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New pope offers a lesson for ‘new evangelization’

Reading Pope Francis’ recent homilies and talks, I find myself wondering whether the Vatican’s “new evangelization” project might benefit from his simple, direct approach to questions of faith. The new pope has an invitational way of presenting Christianity, illustrated well in his homily at the Easter vigil, when he spoke about Christ’s victory over death and sin, “over everything that crushes life and makes it less human.” Like the women who found Christ’s empty tomb, he said, modern men and women should be willing to be surprised by God. “How often does Love have to tell us: Why do you look for the living among the dead? Our daily problems and worries can wrap us up in ourselves, in sadne

Making the church less ‘self-referential’

With every act of his pontificate, Pope Francis seems to be demonstrating exactly what he meant when he told cardinals that the church needs to be less “self-referential” and more present in every environment of modern society. The debate over washing the feet at the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper had become one of those “self-referential” issues. The controversy was whether both men and women could have their feet washed; some argued that Jesus was instituting the priesthood with his 12 male disciples on that occasion, and that the “men only” rule made ritual sense. Pope Francis, as we know, washed and kissed the feet of 12 young inmates in a Rome prison at the Thursday liturgy. Am

A Latin American pope who’s sticking to Italian

One rather surprising feature of Pope Francis’ first two weeks in office is that he’s chosen to speak almost exclusively in Italian. This is a man who, according to the Vatican, is fluent in five languages – Spanish of course (he is Argentinian), as well as Italian, English, German and French. Yet at his first general audience this week, he skipped the traditional summary of his talk in various languages and stuck to italiano. No one’s sure yet if this represents a change in communication policy or an easing into the role of pope. Luis Badilla, a Vatican Radio journalist who runs a popular blog called Il Sismografo, speculated that perhaps in his first days, the pope has not had time to prep

The pope’s ‘reform’ project has already begun

Pope Francis’ reform of the Vatican has already begun. Not in the way the world was expecting, through high-profile appointments of Roman Curia heads – though that will come in due time. Instead, the pope has embarked immediately on what might be called “re-evangelization” inside the Vatican walls. He dropped in today after a Vatican employees’ Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica and spoke about the value of work, thanking them for their service and asking them for their prayers because “I am a sinner, too.” This morning, celebrating Mass for a smaller group of Vatican employees and officials at the Vatican guest house, he gave a short homily on the destructive power of gossip. He said speaking ill

Pope Francis to stay in Vatican guest house

Word comes from the Vatican today that, as speculated here last week, Pope Francis is opting to stay in the Vatican guest house rather than moving into the papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace — at least for now. The reasons seem clear: Francis likes simplicity, and his quarters at the Domus Sanctae Marthae are much more simple than the 10-room apartment on the other side of St. Peter’s Square. He also likes being with people, and at the Domus he’s been much less cut off than in the Apostolic Palace. He celebrates Mass with groups every morning, shares meals with other guests in the dining room and sometimes goes outside to walk. This means the new pope will be “commuting” through the Va

A prominent convert leaves the church

A prominent Muslim-born journalist baptized by Pope Benedict XVI, Magdi Allam, has announced he’s leaving the church because it is too “weak with Islam.” Allam, writing on his Web site, said the “euphoria over Pope Francis” and the rapid way Pope Benedict was set aside was “the straw that broke the camel’s back” and convinced him to abandon his conversion to Christianity. Benedict baptized Allam in 2008 during an Easter vigil service at the Vatican, saying he wanted to inspire other former Muslims to practice Christianity openly. At the time, some of the Vatican’s Muslim dialogue partners said the high profile given to the conversion was a deliberate provocation. Allam said that what drove h

‘Look up toward God, but also down toward others’

Pope Francis made it official at his Palm Sunday Mass today: He’s going to Brazil in July for World Youth Day. In his homily in a packed St. Peter’s Square, the pope told young people he was “setting out on a journey with you” that would bring him to Rio de Janeiro this summer. “I will see you in that great city in Brazil! Prepare well – prepare spiritually above all – in your communities, so that our gathering in Rio may be a sign of faith for the whole world,” he said. Under sunny skies, the pope led his first Palm Sunday procession through the square, as faithful waved palm fronds and olive branches. The Vatican estimated the crowd at 250,000. As usual, the pope ad libbed parts of his ser

What was in the box?

