Rosie Scammell is a British journalist with extensive experience reporting for leading international news organizations. She has been based in Italy since 2012 and covers the Vatican for RNS.
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Pope Talks About Gays, Annulments in New Book
A new book-length interview with Pope Francis gives fresh insight into his view of gay parishioners, marriage annulments, and other hot topics being debated by Catholics globally.
Pope Francis: Will You Have Tequila for Me When I’m in Mexico?
Pope Francis’ visit to Mexico next month is supposed to be more of a pilgrimage than a spring break, but a viral video of the pontiff joking about tequila with a Mexican man in St. Peter’s Square captures the voluble enthusiasm that is likely to greet the first Latin American pontiff.
In the video, Francis can be seen walking around St. Peter’s Square, flanked by his security detail as he greets the faithful, when a man shouts from the crowd, catching the pontiff’s attention.
“Pope! We’ll be waiting for you in Mexico! Mexico, Pope!” the man yells above the din.
“Welcome to Mexico in February!”
“With tequila?” responds the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.
Mother Teresa Sainthood Set for September
Pope Francis has given final clearance for Mother Teresa — called “the saint of the gutters” for her work with the poor in India — to become an official saint, a move welcomed by the archbishop of Calcutta as “a real Christmas gift” from the pontiff.
Francis took the step by signing a decree declaring that the inexplicable 2008 recovery of a Brazilian man who suddenly woke from a coma caused by a viral brain infection was due to the intercession of the Albanian nun, who died in 1997.
Pope Francis Warns Pilgrims: 'Don't Get Conned — Salvation Is Free!'
Pope Francis is warning Catholics about con artists demanding money to pass through a holy door, such as the one opened in St. Peter’s Basilica and other churches for the Vatican’s jubilee year, telling them salvation cannot be bought.
“Be careful that there’s not someone a bit quick and too cunning that tells you that you must pay. No! You don’t pay for salvation. You don’t buy salvation. The door is Jesus, and Jesus is free!” the pope told crowds gathered Dec. 16 for his weekly audience in St. Peter’s Square.
Holy doors are being opened in cathedrals around the world as part of the jubilee year, which opened on Dec. 8 and runs until Nov. 20, 2016. The Catholic Church teaches that in making a pilgrimage through one such door, they evoke the passage from sin to grace.
Mexico Trip: Pope to Visit Ciudad Juarez Prison, Address Border Issues
Pope Francis will visit a prison and celebrate Mass in Ciudad Juarez, the Mexican border city plagued by violence in recent years, the Vatican has said in an announcement of details of the pontiff’s upcoming visit to Mexico.
The pope’s visit to Ciudad Juarez will conclude his six-day Mexico tour, starting on Feb. 12. The stop will draw attention to drug-related violence and the U.S. policy on migration.
While in the city on Feb. 17, Francis will tour a prison, meet with workers, and celebrate Mass at the fairgrounds close to the border. Around 220,000 people are expected to attend the Mass, with tickets offered to parishes on both sides of the Mexico-U.S. border.
Vatican Told to Get Tough on Those Caught Laundering Money
A European financial crimes watchdog on Dec. 15 called on the Vatican to prosecute those caught money laundering, stating the Holy See must act to ensure the success of its financial reforms.
“There is a need now for the anti-money laundering and counter terrorist financing system, to deliver effective results in terms of prosecutions, convictions and confiscation,” said the report by the Council of Europe’s Moneyval oversight agency.
Although the Holy See has adopted new legislation in recent years to tackle money laundering within the city-state, there have been no indictments or prosecutions as a result of the new rules.
Pope Calls on World Leaders to Implement Paris Climate Deal
Pope Francis hailed the “historic” climate change agreement signed in Paris, urging the international community to swiftly implement the deal.
Speaking to the faithful in St. Peter’s Square on Dec. 13, Francis called on world leaders to act on the unprecedented environmental agreement signed on Dec. 12 by nearly 200 countries.
“The conference on climate has just finished in Paris with the adoption of an agreement, defined by many as historic. Carrying it out will require a unanimous commitment and generous dedication on everyone’s part,” he said.
