Fifty years after release, ‘Humanae Vitae’ praised as prophetic encyclical

By Kelly Sankowski
WASHINGTON (CNS) – Surrounding the 1968 release of “Humanae Vitae” (“Of Human Life”) was the cultural context of the sexual revolution and a widespread fear about overpopulation following World War II, said Donald Critchlow, a professor of history at Arizona State University.
At the time, there were movements in support of eugenics, abortion rights and sterilizations in an attempt to curb population growth, Critchlow told an audience at The Catholic University of America April 5.

Father Mark Morozowich, dean of theology and religious studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, delivers the homily April 6 in the Crypt Church at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. It was the closing Mass of a symposium marking the 50th anniversary of Blessed Paul VI’s encyclical “Humanae Vitae.” (CNS photo/courtesy The Catholic University of America)

Those who thought voluntary family planning was not enough proposed other, more coercive ideas, such as requiring couples to get a license to have a child or requiring sterilization for couples with more than five children, he added.
Critchlow was one of several speakers at a 50th anniversary symposium on Blessed Paul VI’s encyclical “Humanae Vitae” April 4-6 hosted by Catholic University. Keynotes and a number of workshop sessions examined the teaching and legacy of the document on the regulation of birth issued July 25, 1968.
In a session exploring the historical context of the times when the encyclical was released, Critchlow noted that prior to the drafting of “Humanae Vitae,” a commission was appointed to give suggestions for the Catholic Church’s response to new forms of contraception.
The majority of the people on the commission recommended that the use of the birth control pill should be accepted and church teaching on the subject should be changed.
Blessed Paul rejected the commission’s report and in “Humanae Vitae” affirmed the church’s teaching on the sanctity of human life and its opposition to artificial contraception. In the document, the pope warned of the harm that widespread use of contraception would cause in society, such as lowering of moral standards, marital infidelity, less respect for women, and the government’s ability to use different methods to regulate life and death.
Critchlow said many priests and laypeople, particularly in the United States, dissented from this teaching. Students and faculty went on strike at The Catholic University of America after the board of trustees denied the tenure of a professor, Father Charles E. Curran, who publicly disagreed with the encyclical’s teaching. Cardinal Patrick O’Boyle disciplined 39 priests in the Archdiocese of Washington for their dissent from the document. Thousands of scientists wrote a petition published in The New York Times that criticized the encyclical.
Throughout the anniversary symposium, people continually praised the prophetic message of the document, which still “stands as a profound and affirmative” defense of traditional values and family life, said Critchlow.
“In the end, what ‘Humanae Vitae’ proved was to be prophetic in its warnings of the breakdown of family and the depersonalization of sexual acts we see today in America,” Critchlow added.
Noting Pope Francis’s call to be in touch with realities people are facing in their daily lives, Mary Eberstadt, an author and speaker on issues of American culture, spoke about how the sexual revolution and the teachings of “Humanae Vitae” fit into that reality.
“The promise for sex on demand without restraint may be the biggest temptation humanity has been faced with,” she said.
In the face of that temptation, the teachings of “Humanae Vitae” are difficult, “but to confuse hard (teachings) with wrong is an elementary error,” said Eberstadt.
“If we are truly to lean into reality as Pope Francis has asked us to do … there is only one conclusion … the most globally reviled and widely misunderstood document … is also the most explanatory and prophetic of our era,” she added.
While many proponents of contraception support it as a way to reduce the number of abortions, Eberstadt said it is now “clear beyond a reasonable doubt that contraception also led to an increase in abortion,” as rates of out-of-wedlock births exploded at the same time that people were increasingly using modern contraceptive methods.
When the availability of abortion made the birth of a child “a physical choice of the mother,” it also made fatherhood a social choice for the father, who no longer felt equally responsible for the out-of-wedlock birth, said Eberstadt.
As an example of how the sexual revolution and widespread use of contraception benefited men more than women, Eberstadt pointed to the recent “Me Too” movement where women have been sharing stories of sexual harassment in the workplace. These stories show how “widespread contraception licensed predation,” she said.

Holiness means being loving, not boring, pope says in exhortation

By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – God calls all Christians to be saints – not plastic statues of saints, but real people who make time for prayer and who show loving care for others in the simplest gestures, Pope Francis said in his new document on holiness.
“Do not be afraid of holiness. It will take away none of your energy, vitality or joy,” the pope wrote in “Gaudete et Exsultate” (“Rejoice and Be Glad”), his apostolic exhortation on “the call to holiness in today’s world.”
Pope Francis signed the exhortation March 19, the feast of St. Joseph, and the Vatican released it April 9.

