Good vibes from Rome

Catholic News, Trinidad, 4th October 2014, By Lara Pickford-Gordon

Archbishop reports ‘very productive’ meetings

Rome is receptive to the idea of Pope Francis visiting Trinidad and Tobago, Archbishop Harris has said.

He discussed the possibility when he met on September 13 with the Pope’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin. The talks followed correspondence to Cardinal Parolin inviting the pope to visit T&T.

Archbishop Joseph Harris gestures after greeting Pope Francis during the pope’s weekly General Audience on September 10 at St Peter’s Square. This L’Osservatore Romano photo was provided to the Catholic News by Archbishop Harris.

“In principle I would say they have no objection, but there is a lot to be done before the Pope comes,” Archbishop Harris said in an interview with the Catholic News last Tuesday at Archbishop’s House.

He added: “The first thing is when the Pope travels he travels as Head of State so in truth and in fact he has to have an invitation from the Government.”

Archbishop Harris said he spoke about a “range of things” with Cardinal Parolin but could not divulge details as they were covered by “pontifical secret”.

He was able to say that among matters discussed was the Church’s stance on laws relating to homosexual acts. On the decriminalisation of buggery, “Rome is very clear,” he said, “Rome is against the criminalisation of private acts.”

Asked to clarify his statements, the archbishop said, “The day the government wants to change our legislation, Rome has no problem with the decriminalisation of homosexual acts.”

But the Church’s position on the homosexual lifestyle –that it is against the natural law – remains unchanged.

Archbishop Harris said decriminalisation of buggery, among other issues, had to be raised at the level of the Antilles Episcopal Conference (AEC) and a “common position” for the Caribbean must be developed. He acknowledged that the decriminalisation of homosexual acts would be a “hard” matter for discussion since some countries were more ‘homophobic’ than others, but Archbishop Harris said the AEC bishops would have to “sit and work it through”.

During his September 6-19 trip to Rome, the Archbishop had a series of meetings. He met with Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, on September 15; Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, and Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, on September 16.

On September 10 during the pope’s weekly General Audience at St Peter’s Square, Archbishop Harris met the pontiff and, speaking in Spanish, extended an invitation to him to visit T&T.

Describing the brief encounter, he said, “Pope Francis is a very engaging person. He is Latin American, he touches you. He is interested in what you are doing and where you come from.”

There has been talk circulating in the Archdiocese for some time about Pope Francis visiting and celebrating Mass at a restored Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, which is scheduled for completion in May.

“I know there is a lot of talk circulating and we will try our best to get the Pope here but I can’t say more than that. We will do our best to get the Pope and we are working at it,” the archbishop said.

With his busy schedule, Archbishop Harris did not know if Pope Francis could accommodate a visit to T&T next year because “it all depends on when they have time. It may happen if the Pope is going to Argentina, it may happen then.”

Archbishop Harris had a “long discussion” with Cardinal Amato of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints on the canonisation of the late Archbishop Anthony Pantin, who died in 2000. He said, “They want it to happen. The thinking in Rome is that there are not enough models of Christian living held up by the Church in Latin America, Africa, the Caribbean and so they want models. They want this thing to happen.”

The local enquiry into the cause for beatification of Archbishop Pantin has started and Archbishop Harris said, “We are encouraged to go about it and do it.”

“For a whole host of things”, the archbishop said, the dicasteries in Rome (Congregations, Councils, etc.) preferred to deal with the Conference of Bishops and not an individual bishop.

One such instance relates to concerns about the practice of the Sign of Peace following a circular issued in July by the Congregation for Divine Worship. The Congregation gave suggestions on how the Sign of Peace could occur “with greater dignity” and drew attention to “abuses”, like the introduction of a song of peace, members of the congregation moving from their place to exchange a sign of peace, and the Sign of Peace being used as an occasion for congratulations and condolences.

Archbishop Harris declined to give his own view on the matter and said when the bishops of the AEC met they would talk about it and come up with a “common position”.

“What we have to do is ensure that what goes to Rome is coming from the AEC,” he stated. He added, “People can write on their own, but my policy has always been let us work together as a conference.”

Archbishop Harris described his meetings in Rome as “very productive, very cordial”. He said of the Holy See officials: “They are there to help the Church and when you meet them you see it.”