Monthly Archives: February 2013

Pope Benedict’s Pontificate Marked by Teaching, Call to Return to Faith

by John Thavis & Francis X. Rocca, CNS

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — During his almost eight-year pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI impressed the world as a teacher, guiding Catholics to the sources of the faith and urging modern society not to turn its back on God.

Citing his age and diminishing energy, the 85-year-old pope announced Feb. 11 that he would be resigning effective Feb. 28 and would devote the rest of his life to prayer.

As pastor of the universal church, he used virtually every medium at his disposal — books and Twitter, sermons and encyclicals — to catechize the faithful on the foundational beliefs and practices of Christianity, ranging from the sermons of St. Augustine to the sign of the cross.

Having served in his 30s as an influential adviser during the 1962-65 Second Vatican Council, he made it a priority as pope to correct what he saw as overly expansive interpretations of Vatican II in favor of readings that stressed the council’s continuity with the church’s millennial traditions. Under his oversight, the Vatican continued to highlight the church’s moral boundaries. But the pope’s message to society at large focused less on single issues and more on the risk of losing the basic relationship between the human being and the Creator. He consistently warned the West that unless its secularized society rediscovered religious values, it could not hope to engage in real dialogue with Islamic and other religious cultures.

The German-born pontiff did not try to match the popularity of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, but the millions of people who came to see him in Rome and abroad came to appreciate his smile, his frequent ad libs and his ability to speak from the heart.
Although he did not expect to travel much, he ended up making 24 trips to six continents and three times presided over World Youth Day mega-gatherings, in Germany in 2005, in Australia in 2008 and in Spain in 2011.

On a historic visit to the United States in 2008, the pope brought his own identity into clearer focus for Americans. He set forth a moral challenge on issues ranging from economic justice to abortion. He also took church recognition of the priestly sex abuse scandal to a new level, expressing his personal shame at what happened and praying with the victims.

Pope Benedict XVI with Diocese of Shreveport’s Bishop Michael Duca during his 2012 ad limina visit to the Vatican.

The pope met three times with former U.S. President George W. Bush, including a formal visit to the White House, and the two leaders found wide areas of agreement on pro-life and family issues. When President Barack Obama was elected, the pontiff sent him a warmly worded telegram and a promise of his prayers, but when they met at the Vatican the next year, the pope spoke clearly about the church’s objections to the administration’s policies on several life issues, including abortion and embryonic stem cell research.

Pope Benedict was 78 and in apparent good health when elected April 19, 2005, but was said to have told his fellow cardinals that his would not be a long papacy like that of his predecessor. In an interview with the German author Peter Seewald in 2010, Pope Benedict said: “If a pope clearly realizes that he is no longer physically, psychologically and spiritually capable of handling the duties of his office, then he has a right and, under some circumstances, also an obligation to resign.”

As inevitable as his election seemed after Blessed John Paul died in 2005, his path to the papacy was long and indirect.
Joseph Ratzinger was born April 16, 1927, in the Bavarian town of Marktl am Inn, the third and youngest child of a police officer, Joseph Sr., and his wife, Maria. Young Joseph joined his brother, Georg, at a minor seminary in 1939.

Like other young students, he was automatically enrolled in the Hitler Youth program, but soon stopped going to meetings. During World War II, he was conscripted into the army, and in the spring of 1945 he deserted his unit and returned home, spending a few months in an Allied prisoner-of-war camp. He returned to the seminary late in 1945 and was ordained six years later, along with his brother.

In a meeting with young people in 2006, the pope said witnessing the brutality of the Nazi regime helped convince him to become a priest. But he also had to overcome some doubts, he said. For one thing, he asked himself whether he “could faithfully live celibacy” his entire life. He also recognized that his real leanings were toward theology and wondered whether he had the qualities of a good pastor and the ability “to be simple with the simple people.”

After a short stint as a parish priest, the future pope began a teaching career and built a reputation as one of the church’s foremost theologians. At Vatican II, he made important contributions as a theological expert and embraced the council’s early work. But he began to have misgivings about an emerging anti-Roman bias, the idea of a “church from below” run on a parliamentary model, and the direction of theological research in the church — criticism that would become even sharper in later years.

