Pope defends traditional marriage in French book

By Carol Glatz
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – By virtue of its very definition, marriage can only be between a man and a woman, Pope Francis said in a new book-length interview.
“We cannot change it. This is the nature of things,” not just in the church, but in human history, he said in a series of interviews with Dominique Wolton, a 70-year-old French sociologist and expert in media and political communication.
Published in French, the 417-page book, “Politique et Societe” (“Politics and Society”) was to be released Sept. 6. Catholic News Service obtained an advance copy, and excerpts appeared online.
When it comes to the true nature of marriage as well as gender, there is “critical confusion at the moment,” the pope said.
When asked about marriage for same-sex couples, the pope said, “Let’s call this ‘civil unions.’ We do not joke around with truth.”
Teaching children that they can choose their gender, he said, also plays a part in fostering such mistakes about the truth or facts of nature.
The pope said he wondered whether these new ideas about gender and marriage were somehow based on a fear of differences, and he encouraged researchers to study the subject.
Pope Francis also said his decision to give all priests permanent permission to grant absolution to those who confess to having procured an abortion was not mean to trivialize this serious and grave sin.
Abortion continues to be “murder of an innocent person. But if there is sin, forgiveness must be facilitated,” he said. So often a woman who never forgets her aborted child “cries for years without having the courage to go see a priest.”
“Do you have any idea the number of people who can finally breathe?” he asked, adding how important it was these women can find the Lord’s forgiveness and never commit this sin again.
Pope Francis said the biggest threat in the world is money. In St. Matthew’s Gospel, when Jesus talked about people’s love and loyalty being torn between two things, he didn’t say it was between “your wife or God,” it was choosing between God or money.
“It’s clear. They are two things opposed to each other,” he said.
When asked why people do not listen to this message even though it has been clearly condemned by the church since the time of the Gospels, the pope said it is because some people prefer to speak only about morality.
“There is a great danger for preachers, lecturers, to fall into mediocrity,” which is condemning only those forms of immorality that fall “below the belt,” he said.
“But the other sins that are the most serious: hatred, envy, pride, vanity, killing another, taking away a life … these are really not talked about that much,” he said.
When asked about the church’s “just-war” theory, the pope said the issue should be looked into because “no war is just. The only just thing is peace.”

Pope leads prayers for an end to ‘inhuman violence’ of terrorism

By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – “Let us beg the Lord, God of mercy and peace, to free the world from this inhuman violence,” Pope Francis prayed after a week of deadly terrorist attacks in Africa and Europe.
Reciting the Angelus prayer at midday, the pope asked an estimated 10,000 people in St. Peter’s Square to pray in silence and then to join him in reciting the Hail Mary for the victims of the attacks the previous week in Burkina Faso, Spain and Finland.
At a restaurant in Ouagadougou Aug. 13, gunmen opened fire on people eating outside. Authorities in Burkina Faso said 18 people died and 20 were injured. The gunmen were believed to be part of a group known as “al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.”
In Spain, 13 people died after a van mowed down pedestrians Aug. 17 on Barcelona’s famous Las Ramblas street and another woman died in a vehicle attack the next day in Cambrils. Five suspects were killed by police and other members of what authorities described as a 12-man terrorist cell were being sought.
In Turku, Finland, Aug. 18, two women were stabbed to death and eight other people were injured in what police described as a terrorist attack.
Among the pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square for the midday prayer were the 50 first-year students of the Pontifical North American College, the seminary in Rome sponsored by the U.S. bishops. Pope Francis gave them a shoutout before wishing everyone in the square a happy Sunday.
In his main Angelus talk, the pope spoke about the day’s Gospel reading from St. Matthew about the Canaanite woman who persistently asks Jesus to heal her daughter.
“This woman’s interior strength, which allows her to overcome every obstacle, can be found in her maternal love and in her trust that Jesus can fulfill her request,” the pope said. “This makes me think of the strength of women. With their strength they are able to obtain great things. We’ve know many women like this.”
In the Gospel story, when the woman first cries out, Jesus seems to ignore her, the pope noted. But she is not discouraged and continues to call out to him.
In the end, Jesus recognizes her great faith and answers her request, the pope said. “Her insistence in invoking Christ’s intervention stimulates us never to be discouraged and not to despair when we are oppressed by the harsh trials of life.”
“The Lord does not turn away from our needs and, if sometimes he seems indifferent to our requests for help, it is to test us and strengthen our faith,” Pope Francis said. “We must continue to cry, like this woman: ‘Lord, help me. Lord, help me.’”

