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Jul 9 15 10:49 AM
Pope Francis talks often of a church for the poor and putting peripheral places at the centre. Fittingly, the first Pope from South America arrived on Sunday for a tour of three of its poorer and more peripheral places: Paraguay, Bolivia and Ecuador.He stepped off the papal plane in Quito as one of the region’s more popular public figures—no surprise in a heavily Catholic continent. His opening remarks touched on the environment, an issue, along with poverty, the Pope is pushing in Latin American and beyond. At an open air mass, hundreds of thousands of followers gathered to hear his homily, which focused on family issues and alluded to controversial issues within the church like divorce and homosexuality.But his popularity is surpassing the spiritual realm in Latin America. He is also fast becoming its most prominent political figure, with a straight-talking style and austere sensibilities that play well in an area now consumed with leadership crises, corruption scandals, and a sinking sense that the economic boom of the last decade has gone bust.His influence has risen as other once-towering political figures fade from the picture, says José María Poirier, publisher of the Catholic magazine Criterio in Buenos Aires. Ex-Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez died in 2013. Ex-Cuban dictator Fidel Castro is closing in on 90 and mostly stays out of sight. Former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, whose administrations were widely lauded, hasn’t had much regional sway since leaving office in 2011.Francis, by comparison, helped to end the U.S.-Cuba estrangement this year, has condemned regional ills—including drug cartels, violence and poverty—and issued an encyclical on the environment. The encyclical angered American conservatives—a group, Poirier says, the Pope doesn’t care about. But it exposed Francis’s Latin American sensibilities—combining religious and social affairs, showing a preoccupation with poverty, and expressing anti-colonial attitudes. “You have this spiritual leader from Latin America, now raising his voice in favour of the least well off. This plays well, and I’m sure the Pope is aware of it,” says Juan Carlos Hidalgo, a Costa Rican native and policy analyst at the Cato Institute in Washington.Related: The rift between Pope Francis and his American bishopsMeanwhile, recent scandals are also fuelling a turn to the Pope for political guidance. In Guatemala, the vice-president resigned after allegations of graft. In Honduras, protesters have demanded President Juan Orlando Hernández’s resignation over reports that embezzled money ended up being used in his campaign. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s approval plunged after his inept handling of the kidnapping and killing of 43 students last fall. Brazil is reeling from revelations of corruption in the state oil company Petrobras, along with accusations that members of the governing party accepted bribes. After delivering mass in Quito, Francis met with the president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, who, just three days earlier, faced mass street protests over plans to dramatically boost taxes on capital gains. Even with Francis in town, people screamed, “Correa out!” as his motorcade passed through streets lined with papal well-wishers.The prosperity of the last decade—fuelled by high commodity prices—moved tens of millions into the middle class. Such mobility generated expectations of better public services and something better than the old status quo. “There’s a sense that the [politically] well-connected continue to do well, even when middle-class living standards are stagnating, or worse,” says Eric Farnsworth, vice-president at the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. “This may be one reason why the Pope’s comments on economics have struck such a positive chord across Latin America. He speaks with clarity and moral authority to a region hungry for both.”In his first trip to Latin America as Pope, to World Youth Day 2013 in Brazil, he condemned drug cartels as “merchants of death” and opposed drug legalization. (His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, visited Mexico the year before and stayed silent on the issue.) A leaked letter on violence to a friend in Argentina warned of the “Mexicanization” of the country, drawing howls of outrage from the Mexican government.Francis has already voiced support for the peace process in Colombia and promised to visit. Venezuelans have expressed hopes for intervention, as political prisoners languish and shortages of basic products persist. (President Nicolás Maduro cancelled a June meeting with the Pope at the last minute, citing illness.) Some analysts see Francis assuming the old role once occupied by Venezuela’s Chávez, the region’s chief critic. “One thing the Pope is doing that hasn’t been done in a long time is have a sustained criticism of the status quo,” says Greg Weeks, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. “He’s criticizing both [the left and the right], because the status quo, in some countries, is the left.”Francis has never been fond of staying silent. “He has a nose for politics,” says Poirier, who conversed regularly with the Pope (born Jorge Mario Bergoglio) before his election in 2013. “He likes to wield power and knows how to do it.” Francis rose through the ranks of the Jesuits to become auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires in 1992 and archbishop in 1998. He clashed with the Kirchners—president Néstor Kirchner and his wife, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who succeeded him—criticizing their populist policies and alleged corruption. “Not only is he austere, but he has the credentials to denounce corruption,” says Sergio Berensztein, a political analyst in Buenos Aires.More recently, some observers see Francis as having played a stabilizing role in Argentina, as the country again confronted default and a softening economy.Whether the Pope’s leap into regional leadership can help the Church is another matter. A 2014 Pew Research Center survey found just 69 per cent of adults in Latin America identify as Catholic, down from more than 90 per cent four decades earlier, with many switching to evangelical congregations that teach a prosperity gospel—namely: God wants you to be rich. “His No. 1 job is evangelism,” says Andrew Chesnut, a religious studies professor at Virginia Commonwealth University and a consultant on the Pew Survey. “The main reason he is Pope is the hemorrhaging of Catholics in his region since the 1970s. So what, specifically, is the Church doing to remedy that situation?”
Jul 9 15 11:07 AM
Jul 9 15 2:44 PM
It was always in the stars that this week’s encounter between Pope Francis and Bolivia’s Evo Morales, more or less the successor to Hugo Chavez as Latin America’s most notorious anti-Western populist, would be interesting. Their get-together Wednesday in La Paz, the Bolivian capital, certainly delivered.Thursday morning I was awakened by an urgent phone call from a Chilean journalist seeking reaction to perceptions that the Bolivian government won a diplomatic and PR breakthrough because the pontiff called for dialogue on a border dispute between the two nations.Picking up on some Catholic grumbling, he also wanted to know why the pontiff allowed Morales to present him with an image of the crucified Christ featuring the Communist hammer and sickle. Morales also gave the pope a book detailing Bolivian outrage over Chile’s closure of its access to the sea after a 19th century war.Two observations are in order.First, it’s hard to blame either of these episodes on the pope or the Vatican in terms of potentially damaging spin.In terms of the border dispute, Francis didn’t take sides. Instead, he called for dialogue “in order to avoid conflicts between sister peoples … Instead of raising walls, we need to be building bridges.”It’s hard to imagine a comment less partisan than that. Granted, Bolivia may claim a win because Chile’s long-standing position is that there’s nothing to talk about, but one can’t expect a pope to favor anything other than dialogue facing a conflict situation.In terms of the gifts, the Vatican cannot control what another head of state gives the pope.Had the Bolivians done the courtesy of consulting Vatican officials beforehand about what the pope might like, it’s difficult to imagine a Communist Christ would have been high on the wish list.(In fairness, it should be noted that the cross was actually a replica of one that belonged to the Rev. Luis Espinal, a Spanish missionary killed in Bolivia by paramilitary forces in 1980. Francis stopped to pray at the spot where Espinal’s body was found on the way in from the airport.)More fundamentally, this is not the Vatican’s first rodeo in terms of regimes of various sorts attempting to exploit a papal visit.In 1987, Pope John Paul II visited Chile, then under military rule led by strongman Augusto Pinochet, posing for a photo with Pinochet on the balcony of Santiago’s Moneda Palace. Some saw that image as a sort of papal benediction for the Pinochet regime.Within a year, however, Pinochet permitted – and lost – a popular referendum on his rule, and Chile was on the path to democracy.Something similar happened in 1982 when John Paul II visited Argentina, also under military rule at the time. That time too, the regime claimed a sort of legitimacy from the pope’s presence, and yet within a year it was gone.In 1988, John Paul II visited Paraguay under strongman Alfredo Stroessner, and the same dynamic played out. The regime claimed victory, and within a year Stroessner was out of office.Reviewing that history, Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston once joked that Cuba’s Fidel Castro was the only Latin American dictator to survive a papal visit during the John Paul years.In truth, the willingness to suffer some public embarrassment through clumsy efforts at short-lived propaganda coups is the price popes to have to pay in order to press regimes to reform behind the scenes.It’s likely no accident that John Paul’s presence prompted authoritarian governments to loosen up a bit, under threat of moral condemnation and heightened international scorn. In that sense, the pontiff helped set the wheels in motion towards Latin America’s democratic wave in the 1990s.It remains to be seen whether Francis will have the same effect upon Bolivia. For one thing, Morales is not a military dictator; he’s been democratically elected three times, and by all accounts enjoys strong popular support.Nonetheless, there are clear problem areas between Morales and Francis, including church/state tensions and environmental concerns. Francis may well have used his private face time with the Bolivian leader to press him on those fronts, and given the pope’s vast popularity and political capital, it’s not clear betting against him would be the smart move.In any event, I told my Chilean journalist friend to relax: You can’t connect the dots between a pope being willing to endure a few embarrassing moments with a controversial figure, and offering a blessing of that figure.In fact, if Morales knows his recent papal history, he might be feeling a little nervous right now.
