Vie de l'église

Evangelization includes care for the poor and the Earth, pope tells conference

An effective proclamation of the Gospel must speak with hope to the real-life problems of the poor, to the need to protect the Earth and to the ability of people of goodwill to change the social and financial systems that harm the poor and the environment, Pope Francis said.

« Ten years after the publication of Evangelii Gaudium [‘The Joy of the Gospel’], let us reaffirm that only if we listen to the often-silenced cry of the earth and of the poor can we fulfill our evangelizing mission, live the life Jesus proposes to us and contribute to solving the grave problems of humanity, » the pope wrote to a conference marking the anniversary of his first exhortation.

The Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development organized the conference Nov. 24, the anniversary of publication of the exhortation, which was widely described as outlining Francis’ vision for his pontificate.

In his message to the conference, the pope said the proclamation of the Gospel today — like it was for the church of the first centuries — « requires of us a prophetic counter-cultural resistance to pagan, hedonistic individualism, » resistance « to a system that kills, excludes and destroys human dignity, resistance to a mentality that isolates, alienates and limits one’s inner life to one’s own interests, distances us from our neighbor and alienates us from God. »

Being a « missionary disciple, » he said, means working for the kingdom of God by struggling for justice, providing food to the hungry and working for a fair distribution of goods.

Putting the poor at the center of one’s concern, the pope wrote, « is not politics, is not sociology, is not ideology — it is purely and simply the requirement of the Gospel. »

The practical implications of that requirement could vary, depending on whether one is a government leader or a business owner, a judge or a labor union worker, he said, « but what no one can evade or excuse themselves from is the debt of love that every Christian — and I dare say, every human being — owes to the poor. »

Cardinal Michael Czerny, prefect of the dicastery, told participants that the « joy of the Gospel » comes « from the encounter with the risen Lord who, passing through the humiliation of the cross, takes upon himself the sin, weakness, miseries and poverty of the human race, so that all might share in his victory over death. »

The joy of the Gospel, the cardinal said, gives Christians and the whole church the grace, motivation and strength « to go beyond referring to its own self and move toward the margins, in order to look right at that suffering humanity often considered as mere ‘waste,’ as inevitable and acceptable ‘collateral damage,’ as ‘necessary sacrifice,’ as an ‘offering’ owed to the idols of consumption. »

Juan Grabois, founder of the Confederation of Popular Economy Workers in Buenos Aires, Argentina, told the conference about how he moved away from the church in adolescence and young adulthood believing the church to be « reactionary, hypocritical, accommodating and distant from the serious social problems of my country and the world. »

Then, about 20 years ago, he heard the archbishop of Buenos Aires, the future Pope Francis, give a homily supporting the rights of the « cartoneros, » the people who lived off collecting paper and other objects for recycling.

The pope, he said, has always advocated « for the poor, the excluded and the oppressed, be they individuals, groups or peoples. »

« This aspect of his personality remained when he was elected pope, » Grabois said. « Francis has continued to advocate for the poor just as before, but with more strength, with a strength that did not slacken, and his voice is heard all over the world. »

Living in a way that cares for the poor and for the Earth will mean sacrificing some material comforts, he said, « but Francis tells us that if we fulfill this Christian mandate, if we fulfill it well, we will be happy, that this is where we will find Jesus again, that this is the wellspring of faith, that this is where the joy of the Gospel is to be found. »

« He proposes that we exchange well-being for joy, » he said.

Evangelii Gaudium is a document on evangelization, but it also advances Catholic social teaching, several participants noted. It shows the inextricable bond between the church’s mission and care for the poor that goes beyond charity.

« There is nothing more anti-Christian, anti-Catholic, than the divorce between spirituality and social liberation, » Grabois said. By his words and example, Jesus taught that Christians must love their neighbor and care for the poor.

Czerny said that if one were to print out everything the pope has said and written in the past 10 years and weighed them, « I suspect that the spiritual, theological, ecclesial content is heavier than the social, » but the media tends to focus on his pronouncements on social issues without highlighting how they are connected.

Dominican Sr. Helen Alford, president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, told the conference that St. John Paul II was the first pope to teach that Catholic social teaching was part of Catholic moral theology — highlighting how faith has implications for the way a believer must live and act in society and not only in one’s personal life.

« With St. John Paul, you get this idea [of social teaching] really coming into the center of the church’s evangelizing mission. And not everybody’s understood that yet, » she said. By calling his exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, she said, Francis is continuing to give a central place to the connections between faith and life, especially as they impact the poor.

Vie de l'église

An archdiocese in Kenya advocates for river conservation among local communities

The impacts of climate change and intense human activity threaten a river owned by a Catholic archdiocese in Kenya. Through better informing local communities and farmers about what causes the river to dry up and become polluted, the Catholic Archdiocese of Nyeri hopes to aid in protecting the Kalondon River and its surrounding land. 

Made in 1902 by Consolata Missionaries who had settled in Mathari, the small river in Kenya has been flowing ever since. The missionaries needed water for their domestic use and to generate electricity for a missionary hospital and school, so they were given the land by the colonial government. When the missionaries left the country, the Archdiocese of Nyeri started the process to formalize its ownership by acquiring a title deed for the river and the land it passes through.

The aim of ownership was to serve as a means of conserving the water and land and assuring its continued existence in the future. According to church management, the river has been of great benefit to the church, schools and surrounding communities, but they say some locals disagree with them about how the river should be used. 

