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Risky papal behavior? Pope Francis calls interviews ‘a risk I want to take’

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Replying to questions and giving interviews are a “pastoral risk” Pope Francis said he is prepared to take, because it is the best way to know and respond to people’s real concerns.

“I know this can make me vulnerable, but it is a risk I want to take,” the pope wrote in the introduction to a new book collecting transcripts of question-and-answer sessions he has held all over the world.

Pope Francis gestures during a general audience talk last month in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The collection in Italian, “Adesso Fate le Vostre Domande” (“Now, Ask Your Questions”), was edited by Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro and scheduled for release Oct. 19. The pope’s introduction was published Oct. 17 in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

“I want a church that knows how to enter into people’s conversations, that knows how to dialogue,” Pope Francis wrote.

The model is the Gospel account of the risen Lord’s meeting with the disciples on the road to Emmaus. “The Lord interviews the disciples who are walking discouraged,” he said. “For me, the interview is part of this conversation the church is having with men and women today.”

The interviews and Q & A sessions “always have a pastoral value,” Pope Francis said, and are an important part of his ministry, just like inviting a small group of people to his early morning Mass each day.

The chapel of the Casa Santa Marta, where he lives, “is, let’s say, my parish. I need that communication with people.”

And, in interviews, the journalists often ask the questions that are on the minds of the faithful, he said.

The most regular appointment he has for responding to questions is on the flights back to Rome from his foreign trips when he holds a news conference with the journalists who travel with him.

“There, too, on those trips, I like to look people in the eye and respond to their questions sincerely,” he wrote. “I know that I have to be prudent, and I hope I am. I always pray to the Holy Spirit before I start listening to the questions and responding.”

His favorite interviews, he said, are with small, neighborhood newspapers and magazines. “There I feel even more at ease,” the pope said. “In fact, in those cases I really am listening to the questions and concerns of common people. I try to respond spontaneously, in a conversation I hope is understandable, and not with rigid formulas.”

“For me,” he said, “interviews are a dialogue, not a lesson.”

Even when the questions are submitted in advance, the pope said he does not prepare his answers. Watching the person ask the question and responding directly is important.

“Yes, I am afraid of being misinterpreted,” he said. “But, I repeat, I want to run this pastoral risk.”

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Priest finds hope amid violence that has killed millions in Congo

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Catholic News Service

This story contains a description of a horrible act of violence

QUEBEC CITY — For Father Gaston Ndaleghana Mumbere, the feast of the Assumption represents his hope for better tomorrows for Congo.

Father Gaston Ndaleghana Mumbere poses for a photo in Quebec City Aug. 10. In his recently published book, this 35-year-old Assumptionist priest describes the violence that plagues his home country. (CNS photo/Philippe Vaillancourt, Presence)

Father Gaston Ndaleghana Mumbere poses for a photo in Quebec City Aug. 10. In his recently published book, this 35-year-old Assumptionist priest describes the violence that plagues his home country. (CNS photo/Philippe Vaillancourt, Presence)

In his recently published book, this 35-year-old Assumptionist priest describes the violence that plagues his home country. But mostly, he writes to allow a people used to crying from under the rubble of chaos to speak once again.

Father Mumbere is from North Kivu, a Congolese province that, for 20 years, has been at the heart of a conflict that has killed up to 8 million people in the East African nation.

Sent to Quebec City by his religious order in 2009 to study theology, he eventually took up writing to tell of the Congolese drama. His French-language book, “La cloche ne sonnera plus a l’eglise de Butembo-Beni” (“The Bell Won’t Ring Anymore at Butembo-Beni’s Church”), is written like a series of letters addressed to his Aunt Assumpta, a fictitious name that serves two purposes: to protect her identity, and to have a constant reference to the feast of the Assumption.

“Mary has walked the path that awaits us: the path of the Resurrection,” said Father Mumbere. “The path toward the Father. She’s like a model that encourages us, that tells us it’s possible to make it. Stay strong. Mary is not the path. Jesus is.”

In this sense, he said, the Assumption is not just a devotion, “It’s something real, alive.”

