Alessandro Speciale

Alessandro Speciale writes for Religion News Service.

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Pope Francis Tells Atheists to ‘Obey Their Conscience’

by Alessandro Speciale 09-12-2013

Once again breaking with traditional Vatican protocol, Pope Francis on Wednesday penned a long letter to the Italian liberal daily La Repubblica to affirm that an “open dialogue free of prejudices” between Christians and atheists is “necessary and precious.”

Francis’ front-page letter was a response to two open letters published in previous months by Eugenio Scalfari, the founder of La Repubblica and an avowed atheist.

The pope’s letter is especially notable for its open and honest assessment of the spiritual state of nonbelievers. And for an institution that long claimed sole jurisdiction on matters of salvation, Francis seems to open the door to the idea that notions of sin, conscience and forgiveness are not the exclusive domain of the Catholic Church.

Pope Kicks Off Reform Mission in Meeting with Vatican Department Heads

by Alessandro Speciale 09-11-2013

Pope Francis met for three hours with the heads of all Vatican departments on Tuesday, Sept. 10, signaling his desire to introduce more collaboration and transparency in the traditionally secretive and top-heavy governance style of the Catholic Church.

About 30 people attended, including the heads of the Vatican’s eight congregations and 12 councils, as well as top officials from the church’s tribunals and from the administration of Vatican state.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s outgoing secretary of state, also participated, in one of his last official engagements before his successor, Archbishop Pietro Parolin, takes over on Oct. 15.

Liberation Theology Finds New Welcome in Pope Francis’ Vatican

by Alessandro Speciale 09-11-2013

A progressive theological current that emphasizes the Catholic Church’s closeness to the poor and the marginalized but was subject to decades of hostility and censure is now finding increasing favor in the Vatican under Pope Francis.

Francis, who has called for “a poor church for the poor,” will meet in the next few days with the Rev. Gustavo Gutierrez, a Peruvian theologian and scholar who is considered the founder of liberation theology.

The meeting was announced on Sunday, Sept. 8, by Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Mueller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog, during the launch of a book he co-authored with Gutierrez.

The ‘Cold-Call Pope’ Reaches Out and Touches a Lot of People

RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

Pope Francis waves to the crowd in St. Peter’s Square in March. RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

VATICAN CITY — Of all the novelties that Pope Francis has brought to the Vatican, few have endeared him to the public — and unsettled his aides — as much as his penchant for picking up the phone and calling someone out of the blue.

The pontiff with the pastor’s touch has phoned his cobbler in Argentina to inquire about a shoe repair, called to cancel his newspaper subscription, and phoned a woman who was raped by a local police officer to counsel her.

Just this week, Francis phoned a pregnant Italian woman whose fiancé had pushed her to have an abortion.

Anna Romano instead dumped the guy, wrote to the pope about her problems, and on Sept. 3 received a surprise call from the Holy Father, who offered encouragement and even said he would baptize the baby if she couldn’t find a willing priest.

Pope Francis: Military Intervention in Syria 'Futile'

by Alessandro Speciale 09-05-2013
Pope Francis in March, emipress / Shutterstock.com

Pope Francis in March, emipress / Shutterstock.com

Pope Francis on Thursday told world leaders gathered in Russia for the G-20 summit that a military intervention in Syria would be “futile,” urging them to focus instead on dialogue and reconciliation to bring peace to the war-torn country.

The Argentine pontiff’s first major foray onto the global stage comes as the U.S. Congress prepares to vote on a military strike against Syria in response to a reported chemical weapons attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21.

For Francis, just six months on the job, the Syria question will test his ability to summon the power of his global bully pulpit and could play a major role in shaping the global image of a man who’s drawn more attention for his down-to-earth pastoral appeal.