Jul 11 15 3:08 AM
“Pope Francis is a Jesuit who lives like a Franciscan, he lives out the ideal of simplicity practiced by the Holy “Poverello” (Poor Little Man) of Assisi. He was also a big “killjoy” as far as the powerful - and especially the dishonest - were concerned.” Indeed, “on 13 March 2013, there were some who rejoiced at the news of Francis’ election not because they were glad to see their archbishop elected Pope but because it meant he was out of the way. I am referring to certain politicians, some of them very high up.” This is according to Don Michele Pessuto (“don Michelino” or “Fr. Miguel” to his friends and parishioners), a 77-year-old priest from the Archdiocese of Turin who has been a missionary in Argentina for 38 years, first in General Belgrano and then in Formosa. Don Pessuto (who is back in Italy for a few days) is a priest who lives his vocation in true Bergoglio style: he lives in a small room which has nothing but the essentials, if that; he built his own bed with a “chisel, a hammer and a hand plane”; he has “few” and simple clothes. First and foremost though, he has always actively supported the poor. The “crucified Christ”. Now that he is no longer a parish priest, but “Emeritus” (he is over 75), he lives in the “periphery”, where he has built a 20 x 25 metre church. He calls himself an “extremist” who has “exaggerated”. Once he was invited to a trade union demonstration to express the Church’s support for the initiative and he turned up with a wooden cross, saying, or rather booming out: “Oh, come and pray before this cross and base everything on Christ, or else burn it and cook the ribs.” Fr. Miguel was always speaking out against the wrongdoings of politicians and landowners and for this reason “I was threatened on a number of occasions, they told me to beware, but I am not scared”. He believes his “email account and telephone line have been bugged” by his “white collar” enemies, especially those who feel threatened by his denunciations of corruption. But in his battle against injustice he continues to fearlessly use one weapon the Church has at its disposal: the word. His homilies are famous for their concreteness and the fact that they are rooted in the daily lives of people: “My method of preaching is simple: I take reality as my cue as it asks questions and I respond with the Word of God; I conclude with a task I ask people to commit to and which I commit to first and foremost. Using the Virgin Mary as an example, he said: “Like her, I must strive not to be overcome by temptation and sin; I cannot be “immaculate” but I can imitate Her to some extent.” Maria Audrito Bosco, St. Bernard of Carmagnola lifelong friend who has him to dinner every time he is in the Piedmont region, emphasises how efficient his homilies are: they are “a real treasure, encouraging and reinvigorating”. Don Michelino responds to these compliments with great humility: “After each sermon I immediately throw away my notes as I feel embarrassed.” He is never short of criticisms against excess and consumerist lifestyles: some friends say that once, when he entered a house where there were children, he told the parents; “I didn’t know you owned a toy shop!”. It goes without saying that such a priest was on the same wavelength with Bergoglio when he was cardinal and Archbishop of Buenos Aires and still is now that he is Pope: “I felt ‘at ease’ with his pontificate right from the very first moment I heard him speak, particularly with his insistence on the ‘peripheries’: because as priests we must go to the outermost peripheries in all senses, both geographically and spiritually. The Church must never forget to protect the poor and the weak.” He shared a story: “In 2008, when I was president of the Argentinian Bishops’ Conference, Bergoglio stayed with us for a few days. I had a delicate question I wanted to ask him in relation to a religious Congregation, so I spoke to him; in the following days, whenever he saw me, he called out to me; ‘Miguel! Miguel!’ because he wanted me to continue what I had been saying. After that I didn’t see him again until last week when I concelebrated the morning mass in St. Martha’s House with him. I went to greet him introducing myself as Fr. Miguel de Formosa, to which he replied: ‘Oh yes!’ And he reminded me of what we had discussed all those years ago. He has a formidable memory.” Fr, Miguel thanked Francis for “what he said on his visit to Turin, especially his message to the young. And you know what his response was? ‘Oh, ma lassa perdi!’ which in the Piedmontese language means: ‘forget it!’, ‘don’t mention it!’.That is his famous humility right there.” “He is humble,” Don Pessuto said about the Pope, “simple, generous, cheerful, close to people, deeply committed to helping the weak and those in need”. And he said he is not surprised at the “courage the Pope is showing once again, by pronouncing those uncomfortable and firm words, denouncing the wrongdoings of powers but also of the Church, on his visit to Latin America, pointing out the path that needs to be taken for the good of man and of all mankind.” “This economy is unjust, it kills and it needs to change”; a just economy, “must create the conditions for everyone to be able to enjoy a childhood without want, to develop their talents when young, to work with full rights during their active years and to enjoy a dignified retirement as they grow older.” Don Michele is not surprised, because |”even as archbishop, Bergoglio was frank and upfront. Political authorities resented him because he lived and practiced Christianity as a perfect social teaching and because he continuously denounced administrative corruption.” He was thus famous and appreciated among the people but some authorities had it in for him: I am referring to many politicians, starting with the current president of Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. These figures were irritated by the calls for coherence, honesty and sobriety that came from an archbishop who practiced these things himself: he lived simply, he got around using public transport and the metro, he went to visit the villas miserias slums. He told things like they were, without fear. This is why many “white collar workers” rejoiced and cracked open the champagne when Bergoglio was elected Pope; not out of joy, but because it meant he was out of the way.”
Jul 11 15 5:44 AM
Argentina Sees Exodus as Pope Francis Visits Paraguay
Roughly one million people are expected to cross the border as the pontiff travels to Asunción, officials estimate
BUENOS AIRES—Like many Paraguayan immigrants living in Argentina, 62-year-old Elvira Giménez has packed her bags and is heading north to Paraguay to see Pope Francis this weekend. She will be part of what is expected to be the biggest border crossing for any event in the region’s history.
Between 800,000 and 1.2 million people could cross the border between Argentina and Paraguay to see the pontiff, according to immigration officials in both countries. Most will be Argentines seeking to get closer to Francis, a fellow countryman. Argentine President Cristina Kirchner will be there too.
About a fifth of the roughly one million Paraguayan immigrants estimated to be living in Argentina will also make the trip, officials say.
This pilgrimage, with both Argentines and Paraguayan residents of the country packing into cars and boarding buses at the Retiro station here, is expected to dwarf the exodus to the World Cup in Brazil last year, when 300,000 people crossed the border over a one-month period to support Argentina’s national team as it advanced to the final game.
“This is truly historic,” said Guillermo Mazars, deputy director of Argentina’s immigration service. “I don’t think we’ve ever had such a large number of people travel in such a short period of time.” (The thought of more than a million people on the move to cross the border between two countries in one weekend to see the Pope is mind-boggling. That is truly a river of humanity.)
The pope’s trip to Paraguay is the last in his week-long tour, which included Bolivia and Ecuador. To handle expected traffic and bottlenecks, Argentina has opened new border control offices and quintupled the number of immigration checkpoints on route to Clorinda, a border-crossing town in the lush but sometimes hot and dry province of Formosa.
Health officials in Paraguay are taking precautions to deal with unexpected infectious outbreaks amid concern that the influx of people could overwhelm the infrastructure of the poor, landlocked country.
Hotel rooms, churches and event centers in and around Asunción, Paraguay’s capital, are fully booked. Some travelers say they plan to camp out in sleeping bags and tents. Event planners are telling people to bring essential goods, such as mosquito repellent, for what forecasts say could be a stormy, wet weekend.
Ms. Giménez, who works in the hardware industry and has been living in Argentina for more than two decades, isn’t concerned about such logistical hurdles.
“What most interests me is to see the pope bless Paraguay. It’s a poor country and it needs his blessing,” Ms. Giménez said as she boarded a bus loaded with Paraguayans for a trip that would take her 800 miles to Asunción. There, just outside the capital on Saturday, Francis is expected to address a crowd that could total as many as two million people, says Rodolfo Serafini, the cultural attaché at Paraguay’s embassy in Argentina.
The pontiff has long had a special relationship with the Paraguayan people, says Father Lorenzo de Vedia, better known as “Padre Toto,” who heads the Virgin of Caacupé parish in Buenos Aires.
The parish is a bustling center of community life in the Villa 21, one of the poorest and most dangerous slums in Buenos Aires. It is home to an estimated 60,000 people, mostly Paraguayan immigrants and their descendants. Before moving to Rome, Francis spent a lot of time in the slum performing baptisms and confirmations. Residents say the worship of Paraguay’s national patroness, Our Lady of Caacupé, reinforced a sense of shared identity across the Villa 21.
Padre Toto and other priests are leading a group of around 400 faithful on buses to see the pope.
“The Villa 21 is like a province of Paraguay located in Argentina. The pope was very involved with the parish,” Padre Toto said. “People consider him a neighbor. So when we heard he was visiting Paraguay we felt like he was visiting our barrio too.”
Jul 12 15 12:24 AM
“Pope asks Church to guide change”
Interview with Fr. Antonio Spadaro, director of “La Civiltà Cattolica”, on Francis’ visit to Latin America
“The Pope asked the Church to be an agent of change, an enzyme that is able to create contact between differences. And he urged it to be close to the people.” This was how, Fr. Antonio Spadaro, director of Italian Jesuit periodical La Civiltà Cattolica, who is following each step of Francis’ trip to Latin America, summed up the message that emerges from Francis’ words and gestures in Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay.
What is Pope Francis asking of Latin American bishops do you think?
“First and foremost, he is asking them to be men of prayer, an expression of that faith which here is passed on like a mother’s milk and which has contributed to the identity of these people. I also think he is inviting them to be pastors who are close to the people, who heal people’s wounds, while avoiding a rigid approach that prevents one from seeing people for who they are, of an abstract focus on theory. Only a pastor who is not rigorist can prevent a bishop from turning into an official. The Pope speaks of “the danger of the stole”, that is taking on power and seeing the stole as a power that places the pastor in a position of superiority and distinction.” (Oh, sounds like certain Curial prelates who are definitely "officials" as opposed to "pastors".)
What do we learn from the way in which Francis met the popular movements?
“It is an example of discernment. The Pope has the ability to recognise the human and spiritual value of every human reality he comes into contact with. His relationship with the popular movements is proof of this: they represent a varied reality, you find everything in there. There are positive but also eccentric motions. Francis is able to “inspire” the best of everyone’s wishes and to then “exhale” them, giving them a shape that people can relate to. The Pope absorbed the tensions of the popular movements, he “digested” them in the context of the social doctrine of the Church and he “exhaled” them, giving them back as a breath. Francis teaches us that there are not right or wrong places, every person must be valued to the max.”
Is this the model of a Church that “goes forth”?
“The Pope asks for all pastoral actions to also be apostolic action. Meaning that every act of care for the faithful should have a missionary dimension aimed at those who are outside. Even when looking after one’s own flock, all one’s actions must have a missionary dimension at the same time. It is a mind-set, everything must be open to the mission. Even patron saints’ feasts and popular feasts, for example, should not be considered community feasts but an occasion to approach others.”
Is there a Jesuit dimension to this Latin American visit?
“Of course. I was especially struck by what Francis said to civil society in Quito, when he quoted St. Ignatius of Loyola, to say that love is expressed more through actions than through words. This means two things: the concreteness and importance of processes. An action is not just a fact but a type of energy, a developing process. This, in my opinion, is a clear criterion for understanding the Pope: he believes it is important to set processes in motion, that is to guide what is going on in the world, instead of dominating. And this shows that the Church needs to be present in the world. In St. Ignatius’ spiritual exercises, it is not the leader who guides and accompanies but those who listen to the voice of God and like God, they act in order to guide these processes.”
Francis spoke of the interdependence of Latin American countries.
“No Latin American state can stand alone. The Pope likes to use the image of the prism as an illustration and this is why he chose to visit the countries where these processes are more evident. These subjects are not only pertinent to Latin America but are universal criteria for action and are helpful in understanding what the European Union is experiencing.”
Jul 12 15 12:54 AM
Pope pays unplanned visit to hospice
Francis visited the San Rafael Institute founded by an Italian priest, Fr. Aldo Trento: the structure also houses an orphanage, a school, a hospice for the elderly and a home for teenage mums
The visit remained a possibility but was not part of the Pope’s official Latin American schedule. After lunch and a rest in the Nunciature and before he made his way over to the León Condou stadium for his meeting with civil society, Francis paid a visit to the San Rafel Institute, which was founded by 68-year-old Fr. Aldo Trento, from Belluno, Italy, a member of the Fraternity of St. Charles Borromeo and of the Communion and Liberation movement. The complex houses a hospice for the terminally ill, an orphanage, a school for two hundred children, a hospice for the elderly and a home for teenage mums and girls who have fallen victim to violence.
Speaking about the terminally ill, the desperately disadvantaged and children with serious deformities, Fr. Aldo said: “there is nothing else to do but to give them a hug. Hugs are the only therapy”.
Francis entered the Institute after being welcomed at the entrance by the missionary. In the entrance hall, the Pope greeted some of the more seriously ill patients who were lying in their beds. He caressed their faces and embraced them. After ten or so minutes, the Pope greeted the mass of people that had gathered outside. He boarded the Popemobile and drove onto the León Condou stadium.
“‘Thank you, thank you for all that you do, please carry on,’ the Pope told us,” said a visibly moved Fr. Aldo speaking to local television channels straight after the Pope’s visit.
