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Pope Francis hopes new ministry of catechist will ‘awaken this vocation’

Pope Francis greets Archbishop Rino Fisichella in the Vatican's Clementine Hall, Sept. 17, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Sep 17, 2021 / 07:30 am (CNA).

Pope Francis said on Friday that he instituted the new ministry of catechist with the hope that it would help to “awaken this vocation.”

Addressing participants in a meeting organized by the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization on Sept. 17, the pope referred to his decision to formally institute the new lay ministry in May.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

He said: “We must insist on indicating the heart of catechesis: the risen Jesus Christ loves you and never abandons you! We can never tire or feel we are being repetitive about this first proclamation in the various stages of the catechetical process.”

“This is why I instituted the ministry of catechist. They are preparing the rite for the, I quote, ‘creation’ of catechists. So that the Christian community may feel the need to awaken this vocation and to experience the service of some men and women who, living the celebration of the Eucharist, may feel more vividly the passion to transmit the faith as evangelizers.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The pope established the new ministry through the apostolic letter Antiquum ministerium (“Ancient ministry”) on May 11.

While catechists have served the Church since New Testament times, an instituted ministry is a type of formal, vocational service within the Catholic Church.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The newly instituted ministry of catechist is for lay people who have a particular call to serve the Catholic Church as a teacher of the faith.

In the apostolic letter, the pope said that the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments would “soon publish” the Rite of Institution of the new ministry.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

In his address, the pope noted that last Sunday he celebrated the closing Mass of the International Eucharistic Congress in Budapest, Hungary.

He said that catechesis “can be effective in the work of evangelization if it keeps its gaze fixed on the Eucharistic mystery.”

“We cannot forget that the privileged place of catechesis is precisely the Eucharistic celebration, where brothers and sisters come together to discover ever more the different forms of God's presence in their lives,” he said.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Speaking in the Vatican’s Clementine Hall to Catholics responsible for catechesis in Europe, the pope fondly recalled the two catechists who prepared him for First Communion.

“I felt a great respect, even a feeling of thanksgiving, without making it explicit, but it felt like veneration,” he said.

“Why? Because they were the women who had prepared me for my First Communion, together with a nun. I want to tell you about this experience because it was a beautiful thing for me to accompany them to the end of their lives, both of them. And also the nun who prepared me for the liturgical part of Communion: she died, and I was there, with her, accompanying her. There is a closeness, a very important bond with catechists…”

Referring to the Directory for Catechesis, released in June 2020, he said that catechesis should not be understood as “an abstract communication of theoretical knowledge to be memorized as like mathematical or chemical formulas.”

“It is rather the mystagogical experience of those who learn to encounter their brothers and sisters where they live and work, because they themselves have met Christ, who has called them to become missionary disciples,” he said.

He then referred to his address on Monday in St. Martin’s Cathedral, Bratislava, in which he encouraged Slovakian Catholics to draw inspiration from Sts. Cyril and Methodius, who translated the Bible into the Slavonic language.

He told catechists in Rome: “They beat new paths, invented new languages, new ‘alphabets,’ to transmit the Gospel, for the inculturation of the faith.”

“This requires knowing how to listen to the people, to listen to the peoples to whom one is proclaiming: listening to their culture, their history; listening not superficially, already thinking of the pre-packaged answers we carry in our briefcase, no! To truly listen, and to compare those cultures, those languages, even and above all the unspoken, the unexpressed, with the Word of God, with Jesus Christ, the living Gospel.”

“And I repeat the question: is this not the most urgent task of the Church among the peoples of Europe? The great Christian tradition of the continent must not become a historical relic, otherwise, it is no longer ‘tradition.’”

He continued: “Tradition is either alive or it is not. And catechesis is tradition, it is trador [in Latin], to hand down, but as living tradition, from heart to heart, from mind to mind, from life to life. Therefore: passionate and creative, with the impetus of the Holy Spirit.”

“I used the word ‘pre-packaged’ for language, but I fear catechists whose heart, attitude, and face are ‘pre-packaged.’ No. Either the catechist is free, or he or she is not a catechist. The catechist lets herself or himself be struck by the reality he or she finds, and transmits the Gospel with great creativity, or is not a catechist. Think about this well.”

Pope Francis tells elderly priests: ‘Aging is a privilege’

Pope Francis visits the elderly priest-residents of Casa San Gaetano in Rome, June 17, 2016. / L'Osservatore Romano.

Vatican City, Sep 17, 2021 / 04:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis told elderly priests from northern Italy that aging is a privilege because they have the chance to suffer like Jesus Christ.

“You are experiencing a season, old age, which is not a disease but a privilege,” he said in a Sept. 16 letter to priests from the Lombardy region.

“And even those of you who are sick live, we can say, a privilege: that of resembling Jesus who suffers, carrying the cross just like Him,” he added.

Pope Francis sent the letter as elderly priests and the bishops of the Lombardy region met for a day of prayer and community at the shrine of Santa Maria del Fonte in Caravaggio, 25 miles east of Milan.

The day began with Mass offered for the repose of the souls of the 92 Lombardy priests who died as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The Mass was followed by a shared lunch.

“Think of Simeon and Anna: just when they are elderly, the Gospel enters fully into their lives and, taking Jesus in their arms, they announce to everyone the revolution of tenderness,” the pope wrote in his letter.

Francis said that the sick and elderly priests were not merely an object of assistance, but also active protagonists in their communities.

“You are the bearers of dreams, dreams full of memory and therefore very important for the younger generations precisely because your dreams are the root,” he wrote.

“From you comes the sap to flourish in the Christian life and in ministry,” he commented.

