First papal encyclical this year?
Pope Francis could issue his first encyclical this year and so far is only planning one international trip in 2013, according to Vatican press office director Father Federico Lombardi. Fr Lombardi explained that Benedict XVI had already laid the groundwork for an encyclical on the virtue of faith in late 2012 and that Pope Francis could easily revise it and add his own insights to the text. The encyclical was planned for release in early 2013 but Benedict's resignation caused the timeline to be adjusted.
The idea of a Pope picking up the work of his predecessor is not unprecedented. Pope Benedict reportedly crafted his first encyclical, Deus caritas est, using some of John Paul II's notes. Fr Lombardi also confirmed Benedict's move to Mater Ecclesiae monastery and that Pope Francis will remain in Casa Santa Marta. The Pope "is very well settled", the Vatican spokesman said. "At the moment, he does not seem to want to change his dwelling, even if a final decision has not been made."
Pope on "inspiration and truth of the Bible"
Addressing members of the Pontifical Biblical Commission recently, Pope Francis discussed their chosen theme, the "inspiration and truth of the Bible." He said it was "a topic that concerns not only the individual believer, but the whole Church, because the life and mission of the Church are founded on the Word of God, which is the soul of theology and, at the same time, the inspiration of all Christian existence."
He continued: "We must place ourselves in the current of the great Tradition that, under the assistance of the Holy Spirit and the guidance of the Magisterium, has recognised the canonical writings as Word addressed by God to his people and has never ceased to meditate on them and discover in them inexhaustible riches.
"The Second Vatican Council confirmed this with great clarity in the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum: "For all of what has been said about the way of interpreting Scripture is subject finally to the judgment of the Church, which carries out the divine commission and ministry of guarding and interpreting the word of God.
"The exegete must be attentive to perceiving the Word of God present in the biblical texts, placing them within the faith itself of the Church. The interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures cannot be only an individual scientific effort, but must always be compared, inserted and authenticated by the living tradition of the Church.
"This norm is decisive in specifying the correct and reciprocal relation of exegesis and the Magisterium of the Church. The texts inspired by God have been entrusted to the community of believers, to the Church of Christ, to nourish the faith and guide the life of charity."
Zenit News Agency
Poll shows Russians want visit by Pope
A striking 71 per cent Russians hope for a visit by Pope Francis to their country, according to a new poll by the Lavada Centre in Moscow. Only 9% of those surveyed voiced opposition to a papal visit.
Pope John Paul II had long hoped to make a visit to Moscow, but faced steady resistance from the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church. While tensions between Rome and Moscow eased during the pontificate of Benedict XVI, the Moscow Patriarchate continued to insist that further ecumenical progress was needed before a papal visit could take place. The surprising popularity of Pope Francis could prompt Orthodox leaders to ease their opposition.
Catholic World News
Rome-SSPX talks at a standstill
Bishop Bernard Fellay, the superior of the Society of St Pius X (SPPX), has acknowledged that the traditionalist group has made no major progress towards reconciliation with the Holy See, despite intensive talks last year.
In a message to SSPX supporters, Bishop Fellay said that the group's relations with the Vatican today are essentially unchanged. He said that negotiations with the Holy See in 2012 put the traditionalist group in a "delicate position," referring to serious divisions among members and supporters about the wisdom of proceeding with the talks. Bishop Fellay charged that a "lack of clarity" on the part of Vatican officials complicated the situation.
However, the SSPX leader said that the confusion ended when it became clear that reconciliation would require the SSPX to recognise the legitimacy of Vatican II teachings and liturgical reforms. The group "could not and we never can" accept that condition, he said.
Catholic World News
Pope Francis' ideas included in a new book
Unlike his predecessor, Pope Francis' ideas and opinions are not well known outside his home archdiocese. Before he was elected pope he had written little and given few interviews to the media.
So as the English translation of On Heaven and Earth, a 2010 dialogue between Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio and Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka, reaches the bookstores one can expect sales to be brisk. Published with the subtitle: "Pope Francis on Faith, Family and the Church in the 21st Century," it offers insights into the Pope's thoughts on a wide variety of issues, from abortion and same-sex "marriage" to euthanasia and capitalism.
Divided into chapters according to topic, an early theme concerns the Devil. One trait many have noticed and praised in Pope Francis is his readiness to single out the Devil's works in his homilies, and in the dialogue he offers an explanation: "Maybe his [the Devil's] greatest achievement in these times has been to make us believe that he does not exist, and that all can be fixed on a purely human level."
