TIME faith

Pope Francis Says Children Have a Right to a Father and a Mother

VATICAN-POPE
Pope Francis kisses a baby during an audience with members of the Association of Italian Catholic Doctors at Paul VI audience hall at the Vatican on Nov. 15, 2014. Filippo Monteforte—AFP/Getty Images

The statement seems at odds with the Vatican leader's push to make the church more accepting of nontraditional families

Pope Francis caused quite a stir on Monday with a statement that was criticized as a rolling back of his much lauded attempts to make the Catholic Church more inclusive of the LGBT community.

“Children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother,” said the Pope during a speech at the Complementarity of Man and Woman conference in Rome.

The statement, made to the attending conservative religious leaders around the world, was the only concrete reference the Pope made to heterosexuality, with the rest of the speech remaining largely ambiguous on the concept of complementarity between man and woman.

Many religious leaders present at the conference took this to mean an unequivocal support of traditional families. “Pope Francis made clear that male/female complementarity is essential to marriage and cannot be revised by contemporary ideologies,” Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention tweeted.

However, the Pontiff’s announcement at the conclusion of his speech that he will attend Philadelphia’s World Meeting of the Families in September was conversely deemed a nod toward more acceptance of nontraditional families.

Sister Simone Campbell, an advocate on various social-justice issues who has taken on the church in the past, predicted that there would be several nontraditional families present at the Philadelphia conference. “He’s bringing in the various realities and letting people speak for themselves, and that creates change,” Campbell told the Washington Post. “He’s opening hearts. He’s not changing definitions.”

TIME faith

Pope Francis Confirms U.S. Visit in 2015

The pope will attend the triennial World Meeting of Families

Pope Francis has confirmed he will travel to the U.S. next year to attend a gathering in the city of Brotherly Love, marking his first visit to the U.S. as pontiff.

“I wish to confirm according to the wishes of the Lord, that in September of 2015, I will go to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families,” Pope Francis said Monday, according to Vatican Radio. “Thank you for your prayers with which you accompany my service to the Church. Bless you from my heart.”

The World Meeting of Families is a triennial gathering and claims to be the world’s largest meeting of Catholic families. It will be held Sept. 22-27, with the Pope set to attend the final weekend events. During his visit, the pope will host a mass at the close of the event in Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Details of his visit, however, have not been finalized.

“A hallmark of his papacy has been a keen focus on the many challenges that families face today globally,” said Archbishop Charles J. Chaput. “I believe that the presence of the Holy Father will bring all of us –Catholic and non-Catholic alike – together in tremendously powerful, unifying and healing ways.”

Pope Francis hinted he’d be traveling to the U.S. in 2015 in August, but it had yet to be confirmed.

TIME Vatican

Pope Francis Demotes Outspoken Conservative Cardinal

Raymond Burke Pope Francis
Archbishop of St. Louis cardinal Raymond Leo Burke attends Palm Sunday Mass celebrated by Pope Francis at St. Peter's Square in Vatican City on April 13, 2014. Franco Origlia—Getty Images

Cardinal Raymond Burke was the Vatican's highest ranking American

Pope Francis has demoted a conservative American cardinal who has criticized his leadership of the Catholic Church.

The pontiff removed Cardinal Raymond Burke as the leader of the Vatican’s highest court and appointed him to a ceremonial position as chaplain of the Knights of Malta, a charity group, according to a press bulletin issued Saturday.

That is a significant demotion, according to the National Catholic Reporter. “The position of Patron of the the Order of Malta is usually given to a retired cardinal, or as a second task to an active cardinal,” Michael Sean Winters writes. “It has almost no responsibilities.”

The move was not a surprise, as Burke, the Vatican’s highest ranking American, had said last month that he was going to have a new post.

The outspoken, conservative bishop — who pushed for the Vatican to revise and water-down its recent, tentative step toward greater acceptance of LGBT people — has butted heads with the pope since the Argentine was elected last year. Last month, he compared Pope Francis’ leadership to “a ship without a rudder” during an interview with a Spanish magazine.

TIME Religion

Vatican Official Calls Brittany Maynard’s Assisted Suicide ‘Reprehensible’

"The gesture in and of itself should be condemned"

A Vatican official condemned the planned death of Brittany Maynard on Tuesday, calling her decision to end her life rather than succumb to a terminal form of brain cancer “reprehensible.”

