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Jun 15 17 4:49 PM
Jun 16 17 6:45 AM
Pope, Rabbi Skorka join effort to promote friendship across faithsIn a video series of the "Make Friends" initiative calling for interreligious dialogue, leaders of numerous religious faiths including Pope Francis and Rabbi Abraham Skorka talk about the importance of reaching out to people in order to achieve peace in the world.ROME - Reaching out to people of other religions can be both challenging and enriching for individuals and is the only hope for true peace in the world, said a variety of religious leaders, including Pope Francis.The pope and his friend Rabbi Abraham Skorka appear in a video montage and together in their own video as part of the “Make Friends” initiative coordinated by the Elijah Interfaith Institute, which has offices in Israel and in Dallas.The video series, posted on YouTube June 14, also includes Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran leaders, Jewish rabbis, Sunni and Shiite Muslim clerics, Buddhist monks and nuns, and Hindu and Sikh leaders.In their video, Pope Francis and Rabbi Skorka talk about how their own religious convictions led them into conversations with each other, and how those conversations not only increased their understanding of God and formed the basis of a television series and book, but also led to true friendship.When sending emails back and forth, “because we still have projects going on,” Skorka said, they address each other as “‘Dear brother,’ and it’s not just a saying. We have such open, deep and affectionate conversations. We understand each other.”As they met and held discussions in Buenos Aires, Argentina, “the friendship grew, always retaining our respective identities,” the pope said. “‘Brother and friend’ - those are my feelings for him.”Explaining the “Make Friends” initiative, the Elijah Interfaith Institute said, “Friendship and getting to know one another are the antidotes to negativity and divisions in society, enhancing understanding and unity.”Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein is the founder and director of the institute.
Jun 18 17 3:37 PM
Pope Francis made a pilgrimage to northern Italy on Tuesday to honor two 20th-century parish priests whose commitment to the poor and powerless brought them censure from the Vatican.Francis flew by helicopter to Bozzolo, near Cremona, to pray at the tomb of Don Primo Mazzolari. Mazzolari, who died in 1959, was an anti-fascist partisan during World War II who, like Francis, preached about a “church for the poor.”Afterward, Francis flew to Barbiana, near Florence, to pray at the tomb of Don Lorenzo Milani, a wealthy convert to Catholicism who founded a parish school to educate the poor and workers. He died in 1967.Both priests were considered rebels in their lifetimes and were censured by Vatican authorities for their writings. By honoring them with his brief visit, Francis sent the church a message of the type of priest he wants today: simple, guided by Gospel values, devoted to the poor and uninterested in careerism.At his first stop, Francis stood in silent prayer before the simple tomb of Mazzolari, who is considered now to be “Italy’s parish priest.”He then delivered a lengthy tribute to the priest, quoting Mazzolari’s writings about the need for the church to accompany its flock that Francis himself could have penned.The Argentine Jesuit, who has emphasized the church’s merciful face during his four-year papacy, recalled Mazzolari’s exhortation that a priest’s job isn’t to demand perfection from the faithful, but to encourage them to do their best. Quoting Mazzolari, he said: “Let us have good sense! We don’t need to massacre the backs of these poor people.”Mazzolari’s social activism got him in trouble with church authorities: For a time he was forbidden from preaching outside his diocese without permission, and a magazine he founded was so controversial the Vatican suspended its publication in 1951.Church authorities announced Tuesday that the process to beatify Mazzolari would begin in September.Milani, for his part, also emphasized social justice issues, especially about the rights of workers to go on strike. The Vatican in 1958 ordered the retraction of a book of his on his pastoral experiences.Francis said Milani taught the importance of giving the poor the capacity to speak up for themselves, “because without the word, there’s no dignity and therefore no justice or freedom.”
