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Changes in the Pallium Ceremony on June 29 encourage greater participation of the faithful


Pallia tray June 29

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

In the past on June 29, Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, newly appointed Metropolitan Archbishops took part in an ancient liturgical ceremony in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and received the pallium directly from the Pope.

Pope Francis has made changes to the public ceremony of investiture of the Pallium on Metropolitan Archbishops emphasizing that the investiture is an ecclesial event of the whole diocese, and not merely a juridical or ceremonial event. Beginning on June 29 of this year, the ceremony of investiture of the Pallium will take place in the Metropolitan Archbishops’ home dioceses and not in the Vatican.

From now on, the ceremony will be celebrated in two significant moments: the first during which the pallium will be blessed by the Pope during the Mass on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul in the Vatican; the second when it will be placed on the Metropolitan Archbishop in his own diocese, by his representative, the Apostolic Nuncio in that particular country.

It is the responsibility of the Nuncio to determine with the Metropolitan Archbishops the most opportune date, circumstances and manner to publicly and officially invest him with the pallium by mandate of the Holy Father, and with the participation of the Suffragan Bishops of that particular Province (ecclesiastically geographic area).

The pallium ceremony will continue to symbolize communion between the See of Peter and the Successor of the Apostle and those who are chosen to carry out the episcopal ministry as Metropolitan Archbishop of an Ecclesiastical Province, and it will encourage the participation of the local Church in an important moment of its life and history.

Pallium photo

The pallium is a circle of wool that hangs around the neck and shoulders with two long pieces draping one over the chest and the other along the back. It is decorated with six black crosses and weighed with pieces of lead. The wool for the pallium comes from two lambs offered every year to the Pope on January 21, Feast of St. Agnes. They are first taken to the Church of St. Agnes to be blessed. The lambs arrive wearing floral crowns, one white and one red. These represent the purity of Agnes, which the archbishops should emulate, and the martyrdom of Agnes, which the archbishops should be prepared to follow.

The lambs are then shorn and the pallia (plural of pallium) are made. On the eve of the feast of the great apostles Peter and Paul, (June 28) the pallia are stored overnight in the silver casket above Peter’s tomb in the Vatican crypt.  The following day (June 29) the pallia are given to the newly appointed metropolitan bishops, the only occasion in which more than one bishop can be seen wearing the pallium at the same time.

Symbolically, the Pope is sharing his mission to “Feed my sheep and lambs” with the archbishops. The wool over the shoulders evokes the lamb over the shoulders of the Good Shepherd.  It also reminds the archbishops of the burdens of their office.  By investing each new Archbishop with the pallium, the Holy Father confers some of his own weight and responsibilities upon him.

At his own inauguration of Petrine Ministry as Bishop of Rome on April 24, 2005, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI spoke moving words about the pallium he had received during that ceremony:

“The symbolism of the Pallium is even more concrete: the lamb’s wool is meant to represent the lost, sick or weak sheep which the shepherd places on his shoulders and carries to the waters of life. …Hence the Pallium becomes a symbol of the shepherd’s mission. …The pastor must be inspired by Christ’s holy zeal: for him it is not a matter of indifference that so many people are living in the desert.  And there are so many kinds of desert.  There is the desert of poverty, the desert of hunger and thirst, the desert of abandonment, of loneliness, of destroyed love.  There is the desert of God’s darkness, the emptiness of souls no longer aware of their dignity or the goal of human life. The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast.

Therefore the earth’s treasures no longer serve to build God’s garden for all to live in, but they have been made to serve the powers of exploitation and destruction. The Church as a whole and all her Pastors, like Christ, must set out to lead people out of the desert, towards the place of life, towards friendship with the Son of God, towards the One who gives us life, and life in abundance.”

Laudato Sì, Signore, for the Story Within the Story


On Friday, June 26, 2015 Fr. Thomas Rosica gave the keynote address during the Catholic Media Convention held in Buffalo, New York. Read the full text of his address, Laudato Si, Signore, for the Story Within the Story, below:

Keynote Address to the Catholic Media Convention
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

 Hyatt Regency Hotel – Buffalo, New York
June 26, 2015

Thank you for the privilege of addressing this important gathering of Catholic journalists and media colleagues from throughout North America. This afternoon I would like to speak to you about Pope Francis and how he is communicating with the Church and the world over the past two years. To begin, I wish to share a meeting I had earlier this winter as I met with senior journalists at the ABC Television Network in New York City on behalf of the Holy See Press Office. During our conversation about Pope Francis, the senior producer of the ABC evening news who had headed up the network’s coverage of the Papal Transition two years ago remarked: “Look, Fr. Tom, whether one is Catholic or Protestant, Jew or Muslim, left or right, or nothing at all, for many of us for whom the Church was on a distant horizon, we have all been brought into the heart of the Church and the Gospel and find the story incredible, fascinating and inviting.”

Incredible, Fascinating and inviting: three words that sum up well what many of us are experiencing as we try to tell the story of the Church and the current Bishop of Rome to the world around us. I would like to offer you five hermeneutical keys to understanding what is happening in five areas of the Church today: Communication, Christian Unity, the Synod of Bishops, Ecology and Mercy. For each of these areas, it is far too easy to remain on the surface, to be captivated by quick headlines, great photo opportunities and buzz-catching expressions attributed to Pope Francis. For each of these important areas, there is a story within a story. Our work as Catholic media is not to remain on the surface but to go to the deeper level of that story within the story.

  1. Communications

Following Pope Francis’ recent pronouncements on digital and Internet matters, several journalists with whom I deal regularly wrote or called asking me: “So, is this Jesuit Pope a Luddite?” Some people may think so given recent headlines like: “Pope doesn’t use e-mail, doesn’t have a laptop, doesn’t have an i-phone.” Or “Jesuit Pope takes oath to Blessed Mother in 1990 promising never to watch television again.” Or “Pope tells parents not to let children use computers in their bedrooms.”

But as you know well, such headlines often distort the message. To understand what Francis says, context counts and syntax matters. The Pope has issued no magisterial directive on how to organize households. What he offered was common-sense wisdom. In more unscripted remarks during his recent day trip to Sarajevo three weeks ago, Pope Francis spoke both to young people and to journalists about computer usage. Prefacing his remarks to the young people with self-deprecating humility “Obviously, I am from the Stone Age, I’m ancient!”, his admonitions remain sound today: “If you live glued to the computer and become a slave to the computer, you lose your freedom. And if you look for obscene programs on the computer, you lose your dignity.” But he also implored those digital natives to “Watch television, use the computer, but for beautiful reasons, for great things, things which help us to grow.”

The question for us is not whether we use technology, computers, Internet and Social Media for our Catholic media efforts, program promotion, pastoral ministry, parish life, education, worship or congregational solidarity. The real question is whether the Church is going to provide any compelling leadership or counter narrative amidst to how the world uses these powerful instruments to communicate with others.

The new Social Media tools are generating new patterns of behavior that affect not just Christian practice, but also, potentially, patterns of belief. Thinking theologically about living in a socially networked world has become an essential task for the community of faith… especially for those of us in Catholic media.

For years, the big question of our era was: How do I live constantly connected? But we are moving through that experience now and trying to ask a new question: What does it mean to incorporate a sense of presence, awareness, and wisdom within this new media era of connectedness that engages us all? 

