Francis: When a Visitor Changes Your Home

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Stunning is the word that most comes to me after Pope Francis’ two-day visit to Washington, D.C. The country and the media was reveling in his presence, using language like “amazing,” “incredible,” and “wonderful” in response to this extraordinary moral leader who literally transformed our public discourse in the 48 hours he was in the nation’s capital. What these two extraordinary days mean going forward is the big question on all our hearts and minds.

At the formal welcoming ceremony on the South Lawn at the White House, a very traditional template was transformed by the “Vicar of Christ,” whose presence turned everyone’s language to one reference after another to those Christ called “the least of these” in the 25th chapter of Matthew. Never have I heard the most vulnerable being the most talked about in this city.

President Obama began the pope’s visit with these words, “What a beautiful day the Lord has made.”

Indeed. Then Pope Francis introduced himself to America as “a son of an immigrant family” who was “happy to be a guest in this country, which was largely built by such families.”

Point made.

Pope Francis' Rapturous U.S. Welcome Belies a Historic Anti-Catholic Past

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Pope Francis leads the Easter vigil mass in Saint Peter's Basilica on Holy Saturday. Vatican City, 19 April 2014. Photo via giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com

Yes, popes have been visiting the U.S. since Paul VI spent a day in New York in 1965, and each of the following eight papal trips — seven by John Paul II and one by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI — has been widely anticipated, and enormously successful.

Is it far-fetched to think this could be any different this time — that images of a beaming Roman pontiff taking in the local flavor would not lead to a surge of warm feelings toward a Catholic Church otherwise regarded as beleaguered and out-of-touch?

Yet at a moment of such excitement and goodwill, it is important to remember how unusual this trip is in the context of American history: The idea that a pope could arrive in the United States to fanfare and adulation, especially from leading American politicians, was once unthinkable.

Consider the case of Archbishop Gaetano Bedini, a representative of Pope Pius IX whose 1853 U.S. tour wrought an assassination plot and sparked violence in Cincinnati streets that led to one protester’s death and forced Bedini to flee the country under cover of night. Such extreme reactions grew from Bedini’s close association with his imperious boss, the pope, who denounced democratic government, religious liberty and all of “modern civilization.”

Pope Francis: 'Jesus Was Popular and Look How That Turned Out'

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In two wide-ranging new interviews, the pontiff discusses matters both weighty and personal, such as: the perils of his popularity, his plans to welcome divorced and remarried Catholics, and his fear that the church has locked Jesus up like a prisoner.

Speaking Sept. 13 to the Argentine radio station, FM Milenium, Francis lamented those who posed as his friends to exploit him, and decried religious fundamentalism.

And speaking to Portugal’s Radio Renascença in an interview that ran on Sept. 14, Francis said that a priest comes to hear his confession every 15 to 20 days: “And I never had to call an ambulance to take him back in shock over my sins!”

50 Prison Inmates Tour Vatican Gardens, Sistine Chapel

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Fifty inmates from a Rome jail were given a private tour of the Vatican Museums on Sept. 13, setting the tone for Pope Francis’ visit to a U.S. prison later this month and emphasizing his concern for people on the margins.

The group from the Rebibbia prison visited the Vatican Gardens and St. Peter’s Basilica, before being given a private tour through the Vatican Museums by Museums Director Antonio Paolucci.

Once the inmates reached the Sistine Chapel, best known for its world-famous Michelangelo’s fresco, the Vatican allowed the prisoners to listen in to the pope’s midday Angelus prayer.

Majority of U.S. Catholics Accept 'Non-Traditional' Families

new survey released from Pew Research Center, conducted in the lead-up to the pontiff’s visit, examined U.S. Catholics’ attitudes on family, marriage, and sexuality, as well as on issues close to the pope’s heart — concern for the poor, care for the environment, and forgiveness of sins. The results found Catholics “remarkably accepting of a wide variety of non-traditional families.”

This is not to say longstanding church teaching on marriage has changed — the church very much still upholds lifelong heterosexual monogamous marriage with children as the divine plan for coupleship, and nine-in-ten U.S. Catholics say this is the ideal arrangement. But large majorities now say other familial arrangements are acceptable, too.  

According to the survey of U.S. Catholics, 85 percent say it is acceptable for a man and woman to live together as a couple outside of marriage, and 84 percent say it is acceptable for raise children in this arrangement. Two-thirds say it is acceptable for same-sex couples to raise children. And 70 percent say married couples who choose to not have children are choosing a lifestyle that is just as good as any other.

Pope Francis Holds Sign Urging Falkland Islands Dialogue, Causes Stir in Argentina

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Francis’ inadvertent gesture of support for renewed talks between the two countries inevitably caused a stir in his home city, Buenos Aires, with Argentine President Cristina Kirchner posting the pope photograph on Twitter. So too did Argentina’s foreign ministry, writing: “Pope Francis receives the Argentina-UK pro-dialogue message.”

But the Vatican played down the significance of the moment, saying the pope had no idea what was written on the sign. “The Holy Father did not even realize he had taken this object in his hands. He has discovered this just now after seeing the photograph,” the Vatican said in a statement.

Pope Francis: Unemployment ‘Damages the Spirit’

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Pope Francis on Aug. 19 reflected on the "serious social damage" caused by unemployment and praised governments for their efforts to create jobs.

Speaking during his weekly audience in St. Peter’s Square, Francis said one’s working life and spiritual life are closely linked.

"The lack of work also damages the spirit, like a lack of prayer also damages practical activity," he said.

The pontiff focused on the dignity of work and the responsibility of employers.

"The management of employment is a great human and social responsibility, that cannot be left in the hands of the few," he said.

Cardinal Peter Turkson: Bishops Need to Speak Up on the Environment

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Cardinal Peter Turkson poses as he holds Pope Francis’ new encyclical titled “Laudato Si’ (Be Praised): On Care of Our Common Home” during the presentation news conference at the Vatican on June 18, 2015. Photo via REUTERS / Max Rossi / RNS

The Vatican is calling on bishops globally to act on the pope’s groundbreaking environmental encyclical, Cardinal Peter Turkson said in an interview.

Last week, bishops’ conferences across the world were sent a message urging them to speak up about the message of the papal letter, which called for greater action on the environment, said Turkson, who is president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Thousands March in Rome to Show Support for Pope Francis’ Call for Climate Action

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Thousands march in Rome to show support for Pope Francis’ call for climate action. Photo by Rosie Scammell / RNS

The interfaith element of the pope’s environmental message was reflected in the diverse range of religious leaders present.The interfaith element of the pope’s environmental message was reflected in the diverse range of religious leaders present.Religious leaders from across the globe led a “Many Faiths – One Planet” march to the Vatican on June 28, to show their support of Pope Francis’ groundbreaking environmental encyclical.

Organizers estimated a crowd of 5,000 people reached St. Peter’s Square to celebrate the pontiff’s tough stance on climate change, after parading through Rome under a canopy of painted banners.

Children Need Mother and Father, Says Pope After Gay Pride March

Photo via REUTERS / Max Rossi / RNS

A lesbian couple kiss during the annual gay pride parade in downtown Rome on June 15, 2013. Photo via REUTERS / Max Rossi / RNS

Pope Francis on June 14 stressed the importance of children having heterosexual parents, just a day after Rome’s gay pride march demonstrated the changing attitudes about same-sex couples outside the Vatican walls.

Addressing around 25,000 followers from the Diocese of Rome, the pope said the differences between men and women are fundamental and “an integral part of being human.”

The pontiff likened a long-lasting marriage to a good wine, in which a husband and wife make the most of their gender differences.