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Behind Vatican Walls: Pope Francis in Armenia

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Pope Francis landed in Armenia this Friday for a weekend visit that includes a stop at the Armenian Genocide Memorial, his participation in a Divine Liturgy in the Armenian rite, and a visit to the Khor Virap monastery not far from the Turkish border.

The first item on the papal itinerary was a visit to the Apostolic Cathedral of Yerevan. Armenian Catholicos Karekin II and Pope Francis prayed Psalm 121 together, before turning to the formal greetings.

Addressing the Catholicos and Armenian Apostolic clergy, Pope Francis said, “I bow before the mercy of the Lord who willed that Armenia should become, in the year 301, the first nation to accept Christianity as its religion” at a time when religious persecution was rampant. The pope added “May the Lord bless you for the luminous testimony.”

Turning his attention to ecumenical relations between the Catholic Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church, the pope said “when our actions are prompted by the power of Christ’s love, understanding and reciprocal esteem grow, a fruitful ecumenical journey becomes possible.”

From there Pope Francis went on to the presidential palace for a courtesy meeting with Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan. He recalled the anniversary of Armenia’s independence, and the liturgy celebrated at the Vatican by Catholicos Karekin II to commemorate the 150th anniversary of what Armenians refer to as “the great evil.” Pope Francis used the Armenian phrase “Metz Yeghern.”

The pope reiterated his admiration for the way, in the darkest moments of their history, Armenians found the strength to carry on in the cross of Christ.

The first day of the pope’s Armenian voyage concluded with a private meeting between Pope Francis and Catholicos Karekin II.

Watch this week’s episode of Vatican Connections below!


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Every week brings new, exciting, and sometimes juicy headlines from behind Vatican walls and every week Alicia delves deeper into one of those headlines. For a full run down of what’s been happening behind Vatican walls, watch Vatican Connections. Already watch the program? Come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issue, headline or person. Season 4 of Vatican Connections airs every Friday at 8:00 pm ET.

Behind Vatican Walls: Synods and Councils

A historic gathering of orthodox leaders is scheduled to take place on the Greek island of Crete later this week. The Great and Holy Council, as it called in the Orthodox church, would be the first such meeting in over a thousand years. With days to go before the start of that that meeting various orthodox churches are bringing new concerns to the table, asking for the meeting to be postponed, and announcing boycotts.

50 years of preparation

The council was the idea of Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras who was “first among equals” of the Orthodox Church from 1948 to 1972. In the 60s he launched the idea that a “Great and Holy Council” was needed. While the Roman Catholic Church was able to call an Ecumenical Council in in 1959 and convene the first session of that council in October of 1962, the Orthodox Church spent the next 50 years – and three patriarchs- planning the Great and Holy Council.

Preparations entered the final stages in the last year: a date, location and agenda were agreed upon. Following the tradition of the Orthodox Church those elements had to be agreed upon unanimously by orthodox church leaders in order to be adopted. Even with a last minute disagreement on the location, a consensus was still reached. (Originally the synod was to be held in Istanbul, seat of the Ecumenical Patriarch. Russian Orthodox Church officials refused to set foot on Turkish soil after a Russian military plane was shot down by Turkish forces. The patriarchs voted to move the council to Crete).

Fast forward to May of this year. One by one several of churches began raising concerns about the agenda, the working procedure, and even the seating arrangement at the council, not to mention quibbles about items that are and are not on the official agenda. The Orthodox Churches of Antioch, Bulgaria, Georgia and Russia announced that they will not attend the council.The Serbian Orthodox Church initially refused to attend then went back on that decision.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has been in Crete since early this week. The ten patriarchs who are still participating have arrived on the island and issued an appeal to the four absent churches to join them. A spokesperson for the Ecumenical Patriarch told Associated Press will reach out to the four no shows in attempt to find a way to address their concerns about synod.

What are the objections being raised by the various churches?

Antiochian Orthodox Church

The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East was established in 42 AD by the apostles Paul and Barnabas. Although it was founded in what is today Antakya, Turkey the Patriarchal See of the Antiochian Church is in Damascus.

