Vie de l'église

Returning from France, pope condemns treatment of migrants as ‘hot potatoes’

Returning from a two-day trip meant to underscore the mounting challenges of global migration, Pope Francis on Sept. 23 condemned the treatment of migrants like « hot potatoes » or « ping pongs. » 

« You can’t send them back like ping pongs, » said Francis, criticizing how new arrivals get shuffled from place to place as countries refuse to allow them entry. 

The pope’s comments came during an unusually brief, 18-minute inflight press conference following an overnight visit to the French port city of Marseille, where he participated in a major migration summit with Catholic bishops and young people from more than 30 countries from around the Mediterranean.  

During the trip, the pope offered some of his strongest statements on migration in several years, denouncing the « fanaticism of indifference » toward new arrivals. His visit occurred just weeks after a new wave of migrants from North Africa set off a furious debate among European leaders over how to respond. 

While France has doubled down and said it would not accept any new migrants, the pope warned that civilization is at a crossroads and must choose whether to respond with apathy or fraternity. 

During his remarks earlier in the day, the pope made an impassioned case for a renewed commitment to human dignity — linking abortion, euthanasia and concern for migrants and refugees. At a speech attended by French President Emmanuel Macron, France explicitly criticized the practice of medically assisted suicide, just one week before Macron’s cabinet will consider legislation that would legalize the practice in France.

Asked whether he discussed the issue directly with Macron during their private meeting on Sept. 23, the pope said they did not, but said the two men had discussed it during an earlier encounter at the Vatican. 

Francis emphasized that his position is clear: « You don’t play with life. » 

« This is an ugly compassion, » the pope said, recalling accounts of terminally ill children and the elderly being euthanized.

« We cannot play with life, both with the baby in the womb of a mother and also with euthanasia, » he continued. « It’s not just my opinion. »

Francis also told reporters that he continues to be « frustrated » by the ongoing war in Ukraine, where the Vatican has repeatedly tried to serve as a peacemaker, but has largely been rebuffed.  

Earlier this month, Italian Cardinal Matteo Zuppi — who Francis tapped this summer to lead the Vatican’s peace efforts and has since traveled to Kyiv, Moscow and Washington, D.C., on the pope’s behalf — returned from Beijing where he specifically discussed plans to help restart the transport of Ukrainian grain to developing nations. 

The pope repeated his ongoing concerns for the « martyred people » of Ukraine and said that he was under no illusions about the possibility of a quick détente between the warring nations. 

« With war, what’s realistic is possible, » he said. « Don’t fool yourselves thinking tomorrow they will have breakfast together, » he said, before adding that there are measures that can be taken to ease the suffering, such as the Vatican’s efforts to aid in the return of Ukrainian children kidnapped by Russia. On that front, the pope offered a glimmer of hope, saying « it’s going well. » 

The pope, who was completing his 44th international trip, then told reporters that he would continue to take questions on his next trip — though the 86-year-old pontiff did not specify when that might be.

Late on Saturday afternoon, Francis concluded his flash visit to Marseille by celebrating a Mass in the country’s second largest sports arena.

Despite France’s reputation as a deeply secularized country, the pope seemed to electrify the crowd of some 50,000 Mass attendees as he toured the stadium in the popemobile before the Mass, and the more than 100,000 people who lined the streets of Marseille to greet him as he made his way to the stadium. 

During his homily, the pope drilled down on his message that Christians must be known for their compassion and mercy toward others, offering a final push to convince the traditionally Catholic country that hospitality toward strangers must be a defining hallmark of Christian life. 

« We need to rekindle our passion and enthusiasm, to reawaken our desire to commit ourselves to fraternity, » he said. « We want to be Christians who encounter God in prayer, and our brothers and sisters in love … [and] to be set afire by the questions of our day, by the challenges of the Mediterranean, by the cry of the poor. » 

Vie de l'église

In France, pope slams ‘alarmist propaganda’ that fuels fears of migrants

Pope Francis on Sept. 23 blasted those who seek to weaponize the issue of migration by « fueling people’s fears » through « alarmist propaganda, » and called for countries and individuals around the Mediterranean to reexamine both their policies and attitudes toward asylum seekers.  

« Those who risk their lives at sea do not invade, they look for welcome, » the pope said on his second day here in the storied French port city, where he traveled to address a major summit on migration convened by Catholic bishops and young people from more than 30 countries.  

Ahead of the pope’s visit, a new wave of North African migrant arrivals in Italy earlier this month sparked a renewed debate in Europe over migration, with France — the pope’s host country for this visit — refusing to take in any new arrivals. 