Catholics Shouldn't Try to Convert Jews, Says New Vatican Document
The Vatican has said that Catholics should witness to their faith but not undertake organized efforts to convert Jews, a significant step forward in the once tense relations between the two faiths.
The document released on Dec. 10 by the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews also pushed for greater efforts to fight anti-Semitism.
In its most explicit commentary on evangelization regarding Jews, the document said Catholics should take a different approach to Judaism than to other religions.
Priest Who Survived ISIS Tells Story for First Time
A Syrian priest held hostage for months by the ISIS terrorist group is certain his life was saved due to his interfaith work, despite being threatened with beheading by jihadists if he did not renounce Christianity.
The Rev. Jacques Mourad, a Syriac Catholic priest, was taken hostage in May from the Mar Moussa monastery, situated between the capital Damascus and the city of Homs. He and a volunteer from the monastery were forced into a car and driven for four days, during which time Mourad said he thought he would be killed.
“We could only perceive the sense of the desert. In that moment … I thought it was over,” he told members of Rome’s Foreign Press Association on Dec. 10, the first time he has spoken in detail about his odyssey since he escaped.
Pope Francis Opens Doors to 'Year of Mercy' in a Time of Fear
Pope Francis launched the jubilee of mercy on Dec. 8 with the opening of the Vatican’s holy door, joined by his predecessor Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and thousands of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square, surrounded by heavy security.
“This extraordinary year is itself a gift of grace,” Francis told the faithful gathered at the Vatican.
“To pass through the holy door means to rediscover the infinite mercy of the Father who welcomes everyone and goes out personally to encounter each of them.”
What's That Jubilee Year of Mercy the Pope Keeps Talking About?
In the Catholic Church, a jubilee — or a holy year — is a religious event that involves the forgiveness of sins, as well as reconciliation. But the idea of a jubilee dates back to the Bible: “And you shall sanctify the fiftieth year, and proclaim freedom throughout the land for all who live on it,” Leviticus 25:10. For the ancient Israelites, the jubilee was a time properties were returned to their original owners or legal heirs, slaves were set free, and creditors were barred from collecting debts.
Pope Boniface VIII in 1300 declared the first Christian jubilee, beginning with the opening of the Holy Door, an entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica, usually blocked, through which pilgrims can enter. Other holy doors are also opened for this jubilee in Rome and around the world for the first time; the year ends when they are closed.
On Nov. 29 Pope Francis opened a door at the cathedral in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, as a symbolic start to the Holy Year.
Sister Cristina Steps Into New Role — Acting
An Italian nun who shot to global fame by winning The Voice of Italy talent show is set to star in a stage production of the musical Sister Act, which opens here in time for Christmas.
Cristina Scuccia, better known as “Suor Cristina” (“Sister Cristina”), wowed judges and audiences last year with her soulful renditions of pop classics by artists such as Alicia Keys. Appearing on stage in her habit, silver cross swinging as she swayed, Scuccia became the unlikely winner of the Italian version of The Voice and signed a record deal with Universal.
The 27-year-old is now set to take the next step in her career. The stage production of the 1992 movie, in which Whoopi Goldberg played a singer hiding out in a convent after witnessing a murder, will open on Dec. 10 at Rome’s Brancaccio Theater.
Journalist Under Investigation Denounces 'Medieval' Vatican Laws
An Italian investigative journalist on Nov. 17 spoke out against what he called a “medieval” Vatican law that might result in a jail sentence of up to eight years for publishing confidential Holy See documents.
Emiliano Fittipaldi, whose new book Avarice reveals the struggle for financial reform at the Vatican, is under investigation for publishing secret documents leaked from the Holy See. A fellow Italian journalist, Gianluigi Nuzzi, is also being investigated for revelations made in his book, Merchants in the Temple.
While describing the investigation as “a terrible moment,” Fittipaldi remained defiant:
“From my point of view they are crazy charges, in the sense that in no democratic state, in no Western democracy, are there such restrictive laws on press freedom and expression.”