According to the patriarchate, the Antiochian Church has jurisdiction over all the middle east where there are no other autonomous churches. In 2004 the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem established a formal presence in Qatar, appointing a Bishop to be responsible for Orthodox faithful in that country. The Antiochian Patriarchate did not take this well, and has essentially refused to sit at a table where the Jerusalem Patriarch is present, unless and until the issue is resolved. (i.e. Antioch’s jurisdiction over Qatar is formally recognized by the orthodox churches).

 Orthodox Church of Bulgaria 

The reasons offered by the Orthodox Church of Bulgaria focused on the logistics of the council. The Bulgarian bishops said the seating arrangement for the council violates the principle of equality between the Ecumenical Patriarch the heads of the autonomous churches. As well, the place designated for observers and guests was deemed “inappropriate” by the Bulgarian bishops.

Aside from who sits where, the Bulgarian bishops said in a statement they feel there are items missing from the council agenda that need to be addressed because they are timely and relevant to the church today. However, there was no indication of what those topics might be.

Orthodox Church of Georgia

Doctrinal and political reasons were cited by the Georgian church as reason for not participating in the synod. Georgian church leaders said in a statement they did not see how a synod could go ahead as long as two of fourteen autonomous churches (Antioch and Jerusalem) are in a dispute. The bishops of the Georgian church also cited what they believe to be doctrinal errors in some of the documents on the synod agenda. Of particular concern: the document on the Orthodox church’s relations with other churches. According to the Georgian church, there is no such thing as a non-Orthodox Christian Church. As such any other Christian denomination should not be treated or referred to as a church. The Orthodox Churches of Georgia and Bulgaria both withdrew from the World Council of Churches for this reason.

Serbian Orthodox Church

In early June Serbian Orthodox leaders decided they could not participate in the synod. In a statement the leaders of the Serbian church pointed to disputes between some of the orthodox churches, saying those disputes need to be resolved before a synod can be considered. They proposed delaying the synod in order to resolve those differences.

By mid June the Serbian Orthodox leaders changed their mind yet again, deciding to attend the synod. The Serbian Orthodox delegation arrived in Crete June 16 but reserves the right to leave if the concerns of the Serbian Church are not addressed.

Russian Orthodox Church

Taking a slightly different approach, the Russian Orthodox Church leaders called for the synod to be postponed. In light of the Bulgarian, Georgian and Antiochian Churches pulling out of the synod, Moscow proposed postponing the synod. The June 13 proposal from Moscow suggested turning the scheduled gathering in Crete into a pre-synod preparatory meeting. However, that proposal came with an ultimatum: postpone, or we won’t participate. Just to show there were no hard feelings, the Russian bishops expressed their full collaboration in working towards a future synod.

For more on the structure and function of the Great and Holy Council, visit holycouncil.org


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Every week brings new, exciting, and sometimes juicy headlines from behind Vatican walls and every week Alicia delves deeper into one of those headlines. For a full run down of what’s been happening behind Vatican walls, watch Vatican Connections. Already watch the program? Come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issue, headline or person. Season 4 of Vatican Connections airs every Friday at 8:00 pm ET.

Behind Vatican Walls: Feast of St. Mary Magdalene proclaimed

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Saint Mary Magdalene will now be remembered in the Church’s liturgical calendar the same way the twelves apostles and Our Lady are remembered. The Vatican has issued a decree elevating the memorial of her life to a feast, something reserved for important moments in Church history and important people like the apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The saint already has a day, July 22, dedicated to her in the liturgical calendar. However, that day is considered a ‘memorial’ and about 11 other saints are remembered on the same day. From now on St. Mary Magdalene takes precedence over all the rest.

The Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments issued a decree making the the change, June 10 at the pope’s request. In an article published in the Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, Archbishop Arthur Roche says the decision was made in the context of the Year for Mercy and the pope’s repeated calls to reflect more deeply on the dignity of women. Archbishop Roche, the secretary for the congregation for worship, said “St. Mary Magdalene is an example of true and authentic evangelization.”