During his first day here, on Sept. 22, the pope issued a blunt warning against what he described as the « fanaticism of indifference » toward the current crisis and said it was a duty to welcome the new migrants. 

As the pope closed out the migration summit on Saturday, he attempted to offer a broad roadmap for the future, warning against being overwhelmed by momentary apprehension and to focus on long-term solutions. 

« As for the emergency, the phenomenon of migration is not so much a short-term urgency, always good for fueling alarmist propaganda, but a reality of our times, a process that involves three continents around the Mediterranean and that must be governed with wise foresight, » said the pope. 

In an extensive 35-minute speech, the pope called on European countries to open their doors to people in need and to assimilate new arrivals into their society, especially through legal channels, while also enhancing their cooperation with the countries of origin of migrants. 

« Merely crying ‘enough!’ is to close our eyes; attempting now to ‘save ourselves’ will turn into tragedy tomorrow, » he warned. « Future generations will thank us if we were able to create the conditions for a necessary integration. » 

While the pope acknowledged that this is not a process without difficulties, he also said it is the only valid response for people who profess a commitment to human dignity. 

Integration of migrants is key, said the pope, « not evicting them. » 

Prior to his arrival here in France, the pope faced fierce criticism from far-right politicians who said that the Argentine-born pope had no business weighing in on Europe’s migration problem. 

But in his remarks Saturday, Francis seemed to offer a thinly-veiled reply to those critics.

« This situation is not a novelty of recent years, and this pope who came from the other side of the world is not the first to warn of it with urgency and concern, » the pope said to applause. « The church has been speaking about it in heartfelt tones for more than 50 years. » 

While French Catholics are sharply divided over migration — with some notable figures alleging that it presents a threat to French society and Western Civilization — Francis borrowed their own vocabulary to address those concerns head on.

« History is challenging us to make a leap of conscience in order to prevent a shipwreck of civilization, » he said. « For the future will not lie in being closed, which is a return to the past, a turnaround in the journey of history. »  

And in a country where some conservative Catholics have lamented that the pope has spoken more often about migration than abortion or euthanasia — particularly as the current government is on the verge of considering legislation that would legalize physician assisted suicide — Francis sought to widen his appeal by illustrating the interconnectedness of these issues. 

« Who listens to the groaning of our isolated elderly brothers and sisters, who, instead of being appreciated, are pushed aside, under the false pretenses of a supposedly dignified and ‘sweet’ death that is more ‘salty’ than the waters of the sea? » the pope asked. 

« Who thinks of the unborn children, rejected in the name of a false right to progress, which is instead a retreat into the selfish needs of the individual? » he continued. « Who looks with compassion beyond their own shores to hear the cry of pain rising from North Africa and the Middle East? »  

« We need to start again, » the pope pleaded, « from the often silent cry of the least among us, not from the more fortunate ones who have no need of help yet still raise their voices. » 

French President Emmanuel Macron, some 70 Catholic prelates and a mix of political leaders attended the pope’s remarks at the Mediterranean summit, where the pope said his words were meant to challenge the consciences of both institutions and individuals alike. 

« The commitment of institutions alone is not enough, we need a jolt of conscience to say ‘no’ to lawlessness and ‘yes’ to solidarity, which is not a drop in the ocean, but the indispensable element for purifying its waters, » Francis said. 

Following his address, the pope will meet privately with Macron. He will then celebrate a Mass at Marseille’s major soccer stadium that is expected to draw a crowd of over 50,000, prior to returning to Rome in the evening, where an in-flight press conference is expected. 

Vie de l'église

Indiscriminate destruction in Ukraine is a ‘crime,’ pope says

In a message to an ecumenical meeting at a historic Benedictine abbey in Hungary, Pope Francis said Russia’s war on Ukraine is a reminder of what the Second Vatican Council taught: « Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities or of extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God and man himself. »

Such war « merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation, » the pope continued, quoting Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.

In the message released Sept. 22, Francis told those gathered for the ecumenical meeting at Hungary’s ancient Pannonhalma Archabbey that each person has a role to play in bringing peace to the world.

« At this time, the war in Ukraine has dramatically called us to open our eyes and hearts to so many peoples suffering from war, » he said. « Let each of us remain on the path of peace; let us each become messengers and servants of peace in the place where we live and work! Above all, let us pray for peace! »

The Benedictine monastic tradition and its Rule of St. Benedict, although written for monks and monastery communities, can be « an excellent guide for a conscious and practical commitment to peace, » the pope wrote.