Father Mumbere bases his Marian reflection on the Bible, and he used it as a basis for preaching in August at the Sanctuary of the Sacred Heart, also known as the Canadian Montmartre. He said the New Testament tells of how Mary feels the pain of others.

“It’s at this moment that this woman is a model, an inspiration. Mary becomes important, not because I must venerate her, but because she shows me how I must care for the others, for what is lacking in their lives.”

He said he wanted his book to rely on this path of the Assumption to tell about the harsh Congolese reality.

“For me, the first thing, the urgency, is to liberate the word,” he said in French, giving his sentence a double meaning, since it could translate as “to speak freely” or as “to free the Word of God.”

“It’s not enough to say: ‘Bah, 8 million people died in Congo and that’s it.’ I vouch for the word. The muffled word.”

The priest compared the Congolese people to victims stuck under rubble. They cannot talk; they can only cry out, hoping someone will hear them.

Father Mumbere reminded people that in a context of terror, such as in North Kivu, it is difficult to speak freely.

Without delving in all the atrocities, Father Mumbere’s book tells of the dehumanizing violence, such as an incident with his grandmother’s neighbors, when armed men raped the mother and her daughters, before forcing the husband and sons to rape them as well to have their lives spared.

“I wish free speech for them,” said the priest. “We must speak ‘for’ these raped women, and not ‘of’ them. I wish the readers to enter the dynamic of also speaking for these women. For me, it’s biblical. To speak for the others is like a place of salvation.”

Among the victims he wants to speak for, Father Mumbere remembers his Assumptionist friends, kidnapped Oct. 19, 2012. Fathers Jean-Pierre Ndulani, Anselme Wasukundi, and Edmond Bamutupe were all ministering at the Mbau parish, in the Butembo-Beni Diocese, when they were taken. Although many people think the priests have been killed, their fate remains unknown.

“It was a motivation to speak out. I cannot just stay in my sacristy. My prayer, I want it to be active. To pay tribute to these priests is to speak of the chaotic situation in Congo,” he said.

“They give me the energy to write, to speak. And if they’re dead, I think they pray for Congo. They pray for the Assumption. For the church. If they’re alive, it will be a great joy to see them again,” he added, his voice stifled with emotion.

“And to speak with them.”

Vaillancourt is editor-in-chief of Presence info based in Montreal.

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Saints and spies: Pope Pius XII’s secret war against Hitler

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Catholic News Service

ROME — Pope Pius XII, who some critics say remained silent during the Holocaust, played a pivotal role in coordinating covert spy operations and efforts to take down Adolf Hitler, a U.S. author said. Read more »

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Church’s credibility found in showing mercy, pope says in new book, ‘The Name of God Is Mercy’

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Being ministers of God’s mercy, church members overcome “prejudice and rigidity,” taking risks like Jesus did in order to heal and to save, Pope Francis said.

In Jesus’ day, lepers were cast out of the community “to avoid contamination: the healthy needed to be protected,” but Jesus, at his own risk, “goes up to the leper and he restores him, he heals him,” Pope Francis said in a new book-length interview on mercy.

Pope Francis speaks with Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli aboard his flight from Rome to Havana in this  2015, file photo. Tornielli conducted an interview with the pope on the topic of mercy. The interview is contained in a new book titled, "The Name of God Is Mercy." (CNS /Paul Haring)

Pope Francis speaks with Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli aboard his flight from Rome to Havana in this 2015, file photo. Tornielli conducted an interview with the pope on the topic of mercy. The interview is contained in a new book titled, “The Name of God Is Mercy.” (CNS /Paul Haring)

“By welcoming a marginalized person whose body is wounded and by welcoming the sinner whose soul is wounded, we put our credibility as Christians on the line,” the pope told the Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli in “The Name of God is Mercy.”

The book was scheduled for a worldwide release Jan. 12.

In the interview, the pope spoke about experiencing an overwhelming sense of mercy during confession when he was 17 years old, provided more details about stories he has recounted in homilies, explained his comment, “Who am I to judge” about a homosexual person seeking God and discussed the need he saw to invoke a jubilee Year of Mercy.

