Archive for the ‘culture’ Category

British Parliament Launches Inquiry on Age Limit

By Father John Flynn, LC
ROME, OCT. 22, 2007 ( A long-running debate over age limits for abortions was renewed last week in England. Current law allows abortions up to the 24th week of pregnancy, but improvements in survival rates for babies born prematurely have led to pressure for the limit to be lowered.

The Abortion Act of 1967 originally set at 28 weeks the legal limit for abortions. Then, in 1990, Parliament agreed to lower the time limit to 24 weeks.

An inquiry into the age limits commenced Oct. 15 by the House of Commons committee on science and technology. The committee Web page noted that the terms of reference for the inquiry do not include the ethical or moral questions related to the debate, but will concentrate on scientific and medical evidence about fetal viability.

One of those backing a reduction in the age limit is obstetrician Stuart Campbell, reported the Telegraph newspaper on Oct. 15. Campbell pioneered three-dimensional scans of fetuses sucking their thumbs and walking in the womb.

Campbell used to perform abortions at 20 weeks, the Telegraph reported. “I feel pretty appalled at the idea that we abort normal babies and most of them are born alive and most of them are allowed to die,” he said during a BBC radio program.

The committee’s Web site contains several hundred pages of evidence submitted to the inquiry.

A submission from the Department of Health to the committee provided information about abortions in England and Wales. In 2006, there were 193,700 abortions. Of these, 89% were carried out at under 13 weeks of pregnancy.

Out of the total number, 2,948 abortions were performed at 20 weeks and over. Of these, 1,262 were performed at 22 weeks and over, and 136 at 24 weeks and over.

Christian opposition

The Christian Medical Fellowship, an interdenominational Christian organization with more than 4,500 British doctor members, is in favor of a reduction. In its submission to the committee, it outlined a number of concerns related to abortion.

For a start, it argued that maternal mortality after abortion is higher than currently recognized. Moreover, the fellowship noted, strong evidence exists that induced abortion increases risk of premature birth in subsequent pregnancies. Such premature births not only cause neonatal mortality and ongoing disability, but also imply significant economic costs.

There is overwhelming recent evidence that abortion causes significant rates of serious mental health problems, the submission continued. Several studies have demonstrated higher levels of depression, suicidal tendencies, and problems with drug and alcohol use among women who have undergone abortion.

The fellowship also called for Parliament to reconsider the norms for abortions for reasons of fetal abnormality. The upper limit for abortion for disabled babies should not be higher than that for able-bodied babies.


The question of disabled babies being aborted was also raised by the London-based Lejeune Clinic for Children With Down Syndrome. In its submission to the parliamentary committee they said that in 2005 alone, 429 abortions were carried out on babies with Down syndrome. The law sets no time limits for abortions on babies that are held to be disabled.

The clinic also commented that after Down syndrome is detected, some women feel pressured to abort their babies. As well, very few women are offered information on help available to raise a child with the chromosomal disorder.

The submission argued that most children with Down syndrome are happy, sociable and enjoy friendships. Around 80% attend mainstream primary school, either full or part time, and nearly all integrate in a loving fashion into their families. Behavioral problems can occur, but this can be helped, the clinic pointed out.

In its conclusions, the clinic argued: “It is hard to see how the majority of children with Down syndrome fulfill the criteria for abortion on the ground of serious untreatable disability.” In fact, the majority suffer from only moderate learning difficulties and treatable physical health problems.

A written submission to the parliamentary committee was also made by the Pro-life Alliance (PLA). It started by noting its objection to any form of intentional abortion, at whatever age limit of the fetus.

Benefit of the doubt

Nevertheless, within the context of the current debate the PLA observed, “At the very least one would expect consensus in the country against the abortion of a viable baby, with the benefit of the doubt always on the side of the baby.”

Another pro-life group, also opposed to any form of abortion, which made a submission was the nonprofit organization Comment on Reproductive Ethics (CORE). Opinions over abortion vary widely, it observed, but there is common concern over the rising abortion rates in Britain.

The CORE submission also called for greater transparency about abortions. Currently 97% of all abortions are justified under Ground C of the Abortion Act, which groups together both the medical or psychological health of the mother as a justification. It would be much better, CORE argued, for the two to be separated as they are quite diverse conditions.

It also called for greater transparency for abortions performed on the grounds of fetal abnormality. The submission mentioned the 2001 case of a baby aborted at 7 months for cleft palate, which caused a major public reaction.

After the outcry over this case the government’s statistics became notably less specific in identifying details of the abnormalities for which abortions have been performed.

Defending life

A petition for changes in the abortion law also came from Scotland, in the form of an article published in the Scotsman newspaper July 6 by Cardinal Keith O’Brien, archbishop of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh. The Catholic leader called on Prime Minister Gordon Brown to review the law and thus ensure greater respect for human life.

The Scotsman reported that the latest data show that 13,081 abortions were carried out in Scotland in 2006, compared with 12,603 the year before — the fourth consecutive annual increase.

“Abortion is neither political nor medical, though clearly it has implications in these spheres,” the cardinal stated. “It is about morality and the destruction of human life.”

Cardinal O’Brien praised Brown for being “a man of principle and deeply held moral convictions,” and noted his efforts to reduce poverty in developing nations. He then called on the prime minister to support human life for those who are unborn.
“What exists in the womb is not ‘a potential human being,’ but rather ‘a human being with potential,'” the cardinal argued.

Not a right

Benedict XVI also had strong words to say recently on protecting unborn life. During his trip to Austria, he addressed the members of government and diplomatic corps Sept. 7.

