Holy See Mission Seminar Day 2- Master, it is Good to Be Here

26 Jun

The opening lecture of the Holy See Mission seminar focused on the role of the Church in building the common good throughout the world. As I mentioned in my previous post, the “common good” is an ambiguous term. The defense of this common good involves the protection of basic human rights. As such, the Holy See has maintained formal ties to the United Nations since attaining Permanent Observer status. It is the oldest diplomatic unit in the world. In seeing the whole human person as both sacred and social, the Holy See Mission to the UN focuses on issues related to policy and lawmaking, to social life, and to the family and to marriage. The Church especially upholds the dignity of the most vulnerable people, including the poor, refugees, women, children, and workers.The Holy See’s relatively small delegation to the UN works with diligence and with charity in many areas. Its Permanent Observer Mission is a light to Catholics everywhere as we strive for justice, albeit on a much smaller and usually more localized scale. The Holy Spirit perpetually guides our efforts, even as we have but a limited understanding of our role in promoting the common good.

Even with only partial knowledge of God’s great commission that He gives to us, we can say as St. Peter did at the Transfiguration: “Master, it is good for us to be here”. (Luke 9:33) This passage, which most accurately summed up my thoughts as the second day of the seminar began, is inscribed above the altar of the Church of Our Saviour on Park Avenue, where Mass was held on the morning of Monday, May 21, 2007. Our Saviour is situated in one of the most affluent areas of Manhattan, yet despite the prosperity of this part of New York City, homeless people could be seen on the street near the church. As was noted during the reflections at the end of the day by Fr. Bob Meyer of the Holy See Mission, an expert on legal affairs and on pro-life causes, the plight of the homeless amid such wealth serves as another of “God’s reminders” to which we are impelled to respond with Christ-like compassion modeled for us by the Saints.

Those who have gone before us to Heaven are icons of Christ, as I remember one priest saying after a philosophy lecture I was attending. The Catholic Church believes icons to be written, not only drawn or painted, by the artist. In an even deeper sense, God has written us into existence, in His own image. (cf. Genesis 1:27) We, as God’s icons, are therefore destined to return to Him. As I stated in my previous article, our quest for sainthood begins with a change in mindset our in our decision-making process. Sainthood, though, is much more than an ideal or a lifestyle; we are called to be God’s word in action every day in order to unite ourselves fully with the Word of God. This was the message of the Homily delivered by Monsignor Leo Cushley of the Holy See Mission at Our Saviour. During his Homily, Msgr. Cushley pointed to the icons behind him, which were designed by Ken Jan Woo, a Chinese-born muralist who had recently been baptized by the pastor of the Church of Our Saviour, Fr. George Rutler. The most amazing of these icons, which is centered above the altar, is that of Christ Pantokrator (from Greek for “Almighty” or “Ruler of all”), a 28-foot-tall enlargement of a sixth-century Byzantine representation of Our Lord. This image is one of the oldest known icons of Jesus Christ. The breathtaking Pantokrator icon is surrounded by several smaller icons of Saints, seven of which were written by Woo. The most recent addition is an icon of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

As we gathered for Mass, I found the church’s grandeur humbling. A verse from the Book of Proverbs urges those that are very small to come to God, who is Wisdom. (cf. Proverbs 9:4) We are all like small children before the Almighty. We are like the child resting in the arms of Mother Teresa, as shown in the icon of her. Fittingly, then, at the Church of Our Saviour I felt like the smallest icon where I stood, along with fifty-two other living icons created in God’s likeness, who were being called out into the world to love and to serve the Almighty. One day, I can only imagine myself, the little unworthy icon, standing before the Judge of the living and of the dead, hoping that, by the grace and mercy of God, I may enter into life everlasting. More immediately, we ought to pray as one community of faith for the salvation of all souls entrusted to Our Divine Ruler.

