Bishops deplore ‘dark moment’ as Trump shuts US to refugees

c3c0tlxwqaaycrq[Austen Ivereigh] Catholic bishops have joined leaders across the faith spectrum in the United States in deploring President Donald Trump’s executive order Friday that halted the entire U.S. refugee program and banned all entries from seven Muslim-majority nations for 90 days.

Shortly after Trump signed the document at the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes, Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, who is chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Migration, said the bishops “strongly disagree” with the action to halt refugee resettlement.

“We believe that now more than ever, welcoming newcomers and refugees is an act of love and hope,” Bishop Vasquez said.

The USCCB runs the largest refugee resettlement program in the United States, and Bishop Vasquez said the church would continue to engage the administration, as it had with administrations for 40 years.

In a letter to the president and members of Congress, more than 2,000 religious leaders representing the Interfaith Immigration Coalition objected to the action.

Although the justification for the order was security, an analysis by the Cato Institute of terrorist attacks on US soil between 1975 and 2015 found that none of them were committed by nationals of the countries banned: Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen and Iran.  The nation that supplied most of the September 11 killers, Saudi Arabia, was unaffected.

Protest at the U.S. Capitol in Washington Jan. 29 against US President Donald Trump's executive memorandum suspending admission of any refugees to the U.S. for 120 days and banning entry for 90 days of people from seven predominantly Muslim nations. (CNS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann, Catholic Standard)

Protest at the U.S. Capitol in Washington Jan. 29 against US President Donald Trump’s executive memorandum suspending admission of any refugees to the U.S. for 120 days and banning entry for 90 days of people from seven predominantly Muslim nations. (CNS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann, Catholic Standard)

The order, which came into effect over the weekend, reduces the number of refugees to be admitted to the United States this year from 110,000 to 50,000 individuals, and will particularly affect the resettlement of refugees fleeing the five-year-old war in Syria.  (Syrian refugees will be banned indefinitely, beyond the 90 days applied to the seven countries).

As the news bulletins were dominated by chaos at airports, protests in cities across the U.S. and a mounting pile of legal challenges, Trump sacked the acting attorney general of the United States after she publicly questioned the constitutionality of the ban.

The leadership of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops yesterday praised fellow bishops for speaking out against Trump’s actions and “in defense of God’s people,” and called on “all the Catholic faithful to join us as we unite our voices with all who speak in defense of human dignity.”

“The bond between Christians and Muslims is founded on the unbreakable strength of charity and justice,” said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president, and Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, USCCB vice president, in a joint statement (reproduced below.)

“The Church will not waiver in her defense of our sisters and brothers of all faiths who suffer at the hands of merciless persecutors,” they said.

Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago said last weekend was “a dark moment in U.S. history”. The executive order “to close our nation to those, particularly Muslims, fleeing violence, oppression and persecution is contrary to both Catholic and American values.” He added:

These actions impose a sweeping and immediate halt on migrants and refugees from several countries, people who are suffering, fleeing for their lives. Their design and implementation have been rushed, chaotic, cruel and oblivious to the realities that will produce enduring security for the United States. They have left people holding valid visas and other proper documents detained in our airports, sent back to the places some were fleeing or not allowed to board planes headed here. Only at the eleventh hour did a federal judge intervene to suspend this unjust action.

 

The cardinal quoted Pope Francis’ remarks to the US Congress in 2015: “If we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities.”

He said Pope Francis “followed with a warning that should haunt us as we come to terms with the events of the weekend: ‘The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us.'”

An Iraqi family leaves a processing center for displaced people outside Mosul, Iraq, Jan. 27. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

An Iraqi family leaves a processing center for displaced people outside Mosul, Iraq, Jan. 27. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

Bishop Vásquez said: “we need to protect all our brothers and sisters of all faiths, including Muslims, who have lost family, home, and country. They are children of God and are entitled to be treated with human dignity. We believe that by helping to resettle the most vulnerable, we are living out our Christian faith as Jesus has challenged us to do.”

The Archbishop of Newark, Cardinal Joseph Tobin, said the measures “are the opposite of what it means to be an American”, adding that “closing borders and building walls are not rational acts.  Mass detentions and wholesale deportation benefit no one; such inhuman policies destroy families and communities.”

Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego said the executive action was “the introduction into law of campaign sloganeering rooted in xenophobia and religious prejudice. Its devastating consequences are already apparent for those suffering most in our world, for our standing among nations, and for the imperative of rebuilding unity within our country rather than tearing us further apart.”

“This week the Statue of Liberty lowered its torch in a presidential action which repudiates our national heritage and ignores the reality that Our Lord and the Holy Family were themselves Middle Eastern refugees fleeing government oppression. We cannot and will not stand silent,” Bishop McElroy said in a statement on 29 January.

Statement by president and vice-president of US Catholic bishops’ confererence (USCCB), Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles:

Over the past several days, many brother bishops have spoken out in defense of God’s people. We are grateful for their witness. Now, we call upon all the Catholic faithful to join us as we unite our voices with all who speak in defense of human dignity.

The bond between Christians and Muslims is founded on the unbreakable strength of charity and justice. The Second Vatican Council in Nostra Aetate urged us to sincerely work toward a mutual understanding that would “promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom.” The Church will not waiver in her defense of our sisters and brothers of all faiths who suffer at the hands of merciless persecutors.

The refugees fleeing from ISIS and other extremists are sacrificing all they have in the name of peace and freedom. Often, they could be spared if only they surrendered to the violent vision of their tormentors. They stand firm in their faith. Many are families, no different from yours or mine, seeking safety and security for their children. Our nation should welcome them as allies in a common fight against evil.  We must screen vigilantly for infiltrators who would do us harm, but we must always be equally vigilant in our welcome of friends.

The Lord Jesus fled the tyranny of Herod, was falsely accused and then deserted by his friends. He had nowhere to lay His head (Lk. 9:58). Welcoming the stranger and those in flight is not one option among many in the Christian life. It is the very form of Christianity itself.  Our actions must remind people of Jesus. The actions of our government must remind people of basic humanity.  Where our brothers and sisters suffer rejection and abandonment we will lift our voice on their behalf. We will welcome them and receive them. They are Jesus and the Church will not turn away from Him.

Our desire is not to enter the political arena, but rather to proclaim Christ alive in the world today. In the very moment a family abandons their home under threat of death, Jesus is present.  And He says to each of us, “whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (MT 25:40).

Posted in migration/refugees, United States

Synod 2018 preparation opens with pope calling for voice of young

Catholic students Elvis Do Ceu and Federica Ceci with Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri and Bishop Fabio Fabene in at Vatican press office for the release of the preparatory document of the 2018 Synod of Bishop on young people (AP)

Catholic students Elvis Do Ceu and Federica Ceci with Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri and Bishop Fabio Fabene in at Vatican press office for the release of the preparatory document of the 2018 Synod of Bishop on young people (AP)

[Austen Ivereigh] The preparatory document for the next synod was launched by the Vatican today, together with a letter from Pope Francis to young people calling for them to make their voices heard in the run-up to October 2018.

The lineamenta, or preparatory document, entitled ‘Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment’, makes clear that the Church will for the first time be inviting young people — defined in the document as aged 16 to 29 — to help the Church work out effective ways of evangelizing in today’s world.

The Church has decided to “examine herself on how she can lead young people to recognize and accept the call to the fullness of life and love,” but also to “ask young people to help her in identifying the most effective ways to announce the Good News today,” the document says.

“By listening to young people, the Church will once again hear the Lord speaking in today’s world. Listening to their aspirations, the Church can glimpse the world which lies ahead and the paths the Church is called to follow.”

The Vatican also released the text of a short letter addressed to young people by Pope Francis in which he quotes the Rule of St Benedict, founder of western monasticism, in which he urges abbots to consult young people prior to any important decision, because  “the Lord often reveals to the younger what is best.”

“The Church also wishes to listen to your voice, your sensitivities and your faith; even your doubts and your criticism,” Francis says in the letter, adding: “Make your voice heard, let it resonate in communities and let it be heard by your shepherds of souls.”

By listening carefully to what young people are saying to the Church, the synod hopes to develop new strategies for helping them discern their future.

The preparatory document invites a three-stage reflection: an analysis of the social and cultural dynamics of contemporary society, a review of the basic process of discernment, and a vocational programme for youth. It concludes with a series of questions for discussion in the local Church, leading eventually to submissions in advance of the synod.

For the first time the synod will also launch a website in March that will question young people directly about their own expectations, feeding the answers into the working document for the bishops gathered in Rome in October 2018.

Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, the synod’s general secretary, said in a press conference today that he wants responses to the questions by the end of October in order to prepare a working document for the Synod in early 2018.

(The pope’s letter is below. The text of the synod preparatory document is here, and a summary report at Crux here.)

Text of Pope Francis’s letter.

My Dear Young People,

I am pleased to announce that in October 2018 a Synod of Bishops will take place to treat the topic: “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment.” I wanted you to be the centre of attention, because you are in my heart. Today, the Preparatory Document is being presented, a document which I am also entrusting to you as your “compass” on this synodal journey.

I am reminded of the words which God spoke to Abraham: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” (Gen 12.1). These words are now also addressed to you. They are words of a Father who invites you to “go”, to set out towards a future which is unknown but one which will surely lead to fulfilment, a future towards which He Himself accompanies you. I invite you to hear God’s voice resounding in your heart through the breath of the Holy Spirit.

When God said to Abram, “Go!”, what did he want to say? He certainly did not say to distance himself from his family or withdraw from the world. Abram received a compelling invitation, a challenge, to leave everything and go to a new land. What is this “new land” for us today, if not a more just and friendly society which you, young people, deeply desire and wish to build to the very ends of the earth?

But unfortunately, today, “Go!” also has a different meaning, namely, that of abuse of power, injustice and war. Many among you are subjected to the real threat of violence and forced to flee their native land. Their cry goes up to God, like that of Israel, when the people were enslaved and oppressed by Pharaoh (cf. Ex 2:23).

I would also remind you of the words that Jesus once said to the disciples who asked him: “Teacher […] where are you staying?” He replied, “Come and see” (Jn 1:38). Jesus looks at you and invites you to go with him. Dear young people, have you noticed this look towards you? Have you heard this voice? Have you felt this urge to undertake this journey? I am sure that, despite the noise and confusion seemingly prevalent in the world, this call continues to resonate in the depths of your heart so as to open it to joy in its fullness. This will be possible to the extent that, even with professional guides, you will learn how to undertake a journey of discernment to discover God’s plan in your life. Even when the journey is uncertain and you fall, God, rich in mercy, will extend his hand to pick you up.

In Krakow, at the opening of the last World Youth Day, I asked you several times: “Can we change things?” And you shouted: “yes!”. That shout came from your young and youthful hearts, which do not tolerate injustice and cannot bow to a “throw-away culture” nor give in to the globalization of indifference. Listen to the cry arising from your inner selves! Even when you feel, like the prophet Jeremiah, the inexperience of youth, God encourages you to go where He sends you: “Do not be afraid, […], because I am with you to deliver you” (Jer 1:8).

A better world can be built also as a result of your efforts, your desire to change and your generosity. Do not be afraid to listen to the Spirit who proposes bold choices; do not delay when your conscience asks you to take risks in following the Master. The Church also wishes to listen to your voice, your sensitivities and your faith; even your doubts and your criticism. Make your voice heard, let it resonate in communities and let it be heard by your shepherds of souls. St. Benedict urged the abbots to consult, even the young, before any important decision, because “the Lord often reveals to the younger what is best.” (Rule of St. Benedict, III, 3).

Such is the case, even in the journey of this Synod. My brother bishops and I want even more to “work with you for your joy” (2 Cor 1:24). I entrust you to Mary of Nazareth, a young person like yourselves, whom God beheld lovingly, so she might take your hand and guide you to the joy of fully and generously responding to God’s call with the words: “Here I am” (cf. Lk 1:38).

With paternal affection,

FRANCIS

Posted in synod 2018 | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Pope to ambassadors: Peace is built on culture of mercy

[What follows is full text of Pope Francis’s speech today to ambassadors accredited to the Holy See. The annual address is considered the most important foreign-policy address by the pope, and offers a state-of-the-world diagnosis. Although his strong words against religious extremism have generated most of the headlines, the speech is wide-ranging, covering nuclear weapons, Israel/Palestine, migration,  the rise of populist ideologies as well as the European Union. See report at Crux.]