The 84-year-old pope, who underwent colon surgery in July, also said that communities caring for sick and elderly priests are “well rooted in Jesus,” and closed his letter by asking for prayers.

“Please, pray for me who is a little old and a little, but not too much, sick!” he said. “May the Lord bless you and Our Lady keep you.”

The Sept. 16 gathering of priests and bishops took place at the Basilica of Santa Maria del Fonte, a shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Caravaggio in the province of Bergamo, one of the areas in Italy worst affected by the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

The Shrine of Our Lady of Caravaggio was built on the site of a 15th-century Marian apparition.

The Blessed Virgin Mary reportedly appeared to a young peasant girl, Giannetta Varoli, in a hay field outside the town of Caravaggio on May 26, 1432.

In her message, the Virgin urged penance for sin, including fasting on Fridays. The apparition is also called Our Lady of the Fountain because a spring of water appeared under the stone where the Virgin stood, and on which she left an imprint of her feet.

That same year, the first small shrine was built at the site. More than 100 years later, in 1575, St. Charles Borromeo, then the archbishop of Milan, hired an architect to begin the long process of expanding the shrine into what it looks like today.

Benedict XVI: Legalization of same-sex marriage is ‘a distortion of conscience’

Pope Benedict XVI on Aug. 28, 2010. / L'Osservatore Romano.

Vatican City, Sep 16, 2021 / 09:15 am (CNA).

Pope emeritus Benedict XVI has said that the legalization of same-sex marriage in many countries is “a distortion of conscience” which has also entered some Catholic circles.

In an introduction to a new anthology of his writings on Europe, Benedict XVI said that “with the legalization of ‘same-sex marriage’ in 16 European countries, the issue of marriage and family has taken on a new dimension that cannot be ignored.”

“We are witnessing a distortion of conscience which has evidently penetrated deeply into sectors of the Catholic people,” the pope emeritus wrote. “This cannot be answered with some small moralism or even with some exegetical reference. The problem goes deeper and therefore must be addressed in fundamental terms.”

The introduction, published in the Italian newspaper Il Foglio on Sept. 16, was written for the Italian book “The Real Europe: Identity and Mission.”

Pope Francis wrote the preface to the book, which compiles texts from Benedict XVI written both before and during his pontificate, which lasted from 2005 to 2013.

In the preface, Francis wrote that “beyond so many words and high-sounding proclamations, today in Europe the very idea of respect for every human life is increasingly lost, starting with the loss of awareness of its sacredness, that is, precisely starting from the obfuscation of the consciousness that we are creatures of God.”

“Benedict XVI is not afraid to denounce, over the years, with great courage and foresight the many manifestations of this dramatic renunciation of the idea of creation, up to the current, final consequences, described in an absolutely clear and convincing way in the introductory text,” Pope Francis said.

In his introduction, Benedict XVI said it was important to observe that the concept of “same-sex marriage” is “in contradiction with all the cultures of humanity that have followed one another up to now, and thus signifies a cultural revolution that is opposed to the whole tradition of humanity until today.”

He pointed out that there is no doubt that different cultures have varying juridical and moral conceptions of marriage and the family, such as the profound differences between polygamy and monogamy.

But he emphasized that the basic community has never questioned the fact that the existence of the human being in its male and female forms is ordered to procreation, “as well as the fact that the community of male and female and openness to the transmission of life determine the essence of what is called marriage.”

“The basic certainty that mankind exists as male and female; that the transmission of life is a task assigned to mankind; that it is the community of male and female that serves this task; and that in this, beyond all differences, marriage essentially consists -- it is an original certainty that has been obvious to humanity up to now,” Benedict said.

The pope emeritus wrote that the fundamental upheaval of this idea was introduced with the invention of the contraceptive pill and the possibility it gave of separating fertility from sexuality.

“This separation means, in fact, that in this way all of the forms of sexuality are equivalent,” he said. “A fundamental criterion no longer exists.”

This new message, according to Benedict, profoundly transformed men and women’s consciences -- first slowly and now more clearly.

From the separation of sexuality from fertility, he continued, comes the inverse: “Fertility, naturally, can be thought of even without sexuality.”

Benedict XVI noted that it therefore seems right to no longer trust the procreation of humans to the “occasional passion of the flesh, but rather to plan and produce the human rationally.”

Thus a human being is no longer “generated and conceived but made,” the retired pontiff underlined, which signifies that a human person is not a gift to be received but “a product planned by our doing.”

He added that if we can plan to make life, it must also be true that we can plan to destroy it, noting that the growing support for assisted suicide and euthanasia as “a planned end to one’s life is an integral part of the trend described.”

The question of same-sex marriage, he continued, is not a question of being “a little more broadminded and open. Rather, the basic question arises: who is man? And with it also the question of whether there is a Creator or if we are not all just manufactured products.”

“This alternative arises: either man is a creature of God, he is the image of God, he is a gift from God, or man is a product that he himself knows how to create,” Benedict XVI wrote.

He said the ecological movement had established that there are limits to nature that we cannot ignore, and, in the same way, a human person possesses a nature that has been given to him “and the violation or denial of it leads to self-destruction.”

“This is also the case with the creation of man as male and female, which is ignored in the hypothesis of ‘same-sex marriage,’” he stressed.

Pope Francis warns leaders of Catholic movements not to abuse power

Pope Francis addresses the moderators of associations of the faithful, ecclesial movements, and new communities in the Vatican Synod Hall, Sept. 16, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Sep 16, 2021 / 08:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis warned representatives of Catholic movements Thursday that the desire for power and recognition are temptations that hinder their call to serve the Church.

