Bangkok, Thailand, Feb 11, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
A landmark 26 foot Thai statue of St. Anne revered by local fishermen was knocked down last week, after being hit by a oil tanker.
The statue depicting St. Anne with the child Mary was located near the pier at Samut Sakhon, a port city on the Bay of Bangkok some 26 miles from the Thai capital. It was hit by an oil tanker Feb. 6, and was knocked down from its perch above the Tha Chin river estuary.
The ship ran directly against the statue around 7 p.m. No one was injured in the accident, even though there are frequently pilgrims around the statue.
“This statue stood tall, acting as a symbol of Catholic faith and a center of interreligious dialogue,” Msgr. Andrew Vissanu Thanya Anan, deputy secretary-general of the Thai bishops’ conference, told CNA.
He added that people all religions, and especially Buddhists and local fishermen, revere St. Anne and held her statue with high regard, often bringing her flowers.
“Fishermen stopped off here, entrusting themselves to St. Anne’s protection before venturing onto the sea.”
Fr. Egitto Anucha Chaowpraeknoi, chaplain of Apostleship of the Sea/Stella Maris Seafarers Association Thailand, told CNA that with the statue’s destruction “people are hurt, but their faith and hope are not destroyed.”
“Generally there are several people around the structure, and it’s miraculous that none were hurt when the mishap occurred.”
The cost of the damage has not yet been established, but investigation into the cause of the collision and the estimated costs is underway.
The Catholic mission at Samut Sakhon was begun in the 1700s to cater to a community of Chinese emigrants, and St. Anne’s parish was built in 1949.
In 2000, St. Anne’s pastor, Fr. Peter Theeraphol Bovithayakul, commissioned a local sculptor, Pravat Raksiam, to design a statue of the parish’s patron to sit atop the parish hall.
The statue was financed by parishioners’ contributions, and was erected in 2009. It was 26 feet tall and weighed 3.8 tons. Its construction took two years and cost nearly $122,000.
Msgr. Vissanu added that the parish serves as a centre for inter-religious dialogue through its school and social center, which serve Burmese refugees, and which collaborates with the local government and Buddhist community.
In recent years, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic group from Burma, have been displaced by violence and rioting, with many of them seeking refuge in neighboring Thailand.
Boston, Mass., Feb 11, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
A United Nations commission report on the Vatican’s response to abuse of children was not “fair or particularly helpful,” but took an “ideological” approach, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston has said.
In a Feb. 7 post on his blog, Cardinal O’Malley said that he was “surprised” to read accounts of the recent report on the Holy See issued by the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child.
He said he had thought the commission would “examine the policies and practices” of the Vatican before making the report. Doing so would have provided a “valuable contribution” because the Holy See “needs to model policies for child protection for the rest of the dioceses in the world,” he reflected.
“Instead they extrapolated to the life of the Church, which is not their competency, and interjected many of their own ideological preferences.”
In its Feb. 5 report, the U.N. committee claimed that the Vatican had “systematically” adopted policies allowing priests to rape and molest children. The report said the Church should open its files on previous cases of abuse. It criticized Catholic teaching on homosexuality, contraception and abortion, advocating a change in Catholic doctrine.
The report has attracted critics including Claudia Rosett, a journalist-in-residence with the Washington, D.C.-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a foreign policy think tank.
“In this report the Vatican is publicly shamed – and then urged to redeem itself by bowing before the altar of the U.N.,” she said in a Feb. 9 Wall Street Journal opinion article.
She argued that the report faults the Vatican for “not subordinating itself wholesale to a much broader U.N. agenda.” It pushes for the Vatican to use its influence to “disseminate world-wide a roster of U.N. views and policies that run counter to those of the Catholic Church.”
Rosett also objected to the U.N.’s handling of abuse cases.
“Exposing abusers and holding them to account is a great idea. The Vatican has spent years addressing the scandal of its own past handling of such cases. But the U.N. hardly engages in the transparency it is now promoting.”