Pope Francis, the first Jesuit Pope is by no means a Luddite! Just because he doesn’t use an i-phone, an i-pad or even watch TV, he understands what authentic communication is all about. Just watch the way he connects with people and with the world. In his major encyclical “Laudato Sì” released last week, he entitled a section: “Decline in the quality of Human Life and the Breakdown of Society.” In that section he wrote:

  1. …Today’s media do enable us to communicate and to share our knowledge and affection Yet at times they also shield us from direct contact with the pain, the fears and the joys of others and the complexity of their personal experiences. For this reason, we should be concerned that, alongside the exciting possibilities offered by these media, a deep and melancholic dissatisfaction with interpersonal relations, or a harmful sense of isolation, can also arise.”

“Laudato Sì” Signore, for the wisdom of Pope Francis in helping us to go beyond the surface of communications and understand the real meaning of communications in today’s Church and world.

  1. Christian Unity

Over the past two years, we have all reported in one way or another on some of the great ecumenical gestures of Pope Francis. We are moved by the Bishop of Rome during his historic visit to Phanar in Turkey, bowing before the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and asking for his blessing. We delight in the scenes of Evangelical pastors dining with the Pope at Santa Marta, of Pentecostals blessing the Bishop of Rome at assemblies, or the Pope sending a video via i-phone to Protestant friends. We have witnessed Pope Francis’ grand gestures, bold apologies and warm embraces with leaders of our sister Churches. Earlier this week during his brief pastoral visit to the Italian industrial city of Turin, Pope Francis visited a Waldensian temple in Turin. Although numbering only about 30,000 members, the Waldensian Evangelical Church is an important dialogue partner with the Catholic Church, as it is one of the only non-Catholic Christian communities native to Italy.

Recalling the painful relationship between the Waldensian Evangelical Church and the Roman Catholic Church in Italy, Francis spoke of the new fraternity that “allows us to grasp the profound ties that already unite us. He then referred specifically to the violence and disputes that took place with that ecclesial community “committed in the name of the faith itself.” Pope Francis then asked for forgiveness for “the non-Christian attitudes and behavior” of the Catholic Church against Waldensians.

There are stories within stories within stories behind each of these gestures, actions, apologies and moments of fraternity and solidarity. What are they and how do we report on them? Or do we simply choose to remain on the surface of the events?

Pope Francis has energized the ecumenical movement, not just with the mainline Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant Churches, but especially with the fast-growing movement of Evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity, that he got to know well during his years as archbishop of Buenos Aires. These movements should challenge the old-established Churches to renewal, especially in the face of common persecution in places where Christians are being martyred for their faith.


Here is the uniqueness of Pope Francis’ ecumenical efforts: A central image of the Christian life is the movement toward Christian unity – a movement that happens one step at a time. For Francis, it is not about waiting for others to catch up with us. It is about everyone continuing to walk with and toward the Lord, supporting and learning from the brothers and sisters whom God places on the same path. The deeper we all grow in holiness, the closer we will be to one another. While Francis’ gestures are new and even disconcerting to some, the idea of growth in unity being the result of growth in fidelity to Christ is not. The unity we seek requires inner conversion that is both common and personal. It is not merely a matter of cordiality, or good cooperation, it is necessary above all to strengthen our faith in God, in the God of Jesus Christ, who spoke to us and took on our flesh and blood in the incarnation.

“Laudato Sì” Signore for Pope Francis who has the humility to ask for forgiveness for our meanness and violent actions, our lack of charity and hope, and for renewing our ecumenical efforts that ‘all may be one.’

  1. Synod of Bishops

Many of you undoubtedly followed last October’s Extraordinary Synod and you may have received indications or impressions that the Synod was a time of great tension, revealing differing opinions within the Church. I believe that the October 2014 assembly was the first time since Blessed Paul VI established this organ of collegiality that the assembly functioned as a synod and not a staged gathering of pseudo-concord. You may have heard or read, or perhaps incorrectly reported or wrote that the Extraordinary Synod was about changing the teaching of the Church on marriage, family life or sexual morality. This is not true. It was about the pastoral care that the Church strives to people, the ‘motherly love of the Church’, especially when facing difficult moments and experiences in family life.

You may have heard that the Synod represented a ‘defeat for Pope Francis’ or that he was disappointed at its outcome. This is totally false. At the Synod, Pope Francis invited the universal Church to journey together as we reflected on the joys and hopes, dark moments and light moments of what it means to be family today.

At the end of our two intense weeks together, Pope Francis spoke at length about his joy and satisfaction at its work. He told us to look deeply into our hearts to see how God had touched us during the Synod, and to see how we may have been tempted away from the promptings of the Holy Spirit. The Synod, he insisted, has been a spiritual journey, not a debating chamber. If you have not read his masterful address of Saturday evening, October 18, 2014, I strongly encourage you to do so. It is a very important text and confirms once again that there is a story within the story of our journey from Synod to Synod.

Blessed Paul VI created the Synod of Bishops in 1965 to give the world’s bishops a voice – a sounding board that would advise the pope on various aspects of the Church’s life. From the beginning, synodal assemblies would be consultative, not legislative. These global gatherings have never produced new dogma or overturned Church teachings. The majority of Synods took place during the long pontificate of St. John Paul II. The final documents of these meetings are called “Apostolic Exhortations” and clearly bear the mark of the reigning Pontiff.

No one can deny that the synodal process and structure had grown tired with the passage of time, and there seemed little opportunity for evaluation or renewal. One of the most important contributions of the recent Synod, and hopefully a constitutive part of future Synods is the rediscovery of the synodal process. Synods are not about taking a poll or voting in a democratic way on Church teaching and practice but they embody a humble openness to the fact that the Lord is leading the pilgrim church through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Across the Western world, the collapse of the cultural narrative of marriage means fewer marrying and more and more children born into families lacking necessary stability. This is a serious challenge, because the family is the “school of humanity” according to Gaudium et Spes, the “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World” (n. 52), and also the “domestic church,” the locus of spiritual life for most ordinary people, as well as the primary vehicle for learning and handing on faith down the generations. How many times did St. John Paul II say that the “future of humanity passes through the family?”

I would like to conclude this section with the words of Pope Francis himself at the closing of the Synod, with which he summarized the synodal experience as a “journey” moving towards the next stage of the Synod to take place in 2015.

Many commentators, or people who talk, have imagined that they see a disputatious Church where one part is against the other, doubting even the Holy Spirit, the true promoter and guarantor of the unity and harmony of the Church – the Holy Spirit who throughout history has always guided the barque, through her Ministers, even when the sea was rough and choppy, and the ministers unfaithful and sinners.

And, as I have dared to tell you, as I told you from the beginning of the Synod, it was necessary to live through all this with tranquillity, and with interior peace, so that the Synod would take place cum Petro and sub Petro (with Peter and under Peter), and the presence of the Pope is the guarantee of it all.

“Laudato Sì” Signore, for Pope Francis who has revived the Synodal process and invited the whole Church to speak and act with parresía – Gospel boldness and courage as we discern the Lord’s path for us at this moment in history.