St. Benedict was « very lucid about the differences and inequalities that exist among community members, » the pope said. His rule for monastic life showed that he recognized « the complexity of linguistic, ethnic and cultural traits, which is both an asset and a potential for conflict. Yet, he has a serene and peaceful outlook because he is fully convinced of the equal dignity and value of all human beings. »

His admonition that all monasteries and all monks must welcome the stranger and the foreigner and « honor » all men and women « is the foundation of peace in the monastic community, as well as in interpersonal, social and international relations, » the pope said. And his hope that members of the community would try to outdo each other in doing good also means he urges them « to take the first step in certain difficult situations. »

« St. Benedict’s vision of peace is not utopian, but points to a path that God’s friendship with people has already traced and that, nevertheless, must be walked by each person and the community step by step, » he said.

It is a matter of seeking justice, he said, and not of trying to build blocs of power.

Vie de l'église

Pope names two Chinese bishops to synod; Vatican publishes synod schedule

On the recommendation of the Catholic bishops of mainland China in consultation with the Chinese government, Pope Francis has named two bishops from the country’s mainland as members of the assembly of the Synod of Bishops.

Bishop Joseph Yang Yongqiang of Zhoucun, who has served as vice president of the government-related Council of Chinese Bishops, and Bishop Anthony Yao Shun of Jining, the first bishop ordained after the Vatican and China signed a provisional agreement on the nomination of bishops in 2018, will be among the 365 synod members, a number which includes the pope, the Vatican said.

The Vatican released an updated list Sept. 21 of people expected to participate in the assembly of the Synod of Bishops Oct. 4-19.

A list released in July included Cardinal-designate Stephen Chow Sau-Yan of Hong Kong, but no bishop from the Chinese mainland.

Bishop Luis Marín de San Martín, undersecretary of the synod, told reporters that 464 people are expected to be involved in the synod, including 54 women participating as full members and 27 women joining as experts, facilitators or special guests.

The updated membership list, he said, also includes Francis’ appointment of Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, as a synod member, the substitution of members who were elected but then retired or, in one case, died, and the addition of several bishops elected by their national bishops’ conferences but whose names either did not arrive in time to be included in the July list or were accidentally omitted.

The list also included the names of the 12 « fraternal delegates » from other Christian churches and communities, who will follow the synod’s work. They represent a variety of Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches as well as the Anglican Communion, World Methodist Council, the World Communion of Reformed Churches, the World Baptist Alliance, the World Pentecostal Fellowship and the Disciples of Christ.

Asked if synod members will be told their discussions are covered by « pontifical secret, » Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the Dicastery for Communication and chair of the synod communication committee, said the specific regulations for synod members had not been finalized.

However, he said, « from a general point of view, what the pope told you (reporters) and has told us does not fit the definition of ‘secret,’ but rather the definition of confidentiality or discretion » because the synod is not about the opinions of individual members but of the discernment that the « college » of members are attempting.

On his flight back to Rome from Mongolia in early September, Francis told reporters, « One thing that must be safeguarded is the synodal atmosphere. It is not a TV show where people discuss anything and everything. No! It is a religious moment, a moment of religious exchange. »

Along with the updated list of participants, the Vatican released a daily schedule for the synod sessions Monday through Saturday, which demonstrates most of the work is expected to take place in small groups. The « general congregations » of the assembly will be occasions for introducing the themes to be focused on, reports from the small groups and some regular « free discussion. »

Jesuit Fr. Giacomo Costa, special secretary of the assembly, said there will be 35 working groups of about a dozen people each, formed based on the languages participants indicated they preferred. Fourteen groups will work in English, eight in Italian, seven in Spanish, five in French and one in Portuguese.

Synod members will go to a retreat center outside of Rome from the evening of Sept. 30 to the afternoon of Oct. 3 for a retreat before the synod’s opening Mass and first session Oct. 4. In addition, they will celebrate Mass at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica Oct. 9, Oct. 13, Oct. 18 and Oct. 23 before beginning to address a new section of the synod’s working document.

A « pilgrimage » is scheduled for the afternoon and evening of Oct. 12, but organizers said they are still working on details so they would not say where the pilgrimage was headed.

