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A new morning with Pope Francis

A new morning with Pope Francis/ Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl is the Catholic archbishop of Washington.
The Washington Times | 7/8/2013
For some years now, the Catholic Church in the United States has been experiencing signs of new energy and new life — something of a new Pentecost. We just witnessed this real, tangible and electric energy when we saw images of Pope Francis at World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, praying with and celebrating Mass before an estimated crowd of more than 3 million joyous and enthusiastic young people.
Here in Washington, signs of this energy and life are manifested in many subtle yet substantial ways. For example, in the Archdiocese of Washington last Easter, we received more than 1,200 new members into the church. Young people and young adults are responding with a new openness to the voice of the church and the call of the Gospel. Our two-year-old Blessed John Paul II College Seminary is filled, and a new wing is underway. Pope Francis has become a catalyst for this fresh awareness of the importance of Jesus’ Gospel and what it offers us as we seek to respond to the perennial questions of the human heart: How shall I live? What are the values I want to embrace? What is the purpose of all of this?

From the moment he stepped out onto the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis has captured the hearts, imagination and vision of growing multitudes of people. Before the curtains parted, and he was seen on the loggia, so much of the world was focused on St. Peter’s Square. Catholics recognize that, whoever is pope, he is the Rock upon which Christ has founded his church. He is the touchstone for our connectedness with the Apostles, and, therefore, Jesus.
Five years ago, Pope Benedict XVI was welcomed in Washington by huge crowds during his historic apostolic visit. He said he came “as a witness to Christ, our hope,” and he encouraged people to be a source of love and hope to their families, their communities, their nation and their world.
The millions gathered from around the world in Rio de Janeiro have now experienced that same joy of a papal visit. Many people from our metropolitan area were there in person, and they were joined in spirit and united in prayer with more than 500 joyous young adults who participated locally via “Rio in D.C.,” a special event at the Franciscan monastery in Northeast Washington. Countless more people followed along from home on television and the Internet.
Notwithstanding various social and cultural trends, some of which seek to marginalize God, the church remains a steady rock of faith in the world. There is a palpable awakening of the Spirit in the hearts of many people, who have realized that the frenetic pace and multiple diversions of our contemporary world are unable to satisfy the longings of the heart. Many people today echo the words of one “Rio in D.C.” participant: “I love my God. I love my pope. I love my faith.”
While the church has existed for two millennia, we see from this celebration of faith in Rio that the church is ever young. In the prayers and words offered by Pope Francis, we see once again that the saving message of the Gospel is ancient, yet ever new. This pontiff may have his own style, emphasizing certain things, saying things in his own particular way, but the substance of what he is saying is what was said by Pope Benedict and Blessed Pope John Paul II before him, and so on back to the birth of the church. In continuity with them, Pope Francis now calls us to what has been named the new evangelization. Here, he asks us to be urgent witnesses of joy and confident bearers of hope to others, helping to build a civilization of inclusion, solidarity and love.
Before his election, I mentioned that more than ever, papal service in our day involves a ministry of presence in the lives of people. Pope Francis has not only done that, but he has challenged us all to engage in a ministry of presence, to draw near to others so that they might encounter the love and truth of Jesus. “Do not be afraid to go and to bring Christ into every area of life, to the fringes of society, even to those who seem farthest away, most indifferent,” said the pope at the World Youth Day Mass. “The Lord seeks all. He wants everyone to feel the warmth of his mercy and his love.”
This apostolic journey of Pope Francis, as with past World Youth Days and our own 2008 papal visit, is sure to bear fruit for many years to come. Those who participate become leaven for our world, as we saw with World Youth Day in Denver 20 years ago this month. That was a momentous event that changed the lives of so many people in the United States, prompting so many vocations to the priesthood, consecrated religious life and lay ministry. That is what these joyous celebrations of faith are capable of, transforming people’s lives and inspiring them to become a light of the love and truth of Jesus to others, and thereby help make a better world.
 The real mission for Pope Francis/Peter McDonough has written two books on the Jesuits and others on democratization in Brazil and Spain. His most recent book is “The Catholic Labyrinth: Power, Apathy, and a Passion for Reform in the American Church.”
The Japan Times | 4/08/2013
Catholicism, among the most tradition-bound religions, contains at its core a paradox that has become increasingly sharp. Despite Pope Francis’ first overseas trip — to Brazil, the world’s most populous Catholic country — it is difficult to tell where the church is headed.
The accession of Jorge Mario Bergoglio to the papacy adds to the puzzle. The chief Jesuit confessor at the papal court used to be called “the black pope,” owing to his simple black cassock (if not his sinister intent). Now, for the first time, a Jesuit has become pope — and has compounded the novelty by assuming the very un-Jesuit name of Francis.
As curious as such gestures are in an institution that thrives on imagery, they are symbolic frills. We already have plenty of pictures of Francis kissing babies; what he faces now around the world are strategic matters of genuine substance.
One such challenge, the Vatican Bank, is equivalent to cleaning up the Augean stables. It is enough to mention the words “Vatican” and “bank” in the same sentence to start a cascade of jokes about comic-opera ineptness and skullduggery.
To find a remedy, Francis has appointed a special papal financial commission. But the bank known as the Institute for Works of Religion, founded in 1942, does not have deep roots in Catholicism.
Though notoriously secretive, the operation is far removed from the church’s more sensitive, doctrinal core. Besides, the commission’s members have impeccable loyalist credentials, which is also true of the cardinals appointed by Francis to look into broader issues of reform.
At the same time, Francis has launched a series of initiatives aimed at pleasing just about everyone. He has expedited the canonization process for John XXIII, who inaugurated Vatican II almost a half-century ago, and John Paul II, the autocratic Pole who reined in many of Vatican II’s liberating impulses. He has also announced plenary indulgences — time off from “the pains of purgatory” — for those who followed his visit to the Catholic youth festival in Rio de Janeiro on the Internet.
Such measures are difficult to get worked up about — both for Catholics who do not take them seriously and for “the simple faithful.” They have feel-good value, but little else. The heart of the matter is that Francis’ actions have been in line with the “revolution from above” style of reform associated with Vatican II.
In particular, none of the changes promoted by Francis envision a reduction in papal power. The “primacy of the papacy” — a term Catholic theologians use when talking with their Protestant counterparts — remains sacrosanct.
The larger lesson is that this monarchical model of Catholicism, together with the hierarchy that attends it, has remained pretty much the same since the Counter-Reformation. What is new are the circumstances under which it is unfolding. Catholicism in its heyday combined a fairly decentralized administration, under the sway of stand-alone bishops, with a uniform set of beliefs.
Church administration now has become increasingly subject to uniform civil codes. At the same time, since Vatican II — and in tandem with the decline of close-knit ethnic enclaves — churchgoers no longer feel obliged to hew to the letter of canon law. “Relativism,” “cafeteria Catholicism” and the like are ubiquitous.
Papal authority stands on shaky ground, especially in the comparatively secular West. Francis can attract attention by opining about social justice outside the church, but it is difficult for any pope to influence the habits and theological views of Catholics themselves, who think and act as they please. He can scold — a tack that Francis has so far tried to avoid — but he cannot convince.
If the church’s first dilemma concerns the basis and effectiveness of papal authority, the second concerns sexuality.
The two are linked. Francis shies away from the retrograde rhetoric that his predecessors used in raising alarms about the role of women, and he has not gone out of his way to follow up on the Vatican’s “visitation” (read “Inquisition”) of uppity American nuns. But he has kept that last episode on the books.
Catholicism — or, more accurately, the celibate male mythos at the heart of the institutional church — rests on centuries of sexism. An antifeminist culture pervades the organization. Thoughtful theologians can distinguish among psycho-sexual issues; in practice, however, fear of a slippery slope to calamity prevails.
Pull one thread — the celibacy requirement for priests, for example — and the whole edifice comes crashing down. Consider what has happened to liberalizing Protestant denominations, which, for all their good intentions, have lost adherents.
One could argue that concessions on this front would simply acknowledge attitudinal and behavioral reality and allow the church to move on. One could also argue that the consequences of reform would not be as organizationally disastrous as feared — in the same way that cleaning up backwaters like the Vatican Bank would restore credibility to the church’s spiritual message.
But this is a conversation that Francis has yet to initiate, and that the people around him show little sign of understanding.


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