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Catholic News Service

Catholic News Service

Catholic News Service has a rich history of journalistic professionalism and is a leader in the world of Catholic and religious media. With headquarters in Washington, offices in New York and Rome, and correspondents around the world, CNS provides the most comprehensive coverage of the church today. Website URL: http://www.catholicnews.com/

Five years a pope: Francis' focus has been on outreach

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected pope just a few days after telling the College of Cardinals that the Catholic Church faced a clear choice between being a church that "goes out" or a church focused on its internal affairs.
 
After the cardinal from Buenos Aires, Argentina, was elected March 13, 2013, and chose the name Francis, he made "go out," "periphery" and "throwaway culture" standard phrases in the papal vocabulary.
 
Catholics have a wide variety of opinions about how Pope Francis is exercising the papal ministry, and many of his comments — both in informal news conferences and in formal documents — have stirred controversy. But, as he wrote in "Evangelii Gaudium," the apostolic exhortation laying out the vision for his pontificate: "I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security."
 
But there are two areas of internal Church affairs that he recognized needed immediate attention: the reform of the Roman Curia and the full protection of children and vulnerable adults from clerical sexual abuse.
 
The organizational reform of the Curia has been taking place in stages, but Pope Francis has insisted that the real reform is a matter of changing hearts and embracing service.
 
On the issue of abuse, nine months into his pontificate, Pope Francis established the Pontifical Commission for Child Protection to advise him on better ways to prevent clerical sexual abuse and to ensure pastoral care for the survivors.
 
While Pope Francis has emphatically proclaimed "zero tolerance" for abusers and recently said covering up abuse "is itself an abuse," as his fifth anniversary approached serious questions arose about how he handled accusations that Chilean Bishop Juan Barros, who was a priest at the time, covered up allegations of abuse against his mentor.
 
The new scandal threatened to undermine the widespread popularity of Pope Francis and his efforts to set the Catholic Church on a new course.
 
For Pope Francis, that new course involves evangelization first of all.
 
"Evangelizing presupposes a desire in the church to come out of herself," he had told the cardinals just days before the conclave that elected him. "The church is called to come out of herself and to go to the peripheries, not only geographically, but also the existential peripheries: the mystery of sin, of pain, of injustice, of ignorance and indifference to religion, of intellectual currents and of all misery."
 
Mercy is the first thing the Catholic Church is called to bring to those peripheries, he says.
 
Although in 2013 he told reporters he would not be traveling as much as his predecessors, Pope Francis has continued their practice of literally "going out," making 22 trips outside of Italy and visiting 32 nations.
 
But he also regularly visits the peripheries of Rome, both its poor suburbs and its hospitals, rehabilitation centers, prisons and facilities for migrants and refugees.
 
His desire to reach out has inspired innovations that were noteworthy at the beginning of the papacy, but now seem to be a natural part of a pope's day. For example, after beginning with Vatican gardeners and garbage collectors, the pope continues to invite a small group of Catholics to join him most weekday mornings for Mass in the chapel of his residence.
 
The residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae, is a guesthouse built by St. John Paul II with the intention of providing decent housing for cardinals when they would enter a conclave to elect a new pope. Pope Francis decided after the 2013 conclave to stay there and not move into the more isolated papal apartments in the Apostolic Palace.
 
On Holy Thursday each year, he has celebrated Mass at a prison, care facility or refugee center and washed the feet of patients, inmates or immigrants, both men and women, Catholics and members of other faiths. He also ordered the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments to clarify that the feet of both women and men can be washed at the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord's Supper.
 
During the 2015-16 Year of Mercy, he made a visit one Friday a month to people in particular need, including those at a school for the blind, a neonatal intensive care unit, a community of recovering alcoholics, a children's group home and a community for women rescued from traffickers who forced them into prostitution. Once the Year of Mercy ended, the pope continued the visits, although not always every month.
 
In September 2015 as waves of migrants and refugees were struggling and dying to reach Europe, Pope Francis asked every parish and religious community in Europe to consider offering hospitality to one family. The Vatican offered apartments and support to a family from Syria and a family from Eritrea. Then, seven months later, Pope Francis visited a refugee center on the island of Lesbos, Greece, and brought 12 refugees back to Rome on the plane with him.
 
