Pope: May the Spirit guide the synod
During his homily on Pentecost, Pope Francis prayed the Holy Spirit would guide the church into the future.
Posted on 05/29/2023 07:30 AM (USCCB News Releases)
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Catholics should make an "examination of conscience" about how they use social media, how they allow it to influence them and about the opportunities it provides them to share the Gospel, build community and care for others, said the Vatican Dicastery for Communication.
"Unfortunately, the tendency to get carried away in heated and sometimes disrespectful discussions is common with online exchanges," said the dicastery's document, "Toward Full Presence. A Pastoral Reflection on Engagement with Social Media."
"The problem of polemical and superficial, and thus divisive, communication is particularly worrying when it comes from church leadership: bishops, pastors and prominent lay leaders," the document said. "These not only cause division in the community but also give permission and legitimacy for others likewise to promote similar type of communication."
Signed by Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the dicastery, and Msgr. Lucio A. Ruiz, secretary of the office, the document was released at a news conference May 29.
When faced with erroneous or divisive content on social media, the document said, "often the best course of action is not to react, or to react with silence so as not to dignify this false dynamic."
Asked if there was not something more active the dicastery could do, for example, with a bishop acting badly on social media, Ruffini responded that it is not the competency of his office to discipline anyone, but in general on social media it is better not to share or comment on offensive content since it only raises its profile.
Xavière Missionary Sister Nathalie Becquart, undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops, a member of the dicastery, said everyone in the church needs to be educated about social media and learn to discern "when to speak and when not to speak."
While the document argued for the need for Catholics to sometimes take a break from social media to pray, reflect and spend time with others in person, it recognized social media as a vehicle for sharing Gospel values and as daily part of life for millions of people around the world, including many people in developing nations whose only digital access is to social media.
But it also called on Catholics to be fully informed about its pitfalls and recognize that companies claim their platforms were designed "to bring the world closer together, to give everyone the power to create and share ideas, or to give everyone a voice," when, in fact, they are businesses that make money by using an individual's posts to target advertising to them and by selling their profiles and data.
The document quoted an adage that says, "'If you are not paying for it, you are the product.' In other words, it is not free: we are paying with minutes of our attention and bytes of our data."
People also must be aware, it said, that the history of who they follow, what they look at and what they search for feed into algorithms that increasingly narrow the posts, search results and advertising they receive.
"The consequence of this increasingly sophisticated personalization of results is a forced exposure to partial information, which corroborates our own ideas, reinforces our beliefs, and thus leads us into an isolation of 'filter bubbles,'" the document said.
The dicastery called on Catholics to burst those bubbles by purposefully expanding their sources of information and by trying to understand people with whom they have differences.
The growing sophistication of artificial intelligence, fake news and "deep fake" images and videos also require education and a critical look at what people find online, the document said.
Asked, for example, about the AI-generated photo of Pope Francis in a puffy white jacket and jeweled crucifix that went viral in March, Msgr. Ruiz told reporters that the dicastery is studying ways to give people "the resources to know when they are seeing a real photo, real video or real audio of the Holy Father and not something else."
In calling Catholics to make an "examination of conscience" about their use of social media, the document said that self-examination should start with how it impacts "three vital relationships: with God, our neighbor and the environment around us."
With the document, the dicastery launched a website -- fullypresent.website -- where people can download the document, find a study guide to it and join a "community of faith communicators" to reflect and share best practices.
Posted on 05/28/2023 07:30 AM (USCCB News Releases)
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Catholic Church's current Synod of Bishops should not be a "parliament for demanding rights," but a "journey in accordance with the Spirit," Pope Francis said.
The synod, which seeks to gather input from all baptized Catholics on building a listening church, is not "an occasion for following wherever the wind is blowing, but the opportunity to submit to the breath of the Spirit," he said.
In his homily for Pentecost Mass in St. Peter's Basilica May 28, the pope said that the Holy Spirit is "the heart of synodality and the driving force of evangelization."
"Without him, the church is lifeless, faith is mere doctrine, morality only a duty" and "pastoral work mere toil," he said. "We often hear so many so-called thinkers and theologians who give us cold doctrines that seem mathematical because they lack the Spirit."
Pope Francis, seated to the side of the basilica's main altar, spoke without difficulty just two days after he had cleared his day's schedule due to a fever.
Brazilian Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, prefect of the Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, was the main celebrant at the altar alongside Cardinals Giovanni Battista Re, dean of the College of Cardinals, and Leonardo Sandri, vice dean.
Reflecting on St. John's account of Jesus breathing on the apostles to impart the Holy Spirit, Pope Francis urged Christians to seek harmony in the church without doing away with the differences that enrich its character.
