Pope Francis appeals to Catholics in England and Wales to ‘open their eyes’ and ‘hear the cry’ of human trafficking victims

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As the Catholic Church in England and Wales prepares for Day for Life on Sunday 17 June, Pope Francis has sent a special message to Catholics in England and Wales asking them to break the chains of captivity of those who have been trafficked and to “bring comfort to those who have survived such inhumanity.”

Day for Life is the day in the Church’s year dedicated to raising awareness about the meaning and value of human life at every stage and in every condition. This year’s Day for Life aims to raise awareness of the vile crime of human trafficking.

In his latest Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate, Pope Francis calls on all Catholics to see the holiness in others by recognising their dignity. He asks us all to “respond with faith and charity, and see in this person a human being with dignity” (Gaudete et Exsultate 98).

Our defence of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred… Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection (Gaudete et Exsultate 101).

Papal Blessing

Invoking the intercession of the Patron Saint of victims of human trafficking and modern slavery, St Josephine Bakhita, Pope Francis has sent his Apostolic Blessing to those marking Day for Life. The Holy Father prays “that God might free all those who have been threatened, wounded or mistreated by the trade and trafficking of human beings and bring comfort to those who have survived such inhumanity.”

Santa Marta Group

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has responded to the rise in these inhumane crimes by developing the Santa Marta Group – a global alliance of international police chiefs, bishops and religious communities working in partnership with civil society to eliminate human trafficking and modern slavery. It is named after the house where Pope Francis lives and where the founder members stayed in 2014 prior to signing, in the presence of the Holy Father, an historic declaration of commitment. The Group now has members in over 30 countries.

www.santamartagroup.com

 Day for Life

 Day for Life is the day in the Church’s year dedicated to raising awareness about the meaning and value of human life at every stage and in every condition. On 17 June, in England and Wales, there will be a mandatory second collection in parishes to support Day for Life. Proceeds of the collection will go to a full range of work that supports life in all its forms. This includes the Anscombe Bioethics Centre and other Church supported life activities.

In the UK alone, it is estimated that every year there are over 13,000 victims of trafficking. Day for Life asks for your prayers and donations in supporting those that work to restore their lives to the full.

Find out more at www.dayforlife.org.

Papal Message

The papal message and blessing was sent by the Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain, His Excellency Archbishop Edward Adams, to Bishop John Sherrington, Bishop for Day for Life on the instructions of the Secretariat of State of His Holiness Pope Francis.

Dear Bishop Sherrington,

The Secretariat of State of His Holiness has asked me to reply to your letter of 23 April 2018, in the matter of the Day for Life, to be held in Scotland on 31 May, and in England and Wales on 17 June.

Informed by these observances, Pope Francis invokes the intercession of St Josephine Bakhita, the patron of the victims of human trafficking and modern slavery, praying that she might intercede on their behalf with the God of Mercy so that the chains of their captivity will be broken. He prays that God might free all those who have been threatened, wounded or mistreated by the trade and trafficking of human beings and bring comfort to those who have survived such inhumanity.

The Holy Father appeals to us all: that we may open our eyes and be able to see the misery of those so deprived of their dignity and their freedom, and hear their cry for help. In giving assurance of his prayers, His Holiness imparts to the organizers and participants of the Day for Life his Apostolic Blessing.

Greeting Your Excellency respectfully, I remain, in Our Lord

Archbishop Edward Joseph Adams, Apostolic Nuncio

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Cardinal Nichols’ statement on the Irish Referendum

Cardinal Nichols, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales, said:

“Today I offer my prayerful support to the Archbishops of Armagh and Dublin, Eamon Martin and Diarmuid Martin, and their statements following the Referendum in Ireland on changes to its Constitution.

“Our commitment to mothers and their unborn children remains unchanged. We must do all we can to ensure that the deliberate taking of an unborn human life is not an option that anyone would choose. The denial of life to another human being, a brother or sister, is a wrong that harms our fragile humanity. We work and pray for the day when this truth is widely accepted and laws permitting abortion are seen for what they are.

“Our pro-life convictions have to be consistently expressed in action,  in support of women who are trapped in difficult and painful circumstances and in support of the children they are carrying.

“May God bless Ireland and its generous hearted people. May that love, in every family, be a protection for the unborn, whatever the law may now permit.”

