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Ecumenism and papal primacy: Vatican releases status report on dialogues

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The reason why the 2024 edition of the Vatican yearbook has re-inserted "Patriarch of the West" as one of the historical titles of the pope appears to be a response to concerns expressed by Orthodox leaders and theologians.

For months after the yearbook, the Annuario Pontificio, was released, the Vatican press office said it had no explanation for the reappearance of the title, which Pope Benedict XVI had dropped in 2006.

But new documents from the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity place the change squarely in the middle of a broad discussion among all mainline Christian churches on the papacy and the potential role of the bishop of Rome in a more united Christian community.

Members of the dicastery proposed that "a clearer distinction be made between the different responsibilities of the Pope, especially between his ministry as head of the Catholic Church and his ministry of unity among all Christians, or more specifically between his patriarchal ministry in the Latin Church and his primatial ministry in the communion of Churches."

For the Orthodox, the papal title of "Patriarch of the West" is an acknowledgement that his direct jurisdiction does not extend to their traditional territories in the East.

Armenian Orthodox Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, the representative of the Armenian Apostolic Church to the Holy See, told reporters June 13, "The recent reinstatement of the title of 'Patriarch of the West' among the pope's historical titles is important, since this title, inherited from the first millennium, evidences his brotherhood with the other patriarchs."

Cardinal Kurt Koch
Cardinal Kurt Koch, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, and Cardinal Mario Grech, secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops, lead the a press presentation of the text, "The Bishop of Rome. Primacy and Synodality in the Ecumenical Dialogues and in the Responses to the Encyclical 'Ut unum Sint,'" at the Vatican June 13, 2024. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

Cardinal Kurt Koch, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, said that "when Pope Benedict XVI canceled this title and when Pope Francis introduced it again, they did comment" on why they made the decision. "But I am convinced they did not want to do something against anyone, but both wanted to do something ecumenically respectful."

Twenty-nine years ago, St. John Paul II called for an ecumenical reflection on how the pope as bishop of Rome could exercise his ministry "as a service of love recognized by all concerned."

Already in 1967 St. Paul VI had recognized that the papacy was "undoubtedly the gravest obstacle on the path of ecumenism."

Following St. John Paul's ecumenical invitation in 1995, studies were conducted, meetings were held and reports were made.

The pace picked up with the pontificate of Pope Francis and his frequent references to being the bishop of Rome, his reliance on an international Council of Cardinals to advise him on issues of governance and his continuing efforts to reform and expand the Synod of Bishops and the practice of "synodality."

Over the past three decades, the Catholic Church's ecumenical partners responded to St. John Paul's request by questioning things like papal infallibility and claims of universal jurisdiction, yet many also expressed support for trying to find an acceptable way for the bishop of Rome to serve as a point of unity for all Christians.

According to members of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, there has been "a significant and growing theological convergence" both on the need for a universal figure at the service of Christian unity as well as for Christian churches and communities, including the Catholic Church, to learn from each other's styles and structures for consultation, governance and leadership.

Staff of the dicastery have spent years summarizing the reflections and released their work June 13 as a "study document" titled, "The Bishop of Rome. Primacy and Synodality in the Ecumenical Dialogues and in the Responses to the Encyclical 'Ut unum sint.'" The publication also included a series of proposals titled, "Towards an Exercise of Primacy in the 21st Century," which was approved in 2021 by the cardinals and bishops who are members of the dicastery.

Cardinal Koch wrote in the preface to the study document that Pope Francis approved its publication.

The role a pope could play in a re-united Christian church obviously involves practical considerations about power and authority and how they are exercised. But for the ecumenical dialogues, the first considerations are tradition -- what was the role of the bishop of Rome in the early centuries before Christianity split -- and theological, including what is the church and how is it different from other kinds of organizations.

The document approved by dicastery members said the dialogues have "enabled a deeper analysis of some essential ecclesiological themes such as: the existence and interdependence of primacy and synodality at each level of the Church; the understanding of synodality as a fundamental quality of the whole Church, including the active participation of all the faithful; and the distinction between and interrelatedness of collegiality and synodality," that is, between the shared responsibility of bishops and the shared responsibility of all the baptized.

