Saturday, December 30, 2006

Our Lady of Czestochowa and the Primate: Part One

On August 3rd, 1924, Stefan Wyszynski (pronounced Shteh-fahn Vih-shinski) was ordained to the holy priesthood by Auxiliary Bishop Wojciech Owczarek in the chapel of the Blessed Virgin in Wloclawek's Cathedral.

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Bishop Wyszynski

Immediately after his ordination, he travelled to Czestochowa in order to be able to offer his first Solemn Mass before the miraculous icon of Our Lady of Jasna Gora, Queen of Poland. As he was in frail health, he was barely able to stay on his feet, beseeching Our Lady to let him live to be a Priest for at least one year.

Having lost his mother at the age of nine, he came to Czestochowa in search of his heavenly Mother. "I went to Jasna Gora to say my First Mass so that I could have a Mother, a Mother who is forever and does not die." (Micewski, p.7)

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Stefan (in rear) with his family

Our Lady was to give Fr. Wyszynski many more than the one year he had asked for, as Providence intended this son, consecrated to the Mother of the Polish Nation, to be deeply bound with its destiny for more than half a century to come.

Going on to study at the Catholic University of Lublin, (commonly referred to by its Polish initials KUL), he received his doctorate in Canon Law in 1929, defending his thesis which was entitled, The Rights of The Family, The Church, and The State in Relation To Schools.

Continuing the preparation for his future mission, he served as editor-in-chief of the diocesan newspaper until the outbreak of World War Two, all the while serving as Defender of the Bond in the Wloclawek curia. He accomplished all this while lecturing on social ethics in the seminary, heading the Christian Worker's University, as well as being active in the Christian trade unions.

This close contact with workers helped form his belief that the influence of Russia, "fighting against God," was already very strong, yet he also knew that the growth in communist sympathy amont the Poles was "...not so much Bolshevik propaganda as the lack of work, of bread, and of a roof over one's head." (Micewski, p.16)

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Soviet propaganda

He stated in 1934 that the "...enormous salaries of high officials absorb institutional budgets that there is nothing left over to pay junior officials and workers...Such a state of things does not accord with Catholic ideas of just distribution...". (Ibid.)

Highly trained in Catholic social ethics, as well as being a student of the social sciences, Fr. Wyszynski knew that "...Violating the balance of incomes in society is bound to lead to a shaking of the whole social order; these are the causes of an inclination toward Bolshevism." (Ibid.)

Thus the future Primate of Poland already had embraced the conviction that a third road exists between liberal capitalism and revolutionary Marxism. As Micewski puts it, "His early conviction later blossomed into the idea that Poland, lying between East and West, has a definite, well-understood mission: based on the social strength of a Catholicism that had stood firm through the long battle with atheism - a political system that opposed not only the inherent mistakes of collectivism but also the structural weaknesses and egotistical tendencies of capitalism" (Ibid., pp. 18-19)

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Nazi rally

With the outbreak of war in September of 1939, Fr. Wyszynski was ordered by Bishop Michal Kozal of Wloklawek to flee for his safety, as the Nazis had targeted him due to his pre-war publications on Nazism.

The warning of his superiors was a prescient one, for as Fr. Wyszynski attempted to return to his apartment to locate a forgotten book, he was told at the Wloklawek train station that the Gestapo had already been to his apartment.

With that news he was destined to spend the rest of the war moving from place to place hiding from the Gestapo, knowing that if he was caught it would mean certain death.

While in hiding, Fr. Wysynski served as chaplain to a group of sisters and blind people, as well as giving lectures wherever possible on Catholic social thought, and on the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ. He even served as a midwife on one occasion, delivering the child of a poor, emaciated expectant mother he came across while hiding in the forest.