  1. Ecology

Last week’s encyclical, “Laudato Sì” “On the Care of our Common Home” – is addressed to “everyone living on this planet” calls for a new way of looking at things. We face an urgent crisis, when the earth has begun to look more and more like, in Francis’s vivid image, “an immense pile of filth”. Still, the document is hopeful, reminding us that because God is with us, all of us can strive to change course. We can move towards an “ecological conversion” in which we can listen to the “cry of the earth and the cry of the poor”. To use religious language, what the Pope is calling for is conversion. This is a deeply uncomfortable encyclical because it is not content simply to face up to the institutional and moral issues of climate change and environmental degradation, but addresses the deeper tragedy of humanity itself.

What is the story within the story of “Laudato Sì”? It is an overview of the environmental crisis from a religious point of view. Until now, the dialogue about the environment has been framed mainly using political, scientific and economic language. Now, the language of faith enters the discussion – clearly, decisively and systematically.

Against those who argue that a papal encyclical on the environment has no real authority, Pope Francis explicitly states that “Laudato Sí” is now added to the body of the Church’s social teaching”. It continues the church’s reflection on modern-day problems that began with Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum, on capital and labor, published in 1891.

More than any other encyclical, “Laudato Sí” draws from the experiences of people around the world, referencing the findings of bishops’ conferences from Brazil, New Zealand, Southern Africa, Bolivia, Portugal, Germany, Argentina, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, Australia, Canada and the United States.

In our presentations of “Laudato Sí” to the world, we have an obligation to present the full picture of this landmark papal document. When the environmental world welcomes the Pope as a powerful ally and the religious Right dismisses him as a disingenuous radical, socialist or a communist, these have missed the essential point. This is the Gospel call, as disconcertingly direct today as was Jesus’s confrontation with the rich young man, the scribes and the Pharisees, or the moneychangers in the Temple. That’s the unique quality of the encyclical. It is not just the declaration of assent to a programme of international environmental action, but also the prophetic voice of the Church. It is therefore far more fundamentally disturbing and uncomfortable, demanding an individual response that will change our lives forever.

“Laudato Sì” Signore for Pope Francis who reminds us that we simply cannot save the world from the consequences of climate change if we continue to consume at a rate which is possible because it is only available to the few. We need to hear “both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor”.

  1. Mercy

On March 13, Pope Francis surprised the world by a Jubilee of Mercy beginning this coming December. Francis wants this jubilee to go deeper spiritually and to be a far-reaching Christian witness of mercy to the world.

            Mercy is a theme very dear to Pope Francis, as is expressed in the episcopal motto he had chosen: “miserando atque eligendo”, from the homily of Saint Bede the Venerable during which he commented on the Gospel passage of the calling of Saint Matthew: (Jesus therefore sees the tax collector, and since he sees by having mercy and by choosing, he says to him, ‘follow me’). This homily is a tribute to divine mercy.

During the first Angelus after his elections, Pope Francis stated: “Feeling mercy, that this word changes everything. This is the best thing we can feel: it changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. We need to understand properly this mercy of God, this merciful Father who is so patient” (Angelus, March 17, 2013).

In the English edition of the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium the term mercy appears 32 times. In his Angelus on January 11, 2015, he stated: “There is so much need of mercy today, and it is important that the lay faithful live it and bring it into different social environments. Go forth! We are living in the age of mercy, this is the age of mercy”.

In his 2015 Lenten Message, the Holy Father expressed: “How greatly I desire that all those places where the Church is present, especially our parishes and our communities, may become islands of mercy in the midst of the sea of indifference!”

For Pope Francis, mercy is the interpretative key to the Gospel of Jesus. Francis had his first profound experience of God’s mercy at age 17, when he went to confession and felt the call to the priesthood. Throughout his priestly ministry, he has sought to give concrete expression to God’s mercy by word and deed because he believes, as he wrote recently: “Mercy is not just a pastoral attitude; it is the very substance of the Gospel message.”

What is the story within the story of the Jubilee of Mercy? Pope Francis wants to bring the whole church, starting with the cardinals, bishops, priests and consecrated persons, to open themselves to God’s mercy and to find concrete, creative ways to put mercy into practice in their areas of ministry. As Bishop of Rome, he is blazing the trail by word and deed, showing what mercy means in relation to the poor, the homeless, prisoners, immigrants, the sick and the persecuted. They are for him “the flesh of Christ.” In this same optic of mercy, he recently called for the abolition of the death penalty and life-imprisonment (“the hidden death penalty”).

In his homily to new cardinals on February 15 of this year, Pope Francis recalled that “the church’s way, from the time of the Council of Jerusalem, has always been the way of Jesus, the way of mercy and reinstatement.” This means “welcoming the repentant prodigal son; healing the wounds of sin with courage and determination; rolling up our sleeves and not standing by and watching passively the suffering of the world.”

Pope Francis doesn’t have easy answers to the great issues of our time, let alone answers he seeks to impose. He wants to create a culture and a process in which we can better discern the Holy Spirit’s answers to those questions, not necessarily in an absolute way, but in a way that makes sense in our own time. Pope Francis has written, we cannot “allow our hope to be dimmed by facile answers and solutions which block our progress, ‘fragmenting’ time and changing it into space. Time is always much greater than space. Space hardens processes, whereas time propels toward the future and encourages us to go forward in hope.”

“Laudato Sì” Signore for Pope Francis’ understanding that “The way of the church is not to condemn anyone for eternity”; rather “it is to pour out the balm of God’s mercy on all those who ask for it with a sincere heart.” This is what the Holy Father wants to happen during the Jubilee of Mercy.

Field Hospitals in today’s world

I leave you with this final image from the first Jesuit Pope – the powerful image of the “field hospital” which he uses often that is drawn from the Spiritual Exercises. It is the opposite image of a fortress under siege. The image of a church as a field hospital is not just a simple, pretty poetic metaphor; from this very image we can derive an understanding of both the church’s mission and the sacraments of salvation.

What and where are the battlefields today? Are some of them not in the very areas of Communication, Christian Unity, the Synod of Bishops, Ecology and Mercy? For precisely in these areas we suffer from miscommunication, deafness, monologue, disunity, misunderstanding and misinterpretation, misuse of the earth, violence, hatred and unforgiveness.

Each of us can name a country or region, a city or a town where blood, terror and violence seem to have the upper hand. One big battlefield before humanity is in the very field of communications – our field – one that requires no passport and travel ticket to enter. It is in this universe that many wars are waged each day and where many wounded souls live, walk or troll. It is an immense battleground that needs many field hospitals set up to bind wounds and reconcile warring parties. They need to learn how to communicate, how to listen, how to discern, how to find the truth of what is happening in the Church. And in this room, there are close to 300 field hospital workers ready for deployment. In the heart and mind of Pope Francis, we need “a church that is again capable of restoring citizenship to so many of its children that walk as if in exodus. Christian citizenship is above all the result of God’s mercy. Each of you has the power to restore that citizenship to so many people who are wandering and lost.

On the late afternoon of March 13, 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio received the call to go, rebuild, repair, renew and heal the church. There are those who delight in describing the new Pope as a bold, brazen revolutionary sent to rock the boat. Others think he has come to cause a massive shipwreck. But the only revolution that Pope Francis has inaugurated is a revolution of tenderness, the very words he used in his recent major letter on “The Joy of the Gospel.” [Evangelii Gaudium #88]

And the second revolution he has inaugurated is the revolution of normalcy. What he is doing is normal human, Christian behavior. These are the revolutions at the heart and soul of Pope Francis’ ministry. This Bishop of Rome demands a lot while preaching about a God of mercy, by engaging joyfully with nonbelievers, atheists, agnostics, skeptics, and those sitting on the fences of life- many who thought that Christianity has nothing left to add to the equations of life.

