Recollections of Walking the Camino


An article I wrote back in 2007 about the Camino de Santiago. A friend is currently walking the full Camino Frances to Santiago which reminded me of it.


Six years ago,caminopostcard-11 I walked the Camino – albeit the last leg of it. I’d been wanting to experience it for a while. I was at the time working on a piece on pilgrimages for a Newsweek article with Christopher Dickey, so it seemed a good opportunity. And it turned out to be a wonderful experience – as nearly all pilgrimages are.

Below is my account of that journey along the Camino de Santiago which appeared in the Register.

Your Feet May Falter But Your Soul Will Soar

The Long Walk to Santiago de Compostela Cathedral

Tuesday, Jul 17, 2007

Galicia, Spain

For some years, I’d been hearing people praise the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, the oldest Christian pilgrimage route in the world. In fact, so popular has “The Way” become that it’s now bearing its heaviest foot traffic since medieval times.

So earlier this year I traveled to the region to sample the pilgrimage for myself. Like so many pilgrims who beat the path before me, I found it to be a richly rewarding experience and a great aid to spiritual growth.

There are five main routes to the beautiful and ancient city of Santiago de Compostela, whose Romanesque cathedral — the final destination of the pilgrimage — contains the remains of St. James the Apostle. The Church celebrates his feast on July 25. (Camino de Santiago means the Way of St. James.)

Connections from five other routes allow a few especially ambitious and athletic pilgrims to walk all the way from Paris or Lisbon.

The oldest and most popular route is the Camino Francés (French Way). This starts in the small town of St. Jean Pied de Port, near Lourdes on the French border, and ends in Santiago some 543 miles — and not a few blisters — later. By foot the trip takes most pilgrims three to four weeks to complete.

For most of us, it’s not practical to take so much time away from work and other commitments and so many pilgrims start nearer Santiago. Popular launching points include the beautiful cathedral towns of Burgos (a 316-mile walk), Leon (207 miles) and Astorga (169 miles).

Having only a few days to spare, I started in the town of Sarria. At about 80 miles from Santiago, it’s the minimum span one must traverse to obtain a Compostela — a signed certificate proving you walked the Camino.

But although relatively short, it’s not wanting for variety. The terrain mixes hills, lakes and forests with Galician towns, hamlets and picturesque little churches. The region is rural and gets plenty of rain in the colder months, making the land very fertile. The people are also culturally rich and, being Celts, they’re proud of their heritage. Occasionally you’ll come across the sound of bagpipes or the sight of tartan kilts.

Yet, as interesting as these aspects of the Camino are, it is the journey itself that captures the heart.

Like Life Itself

It is said that the Camino, like life’s “journey”, is different for each traveler. Even two people walking side by side won’t get the exact same things out of it.

Some make the trek to test themselves, others to grow spiritually. For most Catholics, the experience is an opportunity to simply get alone with God. Opportunities abound to pray, take stock of one’s life and renew one’s commitment to following Christ.

Many come away saying they have been changed by the walk. Perhaps that’s because the Camino is really one great metaphor for life. One moment you are strolling with ease along a straight and smooth tarmac road; the next, you find yourself carefully negotiating a meandering and rocky passage. There are literal ups and downs: steep hills to climb and, in the valleys, precarious rivers to cross.

The weather was entirely unpredictable when I walked in the spring – everything from sun to showers, and rainstorms to hail. But whatever the challenges to the journey, I found if you simply put one foot in front of the other — however much your feet are telling you to stop — and simply trust the signs, you will be guided to your destination.

And another thing I noticed was a palpable sense of divine Providence.

Along the Camino, large yellow arrows, usually impossible to miss, guide you along the way – but not always. On at least one occasion I got lost. I prayed and almost immediately a farmer came walking up the path and pointed me in the right direction.

Speak to other pilgrims and you will hear of similar experiences, usually involving a kind Spaniard or fellow pilgrim pointing the way back onto the Camino.

A strong camaraderie and sense of solidarity with other pilgrims are also important parts of the pilgrim experience here.

“The Camino allows everyone to give the best of themselves,” said Canadian pilgrim Peter Andreacchi, on his third month-long Camino walk. “The facades are removed as no one is out to exploit one another. And the emotions all come out. It builds bridges between people and cultures.”

Hard-Earned Mass

People of all ages walk the Camino. Vincent Estridge of Bradford, England, was on his second three-week pilgrimage on the Way of St. James — at the age of 79.

“The Camino is really a revelation, a personal revelation to each of us,” he said. “As long as I’m healthy enough, I’ll keep on doing it.”

And they come back, year after year, despite, or perhaps because of, the physical challenges.

“Something attracts you back to the Camino,” one fellow traveler told me. “After a while you get this irresistible pull.”

Paolo and Gabrielle De Ambrosis, a retired couple from Milan in their 60s, were on their sixth 500-mile Camino in as many years. They said they had made the trip out of gratitude to God for their blessings that first motivated them — and for other reasons, too.

“During this month you can avoid everything: news, soccer, television,” said Paolo. “You remember instead what is important in your life. … It puts everything in perspective.”

Along the way, the Camino has government-run albergue (inexpensive hostels that sleep 10 or more to a room). Some avoid these in order to get a good night’s rest, but others love them for their fraternal atmosphere. Spending the night in one of these facilities is like living out a scene from The Canterbury Tales with plenty of camaraderie and consumption of the odd ale or two.

But being immersed in the humanity of one’s brother pilgrims is all part of the enriching Camino pilgrimage experience.

I eventually arrived at Santiago cathedral after 3½ days of solid walking. My feet were in pain, but I felt greatly relieved to have made it.