Less than three months into his pontificate, he began denouncing the "throwaway culture" as one where money and power were the ultimate values and anything or anyone that did not advance money or power were disposable: "Human life, the person are no longer seen as primary values to be respected and protected, especially if they are poor or disabled, if they are not yet useful -- like an unborn child -- or are no longer useful -- like an old person," the pope said at a general audience.
 
In the first three years of his papacy, he published three major documents: "Evangelii Gaudium" (The Joy of the Gospel); "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home," on the environment; and "'Amoris Laetitia' (The Joy of Love), on Love in the Family," his reflections on the discussions of the Synod of Bishops in 2014 and 2015.
 
People skeptical about the scientific proof that human activity is contributing to climate change objected to parts of "Laudato Si'," but the criticism was muted compared to reactions to Pope Francis' document on the family, especially regarding ministry to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics and the possibility that, under some conditions, some of those Catholics could return to the sacraments.
 
The strongest criticism came from U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke and three other cardinals, who sent to the pope and then publicly released in November 2016 a formal, critical set of questions, known as "dubia," insisting that allowing those Catholics to receive the sacraments amounted to changing fundamental church teaching about marriage, sexuality and the nature of the sacraments.
 
Pope Francis has not responded to the cardinals, two of whom have since died. But in December, the Vatican posted on its website the guidelines for interpreting "Amoris Laetitia" developed by a group of Argentine bishops, as well as Pope Francis' letter to them describing the guidelines as "authentic magisterium."
 
The guidelines by bishops in the Buenos Aires region said the path of discernment proposed by Pope Francis for divorced and civilly remarried couples "does not necessarily end in the sacraments" but, in some situations, after a thorough process of discernment, the pope's exhortation "opens the possibility" to reception of the sacraments.
 
In the document and throughout his pontificate, Pope Francis has emphasized God's mercy and the power of the sacraments to spur conversion and nourish Christians as they try to progress in holiness.
 
Like all popes, Pope Francis frequently urges Catholics to go to confession, telling them it is not a "torture chamber." And he repeatedly gives priests blunt advice about being welcoming and merciful to those who approach the confessional.
 
Like St. John Paul did each Lent, Pope Francis hears confessions in St. Peter's Basilica. But, he surprised even his closest aides beginning in 2014 when, instead of going to the confessional to welcome the first penitent, he turned and went to confession himself.
 
He also has surprised people by being completely honest about his age. In April 2017, when he was still 80 years old, he told Italian young people that while they are preparing for the future, "at my age we are preparing to go." The young people present objected loudly. "No?" the pope responded, "Who can guarantee life? No one."
 
From the beginning of his papacy, Pope Francis has expressed love and admiration for retired Pope Benedict XVI. Returning from South Korea in 2014, he said Pope Benedict's honest, "yet also humble and courageous" gesture of resigning cleared a path for later popes to do the same.
 
"You can ask me: 'What if one day you don't feel prepared to go on?'" he told the reporters traveling with him. "I would do the same, I would do the same! I will pray hard over it, but I would do the same thing. He (Pope Benedict) opened a door which is institutional, not exceptional."
 
  • Published in Vatican

Movie review: 'Peter Rabbit'

That rustling sound you hear is famed children's author Beatrix Potter spinning in her grave, distressed at what has been done to her beloved characters in "Peter Rabbit" (Columbia).
 
Potter (1866-1943) wrote gentle morality fables about anthropomorphic animals, which she illustrated herself. Her 23 pocket-sized books, starting with "The Tale of Peter Rabbit" (1902), have become one of the top-selling series of all time.
 
Now her most famous character, the mischievous Peter Rabbit, has been transformed into a fast-talking juvenile delinquent, a hipster dude rather too fond of rude jokes and possessing a nasty murderous streak.
 
Director Will Gluck ("Annie"), who co-wrote the screenplay with Ron Lieber, mixes live-action with animation for this adventure comedy. While the interplay of human actors with CGI critters is remarkable, the film's manic pace and reliance on cheap gags set a discordant tone at odds with Potter's elegant style.
 
The film picks up where Potter's first volume leaves off. Peter (voice of James Corden) is now the leader of his family, which includes his younger sisters, triplets Flopsy (voice of Margot Robbie), Mopsy (voice of Elizabeth Debicki), and Cottontail (voice of Daisy Ridley).
 
