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A heart filled with scorn, vain presumption is a path to perdition, pope says
Posted on 03/18/2023 08:30 AM (USCCB News Releases)
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The faithful must set aside their egos and sense of superiority over others to make room for God and his tender mercy, Pope Francis said at a Lenten penance service.
"Only those who are poor in spirit and who are conscious of their need of salvation and forgiveness come into the presence of God," he said March 17.
And those whose hearts are filled with haughty, self-righteous comparisons and judgment, "you will go to hell," he said in his homily.
The pope led the penance service in a Rome parish, rather than St. Peter's Basilica, to mark the start of the worldwide celebration of "24 Hours for the Lord," a period when at least one church in every diocese was invited to be open all night -- or at least for extended hours -- for confession and eucharistic adoration.
The Rome parish the pope visited was St. Mary of Graces at Trionfale, the titular church of U.S. Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey. It also was the first parish in Rome he has visited since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020.
After delivering his homily at the service, there was a moment of eucharistic adoration during which the congregation knelt and the pope stood, head bowed, leaning on his cane.
Customarily, the pope would have then gone to a confessional in St. Peter's Basilica and kneel in front of a priest to confess his sins. However, this year with increased difficulty with his knee, he went to a quiet corner of the Rome parish church where there were two chairs, put on a purple stole and waited for each penitent to approach. He heard confessions for almost one hour.
Other priests were stationed in confessionals or elsewhere in the small church to hear confessions.
In his homily, the pope talked about the danger of being proud of one's "religious accomplishments" and believing oneself better than others.
"They feel comfortable, but they have no room for God because they feel no need for him," he said. Their prayer is more a series of "monologues" rather than sincere dialogue and prayer.
Such people may do good works, join church groups or help the parish and then expect a kind of "payback," that is, a sense of righteousness or expectation of a "prize" that elevates them above those who don't meet the same standards, he said.
"Brothers, sisters, let us remember this: The Lord comes to us when we step back from our presumptuous ego," the pope said.
He asked everyone to look in their hearts and reflect: "Am I presumptuous? Do I think I am better than others?"
After listing self-righteous thoughts such as: "I go to church, I go to Mass, I am married, married in the church, and these people are divorced, sinners," he asked, "Is your heart like this? (If so,) you will go to hell."
"In order to get close to God," he said, each Catholic should tell the Lord they are the biggest sinner of all, and the only reason they have not fallen into worse sin is because God's mercy "took me by the hand."
"God can bridge the distance whenever, with honesty and sincerity, we bring our weaknesses before him. He holds out his hand and lifts us up whenever we realize we are 'hitting rock bottom' and we turn back to him with a sincere heart," the pope said.
God is not afraid to "descend to the depths" and "take the lowliest place so he can be the servant of all," he said.
"There God waits for us there," at the bottom, the pope said, pointing downward, "not there," pointing up. God always waits for his children, especially when they participate, with great humility, in the sacrament of penance.
Pope Francis asked that everyone reflect on their lives and choose to stop hiding behind false masks and "the hypocrisy of appearances."
The faithful must "entrust to the Lord's mercy our darkness, our mistakes, our wretchedness," he said, and "acknowledge the distance between God’s dream for our lives and the reality of who we are each day -- the wretched."
The sacrament of reconciliation is meant to be an encounter that "heals the heart and leaves us with inner peace. Not a human tribunal to approach with dread, but a divine embrace in which to find consolation," he said.
He asked his brother priests who hear confession, "please forgive everything, forgive always."
Commission focuses on ensuring synod will be prayerful experience
Posted on 03/17/2023 08:30 AM (USCCB News Releases)
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- At the end of their first meeting, three members of the preparatory commission for the assembly of the Synod of Bishops said they know some Catholics have very high expectations for the process while others have intense anxiety.
The seven-member commission met at the Vatican March 13-16 and had an audience with Pope Francis on the last day of their gathering.
Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas, who has been coordinating the synod process for the bishops of the United States, was one of the members whose appointment was announced by the Vatican March 15.
He told Catholic News Service the meeting with the pope was "very encouraging" because "he speaks very beautifully about the church and about how close to his heart is the issue of participation and building up communion."
Pope Francis, he said, knows some people have exaggerated expectations for the synod while others have exaggerated anxiety because it is not completely clear where the process is leading, although the pope has spoken frequently about strengthening a "synodal church," one in which all the baptized members listen to one another and share responsibility for the church's life and mission.
