Tag Archives: Vatican

An Irish Catholic girl reflects on St. Peter’s Square in Rome

June 7, 2016


I came not expecting to be moved by this place.

I came expecting crowds and gimcracks and jabbering people with fanny packs and cameras. I am surprised. I was wrong. I cannot help but be moved by this place. St. Peter’s Square is, first of all, big. It is breathtaking and majestic. It is grand. I am surrounded by immense, imposing statues who hover over me, standing guard — the saints, the martyrs, the twelve apostles. All around me as I sit in the Square I hear voices, a multitude of languages, some I don’t even recognize. All around me I see nuns, bishops, women in their wedding gowns. I have landed smack dab in the middle of the “catholic” Catholic Church. From the very lively babies babbling in their strollers, to the nuns laughing together about something, to the teenagers posing for pictures with their “selfie sticks,” to the seminarians quietly doing their morning prayer, to the Chinese family saying a rosary together — in Chinese — everywhere I see a Church that has somehow survived every attempt to obliterate it. It is a Church which has survived even the grievous sins and moral failings of its own members.

Jesus Christ made two promises when he founded his Church: first, that when the Church speaks as Church, it will not teach error, and second, that the Church would not disappear from the face of the earth before he returned. Sitting here, I see everywhere the fulfillment of those two promises.  How, given its “colorful” history, the strings of “interesting” popes and cardinals, the concerted and skillful attacks of its many enemies — how has this Church survived? Money alone could not have sustained it for two thousand years. Power alone could not have sustained it for two thousand years. Only love — transcendent love — can account for this place, here, today — because only transcendent love could have created and sustained it.

Not our love for God, although that love is visible everywhere here. Every statue of Peter reminds me of his enthusiastic love for his Lord. Every statue of Paul reminds me of the inexhaustible energy with which he proclaimed the kingdom of God. They were martyred on the same day: Paul beheaded because he was a Roman citizen, Peter crucified because he was a Jew, and upside down because he asked for that, declaring himself unworthy to be murdered exactly as Jesus had been. Were they afraid? Of course they were. En route to his own beheading, Paul asked a woman if he could have her scarf, so that he could prevent himself from seeing the blade come at him. Peter convinced himself at one point that he ought not be martyred at all, that he should leave Rome alive and continue to evangelize. Only a vision of Jesus himself as Peter was on his way out of town prevented him from running.

They were both terrified. They were human. What can account for them, and for so many other flawed and frightened human beings, to allow themselves to be flayed, grilled, torn to pieces, pressed to death, crucified, beheaded? What can account for a Church that has survived its own popes sometimes: Borgia Popes, de Medicis, the popes who bought their office and used it for their own personal gain, Pope Julian III, who dug up his predecessor, Pope Formosus, and put him on trial, dressed in his papal regalia and dead as a doornail, this pope who found his dead predecessor guilty of all crimes and then tossed him in the Tiber? What can account for a Church that embraces both Peter and Julian III, while often disapproving heartily of both of them? What can account for me, standing here a few miles from the place where Paul was killed, standing on top of the place where Peter was crucified, looking at the obelisk he almost certainly was looking at as he died? It has to be God’s love — for the Twelve, for the Jews, for the martyrs, for every single one of us—for our corrupt, striving, beautiful, flawed, sorry human selves — only God’s perfect love could have created and sustained this place.

Peter’s bones are buried beneath the ground on which I sit. Beneath me, scratched into the wall of a crypt containing the bones of many martyrs, are the words, “Peter is Here.” Next to those words, in the wall, are a collection of bones, but there are no foot bones. When someone is crucified upside-down, they cut the dead body off the cross, leaving the feet behind. As I sit in the Square, Pope Francis enters and mounts the stage for his Wednesday audience. And here am I, an Irish Catholic Girl from Chicago, three days into a semester in Rome — cold, homesick, tired, confused — and yet, I am filled with joy and peace in this place. Surrounding me and grounding me and soaring over my head is evidence of the faith in which my Irish Catholic father from Chicago, Jack Maloney — my papa — raised me. And here I sit, atop Papa Peter, listening to Papa Francesco. And I am home.

Anne Maloney is department chair and an associate professor of philosophy at St. Catherine University in St. Paul.

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Local priest describes trip to Rome to become missionary of mercy

February 19, 2016


Father John Ubel greets Pope Francis during his trip to Rome.