Nice guy or tough guy? The two faces of Pope FrancisVATICAN CITY (RNS) To the vast majority, Pope Francis is the compassionate face of Catholicism today.He’s rescued refugees, opened the Vatican’s doors to the homeless and told Catholics there’s no sin God won’t forgive.But there is another streak to the Argentine pontiff that has been on display in recent days: A willingness to flex papal muscle and lay down the law.Underneath the pope’s compassion is a steely side, which he’s particularly ready to use when it comes to priests, bishops or cardinals he feels are undermining the church’s mission. (It's past time he used it on certain Curial prelates who have long displayed their penchant for defying him, in ways both overt and subtle, claiming all the while to be supporters of Joseph Ratzinger, thus dragging the unsuspecting retired pope into controversies that would surely horrify him.)It was evident earlier this month when the pope delivered a stinging rebuke to priests from the Diocese of Ahiara in Nigeria. The priests had refused to accept the 2012 appointment of a bishop from a different clan.When he met with the Ahiara clergy he ordered each one of them to apologize in writing, pledge their “total obedience” to the papacy and accept whomever he appoints to lead the diocese.To top it off, he told the priests they must send their letter within 30 days or face automatic suspension. As papal disciplining goes, it doesn’t get much tougher.The pope was furious clan differences were being put before the church’s unity and mission. If there is one thing Francis really dislikes, it’s the church being used for political, sectarian or tribal agendas.“It’s a mistake to think of Francis as a ‘nice guy,’” one of his aides said. The pope, he explained, is a “radical” with a mission.A day later, on June 9, Francis made another tough move. The Vatican announced that the pope had accepted the resignation of Archbishop Alfredo Zecca of Tucumán, Argentina, for health reasons.The letter stated that the 68-year-old would not simply go into an early retirement but would remain as a “titular” archbishop, meaning that technically he still has to serve. (Yes, but surely without the perquisites and privileges of a sitting archbishop. Which would effectively mean that he still shoulders all the problems of his former see, but won't get to enjoy the benefits he used to have access to. A rather elegant punishment, if I do say so myself.)Was this some sort of punishment? Zecca has reportedly upset the pope for a failure to defend one of his priests, the Rev. Juan Viroche, an outspoken voice against local drug traffickers.In October, Viroche was found hanged, but Zecca resisted calls to put up a plaque in Viroche’s parish commemorating the priest. Instead he accepted the official version of events that Viroche committed suicide. Many locals suspect the suicide was staged.Driving both these moves is Francis’ passionate aversion to hypocrisy. The pope has repeatedly denounced Christians who live a “double life,” even arguing it is better to be an atheist than a “hypocritical Catholic” who condemns others but fails to practice what they preach.Instead, the pope wants an inclusive church. He wants Catholic leaders to be peacemakers in their respective societies and be able to “bind up the wounds” of division. To see a bishop doing the opposite has made his blood boil.Eighteen months ago during a visit to Africa, Francis made an appeal in Kenya against the “spirit of evil” that “takes us to a lack of unity.” In unscripted remarks during a meeting with young people in Nairobi he then asked them to hold hands as “a sign against bad tribalism.”The pope also demonstrated his stern side by taking action against the Knights of Malta, an ancient Catholic chivalric order, after its then leader, Matthew Festing, was accused of improperly sacking a senior aide in a row ostensibly over the distribution of condoms by medical projects for the poor.When the pope announced an investigation into the matter, the dispute mushroomed into a proxy war between Francis and those opposed to the direction of his papacy with Cardinal Raymond Burke — one of the pope’s fiercest critics who had been appointed the Vatican liaison with the order — playing a key role in the saga. The pope won.When it comes to rebukes, it’s worth remembering Francis is a Jesuit, a member of a religious order founded by former soldier, St. Ignatius of Loyola, who incorporated military principles into its internal governance. One of these is obedience.At the relatively young age of 36, Jorge Bergoglio led the Jesuits in Argentina, a period during which he later confessed to making mistakes due to an “authoritarian and quick manner of making decisions.”While a lot has changed since that time, part of him still performs the role of religious superior.This week, a letter was leaked revealing the pope wants cardinals living in Rome to inform him when they are out of town, and where they are going.Written by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, it asks that prelates revive this “noble tradition” of informing the papacy and the Vatican of their movements, particularly if they are gone for a long period.Such a practice would be routine for any priest or religious living in a monastery, convent or seminary, but it shows the pope wants accountability from those who are his closest advisers. It is also tactically savvy, as it ensures the pope knows if a cardinal is about to deliver a major talk or address that might be critical of his papacy.Francis has throughout his papacy sought to govern the church collegially, setting up an advisory body of cardinals that met in Rome for the 20th time this week.They have been discussing how to delegate more power to local churches while the Vatican has also announced it wanted to hear the views of young people before a major church gathering for youth in 2018.His defenders argue the pope needs to be tough to implement church reforms as he faces down internal opposition.The irony, however, is that to bring about the more merciful, people-centered church he so passionately desires, Francis is having to exercise some firm authority in the process.
