Daniel J. Berrigan, defiant priest who practiced pacifism, dies at 94

The New York Times reports: The Rev. Daniel J. Berrigan, a Jesuit priest and poet whose defiant protests helped shape the tactics of opposition to the Vietnam War and landed him in prison, died on Saturday in New York City. He was 94.

His death was confirmed by the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and editor at large at America magazine, a national Catholic magazine published by Jesuits. Father Berrigan died at Murray-Weigel Hall, the Jesuit infirmary at Fordham University in the Bronx.

The United States was tearing itself apart over civil rights and the war in Southeast Asia when Father Berrigan emerged in the 1960s as an intellectual star of the Roman Catholic “new left,” articulating a view that racism and poverty, militarism and capitalist greed were interconnected pieces of the same big problem: an unjust society.

It was an essentially religious position, based on a stringent reading of the Scriptures that some called pure and others radical. But it would have explosive political consequences as Father Berrigan; his brother Philip, a Josephite priest; and their allies took their case to the streets with rising disregard for the law or their personal fortunes.

A defining point was the burning of Selective Service draft records in Catonsville, Md., and the subsequent trial of the so-called Catonsville Nine, a sequence of events that inspired an escalation of protests across the country; there were marches, sit-ins, the public burning of draft cards and other acts of civil disobedience. [Continue reading…]

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Pope Francis takes 12 refugees back to Vatican after trip to Greece

The New York Times reports: Pope Francis made an emotional visit into the heart of Europe’s migrant crisis on Saturday and took 12 Muslim refugees from Syria, including six children, with him back to Rome aboard the papal plane.

The action punctuated the pope’s pleas for sympathy to the plight of the refugees just as European attitudes are hardening against them.

Those taken to Rome were three families — two from Damascus and one from the eastern city of Deir al-Zour — whose homes had been bombed in the Syrian war, the Vatican said in a statement as the pope departed the Greek island of Lesbos.

”The pope has desired to make a gesture of welcome regarding refugees,” the statement said, adding that the Vatican would care for the three families.

The announcement capped a brief trip by the pope to Greece that again placed the plight of migrants at the center of his papacy.

“We have come to call the attention of the world to this grave humanitarian crisis and to plead for its resolution,” Francis said during a lunchtime visit to the Moria refugee camp on Lesbos, where leaders of Eastern Orthodox Christian churches joined him.

“As people of faith, we wish to join our voices to speak out on your behalf,” Francis continued. “We hope that the world will heed these scenes of tragic and indeed desperate need, and respond in a way worthy of our common humanity.”

Francis’ first papal trip in 2013 was to the Italian island of Lampedusa, to call attention to the refugees who were arriving there from Libya — or drowning before they reached shore. During his February visit to Mexico, Francis prayed beneath a large cross erected in Ciudad Juárez, just footsteps from the Mexican border with the United States, and then celebrated Mass nearby, where he spoke about immigrants. [Continue reading…]

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Papal official denies report Sanders invited himself to Vatican

Reuters reports: U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was invited to speak at an April 15 Vatican event by the Vatican, a senior papal official said on Friday, denying a report that Sanders had invited himself.

“I deny that. It was not that way,” Monsignor Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo told Reuters in a telephone interview while he was traveling in New York. Sorondo, a close aide to Pope Francis, is chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, which is hosting the event.

He said it was his idea to invite Sanders.

A Bloomberg report quoted Margaret Archer, president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, as saying that Sanders had broken with protocol by failing to contact her office first.

“This is not true and she knows it. I invited him with her consensus,” said Sorondo, who is senior to Archer. [Continue reading…]

Bloomberg reported: Archer, an English social scientist appointed the head the pontifical academy in 2014, said that while she “quite liked” Sanders’s program on paper, his failure to contact her first is a breach of protocol. “The president of the academy organizing this event has not been contacted with monumental discourtesy,” she said, referring to herself. [Continue reading…]

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Pope washes feet of Muslim refugees, says ‘we are brothers’

The Washington Post reports: Pope Francis washed and kissed the feet of Muslim, Christian and Hindu refugees Thursday and declared them all children of the same God, as he performed a gesture of welcome and brotherhood at a time of increased anti-Muslim sentiment following the Brussels attacks.