Monsignor Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, one of the Catholic church’s leaders on bioethical issues and head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, called the decision to end one’s life undignified, the Associated Press reports. “Brittany Maynard’s act is in itself reprehensible,” he told the ANSA news agency. “What happened in the consciousness we do not know.”

The official stressed that he did not mean to pass judgement against Maynard herself, but rather took issue with Maynard’s argument that people faced with devastating, terminal medical conditions should have the freedom to end their lives at a time of their choosing. “The gesture in and of itself should be condemned,” Carrasco de Paula said.

[AP]

TIME faith

What the Synod Taught Us About Pope Francis: He Takes Risks

Pope Francis Leads Ordinary Public Consistory
Pope Francis, flanked by former Vatican Secretary of State cardinal Angelo Sodano arrives at the Synod Hall for ordinary public consistory on Oct. 20, 2014 in Vatican City, Vatican. Franco Origlia—Getty Images

If there is a single takeaway, it may be this

The Vatican’s synod concluded Sunday with little fanfare. The bishops in the red and pink zuchettos, or skullcaps, filtered out, many departing for their different corners of the globe. The room’s burgundy, stadium-style seats were empty. The first major policy event of the Francis papacy was a wrap.

A lot happened in that windowless room in Rome over the past two weeks. What began with the Holy Father asking more than 250 participants inside the hall to speak their minds on issues of the family ended with them giving him a five-minute standing ovation. And beyond the hall, the synod prompted a dynamic conversation about where the global Catholic Church is headed under Pope Francis’ leadership.

If there is a single takeaway, it may be this: Pope Francis showed the world that he is not afraid of making mistakes. He takes risks, and his commitment to listening allows a host of voices to rise and controversy to surface.

The first big surprise came on the first day of the second week, when Cardinal Péter Erdő of Hungary—the synod’s organizer and a man usually seen as a conservative—read aloud a mid-Synod report that to many sounded like a shift in tone on welcoming the gay community. Liberals cried victory and conservatives urged caution. Three days later, the Vatican revised the section headline “welcoming homosexual persons” to “providing for homosexual persons”—but only in English, leaving the official Italian verb the same. The drama fostered murmurings that the mid-Synod document represented just a handful of bishops’ opinions and that Pope Francis stacked the deck of bishops composing the Synod’s report with more liberal voices.

Francis played the controversy close to the chest, but he furthered his own desire for openness and discussion in three ways. First, he requested that the synod’s concluding document be published in full, so everyone could see the vote tallies and the paragraphs that did not pass the bishops’ final approval. Only three paragraphs did not pass—the paragraph that expressed welcome toward gays fell four votes short of the two-thirds majority needed for inclusion, and two paragraphs about divorced and remarried Catholics also did not pass by a slightly larger margin.

Second, Pope Francis did not shy away from difference and challenge. He reminded the bishops in his concluding speech that the synod was “a journey,” full of “running fast,” “fatigue,” “enthusiasm and ardor,” and also acknowledged it was “a journey of human beings, with the consolations there were also moments of desolation, of tensions and temptations.”

Third, he showed that amidst it all he maintains a sense of humor—he wryly joked about the “welcoming” gays controversy in the same concluding speech, misusing the word “welcome” and then correcting himself.

“We will speak a little bit about the Pope, now, in relation to the Bishops,” Francis said in Italian, amid some laughter among the bishops. “So, the duty of the Pope is that of guaranteeing the unity of the Church; it is that of reminding the faithful of their duty to faithfully follow the Gospel of Christ; it is that of reminding the pastors that their first duty is to nourish the flock – to nourish the flock – that the Lord has entrusted to them, and to seek to welcome – with fatherly care and mercy, and without false fears – the lost sheep. I made a mistake here. I said welcome: [rather] to go out and find them.”

The Synod’s peripheral drama also shook up the traditional power players on all sides. Cardinal Walter Kasper of Germany, a vocal advocate of relaxing rules about communion for the divorced and remarried, got caught in an odd interview and ensuing controversy for saying that African bishops “should not tell us too much what we have to do,” and he distanced himself from the remarks. Cardinal Raymond Burke—a conservative whom Pope Francis had already removed from the Vatican’s Congregation of Bishops—confirmed to the National Catholic Reporter that he will be removed from his post as chief justice at the Vatican’s highest court, and when asked who told him he would be removed, he said, “Who do you think?”

