Top Ten People of 2012 and One “Man of the Year”


Each year, Inside the Vatican magazine chooses 10 people we believe are examples of great courage, fidelity to the Church and heroic Christian charity. Our choice for “Person of the Year”: Pope Benedict XVI. He passed through the crucible of the “Vatileaks” scandal and continued to preach the Gospel, in season and out of season


Our “Man of the Year”: Benedict

Our true “man of the year” is not on our list of “Top Ten People” of 2012. He is Pope Benedict XVI himself. His eloquent words, his courage in speaking the truth during this difficult year, have been an inspiration.


Each year, Inside the Vatican magazine selects 10 people from around the world whom we feel are worthy of praise for their courage, their steadiness under difficulties, their fidelity to the Church and to the faith, their holiness.

This year, we decided to focus more than usual on the Holy See and the leadership of the Church in Rome and in other places, because it seemed to us that 2012 was in some ways an “annus horribilis” (“year of horrors”) for the Church, when the Church’s central government was brought into serious question by the “Vatileaks” scandal. At the center of it all was Pope Benedict, betrayed by his own butler.

Some thought we should name the Pope as our “Man of the Year” because he has come through it all with “flying colors,” continuing to teach and preach in an astonishingly effective and profound way for those who have “ears to hear,” finishing his third book on Jesus, naming young and energetic new cardinals from around the world, traveling to Mexico and Cuba and Lebanon, launching the Year of Faith…

No Pope has ever been listed among our “Top Ten” because, in a sense, we have taken it for granted that the Pope is inevitably at the center of the struggle for the faith in the world today. That was true during the years when John Paul II was Pope, and it has been true during Benedict’s nearly 8-year pontificate.

But in the past year, Benedict has taken very serious blows — above all, his butler’s betrayal of his trust.

This not only brought sorrow to the Pope, it threatened to destabilize the government of the universal Church (what bishop would not think twice about communicating with Rome knowing his communications might be published worldwide?).

The “Vatileaks” scandal rocked the Barque of Peter in 2012 in a way that threatened to puncture large holes in the hull of the boat.

Now that storm has subsided, and the Pope has battened down the hatches for the final phase of his pontificate. He has begun to preach even more eloquently about the great issues facing mankind in every age, but especially in our own time.

For steering the Church through this crisis, for continuing to keep up a grueling schedule which would exhaust most men half his age, for preaching the Gospel “in season and out of season,” Pope Benedict XVI is our choice for “Man of the Year” in 2012.

But the Pope is not the only one who is fighting to keep the Church on course, preaching, doing works of mercy, bearing witness to Christ. There are many others, and we have chosen ten of them.

In China, the bishop of Shanghai is a figure of enormous bravery and fidelity to Rome in spite of fear and oppression. Gerry O’Connell, our expert on Asian Church affairs, has given us a profile of Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin.

In Rome, there is a Spanish cardinal, a theologian so in line with the thought of Pope Benedict that he is called “little Ratzinger” (he is also shorter than the Pope) who has now stepped out in support of the old Mass, or rather, the “eternal Mass,” as one of our letter-writers in this issue persuasively argues. He is Cardinal Antonio Cañizares. And in Rome there is right now one person whom the Pope trusts more than anyone else, someone who prays the rosary with him daily and who works with him from dawn to dusk and far into the night: his German private secretary, the new prefect of the Pontifical Household, Archbishop Georg Gän­swein.

In the Middle East, where the Christian community is under such pressure, a cardinal from Lebanon is the incarnation of the Pope’s concern for the plight of the Christians of that region. He is the leader of the ancient Maronite Church, an Eastern-rite Church, so he also represents the universality of the Church. He is Patriarch Bechera Boutros Rai.

In Africa, a new cardinal, from Nigeria, is fighting daily for his people against the pressure of militant Islam. He is a peacemaker, seeking ways to promote dialogue and understanding. This brave man is Cardinal John Olurunfemi Onaiyekan.

In Asia, in Pakistan, there is a woman who has been in prison for three years due to false charges of blasphemy. This “prisoner of faith” is the mother of five children. Her name is Asia Bibi.

In the United States, no voice in the past year has been more prominent than that of the cardinal archbishop of New York in speaking out against government infringements of religious freedom. He is Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

In Europe, a Church leader in France is building a coalition for traditional values that is completely unexpected, given France’s secular nature. He is the cardinal archbishop of Paris, André Vingt-Trois.

All over the world, mothers and fathers sacrifice themselves daily for their children, but one Spanish woman sacrificed her life: she chose not to have chemotherapy to treat a cancer while pregnant, and died that her child might live. Her name? Barbara Castro Garcia.

Finally, there is one of the key assistants to Cardinal Ratzinger from his years at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a man who, under the Pope’s orders, has courageously toiled to “purify the Church” by investigating cases of priestly sexual abuse. This courageous man is Bishop Charles Scicluna of Malta.


The Top Ten in Summary

Msgr. Charles Scicluna — The Vatican’s chief prosecutor of clerical sexual abuse. On October 6, he was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Malta and Titular Bishop of San Leone

Barbara Castro Garcia — Spanish mother dies after postponing cancer treatments to save baby

Cardinal André Vingt-Trois — Archbishop of Paris and President of the French Bishops’ Conference builds coalition in opposition to the legalization of same-sex marriage

Cardinal Timothy Michael Dolan — Archbishop of New York and President of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference leads a defense of unborn life and Christian marriage and values in society

Asia Bibi — Pakistani Christian woman arrested and sentenced to death for blaspheming against Islam in 2009. Her case received worldwide attention. The Pope called for clemency for Asia

Cardinal John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan — Archbishop of Abuja, Nigeria, he has spoken out  against military dictatorship and violence, and urged dialogue with Muslims

Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai — Maronite Patriarch of Antioch, he is one of the key leaders of the Christian communities in the Middle East

Archbishop Georg Gänswein — The Pope’s private secretary, named Prefect of the Papal Household and Archbishop of Urbs Salvia

Cardinal Antonio Cañizares — Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, has supported the faithful application of Summorum Pontificum

Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin — This Auxiliary Bishop of Shanghai, China, has been under house arrest since July 7, 2012, following his courageous actions at his episcopal ordination.


1. Bishop Charles Scicluna

His friends and family speak of his warmth, his hard work and dedication to justice, his sense of humor and of the safety they felt while in his presence. His colleagues and mentors note that he is someone who knows how to be around others and to respect all people. Almost everyone speaks of him with love and admiration for his courage, loyalty, faithfulness and hard work. He is the newly-ordained Auxiliary Bishop of Malta, His Excellency Charles J. Scicluna, 53, one of the key figures in the past decade in the Church’s effort — called for so strongly by Pope Benedict XVI — of self-purification.