Rosett said that the U.N. has not solved “its own festering problems of peacekeeper sex abuse.” She said that the international organization does not release the names of accused sex abusers in its peacekeeping forces and often sends accused individuals back to their home countries where they usually face no penalties.
From 2007-2013, the U.N. reported more than 600 allegations of rape or sexual exploitation, with 354 allegations substantiated. Many of the accusations involve minors.
In addition, Rosett objected to the presence of “human-rights-challenged countries” on the U.N. children’s rights committee, including Saudi Arabia, Russia, Ethiopia and Sri Lanka.
She noted that the committee’s last report on Saudi Arabia mentioned a 2002 fire at a girls’ school in Mecca that killed 15 girls. While the committee voiced concerns about building safety standards, it did not mention that the country’s morality police drove some students back into the burning building because they were not dressed according to public standards.
She also contended that the U.N. committee’s report on North Korea – where children suffer from famines and can be sent to prison labor camps – lacked “the fervor with which the committee has denounced the Vatican for failing to explicitly forbid corporal punishment.”
Rosett further said that the United States never ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in order to avoid “gross intrusion by unaccountable U.N. ‘experts’.”
“This treaty has less to do with children than with political power plays, and a fitting reform at the Vatican would be to walk away from it.”
The U.N. commission report prompted a swift response from several Catholic leaders.
Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, who heads the Holy See’s permanent observer mission to the United Nations in Geneva, told Vatican Radio Feb. 5 that the report was “in some ways not up to date.” He drew attention to the Church’s recent efforts to protect minors from abuse.
He said it is “very difficult” to find other institutions or states that have “done so much specifically for the protection of children.”
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said Feb. 7 that the U.N. committee’s comments “seem to go beyond its powers and to interfere in the very moral and doctrinal positions of the Catholic Church.” He said that the presentation of the committee’s observations suggests it gave disproportional attention to non-governmental organizations with “well-known” prejudices against the Catholic Church.
Rome, Italy, Feb 11, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
As many look for signs of change in Pope Francis' comments on people with same-sex attraction, the leader of a ministry for those with homosexual inclinations instead believes the Pope's words hearken back to Christ himself.
“I don't think there's any reason to believe that anything our Holy Father is saying now is inconsistent with 2000 years of Church teaching, so I would hope people could be at peace and at rest about that,” said Father Paul Check, executive director of Courage International.
Fr. Check, who has led the Roman Catholic organization dedicated to offering spiritual and practical support to people with same-sex attraction since 2008, spoke with CNA on Jan. 25.
Touching on remarks like those made in July of 2013 – when the Pope said, “If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” – Fr. Check pointed to Jesus' own method of preaching the gospel.
In the Scriptures, Jesus does not hesitate to teach doctrine and basic truths to large groups, as in the sermon on the mount. Yet he also “engages people in another way, a very personal way, one at a time.”
“I think that the emphasis Pope Francis is bringing to us right now is on the second way: very personally, listening to people and speaking with them and 'walking with' them, guiding them, bringing them to Christ,” explained Fr. Check.
“I am not an authoritative interpreter of the Pope's comments,” he cautioned, “but here's the way I understand them.”
The priest then turned to the story of Jesus' meeting with the Samaritan woman at the well who has had five husbands.
“Our Lord knows well that there is a moral question here that's involved, and indeed it's a chastity question. The woman is living in an 'irregular' way. But he doesn’t begin the conversation with her about the moral problem. Instead, he talks with her about her interest – and more than her interest, her desire for God.”
“So he engages her in a very personal way about something that is already resident in her heart…he speaks with her about God, and then he speaks with her about the life of God…(and) also about her desire for eternal life, which is something that we all have,” Fr. Check continued.
Jesus “engages her in this very lovely sequence, and he keeps the conversation going with her until he reaches that point when it is appropriate to say, and when she can receive, what it is that she’s about to hear about the irregular condition in which she’s living, and she doesn’t deny it.”