Cardinal Mario Grech
Cardinal Mario Grech, secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops, speaks during the press presentation of "The Bishop of Rome. Primacy and Synodality in the Ecumenical Dialogues and in the Responses to the Encyclical 'Ut unum Sint'" at the Vatican June 13, 2024. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

One crucial issue for many Christians is papal infallibility; in fact, "infallibility" is cited 56 times in the documents released June 13.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, "Christ endowed the Church's shepherds with the charism of infallibility in matters of faith and morals. The exercise of this charism takes several forms: The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful -- who confirms his brethren in the faith -- he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals."

Catholic and other theologians and bishops, the new documents said, have called for "a Catholic 're-reception,' 're-interpretation,' 'official interpretation,' 'updated commentary' or even 'rewording' of the teachings of Vatican I," the council held in 1869-70 that solemnly proclaimed papal infallibility under some circumstances.

Emphasizing those limited circumstances does not seem to suffice. For example, the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission in 1981 said, "The ascription to the bishop of Rome of infallibility under certain conditions has tended to lend exaggerated importance to all his statements."

One thing everyone involved in ecumenical dialogue agrees on, though, is that the unity of the early Christian communities was expressed by their leaders and members visiting one another, praying together and working together. The new documents called for those efforts to continue and to grow.


Spirit and Scripture combined cast light on life's problems, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christians should read Scripture often, every day if possible, and look to the Spirit if reading the Gospel ever feels dry, Pope Francis said.

Even when one has repeatedly read a Scripture passage "without particular emotion," at the right time and in an atmosphere of faith and prayer ,"that text suddenly becomes illuminated, speaks to us, casts light on a problem we are experiencing, makes clear God's will for us in a certain situation," the pope said during his June 12 general audience.

"To what is this change due, if not an illumination of the Holy Spirit?" he asked. "The words of Scripture, under the action of the Spirit, become luminous."

To begin his audience, the pope rode into St. Peter's Square on the popemobile to the sound of bagpipes and drums played by the 38th (Irish) Brigade and the Royal Irish Regiment of the British army. The brigade visited the Vatican to mark the 80th anniversary of the liberation of Rome from Nazi occupation and its June 12, 1944, audience with Pope Pius XII.

A man plays a bagpipe.
A member of a delegation from the British Army's Royal Irish Regiment and 38 (Irish) Brigade plays a bagpipe before Pope Francis arrives in St. Peter's Square for his weekly general audience at the Vatican June 12, 2024. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

Continuing his catechesis series on the Holy Spirit, Pope Francis reflected on the role of the Spirit in revelation, which he said not only inspired Scripture but "explains it and makes it eternally alive and active."

He said that the church "is nourished by reading Sacred Scripture, that is, reading done under the guidance of the Holy Spirit who inspired it."

At the center of the Gospel is the event of Christ's death and resurrection, the pope said, which "unveils all the hidden mysteries and offers the true key to the Bible."

"The death and resurrection of Christ is the light that illuminates the whole Bible and illuminates our life," he said.

Pope Francis encouraged Christians to dedicate time each day to the practice of "lectio divina," reading and meditating on the Gospel, and recommended they carry a pocket-sized copy of the Gospel with them to read in moments throughout the day.

Yet the best way to engage with the Gospel is through the liturgy, he said, in which "we see how an event or teaching given in the Old Testament finds its full realization in the Gospel of Christ."

Pope Francis speaks during his general audience.
Pope Francis speaks to visitors in St. Peter's Square during his general audience at the Vatican June 12, 2024. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

Homilies are then meant to transfer the Gospel reading "from the book to life," the pope said, telling priests to keep their homilies under eight minutes.

"After that time, people lose attention, people fall asleep and they're right" to do so, he said. Pope Francis noted that priests often "talk so much and no one understands what they're talking about," and he encouraged them to communicate to their congregants a thought, a feeling and a proposal for concrete action in their homilies.

In Gospel passages read during Mass or in the Liturgy of the Hours there is always a word or message "intended especially for us," the pope said. "Embraced in our hearts, it can illuminate our day and animate our prayer. It is a matter of not letting it fall away."

In his greetings to visitors, Pope Francis asked for prayers for Ukraine, Palestine, Israel, Myanmar and the "many countries that are at war."

"War is always, from day one, a defeat," he said. "Let us pray for peace, that the Lord may give us strength to always fight for peace."

Pope to priests: Keep homilies short!

Pope to priests: Keep homilies short!


A look at Pope Francis' advice to priests about homilies June 12.

Pope encourages priests to reach out to those who are 'invisible'

ROME (CNS) -- Pope Francis encouraged priests to seek out those who are "invisible" in society and he warned against "ideologies" in the church.

