TIME Religion

Pope Francis Visits ‘Cemetery For Abortion Victims’ in South Korea

It's a strong anti-abortion gesture

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Pope Francis visited a symbolic “cemetery for abortion victims” Saturday during his visit to South Korea, a gesture that strongly reaffirms the Church’s stance against abortion, after suspicion by some that the pontiff might hold tepid anti-abortion views.

The abortion memorial, located at the Kkottongnae home for the sick about 120 miles from Seoul, is a field dotted with white crosses and statues of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus as a child. Francis paused briefly at the site, bowed his head and folded his hand in prayer, the Boston Globe reports.

Jung Kwang-ryul of the Kkottongnae community, described the site as a “one-of-a-kind memorial,” saying the pope’s stop is “a clear testimony of his defense of life.”

South Korea is believed to have one of the highest abortion rates in the world, despite it being illegal except in the case of rape or incest.

During the early days of his papacy, some within the Church questioned Francis’ commitment to opposing abortion. In early interviews, Francis complained that the Church is “obsessed” with moral debates. “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods,” Francis said in one interview.

But since then, Francis has strengthened his anti-abortion credentials with starker statements. “It is necessary to reiterate the strongest opposition to any direct attack on life, especially innocent and defenseless, and her unborn child in the womb is the innocent par excellence,” the pope said in April.

[Boston Globe]

TIME Religion

Pope Francis Sacks Entire Board of Vatican’s Financial Watchdog

The pontiff has replaced the all-Italian board of the Financial Information Authority with an international group of new members — including Juan C. Zarate, a Harvard professor and former Bush Administration official

Pope Francis replaced the entire, all-Italian board of the Vatican’s internal financial watchdog Thursday amid clashes over the pace of reform, the Boston Globe reports.

The Financial Information Authority was created in 2010 to combat money laundering and bring the Vatican into compliance with international standards, and Pope Francis has brought a renewed focus on the agency since he was elected over a year ago and made financial reform a priority.

But the board has faced infighting since Swiss anti-money-laundering expert Rene Bruelhart became its director in 2012, capped by Italian Cardinal Attilio Nicora’s resignation as its head in January.

Pope Francis and Bruelhart have pushed for a more international board, with new members hailing from Italy, Singapore, Switzerland and the U.S., including Juan C. Zarate, a Harvard professor and a former official in the George W. Bush administration.

[Boston Globe]

TIME The Vatican

Pope’s Private Conversations Aren’t Church Policy

Pope Francis Visits The Church of St. Ignatius
Pope Francis on April 24, 2014 in Rome, Italy. Franco Origlia—Getty Images

The Vatican denies that the pope wants to change the rule on whether divorcees and their new spouses can take the sacrament, after he reportedly told an Argentine woman whose first marriage had ended in divorce that she could take communion

The Vatican assured Catholics Thursday that Pope Francis’ private conversations will not become church policy after a phone conversation of his stirred controversy.

Pope Francis reportedly spoke on the phone to an Argentine woman who had written him for guidance. She said that her priest had not allowed her to take communion because her current husband’s previous marriage was never annulled. After the conversation, her husband, Julio Sabetta, claimed that the head of the Catholic Church told the woman she was free of sin.

“He said that she has been freed of all sin, that he blessed the whole family, that she’s free to take communion from here on out, and he asked that we pray for him,” Sabetta said, adding that after they hung up, the whole family hugged and wept together. “It was something amazing,” he said.

The account, which Sabetta posted on Facebook on April 21, led to speculation that the Pope wanted to changeVatican policy that currently prevent those who have remarried after getting divorced from access to the sacraments. This possibility was fueled by the fact that the pope has called a synod in October to discuss family issues, including contraception and divorce. The Vatican even sent out a questionnaire to all the world’s bishops asking for their input before the meeting.

But Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi denied that there would be a change in policy, according to the Associated Press: “consequences related to the teaching of the Church are not to be inferred” from the pope’s private conversations.

“Several telephone calls have taken place in the context of Pope Francis’ personal pastoral relationships. Since they do not in any way form part of the Pope’s public activities, no information or comments are to be expected from the Holy See Press Office.”