We know from Potter's story how their father died. Deep in the verdant English countryside, he wandered into a fenced-in garden and was caught by the owner, Mr. McGregor, who turned him into a pie supper.
 
Let that be a lesson to you, Mother warns her brood. But Peter disobeys and barely escapes with his life.
 
In the movie, their mother also has died, and Peter is obsessed with Mr. McGregor (Sam Neill), seeking revenge and his vegetables. He enlists his sisters and his cousin, Benjamin Bunny (voice of Colin Moody), on daily raids into the garden.
 
During one ambush, Mr. McGregor has a fatal heart attack, collapsing in front of Peter. The young bunny is elated, as are his family and friends. All are invited to overrun the garden and Mr. McGregor's cottage, both of which are thoroughly trashed.
 
Fans of the Potter books will spot Pigling Bland (voice of Ewen Leslie), Jemima Puddle-Duck (voice of Rose Byrne), and Miss Tiggy-Winkle (voice of Sia), among other familiar characters.
 
The animals' idyll is short-lived, as soon a new McGregor arrives, great-nephew Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson). He's a city boy from London who hates the country (and all four-legged creatures) and plans to put the homestead up for sale.
 
Until, that is, he meets his comely neighbor, Bea (Rose Byrne). She's a kind and sweet friend to Peter and his family, whom she paints in her spare time (for Bea read Beatrix, of course). She tries to soften Thomas' strong feelings and eventually captures his heart.
 
Peter will have none of this, and plots Thomas' murder as the bunnies declare war.
 
Thankfully, the film's resolution does impart some of the lessons of Potter's books, including the importance of family, honesty and forgiveness. But the filmmakers cannot resist the ill-mannered behavior, low-brow jokes, and noisy eruptions that seem to be staples in children's films today.
 
Suffice it to say, Potter would recoil at Peter's attempt to thrust a carrot up Mr. McGregor's bare buttocks, not to mention a comic remark about Benjamin Bunny's nipples.
 
The film contains a vengeance theme, a glimpse of partial rear nudity, some rude humor and action sequences. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
 
  • Published in Reviews

Pope supports pro-life movement, sets day of prayer for peace in Africa

With so many direct attacks on human life, from abortion to war, Pope Francis said he is worried that so few people are involved in pro-life activities.
 
Reciting the Angelus prayer at the Vatican Feb. 4, Pope Francis marked Italy's Pro-Life Sunday and also called for a day of prayer and fasting for peace Feb. 23, with special prayers for Congo and South Sudan.
 
Some 20,000 people gathered in St. Peter's Square for the Angelus. Many of them carried the pro-life movement's green balloons with the message, "Yes to life."
 
Thanking all the "different Church realities that promote and support life in many ways," Pope Francis said he was surprised there were not more people involved.
 
"This worries me," the pope said. "There aren't many who fight on behalf of life in a world where, every day, more weapons are made; where, every day, more laws against life are passed; where, every day, this throwaway culture expands, throwing away what isn't useful, what is bothersome" to too many people.
 
Pope Francis asked for prayers that more people would become aware of the need to defend human life "in this moment of destruction and of throwing away humanity."
 
With conflict continuing in many parts of the world, the pope said it was time for a special day of prayer and fasting for peace and that it was appropriate for the observance to take place Feb. 23, a Friday in Lent.
 
"Let us offer it particularly for the populations of the Democratic Republic of Congo and of South Sudan," he said.
 
Fighting between government troops and rebel forces and between militias continues in Congo, especially in the east, but tensions also have erupted as protests grow against President Joseph Kabila, whose term of office ended in 2016. New elections have yet to be scheduled.
 
South Sudan became independent from Sudan in 2011 after decades of war. But, just two years after independence, political tensions erupted into violence.
 
Pope Francis asked "our non-Catholic and non-Christian brothers and sisters to join this initiative in the way they believe is most opportune."
 
And he prayed that "our heavenly Father would always listen to his children who cry to Him in pain and anguish."
 
But individuals also must hear those cries, he said, and ask themselves, "'What can I do for peace?' Certainly we can pray, but not only. Each person can say 'no' to violence" in his or her daily life and interactions. "Victories obtained with violence are false victories while working for peace is good for everyone."
 
  • Published in World

Consecrated life

Consecrated men and women reflect the light of Christ and are witnesses to that light "in a world that is often shrouded in shadow," Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, said Jan. 29.
 
