Pope at the Piazza; "Sidelined" Liturgy; Congressmen Call

A Message of Peace on Solemnity of Immaculate Conception

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By Delia Gallagher

ROME, DEC. 11, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Monday was the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. It is a national holiday in Italy and an important day for Romans who get to see their bishop, the Pope, crown the statue of Mary at the foot of the Spanish Steps in the center of the city.

Thousands of people lined the narrow street of the Via Condotti, famous for its designer shops, and spilled out onto the Piazza di Spagna, snaking around the fountain and up the wide staircase of the Spanish Steps.

The space reserved for journalists is close to the statue, for a better view of John Paul II, but I chose to forsake the view to stand one among the crowd -- the experience of seeing the Pope alongside genuine enthusiasts is uplifting.

We waited for an hour in the cold, clear evening. There were Roman women in expensive furs, babies wrapped up tightly in their prams, clusters of young nuns and many teen-agers. Shopkeepers came to their doors, while above them, chic designers opened the balcony windows of their expensive ateliers and leaned out into the cold air. A young boy next to me clambered up onto a statue, despite the protests of his father, for a better view.

As it turned out, all were rewarded with a close-up view of their Pope who made the 15-minute journey from the Vatican in his popemobile, covered only by a protective sheet of light plastic, the corners of which flopped in the wind.

The space being so narrow, it was possible to reach out and touch the plastic, though none one dared.

The Pope looked great, if one can say that about a Pope (I do only because I am constantly asked, How is he, really?). He held his head strongly upright, waving his arm occasionally and smiling.

Next year will be the 150th anniversary of Blessed Pius IX's proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8, 1854. The statue in Piazza di Spagna was erected on that occasion: a bronze of the Virgin Mary surmounted on a very tall column, at its base are statues of the prophets Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel and David.

At the statue, the Pope invoked the Queen of Peace: "Hear the cry of pain of the victims of war and of the many forms of violence that bloody the earth."

"Give men and women of the third millennium," the Pope continued, "the precious gift of peace: peace in hearts and in families, in communities and among people; peace above all for those nations where, every day, fighting and death continue."

In commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, the World Day of the Sick will be held in Lourdes, France, on Feb. 11.

John Paul II, in a message to Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers and organizer of the event, remembered Mary's words at Lourdes, "I am the Immaculate Conception."

In this same message, the Pope also encouraged the work of genetic engineering, referring to the "extraordinary possibility that science today offers to intervene at the very font of life."

"Every authentic progress in this field," he added, "cannot but be encouraged, provided that it always respects the rights and the dignity of the person from his conception."

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Mindful of Liturgical Abuses

Two more anniversaries have been celebrated recently: the 100th anniversary of the Pope St. Pius X's letter "Tra le Sollecitudini" on sacred music and the 40th anniversary of Pope Paul VI's promulgation of Vatican II's constitution on the sacred liturgy, "Sacrosanctum Concilium."

On the latter, John Paul II has issued an apostolic letter in which he suggests, as he has in the past, "an examination of conscience regarding the reception of the Second Vatican Council."

With regard to liturgy, the Pope wrote, it seems to have been "sidelined in a widely secularized society."

"One aspect that needs to be cultivated with greater attention in our communities is the experience of silence," he said.

"It is not by chance that outside of Christianity, the practice of meditation, which places importance on concentrated attention, is diffuse," the Holy Father added. "Why not start, with bold pedagogy, a specific education to silence within the parameters of the Christian experience?"

The Pope specifically called on pastors to be attentive to abuses in the liturgy.

"Not respecting liturgical norms culminates sometimes in even grave abuses that place the truth of the mystery in the shadows and create discontent and tension among the People of God," he wrote. "Such abuses have nothing to do with the authentic spirit of the Council and should be corrected by pastors with an attitude of prudent firmness."

An important element of the liturgy is music, and last week John Paul II published a study of sacred music, called a chirograph, for the 100th anniversary of "Tra le Sollecitudini."

In the chirograph, the Pope recalled Pius X's letter as well as Chapter 6 of "Sacrosanctum Concilium."

Above all, sacred music "must have holiness as its reference point," John Paul II wrote. "Not all musical forms can be retained appropriate for liturgical celebrations."

Pride of place is reserved for Gregorian chant and the pipe organ, although sacred music "must also respond to the legitimate needs of adaptation and inculturation," the Pope said.

