Sunday, 22 November 2015

Education for tomorrow; last day

From Mr McDermott, in Rome this week:At the final session today of the World Catholic education congress...
Posted by Chavagnes International College on Saturday, November 21, 2015

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Two news events that US and UK Catholics haven't noticed

Just briefly, I want to draw the attention of concerned Catholics to two international news events whose timing (last Sunday and Monday, right at the end of the Rome Synod on the Family) is especially poignant.

First, after years of dispute the Italian Council of State decided on Monday to quash court decisions that had allowed left-wing mayors in Italy to keep public registers of so-called "gay marriages". The Council of State, fresh from reading the final Relatio of the Synod, no doubt, announced on Monday that gay marriages are against human rights because they do not take into account the need to treat different groups equally but differently, hence marriage is for men and women but not for homosexuals.

Tuesday's Corriere della Serra seemed relieved and approving about this. They mentioned that 13 countries in the EU have either gay marriage or civil unions, and 9 (including Italy) have no special provision at all. So that, now, is the definitive position of Italy, because the Council of State is the final court of appeal. And in parliamentary politics, the issue is long dead, especially now that the Italians have interpreted the Pope as saying "divoziati si, ommosessuali no!" (Even if that is not exactly what was said at the Synod, but still ...)

Second, in Poland, on Sunday the traditionalist and Eurosceptic Justice and Law Party (PiS) was elected to government with a programme of repealing the law that made IVF legal, probably abolishing abortion completely, and generally reinforcing traditional Catholic and pro-life values. The line taken by the Synod, and by the Polish bishops especially, will give that political programme real wheels.

"In Poland, there is no value system that could realistically compete ... with the teachings of the church," PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski said just days before the election in a TV interview.

"If someone fights this system, then regardless of whether they are a believer or not, they favour nihilism," said Kaczynski, twin brother of Poland's late president Lech Walesa and devout Catholic.

The Sunday election result coincided with the Polish bishops' statement (following on from the Synod) that in Poland, at least, there will be no change to Catholic pastoral discipline with regard to the sacraments.

Interestingly, across the border in Poland's historic enemy, Russia, the Russian orthodox church has started to wake up to the problem of abortion, and its bishops are starting to condemn it more and more. And if there is one country where gay marriage will not happen in any of our lifetime's, it is certainly Russia. Poland had long seen its history as a constant struggle between Rome and Byzantium, but remember that it was a Polish pope who first coined the expression about Europe needing to breathe from both its lungs: East and West.

With Putin now positioning himself as a defender of Christians against Islamic oppression, with a massive new tide of anti-abortion sentiment in the US, with these interesting developments in Poland and Italy, and the recent Rome Synod's stance against abortion, gay marriage and the gender theory, the whole geo-political scene is now acquiring a new moral, cultural and even spiritual dimension. In 2004 when the future Benedict XVI talked about the dictatorship of relativism and the threat posed by Islamic fundamentalism, he was something of a lone voice. Now, a decade later, millions of people around the world are beginning to agree with him. As Lech Walesa's brother has it, those who don't agree, "regardless of whether they are a believer or not, favour nihilism". And nihilism, I can promise you, is going nowhere.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

The Pope is inhumanely busy

I have been visiting various people in the Roman curia recently. They seem to have an interesting working week. They start quite early, but finish about 1pm for lunch, then pop in to pick up their coats around 4 or 5, before going home at about 6. The only afternoon they work is a Tuesday.

But there is one man who doesn't follow this Roman rhythm, and that is the Holy Father.

After the exhausting synod, which only finished on Sunday, the Pope had already managed by yesterday night to have held Masses and meetings with the Syrian Chaldeans (to whom he gave support in their time of trial), a conference of Army Chaplains (whom he reminded about the need for peace) and an enormous multitude of thousands of gypsies/travelers, many of them Irish.

I bought today's Avvenire to see what he said to them, and it is very interesting. He told them that of course society needed to fight prejudice against them. But he also said: enough is enough! There have been too many tragedies with your children (mainly to do with violence). Do not stop you children going to school! And also : you are the masters of your present and of your future. Do not give cause to society to think ill of you! He then spoke of the recent rise in vocations from the Romany community, including nuns, priests and one bishop. It was paternal, it was very much in touch with reality, and it was full of love.

