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The other 49ers, the whole story, and the big show

Happy Friday, friends,

When the 49ers take the field on Sunday, there will be plenty of Catholics among the fans cheering them on for the Super Bowl. 

But almost 200 years ago, there was a group of priests working as chaplains to the original gold rush 49ers then flooding into California, and theirs is a story far more interesting than what happens on any given Sunday.

Three men and one woman panning for gold during the California Gold Rush.

The priests were led by Bishop Joseph Alemany of Monterey, who would go on to become the first archbishop of San Francisco. But Alemany was initially reluctant to take up the assignment. 

In fact, he initially turned the appointment down flat.

But Pope Pius IX was having none of it. He summoned Alemany to an audience and told him, “You must go to California…Where others are drawn by gold, you must carry the cross.”

Under obedience, he agreed and was consecrated bishop in June 1850. Three years later, the Archdiocese of San Francisco was erected and Alemany became its first archbishop. 

California was no Garden of Eden back then. It was rife with disease, anti-immigrant sentiment, brothels, and gambling. The mining towns were known for violence and lawlessness, and the bishop had a job getting workers for his new vineyard.

You can read all about Alemany and his story here. 

And I’ll talk about the “football” later, I promise.


The News

The bishops of India’s three Catholic Churches sui iuris have warned that harassment and even violence have become the new normal for the country’s Christians.

In a statement this week, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, which includes the Latin, Syro-Malabar, and Syro-Malankara Churches, warned that “Destruction of homes and churches, harassment of personnel serving in orphanages, hostels, educational and healthcare institutions on false allegations of conversion have become common.”

The persecution is real, and it comes from the government as much as from the streets. 

The bishops noted that an increasing number of Indian states were implementing anti-conversion laws, “creating an environment where any Christian who shares their faith can be accused of a crime, intimidated, harassed and even met with violence.”

The statement comes two days after police arrested Fr. Dominic Pinto, a priest of the Diocese of Lucknow, and six others following claims that they had sought to convert Hindus in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. 

A spokesman for the Lucknow diocese said there was “not an iota of truth” in the accusation.

Read the whole thing. And pray for India.

I don’t know if you know this, but Oulu, known as the “capital of northern Finland,” is extraordinarily cold.

I know this from reading Edgar Beltrán’s final dispatch from there, where he visited Fr. Pedro Pérez at his “parish at the top of the world.” Pérez was born in Spain but is basically a local vocation for Oulu — he grew up there after his family became missionaries for the Neocatechumenal Way.

This is a fascinating portrait of a place where the local Church is growing and changing, and doing so by leaning into the missionary efforts of priests and families from one of the many post-conciliar movements of the New Evangelization. 

Don’t miss this.

Barely six months into his term as prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández has certainly made his mark in office. 

He’s pushed out more documents, some of them more than a little controversial, given more interviews, and had his scholarly record attract more attention than many of his predecessors managed in years of service.

He’s stepped on a lot of toes, though, in the process — both around Rome and in bishops’ conferences around the world. So much so that at least one curial department has taken to calling him “Cardinal Bigfoot.”

But what’s the thrust of all this activity from Fernández? Is he a man with a vision, or just a guy in a hurry — is there method or just madness in all the frenzy? Speaking to people around the Vatican for an analysis this week, I came away with a pretty mixed picture of the man. 

But one thing that did come through is that whatever is driving him, he doesn’t seem to be bringing his department along with him — however influential the new prefect is, La Suprema is far from back.

Read the whole thing.

Poland’s new government has committed itself to rolling back the country’s pro-life protections and ushering in abortion on demand. But Catholics are mobilizing in response.

You may think this is a simple story of “new government reverses previous government” but the political landscape on abortion in Poland is actually really complicated — and fascinating.

It is by no means clear that the government can carry its parliamentary coalition along with them, let alone the bulk of the country. In that context, Catholic groups, including medical associations, have a real role to play.

Read the whole report.

We have now entered the final stretch of the multi-year Eucharistic revival for the Church in the U.S., with less than six months to go before some 80,000 Catholics (we hope) fill Lucas Oil Stadium for the first National Eucharistic Congress in nearly a century.

