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Cardinal Wuerl: “We have succeeded in electing a pastor.”


Point of View: Interpreting the Francis Effect is a S+L series that goes deeper into the important 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.

This week: Cardinal Donald Wuerl

On the evening of February 28th, 2013, the world watched the historic departure and official resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. The atmosphere in Rome was somber, and everyone felt a little empty and anxious. As part of our coverage that night I had the opportunity to interview Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington, who had generously made himself available to the media.

I asked him, “How do you feel?! Having witnessed all of this, knowing Pope Benedict well, and now turning to the daunting task of electing his successor?” To my surprise, he looked at me and smiled and said confidently, “I have so much hope at this moment! What Pope Benedict has taught us through this incredibly humble gesture, is that we can and should do things differently—that we don’t have to be afraid, because the Lord is with us.”

The next time I saw Cardinal Wuerl he was doing an interview with Scott Pelley of CBS, minutes after Pope Francis had appeared on the balcony of St. Peter’s for the first time. It was cold and late on March 13th; the Cardinal was in a satellite studio at the North American College and I was watching Scott conduct the live interview from their studio overlooking St. Peter’s Square. Scott, knowing that he couldn’t get a detailed play-by-play of the election, asked the Cardinal what he and the others had accomplished. The Cardinal, who looked exhausted yet relieved, smiled enthusiastically and said, “We have succeeded in electing a pastor.”

The Church and the world have experienced the “Francis effect” for two years now, and there’s no sign of the Pope slowing down anytime soon. There are many Catholics around the world who have come alive or found a second wind because of his ministry. One of them is Cardinal Wuerl, the pastor and teacher who, as you will see, speaks with conviction and clarity; a shepherd who is close to the people and equally close to Francis; a witness to the joy of the Gospel.

Watch Episode 9 of Point of View: Interpreting the Francis Effect
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Catholic Communications in the Age of Pope Francis


Below you will find the full text of Fr. Thomas Rosica’s inaugural address for the Catholic Press Month lecture presented by the Catholic Courier and El Mensajero Católico, at the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Rochester, New York. 

Bishop Matano,

Bishop Clark,

Brother Priests and Sisters,

Dear Karen and Friends in Rochester,

It is a privilege for me to be home tonight and speak here in this Cathedral that is the mother Church of my home diocese.  Thank you for your kind invitation and for all the hard work that went into this evening. I am also very happy to join my voice to a chorus of many others who recently celebrated the 125th Anniversary of the Courier Journal of Rochester! In many ways, my “career” in media and communications began with the Courier Journal as a high school student back in late 1970’s at Aquinas Institute. I was conscripted to be part of “RapAround,” a weekly section that featured reporting from young Catholics from Catholic High Schools in the diocese. Little did I know then what would be in store for me back in 1975. The Courier was one of the first newspapers in the country to engage young men and women as journalists and communicators.  That initial experience would mark me for the rest of my life. Though I left Rochester in 1980, I have followed closely the growth, transformation and progress of the Courier, first and foremost through my friendship with and great admiration of Karen Franz, with whom I had the privilege of studying at what was then St. Ambrose parochial school.

What has always impressed me about the Courier Journal has been the ways that this Catholic newspaper has lived up to the standards of the broader journalistic profession to which it belongs.  The Courier has resisted that growing tendency to “tabloidism” in sectors of the Catholic press and risen above the folly of some of the blogs which are not just filled with sectarian, half truths, but are at times galaxies away from the Gospel charity with which our Catholic story should be told.

At his first public audience with nearly 6000 journalists in Rome on March 16, three days after his election in March 2013, Pope Francis said: “Ecclesial events are certainly no more intricate than political or economic events! But they do have one particular underlying feature: they follow a pattern which does not readily correspond to the “worldly” categories which we are accustomed to use, and so it is not easy to interpret and communicate them to a wider and more varied public. The Church is certainly a human and historical institution with all that that entails, yet her nature is not essentially political but spiritual: the Church is the People of God, the Holy People of God making its way to encounter Jesus Christ. Only from this perspective can a satisfactory account be given of the Church’s life and activity”. The Courier Journal took those words to heart from the beginning of its existence over a century ago.

You have asked me to speak about “Catholic Communications in the Age of Pope Francis.” In doing so, I wish to share a conversation I had just two days ago as I met with senior journalists at the ABC Television Network in New York City. A gentleman who headed up the network’s massive 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 fascinating and inviting.”

It is precisely this fascination that has gripped the world over the past two years. This evening, I would like to take a look at it with you.  But let me begin with this fundamental point: if today we are basking in the Franciscan light, it is because we owe a debt of gratitude to Pope emeritus Benedict XVI and his courageous decision to step down two years ago February 11, an important moment in the life of the Catholic Church and in the life of the world.

Benedict’s resignation provides a rare but profound example of humility in action. True leaders put their cause before their power and self-interest. Far from a failure or weakness, his resignation was the most shining moment of Benedict’s papacy, and what will turn out to be a historically brilliant move. He has set a new course for the church.

In retrospection and commemoration of the second anniversary of Benedict’s resignation, many feel that in order to highlight the positive aspects of the “Franciscan” era, we must describe in negative terms the pontificate of Pope Benedict. That is not only absurd, but it is also indicates blindness, deafness and ignorance to what this great man accomplished. Comparisons between Francis and his predecessor are inevitable, and it’s no secret that Pope Francis is more appealing to the crowds… the huge numbers that continue to throng the Vatican to catch glimpse of the first Pope from the New World. There is a shift in tone under Francis in what could be described as a “moderate” or “pastoral” direction and a real concern for those on the peripheries of society and the Church.

Let us not forget however that many of the reforms now underway under Pope Francis’ leadership actually began on Benedict’s watch, especially in two chronic sources of scandal for the church: money and sex abuse.

Having had the privilege of serving as one of the “spokespersons” for the Vatican during the momentous papal transition two years ago, and now continuing in some small way in that capacity as I relate to English language media on a daily basis on behalf of the Holy See Press Office, I am an eye witness to this papacy and a transformation that is underway. Pope Francis has captivated the entire world, but why does he do and say the things he does? What makes this popular pontiff tick?

From the very first moments, Pope Francis stressed his role with the ancient title of “bishop of Rome” who presides in charity, echoing the famous statement of Ignatius of Antioch.  Francis has brought to the papacy a knack for significant gestures that immediately convey very powerful messages. Pope Francis’ vision of the Church challenges all of us. He has an amazing ability to find simple words to pose fundamental questions about the life of the Christian and of the Church. No one can deny that the “secular media” has been fascinated and mesmerized by his expressions that come from daily homilies, addresses, and messages:

  • “How I would like a church that is poor and for the poor!”
  • “Have a good Sunday, and a good lunch!”
  • “Priests must be shepherds with the smell of the sheep.”
  • “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!”
  • “We have fallen into a “globalization of indifference.”
  • “Who am I to judge?”
  • “I want things messy and stirred up in the church.  I want the church to take to the streets!”
  • “I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.”
  • “It was my authoritarian way of making decisions that created problems.”
  • “I see the Church as a field hospital after battle.”
  • “The image of the Church I like is that of the holy, faithful people of God.”
  •  “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.”
  • “God never tires of forgiving us.”
  • “The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent.”
  • “I have a dogmatic certainty: God is in every person’s life.”
  • “An evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral.”
  • I dream of a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything.”
  • “Mercy is the greatest of all virtues.”
  • “The confessional must not be a torture chamber.”
  • “The Church is not a tollhouse.”
  • “I beg you bishops, avoid the scandal of being airport bishops!”
  • “We need to promote a culture of encounter.”
  • “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”

Asked if he would ever baptize Martians, Pope Francis responded: “Who am I to close the door?”

