Mercy drives out fear, Pope tells Latin-American Church as Colombia signs historic peace accord

Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos

Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos

Pope Francis has used the longest video message of his pontificate to urge the Church of the Americas to show mercy in its pastoral care and to relieve the sufferings of a “wounded” people. The message to a major gathering of church leaders in the Colombian capital, Bogotá organized by the Latin-American Episcopal Council (CELAM) and the Pontifical Commission for Latin America in Rome, came just days after the historic peace accord ending the decades-long civil war in that country. In a speech to cardinals and bishops gathered from North as well as South America, the Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, used the Pope’s address to underline the importance of forgiveness.

(See, at Crux, report by Inés San Martín, plus background to meeting by Austen Ivereigh here and his analysis of the address here.)

Text of Pope Francis address follows:

I welcome the initiative of CELAM and CAL, in association with the bishops of the United States and Canada – this makes me think of the Synod of America – to make possible this continent-wide opportunity to celebrate the Jubilee of Mercy. I am pleased to know that all the countries of America have been able to take part. Given the many attempts to fragment, divide and set our peoples at odds, such events help us to broaden our horizons and to continue our handshake; a great sign that encourages us in hope.

I would like to begin with the words of the apostle Paul to his beloved disciple: “I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the foremost. But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience” (1 Tim 1:12-16a).

So Paul tells Timothy in his First Letter, chapter 1, verses 12 to 16. In speaking to him, he wants to speak to each of us. His words are an invitation, I would even say, a provocation. Words meant to motivate Timothy and all those who would hear them throughout history. They are words that cannot leave us indifferent; rather, they profoundly affect our lives.  Paul minces no words: Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom Paul considers himself the worstHe is clearly aware of who he is, he does not conceal his past or even his present. But he describes himself in this way neither to excuse or justify himself, much less to boast of his condition. We are at the very beginning of the letter, and he has already warned Timothy about “myths and endless genealogies” and “meaningless talk”, and warned him that all these end up in “disputes”, arguments. At first, we might think that he is dwelling on his own sinfulness, but he does this so that Timothy, and each of us with him, can identify with him. To use football terms we could say: he kicks the ball to the center so that another can head the ball. He “passes us the ball” to enable us to share his own experience: despite all my sins, “I received mercy”.

We have the opportunity to be here because, with Paul, we can say: “We received mercy”. For all our sins, our limitations, our failings, for all the many times we have fallen, Jesus has looked upon us and drawn near to us. He has given us his hand and showed us mercy. To whom? To me, to you, to everyone. All of us can think back and remember the many times the Lord looked upon us, drew near and showed us mercy. All those times that the Lord kept trusting, kept betting on us (cf. Ez 16). For my part, I think of the sixteenth chapter of Ezekiel, and the Lord’s constant betting on each one of us. That is what Paul calls “sound teaching” – think about it! – sound teaching is this: that we received mercy. That is the heart of Paul’s letter to Timothy. During this time of the Jubilee, how good it is for us to reflect on this truth, to think back on how throughout our lives the Lord has always been near us and showed us mercy. To concentrate on remembering our sin and not our alleged merits, to grow in a humble and guilt-free awareness of all those times we turned away from God – we, not someone else, not the person next to us, much less that of our people – and to be once more amazed by God’s mercy. That is a sure message, sound teaching, and never empty talk.

There is one particular thing about Paul’s letter that I would like to share with you. Paul does not say: “The Lord spoke and told me” or “The Lord showed me or taught me”. He says: “He treated me with mercy”. For Paul, his relationship with Jesus was sealed by the way he treated him. Far from being an idea, a desire, a theory – much less an ideology –, mercy is a concrete way of “touching” weakness, of bonding with others, of drawing closer to others. It is a concrete way of meeting people where they are at. It is a way of acting that makes us give the best of ourselves so that others can feel “treated” in such a way that they feel that in their lives the last word has not yet been spoken. Treated in such a way that those who feel crushed by the burden of their sins can feel relieved at being given another chance. Far from a mere beautiful word, mercy is the concrete act by which God seeks to relate to his children. Paul uses the passive voice – pardon me for being a bit pedantic here – and the past tense. To put it loosely, he could well have said: “I was ‘shown mercy’”. The passive makes Paul the receiver of the action of another; he does nothing more than allow himself to be shown mercy. The past tense of the original reminds us that in him the experience took place at a precise moment in time, one that he remembers, gives thanks for, and celebrates. Paul’s God starts a movement from heart to hands, the movement of one who is unafraid to draw near, to touch, to caress, without being scandalized, without condemning, without dismissing anyone. A way of acting that becomes incarnate in people’s lives.

To understand and accept what God does for us – a God who does not think, love or act out of fear, but because he trusts us and expects us to change – must perhaps be our hermeneutical criterion, our mode of operation: “Go and do likewise” (Lk 10:37). Our way of treating others, in consequence, must never be based on fear but on the hope God has in our ability to change. Which will it be: hope for change, or fear? The only thing acting out of fear accomplishes is to separate, to divide, to attempt to distinguish with surgical precision one side from the other, to create false security and thus to build walls. Acting on the basis of hope for change, for conversion, encourages and incites, it looks to the future, it makes room for opportunity, and it keeps us moving forward. Acting on the basis of fear bespeaks guilt, punishment, “you were wrong”. Acting on the basis of hope of transformation bespeaks trusting, learning, getting up, constantly trying to generate new opportunities. How many times? Seventy times seven. For that reason, treating people with mercy always awakens creativity. It is concerned with the face of the person, with his or her life, history and daily existence. It is not married to one model or recipe, but enjoys a healthy freedom of spirit, and can thus seek what is the best for the other person, in a way they can understand. This engages all our abilities and gifts; it makes us step out from behind our walls. It is never empty talk – as Paul tells us – that entangles us in endless disputes. Acting on the basis of hope for change is a restless way of thinking that sets our heart pounding and readies our hands for action. The journey from heart to hands.