And as Providence would have it, I’d arrived just in time for Mass.



For pilgrimage routes, see

Planning Your Visit

Don’t book your trip until you’ve read a good guidebook. For the Camino Francés, try A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago by John Brierley (Findhorn Press, 2006). It has all the info you need, including detailed maps and daily spiritual meditations, and it’s light enough to carry with you along the way.

Concerns Rising Over Slow Appointments of Bishops


Ouellet-Lombardi-255x383A crisis of sorts is developing in the appointment of Catholic bishops worldwide as a backlog of 187 sees (not including China) remain vacant.

According to figures on, eight U.S. dioceses are without a bishop, plus two U.S. eparchies (dioceses of Eastern rite churches).

These include the diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut which hasn’t had a bishop since March 2012 when Mons. William Lori was appointed Archbishop of Baltimore.

Others include Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Fort Worth, Texas; Rochester, NY; and Marquette, Michigan, vacated by Mons. Alexander Sample in January on his appointment as Archbishop of Portland, Oregon.

Half of Scotland’s ordinaries – four out of eight – have yet to be appointed, including the archdiocese of St. Andrews and Edinburgh which suddenly fell vacant in February after the resignation of Cardinal Keith Patrick O’Brien.

The Philippines, meanwhile, has nine sees without a bishop. In January this year, retired Filipino Archbishop Oscar Cruz noted there were then 10 vacant sees in the country and thought it might be the highest number in recent history. He wondered if the Vatican might have been having a hard time in appointing new bishops for the country.

“Maybe they are looking for a certain qualification, a way of doing things or a way of thinking…there is no fast rule on this really,” he said, adding he was not worried as he was confident the Vatican would soon appoint new bishops.

England also has two important dioceses that need a bishop: the archdiocese of Liverpool, vacant since February, and Leeds which has been without an ordinary since June 2012.

Italy is one of those countries faring the worst: 12 vacant sees, two vacant territorial abbeys, and one eparchy.

Meanwhile, some dioceses, such as Wilcannia-Forbes in Australia and Mansa in Zambia, haven’t had a bishop since 2009.

Sees that fell vacant during Benedict’s pontificate, and which remain so, number the most – 131 out of 187. Since Pope Francis was elected, 36 dioceses fell vacant and continue to be without a bishop.

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said he was unaware of the reasons, and did not know what the average period is for dioceses to remain without a bishop. But he added he “wouldn’t be surprised” if, during the time of transition from one pontificate to another, and with “everything that has significance for the normal operation of ecclesiastical institutions, a certain delay in pending procedures has resulted.”

Since his election, the Holy Father has had many pressing duties competing for his attention, not least reforming the Roman Curia and the Vatican Bank. But delays in the appointment of bishops is becoming a concern, and one no doubt he will wish to tackle sooner rather than later.

Read more:

Painting Benedict: an Experience of Faith


While respected British portrait artist Alexander Talbot Rice was working on a painting of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, he came close to death in Afghanistan, suffered personal loss, and yet throughout the entire experience, he grew in faith.

“It was a very meaningful experience for me,” Talbot Rice tells ZENIT. “It is a picture that was supposed to be painted.”

The artist, who has painted in person Queen Elizabeth II and the late former British Prime Minister Baroness Margaret Thatcher, presented the portrait at a June 28 dinner of distinguished guests in Rome hosted by the Dignitatis Humanae Institute, a Catholic non-governmental organisation.

The painting, taken mostly from photographs, took two years to complete and is expected to be bought by a donor to be given to the Vatican Museums.

The project began in 2011 when Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, the former governor of Vatican City State, commissioned the painting, having seen Talbot Rice’s painting of the Duke of Edinburgh. “He took me to one side and said wouldn’t it be lovely if you did a painting of the Holy Father,” Talbot Rice recalls.

He says he found the experience of painting Benedict XVI’s portrait “profoundly spiritual”, adding that although he didn’t meet the Pontiff, in painting such a man of faith one finds “part of them in yourself.”

The portrait depicts Benedict XVI with a smile and a twinkle in his eyes. “There’s that incredible intelligence shining through his eyes,” says the artist. “That’s what struck me about him: the strength of mind, and his love of high culture.” It also shows him with “a little more vigour” than images of him of late, where he has appeared increasingly frail.

But it was also everything else that was going on in his life that brought a deeper meaning to the portrait. Talbot Rice, who comes from a family with close connections to the Welsh Guards, spent time in Afghanistan where he helped a foundation, set up by British parliamentarian Rory Stewart, to create an arts centre in Kabul. After that, he wanted to see more of the country – but it was an adventure that nearly cost him his life.

“I bought three horses and with a guide and translator, basically rode over northern Afghanistan,” he recalls. “Half-way through the journey, we were at 14,000 feet. It was bitterly cold, it was getting dark, we’d been riding for 10 hours, and we had to stop to feed the horses and get some shelter.”

“We came to a village and went to main house there. About 25 men were in there, all Talib [members of the Taliban] and they were in the middle of their prayers. A mullah was leading their prayers, looking a bit like Bin Laden, and I thought the polite thing to do would be to join them, so I went to the front, knelt down and, as a Christian, prayed with them.”

“Afterwards, I called my translator over and asked if he would please explain to the mullah that we’d like to accept his hospitality. And the mullah turned to my friend and said: ‘If this man is a Christian and prays as a Christian among so many Muslims, he must be a man of great faith and God is protecting him.'”

All this, he says, was happening concurrently with the painting. “That was an extraordinary experience, literally being very close to being killed, and so a lot went into this painting.” He had also just gone through a painful divorce.