According to Italian news reports, one of the ideologies he specified was a gay culture, referring to it, however, by using the same derogatory slang term in Italian that he reportedly used in a closed-door meeting with members of the Italian bishops' conference in May when describing some seminaries as being marked by a gay culture. 

pope priests rome
Pope Francis meets with a group of priests ministering in the Diocese of Rome for a dialogue at the Pontifical Salesian University in Rome June 11, 2024. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

During a closed-door meeting June 11 with about 160 priests from the Diocese of Rome at the Pontifical Salesian University, the pope said it would not be prudent to admit young men with homosexual tendencies to seminaries as candidates for the priesthood, according to the Italian news agencies, ANSA and Adnkronos, citing unnamed individuals who attended the meeting with the pope.

These young men are "good kids," but they will encounter difficulties that will then show up in the exercise of their ministry, the pope said, sources told the two agencies.

The pope was not condemning gay people, and he reiterated that the church is open to everyone, ANSA reported.

What he was warning against was a kind of "lobby" that turns a homosexual lifestyle into an ideology, sources told Adnkronos. ANSA reported sources said the pope used the derogatory term when talking about the Vatican, saying that "in the Vatican there is an air of" a gay culture, and that it is not easy to guard against this trend.

The meeting at the Salesian University included priests ordained 11-39 years ago, and it was the third and last of a series of meetings with clergy from the Diocese of Rome. The pope met May 14 with some 70 priests who have been ordained 40 years or more, and he met May 29 with priests ordained 10 years or less. 

pope priests rome
Pope Francis speaks with a group of priests ministering in the Diocese of Rome during a meeting at the Pontifical Salesian University in Rome June 11, 2024. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

The Vatican press office said the pope "spoke about the danger of ideologies in the church and returned to the issue of the admission into seminaries of people with homosexual tendencies, reiterating the need to welcome and accompany them in the church and the prudential recommendation of the Dicastery for the Clergy regarding their admission to a seminary."

Among the many issues discussed during the question-and-answer dialogue with priests, the press office said, was the need for parishes to expand their welcome "to everyone, everyone, everyone!"

In response to comments about addressing people's suffering, the pope said people should be accompanied with closeness, compassion and tenderness, which are three qualities of God.

The importance of pastoral care in hospitals and the difficulties of life in the city of Rome, such as the housing crisis, the spread of drugs and loneliness, were also discussed, the press office said.

"Our job as priests is to go and look for these people" who are "invisible" in society because "the church is either prophetic or it is clerical: it is up to us to choose," he said.

Responding to the housing crisis, the pope invited religious congregations that own buildings and facilities to be generous, the press hall said. According to ANSA, the pope had been criticizing religious who, despite their vow of poverty, are focused on making money and are speculating on rent prices with the upcoming Jubilee. 

pope reina
Pope Francis listens to a question during a meeting with priests ministering in the Diocese of Rome at the Pontifical Salesian University in Rome June 11, 2024. Seated next to the pope is Rome Auxiliary Bishop Baldo Reina. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Assets are for the community and not for speculation, the pope reportedly said, according to ANSA.

According to the Vatican press office, the dialogue between the pope and priests also touched on the tragedy of the wars underway and the huge amounts of money nations spend on weapons and birth control and that individuals spend on veterinary care and cosmetic surgery.

For this reason, more should be done to promote the church's social teachings, the common good and peace, the pope said.

The pope thanked the priests for their work and urged them to continue to listen to all those who turn to them and to engage in community discernment.

Rome Auxiliary Bishop Michele Di Tolve, who was present at the meeting, told Vatican News that the pope invited priests "to be strong and meek at the same time, to let the parish feel close to people, like a home among homes and where they can relive an experience of being a family."

Under olive tree planted as sign of peace, pope begs God to help Holy Land

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Sitting in the Vatican Gardens with the dome of St. Peter's Basilica as a backdrop, Pope Francis told cardinals and diplomats, including the ambassadors of Israel and Palestine, "Every day I pray that this war will finally end."

With a representative of Rome's Jewish community and a representative of the city's Muslim community in attendance June 7, the pope repeated his call for a cease-fire, his appeal to Hamas to release all the hostages it kidnapped Oct. 7 and his plea that Israel protect civilians in Gaza and allow humanitarian aid to reach them.