Father John Ubel greets Pope Francis during his trip to Rome.

By Father John Ubel

My brief trip to Rome began with a plethora of questions from an inquisitive Jewish woman sitting next to me on the flight from Minneapolis. Among them: “What do you mean by mercy?” and “But does forgiveness actually accomplish anything?”

While a great discussion starter, on this evening flight to Amsterdam, I was most interested in sleeping. But when the pilot kept giving us Super Bowl updates every 20 minutes just as I began to doze, I accepted reality! But, her pointed questions left me pondering some very basic concepts, and how I ought to be able to explain mercy in terms understandable even to those who do not share my faith.

After a two-hour layover at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, I arrived in Rome on Monday afternoon (Feb. 8) only to discover that my phone’s battery had inexplicably gone completely dead, even though turned off. My rusty Italian was enough for me to comprehend that it was indeed an expensive fix and I’d be better off seeing if it was under warranty back home.

On to Plan B. I said a quick prayer they had Wi-Fi at the Domus Paulus VI. This is the clerical residence for priests working in the Vatican near the Piazza Navona that also welcomes occasional priest guests. Pope Francis stayed there in the days leading to the conclave that elected him, and you may recall the photo of him returning to pay his bill!

Thankfully they had Wi-Fi, because in typical “Fr. Frugal” fashion, I was too cheap to purchase a data plan for my iPad. My simple but comfortable room looked right over a bus stop (if elected to the Italian parliament, I’d immediately sponsor legislation to outlaw scooter horns and pigeons), but the priests and staff were most gracious and welcoming of their American interloper.

When I mentioned at table that I was from Minnesota, I was met with deadpan stares. I clarified that it was six hours from Chicago — still nothing. Finally I said that I lived near Canada! I began writing this travelogue while enjoying my third (alright, perhaps my fourth) cup of cappuccino on Tuesday morning. I could get used to this! I had time to pray and go to confession, as well as purchase a few Holy Year related gifts. While visiting the tomb of St. Monica in the Church of St. Augustine, I prayed for my mother and all mothers, as they labor tirelessly to pass the faith along to their children.

The Holy Year theme “Merciful like the Father” and the Jubilee Logo are omnipresent, as are the pilgrims here to venerate the mortal remains of St. Padre Pio, brought here from San Giovanni Rotondo in Puglia. The logo was emblazoned on a beautiful commemorative violet stole given to each priest, which I plan to wear in the confessional. St. Pio stands as a model confessor, humble and simple, and he reminds me that we must never tire of offering forgiveness. I have a special devotion to Padre Pio since my days at St. Agnes, when I prayed for his intercession at a critical time in that school’s history in 2007. He came through then, and continues to inspire.

On Tuesday afternoon, the universality of the Church was especially evident as nearly 700 priests designated as Missionaries of Mercy gathered at Castel Sant’Angelo for a solemn procession toward St. Peter’s Basilica to enter through the Holy Door. It was a prayerful walk as we recited designated prayers, gathering by language groups. The procession took us inside the Basilica, all around and back out again. We continued around the perimeter of the outside of the Basilica leading us to the Apostolic Palace and the Sala Regia (Regal Room). Completed in 1573 A.D., it is adjacent to the Sistine Chapel and was originally used to receive foreign princes and ambassadors. But the purpose of this meeting was quite different.

Without really trying, I wound up in the eighth row, as the room quickly filled up. Archbishop Rino Fisichella prepped us for the audience. Among other things, he encouraged a total fast from all food on Ash Wednesday and reminded us to silence all cellphones. His American assistant, my friend Father Geno Sylva from the Diocese of Paterson, New Jersey, then stepped to the microphone and asked those without headsets (for the purpose of providing a simultaneous translation for non-Italian speakers) to move to an overflow room just off to the side because the headset reception only worked in the main Sala. No, please don’t ask me to move! Since I had chosen not to take a headset, I was banished, and would watch the address on a monitor.

But as it turns out, the Holy Father walked right past me on his way to and from the audience, and on his way out I shook hands with him and greeted him. God provides — the last shall be first! During his address, the Holy Father exhorted us to be patient and kind confessors — and not to ask too many questions! He reminded us that the sacrament of penance is an encounter with our loving and merciful Father and that sometimes our words get in the way. It was sage advice and I plan on heeding it carefully. After the meeting, we were treated to a delicious dinner in the atrium of the Pope Paul VI Audience Hall. It was after all, Martedi Grasso (Fat Tuesday), so I enjoyed it as well as meeting priests from various parts of the World, truly a highlight for me.