As Talbot Rice finished the painting, he remarkably cut away most of it, leaving just the head and shoulders. “Originally it was going to be a much bigger picture, three quarter length,” he says. “It was just when I’d finished it that I decided to cut all of it out and just go for the head and shoulders.”

The original had been of Benedict in full vestments giving a blessing. “I took all of that out. I wanted it to be much more intimate,” he says. “I woke up one morning, I’d just finished it, and I knew what I had to do, so I got a pencil, drew around a frame I had in the house, got a pair of scissors and chopped it all off.”

He says “part of the process in painting is a dialogue with the picture” and that sometimes “you never know where you’re going to go before the answer becomes apparent.”

Talbot Rice was raised a Greek Orthodox Christian, but he is fond of the Catholic Church, feels drawn to it, and sees a “strong cultural connection” with Rome. He now hopes to start a portrait of Pope Francis whose humility he finds an “inspiration”, and would very much like to paint him in person.

While he was working on the painting of Benedict, he was also painting a portrait of Baroness Thatcher who sat regularly for him. It was the last painting of her before she died in April this year. Previously, he has painted the Queen, who sat for him in the Coronation Coach, which she has only ridden in three times during her reign.

“I loved her, I thought she was great,” Talbot Rice says. “There are two queens – a public queen and private one – and she was just lovely. But you never forgot who you were with her, while at the same time it was important not to be obsequious.” He was particularly pleased that she felt at ease during the sittings. “That’s a great help as it gets the best out of a subject,” he says. “I wanted to paint her smiling and that’s what happened.”



Talbot Rice is a specialist in fine arts; he studied classic portraiture in Florence and at the exclusive Repin Academy of Arts St. Petersburg. But he laments that in the contemporary art world, he is almost considered “anti-establishment” because he is a classical, naturalistic painter. The irony is that conceptualism and modern, abstract art is now the establishment.

“It’s important to encourage artists that all of these forms are valid and that to appreciate all forms of art is to be the opposite of closed minded, which is the opposite of what they [conceptualists] pretend to be,” Talbot Rice says.

Some have drawn parallels between modern and classical art and the tensions between the faith and modernity, between the Church and secularism, where secularists have become the establishment and are intolerant of those who value the Christian roots of civilization.

Talbot Rice argues that for art to be abstract, it has to be an “abstraction from something” and that something provides the forms, language, and vocabulary in which to express oneself through art with understanding. “How you choose to express yourself is up to you but you have to have that vocabulary in music, or in literature or in any art,” he says. “And if you think fine art is any different from any other art form then actually you’re asking several fundamental questions which are rather presumptive, like what is art?”

He adds there’s a “lack of humility, an intolerance that I don’t like about conceptualism,” and argues that “the guy in the street” should be able to look at the painting and “get it.”

“You should find it tasty, and if it’s tasty, you know it’s tasty. It’s like good food – no one can tell you that you should or shouldn’t like that. We’ve all got something in our DNA that should enable us to say ‘this wine tastes lovely’. That doesn’t mean we should all like the same wine, but there’s definitely a difference between something that’s corked and something that isn’t.”

Today’s conceptualist “is about sensationalism, celebrity, and about them,” he says. “It’s very ego driven.”

This article appeared in ZENIT, July 12, 2013.


It’s Official: John Paul II and John XXIII to Be Canonized


VATICAN CITY — The Vatican has confirmed that both Blessed Pope John Paul II and Blessed John XXIII will be canonized and possibly at the same time, although a date has yet to be set for the canonizations.

Reading from a statement, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told reporters today that Pope Francis had approved a decree on a miracle attributed to John Paul II’s intercession.

He also said the Holy Father had approved a “favorable vote,” taken by a commission of cardinals and bishops, “on the canonization of Blessed Pope John XXIII.”

The commission has decided to “convoke a consistory” so that both canonizations can take place at the same time, but it’s not clear exactly when, as Pope Francis wants to hear the opinions of cardinals first.

“No date has been set,” Father Lombardi said, “but it is very likely that there will be one canonization ceremony before the end of the year.”

Father Lombardi said that in the case of John XXIII, Pope Francis has agreed to skip the usual second miracle required for canonization as a second miracle attributed to his intercession has not been forthcoming. Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli (1904-1963) was elected Pope John XXIII in 1958.

The announcement of the papal canonizations was just part of a long list of decrees issued today for sainthood causes.

Among them was a decree approving a miracle needed for the beatification of Father Alvaro del Portillo y Diez de Sollano (1914-1994) who succeeded St. Josemaria Escriva as bishop and prelate of Opus Dei.


Second JPII Miracle

Concerning the miracle attributed to John Paul II’s intercession, the Vatican has yet to release details, but it is understood to concern the healing of a severely ill woman from Costa Rica.

Spanish newspaper La Razon has identified her as Floribeth Mora, a 50-year-old law student. She suffered from a cerebral aneurism that was inexplicably cured on May 1, 2011 — the very day of John Paul’s beatification. Her family prayed for her at the time and she had been given only a month to live.

Her doctor, Dr. Alejandro Vargas, told La Razon that the disappearance of the aneurism “surprised me a lot” and that he couldn’t explain it “based on science.” Some reports say the exact details of the miracle will “amaze the world” and are to be revealed later today by Costa Rican doctors.

News of the miracle has already spread to Floribeth’s hometown of La Union, attracting a large number of visitors from all over Costa Rica. So many have been arriving, La Razon reports, that Floribeth left the town to seek refuge at her mother’s house in San Jose.

On July 1, 2011, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, John Paul II’s former private secretary, sent a relic of John Paul II to Costa Rica. Floribeth was able to see the relic and thank John Paul II, two months after her miraculous cure.