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Catholic Church complains to BBC Scotland

11-BISHOP-JOHN-KEENAN-2Bishop John Keenan, Bishop of Paisley, has today published a letter sent to the Director of BBC Scotland, Donalda MacKinnon, outlining his concerns of the corporation’s treatment of Catholics in a recent short film titled ‘Homophobia in 2018, Time for Love’.

The film, broadcast on the corporation’s digital platform, ‘The Social’, portrays hatred towards gay people and suggests Catholics are the root of the problem, with detailed references to the teachings and liturgy of the Church. With several deeply insulting and offensive representations, the video includes a clip which says the Catholic Sacrament of Holy Communion ‘tastes like cardboard and smells like hate’.

In his correspondence, dated 23 April, Bishop Keenan quotes recent Scottish Government figures which show fifty-seven per cent of religiously aggravated crime is committed against Catholics, who make up only sixteen per cent of the population. Bishop Keenan writes:

“In the current climate of growing hostility to Catholics I would appeal that the BBC guard against adding fuel to the fire.  In that regard I would ask that the Corporation now reach out to Catholics to understand their concerns, that they are being portrayed in a prejudicial way.”

Adding: “When it comes to important public debates about the wellbeing of the human person and the truth and meaning of human sexuality Catholics feel their views are becoming increasingly marginalised, almost criminalised”.

He requested a meeting with the Director to express concerns and to try to restore some breadth and fairness of critique, adding: “Catholics ask nothing more from the media than equity of treatment alongside their peers”.

The Director of the Scottish Catholic Media Office, Peter Kearney, has also sent a complaint to the Head of Public Policy and Corporate Affairs at BBC Scotland, regarding concerns the film has breached official Guidelines.

Requesting clarification as to whether the video was approved or assessed by the Head of Editorial Standards and Compliance prior to publication, he writes:

“The Guidelines make it clear that “Programme makers dealing with religious themes should be aware of what may cause offence.” While also stating “Deep offence will also be caused by profane references or disrespect whether verbal or visual, directed at deities, scriptures, holy days and rituals”. He adds: “The gratuitously disrespectful representation of the Mass constitute exactly the type of disrespect which the Guidelines seek to avoid.”

The full text of the correspondence sent to BBC Scotland is copied below.

Letter from Bishop John Keenan to BBC Scotland Director, Donalda MacKinnon

The Director
BBC Scotland
40 Pacific Quay,
G51 1DA

23 April 2018

Dear Director

I am writing to draw your attention to an edition of The Social on BBC Scotland’s digital content stream entitled Homophobia in 2018, Time for Love. 

As part of its portrayal of the hatred gay people experience in daily life it pointed to Catholics inter alia as at the root of the problem.  It went on to aver that Jesus would have wasted His time on these same Catholics who are too ‘small-minded’ to accept that same-sex ‘love is no sin’.  While making its case it opined that the Catholic Sacrament of Holy Communion ‘tastes like cardboard and smells like hate’ and depicted a priest holding up a Mini-Cheddar in parody of the Host, received by an ordinary Catholic woman attending Mass.

I was contacted by two young media producers who were upset by content that they considered to have ‘mocked’ their Catholic faith.  They appealed to me to raise the issue urgently as a matter of public debate.   In the event my Facebook page was inundated with ordinary Catholics expressing hurt and outrage at the content.  Unfortunately they had to face counter comments from opponents, whose response seemed to amount to a ‘serves Catholics right’ line of argumentation.  

Following the broadcast the archdiocese of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh worried that the BBC had sanctioned the idea that Catholics engender public hated of homosexuals.  The sense of shock has not been limited to Scotland.  Catholic media outlets have taken up the story across the English speaking world.  All have reached the same conclusion: that this content is really quite beyond the pale, and unworthy of the BBC as a public service broadcaster.

I should let you know that a Catholic woman complained and found her correspondence received a ‘completely inadequate’ reply that ‘did not even refer to the correct video’, but talked about ‘giving artists a chance’.  To her it just implied ‘contempt for those who complained’ and led her to conclude that the ‘BBC refuses to see … falsehood … and violence in their treatment of our Faith, and the repercussions this has for ordinary Catholics’.