Jul 13 15 7:32 AM
Before arriving in the United States in September, Pope Francis said, he will study American criticisms of his critiques of the global economy and finance.“I have heard that some criticisms were made in the United States — I’ve heard that — but I have not read them and have not had time to study them well,” the pope told reporters traveling with him from Paraguay back to Rome July 12.“If I have not dialogued with the person who made the criticism,” he said, “I don’t have the right” to comment on what the person is saying.Pope Francis said his assertion in Bolivia July 9 that “this economy kills” is something he believes and has explained in his exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel” and more recently in his encyclical on the environment.In the Bolivia speech to grass-roots activists, many of whom work with desperately poor people, the pope described the predominant global economic system as having “the mentality of profit at any price with no concern for social exclusion or the destruction of nature.”Asked if he planned to make similar comments in the United States despite the negative reaction his comments have drawn from some U.S. pundits, politicians and economists, Pope Francis said that now that his trip to South America has concluded, he must begin “studying” for his September trip to Cuba and the United States; the preparation, he said, will include careful reading of criticisms of his remarks about economic life.Spending almost an hour answering questions from journalists who traveled with him July 5-12 to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay, Pope Francis also declared that he had not tried coca leaves — a traditional remedy — to deal with the high altitude in Bolivia, and he admitted that being asked to pose for selfies makes him feel “like a great-grandfather — it’s such a different culture.”The pope’s trip to Cuba and the United States Sept. 19-27 was mentioned frequently in questions during the onboard news conference. U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro publicly thanked Pope Francis and the Vatican last December for helping them reach an agreement to begin normalizing relations.Pope Francis insisted his role was not “mediation.” In January 2014, he said, he was asked if there was some way he could help. “To tell you the truth, I spent three months praying about it, thinking what can I do with these two after 50 years like this.” He decided to send a cardinal — whom he did not name — to speak to both leaders.“I didn’t hear any more,” he said.“Months went by” and then one day, out of the blue, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, told him representatives of the two countries would be having their second meeting at the Vatican the next day, he said.The new Cuba-U.S. relationship was the result of “the good will of both countries. It’s their merit. We did almost nothing,” the pope said.Asked why he talks so much about the rich and the poor and so rarely about middle-class people who work and pay taxes, Pope Francis thanked the journalist for pointing out his omission and said, “I do need to delve further into this magisterium.”However, he said he speaks about the poor so often “because they are at the heart of the Gospel. And, I always speak from the Gospel on poverty — it’s not that it’s sociological.”Pope Francis was asked about his reaction to the crucifix on top of a hammer and sickle — the communist symbol — that Bolivian President Evo Morales gave him July 8. The crucifix was designed by Jesuit Father Luis Espinal, who was kidnapped, tortured and killed in Bolivia in 1980.The pope said the crucifix surprised him. “I hadn’t known that Father Espinal was a sculptor and a poet, too. I just learned that these past few days,” he said.Pope Francis said that he did know, however, that Father Espinal was among the Latin American theologians in the late 1970s who found Marxist political, social and economic analysis helpful for understanding their countries and their people’s struggles and that the Jesuit also used Marxist theories in his theology. It was four years after the Jesuit’s murder that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said plainly that Marxist theory had no place in a Catholic theology, the pope pointed out.Father Espinal, he said, “was a special man with a great deal of geniality.”The crucifix, the pope said, obviously fits into the category of “protest art,” which some people may find offensive, although he said he did not.“I’m talking it home with me,” Pope Francis said.In addition to the crucifix, Morales had given the pope two honors, one of which was making him part of the Order of Father Espinal, a designation that comes with a medal bearing a copy of the hammer-and-sickle crucifix.Pope Francis said he’s never accepted such honors; “it’s just not for me,” he said. But Morales had given them to the pope with “such goodwill” and such obvious pleasure at doing something he thought would please the pope that the pope said he could not refuse.“I prayed about this,” the pope told reporters. He said he did not want to offend Morales and he did not want the medals to end up in a Vatican museums storeroom. So he placed them at the feet of a statue of Mary and asked that they be transferred to the national shrine of Our Lady of Copacabana.Pope Francis also was asked about his request in Guayaquil, Ecuador, that people pray for the October Synod of Bishops on the family “so that Christ can take even what might seem to us impure, scandalous or threatening, and turn it — by making it part of his ‘hour’ — into a miracle.”The pope told reporters, “I wasn’t thinking of any point in particular,” but rather the whole range of problems afflicting families around the world and the need for God’s help for families.
Jul 13 15 9:32 AM
Francis on the poor: “I am the one who follows the Church because I preach its social doctrine”
During the press conference on the return flight from Paraguay, Francis said: “Just because the Church supports popular movements, does not mean it has an option for anarchy”. “I hope they will find a way to resolve the Greek problem and also a way to have oversight so that the same problem will not re-occur in other countries.”. Regarding the decorative honours depicting the crucifix carved into the hammer and anvil, the Pope said: “I understand that this piece is a form of protest art. I was not offended by it.” “Where does my energy come from? Maté tea helps me but I did not try coca leaves”
Regarding the poor, the Pope said: “I am the one who follows the Church because I simply preach its social doctrine”. “I hope they will find a way to resolve the Greek problem and also a way to have oversight so that the same problem will not re-occur in other countries.” Regarding the decorative honours depicting the crucifix carved into the hammer and anvil, the Pope said: I understand this work of art that was created by Fr. Espinal, which is known as protest art. I was not offended by it.” Regarding popular movements, he said: “Just because the Church supports popular movements, does not mean it has an option for anarchy”. About the poor he said: “I speak of the poor, because they’re at the heart of the Gospel. But I should speak about the middle classes more too.” Asked about where he gets his energy from, Francis said: “Maté tea helps me, but I did not try coca leaves.” In the press conference held on the return flight from Paraguay to Rome, Pope Francis conversed with journalists for an hour, answering some of their questions. The aspect of prayer came up a number of times. Before I decided what to do with the decorative honours which Bolivian President Evo Morales gave me, I “prayed it over. The minute I saw positive signs of willingness for dialogue between the United States and Cuba, “I simply prayed over this”.
Thank you for elevating the status of the shrine of our Lady of Caacupé that of a basilica, but the people of Paraguay ask why we do not have a cardinal.
Well, not having a cardinal is not a sin. Most countries in the world do not have a cardinal. The majority. The nationality of the cardinals, I do not remember them, how many there are, but they are a minority compared to the whole. It is true, Paraguay has never had a cardinal up until now, but I would not be able to give you a reason. Sometimes an evaluation is made, the files are studied one by one, you see the person, the charisma, especially, of the cardinal that will have to advise and assist the pope in the universal government of the church. The cardinal, if he belongs to a particular church, is incardinated to the Church of Rome, and needs to have a universal vision. This does not mean that there is no a bishop in Paraguay who has this. But you always have to elect up to a number, you can’t have more than a limit of 120 cardinal electors, so it will be for that. Bolivia has had two. Uruguay has had two. Some Central American countries have never had one either. But this is no sin and it depends on the circumstances and the people but it does not mean Paraguay’s bishops have no value. Some bishops made history in Paraguay. Does Paraguay deserve a cardinal? Looking at the Church of Paraguay I would say it does not only deserve one, but two. It is a lively church, a joyful Church, a fighting Church with a glorious history.”
Do you think Bolivians are right to yearn for sovereign access to the sea? If Chile and Bolivia asked you to mediate, would you accept?
“The issue of mediation is a very delicate one. And, it would be a last step. Argentina experienced this with Chile, and it was an extreme situation to stop a war. It was dealt with very well because the Holy See received this task in light of John Paul II’s interest and in light of the willingness of the two countries involved. But this is a last resort. There are other diplomatic figures that can help. Right now I have to be very respectful because Bolivia has made an appeal to an international court. So if I make a comment right now, as a head of state, it could be interpreted as me trying to meddle in the sovereignty of another state. I respect the decision of the Bolivian people to make this appeal. I was told that when Chilean president Lagos was in power, they had come close to reaching a solution, Cardinal Errazuriz told me.In the Cathedral of Bolivia, I was very delicate in touching on this issue, bearing in mind the appeal that has been made to the international court. Brothers and sisters must engage in dialogue, the Latin American peoples must engage in dialogue, in order to create the Great Homeland, dialogue is necessary. At that point I stopped for a moment and I said: “I am thinking of the sea,” and then I continued: What is needed “dialogue and more dialogue”. I respected the current situation. We need to wait for the international court to express itself. There is always a basis for justice when changes are made to territorial borders after a war. It is not unjust to express this desire. I remember back in 1961, my first year as a philosophy student, I was shown a documentary about Bolivia – “The ten stars” I think it was called –, which presented each of the country’s nine departments, with the sea as the tenth one and no accompanying comment. So dialogue, healthy negotiation, first.”
Alessandro Bianchi - ReutersEcuador was unsettled before your visit, and after you left the country the government’s opponents returned to the streets. It would seem that the intention is to use your presence in Ecuador for political means, especially after your statement: “the people of Ecuador stood up with dignity.” Do you sympathize in Correa’s political project? Do you believe that the recommendations you made in Ecuador will help build democracy?
“Of course I knew there were some political problems and strikes before the visit, I was aware of these. I do not know all the details of Ecuadorian politics. It would be imprudent of me to give an opinion. I was told there was a pause during my visit, for which I am thankful because it is the gesture of a people standing up, to respect the visit of a Pope. I value this. But if the strikes and protests have resumed, then political problems have evidently not gone away.Regarding the phrase you mentioned, I was referring to a broader consciousness of the people of Ecuador that has been gaining in courage. There was a war with Peru not so long ago, so there is a history of a war. Since the war, there has been a stronger consciousness of Ecuador’s ethnic diversity, and this gives dignity. Ecuador is therefore not a country that discards, so my phrase refers to the people as a whole and to its dignity. After the bordering war, [Ecuador] stood up and regained consciousness of its diversity and the wealth of its diversity, so it cannot be attributed to one concrete situation. The phrase was exploited by both sides.A phrase can be exploited. The hermeneutics of a text is very important in your line of work: A text can’t be interpreted only with a sentence, but through its hermeneutics. There are phrases that are the key to the hermeneutics, and others that are not, that are spoken “in the moment”. Or if we are talking about the past, we need to interpret an event from the past with the hermeneutics of the time. For instance the crusades: let us interpret the crusades in the context of the time. I don’t want to play the teacher, it is just to help you.”
In your speech to the popular movement, you spoke of new colonialism, the worshipping of money and the imposition of austerity that forces poor people to tighten their belts. In Europe, for example, Greece risks leaving the Euro. What is your opinion on this?
