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World Youth Day, and Ed's got a fast car (allegedly)

Hey everybody,

JD here, and you’re reading The Tuesday Pillar Post.

If you ask me, one of the most significant stories happening in the Church right now is this: Tens of thousands of pilgrims have already started making their way to World Youth Day in Lisbon, which will take place Aug. 1- 6. 

Nearly 29,000 pilgrims are traveling to World Youth Day from the U.S., making the American contingent one of the largest groups of attendees in the world. I wish I were among them — we’ll have some interesting World Youth Day coverage, but it wasn’t in the cards (or the budget) for us to attend directly. Next time.

Now, listen, I’m betting that some of you are skeptical about my claim that World Youth Day is a significant story, and I understand. The event is effectively the world’s largest summer youth conference, and a lot of people doubt that meetings like that bear much fruit or effect much change — they’re dismissed sometimes as effectively the baptism of wealthy and middle-class first-world tourism, and not much else.

But I’ve thought about this, and I think that misses the mark. 

Here’s why:

Thirty years ago, the city of Denver, where I live, was host to the only World Youth Day to be held in the U.S. 

More than 700,000 people attended Holy Mass in Colorado’s Cherry Creek State Park during 1993’s World Youth Day. Credit: Archdiocese of Denver.

Denver’s 1993 WYD took place in the heart of a large American city, and one known for relatively low levels of religious practice and a pretty good streak of American rugged individualism.

The event drew around 700,000 pilgrims — and the location was something of a change in pace; the previous two World Youth Days had been held at pilgrimage sites, in Santiago de Compostela and then Częstochowa. 

The Denver event set the scene for a lot of what has happened in the U.S. Church in the last three decades. Survey after survey shows that a generation of priests and religious sisters attribute their vocations to that World Youth Day in Denver — and some of those priests are now becoming bishops. 

There’s a line between where we are now, and that seminal event.

Ecclesial movements set their roots in the U.S., and apostolic ideas were planted — some of which have germinated into pretty large apostolates. 

If you think that the current Eucharistic Revival project is a good snapshot of apostolic activity in the U.S. right now, consider that most of its leadership connect their vocations to Denver’s World Youth Day. So do the founders and foundresses of some growing religious communities.

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The Church itself in Denver was pretty significantly reshaped by World Youth Day too, becoming in its wake a kind of incubation hub for religious institutes, movements, and projects that now have big voices in the Church. 

Hosting pilgrims left a big impact on a lot of parishes, and I hear priests in Denver recount often that they had very little practice of the faith until that World Youth Day sparked a conversion for their families — all of that, I think, is a critical part of understanding the trajectory of the Church in the U.S.

But two important questions can’t yet be answered about the repeatability of the Denver World Youth Day phenomenon: 

How important was the personal influence of John Paul II to all of that? How will bishops in Lisbon, or Panama City, or the sites of other recent World Youth Days build on what happens when the universal Church comes to town? 

It is no slight to Pope Francis, or to Benedict XVI, to note that John Paul II had a unique personal dynamism and evangelical fervor that made him a profoundly influential figure on young people, wherever he went. The late pope spoke to young people in a particular way, framing the meaning of their lives in the transcendent mission of the Church, impressing upon them the universal call to holiness, and the sense that becoming a saint was both possible, and the only thing that finally matters. 

Pope St. John Paul II prepares to offer Mass at Cherry Creek State Park, in Aurora, Colorado. Credit: Archdiocese of Denver.

He urged that they channel their creativity, their energy, and their optimism into the project of the Gospel — and his own energy, along with the sense he gave of a deep interior life, resonated with young people, and empowered them. He wasn’t urging them to moralism — to be good. He was urging them to be great, and to take dramatic risks to that end.

You don’t have to take my word for that — you can find thousands of accounts of JPII’s life which confirm all of that, even from the pope’s critics. 

He was a dramatic and powerful presence, and World Youth Days were his greatest stage.

Francis has a different presence. There can be something striking about it — consider the dramatic witness of his 2020 Urbi et Orbi — but his preaching style does not lend itself to the gigantic events of World Youth Day, and thus he is a less central, and certainly less iconic, part of their current incarnation.

Pope Francis’ dramatic Urbi et Orbi pandemic blessing, March 27, 2020. Credit: Vatican Media.

When people at World Youth Day in Denver, or Manila, or Toronto, or Rome, recall their experiences, many of them remember feeling personally called by John Paul II to become something great for God. It’s too soon to say if many young people at today’s World Youth Days will say the same.

Francis’ style tends toward “fellow pilgrim” over “dynamic evangelist.” And there’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s not clear — and won’t be immediately — if it will have anywhere near the same impact during World Youth Days.