Leaked 'dubia' cardinal letter designed to put pressure on Pope FrancisRome Correspondent, Christopher Lamb, on why 'the genie of catholic disagreement is now out of the bottle'Next Wednesday five new prelates will be formally inducted as cardinals, each swearing an oath that they will be “constantly obedient to Blessed Peter in the person of the Supreme Pontiff,” and becoming his closest collaborators. These vows, and the role that cardinals are required to play supporting a pontificate, make it highly unusual for “Princes of the Church” to make their grievances with a Pope public.But during Francis’ papacy there has been an open challenge to a Pontiff’s authority not seen in centuries, and one that is not going away. (Which is, in my opinion, speaks volumes about the respect - or lack thereof - that these cardinals have for their oaths, to say nothing of the Papacy itself.) The four “dubia” cardinals have stepped up the pressure on the Pope by publicising a letter they sent to Francis requesting a private audience to discuss their concerns about moves to allow divorced and remarried couples to receive communion contained in his apostolic exhortation, “Amoris Laetitia.”The cardinals have released this letter because the Pope has not answered their request, nor has he formally replied to their initial questions - termed “dubia” - about the exhortation which were submitted last November. This leak is designed to put pressure on Francis for a response, to leave people asking why the Pope of dialogue won’t have a discussions with four of his cardinals. In the letter, penned by Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, the retired Archbishop of Bologna, the four express their “absolute dedication and our unconditional love for the Chair of Peter and for your august person” while also feeling the need to distance themselves from conspiracy theory claims Francis was not validly elected. After declaring their elaborate expression of loyalty, the four cardinals say they are compelled to press the Pope on what he is doing about the differing interpretations of his apostolic exhortation with some bishops saying the remarried can return to the sacraments, while some are refusing. For the dubia cardinals, there needs to be doctrinal clarity. Either the divorced and remarried can receive communion or they can’t; there’s no grey, no special cases.The Pope, on the other hand, believes that the Church must accompany, integrate and then re-instate all those who wish to return to the fold. In his eyes, there can’t be a blanket yes or no to a divorcee’s request for communion; every person has a story which needs to be examined and discerned before a decision can be made. This is a process which requires one-on-one pastoral attention rather than a ruling from the desk of a canon lawyer. “Certain responses to Amoris Laetitia, persist in seeing only white or black, when rather one ought to discern in the flow of life,” the Pope has said, in what was read as an indirect response to the dubia. So far, the Pope has refused to meet the cardinals. He was irritated by their decision to publicise their concerns last year without telling him beforehand with one of the four, Cardinal Raymond Burke, later threatening to issue a “formal correction” against Francis. This was seen as a disloyal move aimed at stirring up division and undermining the papacy. While the cardinals say they want a dialogue, the dubia questions they submitted to the Pope require “yes or no” answers. (Which leads us to ask the question, how does one have a dialogue when one expects only "yes" or "no" answers?) Supporters of Francis argue the concerns are not worth addressing given Amoris Laetitia was written following two synod of bishops sessions and a worldwide consultation of Catholics. It is a collegial document, expresses the mind of the Church and is an expression of the Pope’s magisterial teaching authority. (Something that these four prelates cannot seem to understand, much less accept.) One papal aide suggested said the concerns of the cardinals, which are framed in canonical terms, do not respond to the pastoral reality of Catholics today. Amoris Laetitia, Francis' defenders say, is a wide ranging response to marriage and family today, where Catholic teaching is being applied to real-life pastoral situations while offering the sacraments to some remarried is a legitimate development of Catholic doctrine. Historians have pointed out that in the past all those who had divorced and married again were excommunicated, this is no longer the case. (Well, it seems that Burke and Company don't give a hoot about history, and prefer to live in their own reality.) And it was Pope St John Paul II who in his family document, Familiaris Consortio, distinguished between spouses who had left their marriage and those who had been abandoned. But the dubia cardinals latest letter show that a small, but vocal group, remain unconvinced. They are worried about different interpretations on whether the divorced and remarried can receive communion with the Polish bishops saying no while the Maltese saying yes. The genie of Catholic disagreement is now out of the bottle. (One must ask, though - are these cardinals really worried about Catholic doctrine? Or are they simply opposed to the upstart Argentinean Bergoglio, profoundly envious of his popularity with the faithful, and determined to fight against everything he hopes to achieve?)
