In the 2150s, earth doesn’t look very good. People on earth are stacked on top of each other (worse than today’s skyscrapers and dense cities). Greenspace? Virtually nonexistent. Pollution, a police state and policies keep the underdog under foot.
But if you are among the planet’s upper crust, you can live off-planet on Elysium, a space station, where all is beautiful and everyone is healthy, thanks to the “medbay” in every home that diagnoses and cures all maladies within moments. As Garrison Keillor might say, “Where the women are strong, the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”
Such is the premise of “Elysium,” in theaters today.
Moura (left) and Matt Damon in Columbia Pictures' ELYSIUM. (© 2011 Columbia
TriStar Marketing Group, Inc. All rights reserved.)
From this dystopia emerges a savior, Max (Matt Damon), who is told as a young boy by a wonderful, compassionate nun (played by Yolanda Abbud L.) at an orphanage that he is born to do something great.
He longs for Elysium, a wheel in orbit around earth that is visible to the naked eye from the scorched planet’s surface.
Pictures’ ELYSIUM. (© 2012 Columbia TriStar Marketing Group, Inc.All rights
Years later, Max is an ex-felon factory worker, ironically helping to manufacture the police robots that herd and harm the people.
Max gets blasted with a lethal dose (a “maximum” dose) of radiation at the factory, and is given a bottle of pills by a robotic medic and sent home with five days to live.
Elysium is science fiction, but it’s also a political allegory. As 2004’s “The Day After Tomorrow” was an unabashed portrayal of the dangers of global warming, “Elysium” clearly highlights immigration concerns and the lack of universal health care. It’s no coincidence that most of the earth-bound residents of Los Angeles who seek the ability to migrate to the space station are Hispanic. Even the terminology is clear: the shuttles the earthlings use to attempt to go to Elysium are called “undocumented ships.” It couldn’t be more obvious than that.
The science in “Elysium” is probably as accurate as in “The Day After Tomorrow,” which is to say, not very. In 2008, Yahoo! Movies listed the climate change diatribe as one of the “Top 10 Scientifically Inaccurate Movies.” Certainly, we can expect advances in medical technology in 150 years, but it’s unlikely that we will achieve the kind of progress Elysium depicts. Cranial reconstruction? It might take a few minutes, but sure, we’ve got that.
The grotesque violence in this film is predictable. Think “Mad Max Beyond the Atmosphere” for a new take on the apocalyptic “Mad Max” movies featuring a young Mel Gibson. For the most part, people left behind aren’t very nice to each other.
In Ancient Greek folklore, Elysium, or the Elysian Fields, was a concept of the afterlife where “admission was initially reserved for mortals related to the gods and other heroes. Later, it expanded to include those chosen by the gods, the righteous, and the heroic, where they would remain after death, to live a blessed and happy life, and indulging in whatever employment they had enjoyed in life,” according to Wikipedia.
The 22nd-century Elysium is similar, except these privileged few aren’t dead. They have beautiful homes, free medical care and room to breathe.
What they don’t have is utopia. We note that in both cases where an undocumented mother makes it to the space station to ensure her child a chance at medbay miracles, they have to break a window to open the door. If life on Elysium were perfect, who would need to lock their doors?
The church supports sound immigration policies and universal health care (as long as it promotes life rather than diminishes it), so this might be a movie about which Catholics have a lot to say.
But my favorite takeaway from the film was the nun. A century and a half from now, I believe there will be Catholic sisters (still wearing a veil and habit) who will carry on the good work of Jesus, as depicted not on the space station but on the dirt-poor planet below. I believe those in church ministry will care for the sick and orphaned. I hope they will all be as kind as that sister, who spoke lovingly and sweetly to a young, lonely boy, and inspired him to be a savior.
August 09, 2013 05:37
By Christopher Gunty
If you plan to see the Superman reboot, “Man of Steel,”
released today, bring earplugs. But also bring your New Testament.
You know the Superman story. From TV’s George Reeves and Tom
Welling to the big screen’s Christopher Reeve, Dean Cain, Brandon Routh and now
Henry Cavill, it’s a timeless tale of a boy whose parents die in a tragic
accident (in this case, their planet is destroyed) and then is adopted by a
couple who show him love and affection, and teach him what it means to be part
of a family.
This latest edition has a lot of violence – hand-to-hand
combat, world destruction, that sort of thing. For a story about someone sent
to save the world, a lot of the planet gets battered and a lot of people die in
the attacks by the villain (General Zod, played by Michael Shannon) and his
The movie also has its share of Christian allegory and
family values. It’s also a good look at parents, and especially a boy’s
relationship with his father as he becomes a man.
(CNS photo/Warner Bros.)