In an amusing aside, Fr. Wyszynski had to operate under a pseudonym to avoid capture, and as his biographer tells us, "Wyszynski chose for himself the underground pseudonym, Sister Cecilia, and before long people were asking, 'Is Sister Cecilia saying Mass today? When is she hearing confessions?' " (Micewski, p.26)

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Warsaw Uprising, 1944

When the Warsaw uprising started, in which 240,000 people died, Fr. Wyszynski found himself in Laski, just outside the city. Ministering to allied and enemy soldiers alike, in his free moments (and with no one watching) he would lie prostrate on the chapel floor in the form of a cross, praying both for the dying and those destined to survive.

As the uprising came to an end, he found a shred of paper on which the burning fire had left only three, "Thou shalt love." (Ibid.)

The war came to an end, with Fr. Wyszynski having been preserved by the woman he so loved, referring to her often as "Beautiful Splendid Star, Mary of Czestochowa."

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Following the Star of Christ

Caught up as we often are with our own trials it is easy to forget the heroic sacrificies those brothers and sisters who have gone before us in the Faith have made. One such story, as told by our friend, Veritas of Humanae Vitae, relates the experiences of his mother's brave family in the former communist Yugoslavia in the 1960s.

Being fishermen on a small island, they knew well how to orient themselves while navigating rough seas, sometimes in the night with nothing but the stars to guide them. Being Christians, they also knew how to keep their eyes fixed on the star of their faith in dark times. We hope you will be edified and uplifted by this beautiful Christmas story.
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Ilovic, Croatia

"On Christmas Eve 1962, in the former communist Yugoslavia, my uncle, aunt and mother told their father that the local island school they attended had declared that any child not attending school classes the next day would be failed for the year.

Although this was a devoutly Catholic island, the only Mass being offered Christmas Day would be at noon, thus conflicting with the scheduled classes. Knowing his religious obligations, grandfather told my uncle that he and his sisters would be going to Mass the next day.

After attending Christmas Mass, my uncle returned to school the following day and was told that he was going to be failed for the year. Upon hearing this my grandfather said, "That's it!" The decision had been made.

The next day he applied for a tourist visa for his family to go to Italy. In those days, the Communists didn't kill you if you tried to leave, but they would bring you back and subject you to interrogation.

Knowing that if the authorities discovered their plan they would be apprehended, that evening they said a tearful goodbye to my great-grandparents, knowing they would never see them again. Leaving with everything they owned, they were not able to tell my greatgrandparents until one hour before their departure.

Rowing my grandfather's fishing boat away from the island in the dark until they were out of earshot, they were picked up by a speedboat and taken to Trieste, Italy. After three days, with their money exhausted, they went to the Italian authorities to declare political asylum.

The Italian government put them into a refugee camp, with my grandpa leaving each day to work in nearby vineyards while my grandma cleaned people's houses. Eighteen months later, a relative living in the U.S. was able to obtain visas for my grandparents to come to America.

Once in America, my grandfather was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief that the Communist prophecy that, "you and your children will become like us," had been foiled.

There are many more true stories like this I have heard about my ancestors from Croatia. For instance, while escaping from the Nazis, one of their henchmen lifted the lid of the olive oil press my grandfather was hiding in, but was called away just before he had a chance to look inside.

My other grandfather (a harbormaster in a very important industrial shipping port) "looked the other way" at his post at the edge of the harbor as a sentry to let some people escape, only to have them return decades later to thank him amid tears.

One relative dressed up as an Italian mailman, when Italy capitulated, to avoid Nazi capture, rowing ninety miles back to Croatia at night, carrying only a loaf of bread and a bottle of wine.

There are so many more stories, but these are treasures of faith I intend to tell my children someday. It is important for them to know about the people who made such sacrifices and took such risks to be allowed to practice their faith.

These were people of modest education, but knew what was really important. They truly loved God.

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Sts. Peter and Paul Church, Ilovic, Croatia.

Interestingly, my uncle went on to become a parish priest. I asked Grandfather once how he felt on the day of my uncle's ordination. He said it was the proudest day of his life and his greatest treasure. A treasure it was, as a few years ago my grandfather died in my uncle's arms as he was giving my grandfather final absoloution.
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My uncle, Fr. Gio.
My uncle once told me that my grandfather would point the North Star out to him at night and tell him, "Keep your eyes fixed on The North Star and you will never get lost." Funny, for an uneducated man he could still bring forth a poignant analogy to our faith. Remember, "Be not afraid!" As bad as things may seem, we have more than we truly know, and we are free to worship God.