In a meeting with the moderators of lay Catholic associations, movements, and new communities in the Vatican’s Synod Hall, the pope said that it is “treachery” when a leader “wants to serve the Lord, but also serves other things that are not the Lord.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“In words, we say we want to serve God and others, but in fact we serve our ego, and we bow to our desire to appear, to obtain recognition, appreciation ... Let’s not forget that true service is free and unconditional, it does not know calculations or claims,” Pope Francis said on Sept. 16.

The pope underlined that governance in the Church is “nothing but a call to serve.” He said that the “desire for power” and “treachery” are two obstacles that prevent a Christian leader from “becoming a true servant of God and of others.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“Our desire for power is expressed in many ways in the life of the Church; for example, when we believe, by virtue of the role we have, that we have to make decisions on all aspects of the life of our association, of the diocese, of the parish, of the congregation,” Pope Francis said.

“We fall into the trap of treachery when we present ourselves to others as the only interpreters of the charism, the only heirs of our association or movement ... or when, deeming ourselves indispensable, we do everything to cover lifelong positions; or when we pretend to decide a priori who should be our successor … No one is master of the gifts received for the good of the Church ... no one must suffocate them,” he said.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Pope Francis told the story of a religious institute that became known for “hatefulness” because, he said, “the members realized that the woman was a ‘Hitler in a dress.’”

“Even in the context of consecrated life, there are religious institutes that, by keeping the same persons in positions of governance, have not prepared for the future; they have allowed abuses to creep in and are now experiencing great difficulties,” he said.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The pope said that the Vatican decree issued on June 11 that set term limits for the leaders of international associations of the faithful and new communities was implemented because “the reality of the last few decades has shown us the need for the changes.”

“And I'll tell you something about this experience of the last decades of the post-Council period,” the pope added.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“In the congregation for religious, they are studying the religious congregations, the associations, that came into being during this period. It is curious, it is very curious. Many, many of them, with great novelty, ended up in very difficult situations: they ended up under apostolic visitation, they ended up with wicked sins.”

The decree, which came into effect earlier this week, on Sept. 11, limits the terms of office in the central governing body to a maximum of five years, with one person being able to hold positions at the international governing level for no more than 10 years consecutively. Re-election is then possible after a vacancy of one term.

The decree states that founders can be exempted from the term limits at the discretion of the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life.

“The exercise of government within associations and movements is a theme that is particularly close to my heart, especially considering ... the cases of abuse of various kinds that have also occurred in these realities and which always find their root in abuse of power,” the pope said.

“Not infrequently the Holy See, in recent years, has had to intervene, starting not easy processes of reorganization. And I think not only of these very bad situations, which make noise; but also to the diseases that come from the weakening of the foundational charism, which becomes lukewarm and loses the capacity of attraction.”

The moderators of Catholic associations and movements are meeting in Rome with the Vatican Dicastery for the Laity, Family, and Life to discuss responsible governance.

Leaders who were unable to travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic connected to the papal audience and other meetings via videolink.

Pope Francis said that lay Catholic movements and associations are “a clear sign of the vitality of the Church.

“We are living members of the Church and for this we need to trust in the Holy Spirit, who acts in the life of every association, of every member, acts in each of us. Hence the trust in the discernment of charisms entrusted to the authority of the Church,” the pope said.

“Be aware of the apostolic power and the prophetic gifts that are given to you today in a renewed way.”

Will the Swiss Guard allow women soldiers in the future?

The Swiss Guard swearing in ceremony at the Vatican on May 6, 2019. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Vatican City, Sep 16, 2021 / 05:00 am (CNA).

As the Pontifical Swiss Guard continues with plans to overhaul its Vatican barracks, there have been reports that the new design could accommodate women guards, prompting questions about whether the 515-year-old army could be poised to make a significant change to its admission requirements.

“First of all, let me say that the reactions of the Swiss press to my statements have been excessive,” Jean-Pierre Roth, president of the charitable foundation funding the Swiss Guard’s new building, told CNA via email.

Roth told the Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger earlier this week that “from the beginning, it was important to us that the new building provide space for women.”

The roughly $60 million building project includes plans to expand the living quarters for guardsmen, some of whom currently sleep in shared rooms or in housing outside the Vatican. The new barracks will allow each guard to have a private room with a private bathroom.

The British newspaper The Telegraph quoted Lieutenant Urs Breitenmoser, a spokesman for the Swiss Guard, who said that the individual rooms meant that “in future, if the decision is taken, we would be able to accommodate women as well.”

Roth explained to CNA that the building foundation is “planning barracks meeting the needs of the Swiss Guard in the coming decades. Who knows whether females will be integrated in the Guard in the future?”

“The decision belongs to the Holy Father. Our Foundation has no information about a possible decision,” he said.

To enter the Swiss Guard, a candidate must be a single Catholic male of Swiss nationality between the ages of 19 and 30 who is at least 5 feet, 8 inches tall.

Guards are allowed to get married while in service, and some of the guards live in family housing with their wives and children.

“A main objective of the project is to offer more apartments for married guardsmen. The barracks will have 25 apartments for families,” Roth said.

The renovation, which has been in the planning stages since 2016, does not yet have a start date for construction, though some reports have cited the year 2023. Roth said that the project is under discussion by the Real Estate Committee of the Vatican and then has to be approved by UNESCO. The work is expected to take several years.

Roth noted that many countries have women soldiers and police officers, so “it might be the case in the Swiss Guard.”

“As careful planners, we had to consider that development as a possible option,” he added. “We have thus foreseen single rooms for all non-married guardsmen and a flexible internal structure of the building allowing the creation of a women sector. It was just good sense and careful planning.”

