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Behind Vatican Walls: Synod of Bishops and Nobel Prizes


The Synod of Bishops on the Family started this week. For a run down of what has been discussed so far, watch this week’s edition of Vatican Connections, or Salt and Light’s special synod coverage, Inside the Synod.

There were a few non-synod items of interest over the past week. The pope’s message for World Youth Day 2016 was released. This international World Youth Day will be in held in Krakow, Poland next summer. The full text of the message is available in English here.

There was also a nine day papal visit to Cuba and the United States. The trip ended with a nearly one-hour long press conference on board the papal flight from Philadelphia to Rome. The full text of that presser is available here in English.

While not really Vatican-related, the Nobel prize winners were announced this week. Once again it was widely believed in church circles that Pope Francis could be awarded the prize. Instead, the Nobel committee threw everyone a curveball. The winner of the 2015 Nobel Peace prize is the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet. The widespread reaction to the announcement was “who?”. Here is some background on the Quartet and their work in helping Tunisia avoid civil war.

CNS/Paul Haring

Watch this week’s Vatican Connections below:

Every week brings new, exciting, and sometimes juicy headlines from behind Vatican walls and every week Alicia delves deeper into one of those headlines. For a full run down of what’s been happening behind Vatican walls, watch Vatican Connections. Already watch the program? Come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issue, headline or person. Season 4 of Vatican Connections premieres Friday, September 11, 2015 at 8:00 pm ET.

Gratitude is the heart’s memory – A Thanksgiving Reflection


The celebration of Thanksgiving in Canada makes an interesting counterpoint to the holiday celebrated by our American neighbours. While Americans remember the Pilgrims settling in the New World, Canadians give thanks for a successful harvest.  At the heart of our Thanksgiving celebration is the idea of giving thanks for the goodness of the season past. And yet how often do we simply give thanks to God for who we are and what we have when things are going well in our lives?

Thankfulness is much more than saying “Thank you” because we have to. Thankfulness is a way to experience the world, a way to perceive, a way to be surprised. Thankfulness is having open eyes and a short distance between the eyes and the heart.

In the New Testament, so much of Jesus’ ministry took place at table.  So many meals punctuate the New Testament — meals with Levi and his friends, meals with Simon the Pharisee, meals with crowds on the hillsides, meals with disciples, the ideal meals described in his parables.   You can eat your way through the gospels!  It is ultimately during the final meal that Jesus leaves us with his most precious gift in the Eucharist.

What are the features and qualities of grateful people?

Remembrance is the most precious feature of the virtue of gratitude. One of the most important qualities is the ability to say “thank you” to others and to take no one and nothing for granted. Those who possess the virtue of gratitude are truly rich. They not only know they have been blessed, but they continuously remember that all good things come from God.

To acknowledge others, to say thank you, is a mark of greatness. If our colleagues and volunteers are dispirited and unmotivated, might it have something to do with the fact that we have never expressed our gratitude to them for who they are and what they do?  The courage to thank — that is, the courage to see the gifts and experiences of this world all together as a gift — changes not only the person who gains this insight. It also changes the environment, the world, and those who surround that person.

Gratitude is creative. People bound together by gratitude are always discovering and awakening abundant sources of strength. The more thankful a person is, the richer he or she is within. Thankful people store up in their grateful memory all the good experiences of the past, just as the French proverb states: “Gratitude is the heart’s memory.”


At this time of year I have often watched Babette’s Feast, one of my favourite movies about the transforming powers of a meal. It is a story of the opening of the hearts of a small, puritanical community on the coast of Norway by the generosity of a French refugee cook. The movie, directed by Gabriel Axel, received the Academy Award in 1986 for Best Foreign Film and is a faithful adaptation of Isak Dinesen’s 1958 short story.

Here is the plot. In 19th-century Denmark, two adult sisters live in an isolated village with their father, who is the honoured pastor of a small Protestant church that is almost a sect unto itself. Although they each are presented with a real opportunity to leave the village, the sisters choose to stay with their father, to serve him and their church.

After some years, a French woman refugee, Babette, arrives at their door, begs them to take her in, and commits herself to work for them as maid/housekeeper/cook. She arrived with a note from a French singer who had passed through the area some time before, fallen in love with one of the sisters, but left disappointed. The note commends Babette to these “good people” and offhandedly mentions that she can cook.

During the intervening dozen years Babette cooks the meals the sisters are used to, plain to a fault.  But in the 12th year of her service to this family, Babette wins the French lottery, a prize of 10,000 francs. At the same time, the sisters are planning a simple celebration of the 100th anniversary of their father, the founder of their small Christian sect. They expect Babette to leave with her newfound wealth but, instead, she surprises them by offering to cook a meal for the anniversary.

Although they are secretly concerned about what Babette, a Catholic and a foreigner, might do, the sisters allow her to go ahead.