He also talked about the relationship of mercy and justice and addressed criticism that his focus on mercy amounts to watering down church doctrine and tolerating sin.

Tornielli asked Pope Francis why he so frequently and negatively mentions the “scholars of the law” in his morning homilies. The pope responded that in the Gospels “they represent the principal opposition to Jesus: they challenge him in the name of doctrine” and such an attitude “is repeated throughout the long history of the church.”

Using the example of Jesus’ close contact with lepers despite the Old Testament law that lepers be excluded from the community, Pope Francis said it is obvious that the exclusion of lepers was meant to contain disease, but it led to social and emotional suffering and, what is worse, to a sense that lepers had committed some sin which caused their disease. They were excluded from the community, but also from a relationship with God.

In literally reaching out to lepers, the pope said, Jesus “shows us a new horizon, the logic of a God who is love, a God who desires the salvation of all men.”

Jesus touched and healed the lepers, he continued. “He didn’t sit down at a desk and study the situation, he didn’t consult the experts for pros and cons. What really mattered to him was reaching stranded people and saving them.”

Pope Francis said a similar attitude by the church today “provokes angry mutterings from those who are only ever used to having things fit into their preconceived notions and ritual purity.”

“Caring for outcasts and sinners does not mean letting the wolves attack the flock” or jumping into the darkness with sinners, he said; it means being aware of the reality of sin and sharing the reality that God always is ready to forgive the sinner.

When the grace of God begins to help a person recognize his or her sin and need for forgiveness, the pope said, that person “needs to find an open door, not a closed one. He needs to find acceptance, not judgment, prejudice or condemnation. He needs to be helped, not pushed away or cast out.”

“Jesus sends forth his disciples not as holders of power or masters of a law,” the pope said. “The Christian message is transmitted by embracing those in difficulty, by embracing the outcast, the marginalized and the sinner.”

Obviously, he said, the church cannot and does not pretend sin is unimportant.

But “God forgives everyone, he offers new possibilities to everyone, he showers his mercy on everyone who asks for it,” Pope Francis said. “We are the ones who do not know how to forgive.”

The pope told Tornielli he is convinced that God’s mercy is Jesus’ most important message and that it is a message people today urgently need to hear.

“Humanity is wounded, deeply wounded,” he said. “Either it does not know how to cure its wounds or it believes that it’s not possible to cure them.”

To preach the Gospel, the church must counter an attitude that says there are sins that cannot be healed or forgiven, the pope said.

“The church does not exist to condemn people but to bring about an encounter with the visceral love of God’s mercy,” he said.

Priests, especially in the confessional, must do all they can to communicate God’s love and mercy. If they cannot offer absolution to someone, the pope said, they should at least offer a blessing. The fact that the person entered the confessional is a clear sign of God’s grace already at work.

“As a confessor, even when I have found myself before a locked door,” he said, “I have always tried to find a crack, just a tiny opening, so that I can pry open that door and grant forgiveness and mercy.”

As for his “Who am I to judge” remark to reporters in July 2013 when asked about the church’s attitude toward homosexual persons, Pope Francis said, “I was paraphrasing by heart the Catechism of the Catholic Church where it says that these people should be treated with delicacy and not be marginalized.”

Speaking to Tornielli, Pope Francis made no comment on homosexuality as such, other than to insist that “people should not be defined only by their sexual tendencies.”

“I prefer that homosexuals come to confession, that they stay close to the Lord, and that we all pray together,” he said. “You can advise them to pray, show goodwill, show them the way and accompany them along it.”

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Considering Irish Americans without emerald-colored glasses

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Catholic News Service

“The Irish Way: Becoming American in the Multiethnic City” by James R. Barrett. Penguin Press (New York, 2012). 369 pp., $29.95.

If you are looking for a sentimental book about Irish immigrants in America — “The Irish Way” is not it.

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Biography depicts spiritual vibrancy of Maryknoll Sisters’ foundress

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“On the Threshold of the Future: The Life and Spirituality of Mother Mary Joseph Rogers, Founder of the Maryknoll Sisters” by Claudette LaVerdiere, MM. Orbis Books (Maryknoll, N.Y., 2011). 160 pp., $20.

