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Analysis: The Amazon and Germany - A tale of two synods

Vatican City, Sep 16, 2019 / 04:48 pm (CNA).- For the next two months, most of the ink spilled by Catholic journalists will be dedicated to the Amazon, and especially the three-week Rome meeting of bishops in October that will discuss the region. But while the Amazon synod of bishops holds popular attention, some astute Church-watchers will be more attentive to the emerging controversy surrounding a different synod, to be held in Germany. The pan-Amazonian synod has become the latest battleground in the long series of internecine conflicts that have plagued the Church in recent years. Conservative figures have decried the synod’s preparatory documents as pantheistic heterodoxy, while progressive Churchmen have cast the meeting as the occasion of some kind of new beginning for the Church, after which, at least one bishop has said, “nothing will be the same.” At issue, at least theoretically, are two loaded topics in the Church’s life: the possibility of ordaining married men to the priesthood, and the quagmire surrounding questions of “inculturation,” which ask how the Gospel can be expressed in diverse cultural settings. The topic of ordaining married men is on the table because the remoteness of some Amazon villages, which almost never see a priest, has led to the suggestion that ordained “viri probati,” older, married men, could make it possible for more Catholics to have access to the sacramental life. But there is concern among some that considering the possibility of married priests in the Amazon region, where priests are few, will lead to widespread adoption of the practice, and the loss of the custom of clerical celibacy. There is also concern that a broadly applied dispensation from the obligation of priestly celibacy will stir-up the simmering debate over ordaining women to the diaconate, and even the officially settled argument over ordaining women as priests. While most proponents of the possibility say their sights are fixed only on the problems of Amazonia, critics are skeptical. Among advocacy groups, intellectuals, and even a few bishops, heated rhetoric has begun to fly. As the synod grows closer, the rhetoric will grow only more intense, from all corners of the Church. Rome will host an entire cottage industry of pundits in the weeks preceding the synod, and “experts,” from both the left and the right, will hold symposia and conferences, trying to make the case that the synod matters, that their opponents are wrong and that, whatever their viewpoint, it is the only legitimately Catholic perspective on the matters at hand. The pan-Amazonian synod, in short, is likely to follow the playbook that has characterized the two most recent synods in Rome, beginning with the 2015 Synod on the Family. After that meeting, which is best remembered for a fracas over divorce and communion, a 2018 synod on youth and young people was similarly polemical. The conflicts surrounding synods are unfortunate, for at least two reasons. In the first place, they distract from the sincere and earnest conversation that might take place among bishops about critical issues. Synods are supposed to be conversations, and the topics discussed are usually ones about which many people in Church leadership or pastoral ministry have something to contribute, or something to learn. The Amazon region, in which Pentecostalism is overtaking Catholicism, in which child labor and human trafficking are serious issues, and deforestation threatens whole communities, is in need of the Church’s leadership and pastoral presence. A conversation, rather than a debate, over the issues in the Amazon would be of real benefit to the Church there. But conflict over hot-button issues, and a sense that the synod is a gladiatorial contest between warring sides, is likely to blunt that conversation. Conflict over synods of bishops is unfortunate mostly because there is very little to be gained from it. Synod assemblies are low-stakes affairs: synods have no power, they can not make policies or declare doctrine or do anything, except publish documents to be reviewed by the pope as he formulates his thoughts on the topic under discussion. Synods are consultative conversations. They do not bind the pope, or instruct him. They just offer the advice of a usually diverse-thinking assembly of leaders. Synods have grown contentious because Pope Francis used his 2016 post-synodal document Amoris laetitia to signal an openness to the possibility that divorced and remarried people could, under certain circumstances, receive the Eucharist while remaining in a sexual relationship. That suggestion has been extremely divisive, and because it is associated with the family synod of 2015, at least some bishops have begun to treat synods as though they are convened to legislate for the Church. They are not convened for that purpose. And the pope could have introduced his ideas about divorce, remarriage, and the Eucharist in any way he chose. He happened to do it in a post-synodal document, but not because the synod in some way freed him to do so, or mandated that he do so. It is sometimes suggested that the synod gave him some political cover, but since the idea did not have full-throated support from the synod’s participants, the hypothesis seems flimsy. In short, nothing about the synod compelled, authorized, or permitted the pope to teach as he did. But because of Amoris laetitia, and the controversial synod of 2015, pundits seem now to characterize each synod not as an exchange of ideas, but as a battle for the pope's endorsement. While the stakes of the pan-Amazonian synod are far lower than they’re usually perceived, the stakes of a showdown over a synod in German are much higher than has likely been realized by many Catholics. The German bishop are planning a two-year “synodal pathway” in the country. The idea is to bring bishops together with lay people, especially those associated with the Central Committee of German Catholics, to pass “binding resolutions,” on controversial topics, including sexual morality and clerical leadership. The planned synod in Germany is not intended to be a conversation. It is intended to redefine the course of Christianity in Germany, even while giving new consideration to long-established points of Christian doctrine. The Vatican has warned the German bishops not to continue with their plans, noting that a synod of the type planned by the Germans would disrupt the Church’s life, and could cause a catastrophe by denying the Church’s doctrinal teaching. But the German bishops, under the leadership of Cardinal Reinhard Marx, have insisted that the synod will proceed, and that the Vatican simply doesn’t understand what’s at stake. Marx will meet with Vatican officials this week. The cardinal hopes to persuade the Vatican to allow him to proceed with his plans. He is not in a position to back down, because he has assured the Central Committee of German Catholics, which includes advocates of same-sex marriage, that they will have a deliberative voice in the future of the German Church. Relenting, for Marx, would likely mean losing his support among secular German figures, and, by admitting that the Vatican was right, falling out of favor among the Churchmen who support him. Cardinal Marx, by some estimates, seems to be playing a kind of ecclesiastical game of chicken with the Vatican, and betting that the pope’s Curia will back down before he does. But if the Vatican does not relent, and the Germans push forward, a great deal is at stake: some experts have suggested that if the Germans proceed with their synodal path in defiance of instructions from Pope Francis and the Vatican, they run the risk of being declared in schism. At the moment, Marx seems unintimidated by efforts from two different Vatican offices to rein in Germany’s planned synodal process. He might be persuaded, if at all, only by a direct and personal intervention from Pope Francis. Marx is said to be persuasive with Pope Francis, but sources tell CNA that the pope is growing impatient with the cardinal’s approach to the German synod. If Francis has to intervene, and Marx does not accept the pope’s direction, the result would be a serious crisis for the Church in Germany. The situation is still developing. The pan-Amazonian synod will provide plenty of fodder for debate this autumn. But a serious ecclesiological crisis is unfolding in Germany, and how it will be resolved remains to be seen.

