Browsing News Entries

Rare Film Shows San Francisco Four Days Before the 1906 Earthquake

Just four days before San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake, the Miles Brothers filmed this jaunt down Market Street. In this short film, which includes sound, one sees a chaotic, but merry scene. Trolley cars follow a predictable course but everything else – horse-drawn carriages and trucks and bikes, and cars – weave and dart about. People Read More

The Pope's Cat: New book series introduces kids to papal office, Rome

Vatican City, Mar 18, 2018 / 04:24 pm (CNA).- Margaret, the fictional stray cat adopted by a fictional Pope in a new children’s book series, gets an up-close and personal look at the Vatican and the Papal office that most Catholics could only imagine.

In “The Pope’s Cat,” a new children’s book series by Jon M. Sweeney, Margaret is just another stray cat on the streets of Rome until the Holy Father finds her on his early morning stroll, scoops her up into his arms and decides to adopt her as his own.

The ensuing shenanigans are what one might expect from a feline who suddenly finds herself in the Pope’s life - she sleeps on his furniture (a lot), gets a glimpse at the general audience from the papal apartment window, and even interrupts an important dinner with the Queen of England.

The Pope in the series reacts to his new friend with bemusement and good humor, all while going about his busy schedule as the leader of the Vatican and the Catholic Church.

“I find that we as adults are often thinking about the Pope and talking about the Pope and listening to what he has to say, but that young children don’t really understand and often just think of the Pope as an image on the refrigerator,” Sweeney told CNA, “and I wanted to see if I could do one little thing to change that.”

His new series about Margaret the cat aims to teach children about the pope and his duties, to make him seem more relatable and human, and to also give them a taste of the Roman culture that permeates many aspects of life in the Vatican.

“It’s a fictional Pope who introduces kids to what Popes do, to the fact that the Pope is the head of state, to the fact that a Pope is a very human person who experiences anxiety and nervousness...and is someone who is invested with enormous responsibilities as the leader of the Catholic Church, with more than one billion people,” he said.

The Pope in the story also frequently speaks to Margaret in Italian phrases (such as ‘dai’, meaning ‘come!’), because “how else would you speak with a Roman stray other than to speak to her in her native tongue?”

“Rome is a meaningful place to me,” said Sweeney, who is “a little bit Italian” and whose visits to Rome helped inspire his journey into the Catholic Church a decade ago. “I wanted to give kids that feeling of Rome as well, I love the Roman side of Catholicism,” he said.  

Margaret was not inspired, as one might think, by the beloved cats of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, of which Sweeney knew nothing until the series was already under way.

“Somehow I missed all of that completely,” Sweeney said.

Sweeney said he chose to tell the story of the Pope and Rome through a cat because of his own personal love for felines, even though he doesn’t own one at the moment.

“I don’t get to have a cat because our dog Max would chase it and probably eat it,” he said.

“I think that if you know cats and you read ‘The Pope’s Cat,’ you will see or get the feeling that I understand cats, that I’ve lived with cats a lot,” he said. “That the cat would sort of turn away from the Pope at first and not come when he calls - that’s part of what I love about cats instead of dogs actually.”

The illustrations for ‘The Pope’s Cat’ were done by Roy DeLeon, a Benedictine oblate and retired graphic designer from Seattle.

“He’s done a beautiful job,” Sweeney said. “He’s putting a lot of himself into it, and a lot of research into what it might look like in the Pope’s apartment, or what the Swiss guards look like.”

‘The Pope’s Cat’ is the first book in a series of four books so far. The next book, ‘Margaret’s Night in St. Peter’s Square,’ is a Christmas story with fully colored illustrations. Books three and four will see Margaret venture into the Vatican’s Holy Week festivities and to Assisi with the Pope.

The series’ intended audience if for 1st-4th graders, and is published by Paraclete Press.  



Pope Francis: The crucifix is for prayer, not decoration

Vatican City, Mar 18, 2018 / 06:58 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Sunday Pope Francis said that the crucifix is not just something decorative to hang on the wall or wear, it is an important sign of our beliefs – and should be truly looked at and prayed before as the source of our salvation.