One unanswered question from yesterday’s meeting between Pope Francis and retired Pope Benedict: What was in the box? The Vatican video showed the two men sitting down for their 45-minute private conversation, facing a table on which a white box was placed. On top of the box were two large envelopes. As soon as the image was shown in the Vatican press office, reporters joked that the box must have held the famous Vatileaks dossier, the confidential report prepared for Benedict by three cardinals and left by the ex-pope to Francis. If the dossier needed a box that big, things were worse than anyone thought. More likely, sources said, was that the box contained correspondence for Benedict – le

A historic meeting as Francis visits Benedict

For the Vatican, today brought another “first” – two popes, one retired and one in office, met, had lunch and presumably talked about the various challenges facing the Catholic Church. Pope Francis and ex-Pope Benedict made sure they met in private, respecting Benedict’s wish that he retire to a “hidden” life that would in no way interfere with his successor. But in the eyes of the faithful, those concerns were not so important. “I came here to see the popes, naturally,” one Italian woman told Italian television as she waited in front of the papal villa at Castel Gandolfo, hoping the two would make a joint appearance at the window. “The popes” is something the Vatican does not talk about, be

Pope to diplomats: Two forms of poverty threaten peace

In a few quick strokes, Pope Francis today outlined to the world’s diplomats the mission of his pontificate: combatting spiritual and material poverty, building peace and constructing bridges of dialogue. It was a typical Pope Francis audience: a relatively short speech, to the point and easy to understand. Rather than a global tour of trouble spots or an examination of the Vatican’s geopolitical strategy, the pope zeroed in on a few basic principles: — The overriding concern of Vatican diplomacy is “the good of every person on this earth.” — One reason he took the name Francis was because of St. Francis’ love for the poor, which is reflected today in the church’s word worldwide. “How many p

Pope Francis in no hurry to move into papal apartment

Rumors are swirling inside and outside the Vatican about where Pope Francis intends to take up residence. The initial expectation was that he would move into the formal papal apartment on the top floor of the Apostolic Palace, the building where popes have lived for centuries. But Pope Francis appears to be in no hurry. More than a week after his election, he’s still residing in the Vatican’s modern guest house, the Domus Sanctae Marthae, where he eats meals with others in the common dining room and can walk to some of his appointments in the Vatican. Yesterday I asked the Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, if the pope had decided where to live, and he said, “Let’s wait and see.” W

Pope Francis will celebrate Holy Thursday Mass at youth prison

Another big surprise from Pope Francis this morning: he’ll celebrate the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper at a Rome prison for minors, and presumably will wash the feet of 12 young inmates during the liturgy. Traditionally, popes have celebrated this Mass, which commemorates the Last Supper, at the Basilica of St. John Lateran or St. Peter’s Basilica. As a cardinal in Buenos Aires, Pope Francis would typically celebrate the liturgy in prisons, hospitals or homes for the poor. The pope will go to the “Castel del Marmo” Penal Institute for Minors on the outskirts of Rome for the evening Mass, where young men and women under the age of 21 are serving time. The institute trains young inma

Highlights of pope’s talk on ecumenical, interreligious dialogue

This morning Pope Francis addressed representatives of other Christian churches and other religions who came to Rome for his inaugural Mass. It was a pretty standard speech, with some interesting points of emphasis that reflect the new pope’s agenda. Here are a few highlights: — He addressed the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I of Constantinople, as “my brother Andrew.” The reference was to St. Andrew, the patron saint of the Orthodox patriarchate, just as St. Peter is the patron saint of the Catholic Church. — He said the best service Christians can give to ecumenism is to witness their faith “freely, joyfully and courageously.” This is especially needed in a world marked by divisions an

A traveling pope?