According to the foundation, the guard’s quarters have only undergone minor changes since their construction in the early 1800s, leading to high maintenance costs and the need for major repairs and updates.

The new barracks are also necessary to accommodate growth, as the army expanded from 110 to 135 guardsmen several years ago.

Roth told CNA that the choice to have private rooms was in part because all day long the soldiers of the Swiss Guard “are in contact with the public or under public eyes. They also need some privacy.”

He added that it was much too early to speak about other changes that would need to be made to accommodate women guards, such as modifications to the uniforms.

“First the decision has to be made (who knows when?), then details will be decided,” he commented.

Full text: Pope Francis’ in-flight press conference from Slovakia

Pope Francis speaks during an in-flight press conference. / Colm Flynn/CNA.

Aboard the papal plane, Sep 15, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis landed in Rome on Sept. 15 after a four-day journey to Hungary and Slovakia. Please read below for CNA’s transcript of Pope Francis’ 30-minute press conference during the flight from the Slovakian capital, Bratislava, to Rome.

Matteo Bruni, Holy See press office director: Hello, Your Holiness, thank you for these days that opened with Eucharistic Adoration in Budapest and ended with the celebration, the united prayer, this morning in Šaštín. Between those moments there were many images, many words, many encounters, it was beautiful that you could again be among people. The joy and participation of the people of God was also beautiful during these days. We will go over these days through the questions, but maybe you want to…

Pope Francis: No, no.

Bruni: OK, the first question comes from a Hungarian journalist, Istávan Kuzmányi of Magyar Kurír.

Istávan Kuzmányi: Holy Father, we thank you for your visit to Budapest, where you cited our Venerable Cardinal Mindszenty, who said: “I cannot worry when there are a million Hungarians praying.” Why did you decide after 21 years to participate as the pope in the International Eucharistic Congress? What do you see for the future of European Christianity and what do you think we Hungarians can do about it?

Pope Francis: At first it was not clear: [the pope] is only coming to the ceremony and will not visit us Hungarians? I explained that the visit to Slovakia was planned, that it was planned first, and I promised to your president, with whom I met, to come [the] next year, because there are so many Hungarian values.

I was struck by the sense of ecumenism with a very great depth that you have. Europe must, I always say, follow the dreams of the founding fathers of the European Union. The European Union is not a meeting to do things, there is a spirit at the base of the European Union dreamed of by Schuman, Adenauer, De Gasperi, these great ones. Return to that, because there is the danger that Europe will become only a management office and this is not right, it must go to the mystical, seek the roots of Europe and carry them forward. All countries must move forward. Some interests, perhaps not European ones, try to use the EU for ideological colonization and this is not good. The EU must be independent for itself and for all countries at the same level inspired by the dream of the founding fathers. This is my idea. Last year [Ed. in 2019] I was in Transylvania. That Mass was really beautiful.

Bohumil Petrik, Denník Štandard: Vaccination has divided Christians, also in Slovakia. You say that getting the vaccine is an act of love. And when you do not get the vaccine, what would you call it? Some believers have felt discriminated against and there are different approaches in the different dioceses on this point. Even before your visit, this visit could only be accessed if [someone was] vaccinated, then it was changed, even those who did rapid tests could attend and so on... So, we would all like to know how to get along, how to reconcile on this issue.

Pope Francis: Humanity has a history of friendship with vaccines. As children, we got them for measles, for other things, for polio. All the children were vaccinated and no one said anything. Then this [opposition] happened. This was perhaps due to the virulence, the uncertainty not only about the pandemic, but also about the different vaccines, and also the reputation of some vaccines which are nothing more than distilled water. This created fear in people. Then others who say that it is a danger because with the vaccine you are infected. So many arguments that have created this division. Even in the College of Cardinals there are some deniers and one of these, poor guy, is hospitalized with the virus. The irony of life. I do not know how to explain [the opposition] well. Some say it comes from the diversity of where the vaccines come from, which are not sufficiently tested and they are afraid. We must clarify and speak with serenity about this. In the Vatican, everyone is vaccinated except a small group which they are studying how to help.

Daniel Verdu, El País: On Sunday morning, you met with President Viktor Orbán. One can understand that there are some differences on issues like Europe, migrants, nationalists. We wanted to ask how the meeting went, if you talked about migrants now that it’s becoming a big issue again with the Afghanistan crisis, and what you think about the laws that [Orbán] has enacted about homosexuals. We also ask you because I think you asked him not to let Christian Hungary die, but listening to your speeches during these days it would seem that sometimes it is these policies, these types of policies, that want to destroy Christian values.

Pope Francis: I was visited by the president [János Áder], because he came to me. He had this politeness, this kindness about him, so he came [to me]. This is the third time I have met him, and he came with the prime minister [Orbán] and the deputy minister. There were three of them. The president spoke. The first topic was ecology, which took up about three-quarters [of the conversation]. Chapeau to you Hungarians! The ecological consciousness you have is impressive. He explained how they purify the rivers, things I did not know about, and that was the main thing [we discussed]. Then I asked about the average age, because I am worried about the demographic winter. In Italy, if I’m not mistaken, the average age is 47 and I think Spain is even worse. There are so many empty villages, or villages with only about 10 elderly people, a serious concern. How do you solve this? And then, the president, always the president, explained to me the law that they have to help young couples to get married, to have children and it is interesting. It’s a law that is quite similar to the French one, but more developed. That’s why the French don’t have the same problem as the Spanish. And they explained this to me, both the prime minister and the deputy minister, and there they added some facts. Then what else did we talk about… On immigration nothing. We returned to ecology again. About the family. I asked about the family, and you can see that there are many young people, so many children. But also in Slovakia, I was amazed: So many children, so many young couples. This was promising. Now the challenge is to find jobs, so that they don’t leave [the country] later... Because if there are no jobs, they will leave and find one. Those were the things [we talked about]. The president always spoke and both ministers were adding some specific facts, but it was a good atmosphere and it lasted long enough. I think 45 or 50 minutes.