Recently, the river has been facing numerous challenges, including logging upstream, waste dumping from locals and illegal tapping. Farming activities near the river lead to soil erosion, siltation, illegal irrigation and the dumping of toxic chemicals. Some farmers along the river are using four-inch diameter pipes for irrigation, which goes against the irrigation act in Kenya.

Archbishop Anthony Muheria of the Nyeri Archdiocese has been at the forefront of pleading with locals to protect the river by shunning illegal dumping and problematic methods of farming around bodies of water.

The bishop expressed concern over the damage of forests and the dumping of solid and liquid waste not only in the Kalondon River, but also other water sources in the country, which he said spells doom in the future.

« People must take care of water sources not only in Kalondon, but all water sources, and practice sustainable use of water if they expect to continue benefiting, » he told EarthBeat.

The Kalondon River splits from the Murungato River toward Mathari. It gets its water from the Aberdare Ranges, among the largest of Kenya’s water towers. The river flows to Nyarungumu, a densely populated village in Nyeri County in the central Kenya region, covering two acres before returning to its source through Nyeri Hill Farm, which is also owned by the archdiocese.

According to Nyeri-based priest Fr. John Githinji, parishioners in collaboration with surrounding communities occasionally conduct cleaning that protects river banks from erosion, but illegal tapping and tilling of the land that comprises the banks remains a threat to this vital ecosystem.

« We usually do some cleaning once in a while and reforestation along the banks to protect the river, but unfriendly activities continue. As a church we cannot take somebody to court to protect the river, but we will continue doing what we’ve been advised to do by our leaders, » he told Earthbeat in Nyeri.

Another threat to the river is the growing of eucalyptus trees along the banks by farmers who try to sell the trees for timber. Experts say they require a lot of water and contribute to the decreasing water level. In other countries, the government has banned eucalyptus trees along river banks. Some even cut the trees down without informing the owners.

Activities such as bathing, doing laundry and sand harvesting also have been identified as threats to the river’s health, according to Githinji. These are small things that can be controlled if communities are better informed on the issues.

The church has been educating locals on the importance of sustainable river use that serves community needs without causing damage to the source. They are trying to raise this awareness not just in churches, but also in the surrounding villages and with local farmers by showing them more effective ways to use water from the river without negatively impacting it.

Though some community members have organized themselves into small groups to support conservation measures along the river, Githinji said the awareness they’ve been raising to save the river needs more support from the community, non-governmental organizations and the government.

Elias Waweru, a Kikuyu community elder in Nyarungumu village who has been at the forefront of spreading awareness against illegal dumping in the river, said that they are working hard to curb illegal activities along the river, but sometimes things go beyond their powers.

« Some farmers along the river are not ready to listen to us and they just do things deliberately knowing that we’ve nowhere to take them » to hold them accountable, said Waweru.

Waweru said the river serves over 100,000 households but only a fraction of them understand the importance of river conservation. He and other locals have planted more than 5,000 Indigenous trees along the river, but the majority of the trees they have planted have disappeared due to overgrazing and encroachment.

In the Aberdare Ranges, the Kalodon River’s source, logging and encroachment is getting intense, which along with climate change impacts, like prolonged droughts, also decreases the river’s water level. 

Reuben Maina, an environmental activist in Nyeri County, said if something isn’t done soon, the river might vanish. He expressed concern about lifting a ban on logging in the country, saying that the move will worsen climate vagaries.

« We’re already experiencing a climate crisis in this country and I am very saddened by the government move to lift the ban on logging. A river like this one will not survive. It is already struggling due to massive logging upstream, » said Maina.

He noted that there used to be creatures in the river, which was a sign of clean water. But nowadays there are none because the water has been polluted, making it difficult for any organism to survive. 

Judith Mwangi, a farmer along the river, cautioned all those using banned pipe sizes and cultivating their land up to the river banks to stop. 

« If the communities and farmers would like to continue benefiting from the river, then everybody must take responsibility to protect it and practice sustainable use of its water, » said Mwangi.

Vie de l'église

Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe: See through a different lens

Shortly before convening the synod on synodality — arguably the most important Catholic Church gathering since Vatican II — Pope Francis visited Mongolia. Mongolia? Situated precariously between Russia and China, the ancient home of Genghis Khan boasts a total of some 1,450 Catholics midst a population of 3 million.

Why on earth would an aging pope who would be welcome in many powerful nations with huge Catholic populations bother the hardship traveling to such an insignificant spot? Could he have found a smaller Catholic population anywhere in the world? (Well, yes. Vatican City’s population is just over 500, so Mongolia beats them by numbers if not by percentage, and there are a few others as well.)

Unlikely as it seems, Mongolia, with a national population less than half that of Mexico City, has a cardinal — Giorgio Marengo — the church’s youngest and a member of the synod on synodality.

What was the point? It seems that this was one more opportunity for Francis to demonstrate what he thinks it means to be a shepherd. 

Today we celebrate the « Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. » That’s a mouthful! Pope Pius XI established the feast in 1925 to recall that Christ should reign in the hearts and will of humankind. 

The readings for the day, different in each year of our three-year liturgical cycle, orient and describe the celebration better than its grandiose title.

The centerpiece today is Matthew’s scene of the judgment between sheep and goats (an unfortunate disparagement of the poor old goats who are generally smarter, albeit feistier, than sheep). Michelangelo gave us a vivid image of this scene in which Christ’s arm is raised in judgment, the saints are rising and the damned are pitifully drifting into the abyss. Such works vividly depict a fearsome last day.