Pope Francis: Life imprisonment forgoes the ‘right to start over’

Vatican City, Sep 16, 2019 / 08:48 am (CNA).- In an audience with penitentiary staff and prison chaplains, Pope Francis said Saturday that sentencing prisoners to life imprisonment diminishes their “right to hope.” “It is up to every society … to ensure that the penalty does not compromise the right to hope, that prospects for reconciliation and reintegration are guaranteed,” Pope Francis said Sept. 14 in St. Peter’s Square. “Life imprisonment is not the solution to problems - I repeat: life imprisonment is not the solution to problems, but a problem to be solved,” the pope said. Pope Francis explained that he believes that during the penitentiary process of rectifying mistakes, hope for the future should not be eliminated. “Because if hope is closed in a cell, there is no future for society,” he said. “Never deprive one of the right to start over.” Directing his message toward all prisoners, Pope Francis said: “Never let yourself be imprisoned in the dark cell of a hopeless heart; do not give in to resignation. God is greater than any problem and is waiting for you to love you.” “Stand before the Crucifix, in the gaze of Jesus, in front of Him with simplicity and sincerity,” the pope told prisoners. “From there, from the humble courage that belongs to those who do not lie to themselves, peace is reborn with the trust of being loved, and the strength to go on flourishes again.” “You who are detained are important to God, who wants to do wonders in you,” he said. “Have courage because you are in the heart of God; you are precious in his eyes, and even if you feel lost and unworthy, do not lose heart.” “God is greater than our hearts,” the pope encouraged, quoting 1 John 3:20. Pope Francis also thanked prison chaplains and volunteers for being “the bearers of the Gospel within the walls of prisons.” He encouraged them to continue to “enter the most difficult situations with the sole strength of a smile and a heart that listens” and to carry others in prayer. In his audience with the Italian Penitentiary Police, the law enforcement agency dedicated to the country’s prison security, inmate safety and transportation, Pope Francis encouraged the penitentiary staff to always recognize the “irrepressible dignity” in the face of “wounded and often devastated humanity.” “Lay the foundations for a more respectful coexistence and therefore for a safer society,” he told the police and administrative staff.    