Vie de l'église

Alleged victims of influential Vatican artist left ‘speechless’ after new Rome diocese report

Women who say they were abused by a once-prominent Jesuit artist said Sept. 19 they had been revictimized by his superiors, saying Pope Francis’ recent gestures and an apparent effort to exonerate him publicly showed church pledges of « zero tolerance » were just a « publicity stunt. »

In an open letter published on an Italian survivor advocate site, the women lashed out at a declaration from the Vicariate of Rome, which Francis nominally heads as Bishop of Rome and recently tightened his grip over. The Vicariate reported Sept. 18 that it had uncovered « seriously anomalous procedures » used in the Vatican investigation into Fr. Marko Ivan Rupnik.

The Slovene priest, whose mosaics decorate churches and basilicas around the globe, was declared excommunicated by the Vatican in May 2020 and was kicked out of the Jesuit order this summer after he was accused by several adult women of sexual, psychological and spiritual abuses.

After the allegations came to light in the Italian media last year, the Vicariate of Rome conducted its own investigation into the art and study center that Rupnik founded in Rome, the Centro Aletti. The Vicariate reported Sept. 18 that its investigation determined that the center had a « healthy community life, » free of any problems, and said its members had suffered from the public airing of the claims against their founder, Rupnik.

The center has long stood by Rupnik, with current leader Maria Campatelli saying in June that the claims against him were « defamatory and unproven » and amounted to a form of mediatic « lynching » against the Slovene priest and his art center.

Francis last week had a well-publicized, private audience with Campatelli, and photographs distributed by the Vatican showed them sitting together at the pope’s desk in his formal library in the Apostolic Palace, a place reserved for his official audiences.

In the letter, five women who made claims against Rupnik said that Francis’ audience with Campatelli and the report by his Vicariate « leave us speechless, with no voice to cry out our dismay, our scandal. »

« In these two events, which are not accidental, even in their succession in time, we recognize that the church cares nothing for the victims and those seeking justice; and that the ‘zero tolerance on abuse in the church’ was just a publicity campaign, which was instead only followed by often covert actions, which instead supported and covered up the abusers, » they wrote.

The letter, posted on, noted that Rupnik’s alleged victims wrote to the pope four different letters, and never received a response much less an audience.

« The victims are left with a voiceless cry of new abuse, » the letter concluded, signed by five women whose names until Tuesday had been known only to the church authorities who had received their claims.

The Rupnik case has been problematic for the pope, the Vatican and the Jesuits from the start, because of suggestions the priest was given favorable treatment by a Vatican dominated by Jesuits and unwilling to sanction abuse of adult women or the « false mysticism » they say Rupnik practiced.

In a January interview with The Associated Press, Francis denied he had intervened in any way in the case other than a procedural decision. He expressed surprise and dismay at the claims against such a prominent artist, but appeared to also understand the abuse dynamic the women described.

« A personality who seduces, who manages your conscience, this creates a relationship of vulnerability, and so you’re imprisoned, » he said Jan. 24.

In the end, Rupnik was only formally sanctioned by the Vatican for one canonical crime: using the confessional to absolve a woman with whom he had engaged in sexual activity. He incurred an excommunication decree that was lifted within two weeks.

It was that claim that the Rome Vicariate’s investigator, Fr. Giacomo Incitti, found problematic, determining there had been anomalies in the procedures used and that there were « well-founded doubts » about the original request for his excommunication. The Vicariate said that Incitti’s report had been forwarded to the competent authorities.

In addition to support from his Centro Aletti, Rupnik also enjoyed high-ranking support, including from the leadership of the Rome Vicariate. The statement on Sept. 18, seemingly discrediting the women’s claims, suggested a concerted effort to rehabilitate him even after the Jesuits determined the women’s allegations against him were credible enough to warrant kicking him out of the order.

Vie de l'église

Bishop Strickland says he will not resign if pope asks. What comes next?

Firebrand Texas Bishop Joseph Strickland, who has been subject to a Vatican investigation over his leadership style and right-wing comments on social media, has vowed in recent days not to resign or « voluntarily abandon » his diocese, even if Pope Francis asks him to do so.

But the Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law leaves Strickland little to no room to resist if the pontiff demands his resignation, several prominent canon lawyers told NCR.

Canon law makes it clear that the pope has « supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power » in the Catholic Church, and that any final decree he issues is binding and cannot be appealed. That authority applies in cases where the pontiff decides to remove a sitting diocesan bishop, said the canonists.

« If you look at the canons on the authority of the pope, the pope has full supreme power over the church. He also has the authority to act within dioceses. The Roman pontiff has power over all particular churches, » Nicholas Cafardi, a civil and canon lawyer, told NCR.