Under the direction of Zack Snyder, “Man of Steel” takes a
new look at the backstory of Kal-El/Clark Kent/Superman. A veritable assault on
the senses, with loud explosions, imagery that encompasses the viewer and even
seat-rumbling bass tones, it can be overwhelming. Add the 3D option, and you
could be on sensory overload.
As Clark begins to use his superhuman powers, it attracts
the attention of the world, specifically Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane. In
the newsroom, someone asks, “He’s 33 years old. Why don’t we know anything
Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is the Doubting Thomas in this tale. She sees, but
– at least at first – she does not believe the strength and goodness Kal-El
She asks him what the “S” on his outfit stands for. He tells
her it’s not an S, that on his planet, it is a symbol for hope (it’s also his
“family crest”). Hmmm, a man who symbolizes hope, coming to save the world.
Via Kryptonian technology, his father is able to teach him
about their planet, telling Kal that he can be “a force for good; that’s what
you can bring them.”
Jor-El (Russell Crowe) also tells him: “You will give the people an ideal to
strive toward. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall.
But in time, they will join you in the sun. In time, you will help them
accomplish wonders.” Perhaps he means, “… they will join you in the Son.”
Kal-El experiences the angst of knowing that he has been
given great skills and great responsibility. He faces the epitome of evil in
General Zod, and must battle Zod (Could it be Satan?) for the fate of humanity.
As we celebrate Father's Day, “Man of Steel” also takes a
good look at the role of fathers in shaping their sons. Jor-El gives Kal
everthing he can, and sends him away, in order to save him. Jonathan Kent
(Kevin Costner) adopts him and teaches him how to deal with his abundant talents.
Jonathan tells him: “You're not just anyone. One day, you're
going to have to make a choice. You have to decide what kind of man you want to
grow up to be. Whoever that man is, good character or bad, it's going to change
the world.” He senses – and trusts – that Clark will make the right choice.
If you see “Man of Steel,” look for the Christian imagery
and values behind the CGI landscapes and special effects. Decide if you think
Kal-El/Clark Kent made the right choice, and think about how he was inspired to
become who he is.
Movie Review: Man of Steel
June 17, 2013 11:34
By Christopher Gunty
If you’re planning to get up early to watch the Mass of
Inauguration for the Bishop of Rome’s Petrine Ministry for Pope Francis, you’ll
want to be prepared to make the most of it.
The Mass begins at 9:30 a.m. Rome time (4:30 a.m. EDT). That’s
plenty early enough, but if you want to see the pope circling the Piazza San
Pietro in the popemobile before the Mass, you’ll have to set your alarm for
even earlier. The pope is expected to come out around 8:45 or 8:50 a.m. Rome
time (3:45 or 3:50 EDT). You can expect hundreds of thousands to attend the
outdoor Mass for the first chance to see the pope in this setting. The whole
square will be filled, as well as most of the Via della Conciliazione, all the
way down to the river and Castel Sant’Angelo.
According to the Vatican Information Service (all times
local, EDT in brackets) “Between 8:45 and 8:50am [3:45-3:50 am] the pope will depart
the Domus Sanctae Marthae and start to move through the crowd in the various
sections of the piazza – either in the Jeep or the Popemobile – and greet those
gathered. He will return to the sacristy, via the Pietà side, around 9:15am
[4:15 am]. Mass is planned to begin at 9:30am [4:30 am].
“Regarding the beginning of the ceremony, the pope, once
having entered the Basilica, will head to the Confession (St. Peter’s tomb
under the high altar) while trumpets will announce the ‘Tu es Petrus’ [‘You Are
Peter’]. The Pope will venerate the tomb of St. Peter, together with the
Patriarchs and Major Archbishops of the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches (10 in number,
four of whom are cardinals). He will then be presented with the Pallium, Ring,
and Book of the Gospels that were placed at St. Peter’s tomb the night before.
“The Holy Father will then come back up from the Confession
to the main floor of the Basilica, from which the procession continues. The ‘Laudes
Regiae’ (Christ is King) will be chanted, with some invocations taken from the
Vatican II document on the Church, ‘Lumen Gentium.’ In the Litany of Saints are
particularly to be noted, after the Apostles, the Holy Roman Pontiffs who have
been canonized up to the most recent: St. Pius X. Fr. Lombardi clarified that
these are only the pontiffs who have been named as saints, not those who have
been beatified. The procession will then make its entrance into the square.”
Many news channels will carry the Mass live, as will EWTN. If
your cable or satellite system does not provide a channel carrying the Mass,
you can go directly to a live feed from the Centro
at which you can select audio_eng (other other
language) from the drop-down box at the lower right for an audio commentary in
your preferred language. If that link doesn’t work for you, choose
your download speed and format here
It will be helpful to follow along with the Mass, which is
expected to last about two hours (as you’re getting ready for work and/or
getting the kids off to school). You can download
the official Mass book
produced by the Vatican to assist you with this.