“First of all, why this intervention of mine in the conference of the popular movements? It was the second one. The first was held in the Vatican, in the old synod hall. It is something that Justice and Peace organises but I am close to this because it is a phenomenon that concerns the whole world, even the East, the Philippines, India and Thailand. These are movements that get together not just to protest but to move forward, to able to live, and they are movements that have strength. These people, and there are many, many of them, do not feel represented by the unions because they say that unions have become a corporation and they do not struggle - I am simplifying things a bit - but the idea that many people have is that unions don't fight for the rights of poorest. The Church cannot be indifferent. It has a social doctrine and engages in dialogue with these movements. You saw the enthusiasm that accompanied the feeling that the church is not far and helps us fight on. It is not that the Church has an option for anarchy. No, they are not anarchists. They work, even doing jobs connected with waste and left-overs.As far as Greece and the international system are concerned, I am very allergic to anything relating to the economy because my father was an accountant and when he did not manage to finish his work at the factory, he would bring his work home on Saturday and Sunday. (I imagine this was said with a smile and a twinkle in the Pope's eye.) I don't really understand how it all works. Certainly, it would be too simple to say that the fault is only on one side. The Greek governments that carried on this situation of international debt are partly responsible. With the new Greek government, a review process began that was a little bit more just... I hope they find a way to resolve the Greek problem and also a way to have oversight so that the same problem will not re-occur in other countries. I hope this will help us move forward because that path of debt is never-ending.About a year and a half ago, they told me something – I don’t know if it is true – about a project at the UN, whereby a country could declare itself bankrupt, which is not the same as default. I don't know what the outcome was, I am just using it to illustrate something I heard. If a company can declare bankruptcy why can’t a county do the same, with help? And then there is the issue of the new colonisations. It is all about values. The colonization of consumerism. The habit consumerism was a product of colonization. It introduces a habit that is not yours and causes an imbalance in an individual’s personality and their physical and mental health, just to give an example.”
One of the most powerful messages of your visit was this: you said that the current economic system often puts profit above all else. The United States perceive this as a criticism against their way of living: What do you have to say to this?
“What I said is nothing new, that phrase is not new. I said that “this economy kills” in the Evangelii Gaudium and the Laudato Sii encyclical. I heard that there were some criticisms from the United States. I have not had the time to study these well, every criticism must be received, examined, and then dialogue must be ensue. You ask me what I think. Since I have not had a discussion with those who have expressed criticisms, I do not have the right to state an opinion. Now I will visit the US but I need to start doing some studying. So far, I have only read the dossiers on these three beautiful Latin American countries. Now I have to study Cuba and the United States.”
Gregorio Borgia - APWhat did you feel when President Morales gave you the crucifix with the hammer and anvil? And where did it end up?
“I was curious, I didn't know Fr. Espinal was a sculptor and also a poet. I learned about it in these past few days, I saw it and for me it was a surprise. It can be categorised as a form protest art. In Buenos Aires, some years ago, there was an exhibition displaying the works of a good sculptor, a creative Argentine who is now dead. It was protest art, and I remember one piece was a crucified Christ on a falling bomber: a criticism against Christianity but because of its alliance with imperialism. I would qualify it as protest art, that in some cases can be offensive. In this particular case, Fr. Espinal was killed in 1980. This was a time when Liberation Theology had many different branches. One of these branches used the Marxist analysis of reality and Fr. Espinal shared these ideas. I knew this because that year I was rector of the theology faculty and we talked a lot about it.In the same year, the Society’s general, Fr. Arrupe, sent a letter to the Jesuits asking them to stop the Marxist analysis of reality and four years later, in 1984, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published the first document, which is critical, and the second, which opens up to more Christian viewpoints. Espinal was an enthusiast of this Marxist analysis and he produced this work. His poetry also belongs to that genre. It was his life, his way of thinking. He was a special man abounding in human genius, a man of good faith. Let us interpret it this way: I understand this piece and I did not find it offensive. I carry it with me. I left the decorative honours which President Morales gave me behind… I have never accepted such decorations but Morales acted in good faith, to please me, so I thought of it as coming from the people. I prayed it over and I thought I would leave them with Our Lady of Copacabana, so they go to the shrine. The wooden Christ I took with me.”
In your homily in Guayaquil, you asked people to pray that the next Synod will come up with solutions to the problems the family is facing and that God turns what scandalises us and seems to us impure into a miracle. Did you have any specific and concrete cases in mind when you spoke about this?
“Here, too, I will do some ‘hermeneutics’ on the text. I was referring to the miracle of the fine wine. I said that the jugs of water were full, but they were for purification. Every person who joined the celebration performed his purification and left his spiritual filth behind. It was a rite of purification before entering into a house or the temple. Now we have this in the holy water… Jesus makes the best wine out of dirty water, the worst water. The comment I wished to make was this: The family is facing a crisis, as we are all aware. This is evident in the Instrumentum Laboris (working document). I made reference to all of this. That the Lord would purify us from all that is emerging from these crises, that he makes us better people and that we move forward. The specific cases are all mentioned in the Instrumentum Laboris.”
Seeing how well the mediation went between Cuba and the US, would something similar be possible between other countries of the Latin American continent? I am thinking of Colombia and Venezuela.
The process that took place between Cuba and the United States was not a mediation, it did not have the character of a mediation. There was a desire expressed on both sides. And I must be honest, three months have gone by: All I did was pray over this. What else could one do given that the situation between them has been what it is for the past 50 years? Then. The Lord made me think of a cardinal, who went there and talked. Then I did not hear anything for months, until one day, the Secretary of State told me: “tomorrow we will have the second meeting with the two teams. ‘How is that?’ I asked. ‘Yes, yes, they are talking!’ And things just took their course. There was no mediation. It was the goodwill of the two countries, and the merit is theirs for doing this. We hardly did anything, just a few small things. Then, in mid-December came the announcement. There is really nothing else to say.Right now, I am concerned about the peace process in Colombia and hope it continues. We are always willing to help and there are so many ways of helping. It would be a terrible thing if it did not carry on. In Venezuela, the Bishops’ Conference is working for peace there but there is no mediation. In terms of the agreement between the US and Cuba… it was the Lord, it started by chance and things took their own course from there. In Colombia’s case, we must pray for this process not to stop, 50 years on and after so many people have lost their lives.”
Gregorio Borgia - APWhat is the secret to this energy you have, an energy everyone has noticed over the past week?
“What drugs are you on? That was the real question. Maté tea helps me but I didn’t try the coca leaves, let me make that clear!”During the course of this visit we have heard many powerful messages for the poor and also many strong and sometimes hard messages addressed to the rich and powerful. But we heard very few messages addressed to the middle class, working people who pay taxes, ordinary people. Why are such few messages addressed to the middle class? And what would the message to them be?
“Thanks a lot, that’s a good correction. You are right, my mistake. I will make a comment but not in order to justify myself. I need to think it over a bit. The world is polarised, the middle class is shrinking and there is a big gap between rich and poor. Why do I speak of the poor? Because they are at the heart of the Gospel. And, I always speak about them from the heart of Gospel, not from a sociological angle. Regarding the middle class, there are some words that I have said, but a little in passing. Ordinary people, the simple people, workers are of great value. I think you are telling me about something I need to do. Thank you for your help.”In recent days you have stressed the importance of integration and dialogue and have backed projects on living well… Will you touch on these themes on your visits to the UN and the White House?
“No, I only thought specifically about this trip to Latin America and the world as a whole, this is true. But the debt in countries throughout the world is terrible. All countries have debts. Some countries have bought other countries’ debt. But I did not consider this…”We have spoken about Cuba and the role of the Vatican. Now that Cuba is to play a role in the international community, does it need to make improvements in the fields of human rights and religious freedom? What will Cuba gain and what will it lose?
“Human rights are for all and they are not only respected in one or two countries. I would say that in many countries throughout the world human rights are not respected. What will Cuba lose or the US lose? Both will gain something and lose something as is always the case in negotiations. Both will gain peace, meetings, friendship, collaboration these they will gain...but what will they loose, I cannot imagine. But in negotiations you win and you lose some. But returning to human rights, and religious freedom. Just think of some countries, some European countries where you cannot make religious gestures, for different reasons. We see the same thing happening in other continents too. Religious freedom is not present in all parts of the world, there are many places where it is lacking.”You present yourself as the new world leader of alternative politics, because you focus a great deal on popular movements and less so on the business world. Do you think the Church will follow you in your attempt to support popular movement, which have a strong secular element?
“Popular movements have a significant presence in the world. What I gave to them is the social doctrine of the Church. Just as I do with the business world. If you look back at what I said to the popular movements, it comes from the Church’s social doctrine, applied to their situation. For example, in the Laudato Si’, there a passage on social debt and the common good. But all I do is apply the Church’s social doctrine. I am the one who follows the Church because I simply preach its social doctrine. This is not reaching out to an enemy, it is not a political factor, but a catechetical one."Aren’t you a bit concerned that your speeches may be exploited by governments, lobbies and movements?
“Every word and every sentence can be exploited, twisted. That phrase the journalist from Ecuador asked me about, some said was pro-government, others said it was against the government. Sometimes, news stories take phrases out of context. I am not afraid. All I say is pay attention to the context. And if I make a mistake, with some shame I ask forgiveness and move on.”What do you think about all the selfies people ask to take with you?
“I feel like a grandfather! It’s another culture. Today as I was leaving (Asunción), a policeman in his 40s asked me for a selfie! I told him ‘you’re a teenager!’ It’s another culture – I respect it.”What message did you wish to send out with this visit to the Latin American Church and what message does the Latin American Church send out to today’s world?
The Latin American Church is enormously rich. It is a young Church. And this is important. It is a young Church with a certain freshness and some informalities, it is not that formal. It also has a rich theology, which searches. I wished to give encouragement to this young Church and I believe that this Church can give us a great deal. I will tell you something that really struck me. In all three countries, all three, along the streets there were mums and dads with their children, showing their children. Never have I seen so many children! They are a people and they are a lesson to us, to Europe, where the decline in birth rates is a bit scary and there are few policies for helping large families. I think of France, which has a good policy for helping large families. It has reached a higher than two percent birth rate, but others are at zero percent or less. But this is not the case everywhere. In Albania, for example, I believe 45% of its population is under the age of 40. In Paraguay these figures rise to 72% or 75%.The wealth of this Church, this nation and this living Church, is that it is a Church of life, that is alive. And, this is important. We can learn from this. I am preoccupied by today’s throwaway culture. Children are discarded. The elderly are discarded and the lack of jobs, means young people are discarded too. These new nations of young people give us strength in this context. The Latin American Church is a young church with so many problems. It has problems and this is the message I find here: Do not be afraid of this youth of this freshness in the Church. It may be an undisciplined Church but with time it will become disciplined and it will give us so much strength and energy.”
