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Pope Francis visits the hospital: His health issues through the years

CNA Staff, Feb 28, 2024 / 16:49 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis was hospitalized Wednesday morning after a public audience, with that he underwent unspecified “diagnostic tests.” 

The 87-year-old pope was taken to the Gemelli Isola Tiberina Hospital before returning to his Vatican residence shortly after noon. The Vatican says the pope has had “a mild flu-like condition” since at least Saturday, when he canceled his scheduled public appearances.

Pope Francis has faced numerous health challenges in recent years, and yet still has maintained a busy schedule of meetings, Masses, and travel since 2020. 

A problem with his colon lands the pope in the hospital on July 4, 2021.

Pope Francis undergoes surgery to relieve stricture of the colon caused by diverticulitis. The three-hour surgery includes a left hemicolectomy, the removal of one side of the colon.

The pope spends 11 days in Rome’s Gemelli Hospital recovering from the surgery.

In an interview published by the Associated Press on Jan. 25, Pope Francis announces that his diverticulitis has returned. He emphasizes that he is in “good health” and that, for his age, he is “normal.”

Pope Francis undergoes a three-hour abdominal surgery to repair an incisional hernia on June 7.

A team of surgeons removes scar tissue and operates on a hernia in the pope’s abdominal wall at the site of a previous surgical incision in Rome’s Gemelli Hospital. 

The pope is discharged on June 16 after an eight-day stay in the hospital recovering from the operation.

On March 29 the Vatican announces that Pope Francis is expected to remain in a hospital in Rome for “some days” due to a respiratory infection. It had announced earlier in the day that he was in the hospital for previously scheduled medical checkups.

Pope Francis goes to the hospital on Nov. 25 for precautionary testing amid a “mild flu.” A CT scan at the hospital rules out pneumonia, but shows that the pope has lung inflammation causing breathing difficulties. The pope is as he recovers, and he manages to with the president of Paraguay the following day. 

Despite being strongly committed to attending, Pope Francis ultimately on Nov. 30 cancels his trip to Dubai for a climate conference amid “very acute infectious bronchitis.” Despite feeling under the weather, the pope maintained a very full schedule that day with nine official meetings scheduled for the morning. Amid the pope’s recovery, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin instead headed the Vatican’s delegation to the COP28 climate conference. 

On Aug. 4, the Vatican announces that Massimiliano Strappetti, a Vatican nurse, has been appointed as Pope Francis’ “personal health care assistant.”

On Feb. 23 the Vatican announces that Pope Francis had a “strong cold.” The pope distributes copies of his speeches at two morning appointments rather than reading them aloud as usual.

Pope Francis amid “mild flu,” which the Vatican later describes as a cold. 

Pope Francis shares that he was having problems with his knee necessitating that he remain seated. Francis tells the crowd at his general audience that the reason he is unable to greet pilgrims as usual is because of a temporary “problem with my right leg,” an inflamed knee ligament.

Pope Francis cancels two public events at the end of February due to knee pain and doctors’ orders to rest. In the month that follows, he receives help going up and down stairs but continues to walk and stand without assistance.

During a trip to Malta, Pope Francis uses a lift to disembark the papal plane and a special lift is also installed at Malta’s Basilica of St. Paul in Rabat, so that Francis can visit and pray in the crypt grotto without taking the stairs.

On the return flight on April 3, Francis tells journalists, “my health is a bit fickle, I have this knee problem that brings out problems with walking.” 

At the Vatican’s Good Friday service, the pope does not lay prostrate before the altar, as he has done in the past.

He also does not celebrate the Easter Vigil Mass on April 16 or participate in the paschal candle procession, but sits in the front of the congregation in a white chair.

On April 22 and April 26, Francis’ agenda is cleared for medical checkups and rest for his knee. The following day, the pope tells pilgrims at his general audience that his knee prevents him from standing for very long.

Pope Francis also begins to remain seated in the popemobile while greeting pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square.

On April 30, he says that his doctor has ordered him not to walk.

The pope says at the beginning of May that he would undergo a medical procedure on his knee, “an intervention with infiltrations,” by which he may have meant a therapeutic injection, sometimes used to relieve knee pain caused by ligament tears.

Two days later, he uses a wheelchair in public for the first time since his July 2021 colon surgery. Throughout May he continues to use the wheelchair and avoids most standing and walking.

Francis also undergoes over two hours of rehabilitation for his knee every day, according to an Argentine archbishop close to the pontiff.

In early June, the Vatican postpones Pope Francis’ planned visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan for health reasons. The trip was planned for July 2–7 but is put off “at the request of his doctors, and in order not to jeopardize the results of the therapy that he is undergoing for his knee,” according to the Vatican.

Less than a week later, the Vatican announces that Pope Francis will not preside over the June 16 Corpus Christi Mass because of his knee problems and “the specific liturgical needs of the celebration.”

José María Villalón, the head doctor of the Atlético de Madrid soccer team, is recruited to assist Pope Francis with his knee problems. He says the pope is “a very nice and very stubborn patient in the sense that there are surgical procedures that he does not want” and that “we have to offer him more conservative treatments so that he will agree to them.”

Here’s a breakdown of Pope Francis’ notable health issues in the past several years. 

A bout of sciatic pain in the final days of 2020 keeps Pope Francis from presiding at the Vatican’s liturgies on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

Francis has suffered from sciatica for a number of years; he spoke about it during an in-flight press conference returning from a trip to Brazil in July 2013.

“Sciatica is very painful, very painful! I don’t wish it on anyone,” he said about the condition, which starts in the lower back and can cause pain running down the back of the thigh and leg to the foot.

Pope Francis cancels three more public appearances at the end of January due to sciatic nerve pain.

This is Pope Francis’ prayer intention for the month of March

CNA Staff, Feb 28, 2024 / 13:37 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis’ prayer intention for the month of March is for the martyrs of our day and witnesses to Christ.

“This month, I want to tell you a story that is a reflection of the Church today. It is the story of a little-known witness of faith,” Pope Francis stated in a video released Feb. 27.

“Visiting a refugee camp in Lesbos, a man told me, ‘Father, I am Muslim. My wife was Christian. Terrorists came to our place, looked at us and asked what our religion was. They approached my wife with a crucifix and told her to throw it on the ground. She didn’t do it, and they slit her throat in front of me.’ That’s what happened.”

The Holy Father added, “I know he held no grudges. He was focused on his wife’s example of love, a love for Christ that led her to accept, and to be faithful to the point of death.”

He reminded the faithful that “there will always be martyrs among us” and that it is a “sign that we’re on the right path.”

“A person who knows told me there are more martyrs today than at the beginning of Christianity,” he explained. 

“The courage of the martyrs, the witness of the martyrs, is a blessing for everyone.”

Pope Francis concluded with a prayer: “Let us pray that those who risk their lives for the Gospel in various parts of the world might imbue the Church with their courage and missionary drive. And to be open to the grace of martyrdom.”

Pope Francis’ prayer video is promoted by the , which raises awareness of monthly papal prayer intentions.

Pope Francis, weakened by ‘a bit of a cold,’ has aide read reflection before hospital visit

Rome Newsroom, Feb 28, 2024 / 07:44 am (CNA).

Pope Francis, still visibly suffering from a “cold,” visited a Rome hospital for diagnostic tests on Wednesday following his weekly general audience, at which an aide read the Holy Father’s prepared remarks.

The Holy See Press Office later confirmed the hospital visit, adding that the pope already had returned to the Vatican.

“I still have a bit of a cold, which is why I asked Monsignor [Filippo] Ciampanelli to read today’s catechesis,” Pope Francis said at the start of the morning general audience in the Paul VI Audience Hall. He arrived at the hall in his wheelchair shortly before 9 a.m. and did not walk to his chair with a cane as he typically does.

The pope also had an aide read his prepared remarks at an earlier morning meeting Wednesday with members of the Synod of Bishops of the Patriarchal Church of Cilicia of the Armenians.

On Saturday, Feb. 24, the 87-year-old pontiff  his audiences for the day due to what the Vatican described as a “mild flu-like condition.” He  the Angelus address the following day from the window of the Apostolic Palace without any obvious signs of illness. He cleared his schedule on Monday again as a “precautionary measure” due to “mild flu symptoms,” the Holy See Press Office said.

On Monday Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state,  at an event in Rome, noting that the pope “had this flu episode but he recovered.” 

“I was supposed to go to him this evening, but I’m here, the hearing had not been suspended. So it means that he has recovered and resumed his normal activity,” Parolin said at the time.

During the Wednesday general audience, the pope continued his ongoing catechetical series on vice and virtue, focusing this time on envy and vainglory. 

Reflecting on the universal fascination of these closely associated vices, Pope Francis observed that envy is an “evil” that has been studied both under a Christian theological lens as well as by “philosophers and wise men of every culture.”

The pope’s reflection noted that envy sits at the matrix between “hate and love,” where “one desires evil for the other, but secretly desires to be like him.” The pope observed that this vice is predicated upon a “false idea of God,” noting that it arises when “we do not accept that God has his own ‘math,’ different from ours.” 

The pope’s reflection then turned to vainglory, which is tied to “the demon of envy.” When taken together they are “characteristic of a person who aspires to be the center of the world, free to exploit everything and everyone, the object of all praise and love,” he noted.

“Vainglory,” the pope’s reflection continued, “is an inflated and baseless self-esteem. The vainglorious person possesses an unwieldy ‘I.’ He has no empathy and takes no notice of the fact that there are other people in the world besides him.” For the pope, those who display this vice see human relations through a transactional lens and struggle with a mistaken sense of self-aggrandizement. 

“His person, his accomplishments, his achievements must be shown to everyone: He is a perpetual beggar for attention. And if at times his qualities are not recognized, he becomes fiercely angry,” the pope observed. 

The pope’s reflection closed by noting that the antidote to overcoming the internal weakness brought on by these twin vices is accepting the grace of God. 

“And his conclusion should also become ours: ‘I will therefore gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me,’” Pope Francis concluded, quoting from St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians. 

Pope Francis visits hospital for diagnostic tests after Wednesday audience

Vatican City, Feb 28, 2024 / 07:43 am (CNA).

Pope Francis went to the hospital on Rome’s Tiber Island on Wednesday morning after meeting with the public at his general audience.

The Vatican confirmed on Feb. 28 that the pope underwent “diagnostic tests” at the Gemelli Isola Tiberina Hospital before returning to his Vatican residence shortly after noon.

According to the Holy See Press Office, the pope has had “a mild flu-like condition” since at least Saturday when he canceled his scheduled public appearances.

The 87-year-old pope appeared in a wheelchair at his Wednesday audience in Paul VI Hall where he had an aide read his speech for him after telling the crowd that he was still not well.

“Dear brothers and sisters, I still have a bit of a cold,” Pope Francis said in a soft-spoken voice as he explained that Monsignor Filippo Ciampanelli would read the text of his catechesis for him.

Despite feeling unwell, the pope greeted the crowd at the end of the audience, shaking hands with visiting pilgrims, blessing newlywed couples, and speaking with bishops before visiting the hospital.

Italian media spotted the pope leaving the Vatican in the backseat of a white Fiat 500 one hour before the Vatican officially confirmed the hospital visit.

“After the general audience, Pope Francis went to the Gemelli Isola Tiberina Hospital for some diagnostic tests. At the end he returned to the Vatican,” the brief statement from the Holy See Press Office said.

The Vatican has yet to release details as to the results of the hospital’s diagnostic tests.

PHOTOS: Restoration of Bernini’s baldacchino begins in St. Peter’s Basilica

Rome Newsroom, Feb 27, 2024 / 09:00 am (CNA).

Restoration work has begun on the baldacchino over the main altar of St. Peter’s Basilica designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

Workers will scale the scaffolding surrounding the 92-feet-high canopy each day to meticulously clean the dust and grime that has darkened the baldacchino over the centuries.

The 400-year-old twisting bronze columns of the large canopy will remain covered by scaffolding until the works are complete in December in time for the start of the Catholic Church’s jubilee year.

Cardinal Mauro Gambetti, the archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica, has said that the scaffolding was set up in a way to allow papal liturgies — including this year’s Holy Week liturgies — to continue to take place in the basilica amid the restoration work.

Pope Urban VIII commissioned Bernini in 1624 to design and build the enormous canopy over the Papal Altar of the Confession, located directly over the tomb of St. Peter the Apostle. 

Intricately decorated with gilded Baroque angels, cherubs, bees, and laurel branches, the baldacchino took Bernini nine years to create with considerable help from his architectural rival, Francesco Borromini.

After visiting St. Peter’s Basilica in 1873, novelist Henry James described his encounter with the baldacchino: “You have only to stroll and stroll and gaze and gaze; to watch the glorious altar-canopy lift its bronze architecture, its colossal embroidered contortions, like a temple within a temple, and feel yourself, at the bottom of the abysmal shaft of the dome dwindle to a crawling dot.”

The Vatican Museums’ art restorers are leading the restoration and conservation project with a team of 10-12 experts.

Pietro Zander, the head of the artistic and archeological patrimony of St. Peter’s Basilica, explained that a preliminary investigation found that the baldacchino had a “degraded state of conservation” and that its entire surface is covered “with a dark coating.”

“The deterioration issues … are in part to the many visitors and pilgrims who flock to St. Peter’s Basilica every day, changing its microclimate by their presence,” Zander

“The basilica welcomes up to 50,000 people every day,” he said. “Considerable microclimatic variations during the day and strong changes in temperature and humidity between day and night interact with the canopy, causing alterations and corrosion of the metal; oxidation of the iron supports and reinforcements; and expansion of the wooden parts with consequent lifting and detachment of layers on its surface.”

Zander indicated that further study of the “microclimate of the basilica” will also help to form a conservation plan for all of the artistic works in the basilica.

The Knights of Columbus are funding the baldacchino restoration, which costs 700,000 euro (about $768,000).

Patrick Kelly, the head of the Knights of Columbus, described Bernini’s baldacchino as “a singular masterpiece of sacred art,” which “fits very well with our mission and with our history of service to the Church, and especially the successors of St. Peter.”

Pope Francis cancels Monday audiences due to persisting ‘mild flu’ symptoms

Rome Newsroom, Feb 26, 2024 / 06:09 am (CNA).

The Holy See Press Office on Monday announced that Pope Francis’ audiences for the day had been suspended as a precautionary measure due to the Holy Father’s persisting flu symptoms. 

The Monday morning telegram sent out by the Vatican noted that while the pope’s “mild flu symptoms persist,” he did not have a fever. The Holy See Press Office did not provide further details on the pope’s condition nor hint at whether he would continue with his activities for the week. 

On Saturday the 87-year-old pontiff his meeting with the transitional deacons of the Diocese of Rome, who will be ordained to the priesthood in April, due to “a mild flu-like condition.”

However on Sunday the pope appeared in good form when he delivered his weekly address to the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square from the window of the Apostolic Palace as scheduled. 

Last November the pope was forced to cancel his public appearances due to similarly “mild” flu symptoms. He was later to Rome’s Gemelli Isola Hospital to undergo precautionary testing for pulmonary complications, which came back negative. 

In December the pope his trip to Dubai for the COP28 climate conference, at the request of his doctors, due to a bronchial infection.

Pope Francis, recovering from ‘mild flu,’ renews call for peace in Ukraine

Rome Newsroom, Feb 25, 2024 / 09:55 am (CNA).

A day after Pope Francis appeared in good form during his weekly Angelus address Sunday, marking the second anniversary of the war in Ukraine with a call for peace while urging the faithful to “never direct your eyes away from the light of Jesus.”

“How many victims, injuries, destruction, anguish, tears in a period that is becoming terribly long and of which the end is not yet in sight,” the pope said about the war, which began with Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24, 2022, adding that the conflict has “unleash[ed] a global wave of fear and hatred.”

“While I renew my deepest affection for the tormented Ukrainian people and pray for everyone, in particular for the numerous innocent victims,” Pope Francis said, “I implore that that bit of humanity be found that allows us to create the conditions for a diplomatic solution in search of a just and lasting peace.”

The Vatican said Pope Francis canceled his audiences on Feb. 24 as a “precaution.” When the Vatican said that Francis had a “mild flu” in November, the pope underwent precautionary testing at a Rome hospital. The 87-year-old pope canceled a trip to Dubai in December after his doctors advised him not to travel because of a bronchial infection.

But on Sunday he was back in public view for the weekly Angelus. Reflecting on the Gospel reading for the second Sunday in Lent — Mark’s account of the Transfiguration — the pope described the apostles’ mountaintop experience with Jesus as a transformative moment where Christ “physically manifests himself there in all his light.”

The Transfiguration, he said, sums up all of Jesus’ works up until that point of his ministry while foreshadowing his passion.

“The preaching of the kingdom, the forgiveness of sins, the healings, and the performed signs were, indeed, sparks of a greater light, namely, of the light of Jesus,” the pope said from the window of his study in the Apostolic Palace, overlooking nearly 20,000 pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

The Holy Father stressed that it is an event that reminds all Christians that “God is light,” which allows us to “seek his face, that is full of mercy, fidelity, and hope.” In this way we can keep Christ fixed as a singular point of reference as “we journey through life.”

The pope declared: “Always keep the luminous face of Christ before our eyes,” adding: “Never direct your eyes away from the light of Jesus.”

Pope Francis suggested that this encounter with the living God is done principally through “prayer, listening to the word, the sacraments, especially confession and the Eucharist.” But underscoring the sacramental dimension is also a deeply personal, human element.

It is a call for the faithful, the pope suggested, to seek God in one another, noting that it can serve as a “Lenten resolution” that enables us to become “seekers of the light of Jesus.”

“But it also helps to look people in the eyes,” he continued, “learning to see God’s light in everyone and cultivating the ability to marvel at this beauty that shines in each one, without exception: in those close to us and in those we do not know; in the happy gazes of those who are joyful and in the tears of those who are sorrowful; in the sad and dimmed eyes of those who are tried by life and of those who have lost their enthusiasm; and even in those whom we find it difficult to look in the face, preferring to turn away.”

Pope Francis cancels Saturday audiences due to a mild flu, Vatican says

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Feb 24, 2024 / 07:46 am (CNA).

Pope Francis canceled his public appearances on Saturday due to a mild flu, the Vatican has said.

The Holy See Press Office released a short statement announcing the cancellation on Saturday morning without further details.

“Due to a mild flu-like condition, as a precautionary measure, the pope has canceled the audiences scheduled for today,” the Feb. 24 statement said.

The cancellation comes after Pope Francis concluded at his Vatican residencein which all of his regular activities were suspended from the afternoon of Feb. 18 to Feb. 23.

The 87-year-old pope has slowed down his schedule with less international travel since he underwent abdominal surgery last June to repair an incisional hernia. Francis canceled a trip to Dubai in December after his doctors advised him not to travel because of a bronchial infection.

When the Vatican said that Pope Francis had a “mild flu” in November, the pope underwent precautionary testing at a Roman hospital.

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said the pope’s Angelus address on Sunday is still on the schedule and that the Vatican does not plan to release any further health updates on Saturday. 

