from issue no.01 - 2010


The genealogy of Jesus and the “mystery of grace”

IDavid and Bathsheba/I, Marc Chagall

IDavid and Bathsheba/I, Marc Chagall

On the occasion of the ninetieth birthday of Cardinal Tomás Spidlík, on 17 December last, Pope Benedict XVI celebrated a Mass in the “Redemptoris Mater” chapel of the Vatican Apostolic Palace with the Centro Aletti community in Rome, a spiritual and pastoral training institute of the Pontifical Oriental Institute. Here is a passage from the Pope’s homily: “The Gospel of Matthew presents to us the “genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Mt 1, 1), underlining and further explaining God’s fidelity to the promise that He puts into practice not only through human beings but with them, and, as with Jacob, sometimes in tortuous and unexpected ways. The awaited Messiah, the subject of the promise, is true God but also true man; the Son of God, but also the Son born of the Virgin Mary of Nazareth, the holy flesh of Abraham in whose descendants all the peoples of the earth would be blessed (cf. Gen 22, 18). In this genealogy, in addition to Mary, four other women are mentioned. They are not Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, or Rachel, that is, the great figures in the history of Israel. Instead, paradoxically they are four pagan women: Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Tamar, who would seem to “cloud” the purity of the genealogy. Yet, in these pagan women who appear at crucial points in the history of salvation, the mystery of the Church of the pagans also appears, the universality of salvation. They are pagan women in whom appears the future, the universality of salvation. They are also sinful women, and thus the mystery of grace appears in them: it is not our works that redeem the world, but rather the Lord who gives us true life. They are sinful women, yes, in whom appears the greatness of the grace that we all need. Yet these women reveal an exemplary response to God’s faithfulness, showing faith in the God of Israel. And thus we see through the Church of the pagans, the mystery of grace, faith as a gift and as the way to communion with God”.


Full diplomatic relations between Russia and the Holy See

Benedict XVI and President Medvedev [© Paolo Galosi/Vatican Pool]

Benedict XVI and President Medvedev [© Paolo Galosi/Vatican Pool]

On 9 December it was announced that the Holy See and the Russian Federation have decided by common accord to establish full diplomatic relations between themselves. Until now “relations of a special nature” existed between the two entities.


Etchegaray: “The Christian lives the present”

Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, 
and Pope Benedict XVI BR[© Osservatore Romano/Associated Press/LaPresse]

Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, and Pope Benedict XVI BR[© Osservatore Romano/Associated Press/LaPresse]

“Certainly I will never forget last Christmas Eve, a night in many ways exceptional... But let’s not talk about me, let’s rather talk about the Pope... I merited nothing. Let’s say this: I went tumbling into history”. With these words, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray recalled, in the Corriere della Sera of 30 January, the incursion of Susanna Maiolo during the Christmas celebration in St Peter’s, which caused the Pope to fall. On the occasion, collided into by a guard, the cardinal also fell, resulting in a fractured femur. He has begun to walk again after an operation, and think about the things of the Church because, he explains again in the Corriere della Sera: “A Christian lives the present in the present and always looks ahead”.

Benedict XVI and President Lula [© Associated Press/LaPresse]

Benedict XVI and President Lula [© Associated Press/LaPresse]

Agreement with Brazil ratified

On 10 December, the Vatican exchanged the instruments of ratification of the Agreement between the Holy See and the Federal Republic of Brazil, signed on 13 November 2008.

The decrees of heroic virtues of Pius XII and John Paul II approved

On 19 December, the Pope, receiving the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Archbishop Angelo Amato, authorized the department to promulgate 21 decrees concerning a similar number of causes for beatification. Among others, those relating to the heroic virtues of Pius XII and John Paul II were published.

Confession and world peace

Sandro Magister commented in a short article in L’espresso in late December, entitled E il Papa ricordò: Date a Cesare [And the Pope remembered: Give to Caesar], the speech made by Benedict XVI to the Curia on 21 December. Among other things he wrote: “With an unexpected stroke, Benedict XVI added that if many things go wrong in the world it is also because Christians have abandoned the practice of the sacrament of penance: ‘symptom of a loss of truthfulness in relation to ourselves and to God, a loss that endangers our humanity and diminishes our capacity for peace’. For St Bonaventure, Ratzinger further added, the sacrament of penance indeed ‘was a sacrament of humanity as such’ instituted in its essence by God ‘already immediately after original sin, through the penance He imposed on Adam’”.

Sacred College
Glemp’s eightieth birthday. The deaths of Shirayanagi and Daly

On 18 December, the Polish Cardinal Józef Glemp, Archbishop of Warsaw from 1981 to 2006, was eighty years old. On 30 December, the Japanese Cardinal Peter Seiichi Shirayanagi, Archbishop of Tokyo from 1970 to 2000, died. And then on the 31 the Irish Cardinal Cahal Brendan Daly, Archbishop of Armagh from 1990 to 1996, also died. At the end of 2009 then the Sacred College consisted of 183 cardinals of whom 112 voters in a future conclave.

