U.S. State Department’s Second Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom

On July 16-18, 2019, the U.S. State Department hosted its Second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. The opening event was held at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. to emphasize the “importance of promoting religious freedom and protecting religious minorities.” The closing event, also in Washington, D.C. was at the National Museum of African American History and Culture and co-hosted by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.[1]

First Day Activities[2]

After welcoming remarks by Secretary Pompeo and Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, the participants discussed the opportunities and challenges for promoting and defending religious freedom globally. Through a series of plenary sessions, they discussed the necessary building blocks and emerging trends in advancing religious freedom, as well as how religious freedom, international development, and humanitarian aid can work together to advance mutual interests.

Second Day Activities[3]

 There were three separate discussions led by topical experts, civil society actors, religious leaders, academics and working-level government officials on topics such as best practices for religious freedom advocacy; limitations in forming, registering and recognizing religious communities; challenges facing religious minorities; combatting the rise of anti-Semitism and anti-Islamic behavior; countering violent extremism; religious freedom and national security; religious freedom and economic development; cultural heritage protection for religious sites; religious minorities and humanitarian crises; international development aid and religious freedom; and mobilizing faith leaders around peace and development goals.

At the end of the second day, the White House held a brief reception for some of the Ministerial attendees. One was Cuban Pastor Mario Felix Lieonart, who said, “Pastor, Ramón Rigal, and his wife are imprisoned in Cuba.  Please pray for them and help the people in Cuba. Two other Cuban pastors who were invited for the Ministerial “are not here because the government in Cuba would not give them permission to come. They are Moisés de Prada, president of the Assemblies of God, and Álida León, president of the new Evangelical League of Cuba, which said, “The intention to attend [the Ministerial] was made public, it was a proof of transparency and truth, we have nothing institutionally to hide.” Lieonart added, I am here because I am a refugee in United States.  Thank you for your hospitality for me.” In response to a question from President Trump, Rev. Lieonart said, “Raúl Castro is continuing in power because he is the First Secretary of the Communist Party.  And the new President is not really Cuba’s leader. Castro is the real leader.”

Third Day Activities[4]

Senior government and international organization representatives focused on: identifying global challenges to religious freedom; developing innovative responses to persecution on the basis of religion; and sharing new commitments to protect religious freedom for all. Survivors or close relatives of those who suffered persecution due to their religion or beliefs shared their stories. Government delegations were encouraged to announce new actions and commitments they will take to protect and promote freedom of religion or belief.

There also were the Keynote Address by Secretary Pompeo, an Address by Vice President Mike Pence and Closing Comments by Ambassador Brownback. The highlights of those speeches follow.

Secretary Pompeo’s Keynote Address

The attendance aat this Ministerial “proves that religious freedom matters to literally billions of people all around the world. Look around you. Religious freedom isn’t just a Christian concern, a Jewish concern, a Muslim concern, a Buddhist concern, a Hindu concern, or a humanist concern. It’s all of our concern; it is everyone’s concern.”

“Here in the United States, our Declaration of Independence clearly states that certain rights are unalienable. There are liberties to which all of mankind, in all places, at all times are entitled. Religious freedom is one of them. Our Constitution puts it in the very first amendment.”

“Thomas Jefferson, our first Secretary of State, [helped author the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom,“ which states, ‘Almighty God hath created the mind free… No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry, or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief.’”

“The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms religious freedom or belief as a universal right.”

“Today, we come together to turn our convictions into action. And there’s not a moment to lose. A shocking 83 percent of the world’s population live in nations where religious freedom is either threatened or denied entirely.”

Perhaps you’ve heard the recent news of the Cuban evangelical leaders who registered for this very event to come here to Washington but were not permitted to come. . . . [T]he Cuban government prevented them from . . . [coming] to express their religious freedom. Such is the thuggish, intolerant nature of the current regime in Havana.” (Emphasis added.)

The Secretary then commented about violations of religious freedom in Iran, Burma and China.

“{L]ookl at what we’ve accomplished as a result of last year’s ministerial.”

“The State Department has established an International Religious Freedom Fund – a multi-donor fund that provides rapid assistance to victims of persecution all throughout the world. It’s already serving good, and its purpose around the world is expanding. . . . We encourage more countries to step up to the plate and donate and contribute to this important cause that can do so much good all around the world.”

Here are other examples. The “United Arab Emirates they hosted the first regional conference in February on promoting religious tolerance in their curricula. . . .  {T]he nations of the Organization of American States unanimously put forth their first ever statement, introduced by the United States, affirming religious freedom in our hemisphere. Along with the United Kingdom, the United States co-sponsored a groundbreaking conference this past November on meeting the needs of vulnerable religious minorities in conflict zones. And several governments have created special ambassadors specifically charged with advancing religious freedom in their country and around the world.”

The State Department “recently commissioned a group called the Commission on Unalienable Rights to generate a serious debate about human rights that extends across party lines and across national borders. The commission’s purpose is very simple. We’re not out to discover new principles but to ground our discussion of human rights in America’s founding principles, and religious freedom is certainly amongst them.”

“In 2019, the State Department introduced mandatory training on international religious freedom for every one of our Foreign Service Officers. We’ve, so far, trained nearly 12,000 employees on how to identify religious discrimination and persecution and how to work closely with faith leaders all across the world. It is incredibly important that our diplomats be our ambassadors for this first freedom.”

“We should all consistently speak out about abuses of religious freedom. It’s the least that we can do. Today, we have nine statements of concern on countries and issues all teed up. I would ask each of you to sign them in solidarity.”

“Albania, Colombia, Morocco, and the Vatican will host regional conferences in the near future.”

“Thanks to Poland’s efforts, the UN General Assembly has named August 22nd as a special day to remember the victims of religious persecution. Please commemorate it in your home countries too. And we should all keep making the case at the United Nations and in other bodies that religious freedom should be a priority for that institution.”

“But governments alone can’t properly tackle this problem. Our countries need to support civil society groups.”

“I’m very proud to announce today a new effort that’s intended to help us in our goals across the board. We will create the International Religious Freedom Alliance. We hope that this new vehicle – the first every international body devoted to this specific topic – will build on efforts to date and bring likeminded countries together to confront challenges of international religious freedom. . . . it will defend the unalienable rights for all human beings to believe – or not to believe – whatever it is they choose.”

“You all came here because you understand that it is our responsibility to help them. We’re all in this fight together. You can be sure that the United States will be out front defending the God-given, unalienable right of all human beings to worship as they choose.”

Vice President Pence’s Remarks

“Since the earliest days of our nation, America has stood for religious freedom.  Our first settlers left their homes and all they knew for the chance to, as they said, “Begin the world [all] over again.”  They carved protections for religious liberty into the founding charters of our nation and our very earliest laws.  And after our independence was won, the crafters of America’s Constitution enshrined religious liberty as the first of our American freedoms.”

“Our Declaration of Independence proclaims that our precious liberties are not the gift of government, but rather they’re the unalienable rights endowed by our Creator.  Americans believe that people should live by the dictates of their conscience, not the diktats of government.”

“Free minds build free markets.  And wherever religious liberty is allowed to take root, it is prosperity and peace that ultimately flourish as well.”

“And as we tell even our closest allies, those who reject religious freedom are more likely to breed radicalism and resentment; that it can sow those seeds of violence and it can too often cross borders. And those who deny religious freedom to their own people often have few qualms denying those rights to others.”