We also pray for those who are given the gift of teaching and preaching God’s message in word and in deed. Also, may those who hear the Good News be faithful to it and not be distracted from its Source that we are asked to follow. In the first reading heard on May 21 (cf. Acts 19:1-8 ), St. Paul warned about such distractions from the Word of God. St. Paul had traveled to Ephesus, where many people were found to be followers of John the Baptist. Thus, John the Baptist’s Ephesian disciples hadn’t heard of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul proceeded to teach the Ephesians and to baptize them, and “the Holy Spirit came upon them”, conferring upon some Ephesians the gifts of prophecy and of speaking in tongues. (Acts 19:6) St. Paul argued persuasively in favour of “the kingdom of God” (Acts 19:8 ), but some persisted in “(speaking) evil of the Way before the congregation”. (Acts 19:9) Those who refused to believe were confused as the gifts of the Spirit were made manifest at Ephesus. They couldn’t see a “still more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31) beyond the gifts of tongues and prophesy. This confusion, as well as St. Paul’s teaching against the worship of the goddess Artemis, led to a riot in Ephesus (cf. Acts 19:21-41). When order was restored by the town clerk, Paul was able to sail to Macedonia. Almost 1900 years after St. Paul’s time, on August 26, 1910, Skopje, Macedonia would become the birthplace of Mother Teresa (Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu), one of the greatest servants of God the Church has ever known.

This Blessed “saint of the gutters” showed the face of the Lord, the “Father of orphans and the protector of widows”, to the most downtrodden. Mother Teresa, who opened her soul so that it became God’s “holy habitation”, gave “the desolate a home to live in”. (Psalm 68:5-6) She is an example of one who spoke plainly of the Father’s love, serving Christ faithfully. (cf. John 16:29) When we, the disciples of Christ, are “scattered, each one to his home”, (John 16:32) we are still united in our love for the least of our brothers and sisters. (cf. Matthew 25:40) We must therefore make of our souls an abode for Christ. Through us, Christ’s hands and feet on earth, Our Saviour goes out to conquer the world. Thus we need not fear the persecution or hardships of this world. The Father is with us, so that we may live in peace. (cf. John 16:33)

Msgr. Barney Auza, a native of the Philippines, delivered the opening lecture of Day 2 of the seminar. The talk featured a superb historical overview of the Holy See and of its Permanent Observer Mission to the UN. When one thinks of the Catholic Church, one often immediately speaks of the Pope, the Church’s Supreme Leader. The Pope is the Catholic Church’s top executive, judicial, and legislative power, as well as being her foremost spiritual authority, an apostolic successor to St. Peter. (cf. Matthew 16:18-19) The governing body that surrounds the Pope is referred to as the Roman Curia. Confusion arises over the title of the temporal government of the Church. It is frequently, though mistakenly, referred to as “the Vatican”. In fact, the Vatican City State, in the middle of Rome, is a relatively new entity. It was created by the Lateran Treaty of 1929*, signed between the Italian King Victor Emanuel III and Head of State Benito Mussolini, and, on behalf of Pope Pius XI, “His Eminence Lord Cardinal Pietro Gasparri”, with the Papal Secretary of State, His Eminence Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, as a key negotiator. (cf. Intro) The Lateran Treaty guaranteed “sovereignty of the Holy See in international matters” and within the boundaries of Vatican City. (Art. 2, cf. Art. 3) Italy also was bound to recognize Roman Catholicism as the official state religion, as per the Italian Constitution of March 4, 1848. (cf. Art. 1) In exchange, the Treaty subjected the citizens of the Holy See to Italian laws when such legislation was not overridden by that of the Holy See. (cf. Art. 9)