I go back to those words of my colleague, Eric, at the ABC network: “We have all been brought into the heart of the Church and the Gospel and find the story incredible, fascinating and inviting.” We need the Francis revolution of tenderness, mercy and normalcy now more than ever before. Be sure to tell that story to the world.

Behing Vatican Walls: Synod 2015 Lineamenta


The idea that a pope, or any pastor, would call his flock to assess how their lives are impacting the earth, caused waves and turned heads last week. Barely a week later, the Vatican has released the working document, or “lineamenta” for the upcoming Synod on the Family.

Scheduled for October 2015, the synod is expected to pick up the key discussion points raised at last year’s Extraordinary Synod on the Family and, hopefully, move some of those points to the stage of concrete proposals to be implemented around the church.

Many of the same issues from the 2014 working document found their way into the 2015 lineamenta, but several new topics finally made it onto the synod’s radar. Among those newly discovered topics:

  • widowhood
  • families with special needs children
  • responsible procreation
  • impact of ecology on families, especially poor families in developing countries

Grandparents and widowhood

The lineamenta focuses on the role of grandparents in several sections. First grandparents are recognized as key players in the transmission of the faith, but not only. In one paragraph grandparents are recognized as the family members who pass on family traditions and cultural customs, giving children a way to connect with their own roots and thus their identity. Those same grandparents, according to the document provide vital economic support – in cash or in kind- to young couples with growing families. I.e.: grandparents babysit their grandchildren for free.

When it comes to dealing with the loss of a long-time spouse, the lineamenta proposes that grandchildren play an important role in helping their grandparents adjust when they become widows or widowers. Having a family to direct their attention to, in a new way, helps fill the void when a spouse dies. The whole Christian community is called upon to gather around widows and widowers who, for a variety of reason, do not have family to support them in this new chapter of their lives.

Families with special needs children

Attention is given – finally- to families with special needs children. These families face countless, daily challenges that they never imagined when they were expecting their child. As many families with special needs members will tell you, they also receive tremendous blessings through that child. However, there are few resources in the church for these families: few options for the educating their children in the faith, and limited structures in the church to support them. Given medical advances the lifespan of special needs children had extended significantly. Today, parents of special needs children also find themselves asking with increasing urgency, “what happens to my child when I’m gone?”

Divorced Catholics

The thorny issue of divorce returns to the scene. Yet this time there are a few variations on the theme. Specifically, the lineamenta looks at divorced Catholics who have not remarried but believe they are in a state of sin and abstain from the sacraments. Conversely, divorced and civilly remarried Catholics who for a variety of reasons abstain from sex in their new relationship. They can, according to the lineamenta, receive the sacraments. Whatever the particular situation the lineamenta states that pastoral care and accompaniment must be given to all divorced catholics. To that end priests need to be better trained, and dioceses would do well to establish specialized pastoral program for people who find themselves in such a situation.

Starting a conversation

The guiding principle behind all of the issues brought up in the synod document is that the current global culture is not favorable to families. The church, therefore must be able to offer what the rest of the world cannot. When it comes to the difficult issues that cause estrangement from the Church, the lineamenta reminds the synod fathers that all too often baptized Catholics find themselves distanced from the Church not by choice, but by circumstance or because of things that happen to them “through the actions of third parties.” That acknowledgement is key to ensuring that a serious, open, level discussion takes place.

Every week brings new, exciting, and sometimes juicy headlines from behind Vatican walls and every week Alicia delves deeper into one of those headlines. For a full run down of what’s been happening behind Vatican walls, watch Vatican Connections. Already watch the program? Come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issue, headline or person.

The Impact of an Encyclical


The Catholic world is still a buzz over the release of Pope Francis’ Laudato Si, more commonly known as his Encyclical on the environment. Not in a generation have the more obscure Papal activities such as Encyclicals and Synods been mainstream news. So in light of that, what is to come of these papal teachings and meetings? And after the tidal wave of attention given to the release of Laudato Si, what impact will it really have on the world?

One of the stated goals of releasing an Encyclical on this topic was for the Church to be able to impact the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris at the end of this year. Given the high profile nature of the document, it seems impossible that it would not at least have some bearing on the talks. However one point that is critical to discern, is how much of the document those gathered would be willing to embrace.

It is no secret that a great many number in the climatology community and for that matter leaders of international organizations such as the UN have a stated vision that is diametrically opposed to that of the Church. So while they may heed calls for an end to fossil fuels and the establishment of supranational global regulators, will they also embrace Catholic social teachings discussed in Laudato Si on topics such as abortion?

Humanity has proven it has a remarkable talent for cherry picking what it likes from the teachings of the Church and discarding that, which simply does not suit its desires or its agenda.  The media darling status of Pope Francis’ papacy is perfect proof of that. However what may be more alarming is how the Encyclical may be used to further the political agendas of particular interests both at the conference and beyond.

Laudato Si has given the climatology community the moral booster shot it has long sought out. It becomes even more meaningful after they suffered scathing attacks to their credibility, following leaks in recent years suggesting the manipulation of data by scientists.

The intention of the Church in all it does is to be a force for good in this world, however one cannot ignore that there is a very real possibility of this latest document being used as moral cover for unjust policy making. It will be an opportunity for the Church to speak very clearly and definitively on what it seeks to teach. This is not a time for ambiguity, but clarity and sound transmission of ideas.

“Let us walk together toward the Lord…” How the Bishop of Rome is tracing new paths of unity for the Churches

Orientale Lumen Conference 2015 DC

On Thursday, June 18, 2015, the date Laudato Si was released, Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, addressed the Orientale Lumen XIX Conference in Washington, DC. Read the full text of his address below. 

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
Orientale Lumen XIX Conference – Washington, DC – June 18, 2015
“The Bishop of Rome: Past, Present and Future”

Your Excellencies,
Brothers and Sisters of the Orthodox Churches,
Dear Friends,

The Council’s Vision of Christian Unity

St. John XXIII convoked the Second Vatican Council for two specific purposes: aggiornamento – bringing the Church into the Modern World and presenting the enticing mystery of the Church to the Modern World; and second, for the cause of Christian Unity – for the whole oikumene. One of the main achievements of the Council in the mid-1960s was to find a theological logic to break down the walls between Christian churches, and to usher in a new era of dialogue and partnership that we now refer to as “ecumenism.”

Vatican II articulated a new theology of Church. While the fullness of the Church, according to Catholic doctrine, may exist only in Catholicism, there are nevertheless precious elements of it to be found outside that deserve our honor and respect. Interestingly enough, this theme emerged once again at the recent Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in Rome and evoked once again those great lively discussions and impassioned debates that surrounded and continue to flow from the expression “subsistit in” from Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church – Lumen Gentium. Nevertheless, no one can deny the dynamic conversations that took place among us at the Synod as we sought to find a vocabulary and expression to name the new situations of our time and find the presence of God in them.

The ultimate goal of ecumenism is the fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer that his disciples would be one so the world would believe. What we long for is full unity in faith and the sacraments. The most important result of the past half-century is not the wealth of doctrinal agreements that have been drawn up by resulting dialogue commissions, but rather the rediscovery of each other as baptized Christians, whichever denomination or Christian community we may belong to. All theological discussion must be firmly rooted in the real-life experience of individual believers.