Christians oriented toward light, hope

By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The ancient practice of orienting church buildings East to West — with the entrance facing West and the altar toward the East — was symbolic of the connection that exists between light and hope, Pope Francis said.
“What does it mean to be a Christian? It means looking toward the light, continuing to make a profession of faith in the light, even when the world is wrapped in the night and darkness,” Pope Francis said Aug. 2 at his weekly general audience.
With temperatures moving toward a forecasted 100 degrees, the pope resumed his audiences indoors after a month’s hiatus. He also resumed his series of audience talks about Christian hope.
He began by explaining how in ancient times the physical setting of a church building held symbolic importance for believers because the sun sets in the West, “where the light dies,” but rises in the East, where “the dawn reminds us of Christ, the sun risen from on high.”
In fact, he said, using the “language of the cosmos,” it was customary to have those about to be baptized proclaim their renunciation of Satan facing West and their profession of faith in God facing East.
Pope Francis did not touch on the debate about whether priests should celebrate Mass facing East, with their backs to the people, but focused on light as a symbol of Christian hope.
“Christians are not exempt from the darkness, either external or even internal,” he said. “They do not live outside the world, but because of the grace of Christ received though baptism, they are men and women who are ‘oriented’: they do not believe in the darkness, but in the light of day; they do not succumb to the night, but hope in the dawn; they are not defeated by death, but long for resurrection; they are not crushed by evil because they always trust in the infinite possibilities of goodness.”
Receiving the light of Christ at baptism, he said, Christians are called to be true “Christophers” or Christ-bearers, “especially to those who are going through situations of mourning, desperation, darkness and hatred.”
Christians who truly bear the light of Christ’s hope, he said, can be identified by the light in their eyes and by their serenity “even on the most complicated days.”

Catechesis is a vocation of service, not a job

By Junno Arocho Esteves
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Catechists are called to live their mission as a service, by preaching the Gospel through concrete actions rather than treating it as just a job, Pope Francis said.
Like St. Francis, who preached through his deeds, the “vocation and task of the catechist” is found when “we visit the poor, helping children and giving food to the poor,” the pope told participants of a conference on catechesis in his native Argentina.
“In fact, to be a catechist is a vocation of service in the church; what has been received as a gift from God must in turn be transmitted,” he said in the message published by the Vatican July 12.
The message was addressed to Archbishop Ramon Dus of Resistencia, Argentina, president of the Argentine bishops’ commission on catechesis and biblical ministry.
The commission sponsored the July 11-14 international symposium on catechesis taking place in the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina in Buenos Aires.
In his letter, the pope said that for catechists to effectively preach the Gospel, they must “constantly return to that first announcement or ‘kerygma,’ which is the gift that changed their lives.”
“Kerygma” a Greek word that means “preaching of the Gospel,” must “not only resonate again and again in Christian life, but even moreso on those called to announce and teach the faith,” the pope said.
“This announcement must accompany the faith already present in the religiosity of our people,” the pope said. In doing so, the gift of faith can be nourished so that “actions and words reflect the grace of being disciples of Jesus.”
A catechist, he continued, does not “start from his or her own ideas and tastes” but rather “walks from and with Christ.”
“The more we make Jesus the center of our life, the more he makes us come out of ourselves, de-centers us and makes us close to others,” the pope said.
Pope Francis also said that catechists must also be “creative” and look for different ways to proclaim Christ and transmit the faith, like Jesus, who “adapted himself to the people in front of him to make them closer to God’s love.”
Adapting to others, he added, does not change the message “because God does not change; instead, he renews all things in him.”
“In the creative quest to make Jesus known, we should not be afraid because he precedes us in this task. He is already in the people of today, and there he is waiting for us,” the pope said.
(Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju)

