Archive for the ‘Pastoral’ Category


Interview With Auxiliary Bishop David Zywiec of Bluefields

BLUEFIELDS, Nicaragua, MARCH 7, 2010 ( It is easy to become isolated in the problems of one’s own nation, but a bishop working with the poor in Nicaragua says it is important to remember that we live in a global community and form part of the universal Church.

Capuchin Bishop David Zywiec is the auxiliary bishop of the Vicariate of Bluefields, which serves almost all of the eastern half of Nicaragua, including what is known as the Mosquito Coast.

The 62-year-old prelate is a native of East Chicago, Indiana, and he recently spoke of the life of the Church in Nicaragua with the television program “Where God Weeps” of the Catholic Radio and Television Network (CRTN) in cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need.

Part 1 of the transcription of the interview appeared last Sunday.

Q: You learned the Miskito language — how long did it take you?

Bishop Zywiec: I’m still learning it! They say to learn a language it takes about 1,000 hours. One of the difficulties I find is that you almost have to be immersed in it or speaking the language all the time. And one of the things I find difficult here is that I’m in the Miskito area for a while and in the Spanish area for a while.

Q: You are one of the few missionaries who actually speaks the language.

Bishop Zywiec: That’s right, and the thing is, we are blessed in the vicariate because we’ve got five Miskito priests, and then there are some young Miskito men in the seminary. So I think that this is God blessing us in a way to build a native church.

Q: What would be your appeal? What would be your call now for your work, for the diocese, for the vicariate?

Bishop Zywiec: One thing of course would be prayer because we are called to pray. Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries of Latin America. We’ve been through civil wars, and hurricanes, and so prayer is important. A lot of times, I feel that I read a newspaper in Nicaragua and they just talk about Nicaragua …you go to the States, they just talk about the States. We are part of a global community now; we are part of the Catholic Church. So, I believe that this is an important thing too. And also we’ve had, you might say, partnerships with different parishes and I believe that this is an important way of not just saying: “OK we’ll pray for Nicaragua”; and also not to say … I know this person there, or this family there, so that it isn’t just helping a certain person or a certain anonymous area, but this particular person, this particular family with their needs. I believe, that makes one … it kind of hits you in the heart … and I think this is a way of living the brotherhood and sisterhood that God calls us … that Jesus calls us to live, as followers of Jesus.

Q: We’re talking about a really rural area where you are: swamps, lots of swamp areas, mountains. How would you characterize the social development of the people? Are they still very traditional in their practices or are they becoming more modernized, so to speak. How would you characterize that?

Bishop Zywiec: I’d say a lot of things have changed in the rural area. When I first worked there, I was working with the Spanish-speaking settlers — Spanish-speaking farmers — and you know older missionaries said that, when they’d have a mission, the priest would come like every year, every six months, there were some women who wouldn’t understand when another man talked to them because they lived so isolated and the only man’s voice that the woman would hear was the husband’s voice. And now in some of the same areas you don’t just have radios, you know, battery powered radios, but with solar panels you now have television. And so things have changed there … slowly, not all of a sudden … not over night… but one of the things I noticed too is when I came there 30 years ago the children as a sign of respect would fold their hands and say “Santito,” [holy one] and now they don’t do that and this is something that you might say is just a little sign of how things have changed a little bit.

But then on the other side there have been some good changes. I find, for example, people are very gifted as far as making up songs. When I first came there, if we came to a chapel and there was a man there who played the guitar this was really great! Now there are chapels were they will have a guitar, and a guitaro — and a little guitar — an accordion and a trumpet, or maybe even a keyboard; so things have changed … you know, a mixture of good and bad, but I think, these things here give more life to our celebrations in the rural area.

Q: You mentioned earlier some of the social challenges — particularly schools. You’ve been working very hard for the development of a grade school system for young rural children that wouldn’t otherwise have access to education. Why did you see this as a priority?