“The list of religious freedom violators is long; their oppressions span the globe.” It includes Burma, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Iran, Burma, China, North Korea, Eritrea, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, China and North Korea.”

“While religious freedom is always in danger in authoritarian regimes, threats to religious minorities, sadly, are not confined to autocracies or dictatorships.  The truth is, they can and do arise in free societies, as well, not from government persecution, but from prejudice. This is the evil of Anti-Semitism.”

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[1] State Dep’t, Secretary Pompeo Convenes Second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom (June 25, 2019); State Dep’t, Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom Convenes Opening and Closing Events (July 12, 2019). The first Ministerial in July 2018 was discussed in a prior post.

[2] State Dep’t, Day 1: 2019 Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom (July 16, 2019).

[3] State Dept, Day 2: Track 1: 2019 Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom (July 17, 2019); State Dept, Day 2: Track 2: 2019 Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom (July 17, 2019); State Dept, Day 2: Track 3: 2019 Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom (July 17, 2019); The White House, Remarks by President Trump in Meeting with Survivors of Religious Persecution (July 17, 2019); Cuban Pastor Denounces Cuban Violations of Religious Freedoms to President Donald Trump, Diario de Cuba (July 19, 2019); The regime prevents two of Cuba’s leading evangelical leaders from leaving the country, Diario de Cuba (July 14, 2019); We have nothing to hide’: the Evangelical League of Cuba, Diario de Cuba (July 19, 2019).

[4] State Dep’t, Day 3: 2019 Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom (July 18, 2019); State Dep’t, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo Keynote Address at the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom (July 18, 2019); The White House, Remarks by Vice President Pence at the 2nd Annual Religious Freedom Ministerial (July 18, 2019). The prior day the Secretary made a similar speech for the presentation of international religious freedom awards. (State Dep’t, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo at the Reception for the Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom and Presentation of the International Religious Freedom Awards (July 17, 2019).

 

 

 

Archbishop Oscar Romero To Be Canonized as a Saint by the Roman Catholic Church                                                                                                     

As discussed in previous posts, the Roman Catholic Church on May 23, 2015, beatified Archbishop Oscar Romero after it had determined that he was a martyr, who is someone who was killed because of hatred of his Christian faith and, therefore, who did not have to have committed a miracle for this honor. Such beatification is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for someone to become a saint of the Church.[1]

On March 6, 2018, Pope Francis authorized the Church’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints to promulgate a decree concerning “the miracle, attributed to the intercession of Blessed Oscar Arnulfo Romero Galdámez, archbishop of San Salvador.” That miracle was the healing of a Salvadoran pregnant woman who was suffering from life-threatening complications, but who was healed after she had prayed for Romero’s intercession. [2]

This papal decree followed the October 2017 unanimous decision by a Vatican panel of medical experts that there was no scientific explanation for the woman’s recovery; the December 2017 approval of that decision by a panel of theologians; and the February 2018 approval of that decision by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

The Congregation for the Causes of Saints is the congregation of the Roman Curia that oversees the complex process that leads to the canonization of saints, passing through the steps of a declaration of “heroic virtues” and beatification. After preparing a case, including the approval of miracles, the case is presented to the Pope, who decides whether or not to proceed with beatification or canonization.[3]

In 2016, Cardinal Parolin, under the mandate of Pope Francis, approved the current Regulations for the Medical Board of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints that introduced the necessity of a qualified majority of at least at least 5/7 or 4/6; to proceed to the examination of a presumed miracle. These new rules approved by Pope Francis are designed to make the process for approving a miracle in a sainthood cause more stringent.

We now await announcement of the time and place of the canonization.

As someone who strives to be a Christian of the Presbyterian persuasion and who already has self-designated Romero as his personal saint because of his courage in proclaiming the Gospel in El Salvador and denouncing its government’s violations of human rights, I am grateful for the Roman Catholic Church’s making Romero’s sainthood official.

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[1] Previous posts about Oscar Romero are listed in the “Oscar Romero” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: EL SALVADOR.   Here are the ones about his beatification: Beatification of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero? (May 23, 2013); Progress on Vatican’s Canonization of Oscar Romero (May 20, 2014); Pope Francis Urges Swift Beatification of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero (Aug. 22, 2014); Comment: Salvadoran Bishops Unhappy with Possible Beatification of Oscar Romero (Oct. 5, 2014); University of Centro America Endorses Beatification of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero (Nov. 25, 2014); Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero Closer to Beatification (Jan. 19, 2015); Pope Francis Confirms Martyrdom of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero (Feb. 3, 2015); Additional Details About Future Beatification of Oscar Romero (Feb. 4, 2015); Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero To Be Beatified on May 23, 2015 (Mar. 13, 2015).

[2] Vatican, Promulgation of the Decrees of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, 07.03.2018Pope Francis approves sainthood for Oscar Romero, Catholic Herald (Mar. 7, 2018); O’Connell, Pope Francis opens the door for canonization of Oscar Romero and Paul VI, America: The Jesuit Review (Mar. 7, 2018); Pope approves miracle for Romero, SuperMartyrio (Mar. 7, 2018); Canonization of Oscar Romero announced, El Salvador Perspectives (Mar. 7, 2018).

[3] Vatican, Congregation for the Causes of SaintsCongregation for the Causes of Saints, Wikipedia.

 

 

Pope Francis’ Message for World Peace

Pope Francis
Pope Francis

Pope Francis renewed his calls for peace and goodwill throughout the Earth on Friday, New Year’s Day, the Solemnity of the Mother of God and the World Day of Peace. The Holy Father’s appeal came from the window of his study at the Apostolic Palace before and after the Angelus prayer with pilgrims and visitors gathered in St. Peter’s Square. Here are extracts from his remarks.[1]

“The biblical blessing continues: “[The Lord] give you peace” (v. 26). Today we celebrate the World Day of Peace, whose theme is: “Overcome indifference and win peace.” The peace that God the Father wants to sow in the world must be cultivated by us. Not only [cultivated], it must also be ‘conquered.’ This involves a real struggle, a spiritual battle that takes place in our hearts. Because the enemy of peace is not only war, but also indifference, which makes us think only of ourselves and creates barriers, suspicions, fears and closures [of mind and heart]. And these things are the enemies of peace. We have, thank God, much information; but sometimes we are so inundated with news that we are distracted from reality, from the brother and sister who needs us. Let us begin this [new] year to open our hearts, awakening attention to our neighbor. This is the way to win the peace.”

“I express gratitude for the many initiatives of prayer and action for peace organized all over the world on the occasion of today’s World Day of Peace. . . .  Dear friends, I encourage you to continue your commitment to reconciliation and harmony.”

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[1] The words of the Pope at Angelus (Jan. 1, 2016); Pope Francis: Angelus appeal for peace, Va. News (Jan. 1, 2016); Povoledo, Pope Francis Urges Overcoming ‘Indifference’ to Attain Peace, N.Y. Times (Jan. 1, 2016).

 

 

Resolution of Problem of Cuban Migrants Stranded in Central America

On December 28, 2015, five Central American countries and Mexico apparently resolved the problem created by the presence of 6,000 to 8,000 Cuban migrants in Costa Rica. Many of the circumstances leading up to the presence of these migrants have been discussed in prior posts.[1] This post will review subsequent events that have made the problem more pressing for Costa Rica, the recent agreed-upon solution for this problem and issues presented for its full implementation.