Initially perhaps many of us (myself included) may have thought that Pope Francis’ free-flowing interviews, homilies and quotes are more a source of consternation and frustration than opportunities to learn more about the Church, her founder and her message. But Francis has chosen many different opportunities to speak and encounter the world. No matter how fraught with the potential confusion and misinterpretation those methods may sometimes be, the world is now listening to the Pope in ways that have never happened before. No longer can we simply attribute this interest to an initial fascination, a “honeymoon period”, or other infantile ways of trying to analyze what is really happening.  Let me be very honest: we are no longer in the “honeymoon” period of this Pontificate.  The world is listening because Francis and the Church have something solid to say and to offer to a world plunged in chaos, war, terror, violence, despair and darkness.

What is the most important achievement of Pope Francis? He has rebranded Catholicism and the papacy. Prior to Pope Francis, when many people on the street were asked: “What is the Catholic church all about? What does the pope stand for?”, the response would often be, “Catholics, well they are against abortion, gay marriage and birth control.” “They are known for the sex abuse crisis that has terribly marred and weakened their moral authority and credibility.” Though the media rightly exposed our sins for the abuse crisis, at the same it often falsely portrays us for our teaching and values at the core of our Catholic beliefs.

Today, the response is different. What do they say about us now? What do they say about the Pope? People are speaking about our leader who is unafraid to confront the sins and evils that have marred us. We have a pope who is concerned about mercy, compassion and love, especially for the poor. Whether we wish to admit it our not, Pope Francis has won over the media. By no means is this an indication that the teachings of the Church and message of the Gospel have been fully understood or received by all.  Neverthless, something has shifted in terms of Church-media relations. Many of my colleagues in the “secular” media industry have said that Francis has made it fun to be a religion reporter and journalist again. He has changed the image of the church so much that our prestigious graduate schools of business and management could use him as a case study in rebranding.

To those in several countries who have said that the Pope is not speaking out enough against abortion, Pope Francis is profoundly Pro-Life. He is simply doing what the Bishop of Rome and successor of Peter should do, positioning the evil of abortion within its proper moral context, the failure to recognize the dignity of every single human person at every age and stage of life. Procured abortion is only one of the poisonous fruits from the rotted tree growing in the corrupted garden of a culture of death.

Over the past months, Pope Francis has strongly denounced efforts to redefine marriage, and issued a thundering condemnation of abortion, euthanasia, and in-vitro fertilization, calling them “sins against God.” In emphasizing these truths, Francis has never urged withdrawal from the public square; on the contrary, he has declared: “Getting involved in politics is a Christian duty. We Christians cannot be like Pilate and wash our hands clean of things.”

The inability of commentators to pigeonhole Francis into a single category is frustrating to some people. Francis is strongly opposed to ‘parties’ or ‘lobbies’ in the Church. He does not compromise on the hot-button issues that divide the Church from the secular West – a gap liberals would like to close by modernizing doctrine. Yet he is also not a pope for the Catholic Right. For him contrasting positions, held together in tension, loyal to fundamentals but open to the action of the Holy Spirit, are necessary to forge a new, better consensus and the differences make for an honest, open discussion.

“The principal mission of the Church,” Pope Francis has declared, “is evangelization, bringing the Good News to everyone.” This was also Pope Beneidict’s mantra at the 2012 Synod on the New Evangelization: “The Church exists to evangelize.” This is the only agenda of Pope Francis: to lead people to Jesus Christ, so that their lives and joy may be full.

In two years at the helm of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis has opened the floodgates of communication in an institution that has been effectively cloistered for centuries. While it is no exaggeration that a pope has never been so widely quoted by the secular press, it could also be said that a pope’s intentions have never been so widely misinterpreted. While it may seem like the pope is sending mixed signals, the truth may be that most of the press and non-Catholics are just projecting their own wishes and values on him.

He is not quite “conservative” nor entirely “progressive . His message is filled the paradoxes because life is a paradox and Christian life is a great paradox.  The world is listening to him because Francis models a solid consistency, the one between his words and deeds, and that between its current papal mission and life forever. It gives us great shepherd a beautiful model of the new evangelization.

Globalization of Indifference

Francis startled the world in July 2013, several months after his election, when he traveled rather spontaneously to the island of Lampedusa off the coast of Sicily- to that dangerous area were so many refugees have lost and continue to lose their lives in their journeys to freedom and safety.  The Holy Father’s voice rang out across the sea as he asked the world to reflect on:

“The culture of comfort, which makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people, makes us live in soap bubbles which, however lovely, are insubstantial; they offer a fleeting and empty illusion which results in indifference to others; indeed, it even leads to the globalization of indifference. In this globalized world, we have fallen into globalized indifference. We have become used to the suffering of others: it doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t concern me; it’s none of my business!”

The Challenges and Temptations of the Church

Speaking to Bishops in 2013 Rio de Janeiro, the Bishop of Rome spoke soberly and frankly about the temptations facing the Church: the temptation to turn the Gospel message into an ideology; the temptation to run the church like a business; and the temptation of clericalism. In an address July 28, 2013, to the episcopal council of CELAM, the Latin American conference of bishops, Pope Francis laid out these temptations and how the church should respond to them.

Making the Gospel message an ideology

This temptation to make the Gospel message an ideology has been present in the church from the beginning. It attempts to interpret the Gospel apart from the church or the Gospel itself. Francis says you must look at the Gospel with the eyes of a disciple. This temptation interprets the Gospel message through the lens of social science, whether from a Marxist or libertarian perspective and the Gospel is manipulated for political reasons. It is a temptation of both the right and the left to use the Gospel to serve political goals.


The second temptation of the church is to functionalism, which Pope Francis believes has the effect of paralyzing the church. “More than being interested in the road itself, it is concerned with fixing holes in the road.” It “has no room for mystery; it aims at efficiency.” This is the temptation of church bureaucrats. “It reduces the reality of the church to the structure of an (nongovernmental organization). What counts are quantifiable results and statistics.” Francis does not want the church to end up “being run like any other business organization.”


A third temptation is to clericalism, which, as its name implies, is a particular temptation for bishops, priests and deacons, but Francis argues that often, the laity is complicit. “The priest clericalizes the layperson and the layperson kindly asks to be clericalized because deep down it is easier.” Liberal clericalism tends to disdain popular piety while conservative clericalism fears giving the laity a greater role in the church. Although these were presented as temptations for the Latin American church, it is obvious that they are universal. They are alive and well in Rome and in North America.

But there were more temptations… At the end of the two-week Extraordinary Synod last October, Pope Francis gave a profoundly moving address to conclude the synod. He wove together the various strands of the spiritual and ecclesial experience of the Synod, fashioning them into a stunning tapestry for the Church. Without the Pope’s final speech – and to a lesser extent, his homily at the closing Mass, the Synod would have remained incomplete, and not been read with the interpretative or hermeneutical key of faith that truly inspired and motivated it, according to the mind of the Pope.

Pope Francis made clear to the whole Church that there should be no reason for fear or confusion in the church after such an extraordinary synod, in which not only had the traditional doctrine on the nature and indissolubility of marriage been confirmed, but also important pastoral questions relating to the family – including those related to the church’s approach to the divorced and remarried and to homosexual persons – remain on the table for the 2015 synod. More than anything else, this text indicated to the entire world that the barque of Church is indeed guided by the Lord and entrusted to a most able helmsman.

Allow me to share with you some of the highlights of Pope Francis’ concluding address to the Extraordinary Synod on Saturday evening, October 18, 2014:

And it has been “a journey” – and like every journey there were moments of running fast, as if wanting to conquer time and reach the goal as soon as possible; other moments of fatigue, as if wanting to say “enough”; other moments of enthusiasm and ardour. …And since it is a journey of human beings, with the consolations there were also moments of desolation, of tensions and temptations, of which a few possibilities could be mentioned:

-One, a temptation to hostile inflexibility, that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word, (the letter) and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God, by the God of surprises, (the spirit); within the law, within the certitude of what we know and not of what we still need to learn and to achieve. From the time of Christ, it is the temptation of the zealous, of the scrupulous, of the solicitous and of the so-called – today – “traditionalists” and also of the intellectuals.