Bishop Zywiec: If you’re going to live in the world today, you need to know how to read and write. And another thing that we find is that, lots of times, there is migration, from the country to the towns. For example, one of our seminarians comes from a rural family — he is one of 16 children. Now most likely a lot of them will move to towns and then if you do not know how to read and write, what are you going to do? You are just going to have menial jobs, or else you might be tempted to rob. So at least, if a person has the capacity to read and write, that person can get a job more easily and make a living in an honest and dignified way.

Q: What other priorities, what other projects would you see as very important now for this vicariate?

Bishop Zywiec: I believe that this whole business about education, because there has been too much history of non-involvement by the government in this area — so it goes way back, 40, 50 years — that the Church has had to get involved in education. Right now there is a school system of over 400 schools with over 20,000 children in grade school. I believe another step is to get involved in a type of high school, but technical high schools so that people are able to work in agriculture…

Q: To have skills, vocational training …?

Bishop Zywiec: That’s right, vocational training. … Another challenge in the whole line of human promotion is health, because there are so few doctors. Doctors want to stay in the cities. They do not want to go out in the country, and so we have, lots of times, small health clinics … that’s a challenge too. As I mentioned, our whole work for evangelization — that’s an important priority, and our lay leaders, that that they are ever better trained so that as people become more educated, that our lay leaders are able to give quality leadership and be able to explain the faith with more capacity, and I believe too, one of the things that we have to do is to work for the common good, the sense of community.

I think, lots of times, people get into certain situations in politics or business or even in the Church, where they think: “Well, I have this particular job and let’s see what I can get out of it for myself,” rather than say, “I’m here as a public servant, as a servant of God.” As Jesus said: “I came not to be served but to serve.” This whole spirit of service is one of the big challenges that we have. You might say, to have a mentality of service … a service attitude like that of Jesus, is part of evangelization. I think that is an important challenge that we have in Latin America and in the Bluefields Vicariate.

Perhaps, one other thing too, as you mentioned, with the Miskito area, is the whole inculturation of the faith, being able to express the faith we have in Miskito. For example, now we have a Miskito Bible, we have a song book, and to be able to help the Miskito to express their faith, their feelings, their love of God in their own way and that this becomes part of their Church structure — in the rural areas too — with the music and so forth, becomes part of their way of expressing their faith and their love of God.

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This interview was conducted by Mark Riedemann for “Where God Weeps,” a weekly television and radio show produced by Catholic Radio and Television Network in conjunction with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.


Interview With Archbishop of Accra

ACCRA, Ghana, APRIL 11, 2010 ( The Catholic Church in Ghana is now just over 125 years old, and it is making the transition from being a missionary Church to one that is truly Ghanaian, with local languages being used for the Bible and worship.

Though this process is well under way, there are still many challenges to overcome.

In this interview given to the television program “Where God Weeps” of the Catholic Radio and Television Network (CRTN) in cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need, Archbishop Gabriel Palmer-Buckle, the archbishop of Accra, Ghana, considers the progress and the work still to be done.

Q: Your Excellency, the refrain of the missionaries was: “That Africa must be evangelized by Africans.” How much is this the reality now in Ghana?

Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: In fact it was Pope Paul VI who sometime in 1969, I think, at the foundation of what we call the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of African and Madagascar, said: “You must have an African Christianity.”

Q: And is this happening in Ghana?

Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: Very much so, very, very much so. We have now 19 dioceses in Ghana, and all the bishops are Ghanaian. In fact there are dioceses in Ghana that have had a fourth generation Ghanaian bishop. The last foreign bishop I think left the shores of Ghana in the early 70s.

Q: What was the importance of these early missionaries for the Church in Ghana?
Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: We have to thank God for them. You know they began in 1880, the SMA Fathers — the Society of the Missionaries of Africa were the first ones to come to the south, Elmina near Cape Coast, the shores and they started the evangelization gradually along the coast and northward.

Q: With great physical suffering … I mean for these Europeans to come to Ghana must have been…?

Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: Actually Ghana in those days was called the graveyard of the white man because many died of malaria within six or eight weeks of their arrival there. But we must thank God for the persistence, perseverance. … The missionaries kept coming. The men came, the women, the Lady of Apostles, that’s the female congregation of the SMA, they also came in 1882, I think, and they accompanied them, gradually to evangelize the south. In the north they had the SMA, who descended at that time from Ouagadougou, in Upper Volta, now Burkina Faso, and they settled in 1906 in Navrongo and they started the evangelization of the northern part also gradually descending into and meeting in the middle belt of the country. Today if you look at the statistics of Ghana, there must be I think roughly about 1,400 priests, and of these 1,400 about 1,000 are Ghanaian, are indigenous.

Q: So it’s a good foundation?

Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: Very much so, we have about 800 sisters, religious, of whom I think half or more are also indigenous, they are Ghanaian. We have about 600 religious brothers more than half are also Ghanaian.

Q: So there is great hope for the local church?

Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: Well, very great hope, in fact many more challenges because the people … the country has a population of about 22 million. The Catholic population is a little bit below 20% of the overall population. The Protestants — the Anglicans, Methodist, Presbyterians, the Baptist and the rest — they are about 18% also, a little bit more than the Catholic population. The Muslims are about 16%. The Pentecostals are even more now. They got in only somewhere in 1929…

Q: But they are growing fast?

Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: Very fast they are about 24% of the population. So Ghana can boast of 68% of the population being Christians.

Q: The Ghanaian people have a deep love for the Word of God. In fact it is stated or reputed that if somebody comes to the market place and starts preaching, those in the market will stop and listen because it’s the Word of God. Where does this love for the Word of God come from?

Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: Not only do they preach the Word of God, you’ll find it even on vehicles, written on vehicles Exodus 14:14 or Mathew 7:7: “Ask and you shall receive” and people know the Scriptures quite well. I would have to say that we must give credit to the Protestant churches and particularly to the Pentecostals for heightening the love of the Word of God, the Scriptures, the Bible, but I must also say that we’ve been working together in an ecumenical setting. For instance: Last year Ghana celebrated its 50th anniversary as an independent country, and one of the projects of the Christian Council and the Ghana bishops’ conference was to distribute a million Bibles to young people who are in the junior high schools. We’ve already distributed about 250,000 – not [just] the Catholic Church, [but] the whole Christian family and we are still distributing further because our people love to read the Scriptures. They love to go to the Bible.

Q: Ghana is not only Christian, but there are still a lot of traditional religions in Ghana. What would be the different expression of traditional religion still existing in Ghana today?

Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: From our last census which took place in the year 2000 only about 8% of the population still belong steadfastly to the traditional religion.

Q: Would this be animist? What kind of religions would we be talking about?

Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: Well, the word “animism” is no more being used very much because animism means believing in spirits. We believe in the Holy Spirit, but we are not animist are we? But what is the difference is that they believe that the forest has a spirit, the waters have spirits, the rocks have spirits, you know all of creation has spirit and they are still living in those things and what we admire them for is their respect for creation, their respect for the ecology which, unfortunately we Christians can blame ourselves for watering it down. So it is one of the things that we are now taking up: the protection of creation, the conservation of the environment which we have taken from them, and we are heightening it and there is a good resonance with the traditional religion it seems.
Another thing that we have to give credit to them for is that they have maintained our traditional governance: most of our chieftaincy rites rituals, which are embedded in their religious culture, and they’ve kept them going. They have also kept the family together, the sort of respect in the family between father, mother, parents, and children; they have maintained quite a lot of it and we are beginning to see that Christianity, at a point in time, emphasized more the individuals’ salvation as against the communitarian, community, social perspective of the history of salvation. We are taking that also from them and heightening it you know.

Q: Becoming a Christian sometimes means abandoning some one or more of these traditional aspects. Where and how is the Church trying to find a balance in this regard?

Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: We’d have to admit that from about 1880 to about Vatican II the mentality was that everything traditional was pagan, was very demonic, and was not good. Thanks to Vatican II, the Church has allowed us to appreciate the values in our culture. We are now beginning to realize that there is a lot of similarity, for instance, the rites of our people. I come from Accra; they have a rite for outdooring of a child when the child is born. They outdoor the child on the eighth day…

Q: What is that?

Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: That means giving a name. They bring the child out to the public. They give it a name, and the name is normally the name of one or the other ancestor who had lived a good life so it is believed that the ancestor then protects the child. The child becomes a property no more of his or her parents alone but of the entire clan, and the clan takes its responsibility toward the child. This is a beautiful rite. In fact I had to do my doctoral thesis on that to show its similarity to baptism, through which a person is born anew into the family of God and then is given a name, which identifies him or her with Christianity.

Q: Baptism is integrated into this traditional ritual?

Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: In many places what they do is they have the traditional ritual very early in the morning because it must happen before sunrise and then they have the baptism in the afternoon on Saturday.

Q: There are some elements of traditional religion that the Church has to redress like polygamy and issues like this. How does the Church work with the local and the traditional cultures to try and address these kinds of problems?

Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: Not only for polygamy, we also have very violent widowhood rites and other rites that we are now trying to deal with for example…

Q: What would be some of these examples?

Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: When a woman’s husband died, she was maltreated, and she was subjected sometimes to some form of cruelty in some cases she was driven out of the house…

Q: Because they thought that somehow she was responsible for the death of her husband or?

Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: In some cases ignorantly it was so thought, in other cases it was some sort of a shock therapy for her to get over the pain of having lost her husband. There are very positive aspects and negative aspects — because of human wickedness sometimes the negatives have overshadowed the positive, but I must say that, above all the good rites, as you say polygamy for instance where a man married two or three wives, had children; they all farmed with him on the farm, they acquired property together, the kids were more or less farm hands and everything. Now, the difficulty of Christianity has been to come in and tell the man: send 2 of your wives away, send your children away…

Q: What do you do?

Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: What do you do? Just like Abraham had to, in the book of Genesis to send away Hagar and her son Ishmael, and if you look back today you have to admit that some of the present problems go further back to those who trace their origins to Isaac and those who trace it to Ishmael. It’s very sad so we have been caught up in the Church; we know how to deal with this particular situation.

Q: Practically, a man comes to you: I want to become a Christian, I want to be Baptist, I’m in a polygamous relationship, I have four wives. How does the church respond to a situation like this?

Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: Officially we tell them what the Church says: One man one woman. We normally advise them, the man to choose the oldest wife, the one with whom he is at, but we also try to help them to take care of the children and the women without necessarily making use of what we call the marital offices that offend Christian morality of adultery and the rest of it. And it’s not easy. There have been cases where the offspring of these women, together with the man, have blamed the Church for ruining their family system because in many, many places they have lived at peace with one another: The boys have identified with the three women as their mothers, in the absence of their father, the women have taken care of all the children. This is an ideal situation of course. There have been other situations where it wasn’t too ideal, with a lot of rivalry between their mothers and their children and that has created a lot of pain.

So what we try to do is to accompany them through growing. Once they accept Christ, you must accompany them to grow in their faith, and as they grow in the knowledge of their faith, by the grace of God, those who have been baptized do away with what we call the sinful remains of a thing like polygamy or like the widowhood rites or other rites that may not be in consonance with the Catholic or the Christian faith.

“You Are Following in the Footsteps of Your Founder”

NASHVILLE, Tennessee, AUG. 18, 2007 ( Here is the text of Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone’s Aug. 7 homily at the opening Mass at the annual convention of the Knights of Columbus.

The text is provided by the Knights of Columbus.