The pope had been scheduled to meet with deacons from the Diocese of Rome on Saturday morning in addition to his regularly scheduled meetings at the Vatican.

Two of Father Rupnik’s alleged victims speak publicly for the first time

Rome Newsroom, Feb 21, 2024 / 17:43 pm (CNA).

Two alleged abuse victims of mosaic artist Father Marko Rupnik spoke publicly for the first time Wednesday, detailing the tactics the former Jesuit allegedly used to manipulate them.

Italian Gloria Branciani and Slovenian-born Marjiam Kovač, former sisters of the now-dissolved Loyola Community in Slovenia, shared their stories at a crowded press conference in the Rome offices of the trade union for Italian journalists.

They were joined by their high-profile lawyer, Laura Sgrò, who has represented clients in the VatiLeaks scandal as well as the family of Emanuela Orlandi, an Italian girl who disappeared under mysterious circumstances decades ago.

Branciani, 59, reflected on how her introduction into the community was propelled by a desire to grow her spiritual life but wound up being subjected to spiritual, psychological, and physical abuse, which amounted to “the total loss of my identity.” 

Detailing the dynamics of Rupnik’s alleged manipulation, Branciani recounted how this multifaceted abuse reflected a deeper and more intimate “abuse of conscience” and was a total violation of the deep intimacy of her spiritual life.

She alleged that Rupnik used her interest in art and culture “to put pressure on my personality,” which allowed him to affect a change in her “ideas, the way of thinking, the way of behaving, the way of dressing.”

“So with an imposition of his spiritual, theological, and artistic vision, he had an ever greater power over me, an exclusive power,” Branciani said.

In one example, she claimed that while in his art studio, which was also the place where their spiritual direction sessions were held, Rupnik, while painting, was “staring at parts of my body” and afterward performed a sexually suggestive gesture on Branciani, which Rupnik allegedly likened to an act of biblical divine revelation that expressed “the wisdom of the father.”

Rupnik has been at the center of a nearly six-year-long scandal centered on his alleged abuse of over 20 religious sisters spanning across three decades. After initially deciding in October 2022 not to pursue sanctions against Rupnik because the statute of limitation had expired, the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) reopened the case after Pope Francis  in October 2023. That decision came on the heels of public outcry over the news that Rupnik had been  in a diocese in Slovenia where he could continue his priestly ministry.

On Wednesday, Vatican News  that the DDF’s investigation was underway and that “it will now be necessary to study the acquired documentation in order to identify which procedures can and should be implemented.”

Rupnik has not commented publicly about the allegations but his collaborator at the Aletti Center — an art and theology school founded by Rupnik in Rome — has said the allegations are unproven.

Marjiam Kovač spoke for only 10 minutes, describing how the ideals of religious life, along with the sisters’ “training and obedience and trust in the people who guided us,” were “exploited for abuses of various kinds, of conscience, of power, spiritual, psychic, physical, and often even sexual.”

According to Kovač, 20 sisters were abused out of a community of 40 women.

For Kovač, the press conference was an opportunity to break the “silence” that victims have faced, which she characterized as “a rubber wall, which bounces off every attempt to cure the unhealthy situation.”

“We are sorry because the institutions, instead of taking inspiration from our experience to review their way of acting, continue to close themselves in silence,” she said.

Following their remarks, Sgrò, their lawyer, said she hoped the example of the two women would encourage other victims to speak out to civil as well as Church authorities.

“And they must not limit themselves from going to ask the bishop or the Mother Superior for help. They must go and report to the state courts, to the state authorities. Go to the police … go to a lawyer, go to the prosecutor’s office, because he who has done that to Gloria must go to prison,” Sgrò said. 

Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of the organization Bishop Accountability, a Boston-based organization that has tracked clerical abuse in the Catholic Church for the past 20 years, moderated the press conference.

She praised the women’s courage for speaking out publicly against Rupnik, whom she characterized as “a powerful cleric who’s been protected at the highest levels of the Jesuits and the Vatican.”

At one point, Doyle held up a poster with the images of Rupnik alongside Marcial Maciel and former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, declaring that like them, Rupnik is “charismatic … famous, a friend of popes and others in high places … like them, he is a serial predator.”

Pope Francis: Lent is a time to ‘encounter wild beasts and angels’

Vatican City, Feb 18, 2024 / 10:30 am (CNA).

On the first Sunday of Lent, Pope Francis focused his Angelus address on the temptation of Jesus in the desert to highlight that it is an invitation for us to enter the proverbial desert to come “in contact with the truth.”

Observing that during the 40 days in the desert Christ was in the company of both “wild beasts and angels,” the pope reflected that when we enter this symbolic “inner wildness,” we too “encounter wild beasts and angels.”

These wild beats assume a deeply symbolic meaning in our “spiritual life,” and so “we can think of them as the disordered passions that divide our heart, trying to take possession of it. They entice us, they seem seductive, but if we are not careful, we risk being torn apart by them,” the pope said to the nearly 15,000 faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square on Sunday.

Expanding upon this idea of “disordered passions,” the pope suggested that we can conceive of them also as “the various vices,” such as “the lust for wealth” or “the vanity of pleasure.”

“They must be tamed and fought, otherwise they will devour our freedom,” the pope emphasized. 

In order to confront these vices that afflict each and every one of us, the pope stressed that we need “to go into the wilderness to become aware of their presence and to face them — and Lent is the time to do it.”

The setting of the desert has featured prominently in the pope’s catechetical series throughout the year and is the main theme of this , taken from the Book of Exodus: “Through the Desert God Leads Us to Freedom.”

While it is imperative to undertake this journey of self-examination, the pope underscored that we are not alone: We are aided by the angels, who “are God’s messengers, who help us, who do us good.”

“Indeed, their characteristic, according to the Gospel, is service, the exact opposite of possession, typical of the passions we spoke about earlier,” the pope continued.

Juxtaposing the spirit of possession with the virtue of service, the pope stressed that the angels “recall the good thoughts and sentiments suggested by the Holy Spirit,” adding that “while temptations tear us apart, the good divine inspirations unify us in harmony, they quench the heart, infuse the taste of Christ, ‘the flavor of heaven.’”

“Thus, order and peace return to the soul, beyond the circumstances of life, whether favorable or unfavorable. Here, too, however, in order to grasp the thoughts and feelings inspired by God, one must be silent and enter into prayer,” the pope continued.

The pope asked the faithful to examine what are these personal “wild beasts” in our own lives, so that we can “recognize them, give them a name, understand their tactics.” In this way we can “permit the voice of God to speak to my heart and to preserve it in goodness.”

On Sunday evening the pope and the members of the Roman Curia will start their private , which will conclude on the afternoon of Friday, Feb. 23.

All regularly scheduled papal audiences are suspended for the week.

Pope Francis launches study groups to analyze Synod on Synodality’s key issues

Rome Newsroom, Feb 17, 2024 / 10:01 am (CNA).

The Vatican announced Saturday that Pope Francis has launched synodal study groups to analyze key issues ahead of October’s Synod on Synodality assembly.

Pope Francis has issued a chirograph asking the dicasteries of the Roman Curia to collaborate with the General Secretariat of the Synod to establish the study groups for “in-depth analysis” of some of the themes that emerged in the first Synod on Synodality assembly.

The pope did not specify in the chirograph published on Feb. 17 how many groups will be formed, what topics will be studied, or who will participate in the study groups.

The published at the end of the first synod assembly lists 75 different “matters for consideration,” including women’s access to diaconal ministry, priestly celibacy, and “Eucharistic hospitality” for interfaith couples. 

These “matters of consideration,” which could not find a consensus in the first synod assembly, are defined as “points on which we have recognized that it is necessary to continue theological, pastoral, and canonical deepening.”

In addition, the synthesis report also calls for the establishment of a “special intercontinental commission of theologians and canonists” to examine the definition and conceptual understanding of the “idea and practice of synodality” and its canonical implications, as well as the establishment of a joint commission of Eastern and Latin theologians, historians, and canonists.

According to Vatican News, the study groups will require a substantial amount of time and will not “directly constitute the material up for discussion in the next session of the synod, which will focus on synodality itself.”

The General Secretariat of the Synod, led by Cardinal Mario Grech, will coordinate the work of the study groups among the dicasteries, which will “involve experts from all continents” following a synodal process, the Vatican’s state media outlet said.

The Vatican also announced on Saturday the dates for the second Synod on Synodality assembly and the appointment of six new consulters to the General Secretariat of the Synod.

The 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops’ second session will take place from Oct. 2 to Oct. 27. The participants in the assembly will arrive in Rome on Sept. 29 to participate in a two-day spiritual retreat ahead of the start of the assembly.

Among the new synod consulters, Pope Francis chose three female professors.

, a sociology professor at Maryville College in Tennessee and president-elect of the Association for the Sociology of Religion, and , a theology professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, are both appointees.

, a German missionary in Peru and theology professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, was also appointed. Weiler is a member of the Congregation of the Medical Missionary Sisters and has lived for more than 35 years in Peru, where she works with the Episcopal Council of Latin America (CELAM) and the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network (REPAM).

The other appointees are , a Belgian canon lawyer and specialist in the theology of the diaconate; , a professor of religious studies at Laval University in Quebec; and , a theology professor at Australian Catholic University. Rush addressed the first synod assembly in October with a speech that focused on Vatican II’s discussion of tradition as the authority for the Synod on Synodality.

Cardinal Zen publishes new critique of Synod on Synodality

Rome Newsroom, Feb 16, 2024 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, the bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, has released another critique of the Synod on Synodality, arguing that the ongoing discussion and discernment process offers “two opposing visions” of the nature, organization, and role of the Church. 

“On the one hand, the Church is presented as founded by Jesus on the apostles and their successors, with a hierarchy of ordained ministers who guide the faithful on the journey toward the heavenly Jerusalem,” the 92-year-old cardinal observes in a nearly 3,600-word commentary  on Feb. 15 titled “How will the Synod continue and end?”

“On the other hand, there is talk of an undefined synodality, a ‘democracy of the baptized,’” he continues, interjecting “Which baptized people? Do they at least go to church regularly? Do they draw faith from the Bible and strength from the sacraments?”

“This other vision, if legitimized,” he warns, “can change everything, the doctrine of faith and the discipline of moral life.”

Going into a deeper examination of these visions of ecclesiology, the cardinal writes that “in order not to see a contradiction in it, we must understand this invitation to synodality not as having to do something completely new but as giving a new impulse to something that has always existed in the Church.”

Zen acknowledges that synods have been a “historic reality” of the Church. Yet while earlier synods took place within the framework of the apostolic tradition and were guided by the “hierarchy of ordained ministers who guide the faithful on the journey toward the heavenly Jerusalem,” the current synod is characterized by an “undefined synodality” and a “democracy of the baptized,” he argues.

“They tell us that synodality is a fundamental constitutive element of the life of the Church, but at the same time they emphasize that synodality is what the Lord expects of us today. Participation and communion are obviously permanent characteristics of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church. But doesn’t saying that synodality is ‘the thing that the Lord expects of us today’ mean that it is something new?” he writes.

“In order not to see a contradiction in it, we must understand this invitation to synodality not as having to do something completely new but as giving a new impulse to something that has always existed in the Church.”

One of the cardinal’s main concerns is how the Synod on Synodality is being conducted at the universal level, beginning with the initial assembly at the Vatican in October 2023 and culminating later this year with a final assembly in October.

Referring to the Synod on Synodality’s call to “walk together,” he asks: “What is the goal of this journey? Is there a guide that ensures the right direction?” 

In his essay the cardinal also takes issue with the synod’s incorporation of the “conversation in the Spirit,” a dialogic process he says was initiated by the Jesuits in Canada. “Imposing this method on the synod proceedings is a manipulation aiming at avoiding discussions,” he argues. “It is all psychology and sociology, no faith and no theology.”

The cardinal has already expressed his concern over the trajectory of the Synod on Synodality  that was sent out just days before the start of the first session of the synod in October.

Israeli embassy criticizes Cardinal Parolin’s remarks on civilian death toll in Gaza

Rome Newsroom, Feb 15, 2024 / 16:05 pm (CNA).

The Embassy of Israel to the Holy See issued a sharp rebuke of Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin’s recent remarks on the civilian death toll in the Israel-Hamas war.

In Feb. 13 comments made to the press — which were on La Repubblica’s website — Parolin said that Israel’s response to Hamas’ Oct. 7, 2023, attack has not been “proportionate,” with the prelate arguing that “we cannot continue like this” and “we must find other ways to solve the problem of Gaza, the problem of Palestine.”

The Vatican’s secretary of state also observed that since the outbreak of the war, the Holy See has issued “a clear and unreserved condemnation of what happened on Oct. 7” as well as “a clear and unreserved condemnation of every type of antisemitism.” 

Parolin went on to say that “at the same time” the Holy See has requested “that Israel’s right to defense, that was invoked to justify this operation, be proportionate … and certainly with 30,000 deaths it is not.” 

In response to the cardinal’s remarks, the Embassy of Israel to the Holy See issued a press release in which it stated that “judging the legitimacy of a war without taking into account ALL relevant circumstances and data inevitably leads to erroneous conclusions.” 

“Gaza has been transformed by Hamas into the largest terrorist base ever seen,” the embassy argued. “There is almost no civilian infrastructure that has not been used by Hamas for its criminal plans, including hospitals, schools, places of worship, and many others.”

“Gaza civilians also actively participated in the Oct. 7 unprovoked invasion of Israeli territory, killing, raping, and taking civilians hostage,” the statement continued. “All these acts are defined as war crimes.” 

The embassy argued that “in stark contrast” to the Hamas assault, “IDF operations are conducted in full compliance with international law.”

The embassy’s press release also addressed the issue of civilian deaths, indicating that in the case of the IDF, “for every Hamas militant killed, three civilians lost their lives,” which contrasts favorably with “past wars and operations of NATO forces or Western forces in Syria, Iraq, or Afghanistan … the proportion was nine or 10 civilians for every terrorist.” 

“Any objective observer,” the embassy said, “cannot help but come to the conclusion that the responsibility for the death and destruction in Gaza lies with Hamas and Hamas alone.” 

However, a Feb. 15 Vatican Media affirmed Parolin’s “realistic view” of the ongoing tragedy in the Gaza Strip. “The Holy See is always on the side of the victims,” the editorial stated, pointing to the high number of “innocent civilians, one-third of whom are children,” killed by bombings in Gaza.

“Israel’s right to bring the perpetrators of the October massacre to justice cannot justify this carnage,” the editorial emphasized.

The Associated Press has reported that the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry is the only official source for Gaza casualties and does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths.

Parolin made his remarks before a bilateral meeting with officials from the Italian state, including Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella, to mark the 95th anniversary of the signing of the Lateran Pact. 

The Lateran Pact, signed in 1929 — and renegotiated in 1985 — was a formal accord between the Holy See and the then-Kingdom of Italy that recognized the territorial sovereignty of the present-day Vatican City State, the extraterritorial sovereignty of the papal basilicas, the full independence of the pope, and a slew of other privileges for the Church in Italy.

World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly highlights ‘loneliness,’ ‘throwaway culture’

Rome Newsroom, Feb 15, 2024 / 12:22 pm (CNA).

The theme for the fourth World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, which will be celebrated on July 28, has been chosen by Pope Francis. 

According to the Holy See Press Office, this year’s theme is “Do Not Cast Me Off in My Old Age,” which comes from Psalm 71. The Feb. 15 press release noted that in choosing this verse it was the Holy Father’s desire “to call attention to the fact that, sadly, loneliness is the bitter lot in life of many elderly persons, so often the victims of the throwaway culture.”

The press release said that “by cherishing the charisms of grandparents and the elderly, and the contribution they make to the life of the Church, the World Day seeks to support the efforts of every ecclesial community to forge bonds between the generations and to combat loneliness.”

It also noted that the day will also be an opportunity for the whole Church to prepare for the upcoming jubilee year of 2025. 

Reflecting on the theme chosen by the pope, Cardinal Kevin Farrell — the prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life — stressed the Holy Father’s call to bring awareness to the isolation that many elderly people face, saying that it is “a widespread reality” and that “many elderly people [are] often victims of the throwaway culture and considered a burden to society.” 

In the Feb. 15 press release issued by the dicastery, the cardinal also noted that while “loneliness, certainly, is also an unavoidable condition of human existence,” it is incumbent upon “families and the ecclesial community … to be at the forefront in promoting a culture of encounter, to create spaces for sharing, listening, to offer support and affection: thus the love of Gospel becomes concrete.” 

The cardinal also noted that the celebration of the fourth World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly in July will be an opportunity for intergenerational dialogue, which will help build “the broader ‘we’ of ecclesial communion.”  

“It is precisely this familiarity, rooted in the love of God, that overcomes every form of throwaway culture and loneliness.”

The press release also noted that in the coming months a pastoral kit will be made available on the family dicastery’s to help individuals and communities prepare for the event.

Pope Francis the World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly in 2021. It is held on the fourth Sunday of July, which falls near the feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne, the grandparents of Jesus.

Vatican hosts veneration of relics of 21 Coptic martyrs of Libya on first feast day

Rome Newsroom, Feb 15, 2024 / 09:03 am (CNA).

The relics of 21 Coptic martyrs killed by ISIS in Libya will be venerated in St. Peter’s Basilica on Thursday evening at an ecumenical prayer service marking their first official feast day in the Catholic Church.

The evening vespers at the Vatican will commemorate the ninth anniversary of the martyrdom of the 21 Coptic Orthodox men who were beheaded by the Islamic State on a beach in Sirte, Libya, on Feb. 15, 2015.

Pope Francis added the 21 Coptic martyrs to the Roman Martyrology, the Church’s official list of saints, last May as he met with the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, Tawadros II.

Cardinal Kurt Koch, the prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, will preside over the ecumenical prayer at 5 p.m. in the Choir Chapel of St. Peter’s Basilica. A Coptic choir will provide the music for the liturgy.

Following the prayer service, the Vatican Film Library will host a screening of a documentary about the martyrs, “The 21: The Power of Faith,” a film produced by the Coptic Orthodox Church.

The martyrdom of the 21 men, who were mostly from Egypt, was filmed by the Islamic State and released as an online video showing masked fighters beheading the men as they knelt on a Libyan beach wearing prison-style orange jumpsuits.

The Egyptian government and the Coptic Orthodox Church later confirmed the video’s authenticity. In October 2017, authorities found a mass grave containing the bodies of the 21 men, who had been kidnapped in Libya where they were likely seeking work opportunities.

A Coptic Orthodox church dedicated to the 21 Martyrs of Libya was opened in 2018 in the village of al-Our in Egypt, a village that was home to 13 of the martyred men.

The Coptic Orthodox Church declared the 21 Coptic Christians as martyr saints within only a week of their murder in 2015 along the Libyan coast. 

Pope Francis’ inclusion of the martyrs in the Roman Martyrology in 2023 marked a significant moment in ecumenical relations between the Catholic Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church, which is the largest Christian denomination in majority Muslim Egypt.

The Roman Martyrology is an official list of the saints and blesseds, including martyrs, recognized in the liturgy of the Catholic Church. The list is ordered according to the Church’s calendar of feast days.

“These martyrs were baptized not only in the water and Spirit, but also in blood, a blood that is the seed of unity for all of Christ’s followers,” Pope Francis said at the time.

The feast of the martyrs, referred to as the 21 Coptic Martyrs of Libya, is celebrated on Feb. 15 in both the Catholic Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church.

During the Coptic leader’s visit to the Vatican last year, Tawadros II gave the pope the relics of the martyrs’ blood that will be used in Thursday’s liturgy.

“Today we hand over part of their relics, dipped in their blood shed in the name of Christ for the Church, so that they may be remembered in the martyrology of all the churches of the world, and know ‘we too’ are ‘surrounded by such a multitude of witnesses,’” Tawadros said.

“Precisely because the saints are one of the main pillars of our churches, beginning with the apostles Peter, Paul, and Mark,” he said, “we now write in the martyrology of the churches the new martyrs who have guarded the faith and bore witness to Christ, who did not lose heart in the face of torture and passed on to us a living example in martyrdom.”

Analysis: Milei, Pope Francis embody contrasting economic viewpoints

Rome Newsroom, Feb 14, 2024 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

All eyes were on Pope Francis’ first meeting with Argentina’s new president, Javier Milei, Monday at the Vatican. 

After all, in the past Milei had employed virulent language against the pontiff, calling him “nefarious” and “an imbecile,” among other invectives.

However, since his unprecedented landslide victory last November, Milei has proceeded to soften his tone and opted to construct a more conciliatory relationship with the 87-year-old pontiff.

In fact, there were no signs of rancor or resentment when the two leaders embraced in a viral photo on Sunday, Feb. 11, in St. Peter’s Basilica of Mama Antula, Argentina’s first female saint. 

The easy familiarity extended to their held in the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican on Monday, Feb. 12, where they spoke for over an hour, which is unusually long for official meetings between the pope and heads of state. 

Francisco Sánchez, the undersecretary of Argentina’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Trade, and Worship — who was part of the country’s official delegation to the Vatican — the meeting was full of “surprising aspects” and “took place in a very cordial way, with a lot of sympathy, with a lot of friendship between the two.”

One reported that after the meeting, Milei said the pope “was satisfied with the economic and social support program” that his government has spearheaded since taking office on Dec. 10, 2023.

While both Milei and Francis hail from Argentina — both were born in Buenos Aires — they hold  radically different economic viewpoints.

Since his election as pope in 2013, Francis has made social, economic, and ecological justice a defining concern of his pontificate, writing several papal documents on these themes, including his apostolic exhortation in 2013, his seminal 2015 encyclical on the environment in 2020, and   — the second installment of — in 2023. 

In Francis condemned what he saw as the “new idolatry of money,” arguing that the myriad economic problems that the world is facing stem from a misinformed belief in “trickle-down theories.” 

The pope opined that this economic theory “has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.”

Francis further criticized this view, denoting that it “sustain[s] a lifestyle which excludes others” and that “the culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase.” 

In line with consumerist attitudes, the pope noted that “the current financial crisis can make us overlook the fact that it originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person.” 

“The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings; man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption,” he continued. 

This condemnation of consumerism and of the “idolatry” of money has become a common refrain during the pope’s speeches. In a to the Second World Meeting of Popular Movements during his 2015 apostolic visit to Bolivia, the pope denounced the “unfettered pursuit of money” and even called it the “dung of the devil.” 

“Once capital becomes an idol and guides people’s decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system, it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women, it destroys human fraternity,” the pope declared. 

In his paper “Francis and the Pastoral Geopolitics of People and their Cultures: A Structural Option for the Poor,” professor Rafael Luciani of Boston College argues that the pope “proposes that we move toward an alternative world order that is polycentric, one that recognizes the peripheries and that from the peripheries can create new ways of relating to both the global and the local.” 

The pope, according to Luciani, proposes “a more human view of the world” that dovetails with a call for greater “dialogue” when pursuing the common good. 

One of the most recent examples of the pope’s embrace of dialogue with disparate groups was his January , an association of European leftist politicians and academics that seeks to bridge Catholic social teaching and Marxist theory. 

In this meeting, the pope said: “There is always a great need for dialogue, so do not be afraid,” while adding that “politics that is truly at the service of humanity cannot let itself be dictated to by finance and market mechanisms.”

In Francis’ native Argentina the economic situation is particularly dire as the country struggles with triple-digit inflation, a weak currency, depleted foreign currency reserves, and growing poverty. 

An analysis of the situation noted that “since 2000, it [Argentina] has defaulted on its sovereign debt on three occasions. The economy has fallen into a recession, and the inflation rate has reached 142.7%. Four out of 10 Argentines are living in poverty, and, in the past four years, the value of the Argentine peso has fallen by more than 90% against the U.S. dollar.”

When Milei, a libertarian and self-declared anarcho-capitalist, won the country’s presidential election in a landslide victory last November, it signaled a massive shift in Argentina’s political equilibrium and a radical shift in the government’s economic policy. 

Milei’s economic positions can best be described as neo-liberal, following the tradition of free market economists such as Milton Friedman and the Chicago School of Economics, who posit that limited state interference is necessary for economic growth and prosperity. 

Upon assuming office on Dec. 10, 2023, Milei promised to set in motion a series of sweeping economic reforms via his “chainsaw” plan, which included massive public spending cuts, reforms to public administration, and eliminating the treasury, the New York Times . 

For Milei, freedom is tantamount to economic opportunity and prosperity. During his inaugural presidential address, he : “The only way out of poverty is with more freedom.”

The 53-year-old economist repeated this call when he spoke at the 54th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last month.

At Davos, Milei gave a 20-minute speech in which he decried what he saw as the “danger” facing the West, which he argued was the result of “a vision of the world that inexorably leads to socialism and thereby to poverty.”

Milei went on to condemn the “collectivist experiments” of the past 100 years, which are “never the solution to the problems that afflict the citizens of the world. Rather, they are the root cause.” 

In contrast to the pope’s statements in , Milei argued that by looking at historical trends, it is clear that “capitalism brought about an explosion in wealth from the moment it was adopted as an economic system.”

“Free trade capitalism as an economic system is the only instrument we have to end hunger, poverty, and extreme poverty across our planet. The empirical evidence is unquestionable,” Milei continued. 

The pope, while not present at the event, sent a to the WEF’s founder, Klaus Schwab, on Jan. 17 where he touched upon many of the core themes of his pontificate, writing “the exploitation of natural resources continues to enrich a few while leaving entire populations, who are the natural beneficiaries of these resources, in a state of destitution and poverty.”

The pope also stressed the importance of harmonizing state policy and business practices to develop new economic paradigms that “by their very nature must entail subordinating the pursuit of power and individual gain, be it political or economic, to the common good of our human family, giving priority to the poor, the needy, and those in the most vulnerable situations.” 

In Milei’s Jan.18 speech at Davos, by contrast, he remarked that “the left-wing doxa has attacked capitalism, alleging matters of morality, saying — that’s what the detractors claim — that it’s unjust. They say that capitalism is evil because it’s individualistic and that collectivism is good because it’s altruistic.”

Pope Francis on Ash Wednesday: ‘Let us return to God with all our heart’

Vatican City, Feb 14, 2024 / 12:15 pm (CNA).

On Ash Wednesday, Pope Francis said that Lent is a time to look inward at our true selves and to share our deepest desires, worries, and weaknesses with the Lord in prayer.

In a world where “everything has to be exposed, shown off, and fed to the gossip mill of the moment,” the Lord is inviting us to “remove the masks we so often wear” and to see ourselves as we truly are in the sight of God, Pope Francis said in his Ash Wednesday homily.

“Precisely there, where so many fears, feelings of guilt, and sin are lurking, precisely there the Lord has descended in order to heal and cleanse you.”

“Let us acknowledge what we are: dust loved by God. We are dust loved by God. And thanks to him, we will be reborn from the ashes of sin to new life in Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit,” the pope said on Feb. 14.

Pope Francis presided over Mass in the Basilica of Santa Sabina, a fifth-century church on Rome’s Aventine Hill where St. Thomas Aquinas once resided. 

The Mass followed a short procession of priests and cardinals that started at the Benedictine Abbey of St. Anselm on the Aventine with sung prayers of the Litany of the Saints. 

The 87-year-old pope, who frequently uses a wheelchair, did not lead the procession of priests and cardinals this year as he has in the past due to his limited mobility. 

In his homily, Pope Francis encouraged everyone to make more space for prayer in silence in Eucharistic adoration during the 40 days of Lent. 

“Let us return, brothers and sisters. Let us return to God with all our heart,” he said. 

“During these weeks of Lent, let us make space for the prayer of silent adoration, in which we experience the presence of the Lord like Moses, like Elijah, like Mary, like Jesus.”

“Let us not be afraid to strip ourselves of worldly trappings and return to the heart, to what is essential,” he said.

Pope Francis reflected on Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Matthew: “When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret” (Mt 6:4).

He quoted advice from St. Anselm of Canterbury, an 11th-century Benedictine monk and doctor of the Church who wrote in 1078: “‘Escape from your everyday business for a short while, hide for a moment from your restless thoughts. Break off from your cares and troubles and be less concerned about your tasks and labors. Make a little time for God and rest a while in him.’” 

“‘Enter into your mind’s inner chamber. Shut out everything but God and whatever helps you to seek him; and when you have shut the door, look for him. Speak now to God and say with your whole heart: I seek your face; your face, O Lord, I desire.’”

The Basilica of Santa Sabina is one of the oldest basilicas in Rome that preserves its original colonnade and layout. The basilica is the first church in the traditional Lenten station church pilgrimage in Rome. 

The 40-day pilgrimage to 40 of Rome’s most ancient churches dates back to the early fourth century and originally included daily papal processions in which people prayed the Litany of the Saints on the way to offer Mass at the burial site of the early Christian martyr assigned to that day.

“This evening, in a spirit of prayer and humility, we receive ashes on our heads. This gesture is meant to remind us of the ultimate reality of our lives: that we are dust and our life passes away like a breath (cf. Ps 39:6; 144:4),” Pope Francis said.

“The ashes placed on our heads invite us to rediscover the secret of life. They tell us that as long as we continue to shield our hearts, to hide ourselves behind a mask, to appear invincible, we will be empty and arid within.” 

“When, on the other hand, we have the courage to bow our heads in order to look within, we will discover the presence of God, who has always loved us. At last, those shields will be shattered and we will be able to feel ourselves loved with an eternal love.”

Pope Francis: Sloth is a ‘very dangerous temptation’ akin to apathy

Rome Newsroom, Feb 14, 2024 / 09:50 am (CNA).

During his Feb. 14 Wednesday general audience — which this year coincided with Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent — Pope Francis reflected on the human dimension of the vice of acedia, more commonly known as sloth, observing that it is “an effect more than a cause.” 

Remarking that it is a “very dangerous temptation,” the pope reflected on how acedia, which is a Greek word meaning “lack of care,” encompasses a “psychological and a philosophical” dimension and can be linked to apathy — and even absentmindedness — which can have serious ramifications in our personal as well as our spiritual lives.

“It is as though those who fall victim to it are crushed by a desire for death. They feel disgust at everything, the relationship with God becomes boring to them, and even the holiest acts, those that in the past warmed their hearts, now appear entirely useless to them,” the pope observed to the faithful gathered in the Paul VI Audience Hall.

Building upon the human dimension of this vice, the pope outlined how in a contemporary understanding it can be closely associated with “the evil of depression,” noting that for those afflicted with acedia “life loses its significance, prayer becomes boring, and every battle seems meaningless.” 

For the pope, this apathetic attitude, or indifference, also begins when “a person begins to regret the passing of time and the youth that is irretrievably behind them.”

“If in youth we nurtured passions, now they seem illogical, dreams that did not make us happy. So, we let ourselves go, and distraction, thoughtlessness, seem to be the only ways out: One would like to be numb, to have a completely empty mind… It is a little like dying in advance,” the Holy Father added. 

The pope drew upon the example of the ancient desert fathers for inspiration, looking specifically at the fourth-century hermit Evagrius Ponticus, who referred to this vice as the “noonday demon.”

Reflecting on the monk’s account of this phenomenon, the pope said: “‘The slothful man does not do God’s work with solicitude,” adding that “it grips us in the middle of the day, when fatigue is at its peak and the hours ahead of us seem monotonous, impossible to live.”

However, for the pope the “most important” antidote to this tendency is what he described as “the patience of faith.”

Developing this patience on a personal level is predicated upon resisting the temptation to be “elsewhere” or the desire to “to escape from reality,” the Holy Father explained. 

“One must instead have the courage to remain and to welcome God’s presence in the ‘here and now,’ in the situation as it is,” the pope continued. 

Francis warned against the “demon” of this vice by emphasizing that it “wants to make you believe that it is all in vain, that nothing has meaning, that it is not worth taking care of anything or anyone.”

“How many people, in the grip of acedia, stirred by a faceless restlessness, have stupidly abandoned the good life they had embarked upon,” the pope lamented. 

Stressing that it is a “battle that must be won at all costs,” the pope drew upon the example of the saints where “in many of their diaries” we can see that they faced “terrible moments of genuine nights of the faith, when everything appears dark.”

The example of the saints shows us how to “get through the night in patience” and “maintain a smaller measure of commitment, to set goals more within reach, but at the same time to endure, to persevere by leaning on Jesus, who never abandons us in temptation.”

“Faith, tormented by the test of acedia, does not lose its value. On the contrary, it is the true faith, the very human faith, which despite everything, despite the darkness that blinds it, still humbly believes,” the pope said.

Pope Francis: Technological development must promote the human being

Rome Newsroom, Feb 13, 2024 / 09:30 am (CNA).

Pope Francis addressed members of the Pontifical Academy for Life at the Vatican on Monday, stressing the importance of integrating “the resources of science and technology” while “promoting the human being in his or her irreducible specificity.”

The pope’s comments come as members of the academy are meeting in Rome from Feb. 12–14 for their general assembly, focusing this year on the theme of “Human: Meanings and Challenges.”

Noting that the academy will be looking at the fundamental question of “what is distinctive about the human being,” the pope opened his speech by underscoring the complexity of evaluating this question, especially against the backdrop of exponential developments in science and technology. 

These considerations, which the academy will discuss over the course of the upcoming days, present a fundamental understanding of “how the creativity entrusted to human beings can be exercised responsibly,” the pope observed. 

Stressing that this is fundamentally an “anthropological” task, the pope stressed that today “we are challenged to develop a culture that, by integrating the resources of science and technology, is capable of acknowledging and promoting the human being in his or her irreducible specificity.” 

“There is a need to explore whether this specificity is to be found even upstream of language, within the sphere of pathos and emotions, desire and intentionality, which only human beings can perceive, appreciate, and convert into positive and beneficial relationships with others, aided by the grace of the Creator,” the pope said. “This is ultimately a cultural task, since culture shapes and directs the spontaneous forces of life and social mores.”

The pope commended the work of the academy, which represents a plurality of voices in approaching ethical and social questions through the prism of “dialogue” and “a cross-disciplinary exchange.” 

“I can only encourage this kind of dialogue, which allows each person to offer his or her own reflections while interacting with others in a mutual exchange of views,” the pope said. “This is the way to overcome the mere juxtaposition of disciplines and to undertake a revision of our knowledge through reciprocal listening and critical reflection.”

The pope also commended the group for what he saw as their “synodal method of proceeding,” noting that it is a “demanding” process as it involves “careful attention and freedom of spirit, and readiness to set out on unexplored and unknown paths, free of useless attempts to ‘look back.’”

Placing this relationship within the broader context of the Christian tradition, the pope observed that Christianity “has always offered significant contributions, absorbing meaningful elements from every culture where it has taken root and reinterpreting them in the light of Christ and the Gospel, appropriating the linguistic and conceptual resources present in various cultural settings.”

Noting that this process of inculturation is “lengthy” and requires “an intellectual approach capable of embracing numerous generations,” the pope added that “it can be compared to the wisdom and vision of those who plant trees knowing that their fruit will be consumed by their children, or those who build cathedrals knowing that they will be completed by future generations.” 

During a Monday after the audience with the pope, the academy’s president, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, noted that “the urgency of the theme was imposed by thinking about our future as a human species, which today presents the risk of disappearing through self-destruction or overcoming.” 

“We have therefore placed the anthropological question at the center of this year’s work in a direct way, not least because it is becoming more and more insistent in public debate, not only in the ecclesial and academic spheres.” 

The Pontifical Academy for Life was established by St. John Paul II in his 1994 apostolic letter as a way to study “the principal problems of biomedicine and of law, relative to the promotion and defense of life, above all in the direct relation that they have with Christian morality and the directives of the Church’s magisterium.”

In recent years the academy has been at the center of controversy as some of its members have advocated views that are inconsistent with traditional Church teaching.

In April 2023, Paglia , calling it “feasible” despite the Church’s unambiguous stance against the practice. 

In October 2022, Pope Francis appointed the pro-abortion economist Mariana Mazzucato to the academy to serve a five-year term as an ordinary academic. Mazzucato has frequently her support for abortion.

Pope names biochemist who contributed to COVID vaccine to Pontifical Academy for Life

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Feb 12, 2024 / 17:15 pm (CNA).

A Nobel-prize winning biochemist and researcher who helped develop the mRNA technology used to create the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines — Katalin Karikó — is one of the newest members of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life.

Pope Francis announced the appointment of Karikó, who lectures at the University of Szeged in Hungary, in a news release on Feb. 10. The pontifical academy, which St. John Paul II established in 1994, studies and provides input on the use of biomedicine in the protection of life.

Karikó, who was born in Szolnok, Hungary, received the 2023 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her work to develop mRNA technology. The Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute saying she and co-researcher Drew Weissman received the award “for their discoveries concerning nucleoside base modifications that enabled the development of effective mRNA vaccines against COVID-19.” 

“Through their groundbreaking findings, which have fundamentally changed our understanding of how mRNA interacts with our immune system, the laureates contributed to the unprecedented rate of vaccine development during one of the greatest threats to human health in modern times,” the news release noted.

She thanked the pontiff , formerly known as Twitter. 

“I am deeply honored that Pope [Francis] appointed me to be [a] member of the Pontifical Academy for Life,” Karikó said. “Last year, I gave a lecture in the Vatican on emerging biotechnologies. It was exciting to meet Pope [Francis] [in] a private audience with my family [and] he blessed my grandchildren.”

following her appointment, Karikó commented on her mRNA work. 

“Together with my colleagues, we built upon discoveries of scientists who came before us and we created optimal RNA suitable for therapy,” she said. “Never in a million years [would I] have imagined that it would have been used to create a vaccine to combat [a] global pandemic and eventually save millions of lives.”

Karikó also noted in her video message, which was posted on Feb. 11, that it was the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. 

“I also think about all the young girls who may become inspired and want to be a scientist,” she said. “I would like to encourage them [to pursue those aspirations] and make better the world around them.” 