Making her memorial a feast, on par with the apostles, highlights her importance to the church and confirms what Christian scholars and doctors of the church have written about the saint for centuries. She was the “first witness” to see the empty tomb and the risen Christ, and the first person to spread the word of the resurrection. When she runs from the empty tomb to upper room where the apostles are locked in, Mary Magdalene becomes “’apostolorum apostola’, as she announces to the apostles what they in turn will announce to all the world,” says Archbishop Roche.

Along with the decree the Congregation for Divine Worship released a special preface to be used in the Mass on St. Mary Magdalene’s feast day. The preface is titled “Apostle of the Apostles.”

Watch this week’s episode of Vatican Connections below!


AliciaHeadShot

Every week brings new, exciting, and sometimes juicy headlines from behind Vatican walls and every week Alicia delves deeper into one of those headlines. For a full run down of what’s been happening behind Vatican walls, watch Vatican Connections. Already watch the program? Come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issue, headline or person. Season 4 of Vatican Connections airs every Friday at 8:00 pm ET.

Behind Vatican Walls: The Legacy of John XXIII

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CNS photo/Catholic Press Photo

This week marks 53 years since St. Pope John XXIII died at the Vatican at age of 81. For most people, the first thing that comes to mind at the mention of the saintly pope’s name is the Second Vatican Council. Yet his pontificate and his priestly ministry left its mark on the church and the world in many different ways.

When the elderly pope opened the Second Vatican Council, tension between the United States and the Soviet Union was steadily escalating. Just days after the pope’s famous speech from his window on the opening night of the Second Vatican Council, a U.S. spy plane spotted and confirmed the stockpile of nuclear arms in Cuba; a discovery that would bring the world to the brink of nuclear war and mutually assured destruction.

This was a pope who had seen firsthand the disastrous effects of war. As a young priest, Father Angelo Roncalli served as a military chaplain in a hospital in Bergamo. He knew firsthand the devastation a conventional war could bring about; let alone a war where mutual destruction of both adversaries was assured. During the second world war Fr. Roncalli served as nuncio to various European and Balkan countries. He knew from experience there was always some way, some key to diffusing even the most delicate of political situations.

Tensions mounted as both sides reinforced their stock of weapons waiting for the other to “blink” first. Finally Pope John XXIII decided it was time to step in. On October 25, 1962 the pope took to the airwaves of Vatican Radio with a message titled For Peace and Fraternity Among Mankind. He did not name the world leaders he hoped to address, he did not invoke his papal authority. The pope simply gave voice to the fears of every man, woman and child who had been following the developments off the coast of Cuba. “May they, with hands on their chest, hear the anguished cry that rises up to the heavens from all corners of the earth, from innocent children and the elderly, individuals, communities: Peace, Peace!”

This message, this plea for peace delivered as spokesperson for all of humanity had the intended effect. Scholars agreed it gave the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and United States President John F. Kennedy a graceful way out of the standoff without the appearance of having chickened out. Within days, the Cuban Missile Crisis was over. Nuclear war was averted.

From that message to world leaders on behalf of all of humanity sprung the idea of an encyclical on world peace. Pacem in Terris was published just seven months after the Cuban Missile Crisis, addressed to all men and women of goodwill.

Watch this week’s episode of Vatican Connections below!


AliciaHeadShot Every week brings new, exciting, and sometimes juicy headlines from behind Vatican walls and every week Alicia delves deeper into one of those headlines. For a full run down of what’s been happening behind Vatican walls, watch Vatican Connections. Already watch the program? Come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issue, headline or person. Season 4 of Vatican Connections airs every Friday at 8:00 pm ET.

Behind Vatican Walls: New Custodian of the Holy Land

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(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

There is a new Franciscan Custodian of the Holy Land. The Order of Friars Minor elected Father Francesco Patton, OFM as the new Custos. He replaces Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa who ended a 12 year term as Custos in April.