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August 7, 2007
This is the official English translation of the homily delivered in Italian by His Eminence Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone, S.D.B.
Secretary of State

Your Eminences,
My Brothers in the Episcopate and in the priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I am pleased to extend warm greetings to Mr. Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight, and to the Knights of Columbus and their families, and to all of you present at this eucharistic celebration marking the solemn inauguration of the 125th Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus. It gives me great pleasure to convey to all of you the cordial greetings of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. Please be assured of the Holy Father’s spiritual closeness and of a special remembrance in his prayers at this time. During this celebration of the eucharistic Sacrifice let us join our intentions to those of His Holiness, in prayerful gratitude for the good works carried out by the Knights of Columbus and in humble supplication for the success of your Convention and the fruitfulness of your apostolate.

On August 14, 1890, Father Michael J. McGivney, a priest of the Diocese of Hartford who was just 38 years old, passed from this life to eternity. An obituary notice quoted from the Book of Wisdom, “Being perfected in a short time, they fulfilled long years; for their souls were pleasing to the Lord, therefore he took them quickly from the midst of wickedness” (Wis 4:13-14). The crowds who turned out for his funeral bore eloquent witness to the power of his example, rooted in personal holiness. The Congregation for the Causes of Saints, as you know, is currently studying the life of this Servant of God, with a view to recognizing his sanctity and presenting him to the faithful as a model Christian, worthy of imitation. In the light of today’s Gospel, I would like to dwell briefly on some aspects of the life of this holy parish priest, founder of your association.

The Gospel we have just heard provides us with the image of Peter walking on the water towards Christ. Peter is uncertain, buffeted by the waves and the intensity of the storm, but with his gaze fixed upon Christ he finds the faith and the courage to withstand all the forces working against him and to move forward. Only when his faith momentarily deserts him, does he begin to sink, and then it is the hand of Christ that holds him up. In many respects the storm-tossed boat on the Sea of Galilee seems an apt image for the situation of the local Church at the time of Father McGivney, when the plight of Catholics in America was far from easy. This holy priest, however, like Peter in the Gospel story, found the faith and the courage to walk steadfastly towards Christ, and to inspire others by his leadership. Everyone who had the privilege of knowing Father McGivney was impressed by the dynamism of his personality and his pastoral zeal. He guided the organization he founded with prudence and wisdom, firmly trusting in Christ. He recognized the need to promote the mutual support and solidarity of the Catholic community, and nothing would deter him from pursuing this noble goal. May your founder’s faith and courage serve as an inspiration to all of you as you devote yourselves to the pursuit of your own apostolate.

When they saw Jesus walking across the water, the disciples were terrified. But when he encouraged them not to be afraid, Peter called out: “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” And Jesus said, “Come.” It was in response to that call that Peter set out towards him. Likewise, Father McGivney, when he set out upon the path to priesthood, did so in response to a call from Christ, and he spent his remaining years faithfully living out that vocation. He also helped others to recognize the call that Christ addressed to them, and to respond generously. This was the key to his apostolic vision in founding the Knights. He recognized the material and spiritual poverty of so many members of the Catholic community, and he understood that it was part of the lay vocation to become actively involved in offering assistance to brothers and sisters in need. He knew that it is not only priests and religious who have a vocation, but that every Christian is called by Christ to carry out a particular mission in the Church. He left a lasting legacy in the organization that he founded which has continued to provide opportunities for countless lay Catholics to play their part in building up the Kingdom of God.

At the end of today’s Gospel passage, we hear that the people from the surrounding country brought to Jesus all those who were sick, and begged to be able to touch even just the tassel on his cloak, so that they could be healed. Christ’s care for the sick and the suffering was an inspiration to Father McGivney who, as a priest, sought to be a living sign of Christ for the people he served. The parishioners in New Haven and Thomaston were attracted to this kind and gentle priest, who ministered to them with Christ-like compassion. Through the organization that he founded he reached out beyond the boundaries of his parishes to members of the Catholic community throughout America, many of whom were in great need. Widows and orphans who might otherwise have suffered destitution have been offered charitable assistance and fraternal support. Those afflicted by alcoholism have been helped through this association to overcome their loneliness and to make a courageous choice to fight against their dependency. Like the Good Samaritan, you bind the wounds of those you discover lying by the wayside and help restore them to health and strength. In so doing you are following in the footsteps of your founder, and with him imitating Christ, who came that we might have life in abundance.