Strickland, himself a canon lawyer who leads the Tyler Diocese, told Religion News Service on Sept. 12 that he would not willingly give up his diocesan post if Francis demands his resignation, which has been the subject of recent rumors in Texas and Rome.

Francis held a meeting on Sept. 9 with Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Vatican’s ambassador to the United States, and Archbishop Robert Francis Prevost, the prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery of the Bishops, at which they may have discussed Strickland’s case.

Strickland told RNS that the Vatican had not asked him to resign, but he also signaled that he would resist any such request by declaring that « as a basic principle, » he could not surrender the « mandate given » to him by Pope Benedict XVI. The late pope appointed Strickland the bishop of Tyler in 2012.

« Of course that mandate can be rescinded by Pope Francis, but I cannot voluntarily abandon the flock that I have been given charge of as a successor of the apostles, » Strickland told RNS.

In Catholic theological and canonical matters, a bishop is indeed understood as one « succeeding to the place of the Apostles, » who possesses teaching and governing authority in his own right. Bishops, Cafardi said, are not akin to midlevel corporate branch managers.

« Bishops are successors of the apostles. That can’t be taken away from them, » said Cafardi, who suggested that Strickland appeared to be making more of a theological statement than staking out a canonical position in his comments to RNS.

While articulating a bishop’s exalted status in the Catholic Church, canon law also stipulates that a bishop’s authority to exercise his ministry and govern « can only be exercised in hierarchical communion with the head and members of the college » of bishops.

Canons 330-330 emphasize the pope’s primacy in all ecclesial matters, including over local churches. The pope’s primacy, canon law says, « strengthens and protects the proper, ordinary, and immediate power which bishops possess in the particular churches entrusted to their care. »

In addition, Francis issued a two-page decree in November 2014 pertaining to situations where bishops and Vatican officials renounce their offices. Article 5 in that decree stipulates that « in some circumstances, the competent Authority can decide that it is necessary to ask a bishop to present his resignation from pastoral office. » 

In such a situation, the decree says that the bishop is to be informed of the reasons for the request and that his concerns be listened to « attentively, » in « a fraternal dialogue. »

« We’ve certainly seen bishops who raise questions, but they tend to be cautious and prudent. This kind of grandstanding with Bishop Strickland, this is something new, » said Charles Reid Jr., a canon lawyer and law professor at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota.

In recent years, Strickland has strained his ties with Francis and other bishops. Posting on X (formerly known as Twitter), Strickland has accused the present pope of « undermining the Deposit of Faith, » and has shared several videos and essays attacking Francis.

Strickland has publicly defended priests disciplined by other bishops. He has also insinuated on X that certain Vatican officials have left the Catholic faith, specifically naming Cardinal Arthur Roche, the prefect for the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, and Archbishop Víctor Manuel Fernández, the new prefect for the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith.

Strickland’s leadership of his East Texas diocese is currently the subject of a Vatican investigation, known formally as an apostolic visitation. As part of that investigation, two bishops interviewed several witnesses over the course of several days in June. 

A priest in the Tyler Diocese who was interviewed for the visitation told NCR that the bishops focused their inquiry on Strickland’s management of the diocese, including one question on what he believed Strickland understood « Deposit of Faith » to mean. The priest spoke to NCR on the condition of anonymity, for fear of retribution.

Said Cafardi: « You don’t ask someone to resign after an apostolic visitation unless something comes up. »

Strickland’s removal would not be without recent precedent. Since becoming pope in March 2013, Francis has removed other bishops, including at least two who refused to resign when they were asked to do so.

In March 2022, Francis « relieved » Bishop Daniel Fernández Torres from the pastoral care of the Diocese of Arecibo, Puerto Rico. Fernández’s ouster followed a period where he publicly clashed with other Puerto Rican bishops on matters pertaining to COVID-19 vaccines and his opposition to a bill that would have banned so-called conversion therapy for LGBTQ people. 

Fernández said he refused a Vatican request for his resignation, and said in a statement posted on the diocesan website that he felt « blessed to suffer persecution and slander for proclaiming the truth. »

In September 2013, Francis removed Paraguayan bishop Rogelio Livieres Plano due to what the Vatican called « serious pastoral concerns » in an effort to preserve « the unity of both the bishops and the faithful. » 

Livieres also refused the Vatican’s request to resign, and claimed in a posted statement that he had been a victim of ideological persecution by more liberal Catholics, The New York Times reported when Livieres died in 2015. Livieres later sought to reconcile by expressing his « full communion » with Rome.