-The temptation to a destructive tendency to goodness [it. buonismo], that in the name of a deceptive mercy binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them; that treats the symptoms and not the causes and the roots. It is the temptation of the “do-gooders,” of the fearful, and also of the so-called “progressives and liberals.”

-The temptation to transform stones into bread to break the long, heavy, and painful fast (cf. Lk 4:1-4); and also to transform the bread into a stone and cast it against the sinners, the weak, and the sick (cf Jn 8:7), that is, to transform it into unbearable burdens (Lk 11:46).

-The temptation to come down off the Cross, to please the people, and not stay there, in order to fulfill the will of the Father; to bow down to a worldly spirit instead of purifying it and bending it to the Spirit of God.

-The temptation to neglect the “depositum fidei” [the deposit of faith], not thinking of themselves as guardians but as owners or masters [of it]; or, on the other hand, the temptation to neglect reality, making use of meticulous language and a language of smoothing to say so many things and to say nothing! They call them “byzantinisms…”

Dear brothers and sisters, the temptations must not frighten or disconcert us, or even discourage us, because no disciple is greater than his master; so if Jesus Himself was tempted – and even called Beelzebul (cf. Mt 12:24) – His disciples should not expect better treatment.

And then, in what many have described as a magnificent crescendo, Pope Francis shared with us in the Synod Hall the nature and reality of the Church:

…And this is the Church, the vineyard of the Lord, the fertile Mother and the caring Teacher, who is not afraid to roll up her sleeves to pour oil and wine on people’s wound; who doesn’t see humanity as a house of glass to judge or categorize people. This is the Church, One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and composed of sinners, needful of God’s mercy. This is the Church, the true bride of Christ, who seeks to be faithful to her spouse and to her doctrine. It is the Church that is not afraid to eat and drink with prostitutes and publicans. The Church that has the doors wide open to receive the needy, the penitent, and not only the just or those who believe they are perfect! The Church that is not ashamed of the fallen brother and pretends not to see him, but on the contrary feels involved and almost obliged to lift him up and to encourage him to take up the journey again and accompany him toward a definitive encounter with her Spouse, in the heavenly Jerusalem.

This is the Church, our Mother! And when the Church, in the variety of her charisms, expresses herself in communion, she cannot err: it is the beauty and the strength of the sensus fidei, of that supernatural sense of the faith which is bestowed by the Holy Spirit so that, together, we can all enter into the heart of the Gospel and learn to follow Jesus in our life. And this should never be seen as a source of confusion and discord.

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.

When Pope Francis finished speaking, the synod fathers all rose in a spontaneous gesture and gave him a five-minute standing ovation. That said everything; it is the best answer to any fears people may have about the current direction of the Church.

Where does Francis want to lead the church? What does he want the bishops to do? What does he expect of us, ordained ministers?  And what is he modeling for laymen and women?

The Church is reconciler: In his address to the Brazilian bishops, Francis said that “from the beginning, God’s message was one of restoring what was broken, reuniting what had been divided,” Francis explained. “Walls, chasms, differences which still exist today are destined to disappear. The church cannot neglect this lesson: She is called to be a means of reconciliation.”

A Church of the heart: For Francis, faith enters the church through the heart of the poor, not through the heads of intellectuals. Francis confessed that “perhaps we have reduced our way of speaking about mystery to rational explanations, but for ordinary people the mystery enters through the heart.”

A church with a simple message: Francis has clearly stated: “The results of our pastoral work do not depend on a wealth of resources, but on the creativity of love.” Francis knows only too well that at times we lose people because they don’t understand what we are saying, because we have forgotten the language of simplicity. He argues that the message should be kept simple. Rather, let us present Jesus as the compassion of God.

The Church of Emmaus: Using the Gospel story of Emmaus, speaks openly about people who have left the church because they “now think that the church — their Jerusalem — can no longer offer them anything meaningful and important.” We need a church unafraid of going forth into their night. We need a church capable of meeting them on their way. We need a church capable of entering into their conversation. We need a church able to dialogue with those disciples who, having left Jerusalem behind, are wandering aimlessly, alone, with their own disappointment, disillusioned by a Christianity now considered barren, fruitless soil, incapable of generating meaning. …

Are we still a church capable of warming hearts? A church capable of leading people back to Jerusalem? Of bringing them home? Jerusalem is where our roots are: Scripture, catechesis, sacraments, community, friendship with the Lord, Mary and the apostles. … Are we still able to speak of these roots in a way that will revive a sense of wonder at their beauty?

The Church: A Field Hospital and a Guiding Torch

When the pope speaks of the church as a “field hospital after a battle” he is referring to this image of St. Ignatius of Loyola. He explains the role of the church in light of God’s gaze upon the world: “so many people that ask us to be close, that ask us for what they were asking of Jesus: closeness, nearness.” 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.

Where are the battlefields today?

  • decline in birthrates and the aging population have reversed the relationships between young and old persons
  • contraception enables the splitting of sexuality and procreation; assisted procreation divides the process of giving birth from being a parent
  • stepfamilies lead to new bonds and new parental roles that have complex relational geographies; de facto couples place the social institutionalization of their relationships into question; homosexual persons ask why they cannot live a life of stable affective relationships while remaining practicing believers.

The church must shine with the light that lives within itself, it must go out and encounter human beings who – even though they believe that they do not need to hear a message of salvation—often find themselves afraid and wounded by life. The Lineamenta for the 2015 Synod, which reflects the discussion of October 2014, offers a clear direction for the Church. In one of his well-known poems, Blessed Cardinal J.H. Newman wrote about a “kindly light.” We also find this image of light in the Encyclical Lumen fidei: “Faith is not a light that dissipates all of our shadows, but rather a light that guides our steps in the night; and this is enough for the journey” (n. 57). According to Pope Francis today more than ever 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.


With the surprising election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio to the See of Peter two years ago, I have frequently been asked this question: Is this all the work of a PR company, clever media strategists or slick spin doctors hired by the Vatican to rebrand its image? Or is there something else at work? What has happened in the church, and how can it be that a 77-year-old, retirement-bound archbishop from Buenos Aires has captivated the world? How can we describe the sense of springtime that has come upon the church? How is it fathomable in our day and age that not only Christians and Catholics but millions of others are speaking about “Papa Francesco” as if he were their own?

Let me tell you what I think is afoot! The new Pope took the name Francis upon his election as Bishop of Rome and told us he did so because of his love for Francis of Assisi. Over the past two years, many of us have been associating the Pope’s gestures and actions with the “Poverello” or “Little Poor One” of Assisi, perhaps the most beloved saint of the Catholic tradition.

One day as a young man, Francis heard the plea of Jesus from the crucifix in the dilapidated San Damiano chapel on Assisi’s outskirts. “Go and repair my Church,” he heard Jesus say. And he certainly did that in his lifetime and through the huge Franciscan family that he left behind to carry forward his dream and continue his work.

We become easily fixated on lots of eye-catching, buzz-causing externals and great photo opportunities: A Pope who abandoned the red shoes – that were never an official part of the papal wardrobe! A Pope who dresses modestly, pays his own lodging bills, rides around Vatican City in a Ford Focus, who invites street people to his birthday breakfast. This Roman pontiff specializes in kissing babies and embracing the sick, disfigured broken bodies, and the abandoned of society. A pope who knows how to use a telephone, and uses it often. A pope who waits in line for the coat check at the Vatican Synod Hall, lines up for coffee, and introduces himself: “Sono Francesco. Come ti chiami?” We sit back, smile and utter: “What simplicity!” “Wow!” “Awesome!” “Finalmente!”

