Thursday, December 07, 2017

Habemus POPEQUAKE – In Stunning Twin Shot, Francis Flips Mexico. And Paris.

(Updated with analysis/context.)

As appointment days go, folks, This. Is. Simply. Beyond.

Filling two of global Catholicism's foremost posts in one fell swoop, even before Roman Noon hit this Thursday, the Italian desk of Vatican Radio published the Pope's twin selections of Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes, 67 – until now archbishop of suburban Tlalnepantla, already a former president of both the Mexican bishops and the continental mega-conference CELAM – as archbishop of Mexico City: with some 8 million members, the world's largest diocese...

...and, together with it, Francis' choice of Bishop Michel Aupetit of Nanterre, 66 – a physician, bioethicist and med-school professor for two decades, ordained a priest at 44 – as archbishop of Paris: the 1.3 million-member fold that's both the largest and most prominent charge in the land long known as the church's "eldest daughter."

In terms of dates and places, the CVs of both picks were released by the Vatican in the English edition of today's Bollettino.

The duo respectively succeed Cardinals Norberto Rivera and Andre Vingt-Trois, both of whom reached the retirement age of 75 just within the last six months. In the latter case, the departing Paris prelate – who'll be succeeded by his second-in-command from 2006-13 – marked his birthday on November 7th, while the retirement of Rivera (who turned 75 last June) ends a landmark, yet frequently controversial 22-year run atop the Mexican church, a reign with which the first American Pope memorably made his frustration clear on his visit to it in early 2016.

Together with Francis' June pick of Auxiliary Bishop Mario Delpini (above) as archbishop of Milan – his hometown and Italy's marquee diocese – today's moves round out 2017's foreseen extraordinary round of placements into the church's top dozen or so diocesan seats around the world, with a couple more impending shifts still in the offing.

*   *   *
In the case of Aguiar, that sound you hear is the new Cardinal-Primate vaulting to the front of the Papabile file... albeit to a lesser degree than if a Latin American weren't already on Peter's Chair.

Nonetheless, the Scripture scholar and veteran seminary rector has long been the frontrunner for the capital of Mexico, whose 90 million Catholics nationwide form the church's second-largest bloc after Brazil, even as church-state issues there remain an equally-sized challenge.

Hailing the pick as a "renaissance man," a Whispers op close to both Francis and Aguiar called the Pope's choice "extremely smart and very close to the people," noting the incoming Primate's ability to make headway in the public realm to a degree that eluded the polarizing Rivera, whose long tenure became mired in moral and financial scandals within the massive archdiocese – and who, unlike his successor, was never elected by the Mexican bishops as their president despite occupying the hierarchy's biggest post (a twin role which, in Latin America, is normally a given).

Indeed, arguably more than anything, the choice of Aguiar serves to again underscore Papa Bergoglio's emphasis on the role – and trust in the judgment – of episcopal conferences.

Having known the younger prelate for the better part of two decades – from when Aguiar was overseeing the CELAM offices as its secretary-general – like so much else with the now-Francis, the bond between the duo was ostensibly sealed at Aparecida in 2007. At the once-a-generation meeting of the Latin American bishops, this time in Brazil's patronal shrine, then-Cardinal Bergoglio oversaw the drafting of the missionary "charter" for the region that's home to a plurality of the Catholic world, while after the fact, the rising Mexican would carry the torch for the Aparecida call as the continental body's vice-president, then president.

Along the way, in 2009 Benedict XVI gave Aguiar the archbishopric of Tlalnepantla, all of 15 miles north of Mexico City. But once the papacy switched hands, to signal his impatience with the state of things down the road, Francis would replicate his biggest US ground-shift last year, placing an unprecedented red hat at the "periphery" of the capital itself.

Now, his protege's journey to El Zócalo – Mexico City's central square, bordered by the gargantuan Cathedral (above) to one side and the government's historic seat to the other – is complete. The choice arrives as ready for global prime-time as anyone could be, but come Aguilar's installation in February, the task that awaits is widely seen as the need for a thorough "cleanup" at home. (Much as it didn't surprise the CDMX crowd, Rivera marked the announcement of his resignation by leaving the country; said to be in Rome today, the cardinal shared the news in a letter released by the archdiocese.)