Scicluna marked the 25th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood in July 2011, and celebrated his tenth year as Promoter of Justice in the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in October 2012. He then returned to his native Malta to be ordained to the episcopate on November 24.

In the days immediately following his ordination, though he has now left Rome and his Vatican post, he was assigned to be a judge in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; he will now act as advisor and sit with the two dozen cardinals and bishops who judge the abuse cases that come before the CDF, his old office.

His parents, Emanuel and Maria Carmela (née Falzon) lived to celebrate the ordination to the episcopate of the eldest of their four children.

Charles Jude Scicluna was born in Toronto, Canada, on May 15, 1959.  The following year the Scicluna family moved to Malta, where he attended school and grew up, surrounded by a large extended family.

Scicluna attended Saint Edward’s College in Cottonera, Malta, and he entered the law course at the University of Malta in 1976; he graduated as a Doctor of Laws in 1984.  After completing his seminary studies and earning a licentiate in pastoral theology, he was ordained to the Roman Catholic priesthood by the Archbishop of Malta, Monsignor Joseph Mercieca, on July 11, 1986. Scicluna was sent to study canon law at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and obtained his doctorate in canon law with a specialization in jurisprudence in 1991, when he returned to Malta. In 1995 he was called to the Vatican to work on the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura as Substitute Promoter of Justice.

In 1996, he was appointed postulator for the cause of beatification and canonization of St. George Preca, popularly known as the “Second Apostle of Malta” after St. Paul. (In Maltese he is known as Dun ?or? Preca. He lived from 1880 to 1962, founded the Society of Christian Doctrine, a group of lay catechists, and was canonized by Pope Benedict on June 3, 2007.)

Scicluna is best known to the world’s media for his work in prosecuting the most serious crimes committed by priests. Quietly doing the work of a dozen individuals, he oversaw the cases leading to the removal of hundreds of pederast priests, including the late Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ.

In addition to the ongoing pastoral responsibilities he has had since his ordination as a priest in 1986, he has lectured, written, taught, and faithfully served the Church he loves.

He also served as defender of the bond and promoter of justice at the Metropolitan Court of Malta and professor of pastoral theology and canon law and vice-rector of the major seminary of the archdiocese there.

In 2010, Scicluna drafted the universal norms which extended the Church’s statutes of limitations on reporting cases as well as extended the list of ecclesial crimes to include the possession of child pornography, among other things.

Also in 2010, he presided at a prayer service of reparation for priests in St. Peter’s Basilica, where he courageously stated the harsh truth regarding those who have misused the priesthood:  “How many are the sins in the Church for arrogance, for insatiable ambition, the tyranny and injustice of those who take advantage of ministry to advance their careers, to show off, for futile and miserable reasons of vanity!”

Intense and focused attention was as much his signature characteristic as his loyalty to his friends and unswerving adherence to Church law.

His colleagues at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith came in force to his ordination in Malta on November 24. Monsignor John Kennedy was one of those. He had worked with Monsignor Scicluna for ten years and remarked, “He would give you his complete attention and focus irrespective of the mountains of papers in front of him or the issues he was dealing with from all over the world… He gave 100 percent to everybody, on every occasion, on every day.”

And mountains of papers were his unenviable challenge every day of the ten years that he acted as Promoter of Justice, a post which had been in existence but was not functional until he was given the appointment in 2002.

On one occasion in 2006, when he was already inundated with global cases of sexual abuse, a courier from America handed him several hundred pages of testimonials; he accepted the heavy satchel with grace and humor, requesting of those who had created the dossier to be patient and “save the trees” for awhile so that he could attend carefully to what had just been given to him.

A note of congratulations to Scicluna from Paul Lennon, founder of the Regain Network and a former priest with the Legionaries of Christ, said: “I wish you peace and fortitude as you assume your new post. I will never forget the kind and respectful, while firm and professional, way you treated me… in New York in April 2005. You are in my prayers.”

Scicluna replied immediately: “Dear Paul, Let us walk humbly with the Lord who has His own plans for each one of us and will never fail to hear the cry of those who suffer.  I am very happy to be back with my people, and I have promised them to lay down my life for them. I know that is what Our Lord expects of a shepherd of souls… Every bishop is called to share the concerns of the Holy Father for victims of injustice and abuse. Indeed the episcopacy is a sacramental title for such concern and cooperation. I have now moved from [headquarters]to the front line. The war against sin and crime indeed continues. Non praevalebunt.”

Before addressing a Vatican-planned conference on abuse entitled “To­wards Heal­ing and Renewal” held in February 2012 at the Pontifical Gregorian University, Scicluna again asked for prayers from his friends, one of whom sent the message that he should remember the hymn of St. Patrick’s Breastplate; Scicluna wrote back, “Thanks for that inspired prayer.” The following day, February 8, he shocked the 140 representatives from the world’s bishops’ conferences and the 30 from religious orders when he compared the ecclesiastical cover-up of sexual abuse to the Mafia’s code of silence, omertà. Such a word had never been used in such a setting.

He continued: “The teaching of Blessed John Paul II that truth is at the basis of justice explains why a deadly culture of silence or ‘omertà’ is in itself wrong and unjust.” He added, “Other enemies of the truth are the deliberate denial of known facts and the misplaced concern that the good name of the institution should somehow enjoy absolute priority to the detriment of disclosure.”

Everyone who has accepted the hand of Truth has enemies. Those who do not love Scicluna may be among those whom he was rebuking in his “Words of Fire” interview on August 23, 2010, with FOX news reporter, Greg Burke, now the Vatican’s communications consultant. Scicluna, referring to Jesus Christ, said: “He had words of fire against people who would scandalize the young. And if we stick to His words and are loyal to His teaching, we are on very good ground; we are not alone. [In abuse] there is a sacred trust which has been violated. The priest is ordained to be an icon, an image, a living image of Jesus Christ. He is another Christ at the altar, when he preaches. Now, when he abuses, he shatters that icon. The image for which he has been ordained is not there. It becomes a mockery of his vocation. It is a great tragedy for the individual, for the victim, for the Church. And we have to face Truth, even if it is not nice. Truth will set us free. There is no other way out of this situation except facing the truth of the matter.”