“But he has established a relationship with her, and I think this is very much what our Holy Father is suggesting: that we are to walk with people, to get to know them, (although) of course, we don’t have the benefit of knowing what’s in someone’s heart the way that Jesus does, so all the more reason that we have to take care,” Fr. Check noted.
“I think that personal engagement, the walking with, is something that he is proposing,” and “I think the Holy Father is very prudent and charitable in wanting to think about how people receive the message of the gospel today and to find ways in which that teaching can be announced in a way that people can receive it.”
And what is the Church's teaching about homosexuality?
“We have to distinguish the person, from the inclination or the desire or the attraction; and thirdly, from the action,” explained Fr. Check.
“The person is always good, because everyone is created in the image and likeness of God,” he affirmed.
Homosexual activity itself is a “grave violation of chastity which means it's gravely contrary to the human good and cannot lead to joy, peace, and fulfillment because there is a human nature which guides us and directs us with regard to the expressions of physical intimacy.”
Perhaps most difficult to understand is the Catholic position concerning “the (homosexual) inclination or the desire or the attraction,” noted Fr. Check.
“This the Church terms, 'objectively disordered.' Those words are difficult words to hear, they can fall very hard on ears and understandably, but the phrase objectively disordered does not apply to a person.”
“It means that the desire or the attraction in an erotic way, for a romantic, sexual encounter, relationship with a person of the same sex – that that desire is out of harmony with our human nature as we have been created by God, when we look at the complementarity of the sexes and the procreative power of the sexual faculty.”
The phrase “‘objectively disordered' relates to the appetite or the desire. It is not a moral judgment, let alone a moral condemnation of the person,” he emphasized.
The priest then went on to add, “the soul of someone, because of their experiences, shapes or filters or understands messages in the way that it receives it.”
“Every heart is made for fulfillment in Christ: some hearts just don’t know that yet, or haven’t been told that yet. Or haven’t found a way in which they can move past some of the preconceptions and the misunderstandings and even some of the very real hurts that may have happened,” he explained.
Thus, rather than the gospel message itself being changed, Fr. Check believes Pope Francis is offering a new emphasis on methodology.
“In that sense I think it’s the question of the how of the announcing of the gospel, and we’re certainly prepared to assist with that effort.”
Courage International, which operates in over 100 diocese in the U.S. and 12 foreign nations, offers spiritual support and practical help for men and women experiencing same-sex attraction who want to lead chaste lives.
The apostolate holds private chapter meetings, conferences, days of recollection, and retreats, in addition to a 12-step program when it may be helpful.
“The most important aspect of the Courage apostolate is the relationship between the individual person and Jesus Christ,” emphasized Fr. Check. “No one understands the struggles of all of us, whatever they may happen to be, more than Jesus Christ.”
Courage “is that very particular, very concrete, very practical expression of the Church’s pastoral concern” for persons with same-sex attraction.
The initiative aims for them “to know that they are not only not outside of the Church, not outside of the heart of Christ, but warmly embraced...and that all the means they need to live and to fulfill the deepest and most authentic desires of their heart, given to them by Christ are there for them.”
Returning to another of the Pope's remarks in which he described the Church as a “field hospital,” Fr. Check added, Courage is “like a wing in the Church’s hospital. We are one of the rooms where those who are wounded by sin in a particular way can come and receive healing.”
Vatican City, Feb 11, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
On the one year anniversary of Benedict XVI’s announcement of his decision to resign from the Petrine ministry, Pope Francis has sent a tweet, asking the world to join him in prayer for the retired pontiff.
“Today I invite you to pray together with me for His Holiness Benedict XVI, a man of great courage and humility,” the Pope’s Feb. 11 tweet read.
Exactly one year ago, retired Pope Benedict XVI shocked the world when he announced to a gathering of cardinals that he was resigning his office as Bishop of Rome, an event which has not happened in almost 600 years.
Citing his advanced age as the primary factor in his decision, Benedict revealed that “after having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.”
Only two other Pope’s have resigned from their post in the history of the Church, the first being St. Celestine V in 1294, and the last was Gregory VII, in 1415.
