Sunday, March 31, 2013

Kind of Easter Sunday?

     Churches were packed this weekend for Good Friday and Easter services, even though we were celebrating the Second Sunday of Lent. I guess I shouldn't have to worry about informing the people of the goings' on with the schedule because it won't matter to them until it is real. It teaches me not to work too hard. Even the most attentive people at mass still wished me a happy Easter! Oh well. What more can I do?

     It kind of did feel like Easter. Everyone was happy and everything felt good. This evening I took a walk through Doqulieah Circle and everyone seemed to be milling about and in good spirits. The people walk like they drive. They drive as sheep meander. This man about 75 abruptly turned into me. One of his hands clasped my hands, the other went around my waist; the only thing left for me to do was to dance with him as we were caught in that pose. He roared hysterically and then began his own dance. Everyone else brightened up and chuckled at the old man.

     I put my IPod into a shuffle mode. I have a blend of classic rock, liturgical tunes, and classical music. To my surprise, in this random shuffle mode, I listened to eight tracks of Handel's Messiah - all from the second volume. I reckoned this was God's way of giving me the Resurrection. What a surprise!

     Oh, yes, Internet has been slow in the Middle East because divers in Egypt who were searching for hidden treasures cut a main underwater internet cable.

    I Skyped my family today and I was pleased to see that my mother was going out for dinner before she celebrates the evening meal with my sister's family. At eight in the morning, she was all set to go. Going over schedules for the week as a childhood friend, who now lives in Germany, will visit Amman.

Friday, March 29, 2013

A Privilege

As I said two masses on this Good Friday for the Roman Catholic Church, I realized what a privilege and honor I had in being able to offer the masses for the worldwide church. It is not Good Friday in Amman and I am expected to preside at liturgy. We are celebrating the Second Sunday in Lent. I told the congregations that it is our task to pray for the church on a day when they cannot celebrate Eucharist. This is the first time I felt aligned with the Eastern churches who are our brothers and sisters in the faith.

Mass this morning was overflowing, which means to me that people thought they were coming for Good Friday services. I keep getting calls about mass times for Easter Sunday.

I feel like I am doing necessary work with the two spirituality groups. We are learning ways to interact with each other that communicates our boundaries while respecting others. A default position that some of them take is that they cannot change the system. Rightly so, I say, but we can build a healthy dynamic around us personally. We can communicate our needs, boundaries, and parameters clearly. If someone doesn't respect them, then we have a choice to make about whether we want to invest in an unhealthy relationship. We at least have to ask ourselves the question about why we want to stay in it. We can't change others, but we can exert some authority over our own needs and feelings.

On a lighter note, I went out to a pub with my choir colleagues the other day. It was refreshing to have a couple of beers, but I did not touch the hookah tobacco.

Lastly, what I am doing is catching on in some ways. I've had a number of people come up to me and say, "next time you go to ....., take me with you. You are having fun." Happiness is attractive. Good times are exciting and it is fun to see the desire increase within people who seldom let themselves have fun. I like what is happening.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Art Classes

To place myself up for ridicule and laughter, in the attempts of self-disclosure and transparency, here are my first etchings for art class.

I am learning techniques, therefore the finished product is not as important as the steps I am learning. I do not mean this to be an apologetic, but just to explain that the instructor is working on some techniques with me. I appreciate his tips and techniques.

I'm somewhat amazed at what comes out of the pencil because there's something fun in it. I'm enjoying this time.

The first day was spent on framing squares and angles. Then we worked on some shading, then some still life.

Increasingly the subjects are becoming more complicated, but that is the fun of the challenge. I'm not trying for perfection, but I like the study of it. The human face is quite a miracle. One day, I'll perfect the eyes and the dimensions, but it does make me realize how complicated is the human body.

I like the see the progression and while I see my many faults, I see the right things I am doing as well. Why did I wait so long to do this?

To see photos of my novice artwork, click on the link below:

1. Pics of my first ever artwork

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Coins, Pizza, and Artwork

At the end of the day yesterday, I discovered that I completed many backlogged tasks. The pastor's job is demanding as I don't have a secretary or pastoral associate. I don't even have a building. I have five worship sites and I have to recreate everything from scratch.

I am discouraged by the choir this week. We've had a time set to meet each week and three members come on time and the other six or seven come nearly an hour later. They are trying to do too much. The real frustrating thing is that we are not learning any new music. The choir listens to  Youtube videos and tries to remember what they heard. They often get at least one segment of the lines wrong and then they keep repeating the wrong verses. They move far away from the intended musical score. The musical notes means nothing to them. They only sing from the printed lyrics and make no notations at all on their sheets. They are not learning good fundamentals by this practice. I'm discouraged, but I realize it is Holy Week, which has its owns demons to it.

