WATCH LIVE   ·   App   ·   English  ·  Français   ·   中文  

Now or never: urgency needed in run-up to Synod 2015


When in October 2013 the Vatican announced the first ever two-stage Synod of Bishops, many in the Catholic Church were hopeful about the possibilities of an in-depth discussion and consultation. After all, a year in between the two Synods is a lot of time, right?

Not necessarily. The Vatican didn’t publish the Lineamenta—a discussion guideline consisting of the final document of the October Synod and a series of questions looking at particular family issues—until over one month after the Synod, on December 9th, 2014. At that time, the Vatican also requested that responses from the Bishops’ conferences on behalf of the local churches be submitted to Rome no later than April 15th.

In Toronto, where Salt and Light is headquartered, Cardinal-Archbishop Thomas Collins invited “a concise response” to the Lineamenta from concerned Catholics with a submission deadline of February 16th. Time is needed, obviously, to organize the responses and send them to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) where the Conference will then need time to organize the responses from around the country.

Though the Archdiocese of Toronto is unique in terms of its size and complexity, we can assume that other dioceses find themselves in the same boat. Suffice it to say, the preparing of the Lineamenta, its wide dissemination and the three-tier organization of material from the local level up to the Vatican quickly turn “one year to mature, with true spiritual discernment,” into only a few weeks of actual discussion and consultation of Catholics in the local churches.

In a sense, no one can be blamed for this. The genuine desire of Pope Francis for real consultation involving the whole Church has been deflated by the reality of a complex bureaucratic system that is characteristic of any global institution. But perhaps a greater focus could be on the discussion and consultation rather than the organization of the material.

There are other challenges, including creating for people a “protected space so that the Holy Spirit may speak,” as the Pope likes to say about the Synods. In other words, conducting an effective and in-depth discussion/reflection even at the parish level is no walk in the park—many parishes have never done that. Considering these limitations, it would be easier to do nothing. But that cannot be the response of Catholics at an historic moment like this. In his landmark document on evangelization today, Pope Francis wrote:

“Pastoral ministry in a missionary key seeks to abandon the complacent attitude that says: “We have always done it this way.” I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization in their respective communities.” (Evangelii Gaudium, 33)

There are two key points to be made here: first, the emphasis on thinking outside of the box. It’s clear; an attitude towards the Synod and this consultation of the People of God which reflects the status quo at the parish or diocesan level is not acceptable. Second, the link between this consultation and evangelization. The Pope is speaking about “pastoral ministry in a missionary key,” which we may not naturally attribute to a Synod consultation. But a process like this is as much about evangelizing ourselves—changing the way we think about being church—as it is about sharing our experiences of family life today.

All of this to speak a word of encouragement to Catholics participating in—or thinking of starting—a conversation around the Synod document at their parish, school or other community. The challenges are many and the timeline is short, but this is also a learning process for every community; “synod” literally means “journeying together.” “Even a bad shot is dignified when one accepts a duel,” as Chesterton wrote. Rest assured, if you consider the direction in which the Church is going, it won’t be the last consultation.  When the reality suggests we’re nowhere close to perfecting the process, practice is exactly what is needed.  Even if deadlines are missed.

The Pope has said clearly that there are only three authoritative documents to consider during this church-wide consultation: The Lineamenta, the Message to the People of God and the Pope’s final address to the Synod Fathers on October 18th. For those who wish to go a bit deeper, S+L provides you with a complete list of related documents on the Synod of Bishops on the Family:

Important texts for discussion/reflection on the Synod of Bishops on the Family


1) Lineamenta (Dec. 2014)

2) Message to the People of God (Oct. 2014)

3) Pope Francis’ final address to the Synod (Oct. 2014)


4) Pope Francis’ homily during the concluding Mass of the Synod (Oct. 2014)

5) Midterm report (Oct. 2014)

6) Pope Francis’ opening address to the Synod (Oct. 2014)

7) Pope Francis’ homily during the opening Mass of the Synod (Oct. 2014)

8) Pope Francis’ homily during the prayer vigil for the Synod (Oct. 2014)

9) Instrumentum Laboris for the Extraordinary Synod (June 2014)

10) Cardinal Kasper addresses consistory (Feb. 2014)

11) Pope Francis’ letter to families (Feb. 2014)

“The Francis Effect” Documentary to air on ABC Television Affiliates in the USA


Through a special partnership with the Interfaith Broadcasting Commission and ABC Television Network in the USA, Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation is pleased to announce that their 2014 documentary “The Francis Effect” will begin airing on close to 250 ABC affiliates beginning on February 8, 2015.  A special 58-minute version of the original 75-minute production was edited for television broadcast on ABC Television Network.

The documentary will have a broadcast window of six weeks. Those interested in watching the documentary should consult their local TV guides to determine broadcast times in your area during the broadcast period. The documentary is very timely as it coincides with the second anniversary of the historic transition in the papacy of 2013 that culminated in the election of Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Bishop of Rome on March 13, 2013.

Brief Synopsis of Documentary

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? Is this all the work of a public relations company or clever media strategists hired by the Vatican and frantically working behind the scenes to re-brand its image? Or is there some- thing else at work?

On March 13, 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio received the call in the Sistine Chapel 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 major letter, The Joy of the Gospel. (Evangelii Gaudium, 88)

It wasn’t long into the pontificate of Pope Francis before we knew this one was going to be different. The spontaneity of his words and actions and his down-to-earth style generated unprecedented and overwhelmingly positive global attention.

The Francis Effect takes a critical and in-depth look at how the Catholic Church is rapidly changing under the leadership and vision of Pope Francis. The film begins by situating the pontificate of Francis in a wider historical context, referencing an essay written by the German theologian Fr. Karl Rahner, SJ—one of the most influential Catholic thinkers of the 20th century. Rahner proposed that the Second Vatican Council of the 1960’s was the beginning of a fundamental transformation of the Catholic Church into a fully world religion. The person and ministry of Pope Francis are seen as part of the continuing realization of that transformation.

The body of the film is divided into six chapters representing the major themes of Francis’ first year as pope. By analyzing these themes both individually and collectively, a more complete picture of the Francis effect emerges, namely, the realization of the Second Vatican Council and a concrete expression of how to preach the Gospel in today’s world. The film concludes by raising the essential question: what happens now? Will those who are inspired by Pope Francis transform their communities, and society as a whole, by living and sharing the Gospel of mercy and love?