Prince Charles to attend Newman’s canonization in Rome

Vatican City, Sep 16, 2019 / 05:00 am (CNA).- Prince Charles will attend the canonization of Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman next month. The heir to the British throne will travel to Rome to witness the canonization Mass of the first non-martyr English saint since the Reformation. After the Mass in St. Peter’s Square Oct. 13, the Prince of Wales will attend a reception at the Pontifical Urban College, where Newman studied to become a Catholic priest, the prince’s office announced. “We are delighted that HRH The Prince of Wales will lead the UK delegation for the canonisation of Cardinal Newman,” the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, said after the announcement Sept. 12. “Cardinal Newman’s exploration of faith, depth of personal courage, intellectual clarity and cultural sensitivity make him a deeply admired follower of Christ. His ministry, especially among the poor, is a permanent sign of the Church’s pastoral compassion and a challenge to us all today,” Nichols said. Newman was a 19th century theologian, poet, Catholic priest and cardinal. Originally an Anglican priest, he converted to Catholicism in 1845 and his writings are considered among some of the most important Church-writings in recent centuries. Tens of thousands of people attended Newman’s beatification in Birmingham, England in Sept. 2010. At the beatification Mass, Pope Benedict XVI said that Newman’s “insights into the relationship between faith and reason, into the vital place of revealed religion in civilized society, and into the need for a broadly-based and wide-ranging approach to education were not only of profound importance for Victorian England, but continue today to inspire and enlighten many all over the world.” Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, met Pope Francis in April 2017 during a visit to the Vatican. The Prince of Wales previously met Pope Benedict XVI in 2009 and St. John Paul II in 1985 with his first wife, Princess Diana.

Pope Francis: God forgets our sins after confession

Vatican City, Sep 15, 2019 / 07:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis said Sunday that God forgets sins absolved within the confessional. “How do you defeat evil? Accepting God's forgiveness … It happens every time we go to confession; there we receive the love of the Father who overcomes our sin. It is no longer there, God forgets it,” Pope Francis said in his Angelus message Sept. 15. “God, when He forgives, loses His memory. He forgets our sins, forgets. God is so good with us,” he added in a departure from his prepared remarks. In the sacrament of confession, God completely erases the evil confessed, making one new inside, reborn in joy, Pope Francis explained. “Brothers and sisters, have courage. With God, no sin has the last word,” the pope said. Pope Francis reflected upon Sunday’s Gospel from Luke in which the Pharisees complain that Jesus “welcomes sinners and eats with them.” “Jesus 'welcomes sinners and eats with them.' This is what happens to us, in every Mass, in every church: Jesus is happy to welcome us to his table, where he offers Himself for us,” Pope Francis said. “It is a phrase that we could write on the doors of our churches: 'Here Jesus welcomes sinners and invites them to his table,’” he added. The pope focused on the lessons of God’s mercy and justice contained within Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. He said that the elder brother’s rejection of the father’s mercy for the prodigal son contains an important warning. “The eldest son, who does not accept the mercy of his father ... makes a worse mistake: he is presumed to be just … and judges everything on the basis of his thought of justice,” he said. “It is also a risk for us: to believe in a more rigorous than merciful god, a god who defeats evil with power rather than forgiveness.” “We are also wrong when we believe ourselves to be right, when we think that the bad ones are the others. Let us not believe ourselves good because alone, without the help of God who is good, we do not know how to overcome evil,” Pope Francis said. “Our Lady, who unties the knots of life, frees us from the pretense of believing we are righteous and makes us feel the need to go to the Lord, who is always waiting for us to embrace us, to forgive us,” he said. After praying the Angelus, Pope Francis expressed his joy because of two beatifications this weekend. Benedetta Bianchi Porro, an Italian laywoman, who died in 1964 of a lifelong illness at the age of 28, was declared blessed on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. At her beatification Sept. 14, Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu called Porro a shining example of “what the cross can and must be for us Christians.” On Sept. 15, Father Richard Henkes will be beatified in Limburg, Germany. Henkes was a Pallottine priest, who died a prisoner in the Nazi concentration camp in Dachau in 1945 while caring for sick prisoners in the camp. “The example of these two brave disciples of Christ also supports our journey to holiness,” Pope Francis said. “Don't be afraid: God loves you, loves you as you are,” the pope said. “Only His love can change your life.”

