If I’ve learned anything since my time in Rome, it’s that people — not just Catholics — are hungering to connect peace with justice. This is why those of us who traveled to Rome just before the election, accompanied by Stockton, Calif., Bishop Stephen Blaire, and Houma-Thibodaux, La., Bishop Shelton Fabre, are preparing for a regional WMPM meeting in Modesto, Calif., in February.
At a solemn ceremony in St. Peter’s Basilica, to elevate 17 new cardinals, Pope Francis, on Nov. 19, delivered a ringing plea to the world, and his own Catholic Church, to reject “the virus of polarization and animosity," and the growing temptation to “demonize” those who are different.
The pontiff’s address came across as a powerful, gospel-based indictment of the populist and nationalist anger roiling countries around the world, displayed most recently by the stunning election of Donald Trump as president of the U.S.
These new cardinals include prelates from 11 dioceses and six countries that have never before had a cardinal, and from places far outside the traditional European orbit of ecclesiastical influence: Albania, for example, plus the Central African Republic, Lesotho, Mauritius, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea.
But the real surprise in these picks, as in past appointments, is that they came as a complete surprise to many of the new cardinals themselves, and to the pope’s closest collaborators.
Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election has few parallels in the history of contemporary politics in the Western world.
But the closest one is familiar to me: Silvio Berlusconi, the media tycoon who was elected prime minister of Italy — my homeland — for the first time on March 27, 1994 and who served four stints as prime minister until 2011.
The Rev. Frank Pavone, a leading anti-abortion crusader and Donald Trump supporter, was jubilant on Nov. 9 after his candidate’s surprising win in the presidential race.
But the head of the Staten Island-based Priests for Life group is also facing a stern rebuke and investigation from his bishop, over Pavone’s shocking election eve video, in which he posed with an aborted fetus on an altar while delivering a 44-minute appeal to voters to elect the Republican nominee.
Even by this pope’s standards it was a bold move.
Francis, the spiritual leader of more than a billion Roman Catholics across the globe, this week traveled to Sweden, one of the most secularized countries in Europe, to take part in events marking 500 years since Martin Luther kickstarted the Protestant Reformation.
Pope Francis offered no new position on the issue of women’s ordination while on a flight returning from Sweden. When asked if the Catholic Church may one day allow women priests and bishops, he responded, as done previously, that the question was already settled in 1994 with St. John Paul II
Some Protestant churches mark the day as Reformation Sunday, and celebrate it on the Sunday just before, or just after, Oct. 31. More often than not, the hymns sung in church that day include “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” with words and music composed by Luther himself. But most members of Lutheran churches — the direct descendants of Luther’s movement — wait until Oct. 31. And that, as we know, is also Halloween, and has led to some creative celebrations for kids.
“JUST WAR IS KILLING US! There is no just war.”
That proclamation by a Catholic sister from Iraq, and others like it, resounded at a Vatican gathering this spring and fell on surprisingly receptive ears.
Sister Nazik Matty, an Iraqi Dominican, joined others from around the world in Rome in April to wrestle with how the Catholic Church could “recommit to the centrality of gospel nonviolence.” She has watched members of her religious community die for lack of medical care during war.
“Which of the wars we have been in is a just war?” asked Sister Matty, who was driven from her home in Mosul by ISIS, also known by the Arabic acronym Daesh. “In my country, there was no just war. War is the mother of ignorance, isolation, and poverty. Please tell the world there is no such thing as a just war. I say this as a daughter of war.”
The Rome gathering on Nonviolence and Just Peace was unprecedented, bringing together members of the church hierarchy with social scientists, theologians, practitioners of nonviolence, diplomats, and unarmed civilian peacekeepers to discuss Catholic nonviolence and whether in the contemporary world armed force can ever be justified.
Of course, with such diverse participants, there was not a common mind on whether just war theory, a doctrine of military ethics used by Catholic theologians, has outlived its usefulness as church teaching.
Some of the academics and diplomats—particularly from the United States and Western Europe—maintained that just war criteria, when properly applied, are useful when working within halls of power, from the Pentagon to the United Nations, for restraining excessive use of military force by a state. One participant cautioned against “broad condemnations of just war tradition, if it means closing off dialogue with our allies.” Another questioned how diplomacy could continue without the just war framework as its common language.