Scicluna looks to St. George Preca, Malta’s first saint, as his guide for priestly humility and holiness. Paul Cardona, who also studied the life of St. George Preca, claims that the Maltese saint is a model for Scicluna. “Like [St. George], he (Scicluna) listens to everyone, and does not make any distinction between role, age or status,” Cardona said. “Without wanting to, you just have to love him.” Cardona added that Scicluna could be described in the same way that St. George Preca spoke of St. Paul:  small in stature but big in spirit.

Indeed, even the official mandate from the Holy See, which was read aloud in the Co-Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Valletta, Malta, on the day of Monsignor Scicluna’s ordination to the episcopate, opened with an unmistakable note of sincere affection amidst the official language: “Benedict Bishop, Servant of the Servants of God, to Our beloved Son, Charles Jude Scicluna… who, endowed as you are with the requisite gifts of mind and heart and being an expert, among others, in things ecclesial, as we know so well, have worked in a laudable way in the Apostolic See of Peter on the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith… Make sure, beloved Son, that, following the example of holiness of St. Paul and St. George Preca…you may be able to be a worthy Servant of Christ who is ‘Faithful and True’” (Rev. 19:11).

We honor Bishop Scicluna and remember his good work as he continues “Fidelis et Verax”  — the words of his episcopal motto — “Faithful and True.”  —Inside the Vatican Staff

2. Barbara Castro Garcia

This Spanish woman died after postponing cancer treatments to save the baby she was carrying in her womb, who was born healthy. She died on July 13, 2012. This profile was published by the pro-life website LifeSiteNews (

One day early in 2010, newlyweds Ignacio Cabezas and Barbara Castro Garcia were sitting in a café eating breakfast. The couple both had smiles on their faces that, in the words of Ignacio, were “impossible to erase.”

After 11 years of dating, the couple had gotten married several months before, and now they had just found out they were expecting their first child.

“We were crazy about getting married and once married, we wanted very much to be parents,” Ignacio remembers.

Little did they know that this pregnancy, which had already brought them so much joy, was also the beginning of a saga that would test their faith to the limit — and ultimately take the life of the young mother.

Four months into the pregnancy, Barbara took a trip to the dentist complaining of a sore in her mouth. The dentist sent her on to a specialist, who on July 15, 2010, diagnosed her with mouth cancer.

The couple was presented with a conundrum: Barbara urgently needed life-saving treatment, but the treatment had the potential to harm their unborn child.

Bolstered by her Catholic faith, Barbara, who worked as a journalist in the communications office of the Catholic diocese of Cordoba, made the difficult decision to forego all treatments except for a surgical procedure that left her in immense pain.

But Ignacio says that throughout the ordeal, Barbara remained strong. “My wife said from the beginning that our daughter would be born the day that God wanted, not one day earlier,” he says.

A statement on the diocese of Cordoba’s website remembers Barbara’s faith at this time: “Anchored in the heart of Christ, the inexhaustible source of love, Barbara opted first for the life of her daughter,” the diocese says. “At all times she has maintained an unwavering faith, and has been the encouragement and hope for all who have surrounded her during this long and painful illness.”

Their child, Barbarita, was born just over two years ago on November 1, 2010 —  a healthy baby and the source of much consolation to the couple.

But within days, the pains of Barbara’s cancer were flaring up, and the couple went to Madrid to see a surgeon.

The news wasn’t good. The surgeon told Barbara that there was little hope, and that he was amazed she had even survived as long as she had. Thus began the grueling rounds of chemotherapy and other treatments that left her without a tongue and part of her jaw, rendering her incapable of speaking or eating. She had to be fed through a tube.
Ultimately the cancer would get the upper hand, and on July 4, Barbara died, after having sacrificed everything for her child.

The Spanish publication La Gaceta reports that it spoke to Ignacio the day after Barbara’s death, and that he seemed “serene.”

He told the paper that he felt “a strength of faith that I had never felt before.”

“I feel invincible,” he said. “God is holding on to me and he doesn’t want to let me go.”

In part of a letter from Ignacio to his wife, quoted by La Gaceta, Ignacio wrote: “I sensed we were going to suffer a lot, that it would be very hard and probably very long, but I also assured you that, no matter how hard it was, afterwards I would make sure you were the happiest person in the world, that all the effort was worth it, that we would enjoy our daughter and that we would have to prepare ourselves for an uncertain and horrible period.”

The statement on the Cordoba diocese’s website concludes: “The Good Father, Lord of Charity, who embraced [Barbara] tenderly in her lifetime, today opened the doors of Paradise. The angels have come to her and the Blessed Virgin gave her the crown of victory, because she, better than anyone, knows what it takes to give her life for love.”

Ignacio said that Barbara gave her life out of love “for her daughter, for me and for God,” and that he wants to now “honor her as she deserves.”

“We will win, my love, we will win! Now we have to face the most difficult part: finding meaning to everything that has happened,” he wrote.

The story of Barbara’s heroism closely parallels that of Chiara Corbella, an Italian woman who also died this summer after foregoing cancer treatment to save the life of her unborn baby.


One of the world’s most secularized societies is that of France. And yet, this year an unlikely coalition in defense of traditional marriage has emerged from within that society, led by the cardinal archbishop of Paris and president of the French bishops’ conference, André Vingt-Trois. Because of this almost miraculous development, we are honoring Vingt-Trois as one of the “Top Ten” people of 2012.

France’s new president, the Socialist Party leader François Hollande, during the 2012 presidential campaign, promised to “reform” France’s family law by making it legal for homosexual couples to marry and, especially, to adopt children. He also promised the legalization of euthanasia — the “mercy killing” of aged and infirm people. Both of these proposals are seen as harmful to human dignity by the Church’s moral teaching.

But how is one to explain that harm to the members of a society so secularized that they no longer see the harm, but rather something to be made legal? That has been the great problem facing Vingt-Trois and other Catholic leaders around the world.

Vingt-Trois decided to build a coalition.

And he decided to base his arguments on a point on which people of many faiths, or of none, might agree: the good of children.

Patiently, reaching out to all of French society, Vingt-Trois began to argue his case. In late summer, he wrote a special prayer called A Prayer for France, and sent it to all the dioceses to be read on August 15, the Feast of the Assumption. The national prayer for France is a very old custom. In 1638, King Louis XIII decreed that churches should pray for “the good of the country” on August 15 to mark the Feast of the Assumption. The annual practice fell into disuse after the Second World War, but Vingt-Trois decided to revive it.

In his prayer, Vingt-Trois asked churchgoers to pray for France’s “newly-elected leaders” to put their “sense of common good over the pressure to meet particular demands.” This was a key point, as he argued also on another occasion: that the legislation “is not for all citizens, but only for a few.”