The celebration of the Eucharist raises our thoughts to God the Father, who through Jesus Christ, gives us the Holy Spirit and nourishes us with the Bread of Life. Today we remember with gratitude the life of Father McGivney, the talents and graces which he received. We thank the Lord for the good works that are carried out in the Catholic community through the generosity of the Knights of Columbus. Let us learn from Mary to grow in contemplation of the great things that the Almighty has done for us. Finally, let us place confidently in her hands, as Mother of the Church, the intentions and hopes of this 125th Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus.

Interview With Expert in Ecumenism

WASHINGTON, D.C., JULY 15, 2007 ( The recent document on the Church’s identity emphasizes the gifts Catholics offer to the quest for unity, says the director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released “Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine of the Church” on June 29, and an accompanying “Commentary.”

In this interview with ZENIT, Father James Massa discusses what the document offers to ecumenism today, and considers reactions from Protestant communities.

Q: In your position as a leader in ecumenical and interreligious work, what is your assessment of the recent document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the Catholic understanding of the Church?

Father Massa: I think it is a necessary and helpful clarification on how Catholics understand the nature of the Church. Jesus Christ founded the Church as a visible and unified society that would exist until his return. Catholics believe that this one Church of Christ exists in all its fullness in the Catholic Church alone.

That doesn’t mean the one Church is not also present and active in Orthodox churches and Protestant communities for the salvation of their members. In fact, in these Christian bodies we find genuine elements of truth and holiness that inspire us, draw us into ecumenical dialogue, and make us yearn even more for the unity for which Christ prayed. Properly understood, the “Clarification” can be a real inducement to deeper and more honest dialogue between Catholics and their ecumenical partners.

Q: What has your impression been of the reaction among Protestants and other non-Catholics to the document?

Father Massa: It’s clear that some prominent leaders in the Protestant world feel profoundly disappointed by the document. The Reverend Setri Nyomi, General Secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, is quoted as saying that it contradicts the “spirit of our Christian calling toward oneness in Christ.” He and others wonder whether the Holy Father and the Catholic leadership are still serious about dialogue.

To my mind, this is an overreaction that misreads both the intended audience and substance of the document. The “Clarification” was directed at bishops and Catholic scholars, not our ecumenical partners. Secondly, it renounces none of the essential commitments that the Catholic Church has made since Vatican II to advance the cause of Christian unity.

Other reactions have been more positive. Ann Riggs of the Faith and Order USA Commission, for example, views the document as an invitation to a more sophisticated dialogue in which each side tries to understand the other’s statements as coming out of a distinct tradition of doctrinal expression.

Metropolitan Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church called it “honest” and preferable to a diplomatic approach that dodges the tough issues. So the reaction has been mixed. But overall, I think its long term benefits for authentic ecumenism will outweigh any disadvantages.

Q: Why is this document needed now, at this moment in the journey toward full Christian unity?

Father Massa: Seven year after “Dominus Iesus,” we are still facing a problem with insufficient attention to the Catholic doctrine of the Church. Perhaps in an effort to underscore God’s saving work in other churches and Christian communities, some theologians have failed to make it clear that the one Church of Christ is uniquely identifiable with the Catholic Church. Other churches and communities welcome the saving presence of Christ into their midst, but only in the Catholic Church does the one Church subsist in fullness. Contrary to what some Catholic theologians have written, there are no other “subsistences.”

Taken out of context, the document’s position on what groups deserve to be called a “church” might also appear to be jarring. The Orthodox churches are rightly called such because they’ve retained the sacraments and the ministry that exists in apostolic succession. Protestant communities lack a certain ecclesial substance, namely, the sacraments and ministry that unite us as one in the Body of Christ. But even the Orthodox, though very close to us in faith and practice, are still “wounded” in their communion because they lack the Office of Peter, the Pope.