Jul 14 15 12:38 PM
When the First Vatican Council formally declared the dogma of papal infallibility in 1870, it was very carefully circumscribed. According to the council’s formula, a papal edict is regarded as incapable of error only if:It pertains to faith and moralsIt does not contradict scripture or divine revelationIt’s intended to be held by the whole ChurchAs Benedict XVI put it in July 2005: “The pope is not an oracle; he is infallible [only] in very rare situations.” Benedict reinforced the point when he published his book “Jesus of Nazareth,” actually inviting people to disagree with him.At the popular level, however, those limits often haven’t registered. Many people assume Catholics are supposed to accept everything a pope says as Gospel truth — or, at least, that it’s a major embarrassment if a pope is caught in a mistake.In that context, it’s especially striking that Pope Francis appears determined to set the record straight by embracing what one might dub his own “dogma of fallibility.” The pontiff seems utterly unabashed about admitting mistakes, confessing ignorance, and acknowledging that he may have left himself open to misinterpretation.Whether such candor is charming or simply confusing, leaving one to wonder if the pope actually means what he says, perhaps is in the eye of the beholder. In any case, it’s become a defining feature of Francis’ style.A classic, almost emblematic case in point came during the pontiff’s airborne news conference on the way back to Rome on Sunday after a week-long trip to Latin America.During a 65-minute session with reporters, Francis embraced his own fallibility at least seven times:Asked about a border dispute between Bolivia and Chile, Francis said he wouldn’t comment because “I don’t want to say something wrong” — an indirect admission that he’s capable of doing precisely that.On a controversy in Ecuador over what he meant by the phrase “the people stood up,” Francis replied that “one sentence can be manipulated” and that “we must be very careful” — an acknowledgement, perhaps, that he hasn’t always shown such prudence.Asked about tensions between Greece and the Eurozone, Francis said he has a “great allergy” to economic matters and said of the corporate accounting his father practiced in Argentina, “I don’t understand it very well.” For a pontiff who’s made economic justice and global finance a centerpiece of his social rhetoric, it was a fairly breathtaking acknowledgment.Also on the situation in Greece, Francis said he heard a year ago about a United Nations plan to allow countries to declare bankruptcy, but added, “I don’t know if it’s true,” and, remarkably, asked reporters traveling with him to explain it if they happened to know what he was talking about. (Francis may have been referring to a UN debate in 2014 over an international bankruptcy law.)On blowback in the United States about his rhetoric on capitalism, Francis said he’s aware of it, but declined to react because “I don’t have the right to state an opinion isolated from dialogue.”When challenged about why he speaks so much about the poor, but relatively little about the middle class, Francis bluntly conceded, “It’s an error of mine not to think about this,” and “you’re telling me about something I need to do.”Asked whether he’s concerned that his statements can be exploited by governments and lobby groups, Francis said “every word” is at risk of being taken out of context, and added: “If I make a mistake, with a bit of shame I ask forgiveness and go forward.”To be clear, it’s hardly as if Francis was backing away from his stinging critique of what he termed in Bolivia a global economic system that “imposes the mentality of profit at any price” at the expense of the poor.On the contrary, he took another swipe during the news conference at what he termed a “new colonization … the colonization of consumerism,” which the pontiff said causes “disequilibrium in the personality … in the internal economy, in social justice, even in physical and mental health.”What he added, however, was a dose of personal humility in acknowledging a lack of technical expertise and a capacity for error when he speaks on such matters, both in the substance of his positions and in the way he formulates them.Francis has flashed that awareness several times before. In November 2013, for instance, he phoned an Italian traditionalist writer named Mario Palmaro, who was in the hospital at the time, and who had co-authored a critical piece about Francis. Palmaro said Francis told him he knew the essay was written “out of love for the pope,” and added “these are things I need to hear.”In a sense, this personal dogma of fallibility fits with Francis’ overall style. For example, he refers to himself as “bishop of Rome” rather than “Supreme Pontiff,” and rides around in a Kia or a Ford rather than the traditional limo. It’s another chapter, in other words, in an ongoing “de-mythologizing” of the papacy.One could view such self-criticism either as strengthening or undercutting the pope’s message, depending on how you look at it, and both reactions probably will make the rounds.In any event, theologians, Church historians, and ordinary Catholics alike have spent much of the last century and a half complaining that the outside world has an inflated concept of what papal infallibility actually means.If nothing else, under Pope Francis it seems that restoring a healthy sense of fallibility to the mix has a fighting chance.
Jul 14 15 4:08 PM
Jul 15 15 4:08 AM
The Pope of Mistake(s)
“It’s an error of mine,” said Pope Francis yesterday, en route from his visit to South America back to the Vatican. The Pope’s in-flight media conferences have become a genre in themselves, a vivid example of the “New Evangelization,” and journalists have learned to expect the casual bombshell. His comment “Who am I to judge?” referring to gay priests, was first uttered during one of these conversations.
But the pope’s recent admission of error was striking. He had been asked by a reporter why he didn’t speak more frequently about the middle class (as opposed to his speaking frequently about the excesses of the rich and the rights of the poor.)
His response was the opposite of what many expect from a public official, that is, defense, denial or backpedaling. Instead, he said in the interview, “Thank you so much. It’s a good correction, thanks. You are right. It’s an error of mine not to think about this. I will make some comment but not to justify myself. You’re right. I have to think a bit.”
It’s refreshing to hear a public official admit that he or she is wrong. And it’s not the first time a pope has done this, and certainly not the first time that Pope Francis has. In an interview with America magazine in 2013 shortly after his election, he ruefully recalled his time as Jesuit Provincial, or regional superior, of Argentina, and spoke of his errors at length. “My style of government as a Jesuit at the beginning had many faults…. My authoritarian and quick manner of making decisions led me to have serious problems.”
Moreover, it’s imperative for a Christian to admit that he or she is wrong. Why? For a number of reasons.
First, we need to apologize for sinful behaviors, which are—in one way of looking at it—errors. Needless to say, we should distinguish between “wrong” and “sinful.” Pope Francis was not “sinning” by not peppering his speeches and homilies with references to the middle class. But in many cases an admission of wrongdoing is an admission of sin, and Catholic theology emphasizes the need to confess sins honestly, seek forgiveness and do penance.
We need to admit wrongdoing on both an individual level and a corporate level. The latter was demonstrated in South America when the pope apologized for “grave sins” and crimes that the church committed against native peoples during the colonial period.
Second, admitting mistakes is a salutary reminder that we’re not perfect. Particularly for those in leadership roles, to whom others frequently defer, look to for guidance, as well as admire and even adore, the temptation to grandiosity may be high. (People call him “Your Holiness,” after all.)
Admitting you’re wrong is a healthy way to embrace humility and resist the tendency to grandiosity and even the temptation to Messiahism. As my spiritual director likes to say, “There is Good News and there is Better News. The Good News is: there is a Messiah. The Better News is: it’s not you.” Grandiosity and Messiahism are traps in the spiritual life. Because they say: first, you don’t need God and, second, you are God.
Third, admitting that you could do things better also makes practical sense. Listening to criticisms with an open mind, as the pope showed he does, changing course and rejiggering things is a good management strategy. It helps to prevent you (and your organization) from stultifying. The opposite is to deny that you need critique, and court ossification and irrelevance. (Hmmm ... it wasn't too long ago that no less than the celebrity secretary declared that all the talk about the need for curial reform was "exaggerated".)Where does the pope’s willingness to admit that he needs to change course come from? A good deal may flow from his Jesuit background. (You knew I was going to say that, I bet.)
St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, has occasionally been described as the “Patron Saint of Plan B.” If you know something about his life, you’ll see endless succession of admitting his errors, rethinking his plans and recalibrating his goals. And he did so largely without feeling that he had (a) failed or (b) failed to discern God’s will.
For example, as a young man growing up the Basque country of present-day Spain he had a great desire to be a knight. He sets out to do this, serving first as a page and then as a knight to a local viceroy. All that seemed clear until a battle in Pamplona in 1521, when a cannonball shattered his leg, and he was forced to recuperate at his family’s castle. Now what? Well: change. On to Plan B, even though he had no idea what Plan B would be.
In time, Plan B was revealed to him. As Ignatius recuperates, he reads books on the lives of the saints and the life of Christ, and feels a desire well up in him to emulate the saints. So he sets out on a path of conversion, which leads him to relinquish his dreams of being a knight, and, in time, leads him to a small cave in Manresa, where he undergoes a series of mystical experiences that convinces him of the rightness of his path.
In Manresa Ignatius decides that the best way to reach God is to live austerely, and he undergoes some severe mortifications in terms of his diet and his personal care. But eventually, he realizes that this is a mistake: he is damaging his health. So another change. Plan B was to care for his health. And this lesson would have corporate implications as well: he later placed stipulations in the Jesuit Constitutions that Jesuits care for their health.
Plan B taught him something. In fact, when St. Francis of Assisi was diagnosed with problems in his eyes, exacerbated by weeping brought on by his prayer, he was told by physicians to stop weeping. He didn’t: he felt that he'd rather go blind than give up these spiritual consolations. When Ignatius had the same problem, on the other hand, he was told by his physicians to stop crying at Mass and he did. Again, he was not afraid of change. Nor was he afraid of doing things differently than had been done before.
Later in his life, in perhaps the most striking example of a reversal of course, Ignatius resolves that he will become a pilgrim to the Holy Land. After a series of harrowing adventures, he reaches the Holy Land—only to be told by the Franciscan caretakers that it’s too dangerous for him to be there, and he needs to leave. He says he will only go if they order him under pain of sin. So they do. Plan B was to return home.
For the rest of his life, Ignatius is continually reassessing things and reverting to Plan B. After he gathers a group of men around him at the University of Paris, the group that become the core of the Society of Jesus, they decide to go to the Holy Land. (For Ignatius, again.) But that didn’t work out, again, so, again Plan B. They would present themselves to the pope, who would tell them where he wanted them to go. Finally, Ignatius wanted to simply to be just another member of the Society like all the rest, and go where needed. But Plan B: he was elected superior general, had to run the order, and spent the rest of his life in Rome.
So saying “I’m in error” and being open to a new way of proceeding is not surprising for Jesuits. Because we wouldn’t be here without any of those changes in St. Ignatius Loyola’s life. He’d probably be someone who worked in obscurity in the Holy Land, and probably didn’t found a religious order.
And we wouldn’t have the pope we do now.
Jul 15 15 4:27 AM
The pope's Sermon on the Mount
Not a good week for the pro-capitalist Catholic
This was not a good week for pro-capitalist and culture-warrior Catholics, especially those that hold ultramontanist views of the papacy.
Actually, the last 28 months have been less than jubilant for people in this part of the Church. Yes, that's exactly how long it has been since an Argentine Jesuit known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected Bishop of Rome and took the name Pope Francis.
But these last several days must have been extraordinarily difficult for such Catholics, particularly those in the United States (including a number of bishops and priests) because the message their Supreme Pontiff was preaching while visiting his “patria grande” or great homeland of Latin America could not have been very consoling.
If there were still any proponents of global capitalism that had lingering doubts about Pope Francis’ real thoughts about this ruling economic system, the pastoral visit to South America should have clarified their thinking.
And caused them horror.
“That economy kills,” the pope said July 9 in the most important speech of his three-nation visit.
“Let us say NO to an economy of exclusion and inequality, where money rules, rather than service,” the pope said in Bolivia during a 55-minute address to grassroots movements that included poor farmhands, laborers and squatters.
“The economy should not be a mechanism for accumulating goods, but rather the proper administration of our common home,” he said. And he again repeated, “That economy excludes. That economy destroys Mother Earth.”
Those weren't even the toughest lines.
A more just distribution of wealth is a “commandment,” the pope said, because it is “giving to the poor and to peoples what is theirs by right.”