During his speech, given in the reception hall of Vienna’s Hofburg Palace, the Pontiff recalled that Europe is the place where the notion of human rights was first formulated.

“The fundamental human right, the presupposition of every other right, is the right to life itself,” the Pope pointed out. “Abortion, consequently, cannot be a human right — it is the very opposite.”

Benedict XVI acknowledged the difficulties women experience in going ahead with difficult pregnancies, but at the same time, expressed his concern for the unborn children who have no voice.

He called upon political leaders to help bring about a society that welcomes children and encourages young married couples to start new families. Doing so, the Pope added, requires creating “a climate of joy and confidence in life, a climate in which children are not seen as a burden, but rather as a gift for all.” A gift unfortunately too often rejected by society today.


Interview With Author Paul Thigpen

SAVANNAH, Georgia, SEPT. 17, 2007 ( Those who don’t believe in hell are living with a very dangerous kind of wishful thinking, or a comfortable fantasy, says author Paul Thigpen.

In this interview with ZENIT, Thigpen discusses his new book “My Visit to Hell,” published by Creation House.

Thigpen is editor of The Catholic Answer, director of the Stella Maris Center for Faith and Culture, and an award-winning journalist and best-selling author of 34 books.

Q: You have written a novel, “My Visit to Hell,” about just that — a young man’s visit to hell. What prompted this?

Thigpen: The Holy Father recently lamented the fact that so few people in our day ever talk about hell. Maybe this book can contribute in some small way to changing that situation.

Why should people talk more about hell? Many of our contemporaries, including some Catholics, refuse to believe that hell truly exists.

And several surveys show that even among those who believe in the existence of hell, the great majority think they have little or no chance of ending up there.

Nevertheless, in the Gospels Our Lord has warned us solemnly and repeatedly about the terrors of hell. So what we have here is a very dangerous kind of wishful thinking, a comfortable fantasy that needs to be challenged.

We should be thinking about hell, and heaven as well, because our destiny profoundly shapes our identity.

The more we know about our possible destinations, the more we’ll know about who we are, why we’re here, and which way we should be headed.

I certainly don’t enjoy thinking and writing about sin and its tormenting consequences, but given the widespread denial of hell in our day, and the avoidance of any discussion about it, the time seems right for a book such as this.

Q: How has your book been received? Do you think it has appeal to those who do not claim to be Catholic?

Thigpen: Catholic readers often comment that the book has sent them running to the sacrament of confession, and for that I’m grateful.

It’s not intended to condemn people for their sins, but rather to encourage them to flee to God for forgiveness and healing.

As for non-Catholic Christians, I’ve had an enthusiastic response from readers representing a variety of religious backgrounds.

The main themes of the story — the horror of sin, the hope of grace, the dignity and danger of human freedom — lie at the heart of the Gospel that all Christians embrace.

As for atheists, agnostics, and other non-Christians, my hope is that they can identify to some degree with several characters in the book who share their situation.

The main character is in fact an agnostic who must reconsider his position in light of what he encounters on this terrifying journey.

Anecdotal evidence encourages me that the book is stirring readers to think seriously about the matters it touches upon.

One reviewer said he plans to make the book a part of his annual readings for Lent. Another reader composed a series of songs about the story.

Some book clubs are choosing it to read and discuss. It’s required reading in at least one college course, and a new scholarly study of contemporary Christian fiction devotes a chapter to it.

Q: Why did you choose the novel as a format, over poetry or simply a theological discourse on the topic?

Thigpen: Dante’s “Inferno,” the 14th-century poem about an imaginary visit to hell from which my account draws heavily, convinced me that a narrative approach to this subject could be quite powerful in ways that a straight theological discourse could not.

This isn’t to say, of course, that Dante’s vision isn’t theologically informed; his portrait of the infernal regions actually embodies the moral theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, as does mine.

Dante’s book was only one in a series of what are known as “tours of hell” that go back to ancient times, all using narrative fiction to paint a chastening portrait of sin and its eternal consequences.

Even Our Lord himself spoke of hell using a parable whose stark imagery awakens in us a sense of dread: see Luke 16:19-31.

Few people today will read lengthy poems of the sort Dante wrote; they prefer novels.

So the contemporary genre of speculative fiction seemed especially appropriate for this subject matter. You might think of it as a book-length parable.

Q: In some ways your novel is like Dante meeting Walker Percy, put in a contemporary setting. Is this partially what you had in mind?

Thigpen: You’re right — or even more precisely, Dante meets Flannery O’Connor, who is one of my literary heroes.

She and I are from the same hometown, Savannah, Georgia, and my mother went to college with her. So I’ve always felt a certain kinship with her and with her vision of the world.

O’Connor masterfully portrays sin in all its revolting ugliness. Yet always she reveals a “moment of grace,” a divine light that shines all the more brightly because the surrounding darkness is so deep.

My intent was similar: to show that even though sin deforms us into something grotesque, God still labors to reconcile and heal us.

Q: In your depiction of hell, you describe layers of it rapidly filling up from sins more readily committed in our cultural climate, for example, abortion, destroying fetuses for scientific or medical research, assisted suicide, striving for bodily perfection. In what ways do you categorize and describe some of these?

Thigpen: What I call the “moral topography” of hell — its structure of descending circles, each one punishing a sin worse than the one above it — I borrowed from Dante, who based it on St. Thomas’ moral teaching.
Below “limbo” lie the circles of “upper hell,” which punish sins of weakness.