Karikó, like some of the pope’s other appointments to the Pontifical Academy for Life, is not Catholic herself. When John Paul II established the academy , the then-pontiff wrote that he would appoint individuals who represent various branches of the biomedical sciences “that are most closely related to problems concerning the promotion and protection of life.” 

“[The academy] will have the specific task to study and provide information and training about the principal problems of law and biomedicine pertaining to the promotion and protection of life, especially in the direct relationship they have with Christian morality and the directives of the Church’s magisterium,” John Paul wrote.

What did Milei and Pope Francis say to each other at the canonization of Mama Antula?

ACI Prensa Staff, Feb 12, 2024 / 15:30 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis and the president of Argentina, Javier Milei, spoke briefly at the Vatican on Sunday, Feb. 11, the feast day of the Our Lady of Lourdes and the day for , the first female saint of the South American country.

“Did you get a haircut?” the Holy Father asked Milei as he greeted him in St. Peter’s Basilica. The Argentine leader was in Rome for the canonization Mass. Their encounter was captured in an EWTN News video.

“I tidied it up. Can I give you a hug?” the Argentine president then asked, to which Francis responded: “Yes, son, yes. Nice to see you. Thank you for coming … May God bless you very much.”

Next Karina Milei, the president’s sister and secretary general of his administration, asked the pope: “Can I greet you, can I give you a kiss?” After Pope Francis’ affirmative response, the woman told him: “A pleasure, it’s a pleasure being welcomed [by you].”

“Thank you for supporting him,” the Holy Father replied.

Then addressing the group that accompanied Milei, Pope Francis asked: “How’s work going?” to which the president responded: “It takes a lot of ability to handle things because of the roughness of the other side [his political opposition],” to which the pontiff replied: “God is greater!” 

“That’s true,” one of the women who was with Milei said.

As they departed, the Holy Father made his usual prayer request, this time to Milei and his entourage: “Pray for me; I pray for you.” 

“Thank you,” they responded.

“In just a little while we’ll see each other, tomorrow,” the pope concluded.

“See you tomorrow,” answered Milei, who said in an interview yesterday with Argentina’s Radio Miter that Pope Francis is “the most important Argentine in history.”

Milei was received this morning, Feb. 12, , after which he was scheduled to meet with the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

The Argentine president was also scheduled to meet with the president of Italy, Sergio Mattarella, and then with Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.

Meeting between Pope Francis and Argentine president signals possible turn in relationship

Rome Newsroom, Feb 12, 2024 / 12:30 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis met with Argentine President Javier Milei in a highly anticipated private audience on Monday morning, showcasing a possible rapprochement after the South American politician voiced sharp criticisms of the pontiff last year.

According to Francisco Sánchez, the undersecretary of Argentina’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Trade, and Worship — who was part of the country’s official delegation to the Vatican — the meeting was full of “surprising aspects” and “took place in a very cordial way, with a lot of sympathy, with a lot of friendship between the two,” Italian News outlet ANSA .

Sánchez observed that the two met for over an hour, “which is not generally granted to international delegations received by the pontiff.” 

The Infobae reported that after the meeting, Milei said the pope “was satisfied with the economic and social support program” that his government has spearheaded since taking office on Dec. 10, 2023. 

An official press release from the Holy See Press Office noted that after the meeting with the pope, Milei was received by the Vatican’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin as well as Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, the secretary for relations with states and international organizations.

“Appreciation was expressed for the good relations between the Holy See and the Argentine Republic, and the will to strengthen them further. The parties then addressed the new government’s program to counter the economic crisis,” the press release stated.

As is customary during official bilateral meetings at the Vatican, the two exchanged gifts, with the pope gifting Milei a bronze medallion inspired by the canopy of St. Peter as well as volumes of papal documents including the Message for the World Day of Peace 2024, which he personally signed Monday morning. 

The president reciprocated by gifting the pontiff a copy of the document with which the Argentine government accredited Juan Bautista Alberdi charge d’affaires to the pope in 1854, as well as a postmark dedicated to Argentina’s first female saint, María Antonia of St. Joseph, affectionately known as “Mama Antula.”

Milei also added a personal touch by gifting the pope dulce de leche and lemon biscuits from his native Argentina.

The official bilateral meeting comes after the two Argentines embraced on Sunday, Feb. 11, in St. Peter’s Basilica of Mama Antula.

Milei — a staunch economic libertarian and a self-described “anarcho-capitalist” — was propelled to victory last year as his country grappled with chronic triple-digit hyperinflation and soaring poverty.

The 53-year-old economist has centered his administration's agenda on radically transforming the country with his “chainsaw” plan, which includes massive spending cuts as well as reforms to public administration and the treasury.

While on the campaign trail in 2023, Milei referred to the pope as “nefarious” and an “imbecile.”

However, since his unprecedented landslide victory in November, Milei has pivoted away from strident language, opting for a softer and more conciliatory tone. Following his election, the to congratulate him on his victory. It was reported that during the phone call the president-elect invited the pope to visit Argentina. 

On Jan. 8, a month after officially taking office, Milei sent a to the pope to visit his homeland, noting that the trip would “bring fruits of peace and brotherhood to all Argentines.”

“Bearing in mind your advice to have the necessary wisdom and courage, in my first weeks of government I have proceeded to propose a series of government measures aimed at transforming the situation that the Argentine Republic has been suffering for decades,” Milei continued in his letter.

While the pope has visited South America on several occasions during his nearly 11-year-long pontificate, he has conspicuously avoided an official visit to his native country. However, the pope has signaled that he would be open to visiting his country in the latter half of 2024. 

Pope Francis on Our Lady of Lourdes feast: The Church is close to all who are sick or frail

Vatican City, Feb 11, 2024 / 10:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis urged people to bring God’s love to the sick and suffering through “concrete actions” in his Angelus address on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.

Speaking on a rainy Sunday in Rome from the window of the Apostolic Palace to the crowd huddled under umbrellas below, the pope said that he wanted to express the closeness “of the entire Church to all those who are sick or frail.”

“Today, on the memorial of the Blessed Virgin of Lourdes, we celebrate World Day of the Sick, which this year draws attention to the importance of relationships in sickness,” Pope Francis said on Feb. 11.

“We are all required to be a neighbor to those who suffer, to visit the sick as Jesus teaches us in the Gospel,” he added.

In his Angelus address, the pope asked people to reflect on what they have done to help the sick and the suffering: “In real terms, when was the last time I went to visit someone alone or sick?”

“Or when was the last time I changed my plans to meet the needs of someone who asked me for help?” he asked.

The Catholic Church marks the World Day of the Sick each year on Feb. 11, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes in southwestern France is associated with the sick because of the presence of a miraculous spring from which many people have obtained physical healing.

Pope John Paul II established the World Day of the Sick in 1992 as “a special time of prayer and sharing, of offering one’s suffering for the good of the Church and of reminding everyone to see in his sick brother or sister the face of Christ who, by suffering, dying, and rising, achieved the salvation of mankind.”

Reflecting on Sunday’s Gospel, Pope Francis said that Jesus’ healing of a leper in the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark is an example of “Jesus’ style” of backing up his words with “concrete deeds.”

“Love needs tangibility. Love needs presence and encounter. It needs to be given time and space,” Pope Francis said.

The pope underlined that love cannot be reduced to “to beautiful words, images on a screen, momentary selfies, or hasty messages.”

He said that when people are sick, the first thing that they need — in addition to the attention of health care professionals — is the closeness of their loved ones.

“May Mary, solicitous in care, help us to be ready and tangible in love,” Francis said.

Pope Francis said that especially on the World Day of the Sick “we cannot remain silent about the fact that there are many people today to whom the right to care, and thus the right to life, is denied.”

“I am thinking of those who live in extreme poverty, but I am also thinking of those who live in war zones where fundamental human rights are violated there every day. It is intolerable,” he said.

“Let us pray for battered Ukraine, for Palestine and Israel. Let us pray for Myanmar and for all peoples who are tormented by war.”

Pope Francis canonizes Argentina’s first female saint

Vatican City, Feb 11, 2024 / 08:15 am (CNA).

Pope Francis canonized Argentina’s first female saint, María Antonia of St. Joseph — known affectionately in the pope’s home country as “Mama Antula” — in a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Sunday.

Argentina’s President Javier Milei sat in the front row to the pope’s right during the canonization on Feb. 11 and embraced the pope at the end of the Mass.

Mama Antula (1730–1799) was a consecrated laywoman who promoted Ignatian spirituality, founding Buenos Aires’ House for Spiritual Exercises at a time of widespread hostility to the Jesuit order.

Pope Francis praised the Argentine saint as “a model of apostolic fervor and boldness” for traveling “thousands of miles on foot through deserts and dangerous roads” to bring people to God.

“Brothers and sisters, God loves us … and if we let him touch us, we too, by the power of his Spirit, can become witnesses of the love that saves,” he said.

The Jesuit pope from Argentina highlighted how Mama Antula persevered in safeguarding Ignatian spirituality after the Society of Jesus was suppressed and its priests expelled from South America.

“When the Jesuits were expelled, the Holy Spirit ignited in her a missionary flame based on trust in providence and perseverance,” he said.

Pope Francis, the former archbishop of Buenos Aires, has said that he wants to visit Argentina in the second half of this year. Francis has not returned to his homeland since becoming pope in 2013.

The pope met with the new Argentinian president for the first time briefly at the canonization. Milei, who called Francis an “imbecile” during his campaign, gave the pope a hug after shaking his hand at the end of Mass.

The two are scheduled to have a private meeting at the Vatican on Monday before Milei meets with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.

Pope Francis has said that he sees the meeting with Milei on Monday as an opportunity to “start a dialogue” and has indicated that he was not offended by the insults that Milei had hurled against him before he was elected president, saying, “words during an election campaign come and go.”

Milei, who was raised Catholic, has recently embraced aspects of Judaism, even suggesting the possibility that he could convert. After arriving in Rome from Israel on Friday, Milei visited the Basilica of St. Peter in Chains and posted a photo of himself looking at Michelangelo’s statue of Moses inside of the church on Instagram.

After assuming office as president in December, Milei issued a formal invitation for Pope Francis to visit Argentina in a letter signed on Jan. 8.

During the canonization Mass, Pope Francis spoke about the importance of not ostracizing the poor or the weak but of drawing close to them as Jesus did with the lepers he met.

“How many suffering men and women do we meet on the sidewalks of our cities,” Pope Francis said.

“And how many fears, prejudices, and inconsistencies, even among those who are believers and call themselves Christians, contribute to wounding them all the more!”

Pope Francis has praised Mama Antula as an example of charity for her care for “those whom society discards.”

María Antonia was born into a wealthy family in 1730 in Silipica, Santiago del Estero, in northern Argentina. She expressed a fervent desire to serve God at a young age. She spent the early part of her ministry helping parents with the instruction of their children and administering care to the sick and poor.

Following the expulsion of the Jesuits from the Spanish Empire by King Charles III, she traveled around northern Argentina by foot to safeguard and promote Ignatian spirituality, organizing retreats despite the widespread hostility to the Jesuits.

After the success of these early retreats, she expanded her reach into other regions of Argentina and relocated to Buenos Aires in 1779. While denied permission by imperial authorities to restore the Ignatian tradition, her perseverance paid off when a year later she earned the trust of the local bishop, culminating in the establishment of the House for Spiritual Exercises in Buenos Aires.

She died on March 7, 1799, in Buenos Aires and was buried in the cemetery of the Church of the Pietà there. Her body was later moved inside the church and has become a popular pilgrimage destination.

In his homily, Pope Francis expressed gratitude to Mama Antula for promoting devotion to St. Cajetan, also known as St. Gaetano of Thiene, who is now one of the most popular saints in Argentina.

“Thanks to Mama Antula, this saint, intercessor of divine providence, made his way into homes, neighborhoods, transportation, stores, factories, and hearts, to offer a life of dignity through work, justice, and daily bread on the table of the poor,” the pope said.

“Let us pray today to María Antonia, St. María Antonia de Paz de San José, that she will help us greatly.”

Mama Antula’s feast day will be celebrated on March 7.

Pope Francis: Argentina’s first female saint shows us ‘the path of holiness’

Rome Newsroom, Feb 9, 2024 / 11:41 am (CNA).

Pope Francis met with Argentine pilgrims on Friday morning ahead of the historic canonization of the county’s first female saint on Sunday.

During his address, Pope Francis presented Blessed María Antonia of St. Joseph de Paz y Figueroa, more affectionately known as “Mama Antula,” as an example of “charity” and “an inspiration that revives ‘the option for the last, for those that society discards.’”

The saint’s example and legacy is especially important for us today “in the midst of this society that runs the risk of forgetting that ‘radical individualism is the most difficult virus to defeat. A virus that deceives. It makes us believe that everything consists of giving free rein to one’s own ambitions,’” the pope said, quoting from his encyclical

Born in 1730 in Silipica, Santiago del Estero, in northern Argentina, María Antonia’s early life was characterized by a fervent desire to serve God. She helped parents with the instruction of their children and administered care to the sick and poor. 

Against the backdrop of the suppression of the Jesuits in the Spanish Empire by Charles III, the pope characterized María Antonia as an example of overcoming adversity as she traveled on foot to promote Ignatian spirituality and “to help everyone discover the beauty of following Jesus.” 

The pope added that this was no small task given the “aversion that had developed toward Christ, the aversion that had developed toward the Jesuits.”

“She was forbidden to give retreats, so she decided to give them clandestinely. This dimension of clandestinity must not be forgotten,” Pope Francis stressed.

Arguing that it is imperative to not forget this secrecy, the pope told the pilgrims to “not to give up in the face of adversity, not to give up on our good intentions to bring the Gospel to all, despite the challenges.”

María Antonia is as an example of discernment “because she had not placed her security in herself, but in God, trusting that her arduous apostolate was his work,” the pope said. 

In this way she “experienced what God wants of each one of us, that we may discover his call, each in our own state of life … it will always be synthesized in doing everything for the greater glory of God and the salvation of souls.”

“The path of holiness implies trust and abandonment,” the Holy Father emphasized. 

“Firmly rooted in the Lord we must see this as an occasion in which we can challenge our environment to bring the joy of the Gospel,” he added.

Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Basilica on Sunday, Feb. 11, at 9:30 a.m. Argentina’s President Javier Milei will also be present at the ceremony. He will be received in a with the pope on Monday, Feb. 12, at the Vatican.

Buenos Aires archbishop highlights courage of Mama Antula, the ‘mother’ of Argentina

ACI Prensa Staff, Feb 8, 2024 / 18:30 pm (CNA).

On Sunday, Feb. 11, Pope Francis will raise to the altars the woman who will become Argentina’s first female saint, Mama Antula — also known as María Antonia of St. Joseph — a consecrated laywoman considered by many as “the mother of the country.”

The ceremony, which will take place in St. Peter’s Basilica, will be attended by representatives of the Catholic Church in Argentina as well as political leaders, including Javier Milei, the president of Argentina.

Argentina is Pope Francis’ native land.

To participate in the long-awaited canonization, Archbishop Jorge Ignacio García Cuerva of Buenos Aires, Auxiliary Bishop Alberto Germán Bochatey of La Plata, and Bishop Vicente Bokalic of Santiago del Estero all traveled to Rome.

The prelates, together with Silvia Correale, postulator of the cause of the future saint, met with journalists Feb. 8 at the Holy See Press Office.

María Antonia de Paz y Figueroa was from the Argentine province of Santiago del Estero, a consecrated laywoman recognized for dedicating her life to the proclamation of the Gospel, especially among the poorest of the people.

She founded the Holy House of Spiritual Exercises in Buenos Aires, and from there she spread Jesuit spirituality, keeping the Ignatian legacy alive.

Speaking in Rome with ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, Archbishop García expressed his joy at this “very important event, which is having our own female saint,” while highlighting the “challenge” of following her example today.

The archbishop of the Argentine capital also highlighted the “boldness and apostolic creativity” of Mama Antula, who in the 18th century, “when the Jesuits had been expelled from the Viceroyalty of Río de la Plata by the decision of King Carlos III of Spain, had the initiative to take this important experience of the Spiritual Exercises proposed by St. Ignatius and to continue spreading them throughout Argentina.”

“She strove to do more, and that seems to me to be a characteristic of the holiness of today’s world, for us to strive to do more, for us to strive to live the Gospel thoroughly in today’s society,” he noted.

The prelate also pointed out that Mama Antula did not make distinctions and included people from all social classes.

“In the Spiritual Exercises, relatives of the viceroy, members of the Buenos Aires aristocracy, simple families, and slaves participated,” he said, noting that they all “remained together for 10 days.”

Taking this attitude as an example, the prelate called for “living fraternity and concretizing the magisterium of Pope Francis,” especially in a world “where we only look for that which divides us.”

García also highlighted “the joy and good humor” of Mama Antula, who had a great devotion to St. Philip Neri, known as “the saint of joy.”

Finally, he clarified that although in many of the images she is represented with a habit that may seem like that of a nun, “she was a laywoman.”

The prelate pointed out that “we are all the Church, fundamentally the laity, who have to have a greater role and be listened to more.”

Regarding a possible visit by Pope Francis to Argentina, the archbishop of Buenos Aires said that “there is an enormous desire for the pope to meet his people. We await him with open hearts and arms.”

Silvia Correale, postulator of the cause of Mama Antula, called the soon-to-be-canonized saint “the mother of the country” and stressed that to this day, she continues to be “a very important model for living.”

Speaking with ACI Prensa, Correale described her position as postulator as “a service to evangelization” and remarked that “the saints are like the Gospel incarnated in each given historical moment, since God works and manifests himself through them.”

She highlighted that “the Lord manifested himself through a woman,” a consecrated laywoman who “had impressive faith and totally trusted in providence. She was a person who very much trusted in the action of God, very humble, austere, and prayerful.”

“Almost all of what she did was done from nothing, with total austerity. She had an impressive, very strong faith and great charity; she was a person who carried out many works of mercy,” the postulator noted.

Correale also described the soon-to-be first Argentine female saint as “a woman on the move, with an active and merciful faith who also exercised the ministry of listening, since she didn’t preach during the [Spiritual] Exercises, but rather the priests did.” 

The postulator explained that in the Holy House of Spiritual Exercises “women who were released from prison were accepted to make a spiritual journey and to be able to reintegrate themselves into society. They also worked with the girls, where they taught them catechism, how to embroider, read… she did a great social and educational work.”

The Holy House, Correale highlighted, “was the center of spirituality and moral values of Buenos Aires. Also, when a family had a problem, they went to her — there are very beautiful anecdotes about that.”

Finally, Correale said that with this canonization Pope Francis demonstrates that “the presence of a woman in a society and in the Church can leave its mark for many generations and can do a lot of good, responding generously to the call of the Lord.”

“We all have a mission in life, our personal charism,” he said. “God calls us into life for a mission, we have to discover it and have the courage to follow him and leave a mark, like Mama Antula did.”

Bishop Vicente Bokalic of Santiago del Estero, the city where Mama Antula was born, told ACI Prensa that the upcoming canonization “is a present and gift from God, who found in this woman the collaboration to do a monumental work.”