We must be honest, however and realize that many of the great expectations raised by the Second Vatican Council half a century ago have not been fulfilled and the work of implementing its prophetic vision has only just begun. There is no doubt in my mind that Pope Francis has energized the ecumenical movement, not just with the mainline Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant Churches, but especially with the fast-growing movement of Evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity, that he got to know well during his years as archbishop of Buenos Aires. These movements should challenge the old-established Churches to renewal, especially in the face of common persecution in places where Christians are being martyred for their faith.

A central image of the Christian life for Pope Francis is the movement toward Christian unity – a movement that happens one step at a time. For Francis, it is not about waiting for others to catch up with us. It is about everyone continuing to walk with and toward the Lord, supporting and learning from the brothers and sisters whom God places on the same path. The deeper we all grow in holiness, the closer we will be to one another. While Francis’ gestures are new, and even disconcerting to some, the idea of growth in unity being the result of growth in fidelity to Christ is not. The unity we seek requires inner conversion that is both common and personal. It is not merely a matter of cordiality, or good cooperation, it is necessary above all to strengthen our faith in God, in the God of Jesus Christ, who spoke to us and took on our flesh and blood in the incarnation.

TR Gift Orientale Lumen Conference 2015

Four Biblical Reflections and Four Perspectives

I would like to refer to four daily homilies of the Bishop of Rome over the past two years that may very well be a hermeneutical key to understanding Pope Francis’ ecumenical and interreligious efforts. Two months after his election to the See of Peter, in his daily homily in the chapel of Domus Sanctae Marthae on May 13, 2013, Pope Francis stressed the courageous attitude of St. Paul in the Areopagus, when, in speaking to the Athenian crowd, the Apostle to the Gentiles sought to build bridges to proclaim the Gospel. Francis called Paul’s attitude one that “seeks dialogue” and is “closer to the heart” of the listener. The Pope said that this is the reason why St Paul was a real pontifex: a “builder of bridges and not of walls.” The Pope went on to say that this makes us think of the attitude that a Christian ought always to have.

“A Christian must proclaim Jesus Christ in such a way that He be accepted: received, not refused – and Paul knows that he has to sow the Gospel message. …Paul does not say to the Athenians: ‘This is the encyclopedia of truth. Study this and you have the truth, the truth.’ No! The truth does not enter into an encyclopedia. The truth is an encounter – it is a meeting with Supreme Truth: Jesus, the great truth. No one owns the truth. We receive the truth when we meet it.”

The Pope warned that, “Christians who are afraid to build bridges and prefer to build walls are Christians who are not sure of their faith, not sure of Jesus Christ.” The Pope exhorted Christians to do as Paul did and begin to “build bridges and to move forward.”

On October 13, 2013 in the Chapel of the Domus, Pope Francis warned Christians against behaving as though the “key is in [their] pocket, and the door closed.” He reiterated that without prayer, one abandons the faith and descends into ideology and moralism. “Woe to you, scholars of the law! You have taken away the key of knowledge!” (Luke 11:52)

Francis continued: “Jesus speaks to us about the image of the lock; it is “the image of those Christians who have the key in their hand, but take it away, without opening the door. Worse still, they keep the door closed and don’t allow anyone to enter.In so doing, they themselves do not enter. …The lack of Christian witness does this, and when this Christian is a priest, a bishop or a Pope it is worse.”

“But how does it happen that a Christian falls into this attitude of keeping the key to the Church in his pocket, with the door closed?”

“The faith passes, so to speak, through a distiller and becomes ideology. And ideology does not beckon people. In ideologies there is not Jesus: in his tenderness, his love, his meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always. …And when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought… For this reason Jesus said to them: ‘You have taken away the key of knowledge.’ The knowledge of Jesus is transformed into an ideological and also moralistic knowledge, because these close the door with many requirements.”

“The faith becomes ideology and ideology frightens, ideology chases away the people, distances, distances the people and distances of the Church of the people. But it is a serious illness, this of ideological Christians. It is an illness, but it is not new, eh?”

Then on October 24, 2014, Francis spoke about unity in diversity in his daily homily in the Domus Chapel. “Every Christian is called to work for the unity of the Church, allowing ourselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit who creates unity in diversity.” “Building the unity of the Church is the work of the Church and of every Christian throughout history”.

Pope Francis noted that when the Apostle Peter speaks of the Church, he speaks of a temple made of living stones, that is us. The Pope warned that the opposite to this is “that other temple of pride, which was the Tower of Babel. The first temple “brings unity”, the second is the symbol of disunity, lack of understanding, the diversity of languages. Pope Francis then posed a question: How is “this temple built?” The Apostle Peter said “that we were living stones in this building”. Saint Paul on the other hand “advises us not to be stones, to be weak bricks”. The advice of the Apostle to the Gentiles in building this unity is “weak advice, according to human thought”.

“Humility, gentleness, magnanimity: These are weak things, because the humble person appears good for nothing; gentleness, meekness appear useless… . The weaker we are with these virtues of humility, generosity, gentleness, meekness, the stronger we become as stones in this Temple”.

“The hope to which we have been called; the hope of journeying towards the Lord; the hope of living in a living Church, made of living stones, with the power of the Holy Spirit. Only in the ground plan of hope can we move forward in the unity of the Church. We have been called to a great hope. Let’s go there! But with the strength that Jesus prayer’ for unity gives us; with docility to the Holy Spirit, who is capable of making living stones from bricks; and with the hope of finding the Lord who has called us, to encounter Him in the fullness of time”.

Last November 4, 2014, Pope Francis once again illustrated the qualities to be avoided and those to be embraced if we wish to be instruments of unity and reconciliation in the Church today. Francis based his homily on the parable recounted in the daily Gospel of the man who gave a great banquet to which he invited many. The Pope said that this parable makes us think, because “we all like being invited to dinners”. But there was something about this dinner that three guests did not like, and these guests are an example of many of us.

One person says that he has to go and examine his field, he needs to see it in order to feel “powerful, vanity, pride and he prefers this to sitting at table among others.” Another guest had just bought five oxen and thus is taken up with his business and doesn’t want to waste time with other people. The last guest excuses himself saying that he is married and doesn’t want to bring his bride to the dinner. He wanted to keep her affection all to himself: selfishness. Pope Francis noted: “In the end the invited guests prefer their own interests rather than sharing dinner together: They do not know what it means to celebrate”.

“It is so difficult to listen to the voice of Jesus, the voice of God, when you believe that that the whole world revolves around you: there is no horizon, because you become your own horizon. And there is more behind all of this, something far deeper: fear of gratuity. We are afraid of God’s gratuity. He is so great that we fear Him”.

“Compel them, for here is the celebration. Gratuity. Compel that heart, that soul to believe in God’s gratuity, that God’s gift is free, that salvation cannot be bought: it is a great gift, the love of God … is the greatest gift! This is gratuity.”

“Today, the Church asks us not to be afraid of the gratuitousness of God”.

In these four brief, daily homilies, I believe that we have four very distinct lenses or hermeneutical keys through which me may understand Pope Francis’ modus operandi in relating to other Christians and people of good will of other faith communities.