In art class today, I completed an etching drawing that I did not like at all, but at the end, I kind of liked what emerged. Then I was handed this extraordinarily difficult assignment. The instructor said it was complicated, but that I should give it my best shot. It look so long to get the dimensions right. Now, I brought it home as homework. I'm in the discouraging phase of his drawing, but it'll come around. Maybe the same will happen with the choir.

During class I heard crowds cheering. I imagined that perhaps it was a sporting event, but Jordan doesn't really unite around sports. (Everyone smokes here. Cultivating athletes does not seem like a cultural thing to do.) During the drive home after class, the roads were clogged. Apparently, the Jordan soccer team pulled an upset and beat the Japanese by a score of 2-1 placing Jordan second in the groupings with 7 points as Japan leads with 10. These are the qualifying rounds to see who goes to the World Cup. Congratulations to Jordan's soccer team. I imagine it will be front-page news tomorrow morning.

One of the tasks I completed was counting coins received in the offertory. The upside of this menial task is that I now know the coinage for the Dinar system. I never paid attention to it before this.

Yesterday I made some pizza. I took some Jordanian bread as the dough and I did not believe it would be usable as a crust, but it came out delicious. The crust was just right. I also made tuna melt sandwiches from day-old bread. That was quite nice. It is one of the first times I've had a non-Jordanian sandwich since I've been here. Eating sandwiches is rare anyways.

Drivers. I liken them to sheep. They are playful, bounce into one another, but not hard enough to cause serious infractions, and they bounce off one another. The well-behaved sheep are kept in line with sheep-dogs. How I wish there were more of those dogs on the street.

Oh, yes. I had a tasty brunch at the Four Seasons Hotel this morning to say goodbye to two parishioners who stay in Jordan has ended. I will miss them.

"An Inside Look at Pope Francis" by Tom Reese, S.J.

An inside look at Pope Francis

By A U.S. Catholic interview

Claretian Father Gustavo Larrazábal, an old friend of Pope Francis, talks about the pope's past in Argentina and what it means for the future of the church.

How did you meet the new pope?

The then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio gave homilies and spoke about various interests close to his heart, such as civic involvement and education. He came to Claretian Publications in Argentina, where I was the director at the time, and asked if we were interested in publishing them. With the exception of his biography and conversations with a rabbi, which were published by Vergara, we published everything he brought us.

And I was the one to meet with the cardinal. We would chat and exchange ideas. Throughout the years, we built a strong relationship. He valued the publishing house and never wanted to receive royalty payments. He said the money should go into our apostolic works. He even wanted us to sign a document saying that, if anything happened to him, he did not want anyone to go and claim anything from the Claretians. I was a little embarrassed by this, and I sort of resisted. The truth is the paper was never signed and that is my fault.

Is Pope Francis a good writer?

Yes, he is a very good writer. He did not have time to edit. He would show up to my office with a bundle of papers in his arms and say, “Here is all this. Manage it as best as you can.” We, the editors, and particularly myself, would edit, revise, and send the finished work to him for his approval. He would make his own comments, but the truth is that we were quite free.

Our only arguments were over covers. The cover is very important for me, because it is what sells the book. On two occasions, I put his picture on the cover and he was mad. But I said to him, “Without a good cover, the book will not sell. So, you can get mad, but the cover will stay.”

Is he as humble as he seems?

Definitely. In 1998, upon the death of his predecessor Cardinal Guarracino, he became the Archbishop of Buenos Aires. He immediately decided to leave the episcopal residence, which was a mansion in a residential area where the president and his family also lived. He rented out the mansion to a religious congregation and took a simple room on the third floor of the chancery.

He also had a very austere office on the second floor. As he was in downtown Buenos Aires, it was evident that he did not need a car or a driver. He moved by walking, subway, or bus, or, if in a hurry, he would take a taxi. I often asked him to go to some place to celebrate Mass or to bless a bookstore, offering to drive him, but he always said, “No, no. Don´t worry, I will take my time. You must take care of the people."

He did not have a secretary or monsignors hovering over him, even though the archdiocese is quite vast and there are six auxiliary bishops. But when people wanted to see him, they were always surprised to find out how easy it was to get an appointment. Sometimes he even opened the door himself because many afternoons he was by himself in the building. If you knew how to go in, you simply went up to the second floor. Otherwise, he would go down to open the door. Even from Rome, he personally informed his newspaper provider that he would not need daily delivery any longer. He is very warm, very personal, and very compassionate.

When I turned 50, I invited Cardinal Bergoglio to celebrate the Eucharist and to join the party. He came, but he refused to preside. He said that it was my place to preside, and that he would concelebrate with my Claretian brothers and other priests present. Later, contrary to his custom, since he does not normally go to parties and is very careful about what he eats because of his health, he stayed, greeted my mom and other members of the family and everyone present, and stayed for quite a while. When he was leaving, someone accompanied him to the street corner to hail a cab, since he refused to have someone leave the party in order to take him home.