Babette uses just the tiniest opening, a modest celebration, to cook up a storm and wreak havoc in the lives of the sisters, and with their community, by such outrageous generosity.

Fulfillment received

In the end, Babette’s feast has some startling effects. The community becomes reconciled. Those at table experience the transformation and transcendence of the mundane, physical, and temporal dimensions of reality through the experience of a feast. The dinner guests at Babette’s feast encounter the divine and receive fulfillment through the physical act of eating.

If you are seeking a wonderful way of digesting your Thanksgiving meal this year, I recommend that you watch Babette’s Feast. It is a masterpiece that helps us to explore divine generosity with the image of a meal and its transforming quality. You will discover that the meal is only the scenery of this feast, not the script! May it be the same at our dining room tables this weekend.

Happy Thanksgiving and bon appetit!

Fr. Thomas Rosica CSB,
CEO, Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation

How’s your married life?


“How’s your married life?” is the question I was most frequently asked after I got married. You read that correctly, I got married two months ago on August 8, 2015. Thanks be to God that the wedding went so smoothly. Thank you to everyone who helped us out on that day.

Do you want to have the quick answer or the long one? Quick answer is –  “NO DIFFERENT” at all. If there were differences right after I said “YES” in front of the altar, then somebody, either my wife or I, was lying before ceremony! There were definitely no differences. She did not gain weight right away, thank God! However, after I answered this question too quickly, I realised immediately that if there are no differences, why did I get marry? Wow, that is a bigger mystery.

My wife and I never lived together before we were married. She came to my place from time to time for movies, board games and supper. I thought I knew enough of her habits and living style. However, once we began to live together, it was a completely another story. We have different way of washing dishes, doing laundry, cleaning, etc. In the first two weeks, I was a little frustrated with her way of doing things, which is not my way. I was frustrated because I had always thought that my way was the best way.

Whenever I feel frustrated, I always go back to prayer. At that small moment, a bible passage passed through my mind:

“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh” (Mark 10:6–8).

So, we are now one flesh, right? A new baby was born and is now called “Mr. and Mrs. Chan.” My brain flashed back to the engagement period. We prepared for our new life – we got a new bank account, searched for a new place, bought new furniture…etc. The day August 8, 2015 was the birthday of little Mr. and Mrs. Chan. We had our wedding in a church and we promised to each other that we would live together and love each other forever unconditionally.

When it comes to a newborn baby, they also need to learn how to walk, to talk, to eat, to control emotions, to solve problems … then later on to do homework, to help washing dishes, to do laundry… etc.

Wait a minute, the newborn baby “Mr. and Mrs. Chan” is also doing the same thing. Instead of one learning, now it is both of us ‘together’ learning. We need to learn how to walk together, to talk together, to make supper together, to control emotions together, to solve problem together… We need to love each other as ourselves. Of course, we are now one flesh, we need to love ourselves, so each other and that also means oneself… ahhhhh… anyway, point is… I need to love my wife and my wife needs to love me!


In conclusion, an early married couple is basically just like a newborn baby. We will need to learn from scratch. It is ok for a baby to make mistakes, in fact, is is expected! Likewise, it is necessary for a couple to forgive one another when they mistakes. Babies need encouragement and the same goes for a newborn couple! So, when you see us next time, please encourage us!

So, when somebody asks me next “how’s your married life?”, my answer will be “Go read my blog please!

:) Amen

Katie Couric on the rise of digital news and the Media’s moral obligation


Yahoo Global News Anchor Katie Couric discusses the digital news phenomenon and the Media’s moral obligation in mainstream news coverage.

How are you going to spend the next five minutes of your time?  You could browse social media or check your email, but how about meeting a fascinating person and learning something relevant that will broaden your perspective?  Sit down with host Sebastian Gomes and his various guests, and go straight to the heart of the matter.  It will be five minutes well spent…

Connect5 airs on our network beginning Friday, September 11, 2015 at 8:25 pm ET, immediately following Vatican Connections. Catch a new episode of Connect5 online every Wednesday.

Pope Francis’ Remarks at First Session of Synod of Bishops on the Family


Pope Francis addressed the General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on Monday morning – the morning of their first full day of sessions. Below, please find Vatican Radio’s full English translation of the Holy Father’s remarks.

Dear Beatitudes, Eminences, Excellencies, brothers and sisters,

The Church today takes up once again the dialogue begun with the announcement of the extraordinary Synod on the family, and certainly even long before that, to evaluate and reflect on the text of the Working Document (Lt.Instrumentum laboris), elaborated on the basis of the [Extraordinary Assembly’s] final report (Relatio Synodi) and the responses of the Bishops’ Conferences and from the other organizations with the right to contribute.

The Synod, as we know, is a journey undertaken together in the spirit of collegiality and synodality, on which participants bravely adopt parrhesia, pastoral zeal and doctrinal wisdom, frankness, and always keep before our eyes the good of the Church, of families and the suprema lex, the Salus animarum.