The prayer service marked the 10th anniversary of Pope Francis and Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople praying for peace in the Holy Land with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the same spot in the Vatican Gardens.

In 2014 they had planted an olive tree; now it towered over the pope.

"We wish to ask the Lord to give continued growth to the olive tree we planted on that day, which has already become strong and flourishing because it has been sheltered from the wind and watered with care," the pope said. "Likewise, we must ask God that peace may spring forth in the heart of every person, in every people and nation, in every corner of the earth, protected from the winds of war and nourished by those who daily strive to live in fraternity."

Pope with ambassadors in the Vatican Gardens
Pope Francis stands with Raphael Schutz, the Israeli ambassador to the Holy See, Issa Kassissieh, the Palestinian ambassador to the Holy See, and representatives of Rome's Jewish and Muslim communities near an olive tree planted 10 years ago during a similar prayer service for peace in the Vatican Gardens June 7, 2024. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

Holding a green watering can, the pope was joined at the tree by: Raphael Schutz, the Israeli ambassador to the Holy See; Issa Kassissieh, Palestinian ambassador to the Holy See; Rabbi Alberto Funaro of Rome's Jewish community; and Abdellah Redouane, secretary-general of the Islamic Cultural Center in Rome.

Rabbi Funaro told reporters that events like the pope's prayer service "somehow help us to go on. If there were one of these initiatives every day, who knows what could happen. We are all here in hope."

In his brief address, Pope Francis said he was thinking of all the people suffering in the Holy Land today.

"I think of how urgent it is that from the rubble of Gaza a decision to stop the weapons will finally arise, and therefore I ask that there be a ceasefire," he said. "I think of the families and of the Israeli hostages and ask that they be released as soon as possible."

"I think of the Palestinian population and ask that they be protected and receive all necessary humanitarian aid," he continued. "I think of the many who are displaced due to the fighting and ask that their homes be rebuilt soon so that they can return to them in peace."

The pope said he also was thinking of "those Palestinians and Israelis of good will who, amid tears and suffering, continue to hope for the coming of a new day and strive to bring forth the dawn of a peaceful world where all peoples 'shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.'"

Repeating the Vatican's longstanding position on the region, he encouraged everyone to work for "a lasting peace, where the State of Palestine and the State of Israel can live side by side, breaking down the walls of enmity and hatred."

And, he added, "we must all cherish Jerusalem so that it will become the city of fraternal encounter among Christians, Jews and Muslims, protected by a special internationally guaranteed status."

Pope Francis leads prayer in Vatican Gardens
Pope Francis speaks to cardinals and diplomats before praying for peace in the Holy Land during a ceremony in the Vatican Gardens June 7, 2024. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

At the same time, Pope Francis said, "peace is not made only by written agreements or by human and political compromises. It is born from transformed hearts and arises when each of us has encountered and been touched by God's love, which dissolves our selfishness, shatters our prejudices and grants us the taste and joy of friendship, fraternity and mutual solidarity."

"There can be no peace if we do not let God himself first disarm our hearts, making them hospitable, compassionate and merciful -- God is hospitable, compassionate and merciful," he said.

Pope Francis then read the same prayer for peace he had read 10 years ago in the presence of the Orthodox patriarch and the presidents of Israel and Palestine.

"Lord God of peace, hear our prayer," he said. "We have tried so many times and over so many years to resolve our conflicts by our own powers and by the force of our weapons. How many moments of hostility and darkness have we experienced; how much blood has been shed; how many lives have been shattered; how many hopes have been buried. But our efforts have been in vain. Now, Lord, come to our aid!"


Rome's true nature is to be welcoming, caring for all, pope says

ROME (CNS) -- Rome is unique and has a vocation as a universal city, Pope Francis said.

Rome has "a universal spirit" that aims to be at the service of charity, hospitality and welcome, he told the city's mayor and government officials in Rome's City Hall. 

pope city hall
Pope Francis delivers his speech in the Julius Caesar Hall during his visit to Rome's City Hall June 10, 2024. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

"Pilgrims, tourists, migrants, those in serious difficulty, the poorest, the lonely, the sick, the imprisoned and the excluded are the most authentic witnesses of this spirit," which is why the pope will be opening a holy door in a prison for the Holy Year 2025, he said in his speech in the city's Julius Caesar Hall June 10.

