VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis’ latest interview, with a Spanish-language daily newspaper, discussed the recent synod and the controversial question of reception of Communion by divorced-and-remarried Catholics.
In the interview, published Sunday in the Argentine daily newspaper La Nacion, the Holy Father affirmed he is open to better integrating remarried Catholic divorcees in Church life and opposed to ruling out Communion altogether for such Catholics.
He is also content with the synodal process, and he rejected accusations that he demoted Cardinal Raymond Burke, the former prefect of the Vatican’s Supreme Court. The Pope revealed in the interview that he is planning on visiting Africa next year, with a possible trip to Argentina in 2016.
Speaking for 50 minutes to Argentinian journalist Elisabetta Piqué at his St. Martha residence Dec. 4, he gave some clues to his thinking and approach to the papacy: First, he doesn’t want to change as pope, but remain as he has always been, because to change at his age “would be to make a fool of yourself.”
Second, he welcomes resistance to his leadership, as it’s “very healthy” to have things “out into the open.”
And third, when it comes to the effect of criticism on him, he said God has bestowed on him “a healthy dose of unawareness. I just do what I have to do.”
The last comment is coherent with what has been said of the Holy Father — that he pays little or no attention to what the media says and rarely reads newspapers. He alludes to this in the interview, urging people to read his actual words rather than media interpretations.
‘Against the Pope’
Certain other passages are also worth noting. He rejected accusations that the divisions at the recent Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family were “against the Pope,” saying he was “no benchmark,” because the pope’s role is simply to “get the ball rolling and to listen to everybody.”
He added: “The fact that, in the end, my address was accepted with such enthusiasm by the synod fathers shows that the Pope is not the issue, but, rather, the different pastoral positions are.”
Later in the interview, the Pope said, “We benefited from the synodal process,” which is a “protected space” where the Holy Spirit can work. He said those who stubbornly hold fast to positions are in need of prayer to the Holy Spirit “to convert them.”
But Pope Francis said the overall tone of the synod discussions was a “brotherly one, trying to find a way to tackle the family´s pastoral issues.” He added that it’s important to “analyze” the way couples are prepared for marriage, “because the great majority are unaware of the meaning of a lifetime commitment.”
He then gave an example of how one betrothed couple he recently met seemed unaware of the meaning of marriage and saw it as just a social event.
Asked about fears among some that “traditional doctrine will collapse” because of the synodal process, he said some are afraid “because they don’t read things properly” but pay attention to media interpretations.
He commended the way the synod was handled and said the post-synodal document and his closing address will “become relative and provisional,” turning into a guideline for next year’s synod.
‘The Solution Is Integration’
Pope Francis expressed the view that more needs to be done for divorced-and-civilly-remarried Catholics, but didn’t focus solely on the issue of Communion.
“Communion alone is no solution,” he said. “The solution is integration,” he added, meaning including such couples in the life of the Church as far as possible, including allowing them to be godparents. But he added: “Things need to change; our standards need to change,” and he remarked that “some panicked” at the synod “and went as far as to say: ‘Communion, never.’”
On reforming the Curia, some sources have suggested a “purge” is taking place of certain personnel. But Francis rejects talk of “cleansing” and instead sees the changes as going in the direction suggested by the meetings of cardinals before the conclave.
They demanded “lots of things, which we should certainly not forsake,” he said. The reform is a “slow process,” he added, and not expected before the new year, but he pointed to achievements already made and singled out the Institute for Religious Works (Vatican Bank), which is now “operating beautifully.” He also said certain departments will always be headed by a cardinal, but he is open to laity and even a married couple heading others.
“Spiritual reform is my great concern right now,” he said, “to change people’s hearts.” As during the Lenten retreat earlier this year, he revealed he is breaking with tradition and taking Curial heads to a retreat center outside of Rome for a week before Christmas.
Asked about his highlights of the past year, Pope Francis said every moment has its positive and negative aspects, but he specifically mentioned the “amazing beauty” in his meeting with grandparents and seniors last September. Speaking about his own age and infirmity (he turns 78 on Dec. 17), he said he has “some aches and pains,” but he has been able “to work steadily.”
Regarding Cardinal Burke’s appointment as patron of the Knights of Malta, the Pope stressed that he suggested moving him “long before the synod,” because he wanted a “smart American” to deal with the challenges presented in the new post. Cardinal Burke “thanked me in very good terms and accepted my offer,” Pope Francis said, adding that he had deliberately delayed the new appointment specifically in order that Cardinal Burke would be able to participate in the synod as prefect of Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura.