I should mention that the Synod is neither a convention, nor a parlor, nor a parliament or senate, where people make deals and reach compromises. The Synod is rather an Ecclesial expression, i.e., the  Church that journeys together to read reality with the eyes of faith and with the heart of God; it is the Church that interrogates herself with regard to her fidelity to the deposit of faith, which does not represent for the Church a museum to view, nor even something merely to safeguard, but is a living source from which the Church shall drink, to satisfy the thirst of, and illuminate, the deposit of life.

The Synod moves necessarily within the bosom of the Church and of the holy people of God, to which we belong in the quality of shepherds – which is to say, as servants. The Synod also is a protected space in which the Church experiences the action of the Holy Spirit. In the Synod, the Spirit speaks by means of every person’s tongue, who let themselves be guided by the God who always surprises, the God who reveals himself to little ones, who hides from the knowing and intelligent; the God who created the law and the Sabbath for man and not vice versa; by the God, who leaves the 99 sheep to look for the one lost sheep; the God who is always greater than our logic and our calculations.

Let us remember, however, that the Synod will be a space for the action of the Holy Spirit only if we participants vest ourselves with apostolic courage, evangelical humility and trusting prayer: with that apostolic courage, which refuses to be intimidated in the face of the temptations of the world – temptations that tend to extinguish the light of truth in the hearts of men, replacing it with small and temporary lights; nor even before the petrification of some hearts, which, despite good intentions, drive people away from God; apostolic courage to bring life and not to make of our Christian life a museum of memories; evangelical humility that knows how to empty itself of conventions and prejudices in order to listen to brother bishops and be filled with God – humility that leads neither to finger-pointing nor to judging others, but to hands outstretched to help people up without ever feeling oneself superior to them.

Confident prayer that trusts in God is the action of the heart when it opens to God, when our humors are silenced in order to listen to the gentle voice of God, which speaks in silence. Without listening to God, all our words are only words that are meet no need and serve no end. Without letting ourselves be guided the Spirit, all our decisions will be but decorations that, instead of exalting the Gospel, cover it and hide it.

Dear brothers, as I have said, the Synod is not a parliament in which to reach a consensus or a common accord there is recourse to negotiation, to deal-making, or to compromise: indeed, the only method of the Synod is to open up to the Holy Spirit with apostolic courage, with evangelical humility and confident, trusting prayer, that it might be He, who guides us, enlightens us and makes us put before our eyes, with our personal opinions, but with faith in God, fidelity to the Magisterium, the good of the Church and the Salus animarum.

In fine, I would like to thank: His Eminence Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod; His Excellency, Archbishop Fabio Fabene, Undersecretary; and with them I thank the Rapporteur, His Eminence Cardinal Peter Erd? and the Special Secretary, His Excellency Archbishop Bruno Forte; the Presidents-delegate, writers, consultors, translators and all those who worked with true fidelity and total dedication to the Church. Thank you so much!

I also thank all of you, dear Synod Fathers, fraternal delegates, auditors and assessors, for your active and fruitful participation.

I want to address a special thanks to the journalists present at this time and to those who follow us from afar. Thank you for your enthusiastic participation and for your admirable attention.

We begin our journey by invoking the help of the Holy Spirit and the intercession of the Holy Family: Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Thank you.


Day of the Synod of Bishops on the Family


VATICAN: On October 6, 2015, Father Federico Lombardi, S.J., director of the Holy See Press Office, led a press conference outlining discussions arising from recent sessions of the Synod on the Family. Father Thomas Rosica, C.S.B., Vatican appointed English-language spokesperson at the Synod on the Family, gave an overview of note worthy topics of discussion.

“Poverty, unemployment, migration, war, and the current massive refugee problem that is taking place, are all huge challenges for marriage,” said Fr. Rosica. There are many challenges that continue to cause injury to the family as we live in a society of disposability, self centered social expression, and other inherent social and human barriers. During this time of insecurity, we must look to the church as a guide, as did our ancestors during times of war, violence, and instability. “The church is mother and teacher, judge and doctor,” he said. Fr. Rosica described a reoccurring metaphor that the church is often like a Global Positioning System(GPS), “sometimes when the road is broken, we must find a new road to get to the other side,” he said.

Mercy, innovative language, approachability, and a more welcoming presence are key points as the church calibrates this new direction.

“Are we the masters at the table of the Eucharist? Or, are we the servants at that table welcoming people to it?” said Fr. Rosica. A stronger pastoral approach for people living together before marriage is necessary, along with new programs of effective catechesis that meets people where they are. “There must be an end to exclusionary language, and a strong emphasis on embracing reality. We should not be afraid of new and complex situations,” he said. With nearly two dozen countries recognizing same sex marriage around the world, and with a growing number of governments discerning whether to grant legal recognition, it is a continued fundamental conviction that homosexual persons are to be approached with love and mercy. Homosexual men and women are our flesh and blood: sons, daughters, neighbours, colleagues, and should never be treated as outsiders.