Many of the subtleties of the event, and the esoteric ways of the church, were lost in the way the event was communicated with the world. Much of the global coverage confused the Synod’s possibilities and its outcomes. After news reports that the Vatican was announcing an historic welcome of gays, mainstream outlets were forced to walked back the news. Some blamed the Vatican for a reversal, when in fact no conclusion had even been reached. Reuters said the bishops “reversed a historic acceptance of gays, dropping parts of a controversial document that had talked more positively of homosexuals than ever before in Church history.”

It would be wrong to cast the Synod in terms of such reversals or failures—gay marriage was never on the table, and reaching consensus implies that that was this Synod’s primary goal in the first place. Francis sought from the beginning to listen, and in true Jesuit style, to learn together what issues are facing families in the changing global context.

It also became clear that not all the issues about the family got similar play. By the synod’s end, issues of sexual ethics like divorce and homosexuality remained the hot-button issues. Big challenges to family life like war, disease, migration and sexual abuse failed to make a real appearance in the concluding document.

While no one knows the future, Pope Francis is looking toward newness. “God is not afraid of new things!” he preached at the Synod’s closing mass on Sunday when he beatified Pope Paul VI. “Here is where our true strength is found. … It is so that we can live this life to the fullest—with our feet firmly planted on the ground—and respond courageously to whatever new challenges come our way.”

The challenges to newness ahead are plenty. This Synod was just the beginning of the Church’s deep dive into global family life. Next fall a larger group of bishops will gather in Rome to conclude the process this synod started, and as Pope Francis reminded the bishops in his concluding remarks on Saturday, “We still have one year to mature, with true spiritual discernment, the proposed ideas and to find concrete solutions to so many difficulties and innumerable challenges that families must confront.”

The intervening time will tell what taste this year’s gathering leaves in people’s mouths. Synods, in many ways, are like summer camps: pack a group of devotees together in a pressure cooker environment for a short but intense period of time, let thoughts and emotions run deep, and see what relationships and opinions last for the long term.

Pope Francis, for his part, is pressing on. Monday morning, he returned to the same windowless room with a new set of cardinals. The topic this time? Crises facing Christians in the Middle East.

TIME faith

Vatican Changes Draft Report Translation About Welcoming Gays

Pope Francis arrives at a morning session of a two-week synod on family issues, at the Vatican, Oct. 16, 2014.
Pope Francis arrives at a morning session of a two-week synod on family issues, at the Vatican, Oct. 16, 2014. Alessandra Tarantino—AP

"Welcoming homosexual persons” is now “Providing for homosexual persons"

The Vatican adjusted the English translation of a controversial phrase in its mid-Synod-of-the-Bishops report on Thursday, adapting “Welcoming homosexual persons” to “Providing for homosexual persons.”

The original Italian verb in question, accogliere, remains unchanged. Italian is the official language of the bishops’ meeting, and because the official language of the document is Italian, a Vatican spokesman explained at a press briefing, the report has technically stayed the same.

Parts of the paragraph that followed that phrase have also been updated in English. According to the Associated Press:

The first version asked if the church was capable of “welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities.” The new version asks if the church is “capable of providing for these people, guaranteeing … them … a place of fellowship in our communities.” The first version said homosexual unions can often constitute a “precious support in the life of the partners.” The new one says gay unions often constitute “valuable support in the life of these persons.”

Initial reaction suggests that the original English translations more closely follow the Italian. The change comes after press reports of a Vatican shift on teachings of marriage as between one man and one woman flooded the Western media earlier this week. In Thursday’s press briefing, a Vatican spokesperson urged media to not give too much importance to the new translation change.

Translation issues have prompted confusion at several points during the Synod so far. Summaries of Synod conversations have been relayed to the press at daily briefings in Italian, English and Spanish, and different points have been emphasized depending on the language of the person giving the briefing. Questions at the daily press briefings are also asked in a variety of languages, and usually replied to in Italian, English, Spanish or French. That means a question asked in English has been responded to in Italian, or a question in Italian could get a response in French.

A final Synod “message,” not report, is expected to be approved Saturday, according to the Vatican’s press office. The message will be composed by a group of church leaders. Pope Francis also added South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier to that group on Thursday. Napier has been critical of the initial mid-Synod report this week. “The message has gone out and it’s not a true message,” he told the press after the report was released on Monday. “Whatever we say hereafter is going to be as if we’re doing some damage control.”