But Catholics who came to Rome from conflict zones—Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Palestine, Colombia, Mexico, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, and Uganda—brought a different perspective.
Catholics can be cremated under certain conditions, the Vatican has said, but loved ones should not scatter the ashes at sea, or on land, or into the wind, nor should they keep them in mementos or jewelry.
Instead, say new guidelines released on Oct. 25, the remains should be stored “in a sacred place” that “prevents the faithful departed from being forgotten” and “prevents any unfitting or superstitious practices.”
With these picks, the third round of cardinal appointments Francis has made since he himself was elected pope in 2013, he did a number of nontraditional things that have become almost customary for him:
First of all, he moved the church’s center of gravity further away from the Old World and toward the “peripheries,” as he says, by selecting more cardinals (six total) from Africa, Asia, and Oceania than from Europe (five).
“The presidential nominees will share the dais with Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, and they will deliver the evening’s speeches in the spirit of collegiality and good-humor that has become a hallmark of the gala,” said a statement issued Sept. 27 by the New York Archdiocese and the foundation that runs the event.
The Oct. 20 dinner “honors a cause that transcends the polarizing political rhetoric of the day and exemplifies the vision of Gov. Alfred E. Smith, known as ‘The Happy Warrior,’ for his ability to maintain his positive outlook even as he tackled the pressing social issues of his day,” the statement said.
“This is the first I know of an evangelical seminary with a free-standing requirement for graduation to participate in this kind of discrete training. There are other seminaries where sexual boundary, sexual abuse issues are part of another course or class. But it would not be a free-standing event, as Dallas is doing.”
No matter where we are, the climate crisis is not far from home.
For some time it has largely been the world’s most vulnerable, in the global south, bearing the brunt of suffering and climate-induced devastation. Those who have the power to change things have so far all but ignored “the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth,” as Pope Francis wrote in his encyclical a little over a year ago.
But just this past month in the United States — one of the world’s wealthiest nations — we have seen historic droughts, unprecedented floods in Louisiana, and wildfires in California, killing many and displacing tens of thousands.
Pope Francis expressed his “heartfelt sorrow” after a powerful earthquake killed at least 120 people and left a trail of destruction across central Italy. Hundreds of people were injured and dozens of others missing in several small towns after the magnitude-6.2 quake struck at 3:36 a.m. local time (Aug. 24). The quake’s epicenter was about 90 miles northeast of Rome, but the shock waves were felt from the southern city of Naples to the northern town of Rimini on the Adriatic Coast. A powerful aftershock of 5.4 magnitude followed an hour later.
Ever since Pope Francis was elected in March 2013, he has faced strong opposition from traditionalists unhappy with his push for church reforms — and the face of that opposition has often been Cardinal Raymond Burke, an American prelate who has worked in senior positions in Rome for most of the past decade.
Nearly 500 years after Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the Castle Church door, the largest Lutheran denomination in the U.S. has approved a declaration recognizing “there are no longer church-dividing issues” on many points with the Roman Catholic Church.
The Vatican this week unveiled Pope Francis’ picks for a 12-member panel of scholars who will study the question of whether women were ordained as deacons in the early church, and whether they could be ordained in the Catholic Church today — a historic step, if it were to happen.
What will the commission, which will operate under the supervision of an archbishop from the Vatican’s doctrinal office, do?
The Vatican has confirmed that “after intense prayer and mature reflection, Pope Francis has decided to institute the Commission for the Study of the Diaconate of Women.” A deacon is a minister of the Catholic Church who is ordained as a sacramental sign of Christ, who came “to serve and not to be served.”
If women are permitted to be deacons by the church, they can baptize as well as marry and bury. They can offer homilies. These are momentous steps.
Carl Anderson, leader of the Knights of Columbus fraternal order and one of the most influential lay Catholics in the church, has said that abortion outweighs all other issues in the presidential campaign and Catholics cannot vote for a candidate who supports abortion rights.
Abortion is not “just another political issue” but “is in reality a legal regime that has resulted in more than 40 million deaths,” Anderson told the Knights’ international convention in Toronto in a speech on Aug. 2.