Most of the Mass will be in Latin, but the book includes translations
in English and Italian, which is very helpful.
VIS notes that before the Mass begins, there will be some
specific rites to the beginning of the Petrine Ministry. This follows the
practice begun recently by Benedict XVI in which rituals which are not strictly
part of the Mass are done in a liturgical context but outside the Mass. The elevation
of cardinals and the conferral of palliums on new archbishops are two such
“The Imposition of
the Pallium: Made of lamb’s wool and sheep’s wool, the Pallium is placed on
the Pope's shoulders recalling the Good Shepherd who carries the lost sheep on
his shoulders. The Pope’s Pallium has five red crosses while the Metropolitans’
Palliums [such as that worn by Archbishop William E. Lori] have five black
crosses. The one used by Francis is the same one that Benedict XVI used.
Ring: Peter is the fisherman Apostle, called to be a ‘fisher of men.’ … It
bears the image of St. Peter with the keys. It was designed by Enrico Manfrini.
The ring was in the possession of Archbishop Macchi, Pope Paul VI's personal
secretary, and then Msgr. Malnati, who proposed it to Pope Francis through
Cardinal Re. It is made of silver and gold.
Six cardinals, two from each order [cardinal bishop, cardinal priest and
cardinal deacon], among the first of those present approach the Pope to make an
act of obedience. Note that all the cardinal electors already made an act of
obedience in the Sistine Chapel at the end of the Conclave and that all the
cardinals were able to meet the Pope in the following day’s audience in the
Clementine Hall. Also, at the moment of ‘taking possession’ of the Cathedral of
Rome – St. John Lateran – it is expected that the act of obedience will be made
by representatives of the various members of the People of God.
In a news conference, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director
of the Press Office of the Holy See, noted that the Mass will be the one for
the Solemnity of St. Joseph, which has its own readings (therefore they are not
directly related to the rite of the Inauguration of the Pontificate). The
Gospel will be proclaimed in Greek, as at the highest solemnities, to show that
the universal Church is made up of the great traditions of the East and the
West. “Latin,” Fr. Lombardi said, “is already abundantly present in the other
prayers and Mass parts.”
“The Pope will give his homily in Italian and, as is his
style, it probably will not follow the written text strictly, but will contain
improvisations,” Father Lombardi noted.
Even if you have to stay here, you can be part of the
historic events unfolding in Rome. You just won’t be able to get my favorite Roman gelato
March 18, 2013 03:28
By Christopher Gunty
UPDATED March 19
Though no pope had ever taken that name before, it was in my list as a possibility.
It could signal, as I noted, that Pope Francis may, like Francis of Assisi, "rebuild my church." It could also be a reflection of Cardinal Bergoglio's humble manner. He is reported to ride the bus, live in a simple apartment and cook his own meals, He is known by many in his archdiocese of Buenos Aires as "Father Jorge.
It would seem obvious that his days of riding the bus are over. Many are not safe from pickpockets and other dangers on Rome's #62 bus that passes by St. Peter's.
to read about Pope Francis' reasoning behind choosing St. Francis of Assisi's name. We will certainly learn more about the new pope in the coming days and weeks.
Welcome, Pope Francis.
At a Vatican news conference this morning, Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, the director of Toronto-based Salt + Light TV who is assisting the Vatican press office with English- and French-speaking journalists, noted that there is no way to know the new papal name until he is elected and makes his choice. The new pope does not have to explain why he chose the name, though Benedict XVI did so.
The first pope to change his name appears to be John II, whose birth name was Mercurius. He apparently decided that having the name of a pagan god was not good form for a pope. Most popes since then have taken a new name – either of a saint or a previous pope (sometimes both).
The most common papal name is John, with 23 iterations of that already (and the “September Pope,” John Paul I, honored his predecessors John XXIII and Paul VI, and John Paul II honored all three of his predecessors by taking the same name). Benedict and Gregory come in tied for second with 16 each.
Without taking into account every papal name that has been used, here is a list compiled in the last couple of weeks of the possible names for the new pope. Along with the name are some comments on the likelihood of that choice.
· Benedict XVII: Possible, if the new pontiff wants to honor both his immediate predecessor and St. Benedict. Unlikely, though, because we would have two living Pope Benedicts (one retired, one active) and both the new pope and emeritus pope will want to eliminate any confusion.
· John Paul III: Perhaps not likely, while we await a second miracle for the canonization of Blessed John Paul; he may wish for his name to not interfere with people’s memory of John Paul II’s long and prolific pontificate, which some people contend will one day result in Blessed John Paul being known as “St. John Paul the Great.”
· Paul VII: High possibility, as it would pay tribute to the pontiff who concluded the Second Vatican Council and implemented changes in the liturgy, and honor the Apostle Paul.
· John XXIV: Pays tribute to Blessed John XXIII, who convened Vatican II, and as noted, is the most common papal name.