“Today’s Gospel invites us to turn our gaze to the crucifix, which is not an ornamental object or clothing accessory – sometimes abused! – but a religious sign to be contemplated and understood,” the Pope said March 18.

“The image of Jesus crucified reveals the mystery of the death of the Son of God as the supreme act of love, the source of life and salvation for humanity of all times. In his wounds we have been healed.”

Pope Francis addressed around 20,000 people gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the Sunday Angelus. Adding a few comments off-the-cuff, he asked people how they look at a crucifix: as something to hang on a wall or really to contemplate the wounds of Christ?

Think to yourself, he said: “How do I look at the crucifix? Like a work of art, to see if it is beautiful or not beautiful? Or do I look inside, within the wounds of Jesus, to his heart? Do I look at the mystery of God destroyed unto death, like a slave, like a criminal?”

The Pope suggested a beautiful practical devotion for people to make: To look at a crucifix and pray one Our Father for each of the five wounds of Christ.

“When we pray that Our Father, we try to enter through the wounds of Jesus [all the way to the] inside… right to his heart. And there we will learn the great wisdom of the mystery of Christ, the great wisdom of the cross,” he said.

Francis also reflected on the words of Jesus in the day’s Gospel passage from John, where he says: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat but if it dies, it produces much fruit.”

Here, Jesus compares himself the grain of wheat which “rotting in the earth generates new life,” he said. “With the Incarnation, Jesus came to earth; but this is not enough: He must also die, to redeem men from the slavery of sin and give them a new life reconciled in love.”

This new life is accomplished in Christ, but “must also be realized in us his disciples,” he noted. We must lose our life in this world in order to gain eternal life in the next.

What does it mean to lose your life, to be the grain of wheat? he asked. “It means thinking less about oneself, about personal interests, and knowing how to ‘see’ and meet the needs of our neighbor, especially the least ones.”

He said that our communities must be based on this foundation, growing in mutual acceptance, joy, and works of love, especially for those who suffer in body and in spirit.

We must think: “I want to see Jesus, but to see him from within,” he said. “Enter his wounds and contemplate that love of his heart for you… for me, for everyone.”

'Godmothers for Life' serve vulnerable moms in Uruguay

Montevideo, Uruguay, Mar 18, 2018 / 03:41 am (CNA/EWTN News).- An Uruguayan non-profit organization called “Godmothers for Life” has been serving mothers in crisis pregnancies for more than 17 years, working out of a facility at Saint Jerome Chapel in Montevideo.   

Offering talks, one-on-one conversations, and job training, these “godmothers” help vulnerable moms face their pregnancies with dignity and hope, and not to see abortion as the only way out of their situation.

Being chosen as a godparent is a significant honor in Latin America, where godparents are typically highly involved in the lives of their godchildren, which gives the group’s name a special meaning.

The organization has its origins in 2000 at Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico. Marta Grego and her husband traveled from Uruguay to visit the shrine where they experienced in prayer what they described as “Our Lady of Guadalupe's call” to dedicate themselves to the cause of life.

Marta felt in her heart that God was asking her to fight abortion and save babies when she got back to Uruguay. However, she did not see a clear path forward at the time, because she was working and supporting her family. Nevertheless, she felt God telling her, “You take care of my things and I'll take care of yours.”

When the couple returned to Uruguay, a pregnant woman rang their doorbell asking for food. She had made up her mind to get an abortion. That encounter was how Godmothers for Life got its start, with Marta Grego as its founder and director.

Although the original purpose of the organization was to help women decide to keep their babies, Teresa Rodriguez, the group’s current president, explained that they eventually saw “that besides the girls who wanted to abort, there were pregnant girls who were not thinking of aborting but were in a very vulnerable situation.”

In response, the group expanded its work by providing free job training courses and workshops on Christian and human formation, “always focusing on the mom and her baby, helping her to value motherhood, but also helping the family,” so they can find their way out of poverty. Currently, Godmothers for Life is serving about 60 at-risk women in Montevideo, relying solely on donations for their work.

“A bond is created between us and the mothers which is not based on dependency but on affection. We are one big family,” Rodriguez said.

