Rolling Stone features Francis

They get rock. But this is way beyond their reach or grasp.

The Rolling Stone magazine followed the trend or path of several other secular, popular press publications and put Pope Francis on its cover, accompanied by a lengthy cover story inside. How did they handle it?

Fr. Steve Grunow, theologian and CEO of Fr. Robert Barron’s Word On Fire media ministry, sees it this way.

Pope Francis is hot right now, by which I mean that his SEO ranking continues to impress and media outlets remain fascinated by this first pope from the global south. Not a bad thing, but also not a new thing. Some decades ago a pope “from a far country” was the preoccupation of the media, namely Blessed (soon to be saint) John Paul II. Benedict XVI received his own share of media attention, there was a kind of fascination with him, but minus the accolades that Pope Francis currently enjoys.

Benedict never caught a break during his pontificate.

Which brings me to the text of the article that lay beneath the cover image of the smiling Pope Francis on the cover of Rolling Stone. What precisely is the article about? Not so much Pope Francis himself, but someone and something else. That someone in question is Pope Benedict and the something in question is a Church. Pope Francis is, according to the author of the article, a repudiation of both. Really?

The article has been written by Mark Binelli and it seems to be his purpose to present the Holy Father as a Clintonian-style Democratic liberal who will cast off the conservative overlay of traditional Catholic teaching (especially in regards to sexual morality) and unleash the ideological progressivism that is latent with the Church. I guess in this construal of things the previous pontificate of Benedict XVI is to be accepted as a shill for the ecclesial version of Reagan-style Republican conservatism.

The narrowness of Binelli’s worldview is breathtaking. But people give us what they have. The vision in which everything is but a participation in the American political ethos is a totalizing vision that serves many as the ultimate explanation of all things. This totalizing vision is evidently Binelli’s creed.

But more striking than Binelli’s totalizing vision of the American political ethos, is the venom which he spews in the direction of Pope Benedict, who is characterized by the author as akin the horror villain Freddie Krueger and whose pontificate is situated in relation to some the most notorious men who have been pope. What gives here? Is any reasonable person expected to take anything written in the article subsequent to his screed against Pope Benedict seriously? Some do and the article panders to this sentiment that has been used to malign Pope Benedict even in the years prior to his election as Successor of Peter. The dialectic at play in the article is evidently that Francis is the anti-Benedict, the new antithesis in contrast to an old thesis. The synthesis that is meant to emerge from this a Catholic Faith wholly accommodated to secular modernity- which along with the American political ethos, we are expected to believe is the measure of all things.

That last part is the money line, really.

Fr. Steve and National Review Online’s Kathryn Lopez were my guests on radio Thursday for a roundtable discussion of media fascination with the pope, and the Rolling Stone story in particular. We really didn’t get past the Rolling Stone piece, it’s so lengthy and filled with so much material to discuss. Not that it had depth and heft of any theological or philosophical kind. It did not. It was an offering from the cult of personality to a distorted reflection of itself. And Francis just happened to be a convenient prop to hold up that reflection.

As Fr. Steve said early out of the gate, the writer made it sound like ‘this guy is one of us and reflects our beliefs.’ And by nasty contrast, Benedict not only did not, he was a nasty guy who headed a “disastrous papacy” that represented an archaic, corrupt, desperately behind the times, oppressive regime behind the walls of an “absurd, impossibly baroque backdrop of the Vatican.”

This was a hit piece on Benedict, and by extension, the magisterium of the Church he led, consistent with his predecessors on matters of faith and morals. What Rolling Stone’s writer needs to realize, said Fr. Grunow, is that Francis is “not the CEO of Corporation Church.”

But besides the business model, there’s the political, which is really underlying this piece. And the writer and magazine’s editors and other media outlets would benefit from Fr. Grunow’s insights that American media commentators tend to see the world through the lens of American political ideology.

Perhaps Pope Francis, whose vision of the Catholic Faith is illuminated by a Light different than the contrary lights of secular modernity, knows that a Pope is not measured by the standards applied to political authority or executive office or celebrity, but in his willingness to bear witness to a Faith that has endured since the time of the apostles. Maybe [writer Mark] Binelli believes that Pope Francis does this better than Pope Benedict, but none of the categories of understanding he employs in his article evidence that he actually knows what the Apostolic Faith is or what Francis and Benedict themselves believed about it. Binelli doesn’t even try in this regard and this is the main reason one comes away from the article with the sense that the purpose of the piece was to convince us that if Pope Francis isn’t the person described by the author, he should be. This isn’t journalism in service to truth, it is propaganda in service to ideology.