1) Paul does not say to the Athenians: “This is the encyclopedia of truth. Study this and you have the truth, the truth.” The truth does not enter into an encyclopedia. The truth is an encounter – it is a meeting with Supreme Truth: Jesus, the great truth. No one owns the truth. We receive the truth when we meet it in a person. His name is Jesus. Francis warns that, Christians who are afraid to build bridges and prefer to build walls are Christians who are not sure of their faith, not sure of Jesus Christ. The Pope exhorted Christians to do as Paul did and begin to “build bridges and to move forward.”

2) Faith that passes through a distiller becomes an ideology- because ideologies are rigid, always and because Christian ideology is rigid, moralistic, ethical, but without kindness; this Christian ideology is a serious illness.

3) “Humility, gentleness, magnanimity: These are weak things, because the humble person appears good for nothing; gentleness, meekness on the surface appear useless; yet generosity means being open to all, having a big heart. The weaker we are with these virtues of humility, generosity, gentleness, meekness, the stronger we become as stones in this Temple.

4) It is so difficult to listen to the voice of Jesus, the voice of God, when you believe that that the whole world revolves around you: there is no horizon, because you become your own horizon. Yet there is something deeper underlying all of this: the fear of gratuity. We are afraid of God’s gratuity. He is so great that we fear Him.

Orientale Lumen Group 2015

Francis and Orthodox Christianity

With Pope Francis we are witnessing a growing cooperation among the recognized leaders from the Eastern Orthodox Churches. The idea of Orthodox Christians being able to learn from the Pope of Rome appears foreign to many of us. The renewed Roman efforts of outreach to Orthodox Christians have not passed unnoticed. Orthodox Christians are learning from the unique witness of Pope Francis. He is in many ways a bishop who reflects the Christianity of the first millennium when the Church was undivided. Pope Francis also models a form of leadership that is badly needed in Orthodox Christianity today. Let me offer a few lessons that Francis is offering to the East.

The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople was present at the first moments of the Petrine Ministry of Francis in March 2013. From May 24-25, 2014 the Ecumenical Patriarch and Pope Francis welcomed each other in Jerusalem to observe the anniversary of the historic encounter between Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras and the subsequent lifting of mutual anathemas. Following the historic visit to the Holy Land, Patriarch Bartholomew travelled to Rome last May 2014 and joined Pope Francis and the Presidents of Israel and Palestine in a very historic prayer for peace in the Vatican Gardens.

In his landmark encyclical released today “Laudato Si’” On Care for our Common Home”, released this morning, three specific paragraphs refer to Patriarch Bartholomew:

United by the same concern

7. Outside the Catholic Church, other Churches and Christian communities – and other religions as well – have expressed deep concern and offered valuable reflections on issues which all of us find disturbing. To give just one striking example, I would mention the statements made by the beloved Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, with whom we share the hope of full ecclesial communion.

8. Patriarch Bartholomew has spoken in particular of the need for each of us to repent of the ways we have harmed the planet, for “inasmuch as we all generate small ecological damage”, we are called to acknowledge “our contribution, smaller or greater, to the disfigurement and destruction of creation”. He has repeatedly stated this firmly and persuasively, challenging us to acknowledge our sins against creation: “For human beings… to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life – these are sins”. For “to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God”.

9. At the same time, Bartholomew has drawn attention to the ethical and spiritual roots of environmental problems, which require that we look for solutions not only in technology but in a change of humanity; otherwise we would be dealing merely with symptoms. He asks us to replace consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing, an asceticism which “entails learning to give, and not simply to give up. It is a way of loving, of moving gradually away from what I want to what God’s world needs. It is liberation from fear, greed and compulsion”.

As Christians, we are also called “to accept the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and our neighbours on a global scale. It is our humble conviction that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God’s creation, in the last speck of dust of our planet”.

In presenting the encyclical at the large Press Conference in the New Synod Hall of the Vatican earlier this morning, Metropolitan John Zizioulas of Pergamon, speaking on behalf of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholmew, devoted a large part of his intervention to the ecumenism in “Laudato si’”, and mentioned that in 1989 the Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios published an encyclical addressed to all Christians and persons of good will warning of the seriousness of the ecological problem and its theological and spiritual implications, and in the same year he proposed the dedication of 1 September every year to prayer for the environment. This date, according to the Orthodox calendar, is the first day of the ecclesiastical year and now devoted to the environment. The Metropolitan proposed the adoption by all Christians of this day for prayer for the environment.

Metropolitan John said: “I believe that the significance of the papal Encyclical Laudato si’ is not limited to the subject of ecology as such. I see in it an important ecumenical dimension in that it brings the divided Christians before a common task which they must face together. We live at a time when fundamental existential problems overwhelm our traditional divisions and relativise them almost to the point of extinction. Look, for example, at what is happening today in the Middle East: do those who persecute the Christians ask them to which Church or Confession they belong? Christian unity in such cases is de facto realised by persecution and blood – an ecumenism of martyrdom”.

He continued: “The threat posed to us by the ecological crisis similarly bypasses or transcends our traditional divisions. The danger facing our common home, the planet on which we live, is described in the Encyclical in a way leaving no doubt about the existential risk we are confronted with. This risk is common to all of us regardless of our ecclesiastical or confessional identities. Equally common must be our effort to prevent the catastrophic consequences of the present situation. Pope Francis’ Encyclical is a call to unity – unity in prayer for the environment, in the same Gospel of Creation, in the conversion of our hearts and our lifestyles to respect and love everyone and everything given to us by God”.

Metropolitan John’s presence at a Vatican Press Conference presenting a papal encyclical was truly unprecedented and a great sign and portent of ecumenism and the deepening relationship that exists between our churches.

What is it about Francis’ exercise of the Petrine ministry that is so enticing to the Orthodox? And vice-versa! I would like to refer to three distinctive qualities emerging from the Papacy of Pope Francis. The Bishop of Rome is teaching us each day that authentic power is service. There is no place for the trappings of power, privilege and prestige in the exercise of Francis’ Petrine ministry. Francis shocked many on that first Holy Thursday night in 2013 when he visited a youth detention center in Rome and chose to wash the feet of young offenders, including one who was an Orthodox Christian. If we do not learn this Christian rule and posture of servanthood, we will never be able to understand Jesus’ true message about true power.

Second, Francis has taught us about life on the peripheries of society. Pope Francis challenges Orthodox Christians with the following words: “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the center and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures.” A risk-taking Church that is not afraid to fail is much healthier than a Church that is focused on institutional security and closed in on itself. Such a lesson is not only meant for the Churches of the West.

Third, Francis has repeatedly taught us that evangelization, by its very nature a “noisy” business. Pope Francis provided this bold exhortation to young people in Rio de Janeiro: “Let me tell you what I hope will be the outcome of World Youth Day: I hope there will be noise. … I want you to make yourselves heard in your dioceses, I want the noise to go out, I want the Church to go out onto the streets, I want us to resist everything worldly, everything static, everything comfortable, everything to do with clericalism, everything that might make us closed in on ourselves.”

Francis has written: “Christians of the East and West must give common witness so that, strengthened by the Spirit of the risen Christ, they may disseminate the message of salvation to the entire world.”