Father Patton is 53 years old and comes from the Trent region of Italy. He was ordained a priest in 1983. Since then he completed a licentiate in Social Communication at the Salesian Pontifical University in Rome and is enrolled in the order of journalists. He has had a variety of posts within the Franciscan order and with his diocese. Most recently Fr. Patton has been Minister General (superior general) for the St. Anthony Province of the order, which includes all Franciscan Friars in northern Italy.

The Custos of the Holy Land is considered one of the Catholic ordinaries of the Middle East even though he is not ordained a bishop.His mandate lasts six years but can be extended if the Franciscans and the Holy See believe it is necessary. The Custos works with the heads of the Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Coptic, Syriac and Ethiopian Churches to maintain the status quo.

In regards to the Holy Land “status quo” refers to an agreement ratified in 1852 that lays out the ownership of the various christian sanctuaries and the spaces within them. The agreement also regulates the times and durations of religious functions celebrated in those sanctuaries by the different Christian churches. Any change to the status quo agreement requires the consent of all the churches represented by the agreement.

Given that the ownership of different sanctuaries is often linked to national interests of neighbouring countries, maintaining that status quo can be quite challenging.

New Custos, New Focus, New Story

The appointment of Fr. Patton could also signal a new approach to ministering in the delicate region of the Middle East. Father Patton holds a graduate degree in journalism and social communication while past custodians had extensive backgrounds in scripture and oriental churches.

During a recent visit to the Holy Land, representatives of various church organizations in the region told me one of the biggest challenges they face is telling the story of life in the Holy Land for Christians. The world is well aware of the plight of Christians in Syria and Iraq but less so about the challenges faced by Arabs, especially Arab Christians in Israel and Palestine. Various officials told me the information that makes it out to the international community about either overlooks the hardship faced by Arabs, or paints the picture of a menacing threat from which Israel needs to defend itself at all costs. There is little talk of severe water restrictions to Palestine, long waits at checkpoints, a near impossibility of getting permission to go to Jerusalem, or the seizing of land from private Palestinians for the construction of new sections of the Israeli wall. Another official told me tourists believe it is unsafe or not possible to visit Bethlehem. In reality tourism in pretty much the one industry Bethlehem has going for it.

Because of the hardships in the entire region, every year hundreds of Christian families leave the Holy Land. According to the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land, if emigration continues at current rates, within 50 years there will be no Christian community in the Holy Land.

Given the need to get the full story of the Holy Land in the public eye and stay on good terms with all the key players on the ground, the appointment of a Custos with a background in Social Communication could signal a shift in approach. While theology, scripture, and historical knowledge are important, in this modern mediatic age, knowing how to shape a message and get it out into the world is just as important.

This week’s episode of Vatican Connections will be available below shortly.


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Every week brings new, exciting, and sometimes juicy headlines from behind Vatican walls and every week Alicia delves deeper into one of those headlines. For a full run down of what’s been happening behind Vatican walls, watch Vatican Connections. Already watch the program? Come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issue, headline or person. Season 4 of Vatican Connections airs every Friday at 8:00 pm ET.

 

Behind Vatican Walls: Phoebe and the Deaconesses

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Pope Francis will ask the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation to study the issue of women deacons. The pope announced the decision during a question and answer session with participants of the International Union of Superiors General plenary assembly.

During a question and answer session with the nearly 900 religious sisters taking part in the meeting, Pope Francis was asked what prevents the Church from including women in the diaconate.

Speaking without a prepared text the pope said there is evidence that women were deacons in the early church.

In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul mentions “our sister Phoebe, a deaconess of the Church at Cenchreae” and asks that she be given a warm welcome. Deaconesses are also mentioned at the Council of Chalcedon. The council says deaconesses should not receive “the laying on of hands” under the age of 40. Once they do receive the laying on of hands, the council says they should not get married.

Pope Francis told the UISG members the evidence does not provide much detail about what women deacons did or if they were ordained ministers. It appears, he said,  the role of deaconesses in the early church was to help with the baptism of other women and to examine the wounds of abused women and report back to the local bishop.  