Here’s the other factor: Local bishops. Almost 20 years ago, when I started working in the Archdiocese of Denver, I got a very clear instruction from my boss, which I’ve never forgotten. It was that the chancery shouldn’t try to control too much. That it shouldn’t be the central repository of all things Catholic in the local Church. 

That, instead, the bishop’s job was to help all Catholics discern what kind of apostolic work God wanted them to do, and then to remove the obstacles and red tape that made it hard for them to do it. 

The message was clear: Trust in the sincere discernment of sincere Catholics, help with that discernment, and then empower it. 

That kind of approach — which has been articulated in different ways by Denver’s three most recent bishops — is what allowed World Youth Day to set off a period of apostolic incubation in my local Church, which — in my experience — is relatively unique in the Church in the U.S.

If World Youth Day sowed the graces — which I believe it did —- they grew because of patient, careful, restrained tilling and pruning — and tolerance for projects which began in fits and starts, or had inexperienced leadership, or didn’t fit the personal preferences of the local bishops. 

Some of that has worked out, and some of it hasn’t — there’s even a bit of “hagan lío,” in there, to be candid. 

But the idea has been that trying things — whether or not they work — is better than managing decline. And that, it seems to me, is key to the long-term success of World Youth Day. 

It can be a catalyst, but only with the right attitudes of the leaders who come after it. 

That’s true both for the bishops who host the event, and for those who’ve sent pilgrims off, and will see them return in a few weeks’ time. We’ll see if that’s what happens after Lisbon — but probably not for a couple of decades. 

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The news

Vatican City judges decided last week that former auditor general Libero Milone will have his day in court Oct. 18, just three months from now

Milone, the Holy See’s first auditor general, filed a wrongful termination suit last year in Vatican City, alleging that senior Vatican officials — including Pillar reader Cardinal Angelo Becciu — forced him from office because he uncovered systemic financial corruption in the Roman Curia, and aimed to root it. 

The suit was initially filed both by Milone and his Vatican deputy, Ferruccio Panicco. But Panicco died last month of prostate cancer — and the suit alleges that Panicco would have gotten earlier treatment if Vatican officials hadn’t seized Panicco’s medical papers at the time he was forced out. 

Now all of that is pretty serious, especially since Milone is an accomplished auditor with a long history of big jobs, which seem to vouch for his credibility. But even more dramatic is what might happen next: Milone has submitted to the court hundreds of documents which, he says, prove financial corruption in the Vatican — and he’s said that if he can’t get a fair hearing, he’ll release them.

The results of that would be revelatory, to say the least, and for some figures, probably incriminating. On the other hand, a release like that might be the catalyst to real and serious financial management reform at the Holy See — which has mostly been approached thus far with nibbling around the edges.

Read the latest on Milone’s lawsuit here.


As AI learning models become more advanced, it’s no surprise that they’ve become more common in the Catholic world. And a few weeks ago, we heard about a new AI program — Magisterium AI — which purports to offer theological and canonical guidance, through its database of 456 Church documents and reference texts.

We decided to put it to the test.

So we recruited both an expert theologian and an expert canon lawyer, and asked them, alongside “the machine,” a series of questions. We wanted to see if the robotic and human answers were substantially different, and how they’d stack up.

We also asked a robot to draw us a picture of “synodality.” This confusing image is what it spat back. 

We wanted to know if the robot could define synodality, for example, better than a person — and if the robot would see through our trick questions and ambiguous wording.

The results were sometimes illuminating, and sometimes hilarious. 

Here’s a look at mans vs. machine, theology style.

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Bishop Joseph Bonnemain, of the Swiss Diocese of Chur, will turn 75 July 26 — but unlike most diocesan bishops, he won’t be submitting his resignation to the pope

When Bonnemain was appointed to Chur in 2021, the pope asked him to serve at least five years, so he won’t be wondering about his immediate future just yet. That’s an unusual situation for a bishop — but Bonnemain is an unusual bishop.

He’s courted controversy in Chur with several controversial moves — choosing not to replace the diocesan exorcist, a code of conduct recognizing ‘sexual rights as human rights’ - which more than 40 priests refuse to sign, and a decision not to censure priests blessing same-sex unions.

The bishop is, in short, at the heart of some of the most pressing debates engaging the Church in Europe. And while we suspect most Pillar readers land on the opposite side of those debates, we also thought it important to hear from Bonnemain in his own words. So Luke Coppen interviewed him by email.

An avid gym rat, in Switzerland they call him the “Bischof mit Bizeps.”

Read what he’s got to say, right here.

Sweden’s Cardinal Anders Arborelius dedicated the country’s first shrine Saturday specifically for prayer for persecuted Christians.