Archbishop Angelo De Donatis, papal vicar for the Diocese of Rome, holds a copy of Pope Francis’ exhortation, “Gaudete et Exsultate” (“Rejoice and Be Glad”), during a news conference on the exhortation at the Vatican April 9. The document is on the “call to holiness in today’s world.” (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Much of the document was written in the second person, speaking directly to the individual reading it. “With this exhortation I would like to insist primarily on the call to holiness that the Lord addresses to each of us, the call that he also addresses, personally, to you,” he wrote near the beginning.
Saying he was not writing a theological treatise on holiness, Pope Francis focused mainly on how the call to holiness is a personal call, something God asks of each Christian and which requires a personal response given one’s state in life, talents and circumstances.
“We are frequently tempted to think that holiness is only for those who can withdraw from ordinary affairs to spend much time in prayer,” he wrote. But “that is not the case.”
“We are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves,” he said.
He wrote about “the saints next door” and said he likes “to contemplate the holiness present in the patience of God’s people: in those parents who raise their children with immense love, in those men and women who work hard to support their families, in the sick, in elderly religious who never lose their smile.”
Pope Francis also noted the challenges to holiness, writing at length and explicitly about the devil just two weeks after an uproar caused by an elderly Italian journalist who claimed the pope told him he did not believe in the existence of hell.
“We should not think of the devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea,” the pope wrote in his exhortation. “This mistake would lead us to let down our guard, to grow careless and end up more vulnerable” to the devil’s temptations.
“The devil does not need to possess us. He poisons us with the venom of hatred, desolation, envy and vice,” he wrote. “When we let down our guard, he takes advantage of it to destroy our lives, our families and our communities.”
The path to holiness, he wrote, is almost always gradual, made up of small steps in prayer, in sacrifice and in service to others.
Being part of a parish community and receiving the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and reconciliation, are essential supports for living a holy life, the pope wrote. And so is finding time for silent prayer. “I do not believe in holiness without prayer,” he said, “even though that prayer need not be lengthy or involve intense emotion.”
“The holiness to which the Lord calls you will grow through small gestures,” he said, before citing the example of a woman who refuses to gossip with a neighbor, returns home and listens patiently to her child even though she is tired, prays the rosary and later meets a poor person and offers him a kind word.
The title of the document was taken from Matthew 5:12 when Jesus says “rejoice and be glad” to those who are persecuted or humiliated for his sake.
The line concludes the Beatitudes, in which, Pope Francis said, “Jesus explained with great simplicity what it means to be holy”: living simply, putting God first, trusting him and not earthly wealth or power, being humble, mourning with and consoling others, being merciful and forgiving, working for justice and seeking peace with all.
The example of the saints officially recognized by the church can be helpful, he said, but no one else’s path can be duplicated exactly.
Each person, he said, needs “to embrace that unique plan that God willed for each of us from eternity.”
The exhortation ends with a section on “discernment,” which is a gift to be requested of the Holy Spirit and developed through prayer, reflection, reading Scripture and seeking counsel from a trusted spiritual guide.
“A sincere daily ‘examination of conscience’” will help, he said, because holiness involves striving each day for “all that is great, better and more beautiful, while at the same time being concerned for the little things, for each day’s responsibilities and commitments.”
Pope Francis also included a list of cautions. For example, he said holiness involves finding balance in prayer time, time spent enjoying others’ company and time dedicated to serving others in ways large or small. And, “needless to say, anything done out of anxiety, pride or the need to impress others will not lead to holiness.”
Being holy is not easy, he said, but if the attempt makes a person judgmental, always frustrated and surly, something is not right. “The saints are not odd and aloof, unbearable because of their vanity, negativity and bitterness,” he said. “The apostles of Christ were not like that.” In fact, the pope said, “Christian joy is usually accompanied by a sense of humor.”
The exhortation included many of Pope Francis’ familiar refrains about attitudes that destroy the Christian community, like gossip, or that proclaim themselves to be Christian, but are really forms of pride, like knowing all the rules and being quick to judge others for not following them.
Holiness “is not about swooning in mystic rapture,” he wrote, but it is about recognizing and serving the Lord in the hungry, the stranger, the naked, the poor and the sick.
Holiness is holistic, he said, and while each person has a special mission, no one should claim that their particular call or path is the only worthy one.
“Our defense of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred,” the pope wrote. “Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia….”
And, he said, one cannot claim that defending the life of a migrant is a “secondary issue” when compared to abortion or other bioethical questions.
“That a politician looking for votes might say such a thing is understandable, but not a Christian,” he said.
Pope Francis’ exhortation also included warnings about a clear lack of holiness demonstrated by some Catholics on Twitter or other social media, especially when commenting anonymously.
“It is striking at times,” he said, that “in claiming to uphold the other commandments, they completely ignore the eighth, which forbids bearing false witness or lying.”
Saints, on the other hand, “do not waste energy complaining about the failings of others; they can hold their tongue before the faults of their brothers and sisters, and avoid the verbal violence that demeans and mistreats others.”