And though that would have been the best final line on this piece, Fr. Grunow actually delivered one on the radio show, right near the end of an hour of compelling conversation. On a positive note, he said, the smiling face of Francis on the cover of Rolling Stone may represent the first time that magazine prominently featured someone who is free, a person with freedom from slavery to obsessions, freedom from imprisonment to idols. “He’s saying what the world offers is not replenishing the human spirit. Leave that behind, that doesn’t renew your spirit. There’s encounter, there’s trust building, there’s a truth telling that liberates. Pope Francis is a free man, he’s not held bound by any of those spectacles, but I just don’t think they get it.”

‘The Pigeon and the Phoenix’

The Chilean miners are about to see the light of day. What a tale

Within an hour of the collapse of the San José copper mine on 5 August, there was widespread hope that the men were alive – at least some of them. The cave-in hit at lunchtime, so, instead of being dispersed throughout the 6km of tunnels, the men had gathered together for their midday meal.

Chile’s president, Sebastián Piñera, threw the full weight of his administration behind the rescue efforts. Even as aides begged the newly elected president to avoid personal involvement, Piñera took charge and began organising a rescue operation that used expertise drawn from around the world.

Multinational mining companies donated equipment, personnel and advice. Longstanding competitors fused their energies to provide solutions to the challenge of keeping 33 men alive and healthy via a narrow hole that was drilled down weeks after the men were trapped.

Keep reading this remarkable account…

Seventeen days after the accident, a probe found the men, after drilling a hole into a mine shaft near where they had set up their base camp. Then Miguel Fortt, a Chilean miner with vast experience in rescue operations, devised “the pigeon” (la paloma), a three-metre long piece of PVC tubing, lowered by cable to the men, that carried supplies ranging from bottled water to medicine.

Now, the Phoenix is prepared to rise from the shaft, bringing the miners at last to the surface, and to safety.

Aboveground, workers on Sunday dismantled a drilling rig to make space for a platform that will be used to support the Phoenix, the bullet-shaped rescue capsule that will hoist the miners one by one to the surface. Three specially trained Chilean Navy commandos entered and exited the capsule as they rehearsed rescue procedures. The men also double-checked the sophisticated communications gear that each miner will wear as he is hoisted to safety.

And to their families, who kept them alive with hope.

Mario Gomez, who has been mining since he was 12, became the group’s spiritual leader and requested a crucifix and statuettes of saints so the men could construct a shrine…

“I want to eat so many things. I’m hungrier than ever. All these days I’ve been dreaming about my mom cooking for me. That will happen soon. After the bad comes the good,” he wrote.

On August 26, the men sent up video showing their cavern illuminated by flashlights and the fuzzy beams of their miner helmets. The men were some combination of bedraggled, bearded or bare-chested, yet they expressed their utmost gratitude to their families, the rescuers, [President Sebastian] Pinera and God.

They have maintained an incredibly positive spirit, keeping an orderly routine with the sustenance of family love and encouragement, and faith.

The regimen appeared to keep the men happy, and a host of touching moments and creature comforts buoyed them along the way:

• The pope prayed for them and said he is entrusting them to St. Lorenzo, one of the men’s patron saints.

• They spoke for brief periods to family members…

• In late August, miner Esteban Rojas asked his wife of 25 years to marry him again, this time in a traditional church ceremony.

• And all the miners joined in Ariel Ticona’s glee when his wife gave birth to a girl September 14. He watched it with his brother, Cristian, who was at Camp Esperanza, which means Hope in English. Said Ticona’s wife, “We’re calling her Hope, first, because we never lost hope. Second, because it’s the name of the camp where the families are living. And third, because the 33 miners never lost hope either.”

It’s a beautiful thing. And now, they are about to emerge. The collective breath-holding will release in shouts of joy.

Pulling the men from the mine may not end their ordeals, but Chileans such as Juan Inzunza, who came to Camp Esperanza to cook for the families, will be happy just to see them on the surface.

“The whole country will be overjoyed. We will jump and cry with happiness when the Earth returns them to us,” he said.

Extensions of Camp Hope around the world will be overjoyed, too. They are each an ‘Everyman’, their families are us, and their rescue is the triumph of the human spirit we all can and must share.

At Camp Hope


Cries of joy in Chile went up as the rescuers finally….finally broke through.

The drilling operation is effectively over but the ordeal for the 33 miners trapped underground in Chile goes on – at least for a few more days.

On Saturday, one of the three drills being used to reach them punctured through to an area known as the workshop, an underground chamber that the miners can access.

The news triggered celebrations at Camp Hope, the ever-expanding makeshift camp that has been home to some of the miners’ relatives for more than two months.

Camp Hope has expanded to cover the world. These men, their families, their rescuers, and whole teams of support network professionals assembled from Chile and other countries……they all have shown us the depths of inner strength we really do have, and the unfathomable endurance of the human spirit. Some tents there may be makeshift, and the mechanical equipment temporary. But the faith and belief and love that set up camp there have proven invincible.