Something extraordinary happened. Since the summer, French religious leaders, most of them Catholic, but also a number of Jews, Muslims, Protestants and Orthodox, as well as conservative politicians of no particular religious faith, have begun to mobilize against the proposed law, especially against the provision allowing homosexual couples to adopt children.

The campaign found a way to use against the law the very logic and arguments of the proponents of the law. Proponents of the law argued that it was a matter of “civil rights” — of “human rights” — to allow homosexuals the same rights to marriage and parenthood as heterosexuals. But the opponents of the law began to argue that, yes, it was a matter of “civil rights,” of “human rights,” but not of the civil rights of the parents, but of the children. Children have rights, too, and among those rights is the right to have a mother and a father, not just a father and a father or a mother and a mother. Passing a bill legalizing same-sex marriage and allowing homosexual couples to adopt children would not be in the best interest of children, and would, in fact, “discriminate” against children, as well as “shake the foundations of our society,” Vingt-Trois argued at the autumn plenary meeting of French prelates at Lourdes.

The campaign then began to argue that the consequence of the new law was not merely to grant a denied “right” to a class of people who desired that right, but to shake the entire social structure, and so to affect everyone. “Far from simply opening marriage to new categories, the bill on same-sex marriage would involve such changes as would affect everyone,” Vingt-Trois said. “Such radical transformations require a national debate, and not simply unreliable opinion polls or the strong  pressure of some lobbies.”

Vingt-Trois then developed a third argument: that the government was focusing on this marriage and parenthood legislation in order to avoid dealing with the tough economic problems of the country which were affecting every citizen’s quality of life. “We regret that the government’s choice focuses public attention so much on an issue that’s actually secondary,” he said. “The priority concerns plaguing our fellow citizens are the consequences of the economic and financial crisis — closing factories, rising unemployment, growing uncertainty for the poorest families.” Vingt-Trois urged Catholics to show their opposition to the planned reform by writing to their representatives and taking part in protest marches.

On November 19, Vingt-Trois held a press conference at the Saint Louis de France Centre in Rome. Demonstrations against the law on the previous weekend had drawn “more people than expected,” he said. Why? Because many Catholics have begun to see the need for “public witness,” but also because “believers of other religions or agnostics, people of every political orientation” have begun to have “substantial questions about the reform.”

For his courageous witness to Catholic moral principles, and for his staunch defense of the rights of children, we are pleased to honor Cardinal Vingt-Trois as one of our “Top Ten” of 2012.  —Micaela Biferali

4. Cardinal Timothy Dolan

Timothy Cardinal Dolan introduces his 84-year-old mother, Shirley, to Pope Benedict XVI, also 84, in February, 2012, at the Vatican.

During the past year, he has consistently, eloquently, spoken out in defense of the unborn and traditional marriage, led the American bishops and been a much-loved pastor to the ordinary faithful in one of the world’s largest and most important cities. For these reasons, we have selected Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York and President of the US bishops’ conference, to be among our “Top Ten People” of 2012.

Sometimes referred to affectionately as “the Pope of the US,” Cardinal Dolan is known first of all as a pastor. He is committed to watching over the members of his flock, the ordinary faithful seeking God’s presence and help in their lives, and answers for the many difficulties they face. Dolan is known for being always ready with a kind word and a blessing. And Americans in Rome who have known Dolan since his days as rector of the North American College in the 1990s note that, despite his rapid rise in the hierarchy of the Church, he has retained his humble simplicity and warm good humor.

But if he is a good shepherd to those entrusted to him, he is also a lion in defense of Church teaching. Dolan, living in one of the world’s greatest “media markets,” has steadily, courageously, effectively defended the Church’s teaching against many attacks. Not afraid of debating complex and controversial issues openly, he has been strikingly effective in presenting the Catholic position, and the reasons for it, when that position has been criticized and condemned.

A good example was a public letter he released at the beginning of the year after a troubling conversation he and other bishops had with top White House officials about the controversial and unprecedented new federal health insurance law, mandating that private health plans include coverage for things not in keeping with Catholic moral teaching, like sterilization, contraception and abortion-inducing drugs.

The government’s decision to pass a law containing these provisions means that thousands of religious institutions and private companies are being compelled to offer coverage for medical “services” they believe in conscience are harmful to human dignity and against the moral law. This is a clear violation of their right to freedom of conscience, guaranteed by the First Amendment to the US Constitution and by many federal laws.

“We have made it clear in no uncertain terms to the government that we are not at peace with its invasive attempt to curtail the religious freedom we cherish as Catholics and Americans,” Dolan wrote at the time. “We did not ask for this fight, but we will not run from it.”

Dolan stressed that the US bishops “will continue to accept invitations to meet with and to voice our concerns to anyone of any party — for this is hardly partisan — who is willing to correct the infringements on religious freedom that we are now under. But as we do so, we cannot rely on off-the-record promises of fixes without deadlines and without assurances of proposals that will concretely address the concerns in a manner that does not conflict with our principles and teaching.”

During 2012, Dolan also said it was “deeply saddening” that President Obama had taken a public stand in favor of a redefinition of the unique meaning of marriage. “We cannot be silent in the face of words or actions that would undermine the institution of marriage, the very cornerstone of our society,” he said. “The people of this country, especially our children, deserve better.”

At mid-year, Dolan was criticized in some quarters for accepting an invitation to offer the closing prayer at the Democratic National Convention. But he showed his courage once again on that occasion, speaking out strongly against abortion and same-sex marriage in front of a largely hostile audience.

“Help us to see that a society’s greatness is found above all in the respect it shows for the weakest and neediest among us,” Dolan prayed. “We ask your benediction on those waiting to be born, that they may be welcomed and protected. Show us anew that happiness is found only in respecting the laws of nature and of nature’s God. Empower us with your grace so that we might resist the temptation to replace the moral law with idols of our own making, or to remake those institutions you have given us for the nurturing of life and community.”

Dolan also accepted an invitation to pray at the Republican National Convention this summer: “We ask your benediction upon those yet to be born, and on those who are about to see you at the end of this life,” he prayed. “May we know the truth of your creation, respecting the laws of nature and nature’s God, and not seek to replace it with idols of our own making.”

