Cardinal John Foley, an influential figure at the Vatican, was in Brisbane recently to attend celebrations of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. PAUL DOBBYN reports
THE fate of Christian communities in the Holy Land was very much on the mind of American Cardinal John Foley when he visited Brisbane recently.
“These Christians are descendants of the disciples,” the cardinal said.
“If the Mother Church dies, what happens to the branches?”
The cardinal was in Brisbane as Grandmaster of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem (EOHSJ), an ancient Catholic chivalric order which focuses on supporting Christian communities in the Holy Land.
The role sees the cardinal exploring the deepest roots of the Catholic faith.
It’s perhaps a natural progression for this man of faith after 25 years as a commentator for American television viewers on such key annual Vatican events as the Easter and Christmas ceremonies at St Peter’s Basilica, Rome.
A highlight of these years was being the main English-speaking commentator on Pope John Paul II’s funeral viewed by millions around the world.
“(It was) a remarkable experience and a real privilege to witness such an outpouring of grief, solidarity and admiration for this wonderful pope from people of all religious beliefs,” the cardinal said.
The role of commentator was but one of the cardinal’s duties as president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications during this period.
It was his responsibility to authorise all radio, TV, film and photographic content emerging from the Vatican.
He was also a key driver behind an ethics advisory team on the internet when it started to emerge as a major force in communications.
The cardinal was involved in discussions on how Catholics should use this media, correctly seeing it as the dawn of the new era.
Then there was his persistent and eventually successful campaign to ensure that the Vatican’s internet domain should get the “.va” rather than “.org” suffix which the regulators were insisting must be used.
“My main argument was that the Vatican is already an organisation; everyone knows this, so it’s not appropriate to use ‘.org’,” the cardinal said.
Prior to this he had already been keenly involved with the media as editor for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s newspaper The Catholic Standard & Times from 1970 to 1984.
This was also a man who once said that he rose every day at 6am to watch CNN in order “to know what to pray for”.
So how did Cardinal Foley come to his EOHSJ role?
“Basically I was asked by the pope and you can’t refuse that request,” was the answer given in the cardinal’s typically direct style.
Since becoming the EOHSJ grandmaster in June 2007, Cardinal Foley has set as his goal the visitation of all the order’s 39 lieutenancies throughout the world.
The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem goes back to the first knights that were established by Godfrey de Bouillon around the Sepulchre of Our Lord as a guard of honour immediately after the conquest of Jerusalem in 1099.
They were approved as an order in a Bull of Approbation by Pope Paschal II in February 1113.
The modern history of the order began with the restoration of the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem in 1847.
Cardinal Foley said the EOHSJ has been responsible for donations in excess of $50 million to institutions, schools, parishes, social centres and universities in Holy Land.
He said this ongoing support was essential if the Christian faith in the Holy Land “was not to become part of some sort of religious museum but rather to continue as a living testimony of Christian faith made up of communities of people who are descendants of original followers of Jesus Christ”.
At this point the Christian faith in the Holy Land (“by this I mean Israel, Palestine and Jordan”) remains “vibrant”, the cardinal said.
“But the Christian community is a minority within a minority: that is, the Christians are a minority within the predominantly Muslim Palestinian community, themselves a minority within Israel.
“Many Christians are moving out from places like Bethlehem because life is becoming so difficult for them.
“But the Christian presence should not be allowed to leave the Holy Land.
“Remember the TV series Roots? Well this is about the roots of our Church.”
No doubt this sense of urgency drives the cardinal as he travels around the world on his crusade for the order.
His packed program in Brisbane saw him concelebrate an investiture Mass for new EOHSJ members with apostolic nuncio Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto, Archbishop John Bathersby of Brisbane, Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Oudeman and a number of other priests on the night of October 7.
The cardinal also visited the Australian Catholic University, the Holy Spirit Provincial Seminary and the University of Queensland’s St Leo’s and Duchesne colleges.
During these visits he spoke with students and seminarians on a range of faith-related topics.
Cardinal Foley arrived in Brisbane after presiding over investiture ceremonies in Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne before heading to Sydney.
Soon to be 74 , Cardinal Foley wears many other hats apart from that of the EOHSJ grandmaster.
In June last year, he was appointed by Pope Benedict as a member of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, and the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples.
The cardinal is clearly wearing this particular hat as the conversation concludes with a discussion on the Church’s present and future.
What’s going well and what’s not going so well as he sees it?
“The Church has been fortunate in having a series of outstanding popes,” he answers.
“This has been a singular blessing … It’s wonderful that the Church is one, united under a single leader, the Vicar of Christ, the successor of Peter.”
Cardinal Foley sees the enthusiasm coming from World Youth Day events as a great cause for optimism, noting that “this movement of young people around the world is an expression of hope”.
However, there’s still a lot about which we should be concerned, he noted.
“One thing I find most discouraging in the modern Church is the relatively low level of participation in community acts of worship such as the Sunday Eucharist,” he said.
“People should be so grateful to have the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist.
“They should be so eager to take part in this.
“Why is it Catholics are so influenced by secularism they don’t realise they have access to this wonderful treasure?”
Cardinal Foley added that “it’s so important for people to practise their faith – and not just for numerical reasons”.
“It’s formationally important for the individual, and for the whole Church.
“And if the Church is impoverished in this way, society is also impoverished.
“Besides, we have a duty to worship God – to express our gratitude.
“The word ‘Eucharist’ itself means ‘gratitude’.”