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Like-minded, like-hearted: Boston Cardinal discusses the Francis effect

Point of View: Interpreting the Francis Effect is a S+L series that goes deeper into the questions surrounding the person and pontificate of Pope Francis.  The series consists of a selection of the full interviews from S+L’s original documentary The Francis Effect.  Find the full schedule for Season 2 of POV here.

Tonight: Cardinal Seán O’Malley, OFM Cap.

Before and during the 2013 conclave there was much talk about the possibility of an American pope. As unlikely as it may have seemed at the time, we can now say with a degree of certainty that the American Cardinals at the conclave were, not only influential, but one of them in particular was getting a lot of attention: Seán O’Malley, the Archbishop of Boston. His authenticity, simple lifestyle and concern for the marginalized have set him squarely in the ‘Francis camp.’ It’s no wonder the Pope has brought the beloved Franciscan friar into his inner circle and is relying on him to spearhead some of the most important church reforms.

Cardinal O’Malley is the most powerful churchman in North America and our lengthy interview touches on everything from reform of the Vatican bureaucracy to the sexual abuse crisis to women and the role of the laity in the Church. It reveals a Christian and a bishop who – as he himself admits – is very proud of Pope Francis and all that he has done to bring the Church’s message of mercy to the fore. “The Holy Father,” says O’Malley, “is opening the doors of the Church to go out and encounter the people where they are, but, also, to be able to invite them home.”

Here is an excerpt from the interview with Cardinal O’Malley that airs tonight on S+L:

Gomes: Regarding Pope Francis, a lot of people say, “the substance is the same, but the style is different.” I wonder, is it that, or is there something deeper going on? Is there a kind of radical transformation of the papacy taking place at this moment in history that goes beyond just the stylistic changes?

Cardinal O’Malley: Well, the papacy is always evolving. Just in my lifetime: as a child it was Pius XII, and this was a man who took all of his meals in solitude and never left Vatican City. And when Pope John XXIII went to Assisi, this was revolutionary. And then Paul VI went to the Holy Land and addressed the UN in New York and went to Columbia. And then, of course, John Paul II who was probably seen by more people than any other human being in the history of the world. So there have been changes constantly. But with John Paul II I think there was this move towards a new, modern image of the pope, more engaged with the world as a whole. And in Pope Francis I think it’s just more of a natural evolution that’s taking place.  And, of course, he’s bringing to it his gifts, his personality, his experience as a Latin American. And he’s a little freer from some of the weight of historical traditions and people are reacting to that, they feel very comfortable with that.

Gomes: Do you think it would be possible, at least theoretically, for the changes Francis is implementing to be reversed in the future?

Cardinal O’Malley: I think that with the modernization of the papacy – I don’t know – I can’t imagine going back to some of the old ways of doing things. But every Holy Father will be different and have his own style and his own way of doing things. And so, if anything, Pope Francis has shown that the Holy Father can choose to do things differently and in his own way. And even Pope Benedict’s decision to resign was very, very historic and will, perhaps, give popes in the future a greater freedom to be able to make a similar decision.

Watch Episode 6 of Point of View: Interpreting the Francis Effect
Wednesday, May 27, 2015
9:00pm ET / 6:00pm PT
Only on Salt and Light Television

The Vatican and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: peace trumps politics


The enormous amount of media attention that Pope Francis attracts has highlighted the Church’s influence in the world of global politics. The Pope, whoever he is, is a spiritual leader, but one with a permanent seat at the political table. Hardly a week goes by in which Francis doesn’t meet with some head of state or foreign diplomat to discuss religion and politics in the respective country.

This past week it was the Palestinians’ turn. On May 13 the Vatican announced that the Bilateral Commission of the Holy See and the State of Palestine had finalized the draft text of an agreement on essential aspects of the life and activity of the Catholic Church in Palestine.

Then on May 16, on the eve of a canonization Mass in which two Palestinian nuns were proclaimed saints, Pope Francis met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The two men expressed their hope that peace talks would resume with Israel and that interreligious dialogue be promoted across the region.