TIME ebola

Blocked From Pope’s Synod By Ebola, Liberia’s Bishop Tells His Nation’s Story

Gbarnga ebola
Grave diggers prepare for new Ebola victim outside an Ebola treatment center in Gbarnga, Liberia on Oct. 7, 2014. John Moore—Getty Images

“As Bishop of my people I carry within my heart their wounds and pains every moment of life here,” says Bishop Anthony Borwah

One bishop is absent from Pope Francis’ Extraordinary Synod of the Bishops on the family. He was invited, he wanted to come, his name is on the participant list, but he is not in Rome. He is some 4,000 miles away. And few—if any—people outside the synod hall even know he is not there.

His name is Bishop Anthony Borwah, 48, and he leads the Catholic Diocese of GBarnga in central Liberia, where Ebola is wreaking havoc. Tony, as he is called, learned he could not travel to the Synod in late August, when the Ivory Coast closed its borders due to the Ebola outbreak and restricted the one airline that could have taken him to Abidjan, where he needed to apply in person for a Schengen visa to travel to the European Union.

(PHOTOS: See How A Photographer Is Covering Ebola’s Deadly Spread)

Borwah may not be at the Synod, nor is he able to participate remotely due to technological limits, but the gathering’s focus on the family is vital to his Liberian families. Ebola is their most urgent challenge, but it is not the only one, he explained to TIME in this exclusive interview. Borwah submitted an essay to the Synod—an “intervention” in Vatican-speak—about the situations facing Liberian families. Borwah’s essay is not being read aloud at the Synod but will be entered into the written record and considered in any final documents that the Synod produces.

“Enormous are the pastoral challenges of the family in Liberia today,” his essay begins, before continuing to describe the challenges including Ebola, polygamy, migration, unemployment, the lack of a father-figures, domestic violence, child trafficking, and sexual tourism. “Existential questions from the poor, prevalently during the Civil war, are been asked again: Where is God? What wrong have we (Liberians) done again? How come we have once again become the abandoned and scum of the earth?”

(PHOTOS: Inside the Ebola Crisis: The Images That Moved Them Most)

The past few months since Ebola outbreak have been brutal for Liberia, where about 69% of the population is Christian, according to Pew Research Center. Borwah has lost dear friends to the virus, including his spiritual director, Father Miguel from Spain, his mentor and medical doctor Abraham Borbor, and his prayer partner Tidi Dogba. While the Catholic community as a whole has not had many deaths in Gbarnga, he says, those who are dying are relatives and friends. “As Bishop of my people I carry within my heart their wounds and pains every moment of life here,” he says.

The Liberian Catholic community is doing what it can to combat the virus. Borwah has called on all Catholics in his diocese to gather in prayer against Ebola from 5 to 6 p.m. every day from September 1 through November 30. The church uses the first ten minutes for education and updates about Ebola, and then for the last 50 minutes they pray with the Holy Rosary. They are observing strict medical rules about what kind of interaction they can have while together for prayer. No touching, no handshakes, and entrances of churches, homes, and offices have buckets of chlorinated water for hand washing.

The Catholic Church is also collaborating with the government on the national Ebola Task Force Team, Borwah says. The National Catholic Health Team is training nurses in three Catholic dioceses in Liberia, and Catholic clinics remain open. “Our Human Rights Department is also actively involved in violations issue[s] that may occur under such a crisis situation and the state of emergency when rights are restricted,” Borwah adds. “We hope to soon begin the distribution of food to mainly quarantined communities and other affected areas.”

The Ebola devastation extends beyond just a health crisis for Liberian families. The virus’ highly contagious nature means that family members are kept at a great distance from infected loved ones. Ignoring the restriction, on the other hand, can lead to death, but Liberian families are very affectionate especially in difficult times, Borwah explains, and the inability to show real human kindness is wounding morale.

Poverty is also increasing, he says. Already more than 80% of families in Liberia live below the poverty line, according to the Central Intelligence Agency. Now the price of rice and other essential commodities has spiked since the ebola outbreak due to port and border closures, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Labor shortages due to migration restrictions are also putting the fall’s rice and maize harvests at risk. Women, the FAO has noted, are particularly hard hit as many are the primary caregivers and can’t repay their small business loans. Schools are closed while the virus is present, and so students stay home and teachers do not get paid. “The Ebola situation has badly crippled the economy resulting in rife impoverishment and hunger,” Borwah says.