Long story short, and for the millionth time, the essence of this most significant of moves marks just another return to Evangelii Gaudium – merely an adaptation of Aparecida for the global fold, the "blueprint" of Francis' church in more ways than most have begun to understand... even as the fifth anniversary of this pontificate approaches in March.

And on a day when the appointment of the archbishop of Paris is merely the second biggest thing going, the shape of the moment only goes to prove one of Francis' core principles in his charter text: namely, "Reality is bigger than ideas."

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Wednesday, December 06, 2017

At Last, The "Vice-Wuerl" Gets The Call – Pope Taps DC's Knestout For Richmond

After months of rumblings over his future, Bishop Barry Knestout can finally breathe easy – expected from very early in the year, the Pope's choice of the 55 year-old vicar-general of Washington as the 13th bishop of Richmond indeed came to pass at Roman Noon yesterday.

In the post overseeing the massive 33,000 square mile bulk of Virginia stretching from the Atlantic's Eastern Shore to the Kentucky border – all of it home to some 250,000 Catholics – the top deputy to Cardinal Donald Wuerl (duo seen above) succeeds Bishop Francis DiLorenzo, whose death from kidney failure in August remains a shock to his many friends.

Having reached the retirement age of 75 last April, the process for DiLorenzo's replacement was already well in the works at the time the vacancy occurred. On speaking to him a week before his passing – and not expecting to lose him in the least – this scribe admitted to DiLorenzo of wondering what was taking the appointment "so long," to which he characteristically shot back, "Me too."

Even then, it bears noting that Knestout – from his days as secretary to Cardinals James Hickey and Theodore McCarrick, a familiar figure in church circles for nearly two decades – was the only potential pick whose name came up in the conversation.

Founded in 1820 to initially encompass Virginia and the future West Virginia, the Richmond church is one of the eight oldest in the US.

The first son of a cleric to be named a bishop in the global church since the permanent diaconate was restored in 1968, Knestout's arrival brings a quieter, conciliatory hand to a diocese led over the last four decades by larger-than-life personalities at opposite ends of the ecclesiological spectrum. Before DiLorenzo – an ever-candid, big-hearted Philadelphian known for his impatience with business meetings – the three-decade tenure of Bishop Walter Sullivan made Richmond one of the few Eastern outposts to retain a post-Conciliar progressive bent, defying a wider trend toward reinforcing identity and doctrine. (Once asked by a local TV reporter whether the church would ever ordain women as priests – despite John Paul II's definitive statement that it lacked the authority to do so – Sullivan famously replied "Not in my lifetime.")

In that light, amid the raw fallout of August's clashes between white supremacists and counter-protestors in Charlottesville (in the diocese's western tier), which saw one of the latter killed by a car driven into the crowd, not to mention the wake of a bitterly divisive governor's race this fall that made the Old Dominion's trove of Confederate monuments an unusual flashpoint of tribal politics, it's easy to sense that Knestout's calming, hyper-diligent skillset is the optimal antidote to a charged, heavily-partisan moment.

At the same time, while some two-thirds of Virginia's booming Catholic population lives in the 19 northern counties that form the diocese of Arlington (which was spun off from Richmond in 1974), the turf he inherits is experiencing its own degree of recent growth, albeit on a more gradual scale.

Having been the Washington Chancery's point-man on guiding the capital church through a remarkable decade that's seen its Catholic presence expand by roughly a quarter to an estimated 750,000 in its pews – most of them packed into teeming parishes and schools in the archdiocese's Maryland suburbs – the upward trends in Richmond's population core of Hampton Roads (the military-heavy Eastern flank encompassing Virginia Beach and Newport News) and the diocese's central axis along Interstates 95 and 64 will be very familiar to the new arrival from the outset. (Among other examples of the growth, seen below is the newly-expanded plant at St Bede's in Williamsburg, where a church that isn't yet 15 years old was bolstered by last spring's opening of an $11 million, 40,000 square-foot addition to house its ministries and religious education classes, anchored by a 600-seat parish hall.)