On Ash Wednesday, I had the rare luxury of not needing to set my alarm. The fatigue of travel and the excitement from Tuesday’s activities coalesced, enabling me to sleep in until nearly 6 a.m.! I made my way down to the refectory for a cup of coffee at 6:45, but it was still brewing. I said my morning prayers and patiently waited. Roman coffee is always worth the wait, and I took the time to finish writing a Cathedral bulletin column before emailing it back home. Later in the morning I visited with David Kirsh, a lifetime Cathedral parishioner and St. John Vianney College Seminary student, spending the semester in Rome through the University of St. Thomas’ Catholic Studies program.

Desiring to keep the rest of Ash Wednesday in a spirit of preparation, I neither shopped nor did any sight seeing. Instead, I spent some quiet time in prayer and reading at the Augustinianum, a Pontifical University right next St. Peter’s Square, specializing in Patristic studies. And where, I might add, I took the toughest oral exam I have ever had in my life 10 years ago — it still stings!

It was peaceful and prayerful, and I eventually made my way to St. Peter’s, thirty minutes ahead of our appointed time. But I was still far from first in line. The piazza was packed and people were trying to acquire tickets for Mass. One lady even asked if I would give up my ticket so she could attend with her toddler.

I politely declined, noting that the gold tickets were for concelebrating priests only. She was not impressed! We priests spent the next 90 minutes waiting patiently, as this is just part of the deal in the Eternal City. Those cobblestones really do a number on one’s back — a chiropractor could make a fortune in Rome! But it provided ample opportunity to visit with the other priests, whether Italian or English speakers, and I found this quite enjoyable.

A prayerful, yet jubilant spirit was kept throughout. While waiting I met Father Joseph Reilly from Newark, New Jersey, and learned that he was the rector of their Cathedral. I replied, “Father, you and I have at least two things in common — we’re both rectors and we are currently sharing an Archbishop!”

We made our way to the bronze steps where we waited for Mass to begin. There, final instructions soon followed in five languages (no, I did not need to be reminded to refrain from taking pictures during Mass!) and the long procession began. While I ended up toward the back of the reserved section for priests, it mattered little because we were all there together concelebrating with the Holy Father.

The Sistine Choir, composed of men and boys from the Basilica, provided the beautiful music. Readings, petitions and the gift bearers were provided by men, women and children from different countries, and the distribution of ashes began with Cardinal Angelo Comastri, the Archpriest of the Basilica, imposing ashes upon the crown of the head of Pope Francis. In Rome, the ashes are not placed on the forehead in the shape of a cross, but rather sprinkled on the crown of your head, recalling the Book of Nehemiah 9:1 in which the “Israelites gathered together while fasting and while wearing sackcloth, their heads covered with dust.”

The highlight for me was the commissioning ceremony at the end of Mass. The prayer asked the Lord to “watch over these your servants, who we send forth as messengers of Mercy, liberation and of peace. Guide their steps with Your right hand and sustain them with the power of Your grace, so that they do not come under the weight of apostolic endeavors. May the voice of Christ resound in their words, and in their gestures the heart of Christ.”

It was so clear that the human aspect of the encounter is central for Pope Francis, and even his commissioning prayer was a sober reminder of the role that we are called to play. I would not be surprised if he wrote the prayer himself. I will not soon forget this powerful exhortation and the brief, but extremely rewarding, time I spent in Rome. And, I felt uplifted by the prayers of so many from home and kept the good people of the archdiocese close in my prayers.

Father Ubel is rector of the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul. He was commissioned to be a Missionary of Mercy by Pope Francis on Ash Wednesday in Rome.




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Murder of John Paul I — from the inside?

April 25, 2014


UnknownThe pages are yellowing in the this English-translation of “The Last Pope” that I couldn’t resist in an antique store, and the copy looked as though it had never been touched.

That should have been one tip that “The Last Pope” was no “The Shoes of the Fisherman,” but the glossy cover of the hardback claimed it was an international bestseller, so I sprang for the $7.