Photo: AP

Photo: AP

Your Excellencies, dear Ambassadors,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I offer you a cordial welcome.  I thank you for your presence in such numbers at this traditional gathering, which permits us to exchange greetings and good wishes that the year just beginning will be for everyone a time of joy, prosperity and peace. I express particular gratitude to the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, His Excellency Armindo Fernandes do Espírito Santo Vieira, the Ambassador of Angola, for his courteous greetings on behalf of the entire Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, which has recently been enlarged following the establishment of diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic of Mauritania a month ago.  I likewise express my gratitude to the many Ambassadors resident in Rome, whose number has grown this past year, and to the non-resident Ambassadors, whose presence today is a clear sign of the bonds of friendship uniting their peoples to the Holy See.  At the same time, I would like to express heartfelt condolences to the Ambassador of Malaysia for the death of his predecessor, Dato’ Mohd Zulkephli Bin Mohd Noor, who passed away last February.

In the course of the past year, relations between your countries and the Holy See were further consolidated, thanks to the welcome visit of many Heads of State and Government, also in conjunction with the numerous events of the recently concluded Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy.  So too, a variety of bilateral Agreements were signed or ratified, both those of a general nature aimed at recognizing the Church’s juridical status, with the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Benin and Timor East, and those of a more specific character, the Avenantsigned with France, the Convention on fiscal matters with the Republic of Italy, recently entered into force, and the Memorandum of Understanding between the Secretariat of State and the Government of the United Arab Emirates.  Furthermore, in the context of the Holy See’s commitment to the obligations assumed by the aforementioned Agreements, the Comprehensive Agreement with the State of Palestine, which took effect a year ago, was fully implemented.

Dear Ambassadors,

A century ago, we were in the midst of the First World War.  A “useless slaughter”,[1] in which new methods of warfare sowed death and caused immense suffering to the defenceless civil population.  In 1917, the conflict changed profoundly, taking on increasingly global proportions, while those totalitarian regimes, which were long to be a cause of bitter divisions, began to appear on the horizon.  A hundred years later, it can be said that many parts of the world have benefited from lengthy periods of peace, which have favoured opportunities for economic development and unprecedented prosperity.  For many people today, peace appears as a blessing to be taken for granted, for all intents an acquired right to which not much thought is given.  Yet, for all too many others, peace remains merely a distant dream.  Millions of people still live in the midst of senseless conflicts.  Even in places once considered secure, a general sense of fear is felt.  We are frequently overwhelmed by images of death, by the pain of innocent men, women and children who plead for help and consolation, by the grief of those mourning the loss of a dear one due to hatred and violence, and by the drama of refugees fleeing war and migrants meeting tragic deaths.

For this reason, I would like to devote today’s meeting to the theme of security and peace.  In today’s climate of general apprehension for the present, and uncertainty and anxious concern for the future, I feel it is important to speak a word of hope, which can also indicate a path on which to embark.

Just a few days ago, we celebrated the Fiftieth World Day of Peace, instituted by my blessed predecessor Paul VI “as a hope and as a promise, at the beginning of the calendar which measures and describes the path of human life in time, that peace with its just and beneficent equilibrium may dominate the development of events to come”.[2]  For Christians, peace is a gift of the Lord, proclaimed in song by the Angels at the moment of Christ’s birth: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours” (Lk 2:14).  Peace is a positive good, “the fruit of the right ordering of things” with which God has invested human society;[3] it is “more than the absence of war”.[4]  Nor can it be “reduced to the maintenance of a balance of power between opposing forces”.[5]  Rather, it demands the commitment of those persons of good will who “thirst for an ever more perfect reign of justice”.[6]

In this regard, I voice my firm conviction that every expression of religion is called to promote peace.  I saw this clearly in the World Day of Prayer for Peace held in Assisi last September, during which the representatives of the different religions gathered to “give voice together to all those who suffer, to all those who have no voice and are not heard”,[7] as well as in my visits to the Synagogue of Rome and the Mosque in Baku.

We know that there has been no shortage of acts of religiously motivated violence, beginning with Europe itself, where the historical divisions between Christians have endured all too long.  In my recent visit to Sweden, I mentioned the urgent need for healing past wounds and journeying together towards common goals.  The basis of that journey can only be authentic dialogue between different religious confessions.  Such dialogue is possible and necessary, as I wished to show by my meeting in Cuba with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, as well as by my Apostolic Journeys to Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan, where I sensed the rightful aspiration of those peoples to resolve conflicts which for years have threatened social harmony and peace.

At the same time, it is fitting that we not overlook the great number of religiously inspired works that contribute, at times with the sacrifice of martyrs, to the pursuit of the common good through education and social assistance, especially in areas of great poverty and in theatres of conflict.  These efforts advance peace and testify that individuals of different nationalities, cultures and traditions can indeed live and work together, provided that the dignity of the human person is placed at the centre of their activities.

Sadly, we are conscious that even today, religious experience, rather than fostering openness to others, can be used at times as a pretext for rejection, marginalization and violence.  I think particularly of the fundamentalist-inspired terrorism that in the past year has also reaped numerous victims throughout the world: in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Belgium, Burkina Faso, Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, the United States of America, Tunisia and Turkey.  These are vile acts that use children to kill, as in Nigeria, or target people at prayer, as in the Coptic Cathedral of Cairo, or travellers or workers, as in Brussels, or passers-by in the streets of cities like Nice and Berlin, or simply people celebrating the arrival of the new year, as in Istanbul.

We are dealing with a homicidal madness which misuses God’s name in order to disseminate death, in a play for domination and power.  Hence I appeal to all religious authorities to join in reaffirming unequivocally that one can never kill in God’s name.  Fundamentalist terrorism is the fruit of a profound spiritual poverty, and often is linked to significant social poverty.  It can only be fully defeated with the joint contribution of religious and political leaders.  The former are charged with transmitting those religious values which do not separate fear of God from love of neighbour.  The latter are charged with guaranteeing in the public forum the right to religious freedom, while acknowledging religion’s positive and constructive contribution to the building of a civil society that sees no opposition between social belonging, sanctioned by the principle of citizenship, and the spiritual dimension of life.  Government leaders are also responsible for ensuring that conditions do not exist that can serve as fertile terrain for the spread of forms of fundamentalism.  This calls for suitable social policies aimed at combating poverty; such policies cannot prescind from a clear appreciation of the importance of the family as the privileged place for growth in human maturity, and from a major investment in the areas of education and culture.

In this regard, I was interested to learn of the Council of Europe’s initiative on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue, which in the past year discussed the role of education in preventing radicalization leading to terrorism and extremist violence.  This represents an occasion for a better understanding of the role of religion and education in bringing about the authentic social harmony needed for coexistence in a multicultural society.

Here I would express my conviction that political authorities must not limit themselves to ensuring the security of their own citizens – a concept which could easily be reduced to a mere “quiet life” – but are called also to work actively for the growth of peace. Peace is an “active virtue”, once that calls for the engagement and cooperation of each individual and society as a whole.  As the Second Vatican Council observed, “peace will never be achieved once and for all, but must be built up continually”,[8] by safeguarding the good of persons and respecting their dignity.  Peacemaking requires above all else renouncing violence in vindicating one’s rights.[9]  To this very principle I devoted my Message for the 2017 World Day of Peace, with the title, “Nonviolence: a Style of Politics for Peace”.  I wished primarily to reaffirm that nonviolence is a political style based on the rule of law and the dignity of each person.

Peacemaking also demands that “those causes of discord which lead to wars be rooted out”,[10] beginning with acts of injustice.  Indeed, justice and peace are intimately linked[11].  Yet, as Saint John Paul II observed, “because human justice is always fragile and imperfect, subject as it is to the limitations and egoism of individuals and groups, it must include and, as it were, be completed by the forgiveness that heals and rebuilds human relations from their foundations…  Forgiveness is in no way opposed to justice.  It is rather the fullness of justice, leading to that tranquillity of order” which involves “the deepest healing of the wounds which fester in human hearts.  Justice and forgiveness are both essential to such healing”.[12]  Those words remain most timely, and met with openness on the part of some Heads of State or Government to my request to make a gesture of clemency towards the incarcerated.  To them, and to all those who promote dignified living conditions for prisoners and their reintegration into society, I would like to express my particular appreciation and gratitude.

I am convinced that for many people the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy was an especially fruitful moment for rediscovering “mercy’s immense positive influence as a social value.[13]  In this way, everyone can help bring about “a culture of mercy, based on the rediscovery of encounter with others, a culture in which no one looks at another with indifference or turns away from the suffering of our brothers and sisters”.[14]  Only thus will it be possible to build societies that are open and welcoming towards foreigners and at the same time internally secure and at peace.  This is all the more needed at the present time, when massive waves of migration continue in various parts of the world.  I think in a special way of the great numbers of displaced persons and refugees in some areas of Africa and Southeast Asia, and all those who are fleeing areas of conflict in the Middle East.

Last year the international community gathered at two important events convened by the United Nations: the first World Humanitarian Summit and the Summit for Refugees and Migrants.  With regard to migrants, displaced persons and refugees, a common commitment is needed, one focused on offering them a dignified welcome.  This would involve respecting the right of “every human being… to emigrate to other countries and take up residence there”,[15] while at the same time ensuring that migrants can be integrated into the societies in which they are received without the latter sensing that their security, cultural identity and political-social stability are threatened.  On the other hand, immigrants themselves must not forget that they have a duty to respect the laws, culture and traditions of the countries in which they are received.

Prudence on the part of public authorities does not mean enacting policies of exclusion vis-à-vis migrants, but it does entail evaluating, with wisdom and foresight, the extent to which their country is in a position, without prejudice to the common good of citizens, to offer a decent life to migrants, especially those truly in need of protection.  Above all, the current crisis should not be reduced to a simple matter of numbers.  Migrants are persons, with their own names, stories and families.  There can never be true peace as long as a single human being is violated in his or her personal identity and reduced to a mere statistic or an object of economic calculation.

The issue of migration is not one that can leave some countries indifferent, while others are left with the burden of humanitarian assistance, often at the cost of notable strain and great hardship, in the face of an apparently unending emergency.  All should feel responsible for jointly pursuing the international common good, also through concrete gestures of human solidarity; these are essential building-blocks of that peace and development which entire nations and millions of people still await.  So I am grateful to the many countries which offer a generous welcome to those in need, beginning with various European nations, particularly Italy, Germany, Greece and Sweden.

I vividly remember my visit to the island of Lesvos in the company of my brothers Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Ieronymos.  There I saw at first hand the dramatic situation of the refugee camps, but also the goodness and spirit of service shown by the many persons committed to assisting those living there.  Nor should we overlook the welcome offered by other countries of Europe and the Middle East, such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, as well as the commitment of various African and Asian countries.  In the course of my visit to Mexico, where I experienced the joy of the Mexican people, I likewise felt close to the thousands of migrants from Central America who, in their attempt to find a better future, endure terrible injustices and dangers, victims of extortion and objects of that deplorable trade – that horrible form of modern slavery – which is human trafficking.

One enemy of peace is a “reductive vision” of the human person, which opens the way to the spread of injustice, social inequality and corruption.  With regard to this last phenomenon, the Holy See has taken on new commitments with its formal adherence, on 19 September last, to the United Nations Convention against Corruption, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 31 October 2003.

In his encyclical Populorum Progressio, issued fifty years ago, Blessed Paul VI noted how such situations of inequality provoke conflict.  As he stated, “civil progress and economic development are the only road to peace”,[16] which public authorities have the duty to encourage and foster by creating conditions for a more equitable distribution of resources and by generating employment opportunities, especially for young people.  In today’s world, all too many people, especially children, still suffer from endemic poverty and live in conditions of food insecurity – indeed, hunger – even as natural resources are the object of greedy exploitation by a few, and enormous amounts of food are wasted daily.