In addition to their main location in Montevideo, Godmothers for Life has a place at Saint Eugene Chapel in the administrative district, where they care for an additional 60 women. They hope to extend the project to other areas of Uruguay. They have already begun plans in several other districts.


What US Catholics see as Pope Francis' most notable action

Washington D.C., Mar 17, 2018 / 04:35 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- What has been Pope Francis’ most notable action so far in his papacy?

A group of some 300 U.S. Catholics was recently asked this question in a recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center, drawing a multitude of responses.  

Participants were asked to explain in their own words the most noteworthy thing Pope Francis has accomplished during his past five years as pope, despite their personal opinions of him.  

Nine percent said that Pope Francis has set a solid example of humility and overall Christian behavior. Another 9 percent believes he has made the Church more accepting and welcoming.

“He seems to get the idea across that all people are important and worthy of attention and rights,” said one participant, according the Pew Research.

Eight percent noted the pontiff’s particular focus on the poor, while 7 percent said he is noteworthy for his attention towards the LGBT community. Six percent applauded the extent of his global travel, through which he has made himself available to people all around the world. Another 5 percent believes he has united the Catholic community through dialogue.

Other categories receiving 1-4 percent each said that the Holy Father’s most significant action has been environmental care, peacemaking, addressing sex abuse, welcoming the divorced and remarried, spreading the faith, reforming the Vatican, or addressing immigration.

Similarly, 4 percent said the pope’s most notable action was a negative or neutral action, 3 percent said the answer is unclear, and 4 percent said that he has not yet done anything noteworthy.

One participant said that Pope Francis “gets too involved in things that don’t concern the Church,” while another said he is “more liberal than the popes before him.”

The largest group of respondents, 29 percent, declined to answer or did not come up with a response.

Pope Francis marked the fifth year of his pontificate this week, and he continues to receive an overall favorable opinion from U.S. Catholics, at around 84 percent.

The majority of U.S. Catholics, approximately 58 percent, also believe the pope is making major changes to benefit the Church, while around 94 percent view him as compassionate.


Letter reveals Benedict’s praise for Francis booklets came with previously unmentioned caveats

Vatican City, Mar 17, 2018 / 12:36 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Amid accusations of concealment, the Vatican's communications department has released the entirety of a letter written by Benedict XVI, revealing a previously unpublished paragraph which contains Benedict’s comments about a theologian known for his “anti-papal initiatives.”
The Secretariat for Communications published the full letter March 17, after questions were raised following the letter’s presentation during a press event March 12 for the release of a newly-published series of booklets on the theological formation of Pope Francis.
The series is published by Libreria Editrice Vaticana, the Vatican publishing house overseen by the secretariat.


#Vatican has now released the full contents of Benedict XVI's letter to +Vigano, saying there was no intention to censor but parts were left out as it was confidential. Earlier today it emerged that more had been omitted from the letter (see end here:

— Edward Pentin (@EdwardPentin) March 17, 2018


The secretariat’s press release on the letter quoted portions of the letter praising the booklets, but included neither Benedict’s admission that he has not read them in full, nor the final paragraph published today.
In the paragraph, Benedict notes his “surprise” that an author of one of the new booklets is the German theologian Peter Hünermann, who, Benedict notes, “was highlighted for leading anti-papal initiatives” during the two preceding papacies.
In the letter, dated Feb. 7 and addressed to the prefect of the Secretariat for Communications, Msgr. Dario Vigano, Benedict also notes Hünermann's involvement in the release of the 1989 Cologne Declaration, which “virulently attacked the magisterial authority of the Pope, especially on matters of moral theology.”
The previously undisclosed paragraph reads, as translated by Ed Pentin of the National Catholic Register, in full: “Only as an aside, I would like to note my surprise at the fact that among the authors is also Professor Hünermann, who during my pontificate had been shown to have led anti-papal initiatives. He played a major part in the release of the ‘Kölner Erklärung’, which, in relation to the encyclical ‘Veritatis splendor’, virulently attacked the magisterial authority of the Pope, especially on questions of moral theology. Also the ‘Europaische Theologengesellschaft’, which he founded, initially came to be thought of as an organization in opposition to the papal magisterium. Later, the ecclesial sentiment of many theologians prevented this orientation, making that organization a normal instrument of encounter among theologians.”
“I am sure that you will understand me for my denial and I greet you cordially,” the letter concludes. Earlier in the letter, Benedict acknowledged that he could not write a requested reflection on the booklets because he had not read them and had other, more pressing, commitments.
A March 17 press release from the Secretariat for Communications said there had been “much polemics” around its “alleged censorial manipulation of photography.”

