July 22, 2014

Letter #48: Old Age

Like good wine that improves with age, let us give the youth the wisdom of our lives.” –Pope Francis, on old age, speaking to the assembled cardinals of the Church on March 15, 2013, two days after his election to the throne of Peter

Pope Francis gave a remarkable reflection today on old age. But before getting to that, first two remarkable videos, courtesy of Rome Reports:

1. Pope Francis receives the keys of the papal apartment 

On Thursday evening, March 14 — 24 hours ago — Pope Francis received the keys to the papal apartments. So the apartments are open again.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, 78, who served Pope Benedict XVI as Secretary of State, and was responsible as “Camerlengo” or Chamberlain, during the sede vacante, for sealing the apartments, cut out the red ribbon that sealed the doors, before giving the key to the new pontiff.

Francis was given a silver-colored key to unlock the doors of the apartments where he will now live.

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The Prefect of the Papal Household, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, then gave the new Pope a walking tour of his new office and meeting rooms.

I recommend taking a look at this video because it is a rare glimpse into the papal apartments. This is where Francis will be living.

Perhaps more important, however, there is something very moving about this video.

The most moving part, I think, is the moment, just a few seconds, when the new Pope stands by the door in the dark, his back facing the camera, looking into the blackness, as Archbishop Gaenswein, Emeritus Pope Benedict’s personal secretary, walks forward into the darkness and finds the light switch.

Gaenswein knows the way because he has lived in this home for nearly eight years.

I note something also that many may know, but that has not been written in many places: this new Pope has no personal secretary.

Yes, Francis is completely alone.

Perhaps he will choose his own personal secretary soon. Or perhaps he will not even have a personal secretary. Or perhaps he will even rely, in some way, on Gaenswein himself, perhaps on a part-time basis, to carry out that task. We do not yet know.

Here is the video, which I heartily recommend that you see:

2. Second, Pope Francis visits Cardinal Mejia

Also late yesterday afternoon, without fanfare, Pope Francis visited a Roman hospital where an elderly cardinal from Argentina, Cardinal Jorge Mejia, 90, is being cared for, after suffering a heart attack on March 13, the same day his fellow Argentine cardinal, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was elected Pope Francis.

Mejia was born in Buenos Aires in 1923, and was ordained to the priesthood in Buenos Aires. He worked in the Curia for many years, and became Archivist and Librarian of Holy Roman Church. He led the delegation from the Holy See’s Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews at a meeting in Rome in 2010 of the Commission for Dialogue between Jews and Catholics from January 17-20. (I know him, and he has always been couteous and generous with his time over the years.)

Meeting with his cardinals at 11 a.m. today (see below), Pope Francis reported to them on Mejia’s condition: “His condition is stable and he sent his greetings to us all.”

The video linked below does not show Francis meeting with Mejia, but it does show the new Pope entering and walking through the hospital. The video has no sound, but it is striking for what it shows of the simplicity of this Pope: no large entourage, no large number of bodyguards, everything very low-key.

Here is the video:

 Pope Francis on Old Age

This morning, Pope Francis gave a very simple reflection on old age which may be worth printing out and posting on your wall.

It may also give us an insight into how Pope Francis, age 76, plans to regard Emeritus Pope Benedict, age 85 — nine years his senior.

He also spoke about creating a “harmony” in the College of Cardinals, words which echoed the words of Pope Benedict on February 28, in his last meeting with the College before his renunciation of the Petrine office and his helicopter flight out of the Vatican to Castel Gandolfo.

So, Francis today, in his first meeting with the cardinals, echoed the words of Benedict in his last meeting with the cardinals.

There is no need for further explanation.

“Courage, dear brothers!” Pope Francis began. “Probably half of us are in our old age. Old age, they say, is the seat of wisdom.

“The old ones have the wisdom that they have earned from walking through life. Like old Simeon and Anna at the temple whose wisdom allowed them to recognize Jesus.

“Let us give with wisdom to the youth: like good wine that improves with age, let us give the youth the wisdom of our lives.”

Francis was addressing the entire College of Cardinals in the Clementine Hall, both electors and non-electors.

He improvised several times during his talk — including when he informed them that Cardinal Mejia had suffered a heart attack two days before and was now recovering at the Pius XI private clinic.

Before beginning his address, the Pope listened to the greeting that Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, read to him on behalf of the entire College.

“We give thanks to the Lord our God,” Sodano began. “This is the liturgical invitation that we, the Cardinal Fathers, address to one another, between the ‘seniors’ and the ‘juniors,’ to thank the Lord for the gift that He has made to His Holy Church, giving us a new Shepherd… Know, Holy Father, that all of us, your cardinals, are at your full disposal, seeking to build with you the apostolic cenacle of the nascent Church, the Upper Room of Pentecost. We will try to keep ‘an open mind and a believing heart,’ as you wrote in your book of meditations.”