In a 2005 speech that served as a kind of manifesto for his young papacy, Pope Benedict rejected what he called a “hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture” in interpreting Vatican II as a radical break with the past. The pope called instead for reading the council through a “hermeneutic of reform” in continuity with Catholic tradition.

In 1977, Pope Paul VI named him archbishop of Munich and Freising, and four years later Pope John Paul called him to head the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, where he wielded great influence on issues such as liberation theology, dissent from church teachings and pressure for women’s ordination. Serving in this role for nearly a quarter century, then-Cardinal Ratzinger earned a reputation in some quarters as a sort of grand inquisitor, seeking to stamp out independent thinking, an image belied by his passion for debate with thinkers inside and outside the church.

As the newly elected pope in 2005, he explained that he took the name Benedict to evoke the memory of Pope Benedict XV, a “courageous prophet of peace” during World War I, and said he wanted to place his ministry at the service of reconciliation and harmony among peoples.

CNS Pope Benedict XVI waves to the crowd as he departs Yankee Stadium in 2008 after celebrating Mass in New York. (CNS photo/CNS photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)

The new pope spent most of his energy writing and preaching, in encyclicals, letters, messages, homilies and talks that eventually numbered more than a thousand.

Surprising those who had expected a by-the-book pontificate from a man who had spent more than 23 years as the Vatican’s chief doctrinal official, Pope Benedict emphasized that Christianity was a religion of love and not a religion of rules.

During the 2010-11 Year for Priests, Pope Benedict held up the 19th-century French St. John Vianney as a model of clerical holiness who struggled against the indifference and hostility of a militantly secular society.

He convened a Synod of Bishops on Scripture in 2008, in an effort to move the Bible back to the center of individual spirituality and pastoral planning. He opened a Year of Faith in October, presided over a synod focusing on the new evangelization and a revival of Christian faith in the secular West, one of the priorities of his pontificate.

Some of Pope Benedict’s most memorable statements came when he applied simple Gospel values to social issues such as the protection of human life, the environment and economics.

When the global financial crisis worsened in 2008, for example, the pope insisted that financial institutions must put people before profits. He also reminded people that modern ideals of money and material success are passing realities, saying: “Whoever builds his life on these things — on material things, on success, on appearances — is building on sand.”

Pope Benedict’s outreach to traditionalist Catholics brought him some opposition and criticism. In 2007, he widened the possible use of the Tridentine Mass and began introducing touches of antiquity in his own liturgies, including the requirement of kneeling when receiving Communion from the pope.

Then in 2009, in an effort to reconcile with the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X, he lifted the excommunications of four of the society’s bishops who were ordained illicitly in 1988.

A storm of criticism erupted because one of the four, Bishop Richard Williamson, had made a number of statements — widely available on the Internet, but unknown to the pope — denying the extent of the Holocaust. The Vatican scrambled to distance Pope Benedict from the bishop’s views and reaffirm the pontiff’s commitment to Catholic-Jewish dialogue.

The pope himself wrote an unusually personal letter to the world’s bishops, defending his efforts to restore church unity by reaching out to traditionalists and expressing sadness that even some Catholics seemed ready to attack him “with open hostility.”

At the same time, he clearly acknowledged mistakes in Vatican communications and said the Holy See would have to do a better job using the Internet in the future. Instead, the mishaps continued, and for most of the year preceding Pope Benedict’s resignation, press coverage of the Vatican was dominated by the so-called “VatiLeaks” affair, a scandal over confidential and sometimes embarrassing confidential documents that had been provided to the press, allegedly by the pope’s own butler, Paolo Gabriele.

A Vatican court found Gabriele guilty in October and sentenced him to 18 months in jail. Pope Benedict, meeting his former aide outside his cell in the Vatican police barracks, pardoned him just before Christmas.

The pope’s 2009 letter to bishops also summarized what he saw as 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.”