If anything, the one fresh challenge facing Knestout will be enhancing the effectiveness of the diocese's operations given the sprawl of the territory and the population imbalance between the coast and a heavily rural, mostly sparse edge in the Blue Ridge and Appalachian mountains. As DiLorenzo put the spread into context, if the distance of crossing the diocese's lower edge was turned on its side, a drive from the westernmost point would put you in Detroit. Accordingly, while a division of Richmond's eastern portion into its own diocese has been considered in the past, it's been deemed unfeasible as the redrawn mother-see would lack the resources to support itself.

Coming in a week already focused on the nation's capital given Friday's dedication of the massive Trinity Dome in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception – and with it, what's widely expected to be the beginning of Wuerl's pre-retirement "victory lap" – the promotion of the DC prelate's #2 over his decade-long tenure further fuels the perception of desk-clearing by the cardinal, who turned 77 last month. However, despite prior forecasts tipping a transition sometime in the first half of 2018, over recent weeks Whispers ops close to Wuerl have begun to sense a longer timeframe toward the appointment of Washington's sixth resident archbishop, a move almost certain to be Francis' last major selection for the American hierarchy's top rank.

In any case, even before today's nod was officially made, no shortage of attention has already turned toward the critical "other shoe" to drop: Wuerl's choice of Knestout's replacement as vicar-general, essentially the DC church's chief operating officer – a selection in which the departing prelate's brother, Fr Mark, is said to be a leading contender.

Beyond the post's significance within the capital itself, it's worth recalling that, over the now-cardinal's three decades as a diocesan bishop, each of his vicars-general have quickly been named as auxiliaries, all then going on to lead a local church in their own right.

The Richmond installation is slated for Friday, 12 January... and here below, fullvid of yesterday's appointment presser, highlighted by Knestout's call for his new charge to be "a strong voice for unity and charity" in the face of "a time when we are challenged by many divisions" – bishop begins at 6:15 mark:



With the Richmond call finally in the can, all of one Stateside Latin diocese is vacant – north Kansas' outpost in Salina, from which Bishop Edward Weisenburger was transferred to Tucson in September.

Alongside Washington, just two others are led by prelates serving past the retirement age and awaiting their respective successors: central California's diocese of Stockton, where Bishop Stephen Blaire reached the milestone last February, and the largest opening the US church will have for the foreseeable future – what's become an 850,000-member fold in Las Vegas, guided since 2001 by Bishop Joe Pepe, one of DiLorenzo's closest friends and the preacher at his funeral.

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Friday, December 01, 2017

"The Presence of God Is Called 'Rohingya'" – Meeting Refugees, Pope Pleads for "Forgiveness"

Closing out a packed day that began with a rare ordination of priests on the road, the prime diplomatic fault-line of this weeklong PopeTrip to Southeast Asia saw a closing flourish as Francis met with 16 Rohingya refugees – 12 men and four women – who fled Myanmar for Bangladesh, using the charged term for the first time on this visit.

Taking place just after a gathering with local interfaith leaders at the Archbishop's Residence in Dhaka, the encounter was not a surprise – as previously noted, the plan was revealed early this week by Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai (a member of the pontiff's "C-9" council of lead advisers) in a conversation with the Rome-based AsiaNews agency. Nonetheless, after Francis came in for a rare dose of wide criticism over explicitly avoiding the topic during this trek's first leg with the party responsible for the crisis, the images and tone of today's meeting – which highlighted both Papa Bergoglio's compassion and a global call to action (his second in as many days) – is likely to assuage the storm over the long haul.

Here, a house English translation of the Pope's brief, off-the-cuff message to the group – currently housed in a refugee camp – after meeting them individually:
Dear brothers and sisters, we are all close to you. There's not much that we can do because your tragedy is so great. But we make space for you in our hearts. In the name of all, of those who've persecuted you, of those who've done this evil, above all for the indifference of the world, I ask forgiveness. Forgiveness. Many of you have spoken of the great heart of Bangladesh which has welcomed you. Now I appeal to your great hearts, that you might be able to give us the forgiveness we seek.

Dear brothers and sisters, the Judeo-Christian account of creation says that the Lord who is God created man in his own image and likeness. All of us are this image, even these brothers and sisters. They, too, are the image of the living God. A tradition of your religions says that God, in the beginning, took a little bit of salt and tossed it into water, that was the soul of all people; and each of us carries within ourselves a little of this divine salt. These brothers and sisters carry within them the salt of God.