Seeing how God acts in this way, we might be scandalized, like the older son in the parable of the Merciful Father, by how the father treats his younger son upon seeing him return. We might be scandalized that he embraced him, treated him with love, called for him to be dressed in the best robes even though he was so filthy. We might be scandalized that upon seeing him return, he kissed him and threw a party. We might be scandalized that he did not upbraid him but instead treated him for what he was: a son.

We start being scandalized – and this happens to us all, it’s almost automatic, no? – we start being scandalized when spiritual Alzheimer’s sets in: when we forget how the Lord has treated us, when we begin to judge and divide people up. We take on a separatist mindset that, without our realizing it, leads us to fragment our social and communal reality all the more. We fragment the present by creating “groups”. Groups of good and bad, saints and sinners. This memory loss gradually makes us forget the richest reality we possess and the clearest teaching we have to defend. The richest reality and the clearest teaching. Though we are all sinners, the Lord has unfailingly treated us with mercy. Paul never forgot that he was on the other side, that he was chosen last, as one born out of time. Mercy is not a “theory to brandish”: “Ah! Now it is fashionable to talk about mercy for this Jubilee, so let’s follow the fashion”. No, it is not a theory to brandish so that our condescension can be applauded, but rather a history of sin to be remembered. Which sin? Ours, mine and yours. And a love to be praised. Which love? The love of God, who has shown me mercy.

We are part of a fragmented culture, a throwaway culture. A culture tainted by the exclusion of everything that might threaten the interests of a few. A culture that is leaving by the roadside the faces of the elderly, children, ethnic minorities seen as a threat. A culture that little by little promotes the comfort of a few and increases the suffering of many others. A culture that is incapable of accompanying the young in their dreams but sedates them with promises of ethereal happiness and hides the living memory of their elders. A culture that has squandered the wisdom of the indigenous peoples and has shown itself incapable of caring for the richness of their lands.

All of us are aware, all of us know that we live in a society that is hurting; no one doubts this. We live in a society that is bleeding, and the price of its wounds normally ends up being paid by the most vulnerable. But it is precisely to this society, to this culture, that the Lord sends us.

He sends us and urges us to bring the balm of “his” presence. He sends us with one program alone: to treat one another with mercy. To become neighbors to those thousands of defenseless people who walk in our beloved American land by proposing a different way of treating them. A renewed way, trying to let our form of bonding be inspired by God’s dream, by what he has done. A way of treating others based on remembering that all of us came from afar, like Abraham, and all of us were brought out of places of slavery, like the people of Israel.

All of us still vividly recall our experience in Aparecida and its invitation once more to become missionary disciples. We spoke at length about discipleship, and wondered how best to promote the catechesis of discipleship and mission. Paul gives us an interesting key to this: showing mercy. He reminds us that what made him an apostle was how he was treated, how God drew near to his life: “I received mercy”. What made him a disciple was the trust God showed in him despite his many sins. And that reminds us that we may have the best plans, projects and theories about what to do, but if we lack that “show of mercy”, our pastoral work will be cut off midway.

All this has to do with our catechesis, our seminaries – do we teach our seminarians this path of showing mercy? – our parish structures and pastoral plans. All this has to do with our missionary activity, our pastoral plans, our clergy meetings and even our way of doing theology. It is about learning to show mercy, a form of bonding that we daily have to ask for – because it is a grace – and need to learn. Showing mercy among ourselves as bishops, priests and laity. In theory we are “missionaries of mercy”, yet often we are better at “mistreating” than at treating well. How many times have we failed in our seminaries to inspire, accompany and encourage a pedagogy of mercy, and to teach that the heart of pastoral work is showing mercy. Being pastors who treat and not mistreat. Please, I ask you: be pastors who know how to treat and not mistreat.

Today we are asked especially to show mercy to God’s holy and faithful people – they know a lot about being merciful because they have a good memory –, to the people who come to our communities with their sufferings, sorrows and hurts. But also to the people who do not come to our communities, yet are wounded by the paths of history and hope to receive mercy. Mercy is learned from experience – in our own lives first – as in the case of Paul, to whom God revealed all his mercy, all his merciful patience. It is learned from sensing that God continues to trust in us and to call us to be his missionaries, that he constantly sends us forth to treat our brothers and sisters in the same way that he has treated us. Each of us knows his or her own story and can draw from it. Mercy is learned, because our Father continues to forgive us. Our peoples already have enough suffering in their lives; they do not need us to add to it. To learn to show mercy is to learn from the Master how to become neighbors, unafraid of the outcast and those “tainted” and marked by sin. To learn to hold out our hand to those who have fallen, without being afraid of what people will say. Any treatment lacking mercy, however just it may seem, ends up turning into mistreatment. The challenge will be to empower paths of hope, paths that encourage good treatment and make mercy shine forth.

Dear brothers and sisters, this gathering is not a congress or a meeting, a seminary or a conference. This gathering is above all a celebration: we have been asked to celebrate the way God has treated each of us and all his people. For this reason, I believe that it is good time for us to say together: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord; take me once more into your redeeming embrace” (Evangelii Gaudium, 3).

Let us be grateful, as Paul told Timothy, that God trusts us to repeat with his people the immense acts of mercy he has shown us, and that this encounter will help us to go forth with renewed conviction as we seek to pass on the sweet and comforting joy of the Gospel of mercy.

