Last week, at the invitation of His Eminence Marc Cardinal Ouellet, Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops and President of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, I had the honor to take part in the Ecclesia in America Congress  at the Vatican in Rome. Coming as it did at the beginning of the Year of Faith, this experience was a great grace for me and for the College.
While there, I captured some of the key points of the various talks, homilies, and discussion sessions in a journal, to share with faculty, students, and friends of the College upon my return. I offer them to you now and hope that they will be of some benefit to you in these final days of Advent.
I pray that the patroness of the Americas and of the unborn, Our Lady of Guadalupe, will intercede for you and yours in all your needs, and that her Son will grant you abundant blessings at Christmas and throughout the New Year.
Michael F. McLean, Ph.D.
President, Thomas Aquinas College
Participant in Ecclesia in America Congress
December 9-12, 2012 - Rome
My snapshot of Pope Benedict XVII arrived in Rome just in time for the opening Mass at 6:00 p.m. at St. Peter’s. I’m staying at the Domus Sanctae Marthae, which is steps from the Basilica. Cardinal Ouellet, who was the Commencement Speaker  at Thomas Aquinas College in 2009, presided at the Mass and gave an excellent homily . Pope Benedict made an appearance at the end of Mass, offered a few remarks, and gave us all a papal blessing.
The Ecclesia in America conference is an initiative promoted and organized by the Pontifical Commission for Latin America and the Knights of Columbus under the guidance of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of the Americas and star of the New Evangelization. The conference culminates on December 12, which is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The flight from Los Angeles to Rome, while always challenging, was excellent. We were on a magnificent A-380 Airbus aircraft with a camera in the tail that allows you to watch both the take-off and landing, which is pretty exciting. I caught a glimpse of the snow-covered Alps as we flew from Paris to Rome, marveling at the fact that Hannibal and his army managed to cross those mountains in the wintertime. Very impressive.
The other positive impression so far is that when you get an identification badge here at a conference you can move very easily and readily through the Vatican, unlike past occasions where I’ve had to present my passport to every guard and police officer on the site. It’s quite an experience to have the Swiss Guards and the Vatican police waving you through with big smiles.
The Aula of the Synod (Credit: Alan Holdren/Catholic News Agency)
In his introduction to the Ecclesia in America conference, Cardinal Ouellet made three fundamental points.
First, he said the overarching purpose of the conference is to discuss ways in which there can be greater cooperation between the churches in Canada, the United States, and Latin America. There are a number of things which Cardinal Ouellet noted that make this conference necessary, especially the erosion of cultural and moral values in the Americas due to secularization.
He mentioned several specific things which in his judgment call for greater cooperation among the churches in the Americas. He first mentioned the migration problem; then, increasing drug violence; a rapidly strengthening opposition to marriage and the family; and the consequent need for education about the truths of the Catholic faith. He said it is increasingly urgent that religious freedom come to be seen as the basis of all other freedoms and that the churches make greater efforts to acknowledge and respond to the poor and marginalized by encouraging certain types of economic cooperation in the Americas. They need to find new ways to spread ecclesial communion.
Finally, he pointed out that this conference is one of the first great Church events in the Year of Faith, and he said it is important that we, as we go forward in the conference, renew our faith and do our best to illuminate and manifest the joy of our encounters with Christ. He said for the efforts in cooperation and evangelization to be successful, Catholics must learn to confess their faith with joy and confidence.
Cardinal Ouellet concluded by noting that we have come to Rome — in addition to discussing these issues — to pray together and to renew our own commitment and relationship to Christ.
Carl Anderson, the Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, gave a reflection on John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in America , which was published in 1999. He said the Ecclesia in America document is a blueprint for the New Evangelization and emphasized that the vision of the document is that evangelization is an ecclesial mission, not a political mission. The emphasis always must be on love and the truth of the Catholic faith. The core of the New Evangelization, Anderson said, is the proclamation of Christ. It is “new” only in the sense that the method in which Christ is proclaimed must change with the times and the development and changes in culture.
Mr. Anderson pointed out that for Bl. John Paul II there were three pillars of the New Evangelization: the proclamation of the truth about Christ, the proclamation of the truth about the Church, and the proclamation of the truth about man. John Paul II, throughout his pontificate, had hoped to awaken in Catholics and Christians the world over a new awareness of their mission of evangelization. That’s another sense in which it’s a “new” evangelization.
Anderson pointed out that the encounter with the culture of death is at the core of the New Evangelization. To address the culture of death, one of the most important things required is the recovery of the sacramental understanding of marriage and of the awareness of the family as the domestic church. Catholics must proclaim the truth about marriage and the family. The family has to mirror the fact that God is a unity in Trinity. The Christian family must be an icon of God who is communion. The family’s mission is to model Trinitarian love. The method of communicating Christ in our time must be that of love, manifesting and witnessing to the love of God and to the love of Christ. It is charity which is the principal evangelizing force. Those who suffer must see the loving face of Christ in those who serve them.