Recent Developments

On December 18, 2015, Costa Rica suspended its participation in the political bodies of the Central American Integration System (SICA) because of the refusal of three members (Belize, Guatemala and Nicaragua) to seek a regional solution to the transit of the migrants on their way to the U.S.[2]

On the same date, Costa Rica announced that it would no longer issue any more transit visas to Cubans seeking to enter the country and that it would deport to Cuba any Cubans in the country without such visas. [3]

On Sunday, December 27, Pope Francis led the Angelus Prayer with pilgrims and tourists gathered in St. Peter’s Square from the window of his study in the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican. Immediately after the prayer, Francis said, “[M]y thoughts at this time to the numerous Cuban migrants who find themselves in difficulties in Central America, many of whom are victims of human trafficking. I invite the countries of the region to renew generously all necessary efforts to find a timely solution to this humanitarian tragedy.”[4]

Agreed-Upon Solution[5]

On Monday, December 28, Costa Rica, Panama, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico and Guatemala met in Guatemala with the International Organization for Migration and agreed to what they called a “pilot project” to resolve the Cuban migrants problem. Here the main points of that “pilot program:”

  • In the first week of January 2016, 250 of the 6,000 to 8,000 migrants in Costa Rica will be flown from San Jose, Costa Rica to San Salvador, El Salvador, where they will obtain the latter’s transit visas.
  • These migrants will then be transferred to buses to be taken from El Salvador through Guatemala and Mexico to the latter’s northern border with the U.S. while obtaining on the journey the latter Guatemala and Mexican transit visas.
  • At the U.S. border, the migrants will present their papers to U.S. immigration officials and presumably will be allowed to come into the U.S. under its dry feet/wet feel policy.

In addition, the five Central American countries and Mexico reaffirmed their commitment to combat human trafficking networks, to apply the law “without delay” in order to severely penalize this illegal activity that “unfortunately obliges countries in the region to return to their country of origin all persons entering their territory in an unauthorized manner, ”to prevent irregular migration and to firmly combat the crime of human trafficking, and primarily to protect the integrity of migrants and ensure respect for their fundamental rights,” They also agreed to convene a Regional Conference on Migration to address this issue in its entirety.

El Salvador’s announcement of this agreement stated that its participation in the solution was “in line with the call made by His Holiness Pope Francis, in his message of December 27.” This sentiment was echoed by Edgar Gutiérrez, a political analyst and former Guatemalan foreign minister, who said, “I believe that the pope’s comments were extremely important to accelerate the negotiation process.”

The U.S. and Cuba were not directly involved in the negotiations of this agreement, but according to the Wall Street Journal, both of these countries had pressed the Central American countries to reach a regional agreement on resolving the current situation before the end of this year. They did so after the U.S. reportedly rejected a Costa Rica request for the U.S. to airlift the migrants directly to the U.S. and after Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez stated that “Cuba requests that the solution for the thousands of Cuban migrants in Costa Rica is adequate, taking into account the welfare of these citizens, and that it is as swift as possible.”

Just before this agreement was reached, the New York Times published a letter from Costa Rica’s Ambassador stressing “the growing humanitarian and economic challenge that Costa Rica faces in caring for [the Cuban migrants].”[6]

Concerns About the Agreed-Upon Solution

 The current public information about the agreed-upon solution presents the following questions (and problems):

  • Will the ‘pilot project” be successful?
  • If it is successful, how many separate flights and bus trips will be necessary for all 6,000 to 8,000 migrants legally in Costa Rica? Based upon the 250 migrants involved in the “pilot project,” it will require a total of 32 such ventures for 8,000 migrants.
  • Over what period of time?
  • The “pilot project” and implementation for all of the 6,000 to 8,000 migrants now in Costa Rica with transit visas will be expensive. At only $1,000 per person the total cost would be $6 million to $8 million. Who will pay for it? The countries directly involved clearly are not wealthy countries and presumably cannot afford it. As a result, they probably will ask the U.S. to do. So. Will the U.S. agree to do so?
  • Will the U.S. still have the dry feet/wet feet policy in effect when the “pilot program” and other migrants arrive at the U.S. border and, therefore, be permitted to come into the U.S.?

An overarching concern is whether this agreement will encourage additional Cubans to leave their country in an effort to get to the U.S. next year, especially after Cuban President Raul Castro’s December 29 speech to the country’s National Assembly warning Cubans that next year will be a difficult year for the Cuban economy.[7]

Carlos Raúl Morales, Guatemala’s foreign minister, said, “We are finishing the work of the smugglers, and of course it will incentivize the arrival of more illegals, but in solidarity we could not ignore the drama in Costa Rica.”  Similar thought were offered by Eric Olson, a Latin American analyst at the Wilson Center in Washington.

Central American officials, however, stressed the deal was one-off due to a humanitarian situation and that Costa Rica has ended the transit-visa program that had opened the door to Cuban migrants. “This solution is absolutely an exception for those people who had already arrived legally,” Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel González told reporters after the agreement was reached on Monday. “Costa Rica has been very clear that we cannot establish a permanent mechanism” for Cuban immigrants. A Mexican diplomatic official concurred: “The agreement among all of us is that we had to solve this under the principle of shared responsibility and that the problem cannot repeat itself.”

Another result of the surge of Cuban migrants through Central America and of the agreement to resolve the current situation will be the enlistment of all of the Central American countries plus Mexico in Cuba’s effort to persuade the U.S. to terminate as soon as possible its “dry feet/wet feet” immigration policy for Cubans.

This U.S. immigration policy can also be seen as part of the U.S. “visa waiver” program, which currently is under legitimate review for future restrictions to attempt to prevent foreign terrorists from coming to the U.S.[8]

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[1] Cubans in Central America Provide Cuba with Opportunity To Reiterate Its Objections to U.S. Immigration Policies (Nov. 20, 2015); Update on Cuban Migrants in Central America (Nov. 27, 2015); U.S. and Cuba Fail to Resolve Complaints About U.S. Immigration Policies (Dec. 1, 2015); Status of Cuban Migrants in Central America Still Unresolved ((Dec. 11, 2015).

[2] Costa Rica Foreign Ministry, Costa Rica suspends participation in political bodies of SICA refusal to Nicaragua, Guatemala and Belize agreed solution to the transit of Cuban migrants, (Dec. 18 2015).

[3]   Assoc.Press, Costa Rica Suspends Visas for Cubans as Regional Protest, N.Y. Times (Dec. 18, 2015); Assoc. Press, Costa Rica Moves to Deport 56 Cuban Migrants, N.Y. Times (Dec. 26, 2015).

[4] The Words of the Pope at Angelus, 27/12/2015Pope Francis Angelus appeal for Cuban migrants, Va. News (Dec. 27, 2015).

[5] Assoc. Press, Costa Rica: Some Stranded Cubans to be Allowed to Continue North, N.Y. Times (Dec. 28, 2015); Costa Rica Foreign Ministry, Countries in the region agree to give exceptional, safe passage and ordered Cuban migrants (Dec. 28, 2015); Guatemala Foreign Ministry, Press the Republic of Guatemala regarding the meeting held to address the immigration status of Cubans in Costa Rica (Dec. 28, 2015); El Salvador Foreign Ministry, El Salvador reiterates its readiness to cooperate with immigration crisis solution (Dec. 28, 2015); Central American agreement to transfer first group of Cuban migrants, Granma (Dec. 29, 2015); Iliff & Montes, Accord Over Cubans Stranded in Costa Rica Sparks Fear of Illegal Migration Wave, W.S.J. (Dec. 29, 2015).