In making a clear link between fostering a more compassionate approach, and the upcoming Jubilee of Mercy, the possibility of a temporary reinstitution of form 3 of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, that being general absolution, was discussed as a way to providing a strong invitation and clear signal to people who are on the fringes, inviting them to come home, wherever they may be, or struggle they may be living. “The Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect, but the powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak,” said Fr. Rosica. This global understanding of families was discussed, in recognizing that every continent, every country, every region is different, and face their own unique challenges. “When we presume that human nature is essentially good, much good can come from that, and how we deal with people. Rather than looking at human nature as fallen and broken, we must see it is as essentially good and beautiful.” he said.

Domestic violence is a challenge for many families in almost all cultures, and “must be eradicated at all costs,” said Fr. Rosica. “Not only can homes be dangerous places, but even our church can be a dangerous place.” There must be a renewed focus on creating a healthy and safe environment for families to live, grow, and worship. These environments of worship and encounter, are also opportunities for evangelization, as interfaith and inter religious marriages are not problems, but should be seen rather as opportunities to “create places of welcome, evangelization, and of catechesis,” he said. 

The Synod will be breaking into small group sessions on Tuesday afternoon, and throughout the week until Friday.

Homily during Opening Mass of the Synod of Bishops

Homily of His Holiness Pope Francis
Twenty-Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time
Opening of the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops

“If we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1 Jn 4:12).

This Sunday’s Scripture readings seem to have been chosen precisely for this moment of grace which the Church is experiencing: the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the family, which begins with this Eucharistic celebration. The readings centre on three themes: solitude, love between man and woman, and the family.


Adam, as we heard in the first reading, was living in the Garden of Eden.  He named all the other creatures as a sign of his dominion, his clear and undisputed power, over all of them.  Nonetheless, he felt alone, because “there was not found a helper fit for him” (Gen 2:20).  He was lonely.

The drama of solitude is experienced by countless men and women in our own day.  I think of the elderly, abandoned even by their loved ones and children; widows and widowers; the many men and women left by their spouses; all those who feel alone, misunderstood and unheard; migrants and refugees fleeing from war and persecution; and those many young people who are victims of the culture of consumerism, the culture of waste, the throwaway culture.

Today we experience the paradox of a globalized world filled with luxurious mansions and skyscrapers, but a lessening of the warmth of homes and families; many ambitious plans and projects, but little time to enjoy them; many sophisticated means of entertainment, but a deep and growing interior emptiness; many pleasures, but few loves; many liberties, but little freedom…  The number of people who feel lonely keeps growing, as does the number of those who are caught up in selfishness, gloominess, destructive violence and slavery to pleasure and money.

Our experience today is, in some way, like that of Adam: so much power and at the same time so much loneliness and vulnerability.  The image of this is the family.  People are less and less serious about building a solid and fruitful relationship of love: in sickness and in health, for better and for worse, in good times and in bad.  Love which is lasting, faithful, conscientious, stable and fruitful is increasingly looked down upon, viewed as a quaint relic of the past.  It would seem that the most advanced societies are the very ones which have the lowest birth-rates and the highest percentages of abortion, divorce, suicide, and social and environmental pollution.

Love between man and woman

In the first reading we also hear that God was pained by Adam’s loneliness.  He said: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Gen 2:18).  These words show that nothing makes man’s heart as happy as another heart like his own, a heart which loves him and takes away his sense of being alone.  These words also show that God did not create us to live in sorrow or to be alone.  He made men and women for happiness, to share their journey with someone who complements them, to live the wondrous experience of love: to love and to be loved, and to see their love bear fruit in children, as today’s Psalm says (cf. Ps 128).

This is God’s dream for his beloved creation: to see it fulfilled in the loving union between a man and a woman, rejoicing in their shared journey, fruitful in their mutual gift of self.  It is the same plan which Jesus presents in today’s Gospel: “From the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female’.  For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.  So they are no longer two but one flesh” (Mk 10:6-8; cf. Gen 1:27; 2:24).

To a rhetorical question – probably asked as a trap to make him unpopular with the crowd, which practiced divorce as an established and inviolable fact – Jesus responds in a straightforward and unexpected way.  He brings everything back to the beginning of creation, to teach us that God blesses human love, that it is he who joins the hearts of two people who love one another, he who joins them in unity and indissolubility.  This shows us that the goal of conjugal life is not simply to live together for life, but to love one another for life!  In this way Jesus re-establishes the order which was present from the beginning.


“What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder” (Mk 10:9).  This is an exhortation to believers to overcome every form of individualism and legalism which conceals a narrow self-centredness and a fear of accepting the true meaning of the couple and of human sexuality in God’s plan.