As a bishop, he was brilliant. Not brilliant in the sense of showmanship, but in the sense of his compassion, his intimate, close, and warm treatment of every individual.

Will all that change in Rome? Will he be able to change Rome?

When you are 76, you don´t change easily. He has demonstrated that in his first days at the Vatican. He does not want to live in the residence. But it’s not just his age. He has transported his Buenos Aires style to the Vatican. There are things he has totally integrated in his person.

Pope Francis is a master of signs and gestures. He knows the power gestures can have. He does not do it as a show but out of conviction and deep faith. What’s especially interesting is that past few days he has not called himself pope but bishop of Rome. That’s an expression of a particular understanding of the papacy.

So Cardinal Bergoglio is clearly a shepherd. Is he also a theologian?

He is, above all, a shepherd, which is not to say that he is not a theologian. But his interest is very pastoral. For example, for all his attention to social issues and to the poor, he has never supported liberation theology, but he does not put brakes on it either. He says, speaking about catechesis, “As a shepherd, I allow things to happen. I prefer that there not be a single catechesis, because that makes for a richer situation. I allow for things to flow, provided things are within the scope of the doctrine of the church, and do not fall into heresy or absurd ideas.” I think this applies to his approach to liberation theology. He did not reject it nor advocate for it.

When things get out of line with the positions of the church, he has to confront them. That has earned him the hostility of the government on certain occasions. Because, although several departments of the Argentinian government—particularly those of social issues and education—really benefit and support the development and education projects of the church and have greatly helped us, when it comes to issues of morality and social doctrine, he has needed to speak up. That was the case with the famous issue of gay marriage, which is the banner of liberalism and gender equality. Cardinal Bergoglio was trying to negotiate a solution that would not recognize marriage, but would allow for a provision for legal unions that would protect partners. His efforts were derailed by other forces, and in the end, the government legalized same-sex marriage. He wanted to dialogue and negotiate--always maintaining, of course, the position of the church.

Some have accused him of not having confronted the Videla dictatorship.

I myself asked Cardinal Bergoglio what happened, particularly with the famous case of the two Jesuits who were arrested when he was provincial. The truth is that the situation of Argentina at the time was very complex. There was terrorism, state terrorism, oppression, and violence, and the military did not know how to handle the situation. At that time, Jorge Bergoglio, Jesuit provincial, was 36 years old. He told me, “I swear Gustavo, that I did what I could and what was within my reach. I was totally inexperienced and certainly made many mistakes as a provincial. But I did what I know how to do and what I could.”

The reality is that, while it would have been great to have a more courageous church in Argentina, as it was in Chile, where the church saved many lives through its work of advocacy and negotiations. Bergoglio personally saved many lives by hiding people, negotiating for their liberation, and on one occasion even giving his own passport to someone. The truth is also that the two Jesuits who had been arrested were liberated precisely because of Bergoglio’s negotiation.

What are the issues today for the church in Argentina?

The most important issues are really global and not exclusive to the Argentinian church. What is important for us is revitalizing our evangelizing efforts and ministering to families. There is the very urgent topic of people who do not get married, not because they cannot but because they simply do not want to. We must also deal with divorced and remarried couples and the issue of priestly celibacy.

After the euphoria over the election of an Argentinian pope has calmed, the challenge facing the church is to see how all this will be used for a revitalization of the faith. We will have to see what concrete gestures the church engages in, and how it channels all this energy. I believe that, deep down, people will start to reflect on the significance of the election more seriously and deeply.

Are there concerns that Pope Francis is an outsider in the Vatican? How that might affect his ministry and his effectiveness?

I believe—and this is a very personal opinion—that he is very clear on what he has to do. In just a few days, he has set a very definite pace. He knows well many people of the Roman curia. Of course, we will also have to see who is going to come into the curia. The topic of episcopal appointments is very delicate and there are very sensitive and difficult issues in the situation of the church that need a lot of tactfulness. But I believe Pope Francis sees clearly the changes that need to be made, and he is keenly aware that he has to act quickly, because at his age, he does not have much time.

My only fear is for his health. He is very methodical, but the pace of life at the Vatican will be much more hectic than what he had before. In Buenos Aires, to a certain extent, he could control his time. But now, as a head of state, there will be protocol issues and he will not have as much control. For his part, though, he knows exactly what he needs to do.

Interview conducted and translated by U.S. Catholic contributing editor Carmen Aguinaco

Thomas J. Reese, S.J.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Holy, Holy, Holy

Holy, Holy, Holy. Those are better words to say than the others I want to say.

Holy Week has a way of coming to life for me. It never fails. We are not even in Holy Week, but the dynamic is the same. I felt something the other day that I did not immediately acknowledge, but as I look back, it was the prompting of the Holy Spirit to prepare me for the upheavals and misunderstanding that happens during this sacred time. I brushed the prompting aside because our Holy Week is not for another five weeks, but it is real, it is happening, it is now.