Pope Francis, Jordan King Say Dialogue is ‘Only Option’ in Syria Conflict

by Alessandro Speciale 08-30-2013
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry with Jordanian King Abdullah II in Amman, Jor

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry with Jordanian King Abdullah II in Amman, Jordan, on May 22, 2013. Via RNS/Wikimedia Commons

Pope Francis and Jordan’s King Abdullah II reaffirmed that dialogue is the “only option” to end the conflict in Syria, just as the United States and its European allies consider launching a military strike against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

The two leaders met for the first time on Thursday at the Vatican. The pontiff and the king, accompanied by his wife Queen Rania, talked in private for 20 minutes.

According to an official Vatican statement, during the meeting “special attention” was given to Syria’s “tragic situation.”

Pope Francis Celebrates Mass with Wafers Made by Argentine Inmate

by Alessandro Speciale 08-28-2013
Pope Francis waves to crowd in St. Peter’s Square. RNS photo: Andrea Sabbadini

Pope Francis waves to crowd in St. Peter’s Square. RNS photo: Andrea Sabbadini

VATICAN CITY — Since mid-July, Pope Francis has been using Communion wafers made by an Argentine prisoner in the daily Mass he celebrates at the Vatican’s Santa Marta residence.

The hosts are made by Gabriela Caballero, a 38-year-old woman who is serving a seven-year jail term in the San Martin Penitentiary outside Buenos Aires.

Her story was revealed by the Argentine news agency NOVA and picked up by Il Sismografo, a blog with close connections to the Vatican.

Caballero gave the hosts, together with a long letter to the pope, to Bishop Oscar Ojea of San Isidro, who regularly visits the prison. Ojea, in turn, delivered the hosts to the pope on July 16 during a visit to the Vatican.

Francis began using the hosts on July 18; the day after he wrote back to Caballero, thanking her for the gift.

Benedict XVI: ‘God Told Me’ to Resign

by Alessandro Speciale 08-21-2013
Pope Benedict XVI leaves Christmas Eve Mass at the Vatican Dec. 24. Photo via RN

Pope Benedict XVI leaves Christmas Eve Mass at the Vatican Dec. 24. Photo via RNS.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI resigned from the papacy because “God told me” to, according to a report by a Catholic news agency.

The Zenit news agency reported on Monday that Benedict decided to step back as a result of what he described as a “mystical experience” that shouldn’t be confused with a vision.

That experience sparked an “absolute desire” to dedicate his life exclusively to prayer, in a solitary relationship with God, Benedict reportedly said.

Pope Pens Personal Message to Muslims at Ramadan’s End

by Alessandro Speciale 08-02-2013
Pope Francis in March. RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

Pope Francis in March. RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

In message published on Friday, Pope Francis took the rare step of personally expressing his “esteem and friendship” to the world’s Muslims as they prepare to celebrate the end of the Ramadan fast.

While it is a long-established Vatican practice to send messages to the world’s religious leaders on their major holy days, those greetings are usually signed by the Vatican’s department for interfaith dialogue.

In his message, Francis explains that in the first year of his papacy he wanted to personally greet Muslims, “especially those who are religious leaders.”

Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, had fraught relations with Muslims. In a 2006 speech he quoted a Byzantine emperor who said Muhammad had only brought “evil and inhuman” things to the world, sparking a worldwide crisis in Christian-Muslim relations.

Missing Jesuit Priest in Syria Presumed Kidnapped

by Alessandro Speciale 08-01-2013
The Rev. Paolo Dall’Oglio, a prominent Italian Jesuit, went missing in Syria Mon

The Rev. Paolo Dall’Oglio, a prominent Italian Jesuit, went missing in Syria Monday. Photo via Paolo Dall’Oglio's facebook page.

A prominent Italian Jesuit who is an outspoken supporter of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad went missing in Syria Monday, fueling speculation that he has been kidnapped by an Islamist group.

The Rev. Paolo Dall’Oglio, 58, lived for three decades in Syria, where he established an ecumenical community at Mar Musa on the site of an early Christian monastery, engaging in interfaith dialogue with Muslims and forging close ties with the local population.

He was expelled in 2012 by the Assad government for his support of the rebels.

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