Indeed, only in the light of the folly of the gratuitousness of Jesus’ paschal love will the folly of the gratuitousness of an exclusive and life-long conjugal love make sense. For God, marriage is not some adolescent utopia, but a dream without which his creatures will be doomed to solitude! Indeed, being afraid to accept this plan paralyzes the human heart.

Paradoxically, people today – who often ridicule this plan – continue to be attracted and fascinated by every authentic love, by every steadfast love, by every fruitful love, by every faithful and enduring love.  We see people chase after fleeting loves while dreaming of true love; they chase after carnal pleasures but desire total self-giving.

“Now that we have fully tasted the promises of unlimited freedom, we begin to appreciate once again the old phrase: “world-weariness”. Forbidden pleasures lost their attraction at the very moment they stopped being forbidden.  Even if they are pushed to the extreme and endlessly renewed, they prove dull, for they are finite realities, whereas we thirst for the infinite” (JOSEPH RATZINGER,  Auf Christus schauen. Einübung in Glaube, Hoffnung, Liebe, Freiburg, 1989, p. 73).

In this extremely difficult social and marital context, the Church is called to carry out her mission in fidelity, truth and love. To carry out her mission in fidelity to her Master as a voice crying out in the desert, in defending faithful love and encouraging the many families which live married life as an experience which reveals of God’s love; in defending the sacredness of life, of every life; in defending the unity and indissolubility of the conjugal bond as a sign of God’s grace and of the human person’s ability to love seriously.

To carry out her mission in truth, which is not changed by passing fads or popular opinions.  The truth which protects individuals and humanity as a whole from the temptation of self-centredness and from turning fruitful love into sterile selfishness, faithful union into temporary bonds.  “Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality.  Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way.  In a culture without truth, this is the fatal risk facing love” (BENEDICT XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 3).

To carry out her mission in charity, not pointing a finger in judgment of others, but – faithful to her nature as a mother – conscious of her duty to seek out and care for hurting couples with the balm of acceptance and mercy; to be a “field hospital” with doors wide open to whoever knocks in search of help and support; to reach out to others with true love, to walk with our fellow men and women who suffer, to include them and guide them to the wellspring of salvation.

A Church which teaches and defends fundamental values, while not forgetting that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mk2:27); and that Jesus also said: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mk 2:17).  A Church which teaches authentic love, which is capable of taking loneliness away, without neglecting her mission to be a good Samaritan to wounded humanity.

I remember when Saint John Paul II said: “Error and evil must always be condemned and opposed; but the man who falls or who errs must be understood and loved… we must love our time and help the man of our time” (JOHN PAUL II, Address to the Members of Italian Catholic Action, 30 December 1978).  The Church must search out these persons, welcome and accompany them, for a Church with closed doors betrays herself and her mission, and, instead of being a bridge, becomes a roadblock: “For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified have all one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brethren” (Heb 2:11).

In this spirit we ask the Lord to accompany us during the Synod and to guide his Church, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph, her most chaste spouse.

Pope Francis Homily: Prayer Vigil for Synod of Bishops on the Family


On Saturday evening, October 3, 2015, Pope Francis led a prayer vigil prior to the opening of the 14th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and the Contemporary World. Below you will find the full text of the Holy Father’s prepared homily.

Dear Families,

Good evening!  What good is it to light a little candle in the darkness?  Isn’t there a better way to dispel the darkness? Can the darkness even be overcome?

At some points in life – this life so full of amazing resources – such questions have to be asked. When life proves difficult and demanding, we can be tempted to step back, turn away and withdraw, perhaps even in the name of prudence and realism, and thus flee the responsibility of doing our part as best we can.

Do you remember what happened to Elijah?  From a human point of view, the prophet was afraid and tried to run away.  “Elijah was afraid; he got up and fled for his life… He walked for forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God.  At that place he came to a cave and spent the night there. Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying: ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’” (1 Kg 19:3,8-9). On Horeb, he would get his answer not in the great wind which shatters the rocks, nor in the earthquake nor even in the fire.  God’s grace does not shout out; it is a whisper which reaches all those who are ready to hear its still, small voice.  It urges them to go forth, to return to the world, to be witnesses to God’s love for mankind, so that the world may believe…

In this vein, just a year ago, in this same Square, we invoked the Holy Spirit and asked that – in discussing the theme of the family – the Synod Fathers might listen attentively to one another, with their gaze fixed on Jesus, the definitive Word of the Father and the criterion by which everything is to be measured.

This evening, our prayer cannot be otherwise.  For as Patriarch Athenagoras reminded us, without the Holy Spirit God is far off, Christ remains in the past, the Church becomes a mere organization, authority becomes domination, mission becomes propaganda, worship becomes mystique, Christian life the morality of slaves.