Jesus’ parable offers a different interpretation of the end. In Jesus’ parable, the end is ever-present. The coming of Christ is not some future event, but an everyday occurrence and not at all like the Sistine Chapel. 

If we want artistic renditions of Matthew’s depiction of judgment, we might better read Charles Dickens or study the photography of Dorothea Lange. 

Rather than talk about an apocalyptic end, Jesus claimed that the king appears in the guise of every needy person and that we judge ourselves in our response to them. Along these lines, Diego Rivera’s painting « El Cargador de Flores » probably reflects this parable more truly than Michelangelo’s « The Last Judgment. » 

Rivera depicts a peasant on his hands and knees. His wife struggles to help him stand up under the weight of an enormous basket of flowers to take to market. 

The message for anyone who has eyes to see is that some people’s luxurious decor comes at the expense of the poor who cannot even see the beauty of what they bear on their backs.

This is where the vocation of the shepherd comes in. In a universe in which we have been given the ability to choose whether to advance the reign of God or to frustrate it, every follower of Jesus is called to be a shepherd. Every person has the ability to see what Dickens, Lange and Rivera point out, thus every one of us has a responsibility to respond.

Francis went to one of the smallest and least important churches in the world to help the rest of the world see through a different lens.

Francis’ missionary journey to Mongolia interprets the 3,000-year-old Psalm 23 with 21st-century symbolism. Francis refreshed the souls of people insignificant in the eyes of the world. That proclaimed one message to people who feel insignificant and another to those who don’t notice them. 

By making the Mongolians — and all whom they represent — more visible, Francis highlighted their right to enjoy the verdant pastures of our Earth. In the full sight of all those who disparage the small, he spread a lavish table and celebrated the Eucharist with almost every Catholic in the country.

We celebrate this Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, on the heels of the first session of the synod on synodality. The synod is calling us to learn how to journey together as church and as the people of the world. 

These two events combine to exhort us to recognize that what is truly important in our day is the life of the flower carriers — all those people burdened in a world that loves what they provide, but rarely, barely remembers that they are the ever-present representatives of Christ the King. 

When we learn to treat them as such, we will be on the right side of history — all the way to the end.

Vie de l'église

Revolutionizing tradition with Kathleen Bonette’s book ‘(R)evolutionary Hope’

For years, I couldn’t shake the notion that St. Augustine was boring. Despite his profound influence on 1,600 years of theologians, ethicists and church leaders who’ve molded the Christian tradition, I couldn’t help but drift toward medieval mysticism or the spiritual guidance of 20th century luminaries such as Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. I routinely averted my gaze from course offerings in early Christianity, dismissing Augustine’s Confessions altogether whenever it came across my eye on the library shelves.

But Kathleen Bonnette took me on a theological journey, shedding light on how Augustine’s timeless questions continue to resonate and evolve in our modern era. Her book, (R)evolutionary Hope: A Spirituality of Encounter and Engagement in an Evolving World, weaves scholarly insights on this saint together with personal anecdotes that reflect her own evolving identity as a Catholic within the complex political landscape of the contemporary Catholic Church in the United States.

At the core of her book lies a vital narrative. Bonnette, an adult convert to Catholicism, shares her life as a theological scholar captivated by the rich intellectual tradition of the church. Simultaneously, she details her process of unlearning ingrained prejudices and attitudes around issues of race, gender, sexuality and — fundamental to all of these topics — structures of power. Shedding the hierarchical trappings that shape power within the church, Bonnette writes:

While it was Augustine’s influence that first drew me to the Catholic Church, my engagement with women religious in the work for peace and justice drew me more deeply into Catholic faith. … They expressed spiritual sensibilities that emphasized encounter and inclusion: their love was ordered, in practice, toward relationship before dogma. Through them, I learned to define Catholicism in terms of wholeness and interconnection, rather than hierarchy.

I loved this book for its pursuit of ecclesial wholeness. Bonnette defies our inclination to view the church as « a power struggle » where  » ‘our side’ wins — for the good of the church » and opts instead « to reflect Christ’s heart — a heart that is always open to encounter. » In today’s polarized political climate, this approach is more crucial than ever. Through the lens of Augustine, she masterfully delves into the potential of a Catholic imagination that challenges divisiveness. This provides a fresh perspective on spirituality and active engagement in our ever-evolving world.

While Bonette does share from her own life as she examines Augustine’s theological reflection and dialogues with contemporary figures, I found I desired a more comprehensive exploration of Bonette’s personal narrative. Everyday examples of balancing work and family life, for instance, come and go with brief detail. The book predominantly leans toward theological discussions on Augustine’s cosmology and reflections on original sin. Nevertheless, it’s evident that the book aims to deeply resonate within readers’ personal reflections through guided questions and the  stories we do glean from Bonette’s life. 

Take, for example, an anecdote she shares from her doctoral studies. After delivering a lecture on love and justice in Augustine’s theology, Bonnette advised a young woman who was both a Catholic campus minister and a lesbian. Bonnette stressed to her that the church’s institutional teachings labeling LGBTQ+ love as « intrinsically disordered » were essential eternal truths for personal flourishing. Bonette recounts the young woman’s response:

Her eyes, resigned, held the hurt of a wound torn open yet again, as she graciously but pointedly asked, « Shouldn’t our human experience have something to offer orthodoxy? »

To share this painful moment with us is a gift. We learn that this young woman’s question became a significant part of Bonette’s theological and spiritual journey. By sharing this moment with her readers, she reignited my own journey as a reader and a queer Catholic who, in my own theological studies and personal wounds, could have found myself in a similar situation to that young woman. It reminded me of the times when my experiences of love, including God’s love, were marginalized in the name of orthodoxy and truth by peers, professors and guest speakers. 