The Lateran Treaty put an end to a period called “The Roman Question”, which began with the Congress of Vienna of 1815. That agreement, which sealed the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte, left Italy, then a series of disconnected states, in political and economic disarray. Pope Pius IX, whose policies included cautious acceptance of liberalism, where it upheld principles of objective moral truth, of natural law, and of social justice, was elected in 1846. Soon thereafter, Charles Albert, King of Sardinia, led a war against Austria to sustain his own monarchy. He was aided by a Genoese lawyer, Giuseppe Mazzini. In the process, Pope Pius IX was imprisoned at Gaeta for refusing to join in the fighting, and Papal Minister Count Rossi was assassinated. St. Peter’s Basilica and other important churches at the Vatican were pillaged and desecrated. The French counter-offensive of Louis Napoleon, the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte and the eventual Emperor Napoleon III, capitalized on pan-European anger over the Pope’s captivity. Mazzini and Garibladi were easily defeated. The Pope returned amid great joy to Rome in 1850. Order, at least on the surface, was maintained for a decade, while the Italian nationalistic movement became progressively anti-Catholic. The freemason Count Camillo de Cavour then united the many broken states of Italy around Sardinia, while also taking over the Papal States between 1860 and 1870. The French, preoccupied with the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, left the Papal States open to de Cavour’s onslaught. Pope Pius IX thus voluntarily made himself a prisoner of the Vatican Palace, which was surrounded by Italian territory. It would remain so until 1929.

Pius XI, the “Pope of the Conciliation”, guaranteed mutual recognition of the sovereignty of Italy and of the Holy See, in the aforementioned Lateran Treaty. The paranoid Mussolini was left unafraid of a potential overthrow orchestrated by the Holy See, whereas the Holy See’s property, citizens, and diplomatic rights were protected within the Vatican City State. The autonomy of the Holy See was instrumental in its response to later abuses perpetrated by the Fascist regimes of Mussolini and of Hitler, and to its organization of safe havens for those persecuted, particularly in Nazi Germany and in Vichy France.

The Lateran Treaty explicitly mentions the title of the temporal arm of the Church as the Holy See, which dates from the granting of legal status to Christianity by the Roman Empire. After World War II, the Holy See took an active role in examining the creation of the United Nations. It gained Permanent Observer Status at UNESCO in 1952, and at the UN in 1964. Its first formal delegation to the UN oversaw the regulation and control of nuclear energy at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) beginning in 1957.

The UN today includes 173 member states, of the 193 recognized countries in the world. The newest UN member is Montenegro, which joined in February, 2007. Since Switzerland’s entry in 2002, the Holy See remains the only nation with Permanent Observer status. Some, though, question whether the Holy See ought to be a part of the UN. As a non-member, the Holy See cannot vote in the General Assembly, though it may present declarations and participate in various debates and committees. The Holy See also opposes any move by the General Assembly that advocates easier access to abortion or to artificial contraception, for example. But the Holy See counters that it never imposes its moral views on the majority of nations; it only proposes a better way, to paraphrase Pope John Paul II.

Other matters, some of which are largely obscured by hot-button moral issues that are nonetheless important, concern the Holy See, including the abolition of torture, nuclear disarmament, and the eradication of anti-personnel mines, of small arms, and of the use of child soldiers. The Holy See functions pivotally as a member of the Convention on Persons with Disabilities. HIV/AIDS, which is best countered by access to food and to water, education, monogamy within marriage or abstinence without, and proper access to antiretroviral drugs, presents a worsening crisis, particularly in Africa. This continent is already beset by many of the problems already cited, as well as governmental corruption, the use of child labour, and civil wars…Speaking of war, the Catechism of the Catholic Church provides for limited conditions under which war is justified (cf. Section 2309). However, avoidance of war should always be sought. While acknowledging the occurrence of war, armed conflict can be avoided by focusing on its economic, political, and social root causes, especially poverty and underdevelopment.

In February, 1942, Franklin D. Roosevelt envisioned a United Nations that would not only prevent and prosecute war, but that would be a movement for peace. The UN has had many successes, namely the Declaration on Human Rights and the Declaration on the Rights of the Child. It attempts to abide by the rule of law and by democratic principles. Over its existence, the number of democracies has risen significantly. Despite this, the UN’s shortcomings and slowness have been well documented. For example, the ineffective Commission for Human Rights was replaced by the equally dysfunctional Human Rights Council in 2006. Much to the chagrin of those including former U.S. ambassador to the UN John Bolton and former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, this Council’s declarations tend to be watered down, while states that are large-scale human rights abusers are admitted to critical councils.