You may be aware of disappointing Scottish Government research released this month, showing fifty-seven percent of religiously aggravated crime in Scotland is now committed against Catholics, a rise of fourteen percent, even though Catholics make up only sixteen percent of the population.  It was followed by Sunday Times findings that twenty percent of Catholics in Scotland have personally experienced abuse or prejudice on account of their faith. 

As a Catholic bishop in Scotland I feel unable to distance myself from the above complaints.  I believe this piece did somehow cross the Rubicon in the BBC’s portrayal of Catholics.  

In the current climate of growing hostility to Catholics I would appeal that the BBC guard against adding fuel to the fire.  In that regard I would ask that the Corporation now reach out to Catholics to understand their concerns, that they are being portrayed in a prejudicial way.  When it comes to important public debates about the wellbeing of the human person and the truth and meaning of human sexuality Catholics feel their views are becoming increasingly marginalised, almost criminalised’ by a narrative in BBC news, comment, arts and elsewhere that amounts to ‘LGBT views good, Catholic views bad’, an assumption which you must know is simplistic and imposed, and which is not strengthened by longitudinal research.

In this context I would like to request a meeting with you, simply to express the concerns of alienation Catholics in Scotland increasingly feel in regard to the BBC’s broadcasting values, and to see if some way cannot be found of reflecting upon editorial policy in the Corporation with a view to restoring some breadth and fairness of critique.  My hope is that it might encourage the BBC to examine how it assigns balance to different though reasonably and decently held views as to the common good of society.  Catholics ask nothing more from the media than equity of treatment alongside their peers.

The Catholic community has typically trusted, treasured and supported the BBC.  Even while the BBC has provided thorough analysis of the admitted failures of the Catholic Church in Scotland in the matter of the abuse of minors in its care, Catholics have generally continued to regard with respect the many BBC journalists and producers et al who work with integrity and balance. 

At the same time the Catholic community is now worried that some elements in the Corporation have adopted an agenda that is overtaking the BBC’s unique position as a globally respected public service broadcaster in order to substitute it with something more akin to a mouthpiece for particular agendas on sexuality and gender, not uncommonly directed against Christians in general, and Catholics specifically.

It is not only the just sensibilities of Catholics that are at stake.  The high reputation of the BBC itself, among a significant constituency of its licence payers, and more broadly, is being put into question, and can now only benefit from concerted efforts to restate its erstwhile respected and treasured place, not least in Scottish society. 

Yours sincerely,

Bishop John Keenan

Letter from Peter Kearney, Director of the Scottish Catholic Media Office to Ian Small.

Ian Small
Head of Public Policy and Corporate Affairs
BBC Scotland
Pacific Quay
Glasgow

Dear Ian

I’m writing to raise a serious concern held by many within the church about the content of the video produced for the BBC’s digital content stream “The Social” https://www.facebook.com/bbcthesocial/videos/1450722328371519/

While the film deals with attitudes towards homosexuality, it does so with reference, in parts, to the teachings and liturgy of the Catholic Church. Both are represented in a grossly insulting and demeaning way. The depictions appear to contravene the BBC “Producer’s Guidelines” as set out in Section 6 “Taste and Decency”, Part 9 “Religious Sensibilities”.

The Guidelines make it clear that “Programme makers dealing with religious themes should be aware of what may cause offence.” While also stating “Deep offence will also be caused by profane references or disrespect whether verbal or visual, directed at deities, scriptures, holy days and rituals”.

The gratuitously disrespectful representation of the Mass at 2m 40s and 2m 54s constitute exactly the type of disrespect which the Guidelines seek to avoid. With this in mind I am writing to ask if the video concerned was approved or assessed by Alasdair MacLeod as Head of Editorial Standards and Compliance prior to publication?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely

Peter Kearney

Director

CC: Donalda MacKinnon, Director, BBC Scotland

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A Statement on Gender from the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales

Plenary-Statement-1024-1_mediumToday there is intense public debate about gender. It highlights not only the suffering and discomfort of some, but also raises profound questions about human nature, how we understand ourselves, relate to one another and our capacity for self-determination.

We recognise that there are people who do not accept their biological sex. We are concerned about and committed to their pastoral care. Through listening to them we seek to understand their experience more deeply and want to accompany them with compassion, emphasising that they are loved by God and valued in their inherent God-given dignity. There is a place of welcome for everyone in the Catholic Church.