Like his recent predecessors, Pope Francis will be a traveling pope. It remains to be seen what style he’ll adopt in these journeys. The joke going around the Vatican press office is that the pope – and reporters – may be flying easyJet from now on. The Brazilian president said today the pope told her he would come to Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day in July and then visit Aparecida, site of Brazil’s biggest Marian shrine. The Vatican did not immediately confirm her report. If the pope does travel to Brazil, no one would be surprised if he adds a stop or two in his native Argentina. But given Pope Francis’ expressed wish to help create “a church that is poor,” some are wondering whether th

Simplicity and compassion front and center

How does Pope Francis understand “papal power”? He answered that question today with these words: “lowly, concrete and faithful service.” At an inaugural Mass rich in traditional symbols of the papal office, attended by hundreds of secular and religious leaders from around the world, Pope Francis told the world that his role would be that of a protector – especially of “the poorest, the weakest, the least important.” His words confirmed what has already become a new papal style, one that favors the common touch over formal ceremony, and humility over authority. The pope’s day began with a long ride in an open jeep through St. Peter’s Square. What struck me was that the pontiff, smiling and g

A note on this blog's comments section

Some of you who have sent comments on blog postings may have noticed that they haven’t been published in the last couple of days. It’s a technical glitch. The content management folks are working on it and think they’ll have it fixed tomorrow. I especially want you to know this because the comments to date have been so varied and interesting. When I launched this website and blog, I was warned to expect vitriol and idiocy if I opened it to comments. Instead, I’ve found that 99 percent of comments are to the point and within the margins of good taste (well, within my margins of good taste, since I’m the one moderating them.) Thanks to all for your input and feedback.

The pope’s coat-of-arms and motto

Pope Francis has decided to keep his relatively simple bishop’s coat-of-arms, combining it with traditional papal symbols. It features the Jesuit emblem and seal (the Greek letters IHS for the name of Jesus, the cross and nails surrounded by a sunburst.) Below are a star on the left, a symbol of Mary, and an image of nard flowers, a symbol of St. Joseph (I know they look like grapes, but they’re flowers.) Framing the coat-of-arms are the papal miter and silver and gold keys, linked by a red cord. The pope’s Latin motto “miserando atque eligendo,” recalls a passage from a homily of St. Bede, describing how Jesus chose St. Matthew as his disciple: “He saw him through the eyes of mercy and chos

With new pope, hopes for ecumenical springtime

Pope Francis’ first few days have already generated an abundance of hope on many fronts, and one of them is ecumenism. The fact that the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, is attending the pope’s inaugural Mass tomorrow is rightly seen as a milestone in Catholic-Orthodox relations. That hasn’t happened since Catholics and Orthodox split in 1054. Of course, Pope Francis does not yet have a “record” on relations with other Christian churches. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, however, he dropped some clues. According to Bishop Gregory Venables, the Anglican bishop of Argentina, then-Cardinal Bergoglio was apparently not enthusiastic about Pope Benedict’s move in 2011 to create

The pope’s first Sunday: A multitude and close encounters

When Pope Francis looked out his apartment window at noon today, he got a glimpse of what kind of excitement he’s generated in his first four days as pontiff. Well over 150,000 people filled St. Peter’s Square and the main streets running from the Vatican to the Tiber River. I haven’t seen a cheering, flag-waving multitude like that in Rome since Pope John Paul II’s beatification. The pope’s brief talk focused on God’s mercy, which has already become a theme of his pontificate. He said the Gospel’s account of Jesus and the woman taken in adultery (“Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her”) illustrates that the church’s role is not to condemn, but to forg

Changes ahead in the Roman Curia?

A two-sentence communiqué from the Vatican today contained an important signal about Pope Francis’ intentions regarding the Roman Curia. As is normal, the new pope has confirmed that Vatican officials will continue in their various positions donec aliter provideatur – “until otherwise provided.” What was different this time around was the line that followed: “The Holy Father, in fact, wants to take a certain time for reflection, prayer and dialogue before making any definitive appointments or confirmations.” That seemed a clear indication that changes are coming, and perhaps big ones, in the Vatican lineup. As my friend Alessandro Speciale pointed out to me, when Pope Benedict was elected ei

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