Today is Tuesday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time, and this is The Tuesday Pillar Post.
Here’s the news
The Sovereign Military Order of Malta announced just moments ago that Fra’ Marco Luzzago, Lieutenant of the Grand Master, died this morning at his home, at the age of 71.
Luzzago has been the senior officer of the religious order/sovereign international entity/global aid organization since November 2020 — his unexpected death will no doubt complicate the already knotty constitutional reform efforts the order has been pursuing since 2017.
So with no Grand Master, and no Lieutenant, immediate governance of the order will fall to the 82-year-old Grand Commander, while the Knights await a decision from Pope Francis on several proposals for redrafting the order’s governing documents.
We’ve covered the Order of Malta in-depth in recent years, and this was an unexpected development with a lot of implications. Read where things stand here.
In the meantime, may Fra’ Marco Luzzago rest in eternal beatitude.
We have done a lot of reporting in The Pillar about the metrics indicating a decline of Catholic practice in the U.S. — declining rates of baptism, of funerals, of ordinations, of parish participation and Mass attendance.
But there is one statistical trend moving in the other direction: a rising number of children who are baptized after infancy — between the ages of seven and 18.
The trend hasn’t visited itself upon all dioceses, but in some places it is rather pronounced. In 2019, three U.S. dioceses had more baptisms of older children than infant baptisms.
So why is this happening? We talked to a couple of dioceses with rising number of older child baptisms, and they identified two reasons:
First, that migrant worker and immigrant families in their dioceses do not always have baptism available to them during a child’s infancy, and choose to engage the sacraments of initiation down the road.
Second, that at least some parishes and Catholic schools are attuned to declining infant baptism rates, and have become intentional about encouraging Christian initiation for older children. That encouragement has become, in some places, a focus on “whole-family evangelization” — which seems to me an important part of a Catholic school’s mission as fewer Catholic school students are likely to come from practicing Catholic families.
Read about the increasing frequency of older child baptism, right here.
By the way, we’ve heard from several people since publishing this story about the importance of making baptism prep more accessible to families — less focused on gatekeeping via prep classes, and more on individual pastoral assessment of the disposition of families for baptism.
Catholic parents have told us that in some cases, they delayed baptizing infants because they couldn’t make baptism prep classes fit in a family schedule, and were not permitted to move forward with the baptism of an infant until they were completed.
I’ve seen that kind of thing happen myself — and it can be difficult to see a family discouraged by a set of parochial or diocesan requirements for infant baptism, especially if they seem to exceed the minimalist thresholds established in canon law. At the same time, pastors have a lot of demands on their time, and that leads often to a kind of necessary systematization — and in the worst case scenarios, bureaucratization — of baptism prep.
The minister of baptism does need a “founded hope” that an infant to be baptized will be raised in the faith. There has to be some means of assessing that, especially when the pastor doesn’t know a family well. And parishes and dioceses often have the impulse, rightly, to take baptismal preparation as a moment of evangelization.
But no one wants to see the sacraments seemingly hostage to a set of hoops through which parents must jump.
So what’s a good solution? What works in your parish? What doesn’t? Read up, and then discuss it in the comments below.
As Pentecost Mass came to a conclusion Sunday at St. Francis Xavier Parish in Owo, Nigeria, gunmen began to open fire on the congregation at prayer, with some attackers throwing explosive devices into the pews.
In seconds, a parish Mass became a site of unspeakable horror. More than 50 people are dead, including children, and dozens more are fighting for their lives in local hospitals. The local bishop said the violence is “devastating.”
Violence against Christians in Nigeria is on the rise, and much of it is attributed to Fulani herdsmen terrorists - members of a tribal group in the north of Nigeria, from which terrorists have killed thousands of people in recent years.
You’ve probably heard about Fulani herdsmen terrorists before, because they have been responsible for so many attacks in Nigeria, which involve killing clergy, burning churches, and massacring whole villages.
Why have some of them become terrorists? Why is so much of the violence against Christians?
Yesterday, we read up and talked with experts on the subject, and we learned a lot.
For starters, the Fulani are a very large group in Nigeria — as many as 13 million, perhaps — and most Fulani leaders have condemned the terrorist attacks of recent years. And while Fulani terrorists have been linked to Boko Haram and other jihadists groups, at least one archbishop in the region says the Fulani conflict is not principally religious — and a lot of analysts agree with that.
So what’s the conflict all about? Read about it here.
Nigeria is expected to be among the most Catholic countries in the world in the next few decades. So all of us should understand the situation of Christians there as best as we can.
And if you want to understand something about the violent attacks of Fulani herdsmen, this explainer is a very good place to start. Read up.
Raffaele Mincione is a former investment manager for the Vatican, who in 2018 sold the Holy See his share of a London luxury property development — he was last year indicted on Vatican charges of embezzlement, abuse of office, fraud, and money laundering.
Mincione had his day in court yesterday, at his own criminal trial in Vatican City state, on which he said that the Vatican’s losses on the London property were the Vatican’s fault — that officials allowed development permissions on the property to lapse, and otherwise mismanaged what could have been a good investment.