Easter hope breaks routine, unleashes creativity, pope says

By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Truly celebrating Easter means allowing Jesus to triumph over personal fears and give life to hope, creativity and care for others, Pope Francis said.
Easter is “an invitation to break out of our routines and to renew our lives, our decisions and our existence,” the pope said during the Easter Vigil March 31 in St. Peter’s Basilica.
“Do we want to share in this message of life,” he asked in his homily, “or do we prefer simply to continue standing speechless before events as they happen?”
During the liturgy, Pope Francis baptized eight adults, who were between the ages of 28 and 52. The Vatican said Nathan Potter, who was born in 1988 and comes from the United States, was one of the eight. Four of the other catechumens were from Italy and one each came from Albania, Peru and Nigeria.
The Nigerian, 31-year-old John Ogah, became a hero last year in Centocelle, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Rome. Ogah, who had been begging outside a grocery store, stopped a machete-wielding thief who had just robbed the store. Once the police arrived, Ogah left because he did not have legal permission to be in Italy.
Police tracked Ogah down to thank him and ended up helping him get his Italian residency permit. Capt. Nunzio Carbone, the officer in charge, was Ogah’s godfather and sponsor at the papal liturgy.
Pope Francis also confirmed the eight and give them their first Communion during the Mass.
The Mass, on a very rainy night, began in the atrium of St. Peter’s Basilica with the blessing of the fire and of the Easter candle. With most of the lights in the basilica turned off, Pope Francis and the concelebrating cardinals, bishops and priests processed in darkness toward the altar, stopping first to light the pope’s candle and then those of the concelebrants and faithful.
“We began this celebration outside, plunged in the darkness of the night and the cold,” the pope said in his homily. “We felt an oppressive silence at the death of the Lord, a silence with which each of us can identify, a silence that penetrates to the depths of the heart of every disciple, who stands wordless before the cross.”
Transitioning from the Good Friday commemoration of Jesus’ death and commenting on the silence of Holy Saturday, the pope spoke of the hours when Jesus’ followers are left speechless in pain at his death, but also speechless at the injustice of his condemnation and at their own cowardice in the face of the lies and false testimony he endure.
“It is the silent night of the disciples who remained numb, paralyzed and uncertain of what to do amid so many painful and disheartening situations,” the pope said. “It is also that of today’s disciples, speechless in the face of situations we cannot control, that make us feel and, even worse, believe that nothing can be done to reverse all the injustices that our brothers and sisters are experiencing in their flesh.”
But in the midst of silence, he said, the stone is rolled away from Jesus’ tomb and there comes “the greatest message that history has ever heard: ‘He is not here, for he has been raised.’”
Jesus’ empty tomb should fill Christians with trust in God and should assure them that God’s light “can shine in the least expected and most hidden corners of our lives.”
“’He is not here … he is risen!’ This is the message that sustains our hope and turns it into concrete gestures of charity,” the pope said. It is a call to revive faith, broaden one’s horizons and know that no one walks alone.
“To celebrate Easter is to believe once more that God constantly breaks into our personal histories, challenging our conventions, those fixed ways of thinking and acting that end up paralyzing us,” he said.

Bishops on both sides of Mexico border criticize troop deployment

By David Agren
MEXICO CITY (CNS) – The Mexican bishops’ conference criticized U.S. President Donald Trump’s plan to deploy National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border and issued a strong defense of migrants, saying the Catholic Church could not stand by “in the face of suffering by our brother migrants as they seek better conditions by crossing the border to work and contribute to the common good.”
The April 7 letter, addressed to people in Mexico and the United States and the presidents of both countries, echoed sentiments of U.S. border bishops by saying the frontier between the two countries “is not a war zone,” but rather an area “called to be an example of social connection and joint responsibility.”
“The only future possible for our region is the future built with bridges of trust and shared development, not with walls of indignity and violence,” said the statement signed by the bishops of 16 northern Mexican dioceses and the conference’s six-member presidential council.
“There is only a future in the promotion and defense of the equal dignity and the equal liberty between human beings,” the statement said. “Even more, Pope Francis has told us unambiguously: ‘A person who only thinks of building walls, wherever it may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the Gospel.'”
The Mexican bishops’ statement: “For the Dignity of Migrants,” followed Trump’s April 4 announcement to deploy troops to the border to thwart the entry of unauthorized migrants.
It also followed series of tweets from Trump criticizing Mexico for not stopping a caravan of Central American migrants from moving northward toward the U.S.-Mexico border.
The caravan stalled in southern Oaxaca state, some 260 miles from the Guatemala border, and its organizers and Mexican immigration officials have provided the participants – who included many women and children – with documents allowing them 20 days to leave the country or 30 days to regularize their immigration status.
Many of the more than 1,000 migrants participating in the annual Stations of the Cross Caravan, which travels through Mexico every Easter, spoke of fleeing gang violence in El Salvador and Honduras. Organizers say many more Hondurans that usual participated this year due to political repression in the country after a contentious election last November, which was marred by accusations of fraud and a violent crackdown on the opposition.
The number of Central Americans seeking asylum worldwide has surged by 990 percent between 2011 and 2017, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
The bishops letter called for defending the dignity of migrants, saying “Migrants aren’t criminals, rather they are vulnerable human beings that have the authentic right to personal and community development.”
Trump’s tweets caused consternation in Mexico and promoted rare unity between the Mexican president and his fiercest critics.
“President Trump: If you wish to reach agreements with Mexico, we stand ready,” Pena Nieto said April 5 in a national address. “If your recent statements are the result of frustration due to domestic policy issues, to your laws or to your Congress, it is to them that you should turn to, not to Mexicans.”