“It is also an incentive and a challenge to take up again what she did,” he continued. “She traveled like a pilgrim throughout the country, barefoot, walking from town to town, inviting people from all social classes to the Spiritual Exercises that nearly 80,000 people went through.”

The bishop also pointed out that Mama Antula’s life “is a gift of God’s love capable of transforming societies” and noted that “she spent 22 years accompanying the Jesuit fathers” in their work.

Pope Francis: ‘It is never too late to take action’ against human trafficking

Rome Newsroom, Feb 8, 2024 / 12:15 pm (CNA).

On the 10th International Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking, Pope Francis urged people to take concrete actions to “combat this global scourge.”

“Let us help one another to be more responsive, to open our lives and hearts to our sisters and brothers who even now are being bought and sold as slaves. It is never too late to take action,” Pope Francis said in a message published Feb. 8.

“Let us pray fervently and work proactively for this cause, the defense of human dignity, whether by prayer and action as individuals and families, or as parish and religious communities, as ecclesial associations and movements, and also in the various spheres of social and political life.”

The pope’s comments came as Catholics from more than 50 countries across the world rallied together virtually as part of an for the International Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking.

Human trafficking is estimated to be a $150 billion industry that profits off of an estimated 49.6 million victims worldwide, according to the International Labor Organization. The U.N. agency documented a 25% increase in the number of people experiencing modern slavery between 2016 and 2021. 

Pope Francis established the International Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking 10 years ago to coincide with the Feb. 8 feast of St. Josephine Bakhita, the patron saint of human trafficking victims.

“Together let us walk in the footsteps of St. Bakhita, the religious sister from Sudan who as a child was sold into slavery and was a victim of traffickers. Let us remember the wrong she endured, her suffering, but at the same time her strength and her journey of liberation and rebirth to a new life,” Pope Francis said.

“St. Bakhita encourages us to open our eyes and ears to see those who go unseen and to hear those  who have no voice, to acknowledge the dignity of each person and to fight trafficking and all forms of exploitation.”

St. Josephine Bakhita was born in 1869 in Sudan. Around 1877, she was kidnapped and sold into slavery by Arab slave traders. During her time as a slave, she was beaten, tortured, and scarred.

Eventually, in 1883, she was sold to the Italian vice-consul Callisto Legani, who took her with him back to Italy. While in Italy, she was given to a family and became their nanny, and that family eventually left her with the Canossian Sisters in Venice when they traveled to Sudan for business.

Once with the sisters, she learned about Christianity and decided to become Catholic. She refused to go back to the family that enslaved her once they returned to Italy, and an Italian court ruled that since slavery had been outlawed in Sudan before her birth, she was not legally a slave. She was then freed from slavery.

With her newfound freedom, Bakhita remained with the Canossians. She took the names Josephine Margaret and Fortunata, the Latin translation of her Arabic name, Bakhita. Three years later, she became a novice with the Canossian Daughters of Charity and professed her final vows on Dec. 8, 1896.

She then lived out the remainder of her life in a convent in Schio, Vicenza, working as a cook and a doorkeeper. She died on Feb. 8, 1947, and was canonized on Oct. 1, 2000, by Pope John Paul II.

Pope Francis urged people to respond to his appeal to fight human trafficking in honor of St. Josephine Bakhita, who he said “stands for all those men and women who, despite their enslavement, can still attain freedom.”

“It is a call to take action, to mobilize all our resources in combatting trafficking and restoring full dignity to those who have been its victims.”

The online prayer marathon for the world day against human trafficking is being coordinated by , a network of more than 2,000 Catholic religious sisters who, helping survivors find healing and true freedom.

Religious sisters affiliated with Talitha Kum are present in 77 countries. Members of the network have served 10,000 trafficking survivors by accompanying them to shelters and other residential communities, engaging in international collaboration, and helping them to return home.

“From my heart, I express my gratitude to everyone engaged in the celebration of this day, and I bless all those who are committed to combatting trafficking and all forms of exploitation in order to build a world of fraternity and peace,” Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis: ‘Without liturgical reform there is no reform of the Church’ 

Rome Newsroom, Feb 8, 2024 / 11:45 am (CNA).

Pope Francis met with members of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments on Thursday morning to discuss the importance of liturgical reform as a core feature of the broader “renewal of the Church.” 

The address comes as the dicastery is meeting for its , which is addressing the “liturgical formation from to ” for ordained ministers as well as “liturgical training courses for the people of God.”

The meeting will also seek to “provide bishops with practical suggestions for developing pastoral projects in their dioceses with the aim of putting into practice the reflections of the papal document,” a Feb. 5 press release from the dicastery stated. 

Recalling that it has been 60 years since the promulgation of the Second Vatican Council’s seminal document on the liturgy, , the pope stressed in his Feb. 8 address that liturgical reform underscored the council fathers’ objective of renewing the Church’s “fundamental dimensions” such as “spiritual, pastoral, ecumenical, and missionary” work. 

“Without liturgical reform there is no reform of the Church,” the pope said. 

“A church that does not feel the passion for spiritual growth, that does not try to speak in an understandable way to the men and women of his time, that does not feel pain for the division between Christians, who does not tremble with the anxiety of announcing Christ to the people, is a sick Church, and these are the symptoms,” the Holy Father emphasized in his address. 

The pope qualified these remarks by saying “we can only make such a statement by understanding what the liturgy is in its theological sense.” 

Speaking specifically on the theme of the assembly’s 2024 meeting, the pope noted that their work must focus on making formation more accessible so it is not a  “specialization for a few experts, but of an interior disposition of all the people of God.”

“This naturally does not exclude that there is a priority in the training of those who, by virtue of the sacrament of orders, are called to be mystagogues, that is, to take each other by the hand and accompany the faithful in the knowledge of the holy mysteries,” Francis continued. 

The Holy Father also noted that liturgical formation is predicated upon a love for Christ by highlighting the theological representation of the Church as Christ’s bride, saying: “Every instance of reform of the Church is always a question of spousal fidelity.”

“The Church is a woman, the Church is a mother, the Church has its figure in Mary and the Church-woman.” 

The pope added that the Church “is more than Peter … everything cannot be reduced to ministeriality. The woman in herself has a very great symbol in the Church as a woman, without reducing her to ministeriality.” 

“This is why I said that every instance of reform of the Church is always a question of spousal fidelity, because she [the Church] is a woman.” 

The pope also reflected on the centrality of the liturgy in our lives, saying that “it is the place for excellence in which to encounter the living Christ,” which “continually animates and renews baptismal life.” 

The pope also said that it is his desire that the dicastery undertakes this work in collaboration with the Dicastery for Culture and Education, the Dicastery for the Clergy, and the Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life to reflect “the spirit of synodal collaboration.” 

Pope Francis to preside at Ash Wednesday Mass and traditional procession in Rome

ACI Prensa Staff, Feb 8, 2024 / 08:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis will preside at the Mass and the traditional Ash Wednesday procession on Feb. 14 on Aventine Hill in Rome.

The Office of Liturgical Celebrations announced Feb. 6 that before the Eucharist, the Holy Father will preside at the first Lenten station at St. Anselm Church, also situated on the Aventine, at 4:30 p.m. local time.

Later, Pope Francis will participate in the penitential procession to St. Sabina Basilica, where he will celebrate Mass at 5 p.m. and bless the ashes that will be distributed to the faithful.

The Lenten stations are one of the most deeply rooted traditions for the beginning of Lent in Rome. It is an ancient custom in which the faithful stopped at different churches to meditate on the Passion of the Lord.

Every day of Lent, the Roman faithful stopped in front of one of the churches in the historic city center erected in memory of the martyrs. Subsequently, the procession took place in which the litanies were usually sung and finally Mass was celebrated.

Pope Francis will be making his personal Lenten spiritual retreat from the afternoon of Sunday, Feb. 18, to Friday, Feb. 23.

Pope Francis: To be ‘scandalized’ by gay couple blessings is ‘hypocrisy’

Rome Newsroom, Feb 7, 2024 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis this week again defended the Vatican’s controversial document authorizing blessings for same-sex couples, with the Holy Father arguing that humans “must all respect each other” and stating that blessings should be extended to “everyone.”

The pope’s comments come from an exclusive Italian-language interview he gave to the Italian weekly print periodical , which will be available in newsstands across Italy on Thursday.

When asked by editor Father Vincenzo Vitale about — the December published by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) that authorized nonliturgical blessings for same-sex couples and others in “irregular situations” — the pope said that “the gravest sins … are those that disguise themselves with a more ‘angelic’ appearance.”

“No one is scandalized if I give a blessing to an entrepreneur who perhaps exploits people: and this is a very serious sin,” the Holy Father said. “Whereas they are scandalized if I give it to a homosexual … This is hypocrisy! We must all respect each other. Everyone.”

“I don’t bless a ‘homosexual marriage,’” the pope said. “I bless two people who love each other and I also ask them to pray for me.”

“Always in confessions, when these situations arrive, homosexual people, remarried people, I always pray and bless,” he continued. “The blessing is not to be denied to anyone. Everyone, everyone. Mind you, I am talking about people: those who are capable of receiving baptism,” Francis continued.

Pope Francis has come to the defense of the document several times since its publication. In a , the pope said that “moral perfection” isn’t a requirement for receiving a blessing. 

The intent of the blessings, the pope said at the time, is “to concretely show the closeness of the Lord and of the Church to all those who, finding themselves in different situations, ask help to carry on — sometimes to begin — a journey of faith.” 

Those comments came after the 87-year-old pontiff , which he joined via livestream from his residence at Casa Santa Marta.

Answering questions regarding , the pope said that “the Lord blesses everyone who is capable of being baptized, that is, every person.”

“But we are to take them by the hand and help them go down that road, not condemn them from the beginning,” he told the network. “And this is the pastoral work of the Church. This is very important work for confessors.”

The pope’s comments at Credere come amid which has been met with widespread criticism and concern centered on how it might be misconstrued. Backlash has come particularly from Church leaders in Africa and Eastern Europe. 

Credere, which is part of the San Paolo Editorial Group and available only in print, was established on the occasion of the election of Pope Francis in 2013.

It is distributed throughout Italy with a weekly circulation of 60,000 copies and 200,000 readers, the Italian daily newspaper La Stampa . 

The remarkable life and papacy of Blessed Pope Pius IX

ACI Prensa Staff, Feb 7, 2024 / 10:30 am (CNA).

On Feb. 7, the Catholic Church remembers Blessed Pius IX, “Pius Nono,” the 255th pope. His pontificate is the second longest in history — a total of 31 years, seven months, and 22 days (June 16, 1846–Feb. 7, 1878). He was beatified together with Pope John XXIII (now canonized) on Sept. 3, 2000, by Pope John Paul II.

The future Pope Pius IX was born Giovanni Maria Battista Pellegrino Isidoro Mastai Ferretti in Senigallia, Italy — then part of the Papal States — on May 13, 1792. His parents were Don Gerolamo Mastai Ferretti, a member of a local noble and prestigious family, and Donna Caterina Solazzi, who had him baptized on the same day of his birth. 

In 1809 he traveled to Rome to continue the studies he had begun in his native city. Even without a clear orientation toward the priesthood, he lived in an exemplary way, evidenced by some resolutions made in 1810 after a spiritual retreat when he spoke of his spiritual commitment “to fight against sin, to avoid any dangerous occasion, to study not for the ambition of knowledge but for the good of others, to abandon himself into the hands of God.” 

The future pope stopped his studies in 1812 because of an illness and was exempted from military service. In 1815 he was accepted into the Pontifical Noble Guard but had to abandon the idea because of health problems. Ferretti suffered from epilepsy from a young age — a condition that eventually subsided and then completely disappeared, according to Ferretti himself, which he credited to the intercession of Our Lady of Loreto.

Ferretti began studies for the priesthood in 1816 and received minor orders in 1817, the subdiaconate in 1818, and the diaconate in 1819. That same year he was ordained a priest. He celebrated his first Mass in the Church of St. Anne of the Carpenters, of the Tata Giovanni Institute, of which he was appointed rector — a position he held until 1823. 

Pius VII, who supported Ferretti’s early career, at first required him to have a concelebrant because of his epilepsy, but the requirement was lifted as his health improved. 

Ferretti had already left clear evidence of his personality: a man of constant prayer, consecrated to the ministry of the Word and the sacrament of reconciliation, always close to the most humble and needy. He knew how to combine admirably both the active and contemplative life. Very dedicated to pastoral and social work, he was also recollected and had an intense devotion to the Eucharist and to the Virgin Mary. 

In 1823 he left the Tata Giovanni Institute and traveled to Chile, accompanying the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Giovanni Muzi. He remained there until 1825.

On his return to Italy that same year, he was appointed director of the St. Michael Home, an important ecclesial work in Rome at the service of the community, which he reformed in an effective manner. At the age of 35 he was appointed archbishop of Spoleto. This was a very hard stage of his life given his youth and inexperience, and the immense responsibility that was placed on his shoulders. During his brief time, he also contended with an abortive political revolution, using his influence to secure a pardon for the misguided revolutionaries.

In 1832, Ferretti was transferred to another diocese — this time to Imola, where he continued to be revered for his preaching, his care of his diocesan priests, clergy, and seminarians, his support of education in the diocese, and his pastoral visits to prisoners. In 1840, at the age of 48, he was named a cardinal.

On the afternoon of June 16, 1846, Cardinal Ferretti was elected pope and took the name Pius IX.

During his pontificate, due to the political circumstances caused by the unification of Italy — the Risorgimento — and the loss of the Papal States, his task became extremely difficult. He is said to have faced the hard times with great wisdom and prudence. For this very reason, Pope Pius IX is recognized as one of the greatest pontiffs, forced to play a political role in times of open anticlericalism encouraged by “modernist” currents. 

Pius IX’s doctrinal work involved a programmatic vision aimed at addressing the main problems and threats to both the Church and Western Christian civilization: He condemned secret societies such as Freemasonry as well as fashionable ideologies like liberalism and socialism, among others. Pius IX published the “Syllabus Errorum” (“Catalogue of Errors”), in which he warned about the errors and dangers of modernism.

This made him the initiator of the development of the social doctrine of the Church. His century was marked by the Industrial Revolution and the struggle of the working class for better conditions — issues the Church would begin to address, most notably under his successor, Pope Leo XIII.

Among the most outstanding pastoral actions or measures of Pius IX’s papacy are the reestablishment of the Catholic hierarchy in England, Holland, and Scotland; the solemn definition, on Dec. 8, 1854, of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception; the sending of missionaries to the Nordic zones of America and Europe as well as to India, Burma, China, and Japan; and the celebration of the 80th centenary of the martyrdom of the apostles Peter and Paul.

Pius IX convened the First Vatican Ecumenical Council, which began in 1869 and was suspended in October 1870 after Rome fell to the forces of Italian unification. During this council, the dogma of papal infallibility was defined. That same year Pope Pius IX declared St. Joseph patron of the Church.

After the fall of Rome and the subsequent end of the “temporal power of the pope,” Pius IX locked himself in the Vatican, declaring himself a “prisoner.” His action became an example of dignity and detachment from the temporal order for his exercise of religious freedom and firmness in the face of secular power.    

Upon his death on Feb. 7, 1878, Pope Pius IX’s impressive pontificate came to an end.

Pope Francis: Sorrow is an ‘ailment of the soul'

Rome Newsroom, Feb 7, 2024 / 09:17 am (CNA).

Pope Francis continued his general audience catechetical series on vice and virtues on Wednesday by focusing on sorrow, observing that it can be “understood as a despondency of the soul, a constant affliction that prevents man from feeling joy at his own existence.” 

During the Feb. 7 audience the pope observed that sorrow can assume a sinister and destructive form and could be understood as an “ailment of the soul” that “creeps into the soul and prostrates it in a state of despondency” and “must be fought resolutely.” 

Sorrow can be particularly difficult for man to deal with as it “is linked to the experience of loss” and consequently “arises in the human heart when a desire or hope vanishes,” the Holy Father said to the faithful gathered in the Paul VI Audience Hall. 

“In the heart of man, hopes arise that are sometimes dashed. It can be the desire to possess something that instead we are unable to obtain, but it can also be something important, such as an emotional loss,” the pope said. “When this happens, it is as if man’s heart falls from a precipice, and the sentiments he feels are discouragement, weakness of the spirit, depression, and anguish.”

Reflecting on the universality of this second type of sorrow as an experience that is inherent to the human condition, the pope observed that “we all go through ordeals that generate sorrow in us, because life makes us conceive dreams that are then shattered.” 

The pope contrasted the different ways we can react to these tumultuous and jarring situations by saying that some people “rely on hope” while “others wallow in melancholy, allowing it to fester in their hearts.” 

“Sadness is the pleasure of non-pleasure,” the pontiff emphasized. 

The pope cautioned the faithful to be vigilant, highlighting the destructive and isolating conditions that often come about by being caught in “certain protracted griefs,” as it is in this state that “a person continues to expand the void of one who is no longer there.” 

“Certain resentful bitterness, where a person always has a claim in mind that makes them take on the guise of the victim, does not produce a healthy life in us, let alone a Christian one,” the pope said. “There is something in everyone’s past that needs to be healed. Sorrow, from being a natural emotion, can turn into an evil state of mind. It is a devious demon, that of sorrow.”

However, the pope juxtaposed this form of sorrow — which lends itself to self-destructive habits and an estrangement from God — with an “appropriate” form of sorrow or, as the pontiff called it, “friendly sorrow” that can aid Christians in their spiritual life and development.

Recalling that this distinction was drawn by the Church fathers, Pope Francis noted that this latter form of sorrow can “with God’s grace can be changed into joy” and implored the faithful to remember that it “must not be rejected” as it is an essential “part of the path of conversion.”

To provide an example of this transformative “friendly” sorrow, the pope referenced the parable of the prodigal son from the Gospel of Luke. In this biblical story, a son asks his father for his inheritance but shortly thereafter squanders all of his money and finds himself in a state of destitution and despondency. Finding himself isolated and after working in horrid conditions, the younger son comes back to his father, with a contrite heart, to seek forgiveness — and he is joyfully welcomed back. 

Against the backdrop of this story, the pope said: “It is a grace to lament over one’s own sins, to remember the state of grace from which we have fallen, to weep because we have lost the purity in which God dreamed of us.” 

At the end of the general audience the Holy Father expressed his closeness to “the young people, the sick, the elderly, and the newlyweds” and called upon the “maternal tenderness” of Our Lady of Lourdes, whom the Catholic Church celebrates on Sunday, Feb. 11.

Female Anglican bishop participates in meeting with pope’s Council of Cardinals

ACI Prensa Staff, Feb 6, 2024 / 15:55 pm (CNA).

The pope’s Council of Cardinals concluded a meeting at the Vatican this morning with Pope Francis to reflect on “the role of women in the Church.”

Three women also participated in the Feb. 5-6 meeting, notably including a female Anglican bishop, Jo Bailey Wells.

Wells is deputy general secretary of the Anglican Communion and was part of the first generation of women ordained vicars in the Church of England in 1995. She is currently married to an Anglican clergyman and is the mother of two children.