The travelers loved it, although I guess the Irish didn't understand a word of it. I saw one traveler girl, her beautiful body trussed up in a tight, bright purple t-shirt and even tighter bright purple ski pants. She had masses of hair which had never been cut, her face dominated by very amateur eye-brow thinning and a what can only be described as a make-up massacre. We were in St Peter's a few days ago and she was coming out of confession, a tear in her eye and en enormous smile on her clumsy face. A day in a beauty parlour would have turned into another Sophia Loren. But I guess it will never happen. I met her again later, having dinner with four older ladies. They all ordered pizza, with lots of extra chips, and plenty of Fanta. The poor girl is not going to keep her figure.

Yesterday, I was strolling along near the Vatican and saw a man holding out a plate of small samples of pizza. Two enormous traveler ladies, just out from the Papal audience, were helping themselves to the whole plate of free samples, with the waiter powerless to stop them. They were Irish. A couple of men, also Irish travelers, sitting on the terrazzo at the same café, shouted out to them several times: "Oi! It's the ones like you that gives us a bad name!" These men, judging from their sharp appearance and the way they were studying the menu, must have been able to read the helpfully provided English translation of the Holy Father's advice at the audience ... but most of them can't in fact read (hence the insistence that they should not stop their children going to school.)

I remember years ago helping our priest teach traveler children for their First Communion. The day before the big day he asked them "who's that now, up on the Cross?". "Is it Joseph, Father?" the sparkiest little boy asked. There was at the same time a beautiful girl being confirmed, aged 18, prior to her wedding day. She could not read a word. Apart from a dogged attachment to her faith she did not seem to be able to enunciate many of its doctrines, and yet she was probably fairly unusual in this day and age in one other respect too: she was a virgin on her wedding day and she will never divorce her husband, whatever happens.

I served a funeral Mass for an Irish Gypsy King once. He lay there, stinking with untreated cancer of the intestine, in an open coffin, a blue silk gown on him and a crown, made of twisted corn. His wife, whom he had beaten many times, who had tried to hang herself on several occasions, and none of whose seven or eight children could read, stood by the coffin. When we tried to put the lid on, she screamed and wailed "My king, my king, my king!!" Nobody except the parish priest and I sang the hymns. A tape-recording of Johnny Cash accompanied the offertory collection, in which many large notes were thrown in the basket. Most did not come to communion. But at the sermon, the special Gypsy chaplain used the occasion (as the Directory for Funerals says you should) to encourage the people to come back to regular Sunday Mass.

Outside, after the Mass, there was a racehorse present (his Late Gypsy Majesty had owned half of it), lots of flowers and a couple of police vans. More ritual wailing ensued, and the police took a couple of lads, in beautiful black suits and ties, back into custody. The were serving life sentences for killing their relations.

I remember that a couple of months before he died the Gypsy King came to Church on Good Friday, with a whole entourage, all desperate to stock up on trinkets from the piety stand. The king knelt for a good half an hour before the Crucifix, after the service, praying alone. The lady who wanted to lock the church was starting to get rather cross. But the king of the Gypsies obviously had his priorities straight: he knew that he only had a short time left before he would meet his Maker.

A couple of lessons, from all this, perhaps:

Yes, there should be no unjust discrimination. But equally, any groups who are victims of discrimination should strive not to exacerbate their plight by becoming parodies of the stereotype. Not just gypsies, but also the new wave of immigrants. (And also, homosexuals ... does the Church really have to doctor its language so as not to upset the poor, sensitive luvvies? Come on guys, just man up!)

The other lesson is that the Pope is a busy and well-meaning leader. But he can sometimes get angry, and -dare i say it? - even nasty (he was never so nasty as when he witheringly accused some of his brother bishops of lack of charity the other day ..) but it is just his way; and then he hasn't the time to stop and think about the irony or oddness of some of his sayings. (Although he makes sure to do so when he is teaching solemnly, thank God). At least he cares enough to get angry. Beyond all this, he is just trying his best to reform everyone and everything, and that can be an exasperating role; even if it can make for an exasperating relationship all round. In a sense, I think he is trying to make up for some of the sins of omission and commission of his own youth, and he has said so himself. So perhaps he over-compensates.

But the man is like a machine. Everyone else in the Curia was taking a breather on Sunday and Monday after the exhausting Synod, but not the Holy Father. He had Chaldeans to console, army chaplains to turn into peace-makers, gypsies to encourage and berate. He needs our prayers, and our love ... I think that he is often frustrated with us, and we with him. It's just that we are not used to seeing that kind of leadership style. I think, in my leadership style as a Headmaster I am similarly frustrated and frustrating.  We just have to bear with each other, that's all.