Retired pope calls criticism against Pope Francis ‘foolish prejudice’

By Junno Arocho
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – On the eve of the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ election, retired Pope Benedict XVI defended the continuity of the church’s teaching under his successor and dismissed those who criticize the pope’s theological foundations.
In a letter sent to Msgr. Dario Vigano, prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for Communication, Pope Benedict applauded the publication of a new book series titled, “The Theology of Pope Francis.”
“It contradicts the foolish prejudice of those who see Pope Francis as someone who lacks a particular theological and philosophical formation, while I would have been considered solely a theorist of theology with little understanding of the concrete lives of today’s Christian,” the retired pontiff wrote.
The Secretariat for Communication released a photograph of the letter in which the final lines of the first page were blurred. While Pope Benedict said early in the letter that he hoped the 11 volumes would put an end to the “foolish prejudice” against Pope Francis, in the blurred lines the retired pope said he could not write a complete theological reflection on the 11 volumes because he had not read them and would be physically unable to do so in time for the presentation of the volumes to the public.
Msgr. Vigano read from the letter, including the blurred lines, during a presentation of the 11-volume series March 12.
The Vatican press office did not say why the lines were blurred, but said the Vatican never intended to publish the complete text. In fact, the second page of the letter – except for Pope Benedict’s signature, is covered by books.
Before reading the letter, Msgr. Vigano said he sent a message to Pope Francis and Pope Benedict regarding the publication of the book series.
He also asked if Pope Benedict would be “willing to write a page or a page and a half of dense theology in his clear and punctual style that (we) would have liked to read this evening.”
Instead, the retired pontiff “wrote a beautiful, personal letter that I will read to you,” Msgr. Vigano said.
Pope Benedict thanked Msgr. Vigano for having given him a copy of “The Theology of Pope Francis” book series, which was authored by several notable theologians.
“These small volumes reasonably demonstrate that Pope Francis is a man with profound philosophical and theological formation and are helpful to see the interior continuity between the two pontificates, even with all the differences in style and temperament,” he wrote.
Pope Benedict has made no secret of his affection for and admiration of Pope Francis.
During a Vatican celebration for the 65th anniversary of Pope Benedict’s priestly ordination June 28, 2016, the retired pope expressed his sincere gratefulness to Pope Francis, saying that his goodness “from the first moment of your election, in every moment of my life here, touches me deeply.”
“More than the beauty found in the Vatican Gardens, your goodness is the place where I live; I feel protected,” Pope Benedict said.

(Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.)

Saint Padre Pio relic tour kicks off in Jackson

JACKSON – Thursday, March 1, the relics of St. Padre Pio were on display in the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle. Bishop Joseph Kopacz wrote about him in this week’s column on page 3. People from across the area came to venerate the relics and participate in a special Mass in his honor that evening. They shared with Mississippi Catholic production manager Tereza Ma what the relics meant to them.
“Being in the presence of St. Padre Pio’s relics was so breathtaking. He has always meant a lot to me ever since I read about him in my religion class and learned about his stigmata. Later, my love for St. Padre Pio grew even more as I learned about his healing ministry, miracles and powers in the confessional. All which proved his great love of God,” said 13-year-old Leah Munoz, a member of Pearl St. Jude Parish. “One of my most prized possessions is a small statue of St. Padre Pio that I keep by my bed, which my grandmother bought me eight years ago. Today, I was able to take it and touch it to Padre Pio’s glove. Now my statue is a genuine third-class relic,” she added.
“I have been following him for quite some time. He is such a great saint. He did so many things. I wish I was able to go to him for confession because to be able to read souls and for him to be able to help people in that way – it would have been wonderful,” said Maureen Murphy.
Luciano Lamonarca is the founder of the St. Padre Pio Foundation. He is leading the tour across the United States, Canada and Mexico. Lamonarca is from the “heel” of Italy’s boot, where St. Pio ministered. Devotion to the saint is pervasive there.
Lamonarca himself called upon the saint for intersession after his wife suffered a series of miscarriages. They are now proud parents to a son.
“Traveling with the relics, you feel a blessing, when there are people who come from around the state or come from other states just to touch the relics for a few days while I have access to them all the time, so how blessed am I? When I travel with the relics I am not afraid. This sense of calm and protection always follows me,” he said.