Participants in the Ecclesia in America conference were divided into working groups of about 25 people so that brief presentations could be made by the group facilitators and then a discussion could take place among the members of the group. I was part of a group that was chaired by Archbishop Lori of Baltimore and Archbishop Aquila of Denver, whom I had met when he participated in a seminar I led at the Napa Institute last summer.
The title of the workshop was “The Encounter with Jesus through Mary: Experience of Sonship and Discipleship among the American Peoples.”
In his opening presentation Archbishop Aquila talked about five ways in which we encounter Christ. He mentioned first Lectio Divina, that is, the prayerful reading of Scripture. Second, he mentioned the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Eucharistic liturgy, reminding us of Christ’s true presence in the Eucharist. A third way that Archbishop Aquila recommended that we encounter Christ is through catechesis — teaching and handing on our faith. He pointed out that John Paul II said that the purpose of catechesis is to put us in communion with Christ. Fourth, Archbishop Aquila talked about developing a friendship with Jesus. He mentioned Bl. Mother Teresa  and said she saw the face of Christ in all those suffering people whom she helped. Finally, Archbishop Aquila mentioned the importance of attempting the transformation of culture. The cultural war is a real war. We must speak the truth of the human person — that God is calling man and woman to true communion. The homosexual movement denies this first principle. Archbishop Aquila concluded by pointing out that man is made in the image of God —this fact is the true ground of human rights.
The conversation that ensued after Archbishop Aquila’s presentation touched on a number of points. Among them was the tension in the cultural war between our duty as Christians to love our enemies — love those who persecute us — and to do real battle with them. So how do we reconcile or put together the two prongs of love and war? A number of things were said about that including the fact that today the cultural war is probably best waged by putting the emphasis first on charity, then on hope, and finally on faith, even though those virtues are intrinsically ordered in the opposite way. We’re more likely to succeed if we manifest our love — for one another and for our enemy — and so create in others a hope for something better than they’re experiencing presently, and so awaken in them a desire to know or pursue the virtue of faith.
I had arranged to go out to dinner on Monday evening with the Theologian of the Papal Household, Fr. Wojciech Giertych, who had visited our campus  in September 2011 and given the keynote address  at our 40th Anniversary Gala  at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. It turned out that the nuns who help him out had prepared some food, and Father very graciously agreed to microwave and prepare it right there in his apartment.
It was a lovely visit. I was there for about three hours and we talked about many things. I filled him in a little bit about the conference, and he filled me in on some of the ins and outs of the Vatican and the Curia. I mentioned that I had met his sister at the conference. We had a very good visit. He thinks very highly of the College and very much enjoyed his time there. He has a great deal of respect for what we’re doing and for our students.
I intend to seek his advice and counsel about our response to the HHS mandate  and to discuss with him the ways in which we may and may not cooperate with it.
One of the most interesting presentations of the Congress was that of Reverend Monsignor Eduardo Chávez, the director of the Institute for the Study of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
In his talk Monsignor Chávez pointed out that in the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mary is pregnant. The image is, therefore, Christocentric, reminding us of Advent as we wait for the coming of Christ — and it is Eucharistic. Our Lady of Guadalupe represents a call to a genuine encounter with Christ, and she places Jesus in the hearts of all people. The expectant Mary brings us always to Jesus. The focus is not primarily on her, but always on Christ. As such, she becomes an image of the Church, being herself, as it were, a house of God. Monsignor Chávez pointed out that the face of the image is not a Mexican face but a Mestiza, a face that expresses the union of the Spanish, Arabic, and Mexican cultures. And so the image, or visage, of Our Lady of Guadalupe conveys that she is the mother of all. The name Guadalupe signifies a bed of a river. Our Lady of Guadalupe is not the water — our Lord Himself is the water — but she is the bed of the river through which the water flows.
The apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe was a visitation to indigenous peoples in Latin America. At the time of her appearance, human sacrifice was a routine practice in the Aztec culture. Mary comes to evangelize the indigenous people and to put an end to the practice of human sacrifice. How did she do this? Without offending the indigenous people. She urged the building of a temple. She urged the people to love Christ. She educated them about the fact that in truth God comes to us. He wants to live with us. He offers His Son — His body, His blood. He does not want our blood. Her exhortation is to cease the practice of human sacrifice and create instead a civilization of love.
Msgr. Chavez pointed out that this evangelization took place with great sympathy and sensitivity to the culture of the Mexican people, the indigenous people. The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is placed upon Juan Diego’s tilma, or cloak. The tilma represents the person; it is, in effect, equivalent to the person. And so Our Lady of Guadalupe takes up the cultural artifact of the tilma and gives it a supernatural or divine significance.
