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Jun 30 16 6:30 AM
Where silence should reign: Pope will pray, not speak, at AuschwitzVATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Tears and not words. Prayers and not greetings.During his trip to Poland for World Youth Day, Pope Francis will go to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp. He said he wants to go alone and say nothing.When Pope Francis speaks, he can delight fans and frustrate critics. He can wax poetic or be bluntly funny about human quirks.But in the face of great suffering and horror, his first and strongest inclinations are silence, a profoundly bowed head and hands clasped tightly in prayer.Pope Francis had asked that there be no speeches during his visit to Armenia's genocide memorial June 25. At times, even the prayer service there with the Armenian Apostolic patriarch seemed too wordy. An aide gently cupped his elbow when it was time to end the silent reflection and begin the service.The Vatican's schedule for the pope's visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau July 29 had him giving a speech at the international monument at Birkenau, just as St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI did.But on the flight back to Rome from Armenia, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told Pope Francis, "I heard that you want to live that moment more with silence than words."The pope responded by reminding reporters that in 2014 when he went to Redipuglia in northern Italy to mark the 100th anniversary of World War I, "I went in silence," walking alone among the graves. "Then there was the Mass and I preached at Mass, but that was something else."Speaking about his planned visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau, "I would like to go to that place of horror without speeches, without crowds -- only the few people necessary," he said. "Alone, enter, pray. And may the Lord give me the grace to cry."Father Lombardi confirmed June 30 that the official program had been changed and the pope would not give a speech at the death camp. But it is not that Pope Francis has nothing to say about the horror of the Shoah, the importance of remembering it and the need to continue fighting anti-Semitism."The past must be a lesson to us for the present and the future," he said Jan. 17 during a visit to Rome's synagogue. "The Shoah teaches us that maximum vigilance is always needed in order to intervene quickly in defense of human dignity and peace."In the book "On Heaven and Earth," written in 2010 with Rabbi Abraham Skorka, the future pope and rabbi discussed the Holocaust at length.While the question "Where was God" is an important theological and human question, the pope said, "Where was man?" is an even bigger question. "The Shoah is genocide, like the others of the 20th century, but it has a distinctive feature," an "idolatrous construction" in which the Nazis claimed to be god and embracing true evil tried to eradicate Judaism."Each Jew that they killed was a slap in the face to the living God," the future pope wrote.In a very formal, very solemn commemoration, Pope Francis visited the Shoah memorial, Yad Vashem, in Israel in 2014. He laid a wreath of flowers in memory of the 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis, clasped his hands and stood in silence before slowly walking back to his place. He met six survivors of Nazi camps, kissing their hands in a sign of deference and recognition of their suffering.Protocol for the occasion required a speech and, led to the podium, Pope Francis spoke softly, reflecting on the question of "Where was man?" and how could human beings have sunk so horribly low.In his speech, he prayed to God, "Grant us the grace to be ashamed of what we men have done, to be ashamed of this massive idolatry, of having despised and destroyed our own flesh which you formed from the earth, to which you gave life with your own breath of life. Never again, Lord, never again!""Here we are, Lord, shamed by what man, created in your own image and likeness, was capable of doing," he said. "Remember us in your mercy."After finishing the speech, the pope stood in silence at the lectern for almost three minutes, writing in the Yad Vashem guestbook.His message: "With shame for what man, who was created in the image of God, was able to do; with shame for the fact that man made himself the owner of evil; with shame that man made himself into god and sacrificed his brothers. Never again! Never again!"
Jul 5 16 1:25 AM
Jul 21 16 5:15 AM
Zenit - Pope Francis will make a private visit to the Italian hill town of Assisi next month.Earlier this month, the Franciscans and Bishop of Assisi, Domenico Sorrentino, announced the that Pope will make an afternoon visit on August 4th to the Porziuncola inside the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels in the Umbrian town.The reason for Francis’ visit is to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the “Pardon of Assisi.”Since then, the Franciscans have given a schedule, announcing more details, reports Vatican Radio.According to the Franciscan order’s local website, Francis will arrive in Assisi by helicopter at 3:40pm. At 4pm, he will arrive at the Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels, inside which the small Porziuncola chapel is located. There, he will take a moment of silent prayer in the chapel, before offering a reflection on the Gospel of Matthew 18:21-35.Following this reflection, the Pope will meet with Franciscan bishops and superiors, and then will greet pilgrims gathered in the piazza outside the basilica.At 6 p.m., the Pope will be taken by car to the Migaghelli sports field, before traveling back to the Vatican via helicopter.Over the course of his short visit, the Pope will be received by several local religious authorities, including Archbishop Domenico Sorrentino of Assisi-Nocera, Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor Fr Michael Anthony Perry, and provincial minister of the Friars Minor of Umbria, Fr Claudio Durighetto.