Authority is only fully realized "when it serves everyone, when it uses its legitimate power to meet the needs of the citizens, particularly the weakest and the least," he said. This applies not only to political figures, but also to priests and bishops, who must be "close to the people of God in order to serve them, to accompany them." 

pope forum
Pope Francis and Rome's Mayor Roberto Gualtieri overlook the Roman Forum from the Campidoglio balcony during the pope's visit to Rome's City Hall June 10, 2024. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Making his second official visit to Rome's City Hall five years after his first, Pope Francis was accompanied by Rome Mayor Roberto Gualtieri from his vehicle to look out over the Roman Forum from an archway at the city government's headquarters.

Ancient Roman culture undoubtedly exhibited a number of "good values," the pope told city officials. But it was also seeking something more and "Mount Olympus was no longer enough," referring to where the Greeks and Romans believed their pagan gods lived.

"A larger and deeper message of fraternity, love, hope and liberation" was found in Christ and his Gospel, he said. And the Christian faith "would in time permeate and transform the lives of people and institutions themselves."

Institutions and customs evolved "to a higher level, abandoning little by little, for example, … slavery," which even educated and empathetic people had seen as natural and as a given.

Slavery is a very significant example of how "even refined civilizations can present cultural elements that are so ingrained in the mentality of people and society as a whole that they are no longer perceived as contrary to the dignity of the human being," the pope said.

This also happens today, he said, "when, almost unconsciously, we sometimes risk being selective and partial in the defense of human dignity, marginalizing or discarding certain categories of people, who end up finding themselves without adequate protection."

The pope expressed his hope that "Rome continue to manifest its true nature, a welcoming, hospitable, generous and noble face."

"The enormous influx of pilgrims, tourists and migrants into the city, with all that it entails in terms of organization, could be seen as a burden, an obstacle that hinders the normal flow of things. In reality, all of this is Rome, its uniqueness in the world, its honor, its great attraction and its responsibility toward Italy, the church and the human family," he said. 

pope campidoglio
Visitors gather in Campidoglio Square as Pope Francis and Rome's Mayor Roberto Gualtieri greet them from the loggia of the senatorial building during the pope's visit to Rome's City Hall June 10, 2024. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

"The immense treasure of culture and history lying in the hills of Rome is the honor and obligation of its citizenry and leaders, and it expects to be properly valued and respected," he said.

As the city prepares to host the Holy Year 2025, it will attract even more people of faith for "a prayerful and penitential pilgrimage" and tourists "who come to admire its immense treasure of works of art and the grandiose traces of past centuries," he said.

In fact, "the upcoming Jubilee can also have a positive impact on the very face of the city, improving its decorum and making public services more efficient, not only in the center but fostering a connection between the center and the outskirts," he said.

"That is why I like to go and visit the outlying parishes, so that they feel that their bishop is close to them," he said. 

pope guest book
Pope Francis signs the guest book during his visit to Rome's City Hall June 10, 2024. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

The pope also signed the guest book quoting from the Aeneid by the Roman poet, Virgil, with "et sublato patre montem petivi" (carrying my father, I took to the hills). The verse, which the pope refers to often, describes Troy's hero, Aeneas, leaving his sacked city with his father and son -- representing his past and future -- to eventually settle in Italy, south of Rome.

With this decision to leave Troy, the pope wrote, referring to the Roman legend, "Rome was born, born from afar, born on a journey."

Pope champions Rome's universal spirit at Campidoglio

Pope champions Rome's universal spirit at Campidoglio

Pope Francis visited the Campidoglio, the historic center of Rome's government, where he was welcomed by Rome's mayor and other city officials.

Religious Freedom Week to be Observed June 22-29

WASHINGTON - The annual observance of Religious Freedom Week takes place June 22–29. It begins with the feast day of Ss. Thomas More and John Fisher, includes the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, and ends with the feast of Ss. Peter and Paul. The theme this year is “Called to the Fullness of Dignity.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) offers the faithful daily topics addressing different aspects of religious liberty for prayer, reflection, and action, which may be found at www.usccb.org/ReligiousFreedomWeek. Building on this year’s Annual Report, Religious Freedom Week highlights concerns about attacks on houses of worship. As the Committee for Religious Liberty stated in its Report, “There is no greater threat to religious liberty than for one’s house of worship to become a place of danger, and the country sadly finds itself in a place where that danger is real.”