Said the Pope, “It is therefore not true that I removed him because of how he had behaved in the synod.”
During the La Nacion interview, Pope Francis alluded again twice to the striking phrase he utilized in an earlier interview with Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, editor in chief of La Civiltà Cattolica, in which the Holy Father characterized the Church as a “field hospital” for wounded souls.
Questioned about what “strategy” he employs to reach out to disaffected Catholics who “drop out” of the Church, he replied that he doesn’t approach the issue from that perspective, as it suggests “proselytism.”
“I like to use the image of the field hospital: Some people are very much injured and are waiting for us to heal their wounds; they are injured for a thousand reasons,” the Pope emphasized. “We must reach out to them and heal their wounds.”
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.
Pope Emeritus Benedict Speaks
Meanwhile, in an article in the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, also published Sunday, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has told a visiting reporter that he has “very good contact” with Pope Francis, and it’s very clear “who the real pope” is.
He said it was “utter nonsense” that he tried to engage the recent synod over divorce and remarriage, stressing that a revision of comments he made in 1972, which suggested a possibility of Communion for remarried divorcees, took place in August, months before the synod.
Furthermore, he said there is “nothing new” in it. He reiterated that, although it is important such Catholics are helped, the teaching must remain untouched, and no changes must be made except those that are “absolutely necessary.”
The Pope Emeritus also revealed he’d rather now be called just “Father Benedict” or “Father Benedetto,” but that he lacked the strength to enforce such an appellation.
The article is not a comprehensive report of what Father Benedict said, nor was it a formal interview, and some aspects were left out according to the pope emeritus’ wishes.
Catholic, Anglican, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, and Orthodox leaders will come together at the Vatican for the first time in history on Tuesday to sign a joint declaration against modern slavery and human trafficking.
The signatories, who will include Pope Francis, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the Anglican archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and Rabbi David Rosen will declare their commitment towards the eradication of the worldwide scourge by 2020.
The network defines modern slavery as the “systematic deprivation of a person’s liberty, and abuse of his or her body, for example through mutilation or organ removal, for the purposes of personal or commercial exploitation.”
According to the 2014 Global Slavery Index, almost 36 million people are currently trapped in what Pope Francis has variously described as a “crime against humanity”, “an open wound on the body of contemporary society,” and “a scourge upon the body of Christ.” The International Labor Organization says the total profits obtained from the use of forced labor in the private economy worldwide amount to US$150 billion per year.
The joint declaration will be signed at 11am on Tuesday, the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, in the Casina Pio IV building in the Vatican Gardens.
The full list of signatories will be:
•Catholic: Pope Francis
•Hindu: Her Holiness Mata Amritanandamayi (Amma)
•Buddhist: Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) (represented by Venerable Bhikkhuni Thich Nu Chan Khong)
•Buddhist: The Most Ven. Datuk K Sri Dhammaratana, Chief High Priest of Malaysia
•Jewish: Rabbi Dr. Abraham Skorka
•Jewish: Chief Rabbi David Rosen, KSG, CBE
•Orthodox: His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew (represented by His Eminence Metropolitan Emmanuel of France)
•Muslim: Mohamed Ahmed El-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar (represented by Dr. Abbas Abdalla Abbas Soliman, Undersecretary of State of Al Azhar Alsharif)
•Muslim: Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi al-Modarresi
•Muslim: Grand Ayatollah Sheikh Basheer Hussain al Najafi (represented by Sheikh Naziyah Razzaq Jaafar, Special advisor of Grand Ayatollah)
•Muslim: Sheikh Omar Abboud
•Anglican: Most Revd and Right Hon Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury
For more information, see here.
The signing will also be shown live on Vatican television (see live feed / recording above).
On 17 March this year, a Memorandum of Agreement and Joint Statement establishing the Global Freedom Network was signed by multifaith leaders.
The network has outlined six fields of action for achieving its vision. These include mobilizing faith based communities, supply chain proofing to promote ethical purchasing arrangements, improving the care for victims and survivors, advocating for law reforms and enforcement, facilitating and promoting education and awareness, and securing sizeable funds in order to carry out its task.