Aug 11 16 6:31 AM
From today, there are just 50 days until the return of Pope Francis in the Caucasus: specifically, for the visit to Georgia on 30 September and 1 October (41 hours) and then in Azerbaijan on 2 October (9 hours 45 minutes). Thus, a “flash” pilgrimage: 50 hours and 45 minutes. To reach the capital of Georgia, the Pope will have to cover 2668 km with the Alitalia plane. Then between that capital and the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, he will cover other 445 km, and finally, to return to Rome from the Azeri capital, the additional distance to be traveled is 3105 km. In total, round trip: 6218 km. These two countries are part of the second stage of the papal pilgrimage in the Caucasus, which began with the journey in Armenia 24-26 June in 2016. This same Pope Francis, in the Jubilee audience on 30 June, after his pilgrimage to Armenia, thus recalled his pastoral duties in the Caucasus nations: “In recent days the Lord has allowed me to visit Armenia, the first nation which embraced Christianity, in the early fourth century. A nation that, in the course of its long history, has given witness of the Christian faith with martyrdom. I thank God for this trip, and I am deeply grateful to the President of the Republic of Armenia, to Catholicos Karekin II, to the Patriarch and the Catholic bishops, and to the entire Armenian people for welcoming me as a pilgrim of brotherhood and peace. In three months I will fulfill, God willing, another trip to Georgia and Azerbaijan, two other countries of the Caucasus region. I accepted the invitation to visit these countries for two reasons: on the one hand to highlight the ancient Christian roots present in those lands - always in a spirit of dialogue with other religions and cultures - and on the other, to encourage hope and pathways of peace. History teaches us that the path of peace requires a great tenacity and continuous steps, starting with those that are small and gradually making them grow, taking one towards the other. Precisely for this reason I hope that each and every one of us shall give our contribution to peace and reconciliation. As Christians we are called to strengthen the fraternal communion among us, to bear witness to the Gospel of Christ and to be the leaven of a more just and united society. For this, the whole visit was shared with the Supreme Patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church, who fraternally hosted me for three days at his home. I renew my embrace of the Bishops, priests, and religious, and to all the faithful in Armenia. May the Virgin Mary, our Mother, help them to remain steadfast in the faith, open to meeting and generous in works of mercy.” A visit of the Pope with a special program In these two ancient Caucasian Nations, Catholics are very few, but while Georgia is predominantly Christian (the Orthodox are 54%) Azerbaijan is predominantly Muslim (63% Shiite and 33% Sunni - Total: 96%). Consideration should be given to these statistics and to the Pope’s words quoted above (from the audience on 30 June) in order to understand why the program for Pope Francis’ visits is a bit special. Georgia On Friday, 30 September, Pope Francis - after the welcome in the International Airport of Tbilisi-Novo Alexeyevka - will have four meetings during the course of the day. First, with the president Giorgi Margvelashvili, in office since 17 November 2013, leader of the Georgian Dream party, elected with 62% of the votes. Following this will be Francis’ meeting with the authorities, with civil society and the diplomatic corps in the courtyard of the presidential palace. Then there will be two very important religious moments: the meeting with Ilia II, Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia, in the Patriarchate building, and the meeting with the Assyrian-Chaldean community in the Chaldean Catholic church of St. Simon the Tanner (the Shoemaker ). Ilia II (Vladikavkaz, 4 January, 1933) is the current primate of the Georgian Orthodox Church and has been in office since 1977. He holds the titles of Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia, Archbishop of Mtskheta and Tbilisi, and Metropolitan bishop of Abkhazia and Bichvinta. The historic Assyrian-Chaldean community in Georgia has recently welcomed new refugees who have fled from areas controlled by ISIS, especially in Iraq. On 1 October, Pope Francis, in the Mikheil Meskhi Stadium, in Tbilisi, will preside over the first Eucharistic celebration of the two that are planned in this trip; then there will be the meeting with priests and religious men and women in the Church of the Assumption, and the meeting with the aid recipients and the operators of the works of charity of the Church in front of the “Assistance Center” of the Camillians. The first Camillian missionaries arrived in Tbilisi in 1998 on the invitation of Pope St. John Paul II, who entrusted them with conducting a clinic on the Temka outskirts of the capital Tbilisi. Following this, Pope Francis will transfer to Mskheta for a visit to the Svietyskhoveli Patriarchal Cathedral, recently reinstated as a “UNESCO World Heritage Site.” Mskheta is one of the oldest cities of Georgia in Mtskheta-Mtianeti region and is located in the historic province of Kartli, near Tbilisi. The city was the capital of the kingdom of Georgia between the third century BC and fifth century AD. Here, Georgians converted to Christianity in 317 and Mtskheta is still the city for the headquarters of the Georgian Orthodox and Apostolic Church. In Mskheta there are many very old buildings, which in 1994 were included on the list of “World Heritage Sites of UNESCO.” Among these buildings and worth noting are: Svetitskhoveli Cathedral (XI century), Jvari Monastery (VI century), the Armaztsikhe fortress (third century BC), the Acropolis (with construction from the first millennium BC) as well as other places of worship hailing from almost 2 thousand years ago. On Sunday, 2 October at the Tbilisi-Novo Alexeyevka International Airport, Pope Francis will bid farewell to the authorities and will go to Baku, the Azerbaijani capital. Azerbaijan On 2 October, the welcome ceremony will take place at the Baku-Heydar Aliyev International Airport. Immediately after, the Holy Father will preside at the second Eucharist of this pilgrimage and will be at the church of the Immacolata at the Salesian Center in Baku, where since 18 October 2015, there have also been the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians. After lunch in the House of the Salesians there will be a courtesy visit to the president, Ilham Aliyev, in the Genclik presidential palace. Following this there will be the meeting with the authorities in the Heydar Aliyev Center. The President, born 24 December, 1961, has been in office since 2003. He is the son of the third President of Azerbaijan, Heydar Aliyev. The official results of the elections of 15 October 2003 gave the victory to Ilham Aliyev, who got 76.84% of the votes. However, the opposition refused to accept the results of the vote by organizing protests. The protests were triggered by allegations of corruption and electoral fraud. Before the farewell, scheduled at 19.15 (local time), the Holy Father will have three important private meetings: with the sheikh of the Muslims of the Caucasus in Heydar Aliyev Mosque, Hadji Allahchukur Pachazadeh; with the Orthodox Bishop of Baku, Alexander; and with the president of the Jewish Community, Rabbi Shneor Segal.
Aug 22 16 4:38 AM
Archbishop Gábor Pintér, the new apostolic nuncio to Belarus, arrived in Minsk to begin his diplomatic mission and said that Pope Francis would like to visit the Eastern European nation.“The Pope said that we will find some time and the opportunity for this visit,” Archbishop Pinter said, according to a report from the Interfax news agency. “I cannot say when and how, but I think that what the Pope had said is something positive for Belarus.”The nation of 9.5 million is 80% Eastern Orthodox and 14% Catholic.
Sep 12 16 11:06 AM
ANSA - Vatican City, September 12 - The final details of Pope Francis's trip to Georgia and Azerbaijan between September 30 and October 2 were announced on Monday.The first stop will be in Tbilisi, where in the early afternoon the pope will be meeting with the head of state at the presidential palace and will greet authorities, the diplomatic corps and civil society representatives. He will later meet with Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II at the patriarchate of Georgia and the Assyrian Chaldean community at the Chaldean Catholic church of Saint Simon Bar Sabbae. On Saturday, October 1, the pope will be officiating over mass at the Meski stadium, followed by meetings with the clergy and churchgoers and those working for and those receiving help from Church charity. His last appointment of the day will be a visit to the Svietyskhoveli Patriarchal Cathedral of Mskheta. On Sunday, October 2, the pope will go by plane to Baku, where he will receive an official welcome at the airport in Azerbaijan. Following the official welcome, he will celebrate holy mass in the Salesian centre in Baku. After lunch with the Salesian community, he will attend the protocol welcome ceremony in the presidential palace of Genclik, and pay a courtesy visit to the head of state. In the afternoon he will meet with the authorities in the Heydar Aliyev Centre, to be followed by a private meeting with the Sheikh of the Muslims of the Caucasus in the Heydar Aliyev Mosque, and a private meeting with the Orthodox bishop of Baku and the president of the Jewish community. A total of 13 speeches and prayers will be made by the pope during his three-day trip.