Ave Maria and Merry Christmas to all."

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Lessons From Nowa Huta

In 1949, the Soviets decided to build what they deemed a "workers’ paradise" in a town on the outskirts of Krakow. This new town was part of their campaign to break down the resistance of middle-class Krakowians to the Soviet program for Poland, a program that entailed the denial of one thousand years of Polish religious and cultural heritage.

The name of their new town was to be "Nowa Huta", and the Soviets intended it to be a model example of the communist ideal of "a city without God". This new town was to be filled with enormous blocks of workers’ apartments, some containing as many as 450 flats.

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Nowa Huta 2006.

The breakdown of community was essential to this new "city without God", as there was to be no easy way for the Polish worker to vist with his neighbors. To quote the distinguished George Weigel, in his seminal work Witness To Hope, "If you wanted to visit a neighbor outside the two or three apartment module in which you lived, you went down the stair or elevator, left the building, reentered through another door, and then climbed the stairs or took the elevator up to your neighbor’s module." (P.189)

In other words, you were to have little or no contact with your neighbor, because "Nowa Huta’s apartment blocks were aptly described as human filing cabinets, and the cabinets were deliberately designed to keep the files separated."(Ibid.)

If the average Pole were to have minimal contact with his neighbor in this new Soviet "workers’paradise", his contact with God was to be even less, for Nowa Huta was to be a town without a Church, and in Catholic Poland, this meant that Christ would not be allowed a place to dwell among his people. There lterally would "be no place for Him in the Inn".

As the Communists refused the initial permits to build a Church in Nowa Huta, it was quickly destined to become a symbol of the implacable opposition between the Communist state and the Catholic Church.

Since this town fell in the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Krakow, the young newly appointed auxiliary Bishop of Krakow, Karol Wojtyla, opened the offensive by celebrating an open air Midnight Mass in Nowa Huta in 1959. To quote Witness To Hope again, "The great symbol for Nowa Hutas’ soul was the building of what became known as the ‘Ark Church’, which arose from the field in the Bienczyce neighborhood where Wojtyla had celebrated Midnight Mass since 1959."(P.190)

This struggle for the soul of Nowa Huta (and with it, the Polish Nation) was not an easy one, and it was to go on for many years. It is a testimony to the indomitable faith of Poles, as it is the exercise of the episcopacy both bold and brave, for the future Archbishop of Krakow was to celebrate Midnight Mass in the open air cold for many years to come.

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Cardinal Wojtyla 1970.

In his Christmas Day Mass in the Wawel celebrated on December 25, 1963, he spoke of the Mass he had clebrated only hours earlier in a very cold Nowa Huta, "The Midnight Mass which I just said was celebrated in a great freeze. Several thousand people participated...What a closeness between this Midnight Mass in Nowa Huta and what I had seen in Bethlehem: a humble grotto open to the elements..." (Kalendarium P.225)

This heroic example of episcopal faith and perserverance inspired a courageous laity to not lose hope, for this struggle was to continue on. Led by the outanding now Cardinal Archbishop Wojtyla of Krakow, the citizens of Krakow gathered yet again in the cold and frigid open air of Nowa Huta for Midnight Mass on December 25, 1972. This is, in part, the exhortation given them by the now battle tested and proven Archbishop, "And we stand here, at this place, where the new - born Christ does not have a roof over his head...over His head. All of us gathered here invite Him and plead that here...where God is being born, unto these people, unto these many thousands of people, new people, people of hard work, people of great accomplishment - - that God may be born here, in accordance with the traditions of our Polish culture: under a roof!!!" (Ibid.)

This moving example of patient and humble perserverance was to eventually pay off, for on May 15, 1977, the great Cardinal of Krakow was able to consecrate the new ‘Ark Church’, in which Mary, Queen of Poland was saving her people. What is especially noteworthy and instructive, is that the cornerstone for this great Church was stone taken from the tomb of St. Peter, donated by Pope Paul VI.