Francis denounced the carnage as a “gesture of war” carried out by blood-thirsty people beholden to the weapons industry during an Easter Week Mass with asylum-seekers at a shelter in Castelnuovo di Porto, outside Rome.

The Holy Thursday rite re-enacts the foot-washing ritual Jesus performed on his apostles before being crucified, and is meant as a gesture of service. Francis contrasted that gesture with the “gesture of destruction” carried out by the Brussels attackers, saying they wanted to destroy the brotherhood of humanity represented by the migrants.

“We have different cultures and religions, but we are brothers and we want to live in peace,” Francis said in his homily, delivered off-the-cuff in the windy courtyard of the center.

Several of the migrants then wept as Francis knelt before them, poured holy water from a brass pitcher over their feet, wiped them clean and kissed them. [Continue reading…]

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Pope Francis and the Republican Party’s unchristian values

Religion should be kept out of politics — unless we’re talking about abortion, gay marriage, family values or any other issue where apparently it’s reasonable for religion to enter politics.

But for an Argentine pope to shove his nose into a U.S. presidential election, ranks in audacity close to Fidel Castro threatening America.

No doubt there are lots of Republicans who are convinced that Francis is really just a commie dressed in white — another Latino revolutionary out to stir up trouble.

In fact, the remarks the pope made yesterday that were reported as an attack on Trump were simply a rather basic enunciation of Christian values — as expressed in the Sermon on the Mount.

Maybe the Republicans would prefer the pope to refrain from preaching altogether. They might be happier if henceforth he simply be the Catholic church’s chief smiley face.

Michael Sean Winters writes: The difference could not be more stark. Pope Francis, in Ciudad Juarez yesterday, called for justice for migrants and an economic structure that serves people before profits and measures its health by the degree to which it includes everybody. Meanwhile, the Republican party’s presidential candidates are falling all over themselves to see who can be the toughest on immigration and the idea that profit is not the final arbiter of economic relations is viewed not just skeptically but as a kind of heresy.

The pope gave three talks in Ciudad Juarez, one to prisoners, one to workers, and a sermon at a Mass alongside the border with the United States. All three were a kind of rhetorical photographic negative of the attitudes we see championed by today’s Republican Party. [Continue reading…]

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The bond between the Vatican and Iran is a partnership destined to endure

rouhani-francis

Following a meeting on Tuesday at the Vatican between Pope Francis and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and noting that the Vatican has had diplomatic ties with Iran since 1954 (30 years longer than U.S.-Vatican relations), John L. Allen Jr. writes: the close ties between Rome and Tehran reflect the often under-appreciated fact that both the Vatican and post-revolutionary Iran are basically theocracies, representing spiritual traditions — Catholicism and Shia Islam — that have a surprising amount in common.

Iranian writer Vali Nasr, author of the 2006 book “The Shia Revival,” argues that the divide between Sunni and Shia bears comparison to that between Protestants and Catholics, with Shia being the branch closer to Catholicism.

Among those points of contact are:

  • A strong emphasis on clerical authority
  • An approach to the Quran accenting both scripture and tradition
  • A deep mystical streak
  • Devotion to a holy family (in the case of Shiites, the blood relatives of Mohammad) and to saints (the Twelve Imams)
  • A theology of sacrifice and atonement through the death of Hussain, grandson of Mohammad and the first imam of Shia Islam
  • Belief in free will (as opposed to the Sunni doctrine of pre-destination)
  • Holy days, pilgrimages, and healing shrines
  • Intercessory prayer
  • Strongly emotional forms of popular devotion, especially the festival of Ashoura commemorating Hussain’s death

One recent sign of the spiritual vicinity is that Iranian scholars recently translated the Confessions of Augustine and the Catechism of the Catholic Church into Farsi, the result of a 12-year effort.

In terms of sheer realpolitik, both parties also have strong motives for keeping their relationship green.