By this token, Bonette’s acknowledgment of « Augustine’s intellectual paradigm contributing to much violence, » along with her compelling reasons to counter that violence through his own words, alleviated my apprehension about delving into his theology through her lens. Where I once worried that Augustinian theology might be used to challenge my Catholic experiences and faith, I discovered in Bonette a guide who encouraged me to explore his theology with curiosity, safety and in the spirit of her own personal quest for knowledge. 

Kathleen Bonette shows how tradition can engage in meaningful dialogue with justice. When you delve into this book, especially if you’ve overlooked Augustine in the past, don’t expect to walk out with a comprehensive understanding of his theology. You will certainly gain a deeper understanding. But even more so, aspire to navigate her chapters by embracing the theological richness of your own human experiences, imperfections included, while contemplating God’s creativity. 

Vie de l'église

God calls some to bring his love, Gospel to everyone, pope says

A person hearing God’s call to follow him does not mean that person then belongs to a special or privileged clique of the perfect or the « elected, » Pope Francis said.

« The call is never a privilege. We cannot say that we are privileged over others, » the pope said Nov. 22 at his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square.

« No, the call is for a service and God chooses one in order to reach everyone, in order to love everyone, » he said.

Francis continued his series of talks about the « zeal for evangelization, » focusing on a few themes from his 2013 apostolic exhortation, « The Joy of the Gospel. »

The theme of his talk Nov. 22 was that the Gospel and the joy of God’s love are for everyone, quoting from his exhortation that everyone has « a right to receive the Gospel. Christians have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone. »

The pope said, « Let us distinguish ourselves for our capacity to come out of ourselves, to overcome every limit » and bring the Good News to everyone, with an « open and expansive » attitude that « comes from Jesus, who made his presence in the world a continuous journey, aimed at reaching out to everyone, even learning from some of his encounters.

He said the Gospel according to St. Matthew details Jesus’ refusal to cure the daughter of a pagan Canaanite woman. Jesus tells her he « was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel » and that « it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs. »

But the woman insisted, replying, « even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters. » This moves Jesus, who then says, « O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish, » the pope said.

This encounter with a foreign and pagan woman shows Jesus changing his mind, the pope said. « The Lord himself finds confirmation that his preaching should not be limited to the people to whom he belongs, but open to all. »

« Perhaps the greatest temptation » for Christians, the pope said, is to consider God’s call as being « a privilege. Please, don’t. »

« When God calls a person and makes a pact with some of them, » he said, it is always to elect the one in order to reach others.

The church as « catholic » or universal is also « to prevent the temptation of identifying Christianity with a culture, with an ethnicity, with a system, » he added. Christianity is not a « clique of the elected, of first class. »

« Let us not forget: God chooses some to love all, » Francis said, and « the Gospel is not just for me, it is for everyone. »

Vie de l'église

Israel agrees to hostage deal with Hamas; church leaders hope it will lead to end of war

The Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, expressed his happiness at the late-night hostage-exchange agreement reached between Israel and Hamas Nov. 21, and said he hoped it would lead to end to the war which broke out after an Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack on 22 southern Israeli agricultural communities along the border with Gaza.

« We are happy with the news and hope that this will lead to further positive development that will bring the conflict to a conclusion, » said Pizzaballa in a brief statement released to journalists in Italian and English.

The Israeli government said in a statement it was obligated to return all the hostages home and had approved the outline of the first stage of the goal.

According to the agreement, which was negotiated with the help of Qatar, at least 50 Israeli hostages — women and children — will be released over four days, during which there will be a pause in the fighting. The release of every additional 10 hostages will result in one additional day in the pause, they said.

The truce is aimed to begin at 10 a.m. Nov. 23. In the exchange Israel will also allow fuel, medicine and other humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip and will release up to 300 Palestinians — also women and children — held in Israeli prison.

President Joe Biden welcomed the deal to secure the release of hostages « taken by the terrorist group Hamas during its brutal assault against Israel on October 7th, » a Nov. 22 White House statement said.

« Jill and I have been keeping all those held hostage and their loved ones close to our hearts these many weeks, and I am extraordinarily gratified that some of these brave souls, who have endured weeks of captivity and an unspeakable ordeal, will be reunited with their families once this deal is fully implemented, » the president said.

« As President, I have no higher priority than ensuring the safety of Americans held hostage around the world, » Biden said. He said that the U.S. « national security team and I have worked closely with regional partners to do everything possible to secure the release of our fellow citizens. »

The president said the first sign of negotiations was releasing Judith Tai Raanan, 59, and her daughter Natalie, 17, on Oct. 20.

« Today’s deal should bring home additional American hostages, and I will not stop until they are all released, » the president said.

« Today’s deal is a testament to the tireless diplomacy and determination of many dedicated individuals across the United States Government to bring Americans home, » Biden stressed.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said Nov. 22 that the U.N. will « mobilize all its capabilities » to support the implementation of the Israel-Hamas truce.

« I welcome the agreement reached by Israel and Hamas. It‘s an important step in the right direction, but much more needs to be done, » Guterres said in a statement.