Our teaching is that God creates human beings male and female: “God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). This sexual difference and complementarity is within every person, for we all belong to families and draw our very existence from this complementarity. It is within the family that our lives first take shape and our identity is nurtured. These are important factors in the architecture of human relationships, orientated towards the goods of marriage, the mutual building up of each person and the flourishing of family life (CCC 2333). Indeed, the body is God’s gift. It is with and through our bodies that we make our earthly journey, with all its ambiguities, sufferings and joy. This understanding is vital for welcoming and accepting not only ourselves, and each other, but also the entire world as gifts of God. This understanding also gains greater clarity when we enter more deeply into the gift of faith and see in Jesus Christ the fullness of our human dignity and calling made clear. This is expressed in Vatican II: ‘It is only in the mystery of the Word incarnate that light is shed on the mystery of humankind’ (Gaudium et Spes 22 ). Only in the mystery of the cross of Jesus does our own suffering find new salvific depth and hope.

The idea that the individual is free to define himself or herself dominates discourse about gender. Yet our human instinct is otherwise. We know that there is so much about our lives that is foundational. Today we are faced with an ideology of gender which, in the words of Pope Francis:

denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without sexual difference, thereby eliminating the anthropological basis of the family. This ideology leads to educational programmes and legislative enactments that promote a personal identity and emotional intimacy radically separated from the biological difference between male and female. Consequently, human identity becomes the choice of the individual, one which can also change over time”… It needs to be emphasised that “biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated.” (Amoris laetitia 56)

We are deeply concerned that this ideology of gender is creating confusion.

As we continue to reflect on these issues, we hope for a renewed appreciation of the fundamental importance of sexual difference in our culture and the accompaniment of those who experience conflict in their sense of self and God-given identity. We all have a duty to protect the most vulnerable.

 

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Statement on the case of Alfie Evans from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales

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Our hearts go out to the parents of Alfie Evans and our prayers are for him and with them as they try to do all they can to care for their son.

We affirm our conviction that all those who are and have been taking the agonising decisions regarding the care of Alfie Evans act with integrity and for Alfie’s good as they see it.

The professionalism and care for severely ill children shown at Alder Hey Hospital is to be recognised and affirmed.  We know that recently reported public criticism of their work is unfounded as our chaplaincy care for the staff, and indeed offered to the family, has been consistently provided.

We note the offer of the Bambino Gesu Hospital in Rome to care for Alfie Evans.  It is for that Hospital to present to the British Courts, where crucial decisions in conflicts of opinion have to be taken, the medical reasons for an exception to be made in this tragic case.

With the Holy Father, we pray that, with love and realism, everything will be done to accompany Alfie and his parents in their deep suffering.

Wednesday 18th April 2018

A report of the meeting of the father of Alfie Evans with the Pope can be found here.

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Gaudete et Exsultate: A help for our conversion and fulfilment, not an instrument for ideological wars

[Christopher Morgan]

The day the Papal Exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate, was released a tweet was posted noting it was probably best not to read the document trying to find lines to disagree with or delighting in how the Pope called out one’s ideological enemies. It concluded “simply read and ask the Holy Spirit to help us become holier!”

Pope Francis document, known as an apostolic exhortation, entitled Gaudete et exsultate (Rejoice and be glad), is seen in this picture illustration taken at the Vatican

These are wise words because there is a real danger of the Exhortation being turned into a battleground. On the one hand some are quick to criticise what Pope Francis says and where he places the emphasis; on the other hand others are keen to extract quotes from the document to attack people whose views they disagree with. The outcome may be that rather than discussion about the document being on how we can become holier in our daily lives, it gets side-tracked into polemics.

But the central message of the Exhortation – the call to holiness – is something that should interest us all. Right at the start the Pope reminds us that “The Lord asks everything of us” and he immediately goes on “and in return he offers us true life, the happiness for which we were created.” We may have thought that holiness sounds unattractive – but we all look for happiness!