Arguments and fights erupted between parishioners this week. The various communities are feeling the effects of their fracture. Misunderstandings abound as emotions fly high. Parishioners have emotionally appealed to me to fix their problems, and yet deep inside many of the situations, amazing good is standing out in isolated ways.

Many parishioners and visitors are very confused about why we are not in Holy Week. Though I have been explaining it since January, it is now immediately present to them because their communication networks are talking about how they will spend Holy Week. Some are in parades and other para-liturgical events, and there exists a feeling of loneliness now that we are fasting alone and cannot participate in the larger event.

Feelings are intense and I'm catching the brunt of their confusion. It is where the evil spirit is ripe. The spirits take advantage of the poor. They take advantage of lack of understanding because of low education and poor language skills. In some ways, I feel assaulted by the demands of people this week. They are struggling and are hurting. I have to acknowledge what they face, but to understand that the spirits are at work. I have to be gentle with them and patient with myself. Once I recognize the dynamic, I can detach from the immediacy of their suffering and be present to them in helpful ways. I'll need extra time this week for patience.

I wish there was a way for me to help people understanding what they are going through. I wish there was a way in which people understood why we do not have Holy Week this week. I think they have to live it to make sense of it. Many times, parishioners think I am the cause for the delay of Easter, that it is a decision I have made on my own. Funny. I have to take the brunt of it like buffets and spitting and just deal with it.

I was grateful to realize the dynamic yesterday because now I can minister to people through this difficult process. We'll get there. Easter always follows Lent and the Passion. All too sadly, Lent and the Passion are the people's lives here. One day, they'll be able to sing, "A........."

Friday, March 22, 2013

Wind and Sand

Today we had temperatures of 80 Fahrenheit and bright sun. Since Friday is the first day of the weekend, many people were out enjoying the great weather. Within a span of half an hour the sky darkened and dusty sand filled the heavens. The temperatures dropped precipitously and the winds started howling. I'm alone in the Jesuit Center and doors are opening and closing, fans are whirring backwards, lights are flickering. I feel like I'm alone at Gloucester during a nor-easter. I keep expecting someone to walk through the doors that are opening at will. I realize how porous the stone house really is. Sand breaks down everything in its path.

Interestingly, the call to prayer seemed to fit into the wind and be carried by it. The lifting and dropping of voices echoed the way the wind picked up and dropped. I could imagine the sand and the prayer washing over the dunes before they drop to the earth or rise to the heavens.

I'm soon off to bed. Friday's, everyone's day off, is my busy day. I've gone non-stop from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. The last hour I've been catching up with emails, but my mind is now mush and it is time to retire. Good night.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Monarch in the Middle

A candid interview by King Abdullah II of Jordan

An Option?

Is Pope Francis open to optional celibacy?

In an 2012 interview about celibacy, then-Cardinal Bergoglio notes that in the Eastern churches priests can be married and "They are very good priests." He says that "It is a matter of discipline, not of faith. It can change."

He states his support for celibacy in the interview. "I am in favor of maintaining celibacy, with all its pros and cons, because we have ten centuries of good experiences rather than failures," he explains. "Tradition has weight and validity."

But what is remarkable is the way he qualifies his statements: "For the moment, I am in favor of maintaining celibacy...." Likewise, when he notes that some organizations are pushing for more discussion about the issue, he says, "For now, the discipline of celibacy stands firm."

"For the moment," "For now" are not the kind of qualifications one normally hears when bishops and cardinals discuss celibacy.

He even goes on to propose a hypothetical: "If, hypothetically, Western Catholicism were to review the issue of celibacy, I think it would do so for cultural reasons (as in the East), not so much as a universal option."

What is totally unacceptable to Pope Francis is a priest who does not observe his promise of celibacy. If a priest falls, he says "I help him to get on track again." By that he means, doing penance and practicing celibacy. "The double life is no good for us," he explains. "I don't like it because it means building on falsehood."

In addition, if a priest gets a woman pregnant, "he has to leave the ministry and should take care of that child, even if he chooses not to marry that woman. For just as that child has the right to have a mother, he has a right to the face of a father."

Pope Francis takes celibacy very seriously. If it is the rule, it must be observed. But could the rule change?

Monday, March 18, 2013

"Is Pope Francis still a Jesuit?" by Tom Reese, S.J.

Is Pope Francis still a Jesuit?

Jesuits have always had a special relationship to the pope. It started when St. Ignatius was not able to follow his dream of preaching the Gospel to Muslims in the Holy Land. When he arrived in Jerusalem without a cent in his pocket, the Franciscans shook their heads and told him to go home. Thank God for the Franciscans! They were in charge of the Holy Land and obviously had more sense than he did.