Pope Francis meets King and Queen of the Netherlands
Pope returns long-lost royal baton during audience with Dutch king in 'testimony of reconciliation'The stick belonged to William I, Prince of Orange, and had, until recently, been lost in the Jesuit Catalan archivesPope Francis returned the long-lost royal stick of a 16th Century Dutch King during his meeting with King Willem-Alexander and his wife, Queen Máxima, of the Netherlands in a private audience at the Vatican on Thursday (22 June).The stick - which resembles a baton or sceptre - belonged to William I, Prince of Orange, and had, until recently, been lost in the Jesuit Catalan archives.According to a press release from the National Military Museum of the Netherlands, the return of the stick represents "a testimony of reconciliation, and of the current union between the two countries and religions.”"It is also a symbol of the long journey that the Roman Catholic Church, as well as the Kingdom of the Netherlands, have passed from the past of rivalry, war and repression to a present of mutual respect and promotion of peace and human rights," continues the release.The baton will be displayed to the public in the National Military Museum in Soesterberg, Netherlands next year.During the 35-minute audience, the Pope and Dutch royals discussed topics “of shared interest,” including protection of the environment, the fight against poverty and how the Holy See and Catholic Church are contributing in these areas, a Vatican press release states.Particular attention, stated the release, was paid to “the phenomenon of migration, underlining the importance of peaceful co-existence between different cultures, and joint commitment to promoting peace and global security, with special reference to various areas of conflict.”Queen Máxima, who was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, greeted Pope Francis in “porteño,” a dialect of Spanish spoken by people from the Río de la Plata basin of Argentina, reports Catholic News Agency.“How are you? Delighted to see you again,” she said.During the visit Pope Francis gave the royal couple a medallion depicting St Martin of Tours dividing his cloak in order to give it to a poor man.He also gave them copies of his environmental encyclical Laudato Si, his 2015 Apostolic Exhortation on the family “Amoris Laetitia,” and his 2013 exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium,” as well as a copy of his message for the 2017 World Day of Peace.King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima gave the Pope white and yellow tulips, which they suggested could be planted in the Vatican gardens.Before their meeting with the Pope, the King and Queen visited the Church of Saints Michael and Magnus, the national church of the Netherlands in Rome.