Pope Francis has not come to overturn doctrine and age-old beliefs that are the bedrock of our Catholic Christian faith! He wants to make those teachings understandable and part of our lives. He opens doors to a faith that offers attractive, compelling answers to questions deep in the hearts of all men and women. There is something incredibly appealing here not only to Catholics, but to Christians and to all men and women of good will. Is it any wonder then, why the world is listening to him?

Francis, Bishop of Rome, reminds us each day of the words of his predecessor Saint John XXIII over 50 years ago at the beginning of the Second Vatican Council: “The substance of the ancient doctrine of the Deposit of Faith is one thing, and the way it is presented is another.” With Pope Francis, it’s the same story we have heard for ages, but the packaging has indeed changed!

For those in the USA, Bermuda, Puerto Rico, St. Croix and Guam, please check your TV guides to find the broadcast times of this excellent documentary on Pope Francis.  For more information, call 1-888-302-7181.

The Francis Effect – Promo 2 from saltandlighttv on Vimeo.

Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for Lent 2015 “Make your hearts firm” (James 5:8)


Please find below the full text of Pope Francis’ Lenten Message:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Lent is a time of renewal for the whole Church, for each communities and every believer. Above all it is a “time of grace” (2 Cor 6:2). God does not ask of us anything that he himself has not first given us. “We love because he first has loved us” (1 Jn 4:19). He is not aloof from us. Each one of us has a place in his heart. He knows us by name, he cares for us and he seeks us out whenever we turn away from him. He is interested in each of us; his love does not allow him to be indifferent to what happens to us. Usually, when we are healthy and comfortable, we forget about others (something God the Father never does): we are unconcerned with their problems, their sufferings and the injustices they endure…Our heart grows cold. As long as I am relatively healthy and comfortable, I don’t think about those less well off. Today, this selfish attitude of indifference has taken on global proportions, to the extent that we can speak of a globalization of indifference. It is a problem which we, as Christians, need to confront.

When the people of God are converted to his love, they find answers to the questions that history continually raises. One of the most urgent challenges which I would like to address in this Message is precisely the globalization of indifference. Indifference to our neighbour and to God also represents a real temptation for us Christians. Each year during Lent we need to hear once more the voice of the prophets who cry out and trouble our conscience. God is not indifferent to our world; he so loves it that he gave his Son for our salvation. In the Incarnation, in the earthly life, death, and resurrection of the Son of God, the gate between God and man, between heaven and earth, opens once for all. The Church is like the hand holding open this gate, thanks to her proclamation of God’s word, her celebration of the sacraments and her witness of the faith which works through love (cf. Gal5:6). But the world tends to withdraw into itself and shut that door through which God comes into the world and the world comes to him. Hence the hand, which is the Church, must never be surprised if it is rejected, crushed and wounded. God’s people, then, need this interior renewal, lest we become indifferent and withdraw into ourselves. To further this renewal, I would like to propose for our reflection three biblical texts.

  1. “If one member suffers, all suffer together” (1 Cor 12:26)– The Church

The love of God breaks through that fatal withdrawal into ourselves which is indifference. The Church offers us this love of God by her teaching and especially by her witness. But we can only bear witness to what we ourselves have experienced. Christians are those who let God clothe them with goodness and mercy, with Christ, so as to become, like Christ, servants of God and others. This is clearly seen in the liturgy of Holy Thursday, with its rite of the washing of feet. Peter did not want Jesus to wash his feet, but he came to realize that Jesus does not wish to be just an example of how we should wash one another’s feet. Only those who have first allowed Jesus to wash their own feet can then offer this service to others. Only they have “a part” with him (Jn 13:8) and thus can serve others. Lent is a favourable time for letting Christ serve us so that we in turn may become more like him. This happens whenever we hear the word of God and receive the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. There we become what we receive: the Body of Christ. In this body there is no room for the indifference which so often seems to possess our hearts. For whoever is of Christ, belongs to one body, and in him we cannot be indifferent to one another. “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honoured, all the parts share its joy” (1Cor 12:26). The Church is the communio sanctorum not only because of her saints, but also because she is a communion in holy things: the love of God revealed to us in Christ and all his gifts. Among these gifts there is also the response of those who let themselves be touched by this love. In this communion of saints, in this sharing in holy things, no one possesses anything alone, but shares everything with others. And since we are united in God, we can do something for those who are far distant, those whom we could never reach on our own, because with them and for them, we ask God that all of us may be open to his plan of salvation.

  1. “Where is your brother?” (Gen 4:9)– Parishes and Communities

All that we have been saying about the universal Church must now be applied to the life of our parishes and communities. Do these ecclesial structures enable us to experience being part of one body? A body which receives and shares what God wishes to give? A body which acknowledges and cares for its weakest, poorest and most insignificant members? Or do we take refuge in a universal love that would embrace the whole world, while failing to see the Lazarus sitting before our closed doors (Lk 16:19-31)? In order to receive what God gives us and to make it bear abundant fruit, we need to press beyond the boundaries of the visible Church in two ways. In the first place, by uniting ourselves in prayer with the Church in heaven. The prayers of the Church on earth establish a communion of mutual service and goodness which reaches up into the sight of God. Together with the saints who have found their fulfilment in God, we form part of that communion in which indifference is conquered by love. The Church in heaven is not triumphant because she has turned her back on the sufferings of the world and rejoices in splendid isolation. Rather, the saints already joyfully contemplate the fact that, through Jesus death and resurrection, they have triumphed once and for all over indifference, hardness of heart and hatred. Until this victory of love penetrates the whole world, the saints continue to accompany us on our pilgrim way. Saint Therese of Lisieux, a Doctor of the Church, expressed her conviction that the joy in heaven for the victory of crucified love remains incomplete as long as there is still a single man or woman on earth who suffers and cries out in pain: “I trust fully that I shall not remain idle in heaven; my desire is to continue to work for the Church and for souls” (Letter 254, July 14, 1897). We share in the merits and joy of the saints, even as they share in our struggles and our longing for peace and reconciliation. Their joy in the victory of the Risen Christ gives us strength as we strive to overcome our indifference and hardness of heart.