The shrine is on the site of a Syriac Catholic church in northern Stockholm, and comes as Sweden has become home to more than 120,000 Middle Eastern Christians, many of whom are infusing life into dwindling congregations. 

The shrine, along with similar ones in New York, London, and Massachusetts, has been established thanks to Fr. Benedict Kiely, an English priest who founded the charity in 2016 to help Middle Eastern Christians remain in their home countries through “mini micro-financing” enabling them to set up small businesses.

If that sounds cool to you, read about it here.

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The Pillar reported on Friday remarks from Bishop Joseph Strickland, who was the subject in June of a Vatican-ordered apostolic visitation, reportedly concerning the leadership of his Texas diocese.

Most of The Pillar’s readers are already familiar with Strickland, and with his public position in the life of the Church — the bishop has courted controversy with a May 12 pledge to “reject” the pope’s “program of undermining in the deposit of faith,” among other attention-grabbing remarks.

Well, last week, Strickland confirmed his apostolic visitation, comparing it to a “visit to the principal’s office,” and explaining that in his view, “I went through this because I’ve been bold enough, and loved the Lord enough and his Church, simply preaching the truth.”

He added that while “people will always go after me” because of his outspokenness, “I would put my love for the Lord and his Church against anyone’s.”

He also indicated that while he could be removed from office, “I’m willing to go through anything [that] I have to, to continue to proclaim that message, because love for God’s people means we share the good news of Jesus Christ.”

Since the apostolic visitation in Tyler was reported last month, there has been considerable debate and commentary on the subject among U.S. Catholics. Some Catholics — among them both Strickland’s supporters and detractors — have said the bishop’s outspoken commentary on Church issues has likely put him in the spotlight of Vatican officials.

But Strickland acknowledged that “there have been some administrative issues” in his diocese, which were seemingly the subject of inquiry. The Pillar reported in June that priests who participated in the diocese were asked principally about Strickland’s financial and administrative leadership of the diocese, and that some were also asked by Vatican-appointed visitors about who might be a good candidate to replace Strickland in the Tyler diocese.

Read the latest here.

Here are some non-Pillar things that have caught my eye in recent days:

And of course, we’ll have a lot more news for you this week, including a breakdown of the latest reports regarding Fr. Marko Rupnik.

In the meantime…

Ed’s got a fast car

This is the world’s fastest Corvette. Not Ed’s car.

— An automotive tinkerer named Reeves Callaway died this month at 75, at his home in Newport Beach, California. Callaway, once a race car driver, found a career modifying production vehicles to travel at ridiculously high rates of speed. Most famously, in 1988, he modified a production Corvette to travel much faster than it was built fortopping off at 255 miles per hour on a test track, which is pretty fast, and which set some records

— A Minnesota Vikings rookie named Jordan Addison was pulled over last week in a Lamborghini, doing 140 in a 55, on a heavily trafficked interstate. He told police that “his dog was having an emergency at his residence and that was the reason for his speed.”

Canine emergencies are no laughing matter, and the only reason young men drive 140 in borrowed Lamborghinis. Prayers for Mr. Addison’s pooch.

— Our own Ed Condon, never wanting to miss out on a trend, was pulled over Sunday night on an Ohio interstate for (alleged) speeds that considerably exceeded the posted limit. While Ed doesn’t drive a Lamborghini or a Corvette, he did (allegedly) push his late-model SUV toward its limits, and for that, perhaps he deserves even more credit. 

The cops didn’t buy Ed’s roadside excuses.

Listen, I’m not going to say how fast he was (allegedly) going. (VERY FAST.) I will say that he might have had a valid reason, and I trust that he did. Whether it was a canine emergency, or whether he hoped simply to slip the surly bonds of earth on laughter-silvered wings, I can’t say.

But he’s my very dear friend, so when he gets a big speeding ticket, the only appropriate response is to give him guff, and I fully intend to. If you want to join me, I certainly won’t complain — and Ed’s in no position to incriminate himself with a defense. He’s still got to try pleading this thing down a little bit.

And if, by some chance, you want to help him repay his debt to society — a debt hastily incurred, I should add, but not so quickly repaid — well, you could always become a subscriber to The Pillar, or upgrade your subscription. The Pillar runs (fast, apparently) on our subscribers:

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Maybe Ed was just inspired by this, his (surprisingly) favorite cover of a great tune:

After all, he’s always had the feeling he could be someone.

Listen, have a great week. We’ve got plenty more news coming for you. Pray for those WYD pilgrims. And please pray for us. We need it.

In Christ,

JD Flynn
The Pillar

And here’s the original. ‘Cause it’s better:

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