World Religious Leaders Condemn Paris Carnage
Pope Francis raised the specter of a World War III “in pieces,” Muslims issued statements of condemnation, while evangelical Christians in America debated whether to speak of a “war with Islam.”
These were some of the responses by religious leaders around the world on Nov. 14 to the series of attacks overnight in Paris which left more than 120 people dead.
“This is not human,” Francis said phone call to an Italian Catholic television station. Asked by the interviewer if it was part of a “Third World War in pieces,” he responded: “This is a piece. There is no justification for such things.”
Pope Deploys Cuban Crucifix to Front Line of Migrant Crisis
Pope Francis has decided to donate a crucifix given to him by Cuba’s president, Raul Castro, to a parish at the forefront of the European refugee crisis.
Francis will give the crucifix to parishioners on Italy’s southernmost island of Lampedusa, where thousands of refugees and migrants have arrived in recent months.
Standing more than 9 feet tall, the crucifix is made of wooden oars, as a symbol of migration. Crafted by the Cuban artist Kcho, it was given to Francis by Castro during the pontiff’s official visit to Cuba in September.
Pope Francis: Put Down Your Smartphone and Enjoy Family Dinners
Pope Francis on Nov. 11 urged Catholics to continue the tradition of a family meal, leaving smartphones aside, and switching off the TV to enjoy the “fundamental experience” of sharing food.
“The sharing of a meal — and therefore, other than of food, also of affections, of stories, of events — is a fundamental experience,” Francis said during his weekly audience in St. Peter’s Square.
Sitting around the table helps measure the health of relationships, the pontiff said: “If in a family there’s something that doesn’t work, or a hidden wound, at the table it’s understood immediately.”
Pope Francis to Italian Bishops: Don't Be Obsessed With Power
Pope Francis made a whirlwind trip to Tuscany on Nov. 10, during which he addressed immigrant workers, called on Italian bishops to shun power, and celebrated Mass with thousands of followers in Florence’s soccer stadium.
Francis started his packed, daylong schedule with a helicopter flight to Prato, known for its textile industry and large Chinese community. Crowds waving the Vatican’s yellow and white flag met him on his arrival.
The pope called for an end to labor exploitation, addressing the deaths of seven Chinese workers in a nighttime factory fire in 2013.
“It is a tragedy of exploitation and of inhumane conditions of life. And this is not undignified work,” he said.
Pope Francis Says Leak Won't Deter Him From Reform Agenda
Pope Francis on Nov. 8 broke his silence over the leaking of confidential Vatican documents, which he described as a “deplorable act” that will not stand in the way of his ambitious reform agenda.
Speaking to followers in St. Peter’s Square, the pontiff criticized revelations made in two books published last week that explore Francis’ efforts to overhaul financial mismanagement within the Vatican walls.
“Stealing those documents was a crime. It’s a deplorable act that does not help,” the pope said, adding that the leaked information was based on a study he had personally requested.
Pope Francis' Two New Italian Archbishops 'Attentive to Poor'
Pope Francis named two new archbishops in Italy on Oct. 27, seen as strategic appointments for the pontiff’s push to create a “poor church.”
Matteo Maria Zuppi will leave his position as an auxiliary bishop of Rome to take up his new post in Bologna, in central Italy. And Corrado Lorefice, a parish priest in the Sicilian city of Noto, has been named archbishop of Palermo.
Both are relatively young to receive such high office; Zuppi turned 60 this month, while Lorefice has just celebrated his 53rd birthday. But more importantly, the new archbishops have adhered to the pontiff’s wish to prioritize caring for the poor.
Catholic Leaders Unveil 10-Point Climate Action List Ahead of U.N. Summit
Catholic leaders made a rare appeal to the world’s politicians on Oct. 26, urging them to take strong action at the highly-anticipated U.N. climate change summit later this year.
Nine cardinals, patriarchs, and bishops representing the Catholic Church across five continents signed a document, presented at the Vatican on Oct. 26 by clergy from Belgium, Colombia, India, and Papua New Guinea.
The document presents a 10-point policy proposal calling for “a fair, legally binding, and truly transformational climate agreement.”