Sep 18 16 6:21 AM
Pope Francis of Assisi? A pontiff boosts the birthplace of a saintASSISI, Italy (RNS) Down a deserted stone alleyway, a joyful chorus of “Hallelujah” can be heard rising from an open window while dozens of tourists armed with selfie sticks gather nearby and begin to scour one of Italy’s most beloved towns in search of the perfect digital souvenir.Assisi, a charming medieval hillside city site 100 miles northwest of Rome, is the birthplace of St. Francis, the friar who revolutionized the Catholic Church by preaching a message of poverty and humility more than 800 years ago.The saint himself has long been an object of near universal appeal: Statues of St. Francis adorn gardens in the U.S. and around the world, and the famous Francis “peace prayer” — though not written by him — is immediately recognizable.And of course the famous stories of Francis’ rapport with and respect for all creation, even bugs and wolves, have made him the patron saint of environmentalism as well as service to the poor.Those are all reasons that after his 2013 election as pope, Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio became the first pontiff in history to choose Francis as his papal name.But more than a name, Francis has also made Assisi a regular destination: On Tuesday (Sept. 20), he will visit the Umbrian town for the third time to participate in the 30th interreligious World Day of Prayer for Peace.His first visit was for the saint’s feast day in October 2013, and then he came just last month.Francis’ predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who sometimes had a rocky relationship with the Franciscans in charge of the town’s holy sites, visited twice during his eight-year papacy.St. John Paul II visited four times over the course of 26 years — three times for World Day of Prayer for Peace celebrations, an event John Paul started in 1986.But having Francis visit three times now in less than four years has really cemented his affinity with Assisi, which was already a popular pilgrimage site. That has clearly thrilled the people who live and work there.“The pope is fantastic,” said one local shopkeeper. “He is charismatic. I feel very emotional whenever he speaks.”“I think Pope Francis is particularly close to our saint because his agenda for the church is to be close to the poor and that comes from this historical source,” said Bishop Domenico Sorrentino, who has headed the Assisi Diocese for the past 10 years.“For a pope who called himself Francis it is like coming home. We are very, very happy.”Such enthusiasm is a distinct contrast to the disappointment of many in the town of Castel Gandolfo just outside of Rome that for centuries had been the favored summer palace for the popes — and hence a tourist attraction.But Francis does not like downtime or the idea of a summer retreat, so Castel Gandolfo’s fortunes have flagged with his absence. (That is a shame, and I feel for the townspeople of Castel Gandolfo. I hope the Pope may yet be persuaded to spend a week or two at CG.)Perched on the slopes of Mount Subasio, Assisi has sweeping views across a breathtaking valley where farmers still toil in the fields and visitors can imagine Francis strolling with his followers as he preached a message of peace and compassion.That message is so identified with the place that this weekend over 400 delegates from the world’s major religions, including Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Sikhism, will gather in Assisi to pray and call for peace.The ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, a close friend of the pope, will be among the religious leaders, and the Italian president, Sergio Mattarella, will also attend the final day’s event with Francis.Beside the stunning basilica that bears St. Francis’ name, preparations are well underway and workers are constructing a huge stage for the event organized by the Franciscan Families, the Diocese of Assisi and the Community of Sant’ Egidio, a Rome-based ministry that works for social justice.The Rev. Enzo Fortunato, a Franciscan who is the event’s co-organizer, heads the press office for the papal basilica and convent of Assisi. He said the Franciscans were thrilled when the pope agreed to return to Assisi so soon after his most recent visit, in August.“His choice confirms that Assisi can become a platform – a spiritual beacon – because everyone accepts that Assisi is for all faiths, all cultures,” he told Religion News Service. “They find a place that disarms the hearts of those who come here. It is possible to have dialogue and put a common objective into action.”Fortunato also recalled the first visit Francis made, in 2013, and how moved the pope was when he prayed at the tomb of his namesake beneath the town’s world-famous basilica.“We saw him overcome with emotion at the tomb,” Fortunato said. “There was deep dialogue and intense prayer between the Argentinian Francis and Francis of Assisi. He said he chose the name Francis because he was a man of peace, a man of the poor and a man who supported all creation.”The “Francis effect” on the town appears to be real: Fortunato said that since the pope’s first visit in 2013, the number of visitors to Assisi has risen from 4.5 million to 6 million a year.“This is the home of spirituality,” Fortunato said as he paused between an intense round of last-minute meetings. “Pilgrims who come to Assisi go home reconfirmed in their faith. Those who come out of curiosity or for their love of art and culture return home as pilgrims.”Many also go home with Catholic tchotchkes.The town’s souvenir stores are filled with tiny statues, calendars, key chains and T-shirts bearing images of Pope Francis and his namesake.Yet if the number of visitors is on the rise, merchants say they are not spending and many of the shops seem to be nearly empty.Shopkeepers who rely on tourism for their survival are concerned that too many visitors pass through town on a fleeting day trip. Others say that recent terrorist attacks in Europe and the earthquakes in central Italy have frightened visitors away.But the town’s recently elected mayor, Stefania Proietti, credited the pope for giving the region’s tourism a boost while also insisting that Catholics account for only a small share of Assisi’s visitors.Proietti, a Catholic with two children — named Giovanni Paolo and Francesco after her two favorite popes — described the pope’s previous visit as “extraordinary” and said his latest visit will be a “great opportunity” for Assisi.“The pope draws the world’s attention to Assisi across the board,” she says. “And as mayor I feel a responsibility to send a message to the world that we are universal.”