Posted in mercy, peace & reconciliation

Pope urges Jesuits to teach discernment in seminaries to counter rigidity

Pope Francis poses with Polish Jesuits during his visit to the Church of St Francis in Krakow on July 30, 2016 (Photo: APF)

Pope Francis poses with Polish Jesuits during his visit to the Church of St Francis in Krakow on July 30, 2016 (Photo: APF)

[Austen Ivereigh] Too much seminary formation is too rigid to allow for the development of priests who can genuinely walk with young people in their real-life situations, Pope Francis told Jesuits at a private meeting during World Youth Day in Krakow.

Urging the Jesuits to teach seminarians the art of spiritual discernment at the heart of St Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises, the Pope warned that some priestly formation programs

run the risk of educating in the light of overly clear and distinct ideas, and therefore to act within limits and criteria that are rigidly defined a priori, and that set aside concrete situations: ‘you must do this, you must not do this.’ And then the seminarians, when they become priests, find themselves in difficulty in accompanying the life of so many young people and adults. Because many are asking: ‘can you do this or can you not?’. That’s all. And many people leave the confessional disappointed. Not because the priest is bad, but because the priest doesn’t have the ability to discern situations, to accompany them in authentic discernment. They don’t have the needed formation.

The dynamic of pastoral discernment, on the other hand, “respects the law but knows how to go beyond”, Francis said, adding: “We need to form future priests not to general and abstract ideas, which are clear and distinct, but to this keen discernment of spirits so that they can help people in their concrete life. We need to truly understand this: in life not all is black on white or white on black. No! The shades of grey prevail in life. We must them teach to discern in this grey area.”

The Pope frequently stressed the importance of discernment in his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, noting that priests “have been called to form consciences, not to replace them.” (See CV Comment). Father Salvador Pie-Ninot, a Spanish professor of ecclesiology, wrote in Osservatore Romano recently that the pope referred in the exhortation to the need for discernment 35 times.

The Pope’s remarks came at the end of a Q&A with Polish Jesuits on July 30 which was recorded and, with his permission, this week published by La Civiltà Cattolica in Rome. What follows is a working translation by Fr Thomas Rosica of the complete remarks, prefaced by comments by the Jesuit journal’s editor, Fr Antonio Spadaro SJ.


During his Apostolic Trip in Poland on the occasion of the 31st World Youth Day, July 30, 2016—first vespers of St Ignatius of Loyola—at 5 p,m., Pope Francis met with a group of 28 Polish Jesuits belonging to two Provinces of the Society of Jesus of the country and two lay collaborators, accompanied by the two Father Provincials, Fr Tomasz Ortman and Fr. Jakub Kolacz. Attended also the meeting other three Jesuits: fr. Andrzej Majewski, Vatican Radio’s director of programs, Fr. Federico Lombardi, at that time director of the Press Office of the Holy See, and fr. Antonio Spadaro, editor in chief of La Civiltà Cattolica. The encounter occurred at the Archbishopric of Krakow in a climate of great simplicity, spontaneity and cordiality, and though it was not devoid of meaningful content to the Order, it also held meaning for the Church more in general. Francis greeted everyone present, one by one, and he focused in particular on those he had known in the past. When he was seated and began the dialogue, listening to the questions posed and answering in Italian, Fr. Kolacz translated his words into Polish, even though the majority of those present understood Italian well. Then the Pontiff received some gifts. Before concluding the encounter, lasting a total of 40 minutes, the Pope wanted to add a recommendation easily understandable in connection with his recent Magisterium. With the Holy Father’s approval, we report here the dialogue, in its immediacy, just as it happened, even preserving some personal memories. It is intended as a witnessing that—as you will read—even gathers some impressions of the Pontiff’s experience with the young people of WYD and also provides meaningful pastoral lines.

-Antonio Spadaro S.J.

Your message gets to the heart of the young people. How do you speak to them so effectively? Could you give us some advice for working with youth?

When I speak, I must look people in the eyes. It isn’t possible to look in the eyes of all of them, but I look into the eyes of this one, of this one, of this one….and everyone feels I look at them. It is something that comes to me spontaneously. This is how I do it with the young people. But, then the young people, when you speak with them, ask questions…..Today at lunch they asked some questions….They even asked me how I go to confession! They have no discretion. They ask direct questions. And you always need to answer a young person with the truth. A young man asked me: «How do you confess?». And I began to talk about myself. He said to me: «In my country there were scandals tied to priests and we do not have to courage to go to confession with these priests who have lived these scandals. I cannot do it.». You see: they tell you the truth, at times they reprimand you…Young people speak directly. They want the truth or at least a clear «I don’t know how to answer you». You never find subterfuges with young people. So with prayer. They asked me: «How do you pray?». If you answer with a theory they remain disappointed. Young people are generous. But the work with them also requires patience, a lot of patience. One of them asked me today: «What should I say to a friend who does not believe in God so that they can become a believer?». Here, you see that at times young people need «recipes». Then you must be ready to correct this attitude that requires recipes and ready answers. I answered: «See that the last thing that you must do is to say something. Begin to do something. Then he or she will ask you explanations on how you live and why». Here, you must be direct, direct with the truth.

What is the role of the Jesuit universities? 

A university as a straight line from the Jesuits must point to a global formation, not only intellectual, a formation of the whole human person. In fact if the university becomes simply an academy of ideas or a «factory» of professionals or a mentality centered on business prevails in its structure then it is truly off the path. We have the Exercises in hand. Here’s the challenge: take the university on the path of the Exercises. This means risking on the truth, and not on the «closed truth» that no one discusses. The truth of the encounter with people is open and requires that we let ourselves make enquiries truly from reality. And the Jesuit university must be involved with the real life of the Church and the Nation: also this is reality, in fact. A particular attention must be always be given to the marginalized, to the defense of those have more need of being protected. And this—it is clear—is not being a Communist: it is simply being truly involved with reality. In this case, in particular a Jesuit university must be fully involved with reality expressing the social thought of the Church. The free-market thought that removes man and woman from the center and puts money at the center is not ours. The doctrine of the Church is clear and it must move forward in this sense.