Pope Francis taken a keen interest in the issue and sponsored an international workshop at the Pontifical Academies of Sciences and Social Sciences in November 2013. The event identified 42 proposals for acting globally as a matter of urgency.
The idea to create a multi-faith, interdenominational movement to eradicate human slavery arose from a meeting between the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope in July last year.
A joint plan of action was then drawn up, bringing together global faith leaders in support of a comprehensive strategy for the eradication of modern slavery by 2020.
Text of Joint Declaration:
“We, the undersigned, are gathered here today for a historic initiative to inspire spiritual and practical action by all global faiths and people of good will everywhere to eradicate modern slavery across the world by 2020 and for all time.
In the eyes of God*, each human being is a free person, whether girl, boy, woman or man, and is destined to exist for the good of all in equality and fraternity. Modern slavery, in terms of human trafficking, forced labour and prostitution, organ trafficking, and any relationship that fails to respect the fundamental conviction that all people are equal and have the same freedom and dignity, is a crime against humanity.
We pledge ourselves here today to do all in our power, within our faith communities and beyond, to work together for the freedom of all those who are enslaved and trafficked so that their future may be restored. Today we have the opportunity, awareness, wisdom, innovation and technology to achieve this human and moral imperative.”
*The Grand Imam of Al Azhar uses the word “religions”
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis returned to Rome’s Ciampino Airport Nov. 30 after a three-day apostolic visit to Turkey filled with gestures of peace and reconciliation, words of encouragement for interreligious and ecumenical partners and messages of solace for persecuted Christians in the region.
He began the trip by emphasizing the importance of dialogue in today’s world in order to “reflect sensibly and serenely in our differences and to learn from them.” Addressing civil authorities at the presidential palace in Ankara on Nov. 28, he appealed for religious freedom and wasted no time in calling for reciprocity, saying that Muslims, Jews and Christians should “enjoy the same rights and respect the same duties.”
Observing that the Middle East has been a “theater of fratricidal wars” for “too long,” he said that, with God, the courage of peace can be renewed and that interreligious and intercultural dialogue can make an “important contribution” in ending “all forms of fundamentalism and terrorism.”
Such extremism, he added, can also be countered by the “solidarity of all believers” based on four pillars: respect for human life, religious freedom, commitment to a dignified life and care for creation.
He made explicit reference to Syria and Iraq, highlighting the violation of the “most basic humanitarian laws” of Christians and other religious minorities and stressed that although it is licit to stop an unjust aggressor, the issue cannot be resolved “solely through a military response.” He proposed also fighting against “hunger and sickness” and promoting sustainable development and the protection of creation as a means of achieving peace.
‘Rebellion Against God’
Similar themes and appeals were repeated later that afternoon when he addressed Mehmet Görmez, the president of the Diyanet (Turkey’s department of religious affairs).
“As religious leaders, we are obliged to denounce all violations against human dignity and human rights,” the Pope said, and he again drew attention to the “barbaric violence” perpetrated against Christians and other religious minorities in the region. Such violence in the name of God “warrants the strongest condemnation,” he said, and it demands the “cooperation of all” to combat it, including recognizing “some shared elements” with Islam.
In his address, Görmez said Islam is a “religion of peace,” adding that everyone has a responsibility for the emergence of today’s tragedies. “Those who speak on behalf of God,” like fundamentalists, are part of the problem, Görmez said. Terrorism, he added, is “a rebellion against God, and as Muslims, we reject this extremism and bloodshed.”
The following day, the Pope was flown to Istanbul, where he celebrated Mass at the Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in the presence of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and other regional Church leaders.
‘Soul of the Church’
During his homily, Francis appealed for unity by discussing how it can be achieved through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. He explained how the Holy Spirit is the “soul of the Church” that “brings forth different charisms in the Church that, at first glance, may seem to create disorder.” But he said the Holy Spirit is the “spirit of unity, which is not the same thing as uniformity,” and is able to “kindle diversity.”
Warning against the temptation to resist the Holy Spirit, turn in on ourselves and “slip into Pelagianism,” the Holy Father said the more “we allow ourselves to be humbly guided by the Spirit of the Lord, the more we will overcome misunderstandings, divisions and disagreements.”
On Sunday, Nov. 30, the final day of the Pope’s visit, Francis said the restoration of full communion with the Orthodox Church “does not signify the submission of one to the other or assimilation.” Rather, he said, during a Divine Liturgy in the Patriarchal Church of St. George in Istanbul, “it means welcoming all the gifts that God has given to each, thus demonstrating to the entire world the great mystery of salvation accomplished by Christ the Lord through the Holy Spirit.”
In the presence of Patriarch Bartholomew, he went on to say that the Catholic Church “does not intend to impose any conditions except that of the shared profession of faith.” He then explained where both Churches could cooperate, namely in helping the poor, hungry, unemployed and socially excluded and in eliminating a “globalization of indifference, which today seems to reign supreme,” while “building a new civilization of love and solidarity.”
The Pope also took the opportunity to condemn a recent attack by the Islamic militant group Boko Haram on a mosque in Kano, Nigeria, that killed more than 100 people. Such attacks, he said, are a “profoundly grave sin against God,” which should spur “reconciliation and communion” between Catholics and Orthodox.
He also noted a further challenge: the tendency of young people to seek happiness in material things and the need to transmit “the true humanism which comes from the Gospel and from the Church’s age-old experience.” He held up the ecumenical Taize community as an example of how different confessions can ignore differences that separate them “because they are able to see beyond them.”
Referring to Patriarch Bartholomew as a “very dear brother,” he said: “We are already on the way, on the path towards full communion, and, already, we can experience eloquent signs of an authentic, albeit incomplete, union.”
Following the liturgical celebration, the Pope and the patriarch signed a joint declaration that reaffirmed their “shared intentions and concerns.” These included a pledge to “intensify our efforts” towards “full unity” to support theological dialogue and to be united in the desire for “peace and stability” in Iraq, Syria and the whole Middle East.
“We cannot resign ourselves to a Middle East without Christians,” they said, and they referred to an ecumenism of suffering. “Just as the blood of the martyrs was a seed of strength and fertility for the Church, so, too, the sharing of daily sufferings can become an effective instrument of unity,” they wrote.
They called for further “constructive dialogue with Islam,” appealed to all religious leaders to pursue interreligious dialogue to build a “culture of peace and solidarity” and prayed for peace in Ukraine and respect for international law.
Before leaving for Rome, the Pope greeted students of the Salesian Youth Oratory, many of whom are refugees. The Pope said he wished to assure them that he shared in their sufferings and that he hoped his visit, by the grace of God, would offer them “some consolation.”
As expected, both small and grand gestures figured highly during the apostolic visit. One of the most striking was Francis’ request for the blessing of Patriarch Bartholomew. The Holy Father proceeded to bow to a surprised patriarch, who kissed his head. It’s the first time a pope has made such a gesture.
Speaking afterwards to reporters, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said Francis and Bartholomew are “pushing with incredible strength toward union” through their frequent and warm personal contacts.
“The theological dialogue and other aspects can go forward better or sooner if there is a strong attitude” on the part of the two leaders, he said. “I cannot say that this is the solution to the problem, but this is surely a strong impulse.”
Another key gesture of the visit was when Francis prayed alongside the grand mufti in Istanbul’s Blue Mosque, going further than Benedict XVI’s moment of “contemplation” in 2006. Francis told reporters on the plane back to Rome that he “prayed for Turkey; for peace; for the mufti; for everyone; for myself, because I need it.”
In a 45-minute press conference on the plane back to Rome, the Pope said it’s not possible to say, “All Muslims are terrorists, just as we cannot say that all Christians are fundamentalists — we also have fundamentalists among us; all religions have these little groups.”
He also said there needs to be “an international condemnation” of terrorism from Muslims across the world, saying: “No, this is not what the Quran is about.” Speaking out against violence against Christians, he said: “I don’t want to use sugarcoated words: We Christians are being chased from the Middle East.” And he cited the persecution of Christians in Mosul as an example.
Concerning ecumenism and unity between the Catholics and the Orthodox, the Pope said not only is there a spiritual ecumenism, but also “an ecumenism of the blood,” meaning Christians who are martyred today. He also said he and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow want to meet, but given the current situation with the war in Ukraine and other issues, it is currently not possible.
Francis expressed a desire to visit Iraq, but not yet, given the current security concerns. He also said he would have liked to visit a refugee camp during his visit, but his schedule wouldn’t permit it.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.
Overwhelmingly approved by the Council fathers (2,137 votes for to 11 against) in 1964, the declaration sought to renew the Church’s approach to separated churches and ecclesial communities.
Unitatis Redintegratio was the first major Church document on ecumenism since Pope Leo XIII’s 1894 encyclical Praeclara Gratulationis Publicae (The Reunion of Christendom).
But unlike that document, and the Church’s general position on ecumenism that had existed since the Council of Trent, Unitatis Redintegratio refrains from calling on all Christians to return to the fold under the unity of the Vicar of Christ. Instead, it offers a different kind of ecclesiology, one that more generally seeks unity with “separated Christian brethren,” but also acknowledges positive aspects of their communities. And distortion over the document’s true aims during the document’s implementation has led to confusion over the true relationship between members of the one true Church and those “separated brethren.”
The restoration of unity among all Christians “is one of the principal concerns of the Second Vatican Council,” Unitatis Redintegratio begins, and it reminds the Church that such division between Christian communions “openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world and damages the holy cause of preaching the Gospel to every creature.”
The document presents Catholics with the “ways and means” to respond to God’s grace and his divine call to unity, urging “Christian perfection,” a “change of heart” and making a point of emphasizing what is good and holy among the members of Protestant denominations and various Christian ecclesial communities.
“Though we believe them to be deficient in some respects,” these ecclesial communities “have been by no means deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation,” the document states (1, 3). The Spirit of Christ, it continues, “has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Church.” It refers in particular to “a strong sense of justice and a true charity toward their neighbor” among some separated Christian communities.
It also underlines that “anything wrought by the grace of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of our separated brethren can be a help to our own edification.” Whatever is “truly Christian,” it says, is “never contrary to what genuinely belongs to the faith; indeed, it can always bring a deeper realization of the mystery of Christ and the Church.”
But it also recalls the ultimate goal of ecumenism, stating the hope that all Christians will be “gathered into the one and only Church in that unity which Christ bestowed on his Church from the beginning.” The Church believes that this unity “subsists in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose, and we hope that it will continue to increase until the end of time,” it says (1, 4).
It urges meetings and dialogue between “both sides,” but stresses that doctrine should be “clearly presented in its entirety” because “nothing is so foreign to the spirit of ecumenism as a false irenicism [attempts to achieve unity through reason], in which the purity of Catholic doctrine suffers loss and its genuine and certain meaning is clouded.”
It then examines the chief types of division and aspects in common, first among the churches of the East and then the ecclesial communities stemming from the Reformation.
Closer in One Respect
Byzantine Catholic Father Yosyp Veresh, professor and director of the Centre of Eastern Christian Studies in Trumau, Austria, said the Catholic and Orthodox Churches have drawn closer since Pope Paul VI promulgated the declaration. A major problem has been the lack of doctrinal unity between the Latin Church and the Orthodox Church, which has made it “difficult to enter into dialogue,” he explained. And although there have been advances, Father Veresh also pointed out serious setbacks, a current example being the Russian Orthodox Church’s animosity to Eastern-rite Catholics in Ukraine.
Judging the success of Unitatis Redintegratio is, therefore, “not black and white,” he told the Register. Offering a quote from Scripture, he said, “You will know the tree by its fruits, [but] the fruits are coming, and more will come.”
Vatican official Father Tony Currer, who heads the department for Anglican and Methodist relations at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said the document has had a “positive impact” on relations with these ecclesial communities. It gave the Anglican Communion a “special mention,” leading to the first public meeting between a pope (Blessed Paul VI) and an archbishop of Canterbury (Michael Ramsey) two years later, as well as the establishment of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission that has sought ecumenical progress.
However, the Anglican Communion, Methodists and Lutherans have drifted farther away from the Church over the past 50 years, most notably after the approval and ordination of women clergy and deepening differences over human sexuality. Father Currer says these developments could not have been foreseen by Unitatis Redintegratio, but he believes the principles contained in the document “still hold good.”
Unity and Salvation
“We can’t go back; it’s an irrevocable commitment to working with these partners, who we have to believe are sincere Christians, reading the same Scriptures as us, drawing on many of the same sources and trying their best to be disciples,” Father Currer said. “We have to take that in great faith, and there’s a commitment to dialogue and working with them, even if there are times when we think: ‘How are we going to get past this?’”
Ultimately, he said, “unity is a gift that God desires for us and wants to give us, and, therefore, we have to trust he can bring it about even when we can’t see the way.”
Critics of contemporary ecumenical dialogue argue that by not unequivocally upholding the Catholic Church as indispensable for salvation, post-conciliar ecumenism has been harmful for souls because it has relativized the faith. By contrast, Praeclara Gratulationis Publicae calls on the faithful to pray that God “assemble those who are dispersed, bring back those who err and unite them to thy holy, catholic and apostolic Church.”
Critics also cite Pope Pius XI’s 1928 encyclical Mortalium Animos (Religious Unity), in which he stated: “The union of Christians can only be promoted by promoting the return to the one true Church of Christ of those who are separated from it, for in the past they have unhappily left it” (10).
Father Currer acknowledged that it is “a different language we’re speaking,” because Unitatis Redintegratio views the former approach as suggesting “we have nothing to gain and nothing to receive from other Christians.”
Pope St. John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical Ut Unum Sint (Commitment to Ecumenism) and Pope Francis “are all saying that, actually, the Holy Spirit has been at work here in our brothers and sisters in other communions; and if the Holy Spirit has been at work there, then there are gifts for us to receive from that,” Father Currer said. “So moving away from the ‘language of return’ is to say: Actually, we also have to move forward, and we have something to receive from Christians in their communities. It’s a more reciprocal engagement that we are open to, strictly in that sense.”
Ut Unum Sint exhorts the faithful, when undertaking dialogue, to “presuppose in the other a desire for reconciliation, for unity in truth.” For this to happen, it adds, “any display of mutual opposition must disappear. Only thus will dialogue help to overcome division and lead us closer to unity.”
Truth and Charity Required
Father Veresh stressed the importance of remaining in truth and charity if authentic ecumenism is to bear fruit. “It’s difficult because we’re dealing with living people and living communities,” he said. “It’s not a theory, it’s a praxis, and we don’t want to move to a practice that is separate from the truth, so we have to stay in truth and act as real people in real communities and real churches.”
“Dialogue is not simply an exchange of ideas. In some way, it is always an exchange of gifts,” John Paul II wrote in Ut Unum Sint. But he added: “Ecumenical dialogue is marked by a common quest for truth, particularly concerning the Church.”
“The exchange of perspectives between the Turkish authorities and the Pope will also be significant,” he added. “Internal to the Church, there will obviously be the hope that Christian-Turkish relations will be improved by his presence.”
The Nov. 28-30 apostolic trip begins in the capital of Ankara, where, after arriving at 1pm, the Pope will visit the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Turkey’s first president and founder of the modern republic.
He will then transfer to the presidential palace, a controversial new complex of 1,000 rooms built at a cost of $615 million. There, he will be received by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and other civic leaders. The Turkish authorities say Erdoğan is scheduled to welcome the Pope as a head of state with an “A-class” ceremony.
After a subsequent meeting with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, the Holy Father will visit the president of religious affairs, Mehmet Görmez, who was recently critical of Francis’ gestures towards Muslims, saying such actions are not dialogue.
On Saturday, the Holy Father will be flown to Istanbul, where he will visit the Hagia Sophia Museum, the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, better known as the Blue Mosque, and the Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, where he will celebrate Mass.
Later, in the patriarchal Church of St. George, there will be an ecumenical prayer and a private meeting with Patriarch Bartholomew. The two have developed a close bond. The Orthodox patriarch attended Pope Francis’ inaugural Mass in March 2013, the first time since 1054 that a patriarch has attended such an event.
Meeting With Refugees
Observers are surprised that a visit to the many refugees in the region is not in the program. But Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi has said some may be present when Francis meets students from Catholic schools across the Middle East on Saturday.
On the final day, Pope Francis will celebrate Mass privately with the apostolic delegation. In the patriarchal Church of St. George, the Vatican says a Divine Liturgy will take place, followed by an ecumenical blessing and the signing of a joint declaration between the Pope and the patriarch. In the afternoon, the Holy Father will return to Istanbul Airport for his teturn to Rome, where he is expected to arrive shortly before 7pm.
Father Lombardi told reporters Nov. 17 that Pope Francis may pray and have a moment of private reflection when he visits the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, but unlike during Benedict XVI’s visit in 2006, it will not be formal or public. He added that no public moments of prayer have been scheduled for the Pope’s visit to Hagia Sophia, the cathedral that served as the seat of the ecumenical patriarch until it was converted to a mosque following the Turkish conquest of Constantinople in 1453.
The persecution of Christians in the region is likely to figure highly during the three-day visit, and it’s likely the issue of reciprocity will be raised: that religious freedoms granted to Muslims in the West should be reciprocated for religious minorities in Muslim-majority states.
If the issue is mentioned, many are hopeful it will get a fair hearing among Muslims.
“What is happening in Iraq may have changed the attitude of the Muslims who see now that both Christian and Muslim have a common enemy,” said professor Francesco Zannini, who lectures in Arabic and Islamic studies at the Pontifical Institute for Arab and Islamic Studies in Rome. “This may help them understand that denying minority rights is not a matter that harms only the Middle-East Christian communities. In that sense, I think they will welcome such a message.”
Open to Dialogue
During his trip to Strasbourg this week, Pope Francis said one should “never close the door” to dialogue, even with Islamist militants. Zannini said that, in his “long experience of dialogue with Islamists, particularly in Asia, but also in other countries,” he personally believes “this is possible.” But he said the term “Islamist” is “too large and covers several radical groups, which must be considered separately.”
“In the path of dialogue, faith, understanding, empathy and endurance are very important qualities, and I think Pope Francis has all these qualities,” he said. “Besides that,” he added, Francis has said “he will never give up, because he does not consider anything lost.”
Mustafa Cenap Aydin, Turkish director of Istituto Tevere, an Islamic center for promoting dialogue in Rome, takes a similar view.
The Pope, he said, “is a man of dialogue and would like to keep all channels open,” adding that there is a “huge brainwashing process [into Islamism] going on, not only in Muslim countries, but also here.”
Aydin said he read the Pope’s words “as reaching out to all people of goodwill who have been brainwashed.” The Pope’s comments, he added, “should be interpreted as reaching out to those who could come back.”
Security concerns over the visit are high: One Rome diplomatic source told the Register there is a “general fear” that a terrorist will try to attack the Pope, and these fears are “overshadowing” where the focus should be: on engaging important international issues in the Middle East and the Islamist threat to the region.
But Father Lombardi has reassured that security will be tight and, as usual, decided by the local authorities. Others are also playing down the concerns.
Aydin dismissed the fears and believes prayer is the answer: He is organizing a prayer meeting Thursday with Catholics and Vatican officials in a church in Rome to pray for the Pope and the apostolic visit.
Noting that Benedict XVI’s visit to Turkey in 2006 was a sign of reconciliation after the controversy over his Regensburg lecture, Zannini thinks Francis’ visit won’t be important for what he might specifically say, but “the way he will communicate” to those in a country that “may play a key role in solving the Middle-East problems and [solutions for] where Muslim, Christians of several denominations and Jews live together.”
Aydin similarly thinks Pope Francis’ powerful gestures could do much to improve Catholic-Muslim and Holy See-Turkish relations. But he also sees the visit has being a “great chance” for Turkey to improve its public image. The country has been brought into disrepute in recent years, largely owing to its political backing of Islamist rebels against Syrian President Assad.
Still, Aydin doesn’t expect many advances from a diplomatic perspective, at least not until Turkey “clarifies its position” regarding terrorism, which he sees as a “huge problem for the region.”
Drawing attention to the deep Christian historical significance of Turkey, which he calls “the second Holy Land,” Aydin stressed that relations between Turkey and the Holy See are “very complicated.”
Since the founding of the republic in 1923, Church property has been confiscated by the Turkish authorities, and although small concessions have been granted in recent years, restrictions remain.
He said he is nevertheless “very hopeful” about the visit, which he believes will be a “great success.” Noting that the Pope chose the name Francis, and in view of St. Francis of Assisi’s famous meeting with the Egyptian Sultan Malik-al-Kamil, Aydin said Muslim-Christian relations are clearly “very important” to the Holy Father.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.
VATICAN CITY — On a day when Pope Francis held a three-hour meeting with Curial heads to discuss reform of the Roman Curia, the Vatican announced on Nov. 24 that the Holy Father had appointed Cardinal Robert Sarah as prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
Since 2010, the 69-year-old archbishop from Guinea has served as president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum (One Heart), the humanitarian aid and development arm of the Roman Curia.