From Iran’s point of view, it aspires to being not merely a regional but a global player, and to do so it requires not merely “hard” power, to invoke the famous distinction of Harvard political scientist Joseph Nye, but also “soft,” meaning moral legitimacy. The perception of being in dialogue with the Vatican is crucially important, counteracting Bush administration rhetoric about Iran being part of an “axis of evil.”

Tehran also sees the Vatican as a firebreak with sometimes hostile Western nations. In 2007, when it seemed as if concerns over Iran’s nuclear program might lead to armed conflict with the United States, Iranian diplomats quietly sought out the Vatican as a potential mediator. [Continue reading…]

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Pope Francis attacks consumerist society in midnight mass at Vatican

The Guardian reports: Pope Francis returned to one of his favoured themes in his homily at midnight mass on Christmas Eve at the Vatican, castigating a hedonistic and consumerist society and a culture of indifference.

Meanwhile, one of his senior cardinals, Vincent Nichols, the archbishop of Westminster and the leader of the Catholic church in England, focused his Christmas Eve message on “gratuitous violence” in the home and the suffering of persecuted Christians around the world.

Neither Catholic leader mentioned the continuing refugee crisis, a surprising omission at the end of a year in which the plight of those fleeing conflict, persecution and hardship has dominated international headlines. In September, Francis called on every religious community across Europe to offer sanctuary to refugee families. [Continue reading…]

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Pope Francis says failure of climate summit would be catastrophic

Reuters reports: World leaders must reach a historic agreement to fight climate change and poverty at coming talks in Paris, facing the stark choice to either “improve or destroy the environment”, Pope Francis said in Africa on Thursday.

Francis chose his first visit to the world’s poorest continent to issue a clarion call for the success of the two-week summit, known as COP21, that starts on Monday in the French capital still reeling from attacks that killed 130 people and were claimed by Islamic State.

In a long address in Spanish at the United Nations regional office, Francis said it would be “catastrophic” if particular interests prevailed over the common good of people and the planet or if the conference were manipulated by business interests. [Continue reading…]

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Pope says Christmas will be ‘a charade’ because ‘whole world is at war’

Yahoo News reports: Pope Francis has declared in a sermon that Christmas this year will be a “charade” because “the whole world is at war”.

The pontiff’s speech at the Vatican came after terrorist attacks in France claimed the lives of 129 people; a Russian plane was bombed and dozens of people were killed in a double suicide attack in Lebanon.

Speaking during Mass at the Casa Santa Maria, he said: “We are close to Christmas. There will be lights, there will be parties, bright trees, even Nativity scenes – all decked out – while the world continues to wage war.

“It’s all a charade. The world has not understood the way of peace. The whole world is at war.

“A war can be justified, so to speak, with many, many reasons, but when all the world as it is today, at war, piecemeal though that war may be – a little here, a little there – there is no justification.”[Continue reading…]

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Pope Francis at the UN: ‘Any harm done to the environment, is harm done to humanity’

Pope Francis addressing the United Nations General Assembly today: The work of the United Nations, according to the principles set forth in the Preamble and the first Articles of its founding Charter, can be seen as the development and promotion of the rule of law, based on the realization that justice is an essential condition for achieving the ideal of universal fraternity. In this context, it is helpful to recall that the limitation of power is an idea implicit in the concept of law itself. To give to each his own, to cite the classic definition of justice, means that no human individual or group can consider itself absolute, permitted to bypass the dignity and the rights of other individuals or their social groupings. The effective distribution of power (political, economic, defense-related, technological, etc.) among a plurality of subjects, and the creation of a juridical system for regulating claims and interests, are one concrete way of limiting power. Yet today’s world presents us with many false rights and – at the same time – broad sectors which are vulnerable, victims of power badly exercised: for example, the natural environment and the vast ranks of the excluded. These sectors are closely interconnected and made increasingly fragile by dominant political and economic relationships. That is why their rights must be forcefully affirmed, by working to protect the environment and by putting an end to exclusion.