Q: What, if any, novelties are contained in the new document. Is this simply a restatement of Catholic teaching as articulated in other documents — if so, why the need? Or does it present new material — if so, what?

Father Massa: I don’t think there is anything substantially new here. But I do believe that the restatement of the Catholic position offers those of us involved in the dialogues to take more seriously what are the Catholic “gifts” that we bring to the table. Pope John Paul II said that ecumenism is less an exchange of ideas than an exchange of gifts. Eucharist-centered worship, episcopal ministry, and papal primacy are the unique Catholic gifts. They should never be placed “under a bushel basket.”

Q: The final paragraph of the Commentary on the Document, which was also released by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, quotes “Deus Caritas Est”: “Union with Christ is also union with all those to whom he gives himself. … Communion draws me out of myself towards him, and thus also toward unity with all Christians.” Do you think Benedict XVI will be a key element in achieving unity?

Father Massa: I do indeed believe that the present Holy Father is a credible ecumenist. He was such as an academician, as a bishop-prefect, and now as a Pope. But he also cautions us not to think that “unity” is something that we ourselves achieve by means of our theological cleverness or skills in diplomacy. Unity is and always will be a gift from the Lord, and therefore something that we must wait upon in prayer and while doing appropriate works of love with the other and on behalf of the other.

Q: On another front, there was also a stir in the media after Benedict XVI’s “Summorum Pontificum” was released July 7. Some said that document is anti-Semitic. What has given that impression? And how should the document be interpreted in the light of Catholic-Jewish relations?

In the Motu Proprio “Summorum Pontificum,” the Holy Father is merely extending permission for the wider pastoral application of the Missal of 1962 — the so-called Tridentine Mass. The 1962 “Missale Romanum” already reflected Blessed John XXIII’s revision of liturgical language often construed as anti-Semitic. In 1965, Vatican II’s “Nostra Aetate” — no. 4 — then repudiated all forms of anti-Semitism as having no place within Christian life. When the new Mass was published in 1969, the only prayer for the Jewish people on Good Friday completely reflects a renewed understanding of the Jews as God’s chosen people, “first to hear the word of God.”

Throughout his papacy, Pope John Paul II worked effectively to reconcile the Church with the Jewish people and to strengthen new bonds of friendship. Benedict XVI is continuing along the same lines. But keep in mind, in 1988 John Paul II himself gave permission for the missal of 1962 to be used as a pastoral provision to assist Catholics who remained attached to the previous rites, thereby hoping to develop closer bonds within the family of the Church.

The present Holy Father — and here I quote him — remains committed to “the need to overcome past prejudices, misunderstandings, indifference and the language of contempt and hostility (and to continue) the Jewish-Christian dialogue … to enrich and deepen the bonds of friendship which have developed” — Benedict XVI, On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the promulgation of “Nostra Aetate,” Oct. 27, 2005.

Interview With Father Augustine Di Noia

VATICAN CITY, JULY 10, 2007 ( Some 30 years after the Second Vatican Council, the Holy See is reminding the faithful of an “essential” conciliar teaching.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released today the document titled “Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine of the Church.” The brief text clarifies what Vatican II meant when it said that the Church founded by Christ “subsists in the Catholic Church.”

In this interview with Vatican Radio, Dominican Father Augustine Di Noia, undersecretary of the doctrinal congregation, discusses the major issues concerning this document.

Q: Could you outline the major points that the document addresses?

Father Di Noia: There really are two main points, and then some minor points.

The main point is to address the question of whether the Second Vatican Council changed the Church’s teaching on the nature of the Church herself, and this document tries to clarify this point to say no — it was a development, a deepening, but definitely not a kind of change in the sense of altering the way in which we think of the Church.