Pope Francis: Tradition is ‘the guarantee of the future’

Vatican City, Sep 13, 2019 / 01:11 pm (CNA).- Fidelity to tradition ensures a fruitful future, Pope Francis said in a meeting Thursday with a contemplative-missionary community rooted in the spirituality of St. Augustine. “To be modern, some believe that it is necessary to break away from the roots. And this is their ruin, because the roots, the tradition, are the guarantee of the future,” Pope Francis said Sept. 12. In an audience with nearly 200 members of the General Chapter of the Discalced Augustinians, the pope explained that “true tradition” is like the roots that bring a tree sap that allows it to grow, flourish, and bear fruit. “Never break away from your roots to be modern, that's suicide,” Francis told the Augustinians. The Order of the Discalced Augustinians (OAD) was founded 1610 as a reform movement of the Order of St. Augustine (OSA), which dates back to 1244. “In this long religious tradition begun by St. Augustine, you Discalced Augustinians have your roots,” the pope said. “I encourage you to love and deepen your roots again and again.” “St. Augustine is one of those figures who make us feel fascinated with God, who attracts us to Jesus Christ and attracts us to the Word of God,” he said. In addition to the normal vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, the contemplative-missionary order based on the Rule of St. Augustine takes a fourth vow of humility, which the order has chosen to emphasize and reflect upon this year with their motto: “Happy to serve the Most High in a spirit of humility.” Pope Francis said that he is enthusiastic about their decision to focus on humility this year. “Humility is a ‘key’, a key that opens the heart of God and the hearts of men,” he said. “And, first of all, it opens your own hearts to be faithful to your original charism, to always feel yourselves disciple-missionaries, available to God's call,” he added. Pope Francis said we are living in an age in which the mission ad gentes is being renewed, necessitating docility to the Holy Spirit. “We must always be attentive and docile to the voice of the Spirit: He is the protagonist, it is He who makes the Church grow! Not us, Him. The Holy Spirit is the wind that blows and keeps the Church going with that great strength of evangelization,” he said.

Search for God should be 'first apostolate', Pope Francis tells Augustinians

Vatican City, Sep 13, 2019 / 11:47 am (CNA).- Pope Francis told members of a men’s religious order Friday that the first goal personally and in their apostolates should be an orientation of their hearts toward God, who is Love. “Your hearts always reaching out to God. Always! Each member of the community should be oriented, as the first ‘holy purpose’ of every day, to the search for God,” the pope told about 150 members of the Order of Saint Augustine Sept. 13. “This ‘direction’ should be declared, confessed, witnessed among you without false modesty,” he continued. “The search for God cannot be obscured by other purposes, although generous and apostolic. Because that is your first apostolate. We are here – you should be able to say among yourselves every day – because we walk towards God. And because God is Love, we walk towards Him in love.” Members of the Order of Saint Augustine, also referred to as Augustinians, live as mendicants directed by the Rule of St. Augustine. The order was gathered in Rome this week for its general chapter. In the order’s audience with Pope Francis, he noted a writing of Fr. Agostino Trapè, now deceased, who was prior general of the Augustinians from 1965 to 1971. Fr. Trapè wrote that according to the Rule of St. Augustine, “charity is not only the end and means of religious life, but it is also its center: from charity it must proceed and charity must be oriented, with a perennial movement of circular causality, every thought, every affection, every attitude, every action.” Pope Francis advised thinking on a meditation St. Augustine once gave on the Church as “‘mater charitas,’ a mother who cries for the division of children and calls and calls for unity of charity.” St. Augustine wrote to St. Jerome about the experience of charity in community, the pope noted. St. Augustine said he finds it “very natural to abandon myself entirely to the affection of such people, especially when I am oppressed by the scandals of the world: in their hearts I find rest free of concern, being convinced that there is God in it.” “Dear brothers, this is also the challenge and responsibility for you today,” the pope urged, “to live in your communities in such a way as to make the experience of God together and be able to show it alive to the world!” He explained that this is a big responsibility and asked them to focus on living their community life well, so that they can show God to the outside world “in a clear, courageous way, without compromise or hesitation.” “You Augustinians have been called to bear witness to that warm, living, visible, contagious charity of the Church, through a life of community that clearly shows the presence of the Risen One and his Spirit,” he said. He quoted his 2018 apostolic exhortation on the call to holiness in today's world, Gaudete et exsultate, saying, “Community life ... is made up of many small daily details ... The community that preserves the small details of love, where the members take care of each other and constitute an open and evangelizing space, is the place of the presence of the Risen One who is sanctifying it according to the plan of the Father.”