"The Spirit does not inaugurate the church by providing the community with rules and regulations, but by descending upon each of the apostles, every one of them receives particular graces and charisms," he explained. The Spirit "does not eliminate differences of cultures but harmonizes everything without reducing them to bland uniformity."
Embracing difference, the pope said, is key to resisting the temptation to look back in time with nostalgia or become "caught up in our plans and projects."
At Pentecost, however, "the life of the church began not from a precise and detailed plan, but from the shared experience of God's love," he said.
Pope Francis asked Christians to invoke the Holy Spirit daily to create harmony where there is division in the church and beyond.
"Let us think of the wars, so many conflicts, it seems incredible the evil of which we are capable. Yet fueling our hostilities is the spirit of division, the devil, whose very name means 'divider,'" he said.
Conversely, the Holy Spirit "opposes the spirit of division because he is harmony, the Spirit of unity, the bringer of peace."
"If the world is divided, if the church is polarized, if hearts are broken, let us not waste time in criticizing others and growing angry with one another," Pope Francis said, "instead, let us invoke the Holy Spirit."
The pope encouraged Christians to reflect on their relationship with the Holy Spirit and asked them to develop a faith that is "docile in the Spirit," and not "stubbornly attached" to "so-called doctrines that are only cold expressions of life."
"If we want harmony let us seek (the Spirit), not worldly substitutes," he said.
At the end of Mass, Pope Francis he smiled and waved to onlookers as he was taken down the basilica's central nave while seated in a wheelchair.
Reciting the "Regina Coeli" prayer with an estimated 15,000 people gathered in St. Peter's Square after the Mass, Pope Francis again spoke of the synod, asking people to join special prayers planned for May 31, the end of the month traditionally dedicated to Mary.
"At the conclusion of the month of May," he said, "Marian shrines around the world are planning moments of prayer to support preparations for the upcoming ordinary assembly of the Synod of Bishops," which is scheduled to meet in October at the Vatican. "We ask the Virgin Mary to accompany this important stage of the synod with her maternal protection."
"And to her we also entrust the desire for peace of so many peoples throughout the world, especially of the tormented Ukraine," he said.
Posted on 05/26/2023 07:30 AM (USCCB News Releases)
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis called the migration crisis between Mexico and the United States a "serious problem" and praised a U.S. bishop working along the border during an interview with Telemundo journalist Julio Vaqueiro.
In the interview, broadcast May 25, the pope was shown photos of a baby wrapped in a blanket and placed inside a suitcase to be taken across the Rio Grande into the United States.
"It's a serious problem there," the pope said in response. "On the other side (of the border) there is a great man, Bishop Seitz" of El Paso, Texas.
"This bishop feels (the problem)," Pope Francis said. "The problem of migrants is serious, it's serious there and it's serious here," he said about Europe, particularly "along the Libyan coast."
Speaking about his own experience as a child of immigrants, and now as an immigrant in Rome, the pope said that every person who leaves his or her homeland "misses the air of their birthplace."
"The mate you make in a thermos yourself is not the same as the mate your mom or your aunt makes for you," he said, referring to the caffeinated herbal drink popular in Argentina.
Vaqueiro asked Pope Francis about his meeting May 13 with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
The pope said Zelenskyy asked for his help in returning Ukrainian children who have been taken into Russia and told the pope to "not dream much about mediations."
Since the outbreak of the war, the Vatican has avoided openly condemning the Russian government and has offered itself as a mediator for peace negotiations between Russia and Ukraine.
"Really, Ukraine's bloc is very strong, it's all of Europe, the United States, so it has a lot of strength," Pope Francis said to explain why a Vatican mediation did not appear immediately feasible. "But what really pained (Zelenskyy) and what he asked for collaboration on was trying to get the children back into Ukraine."
More than 19,000 Ukrainian children have been forcibly deported into Russia or Russian-held territories according to a Ukrainian government website. The U.N. Human Rights Office has classified Russia's illegal transfer of children into its territories as a war crime.
In response to a question on abortion, Pope Francis said that a fetus is a "living being, I'm not saying a person, but a living being."
"Is it licit to eliminate a living being to resolve a problem?" he asked. "Is it licit to hire a hitman to resolve a problem?"
On abuse, the pope said that priestly celibacy "has nothing to do" with the sexual abuse of minors by the clergy, since, he said, abuse is committed at high rates within families and schools by married persons too.
Vaqueiro, who served earlier in the evening as master of ceremonies at Pope Francis' meeting with members of Scholas Occurentes, a Vatican-related educational initiative, asked the pope what still needed to be done to realize the reforms discussed by the cardinals in the lead up to the conclave that elected him pope just over 10 years ago.