“Because we are brothers…”

During his own address in reply, Francis said that today’s meeting sought “to be almost an extension of the intense ecclesial communion experienced in this period. Enlivened by a profound sense of responsibility and supported by a great love for Christ and the Church, we have prayed together, sharing our fraternal feelings, our experiences and reflections. A mutual understanding and openness has brown in this climate of great cordiality. This is good because we are brothers.”

He continued: “Someone said to me: ‘The cardinals are the Holy Father’s priests.’ But we are that community, that friendship, that closeness, that will do us all well. And this knowledge, this mutual openness, have facilitated our docility to the Holy Spirit. He, the Paraclete, is the supreme protagonist of every initiative and expression of faith.”

He then added: “It’s curious: It makes me think that the Paraclete makes all the differences in the Churches and seems to be an apostle of Babel. But, on the other hand, [the Holy Spirit] is the one who makes unity of these differences, not in equality, but in harmony.”

“The Holy Spirit is harmony itself”

“I remember the Church Father who defined the Holy Spirit thus: ‘Ipse harmonia est‘ ["The Holy Spirit is harmony itself."]

“This Paraclete who gives, to each of us, different gifts, unites us in this Church community that worships the Father, the Son, and Him, the Holy Spirit.”

These words were very reminiscent of the words of Benedict on February 28.

On that occosion — Benedict’s last meeting with his cardinals — Benedict urged them all to pray so that the College of Cardinals be “like an orchestra” where diversity, as an expression of the Universal Church, always contributes to a higher sense of harmony.

The Church, Pope Benedict stressed then, is a living body, “as was so clearly seen through the crowds gathered in St Peter’s Square for the last Wednesday general audience.”

Through the Church, Benedict said on February 28, the mystery of the Incarnation “remains forever present” so that “Christ continues to walk through all times and in all places.”

For this reason, Francis’ first discourse to the College of Cardinals today must be seen as a clear, direct echo of Benedict’s last discourse to the College.

It is like the handing on of a baton.

And this became even clearer in the remarks Francis then spoke, with an actual citation of Pope Benedict, after having cited… Cardinals Sodano, Bertone, and Re.\

“The Conclave was full of meaning”

Francis noted that “the period of the Conclave was full of meaning, not only for the College of Cardinals, but also for all the faithful. In these days we felt, almost tangibly, the affection and solidarity of the universal Church, as well as the attention of many people who, although they do not share our faith, look to the Church and the Holy See with respect and admiration.”

At the same time, he expressed his gratitude to all the cardinals for their cooperation in the Church’s functions during the Sede Vacante.

He especially thanked Cardinal Angelo Sodano for “his words of devotion and for the well wishes that he extended to me [on behalf of the cardinals].”

He also thanked Cardinal Camerlengo Tarcisio Bertone, S.D.B., “for his thoughtful work in this delicate phase of transition.”

He also thanked Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, cardinal dean of the Conclave “who was our boss in the Conclave: thank you very much!”

Benedict’s teaching will remain “a spiritual heritage”

Francis then continued: “I think with great affection and deep gratitude of my venerable predecessor, Benedict XVI, who during these years of his pontificate has enriched and strengthened the Church with his teaching, his goodness, his guidance, his faith, his humility, and his gentleness, which will remain a spiritual heritage for all.”

Francis noted that, “as Pope Benedict XVI reminded us so often in his teachings and most recently with his brave and humble gesture, Christ is the one who guides the Church through His Spirit.

“The Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church, with his life-giving force that unifies one body from many: the mystical Body of Christ.”

Francis continued: “Let us never give in to pessimism, to that bitterness that the devil offers us every day.

“Do not give in to pessimism and discouragement.

“We have the firm certainty that the Holy Spirit gives the Church with His mighty breath, the courage to persevere and also to seek new methods of evangelization, to bring the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

Then, using words reminiscent of the teaching of don Luigi Giusaani, founder of the Communion and Liberation movement, Francis said:

“The Christian truth is attractive and persuasive because it responds to the deep needs of human existence, convincingly announcing that Christ is the only Savior of the whole person and of all persons.

“This announcement is as valid today as it was at the beginning of Christianity when there was a great missionary expansion of the Gospel.”

And Francis ended his talk by using an expression quite common in Benedict’s teaching, that the “face of Christ” is what we desire to look upon, that the “beautiful face” of that person, Christ, the splendor of that face, will be, in fact, the blessing of ultimate communion in eternity.

“Now,” Francis finished, “return to your Sees to continue your ministry enriched by the experience of these days that have been so full of faith and ecclesial communion. This unique and incomparable experience has allowed us to understand in depth the beauty of ecclesial reality, which is a reflection of the splendor of the Risen Christ. One day we’ll look upon that beautiful face of the Risen Christ.”