The idea that God is disappearing from the human horizon and that humanity is losing its bearings with “evident destructive effects” was a theme Pope Benedict saw as common ground for dialogue between Christians and Muslims. He voiced the church’s opposition to a potential “clash of civilizations” in which religion was seen as a defining difference. But sometimes his words drew as much criticism as praise, particularly among Muslims who felt the pope was unfairly questioning the foundations of their religion.

In 2006 when he visited a mosque in Turkey, he turned toward Mecca and prayed silently alongside his host. This interfaith gesture generated considerable good will, and over the succeeding years, Pope Benedict continued to meet with Muslim leaders. Yet some Muslims continued to view the pope with suspicion or hostility.

Pope Benedict also visited synagogues, in Germany in 2005, in New York in 2008 and in Rome in 2010, and his strong condemnations of anti-Semitism won the appreciation of many Jewish leaders. However, tensions arose in 2008 over the wording of a prayer for Jewish conversion, which the pope had revised for use in the Tridentine-rite Good Friday liturgy.

The pope considered Christian unity one of his priorities, and he took steps to improve dialogue with Orthodox churches in particular. The most visible sign was the pope’s decision to accept the invitation of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople to visit the patriarch at his headquarters in Istanbul, Turkey in 2006. Two years later, the pope invited the patriarch to give a major address at the Synod of Bishops. The Vatican also arranged the resumption of theological talks with the Orthodox in mid-2006 and began new forms of cultural collaboration with the Russian Orthodox Church.

The fate of Christian minorities around the world was one of the pope’s major concerns, especially in places like Iraq and other predominantly Muslim countries. The pope strongly defended the right to religious freedom in his speech to the United Nations in 2008.

Pope Benedict XVI and Mustafa Cagrici, the grand mufti of Istanbul, pray in the Blue Mosque in Istanbul on Nov. 30, 2006. (CNS photo/Patrick Hertzog)

In early 2007, the pope turned his attention to China, convening a meeting of church experts to discuss ways to bring unity to the church and gain concessions from the communist government. A papal letter to Chinese Catholics a few months later encouraged bold new steps to bridge the gap between Catholics registered with the government-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association and the so-called underground communities, whose leaders were frequently harassed or imprisoned by the authorities.

One of the most important documents issued under Pope Benedict, and with his explicit approval, was a doctrinal congregation instruction on bioethics in 2008. The document warned that some developments in stem-cell research, gene therapy and embryonic experimentation violate moral principles and reflect an attempt by man to “take the place of his Creator.”

The pope’s own writings frequently explored the relationship between personal faith in Christ and social consequences.

His first encyclical, “Deus Caritas Est” (“God Is Love,”), issued in 2005, reminded all people that God loves them and called on them to share that love in a personal and social way. It won high praise, even from quarters typically critical of the church.

Two years later, his second encyclical, “Spe Salvi” (on Christian hope), warned that without faith in God, humanity lies at the mercy of ideologies that can lead to “the greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice.”

His third encyclical, “Caritas in Veritate” (“Charity in Truth”) was released in 2009 and said ethical values are needed to overcome the current global economic crisis as well as to eradicate hunger and promote the real development of all the world’s peoples.

Several months ago, the Vatican said Pope Benedict had completed work on another encyclical, this one on the virtue of faith, and its publication was expected in the first half of this year. The Vatican has not said whether or not the letter would come out before the pope’s resignation takes effect Feb. 28.

His three-volume work, “Jesus of Nazareth,” published between 2007 and 2012 in several languages, emphasized that Christ must be understood as the Son of God on a divine mission, not as a mere moralist or social reformer.

The pope spent much of his time meeting with bishops from around the world when they made “ad limina” visits to the Vatican to report on their dioceses.

Although he was expected to reverse a trend set by Pope John Paul, Pope Benedict did not slow the Vatican’s saint-making machinery, but he did immediately announce he would not preside over beatifications. The pope’s decision was meant to highlight the difference between a beatification and a canonization, but, in effect, the pope’s decision lowered the profile of beatification liturgies. Pope Benedict did make two exceptions to his new rule: the first to beatify Cardinal John Henry Newman during a September 2010 visit to England; and the second to beatify Pope John Paul in May 2011.