Children and young people are the future; it is for them that we work and build.  They cannot be selfishly overlooked or forgotten.  As I stated recently in a letter addressed to all bishops, I consider it a priority to protect children, whose innocence is often violated by exploitation, clandestine and slave labour, prostitution or the abuse of adults, criminals and dealers in death.[17]

During my visit to Poland for World Youth Day, I encountered thousands of young people full of life and enthusiasm.  Yet in many of them I also saw pain and suffering.  I think of the young people affected by the brutal conflict in Syria, deprived of the joys of childhood and youth, such as the ability to play games and to attend school.  My constant thoughts are with them and the beloved Syrian people.  I appeal to the international community to make every effort to encourage serious negotiations for an end to the conflict, which is causing a genuine human catastrophe.  Each of the parties must give priority to international humanitarian law, and guarantee the protection of civilians and needed humanitarian aid for the populace.  Our common aspiration is that the recently signed truce will be a sign of hope for the whole Syrian people, so greatly in need of it.

This also means working for the elimination of the deplorable arms trade and the never-ending race to create and spread ever more sophisticated weaponry.    Particularly disturbing are the experiments being conducted on the Korean Peninsula, which destabilize the entire region and raise troubling questions for the entire international community about the risk of a new nuclear arms race.  The words of Saint John XXIII in Pacem in Terris continue to ring true: “Justice, right reason and the recognition of human dignity cry out insistently for a cessation to the arms race.  The stockpiles of armaments which have been built up in various countries must be reduced all round by the parties concerned.  Nuclear weapons must be banned”.[18]  In the light of this, and in view of the forthcoming Conference on Disarmament, the Holy See seeks to promote an ethics of peace and security that goes beyond that fear and “closure” which condition the debate on nuclear weapons.

Also with regard to conventional weapons, we need to acknowledge that easy access to the sale of arms, including those of small calibre, not only aggravates various conflicts, but also generates a widespread sense of insecurity and fear.  This is all the more dangerous in times, like our own, of social uncertainty and epochal changes.

Another enemy of peace is the ideology that exploits social unrest in order to foment contempt and hate, and views others as enemies to be eliminated.  Sadly, new ideologies constantly appear on the horizon of humanity.  Under the guise of promising great benefits, they instead leave a trail of poverty, division, social tensions, suffering and, not infrequently, death.  Peace, on the other hand, triumphs through solidarity.  It generates the desire for dialogue and cooperation which finds an essential instrument in diplomacy.  Mercy and solidarity inspire the convinced efforts of the Holy See and the Catholic Church to avert conflicts and to accompany processes of peace, reconciliation and the search for negotiated solutions.  It is heartening that some of these attempts have met with the good will of many people who, from a number of quarters, have actively and fruitfully worked for peace.  I think of the efforts made in the last two years for rapprochement between Cuba and the United States.  I think also of the persevering efforts made, albeit not without difficulty, to end years of conflict in Colombia.

That approach aims at encouraging reciprocal trust, supporting processes of dialogue and emphasizing the need for courageous gestures.  These are quite urgent in neighbouring Venezuela, where the effects of the political, social and economic crisis have long burdened the civil population.  So too in other parts of the world, beginning with the Middle East, a similar approach is needed, not only to bring an end to the Syrian conflict, but also to foster fully reconciled societies in Iraq and in Yemen.  The Holy See renews its urgent appeal for the resumption of dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians towards a stable and enduring solution that guarantees the peaceful coexistence of two states within internationally recognized borders.  No conflict can become a habit impossible to break.  Israelis and Palestinians need peace.  The whole Middle East urgently needs peace!

I also express my hope that there will be a full implementation of the agreements aimed at restoring peace in Libya, where it is imperative to reconcile the divisions of recent years.  I likewise encourage every effort on the local and international level to renew peaceful civil coexistence in Sudan and South Sudan, and in the Central African Republic, all plagued by ongoing armed conflicts, massacres and destruction, as well as in other African nations marked by tensions and political and social instability.   In particular, I express my hope that the recently-signed agreement in the Democratic Republic of Congo may help enable political leaders to work diligently to pursue reconciliation and dialogue between all elements of civil society.  My thoughts also turn to Myanmar, that efforts will be made to foster peaceful co-existence and, with the support of the international community, to provide assistance to those in grave and pressing need.

In Europe too, where tensions also exist, openness to dialogue is the only way to ensure the security and development of the continent.  Consequently, I welcome those initiatives favouring the process of reunification in Cyprus, where negotiations resume today, and I express my hope that in Ukraine viable solutions will continue to be pursued with determination in order to fulfil the commitments undertaken by the parties involved and, above all, that a prompt response will be given to the humanitarian situation, which remains grave.

Europe as a whole is experiencing a decisive moment in its history, one in which it is called to rediscover its proper identity.  This requires recovering its roots in order to shape its future.  In response to currents of divisiveness, it is all the more urgent to update “the idea of Europe”, so as to give birth to a new humanism based on the capacity to integrate, dialogue and generate[19] that made the “Old Continent” great.  The process of European unification, begun after the Second World War, continues to be a unique opportunity for stability, peace and solidarity between peoples.  On this occasion, I can only reaffirm the interest and concern of the Holy See for Europe and its future, conscious that the values that were the inspiration and basis of that project, which this year celebrates its sixtieth anniversary, are values common to the entire continent and transcend the borders of the European Union itself.

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

To build peace also means to work actively for the care of creation.  The Paris Agreement on the climate, which recently took effect, is an important sign of the shared commitment to bequeath a more beautiful and livable world to those who will come after us.  It is my hope that the efforts made in recent times to respond to climate change will meet with increased cooperation on the part of all, for the earth is our common home and we need to realize that the choices of each have consequences for all.

Clearly, however, certain phenomena go beyond the possibilities of human intervention.  I refer to the numerous earthquakes which have struck some areas of the world.  I think especially of those in Ecuador, Italy and Indonesia, which has claimed numerous victims and left many others in conditions of great insecurity.  I was able to visit personally some of the areas affected by the earthquake in central Italy.  In addition to seeing the damage done to a land rich in art and culture, I shared the pain of many people, but I also witnessed their courage and their determination to rebuild what was destroyed.   I pray that the solidarity which united the beloved Italian people in the days after the earthquake will continue to inspire the entire nation, particularly at this delicate time in its history.  The Holy See and Italy are particularly close for obvious historical, cultural and geographical reasons.  This relationship was evident in the Jubilee Year, and I thank all the Italian authorities for their help in organizing this event and ensuring the security of pilgrims from all over the world.

Dear Ambassadors,

Peace is a gift, a challenge and a commitment.  It is a gift because it flows from the very heart of God.  It is a challenge because it is a good that can never be taken for granted and must constantly be achieved.  It is a commitment because it demands passionate effort on the part of all people of goodwill to seek and build it.  For true peace can only come about on the basis of a vision of human beings capable of promoting an integral development respectful of their transcendent dignity.  As Blessed Paul VI observed, “development is the new name for peace”.[20]

This, then, is my prayerful hope for the year just begun: that our countries and their peoples may find increased opportunities to work together in building true peace.  For its part, the Holy See, and the Secretariat of State in particular, will always be ready to cooperate with those committed to ending current conflicts and to offer support and hope to all who suffer.

In the Church’s liturgy, we greet one another with the words: “Peace be with you”.  With this same greeting, as a pledge of abundant divine blessings, I renew to each of you, distinguished members of the Diplomatic Corps, to your families and to the countries you represent, my heartfelt good wishes for the New Year.

Thank you.

[1] BENEDICT XV, Letter to the Leaders of the Peoples at War (1 August 1917): AAS 9 (1917), 421.

[2] Message for the Celebration of the First World Day of Peace (1 January 1968).

[3] SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes (7 December 1965), 78.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Address at the World Day of Prayer for Peace, Assisi, 20 September 2016.

[8] Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, 78.

[9] Cf. ibid.

[10] Ibid., 83.

[11] Cf. Ps 85:11 and Is 32:17.

[12] Message for the Thirty-fifth World Day of Peace: There is no Peace without Justice, There is no Justice without Forgiveness (1 January 2002), 3.

[13] Apostolic Letter Misericordia et Misera (20 November 2016), 18.

[14] Ibid., 20.

[15] JOHN XXIII, Encyclical Letter Pacem in Terris (11 April 1963), 25.

[16] Encyclical Letter Populorum Progressio (26 March 1967), 83.

[17] Cf. Letter to Bishops on the Feast of the Holy Innocents, 28 December 2016.

[18] Encyclical Letter Pacem in Terris, 112.

[19] Cf. Address at the Conferral of the Charlemagne Prize, 6 May 2016.

[20] Cf. Encyclical Letter Populorum Progressio, 87.

Posted in Holy See diplomacy, Pope Francis, Pope Francis address

Pope Francis lays out principles and achievements of Vatican reform

Pope Francis delivers his message to prelates on the occasion of his Christmas greetings to the Roman Curia in the Clementine Hall, at the Vatican, Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016. (Credit: AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia, Pool.)

Pope Francis delivers his message to prelates on the occasion of his Christmas greetings to the Roman Curia in the Clementine Hall, at the Vatican, Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016. (Credit: AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia, Pool.)

[Austen Ivereigh] Pope Francis has today laid out a series of criteria for reforming the Roman Curia, calling for a conversion of minds and hearts and warning that while some criticism of the reform is healthy, some of it is ill-willed.

He made the comments in his annual address to senior curial officials assembled in the Sala Clementina. He asked them to embrace the process of reform, telling them Christmas is “the feast of the loving humility of God, of the God who upsets our logical expectations, the established order”.

“Since the Curia is not an immobile bureaucratic apparatus, reform is first and foremost a sign of life, of a Church that advances on her pilgrim way, of a Church that is living and for this reason semper reformanda, in need of reform because she is alive,” Francis told them, adding that reform must “con-form to the Good News which must be proclaimed joyously and courageously to all, especially to the poor, the least and the outcast.”

He said the aim of reform is not aesthetic, like a facelift, for “it isn’t wrinkles we need to worry about in the Church, but stains!”

Describing three types of resistance, the Pope said open resistance is “born of goodwill and sincere dialogue” while hidden resistance comes from “hardened hearts content with the empty rhetoric of a complacent spiritual reform”, while malicious resistance springs up “in misguided minds and comes to the fore when the devil inspires ill intentions… [which] hides behind words of self-justification and often accusation”.

Pope Francis then laid out 12 guiding principles of the reform:

– Individual responsibility (personal conversion)
– Pastoral concern (pastoral conversion)
– Missionary spirit (Christocentrism)
– Clear organization
– Improved functioning
– Modernization (updating)
– Sobriety
– Subsidiarity
– Synodality
– Catholicity
– Professionalism
– Gradualism (discernment)

He went on to list at length the steps taken so far in his pontificate to effect structural reform of the Vatican.

He also gave a Christmas gift to the cardinals and senior officials: a recent Italian translation of a famous book by the third head of the Jesuits, Claudio Acquaviva, entitled Industriae ad curandos animae morbos, or ‘Methods for Curing Ailments of the Soul’.

In it Acquaviva wrote that one should never compromise the substance of faith in interacting with others but should present the matter in a gentle way —  fortiter in re, suaviter in modo (which is variously translated in mottos as “resolute in execution, gentle in manner” or “vigorous in deed, gentle in manner”).

[See John Allen at Crux for analysis].

Official English translation of Pope Francis’ address follows:

Greetings of His Holiness Pope Francis to the Roman Curia

Christmas 2016

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I would like to begin this meeting of ours by offering cordial good wishes to all of you, superiors and officials, papal representatives and staff of the Nunciatures worldwide, all those working in the Roman Curia and to your families.  Best wishes for a holy and serene Christmas and a happy New Year 2017!

Saint Augustine, contemplating the face of the Baby Jesus, exclaimed: “immense in the form of God, tiny in the form of a slave”.  To describe the mystery of the Incarnation, Saint Macarius, the fourth-century monk and disciple of Saint Anthony Abbot, used the Greek verb “smikryno”, to become small, to reduce to the bare minimum.  He says: “Listen attentively: the infinite, unapproachable and uncreated God, in his immense and ineffable goodness has taken a body, and, I dare say, infinitely diminished his glory”.