Next is “middle hell,” punishing sins of the intellect; and finally “lower hell,” punishing sins of malice, both injury and fraud.

The lower you descend, the more serious the sin and the worse its punishment.

When I considered the sins you’ve noted, I realized that they are simply more contemporary versions of ancient sins already identified and positioned in Dante’s hell.

Like abortion, destruction of embryos for research is murder of a particularly loathsome type — a betrayal of the tiny innocents that God has given us to protect.

So those who are guilty of this sin aren’t punished with other murderers; they end up much farther down, in the lowest circle with some of the fiercest punishments, where traitors are tormented.

Or consider the idolatry of bodily perfection: It’s actually a form of gluttony, a narcissistic addiction to the pleasure of looking physically attractive.

So those who are guilty of this sin are ironically punished alongside the gluttons, whom they detest as undisciplined slobs.

Of particular interest to many contemporary readers, I think, is the circle punishing sins of the intellect.

Those holding to the popular notion that sincerity of belief is all that counts will find plenty here to challenge their assumptions.

Q: You mention in the preface that you were reluctant to write this book given the gravity of the topic. Are there ways in which meditating about hell has changed your own life?

Thigpen: Spending several months thinking deeply about hell, and writing down the fruits of that reflection for others, cultivated in me a healthy fear of the Lord, and “the fear of the Lord is hatred of evil”: Proverbs 8:13.

I came to a new understanding of how repugnant, how despicable, how corrosive sin truly is, with the result that I wanted all the more to avoid it and cling to God instead.

It also made me more deeply grateful for divine grace.

I deserve the everlasting misery of hell because of my sin, but God sent his son to make it possible for me to live with him forever instead in the joy of heaven.

I can never cease to marvel at such a gift!

“The Church Must Feel Concerned Regarding Immigrants”

VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 15, 2007 ( Here is the text of an address given by Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers, at the annual meeting of European national directors for the pastoral care of migrants, held in Sibiu, Romania, from Sept. 3 to 4.

* * *

Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

Annual Meeting of European National Directors for the Pastoral Care of Migrants
(Sibiu, Sept. 3-4, 2007)

Migration, an opportunity for the ecumene

Cardinal Renato Raffaele MARTINO
President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

Recently, a book entitled “Globus. Per una teoria storico-universale dello spazio” (Globus. Toward a historical-universal theory of space), a translation from German, was published in Italy. In this volume, the author, Franz Rosenzweig, makes a rapid but well-studied, original and significant reconstruction of the whole world history. The first part of the publication is entitled “Ecumene,” seen from the point of view of relationships between earthly forces that push toward the unification of the world.

“If millennia were needed for us to acquire theoretical awareness of the spherical form of the earth,” the author affirms, “we cannot be surprised by how slow world history walks toward unity of the globe. Yet, God created only one sky and one earth. Ecumenism is the final goal of humankind’s journey,” a sign of which is migration, indeed an opportunity for the ecumene.

Today, in fact, migration is one of the most important and most complex challenges of our modern world. Consequently, social transformation, caused by welcoming immigrants, is discussed in public hearings, such that the question of “migration” appears as one of the top issues in the international agenda.

The migration phenomenon is therefore analyzed in relation to development. Migrants’ contribution to the labor market is studied, leading to the conclusion that they are important for world economy. A witness to this is the First Global Forum on Migration and Development, recently held in Brussels, last July 9-11.

In spite of this, however, many governments are adopting more restrictive measures to counter immigration, especially if irregular. Researchers on the migration phenomenon, on their part, are for the opening of frontiers, not simply to solve contingent problems, but to situate the process in a global scenario. Migration has indeed become a structural phenomenon. This does not mean, however, that a vision of a “total” and “indiscriminate” freedom to immigrate is being adopted. It is rather the task of governments to regulate the magnitude and the form of migration flows. They should, however, take common good into consideration, so that immigrants would be worthily welcomed, and the population of the receiving countries would not be put in a condition that would lead them to reject the newcomers. This would have unfavorable consequences both for immigrants and the local population, as well as for relations between peoples. Naturally national common good must be considered in the context of universal common good. This brings us back to that vision of the “ecumene” that I mentioned at the beginning of my talk.

Our task, however, is that of identifying facts and aspects of migration that would help us understand the value of the phenomenon itself. This will enable us to interpret this “sign of the times”[1] from a Christian perspective, and to offer our pastoral service to the world of human mobility in its totality, in its universality. And for you, this is true for Europe.

There has always been solicitude on the part of the Church for migration — we have to take note of this.[2] Involvement in various forms confirms its ability to interpret this rapidly changing reality. Active ecclesial commitment, especially at a pastoral level, naturally includes socio-humanitarian action so that the foreigner would be accepted and integrated in society, through an itinerary leading to authentic communion, where there is due respect for diversity. It is however necessary to remember that rights and duties come together, also for migrants.

Regarding respect for the fundamental rights of the human person, hence also of those who are involved in human mobility, the Church is continuously dedicated to this at various levels and in different areas. Specific initiatives, messages of the Holy Father, action to build awareness among international entities and governments of migrants’ countries of origin, transit and destination, define the Church’s “strategy.” This is based on the central position and “sacredness” of the human person[3], to be upheld particularly when he/she is unprotected or marginalized. This “brings to light certain important theological and pastoral findings that have been acquired. These are: […] the defense of the rights of migrants, both men and women, and their children; [the question of the migrant family]; the ecclesial and missionary dimension of migration; the reappraisal of the apostolate of the laity; the value of cultures in the work of evangelization; the protection and appreciation of minority groups in the Church; the importance of dialogue both inside and outside the Church; and the specific contribution of emigration to world peace” (EMCC No. 27). In all this, we can clearly see a basis for an ecumenical commitment.