And the point is — the fundamental point — and this is the second thing, is how to interpret the expression of the Second Vatican Council, “Lumen Gentium,” paragraph 8: “The Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church.” It’s this “subsists” that has caused a tremendous amount of questioning, and we’re trying to address this.

Briefly, the point is, that instead of saying that the Church of Christ is the Catholic Church, the “subsists” is used to say the same thing […] in order to make it clear that across the whole of history, and in the present, we are not in the state of having an imperfect Church that has yet to become the Church of Christ, but that the fullness of what Christ wanted the Church to be, he has established in the Catholic Church.

Then, of course, the other points, in order to explain how other Churches and ecclesial communities relate to this; the Vatican council did not want to exclude the possibility that there were in fact elements of ecclesial life — valid sacraments or the means of grace. I mean, all of the Church/ecclesial communities that read the Scriptures, in that sense with faith, have a certain element of what Christ intended the Church to be.

Q: Why was it decided to have this document come out at this time?

Father Di Noia: That’s an important question.

I suppose it has to do with the reaction to an earlier document, the famous ” Dominus Iesus” that came out, if you recall, in 2000.

I remember that when I was working for the bishops’ conference in the United States, and we had received advanced copies of this document, and I was asked to prepare the bishops for ” Dominus Iesus,” I said well, there is absolutely nothing new here, so the bishops will be fine with it. But as you know, the reaction to ” Dominus Iesus” was extremely, let’s say, contestative. I mean, it was a very difficult document.

What we saw was the people […] didn’t understand that not simply we had to speak of Christ as being the universal savior, but that the Church was the principle means by which the grace of Christ would be communicated to the world, and that, if you recall, created most of the controversy, certainly ecumenically.

So this was kind of a wake-up call. I’d say that “Dominus Iesus” was a wake-up call, that 30 years after Vatican II, people seemed to have forgotten something very essential that Vatican II taught. And so it was out of that moment that the cardinal members of the congregation — and also other people, bishops and so on, raising questions about this — the congregation decided to proceed with a clarification.

The document is called “Responses to [Some] Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church.” It is a very narrow point, it’s a relatively short document, as you know, and the commentary attached, so it’s a very precise set of responses to questions that have arisen.

Q: How does this new document relate to previous documents speaking about the nature of the Church and ecumenism that have been released?

Father Di Noia: The response, the responses really, because there are a couple, do not add anything to the preceding teaching of the magisterium, but really are meant to recall and make more precise the authentic significance of the various doctrinal expressions used to speak about the Church in past magisterium.

See it’s a very important point that — experientially — that when you go into a Catholic Church, essentially this document is reaffirming this point, this very fundamental point, that when you go into a Catholic Church and become a participant in the community there, with the round of Mass, and the sacrament of penance, and baptism, and confirmation, and everything else that goes on there, you will find everything that Christ intended the Church to be.

And even though there are divisions in Christianity, that does not mean that the Church does not exist perfectly. You see it’s not that we have to repair or heal the divisions, we do have to seek the unity among all the different Christian communities that Christ willed, but the fact that not all Churches are in communion with the Sea of Peter does not mean that the Church is wounded to the effect that it no longer exists in its integrity.

Q: How can this document help in ecumenical dialogue?

Father Di Noia: The commitment of the Catholic Church to ecumenical dialogue is as Benedict XVI himself has said, and certainly Pope John Paul II said frequently as well, “irrenunciable.”

That is to say, the Church is not backtracking on its ecumenical commitment. As you know, it is fundamental to any kind of dialogue that the participants are clear about their own identity, that is, dialogue cannot be an occasion to accommodate or soften what you actually understand yourself to be in order to achieve a sort of false sense of consensus.

It is a fundamental condition of dialogue really, that the participants are clear about what their self-identity is so that in a sense they are being truthful; they are coming to the table with a clear expression of what they understand themselves to be.

So in that sense it is never a backtracking of dialogue to be clear about what you are, but it’s an essential condition for it, otherwise the results that you achieve, they’re easily undermined by the truth about it.