No one who has read the 2013 apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel), or the recent encyclical, Laudato si’ (Praised Be You), will be surprised by this latest address — which, by the way, could easily be added to these first two documents as the anchors of this unfolding pontificate.
The three texts touch on similar themes and repeat certain convictions and ideas.
But Pope Francis tends to be repetitive, especially when it comes to putting forth a vision for human living based on a radical understanding of the Gospel message. And the reason for this repetitiveness is simple — people are still not listening.
“I would ask you to read the beatitudes, later on at home; they are in the fifth chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel,” the pope said in another speech during his pastoral visit to Latin America; this time on July 12 to a huge crowd of young people in Paraguay.
“Read (the beatitudes) and think about them; they will do you a lot of good,” he said.
The beatitudes are only the preface of the Gospel way of life and the type of Christian discipleship that Francis has been trying to present since the day he was elected. These poetic lines are just the introduction to the much lengthier Sermon on the Mount, which Matthew chronicles over three full chapters (five-seven) in his Gospel account.
And traces of its teachings can be detected in each of the 22 speeches, talks and addresses that the 78-year-old pope delivered during last week’s trip.
At a Mass in Ecuador at the very start of the visit he also noted that at the upcoming Synod on the Family, the Church will “deepen her spiritual discernment and consider concrete solutions and help to the many difficult and significant challenges facing families today.” He urged people to pray for the bishops attending the gathering “so that Christ can take even what might seem to us impure, scandalous or threatening, and turn it — by making it part of his ‘hour’ — into a miracle.”
The remarks caused deep distress among some conservative Catholics who want no changes to Church teaching or practice on thorny issues like readmitting divorce and remarried people to the sacraments or being more accepting of same-sex couples. One of the conservatives, a prominent Swiss-Italian journalist based in Rome, wrote: “Independent of the pope’s intentions, it’s difficult not to interpret this passage as an invitation to the synod fathers to ‘be open’ on controversial issues and as supporting the position of the ‘progressives.’”
But it was the “big speech” to the grassroots movements on July 9 that crystallized what has been, up to now, the hardest among the pope’s teachings for free-market-minded Catholics.
“I have heard that some criticisms were made in the United States — I’ve heard that — but I have not read them and have not had time to study them well,” he told reporters traveling with him on July 12 from Paraguay back to Rome. He said he did “not have the right” to comment on such criticisms until he had a “dialogue” with those who have made them.
Of course, Francis will be going to the United States in September and one of his most important appointments will be to address the U.S. Congress, where the majority of members are vowed supporters of the current capitalistic system. It will be a crucial test for a man who has made dialogue with all people, even those of widely contrasting views, one of the central planks and modes of operation in his pontificate.
If the pope softens his criticism of the global economic system even just a little, in order to avoid conflict with the U.S. lawmakers and those Catholics aligned with them, he is likely to see his sincerity seriously called into question.
But if he repeats yet again his now-familiar critique of this “economy that kills,” sine glossa, he risks further alienating a good number of affluent U.S. Catholics, many who provide the resources (especially money) that are necessary for “running” the Church and its programs.
It is something Pope Francis will have to ponder over the next couple of months.
Meanwhile, it's the last line of that long section of the Sermon on the Mount that perhaps best describes what happened these past days in the patria grande of Latin America.
“His teaching made a deep impression on the people because he taught them with authority, unlike their own scribes.”
Jul 16 15 6:15 AM
Reframing the question about Pope Francis’ trip to America
What if it’s not how Francis will play in the States, but how the States will play with Francis?
A break-the-mold pope, the first ever from his part of the world, is preparing for a keenly anticipated visit to the United States. He comes amid perceptions that he may not be fully sold on America, and America may not be fully sold on him.
He’s got astronomic approval ratings and is a media icon, but there are also unmistakable signals that he sees the United States as part of the problem as much as the solution. Many of the pope’s leading critics are Americans, inside and outside the Church, and his friends have warned him he may be in for a bumpy ride.
That could easily describe the run-up to Pope Francis’ Sept. 22-27 visit to Washington, New York, and Philadelphia, given the Latin American pontiff’s sharp anti-capitalist rhetoric and his clear preference for the peripheries of the world as opposed to its perceived centers.
Instead, however, it precisely captures the lay of the land ahead of St. John Paul II’s August 1993 trip to Denver for World Youth Day. Despite predictions of disaster, that 1993 outing exceeded expectations and had a lasting impact, giving the Polish pope and his Vatican team a more favorable impression of the United States.
“One can date a shift in Vatican attitudes from that moment,” said Cardinal James Francis Stafford, who was John Paul’s host in Denver in 1993, in an interview a decade ago.
Today, it’s fair to wonder if Francis’ outing will have a similar salutary effect. At stake is not simply his personal attitude, but the overall relationship between the US and Rome, which, for better or worse, has considerable geopolitical and cultural import.
Naturally, there are differences between then and now.
For one thing, by 1993 John Paul II had already visited the United States four times (though two were fueling stops in Alaska while on his way someplace else.) The vibe had been massively positive, in part because John Paul and the Americans saw themselves as allies in the struggle against Communism.
Yet ahead of the Denver trip, John Paul II had developed a warier perspective, closer to what Francis may be feeling today, mostly because it was his first US visit after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
After 1989, John Paul’s focus turned to what a post-Cold War world ought to look like, and on that front, it was less clear to him that America was a natural partner.
For one thing, John Paul was every bit as skeptical about reliance on the free market alone as Francis. Moreover, he was alarmed about what he saw as a spreading “culture of death,” at a time when leading American Catholic theologians were pushing the envelope on contraception, abortion, and gay rights, and the new Clinton administration was steering the US toward support for global population control.
Beyond that, Roman mandarins were leery of staging a World Youth Day in the American West, since the US is not a Catholic culture and has no real tradition of pilgrimage. They framed the Rocky Mountain region as an exotic blend of Bible-thumping Protestants and rugged individualists who would either be hostile to the pope, or, worse still, indifferent.
As it turns out, however, Denver was a runaway triumph.
The 500,000 youth from across the country who showed up to cheer the pope’s every move were wildly enthusiastic. The city rolled out the red carpet, and American media coverage was both extensive and overwhelmingly positive.
John Paul’s magic with crowds on that trip occasioned Bill Clinton’s famous tribute: “I sure as hell would hate to be running against him for mayor.”
American bishops said later that they were welcomed with greater fondness in Rome, and John Paul’s team was more inclined to see US Catholics as partners. Domestically, the trip put youth ministry on the map in America and helped inspire an entire generation of “John Paul II” priests and bishops.
Will Francis’ visit produce a similar “Era of Good Feelings”? While many factors will come into play, a key element may be which face of the United States the pope encounters.
If Francis sees the worst of America — our polarized politics, our sometimes savage media culture, our occasional myopia about the challenges facing the rest of the world — the experience could leave him cold.
On the other hand, if Francis sees us at our best — our deep religiosity despite decades of secularization, our generosity, our dynamism and creativity, and so on — then he may come away more positively inclined.
For American Catholics, there’s an obvious incentive to put their best foot forward. Not only do Catholics in any nation want the pope to like their Church, but a favorable climate in the Vatican makes it easier to move the ball on US Catholic priorities.
You don’t have to be Catholic, however, to grasp what’s on the line.
The United States is still the world’s most important “hard power,” and the Vatican, for all its ups and downs, remains the most important “soft power.” It’s the only major world religion with its own diplomatic corps, and the pope — any pope — enjoys a unique bully pulpit. Just ask former Soviet apparatchiks, for instance, what can happen when these two forces are in alignment.
It’s thus in everyone’s interest that these two players be on good speaking terms. Francis recently vowed to study American criticism of his anti-capitalism rhetoric, and it will be far easier to pursue that dialogue if he sees Americans as friends.
To put the point differently, most pre-trip coverage so far has focused on how Pope Francis will play in the States. Perhaps an equally important question, however, is how the States will play with Francis.