[AP]

TIME Religion

Pope Francis Prays for Peace on Easter Sunday

Pope Francis
Pope Francis waves to the crowd from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica where he delivered the Urbi et Orbi (Latin for to the city and to the world) at the end of the Easter Mass in St. Peter's Square at the the Vatican, April 20, 2014. L'Osservatore Romano/AP

In his Easter address to more than 150,000 at St. Peter's Basilica, Pope Francis called for an end to the recent conflicts in Syria, Nigeria and Ukraine and advised Catholics to help "those crushed by life’s troubles"

Pope Francis prayed for peace in Ukraine during his Easter mass in Vatican City on Sunday.

“We ask [God] to enlighten and inspire the initiatives that promote peace in Ukraine, so that all those involved, with the support of the international community, will make every effort to prevent violence,” Francis said in front of a crowd of more than 150,000 visitors at St. Peter’s Basilica.

This year, the Catholic church’s celebration of Easter coincides with Easter in the Orthodox churches, which have a sizable presence in Ukraine.

The Pontiff also prayed for peace in Syria and the Middle East at large, an end to the recent Nigerian terrorist attacks that have targeted Christians and an end to the deadly Ebola outbreak in parts of Africa, the Associated Press reports.

Pope Francis said the hopeful spirit of Easter means “leaving ourselves behind and encountering others, being close to those crushed by life’s troubles, sharing with the needy, standing at the side of the sick, elderly and the outcast.”

[AP]

TIME The Vatican

Pope Francis Washes Feet of Elderly and Disabled for Pre-Easter Ritual

Pope Francis performs the traditional washing of the feet at the Don Carlo Gnocchi Foundation in Rome, on April 17, 2014.
Pope Francis performs the traditional washing of the feet at the Don Carlo Gnocchi Foundation in Rome, on April 17, 2014. Osservatore Romano/EPA

Francis continues to break with tradition by performing the pre-Easter ritual on non-Catholics. “Jesus made a gesture, a job, the service of a slave, a servant ... We need to be servants to one another,” the pontiff said

Pope Francis washed the feet of 12 elderly and disabled people during a Holy Thursday ritual in Rome on Thursday, the Associated Press reports.

Francis also performed the pre-Easter ritual last year on female and Muslim inmates at a juvenile detention center in Rome. That represented a major break with papal tradition, as typically only Catholic men are included in the practice.

The Vatican has not yet released the religious backgrounds of all the participants of this year’s ceremony, but Vatican officials said the participants came from various religious backgrounds. The Pope told the gathered crowd that he performs the ritual in order to remind himself of Jesus’ call to help others.

“Jesus made a gesture, a job, the service of a slave, a servant,” Franics said. “And he leaves this inheritance to us: We need to be servants to one another.”

[AP]

TIME Pope Francis

Pope Francis Takes Selfies With Crowd After Palm Sunday Homily

In his Palm Sunday Homily, the pope spoke entirely off-the-cuff, ignoring his prepared homily and calling on people to look into their own hearts to see how they're living their lives. Later, he posed for selfies with some young people

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Pope Francis proved Sunday that the selfie craze is here to stay when he posed for them with young eager photographers after his Palm Sunday Homily.

The pope spoke entirely off-the-cuff during his Palm Sunday address, ignoring his prepared homily and calling on people to look into their own hearts to see how they’re living their lives. He cited Judas and Pontius Pilate as warning examples during his homily, the Associated Press reports.

After the address, Pope Francis boarded his specially-designed popemobile, and riding through a dense crowd, noticed a group of Polish youths clamoring for a selfie with the religious leader. Pope Francis, who has sought to reconnect the Church with everyday and marginalized people, hopped off his open-topped vehicle and obliged the request.

Francis made waves with his first selfie last summer, and has taken several more since then.

[AP]

 

TIME The Vatican

President Obama Prepares to Meet the People’s Pope

President Barack Obama and Pope Francis exchange gifts during a private audience on March 27, 2014 at the Vatican.
President Barack Obama and Pope Francis exchange gifts during a private audience on March 27, 2014 at the Vatican. Gabriel Bouys—AFP/Getty Images

President Barack Obama meets with Pope Francis in Vatican City and, with his poll numbers, probably hopes some of the pontiff's popularity will rub off on him before he leaves. "I'm a great admirer," Obama tells Francis

The focus of the conversation when President Barack Obama meets Pope Francis on Thursday is expected to be the gap between the rich and the poor. Obama has called income inequality “the defining challenge of our time,” and Pope Francis has made the plight of the poor the centerpiece of his papacy. “One of the things that the Pope has done globally is put the issue of poverty back on the list,” says Stephen Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America in Washington.