The Italian papers today seem to signal that it is time to move on ... perhaps they jumped the gun on announcing big changes yesterday, and they admit it. They are now saying that we need to wait for the Pope to digest it all and come up with an apostolic exhortation about the Family, or something similar. And they are starting to read the whole of the Synod document and realizing that there is a lot there that will make a positive contribution to the Church's mission to families in the years to come.

So let's all just slow down, pray for the Pope, and remember that we all (absolutely no exceptions, even Popes and Cardinals, even bloggers) need to stay charitable and prayerful; because unlike the King of the Gypsies, we don't know when our hour will come. It could be tomorrow. So be ready.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

The Synod's Final Word

Just been reading the FINAL document from the Synod on the Family (out this evening), and it seems to be rather interesting and sensible. No revolution on doctrine, just being aware of changing priorities. On the doctrinal front, the teaching of Paul VI and John Paul II is amply referred to. The indissolubility of marriage is mentioned, with quotes from scripture. On homosexuality, the Synod quotes Benedict XVI and especially warns that individual local churches should not give in to government pressure to accept the notion of 'marriage' for those of the same sex. They also underline the scandal of international aid being linked to the adoption of such laws in African countries. It is in Italian and will probably not be translated:…/pubbli…/2015/10/24/0816/01825.html
There is some (perhaps deliberate) obfuscation in the paragraphs about pastoral care of the divorced and remarried ... but the idea of somehow devolving key areas of doctrinal and moral teaching to bishops' conferences has been avoided.
On the other hand there is some serious thought given to preparing couples for marriage and also giving them proper instruction in Catholic teaching. There is also a condemnation of the killing of embryos in IVF treatment, and the general reiteration of respect for life from conception to natural death.
There is also a general feeling that children and families are what the Church is all about. That is good. There is a prayer to the Holy Family at the end.
That's my take on it. Could be a good thing. Too early to say.

Saturday in Rome

My bedroom window (in a cheap little hotel near the main station) overlooks the Baths of Diocletian, the largest bath complex ever built, ranging over 32 acres. Apparently it was restored in the beginning of the 6th century under the pontificate of Pope Symmachus and the reign of King Theoderic.
Pope Symmachus was the last pagan convert to become Pope.

So I went and had a look. It was a Charterhouse full of monks for a few generations. Part of it is now a beautiful, light and airy basilica, designed about 400 years ago. Lots of Roman tombstones, milestones, columns and headless statues from around the city. And an art exhibition of Henry Moore which I wasn't prepared to pay 13 euros for.

Then I strolled up to the Victor Emmanuel monument (the 'wedding cake') and decided to climb all the steps. There is a 'sacrum' as in the ancient legion camps in the Roman army. It houses all the tattered flags of the various regiments of the Italian armed forces in reverential glass cases. Of course, except for a few from the days of the Kingdom of Italy (the House of Savoy), they are all the same: red, white and green. About 300 of them ... not especially interesting.

There is also a tomb of the 'unknown soldier' from World War One. Although the whole monument is rather pagan, the tomb of the warrior is surrounded by images of soldier saints (Sebastian and George) and there is a consecrated marble altar for Masses to be said for his soul. It as all installed by the King in 1921.

One might be forgiven for noticing that on the same hill there is the Basilica of Maria Arca Coeli, which is mainly famous for its ancient Bambino which is held up for veneration every 25th of the month. I popped in and lit a candle. There is some very fine renaissance art there. It seemed somehow more homely and prayerful than some of the other more crowed Roman basilicas.

One has to go down the steps and up again to get to the Capitoline, also called the Campidoglio. Either side of the steps are the gigantic and nonchalantly naked Castor and Pollux, each with horse. The Statues were restored by the renaissance popes, who also had Michaelangelo design a beautiful square at the top of the hill; the buildings now house a museum, filled with roman statuary.

Most impressive of all is the equestrian stature of Marcus Aurelius, unique, because most bronze works were melted down for the metal.

Then behind is the Forum; still very impressive. I'd visited before, so I skipped that. Instead I found another column, just like Trajan's but with St Paul on top instead of St Peter.

The inscriptions said that Pope Sixtus V who restored this other column, originally erected by Marcus Aurelius, had first removed any signs of impiety from it. But I think that was just to reassure the faithful that they could venerate it as a monument to St Paul without any qualms about sacrilege; he didn't remove much if anything.  He also points out that before he found it the column was in a sadly deteriorated state. The main theme of the column is the Romans crushing the barbarians (mainly the Germans). In another inscription Pope Sixtus reflects that St Paul's preaching of the Crucified Christ conquered not just the barbarians, but also the Romans themselves.

Ended the day with evening Mass at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, with beautiful Marian devotions before and after, in the cosy Salesian style.