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March 2, 2013

Awaiting a new pope -
Pope emeritus at Castel Gandolfo --
U.S. bishops' readiness to talk with Obama --
Church's big family meeting coming to U.S.

1. Pope's resignation takes effect.
2. Arrival at Castel Gandolfo.
3. Current quotes to ponder:
a) The interregnum.
b) What next for papal Twitter account?
c) The church and youth.
4. U.S. bishops on talking with Obama.
5. World family meeting coming to U.S.
6. The family, a sign to the world.
7. Capital punishment and human dignity.

1. Pope Benedict's Resignation Takes Effect

During his last Wednesday audience, the day before his resignation took effect, Pope Benedict XVI addressed a huge crowd in St. Peter's Square. He looked back upon his nearly eight-year-long papacy as a time of "joy and light, but also difficult moments."

Pope Benedict said the Lord gave him "many days of sun and light breeze, days in which the catch of fish has been abundant." His comment called to mind St. Peter on the Sea of Galilee in a boat.

But, said the pope, there were moments too when "the waters were turbulent and the wind contrary, as throughout the history of the church." In those times, "the Lord seemed to be asleep."

But the pope always knew, he said, that the Lord was not absent and "that the boat of the church is not mine, it is not ours, but it is his, and he does not let it sink."

Pope Benedict departed from the Vatican Feb. 28. He began his stay of about two months at Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence, after a brief trip by helicopter from Rome.

In retirement he will continue to be known as Pope Benedict and addressed as "His Holiness," it was learned in the final days of his pontificate. The word "emeritus" will be added to his titles in either of two ways: "pope emeritus" or "Roman pontiff emeritus."

Pope Benedict's "fisherman's ring" and seal would be broken, just as is done upon a pope's death. He would return to wearing an episcopal ring he wore when he was known as Cardinal Ratzinger.

His safety is to be assured henceforth by the Vatican police; no longer will he be served by the Swiss Guard.

2. . . . Arrival at Castel Gandolfo

After arriving at Castel Gandolfo the evening of Feb. 28, the 85-year-old Pope Benedict said in remarks to a crowd of well wishers that he was happy to be with them, "surrounded by the beauty of creation and your kindness, which does me so much good." He then said:

"You know that this day is different for me from the preceding ones. I am no longer the supreme pontiff of the Catholic Church, or I will be until 8:00 this evening and then no longer.

"I am simply a pilgrim beginning the last leg of his pilgrimage on this earth. But I would still . . . like to work for the common good and the good of the church and of humanity."

Thus, a new, unfamiliar period in the church began as Pope Benedict's resignation took effect. Immediately, however, the cardinals present in Rome began to look toward the conclave at which his successor will be elected.

Immediately, as well, the Vatican would issue four new postage stamps and a coin worth two euros to mark this historic period of what is called a "sede vacante."

The stamps are intended for use as postage only until a new pope is elected, although they will be available after that as collectors' items. In addition, two more coins, one of five euros, the other of 10, were to be minted as collectibles.

In a brief address earlier Feb. 28 at the Vatican, Pope Benedict encouraged unity and harmony among the church's cardinals. He said to cardinals present in Rome, "I will continue to be close to you in prayer, especially in the next days, that you may be fully docile to the action of the Holy Spirit in the election of the new pope." Then he said:

"May the Lord show you what is wanted of you. Among you, among the College of Cardinals, there is also the future pope, to whom today I promise my unconditional reverence and obedience."

3. Current Quotes to Ponder

The Interregnum: "'One pope dies, you make another,' runs an Italian proverb, with the reassuring message that life goes on. But this time the fact that life goes on makes things more complicated. The historic anomaly of a living former pope presents no theological or canonical difficulties for the church, but it will require an emotional adjustment from many of the faithful. Pope Benedict has recognized that his resignation is unlike that of any other leader departing the scene. In the last two days of his pontificate, he pledged obedience to his successor and noted that he was leaving the 'active exercise of the (Petrine) ministry.' He also said he was 'not returning to private life' but would belong 'always and totally to everyone, to the whole church' and 'remain, so to speak, within St. Peter's precincts.' Many will find these assurances both consoling and mysterious." (From the March 1 "Vatican Letter" by Francis X. Rocca, head of the Catholic News Service Rome bureau.)