And for many who are watching all of this with differing forms of anxiety, they ask “Will the Francis reform succeed?”  The answer is: “Yes.” And I will tell you why. Francis’ reform is inevitable because it is not emanating from Assisi, Loyola, Manresa or even from Rome, as significant as those holy places may be! It is coming from another land where we find Bethlehem, Nazareth, Nain, Emmaus, Mount Tabor, Galilee and Jerusalem: the land of the Bible.

Francis will succeed because his life, vision, hopes and dreams are founded in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are indeed living a moment of kairos, the appointed time and hour, when the Gospel story is unfolding before us once again in the life of Pope Francis. Everything the Pope is doing now is not just an imitation of his patron saint who loved the poor, embraced lepers, charmed sultans, made peace and protected nature. It’s a reflection of the child of Bethlehem who would grow up to become the man of the cross in Jerusalem, the Risen One that no tomb could contain, the man we Christians call Savior and Lord. Pope Francis has given us a powerful glimpse into the mind and heart of God.

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 at the ABC network: “We have all been brought into the heart of the Church and the Gospel and find the story fascinating and inviting.”

On the late afternoon of March 13, 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio received the call to go, rebuild, repair, renew and heal the church. What we have witnessed over the past two years is simply a disciple of Jesus, and a faithful disciple of Ignatius of Loyola and of Francis of Assisi, repairing, renewing, restoring, reconciling and healing 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. It is his unflinching freedom that allows him to do what he does because he is unafraid and totally free to be himself at the same time of being such faithful son of the Church. It is his goodness, joy, kindness and mercy that introduce us to the tenderness of our God. No wonder why he has taken the world by storm, and why so many people are paying attention to him. No wonder why magazines and newspapers acclaim him as “Person of the Year”, “best Dressed man,” “Rolling Stone” icon and “Advocate” champion, to name but a few! No wonder why the Pope, and many of those who are trying to serve him and represent him are considered to be subversive! Pope Francis, himself shared that with us in his closing message to the recent Synod of Bishops last October when he said: “the temptations must not frighten or disconcert us, or even discourage us, because no disciple is greater than his master; so if Jesus Himself was tempted – and even called Beelzebul – His disciples should not expect better treatment.”

We need the Francis revolution of tenderness, mercy and normalcy now more than ever before. I invite you to join me in praying for the Holy Father tonight:


Lord our God,

We thank you for always providing shepherds to guide the Church.

We thank you most especially for Francis,

the one you have chosen to be our chief shepherd

and guide at this moment in history.

Bless him with health and vision, boldness and courage,

wisdom and compassion, and boundless joy and hope.

Make him an instrument of your peace, compassion and mercy,

In your mercy you called Francis and you call each of us

to cling to Jesus, the rock of fidelity and truth.

May Pope Francis inspire us to be better Christians,

faithful Catholics and architects and citizens

of the civilization of love that your son entrusted to us.

We ask this in Jesus’ name, who lives with you forever and ever.


Sacred Heart of Jesus, pray for us, and watch over Pope Francis.

Rochester native talks of pope who ‘won over media’


ROCHESTER — In just two years Pope Francis has “opened the floodgates of communication” in the Catholic Church, which effectively had been a cloistered institution, and has rebranded both Catholicism and the papacy, according to Basilian Father Thomas Rosica.

A Rochester native, Father Rosica as served since 2013 has served as English-language assistant to the Holy See Press Office. He spoke at Sacred Heart Cathedral Feb. 19  to deliver an inaugural Catholic Press Month lecture presented by the Catholic Courier and El Mensajero Católico.

In introducing Father Rosica’s talk on the topic “Catholic Communications in the Age of Pope Francis,” Karen M. Franz, the newspapers’ general manager and editor, said she hoped the annual lectures would create greater awareness of Catholic media, which provides the context necessary to help readers understand church teachings and positions.

The Courier served this mission well over the last several decades, said Father Rosica, who noted that his journalistic career began at the Courier in 1975, when as a student at Aquinas Institute he began reporting on his school’s events for the newspaper’s youth-run RapAround section.

“What has always impressed me about the Courier has been the ways that this Catholic newspaper has lived up to the standards of the broader journalistic profession to which it belongs,” said Father Rosica, who in addition to his duties at the Vatican also serves as chief executive officer of Canada’s Salt + Light Catholic Television Network.

In his role at Salt + Light, Father Rosica occasionally sends reporters out to ask people on the street what they think the Catholic Church is all about. Until a few years ago, respondents usually cited the priestly sex-abuse crisis and the church’s opposition to abortion, gay marriage and birth control, he said.

Gradually, however, those answers have been changing since Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, SJ, became Pope Francis in March 2013. Now people on the street talk about Pope Francis, frequently commenting on how much they like this pope, who is concerned about mercy, compassion and love, especially for the poor, Father Rosica said.

“Whether we wish to admit it or not, Pope Francis has won over the media. By no means is this an indication that the teachings of the church and the message of the Gospel have been fully understood or received by all. Nevertheless, something has shifted in terms of Church-media relations,” he added.

Although the pope’s messages are not always understood, the world is now listening to the pope in unprecedented ways, Father Rosica said. The world has been captivated by the Holy Father, who has a knack for making significant gestures that convey powerful messages, he said. Media outlets do an injustice, however, when they negatively compare Pope Benedict XVI to the current pontiff, he added.

“If today we are basking in the Franciscan light, it is because we owe a debt of gratitude to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and his courageous decision to step down two years ago. … It has changed the church forever, it has changed the world forever, and it certainly changed my life,” Father Rosica said. “Benedict’s resignation provides a rare but profound example of humility in action. … He has set a new course for the church.”

While many positively received reforms and actions now underway actually began under the watch of Pope Benedict XV, the current pontiff’s spontaneous public interactions with the public and unscripted conversations with the media are unique to Pope Francis, he noted. Many of Pope Francis’ actions, such as his decision to go to confession in public during a penance service last March, come as a complete surprise to even his closest aides, Father Rosica said, recalling his own shock at seeing the pope kneeling in front of a confessional, an action that was not included in the detailed script in Father Rosica’s hands.

“That’s the beauty of this pontificate. We don’t have a script, and he doesn’t have to be tamed,” Father Rosica said.

Pope Francis also surprised his aides just a few months after his election when he expressed a strong desire to visit the Italian island of Lampedusa, where thousands of African immigrants have died in recent years while trying to reach Europe. The pope’s team put him off, telling the Holy Father that it would take months to plan such an excursion, but news reports about hundreds of immigrants drowning en route to Lampedusa only strengthened Pope Francis’ resolve. Before long Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s spokesman, received a phone call alerting him to the fact that someone identifying himself as Pope Francis had been calling commercial airlines and inquiring about chartering a flight to Lampedusa, Father Rosica recalled.

When asked if he by chance had been the man behind those phone calls, Pope Francis said, “Well, you won’t take me, so I’ll get there myself,” Father Rosica continued, noting that the pope’s aides arranged the trip for the next month.

Those in attendance at the Feb. 19 lecture enjoyed hearing such anecdotes about the pope, noted Mercy Sister Marilyn Williams.

“Father Rosica made him come even more alive than we have experienced through the media so far,” said Sister Williams, who said she also appreciated the fact that Father Rosica set such stories in the context of the pope’s overarching philosophies and agenda.

“This is the only agenda of Francis: to lead people to Jesus Christ so their lives and their joy may be full,” Father Rosica said.

Many commentators are frustrated because they can’t pigeonhole the pope into a single category, yet Pope Francis’ words remain consistent with his actions, he added.

“He is not quite conservative and nor entirely progressive. His message is filled with paradoxes because life is a paradox and Christian life is a great paradox. The world is listening to him because Francis models a solid consistency, the one between his words and his deeds, and that between its current papal mission and life forever,”  he said.

This article was written by Jennifer Burke of the Catholic Courier. Find the original posting here

+Chaput: “Pope Francis is never going to be tamed, nor should he be”


Point of View: Interpreting the Francis Effect is a S+L series that goes deeper into the important 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.