For speaking out fearlessly on behalf of the unborn, for bearing witness to the truth even before those who disagree sharply with him, for his generosity and faithfulness as a diligent pastor, we are proud to honor His Eminence Cardinal Dolan as one of our “Top Ten” of 2012.—Anna Artymiak

5. Asia Bibi

Asia Bibi, 41, a Pakistani Catholic woman, the mother of five children, has been held in solitary confinement in a Pakistani jail for the last three years on charges of blasphemy against Islam and the Prophet Mohammed. Her cell is bare; it does not even have a latrine bucket.

On June 14, 2009, Asia, a Catholic farm worker from a remote Punjabi village, was harvesting berries on the estate of a wealthy landowner with her co-workers in 100-degree heat. Thirsty, she drew water from the estate well, dipped her cup into the bucket and drank large mouthfuls. One of the other farm hands, “her eyes filled with hatred,” screamed out “Haraam!” — a term meaning “forbidden” in Islamic law. To the other workers, stirred by the commotion, she screamed: “This Christian has defiled the water from the well by drinking from our cup and by repeatedly plunging it into the well. The water is now impure. We can no longer drink it because of her.”

Asia was arrested under Section 295c of the Pakistan Penal Code, which forbids blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammed, and imprisoned pending trial. In November 2010, Muhammed Iqbal, a judge at the court of Sheikhupura, sentenced her to death by hanging.

Asia later described the moment to a friend who has written a book about her case: “I cried alone, putting my head in my hands… I still hear them, the crowd who gave the judge a standing ovation, saying: ‘Kill her, kill her! Allahu akbar!’… I was then thrown like an old rubbish sack into the van… I had lost all humanity in their eyes.”

Still today, Asia languishes in an isolated wing of Sheikhupura Prison awaiting the result of her appeal against Judge Iqbal’s decision. She is under 24-hour surveillance to protect her from other prisoners and jailers tempted to collect the $6,000 reward offered by a local Muslim leader to anyone who kills her.

The reward is not just monetary. Salman Taseer, a Pakistani politician, was murdered on January 4, 2011, in Islamabad because of his public support of Asia. His assassin is now a national hero. A few weeks after Taseer’s murder at the hands of his bodyguard, Shahbaz Bhatti, the Catholic Federal Minister for Minorities’ Affairs — the only Catholic minister in the government — was gunned down for his public criticism of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Asia described hearing the news of Bhatti’s murder in these words: “I felt that someone had squeezed my heart really hard, right inside my body. I was frozen in terror. My legs no longer held me. I collapsed on my bed, breathing heavily. I saw the walls of the prison crack, then fall in on me.”

Far beyond the borders of her native Pakistan, Asia’s story has become an emblem of religious persecution.

In November 2010, Pope Benedict spoke of his spiritual closeness to her and called for her release. This was a wake-up call to Western governments and media, whose silence over the persecution of Christians worldwide adds up to a glaring moral blind spot.

In Pakistan, Asia says, Christians are like orphans in their own land. On paper, they have the same rights as everyone else. In practice, they do their best not to draw the attention of the rest of society. At home, she says, there is no cross or icon of the Holy Virgin – only a small Bible hidden under the mattress.

More than 80 percent of acts of discrimination and violence against minority groups, which are growing in a number of places around the world, are directed against Christians.

Asia pleads with readers at the end of her autobiography:?“Now that you know me, tell those around you what is happening. Let them know about it. I believe this is my only chance of not dying in the pit of this dungeon. I need you! Save me!”

There are many things we can do to answer her appeal, not least to tell her story, pray for her and ask our governments to make appeals to Pakistan.

The Church in Pakistan says that all of the efforts to prevent the execution of Asia Bibi require prudence on the part of her defenders.

The director of the National Committee on Justice and Peace of the Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan, Father Emannuel Yousaf Mani, has said the concern to help Bibi is understandable. “But the life of this woman is very important to us, and we will do nothing to endanger her life,” he said. “We should wait in silence for the court to hear her appeal.” A “pardon amidst a climate of contentious public opinion,” he added, “would not necessarily save the lives of Asia Bibi and her family.”

Anne-Isabelle Tollet, a French journalist and author of the book Get Me Out of Here, which tells Asia’s story, says all the members of Asia’s family “are under death threats and live in hiding, moving frequently and unable to work. The children miss their mother very much and they have stopped going to school out of safety concerns. The youngest child is only nine years old.” —Inside the Vatican Staff


Cardinal John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan has been a powerful voice for peace between Muslims and Christians in his country, Nigeria, and for this reason we honor him as one of our “Top Ten” People of 2012. Pope Benedict XVI created him a cardinal at the consistory of November 24, 2012, two months ago.

In Nigeria, a bitter conflict has been taking place in recent years between Christians and Muslims. Boko Haram, a fundamentalist Islamic organization, has bombed a number of churches, often on Sundays, and killed many Christians by these attacks. Its members also seek to compel Christians by force to convert to Islam. Consequently, some Christian leaders in the area have endorsed fierce anti-Muslim rhetoric, and Christian mobs have sometimes targeted and killed Muslims, especially after the presidential elections in 2011.

But Nigerians will long remember Cardinal Onaiyekan’s visits to the homes of some eminent Muslims to break the Ramadan fast with them at the end of the fasting season. He won respect from all parties for his efforts to ease religious tensions by using his position to speak against mis-governance and to build bridges between Islam and Christianity.
Pope Benedict’s choice of Cardinal Onaiyekan to become a member of the Sacred College is a sign of his respect for Onai­yekan’s public, courageous witness to the Gospel in Nigeria.

The cardinal was nominated in 2012 for the Nobel Peace Prize alongside the Muslim Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Mu­hammed Sa’ad Abubakar III, for their roles in working for peace in the face of the Boko Haram insurgency in the north of Nigeria. (The award went to the European Union as a whole.) He was chosen as Pax Christi International’s 2012 Peace Laureate and he co-chairs the Nigeria Interreligious Council (NIREC) with the sultan.

He is a strong advocate for justice for the poor, and a sharp critic of injustice in Nigeria’s political economy. He is also a skilled debater with a good sense of humor, demonstrated also in a recent discussion with Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry on the BBC.

He is a well-known figure at the Vatican since he has participated in numerous Vatican activities and in synods of bishops.

His has been a voice that has transcended Africa’s borders, denouncing violence and urging that dialogue continue with the rest of the Muslim world despite the violence.

Christianity in Nigeria has grown rapidly. It was the religion of only 2 percent of the population a century ago. By 1960 its followers were around 30 percent. Now Christians make up more than 50 percent of the population. Nigerian Catholics claim 19 million adherents, which makes it the largest Christian denomination in the country. Nigeria has more Catholics than any other African country. But Islam is also on the rise in Nigeria, especially in the north, and this has brought conflicts.