Oct 13 16 12:17 AM
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, is traveling to Fatima, Portugal ahead of Pope Francis’ own visit, which will take place next year for the 100-year anniversary of Mary’s appearance there.Cardinal Parolin’s Oct. 11-13 visit occurs seven months before the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima on May 13, the anniversary of her first appearance.Pope Francis confirmed during an in-flight press conference returning from his trip to Georgia and Azerbaijan earlier this month that he would travel to Fatima on May 13, 2017, but that he did not know whether or not he would go a day earlier on May 12 for the vigil celebration.Cardinal Parolin’s itinerary for the trip included a stop in Lisbon, where he gave a talk on “The Identity of Europe” at a conference at the Catholic University of Portugal, which will mark the 50th anniversary of its founding in 2017.He also visited several churches and had dinner with Cardinal Manuel José Macário do Nascimento Clemente, the Roman Catholic Patriarch of Lisbon.At Fatima, Cardinal Parolin will participate in an Oct. 12 blessing of the candles and praying the holy rosary at the Little Chapel of Apparitions before processing to the altar to celebrate a candlelit Mass in front of the Basilica of the Holy Rosary.On Oct. 13, there will again be a procession to the Basilica with Mass and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. It is likely that the Pope’s visit will look similar to Cardinal Parolin’s, although Francis said Oct. 2 he would go to Fatima only.Three years ago on Oct. 13, 2013, Pope Francis received the statue of Our Lady of Fatima, which usually resides in the Little Chapel of Apparitions. He invited those present at Mass in St. Peter’s Square to meditate on the gaze of Mary.“O Mary, let us feel your gaze as a Mother,” he said. “Lead us to your Son, as we are not Christians ‘for show,’ but who can ‘get their hands dirty’ to build with your Son, Jesus, his Kingdom of love, joy and peace.”“How important it is,” the Pope said of Mary’s gaze. “How many things can be said with a look! Affection, encouragement, compassion, love, but also reproach, envy, pride, even hatred.”“Often,” he added, “the look says more than words, or says what words cannot or dare not say. Who looks at the Virgin Mary? She looks at all of us, each of us…She looks at us like a Mother, with tenderness, with mercy, with love.”On May 13, 2013, at the Holy Father’s personal request, his pontificate was consecrated to Our Lady of Fatima by Cardinal Jose Polycarp, the then-Patriarch of Lisbon. The consecration took place at the Portuguese shrine dedicated to Our Lady, with thousands of the faithful present.Addressing Our Lady of Fatima during the ceremony, Cardinal Polycarp asked that Pope Francis be granted the gift of discernment “to know how to identify the paths of renewal for the Church.”He also prayed that she would “grant him the courage to not falter in following the paths suggested by the Holy Spirit, protect him in the difficult hours of suffering, so that he may overcome, in charity, the trials that the renewal of the Church will bring him.”
Oct 22 16 6:54 AM
Ecumenical papal trip: Touching the Christian heart of secular Sweden VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis’ recent insistence on “walking ecumenism,” the notion that Christians will draw closer to each other as they work together to help the poor, should resonate well with Lutherans and Catholics in Sweden.“Swedes are known to be people of consensus, pragmatic, so people try to cooperate even if they have different views and backgrounds,” said Bishop Anders Arborelius of Stockholm, the country’s only Catholic bishop and the first native Swede to hold the post since the Protestant Reformation.More than 60 percent of Swedes are baptized members of the Lutheran Church of Sweden and just over 1 percent are registered members of the Catholic Church, although Bishop Arborelius said that with the ever-increasing number of immigrants in the country, the number of Catholics probably is double the official 115,000.Still, Sweden has become almost famous for being one of the most secular countries in Europe. In surveys, less than a third of Swedes describe themselves as religious and even fewer participate regularly in church services.However, “even in the secular society, there are certain Christian values that are very much alive — this wish to help poor people, to protect those who are in danger and to establish equal rights for everyone,” Bishop Arborelius told Catholic News Service Oct. 18.The Rev. Michael Bjerkhagen, official chaplain to the king of Sweden, agreed. “A Christian religious attitude still permeates many ‘secular’ Swedes,” he said in an email interview. “It shows in how they think and speak, what values they have and what they choose to do,” marking everything from opening sessions of Parliament with a service in the Lutheran cathedral to local parish celebrations of the end of each school year.Pope Francis will visit Lund and Malmo on Sweden’s southern tip Oct. 31-Nov. 1, mainly to participate in an international, ecumenical launch of commemorations of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.The pope has insisted Christians cannot pass all responsibility for building Christian unity onto theologians participating in official bilateral dialogues. The prayer of all Christians is essential, he has said, and so is friendship. “Walk together, pray for each other, and do works of charity together when you can. This is ecumenism,” he said in Georgia in early October.“People are very excited” about the pope’s visit, Rev. Bjerkhagen said. “Since the Holy Father is a living symbol for unity for many of us, we expect a lot! And particularly from this pope, who has shown such a strong and brave leadership in so many ways: his solidarity with refugees and poor people; the very honest interest he has shown toward other Christian churches; his open attitude on social-ethical matters; his humble and easygoing way of approaching people.”The Lutheran chaplain and the Catholic bishop both said friendship is something that is plentiful among Lutherans and Catholics in Sweden. In fact, Bishop Arborelius said, his growing diocese does not have enough churches and so many Catholic Masses, especially in rural areas, are celebrated in Lutheran churches. (Now that is what I call true generosity of spirit.)The bishop said he hopes Pope Francis’ popularity among Swedes and his visit will help the nonreligious “see that a Christian person can be very welcoming and very open, even if he sticks to his faith.”“Lately there are more and more voices saying religion brings intolerance, violence, conflict,” he said. “Before, they looked upon religious people as, well, very tame, a bit stupid, but now they tend to say religion can make people violent.”While the growth of the Catholic Church in Sweden is due mainly to immigrants, including Chaldean and Maronite Catholics from the Middle East, Bishop Arborelius is part of the smaller, but steadily growing segment of Swedes who have joined the Catholic Church after being baptized Lutheran.“Not very active” as a Lutheran, he always felt drawn to “the contemplative life or spirituality,” the bishop said. “I always had this longing for a life of prayer and silent adoration.”His family’s contact with the Bridgettine sisters had a deep influence on him, he said, and eventually he began taking courses in the Catholic faith. Entering the Catholic Church at the age of 20, he said, “I had some longing to be a priest — many converts have this idea,” but the local bishop urged him to wait. He entered the Discalced Carmelite novitiate less than two years after becoming Catholic.Traditionally in Sweden most converts come from university circles, Bishop Arborelius said, and are attracted by the Catholic Church’s embrace of reason, its theological depth and its social doctrine. “Somehow they think the Catholic Church is a bit more serious about these things, so it’s quite common that people who are very well educated, if they turn to Christian faith, they go to a Catholic church.”