While Pope Benedict asked Vatican experts to be more selective in picking candidates for sainthood, he ended up canonizing 44 new saints, including the Native American Kateri Tekakwitha and Mother Marianne Cope of Molokai.

Pope Benedict named 90 new cardinals; 67 of those he named are still under the age of 80 and therefore eligible to vote in the conclave to elect his successor. As of Feb. 28, the day his papacy ends, Pope Benedict’s appointments will represent just over 57 percent of the 117 cardinals under 80 that day.

On Ash Wednesday, Pope Preaches on Humility, Christian Unity

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Celebrating what was expected to be the last public liturgy of his pontificate two weeks before his resignation, Pope Benedict XVI preached on the virtues of humility and Christian unity and heard his highest-ranking aide pay tribute to his service to the church.

Jesus “denounces religious hypocrisy, behavior that wants to show off, attitudes that seek applause and approval,” the pope said in his homily during Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica Feb. 13. “The true disciple does not serve himself or the ‘public,’ but his Lord, in simplicity and generosity.”

Coming two days after Pope Benedict announced that he would be the first pope in 600 years to resign, the Mass inevitably took on a valedictory tone.

“For me it is also a good opportunity to thank everyone, especially the faithful of the diocese of Rome, as I prepare to conclude the Petrine ministry, and I ask you for a special remembrance in your prayer,” the pope told the congregation, including dozens of cardinals and bishops, filling the vast basilica.

The Ash Wednesday liturgy, traditionally held in two churches on Rome’s Aventine Hill, was moved to St. Peter’s to accommodate the greatest possible number of faithful.

At the end of the Mass, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who as secretary of state is the Vatican’s highest official, voiced gratitude for Pope Benedict’s pontificate of nearly eight years.

“Thank you for giving us the luminous example of a simple and humble laborer in the vineyard of the Lord,” Cardinal Bertone said, invoking the same metaphor Pope Benedict had used in his first public statement following his election in 2005.

His voice cracking slightly with emotion, Cardinal Bertone described Benedict as a “laborer who knew at every moment to do what is most important, bring God to men and bring men to God.”

Following the cardinal’s remarks, the congregation broke into a standing ovation that lasted well over a minute, ceasing only after the pope, looking surprised but not displeased, said: “Thank you, let’s return to prayer.”

The pope showed signs of the fatigue and frailty that have become increasingly evident over the last year and a half and which he had cited in announcing his resignation. At the beginning of the liturgy, he walked from his sacristy near the chapel that contains Michelangelo’s statue of the Pieta to the atrium of the basilica, but then rode his mobile platform to the main altar.

During the Mass, Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of St. Peter’s, placed the Lenten ashes on the pope’s head. The pope himself placed ashes on the heads of several cardinals and a group of Dominican and Benedictine priests.

The pope’s last homily included a plea for harmony among his flock, as he lamented “blows against the unity of the church, divisions in the ecclesial body” and called for a “more intense and evident ecclesial communion, overcoming individualisms and rivalries.” Such communion favors evangelization, the pope said, by serving as a “humble and precious sign for those who are distant or indifferent to the faith.”

by Francis X. Rocca Catholic News Service

Photo: Pope Benedict XVI waves after celebrating Ash Wednesday Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Feb. 13. The service was expected to be the last large liturgical event of Pope Benedict’s papacy. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Benedict Will be Prayerful Presence in Next Papacy, Spokesman Says

(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

by Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Even though Pope Benedict XVI will spend his retirement near Rome and then inside Vatican City, he will not play any role in the upcoming election for a new pope, and he will not interfere with the responsibilities and decision-making activities of the new pontiff, the Vatican spokesman said. Rather, the new pope will have the prayerful support and empathy of someone who understands “more than anyone in the world” the burden and responsibilities of being a pope, said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi. The spokesman also confirmed that Pope Benedict has a pacemaker and has had it “for some time.” He said the battery recently was changed, but that the procedure had nothing to do with the pope’s decision to resign. Father Lombardi made his remarks Feb. 12, the day after the 85-year-old pope announced that, because of his age and waning energies, he was resigning effective Feb. 28. The Jesuit spokesman described as an “indiscretion” a report in the Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore, which said Pope Benedict had gone to a private Rome clinic three months ago for a small “procedure” to change the batteries in his pacemaker. The spokesman confirmed it was true and said it had been a “normal” and “routine” procedure.