First, it must be stated that a true “right of the environment” does exist, for two reasons. First, because we human beings are part of the environment. We live in communion with it, since the environment itself entails ethical limits which human activity must acknowledge and respect. Man, for all his remarkable gifts, which “are signs of a uniqueness which transcends the spheres of physics and biology” (Laudato Si’, 81), is at the same time a part of these spheres. He possesses a body shaped by physical, chemical and biological elements, and can only survive and develop if the ecological environment is favourable. Any harm done to the environment, therefore, is harm done to humanity. Second, because every creature, particularly a living creature, has an intrinsic value, in its existence, its life, its beauty and its interdependence with other creatures. We Christians, together with the other monotheistic religions, believe that the universe is the fruit of a loving decision by the Creator, who permits man respectfully to use creation for the good of his fellow men and for the glory of the Creator; he is not authorized to abuse it, much less to destroy it. In all religions, the environment is a fundamental good (cf. ibid.).

The misuse and destruction of the environment are also accompanied by a relentless process of exclusion. In effect, a selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity leads both to the misuse of available natural resources and to the exclusion of the weak and disadvantaged, either because they are differently abled (handicapped), or because they lack adequate information and technical expertise, or are incapable of decisive political action. Economic and social exclusion is a complete denial of human fraternity and a grave offense against human rights and the environment. The poorest are those who suffer most from such offenses, for three serious reasons: they are cast off by society, forced to live off what is discarded and suffer unjustly from the abuse of the environment. They are part of today’s widespread and quietly growing “culture of waste”.

War is the negation of all rights and a dramatic assault on the environment. If we want true integral human development for all, we must work tirelessly to avoid war between nations and between peoples.

To this end, there is a need to ensure the uncontested rule of law and tireless recourse to negotiation, mediation and arbitration, as proposed by the Charter of the United Nations, which constitutes truly a fundamental juridical norm. The experience of these seventy years since the founding of the United Nations in general, and in particular the experience of these first fifteen years of the third millennium, reveal both the effectiveness of the full application of international norms and the ineffectiveness of their lack of enforcement. When the Charter of the United Nations is respected and applied with transparency and sincerity, and without ulterior motives, as an obligatory reference point of justice and not as a means of masking spurious intentions, peaceful results will be obtained. When, on the other hand, the norm is considered simply as an instrument to be used whenever it proves favourable, and to be avoided when it is not, a true Pandora’s box is opened, releasing uncontrollable forces which gravely harm defenseless populations, the cultural milieu and even the biological environment.

The Preamble and the first Article of the Charter of the United Nations set forth the foundations of the international juridical framework: peace, the pacific solution of disputes and the development of friendly relations between the nations. Strongly opposed to such statements, and in practice denying them, is the constant tendency to the proliferation of arms, especially weapons of mass destruction, such as nuclear weapons. An ethics and a law based on the threat of mutual destruction – and possibly the destruction of all mankind – are self-contradictory and an affront to the entire framework of the United Nations, which would end up as “nations united by fear and distrust”. There is urgent need to work for a world free of nuclear weapons, in full application of the non-proliferation Treaty, in letter and spirit, with the goal of a complete prohibition of these weapons.

The recent agreement reached on the nuclear question in a sensitive region of Asia and the Middle East is proof of the potential of political good will and of law, exercised with sincerity, patience and constancy. I express my hope that this agreement will be lasting and efficacious, and bring forth the desired fruits with the cooperation of all the parties involved.

In this sense, hard evidence is not lacking of the negative effects of military and political interventions which are not coordinated between members of the international community. For this reason, while regretting to have to do so, I must renew my repeated appeals regarding to the painful situation of the entire Middle East, North Africa and other African countries, where Christians, together with other cultural or ethnic groups, and even members of the majority religion who have no desire to be caught up in hatred and folly, have been forced to witness the destruction of their places of worship, their cultural and religious heritage, their houses and property, and have faced the alternative either of fleeing or of paying for their adhesion to good and to peace by their own lives, or by enslavement.