Christian leaders reopen Church of the Holy Sepulcher after ’emergency’

By Judith Sudilovsky
JERUSALEM (CNS) – Christian leaders in the Holy Land reopened the Church of the Holy Sepulcher Feb. 28 after the Israeli government set up a negotiating team to resolve a municipal dispute over property taxes.
The heads of Christian churches expressed “our gratitude to all those who have worked tirelessly to uphold the Christian presence in Jerusalem and to defend the Status Quo,” the 19th-century agreement that governs Jerusalem’s holy places.
They said they looked forward to bargaining with the government committee “to ensure that our holy city, where our Christian presence continues to face challenges, remains a place where the three monotheistic faiths may live and thrive together.”
Franciscan Father David Grenier, general secretary of the Custody of the Holy Land, said church leaders felt bad for the pilgrims who tried to visit the church in the three days it was closed, “but we were in a state of emergency.”
He told Catholic News Service that the church’s 10 Franciscan friars continued celebrated Masses for the intensions of the pilgrims who were unable to pray in the church, where tradition holds that Jesus was buried.
“We are really happy to have opened the doors; we had hoped from the beginning to close the doors for the shortest time possible,” he said Feb. 28. “This strong step has been taken … as a way to show if we let things continue, it would be possible that in 10, 50 or 100 years it wouldn’t be closed only for two or three days, we wouldn’t be able to maintain it.”
Although the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was not being taxed, in early February the Jerusalem Municipality announced it would begin collecting $186.4 million in property taxes from some 887 church-owned properties that were not houses of prayer.
He said that while the bank accounts of the Franciscans had not been affected, some of the accounts of other churches, such as the Anglicans and the Assyrians, were frozen in mid-February. The Franciscans did receive a bill for a property they owned, he said, but he declined to disclose which property and the amount. He said some churches has been threatened with confiscation of property if the bills went unpaid, and churches were being charged retroactively for seven years.
Father Grenier noted that the actions had also affected U.N. property in the city.
The Israeli government said the team negotiating the current tax crisis would consist of representatives of the finance, foreign affairs and interior ministries as well as from the Jerusalem Municipality. According to a statement from the prime minister’s office, the Jerusalem Municipality will suspend the collection actions it has taken in recent weeks.

Tourists pray outside the locked doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher Feb. 26 in Jerusalem’s Old City. Protesting several recent actions they described as a “systematic campaign against the churches and the Christian community in the Holy Land,” the heads of Christian churches announced Feb. 25 they were closing of the doors of the church. (CNS photo/Debbie Hill) See CHURCH-HOLY-SEPULCHER-SHUT Feb. 25, 2018.

The committee is also slated to look at the issue of Jerusalem land sales by the Greek Orthodox Church. Church leaders feared a bill in the Israeli parliament would allow for state expropriation of church land. Media reported that work on the bill was suspended until the committee could present its findings.
Father Grenier told CNS: “We expect to have a dialogue. Now we are happy. The first thing to do is listen to what they have to propose.”
He added that the churches “will speak with one voice and speak together.”
“For us, the important thing is that the measures taken against the churches have been suspended,” Father Grenier said.
He said the measures could have been potentially more damaging for the smaller churches, such as the Ethiopian and Syriac churches, and some Catholic religious congregations would have had to close some of their institutions if the measures had been carried out.
“We are not a business. If we had to pay the bills, of course, we could not keep all our activities. Our schools don’t make a profit, and if you add having to pay the taxes, we would not be able to maintain them,” he said.
Earlier in February, some political commentators suggested that the threat to impose taxes on church property was a ploy by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat to try to get more funding for his city from the Ministry of Finance. Prior to this crisis, he had urged municipal workers to go on strike, leaving the city buried in garbage in an attempt to get more funds.
The church leaders’ closing of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher during Lent, close to Easter, the busiest time for pilgrims, drew international attention and condemnation.
However, in a Feb. 28 statement, David Nekrutman, executive director of The Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation, chastised the church leaders for having likened the recent legislative bill to those enacted by Nazi Germany against the Jews.

A woman kisses the Stone of Unction, or Stone of Anointing, representing where the body of Jesus was prepared for burial after the crucifixion in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem’s Old City Feb. 28. (CNS photo/Ammar Awad, Reuters) See JERUSALEM-CHURCHES-TAXES-BARGAIN Feb. 28, 2018.

“These remarks are extremely offensive and an apology from them is warranted,” he said. He also condemned what he said were the false accusations of a systematic campaign of abuse against churches and Christians.
“Israel is the only country in the Middle East where Christians and believers of all faiths have full freedom of religion and worship,” he said.