He added: "It is clear, however, that every innovation in this delicate matter must respect particular criteria, that is, the search for musical expression that responds to the necessary involvement of the entire assembly in the celebration and that avoids, at the same time, any ceding to lightness or superficiality."

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Kudos From the U.S. House

On Saturday afternoon at the U.S. Embassy to the Vatican, I met with two American congressmen who had just come from a private audience with the Pope.

Republican Representatives Mark Foley of Florida and Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan were in Rome to present the Pope with House Resolution 400, a congratulatory bill to John Paul II on the 25th anniversary of his papacy.

The text of the resolution reads:

"Whereas John Paul II has emerged as more than just a spiritual leader for the world's Catholics, but as one of the most influential and inspirational leaders of the 20th and 21st centuries, as a consistent voice for peace and human dignity: Now, therefore, be it

"Resolved, That the United States House of Representatives honors the 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul II's ascension to the papacy."

Moved by their meeting, Foley said he found John Paul II "very alert, with his eyes beaming."

Upon receiving the official resolution, the Pope said several times to the congressmen, "God bless America."

McCotter, the author of the bill, which was unanimously approved, joked that the U.S. Congress "needed more resolutions like this one" to bring the lawmakers together.

That the resolution passed unanimously in the House shows "clearly there is a recognition of moral force of the Church through the person of the Pontiff," McCotter added. He noted, however, there is still a bias against Catholics in government, particularly the judiciary.

"The judicial process of nomination in the past was: Is this candidate professionally unqualified or somehow morally unfit to hold this judicial position?" the congressman said. "What has happened recently, probably since Robert Bork, is 'politically acceptable' is now the third criteria."

"When that happens to Catholics in good standing," said McCotter, "and others in good standing with their churches who are pro-life -- they are now prohibited under that politically acceptable criterion."

He continued: "It now becomes very difficult for a Catholic in good standing to wind up on the federal bench, be it District Court, Appeals Court or U.S. Supreme Court."

McCotter insisted that anti-Catholic bias is prevalent in the United States.

"In America, if you're going to slander or smear any one ethnic group or religious group, that you can get away with, it would be the Catholic Church," he said. "I think there is bias in many quarters against the Catholic Church. When they make statements or accuse the Catholic Church of certain actions one way or another, there is not the price to be paid that there would be say if you made them of another religious group or of an ethnic minority in the United States."

Comparing the foundation of the Catholic Church to that of the United States, McCotter said that, like the Constitution, the Church is based on "inalienable rights, inalienable truths derived from the Creator."

"The Catholic Church right now, especially under John Paul II, has remained a rock of verities. The Catholic Church is based on verities, not values. ... So when you are a rock of morality in a tide of moral relativism you're going to be lapped at by the ripples of tides and waves every single day," said McCotter.

Asked whether the Church should take a more offensive approach to those who would slander it, McCotter responded: "I think the Church is focused on making sure that her members understand its teachings and if you understand those teachings you will not be swept away in the tide.

"There is a certain gravitas that comes with those beliefs that means what people say about you and their perception of you is irrelevant to your mission. And remember, Christianity is founded on martyrdom for one's beliefs, so having someone write something about you in the paper is a lot less troublesome in the 21st century than getting fed to a lion over in Circus Maximus."

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Father Dupuis' Thanks

Finally, as I mentioned in an earlier column, Father Jacques Dupuis' 80th birthday was celebrated with a Festschrift on Dec. 5 at the Gregorian University in Rome.

Father Dupuis, famous for his book "Towards a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism" which was condemned by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is a French Jesuit who spent many years in India and taught at the Gregorian.

In his talk last Friday, Father Dupuis thanked all those who supported him during his "trial" with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's congregation: Father Hans-Peter Kolvenbach, the Jesuit general superior; Archbishop Henry D'Souza of Calcutta; Cardinal Franz König of Vienna; Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue; and Father Jerry O'Collins of the Gregorian, who acted as Father Dupuis' official advocate during the proceedings.

Father Dupuis spoke frankly about the "episode which has marked my life in recent years."

"I am sure that there is much for me to be grateful for today, be it only for the enormous publicity which my writing has received through those events; more importantly, because of the intense interest and sympathy I received from the world theological community," he said. "God writes straight with crooked lines, it is said. I like to think that this has happened in my case."

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Readers may contact Delia Gallagher at delia@zenit.org.