German bishops respond to Vatican intervention, but documents indicate ongoing disagreement

Vatican City, Sep 13, 2019 / 10:38 am (CNA).- The German bishops’ conference has responded to the Vatican’s intervention in preparations for a binding synodal process to be held in that country beginning in Advent. The conference said Friday that detailed criticisms from the Vatican’s legal department concerned older draft documents, and did not take into account changes made to the German plans. But a review of conference documents indicates that issues flagged by the Vatican remained unaddressed by the German bishops’ draft statutes, provisionally approved Aug. 19, and still unchanged Aug. 30, 5 days before the Vatican’s intervention. On Sept. 4, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, wrote to Cardinal Marx as head of the German bishops’ conference, expressing concerns at the German plans to form a Synodal Assembly as part of the “binding process” announced by Marx earlier this year. CNA reported that the letter, and an accompanying four-page legal assessment of the German plans by the Pontifical Commission for Legislative Texts, expressed reservations about the German plans, especially the intention to consider and pass binding resolutions on matters of universal Church teaching and discipline. On Sept. 13, the German bishops’ conference published both Ouellet’s letter and the accompanying legal assessment, but rejected the concerns expressed in them, saying the Vatican’s critique was not based on the current version of German plans. “The opinion of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts addresses the draft version of the Statutes as of June 2019 and does not take into account the version updated July and after the Permanent Council meeting in August, which already no longer contains some passages to which the opinion refers,” a statement from the conference released said Friday. Cardinal Marx will travel to Rome next week to meet with Ouellette and to “dispel any misunderstandings” about the German plans, the German bishops’ conference said Sept. 13. Several key “misunderstandings” which could be addressed in that meeting appear to be reflected in the version of the synodal plan approved by the German bishops’ executive committee on Aug. 19. That document, obtained by CNA, shows that nearly all provisions flagged as problematic by the PCLT assessment remain a part of the German bishops’ plans.  The Vatican’s legal critique, dated Aug. 1, explained that both proposed content areas and the method proposed for addressing them exceed the German bishops’ authority. The analysis draws attention to the intention that the Synodal Assembly pass resolutions on four areas concerning universal Church teaching and governance: “authority, participation, and separation of powers,” “sexual morality,” “the form of priestly life,” and “women in Church ministries and offices.”  All four subject areas remain intact in the August version, passed by the executive committee. The Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts' assessment also responded to the proposal that the synod would have deliberative power, saying that the German plan seemed to convene a particular council “but without using this term.”   “How can a particular Church deliberate in a binding way if the topics dealt with affect the whole Church?” asked Archbishop Filippo Iannone, head of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts. “The episcopal conference cannot give legal effect to resolutions, this is beyond its competence,” his analysis said. Despite the German bishops’ insistence that the Vatican had critiqued an earlier version of the proposed statutes, the version passed by the executive committee in August provides, in Article 3, that “The Synodal Assembly is the superior body and has deliberative power. Members of the synodal assembly have an equal right to vote in decision-making matters.” Also retained in the August draft were provisions for the co-equal representation in the assembly for the German bishops' conference and the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK). Iannone’s analysis said this particular arrangement would not be acceptable. “There is an impression that the Episcopal Conference and ZdK are equal to each other: they send an equal number of participants, belong with equal rights to the presidency [of the Assembly], have a deliberative vote, and so on.” “This parity between bishops and laity is not ecclesiologically valid,” Iannone concluded. Another key point of concern in the Vatican’s assessment is the lack of Vatican involvement in ratifying any resolutions presented. “Article 12, 2, determines with respect to the publication of decisions, that those which concern issues that are reserved to the Universal Church are to be transmitted to the Apostolic See. As has already been said, the aforementioned topics exceed the competence of a particular Church,” Iannone wrote, before drawing particular attention to the intent to “transmit” the decisions to Rome. “One asks: what does it mean, ‘transmit’? Is it only a matter of making the deliberations known, or is it a request for the recognitio [formal approval] as foreseen for the decrees of a particular Council? The draft of the statutes leaves many open questions.” In the revised draft, approved by the executive committee of the German bishops on Aug. 19, Article 11, 2, states that “Resolutions that concern issues that fall under the authority of the Universal Church will additionally be transmitted to the Apostolic See.” The Friday statement from the German bishops’ conference said that PLCT concerns are largely moot after revisions made to the synodal statutes in “July and after the Permanent Council meeting in August.” But internal documents of the German bishops’ conference, obtained by CNA, say the most recent version of the statutes was “drafted Aug.1, 2019” with “no changes through Aug. 30, 2019.” It is not known whether relevant changes were made between Aug. 31 and Sept. 4, when Ouellet sent his letter to Cardinal Marx.