Both Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew are not only motivated by the cause of ecumenism but also by forming a united front against the persecution of Christianity in the Middle East where the number of Catholics and Orthodox have dwindled over the past couple decades. In November 2014, Pope Francis was the fourth pontiff to visit Turkey after Pope Benedict XVI in 2006, Pope John Paul II in 1979 and Pope Paul VI in 1967. His visit came three days after Francis addressed the European Parliament in Strasbourg during a difficult time for people of various religions in the Middle East and at a time that Turkey is hosting more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees.

Evangelicals and Pentecostals

Let us be very honest and admit that Anglicanism and Orthodoxy today represent a minority of non-Catholic Christians. According to a 2011 Pew Forum report, about half of the world’s Christians are Catholic, 12 percent are Orthodox, and 37 percent are “Protestants, broadly defined.” The same study reported that there are about 279 million Pentecostal Christians and 305 million charismatic Christians in the world and that Pentecostal and charismatic Christians together make up about 27 percent of all Christians and more than 8 percent of the world’s total population.

There are roughly 285 million Evangelicals worldwide, which means that, together, Evangelicals and Pentecostals total nearly 400 million. Meanwhile, the number of “historic Protestants” (Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, etc.) and Anglicans continues to shrink overall. Through his focusing on Evangelicals and Pentecostals rather than “historical” Protestant denominations, Pope Francis has taken a new approach to ecumenical efforts that has upset some of the major denominations and even those who claim to be seasoned, ecumenical experts! Several of my theologian colleagues and friends, and those immersed in formal ecumenical studies and work have commented to me over the past few months: “What on earth is the Pope doing with those “sects” or “fundamentalist new groups?” They might be missing some very important lessons that the Bishop of Rome is teaching us.

Francis and the World Evangelical Alliance

Pope Francis has approached ecumenism characterized through personal relationships specifically addressed to the world of Evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity and somewhat disconnected from the “official” efforts and initiatives of those who work through formal structures and agencies in the area of ecumenism. Recently Pope Francis addressed a delegation of the World Evangelical Alliance at the Vatican. Francis said: “Whenever we put ourselves entirely and lovingly at the service of the Gospel, we become ever more fruitful branches of that vine which is Christ, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13). This truth is grounded in our Baptism, by which we share in the fruits of Christ’s death and resurrection. Baptism is God’s priceless gift which we have in common (cf. Gal 3:27). Thanks to this gift, we no longer live a purely earthly existence; we now live in the power of the Spirit.

Francis has said that our divisions mar the beauty of the seamless robe of Christ, yet they do not completely destroy the profound unity brought about by grace in all the baptized (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio, 13). The effectiveness of the Christian message would no doubt be greater were Christians to overcome their divisions, and together celebrate the sacraments, spread the word of God, and bear witness to charity.”

This outreach to Evangelicals and Pentecostals is most certainly influenced by then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio’s pastoral ministry in Latin America, and his now famous Aparecida document from the 2007 Latin American Bishops’ Meeting in Brazil. There was a strong wake-up call given to us last July 2014 when the Bishop of Rome went on a “private” visit to a Pentecostal church in Caserta, Italy. The event concluded with a historic first: an apology from the Pope for anything involvement Catholics may have had in the persecution of Pentecostals in Italy in the 1930s.

Francis spoke of that one sin present among Christians since apostolic times, and definitely not a divine trait: name-calling. On the path of Christian life, “when we stop and spend too much time looking at each other, we start a different journey, an ugly one,” the pope said. In the First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul criticizes early Christians who, bragging and promoting rivalry, started saying, “I belong to Paul” or “I belong to Apollos,” rather than “I belong to Jesus.”

Francis’ ecumenical strategy in all of these efforts is not sheep stealing. His motto is not “swim the Tiber” nor his mantra: “Rome sweet home.” Bishop Tony Palmer pointed this out: “Pope Francis pulled me up on more than one occasion when I used the expression ‘coming home to the Catholic Church.’ He said, ‘Don’t use this term.’ He told me, ‘No one is coming home. You are journeying towards us and we are journeying towards you and we will meet in the middle. We will meet on the road as we seek each other.’”

This thought is powerfully confirmed in Francis’ stunning exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium”: “We must never forget that we are pilgrims journeying alongside one another. This means that we must have sincere trust in our fellow pilgrims, putting aside all suspicions or mistrust, and turn our gaze to what we are all seeking: the radiant peace of God’s face for “it is not just a matter of being informed but of reaping what the Spirit has sown in them, which is also meant to be a gift for us.”

Pope Francis’ ecumenical efforts with Evangelical and Pentecostal leaders has inaugurated a new era of serious, ecumenical discussion but this has sounded several alarms in various ecumenical quarters! Through these messages and efforts, Francis has spoken simply, powerfully and beautifully about returning to lost unity, a desire to achieve a missing fullness, a disarming invitation to simply come together to witness to the beauty of the love of Christ.

Bishop John Michael Bishop - Orientale Lumen Conference

Efforts with the Charismatic Communities

Francis is an evangelical pope and the Church of the 21st century has a charismatic face. When Pope Francis met with members of the “Catholic Fraternity of Charismatic Covenant Communities and Fellowship” in Rome for its Sixteenth International Conference, he touched on several themes in his address to the group, beginning with the idea of “unity in diversity.” “Unity does not imply uniformity,” the Pope said. “It does not necessarily mean doing everything together or thinking in the same way. Nor does it signify a loss of identity. Unity in diversity is actually the opposite: it involves the joyful recognition and acceptance of the various gifts which the Holy Spirit gives to each one and the placing of these gifts at the service of all members of the Church.” Francis reminded his audience that “the Charismatic Renewal is, by its very nature, ecumenical.”

“Catholic Fraternity, do not forget your origins, do not forget that the Charismatic Renewal is, by its very nature, ecumenical. Blessed Paul VI commented on this in the magnificent Apostolic Exhortation on evangelization which is highly relevant in our own day: “The power of evangelization will find itself considerably diminished if those who proclaim the Gospel are divided among themselves in all sorts of ways. Is this not perhaps one of the great sicknesses of evangelization today?”

“Remember: seek the unity which is the work of the Holy Spirit and do not be afraid of diversity. The breathing of Christians draws in the new air of the Holy Spirit and then exhales it upon the world: it is the prayer of praise and missionary outreach. Share baptism in the Holy Spirit with everyone in the Church. Spiritual ecumenism and the ecumenism of blood. The unity of the Body of Christ. Prepare the Bride for the Bridegroom who comes! One Bride only! (Rev 22:17).”

Francis’ approach to ecumenism has a very charismatic character, as he himself explains in this excerpt from a book recently published Italian Renewal in the Holy Spirit (RnS), entitled “Il Cardinale Bergoglio al Rinnovamento”: “I don’t believe in a definitive ecumenism, much less do I believe in the ecumenism that as its first step gets us to agree on a theological level. I think we must progress in unity, participating together in prayer and in the works of charity. And this I find in the Renewal. Now and then we get together with a few pastors and stop and pray together for about an hour. This has been made possible thanks to the Charismatic Renewal, both on the evangelical side and on the Catholic side.”

Pope Francis & Orientale Lumen Foundation

Pope Francis also addressed delegates taking part in an ecumenical pilgrimage, promoted by the Orientale Lumen Foundation and led by the Orthodox Metropolitan, Kallistos of Diokleia. The Pope said this journey towards an interior renewal is “absolutely essential” in order to make progress along the road leading to reconciliation and full communion between all believers in Christ.