Christmas is thus the feast of the loving humility of God, of the God who upsets our logical expectations, the established order, the order of the dialectician and the mathematician.  In this upset lies all the richness of God’s own thinking, which overturns our limited human ways of thinking (cf. Is 55: 8-9).  As Romano Guardini said: “What an overturning of all our familiar values – not only human values but also divine values!  Truly this God upsets everything that we claim to build up on our own”.  At Christmas, we are called to say “yes” with our faith, not to the Master of the universe, and not even to the most noble of ideas, but precisely to this God who is the humble lover.

Blessed Paul VI, on Christmas of 1971, said: “God could have come wrapped in glory, splendour, light and power, to instill fear, to make us rub our eyes in amazement.  But instead he came as the smallest, the frailest and weakest of beings.  Why?  So that no one would be ashamed to approach him, so that no one would be afraid, so that all would be close to him and draw near him, so that there would be no distance between us and him.  God made the effort to plunge, to dive deep within us, so that each of us, each of you, could speak intimately with him, trust him, draw near him and realize that he thinks of you and loves you… He loves you!  Think about what this means!  If you understand this, if you remember what I am saying, you will have understood the whole of Christianity”.

God chose to be born a tiny child because he wanted to be loved.  Here we see, as it were, how the logic of Christmas is the overturning of worldly logic, of the mentality of power and might, the thinking of the Pharisees and those who see things only in terms of causality or determinism.

In this gentle yet overpowering light of the divine countenance of the Christ Child, I have chosen as the theme of this, our yearly meeting, the reform of the Roman Curia.  It seemed to me right and fitting to share with you the framework of the reform, to point out its guiding principles, the steps taken so far, but above all the logic behind every step already taken and what is yet to come.

Here I spontaneously think of the ancient adage that describes the process of the Spiritual Exercises in the Ignatian method: deformata reformare, reformata conformare, conformata confirmare et confirmata transformare.

There can be no doubt that, for the Curia, the word reform is to be understood in two ways.  First of all, it has to make the Curia con-form “to the Good News which must be proclaimed joyously and courageously to all, especially to the poor, the least and the outcast”.  To make it con-form “to the signs of our time and to all its human achievements”, so as “better to meet the demands of the men and women whom we are called to serve”.  At the same time, this means con-forming the Curia ever more fully to its purpose, which is that of cooperating in the ministry of the Successor of Peter (cum ipso consociatam operam prosequuntur, as the Motu Proprio Humanam Progressionem puts it), and supporting the Roman Pontiff in the exercise of his singular, ordinary, full, supreme, immediate and universal power.

Consequently, the reform of the Roman Curia must be guided by ecclesiology and directed in bonum et in servitium, as is the service of the Bishop of Rome.  This finds eloquent expression in the words of Pope Saint Gregory the Great, quoted in the third chapter of the Constitution Pastor Aeternus of the First Vatican Council: “My honour is that of the universal Church.  My honour is the solid strength of my brothers.  I feel truly honoured when none of them is denied his due honour”.

Since the Curia is not an immobile bureaucratic apparatus, reform is first and foremost a sign of life, of a Church that advances on her pilgrim way, of a Church that is living and for this reason semper reformanda, in need of reform because she is alive.

Here it must clearly be said that reform is not an end unto itself, but rather a process of growth and above all of conversion.

Consequently, the aim of reform is not aesthetic, an effort to improve the looks of the Curia, nor can it be understood as a sort of facelift, using make-up and cosmetics to embellish its aging body, nor even as an operation of plastic surgery to take away its wrinkles.

Dear brothers and sisters, it isn’t wrinkles we need to worry about in the Church, but blemishes!

Seen in this light, we need to realize that the reform will be effective only if it is carried out with men and women who are renewed and not simply new.  We cannot be content simply with changing personnel, but need to encourage spiritual, human and professional renewal among the members of the Curia.  The reform of the Curia is in no way implemented with a change of persons – something that certainly is happening and will continue to happen – but with a conversion in persons.  Permanent formation is not enough; what we need also and above all is permanent conversion and purification.  Without a change of mentality, efforts at practical improvement will be in vain.

That is why, in our last two meetings at Christmas, I discussed certain “diseases”, drawing on the teaching of the Desert Fathers (2014), and compiled, on the basis of the word “mercy”, a catalogue of virtues necessary for curial officials and all those who wish their consecration or service to the Church to become more fruitful (2015).  The underlying reason is that, as in the case of the Church overall, the semper reformanda must also become, in the case of the Curia, a permanent personal and structural process of conversion.

It was necessary to speak of disease and cures because every surgical operation, if it is to be successful, must be preceded by detailed diagnosis and careful analysis, and needs to be accompanied and followed up by precise prescriptions.

In this process, it is normal, and indeed healthy, to encounter difficulties, which in the case of the reform, might present themselves as different types of resistance.   There can be cases of open resistance, often born of goodwill and sincere dialogue, and cases of hidden resistance, born of fearful or hardened hearts content with the empty rhetoric of a complacent spiritual reform, on the part of those who say they are ready for change, but want everything to remain as it is.

There are also cases of malicious resistance, which spring up in misguided minds and come to the fore when the devil inspires ill intentions (often cloaked in sheep’s clothing).  This last kind of resistance hides behind words of self-justification and often accusation; it takes refuge in traditions, appearances, formalities, in the familiar, or else in a desire to make everything personal, failing to distinguish between the act, the actor, and the action.

The absence of reaction is a sign of death!  Consequently, the good cases of resistance – and even those not quite so good – are necessary and merit being listened to, welcomed and their expression encouraged.

All this is to say that the reform of the Curia is a delicate process that has to take place in fidelity to essentials, with constant discernment, evangelical courage and ecclesial wisdom, careful listening, persevering action, positive silence and firm decisions.  It requires much prayer, profound humility, farsightedness, concrete steps forward and – whenever necessary – even with steps backward, with determination, vitality, responsible exercise of power, unconditioned obedience, but above all by abandonment to the sure guidance of the Holy Spirit and trust in his necessary support.

SOME GUIDING PRINCIPLES OF THE REFORM

These are principally twelve: individualism; pastoral concern; missionary spirit; clear organization; improved functioning; modernization; sobriety; subsidiarity; synodality; catholicity; professionalism and gradualism.

  1. Individual responsibility (personal conversion)

Once again I reaffirm the importance of individual conversion, without which all structural change would prove useless.  The true soul of the reform are the men and women who are part of it and make it possible.  Indeed, personal conversion supports and reinforces communal conversion.

There is a powerful interplay between personal and communal attitudes.  A single person can bring great good to the entire body, but also bring great harm and lead to sickness.  A healthy body is one that can recover, accept, reinforce, care for and sanctify its members.

  1. Pastoral concern (pastoral conversion)

Mindful of the figure of the shepherd (cf. Ez 34:16; Jn 10:1-21) and recognizing that the Curia is a community of service, “it is good for us too, called to be pastors in the Church, to let the face of God the Good Shepherd enlighten us, purify us and transform us, fully renewed, to our mission.  That even in our workplaces we may feel, cultivate and practise a sound pastoral sense, especially towards the people whom we meet each day.  May no one feel overlooked or mistreated, but may everyone experience, here first of all, the care and concern of the Good Shepherd”.

The efforts of all who work in the Curia must be inspired by pastoral concern and a spirituality of service and communion, for this is the antidote to all the venoms of vain ambition and illusory rivalry.  Paul VI cautioned that “the Roman Curia should not be a bureaucracy, as some wrongly judge it, pretentious and apathetic, merely legalistic and ritualistic, a training ground of concealed ambitions and veiled antagonisms, as others would have it.  Rather, it should be a true community of faith and charity, of prayer and of activity, of brothers and sons of the Pope, who carry out their duties respecting one another’s competence and with a sense of collaboration, in order to serve him as he serves his brothers and sons of the universal Church and of the entire world”.

  1. Missionary spirit (Christocentrism)

As the Council taught, it is the chief aim of all forms of service in the Church to bring the Good News to the ends of the earth.  For “there are Church structures which can hamper efforts at evangelization, yet even good structures are only helpful when there is a life constantly driving, sustaining and assessing them.  Without new life and an authentic evangelical spirit, without the Church’s fidelity to her own calling, any new structure will soon prove ineffective.”

  1. Clear organization

On the basis of the principle that all Dicasteries are juridically equal, a clearer organization of the offices of the Roman Curia was needed, in order to bring out the fact that each Dicastery has its own areas of competence.  These areas of competence must be respected, but they must also be distributed in a reasonable, efficient and productive way.  No Dicastery can therefore appropriate the competence of another Dicastery, in accordance with what is laid down by law.  On the other hand, all Dicasteries report directly to the Pope.

  1. Improved functioning

The eventual merging of two or more Dicasteries competent in similar or closely connected matters to create a single Dicastery serves on the one hand to give the latter greater importance (even externally).  On the other hand, the closeness and interaction of individual bodies within a single Dicastery contributes to improved functioning (as shown by the two recently created Dicasteries).

Improved functioning also demands an ongoing review of roles, the relevance of areas of competence, and the responsibilities of the personnel, and consequently of the process of reassignment, hiring, interruption of work and also promotions.

  1. Modernization (updating)

This involves an ability to interpret and attend to “the signs of the times.”  In this sense, “We are concerned to make provisions that the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia be suited to the circumstances of our time and adapted to the needs of the universal Church”.  Such was the request of the Second Vatican Council: “the departments of the Roman Curia should be reorganized in a manner more appropriate to the needs of our time and of different regions and rites, especially in regard to their number, their titles, their competence, their procedures and how they coordinate their activities”.

  1.  Sobriety

Here what is called for is a simplification and streamlining of the Curia.  This involves the combination or merging of Dicasteries based on their areas of competence; simplification within individual Dicasteries; the eventual suppression of offices no longer responding to contingent needs; the integration into Dicasteries or the reduction of Commissions, Academies, Committees, etc., all in view of the essential sobriety needed for a proper and authentic witness.

  1. Subsidiarity

This involves the reordering of areas of competence specific to the various Dicasteries, transferring them if necessary from one Dicastery to another, in order to achieve autonomy, coordination and subsidiarity in areas of competence and effective interaction in service.

Here too, respect must be shown for the principles of subsidiarity and clear organization with regard to relations with the Secretariat of State and, within the latter, among its various areas of competence, so that carrying out its proper duties it will be of direct and immediate assistance to the Pope.  This will also improve coordination between the various sectors of the Dicasteries and the Offices of the Curia themselves.  The Secretariat of State will be able to carry out its important function precisely in achieving unity, interdependence and coordination between its sections and different sectors.

  1. Synodality

The work of the Curia must be synodal, with regular meetings of Heads of the Dicasteries, presided over by the Roman Pontiff; regularly scheduled Audiences of Heads of the Dicasteries with the Pope, and the customary interdicasterial meetings.  The reduced number of Dicasteries will allow for more frequent and systematic meetings of individual Prefects with the Pope and productive meetings of Heads of Dicasteries, since this cannot be the case when groups are too large.

Synodality must also be evident in the work of each Dicastery, with particular attention to the Congress and at least a greater frequency of the Ordinary Sessions.  Each Dicastery must avoid the fragmentation caused by factors such as the multiplication of specialized sectors, which can tend to become self-absorbed.  Their coordination must be the task of the Secretary, or the Undersecretary.

  1. Catholicity

Among the Officials, in addition to priests and consecrated persons, the catholicity of the Church must be reflected in the hiring of personnel from throughout the world, of permanent deacons and lay faithful carefully selected on the basis of their unexceptionable spiritual and moral life and their professional competence.  It is fitting to provide for the hiring of greater numbers of the lay faithful, especially in those Dicasteries where they can be more competent than clerics or consecrated persons.  Also of great importance is an enhanced role for women and lay people in the life of the Church and their integration into roles of leadership in the Dicasteries, with particular attention to multiculturalism.

  1.       Professionalism

Every Dicastery must adopt a policy of continuing formation for its personnel, to avoid their falling into a rut or becoming stuck in a bureaucratic routine.

Likewise essential is the definitive abolition of the practice of promoveatur ut amoveatur.