Predictably, the three events—the bilateral agreement, the meeting with Abbas and the canonization of two Palestinians—reignited the discussion over the Vatican’s recognition of the “state of Palestine,” a recognition Israel categorically denies.

Israeli officials suggested that such recognition from third parties discourages the Palestinians from returning to the negotiating table, and some pro-Israeli voices even raised concern over what this could mean for Catholic-Jewish relations.

For the sake of clarification, it is helpful to review the Vatican’s policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and reiterate the rationale behind it.

When last Wednesday’s announcement came from the Bilateral Commission, some credible voices in the media rightly pointed out that it wasn’t the first time the Vatican officially recognized the “state of Palestine.” It has been using this language since the 2012 United Nations vote to grant Palestine “non-member observer status,” a status shared by only one other state at the UN: the Holy See.

Far from going out-on-a-limb with its language, the Vatican simply recognizes what the vast majority of other nations recognize (the UN vote carried 138 in favor and 9 against with 41 abstentions).

And beyond this, it should be pointed out that the Vatican has long supported a “two-state” solution to the conflict. Upon his arrival in Tel Aviv last year, Pope Francis said:

“I renew the appeal made in this place by Pope Benedict XVI: the right of the State of Israel to exist and to flourish in peace and security within internationally recognized borders must be universally recognized.  At the same time, there must also be a recognition of the right of the Palestinian people to a sovereign homeland and their right to live with dignity and with freedom of movement. The “Two State Solution” must become reality and not remain merely a dream.” (Welcome Ceremony)

Pope Benedict said as much during his visit to the Holy Land in 2009, and John Paul II on many occasions insisted on a peaceful solution to the conflict. He also sought solidarity with the Palestinian people by fostering a relationship with then Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Upon hearing of Arafat’s death in 2004, the Vatican issued a statement saying the Pope, “feels particularly close to the family of the departed, the Palestinian authorities and the Palestinian people,” and that he has “called upon the Prince of Peace to let the Star of Harmony shine over the Holy Land so that the two peoples who dwell in it may reconcile as two independent and sovereign states.”

Suffice it to say, no ground-breaking language was used over the past week by the Vatican regarding the Israeli-Palestinian situation. The Church’s position has been clear for years: a peaceful two-state solution whereby both parties respect the right and legitimacy of the other, with absolutely no recourse to violence. In recognizing the “state of Palestine” since 2012, the Vatican is adhering to the legitimate decision of the United Nations.

The Church always insists on peace over politics. Its support for a realized Palestinian state and a peaceful coexistence built on respect and mutuality is not exclusionary or one-sided, as some voices are suggesting. The Church equally supports the right and security of an Israeli state. But when it comes to conflict, especially violent conflict, the Church raises the bar beyond petty politics to the greater good, that is, justice and peace. As Pope Benedict XVI said in an address to the President of Israel in Jerusalem in 2009, “A nation’s true interest is always served by the pursuit of justice for all.”

SebastianGOn Further Reflection
In the complex world of the 21st century there are more questions than answers. The challenge for the Church is to find new and effective ways of bringing the Gospel message into the conversation.  For her part, the Church can act as a much needed voice of dialogue, reason and charity. On Further Reflection invites readers to go beyond the headlines to see the deeper realities affecting the church and society.  Sebastian Gomes is a producer and correspondent for S+L TV.

“The Pope’s economics message is hard to dismiss because the facts are so real,” says US economist


Point of View: Interpreting the Francis Effect is an S+L series that goes deeper into the questions surrounding the person and pontificate of Pope Francis.  The series consists of a selection of the full interviews from S+L’s original documentary The Francis Effect. Find the full schedule for Season 2 of POV here.

All new tonight: Charles Clark, PhD

The highly anticipated visit of Pope Francis to the United States in September will help define his pontificate. He is one of the most popular and beloved global figures, but he will undoubtedly bring a challenging and potentially divisive message regarding economic ideologies and the Church’s resurging preferential option for the poor. Nowhere will his remarks on economics—whatever they entail—be felt more strongly than on North American soil.

The Pope has said just enough over the past two years to stir enormous controversy, not only in the economic world, but in the Church as well.  Disagreements among Catholic economists over the Pope’s statements in The Joy of the Gospel are common. Some critique his views as narrowly Latin American, while others see them as coming straight out of the Church’s long-standing social doctrine.