Religious Freedom Week also calls attention to threats to Catholic ministries that serve immigrants. In recent years, Christian services to migrants have faced aggressive accusations by both media personalities and political leaders seeking to advance a certain narrative about current immigration trends. The attacks on both sacred spaces and ministries to migrants reflect the political and cultural polarization that has come to characterize so much of American life. Religious Freedom Week encourages Catholics do their part to promote civility by recognizing the dignity of all people and inviting others to do the same.

Once again, the USCCB Committee for Religious Liberty, in collaboration with the Secretariat of Catholic Education and Our Sunday Visitor Institute, hosted a religious liberty essay contest. Contestants were asked to share the story of a witness to freedom—a story of the people who inspire us. The top essays from the competition will be published during Religious Freedom Week at www.usccb.org/ReligiousFreedomWeek.

Through prayer, education, and public action during Religious Freedom Week, the faithful can promote the essential right of religious freedom for Catholics and for those of all faiths.

To connect with the USCCB’s Committee for Religious Liberty, text FREEDOM to 84576 and sign up for “First Freedom News,” the Committee for Religious Liberty’s monthly newsletter.


A Christian community listens to kids, accompanies the elderly, pope says

ROME (CNS) -- Pope Francis led his "School of Prayer" outside on a concrete driveway leading to a series of parking garages under a 30-family condominium on the outskirts of Rome.

"The church begins to take shape in the community, seeking together, listening to the word of God, speaking well of each other," he told about 60 residents of the apartment building: children, teenagers, adults and older people. A group of women from Senegal, an Orthodox man and the district president were also present, Vatican News reported.

"What matters is respect for others, and with that respect you go forward and build up the church," making sure to include and accompany children and the elderly, he said during the visit June 6, a portion of which was released in video.

Pope Francis gestures as he speaks with families.
Pope Francis gestures as he speaks with families outside the parking garages of a condominium on the outskirts of Rome where he led his "School of Prayer" initiative June 6, 2024. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

"A parish where children are not listened to and where the old are blocked out is not a true Christian community," he said.

The pope's late afternoon visit to the families was not announced in advance by the Vatican and came as a big surprise to the residents, whose local parish is the Church of St. Brigid of Sweden in Rome's Palmarola neighborhood.

One woman rushed down the stairs fixing her hair, others were wearing house slippers, according to Vatican News.

The pope's white Fiat pulled onto the sloping driveway, which had a large metal gate that was eventually closed shut. He greeted the families and children from his wheelchair, and an aide handed out candy.

One woman told her small squirming toddler, "Look, look! Did you know that is Jesus' friend?"

Brown plastic chairs had been set up for the residents and an upholstered wooden armchair for the pope in the driveway which was enclosed by a large wall of cut rock and brick with pockets of vegetation sprouting out of the seams.

The visit was the third appointment of his "School of Prayer," a series of visits he has been making during the Year of Prayer in preparation for the Holy Year 2025. The visits are coordinated by the section of the Dicastery for Evangelization that is organizing the Holy Year.

The pope asked the residents if they had "any reflections or something nice" to share.

Pope Francis blesses a woman's child.
Pope Francis blesses a woman's unborn child while greeting families outside the parking garages of a condominium on the outskirts of Rome where he held his "School of Prayer" initiative June 6, 2024. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

One woman said how much she has appreciated his words, initiatives and presence. "From World Children's Day, your speeches, what we get is a father who leads a large community in small things, in true things."

"Seeing you here in front of a brick wall is the most moving thing," she said. "It makes us feel that you are part of our community. … This is the church of Christ; it is the church that is stripped down to be a human church, so thank you."

According to Vatican News, the pope spoke about the family, its challenges, its beauty and potential for the church and society, in a brief informal catechesis and in a 45-minute Q&A session.

"Let's defend the family, which is essential for raising children," he said, acknowledging the difficulties or "storms" families will face. ''If parents argue, it's normal, but they should make peace before the end of the day" and show that they do love each other.

Families should always use the three words that are essential for making a relationship work: "Sorry, please and thank you," he said.

"The children are watching us," he said. Parents who are separated should not bad-mouth each other and should teach their children about respect.

Always talk to your children, the pope told them. "Education happens through dialogue" and make sure they "understand that they can talk about everything."

"Life's lessons are learned at home," he said, "not from others who may teach who knows what."

Debt relief: Biblical jubilee concern is focus of Holy Year 2025, too

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In the Hebrew Scriptures, God commanded his people to observe a jubilee as a time to restore their relationships with God, with other people and with the land.