The document is full of suggestions and examples of how we can progress along this path of holiness, of true life, of happiness. There are references to the lives of the saints but also the witness of ordinary people around us – maybe our mother or grandmother or the next neighbour. The Pope is clear that to be holy one does not have to hold a particular position in the church – it can come through being a husband or wife, a parent, a worker. When we feel the temptation to dwell on our own weaknesses we can raise our “eyes to Christ crucified and say: “Lord, I am a poor sinner, but you can work the miracle of making me a little bit better.”” So we can grow in holiness, and happiness, through little steps.

The vision of holiness Pope Francis offers is practical with his explanation of the Beatitudes and the reference to the parable of the sheep and goats (“I was hungry and you gave me food… “). But he is also clear that holiness comes from and is sustained by prayer, invoking the Holy Spirit, and moments of silence before God.

Some comments on social media imply that the Pope is not saying anything new or very challenging. But is this because we take things too much for granted? For example, he says that a Christian’s mission “has its fullest meaning in Christ, and can only be understood through him. At its core, holiness is experiencing, in union with Christ, the mysteries of his life. It consists in uniting ourselves to the Lord’s death and resurrection in a unique and personal way, constantly dying and rising anew with him. But it can also entail reproducing in our own lives various aspect of Jesus’s earthly life: his hidden life, his life in community, his closeness to the outcast, his poverty and other ways in which he showed his self-sacrificing love.”   These words, the challenge and the promise they contain, will always be new. As we read them over and over again, maybe they will start to change us.

The Pope also regrets “ideologies that lead us at times to two harmful errors”. “On the one hand, there is the error of those Christians who separate [the] Gospel demands from their personal relationship with the Lord, from the interior union with him, from openness to his grace. Christianity thus becomes a sort of NGO stripped of the luminous mysticism so evident in the lives of [the saints]”. The other is found “in those who find suspect the social engagement of others, seeing it as superficial, worldly, secular, materialist, communist or populist. Or they relativize it, as if there are other more important matters, or the only thing that counts is one particular ethical issue or cause that they themselves defend.” In this passage he seems to identify the age-old argument within Christianity – whether a person is saved by deed alone or solely by faith. The tradition of the Church however teaches that we need both faith andgood works.

Much of the controversy on social media has come from the above passages and the subsequent comments referring to the defence of the unborn. Some have said the Pope is undermining the pro-life witness by placing equal emphasis on other issues of human dignity such as the plight of migrants.  Others have used this passage to criticise the pro-life movement. One thing the Pope is very clear on, at the end of the Exhortation, is that the devil is a being not a metaphor for evil. How this “evil one” must be laughing up his sleeve at the sight of committed Catholics arguing between themselves about a hierarchy of life issues rather than celebrating the fact that some commit their time to defending the unborn while others go out to address the needs of refugees and migrants!

The Pope finishes: “Let us ask the Holy Spirit to pour out upon us a fervent longing to be saints for God’s greater glory, and let us encourage one another in this effort. In this way, we will share a happiness that the world will not be able to take from us.” Let us encourage one another, even when our sensibilities are different. Let us use this Exhortation to seek for greater holiness and so a fuller life and greater happiness.

 

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Pope Francis writes to each one of us about striving for holiness in today’s world

Below are some questions and answers on the Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate.

Why did the Pope write this Exhortation, and why now?

Helping people to be holy is one of the Church’s main tasks, in every era. The Second Vatican Council spoke of the “universal call to holiness”. Pope Francis has written not an academic or doctrinal text, but an apostolic exhortation whose goal is “to repropose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time.” It is an invitation to a journey that takes place in the concrete here and now of our daily lives, in small gestures and little things, in which we are led more and more by God’s grace.

In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis spoke of the call to all the faithful to be missionary disciples; Gaudete et Exsultate is about the mission at the heart of that call, which is to be in relationship with Jesus Christ, who stirs our desire for holiness and enables us, by his power rather than ours, to get there. Holiness is for all of us, not a select few. He wants us to know that it is our destiny; it’s what God has planned for us; and yet there is nothing intimidating or overpowering about it; rather it is a liberation, a way of becoming who we really are.

What is new about Gaudete et Exsultate?

St John Paul II and Benedict XVI spoke often about the universal call to holiness, with the former in Novo Millennio Ineunte, 30-31 inviting the Church’s pastoral planning to include a “training in holiness”, above all in the art of prayer.