Charles Clark is a Catholic economist belonging to the latter group—he’s a professor of economics at St. John’s University, NY and an advisor to the Holy See Mission to the United Nations. He applauds Francis for pushing an evidence-based critique of the global economy, and says the Pope’s call to put human beings at the center of all economic activity has profound consequences for the way we think about money and wealth, and—more importantly—how we choose to use them.

Tonight for the first time on S+L TV, viewers can see the full interview I conducted with Charles Clark on the Pope’s economic ideas and vision for a Church that is inclusive; one that is of and for the poor.

Watch Episode 5 of Point of View: Interpreting the Francis Effect
Airs Wednesday, May 20, 2015
9:00pm ET / 6:00pm PT
Only on Salt and Light Television

Helping us see things a bit more clearly: remembering the late Cardinal George

+georgeCheridan and Sebastian pose with Cardinal George at his residence following an interview for The Church Alive series in 2012.

It’s been one month since the death of Cardinal Francis George of Chicago and personal stories and reflections continue to be shared across the media by people all over the world who either knew him or recognized his great contributions to the American Church and beyond.

I was not close to the Cardinal, but I did have the chance to meet him a number of times and on one occasion do an extended interview with him for S+L (the interview appeared in various episodes of The Church Alive).  So, I’m not surprised that people continue to write about him in the weeks after his death—a trend that will continue I’m sure.  Those who had the opportunity to meet him know that despite his small and fragile stature he was a giant of a man in so many ways, and the depth and richness of his Christian life warrant our enduring admiration and gratitude.

Allow me—a passerby of sorts—to contribute to the amassing collection of memories of Cardinal George and share the experience of our first meeting that remains fixed in my mind.

It was the spring of 2012 and I was part of an S+L team at DePaul University covering World Catholicism Week.  Connected to the trip was an arranged interview with Cardinal George at the historic Archbishop’s residence at 1555 North State Parkway just off Lincoln Park.

It was near the beginning of my time at S+L and the interview was my first “big one”.  I knew the Cardinal by reputation only: a brilliant and piercing intellect matched only by his personal warmth and gentleness.  I knew less about the residence and when we arrived with the help of GPS we looked at each other in daunting disbelief.

We did have an appointment, but I remember approaching the front door feeling like Frodo Baggins and co. outside the sealed walls of Moria.  We hesitatingly pressed the doorbell and a few moments later the door was slowly opened by a very serious-looking security guard (btw, we didn’t need to say “mellon”, the Elvish word for “friend”).

He didn’t say much but gestured us in, with cameras and lights in tow, and took us to an elegant room on the same floor in the north-east corner of the house.  We began setting up and about 10 minutes later the Cardinal limped in—he suffered from polio from age 13—and welcomed us to his home.

He was soft-spoken off camera and very gracious.  He asked us how long it would take to set up and when we told him about fifteen minutes he excused himself to take care of a few other business items.

When he returned, we told him a bit about our vision for The Church Alive series and he said, “very good, very good,” and sat down.  He was particularly interested in our episode on Catholic education, a subject that was very dear to him and a longtime focus of his episcopal ministry.

We had two things in mind when we prepared the questions for the interview.  First, because the show was about the new evangelization we knew we had to get back to basics, the fundamental principles of the Catholic faith.  Second, we were looking at the big picture, that is, how those fundamental principles could be arranged in a comprehensive and comprehensible way for people today.  So we focused on the Church’s understanding of things like education, religious liberty, the role of the media and, of course, politics.

For me sitting opposite the Cardinal, the interview was like travelling through hyperspace.  I was prepared, but it was one of the few times in my career that I became lost, in the best sense of the word, in the responses of my guest.  He answered very complex questions immediately, as though they required little reflection, but used language that was simple and direct, like a calculator.  He was precise, eager to go straight to the heart of the matter without wasting breath on peripheral considerations.