Pope envisions Cardinals as grandfathers

By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN LETTER (CNS) – The Catholic Church is not a “gerontocracy” ruled by old men, 80-year-old Pope Francis said; “we aren’t old men, we are grandfathers.”
“We are grandfathers called to dream and to give our dreams to the young people of today. They need it so that from our dreams, they can draw the strength to prophesy and carry out their task,” the pope told about 50 members of the College of Cardinals.
Celebrating the 25th anniversary of his ordination as a bishop June 27, Pope Francis concelebrated Mass in the Pauline Chapel of the Apostolic Palace.
Most of the cardinals present were officials of the Roman Curia or retired curial officials living in Rome. Many of them needed assistance up and down the small steps to the altar at Communion time.
The Mass was celebrated the day before Pope Francis was to create five new cardinals: Archbishop Jean Zerbo of Bamako, Mali, 73; Archbishop Juan Jose Omella of Barcelona, Spain, 71; Bishop Anders Arborelius of Stockholm, Sweden, 67; Bishop Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun, apostolic vicar of Pakse, Laos, 73; and Auxiliary Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chavez of San Salvador, El Salvador, 74.
With an average age of 71.6 years, the new cardinals would lower by two months the average age of the entire College of Cardinals. However, the new members would increase slightly the average age of the cardinal electors, the group of those under the age of 80 and eligible to vote in a conclave to elect a new pope.
On the day of the pope’s anniversary Mass, the average age of the 116 cardinal electors was 71 years, four months and 15 days; the five new members would raise the average by 11 days.
Before the new members were added, the entire College of Cardinals had 220 members and an average age of 78 years, five months and 23 days. The five new members would lower the average to 78 years, three months and one day.
None of the new cardinals, though, are as old as the patriarch Abraham was when God called him to leave his home and set out for a new land.
The Bible says Abraham was 75 years old when he got the call, the pope noted at his anniversary Mass. “He was more or less our age. He was about to retire.”
At 75, “with the weight of old age, that old age that brings aches, illness,” Abraham heard God call him “as if he were a scout,” the pope said. God tells him, “Go. Look. And hope.”
God says the same thing to the pope and the cardinals, he said. “He tells us that now is not the time to shut down our lives or to end our stories.”
Instead, the pope told the cardinals, God continues to call each of them to keep moving forward and continues to give each of them a mission.
And every mission, he said, involves the three imperatives God gave Abraham: “Get up. Look. Hope.”
God tells Abraham, “Get up. Walk. Don’t stay still. You have a task, a mission, and you must carry it out walking. Don’t stay seated,” the pope said.
Abraham’s tent is a key symbol in the story, he said. The only thing Abraham built solidly was an altar “to adore the one who ordered him to get up and to set out.” His tent was his mobile shelter.
“Someone who does not like us would say that we are the gerontocracy of the church,” the pope told the cardinals. “He doesn’t understand what he is saying.”
The cardinals are not just old men, but are grandfathers in the church, the pope said. “If we don’t feel like we are, we must ask for that grace.”
As grandfathers, the cardinals should know that their grandchildren are watching them and looking to them, he continued. They must help young people find meaning in their lives by sharing their experiences.
For that to happen, the pope said, the cardinals cannot be focused on “the melancholy of our story,” but must be dreamers who continue to look to the future with hope, knowing that God continues to act in human history.    
(Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.)