It’s an enormous logistical undertaking, as Jack Figge, our student-journalist correspondent, discussed with the congress’ chief organizer and revival CEO Tim Glemkowski.

So, what is the revival doing to open wide the doors of the Colts’ stadium and create a “mountaintop moment” for a generation of U.S. Catholics? 

Read all about it here.

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This week’s Pillar Post is brought to you by the Southwest Indian Foundation’s "Catholic Pueblo Revival Paid Internship Program," now accepting applications from college-aged men for its summer 2024 paid internship in Gallup, New Mexico.
As a missionary intern, you will help build the Saint Kateri Rosary Walk by hand, learning how to use traditional southwestern building materials and techniques. The program includes spiritual and academic formation, as well as travel opportunities while experiencing the life and history of the Catholic Southwest. Learn more at

The whole conversation

Yesterday we published a reported story by Eve Tushnet on the fallout of Fiducia supplicans and it has generated some… feedback online, as our stories occasionally do.

Eve spoke to Catholics, including those who call themselves “gay” and living in “partnered celibacy — not marriage, following the Church’s teachings, and committed,” about what the DDF’s document on blessings for people like them means to them, as well as to priests trying to bring the document to life in their pastoral ministry.

I don’t know what you’d expect to be their comments but, as Eve reports, there’s quite a bit of ambivalence along with enthusiasm.

It is, to my mind, unquestionably an interesting read. 

But like I said, it’s generated some feedback. 

Some have expressed surprise that Eve Tushnet herself was the author of the piece, noting that she has some strong and well-known opinions on related subjects. 

From our point of view, Eve’s knowledge of the people in question is actually one of the reasons we were intrigued by her pitch for a reported story. She could (and did) talk with people who might not have talked to me, for example.

And we draw a line here at The Pillar between opinion and news reporting — the former we don’t publish from anyone as a matter of policy, and the latter can be done fairly and dispassionately, regardless of the reporter’s own opinions. We think Eve talked with interesting and relevant people, and presented their viewpoints fairly. Her report was not meant to tell the whole story of Fiducia supplicans — no single report could in the middle of a developing story — but to give a slice of the story worth reading. 

I myself have some strong and fairly well-known opinions on things, but I work hard to keep them a thousand miles from reporting the news. 

Some of the other reactions I have seen have been more visceral, though.

There’s a school of thought out there, it seems, that says there’s no place for reporting the viewpoints and experiences of — or “platforming,” as I see it called — people who call themselves gay and who say they are trying to live in accordance with the Church’s teaching and find a place for themselves in it.

I disagree. 

Does our reporting need to reflect and acknowledge, as it always will, the facts, beauty, and saving truth of the Church’s teaching? Absolutely. Are we equally invested in reporting the whole of a conversation around an important topic in the life of the Church? One hundred percent we are.

If we want to have any kind of truly holistic or informed conversation about Fiducia supplicans and how it is being received, interpreted, and applied in the Church in this country, I don’t see how you do it without hearing from the people most directly intended and affected by the text.

And, as Eve reported, some “priests and other Church personnel say they are afraid of speaking out of turn, of provoking further controversy, of seeming disobedient — either to their immediate superior, or to the Holy Father.”

In that context, I think hearing from a priest with some experience in this kind of pastoral work is especially worth reporting. Like Fr. Michael Hurley, O.P.:

“I think I have a reputation for meeting people where they’re at,” he told The Pillar. “But at the same time, we’re a church known for the Dominican identity of seeking the truth. That does mean conversion.”

“The blessing shouldn’t be the first or the last item” in a pastoral relationship.

If you think that isn’t a perspective worth hearing, in the midst of everything going on right now, don’t click this link. 

But even if you don’t, I have to warn you, The Pillar probably isn’t the kind of “safe space” you’re looking for. We don’t ignore relevant viewpoints because they might make someone uncomfortable, and we certainly don’t pretend they don’t exist. 

We talk to everyone, because that’s how we report the news. We cover the whole conversation, because that’s how we bring you the whole story and give you the information you need to make your own mind up.

I don’t agree with every perspective of every person The Pillar talks with, in this or any other story we cover. But reporting isn’t about viewpoint endorsement, it’s about setting the scene in full and seeing it in context.