For Obama, whose job-approval rating slipped to a lowly 41% earlier this month, the meeting is a rare chance to share a common platform — both physically and in terms of policy — with a Pontiff who enjoys the popularity of a media superstar. “It would be terrific for any politician on the planet to have his picture taken next to Pope Francis right now,” says Schneck, who served during the last election as national co-chair of Catholics for Obama. “Here in the United States, politicians like Paul Ryan are talking about poverty almost every day, and I think we have to credit the Pope with that.”

In the first year of his papacy, Francis has shifted the Catholic conversation toward Obama’s side of the court, lowering the heat on culture-war battles like gay marriage in favor of an emphasis on the least fortunate. But the two men may find that they also have plenty on which to disagree. The meeting comes two days after the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a challenge to the Affordable Care Act, Obama’s signature accomplishment, on grounds that it violated religious freedom by requiring for-profit corporations to provide insurance coverage for contraception. It’s an issue repeatedly stressed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and which Francis is likely to raise.

The visit will be the second Obama has made to the Vatican, and his previous appearance, along with a meeting in January between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his counterpart Pietro Parolin, offer hints of what the President can expect. In 2009, Obama met with Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. The two talked for a little less than half an hour, nearly double the 15 minutes that had been allotted. In a conversation that seemed to be a search for common ground, the two discussed immigration, the global economic crisis and the peace process in the Middle East. Benedict raised the issue of abortion, and Obama pledged to do everything in his power to reduce their numbers.

During Kerry’s visit, emphasis was on the Middle East, with special attention paid to Syria, according to a statement released by the Vatican after the meeting. The focus of the encounter had been announced ahead of time to be on international affairs, but Parolin also took the opportunity to raise his concern for the requirement that contraception be covered under the Affordable Care Act. “There’s a little bit of a precedent for getting into unforeseen issues,” says John Wauck, a priest of the Opus Dei and a professor at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome.

Indeed, Francis has not shied away from confrontation. As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he clashed repeatedly with Argentine President Christina Kirchner over gay marriage, abortion and contraception. And during discussions in 2013 over whether the U.S. should intervene in Syria, Francis’ was one of the loudest voices in opposition to a proposed bombing campaign. “This Pope is coming from a southern-hemisphere perspective,” says Schneck. “American exceptionalism in international affairs isn’t something that’s automatically going to be accepted.”

Other issues that could come up during the meeting include climate change, workers’ rights and immigration. While Obama favors immigration reform, his Administration has been unyielding when it comes to deportations. Francis, by contrast, has emphasized the plight of migrants. In July, he visited the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa to call attention to those who have died crossing the Mediterranean from Africa to Europe. At the end of this month, a group of U.S. bishops is planning to follow the Pope’s example and perform a mass on the U.S.-Mexico border to draw attention to the immigration debate. “The Pope is full of surprises,” says Wauck. “All bets are off about what he might want to talk about to the President of the United States. He’s broken with convention so often in the past.”

TIME The Vatican

The Pope’s Valentine’s Day Message: Get Married

Pope Francis takes part in his inaugural mass in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican, March 19, 2013.
Pope Francis takes part in his inaugural mass in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican, March 19, 2013. Paul Hanna—Reuters

It will 'bring you happiness'

Twitter-savvy Pope Francis has a Valentine’s Day message for all of his young followers: It’s time to put a ring on it.

“Dear young people, don’t be afraid to marry,” the Pope wrote on Twitter on Friday. “A faithful and fruitful marriage will bring you happiness.”

According to the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project, men and women are currently getting married three and four years later, respectively, than they were in 1990. They’re getting married seven years later than they were in 1960.

TIME The Vatican

Pope Francis Comic Books Now On Your iPhone

Pope Francis comic books are now in app form.
Pope Francis comic books are now in app form. Master New Media S.r.I.

A new app spreads the Pope's word to kids

Who needs apostles when you can have app-postles?