· Pius XIII: Less likely while the debate continues to rage over Pius XII’s role during World War II. If Pius XII is eventually canonized, that might clear the way for the name to be used again, but now might be untimely. By the way, the Irish betting site Paddy Power currently has Leo at 6/5 odds of being selected. (However, it’s not worth putting a lot of stock in that, necessarily, since the site also lists Peter at 9/2 odds; by tradition, out of respect for their historic role, no other pope has taken the name Peter or Linus, the first two popes.)
· Leo XIV: A good chance for this one. Author and Vaticanista George Weigel notes that the reforms we are currently experiencing in the church did not begin with Vatican II, but with the papacy of Leo XIII in the late 19th century. If the new pope wants to allude to Leo’s charism of change and Catholic social teaching, he could choose to honor him by taking his name.
· Gregory XVII: Second most common papal name, and lots of reasons to choose it.
· Clement XV: (see also, O’Malley note, below)
· Innocent XIV: (unlikely; in these days with the sexual abuse crisis, etc., the name Innocent might be mocked by many in the media and in the streets)
· Alexander VIII: Low likelihood. Alexander VII commission St. Peter’s Square (a plus), but Alexander VI had a great-great-great grandson who became pope (Innocent X) and that could call attention to past concerns about the papal families in the Middle Ages.
· Urban IX: Not likely, as this would recall the pope who began the trial of Galileo Galilei, whose persecution by the church was later renounced.
· Marcellus III: Low possibility. The popes named Marcellinus and Marcellus reigned a long time ago; Marcellus II was the last to use his birth name (Marcello) as his papal name.
· Julius IV: This line includes a saint (Julius I) but last Julius was in the 1500s. A long shot.
· Adrian/Hadrian VII: Boosting the odds, Adrian VI was the last non-Italian to be named pope before John Paul II (Karol Wojtyla of Poland), so a non-Italian pope might choose this. Deflating the odds: There is a stage play called “Hadrian VII,” which is about a man who converts to Catholicism, ordained a priest and by a fluke is elected pope. A new pope might not want to encourage comparisons to the fictional Hadrian.
· Martin VI: The last Pope Martin was in the 15th century, but a pope from Latin America might choose this name, partly to honor St. Marin de Porres, who was born and ministered in Peru.
· Boniface X: Low likelihood, but Bonifance IV was a Benedictine and was canonized.
· Celestine VI: this choice could honor Celestine V, who resigned the papacy, and so in some way honor Benedict XVI, who may have telegraphed his intention to resign if he determined it wise by leaving his pallium at Celestine’s tomb on a visit to L’Aquila in 2009.
· Joseph I: Unusual, because it hasn’t been done before, but it has a good chance for a few reasons. If the new pope wants to pay tribute to Benedict XVI/Joseph Ratzinger, but doesn’t want to take the name Benedict, he could be the first Pope Joseph. This could also honor St. Joseph, Universal patron of the church, and it is possible the new pope could be installed on his feast, March 19.
· Francis I: If the new pope wants to send a message that he plans to “rebuild my church,” as Christ said when the crucifix spoke to St. Francis of Assisi, this could be a possibility. It, too, would be unusual since there has been no Pope Francis before now, although four Franciscans have become pope. If the conclave confirms the buzz in Rome in the last few weeks about Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston and elects him, he might choose Francis to honor the founder of his religious order.
· Three more names come to mind if it’s Cardinal O’Malley or another who wants to honor Francis and the Franciscans: Clement XV, Sixtus VI (there have been two Franciscan popes named Sixtus) and Nicholas VI.
My bet: Leo XIV. Second choice: Joseph I.
March 13, 2013 05:49
By Christopher Gunty
Like most Catholic journalists, I’ve been doing as much
reading as possible about the church and the papal transition since Pope
Benedict XVI announced Feb. 11 he would renounce the papacy at the end of
February. I’ve been through four papal transitions in my life (but only one while
working for the Catholic press), so I was eager and curious to know as much as
Having been to Rome about a dozen times over the years, I
know where things are and how they work (or don’t work) at the Vatican. I was in
Poland when Pope John Paul II was buried and watched his funeral broadcast live
for tens of thousands of people in Warsaw’s Pilsudski Square, but I’ve never
been in Rome during a papal funeral or conclave.
In the last few weeks, I’ve been soaking up all I can about
the conclave and the cardinals who might be elected pope. In addition to everything Catholic News Service and our own
staff has reported about the reaction to the pope’s resignation, sources of
info on the process abound.
A great, quick resource, has been “Conclave: Step by Step
through the Papal Interregnum,” a basic outline prepared by Monsignor Charles
Burns, O.B.E., Residential Canon of St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican and Ecclesiastical
Adviser at the British Embassy to the Holy See. The
37-page PDF file is available on the internet.