The businessman told judges that the Vatican has unjustly harmed his reputation, while admitting that he had something of a relationship with Gianluigi Torzi, the broker hired by the Vatican to close the complex building sale. Mincione did not address directly a line of credit worth 26 million, extended by a Torzi company to a Mincione company during the Vatican’s purchase of the building, nor other apparent conflicts of interest between Mincione and Torzi.
But Mincione was clear that in his view, the Vatican’s financial problems in London are of its own making — and the businessman suggested that Vatican officials have painted him as a criminal to cover for their mismanagement.
This Pillar Post is brought to you by St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry.
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A key figure in the Russian Orthodox Church got a new job today.
Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev — who had been something like the Moscow Patriarchate’s foreign minister — was appointed the Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Archbishop of Budapest and Hungary.
Hilarion is a controversial figure in Russian Orthodoxy — when Russia invaded Ukraine in February, the archbishop made some non-specific anti-war statements, which generally opposed the notion of war, but the archbishop has after that remained publicly quiet as Moscow’s Orthodox Patriarch Kirill is seen to be providing an ideological and theological framework for Vladimir Putin’s invasion of his neighbors.
And before the invasion, Hilarion was known as a defender of Russkiy-Mir ideology touted by Kirill and Putin, which claims that Ukrainians, and Belorussians besides, are really one people with the Russians, and should be subject to Moscow’s political and ecclesiastical oversight.
So why the move? It’s hard to say, just yet, though we’ll be asking folks on the ground in Ukraine in the days to come.
But the choice of Budapest for Hilarion is an interesting one. Just last week, Hungary made headlines for holding up an EU sanctions package against Russia, with one issue key to its objections: proposed EU sanctions against Patriarch Kirill personally.
Hungarian President Viktor Orban opposed the inclusion of Patriarch Kirill on a list of Russians to face economic and travel sanctions by the EU; Orban’s spokesman said the Hungarian leader opposes in principle sanctioning religious leaders, even while Kirill’s alliance with Putin is well-established.
After Budapest’s stand on Kirill’s behalf, a key Kirill ally is moving to Budapest. That could be coincidence - but it will certainly be seen in Orthodoxy as a kind of nod to Orban’s defense of Kirill. We’ll aim to have more, just as soon as we can.
‘Pray for me that I may attain my goal’
Today’s Office of Readings contains a passage from a beautiful letter of the second century St. Ignatius of Antioch, who was traveling under arrest to Rome, where he expected to be martyred.
He wrote to the Christians in Rome:
Allow me to follow the example of the Passion of my God. If there is any man who has God within himself, let him understand what I wish, and let him sympathize with me, knowing the things which constrain me.
The Prince of this world wishes to tear me in pieces and twist my mind away from God. Let none of you who are present help him, but be on my side: that is, on God’s. Do not speak of Jesus Christ but still desire the world. Let no envy dwell among you.
Perhaps when I arrive I will ask you to save my life. Ignore what I say then, but give me what I am writing to ask you now. In the midst of life I write to you desiring death. My bodily desires have been crucified, and there is in me no fire of love for material things. Within me there is no fire, but only water living and speaking in me, and saying to me from within, “Come to the Father.” I have no pleasure in the food of corruption or in the delights of this life. I desire the bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David, and for drink I desire his blood, which is incorruptible love.
Pray for me that I may attain my goal. I am writing to you not according to the flesh, but according to the mind of God. If I am given suffering, it will be proof of your goodwill; if it is denied to me, that will be a proof of your disfavor.
Do not save my life, St. Ignatius says, I am prepared to be martyred.
It’s a powerful instruction, and a kind of admonition to the rest of us, even if we’re not on our way to the final Roman holiday.
In sum, Ignatius says to his friends:
“Don’t believe me if I say I want to choose comfort, or if I give in to my fears — trust that I want to follow the Lord into his Passion.”
Fear is a powerful thing. The fear of rejection, the fear of not being loved, the fear of not being safe, the fear of suffering, even. Fear is the most natural human experience, and, perhaps for that reason, Christ spends a lot of time telling his apostles not to be afraid. The Lord has the same message for the people of Israel in the Old Testament, and the angels of Scripture can’t seem to go anywhere without having to tell people not to be afraid of them.
The impressive thing about St. Ignatius is that he knows he will be afraid of his own martyrdom, and he know that he might ask his friends to spare him. But he decides to fix his will on following the Lord’s plan for him anyhow.
He is not unafraid, nor some kind of superhuman, but he has trust that the Lord has for him something bigger than his fear.
We talk a lot in our house about the Father of Fear, the evil one. Fear is not easily overcome, but its origin is easily understood. Of course, we need not be afraid. But if we are, fear need not deter us from following the Lord’s plan. Especially if, as Ignatius did, we ask our friends to help us stay on the path of faith.
May Christ our King imbue us with courage and faith.
Speaking of fearlessness, read this powerful essay today.
Finally, tomorrow is the feast of St. Bron, an early bishop of Ireland who died in the sixth century. We know very little about his life. But to celebrate St. Bron, here’s an iconic chase down block from a more contemporary ‘Bron:
And a canonist sent me this bit of ridiculousness the other day — since Ed has talked on The Pillar Podcast about his love for Encanto, I share it mostly for his benefit:
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