That left Ignatius with Plan B: putting himself and his companions at the service of the pope to be sent wherever he desired. This is the origins of the "fourth vow" taken by professed Jesuits along with their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. The text of the vow reads: "I further promise a special obedience to the Sovereign Pontiff in regard to the missions according to the same apostolic letters and Constitutions."

So what happens to a Jesuit who becomes pope? Does he look in the mirror and tell himself what he should do each morning? Is he still a Jesuit?

I really doubt that he talks to himself, but there is no question that he is still a Jesuit. While canon law does not say anything specific about a religious who becomes a pope, it is clear that a religious who becomes a bishop is still a member of his religious community but in a different way. The pertinent canons applied to Bergoglio when he first became a bishop, and they apply to him now as the bishop of Rome.

Canon 705 is clear: "A religious raised to the episcopate remains a member of his institute but is subject only to the Roman Pontiff by virtue of the vow of obedience and is not bound by obligations which he himself prudently judges cannot be reconciled with his condition." In other words, any Jesuit bishop, including the bishop of Rome, is still a Jesuit but he does not have to follow orders of any Jesuit superior, even the Jesuit superior general. A Jesuit who does not have to follow the orders of a Jesuit superior is certainly a strange bird, but he is still a Jesuit.

Canon 706 provides that any "goods" (property, money, etc.) acquired by a professed religious who is a bishop become the property of the diocese or the Holy See, not his religious community. And when he retires, he can live with his religious community or separately. If he lives separately, the diocese has an obligation to support him in his retirement.

Although Jesuits take a special vow not to seek higher office, there have been scores of Jesuit bishops. Ignatius did not want Jesuits to be bishops because he did not want to lose his best men to the episcopate and he did not want the Society corrupted by careerism. Popes have appointed Jesuits as bishops anyway, especially in missionary countries. John Paul went further and appointed them to major sees, like Milan (Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini) and Buenos Aires.
Jesuit bishops have been rare in the United States even though the very first American bishop, John Carroll, was a Jesuit. Today there are three Jesuit bishops in the U.S., two retired and one active in Youngstown, Ohio.

So, is it Pope Francis, S.J.? Well, the pope can do whatever he wants, but traditionally, popes do not put any letters after their names. No Ph.D., S.T.D., J.C.D., etc. They don't even have a last name!

More important than the letters after his name, Pope Francis brings with him the Jesuit spirituality that unites a person with Christ in his mission of preaching the Gospel and building the kingdom of God, a kingdom of love, justice and peace. In the first week of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, the retreatant experiences the mercy of God, a theme Pope Francis has repeatedly stressed during his first week as bishop of Rome. After experiencing God’s mercy and love, Jesuit spirituality asks one to be open to the Spirit, which can always surprise us, and Francis has certainly surprised people. There is also a practical side to Jesuit spirituality—if one thing does not work, try something else. This will also help him as he faces the daunting tasks before him.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

"Francis, the Jesuits, and the Dirty War" by Tom Reese, S.J.

Francis, the Jesuits and the Dirty War

Rumors and questions are circulating about Pope Francis and the time when he was the Jesuit provincial of Argentina and his relationship to two imprisoned Jesuits and the Argentine military dictatorship.

The Society of Jesus is filled with intelligent men who are passionate about their ideas and work, so of course there are arguments and disagreements just as there are in any family. I have had debates with other Jesuits over dinner where voices were raised, but that does not mean I don’t love them and would not be willing to die for them. We are a family.

Father Bergoglio, like Pope John Paul, had serious reservations about liberation theology, which was embraced by many other Latin American Jesuits. As a North American I have trouble understanding these disputes since John Paul and Bergoglio obviously wanted justice for the poor while the liberation theologians were not in favor of violent revolution as their detractors claimed. But clearly this was an issue that divided the church in Latin America.

Part of the problem was the use of the term “Marxist analysis” by some liberation theologians, when they sought to show how the wealthy used their economic and political power to keep the masses down. The word “Marxist,” of course, drove John Paul crazy. Meanwhile, the Latin American establishment labeled as Communist anyone who wanted economic justice and political power for workers. Even many decent but cautious people feared that strikes and demonstrations would lead to violence. What is “prudent” can divide people of good will.

There were also disagreements about how to respond to the military junta in Argentina. As provincial, Father Bergoglio was responsible for the safety of his men. He feared that Orlando Yorio, S.J., and Franz Jalics, S.J., were at risk and wanted to pull them out of their ministry. They, naturally, did not want to leave their work with the poor.

Yorio and Jalics were arrested when a former lay colleague, who had joined the rebels and then been arrested, gave up their names under torture as people he had worked with in the past. This was normal practice for the military. The junta did not get information from Bergoglio. Contrary to rumor, he did not throw them out of the society and therefore remove them from the protection of the Society of Jesus. They were Jesuits when they were arrested. Yorio later left the Society but Jalics is still a Jesuit today, living in a Jesuit retreat house in Germany.