Pope Francis explains decision to give relics of St. Peter to Orthodox

Vatican City, Sep 13, 2019 / 05:11 am (CNA).- In a letter to Bartholomew I of Constantinople, Pope Francis has explained the unexpected gifting of a relic of St. Peter to the leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church in June, a gesture which generated controversy among some Catholics. The pope wrote to the ecumenical patriarch Aug. 30, saying the decision to give the relic was born out of prayer and intended as a sign of the ongoing work and prayer toward visible communion between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. Pope Francis gave the relic to a member of a delegation from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, which attended a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica for the feast of Saints Peter and Paul June 29. After the Mass, Pope Francis brought Eastern Orthodox Archbishop Job to a chapel in the papal apartments and offered the chapel’s reliquary as a gift. The bronze box contains nine fragments from what are believed to be the bones of St. Peter in the necropolis beneath St. Peter’s Basilica. The box bears the inscription, “From the bones found in the hypogeum of the Vatican Basilica, which are believed to be of Blessed Peter the Apostle.” When Pope St. Paul VI discovered St. Peter’s relics during excavations in 1939, he had the fragments removed to keep in the private chapel of the papal apartments. “This gesture is intended to be a confirmation of the journey that our Churches have made in drawing closer to one another: a journey at times demanding and difficult, yet one accompanied by evident signs of God’s grace,” Francis wrote to Bartholomew Aug. 30. “I sensed that this thought came to me from the Holy Spirit, who in so many ways prompts Christians to regain that full communion for which our Lord Jesus Christ prayed on the eve of his glorious Passion.” Pope Francis said he was reflecting on the “mutual determination to advance together towards full communion,” and thought of a gift Patriarch Athenagoras gave to St. Paul VI of an icon of Saints Peter and Andrew embracing. This icon, he said, “has become for us a prophetic sign of the restoration of that visible communion between our Churches to which we aspire and for which we fervently pray and work.” “Hence, in the peace born of prayer, I sensed that it would be highly significant were some fragments of the relics of the Apostle Peter to be placed beside the relics of the Apostle Andrew, who is venerated as the heavenly patron of the Church of Constantinople.” The Orthodox delegation brought the reliquary to Istanbul, where Monsignor Andrea Palmieri, undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, personally gave it to Bartholomew. Bartholomew, as patriarch of Constantinople, is regarded as “first among equals” within the Orthodox communion and is seen by many as the worldwide leader of Orthodoxy. Orthodox Archbishop Job called the gesture “another gigantic step towards concrete unity.” Pope Francis wrote that the joining of the relics of Andrew and Peter can serve “as a constant reminder and encouragement that, on this continuing journey, our divergences will no longer stand in the way of our common witness and our evangelizing mission in the service of a human family that today is tempted to build a purely secular future, a future without God.”