Pope: make sure heart pulsates with Holy Spirit

By Carol Glatz
VATICAN CITY (CNS) –  Never speak, act or make a decision without first listening to the Holy Spirit, who moves, troubles and inspires the heart, Pope Francis advised.
A cold and calculating heart that is closed to the Holy Spirit results in a faith that is “ideological,” he said May 29 during a morning Mass in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae.
Knowing God and his commandments, and being good are not enough, the pope said. One must also receive God’s gift of the Holy Spirit and let him “trouble” the heart.
If people were to get a “spiritual electrocardiogram,” the pope asked, would it be flatlined because the heart is hardened, unmoved and emotionless or would it be pulsating with the prompting and prods of the Spirit?  
“Am I able to listen him? Am I able to ask for his inspiration before making a decision or saying something or doing something? Or is my heart serene, without emotion, an immobile heart,” much like the doctors of the law had, he asked.
“They believed in God, they knew all the commandments, but the heart was closed, immobile, they didn’t let it become troubled,” the pope said.
A Christian cannot just listen to their head and calculated reason, he said. They must learn to listen and discern what the Holy Spirit is saying to their hearts, too, “because the Holy Spirit is the master of discernment.”
“A person who does not have this movement in the heart, who doesn’t discern what is happening, is a person who has a cold faith, an ideological faith,” he said.
The pope asked people to reflect on their relationship with the Holy Spirit and pray that the Spirit guide them in the choices they make. “I ask that he give me the grace to distinguish the good from the less good because good can be distinguished from evil easily,” the pope said.
At morning Mass the next day, May 30, Pope Francis reflected on how pastors and bishops must be ready to leave their flock and follow God’s call to head somewhere completely unknown.
A real pastor, he said, knows how to let go of the church he once served because he knows he is not the protagonist or “central focus of the story.”
He must see his life as having no importance to himself, and do everything to serve God and his people “without compromise” and with courage, the pope said.
Priests and bishops must be open to and obey the Holy Spirit because “the pastor knows that he is on a journey.”
Ministers will be like Paul, who was called to leave the church at Ephesus and head to Jerusalem, where “what will happen there I do not know,” except that he had been warned hardships and trouble would await him.
Every apostle of Christ must guide his flock without compromise, being ready to leave everything behind and head into the unknown, the pope said. He always must serve the people without ever misleading or improperly using them by making them think he is the “central focus of the story.”
A pastor who does not learn to leave his post well does not have a good relationship with his flock and has formed “a bond that is not purified by the cross of Jesus,” the pope said.

God dreams big, wants to transform world, defeat evil, pope says

By Carol Glatz
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – God is right by the side of each person on earth, seeing each individual’s pain and wanting to bring hope and joy, Pope Francis said.
“He calls us by name and tells us, ‘Rise up, stop weeping, because I have come to free you,’” the pope said May 17 at his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square.
The pope continued his series of talks on Christian hope by looking at the Gospel of John’s account of St. Mary Magdalene visiting Jesus’ tomb.
She was the first to go to the tomb after his burial, he said, pointing out that the same love and loyalty can be seen today in the many women who head to the cemetery, visiting their dearly departed for years, showing how not even death can break the bonds of love.
In Mary Magdalene’s case, however, she experienced not only the sadness of Christ’s death, but also the discovery that his body had disappeared, the pope said.
Just as she is weeping near the tomb, “God surprises her in the most unexpected way,” the pope said, even though she is stubbornly “blind” to recognizing the two angels and the Risen Christ.
Eventually, he said, “she discovers the most earth-shattering event in human history when she is finally called by name.”
“How beautiful it is to think that the first appearance of the Risen One, according to the Gospels, happened in such a personal way. That there is someone who knows us, who sees our suffering and disappointment,” whose heart breaks “for us and who calls us by name,” he said.
Reading the Gospels, one can see how many people seek God, he said, “but the most extraordinary fact is that God was there in the first place,” long before, watching, worrying and wanting to bring relief.
Each and every person “is a story of love that God has written on this earth,” the pope said. “Each one of us is a story of God’s love” and he patiently waits and forgives each person.
Hearing God call her name revolutionized Mary Magdalene’s life just as it will revolutionize and transform the life of every man and woman, he said.
Christ’s resurrection brings a joy that does not come in dribs and drabs “with an eyedropper,” he said, but as “a waterfall” that will envelop one’s whole life.
The life of a Christian isn’t pervaded by “soft bliss, but by waves that knock everything over,” Pope Francis said. Think about it right now, he told the 15,000 pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square. “With the baggage of disappointments and defeat that each one of us carries in our heart, there is a God near us, calling us by name,” he                      said.
This God is not “inert,” he doesn’t bend to the whims of the world, and he will not let death, sadness, hatred and the moral destruction of people have the last word.
“Our God,” the pope said, “is a dreamer, who dreams of the transformation of the world and achieved it with the mystery of the resurrection.”
The pope prayed that St. Mary Magdalene would help people listen to Jesus calling their name as they weep and mourn, and that they then venture forth with hearts filled with joy, proclaiming his living presence to others.
Having witnessed the Lord, “is our strength and our hope,” he said.