« The pope has full authority to remove a bishop. That’s just a fact, » said Robert Flummerfelt, a Las Vegas-based canon lawyer who told NCR that it is a « very extreme action to defy the Holy Father. »

« At the end of the day, » Flummerfelt said, « I think [Strickland] should operate as a bishop of the Catholic Church in full communion with its visible head, its visible source of unity, the Holy Father, and should honor the Holy Father’s request in this regard or try to find some way to resolve this. »

Vie de l'église

Pope to global leaders: Save children, the planet ‘before it’s too late’

Kicking off a global meeting of leaders, Pope Francis told former U.S. President Bill Clinton and the global community to take action to ensure peace for future generations and stop climate change « before it’s too late. »

Opening the 2023 Clinton Global Initiative meeting of leaders in New York City Sept. 18, Clinton asked the pope, connected by video call, what ordinary people can do to address society’s towering problems.

« We are in need of a great and shared assumption of responsibility, » the pope said, adding that « no challenge is too great if we each meet it with personal conversion and the personal contribution that each of us can make to solve it from an awareness of what makes us part of one destiny. »

« Difficulties can bring out the best or the worst in us, » he said. « Therein lies our challenge: fighting selfishness, narcissism, division, with generosity and humility. »

Started in 2005, the Clinton Global Initiative aims to bring leaders to create and implement solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. Participants for 2023 included U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, California Gov. Gavin Newsom and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The topics were to include climate change, implementing artificial intelligence, health care accessibility, migration and economic justice.

In his opening talk, Francis elaborated on the need to confront together the principal challenges facing society, particularly the « winds of war that blow across the world » and the climate crisis.

« It is time for the weapons to cease, for us to return to dialogue, to diplomacy. For the plans of conquest and military aggression to cease, » he said. « That is why I repeat: No to war, no to war. »

The pope also urged the leaders to « work together to stop ecological catastrophe before it’s too late, » again sharing that he decided to write another document on the subject eight years after the publication of his encyclical « Laudato Si’, On Care for Our Common Home. » The document, which Francis has said will be an apostolic exhortation, is expected to be released Oct. 4, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi.

The pope said that when people speak about migration, it is important to remember that they are not talking about numbers, but people.

« When we think of migration, let’s think of the eyes of the children we find in refugee camps, » he said.

He also recalled the work of the Vatican-owned Bambino Gesù pediatric hospital, where children from around the world are given free medical care — including more than 2,000 Ukrainian children who fled their country with parents or relatives.

« It’s evident that our great little hospital cannot solve the problems of sick children in the whole world, » he said. « However, it wants to be a sign. A testimony of how it is possible, in the midst of so many efforts, to combine great scientific research aimed at curing children and the free welcome of those in need. »

Clinton thanked the pope for his remarks and told him, « You make us all feel empowered, and perhaps that is your greatest power as the pope, that you make everybody — even people who aren’t members of the Roman Catholic Church — feel that they have power and therefore responsibility. »

Francis closed by saying he was concerned about the situation of children worldwide and the fight against climate change. « Let us take action before it is too late, » he repeated.

The pope met with Clinton and an 11-person delegation during a private audience July 5 in his residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae. Vatican News reported at the time that the meeting « was held in private » and did not provide the names of those in the delegation, however, it said « the topic discussed was peace. »

Vie de l'église

Spirituality in our 90s: Beholding life evolving in each other and our world

I wrap my afghan around my shoulders, or fold its blending colors of cream, purple and rose at the foot of my bed, or place it in a wicker basket as a decorative piece. It doesn’t matter. A flood of memories pours through me. This now-fading piece of knitting was done by someone who had touched me, but had never seen the results of her efforts. It was enough for her that she had created something special that brought such pleasure to my parents for their golden wedding anniversary, and now to me.

I am remembering a woman who had a profound influence on my life for 33 years; one whose contributions are not recorded in history books, but in my heart. During those years, this woman, Sister Mary Lenore, became a mentor, a companion, a knitter of hopes.

I had just been assigned to St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Sioux City, Iowa, when I first came to know her in the spring of 1949. She had arrived only a few months before. I had come to learn to be a nurse and then help staff at one of the many hospitals we, the Sisters of Mercy, managed in Iowa, Indiana and Michigan. 

Sister Mary Lenore had come to live out the rest of her days doing whatever she could with her now-limited professional skills as a dietician. Diabetes had reduced her vision to traces of light and shadow. Her future seemed to hold apprehension and increasing darkness while mine was full of expectation and opportunities to serve.