Onaiyekan was born in 1944 in the town of Kabba, Nigeria. He attended Catholic schools in Niger­ia and completed his religious studies in Rome in 1969. He was ordained as a priest the same year. He received his licentiate in Sacred Scripture in 1973 and earned his doctorate in 1976. In his dissertation he dealt with the topic of “The Priesthood in Pre-Monarchial Ancient Israel and Among the Owe-Yoruba of Kabba: A Comparative Study.” His studies abroad were funded by the Premier of the Northern Nigeria Region, Sir Ahmadu Bello, a Muslim.

Pope John Paul II in October 1980 appointed Onaiyekan to the International Theological Commission.

He was ordained as bishop in 1983, and became the Bishop of Ilorin, Kwara State. In 1990 he became Coadjutor Bishop of the Diocese of Abuja, and when the diocese became a Metropolitan See in 1994, John Onaiyekan became the Metropolitan of Abuja.

In 1987 he published a work titled The Shariah in Nigeria: A Christian View, much before the country’s present ordeal burst out.

Onaiyekan was elected to the position of Vice-President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) in 1994, and President of that organization in 2000.

Onaiyekan was appointed to serve as one of the papally-appointed Synod Fathers for the October 2012 Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization.

During the Synod of Bishops in October, Onaiyekan told reporters at a briefing that the question of poverty in the world was a question of economic justice.

“Poverty in the world has to be dealt with by justice,” he said. “Africans from poor countries admire the Vatican and have no desire to dismantle it. The few poor people who come here have never said, ‘Oh, why don’t you sell this and give us money for food.’ They always say, ‘What a beautiful place.’ They admire it… maybe because man does not live by bread alone. There are other big buildings that need to be moved and sold — all those big structures, all those unjust financial and economic structures in the world. Those are the things to move, so that the poor can survive.”

“The irony and sadness of it is that we know what to do,” he said. “And it can be done, but we don’t have the political or spiritual will to do it.” —Viktoria Somogyi


In much of the Middle East, Christians face grave difficulties. But in Lebanon, for generations a “mod­el” of religious coexistence, Christians have lived in relative security and peace. A leader in the effort to keep this so is Patriarch Bechara Boutros Rai, 72, head of Lebanon’s Eastern-rite Maronite Church. For his tireless efforts to defend Lebanon’s “model” of peaceful coexistence and to assist the Christians of the Middle East, we honor Patriarch Rai as one of the “Top Ten People” of 2012.

His people love Rai as a father. He is resolute in his defense of them. But this very resoluteness has stirred controversy.
For example, Rai has said he fears an overthrow of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, even though the United States and other Western powers have supported the rebels against Assad. Assad’s overthrow could lead to the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, Rai observes, bringing greater difficulties for Syrian Christians.

“All regimes in the Arab world have Islam as a state religion except for Syria,” Rai told Reuters March 4. “Syria stands out for not saying it is an Islamic state… The closest thing to democracy [in the Arab world]is Syria.”

This remark raised eyebrows throughout the world. Yet, precisely because he is blunt and outspoken, Rai is one of the key protagonists in the Middle East peace process.

One of Rai’s first initiatives after being named Patriarch on March 15, 2011, was to organize a meeting in Bkerké, seat of the Patriarchate of Beirut, at the foot of the Shrine of Our Lady of Harissa. He brought together the leaders of the main Maronite political currents: Amin Gemayel, Michel Aoun, and Samir Geagea Sleiman Frangié.

Two months later, he brought together representatives of the various faiths in Lebanon. They drafted a joint document at Bkerké and proclaimed: “At a time when many Arab countries are the scene of events of historic importance, the Lebanese formula is valued more than ever. It provides for the respect for individual and public freedoms, religious and political, and we reaffirm the importance of the commitment of all of us Lebanese to the democratic parliamentary system.”

The document reaffirmed the principle of “national unity among all Lebanese” and a “commitment to a culture of dialogue” that “respects different points of view, however radical they may be.”

The document also stressed “the importance of regulating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is the key to peace, security and stability, based on the liberation of all the occupied Arab territories.” And there was an invitation to young people “to stay connected to their land and to their homeland, to preserve them from generation to generation,” remaining loyal to their faith and “open to pluralism.”

Beyond politics, however, the real task of the Patriarch is to care for his Maronite community spiritually.

In fact, it seems vocations are not lacking either among the clergy or among religious men, though there is a decline in women religious. “At Byblos, the theology students have never dropped below the number of 25,” Rai says. “Every year there are three or four ordinations. Of 80 priests, I have ordained 63.”

In the Maronite community, there is a married priesthood, and the priests have families. “In small, isolated mountain parishes,” Rai said, “married priests are very useful. They can be helped by their families.”

He added: “In everyday life, no distinction is made between married and celibate priests. We never had divorces, only in one case a separation. In addition, the priests are married before the diaconate and usually with young women already well integrated as catechists and animators in the life of the parish or Catholic associations. So they live a stable family life, basically serene, very useful for their service to the Church.”

Bechara Rai was born in 1940, and in the last consistory in November he received the cardinal’s hat, as had three of his predecessors. This was an important celebration for the Maronite faithful who still had the images of Benedict XVI’s visit to Beirut in September fresh in their memory.

During that visit, Pope Benedict met with Lebanon’s young people in the square just in front of the patriarchate.

“We have preserved all the talks and sermons that he gave when he came to Lebanon,” Rai said. “It’s really a roadmap that he has shown us, and that’s why every time we listen to him, he gives us courage and makes us understand that we should not be afraid of the challenges and difficulties that everyone knows. Yes, it’s true: we are experiencing very difficult times with the conflicts that are going on, the rise of fundamentalism, war, terrorism, political divisions… Despite all this, however, there is always trust in God and in the Church, which must always be a messenger of peace and stability. This is what the Holy Father always repeated. My commitment, and that of all my bishops, is to live up to his intentions. The key challenge is to move forward, re-create, re-build our internal unity, and then support our fellow Christians in the Middle East and create stronger relationships to the Muslims to lighten up a bit the tensions caused by the radicals and fundamentalists. These are the biggest challenges that we want to deal with.” —Angela Ambrogetti

8. Archbishop GEORG Gänswein

Recently Msgr. Georg has seemed more serene. On public occasions, he has at last begun to smile again. It certainly was not easy for the Pope’s secretary to address the “Vatileaks” storm which broke in May. Now, appointed archbishop and promoted to prefect of the papal household while still remaining Benedict’s personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein is closer to Benedict XVI than ever. The appointment as prefect confirms that the Pope trusts Gänswein, wants him at his side, and wishes to give him still greater responsibilities.