Especially since St. John Paul II proclaimed the Holy Year 2000, part of the Catholic Church's jubilee efforts to repair those relationships has included working for the forgiveness or just restructuring of the foreign debt of the world's poorest countries.

Proclaiming the Jubilee 2025, Pope Francis appealed to the world's wealthiest nations to "acknowledge the gravity of so many of their past decisions and determine to forgive the debts of countries that will never be able to repay them."

"If we really wish to prepare a path to peace in our world, let us commit ourselves to remedying the remote causes of injustice, settling unjust and unpayable debts, and feeding the hungry," the pope wrote in "Spes non Confundit" ("Hope Does Not Disappoint"), his bull proclaiming the Holy Year.

But resolving the debt crisis, its impact on the poor and on the global economy, is not simple.

Jay Shambaugh greets Pope Francis
Pope Francis greets Jay Shambaugh, undersecretary for international affairs of the U.S. Treasury, at the beginning of a daylong meeting hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences to discuss the foreign debt crisis June 5, 2024, at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

The Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences gathered top academic experts, high-level policymakers, officials from multilateral institutions and religious leaders June 5 "to discuss these major problems for the global society and propose international reforms -- both those dealing with existing debt burdens and those that might make a recurrence of another debt crisis such as this less likely."

The United Nations "reports that 19 developing countries are spending more on debt interest than on education and 45 (are spending) more on debt interest than on health," the program notes for the gathering said.

Meeting the experts at the start of their conversations, Pope Francis told them after the COVID-19 pandemic, "we find ourselves facing a debt crisis that mainly affects the countries of the South of the world, generating misery and anguish, and depriving millions of people of the possibility of a decent future."

Servicing the debt means cutting government spending, but, the pope said, "no government can morally demand that its people suffer deprivations incompatible with human dignity."

Pope Francis called for "a new international financial architecture" and the creation of a "multinational mechanism, based on solidarity and harmony among peoples," one that promotes shared responsibility between lenders and borrowers but offers relief in times of crisis.

No one can have an easy conscience knowing there is "a multitude of brothers and sisters who are hungry and submerged in social exclusion and vulnerability," the pope said. "Letting this happen is a sin, a human sin; even if one does not have faith, it is a social sin."

Eric LeCompte at the Vatican
Eric LeCompte, executive director of the Jubilee USA Network, poses for a photo at the Vatican June 4, 2024. Jubilee USA Network is an alliance of faith-based development and debt-relief advocacy organizations. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

Eric LeCompte, executive director of Jubilee USA Network, an alliance of faith-based development and debt-relief advocacy organizations, was one of the speakers at the Vatican meeting.

Speaking to Catholic News Service ahead of the gathering, he said that in the Scriptures a jubilee "is about a continuing process to address inequities, a continuing process that protects all of us from having too much or too little."

Thanks to St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and all the religious and civic partners who came together to push for debt relief in the early 2000s, he said, the foundation was laid "for $130 billion in debt relief for developing countries; 55 million kids in Africa, who never would have seen the inside of a classroom, are going to school. We also changed how aid works, how accountability works. And we moved forward some very significant anti-corruption policies."

But then the pandemic struck.

As governments struggle to pay their debts, decades of progress in development have stalled or even been rolled back, poverty rates among women and children around the world are soaring, unemployment is high in the developing world and price increases -- especially for food and fuel -- are creating hardships even in the wealthiest countries. And all of that pushes migration.

The other financial issue that has become an urgent priority since the Holy Year 2000 is the cost associated with climate change and climate mitigation efforts, and on that count, Pope Francis has been a leading voice.

"One of the most shocking things that we found is that because of the crisis and because of the high debt payments, monies for climate mitigation and adaptation were wiped out in the developing world," LeCompte said.

In his formal convocation of Jubilee 2025, Pope Francis decried that as an injustice.

"A true 'ecological debt' exists," he said, since much of the environmental destruction in the world's poorest countries was caused by the world's wealthiest countries exploiting their natural resources and paying very little for them.

Allowing the Earth to rest and recover is a key part of God's commands for a jubilee year described in the Book of Leviticus and is part of the biblical formulation for restoring one's relationship with God and with one another.


On D-Day anniversary, pope says attacking peace is a grave sin

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Marking 80 years since some 4,400 Allied troops "heroically gave their lives" to the cause of freedom by storming the beach in Normandy, D-Day commemorations remind the world that disrupting peace in pursuit of worldly interests is a grave sin, Pope Francis said.