Dear brothers and sisters, we only have to look at the world to see its selfishness with the image of God. Let us continue to do good by you, to help you; let us continue to act so that they may recognize your rights. Let us not close our hearts, not look somewhere else. The presence of God today is also called "Rohingya." May each of us give our own response.
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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Pope To (Myanmar's) Church: "The Way of Revenge Is Not of Jesus"

Thanks principally to the 104 overseas tours undertaken by John Paul II, there aren't many places left on earth where a Pope could say Mass for the first time – China and Russia are the big ones, Vietnam isn't far behind, and most of the Middle East is in there, too.... But now, one of the few others remaining can be struck from the list.

Early this morning, Francis celebrated Myanmar's first-ever papal liturgy on a Yangon racetrack, drawing roughly a quarter of the country's 700,000 Catholics.

Trading in his usual silver pastorale (staff) for a wooden one more in keeping with the Asian context (above), the Mass on a stage resembling a pagoda – the first of this weeklong visit's mostly-in-English liturgies – saw Papa Bergoglio shift focus from the diplomatic fracas that framed the trek's wider storyline to a meditation on how the Cross should inform the life, challenges and gifts of a church living as a distinct minority (often coupled with dire poverty), and the contribution such a community can make to society at large.

Set to meet tonight with Myanmar's bishops (Ed.: English text), before departing for Bangladesh on Thursday afternoon, the Pope's final event on his first stop will be a relatively intimate Mass with young people, its message likely to resonate far beyond Southeast Asia amid the approach to next October's global Synod on the young and vocational discernment. (Speaking of the coming Synod, the deadline for the online consultation of young people on the gathering's topics – originally set for tomorrow – has been extended to 31 December following reports of a low response rate from the trenches.)

Given the relative uniqueness of today's Mass, here's fullvideo...


...and the English text of Francis' homily (emphases original):
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Before coming to this country, I very much looked forward to this moment. Many of you have come from far and remote mountainous areas, some even on foot. I have come as a fellow pilgrim to listen and to learn from you, as well as to offer you some words of hope and consolation.

Today’s first reading, from the Book of Daniel, helps us to see how limited is the wisdom of King Belshazzar and his seers. They knew how to praise “gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood and stone” (Dn 5:4), but they did not have the wisdom to praise God in whose hand is our life and breath. Daniel, on the other hand, had the wisdom of the Lord and was able to interpret his great mysteries.

The ultimate interpreter of God’s mysteries is Jesus. He is the wisdom of God in person (cf. 1 Cor 1:24). Jesus did not teach us his wisdom by long speeches or by grand demonstrations of political or earthly power but by giving his life on the cross. Sometimes we can fall into the trap of believing in our own wisdom, but the truth is we can easily lose our sense of direction. At those times we need to remember that we have a sure compass before us, in the crucified Lord. In the cross, we find the wisdom that can guide our life with the light that comes from God.

From the cross also comes healing. There, Jesus offered his wounds to the Father for us, the wounds by which we are healed (cf. 1 Pet 2:24). May we always have the wisdom to find in the wounds of Christ the source of all healing! I know that many in Myanmar bear the wounds of violence, wounds both visible and invisible. The temptation is to respond to these injuries with a worldly wisdom that, like that of the king in the first reading, is deeply flawed. We think that healing can come from anger and revenge. Yet the way of revenge is not the way of Jesus.

Jesus’ way is radically different. When hatred and rejection led him to his passion and death, he responded with forgiveness and compassion. In today’s Gospel, the Lord tells us that, like him, we too may encounter rejection and obstacles, yet he will give us a wisdom that cannot be resisted (cf. Lk 21:15). He is speaking of the Holy Spirit, through whom the love of God has been poured into our hearts (cf. Rom 5:5). By the gift of his Spirit, Jesus enables us each to be signs of his wisdom, which triumphs over the wisdom of this world, and his mercy, which soothes even the most painful of injuries.