Benedict XVI’s retirement officially went into effect on Feb. 28, 2013 when he traveled to the Vatican’s summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, and later moved into his permanent residence in the Vatican’s monastery “Mater Ecclesiae,” which lies just west of St. Peter’s Basilica.
The retired pontiff has stated that in this final stage of his Earthly pilgrimage, he will live a life dedicated to prayer.
Among the many legacies that Benedict has left for the Church, the most important have been said to be his promotion of the beauty of the traditional liturgy, as well as his efforts in forging stronger interreligious relations.
Vatican City, Feb 11, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The Vatican announced earlier this morning that Msgr. Edward B. Scharfenberger will take the helm as the new Bishop of Albany, NY, with Msgr. Andrzej Jerzy Zglejszewski stepping up as auxiliary of Rockville Centre.
“How grateful I am to His Holiness Pope Francis for the awesome privilege to serve as pastor of all the wonderful people in the Diocese of Albany,” Bishop-elect Scharfenberger stated in the Feb. 11 press release announcing his appointment.
“It is humbling when I think that I soon will be counted among the successors of the Lord's Apostles,” he said, emphasizing that “I am not worthy of this office and I hope that our priests, deacons, religious and lay people will pray for me often as, together, we continue along our journey of faith.”
Born in Brooklyn in 1948, Msgr. Scharfenberger was ordained a priest on July 2, 1973 in St. Peter's Basilica, Rome, by Bishop James A. Hickey, who was later named Cardinal-Archbishop of Washington D.C., and will be taking the place of Bishop Howard Hubbard, who has stepped down upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 75.
Since 2002, the Bishop-elect has served as Pastor of St. Matthias Church in Ridgewood, which is a multi-ethnic parish with a large German congregation, Albany’s newspaper the “Times Union” reports.
Among his other recent assignments are included his service as Vicar for Strategic Planning, and Episcopal Vicar for Queens.
Msgr. Scharfenberger will be introduced this morning during an 11 a.m. news conference at the diocese's Pastoral Center in Albany, and the date of his ordination as Bishop is yet to be announced.
In wake of the appointment, Bishop Hubbard expressed that Msgr. Scharfenberger’s “rich background” in both canon and civil law, as well as his years as pastor of a multi-ethnic parish, “will serve him well in our Diocese and will be most appreciated by our growing Hispanic speaking community.”
“We are most grateful that our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has graced us with such a gifted shepherd and we pledge him our prayers, loyalty, support and love.”
Also announced today was Pope Francis’ appointment of Msgr. Andrzej Jerzy Zglejszewski, 52, as Auxiliary Bishop for the diocese of Rockville Center, NY.
Bishop-Elect Zglejszewski, born in Czarna Biarostocta, Poland in 1961, was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Rockville Centre by Bishop John R. McGann in 1990, where he currently serves as co-chancellor and director of the office of worship for the diocese.
“I think everyone is very surprised by the news coming from Rome, and I hope everyone will understand why my heart and mind turns into both wonder and joy,” he stated in the Feb. 11 press release announcing his appointment.
“I am humbled by the Holy Father’s appointment and even though I always wanted to serve God and the Church in the best way I can, I am overwhelmed with the sense of my unworthiness.”
Following his ordination to the priesthood, Msgr. Zglejszewski served as an associate pastor in the Parish of St. Christopher, Baldwin, in St. Thomas the Apostle parish in West Hempstead, and then in the parish of Saint Rose of Lima, Massapequa until he was appointed as director of the Diocesan Office of Worship, and in 2012, co-chancellor, Diocese of Rockville Centre.
The Bishop-elect studied both philosophy and theology in Bialystok before coming to the United States in 1987, where completed his studies for the priesthood at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception, Huntington, New York.
Msgr. Zglejszewski will be ordained as a bishop by Rev. William Murphy, Bishop of the diocese of Rockville Center, at the Cathedral of Saint Agnes in New York on March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation.