These realities should serve as a grave summons to an examination of conscience on the part of those charged with the conduct of international affairs. Not only in cases of religious or cultural persecution, but in every situation of conflict, as in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Libya, South Sudan and the Great Lakes region, real human beings take precedence over partisan interests, however legitimate the latter may be. In wars and conflicts there are individual persons, our brothers and sisters, men and women, young and old, boys and girls who weep, suffer and die. Human beings who are easily discarded when our only response is to draw up lists of problems, strategies and disagreements.

As I wrote in my letter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations on 9 August 2014, “the most basic understanding of human dignity compels the international community, particularly through the norms and mechanisms of international law, to do all that it can to stop and to prevent further systematic violence against ethnic and religious minorities” and to protect innocent peoples. [Continue reading…]

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Pope Francis encourages Congress and the U.S. to promote a ‘culture of care’

In his address to Congress, Pope Francis said: In Laudato Si’, I call for a courageous and responsible effort to “redirect our steps” (ibid., 61), and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States – and this Congress – have an important role to play. Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a “culture of care” (ibid., 231) and “an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature” (ibid., 139). “We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology” (ibid., 112); “to devise intelligent ways of… developing and limiting our power” (ibid., 78); and to put technology “at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral” (ibid., 112). In this regard, I am confident that America’s outstanding academic and research institutions can make a vital contribution in the years ahead.

A century ago, at the beginning of the Great War, which Pope Benedict XV termed a “pointless slaughter”, another notable American was born: the Cistercian monk Thomas Merton. He remains a source of spiritual inspiration and a guide for many people. In his autobiography he wrote: “I came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers”. Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.

From this perspective of dialogue, I would like to recognize the efforts made in recent months to help overcome historic differences linked to painful episodes of the past. It is my duty to build bridges and to help all men and women, in any way possible, to do the same. When countries which have been at odds resume the path of dialogue—a dialogue which may have been interrupted for the most legitimate of reasons—new opportunities open up for all. This has required, and requires, courage and daring, which is not the same as irresponsibility. A good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism. A good political leader always opts to initiate processes rather than possessing spaces (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 222-223). [Continue reading…]

For readers unfamiliar with Thomas Merton, here’s a video with clips from the last lecture he gave, shortly before his death in 1968.

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The pope has a radical solution for the refugee crisis: The Golden Rule

The Huffington Post reports: Pope Francis urged compassion on Thursday for refugees and unauthorized immigrants, speaking to a crowd that included lawmakers who have said the U.S. should keep out Syrians and others who fled their countries, and should deport more of the undocumented immigrants who are already here.

During an address to the House of Representatives and the Senate, the pope said the solution to the refugee crisis is for other countries to follow the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” His mention of the Golden Rule earned a standing ovation.

“Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War,” he said. “This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children?”

He went on to call for people to see refugees and other immigrants as human beings in need of compassion, rather than focus on the resources it would take to help them.

“We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation,” Francis said. “To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome.” [Continue reading…]

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How Pope Francis U.S. visit can help boost diplomacy and defeat militarism

Trita Parsi writes: Pope Francis’s visit to Washington DC could not have been better timed for the Obama administration. Relations with Cuba have been normalized and the Iran nuclear deal has survived the theatrics of the mandated Congressional review. Pope Francis has of course played an important role in many of these wins for President Barack Obama. He helped with the backchannel diplomacy with Havana, he has endorsed the Iran deal and the White House has reportedly also enlisted his offices to help secure the release of three American citizens imprisoned in Iran.

While the Pope’s assistance in what appears to amount to a prisoner exchange with Iran is both welcomed and necessary, there are two other interrelated issues that deserves some papal nudging.

On the broader level, the Obama administration should seek strong support from the pope on the matter of diplomacy as a principle. The Iran nuclear deal was above all a major victory for a foreign policy paradigm centered on the idea that international conflicts must first and foremost be resolved through dialogue and negotiations, rather than through militarism and coercion.