Egypt: beacon of hope and refuge

By Junno Arocho Esteves
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Just as it had been for centuries, Egypt can be a sign of hope for those who long for peace, Pope Francis said.
During his weekly general audience May 3, the pope reflected on his recent visit to Egypt and said that because of its religious and cultural heritage as well as its role in the Middle East, Egypt has the task of promoting a lasting peace that “rests not on the law of force but on the force of law.”
“For us, Egypt has been a sign of hope, refuge and help. When that part of the world suffered famine, Jacob and his sons went there. Then when Jesus was persecuted, he went there,” he said. “ Egypt, for us, is that sign of hope both in history and for today, this brotherhood.”
The pope’s April 28-29 visit to Cairo began with a gathering organized by Egypt’s al-Azhar University, Sunni Islam’s highest institute of learning.
The visit to the university, he said, had the twofold purpose of promoting Christian-Muslim dialogue and promoting peace in the world.
Peace between Christians and Muslims in Egypt, he said, is a sign of the country’s identity “as a land of civilization and a land of covenant.”
“For all of humanity, Egypt is synonymous with ancient civilization, treasures of art and of knowledge, of a humanism that has, as an integral part, a religious dimension – the relationship with God,” he said.
Christians in Egypt, the pope continued, play a pivotal role in contributing to peace in the country and are “called to be a leaven of brotherhood,” but that is possible only if Christians themselves are united in Christ.
The historic agreement signed by Pope Francis and Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II ending a longtime disagreement between the churches over the sacrament of baptism “renews the commitment” to peace and is “a strong sign of communion,” he said.
“Together we prayed for the martyrs of the recent attacks that tragically struck that venerable church,” Pope Francis said. “Their blood made fruitful that ecumenical encounter, which included Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, my dear brother.”
Talking about his Mass with the country’s Catholic community and his meeting with the country’s priests and religious men and women, Pope Francis said he encounter a “community of men and women who have chosen to give their lives to Christ for the kingdom of God.”
“I have seen the beauty of the church in Egypt,” he said, “and I prayed for all Christians in the Middle East so that, guided by their pastors and accompanied by consecrated men and women, they may be salt and light in that land.”
(Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.)

Papal nuncio: Pay close attention to pope’s words, actions

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) – Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the papal nuncio to the United States, gets plenty of questions about Pope Francis.

A March 27 discussion at Georgetown University, sponsored by the university’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, was no exception. The nuncio, who sat onstage with John Carr, the initiative’s director, was asked about the pope’s key issues and his impact in the four years since his election.

Instead of emphasizing the pope’s special qualities or accomplishments, Archbishop Pierre, who has been in the Vatican diplomatic corps for almost 40 years, stressed how Catholics are called to view the pope and essentially work with him in the mission of spreading the Gospel.

He told the audience, nearly filling a campus auditorium, that it is not a question of whether the pope is good or bad or if one agrees with him or not. The issue, for Catholics, is to discern what the Holy Spirit is saying through the pope.

“We have to pay a lot of attention to the person of the pope and to his message and to his testimony because the pope is not just words but he is also actions and actions that are powerful words,” the nuncio said.