Increased poverty means increased desperation over the loss of family members to Ebola, he continues. That frustration is compounded when the government buries or cremates loved ones, often without family members present. “These new wounds are a tragic addition to festering wounds that families here experienced as a result of a more than 15 years of fratricidal civil war that officially ended a decade ago,” he says.

Borwah is grateful for global aid groups and donors like Catholic Relief Services and CAFOD, the official Catholic aid agency for England and Wales, but more support is needed, especially when it comes to supporting survivors. “Recently one of the survivors—my kinsman—committed suicide when people avoided him and he felt that he was unworthy of love anymore,” Borwah says. “We need more support to feed the thousand whom are hungry and angry and to care and counsel the Ebola survivors who carry the stigma.”

There is a dimension to the Ebola outbreak that also concerns him—the idea that Ebola’s spread could have a man-made and not just a natural source. “I believe that the causes of Ebola are not just physical but spiritual,” he says. “I like calling it the ‘Ebola phenomenon’ because it’s existence raises more questions than answers.”

Then there are Liberia’s non-Ebola-related challenges. Infidelity in marriages is common, with the causes ranging from poverty (mostly on the part of the women) and cultural permissiveness (on the part of the men), he says. “Generally the economy of the nation is in the pocket of few men, hence there is a lot of women prostitution,” he says. “I often say that these prostitutes are prophets and friends of Jesus as they signify the inequality, marginalization and injustice meted out against the poor and nobodies of our society especially women.”

Women, he adds, are generally subject to men culturally, and are often subjected to brutal domestic violence and impoverishment. The government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has done a lot to raise the dignity of womanhood in beloved Liberia, he continues, but “the walk is still too long.”

Families are navigating questions of shifting identity. Western technological and cultural shifts mean that young people often have different value systems from their parents, and that is dividing families. “Parents can no longer control their children in the face of this new ethics, something, which brings a lot of pain and worries about the future of the family,” he says.

Borwah has a message for the world: “The friends of Jesus Christ—the nobodies, the poor, women and the innocents, the caretakers of others—need both the spiritual and material help. They are losing faith, hope and love. They are poorer, hungrier and very desperate. God has not and will not abandon us, so please do not abandon us to the onslaught of Ebola.”

And, in the midst of it all, Pope Francis, Borwah says, has not forgotten the Liberian people. “The Holy Father prays for Ebola stricken people everyday, even as the Synod goes on,” Borwah says. “He is very close to our suffering.”

His final words: “Please pray for us.”

TIME Religion

What the Vatican Really Said About Homosexuality

Pope Francis leads a mass honouring the canonisation of two Canadian saints in St. Peter's basilica at the Vatican on Oct. 12, 2014.
Pope Francis leads a mass honouring the canonisation of two Canadian saints in St. Peter's basilica at the Vatican on Oct. 12, 2014. Vincenzo Pinto—AFP/Getty Images

It's not the big shift people think it is

The Catholic world and the media were riled Monday by a Vatican document interpreted by many as signaling a softer church stance toward homosexuality, but the inclusive tone of the document is a long way from actual policy change.

At issue are three words most people have never heard of: Relatio post disceptationem. That’s the name of the document the Catholic Church’s Extraordinary Synod of the Bishops released Monday, one week into the Synod’s gathering to discuss the state of the family in the modern world. It translates, “Report After Debate,” and it was read aloud in the Synod hall to kick off the Synod’s second week. One of the report’s 58 sections—the one causing the biggest stir—is titled, “Welcoming homosexual persons.”

“Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community,” the passage begins. “Are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?”

For a Church that has historically linked the word “homosexual” with the word “sin,” the idea of welcoming gays in any capacity can appear to be a significant move. Headlines immediately spoke of a “dramatic shift” and a “more tolerant” stance from the church.

But before rushing to conclusions, everyone, on all sides, should calm down.

First, here’s what the document actually is:

The relatio is a mid-Synod snapshot of 200+ Catholic leaders’ conversations that happened in the Synod hall last week. It is a starting point for conversations as the Synod fathers start small group discussions this week. It is a working text that identifies where bishops need to “deepen or clarify our understanding,” as Cardinal Luis Antonia Tagle put it in Monday’s press briefing. That means that the topic of gays and Catholic life came up in the Synod conversations so far and that it is a topic for continued reflection.

Second, here’s what the document is not:

The relatio is not a proscriptive text. It is not a decree. It is not doctrine, and certainly not a doctrinal shift. It is also not final. “These are not decisions that have been made nor simply points of view,” the document concludes. “The reflections put forward, the fruit of the Synodal dialogue that took place in great freedom and a spirit of reciprocal listening, are intended to raise questions and indicate perspectives that will have to be matured and made clearer by the reflection of the local Churches in the year that separates us from the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of bishops planned for October 2015.”