A neighbor told the Spanish-language daily: “The whole neighborhood is very happy because we always believed in John Paul II, you can see the nobility in his face.”

The first miracle attributed to John Paul II’s intercession and which led to his beatification in 2011 concerned Sister Marie Simon Pierre, whose recovery from Parkinson’s disease could not be explained by a Vatican panel of medical experts.


‘Santo Subito!’

John Paul II’s beatification occurred after Benedict XVI dispensed with the traditional five-year waiting period, permitting the beatification process to begin weeks after his April 2, 2005, death.

The decision was taken after chants of “Santo Subito!” (“Sainthood Now”), which erupted during John Paul’s funeral.

Writing in the July 6 edition of L’Osservatore Romano, Cardinal Dziwisz said he spent “almost 40 years next to a saint, working by his side in Krakow and the Vatican.”

“[People] asked me a few times when would John Paul II become a saint,” he said. “I think he has been one since his youth. Karol Wojtyla was a normal guy, sharp and sensitive, full of energy and zest for life. But from the beginning, in him was something ‘more.’”

Paying tribute to his holiness, the Polish cardinal reflected on how difficult it was at John Paul II’s funeral for him to cover the former Pope’s face with a cloth — a face that was “so close, so friendly, so human.”

“Today,” he said, “I am delighted by the fact that from now on, the whole Church will establish the face of a new saint, St. John Paul II.”

In an interview in the same issue, Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, said both John Paul II and John XXIII were “united by the same pastoral concern for the Church.”

Both popes, he said, “have two common points of reference: the Council as a Gospel event of love and peace, and the Church as a generous and thoughtful mother, who is close to every human being, and gives comfort, help, support and hope.”

But some, including a few Vatican officials, are concerned that the Vatican is being too hasty with John Paul II’s canonization, coming less than a decade after his death. An unnamed Vatican official criticized the poor governance that took place under John Paul II, and especially during his final years, while other critics point to many deep-seated problems including clerical sex abuse scandals took place during his pontificate.


Careful Canonical Process

Cardinal Amato, however, stressed that “all the canonical procedures desired by John Paul II during his pontificate have been followed carefully, without haste and superficiality.” He also recalled St. Anthony of Padua was canonized by Gregory IX on May 30, 1232, less than a year after his death, which took place on June 13, 1231.

Also writing in the Vatican paper was Msgr. Loris Capovilla, John XXIII’s former private secretary, who paid tribute to his former superior as a man whose philosophy was one of “simplicity and prudence.”

“It is difficult for me to express in words the tumult of feelings in me caused by this splendid decision of Pope Francis to join the canonization of two popes whose holiness I have personally experienced,” he said.

He recalled anecdotally praying with John Paul II soon after his election, and sharing with the Pope his moments of suffering, also alongside John XXIII.

John Paul II replied to Msgr. Capovilla, “We all have to suffer. And Pope John, being a prophet, had to suffer for his faith in Christ. But sooner or later, they’ll realize it: He was a saint.”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

Read more:

Blessed John Paul II to be Canonized, Vatican Confirms


The Vatican has today confirmed that Blessed Pope John Paul II will be canonized, although a date has not yet been set for the ceremony.

Reading from a statement, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told reporters this afternoon that Pope Francis had approved a decree on a miracle attributed to John Paul’s intercession. He also said the Holy Father had approved a “favourable vote”, taken by a commission of cardinals and bishops, “on the canonization of Blessed Pope John XXIII.”

The commission has decided to “convoke a consistory” so that both canonizations can take place at the same time, but it’s not clear yet when as Pope Francis wants to hear the opinions of cardinals first.

“No date has been set,” Father Lombardi said, “but it is very likely that there will be one canonisation ceremony before the end of the year.”

Although a miracle has not been found due to John XXIII’s intercession since his beatification in 2000, Father Lombardi said that in this case, Pope Francis has agreed to skip the usual second miracle required for canonization.

Concerning the miracle attributed to John Paul II’s intercession, the Vatican has yet to release details, but it is understood to concern the healing of a severely ill woman from Costa Rica.

Spanish newspaper La Razon has identified her as Floribeth Mora, and said she suffered from a cerebral aneurism that was inexplicably cured on May 1, 2011 — the very day of John Paul’s beatification. Her family were praying for her at the time; she had been given only a month to live.

Her doctor, Dr. Alejandro Vargas, told La Razon that the disappearance of the aneurism “surprised me a lot” and that he couldn’t explain it “based on science.” Some reports say the exact details of the miracle, which will “amaze the world”, will be revealed later today by Costa Rican doctors.

The first miracle that led to John Paul II’s beatification in 2011 concerned Sister Marie Simon Pierre, whose recovery from Parkinson’s disease could not be explained by a Vatican panel of medical experts.


Today’s announcement was part of a series of decrees issued today for sainthood causes. Among them was a decree approving a miracle needed for the beatification of the Venerable Alvaro del Portillo who succeeded St. Josemaria Escriva as the Prelate of Opus Dei.

The miracle involves the instantaneous healing of Chilean new born baby Jose Ignacio Ureta Wilson. Soon after birth in August 2003, he suffered a cardiac arrest lasting longer than 30 minutes, and a massive haemorrhage. His parents prayed “with great faith” through the intercession of Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, says Manuel Fandila Sanchez, spokesman of Opus Dei. “When the medical team thought that the baby had died, without any additional treatment and in a totally unexpected way, the heart of the new born baby started to beat again, reaching 130 beats per minute.”

Ten years later, Jose Ignacio “leads a normal life.”