The Jesuit historian Father Jeff Klaiber interviewed Juan Luis Moyano, S.J., who had also been imprisoned and deported by the military. Moyano told Klaiber that Bergoglio did go to bat for imprisoned Jesuits. There are disagreements over whether he did as much as he should have for them, but such debates always occur in these circumstances.

Adolfo Esquivel, the Argentine who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1980, says Bergoglio was not involved with the military and did try to help the two Jesuits. He himself was imprisoned by the military and his son is married to Mercedes Moyano, the sister of Juan Luis Moyano.

Other rumors circulating say that as archbishop, Bergoglio allowed the military to hide prisoners in an archdiocesan retreat house so that they would not be seen by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights visiting the ESMA prison. Fact: Bergoglio was not archbishop when this took place. Horacio Verbitsky, an Argentine investigative journalist, says that Bergoglio helped him investigate the case.

It is also said that there is written evidence in the Argentine foreign ministry files that Bergoglio gave information on the Jesuits to the military. The alleged conversation took place when Bergoglio was trying to get the passport of one of the Jesuits extended. Not only did this take place after they were arrested and after they were released, it was after they were safely out of the country. Nothing he could say would endanger them, nor was he telling the government anything it did not already know. He was simply trying to convince a bureaucrat that it was a good idea to extend the passport of this man so he could stay in Germany and not have to return to Argentina.

More recently, Cardinal Bergoglio was involved in getting the Argentine bishops to ask forgiveness for not having done enough during the dirty war, as it was called in Argentina.

In the face of tyranny, there are those who take a prophetic stance and die martyrs. There are those who collaborate with the regime. And there are others who do what they can while keeping their heads low. When admirers tried to claim that John Paul worked in the underground against Nazism, he set them straight and said he was no hero.

Those who have not lived under a dictatorship should not be quick to judge those who have, whether the dictatorship was in ancient Rome, Latin America, Africa, Nazi Germany, Communist Eastern Europe, or today’s China. We should revere martyrs, but not demand every Christian be one.

Thomas J. Reese, S.J.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Articles from Harvard Divinity School

The HDS website has insight, analysis, and background on the papacy and the state of the Roman Catholic Church. Click on the link below to access articles and audio featuring HDS scholars Harvey Cox, Francis Schüssler Fiorenza, Stephanie Paulsell, Kevin Madigan, and others:

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Pope Francis

I have refrained from responding to the immediate assessments of Pope Francis because I wanted to spend some time in prayer today asking God to be with him as he undertakes this monumental endeavor for our behalf.

My affection for him continues to grow as I get to know him better through the media. In the first  instance, I simply pray for his health at age 76. A Jesuit friend remarked a decade ago that men seem to noticeably age when they reach 77. As Pope Francis only has one lung, I hope his body holds out for quite some time. The demands of the modern papacy are exponentially more difficult than even ten years ago and I hope the ministry energizes him rather than depletes him.

I also know that a role can change the man, and with Francis, I think the man can change the role. I'm delighted that he approaches his ministry as a pastor. He is known as a man to give "voice to the voiceless and vulnerable," which is so good because most of the world is voiceless and vulnerable. A pastor can always learn from his people. Listening to the hard stories of faith changes a pastor's heart, and I have no doubt that he will intercede for those most vulnerable. I like a man who can evolve.

I'm delighted that he has Jesuit roots. His life is formed by the Spiritual Exercises and its suscipe, an offering on oneself. Even though his name calls to mind Franciscan theology, he retains an Ignatian heritage. I've often thought Ignatius ought to be a Doctor of the Church because his Spiritual Exercises continue to heal and save many wounded souls. However, marrying the Franciscan and Ignatian heritages is a stroke of genius.

Pope Francis comes from a religious order tradition. The vowed life of poverty, chastity, and obedience informs his way of proceeding. It keeps him separated from the Curial mindset. The world of a secular priest operates from a different culture, not good or bad, just different from a religious order perspective.

The Spiritual Exercises are about bringing a person freely to salvation. Freedom is operative. Perhaps Francis can build the church with spiritual freedom - a blend of two spiritualities.

In Latin church that runs on an Orthodox calendar, we find ourselves with scriptural readings that talk about "restoring life," where Elijah gives life to the widow of Zarephath's deceased son, where Jesus heals the widow of Nain's son, and Paul gets new life by becoming a disciple of the risen Jesus. New life seems to be the hope for the church right now. God seems to have put in place Pope Francis at the right time in the Church's life. God has entrusted a weakened, ill Church to a man who cares for it deeply. It is simply a time to rejoice and breathe in the omnipresent Holy Spirit of life.

All for the greater glory of God.

What a world

Having been brought up in the West, my perspective on efficiency and productivity are forever colored. While the U.S. has its many peculiarities, I'm still struggling with the boundary issues of a culture that is foreign to me. As the church in the western world wants to see great changes in social and doctrinal stances, the challenges for many Catholics in the Middle East are more fundamental.

