Issue Date: April 29, 2005
From the Editor's Desk
A conclave evening with Tissa
It was only in hindsight that I could recognize the delightful irony in the meeting I had in Rome the night before Pope Benedict XVI was elected. It was the kind of irony that could manifest itself only in Rome during a papal conclave.
The transition from one pope to the next was one reason that Sri Lankan theologian Fr. Tissa Balasuriya was in town. He had spoken at a We Are Church gathering earlier in the week, one of a series of mini lectures the group sponsored over a three-day period.
But this night, he had invited me to meet with a group of young Italians at a free-trade store they managed and maintained mostly on a volunteer basis. Many in this group of seven or eight mostly 30-somethings work in nongovernmental organizations. Several graciously accommodated my lack of Italian and in English explained that the projects in which they were involved included a water storage system in Tissas town, as well as a program to adopt children whose homes had been destroyed by the December tsunami.
The evening provided a refreshing break from the nonstop focus on the Vatican and what was happening behind closed doors. What these folks were doing owed nothing to institutional intrigue and everything to lively consciences and a deep sense of compassion.
Someone told me that one of the groups members, Riccardo Troisi, had recently married and that he and his new wife, instead of accepting wedding gifts, had asked their guests to contribute to Tissas water project and donated thousands to the cause.
Tissa sat in the meeting, at one point eating a free-trade cookie, like the groups grandfather. And thats how they seemed to relate to him.
He is a gentle man, soft-spoken, with huge ideas and even bigger questions. He has a quick smile and a light in his eyes, and at 80 years old, he said, an ambition to say the things I think I need to say while I still have the time.
The irony, of course, has to do with Tissas past spats with Rome.
He was excommunicated in 1997, but reinstated a year later, after detailed
negotiations between his religious order, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, and
the Vaticans Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the office that
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger oversaw.
If youre wondering how John Allen managed to be before the cameras of CNN for hours on end and still write a daily dispatch for the NCR Web site, youre not alone. During the period of John Paul IIs funeral, he had to rent an extra cell phone dedicated to taking calls from his wife, Shannon (who by the way is, herself, a font of information about cardinals), and a few colleagues. We wondered how he got any sleep.
Despite the deep contacts he has at the Vatican, conclaves remain really secret events, so even John was surprised when Ratzinger emerged as the pope in less than two full days of balloting. Within hours, he wrote, Hero of churchs conservative wing becomes Pope Benedict XVI for the Web site and, two days later, filed for the paper the 3,500-word assessment of the conclave and the prospects for a Ratzinger papacy. Allen, of course, had a jump on the pack, having literally written the book on the new pope. In 2000, before he even arrived in Rome, he had published Cardinal Ratzinger: The Vaticans Enforcer of the Faith, a deeply researched and compelling biography. The publisher, Continuum, is rereleasing the book with a new title. Allen also has a contract to quickly produce a new biography of Pope Benedict XVI for Random House. Then, hes promised, hell go on vacation.
-- Tom Roberts
National Catholic Reporter, April 29, 2005
|Copyright © The
National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd.,
Kansas City, MO 64111
All rights reserved.
TEL: 816-531-0538 FAX: 1-816-968-2280 Send comments about this Web site to: firstname.lastname@example.org