This week: Archbishop Charles Chaput, OFM Cap.

If you have never heard of Archbishop Charles Chaput, that is about to change. The former archbishop of Denver and current archbishop of Philadelphia is hosting the upcoming World Meeting of Families and the first visit of Pope Francis to the United States in September. He has also been selected from among the American bishops to represent the United States at the 2015 Synod of Bishops that will conclude the Pope’s two-stage synod on the challenges to family life.

Archbishop Chaput is known in Catholic circles for his strong advocacy of traditional Catholic values especially relating to marriage, family life and the dignity of every person including the unborn. He is also a Franciscan friar who has embraced a life of poverty and simplicity—a life he holds in common with the current Pope. In this full interview from S+L’s documentary The Francis Effect, Archbishop Chaput speaks about the changes that he sees Pope Francis initiating in his reform of the Church and reflects on the response of Catholics in a time when some are feeling unsettled.

Watch Episode 8 of Point of View: Interpreting the Francis Effect

Airs Sunday, February 22, 2015

8:30 pm ET / 5:30 pm PT

Only on Salt and Light Television.

Pope Francis’ Homily at Mass with College of Cardinals & Angelus Address


Pope Francis presided over Mass in St Peter’s Basilica on Sunday, to offer thanks to God together with the College of Cardinals, one day after bestowing the Red Hat on twenty new prelates from around the world. This is a very important homily which speaks not only to the specific occasion with the Cardinals, but also offers a profound insight into the mission and vocation of Pope Francis and his hopes for the entire Church. The Pope’s homily should be considered a very good prelude to and preparation for the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the family in October 2015. Below, please find the official English translation of the Holy Father’s homily.

“Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean”… Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out his hand and touched him, and said: “I do choose. Be made clean!” (Mk 1:40-41). The compassion of Jesus! That com-passion which made him draw near to every person in pain! Jesus does not hold back; instead, he gets involved in people’s pain and their need… for the simple reason that he knows and wants to show com-passion, because he has a heart unashamed to have “compassion”.

“Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed in the country; and people came to him from every quarter” (Mk 1:45). This means that Jesus not only healed the leper but also took upon himself the marginalization enjoined by the law of Moses (cf. Lev 13:1-2, 45-46). Jesus is unafraid to risk sharing in the suffering of others; he pays the price of it in full (cf. Is 53:4).

Compassion leads Jesus to concrete action: he reinstates the marginalized! These are the three key concepts that the Church proposes in today’s liturgy of the word: the compassion of Jesus in the face of marginalization and his desire to reinstate.

Marginalization: Moses, in his legislation regarding lepers, says that they are to be kept alone and apart from the community for the duration of their illness. He declares them: “unclean!” (cf. Lev 13:1-2, 45-46).

Imagine how much suffering and shame lepers must have felt: physically, socially, psychologically and spiritually! They are not only victims of disease, but they feel guilty about it, punished for their sins! Theirs is a living death; they are like someone whose father has spit in his face (cf. Num 12:14).

In addition, lepers inspire fear, contempt and loathing, and so they are abandoned by their families, shunned by other persons, cast out by society. Indeed, society rejects them and forces them to live apart from the healthy. It excludes them. So much so that if a healthy person approached a leper, he would be punished severely, and often be treated as a leper himself.

The purpose for this rule was “to safeguard the healthy”, “to protect the righteous”, and, in order to guard them from any risk, to eliminate “the peril” by treating the diseased person harshly. As the high priest Caiaphas decreed: “It is better to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed” (Jn 11:50).

Reinstatement: Jesus revolutionizes and upsets that fearful, narrow and prejudiced mentality. He does not abolish the law of Moses, but rather brings it to fulfillment (cf. Mt 5:17). He does so by stating, for example, that the law of retaliation is counterproductive, that God is not pleased by a Sabbath observance which demeans or condemns a man. He does so by refusing to condemn the sinful woman, but saves her from the blind zeal of those prepared to stone her ruthlessly in the belief that they were applying the law of Moses. Jesus also revolutionizes consciences in the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Mt 5), opening new horizons for humanity and fully revealing God’s “logic”. The logic of love, based not on fear but on freedom and charity, on healthy zeal and the saving will of God. For “God our Saviour desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:3-4). “I desire mercy and not sacrifice” (Mt 12:7; Hos 6:6).

Jesus, the new Moses, wanted to heal the leper. He wanted to touch him and restore him to the community without being “hemmed in” by prejudice, conformity to the prevailing mindset or worry about becoming infected. Jesus responds immediately to the leper’s plea, without waiting to study the situation and all its possible consequences! For Jesus, what matters above all is reaching out to save those far off, healing the wounds of the sick, restoring everyone to God’s family! And this is scandalous to some people!


Jesus is not afraid of this kind of scandal! He does not think of the closed-minded who are scandalized even by a work of healing, scandalized before any kind of openness, by any action outside of their mental and spiritual boxes, by any caress or sign of tenderness which does not fit into their usual thinking and their ritual purity. He wanted to reinstate the outcast, to save those outside the camp (cf. Jn 10).

There are two ways of thinking and of having faith: we can fear to lose the saved and we can want to save the lost. Even today it can happen that we stand at the crossroads of these two ways of thinking. The thinking of the doctors of the law, which would remove the danger by casting out the diseased person, and the thinking of God, who in his mercy embraces and accepts by reinstating him and turning evil into good, condemnation into salvation and exclusion into proclamation.

These two ways of thinking are present throughout the Church’s history: casting off and reinstating. Saint Paul, following the Lord’s command to bring the Gospel message to the ends of the earth (cf. Mt 28:19), caused scandal and met powerful resistance and great hostility, especially from those who demanded unconditional obedience to the Mosaic law, even on the part of converted pagans. Saint Peter, too, was bitterly criticized by the community when he entered the house of the pagan centurion Cornelius (cf. Acts 10).

The Church’s way, from the time of the Council of Jerusalem, has always always been the way of Jesus, the way of mercy and reinstatement. This does not mean underestimating the dangers of letting wolves into the fold, but 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. The way of the Church is not to condemn anyone for eternity; to pour out the balm of God’s mercy on all those who ask for it with a sincere heart. The way of the Church is precisely to leave her four walls behind and to go out in search of those who are distant, those on the “outskirts” of life. It is to adopt fully God’s own approach, to follow the Master who said: “Those who are well have no need of the physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call, not the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Lk 5:31-32).

In healing the leper, Jesus does not harm the healthy. Rather, he frees them from fear. He does not endanger them, but gives them a brother. He does not devalue the law but instead values those for whom God gave the law. Indeed, Jesus frees the healthy from the temptation of the “older brother” (cf. Lk 15:11-32), the burden of envy and the grumbling of the labourers who bore “the burden of the day and the heat” (cf. Mt 20:1-16).

In a word: charity cannot be neutral, indifferent, lukewarm or impartial! Charity is infectious, it excites, it risks and it engages! For true charity is always unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous! (cf. 1 Cor 13). Charity is creative in finding the right words to speak to all those considered incurable and hence untouchable. Contact is the true language of communication, the same endearing language which brought healing to the leper. How many healings can we perform if only we learn this language! The leper, once cured, became a messenger of God’s love. The Gospel tells us that “he went out and began to proclaim it freely and to spread the word” (cf. Mk 1:45).

Dear new Cardinals, this is the “logic”, the mind of Jesus, and this is the way of the Church. Not only to welcome and reinstate with evangelical courage all those who knock at our door, but to go out and to seek, fearlessly and without prejudice, those who are distant, freely sharing what we ourselves freely received. “Whoever says: ‘I abide in [Christ]’, ought to walk just as he walked” (1 Jn 2:6). Total openness to serving others is our hallmark, it alone is our title of honour!