Oct 29 16 8:05 AM
Pope heads to Sweden, where Catholics thrive after 500 years STOCKHOLM (AP) -- After the Protestant Reformation five centuries ago, Sweden became a grim place for Roman Catholics: Those who rejected the new Lutheran faith were punished with deportation or death.The circumstances couldn't be more different as Pope Francis arrives in the Scandinavian country next week to commemorate the split in Western Christianity that started with Martin Luther's revolt.The once-omnipresent Lutheran Church is bleeding members in Sweden, now considered a bastion of tolerance, while the country's small Catholic community is growing, mainly due to immigration."Now we have a situation in which the Catholic Church is also an important part in the social life" of the country, said Monsignor Furio Cesare, judicial vicar of the Catholic diocese of Stockholm.On Monday, Francis will join Lutheran leaders in the southern city of Lund for an ecumenical service marking the start of a jubilee commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. He will attend another ecumenical event in nearby Malmo, where at the request of Swedish Catholics, he also will preside over a Mass in a football stadium before returning to Rome.While Swedish media and government officials have given the upcoming visit scant attention, the country's Catholic community is beside itself with excitement. Tickets for the pope's Monday event in Malmo sold out in an hour. More than 15,000 people are expected to attend the Mass on Tuesday.Francis' trip marks the start of yearlong, 500th anniversary commemorations across the Protestant world of Martin Luther's famous protest of abuses in the Catholic Church.Vatican officials insist Francis isn't celebrating Luther's 95 theses protesting the sale of indulgences but rather solemnly commemorating the event. In addition, both Catholic and Lutherans say they want to ask forgiveness for their five centuries of division and give thanks for the official Catholic-Lutheran dialogue that began 50 years ago.The pope's visit comes at a moment when Sweden's Catholic community has grown to about 113,000, a small minority in a country of 10 million people, but the biggest it's been since the Reformation.Islam and other religions also are growing as migrants from Africa and the Middle East transform the ethnic and religious makeup of Swedish society.Meanwhile, the Lutheran Church of Sweden is struggling to stay relevant among the majority of secularized ethnic Swedes.Membership in the church, which was separated from the state in 2000, used to be automatic for all Swedes; now it's reserved for those who have been baptized in the church. Droves of Swedes have revoked their membership to avoid the annual church fee - on average about 1 percent of total income.The Lutheran church lost 740,000 or 11 percent of its members between 2005 and 2015. The decline has continued despite the church's efforts to adapt to Swedes' liberal views on abortion, gender equality and gay rights. Sister churches in neighboring Norway and Denmark also losing members, but not quite as quickly."We are still 6.1 million members. That's one of the three biggest Lutheran churches in the world," Stockholm Bishop Eva Brunne said.As Sweden's first openly lesbian bishop, the 62-year-old Brunne represents to many the face of a modern church that is adapting to the times.But the minority of conservative Christians in Sweden says the church is trying too hard to adapt to a secularized society."It basically lost its core content," said Sara Skyttedal, the president of the youth wing of the Christian Democrats, a small and - by Swedish standards - conservative party in Parliament.Skyttedal, who took the rare step in Sweden of converting to Catholicism, said Swedish Lutherans are so eager to adjust to the "zeitgeist" that they're compromising fundamental Christian beliefs. She noted that a Lutheran bishop a few years ago called it "extremist" to believe in an almighty God."Even though we need progress in society in many aspects, there is also need for something constant," Skyttedal said. "That is what made me attracted to the Catholic Church."Cesare said the Catholic Church's relations with the Lutheran Church are complicated by different views on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage."The Swedish Lutheran Church is in a process of renewal," he said. "And personally, I think they need really to find out how to renew their own identity."Brunne rejects the notion that the Lutheran Church of Sweden has abandoned its core identity, saying the church remains rooted in the Bible and "we talk about Jesus as we have always done."She doesn't rule out that the Catholic Church could move in the same direction as the Swedish church on issues such as same-sex marriage, which Francis and the Vatican reject."Why not?" she says. "It took us 50 years in the Church of Sweden. It hasn't happened from one day to the other."
Nov 28 16 3:32 PM
Dec 14 16 6:33 AM
Pope to pick up more stamps for the passport in 2017Right now, Pope Francis has confirmed that he plans to travel to Fatima and to India and Bangladesh in 2017, and strongly wants to visit Africa, perhaps including South Sudan. Beyond that, it's not clear where else he might go, though Colombia remains a possibility.ROME-When Pope Francis came into office almost four years ago, he said he didn’t want to travel much as pope, something he was famous for avoiding while he was still Archbishop of Buenos Aires.Yet since his election on March 2013, he’s taken 17 trips outside of Italy, visiting 27 countries, with six overseas journeys in 2016 alone. Now, it looks like he’s going to be adding several more stamps to his passport in 2017.In the past 12 months, some ordinary papal activities were put on hold because of the Holy Year of Mercy, which ran from December 2015 to last November. For instance, the once every five year ad-limina visits that bishops’ conferences from around the world make to the pope and Vatican offices took a back seat.These visits will be back in force next year, to accommodate both the corresponding ones and those that had to be rescheduled in 2016. The Irish bishops will be coming to Rome in January and the Canadians in March.The Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops manages this schedule, which isn’t revealed to the public. Yet simply because ‘tis the year, the United States’ bishops are also expected to do their every five year pilgrimage to the eternal city, something they normally do by regions.Since the pope is expected to be in Rome and host the bishops when they come to see him, Francis’s calendar is presumably already pretty full. Yet some juggling will be done to guarantee at least three, if not four foreign trips.Although the Vatican usually doesn’t confirm a papal voyage until three or four months before the visit, Francis has already confirmed three for 2017- and completely ruled out one that some 40 million people were eagerly awaiting.In a video released while the pontiff was visiting Georgia, the first pope from the global south told his fellow Argentines that despite wanting to, he won’t go to Argentina in 2017. Francis hasn’t returned home since his election, despite having gone to the Americas four times: Brazil in 2013, Bolivia, Ecuador and Paraguay in 2015, Cuba and the United States in the same year, and Cuba and Mexico last February.He’s also said he won’t be going to Brazil in 2017, despite having expressed his intention to do so back in 2013, on his way back from World Youth Day Rio. The trip was intended to mark the 400th anniversary of the finding of the small statue of Our Lady of Aparecida, and also the 10 year anniversary of the Latin American Bishops’ conference meeting with the same name.On to the three trips he’s confirmed for next year, all of which he told journalists about on his way