Indeed the recent position of the Holy See regarding migration shows that attention is given to the continuous transformation of the phenomenon of human mobility and to the current exigencies of people in contemporary society. This is because it wants “to respond to the new spiritual and pastoral needs of migrants” bearing in mind “the ecumenical aspect of the phenomenon, owing to the presence among migrants of Christians not in full communion with the Catholic Church, and also the interreligious aspect, owing to the increasing number of migrants of other religions, in particular Muslims” (EMCC No. 3)[4]. We cannot ignore the fact that “recent times have witnessed a growing increase in the presence of immigrants of other religions in traditionally Christian countries” (EMCC No. 59). The great diversity of immigrants’ cultural and religious origin poses new challenges and leads toward new goals, putting dialogue at the heart of pastoral care in the world of migration. After all, it certainly is part of the mission of the Church.

The instruction “Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi” carefully proposes programs that are appropriate for the various phases in the life of the migrant. It distinguishes “between assistance in a general sense (a first, short-term welcome), true welcome in the full sense (longer-term projects) and integration (an aim to be pursued constantly over a long period and in the true sense of the word)” (No. 42). In this case, it is important to give a sensible direction to an issue of great significance. I am referring to the difficult concept of integration, and its even more difficult application, keeping in mind also its ecumenical and interreligious aspects, particularly in societies hosting migrants. This concept is being seriously analyzed. We refuse to see it as a process of assimilation, but stress the aspect of cultural meeting and legitimate exchange. We are practically insisting on a concept of intercultural societies, meaning those that are capable of interacting and producing mutual enrichment, going beyond multiculturalism, that can be contented with a mere juxtaposition of cultures[5].

This gradual itinerary — as I was saying — provides, first of all, for “assistance or ‘first welcome’” (EMCC No. 43), but this is not enough to express the authentic vocation to Christian agape, also because it might be confused with philanthropy.

As a result, our instruction offers a wider horizon, providing for “acts of welcome in its full sense, which aim at the progressive integration and self-sufficiency of the immigrant” (ibid.). Here, too, we cannot fail to consider the ecumenical and interreligious dimensions.

In his Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees this year, Benedict XVI stated that the Church, through its various institutions and associations, “has opened centers where migrants are listened to, houses where they are welcomed, offices for services offered to persons and families, with other initiatives set up to respond to the growing needs in this field”.[6]

Also through these services in the context of human mobility, the Church offers its assistance to everyone, without distinction of religion or nationality, respecting everyone’s inalienable dignity as a human person, created in the image of God and redeemed by the blood of Christ.

In assisting migrants, therefore, it is possible to deepen ecumenical dialogue since contact with those among them who belong to other Churches or ecclesial communities gives “new possibilities of living ecumenical fraternity in practical day-to-day life and of achieving greater reciprocal understanding between Churches and ecclesial communities, something far from facile irenicism or proselytism” (EMCC No. 56). In fact, when migrants arrive in a place with a Catholic majority, the first meeting point should be hospitality and solidarity, within the context of “an authentic culture of welcome (cf. EEu 101 and 103) capable of accepting the truly human values of the immigrants over and above any difficulties caused by living together with persons who are different (cf. EEu 85, 112 and PaG 65)” (EMCC No. 39).

Therefore “the entire Church in the host country must feel concerned and engaged regarding immigrants. This means that local Churches must rethink pastoral care, programming it [ … appropriately for] today’s new multicultural and plurireligious context. With the help of social and pastoral workers, the local population should be made aware of the complex problems of migration and the need to oppose baseless suspicions and offensive prejudices against foreigners” (EMCC No. 41).

However, ecumenical dialogue does not stop there. It could also take the form of a specifically ecumenical cooperation, whereby resources are pooled and a common Christian witness is given (cf. Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism, No. 162). Indeed the different Churches and ecclesial communities are particularly intent on welcoming and accompanying all migrants, in the pastoral sense, especially when alongside the flow of regular migrants, there are irregular migrants who are a cause for concern and are usually and unjustly blamed for crimes. Also, there are unscrupulous evildoers, who speculate on the tragic situation of people and promote the trafficking of human beings. Their presence increases xenophobia and at times provokes manifestations of racism (cf. EMCC nos. 29 e 41). All this can make the ecumenical commitment in favor of migrants more difficult.

The Church is called upon to open a dialogue with everyone, but this “dialogue should be conducted and implemented in the conviction that the Church is the ordinary means of salvation and that she alone possesses the fullness of the means of salvation” (EMCC 59). At the same time, migrants of other religions “should be helped insofar as possible to preserve a transcendent view of life” (ibid.).

There are surely some values in common between the Christian faith and other beliefs, but it is necessary to take into consideration the fact that “beside these points of agreement there are, however, also divergences, some of which have to do with legitimate acquisitions of modern life and thought” (EMCC No. 66). On the part of the migrant, therefore, the first step to take toward the host society is to respect the laws and the values on which that society is founded, including religious ones. If this is not done, then integration would just be an empty word.

