THIS PAST DEC. 18, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the department of external relations of the Russian Orthodox Church, received an honorary degree from the Faculty of Theology of Apulia in Bari, on Italy’s Adriatic coast. During his remarks on that occasion, Metropolitan Hilarion thanked the Holy See “per la sua posizione di equilibrio riguardo al conflitto in corso in Ucraina [for its balanced position regarding the conflict underway in Ukraine].” Did anyone in the Vatican blush in shame at that compliment? A lot of high-ranking Roman churchmen should have.
I WON’T VENTURE into classical Roman literature, which is not my forte, but I will say with assurance that the greatest modern Latin pun was the result of a schoolgirl prank. In 1844, General Charles James Napier, commanding a British army during the heydays of imperialism in South Asia, was ordered to subdue the province of Sindh (now in Pakistan).
IN THE 1920S, when the United States had a quasi-Stalinist regime on its southern border, “Viva Cristo Rey!” was the defiant battle cry of Cristeros who fought the radically secular Mexican government’s persecution of the Church. “Viva Cristo Rey!” were likely the last words spoken by Blessed Miguel Pro, S.J., whose martyrdom in 1927 may have been the first in history in which the martyr was photographed at the moment of death. Today, in the U.S., “Cristo Rey” has a different, although not wholly unrelated, meaning – for it’s the name of an important experiment in Catholic education for poor children.
FOR THE PAST decade or so, I’ve been assembling a mid-sized Judean village of Fontanini crèche figures, including artisans, herders (with sheep), farmers (with chickens and a historical turkey), vintners, blacksmiths, musicians, weavers and a fisherman or two (one awake, another asleep).
IT’S BEEN A good year for publishing – at least in the sense of a lot of good books getting published – so here are some for the readers on your Christmas gift list, in addition, of course, to “Lessons in Hope: My Unexpected Life with St. John Paul II” (Basic Books), by your scribe:
HAPPY (REAL) new year: the beginning of a new year of grace, which began Dec. 3 with the First Sunday of Advent.
“The holidays” so overwhelm our senses each December that it’s hard to remember that Advent, the season of preparation for Christmas, has a “thy-kingdom-come” dimension as well as a Nativity dimension. For the first two weeks of Advent, the Church ardently and insistently prays the ancient Aramaic Maranatha: “Come, Lord Jesus!”
Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University is hosting a lecture series to mark the 50th anniversary of “Humanae Vitae.” The series promises to examine problems that have emerged since Pope Paul wrote on the ethics of human love and family-planning. Yet the absence of “Humanae Vitae” proponents among the lecturers does not fill me with confidence.
ON SEPT. 29, 1952, the publication of the complete Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the Bible was celebrated at the National Guard Armory in Washington, D.C., and the principal speaker was the U.S. Secretary of State, Dean Acheson.
FOUR CENTURIES AFTER his death, Shakespeare remains a peerless playwright because of his remarkable insight into the human condition. Love, ambition, fear, guilt, nobility, pomposity, patriotism, absurdity, sheer wickedness – you name it, Will grasped something of its essence. His work continues to help us understand ourselves better because whatever the changing of times and seasons, human nature changes very little.
IN WRITING “Lessons in Hope: My Unexpected Life with St. John Paul II,” one of my secondary intentions was to bury two urban legends: that John Paul II asked me to write his biography and that “Witness to Hope” and its sequel, “The End and the Beginning,” are authorized, or official biographies. Alas, the straightforward refutation of these myths in “Lessons in Hope” hasn’t done the job in some quarters. So let’s try again: