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Pope Francis and President Trump speak of hopes for peace — updated

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis and U.S. President Donald Trump spent 30 minutes speaking privately in the library of the Apostolic Palace May 24, and as the president left, he told the pope, “I won’t forget what you said.”

Pope Francis greets U.S. President Donald Trump during a private audience at the Vatican May 24. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis greets U.S. President Donald Trump during a private audience at the Vatican May 24. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The atmosphere at the beginning was formal and a bit stiff. However, the mood lightened when Pope Francis met the first lady, Melania Trump, and asked if she fed her husband “potica,” a traditional cake in Slovenia, her homeland. There were smiles all around.

Pope Francis gave Trump a split medallion held together by an olive tree, which his interpreter told Trump is “a symbol of peace.”

Speaking in Spanish, the pope told Trump, “I am giving you this because I hope you may be this olive tree to make peace.”

The president responded, “We can use peace.”

Pope Francis also gave the president a copy of his message for World Peace Day 2017 and told him, “I signed it personally for you.” In addition, he gave Trump copies of his documents on “The Joy of the Gospel,” on the family and “Laudato Si’” on the environment.

Knowing that Pope Francis frequently has quoted the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Trump presented Pope Francis will a large gift box containing five of the slain civil rights leader’s books, including a signed copy of “The Strength to Love.”

“I think you will enjoy them,” Trump told the pope. “I hope you do.”

After meeting the pope, Trump went downstairs to meet Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, and Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican foreign minister. He was accompanied by Rex Tillerson, U.S. secretary of state, and H.R. McMaster, his national security adviser. The meeting lasted 50 minutes.

Tillerson later told reporters that climate change did not come up in the meeting with the pope, but that U.S. officials had “a good exchange on the climate change issue” with Cardinal Parolin.

“The cardinal was expressing their view that they think it’s an important issue,” Tillerson said. “I think they were encouraging continued participation in the Paris accord. But we had a good exchange (on) the difficulty of balancing addressing climate change, responses to climate change, and ensuring that you still have a thriving economy and you can still offer people jobs so they can feed their families and have a prosperous economy.”

Asked how Trump responded to Cardinal Parolin’s encouragement to stick with the Paris climate agreement, Tillerson said: “The president indicated we’re still thinking about that, that he hasn’t made a final decision. He, I think, told both Cardinal Parolin and also told Prime Minister (Paolo) Gentiloni that this is something that he would be taking up for a decision when we return from this trip. It’s an opportunity to hear from people. We’re developing our own recommendation on that. So it’ll be something that will probably be decided after we get home.”

Tillerson also told reporters he did not know what Trump meant when he told the pope, “I won’t forget what you said.”

The Vatican described the president’s meetings with both the pope and with top Vatican diplomats as consisting of “cordial discussions,” with both sides appreciating “the good existing bilateral relations between the Holy See and the United States of America, as well as the joint commitment in favor of life, and freedom of religion and of conscience.”

“It is hoped that there may be serene collaboration between the state and the Catholic Church in the United States, engaged in service to the people in the fields of health care, education and assistance to immigrants,” the Vatican said.

The discussions also included “an exchange of views” on international affairs and on “the promotion of peace in the world through political negotiation and interreligious dialogue, with particular reference to the situation in the Middle East and the protection of Christian communities.”

Because of the pope’s weekly general audience, Pope Francis and Trump met at 8:30 a.m., an unusually early hour for a formal papal meeting. The early hour meant Pope Francis still could greet the thousands of pilgrims and visitors waiting for him in St. Peter’s Square.

Many of those pilgrims, though, had a more difficult than normal time getting into the square. Security measures were tight, with hundreds of state police and military police patrolling the area and conducting more attentive searches of pilgrims’ bags.

Reaching the St. Damasus Courtyard of the Apostolic Palace, where the U.S. flag flew for the morning, Trump was welcomed by Archbishop Georg Ganswein, prefect of the papal household, and a formation of 15 Swiss Guards.

Accompanied by the archbishop up an elevator and down a frescoed hallway, the president passed more Swiss Guards in the Clementine Hall.

Although the president and Pope Francis are known to have serious differences on issues such as immigration, economic policy and climate change, the pope told reporters 11 days before the meeting that he would look first for common ground with the U.S. leader.

“There are always doors that are not closed,” the pope told reporters May 13. “We have to find doors that are at least a little open in order to go in and speak about things we have in common and go forward.”

After leaving the Vatican, the president was driven across Rome for meetings with Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni.

Asked by reporters there how his meeting with the pope went, Trump responded, “Great.”

“He is something,” Trump said. “We had a fantastic meeting.”

Meanwhile, the first lady went to the Vatican-owned Bambino Gesu children’s hospital, right next door to the Pontifical North American College, which is where U.S. seminarians in Rome live. Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, went to the Community of Sant’Egidio, a Catholic lay movement, for a meeting on combating human trafficking.

The United States and the Vatican have long partnered on anti-trafficking initiatives, a common effort White House officials had said Trump hoped to discuss with the pope. The White House also pointed to a shared commitment to promote religious freedom around the world and to end religious persecution.