On the eve of his passion, Jesus gave himself to his apostles under the signs of bread and wine. In the gift of the Eucharist, we not only recognize, with the eyes of faith, the gift of his body and blood; we also learn how to rest in his wounds, and there to be cleansed of all our sins and foolish ways. By taking refuge in Christ’s wounds, dear brothers and sisters, may you know the healing balm of the Father’s mercy and find the strength to bring it to others, to anoint every hurt and every painful memory. In this way, you will be faithful witnesses of the reconciliation and peace that God wants to reign in every human heart and in every community.

I know that the Church in Myanmar is already doing much to bring the healing balm of God’s mercy to others, especially those most in need. There are clear signs that even with very limited means, many communities are proclaiming the Gospel to other tribal minorities, never forcing or coercing but always inviting and welcoming. Amid much poverty and difficulty, many of you offer practical assistance and solidarity to the poor and suffering. Through the daily ministrations of its bishops, priests, religious and catechists, and particularly through the praiseworthy work of Catholic Karuna Myanmar and the generous assistance provided by the Pontifical Mission Societies, the Church in this country is helping great numbers of men, women and children, regardless of religion or ethnic background. I can see that the Church here is alive, that Christ is alive and here with you and with your brothers and sisters of other Christian communities. I encourage you to keep sharing with others the priceless wisdom that you have received, the love of God welling up in the heart of Jesus.

Jesus wants to give this wisdom in abundance. He will surely crown your efforts to sow seeds of healing and reconciliation in your families, communities and the wider society of this nation. Does he not tell us that his wisdom is irresistible (cf. Lk 21:15)? His message of forgiveness and mercy uses a logic that not all will want to understand, and which will encounter obstacles. Yet his love, revealed on the cross is ultimately unstoppable. It is like a spiritual GPS that unfailingly guides us towards the inner life of God and the heart of our neighbour.

Our Blessed Mother Mary followed her Son even to the dark mountain of Calvary and she accompanies us at every step of our earthly journey. May she obtain for us the grace always be to messengers of true wisdom, heartfelt mercy to those in need, and the joy that comes from resting in the wounds of Jesus, who loved us to the end.

May God bless all of you! May God bless the Church in Myanmar! May he bless this land with his peace! God bless Myanmar!
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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Between Diplomacy and "Risk" – In Myanmar, Francis' Moment of Truth

The tension has been mounting for months.

And on finally taking his own turn to speak earlier today, at least in the eyes of some, the Pope punted.

With Myanmar increasingly in the crosshairs of the international community over the country's perceived aggression toward the persecuted Muslim minority known as the Rohingya, the run-up to this first-ever papal visit there has been dominated by whether or not Francis would seek to confront his hosts by using the group's name for itself, which is "taboo" among the Buddhist majority. Yet in his late-afternoon speech to the leaders of the onetime Burma, the pontiff ostensibly heeded the pressure from his own diplomats and the country's first-ever cardinal, avoiding the thicket head-on while calling nonetheless for "respect for the dignity and rights of each member of society, respect for each ethnic group and its identity, respect for the rule of law, and respect for a democratic order that enables each individual and every group – none excluded – to offer its legitimate contribution to the common good."

Of course, this was just the end of the first day of a weeklong trek – one whose final leg, in heavily-Muslim Bangladesh, will head to the place to which tens of thousands of Rohingya have fled. Still, today's address to Myanmar's ruling elite was arguably the principal indicator of the degree to which Francis was willing to push the issue, above all given the presence of the Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, whose global fame as a champion of human rights has been tarnished by her silence on the military-led campaign against her own country's religious minority, who are viewed by the authorities as "illegal immigrants."

Now holding the posts of "State Counselor" and Foreign Minister after last year's limited return to democratic rule, Suu Kyi – who remains constitutionally barred from Myanmar's presidency due to a provision inserted by the country's prior military regime to keep her from the role – met for nearly an hour with the Pope today, then going on to host Francis' encounter with the civil authorities (seen at top).

Further underscoring her standing as the nation's supreme figure in fact if not title, Papa Bergoglio's time with the official head of state, President Htin Kyaw, ran considerably shorter and was designated as a mere "courtesy visit."

After Suu Kyi's private audience with Francis in the Vatican last May, Myanmar became the latest country to establish full diplomatic relations with the Holy See, having been one of the last few holdouts.