(Contributing to this story was Dale Gavlak in Amman. Follow Sudilovsky on Twitter: @jsudireports.)

Jesus never abandons people in times of trial

By Carol Glatz
ROME (CNS) – If people listen to Jesus and do as he urges them, they can be certain that he will see them through even the darkest times, Pope Francis told members of a Rome parish.
“Jesus always prepares us for our trials and he never leaves us alone. Never,” the pope said Feb. 25 during Mass in the Church of St. Gelasius on Rome’s northeast edge.
Following his usual pattern for Sunday parish visits, Pope Francis reached the church in the early afternoon. After shaking hundreds of hands, blessing dozens of babies and posing for a handful of selfies with young people, the pope went to the parish soccer field to meet the children and teens involved in the parish catechism and sports programs.
After morning sunshine, the skies turned gray and cold, and a heavy rain began to fall.
“You’re soaked!” the pope told the youngsters.
“Life is like this,” he said, explaining that some days will be sunny, some rainy and sometimes storms unexpectedly blow in.
“What’s a Christian to do? Go forward with courage,” knowing that Jesus always is near and is always willing to forgive, he told them.
Moving indoors, the pope met with the elderly members of the parish and greeted each of them individually. He asked couples how long they had been married and asked others how they were feeling. One woman told him that she had a cold she just could not shake. He suggested she try some grappa, a strong grape-based alcoholic drink.
Pope Francis thanked the group of elders for all they do for the church and the world. Even if they do not feel like they are accomplishing great things, he said, they have been charged with “keeping the embers of faith alive” with their prayers and their witness.
After hearing confessions, the pope celebrated Mass in the parish church and gave a brief, extemporaneous homily focused on the day’s Gospel account of the transfiguration of Jesus.
By allowing the disciples to see him transfigured, Jesus gave them a preview of the glory that would be his after the crucifixion and resurrection, the pope said. It was a way to fortify and prepare the disciples for the trials and tribulations that were about to begin.
Remembering that vision, he said, the disciples would be able to “bear the weight of the humiliation” of seeing Jesus condemned and crucified.
In the same way, the pope said, Jesus gives all believers the assurance that he will triumph in the end. And, even in the darkest times, “he is always with us. He never leaves us alone. Never.”
In the Gospel account, he said, after the disciples see Jesus transfigured, they hear God’s voice telling them, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
Listening to Jesus is key, the pope said. “In our daily lives, maybe we have problems or have many things to resolve. Let’s ask ourselves this: ‘What is Jesus saying to me today?’ And let’s try to listen to Jesus’ voice, how he inspires us. And that way we will follow the advice of the Father: ‘This is my beloved son. Listen to him.’”
But listening is only the first step, the pope said. Christians then must do what Mary told the servants to do at the wedding feast of Cana when the wine ran out: Listen to Jesus, then “do what he tells you.”

Nation, Wold and Vatican news

Florida school shooting an act of ‘horrifying evil,’ says Miami archbishop
MIAMI (CNS) – Miami Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski urged community members to come together “to support one another in this time of grief” after a shooting rampage Feb. 14 at a Broward County high school left at least 17 people dead. “With God’s help, we can remain strong and resolute to resist evil in all its manifestations,” the archbishop said in a statement. “May God heal the brokenhearted and comfort the sorrowing as we once again face as a nation another act of senseless violence and horrifying evil.” In a late-night telegram to Archbishop Wenski, Pope Francis assured “all those affected by this devastating attack of his spiritual closeness.” “With the hope that such senseless acts of violence may cease,” he invoked “divine blessings of peace and strength” on the South Florida community. Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, called for prayer and healing and urged all work for a society “with fewer tragedies caused by senseless gun violence.” Law enforcement officials identified the shooting suspect as 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, who had been expelled for disciplinary reasons from the school where he opened fire, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

U.S. bishops who’ve seen gun violence up close call for end to ‘madness’
WASHINGTON (CNS) – Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput knows all too well the pain left behind after incidents like the 2018 Valentine’s Day shooting that has so far taken 17 lives at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. As archbishop in Denver, he took part in the funerals of Catholic high school students killed by fellow classmates at Columbine High School almost two decades ago. The Feb. 14 Florida killings, which authorities suspect were perpetrated by Nikolas Cruz, a former classmate of many of the dead, seemed to bring back the pain of April 20, 1999. “I sat with the parents of children murdered in the Columbine High School massacre, and buried some of their dead,” Archbishop Chaput said in statement released a day after the Florida high school shootings. “Nothing seems to change, no matter how brutal the cost. Terrible things happen; pious statements are released and the nation goes back to its self-absorbed distractions.” The Washington Post reported Feb. 15 that an analysis of online archives, state and federal enrollment figures, and news stories revealed that “more than 150,000 students attending at least 170 primary or secondary schools have experienced a shooting on campus” since the massacre perpetrated by senior high school students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold at Columbine.