Gerard O’Connell, America Magazine: Holy Father, first I want to say that we are all happy that the surgery produced a splendid result and that you are rejuvenated. You are rejuvenated after…

Pope Francis: I was told by someone that they wanted to do an operation. I don’t know who it was that I heard [...] It was an aesthetic thing.

O’Connell: You yourself have said that we are all sinners and that the Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect, but a medicine and nourishment for the weak. As you know, in the U.S. after the last elections, but also since 2004, there has been a discussion among bishops about giving Communion to politicians who have supported pro-abortion laws and a woman’s right to choose.

And as you know, there are bishops who want to deny Communion to the president and others, there are other bishops who are against it, there are some bishops who say that the Eucharist should not be used as a weapon. What do you think about this reality and what do you recommend to the bishops? And then as a second question, have you as a bishop in all these years publicly refused the Eucharist to anyone?

Pope Francis: I have never refused the Eucharist to anyone. No one. I do not know if anyone came [to me] who was in this situation, but I never refused the Eucharist. To this day as a priest never. But never have I been conscious of having a person in front of me as you describe. That is true.

Simply, the only time I had a funny thing happen was when I went to celebrate Mass in a nursing home. And we were in the living room and I said: “Whoever wants Communion, raise your hand.” And everybody, they were elderly, raised their hands. And I gave Communion to one lady, and [afterward] she took my hand and she said, “Thank you, Father, thank you, I’m Jewish.” She took my hand. Even this one I told you about was a Jewish woman and yet, onward. The only strange thing. But the lady told me afterward.

Communion is not a prize for the perfect, think of [...], Jansenism, the perfect are able to take Communion. Communion is a gift, a gift, the presence of Jesus in his Church. It is in the community. This is the theology. Then, those who are not in the community cannot take Communion -- like this Jewish lady, but the Lord wanted to reward her and without my knowledge. Why [can they not take Communion]? Because they are out of the community, excommunicated, they are “excommunicated” it is called. It’s a harsh term, but what it means is they are not in the community, either because they do not belong, or they are baptized but have drifted away from some of the things.

Second, the problem of abortion. Abortion is more than an issue. Abortion is murder. Abortion, without hinting: whoever performs an abortion kills. You take any embryology textbook of those students that study in medical school. At the third week of conception, at the third, many times before the mother notices, all the organs are already there. All of them. Even the DNA. [...]

It’s a human life, period. This human life must be respected. This principle is so clear. And to those who can’t understand it I would ask two questions: Is it right, is it fair, to kill a human life to solve a problem? Scientifically it is a human life. Second question: Is it right to hire a hitman to solve a problem? I said this publicly [...] when I did, I said it to COPE, I have wanted to repeat it. And period. Don’t continue with strange discussions: Scientifically it’s a human life. The textbooks teach us that. But is it right to take it out to solve a problem? This is why the Church is so strict on this issue because accepting this is kind of like accepting daily murder.

A head of state was telling me that the decline in population started with the age of abortion. Because in those years there was such a strong abortion law that six million abortions were performed and this left a very large decline in the society of that country.

Now let’s return to the person who is not in the community and is not able to take Communion because he is outside of the community. This is not a penalty: you are outside. Communion is to unite the community.

But the issue is not a theological problem, which is simple. The problem is a pastoral problem: how we bishops manage this principle pastorally. If we look at the history of the Church, we will see that every time the bishops have not managed a problem as pastors, they have taken sides about political life, about the political problem. For not managing a problem well they have taken sides on the political front.

Let’s think about the night of St. Bartholomew: Heretics, yes, heresy is very serious [...] everyone, it’s a political fact. Let’s think about Joan of Arc, with this mission. Let’s think about witch-hunts. Always we think of Campo de’ Fiori, Savonarola, all these kinds. When the Church, in order to defend a principle, does not do it pastorally, it takes sides politically. And this has always been the case. Just look at history.

What should the pastor do? Be a shepherd, do not go around condemning, not condemning, but be a pastor. But is he also a pastor of the excommunicated? Yes, he is the pastor and he has to shepherd them, and he must be a shepherd with God’s style. And God’s style is closeness, compassion, and tenderness. The whole Bible says that. Closeness. Already in Deuteronomy, He says to Israel: What people have gods as close as you have me? Closeness. Compassion: the Lord has compassion on us. We read Ezekiel, we read Hosea, right from the beginning. And tenderness -- just look at the Gospel and the works of Jesus.

A pastor who does not know how to manage with God’s style slips and he adds many things which are not pastoral. For me, I do not want to particularize [...] the United States because I do not know the details well, I give the principle.

You can tell me: but if you are close, and tender, and compassionate with a person, you have to give Communion -- but that’s a hypothetical. Be a pastor and the pastor knows what he has to do at all times, but as a shepherd. But if he stops this shepherding of the Church, immediately he becomes a politician. And you will see this in all the denunciations, in all the non-pastoral condemnations that the Church makes. With this principle, I believe a pastor can act well. The principles are from theology, the pastoral care is theology and the Holy Spirit, who leads you to do it with the style of God. I would venture to say up to this far.

Bruni: Thank you, Holy Father.