Education is key for good behavior.

Many parishioners of the English-speaking parish have English as their second or third language. Their first language is often conversational and you don't see many people reading books. You also won't see people reading an English-speaking book because it is difficult for them. English is a language of commerce - a middle of the road language to convey basic thoughts and concepts, not to develop more complex thoughts. This poses a problem for the way they deal with church because many don't want to try to understand what the church is trying to do, they just want to get the minimal basics of what they need to do to be regularized.

With such lack of understanding, the most common way for people to respond is defeatist. Their default response is "you don't like me" if they don't get what they want right away.

For instance,

- a woman approaches me to have a baby baptized on behalf of the mother who is in a different country. The party date is arranged and they come to the church to tell me everything is all set. People from afar are visiting just for the occasion. I'm a strict priest if I say 'no' to them, even if I explain that the mother and father hasn't given consent.

 - All dates are arranged beforehand to make it a fait accompli. If I don't accept their date, their go to another church, most likely evangelical, to get their event done so the party can continue.

- A man comes up to me just as I'm walking down the aisle of the church to begin mass and he asks for absolution because there is no time for confessions. If I give it to him, which I never would, I would never see him again. If I don't give it to him, I am the one responsible for holding him out of communion and how could I dare be so mean to him! The confession is separate from absolution. While I won't do this, that he would ask gives me an indication that other priests may allow it.

- A man calls to talk about having a sacramental wedding ceremony in the church to validate his civil marriage. He is not confirmed, but his wife's family wants a sacramental marriage. Wonderful. He wonders if he can come into the office today to get his confirmation document so he can get married. He hasn't been confirmed yet, but seeing me is enough for him to be confirmed. A series of catechetical meetings is low priority for his interests.

- A man comes to see me with a hardship story of a mother with a newborn child. This is one of many stories he has brought forward. He just shows up and demands time and insists I believe his story. I have worked so hard to get him connected, but he never does his part of the bargain. He knows I won't give money directly to an individual, but will do it through the cooperation of the local church or government agency, but since I won't accept his hardship story, I am a mean man.

- A guide wants me to buy employ his services. He asks whether he can give me his business card and I say yes. He tells me to take out my phone so he can tell me his number so I can call him in the future to take advantage of his touring services. I reply, "Give me your card," but he insists if I am interested I will take out my phone and enter his information. He won't take my number. To respect him, I am asked to do everything in the transaction; if I don't it is because I don't respect him.

- I'm in the middle of a conversation with someone and a presence appears hovering closely over my shoulders. I am expected to stop in mid-sentence, turn to the person, greet him or her with open arms, and forget about the person to whom I am speaking.

- A woman comes to see me at the office, but I am out at an appointment. I ought to do everything in my power to address he concerns immediately because she went out of her way to see me. I owe it to her. If I ask to schedule a meeting, she replies, "but I already came to the office."

I can go on and on.

- One of our cleaners washes the floors every day, even when no one has been in the building the day before. She opens all the windows and never slides the screens into place. Therefore, house flies come  in and she spends the afternoons swatting at them. Also, the dust comes in, therefore, the next day she must wash the floor because they are dusty.

I can go on and on about boundary violations. I am to accept these violations because the person says, "I'm sorry," but never changes to behavior. If I don't accept, it is because I haven't accepted the culture.

I have found an achilles heal for Jordanian drivers.

This is a different world socially and culturally and it means it brings about a different understanding of the church and what they need from it and get from it. I do wish there was a way to have social etiquette classes, conferences to talk about boundary needs, and ways we can educate people more fundamentally.

With all this going on, I know I need to protect my times of replenishment well - just to get through a very unordinary week.

Photos: Mountain Breeze Farm

I visited a parishioner-friend whose son owns a farm called Mountain Breeze in the hills to the west of Amman. We enjoyed a nice brunch after mass and then toured the Mountain Breeze resort and Paintball course.

She and her husband bought a small piece of property on this hillside years ago when it was regarded as an undesirable site. They built a farm on the lower part of the mountain and kept getting invitations to buy more property. Now, they own the most desirable property on the hillside. A good vision is needed to see the possibilities for the future.

To see photos of our trip, click on the link below:

1. Pics of the Springtime at Mountain Breeze
2. Pics of Mountain Meadow Walk

3. Pics of the Terrace Views
4. Pics of  Maria's Farm

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

"Reforming the Curia" by Thomas Reese, S.J.

Reforming the Vatican Curia

Thomas Reese | Mar. 12, 2013NCR Today

Many of the cardinals are looking for a pope who can reform the Vatican curia, but it is not clear what they mean by “reform.” “Reform” is, after all, in the eye of the beholder.

I would distinguish between two types of reform: 1) Better management, 2) Comprehensive reform.

