It is appropriate therefore, that on the week of Prayer for Christian unity the Holy Father wings his way once more to the west. The occasion is the official closing of the Bishops' Synod of the Americas, held late last year at the Vatican. He was invited to close the proceedings with his Apostolic Letter in Mexico City at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe this week. He enthusiastically accepted and why not?! It was on the site of Tepeyac Hill that the Blessed Mother of God, the chief proponent of Christian Unity, appeared to Blessed Juan Diego setting in motion the end of human sacrifice by the Aztecs and inaugurating the conversion of millions of souls to the true faith. It was the seeds of this apparition that has harvested the greatest Catholic population in the world. Brazil remains today the largest Catholic nation with 135,840,000 Catholics out of a total population of 157,870,000. That's 86% of the total. Coming in second is Mexico with 92.4% of the citizens claiming Catholicism as their religion. Leapfrogging two places in the most recent findings published in this year's Catholic Almanac published by Our Sunday Visitor is the United States. There was an increase of 355,855 Catholics since the last census. Even though the total US Catholic population of over sixty-one million comprises only 22.7%, in this land of a potpourri of religions, Catholics are the most plentiful of any faith easily outdistancing the next denomination (Baptists) by over forty-five and a half million! Two of the top three states, California and Texas, boast a strong Hispanic population that can be traced back to Guadalupe.
His holiness has a method to his madness despite the secular criticism that he is growing senile at age 77. Consider that the Americas as a whole comprise 50% of the world's total Catholic population and we can see why he focuses so much pastoral attention on the New World. It was twenty years ago next week that John Paul II opened the Third General Conference of the Latin American Episcopate at the Shrine, his first visit to Mexico. He had the foresight then to reinforce Pope Pius XII's declaration that Our Lady of Guadalupe was not just the patroness of Latin America as Pope Saint Pius X had designated, but that she was patroness of all the Americas. Our Lady herself has reaffirmed this numerous times in her messages to visionaries and messengers. She has also confirmed that her mission remains the same - to stop human sacrifice. In the sixteenth century it was a pagan ritual performed by the Aztecs in which they would sacrifice full grown humans, most often virgins, on the altar of fire to the Aztec god Quetzelcoatl. At the end of the twentieth century it is the ritual of abortion that is an even more gruesome crime. Sadly, this form of human sacrifice has dulled the collective conscience of the masses who have lost the sense of human dignity with the terrible sin of slaughtering the innocent unborn fetuses. This has been the most divisive issue of our times and only John Paul II has been able to label it what it truly is: the great struggle of the Sanctity of Life vs. the culture of death.
And so he returns to rally this fifty-percent block of Catholics to realize the error of their ways and embrace the Culture of LIfe. He is a true believer in establishing cultural balance through the economy and way of life of the peoples so that countries will not be offered up as the victims of desperation on the altar of exploitation by others. That is why he has been calling on advanced nations to forgive the debts of third-world impoverished lands, asking all to live the Lord's Prayer - "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.".
Thus, on the brink of the third millennium, despite the preoccupation by so many with things of this finite, materialistic world, John Paul II continues to tweak the conscience of the world, balancing everything with a sincere, practical concern for the whole person both body and soul. It brings to mind another truth, that the dignity of man lies in not what others can do for him, but in what he can do for himself and others by learning to be independent of others and totally dependent on God. He realizes you cannot just tell people what to do; you must teach them how to care for themselves and that is what he continues to convey to leaders of every nation melding the political, economic, sociological and ecclesiastical components and how all can improve the culture of life in their own country as well as the world through adherence to God's Laws and the laws of nature. The Pope has always transcended the political scene to reach deep into the soul of the populace. He understands the need for nourishment both for the body and the soul and he offers both through practical applications and through Jesus Christ present in the Holy Eucharist and in the Word. The Holy Father realizes and continues to impart to all the time-honored axiom that Saint Augustine so eloquently offered - "My soul is restless until it rests in Thee." Wherever he goes, the Holy Father brings home that point as well as the words of the Our Father "Give us this day our daily bread" for Our Lord and His Vicar on earth realize the inalienable fact that it's very difficult to achieve true peace of heart without a piece of bread!
Urban VI could have thwarted this schism had he been more receptive to criticism and more attuned to what the cardinals were saying. His pig-headedness and Jeckly-Hyde personality pushed most within the curia away and made it possible for his enemies to gain strength. Christian Europe was torn. First the Avignon exile for seventy years, now this. It was enough to lose one's faith and many did, losing interest and confidence in their leaders who, as the years passed, they trusted less and less. Like hungry politicians during an hot-and-heavy election campaign, both Urban and Clement VII tried to woo nations. Urban, because of his roots was able to swing most of Italy to his side as well as England and central Europe. France had intended to stay neutral but her monarch King Charles V fell in behind Clement VII when England and Italy, both bitter rivals of the French, declared for Urban. Scotland, Burgundy and Savoy joined France while King Wenceslaus of Germany sided with Urban. With Europe once again divided St. Catherine realized her only avenue was to stand strongly behind the true Pope who was duly elected despite the fact the conclave was rushed and the cardinals greatly intimidated by the crowds. Many might think Catherine was wrong but two things should be considered: First of all, obedience bears the greatest fruit; and secondly, saints are human too. Spain washed her hands of the entire thing, remaining neutral for some time until Aragon and Castile finally declared in favor of Clement. Meanwhile, like master chess contestants Urban and Clement waged a bitter struggle through their respective armies. Even though Clement was a master military man, he conducted the warroom from Rome, but when Urban's mercenaries soundly defeated the former's men at Marino, Clement VII was forced into retreat from his fortress on June 17, 1379 at Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome to Naples and from there to Avignon. Safely back within the papal palace in France, Clement set up his papal court. Rather than being efficient and wise in counsel, the cardinals there opted for the opulence of royalty.