Francis whips up a stormSome cardinals are sulking. They complain that they had asked for a fraternal conversation with Pope Francis over Amoris Laetitia, the exciting, if controversial, papal exhortation on love, particularly married love, but have received no response. They then have had recourse to the medieval “dubita”—doubts—by which they hope to call attention to what they discern to be serious doctrinal issues. The cardinals, among whom is the ermine-clad Burke who has never forgiven Francis for having kicked him out of the supreme tribunal of the Church, tasking him to take care of the knights of the Order of Malta instead, (And where he did such a "marvelous" job that the Knights were thrown into turmoil, resulting in Burke's being sidelined - again!) are bristling with resentment over what they take to be a betrayal of traditional church teaching.Once more, just what did Francis say in Amoris Laetitia? Among the many wonderful things he wrote on, he acknowledged the “difficult situations” that Catholic couples often find themselves in: divorced Catholics re-marrying, spouses abandoned by spouses and eventually linking up with others similarly situated. The Pope then acknowledges that compelling them to return to the “status ante” could even be more troublesome, disruptive and vexatious. I have never read him condoning adultery, or concubinage or bigamy. These, he insists, remain serious evils. But does one give up on those who fall? Is the Church the privileged circle of the pure and the holy or—a metaphor original to Francis—a “field hospital,” right in the midst of the battlefield into which are carried the bloody, the mangled and the grievously wounded?Pope Francis knows that he is the guardian of doctrine, but he is also convinced that teaching doctrine is not his most important ministry. Preaching Jesus and bringing to the world his mercy—that, to him, is what it has been all about. “Merciful as the Father,” that was theme of the Jubilee Year, and that is what he calls on all bishops, priests and lay Christians to be merciful as the father. In fact, nowhere does Francis give blanket approval for communion to those in “difficult situations.” He rather asks pastors, in the exercise of priestly prudence but suffused with Christ’s charity, to discern carefully with the “wounded” Catholic whether or not, in his or her conscience, there has come about a separation from God and from Christ’s Body, the Church.Nikolai Berdyaev, a frequently read Russian theologian, argued against a perpetual hell because, he argues, it is inconceivable that God’s love should ever fail. Amor semper vincit..love always conquers. Pope Francis of course does not deny the reality of hell. In fact, he has been rather traditional, conservative in fact, in talking about the Devil. But he is as certain about the mercy of God, and that, for him, was the most important thing that Jesus came to teach the world. Laws will keep us from clawing and tearing each other. But love and mercy alone will allow us to do truly great things and scale formidable heights in our evolution as human persons.It is not a storm to be feared that Francis has whipped up. There is a storm only because some, in the Church, who should know better, rate canon law a more precious commodity than mercy. That, of course, is not new. To the pious Jews and rabbinic lawyers of the time, Jesus was in fragrant violation of the law many times—but what laws they were! Minutiae of conduct and quitting about what was and was not work on the Sabbath—these were the concerns of the law of the time, and these, Jesus did not consider good reason to do good on the Sabbath even if it appeared that he was breaking the law. Francis is not even going the far. He is asking the Catholic in dire moral straits to seek refuge in conscience—and urging pastors to accompany them in this labor of soul-searching. It is a storm that should should blow decaying branches off and allow fresh buds to sprout.It is easier to put on the pretensions of righteousness by choosing the company only of the righteous and to maintain a code of inflexible conduct. Compassion and mercy—these, however, have taken greatness because they are the very attributes of God himself—and we are so unlike God, no matter the purple and crimson we wear!
As Pope Francis gives Sweden a cardinal, what’s behind his Scandinavian push?Although the plates were already shifting towards Sweden as the lead actor for Catholicism in the Nordic countries before Francis came along, the signs of interest and favor have multiplied on his watch, including giving Sweden its first-ever cardinal this week. Evangelical opportunities, immigration and ecumenism may all lie in the background of the pope's Swedish outreach.ROME - While it’s probably too much to say that Pope Francis has an explicit “Swedish strategy,” it’s becoming increasingly clear that Sweden has both a place in the Argentine pope’s heart and a role to play in his vision of a “Church of the Peripheries.”In some ways, the plates had already been shifting in the direction of Sweden as the lead actor for Catholicism in the Nordic countries well before Francis came along. In 2002, for instance, the residence of the papal nuncio for Scandinavia was transferred from Denmark to Sweden, a sign of the growing centrality of the latter in the Vatican’s vision for the region.Under Francis, however, the indicators of interest and favor have multiplied.Last year, Francis traveled to Sweden to join the World Lutheran Federation in commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, becoming the first pope to visit the country since St. John Paul II in 1989 - who was himself the first pope ever to make an official visit to Sweden, though Cardinal Nicholas Breakspear, the future Pope Adrian IV, did stop off in the summer of 1152 for a meeting.This week, Pope Francis also will create Sweden’s first Prince of the Church, in fact the first cardinal in all of Scandinavia - not just since the Reformation, but ever. The consistory ceremony in which it will happen takes place in Rome this Wednesday, June 28, the vigil of the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul.Given that Sweden has just around 113,000 Catholics, representing roughly 1.15 percent of the national population, what is Francis up to?To begin with, one can’t discount the personal factor when it comes to popes picking cardinals. By all accounts, Francis was charmed and impressed by Bishop Anders Aborelius of Stockholm during his brief, Oct. 31-Nov. 1 visit in 2016.According to those who know Arborelius, he’s easy to like.