The evening before Trump met the pope, the Vatican newspaper carried two articles on Trump policies. One, echoing the U.S. bishops, praised the Trump administration’s decision to extend by six months the Temporary Protected Status program for Haitian citizens in the United States.

The second article was about the budget plan the Trump White House released May 23. L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, noted that it contained cuts in subsidies “for the poorest segments of the population” and “a drastic — 10 percent — increase for military spending.”

What is more, the newspaper said, “the budget also includes financing for the construction of the wall along the border with Mexico. We are talking about more than $1.6 billion.”

The border wall is an issue where Pope Francis and President Trump have a very clear and public difference of opinion.

In February 2016, shortly after celebrating a Mass in Mexico just yards from the border, Pope Francis was asked by reporters about then-candidate Trump’s promise to build a wall the entire length of the border.

“A person who thinks only of building walls, wherever it may be, and not of building bridges, is not Christian,” the pope said.

Trump, asked by reporters to comment on that, said Mexico was “using the pope as a pawn,” and he said it was “disgraceful” for a religious leader to question someone’s faith.

On the eve of the pope’s meeting with Trump, Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, editor of an influential Italian Jesuit journal, noted that the differences between the two were drawing a lot of attention. However, he wrote, “Francis, the pope of bridges, wants to speak with any head of state who asks him to because he knows that in crises” like the world faces today “there are not only absolute good guys and absolute bad guys.”

“The history of the world is not a Hollywood film,” Father Spadaro wrote on his blog May 23.

The pope’s approach, he said, is “to meet the major players in the field in order to reason together and to propose to everyone the greatest good, exercising the soft power that seems to me to be the specific trait of his international policy.”

Contributing to this story were Junno Arocho Esteves and Carol Glatz at the Vatican.

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Top official defends Vatican employees against allegations of corruption

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican is not “a den of thieves,” and such insinuations are an injustice to employees who are proud to serve the pope and the church, said Archbishop Angelo Becciu, a top official in the Vatican Secretariat of State.

Archbishop Angelo Becciu (CNS file photo/Catholic Press Photo)

Archbishop Angelo Becciu (CNS file photo/Catholic Press Photo)

Necessary economic and administrative reforms and countermeasures have been taken to address any problems, he told the Italian weekly Panorama in an interview published in the issue dated Jan. 20.

“I must reiterate firmly that we are not a bunch of corrupt and incompetent people,” he said in a lengthy interview conducted at the Vatican Dec. 31.

“The Vatican is not a den of thieves. To represent it as such constitutes an absolute falsehood. I find it extremely unjust that our employees, proudly carrying out a service for the pope and the church, have gotten to the point, for some time now, of being ashamed to tell people they work here,” he told the weekly.

Archbishop Becciu, 67, has been substitute secretary for general affairs in the Vatican Secretariat of State, a job similar to a chief of staff, since 2011.

A large portion of the Q & A interview focused on accusations of financial mismanagement illustrated in recent books by Italian journalists Gianluigi Nuzzi, author of “Merchants in the Temple,” and Emiliano Fittipaldi, author of “Avarice.”

The two authors are on trial at the Vatican for “soliciting and exercising pressure” on their alleged sources in order to obtain confidential documents and news. Also standing trial on accusations of forming an “organized criminal association” with the aim of “committing several illegal acts of divulging news and documents” are Spanish Msgr. Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda, secretary of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See; Francesca Chaouqui, a member of the former Pontifical Commission for Reference on the Organization of the Economic-Administrative Structure of the Holy See; and Nicola Maio, who had served as personal assistant to Msgr. Vallejo.

Archbishop Becciu said “stealing those documents was a crime, a deplorable act that does not help.”

“The right of journalists to publish news they come to have is not in question. The misgivings concern the way in which this news was obtained. There is a trial underway that will find out,” he said.

Regarding Msgr. Vallejo and Chaouqui, the archbishop said their “betrayal was a slap in the face to the Holy Father. They had sworn on the Gospel to not reveal to anyone what they saw, heard and read in carrying out their assignment” as members of the commission to reform Vatican financial practices.

When asked why money donated by the faithful for Peter’s Pence is being used primarily to fund the Roman Curia, only about two euro out of ten donated goes to charity, the archbishop said if the Vatican were to earmark, for example, 60 percent of the funds to charity “we would have to immediately fire 400 people” out of the current 4,000 Vatican employees. “We prefer not to load the Italian government with this further burden” of unemployment and to abide by the pope’s request to reform without layoffs, he said.

The charitable fund’s balance sheets are “public and approved by the Holy Father and the council of cardinals,” adding that it can be seen the money is used to support Vatican Radio, the Vatican newspaper and the various Vatican diplomatic representatives abroad who channel the pope’s financial support to mission churches and the poor.