We had been talking about a force at work in the society, both in Canada and the US, seeking to purge all education of religious influence, and at one point I asked him what makes a Catholic education unique (as opposed to a secular or public education).  Very assuredly the Cardinal said:

“Well a Catholic school is the only place where you can have a serious conversation. You can talk about God; you can’t do that in a government school. You can talk about our future, not only here but after this life—who are we therefore? Why do we regard people as ends and not as means? What is the source of human dignity? You can’t raise those questions in a government school. And so they’re not free. We’re free.”

Later when I had time to review and process the interview, it struck me that he had this unique ability to remove the fog of complexity surrounding very significant issues and provide a rational and progressive (in the sense of forward-thinking) response.  To link the issue of what can be discussed in a school with the issue of freedom of thought and speech is enormously consequential.  A cry for the removal of religious matter from the education of young people is narrow and restrictive; it is precisely the opposite of freedom, and that’s why the Church opposes it.

Such was the ability of Cardinal Francis George to suddenly and unexpectedly open our minds and spark our imaginations.  After the interview he showed us a few monuments in the historic house and we took some photographs together.  He sent his best wishes to the S+L staff and encouraged us in our work.  We left on an intellectual high and confident in the direction we were taking our new TV series.

There is a lot of great content in The Church Alive, but the Cardinal’s contribution was singularly profound, in my opinion.  I’m grateful for having had the chance to interview him on that occasion; I will never forget that hour in which the fog was lifted and I was able to see things a little more clearly thanks to him.

May he rest in peace.

SebastianGOn Further Reflection
In the complex world of the 21st century there are more questions than answers. The challenge for the Church is to find new and effective ways of bringing the Gospel message into the conversation.  For her part, the Church can act as a much needed voice of dialogue, reason and charity. On Further Reflection invites readers to go beyond the headlines to see the deeper realities affecting the church and society.  Sebastian Gomes is a producer and correspondent for S+L TV.

“A little bit of unpredictability is helpful at times”: Fr. Rosica reflects on Francis and the Media


Point of View: Interpreting the Francis Effect is a S+L series that goes deeper into the questions surrounding the person and pontificate of Pope Francis.  The series consists of a selection of the full interviews from S+L’s original documentary The Francis EffectFind the full schedule for Season 2 of POV here.

Tonight: Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

I remember when Fr. Rosica, our CEO, called me into his office the morning of February 13th, 2013 to tell me that Fr. Lombardi (the Vatican Spokesperson) had asked the two of us to come to Rome immediately to work with the English speaking media, who had already begun to swarm the Vatican two days after Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation.  A lot has happened since that conversation.

In many ways, the weeks that followed were the beginning of a significant relationship between Fr. Rosica and the Holy See Press Office. Lombardi and Rosica have known each other for many years and worked closely together at three Synods of Bishops. But this was different. After Francis’ election Lombardi asked Rosica to continue to reach out to the English media around the world with important news and statements from the Vatican. The response of the media over the past two-plus years has been incredible. Francis is a newsmaker, and that means solid and timely Vatican information translated into English is a hot commodity.

Few people have the privilege and responsibility of standing with one foot in the media world and another in the Vatican. The unique and discrete nature of the work puts Fr. Rosica in an unparalleled position to reflect on the phenomenon that we call “the Francis effect.”

Tonight for the first time, S+L viewers can watch the full interview I conducted with Fr. Rosica about the strategy he and Fr. Lombardi employed for the sede vacante and the first days of Pope Francis’ pontificate. You will also hear of the developing relationship between the Vatican and the secular media, a powerful story about which many speculate but few know in detail. This is the man to hear it from firsthand.

Watch Episode 4 of Point of View: Interpreting the Francis Effect
Airs Wednesday, May 13, 2015
9:00pm ET / 6:00pm PT
Only on Salt and Light Television

On America’s National Day of Prayer, faith and reason should join hands


The effects of a growing secularism can be felt in nearly every facet of life in the traditionally Christian countries.  Today, cases before the courts frequently consider issues of religious freedom and the separation of church and state.  More than ever before, questions are being raised about the religious “traditions” of a society that for generations were considered natural communal expressions of a robust religious and cultural identity.