In the second place, every Christian community is called to go out of itself and to be engaged in the life of the greater society of which it is a part, especially with the poor and those who are far away. The Church is missionary by her very nature; she is not self-enclosed but sent out to every nation and people. Her mission is to bear patient witness to the One who desires to draw all creation and every man and woman to the Father. Her mission is to bring to all a love which cannot remain silent. The Church follows Jesus Christ along the paths that lead to every man and woman, to the very ends of the earth (cf. Acts 1:8). In each of our neighbours, then, we must see a brother or sister for whom Christ died and rose again. What we ourselves have received, we have received for them as well. Similarly, all that our brothers and sisters possess is a gift for the Church and for all humanity. Dear brothers and sisters, 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!

  1. “Make your hearts firm!” (James 5:8) – Individual Christians

As individuals too, we are tempted by indifference. Flooded with news reports and troubling images of human suffering, we often feel our complete inability to help. What can we do to avoid being caught up in this spiral of distress and powerlessness? First, we can pray in communion with the Church on earth and in heaven. Let us not underestimate the power of so many voices united in prayer! The 24 Hours for the Lord initiative, which I hope will be observed on 13-14 March throughout the Church, also at the diocesan level, is meant to be a sign of this need for prayer. Second, we can help by acts of charity, reaching out to both those near and far through the Church’s many charitable organizations. Lent is a favourable time for showing this concern for others by small yet concrete signs of our belonging to the one human family. Third, the suffering of others is a call to conversion, since their need reminds me of the uncertainty of my own life and my dependence on God and my brothers and sisters. If we humbly implore God’s grace and accept our own limitations, we will trust in the infinite possibilities which God’s love holds out to us. We will also be able to resist the diabolical temptation of thinking that by our own efforts we can save the world and ourselves.

As a way of overcoming indifference and our pretensions to self-sufficiency, I would invite everyone to live this Lent as an opportunity for engaging in what Benedict XVI called a formation of the heart (cf. Deus Caritas  Est, 31). A merciful heart does not mean a weak heart. Anyone who wishes to be merciful must have a strong and steadfast heart, closed to the tempter but open to God. A heart which lets itself be pierced by the Spirit so as to bring love along the roads that lead to our brothers and sisters. And, ultimately, a poor heart, one which realizes its own poverty and gives itself freely for others. During this Lent, then, brothers and sisters, let us all ask the Lord: “Fac cor nostrum secundum cor tuum”: Make our hearts like yours (Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus). In this way we will receive a heart which is firm and merciful, attentive and generous, a heart which is not closed, indifferent or prey to the globalization of indifference. It is my prayerful hope that this Lent will prove spiritually fruitful for each believer and every ecclesial community. I ask all of you to pray for me. May the Lord bless you and Our Lady keep you.


(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis Surpassing Steve McQueen in Pop Culture Coolness



Noel-BlogWelcome to S+L’s Weekly News Round-Up. As the Director of Marketing and Communications here at S+L, many interesting Catholic news stories and articles come across my desk on a daily basis. Some of them we’ll cover on our different television programs and others I’d like to share with you on this blog.

This blog column is where I’ll point out some of the more interesting news pieces that I’ve come across over the past week. Enjoy!

Steve McQueenSteve-McQueen has always been for me the quintessential definition of the uber-cool dude, never breaking a sweat, never a flustered moment even in the most difficult situations. Lately, however, I’m starting to see that even the late great McQueen can’t hold a candle to the cool persona of Papa Francesco. And I’m not the only one starting to think so! Check out how Pope Francis smoothly handles these tough moments with genuine humor, never missing a beat or ever losing his cool! This is from ABS-CBN news. – I doubt that even McQueen could be that cool.

Now here’s an interesting video. St. Valentine’s day is just around the corner and, leading up to this special day focused on love, you’ll see many young men try to woo and court the hearts of their loved ones in all kinds of crazy and ridiculous ways . But have you seen it done like this before – in the way of a Catholic pick-up lines song? Really? Seriously? ‘How utterly cheesy!’ so I thought. But listen to the lyrics. It’s darn funny and now I’m wondering, “why didn’t I think of that?!!”

For those of you who are on Facebook, I’m sure that you’ve noticed the endless array of quizzes that populate your news feed. I don’t normally pay any attention to them, but I came across this one that piqued my interest – Online quiz of the Virgin Mary. I thought I could ace this one easily, (you know, since I work for a Catholic media organization and all…) But in the end, I’m embarrassed to say that I only scored a 57% – Can you do better?

I’m sure by now you’ve heard of the term “Flash Mob.” If not, it’s basically a large impromptu public gathering of people, usually organized through text messaging or online social networks. (See here for an example.) But have you heard of the term of MASS Mob? Very sadly, many churches in New York are slated to close due to dwindling attendance and finances. Could a series of “Mass Mobs” save them? Check this interesting read posted by the Crux.

In light of Pope Francis’s recent visit to the Philippines there’s a lot of speculation that the Pope’s visit could potentially boost Cardinal Tagle’s chances as the first Asian pontiff. Many parallels are being recognized between the Filipino Cardinal and Pope Francis. The question is, is all this speculation based on fact or just wishful thinking by the Filipino nation? Read about it here. And yet another article on the same topic!

Incidentally, check out the interview we did with him on our show Witness:

Finally, Super Bowl XLIX is just four days away. Personally, I don’t care much for football but here is a interesting article on the sport that does interest me. Apparently, God has a strong hand in determining the winner and 1 in 4 Americans believe that the hand of God will be seen before the final whistle blows. So I guess, (if I was American), God, indeed, has much to do with football devotion after all!– Interesting read – Now if only the half-time shows could be more Christian..Or do the Super Bowl organizers think that God is taking a washroom break during the half-time shows?… Hmmm.

That’s it for me folks. I’d love to hear you thoughts and comments on these stories. If you have any interesting stories yourself, please feel free to send them to me!

I hope you enjoy these little stories. I certainly have. Till next week!

– Noel

Papal Politics and the Concept of Dialogue


Over the weekend, Pope Francis addressed the Pontifical Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies. Speaking on the occasion of its 50th anniversary, the Holy Father focused on the concept of dialogue, lauding the academy for their work in furthering Christian-Islamic relations. He told them “the most effective antidote against all forms of violence is education towards the discovery and acceptance of differences.” In other words, dialogue.