Jul 16 15 2:46 PM
The publication of the encyclical “Laudato Si’” revealed two small but significant ways in which the Argentine pope has sought to develop collegiality. First, he drew on input from at least 16 bishops’ conferences when writing the encyclical. Second, he sent a copy of the text to every diocesan bishop two days before its publication, accompanied by a personal handwritten note. He hoped they would rise to the occasion by participating in his universal magisterium.That handwritten note in Italian, accompanied by a translation in the relevant languages, was particularly significant since it contained an explicit reference to No. 22 of Vatican II’s “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,” which speaks about collegiality. The note read:JHS. The Vatican, 16 June 2015. Dear brother, In the bond of unity, charity and peace (LG 22) in which we live as bishops, I send you my letter “Laudato Si’ on Care of our Common Home,” accompanied by my blessing. United in the Lord, and please do not forget to pray for me.-FranciscusTo understand Pope Francis’ determination to foster and develop collegiality in the church, it is necessary to remember that he served as a diocesan bishop for 21 years (1992–2013) before his election to the See of Peter, first as an auxiliary bishop, then as coadjutor and finally archbishop of Buenos Aires.Several popes have been diocesan bishops, but Francis is the first pope ever to have served as president of a national bishops’ conference. He was elected to head the Argentine bishops’ conference for two terms (2006–12). He is also the first pope to have played a key role in a plenary assembly of a continental conference of bishops, the Conference of Latin American Bishops (CELAM). In that capacity he was elected at its plenary assembly in Aparecida, Brazil, in 2007—almost unanimously—to chair the all-important committee assigned to draft its final document. In addition to all this, he participated in several synods of bishops and was appointed to the key role of rapporteur (relator) at the September 2001 synod, replacing Cardinal Edward Egan of New York, who had to return home suddenly after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. His skillful performance at that global event caused many cardinals to view him as a potential successor to St. John Paul II.It should also be remembered that in these various roles, especially as president of the Argentine bishops’ conference, Bergoglio experienced first hand and on several occasions tensions and incomprehension between the center and the periphery. He came to understand that there could be a better way of doing things if collegiality and synodality were allowed to flourish.Since becoming pope, he has sought to make this happen in several ways, and in his programmatic document “The Joy of the Gospel” he identified the development of collegiality and synodality as one of the goals of his pontificate (No. 32). He has reaffirmed that aim on a number of occasions since then.In pursuit of that objective, he has established the Council of Cardinal Advisors, increased the number of cardinals and bishops on the boards of the different Vatican congregations and offices, pioneered a new way of conducting the synod of bishops and participated actively in the work of the synod’s council. Furthermore, he has sought to internationalize even more the College of Cardinals by appointing members from the peripheries. And he has decentralized the presentation of the pallium to new archbishops so as to involve the local church.Moving away from a monarchical style of papacy, he has made clear that national bishops’ conferences should be the ones to comment on major issues in their countries, and not the pope. This explains his silence when civil authorities in various countries, including the United States, approved same-sex marriage
Jul 16 15 3:22 PM
People make special preparations for welcoming a special guest, and watching what worked and did not work in Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay may help people preparing for Pope Francis’ visit to the United States in September.Some of the plans, however, will require common-sense adjustments, especially because the U.S. Secret Service is likely to frown on certain behavior, like tossing things to the pope — a phenomenon that occurs much more often with Pope Francis than with any previous pope. At the Vatican, the items tend to be soccer jerseys and scarves; in Ecuador, it was flower petals — lots of them.Watching the pope July 5-12 in South America it is clear:— Pope Francis loves a crowd. He walks into events with little expression on his face, then lights up when he starts greeting, blessing, kissing and hugging people. Persons with disabilities, the sick and squirming babies come first.— The pope does not mind being embraced, but he does not like people running at him. As a nun in Our Lady of Peace Cathedral in La Paz rushed toward Pope Francis July 8, the pope backed up and used both hands to gesture her to calm down and step back. In the end, she did get a blessing from him, though.— At Mass, Pope Francis tends to be less animated. His focus and the focus he wants from the congregation is on Jesus present in the Eucharist. At large public Masses on papal trips, he sticks to the text of his prepared homilies, although he may look up and repeat phrases for emphasis.— A meeting with priests, religious and seminarians is a fixture on papal trips within Italy and abroad; in Cuba and the United States, the meetings with take place during vespers services, Sept. 20 in Havana and Sept. 24 in New York. At vespers, like at Mass, Pope Francis tends to follow his prepared text. However, when the gathering takes place outside the context of formal liturgical prayer, he never follows the prepared text, even if he may hit the main points of the prepared text as he did in Bolivia July 9.— Pope Francis has said he needs a 40-minute rest after lunch and his official schedule always includes at least an hour of down time. However, like his “free” afternoons at the Vatican, the pope often fills the breaks with private meetings with friends, acquaintances or Jesuits. In fact, his trips abroad have always included private get-togethers with his Jesuit confreres, although in South America one of the meetings — in Guayaquil, Ecuador — was a luncheon formally included in the itinerary. But he also spent unscheduled time with Jesuits at Quito’s Catholic university the next day. In Paraguay, he made an unscheduled visit to 30 of his confreres in Asuncion and then went next door to their Cristo Rey School to meet with more than 300 students from Jesuit schools.— In South America, Pope Francis specifically asked that his meetings with the bishops be private, informal conversations — similar to the way he handles the regular “ad limina” visits of bishops to the Vatican to report on the state of their dioceses. For the “ad limina” visits, he hands them the text of a rather general look at their country and Catholic community, then begins a discussion. But when he makes a formal speech to a group of bishops, his words can seem critical. But, in fact, the tone tends to be one of addressing his “fellow bishops” and his words are more of a collective examination of conscience than a scolding.— Pope Francis’ speeches in general — whether to presidents, civic and business leaders, young people or even, for example, the prisoners in Bolivia — acknowledge what is going well and being done right, then seeks to build on that. It’s a combination of a pat on the back and a nudge forward. While Bolivia’s Palmasola prison is notorious for its difficult conditions and while the pope pleaded for judicial reform in the country, he also told the prisoners: “The way you live together depends to some extent on yourselves. Suffering and deprivation can make us selfish of heart and lead to confrontation.”— Since the days of the globetrotting St. John Paul II, the nunciature stakeout has been a staple of papal trips. In fact, anywhere a pope sleeps, people will gather — shouting and singing — in the hopes that the pope will make a special appearance. St. John Paul, retired Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have all obliged on occasion. Although in Quito, Ecuador, it seems that Pope Francis was inspired at least partially by the complaints of neighbors about the noise. The three nights Pope Francis stayed there, he came out to say good night. Increasingly his tone was that of a dad who had already told his children five times to go to bed.
Jul 17 15 7:12 AM
Francis: A ‘Creative’ and ‘Corrective’ Pope
Papal Master of Ceremonies, Msgr. Guillermo Karcher Reflects on the Pope’s Recent Visit to Latin America
“A return home, a trip with his ‘family’ that filled his heart with happiness,” is how Msgr. Guillermo Karcher, Papal Master of Ceremonies and among the Holy Father’s closest collaborators, spoke to ZENIT on the Pontiff’s intense trip to Latin America. Eight days of visits in the dioceses of Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay, going in a few hours from over 2,000 meters of altitude down to sea level.
“Diverse territories, diverse heights ... but the Pope held up very well. More than that, I know that many journalists did not feel very well; instead, the Holy Father gave example,” affirmed the Argentine Monsignor. He immediately added that the Pope “lived this apostolic journey with great trust in the Lord, certain that He accompanied him at every step.”
This enabled him to carry out a tour de force, without showing signs of yielding and of returning satisfied, because “he was able to express himself as he wished, in his language, with all its nuances, and he gave the messages designed to illuminate the diverse realities of this great South American family.” In fact, Msgr. Karcher confirmed, the Pope “returned with his heart full of joy. The first words he said to me were: ‘I truly bless the Lord.’”
And such was Francis’ satisfaction that he did not even want to take some rest, but began to work already on the morning of July 14. “Today also he continued to work. He hasn’t stopped for a second. I thought: perhaps the fall would come later, because the enthusiasm of the first day ... Instead, no. Among other things, he is already preparing his next trip to Cuba and the United States in September,” he said.
“So the Pope is not going on vacation?” -- we asked. “No, he is having a ‘half vacation a la Bergoglio,” affirmed the Monsignor. “The concept of vacation doesn’t exist for him. He had one once as a young Jesuit to Cordoba, then never again. For his standard, vacation is only to diminish his rhythm somewhat ...”
On the other hand, a year of fire awaits the Pontiff: the October Synod, the meetings with the Council of Cardinals for the Reform of the Curia, the opening of the Year of Mercy on December 8. All after his big trip from September 19-28, which will take him first to Cuba, then to Washington, New York and Philadelphia.
A trip that is longer and perhaps more arduous than that to South America, but to which he is bound, which according to Msgr. Karcher, is “a great embrace of the American Continent.” In Cuba, moreover, Francis “will find a reality similar” to that of Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay, and in the United States he will also meet with the Latino community. Therefore, he will have the occasion to reiterate his strong appeals in favor of the poor, the weak, and the socially marginalized categories.
However, he will also be able to “elaborate new concepts,” said the Papal Master of Ceremonies, beginning with “studying” the middle class, as he assured in that “humble and beautiful answer” given during the press conference on the plane. “If in Latin America his attention was dedicated to the poor, now the Pope will be able to enlighten people that work, that pay taxes, that have to support a family ...”
Beyond the expectations, “we allow the Holy Father his surprises,” Msgr. Karcher added. “We know how ‘creative’ he is in the evangelical sense. Wherever he goes, he seeks a message of reconciliation, of building the future ...”
And how do you, his collaborators, live this creativity? “I’m used to it, I know him ‘very’ well, as you say in Italy (he laughs) ...However, I think that it’s always good to see a person that seeks in every way to have a message understood, because we are in a society in which information rains on us, where we move as robots, without time to elaborate, to reflect ...”
Therefore, the Pope makes use of a “poetic art,” made of gestures, of phrases for effect, of ‘neologisms,’ to have a message penetrate our hearts too. What message? “Many,” affirms Monsignor Karcher. First of all the exhortation to the Church to be a “house of hospitality,” a concept confirmed many times in his discourses in Latin America. “For him the fact of not excluding anyone is taken for granted, but he realizes that sometimes some can close their heart. Therefore, his call is to evangelize the heart first, then the rest.”
Then he wants a “Church that follows the people,” as he stressed in his monumental address to the Popular Movements in Bolivia, especially the poor, which is almost an obsession in the Pope’s Magisterium. “He has it at heart because he knows that Jesus came to rescue the poor, the least,” stressed the Monsignor, but also because “the reality of the poor is one that Pope Francis knows well. He knows that of which he speaks. He ‘vibrates’ in front of these people, because he took them on his shoulders when, as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he faced the cruel reality of the crisis in Argentina in 2001, which made a world collapse, which put so many people on the street, without work, without goods ...”
The risk on which the Pope puts us on guard today is that, as in Argentina, “these people will end up in anonymity -- be discarded by society. His call to the Church and to the world is: Look, these people exist and have so much to offer because they are part of the fabric of society,” explained Monsignor Karcher.
An address that is not only valid for Latin America. Those who “accuse the Pope of being too ‘localized’ to the problems of his Continent, evidently have not opened their eyes,” he said. “The ‘First World’ is also full of poor, ‘discarded’ people. There is a great contrast between a part of society that considers itself advanced, developed in every technology and comfort, and people that suffer.” Hence this explains the Pope’s constant reference to certain concepts, as well as the often explicit denunciation of “the economy that kills,” the “ideological colonizations,” a “system that idolizes money.”
“I believe he is a ‘corrective’ Pope, in the sense that he is a Pope that wants to improve” things, affirmed one of his closest collaborators. “That there is an economy that kills, and an idolatrous and ideological system is a fact. We can’t deny it. And not only does the Pope make it evident, but he exhorts not to take everything for granted, not to regard what we have as perfect: it can be corrected, it can be improved. And it can be done with the awareness that the Beatitudes, the Gospel in general give, which indicate the correct way of living.
Pointed out also among the Pope’s appeals in the three Latin American countries are those for the defense of the family and of women. “Today the family is attacked on more fronts, including a society and a policy that do not offer guarantees at the educational, health level ... Therefore, the Pope is calling States to offer these guarantees to the family, which is the first cell of society,” explained the Papal Master of Ceremonies. For women, Francis gave the example of the Paraguayan woman -- strong women who were able to raise again the fortunes of a country close to disappearing -- to demonstrate her true value, to remember that we must render her a courageous protagonist. Because it is futile to fight for the same rights if then woman, who is mother, wife, grandmother, a figure that we cannot do without, continues to be ‘discarded’ in some countries.”
“I can assert that the Pope is a man of conciliation and reconciliation,” stressed finally Monsignor Karcher. “For him, no one must be discarded -- not people, not gifts of doubtful taste, such as the crucifix on the sickle and hammer given to him by [Bolivian President] Morales. “I spoke to him about it the following day. He repeated what he said on the plane: everything is read in its historic context, we need a hermeneutic. Initially, that was a shock. I myself thought: but what happened? Then I reflected. After all, if we go around Rome all the obelisks have a cross on top. Each one can draw his own conclusions.”
Jul 17 15 11:15 PM
The Pope of Latin America
There are countries in the world where the history has been so brutal, so humiliating, and so unreconciled, that it has become part of the national iconography—sometimes to a degree that can startle foreign visitors. Bolivia’s President, Evo Morales, luridly underscored this point during Pope Francis’s recent visit there. In a ceremony that was held in front of television cameras, Morales handed the Pope the gift of a wooden crucifix made in the shape of a hammer and sickle. The Pope received the object politely, but he appeared wary. (In remarks he made later, the Pope claimed he had not been “offended” by the crucifix, while Morales explained that his gift had been offered “out of love” for the man he called “the Pope of the poor.”)
The crucifix turned out to have been a specially commissioned replica of one made by the late Luís Espinal Camps, a left-wing Spanish priest and filmmaker who was murdered in La Paz, in 1980, by a Bolivian-government death squad. The killers gruesomely tortured Espinal
before shooting him to death in a slaughterhouse. Since assuming office in 2006, Morales has championed the priest, who espoused the Marxist-influenced brand of Catholic activism known as liberation theology, as a national martyr.
