I guess you could say I'm beaming with pride and joy today. One reason is because of the strong Pro Life tone emanating from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue after an eight year void that, the silence of which, as Joe Dalton wrote yesterday and Dr. Frank Joseph the day before, has been deafening.
Never mind this miserable weather we've been having this winter where a record high was set on Sunday in San Diego and yesterday it snowed and hailed on the beach. We call it "snail." And it seems like waiting for warmer spring weather is progressing at a snail's pace, but have hope. Spring is closer than you think. That is not evidenced in Punxatawny Phil or Beauregard Lee, two of the more famous ground-hogs, but in the fresh air in Washington.
President George W. Bush's first executive order was to reinstate the ban on funding abortions overseas, something first established by President Ronald Reagan in 1984. Bush has not slowed down since January 22nd. He has confidently offered a new concept to America - faith-based initiatives, rallying influential Catholic leaders to his side for a series of meetings. The first was at the residence of Cardinal-designate Theodore McCarrick in Washington, D.C. where the President and First Lady Laura Bush dined with the new Archbishop of Washington D.C. along with a selected group of Bush's cabinet and retired Cardinal James Hickey and the former D.C. Auxiliary Bishop William Lori, chosen to head the Diocese of Bridgeport in replacing Cardinal-designate Edward M. Egan who, as we all know, replaced the late, great Cardinal John J. O'Connor.
A few days later, Bush held another conference, this time in the White House where he invited more conservative, loyal-to-Rome prelates such as Cardinal-designate Egan, Archbishop John Favalora of Miami, and Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap of Denver among this exclusive group. In an earlier editorial in mid December, we had offered the latter's name as a darkhorse to receive the scarlet biretta. We received a very gracious e-mail from His Excellency in Denver thanking us for our flattering words, but assuring us it would not occur. Yes, he knew something we didn't. I wrote him back thanking him for his prompt reply - something unheard of with most bishops in America today - and confidently predicted that it will happen eventually not because he seeks the cardinalate, but because the Conclave will seek him. The Holy Spirit will inspire the Holy Father in God's time to select this first Native American prelate not because of political pressure, not because of tenure, not because of minority, but because Archbishop Chaput represents all that is right with the Church in America today. His see is the ideal his fellow colleagues would do well to emulate.
With the two most recent additions, the United States representation of red hats, now at 11, illustrates a strong conservative, loyal flavor that hopefully will permeate the many archdioceses and dioceses throughout America and instill in the archbishops, bishops and chanceries a return to reverence for Jesus present in the Most Holy Eucharist, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, and to eradicate the abuses that have diluted our beautiful, Latin-origin liturgy into a vernacular that more resembles a protestant service with the emphasis on "we" more than Thee. We pray they will influence others to strongly enforce Ex Corde Ecclesiae to purge Catholic institutions of theologians who refuse to teach true Catholic doctrine. We hope with all our being that they will lead the effort to excommunicate those senators and members of the House who, while calling themselves 'Catholic,' stubbornly reject the teachings of Christ and His Church by promoting and passing legislation that continues to kill God's innocent ones.
One of these cardinals has made a significant difference. Succeeding the late, liberal Cardinal Joseph Bernadin as the head of the vast Chicago See on April 8, 1997, Cardinal Francis E. George, OMI has turned the archdiocese around for the good in an amazing short span of time. How much influence has he had? Consider that vocations are on the rise in the greater Chicago area. It is the same region where his own vocation began. It is the same see where his own parents worked so closely with Father Al Svobodny, OMI, our dear spiritual director and friend for the past 45 years, in harvesting vocations in the 50's and 60's when Fr. Al was the Vocations Director for the Central Province of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. It is the same order this editor embraced as a seminarian 44 years ago. To this day, I still take seriously my charge as an honorary Oblate, wearing my special, meaningful gold Junior Oblate Cross to daily Mass.
From my roots in Minneapolis where the Mississippi River snakes its way over St. Anthony Falls southward from its source at Lake Itasca, much of my youth was inspired and molded in the Oblate missionary spirit that I strive today to uphold and share. That same spirit that motivated missionaries Father Hennepin and the explorers Marquette, La Salle and Joliet to convert those living along the Mississippi, is recycling throughout the heartland today and having an impact along all 3,741 miles of the tributaries and main stream that forms the third largest river in the world.
That is another reason I am beaming so proudly and happy today; one because, as Cyndi, whose roots stem from near the Ohio River which also empties into the Mississippi River, informed you last week and this week, we have returned to the parish of our California roots. Those same roots were strongly nourished in Minnesota, Missouri and Illinois by the Oblates, a missionary order founded by Bishop Eugene de Mazenod, who was canonized by John Paul II in December, 1998. The Holy Father is very aware of the Oblates, he's very aware of Cardinal George and what he has accomplished and has to offer. It is a treasure the Pope wants to share with all in the Curia, so much so that he has approved Cardinal George to preach the Pope's Lenten Retreat, a tremendous honor and privilege. For more, see USA News in today's issue.
Many will recall last year's Papal Retreat and the inspiring, moving words, published by ZENIT, of the appointed Retreat Master Cardinal-designate Francis-Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan of Vietnam who is the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. He is a member of the Curia, close to those who work daily at the Vatican. Cardinal George is not. He is a working American prelate who is as comfortable at a Cub's game as he is in the mayor's office, who is as much at ease in talking to Catholic grade schoolers as he is in addressing the highest assembly of the Magisterium.
What we see today is the strong midwest flavor of the Americans in Rome. The first American presence in the Curia of this current crop was Cardinal William Wakefield Baum, the Dallas-born prelate who began his priestly life in the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese where the Missouri River flows toward the Mississippi. His episcopal years began with his appointment as the bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, which covered all of southern Missouri from the Oklahoma border to the mighty "Mississipp." He was replaced by Bishop Bernard Law, now Cardinal Law of Boston, when Pope Paul VI appointed Bishop Baum to serve as Archbishop of Washington D.C. in 1973. In 1980 he was appointed by John Paul II as the Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, chiefly responsible for overseeing seminaries and institutes of study. After ten years in that post, the Holy Father made him the Major Penitentiary of the Apostolic Penitentiary Tribunal.
The second presence made itself evident three years after Archbishop James Francis Stafford hosted a very successful and fruitful World Youth Days in Denver. John Paul II called him to Rome to make him the President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity and, in his seventh Consistory, elevated him to the College of Cardinals. He began his bishopric in Memphis on the shores of the Mississippi. His entrance into the Curia on August 20, 1996 opened the door for Archbishop Chaput to be appointed his successor. Bishop Chaput had been bishop of Rapid City, where the Butte Bear River flows into the Cheyenne which empties into the Missouri enroute to the Mississippi.
Now the third presence of Cardinal George leading the Papal Retreat gives signs that His Holiness is very much aware of the American influence. Cardinal George was born in Chicago where the Chicago River flows into the Des Plaines River and then into the Illinois River which flows through the fertile, conservative Diocese of Peoria, headed by Bishop John J. Myers. From the plains of Peoria it heads southwestward, emptying into the Mississippi north of the Archdiocese of St. Louis where Archbishop Justin F. Rigali was handpicked by the Pope for that See. Whether it is coincidence or Godincidence, it is a fact that there is a growing midwest presence in Rome.
There are many who believe there was a strong German influence that directed the norms of Vatican II. They referred to it as "the Rhine flows into the Tiber." Thirty-six years later we can see the ebb and flow of a different tributary for, indeed, from the heartland of America the Mississippi flows into the Tiber today.