“Selecting the Pope: Uncovering the Mysteries of Papal
Elections,” by Greg Tobin has much the same information as Msgr. Burns’
pamphlet, but in book form. The copy I have is from 2003, while John Paul was
still pope, in advance of the transition from his papacy to the next. Tobin
updated it in 2009
, during Benedict’s papacy.
It’s been fun, too, re-reading through “If I Were Pope,” a
collection of 40-plus essays compiled and edited in 1987 by Sinsinawa Dominican
Sister Candida Lund. One of the contributors was my journalism professor in
college, and several are Catholic journalists with whom I have worked over the
years, including two who were at one time or another editor of the Catholic
Review. My favorite line comes from the first essay, by Walter F. Murphy: “My
first action after becoming pope would be to immerse myself in a lengthy
retreat, complete with much prayer and some fasting, in an effort to regain
faith in the Holy Spirit for making such an unwise choice or in the church for
misreading the Spirit’s message.”
John Thavis’ “Vatican Diaries: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at
the Power, Personalities and Politics at the Heart of the Catholic Church” had a
story about the bell-ringer
who was supposed to set the large bell at St.
Peter’s Square in motion in 2005 when Pope Benedict was elected. The word to
ring the bell finally came about 10 minutes after the white smoke came from the
Sistine Chapel chimney.
Thavis’ book, written from 30 years’ experience covering the
Vatican, mostly as Rome bureau chief with CNS, has gotten quite a boost from
the timing of the conclave. When the pope resigned, his publisher pushed up the
release date for “Vatican
and Thavis has been in Rome, blogging and being interviewed on TV
news all over.
Another book that got a boost from the timing of the papal
transition is that of Marylander and Catholic Review columnist George Weigel. “Evangelical
Catholicism: Deep reform in the 21st-Century Church,”
makes the case that the
next pope needs to engender radical change in the church, in order to set
people on fire for the faith and gather more souls to Christ. The book is
ranked in the top 250 on Amazon.
Weigel is a commentator during the transition for NBC and
MSNBC and has been interviewed by dozens of news organizations.
I’ve read bloggers and pundits and tons of news sources, secular
and Catholic. I’m watching the cardinals take the oath of secrecy in the
Sistine Chapel live via Centro
as I write this.
Predictions abound about who the front-runner is as the
cardinals enter the conclave. Names are bandied about and favorites change
And none of it amounts to a hill of beans. What matters is
what is in the minds and hearts of the 115 cardinal electors as they listen to
the breath of the Holy Spirit and elect the next pope.
In a few moments, the doors to the chapel will be closed and
the conclave (from the Latin “cum clave” – with a key) will begin. I expect
that we will see white smoke in a day or two.
And then, more research will begin: Who is this man who will
be our Holy Father? Where did he come from? What will be his priorities? How
will he energize and evangelize the 1.2 billion Catholics around the world and
all who seek the Lord?
It’s a fun time to be working behind the headlines.
March 12, 2013 12:26
By Christopher Gunty
During this penitential season of Lent, it was refreshing to
receive this vignette from my oldest brother, about our maternal grandmother
and her experience of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, known in her day simply
as “Penance” or “Confession.”
Granny Kohs told my brother this story once she found
out he was studying German. Our ancesters had all come from Germany, at some
point or another. Granny Kohs was second-generation American, but she still
spoke German. As my brother notes, “Imagine it told with a twinkle in her eye and
a small chuckle in her voice.” That’s the way I remember a lot of my
conversations with Granny, who in her later years lived close enough to our
home for me to ride my bike to her apartment.
“When we were little
and we told my father that we had gone to confession at school today, he would
ask ‘What did you tell the priest? I bet you told him:
“ ‘Ich habe geliegen,
“ ‘Ich habe gestohlen,
“ ‘Ich habe die Katz
beim Schwanz gezogen.’
[Which has a sort of
rhyme to it, in German, and essentially translates to “I lied, I stole, and I
pulled the cat’s tail.”]
“ ‘No, we didn’t tell
him that,’ I would say. But we would never tell my dad what we really told the
priest because that was a secret, you know.”
And of course, Granny was right, what you tell the priest in
confession is a secret.
This Lent, as in past years, parishes in the Archdiocese of
Baltimore are offering many opportunities to take advantage of the sacrament of
reconciliation during Lent. In addition to special penance services, the
sacrament is available in every parish in the archdiocese Wednesday evenings,
7-8:30 p.m., Feb. 20-March 20.
As a special Web page for “The Light is On” campaign notes, “By
participating in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, whether our first time in days,
weeks, months or years, we are experiencing God’s individual and unwavering
love for us and one of the true graces made available to us by our Catholic
faith. God loves us just the way we are, but he loves us too much to leave us
Participating in the sacrament is confidential, and can provide
great grace. Take some time today, or any other Wednesday in Lent, to
participate in this sacrament and lay down your burdens before the Lord – even
if you didn’t lie, steal, or pull the cat’s tail.