Levi and the silences of Pius XII

“I hesitate to judge the choices of the Pope of those times for speaking out or silence. If the Pope had delivered a public condemnation of the Jewish Holocaust he would have performed a heroic act of martyrdom, involving the whole Church. But the Italian Jewish victims of the Holocaust would have been many more than eight thousand”. Thus Arrigo Levi on Pius XII, in an article in La Stampa on 23 December. And, in commenting on the extensive support and shelter of the Italian Jews deployed by the Italian Church, he states: “I take my place among the ‘many who believe it not only probable but certain that, after the unforgettable silence of 16 October 1943, the Pope approved and urged the task of saving the Jews, not only in Rome but throughout Italy, not only through the work of country priests, but also by influential bishops and cardinals”.

Yehoshua: Israel, the messianic dream and peace in the Holy Land

Several Israeli rabbis, in the name of the sacredness of the land of Israel, have rebelled against the government’s plan to freeze the setting up of new colonies, a plan crucial for revitalizing the peace process. In La Stampa of 21 December Avraham Yehoshua commented: “In the long centuries preceding the emergence of Zionist ideology, Jewish theology, in all its variations, created a religious structure that, while accepting settlement in the land of Israel as an active and necessary precept, considered it a messianic dream, a heavenly redemption feasible only by divine intervention ... How to resolve this contradiction then: the indifference and alienation of observing Jews to the Holy Land for hundreds of years, on the one hand, and the current conception that the territory is the most important center of worship for which we can and should even rebel against the secular and democratic government, on the other? I think that underlying this issue is the following statement: Israel does not exist without the Torah. Those who accept it consider the national government – legitimized by democratic election – empty of meaning because only the Torah and Halakha can give meaning to the concept of nationality”. He concludes: “The intense religious attachment to the territory is only a pretext and an element of challenge to a democratic national government. An ancient challenge which lies at the basis of the Jewish identity and which has been exacerbated in recent years by the steady increase of observing Jews in Israel. And it is a challenge that every democratic government of Israel will have to face if it wishes to withdraw from the territories occupied in 1967 and reach a peace with the Palestinians”.

The relevance of Saint Thomas

“As a Dominican I am particularly pleased that the Pope quoted St Thomas Aquinas as an example of the attitude of the Pontifical Academies faced with the problems of dialogue with society and modern culture”. Such was the comment of Cardinal Georges Cottier, interviewed in Avvenire of 29 January, on the Holy Father’s speech to members of the Pontifical Academies, who had met the previous day for the fourteenth public session. The Cardinal continued: “The Pope reminds us that St Thomas is a man with a deep sense of tradition, and of dialogue, of openness to the problems of his time. He nourished himself on the Scriptures and the Fathers of the Church and especially St Augustine, this is very important, but at the same time he was very aware of the culture of his time; he knew Arab but also Jewish philosophy – he quoted Maimonides many times. Not to mention the synthesis that he succeeded in making of ancient Greek thought. All this gives Thomas a great relevance in tackling today’s cultural climate too”.

The Revenge of Maimonides

An article by Armando Torno in Corriere della Sera on 16 January, under the heading The Revenge of Maimonides, brings out the relevance of Moses Maimonides’ thinking (1135-1204), in the context of a wider debate within the Jewish world. In detailing the life of the philosopher, defined as a kind of “Thomas Aquinas of Judaism” for his approach to reality and revelation, the article focuses on the work Guide for the Perplexed: “It proposes to help those who hover between faith in revelation and the teachings of philosophy; indeed, it aims to resolve their problems. Just as the Scholastic Doctors resorted to reason without unduly tormenting themselves, in the same way Maimonides turned to Aristotle to ‘prove’ the existence of God... Étienne Gilson, the great historian of medieval thought, called the Guide ‘a true Summa of Jewish scholastic philosophy’ ”.

Sacred College
The death of Razafindratandra. The eightieth birthday of Ambrozic

On 9 January, 85 year-old African Cardinal Gaétan Razafindratandra, Archbishop of Antananarivo in Madagascar from 1994 to 2005, died.
On 23 January Cardinal Aloysius Matthew Ambrozic, of Slovenian origin, Archbishop of Toronto in Canada from 1990 to 2006, was 80 years old.
At the end of January, the Sacred College thus consists of 182 cardinals, of whom 111 voters in a future conclave.

New archbishops in Mechelen-Brussel and in Prague

On 18 January, the Pope accepted the resignation of the Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels, 77 years old in June, as Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussel, a position he held since 1979. Monsignor André-Mutien Léonard, 70 years old in May, bishop of Namur since 1991, was appointed in his place.
On 13 February the Pope accepted the resignation of Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, 78 years old in May, as Archbishop of Prague, a position he held since 1991. The Dominican Dominik Duka, 67 years old in April, bishop of Hradec Kralove since 1998, was appointed in his place.