“The Last Pope” was probably worth the $7, but not a cent more. Its premise is that rather than dying in his sleep, as is the official word on the passing of the former Cardinal Albino Luciani, the man who was pope for only 33 days in 1978 was killed because he had made plans to remove high-ranking Vatican officials. Several cardinals from that era are implicated in ordering the pope’s death.

In the story, copies of John Paul I’s supposed plans have made their way out of the Vatican archives, and the bad guys are killing folks to get them back. A beautiful female reporter and a mysterious “Rafael” get involved, and, well, no spoilers here.

What the novel by Luis Miguel Rocha is, of course, is a vehicle to paint the Vatican Curia as corrupt and the church itself as behind-the-times on all kinds of contemporary issues. John Paul I was going to change all that, so the story goes, and the usual Catholic punching bags — birth control, homosexual relations, priestly celibacy, female priests — take their lumps.

That’s too bad, because “The Last Pope” isn’t a bad novel. But it does explain why the eight-year-old copy was sitting untouched in an antique store.

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From Home to Rome: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Skirt

March 20, 2013


Lisa skirtBy Lisa Weier

A couple years ago, I walked out of a Nebraska thrift store with the close friends I had come with, a couple new-to-me skirts I hadn’t, and the satisfaction of time and money well spent.  One of the skirts in my shopping bag was particularly feminine and flowery, and billowed out perfectly when its wearer spun around. My friend Lucy and I split its cost with the shared understanding that this particular skirt would dance its way between our closets.  We never really planned for it to go between our suitcases too.

When Lucy went to Rome in the spring of 2012, it was an easy decision to send the skirt with her.  I also, then, took the skirt with me this year on my own Roman adventure, having no idea how much of an adventure it would really be.  The Conclave, for instance, was unexpected.

March 13 was the most personally convenient time for a new pope to be chosen; I would not need to run across the city, dodging people and vaulting mini-cars.  Instead, we had set time aside to go and pray in the square, and of course keep an eye on the Sistine chimney. So I went, with the thirty-three other students in my Catholic Studies Study Abroad program.  And I wore the skirt.

I did a bit of singing and dancing in the rain down the streets of Rome, fabric swishing underneath my trench coat and over the tops of my boots.  When we entered the square, there were already many people present, from seemingly everywhere in the world.  Most of them were holding umbrellas, beautifully arched over heads, a ridiculous amount of patterns and colors.  We prayed, talked and waited.  And waited.  And a seagull, I presume wanting to be on TV, landed on the top of the smokestack.  And we waited longer.

And suddenly, there was gray smoke.  Gray?  Everyone was trapped in confusion for a couple seconds, but as we saw the smoke become whiter and whiter, our confusion turned into desire for a good view.  There was a mad rush for the front of the square, closest to the doors where the new Pope would emerge.  I grabbed onto one of my classmate seminarian’s book bags and listened to the joyful yells of another classmate seminarian gripping my shoulder as we snaked toward the front, “LISA! WE HAVE A POPE! WE HAVE A POPE!”

We waited in suspense for an hour under our group’s US and papal flags.  I was in a sea of umbrellas, cameras, reporters and conjecture. The Swiss Guard band played and marched.  Then they stood still for a long time (I sometimes think they are some of the best statues in Rome).

Someone turned the interior lights of St. Peter’s on to a collective gasp from the thousands below.  Something rustled the curtains inside the balcony door.  A cameraman emerged to groans. FINALLY the proclamation sounded, “Habemus Papam.”  An absolutely joyful noise erupted, screams and cries of “Papa!” emerged all over.

Once we quieted down, the cardinal announced the elect’s name to more confusion.  Who?  Finally the word circulated and was confirmed through technology, Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, Papa Francesco.  Chants of “Francesco, Francesco!” prompted his first steps onto the balcony.  He stood, taking in the crowd, probably overwhelmed with the day he was having.  And then his words cut through the cheers, “Buona sera. Come stai?”  Good evening.  How are you?  We laughed and he went on.

He spoke in Italian, I didn’t understand all of it, but I did know he asked us to pray for him in silence; I’ve never heard Rome quite that quiet before.  I also could see that he loved us in humility.  I was so happy to have a Papa again.  In the midst of it all, I found it beautiful that I was still very much connected to home, holding the hem of the skirt.  Lucy, my family and other friends, were on my mind, in my prayers, and also under the subsequent blessing of the new Holy Father.  I like to think the skirt can retain a bit of it too… Viva il Papa!