“The Bishop of Stockholm is a very good man, very competent and open, he gets on with everybody,” said Bishop Czeslaw Kozon of nearby Denmark, a fellow member of the Scandinavian Bishops Conference, in a June 15 interview with Crux.“He’ll be a very good representative for the church here,” Kozon said.Beyond personality, however, the pope may have three big-picture aims in mind by trying to raise the profile not just of Arborelius, but the Catholic Church generally in this part of the world.First, Francis knows that while the Catholic population of Sweden may still be small by the standards of traditionally Catholic nations, it’s nevertheless growing, with more Catholics in Sweden today than at any time since the Reformation. Arborelius himself is a Catholic convert from Lutheranism, and the first native Swede to hold his office since the era of Martin Luther.Further, Scandinavian bishops say they sense a growing interest in the Catholic message among parts of the younger generation in their nations, despite the overwhelmingly secular ethos. Younger Swedes, Finns, Danes, and so on, largely came of age after the cultural battles against ecclesiastical authority were more or less over, they say, and thus sometimes look on the churches with curiosity rather than hostility.The possibility of a “Catholic moment” in Scandinavia is compounded by the fact that established churches across the region have been hemorrhaging membership, often driven by people looking to avoid paying the state-collected annual church fee.As a champion of the peripheries, Francis always has great affection for underdogs struggling against tall odds, and may see in the Church in Sweden and across Scandinavia a little guy facing what may be a period of opportunity. After all, Scandinavia may not be the “periphery” in terms of measures such as development and per-capita income, but in Catholic terms, it certainly is.“This puts us a little more on the Catholic map of the world, that we have a cardinal,” Kozon said. “That’s very important for us.”Second, Francis also knows that much of the Catholic growth in the region today is being driven by immigration. Across Scandinavia, influxes of Poles, Filipinos, Vietnamese, Sri Lankans, Eritreans, Syrians and others have been boosting the ranks of the local Church.The reality of leading an increasingly immigrant church has given Scandinavian bishops a deeper sensitivity to the challenges facing those newcomers, at a time when Francis sees the migrant and refugee crisis as perhaps the most pressing humanitarian drama in the world.That transformation of the church is happening at a time when Scandinavian nations appear to be drifting in a more anti-immigrant direction. Denmark already has some of the most restrictive policies in the world, a policy broadly shared by left and right, while Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Löfven recently declared the country “will never go back to the days of mass immigration” after it emerged the Stockholm attacker in April was a failed asylum seeker.As a result, Francis may be seeking to strengthen the church’s hand in Scandinavia to defend immigrant rights, at a time when the political and social winds aren’t exactly blowing in that direction.Third, Francis has made clear since the beginning of his papacy that ecumenism, meaning the press for greater Christian unity, is a towering priority.Like his predecessors, St. John Paul II and emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, Francis has shown a “preferential option” within the ecumenical field for the Orthodox, which is logical enough given that the split between East and West is the primordial Christian schism, and also because Orthodox theology and ecclesiology, as well as their understanding of both ministry and the sacraments, often are closer to the Catholic Church.However, Francis is also keenly interested in outreach to the world of the Reformation, which was the point of his trip to Sweden. He undoubtedly believes that the small Catholic minority in Scandinavia has an ecumenical vocation to build bridges with the churches of the Reformation, much like he along with previous popes have seen the Eastern Catholic churches in places such as the Middle East, the Balkans the Caucasus, and Eastern Europe having a natural ecumenical vocation with the Orthodox.And of course, Francis knows that giving Sweden a cardinal will help the church play that role with greater authority and visibility.Naturally, a pope charged with leading a global church with almost 1.3 billion members scattered in every nook and cranny of the planet can’t afford to concentrate all his attention, or even much of it, on any one locale.Still, if Sweden isn’t quite what Pope Francis thinks about when he gets out of bed every morning, recent evidence would suggest it may nonetheless cross his mind at some point during the day.
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