back form Georgia and Azerbaijan on October 2.The only one that has a date [somewhat] set in stone has a strong Marian theme: Fatima, Portugal, in May.The reason behind the visit is the commemoration of the 100th anniversary to what the Church believes were the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima to the three shepherds, back in 1917. The feast is marked on May 13, and Francis has said he’ll be there for the celebration.It’s unclear, by his own admission, if he’ll make this a one-day visit, or go the day before and participate in the already scheduled prayer vigil on the 12th.Francis will be the fourth pope to visit Fatima, after Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. The Italian visited the shrine back in 1967. The Polish pope went there three times: 1982, 1991 and 2000, while the German pontiff did so once, in 2010.John Paul’s first pilgrimage to Portugal came a year after the assassination attempt by Ali Agca. After that, he was profoundly convinced that on May 13, 1981, the Virgin Mary altered the flight path of a bullet in order to keep him alive and, in so doing, to preserve his papacy.Pope Francis, who as previous popes were, is a big devotee of the Mother of God. He’s also on record saying she’s not a postmistress who delivers messages every day, so he will try to steer away from tight focus on the details of the Fatima revelations.Yet any papal visit to the celebrated Marian Shrine inevitably evokes the undercurrent of secrets and cosmic mysteries long associated with the 1917 apparitions.That body of lore includes, most famously, the “three secrets” of Fatima, that the Vatican has said time and time again have already been disclosed in full: A vision of Hell and world wars; a request for the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and a vision of a bishop in white slain by bullets and arrows, often taken to be a prediction of the 1981 assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II.Debate over these issues continues to swirl. There are those who claim that neither Pius XII nor John Paul II ever complied with the request to consecrate Russia, with hard-core Fatima devotees saying that lumping Russia with the rest of the world doesn’t count.Others believe that there are still unrevealed parts to the third secret. Rumors about this sometimes become too strong for the Vatican to ignore. For instance, this year emeritus Pope Benedict XVI (When oh when will journalists ever honour his wish to be known as "Padre Benedetto"?) broke his self-imposed silence to declare, through the Vatican’s press office, that claims the secret hasn’t been revealed in full are “pure inventions, absolutely untrue.”The other two trips that Francis has confirmed are Asia and Africa, though it’s still unclear when he’ll visit each continent, and in the case of Africa, we don’t really know which countries he’ll visit either.When he announced his plan to go to Africa, he was vague as to where he’d go, saying the destination depended on weather conditions, time of year and regional political and conflict situations. If the rumor mill in Rome is to be believed, South Sudan and North Africa are both strong contenders.At the end of October, the South Sudanese top Christian leaders visited Francis in Rome and urged him to visit their country, in the hopes it could help foster peace in a highly divided nation due to what they called “ethnic rivalries.”As for Asia, he said he intended to visit India and Bangladesh.Once again, however, there’s no preview of the program, meaning the date of the trip is unknown. Neo-Cardinal Patrick D’Rozario of Dhaka, capital of Bangladesh, told Crux in late November that he hadn’t been informed of the dates yet, but that based on weather conditions, October-November would be the best months.In India, Francis is expected to visit the capital New Delhi. But beyond that, the possibilities are almost endless: from Kolkata, to honor Mother Teresa and Mumbai because of its influence, to lesser known places such as Bhubaneswar, in the eastern state of Odisha, the closest large city to Kandhamal, witness to the most violent anti-Christian pogrom of the 21st century.Back in 2008, in a matter of days, a hundred Christians were killed by Hindu radicals and some 50,000 were forced to hide in the nearby forest. The way in which many of these Christians lost their lives, almost all of whom come from the Indian caste once considered “untouchable,” was almost unimaginably grotesque - violence more at home in the Bible or early Christian martyrology, seemingly, than the here-and-now.Francis spoke about these three trips - Portugal, Asia and Africa - in early October. At that time he also addressed the possibility of visiting Colombia, something he’s promised to do once the government and the rebels reach a peace accord to end Latin America’s longest-running conflict.By then, President Juan Manuel Santos had already confirmed the visit.However, Francis said he would go to Colombia “when everything is certain, certain, certain, when they can’t go back, when the international community has agreed that no one can make a (legal) recourse, that it’s finished. If it’s like that, I could go. If it’s unstable? It all depends on what the people say. The people are sovereign.”After the pope spoke those words, the Colombian people voted in a referendum against the peace accord signed by Santos and the FARC, yet a second deal was signed in late November and approved by congress. It remains unclear if it’ll stand or not.If this peace accord does in fact lead to an end to the six-decade war, then Francis could decide to visit Colombia. Having ruled out Argentina, and by extension neighboring countries such as Chile and Uruguay, two strong contenders to welcome him are Peru and El Salvador.The pontiff been talking about a possible visit to Peru since 2015, and El Salvador is campaigning for a papal visit to mark the centennial of the birth of Blessed Oscar Romero, the hailed archbishop murdered in 1980 while he was celebrating Mass.El Salvador launched last August a jubilee year in honor of Romero, and many are hoping the Church will recognize a miracle through his intercession, clearing the path to declare this martyred man, champion for the poor and marginalized, a saint on August 15.
Mar 10 17 2:04 PM
Pope Francis will visit Colombia in mid-September as the Latin American nation works to implement a new peace deal and rebuild after 52 years of war.The Vatican announced March 10 that the pope had accepted the invitation of President Juan Manuel Santos and the Colombian bishops.The trip, Sept. 6-11, will include visits to the cities of Bogota, Villavicencio, Medellin and Cartagena. Details of the trip were to be published at a later date.Pope Francis will be the third pope to visit the nation after Blessed Paul VI and St. John Paul II. The previous papal visit there was 31 years ago in 1986.The bishops’ conference posted on their website the trip logo: the pope smiling and walking flanked by the white and yellow colors of the Vatican on one side and an early indigenous symbol on the other. The motto is “Let us take the first step” (“Demos el primer paso”).Archbishop Ettore Balestrero, apostolic nuncio to Colombia, said: “The pope wants to come to meet the Colombian people; he comes for those who live in the cities and for those who live in the countryside and have a different culture and needs; for the rich and for the poor; for the youth and for the elderly.”Archbishop Balestrero also noted that the pope will only visit Colombia on this trip, he said in a statement he gave at a news conference and published online on the conference website.“It is rare that the pope visits only one country and that he stays there for four days. This shows the importance that (Pope) Francis attributes to this visit and, ultimately, to Colombia,” he said.