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Take a peek inside the Vatican

March 8, 2013


Vatican Diaries coverJohn Thavis, who covered the Vatican as a journalist for 30 years, betrayed his Minnesota roots when he wrote, “Attending these Rome academic conferences was like fishing on a slow day — you waited a lot and hoped something would bite.”

Thavis, a native of Mankato, Minn., and a graduate of St. John’s University in Collegeville, hooked an author’s dream: His book on the inner workings of the Vatican was ready to be released when Pope Benedict XVI unexpectedly announced his decision to retire.

Viking moved up the release date, making “The Vatican Diaries” as timely a read as a writer might hope for.

Thavis, whose byline ran in The Catholic Spirit for many years, retired just last year as Rome bureau chief for Catholic News Service.

That post and the many friends and sources he made in and around St. Peter’s often put him in unique position to observe and hear of any number of interesting goings on, some foolhardy, some machiavellian, some scandalous.

Anecdotes, even atrocities

There is, for example, the blatant disregard for an ancient cemetery by one Vatican City functionary, who is intent on bulldozing the monuments and the remains to add more parking to the cramped tiny space.

A lengthy chapter on the finally denounced, cult-like Legion of Christ gives a vivid picture of how power works in the Vatican, and it’s not a very nice portrait.

Thavis details how the once-revered founder of the Legion of Christ was protected by people in high places who refused to believe accusations made against him over the course of decades, and it was only when Father Marcial Maciel Degollado’s double life was revealed — that he had fathered children by two women, sexually abused his own son and hidden secret assets of nearly $30 million — that the Vatican finally intervened.

The incident has left an obvious black mark on the late Pope John Paul II’s record, but Thavis presents insight here that echoes in other Catholic locales around the globe.

He writes, “To a good number of Vatican officials, the calls for transparency and full accountability [in the Maciel case] were typical of moralistic (and legalistic) Americans, but not necessarily helpful for the universal church. . . As one Vatican offical put it, ‘We have a two-thousand-year history of not airing dirty laundry. You don’t really expect that to change, do you?’ ”

Thavis dives into the ongoing squabble over the ultra-conservative, breakaway Society of St. Pius X, sharing probably more than the typical Catholic would want to know about the battle over the validity of Vatican II by this hard-core group of naysayers.

Superb reporting, writing

There’s a terrific chapter that’s really a personality profile of the American priest who was one of the Vatican’s top Latin language experts — the fun, enlightening and eccentric Father Reginald Foster.

Foster — Thavis eschews his title throughout — is a reporter’s dream, someone on the inside who knows a lot, isn’t afraid to share and shares in colorful language. The chapter on “The Latinist” is of the quality of a piece you’d expect to read in the New York Times Magazine or The New Yorker.

Thavis went along to some 60 countries with John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and “The Vatican Diaries” includes hilarious anecdotes about life as a reporter on papal trips. There’s plenty about life covering the Vatican to enjoy reading, too, including the story about the pope’s preacher admitting he used Google as a source.

Readers will find that the halo they may have imagined above the heads of some high-ranking residents of Vatican City ends up, shall we say, “less glowing,” to describe it the way a Vatican official might, avoiding the use of the more accurate “tarnished.”

And that may be what Thavis does best here.

Important contribution

He offers sound reporting and analysis, to be sure. But he’s at the top of his game explaining how “The Vatican” sees things.

He translates Vatican-ese, putting in plain language what official statements really say, and in many cases what those statements say by not saying something directly.

Even when he gets into such minutia of a story that you wonder if all these details are necessary, Thavis seems to perfectly sum it up by interpreting the event’s significance. It’s as if, without using these words, he’s says, now here’s why this is important.

“The Vatican Diaries” is not only informative and entertaining. Published as the Catholic Church prepares to welcome a new leader, it gives us valuable insight into the organizational challenges the new pontiff faces.

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The unforgettable Cardinal John Foley

December 12, 2011


Goodbye to a mentor and a friend

Cardinal John P. Foley, speaking at the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity, Jan. 7, 2011. The American cardinal died Dec. 12, 2011.

Many will remember him as the voice doing the “play-by-play” during the Pope’s Christmas Midnight Mass from St. Peter’s Basilica, something he did for 25 years up until two years ago.

Journalists around the world will remember him as the archbishop who got them a radio or television feed or a straight answer about what the church teaches and why.