Pope Francis: If you say to me: but can you give or cannot give [Communion]? It is casuistry, as the theologians say. Do you remember the storm that was stirred by Amoris laetitia when that chapter on accompanying separated, divorced couples came out: “Heresy, heresy!” Thank God there was Cardinal Schönborn, a great theologian who clarified things.

But always condemnation, condemnation, enough with excommunication. Please let us not place any more excommunications. Poor people. They are children of God. They are outside temporarily, but they are children of God and they want, and need, our pastoral closeness. Then the pastors work things out by the Spirit of God.

Stefano Maria Paci, Sky TG24: Holy Father, I believe, knowing you, that this message will seem to you a kind of gift. Knowing that I am flying with you, Edith Bruck asked me to give it to you. The Jewish writer, deported to Auschwitz at the age of 13, winner of the Prema Strega Giovani this year, sent me [this letter] last night. A completely unusual fact: you went to her house in the center of Rome to meet her. It is a long message from her signed, “Your sister Edith,” in which she thanks you for your repeated appeals and gestures against anti-Semitism during this trip. The first words [of her message] are “Beloved Pope Francis, your words on anti-Semitism, which has never been eradicated, are more relevant today than ever. Not only in the countries you are visiting, but throughout Europe…”

Pope Francis: This is true. Anti-Semitism is in fashion now, it is resurrecting. It is a very bad thing.

Paci: The question is about the family: You spoke about it with the Hungarian authorities, you spoke about it yesterday in the meeting with young people, and yesterday arrived news of a resolution in the European Parliament which invites the member states to recognize same-sex marriages and related parenting relationships. Holy Father, what are your thoughts on this?

Pope Francis: I have spoken clearly about this: marriage is a sacrament, marriage is a sacrament. And the Church does not have the power to change the sacraments. They are thus, as the Lord has instituted [for] us. These are laws that try to help the situation of many people of different sexual orientations. And this is important, to help these people, but without imposing things that by their nature do not enter in the Church. But if they want to support a homosexual couple in life together, states have the possibility of civilly supporting them, of giving security through inheritance, health [insurance]. But the French have a law on this not only for homosexuals, but for all people who want to associate with each other [in a legally recognized relationship].

But marriage is marriage. This is not to condemn people who are like that, no, please, they are our brothers and sisters and we must accompany them. But marriage as a sacrament is clear, it is clear. That there are civil laws that provide if they want to associate, a law to have the health service, to have [...] among them, these things are done. The French PACS, this law [...] has nothing to do with homosexual couples -- homosexual people can use it, they cannot use it, but marriage as a sacrament is man and woman. Sometimes what I have said is confusing. All the same, respect everyone. The good Lord will save everyone -- do not say this aloud [laughs] -- but the Lord wants to save everyone. Please do not make the Church deny her truth. Many, many people of homosexual orientation approach the Sacrament of Penance, they approach to ask priests for advice, the Church helps them to move forward in their lives. But the sacrament of marriage is [...].

[Addressing journalists] Thank you all. I read a nice thing about one of you. I leave this as a little offering before I leave. It was said that this journalist is available 24 hours for work, and she always lets the others go first, her behind, and always gives the word to others and she keeps quiet. It is nice that someone says this about a journalist. And this guy, Manuel Beltrán [Ed. he means José Beltrán of Vida Nueva], said it about our Eva Fernández.

Pope Francis: A family that remains open to life builds history

Pope Francis meets with deacons and their families at the Vatican on June 19, 2021 / Vatican Media/CNA

Vatican City, Sep 11, 2021 / 06:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis encouraged families to be united in prayer, open to life, and charitable to the poor in a message ahead of the 2022 World Meeting of Families in Rome.

“Dear friends, the family is alive if it finds itself united in prayer. The family is strong, if it rediscovers the Word of God and the providential value of all his promises,” the pope said in the message released Sept. 11.

“The family is generous and builds history if it remains open to life, if it does not discriminate and serves the most vulnerable and the most in need, if it does not stop offering the world the bread of charity and the wine of fraternity.”

The pope sent the message to Catholic families participating in a pilgrimage taking place this weekend in 20 Marian shrines around Italy and Switzerland.

“The thousands of families in prayer today show the luminous face of faith in Jesus Christ in a time crushed by so many difficulties, sufferings, and new poverty,” Pope Francis said.

He encouraged Catholic families to “go out to meet as many people as possible” and to become living witnesses of the “amoris laetitia,” or the “joy of love,” that flows from the Gospel.

The 14th National Pilgrimage of Families in Italy was organized by the Italian bishops’ conference, the National Forum of Family Associations, and the Renewal in the Holy Spirit movement in preparation for the 10th World Meeting of Families.

The World Meeting of Families is an international Catholic gathering that typically takes place every three years. It was originally scheduled for 2021, but was postponed to June 22-26, 2022 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

It will be the third time that Rome has hosted the event. The first World Meeting of Families took place in Rome in 1994 at the behest of St. John Paul II. It was also held in the Eternal City in the year 2000. The most recent gathering was in Dublin, Ireland in 2018.

In the papal message, which was signed Sept. 9, the pope asked Catholic families to pray the official prayer of the World Meeting of Families in the months ahead of the event.

“Heavenly Father, We come before You to praise You and to thank You for the great gift of the family,” the prayer begins.

“We pray to You for all families consecrated by the Sacrament of Matrimony. May they rediscover each day the grace they have received, and as small domestic Churches, may they know how to witness to Your presence and to the love with which Christ loves the Church.”

