Pope Benedict has made yet another crucial move as the reshuffling of the Curia continues. Today it was announced that Benedict has made Cardinal Ivan Dias from India the Prefect of the Congregation for Evangelization of Peoples. The former head, Cardinal Sepe, has been sent off to be Archbishop of Naples.
This is the second time Pope Benedict has chosen a bishop from the subcontinent of India for a major appointment. Recently he appointed Sri Lankan Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith as secretary for the Congregation of Divine Worship.
This is an extremely influential post - the head of this Congregation is known in some circles unofficially as the "red pope." One of the chief roles of this office has been overseeing the reunification of Christian denominations with the Catholic Church. Michael Gonsalves reports:
The office of the prefect of the Congregation has also been engaged in uniting the Catholic Church of Rome with independent oriental Christian orthodox churches in Egypt, Greek, Russia and Protestant Churches, including the Lutheran and Calvin ones, and work towards ecumenical unity of the churches.A little about Cardinal Dias. He is 70 years old. He holds a doctoral degree in canon law from the Lateran University in Rome and is said to be fluent in 18 languages.
He doesn't not like to give interviews. He has said, "If you want pictures of me, I prefer you take them while I'm praying, not while I'm talking. People on their knees are more eloquent. Humanity needs witness of faith, not orators."
He recently made waves in India when he issued a directive regarding appropriate dress at Mass. Christianity Today reports some of what he said,
One of the particular issues he discusses is modesty in wedding dresses. He asked all his priests to wear cassocks in their ministry.
“[The faithful] must further remember that, while God looks at the heart, human beings look at outward appearances. The Church is a community and, as such, has a social dimension which cannot be ignored,” he continued. “In society at large, there are dress codes and behaviour patterns for different occasions. There are, for instance, those for recreational activities, for moments of leisure at home, for gala dinners; and others for condolence visits, for concerts, for official or informal receptions, etc. Each attire must naturally be worn as the circumstance demands.”
“The dress code and behaviour patterns in the Church require our special attention. One cannot ignore the critical remarks being made by many, even by those of other faiths, with regard
to the attire used by some persons, men and women, when they worship in Church,” the prelate explained. “Whereas in days gone by the “Sunday best” used to become at times a sort of fashion-parade, the modern tendency would seem to go to the other extreme, with people wearing an attire which is considered casual and unbecoming of the sacred dignity of the Church and the members of its Congregation as, respectively, the House and the People of God.”
He has also written a wonderful peice on spiritual renewal, in which he focuses four treasures of the Church: the Eucharist, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Papacy (Magisterium), and the unity of the Church. The article is found in this on-line edition of Pentecost Today.
Fr. Richard Neuhaus over at First Things describes him as "...an astute theologian who has shown the way in protecting Catholic integrity in the engagement with religious pluralism." In fact, Dias was a staunch promoter of the document Dominus Iesus. The CNS reports:
Take note of the fact that this man has been appointed to an office which involves ecumenical issues. I think it is clear that Benedict believes that authentic ecumenical dialogue involves being honest about the differences between faith communities - we can learn much from each other and find much common ground but we also should not pretend that they are not real disagreements.
While his own cultural background and his diplomatic experience make him sensitive to the need to respect and value other religions, Cardinal Dias, 68, was one of the most outspoken supporters of the controversial 2000 document by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the uniqueness of salvation through Jesus Christ.
Speaking to reporters in Rome shortly after the
document, "Dominus Iesus," was released, the then-archbishop said, "It is a reaffirmation of what we believe and what we think," namely that "Jesus is the only savior of the world."
"We have a right to say who we are, and others can accept it or not," he said. Giving strength to the suspicion that the document was prompted particularly by the interreligious efforts of Asian theologians, and especially those working in India, he said clarity was needed in countries where the vast majority of people are not Christian.
Trying to find ways to communicate what the Catholic Church believes and to foster dialogue, some Indian theologians have presented the faith in ways that have not always been as clear as "Dominus Iesus" calls them to be, he said.
"The faith of the people is strong and constant," he said. "If a few theologians are making mistakes, that is a problem for the bishops."
Although he did not name the film specifically, Dias recently condemned The Davinci Code Movie, which makes outrageous claims about Jesus' relationship with Mary Magdalene and Opus Dei. He said it is simply "amazing" that people "with devilish glee, take pride in blaspheming against the sacred person of Christ Jesus, or in smearing the good reputation of persons consecrated in God's service."