So, what does all of that mean? Cardinal Tagle perhaps said it best when he said at Monday’s press briefing, with a smile, “The drama continues.”

The relatio reaffirms at several points that marriage is between a man and a woman. Substance on that point is not changing. The Vatican has been repeatedly clear that this Synod will bring no changes to doctrine, or even a final document with new rites. To “welcome gays” does not mean the Church is no longer equating “gay” with “sin.”

Instead, tone—as it has always been with the Francis papacy—is what is on the table. The style that Pope Francis lives is one that starts with a spirit of embrace, of mercy, and not with sin. It begins with figuring out at what points embrace is possible before determining the points at which it is not. That may be one reason why people like top Vatican watcher John Thavis are calling this mid-synod report “an earthquake.”

But it is also important to remember that the Synod on the Family is almost a two-year-long process, and this snapshot is just that, a snapshot of one week in that process. There will be more such snapshot documents in the coming months. The conversation started earlier this year when bishops around the world surveyed their congregations about family life, it kicked off more formally last week with the gathering in Rome, next the bishops will take the conversations back to their communities, next summer there’s the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia (a traditionally conservative American diocese), and then finally next fall there will be the second Synod with even more bishops from around the world with even more discussion.

Looking for revolution can be misleading. It can mar the actual story of what is and what is not happening. Casual Vatican observers—especially those in the United States, where conversations about sexuality have a different trajectory than in the Vatican or in many developing countries—should be careful to not read into the conversation what they want to hear. The interest in a relatio, a relatively obscure document, does however point to another shift: people actually care about what a group of bishops is doing.

That itself, for many, may be a revolution.

Read next: Pope Francis Wouldn’t Have Wanted the Nobel Peace Prize

TIME Religion

Pope Francis Wouldn’t Have Wanted the Nobel Peace Prize

Pope Francis Attends His Weekly Audience at St Peters Square
Pope Francis waves to the faithful as he holds his weekly audience in St. Peter's Square on March 19, 2014 in Vatican City, Vatican. Franco Origlia—Getty Images

Accepting the honor would've been out of character for the Holy Father

Malala Yousafazi and Kailash Satyarthi were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize Friday morning. Pope Francis, a hotly-rumored choice for the honor, did not. And that’s almost certainly just how Pope Francis would want it to be.

Popes do not win the Nobel Peace Prize. It’s just not done. Not even Pope John Paul II was awarded the prize, even when it was widely rumored that he would be its recipient in 2003 for his opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

MORE: Pope Francis, 2013 TIME Person of the Year

Part of the current Holy Father’s global appeal is that he shies away from accolades. They do not fit with his mission, or the ethos of humility that he is trying to infuse into Holy See culture. This is a man who pays his own hotel bill the morning after being named the heir of Saint Peter, even though the Vatican owns his hotel anyway. He is a man who wears old shoes and simple robes, and who refuses to live in the Vatican’s apostolic palace. He has his eyes on a bigger prize, to quote words of the Apostle Paul, toward the upward call of God.

Friday, he again showed that characteristic humility. The announcement of Malala’s win came at 11 a.m. Rome time. Typically, every day this week at 11 a.m., Pope Francis has been finishing a coffee break with the bishops from around the world gathered for the Extraordinary Synod of the Bishops on the Family. (The gathering is the first major policy event of his papacy, and one he specifically called so that church leaders could discuss practical issues facing modern marriages and families.) But this morning, he quietly snuck out of the Synod hall a few minutes before the Nobel Prize committee announced the honoree. Whether it was his intent or not, that move made sure that he would not be in front of any cameras or an audience that might have applauded him if he had won.

Malala’s win also means that Mother Teresa, who won the prize in 1979, remains the most prominent Catholic in history to have received the honor. It is fitting for Pope Francis, by his absence, to continue the legacy of honoring women’s role in society—not only has he been working to bring attention to challenges of family life in the Middle East, but he also has shown sensitivity to women and to their leadership in Church life.

Plus, in what is one of history’s ironic twists—or some might say, providentially recurring themes—Mother Teresa opened her acceptance speech with a prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, the saint for whom Pope Francis chose to be named.