“If you have a day of prayer, we want a day of reason!”
Take, for instance, the 64th National Day of Prayer being celebrated in the United States today.  Unofficially the celebration dates back to 1775, but it became Congressionally-mandated and federally-supported in the mid-20th century.  As is the custom, President Barack Obama will invite all Americans to “turn to God in prayer and meditation,” a practice all major faith groups can participate in, in one form or another.

There is a group of Americans, however, critical of the celebration in what they see as an expression of religious favoritism (Christianity) on the part of the state that, they argue, is well beyond the competence of government.  For some of them, May 7th 2015 is not the National Day of Prayer, but the National Day of Reason.  It is a celebration all the same, but one of the absolute separation of church and state and of reason over religion as the guiding principle of American secular democracy and, in effect, all human progress.

This year, the American Humanist Association, the leading proponents of the day of reason, went so far as to seek recognition of the celebration in Congress; a resolution was tabled by House Representative Mike Honda of California on April 29th.

A quick Google search of the day of prayer or reason will yield a healthy dose of enthusiastic commentary in strong support for one or in equally strong opposition to the other.  Clearly, the two celebrations are seen as antagonistic by those concerned.

“It doesn’t matter to me.”
Despite the strong feelings on either side of the debate, a significant percentage of the American citizenry doesn’t seem all that interested.  A 2010 Gallup poll found that while the majority of Americans (57%) favor the National Day of Prayer, more than a third of Americans (38%) said it didn’t matter to them whether the country celebrated it or not.

The numbers are interesting considering another poll found that more than three-quarters of Americans (77%) still identify as Christian while 19% say they do not have a formal religious identity.

While the debate over the National Day of Prayer and the National Day of Reason is not the most pressing issue for Americans today, it does reflect an interesting reality in the debate between religion and secularism.  I find it to be especially true of the young adults of my generation that while strong believers and non-believers debate the big questions and their proper role in the advancement of society—things like prayer to God or a purely humanist philosophy—a significant number do not think the debate is worth having at all.  These folks would not necessarily be for or against a day of prayer or a day of reason, many simply don’t care.

It reminds me of one of Chesterton’s brilliant novels called The Ball and the Cross, written over one hundred years ago, but prophetically pointing to the same phenomenon.  In the book, two Scotsmen, one a naïve Catholic and the other an equally naïve atheist, furiously debate the existence of God to the point of proposing a duel to the death.  Ironically, the thing both men are willing to die for others are indifferent to, and the two enemies find themselves united against a society that has trivialized life’s most important question.

The fact that this phenomenon had to some extent already taken place by the turn of the 20th century means we shouldn’t be shocked by it today.  But it’s an important phenomenon worth reflecting on nonetheless, especially when considering the consequences.

Faith and reason: an indissoluble marriage
Since today is the National Day of Prayer and unofficially the National Day of Reason, let’s use the discussion around them for our general reflection.  From my conversations with those who are “indifferent”—and they would happily describe themselves as such—it seems to be that the individual arguments for or against one celebration or the other are simply not relevant or particularly convincing.

On the one hand, the simple fact that the day of prayer is Congressionally-mandated and considered an important historical tradition means relatively little anymore.  The language and manner in which prayer (usually Christian prayer) is explained does not connect with people’s lived experience.  It can come across as archaic, superstitious, condescending and exclusivist.

On the other hand, the arguments of atheistic humanism for the abolishment of all state religious tradition, no matter how small or tame, seems overly aggressive and reactionary.  The trumpeting of human reason as the singular instrument for all authentic progress strikes people, ironically enough, as inhuman; it is unfaithful to the complexity of the human person and opposed, once again, to their lived experience.

One solution would be to consider both responses together and propose what the Catholic Church has always proposed: that faith and reason are not antagonistic realities—what a novel idea!—but two complimentary and indispensable tools for understanding the most profound realities of human existence.

And because the Church has always proposed this, there’s a lot of material to work with.  Look at the pontificate of Benedict XVI, our contemporary, whose teachings were permeated by this foundational principle.  He, more than anyone else, saw the risks of separating faith and reason at this moment in history; he knew that the credibility of the Gospel as well as the progress of humanity depended on the indissoluble marriage of the two.