“Every Christian pilgrimage is not only a geographical journey, but also and above all an opportunity to take a path of inner renewal taking us ever closer to Christ our Lord,” said Pope Francis to the members of the Oriental Lumen Foundation in America, who are meeting in Rome in these days as part of an ecumenical pilgrimage.

“These dimensions are absolutely essential to proceed along the road that leads us to reconciliation and full communion among all believers in Christ. There is no true ecumenical dialogue without openness to inner renewal and the search for greater fidelity to Christ and to His will”.”

Relations with Judaism

Because of some wonderful relationships and friendships with rabbis in Buenos Aires, Francis has brought personal relationships into his pastoral ministry in Rome. I am convinced that if get the relationships right, everything else will follow. It’s all about relationships. Is this not the real legacy of Nostra Aetate? Pope Francis never met the great Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. But the more I see Francis in action, I cannot help but think that Heschel’s influence is hidden in Francis’ heart and mind. Rabbi Abraham Skorka of Argentina, one of Pope Francis’ closest friends is convinced of this fact. Rabbi Skorka accompanied Francis to the Holy Land in May, and in 2010 they co-authored a book, On Heaven and Earth.

God’s Continuous Search for Us

Pope Francis sounded very much like Rabbi Heschel in the interview with Jesuit journals in September 2013. “God is in every person’s life,” he said repeatedly. “You can, you must try to seek God in every human life.” Francis also shares Rabbi Heschel’s criticism of religion when it “speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion.” The pope has repeatedly warned against clericalism, for example. “The risk that we must avoid is priests and bishops falling into clericalism, which is a distortion of religion,” he explained in his dialogue with Rabbi Skorka. “When a priest leads a diocese or a parish, he has to listen to his community, to make mature decisions and lead the community accordingly. In contrast, when the priest imposes himself, when in some way he says, ‘I am the boss here,’ he falls into clericalism.” Francis’ warning to newly appointed bishops in September 2013, that careerism is “a form of cancer,” echoed Rabbi Heschel’s remark in a now famous address to the American Medical Association years ago: “According to my own medical theory, more people die of success than of cancer.”

The Vocation and Mission of “Pontifex”

Building bridges is the work of evangelization, the work of going out to the whole world to proclaim the Good News of our salvation in Jesus Christ. Building walls is what fearful, insecure people do to protect what they have and to keep others out. Pope Francis wants to build bridges that everyone can cross. In “Evangelii Gaudium” Pope Francis invites and challenges all of us to move beyond our “comfort zones.” He wants us to be warm, welcoming and forgiving. He wants us to eat with tax collectors and sinners; he wants us to forgive the woman caught in adultery (while admonishing her to sin no more); he wants us to welcome and respect foreigners (even our enemies), and, above all, not to judge others.

Dear Friends, the challenge of the Council fathers must be taken up by the young generation and not succumb to new tensions that threaten the quest for full, visible unity of the whole Christian family. Unity is a gift of the Spirit. What better time to take seriously this urgent call to each one of us to conversion, reconciliation and rededication to the cause of healing the divided Body of Christ? There is nothing new here. It is only the Gospel message. It’s been our mission, our mandate and our story for over 2,000 years. It is the mission of every single Christian, and most especially the vocation of those who work day and night, untiringly, patiently, and joyfully that “all may be one” so the world might believe in Jesus and the God and father of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who sent His son to the world that God so loved. Let us build bridges together, and learn from the gentle, vivid, powerful and deeply human lessons that our Pontifex is teaching us.

Environment Warning From the Pope

In his newly released encyclical, Pope Francis warned that “people of all faiths must radically transform how we live or face ‘unprecedented destruction of ecosystem.'” CTV News in Edmonton reported on how the warning is playing out in the Alberta Oil Industry. See clip below.

Video Courtesy of CTV Edmonton News.

Watch S+L TV Special – The Ecology Encyclical: Care for Our Common Home


The highly anticipated teaching document of Pope Francis on ecology has arrived. How does it build on the teachings of Popes John Paul II and Benedict the XVI? What does it say about climate change? What does it say about poverty and those most affected by ecological destruction around the world?

Join host Sebastian Gomes for a panel discussion on the major themes and reactions to Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si. Guests include: Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, English language assistant to the Director of the Holy See Press Office; Mardi Tindal, immediate past moderator of the United Church of Canada; Alicia Ambrosio, producer and journalist for S+L TV.

Watch the full video of the show below.

Behind Vatican Walls: Laudato Si’


The pope’s ecology encyclical, Laudato Si, was finally, officially released this week. The label “ecology” does not fully capture the breadth and depth of what Pope Francis discusses in the document. He does outline the problems with our planet, but shows how climate issues cannot be disconnected from human issues like poverty, migration and quality of life. Then he leads readers to the roots of the problem: humans. Human activity and a disordered view of the role humans should play in relation to the creation lead to plundering of the earth’s resources, technological advancement at breakneck speed just to have power over everything and everyone else on the planet have – according to Pope Francis – got us into our present global situation.

Better than reading my one paragraph summary, here is the link to the full text of the encyclical in English. For other languages click on the the language of your choice in the upper right corner.

This papal letter was highly anticipated not just by Catholics but the world at large. Here is a collection of articles about Laudato Si and the key themes developed in it.

The New York Times had this assessment of Laudato Si, and the tradition of popes speaking out on global issues.

The Guardian provided comprehensive coverage of the encyclical, including this assessment.

While Canadian politicians did not acknowledge the encyclical (at least, none that got media coverage) The Globe and Mail did look at both the encyclical and its expected effects.

Catholic News Service, once again, has provided all the tools the average and not so average Catholic might need to fully digest this papal document (not that Pope Francis is difficult to understand.) First, a glossary of words and phrases that come up in the encyclical.

Then, a comprehensive list of the practical tips Pope Francis offers for saving our planet.

The Catholic Herald out of the UK offered this assessment of Laudato Si from a faith perspective, and it might scare those Catholics who would prefer their faith and their life be two separate things.

Watch this week’s Vatican Connections below.



Every week brings new, exciting, and sometimes juicy headlines from behind Vatican walls and every week Alicia delves deeper into one of those headlines. For a full run down of what’s been happening behind Vatican walls, watch Vatican Connections. Already watch the program? Come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issue, headline or person.

Catholicism and the Challenge of Ecology


Prior to the release of Laudato Si, Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, experts reflect on the history and significance of the church’s role in promoting stewardship of creation.

Videos courtesy of Catholic News Service.

Pope Francis releases ecology encyclical ‘Laudato Si’


On June 18, 2015, Pope Francis released an encyclical on ecology entitled, “Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home.” Prior to the public release, the Holy Father sent the encyclical to all Bishops around the world with a handwritten note, seen below.

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The note reads:


The Vatican, 16 June 2015

Dear brother,

In the bond of unity, charity and peace (LG 22) in which we live as Bishops, I send you my letter Laudato Si’ on care of our common home, accompanied by my blessing.

United in the Lord, and please do not forget to pray for me.

Below you will find a link to the official encyclical, along with a ‘map’ of the encyclical, a summary of the encyclical and Questions and Answers.

Make sure you tune in to the S+L TV Special on the Ecological Encyclical. Airs Friday, June 19, 2015 at 9 pm ET.