The people who introduced Pope Francis comic books to Italy last November released an app version of the product on Sunday. Now, young Catholics across the world can read comic books featuring Pope Francis’ most famous words and interactions and even color the scenes in themselves.

Both the original comic books and the app are designed to spread the Christian lessons of the Pope to kids in a fun and engaging way. But you’ll have to shell out $2.99 to color in the Pope’s cross on your iPad.

TIME The Vatican

Remember Benedict the Meek

Pope Benedict XVI during his general audience in aula Paolo VI at the Vatican, on July 27, 2012. Evandro Inetti—Zuma Press

As we celebrate Pope Francis, remember that a year ago today, Pope Benedict XVI performed the greatest papal act in the history of the Catholic Church.

A few weeks ago, TIME named Pope Francis its 2013 Person of the Year. And rightfully so: Francis’s nearly 11-month papacy has revolutionized the Catholic Church and its standing in the world. By his words and actions — including rejecting the apostolic palace, washing the feet of Muslim women, and saying that gay people are loved by God and have a place in the Church — Francis the Rebel has made it cool to be Christian again.

If the Church is indeed undergoing a revolution, it is important to note that Francis himself did not fire the first shot. That feat belonged to his predecessor, Benedict XVI, who a year ago today announced his stunning decision to voluntarily renounce his office.

By renouncing the throne of Saint Peter, it was Benedict — not Francis — who performed the greatest act of papal humility in 2013, and perhaps the greatest act of papal humility during the two millennia history of the Catholic Church.

Benedict’s lesson for his Church and the world was clear: I love you. I choose you. You matter to me more than anything else.

But if you read the media accounts of Benedict and Francis today, the story could not be more different. Benedict is often portrayed as the anti-Francis.

In Rolling Stone’s recent cover story on Pope Francis, Mark Binelli lays into Benedict, whom he refers to as a “dour academic” and a “staunch traditionalist who looked like he should be wearing a striped shirt with knife-fingered gloves and menacing teenagers in their nightmares.”

Binelli’s mean-spirited antics were rightly rejected by Francis’s spokesman, Jesuit Father Frederico Lombardi, and prominent Catholic voices including American priest Father James Martin. Francis himself has high praise for his predecessor, whom he calls “a man of courage and humility.”

But, sadly, these false caricatures of Benedict still get wide play in popular culture. As we mark the year anniversary of his resignation, it’s time to set the record straight: Benedict — like Francis — is a humble man who has faithfully served God and the Church.

Benedict came into office during a strange and difficult time for the Catholic Church. The introvert pope had to replace the rock star Pope John Paul II during a time of great trial for the universal Church, which had been rocked by the sex abuse scandal in the United States and throughout the world.

Amidst the difficulties, Benedict attempted to re-center the Church around Jesus Christ. And when the dust settled, Benedict appeared to do the job well. The man who was once dubbed by the media as “God’s Rottweiler” during his years leading the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, perked the ears of people across the world with his eloquent writings about the purpose of living, the dignity of all persons — especially the poor and marginalized — and the great contributions religion can make in a pluralistic society.

To the surprise of many, Benedict’s teachings came back again and again to the central theme of God’s love. In his first encyclical, he wrote that being a Christian “is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”

And though his papacy was marred by public relations nightmares, when he himself spoke, people responded. Of particular note were his highly successful apostolic trips to the United States in 2008 and to the United Kingdom in 2010. Upon his departure from England, Prime Minister David Cameron said Benedict had compelled the increasingly secular English society “to sit up and listen.”

And Benedict too was a reformer. Several of the changes for which Francis is being credited, including addressing the sexual abuse scandal in a substantial way and overhauling the leadership of the Vatican Bank, began under Benedict’s watch.

But of course, Benedict’s greatest act for the Church was his last action. In a world obsessed with the cult of personality and power, he reminded us that the greatest among us are the ones who give it all up for the sake of others.

There’s no question that Francis is shaking up the Church in new and profound ways. But for those who thank God for the Francis Revolution that has taken hold of the Catholic Church, it’s now time too to thank its soft-spoken founder: Benedict the Meek.

Christopher Hale is a senior fellow at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. He helped lead national Catholic outreach for President Obama’s re-election campaign. You can follow him on Twitter @chrisjollyhale.

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