Dialogue has been at the heart of so much of what Pope Francis has done over the course of his Pontificate. He’s recently demonstrated through brokering the thaw in Cuban-American relations, that it is far better for opposing sides of a conflict to talk than sabre-rattle. This is a lesson that politicians, nation states and the diplomatic community as a whole needs to come to terms with.

The reality is that in today’s world, nations are far too eager to isolate and cut-off other countries. Whether it is a refusal to engage in diplomatic relations, or the economic sanctioning of a nation, the only people who really end up suffering are average citizens. Depending on the players involved, the danger that can manifest itself from not talking can lead to terrifying outcomes.

After half a century of isolation, the United States was not able to oust the Castro brothers from power. It is a policy that was abandoned in the name of trying to find common ground, to shift “towards the discovery and acceptance of differences,” like Pope Francis said this weekend. This isn’t to say one compromises their principals, in fact the Holy Father cautioned against just that: “It would end up becoming ‘a way of deceiving others and denying them the good which we have been given to share generously with others.”

Much like the Peace of Westphalia which ended the destructive Thirty Years War in 1648, it is far better to peaceful disagree on matters of politics or faith and coexist, than to be in a constant state of active conflict, or worse killing one another.

Church-Chinese relations are arguably better today than they have been since the country’s communist revolution over half-a-century ago. Pope Francis has repeatedly expressed a desire to engage with China as soon as tomorrow, however he said the start of establishing that contact is a respectful attitude, something he says exists today. While the Holy See and the Chinese government still stand diametrically opposed to one another on a whole host of issues, dialogue, even little incremental steps, is far better than putting up an iron curtain and grabbing a pair of ear plugs.

Whether history will ultimately credit the efforts of the Holy See for a shift in the way early 21st century international relations operate, it is simply too early to tell. However the diplomatic tone and the outreach coming from Vatican City points to a Church that is prepared to engage with and talk to the world.

Pope Francis’ Homily – Solemnity of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle


Conclusion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
January 25, 2015

At 5:30 this evening (Rome time) in the Basilica of St. Paul outside the walls, Pope Francis presided at the celebration of Second Vespers for the Solemnity of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle. This ceremony formally concludes the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity which had as its theme this year: “Give me some water to drink” (John 4:7), taken from John’s story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman. Many representatives of other Christian Churches and Ecclesial Communities present in Rome took part in this ceremony. At the end of the Vespers and before the final blessings, Cardinal Kurth Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity greeted the Holy Father.

Here below is the Vatican translation of the Pope’s homily which was delivered in Italian.

On his way from Judea to Galilee, Jesus passes through Samaria. He has no problem dealing with Samaritans, who were considered by the Jews to be heretics, schismatics, separated. His attitude tells us that encounter with those who are different from ourselves can make us grow.

Weary from his journey, Jesus does not hesitate to ask the Samaritan woman for something to drink.  His thirst, however, is much more than physical: it is also a thirst for encounter, a desire to enter into dialogue with that woman and to invite her to make a journey of interior conversion. Jesus is patient, respectful of the person before him, and gradually reveals himself to her. His example encourages us to seek a serene encounter with others. To understand one another, and to grow in charity and truth, we need to pause, to accept and listen to one another. In this way, we already begin to experience unity.

The woman of Sychar asks Jesus about the place where God is truly worshiped. Jesus does not side with the mountain or the temple, but goes to the heart of the matter, breaking down every wall of division.  He speaks instead of the meaning of true worship: “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:24). So many past controversies between Christians can be overcome when we put aside all polemical or apologetic approaches, and seek instead to grasp more fully what unites us, namely, our call to share in the mystery of the Father’s love revealed to us by the Son through the Holy Spirit. Christian unity will not be the fruit of subtle theoretical discussions in which each party tries to convince the other of the soundness of their opinions. We need to realize that, to plumb the depths of the mystery of God, we need one another, we need to encounter one another and to challenge one another under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who harmonizes diversities and overcomes conflicts.

Gradually the Samaritan woman comes to realize that the one who has asked her for a drink is able to slake her own thirst. Jesus in effect tells her that he is the source of living water which can satisfy her thirst for ever (cf. Jn 4:13-14). Our human existence is marked by boundless aspirations: we seek truth, we thirst for love, justice and freedom.  These desires can only be partially satisfied, for from the depths of our being we are prompted to seek “something more”, something capable of fully quenching our thirst. The response to these aspirations is given by God in Jesus Christ, in his paschal mystery. From the pierced side of Jesus there flowed blood and water (cf. Jn 19:34). He is the brimming fount of the water of the Holy Spirit, “the love of God poured into our hearts (Rom 5:5) on the day of our baptism. By the working of the Holy Spirit, we have become one in Christ, sons in the Son, true worshipers of the Father.  This mystery of love is the deepest ground of the unity which binds all Christians and is much greater than their historical divisions. To the extent that we humbly advance towards the Lord, then, we also draw nearer to one another.

Samaritan woman 2

Her encounter with Jesus made the Samaritan women a missionary.  Having received a greater and more important gift than mere water from a well, she leaves her jar behind (cf. Jn 4:28) and runs back to tell her towns people that she has met the Christ (cf. Jn 4:29).  Her encounter with Jesus restored meaning and joy to her life, and she felt the desire to share this with others. Today there are so many men and women around us who are weary and thirsting, and who ask us Christians to give them something to drink.  It is a request which we cannot evade.

In the call to be evangelizers, all the Churches and Ecclesial Communities discover a privileged setting for closer cooperation. For this to be effective, we need to stop being self-enclosed, exclusive, and bent on imposing a uniformity based on merely human calculations (cf.Evangelii Gaudium, 131). Our shared commitment to proclaiming the Gospel enables us to overcome proselytism and competition in all their forms. All of us are at the service of the one Gospel!