« They suffer so much. I heard how they both suffer. »

— Pope Francis

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On Nov. 22, Pope Francis renewed his appeal for prayers for people suffering due to wars in Ukraine and the Holy Land, saying « this is not war; this is terrorism. »

The Holy Father recalled his meeting earlier the same morning with two delegations: 12 members of the Israeli delegation at his residence in the Casa Santa Marta and Palestinian delegation in a room in the Paul VI hall.

« They suffer so much. I heard how they both suffer, » Francis said. « Wars do that, » he stressed, adding that the situation in the Holy land reminded that « here we have gone beyond wars. » « This is not war; this is terrorism, » he said.

The parents of Israeli hostage Hersh Goldberg-Polin, 23, who was among those captured from a desert dance party near the Gaza border Oct. 7 and also holds American citizenship, met with the pope.

« I feel blessed and honored to have had that experience. He was very kind and empathetic, » said Rachel Goldberg, who is originally from Chicago. In a video posted on social media, she told the pope: « This is my son, » holding up her cellphone to the pope. « No arm — it’s been 47 days. »

An Israeli television channel read the possible names of hostages to be released Nov. 22, showing pictures of dozens of children — babies, toddlers and teenagers, who could be reunited with their families, but families to whom OSV News spoke say they were told that nothing is for certain until the hostages actually cross the border with Gaza. The list allegedly includes Abigail Mor Idan, the 3-year-old Israeli-American who saw her parents murdered, and was then taken hostage to Gaza.

Abigail’s father Roy Edan, 43, a photojournalist, and her mother, Smadar Edan, were murdered Oct. 7. « The one thing that we all hold on to is that hope now that Abigail comes home, she comes home by Friday, » the toddler’s aunt Liz Hirsh Naftali told CNN Nov. 21.

« Friday is her 4th birthday. We need to see Abigail come out and then we will be able to believe it. »

Hamas is believed to have taken 239 people as hostages into Gaza following their incursion. They are mainly civilians, including Israelis, dual-citizens, foreign workers from Thailand, Nepal and the Philippines and two international students from Tanzania.

Some 1,200 people, also mainly civilians, were killed in the terrorist attack — including Israeli Muslim citizens and foreign workers, which Hamas documented in gruesome videos released of that day’s atrocities from the terrorists’ bodycams.

The ensuing war which has included Israeli air, land and sea assaults has left Gaza virtually in ruins with over 14,100 Palestinians dead according to Hamas, which does not differentiate between civilians and Hamas casualties. Eighteen Christians were killed in an Israeli bombing of a Hamas target which caused a wall to collapse in the compound of the Greek Orthodox church.

In addition, according to the U.N., some 1.7 million people — nearly three quarters of Gaza’s population — have been displaced as Israel has continued its attacks for almost seven weeks with its stated purpose of rooting out Hamas and its leadership from the Gaza Strip. Some 386 Israeli soldiers also have been killed in action. Caritas confirmed Nov. 22 that one of its workers, 35-year-old Issam Abedrabbo, widower and father of three, was killed along with two of his children in Gaza. Only his 3-year-old daughter survived.

While some reports are heralding the truce as the first step toward the end of the brutal conflict, Israel has insisted that it will continue the war until all the hostages are returned and that it will « complete the elimination of Hamas and ensure that there will be no new threat to the State of Israel from Gaza. »

Vie de l'église

Spanish cardinal urges calm as protests mount over separatist amnesty

The president of the Spanish bishops’ conference has appealed for calm following mass protests against the planned release of jailed Catalan separatists under a deal with the new socialist-led government.

« I’m asking political leaders and opinion formers to do everything possible to lower the social tension — to work at all times for the general interest, » said Cardinal Juan José Omella of Barcelona.

« Any deal that modifies the status quo agreed by Spaniards under our 1978 constitution should have the consensus of all political and parliamentary forces, and support from a qualified majority of society. Otherwise, such pacts will lead only to greater division and confrontation, » he said.

The cardinal spoke Nov. 20 at the opening of the Spanish bishops’ Madrid plenary, which will confirm reparation payments for victims of clerical sex abuse.

A senior lay Catholic told OSV News the bishops were divided over the planned amnesty law for Catalan separatists and activists and predicted the protests would escalate.

« This is a highly controversial, poorly explained law, which merely shows how politicians of all stripes are more concerned with staying in power than seeking agreements, » said Jesús Bastante Liébana, chief editor of Spain’s online Catholic Religión Digital news agency.

« It’s causing deep ruptures within the Spanish church, and highlighting even deeper differences over the church’s current role, » he said.

The amnesty law was agreed in early November by socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez in return for support from Together for Catalonia party and Republican Left for his new government.

It will free up hundreds of separatists and law enforcers jailed after an October 2017 Catalan referendum on independence was ruled illegal by the Constitutional Court, sparking prolonged violence.

However, 70% of Spaniards, including a majority of Socialist Party voters, opposed the amnesty in a September opinion poll, while police, judicial groups and civil and business associations have warned it could fuel new independence demands.

The move was dismissed as « shameful and humiliating » by Spain’s conservative opposition Partido Popular, whose leader, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, attended a 170,000-strong Madrid rally Nov. 18 alongside the head of Spain’s far-right Vox party, Santiago Abascal.

Catholic bishops from Catalonia, who belong to a regional Tarraconense Episcopal Conference, have not commented officially on the amnesty.