[6] Macaya, Letter to the New York Times (Dec. 28, 2015).

[7] Iliff & Montes, Accord Over Cubans Stranded in Costa Rica Sparks Fear of Illegal Migration Wave, W.S.J. (Dec. 29, 2015); Assoc. Press, Raul Castro Prepares Cuba for Tough Year Despite US Opening, N.Y. Times (Dec. 29, 2015); Raul Castro, We never accept conditionalities for lacerating the sovereignty and dignity of the homeland, Granma (Dec. 30, 2015).

[8] E.g., Hulse, Some revealing Moments as Congress Closes the Door on 2015, N.Y. Times (Dec. 21, 2015)

The Sixth Day of Pope Francis’ Mission to the American People

Sunday, September 27, the sixth and final day of Pope Francis’ mission to the American people was another busy day in Philadelphia.

He started with meeting a small group of the Church’s sexual abuse victims. He then went to St. Charles Borromeo Seminary’s St. Martin’s Chapel, where he met with Catholic bishops attending the World Meeting of Families. Francis then visited the city’s Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility to meet with 100 inmates – a quarter female – as well as family members and prison staff. An unscheduled stop was made at St. Joseph’s University.

That afternoon the Pope returned to the World Meeting of Families to celebrate mass for over a million people. His mission to the American people concluded at the city’s International Airport where he met with organizers and volunteers from the World Meeting before his plane departed for Rome around 7:30 p.m. (EST). On the plane he held a press conference.

Meeting with Abuse Victims[1]

The day began with meeting a small group of abuse victims and their family members. Francis told them, “ Words cannot fully express my sorrow for the abuse you suffered. You are precious children of God who should always expect our protection, our care and our love. I am profoundly sorry that your innocence was violated by those whom you trusted. In some cases the trust was betrayed by members of your own family, in other cases by priests who carry a sacred responsibility for the care of soul. In all circumstances, the betrayal was a terrible violation of human dignity.”

“For those who were abused by a member of the clergy, I am deeply sorry for the times when you or your family spoke out, to report the abuse, but you were not heard or believed. Please know that the Holy Father hears you and believes you. I deeply regret that some bishops failed in their responsibility to protect children. It is very disturbing to know that in some cases bishops even were abusers. I pledge to you that we will follow the path of truth wherever it may lead. Clergy and bishops will be held accountable when they abuse or fail to protect children.”

“We are gathered here in Philadelphia to celebrate God’s gift of family life. Within our family of faith and our human families, the sins and crimes of sexual abuse of children must no longer be held in secret and in shame. As we anticipate the Jubilee Year of Mercy, your presence, so generously given despite the anger and pain you have experienced, reveals the merciful heart of Christ. Your stories of survival, each unique and compelling, are powerful signs of the hope that comes from the Lord’s promise to be with us always.”

“It is good to know that you have brought family members and friends with you today. I am grateful for their compassionate support and pray that many people of the Church will respond to the call to accompany those who have suffered abuse. May the Door of Mercy be opened wide in our dioceses, our parishes, our homes and our hearts, to receive those who were abused and to seek the path to forgiveness by trusting in the Lord. We promise to support your continued healing and to always be vigilant to protect the children of today and tomorrow.”

“When the disciples who walked with Jesus on the road to Emmaus recognized that He was the Risen Lord, they asked Jesus to stay with them. Like those disciples, I humbly beg you and all survivors of abuse to stay with us, to stay with the Church, and that together, as pilgrims on the journey of faith, we might find our way to the Father.”

Afterwards Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, said this meeting included victims of abuse by relatives or educators in order to show that the church is taking a “larger perspective” on the problem of sexual abuse. He added that the Pope had waited to make these remarks until Sunday, when he was scheduled to address an international group of bishops, because “we know the problem is a universal problem, in the universal church, and also in society.”

Meeting with Bishops Attending World Meeting on Families[2]

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At St. Martin’s Chapel at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Francis met with bishops and seminarians who were attending the World Meeting on Families as shown in the photograph to the right.

Before his prepared remarks, the Pope offered these words: “I carry in my heart the stories, the suffering and the pain of the minors that have been sexually abused by priests. I’m overwhelmed by the shame that people who were in charge of caring for those young ones raped them and caused them great damages. I regret this profoundly. God cries! The crimes and sins of the sexual abuse to minors can’t be kept a secret anymore. I commit to the zealous oversight of the Church to protect minors, and I promise that everyone responsible will be held accountable. You, they, the survivors of abuse have become real heralds of hope and ministers of mercy. Humbly we owe each one of them and their families our gratitude for their immense courage for making the light of Christ shine over the evil of minor sexual abuse. I say this because I have just met by a group of people who where abused when they were children, that are helped and accompanied here in Philadelphia, with especial care from Monsignor Chaput.”

The Pope then continued with the following prepared remarks.

“For the Church, the family is not first and foremost a cause for concern, but rather the joyous confirmation of God’s blessing upon the masterpiece of creation. Every day, all over the world, the Church can rejoice in the Lord’s gift of so many families who, even amid difficult trials, remain faithful to their promises and keep the faith!”

“I would say that the foremost pastoral challenge of our changing times is to move decisively towards recognizing this gift. For all the obstacles we see before us, gratitude and appreciation should prevail over concerns and complaints. The family is the fundamental locus of the covenant between the Church and God’s creation. Without the family, not even the Church would exist. Nor could she be what she is called to be, namely ‘a sign and instrument of communion with God and of the unity of the entire human race’ (Lumen Gentium, 1).”

“Needless to say, our understanding, shaped by the interplay of ecclesial faith and the conjugal experience of sacramental grace, must not lead us to disregard the unprecedented changes taking place in contemporary society, with their social, cultural – and now juridical – effects on family bonds. These changes affect all of us, believers and non-believers alike. Christians are not ‘immune’ to the changes of their times. This concrete world, with all its many problems and possibilities, is where we must live, believe and proclaim.”

“Until recently, we lived in a social context where the similarities between the civil institution of marriage and the Christian sacrament [of marriage] were considerable and shared. The two were interrelated and mutually supportive. This is no longer the case.”

After talking about the abandonment of local stores and their bonds with neighbors, the Pope said, “our culture has become more and more competitive. Business is no longer conducted on the basis of trust; others can no longer be trusted. There are no longer close personal relationships. Today’s culture seems to encourage people not to bond with anything or anyone, not to trust. The most important thing nowadays seems to be follow the latest trend or activity. This is even true of religion. Today consumerism determines what is important. Consuming relationships, consuming friendships, consuming religions, consuming, consuming… Whatever the cost or consequences. A consumption that does not favor bonding, a consumption which has little to do with human relationships. Social bonds are a mere ‘means’ for the satisfaction of ‘my needs.’ The important thing is no longer our neighbor, with his or her familiar face, story and personality.”

“The result is a culture which discards everything that is no longer ‘useful’ or ‘satisfying’ for the tastes of the consumer. We have turned our society into a huge multicultural showcase tied only to the tastes of certain ‘consumers,’ while so many others only ‘eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table’ (Mt 15:27).”