“Lord, make a channel of Thy peace,” the prayer begins, “that where there is hatred, I may bring love; that where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness; that, where there is discord, I may bring harmony; that, where there is error, I may bring truth; that, where there is doubt, I may bring faith; that, where there is despair, I may bring hope; that, where there are shadows, I may bring light; that, where there is sadness, I may bring joy.”

For many, Pope Francis is doing just that, Nobel or not.

Dias reported from Vatican City

TIME faith

Meet the Iraqi Couple Attending Pope Francis’ Synod

Riyadh Azzu and Sanaa Habeeb Elizabeth Dias

The Synod bishops have already voted to send a letter of encouragement to Iraqi families

Baghdad has been home to Riyadh Azzu and Sanaa Habeeb for their entire lives. It is where they first met at church in 1969, married in 1976, developed their careers—he is an engineer, she is a pharmacist—and raised their son and daughter, who are now both doctors. Their part of town has long been an area where Christians and Muslims have peacefully coexisted. But now all that’s changing—Iraq’s economic, political, and religious turmoil, especially with the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria’s (ISIS) attacks on minority Christian communities, is uprooting their lives.

This week Azzu, 61, and Habeeb, 60, are sharing their story with Pope Francis and the bishops gathered at the Vatican for the Extraordinary Synod of the Bishops on the Family, a special gathering of church leaders to discuss practical issues of marriage and family in the modern world. They are one of the fourteen couples appointed by the Holy Father to participate as auditors, a term for the non-voting attendees. On paper, their role is to serve as “witnesses of Christian family life in an Islamic context.” In person it is to witness to the larger story of the issues Christian — particularly Catholic — families face in the Middle East.

The couple previously represented Iraq with 10 other families at the 2012 World Meeting of Families in Milan. They are humbled by the opportunity to be the ones to share their story at the Synod, they tell TIME. They were likely selected because their English skills are good and they are regular church attendees, Habeeb says, but she added that lots of families deserve this honor. The two main issues are on their minds as they prepare to speak to the Synod fathers: the impact of war on Christians, and immigration’s role in fracturing the family.

Both are experiences they have lived firsthand. ISIS has driven more than 100,000 Iraqi Christians out of the country over the last few months. The June 11 assault of northern Iraq was a disaster for their community. While Azzu and Habeeb were relatively safe in Baghdad, they watched as fellow Christians were driven from cities like Mosul and are now living in tents and church yards. “That did it for us. They were people like us—they had good homes, good jobs, they were driven away just like that,” Habeeb says. “It’s like the 9/11 of Iraq.”

The pair’s family has been torn apart as conditions have worsened in recent years. Their distant relatives have all left the country. Their son moved to Michigan and is now an American citizen. Their daughter, who has a PhD in diagnostic imaging, and her husband, moved with their grandchildren to Germany to try to build a new life. “She has to start again, from zero,” Habeeb explains, talking about how many youth are leaving the country, in many cases along with older family members, which fractures the close family ties Arab countries have developed over centuries. “She had no future. It is a hopeless case, Iraq.”

For now, the couple is staying in Iraq, but they are considering a move to the United States with their son. The burden brought on by being required to pay religious taxes and not be able to openly celebrate Christian feast days and big holidays like Christmas is taking its toll. Many of their moderate Muslim friends have already left the country. Their own church, St. Joseph Chaldean Catholic, has shrunk to 200 families, compared to 2,000 families two decades ago.

The bishops at the Synod are aware of the challenges Christians in Iraq have been facing, and already voted to send a letter of encouragement to Iraqi families. In the midst of it all, Habeeb and Azzu are trying to bear testimony to their Catholic faith and to loving their neighbors, whether they be Muslim, Christian, or anything else. Church, they say, is what has sustained them and given them social community and friends. But they also recognize there are limits to what the Catholic Church can do to improve the situation.

“[The Church has] shown wonderful acts of solidarity, this is beautiful. They are making their voices heard in the world community . . . they are praying, there are contributing financially,” Habeeb says. “What else can they do? It is a moral voice.”

The U.S. and its military power is another matter. “It is [a] very slow reaction, they are saying it takes a lot of time, years maybe, I don’t know why,” Azzu says of the American response. “It is baffling,” Habeeb adds. “They say you people have to tackle their problems on your own, and they are right. . . . I’m sure our politicians are to blame also. . . . We had large expectations when America liberated us the first time, a beautiful sense of freedom. All of this disappeared.”

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