In hopes of bringing unity, several cardinals and German princes proposed to both Urban and Clement a general council in which the Council Fathers would decide. There had already been enough bloodshed. Both were reluctant, Urban moreso figuring he had nothing to lose by holding out for he was the true Pope and no one could do anything about it. Clement was still reeling, seeking revenge from Urban for his humiliating defeat at Marino. Thus Clement tried to coerce and promise various rulers a "piece of the action" - papal states if they could defeat Urban's troops. Urban countered by excommunicating Queen Joanna I who had aligned with the Clementines, replacing her with her cousin Charles of Durazzo whom he lavishly crowned in 1381 in Rome. But Charles secretly had no allegiance to Urban and his ties to Joanna ran deep, so much so that he tried to have Urban placed under a special council to contain his powers and abuse. Urban retaliated by arresting six cardinals, torturing them and setting a trap for Charles, but Charles was up to the task and evaded the ambush, sending his troops in undercover early. His ploy was so successful that he forced Urban to flee to Genoa. There five more cardinals vanished from the face of the earth. To this day no one knows what happened but many historians believe Urban took his wrath out on these five prelates who he accused of treason. But with Charles at large Urban was smart enough to realize he had better lay low. He seized on his first stroke of good luck in February 1386 when Charles was murdered by Urban's secret force in Hungary. With one of his main thorns eliminated, Urban tried to regroup and muster up forces to return to Rome. To do this he needed the aid of King Wenceslaus whom he invited to march with him into Rome from Pisa. Meanwhile the new French king King Charles VI decided he would beat Urban to the punch by inviting Clement to march into Rome with him as a show of force. But Clement had become fat and sassy in Avignon and had no intention of returning to Rome and all the headaches there. At the same time, Wenceslaus realized Urban did not truly have the Church and her flock in the best interest and put him off, working behind the scenes to promote the special Council to decide the fate of the Church in Europe. Undeterred, Urban began preaching a crusade against Clement and his followers - the Clementines. Urban soon ran out of money, depleted what little was left in the Holy See's treasury and, slowly but surely, most of his soldiers - mercenaries all - began to defect when they discovered they would not be paid. Pretty soon Urban's once mighty river of force had been reduced to a mere trickle and he abandoned his grandiose plans to return to Rome triumphantly, instead stealing back in the middle of the night undetected and walling himself inside Castel Sant'Angelo in October 1388. There, alone except for a small cadre of loyalists, he remained virtually a recluse since the vast majority had abandoned him because of his temperament which had alienated everyone. As history accounts, he alienated one too many for he was poisoned on October 15, 1389. Though his body is entombed in the crypt of St. Peter's, he contributed very little to the ecclesiastical life of the Church other than extending a Franciscan feast - the feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary - to the universal Church. In summary, he was too busy trying to be "king" that he forgot he was a shepherd first and consequently the wolves of the world, the flesh and the devil ravaged his flock from prelates to clergy to the laity. The Church had fallen into great disarray and her leaders were solely responsible. St. Catherine had died in 1380 perhaps realizing the Church had made a grave mistake in selecting this obstinate, uncompromising pontiff.
Next installment: Pope Boniface IX: Trying to pick up the pieces without much help.
I am Jesus Christ, the Word Made Flesh, Only-Begotten Son of God the Father. I am the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Savior of the world. I desire you to come and be with Me. How I long to gaze upon My children. When I behold my children what Love does not pour forth from Me? What do you wish to ask of Me? Come, Love Me and ask what you will, for I cannot refuse anything to those who truly believe in Me and live their belief.
Blessed are they who, in this time of great persecution, who amidst persecutions, show to Me, their God, every respect and reverence. Woe to all who neglect Me, who no longer consider Me as their God, but a mere symbol which is not important. Woe to those who offend Me in My Sacrament of Love, and refuse Me all reverence. The moment of the Father's purification shall strike, and it will purify all of creation.
Come then, let us gather together. Let us love. I will give you my own heart and you will understand the profound dignity all men must have for Me.
I await. I call. I long to embrace you, for I, Jesus Christ, am your God.
O! On this day when my Divine Son's Church celebrates the Most Blessed Trinity, you do well to bow low in humility; to surrender your own will as the sacrificial lamb upon the altar. Come, let us together place all human wills upon the Holy Altar. See, we shall hold them up as the priest offers to the Father the Most Perfect Sacrifice - my Divine Son. See, your will is no longer your own. It has been nailed to the Cross, and by the nails of poverty, chastity and obedience your will becomes transformed into the Eternal Will. This is the way of perfection, the beauty of the ever-lasting Sacrifice, and you bow in humility by allowing my Divine Son to enter your heart and begin its transformation. Learn this day, my little ones, that by loving my Divine Son you are led by the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit Who transforms you into the image of Jesus, and in this transformation you are led to the Father, Who is, Who has always been, and Who shall always be!
O! Rejoice and give praise by the surrender of your own will. Be strong. Speak out for the Truth. Never cease your efforts to grow in holiness. God's work for each man is not finished until He has called you home. Take each moment, each day and give all to the Most Blessed Trinity, Who alone is the Source of Life and Love.
I love you. I bless you. Thank you for responding to my Call!