Why did you become a Jesuit?

When I entered the seminary, I already had a religious vocation. But at that time my confessor was anti-Jesuit. I also liked the Dominicans and their intellectual life. Then I got sick and had to undergo lung surgery. Later another priest helped me spiritually. I remember when I then told the first priest that I had entered the Jesuits, he truly did not take it well. But here the irony of the Lord moved. In fact, at that time they were receiving minor orders. The tonsure is done in the first year of theology. The rector told me to go to Buenos Aires to the auxiliary bishop, Mons. Oscar Villena, to look for him to do the tonsure ceremony. I went to the House of Clergy, but they told me that Mons. Villena was sick. There was in his place another monsignor who was precisely that first priest who had then became a Bishop! And I received the tonsure precisely from him! And we have made peace after many years…. But, yes, I can say, my choice of the Society matured by itself…

There are some recently ordained priests in this group. Do you have advice for their future?

You know: the future is from God. The most that we can do is the feasible. And the feasible are all of the bad spirit! An advice: the priesthood is truly a great grace: your priesthood as a Jesuit is soaked in the spirituality that you have lived up to now: the spirituality of the Suscipe of St Ignatius.

[At this time the encounter seems to be ending with the delivery to the Pontiff of gifts from some Jesuits who followed some young people connected to Ignatian spirituality who came from all over the world to WYD. Francis then wants to add a recommendation and everyone sits down again.]

I want to add something now. I ask you to work with seminarians. Above all, give them what you have received from the [Spiritual] Exercises [of St Ignatius]: the wisdom of discernment. The Church today needs to grow in the ability of spiritual discernment. Some priestly formation programs run the risk of educating in the light of overly clear and distinct ideas, and therefore to act within limits and criteria that are rigidly defined a priori, and that set aside concrete situations: «you must do this, you must not do this.». And then the seminarians, when they become priests, find themselves in difficulty in accompanying the life of so many young people and adults. Because many are asking: «can you do this or can you not?». That’s all. And many people leave the confessional disappointed. Not because the priest is bad, but because the priest doesn’t have the ability to discern situations, to accompany them in authentic discernment. They don’t have the needed formation. Today the Church needs to grow in discernment, in the ability to discern. And priests above all really need it for their ministry. This is why we need to teach it to seminarians and priests in formation: they are the ones usually entrusted with the confidences of the conscience of the faithful. Spiritual direction is not solely a priestly charism, but also lay, it is true. But, I repeat, you must teach this above all to priests, helping them in the light of the Exercises in the dynamic of pastoral discernment, which respects the law but knows how to go beyond. This is an important task for the Society.

A thought of Fr. Hugo Rahner has often struck me. He thought clearly and wrote clearly! Hugo said that the Jesuit must be a man with the nose for the supernatural, that is he must be a man gifted with a sense of the divine and of the diabolical relative to the events of human life and history. The Jesuit must therefore be capable of discerning both in the field of God and in the field of the devil. This is why in the Exercises St Ignatius asks to be introduced both to the intentions of the Lord of life and to those of the enemy of human nature and to his lies. What he has written is bold, it is truly bold, but discernment is precisely this! We need to form future priests not to general and abstract ideas, which are clear and distinct, but to this keen discernment of spirits so that they can help people in their concrete life. We need to truly understand this: in life not all is black on white or white on black. No! The shades of grey prevail in life. We must them teach to discern in this grey area.

[The encounter ends here above all by the necessity to continue on the day’s program brought to the attention of the Holy Father by his collaborators. Before taking his leave, however, Francis wanted once more to greet the Jesuits one by one concluding with a final blessing.]

Posted in vocations, World Youth Day 2016

Pope names Dallas bishop to new dicastery for family and laity

Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas, head of the new super-dicastery

Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas, head of the new super-dicastery

Pope Francis has formally established the new Vatican mega-body responsible for family, lay people and life issues, appointing the current Bishop of Dallas, Irish-born Kevin Farrell, as its head (see Crux report and analysis here and here).

In Sedula Mater, the formal decree establishing the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life  — which opens its doors on 1 September — Pope Francis says he wants to offer particular help and support to lay people, families and life “because they are an active witness of the Gospel in our time and an expression of the kindness of the Redeemer.”

The new body subsumes a number of different existing bodies, and may point to a new kind of Vatican department that combines both advisory and legislative functions (see CV Comment.)

In another significant appointment, the Pope named Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia — who used to head the Vatican’s Council for the Family until it was subsumed into the new dicastery — as the new head of the Pontifical Academy for Life (see Crux). 

Posted in Vatican reform

Next synod could focus on ordaining married men

Bishop Erwin Kraütler of Xingú with Pope Francis in 2014

Bishop Erwin Kraütler of Xingú with Pope Francis in 2014

[Austen Ivereigh] After the bruising but fruitful experience of the synod on the family, one thing is clear: Francis has created an instrument of discernment that is capable of wrestling with big issues in the contemporary Church.

The reformed synod — a global consultation, followed by two assemblies separated by a year, concluding in a major papal teaching document that resets pastoral strategy for the next generation — means that big topics can no longer be kicked into the long grass on the grounds that they are just too big to deal with.