The archbishop was asked to comment on the fact cardinals living in Rome reside in very large apartments while Pope Francis has chosen to live in a small set of rooms in a Vatican guesthouse. The archbishop said the apartments date back to the 1930s “when the cardinals were in effect considered princes of the church and were treated as such.”

He said Nuzzi’s suggestion of moving the cardinals into the more modest Vatican guesthouse would be “populist bordering on the ridiculous.”

There would be the problem of where to then house the priests who are living at the guesthouse, he said; “We would have to build another building to house them,” which would be a “huge waste” of resources, and all the large cardinal residences would be left empty.

When asked why the property would be left unoccupied, the archbishop said only Vatican citizens and employees are allowed to live in Vatican-owned properties.

“Imagine the pandemonium that would be let loose if by accident they ended up being rented to tax evaders or in any case individuals wanted by the law who could benefit from immunity” by living in Vatican City State instead of Italy, he said.

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Leaked documents won’t stop financial reforms at Vatican, pope says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Leaked and published information about Vatican financial problems and irregularities were already known and are the reason “measures have already been taken that have begun to bear fruit,” Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis waves during his Angelus from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Nov. 8. (CNS photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)

Pope Francis waves during his Angelus from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Nov. 8. (CNS photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)

At his first public appearance since the release Nov. 5 of two books based on the leaked documents, Pope Francis assured Catholics that the leaks “certainly will not divert me from the reform work that I and my collaborators are carrying out with the support of all of you.”

After reciting the Angelus prayer Nov. 8 with visitors in St. Peter’s Square, the pope told the crowds he knew that some people were “disturbed by the news circulated in recent days about private documents of the Holy See that were taken and published.”

“Stealing documents is a crime,” the pope said. “It is a deplorable act that does not help.”

Gianluigi Nuzzi’s book, “Merchants in the Temple,” and Emiliano Fittipaldi’s book, “Avarizia” (“Greed’), cite documents written for or by a commission Pope Francis established to study the financial activity of Vatican offices and make recommendations for reforms and improvements. Both books focus on the irregularities uncovered.

The Vatican announced Nov. 2 the arrests of two members of the former Pontifical Commission for Reference on the Organization of the Economic-Administrative Structure of the Holy See. The monsignor and the laywoman are suspected of releasing confidential documents, which is a crime under Vatican law.

In his main Angelus address, Pope Francis focused on the day’s Gospel reading, the story of the widow who gave all she had, two small coins, to charity.

In the Gospel, Jesus tells the crowd to beware of the scribes who take the places of honor, recite lengthy prayers and yet mistreat the widows.

The scribes, the pope said, show signs of pride, greed and hypocrisy. “Under such solemn appearances, they hide falsity and injustice.”

“Today, too, the risk of assuming such attitudes exists,” the pope told the crowd. “For example, when one separates prayer from justice, because you cannot worship God and harm the poor.”

The poor widow in the Gospel could have given one coin to the temple and kept one for herself, the pope said. “But she did not want to give only half to God,” whom she loved with her whole heart.

“Jesus today tells us that the measure for judging is not quantity, but fullness,” the pope said. “You can have a lot of money, but be empty.”

“The difference between quantity and fullness is not a question of your wallet, but of your heart,” he said.

When Christians see someone in need, he said, they are called to deprive themselves in order to help, whether in terms of money, material goods or time and attention.

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New books offer spiritual reading options during Lent

February 16th, 2012 Posted in Uncategorized Tags:

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Catholic News Service

Here’s a selection of recent releases that might be suitable for your spiritual reading during Lent, which begins Feb. 22: Read more »

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Spiritual practices get a fresh look

January 13th, 2012 Posted in Books Tags: , ,

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“Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving My Neighbor”by Jana Riess. Paraclete Press (Orleans, Mass., 2011). 179 pp., $16.99.

“Shirt of Flame: A Year with Saint Therese of Lisieux” by Heather King. Paraclete Press (Orleans, Mass., 2011). 160 pp., $16.99.

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Prayer and laughs: Books offer clues to what makes priests happy

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“Why Priests are Happy: A Study of the Psychological and Spiritual Health of Priests” by Stephen J. Rossetti. Ave Maria Press (Notre Dame, Ind., 2011). 238 pp., $18.95.“Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life” by James Martin, S.J. HarperOne (San Francisco, 2011). 247 pp., $25.99.

Two books published in October reflect on Catholic culture from quite different, unique viewpoints. Brian Welter reviews both books below.

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Hard lessons of living, dying and grief

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Catholic News Service

Hundreds of years ago, our Christian forebears sought to learn to die well. They even wrote guidebooks about the art of dying (“ars moriendi”), hoping to inspire others to achieve a sense of spiritual completion and fulfillment at life’s end.

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Looking at parish closures from different angles

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“The Grace of Everyday Saints: How a Band of Believers Lost Their Church and Found Their Faith” by Julian Guthrie. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Boston, 2011). 288 pp., $25.

“No Closure: Catholic Practice and Boston’s Parish Shutdowns” by John C. Seitz. Harvard University Press (Cambridge, Mass., 2011). 322 pp., $39.95.

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