So let us pray that the Synod which opens tomorrow will show how the experience of marriage and family is rich and humanly fulfilling.  May the Synod acknowledge, esteem, and proclaim all that is beautiful, good and holy about that experience.   May it embrace situations of vulnerability and hardship: war, illness, grief, wounded relationships and brokenness, which create distress, resentment and separation. May it remind these families, and every family, that the Gospel is always “good news” which enables us to start over. From the treasury of the Church’s living tradition may the Fathers draw words of comfort and hope for families called in our own day to build the future of the ecclesial community and the city of man.

* * *

Every family is always a light, however faint, amid the darkness of this world.

Jesus’ own human experience took shape in the heart of a family, where he lived for thirty years.  His family was like any number of others, living in an obscure village on the outskirts of the Empire.

Charles de Foucauld, perhaps like few others, grasped the import of the spirituality which radiates from Nazareth.   This great explorer hastily abandoned his military career, attracted by the mystery of the Holy Family, the mystery of Jesus’ daily relationship with his parents and neighbours, his quiet labour, his humble prayer.  Contemplating the Family of Nazareth, Brother Charles realized how empty the desire for wealth and power really is.  Through his apostolate of charity, he became everything to everyone. Attracted by the life of a hermit, he came to understand that we do not grow in the love of God by avoiding the entanglement of human relations.  For in loving others, we learn to love God, in stooping down to help our neighbour, we are lifted up to God.  Through his fraternal closeness and his solidarity with the poor and the abandoned, he came to understand that it is they who evangelize us, they who help us to grow in humanity.

To understand the family today, we too need to enter – like Charles de Foucauld – into the mystery of the family of Nazareth, into its quiet daily life, not unlike that of most families, with their problems and their simple joys, a life marked by serene patience amid adversity, respect for others, a humility which is freeing and which flowers in service, a life of fraternity rooted in the sense that we are all members of one body.

The family is a place where evangelical holiness is lived out in the most ordinary conditions. There we are formed by the memory of past generations and we put down roots which enable us to go far.  The family is a place of discernment, where we learn to recognize God’s plan for our lives and to embrace it with trust.  It is a place of gratuitousness. of discreet fraternal presence and solidarity, a place where we learn to step out of ourselves and accept others, to forgive and to be forgiven.

* * *

Let us set out once more from Nazareth for a Synod which, more than speaking about the family, can learn from the family, readily acknowledging its dignity, its strength and its value, despite all its problems and difficulties.

In the “Galilee of the nations” of our own time, we will rediscover the richness and strength of a Church which is a mother, ever capable of giving and nourishing life, accompanying it with devotion, tenderness, and moral strength. For unless we can unite compassion with justice, we will end up being needlessly severe and deeply unjust.

A Church which is family is also able to show the closeness and love of a father, a responsible guardian who protects without confining, who corrects without demeaning, who trains by example and patience, sometimes simply by a silence which bespeaks prayerful and trusting expectation.

Above all, a Church of children who see themselves as brothers and sisters, will never end up considering anyone simply as a burden, a problem, an expense, a concern or a risk.  Other persons are essentially a gift, and always remain so, even when they walk different paths.

The Church is an open house, far from outward pomp, hospitable in the simplicity of her members.   That is why she can appeal to the longing for peace present in every man and woman, including those who – amid life’s trials – have wounded and suffering hearts.

This Church can indeed light up the darkness felt by so many men and women.  She can credibly point them towards the goal and walk at their side, precisely because she herself first experienced what it is to be endlessly reborn in the merciful heart of the Father.

CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters

5 takeaways from Pope Francis’ historic visit to the USA

blog_1443828775(Photo: courtesy of CNS)

How are we to evaluate Pope Francis’ historic six-day visit to the United States? Should it be considered a success? Did the Pope accomplish what he set out to do? Were there questions left unanswered? How should we gage the response of the American Church? Of the American people? What lasting impact will the visit have on the country?

Venture to any Catholic media outlet or blog this week and you’re bound to find as many answers to these questions as there are commentators writing them. It’s not without good reason. Considering the historical context and Francis’ unique global influence, the visit was arguably the most significant of any pope to this continent.

I was fortunate enough to be on the ground in the three cities Pope Francis visited in the US. And though I wasn’t able to attend every papal event, I did have the opportunity on a number of occasions to see the Pope up close, hear him preach, and watch him interact with different groups of people. I followed each of his addresses as he delivered them, madly scribbling notes, paying attention to developing trains of thought and recurrent themes.

Based on my experience during those six incredible days and having followed Francis closely over the course of his pontificate, I offer five key takeaways for anyone who is interested in reflecting seriously on what we learned during this trip about Pope Francis and the direction in which he is leading the Church. I don’t intend to be comprehensive. Nor have I focused on the more sensational stories that emerged (as usual, they are receiving more than enough attention already). Rather, I believe there is great value in looking at the bigger picture.