March 01, 2013 03:55
By Christopher Gunty
In 1988, a group of about two dozen young Catholic journalists joined the first of what would become nearly annual “summer universities” sponsored by the International Network of Young Journalists, which was part of the International Catholic Union of the Press (known by its French initials UCIP). Bringing people from all parts of the world, except Western Europe, the journalists studied faith, history, culture, media and society in the context of Western Europe. Subsequent summer universities were held in other parts of the world. “Young journalists,” by church standards, were under age 35.
Yes, that was quite a few years ago, and I have outgrown the “young” tag. But as one of two members of the class from the United States, it gave me a chance to better understand how the church and its history are woven into everyday life.
Various guest professors from all different areas of expertise taught a day at a time for four weeks, at venues in Switzerland, France and Rome. In France, the head of the largest Catholic publishing house talked about the impact of Catholic publications in a “majority Catholic” country where fewer and fewer people practiced the faith. In Rome, the UCIP group got a private tour of the Vatican Museums, arriving in the Sistine Chapel during the ceiling’s restoration, arriving after hours, with no other museum visitors present.
One of the professors while the group was in session at the Gregorian University in Rome was a certain Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who at the time was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He was also working on a little project: as president of the Preparatory Commission for the Catechism of the Catholic Church, he coordinated the six years of work (1986-1992) that culminated in presentation of the new Catechism to the Pope John Paul II. Little did our group know that we had spent a day with the future pope. He was knowledgeable and seemed friendly, and open to our questions. It was an academic setting, and he was comfortable there, as he is first and foremost a theologian and teacher.
At the time of his election as pope, a bishop who had visited the Vatican many times in roles at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and as a diocesan bishop, wrote that of all the people he had encountered, Cardinal Ratzinger was the smartest man in the church, and possibly the smartest man he had ever met.
Over time, Cardinal Ratzinger had gotten the reputation as “the pope’s Doberman,” known for stern discipline of faith and practice. And when he was elected pope, many expected the same kind of continuation of his ministry. It was not the case.
As John Thavis writes in a just-released book, “The Vatican Diaries
,” the pope immediately shed the image as the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog. “Benedict had made it clear that he had a different agenda as pope, telling one aide, ‘It was easy to teach the doctrine. Helping a billion people live it is quite another thing.’”
Joseph Ratzinger, academic, became Benedict XVI, pastor. He never stopped preaching the Good News.
In a 2009 letter to the world’s bishops, he reflected on his main mission as the successor of Peter: “In our days, when in vast areas of the world the faith is in danger of dying out like a flame which no longer has fuel, the overriding priority is to make God present in this world and to show men and women the way to God.”
But he did not always light the crowds on fire. Perhaps it was his in his genes.
On a visit to Bavaria, in his homeland of Germany in 2006, one of the first public events of the week was an open-air Mass in Munich, at an airfield converted to a major gathering venue. As Benedict arrived by limousine and popemobile, the crowds cheered a bit when they saw him on-screen or when the popemobile passed their seating area. But this was not the sustained applause and adulation that often accompanied the arrival of John Paul II on his visits abroad.
Pope Benedict XVI is welcomed by children wearing traditional Bavarian outfits
as Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, and Bavarian Minister-President Edmund
Stoiber look on at Munich's Franz Joseph Strauss International Airport Sept. 9, 2006.
(CNS photo/Maurizio Brambatti, Pool via Reuters)
Encountering a nun carrying a sign proclaiming, “Benedict, We Love You,” two reporters from the US asked her about the phenomenon. Why was his reception so different from his predecessor? The Irish sister, who had served in more than 250 countries in mission work, said simply, “They’re Germans, dear. What did you expect?”
The German disposition aside, he did inspire. I had the opportunity to see this pope at several venues in Germany, at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., and several times in Rome. He always brought things back to faith in Jesus Christ, whether it was his writings, or in the beatification ceremony for Blessed John Paul II, or at Christmas Mass.
On Christmas Day 2011, speaking in Italian to crowds gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the Urbi et Orbi message “to the church and to the world,” Benedict noted that Jesus Christ is the proof that God has heard his people’s cry to “come and save us. … Let us turn our gaze anew to the grotto of Bethlehem. The Child whom we contemplate is our salvation! He has brought to the world a universal message of reconciliation and peace. Let us open our hearts to Him; let us receive Him into our lives.”
As Archbishop William E. Lori noted a few hours after the resignation was announced, “What shines through everything he writes about is the person of Christ. … He plucks Christ out of history and brings him to the present.”