“This causes great harm. I would say that at the root of so many contemporary situations is a kind of impoverishment born of a widespread and radical sense of loneliness. Running after the latest fad, accumulating ‘friends’ on one of the social networks, we get caught up in what contemporary society has to offer. [The result:] Loneliness with fear of commitment in a limitless effort to feel recognized.”

“Should we blame our young people for having grown up in this kind of society? Should we condemn them for living in this kind of a world? Should they hear their pastors saying that ‘it was all better back then,’ ‘the world is falling apart and if things go on this way, who knows where we will end up?’ No, I do not think that this is the way. As shepherds following in the footsteps of the Good Shepherd, we are asked to seek out, to accompany, to lift up, to bind up the wounds of our time. To look at things realistically, with the eyes of one who feels called to action, to pastoral conversion. The world today demands this conversion on our part. ‘It is vitally important for the Church today to go forth and preach the Gospel to all: to all places, on all occasions, without hesitation, reluctance or fear. The joy of the Gospel is for all people: no one can be excluded’ (Evangelii Gaudium, 23).”

“We would be mistaken, however, to see this ‘culture’ of the present world as mere indifference towards marriage and the family, as pure and simple selfishness. Are today’s young people hopelessly timid, weak, inconsistent? We must not fall into this trap.”

“Many young people, in the context of this culture of discouragement, have yielded to a form of unconscious acquiescence. They are paralyzed when they encounter the beautiful, noble and truly necessary challenges which faith sets before them. Many put off marriage while waiting for ideal conditions, when everything can be perfect. Meanwhile, life goes on, without really being lived to the full. For knowledge of life’s true pleasures only comes as the fruit of a long-term, generous investment of our intelligence, enthusiasm and passion.”

“As pastors, we bishops are called to collect our energies and to rebuild enthusiasm for making families correspond ever more fully to the blessing of God which they are! We need to invest our energies not so much in rehearsing the problems of the world around us and the merits of Christianity, but in extending a sincere invitation to young people to be brave and to opt for marriage and the family. Here too, we need a bit of holy parrhesia [candor]!”

“A Christianity which ‘does’ little in practice, while incessantly ‘explaining’ its teachings, is dangerously unbalanced. I would even say that it is stuck in a vicious circle. A pastor must show that the ‘Gospel of the family’ is truly ‘good news’ in a world where self-concern seems to reign supreme! We are not speaking about some romantic dream: the perseverance that is called for in having a family and raising it transforms the world and human history.”

“A pastor serenely yet passionately proclaims the word of God. He encourages believers to aim high. He will enable his brothers and sisters to hear and experience God’s promise, which can expand their experience of motherhood and fatherhood within the horizon of a new ‘familiarity’ with God (Mk 3:31-35).”

“A pastor watches over the dreams, the lives and the growth of his flock. This ‘watchfulness’ is not the result of talking, but of shepherding. Only one capable of standing ‘in the midst of’ the flock can be watchful, not someone who is afraid of questions, contact, accompaniment. A pastor keeps watch first and foremost with prayer, supporting the faith of his people and instilling confidence in the Lord, in his presence. A pastor remains vigilant by helping people to lift their gaze at times of discouragement, frustration and failure. We might well ask whether in our pastoral ministry we are ready to ‘waste’ time with families. Whether we are ready to be present to them, sharing their difficulties and joys.”

“Naturally, experiencing the spirit of this joyful familiarity with God, and spreading its powerful evangelical fruitfulness, has to be the primary feature of our lifestyle as bishops: a lifestyle of prayer and preaching the Gospel (Acts 6:4). By our own humble Christian apprenticeship in the familial virtues of God’s people, we will become more and more like fathers and mothers (as did Saint Paul: cf. 1 Th 2:7,11), and less like people who have simply learned to live without a family.”

“Our ideal is not to live without love! A good pastor renounces the love of a family precisely in order to focus all his energies, and the grace of his particular vocation, on the evangelical blessing of the love of men and women who carry forward God’s plan of creation, beginning with those who are lost, abandoned, wounded, broken, downtrodden and deprived of their dignity. This total surrender to God’s agape is certainly not a vocation lacking in tenderness and affection! We need but look to Jesus to understand this (cf. Mt 19:12).”

“The mission of a good pastor, in the style of God – and only God can authorize this, not our own presumption! – imitates in every way and for all people the Son’s love for the Father. This is reflected in the tenderness with which a pastor devotes himself to the loving care of the men and women of our human family.”

“For the eyes of faith, this is a most valuable sign. Our ministry needs to deepen the covenant between the Church and the family. Otherwise it becomes arid, and the human family will grow irremediably distant, by our own fault, from God’s joyful good news.”

“If we prove capable of the demanding task of reflecting God’s love, cultivating infinite patience and serenity as we strive to sow its seeds in the frequently crooked furrows in which we are called to plant, then even a Samaritan woman with five ‘non-husbands’ will discover that she is capable of giving witness.”

“And for every rich young man who with sadness feels that he has to calmly keep considering the matter, an older publican will come down from the tree and give fourfold to the poor, to whom, before that moment, he had never even given a thought.”

“May God grant us this gift of a renewed closeness between the family and the Church. The family is our ally, our window to the world, and the evidence of an irrevocable blessing of God destined for all the children who in every age are born into this difficult yet beautiful creation which God has asked us to serve!”

Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility[3]

Francis went to the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, which holds almost 3,000 individuals, the vast majority of whom have not been convicted of the charges against them and are still awaiting trial. He met with roughly 100 men and women detainees, who presented him a hand-carved chair, for which he thanked them.

Francis said to them, “Thank you for receiving me and giving me the opportunity to be here with you and to share this time in your lives. It is a difficult time, one full of struggles. I know it is a painful time not only for you, but also for your families and for all of society. Any society, any family, which cannot share or take seriously the pain of its children, and views that pain as something normal or to be expected, is a society ‘condemned’ to remain a hostage to itself, prey to the very things which cause that pain. I am here as a pastor, but above all as a brother, to share your situation and to make it my own. I have come so that we can pray together and offer our God everything that causes us pain, but also everything that gives us hope, so that we can receive from him the power of the resurrection.”

“I think of the Gospel scene where Jesus washes the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper. This was something his disciples found hard to accept. Even Peter refused, and told him: ‘You will never wash my feet’ (Jn 13:8).”

“In those days, it was the custom to wash someone’s feet when they came to your home. That was how they welcomed people. The roads were not paved, they were covered with dust, and little stones would get stuck in your sandals. Everyone walked those roads, which left their feet dusty, bruised or cut from those stones. That is why we see Jesus washing feet, our feet, the feet of his disciples, then and now.”

“Life is a journey, along different roads, different paths, which leave their mark on us.”

“We know in faith that Jesus seeks us out. He wants to heal our wounds, to soothe our feet which hurt from traveling alone, to wash each of us clean of the dust from our journey. He doesn’t ask us where we have been, he doesn’t question us what about we have done. Rather, he tells us: ‘Unless I wash your feet, you have no share with me’ (Jn 13:8). Unless I wash your feet, I will not be able to give you the life which the Father always dreamed of, the life for which he created you. Jesus comes to meet us, so that he can restore our dignity as children of God. He wants to help us to set out again, to resume our journey, to recover our hope, to restore our faith and trust. He wants us to keep walking along the paths of life, to realize that we have a mission, and that confinement is not the same thing as exclusion.”