Those of us in Catholic media will remember the Philadelphian who became a Cardinal of the Church for his hilarious stories, his love of puns, and his commitment to his faith, to the church and to truthful Catholic journalism.

I remember John Patrick Foley as a mentor who became a friend.

Cardinal Foley, who died today, Dec. 11, at the age of 76, was the editor of Philadelphia’s Catholic newspaper when he hired me, just a 22-year-old, to be his news and sports editor back in 1974.

Best of mentors

I’m trying to avoid saying he was a demanding boss, because that would put too dark a tone on the reality of who he was. What he was was a boss who set high expectations — for himself as well as others.  He could never understand why anyone would ever give less than 100 percent when they could inform, form and inspire God’s people through the work we did.

Because he held those high standards, he could hold the reins loosely and let a young colt like me run. I tried out the latest in graphics. I cropped photos tight and used them big. I covered everything from high school football to the International Eucharistic Congress to the U.S. Supreme Court. When a tip about Catholic school teachers organizing a labor union got me into a sub rosa gathering at an apartment one night, then-Monsignor Foley not only published my full-page story but defended the story to archdiocesan officials because Catholics needed to know why their teachers felt they needed a union.

Along the way he taught me the importance of planning, the value of teamwork and collaboration, and the truism that Catholic media have nothing to fear from reporting bad news. His approach to Catholic news — one forged in part at Columbia’s School of Journalism and in part by his priesthood — was that Catholic media should tell every story, tell it honestly, and tell it with compassion. And he showed us all how to be Catholic, how to live out our faith every day in all we do, with everyone whose life touched ours.

When we worked for him in the mid-1970s we expected the monsignor to one day be named an auxiliary bishop. Instead he went right to archbishop; Pope John Paul II chose him to head the Vatican’s communication efforts. He became a cardinal in 2009.

I’d left Philadelphia in 1977, but through the years we’d see each other at Catholic Press Association conventions and correspond occasionally. He always helped me better understand the church and my faith. All his letters — every one — included “give my love to Barbara and the children,” never forgetting my wife and that he’d baptized two of our four.

When I think back I appreciate that he taught me the valuable lesson of having a reason for whatever I was doing. But even better, he showed me how to love the church, warts and all. The bureaucracy frustrated him and the politics drove him crazy, yet I don’t know how many times I heard him say, “I’ve never had an unhappy day as a priest.” It was a sentence he repeated last year when he came to the Twin Cities to help The Catholic Spirit celebrate its 100th anniversary.

He wowed ’em in Minneapolis

I thought the cardinal would be a big-name draw for our centennial celebration, so about a year in advance I invited him to be our keynote speaker in January 2011. Needless to say he was a hit. He had several hundred people laughing aloud as he quipped with his host, Archbishop John Nienstedt, and told anecdotes from his years in the Catholic news ministry.

It was only after he left town that I was told he had leukemia but didn’t want me to know it.

Once he was diagnosed with that cancerous blood disease he had cleared his calendar for two events: the 2011 Catholic Media Convention in Pittsburgh and the 100th anniversary celebration of The Catholic Spirit in the Twin Cities. I can’t describe them, so you’ll have to imagine my feelings upon hearing that our friendship meant that much to him that he would honor his commitment to me knowing that he hadn’t long to live.

Thank God he made it to Pittsburgh last June.  He was the keynote speaker there, too, and as we sat down for the centennial dinner I was asked to introduce the cardinal.

I wasn’t expecting that, but frankly it wasn’t difficult. I’d watched Foley through the years, and he was a master at self-effacing stories, at working an audience, at getting a message across clearly yet quickly.

The hard part, the lump-in-the-throat part, was finishing up the introduction by telling him — in front of several hundred people who work in Catholic media around North America — how much he meant to me. And how much I loved him.

Requiesat in pace, good and faithful servant.



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Young Swiss Guard shares lessons he learned from John Paul II that helped him succeed in business

October 14, 2011


Ever since Tom Peters’ “In Search of Excellence” turned business improvement into a hot booksellers category, the printing presses have been revolving in earnest, pumping out titles to capture that audience of eager leaders and managers.

There have been a handful of valuable books as a result, works like “Good to Great,” “The Tipping Point,” “Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive” and “Made to Stick,” to name just a few.

A former Swiss Guard who has gone on to success in international business might not be the first person you’d think of to jump into this authorship arena, especially when he’s saying he learned how to succeed in business by observing Pope John Paul II.