"You know," Bishop Flores said, "sometimes the human condition is something of a messy affair -- that's my phrase, not his -- and if God was waiting for us to get our act completely together to help us get to a better place, he'd be waiting a long time."
In the local, national and continental phases of the synod process, he said, people made a "great investment of spiritual and personal energy and of time," reading, praying and listening to one another.
One thing Bishop Flores said became very clear to him is that he and other people in his diocese need to be much more intentional and creative in "reaching out to people who, because of their own personal circumstances, don't feel free or confident" about joining in the life of their parishes or dioceses.
"The church sometimes can become a little too comfortable and only the comfortable feel comfortable there," he said.
Bishop Flores said the March meeting at the Vatican was basically an "orientation" meeting, but members have been told they will read and review all the reports from the continental stage of the synod reflection, assist in preparing the synod working document and help during the synod itself. The commission members were not told if they would be full voting members of the synod, but he said it is likely.
That would mean that Mercedarian Sister Shizue "Filo" Hirota from Tokyo, the only woman on the commission, would be a voting member of the synod. Pope Francis had said in an interview earlier in March, that whoever participates in a synod as a member "has the right to vote. Whether male or female. Everyone, everyone. That word everyone for me is key."
The March meeting, Sister Hirota told CNS, included a presentation on the "episcopal mission" and special responsibility of bishops in the synodal discernment process.
"But a bishop is, of course, part of the people of God. And a bishop has a responsibility to listen to his people," she said. "So, although numerically in this synod, most members will be bishops, there will be a good number of laypeople, women and non-bishops who will be like a memory or a reminder of the ecclesial journey that we have made."
The pope and synod organizers are looking for something "quite different," she said. "It really should be a prayerful, spiritual reflection" for all the assembly participants, so the conversation is not an intellectual debate, but an experience of the Holy Spirit moving through the community gathered in the synod hall.
"Of course, there are certain controversial issues, and we have to look at them," Sister Hirota said. "But the synod is not just about LGBTQ Catholics or women, it is about the church."
Archbishop Timothy Costelloe of Perth, president of the Australian bishops' conference, also is a member of the commission and brings with him the experience of the four-year process of the Australian church's Plenary Council, which concluded in July 2022.
While the council's preparation included widespread listening, Australian Catholics held more listening sessions as part of the synod process.
The bishops, Archbishop Costelloe told CNS, noticed "some consultation fatigue," but also were impressed with how the prayerful listening done before the Plenary Council became almost second nature during the synod listening sessions.
Having an atmosphere of "prayer and deep reflection" at the plenary, he said, "seemed to me to create a deep sense of respect for each other," and he hopes that will be repeated at the synod assembly in Rome in October.
Another result from the plenary the archbishop said he hoped the synod also will experience is an acceptance that some of the more controversial issues facing the church may not be resolved at the synod.
"There's a wisdom and maturity about saying, 'Well, at the moment it's clear that we're not able to resolve this issue. Are we therefore going to allow it to tear us apart? Or are we going to just accept that for the moment?'" the archbishop said. "We live in this rather messy and non-satisfactory situation, but we're not going to allow it to destroy us."
Synod vigil to be expression of 'ecumenism of solidarity,' pastor says
Posted on 03/16/2023 08:30 AM (USCCB News Releases)
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Planning an ecumenical prayer vigil for the Catholic Church's Synod of Bishops and making a commitment to participating in it is an expression of "an ecumenism of solidarity," said the Rev. Anne-Laure Danet, ecumenical officer for the French Protestant Federation.
"It is extraordinary," she said. "We can pray for one another, but the best way to do it is to pray with one another."
Rev. Danet spoke to Catholic News Service and Vatican News March 15 after she and some 60 Catholic and Protestant representatives met Pope Francis at the end of a three-day gathering to plan the ecumenical prayer vigil that will be held Sept. 30 in St. Peter's Square.
She was joined at the interview by Brother Alois, prior of the ecumenical Taizé Community, members of the Vatican's synod secretariat and staff from the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity.
Brother Alois said Pope Francis noted during his meeting how "sometimes the Holy Spirit creates disorder" by effusing a variety of gifts on believers, but the Spirit also always "creates harmony" out of that diversity.
The current preparation process for the Synod of Bishops is the first to emphasize "listening to all the baptized, not just baptized Catholics," said Xavière Missionary Sister Nathalie Becquart, undersecretary of the synod.