During the 2012 Year of Faith, Benedict reflected on the relationship between faith and reason in his weekly general audiences, saying on one occasion:

“God illuminates reason and opens up new horizons, immeasurable and infinite. Therefore, faith is a continuous stimulus to seek, never to cease or acquiesce in the inexhaustible search for truth and reality.  Intellect and faith are not foreign or antagonistic to divine Revelation, they are both prerequisites for understanding its meaning, for receiving its authentic message, for approaching the threshold of the mystery.  The Catholic faith is therefore rational and also nurtures trust in human reason.”
(Nov. 21, 2012. See S+L’s summary)

In that unforgettable address to scientists at the University of Regensburg in 2006, he made this plea to broaden our conception of reason:

“While we rejoice in the new possibilities open to humanity, we also see the dangers arising from these possibilities and we must ask ourselves how we can overcome them. We will succeed in doing so only if reason and faith come together in a new way, if we overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically falsifiable, and if we once more disclose its vast horizons.”

He continued:

“The courage to engage the whole breadth of reason, and not the denial of its grandeur—this is the program with which a theology grounded in Biblical faith enters into the debates of our time.”

A significant number of folks today are indifferent to the various faith traditions and practices that were historically invaluable.  Yet they hesitate to get on an atheistic bandwagon that would dismiss faith entirely from the realm of relevancy and progress.  In the meantime, most Americans say a prayer or two and get on with their lives, while American humanists rally to solidify the first Thursday of May as the National Day of Reason.

To be honest, this initiative might be the best solution.  In an almost Chestertonian twist of irony, the Congressional resolution would bring two opposing forces together in a most unlikely way, to celebrate.  On the chance that it is adopted, I suggest, as Benedict might, that they call the new celebration the “National Day of Faith and Reason“.

SebastianGOn Further Reflection
In the complex world of the 21st century there are more questions than answers. The challenge for the Church is to find new and effective ways of bringing the Gospel message into the conversation.  For her part, the Church can act as a much needed voice of dialogue, reason and charity. On Further Reflection invites readers to go beyond the headlines to see the deeper realities affecting the church and society.  Sebastian Gomes is a producer and correspondent for S+L TV.

“With Pope Francis the Church isn’t just speaking, the Church is also listening,” says Scott Pelley


Point of View: Interpreting the Francis Effect is a S+L series that goes deeper into the questions surrounding the person and pontificate of Pope Francis. The series consists of a selection of the full interviews from S+L’s original documentary The Francis Effect. Find the full schedule for Season 2 of POV here.

Tonight: Scott Pelley

When the question is raised about the number of Catholics living in a particular city, region or country, a distinction is typically made between those who practice the faith, i.e. attend Mass on Sundays, etc. and those who are “Catholic” in name only. Inevitably we are left with two very different numbers. This is primarily a North American and European phenomenon, and has raised questions about catechesis in the local churches.

Since the election of Pope Francis, a new phenomenon has taken shape. Significant numbers of non-Catholics are keeping a close eye on the Pope and the Church. The resuscitation of the Church’s global moral voice cannot be ignored, it seems, especially when the message comes directly from Francis.

In our work covering the Pope we have the opportunity to engage people of different backgrounds and get a sense of the response to what’s developing. It often happens in the course of our conversations that these non-Catholic folks reveal a substantial personal knowledge of Catholicism and a keen sense of the Church. I never cease to be pleasantly surprised by this. At times I walk away thinking, “if only more Catholics knew what these folks knew!”

This feeling was never more apparent to me than when I met Scott Pelley of CBS. He is known across North America and beyond for his acclaimed career in journalism. He is also a practicing Methodist, with a long history of working with and for those on the margins, especially refugees.

When I conducted the interview with Scott for The Francis Effect, I didn’t know what to expect. One never knows how much a person will open up when they’re in front of a camera, especially a reputable celebrity. But, as you will see, his depth of understanding of Catholicism and Pope Francis are evident. The interview, which took place just over one year ago, now conveys an element of the prophetic—insight into what is transpiring under Francis that removes some of the fog created by our own narrow and often predetermined lenses.