If a vast topic such as the Church’s preparation for marriage and its handling of divorcés can be discussed, it means other burning issues can be too. And top of that list are questions about ministry: access to the sacraments, the role of women and lay people, as well as the role of deacons.

Some are saying that pastoral ministries will the topic for the next synod, likely to be scheduled for 2018-19.

No one doubts the question is an urgent one. More than half of the Catholic Church’s communities worldwide have no resident priest.

The diocese of Xingú in the Brazilian region of Pará, for example, has 800 parishes or missions in a territory the size of Germany, but just 27 priests, meaning that more than two-thirds of the faithful take part in Sunday Mass just two or three times a year.

Xingú may be extreme, but across the developing world, in both rural areas and the cities, priest-to-people ratios are far lower than in the wealthy north, in part because distances are vast and congregations are growing faster than priests can be trained.

And there are dramatic examples in Europe, where catechists or lay people in effect run the parishes in between rare visits by the parish priest.

Back in May 2007, when the Latin-American bishops met for their great pan-continental assembly at the shrine of Aparecida, Brazil, a considerable number of them wanted to discuss the painful question of the lack of access to the sacraments. But a Vatican representative assured them that it was neither the time nor the place to open that discussion without the say-so from Rome.

The then-Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires, the chief author of Aparecida’s concluding document, was well aware of the desire for that discussion, just as, at the synod on the Eucharist in Rome two years earlier, he had seen how keen bishops were to discuss the access to the sacraments of the divorced and remarried.

Those bishops had been told at the time that the synod as it was constituted was not the place for that discussion and Bergoglio agreed – which is why, after his election, Francis introduced a new format that could enable such a discernment.

In much the way that access to the sacraments of the civilly divorced and remarried was the neuralgic question in the family synod — the issue around which disagreements coalesced — in a future synod on the ministries it will be the priestless parish.

And just as there was a longstanding, controversial proposal in response to the divorced and remarried issue — Cardinal Walter Kasper’s invitation to consider the Orthodox approach — there is one for priestless parishes.

Retired bishop Franz Lobinger

Retired bishop Franz Lobinger

A solution has been kicked around the yard for many years by Fritz Lobinger, a retired German bishop who lives in Durban, South Africa.

During 50 years in South Africa, and traveling to many parts of the world, he observed how many Christian communities in remote areas are led in practice by small groups of committed, mature lay people.

His solution is to ordain them after a brief training, so that they can administer the sacraments within that community alone.

These ‘locally ordained ministers’ — Lobinger says it is important not to call them priests, even though it would involve precisely the same sacrament of priestly ordination — would be, in effect, a parallel priesthood, complementary to the existing norm in the Latin rite of a celibate, seminary-trained priest sent by his bishop to different parishes or missions.

Lobinger points to a precedent in Acts of the Apostles 14:23 when St Paul and Barnabas appointed  — or ordained — ‘elders’ in the young Christian communities, the term referring not so much to the age of the people but their maturity or fitness for the task.

These were teams of men who were not sent to their community but came out of it; who ministered to the community part-time, while continuing to work at their professions; and who had families.

This shows, says Lobinger in a book published recently in Spanish, that the Church for a number of centuries ordained local leaders chosen by the local community, who had proven their worthiness over some time.

Francis has given many signals of his willingness to open up the question of ordaining married men, even encouraging local Churches to put forward proposals.

Bishop Erwin Kraütler, the Austrian-born bishop of Xingú, reported that in a private audience with Francis in April 2014 they had compared notes on how the priest shortage affects the Church in Latin America. Kraütler said Francis had cited a Mexican diocese — San Cristóbal in Chiapas — where parishes were run by deacons, who would need only to be ordained in order to celebrate Mass.

Francis described Lobinger’s proposal as one of a number of “interesting hypotheses” and urged Kraütler to go off and build national bishops’ conference consensus for “bold, concrete proposals” which they should bring to Rome.

The pope said he is open to the question, he wants to listen to local churches. But he said no local church, no national church, should go on its own, the archbishop told an Irish newspaper at the time.

That, of course, was precisely the message the pope gave the German Church when it was talking in 2013 of readmitting divorced couples to Communion on a case-by-case basis.

AlmeidaLobinger’s proposal has been developed in Latin America by a Brazilian theologian at the Pontifical University of Paraná in Curitiba, Antonio José de Almeida, who recently published a book (also in Spanish) on the “new ministries.”

He points to the 40,000 ‘Delegates of the Word’ in Honduras, or the 400 married indigenous deacons in Chiapas, as signs of the emergence of ‘presbyteral’ vocations rooted in the community of the sort referred to in Acts.

Alameida is in turn advising a Brazilian church commission reflecting on the question that includes two cardinals close to Francis: Claudio Hummes, the Archbishop emeritus of São Paolo, and Raymundo Damasceno Assis of Aparecida.

If they conclude that ordaining local elders is not just a solution for a shortage of priests but a sign that the Holy Spirit is speaking to the Church, Francis would be highly likely to call a synod to deliberate on the question.

Meanwhile, Lobinger is publishing a discussion book in English, out shortly, called The Empty Altar: An Illustrated Book to Help Talk About the Lack of Parish Priests.

For those who like to get their synod preparation in early, it appears to be essential reading.

[This article first appeared at Crux].

Posted in priesthood, Synod

The bishop who pitched his sleeping bag among us

Spot the bishop at WYD[Brenden Thompson] Alan Williams, the Bishop of Brentwood, was one of just a handful of bishops who joined the 2.5m young pilgrims camping outside for a candle-lit vigil at the end of World Youth Day in Krakow.