“The Pope & The CEO” (Emmaus Road Publishing) isn’t the first business book to bring ethics into the conversation, nor is it the first to pull lessons from religion. But this one is done very, very well. It’s tasteful, it’s respectful, and most of all the lessons that Andreas Widmer shares are valuable.

This isn’t a Pollyanna piece. Widmer, a Swiss native who studied in both Europe and the United States and who has worked on five continents, has seen both success and disappointment in his business activity since leaving the ranks of the pope’s protectors. In his 20-plus years of leading technology firms with a global reach, though, he found that John Paul II was quite the role model for business leaders.

Those attributes that Widmer gleaned while standing guard in colorful garb at the Vatican he turns into lessons that will help every leader in every organization. And what makes this book such good reading is that the advice is peppered with anecdotes from the author’s time in the presence of the Holy Father that were those “teachable moments” that made a lasting impression on an impressionable young Andreas Widmer.

He writes about being true to one’s calling, knowing and doing what’s right, having a vision, about teamwork, humility, the power of prayer and more, and each chapter ends with a handful of questions for readers to ponder. Here are just a few examples:

  • What have been your greatest professional successes? What did you gain? What did it cost you? How did it change you?
  • Who was the best manager you ever had? Describe what made this leader great? Did this person lead as a coach or a critic? How did he or she bring out the best in you as an employee?
And Widmer’s Catholic faith — thanks to the example displayed by John Paul II — is an influence on literally every word.
“John Paul’s influence made me understand that business and faith go together — they are not opposed to each other,” he writes. “Business can be wonderful school of virtue and faith. What’s more, faith and virtue make a business and the economy truly prosperous.”
Readers will find practical advice throughout the 150 or so pages of this paperback.
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7 Tips for a Deeper Prayer Life from a Former Swiss Guard

October 14, 2011

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Andreas Widmer, now involved in global international business, learned as he observed Pope John Paul II during the two years he served as a Swiss Guard at the Vatican. In “The Pope & The CEO,” he offers practical tips for prayer. Here is an abbreviated version:

1. Be aware. Before you pray, focus on the fact that God is present and listening.

2. Slow down. When reading the Scriptures or other religious writing, don’t race from passage to passage. Treat the reading like a love letter from God. Savor the text, and ask God to help you understand the connection between the words on the page and the circumstances in your life and heart.

3. Praise always. Don’t take God’s goodness or love for granted. Thank him by acknowledging all that he is and all he’s done for you.

4. Tell him you’re sorry. You don’t have to wait for confession to examine your conscience. Make a habit of doing this nightly. Then express contrition to God and ask for the grace to do better the next day.

5. Be attentive. Listen for God’s voice in your soul.

6. Plan for prayer. Don’t let a day go by without making time for God. Schedule a daily appointment with God and never miss it. Cultivate a rhythm of prayer throughout the day. Before beginning difficult tasks, pray “Lord, come to my assistance.”

7. Pray in all things. Make your life a prayer by making a gift of yourself. Every time you make a sacrifice great or small, say silently, “Lord, I give this to you.”

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Which Marian apparitions are approved and is devotion required?

September 16, 2011


Statue of Mary

CNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz

I recently visited the site of the first Marian apparitions to receive episcopal approval in the United States: Our Lady of Good Help near Green Bay, Wis. In 1859, the Blessed Mother appeared three times to a young Belgian immigrant woman and told her to catechize the children in the area. There are some amazing stories associated with Our Lady’s appearance to Adele Brise, especially related to the devastating Peshtigo Fire of 1871.

Even though this story is interesting and the bishop of Green Bay approved these apparitions last December, does that mean they’re formally approved by the Church? Are Catholics required to believe in them?  How many other apparition sites have received formal approval?

If the local bishop permits devotion inspired by the apparition, based on an initial assessment, that permission isn’t the same as formal approval, which recognizes the apparition as being supernatural in origin. Formal approval may not happen for years or even centuries.

Do we have to believe?

All apparitions are considered private revelation because public revelation ended with the Apostles’ deaths (when the New Testament was completed). According to the Catechism,  private revelation doesn’t improve or complete Christ’s definitive Revelation, but it helps us live more fully by it in a certain period of history. (CCC 67)   The Church will confirm an apparition as worthy of belief as a private revelation but Catholics aren’t required to believe it.