"The synod is not an event but a process," she said. "In the same way, while this vigil will be an event, more importantly it is part of a process" where Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans and Protestants have been working together for months, sharing their own experiences of synodality and praying together.
Brother Alois noted that for some of the Protestants participating in the March meeting, "this was their first visit to Rome and for some Catholics living in Rome, this was the first time they visited the Waldensians here. So, we are still just starting to create these bonds, which is why we have had three preparatory meetings -- two in Taizé (France) and one here" at the Vatican.
In addition to the ecumenical vigil in St. Peter's Square, young adult Christians aged 18-35 are being invited to Rome Sept. 30-Oct. 1 for a weekend of ecumenical prayer and workshops on the meaning of synodality and its implications for shared responsibility for the lives of the churches and the Christian mission to share the Gospel.
The young adult program will be coordinated by the Taizé Community; the event has its own website: together2023.net.
"For the synod, we need moments to take a breath, to pray, to express our profound unity in Christ," Brother Alois said. Without those common expressions of a common faith the discussions and debates that take place in the synod hall risk becoming divisive rather than expressions of a diversity of gifts given to the church by the Holy Spirit.
Sister Becquart said the prayer vigil also "will shine a light on a key aspect of the synod -- that it is a spiritual process."
To be an apostle is to serve, not move up church's hierarchy, pope says
Posted on 03/15/2023 08:30 AM (USCCB News Releases)
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Being an apostle does not mean climbing up the church's hierarchy to look down on others but humbling oneself in a spirit of service, Pope Francis said.
During his general audience in St. Peter's Square March 15, the pope explained that apostleship as understood by the Second Vatican Council produces an equality -- rooted in service -- among laypeople, consecrated religious, priests and bishops.
"Who has more dignity in the church? The bishop? The priest? No, we are all Christians at the service of others," he said. "We are all the same, and when one part (of the church) thinks it is more important than the others and turns its nose up (at them), they are mistaken."
Vatican II, the pope said, did not focus on the laity's relationship with the church's hierarchy as a "strategic" move to adapt to the times, but as "something more that transcends the events of that time and retains its value for us today."
The Second Vatican Council's Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity states that collaboration between the hierarchy and the laity is essential for the church to fully live out its mission.
Viewing Christian life as a chain of authority "where the person on top commands the rest because they were able to climb up (the ladder)" is "pure paganism," said the pope.
Reflecting on the passage from St. Luke's Gospel in which Jesus sends out 72 apostles ahead of him two-by-two, Pope Francis said that service is the vocation Jesus gives to all, including "to those that seem to be in more important positions."
"Listening, humbling yourself, being at the service of others: this is serving, this is being Christian, this is being an apostle," he said.
The pope encouraged Christians to pray for members of the church's hierarchy who appear conceited since "they have not understood the vocation of God."
Pope Francis also asked that all members of the church reflect on their relationships and consider how that impacts their capacity for evangelization.
"Are we aware that with our words we can harm people's dignity, thus ruining relationships?" he asked. "As we seek to dialogue with the world, do we also know how to dialogue among ourselves with believers? Is our speech transparent, sincere and positive, or is it opaque, ambiguous and negative?"
"Let us not be afraid to ask ourselves these questions," the pope said, because examining the responses can help lead Christians toward a more apostolic church.
In his greetings to the faithful, Pope Francis also asked that religious sites in Ukraine be respected in the midst of the war. He expressed his closeness to the Ukrainian Orthodox religious community at the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra monastery complex after the Ukrainian government said it would not renew a lease for the monks who belong to the Orthodox community related to the Russian Orthodox Church.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church declared its independence from Moscow May 27, 2022, yet members of its senior clergy have since been accused of openly collaborating with the Russian army in Ukraine.
Help those who are 'thirsty' for closeness, attention, Gospel, pope says
Posted on 03/14/2023 08:30 AM (USCCB News Releases)
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Jesus quenches humanity's thirst with love, Pope Francis said.
"And he does with us what he did with the Samaritan woman -- he comes to meet us in our daily life, he shares our thirst, he promises us living water that makes eternal life well up within us," the pope said before praying the Angelus with some 20,000 visitors gathered in St. Peter's Square March 12.
The pope reflected on the day's reading from the Gospel of John (4:5-42), in which Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman at the well at midday.
"This scene depicts Jesus, thirsty and tired," the pope said; the scene offers "an image of God's abasement. God lowers himself in Jesus Christ for our redemption. He comes to us."