1) Comprehensive teaching

For a whirlwind trip like this one, the Pope demonstrated a striking ability to teach in a comprehensive manner. Officially, he had eighteen opportunities to speak in the US: some to a specific audience, others to the entire nation or, in the case of the UN address, to the world. Parsing each of these addresses, and those not on the official schedule (like the stop over at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia for a meeting with the Jesuit community there), we see that the Pope touched on a wide range of topics: religious liberty, human dignity, family life, politics, ecology, justice, peace, war, persecution, immigration, dialogue, fundamentalism, the consistent ethic of life, the death penalty, the economy, sexual abuse, pastoral attitudes in the church, fear, rigidity, mission, faith, hope, love, God, the workings of the Holy Spirit, Jesus,… to name some!

The takeaway: a selective reading of the Pope’s remarks out of ignorance, or for political or ideological purposes is neither accurate nor helpful. The Pope cannot be pigeonholed, certainly not on this trip. We should all be mindful of the comprehensive nature of his thought, which only reflects the breadth of authentic Catholic teaching.

2) A Church of dialogue

Back in the 1302, Pope Boniface VIII issued a papal bull entitled Unam sanctam, which stated that, “Outside the [Catholic] Church there is no salvation.” Of course the bull said much more than that. In fact, it was a theological statement grounded in an ancient understanding of the uniqueness of the universal salvific act of Jesus’ death and resurrection. But in the subsequent centuries it did not serve as a good starting point for dialogue with other Christian traditions or other faiths. It was interpreted, rightly or wrongly, as exclusivist, representative of a kind-of “all or nothing” mentality that fostered divisions and alienated non-Catholics.

Unam sanctam is one historical example of the kind of approach that Pope Francis seems determined to avoid. By my count, Francis used the word “dialogue” twenty-three times in five of his addresses. Notably, in his address to Congress on September 24 he made clear his desire to enter into a dialogue “with all of you,” referring to the American people. He elevated Thomas Merton, the great 20th century American Trappist monk, as the preeminent model of dialogue for the country: “It is my duty to build bridges and to help all men and women, in any way possible, to do the same.” Likely referring to the recent rapprochement between the US and Cuba, which the Pope himself helped bring about, he said, “This has required, and requires, courage and daring, which is not the same as irresponsibility.”

Pope Francis also taught us that dialogue is not limited to political activity outside of the Church. Here I quote directly and at length from his address to the Bishops, the leaders of the American Church, in Washington, D.C. on September 23:

“The path ahead, then, is dialogue among yourselves, dialogue in your presbyterates, dialogue with lay persons, dialogue with families, dialogue with society. I cannot ever tire of encouraging you to dialogue fearlessly. The richer the heritage which you are called to share with parrhesia (“boldness”), the more eloquent should be the humility with which you should offer it. Do not be afraid to set out on that “exodus” which is necessary for all authentic dialogue. Otherwise, we fail to understand the thinking of others, or to realize deep down that the brother or sister we wish to reach and redeem, with the power and the closeness of love, counts more than their positions, distant as they may be from what we hold as true and certain. Harsh and divisive language does not befit the tongue of a pastor, it has no place in his heart; although it may momentarily seem to win the day, only the enduring allure of goodness and love remains truly convincing.”

The takeaway: According to Pope Francis, dialogue and bridge building with people of varying ideas, political interests, faith traditions, and especially within the Catholic community itself is the only viable approach for the Church in the 21st century. Today, an “all or nothing” mentality does not reflect an honest application of the Gospel. Francis knows that a dialogical approach requires great humility. In his homily during the concluding Mass for the World Meeting of Families the Pope spoke these words to the faithful: “To raise doubts about the working of the Spirit, to give the impression that it cannot take place in those who are not “part of our group”, who are not “like us”, is a dangerous temptation. Not only does it block conversion to the faith; it is a perversion of faith!”

3) Ecology: a new cornerstone and point of convergence

If today dialogue is the way of the Church, ecology is the new starting point of that dialogue with the world. Pope Francis made it clear when he released his landmark encyclical Laudato si’ that timing was everything. The first papal encyclical devoted entirely to ecology and humanity’s responsibility for the natural environment was released in advance of the opening of the United Nations General Assembly in September and the COP21 summit on climate change in Paris this November/December. Many anticipated that Pope Francis would speak about ecology and climate change during his visit to America. And speak he did. His speeches were littered (no pun intended) with references to his encyclical, especially his address to the UN.

The UN address is of particular interest for the following reasons: first, it was the foremost opportunity for Pope Francis to speak to the whole world (remember he addressed his encyclical to everyone). Second, Francis developed themes of previous popes at the UN (Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI) such as the promotion of human dignity, the problem of humanity seeking absolute power, the senselessness of war, etc. In particular, he framed these themes in reference to integral human development, which cannot be conceived apart from a relationship with the natural world. The Pope spoke about “a true right of the environment,” an intrinsic right, and that, “The misuse and destruction of the environment are also accompanied by a relentless process of exclusion.”