Regarding his appointment, Bishop Murphy noted that “I am very grateful to the Holy Father for giving our Diocese this good and holy priest of many talents to assist me in the pastoral care of the 1.5 million Catholics of our Diocese.”
“I know the priests, deacons, liturgical ministers and all the people of God will welcome this appointment… with gratitude to God and with great joy.”
Although the bishop-elect expressed that he is “humbled and in fear of my own unworthiness,” he asked for both “support and prayers” in his new mission.
“I turn to Mary and Joseph and ask them for their assistance and help. I want, like Joseph, ‘Not to be afraid’ and respond to the whispers of the Holy Spirit in the same way Mary did, ‘Fiat Voluntas Tua,’ – May everything be done everywhere according to God’s will.”
New York City, N.Y., Feb 11, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The Catholic bishops of New York State have released a pastoral document on mental illness, urging Christians to show compassion for the mentally ill and to support sufficient programs for their care.
“The suffering endured by mentally ill persons is a most difficult cross to bear, as is the sense of powerlessness felt by their families and loved ones,” the Feb. 4 document said. “As the Psalmist called on God to deliver him from affliction and distress, so, too, does the person with mental illness cry out for healing.”
“Our Judeo-Christian tradition calls us to be witnesses of God’s love and mercy and to be instruments of hope for these individuals.”
The pastoral statement, titled “For I Am Lonely and Afflicted,” said that people with mental illness are often “stigmatized, ostracized and alone.”
According to the bishops, about 25 percent of U.S. adults experience some form of mental illness each year, while more than 13 million Americans live with a serious mental illness. About 20 percent of youth have severe mental disorders each year.
An individual’s mental illness directly impacts family as well, the bishops noted.
They cited the witness of Jesus Christ as the best example of how to respond to those with mental illness.
“Time and again throughout the New Testament, we encounter our Lord’s mercy toward this population. The curing of this affliction in men, women and children was a central part of Jesus’ healing ministry,” they said. “Always, we saw Him engage these individuals in the same way he would engage anyone else, with tenderness. We are called to do no less.”
The bishops urged the rejection of “the twin temptations of stereotype and fear” that can cause people to see the mentally ill as “something other than children of God, made in His image and likeness, deserving of our love and respect.”
Assumptions that the mentally ill are violent ignore the fact that the seriously mentally ill commit less than 5 percent of violent acts each year, they said. In fact, those with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence and sexual abuse. Yet fear of violence helps perpetuate a stigma that threatens public support for “a community-based model of treatment.”
At the same time, the bishops voiced solidarity with those who have been victimized by violence, especially violence perpetrated by the mentally ill. They said firearms should be kept away from mentally ill and all violence-prone individuals.
Had violent mentally ill offenders received effective treatment, they said, “many of these tragedies may well have been avoided.”
The bishops reaffirmed the New York State Catholic Conference’s mental health policy recommendations, which have been in place for nearly 35 years. These policy suggestions include: a public-private partnership to provide services for the mentally ill; education of Catholics on the needs of the mentally ill; the development of “attitudes of acceptance and compassion;” integration of people with emotional problems into the community; and a focus on intervention and prevention programs.
In their latest document, the bishops reaffirmed the need for pastors, chaplains, religious education directors, Catholic school principals and others in Church leadership to welcome those afflicted with mental illness and to integrate them into church life “to the fullest extent possible.”
They also called on all Catholics to be welcoming toward the mentally ill and ask themselves whether they have “always been as charitable as can be” in encountering such persons.
They asked people who have shunned “those who are different” or have not been open to residential housing or community mental health centers in their neighborhoods to consider “the example of Jesus given to us in the Gospels, repent for when we have failed, and resolve going forward to mirror His love and mercy for all God’s children.”
The New York bishops concluded their statement by calling for more focus on the care and treatment of the mentally ill.
“Treatment does work, and it is our fervent prayer that as our state explores new models of care, we can come to live in a society where those who suffer from mental illness can get the help they so desperately need, for their own peace and for the peace and safety of all,” they said.