Vatican’s New App Lets Users Follow Live Events

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The Vatican launched a new “Pope App” on the eve of the release of the pope’s World Communications Day message, which is dedicated to social networks as important spaces for evangelization. The new app provides live streaming of papal events and video feeds from the Vatican’s six webcams. It sends out alerts and links to top stories coming out of the Vatican’s many news outlets, and carries words and images of the pope. “The Pope App” went live Jan. 23 for iPhone and iPad, while an Android version is expected to be ready at the end of February. It’s currently available in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese and Italian. The Vatican has been stepping up its digital presence in recent years — the latest example being the papal Twitter feed @Pontifex, which has attracted more than 2 million followers in nine languages. The new app will also allow people to follow live broadcasts of papal events — such as the Sunday Angelus and Wednesday general audience — from any mobile device or smartphone. Users will receive an alert when an event is about to begin. The app also shows views from any one of the Vatican’s six live webcams. Two webcams are located on the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica: one pointed at St. Peter’s Square and the other at the Vatican governor’s office. Others are located high on the colonnade around St. Peter’s Square, directed at Blessed John Paul II’s tomb in St. Peter’s Basilica; high on the Vatican hill, pointing toward the dome of the basilica; and aimed at the gardens of the papal summer villa in Castel Gandolfo.

John Paul II Exhibit in New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS – The Archdiocese of New Orleans, in association with the Museum of Biblical Art in Dallas, will host “Portrait of Faith: John Paul II in Life & Art,” March 8-June 16 at the New Orleans Museum of Art.

The exhibit, which will include personal items of Blessed John Paul II, never-before-seen photographs of his historic 1987 visit to New Orleans and sacred artwork from three contemporary artists, has been designed to reach people of all faiths on many different levels, said Wendy Vitter, archdiocesan coordinator.

“I was here when we welcomed Blessed John Paul to the archdiocese, and it’s an honor for us to have him come back in a different way and a spiritual way,” Archbishop Gregory Aymond said. “This will allow us to relive his visit here and recall the great blessing of his being the chief shepherd of the Catholic Church.”

Vitter said the exhibit will have something for everyone.

“If you love history, you will be looking at history through the photographs from 25 years ago,” she said. “If you love art, there will be many pieces of sacred art. If you’ve lost your faith along the way, come and try to be inspired. If you already have faith, hopefully it will be deepened through this exhibit.”

Given the way the civic and ecumenical communities in New Orleans rallied to welcome the pope in 1987, Vitter said Archbishop Aymond wanted to make sure that the museum exhibit was designed to encourage interfaith dialogue. Faith leaders of every major religion eagerly accepted an invitation to be co-hosts, Vitter said.

“This is not just a Catholic exhibit,” Vitter said. “We have leaders of many faiths to serve as co-hosts, and we encourage their congregations to join with them out of respect for this man. He was a great man who opened his arms to all, and we’d like to do the same.”

The exhibit will include a 15-minute video to be used as an introductory part of the tour. It will offer reflections from Archbishop Aymond, Dr. Norman Francis of Xavier University of Louisiana, Rabbi Edward Cohn, a member of the St. Augustine Marching 100, which played for the pope, and many others.

Vitter said she is indebted to NOMA director Susan Taylor and her associate, exhibit co-curator Lisa Rotondo-McCord, and also to Scott Peck, curator of the Museum of Biblical Art in Dallas, and R.J. Machacek, exhibit designer, for their assistance.

Last fall, Peck offered to take the lead in securing artwork and defining the theme of the exhibit, and all of his time and expertise have been a gift to the archdiocese, Vitter said. In 2005, the Dallas museum suffered a massive fire that burned nearly everything in its extensive collection of sacred art except for a zucchetto once worn by Pope John Paul II.

