Vatican City — “What is going on? Where are you going? Where are you headed?” Carl Anderson, the head of the Knights of Columbus summed up the questions of the hour this morning here at the Paul VI hall next door to St. Peter’s Basilica.
They also happen to be questions that are part of the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose feast is Wednesday, and is rumored to be the topic of the pope’s first tweet.
I’m currently in Rome as one of 250 participants in an International Congress on Ecclesia in America, a product of John Paul II’s imploring the Americas to reevangelize in the love of Christ, with Mary as a motherly model, to build a civilization of love to counter and heal the prevailing culture of violence and death. (One way to characterize this gathering might be that we’re asking: What’s been going on these last 15 years, already?!)
Religious freedom comes up in nearly every talk so far, as it happens, too.
Getting back to the questions: “What is going on? Where are you going? Where are you headed?” That’s some version of just about the most frequently asked question I get: “What happened with the Catholics? I thought you were all going to defend religious liberty? What are the Catholics doing about it?” The answer, I believe, is in no small part what is happening here.
Yesterday we met with Pope Benedict for what might have been more an admonishment than a pep talk: He basically said (I paraphrase): If you people, who are representing your part of the world as Catholic leaders, are not living truly Catholic lives — receiving the Sacraments in openness and love to God’s will, living the Word, knowing the Word — you are part of the problem.
This is consistent with a theme at the U.S. Catholic bishops conference in Baltimore in November. Quoting G. K. Chesterton asking “What’s Wrong with the World?,” Timothy Cardinal Dolan repeated his answer: “I am.” For Catholics, it is the theme of the hour. Or ought to be.
The pope got into it Sunday night at the altar of the chair of St. Peter:
The Church is convinced that the light for an adequate solution can only come from encounter with the living Christ, which gives rise to attitudes and ways of acting based on love and truth. This is the decisive force which will transform the American continent.
He went on:
Dear friends, the love of Christ impels us to devote ourselves without reserve to proclaiming his Name throughout America, bringing it freely and enthusiastically to the hearts of all its inhabitants. There is no more rewarding or beneficial work than this. There is no greater service that we can provide to our brothers and sisters. They are thirsting for God. For this reason, we ought to take up this commitment with conviction and joyful dedication, encouraging priests, deacons, consecrated men and women and pastoral agents to purify and strengthen their interior lives ever more fully through a sincere relationship with the Lord and a worthy and frequent reception of the sacraments. This will be encouraged by suitable catechesis and a correct and ongoing doctrinal formation marked by complete fidelity to the word of God and the Church’s magisterium and aimed at offering a response to the deepest questions and aspirations of the human heart. The witness of your faith will thus be more eloquent and incisive, and you will grow in unity in the fulfilment of your apostolate. A renewed missionary spirit and zealous generosity in your commitment will be an irreplaceable contribution to what the universal Church expects and needs from the Church in America.
You don’t have to be Catholic to agree with the man that it is a good idea to be who you claim to be! And that the world might benefit.
Anyway, you ask me what the problem is and what we’re doing about it: bad catechesis, bad witness. And the Church’s response is: a year dedicated to rededicating resources to teaching what it is the Church teaches and why (Year of Faith), and reawakening an awareness of the call of baptism, as Anderson put it this morning. The Church isn’t just its bishops and clergy. And Christ isn’t who each decides he is — we are made in his image and likeness, not the other way around — but what the Gospel does.
By the way, I was livetweeting some of this Church in America conference while America was sleeping. Will continue to as wifi allows. The pope may be tweeting Wednesday, but not every room in the Vatican City State is conducive to being online.
For those interested in my iPad photography, the pope last night: