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Pope Francis meets Order of Malta as it turns ‘a very important page of history’

Rome Newsroom, Jan 31, 2023 / 09:15 am (CNA).

Pope Francis met with the Order of Malta on Monday as the sovereign state and religious order turned a new page in its history.

On Jan. 25-29, 111 members of the Order of Malta assembled to elect new leadership in an extraordinary chapter general convened by Pope Francis last year.

“You have written a very important page of history for the Order of Malta; thank you, you can be proud of it,” the pope told the capitulars in a Jan. 30 audience at the Vatican.

The Order of Malta held elections to choose nine councilors of the Sovereign Council as well as the four High Offices: grand commander, grand chancellor, grand hospitaller, and receiver of the common treasure.

The leader of the Order of Malta remains Lt. Grand Master Fra’ John Dunlap, who was appointed by Pope Francis after the sudden death of his predecessor, Fra’ Marco Luzzago.

This month’s chapter general was overseen by Fra’ Dunlap, the pope’s special delegate Cardinal Silvano Tomasi, and the interim Sovereign Council appointed by Pope Francis last year.

Francis had also approved the order’s new constitutional charter and regulations last year.

With the Sovereign Council elections completed, the Order of Malta can now hold The Council Complete of State to elect the 81st grand master.

The position of grand master of the Order of Malta has been vacant since the death in 2020 of Fra’ Giacomo Dalla Torre del Tempio di Sanguinetto.

The Sovereign Military Order of Malta is both a lay religious order of the Catholic Church and a sovereign state subject to international law. In 2017, Pope Francis ordered reforms of both the order’s religious life and its constitution.

Concerns have been raised throughout the reform process that some of Pope Francis’ actions threaten the Order of Malta’s sovereignty.

Pope Francis addressed the topic of the order’s sovereignty in the Jan. 30 meeting, noting that it “is an entirely singular sovereignty, assumed over the centuries and confirmed by the will of the popes.”

“It enables you to make generous and demanding gestures of solidarity, putting yourselves close to those most in need, under international diplomatic legal protection,” he added.

Francis also commented on the forthcoming election of the grand master, in whom, he said, “you will find a sure guide, a guarantor of the unity of the whole order in fidelity to the successor of Peter and the Church.”

Pope Francis also sent a written message to the Order of Malta on Jan. 25 at the opening of the extraordinary chapter general in which he referred to the group’s challenges during the last few years’ reform process.

The reform was a necessary, if at times “arduous,” journey, the pope said.

“Forgive the offenses!” he urged. “I heartily ask you to come to sincere mutual forgiveness, reconciliation, after the moments of tension and difficulties you have experienced in the recent past.”

He also encouraged the Order of Malta to strengthen its unity in order not to compromise the fulfillment of the group’s charitable mission.

“The Evil One” encourages division, he said. “Let us be careful not to compromise with the tempter, even unintentionally. He often deceives under the guise of good, and what may appear to be for the glory of God may turn out to be our own vainglory.”

“Conflicts and opposition harm your mission. Lust for power and other worldly attachments turn you away from Christ; they are temptations to be rejected,” Pope Francis said. “Let us remember the ‘rich young man’ in the Gospel, who, though moved by good intentions, failed to follow Jesus because he was attached to his own things and interests.”

The Order of Malta’s sovereignty must also be at the service of works of mercy, he said.

“It is necessary to be vigilant that it may not be distorted by a worldly mentality.”

Pope Francis meets with refugees from Congo and South Sudan before flight to Africa

Vatican City, Jan 31, 2023 / 06:15 am (CNA).

Before departing on his flight to Africa on Tuesday morning, Pope Francis met with a group of refugees and migrants from the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan at the Vatican.

Among the refugees who met with the pope was Bidong, who spent much of his childhood from the age of 9 onwards in a refugee camp in Ethiopia after fleeing the war in his home of South Sudan.

Bidong is currently studying International Developmental Cooperation at Rome’s Sapienza University and receives support from , the Italian branch of the Jesuit Refugee Service.

He is one of 2.3 million displaced refugees from South Sudan, over half of whom are children, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency.

In an interview with ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, a spokesperson for the Centro Astalli shared that nine of the refugees that the center works with in Rome were able to meet the pope at his residence at the Casa Santa Marta in Vatican City on Jan. 31.

Cedric, a Congolese refugee, lives in Rome with his wife and three young children. He was an actor and human rights activist who was jailed for his civil activism in Kinshasa before seeking asylum in Italy, according to the Centro Astalli.

Two of the young migrants from the Democratic Republic of Congo have albinism, a condition that affects the pigmentation of the skin and has been a cause of violent discrimination in the Congo.

“It was a significant moment before a trip in which, once again, Pope Francis focused on the existential and geographical peripheries of the world, crisis areas from which thousands of people flee every day in search of salvation,” the Centro Astalli representative said.

The suffering of migrants and refugees was still on the mind of the pope as he traveled to the first leg of his journey to Africa, the Congolese capital of Kinshasa.

While on board the papal flight to Kinshasa, which departed Rome’s Fiumicino International Airport at 8:29 a.m. with more than 70 journalists, Pope Francis asked everyone on the plane to spend a moment in silent prayer thinking of those who cross the Sahara Desert seeking a better life.

“Right now we are crossing the Sahara. Let’s spend a short moment in silence, a prayer for all the people who, looking for a little bit of comfort, a little bit of freedom, have crossed and did not make it,” Pope Francis said.

“So many suffering people who arrive at the Mediterranean and after having crossed the desert are caught in the camps and suffer there. We pray for all those people.”

Pope Francis also expressed disappointment that he was unable on this trip to visit Goma, a city in eastern Congo, due to the ongoing violence.

The violence in eastern Congo has created a severe humanitarian crisis with more than 5.5 million people displaced from their homes, the third-highest number of internally displaced people in the world.

The pope is scheduled to meet with victims of violence from eastern Congo on Feb. 1 in Kinshasa following a Mass that is expected to draw 2 million people.

South Sudan’s security situation also poses significant challenges to the papal trip. The U.N. reported last month that an escalation in violent clashes in South Sudan’s Upper Nile state had killed 166 people and displaced more than 20,000 since August.

Pope Francis will visit Kinshasa Jan. 31-Feb. 3 before traveling to Juba, the capital of South Sudan, Feb. 3-5.

The pope is scheduled to arrive in the Democratic Republic of Congo at 3 p.m. local time after a nearly seven-hour flight traveling more than 3,350 miles, a route that will fly over eight countries: Italy, Tunisia, Algeria, Niger, Chad, the Central African Republic, Cameroon, and the Republic of the Congo.

Upon landing in Kinshasa, Pope Francis will meet with President Felix Tshisekedi and address the DRC’s civil authorities in a speech at the Palais de la Nation.

The pope’s trip to Congo and South Sudan is Pope Francis’ third visit to sub-Saharan Africa. At the end of his 40th apostolic journey this week, the pope will have visited 60 countries.

Pope Francis entrusts trip to Congo and South Sudan to Blessed Virgin Mary

Rome Newsroom, Jan 30, 2023 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis visited the Basilica of St. Mary Major on Monday to entrust his upcoming trip to Africa to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The pope will depart Rome on Tuesday morning for the capital city of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country home to more than 52 million Catholics.

It will be the first papal trip to Congo in 37 years, since John Paul II visited Kinshasa in 1985 when it was the capital of Zaire.

Pope Francis will visit Kinshasa Jan. 31-Feb. 3 before traveling to Juba, the capital of South Sudan, Feb. 3-5.

Francis has called his visit to South Sudan “an ecumenical pilgrimage of peace.” The pope will travel together with the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the moderator of the Church of Scotland, Iain Greenshields.

Pope Francis will be the first pope to visit South Sudan, the world’s newest country, which declared independence from the Republic of the Sudan in 2011.

The pope’s trip to Congo and South Sudan was scheduled to take place last year but was postponed for six months for health reasons.

A stop in the eastern Congolese city of Goma was cut from the pope’s updated schedule amid a resurgence of fighting between the army and rebel groups. 

Earlier this month, Islamic State claimed responsibility for a deadly bombing of a church service in the eastern Congolese town of Kasindi that killed at least 14 people. Another armed rebel group, the M23, executed 131 people “as part of a campaign of murders, rapes, kidnappings, and looting against two villages,” the U.N. reported in December.

The pope is scheduled to meet with victims of violence from eastern Congo on Feb. 1 in Kinshasa following a Mass that is expected to draw 2 million people.

South Sudan’s security situation also poses significant challenges to the papal trip. The U.N. reported last month that an escalation in violent clashes in South Sudan’s Upper Nile state had killed 166 people and displaced more than 20,000 since August.

Pope Francis has been personally involved with South Sudan’s peace process, inviting formerly warring leaders for a spiritual retreat at the Vatican in 2019. Tens of thousands of people were killed in South Sudan’s civil war, which ended with a peace agreement in 2018.

The pope asked people to pray for his trip to Congo and South Sudan, his first apostolic journey of 2023, in his Sunday Angelus address ahead of the trip.

“These lands, situated in the center of the great African continent, have suffered greatly from lengthy conflicts. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, especially in the east of the country, suffers from armed clashes and exploitation. South Sudan, wracked by years of war, longs for an end to the constant violence that forces many people to be displaced and to live in conditions of great hardship,” he said.

“In South Sudan, I will arrive together with the archbishop of Canterbury and the moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. Together, as brothers, we will make an ecumenical pilgrimage of peace, to entreat God and men to bring an end to the hostilities and for reconciliation,” Pope Francis said. “I ask everyone, please, to accompany this journey with their prayers.”

Synod organizers tell Continental Assemblies not to ‘impose an agenda’ on discussions

Rome Newsroom, Jan 30, 2023 / 09:18 am (CNA).

Cardinals organizing the Synod on Synodality have written a letter to all of the world’s bishops sharing urgent considerations for the Continental Assemblies, seven of which are set to take place by the end of March.

In the published by the Vatican on Jan. 30, Cardinal Mario Grech and Cardinal Jean Claude Hollerich stressed that the Synod of Bishops is not meant “to address all the issues being debated in the Church.”

“There are in fact some who presume to already know what the conclusions of the synodal assembly will be. Others would like to impose an agenda on the synod, with the intention of steering the discussion and determining its outcome,” the cardinals wrote.

“However, the theme that the pope has assigned to the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops is clear: ‘For a Synodal Church: communion, participation, mission.’ This is therefore the sole theme that we are called to explore in each of the stages within the process.”

The cardinals added that “those who claim to impose any one theme on the synod forget the logic that governs the synod process: we are called to chart a ‘common course’ beginning with the contribution of all.”

While the has already begun to other continents are hosting in-person meetings in February and March:

  • Europe and Oceania will both begin their Continental Assemblies on Feb. 5.

  • Two hundred delegates will meet in Prague, Czech Republic, for the first part of the Feb. 5-9 followed by a meeting of the 39 European bishops, who each serve as the president of his country’s bishops’ conference, from Feb. 9-12 with an additional 390 delegates participating online (10 for each bishops’ conference.)

  • Bishops from Australia, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea will join together with delegates from other parts of Oceania for a five-day meeting in Suva, Fiji, for the Feb. 5-9.

  • The will take place in Beirut, Lebanon, Feb. 12-18, with the participation of clergy from at least seven Eastern Catholic Churches.

  • Bishops and delegates from across Asia will meet in Bangkok, Thailand, Feb. 24-26 for the with 100 expected participants.

  • The will take place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, with the participation of 95 laypeople, 12 religious sisters, 18 priests, 15 bishops, and seven cardinals, a total of 155 delegates, March 1-6.

  • The will be held as four separate meetings across the region. The first will be in El Salvador Feb. 13-17 with participants from Mexico and Central America. The second for the Caribbean is in the Dominican Republic Feb. 20-24. The third is in Quito, Ecuador, Feb. 27-March 3, and the fourth is in Brasilia, Brazil, March 6-10.

The General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops describes these Continental Assemblies as a meeting to “reread the journey made and to continue the listening and discernment … proceeding in accord with the socio-cultural specificities of their respective regions.”

The text calls for “a Church capable of radical inclusion” and says that many local synod reports raised questions about the inclusion and role of women, young people, the poor, people identifying as LGBTQ, and the divorced and remarried.

In the letter signed by Grech and Hollerich on Jan. 26, the cardinals stressed that the themes proposed in the document guiding the synod’s continental phase discussions “do not constitute the agenda” for the Synod of Bishops assembly in October 2023.

“The decision to restore the DCS to the particular Churches, asking that each one listen to the voice of the others … truly manifests that the only rule we have given ourselves is to constantly listen to the Spirit,” it said.

The synod organizers added that it will be the task of the Continental Assemblies to identify “the priorities, recurring themes, and calls to action” that will be discussed during the first session of the Synod of Bishops Oct. 4-29.

Each Continental Assembly is required to submit a final document of no more than 20 pages providing the region’s response to three reflection questions based on the DCS by March 31:

  1. Which intuitions resonate most strongly with the lived experiences and realities of the Church in your continent? Which experiences are new or illuminating to you?

  2. What substantial tensions or divergences emerge as particularly important in your continent’s perspective? Consequently, what are the questions or issues that should be addressed and considered in the next steps of the process?

  3. Looking at what emerges from the previous two questions, what are the priorities, recurring themes, and calls to action that can be shared with other local Churches around the world and discussed during the First Session of the Synodal Assembly in October 2023?

The final, universal phase of the Synod on Synodality will begin with the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican in October 2023 and continue in October 2024.

The feedback from the seven Continental Assemblies on the Document for the Continental Stage (DCS) will be used as the basis for another instrumentum laboris, or working document, that will be completed in June 2023 to guide the Synod of Bishops’ discussion.

Pope Francis accepts Ouellet’s resignation, appoints American to lead Dicastery for Bishops

Rome Newsroom, Jan 30, 2023 / 07:27 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Monday named an American as the next prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Bishops to succeed Cardinal Marc Ouellet.

Bishop Robert Francis Prevost will lead the Vatican office responsible for evaluating new members of the Catholic Church’s hierarchy, the Vatican announced Jan. 30.

Prevost, 67, has served as a bishop of the Diocese of Chiclayo in Peru since 2015. He is a member of the Order of St. Augustine and led the Augustinian order as prior general from Rome for more than a decade after serving as a missionary priest for the order in Peru in the 1990s.

Born in Chicago in 1955, Prevost entered the Augustinian order as a novice at the age of 21. He studied philosophy at Villanova University and theology at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago before being ordained to the priesthood in Rome in 1982.

Prevost earned a doctorate in canon law from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (the Angelicum) in Rome in 1985.

He helped to establish in 1988 the order’s formation house in Trujillo, Peru, where he went on to serve as prior, formation director, judicial vicar, and a director of seminary studies. He returned to the U.S. in 1999 after being elected prior of the order’s Chicago province.

After becoming a bishop in Peru, Prevost was appointed by the pope as a member of the Dicastery for Bishops and the Dicastery for Clergy.

As the prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops, Prevost will play a key role in the selection process for diocesan bishops and in the investigation of allegations against bishops.

The ultimate decision in appointing bishops rests with the pope, and he is free to select anyone he chooses. Usually, the pope’s representative in a country, the apostolic nuncio, passes on recommendations and documentation to the Vatican. The Dicastery of Bishops then discusses the appointment in a further process and takes a vote. On being presented with the recommendations, the pope makes the final decision.

Prevost will begin his new post on April 12 and will receive the title of archbishop. He will succeed Ouellet in both the position of prefect and as the next president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.

The Vatican announced on Monday that Pope Francis had accepted Cardinal Ouellet’s resignation at the age of 78, more than three years past the usual retirement age for bishops.

Pope Benedict XVI appointed Ouellet as prefect of the Congregation for Bishops in 2010. A member of the Society of the Priests of St. Sulpice (Sulpicians), he was a theology professor, a missionary in Colombia, and secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity before being appointed archbishop of Quebec — and thus primate of Canada — by Pope John Paul II in 2002.

After the cardinal was accused of sexual assault in a civil suit in August 2022, the Vatican conducted a preliminary investigation and concluded that there was not sufficient evidence to begin a canonical investigation against Ouellet for sexual assault.

Ouellet, who strongly denies the allegations, filed a defamation lawsuit in Quebec courts contending that the woman wrongly accused him of sexual assault in the lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Quebec.

Pope Francis expresses sorrow over ‘spiral of death’ in the Holy Land

Vatican City, Jan 29, 2023 / 08:10 am (CNA).

Pope Francis appealed for peace in the Holy Land on Sunday, calling the recent spike in Israeli-Palestinian violence a “spiral of death” that accomplishes nothing.

In his Sunday Angelus address on Jan. 29, the pope expressed “great sorrow” for the death of Palestinians killed in an Israeli military raid as well as seven Israelis killed in a shooting outside of a synagogue in east Jerusalem.

“The spiral of death that increases day after day does nothing other than close the few glimpses of trust that exist between the two peoples,” Pope Francis said.

“From the beginning of the year, dozens of Palestinians have been killed during firefights with the Israeli army. I appeal to the two governments and to the international community so that, immediately and with delay, other paths might be found that include dialogue and a sincere search for peace. Brothers and sisters, let us pray for this.”

The pope spoke following a wave of violence in Israel and Palestine this week. On Friday night, seven Israelis were killed and three wounded in a shooting outside of a synagogue in east Jerusalem on the Jewish Sabbath, the deadliest attack on Israelis in 15 years, according to the Associated Press.

The synagogue shooting occurred the day after an Israeli military raid in the West Bank killed nine Palestinians and another Palestinian man was shot by Israeli forces in al-Ram, north of Jerusalem.

The joined other Christian leaders in Jerusalem on Sunday in warning that the current “state of affairs will almost certainly bring further atrocities and anguish, driving us away from the much sought-after peace and stability that we all seek.”

In a joint statement issued by the on Jan. 29, the Christian leaders called upon all parties “to practice restraint and self-control.”

“In closely monitoring this regrettable situation, we have concluded that this proliferation of violence that has led to the unwarranted deaths of 32 Palestinians and seven Israelis since the start of the New Year seems to be self-perpetuating. It will surely continue and even escalate unless a robust intervention is resolutely undertaken by community and political leaders on all sides,” it said.

“Everyone must work together to defuse the current tensions and to launch a political process based upon well-established principles of justice that will bring about a lasting peace and prosperity for all. Consonant with this, in these most difficult of times we call upon all parties to reverence each other’s religious faith and to show respect to all holy sites and places of worship.”

The patriarchs and heads of Churches in Jerusalem asked God to grant wisdom and prudence to political leaders seeking to find ways to overcome the violence and to bring about “a just and peaceful solution for our beloved Holy Land.”

Letter from Benedict XVI reveals the ‘central motive’ for his resignation, biographer says

CNA Newsroom, Jan 29, 2023 / 07:15 am (CNA).

According to papal biographer Peter Seewald, chronic insomnia ultimately led to Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to resign in 2013. 

In his last letter to the biographer — dated Oct. 28, 2022 — Benedict wrote the “central motive” for his resignation from office was “insomnia,” Seewald said according to a Jan. 27  by CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner. 

The pontiff,  Dec. 31, 2022, also wrote that insomnia had accompanied him “continuously since World Youth Day in Cologne.”

The 2005 World Youth Day in Cologne took place a few months after Benedict’s election and was his first papal journey. 

The Bavarian-born pontiff served for nearly eight more years before announcing he was stepping down — citing  — on Feb. 11, 2013.

Confirming a German media report, Seewald told agency KNA that Benedict XVI had not wanted to “make a fuss about the closer circumstances of his resignation, which was justified by his exhaustion,” while still alive.

Since the rumors and speculations about Benedict’s resignation have not died down, Seewald said he was obliged “to publish the decisive detail entrusted to me about the medical history of the German pope.”

The biographer said that Benedict XVI had used strong sleeping pills.

On his trip to  and  in March 2012, Benedict told Seewald, he realized he must have “bumped into something in the bathroom and fallen” after waking up only to discover his handkerchief was “blood-soaked.”

After seeking medical attention, Benedict was able to continue his program. However, following the incident, the pope’s personal physician ordered Benedict to reduce his intake of sleeping pills and stressed that he should only attend public appointments in the morning when traveling abroad.

On this account, Benedict reasoned he should make way for a new pope who would be able to attend World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro in 2013. 

Pope Francis decries culture that ‘throws away’ unborn children, elderly, poor

Vatican City, Jan 29, 2023 / 05:55 am (CNA).

In his Sunday Angelus address, Pope Francis decried a culture that “throws away” unborn children, the elderly, and the poor if they are not useful.

“The throwaway culture says, ‘I use you as much as I need you. When I am not interested in you anymore, or you are in my way, I throw you out.’ It is especially the weakest who are treated this way — unborn children, the elderly, the needy, and the disadvantaged,” Pope Francis said on Jan. 29.

“But people are never to be thrown out. The disadvantaged cannot be thrown away. Every person is a sacred and unique gift, no matter what their age or condition is. Let us always respect and promote life! Let us not throw life away.”

Speaking from the window of the Apostolic Palace, the pope noted that the “throwaway culture” is predominant in more affluent societies.

“It is a fact that about one-third of total food production goes to waste in the world each year, while so many die of hunger,” he said.

“Nature’s resources cannot be used like this. Goods should be taken care of and shared in such a way that no one lacks what is necessary. Rather than waste what we have, let us disseminate an ecology of justice and charity, of sharing.”

Pope Francis underlined that Jesus’ call in to be “poor in spirit” includes the “desire that no gift should go to waste.” He said that this includes not wasting “the gift that we are.”

“Each one of us is a good, independent of the gifts we have. Every woman, every man, is rich not only in talents but in dignity. He or she is loved by God, is valuable, is precious,” he said.

“Jesus reminds us that we are blessed not for what we have, but for who we are.”

A small stage was set up in St. Peter’s Square ahead of the pope’s Angelus address where young people gathered with balloons and banners singing hymns as part of Catholic Action’s “Caravan of Peace.”

At the end of the Angelus, a young boy and girl in blue sweatshirts joined Pope Francis in the window of the Apostolic Palace and read aloud a letter sharing their commitment to peace.

Pope Francis thanked Catholic Action for the initiative, adding that it is especially important this year with the war in Ukraine.

“Thinking of tormented Ukraine, our commitment and prayer for peace must be even stronger,” he said.

The pope also appealed for peace in the Holy Land, expressing sorrow for the death of 10 Palestinians killed in the West Bank in an Israeli military raid and a shooting outside of a synagogue in east Jerusalem in which a Palestinian killed seven Israelis.

“The spiral of death that increases day after day does nothing other than close the few glimpses of trust that exist between the two peoples,” Pope Francis said.

“Since the beginning of the year, dozens of Palestinians have been killed in firefights with the Israeli army. I appeal to the two governments and the international community to find, immediately and without delay, other paths, which include dialogue and the sincere search for peace. Brothers and sisters, let us pray for this!”

Noting that he will soon be traveling to Africa, Pope Francis asked people to pray for his apostolic journey to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan from Jan. 31 to Feb. 5.

“These lands, situated in the center of the great African continent, have suffered greatly from lengthy conflicts. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, especially in the east of the country, suffers from armed clashes and exploitation. South Sudan, wracked by years of war, longs for an end to the constant violence that forces many people to be displaced and to live in conditions of great hardship,” he said.

“In South Sudan, I will arrive together with the archbishop of Canterbury and the moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. Together, as brothers, we will make an ecumenical pilgrimage of peace, to entreat God and men to bring an end to the hostilities and for reconciliation. I ask everyone, please, to accompany this journey with their prayers.”

Pope Francis clarifies comments on sin and homosexuality

Rome Newsroom, Jan 28, 2023 / 05:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has written a letter to clarify his comments on sin and homosexuality from a recent interview with the Associated Press.

“When I said it is a sin, I was simply referring to Catholic moral teaching, which says that every sexual act outside of marriage is a sin,” the pope wrote to Jesuit Father James Martin in response to a request for clarification.

Francis said he was trying to say that criminalization of homosexuality “is neither good nor just.”

“As you can see, I was repeating something in general,” he wrote. “I should have said ‘It is a sin, as is any sexual act outside of marriage.’ This is to speak of ‘the matter’ of sin, but we know well that Catholic morality not only takes into consideration the matter but also evaluates freedom and intention; and this, for every kind of sin.”

Martin published the pope’s Spanish-language letter and an English translation on the website of Outreach on Jan. 27. Martin is the editor of Outreach, which describes itself as “an LGBT Catholic resource” operating under the auspices of America Media.

In an interview published Jan. 25 by AP, Pope Francis said: “Being homosexual is not a crime. It’s not a crime. Yes, but it’s a sin. Fine, but first let’s distinguish between a sin and a crime.”

The Outreach article posited that the pope’s comment that “yes, but it’s a sin” was intended to be from a hypothetical interlocutor to whom Pope Francis was responding.

In his Jan. 27 letter, Pope Francis ascribed the confusing statement to the conversational tone of the interview.

“It is understandable that there would not be such precise definitions,” he said.

The pope also noted that the AP interview was “not the first time that I speak of homosexuality and of homosexual persons.”

When speaking about the sin of sexual activity outside of marriage, he added that “of course, one must also consider the circumstances, which may decrease or eliminate fault.”

The Catholic Church does not teach that homosexuality, that is having same-sex attraction, is a sin.

According to the , people with homosexual tendencies should be treated with respect, and unjust discrimination against them should be avoided, while “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered” and “under no circumstances can they be approved.”

The Catechism that for a sin to be mortal, three conditions must be met: It must be grave matter, which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.

Pope Francis: Marriage is a lifelong union between a man and woman

Rome Newsroom, Jan 27, 2023 / 11:40 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Friday reiterated the Church’s perennial teaching on marriage as a lifelong union between a man and a woman.

“Today I would like to share with you some reflections on marriage, because there is a strong need in the Church and in the world to rediscover the meaning and value of the conjugal union between a man and a woman on which the family is founded,” the pope said Jan. 27 in the Vatican’s apostolic palace.

“Indeed,” he added, “a certainly not minor aspect of the crisis affecting so many families is the practical ignorance, personal and collective, about marriage.”

Pope Francis spoke about marriage during a meeting with the lawyers, auditors, and collaborators of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota for the inauguration of the judicial year.

The Roman Rota is one of three courts within the Holy See and is akin to a court of appeals or court of “last instance.” It is also where marriage nullity cases are judged.

Quoting from his 2013 apostolic exhortation , Pope Francis underlined that marriage “is a reality with its own precise essence, not ‘a mere form of affective gratification that can be constituted in any way and modified according to each person's sensitivity.’”

One may ask, he said, how it is possible for men and women, with all the limitations and fragility of human beings, to commit to “a union that is faithful and forever and from which a new family is born?”

Confronted with this question, and with the crises facing many families today, the Church needs to renew awareness in the gift of grace received through a sacramental marriage, he said.

The gift received in the sacrament of matrimony, he said, is “an irrevocable gift, a source of grace which we can always count on.”

Pope Francis also emphasized, quoting the constitution , that “God himself is the author of marriage.”

“And this can be understood to refer to every single conjugal union,” he added.

The pope told the tribunal that the Church needs “to rediscover the permanent reality of marriage as a bond.”

The Catholic Church teaches that marriage is a lifelong partnership. When a Church tribunal issues a declaration of nullity of a marriage, it means that the marriage never existed.

The word “bond,” Francis noted, “is sometimes looked upon with suspicion, as if it were an external imposition, a burden, a ‘tether’ in opposition to the authenticity and freedom of love.”

“If, on the other hand, the bond is understood precisely as a bond of love, then it is revealed as the core of marriage, as a divine gift that is the source of true freedom and which guards married life,” he said.

Pope Francis decries German Synodal Way as ‘neither helpful nor serious’

CNA Newsroom, Jan 25, 2023 / 15:41 pm (CNA).

In an interview published Wednesday, Pope Francis decried the German Synodal Way as elitist, unhelpful, and running the risk of bringing ideological harm to Church processes.

“The German experience does not help,” the pontiff told Associated Press when asked about the controversial process, explaining that dialogue should involve “all the people of God.”

The 86-year-old pontiff contrasted the German event, which is , with the universal Church’s Synod on Synodality.

Francis said on Tuesday that the global synod’s aim was to “help this more elitist (German) path so that it does not end badly in some way, but so is also integrated into the Church.”

While Pope Francis did not delve into details of the demands made in Germany, he plainly described the Synodal Way as perilous.

“Here the danger is that something very, very ideological trickles in. When ideology gets involved in church processes, the Holy Spirit goes home, because ideology overcomes the Holy Spirit,” he said in the wide-ranging that also included remarks about the Church’s stance on homosexuality, the loss of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI — and his health.

Since its by Cardinal Reinhard Marx in 2019, the German Synodal Way has . 

Participants have voted in favor of draft documents calling for the , same-sex blessings, and on homosexual acts, prompting accusations of heresy and fears of schism.

Concerns have been publicly raised by Church leaders from , the , and .

Fears of a “” from Germany have increased over the past few months, as organizers of the Synodal Way in November refused a moratorium on the process by the Vatican.

In his interview published Wednesday, Pope Francis insisted: “Always try to unite.”

Just two days earlier, on Monday, the latest Vatican intervention against the Synodal Way revealed that even participants in the process are anything but united: Five German bishops, it , had asked Rome to clarify concerns over a synodal council.

Participants of the German Synodal Way in September 2022 voted to create such a controlling body that would the Church in Germany.

The Vatican stated in a published Jan. 23 that the Germans are not authorized to install a permanent synodal council to oversee the Church in Germany. The missive was formally approved by Pope Francis.

Despite all these interventions, the Synodal Way — “Synodaler Weg” in German, sometimes translated as the — is currently still expected to continue as planned by its organizers. The next (and so far final) synodal assembly is scheduled to take place in Frankfurt in March.

Pope Francis offers condolences for Monterey Park shooting

Rome Newsroom, Jan 25, 2023 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis has offered his condolences after 11 people were killed in a shooting at a Los Angeles dance hall, one of two deadly mass shootings in California this week.

The pope sent a condolence telegram to Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles on Jan. 25 expressing his sadness and assuring his spiritual closeness to “those affected by this tragedy.”

A gunman opened fire at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, California, on Saturday night amid celebrations of the Lunar New Year. It was the worst massacre in Los Angeles county history, according to the Associated Press.

The LA County Coroner Medical Examiner’s Office identified the victims on Tuesday as Xiujuan Yu, 57; Hongying Jian, 62; Lilian Li, 63; Mymy Nhan, 65; Muoi Dai Ung, 67; Diana Man Ling Tom, 70; Wen-Tau Yu, 64; Valentino Marcos Alvero, 68; Ming Wei Ma, 72; Yu-Lun Kao, 72; and Chia Ling Yau, 76.

“His Holiness joins the entire community in commending the souls of those who died to almighty God’s loving mercy and he implores the divine gifts of healing and consolation upon the injured and bereaved,” the papal telegram said.

Sent on the pope’s behalf by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, it said: “As a pledge of strength and peace in the Lord, the Holy Father sends his blessing.”

Two days after the shooting in Monterey Park, seven people were killed in a mass shooting in northern California’s Half Moon Bay, which authorities suspect was a workplace grievance at a mushroom farm.

In an interview following the back-to-back shootings, Pope Francis was asked about the large number of weapons in the U.S. and the frequency of mass shootings.

“I say when you have to defend yourself, all that’s left is to have the elements to defend yourself. Another thing is how that need to defend oneself lengthens, lengthens, and becomes a habit,” the pope told AP in an interview published on Jan. 25.

“Instead of making the effort to help us live, we make the effort to help us kill,” he added.

Catholic bishops in California have also responded to the shootings. Archbishop Gomez offered prayers for the victims and their loved ones and asked God to “grant wisdom and prudence to law enforcement and public officials working to make sense of the violence and keep our communities safe.”

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco said: “The recent shootings in Monterey Park and now in Half Moon Bay remind us of how fragile human life is, but also how precious human life is.”

“We must never take human life for granted. We must never take out our aggressions and our frustrations on others, especially in any form of violence.”

Pope Francis: ‘I had nothing to do’ with Father Marko Rupnik case

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 25, 2023 / 11:16 am (CNA).

For the first time, Pope Francis has commented publicly about the scandal surrounding Father Marko Rupnik, denying he intervened to help his fellow Jesuit avoid punishment for the alleged sexual abuse of women in a religious community in Slovenia.

Speaking to the Jan. 24 in a published Wednesday that covered a wide range of topics, the pope said his involvement in the case was strictly procedural: assigning the case to the same tribunal that had earlier reviewed the automatic excommunication Rupnik incurred by absolving in confession a woman with whom he had sex.

After Rupnik repented the excommunication was lifted later the same month. The tribunal wound up dropping the second case because the statute of limitations had expired.

Francis explained that he thought it best to have the second case “continue with the normal court, because, if not, procedural paths are divided and everything gets muddled up.”

He added: “So I had nothing to do with this.”

The first complaints against Rupnik, a well-known Jesuit artist, became public in early December after Italian websites published stories quoting unnamed women who came in contact with Rupnik in the Loyola Community in Slovenia with which he was connected, accusing him of sexual, spiritual, and psychological abuse.

Pope Francis, who was reportedly close to Rupnik, told the AP he was shocked by the allegations.

“For me, it was a surprise, really. This, a person, an artist of this level — for me was a big surprise, and a wound.”

While the abuse allegedly took place in the 1980s and early 1990s — beyond the Vatican’s statute of limitations for abuse cases involving adult victims — questions persist about why the statute wasn’t waived, as is routinely done in cases involving minors.

Francis told the AP he “always” waives the statute of limitations for cases involving minors and “vulnerable adults,” but said he is inclined to uphold traditional legal guarantees with cases involving others.

Using a Spanish term that implies a no-holds-barred approach, Francis told the AP his approach was: “No loose reins with minors, the reins are pulled pretty tight.”

Francis said he wanted more transparency in how cases are handled, but he suggested that is difficult to do in an institution that in the past has handled such cases privately.

“It’s what I want,” the pope said. “And with transparency comes a very nice thing, which is shame. Shame is a grace.”

Pope Francis unpacks Jesus’ good news: ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled’

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 25, 2023 / 11:01 am (CNA).

Pope Francis told Christians Wednesday that if they want to understand Jesus they should pay close attention to the “good news” he brings in his sermon in the Nazareth synagogue when he says he is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s Old Testament prophecy.

At his weekly public audience Jan. 25, the pope said that when Jesus enters the synagogue and reads the passage from Isaiah he “then surprises everyone with a very short ‘sermon’ of just one sentence, just one sentence. And he speaks thus, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’ (Lk 4:21).”

“This means that for Jesus that prophetic passage contains the essence of what he wants to say about himself. So, whenever we talk about Jesus, we should go back to that first announcement of his,” the pope said.

The Holy Father then proceeded to break down the following passage from Isaiah that Jesus read in the synagogue:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to release the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord” (Lk 4:18-19).

The pope explained that the teachings or “proclamation” Jesus delivered that day can be distilled into five essential points that make up the Gospel or “good news”: joy, deliverance, light, healing, and wonder.

The “good news to the poor,” is “a proclamation of gladness,” the pope said. 

“One cannot speak of Jesus without joy, because faith is a wonderful love story to be shared. Bearing witness to Jesus, doing something for others in his name, to have received ‘between the lines’ of one’s life, so beautiful a gift that no words suffice to express it,” he said.

Joy is also the mark of the Christian faith, he said, adding: “When joy is lacking, the Gospel does not come through.”

Pope Franics explained that when Jesus says he was sent to “release the captives” it means “that one who proclaims God cannot proselytize, no, cannot pressure others, no, but relieve them: not impose burdens, but take them away; bearing peace, not bearing guilt.

“Those who witness to Christ show the beauty of the goal rather than the toil of the journey,” he said.

Referring to Isaiah’s prophecy that one would come to “bring sight to the blind,” the pope noted that the restoration of sight is something new that came with Christ.

“It is striking that throughout the Bible, before Christ, the healing of a blind man never appears, never. It was indeed a promised sign that would come with the Messiah,” he said.

The light that Christ brings, he said, is one of a relationship with God.

“He brings us the light of sonship: He is the beloved Son of the Father, living forever; with him we too are children of God loved forever, despite our mistakes and faults,” the pope said.

Pope Francis devoted the majority of his catechesis to the subject of “healing,” particularly healing from guilt and the burdens of sin.

“Jesus says he came ‘to set at liberty those who are oppressed,’” the pope said. 

“The oppressed are those in life who feel crushed by something that happens: sickness, labors, burdens on the heart, guilt, mistakes, vices, sins.” 

“We think of the sense of guilt, for example. How many of us have suffered this?” the pope asked. 

“But the good news is that with Jesus, this ancient evil, sin, which seems invincible, no longer has the last word,” he said.

“Those who carry burdens need a caress for the past. So many times we hear, ‘But I would need to heal my past,’” he said.

“Brothers, sisters, do not forget: God forgets everything. How so? Yes, he forgets all our sins. That he forgets. That’s why he has no memory. God forgives everything because he forgets our sins. Only he wants us to draw near to the Lord and he forgives us everything,” the pope continued.

When Jesus says he came “to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:19), the pope explained, he was declaring a “jubilee” —  but “not a scheduled jubilee” such as we have today. 

“Christ is the Jubilee of every day, every hour, drawing you near, to caress you, to forgive you,” he said.

This new reality or “grace” should be received with an attitude of wonder, he said. 

“The proclamation of Jesus must always bring the amazementof grace This amazement… ‘No, I can’t believe it! I have been forgiven.’ But this is how great our God is. Because it is not we who do great things, but rather the grace of the Lord who, even through us, accomplishes unexpected things. 

“And these are the surprises of God. God is the master of surprises. He always surprises us, is always waiting, waits for us. We arrive, and he has been expecting us. Always. The Gospel comes with a sense of wonder and newness that has a name: Jesus.”

The pope added that the “good news” Jesus shares in his proclamation is addressed to “the poor” and that all Christians must become poor to encounter Christ.

“You have to overcome any pretense of self-sufficiency in order to understand oneself to be in need of grace, and to always be in need of him. 

“If someone tells me, ‘Father, what is the shortest way to encounter Jesus?’ Be needy. Be needy for grace, needy for forgiveness, be needy for joy. And he will draw near to you,” the pope said in concluding his catechesis.

The pope’s general audience message was the third in a new weekly series of catechesis, or teachings, on evangelization and apostolic zeal.

Following his remarks, the Holy Father noted that the International Holocaust Remembrance Day will be observed Jan. 27. 

“In remembrance of that extermination of millions of Jewish people and people of other faiths that must neither be forgotten nor denied. There can be no sustained commitment to building fraternity together without first dispelling the roots of hatred and violence that fueled the horror of the Holocaust,” he said.

Pope Francis concluded with a prayer for Ukraine.

“In our thoughts and prayers, may the tormented Ukraine, so much afflicted, not be absent,” he said. “This morning I had a meeting with the leaders of the different confessions of faith that are in Ukraine — all united — and they told me about the pain of that people. Let us never forget, every day, to pray for definitive peace in Ukraine.”

‘I lost a dad’: Pope Francis speaks about losing Benedict XVI

Rome Newsroom, Jan 25, 2023 / 08:50 am (CNA).

In a new interview published Wednesday, Pope Francis said the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI meant he had lost a “good companion” and a father figure. 

“I lost a dad,” Pope Francis , praising his predecessor — who died on Dec. 31, 2022, at the age of 95 — as a “gentleman.” 

Francis said he would visit Benedict for counsel at the converted monastery Mater Ecclesiae in the Vatican Gardens, where the retired pope resided. 

“For me, he was a security. In the face of a doubt, I would ask for the car and go to the monastery and ask.”

The 86-year-old pontiff called Benedict’s decision to live in Mater Ecclesiae a “good intermediate solution” in the wide-ranging  that also included remarks about the Church’s stance on homosexuality, the German Synodal Way — and his health.

Pope Francis has repeatedly praised his predecessor. In April of last year, he described Benedict as “ of the Church’s future and in November acknowledged  in responding to sexual abuse. On , he said Benedict brought Catholics to an “encounter with Jesus.” 

Francis, who has not ruled out retiring, said Benedict’s decision to live in a converted monastery in the Vatican Gardens was a “good intermediate solution” but that future retired popes might want to do things differently.

“He was still ‘enslaved’ as a pope, no?” Francis said.

“Of the vision of a pope, of a system. ‘Slave’ in the good sense of the word: In that he wasn’t completely free, as he would have liked to have returned to his Germany and continued studying theology.”

Benedict “opened the door” to future resignations, Pope Francis said. The pope also confirmed what  six months ago: If he should retire, he would choose the title of “bishop emeritus of Rome” — not “pope emeritus” — and live neither in his native Argentina nor the Vatican but in Rome.

Asked if he would reside at Archbasilica of St. John Lateran in a TV interview broadcast on July 12, 2022, Francis said “that could be,” since he would like to retire “to hear confessions at a church.”

Pope Francis says intestinal problems have ‘returned’ but insists, ‘I’m in good health’

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 25, 2023 / 08:30 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has revealed a recurrence of the intestinal ailment that has plagued him in recent years while also professing to be in good health for his age.

He also indicated he has no plans to resign, although if he were to step down he reiterated that he would want to be called “bishop emeritus of Rome,” rather than “pope emeritus,” the title given his predecessor, Benedict XVI.

In a wide-ranging  with the Associated Press published Wednesday that also included pointed remarks about homosexuality, the pope disclosed that diverticulosis, or bulges in his intestinal wall, had “returned.”

At the same time, however, the 86-year-old pontiff — who is preparing to embark on a pilgrimage to South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo next week — insisted he was in relatively good condition.

“I’m in good health. For my age, I’m normal,” he told the AP on Jan. 24.

Rumors of Francis’ possible resignation, and speculation that his health problems are more serious than the Vatican has acknowledged, have swirled since he underwent surgery in 2021 to have 33 centimeters (13 inches) of his large intestine removed for what the Vatican said was inflammation of his colon.

A slight fracture in his knee Francis suffered in a fall also has made it visibly painful for him to walk, making it necessary for him to rely on a cane and a wheelchair. But Francis told the AP that the fracture had healed without surgery after laser and magnet therapy.

Speaking about papal retirements, Francis dismissed speculation that he is preparing to issue norms for how future papal abdications will be handled.

“I’m telling you the truth,” he said, adding that it was premature to “regularize or regulate” papal retirements because the Vatican had too little experience upon which to draw. Benedict XVI, who died Dec. 31, 2022, after nearly a decade of retirement, was the first pope to step down in nearly 600 years.

Francis hasn’t ruled out retiring, and he repeated Tuesday that if he did so he would be called the bishop emeritus of Rome and would live in the residence for retired priests in the Diocese of Rome.

Benedict’s decision to live in a converted monastery in the Vatican Gardens was a “good intermediate solution,” he told the AP, but future retired popes might want to choose a different course.

“He was still ‘enslaved’ as a pope, no?” Francis said. “Of the vision of a pope, of a system. ‘Slave’ in the good sense of the word: in that he wasn’t completely free, as he would have liked to have returned to his Germany and continued studying theology.”

‘Being homosexual is not a crime,’ Pope Francis reiterates in new interview

Rome Newsroom, Jan 25, 2023 / 08:10 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has reiterated that homosexuality is “not a crime” in a new interview published Wednesday.

The  with the Associated Press covered a wide range of topics, including laws that criminalize homosexuality and sodomy.

“Being homosexual is not a crime. It’s not a crime. Yes, but it’s a sin. Fine, but first let’s distinguish between a sin and a crime,” the pope told the AP.

The remark promises to be a point of controversy. On the one hand, the Catholic Church has condemned the unjust discrimination of those with same-sex attraction. On the other hand, the Church does not teach that same-sex attraction is sinful in itself but that it is "intrinsically disordered." 

In the interview conducted at Pope Francis’ residence in Vatican City on Jan. 24, the pope reiterated the Holy See’s position that laws that criminalize homosexuality outright are “unjust” and that the Church must work to put an end to them.

Under Benedict XVI, the Vatican issued a  in 2008 urging that “every sign of unjust discrimination toward homosexual persons should be avoided” and that countries should “do away with criminal penalties against them.”

“We are all children of God, and God loves us as we are and for the strength that each of us fights for our dignity,” Pope Francis said.

The pope told AP that bishops who support laws that criminalize homosexuality “have to have a process of conversion” and should apply “tenderness, please, as God has for each one of us.”

Francis attributed such attitudes to cultural backgrounds and said bishops in particular need to undergo a process of change to recognize the dignity of everyone.

“Every man and every woman must have a window in their lives where they can pour out their hope and where they can see the dignity of God. And being homosexual is not a crime. It is a human condition,” he said.

In the interview, which lasted more than one hour, Pope Francis also decried the German Synodal Way as unhelpful, revealed that the intestinal problem that he had surgery for in 2021 has returned, and denied that he had any role in the handling of the alleged abuse by Jesuit Father Marko Rupnik.

The AP first published the pope’s comments about distinguishing between a crime and a sin with regard to homosexuality before publishing the  of the interview in Spanish.

The Catholic Church does not teach that homosexuality, that is having same-sex attraction, is a sin. 

According to the , “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered” and “under no circumstances can they be approved.”

“The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided,” it says.

“These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition. Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.”

In 2021 the Vatican’s doctrinal office issued a clarification approved by Pope Francis that the Church cannot bless same-sex unions because “God cannot bless sin.”

The Vatican also stated at the time that “the Christian community and its Pastors are called to welcome with respect and sensitivity persons with homosexual inclinations and will know how to find the most appropriate ways, consistent with Church teaching, to proclaim to them the Gospel in its fullness.”

In his response to the question about laws that criminalize homosexuality, Pope Francis also described the ending of the pop opera “The Prodigal Son” as an example of how “God is generous in his mercy.”

“If we preached more about that and not about nonsense, we would be better off,” the pope said.

Millions still suffer from leprosy. Here’s Pope Francis’ message about it

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 24, 2023 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis is calling on Catholics and people worldwide to remember those suffering from leprosy, or Hansen’s disease, ahead of World Leprosy Day.

“We cannot forget these brothers and sisters of ours,” the 86-year-old pontiff said in a to the Second Symposium on Hansen’s disease held Jan. 23-24 in Rome. “We must not ignore this disease, which unfortunately still afflicts many people, especially in the most disadvantaged social contexts.”

While the disease is easily curable and rare in countries such as the United States, people from around the world still suffer from it. According to the (CDC), an estimated 2-3 million people are living with Hansen’s disease-related disabilities worldwide.

World Leprosy Day, which is held annually on the last Sunday of January, began in 1954 in an attempt to raise awareness of the disease.

“What should concern us, today more than then, is that not only the disease can be forgotten, but also the people,” Pope Francis urged in his message.

He added: “On the contrary, convinced of the human family’s vocation to fraternity, let us allow ourselves to be challenged and to be asked: ‘Will we bend down to touch and heal the wounds of others? Will we bend down and help another to get up?’”

The pope encouraged symposium participants to see World Leprosy Day as an opportunity to “revise our models of development,” “denounce and try to correct the discrimination they cause,” and “renew our commitment to building an inclusive society.”

Those who suffer from leprosy, he stressed, are human persons of inherent dignity and worth.

“Specifically, we must ask ourselves how best to collaborate with people affected by leprosy, treating them fully as people, recognizing them as the key protagonists in their struggle to participate in fundamental human rights and to live as fully-fledged members of the community,” he invited.

Pope Francis concluded by expressing his closeness to those who suffer from Hansen’s disease and encouraging participants to ensure that those struggling with the disease have both spiritual support and health care.

He asked for the intercession of Mary Most Holy as well as the “many saints who served Christ in people affected by leprosy” for the symposium participants.

“May everyone experience that Jesus came so that every man and woman might have life, and have it in abundance,” he said.

Taiwan president writes to Pope Francis about ‘preserving regional security’ with China

Rome Newsroom, Jan 24, 2023 / 11:30 am (CNA).

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has written a letter to Pope Francis underlining the importance of maintaining peace with China and a commitment to the island’s sovereign democracy.

“The war that erupted between Russia and Ukraine last February has brought home to humanity just how valuable peace is,” Tsai wrote in a letter to the pope published by her office on Jan. 23.

“Preserving regional security has become a key consensus shared by national leaders.”

Tsai sent the letter in response to Pope Francis’ message for the , the pope’s annual letter sent to all foreign governments around the world to mark the new year.

The president of Taiwan, formally called the Republic of China (ROC), cited a speech that she gave last October following a dramatic rise in tensions between Beijing and Taipei over the summer.

“In my 2022 National Day address, I underscored that peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait are the basis for the development of cross-strait relations and that armed confrontation is absolutely not an option,” Tsai said.

“I made clear that only by respecting the commitment of the Taiwanese people to our sovereignty, democracy, and freedom can there be a foundation for resuming constructive interaction across the Taiwan Strait.”

Vatican City State is the only remaining country in Europe that recognizes Taiwan as a country.

Taiwan, an island less than 110 miles off the coast of China with a population of more than 23 million people, has maintained a vibrant democracy with robust civil liberties despite increased pressure from Beijing regarding the island’s status.

The Holy See has had formal diplomatic relations with the ROC since 1922, while the Church has not had an official diplomatic presence on the mainland People’s Republic of China (PRC) since it was officially expelled by Beijing in 1951.

Only 14 states worldwide still have full diplomatic relations with Taiwan, among them Guatemala, Haiti, and Paraguay. The Chinese Communist Party government in mainland China views Taiwan as a rebel province and has put pressure on countries to cut diplomatic ties with the island.

Amid concern over what a Vatican decision to renew its 2018 provisional accord with Beijing would mean for the Holy See’s diplomatic relationship with Taiwan, a spokesperson for Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in 2020 that it had received assurances from the Vatican regarding the renewal of the Vatican-China deal.

Tsai, the first female president of Taiwan, noted that last year marked the 80th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the Republic of China and the Holy See.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it,”  she said.

“Taiwan aspires to serve as a light in the world and will work closely with the Holy See to create a society of greater justice and peace for humanity.”

Jesuits ask Father Marko Rupnik to stay close to Rome during ‘ongoing preliminary inquiries’

Rome Newsroom, Jan 24, 2023 / 10:47 am (CNA).

The Society of Jesus has asked Father Marko Rupnik to stay close to Rome as more alleged victims of the Jesuit priest and artist go public with their stories.

Father Johan Verschueren, SJ, this week told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, that he had asked Rupnik “not to leave Lazio,” the Italian region where Rome is located.

Verschueren is the major superior for the international houses of the Jesuits. It is still unclear whether Verschueren or the superior general of the Jesuits, Father Arturo Sosa, is Rupnik’s direct superior.

Rupnik, originally from Slovenia, has been accused of the sexual, spiritual, and psychological abuse of women from a religious community with which he was formerly connected.

The abuse is alleged to have taken place in the late 1980s and early 1990s. An investigation into the claims was dropped by the Vatican in October 2022 due to the statute of limitations.

Responding to ACI Prensa by email, Verschueren said he asked the 68-year-old Rupnik to remain in Lazio “in order to be available for some ongoing preliminary inquiries” related to new information and new allegations the Jesuits have received.

In mid-December, the Jesuits said they had a few months prior set up a team of people to deal with abuse-related issues and asked victims of the priest to report abuse complaints to them.

At the beginning of January, the news site The Daily Compass reported that Rupnik was .

Asked on Jan. 23 where Rupnik was and if it was possible he was living outside of Italy, Verschueren said this “would surprise me greatly.”

Verschueren said the Jesuits may release further information about the new inquiries into Rupnik in February.

The first complaints against Rupnik became public in early December after Italian websites published stories with reports that Rupnik had abused consecrated women in the Loyola Community.

In a statement dated Dec. 2, 2022, the Jesuits said the order had put Rupnik under restrictions for a complaint received in 2021.

The Jesuits later confirmed that Rupnik had incurred excommunication “latae sententiae” for absolving an accomplice in confession of a sin against the Sixth Commandment. The excommunication was lifted by the Vatican in May 2020, the same month it had been officially declared.

In the nearly two months since then, reports of alleged abuse by Rupnik with then-young women under his spiritual guidance have continued to be published under aliases.

Italian newspaper Il Domani published Monday with another alleged victim of Rupnik who shares that she was pressured by the priest to join the Loyola Community at the age of 23.

The woman shared explicit details of the sexual acts Rupnik subjected her to over several years in her early 20s and the spiritual manipulation and grooming behavior that started as early as her mid-teens.

The woman claimed that in 1988, one year after she entered the Loyola Community, she was sent by Rupnik to stay with another woman formerly connected to the community, then living in southern Italy, who touched her sexually in order to teach her how to engage in a “threesome.”

The alleged victim said she was so “blocked” and embarrassed that one evening the friend of Rupnik called him and told him that “there was nothing to do with me.”

From that point onward, she said, “Father Rupnik totally changed his attitude toward me and began to treat me very badly: I was exploited, ignored, and marginalized in the community.”

She said she left the community at the age of 35.

Until the end of December, Rupnik was listed as the leader of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises in Loreto, Italy, in mid-February.

The for priests will now be Father Ivan Bresciani, SJ, also from Slovenia and the vice director of the Centro Aletti, an artistic and theological center in Rome founded by Rupnik.

Rupnik was removed as the director of the Centro Aletti in May 2020, according to the Jesuits.

Rupnik was the creator of the official image of the 2022 World Meeting of Families, and for more than 30 years he has designed mosaic artworks for chapels, churches, and shrines around the world, including inside the Vatican.

In March 2020, Rupnik preached the first Lenten sermon for the pope and the Roman Curia at the Vatican.

Pope Francis: Amid polarization in Church, we are called to speak truth with charity

Rome Newsroom, Jan 24, 2023 / 08:42 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has urged Christians to “speak the truth and to do so with charity” amid polarization and divisions within the Church.

In his for the World Day of Social Communications on Jan. 24, the pope said that everyone has the responsibility to “communicate truth with charity” in a time “marked by polarizations and contrasts — to which unfortunately not even the ecclesial community is immune.”

“We should not be afraid of proclaiming the truth, even if it is at times uncomfortable, but of doing so without charity, without heart,” Pope Francis said.

“Because ‘the Christian’s programme’ — as Benedict XVI wrote — ‘is “a heart which sees,”’” he added, quoting Benedict’s first encyclical

Pope Francis underlined that this call to speak the truth from the heart “radically challenges the times in which we are living” in which the truth can be exploited with disinformation. He said that “it is necessary to purify one’s heart” to see clearly and bear good fruit in communication.

“Christians in particular are continually urged to keep our tongue from evil (cf. Ps 34:13), because as Scripture teaches us, with the same tongue we can bless the Lord and curse men and women who were made in the likeness of God (cf. Jas 3:9),” he wrote.

“No evil word should come from our mouths, but rather ‘only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear’ (Eph 4:29).”

The pope’s message was released on the feast of , the patron saint of writers and journalists.

“A brilliant intellectual, fruitful writer and profound theologian, Francis de Sales was bishop of Geneva at the beginning of the 17th century during difficult years marked by heated disputes with Calvinists,” he said.

“His meek attitude, humanity, and willingness to dialogue patiently with everyone, especially with those who disagreed with him, made him an extraordinary witness of God’s merciful love.”

Pope Francis recalled that 2023 will mark the centenary of Pope Pius XI’s proclamation of St. Francis de Sales as the patron of Catholic journalists in the encyclical

He noted how the saint’s words “heart speaks to heart” have inspired many generations of Christians, including St. John Henry Newman, who chose it as his motto, “Cor ad cor loquitur.”

St. Francis de Sales understood communication as “a reflection of the soul,” rather than as “a marketing strategy,” the pope said.

“One of his convictions was, ‘In order to speak well, it is enough to love well,’” he said. “For St. Francis de Sales, precisely ‘in the heart and through the heart, there comes about a subtle, intense and unifying process in which we come to know God.’”

Pope Francis said that he dreams of “an ecclesial communication that knows how to let itself be guided by the Holy Spirit … that knows how to find new ways and means for the wonderful proclamation it is called to deliver in the third millennium.”

Speaking of the Church’s ongoing “synodal process,” the pope said that there is a pressing need in the Church for “listening without prejudice” and for communication that is “balm on wounds and that shines light on the journey of our brothers and sisters.”

The pope added that with the war in Ukraine it is urgent to reject hostile forms of communication in favor of “paths that allow for dialogue and reconciliation in places where hatred and enmity rage.”

“It is terrifying to hear how easily words calling for the destruction of people and territories are spoken. Words, unfortunately, that often turn into warlike actions of heinous violence,” he said.

“This is why all belligerent rhetoric must be rejected, as well as every form of propaganda that manipulates the truth, disfiguring it for ideological ends. Instead, what must be promoted is a form of communication that helps create the conditions to resolve controversies between peoples.”

Pope Francis concluded his message, signed in the Basilica of St. John Lateran on Jan. 24, with a short prayer:

“May the Lord Jesus, the pure Word poured out from the heart of the Father, help us to make our communication clear, open, and heartfelt. May the Lord Jesus, the Word made flesh, help us listen to the beating of hearts, to rediscover ourselves as brothers and sisters, and to disarm the hostility that divides. May the Lord Jesus, the Word of truth and love, help us speak the truth in charity, so that we may feel like protectors of one another.”

Controversial Dominican priest to lead October retreat for bishops at start of synod

Vatican City, Jan 23, 2023 / 09:21 am (CNA).

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich announced Monday that the October 2023 session of the Synod of Bishops on synodality will begin with a three-day retreat led by a Dominican preacher whose statements on homosexuality have previously sparked controversy.

Dominican Father Timothy Radcliffe will lead the Catholic bishops and participants in the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in a retreat near Rome from Oct. 1–3 at the invitation of Pope Francis, according to the cardinal. 

Radcliffe, 77, served as head of the Dominican Order from 1992 to 2001. His heterodox statements, particularly those on homosexuality, have previously caused controversy in the Church.

In the Anglican Pilling Report in 2013, Radcliffe wrote that when considering same-sex relationships, “we cannot begin with the question of whether it is permitted or forbidden! We must ask what it means and how far it is eucharistic. Certainly it can be generous, vulnerable, tender, mutual, and nonviolent. So in many ways, I think it can be expressive of Christ’s self-gift.”

Hollerich announced the synod retreat at a Vatican press conference on Jan. 23 promoting an ecumenical prayer vigil that will be held in St. Peter’s Square to entrust the work of the Synod of Bishops to God.

“The synod is not about Church politics. It’s about listening to the Spirit of God and advancing together and praying. So there will be one different point compared to the other synods. After the prayer vigil, the bishops and the participants of the synod will leave for a three-day retreat. So we start with prayer, with listening to the Spirit,” Hollerich said.

The bishops’ retreat and ecumenical prayer vigil will both take place in the days immediately preceding the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, commonly referred to as the synod on synodality.  

The 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will take place in two sessions. The first session will take place from Oct. 4–29, 2023, and the second in October 2024.

At the press conference, Hollerich underlined that he is “not preoccupied … that there are different opinions in the Catholic Church,” but that he sees “tensions … as something positive” for the synod on synodality.

“We do not need the synod in the Catholic Church in order to experience tensions. There are already tensions without the synod and these tensions come from the fact that each one honestly wants to see or share how we can follow Christ and proclaim Christ in the world of today. That is the source of tension,” he said.

“Now in the document for the continental phase of the synod, we saw tension also as something positive. Because in order to have a tent, you need some tension. Otherwise, the tent is falling down. And I think that the synod, the listening to the Word of God, the listening to the spirit, praying together, being together on the way, will ease bad tensions. So we do not want bad tensions destroying the Church, but good tensions sometimes are necessary for harmony.”

Hollerich, who serves as the relator general of the four-year global synodal process, said in an interview with Vatican Media last October that he believes Church blessings for same-sex unions, which the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith has ruled against, is not a settled matter.

The cardinal’s statement came in response to an interview question about the decision by Belgium’s Catholic bishops to support the possibility of blessings for unions of same-sex couples — in defiance of the Vatican.

“Frankly, the question does not seem decisive to me,” Hollerich told L’Osservatore Romano in an interview also published Oct. 24, 2022, by Vatican Media.

In today’s press briefing, Hollerich said that he hopes that the synod will lead to “a new springtime of ecumenism.”

The ecumenical prayer vigil, called “Together: Gathering of the People of God,” will be led by the Taizé Community in the presence of the pope on Sept. 30. 

Young people aged 18 to 35 from all Christian traditions are invited to attend what the Vatican described in a press release as “a follow-up to World Youth Day” with praise and worship with Taizé music and prayer.

According to its , more than 50 Christian groups representing many denominations have already partnered with the prayer vigil project, including the World Council of Churches, World Lutheran Federation, and Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Exarchate Europe.

The Vatican invited ecumenical representatives to speak at the press conference about the vigil, including Anglican archbishop Ian Ernest, Armenian Apostolic Church archbishop Khajag Barsamian, and Brother Alois, the prior from the ecumenical Taizé Community. Pastor Christian Krieger, the president of the French Protestant Federation, also participated remotely.

Last year, the Vatican issued a letter asking Catholic bishops to invite local Orthodox and Protestant leaders to participate in the local stage of the synod on synodality.

Ernest, who serves as the personal representative of the archbishop of Canterbury to the Holy See and leads the Anglican Centre in Rome, reflected that he “felt more as a participant than an observer” at the inaugural session of the synod in October 2021 because his “voice was listened to in the group discussions.”

“This synodal process initiated by Pope Francis will be giving wings to our ecumenical togetherness, to our quest to work to walk together, and to see how best we could help in the suffering of those who live in distressed situations of this broken world,” Ernest said.

Pope Francis: To stay with Jesus requires the courage to leave our sins

Vatican City, Jan 22, 2023 / 07:00 am (CNA).

In his Sunday Angelus address, Pope Francis said that following Jesus requires the courage to leave behind the sins that are holding us back.

Speaking from the window of the Apostolic Palace on Jan. 22, the pope said that “our vices and our sins” are like “anchors that hold us at the shore and prevent us from setting sail.”

“To stay with Jesus, therefore, requires the courage to leave, to set out. To leave what? Our vices and sins,” he said.

Pope Francis added that in order to set out on the “new adventure” of following Christ it is right to start by asking forgiveness, as well as leaving behind “what holds us back from living fully.”

“It also means giving up the time wasted on so many useless things,” he said.

The pope pointed to the example of someone who chooses to spend time in prayer or serving others, instead of wasting time.

“I am also thinking of a young family who leaves behind a quiet life to open themselves up to the unforeseen and beautiful adventure of motherhood and fatherhood — it is a sacrifice, but all it takes is one look at a child to understand that it was the right choice to leave behind certain rhythms and comforts, to have this joy,” Francis said.

Pope Francis asked people to reflect on what Jesus may be asking them to give up and leave behind in order to “say ‘yes’ to him,’” like the first disciples who left their nets on the shore of the Sea of Galilee to follow Christ.

“May Mary help us to respond with a total ‘yes’ to God, like she did, to know what to leave behind to follow him better,” he said.

After praying the Angelus, Pope Francis asked people to pray for peace in Myanmar, Peru, Cameroon, and Ukraine.

The pope expressed his closeness to the civilian population in Myanmar, who have suffered “severe trials” since the military coup began in 2021.

“My thoughts, with pain, go in particular to Myanmar, where the church of Our Lady of the Assumption in the village of Chan Thar, one of the oldest and most important places of worship in the country, was set on fire and destroyed,” he said.

The pope asked the crowd to pray a “Hail Mary” together to Our Lady of Myanmar asking that the conflict will end soon and that “a new time of forgiveness, love, and peace will begin.”

Pope Francis also said that he was joining the Peruvian bishops’ call for an end to acts of violence in the South American country.

“Violence extinguishes hope for a just solution to problems. I encourage all parties involved to take the path of dialogue between brothers of the same nation, with full respect for human rights and the rule of law,” he said.

The pope expressed hope that progress is being made toward a resolution of the conflict in English-speaking regions of Cameroon.

“I encourage all the signatory parties to the agreement to persevere on the path of dialogue and mutual understanding because the future can be planned only in encounter,” the pope said.

Pope Francis also wished a “happy new year” to all who celebrate the Lunar New Year in East Asia and other parts of the world, adding that he was thinking of “all those who are still going through moments of trial caused by the coronavirus pandemic.”

The pope reminded everyone that the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time is dedicated in a special way to the Word of God.

Before the Angelus, Pope Francis formally conferred the ministries of lector and catechist upon four men and six women at a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica celebrating the .

“Let’s rediscover with amazement the fact that God speaks to us, especially through the holy Scriptures. Let’s read them, study them, meditate on them, and pray with them. Every day we should read a passage from the Bible, especially from the Gospel. There Jesus speaks to us, enlightens us, guides us,” the pope said.

Pope Francis confers lay ministries upon 10 people in St. Peter’s Basilica

Vatican City, Jan 22, 2023 / 04:30 am (CNA).

Pope Francis formally conferred the ministries of lector and catechist upon four men and six women from the Philippines, Mexico, Congo, Italy, and the U.K. on Sunday at a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Celebrating the Sunday of the Word of God on Jan. 22, the pope presented Bibles to three new lectors and said: “Receive the book of Holy Scripture and faithfully transmit the Word of God, so that it may germinate and bear fruit in the hearts of men.”

The pope then spoke to the future catechists who knelt before him. He handed each one a silver crucifix, saying: “Receive this sign of our faith, seat of the truth and charity of Christ: proclaim him by your life, actions, and word.”

Pope Francis conferred the lay ministries on the Sunday of the Word of God, a day that he declared in 2019 on the 1,600th anniversary of the death of St. Jerome, who famously translated the Bible.

The ministries themselves have also been shaped by Pope Francis in recent years. The pope changed Church law in January 2021 so that women could be formally instituted to the lay ministries of lector and acolyte.

Pope Francis established the ministry of catechist as an instituted, vocational service within the Catholic Church in May 2021.

The ministry is for laypeople who have a particular call to serve the Catholic Church as a teacher of the faith. The ministry lasts for the entirety of life, regardless of whether the person is actively carrying out that activity during every part of his or her life.

In his homily, Pope Francis said that “the Word of God is for everyone.” He underlined that the Word “calls everyone to conversion” and “leads us to direct our lives to the Lord.”

“All of us, even the pastors of the Church, are under the authority of the Word of God. Not under our own tastes, tendencies, and preferences, but under the one Word of God that molds us, converts us, and calls us to be united in the one Church of Christ,” Pope Francis said.

The pope said that the “proclamation of the Word must become the main priority of the ecclesial community, as it was for Jesus.”

“May it not happen that we profess a God with an expansive heart, yet become a Church with a closed heart … may it not be that we preach salvation for all, yet make the way to receive it impractical; may it not be that we recognize that we are called to proclaim the Kingdom, yet neglect the Word, losing ourselves in so many secondary activities or so many secondary discussions,” he said.

More than 5,000 people attended the Mass for the Sunday of the Word of God in St. Peter’s Basilica, according to the Vatican.

The Sunday of the Word of God has been celebrated in the Church each year on the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time since 2020.

Pope Francis said that the Word of God “draws us into the ‘net’ of the Father’s love and makes us apostles moved by an unquenchable desire to bring all those we encounter into the barque of the Kingdom.”

“Today let us also hear the invitation to be fishers of men: let us feel that we are called by Jesus in person to proclaim his Word, to bear witness to it in everyday life, to live it in justice and charity, to “give it flesh” by tenderly caring for those who suffer,” he said.

“This is our mission: to become seekers of the lost, oppressed, and discouraged, not to bring them ourselves, but the consolation of the Word, the disruptive proclamation of God that transforms life, to bring the joy of knowing that he is our Father and addresses each one of us, to bring the beauty of saying, ‘Brother, sister, God has come close to you, listen and you will find in his Word an amazing gift!’”

Cardinal Grech: Benedict XVI was misunderstood throughout his life

Vatican City, Jan 21, 2023 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

Pope Benedict XVI was misunderstood throughout his life and ministry, Cardinal Mario Grech wrote in an essay this week in the Vatican newspaper.

Writing in the Jan. 17 Italian edition of L’Osservatore Romano, Grech said Benedict XVI “often remained a misunderstood voice. And this has been a constant in Joseph Ratzinger’s life, theology, and papacy.”

Grech is secretary general of the Synod of Bishops and the chief organizer of the Catholic Church’s Synod on Synodality, currently in progress.

The Maltese cardinal compared Joseph Ratzinger — the future Pope Benedict XVI — to the clown in a famous story of the philosopher Kierkegaard: When a clown tried to sound the alarm that a dangerous fire had broken out in the circus and threatened the town if not extinguished, the townspeople did not take the clown seriously but laughed at what they thought were only his attempts to get them to come to the circus.

Grech pointed out that Professor Joseph Ratzinger, as the young theologian was known then, opened his 1968 book “Introduction to Christianity” with this same story, comparing the experience of Christian believers of the day to the experience of the misunderstood clown.

“Although Ratzinger never said so explicitly, I glimpse an identification, or at least a similarity, indeed, between the story of the clown and the personal story of the Bavarian theologian pope,” the cardinal said.

Ratzinger and his family were not understood when they resisted Nazi Germany, Grech said. Nor was Ratzinger the theologian understood when, in the period after the Second Vatican Council, he questioned whether certain proposed reforms were for the good of the Church — losing friends and positions along the way.

Grech said Cardinal Ratzinger was misunderstood in Rome, too, where, as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he had a reputation of being rigid and inflexible.

“Ratzinger was not understood even when he resigned [as pope],” the cardinal continued. “His figure and memory are sometimes used and politicized to create an antagonism between Pope Benedict and Pope Francis.”

“These few examples clearly show how incomprehension was a constant factor in the life and mission of this man,” he said.

Ratzinger, therefore, had two choices before him, Grech said: To continue to search for the truth, that is for Jesus Christ himself, with the risk of not being understood by the contemporary world; or to compromise with the truth and no longer be seen as the clown in Kierkegaard’s story.

“For Ratzinger, the answer was obvious. He was never willing to compromise with the truth, to cease searching for the truth, whatever the cost,” Grech underlined.

In his search for the truth, Pope Benedict XVI was not seeking philosophical concepts but Jesus Christ, the Maltese cardinal said.

“It was his love for this God, his encounter with Jesus, that guided his whole life,” Grech said. “In fact, as he used to say, ‘at the beginning of being a Christian there is not an ethical decision or a great idea, but the encounter with an event, with a Person, who gives life a new horizon and thereby the decisive direction’ (, 1). This Person is Jesus Christ.”

Pope Francis: In the Mass, prioritize awe over aesthetics

Vatican City, Jan 21, 2023 / 05:10 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Friday encouraged diocesan leaders to prioritize awe, evangelization, and silence before mere aesthetics in liturgical celebrations like the Mass.

“A celebration that does not evangelize is not authentic,” the pope said Jan. 20, quoting from his 2022 apostolic letter on liturgical reform, .

Without evangelization, he added, the liturgy “is a ‘ballet,’ a beautiful, aesthetic, nice ballet, but it is not authentic celebration.”

Pope Francis spoke about the liturgy in a Jan. 20 meeting with participants in an international training course for liturgical celebrations in Catholic dioceses.

The Jan. 16-20 course, organized by the liturgical institute of the Pontifical University of St. Anselm in Rome, was on the theme “living liturgical action in fullness.”

The pope said one of the aims of the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council was “to accompany the faithful to recover the ability to live the liturgical action in its fullness and to continue to marvel at what happens in the celebration before our eyes.”

Francis underlined that the Council was not talking about aesthetic joy or the aesthetic sense but wonder and amazement.

“Awe is something different from aesthetic pleasure: it is encounter with God. Only encounter with the Lord gives you awe,” he said.

To this end, the pope said, the liturgical formation of priests is essential, since they go on to form the faithful, who see whether they celebrate Mass properly and in a prayerful way.

Pope Francis also urged those who help organize liturgical celebrations to cultivate silence, especially immediately before the Mass, when people sometimes act like they are at a social gathering.

Silence in the pews and in the sacristy “helps the assembly and the concelebrants to focus on what is going to be accomplished,” he said.

“Fraternity is beautiful, greeting each other is beautiful, but it is the encounter with Jesus that gives meaning to our meeting with each other, to our gathering,” he said. “We must rediscover and value silence.”

The pope encouraged those who help a priest or bishop organize all of the ministers of liturgical celebrations, called , help “enhance the celebratory style experienced” in parishes.

He gave the example of when a bishop goes to celebrate Mass at a local parish.

“There is no need,” he said, “to have a nice ‘parade’ when the bishop is there and then everything goes back to the way it was. Your task is not to arrange the rite of one day, but to propose a liturgy that is imitable, with those adaptations that the community can take on board to grow in the liturgical life.”

“In fact, going to parishes and saying nothing in the face of liturgies that are a bit sloppy, neglected, poorly prepared, means not helping the communities, not accompanying them,” he added. “Instead, with gentleness, with a spirit of fraternity, it is good to help pastors to reflect on the liturgy, to prepare it with the faithful. In this the master of celebrations must use great pastoral wisdom.”

Pope Francis to do private Lenten retreat in 2023

Rome Newsroom, Jan 20, 2023 / 06:05 am (CNA).

Like the two years prior, Pope Francis and the Roman Curia will again do the Vatican’s annual Lenten retreat on an individual basis this year.

The Vatican said Friday that Pope Francis had invited cardinals living in Rome and the heads of dicasteries to participate in the spiritual exercises “in a personal way” during the first full week of Lent, Feb. 26–March 3.

During that week, all of Pope Francis’ appointments will be canceled, including the Wednesday general audience of March 1, the Vatican announced.

The pope asked the superiors of the Roman Curia to suspend their work activities and to use the five days for prayer.

This is the third year the Lenten spiritual exercises, formerly organized as a group retreat, will take place in a private manner.

In 2021 and 2022, the Vatican cited the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason for the change.

In 2020, a strong cold kept Pope Francis from joining the cardinals and leaders of the Roman Curia at a retreat house outside of Rome.

The practice of the pope going on a Lenten retreat with the heads of Vatican dicasteries began approximately 90 years ago under Pope Pius XI. The spiritual exercises were held in the Vatican, but starting in Lent 2014, Pope Francis chose to hold the retreat in Ariccia, about 16 miles southeast of Rome.

Pope Francis: World Youth Day 2023 in Lisbon will open horizons, hearts

Rome Newsroom, Jan 20, 2023 / 02:08 am (CNA).

World Youth Day in Lisbon, Portugal, will open horizons and hearts, Pope Francis said in a video message to the young adults who will attend the international gathering in August.

He said: “At this meeting, during this [World Youth Day], learn to always look towards the horizon, to always look beyond.”

“Don’t put up a wall in front of your life,” the pope encouraged. “Walls close you in, the horizon makes you grow. Always look at the horizon with your eyes, but look, above all, with your heart.”

Pope Francis sent the video message on Jan. 20, fewer than 200 days before World Youth Day (WYD) 2023 in Portugal’s capital city Aug. 1–6.

Organizers met with Pope Francis and Vatican officials to discuss final preparations for the six-day gathering, which expects to see hundreds of thousands of participants.

In his Jan. 20 video message, Pope Francis noted that 400,000 young adults had already registered to attend World Youth Day.

“It calls my attention and fills me with joy that so many young people will go to WYD, because they need to participate,” he said.

“Thank you for having already registered so far in advance,” the pope added. “Let’s hope others will follow your example.”

Francis said though some participants may claim they are only going to the event as tourists, rather than pilgrims, “deep down, he or she has the thirst to participate, to share, to tell their experience and receive the experience of others.”

He encouraged them to open their hearts to other cultures and to the other young men and women who will be there.

“Get ready for this: to open horizons, to open your hearts,” he said.

World Youth Day was established by Pope John Paul II in 1985. The meeting is typically held on a different continent every three years with the presence of the pope.

Lisbon, a city of 505,000 people, is approximately 75 miles from Fatima, one of the world’s most popular Marian pilgrimage sites.

Pope Francis is expected to attend the global Catholic gathering with stops in both Lisbon and Fatima.

The last World Youth Day was held in Panama in January 2019.

In 2020, Pope Francis announced that the next World Youth Day, originally planned for 2022, would be postponed by one year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meet the six newest venerable servants of God in the Catholic Church

Rome Newsroom, Jan 19, 2023 / 12:15 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis declared six Catholics as venerable servants of God on Thursday, moving them each one step closer to canonization.

In a decree signed on Jan. 19, the pope recognized the heroic virtue of an Italian stigmatic, four 20th-century priests, and a holy laywoman who spent much of her life in a sickbed.

Each now needs a miracle attributed to his or her intercession to be approved by the Vatican in order to be beatified. Here are their stories:

From the age of 9, Bertilla Antoniazzi was often in and out of hospitals after suffering from a rheumatic fever that damaged her heart and left her with a lifelong disability.

The young girl from northern Italy eventually came to understand that her mission in life was to “console those who suffered and to bring sinners closer to God,” according to the Vatican Dicastery for the Causes of Saints.

Antoniazzi began exchanging letters frequently with other sick women and girls and offered up her suffering for the salvation of souls, entrusting herself to Our Lady of Monte Berico, a Marian devotion in her hometown of Vicenza, Italy.

One year before she died at the age of 20, Antoniazzi made a pilgrimage in 1963 to Lourdes, where she asked the Blessed Virgin Mary for the gift of holiness rather than healing as her condition worsened with pulmonary edema and heart valve disease.

Her holiness inspired many of the people both in life and after her death on Oct. 22, 1964.

This 17th-century contemplative nun was known for her extraordinary spiritual gifts. After entering the convent in Florence of the Sisters Established in Charity (Suore Stabilite nella Carità) in 1672, Sister Maria Margherita Diomira received visions, prophecies, spiritual ecstasies, the ability to read hearts, and mystic participation in Christ’s passion, including receiving the stigmata.

Her confessor, Father Domenico Baldi, required Diomira to describe all of her mystical experiences out of obedience, assigning another nun to transcribe the entire account.

Diomira also experienced a difficult period of spiritual dryness that was overcome on Christmas Eve in 1676. She died the following year at the age of 26 after suffering from consumption and offering herself as a victim of love to the Lord.

Father Vicente López de Uralde Lazcano was a Spanish priest who was a beloved teacher and a sought-after confessor known for his Marian devotion.

After professing his vows in the Company of Mary, López de Uralde spent 62 years as a teacher and chaplain at the St. Philip Neri College in Cádiz, Spain.

When the school where he taught was occupied by militiamen during the Spanish Civil War, López de Uralde quickly sought to protect his students and to save the Eucharist. 

After his retirement from teaching at the age of 70, López de Uralde dedicated more time to hearing confessions. He died at the age of 96 on Sept. 15, 1990.

Father Gaetano Francesco Mauro founded the Rural Catechists association in Calabria in southern Italy in 1925 as a group of priests and laypeople dedicated to teaching the catechism to farmers and others who live in remote areas.

The diocesan priest also restored the former convent of St. Francis di Paola in the town of Montalto Uffugo, where he began to live in common with some of the members of his Religious Association of Rural Oratories (A.R.D.O.R.) in 1928.

Prior to founding the association, Mauro served as a military chaplain in World War I and was imprisoned in Austria, where he became sick with tuberculosis.

Based on his diaries, it is likely that the diocesan priest suffered from a form of depression with feelings of anguish, inadequacy, and desolation intensifying in the last years of his life, according to the Vatican Dicastery for the Causes of Saints. He died on Dec. 31, 1969, in Montalto Uffugo at the age of 81.

Born into a noble family on the Spanish island of Majorca in 1854, Miguel Costa y Llobera initially obeyed his father’s wishes for him to study law at the University of Barcelona.

After experiencing a spiritual crisis that left him with a deep feeling of dissatisfaction, Costa y Llobera realized that God was calling him to be a priest. Despite opposition from his family, he moved to Rome and was ordained a priest in 1888.

With a doctorate in theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University, Father Costa y Llobera became a professor of sacred archaeology and history of literature in the seminary of Palma de Mallorca.

The Spanish priest gained a reputation as a great poet. People knew him as “a very pious and learned man,” according to the Vatican Dicastery for the Causes of Saints.

St. Pope Pius X appointed him pontifical canon of the Cathedral of Palma de Mallorca in 1909.

Costa y Llobera died at the pulpit on Oct. 16, 1922, while he was giving a homily to mark the 300th anniversary of the canonization of St. Teresa of Ávila in the Discalced Carmelite Church in Mallorca.

As a diocesan priest in the northwest Piedmont region of Italy, Father Giovanni Barra was a sought-after preacher, writer, and journalist who also opened the “Casa Alpina” retreat center in the Alps, where young people and families came together to pray in the summer.

Barra served as the rector for the Seminary for Adult Vocations in Turin and was particularly devoted to offering spiritual direction and the formation of seminarians.

He died at the age of 61 after undergoing surgery for an intestinal blockage in January 1975.

Before he died, Barra wrote in his spiritual testament: “When I look back, I feel a wave of joy and gratitude rising in me from my heart. I am truly a happy priest in my priesthood.”

Cardinal Koch: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity a time to pray for peace in Ukraine

Rome Newsroom, Jan 19, 2023 / 08:00 am (CNA).

Under the shadow of the war in Ukraine, this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is an opportunity for Christians to work together to achieve peace, according to a Vatican cardinal.

Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said that he is praying this week that “we can re-find peace between Christians in Ukraine.”

In an interview with EWTN News on Jan. 18, the cardinal explained how the Ukraine war has created a “very difficult situation” for ecumenical dialogue because there are “many tensions and divisions in the Orthodox world.”

“I think we have, with this war in Ukraine, a very difficult situation, because Christians kill Christians, and above all Orthodox kill Orthodox. And this is a very bad and sad message for the world because the Christians have the duty and the responsibility to be engaged for peace,” Koch said.

“Religion cannot be part of the problem of war but must be part of reconciliation and peace.”

Cardinal Koch said the Catholic Church is working to “re-find unity” amid the tensions and divisions in the Orthodox world through dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox.

“And now we have many, many tensions and divisions in the Orthodox world, and this is a difficulty. For instance, we have an international and mixed commission between the Catholic Church and all the Orthodox churches, but the Russian Orthodox Church doesn’t participate in this dialogue,” he said.

Koch explained that the Russian Orthodox Church pulled out of commission after the Orthodox Church of Ukraine declared its autocephaly, or hierarchical independence, in 2019.

“And when the Russian Orthodox Church doesn’t participate in this dialogue, this is a challenge,” he added.

The cardinal underlined that the Vatican is working to keep the door open for dialogue with the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate, despite the difficulties.

“But for us, it is very important that we can continue the relations with the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate in Moscow. But it is a very difficult situation, because we have the impression that the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate sustains this war, and we have another vision, as said by the Holy Father … that this is nonsense, this war. But we must keep open the door for relations and to deepen what is possible,” he said.

The Catholic Church dedicates one week each January to prayer for unity among all Christians. The theme of this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is taken from Isaiah 1:17: “Do good; seek justice.”

The 56th Week of Prayer for Christian Unity began Jan. 18 and will continue with daily ecumenical prayers until the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul on Jan. 25, when Pope Francis will preside over an ecumenical prayer service in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.

On the first day of the week of prayer, Koch reflected how Pope Francis’ upcoming trip to Africa reflects the “common work” for reconciliation and peace shared by the Catholic Church, the Anglican World Communion, and the Presbyterian Church in England.

Pope Francis is scheduled to visit South Sudan from Feb. 3–5 for a visit that he is calling “a pilgrimage of peace” to the African country that has long struggled to implement peace agreements to end violence between armed groups and military forces.

The pope has desired for many years to make a trip to South Sudan together with the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the moderator of the Church of Scotland. A previously scheduled papal trip to South Sudan with Welby was canceled in 2017 due to security concerns, and the current trip was rescheduled for 2023 after it was postponed last summer due to Francis’ knee problems.

Koch sees a message of hope in the upcoming trip. He said: “This apostolic visit of the Holy Father in South Sudan will be a common pilgrimage between the archbishop of Canterbury, Welby, and the president of the Presbyterian Church in England and the pope because all these churches are engaged to re-find reconciliation in this country.”

“And this is a very beautiful sign that all the churches collaborate together for re-finding peace in this very difficult situation.”

Pope Francis discusses ‘ecological conversion’ with Buddhist monks from Cambodia

Rome Newsroom, Jan 19, 2023 / 07:20 am (CNA).

Pope Francis spoke with Buddhist monks from Cambodia on Thursday about the need for “ecological conversion.”

In a meeting at the Vatican on Jan. 19, the pope defined “ecological conversion” as “true repentance” that leads to the end of “ideologies and practices that are hurtful and disrespectful to the earth.”

Francis said that it requires people to commit to “promoting models of developments that heal wounds inflicted by greed, excessive search for financial profits, lack of solidarity with neighbors, and disrespect for the environment.”

He commended the delegation, which included civil society from Cambodia, for choosing “ecological conversion” as the theme of their visit to Rome focused on interreligious cooperation.

Pope Francis underlined “the profound richness that our respective religious traditions offer in  sustaining efforts to cultivate ecological responsibility.”

The pope said: “In following the tenets that the Buddha left as a legacy to his disciples (Pratimoksa), including the practices of , which involves not harming living things (cf. Metta Sutta sn 1.8) and living a simple lifestyle, Buddhists can achieve a compassionate protection for all beings, including the earth, their habitat.”

Francis continued: “For their part, Christians fulfill their ecological responsibility when, as trustworthy stewards, they protect creation, the work God has entrusted to them ‘to till and to keep’” (Gen 2:15; cf. Laudato Si’, 95; 217).

Bishop Olivier Schmitthaeusler, the apostolic vicar of Phnom Penh, also traveled to the Vatican for the meeting. The bishop from Strasbourg has served as a missionary in Cambodia for 25 years and speaks Khmer.

Pope Francis thanked the Cambodian delegation for their visit to the Vatican, where they will continue to meet with Vatican offices dedicated to interreligious dialogue.

“I am also certain that your meeting with the officials of the Dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue will provide an opportunity to explore further ways to promote ecological conversion through the initiatives undertaken by Buddhist-Christian dialogue both in Cambodia and in the whole region,” the pope said.

“Upon you and upon all in your noble country I invoke an abundance of blessings from on high.”

Cardinal Müller: Cardinal Pell was Pope Francis’ best theological counselor

Rome Newsroom, Jan 18, 2023 / 09:13 am (CNA).

Cardinal George Pell was the best theologian on Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals and a good papal counselor, Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, former head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office, said on Wednesday.

Müller commented on the Australian cardinal’s theological prowess following Pell’s sudden death in Rome at age 81 from cardiac arrest.

The pope’s former economy chief will be buried in Sydney, Australia, on Feb. 2 following a requiem Mass in St. Mary’s Cathedral. His funeral was held at St. Peter’s Basilica on Jan. 14.

Pope Francis is surrounded more by politicians than by good theologians, Müller said in a Jan. 18 interview with EWTN. “I think [Pell] was the best counselor of Pope Francis.”

“I hope that we have in him a good intercessor in heaven for all the needs of the Church and all the challenges that we have,” said the prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Pell was an inaugural member of Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals, a group of originally nine cardinals established in September 2013 to advise the pope.

The other original members of the council were Cardinals Pietro Parolin, Seán Patrick O’Malley, Reinhard Marx, Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, Oswald Gracias, Giuseppe Bertello, Francisco Javier Errázuriz Ossa, and Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya.

Müller, who lived in the same apartment as Pell in Rome, noted the cardinal’s strong intellectual formation in Oxford and his knowledge of patristic and systematic theology.

After his ordination as a priest in 1966 in Rome, Pell earned a licentiate degree in sacred theology from the Pontifical Urban University. He then took up doctoral studies at the University of Oxford and earned a doctorate in 1971 in Church history.

Pell “met us regularly after he came back from Australia, where he was in a very brutal way, against all the evidence, sentenced for six years in prison,” Müller said, and “suffered 400 days and more in the prison, isolated.”

The cardinal “has testified with his life, and his great patience, to salvation in Jesus Christ,” Müller said, “because Jesus Christ redeemed us by his suffering on the cross; he didn’t protest it, he didn’t make a revolution with arms.”