In this Eucharist which finds us gathered around the altar of the Lord, let us implore the intercession of Mary, Mother of the Church, who herself experienced marginalization as a result of slander (cf. Jn 8:41) and exile (cf. Mt 2:13-23). May she obtain for us the grace to be God’s faithful servants. May she – our Mother – teach us to be unafraid of tenderly welcoming the outcast; to be unafraid of tenderness and compassion. May she clothe us in patience as we seek to accompany them on their journey, without seeking the benefits of worldly success. May she show us Jesus and help us to walk in his footsteps.

Dear brothers, as we look to Jesus and our Mother Mary, I urge you to serve the Church in such a way that Christians – edified by our witness – will not be tempted to turn to Jesus without turning to the outcast, to become a closed caste with nothing authentically ecclesial about it. I urge you to serve Jesus crucified in every person who is emarginated, for whatever reason; to see the Lord in every excluded person who is hungry, thirsty, naked; to see the Lord present even in those who have lost their faith, or turned away from the practice of their faith; to see the Lord who is imprisoned, sick, unemployed, persecuted; to see the Lord in the leper – whether in body or soul – who encounters discrimination! We will not find the Lord unless we truly accept the marginalized! May we always have before us the image of Saint Francis, who was unafraid to embrace the leper and to accept every kind of outcast. Truly the Gospel of the marginalized is where our credibility is found and revealed!


Pope Francis at Sunday Angelus: spread goodness, compassion

Pope Francis recited the Angelus on Sunday, with pilgrims and tourists gathered in St.

Peter’s Square. In remarks ahead of the prayer, the Holy Father offered a reflection on the Gospel reading of the day, in which St. Mark the Evangelist speaks of Christ’s battle against all manner of evil, especially in favor of those who are suffering in body and spirit, specifically telling of the Lord’s miraculous healing of a leper.

“The mercy of God overcomes all barriers,” said Pope Francis. “The hand of Jesus touched the leper,” he continued, explaining that Christ does not act from a safe distance, nor does He act by proxy, but is exposed directly to the contagion of our evil. “So,” the Holy Father went on to say, “our own evil becomes the place of contact: He, Jesus, takes our sick humanity from us and we take from Him His healing – His healthy humanity. This happens every time we receive a sacrament with faith: the Lord Jesus ‘touches’ us and gives us His grace. In this case we think especially the Sacrament of Reconciliation, to heal us from the leprosy of sin.”

Pope Francis concluded, saying that, if we would be imitators of Christ as St. Paul exhorts us to be in his 1st Letter to the Corinthians (cf. 1 Cor 11:1) before the poor or the sick, we should not be afraid to look the afflicted person in the eye, and be close to the suffering person with tenderness and compassion. “If evil is contagious,” he said, “so is good: therefore, we must allow good to abound in us, more and more; let us be infected by goodness, and let us spread the good contagion.”

After offering the traditional noontide Marian devotion, the Holy Father offered special greetings to all those, who in various parts of the world are in these days marking the lunar new year. “These festivities offer the happy occasion to rediscover and live intensely that fraternity, which is the precious bond of family life and the foundation of social life,” he said, adding an expression of the hope that this annual return to the roots of the person and of the family might help all peoples marking the lunar new year to build a society in which interpersonal relations are woven with respect, justice and charity.

Pope Francis to new Cardinals: presiding flows from charity


Below, please find the full English text of the Holy Father’s prepared remarks.

Dear Brother Cardinals,

The cardinalate is certainly an honour, but it is not honorific. This we already know from its name – “cardinal” – from the word “cardo”, a hinge. As such it is not a kind of accessory, a decoration, like an honorary title. Rather, it is a pivot, a point of support and movement essential for the life of the community. You are “hinges” and are “incardinated” in the Church of Rome, which “presides over the entire assembly of charity” (Lumen Gentium, 13; cf. IGN. ANT., Ad Rom., Prologue).

In the Church, all “presiding” flows from charity, must be exercised in charity, and is ordered towards charity. Here too the Church of Rome exercises an exemplary role. Just as she presides in charity, so too each particular Church is called, within its own sphere, to preside in charity.

For this reason, I believe that the “hymn to charity” in Saint Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians can be taken Dew John creationas a guiding theme for this celebration and for your ministry, especially for those of you who today enter the College of Cardinals. All of us, myself first and each of you with me, would do well to let ourselves be guided by the inspired words of the apostle Paul, especially in the passage where he lists the marks of charity. May our Mother Mary help us to listen. She gave the world Jesus, charity incarnate, who is “the more excellent Way” (cf. 1 Cor 12:31); may she help us to receive this Word and always to advance on this Way. May she assist us by her humility and maternal tenderness, because charity, as God’s gift, grows wherever humility and tenderness are found.

Saint Paul tells us that charity is, above all, “patient” and “kind”. The greater our responsibility in serving the Church, the more our hearts must expand according to the measure of the heart of Christ. “Patience” – “forbearance” – is in some sense synonymous with catholicity. It means being able to love without limits, but also to be faithful in particular situations and with practical gestures. It means loving what is great without neglecting what is small; loving the little things within the horizon of the great things, since “non coerceri a maximo, contineri tamen a minimo divinum est”. To know how to love through acts of kindness. “Kindness” – benevolence –means the firm and persevering intention to always will the good of others, even those unfriendly to us.

The Apostle goes on to say that charity “is not jealous or boastful, it is not puffed up with pride”. This is surely a miracle of love, since we humans – all of us, at every stage of our lives – are inclined to jealousy and pride, since our nature is wounded by sin. Nor are Church Francis Consistory ceremony 2015dignitaries immune from this temptation. But for this very reason, dear brothers, the divine power of love, which transforms hearts, can be all the more evident in us, so that it is no longer you who live, but rather Christ who lives in you. And Jesus is love to the fullest. Saint Paul then tells us that charity “is not arrogant or rude, it does not insist on its own way”. These two characteristics show that those who abide in charity are not self-centred. The self-centred inevitably become disrespectful; very often they do not even notice this, since “respect” is precisely the ability to acknowledge others, to acknowledge their dignity, their condition, their needs. The self-centred person inevitably seeks his own interests; he thinks this is normal, even necessary. Those “interests” can even be cloaked in noble appearances, but underlying them all is always “self-interest”. Charity, however, makes us draw back from the centre in order to set ourselves in the real centre, which is Christ alone. Then, and only then, can we be persons who are respectful and attentive to the good of others.

Charity, Saint Paul says, “is not irritable, it is not resentful”. Pastors close to their people have plenty of opportunities to be irritable, to feel anger. Perhaps we risk being all the more irritable in relationships with our confreres, since in effect we have less excuses. Even here, charity, and charity alone, frees us. It frees us from the risk of reacting impulsively, of saying or doing the wrong thing; above all it frees us from the mortal danger of pent-up anger, of that smouldering anger which makes us brood over wrongs we have received. No. This is unacceptable in a man of the Church. Even if a momentary outburst is forgivable, this is not the case with rancour. God save us from that!

Charity – Saint Paul adds – “does not rejoice at the wrong, but rejoices in the right”. Those BXVI Consistory 2015 2called to the service of governance in the Church need to have a strong sense of justice, so that any form of injustice becomes unacceptable, even those which might bring gain to himself or to the Church. At the same time, he must “rejoice in the right”. What a beautiful phrase! The man of God is someone captivated by truth, one who encounters it fully in the word and flesh of Jesus Christ, the inexhaustible source of our joy. May the people of God always see in us a firm condemnation of injustice and joyful service to the truth.