The pope went on to say he will ask the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to show him any studies that exist about the role of women deacons in the early church. He added that he will ask for a commission to be established to study the question of women deacons, “I think it will be good for the Church to clarify this point.”

At the same time Pope Francis warned against what he calls a desire to “clericalize” consecrated and lay women. He said when a lay person or a consecrated person shows a talent for pastoral work in the parish, has brains, and is organized, there is an instinctive reaction to want to give that person a clerical role. By that logic pushing for ordained women deacons is just another attempt to “clericalize” women.

Reaction to the pope’s comments were swift and divided. On social media three lines of thought were evident: those who were happy about the pope’s call to study the issue, those who were appalled he would consider such a thing, and those who were upset because they believe the pope did not go far enough.

After many news headlines proclaimed the pope is opening the door to women’s ordination, the Vatican issued a statement on May 13 saying “The Pope did not say he intends to introduce the ordination of female deacons and even less did he talk about the ordination of women as priests.”  

Reading the transcript of the Pope’s meeting with UISG participants it appears clear Pope Francis is calling for clarity on specific points: what were deaconesses in the early Church? What did they do? How did they do it? Were they ordained? If so, why? Why did the role of deaconess fall out use?

The answers to those questions do not lead straight line to women’s ordination. However they could lead to a wider vision of the role of consecrated women. Not to mention such a study could produce a better understanding of what roles lay people can and should take on in today’s church.

This week’s episode of Vatican Connections will be available below shortly.


AliciaHeadShot

Every week brings new, exciting, and sometimes juicy headlines from behind Vatican walls and every week Alicia delves deeper into one of those headlines. For a full run down of what’s been happening behind Vatican walls, watch Vatican Connections. Already watch the program? Come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issue, headline or person. Season 4 of Vatican Connections airs every Friday at 8:00 pm ET.

Behind Vatican Walls: I Have a Dream…

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The Charlemagne Prize was created in 1949 by Dr. Kurt Pfeiffer in Aachen, Germany as a reminder and a call for European unity. The 2016 prize was awarded to Pope Francis this week.

In post-war Europe several new organizations and pacts were in development. These organizations and agreements would unify Europe economically and politically. However, in 1948 work suddenly stopped on a customs agreement between Britain and France. This stopped the development work being done for a Council of Europe.

A group of citizens of Aachen, Germany started looking for some way to inspire a renewed push for European unity. Dr. Pfeiffer came up with the idea of awarding a prize for “most valuable contribution to western European understanding.” The Charlemagne Prize Society was founded in March 1950 and the first prize awarded in May of that same year.

Why Charlemagne? The Frankish king, who was later crowned Roman Emperor, is considered the Father of Europe, politically and culturally.

Since 1950 recipients have included the Italian Prime Minister Alcide de Gasperi, who was also one of the founding fathers of the European Community, Konrad Adenauer, a former Chancellor of the Republic of Germany who campaigned for an office for European Unity, Robert Schumann, another founding father of the EU, Simone Veil, the first woman president of the European Parliament, Brother Roger, the founder of the Taize Community, Pope John Paul II, and Andrea Riccardi, the co-founder of the Sant’Egidio Community.

On ten occasions the prize was not awarded because the Charlemagne Prize Society felt no one deserved the it. In the 1960s and 70s when the European unification process was stagnating, the board of directors felt it was better not to award the prize than to pick a “second rate” candidate.

European Prize, Pope from the ends of the earth

The board of directors of the International Charlemagne Prize decides who will receive the award each year and publishes the reasoning behind their decision. The board said they decided to award the 2016 prize to Pope Francis because at a time when European citizens are looking for guidance he has a message of hope and encouragement. Specifically, he encourages European officials and citizens to “return to the firm convictions of the founding father of the European Union.” The board refers specifically to the pope’s 2014 address to the European Parliament in which he appealed to every Member of Parliament to support and uphold the dignity of man, and keep the human person at the centre of their political action.

This week the board of directors and past Charlemagne Prize Laureates traveled to the Vatican to confer the prize on Pope Francis. The Holy Father gave an uncharacteristically long ( 30 minute) speech that is being called his “I have a dream” speech. He pulled no punches, calling on Europeans to step up, open their hearts and borders, and be the people they always envisioned themselves as being.