Mar 14 17 3:55 AM
The Tablet - Pope Francis will be visiting Colombia in mid-September as the Latin American nation works to implement a new peace deal and rebuild after 52 years of war.
The Vatican announced 10 March that the pope had accepted the invitation of President Juan Manuel Santos and the Colombian bishops.The trip, from 6- 11 September, will include visits to the cities of Bogota, Villavicencio, Medellin and Cartagena. Details of the trip will be published at a later date.Pope Francis will be the third pope to visit the South American country after Blessed Paul VI and St John Paul II. The previous papal visit there was 31 years ago in 1986.The bishops' conference posted on their website the trip logo: the pope smiling and walking flanked by the white and yellow colours of the Vatican on one side and an early indigenous symbol on the other. The motto is "Let us take the first step" ("Demos el primer paso").Archbishop Ettore Balestrero, apostolic nuncio to Colombia, said: "The pope wants to come to meet the Colombian people; he comes for those who live in the cities and for those who live in the countryside and have a different culture and needs; for the rich and for the poor; for the youth and for the elderly."Archbishop Balestrero also noted that the pope will only visit Colombia on this trip, he said in a statement he gave at a news conference and published online on the conference website."It is rare that the pope visits only one country and that he stays there for four days. This shows the importance that (Pope) Francis attributes to this visit and, ultimately, to Colombia," he said.
Mar 20 17 11:20 AM
Mar 20 17 11:23 AM
Mar 24 17 5:36 AM
Above all, residents of the Case Bianche are hoping for one thing when Pope Francis pays them a visit on Saturday: that the lifts don’t break down again. That’s what happened a few months ago to Cardinal Angelo Scola when he visited the tower block in the eastern part of Milan. The city’s archbishop had to use the stairs to reach the flat of an old lady on the top floor.Cardinal Scola was so struck that when the pope said he wanted to start his visit to Milan in the suburbs, the dilapidated Case Bianche seemed like an obvious choice.The building, in fact, is more gray than white. Social housing authorities have done a bit of touching up ahead of the pope’s visit, with a lick of paint here and there in now unusually clean stairwells.“But much more radical work is needed,” says Don Augusto Bonora, the parish priest of San Galdino, the small church built at the foot of the housing complex in the 1970s.In the bathroom of their small apartment, Anna and Luca point helplessly to a hole in the ceiling through which water flows from the flat upstairs.“I've been calling ALER [the housing authority] for three years, but they're not doing anything," Anna laments.A true local, Anna, a mother of two, remembers the original Case Bianche which lent their name to the complex. These small buildings were built in the 1930s to house the unemployed of the 1929 economic crisis and to relegate opponents of fascist regime away from the city center. Four decades later the structures had become unhealthy so they were torn down and replaced by the block that is now falling into disrepair itself.All that remains of the district’s original features is the small altar of the Virgin of Lourdes where the Pope will go on Saturday."It was in the courtyard of my house,” recalls Anna of a time when there was a real spirit of community in the neighborhood.“ The old ones are dead, the younger ones got married and left. Everything has gradually deteriorated,” says Luca. For her, the pope’s visit to a district where 20 % of the population are immigrants is more important that if a president were coming. “ALER has let us down and the politicians are not interested in us. Only the Church has stood by us,” he adds, explaining how a succession of parish priests kept close ties with local residents.There was Don Giuseppe, “who married us” and Don Giancarlo who “helped me to find my way in life and taught me the value of work”.As soon as the neighborhood was built in the 1930s, the Church had wanted there to be a parish. Even today San Galdino devotes a lot of attention to Case Biahche, from food aid to visiting the elderly through to active support for children and young people.It's residents feel quite isolated from the rest of Italy’s economic capital.“For us, the pope is coming partly to unity our neighborhood with the rest of the city, to tell us that we are not excluded,” says Luca.“Milan summarizes the classic ambivalence of cities,” says Luciano Gualzetti, director of Caritas Ambrosiano, a charitable arm of the Milan diocese."It’s a city with many facets, people who live in relative security, but there are also major unemployment problems, many seniors living alone.“Those who do not have opportunities remain at the margins, they are not taken into account by the politicians… Our work is, therefore, to bring them out of invisibility by offering each comprehensive assistance to break out of poverty,” adds Gualzetti.At the beginning of the Jubilee Year, the diocese found that there were 5,000 empty dwellings in Milan, while 29,000 people were waiting to be housed.“We worked with the city and, [with the tax payment Italians are allowed to allocate to the church of their choice] we started to rebuild 55 [houses],” explains Gualzetti.Since this was a response to a Jubilee appeal by the pope, Francis himself will hand over the keys to the first new tenants on Saturday.