However, Bishop José Ignacio Munilla of Orihuela-Alicante told his diocese’s Catholic Radio María it would be « immoral » if « some politicians amnestied others who committed crimes in exchange for their votes, » while Archbishop Jesús Sanz Montes of Oviedo told the ABC daily the amnesty represented « a calculated amnesia, with harmful consequences for Spain. »

Sanchez was sworn in for a new four-year term Nov. 16 by King Felipe VI after securing a narrow majority of 179 votes in Spain’s 350-seat lower house four months after an inconclusive election.

The socialist prime minister, in power since 2018, declined to take his inaugural oath on the Bible, and defended the amnesty law in a Nov. 17 parliamentary address.

However, the event was marked by fresh street protests, during which right-wing Catholic groups prayed the rosary and waved national flags.

Although 53.7% of Spanish citizens still identify as Catholics, according to 2023 data, vocations and Mass attendance have dropped sharply across the church’s 70 dioceses and 23,000 parishes, while church leaders clashed with Sanchez’s previous socialist-led government over laws liberalizing abortion, euthanasia and gender recognition, and restricting religious education.

The bishops’ Nov. 20-24 plenary, attended by the Vatican’s Madrid-based nuncio to Spain, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, is expected to agree compensation payments for clerical abuse victims, in line with recommendations in a parliament-commissioned report by Spain’s human rights ombudsman, published Oct. 27.

It also will hear the executive summary of a separate abuse survey commissioned by the bishops’ conference from a Madrid law firm, to be published Dec. 14.

In his Nov. 20 address, Omella said the church was working with civil authorities to bring abuse perpetrators to justice, but also was « intensely disappointed » by « intentional, erroneous and malicious » media extrapolations about an « exorbitant number » of victims.

On current tensions, the bishops’ conference president said political deals without public acceptance risked « fragmenting coexistence » and should « respect legal mechanisms » while « seeking the common good. »

However, Liébana told OSV News conflict looked set to worsen over the proposed amnesty, the largest since democracy was restored after the four-decades dictatorship of General Francisco Franco (1892-1975).

« The bishops should strongly condemn the violence and give voice to the tension — but I fear they’ll merely stress criticism of the amnesty while offering no real proposals, » the Religión Digital chief editor said.

The pope has summoned all Spanish bishops to a Vatican meeting Nov. 28 to discuss an early 2023 papal visitation report on their church, and told a Nov. 18 Catholic congress in Madrid he counted on Spanish society to uphold « respect for the dignity and rights of people, the search for the common good, coexistence, solidarity and peace. »

Vie de l'église

For this group of trans women, the pope and his message of inclusivity are a welcome change

Pope Francis’ recent gesture of welcome for transgender Catholics has resonated strongly in this working class, seaside town south of Rome, where a community of trans women has found help and hope through a remarkable relationship with the pontiff forged during the darkest times of the pandemic.

Thanks to the local parish priest, these women now make monthly visits to Francis’ Wednesday general audiences, where they are given VIP seats. On any given day, they receive handouts of medicine, cash and shampoo. When COVID-19 struck, the Vatican bussed them into its health facility so they could be vaccinated ahead of most Italians.

On Nov. 19, the women — many of whom are Latin American migrants and work as prostitutes — joined over 1,000 other poor and homeless people in the Vatican auditorium as Francis’ guests for lunch to mark the Catholic Church’s World Day of the Poor.

The menu was evidence of Francis’ belief that those most on the margins must be treated with utmost dignity: cannelloni pasta filled with spinach and ricotta to start; meatballs in a tomato-basil sauce and cauliflower puree, and tiramisu with petit fours for dessert.

For the marginalized trans community of Torvaianica, it was just the latest gesture of inclusion from a pope who has made reaching out to the LGBTQ+ community a hallmark of his papacy, in word and deed.

« Before, the church was closed to us. They didn’t see us as normal people, they saw us as the devil, » said Andrea Paola Torres Lopez, a Colombian transgender woman known as Consuelo, whose kitchen is decorated with pictures of Jesus. « Then Pope Francis arrived and the doors of the church opened for us. »

Francis’ latest initiative was a document from the Vatican’s doctrine office asserting that, under some circumstances, transgender people can be baptized and can serve as godparents and witnesses in weddings. It followed another recent statement from the pope himself that suggested same-sex couples could receive church blessings.

In both cases, the new pronouncements reversed the absolute bans on transgender people serving as godparents issued by the Vatican doctrine office in 2015, and on same-sex blessings announced in 2021.

Prominent LGBTQ+ organizations have welcomed Francis’ message of inclusivity, given gay and transgender people have long felt ostracized and discriminated against by a church that officially teaches that homosexual acts are « intrinsically disordered. »

Starting from his famous « Who am I to judge » comment in 2013 about a purportedly gay priest, to his assertion in January that « being homosexual is not a crime, » Francis has evolved his position to increasingly make clear that everyone — « todos, todos, todos » — is a child of God, is loved by God and welcome in the church.

That judgment-free position is not necessarily shared by the rest of the Catholic Church. The recent Vatican gathering of bishops and laypeople, known as a synod, backed off language explicitly calling for welcoming LGBTQ+ Catholics. Conservative Catholics, including cardinals, have strongly questioned his approach.

After his latest statement about trans participation in church sacraments, GLAAD and DignityUSA said Francis’ tone of inclusion would send a message to political and cultural leaders to end their persecution, exclusion and discrimination against transgender people.

For the trans community in Torvaianica, it was a more personal message, a concrete sign that the pope knew them, had heard their stories and wanted to let them know that they were part of his church.