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Surveying the Ark Church at Nowa Huta.

So, on this Christmas Day 2006, may we on Long Island find strength and hope in this beautiful story, one intended by Providence to inspire Catholics around the world with an example of the heroism a courageous Bishop can inspire in his laity, all the while attatched in faith and spirit to the Succesor of St. Peter.

May all of us on Long Island pray this Christmas, that the sacrifices necessary to preserve our Catholic faith in the face of more subtle yet similar attempts to weaken it, be never lacking. May the example of Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, give similar encouragement to our Bishops, always united in mind and heart with our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI

Nolite timere. Be not afraid! Merry Christmas!!!

Saturday, December 9, 2006

The Black Madonna and the Destiny of The Polish Nation

Who is the “Black Madonna of Czestochowa”? What is her place in the hearts of the Polish people and of the Polish nation? What part did she play in defending the faith and culture of Poland in the second half of the 20th century? These are but a few of the points we will be exploring in the early part of this series of articles.

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Our Lady of Czestochowa, 'The Black Madonna'

In the final set of installments, we will look at the attempted destruction of Polish Catholicism and culture by Soviet Communism in the 20th century. We will then compare what the Soviets attempted to accomplish in Poland with the present attempt of atheistic secularism to erase the memory of Catholic faith and culture on Long Island.

Our Lady of Czestochowa is most aptly described as the Mother of the Polish Nation. It is she who is sent by God to protect her Polish sons and daughters from every “confrontation” that “…lies within the plans of Divine Providence” (Karol Cardinal Wojyla, Farewell address 1976 Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia)

She is the “Woman” promised in Genesis 3:15 who comes to comfort, love and guide her children, as “…in God's Plan”, they confront every trial which the Church “…must take up, and face courageously.”(ibid)
The Black Madonna of Czestochowa icon was, according to legend, painted by St. Luke on a cypress table top taken from the house of the Holy Family. In this beautiful icon, the Blessed Virgin Mary manifests both her humility and shows us our path by pointing with her right hand
to Jesus, the source of our salvation.

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Jasna Gora Monastery

In the 17th century, she saved the Jasnan Gora monastery from The Deluge, changing the course of the war in the fight against the Sweedish invasion. In thanksgiving for this great favour from Heaven, King Jan Kazimierz crowned the Black Madonna as Queen and Protector of Poland in the Cathedral of Lwow on April 1, 1656. From that moment on, she became the “Mother of the Polish Nation” serving as the icon of unity for all her Polish children.

Her maternal bond with the people of Poland reaches perhaps it’s zenith in the 20th century, beginning with the “Miracle on the Vistula”, otherwise known as “The Battle of Warsaw”, fought in August of 1920.

This is the story of the decisive confrontation against the Red Army for control of Warsaw. Most observers had given Poland up for dead against the Soviets. Interestingly enough, all of the diplomatic corps had left in anticipation of the impending defeat with one exception, Msgr. Achille Ratti, the Pope’s representative, and future Pius XI.

Another man not willing to concede Catholic Poland to the atheistic forces of Soviet communism was Marshall Jozef Pilsudski, a brave soul who dominated the life of the Second Polish Republic from its inception in 1918 until his death in 1935.

As George Weigel tells us in his seminal work, Witness To Hope, “In a daring move, Pilsudski’s intelligence operatives had detected a gap between the two corps of Trotsky’s army…On August 16, the Poles attacked, and by the night of the 17th, the Red Army, which had begun its own attack on Warsaw on the 14th, had been reduced to a rabble of fleeing refugees at a cost of fewer than 200 Polish casualities” (p.17)

Pilsudski had inflicted a “gigantic, unheard-of defeat”(p.18) on the cause of world revolution, and although Lenin opined that “we will keep shifting from a defensive to an offensive strategy over and over again until we finish them off for good”, for the moment, the expansion of Communism had been stopped. (ibid)

Because of the indomitable faith of one man, and the trust of a nation in the Mother of God, the program of Soviet atheism for Poland was put on hold.This courage and bravery would allow a young boy who had been born a few months earlier to grow up in a free Poland. This boy would be totally consecrated to the Mother of the Polish Nation, and would himself one day in union with her, reverse the expansion of the Soviets in both Poland, and much of the world. His name was Karol Jozef Wojtyla.