  1. Gradualism (discernment)

Gradualism has to do with the necessary discernment entailed by historical processes, the passage of time and stages of development, assessment, correction, experimentation, and approvals ad experimentum.  In these cases, it is not a matter of indecision, but of the flexibility needed to be able to achieve a true reform.

STEPS ALREADY TAKEN

I will now mention briefly and concisely some steps already taken to put into practice these guiding principles and the recommendations made by the Cardinals in the plenary meetings before the Conclave, by the COSEA, by the Council of Cardinals (C9), and by the Heads of the Dicasteries and other experts and individuals:

  • On 13 April 2013 it was announced that the Council of Cardinals (Consilium Cardinalium Summo Pontifici) – the C8 and, after 1 July 2014, the C9 – was created, primarily to counsel the Pope on the governance of the universal Church and on other related topics, also with the specific task of proposing the revision of the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus.
  • With the Chirograph of 24 June 2013, the Pontifical Commission for Reference on the Institute for Works of Religion was established, in order to study the legal status of the IOR and to allow for its greater ”harmonization” with “the universal mission of the Apostolic See”.  This was “to ensure that economic and financial activities be permeated by Gospel principles” and to achieve a complete and acknowledged transparency in its operation.
  • With the Motu Proprio of 11 July 2013, provisions were made to define the jurisdiction of the judicial authorities of Vatican City State in criminal matters.
  • With the Chirograph of 18 July 2013, the COSEA (Pontifical Commission for Reference on the Organization of the Economic-Administrative Structure) was instituted and given the task of research, analysis and the gathering of information, in cooperation with the Council of Cardinals for the study of the organizational and economic problems of the Holy See.
  • With the Motu Proprio of 8 August 2013, the Holy See’s Financial Security Committee was established for the prevention and countering of money laundering, the financing of terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.  This was to bring the IOR and the entire Vatican economic system to the regular adoption of, and fully committed and diligent compliance with, all international legal norms on financial transparency.
  • With the Motu Proprio of 15 November 2013, the Financial Intelligence Authority (AIF), established by Benedict XVI with his Motu Proprio of 30 December 2010 for the prevention and countering of illegal activities in the area of monetary and financial dealings, was consolidated.
  • With the Motu Proprio 24 February 2014 (Fidelis Dispensator et Prudens), the Secretariat for the Economy and the Council for the Economy were established to replace the Council of 15 Cardinals, with the task of harmonizing the policies of control in regard to the economic management of the Holy See and the Vatican City.
  • With the same Motu Proprio of 24 February 2014, the Office of General Auditor (URG) was established as a new agency of the Holy See, charged with auditing the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia, the institutions connected with to the Holy See or associated with it, and the administrations of the Governatorate of Vatican City.
  • With the Chirograph of 22 March 2014, the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors was established, in order “to promote the protection of the dignity of minors and vulnerable adults, using the forms and methods, consonant with the nature of the Church, which they consider most appropriate”.
  • With the Motu Proprio of 8 July 2014, the Ordinary Section of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See was transferred to the Secretariat for the Economy.
  • On 22 February 2015, the Statutes of the new economic agencies were approved.
  • With the Motu Proprio of 27 June 2015, the Secretariat for Communication was established and charged “to respond to the current context of communication, characterized by the presence and evolution of digital media, and by factors of convergence and interactivity”.  The Secretariat was also charged with overall restructuring, through a process of reorganization and merging, of “all the realities which in various ways up to the present have dealt with communications”, so as to “respond ever better to the needs of the mission of the Church”
  • On 6 September 2016, the Statutes of the Secretariat for Communication were promulgated; they took effect last October.
  • With the two Motu Proprios of 15 August 2015, provisions were made for the reform of the canonical process in cases of declaration of marital nullity: Mitis et Misericors Iesus for the Code of Canons of the Oriental Churches, and Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus for the Code of Canon Law.
  • With the Motu Proprio of 4 June 2016 (Come una madre amorevole), an effort was made to prevent negligence on the part of bishops in the exercise of their office, especially with regard to cases of the sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults.
  • With the Motu Proprio of 15 August 2016 (Sedula Mater), the Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life was established, in the light of the general pastoral purpose of the Petrine ministry: “I hasten to arrange all things necessary in order that the richness of Christ Jesus may be poured forth appropriately and profusely among the faithful”.
  • With the Motu Proprio of 17 August 2016 (Humanum progressionem), the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development was established, so that development can take place “by attending to the inestimable goods of justice, peace and the care of creation”.  Beginning in January 2017, four Pontifical Councils  – Justice and Peace, Cor Unum, the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, and Healthcare Workers – will be merged into this Dicastery.  For the time being, I will directly head the section for the pastoral care of migrants in the new Dicastery.
  • On 18 October 2016, the Statutes of the Pontifical Academy for Life were approved.

Our meeting today began by speaking of the meaning of Christmas as the overturning of our human criteria, in order to emphasize that the heart and centre of the reform is Christ (Christocentrism).

I would like to conclude simply with a word and a prayer.  The word is to reiterate that Christmas is the feast of God’s loving humility.  The prayer is the Christmas message of Father Matta el Meskin, a monk of our time, who, addressing the Lord Jesus born in Bethlehem, said:

If for us the experience of (your) infancy is so difficult, it is not so for you, O Son of God.  If we stumble along the way that leads to communion with you because of your smallness, you are capable of removing all the obstacles that prevent us from doing this.  We know that you will not be at peace until you find us in your likeness and with this (same) smallness.  Allow us today, O Son of God, to draw dear to your heart.  Grant that we may not consider ourselves great in our experiences.  Grant us instead to become small like you, so that we can draw near to you and receive from you abundant humility and meekness.  Do not deprive us of your revelation, the epiphany of your infancy in our hearts, so that with it we can heal all our pride and all our arrogance.  We greatly need… for you to reveal in us your simplicity, by drawing us, and indeed the Church and the whole world, to yourself.  Our world is weary and exhausted, because everyone is vying to see who is the greatest.  There is a ruthless competition between governments, churches, peoples, within families, from one parish to another: Who of us is the greatest?  The world is festering with painful wounds because of this great illness: Who is the greatest?  But today we have found in you, O Son of God, our one medicine.  We, and the whole world, will not find salvation or peace unless we go back to encounter you anew in the manger of Bethlehem.  Amen.

Thank you, and I wish you a Holy Christmas and a Blessed New Year 2017!

Posted in Pope Francis, Uncategorized, Vatican reform

Pope, fitter than ever, celebrates 80th birthday with homeless

Pope Francis this morning with homeless guests for birthday breakfast. (Photo: Greg Burke).

Pope Francis this morning with homeless guests for birthday breakfast. (Photo: Greg Burke).

[Austen Ivereigh] Pope Francis has celebrated his 80th birthday today with a Mass with the cardinals and breakfast with the homeless, but otherwise leading a normal day of audiences and meetings at the Vatican.

He said Mass this morning in the Pauline chapel of the Apostolic Palace with cardinals resident in Rome, reflecting in his homily on the grace of memory.

At the end of the Mass, Francis took the microphone to share thoughts on ageing with the cardinals. “For some days a word has come to my mind which seems ugly: old age! It’s frightening.” He said a monsignor had given him a copy of Cicero’s De Senectute which had been another reminder.

Recalling what he had told the cardinals the day after his election as pope, that “old age is the seat of wisdom”, he said he hoped the same would be true of him also. “How it has come so quickly, approaching so silently,” he added. He asked them to pray that his old age be “calm, religious, fruitful and also joyful.”

Afterwards he had breakfast with eight homeless people, as he has done on previous birthdays.

Correspondents in Rome have been remarking on the pope’s remarkable health.  Juan Vicente Boo of Spain’s ABC said Francis seemed to be in better physical condition and with a greater capacity for work than he did at the start of his pontificate.

“He has managed to lose some of his excess weight and organize things better so that his sciatica no longer causes him major difficulties,” said Boo. “In the past two years he has not been ill nor has he had to cancel any event at the last minute due to exhaustion, as happened in the early days.”

Jean-Marie Guénois of Le Figaro also commented on the pope’s “fierce energy” while the BBC’s David Willey says that close up, Francis is “vital as well as gregarious”.

[Austen Ivereigh pays tribute to Pope Francis’s fulfilment of his “life task” at Crux.]

 

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Pope’s Apostolic Letter ‘Misericordia et Misera’ – full text

[The full text follows of Pope Francis’s apostolic letter concluding the Year of Mercy, released today in which he extends priests’ faculty to forgive sins of abortion as well as the Society of Pius X to give sacramental absolution, and institutes a new World Day of the Poor on the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time. For summary and reports, see Crux here, and here.]

Misericordia et misera

Apostolic Letter of Pope Francis 

at the Conclusion of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy

FRANCIS

TO ALL WHO READ THIS APOSTOLIC LETTER MERCY AND PEACE

Misericordia et misera is a phrase used by Saint Augustine in recounting the story of Jesus’ meeting with the woman taken in adultery (cf. Jn 8:1-11). It would be difficult to imagine a more beautiful or apt way of expressing the mystery of God’s love when it touches the sinner: “the two of them alone remained: mercy with misery”.1 What great mercy and divine justice shine forth in this narrative! Its teaching serves not only to throw light on the conclusion of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, but also to point out the path that we are called to follow in the future.

This page of the Gospel could easily serve as an icon of what we have celebrated during the Holy Year, a time rich in mercy, which must continue to be celebrated and lived out in our communities. Mercy cannot become a mere parenthesis in the life of the Church; it constitutes her very existence, through which the profound truths of the Gospel are made manifest and tangible. Everything is revealed in mercy; everything is resolved in the merciful love of the Father.

1. A woman and Jesus meet. She is an adulteress and, in the eyes of the Law, liable to be stoned. Jesus, through his preaching and the total gift of himself that would lead him to the Cross, returned the Mosaic Law to its true and original intent. Here what is central is not the law or legal justice, but the love of God, which is capable of looking into the heart of each person and seeing the deepest desire hidden there; God’s love must take primacy over all else. This Gospel account, however, is not an encounter of sin and judgement in the abstract, but of a sinner and her Saviour. Jesus looked that woman in the eye and read in her heart a desire to be understood, forgiven and set free. The misery of sin was clothed with the mercy of love. Jesus’ only judgement is one filled with mercy and compassion for the condition of this sinner. To those who wished to judge and condemn her to death, Jesus replies with a lengthy silence. His purpose was to let God’s voice be heard in the conscience not only of the woman, but also in those of her accusers, who drop their stones and one by one leave the scene (cf. Jn 8:9). Jesus then says: “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?… Neither do I condemn you. Go your way and from now on do not sin again” (vv. 10-11). Jesus helps the woman to look to the future with hope and to make a new start in life. Henceforth, if she so desires, she can “walk in charity” (Eph 5:2). Once clothed in mercy, even if the inclination to sin remains, it is overcome by the love that makes it possible for her to look ahead and to live her life differently.

2. Jesus had taught this clearly on another occasion, when he had been invited to dine at the home of a Pharisee (cf. Lk 7:36-50) and a woman, known by everyone to be a sinner, approached him. She poured perfume over his feet, bathed them with her tears and dried them with her hair (cf. vv. 37-38). To the scandalized reaction of the Pharisee, Jesus replied: “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little” (v. 47). Forgiveness is the most visible sign of the Father’s love, which Jesus sought to reveal by his entire life. Every page of the Gospel is marked by this imperative of a love that loves to the point of forgiveness. Even at the last moment of his earthly life, as he was being nailed to the cross, Jesus spoke words of forgiveness: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do”(Lk 23:34).

Nothing of what a repentant sinner places before God’s mercy can be excluded from the embrace of his forgiveness. For this reason, none of us has the right to make forgiveness conditional. Mercy is always a gratuitous act of our heavenly Father, an unconditional and unmerited act of love. Consequently, we cannot risk opposing the full freedom of the love with which God enters into the life of every person.

Mercy is this concrete action of love that, by forgiving, transforms and changes our lives. In this way, the divine mystery of mercy is made manifest. God is merciful (cf. Ex 34:6); his mercy lasts forever (cf. Ps 136). From generation to generation, it embraces all those who trust in him and it changes them, by bestowing a share in his very life.

