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Five years a pope: Francis’ focus has been on outreach


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY   — Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected pope just a few days after telling the College of Cardinals that the Catholic Church faced a clear choice between being a church that “goes out” or a church focused on its internal affairs.

After the cardinal from Buenos Aires, Argentina, was elected March 13, 2013, and chose the name Francis, he made “go out,” “periphery” and “throwaway culture” standard phrases in the papal vocabulary. Read more »

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Doctrine, pastoral realities are not at odds, pope tells theologians


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The church is called to embrace its past, present and future and to avoid the temptations to condemn or to legitimize everything just because it is new and different, Pope Francis told a group of theologians.

Theology and reflection should not be at odds with pastoral ministry and the lives of real people, he said.

In fact, theologians can help by “taking both the ecclesiastical tradition and current reality very seriously, placing them in dialogue with one another.”

The pope’s words were part of a video message he delivered in Spanish to theologians and others taking part in an international congress in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Sept. 1-3. The Vatican released a transcript of his message Sept. 4.

The event marked the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the faculty of theology at the Catholic University of Argentina and the 50th anniversary of the close of the Second Vatican Council.

One of Vatican II’s main contributions was trying “to overcome this divorce between theology and pastoral ministry, between faith and life.” Often the two had been set against each other in “a false opposition” as two “separate realities,” he said.

“We not infrequently identify the doctrinal with the conservative and the backward, and, on the contrary, we think of pastoral ministry as adaptation, rolling back, accommodation, as if they had nothing to do with each other.”

This also creates a false conflict between those who are pastors “on the side of the people,” and academics “on the side of doctrine.”

Yet, the early Christian writers and theologians were also great pastors, he said.

“Doctrine is not a closed system devoid of dynamics able to raise questions, doubts, inquiries,” he said. Rather, Christianity is a living doctrine that is called Jesus Christ, whose life is “offered from generation to generation to all men and women and in all places.”

Safeguarding doctrine means being faithful to what has been received, he said, and at the same time, taking into account the person to whom it is being offered, and understanding and loving him or her.

After all, why is theology being done, he asked, if not for “the people we have before us? Without encountering families and the people of God, theology runs the great risk of becoming ideology.”

The hopes, dreams, struggles, problems, worries and questions people have cannot be ignored “if we want to take seriously the principle of the incarnation,” he said.

People’s unrest, struggles and “the peripheries are not an optional, rather they are necessary for better understanding the faith.”

Theology looks at and must stem from the Holy Spirit in “the praying people,” if not, then that theology will have “the scent of a proposal that might be beautiful, but not real,” he said.

Pope Francis, referring to the teaching of Pope Benedict XVI, said church tradition is like a flowing river, which has a fixed origin, yet flows throughout the world bringing to life the best of that region and culture.

The pope said that any attempt to limit or cut off the relationship and communication between “received tradition and concrete reality puts the faith of the people of God in danger.”

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What Pope Francis thinks of prisoners: ‘There but for the grace of God…’


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis seems to describe his life in the Vatican almost as if he were in prison, at least as far as his freedom of movement goes. But that is not the first thing he cites when he talks about what he and prisoners have in common.

When visiting a prison, he said, “I think to myself, ‘I, too, could be here.’ That is, none of us can be sure that we would never commit a crime, something for which we’d be put in prison.” Read more »

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Argentine rabbi says his friend, the pope, will face challenges in Holy Land


Catholic News Service

ROME — A rabbi who has known Pope Francis for almost 20 years and counts him as a close personal friend said the pope’s May trip to the Holy Land will be a challenging balancing act because of the high expectations of Israelis and Palestinians and of Christians, Jews and Muslims.

Rabbi Abraham Skorka, a friend of Pope Francis from Buenos Aires, Argentina, is pictured during an interview at the foreign press club in Rome Jan. 14. Rabbi Skorka said the pope’s trip to the Holy Land in May will be a challenging balancing act because of the high expectations of Israelis and Palestianians and of Christians, Jews and Muslims. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“There are many themes, many conflicts that he will have to face and there are the expectations of many people,” said Rabbi Abraham Skorka, rector of Buenos Aires’ Latin American Rabbinical Seminary and co-author with the pope of the book, “On Heaven and Earth.”