In this joyful conviction, I offer a cordial and fraternal greeting to His Eminence Metropolitan Gennadios, the representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch, to His Grace David Moxon, the personal representative in Rome of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and to all the representatives of the various Churches and Ecclesial Communions gathered here to celebrate the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul. I am also pleased to greet the members of the Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches, and I offer them my best wishes for the fruitfulness of the plenary session to be held in these coming days. I also greet the students from the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey, and the young recipients of study grants from by the Committee for Cultural Collaboration with the Orthodox Churches, centred in the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

Samaritan3Also present today are men and women religious from various Churches and Ecclesial Communities who have taken part in an ecumenical meeting organized by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and for Societies of Apostolic Life, in conjunction with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, to mark the Year for Consecrated Life. Religious life, as prophetic sign of the world to come, is called to offer in our time a witness to that communion in Christ which transcends all differences and finds expression in concrete gestures of acceptance and dialogue. The pursuit of Christian unity cannot be the sole prerogative of individuals or religious communities particularly concerned with this issue.  A shared knowledge of the different traditions of consecrated life, and a fruitful exchange of experiences, can prove beneficial for the vitality of all forms of religious life in the different Churches and Ecclesial Communities.

Dear brothers and sisters, today all of us who thirst for peace and fraternity trustingly implore from our heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ the one Priest, and through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Apostle Paul and all the saints, the gift of full communion between all Christians, so that “the sacred mystery of the unity of the Church” (Unitatis Redintegratio, 2) may shine forth as the sign and instrument of reconciliation for the whole world.

Communicating the Family: A Privileged Place of Encounter with the Gift of Love

Pope Family

Read the message of His Holiness Pope Francis from Pontifical Council for Social Communications on the 49th World Communications Day: the importance of the family as ‘environment in which we learn to communicate’.

Pontifical Council for Social Communications 
49th World Communications Day 2015
Message of His Holiness Pope Francis

The family is a subject of profound reflection by the Church and of a process involving two Synods: the recent extraordinary assembly and the ordinary assembly scheduled for next October.  So I thought it appropriate that the theme for the next World Communications Day should have the family as its point of reference.  After all, it is in the context of the family that we first learn how to communicate.  Focusing on this context can help to make our communication more authentic and humane, while helping us to view the family in a new perspective.

We can draw inspiration from the Gospel passage which relates the visit of Mary to Elizabeth (Lk 1:39-56).  “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb’.” (vv. 41-42)

This episode first shows us how communication is a dialogue intertwined with the language of the body.  The first response to Mary’s greeting is given by the child, who leaps for joy in the womb of Elizabeth.  Joy at meeting others, which is something we learn even before being born, is, in one sense, the archetype and symbol of every other form of communication.  The womb which hosts us is the first “school” of communication, a place of listening and physical contact where we begin to familiarize ourselves with the outside world within a protected environment, with the reassuring sound of the mother’s heartbeat.  This encounter between two persons, so intimately related while still distinct from each other, an encounter so full of promise, is our first experience of communication.  It is an experience which we all share, since each of us was born of a mother.

Even after we have come into the world, in some sense we are still in a “womb”, which is the family.  A womb made up of various interrelated persons: the family is “where we learn to live with others despite our differences” (Evangelii Gaudium, 66).  Notwithstanding the differences of gender and age between them, family members accept one another because there is a bond between them.  The wider the range of these relationships and the greater the differences of age, the richer will be our living environment.  It is this bond which is at the root of language, which in turn strengthens the bond.  We do not create our language; we can use it because we have received it.  It is in the family that we learn to speak our “mother tongue”, the language of those who have gone before us. (cf. 2 Macc 7:25,27).  In the family we realize that others have preceded us, they made it possible for us to exist and in our turn to generate life and to do something good and beautiful.  We can give because we have received.  This virtuous circle is at the heart of the family’s ability to communicate among its members and with others.  More generally, it is the model for all communication.

The experience of this relationship which “precedes” us enables the family to become the setting in which the most basic form of communication, which is prayer, is handed down.  When parents put their newborn children to sleep, they frequently entrust them to God, asking that he watch over them.  When the children are a little older, parents help them to recite some simple prayers, thinking with affection of other people, such as grandparents, relatives, the sick and suffering, and all those in need of God’s help.  It was in our families that the majority of us learned the religious dimension of communication, which in the case of Christianity is permeated with love, the love that God bestows upon us and which we then offer to others.

In the family, we leaelizabethrn to embrace and support one another, to discern the meaning of facial expressions and moments of silence, to laugh and cry together with people who did not choose one other yet are so important to each other.  This greatly helps us to understand the meaning of communication as recognizing and creating closeness.  When we lessen distances by growing closer and accepting one another, we experience gratitude and joy.  Mary’s greeting and the stirring of her child are a blessing for Elizabeth; they are followed by the beautiful canticle of the Magnificat, in which Mary praises God’s loving plan for her and for her people.  A “yes” spoken with faith can have effects that go well beyond ourselves and our place in the world.  To “visit” is to open doors, not remaining closed in our little world, but rather going out to others.  So too the family comes alive as it reaches beyond itself; families who do so communicate their message of life and communion, giving comfort and hope to more fragile families, and thus build up the Church herself, which is the family of families.

More than anywhere else, the family is where we daily experience our own limits and those of others, the problems great and small entailed in living peacefully with others.  A perfect family does not exist.  We should not be fearful of imperfections, weakness or even conflict, but rather learn how to deal with them constructively.  The family, where we keep loving one another despite our limits and sins, thus becomes a school of forgiveness.  Forgiveness is itself a process of communication.  When contrition is expressed and accepted, it becomes possible to restore and rebuild the communication which broke down.  A child who has learned in the family to listen to others, to speak respectfully and to express his or her view without negating that of others, will be a force for dialogue and reconciliation in society.

When it comes to the challenges of communication, families who have children with one or more disabilities have much to teach us.  A motor, sensory or mental limitation can be a reason for closing in on ourselves, but it can also become, thanks to the love of parents, siblings, and friends, an incentive to openness, sharing and ready communication with all.  It can also help schools, parishes and associations to become more welcoming and inclusive of everyone.

In a world where people often curse, use foul language, speak badly of others, sow discord and poison our human environment by gossip, the family can teach us to understand communication as a blessing.  In situations apparently dominated by hatred and violence, where families are separated by stone walls or the no less impenetrable walls of prejudice and resentment, where there seem to be good reasons for saying “enough is enough”, it is only by blessing rather than cursing, by visiting rather than repelling, and by accepting rather than fighting, that we can break the spiral of evil, show that goodness is always possible, and educate our children to fellowship.