3. What great joy welled up in the heart of these two women. Forgiveness made them feel free at last and happy as never before. Their tears of shame and pain turned into the smile of a person who knows that he or she is loved. Mercy gives rise to joy, because our hearts are opened to the hope of a new life. The joy of forgiveness is inexpressible, yet it radiates all around us whenever we experience forgiveness. Its source is in the love with which God comes to meet us, breaking through walls of selfishness that surround us, in order to make us in turn instruments of mercy.

How meaningful in this regard are the words of encouragement found in an early Christian text: “Clothe yourselves in joy, which always is agreeable and acceptable to God, and rejoice in it. For all who are joyful do what is good, think what is good, and despise sadness… All who put aside sadness and put on joy will live in God”.2 The experience of mercy brings joy. May we never allow this joy to be robbed from us by our troubles and concerns. May it remain rooted in our hearts and enable us to approach with serenity the events of our daily lives.

In a culture often dominated by technology, sadness and loneliness appear to be on the rise, not least among young people. The future seems prey to an uncertainty that does not make for stability. This often gives rise to depression, sadness and boredom, which can gradually lead to despair. We need witnesses to hope and true joy if we are to dispel the illusions that promise quick and easy happiness through artificial paradises. The profound sense of emptiness felt by so many people can be overcome by the hope we bear in our hearts and by the joy that it gives. We need to acknowledge the joy that rises up in a heart touched by mercy. Let us keep in mind, then, the words of the Apostle: “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil 4:4; cf. 1 Thess 5:16).

4. We have celebrated an intense Jubilee Year in which we have received the grace of mercy in abundance. Like a gusting but wholesome wind, the Lord’s goodness and mercy have swept through the entire world. Because each of us has experienced at length this loving gaze of God, we cannot remain unaffected, for it changes our lives.

We feel the need above all to thank the Lord and to tell him: “Lord, you have been favourable to your land… You have forgiven the iniquity of your people” (Ps 85:1-2). So it is. God has subdued our iniquities and cast all our sins into the depths of the sea (cf. Mic 7:19). He no longer remembers them, since he has cast them behind his back (cf. Is 38:17). As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us (cf. Ps 103:12).

In this Holy Year, the Church listened attentively and experienced intensely the presence and closeness of the Father, who with the Holy Spirit has enabled her to see with greater clarity the gift and mandate of Jesus Christ regarding forgiveness. It has truly been like a new visitation of the Lord among us. We have felt his life-giving breath poured out upon the Church and, once again, his words have pointed out our mission: “Receive the Holy Spirit: if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (Jn 20:22-23).

5. Now, at the conclusion of this Jubilee, it is time to look to the future and to understand how best to continue, with joy, fidelity and enthusiasm, experiencing the richness of God’s mercy. Our communities can remain alive and active in the work of the new evangelization in the measure that the “pastoral conversion” to which we are called3 will be shaped daily by the renewing force of mercy. Let us not limit its action; let us not sadden the Spirit, who constantly points out new paths to take in bringing to everyone the Gospel of salvation.

First, we are called to celebrate mercy. What great richness is present in the Church’s prayer when she invokes God as the Father of mercies! In the liturgy, mercy is not only repeatedly implored, but is truly received and experienced. From the beginning to the end of the Eucharistic celebration, mercy constantly appears in the dialogue between the assembly at prayer and the heart of the Father, who rejoices to bestow his merciful love. After first pleading for forgiveness with the invocation “Lord have mercy”, we are immediately reassured: “May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and lead us to everlasting life”. With this confidence, the community gathers in the presence of the Lord, particularly on the holy day of the resurrection. Many of the Collect prayers are meant to remind us of the great gift of mercy. In Lent, for example, we pray: “O God, author of every mercy and of all goodness, who in fasting, prayer and almsgiving have shown us a remedy for sin, look graciously on this confession of our lowliness, that we, who are bowed down by our conscience, may always be lifted up by your mercy”.4 We are immersed in the great Eucharistic Prayer with the Preface that proclaims: “You so loved the world that in your mercy you sent us the Redeemer, to live like us in all things but sin.5 The Fourth Eucharistic Prayer is a hymn to God’s mercy: “For you came in mercy to the aid of all, so that those who seek might find you”. “Have mercy on us all”6 is the insistent plea made by the priest in the Eucharistic Prayer to implore a share in eternal life. After the Our Father, the priest continues by invoking peace and liberation from sin by the “aid of your mercy”. And before the sign of peace, exchanged as an expression of fraternity and mutual love in the light of forgiveness received, the priest prays: “Look not upon on our sins but on the faith of your Church”.7 In these words, with humble trust we beseech the gift of unity and peace for Holy Mother Church. The celebration of divine mercy culminates in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the memorial of Christ’s paschal mystery, the source of salvation for every human being, for history and for the whole world. In a word, each moment of the Eucharistic celebration refers to God’s mercy.

In the sacramental life, mercy is granted us in abundance. It is not without significance that the Church mentions mercy explicitly in the formulae of the two ‘sacraments of healing’, namely, the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation and the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. In the first, the formula of absolution reads: “God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace”.8

In the second, the formula of anointing reads: “Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit”.9 In the Church’s prayer, then, references to mercy, far from being merely exhortative, are highly performative, which is to say that as we invoke mercy with faith, it is granted to us, and as we confess it to be vital and real, it transforms us. This is a fundamental element of our faith, and we must keep it constantly in mind. Even before the revelation of sin, there is the revelation of the love by which God created the world and human beings. Love is the first act whereby God reveals himself and turns towards us. So let us open our hearts and trust in God’s love for us. His love always precedes us, accompanies us and remains with us, despite our sin.

6. In this context, hearing the word of God takes on particular significance. Each Sunday, God’s word is proclaimed in the Christian community so that the Lord’s Day may be illuminated by the paschal mystery.10 In the Eucharistic celebration, we seem to witness a true dialogue between God and his people. In the biblical readings, we retrace the history of our salvation through the proclamation of God’s tireless work of mercy. The Lord continues to speak to us today as to friends; he dwells in our midst,11 in order to accompany us and show us the path of life. His word gives a voice to our inmost needs and worries, and offers a fruitful response, so that we can concretely experience his closeness to us. Hence the importance of the homily, in which “truth goes hand in hand with beauty and goodness”12 so that the hearts of believers may thrill before the grandeur of mercy! I strongly encourage that great care be given to preparing the homily and to preaching in general. A priest’s preaching will be fruitful to the extent that he himself has experienced the merciful goodness of the Lord. Communicating the certainty that God loves us is not an exercise in rhetoric, but a condition for the credibility of one’s priesthood. The personal experience of mercy is the best way to make it a true message of consolation and conversion in the pastoral ministry. Both homiletics and catechesis need to be sustained by this pulsing heart of the Christian life.

7. The Bible is the great story of the marvels of God’s mercy. Every one of its pages is steeped in the love of the Father who from the moment of creation wished to impress the signs of his love on the universe. Through the words of the prophets and the wisdom writings, the Holy Spirit shaped the history of Israel as a recognition of God’s closeness and love, despite the people’s infidelity. Jesus’s life and preaching decisively marked the history of the Christian community, which has viewed its mission in terms of Christ’s command to be a permanent instrument of his mercy and forgiveness (cf. Jn 20:23). Through Sacred Scripture, kept alive by the faith of the Church, the Lord continues to speak to his Bride, showing her the path she must take to enable the Gospel of salvation to reach all mankind. I greatly desire that God’s word be increasingly celebrated, known and disseminated, so that the mystery of love streaming from this font of mercy may be ever better understood. As the Apostle tells us clearly: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16).

It would be beneficial if every Christian community, on one Sunday of the liturgical year, could renew its efforts to make the Sacred Scriptures better known and more widely diffused. It would be a Sunday given over entirely to the word of God, so as to appreciate the inexhaustible riches contained in that constant dialogue between the Lord and his people. Creative initiatives can help make this an opportunity for the faithful to become living vessels for the transmission of God’s word. Initiatives of this sort would certainly include the practice of lectio divina, so that the prayerful reading of the sacred text will help support and strengthen the spiritual life. Such a reading, centred on themes relating to mercy, will enable a personal experience of the great fruitfulness of the biblical text – read in the light of the Church’s spiritual tradition – and thus give rise to concrete gestures and works of charity.13

8. The celebration of mercy takes place in a very particular way in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. Here we feel the embrace of the Father, who comes forth to meet us and grant us the grace of being once more his sons and daughters. We are sinners and we bear the burden of contradiction between what we wish to do and what we do in fact (cf. Rom 7:14-21). Yet grace always precedes us and takes on the face of the mercy that effects our reconciliation and pardon. God makes us understand his great love for us precisely when we recognize that we are sinners. Grace is stronger than sin: it overcomes resistance, because love conquers all (cf. 1 Cor 13:7).

In the sacrament of Forgiveness God shows us the way to turn back to him and invites us to experience his closeness anew. This pardon can be obtained by beginning, first of all, to live in charity. The Apostle Peter tells us this when he writes that “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet 4:8). Only God forgives sins, but he asks that we be ready to forgive others even as he has forgiven us: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Mt 6:12). How sad it is when our hearts are closed and unable to forgive! Resentment, anger and revenge gain the upper hand, making our lives miserable and blocking a joyful commitment to mercy.

9. An experience of grace lived out by the Church with great effectiveness in the Jubilee Year has certainly been the service of the Missionaries of Mercy. Their pastoral activity sought to emphasize that God places no roadblocks in the way of those who seek him with a contrite heart, because he goes out to meet everyone like a father. I have received many testimonies of joy from those who

encountered the Lord once more in the sacrament of Confession. Let us not miss the opportunity to live our faith also as an experience of reconciliation. Today too, the Apostle urges us: “Be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:20), so that all who believe can discover the power of love which makes us “a new creation” (2 Cor 5:17).

I thank every Missionary of Mercy for this valuable service aimed at rendering effective the grace of forgiveness. This extraordinary ministry does not end with the closing of the Holy Door. I wish it to continue until further notice as a concrete sign that the grace of the Jubilee remains alive and effective the world over. As a direct expression of my concern and proximity to the Missionaries of Mercy in this period, the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization will supervise them and find the most suitable forms for the exercise of this valuable ministry.

10. I invite priests once more to prepare carefully for the ministry of confession, which is a true priestly mission. I thank all of you from the heart for your ministry, and I ask you to be welcoming to all, witnesses of fatherly love whatever the gravity of the sin involved, attentive in helping penitents to reflect on the evil they have done, clear in presenting moral principles, willing to walk patiently beside the faithful on their penitential journey, far-sighted in discerning individual cases and generous in dispensing God’s forgiveness. Just as Jesus chose to remain silent in order to save the woman caught in adultery from the sentence of death, so every priest in the confessional should be open-hearted, since every penitent is a reminder that he himself is a sinner, but also a minister of mercy.

11. I would like us all to meditate upon the words of the Apostle, written towards the end of his life, when he confesses to Timothy that he was the greatest of sinners, “but for this reason I received mercy” (1 Tim 1:16). Paul’s words, powerful as they are, make us reflect on our lives and see God’s mercy at work in changing, converting and reforming our hearts. “I thank him who has given me strength for this, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful by appointing me to his service, though I formerly blasphemed and persecuted and insulted him. But I received mercy” (1 Tim 1:12- 13).

Let us recall with renewed pastoral zeal another saying of the Apostle: “God has reconciled us to himself through Christ and has entrusted to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18). We were the first to be forgiven in view of this ministry, made witnesses at first hand of the universality of God’s forgiveness. No law or precept can prevent God from once more embracing the son who returns to him, admitting that he has done wrong but intending to start his life anew. Remaining only at the level of the law is equivalent to thwarting faith and divine mercy. The law has a propaedeutic value (cf. Gal 3:24) with charity as its goal (cf. 1 Tim 1:5). Nonetheless, Christians are called to experience the newness of the Gospel, the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:2). Even in the most complex cases, where there is a temptation to apply a justice derived from rules alone, we must believe in the power flowing from divine grace.