Finally, “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things”. Here, in four words, is a spiritual and pastoral programme of life. The love of Christ, poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, enables us to live like this, to be like this: as persons always ready to forgive; always ready to trust, because we are full of faith in God; always ready to inspire hope, because we ourselves are full of hope in God; persons ready to bear patiently every situation and each of our brothers and sisters, in union with Christ, who bore with love the burden of our sins. Dear brothers, this comes to us not from ourselves, but from God. God is love and he accomplishes all this in us if only we prove docile to the working of his Holy Spirit. This, then, is how we are to be: “incardinated” and docile. The more we are “incardinated” in the Church of Rome, the more we should become docile to the Spirit, so that charity can give form and meaning to all that we are and all that we do. Incardinated in the Church which presides in charity, docile to the Holy Spirit who pours into our hearts the love of God (cf. Rom 5:5). Amen.

When death is at the doorstep: martyrdom and euthanasia in the Church


It’s always difficult to say something about a subject that has not affected you in a particularly personal way. Nevertheless, death is a subject that is before us these days as a community of faith and as a society as a whole, and therefore warrants some reflection.

I’d like to comment on two recent events in particular. On February 3, Pope Francis declared Oscar Romero, the beloved Salvadoran archbishop, a martyr for the Catholic faith. A few days later on February 6, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously ruled that physician-assisted suicide is permissible, thus overturning the law prohibiting such deliberate medical action.

From within the Catholic Church came radically different responses to these two developments. To the news of Romero’s official martyrdom, Catholics everywhere rejoiced. The man who so many already considered a saint because of his heroic stance in defense of the dignity of the poor expressed in defiance of a tyrannical right-wing government, will be recognized in death for his Gospel witness.

In stark contrast, the news of the Supreme Court’s ruling sparked a unified outcry from the Catholic community in Canada and beyond in the form of a categorical defense of life, even of those suffering from “grievous and irremediable medical conditions.”

The people of our time may perceptively wonder how it is possible for such opposing responses to be reconciled in a single creed. Was not Archbishop Romero conscious of the likelihood of his death in speaking out against the Salvadorian government, and thus, in a way freely welcoming his own death? How is that different, they may ask, from a person who is suffering from an irremediable state of life, often in similar and sincere contemplation of their very existence, choosing to die and receiving medical assistance to do so?

It is a profound and difficult question, but not one that has escaped the mind and heart of the Catholic Church over the course of history. After all, martyrdom for the faith has been a reality from the beginning of the Christian movement. In Luke the Evangelist’s portrayal of the 1st century martyrdom of St. Stephen we find many similarities to the story of Romero twenty centuries later.

Of martyrdom the Church officially states that it is, “the supreme witness given to the truth of the faith: it means bearing witness even unto death.” (CCC, 2473)

But to look specifically at the question posed, namely what accounts for the difference between the Catholic responses to Romero’s death and the court decision to legalize euthanasia, we must attempt to explain the principle of paradox that has been infused into the Christian message from the very beginning.

In one sense, the person today who suffers from an irremediable state of life and wishes to end it is expressing a belief that the negative consequences of choosing to endure—prolonged suffering of all kinds or financial pressure on family members, for example—outweigh the prospect of living. It’s impossible to imagine the weight of such an examination of conscience, but people have done it and made the decision to die.

From the Catholic perspective, as witnessed to by the lives of the martyrs, the willingness to die comes as the result, not of a conviction that death is the better choice, but that rather that life is. And this is the paradox. The martyr is not a person who chooses death because it is an option, but one who will endure death for the belief that life is the only option. In Romero’s case, he chose life for the poor people of El Salvador so vehemently that he paid the price with his own life.

Now that the Supreme Court has made its decision, the Catholic Church must voice its opposition to the law in favor of the dignity of all life. At the same time, it is essential that the Church do everything in its power to accompany—as Pope Francis would say—those struggling with such decisions and avoid an attitude of judgment that would not do justice to the Church’s insistence on the dignity and respect for every human being. Whether they are struggling with the decision to end their life or struggling for survival from a tyrannical dictator, the dignity of each person and the respect for the conscience of each person must be the priority of Catholics if we are to be faithful to the Gospel.

CNS photo/Octavio Duran

The Chair Recognizes the Gentleman from Vatican City

usa congress2

For the first time in its 239-year history, a pope will address the United States Congress. The news broke at the end of last week that Pope Francis would address a joint sessions of America’s two legislative bodies, the House of Representatives and the Senate. This would make the pope only the third foreigner in history to be granted the privilege of such an address.

Joint Sessions of Congress are almost exclusively reserved for the President’s State of the Union Address, which should put into context the significance of this event. The only other non-Americans to have done what the pope will do, were French Ambassador Andre de Laboulaye who in 1934 spoke on the centennial of the death of the Marquis de Lafayette, as well as Cuban Ambassador Guillermo Belt who in 1948, commemorated 50 years of Cuban independence.

Like his speech to the European Parliament at the end of last year, Francis’ address to Congress exemplifies the renewed role for the papacy in the upper echelons of international affairs. Not even Saint John Paul II, who travelled to the United States seven times, was afforded such an opportunity, despite playing a critical role in the demise of communism. So then what does a pope say when addressing arguably the most powerful legislative body on the planet, especially if he stays true to form and does so with a nothing to lose attitude? What we have is the makings of a speech for the history books.

Speaking to America’s domestic or foreign policies, its military might or the impact of its economic choices, Francis has a wealth of material to work with. In a stark rebuke of the Obama Administration’s desired military intervention in Syria, which was backed by lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, Francis held a prayer service for peace in St. Peter’s Square. Whether or not the mainstream media chooses to credit His Holiness with helping prevent military intervention through the power of prayer, his call to action cannot be ignored. The drums of war were beating strongly, with most experts predicting imminent intervention. Yet a series of events including the pope’s call for prayer saw history take another course. There will be members of the president’s administration as well as those in congress who won’t soon forget that.

Much the same, Francis’ past critiques of capitalism are sure to be fresh in the minds of many when he speaks in the House of Representatives this September. There will be many watchers who will be keen to see just what elements of American economic system the pope speaks to, with more and more questions being asked about things like growing income inequality and the Federal Reserve System.

However there will be no topic more volatile than immigration. It has not only sharply divided lawmakers, but America as a whole. Some, including the US bishops, have argued for amnesty for illegal immigrants, while others have said that such a policy would only further encourage people to come and exploit a broken system. Let’s be clear, if Francis stands up in front of Representatives and Senators and calls for Amnesty, it will be nothing short of a Congressional earthquake. Being the first Latin American pope and given his past remarks on the topic, this isn’t out of the realm of possibility. But a fundamental question remains: is it the job of a Pontiff to so specifically weigh in on a domestic policy issue? Doing so might seem like the right thing to do to some, but given the weight of his office, it is likely to drive yet a greater wedge between two sides of a deeply divisive argument.

If one thing about the papal visit to DC is certain, it is that Pope Francis’ Address to the Joint Session of Congress is very likely to be the centerpiece of his entire US visit. Whether or not that is his what he or the Vatican want, the optics of alone of a pope standing at the speaker’s podium in the House of Representatives will be something for the history books.

“Pope Francis is great, but what do you really think?”


Photo: Three of the four participants on the closing panel of the 2015 De Mazenod Conference were Canadians.  From left to right: Fr. Thomas Rosica, Sebastian Gomes, Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller and Fr. Ronald Rolheiser discuss the Francis effect on the Catholic Church. (S+L: Feb. 1, 2015)

This past weekend I had the privilege of addressing the 2015 De Mazenod Conference, held at the Oblate Renewal Center, on the campus of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas.  It was a stimulating and spirit-filled event that brought members of the Missionary Oblate Partnership together from across the country to discuss Pope Francis and his visionary exhortation The Joy of the Gospel.

We began the conference with a screening of S+L’s documentary The Francis Effect, in which an entire chapter is dedicated to what we called “the blueprint,” that is, Francis’ apostolic exhortation.  The film received a very positive response from the group and it set the tone for our further reflections on Francis.