Archbishop: Church’s Christian anthropology is basis for social teachings
INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) – The Catholic response to today’s widely debated societal issues – from abortion to immigration to racism – must be rooted in the church’s fundamental teaching about human dignity and the “destiny of the human person,” said the archbishop of Indianapolis. In a pastoral letter addressed to the clergy, religious and lay Catholics of central and southern Indiana issued Feb. 14, Ash Wednesday, Archbishop Charles C. Thompson said he explores a number of issues widely debated in society from the perspective of Christian anthropology, which he described as “the way Christians view human dignity and the end or purpose of human society.” Catholics’ response to issues such as immigration, abortion, racism, religious liberty and drug abuse, Archbishop Thompson said, should be “deeply rooted in the church’s understanding of the origin, nature and destiny of the human person as revealed in Jesus Christ. Where we come from, who we are and where we are headed as individuals and as diverse communities of people,” he noted, “determines our rights and responsibilities in human society.”

South African bishops: Zuma’s resignation was long overdue
CAPE TOWN, South Africa (CNS) – Jacob Zuma’s resignation as president of South Africa is long overdue, the country’s bishops said, noting that his scandal-plagued presidency fostered corruption and dereliction of duty at all levels of government. “The fact that Mr. Zuma has been allowed to hold on to the highest position in the land despite long-standing and overwhelming evidence of his unfitness for office has done immense harm to our country’s international reputation, to its economy and, especially, to its poorest and most vulnerable citizens,” said the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference. Zuma, 75, resigned Feb. 14 after nine years in office. In a televised address to the nation, he said he disagreed with the way the ruling African National Congress had pushed him toward an early exit, but would accept its orders. Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa was confirmed as president until 2019 general elections. While for some Zuma’s resignation “may be a painful event, we call on all to accept his decision as part of our democratic process,” the bishops’ conference said in a statement issued by its president, Archbishop Stephen Brislin of Cape Town.

Vatican denies report Pope Benedict has degenerative disease
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The Vatican denied that retired Pope Benedict XVI has a degenerative neurological disease or paralyzing condition after his brother, 94-year-old Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, told a magazine that Pope Benedict had a debilitating disease. In an interview published Feb. 13 in the German weekly entertainment magazine, Neue Post, Msgr. Ratzinger said Pope Benedict suffered from a nerve disease that was slowly paralyzing him. “The greatest concern is that the paralysis could eventually reach his heart and then everything could end quickly,” Msgr. Ratzinger was quoted as saying. “I pray every day to ask God for the grace of a good death,

Five years a pope: Francis’ focus has been on outreach

By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected pope just a few days after telling the College of Cardinals that the Catholic Church faced a clear choice between being a church that “goes out” or a church focused on its internal affairs.
After the cardinal from Buenos Aires, Argentina, was elected March 13, 2013, and chose the name Francis, he made “go out,” “periphery” and “throwaway culture” standard phrases in the papal vocabulary.
Catholics have a wide variety of opinions about how Pope Francis is exercising the papal ministry, and many of his comments – both in informal news conferences and in formal documents – have stirred controversy. But, as he wrote in “Evangelii Gaudium,” the apostolic exhortation laying out the vision for his pontificate: “I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”
But there are two areas of internal church affairs that he recognized needed immediate attention: the reform of the Roman Curia and the full protection of children and vulnerable adults from clerical sexual abuse.
The organizational reform of the Curia has been taking place in stages, but Pope Francis has insisted that the real reform is a matter of changing hearts and embracing service.
On the issue of abuse, nine months into his pontificate, Pope Francis established the Pontifical Commission for Child Protection to advise him on better ways to prevent clerical sexual abuse and to ensure pastoral care for the survivors.
While Pope Francis has emphatically proclaimed “zero tolerance” for abusers and recently said covering up abuse “is itself an abuse,” as his fifth anniversary approached serious questions arose about how he handled accusations that Chilean Bishop Juan Barros, who was a priest at the time, covered up allegations of abuse against his mentor.
The new scandal threatened to undermine the widespread popularity of Pope Francis and his efforts to set the Catholic Church on a new course.
For Pope Francis, that new course involves evangelization first of all.
“Evangelizing presupposes a desire in the church to come out of herself,” he had told the cardinals just days before the conclave that elected him. “The church is called to come out of herself and to go to the peripheries, not only geographically, but also the existential peripheries: the mystery of sin, of pain, of injustice, of ignorance and indifference to religion, of intellectual currents and of all misery.”