The takeaway: It appears that Pope Francis is framing the discussion and promotion of integral human development, which encompasses the key components of the Church’s social doctrine, from the foundational question of ecology and humanity’s relationship and responsibility towards creation.

4) Collegiality in action

For Pope Francis the fraternal relationship and shared responsibility of church leadership between the Pope and the Bishops known as “collegiality” is not an abstract ideal but something to be put into practice. Since his election, he has spoken often of the need to develop collegiality in the Church. For example, in Evangelii Gaudium he wrote that:

“Episcopal conferences are in a position to contribute in many and fruitful ways to the concrete realization of the collegial spirit. Yet this desire has not been fully realized, since a juridical status of episcopal conferences which would see them as subjects of specific attributions, including genuine doctrinal authority, has not yet been sufficiently elaborated. Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life and her missionary outreach.” (32)

Collegiality was realized in a concrete way during Pope Francis’ visit to the US. Some expected (even hoped!) the Latin American Pope would scold his northern neighbors on economic imperialism and excessive material consumption. Others didn’t know what to expect, but sensed that Francis may not be aware of the social and cultural realities given that this was his first ever visit to the country.

Francis, in a sense, surprised us all. He showed a keen awareness and sensitivity to issues affecting the people, the state and the church. “Freedom” and “religious liberty,” two of America’s most cherished principles, ran through a number of his addresses: notable, his opening remarks at the White House, his address to Congress in which he spoke in a remarkable way about Abraham Lincoln, and his speech at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. On multiple occasions he spoke of “going back,” or “looking back” in reference to American history and its great struggles in building a nation in which human dignity is promoted and safeguarded.

The takeaway: It’s unlikely that Pope Francis, amid his demanding schedule, spent weeks and months learning about the rich history and culture of the United States in books alone. It’s more likely that he spoke often with his brother bishops there. We know that Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville and Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston (the current President and Vice-president of the USCCB), along with Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia (host of the World Meeting of Families), met the Pope on numerous occasions ahead of his visit. We also know that the Pope has two very close advisors and collaborators in Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. and Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston. The Pope’s keen awareness of American history and sensitivity to the country’s current challenges are probably a reflection of the consultation he initiated with these men, of his desire to support his brother bishops and the American church and encourage the entire nation to be its better self.

5) The Pope is Catholic

It sounds like a truism. But since Pope Francis began critiquing the global capitalist system, trickledown economic theories and financial speculation, some in the United States—even fellow Catholics—have raised doubts about the Pope’s Catholicity. It was a serious enough concern, evidently, that a journalist felt the need to raise it with the Pope during the in-flight press conference en route to Washington, D.C. from Santiago, Cuba. “There have already been discussions about a communist Pope, now there are even those who speak of a Pope who isn’t Catholic,” said Gian Guido Vecchi, “What do you think?” In response, Pope Francis told a story about a woman who considered him the “anti-pope” because he didn’t wear red shoes. Then he concluded, “My doctrine on this, in Laudato si’, on economic imperialism, all of this, is the social doctrine of the Church. And it if necessary, I’ll recite the creed. I am available to do that.”

Anyone with an ear to the ground can hear murmurs of frustration and perplexity with Francis from a few Catholic circles. There are various and complex reasons for this. This comment of the Pope, however, serves as a sweeping and penetrating retort in a rather unexpected and almost jovial way. The question has suddenly been turned around. It is now up to those who would question the Pope’s Catholicity to show how his remarks on those touchy social and economic questions contrasts with the established social doctrine of the Church.

The takeaway: Perhaps Francis’ greatest success in these two-and-a-half years as Pope has been his ability to communicate authentic Catholic orthodoxy in a pastoral yet penetrating way that challenges and inspires many different people—much like the Gospel of Jesus Christ does. In turn, this has exposed misconceptions or misrepresentations of the Church’s long-standing social doctrine by some Catholics. The question therefore is not, “Is the Pope Catholic?” but “How do Catholics understand orthodoxy?” The Pope, like his predecessors, is Catholic. Are we?

Coast to Coast: September 27 to October 3


Here’s what’s been going on across the country this week:

In Vancouver, where the permanent diaconate program has only been in place for about two years, another group of candidates have started the journey towards ordained ministry.

In Saskatoon, a controversial “conscientious objection” policy was passed this week by the province’s College of Physicians and Surgeons.

In Ontario, a Catholic school is in mourning after two of its students were killed in an accident by a driver allegedly driving under the influence of alcohol.

In Edmonton, the Catholic School Board promised to have a policy in place by October for transgender students. The need for the policy was raised after one student transitioned from self – identifying as male to female.