As with John Paul II, Bishop Alvaro’s cause brought to light numerous other accounts of favours received through his intercession. Opus Dei says that Bishop Alvaro’s beatification “will most likely take place in Rome,” which is where he died.

Born in Madrid on 11 March 1914, Alvaro del Portillo was known as a “profoundly good and amiable man, able to transmit peace and serenity to souls.” As well as being Prelate of Opus Dei and among other achievements and acts of holiness, he carried out numerous tasks for the Holy See, including taking an active role in the Second Vatican Council and was for many years consultor for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

National Catholic Register, July 5, 2013

Cardinal Burke Takes on Modernism


VATICAN CITY — Cardinal Raymond Burke has rallied all people of goodwill to take a firm stance in protecting and promoting human dignity, warning that it is under “constant attack in an ever more secularized world.”

In a forceful keynote address to members of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute at the Casina Pio IV in the Vatican Gardens June 28, the Roman Curia’s most senior U.S. cardinal said belief in the dignity of all people is the most fundamental means of the New Evangelization.

He singled out for criticism U.S. politicians who are constantly pushing to liberalize restrictions upon abortion, observing they are backed by “powerful lobby groups with vested interests, such as Planned Parenthood and Marie Stopes International.”

He also criticized other countries such as the United Kingdom for forcing through same- sex “marriage” legislation without any regard for its consequences and the United Nations for linking aid to poor countries with provisions for contraception and abortion.

“A thinly disguised population-control agenda is steadfastly at work in the sheep’s clothing called ‘maternal health,’” he said. But the agenda, he noted, “actually has nothing to do with maternity and nothing to do with health.”

Cardinal Burke, who is prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura — the Church’s closest equivalent to a Supreme Court — also drew attention to the persecution of Christians, which he said is “at a high point throughout the world.”


‘Virulent’ Secularism

Observing that the world is facing “virulent strains of secularism,” he noted: “One only has to read the daily newspaper or turn on the television for the evening news to know that Christians holding to the truth of the moral law is no longer tolerated by many and that the secularist agenda never ceases in its efforts to overshadow, drown out and intimidate the witness of faithful Christians.”

“The goal is to silence the Christian witness, but we cannot succumb to such tactics,” he continued. “I urge all who are here this evening to stand firm in your witness, knowing that it is indeed the Lord’s work and that he will never fail to accompany you,” he said.

Cardinal Burke went on to explain how legislation is being used to further the secularist agenda, but with “little reflection upon the sort of ‘brave new world’ which is thereby developed.”

“Without a careful articulation of the inviolable dignity of innocent human life, society’s only measure of the good of an individual human life is what the person possesses or produces,” he explained, adding that it is the way of moral relativism and a tyranny that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said was “based on the supremacy of the strong and the neglect of the weak and vulnerable.”

“We cannot be deceived,” Cardinal Burke said. “There is no greater issue facing human dignity today than the relentless attack on human life, the integrity of the human body.”

He also warned that it is “all too easy” to be too concerned with one’s own life and overlook this “pervasive and negative” trend in society. “We cannot allow this culture of death to increase and to snuff out our Christian way of life,” he said.


Supporting Human Dignity

To resist these efforts, he advocated supporting political leaders who back just laws that respect the inviolable dignity of human life and that citizens must become aware of those laws that are attacking human dignity.

“If people do not acknowledge the dignity of all human beings without exception, the common good, authentically understood, can never thrive,” he said.

Furthermore, he called for “strong, supportive and traditional families, with a mother and father who love their children unconditionally,” as well as women and mothers who uphold the virtues of “purity, chastity and modesty and respect for the integrity of marriage and the family.”

The cardinal called for a movement “toward a New Evangelization regarding human life,” and said the “Magna Carta” for such a New Evangelization is Blessed John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life).

“The transformation of hearts by which one truly believes in the dignity of all men, without boundary, is the most fundamental means of a New Evangelization,” he said.

Despite the increasing threats on human dignity, Cardinal Burke ended on a hopeful note: He drew attention to the millions who protested in France against the redefinition of marriage, other significant marches in Ireland and Brazil, and the “Stop the Gosnells” campaign in the U.S. that aims to prevent future crimes like those committed by Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia abortionist who was convicted in May of murdering three babies who survived late-term abortions.

Such manifestations and initiatives, he said, “truly give me hope and inspiration.” Seeing hundreds of thousands unified in witnessing to the gospel of life, he added, “gives hope that a New Evangelization regarding human life and the dignity of human life will continue and develop, leading our culture along the right path, the path that leads to true freedom and, therefore, lasting peace.”

He also praised the work of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute, describing the nonprofit organization, headed by Cardinal Renato Martino, as “the most important organization promoting human dignity in the world today.”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

Read more:

Vatican’s Cardinal Burke: DOMA decision will ‘destroy our culture,’ lead to ‘death’


ROME, July 4, 2013 ( – A senior Vatican prelate is warning that the Supreme Court’s decision last week to overturn a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act is another step down a path that leads to the destruction of American culture.

BurkeThe decision “is one more step down a path which is destructive,” said Cardinal Raymond Burke, the Vatican’s senior American prelate who heads the Apostolic Signatura, in an interview with NewsMax’s Edward Pentin.

On June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down DOMA’s provision barring “married” homosexual couples from receiving federal benefits. Writing for the majority in the 5-4 decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy charged that the statute was “invalid” because “no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity.”

Cardinal Burke told Pentin that the ruling’s “lack of respect for the good order which God has placed in nature, especially human nature, will lead to violence.”