Vatican cardinal reassures Jewish leaders over Pope Francis’ comments on Torah

Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, in Rome on Oct. 23, 2019. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Vatican City, Sep 10, 2021 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

A cardinal has written to Jewish leaders, assuring them that recent comments by Pope Francis did not devalue the Torah, the Vatican confirmed on Friday.

The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, which oversees the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, published two letters on Sept. 10, written by Cardinal Kurt Koch, who is president of both the council and the commission.

The letters, dated Sept. 3, were addressed respectively to Rabbi Rasson Arussi, chair of the Commission of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel for the Dialogue with the Holy See in Jerusalem, and Rabbi David Sandmel, chair of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations in New York.

The Pontifical Council said that Arussi had written to Koch on Aug. 12, concerning Pope Francis’ general audience address of Aug. 11, dedicated to the Mosaic Law, also known as the Law of Moses.

It added that Sandmel wrote “a similar letter” to the Swiss cardinal on Aug. 24.

The pope’s address was the fourth installment in his cycle of catechesis on the Epistle to the Galatians, in which St. Paul addresses a dispute in the early Christian community over how closely Christians should follow Jewish law.

The pope said: “The Torah, the Law, in fact, was not included in the promise made to Abraham.”

“Having said this, one should not think, however, that St. Paul was opposed to the Mosaic Law. No, he observed it. Several times in his Letters, he defends its divine origin and says that it possesses a well-defined role in the history of salvation.”

“The Law, however, does not give life, it does not offer the fulfillment of the promise because it is not capable of being able to fulfill it.”

The word Torah refers to the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, but can be used more broadly to signify Jewish law in its entirety.

Reuters reported on Aug. 25 that Arussi expressed concern that the pope’s comments implied that Jewish law was obsolete.

In his identically worded letters, Koch said that he had consulted with Pope Francis and was replying to the rabbi at the pope’s instruction.

“In the Holy Father's address, the Torah is not devalued, as he expressly affirms that Paul was not opposed to Mosaic law: indeed, Paul observed this Law, emphasized its divine origin, and attributed to it a role in salvation history,” he wrote.

“The phrase ‘The law does not give life, it does not offer the fulfillment of the promise’ should not be extrapolated from its context, but must be considered within the overall framework of Pauline theology.”

“The abiding Christian conviction is that Jesus Christ is the new way of salvation. However, this does not mean that the Torah is diminished or no longer recognized as the ‘way of salvation for Jews.’”

Koch cited a 2015 speech that the pope gave to the International Council of Christians and Jews.

On that occasion, the pope said: “The Christian confessions find their unity in Christ; Judaism finds its unity in the Torah. Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the Word of God made flesh in the world; for Jews, the Word of God is present above all in the Torah. Both faith traditions find their foundation in the One God, the God of the Covenant, who reveals himself through his Word.”

Koch emphasized that in his general audience address, the pope was reflecting “on Pauline theology within the historical context of a given era” and not commenting on contemporary Judaism.

“The fact that the Torah is crucial for modern Judaism is not questioned in any way,” he wrote.

He continued: “Bearing in mind the positive affirmations constantly made by Pope Francis on Judaism, it cannot in any way be presumed that he is returning to a so-called ‘doctrine of contempt.’”

“Pope Francis fully respects the foundations of Judaism and always seeks to deepen the bonds of friendship between the two faith traditions.”

Koch underlined that the pope agreed with the description of the relationship between Judaism and Christianity in the 2017 document “Between Jerusalem and Rome,” which marked the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s seminal Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions, Nostra aetate.

The text, issued by the Conference of European Rabbis, the Rabbinical Council of America, and the Commission of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, said: “The doctrinal differences are essential and cannot be debated or negotiated; their meaning and importance belong to the international deliberations of the respective faith communities ... However, doctrinal differences do not and may not stand in the way of our peaceful collaboration for the betterment of our shared world and the lives of the children of Noah.”

The document was presented to Pope Francis at the Vatican on Aug. 31, 2017.

In an address, he said: “The statement ‘Between Jerusalem and Rome’ does not hide ... the theological differences that exist between our faith traditions. All the same, it expresses a firm resolve to collaborate more closely, now and in the future.”

Concluding his letter, Koch wrote: “I trust that this response clarifies the theological background of the Holy Father’s words.”

Pope Francis welcomes giant puppet to Vatican

Pope Francis greets children in the San Damaso Courtyard during the puppet Little Amal’s visit to the Vatican, Sept. 10, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Sep 10, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis welcomed a giant puppet symbolizing unaccompanied refugee children to the Vatican on Friday.

The 11-foot-tall puppet, called Little Amal, arrived in St. Peter’s Square on the morning of Sept. 10 on a journey from Gaziantep, near the border between Turkey and Syria, to Manchester, England.

Cardinal Michael Czerny with the puppet Little Amal in St. Peter’s Square, Sept. 10, 2021. Vatican Media.
Cardinal Michael Czerny with the puppet Little Amal in St. Peter’s Square, Sept. 10, 2021. Vatican Media.

The puppet, blinking and waving its arms, was greeted by the Vatican Cardinal Michael Czerny beside the bronze sculpture “Angels Unawares,” which depicts migrants huddled together on a raft and was unveiled in the square in 2019.

Czerny, under-secretary of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, was joined by Bishop Benoni Ambăruş, a Romania-born auxiliary bishop of Rome diocese responsible for the pastoral care of migrants.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“Amal is big and beautiful, and meeting her is a pleasure,” Czerny told Vatican News. “But she immediately reminds us that meeting vulnerable migrants, insecure workers, and asylum seekers in our midst requires more than just a glance.”