Archbishop Pierre, who was appointed to the U.S. post by Pope Francis last April, would not comment on the pope’s approval ratings compared to politicians nor would he address the current political climate, but he stressed that one’s personal faith can’t be separated from daily life and that people need to use discernment even in civic duties like voting.

When asked about care for migrants in today’s world, he said Christians should be the “soul of this country” and Catholics should follow the example of Pope Francis who goes out to the borders and reaches out to those who are broken and those who suffer.

“The church is in the business of evangelization,” he added, saying this works best when the church “goes outside herself” to meet people where they are. And in a pointed statement to this country, he added: If America is the center of the world then it has “a huge responsibility to help others.”

When the nuncio was joined on stage by other panelists, they reiterated the importance of the pope’s message that has come across just as much from his actions as his words.

To sum up the pope’s message to Catholics today, Ken Hackett, former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See and former president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, looks to the example of the pope’s visit to the United States in 2015 where the pope’s presence, in front of Congress and with the poor, and his words at each stop made Catholics proud of their faith.

Kim Daniels, a member of the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications, said the pope’s message has resonated not just with Catholics but also with those who have heard him even through social media. She said he has made the call to live out one’s faith “something that’s concrete and not abstract” and something “we can do right here, right now, where we are.”

For Maria Teresa Gaston, managing director of the Foundations of Christian Leadership Program at the Duke Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina, the pope has been clearest on his message of community, telling people, including “those who are undocumented: You are loved and valued.”

She also points to his message to youths at World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro in 2013 as something that still resonates with her. He told the crowd “not to be afraid, to take risks and to be courageous” stressing they should prepare for “courageous and prophetic action in solidarity with the earth and with the poor.”

(Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.)

Bible, like cellphone, should be carried always

By Junno Arocho Estaves
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Christians should care about reading God’s messages in the Bible as much as they care about checking messages on their cellphones, Pope Francis said.
As Christ did in the desert when tempted by Satan, men and women can defend themselves from temptation with the word of God if they “read it often, meditate on it and assimilate it” into their lives, he said before praying the Angelus with those gathered in St. Peter’s Square March 5.
“What would happen if we turned back when we forget it, if we opened it more times a day, if we read the messages of God contained in the Bible the way we read messages on our cellphones?” the pope asked the crowd.
The pope’s reflection centered on the day’s Gospel reading (Mt. 4:1-11) in which Jesus is tempted by the devil while fasting in the desert for 40 days and nights before beginning his ministry.
Satan, he said, attempts to dissuade Jesus from fulfilling his message and to undermine his divinity by tempting him twice to perform miracles like “a magician” and lastly, by adoring “the devil in order to have dominion over the world.”
“Through this triple temptation, Satan wants to divert Jesus from the path of obedience and humiliation – because he knows that through that path evil will be defeated – and take him on the false shortcut of success and glory,” the pope said.
However, Jesus deflects “the poisonous arrows of the devil” not with his own words but “only with the Word of God.”
Christians, the pope continued, are called to follow Jesus’ footsteps and “confront the spiritual combat against the evil one” through the power of God’s word which has the “strength to defeat Satan.”
“The Bible contains the word of God, which is always relevant and effective. Someone once said: What would happen if we treated the Bible like we treated our cellphones? What would happen if we always brought it with us, or at least a small pocket-sized Gospel?” he asked.
While the comparison between the Bible and a cellphone is “paradoxical,” he added, it is something that all Christians are called to reflect on during the Lenten season.
“If we have the Word of God always in our hearts, no temptation could separate us from God and no obstacle would deviate us from the path of good,” the pope said.
After praying the Angelus prayer with the faithful in the square, Pope Francis asked for prayers before departing for a weeklong Lenten retreat with members of the Roman Curia.
Lent, he said, “is the path of the people of God toward Easter, a path of conversion, of fighting evil with the weapons of prayer, fasting and works of charity,” Pope Francis said. “I wish everyone a fruitful Lenten journey,” he said.
(Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.)