"Everything," Pope Francis said. "It's curious, as you do things, you realize everything that still needs to be done; it's something insatiable."
Posted on 05/25/2023 07:30 AM (USCCB News Releases)
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- While the release of the working document for the Synod of Bishops on synodality is expected sometime in early June, Pope Francis tried to respond to some of the questions and concerns about the synod process that already have been raised.
Meeting at the Vatican May 25 with members of the Italian bishops' conference and the people they chose to coordinate work for an Italian synod, the pope gave a succinct description of what he means by a "synodal church":
"Every baptized person is called to actively participate in the life and in the mission of the church, starting from the specifics of one's own vocation, in relationship with others and with the charisms given by the Spirit for the good of all. We need Christian communities in which space is enlarged, where everyone can feel at home, where pastoral structures and means foster not the creation of small groups, but the joy of being and feeling co-responsible."
Evangelization is at stake, he said. "A church weighed down by structures, bureaucracy and formalism will struggle to walk in history at the pace of the Spirit, meeting the men and women of our time."
"The great enemy of this process," he said, "is fear."
Pope Francis said that as he entered the Vatican audience hall for the meeting, someone -- using an Argentinian phrase that is not very polite, nor is its translation in Italian, he said -- told him that the whole synod process is creating a mess.
"Think about the apostles on the morning of Pentecost," the pope said. If the synod is "a blank," he said to laughter, "Pentecost morning was even worse. It was worse. Total disorder. And who provoked that mess? The Holy Spirit. He's good at creating disorder to move people. But the same Spirit also provoked harmony."
"Don't be afraid when there is disorder provoked by the Spirit," Pope Francis said. One need fear "only when it is provoked by our selfishness or the spirit of evil."
Speaking just a few days before Pentecost, the pope urged everyone, but especially the fearful, to pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, who opens people to listen to others, who makes dialogue fruitful, enlightens discernment and guides choices and decisions.
Pope Francis told the bishops and representatives that he would try to respond to their questions about "the priorities for the church in relation to society, about how to overcome resistance and concerns, on the involvement of priests and lay people, and on the experiences of marginalization."
Church unity and shared responsibility are essential, he said. An "always lurking" temptation is to rely on "a few 'qualified actors' who carry out pastoral activity" while the rest of the faithful stand by and watch.
"Sometimes one gets the impression that religious communities, chanceries and parishes are still too self-referential," Pope Francis said.
"There seems to creep in, somewhat covertly, a kind of "defensive neoclericalism' -- clericalism is a perversion," he said. It is "generated by a fearful attitude, by complaints that the world does not understand us anymore, that young people are lost and by a need to reiterate and make one's influence felt."
Obviously, the pope said, a "synodal church," one where all are welcome, where all share the mission and contribute their prayer, time and talents will have an impact on those the Catholic Church still believes have been chosen by God and given special gifts to lead and to discern.
"We must ask the Holy Spirit to make us understand and experience how to be ordained ministers and how to exercise ministry in this time and in this church: never without the Other with a capital 'O,' but also never without others with whom we share the journey."
"This applies to the bishops, whose ministry cannot do without that of priests and deacons" and to priests and deacons who must work with each other and the faithful, the pope said. "But this is also true for the entire community of the baptized, in which each one walks with other brothers and sisters in the school of the one Gospel and in the light of the Spirit."
Promoting co-responsibility in the church, he said, is not simply a matter of finding a new way to "distribute power."
Rather, he said, it means learning how to recognize the gifts of each person, particularly those "who still struggle to see their presence recognized in the church, those who do not have a voice, those whose voices are drowned out or even silenced or ignored, those who feel inadequate perhaps because they have difficult or complex life paths (and) are sometimes almost 'excommunicated' a priori."
Part of the goal of synodality, he said, is to "let God's heart shine through -- a heart open to all and for all."
Pope Francis said those already active in the church need to remember the parable of the wedding feast from Matthew 22. "When none of the invited guests show up, what does that gentleman say? 'Go to the crossroads and call everyone.' Everyone: sick, healthy, righteous, sinners, everyone, everyone."
"We should ask ourselves how much space we make and how much we really listen in our communities to the voices of young people, women, the poor, those who are disappointed, those who have been hurt in life and are angry with the church," the pope said. "As long as their presence remains sporadic in ecclesial life overall, the church will not be synodal, it will be a church of the few."
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Posted on 05/24/2023 07:30 AM (USCCB News Releases)
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christians should pray on Pentecost that the Holy Spirit would give them the courage and strength to share the Gospel, Pope Francis said.