Because I was the youngest of the sisters at the hospital and had several months until classes began, I was assigned to « take care of » Sister Mary Lenore. Not being sure of all that meant, I approached her door the morning after I arrived and asked if she needed any help getting dressed. She kindly replied she could handle everything quite well. 

I was puzzled as to how she could do this but I soon discovered she was quite capable. She had learned her way around the hospital, memorized the patients’ room numbers, typed all of her correspondence and was always on time for community prayers. 

My « taking care of » her consisted of giving her my arm when we processed from the chapel to the dining room, sitting beside her at meals and describing the food we had before us.

The most important part of the caring assignment, however, was in reading with her. We would spend an hour, sometimes more, reading from a spiritual book or publication. 

It was during these times we came to know and share our own and each other’s lives as companions on the journey. We each saw each other’s spiritual path as if it were our own. This was quite likely my first experience of « soul seeing, » and one that has continued throughout my life.

Over the years, Mary Lenore continued to live in Sioux City, where she helped develop selective menus for patients, visited the sick, knitted afghans and baby blankets, and prayed for the needs of many. 

I moved on to serve in a variety of capacities, several of which brought me back to Sioux City. There I was again, privileged to walk with her, sit beside her and share life’s deeper moments. 

The time came, however, when her physical health meant she could no longer be self-sufficient and she moved to the nursing care unit of our retirement center in Dubuque.

On Christmas Day 1982, she called to let me know she was dying, an unlikely Christmas gift and yet one that was filled with treasures as we chokingly shared our friendship, the times we came to know each other and ourselves in a new light. She died within the next month at the age of 65.

Fast forward 75 years and I am now with Sister Lois, whom I first met when we joined the Sisters of Mercy in Detroit on September 7, 1946. Like Mary Lenore, her vision has diminished to blurred lights and shadows, and my own activities are now limited to where my trusty walker will take me.

How will these days of retirement intertwine here in St. Bernardine’s Home, a Sisters of Mercy retirement center in Fremont, Ohio? How will we share life together after all these years? 

Now in our mid-90s we reflect on our calling, past and present. Lois and I are the last two of that « class of 1946 » who are on this earth and still live with that call to serve. 

It doesn’t really matter where we spent those in-between years as much as how we spent them. Yes, they contain memories to be shared, experiences of light and darkness, moments that prepared us for this phase of our lives. We are not defined by others’ expectations, nor by our limitations.

Lois has learned her way around our new environment, counting the number of steps to the chapel and dining room. She has arranged her personal space so that needed items are within reach, and her room is often filled with classical music. 

An active interest in Mercy community and church developments, issues of social justice and current events are a vital part of her life. Several friends nourish her spiritual life by calling at predetermined times to share books and reflections. I read with her almost every morning for half an hour, then share the 11 o’clock Mass.

My theological education has been less formal than Lois’ but I manage to find enough contemporary writings to maintain and inspire deep reflections on our life now. The internet provides thoughts on the Gospel reading for the day and Richard Rohr’s Center for Contemplation and Action provides a daily input. 

Less frequent writings from Joyce Rupp, Melanie Svaboda, Thomas Reese and Joan Chittister also enrich our time together. These peaceful, strengthening moments provide insights on our vulnerability, our hopes, our acceptance and we just sit quietly. 

We « once were blind but now we see » in a new way. We behold life continuing to evolve in each other and in our world. This is a « soul seeing » experience indeed.

Surely, these 75 years of being with Sisters Mary Lenore and Lois have been far more than giving time to read with and support them. Rather, I walk by faith with them on our journey to the light.

Vie de l'église

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time: God is lavish. We can be, too.

Years ago, one of our wise sisters told me, « Be careful about over-tending your wounds. Some people go through life pressing a bruise so that neither they nor (they hope) the world will ever forget it. » 

It was quite an image. I could just see myself focusing on a purple mark on my arm, remembering exactly who had bumped up against me and my schemes and thrown my perfect plans out of whack. 

Sister Margaret’s advice was a gentler version of Sirach’s opening observation: « Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner holds them tight. »

What motivates us to cherish wrath? Sirach doesn’t say, but he suggests that a remedy is to « remember our last days and set enmity aside. » 

Where Sirach the sage gives us clear maxims, Jesus tells a story to confound us from multiple angles.

When Jesus talks about a king and two servants, the story sounds pretty straightforward. One person forgave, another didn’t, so the stingy guy loses in the end. Most third graders will get the message. But what if we dig deeper?