On a personal note, I have this pope to thank for my marriage. While covering the papal visit to Germany in 2006, Ann Augherton, managing editor of the Arlington Catholic Herald
in northern Virginia, and I began dating. We were married in 2008, and in 2012, while we were in Rome with Archbishop Lori for the reception of his pallium, she got a chance to personally thank the pope
for his role in bringing us together. So while others talk about the pope’s legacy in terms of faith and hope, we will always look on his legacy with love.
For more articles relating to Pope Benedict XVI, click here.
February 11, 2013 05:30
By Christopher Gunty
Fifty years ago, when the Second Vatican Council was getting under way in Rome, the Rome office of the National Catholic Welfare Conference (predecessor of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/U.S. Catholic Conference, now the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops) set up briefings for American reporters covering the conference.
Among the priest-experts on the daily panel to brief the journalists was none other than a future cardinal-archbishop of Baltimore, Father William H. Keeler, who at the time was working in the tribunal in the Diocese of Harrisburg, Pa. Father Keeler, in his early 30s during the period of the council (1962-1965) was already an expert in theology and canon law. He had studied in Rome, receiving a doctorate in canon law in 1961. As secretary to Harrisburg Bishop George L. Leech, Father Keeler was appointed by Pope John XXIII as a “peritus,” or expert special adviser, during the council.
He also served on the staff of the Council Digest, a daily communication service sponsored by the United States bishops.
According to an “NC Daybook” report from Burke Walsh, assistant director of National Catholic News Service (predecessor to today’s Catholic News Service), the briefing panel included:
Fathers Francis J. Connell, C.Ss.R., of The Catholic University of America, whose field is theology; Francis J. McCool, S.J., of New York, professor at the Pontifical Biblical Institute of Rome, sacred Scripture; John B. Sheerin, C.S.P., of New York, editor of the Catholic World, ecumenical activity; Edward L. Heston, C.S.C., procurator general of the Holy Cross Fathers, canon law; William H. Keeler of the Harrisburg diocesan tribunal, theology and canon law; Frederick R. McManus of Boston and CUA, liturgy; Eugene H. Maly of Mount St. Mary Seminary of West Norwood, Ohio, sacred Scripture; Robert F. Trisco of Chicago and Catholic University, church history; and John P. McCormick, S.S., rector of the Sulpician seminary in Washington, dogmatic theology and liturgy.
The nine priests providing background to the reporters each day the council was in session answered questions and helped explain points about church terminology and practices, especially after the daily press bulletins were issued.
Canon law was not an immediate concern at the beginning of the council, then-Father Keeler may not have had as many questions to answer at the early briefings. According to the “NC Daybook” report from Rome about the institution of the daily briefings, “Since the first topic being considered by the council is the liturgy, newsmen centered on this subject at the meeting. Questions were directed chiefly at Fathers McManus, Connell, Heston and Sheerin.”
Among those priests, one other became a bishop, as Cardinal Keeler did. Father Heston eventually became an archbishop and president of the Pontifical Council of Social Communications.
Nowadays, Father Thomas Rosica, C.S.B, of Salt and Light Television in Canada, is coordinating news briefings for the English-speaking media covering the World Synod of Bishops meeting now in Rome to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II and to discuss the New Evangelism. Often, those providing the briefing are cardinals and bishops who are attending the synod. Additionally, Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., is writing a blog about the daily activities of the synod, providing immediate background information.
It’s good to know that while information from the synod in Rome comes much more immediately now, even 50 years ago, there were ways to find out what was happening behind the headlines.
October 22, 2012 02:43
By Christopher Gunty
The new boss stopped by the office yesterday.
As archbishop of
Baltimore, Archbishop William E. Lori is automatically chairman of the board of Catholic Review Media and publisher of the newspaper.
Getting this visit on the calendar was no easy task. His
days are all very full, with commitments in and around the archdiocese and
across the country. In June, he went to Rome to receive a special stole called
a pallium from Pope Benedict XVI. And he took some vacation time in July. In
the meantime, he also took part in the Knights of Columbus annual convention in
California and gave a homily at the Red Mass for lawyers and legislators in
In the diocesan publishing world, the most typical
organization is for the bishop to be publisher of the newspaper, delegating
day-to-day responsibility for content and business to an associate publisher or
editor and professional publishing staff.
The staff of Catholic Review Media – news, advertising,
graphics, business and printing – was grateful for the time the archbishop spent
with us Tuesday, congratulating the staff on honors received from regional and
national press associations, talking about his vision for the newspaper, how he
hopes to use his column to teach and how the Catholic Review can play a role in
promoting the Year of Faith and the New Evangelization.
Quite a few of our staff members have already met the archbishop
while covering events he has attended, interviewing him and taking pictures of events
at which he has been present. This visit gave the whole staff the opportunity
to hear from him.