Carla Segovia, a 46-year-old Argentine sex worker, said for transgender women like herself, being a godparent is the closest thing she will ever get to having a child of her own. She said that the new norms made her feel more comfortable about maybe one day returning fully to the faith that she was baptized in but fell away from after coming out as trans.

« This norm from Pope Francis brings me closer to finding that absolute serenity, » she said, which she feels is necessary to be fully reconciled with the faith.

Claudia Vittoria Salas, a 55-year-old transgender tailor and house cleaner, said she had already served as a godparent to three of her nieces and nephews back home in Jujuy, in northern Argentina. She choked up as she recalled that her earnings from her former work as a prostitute put her godchildren through school.

« Being a godparent is a big responsibility, it’s taking the place of the mother or father, it’s not a game, » she said as her voice broke. « You have to choose the right people who will be responsible and capable, when the parents aren’t around, to send the kids to school and provide them with food and clothes. »

Francis’ unusual friendship with the Torvaianica trans community began during Italy’s strict COVID-19 lockdown, when one, then two, and then more sex workers showed up at Fr. Andrea Conocchia’s church on the main piazza of town asking for food, because they had lost all sources of income.

Over time, Conocchia got to know the women and as the pandemic and economic hardships continued, he encouraged them to write to Francis to ask for what they needed. One night they sat around a table and composed their letters.

« The pages of the letters of the first four were bathed in tears, » he recalled. « Why? Because they told me ‘Father, I’m ashamed, I can’t tell the pope what I have done, how I have lived.’ « 

But they did, and the first assistance arrived from the pope’s chief almsgiver, who then accompanied the women for their COVID-19 vaccines a year later. At the time of the pandemic, many of the women weren’t legally allowed to live in Italy and had no access to the vaccine.

Eventually, Francis asked to meet them.

Salas was among those who received the jab at the Vatican and then joined a group from Torvaianica to thank Francis at his general audience on April 27, 2022. She brought the Argentine pope a platter of homemade chicken empanadas, a traditional comfort food from their shared homeland.

Showing the photo of the exchange on her phone, Salas remembered what Francis did next: « He told the gentleman who receives the gifts to leave them with him, saying ‘I’m taking them with me for lunch,’  » she said. « At that point, I started to cry. »

On Nov. 19, Salas was seated at Francis’ table in the Vatican auditorium. She said she had woken up at 3 a.m. to make him more chicken empanadas for his dinner. « They’re still hot, » she said.

For Canocchia, Francis’ response to Salas and the others has changed him profoundly as a priest, teaching him the value of listening and being attentive to the lives and hardships of his flock, especially those most on the margins.

For the women, it is simply an acknowledgement that they matter.

« At least they remember us, that we’re on Earth and we haven’t been abandoned and left to the mercy of the wind, » said Torres Lopez.

Vie de l'église

‘Join or Die’ documentary insists community groups will save democracy

Could a lack of a formal group affiliation diminish our lifespan? It’s an intense diagnosis, but one made by the new documentary « Join or Die. » The fate of America depends on engagement on a micro level, the film insists, and committed community gatherings will save our democracy. These are bold statements to make, but at the core of this political film is a very Catholic concept: a commitment to the common good.

The film, premiering via hosted screenings across the country (visit to host a screening), situates political/social scientist and author of the famed book Bowling Alone Robert Putnam at its center, but it is not a biopic. Rather, Putnam is the anchor for the larger case being made: that the average American can and should contribute to the ongoing work of democracy through organized groups that contribute to their communities, cultivating social capital and reducing the effects of isolation and loneliness.

Featuring big names like Hillary Rodham Clinton, Pete Buttigieg, Eddie S. Glaude Jr. and Vivek Murthy, the film demonstrates the decline in community and religious gatherings as relevant not only to the health of our nation, but also to that of its people. « Join or Die » makes bold claims about the impact of community life on personal health, such as a correlation between pronounced loneliness and shortened lifespan — thus, the pithy title.

The political references are not insignificant in this film, but the religious connotations are what stand out. Robert Putnam was raised Methodist in Ohio, converted to Judaism to marry his beloved wife Rosemary, and is reverential of Roman Catholicism, as he proclaimed during the panel that followed the film’s premiere. Does it stem from his years studying regional governments in Italy, a country where church and state are admittedly intertwined? Or is it rooted in his academic expertise being called upon by pontifical academies and Pope Francis himself? One could argue that it may be due to the communal nature of Catholic sacramental and liturgical life, which dovetails so perfectly with the value Putnam places on organization and community.

The local groups highlighted in the film are not gathering for the sake of gathering — though the benefits of social experiences are not without merit — but to contribute to the good of their community while doing so. Experiences of service and philanthropy are highlighted alongside community dinners and member swearing-in. Members of these community organizations have a greater connectedness to one another and the needs of those around them, as well as formalized avenues through which to advance the common good. What is proposed in the movie — and in Catholic life — is that while there may be many treatments, the fastest-acting antidote to the epidemic of loneliness is a commitment to community.

The documentary was easy for even a political and sociological neophyte like me to follow. With bright colors, plucky animation, clear narration and clever editing, it keeps the viewer entertained while engaging in deeper work, causing us to ask: What is the state of our democracy, and what role can I play in contributing to the broader system, including the people around me? How does community and connection benefit not just me, but the good of our society as a whole? These questions arise for all viewers but hold particular importance to people of faith, because our civic and societal responsibilities cannot remain separate and secular.