“What was read out from the letter, which was confidential, was considered appropriate and related to the sole initiative, and in particular to what the Pope Emeritus says about the philosophical and theological formation of the present Pontiff and the inner union between the two pontificates, leaving out some notes regarding contributors to the series.”

“The choice was motivated by confidentiality and not by any intent of censorship,” the secretariat added.

The Vatican office wrote that it had now chosen to publish the letter in its entirety “in order to dispel any doubts.”
The National Catholic Register requested March 14 a copy of the letter Vigano sent to Benedict, but the request has not been answered.
Controversy about the letter heightened March 14 when the Associated Press reported that the Vatican had acknowledged obscuring two lines of the letter in a photo released to the press.
The AP's Nicole Winfield wrote that the Vatican has admitted “that it altered a photo sent to the media of a letter from retired Pope Benedict XVI about Pope Francis. The manipulation changed the meaning of the image in a way that violated photojournalist industry standards.”

Prayer is about being with God, not stress relief, Francis says

San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy, Mar 17, 2018 / 07:33 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Saturday Pope Francis asked Catholics if they try to pray as Jesus did – out of love for God – or if they only pray when they need something from God or want a ‘shot’ of stress relief.

“Prayer can be born as a request, even as a prompt intervention, but matures in praise and adoration. Then it becomes truly personal, as it was for Jesus,” the Pope said March 17.

“We ask ourselves: do our prayers resemble that of Jesus or are they reduced to occasional emergency calls? ‘I need something...’ And when you do not need [something], what do you do? Or do we mean them as tranquilizers to be taken in regular doses, to get some relief from stress?”

“No, prayer is a gesture of love, it is being with God and bringing him the life of the world: it is an indispensable work of spiritual mercy,” he continued.

Pope Francis spoke about the importance of prayer during Mass with around 30,000 people at the shrine of St. Pio in San Giovanni Rotondo, the town where St. Padre Pio spent most of his life as a Capuchin priest.

It was the second stop in his day trip to Pietrelcina and San Giovanni Rotondo, the towns in Italy where Padre Pio lived.

In his homily he emphasized that if Christians do not pray for their brothers and sisters, for difficult situations, no one will. “Who will intercede, who will bother to knock on the heart of God to open the door of mercy to a humanity in need?” he asked. “We can ask ourselves: do we Christians pray enough?”

Francis noted that it is easy to make excuses about prayer, putting it aside for things we think are more urgent. But this, he said, is putting aside “the best part,” as Jesus told Martha in the Gospel of Luke, when she was upset that her sister Mary was speaking with Jesus instead of helping her.

Padre Pio knew the importance of prayer, he said, and even 50 years after his death and entrance into heaven, left us the legacy of the prayer groups he started, and which continue today.

He quoted the saint, who said in a message he gave at the International Conference of Prayer Groups in 1966: “Pray a lot, my children, pray always, never get tired.” Unless we open ourselves to praise and adoration, “we do not know the Father,” he said, and encouraged those present to “resume prayers of adoration and praise.”

Before Mass Pope Francis stopped to visit children with cancer who are being treated in the pediatric oncology department of the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza (House of relief of the suffering) hospital, founded by Padre Pio, in San Giovanni Rotondo.

He said in his homily that the “small are those who have a humble and open heart, poor and needy, who feel the need to pray, to entrust themselves and to be accompanied,” and that the hearts of little ones like the children he visited are “like an antenna, which captures the signal of God immediately.”

He also said that God is especially present at the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza, which is an internationally-recognized hospital and research center, because of the many sick and suffering present inside.