Upon finishing his address, the Pope greeted, one by one, all the cardinals present in the Clementine Hall personally.

So, in essence, Francis today, in his first talk to the cardinals, gave a “Ratzingerian,” a “Pope Benedict-like” talk. This was an evident sign of a desire for continuity with the Emeritus Pope who stepped down on February 28.

Controversies and Outreach

Today also was marked by an outburst of allegations in the press alleging that Bergoglio did not conduct himself correctly during the year’s of military Junta rule in Argentina in the 1970s, when an estimated 30,000 government opponents were arrested, and many killed, by the regime.

The Vatican responded to these allegations today with a press communique denying they were true.

RESPONSE TO ACCUSATIONS AGAINST BERGOGLIO IN ARGENTINA

Vatican City, 15 March 2013 (VIS) – At this afternoon’s press conference, Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., director of the Holy See Press Office, read a statement responding to allegations made against Cardinal Bergoglio in Argentina. It states:

“The campaign against Bergoglio is well-known and dates back to many years ago. It has been carried out by a publication specializing in sometimes slanderous and defamatory campaigns. The anticlerical cast of this campaign and of other accusations against Bergoglio is well-known and obvious.”

“The charges refer to the time before Bergoglio became bishop [of Buenos Aires], when he was Provincial Superior of the Jesuits in Argentina and accuse him of not having protected two priests who were kidnapped.”

“This was never a concrete or credible accusation in his regard. He was questioned by an Argentinian court as someone aware of the situation but never as a defendant. He has, in documented form, denied any accusations.”

“Instead, there have been many declarations demonstrating how much Bergoglio did to protect many persons at the time of the military dictatorship. Bergoglio’s role, once he became bishop, in promoting a request for forgiveness of the Church in Argentina for not having done enough at the time of the dictatorship is also well-known.”

“The accusations pertain to a use of historical-sociological analysis of the dictatorship period made years ago by left-wing anticlerical elements to attack the Church. They must be firmly rejected.”

“Regarding “Liberation Theology”: Bergoglio has always referred to the Instructions of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He has always rejected violence saying that its price is always paid by the weakest.”

Francis greets Rome’s Jewish community

Also today, Pope Francis sent a letter to the head of Rome’s Jewish community.

POPE FRANCIS TO RABBI OF ROME: “I HOPE TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE PROGRESS OF RELATIONS BETWEEN JEWS AND CATHOLICS WHICH BEGAN WITH VATICAN COUNCIL II”

Vatican City, 15 March 2013 (VIS) – The Holy Father has sent a message to Dr. Riccardo Di Segni, the Chief Rabbi of Rome, the oldest Jewish community of the diaspora. “On this day of my election as Bishop of Rome and Pastor of the Universal Church,” reads the text, “I send you my cordial greetings, informing you that the solemn inauguration of my pontificate will take place on Tuesday, 19 March.”

“Trusting in the protection of the Most High,” the Pope continues, “I strongly hope to be able to contribute to the progress of the relations that have existed between Jews and Catholics since Vatican Council II in a spirit of renewed collaboration and in service of a world that may always be more in harmony with the Creator’s will.”

Waiting for first appointments: Celli?

The new Pope’s first major decisions will be his appointments, in particular that of Secretary of State.

Veteran American Vaticanist John Thavis writes today: “He clearly needs someone in that position who knows the Roman Curia well enough to navigate its tricky currents, and make reforms without too much collateral damage.

“One Italian who might fit the bill is Archbishop Claudio Celli, who heads the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. A seasoned diplomat who was stationed in Argentina (and who knew then-Father Bergoglio) during the years of the military dictatorship, Celli later worked as a top foreign affairs official in the Secretariat of State, handling Chinese and East European affairs, among others.

“Later, he was for years secretary of the Vatican’s investment and accounting office. As president of the communications council, he has pushed for a greater Vatican presence in social media and helped launch the Pope’s Twitter account.”

Link to the full Thavis article: Thavis article. 

Francis’s Schedule for the next few days

On Saturday at 11:00 am in the Paul VI Hall, the Pope will hold an audience with accredited journalists (permanent and temporary) and those who work in the media.

On Sunday, 17 March at 12:00 pm, he will recite the first Angelus of his papacy from the papal apartments overlooking St. Peter’s Square, as is customary.

On Tuesday, 19 March, the Feast of St. Joseph, patron of the Church, the Mass to inaugurate the new papacy will be held at 9:30 am in St. Peter’s Square. No tickets will be issued for that Mass. All who wish may attend.

On Wednesday, 20 March, he will hold an audience with fraternal delegates representing the heads of the various Eastern rite Churches so there will not be a General Audience.

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

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