"They are the glory of God's people. We pray for the perseverance of consecrated men and women and ask God to continue enriching the church with their unique vocation," he said in a statement as the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations.
 
Cardinal Tobin's statement came in advance of the annual celebration of World Day for Consecrated Life Feb. 2, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord. It will be celebrated in parishes the weekend of Feb. 3-4.
 
The feast of the Presentation also is known as Candlemas Day, when candles are blessed to symbolize Christ as the light of the world. St. John Paul II instituted the day of prayer for women and men in consecrated life in 1997.
 
With his statement, the committee headed by Cardinal Tobin also released the results of a survey of women and men religious who professed perpetual vows in 2017 in a religious congregation, province or monastery based in the United States.
 
The survey was conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, based at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
 
Among the major findings were:
 
-- Nearly nine in 10, or 86 percent, of the responding religious said they regularly participated in some type of private prayer activity before they entered their religious institute. About two-thirds participated in eucharistic adoration, prayed the rosary, or attended retreats before entering. Nearly six in 10 participated in spiritual direction before entering.
 
-- One-half of responding religious attended a Catholic elementary school, more than four in 10, or 44 percent, attended a Catholic high school, and a near equal proportion, or 43 percent, attended a Catholic college before entering their religious institute.
 
-- On average, the responding religious reported that they were 19 years old when they first considered a vocation to religious life, but half were 18 or younger when they first did so.
 
-- Nearly nine in 10, or 87 percent, of the responding religious reported that someone encouraged them to consider a vocation to religious life. Over four in 10, or 43 percent, said that a parish priest encouraged their vocation. Half said they were encouraged to consider a vocation by a religious sister or brother; women religious were more likely than men religious to say so. Over four in 10, or 41 percent, reported that they were encouraged to consider a vocation by their friends.
 
CARA asked the 768 religious institutes, provinces or monasteries that are in the United States to provide the names of women religious or religious brothers and priests who professed or were planning to profess perpetual vows in 2017. The institutes, provinces, etc. were identified by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, the Conference of Major Superiors of Men or the USCCB Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations.
 
A total of 600 major superiors responded, or 78 percent, with the names of 208 men and women religious. Of that number, 100 sisters and nuns and 51 brothers and priests responded -- representing a response rate of 73 percent.
 
The average age of responding religious is 41. Half of the responding religious are age 36 or younger. The youngest is 24 and the oldest is 86.
 
Two-thirds of the respondents, or 64 percent, identify as white; more than one in six, 18 percent, identify as Asian; and more than one in 10, or 11 percent, identify as Hispanic. Sixty-seven percent of the respondents were born in the United States. Of those born outside the U.S., the most common country of origin is Vietnam.
 
Among those identifying as Hispanic/Latino, almost six in 10 -- 62 percent -- are foreign born. Of those identifying as Asian/Pacific Islander/Native Hawaiian, seven in 10 are predominantly foreign born. Six percent identify as African-American/black. Ninety-four percent, or nearly all, who identify as Caucasian/white are U.S. born.
 
Other survey findings include:
 
-- Nearly nine in 10 of the responding religious, or 88 percent, have been Catholic since birth. More than three-quarters -- 77 percent -- come from families in which both parents are Catholic. Among the 12 percent of respondents who became Catholic later in life, the average age at which they did so was 22.
 
-- Half of the respondents attended a Catholic elementary school, which is a little higher than that for all Catholic adults in the United States -- 50 percent vs. 39 percent. These respondents also are more likely than other U.S. Catholics to have attended a Catholic high school -- 44 percent of responding religious, compared to 19 percent of U.S. adult Catholics; and they are much more likely to have attended a Catholic college -- 43 percent of responding religious, compared to 10 percent of U.S. adult Catholics.
 
-- The survey found the profession class of 2017 is highly educated, with 25 percent of responding religious earned a graduate degree before entering their religious institute. More than two-thirds -- 69 percent -- entered their religious institute with at least a bachelor's degree.
 
-- Most religious did not report that educational debt delayed their application for entrance to their institute. Among the 4 percent who did report having educational debt, however, they averaged about four years of delay while they paid down an average of $29,100 in educational debt.
 
-- Nearly all of the responding religious, 88 percent, participated in some type of vocation program or experience prior to entering their religious institute.
 
  • Published in World
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