Many outside of the US may find it perplexing that this even needs to be debated, but the Congressional debate around the Iran nuclear deal revealed the profound opposition that remains within the Washington foreign policy establishment around the notion of negotiating and compromising with one’s adversaries. [Continue reading…]

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Explainer: What diplomatic power does a pope really have?

By Luke Cahill, University of Bath

Pope Francis is part of the way through his much-anticipated visit to Cuba and the US, which he is visiting for the first time. He is following in the footsteps of his immediate predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who visited Cuba in 2012 and expressed his opposition to the US trade embargo.

Now Cuba and the US have dramatically thawed their relations, Francis’s visit to Cuba may well have included a behind-closed-doors push to edge the Castro regime toward greater political, economic and especially religious liberalisation.

The current pontiff has been credited as a central figure in the negotiations that ultimately restored US-Cuba relations. Pope John Paul II had called for the lifting of the embargo, but nothing was done at the time; other religious and humanitarian organisations pressed for the ending of the US embargo but to no avail.

It was probably Obama’s decision to accept the mediation of Pope Francis that allowed the Holy See to help broker the deal.

There were plenty of incentives for both sides to accept the Holy See’s mediation. Perhaps Obama thought he needed to piggyback on the pope’s popularity to break through; the president has mentioned Francis’s role twice, once in his December 2014 Cuba speech and again in his January 2015 State of the Union.

This is hefty stuff indeed, and a measure of the pope’s unique diplomatic position.

[Read more…]

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Why should we care about Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S.?

By Massimo Faggioli, University of St. Thomas

The papal trip to the United States that Francis will begin on September 22 is the most difficult of his pontificate so far.

This is because of what I call the pope’s “American problem” – a cultural and ideological distance between the more socially minded Jesuit from Argentina and the more conservative leadership of the American Catholic Church.

Francis is not only the first non-European pope. He is also the first pope since Vatican II – the council that “opened the church to the world” – who has never set foot in the US, even before becoming pontiff. And, finally, he is the first pope from Latin America – a fact that presents American Catholics with a particular kind of challenge to their tendency, evident in the writing of George Weigel, for example, to identify themselves as the youngest and most energetic Church in global Catholicism, and to see American Catholicism as representative of the rest of the world.

A Latin American challenges these tendencies because Latin American Catholicism represent a mix of “global south” and of European Catholicism very different from North American Catholicism.

But why should non-Catholic, non-Christian, non-experts care about Pope Francis coming to America? What does this media fascination in the papal trip (just look at the latest issues of Newsweek, Time, People and The New Yorker) say about our world?

[Read more…]

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The people’s pope

Christopher Dickey writes: God bless the common sense of this very uncommon pope. Pope Francis’s first address in the United States, given on the White House lawn, could not have been simpler, more straightforward, and more genuine had he used that phrase dear to Americans, “We hold these truths to be self-evident.”

There is no question his remarks will be seen by some as a kind of progressive manifesto because of his pleas for economic justice and sane environmental policies, yet within the context of his church and his teachings, and his understanding of what makes the United States a great nation, his logic was unassailable.

“Freedom,” he said, “remains one of America’s most precious possessions,” calling on everyone in this country to “preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten of compromise it.”

Of course he emphasized religious freedom — potentially a difficult question when the state imposes rules and edicts on believers, whether making institutions pay for birth control, or bureaucrats issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. But the core of the pope’s message, the heart and soul of it, was tolerance.

“Together with their fellow citizens, American Catholics are committed to building a society which is truly tolerant and inclusive,” Francis told some 15,000 people invited to hear him speak on the South Lawn. Catholics, as he sees them, and would lead them, are committed “to safeguarding the rights of individuals and communities, and to rejecting every form of unjust discrimination.” [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: He may be the world’s foremost Catholic, but to his fans, Pope Francis is more Martin Luther King Jr. than Pope Benedict XVI. He speaks, and millions listen — whether they are Muslim or Baptist, Hindu or atheist.

“I believe he’s a world leader more than a religious leader,” said Sasha Datta, a practicing Hindu who is planning to try to see Francis in Washington. “His openness, his ability to not shy away from real issues — I see a lot of hope when I see people like Pope Francis.”