To pursue "ideological, nationalistic or economic ambitions" at the cost of peace "is a grave fault before humanity and history, a sin before God," he wrote in a message to Bishop Jacques Habert of Bayeux and Lisieux, whose diocese includes the beaches where Allied troops landed June 6, 1944.

The pope's message was read June 5 during an ecumenical prayer service at the cathedral of Bayeux. Princess Anne of Great Britain attended the service with the ambassadors to France from Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

A soldier prays.
Sgt. Kieran Quinn, a member of the British Royal Marines, prays during the International Military Pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in France May 25, 2024. (CNS photo/Flt. Lt. Luke Bluer)

In his message, the pope said it would be "pointless and hypocritical" to remember the Normandy landings without definitively condemning the "disaster" that was the Second World War with its widespread suffering and ruin.

While the memory of the war previously bolstered people's determination to avoid provoking another global conflict, "I note with sadness that this is no longer the case today and that humankind has a short memory," the pope wrote. "May this commemoration help us to recover it!"

The prospect of a wide-reaching conflict and the notion that "people are gradually becoming familiar with this unacceptable eventuality" is "worrying," the pope said.

"People want peace!" he wrote. "They want conditions of stability, security and prosperity in which everyone can fulfill their duties and destinies serenely."

The pope asked for prayers "for people who want war" and those who unnecessarily prolong wars or "cynically profit" from them. "May God enlighten their hearts and set before their eyes the trail of misfortune the provoke!" he wrote.

"Wanting peace is not cowardice," the pope wrote. "On the contrary it requires the greatest courage: the courage to know how to give up something."

Pope Francis prayed for the victims of wars past and present, asking that God welcome those who have died in conflict and help those who are suffering due to war today, particularly the poor, the elderly, women and children, "who are always the first victims of these tragedies."

Pope preparing document on Sacred Heart of Jesus to renew church, world

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis announced that he is preparing a document on the Sacred Heart of Jesus to "illuminate the path of ecclesial renewal, but also to say something significant to a world that seems to have lost its heart."

The document is expected to be released in September, he said, and will be part of ongoing celebrations marking the 350th anniversary of the first apparition of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. The celebrations began Dec. 27 and are scheduled to end June 27, 2025. 

pope speaks
Pope Francis speaks to visitors in St. Peter's Square during his general audience at the Vatican June 5, 2024. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

The pope made the announcement during his general audience in St. Peter's Square June 5. The Catholic Church traditionally dedicates the month of June to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the solemnity of the Sacred Heart will be celebrated June 7 this year.

The document will include reflections from "previous magisterial texts" and it will aim to "re-propose to the whole church this devotion laden with spiritual beauty. I believe it will do us much good to meditate on various aspects of the Lord's love," the pope said.

Meanwhile, in his main audience talk, Pope Francis continued a new series on the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the church, particularly in how the Holy Spirit leads God's people to meet Jesus, the source of Christian hope.

The Biblical name of the Holy Spirit is "ruach" in Hebrew, which means breath, wind or spirit, he said.

The image of wind expresses the power of the divine Spirit, he said, and Jesus highlighted its freedom to blow and go where it wants.

"The wind is the only thing that absolutely cannot be bridled, cannot be 'bottled up' or put in a box," he said. "To pretend to enclose the Holy Spirit in concepts, definitions, theses or treatises, as modern rationalism has sometimes attempted to do, is to lose it, nullify it or reduce it to the human spirit." 

Pope Francis greets visitors as he rides the popemobile around St. Peter's Square at the Vatican before his weekly general audience June 5, 2024. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

A similar temptation in the church is the attempt "to enclose the Holy Spirit in canons, institutions, definitions. The Spirit creates and animates institutions, but he himself cannot be 'institutionalized'" or turned into an object, the pope said.

The freedom Jesus offers with his Spirit is special, he said. It has nothing to do with the selfishness of being free to do what one wants, but it is "the freedom to freely do what God wants! Not freedom to do good or evil, but freedom to do good and do it freely, that is, by attraction, not compulsion. In other words, the freedom of children, not slaves."

True freedom is choosing to serve "in love and joy," he said. And it is "a commitment to grow in the truth revealed by Christ and to defend it before the world," he said in his greeting to Polish-speaking pilgrims.

Pope: What is true freedom?

Pope: What is true freedom?

A look at Pope Francis' general audience talk June 5, 2024.