“It will lead to death for individuals and eventually it will destroy our culture,” he added, urging U.S. citizens to “reawaken and insist on the respect for human life, and also for the integrity of the marital union.”

Cardinal Burke also gave the keynote address on Friday for a dinner hosted by Rome’s Dignitatis Humanae Institute, an organization dedicated to promoting the dignity of the human person.

In his address, the prelate said a respect for human dignity from conception to natural death is “learned in the home, founded on the model of the strong, traditionally-understood family, whose members mutually support and love one other.”

He said “strong supportive, and traditional families” are “an essential way” to proclaim the Gospel of Life.

“Healthy families depend on a new proclamation of the truth regarding women and motherhood that upholds the virtues of purity, chastity and modesty, and respect for the integrity of marriage and the family,” he explained.

Human dignity is “under constant attack in an ever-more secularized world,” he said. “One only has to read the daily newspaper or turn on the television for the evening news to know that the Christian’s holding to the truth of the moral law is no longer tolerated by many, and that the secularist agenda never ceases in its efforts to overshadow, drown out, and intimidate the witness of faithful Christians. The goal is to silence the Christian witness. But we cannot succumb to such tactics.”

He lamented that the persecution of Christians is “sadly at a high point throughout the world” in places such as Syria, Egypt, Eritrea, Nigeria and Indonesia. But he noted that there is also increasing instances of Christian persecution even in Western countries with a Christian heritage.

To combat the culture of death, Christians “must all be attentive to laws that safeguard the dignity of the human person,” he said.

“We must support just laws which respect the inviolable dignity of human life. And we must support the political leaders who work for such legislation,” he continued. “Similarly, it is essential that we become aware of the laws and policies which are attacking human dignity and the goods of our Christian faith.”

Cardinal Ranjith on Forming the Faithful to Live the Liturgy


An exclusive interview with Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, Archbishop of Colombo, on the Sacred Liturgy.