Two years after his papacy began, Francis — the pontiff with the common touch and the tolerant embrace — is a lodestar to both the spiritual and secular worlds, a global celebrity to those who admire his warmth and a rudder to those who share his concerns about climate change, social justice, poverty and more. [Continue reading…]

“Jorge Mario Bergoglio was born in Buenos Aires in 1936 as the first child of a middle-class immigrant family that left Italy fearing for the life of his grandmother, who was highly involved with the movement Catholic Action during the early rise to power of Benito Mussolini’s fascist movement,” writes Inés San Martín: Buenos Aires boasts the sixth largest Jewish community in the world — not to mention the only McDonalds selling kosher food outside of Israel — and also a big Muslim community, the result mostly of a wave of Syro–Lebanese immigration.

The resulting blend of faiths and peoples produced some unique contradictions in the Argentina of Bergoglio’s youth, including the surreal reality that at times, children of Nazi concentration camp survivors attended public school with the children of Nazi war criminals, both groups that sought refuge in the country.

Argentina is also among the few countries in Latin America that also features an important presence of historic Protestant churches, such as the Lutheran, Methodist, and Anglican confessions.

Bergoglio savored the coexistence among Christians, Jews, and Muslims when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, and took it with him to the Vatican. Two of Francis’ closest advisors on inter-faith affairs are friends from Buenos Aires: Rabbi Abraham Skorka and Muslim leader Omar Abboud. [Continue reading…]

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Pope Francis’s reception in the U.S. from the left and the right

Gerard O’Connell writes: Pope Francis comes to embrace all the people of the United States and is likely to encourage them to renew their devotion to family life and their understanding of the demands of solidarity as well as the responsible use of their global power.

As we have read in his programmatic document, “The Joy of the Gospel,” and as he spelled out clearly in the encyclical “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home,” this Jesuit pope from Argentina is calling Christians to a new simplicity of life and a depth of spirit that replaces materialism, hyper-individualism and the pursuit of constant pleasure with an integrity that knows what it is to sacrifice, to live in compassion and solidarity, to work for the common good, to care for creation, to show mercy and to attempt to pattern our lives after Jesus himself. His radical message is clear, simple and firmly rooted in the Gospels, which he never tires of encouraging people to read. [Continue reading…]

Jesus said to Rush Limbaugh, “Go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when Rush heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property. (Matthew 19)

Jesus wouldn’t have been welcome on Fox News. Indeed, as an undocumented Palestinian, he wouldn’t have even made it through U.S. Immigration.

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What to make of Pope Francis now?

James Carroll writes: As Pope Francis heads to Cuba and the United States this month, with an itinerary that includes visits to the Castros, the U.S. Congress, the White House, the United Nations General Assembly, and a major Catholic convocation in Philadelphia, the measure of his accomplishments and further promise remains confused. Is he a radical or merely a liberal? Does he seek to revise Church dogma — to bring it in line with some ethical ideal — or to formulate a pastoral response that is rooted in reality, and that leaves the institution unchanged? Among Roman Catholics, conservatives emphasize that, for all the hoopla about gays, divorce, women, and dogs going to heaven, he is not changing Church doctrine. Liberals, on the other hand, recognize in him a longed-for reformer of Vatican corruptions and cruelties. In the secular world, where his reach is astonishing, he is celebrated as a prophet of compassion and economic justice, even as his stern pronouncements on climate change, global capitalism, the plight of migrants, and a host of other issues are dismissed as lacking “practical strategies for a fallen world,” as David Brooks put it in the Times.

The prevailing commentary so emphasizes the once-unimagined uniqueness of Francis that the larger and longer context of his arrival goes unrecognized: the real meaning of this surprising Pope is being missed. Rather than seeing him as a cult-worthy personality who represents something wholly new in Catholicism, it is better to understand Francis, even in his stylistic deviations, as the culmination of a slow, if jerky, recovery on the part of the Church from its self-defeating rejection of modernity. [Continue reading…]

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