The Church is also called to live fully its own identity, without renouncing to give witness to its own faith, also in view of respectfully proclaiming it (cf. EMCC No. 9). Thus, dialogue with others “requires Catholic communities receiving immigrants to appreciate their own identity even more, prove their loyalty to Christ, know the contents of the faith well, rediscover their missionary calling and thus commit themselves to bear witness for Jesus the Lord and his gospel. This is the necessary prerequisite for the correct attitude of sincere dialogue, open and respectful of all but at the same time neither naïve nor ill-equipped” (EMCC No. 60).[7]

Finally, it is necessary to take into account the important principle of reciprocity[8], “understood not merely as an attitude for making claims but as a relationship based on mutual respect and on justice in juridical and religious matters. Reciprocity is also an attitude of heart and spirit that enables us to live together everywhere with equal rights and duties. Healthy reciprocity will urge each one to become an ‘advocate’ for the rights of minorities when his or her own religious community is in the majority. In this respect we should also recall the numerous Christian migrants in lands where the majority of the population is not Christian and where the right to religious freedom is severely restricted or repressed” (EMCC No. 64).

It remains true, however, that solidarity, cooperation, international interdependence and the equitable distribution of the goods of the earth show the need to operate also in ecumenical communion, or rather, with a vision of “ecumene” in the broad sense of the term. This has to be done in depth and forcefully, especially in the areas where migration flows originate, so that the inequalities that induce people, individually or collectively, to leave their own natural and cultural environment would be overcome (cf. EMCC nos. 4; 8-9; 39-43). On its part, the Church will not stop encouraging everyone, but particularly the members of Christian communities, to be authentically available and open to others, including migrants, as it affirms that “notwithstanding the repeated failures of human projects, noble as they may have been, Christians, roused by the phenomenon of mobility, [should] become aware of their call to be always and repeatedly a sign of fraternity and communion in the world, by respecting differences and practicing solidarity, in their ethics of meeting others” (EMCC No. 102).

To conclude, we have to acknowledge that migration is a process in constant evolution. It will continue to be present in the development of societies and will bring us more and more into an intercultural world, where legitimate diversity will be lived also in the context of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.

— — —

[1] Cf. Benedict XVI, Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2006: 18_world-migrants-day_eNo.html; A. Marchetto, “Le migrazioni: segno dei tempi”, in Pontificio Consiglio della Pastorale per i Migranti e gli Itineranti (ed.), La sollecitudine della Chiesa verso i migranti, (Quaderni Universitari, Comments to the First Part of Erga Migrantes Caritas Christ — henceforth EMCC), Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City 2005, pp. 28-40.

[2] Pius XII’s prophetic intuition regarding the pastoral care of migrants is present in the Apostolic Constitution Exsul Familia (AAS XLIV [1952] 649-704), considered the magna carta of the Church’s teaching on migration. Paul VI, in continuity with and as an application of the teaching of the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council, later issued the “motu proprio” Pastoralis migratorum cura (AAS LXI [1969] 601-603), promulgating the Instruction of the Congregation for Bishops De Pastorali migratorum cura (AAS LXI [1969] 614-643). In 1978, the Pontifical Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migration and Tourism published a Circular Letter addressed to the Episcopal Conferences, entitled Church and Human Mobility (AAS LXX [1978] 357-378): see EMCC nos. 19-33 and Pontificio Consiglio della Pastorale per i Migranti e gli Itineranti (ed.), La sollecitudine della Chiesa verso i migranti, op. cit. Cf. also A. Marchetto, “Chiesa conciliare e pastorale di accoglienza”: People on the Move XXXVIII (102, 2006), pp. 131-145.

[3] See the Pontifical Message for the World Day of Peace 2007, “The human person, the heart of peace”:

[4] In 2004, the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People published the Instruction Erga migrantes caritas Christi: AAS XCVI (2004), 762-822 (see also People on the Move XXXVI, 95, 2004, and website: migrants_doc_20040514_erga-migrantes-caritas-christi_eNo.html). Cf. comments on this Instruction by highly competent authors in People on the Move XXXVII (98, 2005), pp. 23-125, particularly on ecumenism and interreligious dialogue: pp. 45-63.

[5] Issues related to this important chapter of the pastoral care of human mobility were studied more in-depth and then published in Pontificio Consiglio della Pastorale per i Migranti e gli Itineranti (ed.), Migranti e pastorale d’accoglienza (Quaderni Universitari, Comments to the Second Part of EMCC), Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City 2006.

[6] Benedict XVI, Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2007: holy_father/benedict_xvi/messages/peace/documents/hf_ben-xvi_mes_20061208_xl-world-day-peace_en.html.

[7] Cf. Proceedings of the XVII Plenary Session of our Pontifical Council, held from May 15 to 17, 2006, on the theme “Migration and Itinerancy from and toward Islamic majority countries”: People on the Move XXXVIII (101 Suppl., 2006). Specifically regarding interreligious dialogue, see pp. 187-224. Particularly important is No. 11 of the conclusions and recommendations: “It was also deemed vital to distinguish between what the receiving societies can and cannot tolerate in Islamic culture, what can be respected or shared with regard to followers of other religions (see EMCC 65 and 66), and to have the possibility of giving indications in this regard also to policymakers, toward a proper formulation of civil legislation, with due respect for each one’s competence”: ibid., p. 74.

[8] Also Benedict XVI mentioned this in his address to the participants in the aforementioned XVII Plenary Session: loc. cit., p. 5.


Abolishing All Things Romanesque in France

By Elizabeth Lev

ROME, SEPT. 13, 2007 ( George Weigel gave us the brilliant visual metaphor of France’s cultural dichotomy in his 2005 book, “The Cube and the Cathedral.” Looking out over Paris from La Grande Arche, the cube-shaped monument that houses the International Foundation for Human Rights, to the Gothic Cathedral of Notre Dame, Weigel ponders two very different ideals vying for dominance over the cityscape.