Padre Pio “called it ‘a temple of prayer and science,’ where all are called to be ‘reserves of love’ for others,” Francis said.

“Now we can ask ourselves: do we know how to look for God where he is? Here there is a special sanctuary where he is present because there are many little ones preferred by him.”

The theological formation of Pope Francis

Vatican City, Mar 17, 2018 / 06:00 am (CNA).- A recent letter from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has become the subject of controversy, after a Vatican office admitted to releasing a photo of the letter blurring some lines.

The letter responded to an invitation to review a series of books detailing the theological perspective of Pope Francis. While Benedict declined the invitation, saying he wouldn’t have time to read the books, he noted “that Pope Francis is a man of profound philosophical and theological formation.”

The Pope Emeritus praised the series as an effort to “oppose and react to the foolish prejudice in which Pope Francis is just a practical man without particular theological or philosophical formation.”

While the letter remains the center of debate, it does raise an important question: what exactly is Pope Francis' theological formation?

Those who know Bergoglio well are quick to point out that he is not a “systematic theologian,” and that he cannot be called a theological expert in the academic sense of the word.

However, despite a lack of formal academic experience, biographers note that Francis has a sharp mind and an extensive knowledge of influential Catholic thinkers, especially in the Latin American context.

Papal biographer Austen Ivereigh told CNA that the first Latin American pope cannot be identified exclusively with any particular theological movement or approach.

“People knew where John Paul II's philosophy school was, they could situation him because of his thesis, and because of his scholarly life, and the same with Benedict; Benedict could easily be located as part of a particular school,” Ivereigh said. But Bergoglio “is not a systematic theologian, so you can't really identify him with any particular school.”

However, Ivereigh, author of the authoritative English-language papal biography, “The Great Reformer,” told CNA that as a seminarian, studying at the Jesuit-run Colegio Maximo in Argentina, Bergoglio was the only student to ever get full marks in his classes.

“He was brilliant. Everybody recognized that he was intellectually brilliant from the beginning,” Ivereigh said.

Ivereigh said when Bergoglio was named seminary rector, years later, many of his students also commented that “he was incredibly widely read in literature of the world, European and Latin American, poetry, classics, the novels. He was very, very cultured in that broader sense of the word.”

Alejandro Bermudez, executive director of CNA and editor of the papal biography “Pope Francis: Our Brother, Our Friend,” said Bergoglio was “a Jesuit of the old-school,” and as such “he definitely had that very rounded formation, with several interests,” including poetry, classical literature, and writings from the influential thinkers of the day.

However, after being placed into administrative and leadership roles at a young age, the future pope “spent a lot of time doing practical things and in a practical position” which took him away from academic endeavors.

“The truth is, he did not have enough time to get into a deep theological formation,” Bermudez said.

“I'm not saying he's a lightweight,” he said, adding that Francis “has a well-rounded theological formation for sure.”

Bergoglio was tapped as the Argentine Jesuit provincial in 1973 at the age of 36, during a tumultuous period in which the nation was led by a violent military dictatorship. In 1980 he was named rector of the Philosophical and Theological Faculty at San Miguel Seminary in Buenos Aires, where he taught theology and oversaw Jesuit novices until 1986. He was removed from that role when his emphasis on traditional theology and spirituality clashed with the Jesuits' then-Superior General Hans Kolvenbach.

He was sent to the Sankt Georgen Graduate School of Philosophy and Theology in Frankfurt, Germany to begin doctoral studies, which were based on the writings of German-Italian theologian Romano Guardini. However, after just a few months he was sent back to Argentina as a confessor in Cordoba.

By the time he was named Auxiliary Bishop of Buenos Aires in 1992, he still had not finished his doctoral thesis. Bergoglio continued to ascend the ranks of Church hierarchy, taking on increasingly administrative roles that plunged him further into political and practical affairs, and farther away from his doctorate, which remains unfinished to this day.

However, according to Ivereigh, simply because Francis can't be attached to a particular theological school, “that doesn't mean that he's difficult to pin down, because actually his intellectual trajectory is very clear.”