The result is that we learn something, not only about Scott Pelley, but also about Pope Francis. We realize the significance of things the Pope has said and done that we may have overlooked, ignored or dismissed. This dialogue with a person of a different perspective encourages us to go deeper into our own and ask the critical questions. It’s the living out of Pope Francis’ words on the work for Christian unity: “It is not just about being better informed about others, but rather about reaping what the Spirit has sown in them, which is also meant to be a gift for us.” (Evangelii Gaudium 246)

The Catholic Church, as I said, faces the serious pastoral challenge of catechesis; catechesis that makes sense to modern people in language they can understand. Might it be suggested that the kind of interpersonal dialogue Pope Francis is promoting be somehow incorporated into our understanding and practical application of catechesis? Could dialogue with informed and insightful individuals, like Scott Pelley, become a staple in our systems of formation and personal conversion? This interview would be a good place to start…

Watch Episode 3 of Point of View: Interpreting the Francis Effect
Airs Wednesday, May 6, 2015
9:00pm ET / 6:00pm PT
Only on Salt and Light Television

Debate around Pope’s environment encyclical reminds Catholics why they’re at the table in the first place


For some time now we have been anticipating the forthcoming encyclical by Pope Francis on the environment. Some would trace the anticipation as far back as that unforgettable audience with journalists a few days after the Pope’s election where he explained the reasons behind his choice of the name Francis, after the beloved Francis of Assisi, the Church’s patron saint of ecology.

The anticipation has pushed many Catholics and ecologists to speculate about what the encyclical will or will not contain.  Though we can make some general presumptions with a degree of certainty—the Pope will undoubtedly build on JPII’s and Benedict’s teachings, and connect the current ecological crisis with the “globalization of indifference” he so often references—it’s probably best not to get ahead of ourselves before reading the official text.  The gravity of the subject should be enough to convince us to set aside our preconceived notions and read the encyclical with an open mind and heart.

These days a more fundamental point has struck me as I watch the anticipation growing and hear more about humanity’s contribution to the earth’s failing health, especially through climate change. It is the reason why the Catholic Church is concerned with the ecological crisis at all, and this goes to the heart of what it means to be Catholic.

It is taken for granted that because Catholics (and all Christians) view the natural world as part of God’s creation, they should value it and care for it. The goal of the Christian life, it is often assumed, is to get to heaven and caring for the created world is a stipulation for getting there. While this is true to a degree, an attitude of individual stewardship doesn’t do justice to the heart of the Gospel or the Church’s official doctrine. It leaves the impression on many minds that Christians should merely do their best here and now knowing one day all will be right in the heavenly kingdom.

For a long time Catholic teaching contributed to this “next world” attitude until the Second Vatican Council shifted the emphasis:

“While we are warned that it profits a man nothing if he gain the whole world and lose himself, the expectation of a new earth must not weaken but rather stimulate our concern for cultivating this one. For here grows the body of a new human family, a body which even now is able to give some kind of foreshadowing of the new age. Hence, while earthly progress must be carefully distinguished from the growth of Christ’s kingdom, to the extent that the former can contribute to the better ordering of human society, it is of vital concern to the Kingdom of God.” (Gaudium et Spes 39.)

Pope Francis said as much fifty years later in his apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel:

“Reading the Scriptures also makes it clear that the Gospel is not merely about our personal relationship with God. Nor should our loving response to God be seen simply as an accumulation of small personal gestures to individuals in need, a kind of “charity à la carte”, or a series of acts aimed solely at easing our conscience. The Gospel is about the kingdom of God (cf. Lk 4:43); it is about loving God who reigns in our world. To the extent that he reigns within us, the life of society will be a setting for universal fraternity, justice, peace and dignity.” (180)

The growing conversation around the ecological crisis, climate change and the Pope’s anticipated encyclical is certainly a positive thing. There are many voices at the table. For Catholics it would be good to remember what brings us to this table in the first place, and that is to contribute to the building of the Kingdom of God in this world; a world of justice, peace and fraternity.

To the extent that the other voices around the table understand this complex and universal approach, collaborative efforts to fight things like climate change can dramatically increase.