This year the Maryknoll Sisters celebrate the 100th anniversary of their founding, making it a particularly appropriate time for the publication of this study of their foundress, Molly Rogers (1882-1955).

Maryknoll Sister Claudette LaVerdiere, a former president of the congregation who has worked in both East Africa and Myanmar, offers a concise portrait of this remarkable woman, known in religious life as Mother Mary Joseph.

This is the cover of "On the Threshold of the Future: The Life and Spirituality of Mother Mary Joseph Rogers, Founder of the Maryknoll Sisters" by Claudette LaVerdiere, MM. (CNS)

The book opens with a biographical section that illustrates the family and social environment that formed Molly Rogers. Most Catholic children were educated in parochial schools, but because Molly and her seven siblings attended Boston’s public schools, she was “relatively untouched by the Catholic culture of the time.” This would have a significant impact on her vision for Maryknoll, a congregation “shaped more by the resilience needed in foreign mission than by traditional expectations of religious.”

Molly wanted to be a nurse, but her father insisted she get a college education and during her junior year at Smith College she experienced her decisive call. “She had just witnessed the vibrant ‘mission sending’ of the Protestant Student Volunteer Movement. ‘Something — I do not know how to describe it — happened within me,’ and she proceeded directly to St. Mary’s Church. Kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament, she pledged herself to the mission of the church, having no idea how she might follow through on this commitment. She simply believed that divine providence would show the way.”

“On the Threshold of the Future,” like other stories of the founding of religious congregations, can be read as a testimony to how divine providence works in, and through, the lives of generous souls. Beginning Jan. 6, 1912, Molly Rogers and a small group of other women volunteers supported Fathers James Anthony Walsh and Thomas Frederick Price in the establishment of the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America.

These laywomen began as unpaid secretaries (the “Teresians of Maryknoll”) and after a lengthy period of formation and training, received approval to become a diocesan congregation in 1920. The following year, the first Sisters were sent to China.

The book’s great strength is its careful presentation of Mother Mary Joseph’s spirituality, whose description of a Maryknoll Sister is a remarkably accurate rendering of her own spiritual genius. “I would have her distinguished,” she wrote, “by Christ-like charity, limpid simplicity of soul, heroic generosity, selflessness, unfailing loyalty, prudent zeal, gracious courtesy, an adaptable disposition, solid piety and the saving grace of a kindly humor.”

The Maryknoll Sisters were imbued with the Dominican charism of contemplation and action. “I mean that we must be so trained, have so formed our affections … our inward gaze fixed solely upon (God), and no matter what distractions, no matter what works, what trials, sickness, separation caused by death — always our first thought, our involuntary action, even, is to accept everything with our eyes fixed upon the face of Christ.”

Mother Mary Joseph had great confidence in the Sisters’ maturity, diversity of gifts, bonds of charity (“mutual love in Christ”) and religious obedience to sustain the common good. When, on Jan. 2, 1947, she left the office of mother general, Mother Mary Joseph reflected on the 35 years she led her community. “These have been lovely years in which we have worked together and my heart will always sing its hymn of gratitude, to you, for your patience, your faithfulness and your love, and to God, for having given us each other in this glorious work of the extension of God’s kingdom.”

This carefully researched, well-written and intelligent book is not, ultimately, a work of scholarship. It is, instead, a “hymn of gratitude” for Mother Mary Joseph’s spiritual vitality, “a gift not only for Maryknoll missioners in the first part of the 20th century but for our time and for the world.”

Rachel Linner, a freelance writer and reviewer in Medford, Mass., wrote this review for Catholic News Service.

 

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Tracing religious orders through church history

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“The Lord as Their Portion: The Story of the Religious Orders and How They Shaped Our World” by Elizabeth Rapley. Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (Grand Rapids, Mich., 2011). 349 pp., $24.

In “The Lord as Their Portion,” Elizabeth Rapley offers insights into the story of religious orders against the background of the Catholic Church’s history. Beginning with the desert ascetics of the fourth century, the author describes 17 centuries of monastic and convent life, ending with the missionaries of the 19th century.

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