Intellectual Influences

The Pope’s intellectual influences include several prominent 20th century thinkers.

Bergoglio was familiar with Hans Urs von Balthasar, a Swiss priest considered to be among the most influential theologians of the 20th century. He was also familiar with Gaston Fassard, a French Jesuit priest and theologian who died in 1978, as well as other influential Jesuit thinkers of the time such as German-Polish theologian Enrich Przywara and Frenchman Henri de Lubac.

The Italian-born German priest Romano Guardini, whose theology formed the basis for the future Pope's unfinished doctoral thesis, was also influential on Bergoglio.

Guardini, who lived from 1885-1968, also influenced Pope Benedict XVI, who referenced Guardini frequently.

However, despite the frequent references to Guardini and the decision of Bergoglio to focus his thesis on Guardini's writings, Bermudez stressed the need to have caution when it comes to just how much influence Guardini had, since Bergoglio's thesis was never finished.

“We just know that he was incredibly impacted to the point that he wanted to do his doctoral thesis on him. But there is no trace of the Pope explaining himself in any kind of writing or interview or whatever about how much or how Guardini impacted him.”

Latin American Influences

Bergoglio's biographers say he was impacted especially by several prominent Latin American theologians who were influential in “teologia latinoamericana,” or Latin American theology, an approach that emphasized the Church’s closeness to ordinary people and their expressions of popular devotion.

According to Bermudez, those who had the biggest impact on Francis' thought were Jesuit Fr. Juan Carlos Scannone – who is still alive and was a professor of the young Fr. Bergoglio – as well as Argentinian Fr. Lucio Gera and Uruguayan Alberto Methol Ferre, who Bermudez said was “super influential on a whole generation of Latin Americans.”

Bermudez explained that the “teologia latinoamericana” intellectuals had a clear vision for the need to develop a theology “that would line up with the idea that Latin America, as a large continent with one language and one religion, had some kind of a 'manifest destiny.'”

“These were the people who understood that Latin America had a huge contribution to make to the world of theology, considering that close to half of Catholics were living on the continent,” he said.

This approach emphasized the preferential option for the poor, and that popular piety and devotion would play a major role in unifying Latin American, and in preserving and transmitting the faith across the continent.

“That's where the Pope's preference for the importance of Marian shrines, and processions and events of massive faith comes from,” Bermudez said, explaining that because of the way in which people gathered to celebrate their faith in this “popular” way, the approach later became known as the “teologia del pueblo.”

“What is known today as the ‘teologia del pueblo’ didn't exist at that time,” Bermudez said, explaining that the “theology of the people” was a later evolution of Latin American theology,

Bermudez stressed that these ideas were different from liberation theology, which sprung up in Latin America in the 1970s, and often emphasized a Marxist interpretation of the Gospel, viewing faith through the lens of class struggle, rather than giving primacy to spiritual freedom.

He explained that liberation theology largely rejected popular piety, believing it to be “some kind of backwards approach to religion that would keep people away from social change and structural change.”

Liberation theology was not relevant in Argentina at the time of Bergoglio's formation, Bermudez said.

When Bergoglio was being formed, Bermudez said, “there was a lot of hope in a Latin American future in which Latin America would play a huge role in the world,” he said, but noted that in the years since, “crisis and corruption and political squabbles pretty much put an end to any hope that Latin America would raise up as one single nation.”

However, the influence of the “teologia latinoamericana” can clearly be seen in Francis' words, actions and personal style, above all in his emphasis on community and solidarity, which Bermudez said stems from the belief that popular devotion “was a richness that allowed the people of Latin America to preserve and persevere in their faith.”

Another manifestation of this formation is the hope Francis has for Latin America’s role Church, since it covers such large swaths of territory, from the Rio Grande to the Tierra del Fuego.

“You can hardly find any other place in the planet when you can go through such a large territory and be celebrating the same faith and speaking the same language,” Bermudez said, adding that while he's not sure if Pope Francis has a specific belief in the “great future” of Latin America, he still has a tremendous hope for the continent.