“The fire in 2005 was so devastating that it melted the steel beams of the museum,” Vitter said. “There were a few ashes on the zucchetto, but it was just sitting there in its case. Scott told me, ‘I just feel like it’s the hand of God telling me we need to come and help you.’”

The exhibit will be open six days a week (closed Mondays): Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Cost is $15 for adults, $13 for seniors, active military personnel and members of groups of 10 or more; and $6 for children ages 7-17. Groups are allowed in on their own from 9 to 11 a.m., every day except Monday.

For information, call toll free 1 (866) 608-4799, visit or email Vitter at

by Peter Finney, Jr., Clarion Herald

Celebration of Service Mass

On January 12, St. Joseph Church in Shreveport offered a “Celebration of Service” Mass for all those in the parish who have answered the call to serve. They honored those volunteers who tirelessly, often quietly, give of themselves to serve those in need in their parish and in their community. Many do so humbly and without need for recognition or praise. They represent “the hands and feet of Christ” in our community.

Over 150 people attended the Saturday evening Mass, celebrated by Fr. Karl Daigle, pastor of St. Joseph Church. Fr. Karl’s homily emphasized the reading from Matthew 25: 40, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” Fr. Karl emphasized that as Jesus identifies himself in every person, when we serve others we serve Christ present in each person.

The prayers of the faithful were offered by members of the congregation, representing some of the many expressions of their Catholic community’s response to Christ’s call.

Fr. Karl offered a blessing to all in the community who tirelessly serve those who are less fortunate and live on the margins of our society. The Liturgy was followed by a meal in the Family Life Center presented by Susan Prest, the Event Coordinator.

This was the third year St. Joseph Church has gathered to celebrate the amazing ways in which Christ is working through his faithful.

by Jane Snyder, St. Joseph Church

Catholic Charities: Support Through Volunteers and Donations

Donations for St. Therese of Lisieux support the ministries of Catholic Charities.

In this time of Lenten renewal, as we reexamine the meaning of God’s call for us, we hope that you will pray for Catholic Charities of Shreveport and those we serve daily.  They are many and their numbers grow daily. We strive to be here for them to alleviate their suffering and help them toward a better life through our many programs and through education.  We ask not only for your prayers, but that you consider financially supporting Catholic Charities this Lenten season in honor of your commitment to Him and to yourself.

We also would like you to consider giving of yourself by volunteering with us. There are so many ways you can be a part of our work and share your knowledge and heart with those who are unaccustomed to receiving help simply because someone wants to. You can work directly with clients in Gabriel’s Closet, our shop for low-income new moms, their infants and small children or perhaps you would love to coach someone after they’ve attended our financial education classes at the Money School, to help them follow the path they have been shown toward a healthier financial future.  Maybe you’d love to do some intake work with clients who come to us for emergency assistance. Their stories and struggles will impact you and give you an insight into their day-to-day lives.  Or perhaps, your strengths lie in other areas that would not involve you directly with clients, like data entry, filing or perhaps sorting and logging the many in-kind donations to our food pantry and to Gabriel’s Closet. Maybe you are a whiz with computers and could be on call when we need assistance. Whatever your skills and interests and wherever your heart directs you, we surely have just the right area that you’d be happy to be a part of.

One other special volunteer opportunity that is brand new is our Little Flower League!  What exactly is the Little Flower League? It’s a group of people who enjoy the fellowship and fun of making St. Therese of Lisieux bracelets and key rings together which so many have embraced as gifts for family and friends.  We ask that a donation be made for each. One hundred percent of the proceeds from those donations goes directly into our programs of assistance to the poor and needy in our diocese.  We’ll be happy to teach you how to make them so please call us for days and times the group meets. What a perfect way to give to those you love while giving back to those in need!  Surely a win-win for all!

by Theresa Mormino, Catholic Charities

Vocation Visits

Fr. Matthew Long and Seminarian John Parker visited students at Catholic Schools

Seminarian John Parker answers questions at St. Joseph School.