The Papal Twitter Account Now: "Contrary to some news reports, the @Pontifex account will not be permanently shut down after the pope resigns Feb. 28, but will merely remain inactive for the period of the 'sede vacante.' The name 'Pontifex,' meaning 'bridge builder' and 'pope,' was chosen to refer 'to the office more than the person,' and highlights the leader of the church and the Catholic faithful, said Msgr. Paul Tighe, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. It also means the account handle does not have to change with every new pope. . . . Vatican Radio said '@Pontifex will be available for use by the next pope as he may wish.'" (From a Feb. 26 Catholic News Service report by Carol Glatz)

The Church and Youth: "Although we are aware of the many problematic situations that are also affecting the context of faith and of membership in the church, let us renew our trust in young people, let us reaffirm that the church looks to their condition, to their cultures, as to an essential and inevitable reference point for her pastoral action. . . . The church trusts in young people, hopes in them and in their energies; she needs them and their vitality in order to continue to live with a fresh impetus the mission entrusted to her by Christ." (From Pope Benedict XVI's Feb. 7 address to the Pontifical Council for Culture)

4. U.S. Bishops on Talking With Obama

A Feb. 22 letter sent by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York to President Obama spoke of the U.S. Catholic bishops' readiness to work with the president "for the good of all people who live in and love our nation."

Cardinal Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, accepted the Obama administration's invitation to continue addressing issues that have created tensions between them.

The cardinal also offered an overview of pressing issues on which the bishops "are ready to cooperate with" the president, from gun violence to education reform, and from "the challenges of peace and justice in the Middle East" to "comprehensive, affordable, accessible, quality, life-affirming health care for all, which we believe includes the preborn child, the undocumented and the dying."

Tensions exist between the bishops and President Obama over religious liberty issues surrounding U.S. Department of Health and Human Services rules for health insurance coverage of contraceptives. A concern for the bishops is what they view as the "redefining of our religious ministries."

Another divisive issue involves same-sex marriage. Cardinal Dolan's letter expressed hope that, in a climate of civil public discourse, progress can be made in such areas.

"We both know that there remain critical areas where we are at odds, especially in the protection of the child in the womb, the defense of marriage as the union of one man and one woman, and the grave concerns we have about some recent government actions that violate religious freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment," the cardinal wrote.

He said, "We accept your invitation to address these areas together, always with the civility we have both encouraged in public discourse."

The bishops specifically welcome "an opportunity to resolve the perplexing issue of the redefining of our religious ministries. Surely we should be able to find some ground where neither of us is asked to compromise conscience," Cardinal Dolan said.

The bishops have considered the definition of a religious employer under the HHS rules too narrow. A Catholic institution or service, for example, is not less religious simply because it aids or educates not just Catholics, but people of other faiths or no faith.

Cardinal Dolan said the U.S. bishops "cannot rest so long as the vital ministry the Catholic Church carries out -- for people of all or no creeds -- remains threatened due to an erosion or loss of the constitutional guarantee of the freedom to serve without violation of our faith."

One of the "pressing issues" on which Cardinal Dolan said the bishops stand ready to cooperate with the president is the "development of a financially responsible national budget."

The budget, he said, should protect "essential programs serving our poor, sick and vulnerable brothers and sisters." Moreover, the budget should promote "fiscal integrity in securing a stable economy that serves and protects the common good today and for the future."

Cardinal Dolan made clear that the bishops support action to curb gun violence "through reasonable regulation of firearms and increased attention to the needs of the mentally ill." The bishops hope that "the international marketing and proliferation of weapons" will be curtailed.