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Karol and his mother

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Soccer on Sunday

Shortly after Bishop Murphy came to the Diocese of Rockville Centre, he issued his first pastoral letter, "Rediscovering Sunday." In it, he kindly but firmly exhorted his people to begin attending Sunday Mass more faithfully: "I call upon everyone, and especially parents who are the primary formers of their children in the faith, to recommit themselves and their families to regular, weekly attendance at Sunday Mass."

He goes on to explain the serious obligation every Catholic who is not physically impaired has to attend Mass every Sunday. The letter ends with a clear call for everyone to re-examine their priorities so Sunday Mass will again occupy a special place of honor in our lives. Some of the obligations we should seriously try to reschedule? His answer: Work obligations, children’s involvement in sports programs, errands, chores and shopping.

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Should children be doing this on Sunday morning ?

Creating a ‘sacred space’ in our week for the worship of God, he insists, will go a long way towards restoring our life and spirit. Moreover, the regular re-connection with God at Sunday Mass will help us rebuild our relationships with each other.

It would seem, alas, that Bishop Murphy’s initial endeavors to restore Sunday to a place of honor, have had very little effect. If anything, there would seem to be more secular Sunday morning activities now, five years later, than there ever were.

Occupying first place on the list of Sunday activities are, of course, soccer and other field sports. There is actually a several decades-long tradition of ‘Soccer-on-Sunday’ on Long Island. It is only recently that Little League teams and other team sports have also begun encroaching on the Sunday morning schedule.

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Or is something like this more appropriate?

(As an interesting aside, in Amityville, thanks to a brave Protestant Little League commissioner, Sunday practices and games were banned for many years, but it is doubtful that this man’s principled stand will much longer survive the demands of his (probably Catholic) team parents and coaches. )

What is particularly disturbing is the very recent capitulation of CYO teams to this dishonorable practice. Many CYO teams, despite the Bishop’s letter, now have Sunday morning practices and games. An especially ugly example of this can be found at a certain very affluent parish where, while Sunday Mass is going on in the school chapel, the CYO basketball team is hard at work practicing a few doors down the hall in the gym.

Most ominous of all is the announcement by the Lynbrook Public School Superintendent of a parade honoring the community’s young athletes to be held this Sunday, Dec. 10, at 10:00 in the morning. This, in a district liberally populated with Catholics and a public school superintendent with an unmistakably Catholic surname!

Such inroads on the ‘sacred space’ of Sunday are strongly evocative of the Communist strategies in post World War II Eastern Europe. Parades, political events, and public demonstrations were routinely held on Sunday morning in an obvious effort to keep the largely Catholic population from attending Sunday Mass.

What can be done to keep Sunday from being completely secularized? Of course, more episcopal messages and reminders would be most beneficial. The first letter was a very auspicious beginning; more letters like it, as well as exhortations from the parish and school ought to be forthcoming.

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Traditional Palm Sunday morning procession.

Catholic parents, most emphatically, should refuse to allow their children to participate in Sunday morning sports activities. With the overwhelmingly Catholic population of Long Island, this would quickly put a stop to all attempts to usurp Sunday for mundane purposes.

Sports are a beautiful demonstration and celebration of the human spirit, particularly soccer, with its exuberant pace and thoroughly Catholic origins. Long Island, blessed with mild weather and abundant flat, green fields, is a perfect venue for such athletic development and contests, but this island will not continue to be blessed if future generations continue to ignore and dishonor God and His holy day.

Friday, December 1, 2006

An Ecumenical Paradox

As a young boy growing up in the Society of Saint Pius X, I loved many things about it. The historical Mass of the Roman Rite, priests clad in biretta and cassock certain of the doctrine they preached, large families, and a strong sense of community are among the many elements of my upbringing that I look back upon with heartfelt joy and thanksgiving.