Not only did he camp in the open air with over 90 young people from his diocese — his sleeping bag like everybody else’s pitched on the cold, hard ground overnight — but he also walked over 15km with them in the blistering heat to and from the so-called Campus Misericordiae, the ‘Field of Mercy’, for the vigil and the final Mass the following day.

He was with his flock throughout, starting with a 25-hour coach journey with them to and from Essex.

I don’t mean to single out one particular bishop for praise. The fact that the 66-year-old former national shrine director of Walsingham camped overnight with his flock isn’t an indictment of the 800 or so bishops at World Youth Day who did not. No doubt they had good reasons — age, infirmity, or whatever — for not being there.

But it was a striking example of what Pope Francis wants to see of his pastors – walking with and among their flocks. As he told Latin America’s bishops at the last World Youth Day, in Rio de Janeiro in 2013:

Bishops must be pastors, close to people, fathers and brothers, and gentle, patient and merciful. Men who love poverty, both interior poverty, as freedom before the Lord, and exterior poverty, as simplicity and austerity of life. Men who do not think and behave like “princes”. Men who are not ambitious, who are married to one church without having their eyes on another. Men capable of watching over the flock entrusted to them and protecting everything that keeps it together: guarding their people out of concern for the dangers which could threaten them, but above all instilling hope: so that light will shine in people’s hearts. Men capable of supporting with love and patience God’s dealings with his people. The Bishop has to be among his people in three ways: in front of them, pointing the way; among them, keeping them together and preventing them from being scattered; and behind them, ensuring that no one is left behind, but also, and primarily, so that the flock itself can sniff out new paths.

It is a kind of accompaniment that St John Paul II, founder of WYD and a constant presence in Krakow, did so well. As a young curate he was famous for taking groups of young people to the mountains where he would camp, ski and canoe with them. The young people affectionately called the young Karol Woytła wujek (Uncle).

At WYD Pope Francis was called Papa, and he, too, accompanied the young people gathered in Krakow from over 180 countries around the world – by his presence, by his gestures, and by his messages of advice and exhortation.

One of his most powerful messages was a warning “not to confuse happiness with a sofa” –not to settle for the vision that the world offers, one that equates happiness with being comfortable. He challenge was blunt; we are here on this earth not to “vegetate” but “to leave a mark”.

“When we opt for ease and convenience, for confusing happiness with consumption, then we end up paying a high price indeed: we lose our freedom,” he told us, awakening a generation from the lure of being ‘couch potatoes’.

Returning to ‘ordinary’ parish life after WYD is always a challenge: it’s hard not to draw a contrast between the intense joy and exuberance of the five-day festival of faith and the rather mundane realities back home — especially when the Pope has sent you back as missionary disciples.

But at its best the encouraging, faithful presence of Bishop Alan or St John Paul II or Francis reminds us that, as Pope Francis assured us at WYD, it is Christ himself who accompanies us on the mission.

“The Lord doesn’t want to remain in this beautiful city, or in cherished memories alone,” Francis said at the closing Mass. “He wants to enter your homes, to dwell in your daily lives —  in your studies, your first years of work, your friendships and affections, your hopes and dreams.”

Youth ministry sometimes involves cringe-inducing attempts at being ‘relevant’ that bears little fruit. But at its best, it means making time and space for young people, offering them a concrete place in parish life and not being afraid to challenge them with the Gospel.

It’s what Bishop Alan and countless other pastors, youth workers, teachers and parents offer them: an icon of a loving presence that speaks to us of a merciful Father who similarly wishes to accompany us in the journey through life.

[Brenden Thompson is Catholic Voices’s Public Speaking Programme coordinator]

Posted in World Youth Day 2016

Pope Francis’s six-fold response to jihadist terror

Security guards outside the church in Rouen where Fr Hamel was slain

Security guards outside the church in Rouen where Fr Hamel was slain

[Austen Ivereigh] It is clear that the Islamic world is in a major crisis over the relationship of religion to politics, one comparable, in its way, to the European Wars of Religion in the seventeenth century that were eventually resolved by the secular Enlightenment.

Islamism is one brutal answer to the question of how Islam relates to the modern state, one that has risen out of the ashes of violence and war. It is an attempt to reconcile pre-modern Islamic law with the contemporary nation-state by waging war on secularism – which for the Islamic State means anything less than its bloody theocracy.

That makes it an enemy of the West, and of Christians everywhere – mostly in the Middle East. But it is also an enemy of most of the Islamic world: it regards Shiism as innovation, and to innovate on the Quran is to deny its initial perfection.

The Islamic State is at war with all Muslim countries, for all Muslim countries have sought to come to terms with modernity by mediating or attenuating Islamic law.

This existential crisis within Islam is going to play out for a long time yet, and there is little anyone can do prevent it. Over time, Islamic State radicalism will prove its undoing, and it will collapse under the weight of its own contradictions.

But what we are in control of is our western response to the Islamic State’s provocation. And how we react will either hasten its collapse or fuel its growth.

The Islamists’ strategy: a war of religions

There are two essential points to grasp:

First, the Islamic State might recruit mentally-ill teenagers from the banlieus, but it is far from being a bunch of psychopaths. Islamism is a violent ideology drawn from a purist Islamic fundamentalism. It is a version of Islam which radically differs from, and is rejected by, most of the Muslim world.

Second, a war with Christianity is key to its worldview. The Islamic State awaits the army of “Rome,” whose defeat at Dabiq, Syria, will initiate the countdown to the apocalypse.

To precipitate it, they are determined to bring their war out of the Middle East into our airports and concert halls and even our churches. Their violence is strategic, and has an aim: to spread terror, not for its own sake but to produce a reaction, one that will confirm to them their own worldview, which is that secular societies are rotten and degenerate, and the Christian religion false and idolatrous.