At the time of discovery of the theft of the documents, the Pope showed his complete confidence in Gänswein, and it was the latter who handled the difficult situation. He asked to be questioned in the investigation and to testify at trial. It must not have been easy. But Msgr. Georg took his own responsibilities, and now that the major part of the story is over, everything can go back to before May 21. Benedict now wants Msgr. Georg to run his agenda, not only private but also public.

Gänswein, who over the years has managed to develop a public role although with perfect discretion, already has several tasks.

First, he is member of the Board of Directors of the Ratzinger Foundation in the Vatican. The foundation manages Benedict XVI’s copyrights and awards the Ratzinger Prize, called the “Nobel Prize for Theology.” Second, Gänswein follows the activities of the Schülerkreis, the alumni of Professor Ratzinger. Third, Gänswein is watching over the Pope’s legacy. Recently, he helped inaugurate the house-museum of Joseph Ratz­inger in Pentling, a suburb of Regensburg. The Pope had donated his old house to the Pope Benedict XVI Foundation, and a year and a half ago, the Pope’s brother handed over the keys to the curators of the small museum. Together with Gerhard Ludwig Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and editor of the Complete Works of Joseph Ratzinger, Msgr. Georg was at the opening.

Gänswein has edited several books: Benedict XVI Urbi et Orbi, dedicated to the Pope’s trips; Catholic: First-hand Knowledge, texts on faith and the Church; and, in March for the Pope’s 85th birthday, Benedict XVI: Famous People on the Pope, a collage of famous German personalities who tell “their” Benedict XVI stories.

In February 2011 Gänswein was awarded an honorary degree from the University of Perugia. In his talk on the Holy See’s 1929 Concordat with the Italian government — his degree is in canon law — he made interesting suggestions, including a proposal for a particular legislation for the city of Rome, city of the Pope and of Christianity.

He has a special passion for children’s literature. In addition to Why the Pope Wears Red Shoes, a book of answers to the questions put to Msgr. Georg by German school children, Gänswein wrote the pref­ace to Joseph and Chico, a children’s book in which the Ratzingers’ cat in Pentling tells the story of the Pope for children.

Recently, at the release of The Mystery of a Small Pond, an illustrated fairy tale, he spoke about himself, which is ex­tremely rare. “Twenty-eight years have passed since I was ordained a priest and became assistant pastor in a small town in the Black Forest, where I come from, in the southwest of Germany close to France,” he said. “In this small town, Oberkirch, there were many children, and for the assistant pastor it was an important task to take care of them. It also became a commitment of the heart…

“I must make a confession: it is never easy to prepare a sermon, sometimes you do it well, sometimes less well, but to prepare a homily for children is exhausting! It is difficult because the children… understand immediately if you are superficial, and they do not forgive you if you are not sincere. If you are sincere they will forgive you everything, but if you’re not honest, you will have lost them once and for all. The best aspect of preparing and giving a homily for children is that it is also for adults. I have never seen adults so attentive as when they are present at the Mass for children.”

Gänswein has been a collaborator of the Pope’s since Ratzinger was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Of that time he has special memories: “The Holy Father has a great sweetness. In the Congregation, I had many contacts with him in our daily work. And today, when I see how Pope Benedict XVI treats people in different circumstances, not only in audiences or on public occasions but also in private, it is evident that he always has the same attitude, and it is delicacy and sweetness. He never said: this is wrong, you are wrong. Although may­be you are. Rather, he makes a proposal: you could do this or that. It’s actually a severe criticism in principle, but ‘suavissime in modo,’ very gently conveyed. That I can testify to, and I invite you to make this experience,” Msgr. Georg said, smiling.

But how does the Pope find the time to do everything? “This is of course a secret I cannot reveal,” the new prefect said.

“One thing is clear, however,” he continued. “For many people writing is a burden, a great challenge. Pope Benedict, however, when he writes, finds freedom and force. It’s something I have observed in the last seven years with great gratitude and surprise.” —Angela Ambrogetti

9. Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera

My proposal to include Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, Prefect and President Emeritus of the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy and the Ecclesia Dei Com­mission, respectively, among the “Top Ten People of 2009” was motivated by his exceptional apostolic zeal in serving Benedict XVI’s bid to fully restore the sacred in the Church by maximizing the implementation of the papal motu proprio Summorum Pontificum. In loyally carrying out the will of the Holy Father, he went well beyond his mandate, not limiting himself to preaching only, but also practicing what he was preaching. And what better way to preach than by example?

Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, on November 3, 2012, seemed to “take the baton” from Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos, becoming the leading Vatican personality in office who is giving all his support to the application of Summorum Pontificum according to the will of the Holy Father.

On November 3, Cañizares celebrated a solemn pontifical Mass in the extraordinary rite at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica to close the November 1-3 international pilgrimage “Una Cum Papa Nostro” (“Together with Our Pope”), organized by the Coetus Internationalis pro Summorum Pontificum (a group of traditionalist Catholic organizations from many countries whose aim was to bring together all those who support Summorum Pontificum in a public gesture of support for Pope Benedict XVI during the Holy Year of Faith and for the fifth anniversary of the 2007 motu proprio).
It was the fourth pontifical Mass in the past three years to be celebrated in the extraordinary rite in St. Peter’s.

Cañizares’ decision appears all the more significant and courageous against the background of the uncertainty about who the celebrant would be even days before the event, and the rumor that a number of senior prelates had kindly turned down the request. But the decision of Cañizares could not have been a more welcome breakthrough because of the profound symbolism attached to it.

As the entrance of the traditional faithful into St. Peter’s, in an imposing procession amid traditional prayers and hymns through the basilica’s main portal (opened especially for them) is seen as their definitive and full acceptance within the Church, the decision of the guardian of liturgical orthodoxy to be the celebrant meant the definitive, full acceptance of the old, extraordinary rite. It meant that traditional Catholics are no longer merely tolerated by Rome. They have now been recognized and welcomed as full-fledged sons of Mother Church and an integral part of the Catholic mainstream in full communion with the Roman Pontiff.