During the month of January, Fr. Matthew Long, Director of Church Vocations, and John Parker, Seminarian of the diocese, had the opportunity to visit the Catholic Schools of the Diocese of Shreveport. They shared their vocation stories and urged the students to pray to God for guidance in their lives. They also entertained any questions the students had about the Church, the priesthood or religious life.
John Parker said of the visits: “What struck me most about my vocations visits is best summed up by a single, simple word, a word which we so often take for granted: hope! There is great hope for the future of the Church! This hope is most evident in the eyes of the youth. One can unmistakably see in these youthful eyes a great desire for the fullness of life. All they need is more young men and women to step forward and provide an honest example, an example of the fullness of life that exists in a vocation discerned and lived out. These kids give me hope that there will be more who step forward and make this courageous decision to joyfully live their lives for Christ. In the mean time, I will continue to pray for them that they do so with hope-filled hearts.”

Fr. Matthew Long, Director of Church Vocations, visits with students at Our Lady of Fatima School in Monroe.

by Fr. Matthew Long, Director of Church Vocations

Navigating the Faith: Sacraments of Initiation

by Rev. Mark Watson

One of the greatest gifts which resulted from the Second Vatican Council has been the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). This gift continues to shape the lives of church communities and the candidates and catechumens they welcome.

RCIA has certainly helped to shape my spiritual life. After Graduate School I moved to Shreveport to work at the LSU-Medical Center. Soon after arriving I became a sponsor in the RCIA process at my new parish, the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans. I was a sponsor for four years. Being a part of the RCIA process brought a sense of acceptance and a new understanding of my faith. Now as pastor I enjoy working with candidates who wish to explore living their faith in the Catholic Church.

In my first two years as pastor of St. Patrick Church and Sacred Heart Church, I have enjoyed working with RCIA groups in both parishes. I have also felt great fulfillment in assisting in the initiation of those on the margins of society. This has included Hispanic children and adults who had not yet received their initiation sacraments and inmates with a desire to become Catholic. RCIA has helped these individuals find deeper fulfillment in their faith lives.

Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist
The Sacraments of Initiation are Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist. Baptism incorporates us into Christ and forms us into God’s People. In Baptism our sins are forgiven and we become adopted children of God. Confirmation is the bridge between the waters of Baptism and the reception of the Lord’s Presence in the Eucharist.  Confirmation makes us more complete in the image of our Lord and fills us with the Holy Spirit so we may bear witness to Christ before the world. We receive the True Presence of Our Lord at the table of the Eucharist so that we may have eternal life and show forth the unity of God’s People.

History of RCIA
In the first two centuries of the Church there was no formal process of initiation.  Faith in Jesus Christ and in God as Father of Jesus Christ, conversion of lifestyle, and signs of concern for the needy were the only requirements for Baptism. By the third century the process of initiation was formalized. In the Apostolic Tradition (ca. 215) Hippolytus defines two stages of preparation: those being introduced to God’s word for the first time, catecumeni (catechumens) or audientes (hearers) and those who have been chosen by the community for initiation.

While the rites of initiation developed and fluctuated depending on the local church, a highly structured and unified rite of initiation evolved. Catechumens could spend three years in spiritual catechetical and liturgical formation. (CCC, 1230)

Catechumens entered a more intense period of preparation, usually coinciding with the Season of Lent. Lent took the form of a lengthy retreat before Baptism for the whole community. The period was one of intense prayer, fasting and continued study.  The Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer were handed over to the chosen. The Gospel stories of the Samaritan woman (John 4:16-42), the man born blind (John 9:1-41) and the resurrection of Lazarus (John 11:1-45) were read during Lenten Masses for the catechumens.

Tertullian and Hippolytus both identified the great Vigil of Easter as the most appropriate time for Baptism. There were various ways of celebrating Baptism among early churches but the common elements were the renunciation of Satan, the proclamation of the Apostles’ Creed, pre-baptismal anointings, Baptism with a Trinitarian formula, bestowal of a white garment and anointing and imposition of hands. After these rites the newly baptized were welcomed to the Eucharistic table.