Today the modern media, which are an essential part of life for young people in particular, can be both a help and a hindrance to communication in and between families.  The media can be a hindrance if they become a way to avoid listening to others, to evade physical contact, to fill up every moment of silence and rest, so that we forget that “silence is an integral element of communication; in its absence, words rich in content cannot exist.” (BENEDICT XVI, Message for the 2012 World Communications Day).  The media can help communication when they enable people to share their stories, to stay in contact with distant friends, to thank others or to seek their forgiveness, and to open the door to new encounters.  By growing daily in our awareness of the vital importance of encountering others, these “new possibilities”, we will employ technology wisely, rather than letting ourselves be dominated by it.  Here too, parents are the primary educators, but they cannot be left to their own devices.  The Christian community is called to help them in teaching children how to live in a media environment in a way consonant with the dignity of the human person and service of the common good.

The great challenge facing us today is to learn once again how to talk to one another, not simply how to generate and consume information.  The latter is a tendency which our important and influential modern communications media can encourage.  Information is important, but it is not enough.  All too often things get simplified, different positions and viewpoints are pitted against one another, and people are invited to take sides, rather than to see things as a whole.

The family, in conclusion, is not a subject of debate or a terrain for ideological skirmishes.  Rather, it is an environment in which we learn to communicate in an experience of closeness, a setting where communication takes place, a “communicating community”.  The family is a community which provides help, which celebrates life and is fruitful.  Once we realize this, we will once more be able to see how the family continues to be a rich human resource, as opposed to a problem or an institution in crisis.  At times the media can tend to present the family as a kind of abstract model which has to be accepted or rejected, defended or attacked, rather than as a living reality.  Or else a grounds for ideological clashes rather than as a setting where we can all learn what it means to communicate in a love received and returned.  Relating our experiences means realizing that our lives are bound together as a single reality, that our voices are many, and that each is unique.

Families should be seen as a resource rather than as a problem for society.  Families at their best actively communicate by their witness the beauty and the richness of the relationship between man and woman, and between parents and children.  We are not fighting to defend the past.  Rather, with patience and trust, we are working to build a better future for the world in which we live.

From the Vatican, 23 January 2015, Vigil of the Memorial of Saint Francis de Sales.

It’s worth taking another look at the “Asian Pope Francis”


For those who watched or witnessed the recent papal visit of Pope Francis to the Philippines, it’s impossible not to have noticed the involvement of Manila’s archbishop, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle. Tagle is easily the most popular Cardinal of the Catholic Church, and not just among Filipinos. He’s been likened to Pope Francis, in wide popularity, yes, but also in his humble demeanor, authenticity and strong pastoral sense.

Much has been written about Tagle since his ordination as bishop in 2001 (now 57, he was a youthful 43 at the time. In comparison, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was made bishop at 56). His appointment as Cardinal in November of 2012 came as a surprise because of his age, but even more significant was the context of that unusual consistory. A month earlier during the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization, Pope Benedict XVI announced that he would appoint six new cardinals, which in hindsight, we know was a preemptive move leading up to his resignation on February 28th, 2013. Pope Benedict obviously wanted Tagle in the conclave.

In Pope Francis’ four day trip to the Philippines, nothing was more astonishing than the final Mass he celebrated with six-million-plus faithful Filipinos in rainy conditions. It was a record-breaking spectacle. At the end of the Mass the local bishop spoke a few words of thanks, as is the tradition, and since the celebration took place in Manila, the honor went to Cardinal Tagle.

After thanking the Pope on behalf of the people, Tagle said:

“You arrived in the Philippines three days ago. Tomorrow you will go. Every Filipino wants to go with you! Don’t be afraid, every Filipino wants to go with you—not to Rome—but to the peripheries! We want to go with you to the shanties, to prison cells, to hospitals, to the world of politics, finance, arts, sciences, culture, education, and social communications. We will go to those worlds to bring the light of Christ. Jesus is the center of your pastoral visit and the cornerstone of the Church. We will go with you, Holy Father, where the Light of Jesus is needed. Here in Luneta, the Qurino Grandstand, where heroes are revered, where newly elected presidents take office and popes meet the Filipino people; here in this place of new beginnings, please Holy Father, send us as your missionaries of light! Send us! Before you go, Holy Father, send us to spread the light of Jesus. Wherever you see the light of Jesus shining, even in Rome, even in Santa Marta, remember the Filipino people are with you in spreading the light of Jesus!”

As Cardinal Tagle spoke, he and the Pope looked at each other with great affection. There was a sense of emotion that could be felt, and it was clear to everyone that this was not a meeting of formal protocol, but a meeting of minds and hearts.

The Cardinal’s words are worth noting. They were a clear pronouncement of solidarity with the Pope and his vision of a church with Christ at its center that lives on the peripheries. The roller-coaster pontificate of Pope Francis has shown that that message is not easy to digest for some Catholics, let alone to shout from the rooftops as Tagle did.

But, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Tagle took such a stand with the current Pontiff. Yes, his humility, authenticity and pastoral sense can be likened to Francis. But Tagle has been around for a lot longer than Pope Francis. In other words, the song that Francis is singing is one Tagle knows the words to.

For example, at the 2012 Synod on the New Evangelization Tagle quickly became a major player. His intervention was one of the shortest and most direct, and helped shift the discussion away from a critique of secularism, materialism and the like, to one of genuine self-reflection. He called for a Church that is more humble; a Church that is respectful of every person, especially the neglected; a Church that has the capacity for silence, knowing it does not possess the answer to every problem facing the human family. “The world,” he said, “takes delight in a simple witness to Jesus—meek and humble of heart.”

Last October during the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, I had the chance to interview Tagle after the publication of the infamous “midterm report”. The report, which used unprecedented language of inclusion and welcome regarding people with a homosexual orientation, was criticized by some bishops who wanted to critique and amend it prior to its publication.

In our interview, Tagle defended the content of the document and praised the “spirit” and “creative tension” it communicated, feeling that it was faithful to the week-one discussions. When I asked him about the spirit inside the Synod, he called it, “a spirit of listening… which led me to a rather humble stance.” This humility, he continued, reminded the bishops that the situations families find themselves in today are often complex. Juxtaposed to the ideals of the Church’s tradition, Tagle finished by asking, “Can we allow these two realities to intersect, and allow the [Holy] Spirit to surprise us?”