Rome, June 27, 2013 ( Edward Pentin
RanjithThe faithful must be taught the true meaning of the sacred liturgy: that it is “an instrument of communion with the Lord, allowing the Lord to take hold of you, and the Lord absorbing you into his divine mission, and making you experience what a great and privileged moment of communion this is.”
These are the words of Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, archbishop of Colombo, in an exclusive interview with ZENIT on the sidelines of Sacra Liturgia 2013, a major international conference in Rome this week. The cardinal, who was previously Secretary at the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, also discussed the importance of formation, Pope Francis’ approach to the sacred liturgy, and the crucial role it plays in the New Evangelisation.
The June 25-28th conference, convened by Bishop Dominique Rey of the diocese of Fréjus-Toulon, France, has been oversubscribed, drawing more than 300 participants from 35 countries to study, promote, and renew the appreciation of liturgical formation and celebration.
ZENIT: Your Eminence, what are your hopes for this conference?
Cardinal Ranjith: These conferences have been going on for the last several years organised by Bishop [Dominique] Rey. To get a proper idea of the liturgy, we need such conferences and a diffusion of these ideas of the true nature of liturgy, which becomes important for the Church for its life in the future. Because a lot of misunderstandings have come from experimentations that have been going on and they have damaged the liturgical life of the Church. The effort of this conference is also part of this process of formation which is very important and it is why it [the conference] is important.
ZENIT: How important is a sound understanding of the liturgy for today’s Church and how can it help the New Evangelization?
Cardinal Ranjith: People have misconceptions about evangelization as if it is something we ourselves, with human effort, can achieve. This is a basic misunderstanding. What the Lord wanted us to do was to join him and his mission. The mission is His mission. If we think we are the ones to be finding grandiose plans to achieve that, we are on the wrong track. The missionary life of the Church is the realization of our union with Him, and this union is achieved in the most tangible way through the liturgy. Therefore, the more the Church is united with the Lord in the celebration of the liturgy, the more fruitful the mission of the Church will become. That is why this is very important.
ZENIT: Are you saying that without a sound liturgy, it becomes merely a human enterprise?
Yes, a human enterprise, and it ends up being a boring exercise. It doesn’t change, it doesn’t transform. Transformation is very necessary for the faithful.
ZENIT: Some argue that the liturgy is mostly about aesthetics and not as important as, say, good works carried out with faith? What would you say to that argument?
Aesthetics are also important because human life is also conditioned by aesthetics – settings and symbols in aesthetics which help man lift his heart to God. Therefore, aesthetics have a relative role; they’re important but not the most important; that is the inner communion achieved in the liturgy, inner communion of the faithful with the Lord, and the community with the Lord. That is what is most important.
ZENIT: Pope Benedict XVI put a lot of emphasis on the liturgy in his Pontificate, and called you collaborate with him in this work. Can you offer us some insights into the liturgical initiatives of Benedict XVI?
I think even before he became Pope, he had been writing on this subject and was much more theologian than a liturgist. But eventually, any theologian becomes a liturgist because, you know, lex orandi is lex credendi. The foundational experience of the Church in its faith is the liturgy, because it’s prayer that leads us to God, prayer that opens up our horizons in understanding God in His actions. So the importance of the liturgy must have been understood by Pope Benedict so much that while he was prefect of the Congregation [for the Doctrine of the Faith], he started writing articles and books on the liturgy. And he has made a great contribution to the liturgy in the sense that the revival of liturgical thought in the Church is thanks to him.
ZENIT: But his rehabilitation of the pre-conciliar liturgy was controversial in some quarters. Why did he think this was important? Does the older liturgy have a role to play in the New Evangelisation?
Yes, because the older liturgy has some elements in it that can enrich the new liturgy, which can sort of act like a mirror into which you look. You look at yourself, and you understand what you are. The old liturgy helps us to understand what is good in the new liturgy and what is not perfect in the new liturgy. So by creating that kind of confrontation in the Church, he has helped us to make a proper evaluation, purify the new liturgy and make it stronger. He sort of guides us into a process of thinking and working towards a reform of the reform, because the reform of the liturgy had some flaws in the way it started off, in the way it worked. There had been a lot of arbitrary actions, misunderstandings, misconceptions, which need to be purified and which can happen in the light of the old liturgy. By understanding the beauty of the old liturgy, one can gain from the new liturgy also some elements of that beauty. The new liturgy has some of its own positive points, such as better use of the scriptures, more participation by the people, room for greater singing and other things, which can also be integrated into the old liturgy. Old elements like genuflection and some of the beautiful prayers, some of the repetitions, can enrich the new liturgy also. So it’s a two way process. That’s why the Holy Father, Pope Benedict, thought of allowing the old liturgy more freely, in order to affect this third way, the way of the reform.
ZENIT: There are a number of former Anglicans who have joined the Ordinariates established by Benedict XVI, present here at Sacra Liturgia 2013. What role does the liturgy play in furthering Christian Unity?
Already the liturgical life of the Orthodox communities, the Orthodox churches, is very much more indicative of the devotional and mystical dimensions of, for example, the Eucharist. When they celebrate the Eucharist, they see that happening – in a more mystical fashion it happens. Therefore union with the Orthodox Churches becomes easier for us when we become more authentic in our liturgy. It’s the same thing in churches like the Anglican Communion. It’s helpful for us to draw closer to them and them to us, and be enriched by this process. That’s why it’s important.
ZENIT: What role does the liturgy have now in the pontificate of Pope Francis? Some people talk as if everything has changed because there is a new Pope. Is this the case?
No I don’t think Pope Francis is like that – I don’t believe that. He is a serious person and he thinks seriously about the liturgy. He has told me a number of times liturgical rules and regulations have to be followed because he understands the seriousness of the liturgical life of the Church and the practice of the faith by the people. It influences us certainly. He is a very pastoral-minded person and he understands the people’s spiritual needs. I don’t think he will permit any sort of adventurism in liturgical practice. He will continue [with regards to the liturgy] and I think he’s serious about that too.
ZENIT: You have been the Archbishop of a large Archdiocese in Asia for the past four years. What liturgical initiatives have you introduced? Why were these priorities?
When I arrived I found much liturgical disorder so I started from the very beginning, insisting on certain things. We have declared a Year of the Eucharist in order to put everything in order. Now all the priests are using the vestments because, before, they were not using all of them when they celebrated Mass. Now everybody’s following that, showing that the celebration of the Eucharist is something special, not like any other activity. And there is greater devotion in the celebration of the Eucharist. Communion is given on the tongue and kneeling. This has become common practice everywhere and more and more people are returning to the Church. Those who have resorted to fundamentalism, for example, are returning to the Church because they find that the liturgy is something formative, enriching. It’s not this “show” that they had been used to. So we’ve changed the liturgical life of the diocese a lot.
ZENIT: Sacra Liturgia 2013 is meeting in the Year of Faith, 50 years after the opening of the Second Vatican Council. Its Constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, was its first fruit. Would you care to comment on some of the successes and some of the problems of its implementation in the post-conciliar Church?
Sacrosanctum Concilium is a natural development, for example, of Mediator Dei [the encyclical on the Sacred Liturgy] of Pius XII, and the process of reform which had been going on from the time of [Dom] Prosper Guéranger [author of The Liturgical Year in the 19th century]. It’s a process that started in the late 1800s and it’s going on in the Church. Sacrosanctum Concilium is another step in that direction.
But in order to make true reform, to make the liturgy a touching experience that converts people and strengthens them in faith. It’s not just an exotic celebration, one that makes you hysterical and forget yourself and go into some kind of emotional hysteria. [The reform] is to turn the liturgy into that to which it has to become – to be an instrument of communion with the Lord, allowing the Lord to take hold of you, and the Lord absorbing you into his divine mission, and making you experience what a great and privileged moment of communion this is. And it enriches the Church and every single individual. The liturgy of the Catholic Church is unique and special. I go around the parishes in my diocese and explain to them what the beauty of the liturgy is and say: “What are you people trying to do? Why go to the sects to look for something? You have the treasure here. You have the Eucharist. The Lord is there, present for you. He’s inviting you into communion with him, divine communion, eternal communion. Why are you leaving this and going away?” That is what is important for us to show. And the reforms of the Second Vatican Council have, in some instances, got out of control. It has caused harm to the inner life of our people. But the Second Vatican Council itself didn’t say that and didn’t want that. It wanted a true renewal, but renewal means deepening. But it didn’t happen because unfortunately we made everything look like cosmetic changes here and there. Some people said the Council changes were to take the candle from the left side of the Mass and put it on the right side of the altar. That’s [taken to be] the reform, but that’s not the reform. The reform should be more profound, more spiritual. From the celebration of the Eucharist, for example, comes a transforming experience of union with the Lord. That is what the reform should achieve.
ZENIT: Fifty years later, what do we need to do in order to be faithful to the liturgical vision the Council set out in Sacrosanctum Concilium? Do we need a reform of the reform?
We need to be very much involved in the formation process of our people. Most people don’t understand what the liturgy is all about. We’ve got to tell what it is. We’ve got to educate them, to prepare the materials necessary to educate them in that. Then we have to reform the reforms, we have got to also tell our priests how serious they should become when they go to the altar. It’s not a day-to-day eating and drinking exercise. It’s something very special. If you are a priest, you’re placed in the noble company of Jesus. You become another Christ at the altar. Are you aware of this? So you’ve got to educate and form them, and tell the people what is happening at the altar, and make the full part of the sacrament take hold of these people. That is what is necessary.
ZENIT: People talk about a widespread loss of the sacred in society – would you say that is the main problem?
Yes, because we have kind of converted it [the sacred liturgy] into a social gathering, like the assemblies they had in Russia, for example, where they sang songs of heroism, of ideas, and had parades. It’s like a liturgy but it doesn’t bring any transformation in the inner life of our people.