Pope Francis greets an elderly woman as he meets with people of the Banado Norte neighborhood in Asuncion, Paraguay, in this July 12, 2015, file photo. The pope has shown special concern for the aged, the sick and those with disabilities. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) See POPE-FIFTH-ANNIVERSARY Feb. 13, 2018.

Mercy is the first thing the Catholic Church is called to bring to those peripheries, he says.
Although in 2013 he told reporters he would not be traveling as much as his predecessors, Pope Francis has continued their practice of literally “going out,” making 22 trips outside of Italy and visiting 32 nations.
But he also regularly visits the peripheries of Rome, both its poor suburbs and its hospitals, rehabilitation centers, prisons and facilities for migrants and refugees.
His desire to reach out has inspired innovations that were noteworthy at the beginning of the papacy, but now seem to be a natural part of a pope’s day. For example, after beginning with Vatican gardeners and garbage collectors, the pope continues to invite a small group of Catholics to join him most weekday mornings for Mass in the chapel of his residence.
The residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae, is a guesthouse built by St. John Paul II with the intention of providing decent housing for cardinals when they would enter a conclave to elect a new pope. Pope Francis decided after the 2013 conclave to stay there and not move into the more isolated papal apartments in the Apostolic Palace.
On Holy Thursday each year, he has celebrated Mass at a prison, care facility or refugee center and washed the feet of patients, inmates or immigrants, both men and women, Catholics and members of other faiths. He also ordered the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments to clarify that the feet of both women and men can be washed at the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper.
During the 2015-16 Year of Mercy, he made a visit one Friday a month to people in particular need, including those at a school for the blind, a neonatal intensive care unit, a community of recovering alcoholics, a children’s group home and a community for women rescued from traffickers who forced them into prostitution. Once the Year of Mercy ended, the pope continued the visits, although not always every month.
In September 2015 as waves of migrants and refugees were struggling and dying to reach Europe, Pope Francis asked every parish and religious community in Europe to consider offering hospitality to one family. The Vatican offered apartments and support to a family from Syria and a family from Eritrea. Then, seven months later, Pope Francis visited a refugee center on the island of Lesbos, Greece, and brought 12 refugees back to Rome on the plane with him.
In the first three years of his papacy, he published three major documents: “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel); “Laudato Si, on Care for Our Common Home,” on the environment; and “‘Amoris Laetitia” (The Joy of Love), on Love in the Family,” his reflections on the discussions of the Synod of Bishops in 2014 and 2015.
People skeptical about the scientific proof that human activity is contributing to climate change objected to parts of “Laudato Si’,” but the criticism was muted compared to reactions to Pope Francis’ document on the family, especially regarding ministry to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics and the possibility that, under some conditions, some of those Catholics could return to the sacraments.
The strongest criticism came from U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke and three other cardinals, who sent to the pope and then publicly released in November 2016 a formal, critical set of questions, known as “dubia,” insisting that allowing those Catholics to receive the sacraments amounted to changing fundamental church teaching about marriage, sexuality and the nature of the sacraments.
Pope Francis has not responded to the cardinals, two of whom have since died. But in December, the Vatican posted on its website the guidelines for interpreting “Amoris Laetitia” developed by a group of Argentine bishops, as well as Pope Francis’ letter to them describing the guidelines as “authentic magisterium.”
The guidelines by bishops in the Buenos Aires region said the path of discernment proposed by Pope Francis for divorced and civilly remarried couples “does not necessarily end in the sacraments” but, in some situations, after a thorough process of discernment, the pope’s exhortation “opens the possibility” to reception of the sacraments.
In the document and throughout his pontificate, Pope Francis has emphasized God’s mercy and the power of the sacraments to spur conversion and nourish Christians as they try to progress in holiness.
Like all popes, Pope Francis frequently urges Catholics to go to confession, telling them it is not a “torture chamber.” And he repeatedly gives priests blunt advice about being welcoming and merciful to those who approach the confessional.
Like St. John Paul did each Lent, Pope Francis hears confessions in St. Peter’s Basilica. But, he surprised even his closest aides beginning in 2014 when, instead of going to the confessional to welcome the first penitent, he turned and went to confession himself.
He also has surprised people by being completely honest about his age. In April 2017, when he was still 80 years old, he told Italian young people that while they are preparing for the future, “at my age we are preparing to go.” The young people present objected loudly. “No?” the pope responded, “Who can guarantee life? No one.” From the beginning of his papacy, Pope Francis has expressed love and admiration for retired Pope Benedict XVI. Returning from South Korea in 2014, he said Pope Benedict’s honest, “yet also humble and courageous” gesture of resigning cleared a path for later popes to do the same.
“You can ask me: ‘What if one day you don’t feel prepared to go on?'” he told the reporters traveling with him. “I would do the same, I would do the same! I will pray hard over it, but I would do the same thing. He (Pope Benedict) opened a door which is institutional, not exceptional.”
Follow Cindy Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.