This story is a big part of that work in covering Fiducia supplicans

If that bothers some people, they don’t have to read it, or anything else we write. And I have absolutely no hard feelings about them unsubscribing.

But if you’re with us in thinking that talking with people is part of how real journalism works, and reporting what they say is how we foster a real, informed conversation, we could really use your help. 

Upgrade your subscription

I’ve said it before because it’s true: We set up The Pillar to do Catholic journalism the way we think it needs to be done, and that’s how we’re going to do it, for as long as we’re able to keep going. 

But there is no backstop or safety net here. It’s just us and you, our readers. We’re either in it together or we’re out of the game. 

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The Big Show

It is the Superbowl this weekend (Super Bowl? Whatever) at which I gather the San Francisco Forty-Niners of Santa Clara will beat the Kansas City Chiefs in an exhibition which is, I think, scheduled to begin at 6.30 p.m. and finish around midnight.

I doubt I will be watching. 

I’m not against it, don’t get me wrong. Having grown up overseas, I just don’t have any real appreciation for the game, or even much of an understanding of the rules, so I’m not burning a Sunday night at home trying to make sense of it all on my own.

Of course, I understand that there is more to the big game than just the game itself. I know that the commercials are a thing every year, and anticipation of and commentary on the interstitial marketing segments is a whole reason in itself that people watch. 

But from what I’ve gleaned dipping in and out of normal NFL games, advertisers in football tend to target very specific demographics: people with a thirst for lite beer and heavy soft drinks, a keen interest in lifestyle pharmacology, and in need of a large pick-up truck — presumably to freight around all that Viagra and Mountain Dew they’re buying. 

Each to their own, I’m just not in the market.

Sandwiched in between plays there is also the halftime show, which usually generates controversy, and commands post-game critical attention. 

I gather Taylor Swift will be there in the box seats, too, and some have suggested she should have just been offered the slot. But that misses the whole point of the thing — as I understand it, Taylor Swift is at least a decade and a half too young for the gig. 

This year, Usher becomes the latest in a line of older-millennial high school throwback acts to bag the bowl show, and I hope he understands his job. 

The point of the thing, I think, is to give people in their early 40s a quick hit of up-tempo youthful nostalgia, to keep them amped up and tuned in. 

It’s easy to miss the mark if a performer takes things too seriously and tips into a desperate bid to reestablish relevance or credibility, or worse — God spare us, Jennifer Lopez — try to titillate with some geriatric waggle dance. 

The last halftime show I watched in full was the 2022 ensemble performance by Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, and others. It was illustrative. 

Snoop and Dre treated the whole thing as a bit of giggle, cycled through a medley of their best oldies, and generally smiled knowingly at their later-life tame respectability — Martha Stewart’s now done more jail time than the two of them put together, I think.

Eminem, by contrast, skipped over his early hits in favor of barking and scowling through his late-career “take me seriously” repertoire, failing to see that his appeal these days is functionally the same as a Backstreet Boys reunion tour. He came across as rather pathetic and pitiable as a result.

Just get over yourself and play My Name Is.

I don’t know who books the halftime show acts, but they have a definite needle to thread.

Really what you need, if you want to check all the boxes, is an older act with just enough socially progressive caché to give the coastal elites a reason to write approving commentaries about the event, but plenty of wave-the-flag-and-support-the-troops populist appeal so as not to alienate the flyover country crowds. 

And they really need to have a bag of banging tracks in their back catalog, to allow both sides to bop along together and not mind the other having a good time.

Am I crazy, or is the perfect Superbowl act actually the Village People?

See you next week,

Ed. Condon
The Pillar

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This week’s Pillar Post is brought to you by the Southwest Indian Foundation’s "Catholic Pueblo Revival Paid Internship Program," now accepting applications from college-aged men for its summer 2024 paid internship in Gallup, New Mexico.
As a missionary intern, you will help build the Saint Kateri Rosary Walk by hand, learning how to use traditional southwestern building materials and techniques. The program includes spiritual and academic formation, as well as travel opportunities while experiencing the life and history of the Catholic Southwest. Learn more at

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