His speech is well worth reading. The full text can be read here.

Watch this week’s episode of Vatican Connections below:


AliciaHeadShot

Every week brings new, exciting, and sometimes juicy headlines from behind Vatican walls and every week Alicia delves deeper into one of those headlines. For a full run down of what’s been happening behind Vatican walls, watch Vatican Connections. Already watch the program? Come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issue, headline or person. Season 4 of Vatican Connections airs every Friday at 8:00 pm ET.

 

Behind Vatican Walls: Syrian Refugees

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While Pope Francis has been personally helping Syrian refugees relocate to Europe, a joint Catholic – Russian Orthodox delegation visited Lebanon and Syria. The delegation identified ways the two churches can work together to help Syrians.

Officials from the Catholic aid agency Aid to the Church in Need and officials from the Moscow patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church visited Beirut, Damascus and Lebanon’s Bekka Valley. The group found two ways they can help Syrian Christians: compiling information about churches and shrines that have been destroyed, and providing aid to children.

Peter Humenik, the Russian expert for Aid to the Church in Need, was quoted in a press release from the organization as saying that Christians identified rebuilding of churches as one of the most pressing needs for their communities. According to Humenik they identified rebuilding churches as more urgent than rebuilding homes, because the life of the local Christian communities happened in those churches, shrines and parish buildings.

Christians in the communities visited told the joint delegation that recording testimonies about the martyrdom of Syrian Christians is also highly important to them.

The Moscow-based news agency Interfax quoted Humenik as saying that the joint delegation decided to hold “an action” at the end of the year ‘in favour of children of Syria in the city of Homs.”

***

This week – Friday April 22 –  the Jewish faithful celebrate Passover.

Pope Francis sent this telegram to the Chief Rabbi of Rome, Riccardo Di Segni :

“In remembering with renewed gratitude our meeting on 17 January, when I was cordially welcomed by you and by the Jewish Community of the city in the Great Synagogue, I wish to express my most heartfelt wishes for the feast of Passover. It points out that the Almighty has released His beloved people from slavery and brought them to the Promised Land. May God also accompany you today with the abundance of His Blessings, protect your community and, in His mercy, bestow peace upon everyone. I ask you to pray for me, as I assure you of my prayers for you: may the Almighty allow us to be able to grow more and more in friendship”

We here at Salt + Light would like to wish a Happy Passover to all of our Jewish friends and supporters!

Watch this week’s episode of Vatican Connections below:


AliciaHeadShot

Every week brings new, exciting, and sometimes juicy headlines from behind Vatican walls and every week Alicia delves deeper into one of those headlines. For a full run down of what’s been happening behind Vatican walls, watch Vatican Connections. Already watch the program? Come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issue, headline or person. Season 4 of Vatican Connections airs every Friday at 8:00 pm ET.

Behind Vatican Walls – Amoris Laetitia…What is it?

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Pope Francis’ long awaited post-synodal exhortation on the family was made public today. As he has made clear over the past two years, there was no doctrinal change announced in this document. The document covers a wide range of topics, from the thorny to the common sense. As is his way, Pope Francis includes some frank comments on various issues and directs very clear words to different groups of faithful.

Here are some links to intelligent articles explaining what this exhortation is and is not:

Of course there are many other articles out there offering a balanced look at The Joy of Love. These are just a few to start with. Expect more commentary early next week after the bishops of the world have had time to read the nearly 300 page text.

Watch this week’s Vatican Connections below:


AliciaHeadShot

Every week brings new, exciting, and sometimes juicy headlines from behind Vatican walls and every week Alicia delves deeper into one of those headlines. For a full run down of what’s been happening behind Vatican walls, watch Vatican Connections. Already watch the program? Come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issue, headline or person. Season 4 of Vatican Connections airs every Friday at 8:00 pm ET.

Behind Vatican Walls: You Cannot Dialogue With The Devil!