To demonstrate the truth of this narrative, they need a war – a religious war, each side with its armies and martyrs – which begins by taking the fight to the soft belly of the west to spread terror to provoke a reaction, one that polarizes society.

The Islamic State believes that, with sufficient provocation, ‘Christians’ – westerners – will turn on Muslims, Muslims will look to the Islamic State to defend them, and eventually there will be a showdown between the two.

So far, they are succeeding. The rise of new nationalist parties across Europe, and, of course, Donald Trump, are exactly what the script foresees – along with the current rise in the number and ferocity of attacks on Muslims.

More attacks, more terror, more backlash; to the Islamic State, the path ahead is clear.

Some Catholic commentators – and even one cardinal – have agreed with I.S. that, in effect, that the Islamic State is the true face of Islam, and that there is no real distinction.

(Revealingly, one critic lambasts Pope Francis for saying on the plane from Krakow that “there is no such phenomenon as Islamist violence,” which, had he said it, would have been very surprising. In fact, what the pope rejected was the term “Islamic violence”.)

Having accepted the I.S. narrative about Islam as self-evident, it is a short step to claiming that ‘Islam’ desires to take over the world, is intrinsically violent, and is at war with Christianity.

Their disappointment at Francis’ description of Father Jacques Hamel’s violence as “absurd” and his failure to refer to the priest as a martyr, as well as their indignation at his daring to suggest that there was fundamentalism and violence within Christianity, are all over social media.

The Pope’s six-fold strategy

But Francis, thankfully, sees further. He has a six-fold strategy in response to the Islamic State provocation. It is well thought out, and it is effective.

(1) The first is to put every death in the broader context of others, to avoid any victim becoming the focus of moral outrage. This was particularly necessary in the case of Hamel, because he was a gentle, elderly priest slain in a provocatively gruesome manner.

Pope Francis praying in St Maximilian Kolbe's cell in Auschwitz

Pope Francis praying in St Maximilian Kolbe’s cell in Auschwitz

That is why Francis never used the word ‘martyr’ to describe him – to do so, in this tinder-box atmosphere of fear and terror, would be to weaponize his death, and ignite screaming headlines – or even to name him.

“This holy priest who died in the moment of offering the prayer for the whole church is one but how many Christians, how many innocents, how many children?” the pope asked on the flight to Krakow.

(2) Second, he insists on fraternity and peace as the only authentic Christian response.

“We have no desire to conquer hatred with more hatred, violence with more violence, terror with more terror,” he told the pilgrims at the World Youth Day vigil, adding that the Church’s response to “a world at war” was fraternity and family.

On the way to the vigil he venerated the relics of two victims of terrorism, asking God not to stiffen our resolve for the coming showdown, but to heal and console those who have been harmed, and to convert the hearts of terrorists so they recognize the “evil of their actions.”

(3) Third, faced with the clamor of scapegoating politicians to shut the border, Francis has continued to insist on the importance of keeping our doors open to refugees.

Hence his prayer, in Krakow, for God to give the families of victims “the strength and courage to continue to be brothers and sisters for others, above all for immigrants, giving witness to Your love by their lives.”

(4) Fourth, faced with the Islamic State narrative of Christianity versus Islam, Francis’ strategy is to polarize in a different way: religion and peace on the one side, violent fundamentalism and false religion on the other.

It was demonstrated, beautifully, on Tuesday, when 100 Muslims, along with leaders of different faiths, turned up to Fr Hamel’s funeral.

The portrait of Fr Jacques painted and presented to the archbishop by Moubine, a Muslim believer living in St Etienne du Rouvray where the priest was killed

The portrait of Fr Jacques painted and presented to the archbishop by Moubine, a Muslim believer living in St Etienne du Rouvray where the priest was killed

Next to the Archbishop of Rouen on the altar was an iconic portrait of the priest, a halo above his head, which had been earlier painted and presented to the archbishop by a Muslim believer from the town where the priest was killed.

Hence Francis says we are at war – a war of rival interests and powers – but insists that true religion is not involved. “All religions want peace,” he said on the plane to Krakow; “it’s the others who want war.”

Hence, too, his remarks on the return from Krakow: If (true) religion seeks peace, the idea of “Islamic” violence is incoherent. Therefore – he did not need to say it – what Islamic State represents is not Islam or even religion, however it is dressed up.

I.S. feel deeply threatened by this. “Recent popes – and especially Pope Francis – have attempted to paint a picture of heartwarming friendship, seeking to steer Muslim masses away from the obligation of waging jihad against disbelief,” was how I.S.’s magazine Dabiq recently tried to counter Francis.

But Francis has gone further still, rejecting any claim that IS violence has a power or significance beyond itself.

For the radicals, violence is sacred, sacrificial, divinely-sanctioned – it is precipitating Armaggedon and the celestial triumph of Islam.

So when Francis declares that its violence is, as well as being evil and abhorrent, “senseless,” as he described the Nice massacre, or “absurd” as he said of the violence that slayed Fr Hamel, he is dealing Islamic State a significant blow: the world’s leading religious authority has denied them the legitimacy of a religious justification.

This is a strategy, but it is, also, genuinely, demonstrating what true religion is.

God himself was the innocent victim of a religiously and politically sanctioned sacrifice; the Resurrection destroyed any idea that God is violent.

The power of God, then, lies not in violence, but in love and fraternity. With the shadow of Islamic  radicalism over us, that is no longer an idea, but  – as one of the French bishops put it in Krakow – a stark choice: Do we believe in God’s power, or the myth of the divine as a vengeful tribal deity?

