U.S.' Point Man, for Now; Irish Prelate on Freedom

A Chargé Senses a Different Language at the Vatican

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By Catherine Smibert

ROME, SEPT. 1, 2005 (Zenit.org).- A new U.S. ambassador to the Holy See has not yet arrived in Rome, but that doesn't mean the United States is without representation.

On Tuesday evening I met with Christopher Sandrolini, who said he was "thrilled" to be posted in Rome as the new deputy chief of mission and temporary chargé d'affaires for the embassy.

His résumé indicates why Rome is a special change for this diplomat.

After having worked in places such as the Dominican Republic, India and Slovakia, Sandrolini says that, as a diplomat and as a practicing Catholic, "the most unique aspect of this posting is the difference between the kind of dialogue engaged in and that we are surrounded by" when dealing with the Church.

He explained: "Normally in the U.S. and in any other country, most of the dialogue we're watching is the political … which tends to deal more with the problems of the day and seldom in the context of the longer perspective.

"Here, I find that the Holy See is dealing with questions of centuries in their duration and really it's the marriage, you might say, of the celestial and the terrestrial because it's not only the enduring questions of God and man, but also how to apply them in a way that will help people on an everyday level."

He described the "language that one speaks here" as being "a more profound language and it's a more profound way of thinking that what we're often accustomed to."

The U.S. Embassy to the Holy See has a history of being active in fighting injustices on a world scale in conjunction with the Vatican.

Sandrolini thinks this action will continue, and he told me how much he is "looking forward to the arrival of Francis Rooney, to take further steps." Rooney, who was nominated by U.S. President George Bush as the next ambassador, is awaiting Senate confirmation.

"Mr. Rooney shares the approach that the last ambassador, Jim Nicholson, had," Sandrolini said. "That is, indeed for us to be very active and to take a very engaged role, whether it be through conferences that we may either sponsor or attend, or by bringing important speakers and senior representatives of our government here for meetings and for us to carry on an active dialogue with the Holy See itself and other members of the community here."

Sandrolini gave me a sense that a key concern for the United States is religious liberty.

In light of this issue and Benedict XVI's accent on it this month, I asked the U.S. aide to comment on the draft constitution of Iraq and whether the United States felt its own response to be reflective of the Holy See's.

He answered: "I think we can certainly say that both President Bush and Pope Benedict XVI have made it very clear that the protection of religious liberty for all is paramount around the world, and certainly that's true in the case of Iraq as well.

"We, as the U.S., congratulate the Iraqis on the achievement of completing this draft constitution as there has been much sacrifice made over the last several years among these peoples as they worked to overthrow tyranny and now to carry on the difficult task of the building of a renewed nation -- to rebuild society in many ways."

Though the process is ongoing, Sandrolini contends that the draft already has admirable aspects: "There are protections for religious freedom, there are protections for minority groups, there are protections for the rights of women, a strong emphasis on the rule of law, on equality, on democracy and many other aspects which together lay the basis for good government, so it's quite an achievement to have come so far."

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Archbishop Martin at Rimini

After the World Youth Day, many young faithful continued on to another annual meeting just a couple of hours out from the Eternal City, in Rimini.

Some 700,000 from around the world gathered for the event run by the Catholic movement Communion and Liberation. Church, political and artistic figures participated in an examination of topics reflecting the occasion's theme of freedom.

While in Cologne, Benedict XVI had already set the tone for the Rimini event, through his examination of true freedom. The Pope also sent a personal message to Rimini on finding freedom in Jesus.

After hearing these words of Benedict, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin grew in enthusiasm for his own participation in the weeklong encounter.

"Very often," the Irish prelate said, "people think of freedom as being a freedom 'from' but there's also a freedom 'for' -- a freedom to be able to do something, construct something differently and use one's talents and capabilities in a responsible way, in the service of God's plan for society. And this naturally requires a different type of faith."

This faith needs to be deeper and expressed in an explicit way to make a difference in a pluralist society, Archbishop Martin said. But many youth do not consider this an option in their daily existence, he added.

The archbishop says it is "a radical faith which is more mature and which goes deeper still into the mystery of what God's love for humanity means, and what overcomes the evil that exists in the world and is the expression for realizing good in the world."

"Young people are the future leaders of our nations," he said. "My hope is that they will develop as a faith community or society whose values spring from a belief in God and they will go out into their professional and family lives, inspired by the principles of the Gospel with a certain coherence and that they will not be caught up in the superficial visions of one moment or another."

In his address at Rimini, entitled "A Contribution for Freedom -- Ireland for Europe," Archbishop Martin talked about ways to promote this agenda amid the rival forces of consumerism and secularization.

He said one of the biggest challenges for bishops is "that we have available for people […] the structures that will help them deepen their faith as they go along their paths in life."

He said one of the biggest challenges for bishops is "that we have available for people, the structures that will help them deepen their faith as they go along their paths in life."

"If we want to arrive in Ireland to a new maturity between Church and state," he explained, "the first thing we must do as Church is to create a new generation of mature Christians who understand their faith and who are able to interpret that faith and live it out in our modern society ... living it in a way that brings hope and meaning in theirs and others lives."

Archbishop Martin stressed practical examples of emphasizing values surrounding marriage and the family and looking to laity and families as a greater resource for society.

"We need to ensure," he said, "that this formation really takes a grip on young people in the way they approach the challenges of life and gives a source of meaning and hope to them and purpose for them in their lives."

Outlining the missionary history, the economic growth, the war and peace that the Irish nation have offered as lessons to the world, Archbishop Martin now offered this one based on their background:

"It's no longer a question that you just learn your Catechism or your religious education in school and that will take you clearly through life. ... We have to have a constant dialogue and deepening of the realization of what it means to be a believer in a world where things change so much for the future."

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Feast of Forgiveness

During August, Rome and its surrounding areas are full of traditional festivities. One of these occurs in the town of L'Aquila each Aug. 28, the feast of forgiveness.

Celebrations include the ceremonious opening of the holy door, performed this year by Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. The door was then closed after a Mass celebrated by Archbishop Giuseppe Molinari.

Pilgrims have been coming for more than 700 years to pass through this door so as to obtain a plenary indulgence.

This indulgence is particular since it was offered to each citizen -- and not only to the rich -- by a hermit monk from this region, Pietro del Morrone, who became Pope Celestine V in 1294.

He simply asked that people come with a desire to sincerely repent of their failings. A reconciliation toward God and man could be expressed in a visit to the Church of St. Mary of Collemaggio on the evenings of Aug. 28-29. The indulgence has since been confirmed and recommended by many Pontiffs.

A week of medieval processions, concerts, feasting, art exhibitions and conferences have since accompanied this occasion, one I would highly recommend to all summer pilgrims to Italy.

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Catherine Smibert can be reached at catherine@zenit.org.