We talked with Archbishop Lori about the results of our
strategic plan, unveiled in January with the launch of the redesign of our
flagship newspaper and our completely revamped website at
. We also discussed Review in the Pew, a new biweekly
newsletter that was part of our outreach plan. The newsletter debuted in April
in about a dozen pilot parishes, and will roll out to the whole archdiocese
Combined with our expanded e-newsletters, these diverse
products give us the opportunity to reach Catholics and others who are
interested in the news we offer at various times and in various situations. The
Catholic Review newspaper goes right to the homes of subscribers, Review in the
Pew gets in touch with people at weekend Masses, and the digital products reach
people “wherever your faith takes you.”
The archbishop got a tour of the website, including the "Archbishop Lori
" page under "Faith
" that includes all of the stories in which Archbishop Lori is a part, and a tour of the
building. He acknowledged the fine reputation the Catholic Review has among
peers and across the country. The archbishop added with a smile that among the
most important judges are his parents in Clarksville, Ind., especially his
mother who reads the newspaper cover to cover (not just news about her son),
and she thinks it’s great.
He said that upon his arrival at CR Media, he thought he was
coming to a car dealership, and that was a good perception, since our historic
building on Park Avenue has lived many lives over the years, including once
being a car dealership. Within the stairwell, you can still see the large
pulleys and gears that at one time helped transport the car elevator to bring
vehicles to the second and third floors.
He marveled at the busy newsroom and was impressed by the
shop of Catholic Printing Services, where presses were busy turning out
brochures. A book reprint sat ready to be bound, and the next issue of Review
in the Pew was on deck.
Archbishop Lori will be back in the coming months to chair
CR Media board meetings. And our reporters and photographer will see him
around. But in the meantime, we enjoyed the chance to welcome our new chairman
and publisher, and to show him a bit of what’s going on at our place “behind
August 29, 2012 05:06
By Christopher Gunty
The State of Maryland released a new report indicating that
infant mortality is on the decline. That’s good news, isn’t it?
According to reports in the Baltimore Sun and the Washington
Post, Governor Martin J. O’Malley and State Health Secretary Dr. Joshua
Sharfstein released some new, encouraging numbers that note that while there
are still disparities, especially between the city and other areas, and between
African-American communities and other communities, the overall rate of infant
death is coming down, which is a good sign for public health.
According to the state’s “Babies Born Healthy” website
“Infant mortality is one of the most critical indicators of the overall health
of a population. An infant death or pregnancy loss is a signal that there may
be problems within a community. Many factors such as family history, personal
health history, diet, environment, lifestyle, and poor access to quality health
and social services are known to contribute to infant mortality.”
One of the governor’s priorities
, as noted on the Maryland
government website in more than one place, is to continue to bring down the
infant mortality rate. Among the
methods for that are three points:
Pregnancy – Expanded Access to Women’s Comprehensive Health and Wellness
Pregnancy – Earlier Entry into Prenatal Care;
Pregnancy – More Comprehensive Follow-Up Care.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m all in favor of healthy babies. Some
of the most important work that the Catholic Church and people in the pro-life
community do is to support the health of mothers and babies during pregnancy
and after birth.
My parents spent many years volunteering for a program in
the Chicago area that did just that. The Courage Program
paired young women in
unexpected pregancies with mentors who were available for advice, support and
love throughout their pregnancy and beyond. If the baby was to be given up for
adoption, Courage connected the mother with agencies to assist with that. If
she planned to keep the child, the program presented the mother with a huge
layette of clothing, bottles, diapers and all sorts of other baby needs. Take a
large plastic bag, of the size normally used in your yard for leaves and grass,
clippings, and fill one of those with everything a new mom needs. My parents
had shelves in the spare bedroom stacked to the rafters with boxes labeled:
“bottles,” “onesies,” “diapers" (newborn and bigger sizes), clothes in various
sizes from "preemie" and "newborn" to "18 months." The garage was full, too, of
clothes, cribs and blankets, all donated and all waited to be cleaned and
sorted. It wore out my parents’ washing machine. While Mom talked to “her
girls,” as she referred to the mothers in the program assigned to her, Dad
often would be out on antoher run picking up more goodies from another parish
“Courage baby shower.”
The program also offered parenting classes , as well as
sacramental prep classes for baptism.
So I know firsthand how well the pro-life movement supports
mothers before and after the birth. This is the nuts-and-bolts, boots-on-the-ground
pro-life work that is seldom seen, but is so prevalent throughout the country.
And that’s why I don’t understand why a state program that
purports to be concerned about “infant death or pregnancy loss” does not give a
damn about abortion. Isn’t that a form of pregnancy loss? If these are
indicators of the public health of a community, then certainly abortion has to
be a part of the equation.
But Maryland is one of the few states in the country that
doesn’t even bother to track the number of abortions. If tracking the ups and
downs of infant mortality matters to the government, why doesn’t the number of
child deaths from abortion matter?
I just find that a little curious. Or disingenuous. Either way,
August 08, 2012 07:47
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By Christopher Gunty