Wells is also known for her advocacy of “gender equality” and for having led attended by Pope Francis in Kazakhstan in October 2022. She has also been chaplain to the archbishop of Canterbury.

Also present at the meeting with the cardinal advisers of the Holy Father were Giuliva di Berardino, a consecrated woman of the Ordo Virginum (“Order of Virgins”) of the Diocese of Verona, Italy, and Linda Pocher, a teacher at the Pontifical Faculty of Educational Sciences “Auxilium” who previously participated in the last meeting in 2023.

In this most recent session, like the one held in December 2023, the members of the council delved deeper into the topic of the presence of women in the Church.

During , the pontiff invited theologians to reflect on the Church as “woman and spouse” and said that “one of the sins committed” has been the tendency to “masculinize the Church.”

The Council of Cardinals, also known as “C9” for its nine members, is the group of cardinals that collaborates directly with Pope Francis in the government of the Church. It has its origin in the general congregations that preceded the conclave in which Pope Francis was elected.

The C9 group has been functioning since September 2013, just six months after Pope Francis assumed the Petrine ministry.

Its objective is to help the pontiff “in the government of the universal Church” as well as to work on a revision of the apostolic constitution , which governs the Roman Curia, as Pope Francis has stated.

The members of C9 are Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state; Cardinal Fernando Vérgez Alzaga, president of the Governorate of Vatican City State; Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, archbishop of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo; Cardinal Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Bombay, India; Cardinal Seán Patrick O’Malley, archbishop of Boston; Cardinal Juan José Omella, archbishop of Barcelona, Spain; Cardinal Gérald Lacroix, archbishop of Quebec, Canada; Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, archbishop of Luxembourg; and Cardinal Sérgio da Rocha, archbishop of San Salvador de Bahía, Brazil. The secretary of the council is Marco Mellino, titular bishop of Cresima, Tunisia.

Ambongo, president of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), has become raised against , the Dec. 18, 2023, document of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith that allows the blessing of homosexual couples.

Lacroix of abusing a 17-year-old girl almost four decades ago as part of a lawsuit against his archdiocese. The cardinal “categorically” denies the allegation.

Vatican worship dicastery’s meeting to focus on proper liturgical formation, implementation

Rome Newsroom, Feb 5, 2024 / 15:10 pm (CNA).

The Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments will hold its annual plenary assembly this week from Feb. 6–9 at the Jesuit Curia in Rome. 

“The intent is to delve into the theme of liturgical formation 60 years after the promulgation of the Apostolic Constitution , tracing the practical paths on the indications contained in [Pope Francis’] apostolic letter , published in June 2022,” a press release from the dicastery stated. 

The 2022 letter addressed what the Holy Father called “the liturgical formation of the people of God.” Quoting from , the dicastery’s statement this week said that the “non-acceptance of the liturgical reform … distracts us from the obligation of finding responses” to questions regarding reform of liturgy.

“How do we continue to let ourselves be amazed at what happens in the celebration under our very eyes?” the statement said, quoting the Holy Father. “We are in need of a serious and dynamic liturgical formation.” 

The assembly will be composed of various working groups in order to address the “liturgical formation from to ” for ordained ministers as well as “liturgical training courses for the people of God.” It will also “provide bishops with practical suggestions for developing pastoral projects in their dioceses with the aim of putting into practice the reflections of the papal document.” 

The members of the plenary assembly will also be received by the Holy Father in an audience.

, or the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, promulgated by St. Paul VI on Dec. 4, 1963, focused on laying the groundwork for Paul VI’s 1969 apostolic constitution , which introduced the ordinary form of the Mass, also known as the novus ordo. 

The dicastery’s meeting will seek to bring a synthesis between the seminal conciliar document and , the latter of which highlighted the centrality of the liturgy in the life of Catholics while also underscoring the need to be faithful to the liturgical forms of the Second Vatican Council. 

Emphasizing the importance of “a serious and dynamic liturgical formation,” Pope Francis that “it would be trivial to read the tensions, unfortunately present around the celebration, as a simple divergence between different tastes concerning a particular ritual form.” 

The pope also stressed that the principles stated in have been fundamental for the reform of the liturgy and continue to be fundamental for the promotion of its “full, conscious, active, and fruitful celebration.”

A June 2022 from the dicastery noted that the pontiff’s letter emerged from “the propositions that resulted from the plenary session of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments” in February 2019.

Pope Francis: ‘God is always close to us’ 

Vatican City, Feb 4, 2024 / 09:22 am (CNA).

Pope Francis reminded the faithful during his Sunday Angelus that Jesus’ example of being “on the move,” in his preaching and in performing miracles, is a reminder that God is never distant but “always close to us.”

Reflecting on today’s Gospel reading from Mark 1:29-39, the pope observed in his exegesis that Jesus, “after teaching in the synagogue, comes out so that the word he preached can reach, touch, and heal people.” 

While acknowledging that the idea of a God that “is distant, cold, indifferent to our fate” is prevalent, the pope underscored that today’s reading dispels this notion, revealing to us instead that Jesus shows “to us that God is not a detached master who speaks to us from on high.” 

“On the contrary, he is a Father filled with love who makes himself close to us, who visits our homes, who wants to save and liberate, heal from every ill of the body and spirit,” the pope said to the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square on Feb. 4. 

Summarizing God’s attitude in three key words — “closeness, compassion, and tenderness” — the Holy Father reiterated that God is made known to us and comes “close to accompany us, tenderly, and to forgive us.”

The pope then called upon the faithful to undertake an interior reflection by asking the following questions: “Does faith instill in us the restlessness of journeying or is it an intimist consolation that calms us? Do we pray just to feel at peace, or does the word we listen to and preach make us go out, like Jesus, toward others, to spread God’s consolation?”

Though acknowledging that this literal and metaphorical walking of Jesus “challenges us,” it is our “spiritual task” to answer these questions, which, in turn, will lead us to “convert every day to the God Jesus presents to us in the Gospel, the Father of love and compassion.”

“When we discover the true face of the Father, our faith matures, we no longer remain ‘sacristy Christians’ or ‘parlor Christians,’ but rather we feel called to become bearers of God’s hope and healing,” the pope added. 

Following the recitation of the papal blessing, Pope Francis expressed his closeness to all those in China, Southeast Asia, and around the world who are celebrating the Lunar New Year, observing that “this celebration be an opportunity to experience relationships of affection and gestures of attention, which contribute to creating a supportive and fraternal society, where every person is recognized and welcomed in their inalienable dignity.”

The Lunar New Year, also known as the Chinese New Year or the Spring Festival, is a celebration of the new year according to the lunisolar Chinese calendar. The holiday commences on the new moon that falls between the end of January and early February and concludes on the subsequent full moon. This year the celebration runs from Feb. 10–15 and ushers in the year of the dragon. 

On Friday, Feb. 2, Pope Francis received a delegation of the Italy-China National Federation in the Apostolic Palace, where the pontiff was greeted by a folkloric dance by the Chinese Martial Arts Academy of Vercelli. 

The pope congratulated the group for its work in spearheading “a number of initiatives aimed at fostering dialogue between Italy and China, and seeking to respond to the challenges posed by cultural integration, education, and the promotion of shared social values.”

Vatican doctrine office releases note on discerning the validity of the sacraments

Rome Newsroom, Feb 3, 2024 / 09:21 am (CNA).

The Vatican Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) released a note on Saturday on discerning the validity of the sacraments.

The  signed by Pope Francis and DDF Prefect Cardinal Victor Fernández is titled “Gestis Verbisque,” or “Deeds and Words.” 

Fernández wrote in his introduction to the text that the note on the sacraments was written “to help bishops in their task as promoters and custodians of the liturgical life of the particular Churches entrusted to them.”

“The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith intends to offer in this note some elements of a doctrinal nature with regard to discernment on the validity of the celebration of the sacraments, paying attention also to some disciplinary and pastoral implications,” he wrote.

The 11-page text published only in Italian on Feb. 3 reiterates that for all sacraments in the Catholic Church, the “observance of both matter and form has always been required for the validity of the celebration.”

“Both matter and form, summarized in the Code of Canon Law, are established in the liturgical books promulgated by the competent authority, which must therefore be faithfully observed, without ‘adding, removing, or changing anything,’” it says.

The document adds that arbitrary changes to either matter or form “jeopardize the effective bestowal of sacramental grace, to the obvious detriment of the faithful” and that the “severity and invalidating force” of such changes “must be ascertained on a case-by-case basis.”

“Gestis Verbisque” frequently refers to the dicastery’s 2020 doctrinal note on the modification of the sacramental formula of baptism, which, requiring anyone who had been baptized with this formula to be considered as not yet having received the sacrament.

Fernández writes that in 2022 cardinals and bishops taking part in the DDF’s January plenary assembly had already expressed concern about “the multiplication of situations in which they were forced to note the invalidity of the sacraments celebrated.”

Specific examples, listed by the cardinal, include using “I baptize you in the name of the Creator …” or “In the name of your father and mother … we baptize you,” instead of the established baptismal formula.

“While in other areas of the Church’s pastoral action there is ample room for creativity, such inventiveness in the context of the celebration of the sacraments turns rather into a ‘manipulative will’ and therefore cannot be invoked,” the cardinal prefect said.

“We ministers are therefore required to have the strength to overcome the temptation to feel like owners of the Church,” Fernández added.

The cardinal later commented that when the priest acts “in persona Christi capitis,” it does not mean that the priest is “the boss” with the ability to exercise arbitrary power, but that Christ alone is “‘the head of the body, the Church,’” citing Colossians 1:18.

“It seems increasingly urgent to mature an art of celebrating that, keeping at a distance as much from rigid rubricism as from unbridled imagination, leads to a discipline to be respected, precisely in order to be authentic disciples,” Fernández said.

Pope Francis approved the text of the DDF note during a private audience with Fernández on Jan. 31 after the note was discussed and unanimously approved by the cardinals and bishops who attended the dicastery’s recent January plenary assembly.

Fernández and Monsignor Armando Matteo, the secretary for the dicastery’s doctrinal section, signed the note on Feb. 2, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord.

“Precisely by constituting the Church as his mystical body, Christ makes believers partakers of his own life, uniting them to his death and resurrection in a real and mysterious way through the sacraments,” the note says.

“Indeed, the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit acts in the faithful through sacramental signs, making them living stones of a spiritual edifice, founded on the cornerstone that is Christ the Lord, and constituting them as a priestly people, partakers of the one priesthood of Christ.”

Today begins week of reflection prior to the International Day of Prayer against Trafficking

ACI Prensa Staff, Feb 2, 2024 / 17:15 pm (CNA).

“Journeying in Dignity: Listen, Dream, Act” is the theme of the International Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking to be held on Feb. 8, a date established by Pope Francis on the feast of St. Bakhita, an African woman who before becoming a nun was enslaved and who is a symbol in the Church of the fight against this scourge, which affects millions of people.

, Sudanese by birth and naturalized Italian citizen, experienced firsthand the horrors of slavery for much of her life. The name “Bakhita” means “fortunate” and was given to her when she was 9 years old by slave traders, while the name “Josephine” was given to her 12 years later when she was baptized.

A press release from the organizers explained that “human trafficking is the process by which people are coerced or lured by false prospects, recruited, relocated, and forced to work and live in exploitative or abusive conditions. It is a phenomenon, as recent United Nations reports warn, in continuous and dramatic evolution.”

A week of activities has been planned in Rome Feb. 2–8 to raise awareness of this evil.

Fifty young representatives from partner organizations are expected in Rome including students, volunteers, researchers, artists, communicators, and activists.

The young people arrive today in Rome, and there are several training activities scheduled for Saturday, Feb 3. On Sunday, Feb. 4, they will attend the Holy Father’s Angelus in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican.

On Feb. 6 at 4:15 p.m. local time there will be an anti-trafficking flashmob in Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere in Rome. Then at 5:30 p.m. in Santa Maria in Trastevere Basilica there will be an ecumenical prayer vigil in five languages — Italian, English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese — highlighting the five natural elements of water, fire, air, metal, and earth. 

On Feb. 7, the youth delegates will attend Pope Francis’ general audience in Paul VI Hall.

On Feb. 8, an online pilgrimage of prayer and reflection against human trafficking will be held around the world. It will start at 9:30 a.m. in Oceania, followed by Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe, South America, and will finally conclude at 4:30 p.m. in North America.

The participation of more than 50 countries and a special message from the Holy Father are expected.

The event will be broadcast in five languages and can be found .

“Trafficking is around us, in our cities, but is often invisible to our eyes. With this day, we want to increase awareness of trafficking, reflect on the situation of violence and injustice suffered by the victims of this global phenomenon, and propose concrete solutions,” said Maryknoll Sister Abby Avelino, coordinator of the event.

Avelino invited “everyone to listen and observe attentively, to dream together with the young people of a better world and to act for change, starting from personal, community, and institutional commitment to effectively counter the causes of trafficking and exploitation.”

All these initiatives are coordinated by , the international network against human trafficking, with more than 6,000 women religious members, friends, and collaborators.

The event is also promoted by the International Union of Superiors General and the Union of Superiors General in collaboration with the Dicastery for the Service of Integral Human Development, the Dicastery for Communication, the Pope’s World Prayer Network, and Caritas Internationalis, among others.

The organizers ask people to send a tweet on Feb. 8 using the official hashtag of the day: #PrayAgainstTrafficking.

For more information, .

Pope Francis urges consecrated men and women to cultivate ‘an intense interior life’

Rome Newsroom, Feb 2, 2024 / 13:55 pm (CNA).

On the 28th World Day of Consecrated Life, Pope Francis spoke about the importance of cultivating “an intense spiritual life” that is nourished by Eucharistic adoration, intercessory prayer, and silence.

Pope Francis presided over Mass on Feb. 2 for the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, a feast that coincides each year with a day of prayer established by John Paul II for men and women with consecrated vocations in the Church.

“Ours is a world that often runs at great speed, that exalts ‘everything and now,’” Francis said.

“In such a context, where silence is banished and lost, waiting is not easy, for it requires … the courage to slow our pace, to not be overwhelmed by activities, to make room within ourselves for God’s action.”

The pope underlined that modern society has “lost the ability to wait,” which he said poses a problem because “waiting for God” is an important part of the journey of faith.

“It is necessary then to recover the lost grace: to return, through an intense interior life, to the spirit of joyful humility, of silent gratitude,” he said.

“This is nourished by adoration, by the work of the knees and the heart, by concrete prayer that struggles and intercedes, capable of reawakening a longing for God, that initial love, that amazement of the first day, that taste of waiting.”

Francis reflected on the importance of cultivating an interior life on the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, which is also called Candlemas. On this day, many Christians bring candles to church to be blessed. They can then light these candles at home during prayer or difficult times as a symbol of Jesus Christ, the Light of the World.

The Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica began in candlelight with priests, bishops, and cardinals carrying lit candles in procession through the darkened church. Men and women present in the congregation also held small candles.

Addressing consecrated men and women, Pope Francis warned against “turning even religious and Christian life into having ‘many things to do’ and neglecting the daily search for the Lord.”

“Let us be careful, then, that the spirit of the world does not enter our religious communities, ecclesial life, and our individual journey, otherwise we will not bear fruit,” Pope Francis said.

Brazilian Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, the prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, was the celebrant of the Mass at the basilica’s main altar.

More than 300 consecrated men and women from over 60 countries met in Rome this week for a conference organized by the dicastery to coordinate their preparations for the Catholic Church’s 2025 Jubilee.

“The Christian life and apostolic mission need the experience of waiting. Matured in prayer and daily fidelity, waiting frees us from the myth of efficiency, from the obsession with performance and, above all, from the pretense of pigeonholing God, because he always comes in unpredictable ways, at times that we do not choose and in ways that we do not expect,” Pope Francis told men and women religious.

“Every day the Lord visits us, speaks to us, reveals himself in unexpected ways and, at the end of life and time, he will come,” he said.

Pope Francis’ 2024 Lenten message: ‘Lent is a season of conversion, a time of freedom’ 

Rome Newsroom, Feb 1, 2024 / 14:30 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis has centered his Lenten message for 2024 on the Book of Exodus, choosing “Through the Desert God Leads Us to Freedom” as its main theme to encourage the faithful that the season is a journey from bondage to spiritual renewal and freedom. 

The pope framed this reflection on the departure of the Israelites from Egypt, a story that not only represents the journey from bondage to emancipation but also of revelation and spiritual freedom. 

“When our God reveals himself, his message is always one of freedom,” the pope said. 

The Holy Father went on to note that this process “is a demanding one” and that “it is not answered straight away. It has to mature as part of a journey.”

“We realize how true this is at those moments when we feel hopeless, wandering through life like a desert and lacking a promised land as our destination. Lent is the season of grace in which the desert can become once more — in the words of the prophet Hosea — the place of our first love,” the pope observed. 

Pope Francis also underscored the centrality of the desert in the New Testament, observing that on the first Sunday of Lent, we are reminded that Jesus “was driven into the desert by the Spirit in order to be tempted in freedom.”

“The desert is the place where our freedom can mature in a personal decision not to fall back into slavery. In Lent, we find new criteria of justice and a community with which we can press forward on a road not yet taken,” the pope added. 

Tying the season of Lent to the setting of the desert, the pope noted that the penitential season cannot be looked at just as an “abstract journey” but must, instead, be “concrete,” and this shift is predicated upon our capacity to “open our eyes to reality.” 

For the pope, this reality is centered on the quest to mitigate the suffering and various forms of social and economic oppression that are ubiquitous today, much of which, he said, is caused by “a deficit of hope.” 

“This ‘deficit of hope’ is not unlike the nostalgia for slavery that paralyzed Israel in the desert and prevented it from moving forward. An exodus can be interrupted: How else can we explain the fact that humanity has arrived at the threshold of universal fraternity and at levels of scientific, technical, cultural, and juridical development capable of guaranteeing dignity to all, yet gropes about in the darkness of inequality and conflict?” 

During Lent 2024, the pope has encouraged the faithful to undertake an interior examination by asking: “Do we hear that cry? Does it trouble us? Does it move us?”  

“Our Lenten journey will be concrete if, by listening once more to those two questions, we realize that even today we remain under the rule of Pharaoh. A rule that makes us weary and indifferent. A model of growth that divides and robs us of a future.”

“All too many things keep us apart from each other, denying the fraternity that, from the beginning, binds us to one another,” the pope continued.

The Lenten season, according to the pope, is a time that is characterized by personal struggle as we suffer from myriad temptations, but it is the recognition of this that calls us to “pause in prayer, in order to receive the word of God, to pause like the Samaritan in the presence of a wounded brother or sister.” 

Highlighting the three pillars of Lent — prayer, almsgiving, and fasting — the pope noted that they are not disparate acts but form a symbiotic “movement of openness and self-emptying in which we cast out the idols that weigh us down, the attachments that imprison us.” 

The pope closed his Lenten message by highlighting the communal aspect of the season, noting “the contemplative dimension of life that Lent helps us to rediscover will release new energies.” 