Gaudete et Exsultate is addressed personally to each and every one of us, whatever our state in life or level of education or development. Pope Francis often uses the informal singular expression tu (in Latin languages), which is how we speak one at a time to friends and family. So Francis is extending a personal invitation to follow Christ.

Second, it is deliberately lay in its language and invitation, aimed at people who live in the world, who have jobs and families and busy lives with many different pressures. Pope Francis wants people to know that they need no special education or qualifications, nor to take religious vows: just an open heart and a desire to spend some time with the Lord in prayer and by reading the Gospel. He also wants people to know that the Church has everything they need to become holy, and it is all available to them.

Third, the pope shows us, in very practical ways, how the journey to holiness is undertaken, and how it makes us more alive and more human.

How does he suggest people will become holy?

Much of what Pope Francis suggests is well known in Catholic life: to make time for prayer, to frequent the sacraments of the Eucharist and Confession, to do a daily examination of conscience, and to read the Gospel regularly, so that Christ’s life and ours become ever more closely identified. But he makes a very strong connection between these “spiritual” activities and actions rooted in mercy. In fact, he says they cannot be separated, and the authenticity of our prayer will be shown in how we become and act more humbly and more mercifully. This is rooted in Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus offers a very clear path to holiness in the Beatitudes in Chapter 5. Then in Chapter 25 we find the “one clear criterion on which we will be judged” at the end of time, namely how we have responded to the concrete needs of others, especially the poor. There is no holiness without this. It involves believing, praying and doing in ways that can’t be separated.

The document has an entire chapter about two ancient heresies. Why does Pope Francis seem so preoccupied with them?

Pope Francis has referred frequently to the dangers of the modern-day versions of Gnosticism and Pelagianism, and a February document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith called Placuit Deo explains them in detail. They are temptations, false paths to salvation that might look superficially like Christianity but  are ways of seeking salvation not through the power of Christ but through the power of ideas or human effort. Pope Francis explains this in everyday language so that everyone can be aware of these dangers. In effect, he’s telling us how to spot and therefore avoid these “false forms of holiness”, which try to make human beings, not Christ, the agent of our salvation. Because these false forms appear to be very Catholic, they can take us in.

He tells us, for example, to be aware of beautiful ideas that seem to explain everything in a complex logical system, or of an excessive emphasis on rules and methods. He warns us about a “punctilious concern for the Church’s liturgy, doctrine and prestige”, for example. Reason, liturgy, laws – these are all good, but means to an end, to open us to Grace, not ends in themselves.

The key point is that we are saved – we become holy – not by our own sophisticated ideas or strong efforts but by being constantly open to the assistance God offers us, in our weakness. This help, or Grace, is not a reward for the righteous, but a way of assisting those who turn to God in need. Equally, the most important thing, says Pope Francis, is the way we respond to the least of our brothers and sisters. We are justified not by our works and efforts but by the grace of God, who always takes the initiative. Grace is God’s free gift to us – including our own desire to be holy. So becoming holy is about a progressive transformation in response to God’s free gift freely accepted and received by us.

No. 58 warns against the Church becoming “a museum piece or the possession of a select few”. Who is he talking about?

The “new Pelagians” in the Church: he does not name particular groups, but warns against “groups of Christians” who “give excessive importance to certain rules, customs or ways of acting”. This “may well be a subtle form of Pelagianism, for it appears to subject the life of grace to certain human structures”. This explains, he says, why certain groups or movements start with an intense life in the Spirit but end up “fossilized … or corrupt.”

Why does the Pope insist so much on the dangers of gossip? (No. 87)

The pope has often talked before about gossip, and has referred to it as a form of violence that destroys communities, sowing division and suspicion. Early in the document (no. 16) he gives an example of “everyday” holiness when a person meets someone out shopping and decides to refrain from engaging in gossip.  Speaking about the Beatitudes in no. 87 he gives the opposite example of hearing something about someone, repeating it and embellishing it, “and the more harm it does, the more satisfaction I seem to derive from it.  The world of gossip, inhabited by negative and destructive people, does not bring peace.  Such people are really the enemies of peace; in no way are they ‘blessed’.”