(5) Fifth, faced with the temptation for Christians to see Muslims as violent fundamentalists and themselves as peace-loving reasonable people, Francis insists that Christians are also prone to fundamentalism and violence.

As a longtime discerner of spirits, Francis has a keen awareness of the workings of the diabolos, the great divider, and the subtle ways evil can persuade ‘good’ people to set themselves over and against ‘bad’ people.

Whatever the defects of Islam in relation to violence, Muslims – as he said on the plane – desire peace and encounter, while Christians are also prone (whether now or in the past) to fundamentalism and religiously-sanctioned violence.

This is not pacifism: we need police and security services to up their game, and (if it doesn’t create more innocent victims) to eviscerate radical Islam by bombing it. But the jihadists will not be defeated by war, and to believe it can be is, again, to accept their narrative.

Pope Francis speaks with journalists aboard his July 31 flight from Krakow, Poland, to Rome. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis speaks with journalists aboard his July 31 flight from Krakow, Poland, to Rome. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Like all evil projects, the Islamic state will eventually collapse from its own internal contradictions. In the meantime, the battle will be fought in the human heart.

What the Church can help the west do is absorb the violence, and not be provoked by it; to be patient in fear and insecurity; and to accept that in the meantime more people will die.

It is not what our politicians will tell us, but we all know it is true.

Seen from a Christian perspective, the deaths of those who, like Hamel, are innocent peacemakers, are not meaningless but powerful.

“Can the world still wait for the chain of love which will replace the chain of hate?” asked Archbishop Dominique Lebrun in his homily. “Will we need other massacres to convert us to love and to the justice that builds love?”

(6) Sixth and finally, therefore, Francis’ strategy is not to surrender to the fear by giving up our spaces and our identity.

Faced with a specific Islamic State threat on the Vatican last December, he refused to wear a bulletproof vest, and said we would not armor-plate our church doors.

On Tuesday in Rouen, Archbishop Lebrun invited people to pay homage to Fr Jacques Hamel by visiting a church in these days “in order to express your refusal to see a holy place defiled, to affirm that violence will not take your heart over, to ask for God’s grace.”

It is an action each of us can take; and each such action we take brings closer the jihadists’ inevitable defeat.

[A slightly different version of this article also appears at Crux]

Posted in Pope Francis, terrorist attacks

Francis quotes Benedict on gender ideology: ‘This is the era of sin against God the Creator’

Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow, Poland, celebrating the opening Mass for World Youth Day

Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow, Poland, celebrating the opening Mass for World Youth Day

The Vatican yesterday released the transcript in Italian and Polish of Pope Francis’s closed-door meeting with the Polish bishops after he arrived in Krakow last week.

The four questions and his lengthy answers contain many interesting points, including an insistence on the parish as the basis of church life, and his conviction that the main threat to faith today is a form of Gnosticism that seeks to separate God from Church and the person from the community.

A full report and transcript will be published here once the Vatican releases its English translation.

In the meantime, his remarks on gender ideology have generated controversy, with one report claiming that the Pope had “denounced transgender people as ‘annihalation of man’.” In fact, he nowhere mentions transgender people or gender dysphoria.

The ‘annihalation of man’ remark comes at the end of remarks about immigration, when he insisted on a heart open to the newcomer. “But the problem is global!”, he told the bishops, adding: “The exploitation of what is created, the exploitation of people. We are living through a moment of the annihalation of man as the image of God.”

At this point he turned to gender ideology:

And here I’d like to conclude with this point, because behind this are ideologies. In Europe, in America, in Latin America, in Africa, and in some countries of Asia, there are real ideological colonizations. And one of them — I’ll say it clearly with name and surname — is gender. Today children — children! — are taught at school that everyone can choose their sex. And why do they teach this? Because the books belong to people and institutions that give money. They are the ideological colonizations, paid for by highly influential countries. And this is terrible. Speaking with Pope Benedict, who is fine and lucid, he said to me: “Holiness, this is the era of sin against God the Creator! He’s clever! God has created man and woman; God has created the world thus, thus, thus … and we’re doing the  opposite. God gave us an ‘uncultivated’ state, in order for us to turn it into culture; and then, with that culture, we do things which bring us back to that uncultivated state! We should think about what Pope Benedict said: “This is the era of the sin against God the Creator.” And that will help us.

The warnings against “ideological colonization” are typical of what he has said before. On the plane back from Manila in January 2015 he said:

Ideological colonization. I’ll only give you an example of what I saw 20 years ago, in ’95. A Minister of Public Education had asked for a big loan to build schools for the poor, public schools. They gave the loan on condition that in the schools there would be a school book for children of a certain level, no? It was a well prepared book, where the theory of gender was taught … This is ideological colonization … [T]his is not new, the dictators of the last century did the same. They came with their own doctrine. Think of the Balilla (the Fascist youth cadres under Mussolini), think of the Hitler youth. They colonized the people, but they wanted to do it. But how much suffering.  Peoples must not lose their freedom. A people has its culture, its history. Every people has its own culture.

But when conditions are imposed by the colonizing empires they seek to make peoples forget their own identity and make them (all) equal. This is the globalization of the sphere — all the points are equidistant from the center. But the true globalization – and I like to say this – is not the sphere. It is important to globalize but not like the sphere, but like the polyhedron. Namely that every people, every part, conserves its own identity without being ideologically colonized. These are the ideological colonizations.

As far as Pope Francis’s response to transgender people is concerned, the most obvious example is the Spanish transgender man whom he invited to visit him in the Vatican after telling him on the phone that he was a son of the Church and accepted by God exactly how he was (see CV Comment report).

[Austen Ivereigh is quoted in a New York Times report on the reactions to the reported remarks]

Posted in Pope Francis address, transgender issue