The Mass was preceded by a message in French and Italian sent by the Pope through his secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. “On the occasion of the international pilgrimage to Rome for the fifth anniversary of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI conveys his cordial greetings to all the participants assuring them of his fervent prayer,” the message said. “Through this motu proprio, the Holy Father wanted to respond to the expectations of the faithful who are attached to the previous liturgical forms. In fact, as he wrote in his letter to present the motu proprio, it is good to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their rightful place, while fully recognizing the value and sanctity of the ordinary form of the Roman rite. In this year of faith promulgated at a time when the Church celebrates the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, the Holy Father invites all the faithful to manifest in a special way their unity in faith. Thus they will be effective creators of the new evangelization. Entrusting all participants of the pilgrimage to Rome to the maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary, the Holy Father wholeheartedly imparts to them the Apostolic Blessing.”

Cardinal Cañizares in his homily re­flected on the devotion to the Pope of the pilgrims gathered in the Basilica.

“We desire with all the participants in this Holy Mass, in this sacrifice of praise and communion of the whole Church, for it to truly be a thanksgiving to God for all the work that the Holy Father Benedict XVI is accomplishing, in particular for his motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, which is a gift for the whole Church,” he said. “We also want it to be a sign of and witness to a filial and affectionate backing and support to the Holy Father, under today’s difficult  circumstances, on the part of the pilgrims gathered here, as well as a desire to participate in the movement and evangelizing impulse that the Pope, supreme pastor of the Church, wants to give to the whole Church, offering Her again the youth of the traditional liturgy.”

Asked why he agreed to celebrate the Mass, Cañizares said: “I agreed because it is a way to show people it is normal to use the 1962 missal: there are two forms of the same Rite but only one Rite, so it is normal to use it during Mass celebrations. I have already celebrated a number of Masses according to the missal introduced by the Blessed John XXIII, and I will gladly do so again.” —Alberto Carosa


Within hours of his ordination as Auxiliary Bishop of Shanghai on July 7, 2012, Thaddeus Ma Daqin was taken away by some unknown men sent by the Chinese authorities, and has not been seen in public since.

This 45-year-old charismatic priest from Shanghai diocese was ordained bishop with the approval of Pope Benedict and the Chinese authorities. In the eyes of both, he was destined to succeed the 96-year old Aloysius Jin Luxian as Bishop of Shanghai.

That will not happen now. The Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA) and the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China (BCCCC) made this clear in a statement from Beijing on December 12. They announced the revocation of his letter of appointment as “coadjutor bishop,” having accused him of breaking State regulations and bishops’ conference rules at the ordination ceremony.  They banned him from priestly ministry for two years, and asked the Shanghai diocese “to deal with him in a serious manner.”

They issued their verdict following an “investigation” into his alleged crimes, and after holding him under house arrest at Sheshan seminary on the outskirts of Shanghai since July 7. They had him detained there in almost total isolation from the outside world, deprived of freedom of movement and freedom of speech. They prohibited him from wearing the bishop’s insignia at Mass, and prevented the seminarians from returning to their seminary since August, lest he make contact with them and the staff.

To understand the reason for this unprecedented humiliation and ill-treatment of a newly-ordained bishop, one has to go back to the July 7 ordination.

Prior to that, the Chinese authorities proposed that an illegitimate bishop (that is, one ordained without papal approval) should participate in the ceremony. Both the elderly Bishop Jin and bishop-elect Ma said no, but the authorities imposed their will.

During the ceremony in St. Ignatius Cathedral, Bishop Jin and the two co-consecrating bishops (all three in communion with Rome) laid hands on Ma Daqin, but when the illegitimate bishop came forward with two other (legitimate) bishops to do likewise, Bishop Ma got up and embraced them, thereby preventing them from doing so.  They were also prevented from receiving Communion at Mass; only Ma and the two consecrating bishops did so.

While all this made the authorities angry, Bishop Ma’s next step made them furious. In a thank-you speech at the ceremony’s end, Ma, showing great courage and leadership, announced that he was abandoning all positions of responsibility in the Patriotic Association (CPA) so as to devote himself entirely to his ministry as a bishop in the Church.

At that time, Ma was vice-chairman of Shanghai CPA and a member of the national CPA standing committee. (The CPA was established by the Communist authorities in the late 1950s to control the mainland Catholic Church, but in his 2007 Letter to Catholics in China, Pope Benedict said the CPA and the BCCCC are “incompatible” with Catholic doctrine.)

On hearing Bishop Ma announce that he was quitting the CPA, the 1,200 Catholics present in the cathedral broke into sustained, thunderous applause. It was the first time in memory — and perhaps ever — that a bishop of the “open” Church had made such an audacious statement at his ordination. Government authorities at the ceremony were stunned; they interpreted his words as a direct challenge to their 64-year-old system of control of the Church. Ma had set a precedent which they feared others might follow. He had to be punished. They confined him in Sheshan seminary and for five months sought to break his spirit and get him to recant.  But he resisted with courage, and so they deposed him. He will never become bishop of Shanghai.

News of Ma’s courageous stance travelled like wildfire across China, inspiring Catholics everywhere and sparking great solidarity with him. His inspiring gesture had an extraordinary effect on Shanghai’s Catholics; it united clergy and faithful alike from both the “open” and “underground” Church communities in a way that has not happened since the early 1950s when the Communists started persecuting the Church there. At the same time, his defiant act caused consternation among the Chinese authorities and State entities that control the Church, especially the CPA, hence the harsh punishment.

Since his “house arrest,” Bishop Ma’s only way of communicating with the outside world has been through his blog.

There, on November 3, he published a truly inspiring testimony called “The Faith of a Child.” In it, he revealed that his father did not want him to become a priest, because “his father, his younger brother and he himself were all jailed because of their Catholic faith” and “he did not wish to see his beloved son suffering the same hardship.”

But when Ma insisted on entering the seminary and preparing for priesthood, his father said to him:  “If you are determined to go, do not come back and do not give up when you are halfway through.”  Ma said, “I did not hesitate to answer, ‘Of course!’”

Concluding his blog, Bishop Ma said: “I have kept this promise until today. I am going to keep it until the day I grow old, if God wishes me to live to an old age.” —Gerard O’Connell


Our 2013 “Inside the Vatican” Pilgrimages all have openings, although some are filling up fast. For the 2013 schedule click here. 


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  • Noel Fitzpatrick

    Some time ago in our parish there was a meeting in which the role of lay men in the Church was discussed, and various views was expressed. At the end of the meeting the priest asked the men present to put the chairs along the wall. There was a sense of relief as then the role of lay men was made clear.

    I am reminded of this with the 10 top people of 2012 who “are examples of great courage, fidelity to the Church and heroic Christian charity”.

    Five are cardinals, three senior clerics, two lay women and no lay men.