CS&T Staff report

A look back at any year of happenings in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia reveals remarkable events, but 2008 was exceptional.

Heading the list of highlights was the Bicentennial of the Church in Philadelphia. Two hundred years have passed since the founding of the Diocese, and the Archdiocese hosted a number of bicentennial events which culminated with a Mass at Villanova University. Approximately 5,000 of the faithful of the Archdiocese were present at the Mass for which Cardinal Rigali was the main celebrant and homilist. He was joined by numerous priests, bishops, archbishops and cardinals – many with roots in the Philadelphia Archdiocese – from around the country. There was even a birthday cake at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, and the ringing of bells at all the churches in the Archdiocese on the actual anniversary date, April 8.

Other bicentennial events included the Season of Service, a period of volunteer service by Catholics between the feast of St. John Neumann on Jan. 5 and St. Katharine Drexel on March 3; and the Pardon and Peace program, in which the sacrament of reconciliation was made available for Catholics in every church in the Archdiocese during each Wednesday evening in Lent.

Also part of the bicentennial celebrations, Vocations Awareness Week took place in January. A full day of Eucharistic Adoration took place at every church in the Archdiocese on Jan. 15, culminating with evening Benediction.

On the heels of the Bicentennial, Pope Benedict XVI visited the United States April 15-20 with stops in Washington, D.C. and New York. It was a time of special pride for Catholics in the Archdiocese who traveled to the cities, or watched from home to join with the Holy Father in prayer and listen to his message of hope for America.

In June, the Year of St. Paul began. The jubilee year, opened by the Pope, aimed to commemorate the saint’s birth 2,000 years ago by drawing special attention to his life and ministry. Local events in the ensuing months sought to evangelize people of today’s world by reexamining the Church’s great evangelizer and Apostle.

As Pope Benedict celebrated World Youth Day with hundreds of thousands of young pilgrims in Sydney, Australia, in July, hundreds of local youths met in Doylestown for their own celebration of faith and fellowship. Another rally of young Catholics followed a week later in Malvern.

After being named a bishop by the Holy Father in July, Bishop Herbert A. Bevard was installed as Bishop of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands in September. Many well-wishers expressed their love and support for the former pastor of St. Athanasius Parish both in St. Thomas and at home in Philadelphia.

The Church marked the 40th anniversary of the prophetic papal encyclical Humanae Vitae (On Human Life) in July, with numerous reflections and a major local conference that drew national attention to the document’s teachings.

The presidential election of November was preceded by ample Catholic teaching on the topic of faithful citizenship throughout the fall – including messages by the bishops of Pennsylvania and by Cardinal Rigali. The Cardinal asked that prayers for our nation be included in the general intercessions at Sunday Mass before the election.

The CS&T began a four-week series in January on the duties and responsibilities of Catholics to exercise faithful citizenship, even before Pennsylvanians voted in the primary elections.

Cardinal Rigali joined a host of Catholic prelates around the country in September to refute remarks made by U.S. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Joseph Biden, and to emphasize consistent and constant Church teaching that human life begins at the moment of conception. The Catholic politicians had suggested there was ambiguity on the matter in Church teaching.

November brought an end to a long electoral season. President-elect Barack Obama’s victory generated words of praise and notes of caution. Some observers noted the significance of the nation’s first African American president, while others urged him to protect the life – especially of the unborn – and dignity of all human persons after he is sworn in Jan. 20.

Also in November, priests of the Archdiocese heard presentations on projections for changing Catholic demographics in the region in coming years, and also began a major prayer initiative for an increase in vocations to the priesthood.

Cardinal Rigali ordained three men of the Archdiocese as priests at the Cathedral in May: Fathers Martin Ivanovich, Brian Kean and Daniel Kredensor. He also ordained eight men to the permanent diaconate, while Bishop Daniel Thomas ordained seven transitional deacons, six for Philadelphia.

Four young men from one parish – St. Agnes in West Chester – are studying for the priesthood this year at St. Charles Seminary. The fourth seminarian entered in the fall.

Catholics, like everyone else in America and the world, reeled in the wake of an economically calamitous autumn. Banks and other financial institutions foundered, credit markets froze and stock markets collapsed, adding fears of vanishing personal investments and home foreclosures to anxieties over high costs for fuel and food. Archdiocesan social service agencies saw increased calls for assistance as a result.