"Each one of us can say: the Lord, the teacher, 'asks me for a drink. So, he is thirsty like me. He shares my thirst. You are truly near me, Lord! You are in touch with my poverty,'" the pope said, quoting from a 1944 reflection on the Gospel story by Father Primo Mazzolari.
But Jesus' thirst is not only physical, the pope said. It expresses that "he 'is thirsty' for our love."
"Thirsty for love, Jesus quenches our thirst with love" by encountering people in their daily life, sharing their thirst and promising living water, the pope said.
When Jesus asks for a drink, it also echoes "a cry -- silent at times -- that meets us every day and asks us to slake someone else's thirst, to take care of someone else's thirst," he said.
"How many say 'give me a drink' to us -- in our family, at work, in other places we find ourselves," he said. "They thirst for closeness, for attention, for a listening ear" and for the Word of God.
People "need to find an oasis in the church where they can drink," the pope said. "'Give me a drink' is a cry heard in our society, where the frenetic pace, the rush to consume, and especially indifference, that culture of indifference, generate aridity and interior emptiness."
"And let us not forget this, 'give me a drink' is the cry of many brothers and sisters who lack the water to live, while our common home continues to be polluted and defaced. Exhausted and parched, she too 'is thirsty,'" he said.
'Fraternity, tears, smiles': Pope shares hopes for the future
Posted on 03/13/2023 08:30 AM (USCCB News Releases)
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In interviews focused on the 10th anniversary of his election, Pope Francis insisted it is not his task to make an accounting of what he has or has not accomplished since March 13, 2013.
"The Lord will do the appraisal when he sees fit," the pope told the Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano.
However, he said he was certain the criteria for judgment would be from Matthew 25: feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick and visiting prisoners.
But he did have three words for what he hopes for the future: "Fraternity, tears, smiles."
As Pope Francis marked his anniversary celebrating Mass with cardinals in the chapel of his residence, Vatican News released a short "popecast" that included the pope's three-word response to a question about his dreams for the church, the world and humanity.
"We are all brothers and sisters," he explained, and more efforts must be made to live like it.
"And to learn not to be afraid to weep and to smile," he said. "When a person knows how to cry and how to smile, he or she has their feet on the ground and their gaze on the horizon of the future."
"If a person has forgotten how to cry, something is wrong," Pope Francis said. "And if that person has forgotten how to smile, it's even worse."
The 86-year-old pope also asked the Vatican News interviewer, "What's a podcast?"
In the handful of interviews Pope Francis granted in connection with his anniversary, several topics kept coming up: the war in Ukraine and wars around the world, women in the church, outreach to LGBTQ Catholics, handling criticism and even whether he thinks about death.
He does, he told the Argentinean website Perfil. He said he thinks about death often and "very peacefully" because "it is necessary to remember" that no one lives forever.
The Argentinean newspaper La Nacion asked Pope Francis about the importance of the Synod of Bishops on synodality, a process the pope launched in October 2021 and that will culminate with synodal assemblies in 2023 and 2024.
In the context of explaining how he has tried to revitalize the synods, which were reinstated by St. Paul VI after the Second Vatican Council, the pope told La Nacion that including more voices is an ongoing process.
During the 2019 Synod of Bishops for the Amazon, he said, "the question was asked: Why can't women vote? Are they second-class Christians?"
The Vatican's answer always had been that while the input of many was essential to a synod, it was the role of bishops to discern and vote. However, 10 priests -- and occasionally a religious brother -- traditionally were elected by the men's Union of Superiors General of religious orders as full voting members of the synod alongside bishops.
In February 2021, Pope Francis named Xavière Missionary Sister Nathalie Becquart one of the undersecretaries of the synod general secretariat, a post that would make her an automatic voting member of the assembly.
So, La Nacion asked the pope if only one woman would have a vote at the next synod assembly.
"Everyone who participates in the synod will vote. Those who are guests or observers will not vote," he said, but whoever participates in a synod as a member "has the right to vote. Whether male or female. Everyone, everyone. That word everyone for me is key."
On the question of LGBTQ Catholics, Pope Francis insisted to the Perfil interviewer that "everyone is a child of God and each one seeks and finds God by whatever path he or she can."
While the pope insisted matrimony can only be between one man and one woman, he also repeated his support for the legal rights guaranteed by civil unions for gay couples and others who share a life. And he said, as he told the Associated Press in January, homosexuality should not be criminalized.