In the end, « Join or Die » leaves viewers contemplating the stark command of the title. Remaining in our bubbles of isolation is a death sentence; not only to democracy, but to the common good and, in the end, to ourselves.

Editor’s note: Contributor Nicole M. Perone is married to NCR digital editor John Grosso.

Vie de l'église

On Croagh Patrick: Lessons from scaling and descending a holy mountain

« Did you make it to the top? » 

I responded in the affirmative. 

« I think you’re the first one up today. Any view? » 

I responded in the negative. 

The restoration worker wished me well and my descent continued in earnest. Climbing Croagh Patrick, I was learning, was a three-and-a-half-hour journey in three parts: the excited ascent, the frustrating summit and the growing down.

I was in Ireland with my wife, Regina, to celebrate our 10-year wedding anniversary, but a torn tendon in her foot meant I would be hiking County Mayo’s 2,500-foot holy mountain alone. St. Patrick is said to have spent 40 days here in A.D. 441. But even before Patrick, this location has been revered and trodden by pilgrims — and now I was one of them.

On the way up, I had seen almost no one. The mountain had a few streams with some green vegetation, but there were no trees, only various types of rock and a few sheep. Every now and then I had stopped to observe, maybe take a photo and then set out again, picking up the pace.

The clouds were dense, but I could see enough to know that if I lost my footing, it would be a long way down with only rocks to break my fall. But the weather cooperated, the scenery was beautiful, the ascent was fun and I had finally reached the top of Ireland’s holiest mountain. 

A white stucco chapel marks the summit of Croagh Patrick. Once I had made it, I walked around and said my prayers as my exhilaration turned into contentment — and then, disappointment. This was it? This was the top? 

The clouds were thick; too thick for a viewing of Clew Bay below or its 365 islands. But a bigger disappointment followed: The chapel was locked. 

I really dislike when churches are closed. I feel a church building ought to be like a tabernacle: lights on and doors open. But alas, I found out, the chapel here is only open a few times per year, despite being a holy site of pilgrimage with people arriving daily.

I was alone. I could see the wind whip wisps of moisture around me. And while I didn’t perform the prescribed formula of prayers suggested by the signage, I sat down and prayed in my own way. Then I waited, perhaps for some sort of religious experience in the morass of gray I’d found myself in.

Did I expect to see God? No. But an apparition or vision would have been nice. But there was no epiphany or burning heart, just a little disappointment. The peak of the holy mountain didn’t provide a mystical experience. I decided it was time to go down.

And that’s when I got the religion I was looking for. Not in the ascent, not at the summit, but on the descent — the going down and getting to the final destination.

The metaphor of faith as a journey suggests movement and change. I sum up my faith life by quoting Catherine of Siena, « All the way to heaven is heaven … because Jesus is the way. » 

My movement and participation in the here-and-now kingdom of God is what matters; it’s what I will be judged on. Therefore, if I take care of today, heaven will take care of itself. One step at a time, if you want another cliché.

The steepest part of the mountain, and the part with the loosest rocks, is near the summit and I quickly realized that going down would be harder than going up. I remembered the poetry of Joseph Grant. If we want to obtain Holy Wisdom, that religious experience I didn’t have at the summit, we’ve got to slow down, come down and grow down.

Some pilgrims climb this mountain barefoot; I did not. Nor did I have a walking stick, so to « slow down » was necessary; I was in no hurry and some things take time. To « come down, » for Grant, is to be humble, to recognize that Wisdom is among the lowly, not the lofty. And in coming down Croagh Patrick, I met and talked to many people. I was alone no longer.

I passed a middle-aged dad and his son, spoke to two women from Canada, heard a young group speaking German and another a mix of English and Irish. 

Closer to the base, I passed an elderly woman with a knee brace and mobility issues that couldn’t compromise the pep in her step and excitement in her eyes. « Did you make it to the top? » she asked, looking to the summit. 

I could see that the clouds were finally breaking. I said, « I did. And it looks like you’ll get a view when you get there. »

Near the end of my descent, I thought of Moses coming down Mount Sinai. I thought, also, of Elijah searching for God. Finally, I thought of Jesus and how the ascendency of mountains to be with God was flipped, first by God coming down at Christmas, then by Jesus asking Zaccheus to come down out of the tree, and finally in Mark’s Gospel, where people cut through a roof to lower a friend down to meet Jesus at ground level among the lowly.

That’s when I got the religion I was looking for. Not in the ascent, not at the summit, but on the descent — the going down and getting to the final destination.

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Lastly, Grant says that Wisdom draws us out of our heads toward the ground where truth may be felt with our feet — to « grow down » is essential. The height of a 90-foot sycamore tree is impressive, but its impressive height is only possible because the seedling in the dirt also grew down, slowly, sinking roots that kept growing down.

I had now descended Croagh Patrick.

When I returned to the car, I found my wife napping. There was a pub at the foot of the mountain and I thought perhaps I could grab a glass of Murphy’s, but I had been away from Regina long enough. It was time to end this climb.

I can’t say for sure that I received Holy Wisdom on the way down. But not every fruitful journey is about climbing higher. I was on a wedding anniversary trip, after all. It mattered less whether I communed with God at the top; what mattered was that I made it back down to my wife, without whom there’d be no occasion to be in Ireland at all. 

I’m glad I made it to the top of the mountain, but I’m gladder still that I made it down, back to her. Now, together we are on our way to the next destination.