I reference this last quote in order to bring us back to the original thought: the parallels between Cardinal Tagle and Pope Francis. In his homily during the closing Mass of the Synod, at which Pope Paul VI was beatified, Pope Francis said in almost “Tagle-an” words:

“God is not afraid of new things! That is why he is continually surprising us, opening our hearts and guiding us in unexpected ways. He renews us: he constantly makes us “new”. A Christian who lives the Gospel is “God’s newness” in the Church and in the world. How much God loves this “newness”!”

With the powerful image of these two bishops in front of us, we might say that a good test of humility—and faith—is the degree to which we are open to and able to be surprised by God. In the context of the Synod of Bishops on the Family, that means precisely putting the reality of complex pastoral situations in dialogue with the Church’s tradition and allowing for new possibilities to emerge. What happens at part-two of the Synod in October and in the coming years is anybody’s guess; Tagle was re-appointed last November as one of the presidents for the 2015 Synod by Francis. What we do know is that with Cardinal Tagle, Pope Francis isn’t the only “voice crying out in the wilderness” (John 1:23)

50 years after Vatican II observers see hopeful signs for ecumenism under Francis


This article was written by Deborah Gyapong of Canadian Catholic News.  

OTTAWA (CCN)—In the 50 years since the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, observers see hopeful signs for ecumenism and interfaith dialog under Pope Francis.

“Pope Francis uses language very frequently on how important it is to walk together with other Christians,” said Saint Paul University professor Catherine Clifford, noting theological dialogs are being complemented “with initiatives of common witness.”

“It’s an invitation to do everything we possibly can together, not to wait for all ‘i’s to be dotted and ‘t’s  to be crossed and all the texts approved but that we kind of live into the experience of mutual communion by beginning to act together today,” she said.

“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,” said Fr. Thomas Rosica, a Scripture scholar, CEO of the Salt and Light Catholic TV network and English language assistant to the Holy See Press Office in a keynote address Jan. 17 to a Vancouver symposium entitled “Christian Unity—Have we answered the call?” marking the 50th anniversary of the Decree on Ecumenism.

“For Francis, it is not about waiting for others to catch up with us,” he said. “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.”

“The work of deepening our knowledge of each other through praying together, working together in common witness created the kind of trust that will allow us to move forward in the future,” Clifford said

“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,” Rosica said. “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.”

Rosica noted the ecumenical movement is one of “ongoing conversion and a search for reconciliation among all Christians. “Over the past fifty years, ecumenism and the ecumenical movement have become commonplace for most Christians,” he said. “While ecumenism hasn’t yet achieved full reunion, it’s still among the most visible, powerful, successful Christian movements of the late 20th century.”

“Separated Christians no longer consider one another as strangers, competitors or even enemies, but as brothers and sisters,” he said. “We have largely removed the former lack of understanding, misunderstanding, prejudice, and indifference; we pray together, together we give witness to our common faith; in many fields we work together.”

“We have experienced that ‘what unites us is much greater than what divides us,’” he said.  “Such a change was unthinkable at the turn of the twentieth century and those who wish to go back to those times seriously risk being forsaken not only by a good, warm, friendly spirit but also by the Holy Spirit.”

Clifford highlighted Pope Francis’ historic meeting in Jerusalem last May with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew, 50 years after Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras pledged to work together towards unity.  In May, Pope Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch issued a joint declaration that affirmed the continued desire for ecclesial unity, the pursuit of peace through reconciliation and dialog and the promotion interfaith dialog.

The Pope met the Patriarch again in Istanbul when he visited Turkey in November. Clifford noted their joint statement spoke of “how important it is for churches to work in interfaith dialog, especially with the people of Islam, in light of the violence in the Middle East.”

“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,” said Rosica.

Challenges remain in Catholic Orthodox dialog largely because of tensions within Eastern Orthodoxy itself, especially between the patriarchies of Constantinople and Moscow, Clifford said. In 2016, a pan-Orthodox synod is planned and “the question of ecumenism is very high on the agenda of this meeting.”

“Pope Francis has also worked very conscientiously to be seen acting together in common witness with leaders of other faiths,” she said.  For example, “he and the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby launched an international effort to stem the tide of human trafficking.”

Rosica admitted recent decades have showed “signs of tiredness, disillusionment and stagnation” after the euphoria immediately following the Council. “Recent decisions and directions by our sister Churches in the areas of moral theology, ethics, life and death issues, ordained ministries, questions regarding the family, marriage, sexuality and human life are essential issues that must not be ignored out of fear of jeopardizing our ecumenical consensus,” the priest said. “In the business of authentic ecumenism, communication must be frank and robust, respectful and charitable.”

“Catholic participants are expected to hold fast to the Church’s teachings, presenting doctrines clearly and avoiding all forms of reductionism or facile agreement,” he said. “When we are in dialogue with other Christian churches, must treat each other as partners and presuppose that each partner desires unity, even when we speak about contentious or divisive issues.”

Clifford also noted Pope Francis’ historic meeting with evangelical leaders at a private lunch inside the Vatican that included leaders of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), and prominent American televangelists.

Pope Francis already had a long experience from his pastoral ministry in Argentina of working closely with evangelical leaders, she said.

“Today one in four Christians is evangelical or Pentecostal Christian,” she said.  Though there has been official dialog with evangelicals and Pentecostals for many decades, “these relationships will take on more importance in coming years.”

There is work being done by the Lutheran Catholic International Commission to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, she said.  Resources are being prepared for local groups to look at the progress that has been made in 50 years of interchurch dialog she said.

“What we did discover through dialog is that we do not disagree on the central dividing issue of the 16th Century Protestant Reformation,” she said, noting the 1999 Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification between the Catholics and Lutherans.  “In 2005, the World Methodist Council signed onto that same agreement.”

“Many other western Christians can find themselves in that agreement,” she said. “It puts our discussions of other issues, such as the recognition of sacramental life, on a different footing because we do not disagree on the basic theology of grace.”

What’s attractive about Pope Francis to evangelicals is also very important for Catholics, Clifford said.

“He’s calling us to the central message of the gospel, to a personal encounter with Christ, the source of a any evangelizing or missionary activity of the Church,” she said.  “The whole project of The Joy of the Gospel is the call to Catholics to undertake a discernment and to reexamine every aspect of ecclesial life, to carry out a pastoral and missionary conversion of the Church.”