As the ongoing crisis indicates, events affecting Catholics will continue to appear in the news, and this newspaper will continue to cover them.

Following is a sample of other highlights from 2008:

St. Charles Seminary professor Father J. Brian Bransfield was named to the staff of the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Evangelization and Catechesis in Washington, D.C. Later in the year, he was named executive director of the same secretariat.

Cardinal Rigali issued guidelines for the celebration of Extraordinary Form of the Mass of the Roman Rite, in Latin, including a six-week training program to assist priests in celebrating the Mass. Pope Benedict XVI issued new norms for the form of the Mass in July 2007.

Thousands of Philadelphia-area pilgrims left by bus, car and train to participate in the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., to witness to the sanctity of human life.

St. Vincent’s Home, in Philadelphia’s Tacony section, followed a national trend by shifting from its 152-year-old institutional model of care for at-risk adolescent girls and pregnant girls who cannot live in their own home, to establishing a number of campus-based group homes in the city.

Catholics in Montgomery County took to the podium during several meetings to protest plans of the Albert Einstein Healthcare Network to build a new hospital in East Norriton Township. The hospital system, which performs many abortions in Southeast Pennsylvania, is now proceeding with development of the new facility.

Posters in archdiocesan Catholic schools marked National Child Abuse Prevention and Sexual Assault Awareness Month. In October, a 20-minute DVD presentation to be shown in Catholic high schools as an aid to discuss the topic of sexual abuse premiered at St. Joseph’s University. A question and answer session with Catholic school students and archdiocesan officials followed.

May brought the first in a series of tragedies: Officer Stephen Liczbinski was the first of four Philadelphia police officers killed in 2008, including Isabel Nazario, Patrick McDonald and Timothy Simpson. In October, the Cardinal called for all Catholic churches in Philadelphia to open their doors for an evening of prayers for peace in the city. The prayer initiative followed the killing of Officer McDonald.

The 50th annual Catholic Charities Appeal, which by year’s end tallied $9.2 million, gave evidence of the ongoing generosity of the faithful of the Archdiocese.

Michael Crescenz, a native Philadelphian and Catholic who was killed in action in Vietnam in 1968, received a hero’s burial in Arlington National Cemetery. His body was transferred in a solemn and moving journey from Resurrection Cemetery in Bensalem to Arlington.

Cardinal Rigali blessed St. John Neumann Place, a new independent-living facility for the elderly in South Philadelphia. The facility reuses the former St. John Neumann High School and allows seniors to live in one of 75 modern, safe apartments in their neighborhood.

Nearly 6,000 Catholics, many of them children who had recently received their first holy Communion and their families, participated in a Mass and outdoor Eucharistic procession led by the Cardinal on the feast of Corpus Christi, May 25.

Catholic secondary school teachers and the Archdiocese agreed to a new three-year contract in a process that marked the first time in two decades that the parties came to an agreement before the start of a new school term in September.

After 87 years educating young women, Rosemont College announced that it will become a co-educational Catholic college in 2009.

Mary Rochford was appointed the first woman superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese.

Father Joseph Logrip was installed vicar for the Philadelphia-North Vicariate and pastor of Mother of spanine Grace Parish in the city, while Father George Majoros became vicar for Delaware County and pastor of Our Lady of Fatima in Secane.

Almost 300 religious sisters and brothers in the Archdiocese celebrated significant anniversaries in religious life in September, and marked more than 16,000 collective years of dedicated service and prayer.

Cardinal Rigali began to host a live radio call-in program in October. The hour-long program airs one Monday each month on the Big Talker 1210 AM WPHT.

The Cardinal marked his fifth anniversary as Archbishop of Philadelphia with a pastoral letter reflecting on the Mass, Eucharistic
Adoration and the Blessed Mother.

In November, large numbers of Catholics gathered in the Archdiocese to put their faith into action. The annual Catholic Life Congress saw 1,300 attend education workshops and presentations, and pray at Mass celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop Robert Maginnis. More than 1,500 people met at Philadelphia’s City Hall to pray for an end to ongoing violence and persecution of Christians in India. At month’s end, 1,400 people committed to the pro-life movement attended the annual Stand Up for Life dinner in Philadelphia.