The rabbi was in Rome in mid-January along with a group of Jewish leaders from Argentina. They had a kosher lunch, catered by a Rome restaurant, with Pope Francis Jan. 16 at the Domus Sanctae Marthae, where the pope lives. Rabbi Skorka went back for a private lunch with the pope Jan. 17.

The rabbi gave a speech Jan. 16 at the Jesuit-run Pontifical Gregorian University about Catholic-Jewish relations in Argentina and met with the press afterward.

He told reporters that the pope’s trip to Jordan, Israel and Palestine “is a very sensitive theme” and that every detail must be handled very carefully because of the “many themes, many conflicts and the expectations of many people, some of which are very radical.”

“This is a great challenge for my friend,” he said.

After visits to Jerusalem by Popes Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, he said, Jews around the world are expecting a further gesture of reconciliation and a sign of the Catholic Church’s commitment to moving relations of mutual respect forward.

“What I expect, ask from God and hope with all my heart is that in a very intelligent way, in a very careful way, because the inhabitants of that region … have many passions, he is able to leave a message of peace that will inspire a dimension of peace for all,” the rabbi told those attending his speech. “Obviously, it won’t be easy.”

“It’s easy to imagine the pope being dragged by his coattails from one place to another because of what he represents and what he means,” Rabbi Skorka said. However, he said, the pope has the strength and charisma to resist manipulation, “and leave a very positive sign.”

“He won’t resolve all the problems, that’s impossible,” the rabbi said, “but I hope he can leave a sign that can inspire people to peace.”

In his main speech, Rabbi Skorka said the book he wrote with the pope, “On Heaven and Earth,” is a collection of their dialogues about themes of great concern to people today. “In Argentine society, where the ability to dialogue seems very limited, we wanted to give a living example of the meaning of dialogue in the broadest sense,” he said.

The rabbi and then-cardinal’s discussions about the meaning of life and death, about sin, the economy, politics, poverty and about the Holocaust show that religions “offer a valid alternative in facing life’s problems.”

Before Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was elected Pope Francis in March 2013, the two also recorded 31 televised discussions about current topics of social and religious interest in Argentina.

“All we did was offer people the fruit of our relationship,” the rabbi said. “The Bible offers a clear, simple response to the concerns of our age,” which Pope Francis continues “to show in his daily teachings” through his morning Mass homilies, general audience talks and Sunday Angelus addresses.

Catholic-Jewish dialogue began in Argentina in the 1950s, pushed by the concerns of Argentina’s large and diverse immigrant population and by social and economic tensions in the country. But until the 1990s, he said, the dialogue had not really reached the masses because it was too theoretical and scholarly.

Rabbi Skorka said his public dialogues with Cardinal Bergoglio and similar efforts by others over the past 25 years have tried to show Christians and Jews how much they have in common, how important dialogue is for promoting respect and social harmony, and how much Christians and Jews can accomplish when they work together to help the poor and bring moral values to society.

Accompanying Rabbi Skorka, Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Commission for Relations with the Jews, said he sees “a beautiful continuity from John Paul II to Benedict XVI to Francis in the importance they give to this dialogue” with the Jews. “Judaism is not a religion like any other” for Catholics, he said, because “Judaism is the mother of Christianity.”

“Reconciliation between the synagogue and the church is very important and I’m convinced that Pope Francis wants to carry it forward,” the cardinal said.

Cardinal Koch said he was pleased to hear that Pope Francis told the rabbi that the next step in Catholic-Jewish dialogue must be theological, “perhaps developing further a Christian theology of Judaism and, perhaps, a Jewish theology of Christianity to understand each other better and to deepen our understanding of all we have in common.”

Rabbi Skorka said that for him as a believer, “I want to know why Catholics are Catholic and I want them to know why I am Jewish. Only when we understand this will there be mutual respect.”


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