The bishops' "long-expressed concern for meaningful immigration reform" also was mentioned by the cardinal. He said the bishops seek a reform that leads to "the unity of mothers and fathers with their children" and "a fair path to citizenship for the undocumented," along with "legitimate provisions to secure our country's borders."

5. World Meeting of Families Coming to U.S.

The next World Meeting of Families, sponsored by the Pontifical Council for the Family, takes place in Philadelphia Sept. 22-27, 2015. It will be the first of the meetings, established by Pope John Paul II and held every three years since 1994, to take place in the United States.

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia commented during a Feb. 25 news conference that the meeting is a gift not just for Catholics of the Philadelphia region. "Everyone with a generous heart is welcome to be part of it," he said.

The World Meeting of Families has "the power to transform, in deeply positive ways, not just the spirit of Catholic life in our region, but the whole public community," he stated.

The most recent World Meeting of Families, held in early June 2012, took place in Milan, Italy. Hundreds of thousands of people participated in its five-day events, and some 1 million were on hand for the concluding Mass, at which Pope Benedict XVI presided.

Naturally, some already are speculating and hoping that the new pope will visit the United States in 2015 to participate in the next meeting. That remains to be seen, but there is at least a possibility that the new pope will decide to make his way to Philadelphia at that time.

6. . . . The Family, a Sign for the World

Undoubtedly, the themes announced for some meetings bear little relevance to what actually unfolds when they finally get under way. However, the theme of the 2012 World Meeting of Families in Milan, "Work and Celebration," sparked serious explorations of the relationship between workplace demands and home life.

Ways to achieve a balance between work and the home, and to assure that work pressures do not crowd-out Sundays and other times when families can spend time together, were investigated earnestly.

The Milan meeting planners even arranged visits to factories for discussions of the meaning of work.

The Philadelphia meeting's theme is not yet known. But if the upcoming world meeting is anything like the one in Milan, its chosen theme could generate important discussions of marriage and family life far in advance of the September 2015 gathering.

It was reported in some places that the theme in Philadelphia would be "The Gospel of the Family, Resource for Humanity." But a spokesman for the Philadelphia Archdiocese told me the selection of a theme still awaits the election of the new pope.

In any event, the family as a living Gospel is a sort of subtheme of every World Meeting of Families. Pope Benedict spoke of the family in this way in Milan.

"Be sure that, insofar as you live your love for each other and for all with the help of God's grace, you become a living Gospel, a true domestic church," the pope told families during Milan's concluding Mass.

He said to them, "Your vocation is not easy to live, especially today, but the vocation to love is a wonderful thing, it is the only force that can truly transform the cosmos, the world."

Pope Benedict spoke similarly about marriage in his homily for the Mass opening the October 2012 world Synod of Bishops. He urged synod participants to become "more aware of a reality already well known but not fully appreciated -- that matrimony is a Gospel in itself, a good news for the world of today."

In marriage a man and woman become "'one flesh' in charity, in fruitful and indissoluble love," and this "is a sign that speaks of God" forcefully and eloquently in the world of these times, he said.

7. Capital Punishment and Life's Dignity

"Violence begets violence and coarsens the culture so that life is no longer valued as a gift from God. Today, we are able to protect society and also give criminals a chance to reform and repent as they are punished," the Catholic bishops of Florida said in a statement urging Gov. Rick Scott of Florida to stay the execution of Paul Howell, which was scheduled for Feb. 26.

Howell was convicted of murdering James Fulford, a state trooper, in 1992. In a series of court actions late in February, Howell's execution was delayed.

"We pray for Trooper Fulford and for all those traumatized by his death, especially his family, friends and colleagues that they will know consolation and peace," the bishops said.

At the same time, the bishops considered it a "great concern that the jury" that recommended Howell's death sentence "did not have the benefit of a full review of mental health issues and his family history."

Furthermore, said the bishops, "there are questions as to the adequacy of his defense, raised by missing a deadline that would have allowed federal review of his case."

The belief the bishops expressed was that "all human life has dignity and is sacred, created in God's image, even those who have done great harm."