“All the structures of the Church and even the way we express the mission of the gospel has to make this message clear,” she said. “God has come for us in Jesus Christ.  God’s forgiveness and mercy avail to everyone and should not exclude anyone.  This should be transparent in the structuring of the Church’s life and missionary activity.”

“It’s a powerful message and many other Christians recognize themselves in it,” she said.  “The primary message of the Decree on Ecumenism is that we come together by renewing the life of our churches and getting closer to Christ.”

“If we actually undertake what Pope Francis is inviting us to do we cannot help but become closer to other Christian churches, if we renew and reform the Church in this way,” she said.  “They also have a responsibility to do the same thing. All Christians need to reexamine our living out of the gospel.”

“What ecumenical dialog helps us to do is do that discerning together, each church has to examine its own inner life and undertake the renewal that’s required,” she said.  “It’s encouraging. In some ways, Pope Francis is inviting us to carry forward some of the central insights of the Second Vatican Council in its commitment to working for Christian unity.”

Vatican II prompted a new self-awareness that had the Church reexamining how the gospel is communicated to modern people, she said. “The structures we put in place 50 years ago, are they still serving us now?  If they are not we should take a look at them.”

Pope Francis is “carrying forward some of the central insights of the Council, and that has to do with understanding that the form of the Church and its proclamation will always need to be adapted,” she said. “He is calling us to focus on the central message, but the way we express it and incarnate it in the structures of the church is adequate for the people of today.

Pope Francis is also stressing the importance of interfaith dialog, Clifford said.  In June, Pope Francis, Patriarch Bartholomew and the presidents of Israel and the Palestinian presidents Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas met in Rome for joint prayer and a tree planting ceremony in the Vatican gardens, she said.

Rosica cautioned against letting interfaith dialog make ecumenism seem “outmoded.”

“There is a difference but not a competition between the two dialogues, for ultimately to be effective, interreligious dialogue presupposes that Christians can speak one and the same language,” he said. “The necessity of interreligious dialogue makes ecumenical dialogue even more urgent.”

The need for mutual understanding among religions “should make the work of Christians coming together have a greater sense of urgency, so we as churches can dialog together with representatives of Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and other religions,” Clifford said.

(CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

(CNS photo/Andreas Solaro, pool via Reuters)

The Politics of Papal Travel – The Free Speech Edition


Sunday saw Pope Francis wrap up what was by all accounts, an enormously successful trip to Asia. He canonized Sri Lanka’s first saint, celebrated the single largest Mass in the Church’s history in Manila (attendance estimated to have been between six and seven million) and received nothing short of a rock star welcome everywhere he went. Yet perhaps the most curious part of the Holy Father’s Apostolic Journey was his mid-flight press conference 30,000 feet over South East Asia.

While travelling from Sri Lanka to the Philippines, the pope continued his now famous habit of taking questions while in transit. As has been the case on previous flights, Francis managed to stir the world’s media into dropping sensational headlines, in this case, following a question from a French reporter:

“Holy Father, yesterday during Mass, you spoke about religious liberty as a fundamental human right. With respect to other religions, how far can the freedom of expression extend, since this latter is a fundamental human right, too?”

  • Sebastien Maynard (La Croix)

The pope gave a lengthy response, which he summed up by saying that, “Every religion has dignity; I cannot mock a religion that respects human life and the human person. And this is a limit. I’ve used this example of the limit to say that in the freedom of expression there are limits…”

BREAKING: Pope Francis says Free Speech has Limits

The take away from headlines like these (the kind which dominated the mainstream media late last week), lend credence to the never-ending notions of the Church being married to some period of history pre-dating the Dark Ages. There is no question the media should be held to a much higher standard when reporting on the Church, however we have to be proactive in anticipating the instant headline style of journalism that dominates the mainstream.

The sad reality is that in today’s globalized, tech indulgent world, news stories often boil down to 140 characters or less. Far too many today, passingly glance at a headline or quickly sift through a social media post, relying solely on the headline to form an opinion on a topic. While this may not be the case for all, it is the case for many, including millennials, and is perpetuated by the media successfully playing on our ever-decreasing attention spans.

From the laity right up to the Holy Father himself, we as a Church have to consider our words so very carefully. Francis’ core message in this case was a good one: have respect for and refrain from mocking religion. However the means by which that message is framed can make or break people’s perception of what the message is. The cold hard truth is that 90%+ of the people who heard about the pope’s comments did not and will not read the full transcript of his remarks.

Objectively speaking, one cannot reasonably believe that the pope is calling for enforced legislative limits on free speech. The teaching of the Church simply doesn’t agree with that. However scanning message boards and social media this past week, the aforementioned headlines fanned the fires of sensationalism and misinformation, helping spread such a false notion.

Let’s take the Holy Father’s words from last week. Rather than even using the world ‘limitation,’’ what if the point was reframed, instead saying freedom of speech and religion are sacrosanct as well as being tools that posses great power. Like with any great power, comes great responsibility. This requires us to responsibly use our ability to speak out so that we do not use it as a tool to incite hate and violence. Equally important is using the power of faith responsibly, to not corrupt and destroy, but to nurture and care.

Pope Francis’ freewheeling press conferences are a welcome development. However they are liable to give cause for headlines that might not convey his intended message accurately. This is not to say that even the most perfect response to a question could not be manipulated into sensationalism, but it at least mitigates the likelihood.

The pope gets full marks for choosing to so openly tackle this and other questions from the media. However there is an important lesson for all of us, from the laity up to the successor of Peter. The exact words we choose are now ever more critical in the world of instant globalized information, especially when conveying the message of the Church. How we frame and convey an idea is just as critical as the substance of what we are trying to communicate. Rather than dread having to come to terms with this challenge, we can embrace it and use the opportunity to even more effectively transmit our ideas, allowing for a teaching moment.

No one is suggesting that delivering the message of the Church so articulately and precisely is a walk in the park; after all, all of us, even the Vicar of Christ on Earth are human. The power of Jesus’ message to the people of his day was not just its substance, but also the manner in which he delivered it. The Church’s teachings are eternal and have stood the test of time. It is incumbent upon all of us to accurately and intuitively share the message of the Church so that when we do, it is clear and consistent like a piece of crystal.

NOTE: In the second press conference of this Apostolic Journey on his flight back to Rome, Pope Francis gave clarifications on his original remarks discussed in this post.