Much of the scandals surrounding the curia recently are simple management problems: financial corruption, sexual impropriety, petty infighting among factions, leaking of documents. Dealing with these issues is neither rocket science nor theology.

Financial corruption: Governments and corporations have been dealing with financial corruption for centuries. The solutions involve proper accounting systems, rules about conflict of interests, competitive bidding, transparency in finances, and internal and external auditors. Part of the problem here is that the leadership team (cardinals, bishops and priests) have no understanding and training in these fields. They have to depend on others. But the problem also results from the arrogance of thinking that the church is somehow different and cannot learn from government and business practices.

Some actions have been taken. Pope John Paul brought in Cardinal Edmund Szoka to modernize the Vatican accounting system. Pope Benedict took a huge step in 2011 by insisting that the Vatican follow the standards set by the European agency Moneyval. He wanted the Vatican on Moneyval’s white list of good countries. In the past, the Vatican always argued that it was unique and could not be judged by anyone else’s standards. Benedict’s decision means that every year outsiders will check up on what the Vatican is doing and give a public report.

It is in the Vatican City State and the Vatican bank where financial reform makes most sense. These entities do secular things (museum, building repair, stores, etc.) for which best practices are easily available.

Sexual impropriety. Sexual impropriety occurs not just in the Catholic Church, it has also occurred in governments, businesses and the military. That is why there are rules against sexual harassment, sex between employees and supervisors, and advancement in exchange for sexual favors. Nor are rules enough. There has to be compliance officers investigating allegations and enforcing the rules. If these offenses are job related, they should be treated by the Vatican not simply as sins but as causes for termination. To pretend that these things only happen outside the church is naive.

Petty infighting. It is useful for an executive to have subordinates who argue with each other so that he gets a variety of advice. Frankly, one of the problems of the papacies of John Paul and Benedict was their unwillingness to listen to a variety of voices. But when the fighting is over power and prestige, it becomes dysfunctional and a strong hand is needed to get people back in line. Archbishop Giovanni Benelli as sostituto played this role in the papacy of Paul VI. Cardinals trembled in his presence. He kept people on message. The sostituto plays a role similar to that the White House chief of staff.

Leaking of Documents. Every government has this problem and they usually fail to stop it or to catch the leakers. There are three reasons people leak information: 1) for money; 2) because they are being blackmailed; 3) they want to embarrass someone; 4) they want to force a change in policy.

Part of the solution is to classify fewer documents as secret. But if you are going to have an investigation, then it needs to be professional. The Vatican prosecutors and judges accepted the butler’s explanation for why he stole and leaked documents—he wanted to reform the church and he acted alone. Did anyone check his financial records? Did anyone check his phone records? And when it was all over he only got a slap on the wrist.

The Italian press is filled with stories about curial officials being blackmailed for sexual improprieties. Could this be a cause of leaks? Are Italian journalists blackmailing their sources?

What about the secret report on the investigation done by the three cardinals appointed by Pope Benedict? Do you really think that three cardinals over the age of 80 have the skills of Colombo, Nancy Drew and Miss Marple? My guess is that their report is simply filled with what is already publicly known plus hearsay and opinion, which would make it an embarrassment to publish.

Comprehensive Reform

Speaking about reforming the curia is like speaking about reforming the U.S. tax code. Everyone is for it until it affects them.

Even members of the Roman curia speak about the need for reform, but for a curial cardinal, reform means he gets more power and his opponent in another office gets less. For conservatives, reform means having a strong curia that speaks with one voice in imposing the Vatican’s vision on the rest of the church. For moderates, reform means a decentralization of power and more collegiality. In other words, you cannot reform the curia until you know what you want it to do.

For example, many people talk about making the curia more efficient. Frankly, I am in favor of the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith being more efficient in dealing abusive priests but the last thing I want is an efficient inquisition investigating theologians.

My own prescription for reforming the curia is based on the supposition that it should be in service to the pope as head of the college of bishops. It is staff and should be organized as a civil service and not part of the hierarchy of the church.

Thus my reforms start with not making members of the curia bishops or cardinals. The current curia is not even a 19th-century bureaucracy; it is a 17th-century court. It is organized like the royal courts of the time where princes and nobles helped the king run the nation. This governance model is antiquated.

Second, the papacy is operating out of the model of the absolute monarchies of the 17th century where the legislative, executive and judicial powers were held by the monarch. Modern governments recognize the need for a separation of powers. Agencies like the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith should not be allowed to make the rules, and then act as police, prosecutor, judge, jury and executor in dealing with theologians. This is not due process in the modern sense of the word.

The role of the synod of bishops also needs to be strengthened in providing input on policy and supervision of the curia. No political theory today would leave everything to the executive without a role for a legislature.

Better management is needed in the curia, and is certainly possible. Comprehensive reform, however, is not likel