Policy recommendations from the New York State Catholic Conference were issued after consultation with the New York Council of Catholic Charities Directors’ Behavioral Health Committee.
The conference has endorsed changes to mental health reporting requirements so that they are less likely to discourage individuals from getting help out of fear of being reported. Records of mental health hospitalization should also be expunged sooner than five years, the group said, as this could also be a barrier to people seeking treatment.
The conference advocated increases in community-based mental health services, stressing the need for “adequate community resources” in the face of state plans to consolidate and downsize psychiatric hospitals and mental health services.
In addition, the conference urged better services for the mentally ill who are in the criminal justice system, saying this would minimize unnecessary incarceration and help the mentally ill in prison. The group also proposed the addition of specially trained police officers to law enforcement agencies, saying this would decrease the need to use force and help lower arrest rates.
Vatican City, Feb 11, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Archbishop Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State at the Vatican, said in a recent interview that under Pope Francis’ reform, his department will undertake the Pope’s call for pastoral conversion.
“The Secretariat of State … must assume a cordial and complete availability to the pastoral conversion proposed by Pope Francis,” Archbishop Parolin told Stefania Falasca of Avvenire, the daily of the Italian bishops’ conference, in an interview published Feb. 8.
“Indeed, it must become, in a certain sense, a model for the whole Church,” he added.
The Vatican’s state department, he said, should “shine in a particularly intense way, in the persons who compose it and the activities it performs” with the three qualities Pope Francis identified in his Christmas address to the Roman Curia: “professionalism, service, and holiness of life.”
Archbishop Parolin affirmed the “both-and” nature of the Church, rejecting the idea that diplomay and the proclamation of faith, or that dialogue and defence of principles, are opposed to one another, “even if such a synthesis, on a personal level, can sometimes be difficult, even lacerating.”
Diplomacy, he said, is an “instrument at the service of the Church’s mission,” in relation to religious freedom and world peace. In a pluralistic world Vatican diplomacy must “accompany men and peoples to help them realize that their differences are an asset and a resource,” helping them to “construct a human and fraternal world, in which there is room for everyone, especially the weakest and most vulnerable.”
Regarding curial reform, Archbishop Parolin said it “must make of the Curia a simple and quick tool, less bureaucratic and more efficient,” calling this “a profound change with respect to the past.”
The Roman Curia, he said, should serve both the Pope and the bishops; being neither a “command center” nor a “body of control,” but characterized, rather, by service.
“There is always the peril of abuse of the power, great or small, we have in our hands, and this peril has not escaped, and cannot escape, the Curia. But, ‘it shall not be so among you,’ the Gospel admonishes, and on this Word … we try to model our activity in the Roman Curia.”
Curial reform must include the reform of structures, he affirmed, while adding that this would be useless “if not accompanied by a permanent personal conversion.”
Archbishop Parolin also said that the Roman Curia had and has saints, and that it should not be seen in exclusively negative terms.
Commenting on the pontifical commissions advising on the Institute for Religious Works and Vatican administrations, the archbishop noted that they have “a limited mandate” and will submit proposals to Pope Francis.
Reform of the Vatican bank must “underline the aspects of transparency and adherence to international standards,” he added, emphasizing that “much has been done” already.
He expressed hope that the Vatileaks scandal has “definitively passed,” noting that it has caused Benedict XVI and others “unjust suffering” and adding that “many, many were scandalized, and it damaged not a little the cause of Christ.”
He also addressed Pope Francis’ words concerning unbridled capitalism, saying that in reading “Evangelii gaudium” “I caught myself thinking of many Latin American situations of poverty, inequality and exclusion” which he had seen and which fills one’s heart with indignation.
“These justify, in my opinion, Pope Francis’ strong stance on economic issues … can we not agree with the Pope’s statement that money should serve and not govern?”
Returning to Vatican diplomacy, Archbishop Parolin called the Pope “the first diplomatic ‘agent’ of the Holy See … the tasks and objectives of papal diplomacy are those set out” by the Pope, noting “bridge-building, in the sense of promoting dialogue and negotiation as a means of solving conflict, spreading fraternity, fighting poverty, building peace.”