On the subject of paedophilia, the future Pope is forthright, strongly opposing moving guilty priests between parishes (he describes it as "stupid") and admires Benedict XVI's "courage and straightforwardness" in enforcing zero tolerance for such a crime. He also stresses the importance of free will and opposes any forms of clericalism and fundamentalism. A priest should never impose the faith but simply present and defend Church teaching with clarity, he says.
On euthanasia, the future Pope says he believes a kind of "covert euthanasia" is taking place: "Our social security pays up until a certain amount of treatment and then says 'may God help you.' The elderly are not taken care of as they should be, but rather they are treated as discarded material."
On abortion, he puts religion aside to stress that from a scientific view, the genetic code of a person is present at the moment of conception, already making him or her a human being. "Abortion is killing someone that cannot defend himself," he says simply.
Regarding care for the poor, he differentiates between genuine works of charity and "social-conscience calming activities" carried out in order that people "feel good" about themselves. What the poor need most, he says, is a job to give him dignity, and he must not be looked upon with disgust. "He must be looked at in the eyes," he says, and adds that the danger when aiding the poor is falling into an attitude of "protective paternalism" that doesn't allow them to grow.
There is plenty more in this book, including discussions about science, globalisation, divorce, education, the Holocaust and women. The conversations on each subject are mostly short, merely giving a taste of the Pope's thoughts, but with little known about the new Holy Father, even the shortest passages make welcome reading.
Zenit News Agency
Vocations rising in England and Wales
Vocations to the priesthood and religious life continue to rise in England and Wales.
Thirty men and 23 women entered religious life in 2012, the highest number of new religious since 1996. In 2010, 19 men and six women entered religious life.
Ordinations to the diocesan priesthood are also on the rise, with 41 men scheduled to be ordained in 2013, up from 15 in 2008 and the highest number since 2002.
These statistics do not include ordinations for the recently established Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.
Catholic World News
Archbishop deplores NZ same-sex 'marriage'
Archbishop John Dew of Wellington, president of the Bishops' Conference of New Zealand, has expressed profound sadness over the approval of same-sex "marriage" by the country's Parliament.
"We find it bizarre that what has been discarded is an understanding of marriage that has its origin in human nature and is common to every culture," said Archbishop Dew. He also voiced concern that "all references to husband and wife will be removed from legislation referencing marriage."
By a vote of 77-44, New Zealand became the first country in the Pacific region and the 13th country in the world to grant legal recognition to same-sex "marriage."
Archbishop Dew pointed out that marriage "is founded on sexual difference" and "reflects this unique reality." It is, he said, "a committed union between a man and a woman which has a natural orientation towards the procreation of new human life.
"We've been assured that our religious freedom to teach and practise marriage according to our religious beliefs is protected, and we will continue to ensure that this freedom is upheld," he added.
Catholic News Agency
Coptic Patriarch's meeting with Pope
The newly appointed head of the Coptic Catholic Eparchy in Minya in Egypt stated that the meeting between Pope Francis and Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros II in May "could have important and positive results."
In an interview with Fides News Agency, Coptic Catholic Bishop Botros Fahim Awad Hanna also expressed his hope that a theological dialogue to begin the path towards full communion would resume. The meeting between Pope Francis and the Coptic Patriarch was set for 11 May.
The last meeting to have occurred between a Coptic Patriarch and a Pope took place nearly 40 years ago when Shenouda III met with Pope Paul VI in Rome. During that historical meeting, an agreement between the two Churches was signed in 1988 which put an end to centuries of misunderstanding and mistrust.
Their agreement stated that the Catholic and Coptic Orthodox Churches confess to share the same faith in "Our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word" that "is perfect in its Divinity and perfect in its Humanity".
However, according to Bishop Fahim Hanna, "Since then, though, that common Christological Declaration has not had practical effects."
He added: "I hope that with the visit of the new Coptic Orthodox Patriarch to the new Bishop of Rome, recent approaches on the spiritual and pastoral can be deepened at a theological and doctrinal level and provide a chance to restart a thorough theological and respectful dialogue, to embark on a journey that could one day lead us back to full sacramental union."
Zenit News Agency
Anti-Christian Broadway play closes early
A Broadway show that depicted the Virgin Mary as a doubting sceptic who thought Jesus died in vain failed to attract audiences and closed less than two weeks after it opened.
"The Testament of Mary" was a monologue written by the Irish writer Colm Toibin, an ex-Catholic.
The play envisioned Mary as a critic of Christianity who doubts Jesus' divinity and believes his friends are a bad influence. Mary is portrayed as someone with anger and sorrow over Jesus' crucifixion.
Bill Donohue of the Catholic League commented: "Quite frankly, there aren't enough people who want to spend their evenings watching a dark performance about a fanciful Virgin Mary who rejects the divinity of her son."
Catholic News Agency