“Life means ‘getting our feet dirty’ from the dust-filled roads of life and history. All of us need to be cleansed, to be washed. All of us are being sought out by the Teacher, who wants to help us resume our journey. The Lord goes in search of us; to all of us he stretches out a helping hand. It is painful when we see prison systems which are not concerned to care for wounds, to soothe pain, to offer new possibilities. It is painful when we see people who think that only others need to be cleansed, purified, and do not recognize that their weariness, pain and wounds are also the weariness, pain and wounds of society. The Lord tells us this clearly with a sign: he washes our feet so we can come back to the table. The table from which he wishes no one to be excluded. The table which is spread for all and to which all of us are invited.”

“This time in your life can only have one purpose: to give you a hand in getting back on the right road, to give you a hand to help you rejoin society. All of us are part of that effort, all of us are invited to encourage, help and enable your rehabilitation. A rehabilitation which everyone seeks and desires: inmates and their families, correctional authorities, social and educational programs. A rehabilitation which benefits and elevates the morale of the entire community.”

“Jesus invites us to share in his lot, his way of living and acting. He teaches us to see the world through his eyes. Eyes which are not scandalized by the dust picked up along the way, but want to cleanse, heal and restore. He asks us to create new opportunities: for inmates, for their families, for correctional authorities, and for society as a whole. I encourage you to have this attitude with one another and with all those who in any way are part of this institution. May you make possible new opportunities, new journeys, new paths.”

“All of us have something we need to be cleansed of, or purified from. May the knowledge of that fact inspire us to live in solidarity, to support one another and seek the best for others.”

“Let us look to Jesus, who washes our feet. He is ‘the way, and the truth, and the life.’ He comes to save us from the lie that says no one can change. He helps us to journey along the paths of life and fulfillment. May the power of his love and his resurrection always be a path leading you to new life.”

Unknown

After the speech, Francis walked along the rows of inmates sitting in chairs, shaking hands, chatting, laying his hand on their foreheads and hugging a few. Here is a photograph to the right showing some of those interactions.

St. Joseph’s University[4]

statue (1)

 

Francis, a member of the Jesuit religious order, made an unscheduled stop at St. Joseph’s University, a Jesuit school. There he blessed a new statue dedicated to ties between Catholics and Jews as shown in the photograph to the left.

 

Mass at the World Meeting of Families[5]

images

Sunday’s Mass, marking the end of the World Meeting of Families, took place on Eakins Oval in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, with nearly a million people on the facing Benjamin Franklin Parkway, which was studded with jumbotron screens. Here is a photograph to the right of the Pope at this mass.

In his homily Francis said the following:

“Today the word of God surprises us with powerful and thought-provoking images. Images which challenge us, but also stir our enthusiasm. In the first reading, Joshua tells Moses that two members of the people are prophesying, speaking God’s word, without a mandate. In the Gospel, John tells Jesus that the disciples had stopped someone from casting out evil spirits in the name of Jesus.”

“Here is the surprise: Moses and Jesus both rebuke those closest to them for being so narrow! Would that all could be prophets of God’s word! Would that everyone could work miracles in the Lord’s name!”

“Jesus encountered hostility from people who did not accept what he said and did. For them, his openness to the honest and sincere faith of many men and women who were not part of God’s chosen people seemed intolerable. The disciples, for their part, acted in good faith. But the temptation to be scandalized by the freedom of God, who sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous alike (Mt 5:45), bypassing bureaucracy, officialdom and inner circles, threatens the authenticity of faith. Hence it must be vigorously rejected.”

“Once we realize this, we can understand why Jesus’ words about causing ‘scandal’ are so harsh. For Jesus, the truly ‘intolerable’ scandal consists in everything that breaks down and destroys our trust in the working of the Spirit!”

“Our Father will not be outdone in generosity and he continues to scatter seeds.”

“He scatters the seeds of his presence in our world, for ‘love consists in this, not that we have loved God but that he loved us’ first (1 Jn 4:10). That love gives us a profound certainty: we are sought by God; he waits for us. It is this confidence which makes disciples encourage, support and nurture the good things happening all around them. God wants all his children to take part in the feast of the Gospel. Jesus says, ‘Do not hold back anything that is good, instead help it to grow!’”

“To raise doubts about the working of the Spirit, to give the impression that it cannot take place in those who are not ‘part of our group,’ who are not ‘like us,’ is a dangerous temptation. Not only does it block conversion to the faith; it is a perversion of faith! Faith opens a ‘window’ to the presence and working of the Spirit. It shows us that, like happiness, holiness is always tied to little gestures. ‘Whoever gives you a cup of water in my name will not go unrewarded,’ says Jesus (cf. Mk 9:41).”

“These little gestures are those we learn at home, in the family; they get lost amid all the other things we do, yet they do make each day different. They are the quiet things done by mothers and grandmothers, by fathers and grandfathers, by children. They are little signs of tenderness, affection and compassion. Like the warm supper we look forward to at night, the early lunch awaiting someone who gets up early to go to work.”

“Homely gestures. Like a blessing before we go to bed, or a hug after we return from a hard day’s work. Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home. Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love. That is why our families, our homes, are true domestic churches. They are the right place for faith to become life, and life to become faith.”

“Jesus tells us not to hold back these little miracles. Instead, he wants us to encourage them, to spread them. He asks us to go through life, our everyday life, encouraging all these little signs of love as signs of his own living and active presence in our world.”

“So we might ask ourselves: How are we trying to live this way in our homes, in our societies? What kind of world do we want to leave to our children (cf. Laudato Si’, 160)? We cannot answer these questions alone, by ourselves. It is the Spirit who challenges us to respond as part of the great human family.”

“Our common house can no longer tolerate sterile divisions. The urgent challenge of protecting our home includes the effort to bring the entire human family together in the pursuit of a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change (cf. ibid., 13). May our children find in us models and incentives to communion! May our children find in us men and women capable of joining others in bringing to full flower all the good seeds which the Father has sown!”

“Pointedly, yet affectionately, Jesus tells us: ‘If you, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’ (Lk 11:13). How much wisdom there is in these few words! It is true that, as far as goodness and purity of heart are concerned, we human beings don’t have much to show! But Jesus knows that, where children are concerned, we are capable of boundless generosity. So he reassures us: if only we have faith, the Father will give us his Spirit.”

“We Christians, the Lord’s disciples, ask the families of the world to help us! How many of us are here at this celebration! This is itself something prophetic, a kind of miracle in today’s world. The world is tired of creating new division and new disasters. Wouldn’t it be great if all of us where prophets. If all of us would be open ot the miracles of love for the good of all families.”

“I leave you with this question, for each one of you to respond to. In my home, do we yell, or do we speak with love and tenderness? This is a good way to recognize our love.”

“Would that we could all be prophets! Would that all of us could be open to miracles of love for the sake of all the families of the world, and thus overcome the scandal of a narrow, petty love, closed in on itself, impatient of other. And how beautiful it would be if everywhere, even beyond our borders, we could appreciate and encourage this prophecy and this miracle! We renew our faith in the word of the Lord which invites faithful families to this openness. It invites all those who want to share the prophecy of the covenant of man and woman, which generates life and reveals God!”

“Anyone who wants to bring into this world a family which teaches children to be excited by every gesture aimed at overcoming evil – a family which shows that the Spirit is alive and at work – will encounter our gratitude and our appreciation. Whatever the family, people, region, or religion to which they belong! May God grant to all of us, as the Lord’s disciples, the grace to be worthy of this purity of heart which is not scandalized by the Gospel!”