Silvestrini: when Pius XII tried to avoid war

“Pius XII was totally anti-Nazi. Always. In the winter of 1940, before the German attack on the Western Front, a group of senior German officers who wanted to overthrow Hitler asked the Pope to mediate with the Allied governments to find out what assurances they would receive from them. Pius XII twice summoned the British ambassador, Osborne, to the Holy See, to speak with him of the matter. He did so directly, excluding the Secretary of State. In fact there is no trace in the Vatican archives but there is in Osborne’s diary and in a book of Chatwick’s”. The words are those of Cardinal Achille Silvestrini, in an interview in La Stampa on 1 February.

Levy: the inventor of the black legend of Pius XII was a revisionist

“As to the very complex story of Pius XII, I’ll come back to it, if necessary. I’ll come back to the case of Rolf Hochhuth, author of the famous The Vicar, who in 1963 launched the controversy surrounding the ‘silences of Pius XII’. In particular, I shall return to the fact that this savage critic is also a patented holocaust denier, repeatedly condemned as such, whose latest provocation, five years ago, was an interview with the extreme right-wing weekly Junge Freiheit in which he took up the defense of David Irving, the man who denies the existence of gas chambers.” Thus Bernard-Henri Lévy in Corriere della Sera on 20 January.

Middle East
Yehoshua, the peace between Palestine and Israel and the Iranian crisis

“A possible peace between Israel and the Palestinians would neutralize the poison of Iranian hatred and break the fanciful political mechanism that leads it to identify Israel as total evil, or the ‘little satan’ that must be annihilated at all costs. A common front of Israelis and Palestinians could prompt the Iranian people, who in a not too distant past maintained good relations with the Jewish State, to rebel against the madness that seems to have spread in its administration. Israeli or American military action would risk provoking a dangerous deterioration of the situation, and would prolong and intensify the suffering in this highly sensitive region of the world. A peaceful conclusion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, by contrast, would be far more effective than any military action”. Thus the conclusion of La Stampa’s editorial on 3 February, signed by Avraham B. Yehoshua.


The Ambassador of Israel and the followers of Sabbatai Zevi

Sabbatai Zevi

Sabbatai Zevi

“Judaism is based on the recognition of the unity of humankind, adherence to moral principles and truth, that reign supreme over all mankind, regardless of race or religion”. This is the beginning of a speech by the Israeli ambassador to the Holy See, Mordechay Lewy, published in the February issue of Pagine ebraiche [Jewish Pages], the monthly magazine of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, and quoted on 20 January by L’Osservatore Romano. The text continues: “Rabbi Moshe de Coucy in the thirteenth century forbade the deceiving of both Jew and Gentile” (Semag, 74)... Rabbi Moses Rivkes (1600-1684), author of a commentary on the Shulchan Aruch, wrote in Beer Hagolah that Christians ‘believe in the creation of the world, Exodus, the Revelation at Sinai and pray to the Creator’ (7, 7). Rabbi Jacob Emdem (1698-1776), in a letter to the Polish Jewish community, appealed to Christians to treat Sabbatians as apostates, ‘Since it is recognized that even the Nazarene and his disciples, especially Paul, warned of the Jewish Torah by which all the circumcised are bound. And if they are true Christians, they observe their faith in truth and do not allow within their borders the new unfitting messiah... Sabbatai Zevi... Indeed, even according to the writers of the Gospels, a Jew is not allowed to leave his Torah’. This passage is taken from an appendix to the Seder Olam Raba of Emdem (Hamburg 1757, p. 33)”. Later Lewy writes: “Emdem praises the Muslim and Christian doctrine: ‘The wise men of Edom and the Ishmaelites speak in our favor... thanks to the common divine teaching that they share... Although some fools have almost tried to annihilate us... The wise among them have been strong as lions against the wicked, especially the wise Christians who always follow the truth... They were our protectors and this will be considered a work of charity on their part’ ”.


Wojtyla, Luciani and the annotations of Poltawska

Pope Luciani and Cardinal Karol  Wojtyla

Pope Luciani and Cardinal Karol Wojtyla

In January San Paolo publications published the Diario di un’amicizia [Diary of a friendship] in which Wanda Poltawska recounts her long association with Karol Wojtyla. On 9 January, the Corriere della Sera published a preview. We print the entries for September 1978, when, after having participated in the conclave that had elected John Paul I, Wojtyla returned to Poland: “Weeks of intensive work followed, traveling, meetings, at an even faster pace than usual. The news of the death of John Paul I was a surprise to all, and he said to me: ‘I thought I had more time’. While leaving for the second time and greeting each other, I asked him: ‘What name will you take as Pope?’. Andrzej, my husband answered easily: ‘What do you mean: “what name”? John Paul II, it’s logical’. He didn’t answer”.

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