Likewise, Ivereigh said this influence can be seen even from Bergoglio's time as rector of the San Miguel seminary in Buenos Aires, where he kept a strict spiritual and academic regime for the Jesuit novices, while also encouraging them to pray the rosary together and sending them out to minister in parishes on the weekends.

“His vision of the Church, I think, derives from his reading of the Spanish missionary experience in the colonial era of Latin America. He makes frequent references, particularly in Latin America, to that era,” Ivereigh said.

Bergoglio wanted the seminarians to “get out of their heads and have contact with the people; so study was important, but on weekends they were out there with the people ministering in the parishes,” which was unusual for Jesuits at the time, who typically placed a heavy emphasis on academics.

After the Second Vatican Council, Bergoglio was “very skeptical of progressive attempts to depart from core Catholic traditions,” such as, in his view, downgrading the importance of popular piety, Ivereigh said.

“He was very strong on maintaining that,” Ivereigh said, explaining that Bergoglio's approach was consistently about “going back to the original charism of the 16th century Jesuits,” which placed a strong emphasis on missionary outreach.

“He certainly didn't want to go back to the former time before the Council, but he didn't want a modernization that would dilute the Catholic tradition, and he wanted a deeper reform that returned the Jesuits to their deeper traditions.”

How his formation shapes his papacy

Both biographers noted that, while the Pope has limited formal theological training, his formation and intellect can be seen in his daily words and actions.

For Ivereigh, Francis' entire 5-year pontificate has so far been “one big lesson in what they call in Latin and Italian 'pastoralita' – it's one big lesson in how to be pastoral...putting people first, spending time with them, showing that everybody is valuable, showing that God cares about everybody.”

This is seen in Francis' homilies and travels, but also in his interaction with media and his general approachability, Ivereigh said, explaining that in his view, the Pope is constantly trying to remove “unnecessary blockages” getting in the way of reaching the people.

“Some of those blockages are the result of social and cultural change, which lead people for example to be suspicious of institutions or to see institutions as distant. But some of those blockages are also part of the Church's culture,” he said. “So the proclamation has to be simpler, humbler and more kerygmatic. That's been his big message of these last five years.”

In his view, Bermudez said the influence of Latin American theology, in particular, can be seen clearly in the Pope's continuous encouragement for priests to take on the “smell of the sheep,” as well as his ideas about how the priesthood and episcopate should be based on the “conviction that the faith of the people is very powerful.”

Since the beginning, Francis has preached the importance of popular devotions, the need for greater hope and solidarity, the importance of truth, a sense of good and evil and an emphasis on divine intervention, Bermudez said.

“All that has been influenced by this experience of the common people, your day-by-day Catholic who lives from Church feast to Church feast and experiences their faith [in this way],” he said, adding that this approach has “completely impregnated his preaching and his vision of how to live our faith.”


Pope Francis in Pietrelcina: Padre Pio loved Mother Church

Pietrelcina, Italy, Mar 17, 2018 / 04:40 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Speaking Saturday in Pietrelcina, the town where St. Padre Pio was born, Pope Francis encouraged devotion to Holy Mother Church, explaining how despite the imperfection of its members, it was beloved by Padre Pio.

“Here [in Pietrelcina, Padre Pio] began to experience the motherhood of the Church, of which he was always a devoted son,” the Pope said March 17.

“He loved the Church, he loved the Church with all its problems, with all its troubles, with all our sins. Because we are all sinners, we are ashamed, but the Spirit of God has called us into this Church that is holy.”

“And he loved the holy Church and sinful children, all of them. This was Saint Pio.”

Pope Francis spoke to faithful during his day-long visit to the town of Pietrelcina in the Archdiocese of Benevento, Italy during a day trip to the two towns where Padre Pio lived.

Francis made the visit to the towns of Pietrelcina and San Giovanni Rotondo to mark the 100th anniversary of Padre Pio receiving the visible stigmata and the 50th anniversary of the saint’s death.

Upon arriving in Pietrelcina, the Pope greeted the archbishop of Benevento and the mayor of Pietrelcina. He then stopped to pray in the Chapel of St. Francis, which holds the “elm of the stigmata,” a tree under which Padre Pio used to pray, and where his stigmata appeared for the first time.