Notably, the contretemps over the Rohingya – who the Pope last referred to by name in August while pleading for their "full rights" – has overshadowed the stark poverty he will find on both stages of this visit. As the front page of yesterday's L'Osservatore Romano sought to highlight, roughly a third of Myanmar's population of 53 million lives in "absolute indigence."

While Catholics comprise only some 700,000 Myanmarese, the country now has a cardinal in the Salesian Charles Maung Bo, 69 (above right) – the archbishop of its largest city, Yangon, who Francis elevated to the scarlet in 2015.

A lead public voice against the pontiff's explicit use of the term "Rohingya" ahead of this week's trip – and long seen in Roman circles as a decidedly influential figure across the growing Asian church – it bears recalling that Bo's entrance into the papal "Senate" had been anticipated at the Vatican well before the current pontificate, extending as far back as 2010.

Before departing for the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, on Thursday afternoon local time, the Pope will celebrate two Masses (including one strictly for young people) and hold formal meetings with Myanmar's bishops and its leading Buddhist monks.

Albeit not on the Pope's public schedule in Bangladesh, a meeting with Rohingya who've left Myanmar has been hinted at by Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay, one of Francis's "Gang of Nine" advisers, its exact timing unknown. In a rarity for any papal road trip, meanwhile, Francis will perform priestly ordinations on Friday morning at a Dhaka park.

Like Myanmar, the pontiff's next stop has its own first red hat given by Francis: Dhaka's Patrick D'Rozario, 74, the first member of the Congregation of Holy Cross to become a cardinal in some six decades.

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Thursday, November 23, 2017

"It Happened To Our Fathers...."

Father,
we do well to join all creation,
in heaven and on earth,
in praising you, our mighty God
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

You made man to your own image
and set him over all creation.
Once you chose a people
and, when you brought them out of bondage to
freedom, they carried with them the promise
that all men would be blessed
and all men could be free.

What the prophets pledged
was fulfilled in Jesus Christ,
your Son and our saving Lord.
It has come to pass in every generation
for all men who have believed that Jesus
by his death and resurrection
gave them a new freedom in his Spirit.

It happened to our fathers,
who came to this land as if out of the desert
into a place of promise and hope.
It happens to us still, in our time,
as you lead all men through your Church
to the blessed vision of your peace....
Granted, the text above is no longer in use, but as it's the old proper Preface for this Thanksgiving Day, it still makes for a worthwhile reflection.

Whether your centerpiece is dinner with family, the marathon football, a raid on the mall (God forbid), or something else, with thanks for all the blessings of these years, may all this day's joy and goodness be yours.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Suffice it to say, folks, so much for a quiet Thanksgiving Week.

No complaints there, of course – it comes with the turf... still, full as the last few days have been – with more on tap after the holiday – as this shop's still tackling the $2,000 in costs from covering last week on top of all the usual bills, as ever, it bears repeating that the budget for these pages depends completely on your support....



Most of all, with all the thanks under the sun for being able to keep at the work these many years, here's to a beautiful feast ahead for you and yours, and those you serve – travel safe, soak it up, and may all its blessings and joys be as abundant as the turkey.

And now, time for a memorable double-shot of press conferences. As always, stay tuned.

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For US Bench, The Pope's "Doorbuster" – Nashville, Jeff City Land Long-Tipped Bishops

(Updated with presser video/statements.)

If anyone ever said the Vatican doesn't do Christmas ahead of December 25th, this Tuesday morning would prove them wrong.

In a significant double-shot of appointments following last week's November Meeting, at Roman Noon the Pope named Fr Joseph Mark Spalding, 52 (above) – until now vicar-general of Louisville and pastor of two city parishes – as 12th bishop of Nashville...

...and Fr William Shawn McKnight, 49 (right) – pastor of Wichita's flourishing Church of the Magdalen, already a familiar figure on the national stage from his five years as director of the USCCB's Clergy arm – to Missouri's capital as the fourth bishop of Jefferson City. With his appointment, the Sant'Anselmo-trained liturgist becomes the US' youngest head of a Latin-church diocese.