John XXIII Stressed Obedience as the Path to Peace, Pope Francis Says



VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis said peace was the outward hallmark of Blessed Pope John XXIII, whose death 50 years ago this month provoked an outpouring of tributes from leading Catholic figures.

Others remembered him as a man of prayer, a great historian and a pope with the common touch who liked to be with people.

The Holy Father commemorated the golden anniversary with a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica June 3, during which he called on the faithful to imitate Blessed Pope John by growing in obedience to God and self-mastery to achieve peace.

“If peace was the outward hallmark [of Pope John], obedience constituted his inner disposition,” he told pilgrims from  the Diocese of Bergamo in northern Italy, where Pope John XXIII was born and given the name Angelo Roncalli.

“Obedience, in fact, was the instrument with which to achieve peace,” he added, explaining how he accomplished it through “long and challenging work on himself” as he pursued a path of “gradual purification of the heart.”

“We see him, day by day, careful to recognize and mortify the desires that come from his own selfishness, careful to discern the inspirations of the Lord,” he said.

Francis stressed that John XXIII’s obedience led him to live “a more profound faithfulness, which could be called, as he would say, abandonment to divine Providence.”

Peace was his most “obvious aspect,” he said, adding that John XXIII was “a man who was able to communicate peace, a natural, serene, friendly peace.”

It was a peace, he noted, that, with his election to the pontificate at the age of 76, was manifested to all the world and came to be called “his goodness.” Such a characteristic was “undoubtedly a hallmark of his personality, which enabled him to build strong friendships everywhere.”

Francis also remembered him as “an effective weaver of relationships and a good promoter of unity, inside and outside the Church community, open to dialogue with Christians of other churches, with members of the Jewish and Muslim traditions.”

Pope Francis also observed how John XXIII’s writings show “a soul taking shape, under the action of the Holy Spirit working in his Church,” that became a “prophetic intuition” when he convoked the Second Vatican Council.

Others also recalled his close relationship with the Holy Spirit and deep prayer life.

Jesuit Father Norman Tanner, professor of Church history at the Pontifical Gregorian University, said he was a “man of prayer,” and his “sensitivity to the movements of the Holy Spirit” led him to call Vatican II.

Father Tanner also noted two other outstanding personality traits of Pope John: “He was a great historian; he had a historical sense,” he told the Register. “He was also good with people — he liked people.”


Papal Similarities

Some observers, meanwhile, have compared Pope Francis to John XXIII. Msgr. Loris Capovilla, who served as John XXIII’s private secretary for 10 years, said the two popes possess a goodness and mercy towards ordinary people.

The 96-year-old priest remembered the “unforgettable serenity” of John XXIII and the simplicity with which he related to others.

“It happens, too, with Pope Francis,” he said in a June 4 interview with La Stampa. “When he enters St. Peter’s Square, he gives the impression he would like to shake the hands of everyone. [This] is the humanity of God.”

Remembering that, when he was elected, someone described John XXIII as a “pope of flesh,” Msgr. Capovilla said, “This is not a trivial thing, because God became flesh, and now Pope Francis is eloquently showing the same.”

Others have also made similar comparisons.

Soon after Francis was elected, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, president of the Italian bishops’ conference, said he recognized the same “style, simplicity and goodness” that others saw in “Good Pope John.”

Father Tanner said there are “certainly similarities,” especially in terms of the warmth of his personality. “John was an extremely shrewd and learned man,” he said. “One should never portray him as a simple person, in terms of being naive; he was a genuinely learned person who at the same time combined it with a personal touch.”

Father Tanner, author of Vatican II: The Essential Texts, said he believed John XXIII would have been “very pleased” with the Year of Faith initiatives and the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization — both timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Council.

“It’s interesting that a lot of these conferences [held this year] are being organized by people who weren’t alive at the time, and yet it [the Council] has had a lasting interest,” he said.

In his homily June 3, Pope Francis called on the faithful to “keep [John XXIII’s] spirit, continue to deepen the study of his life and his writings, but above all imitate his holiness.”


Deathbed Recollections

Meanwhile, in another interview with La Stampa June 3, Don Battista Roncalli, John XXIII’s nephew, recounted the last moments of his uncle. Among those present at his bedside were his nieces, Sisters Angela and Anna, as well as Msgr. Capovilla, Don Battista and his brother Zaverio.

The Pope no longer recognized them; he was running a high fever. But although he was already fading, he showed signs of life as Mass began in St. Peter’s Square.

“He asked painfully for something, a favor, help,” Don Battista recalled. Eloquently, he said, he asked Zaverio to move aside because he was blocking the view of an ivory crucifix. John XXIII had placed it there since his election, in a special location, so he could see it at every moment of the day.

Zaverio understood the Pope’s last wish right away and perceived on the face of his uncle a last smile as his eyes remained fixed on the crucifix.

John XXIII died at 7:49pm on June 3, 1963, as the sun was setting. The bells of the basilica began to peal, Don Battista remembered, and those gathered around his bedside began to mourn.

The Pope of peace had returned to his Father.

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

11 June 2013, National Catholic Register

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