"No matter how difficult the situation may be -- and indeed, at times it may seem there is no room for the Gospel message -- we must not give up and we must not forsake pursuing what is essential in our Christian life, namely evangelization," the pope said May 24, the Wednesday before Pentecost.
Using the example of St. Andrew Kim Taegon, the 19th-century Korean martyr, Pope Francis continued his weekly general audience talks about the "zeal" to evangelize.
With thousands of visitors and pilgrims -- including bands, flag twirlers and dancers -- gathered in a sunny St. Peter's Square, the pope introduced his talk about St. Andrew by pointing out how Christianity was introduced to Korea 200 years before St. Andrew by laypeople who had heard the Gospel proclaimed in China and then shared it when they returned home.
"Baptized laypeople were the ones who spread the faith. There were no priests," the pope said. "Would we be able to do something like that?"
Ordained in 1844, St. Andrew Kim Taegon was the first Korean-born priest and ministered at a time of anti-Christian persecution.
Pope Francis told the story of how when the saint was still a seminarian, he was sent to welcome missionaries who snuck into the country from abroad. After walking far through the snow, "he fell to the ground exhausted, risking unconsciousness and freezing. At that point, he suddenly heard a voice, 'Get up, walk!'"
"This experience of the great Korean witness makes us understand a very important aspect of apostolic zeal: namely, the courage to get back up when one falls," the pope said.
"Each one of us might think, 'But how can I evangelize,'" he said. Following the example of the "greats" of evangelization history, each Christian can find a way to witness to the Gospel -- "talk about Jesus" -- in his or her family, among friends and in one's local community.
"Let us prepare to receive the Holy Spirit this coming Pentecost, asking for that grace, apostolic grace and courage, the grace to evangelize, to always carry forward the message of Jesus."
Posted on 05/24/2023 07:30 AM (USCCB News Releases)
WASHINGTON - Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of the Most Reverend Michael J. Fitzgerald, 75, from the Office of Auxiliary Bishop of Philadelphia.
The resignation was publicized in Washington on May 24, 2023, by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States.
Posted on 05/23/2023 07:30 AM (USCCB News Releases)
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis will visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Fátima during his trip to Portugal for World Youth Day 2023, the Vatican said.
In a statement May 22, Matteo Bruni, director of the Holy See Press Office, confirmed that the pope will travel to Lisbon Aug. 2-6 and will visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Fátima Aug. 5.
Pope Francis, who repeatedly has said he intended to be in Lisbon for World Youth Day, had not spoken publicly about also going to Fátima in August. In October 2022, he publicly registered to attend World Youth Day as a pilgrim with the help of two Portuguese university students after praying the Angelus from the window of the papal apartments overlooking St. Peter's Square.
The Marian shrine at Fátima is connected to Pope Francis' public prayer appeals for an end the war in Ukraine. In March 2022, just over one month after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the pope consecrated both countries to Mary's immaculate heart, praying before a statue of Our Lady of Fátima in St. Peter's Basilica. Before her death, Sister Lúcia dos Santos, one of the three Portuguese children who claimed to see apparitions of Our Lady of Fátima in 1917, had said Mary requested that Russia be consecrated to her immaculate heart by a reigning pope to bring peace to the world.
Previous popes had consecrated Russia to Mary's immaculate heart in various forms but had never mentioned the country by name as Pope Francis did in 2022.
In 2017, Pope Francis celebrated Mass at the shrine to mark 100 years since the apparitions of Our Lady of Fátima as part of a quick trip to Portugal that lasted just over 24 hours. He canonized Francisco Marto and Jacinta Marto, the cousins of Sister dos Santos, who also saw Mary at Fátima. Francisco in 1919 at the age of 10, while Jacinta succumbed to her illness in 1920 at the age of 9. Sister dos Santos died in 2005 at the age of 97.
Posted on 05/23/2023 07:30 AM (USCCB News Releases)
WASHINGTON - The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) will gather for the 2023 Spring Plenary Assembly in Orlando, June 14-16. The general sessions will be on June 15 and 16 and will be livestreamed on the USCCB website.
The bishops will spend time in prayer and fraternal dialogue with one another prior to the commencement of the general sessions. The public portion of the assembly will begin with an address by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Papal Nuncio to the United States. The bishops will also hear from Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, who serves as Conference president.
During the plenary, the bishops will receive updates on the Eucharistic Revival and on the ongoing preparations for the National Eucharistic Congress in 2024, as well as the participation in World Youth Day with Pope Francis in Lisbon this August.