“He is a very good witness and example for Christian life, in the intellectual dimension, but also in his suffering of this injustice” of trial and imprisonment, Müller said, adding that in his suffering, Pell imitated Jesus Christ and the martyred apostles St. Peter and St. Paul.

Cardinal Schönborn calls Gänswein book ‘unseemly indiscretion,’ confirms key detail of Benedict papacy

CNA Newsroom, Jan 18, 2023 / 08:00 am (CNA).

Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schönborn on Wednesday confirmed he was the person who encouraged Joseph Ratzinger to accept the conclave’s decision — if elected — to become the successor to Pope John Paul II as supreme pontiff of the Catholic Church.

Benedict’s longtime secretary, , revealed Schönborn’s identity in his book titled “Nothing but the Truth” (“Nient’altro che la verita”), which was published in Italy last week.

CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner,  that Schönborn on Jan. 18 confirmed Gänswein’s assertion that Schönborn had written Cardinal Ratzinger “a little letter just in case.” 

At the same time, the archbishop of Vienna accused Gänswein of committing an act of “unseemly indiscretion” with his book by publishing “confidential things,” according to the Archdiocese of Vienna’s .

Schönborn said he had “so far deliberately kept silent” about his note to Benedict, noting “it happened within the context of the meeting of the cardinals, and not at the conclave itself.” 

Pope Benedict XVI spoke about the letter on April 25, 2005, during  with pilgrims from Germany. 

The address is famous among German Catholics as the “guillotine speech” — in German . 

In it, Benedict compared the experience of his election to that of having the axe of a guillotine dropping down on him. The guillotine blade in German is called a .

Speaking just as openly about what swayed him to accept his election, the then newly elected pope revealed he had been “very touched by a brief note written to me by a brother cardinal.” 

Benedict said: “He reminded me that on the occasion of the , I had based my homily, starting from the Gospel, on the Lord’s words to Peter by the Lake of Gennesaret: ‘Follow me!’ I spoke of how again and again, Karol Wojtyła received this call from the Lord, and how each time he had to renounce much and to simply say: ‘Yes, I will follow you, even if you lead me where I never wanted to go.’”

“This brother cardinal wrote to me: Were the Lord to say to you now, ‘Follow me’, then remember what you preached. Do not refuse! Be obedient in the same way that you described the great pope, who has returned to the house of the Father. This deeply moved me. The ways of the Lord are not easy, but we were not created for an easy life, but for great things, for goodness.”

Benedict added: “Thus, in the end I had to say ‘yes.’”

In his book, Gänswein also addressed the fact that Schönborn and Ratzinger were on a first-name basis. 

Apart from Benedict’s childhood friends, Cardinal Schönborn, a member of Ratzinger’s circle of students, was one of the few who addressed his former teacher as “Du” (the informal “You”), Gänswein wrote.

Another episode covered in Gänswein’s book — a brief but very personal conversation between the newly elected Pope Benedict XVI and Schönborn — also took place as described by Gänswein, the Viennese archbishop confirmed on Jan. 18.

Schönborn, a Dominican friar descended from the Austrian nobility, tendered his resignation as archbishop of Vienna before his 75th birthday on Jan. 22, 2020. 

Around the same time,  Pope Francis had declined the resignation, asking Schönborn to stay on for “an indefinite period.”

Pope Francis: Jesus is ‘the unsurpassed model of evangelization’

Vatican City, Jan 18, 2023 / 06:05 am (CNA).

Pope Francis invited Christians on Wednesday to pray for the grace to have a “pastoral heart” like Jesus that “suffers and takes risks” out of love for others.

At his weekly public audience on Jan. 18, the pope said that Jesus provides “the unsurpassed model of evangelization.”

“Christ not only has the words of life, but he makes his life a Word, a message: that is, he lives always turned toward the Father and toward us,” Pope Francis said in Paul VI Hall.

“Indeed, if we look at his days as described in the Gospels, we see that intimacy with his Father — prayer — occupies the first place. … Specifically, within this relationship in prayer which connects him to the Father in the Spirit, Jesus discovers the meaning of his being human, of his existence in the world as a mission for us,” he said.

After praying each day, Jesus dedicated his time to proclaiming the Kingdom of God and serving people, especially the poorest, the most vulnerable, the sinners, and the sick, the pope added.

Pope Francis said that one of the best images to represent Jesus’ style of life is that of “the Good Shepherd” who “lays down his life for his sheep” (Jn 10:11).

“By being with Jesus, we discover that his pastoral heart always beats for the person who is confused, lost, far away,” he said.

In this, Jesus the Good Shepherd provides a model against which “to evaluate our pastoral care,” Francis added.

The pope recommended rereading often of the Gospel of Luke, which contains the parable of the lost sheep, to come to truly understand apostolic zeal.

“There we discover that God does not contemplate the sheep pen, nor does he threaten them so they won’t leave. Rather, if one leaves and gets lost, he does not abandon that sheep but goes in search of it. He does not say, ‘You got up and left — it’s your fault — that’s your business!’ His pastoral heart reacts in another way: It suffers and takes risks,” Pope Francis said.

“Yes, God suffers for those who leave, and while he mourns over them, he loves even more. The Lord suffers when we distance ourselves from his heart. He suffers for all who do not know the beauty of his love and the warmth of his embrace. But, in response to this suffering, he does not withdraw, rather he risks. He leaves the 99 sheep who are safe and ventures out for the lost one. … This is God’s zeal.”

The pope’s general audience message was the second in a new weekly series of catechesis, or teachings, on evangelization and apostolic zeal.

At the end of his general audience, Pope Francis asked for people to join him in praying for and for persecuted Christians around the world.

“I ask all of you to join me in praying for Father Isaac Achi, of the Diocese of Minna in northern Nigeria, who was killed last Sunday in an attack on his rectory,” he said.

“So many Christians continue to be the target of violence: let us remember them in our prayers!”

Pope Francis also urged people to pray for peace in “martyred Ukraine,” where a Russian missile strike on an apartment building last Saturday killed 45 people, including six children.

“Last Saturday, a new missile attack claimed many civilian victims, including children. I make the heartbreaking grief of the family members my own,” the pope said.

“The images and testimonies of this tragic episode are a strong appeal to all consciences. One cannot remain indifferent!”

Pope Francis prays for priest killed in Nigeria, asks for prayers for persecuted Christians

Vatican City, Jan 18, 2023 / 03:05 am (CNA).

At the end of his Wednesday audience, Pope Francis asked for people to join him in praying for persecuted Christians around the world.

The pope said on Jan. 18 that he was praying for , a Catholic priest who died after bandits set fire to his parish rectory in northern Nigeria.

Armed bandits attacked the parish residence at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Kafin Koro, Nigeria, at 3 a.m. on Sunday. Another priest at the rectory, Father Collins Omeh, escaped the building but sustained gunshot wounds. The Diocese of Minna has said that Omeh is responding to treatment.

Speaking to pilgrims in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall, Pope Francis said: “I ask all of you to join me in praying for Father Isaac Achi, of the Diocese of Minna in northern Nigeria, who was killed last Sunday in an attack on his rectory.”

“So many Christians continue to be the target of violence: let us remember them in our prayers!”

Pope Francis also extended a special greeting to French-speaking pilgrims from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where he will be visiting at the end of this month.

On the same day that the priest was killed in Nigeria,at a Pentecostal church in the eastern Congolese town of Kasindi, killing at least 14 people and injuring more than 60.

In a message of condolence after the bombing, Pope Francis expressed his “compassion and closeness to all the families so hard hit by this tragedy.”

The pope’s will provide an opportunity for him to further highlight the .

On his second day in Kinshasa, Pope Francis is scheduled to meet with victims of violence from the eastern region of the DRC, where more than 5.5 million people have been displaced from their homes.

PHOTOS: Animals blessed in St. Peter’s Square for feast of St. Anthony Abbot

Vatican City, Jan 17, 2023 / 12:20 pm (CNA).

St. Peter’s Square was filled with horses, cows, donkeys, dogs, goats, geese, and rabbits on Tuesday for the feast of St. Anthony Abbot.

Farmers and pet owners alike brought their beloved animals to the Vatican for a special blessing on Jan. 17.

While many American Catholics associate the feast of St. Francis of Assisi with a blessing of animals, in Italy farmers traditionally celebrate the feast of St. Anthony Abbot, the patron saint of domestic animals.

St. Anthony Abbot was a fourth-century hermit known for his asceticism and as a father of monasticism. His holy life in the Egyptian desert was recorded by St. Athanasius in“.”

The annual Vatican tradition had been canceled for the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite the cold and rainy weather, many people showed up to celebrate again with their furry friends.

Cardinal Mauro Gambetti, the archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica, greeted many of the animals after offering the blessing.

The cardinal kicked off the day’s celebration with a Mass inside St. Peter’s Basilica, where farmers brought up cheese, eggs, and other farm products as part of the offertory.

After Mass, a mounted police band led a parade of horses down the main street leading to Vatican City.

In his homily, Gambetti recalled how St. Anthony was sought after for his wisdom: “He said that in addition to Scripture, his book was Creation in which he read the thoughts of God.”

Acknowledging that farmers have faced difficulties this year with a rise in production costs linked to the energy crisis in Europe, Gambetti said that “the Lord never fails to provide his providential help.”

“The fruit of the earth that turns into good food that nourishes life is the caress of God,” the Italian cardinal said.

Pope Francis prays for victims of Congo church bombing

Rome Newsroom, Jan 17, 2023 / 09:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis expressed his closeness on Tuesday to the victims of a church bombing in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that killed at least 14 people and injured more than 60.

“In prayer, the Holy Father entrusts the deceased and the wounded to the mercy of God. He implores Christ, the Lord of Life, that the afflicted may find consolation and trust in God, invoking upon them the gift of peace,” a telegram sent Jan. 17 on behalf of the pope said.

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the deadly bombing of a Sunday church service at a Pentecostal church in the eastern Congolese town of Kasindi on the border with Uganda.

Congolese authorities said the day after the attack that the death toll had risen to at least 14 people, according to The Associated Press.

The pope is scheduled to visit the Congolese capital of Kinshasa from Jan. 31 to Feb. 3, where he will meet with victims of violence from the country’s eastern region.

Pope Francis was originally scheduled to also visit Goma, the capital of North Kivu, in addition to Kinshasa in his July itinerary before the trip was postponed to February. The stop was removed from the 2023 schedule, likely due to security concerns in the eastern DRC.

The violence in eastern Congo has created a severe humanitarian crisis with more than 5.5 million people displaced from their homes, the third-highest number of internally displaced people in the world.

that he hopes the pope’s January visit will shed light on the “crimes against humanity” occurring in the DRC’s eastern region.

The Allied Democratic Forces, an African affiliate of the Islamic State, in the country’s northeast province of North Kivu in October 2022 and killed six patients and Catholic Sister Marie-Sylvie Kavuke Vakatsuraki.

Another armed rebel group, the M23, executed 131 people “as part of a campaign of murders, rapes, kidnappings, and looting against two villages,” the U.N. reported Dec. 8, 2022.

Pope Francis’ condolence message after the bombing was addressed to Rev. Andre Bokundoa-Bo-Likabe, the president of the Church of Christ in Congo, who has called for “credible investigations to establish responsibility” for the attack and for the government to ensure proper care for “all the wounded scattered in different hospitals.”

Congolese Catholic Bishop Melchisedec Sikuli Paluku also the “heinous” attack on the Protestant church and reassured the families affected of his diocese’s “fervent prayers in this time of trial.”

Paluku, the bishop of Butembo-Beni in eastern Congo, stressed that authorities have the obligation to “to protect citizens as well as their property” and “to scrupulously enforce the principle of the sacredness of life and the inviolability of places of worship.”

“Anyone who kills is against God's plan,” the bishop said.

Pope Francis offers condolences after 69 die in Nepal plane crash

Vatican City, Jan 16, 2023 / 07:55 am (CNA).

Pope Francis offered his condolences after at least 69 people died in a plane crash in Nepal on Sunday.

The pope sent a to Nepal’s President Bidya Devi Bhandari on Jan. 16 after Yeti Airlines flight 691 crashed as it was attempting to land in the Nepalese city of Pokhara.

The plane was carrying 72 passengers from Kathmandu to Pokhara, a popular base for trekkers in the Annapurna mountain range in the Himalayas.

Fifteen foreign nationals were on board, coming from India, Russia, South Korea, Argentina, France, Ireland, and Australia. At least 69 of the passengers have been confirmed dead, according to The Associated Press.

The telegram sent on the pope’s behalf by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said: “Saddened by the crash of the Yeti Airlines aircraft near Pokhara, His Holiness Pope Francis sends his condolences to you and to all affected by this tragedy, together with his prayers for those involved in the recovery efforts.”

“Commending the souls of the deceased to the mercy of the Almighty, His Holiness invokes upon those who mourn their loss the divine blessings of healing and peace.”

Analysis: Pope Francis centralizes authority with reform of Diocese of Rome

Rome Newsroom, Jan 15, 2023 / 11:00 am (CNA).

It was widely anticipated that a major reform of the Diocese of Rome was coming, as Pope Francis has been thinking about it for some time.

But no one expected it to come when it did: On Jan. 6, one day after the funeral of Francis’ predecessor as bishop of Rome, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

With the reform, Pope Francis firmly took over the reins of the vicariate, or hierarchy, of the diocese. Everything is centralized, and everything must pass, at least formally, under the control of the pontiff.

Cardinal Angelo de Donatis, the pope’s vicar for the diocese, sees his role deeply diminished. The diocese’s auxiliary bishops strengthen their direct link with the pope. In the end, the pope has made it clear that he is the one who also formally presides over the Episcopal Council, a new body established as an “expression of synodality.”

Before going into some details of the new decree, however, some background is necessary. 

The last reform of the structure of the Vicariate of Rome was outlined by Pope John Paul II in 1998 with the apostolic constitution . For the new reform, Pope Francis copied and pasted several passages from that document. In some cases, these have been minimally rewritten to emphasize some details instead of others. In other cases, greater changes were made but these do little to alter the basic substance of things.

The reform presents two general characteristics of Pope Francis’ way of legislating: using councils or commissions and requiring those bodies to report directly to him.

It is clear that the pope is the bishop of Rome and that the pope’s vicar for the diocese is his auxiliary. Pope Francis, however, in this case, goes further, including with the constitution a decree that directly defines the areas of competence of the auxiliary bishops.

Pope Francis shows, in this way, a willingness to exercise greater personal control over everything that happens in the vicariate. At the same time, this choice also testifies to a “break” in the relationship of trust with his vicar, Cardinal de Donatis.

Although Francis called de Donatis to preach retreats to the Roman Curia in 2014, he was never the pope’s candidate to succeed Cardinal Agostino Vallini as vicar. That was Cardinal Paolo Lojudice.

Pope Francis, however, wanted to first consult the parish priests of Rome, 80% of whom preferred de Donatis. It was impossible, therefore, for the pope not to listen to them. He appointed de Donatis vicar (and cardinal) and made Lojudice archbishop of the prestigious Diocese of Siena, and a cardinal, as well.

Last May, at the general assembly of the Italian Episcopal Conference, it seemed clear that Pope Francis preferred the appointment of Cardinal Lojudice as the new president of the CEI. 

The plan was to appoint Lojudice vicar of the Diocese of Rome to succeed Cardinal de Donatis, who had finished his five-year term, which would then have made Lojudice the primary contact person for the pope both in Rome and among the Italian bishops. De Donatis would have been appointed the new Penitentiary in place of Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, who has now turned 78.

The Italian bishops, however, preferred Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, archbishop of Bologna, who was not unwelcome to Pope Francis.

Lojudice didn’t become vicar for the Rome Diocese, either, as everyone assumed would happen. Meanwhile, the relationship of trust between de Donatis and the pope seemed to have been interrupted in 2020, when, at the beginning of the lockdown for COVID-19, de Donatis decided to close the churches of Rome. When Pope Francis later highlighted the inadvisability of closing churches, de Donatis withdrew the decree but announced that every decision had been made in agreement with the pope. There also have been other moments of friction in recent years. 

The pope, however, now seems intent on changing the vicar this year when de Donatis’ mandate expires. An indication of this is the fact that in the decree in which the pope defines the area and pastoral competencies of the auxiliary bishops, de Donatis is not mentioned as vicar. One might take his presence for granted, of course, but the general interpretation is that the change will be made.

What are the novelties introduced by Pope Francis? First, the figure of the prelate general secretary disappears, while the vicegerente (or the deputy of the vicar) manages the offices of the General Secretariat. The prelate secretary also had the function of the moderator of the Curia. In this case, everything is entrusted to the vicegerente, who thus sees his functions and weight increase.

The pope chose the vicegerente from among the auxiliary bishops, and in this case, Baldassare Reina was selected. Bishop Reina does not come from the Diocese of Rome but was called from Agrigento. The pope’s logic is to break possible power chains by bringing in fresh and foreign forces.

The choice of a new parish priest is entrusted to a lengthy procedure that must then, in any case, be submitted to the pope, who acts as the true and proper bishop of Rome without relying on the vicar, who is left with the appointment of assistant parish priests.

Article 20 of the Constitution requests a report for each candidate for the priesthood or diaconate to be submitted before ordination. Also, in this case, the candidates must be presented by the cardinal vicar to the pope, and only after obtaining the Episcopal Council’s consent. Therefore, the vicar seems to be practically a commissariat: He does not choose the candidates but submits them to the pope and can submit them only after the Episcopal Council has endorsed the choice.

The council is defined as the “first organ of Synodality” and must meet “at least three times a month,” presided over by the pope. Only in the absence of the pope can the cardinal vicar preside over the council, which is made up of the vicegerent and the auxiliary bishops. However, the pope wants to receive “the agenda for each meeting as soon as possible.”