“Each of them, with their own baggage of suffering and dreams, needs and talents, is waiting for us to open our ears, our minds, and our hearts, as well as our eyes, and stretch out our hands.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The puppet, whose journey is known as “The Walk,” proceeded to the San Damaso Courtyard of the Apostolic Palace, where it encountered the pope and brightly dressed children.

The children are participants in an event known as the “March of Welcome,” marking the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, which falls this year on Sept. 26.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

In May, Pope Francis released his 2021 message marking the annual commemoration, which Pope Pius X instituted in 1914.

Photographs issued by the Vatican showed the pope waving to the children, greeting them individually, and giving them his blessing.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“The pope invited them to play and he spent some time in the courtyard watching them and asking them to pray for him too,” reported Vatican News, which said that the event also included a kite-building workshop.

The welfare of migrants and refugees has been one of Pope Francis’ top priorities since his election in 2013. His first trip outside Rome as pope, in July of that year, was to Italy’s migrant island of Lampedusa.

Earlier this week, the pope met with recent arrivals from Afghanistan after a documentary about his life and teaching was screened at the Vatican.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Evgeny Afineevsky, the film’s director, told the online news site Deadline: “When the movie finished [the pope] was downstairs waiting for them. He wanted to meet everybody and greet everybody…”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“He is a human being who cherishes being close to the people, cherishes the moment he can spread love, joy in their lives -- not easy lives. And he always remembers that he can be in their place [as a refugee]. He said it many, many times: ‘It can be you or me.’”

He added: “He’s somebody who is trying to bring light to their plight. He’s trying to bring the spotlight of the media towards them and to show to the world how important it is to help them, integrate them.”

After his Sunday Angelus on Sept. 5, Pope Francis urged countries to offer refuge to people fleeing Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover and withdrawal of U.S. and other forces.

“In these troubled times that see Afghans seeking refuge, I pray for the most vulnerable among them. I pray that many countries will welcome and protect those seeking a new life. I pray also for the internally displaced persons and that they may receive assistance and the necessary protection,” the pope said.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“May young Afghans receive education, an essential good for human development. And may all Afghans, whether at home, in transit, or in host countries, live with dignity, in peace and fraternity with their neighbors.”

“The Walk” is a collaboration between the theater group Good Chance, founded in a refugee camp in Calais, France, in 2015, and the South African Handspring Puppet Company, which created the puppets for the acclaimed play “War Horse.”

Little Amal, made from cane and carbon fiber and operated by four puppeteers, is being taken on an almost 5,000-mile journey from Turkey to the U.K., via Greece, Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany, and Belgium to raise awareness of the plight of young refugees.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Amal, a nine-year-old Syrian refugee child, first featured as a character in Good Chance’s play “The Jungle,” representing the hundreds of unaccompanied minors in the Calais camp.

Pope Francis to missionaries: ‘If you want to be witnesses, you can’t cease being adorers’

Pope Francis greets Fr. Mathew Vattamattam, superior general of the Claretian Missionaries, at the Vatican, Sept. 9, 2021 / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Sep 9, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis told Claretian Missionaries on Thursday that their work must always be rooted in contemplation.

Addressing participants in the community’s general chapter in Rome on Sept. 9, the pope underlined that prayer was the foundation of effective missionary work.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“You are missionaries: if you want your mission to be truly fruitful, you cannot separate your mission from contemplation and a life of intimacy with the Lord. If you want to be witnesses, you cannot cease being adorers,” he said, in a Spanish written text provided by the Holy See press office.

The XXVI General Chapter of the Claretian Missionaries -- officially known as the Missionaries, Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary -- is taking place from Aug. 15 to Sept. 12 with the motto “Rooted and audacious.”

On Aug. 30, the chapter re-elected Fr. Mathew Vattamattam as superior general of the religious community of priests and brothers founded in Spain in 1849 by St. Anthony Mary Claret.

The priest from the Indian state of Kerala was first elected head of the community in 2015.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

In his written text, the pope challenged the community’s roughly 3,000 members worldwide to imitate their founder, who traveled on foot from mission to mission through his native Catalonia.

“Following the example of Fr. Claret, you cannot be mere spectators of reality. Take part in it, to transform the realities of sin that you find on the way,” the pope said.

“Do not be passive in the face of the dramas that many of our contemporaries live, but rather play your part in the struggle for human dignity and respect for the fundamental rights of the person.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“Let yourselves be touched by the Word of God and the signs of the times, and in the light of the Word and the signs of the times reread your own history, your own charism, remembering that consecrated life is like water, if it does not flow it rots.”

Francis, the first Jesuit pope, urged Claretians to be bold and courageous.

“I hope, dear brothers, that this Chapter that you are about to conclude will help you to focus on the essential: Jesus, to place your security in Him and only in Him who is all good, the supreme good, the true security,” he said.

“I believe that this could be one of the best fruits of this pandemic that has called into question so many of our false securities.”

“I also hope that the Chapter has led you to focus on the essential elements that define consecrated life today: consecration, which values the relationship with God; fraternal life in community, which gives priority to an authentic relationship with our brothers; and mission, which leads you to go out, to become less self-centered in order to go out to meet others, especially the poor, to bring Jesus to them.”

The Vatican issued a definitive version of Pope Francis’ address on Sept. 10. In it, the pope emphasized the importance of maintaining a sense of humor in consecrated life.

“Please do not lose your sense of humor,” he urged the Claretians. “Know how to laugh in community, know how to make jokes, and laugh at the jokes told by others. Do not lose your sense of humor. A sense of humor is a grace of joy, and joy is a dimension of holiness.”

This report was updated at 03:21 a.m. MDT on Sept. 10, 2021, with a quotation from the definitive version of Pope Francis’ address.