In his speech, Francis spoke about the spiritual torments Padre Pio underwent during his time in Pietrelcina. This was the town where the saint was born, but he also spent time there during a period of bad health.

“This was not an easy time for him,” the Pope said. “He was strongly tormented in his heart and he feared falling into sin, feeling assaulted by the devil.”

Departing from his prepared speech, Pope Francis asked those present if they believe that the devil exists, adding that, if they are not so convinced, he will ask the bishop to do some catechesis on the subject.

“Does the demon exist, or does he not exist?” he asked, the crowd responding, “yes!” He continued, saying that the devil “torments us, he deceives us,” and that Padre Pio “was afraid that the devil would attack him, push him to sin.”

Francis noted that in the face of these fears, however, what Padre Pio did was pray: “In those terrible moments Padre Pio drew vital life from the continuous prayer and trust he placed in the Lord.”

When these temptations from the devil would come, Padre Pio said he would confidently abandon himself into the arms of Jesus and they would disappear, the Pope said.

“Here is all theology!” he continued. “You have a problem, you are sad, you are sick: abandon yourself in the arms of Jesus.”

He pointed out how prayer was vital to Padre Pio for discernment of God’s will, and how he especially loved the Mass and the sacraments.

“Padre Pio immersed himself in prayer to adhere ever better to the divine designs. Through the celebration of Holy Mass, which was the heart of every day and the fullness of his spirituality, he reached a high level of union with the Lord,” he said.

In his speech the Pope also reflected on the challenges faced by the community of Pietrelcina and the surrounding areas, which have aging populations, especially as young people are forced to move elsewhere to find work.

He said that he hopes the territory “will be able to draw new life from the teachings of the life of Padre Pio in a difficult time like the present one.”

“Pray to Our Lady to give you the grace that young people find work here, among you, close to the family, and are not forced to leave to look for another way.”

At the same time, he emphasized the importance of the elderly, who he said he would award the Nobel Prize if he could, because they “give memory to humanity.”

After his speech, the Pope spent a period greeting faithful before departing by helicopter for San Giovanni Rotondo.   

Ohio AG will appeal to maintain law banning Down syndrome abortions

Columbus, Ohio, Mar 16, 2018 / 05:09 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A federal judge has blocked a law from taking effect next week which bans abortions after a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome.

After the law was blocked by Judge Timothy Black March 14, the Catholic Conference of Ohio expressed disappointment in decision but also hope that it may be overturned after an appeal by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.

“We are disappointed, we do think that it was an appropriate first step to point out, specifically, that so many Down syndrome children are aborted,” said Jim Tobin, Associate Director of the Department of Social Justice at the Catholic Conference of Ohio.

“We are still hopeful that there are other appeals that are available here and that we may be able to yet overturn this decision,” he told CNA.

The law, which was due to go into effect March 23, bans abortions solely due to a prenatal Down syndrome diagnosis. It imposes criminal penalties on medical professionals, but women procuring abortions are not penalized.

The law was signed by Governor John Kasich in December 2017.

On behalf of Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in February against the Ohio Department of Health, county prosecutors, and members of the state medical board.

Black blocked the law's implementation as a privacy violation: “It violates the right to privacy of every woman in Ohio and is unconstitutional on its face,” he wrote.

Supporters of the law have questioned Black’s impartiality. He had served as president of Cincinnati’s Planned Parenthood in 1988 and as its director from 1986-1989.
He recused himself from a case involving Planned Parenthood in 2014.

Tobin lamented the blocking of the law, calling it a tragic case disrespectful to human life.

“It’s just tragic that, particularly in the case of Down syndrome, folks would decide that [these babies] are better off aborted than lovingly cared for or placed for adoption,” he said, noting these cases show “a loss of respect for the dignity of all human life and their value.”

In a March 15 statement, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said will appeal Black’s decision.

“I strongly disagree with the district court's ruling that there is a categorical right to abortion that prevents even any consideration of Ohio's profound interests in combatting discrimination against a class of human beings based upon disability. We will be appealing.”