Finally, there is also the establishment of an Independent Supervisory Commission. This will have a regulation that must be “approved by the pope” and six members appointed by the pope who can remain in office for a maximum of two five-year terms.

The service for the protection of minors and vulnerable people is also added, which “reports to the Episcopal Council, through the auxiliary bishop appointed by me,” the pope has decreed.

The constitution also redistributes the areas and offices of the vicariate’s curia, and the accompanying decree gives each auxiliary bishop a specific task.

Beyond the reorganization, it should be noted how the pope enters into action as the actual bishop of Rome. Everything must pass through the decisions of the pope, while before, the cardinal vicar enjoyed trust and discretion. For the first time, however, the pope’s vicar is defined as an “auxiliary.” He is, therefore, an auxiliary among the auxiliaries, with a considerable reduction in his weight.

With this centralization, Pope Francis probably wants to overcome the risk of having “abuses” within the vicariate.

It is worth remembering that in June 2021, Pope Francis ordered an inspection of the vicariate itself. It was an audit entrusted to the auditor general of the Holy See, Alessandro Cassinis Righini. It was the first time the vicariate sifted through the accounting books, registers, and cooperative societies.

However, the pope, as a matter of practice, has sent an inspection to all the dicasteries of the Curia every time there is a reform or a new mandate. The review, therefore, already predicted the change of pace in the vicariate, one that has led Pope Francis to be increasingly alone in command.

Pope Francis announces ecumenical prayer service, reflects on St. John the Baptist’s ‘spirit of service’

Vatican City, Jan 15, 2023 / 06:17 am (CNA).

In his Angelus address on Sunday, Pope Francis encouraged Christians to cultivate the virtue of knowing “how to step aside” in order to bear witness to Jesus, as St. John the Baptist did.

The pope also announced that an ecumenical prayer vigil will take place in St. Peter’s Square as part of the Church’s ongoing Synod on Synodality.

Speaking from the window of the Apostolic Palace on Jan. 15, the pope shared lessons from St. John the Baptist’s “spirit of service.”

Pope Francis said that St. John was “not interested in having a following for himself, in gaining prestige and success, but he bears witness and then steps back, so that many may have the joy of meeting Jesus.”

He reflected on St. John’s words after baptizing Jesus in the Jordan River: “‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me” (John 1: 29–30).

“This declaration, this testimony, reveals John’s spirit of service,” the pope said. “Humanly speaking, one would think that he would be given a ‘prize,’ a prominent place in Jesus’ public life. But no. John, having accomplished his mission, knows how to step aside, he withdraws from the scene to make way for Jesus.”

In this way, St. John the Baptist teaches “freedom from attachments” and “gratuitousness, taking care of others without benefit for oneself,” he said.

“Because it is easy to become attached to roles and positions, to the need to be esteemed, recognized, and rewarded,” the pope reflected.

“It is good for us, too, to cultivate, like John, the virtue of setting ourselves aside at the right moment, bearing witness that the point of reference of life is Jesus.”

Pope Francis recommended self-reflection on the following questions: “Do we attract others to Jesus, or to ourselves? And furthermore, following the example of John: Do we know how to rejoice in the fact that people take their own path and follow their calling, even if this entails some detachment from us? Do we rejoice in their achievements with sincerity and without envy?”

At the end of his general audience, Pope Francis announced that an ecumenical prayer vigil will take place in St. Peter’s Square on Sept. 30, 2023, as part of the Church’s ongoing Synod on Synodality.

The ecumenical prayer vigil, organized by the Taizé Community, will “entrust to God the work of the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops,” set to take place in two sessions from Oct. 4–29, 2023, and in October 2024.

“Starting now, I invite our brothers and sisters of all Christian denominations to participate in this gathering of the People of God,” the pope said.

Pope Francis also highlighted the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which will begin this week on Jan. 18, noting that the “path to Christian unity and the Church’s journey to synodal conversion are linked.”

“We thank the Lord who faithfully and patiently guides his people toward full communion, and we ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten and sustain us with his gifts,” he said.

The pope urged people “not to forget the martyred people of Ukraine, who are suffering so much” and to remain close to them with aid and prayers.

He also greeted pilgrims who traveled to Rome from across the globe. “May your visit to St. Peter’s tomb strengthen your faith and your witness,” he said.

Pope Francis: Synodal journey ‘a challenge and task’ for American seminarians

Vatican City, Jan 14, 2023 / 09:45 am (CNA).

Pope Francis told American seminarians in Rome that they are called to take up the “challenge and task” of the synodal journey — of listening to the Holy Spirit and to one another — as they study to become priests.

The pope met with students, staff, and faculty of the Pontifical North American College at the Vatican on the morning of Jan. 14.

“Your time here in Rome,” he said, “coincides with the synodal journey that the whole Church is presently undertaking, a journey that involves listening, to the Holy Spirit and to one another, in order to discern how to help God’s holy people live his gift of communion and become missionary disciples.”

“This is also the challenge and task you are called to take up as you walk together along the path that leads to priestly ordination and pastoral service,” the pope said in the Apostolic Palace.

The Pontifical North American College, founded in 1859, hosts seminarians and priests from the United States and Australia as they complete studies in Rome. Faculty and staff include priests, religious sisters, and laypeople.

During the private audience, Francis also encouraged the seminarians to foster a daily relationship with Jesus by spending time in silence before the Eucharist.

“Over the course of your lives, and especially throughout this time of seminary formation, the Lord enters into a personal dialogue with you, asking what you are looking for and inviting you to ‘come and see,’ to speak with him from your hearts and give yourselves to him confidently in faith and love,” Pope Francis said.

“Doing so involves fostering a daily relationship with Jesus, one nourished especially by prayer, meditation on the word of God, the help of spiritual accompaniment, and listening to him in silence before the tabernacle,” he underlined. “Always remember this: listening in silence before the tabernacle.”

The pope invited the seminarians to use their years in Rome to see the mystery of the unity of the Church, in which diverse people live the oneness of the faith.

“It is my hope that these experiences will help you develop that fraternal love capable of seeing the grandeur of our neighbor, of finding God in every human being, of tolerating the nuisances of life in common,” he said.

“For it is in these moments of familiar relationship with the Lord,” he continued, “that we can best hear his voice and discover how to serve him and his people generously and wholeheartedly.”

‘A man of the Church’: Cardinal George Pell’s funeral celebrated at Vatican

Vatican City, Jan 14, 2023 / 07:50 am (CNA).

Catholics traveled from near and far to attend the funeral Mass of Cardinal George Pell in St. Peter’s Basilica on Saturday.

The Australian cardinal died in Rome Jan. 10 from a cardiac arrest following a hip surgery. He was 81.

His Jan. 14 funeral, held at the Altar of the Chair, was filled to capacity, with extra chairs added at the last minute to accommodate people standing as far back as the Vatican basilica’s main altar.

“A man of God and a man of the Church, he was characterized by a deep faith and great steadfastness of doctrine, which he always defended without hesitation and with courage, concerned only with being faithful to Christ,” Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re said about Pell in his homily for the funeral.

“As he noted many times, the weakening of faith in the Western world and the moral crisis of the family grieved him,” Re said. “To God, who is good and rich in mercy, we entrust this brother of ours, praying that God will welcome him into the peace and intimacy of his love.”

Pell’s brother, David Pell, and cousin Chris Meney, together with other family members, priests, and religious, traveled from Australia to be at the funeral.

Michael Casey, Pell’s former secretary who now works at the Australian Catholic University, was also in attendance.

From Rome, Holy See diplomats, students, and priests also came to pray for Pell’s repose. Seminarians of the Pontifical North American College attended the funeral Mass immediately following their audience with Pope Francis the same morning.

American author George Weigel, a longtime friend of Cardinal Pell, traveled from the United States for the funeral.

The Mass was celebrated by Cardinal Re, the dean of the College of Cardinals, and concelebrated by cardinals and bishops.

Pell’s private secretary during his years in Rome, Father Joseph Hamilton, and archbishop Georg Gänswein, the longtime secretary of Pope Benedict XVI, also concelebrated.

Pope Francis arrived at the end of the Mass to perform the rite of final commendation and farewell, as is his custom for the funeral of a cardinal.

“May God unite his soul with those of all the saints and faithful departed,” the pope prayed. “May he be given a merciful judgment so that, redeemed from death, freed from punishment, reconciled to the Father, carried in the arms of the Good Shepherd, he may deserve to enter fully into everlasting happiness in the company of the eternal King together with all the saints.”

Francis sprinkled holy water. A priest incensed the coffin as the choir and congregation sang the Marian antiphon .

Applause broke out as Pell’s coffin was carried from St. Peter’s Basilica.

The cardinal will be buried in his former cathedral, St. Mary’s, in Sydney, Australia.

The day before his funeral, a visitation was held for Pell in the Church of Santo Stefano degli Abissini inside the Vatican.

The Gospel for Cardinal Pell’s funeral Mass was from Luke 12, about the vigilant and faithful servants: “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival,” Luke 12:37 says.

The Responsorial Psalm was from Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

In his homily, Re remarked on Pell’s unexpected death and on his recent attendance at the funeral of Pope Benedict XVI.

“Despite his 81 years, he seemed to be in good health,” he said. “Hospitalized for hip surgery, heart complications ensued, causing his death.”

“Enlightened and comforted by faith in the risen Christ, we are gathered around this altar and the body of Cardinal Pell to entrust his soul to God, that he may be received into the immensity of his love in life without end.”

Re described Pell as a “strong-willed and decisive protagonist, characterized by the temper of a strong character, which at times could appear harsh.”

The cardinal’s premature death, Re said, has left us dismayed, but “there is only room in our hearts for hope.”

Cardinal Pell authored controversial memo critical of Pope Francis, journalist reveals

Rome Newsroom, Jan 13, 2023 / 13:05 pm (CNA).

A Catholic journalist from Italy revealed Wednesday that Cardinal George Pell, who died on Jan. 10, had been the author of a controversial memo about the next papal election.

The anonymous memo was circulated among cardinals during Lent last year and by Sandro Magister on March 15, 2022.

Magister, a longtime Vatican journalist, revealed the identity of the document’s author on Jan. 11, the day after Pell’s death from a cardiac arrest at the age of 81.

In an article about the Australian cardinal’s “last writings,” Magister wrote on his blog “Settimo Cielo” that “Pell was the author of that memorandum, signed ‘Demos,’ which was very critical of the pontificate of Francis.”

The funeral Mass of the Australian cardinal will be held in St. Peter’s Basilica on Jan. 14. Pope Francis will preside over the rites of final commendation and farewell, as he does for all cardinals who die in Rome.

Magister’s disclosure sparked a backlash against Pell on social media.

“Like Jesus, Francis’s love and mercy draw out bad spirits of disdain and rigidity. You saw it, sad to say, in Pell RIP,” tweeted Catholic journalist and Pope Francis biographer Austen Ivereigh.

But at least one friend of Pell’s, Jesuit Father Joseph Fessio, founder and editor of Ignatius Press, voiced skepticism that Pell was the author of the memo.

“I think it’s just pure speculation as to whether he’s the author or not,” Fessio said Jan. 12 on EWTN’s “The World Over with Raymond Arroyo.” “He’s said enough things publicly that we can understand what his views were on these things. I will take a sed contra on this. George Pell was a loyal son of the Church. He would not publicly criticize the Holy Father, and I doubt that he would put his signature to something, even anonymously, that would be public criticism.”

The memo on a future conclave described Pope Francis’ pontificate as a “disaster” and listed ways the author thought the pope had caused confusion on important issues in the Church.

The document’s author also laid out what it considered to be grave problems in the Vatican, including financial, legal, and doctrinal issues, before outlining the qualities needed in the next pope.

“The Vatican’s political prestige is now at a low ebb,” the memorandum said.

The critical tone of the memo is matched by a more recent writing by Pell, published posthumously by the British magazine The Spectator.

, which calls Pope Francis’ three-year-long Synod on Synodality a “toxic nightmare,” was published on Jan. 11.

An associate editor of the magazine, Damian Thompson, as Pell’s “last public statement,” though he did not know he was about to die when writing it and “was prepared to face the fury of Pope Francis and the [synod] organisers when it was published.”

Cardinal George Pell’s final years in Rome

Rome Newsroom, Jan 12, 2023 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

Cardinal George Pell arrived in Rome on Sept. 30, 2020, in the midst of Vatican financial scandals and the immediate aftermath of the resignation of his once-rival, Cardinal Angelo Becciu.

Pell after defending himself against abuse charges in his home country of Australia for three years. In April 2020, Australia’s High Court overturned his conviction and ordered his immediate release from jail.

After more than a year behind bars, Pell’s time in Rome was marked by a level of activity impressive for a man entering his eighth decade of life.

The Australian cardinal published three volumes of his prison journals. He had interviews, lunches, and speaking engagements in Rome and abroad. He did not neglect prayer, either, in what ended up being the last two years and three months of his life.

Shortly after his return to Rome, he could be seen at the entrance of the Church of Santo Spirito in Sassia, where he had come to the parish’s regular eucharistic adoration, prayer journal in hand.

He could be spotted regularly, in the two years that followed, on the streets around the church and his apartment, one block from the Vatican.

One time, when a reporter stopped to introduce herself to his personal secretary, the young priest had to run to catch up with the gentle giant, lumbering, walking stick in hand, about 300 feet ahead.

“We’re late for adoration,” the winded Father Joseph Hamilton explained.

Pope Francis received the exonerated cardinal — his former finance chief — on Oct. 12, 2020, .

In January 2021 Pell about financial transparency in the Catholic Church, welcoming Pope Francis’ inclusion of laywomen on the Vatican’s economy council.

He said he hoped “clear-headed” women would help “sentimental males” do the right thing concerning Church finances.

The former head of the Archdiocese of Sydney and Diocese of Melbourne, Pell also met frequently with the priests of Australia living and studying in Rome.

Father Michael Kong, 39, met Pell in 2021. He told CNA he saw the cardinal about once a month or so together with other Australian priests. Pell also attended functions at the Australian embassy.

Kong described Pell as a pastor, father, and friend.

“He was very friendly and he always asked me how I was doing,” the priest said. “He always asked me about my opinion on certain issues and media and things.”

The Melbourne priest is studying Church communications at Rome’s University of the Holy Cross.

He said for the Australian priests in Rome, Pell was “a good pastor, a good shepherd, a spiritual father, or even a grandfather.”

Kong said the cardinal was always kind to the random people who would approach him on the street to say hello.

“I witnessed that he was a man of strong faith in God, of course,” he said, adding that Pell had a “gentle and humorous manner” with people.

In May 2021, Pell at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, known as the Angelicum.

Speaking to EWTN News, Pell said: “I’m very pleased to be here. I gather it’s a student initiative, led by students, a wonderful example of faith in practice.”

“I think it’s important after COVID to get back to a regular church routine of prayer and worship,” he continued. “I’m not sure in the long run that COVID will change too much, but it might have given another excuse for us to get a little bit slack, a little bit relaxed, in our approach to our prayer and worship, and we’ve got to battle against that.”

Pell also had a good relationship with journalists and media. He collaborated with EWTN on multiple occasions, including taped and live interviews the week of the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, just a couple of weeks before his own sudden passing from a cardiac arrest.

“What I knew about him was, I think, what many Catholics knew about him, which was really the high-profile case,” Colm Flynn, a journalist working with EWTN, told CNA.

From 2020 until this month, Flynn interviewed Pell about five times, for both TV and radio.

Flynn said he thought the cardinal would be reluctant to do media interviews after his return to Rome. But it only took a bit of time to build up the trust of Pell and his secretary.

“And then I was surprised when I first met him that there was a different side to Cardinal George Pell than the one that I had seen portrayed in the media,” Flynn said. “There was this gentle and kind side to him that you often didn’t see in other places or hear about. So I was lucky enough to kind of see that side of him over the past couple of years.”

“On top of that he was always quick to offer a word of support and encouragement to me and to the team at EWTN,” he said.

In March 2022, Pell in memory of Mother Angelica, the founder of EWTN, at the Church of Santo Spirito in Sassia.

At the Mass, which marked the sixth anniversary of Mother Angelica’s death in 2016, Pell commented on the nun’s “feisty character.”

“Mother was a flesh-and-bone figure, energetic, pushy, aggressive for the Gospel. She was not well named as it will be difficult to think of anyone who was, in some ways, less angelical,” he said in his homily.

The same morning as the Mass, the Rome marathon had blocked people from crossing the main thoroughfare in front of St. Peter’s Basilica to arrive at the church.

“I had a little difficulty getting across the Via della Conciliazione here because of the marathon,” Pell commented. “And I had to employ an ounce of Mother Angelica’s direct approach to be able to get here for the Mass. So we thank God for that.”

Funeral of Cardinal George Pell to be at Vatican on Saturday

Vatican City, Jan 12, 2023 / 03:38 am (CNA).

The funeral Mass of Cardinal George Pell will be held in St. Peter’s Basilica at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 14, the Vatican announced Thursday.

Pell, the prefect emeritus of the Secretariat for the Economy, died suddenly in Rome on Jan. 10 at the age of 81.

The funeral will be celebrated at the Altar of the Chair by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, the dean of the College of Cardinals, with other cardinals and bishops concelebrating.

Pope Francis will preside over the rite of Final Commendation and Farewell.

Following the funeral, Pell’s body will be brought back to Australia, where he will be buried in St. Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney.

A towering figure of the Church both physically and intellectually, Pell served for many years as archbishop of Melbourne and then Sydney before Pope Francis appointed him to lead the Vatican’s economy department in 2014.

Pope Francis praised the Australian cardinal’s witness, dedication, and faith in a condolence message on Jan. 11.

The pope said he recalled “with a grateful heart his consistent and committed witness, his dedication to the Gospel and the Church, and particularly his diligent cooperation with the Holy See in the context of its recent economic reform, of which he laid the foundations with determination and wisdom.”