I had lunch with Cardinal Thomas Collins from Toronto at the Ecclesia in America conference on December 11. It was a cordial conversation, and he is a very friendly and warm gentleman. He mentioned that he had been in contact at a certain point with our Business Manager, a native of Canada, about the College and indicated that he would like to visit the campus particularly in conjunction with a trip he might be making to California. It turns out that he’s giving two retreats in San Diego next semester, and one of them will be at the Benedictine monastery in Oceanside. I think one of the retreats is in January and another one in June, so I think we should be in contact with his office to see if there’s some chance of organizing a visit in the second semester.
I met with Cardinal O’Brien in Rome on December 11 at the Holy Sepulcher offices just outside St. Peter’s Square. We had a cordial conversation for about a half an hour and he very graciously indicated that he is going to accept my invitation (previously sent) and schedule a visit to the College for Commencement in 2014. I told him we were deeply appreciative. He mentioned in the course of the conversation that he knows our head chaplain, Fr. Buckley , and has a very high regard and strong affection for Fr. Buckley. He also taught our chaplain Fr. Illo  at Dunwoodie Seminary.
Cardinal O’Brien said his work with the Order of the Holy Sepulcher is going well. He actually enjoys the travel and has a number of trips coming up in the spring.
I think he will be an excellent Commencement speaker, and that the students and faculty will like him very much.
A number of us went to a dinner hosted by Bishop Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska. He has recently been appointed to the Lincoln diocese and is a very friendly and kind gentleman. He has a very high regard for Thomas Aquinas College. He was actually on the campus to preside at a wedding of an alumni couple a couple of years ago, and he said he would really enjoy coming back to visit. He is very much in the tradition of his predecessors, Bishop Flavin and Bishop Bruskewitz.
He took about six of us out to dinner including Tim O’Donnell from Christendom, Steve Minnis from Benedictine, and Curtis Martin from FOCUS. It was a lively and friendly conversation. We were at the restaurant for about three hours, and Bishop Conley hosted us and seemed to enjoy himself very much.
At the Congress, I met Robert Aguirre, who is the president and CEO of the Catholic Association of Latino leaders. I had several conversations with Mr. Aguirre at meals and at some of the meetings, and he and I seem to get along very well. He, too, has a high regard for the College.
I also met Carlos de Quesada at the Congress. He is the founder of Veracruz Advisory, an organization that helps not-for-profits fulfill their mission. Carlos works out of Sarasota, Florida. He’s a very nice fellow and he and I got along quite well. We had a number of conversations during the course of the conference and had dinner together on the final night before I left.
Cardinal Sean O’Malley was the final speaker at the Ecclesia in America conference. His talk focused on certain practical suggestions for greater cooperation and solidarity among the churches in the Americas. He suggested more exchange of information regarding the permanent diaconate. He hopes to encourage a greater participation in the diaconate on the continent, an exchange of information about diaconate formation, and conversation about the ways in which deacons can participate in the work of the Church.
He suggested that the bishops meet more frequently and that in their meetings they discuss issues of concern to both Latin America and North America, including immigration and free trade. He also encouraged the Knights of Columbus to sponsor more meetings of the sort that we were holding in Rome. He thought that World Youth Day provides an excellent opportunity for cooperation and consultation among the various churches, and he stressed quite strongly that protecting children from sexual abuse must continue to be a top priority, and that the bishops from the United States can continue to be sources of valuable insights on ways that the Church can deal with that issue.
He said in that connection that the bishops must proclaim a social gospel that includes witness regarding life and marriage. He said that the Church should encourage participation in media and politics.
As always our model is Mary, he said, her fiat. We must say “yes” to God’s promptings, and we must open the door to God and, as Mary said, do what He tells you.
To end the conference Cardinal Ouellet provided a summary and some concluding reflections  on the two days of discussions. He said we must remember that the Americas are, at least in some respects, still a Christian continent, and that the protagonist, as he put it, in our efforts is Our Lady of Guadalupe and her call for building a sacred house in communion with the bishops. He said we must go up the mountain like Juan Diego to develop a strong relationship with God.
Although he said the Americas are a Christian continent, he said the de-Christianization of America is an urgent problem and that the encounter with Christ is vital for the American continent. It is the duty of Catholics to know and love Jesus Christ, to promote true Catholic education, and to promote the strengthening of the family. Man and woman, he said, are the image and likeness of God, and that image and likeness must be manifested in traditional marriage.
He concluded his remarks by emphasizing three theological points: one, the centrality of Christ; two, the Trinitarian anthropology that is best manifested in traditional marriage; and finally communion, or friendship, among the churches in the Americas. He reminded us of Mary, the Eucharistic woman who gave herself totally to the Word of Christ. That is what we all are called to do.
I attended Mass in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae. Over the sanctuary is the inscription Veni Sanctae Spiritus Reple Tuorum Corda Fidelium — Come, Holy Spirit, Fill the Hearts of Your Faithful. It was good to see the prayer of the College so close to the heart of the Church.