Return Flight to Rome[6]

Before he boarded his plane to return to Rome, Francis met with the organizers, volunteers and benefactors of the World Meeting of Families to thank them for all their work. At approximately 7:30 p.m. (EST) the Pope’s plane left Philadelphia for Rome.

On the plane the Pope held a press conference. He again strongly condemned priests who molested children as “sacrilegious” and publicly acknowledged that bishops had covered up abuse cases. “When a priest abuses, it is very grave because the vocation of the priest is to make that boy, that girl grow toward the love of God. For this reason, the church is strong on this and one must not cover these things up. Those who covered this up are guilty. Even some bishops who covered this up.”

Francis commended the sisters in the U.S., who “have done marvels in the field of education, in the field of health. The people of the United States love the sisters. . . . They are great, they are great, great, great women. . . .”

He defended his recent changes to Roman Catholic rules on marriage annulments, saying the changes had improved the system, but had not transformed it into an administrative “Catholic divorce.”

Francis described the deep roots of the migrant crisis while dismissing border barriers, like the one being constructed in Hungary, as pointless. He recognized that Europe was facing a difficult situation but promoted dialogue as a solution, not walls.

Francis expressed hope that a tentative peace agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, would be realized by the March [2016] deadline. He said he had spoken twice to President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia while Vatican diplomats had also been involved. “I was very happy, and I felt like I was part of it,” he said.

When asked about government employees who refused to discharge their duties as an act of religious conscience, including refusing to grant marriage licenses to gay couples, Francis did not offer specifics but described conscientious objection as “a human right.”

This last issue re-emerged after the Pope’s return to the Vatican when it became known that on the third day of his American mission (September 24), the Pope met at the Vatican Embassy in Washington with several individuals, including Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who was jailed for contempt of court for refusing to grant wedding licenses to same-sex couples because of her religious beliefs. According to her lawyer, the Pope gave her and her husband two rosaries, embraced her and told her to “stay strong.” The Vatican spokesman, Federico Lombardi, however, subsequently stated,“The pope did not enter into the details of the situation of Mrs. Davis, and his meeting with her should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects.”  The Vatican spokesman added that the only “real audience” given by the Pope in the U.S. was to one of his former students, who is a gay man, and his male partner.[7]

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[1] Pope Francis’ Remarks to Victims of Sexual Abuse, N.Y. Times (Sept. 27, 2015); Goodstein & Wakin, Pope Francis Ends Visit With Mass After Meeting Bishops and Inmates, N.Y. Times (Sept. 27, 2015).

[2] Goodstein, After Criticism, Pope Francis Confronts Priestly Sexual Abuse, N.Y. Times (Sept. 27, 2015); Read Pope Francis’ Speech to Bishops, NBC4 (Sept. 27, 2015) (video + text).

[3] Reilly, Pope Francis Tells Inmates That Society Can’t Ignore Their Pain, HuffPost (Sept. 27, 2015); Pope Francis’ Speech to Curran-Fromhold Correction Facility Inmates (Sept. 27, 2015).

[4] Pontiff Makes Historic Visit to Philadelphia’s Jesuit University (Sept. 27, 2015).

[5] Pope Francis’ Homily at the World Meeting of Families Closing Mass (Sept. 27, 2015).

[6] Pope’s Visit with organizers, volunteers and benefactors of the World Meeting of Families (Sept. 27, 2015); Yardley, Pope Francis, on Flight Home, Strongly Condemns Child Sexual Abuse, (N.Y. Times (Sept. 28, 2015); Murphy, Pope expands warnings on sex abuse scandals after return to Rome, Wash. Post (Sept. 28, 2015); Pope Francis: “I’m not a star, but the servant of servants of God,” Vatican Radio (Sept. 28, 2015).

[7] Goodstein & Yardley, Pope Francis, the Kentucky Clerk and Culture Wars Revisited, N.Y. Times (Sept. 30, 2015); Yardley & Goodstein, Before Pope Francis Met Kim Davis, He Met With Gay Ex-Student, N.Y. Times (Oct. 2, 2015). There also has been speculation about whether the papal nuncio to the U.S. was responsible on his own for inviting Ms. Davis without adequately briefing the Pope about her case. (Horowitz, Archbishop at Center of Mystery of Papal Meeting with Kim Davis, N.Y. Times (Oct. 3, 2015).

 

The First Day of Pope Francis’ Mission to Cuba

On Saturday, September 19, at 15:52 (Cuban time; EST) Pope Francis’ airplane from Rome arrived at Havana’s airport. This post will cover the Pope’s flight to Cuba, the final hours of Cuba’s preparation and anticipation of his arrival; and his arrival.[1] Subsequent posts will cover each of the Pope’s other three days in Cuba and then each of his six days in the United States of America.

The Pope’s Flight to Cuba

At 04:15 (EST) the Pope’s plane left Rome with an entourage that included Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin and Vatican “Foreign Minister” Monsignor John Gallagher. From the plane the Pope issued many tweets. One of them said: “I ask you to join me in praying for my trip to Cuba and the United States.”

On the plane the Pope told journalists, “I love the Cuban people a great deal.” He also noted the need to extend a hand and open parish doors to immigrants.

Preparations in Havana

That morning U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement acknowledging, “The visit [next week] of His Holiness Pope Francis to the United Nations comes at a moment of challenge and hope. As the world struggles to cope with conflict, poverty and climate change, Pope Francis has been a leading voice for urgent action to protect people and our planet.” The Secretary General’s message also included the following words:

  • “I am deeply privileged to have had the opportunity to meet several times with His Holiness, who impressed me as a man of great humility and humanity. When we met last year at the Vatican in May, the Pope urged senior United Nations officials to ‘work together in promoting a true, worldwide ethical mobilization which, beyond all differences of religious or political convictions, will spread and put into practice a shared ideal of fraternity and solidarity, especially with regard to the poorest and those most excluded.’”
  • “Pope Francis has called on people everywhere to work towards realizing the new sustainable development goals ‘with generosity and courage.’ As I discussed with the Pope, this will require challenging all forms of injustice.”
  • “I fully concur with Pope Francis in his recent encyclical that climate change is a moral issue, in addition to its other dimensions, and one of the principal challenges facing humanity. His Holiness rightly cited the solid scientific consensus showing significant warming of the climate system, with most global warming in recent decades mainly a result of human activity.”
  • “Pope Francis and I wholeheartedly agree on the urgency for action, and the critical need to support the poorest and most vulnerable members of our human family from a crisis they did least to cause, but suffer from the most. Other faith groups have echoed this view, including most recently a gathering of eminent Islamic scholars and religious leaders.”
  • “Pope Francis’ message extends far beyond the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics. On the first page of his recent encyclical, the Pope states that ‘faced as we are with global environmental deterioration, I wish to address every person living on this planet.’”
  • “Pope Francis has demonstrated the value of religious leaders engaging on these pressing global issues. I count on him and other faith leaders to counteract the prevailing forces of division and hate with dialogue and understanding. Together, we can realize our vision of a peaceful world where all people live in safety and dignity.”
Frei Betto
Frei Betto

Later that morning Frei Betto–a Brazilian Roman Catholic priest and the author of “Fidel and Religion: Castro Talks on Revolution and Religion with Frei Betto” (1988)–held a press conference at Havana’s Hotel Nacional. He noted that “only two Latin American countries have had the privilege of receiving, in a relatively short period of time (17 years), the visit of the last three Popes: Brazil and Cuba.” While 70% of Brazilians are Roman Catholic, Cuba has religious syncretism. With the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba, Frei said, the challenges point toward the need to change attitudes within the U.S. government. Francis is undertaking a revolution within the Catholic Church itself, which is why some see him as the leading statesman of our time and as a strong candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. Indeed, added Frei, Francis preaches in favor of peaceful coexistence in the world, reaching out to the poor and boosting high-impact programs to eradicate hunger, poverty and environmental degradation. The Cuban Revolution has taught evangelical values, which are the same as human moral values and are not “additional” for revolutionaries or for the religious.