“In the presence of God, we become brothers and sisters, more sensitive to one another: in place of threats and enemies, we discover companions and fellow travelers,” he added. 

In line with this communal aspect, the pontiff related it to the Church’s “synodal form,” which the Church is “rediscovering and cultivating.”

“I invite every Christian community to do just this: to offer its members moments set aside to rethink their lifestyles, times to examine their presence in society, and the contribution they make to its betterment.” 

Pope Francis: Small ideological groups oppose same-sex blessings; Africa a ‘special case’

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 29, 2024 / 14:40 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis suggested that the opposition to the Vatican’s approval of nonliturgical blessings for same-sex couples mostly comes from “small ideological groups” with the exception of Africa, which he said is “a special case.”

“Those who vehemently protest belong to small ideological groups,” Francis said in an interview on Monday with , according to an English translation . 

Regarding the bishops in Africa, who have of such blessings, the pontiff said they are “a special case” because “for them, homosexuality is something ‘ugly’ from a cultural point of view; they do not tolerate it.”

The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF), led by , on Dec. 18, 2023, titled , which prompted the backlash. The declaration permits “spontaneous” pastoral blessings for “same-sex couples” and other couples in “irregular situations” but does not allow liturgical blessings, recognition of civil unions, or any actions that would make the blessings appear like a marriage.

Bishops around the world on how to implement the document or whether to implement it at all.

The Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar, which represents all of the African bishops’ conferences, to bless same-sex couples. In a statement, it said such blessings could not be carried out on the continent “without exposing themselves to scandals.” 

The bishops’ conferences in Hungary and Poland similarly rejected any blessings for same-sex couples, as have various other bishops around the world.

Alternatively, the heads of the bishops’ conferences in other countries, such as Austria, Germany, and Argentina, have embraced the declaration and the opportunity to bless same-sex couples. Some other bishops’ conferences, , have accepted the declaration but put a strong emphasis on ensuring that such blessings are not confused as a change in Church teaching.

Francis, in his interview, dismissed the idea that this division could spark a schism in the Catholic Church. 

“In the Church, there have always been small groups that manifest reflections of a schismatic nature,” the pope said. “One must let them carry on and pass away... and look ahead.”

Francis said that he trusts that “gradually, everyone will be reassured about the spirit of the declaration,” which he said “aims to include; not divide.” He added that the declaration “invites us to welcome and then entrust people, and to trust in God.”

“The Gospel is to sanctify everyone,” the pontiff said. “Of course, there must be goodwill. And it is necessary to give precise instructions on the Christian life (I emphasize that it is not the union that is blessed, but the persons). But we are all sinners: Why should we make a list of sinners who can enter the Church and a list of sinners who cannot be in the Church? This is not the Gospel.”

Earlier this month, the DDF in response to the backlash from some bishops. The news release, written by Fernández, said that the opposition “cannot be interpreted as doctrinal opposition because the document is clear and definitive about marriage and sexuality.”

“There is no room to distance ourselves doctrinally from this declaration or to consider it heretical, contrary to the tradition of the Church, or blasphemous,” the cardinal said.

Pope Francis creates ‘new’ diocese in China, accepting borders drawn by Beijing

Rome Newsroom, Jan 29, 2024 / 13:40 pm (CNA).

The Vatican announced Monday that Pope Francis has created a “new” diocese in mainland China — a decision that tacitly recognizes diocesan borders drawn by Beijing, according to Asia News.

The pope has suppressed the former Apostolic Prefecture of Yiduxian, which had been a vacant see since 2008, and replaced it with the Diocese of Weifang, which takes its name from the prefecture-level city of more than 9 million people in China’s central Shandong province.

The Vatican announced the erection of the Weifang Diocese on Jan. 29, the day of the consecration of the diocese’s first bishop, Bishop Anthony Sun Venjun. 

The Holy See Press Office said that Pope Francis established the diocese on April 20, 2023, “in the desire to promote the pastoral care of the Lord’s flock and to attend more effectively to its spiritual good.”

Diocesan borders have been an area of dispute between the Vatican and China in the decades since the Chinese Communist Party came to power and started to redraw diocesan lines.

According to Asia News, the pope’s elevation of the Diocese of Weifang accepts the diocesan borders redrawn by Beijing.

The Catholic Church has 147 ecclesiastical jurisdictions in China with 20 archdioceses, 97 dioceses, 28 apostolic prefectures, and two ecclesiastical administrations. 

However, the Chinese Communist Party government has claimed that only 104 dioceses exist in mainland China and has redrawn borders in a way that combines dioceses. 

Chinese diocesan borders have been a key issue in the ongoing negotiations between the Holy See and Beijing, according to Agenzia Fides, the information service of the Pontifical Mission Societies.

The Diocese of Weifang covers an area of about 6,240 square miles stretching from Qingzhou to Gaomi encompassing the metro area of the prefecture-level city of Weifang. Its cathedral is the Cathedral Church of Christ the King located in Qingzhou to the west of Weifang city.

According to the Vatican, about 6,000 Catholics live in the new diocese, which has a total population of 9.39 million people and is served by 10 priests and six nuns. Weifang is a suffragan diocese of the Archdiocese of Jinan.

The diocese replaces the former Apostolic Prefecture of Yiduxian, which was created on June 16, 1931, by Pope Pius XI, who entrusted its administration to Franciscan missionaries from France. 

Bishop Sun was consecrated in Qingzhou on Jan. 29 by Bishop John Fang Xingyao of Linyi, the former president of the Chinese Patriotic Association, who presided over the ordination along with four other bishops from Shandong Province. 

More than 300 people attended the consecration Mass, including 44 priests, according to the government-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

Sun, 53, is originally from Weifang. He studied at the Sheshan Seminary from 1989 to 1994. He was ordained a priest at the age of 25 in December 1995 in the Beijing Cathedral. He spent a year in Ireland for formation between 2007 and 2008 before returning to his ministry in Weifang.

Sun is the second Chinese bishop consecrated in the mainland in the past five days. The Vatican announced on Jan. 25 that , an announcement that also came on the day of his episcopal consecration.

The Vatican signed a provisional agreement with Beijing in 2018 on the appointment of bishops, which is up for renewal in October. 

According to the Vatican, both appointments announced in the past week took place within the framework of the provisional agreement — a noteworthy step after bishops were installed in violation of the Vatican-China deal in  and , a diocese that is not recognized by the Vatican. 

The creation of the Weifang Diocese and appointment of the bishop took place about two weeks after a bishop was unilaterally installed by the Chinese government in Shanghai in April and three months before  in July.

Pope Francis: ‘The devil always takes away your freedom’

Vatican City, Jan 28, 2024 / 12:18 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis warned on Sunday that the devil wants to “chain our souls” and enslave us with many temptations, while “Jesus came to free us from all of these chains.”

In his Angelus address on Jan. 28, the pope said that “the devil always takes away your freedom” and named some of the temptations that the evil one uses to ensnare us.

Pope Francis encouraged people to learn how to “say ‘no’ to the temptations of evil before they creep into the soul” by invoking the name of Jesus.

When facing a temptation, do not attempt to “negotiate with the devil,” Pope Francis said.

“We must call on Jesus,” he underlined. “Call on him where we feel the chains of evil and fear tighten most strongly.”

“There are many chains in our life,” the pope explained.

“I am thinking of addictions, which enslave [so we are] always dissatisfied, and devour energy, goods, and affections; I am thinking of dominant fashions, which push us toward impossible perfectionism, consumerism, and hedonism, which commodify people and spoil their relationships.”

“And other chains: There are the temptations and conditioning that undermine self-esteem, serenity, and the ability to choose and love life,” he said.

Pope Francis added that another chain is “fear, which makes one look at the future with pessimism and impatience, which always casts blame on others.”

He said that “the idolatry of power” is a “very ugly chain” that creates conflicts and can lead to weapons that kill, the manipulation of thought, or economic injustices.

“And Jesus came to free us from all these chains,” Pope Francis said.

“Jesus has the power to cast out the devil. Jesus frees us from the power of evil.”

In his reflection on Sunday’s Gospel, Pope Francis described how Jesus freed a person possessed by an “evil spirit” in Mark’s Gospel, noting that the possession tormented her and caused her to scream.

“This is what the devil does: He wants to possess us in order to ‘chain our souls,’” he said.

Pope Francis noted that in the Gospel, Jesus casts out the devil, “but does not dialogue with him,” noting that during the temptation in the desert, Jesus only answered with words from Scripture.

“The Lord, with the strength of his Spirit, wishes to repeat to the evil one today too: ‘Go away! Leave that heart alone. Do not divide the world, families, communities; let them live peacefully, so that the fruits of my Spirit may flourish, not yours,’ so says Jesus, ‘so that love, joy, meekness may reign among them, and instead of violence and cries of hatred there may be freedom and peace.’”

“So let’s ask ourselves: Do I really want freedom from those chains that tighten my heart? … Do I invoke Jesus, do I allow him to act in me, to heal me inside? May the Holy Virgin protect us from evil,” he said.

Speaking from a window in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace to the crowd gathered below in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis prayed for peace in Ukraine, Palestine, and Israel.

Pope Francis made an impassioned plea for reconciliation in Myanmar, marking three years since the country’s military coup.

“For three years now, the crying of pain and the noise of weapons have taken the place of the smile that characterizes the population of Myanmar. I therefore join the voice of some Burmese bishops, ‘so that the weapons of destruction are transformed into tools for growth in humanity and justice,’” he said.

“Peace is a path and I invite all parties involved to take steps of dialogue and to clothe themselves with understanding, so that the land of Myanmar reaches the goal of fraternal reconciliation. The transit of humanitarian aid is allowed to guarantee the necessities of every person.”

Pope Francis also expressed his closeness to the Catholic community in Istanbul, where

The pope added that he was relieved to hear of the release of six religious sisters who were kidnapped in Haiti last week and called for an end to all acts of violence in the country, urging the international community to support Haiti’s peaceful development.

Learning from St. Thomas Aquinas, 750 years after his death

Rome Newsroom, Jan 28, 2024 / 08:00 am (CNA).

Hundreds of students travel annually to Rome to study the prodigious philosophical and theological works of St. Thomas Aquinas, the “Angelic Doctor,” whose feast the Catholic Church celebrates on Jan. 28.

“I knew that I wanted to study something that had to do with my faith,” Robin Franssen, 18, a first-year philosophy student at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, told the Register, CNA’s sister news outlet, “for God is really the center of my life. And I wanted not only to deepen my faith, but deepen my understanding of it.”

Originally from Belgium, Franssen was still in high school when he first heard of Thomism, the school of thought that arose as a legacy of the work of Aquinas — arguably the most illustrious saint in the Order of Preachers after its founder, St. Dominic — whose philosophy and theology was recommended by Pope Leo XIII in his 1879 encyclical on the restoration of Christian philosophy, , to be taught by the magisterium of the Church.

Similarly to the students walking in his footsteps several centuries after him, St. Thomas is also renowned for his great search for truth.

“St. Thomas is, first and foremost, a man in search of God,” Dominican Father Serge-Thomas Bonino, president of the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas, colloquially known as the Angelicum, told the Register. “We know that when he was a child, his first words were ‘Quid est Deus?’ meaning, ‘What is God?’”

Not only did St. Thomas search for God’s ultimate truth, Bonino added, but “he sought God intellectually,” to be able to share his knowledge with others.

Born in 1225 in the family-owned castle of Roccasecca in the Italian region of Aquino, Thomas spent his youth in the nearby Benedictine Monastery of Monte Cassino, established by St. Benedict, where his parents hoped that he would become the next abbot.

When Thomas was 14, a military conflict between the Italian Emperor Frederick II and Pope Gregory IX spilled into the abbey, prompting Thomas’ parents to enroll him at the studium generale (university) recently established by the emperor in Naples. There, not only did he discover the works of Aristotle, but he also discovered the Dominican order, which he asked to join in 1244 at age 19.

Thomas finished his studies in Paris, where he also began to teach at the University of Paris. He then followed his mentor, St. Albert the Great, to Cologne to teach as an apprentice professor before returning to Paris, where he was appointed regent master in theology.

“He returned to Italy twice,” Bonino said. “The first time, he went to Orvieto, where he, among other things, composed the proper for a Mass and an office for the feast of Corpus Christi at the request of the pope, and then to Rome, where he started to write his main work, the .”

After teaching in Paris for a second time, Thomas returned to Italy once again, this time to Naples, where he was called to participate in the Council of Lyon in 1274. However, the theologian never made it to France: Exhausted, he died in the Cistercian Abbey of Fossanova.

Although 750 years have gone by since the great saint died (March 7), the thought of St. Thomas did not die with him but continued to develop over time and is today known as “living Thomism.”

Today, both religious and laymen and laywomen from the world over travel to Rome to study the thought of the great saint at the Angelicum, built on the legacy of the Dominican order’s first Roman university at the priory of Santa Sabina in Rome, founded in 1222.

“The students, wherever they come from, are faced with incredible cultural and intellectual challenges,” Bonino said, “and so they are looking for a tradition that is well rooted in the history of the Church, in order to be able to face these issues.”

“And Thomism, which has been and is still very much recommended by the magisterium of the Church, gives these students the keys and tools they need” to do so and to “promote a Christian vision of man, culture, and society,” he said.

“St. Thomas offers us an image of the human being that’s being forgotten today,” Gina Pribaz, 54, a student of spiritual theology at the Angelicum from the United States, told the Register. “It’s such a bedrock notion of man created in the image of God, of an embodied soul, and we need to really study what that means and how we can offer an explanation of that to others.”

Drawn to study the theology of St. Thomas in order to enrich her spiritual life, Pribaz added, “St. Thomas gives us such a depth of knowledge and a systematized and integrated way of understanding the faith, and I found that very attractive.”

Similarly, Franssen, the 18-year-old Belgian, commented: “Something really striking to me is the rationality of St. Thomas. We live in a world where it is commonly thought that faith is for the ignorant, that faith is irrational, unreasonable, but it’s not.”

“I believe that learning more about St. Thomas’ rationality that suffuses not only in his philosophy but in his whole work, really helps us not only to understand but also deepen and promote our faith.”

“Many think that because medieval theologians or philosophers are dead, so are their thoughts,” Zhihua Duan, 28, a doctoral student in philosophy at the Angelicum from China, told the Register. “But it’s not true. Looking at some of our contemporary problems, we can easily find the answers already present in the 13th century.”

Currently pursuing her doctorate in philosophy at the Angelicum, Duan is now finishing her doctoral thesis titled, “An Analogical Explanation of Aquinas’ Anthropology in Relation to His Political Beliefs.”

“One of the many things that I found very interesting in St. Thomas’ philosophy is his attempt to introduce natural beings and the natural existence to us,” Duan shared.

“Often, people want to start with the higher disciplines and, for example, immediately study the Trinity. But Aquinas starts with the natural existence to help us better understand what we are so that we can subsequently analogously speak about what God is.”

Reflecting upon the many things St. Thomas can teach us today, Pribaz added, “the idea that faith goes hand in hand with reason,” which remains “a stumbling rock for many people,” as well as the notion of “prayer as the interpreter of desire.”

“I know a lot of people, myself included, who wonder what it is they want in life, what they should be doing, how they should spend their time and use their gifts,” Pribaz said. “Because of that, I find St. Thomas’ notion — that being in dialogue with God in prayer reveals what we want, and that God interprets for us within our hearts what we want — beautiful.”

Pope Francis: Blessings don’t require ‘moral perfection’

Rome Newsroom, Jan 26, 2024 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis on Friday clarified the Vatican’s position on same-sex blessings, affirming the recent declaration  and emphasizing that “moral perfection” isn’t a requirement for receiving a blessing.

The , published by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF), authorizes nonliturgical blessings for same-sex couples and others in “irregular situations,” including those who have divorced and remarried.

The Holy Father made his remarks to members of the Vatican’s doctrinal office, offering them guidance for dealing with matters of faith, human dignity, and sacramental discipline in “the face of the epochal change that characterizes our time.”

“The intent of the ‘pastoral and spontaneous blessings’ is to concretely show the closeness of the Lord and of the Church to all those who, finding themselves in different situations, ask help to carry on — sometimes to begin — a journey of faith,” Pope Francis said in his address in the Apostolic Palace marking the close of the DDF’s annual plenary assembly.

The Holy Father emphasized that these blessings, which come “outside of any context and form of liturgical character, do not require moral perfection to be received.” 

“When a couple spontaneously approaches to ask for it, the union is not blessed, but simply the people who have requested it together. Not the union, but the people, naturally taking into account the context, the sensitivities, the places in which one lives and the most suitable ways to do so,” Pope Francis continued. 

Francis’ remarks come amid , which has been met with widespread criticism and concern centered on how it might be misconstrued.

Most recently,  on Jan. 23 that “creates confusion” and “leaves many questions unanswered.” The 92-year-old cardinal went on to say that if DDF prefect Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernández “is committing a heresy by claiming a serious sin as ‘good,’ then shouldn’t the prefect resign or be dismissed?”

Speaking of the broader mission of the DDF, Pope Francis referenced a  he sent on July 1, 2023, to Fernández upon his appointment as prefect. 

“I underlined the importance of the presence of competent professionals within the disciplinary section, to ensure attention and rigor in the application of the current canonical legislation,” Pope Francis said, “in particular in the management of cases of abuse of minors by clerics, and to promote canonical training initiatives for ordinaries and legal practitioners.”

Francis also spoke about the structural reforms he made to the dicastery in his 2022 motu proprio , which divided the dicastery into two distinct sections, one for doctrine and one for discipline, and placed the responsibilities of the marriage office under the doctrinal section. 

Concerning the sacraments, the pope reminded the DDF that “special attention is required from ministers in the care in administering them and in revealing to the faithful the treasures of grace that they communicate.” 

“Through the sacraments, believers become capable of prophecy and witness. And our time is in particular urgent need of prophets of new life and witnesses of charity: Let us therefore love and make loved the beauty and saving power of the sacraments,” he continued.

The Holy Father turned his attention to the guiding principle of human dignity.                                          

“As Christians, we must not tire of insisting ‘on the primacy of the human person and on the defense of his dignity beyond all circumstances,’” the pope said during the audience, quoting from his 2023 apostolic exhortation . 

Reflecting on the role of faith, the pope noted that a deeper reflection, marked by “greater passion,” is needed for “the announcement and communication of faith in today’s world, especially among the younger generations.” He also emphasized the need for the DDF to focus on the “centrality of the kerygma [the core message of the Gospel]” when approaching “new questions of meaning” that arise in contemporary society.

Pope appoints new bishop in China, bringing a 70-year vacancy to an end

Rome Newsroom, Jan 25, 2024 / 16:40 pm (CNA).

Father Thaddeus Wang Yuesheng was consecrated bishop of Zhengzhou, China, on Thursday, bringing an end to a 70-year-long sede vacante. 

The Holy See Press Office announced on Thursday morning that Wang was appointed by Pope Francis as the bishop of Zhengzhou on Dec. 16, 2023. The report noted that the decision took place “in the framework of the Provisional Agreement between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China.”  