While the relative youth of both (not to mention their shared use of their middle names) will stand out on the wider scene – and, to be sure, their active service will stretch into the 2040s – the striking piece internally is the outsize experience and reputation each brings to the bench. Indeed, having known them both for what feels like ages, these choices respectively possess a degree of ecclesial firepower beyond their years, and from a national vantage, to see them come up together is the most significant thing of all.

Far unlike some recent nods which few, if any, could foresee, today's bishops-elect have been (pun intended) marked out for years by their colleagues and the prelates they now join. In Spalding's case, the Nashville pick has garnered "rising star" buzz since before 2011, when he replaced his close friend Chuck Thompson as Archbishop Joseph Kurtz's top deputy and pastor of the large, vibrant Holy Trinity parish upon Thompson's ascent as bishop of Evansville. (Likewise a son of Kentucky's "Holy Land," Thompson became the nation's youngest archbishop earlier this year on his transfer to Indianapolis.)

As successor to the beloved native son Bishop David Choby, who died in June after years of health struggles, Spalding inherits what is, by far, the most prominent of the posts for which he's been championed over recent years. Now comprising Tennessee's middle third, the Nashville church is in the midst of a significant boom – while diocesan figures state some 80,000 members on the books, a migration wave of undocumented Hispanics has been estimated at 200,000 or more on top of it, and that's not counting the ongoing addition of transplants from across the US amid the city's rise as a commercial and cultural capital.

Long story short, a young, enthusiastic "career pastor" steeped in administration and able to manage growth is just what the doctor ordered – and that the bishop-elect comes with sufficient Spanish to handle Mass and a scripted homily is icing on the cake. As an added sign of confidence, meanwhile, no priest from outside Tennessee has been elevated to the Nashville seat without prior episcopal experience since 1936... then again, as one of Spalding's email taglines once ran, quoting St Luke's Gospel, "To whom much has been given, much will be required."

In a notable nod to the diocese's burgeoning Latin presence – not to mention the horde of Louisvilleans angling to make the trip – early word from Nashville Chancery relays that Spalding's ordination on Presentation Day (February 2nd) won't be held at the century-old Cathedral of the Incarnation, but the far larger and newer Sagrado Corazon Church (above). Located just across the street from the Grand Ole Opry, the 2,500-seat Hispanic worship-space forms the centerpiece of the onetime Two Rivers evangelical megachurch, whose sprawling compound was acquired by Choby in 2014 to serve as the diocese's administrative and ministerial hub with an eye to its ongoing growth.

*    *    *
As for McKnight, it's probably not a stretch to say that the happiest place over today's move won't be the Wichita mega-parish losing its pastor, nor the destination where he's arriving sight unseen, but the USCCB Mothership in Washington.

Over his term as director of the bench's secretariat for Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, Bishop-elect Shawn became an exceedingly well-regarded figure among staff and hats alike, so much so that, after returning home to Jayhawk Country, he was sought for an encore, being nominated as the "outside candidate" for the conference's top day-to-day post, the General Secretariat, at the 2015 election.

While custom held and the building's incumbent #2, Msgr Brian Bransfield, won the post – the vote-totals for which are never released – it's likewise traditional that the runner-up for the job is eventually made a bishop in his own right. And considering how some Whispers ops have mused over recent weeks how Kansas' fresh in-state opening in Salina was tailor-made for McKnight to "get the call," his elevation has come even more quickly than expected.

All that said, no indication has yet emerged on the reason behind Bishop John Gaydos' early retirement nine months before reaching the canonical age of 75. An ever-chatty figure with a raucous sense of humor, the St Louis native – who led the North-Central Missouri fold for over two decades – appeared to be in fine form during last week's meetings in Baltimore.

Per the canons, McKnight must be ordained and installed within four months of today's move. On the wider docket, meanwhile, today's twin nods leave all of two US Latin sees – Richmond and Salina – vacant, with just another three – Washington, Stockton and Las Vegas – led by (arch)bishops serving past retirement age until their respective successors are chosen.

SVILUPPO: From Nashville, Spalding's statement and video of this morning's introduction...



...and from Jefferson City, McKnight's opening remarks, and the presser vid:


Before introducing his successor, the retiring Gaydos told the locals that recent heart trouble, including a valve replacement, spurred his request to leave office a year ahead of schedule.

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