As for Catholic teaching that homosexual acts are sinful, like any sexual activity outside of marriage, Pope Francis said he did not think those sins would send a person to hell.
"God only sets aside the proud, the rest of us sinners are all in line," he said, and God always is reaching out to save sinners who seek his help.
In the interviews with both La Nacion and Perfil, Pope Francis insisted there is a difference between a pastoral outreach to LGBTQ Catholics and accepting "gender ideology," which, he said, "is one of the most dangerous ideological colonizations."
"Why is it dangerous? Because it dilutes differences, and the richness of men and women and of all humanity is the tension of differences. It is to grow through the tension of differences," the pope said.
A gender theory that sees being male or female as a social construct or choice rather than a fact related to biological identity "is diluting the differences and making the world the same, all blunt, all equal," the pope said. "And that goes against the human vocation."
In each of the interviews, he spoke of the horror of war and his concern for the continued fighting in Ukraine.
Asked by Vatican News what he would want as a gift for his 10th anniversary, Pope Francis responded: "Peace. We need peace."
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Pope brings Latin American Catholic experience to the universal church
Posted on 03/11/2023 09:30 AM (USCCB News Releases)
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When Pope Francis greeted the thousands of faithful gathered in a rain-soaked St. Peter's Square March 13, 2013, he quipped that his brother cardinals looked almost to "the ends of the earth" to find a new bishop of Rome.
The end of the world, in this case, was Buenos Aires, Argentina, where Pope Francis was born to Italian immigrants in 1936 and served as archbishop from 1998 until he became pope in 2013. He is the first pope born outside of Europe since the year 741 and the first from Latin America, where an estimated 40% of the world's Catholic population lives.
That distinction has molded Pope Francis' approach to governing the church over the first 10 years of his pontificate, forging pastoral priorities and doctrinal decision-making rooted in his identity as a servant of the people in Buenos Aires' "villas miserias," or shantytowns, first during a military dictatorship and then during a profound financial crisis.
"Usually, European popes start thinking about theology from philosophy," Emilce Cuda, secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, told Catholic News Service. But in Latin America, she said, looking at humanity's relationship to God begins with common people.
Cuda said that's because Latin America was "the first continent to take seriously the Second Vatican Council" and with it the idea that God's will can be discovered by listening to all baptized members of the church.
The resulting openness to "communal discernment," as Cuda described it, characterized the early priestly life of Pope Francis, who was ordained a priest just four years after the council ended, and extended all the way into one of the most recent events of his pontificate: the opening of the current Synod of Bishops.
The synod seeks to gather input from all baptized members of the church to inform discussions among the world's bishops on building a listening church. The bishops will meet in Rome in two sessions, the first in October and then again one year later.
"It's not a different theology, it's not a different church, it's not a Latin American pope now at the top of the Catholic Church; it's the continuation of one tradition that began in the '60s in this council, " Cuda told CNS. "Pope Francis is going ahead with this challenge that started with the Second Vatican Council."
Mar Muñoz-Visoso, executive director of the U.S. bishops' Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church, told CNS that Pope Francis' Latin American pastoral style was translated into church teaching right from the start of his pontificate.
As an example, she cited his first apostolic exhortation, "Evangelii Gaudium," on proclaiming the Gospel in today's world, and likened it to the final document from the Latin American bishops' council meeting in Aparecida, Brazil, in 2007. Pope Francis led the committee that drafted the document, which insisted evangelization in Latin America must involve close engagement with the faithful and especially those on the margins of society.
The Aparecida document reflected what Muñoz-Visoso called the Latin American church's "strong sense of mission," as well as its "communitarian" nature.
"One could say 'Evangelii Gaudium' takes the main tenets of Aparecida and re-proposes them for the universal church," she said, including the "rich tradition of collegiality and common discernment" in the Latin American church.
That contribution to the universal church from what has historically been considered the margin of the theological world is what Dr. Hosffman Ospino, associate professor of Hispanic ministry and religious education at Boston College, identified as the greatest impact of Pope Francis' pontificate.
"We have traditionally looked at Latin America as mission territory, but we haven't looked to it for leadership. Francis changes all that," he told CNS. "He shows that Latin American Catholicism is vibrant with much energy that is both theological and pastoral."
For Latin American immigrants, especially in Europe and the United States, Ospino said, the figure of Pope Francis "reaffirmed" their experience of the church and put them back in contact with a vocabulary of "mission" and a fondness for popular devotion typical of the churches they grew up in.
Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas, told CNS that having a pope from Latin America has "opened up to the universal church the perspective of Latin America." As the leader of a diocese that borders Mexico, Bishop Flores said Pope Francis' pastoral style and care for migrants "very much resonates" with the reality of the Rio Grande Valley.
"Everyone brings their history with them when they serve in the priesthood, and certainly in the papacy," he said, "and his pastoral sense of trying not to forget anybody and trying to always keep in mind who might not be taken care of is something that is very much born out of that Latin American experience."
Pope from 'ends of the earth' brings new style to Rome
Posted on 03/10/2023 09:30 AM (USCCB News Releases)
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Right from the start, upon his election, Pope Francis presented a whole new style of being pontiff.
The way he spoke to the vast crowd after his election March 13, 2013, was familial and down-to-earth, beginning with, "Brothers and sisters, good evening," and ending with "We'll see each other soon!" and "Have a good night and sleep well!"
He repeatedly referred to himself as "bishop of Rome," which eventually ended up being his sole title in the "Annuario Pontificio," the Vatican yearbook, and would be another sign of his vision for renewal by promoting a more collegial and decentralized church.
And his invitation to the crowd on the day he was elected -- "Let's begin this journey" with "fraternity, love, trust" and prayer, and "may it be fruitful for evangelization" -- was a clear sign of a new style he saw for the entire church, that of synodality, with all brothers and sisters in the faith walking, praying and evangelizing together.
That first night also gave a glimpse into how Pope Francis would lead the universal church in the uncharted situation of having a retired pope in the wings. He led everyone in prayer "for our Bishop Emeritus Benedict XVI."
Many of his most unexpected choices on how he would live as pope were offered as a kind of, "Do as I do, not just as I say," especially to his brother bishops around the world. He chose to live in a Vatican guesthouse instead of the Apostolic Palace, he has used an annual penance celebration at the Vatican to publicly go to confession, he responds to many people who write to him with a letter, note or phone call, he meets regularly with victims of abuse, and he has gone in person to pay a bill, to pick up a new pair of glasses and to visit the elderly and the sick.
The election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, Argentina, marked the first time a Jesuit was made pope. He ushered in a number of styles characteristic of his order: the Ignatian practice of discernment for making decisions in the presence of God; seeking God's presence in all things; and a penchant for boiling his talks down to three bullet points.
He was the first pope to come from the Americas, born of immigrant Italian parents; this second-generation experience lent lived authenticity to his insistence migrants be respected, integrated and appreciated for their hard work and the rich diversity they bring to a host nation.
Most indicative of his unique style was choosing the name "Francis" to honor St. Francis of Assisi, known for his poverty, commitment to peace and love of creation. It was a signal of the style to come: simplicity, humility, working with the poor, desiring a church that is poor and for the poor, and further deepening his predecessor's love of creation integrated with a respect for all life.
Under his watch, the papal charities office has increased its outreach, particularly to the homeless who live near the Vatican and in other parts of the world, such as Ukraine, where he has sent his papal almoner to deliver aid directly and convey his prayers.
He also set aside the usual practice of washing the feet of 12 priests during a public celebration of the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord's Supper. Instead, he has celebrated smaller Masses -- closed to the public -- in prisons, refugee centers and rehabilitation centers, washing the feet of Catholics and non-Catholics, men and women, in order to show Christ's love for everyone, especially the most marginalized.
His idea of "outreach" has included reaching outside the Vatican bubble. He called in "outsiders" as the majority of the members of his International Council of Cardinals and of the Vatican safeguarding commission. He gets a new personal secretary every few years and gives dozens of interviews to big and small media outlets.
His desire to "speak from the heart" means many off-the-cuff comments, homespun anecdotes, sharp rebukes or critiques and an occasional statement that requires clarification or an apology.
A native-Spanish speaker who grew up with Italian-speaking relatives in Argentina, the pope merges a number of styles and, as a former high school teacher, often draws on literary themes and rhetorical devices.
His memorable metaphors and allegories have a religious message: priests need to be "shepherds living with the 'smell of sheep'"; confession is not "sitting down in a torture chamber"; and Catholics must resist "a throwaway culture" that readily disposes of people's lives and dignity.
Pope Francis also has offered a new approach to evangelization that he had mapped out in his brief address during the pre-conclave meetings of the cardinals. Cardinal Bergoglio's words struck a chord with his listeners and formed the basis of his blueprint as pope.