Of these two worlds, so seemingly opposed, Weigel asks, Which is better suited to protect human rights and the moral foundations of democracy?

Weigel, however, wasn’t the first to ask such questions. Before either the cube or the cathedral even existed, the question of the Church’s role in France’s turbulent political landscape left a deep mark on country’s art and architecture.

After several summer vacations in that fascinating country, I was struck by the numerous manifestations of the powerful and passionate relationship between Rome and France, once known as “the eldest daughter of the Church.”

In the 11th century, a time of international awareness and political upheaval, Romanesque art blossomed. The Normans had conquered England and had extended French influence to unprecedented lengths by annexing Sicily and Jerusalem.

The First Crusades opened the road to the Holy Land, putting people in contact with hitherto unknown cultures. Pilgrimages multiplied exponentially, and Europe became a well-beaten track of polyglot travelers exchanging impressions and ideas.

But the glue that held this cosmopolitan world together was the Roman Church. All over Europe, while liberally employing individualized decoration drawn from Celtic design, Byzantine icons or even Islamic motifs, churches maintained uniform elements as a link to the churches of the early Christians of Rome.

Everywhere from Santiago de Compostela in Spain, to Cluny in France, to Monreale in Sicily, to Speyer in Germany, people prayed in unique spaces that nonetheless pointed to the leadership of Rome and the Successor of St. Peter.

Romanesque churches lack the drama of Gothic architecture. No flying buttresses mimic curling tendrils and no brilliantly colored glass bathes visitors in otherworldly light.

These churches display stability. Massive piers and rounded Roman arches anchor the buildings to earth. Like the Church established on Peter the rock, “the gates of hell shall not prevail” upon them. They seem as steadfast as St. Peter himself, ready to hold out until the end of the world.

Romanesque churches were the first to employ sculptural decoration in over 500 years. The portals and capitals of these basilicas are alive with stories of saints, dramatically reminding pilgrims to follow their examples.

Like the fourth-century Christian sarcophagi that inspired them, the sculpted reliefs of Romanesque churches engrave Church doctrine in stone. The Last Judgment, carved in harsh angularity and violent slashes on the door of St. Foy, not only reminds faithful of the inevitability of judgment, but also transmits the sobering fear of being held accountable for our sins. 

The Chapel of St. Michael at Le Puy was built by French bishop Gotescalk after his return from a pilgrimage to Spain in 962. For hundreds of years, the stunning sight of the tiny chapel perched on a finger of lava rallied the faithful for pilgrimages and soldiers for the Crusades.

These churches proudly proclaimed their allegiance to Rome through their decoration and structure. During the years of the French Revolution, the revolutionaries destroyed many Romanesque churches because their solid presence formed a link with the Church of Rome, which was intolerable to the new government.

After studying in Italy in 1835, French architect Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc began restoring Romanesque churches, and today a few of these glorious monuments still proudly proclaim an age when the world turned to Rome for guidance.

Exile and martyr

The Directorate of Revolutionary France did not limit itself to defacing Romanesque churches; it also struck at the papacy. The little town of Valence, amid its lovely gardens and spectacular mountain views, also preserves the heart of Pope Pius VI, who died there in 1799.

Many Vatican visitors smirk knowingly when faced with the splendor of St. Peter’s Basilica, “It’s good to be the Pope!” But I doubt many would switch places with Pius VI, the humiliated exile who was eventually killed by the hardship of his imprisonment under Napoleon.

While much attention is paid to the more scandalous papacies of centuries past, we should recall the truly heroic witness of many of Peter’s successors. Pius VI was one such witness.

Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Braschi from Cesena was elected Pope in 1775. Like Pope John Paul II, he was a young pope — elected at 58; he was also both handsome and athletic. 

Similar to John Paul II, he traveled, and was hailed by contemporary poet Vincenzo Monti as the “Apostolic Pilgrim,” a precursor to the “Pilgrim Pope.” Pius VI journeyed to Vienna in 1782 to try to personally reverse the anti-papal policies instituted by Austrian Emperor Joseph II. He was the first Pope to travel outside Italy since Pope Paul III had visited Nice in the 16th century.

Pius VI avidly commissioned art and architecture and founded the Pio-Clementine museum, but his domestic successes could not stave off the international noose that was growing tighter around the Church.

The hangman would be Napoleon, the ruler of the new Republic of France who had turned his hungry eyes toward Italy. In 1796, Napoleon showed up with an army and a shopping list. He forced the Pope to sign the Treaty of Tolentino on Feb. 19, 1797, which demanded land, money and art.

Rome was declared the Tiburtine Republic, and Pius VI was deposed. A year later, 80-year-old Pope Pius VI, the 250th successor to St. Peter, was deported on the night of Feb. 20, 1798.

Weak and ill, Pius VI set out bearing witness to Christ’s words to St. Peter: “When you were younger, you fastened your belt and went about as you pleased; but when you are older you will stretch out your hands and another will tie you fast and carry you off against your will” (John 21:18).

After three months imprisonment in Siena, unrest in Rome convinced the French to transfer the Pope. Officials planned to take him to the island of Sardegna, but instead, he was sent to the Certosa Monastery outside Florence.

Although plagued by gradual paralysis, the sickly Pope was then shuttled from Florence to France. City officials mocked him, isolated him, and even made him pay for his own deportation, but the faithful of each town found him to be a true father, offering prayers and blessings. One cold, rainy day in Tuscany, farmers left their fields to kneel in the mud for the Pope’s blessing.