The meeting agenda is not yet finalized and therefore, subject to change, but is expected to include updates, discussions, and votes on a number of items including:
Public sessions of the assembly will be held on the mornings of June 15 and 16, and livestreamed at: www.usccb.org/meetings -- news updates, vote totals, texts of addresses and presentations, and other materials will be posted to this page. Those wishing to follow the meeting on social media are invited to Twitter (@USCCB) as well as on Facebook (www.facebook.com/usccb) and Instagram (https://instagram.com/usccb) and look for #USCCB23.
Posted on 05/23/2023 07:30 AM (USCCB News Releases)
WASHINGTON - Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Paul J. Bradley, 77, from the pastoral governance of the Diocese of Kalamazoo, and has appointed Reverend Monsignor Edward M. Lohse, as Bishop-elect of Kalamazoo. Bishop-elect Lohse is a priest of the Diocese of Erie, and currently serves as vicar general and moderator of the curia for the Diocese of Erie, and as pastor of Saint Julia parish in Erie, Pennsylvania.
The resignation and appointment were publicized in Washington, D.C. on May 23, 2023, by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States.
Monsignor Lohse was born November 23, 1961, in Erie, Pennsylvania. He received a Bachelor’s degree in history (1984) from Gannon University in Erie, as well as a Master of Divinity (1988) and a Doctor of Divinity (2010) from Saint Vincent Seminary in Latrobe. He received a License in Canon Law (2002) and a Doctorate in Canon Law (2015) from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He was ordained to the priesthood on April 21, 1989. He was named a Chaplain to His Holiness with the title of Monsignor in 2015.
Bishop-elect Lohse’s assignments after ordination include: parochial vicar at Saint Thomas the Apostle parish in Corry (1989-1990); a member of the faculty and campus ministry at Central Catholic Junior-Senior High School (now Dubois Central Catholic School) in DuBois (1990-1995); and a member of the adjunct faculty (1993 and 1996) and acting university chaplain (1997-1999) at Gannon University in Erie. He has also served the Diocese of Erie in a number of roles, including director of the diocesan vocations office (1995-2000), vice chancellor (2001-2007), and chancellor (2007-2010).
From 2010-2015, he served as an official in the Dicastery for the Clergy at the Vatican, and as an adjunct faculty member at the Pontifical North American College (2011-2015) in Rome. Upon his return to the Diocese of Erie in 2016, he served as episcopal vicar for canonical services until 2017 when he was named vicar general and moderator of the curia, and as the director for the diocesan Office for the Protection of Children and Youth, which are roles he currently holds.
Bishop-elect Lohse has been a member of the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors (1995-2000 and 2002-2010); the Canon Law Society of America (2002 to present); a member of the Board of Regents at Saint Vincent Seminary (2003-2010); a member of the Cathedral Preparatory School’s Academic Excellence Foundation (2003-2009); and a member of the Board of Trustees at Gannon University (2016 to present). He speaks Italian and German.
The Diocese of Kalamazoo is comprised of 5,337 square miles in the State of Michigan and has a total population of 966,198, of which 77,819 are Catholic.
Posted on 05/22/2023 07:30 AM (USCCB News Releases)
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Ascension of the Lord into heaven means Jesus is there with his Father to intercede on behalf of the faithful, Pope Francis said.
"He did not leave us alone. In fact, before ascending, he told us, as the Gospel says today, 'I am with you always, until the end of the age.' (Mt 28:20). He is always with us, looking at us," the pope said May 21, when dioceses in Italy and many parts of the world were celebrating the feast of the Ascension. The Vatican marked the feast May 18.
"He is in a better 'place' -- before his Father and ours -- to intercede on our behalf," the pope said. "Intercession is fundamental. This faith helps us, too -- not to lose hope, not to get discouraged."
Pope Francis told about 25,000 people gathered in St. Peter's Square that he often imagines Jesus standing before the Father "showing him his wounds (and saying), 'This is what I suffered for humanity: Do something!' He shows the Father the price of our redemption. The Father is moved."
After reciting the midday "Regina Coeli" prayer, Pope Francis noted that World Communications Day was also being celebrated May 21.
The theme, "Speaking with the heart," refers to a "heart that moves us toward open and receptive communication," the pope said.
"I greet the journalists, communication professionals, thanking them for their work. And I hope that they might always work at the service of the truth and for the common good," he said, leading those gathered to offer a round of applause for all journalists.
The pope also reminded people that Laudato Si' Week was being celebrated May 21-28. This year's theme is "Hope for the Earth, Hope for Humanity."
He invited everyone to work together in caring for the common home of creation. "There is such a need to put our capabilities and creativity together."