First of all, we have the king. He, of course, is omnipotent. He can buy and sell both people and things at will. He calls one of his slaves (that’s the literal translation) to « settle accounts. » 

Now the slave is in big trouble; he owes the king something on the order of 6,000-10,000 days’ worth of wages — that’s about 20 years of work. Nobody but another king could come through with that amount. 

When the slave begs, the king spares him and his family from being banished into obscurity. 

What did the king accomplish? He demonstrated and acted with the full extent of his power and authority. The power to erase a debt is even greater than being able to collect on it. As we know from the reaction of the servants, the public saw what he did. 

What did the slave perceive? We might say that he pleaded with the king and got what he asked for. Did he think he had pulled one over on the king? Did he feel ashamed that he had to stoop to begging? Did he feel like he had gotten let off? Did he think the king was stupid? 

All those attitudes are possible at the same time. Even if the slave had conned the king, the entire situation made the vast difference in their power immensely, painfully, obvious. As slave, whether debtor or released, he would always see himself as beholden to the king — as would others. 

In the next act, the tables turn; the absolved debtor has the upper hand over someone who owes him. And what does he do? Having learned nothing about real power, he exposes the puniness of his mind and heart by sending his fellow debtor to prison until the debt is paid — a highly unlikely outcome. 

When others see how things progressed, the original debtor ends up in torture that he brought upon himself.

When we go beneath the surface of the story, we see that even after being relieved of his debt, the first slave chose to live in a world of oppression and domination. Although the king’s forgiveness had created an alternative to strict economic justice or tit-for-tat relationships, the slave rejected that option. 

Given the opportunity to increase the bounteousness in the world, he instead supported a caste system that offered him petty superiority. By reinforcing a strictly transactional system and the power of domination, he ultimately became his own torturer. 

As Sirach warned, he held tight to terrible things: there would always be someone over him and that would always torment him. 

What can we take from this in September 2023? In the middle of the Season of Creation (Sept. 1-Oct. 4), we might read this parable from the vantage point of being creatures given an undeserved bounty of life and possibility. None of us has done anything to deserve the life we have, it is a pure gift of God — to us and to every other part of creation. 

What does this suggest about the relationships we create with the rest of God’s creation? 

Sirach talked about cherishing wrath. That seems to be the direct route to self-inflicted torment. How about the alternative of cherishing gratitude? 

Instead of pressing the bruise, we might marvel out our bodies’ remarkable powers of regeneration and healing. Before we call in any debts, we might take account of what we have been given, beginning with life itself, and then all the unmerited advantages of our time and place in history. 

God’s creation is lavish. We can be, too.

Vie de l'église

In letter to bishops, Vatican asks all faithful to pray for the synod

The Vatican is asking all baptized people, regardless of whether they will be in Rome, to participate in October’s assembly of the Synod of Bishops with their prayers.

In a letter directed to all bishops released Sept. 15, Cardinal Mario Grech, synod secretary-general, asked the world’s bishops « to pray for the synod and to urge every Christian community in your particular church, especially monastic communities, toward unanimous and incessant prayer. »

« The synod is first and foremost an event of prayer and listening that does not solely involve the members of the synodal assembly, but every baptized person, every particular church, » the letter read. « Indeed, all are called in this moment to join ourselves to the communion of prayer and in the insistent invocation of the Holy Spirit so it may guide us in the discernment of what the Lord asks today of his church. »

The cardinal’s letter includes a blessing to be recited at the end of Sunday Masses Sept. 24 and Oct. 1, the two Sundays before the assembly opens Oct. 4. He also sent out prayer intentions for the church, bishops and other participants in the assembly, theologians, young people and all Christians. One asks that « the entire people of God, in a dynamism of communion, may feel that they are truly participating in the life of the church. »

In a statement, the Vatican said the letter also was sent to the leaders of the Eastern Catholic churches « with a request to implement a similar blessing and intercessions in their Divine Liturgies. »

It also noted other efforts to create a prayerful environment during the synod, such as the ecumenical prayer vigil to be held in St. Peter’s Square Sept. 30 and a three-day spiritual retreat for members of the assembly prior to its opening.

In his letter, Grech wrote, « To pray for the synodal assembly, to intercede for all of its members, firstly the Holy Father who so often asks us to pray for him, is to realize the highest level of participation. »

The cardinal identified four modes of prayer for people to join themselves to the synod: listening, adoration, intercession and thanksgiving.