Even accounting for its deficiencies, the world is much better with than without the UN. On a daily basis, the Holy See Mission in New York carries out its far-reaching, Christ-centered vision. It is often, according to Msgr. Leo Cushley, a discreet diplomatic force as opposed to a noisy advocate. In the style of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the Church must continue to defend social doctrine that is founded on human dignity. This is done by and for “human beings, one person at a time”.

Going forward, each of us is to be an exemplar of truth, justice, and charity, perhaps starting at a small, local level. One might donate food, clothing, or money to the service of the less fortunate. Following the example of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first U.S. native to be canonized (by Pope Paul VI on September 14, 1975), one might work to ensure proper treatment of immigrants, including prompt processing of applications for legal status and for access to employment with just wages. Many university students, who live the vocation made possible in part by St. Thomas Aquinas, also struggle to maintain basic necessities on top of paying for tuition fees and for textbooks. Sponsorship of families and especially children abroad is another option. The mission of the Holy See and of all Christians is clear, as per the words of His Holiness Pope Paul VI in the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes (Joy and Hope- 1965):

“The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of men. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the Kingdom of their Father and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for every man. That is why this community realizes that it is truly linked with mankind and its history by the deepest of bonds.”

Lord, though we are scattered throughout the world, we are one body, united in Christ. We are one in our humanity. United in our joys, hopes, griefs, and anxieties, may we be the salt of the earth that never loses its taste. May we be the light of the world that never fades, so that all may give glory to Our Father in Heaven. (cf. Matthew 5:13-16) We pray that we may exclaim together: “Master, it is good to be here.” Amen.

Saints Elizabeth Ann Seton and Thomas Aquinas, the Apostles Peter and Paul, Pope Pius XII, and Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us…





*For the full text of the Lateran Treaty of 1929, see http://www.aloha.net/~mikesch/treaty.htm


2 Responses to “Holy See Mission Seminar Day 2- Master, it is Good to Be Here”

  1. Hugh McLoughlin July 29, 2009 at 5:08 am #

    I was reading this as I am doing a wee bit of research into one of our Scottish priests, Msgr Leo Cushley, who is mentioned in this posting about the Holy See Mission Seminar.

    You talk about the signing of the Lateran Pacts and state that it was signed “on behalf of Pope Pius XI, “His Eminence Lord Cardinal Pietro Gasparri”, with the Papal Secretary of State, His Eminence Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, as a key negotiator.”

    I am afraid that that last reference to Eugenio Pacelli is wrong. Eugenio Pacelli had more or less nothing at all to do with either the negotiation of, or the signing of, the Lateran Pacts.

    The Lateran Pacts were signed on 11 February 1929 and Eugenio Pacelli was at that time still Nuncio in Berlin and been based in Germany for over a decade. He was not created cardinal until 16 December 1929 and he was not appointed Secretary of State until 9 February in the year following, 1930.

    However it WAS a Pacelli, it was Eugenio’s brother, Francesco, who as legal adviser to the Holy See conducted the secret negotiations on behalf of Pope Pius XI with Benito Mussolini’s representative, Domenico Barone. These began on 5 August 1926 and culminated with the signing of the Lateran Pacts on February 11, 1929 by Cardinal Gasparri and Mussolini.

    This commission which Francesco carried out at the request of Cardinal Gasparri was, and perhaps still is, a unique example of “secret” diplomatic negotiations which actually did remain secret throughout.


  2. canadiancatholicblog July 30, 2009 at 11:12 am #


    Thanks for your comment. This post was copied over from my previous blog as is. Thank you for the correction of my historical error.


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