The outline of his talk said that when the church is self-referential with a kind of theological narcissism, it gets sick and is unable to carry out its mission to go out and evangelize; in effect, such a church keeps Jesus within and does not let him out.
Jesus is knocking so that "we will let him come out," the then-Cardinal Bergoglio had said, and the next pope needs to help the church go out to the "peripheries" and become "the fruitful mother who gains life from the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing."
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You can view a timeline of significant events in Pope Francis' papacy here.
In South Sudan, pope's message must become action, says nuncio
Posted on 03/9/2023 09:30 AM (USCCB News Releases)
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Just over one month after Pope Francis' ecumenical pilgrimage to South Sudan, the Vatican ambassador to the nation said the Catholic Church must "step up its game" to help the people build peace.
Archbishop Bert van Megen, apostolic nuncio to Kenya and South Sudan, spoke with Catholic News Service after he met privately with Pope Francis March 6 at the Vatican.
The nuncio said the church's mission in South Sudan is now to "keep his message of peace alive and continue the momentum" in fully implementing a 2018 peace agreement meant to end the country's civil war; the agreement involves drafting a permanent constitution for the nation, which achieved independence in 2011, and organizing its first-ever national elections.
"This visit of the pope recharged this whole process and gave it a direction; the question is now how to keep going, how to get people involved and how to get the political leaders really on board," the archbishop said.
Civil war between rival groups broke out in South Sudan in 2013, just two years after it gained independence. Some 400,000 people were killed in open conflict before the 2018 peace agreement, yet instances of violence have continued, and the peace agreement has been violated numerous times including as recently as March 3.
The archbishop said the pope's "straightforward and tough" message of reconciliation between formerly warring groups in South Sudan was "understood loud and clear" by government officials and created a "new awareness of the need for peace" among the country's population.
"One of the intentions of the visit was to shake up the situation and shake people awake because in many ways the peace negotiation process had basically come to a standstill with very little progress, and in many ways, people had surrendered to thinking 'this is the way it is,'" said the archbishop.
"The whole concept of peace and justice, many people never lived that, they don't have a clear idea of what that is," he added.
While celebrating Mass in the country's capital, Juba, Feb. 5 Pope Francis asked some 100,000 South Sudanese and the country's government officials to "lay down the weapons of hatred and revenge in order to take up those of prayer and charity."
Although Archbishop van Megen said the pope's message was well-received, he pointed to the challenge of translating those words into action. In particular, he underscored the need to strengthen South Sudan's government institutions and establish a process for a peaceful transition of power once the country's president, Salva Kiir, leaves office. Otherwise, he said, the country risks slipping back into civil war.
"The role of the church is to talk to the politicians and say, 'Listen, take (up) your responsibility' and try to come up with some kind of indications on what to do when you are not here anymore so that we avoid the unnecessary shedding of blood," he said, "because otherwise it will be a massacre."
Kiir and about 52% of the people of South Sudan are Catholic, according to Vatican statistics. That status underscores the "prophetic role of church leaders," highlighted by Pope Francis during his visit, to act as an intermediary between the people and the government, Archbishop van Megen said.
With bishops, priests and religious in Juba Feb. 4, the pope said that to proclaim the Gospel means to "to raise our voices against the injustice and the abuses of power that oppress and use violence to suit their own ends amid the cloud of conflicts."
The archbishop explained that in South Sudan "the Holy Father is a spiritual leader whom many people identify with as Catholics."
"Yes, he is a foreigner, yes he is a white man, and he doesn't understand the language, but his message is clear" and "understood very well by the people," he said. "The basic desire for truth and justice is present in every human being and the Holy Father was able to speak to that."
Still, the nuncio stressed that the country's future depends on that message reaching its political leaders who were scattered throughout the crowds at the pope's events.
"It's nice to say you're moved, but you need to move. You need to do something," he said, "otherwise these are cheap tears."
Women's way: Pope opens path for more women at Vatican, in church
Posted on 03/8/2023 09:30 AM (USCCB News Releases)
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- At the end of his general audience in St. Peter's Square March 8, International Women's Day, Pope Francis led a round of applause for women.
He thanked the world's women "for their commitment to building a more humane society" through their ability to see and understand the world "with a creative gaze and tender heart."
"It is right for them to be able to express these skills in every sphere, not just within the family," he wrote in the preface to a book, "More Women's Leadership for a Better World: Caring as the Engine for Our Common Home."