“There are no other ‘interests’ or ‘strategies’ of the Pope and his representatives when they act on the international scence.”
He also commented that the Syrian Civil War is among the Holy See’s great diplomatic concerns, saying the parties involved need to “grow in mutual trust and the political will to find a negotiated solution.”
Vatican City, Feb 11, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Vatican journalist Giovanna Chirri remembers her shock at Benedict XVI's resignation last year, and how she broke the news before he finished his announcement because she could understand Latin.
“He said it in Latin and I was panicking. I was short of breath, my legs were trembling. I was sitting and my legs trembled like this…it was a very violent reaction. It was a reaction to shock,” Chirri told CNA in a Feb. 10 interview.
Chirri is a journalist for Italian news agency Ansa and was sitting in the Holy See press office listening to a consistory meeting between the former Pope and the cardinals on her computer. Her sole aim was to publish the canonization date of martyrs that are highly venerated in Puglia, a region of Southern Italy.
“It was a calm day with hardly anyone around because there was an event of little importance taking place without much media attention,” she explained, noting that the only reason she was present was because of the strong devotion to the martyrs of Puglia.
“So I was listening with just one ear. But what helped me was that when the consistory was over, the Pope was supposed to leave but he stayed seated and continued to talk in Latin.”
Chirri noted that at that moment “I must have thought 'what is going on? Why isn’t he leaving?' and I became more alert,” observing that “he spoke in Latin and I was lucky with that, too,” because she could understand the language perfectly.
“The first two things he said shocked me because he told the cardinals that he had gathered them for the consistory, but that he had something important to tell them for the Church,” she said.
“And the second important thing he said was that he was getting old,” Chirri noted, recalling how the now-retired pontiff used the words “ingravescente aetate” to describe his aging.
It was “at that moment that I began to understand what was happening,” she reflected, “because I have a document of Paul VI called 'ingravescentem aetatem' in which he” declared that cardinals were no longer able “to elect a pope at the age of 80 during a conclave.”
“So I knew these were the words of a retirement. It was then when he said these two words I began to have a reaction that is difficult to explain with reason,” Chirri continued, adding that “I began to understand first more with my stomach than with my head.”
Upon hearing Benedict speak of how he was not able to continue the task entrusted to him, and of having the “honor of organizing a conclave for his successor,” the journalist observed that “he said all these things which I heard but didn’t hear. I heard but I did not understand.”
However, she noted that once she heard the word “conclave,” she began “to reason,” and thought that “we need to do something.”
Explaining how she frantically began calling other journalists around and within the Vatican, because “I needed outside help with news like these. I couldn’t deal with it alone,” Chirri explained that at first she was not able to reach anyone.
At that moment, Chirri stated that she had “a tiny bit of luck,” because although no one was answering their phone, Cardinal Sodano, dean of the Collage of Cardinals, stood up on the monitor and spoke in Italian, saying “‘Holiness, this news catches us like a lightning bolt in a clear blue sky.’”
“It was unequivocal,” after that, she said, “and so I told myself ‘what do you mean you did not understand? I understood very well.’ The Pope has resigned. So I began to write the news.”
She then detailed she consulted with her editors, who “trusted” her and “decided to run the story,” explaining that afterward Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi then returned her previous phone call, “so we did this story which then spread throughout the world.”
Afterwards, Chirri recalled that Fr. Lombardi sent out a text message announcing a press briefing in the Holy See press office, and soon “a lot of colleagues started to arrive and this area that was a desert was getting full.”
“So I sat down in that room – I think I was in shock – and a colleague of the Vatican Radio approached me with a microphone and told me ‘Giovanna, you were the first one to give the news of his resigning. We want a firsthand evaluation of Benedict XVI.’”
“So I did it, she said ‘thanks’ and she left,” Chirri explained, observing that it was only after that moment that she realized she “had been the first person in the world to break these news.”
“As a journalist of an agency, one cannot explain what it means to have broken this news.”