Pope Francis to visit Thailand and Japan in November

Vatican City, Sep 13, 2019 / 03:40 am (CNA).- The Vatican confirmed Friday that Pope Francis will travel to Thailand and Japan in November with stops scheduled in Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Pope Francis will visit Thailand Nov. 20-23 in commemoration of the 350th anniversary of the Vatican Mission to Siam in 1669. The pope will then travel Nov. 23-26 to Japan, where the theme of his visit is “Protect all life.” In recent years, the Church has been working in Japan to respond to life issues and protect the most vulnerable. The Holy See Press Office said that the trip’s motto “protect all life” not only applies to respect for all human dignity, but also extends to the environment. “In Japan today as well there are a pile of problems related to life and peace, in addition to the issues of economy, environment and relations with neighboring countries. Moreover, recovery from natural catastrophes and nuclear plant accidents remain as persisting problems,” according to the Vatican statement. The papal trip to Japan has been much anticipated after Pope Francis told journalists in January he was planning to travel to the country. AP reported Sept. 13 that Pope Francis will meet with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the Japanese Emperor Naruhito during his visit to the country. Catholics in Japan make up less than 0.5% of the country’s population. Christianity was first introduced to Japan in the 16th century by Catholic missionaries, most notably St. Francis Xavier. In the years that followed the Catholics in Japan suffered many waves of fierce persecutions with hundreds martyred, including 26 canonized saints who were executed by crucifixion in 1597 in Nagasaki. In Thailand, the small Catholic community -- representing less than 0.5% of the mostly Buddhist population --  has been celebrating the 350th anniversary of the Vatican Mission to Siam with events throughout 2019. In May, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, the prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, celebrated Mass with four thousand Thai people in Sampran, outside of Bangkok. “Asia is a sector of humanity rich in cultures and organized religions but with more than 85% of its members un-baptized,” Filoni said at the opening ceremony of the anniversary celebration. “Asia is the missionary continent par excellence. The universal Church requests your willing cooperation for missionary activities in this vast continent,” he said. “We need to reflect that our mission as baptized persons in Asia, is indeed a true mission...when the witnessing of our faith brings us into confrontation with the multitude of non-baptized persons, with their mentality and lifestyle, if not, at times, contrasting with the Gospel and the dignity of the person,” Filoni added. Pope Francis will be the second pope to visit both Japan and Thailand. St. John Paul II visited Thailand in 1984 and Japan in 1981. During his visit to Japan, St. John Paul II visited Tokyo,  Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, including a stop in the town of the Immaculata established by St. Maximilian Kolbe. In 2019, Pope Francis has already visited nine other countries outside of Italy, including Panama, Morocco, Madagascar, Romania, and the United Arab Emirates. On the return flight from his trip to Mozambique, Madagascar, and Mauritius in Africa earlier this week, the pope told journalists that he does plan to visit more European countries, but he will prioritize visits to smaller countries within Europe.

Pope Francis urges new bishops to draw close to God and His people

Vatican City, Sep 12, 2019 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- As Pope Francis met Thursday with bishops ordained in the past year, he urged them to make time for an intimate relationship with God and for pastoral visits to people they serve. “We need bishops capable of feeling the heartbeat of their communities and their priests, even from a distance: feel the pulse,” Pope Francis advised Sept. 12. The pope urged “real availability” in the life of a bishop, pointing to the example of the Good Samaritan, who saw a need and did not look the other way. “Stay in contact with people. Dedicate time to them more than at the desk. Don't fear contact with reality,” he said. “In particular, I would like to encourage regular pastoral visits: to visit frequently, to meet people and pastors,” he said. “Visit, following the example of Mary, who wasted no time and got up to go quickly to her cousin. The Mother of God shows us that to visit is to bring near Him who makes one jump with joy, is to bring the comfort of the Lord who does great things among the humble.” The new bishops are in Rome to participate in a formation course organized by the Congregation for Bishops and the Congregation for the Eastern Churches. “Every day, sparing no time, we must stand before Jesus and bring Him people, situations, like channels always open between Him and our people,” Pope Francis said. “‘This is my Body offered for you’, we say at the highest moment of the Eucharistic offering for our people. Our life springs from here and leads us to become broken loaves for the life of the world,” he said. Pope Francis said that without a close connection to Christ, it is easy to slip into the pessimistic mentality of those who say “everything is bad.”' “Without this personal trust, without this intimacy cultivated every day in prayer, even and especially in the hours of desolation and aridity, the core of our episcopal mission crumbles,” he said. “Only by being with Jesus we are preserved from the Pelagian presumption that good derives from our skill,” he added. “Only by staying with Jesus does the profound peace that our brothers and sisters seek from us reach our hearts.” Pope Francis advised that living a simple life as a bishop serves as a witness that Christ is enough. “The thermometer of closeness is attention to the least, to the poor, which is already an announcement of the Kingdom,” Francis said, noting “not the poor in the abstract with data and social categories, but concrete persons, whose dignity it is entrusted to us as their fathers.” He said that bishops should be “apostles of listening,” listening even to what is not pleasant to hear. Francis advised the new bishops not to surround themselves with “yes men” or “climbing priests.” “Please do not let fear of the risks of the ministry prevail, by turning away and keeping your distance,” he advised. “God surprises us and often loves to upset our agenda: be prepared for this without fear,” Pope Francis added.