Over the course of the weekend a number of themes came up: Francis’ vision of the Church as a field hospital after battle; his impact on the recent Synod of Bishops on the family; questions about authentic joy and the value of doubts, as well as specific issues like the role of women in the Church and engagement with younger generations.

By the end of the weekend we still had many unanswered questions, of course.  And one in particular struck me and is worth further reflection.  It is the question of why most Catholics seem to respond positively to Pope Francis and why a smaller, though significant number is sincerely critical of some of the things he says and does.

The general response of the conference participants to the Pope was overwhelmingly positive.  It should be pointed out, too, that the conference was in no way made up of individuals who share one particular ideological position.  And so it was interesting to watch the particular discussions develop and almost inevitably turn to the question I just posed. photo2

The Archbishop of San Antonio is Gustavo García-Siller, who celebrated Mass with us and joined our panel discussion on the final day of the conference.  In his homily he took an earnest stand in defense of church unity—not unity among the Christian traditions, but specifically unity among Roman Catholics.  In his mind, the conversation about Pope Francis that is taking place everywhere in the Church these days cannot ignore the ensuing reactions that seem to expose a chasm between those who believe the Pope is doing exactly what we need today and those who—to put it delicately—do not.

We Catholics have a long and tumultuous history, where individuals have been excommunicated and even executed for their disobedience to the popes and their challenges to the Church’s teachings.  We do, after all, boldly claim a consistent belief through the epochs of history back to the Apostles who were the closest confidantes of Jesus.  No one should expect the historical journey of our community to be without some major scandals.

Yet we claim a consistent belief and a body of teachings.  And all of that weight of the apostolic tradition bears down on the shoulders of sincere believers and everyone feels the pressure of it when the topic of Pope Francis arises.  It matters little whether you are happy about his ministry or not, his two years in office have put the question of fidelity to our two-thousand-year-old tradition on the table.

But why?  There are a number of specific cases that we can look at to see the effects of this.  Notably among them was the Pope’s famous, “Who am I to judge?” comment on the plane back from Rio de Janeiro in 2013, and more recently his desire for an open and honest discussion of Catholic family life at the Synod of Bishops that, according to some, caused confusion and threatened what is believed to be unchangeable Church teaching on marriage.

Generally speaking, the divergent reactions among Catholics to these kinds of comments and gestures by the Pope hinge on a fixed understanding of the nature of the Church, and more specifically on the nature of reform in the Church.  Pope Francis is a reforming pope; there is no doubt about it.  For those who fear reform, therefore, the freewheeling pontificate of Francis must be challenging, if not unbearable.  Resistance should be expected.

There was an insightful book written in the late 90’s called, The Reform of the Papacy by the former Archbishop of San Francisco John Quinn.  Quinn traces the attitude of resistance to reform back to the Reformation of the 16th century.  The Protestant Reformers, he says, “used the word “reform” to include rejection of the papacy, rejection of the priesthood, the Mass, the intercession of Our Lady and the saints, monastic and religious life, and other things.” No wonder, he continues, that after the Reformation, “discomfort with use of the word “reform” and grim resistance to criticism developed within the Catholic Church.”

In his reflection on the beginnings of the Reformation, Chesterton noted that prior to it the differences of opinion between Catholics were always a matter of emphasis.  Some stressed “the idea of the impotence of man before God, the omniscience of God about the destiny of man, the need for holy fear and the humiliation of intellectual pride [which Chesterton associates with the thought of St. Augustine], more than the opposite and corresponding truths of free will or human dignity or good works [St. Thomas Aquinas].”  But, he continues, “a time was coming when emphasizing the one side was to mean flatly contradicting the other.”  He was referring, of course, to the official schism between the Protestant Reformers and the Catholic Church in the 16th century.

If we jump forward 500 years to the recent Synod of Bishops, for example, we find modern topics of dispute around the Church’s teaching on marriage and family life.  Unlike the Reformation period, today it is the Pope himself who is responsible for opening and encouraging the discussion.  It is the same with other comments he makes; the reactions, both positive (hopeful) and negative (fearful), are related to the degree to which one believes a particular change will come about.

Ironically, the source of fear among Catholics who want no change in doctrine is simultaneously the source of frustration among Catholics who hope for it.  The truth is that Pope Francis has neither obliged the latter group, nor conceded to the former.  In other words, he hasn’t changed a single doctrine or teaching of the Catholic Church.  Perspective is of the essence today.  If you read the Pope’s final address to the Synod of Bishops last October, you will see clearly that he does not believe in a Church where emphasizing the one side means flatly contradicting the other.

Perhaps there is something to be said about our differences of opinions in terms of emphasis.  Yes, the Pope is emphasizing mercy and forgiveness before the rules and regulations.  Yes, he is emphasizing mission and evangelization before catechesis.  Yes, he is emphasizing the Church’s pastoral outreach above concern for its own institutional security.  But he is not, in any way, rejecting, dismissing or contradicting those teachings of the Church that are essential to the Christian Faith.

More than anything else, the memory of the Reformation should provoke Catholics to a deeper and humbler dialogue with each other, and an awareness of the beauty and fragility of our communion.  The words of Vatican II still ring true:

It happens rather frequently, and legitimately so, that with equal sincerity some of the faithful will disagree with others on a given matter. Even against the intentions of their proponents, however, solutions proposed on one side or another may be easily confused by many people with the Gospel message. Hence it is necessary for people to remember that no one is allowed in the aforementioned situations to appropriate the Church’s authority for his opinion. (Gaudium et Spes, 43)

Out On the Road Again – Francis to Bosnia


During his Angelus Address on Sunday, Pope Francis announced that he would be making a one day trip to Bosnia-Herzegovina this coming June. It appears the Holy Father has an appetite for difficult cases, as the former Yugoslav republic is no walk in the park.

Most will recall the Bosnian War that broke out following the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. The collapse of that country resulted in the establishment of six independent nations, the most complicated of which was Bosnia and Herzegovina. The governance and structure of that particular country is founded in the 1995 Dayton Agreement. Signed to end the bloody, brutal war that tore that part of the Balkans apart, its legacy lives until today. It detailed a delicate and complicated power sharing arrangement between the three ethnic groups living in the country: Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks.

Despite the peace, there are still deep underlying tensions that exist between the groups, who are not only divided ethnically, but along religious lines as well. Serb Orthodox, Croat Catholics and Bosniak Muslims have lived side-by-side for centuries, however it is a difficult history. There is perhaps no nation in Europe where the indigenous population is so heavily divided along cultural and religious lines as Bosnia.

It appears the challenges that permeate this region have caught the attention of the pope, as his first European trip outside of Italy was to another Balkan nation in Albania. That nation faces its own set of challenges, however what they unmistakably have in common with Bosnia, is finding themselves among the very poorest nations on the continent.

Francis’ desire for closeness with the poor will by no means be the only reason for his trip. Relative to the most impoverished nations in the world, Bosnia is reasonably well to do. What is key in Bosnia is mending the divisions that exist between its three predominant ethnic groups. We should expect the pope to stress the importance of not letting religion be a dividing factor in society. Two of the three concerned groups are Christian, and all three are linked by a common and closely connected Slavic culture and language.

This will be Francis’ first venture into the Slavic world, a world whose politics are deeply complicated and often have their foundations in centuries of history. With perhaps the exception of the very active conflict in Eastern Ukraine, the Balkans is the region of Europe most in need of healing. The Pontiff’s recent diplomatic efforts in Cuba, his trip to Sri Lanka and last year’s visit to the Holy Land show his willingness to unite. It would come as no surprise if the pope includes St. Jude, the patron of hopeless causes amongst the saints he prays to for intercession.

Bosnia has lay silent for many years, but by no means has the powder keg of Europe been disarmed. The potential impact of the Holy Father’s visit given his desire for reconciliation could be game changing for the region. However only time will tell whether or not the peaceful revolution of the Roman Pontiff will find it’s way into the streets of Bosnia and the hearts of the people who live there.