The Vatican Fides News Agency, which is part of the Dicastery for Evangelization,  that his appointment “was also favored by the direct contribution of the various components of the local Church, according to the criterion of synodality.” 

In a  published on the official website of the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China (BCCC), “on March 22, 2022, he [Wang] was elected as the bishop-elect of the Diocese of Zhengzhou.”

Wang was born in the city of Zhumadian in the central Chinese province of Henan on Feb. 27, 1966. He studied at the South Central Seminary between 1987 and 1993 and was ordained a priest on Oct. 17, 1993. 

From December 2011 he was a parish priest in the Huiji District, in Zhengzhou, as well as chairman of the Henan Catholic Patriotic Association and deputy director of the Academic Affairs Committee. In January 2013, he was elected as the rector of the Diocese of Zhengzhou.

The appointment of the 58-year-old Wang marks a change since the Diocese of Zhengzhou has been without a bishop since the 1950s. 

The Diocese of Zhengzhou was erected on April 11, 1946, in accordance with Pope Pius XII’s apostolic constitution , which established an official hierarchy for the Chinese Church.

In the same year, the Italian-born Xaverian missionary, Faustino Tissot, was appointed bishop of Zhengzhou. Following the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in October 1949, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) implemented a  to isolate the local Church from Rome by expelling foreign priests, missionaries, and bishops. 

In 1953, Tissot and 16 other foreign priests were expelled, leaving the diocese functionally vacant. The running of the diocese was continued by six Chinese priests, which continued until Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution when all religious activity and celebration was suspended and churches were forced to close. 

Following the death of Mao in 1976, Deng Xiaoping became the paramount leader and inaugurated a period of “opening up,” which allowed for the nominal restart of religious activity. Several churches were opened and a few more were constructed in Zhengzhou and all across mainland China. 

According to the BCCC , the Jan. 25 episcopal ordination took place in the church of Qinghuayuanlu, dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes. The Mass was concelebrated by the bishop of Shanghai, Joseph Shen Bin, Bishop Yang Yongqiang, Bishop Zhang Yinlin of Anyang, and the bishop of Nanyang, Peter Jin Lugang. 

The statement added that more than 300 priests, nuns, and faithful from all the dioceses in the province had participated in the liturgy.

Shen serves as the vice chairman of the state-controlled Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) and is chairman of the BCCC. 

Shen was at the forefront of a row between the Holy See and the PRC when he was  bishop of Shanghai in April 2023 without the papal mandate, thereby breaking the terms of the 2018 Sino-Vatican Accord. 

In July 2023, the Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, announced the pope’s decision to regularize the episcopal appointment to “remedy the canonical irregularity created in Shanghai, in view of the greater good of the diocese and the fruitful exercise of the bishop’s pastoral ministry.”

Shen has been a  for the sinicization of the Church, a process that entails not only enculturating the faith into the context of Chinese society but also bringing it into line with the official practices of the CCP. 

The Sino-Vatican Accord is a provisional agreement and is subject to modifications when it is up for renewal every two years. It went into effect in 2018 and was renewed for the first time in 2020 and for a second time in 2022. It is up for renewal in October 2024. 

Christian unity must be rooted in prayer, pope says at ecumenical vespers

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 25, 2024 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

Marking the conclusion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Pope Francis hosted an ecumenical solemn vespers at Rome’s Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls on Thursday.

In attendance at the vespers were Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby; Metropolitan Polycarp of Italy, representing the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople; and representatives from several other churches and ecumenical movements, as well as members of the Roman Curia and lay faithful.

About 2,500 faithful filled the Roman basilica for the solemn vespers for the solemnity of the conversion of St. Paul.

The vespers were livestreamed by EWTN; click to watch the full vespers.

During the ceremony, Francis preached on the parable of the good Samaritan and the example of St. Paul in allowing God’s love to transform one’s will and to work toward Christian unity.

“The people who failed to do good, who proved callous, were the priest and the Levite, who were more concerned with respecting their religious traditions than with coming to the aid of a suffering person,” he said. “The one who demonstrates what it means to be a ‘neighbor’ is instead a heretic, a Samaritan. He draws near, he feels compassion, he bends down and gently tends to the wounds of that brother. He is concerned for him, regardless of his past and his failings, and he puts himself wholly at his service.”

“All efforts to attain full unity are called to follow the same route as Paul, decentralizing our own ideas in order to hear the Lord’s voice and give him the space to take the initiative,” the pope continued. “Only a love that becomes gratuitous service, only the love that Jesus taught and embodied, will bring separated Christians closer to one another. Only that love, which does not appeal to the past in order to remain aloof or to point a finger, only that love which in God’s name puts our brothers and sisters before the ironclad defense of our own religious structures, will unite us.”

“Each baptized person is a member of the one body of Christ; what is more, everyone in this world is my brother or my sister, and all together we compose that ‘symphony of humanity’ of which Christ is the firstborn and redeemer,” the pope added.

Francis called to mind the work of Paul Couturier, a priest and 20th-century ecumenical leader who was largely responsible for the establishment of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Following Couturier’s example, the pope said that prayer must hold a preeminent place in efforts to restore unity to the Christian church.

The pope quoted the Second Vatican Council, saying: “The closer their union with the Father, the Word, and the Spirit, the more deeply and easily will they be able to grow in mutual love.”

“As we pray together,” he went on, “may we acknowledge, each of us starting with himself or herself, our need for conversion, for letting the Lord change our hearts. This is the path before us: journeying together and serving together, giving priority of place to prayer. For when Christians grow in the service of God and neighbor, they also grow in reciprocal understanding. Prayer for unity is the primary responsibility in our journey together.”

Welby also gave an address during the ceremony in which he said that “our hatreds, our anger imprisons us. Our rivalry, dislike of our brothers and sisters, cuts us off from the freedom that God offers his church. It is a freedom that can come at any time. All it takes is that we obey the Lord’s command to love one another, to wash each other’s feet.”

“The church of Christ is called to be free because it is in love with God, with each other, and receiving the gift of freedom is able to be a hospital, a hope, a place of healing for those who are suffering the sins of the world today,” he went on. “Let us on this feast of the conversion of St. Paul see that he was moved from chains of hatred to the energy and the love that comes with freedom.”

Vespers, also called evening prayer, is a part of the Liturgy of the Hours and consists of prayers, Scripture readings, and hymns.

Welby and many other leaders in the Church of England as well as ecumenical representatives from various other churches have been in Rome this week for “” a weeklong summit of ecumenical discussions coinciding with the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Jan. 18–25.

Cardinal Zen: Fiducia Supplicans ‘creates confusion’; suggests Fernández should resign

Rome Newsroom, Jan 25, 2024 / 08:30 am (CNA).

Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun said Pope Francis’ recent declaration allowing the blessing of same-sex couples under certain conditions “creates confusion” and suggested that its author, Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, should resign or be dismissed. 

In a published Jan. 23 on his blog, Zen said the declaration contains numerous passages in need of clarification and “leaves many questions unanswered,” according to an unofficial translation.

The 91-year-old Hong Kong cardinal emeritus highlighted in particular how the declaration appeared to him to condone sexual behavior in same-sex relationships by implying such a relationship has an “intrinsic goodness” and can “mature” and “grow.” 

Noting how the declaration appears to be similar to Pope Francis’ that the cardinal and four other cardinals sent last summer in which they sought clarification on same-sex blessings, Zen said (“Supplicating Trust”) makes the claim that “same-sex sexual love is ‘similar’ to marital love!”

“This is an absolute subjective error,” he said. “According to objective truth, that behavior is a grave sin and can never be good.”

The cardinal asked that if Fernández, as prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, “is committing a heresy by claiming a serious sin as ‘good,’ then shouldn’t the prefect resign or be dismissed?”

Zen was referring to , which refers to those in same-sex relationships who, although they “do not claim legitimization of their own status,” nevertheless “beg that all that is true, good, and humanly valid in their lives and their relationships be enriched, healed, and elevated by the presence of the Holy Spirit.” 

“These forms of blessing,” the paragraph continues, “express a supplication that God may grant those aids that come from the impulses of his Spirit — what classical theology calls ‘actual grace’ — so that human relationships may mature and grow in fidelity to the Gospel, that they may be freed from their imperfections and frailties, and that they may express themselves in the ever-increasing dimension of the divine love.”

Zen’s statement adds another prominent voice to the from prelates and episcopal conferences since its surprise release on Dec. 18.

In his statement, Zen acknowledged that the document stresses no blessing should be misunderstood, and the Church does not approve of the “sexual union” of a same-sex couple or of a man and a woman living in an irregular union not in conformity with the Church’s teaching.

But at the same time, he said it “goes on to say that in certain circumstances, out of pastoral love, blessings may be given to same-sex couples and to other men and women living in irregular relationships.”

That “leaves many questions unanswered,” the Hong Kong cardinal said, while at the same time the document explicitly precludes the possibility of further discussion of it. 

Turning to what he saw as another point of confusion, he said that in a subsequent Jan. 4 , Fernández strongly denied that the declaration was “contrary to ecclesiastical reasoning” but “on the other hand, recognizes that bishops and bishops’ conferences have reason to have certain doubts about it” and will need “a longer period of time to study it.” 

Zen said that is “tantamount” to saying that “is not valid for the time being.”

The cardinal then set about discussing what he sees as other serious specific problems with the declaration. 

He noted that the document says couples who ask for a blessing “may” also ask for God’s grace to conform fully to his will, but he also observed that the declaration states the priest is not supposed to examine them to see if they have such an intention. “How can a priest bless him or her if they are not sure they have such an intention, or if there is reason to suspect they do not have such an intention at all?” Zen asked.

On another point, he recalled that Scripture says pastors are to “protect the sheep, heal the wounded, and lead back the lost” but added that the declaration appears to say that individuals could obtain a blessing as a “couple” and leave as a “couple” after the blessing. “Doesn’t that mean that they can, at least for the time being, continue to live in the ‘wrong,’ i.e. sinful way?” he asked.

Zen noted that the declaration frequently stresses the need to avoid confusion, but the blessings encouraged by the declaration “do in fact create confusion.”

He further mentioned how secular media “intentionally” adds to the confusion and wondered why Church figures such as Jesuit Father James Martin, homosexual rights advocate Sister of Loretto Jeannine Gramick, and the German bishops are allowed to “create confusion” or fail to follow “some of the rules” in the declaration. “Is it consistent with pastoral principles to create confusion on this important issue?” he said.

The cardinal closed by saying that the matter of blessing same-sex couples and others in unions that contradict Church teaching should be freely discussed at the upcoming synodal assembly in October in order to reach conclusions on the issue. is a “preemptive” declaration, the cardinal said, which showed “grave contempt for the office of the bishops — the successors of the apostles, the brothers of the pope!”

Vatican appeals court sentences priest to prison for sexual abuse of teen

Rome Newsroom, Jan 24, 2024 / 17:25 pm (CNA).

The Vatican Court of Appeals sentenced an Italian priest to jail on Jan. 23 for “the crime of corruption of minors” relating to the sexual abuse of a fellow student at a school for papal altar boys.

The case is being called historic, as it is the first such ruling that has been handed down for sexual violence perpetuated on Vatican sovereign territory. 

Father Gabriele Martinelli was accused of forcing the former altar server, identified as L.G., to have sexual relations with him between 2007 and 2012 while they were students at the St. Pius X pre-seminary.

Martinelli was sentenced to two and a half years in prison and ordered to pay a fine of 1,000 euros (about $1,089.78) to cover the legal proceedings, Vatican News . 

The 31-year-old Martinelli was ordained to the priesthood in 2017 and is a priest in the Diocese of Como in northern Italy and a member of the “Opera don Folci,” a religious association centered on the formation of priests.

The St. Pius X pre-seminary, where Martinelli was enrolled, offers a formation in the liturgical functions of St. Peter’s Basilica, including papal Masses, for middle and high school boys who are considering a vocation to the priesthood.

The institute was formerly located in Palazzo San Carlo, in Piazza Santa Marta, in the Vatican, just steps away from Pope Francis’ official residence of Casa Santa Marta. However, given the controversy surrounding the cover-up of abuse and Martinelli’s trial, Pope Francis announced the decision to  the pre-seminary to a new location outside Vatican City in 2021. 

The  against the priest were first reported by Italian journalists in 2017 and by the Associated Press in 2018. At the time, the Vatican was unable to proceed with a case against Martinelli given that the charges were brought against him outside of the one-year statute of limitations.

On June 29, 2019, Pope Francis intervened to allow the case to proceed by lifting the cause of inadmissibility. 

On Dec. 8, 2021, the pope in his broader efforts to be more transparent in the handling of sexual abuse cases introduced a sweeping revision to canon law. The revisions introduced new penalties for the cover-up of sexual abuse, mandated that allegations of abuse be immediately reported, and reclassified sexual crimes from under the title of “Crimes Against Special Obligations” to “Offenses Against Human Life, Dignity, and Liberty.” 

Martinelli’s trial began in October 2020; however, on Oct. 6, 2021, the Vatican’s lower court acquitted Martinelli of the charges against the younger peer, citing insufficient evidence. 

Charges of “aiding and abetting” were also dropped against Father Enrico Radice, the former rector of the pre-seminary. 

The Vatican appeals court’s Jan. 23 decision partially reversed the 2021 lower court decision, having found evidence that Martinelli was guilty of “the crime of corruption of minors.” 

The appellate court ruling, the Italian network  reported, noted that Martinelli “is not punishable limited to the facts contested up to Aug. 2, 2008, as he is under 16 years of age” and acquits him “of the crimes accused of him in relation to the period following Aug. 9, 2008, due to insufficient evidence” but confirms “the reclassification of the facts in dispute as supplementary to the crime of corruption of minors foreseen and punished by article 335, criminal code, limited to the period from Aug. 9, 2008, to March 19, 2009.”

The conviction can still be appealed to the Vatican’s highest court, the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura. 

The victim of Martinelli’s abuse  with the Washington Post, on the grounds of anonymity, following the conviction. 

“The first feeling I had was this: For years I was told I was a pervert, a faker, a liar, a madman, who was exploiting this for his own ends,” the victim disclosed to the Washington Post. 

“But all these years of pain and fatigue now have a meaning. There’s some lightness pouring in,” the victim said. 

Pope Francis: Avarice is a ‘sickness of the heart, not of the wallet’

Rome Newsroom, Jan 24, 2024 / 10:55 am (CNA).

During his general audience on Wednesday, Pope Francis focused on the vice of avarice, or greed, noting that the preoccupation with the accumulation of material goods reflects a greater “compulsive hoarding and pathological accumulation.” 

“It is not a sin that regards only people with large assets but rather a transversal vice, which often has nothing to do with the bank balance. It is a sickness of the heart, not of the wallet,” the pope said to the faithful gathered in the Paul VI Audience Hall.

The pope cited the example of the Desert Fathers — some of the earliest Christian hermits — who renounced their “enormous inheritances” yet who still “in the solitude of their cells clung to objects of little value. Those objects became for them a sort of fetish from which they could not detach themselves.” 

The “attachment to small things” assumes a totalizing effect whereby it “takes away freedom,” Francis continued.

While it can give a sense of security, however fragile it may be, the pope noted the accumulation of these goods often becomes an inverted process. He observed that “we may be the masters of the goods we possess, but often the opposite happens: They eventually take possession of us.”  

“Some rich men are no longer free, they no longer even have the time to rest, they have to look over their shoulder because the accumulation of goods also demands their safekeeping. They are always anxious, because a patrimony is built with a great deal of sweat but can disappear in a moment,” Francis added.

Highlighting the “drastic” monastic example of the “meditation on death” as a countermeasure to “heal from this disease,” Francis observed that these meditations highlight the futility of a hyper-fixation on material goods while also revealing its root cause: “It is an attempt to exorcize the fear of death, it seeks securities that in reality crumble the very moment we hold them in our hand.” 

Death, the pope continued, is a stark reminder of the “senselessness of this vice” as it showcases that “we cannot carry the goods with us!”

To further develop this point, the pope turned the Sermon on the Mount to reflect on the importance Jesus placed not on temporal goods and ephemeral pleasures but on the promise of eternal life.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; instead lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal,” the pope said, quoting from the Gospel of Matthew.

At the end of the general audience the Holy Father reminded the faithful that Saturday, Jan. 27, is the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust. 

“The memory and condemnation of that horrible extermination of millions of Jewish people and people of other faiths, which occurred in the first half of the last century, helps everyone to not forget that the logic of hatred and violence can never be justified, because they deny our very humanity,” the pope said. 

Imploring that “war itself is a denial of humanity,” the pope renewed his call to pray for peace amid the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and Ukraine. 

“Let us not get tired of praying for peace, for conflicts to end, for weapons to stop and for exhausted populations to be helped.” 

“I pray for the victims and their loved ones, and I implore everyone, especially those with political responsibility, to protect human life by putting an end to wars. Let’s not forget: War is always a defeat, always. The only ones to win are the arms manufacturers.”

Pope Francis recalls ‘the primary reason’ for the new edition of YouCat

ACI Prensa Staff, Jan 23, 2024 / 16:22 pm (CNA).

“Love is the primary reason for the existence of the Church,” Pope Francis begins the letter accompanying the new edition of YouCat, the Catechism of the Catholic Church written for adolescents and young people.

The full text was published yesterday by the Italian newspaper La Stampa and is titled “The Password for Joy,” which, according to the pope, is found precisely within the catechism.

The pope explains that this “love” of which he speaks is primarily the love that God the Father revealed to the world through Jesus. 

However, he also points out that that comes from each person: the love that believers, in turn, profess for Jesus Christ.

“He is the center of our heart. How, in fact, can we not have feelings of true affection toward him who has made us partakers of a love, that of the Father, a love about which it is impossible to imagine a greater one?” the pope wrote in his letter. “The believer is, therefore, always in love with Jesus.”

The pontiff also noted that it is the duty of “adults in faith” to make Jesus Christ known to those who have not yet had the opportunity. This encounter, the Holy Father said, must be proposed through the catechism, which reveals the love that Catholics feel for the Lord.

“This beautiful book that you now have in your hands has its origin precisely in such a love: the love for Jesus that we believers hold within us,” he said.

Regarding the importance of the catechism for young people, Pope Francis recalled his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who wrote in the preface to the first edition of YouCat: “This book is compelling because it speaks to us of our very destiny and therefore concerns each of us intimately. Because of this I ask you: Study the catechism with passion and perseverance!”

Pope Francis referenced these words and also recommended that young people frequently read the Gospel and pray daily to “transfer” the attitudes of Jesus from the mind to the heart.

“Here is the password for a truly lively and joyful life,” the pope said, “to look at and judge what happens to us and the decisions we are called to make with the same eyes, with the same feelings, with the same attitude that embodied Jesus.”

Bernhard Meuser, the German founder, main author, and “father of YouCat” will retire at the end of this year, the organization said on its official website.

The 70-year-old theologian and philologist has written, supervised, and edited numerous publications that have received international recognition. The most important has been the Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church (YouCat), which has been translated into more than 60 languages and is one of the bestselling Catholic books worldwide.