We confessors have experienced many conversions that took place before our very eyes. We feel responsible, then, for actions and words that can touch the heart of penitents and enable them to discover the closeness and tenderness of the Father who forgives. Let us not lose such occasions by acting in a way that can contradict the experience of mercy that the penitent seeks. Rather, let us help light up the space of personal conscience with God’s infinite love (cf. 1 Jn 3:20).

The Sacrament of Reconciliation must regain its central place in the Christian life. This requires priests capable of putting their lives at the service of the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18), in such a way that, while no sincerely repentant sinner is prevented from drawing near to the love of the Father who awaits his return, everyone is afforded the opportunity of experiencing the liberating power of forgiveness.

A favourable occasion for this could be the 24 Hours for the Lord, a celebration held in proximity to the Fourth Sunday of Lent. This initiative, already in place in many dioceses, has great pastoral value in encouraging a more fervent experience of the sacrament of Confession.

12. Given this need, lest any obstacle arise between the request for reconciliation and God’s forgiveness, I henceforth grant to all priests, in virtue of their ministry, the faculty to absolve those who have committed the sin of procured abortion. The provision I had made in this regard, limited to the duration of the Extraordinary Holy Year,14 is hereby extended, notwithstanding anything to the contrary. I wish to restate as firmly as I can that abortion is a grave sin, since it puts an end to an innocent life. In the same way, however, I can and must state that there is no sin that God’s mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart seeking to be reconciled with the Father. May every priest, therefore, be a guide, support and comfort to penitents on this journey of special reconciliation.

For the Jubilee Year I had also granted that those faithful who, for various reasons, attend churches officiated by the priests of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X, can validly and licitly receive the sacramental absolution of their sins.15 For the pastoral benefit of these faithful, and trusting in the good will of their priests to strive with God’s help for the recovery of full communion in the Catholic Church, I have personally decided to extend this faculty beyond the Jubilee Year, until further provisions are made, lest anyone ever be deprived of the sacramental sign of reconciliation through the Church’s pardon.

13. Another face of mercy is consolation. “Comfort, comfort my people” (Is 40:1) is the heartfelt plea that the prophet continues to make today, so that a word of hope may come to all those who experience suffering and pain. Let us never allow ourselves to be robbed of the hope born of faith in the Risen Lord. True, we are often sorely tested, but we must never lose our certainty of the Lord’s love for us. His mercy finds expression also in the closeness, affection and support that many of our brothers and sisters can offer us at times of sadness and affliction. The drying of tears is one way to break the vicious circle of solitude in which we often find ourselves trapped.

All of us need consolation because no one is spared suffering, pain and misunderstanding. How much pain can be caused by a spiteful remark born of envy, jealousy or anger! What great suffering is caused by the experience of betrayal, violence and abandonment! How much sorrow in the face of the death of a loved one! And yet God is never far from us at these moments of sadness and trouble. A reassuring word, an embrace that makes us feel understood, a caress that makes us feel love, a prayer that makes us stronger… all these things express God’s closeness through the consolation offered by our brothers and sisters.

Sometimes too, silence can be helpful, especially when we cannot find words in response to the questions of those who suffer. A lack of words, however, can be made up for by the compassion of a person who stays at our side, who loves us and who holds out a hand. It is not true that silence is an act of surrender; on the contrary, it is a moment of strength and love. Silence also belongs to our language of consolation, because it becomes a concrete way of sharing in the suffering of a brother or sister.

14. At a time like our own, marked by many crises, including that of the family, it is important to offer a word of comfort and strength to our families. The gift of matrimony is a great calling to which spouses, with the grace of Christ, respond with a love that is generous, faithful and patient. The beauty of the family endures unchanged, despite so many problems and alternative proposals: “The joy of love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church”.16 The journey of life that leads a man and a woman to meet one other, to love one another and to promise mutual fidelity before God, is often interrupted by suffering, betrayal and loneliness. Joy at the gift of children is accompanied by concern about their growth and education, and their prospects for happiness and fulfilment in life.

The grace of the sacrament of Marriage not only strengthens the family to be a privileged place for practising mercy, but also commits the Christian community and all its pastoral activity to uphold the great positive value of the family. This Jubilee Year cannot overlook the complexity of the current realities of family life. The experience of mercy enables us to regard all human problems from the standpoint of God’s love, which never tires of welcoming and accompanying.17

We have to remember each of us carries the richness and the burdens of our personal history; this is what makes us different from everyone else. Our life, with its joys and sorrows, is something unique and unrepeatable that takes place under the merciful gaze of God. This demands, especially of priests, a careful, profound and far-sighted spiritual discernment, so that everyone, none excluded, can feel accepted by God, participate actively in the life of the community and be part of that People of God which journeys tirelessly towards the fullness of his kingdom of justice, love, forgiveness and mercy.

15. Here too, we see the particular importance of the moment of death. The Church has always experienced this dramatic passage in the light of Christ’s resurrection, which opened the way to the certainty of the life to come. We have a great challenge to face, especially in contemporary culture, which often tends to trivialize death to the point of treating it as an illusion or hiding it from sight. Yet death must be faced and prepared for as a painful and inescapable passage, yet one charged with immense meaning, for it is the ultimate act of love towards those we leave behind and towards God whom we go forth to meet. In all religions, the moment of death, like that of birth, is accompanied by a religious presence. As Christians, we celebrate the funeral liturgy as a hope-filled prayer for the soul of the deceased and for the consolation of those who suffer the loss of a loved one.

I am convinced that our faith-filled pastoral activity should lead to a direct experience of how the liturgical signs and our prayers are an expression of the Lord’s mercy. It is the Lord himself who offers words of hope, since nothing and no one can ever separate us from his love (cf. Rom 8:35). The priest’s sharing in this moment is an important form of pastoral care, for it represents the closeness of the Christian community at a moment of weakness, solitude, uncertainty and grief.

16. The Jubilee now ends and the Holy Door is closed. But the door of mercy of our heart continues to remain wide open. We have learned that God bends down to us (cf. Hos 11:4) so that we may imitate him in bending down to our brothers and sisters. The yearning of so many people to turn back to the house of the Father, who awaits their return, has also been awakened by heartfelt and generous testimonies to God’s love. The Holy Door that we have crossed in this Jubilee Year has set us on the path of charity, which we are called to travel daily with fidelity and joy. It is the road of mercy, on which we meet so many of our brothers and sisters who reach out for someone to take their hand and become a companion on the way.

The desire for closeness to Christ requires us to draw near to our brothers and sisters, for nothing is more pleasing to the Father than a true sign of mercy. By its very nature, mercy becomes visible and tangible in specific acts. Once mercy has been truly experienced, it is impossible to turn back. It grows constantly and it changes our lives. It is an authentic new creation: it brings about a new heart, capable of loving to the full, and it purifies our eyes to perceive hidden needs. How true are the words of the Church’s prayer at the Easter Vigil, after the reading of the creation account: “O God, who wonderfully created human nature and still more wonderfully redeemed it”.18

Mercy renews and redeems because it is an encounter between two hearts: the heart of God who comes to meet us and a human heart. The latter is warmed and healed by the former. Our hearts of stone become hearts of flesh (cf. Ezek 36:26) capable of love despite our sinfulness. I come to realize that I am truly a “new creation” (Gal 6:15): I am loved, therefore I exist; I am forgiven, therefore I am reborn; I have been shown mercy, therefore I have become a vessel of mercy.

17. During the Holy Year, especially on the “Fridays of Mercy”, I was able to experience in a tangible way the goodness present in our world. Often it remains hidden, since it is daily expressed in discreet and quiet gestures. Even if rarely publicized, many concrete acts of goodness and tenderness are shown to the weak and the vulnerable, to those most lonely and abandoned. There are true champions of charity who show constant solidarity with the poor and the unhappy. Let us thank the Lord for these precious gifts that invite us to discover the joy of drawing near to human weakness and suffering. I also think with gratitude of the many volunteers who daily devote their time and efforts to showing God’s presence and closeness. Their service is a genuine work of mercy, one that helps many people draw closer to the Church.

18. Now is the time to unleash the creativity of mercy, to bring about new undertakings, the fruit of grace. The Church today needs to tell of those “many other signs” that Jesus worked, which “are not written” (Jn 20:30), so that they too may be an eloquent expression of the fruitfulness of the love of Christ and the community that draws its life from him. Two thousand years have passed, yet works of mercy continue to make God’s goodness visible.

In our own day, whole peoples suffer hunger and thirst, and we are haunted by pictures of children with nothing to eat. Throngs of people continue to migrate from one country to another in search of food, work, shelter and peace. Disease in its various forms is a constant cause of suffering that cries out for assistance, comfort and support. Prisons are often places where confinement is accompanied by serious hardships due to inhumane living conditions. Illiteracy remains widespread, preventing children from developing their potential and exposing them to new forms of slavery. The culture of extreme individualism, especially in the West, has led to a loss of a sense of solidarity with and responsibility for others. Today many people have no experience of God himself, and this represents the greatest poverty and the major obstacle to recognition of the inviolable dignity of human life.

To conclude, the corporal and spiritual works of mercy continue in our own day to be proof of mercy’s immense positive influence as a social value. Mercy impels us to roll up our sleeves and set about restoring dignity to millions of people; they are our brothers and sisters who, with us, are called to build a “city which is reliable”.19

19. Many concrete signs of mercy have been performed during this Holy Year. Communities, families and individuals have rediscovered the joy of sharing and the beauty of solidarity. But this is not enough. Our world continues to create new forms of spiritual and material poverty that assault human dignity. For this reason, the Church must always be vigilant and ready to identify new works of mercy and to practise them with generosity and enthusiasm.

Let us make every effort, then, to devise specific and responsible ways of practising charity and the works of mercy. Mercy is inclusive and tends to expand in a way that knows no limits. Hence we are called to give new expression to the traditional works of mercy. For mercy overflows, keeps moving forward, bears rich fruit. It is like the leaven that makes the dough rise (cf. Mt 13:33), or the mustard seed that grows into a tree (cf. Lk 13:19).

We need but think of one corporal work of mercy: “to clothe the naked” (cf. Mt 25:36,38,43,44). This brings us back to the beginning, in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve realize that they are naked and, hearing the Lord approaching, feel shame and hide themselves (Gen 3:7-8). We know that God punished them, yet he also “made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins, and clothed them” (Gen 3:21). He covered their shame and restored their dignity.

Let us think too of Jesus on Golgotha. The Son of God hangs naked on the cross; the soldiers took his tunic and cast lots for it (cf. Jn 19:23-24). He has nothing left. The cross is the extreme revelation of Jesus’ sharing the lot of those who have lost their dignity for lack of the necessities of life. Just as the Church is called to be the “tunic of Christ”20 and to clothe her Lord once more, so She is committed to solidarity with the naked of the world, to help them recover the dignity of which they have been stripped. Jesus’ words: “I was naked and you clothed me” (Mt 25:36), oblige us not to turn our backs on the new forms of poverty and marginalization that prevent people from living a life of dignity.

Being unemployed or not receiving a sufficient salary; not being able to have a home or a land in which to live; experiencing discrimination on account of one’s faith, race or social status: these are just a few of the many examples of situations that attack the dignity of the person. In the face of such attacks, Christian mercy responds above all with vigilance and solidarity. How many situations exist today where we can restore dignity to individuals and make possible a truly humane life! Let us think only about the many children who suffer from forms of violence that rob them of the joy of life. I keep thinking of their sorrowful and bewildered faces. They are pleading for our help to be set free from the slavery of the contemporary world. These children are the young adults of tomorrow. How are we preparing them to live with dignity and responsibility? With what hope can they face their present or their future?

The social character of mercy demands that we not simply stand by and do nothing. It requires us to banish indifference and hypocrisy, lest our plans and projects remain a dead letter. May the Holy Spirit help us to contribute actively and selflessly to making justice and a dignified life not simply clichés but a concrete commitment of those who seek to bear witness to the presence of the Kingdom of God.

20. We are called to promote a culture of mercy based on the rediscovery of encounter with others, a culture in which no one looks at another with indifference or turns away from the suffering of our brothers and sisters. The works of mercy are ‘handcrafted’, in the sense that none of them is alike. Our hands can craft them in a thousand different ways, and even though the one God inspires them, and they are all fashioned from the same ‘material’, mercy itself, each one takes on a different form.

