Rome

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“Pope Francis has a lot of explaining to do by approving the newest Vatican instruction,” said Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, which campaigns for LGBT rights in the church.

“Francis’ famous ‘Who am I to judge?’ statement in 2013 was made in response to a question about gay men in the priesthood,” DeBernardo said. “That response indicated very plainly that he did not have a problem with a gay priest’s sexual orientation.

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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.

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Pope Francis on [Nov. 11] made a surprise visit to meet several men who took the controversial step of leaving the priesthood and starting a family.

A Vatican statement said the pope left his residence in the afternoon and traveled to an apartment on the outskirts of Rome, where he met seven men who had left the priesthood in recent years. The pontiff also met their families.

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In the summer of 430, the great Christian writer and bishop Augustine of Hippo lay dying as barbarians besieged his North African city – basically a mop-up operation in the slow-motion fall of the Roman Empire.

Today, in the fall of the year 2016, a lot of Christians can relate.

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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.

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The strongest earthquake to strike Italy in more than three decades claimed no lives, but struck at the heart of the country’s vast religious and cultural heritage.

The Oct. 30 quake, which measured 6.6 magnitude according to the U.S. Geological Survey, was stronger than the one that killed almost 300 people on Aug. 24, and it struck a region already shaken by tremors last week.

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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.

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Pope Francis leaves on Monday, Oct. 31 for an overnight trip to Sweden, a historically Protestant country that today is one of the most secular in the world.

The visit is to mark the start of observances of next year’s 500th anniversary of the Reformation, which traditionally dates from Oct. 31, 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of a German cathedral.

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In 2013, Francis provoked an outcry from economic conservatives with the release of his apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel),” which was widely seen as his personal manifesto. In it, Francis said the world could no longer trust “the unseen forces and the invisible hand of the market,” and called for ecclesiastical renewal and compassion for the poor.

Cox, who taught at Harvard for 50 years, dedicated his latest book to the pope because they share a concern about what Francis called a “deified market” that’s creating “new idols.”

Image via RNS/Yoli Shwartz/Israel Antiquities Authority

The site where, nearly 2,000 years ago, the Roman army breached the outer walls of ancient Jerusalem, before capturing the city and destroying the Second Jewish Temple, has been discovered, the Israel Antiquities Authority says.

Archaeologists made the discovery last winter, during an exploratory survey at a future construction site, the IAA said on Oct. 20.

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Italian Cardinal Elio Sgreccia was the first to publicly sound the alarm, saying the proposal to open an outlet of the global fast-food chain, below a Vatican-owned building where several cardinals live, was a “controversial, perverse decision.”

In an interview published over the weekend in La Repubblica, Sgreccia said the proposal was “not at all respectful of the architectural and urban traditions” of a destination — just a block from St. Peter’s Square — that draws thousands of pilgrims and tourists a day from around the world.

He also said serving burgers and fries in the neighborhood was unacceptable because McDonald’s cuisine breached Italian taste.

Pope Francis with Lizzy Meyers. Image via REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi/RNS

Pope Francis blessed the eyes of an American girl who suffers from a genetic condition that will make her blind, in a visit to the Vatican described as a “miracle” by her father.

“We came here hoping for some amazing memories for Lizzy … but what we got, we’ve seen several miracles,” said her father, Steve Myers, after Francis’ blessing with 5-year-old Lizzy on April 6.

Jeff Chu 03-11-2016

Image via Jeff Chu.

I weaved my way past, trying to find the right angle. All I wanted was to get a good look at the image of Christ Pantocrator — that is, Almighty — that crowns the inside of the dome at the center of the church. But there were too many walls and too many obstructions. No matter where I stood, every view was partly blocked. No matter what I did, I could never quite see all of Jesus.

Jeff Chu 03-09-2016

Lit candles at Santa Maria sopra Minerva. Image via Jeff Chu

Since I was born Baptist, I think I was taught in utero to be skeptical of all this Roman Catholic stuff. Of Mary. Of popes and princes. Of these incense-tainted, saintward prayers. Of the overreliance on the heritage that traces back to St. Peter (though of course we would never have called him St. Peter). At one point, our guide said, “Upon this rock, I build my church blah blah blah.” She meant no disrespect. Yet it was one of the funniest, most unwittingly perfect things she has said, pithily capturing our sometimes-cavalier attitude toward this church and, for some of us, institutional religion more broadly.

Jeff Chu 03-08-2016

Image via Jeff Chu

A pilgrimage must go places we neither know nor completely understand. It’s an expression of faith — real or imagined, a mountain or maybe just a mustard seed. It acknowledges that we want and need more. More what? Perhaps courage. Maybe trust. Certainly a sense that we shouldn’t fear our doubts.

Jeff Chu 03-07-2016

Image via Jeff Chu

Here is what I packed with me for my pilgrimage, aside from too many clothes and shoes: Fear about spending the next week with a large group of strangers, some of which is my shyness and introversion and some of which is trepidation about being in a space where I’m the only non-white person and the only gay person (a diversity twofer!). Anger at what’s happening in the U.S. — which my passport, but not always the rhetoric, tells me is my country. Worry about the journey ahead. Longstanding doubts about God and faith and this thing we call church and whether any of it makes sense.

Image via Lalupa/Wikimedia Commons

Pope Francis is studying an invitation to visit the Grand Mosque of Rome — extended to him several days after his first visit to the city’s Great Synagogue. If he accepts, Francis would be the first pope to visit the mosque. He received the invitation on Jan. 20 during a short audience he gave to Muslim community leaders at the Vatican.

Image via REUTERS / Alberto Pizzoli / Pool / RNS

A year after he delivered a blistering diagnosis of 15 “diseases” plaguing the Roman Curia, including “spiritual Alzheimer’s,” Pope Francis on Dec. 21 listed a 12-point “catalog of needed virtues” that the bishops and cardinals who run the Holy See should seek to follow.

Image via Osservatore Romano / Handout via Reuters / RNS

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.”

REUTERS / Alessandro Bianchi / RNS

Pope Francis leads the “Via Crucis” (Way of the Cross) procession, which commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, at the Colosseum in Rome on April 3, 2015. Photo via REUTERS / Alessandro Bianchi / RNS

Despite Luther being thrown out of the Catholic Church during his lifetime, the Vatican reacted positively to news of the square’s upcoming inauguration.

“It’s a decision taken by Rome city hall which is favorable to Catholics in that it’s in line with the path of dialogue started with the ecumenical council,” said the Rev. Ciro Benedettini, deputy director of the Vatican press office, referring to a gathering of churchmen to rule on faith matters.

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