Apr 10 17 6:03 AM
Egypt's attacks won't stop pope's visit for peace, says Vatican officialVATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Despite recent and repeated terrorist attacks against Egypt's minority Christian communities, Pope Francis will not cancel his visit to Egypt. (No, indeed - in fact, he will surely be more determined than ever to go.)"The pope's trip to Egypt proceeds as scheduled," Greg Burke, Vatican spokesman, told Catholic News Service by email April 10. The pope is scheduled to meet governmental and interfaith leaders during an April 28-29 visit to Cairo."Egyptians are looking forward to Pope Francis' visit, although the atmosphere at present is heavy," Father Rafic Grieche, spokesman for the Egyptian bishops, told CNS April 10, the day after the attacks."The pope's mission is to be beside his brothers at the time of difficulty. Now is the real time that he can bring peace and hope to the Egyptian people as a whole and to the Christians of the East, in particular," Father Grieche added.He said people were uneasy entering churches with metal detectors and other security measures."It's not like going to a normal church. But we need these measures to keep people safe," he said.He said after the attack, he celebrated a Mass with 2,000 people."The people knew already about the attack in Tanta, but they did not want to be afraid. In the evening, they also came for the prayers of the Holy Week," Father Grieche said.Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II was in the Cathedral of St. Mark in Alexandria April 9 for the Palm Sunday service, when an explosion went off outside the church. Security footage appeared to show a security officer direct a man who was seeking entry into the cathedral to go through a metal detector. The man took a step under the detector then backed up a step, followed by a huge explosion that cut off the camera feed.Earlier, a bomb exploded 70 miles away inside the Church of St. George in Tanta, 50 miles north of Cairo, during its Palm Sunday service. Estimates say at least 44 people were killed and more than 100 injured in the two attacks, making it one of the deadliest against the nation's Christians in decades.It was the single deadliest day for Christians in decades and the worst since a bombing at a Cairo church in December killed 30 people.Pope Tawadros told the Italian national network Rai News April 9 the attacks would "not damage the unity and cohesiveness" of the Egyptian people."Egyptians are united before this terrorism," he said, adding that "these vile attacks that hit people of peace in places of prayer demonstrate that terrorism lacks any religion."Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar University, also condemned the attacks, calling them a "despicable terrorist bombing that targeted the lives of innocents."Retired Coptic Catholic Bishop Antonios Mina of Giza, Egypt, said the incidents were an attack against the nation's unity, its Coptic Christians, "to remind them that they have no rights, and against all Christian minorities of the country that anxiously await Pope Francis.""Despite it all, we will never lose hope. These atrocious gestures make us firmer in the faith and stronger," he said. "Egypt's Christians are warriors of hope."One Catholic leader highlighted his country's failure to address the real causes behind the Palm Sunday massacres.Speaking to "the officials and the wise of this country," Coptic Catholic Bishop Botros Fahim Awad Hanna of Minya said that "you don't fight terrorism with words or slogans, nor with security or armies alone.""What have you done for social, economic, health, political and human justice? What have you done for the poor and downtrodden? What have you done to reform thought, expression and religious discourse?"In a posting on his Facebook page, Bishop Fahim said that when Pope Francis goes to Cairo, he "will come to say no to terrorism and evil, and yes to goodness and fraternity. Love will never fail."Around the world, religious leaders offered prayers.Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the attacks on the churches were "unspeakable persecution.""In the midst of what should be peace, horrible violence yet again," he said. On behalf of all U.S. bishops, the cardinal expressed "our deepest sadness" for all those killed and injured, and their loved ones."I also express our solidarity with the Coptic church in Egypt, an ancient Christian community that faces mounting persecution in its historic home from violent extremism. I also pray for the nation of Egypt, that it may seek justice, find healing, and strengthen protection for Coptic Christians and other religious minorities who wish only to live in peace."Egypt is 90 percent Sunni Muslim; Christians make up the remaining 10 percent, with that majority being the Coptic Orthodox church. The Catholic community in Egypt numbers about 272,000, less than 0.5 percent of the population.
May 16 17 3:42 AM
May 19 17 5:27 AM
Striking up a conversation with Pope Francis in mid-airVATICAN CITY — Walking past the smiling Alitalia stewards and onto the papal plane, I knew it was important to get an aisle seat. This, I worked out, offered me the best chance of some quality face time with Pope Francis when he came back to greet the 70 journalists traveling with him last month to Cairo, Egypt.One of the major bonuses of traveling aboard “Shepherd One” is the chance to meet the pope personally on the flight out, and then to take part in the mid-air press conference on the way back.Journalists and cameramen sit at the back of the plane, with Francis and his party at the front. On the way to Egypt, the Argentinian pontiff was in aisle seat 1C with an icon of the Virgin Mary and the child Jesus in front of him.For any reporter covering the Vatican, having a “one-on-one” with the Successor of St. Peter in an intimate setting is valuable, and under Francis, who places much value on “personal encounter,” it can be fruitful. Some have been known to secure interviews with this pope after meeting him on the plane.Although I had already met him on a number of occasions, this time I was keen to see whether I could strike up a rapport with him, perhaps even share a joke. What I knew about Francis was that he thrives on ordinary back-and-forth conversation, even with journalists.As the plane reached high altitude, there was a flurry of activity around the entrance to the economy section, and a Vatican security guard walked past us to the back of the plane. Then, suddenly, the curtain was pulled back and the man in white appeared. Francis greeted everyone, thanked the media for their work and then started making the rounds.Before I knew it, the pope was in front of me with his hand out and with a smile on his face.“This is Christopher Lamb,” an official announced, “from the Tablet” (My other gig. He must have forgotten to mention Chicago Catholic).Moving fast, I presented him with a copy of the latest edition of the Tablet, for which I’m the Rome correspondent, and then told him a bit more about myself.“I’m an English Vatican journalist,” I explained, and then added as a joke: “But please don’t worry, I’m not a Knight of Malta.”I hoped the pope would see the funny side, particularity given that Francis has been embroiled in a battle to reform the Order of Malta — an ancient, aristocratic Catholic order. This had led to the resignation of former Grand Master, Fra’ Matthew Festing, an Englishman who had been involved in a bruising public row between the order and the Vatican.Thankfully, the pope burst out laughing at my remark. “Sei cattivo,” he told me in Italian, “you’re wicked.”After the joking on the flight over, Francis quickly got down to serious business during his 27 hours in Cairo.The visit will go down as a historic moment in Christian-Muslim relations, one in which the papacy started to work with Islamic leaders to combat religiously inspired violence. It saw Francis embrace the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Mosque, one of the most important centers of learning in the Muslim world, and denounce acts of terror carried out “in the name of God.” Francis opened his talks with the traditional Arabic greeting of peace and Muslim sign of respect, “as-Salaam-Alaikum,” which drew applause from the crowds.How to respond to the growth of Islam and extremist versions of that faith is something increasingly on the agenda of popes. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI took on the issue during a 2006 address at Regensburg University, Germany, where he had worked as a professor decades before. This address was a scholarly reflection on the relationship between faith and reason but angered Muslims for quoting a 14th-century Christian emperor who claimed that the Prophet Muhammad had only brought the world things that were “evil and inhuman.”While Benedict XVI was praised for addressing the difficult topic of violence within a religion, Francis has chosen to build bridges with the Islamic world and his visit to Egypt was the seventh he’s made to a Muslim-majority country in four years. A papal trip to Bangladesh, where almost 90 percent of the population are followers of Islam, is planned for later this year.So far Francis has won the respect of Muslims on the ground, with Al-Azhar’s Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb praising the pope for refusing to link terrorism with the faith of Islam. For its part, Al-Azhar, founded in the 10th century, is trying to combat extremism from within.The pope’s trip was aimed at helping in that endeavor while continuing his strategy of building friendships with Islamic opinion leaders. It’s not clear whether Francis’ approach will pay off, but if he succeeds, it will make the world a safer place.
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