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Among the phrases that captured people’s attention during the Pope’s visit to Mexico was a phrase ad-libbed during his homily in Ecatepec. Lifting his gaze from the text in front of him, lifting his right hand to his forehead, Pope Francis exclaimed “let’s get this in our heads, you cannot dialogue with the devil.”  

We know Pope Francis has a tendency to speak about the devil and the traps he sets for us. But this time the Holy Father was highlighting two “devils”: the supernatural fallen angel, and specific forces at work in the world and in a special way in Mexico.

“What are these forces? What is this devil?”  The pope lays it out clearly:

There are three temptations of Christ… three temptations for the Christian, which seek to destroy what we have been called to be; three temptations which try to corrode us and tear us down.

First, wealth: seizing hold of goods destined for all, and using them only for “my own people”. That is, taking “bread” based on the toil of others, or even at the expense of their very lives. That wealth which tastes of pain, bitterness and suffering. That is the bread that a corrupt family or society gives its own children.

The second temptation, vanity: the pursuit of prestige based on continuous, relentless exclusion of those who “are not like me”. The futile chasing of those five minutes of fame which do not forgive the “reputation” of others.

“Making firewood from a felled tree” gradually gives way to the third temptation, the worst. It is that of pride, or rather, putting oneself on a higher level than one truly is on, feeling that one does not share the life of “mere mortals”, and yet being one who prays every day: “I thank you Lord that you have not made me like those others…”.”

What does this have to do Mexico? What does this have to do with us?

The Pope was speaking to a country with a Gross Domestic Product of 1.283 trillion dollars, but a per capita GDP of $14,000. Almost half of the country’s population lives below the poverty line even though more than half of the country has a paying job. Many of those who find themselves unable to afford basic needs are employed. The Mexican organization Accion Ciudadana Frente a la Pobreza (Citizen Action Against Poverty) told the Wall Street Journal the price of foods that are considered part of Mexican’s “basic basket” grew more than the rate of inflation.

Money is being made, somewhere, but huge chunks of the population are not seeing it.

Faced with this reality people turn to other ways to make ends meet. Enter Ecatepec’s high crime rate and the nation’s drug cartels.

While this is an extremely simple overview of the situation, the pope certainly know to whom he was speaking and what situation they find themselves in. Most importantly, he grasped the very basic, very powerful temptations that can worm their way into people’s minds and hearts when faced with a system that simply does not seem to reward the honest, hardworking, well intentioned citizen.

Pope Francis also provides tools with which to combat these temptations, to avoid dialogue with devil:

“It is worth asking ourselves:

To what degree are we aware of these temptations in our lives, in our very selves?

How much have we become accustomed to a lifestyle where we think that our source and life force lies only in wealth?

To what point do we feel that caring about others, our concern and work for bread, for the good name and dignity of others, are wellsprings of happiness and hope?”

This examination of conscience before the three great temptations listed above, is also a wonderful examination for everyone who calls themselves a Jesus-follower.

I find it an especially poignant examination for those of us who are aware that we live comfortably today because someone before us had to make difficult decisions in order escape a cycle of corruption, oppression, and poverty.  

***

This week there has been a lot of talk about walls and the nature and quantity of the walls surrounding the Vatican.  Here is a great description of Vatican City’s walls from Michael O’Loughlin at Crux.

Having lived and worked in Rome for several years to cover the Vatican, I can personally vouch for the fact that the Vatican’s walls aren’t as much of an obstacle as some would like to make them seem. As a lowly student intern I was able to make my way into Vatican City to visit the pharmacy by showing my press badge and having a quick chat with a Swiss Guard.  

Watch this week’s episode of Vatican Connections below:

CNS Photo


AliciaHeadShot

Every week brings new, exciting, and sometimes juicy headlines from behind Vatican walls and every week Alicia delves deeper into one of those headlines. For a full run down of what’s been happening behind Vatican walls, watch Vatican Connections. Already watch the program? Come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issue, headline or person. Season 4 of Vatican Connections airs every Friday at 8:00 pm ET.