Upon his arrival in La Paz, Pope Francis dutifully halted his motorcade at the spot where Espinal was killed, to offer prayers on his behalf. He said that the priest had been murdered “by those who did not want him to fight for freedom in Bolivia.” It was an allusion to a period that carries dark resonations for the Catholic Church in Bolivia and across Latin America.
Two days after Espinal’s murder, El Salvador’s outspoken Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero, who similarly spoke out against injustice and on behalf of the poor, was celebrating Mass when he was assassinated by a sniper acting on the orders of a right-wing death squad linked to his own country’s military and private sector. In a move toward his eventual sainthood, which Pope Francis actively supported, Romero was beatified in a ceremony in San Salvador in May. In Bolivia, there are similar calls to beatify Espinal.
Espinal and Romero were merely two of the most prominent religious figures in Latin America who, having been largely abandoned by the Vatican, fell victims to the anticommunist witch hunt that took place in the region during the nineteen-seventies and eighties. Tens of thousands died in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Bolivia, and Paraguay during Operation Condor, a transnational murder campaign that was carried out by those countries’ militaries and their civilian accomplices—a scheme concocted by General Augusto Pinochet’s regime after he seized power in Chile, in 1973, and embarked on a bloody purge of the country. The terror campaign was soon adopted by fraternal ideologues in Central America. As in South America, priests and nuns in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras suspected of leftist sympathies were placed high on the target lists.
Espinal was the first victim on a death list of names that was drawn up by the right-wing military dictatorship then ruling Bolivia. His killers operated under the orders of the country’s interior minister. They called themselves Los Novios de la Muerte—The Bridegrooms of Death. Los Novios were led by a number of international fugitives, including the neo-fascist Italian terrorist Stefano Delle Chiaie. The Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie, who had been living in Bolivia since 1951, for much of that time more or less openly, was also closely associated with Los Novios.
(Utterly revolting!)Morales, in his meeting with the Pope, wore a badge that displayed a photograph of the late Argentine revolutionary Ernesto (Che) Guevara. Guevara was executed in Bolivia in 1967, on the orders of the country’s military President, in an operation that was overseen by C.I.A. agents. Since becoming President, in 2006, Morales, a former leader of Bolivia’s coca-grower’s union and a protégé of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, has resurrected Che to the status of a national hero, hanging a portrait of him, fashioned out of coca leaves, in his office. In such ways, Morales has made it a central feature of his Presidency to challenge everything that he perceives as the status quo in Bolivia.
As an ethnic Aymara (one of Bolivia’s two main indigenous groups, who make up two thirds of the country’s ten million people), Morales perhaps has more demons to exorcise, in his relations with the Vatican, than most other Latin American leaders. He is the first indigenous citizen to wield power in Bolivia, a country traditionally ruled by members of its minority mestizo or white population, who are descended from European settlers. The Church played a prominent role in the colonial history of Bolivia, which was one of the most cruelly exploited countries in Latin America. Bolivia remains poor and has been extremely volatile, with almost two hundred coups and revolutions since it won its independence from Spain, in 1825. Today, Bolivia is South America’s second-largest producer of natural gas, after Venezuela, and the world’s second-largest producer of cocaine, after Peru and before Colombia.
Morales has made anti-Yankeeism a trademark of his time in office. He has reinforced this posture in various ways. In 2008, he severed Bolivia’s coöperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and threw out the U.S. Ambassador—who still has not been replaced. Like many of his fellow-leaders, Morales has also overseen the creation a new constitution, which enshrines the rights of the country’s indigenous majority. He has also replaced Catholic rites at official ceremonies with indigenous Andean ones and nationalized the country’s gas reserves.
In remarks he made during his stay in Bolivia, the Pope inveighed against unbridled free-market capitalism as a “new colonialism” that encouraged materialism, despoiled the environment, and created inequality. And he went out of his way to apologize, on behalf of the Catholic Church, for the “many grave sins committed against the native peoples in the name of God” during the “so-called conquest of the Americas.” It was an echo of something that Pope John Paul II had said on a visit he made to the country back in the eighties, but which, in places like Bolivia, bears repeating.
At the time, Pope John Paul II also warned his priests to fight against the spread of evangelical Protestantism, which had begun to undermine the Catholic Church in many parts of Latin America. In the intervening years, that process has continued apace, as Pope Francis knows all too well. Indeed, if the Catholic Church is to have any relevance in Latin America a half century from now, it needs a makeover, and that includes a demonstrable new sense of humility on the part of its ecclesiastical authorities.
Pope Francis, who was born in Argentina, knows how to talk in a language that is not simply a replay of liberation theology. During his trip, which included visits to Ecuador and Paraguay, he repeatedly invoked the idea of a “Patria Grande,” a great Latin American homeland, brought about through greater social, political, and economic unity. Such appeals for unity have been made in the recent past by the likes of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez, but they have their origins in the stirring rhetoric of Latin American independence heroes such as José de San Martín and Simón Bolívar.
Notably, Pope Francis was a crucial figure, behind the scenes, in the recent secret diplomatic rapprochement between the United States and Cuba. In May, Cuba’s President Raúl Castro, a lifelong communist, went to the Vatican to see Francis and remarked, “If the Pope continues to speak like this, sooner or later I will start praying again and I will return to the Catholic Church—and I’m not saying this jokingly.” Evo Morales, for his part, said, “For the first time in my life, I feel like I have a Pope—Pope Francis.”
But it is not only the leftists of Latin America who see something in the pontiff. Paraguay’s conservative President, Horacio Cartes, was equally effusive, lauding him for “his direction [that] lights the way and also gives us a grand task: to work together, with sacrifice and perseverance, so that we might have a country that is more equal for all.”
At a time when Latin America lacks a popular unifying figure, Pope Francis has emerged as a leader with broad authority, someone who cuts across all the usual boundary lines. In a region that is now largely democratic and full of creative energy and portent, but is nonetheless still rife with social problems and political and economic contradictions, his is an intriguing presence—as familiar, somehow, as it is unexpected.
Jul 17 15 11:18 PM
Jul 17 15 11:34 PM
Celebrating Humility: The Pope's Audience With Special Olympic Athletes
Any visitor to Rome knows one thing: for 2,500 years, it
has been all about greatness and outsized achievement. It’s written all
over the city: the Colosseum is greatness in architecture; the Roman
senate celebrates greatness in political governance; the monuments to
empire celebrate greatness in military conquest; and the churches soar
skyward, symbols of greatness in religion. Rome does not celebrate
Except for now.
A few weeks ago, I was invited with a small group for an
audience with Pope Francis. On entering, we were saluted by elaborately
adorned Swiss guards, walked up several flights of marble stairs into
the Sala Clementina, and sat down to wait inside the nerve center of the
Vatican bureaucracy, beneath the vacant Papal apartments, near
Michelangelo’s soaring Sistine Chapel. With me were about a hundred and
fifty athletes headed to world competition in the United States,
representing their home country, Italy.
But these were no ordinary athletes. They were all Special
Olympics athletes, with one form or another of intellectual
“difability,” all outcasts in the world of elite sports. They
were invited by Pope Francis not because of their fame or
record-setting times on the world stage, but because of their example of
trying to “live their lives to the fullest extent” (Pope
Francis, June 19, 2015). FIFA has no time for them. Sports agents do not
court them. There has never been one accused of doping. They didn’t
arrive with gold around their necks or newspaper headlines in their
pasts. They were unknowns except to their families and friends, not even
footnotes in the Roman pantheon. In fact, by most accounts, these
athletes would be considered losers in Roman terms. Great? Not by any
But in the eyes of the Francis, greatness is being redefined.
When the doors of Sala Clementina opened, Francis walked in, dressed in his white robes, waving gently, smiling generously. This man sees the folks on the bottom of the world’s pyramid as uniquely great in the eyes of God,
and he sat before these athletes as though among heroes. Instead of us
being there as his “audience,” he became the audience for athletes to
address. Instead of talking first, he insisted that the athletes speak.
Filippo Pieretto talked of his “generation united to fight, through
sports, any exclusion and discrimination.” Irene Luigini, nervous and
jittery in front of the world’s most famous person, breathed deeply,
paused, clenched her fists, and then summoned her resolve to recite the
Special Olympics oath: “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave
in the attempt” (see video below).
The contrasts between the messages being shared with the pope
and those surrounding us in the rest of our lives were sharp. In a time
of division and fear of difference, Filippo spoke of coming together and
“getting over all differences.” In a time of brutal competitiveness,
Irene spoke of bravery above conquest. In a time that glorifies fame,
they both spoke with humility. Everywhere else, I thought, these
athletes’ messages aren’t even noticed. Who reminds us to move gently
through life? Who reminds us to pay attention to each other? Who reminds
us that beneath all our wounds is God’s own face—that anything else is a
lie? Very few, I thought. But Filippo and Irene were doing just that.
I presented Francis with the torch of the 2015 Special Olympics
World Games soon to open in Los Angeles. He held it high and the
athletes boomed with applause, almost shouting, cheering their “flame of
Then Francis spoke briefly. “Do not ever forget beauty; the
beauty of life, the beauty of sport—this beauty that God has given us.”
As I listened, I couldn’t help but try to hold the moment—beauty was
all around me—the soaring architecture, the paintings, the elegance of
the guards, but mostly Irene, her 4’9” frame, her eager smile, her
nervous oath. As I watched her listen to Francis, I could hear an echo
of St. Paul’s description of the mystery of life—that God “chose the
weak to shame the strong” so that we might all come to God’s peace
through our vulnerability, not our success.
“Have fun and make friends,” Francis
said to the athletes, reminding me of the kind of wisdom we expect from
brilliant kindergarten teachers sending their students off on summer
vacation. So simple and so often forgotten.
We cheered and shouted as he came to a close of his remarks. And then he said, “Please don’t forget to pray for me. Thank you.”
Much has been said of this man—of his roots in Latin America,
his concern for the poor, his focus on forgiveness and mercy. But I saw
another dimension of that day: he really asked for the blessing of a
crowd of people with intellectual disabilities. The Bishop of Rome asked
the people for their help. He needed their prayers at least as much as
they wanted his.
Is it his Jesuit training that focuses on opening the heart to
see God’s presence in all things? Is it his decades of friendship with
so many who suffer in poverty? Is it his own life journey from the
arrogance that he admits was part of his youth to the simplicity that he
has discovered in age?
Or is it perhaps his practiced attention to what is before him, all around him, within him? When
facing heartbreak, he has invited us to cry not to overcome; when
facing people who love each other, he has invited us to affirm and not
to judge; when facing entrenched selfishness, he has invited us to turn
our hearts and not to protect our interests. He starts with trying to
help us love greatly and let other, less important issues follow love.
In love, after all, we are all vulnerable, all in need.
This is Rome in 2015. A new kind of greatness is being offered the world. Francis
would be the first to say all greatness comes from God and certainly
not from him. But in this life, the person of faith has one goal: to be
the eyes and hands and heart of God to ourselves and to each other.
Last week, in the shadow of the Colosseum, the athletes of
Special Olympics visited the Bishop of Rome. The result? They will pray
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