Regarded as a man of integrity and serenity, with orthodox principles, Cardinal Sarah is said to hold a “neutral” line on the liturgy, endorsing both the Novus Ordo and the traditional Latin Mass. In October, he notably addressed pilgrims on an annual pilgrimage to Rome to celebrate Benedict XVI’s 2007 motu proprio Summorum Pontificum that liberalized celebration of the Mass in Latin according to the 1962 Roman Missal.
“We are very pleased and welcome the appointment,” said James Bogle, president of the International Federation Una Voce that promotes liturgical tradition. He told the Register while on a visit to Rome Nov. 25 that he was “particularly pleased” not only because of the cardinal’s “interest in the liturgical, cultural and historical traditions” of the Church but because he has shown “a welcoming approach to the members of the Church who have a preference for the liturgical traditions of the Roman rite.”
Rejects Anti-Catholic Values
Straightforward and unafraid to speak his mind, Cardinal Sarah has frequently defended Church teaching in the face of opposition, most notably on the issue of Western governments imposing anti-Catholic values on African nations as a condition for humanitarian aid and development.
In comments to the Register in 2012, he called on bishops to respond more forcefully to efforts by the United Nations to change African cultural attitudes towards homosexuality, where such relations remain taboo.
“African bishops must react, [as] this is not our culture; it’s against our faith,” he said. He described calls by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on African countries to change their approach to homosexual relationships as “stupid” and added that the “Catholic bishops of America must help us in Africa by reacting themselves.” The cardinal insisted, “It’s not possible to impose on the poor this kind of European mentality.”
During the Synod of Bishops on Africa in 2009, Cardinal Sarah strongly condemned the push to impose contraception, abortion and homosexuality on Africa. Such attempts are “contrary to African culture and to the human truths illuminated by the divine Revelation in Jesus Christ,” he said, adding that the continent “must protect itself from the contamination of intellectual cynicism in the West.” And during the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family in October, he joined a number of other African bishops in their condemnation of the imposition of such attitudes and practices on Africa by the West.
Born in 1945, Robert Sarah studied theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and spent a short time at the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum in Jerusalem.
In 1979, at the age of just 34, Pope St. John Paul II appointed him archbishop of Conakry, the Guinean capital, making him the youngest ordinary in the world — a fact that earned him the nickname “the baby bishop” from John Paul II. In 1985, he was elected president of the bishops’ conference of Guinea, during which he became a fearless critic of authoritarian and corrupt regimes.
In October 2001, John Paul II appointed him secretary at the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (also known as “Propaganda Fidei”), where he became the point man for bishops from the developing world. Nine years later, he took over from German Cardinal Paul Cordes as president of Cor Unum.
In 2012, he played a leading role in drawing up and implementing new Vatican rules aimed at reinforcing the Catholic identity of Caritas Internationalis, the federation of Catholic Charities, and making their humanitarian work more accountable to Cor Unum.
The CDW’s Personnel Overhaul
Cardinal Sarah’s appointment is just the latest in a personnel overhaul at the Congregation for Divine Worship. In November, Pope Francis surprisingly removed two undersecretaries from the dicastery: Father Anthony Ward, who had served more than 15 years in the department, and Msgr. Miguel Anguel Ferrer, a personal choice of the previous prefect, Spanish Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera, who shared a particular devotion to the traditional Latin Mass.
They were replaced by Father Corrado Maggioni, a disciple of Archbishop Piero Marini, a former papal master of ceremonies, who is known to favor innovative forms of the liturgy. The appointment was significant, given that many consider the role of undersecretary in a department to be highly influential.
Bogle, however, remains confident that liturgical concerns will be fairly treated.
“We in the International Una Voce Federation very much hope and expect that the broad vision and the charitable and intellectually rich legacy of Pope Benedict XVI, expressed in Summorum Pontificum, will be continued in the congregation,” he said. “We also hope and expect that the tolerant and charitable spirit that has been part of the approach of Pope Francis towards the traditional Roman rite will also continue under the new appointments at the congregation.”
Cardinal Sarah is expected to take up his role in January. Before doing so, he will continue his work for Cor Unum. On Nov. 25, the Pope sent him on a four-day pastoral visit to Haiti, which is about to commemorate the fifth anniversary of a catastrophic earthquake that cost 230,000 lives.
On Nov. 24, the heads of the Roman Curia met with Pope Francis to discuss Curial reform. Their discussions will form part of a meeting of the so-called C9 council of cardinals that is charged with preparing the reform. That group was scheduled to meet Dec. 9-11 at the Vatican.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.