George Pell was born on June 8, 1941, in Ballarat, a town in Victoria, to an English-born Anglican father and a devout Catholic mother of Irish descent.

Pell was ordained a priest for the diocese in 1966. He was made an auxiliary bishop of Melbourne in 1987, and nine years later he was named archbishop of Melbourne.

In 2001 he was appointed archbishop of Sydney, where he served until being appointed by Pope Francis to take charge of the newly created Secretariat for the Economy and to lead efforts at reforming Vatican financial affairs in 2014.

The Australian was made a cardinal by Pope John Paul II in October 2003, while he was archbishop of Sydney. Ten years later, Pope Francis appointed Pell a member of his Council of Cardinals, and the year after, he put him in charge of Vatican finances.

In 2017, Pell left Rome for Australia to defend his innocence of abuse charges. After 404 days in prison he was ultimately acquitted in 2020. He returned to live in Rome on Sept. 30, 2020, his first visit back to the city since his trial and imprisonment.

Cardinal Pell’s prison journal, written while he was in solitary confinement, is being published in three volumes. He has said he could not offer Mass in jail because he was not allowed access to wine for use in the consecration.

In 2021, Pell turned 80 years old, losing his eligibility to vote in a future papal conclave.

Analysis: What to read in Benedict XVI’s secretary’s ‘tell-all’ book?

Rome Newsroom, Jan 11, 2023 / 12:48 pm (CNA).

In the latest book by Archbishop Georg Gänswein, for 20 years personal secretary to Pope Benedict XVI, there is much more than bitterness at having been made a “halved prefect” by Pope Francis.

Indeed, while the hype surrounding the publication has focused on that particular situation — the removal of Gänswein as prefect of the papal household — and has characterized Gänswein as willing to seek tension, almost to place one pontificate against the other, the book offers much more than that.

In fact, perhaps its most precious content is the excerpts from the homilies that Benedict XVI gave in the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery, where he spent the last years of his life.

Those homilies are probably the most innovative element of the book, which Gänswein wrote with journalist Saverio Gaeta. Titled “Nothing but the Truth: My Life Beside Benedict XVI,” the book comes out in Italian on Jan. 12, but CNA was able to preview it.

As long as his voice allowed him, Benedict XVI personally prepared the homilies, with notes written in pencil in a notebook that would then serve as a guideline for what he would say. They were simple, precise, straight-to-the-point homilies that the four Memores Domini (the consecrated laywomen of Communion and Liberation) who served as Benedict XVI’s family recorded and transcribed.

Only a few could listen to some of those homilies because Benedict XVI rarely received people, so the report of those homilies is an invaluable treasure.

What else can be found in the book? First, of course, there is Gänswein’s open anger and surprise at being abruptly relieved of his post as prefect of the papal household by Pope Francis, without any explanation.

Other previews spoke of Benedict XVI’s bitterness in learning about , Pope Francis’ apostolic letter with which he overturned the former pope’s decisions to expand the celebration of the ancient Mass.

However “juicy” these details may be for the media, they are certainly not the most novel element of the book.

Without diplomatic filters, using the straightforward language that those who know him are used to hearing, Gänswein outlines various interesting and partially unpublished situations. These include: the case of the book by Cardinal Robert Sarah, which named Benedict XVI as co-author; contacts with Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio before and after he became pope; the long letter that Benedict XVI wrote to Pope Francis to comment on his first interview granted to La Civiltà Cattolica in 2013, and a new details about how Benedict's decision to renounce the pontificate came about.

The book offers insights to these stories and others through the eyes of a direct witness. It should be understood as a memorial, not an indictment. It provides a faithful account of situations and stories as Gänswein experienced them.

In some cases, new facts are given and previously known accounts are presented in a different light. One example is Gänswein's explanation for why Benedict XVI placed the pallium on the tomb of St. Celestine V, the pope who renounced his pontificate in 1294. His tomb is in L’Aquila, in central Italy, where Benedict had gone in 2009 to visit areas affected by an earthquake.

Benedict’s gesture has been interpreted as an indication of a willingness to resign that would occur several years later.

However, it was not like that, Gänswein reveals. He explains that Benedict XVI wanted to do an act of homage to his predecessor. So he placed a pallium, which Archbishop Piero Marini, at the time master of liturgical celebrations for Pope John Paul II, had sewn. This pallium fell uncomfortably on the shoulders of Benedict XVI, who thus took advantage of the opportunity to pay homage and donate it. The decision also tells much about how Benedict XVI dealt with the issues: He sought elegant solutions without offending anyone while trying to unite everyone.

However, the details of the decision to resign are more dramatic. Gänswein explains how Benedict XVI had already begun withdrawing into more profound prayer after his trip to Cuba and Mexico in 2012. There were indications that he was considering resignation, which triggered some questions asked by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, then secretary of state. But such a decision was inconceivable.

When Benedict XVI reached the decision, there was no way to change his mind, Gänswein reports. Bertone and Gänswein only managed to convince him not to make the announcement during his annual Christmas greeting to the Curia on Dec. 21, 2012, but to postpone it a bit. If the announcement had been made on that day, and the pontificate had ended on Jan. 25, Christmas would not have been celebrated, Gänswein writes.

In Gänswein’s story, Benedict XVI emerges as an ironic man — learned, methodical, and brilliant — but above all as a man of faith. Naturally introverted, Benedict XVI withdrew into himself and silence when there were important issues. And he prayed. He prayed more intensely. He prayed hard. He did so moved by an unshakable faith and the need to live and understand the meaning of events.

As John Paul II was dying, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became increasingly reflective. Finally, when it became clear that he was being thought of for the succession, he almost withdrew. But then, after prayer, after having matured the decisions, Ratzinger was a serene, convinced, and determined man.

Ratzinger was also loyal, close to his collaborators, careful not to harm any of his friends. Benedict XVI sought harmony — a fact that emerges clearly from Gänswein’s account.

The search for harmony can also be seen in the Sarah case, or “Pasticciaccio Sarah,” as Gänswein defines it. The reference is to Cardinal Sarah’s book, “From the Depths of Our Hearts,” which also included an essay by Benedict XVI. The essay was dedicated to the question of priestly celibacy, and it was believed that it would come out after the publication of the postsynodal exhortation  in February 2020.

However, it came out earlier, on Jan. 15, 2020, because Pope Francis had only approved the text on Dec. 27, 2019, creating the impression that the book was intended to influence the pope’s reflections on the Amazon Synod.

Such a motive wasn’t true, Gänswein writes. Nor was it true that Benedict XVI had been informed that he would appear as co-author.

Gänswein explains the situation, recalling that Sarah asked Benedict XVI to sign a press release to defend the operation. Gänswein was against it; Benedict XVI took time to think and then drew up a statement deferring the decision to his superiors. And Pope Francis let it be known that it was better not to publish.

At that point, tweets arrived from Sarah’s account, claiming that Benedict XVI had read and approved the drafts. There also was a dramatic confrontation between Gänswein and the cardinal in which the latter blamed Nicolas Diat, the journalist who had written several books with Sarah and who was described as the “director of the work.”

Gänswein’s account reveals much resentment over the situation. But it also includes a long letter that Benedict XVI himself sent to Pope Francis, published almost in its entirety, explaining his position and role in the affair and to clear the air of any possible idea of an opposition between Francis and the pope emeritus.

Benedict XVI’s letter to Pope Francis is not the only unpublished work by the pope emeritus included in the book. Pope Francis spoke in 2013 to the Jesuit magazine La Civiltà Cattolica and sent the notebook used with the interview to Benedict XVI, asking him for comments. Benedict did so by writing a long letter to the pope, dated Sept. 27, 2013. In it, Benedict XVI insists on two aspects: that it is necessary to fight against the “concrete and practical denial of the living God” accomplished through abortion and euthanasia, and being aware of gender ideology, defined as manipulation.

But Benedict XVI and Francis had almost “touched” on other occasions. At the beginning of Benedict’s pontificate, some situations of the Society of Jesus were discussed, and even a commissioner was considered. Cardinal Bergoglio argued that there was no need for a commissioner, obtaining the promise that that provision would never take place.

Overall, in his book Gänswein is outspoken about critical situations. He does not shy away from admitting that he was wrong in some cases, but he also has no problem denouncing false reconstructions about the pope and his collaborators.

From the book’s narrative, all in the first person, emerges a private secretary still working for his superior. Every situation considered controversial or misjudged by the press is re-explained in great detail.

Gänswein looks at Benedict XVI almost like a father, with kindness for what seems to be naïveté and the admiration of one who knows that Benedict XVI is perfectly capable of carrying on his work because he knew, studied, and committed himself.

His role is to be “glass” — i.e., transparent, clean, and honest — but also a gatekeeper for those who want to get closer to the pope. This is what he has always done and tries to do in this book.

One could discuss at length whether or not it was prudent to publish the book right after the death of the pope emeritus. However, the message Gänswein wants to send is not that of controversy. Gänswein recounts his years with Benedict XVI, even removing a few pebbles from his shoe, but without entering into polemical tones with anyone.

The publication has likely done Gänswein more harm than good for now because it has allowed a campaign against him and, consequently, against the pontificate of Benedict XVI.

And yet, the pages written by the personal secretary of the late pope emeritus appear sincere, full of unpublished works and unknown stories. They are the pages of a faithful servant and of a man raised in the school of Benedict XVI; that is to say, accustomed to making God the center of everything.

PHOTOS: Remembering Cardinal Pell

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 11, 2023 / 08:30 am (CNA).

Australian Cardinal George Pell in Rome at age 81 after suffering a cardiac arrest following a routine hip replacement surgery, his secretary confirmed to EWTN.

Church leaders in Australia at the news of Pell’s death. “May eternal light now be his, who so steadfastly believed in the God of Jesus Christ,” Comensoli wrote on Twitter.

At his general audience on Wednesday, .

“I offer sentiments of heartfelt condolence,” the pope said in a Jan. 11 message, “remembering with a grateful heart his consistent and committed witness, his dedication to the Gospel and the Church, and particularly his diligent cooperation with the Holy See in the context of its recent economic reform, of which he laid the foundations with determination and wisdom.”

The prime minister of Australia, Anthony Albanese, said a memorial Mass will be held for Pell at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney, where he will be buried, according to Sky News Australia.

Pell’s funeral Mass will be held at the Vatican. The date has not yet been announced.

Pell, prefect emeritus of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy, recently  during an EWTN News In Depth Interview shortly after the late pope's death.

The Australian was made a cardinal by Pope John Paul II in October 2003, while he was archbishop of Sydney. Ten years later, Pope Francis appointed Pell a member of his Council of Cardinals, and the year after, he put him in charge of Vatican finances.

In 2017, Pell left Rome for Australia to defend his innocence of abuse charges. After 404 days in prison he was ultimately acquitted in 2020. He returned to live in Rome on Sept. 30, 2020, his first visit back to the city since his trial and imprisonment.

Below are photos of Pell throughout his time as cardinal.

Pope Francis praises Cardinal George Pell’s dedication to the Church

Rome Newsroom, Jan 11, 2023 / 05:32 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has praised the witness, dedication, and faith of Cardinal George Pell, who died in Rome on Tuesday at the age of 81.

“I offer sentiments of heartfelt condolence,” the pope said in a Jan. 11 message, “remembering with a grateful heart his consistent and committed witness, his dedication to the Gospel and the Church, and particularly his diligent cooperation with the Holy See in the context of its recent economic reform, of which he laid the foundations with determination and wisdom.”

Pell, prefect emeritus of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy, suffered a cardiac arrest and died at 8:50 p.m. Rome time on Jan. 10, following a routine hip replacement surgery, his secretary confirmed to EWTN.

Pope Francis’ telegram expressed his sorrow at the Australian prelate’s death, and assured Pell’s brother, David Pell, of his sympathy.

“I raise prayers of suffrage so that this faithful servant, who without wavering followed his Lord with perseverance even in his hour of trial, may be welcomed into the joy of heaven and receive the reward of eternal peace,” the pope said.

The prime minister of Australia, Anthony Albanese, said a memorial Mass will be held for Pell at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney, where he will be buried, according to Sky News Australia.

The bells of St. Mary’s Cathedral tolled 81 times on Jan. 11 to mark the cardinal’s death.

Pell’s funeral Mass will be held at the Vatican. The date has not yet been announced.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney his predecessor “will be remembered as a courageous leader who inspired so many clergy and lay faithful around the world to proclaim Christ crucified, risen and with us still.”

“Cardinal Pell’s episcopal motto was ‘Be Not Afraid’ and through good days and bad, he lived up to these words as a man of courage and with a big heart, who trusted in divine providence,” Fisher said.

The archbishop said he was grateful to have had an opportunity to see Pell at the funeral of Pope Benedict XVI in Rome on Jan. 5.

The former archbishop of Sydney “fearlessly proclaimed the Gospel and worked to explain the teachings of the Church,” Fisher said. “He spoke truth as he found it, however difficult or unpopular. He was also a man of prayer, of deep Christian faith and a loving shepherd to his flock in parishes, schools, hospitals, and throughout his dioceses.”

Pope Francis: We don’t have to be perfect to evangelize

Vatican City, Jan 11, 2023 / 04:00 am (CNA).

We do not have to be perfect already to live in a way that gives witness to Christ and attracts others to him, Pope Francis said on Wednesday.

At his weekly public audience on Jan. 11, Francis reflected on Jesus’ calling of St. Matthew, then a tax collector, to follow him as one of his Twelve Apostles.

“Here is the message for us: we do not have to wait until we are perfect and have come a long way following Jesus to witness to him; no, our proclamation begins today, there where we live,” he said.

Speaking in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall, Pope Francis emphasized that evangelization and proselytism are not the same.

“And it does not begin by trying to convince others, but by witnessing every day to the beauty of the Love that has looked upon us and lifted us up,” he said.

Francis recalled a line from a homily given by Pope Benedict XVI at a meeting of Latin American and Caribbean bishops in Aparecida, Brazil, in 2007: “The Church does not engage in proselytism. Instead, she grows by ‘attraction.’”

“Do not forget this,” Pope Francis added, calling Christians who proselytize “pagans dressed as Christians.”

The pope’s general audience message was the first in a new series of catechesis, or teachings, on apostolic zeal.

“It is a vital dimension for the Church,” he explained. “It can happen, however, that the apostolic ardor, the desire to reach others with the good news of the Gospel, diminishes.”

“When Christian life loses sight of the horizon of proclamation, it grows sick,” he continued, “it closes in on itself, becomes self-referential, it becomes atrophied. Without apostolic zeal, faith withers. Mission, on the other hand, is the oxygen of Christian life: It invigorates and purifies it.”

The pope said the way in which Jesus called St. Matthew to leave his former life behind is an example for Christians today.

He recalled that Matthew, as a tax collector for the Roman empire, would have been viewed by others as a “publican” and a traitor to the people.

“But in the eyes of Jesus, Matthew is a man, with both his miseries and his greatness,” he said.

Jesus, Francis emphasized, does not see someone as the “adjectives” that are used to describe him or her, but as a person.

“We can ask ourselves: How do we look upon others? How often do we see their faults and not their needs; how often do we label people by what they do or think?” he said. “Even as Christians we say to ourselves: Is he one of us or not? This is not the gaze of Jesus: He always looks at each person with mercy, actually, with predilection.”

“And Christians,” Pope Francis said, “are called to do as Christ did, looking like him, especially at the so-called ‘distant ones.’ Indeed, Matthew’s account of the call ends with Jesus saying, ‘I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’”

Australian Cardinal George Pell dies at 81

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 10, 2023 / 16:15 pm (CNA).

Cardinal George Pell, prefect emeritus of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy, died on Tuesday at the age of 81.

The Australian prelate suffered a cardiac arrest and died at 8:50 p.m. Rome time, his secretary confirmed to EWTN. 

A towering figure of the Church both physically and intellectually, Pell served for many years as archbishop of Melbourne and then Sydney before Pope Francis appointed him to lead the Vatican’s economy department in 2014.

He recently  during an EWTN News In Depth Interview shortly after the late pope’s death.

Asked about his reaction to the news on Dec. 31, the cardinal said: “I was very sad” since “I had known him well enough, I admired what he was about, I thought he was very good for the Church and so it was sad to see another wonderful phase in Church history ending.”

George Pell was born on June 8, 1941, in Ballarat, a town in Victoria, to an English-born Anglican father and a devout Catholic mother of Irish descent. 

Pell was ordained a priest for the diocese in 1966. He was made an auxiliary bishop of Melbourne in 1987, and nine years later he was named archbishop of Melbourne.

In 2001 he was appointed archbishop of Sydney, where he served until being appointed by Pope Francis to take charge of the newly created Secretariat for the Economy and to lead efforts at reforming Vatican financial affairs in 2014.

The Australian was made a cardinal by Pope John Paul II in October 2003, while he was archbishop of Sydney. Ten years later, Pope Francis appointed Pell a member of his Council of Cardinals, and the year after, he put him in charge of Vatican finances.

In 2017, Pell left Rome for Australia to defend his innocence of abuse charges. After 404 days in prison he was ultimately acquitted in 2020. He returned to live in Rome on Sept. 30, 2020, his first visit back to the city since his trial and imprisonment.

Cardinal Pell’s prison journal, written while he was in solitary confinement, is being published in three volumes. He has said he could not offer Mass in jail because he was not allowed access to wine for use in the consecration.

In 2021, Pell turned 80 years old, .

On May 13, 2021, Pell led a eucharistic procession at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, also known as the Angelicum, in Rome, where he explained that during his 13 months in jail, he was “unable to celebrate Mass and attend Mass.”

“I listened to many Protestant preachers, and I became even more aware of the centrality of the liturgical celebration. It’s a making present of Christ’s sacrifice. It’s an explicit act of adoration. It involves the whole of our persons. It needs faith to be practiced,” he said.