Marian experts have estimated that as many as 21,000 Marian apparitions have been reported since the year 1000.  The Holy See has formally approved the apparitions at 12 sites out of 295 it has studied, according to Father Salvatore Perrella, O.S.M., an expert in dogma and Mariology from the Marianum Pontifical Institute in Rome.

Some Vatican-approved apparition sites:

  • Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico
  • Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal (Rue du Bac, Paris, France)
  • Our Lady of La Salette, France
  • Our Lady of Lourdes, France
  • Our Lady of Pontmain, France
  • Our Lady of Fatima, Portugal
  • Our Lady of Akita, Japan

A site that’s drawn millions of pilgrims but is not on the “approved” list is Medjugorje, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Investigation of this site is ongoing.

So why should we pay attention to apparitions when there are so many and it’s not always clear if the Church has approved them?

Maybe because they can point us toward heaven. Father Perrella said the Church-approved apparitions manifest Mary’s evangelical mission throughout the history of the Church, which has been to show the way to the Father’s house through faith in Christ.

I didn’t go to the shrine of Our Lady of Good Help because I’m especially intrigued by supernatural phenomena. I just thought that anywhere Our Lady had appeared would be a good place to seek the Lord, bring petitions and pray. What I found at the shrine was peace and a real sense of God’s presence.

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For sale: Car, lightly used by pope and astronauts

August 4, 2011


Photo courtesy of Bonhams

In the market for a new car?

If so, and you have a lot of money to spend, you might consider buying this limo that was used by Pope Paul VI and some Apollo astronauts.

Bonhams, which describes itself as “one of the world’s oldest and largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques,” describes the car — to be auctioned Aug. 19 in Carmel, Calif., this way:

The 1964 Lincoln Continental Limousine was built at the special request of the Vatican to Ford Motor Company to convey Pope Paul VI through New York to address the United Nations on World Peace. It was rushed to completion in a span of less than two weeks from receipt of the request to delivery of the finished parade car to New York on October 5, 1965.

The wheelbase is stretched to a massive 160″ with an overall length of nearly 21 feet. Exterior step plates and handrails for security, additional interior seating for aides and prelates, a raised seat for the Pontiff, extra interior lighting, public address system, auxiliary power from a bank of seven batteries were only a few of the many detail changes.

The most visible attribute is the removable roof section, transparent rear landaulet roof and roof-mounted auxiliary windshield to protect the Pope and his entourage while allowing the thongs of spectators that lined the parade route to see the Pontiff.

After the Papal visit the Lincoln was loaned to the city of Chicago — after removal of the bubble top, Papal chair and associated internal fittings — where it served as a parade car and courtesy vehicle for visiting dignitaries.

In 1968 the Vatican remembered its performance and once again called upon Ford to use it for another Papal visit, this time to Bogotá, Colombia for the 39th Eucharistic Congress.  The task was complicated by Bogotá’s altitude, 8,600 feet above sea level, which required extensive engine modifications, aviation gasoline from the Colombian Air Force and a comprehensive kit of tools and spare parts.

On December 27, 1968 the Apollo 8 mission, the first manned space flight to orbit the moon, splashed down in the Pacific. Its astronauts, mission Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot James Lovell and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders were fêted with a tickertape parade through Chicago. They rode in this Lehmann-Peterson Lincoln Continental, as would the Apollo 11 (Armstrong, Collins and Aldrin), 13 (Lovell, Mattingly, Haise) and 15 (Scott, Worden, Irwin) astronauts as well.

It has been carefully maintained in completely original and well preserved condition as it was taken out of public service in the early 70’s.

The 1964 Lincoln Continental Parade Limousine has a marvelous history intricately entwined with some of the most memorable events of the Sixties and early Seventies, the Apollo space program and Pope Paul VI’s outreach to world leaders and citizens with his message of peace and understanding.

Its equipment includes the auxiliary power, climate control systems and dual rear-facing auxiliary seats added for the Bogotá, Colombia Papal excursion. It has enjoyed both special care and attention during its period as a Ford Motor Company special use vehicle and subsequently in collections that have appreciated and honored its special status and the important personages who have been favored to ride in it.

Its 21-foot long presence is imposing, as it should be for its history and importance, a reflection of the gravity of the accomplishments of its passengers.

So, who do you think should buy this? And, how much do you think it will go for?

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