Mr. Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations is one of these voices. In his recent address at a Vatican conference exploring the moral issues around climate change, he said:

“Climate change is intrinsically linked to public health, food and water security, migration, peace and security. It is a moral issue. It is an issue of social justice, human rights and fundamental ethics.”

He then stated what he believes the Pope will say in his forthcoming encyclical; a statement to be taken seriously considering the UN leader met privately with Francis just before his public address:

“[The encyclical] will convey to the world that protecting our environment is an urgent moral imperative and a sacred duty for all people of faith and people of conscience.”

It is clear that Ban Ki-moon understands the complexity of the Catholic approach to environmental issues; for Catholics care for the environment is more than just an individual faith stipulation.  He also believes that faith groups and leaders have something valuable to contribute to the global effort to tackle climate change, especially Pope Francis. The two men appear to share some strong opinions on the matter. In other words, we can believe the UN leader when he says, “I very much look forward to the upcoming encyclical by Pope Francis.” He’s not the only one.

SebastianGOn Further Reflection
In the complex world of the 21st century there are more questions than answers. The challenge for the Church is to find new and effective ways of bringing the Gospel message into the conversation.  For her part, the Church can act as a much needed voice of dialogue, reason and charity. On Further Reflection invites readers to go beyond the headlines to see the deeper realities affecting the church and society.  Sebastian Gomes is a producer and correspondent for S+L TV.

“Speak to people’s hearts and their minds will follow,” says seminary professor


Point of View: Interpreting the Francis Effect is a S+L series that goes deeper into the questions surrounding the person and pontificate of Pope Francis.  The series consists of a selection of the full interviews from S+L’s original documentary The Francis Effect.  Find the full schedule for Season 2 of POV here.

Tonight: Josephine Lombardi, PhD

A commonly held view among Catholics is that much of the difference in style between Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis comes from the particular emphases of their lives and ministries.  Joseph Ratzinger was always a theologian, a deep intellect and contemplative immersed in the world of academia.  Jorge Mario Bergoglio was always a pastor, a man who spent his days living and working with ordinary folks, accompanying them through the daily joys and struggles.

The Church has always held these emphases in balance.  It might be easy to focus on the differences between the two men, but the centrality of the Gospel in both of their lives and ministries remains a common denominator.  This leads some, like Josephine Lombardi, to the position that Francis’ style and outreach are only the natural—perhaps necessary—pastoral extension of Benedict’s great theological contributions.  The temptation to separate or polarize the two popes can lead to a depreciation and misunderstanding of both.

A theologian from Hamilton, Ontario, Professor Lombardi teaches at the diocesan seminary in Toronto.  As someone who read and appreciated the great theological mind of Pope Benedict, Lombardi’s thoughts on the new ways in which Francis communicates the Church’s message are illuminating.  She is also a wife and mother, and an active lay member of the local church.  Her interview reflects a kind of common sense and common wisdom that are based on a deep spiritual life and a wealth of pastoral experience.

Watch Episode 2 of Point of View: Interpreting the Francis Effect
Wednesday, April 29, 2015
9:00 pm ET / 6:00 pm PT
Only on Salt and Light Television

Point of View Season 2 Schedule Released


Salt and Light’s television series “Point of View: Interpreting the Francis Effect” is back for a second season. Go beyond the film to discover the deeper questions and issues surrounding the pontificate of Pope Francis and what they mean for the Church in the 21st century.

Hear from media personalities, theologians, doctors and some of the most influential figures in the Catholic Church, all of whom share in great depth their point of view on the Francis effect.  POV airs Wednesdays at 9pmET only on S+L.

Point of View: Interpreting The Francis Effect is a S+L series featuring a selection of the full interviews from the documentary The Francis Effect.

Season Two Schedule

April 22: Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington
April 29: Josephine Lombardi, Professor of Theology
May 6: Scott Pelley, Journalist
May 13: Fr. Thomas Rosica, Holy See Press Office
May 20: Charles Clark, Economist
May 27: Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston
June 3: Fr. John O’Malley, Church Historian
June 10: Dr. Philip Berger, Medical Doctor and Fr. James Martin, Author
June 17: Msgr. John Kozar, Catholic Near East Welfare Association
June 24: David Gibson, Journalist