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John Allen kicks off Partners campaign with stories about the popes

Posted By February 20, 2015 | 11:56 am | Featured Article #4
John Allen speakers to audience at Partners in Charity kickoff. Photo by Tanya Connor
John Allen speakers to audience at Partners in Charity kickoff. Photo by Tanya Connor

By Tanya Connor

Pope Francis’ agenda and vision for the Catholic Church centers on leadership as service, a missionary conception of Church and mercy as the core Christian message for this time. These elements are a winning strategy for the new evangelization – and for Partners in Charity.
That’s what John L. Allen Jr., who’s been writing about the Church for more than 20 years, said at the kickoff for the annual Partners in Charity Appeal, held Feb. 5 in St. Vincent Hospital’s atrium.
PIC2011_logo  Mr. Allen writes about the Church as an associate editor at the Boston Globe and for its website Crux: Covering all things Catholic. He said he was recruited by John Henry, who bought the Globe in 2013 and is principal owner of the Boston Red Sox. Mr. Henry expressed interest in appealing to special interest groups, beginning with Catholics. At the time, Mr. Allen was the Vatican correspondent for National Catholic Reporter. He has also authored several books about the Church and is senior Vatican analyst for CNN.
He was guest speaker for the Partners in Charity kickoff, which included prayers led by Bishop McManus, remarks by Michael Gillespie, director of the Diocesan Office of Stewardship and Development, and a showing of this year’s video.  Parish representatives were to pick up their Partners materials there too.
Noting that this year’s theme is “Faith in Action: United as the family of God,” Mr. Gillespie said, “Partners in Charity is the principal means of support for all that we do in common as the Church in the Diocese of Worcester. As we begin our 65 years as a diocese, your support is more vital than ever.”
Mr. Allen thanked listeners – about 200 – and said the appeal would not happen without their time, effort and treasure.
After joking about flattering his audience, he said his job is to keep an eye on the Vatican to track the broader Catholic story.
In the era of Pope Francis, the Vatican has become like “must-see TV,” he said. He said Pope Francis is the religious figure most followed on Twitter, and that a Gallop Poll showed that he has an 89 percent approval rating among Americans (almost 93 percent among American Catholics).
He said the pope drew an estimated 6-7 million people in the Philippines, and more than 3 million for World Youth Day in Brazil, where security simply watched as nuns showered him with kisses and took “selfies” with him in an area that was supposed to be cordoned off.
Mr. Allen talked about what he called the cornerstones of the pope’s agenda and vision.partners aud_3520Aud
Speaking of leadership as service, he said the pope’s personal simplicity and humility are natural expressions of his personality. As newly elected pope he impressed people by taking the shuttle bus with the other cardinals and paying his own hotel bill. And as an archbishop in Argentina he lived near the poor, in a building that couldn’t afford heat, so the stove had to be kept on in the winter, Mr. Allen said, noting that he’d visited the place.
But, he said, beneath the humble exterior “lies the mind of a brilliant Jesuit politician.” There are no accidents or un-calculated choices; Pope Francis wants people to think of service, not privilege, when they see the Roman collar or pectoral cross.
The pope said as much: we don’t need a leader with the psychology of a prince but “pastors who carry the smell of their sheep” because they are close to their people, Mr. Allen said.
In talking about the second cornerstone, Mr. Allen said no pope can meet all expectations; he must choose his focus. Pope Benedict XVI chose to be a teacher. Pope Francis’ “aspiration is to be the missionary-in-chief of the Catholic Church, to get out of the sacristy and into the street.”
Pope Francis never wants us to forget the people right in front of us, Mr. Allen said, mentioning how he’s reached out to individuals from the popemobile and how he invited the homeless to breakfast.
Part of this is intended to send a message of what mission-in-action looks like, Mr. Allen said. But the pope also has a social agenda.
He recalled Pope Francis saying it was not necessary for him to always talk about abortion, gay marriage and contraception; Church teaching about those issues is well known.
But, Mr. Allen said, the pope changed his itinerary in South Korea, which has one of the highest abortion rates in the world, to pray at a cemetery for the victims of abortion. And he invited cameras along.
“Take it from me,” Mr. Allen said. “This is a robustly pro-life pope.”
But he indicated that Pope Francis feels some other issues are not highlighted enough. So during his first official trip outside of Rome, he tossed a wreath into the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Lampedusa, in memory of the thousands of impoverished migrants who died there trying to reach Europe.
Mr. Allen spoke of “the globalization of indifference” the pope talked about on that occasion. He contrasted a culture that throws away whole categories of people with the culture of encounter and welcome that the world is called to and the Church is called to model. This is not an alternative to the culture of life, but a complement to it, Mr. Allen said.
“This is the pope of the organic unity” supporting the dignity of the human person from conception to death, he said.
Mr. Allen gave examples of Pope Francis making mercy his third cornerstone. He said Pope John Paul II was known for saying, “Be not afraid,” Pope Benedict XVI stressed “reason and faith,” and Pope Francis’ signature phrase is, “The Lord never tires of forgiving.” Sometimes he adds, “it is we who tire of asking for forgiveness.”
He recalled Pope Francis’ visit to Saints Elizabeth and Zechariah Parish in Rome shortly after his election. He was with the pastor, Father Benoni Ambarus, when the pope arrived early and asked to hear confessions. The pastor randomly picked people, one of whom objected, “I don’t want to lose my spot in line to see the pope.” He was informed, “Oh, you will see the pope.”
Mr. Allen said Pope Francis wanted the world to see a pope celebrating the Church’s premier rite of mercy.
“I predict … Francis will be remembered as the pope of mercy,” he said.
During the question and answer period, Robert Giasi, of St. George Parish in Worcester, asked Mr. Allen what was the most important news he’s covered. Mr. Allen said it was the two conclaves.
Pope John Paul II’s death brought the largest turnout of any death in the world (5 to 10 million people, in addition to 5 million Romans), he said. One man told CNN his 15 seconds in front of the pope’s casket, after 72 hours in line, was the most moving experience of his life.part DonnaStephenGrasseschi
Mr. Allen said Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation surprised even him.
“To watch these two giants …” he said. “To watch one of them let his final agony” be a public lesson, and the other choosing not to do it that way, but to resign, saying he couldn’t give the Church what it needs.
Mr. Allen also told of another moving event. During Pope John Paul II’s visit to Ukraine, he saw a woman crying on her knees in the mud. He waited until she composed herself, then asked what was going on. She said she was thinking about what must be in her grandfather’s heart, seeing the pope on Ukrainian soil. He was a Greek Catholic priest who was crucified upside down and left to die for four or five days because he refused to renounce his loyalty to the Catholic Church and become Orthodox.
Mr. Allen contrasted that with his own upbringing in the 1970s in Kansas, where he thought suffering was having fish sticks and macaroni and cheese on Fridays. That experience in the Ukraine brought home to him that, despite disappointments and disillusionment, ordinary people will pay in blood to defend their Catholic faith.