He sees the destructive power of gossip amplified by social media. In no. 115  he warns that Christians “can be caught up in networks of verbal violence through the internet and the various forums of digital communication” and that “even in Catholic media, limits can be overstepped, defamation and slander can become commonplace, and all ethical standards and respect for the good name of others can be abandoned.”  He says it is striking how, at times Catholics who claim to uphold the other commandments completely ignore the eighth, which forbids bearing false witness or lying, and ruthlessly vilify others.

In No. 98, Pope Francis gives the example of encountering a homeless person on a cold night. Does he mean to suggest that I am obliged to help that person there and then?

He is not offering a precept, but illustrating how holiness changes the way we view the world, and especially our fellow human beings. If I see this person not as a problem but as a brother or sister in need, then I am seeing them, as it were, through the eyes of Christ. What action flows from this will rightly depend on various factors. In the following paragraph he mentions the way we suffer “a constant and unhealthy unease” when we look at the world this way. It’s a sign of our growth in holiness.

Without using the word abortion, the Pope seems to argue in No. 101 that there is a moral equivalency between abortion and a number of other practices that destroy human dignity. Is this the case?

Pope Francis is here criticising an unholy attitude which separates off one area of ethical concern from all the rest and absolutizes it. And he offers the very common example of a Catholic who believes passionately in the pro-life cause while dismissing the social engagement of other Catholics as in some way ‘political’. The call to holiness requires a larger view, so that loving your neighbour means being concerned for anyone whose human dignity is under threat. Two of many examples are a family forced to flee their home because of bloodshed, or someone who has been trafficked into prostitution. Because we can’t be equally concerned all the time with every threat to human dignity, we should be grateful that others are responding where we cannot. He’s not getting it into the relative weight these issues have in moral theology but talking about the attitudes that holiness brings.

The pope appears to suggest that to be a Christian you have to care about migrants and receive anyone in need who comes to your border.

The Pope has never said that all migrants have to be received or welcomed. He has encouraged wealthier countries to be generous, and to see that immigrants can be integrated into the societies into which they come. He has always talked about building bridges, and against walls to keep people out. He has spoken of the importance of seeing migrants not as statistics but as people. Here he makes the point that the plight of migrants is not a ‘secondary’ or lesser ethical issue, and criticizes Catholics who “consider it a secondary issue compared to the “grave” bioethical questions”. The call to holiness is a call to put the Gospel into action, and that also means welcoming the foreigner (Mt 25:35).

“We may think that we give glory to God only by our worship and prayer, or simply by following certain ethical norms”, he says  in no. 104, but while “it is true that the primacy belongs to our relationship with God” we cannot forget that “the ultimate criterion on which our lives will be judged is what we have done for others.” Our worship becomes pleasing to God “when we devote ourselves to living generously, and allow God’s gift, granted in prayer, to be shown in our concern for our brothers and sisters.” Similarly, “the best way to discern if our prayer is authentic is to judge to what extent our life is being transformed in the light of mercy” (no. 105).

In Nos. 160 and 161, the Pope pays a lot of attention to the devil. Given that, he presumably believes in hell as well?

Pope Francis has regularly referred elsewhere to hell, and reports that he in some way questions its existence were untrue. In his Lent message for 2016, for example, he described hell as the opposite destiny to the holiness he describes here – and for the same reason: “Yet the danger always remains that by a constant refusal to open the doors of their hearts to Christ who knocks on them in the poor, the proud, rich and powerful will end up condemning themselves and plunging into the eternal abyss of solitude which is Hell.” In March 2014 he warned mafia bosses to stop their lives of violence and extortion, telling them:  “There is still time to avoid ending up in hell. That is what is waiting for you if you continue on this path.”

Here he does not mention hell but the devil, warning that any journey to holiness will involve being assailed by the enemy of holiness. This is a constant struggle, not just a one-off event, and knowing this is key: Holiness is a series of victories over the devil’s temptations.

He warns that if we think of the devil as merely a symbol or an idea, we will let down our guard. But in the Church the Lord has given us many powerful weapons against the devil’s efforts, particularly the gift of discernment, which is particularly necessary today when there is much to distract us that seems superficially good.

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Pope Francis notes that while the Lord speaks to us “in a variety of ways, at work, through others and at every moment”,  we cannot do without the silence of prolonged prayer, which allows us “to see the whole of our existence afresh in his own light” and allows “the birth of a new synthesis that springs from a life inspired by the Spirit.”

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