have become a grumpy old man. BUT — if you’re a priest, you should consider spending a week at Camp W as a chaplain. And if you’re a college-aged student or a seminarian, you should apply to work there. You should do those things before you’re old and grumpy like I am.
Feel the rush…
Ok, one other thing happened last week that we need to talk about.
Several media outlets have reported in recent days a kind of gaffe from Bishop Américo Aguiar, who was appointed a cardinal on Sunday.
Aguiar, the auxiliary bishop of Lisbon, is the principal organizer of World Youth Day 2023, which will be held Aug. 1-6 in Lisbon, his city. This bishop said in an interview last week that World Youth Day doesn’t aim to “convert the young people to Christ or to the Catholic Church or anything like that, at all.”
Instead, he said that he hoped young people who attend World Youth Day would “encounter the living Christ,” but that people who do not have a religion would “feel at ease” in an experience of universal brotherhood.”
Now, listen, I don’t speak Portuguese, and I am still trying to get up to speed on this.
I think a possibly charitable interpretation is that this bishop was trying to express a broad welcome to World Youth Day, and tried very hard (too hard) not to give offense or to avoid “proselytizing,” while missing the mark — since, à la the Great Commission, the Church does aim to convert young people to Christ and to the Catholic Church and to everything “like that.”
Some people in Portugal are already suggesting that the video of the bishop’s remarks was selectively edited, and that the comments don’t reflect what he was trying to say. But others in Portugal have told us that the bishop has a habit of speaking carelessly and off-the-cuff with the press, and that whatever his intention, he didn’t think before he spoke.
And of course, it does appear at first pass that this bishop downplayed the call to conversion and the missionary identity of the Church — and that would be a scandal, and, coincidentally, out of step with Francis’ view of the Church as expressed in Evengelii gaudium.
To be candid, I hope The Pillar might interview Bishop Aguiar, and be able to ask for clarity on that, and for the moment, we’ve got some Portuguese journalists digging in.
I know it will tick some of you off that I haven’t offered a sizzling hot take, but I think it’s important to cover things like this thoroughly and carefully, as a matter of justice.
Now, I really love the experience of World Youth Days. I’ve been to two, and they were life-changing for me, largely because of the message that God is calling young people to be great saints, to pick up their crosses and follow Christ, and to abide in the heart of Christ at the center of the Church.
I am so grateful for World Youth Day, and I hope the young people who go to Lisbon will have experiences of deep Christian conversion.
But whether World Youth Day 2023 is aiming to convert young people to salvation in Jesus Christ — or just to feel “welcomed” among their “fellow kids” — I do want to share with you the song by which they aim to do it, which was released July 7.
Because this song, “Feel the Rush in the Air,” is really something.
If you haven’t “felt the rush” yet, here’s the plot.
A group of ethnically diverse, brightly-clad, and happy-looking young people are looking at a cross, dancing, and playing a drum, as young people tend to do — a veritable Benetton ad of praising the Lord.
Inside a church, they pray and look at the Bible together for a while. One of them even reads Christus vivit.
Then some of them decide to wake up a sleeping homeless person, in order to offer him a snack.
The snack looked to me like peach slices in a baggie, though there was no spoon.
Despite having no way to eat the peaches, the homeless man, with a Tangled-caliber smolder, seems really quite grateful:
In fact, he’s so grateful that he cleans up a little bit, presumably downs the peaches straight from the bag, and joins the young people at a dance party:
They “lift up their hands, and feel the rush in the air” — presumably the Holy Spirit.
Then a grown-up with an amazing jacket and killer Elvis hair shows up to sing for the young people:
The young people are so excited about the jacket they dance some more:
Did you feel the rush? Me too. As I say, this song has EVERYTHING, and I hope it achieves the goal of converting and/or welcoming young people.
I expect it will.
One note though, that I did find interesting. When the young people were reading the Bible together, they were turned to Jeremiah 47:1-4.
Here’s the passage, in the NAB translation they were reading:
“The word of the LORD that came to Jeremiah the prophet concerning the Philistines, before Pharaoh attacked Gaza:
Thus says the LORD:
See: waters are rising from the north,
to become a torrent in flood;
They shall flood the land and all it contains,
the cities and their inhabitants.
People will howl and wail,
every inhabitant of the land.
At the noise of the pounding hooves of his steeds,
the clanking chariots, the rumbling wheels,
Parents do not turn back for their children;
their hands hang helpless,
Because of the day that is coming
to destroy all the Philistines
And cut off from Tyre and Sidon
the last of their allies.
Yes, the LORD is destroying the Philistines,
the remnant from the coasts of Caphtor.”
No word yet on whether this is the official Bible verse of World Youth Day.
Anyhow, we’ve got lots of reporting coming your way this week, guys. Join me in praying for the Church, and for her leaders.
May St. Benedict intercede for us.
And if you think our reporting is important, please become a paying subscriber. We actually depend on you to make The Pillar go. That. means. you.
Please be assured of our prayers, and please pray for us. We need it.