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Our separated SSPX brethren at Econe, Switzerland.

I remember being carefully instructed by my Dad as to why we took such great lengths to attend a church so different from my local Catholic parish. Many of them made great sense to me, for the beauty of Gregorian chant, sacred polyphony, kneeling for Communion during the Holy Sacrifice offered ad orientam all resonated in my soul, and do to this day. There was no greater sense of mystery and transcendence than, as an altar boy, kneeling at the high altar as I heard the Priest whisper intently the words of consecration: "HOC EST ENIM CORPUS MEUM."

There was, however, one discordant note among all that beauty and order that never made sense to me. If there was anything my father and other ‘traditionalists’ like him were clearly against, it was Vatican II’s insistence on ecumenism. If one thing was consistently demonized, it was the possibility that a Bishop, or even the Holy Father himself, would ‘compromise’ the one true Church by praying with our separated brothers and sisters. The thing is, though, they weren’t called ‘separated brothers and sisters.’ Rather, they were referred to by the much more definitive term ‘heretics and schismatics,’ and this unfortunately made them more easily objects of derision.

I remember when the Dalai Lama came to St. Patrick’s Cathedral to pray Vespers with Cardinal Cooke, I wanted to ask my Dad what was so wrong about Catholics praying with those separated from us. After all, didn’t Christ desire that all his followers would be one? Didn’t that mandate require all of us to actively ‘seek that which was lost?’

Well, one day I got my answer, and even though it wasn’t completely correct, there was an important element of truth in it. “Look”, said Dad, “they have no intention of bringing these ‘heretics’ back to the Church. What they really intend to do is start a new, one-world religion, where it really doesn’t matter what you believe”. Needless to say, that was all a little much to swallow. Yet, twenty-five years later, I wonder if my tough, right-wing, John Bircher Dad was not all wrong after all.

After all, let’s be honest. Even if the Holy Father carefully and correctly delineates the fact that as Catholics we must never fall into what he calls ‘a false irenicism’ , we must ask ourselves an important question. Does your ‘average man in the pew’ believe that? Does your Catholic neighbor next door believe that the Catholic Church is necessary for salvation, and that “he who knowingly fails to enter into it cannot be saved,” to quote the Second Vatican Council? If not, why not?

But here’s the rub: Now that God has brought me back into full communion with the true Church, I have noticed a strange phenomenon, which bespeaks a conflict between praxis and belief.

The very ones who admirably proclaim the necessity of active and earnest ecumenical relations with Protestants, Orthodox, Jews, Muslims and Sikhs, are the same ones who are strangely silent when it comes to dealing with our brothers and sisters of a traditionalist orientation,

This latter group, it seems, has been relegated to the ecumenical status of ‘non-personhood.” For instance, if a cleric issues a public account of his positive experiences dialoguing with our Jewish brothers for a week in the southern hemisphere, wouldn’t it be equally beneficial for him to make similarly gracious public overtures to our separated Catholic friends in the SSPX and SSPV movements?

I have seen countless instances where our separated traditionalist friends have gladly offered their time and hospitality to ‘dialogue’ with those of us who are in the official Church. The reason is because, in spite of their sometimes harsh approach, they sincerely care enough about souls to attempt to bring them into the truth as they see it.

On the other hand, those in the official Church (we are speaking only of our experiences on the local level) seemingly have little or no interest in extending themselves to these brothers and sisters, let alone manifesting any outward concern for their needs and difficulties. The traditionalists are treated simply as some invisible ‘fifth column’ who, if ignored long enough, will hopefully just fade away.

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Are the Holy Father's wishes in Ut Unum
Sint being followed?

Here’s the paradox:
Those who seem to be the most ecumenical with every other separated body, display no outward concern for those separated traditionalists who are actually the closest to us in belief, whereas, those who are least ecumenical in their outlook, are the most outwardly zealous to bring back anyone separated from what they believe to be the true Church.

Just go figure.