In the preface, published by Vatican News on Women's Day, the pope wrote that "the church can also benefit from the valorization of women" by allowing them to do more than just perform a particular function or job and actually transform the culture to be more caring.
In his 10 years as pontiff, Pope Francis has sought to include more women in the work and governance of Vatican commissions and Roman Curia offices.
According to the latest statistics, there has been a significant increase in the number and percentage of female employees the past decade, and the number of women in Vatican leadership positions has also grown.
Today there are 1,165 women working at the Vatican compared to 846 in 2013, making up 23.4% of the total workforce, according to Vatican News March 8. When it comes to roles in the Roman Curia, more than one in four employees is now a woman.
Within the Curia, five women hold the rank of undersecretary, and one has the rank of secretary: Salesian Sister Alessandra Smerilli, whom the pope appointed to the No. 2 position at the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development in 2021. It is the highest post ever held by a woman at the Holy See.
The pope has said he intends to appoint the first female prefect now that it is possible for laypeople, and, therefore, women, to lead dicasteries, according to "Praedicate Evangelium," the pope's constitution reforming the Curia.
Pope Francis has also, for the first time, appointed women as full members of Vatican dicasteries, when previously that role was reserved to cardinals and some bishops. Members play a key role and vote along with prefects and secretaries at plenary assemblies.
So, while the pope has been bringing more women to "a place at the table" in Rome, he also has opened up new ways for women's voices to be heard.
His Synod of Bishops on synodality has inspired some groups to create surveys specifically for women and compile the findings to send to the synod. The synodal process is meant to be an ongoing exercise for the entire church to learn to come together, to listen more intently and discern what the Holy Spirit is saying.
The World Women's Observatory's of the World Union of Catholic Women's Organizations (WUCWO) created a survey, which is open until March 15, for women who held leadership positions during any phase of the synodal process to reflect on concerns regarding the role of women in the church.
Also, researchers from Australia's University of Newcastle produced the International Survey of Catholic Women for the Catholic Women Speak network as a way to contribute their voices to the synod. It received more than 17,000 responses from 104 countries and those findings with recommendations were sent to the synod in September. The complete report was presented at the Vatican March 8 by Tracy McEwan, a theologian and sociologist of religion affiliated with the University of Newcastle and a member of the research team.
The presentation, sponsored by Chiara Porro, Australia's ambassador to the Holy See, also included María Lía Zervino, a sociologist and president of WUCWO, who gave the preliminary findings of their survey of more than 400 women who played a leadership role during the synodal process.
Zervino said 26% of respondents said they experienced no obstacles during the synodal process, while 43% of respondents said their "main obstacle" was an ordained minister and 18% said other members of the community were obstacles. Smaller percentages felt a lack of experience or difficulty speaking before a formal audience of church hierarchy was their main obstacle.
Some 69% of respondents felt "effectively involved in decision making" during the synodal process while 20% said they did not. Asked if their opinion had been listened to: 21% said "always," 41% said "usually yes," 12% said "several times," while 23% responded "rarely" or "no."
Both surveys had overlapping findings, one of the most important being that women's views are not a "monolith" and it is the diversity of their experiences, challenges and hopes that can enrich everyone.
Some common threads when it came to findings and recommendations in both surveys were: the women surveyed were enthusiastic and deeply identified with their faith; they desired more inclusion, especially of those who have been marginalized; there is a need for greater formation for everyone, including male members and leaders of the church. Both surveys found the desire for ordained ministry for women was more predominant in North America and some European countries.
The women they surveyed were "deeply concerned" about transparency and accountability in church leadership and governance, McEwan said, and concerned about abuse, racism and sexism in church environments.
McEwan said she handed Pope Francis their report at the end of his general audience, where he met them as well as some of the 29 resident women ambassadors to the Holy See.
Zervino, who is also one of the three women members the pope appointed to the Dicastery for Bishops, said she hopes all the "words" contained in these findings have an impact.
The pope has said that "the church cannot and should not remain just with words," she said, adding that she believed the time for concrete action has come.
"I am convinced this synodal process will have many concrete results that will change a bit the way things work in the church, perhaps in the structure, perhaps in daily life," in reaching out to others and other faiths -- all areas where women are, in fact, already active, she said.
The pope has opened a "fantastic" new road, she said, so "let's go" and forge ahead because "we can do concrete things because we women are concrete."