The works of mercy affect a person’s entire life. For this reason, we can set in motion a real cultural revolution, beginning with simple gestures capable of reaching body and spirit, people’s very lives. This is a commitment that the Christian community should take up, in the knowledge that God’s word constantly calls us to leave behind the temptation to hide behind indifference and individualism in order to lead a comfortable life free of problems. Jesus tells his disciples: “The poor will always be with you” (Jn 12:8). There is no alibi to justify not engaging with the poor when Jesus has identified himself with each of them.

The culture of mercy is shaped in assiduous prayer, in docility to the working of the Holy Spirit, in knowledge of the lives of the saints and in being close to the poor. It urges us not to overlook situations that call for our involvement. The temptation to theorize ‘about’ mercy can be overcome to the extent that our daily life becomes one of participation and sharing. Nor should we ever forget what the Apostle tells us about his meeting with Peter, James and John after his conversion. His words highlight an essential aspect of his own mission and of the Christian life as a whole: “They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do” (Gal 2:10). We cannot forget the poor: this is an injunction as relevant today as ever, and one that compels by its evangelical warrant.

21. The Jubilee impresses upon us the words of the Apostle Peter: “Once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Pet 2:10). Let us not hold on jealously to what we have received, but share it with our brothers and sisters in need, so that they can be sustained by the power of the Father’s mercy. May our communities reach out to all who live in their midst, so that God’s caress may reach everyone through the witness of believers.

This is the time of mercy. Each day of our journey is marked by God’s presence. He guides our steps with the power of the grace that the Spirit pours into our hearts to make them capable of loving. It is the time of mercy for each and all, since no one can think that he or she is cut off from God’s closeness and the power of his tender love. It is the time of mercy because those who are weak and vulnerable, distant and alone, ought to feel the presence of brothers and sisters who can help them in their need. It is the time of mercy because the poor should feel that they are regarded with respect and concern by others who have overcome indifference and discovered what is essential in life. It is the time of mercy because no sinner can ever tire of asking forgiveness and all can feel the welcoming embrace of the Father.

During the ‘Jubilee for Socially Excluded People’, as the Holy Doors of Mercy were being closed in all the cathedrals and shrines of the world, I had the idea that, as yet another tangible sign of this Extraordinary Holy Year, the entire Church might celebrate, on the Thirty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, the World Day of the Poor. This would be the worthiest way to prepare for the celebration of the Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, who identified with the little ones and the poor and who will judge us on our works of mercy (cf. Mt 25:31-46). It would be a day to help communities and each of the baptized to reflect on how poverty is at the very heart of the Gospel and that, as long as Lazarus lies at the door of our homes (cf. Lk 16:19-21), there can be no justice or social peace. This Day will also represent a genuine form of new evangelization (cf. Mt 11:5) which can renew the face of the Church as She perseveres in her perennial activity of pastoral conversion and witness to mercy.

22. The Holy Mother of God always looks upon us with her eyes of mercy. She is the first to show us the way and to accompany us in our witness of love. As she is often shown in works of art, the Mother of Mercy gathers us all under the protection of her mantle. Let us trust in her maternal assistance and follow her perennial counsel to look to Jesus, the radiant face of God’s mercy.

Given in Rome, at Saint Peter’s Basilica, on 20 November,

the Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe,

in the year 2016, the fourth of my Pontificate.

FRANCIS

________________

1 On the Gospel of John, XXXIII, 5.

2 Shepherd of Hermas, XLII, 1-4.

3 Cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 27.

4 Roman Missal, Opening Prayer for the Third Sunday of Lent.

5 Ibid., Preface for Sundays in Ordinary Time VII.

6 Ibid., Eucharistic Prayer II.

7 Ibid., Communion Rite.

8 Rite of Penance, No. 46.

9 Sacrament of Anointing and Pastoral Care of the Sick, No. 76.

10 Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, 106.

11 ID., Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum, 2.

12 Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 142.

13 Cf. BENEDICT XVI, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, 86-87.

14 Cf. Letter According to Which an Indulgence is Granted to the Faithful on the Occasion of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, 1 September 2015.

15 Cf. ibid.

16 Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, 1.

17 Cf. ibid., 291-300.

18 Roman Missal, Easter Vigil, Prayer after the First Reading.

19 Encyclical Letter Lumen Fidei, 50.

20 Cf. CYPRIAN, On the Unity of the Catholic Church, 7.

Posted in Uncategorized

How a restless reforming pope can help heal Reformation rift

A painting of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. (Photo: Greg Copeland/Concordia Publishing)

A painting of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. (Photo: Greg Copeland/Concordia Publishing)

[Austen Ivereigh] When, on this day 499 years ago, a small-town Augustinian friar lecturing in a start-up college in provincial Germany posted dozens of arguments on the door of a castle church, he offered a prime example of what scientists call “the butterfly effect,” namely that small causes can have large effects.

In reality, Martin Luther’s nailing (or more likely gluing) his hard-to-read 95 theses on what was, in effect, Wittenberg university’s bulletin board, was less the trigger of the Reformation than the copies he posted, together with an accompanying letter of breathtaking audacity.

One was to Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz, then the most powerful bishop in Germany, which meant, sooner or later, the pope himself would be involved.

Luther was not the first to critique the sale of indulgences, or the way the sacrament of confession had been reduced in late-medieval Europe from a channel of God’s grace to a mechanistic transaction. (A local Dominican friar loathed by Luther had a marketing jingle: ‘As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from Purgatory springs’).

But as all great polemicists do, he nailed the theological error behind the corruption at the crucial moment, provoking a disproportionate reaction that in turn fueled an uprising. And part of that was about timing.

Tomorrow’s Feast of All Saints was when the ruler of Saxony used to bring out his impressive display of relics, and indulgences were granted (for a price) to the pilgrims who viewed them.

By attacking the system, Luther put into doubt not just the whole medieval basis of clerical livelihoods, but a powerful network of interests – from bankers and bishops all the way up to Rome – that was never likely to take the assault lying down.

There was also a moment when the protest went viral: at Worms, when Luther in 1521 was called on to answer to the emperor. His extraordinarily courageous act of turning up and defying the might of state and Church won many hearts and minds, and gave birth to a revolutionary movement that soon span out of control.

It wasn’t just the authorities’ self-interested over-reaction, but Luther’s own mercurial psychology – tripped by the knowledge that he faced execution at any moment – that explains the series of events, movements and conflicts that we now call the Reformation.

But whatever its causes, the result was tragedy. A valid critique of genuine corruption descended into heresy, division and war.

Luther did not intend to split the Church, yet most of the northern European church over time rejected Rome. Luther never intended to question the Sacraments, yet they were soon thrown into doubt. He never wanted a social uprising, yet that is what occurred.

But of all the unintended consequences of Luther’s protest, the secularization of Europe, especially of its educated classes, is probably the greatest of all – a five-century process meticulously traced in Brad Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation.

Endless doctrinal controversy followed by a hundred years of destructive and inconclusive political-religious wars led to the privatization of religion and the search for empirical observation and philosophy and ideology as a means of uniting society.

When these eventually collapsed – as they now have – relativism and individualism are (mostly) all that remains.

And, of course, shopping. The drive for technology and to consume were the seventeenth-century Dutch responses to sectarian conflict, and are nowadays pretty much the western world’s dominant religion.

****

Of course, both sides are to blame in that cycle of events – something that will be acknowledged today in the first ecumenical global commemoration of the Reformation in Lund.

The dialogue between the two sides is 50 years old, and has produced a number of significant documents – which begs the question of what Pope Francis today can add to the process.

Here, at least, are five things he brings to the table which no previous pope has.

First, he is – to borrow my biography’s title – a “great reformer,” one who sees the need for the Church to be always in need of renewal in response both to internal degradation and external needs. He has said this is something the Church can learn from Luther, although it is equally present in the great reforming popes of the past, or in saints such as Ignatius of Loyola and Francis of Assisi.

Second, he comes with no fear or suspicion of Lutherans but decades of fellowship. In his interview with the Swedish Jesuit journal Signum he spoke of many friendships with Argentine Lutherans -Danish as well as Swedish – with whom he has had sincere exchanges. Traveling with him on the plane today will be one of his oldest non-Catholic friends, the evangelical pastor Marcelo Figueroa.

Third, he feels no obligation to remain within the boundaries of existing theological consensus. In his Signum interview, Francis approvingly quoted what Patriach Athenagoras allegedly told Pope Paul VI: “Let the two of us go ahead, and we will put the theologians on an island to discuss among themselves.”

“Going ahead” in this case means opening up opportunities for collaboration and friendship through common witness and joint works, which Francis passionately believes create new spaces for the Holy Spirit to bind people together. What happens today is intended to break new ground for the theologians later to work out.

Fourth, Francis has a specific abhorrence of the kind of corruption Luther denounced. One of the pope’s favorite phrases is “spiritual worldliness,” an illness identified by the Jesuit theologian Henri de Lubac as using the Gospel in the service of particular worldly interests – whether ideology, money, or status.

In my biography I show how Jorge Mario Bergoglio constantly fought against symptoms of this worldliness in the Jesuits and later in the clergy. As cardinal he saw it in Rome and hated it; now he is pope, he is quietly attacking it on many different fronts.

To take one example: under John Paul II, a cardinal in receipt of a very fat donation could arrange for the benefactor to have a bacciamano – kiss the pope’s hand – after Mass with him, and of course a picture with the pope to sit on his desk to impress the world.

Try doing that now with Francis, and you’ll get a flea in your ear.

Finally, Francis is the pope who, more than any other leader of the Catholic Church in modern times. has restored the primacy of mercy to the Church’s proclamation. The whole point of mercy is that it is about God’s reckless forgiving and our complete inability to merit it.

Wasn’t that Luther’s point?

****

Perhaps the main task of today’s ecumenical acts in Lund and Malmö is simply to help both Lutherans and Catholics “receive” the results of 50 years of dialogue between the two Churches. The result of that dialogue is a series of agreements – as well as persisting disagreements – ably summed up in the joint document prepared for the occasion, From Conflict to Communion.

Yet who knows about it? William G. Rusch, Professor of Lutheran Studies at Yale’s Divinity School and a leading ecumenist, believes “the task before us is to receive the fruit of 50 years of dialogue,” the results of which have not been “rejected” so much as “neglected.”

Which is why, said Rusch, the mere fact of the pope appearing today in Lund – where in 1947 the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) was founded – is “an enormous step, compared to where we’ve been.”

The LWF speaks for some 90 percent of the world’s Lutheran Churches, with a combined membership of around 80m people.

In a telephone interview, Rusch told Crux he hopes that the papal visit will enable what he believes to be the next step in the Lutheran-Catholic dialogue, namely a juridical process that binds the LWF’s member Churches and of course Catholics.

The great step forward in this respect was the 1999 Declaration of Justification. According to Rusch the achievement was not just in what it said – essentially, that the roots of Luther’s disagreements with the papacy no longer pertain – but how it came about.

The process showed that there could be a “magisterial function for the global Lutheran communion,” which effectively allowed the theological agreements to move from paper to practice.

It frustrates Rusch that since then, that gain hasn’t been built upon. While he admires From Conflict to Communion and the recent US Catholic-Lutheran document, Declaration on the Way: Church, Ministry, and Eucharisthe says neither provides a practical basis for moving forward.

But this kind of institutional process is not where Francis’s interest lies. He believes in praying and working together for justice and peace; such common witness, he believes, is what opens hearts and minds – and prevents the kind of institutional rigidity which is toxic for Christian unity.

Today, we might just see a gesture, or an initiative, which shakes open a new phase for the future of the dialogue, and which is aimed as much at secular Europe as the Lutherans.

“I am convinced those who don’t believe or don’t seek God, maybe haven’t felt the restlessness that comes from seeing a witness,” he told Signum, adding: “And this is very tied to affluence. Restlessness is rarely found in affluence.”

Restlessness is one area where the reformers Martin Luther and Pope Francis are definitely on common ground.

[Austen Ivereigh is traveling with the pope in Sweden for Crux, where this article appears. Stay tuned for his updates].

Posted in Christian unity, Pope Francis, Sweden