As with St. Peter and St. Paul, even Pius VI’s jailers were moved by his forbearance. Captain Mongen, who had escorted the Pope as far as Parma, considered himself a true son of the revolution. But when it came time for him to take leave of the Pope he fell to his knees, kissing his foot along with the other priests and Catholic dignitaries.

Unlike the Avignon Popes who chose to make France their home, Pius was brought as a prisoner to his new nation. Pius VI finally arrived in Valence on July 14 (Bastille Day). Fearful of his presence, the Department administration prohibited any contact between the Pope and the people, especially the 32 priests under arrest for their loyalty to Rome.

Soon the administration ordered the “former Pope” sent to Dijon. The people of Valence, who had been secretly visiting and tending to the Pope, fought to keep the now-dying Pontiff with them.

Pius VI’s last days were spent in prayer. On Aug. 28, after he was given the last rites, the Pontiff spoke one last time, forgiving his enemies, and in the first hours of Aug. 29, he died.

Officials stored Pius VI’s body in the basement of his prison. His death certificate read: Giovanni Braschi, occupation Pontiff.

His successor, Pope Pius VII, brought the body of Pius VI back to Rome, but his heart was sent to the Cathedral of Valence to rest among the people who had loved him.

The gleeful directorate proclaimed the death of “Pius the Last,” but they were wrong. Pius VI’s correct epitaph is written on his tomb in St. Peter’s: “In sede magnus, ex sede maior, in coelo maximus” (Great on his throne, greater off it and greatest in heaven).

Mary and Matisse

The 20th century brought huge setbacks to religious art in France. While virtuous stories of classical heroes had already partially replaced biblical subjects during the Revolutionary era, the few remaining sacred themes were upstaged by fruit, nudes and water lilies.

Although the postimpressionists fought against what they perceived as the moralizing constraints of their Catholic legacy, many were simultaneously drawn to the challenge of following in the footsteps of monumental religious art. 

Several “bohemian” artists took on at least one religious commission. Van Gogh, Chagall and Gauguin each brought his individual techniques to sacred subjects.

A mile outside Vence, a charming town perched in the mountains above Nice, Henri Matisse produced the Chapel of the Holy Rosary. This four-year project (1947-1951) was the artist’s only religious commission.

Born in 1869, Matisse had begun a professional career in law when he decided to follow his love of art. Painter Gustave Moreau brought the promising student into his studio where Matisse met Georges Rouault, who would become one of the greatest religious artists of his age.

In 1905, Matisse and Rouault founded “Fauvism,” a paganizing movement, which glorified intense sensation in art.

The two painters parted ways soon after. Rouault’s art embraced the sinful misery of the human condition, while Matisse rejected any form of suffering in his work.

Matisse achieved great success, making sculptures, paintings and even theatrical costumes. He eventually moved to Nice, drawn by the bright colors of the Mediterranean.

In 1941, an illness left him bedridden. His bright, painless world collided with the hard reality of suffering. In this difficult time, a Dominican sister nursed him, and her faith inspired the artist.

Matisse accepted the commission from the Dominican sisters of Vence in 1946 to decorate the Rosary Chapel. His old friend Picasso was horrified. “A church!” he cried. “Why not a market? Then you could at least paint fruits and vegetables.”

But Matisse dedicated himself exclusively to the chapel. He made hundreds of preparatory drawings and attached his brushes to long, light bamboo poles so he could paint the murals while in his wheelchair. He designed everything: the windows, the murals and even the chasubles.

The artist died in 1954, leaving the chapel as his last major work. “I built this chapel with the desire to lay bare my soul,” he wrote.

The Rosary Chapel makes a strange contrast to Romanesque architecture. Where St. Michel le Puy on its high perch is visible for miles, Matisse’s chapel blends in with the white houses nestled on the Vence hillside. 

Sunlight pours into the chapel through tall narrow windows; and stained green, yellow and blue by the colored glass, it tinges the white walls with soft hues. Two naves of unequal length, one for the sisters and one for laypeople, meet the altar at oblique angles.

The wall decoration consists of figures outlined in black against a background of white tiles. The Madonna and Child grace the wall along the nave, while St. Dominic stands behind the altar.

Picasso scoffed that it looked like a bathroom, with its antiseptic atmosphere, but the simplicity of the chapel belies its complex origins. Matisse sensed and appreciated the universality that had characterized Christian art.

Like Romanesque relief sculpture, the sharp black brush strokes of the murals create dramatic energy. Islamic floral patterns in the stained glass interact with heavily outlined figures drawn from Byzantine icons recalling the cosmopolitan era of the 12th century.

Matisse’s fervor found its best outlet in his representation of the Stations of the Cross on the entrance wall. The images form a pyramid with diagonal lines leading the eye to the central image of the crucifixion.

Father Marie-Alain Couturier, his theological adviser, interpreted the harsh black lines as “letters written in haste, under the shock of some very great emotion.”

Father Couturier assisted Matisse in the preparation of the chapel and even posed for the figure of St. Dominic. Dominic is faceless, because Matisse wanted each person “to see him or herself reflected in the face of the saint.”

Even in the age where the secular had completely taken over art, Father Couturier and others valiantly endeavored to pull the new artistic geniuses back into the tradition of great Christian art.

From the Middle Ages to the Matisse era, the Church has managed to inspire great works and heroic gestures despite political turmoil and upheaval. In the millennium-old duel of the cube and the cathedral, the Church continues to rise to each challenge with faith, grace and beauty.