The fourth and fifth centuries saw an increase in the numbers of converts after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. This resulted in a shortened initiation process, relaxed requirements and unverified conversions.  With the universal acceptance of infant Baptism during the fifth century and indiscriminate Baptisms of conquered “barbarians,” the adult catechumenate became nearly defunct. Once infant Baptism became the norm, the church focused on post-baptismal catechesis rather than the various stages which had previously led to full initiation in the Catholic Church. (CCC 1231)

By the beginning of the twentieth century, only in North Africa was a catechumenal model kept alive. From North Africa, European countries like France revived the catechumenate. From this model, RCIA was revised and restored in 1972 in accordance with the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council. The Rite of Christian Initiation was mandated for use in the United States beginning on September 1, 1988. (CCC 1232)  

Central to the meaning of RCIA is that conversion is a gradual process of formation.  This process assists the baptized (candidates) and the non-baptized (catechumens) to live the Christian life and to be joined to Christ. The RCIA process happens within a community. The initiation of adults is the responsibility of all the baptized, not only the pastor and the RCIA team. The community should welcome the catechumens and candidates and should offer their lives as examples of renewal, especially during Lent.

The RCIA process is understood to be paschal in that the candidates and catechumens are joined to Christ’s death, burial and resurrection through the initiation sacraments. The Season of Lent and the Triduum are to assist the catechumens in celebrating the Paschal Mystery through their Baptism at the Easter Vigil.

As we approach the celebration of the Easter Vigil please pray that the candidates and catechumens within our parishes will grow closer to Christ this Lent and throughout their lives.

(Information about the history of RCIA was gathered from the Encyclopedia of Catholicism, Richard P. McBrien, General Editor.)

Photo: (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz, Long Island Catholic)

Documents of Vatican II: Presbyterorum Ordinis & Optatam Totius

Decree on Ministry and Life of Priests & Decree on Priestly Training

by Christie Weeks

The final year of the Second Vatican Council (1965) saw the promulgation of two decrees specifically addressing the priesthood.
Presbyterorum Ordinis, Vatican II’s Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests focuses on the pastoral mission of  priests. Through its “aim of giving more effective support to the ministry of priests and making better provision for their life,” the decree reminds us that our priests are drawn from the people and called to service.

Three major functions of priests are described in the first chapter:
• To announce the Gospel of God through preaching, by their example and behavior, teaching and by inviting all to conversion.
• With the Eucharist central to their ministry they are to teach people how to fully participate in the Liturgy.
• To build up the Church by encouraging people to seek increased Christian maturity and by promoting communities that are charitable, missionary, prayerful and faithful.

Chapter II of the decree discusses the priest’s relations with their bishops, other priests and lay people. They are to be helpers and advisors to their bishop. Hospitality and fostering community life with brother priests are critical. Experienced priests should be helpful to newly ordained men. Priests should promote the dignity of lay people and accept and nurture their competence. The faithful are reminded of their obligations to their priests—respect, help and filial love.

The final chapter addresses the life of priests. Prayer, spiritual direction and care of their own spiritual health are vital. They should strive to set an example for the faithful and commit to their own formation and education. They should be paid fair salaries, allowed vacation time and be given proper support in ill health and old age.

The introduction to Optatam Totius, the Decree on the Training of Priests, opens with the Vatican Councils admission that “the desired renewal of the whole Church depends in great part upon a priestly ministry animated by the spirit of Christ and it solemnly affirms the critical importance of priestly training.” It reminds us that we all have the responsibility of fostering vocations to the priesthood.

The decree emphasizes that every aspect of a seminarian’s formation should be developed with a pastoral view. Candidates should be thoroughly screened, provided sound scriptural and theological education, deeper spiritual training and a realistic understanding of priestly life. The decree envisions seminary programs that are “an initiation to the students’ future lives as priests.”

Especially important in a formation program are the principal areas of ministry including catechetics, preaching, liturgical worship and administration of the sacraments, works of charity and pastoral duties. Training and opportunities for practical experience should be provided to seminarians.

Finally the decree explains that ongoing priestly training in the spiritual, intellectual and pastoral arenas is crucial for the renewal and progress of our clergy.  We can see then, that the sound implementation of Optatam Totius provides foundational support for Presbyterorum Ordinis.