Welcoming Francis at Havana’s Airport

Pope Francis & President Castro
Pope Francis & President Castro

The Pope was met at the airplane by Cuban President Raul Castro accompanied by the Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and Cuban Archbishop Jamie Lucas Cardinal Ortega. In a lengthy speech that recited many of the accomplishments of the Cuban Revolution and Cuba’s claims against the U.S., President Castro said his meeting with the Pope at the Vatican gave them the opportunity to exchange ideas about important world issues. We have followed your statements about these issues with much interest. We want future generations to inherit human dignity from us. The weight of the crisis falls on the third world and minorities do not escape from it. Your Holiness, we have thanked you for your support during the talks between the United States and Cuba. Now the Pope’s meetings with the Cuban people will be very important.

Francis responded by thanking the Cuban people for their welcome and expressing his fraternal greetings to Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro. The Pope recalled that the 80th anniversary of Cuba and the Holy See’s uninterrupted relationship is being celebrated; that Popes John Paul II and Benedicto XVI had visited Cuba; and that this trip coincides with the centenary of the declaration of Cobre’s Our Lady of Charity as Cuba’s patron saint. Francis said that Cuba plays an extraordinary role in the meeting of the North and South, East and West. Its natural vocation is as a point of encounter. The process underway toward the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the U.S. is an example of the effectiveness of a culture of exchange and dialogue.

The Pope then left for the Apostolic Nunciature in Havana where he stayed the night. On the journey there an estimated 100,000 Cubans were on the streets to welcome him, as shown in the photographs below.

Motorcase

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Vatican Spokesman’s Press Conference

Federico Lombardi
Federico Lombardi

The Vatican spokesman, Monsignor Federico Lombardi, then held a press conference at Hotel Nacional. He said that peace was the key word for this visit, that the Pope was greatly moved by the Cuban people’s warm welcome and enthusiasm; that the Pope had highlighted the importance of 80 years of uninterrupted ties between Cuba and the Vatican; and that the Pope will visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre as a son and pilgrim.

Lombardi also emphasized that the Catholic Church and the current and previous Popes are opposed to the U.S. blockade. The process of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Washington and Havana constituted a sign of hope to change the history of relations between the two countries. Peace, reconciliation and the building of bridges: clear messages from Pope Francis regarding the significance of his current apostolic visit to Cuba and the United States.

According to Lombardi, the Pope’s speech at the airport and his subsequent speeches are directed toward Cuban men and women, including Cubans throughout the world no matter where they reside. Many of them remember the historic words of the first Pope to visit Cuba, now a Saint, (John Paul II): “May Cuba with all its glorious possibilities open up to the world, and may the world open up to Cuba.”

Conclusion

The incredible major sources for this and subsequent posts about the Cuban mission are Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba, and the Vatican.

The online edition of Granma at 06:03 a.m. (Cuban time) commenced a minute-by-minute reporting (with photographs) of the Pope’s plane’s earlier departure from Rome and of the preparations in Cuba. It also mentioned the Cuban government’s establishment of a Twitter account: #ElPapaEnCuba. Another article in Granma focused on the actual airport arrival.

While the coverage of the Pope’s first day in Cuba by the Cuban media was focused on the details of what actually happened, the New York Times’ lead article chose to concentrate on what it saw as the Pope’s “new challenge” of trying to “open up Cuba to the Roman Catholic Church.” Its first quotation was from the Rev. Jorge Cela, who oversaw the Jesuit religious order in Cuba from 2010 to 2012, who said, “It is an occasion to ask for more openness. The relationship is not easy.” Its second identified source was Rev. José Conrado, a Cuban priest in the central city of Trinidad, who said, “We could do more. The church should not back off, even if doing so is difficult and problematic for the church itself.” The balance of the Times’ article talked about criticism of Cuban Archbishop Ortega and the need to find his successor when he retires.

The Washington Post’s lead article at least covered the welcoming speeches at the Havana airport in addition to discussing issues about the Roman Catholic’s role in Cuba and whether they would be the subjects of the Pope’s public comments or private discussions with President Castro.

 

Pope Francis Holds Private Audience with Raúl Castro

President Castro & Pope Francis
President Castro & Pope Francis

On Sunday, May 10th, Pope Francis held an hour-long private audience at the Vatican with Raúl Castro, the President of Cuba.[1]

Immediately afterwards President Castro gave the Pontiff two gifts. One was a painting of a large cross made with several boats and a child praying to the cross; the Cuban artist Alexis Leyva Machado said the painting was referring to the suffering of thousands of African people trying to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean Sea. The other gift for the Pope was a medal commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Cathedral of Havana. In turn, the Holy Father gave Raúl a copy of his apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel” and a medal “St. Martin of Tours and the beggar covered with the mantle,” explaining that he gave it to world leaders because it recalls the obligation to help the poor and at the same time promote dignity.

At a subsequent press conference, Castro praised the Pope for helping Cuba and the United States to reach an agreement to restore diplomatic relations and resolve other issues and promised a warm welcome for Francis when he goes to Cuba in September. Castro also said he had been “very impressed by [Francis’] wisdom, his modesty, and all his virtues that we know he has.”

On a personal note, Castro said, “When the Pope comes to Cuba in September, I promise to go to all his Masses and I will be happy to do so.” He added that he reads all of the speeches of Francis, who has made defense of the poor a major plank of his papacy. Moreover, Castro said, “If the Pope continues to talk as he does, sooner or later I will start praying again and return to the Catholic Church, and I am not kidding.” (Both Mr. Castro and his brother Fidel Castro were baptized as Roman Catholics.)[2]

Raúl was kidding, however, when he said, “The pontiff is a Jesuit, and I, in some way, am too. I studied at Jesuit schools.” Castro also observed that he was “from the Cuban Communist Party that used to not allow [religious] believers, but now [since 1991] we are allowing it. It’s an important step.”

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[1] This post is based upon the following: Yardley, Raúl Castro Meets with Pope Francis at Vatican, N.Y. Times (May 10, 2015); Pullella, Raul Castro meets pope, says might return to the Church, Reuters (May 10, 2015); Scammell, Castro thanks Pope Francis for brokering thaw between Cuba and US, Guardian (May 10, 2015); Ordoz, Castro: “If the Pope continues, I’ll pray and return to the church,” El Pais (May 10, 2015) (Google translation); BBC, Raul Castro thanks Pope Francis for brokering Cuba-U.S. deal, (May 10, 2015); Francisco Raul and the Pope meet in historic meeting, Granma (May 10, 2015) (Google translation).

[2] The Cuban newspaper Granma previously cited report of this historic meeting and the subsequent press conference did not mention Castro’s comments about his plan to attend all the Pope’s masses in Cuba and perhaps to start praying and return to the Catholic Church.