Now let’s get these men home. And keep Camp Hope spreading…

Human drama beneath the earth

They call it “the Miracle of the San Jose Mine.” It is captivating.

This story could not have been scripted.

The collapse occurred at around at around 2 p.m., sending up a massive dust cloud…The day after the cave-in, civil defense officials had mustered a 40-man rescue crew to go in after the missing miners. But the mission nearly wrought another tragedy, as the rescuers confronted a cascade of falling rock and buckling walls. “Rocks, dust, darkness, heat,” said fire captain Rafael Gonzalez Perez. “It was impossible.”…

Unable to send in rescuers to fetch the miners, the government shifted to Plan B: Drilling down from the surface after the trapped men.

But after a couple of days, the effort was looking like a geological shot in the dark. Engineers were finding the maps of mine weren’t accurate. “The situation is very complex,” President Piñera said at the time. “The mine continues collapsing. It has a geologic fault. The mine is alive and that enormously obstructs rescue work.”

But that’s when the miracle happened.

A little after 6 a.m. last Sunday the probe broke through an underground chamber, a short distance from the miners’ main shelter. The 28-year-old drill operator, Eduardo Guerra, thought he felt some vibrations coming from below. Some engineers came over with stethoscopes and said they heard something, too. When Mr. Guerra pulled the probe out of the ground, a plastic bag had been attached to the drill tip with cable and rubber bands.

Inside the bag was a note painted in red: “We are well in the shelter the 33.”

It gives you chills. Did me, anyway.

They are affectionately, emotionally, known as “Los 33.”

The men have captured the attention of the world by surviving longer underground than all but a handful of mine accident victims.

And now that workers have crafted a delivery system to send supplies and receive communication from the trapped crew, we can see them and hear their personal accounts and we are locked in this tense human drama together. No matter where we are, we are all there. 

One of Latin America’s most advanced economies, Chile has been a darling on Wall Street for its free-market ethos. Its capital, Santiago, is clean and modern, with a scaled-down version of the Chrysler Building. But despite the emergence of other industries, including finance and construction, mining remains the bedrock of the economy, accounting for the biggest share of exports and output.

But look at this…

The accident and rescue have allowed Chileans to get acquainted with people who are responsible for much of the country’s prosperity, but remain largely hidden from view due to the very nature of their work.

I read that line and thought ‘how many people this represents in the world.’

But now that they’re trapped underground, they are more visible to the world than ever. And what they show us about ourselves….or the capacity of the human spirit….is stunning.

When the miners broke out into a ragged chorus of the national anthem after the first telephone contact was made with them on Monday, it was as “as though we couldn’t believe that some countrymen are still that way, of that caliber and that timber,” wrote Daniel Mansuy, a professor of political philosophy, in the Santiago newspaper La Tercera.

It galvanized seemingly everyone.

Families at the site started hunkering down for a long haul, putting up tents or crude lean-tos made of garbage bags stretched above poles. Dubbed Campamento Esperanza, Camp Hope, the place took on a somewhat surreal air. The government started trucking in water and food, as well as sending counselors, cooks and kindergarten teachers. Shrines with votive candles and statues of baby-faced Saint Lorenzo, the patron saint of miners who is often decked out in a hard hat, sprang up alongside television satellite trucks and portalets…

They are relying as much on faith as on human endeavor now, in these desperate times.

Carolina Lobos, daughter of trapped miner and former football star Franklin Lobos, told reporters: “We have all changed because of this. Before it was not very common for people in my family to say ‘I love you’ or ‘I miss you’. Now I call my mum every night, I tell her how much I love her and send kisses. Now we are all valuing much more the people we have by our sides.”…

Meanwhile, a nation watches and does what it can to help. In this lost corner of the Atacama desert, one of the world’s driest spots, it is as if Chile had suddenly sprouted flags, tents and crude shrines to the 33 men. A spirit of solidarity has descended upon this rocky no-man’s land. Without a formal petition for aid or a website, volunteers throughout Chile arrive to bring support – moral, physical and monetary – to the families of the trapped miners.

“The country has shown a unity regardless of religion or social class. You see people arriving here just to volunteer, they have no relation at all to these families,” said Ivan Viveros Aranas, a Chilean policeman working at Camp Hope…

With experts ranging from Nasa doctors to submarine commanders, a team of 300 specialists co-ordinated by the Chilean government has spent the past week scrambling to design a programme of medicine, entertainment and exercise aimed at keeping the 33 men alive and stable for the duration of the rescue operation. Mañalich, one of the co-ordinators, admits he is often in virgin territory. “To my knowledge, this is a singular experience in human history.”

It’s still unfolding. And we’re in this inescapable drama together.