Estefania Aguirre contributed to this report.
Rome, Italy, Feb 11, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
A former translator of Benedict XVI has predicted that the retired pontiff’s legacy will only grow, given the “wonderful freshness” and clarity of his writings.
“I think the judgment of history will be very kind, very generous, because once all the topical controversies have moved into the past, people will see what he said in all of its luminous clarity,” Monsignor Philip Whitmore, Rector of the English College in Rome, told CNA Feb. 10.
He said the retired pontiff will “really be admired and respected for the great man, for the great teacher that he was.”
Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation from the papacy on Feb. 11, 2013. He said that he no longer had the strength to continue the duties required by his role. He moved to Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in Vatican City, where he spends much of his time in prayer.
Msgr. Whitmore has lived in Rome for 15 years, working in the Roman Curia. He became a college rector in September 2013.
He knew Pope Benedict XVI before his 2005 election to the papacy, when the man then known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Msgr. Whitmore helped the congregation in its English-language work before it expanded its staff.
“The legacy of Pope Benedict above all will be his writings, his teachings. He has a wonderful freshness, a wonderful clarity, wonderful insights all through his writings,” said the priest.
He noted the retired Pope’s homilies, encyclicals, and speeches during his world travels, particularly singling out for praise Benedict XVI’s “Jesus of Nazareth” books.
Msgr. Whitmore worked for five years in the Congregation for Bishops and for nine years in the Holy See’s Secretariat of State. Under Benedict XVI, he prepared drafts and translations of many papal writings before sending them to the papal apartment for approval.
“If he approved of them, he’d have ‘B16’ written underneath in tiny, tiny writing,” the priest said. “He has about the smallest writing of anyone I’d ever known.”
He said the Pope’s “substantial” body of teaching will be read “not only for years, but, I think, centuries.”
“In the centuries to come, I’m sure, we’ll find readings from Benedict XVI in the breviary, just as we find readings from earlier popes now. That will be the lasting legacy.”
Msgr. Whitmore praised Benedict XVI as “a man of tremendous integrity and honesty” who would express himself “very, very simply” and “very, very clearly.”
He suggested this played a role in media misunderstandings of the Pope.
“He was, if you like, a man without guile,” the monsignor said. “Sometimes in order to play the media game, you need to have a little bit of guile. You need to be able to wrap up other things that you’re going to say in terms and expressions that press the right buttons. That wasn’t really who he was, that wasn’t where he was coming from.”
“He would say things beautifully, simply, clearly. For those with ears to hear and eyes to see, I think it was very clear.”
Msgr. Whitmore is among those who hope “very much” that Benedict XVI will be named a Doctor of the Church because he was “such a great teacher.”
“Of course, he has to be canonized first. If that happens, then I would think it would be a very, very natural step to proclaim him a Doctor of the Church.”
The priest also sees continuity between the papacies of Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, predicting that this will become “much clearer in the course of history.”
Their message is “exactly the same,” he said.
“There’s a difference in style, and that’s to be expected. There’s always been a difference in style from one Pope to the next. We forget sometimes how absolutely normal that is. For all the differences in style, the message is the same, the truth is there.”
The priest noted that Pope Francis has said “a number of times how much he admires Pope Benedict, how much he loves him, how much he is happy to have him there.”
In Msgr. Whitmore’s view, Benedict is “a kind of grandfather” that Pope Francis can turn to and ask questions.
Reflecting on the one-year anniversary of Benedict’s resignation announcement, the priest recalled being “very surprised” when he first heard the news, but said the Pope “gave us plenty of warning.”
Benedict XVI said in an interview published in the book “Light of the World” that if a Pope felt the task was beyond his physical or spiritual capabilities, including his stamina, it would be appropriate to resign.
“On reflection, I think we saw that it was a very wise, and a very gracious and a very humble move,” Msgr. Whitmore said. “We were sad, of course, to see him go, but then, we got a new Holy Father, and our hearts were filled with joy.”
Kerri Lenartowick contributed to this report.