Interview With Expert on Ecclesiastical Heraldry

DARLINGHURST, Australia, SEPT. 12, 2007 ( Ecclesiastical heraldry is as relevant today as it ever was, and should be valued as part of the Church’s rich cultural and artistic patrimony, according to an author of a book on papal arms.

Michael McCarthy, founder and proprietor of Australia’s Thylacine Press, argued that point in his book “Armoria Pontificalium: A Roll of Papal Arms 1012-2006.”

In this interview with ZENIT, which McCarthy gave before his sudden death Aug. 3 at age 57, he spoke about the place of ecclesiastical heraldry in the modern Church.

Q: What is ecclesiastical heraldry?

McCarthy: Heraldry, of which coats of arms are the central part, is a system of pictorial identification making it possible to determine a person’s identity, rank and standing in society.

In heraldry, rank is always denoted by headgear. For example, kings are denoted by crowns, and bishops first by miters and then, from about 1600, by a series of flat broad-rimmed pontifical hats with cords and numbers of tassels. The various colors and numbers of tassels show the rank of the user from cardinal down to priest.

Additionally, in northern and English-speaking countries most dioceses have also adopted arms, and these are incorporated into the shields of their bishops. Displayed on seals, documents and buildings, these identify what belongs to whom and in whose name acts are carried out. A perusal of the Web sites of dioceses and bishops will bear this out and demonstrates their continued relevance today in the Internet age.

Q: Who was the first pope to have had a coat of arms?

McCarthy: It is not known which pope was the first. Heraldry emerged in the 12th century as a means of identifying people in battle. Because most of the knights were illiterate it also very quickly became a form of general identification, especially on seals, etc. From there it was a short step for ecclesiastics to do the same and this unique system of identification came into its own. Popes have been credited with coats of arms back to St. Peter, but it is generally accepted that Innocent III — 1198-1215 — was the first.

Q: Benedict XVI has altered heraldic custom, using the miter instead of the papal tiara and adding the pallium. Why do you think he did this?

McCarthy: All things evolve and heraldry is no exception. Benedict XVI, on becoming Pope, made it plain to the designer of his arms that he did not want a crown because he did not wish to be seen as a king. He added the pallium because he wanted to indicate the importance of communion with the Church. The pallium is used by metropolitans to show communion with the Pope and this seemed a logical step forward.

The papal tiara had a long history of development over a period of about 1,700 years. Originally in appearance it was merely a tall conical hat known as the camelaucum, which might have evolved from a miter sewn together at each side to mark the wearer as different from his fellow bishops.

However, it is more likely that it had its origins in the Phrygian Cap which the Emperor Constantine presented to Sylvester I — 314-335. It should be remembered that the miter, when it emerged in the 10th century, was originally worn with the points over the ears, suggesting that the papal miter had been opened for the use of bishops but was incomplete to show the lesser status of the wearer.

The first coronet seems to have been used by Nicholas II — 1059-1061. Given the historical context of that period, the reason for this is not hard to fathom. As well as being the Pontiff, he was a temporal ruler and presumably this was expressed by the coronet; the feudal mind liked to have everything clearly defined.

This single coronet remained in vogue until the end of the 13th century, but with the ascension of Boniface VIII — 1294-1303 — a gradual change began. Benedict XII — 1334-1342 — is credited with the addition of the third coronet, once again for obscure reasons, although his successor Clement VI — 1342-1352 — seems to have been the first Pope to have actually used it. Perhaps the way forward is to restore the camelaucum in its original form to show the unique nature of the papal office, devoid of any allusion to kingship.

Q: What is the story of Benedict XVI’s shield?

McCarthy: The elements of the Pope’s shield, including the Moor’s head and the bear wearing a backpack, both commemorate St. Corbinian, a seventh-century bishop of Freising — now Munich and Freising. The bishop was supposedly black-skinned and he, on a pilgrimage to Rome, encountered a bear which killed his horse. The saint then compelled the bear to carry his baggage for him instead.

Today the Moor’s head is the emblem of the Diocese of Munich Freising, while the bear is the emblem of the town of Freising. Along with the scallop shell — the symbol of the pilgrim — the Pope uses these elements to show his origins.

Q: Ecclesiastical heraldry constitutes part of the Catholic Church’s rich cultural heritage, but is perhaps not well understood today. Is it still relevant today?

McCarthy: In spite of claims to the contrary, heraldry in general is an expression of the Church’s rich cultural heritage, rising as it did as a byproduct of the Crusades as an expression of piety and pilgrimage. Heraldry has been incorporated into the fabric of art and buildings ever since.

Its use in the buildings of Rome, for instance, helps place the context of each building and shows which Pope or cardinal was responsible for it. Similarly, in all the dioceses around the world, the use of heraldry helps to enrich and identify the cultural life of the building.

The Internet is helping to create a new interest in the use of heraldry. Immediately after the Second Vatican Council, the use of arms by ecclesiastics went into a decline and it seemed to be on the way out.

However, there is now a resurgence in heraldry and the fact that the Pope’s use of the miter on his shield created a furor in certain quarters shows that a lively interest still exists.

Q: What do you hope your new book will achieve?

McCarthy: This latest book, “Amoria Pontificalium,” is the last in a series I began in 2000 which include lists of all cardinals created since 1198 and their arms.

In doing this I have attempted to preserve this rich information for posterity and to demonstrate the richness of our ecclesiastical cultural heritage. The current work, on papal arms, which has been produced in color, is the last chapter is this work and demonstrates clearly what I set out to achieve.