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Did Pope Francis say Divorce can be morally necessary?

Pope Francis in the Philippines
Pope Francis in the Philippines

In recent days, an alleged quote from Pope Francis saying that “divorce can be morally necessary” has gone viral on Philippine social media.

On May 22, the House of Representatives of the Philippines approved House Bill 9349, known as the Absolute Divorce Act, which could lead to legalizing divorce in the Philippines. 

The objective of this bill is to “to provide absolute divorce as a legal remedy for irreparably broken marriages under specific grounds and judicial processes, with the goal of sparing children from the emotional strain of parental dispute and allowing divorced individuals to remarry.”

The Philippines is the only country, save for the Vatican, that has not legalized divorce. It is also the third country with the greatest Catholic population, so the Catholic Church still holds significant influence due to its historical, religious, and cultural backdrop.

The quote from Pope Francis was used to try to convince Catholics that this bill was compatible with their faith. The citation has been recycled from several articles that made headlines in 2015 (see here, here and here).

The alleged quote is from a 2015 Papal Audience. In the original citation, Pope Francis does not speak of divorce, but separation in exceptionally grave situations:

"It is true, on the other hand, that there are cases in which separation is inevitable. At times it becomes even morally necessary, precisely when it is a matter of removing the weaker spouse or young children from the gravest wounds caused by abuse and violence, by humiliation and exploitation, by disregard and indifference."

In Catholic teaching, there is a difference between divorce and separation. Divorce means a dissolution of the marriage bond, whereas separation maintains the marriage bond, even if the spouses are not living together.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, published in 1992, mentions that separation of spouses, while maintaining the marriage bond, can be legitimate in certain cases provided for by canon law, namely if one spouse poses a “grave danger” to the other spouse or their children

It must be noted that Philippine Law already allows legal separation in certain cases, like domestic violence. 

The proposed bill, however, would allow divorce, not only in cases of abuse and psychological incapacity, but also in cases of “irreconcilable differences.”

Pope Francis was also taken out of context. In his 2015 General Audience, the Holy Father explained that we have a “serious responsibility to guard the marital bond that gives rise to the human family.”

This was not the only time Pope Francis spoke out against divorce.

In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis taught that “divorce is an evil and the increasing number of divorces is very troubling.” The Pope noted that the Synod Fathers gathered in the 2014-15 Synods of Family stated that “any breach of the marriage bond is against the will of God.”

In the same document, Francis taught that the indissolubility of marriage “should not be viewed as a ‘yoke’ imposed on humanity, but as a ‘gift.’” 

According to Amoris Laetitia, even mere separation “must be considered as a last resort, after all other reasonable attempts at reconciliation have proved vain.”

Regarding the effects of divorce on children, the Holy Father explained in his 2015 General Audience that “husband and wife are one flesh. Their own little children are flesh of their flesh.” He continued: “When man and woman have become one flesh, all the father and mother’s wounds and neglect have an impact on the living flesh of their children.”

In an address to the bishops of South Africa, the pontiff lamented how the “rate of separation and divorce is high, even in many Christian families, and children frequently do not grow up in a stable home environment.”

“All these realities threaten the sanctity of marriage, the stability of life in the home and consequently the life of society as a whole.”—Francis warned.

Francis exhorted his fellow bishops: “In this sea of difficulties, we bishops and priests must give a consistent witness to the moral teaching of the Gospel. I am confident that you will not weaken in your resolve to teach the truth ‘in season and out of season,’ sustained by prayer and discernment, and always with great compassion.”

The Filipino bishops have spoken consistently against the divorce bill. “I urge members of Congress to reconsider the proposed divorce bill”—said Bishop Alberto Uy of Tagbilaran in an interview on Church-run Radio Veritas— “and instead focus on promoting policies and programs that support marriage, strengthen families, and protect the well-being of all members of society”

“It remains the duty of every Catholic to catechize and instruct fellow-Catholics and brothers and sisters in other faith-communities the reasons why we cannot support a bill that makes legal what to us is a transgression of Christ’s sovereign will”—wrote Socrates Villegas, Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan, in his official statement.

“We already have existing legal remedies to couple separation, and yet Congress decided to add more.”—stated Fr. Jerome Secillano, the executive secretary of the bishops’ Episcopal Commission on Public Affairs.

The push for laws such as this is also promoted by international bodies and NGOs. But during a Papal Visit to the Philippines, Francis condemned what he called “ideological colonization.”

“There are forms of ideological colonization which are out to destroy the family”—Francis said in a meeting with families in Manila— “Just as our peoples, at a certain moment of their history, were mature enough to say ‘no’ to all forms of political colonization, so too in our families we need to be very wise, very shrewd, very strong, in order to say ‘no’ to all attempts at an ideological colonization of our families.”

“These are forms of ideological colonization. The family is also threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life.”— Pope Francis would go on to say.

The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church says that the “introduction of divorce into civil legislation has fuelled a relativistic vision of the marriage bond,” calling it “truly a plague on society.”

“The stability and indissolubility of the marriage union must not be entrusted solely to the intention and effort of the individual persons involved.”—says the Compendium, adding that the “responsibility for protecting and promoting the family as a fundamental natural institution… falls to the whole of society.”

Having passed Congress, the approved bill is now transmitted to the Senate. If passed, it will be sent for Presidential Action (approval or veto).

The push to legalize divorce has been going on for years now but it gets stalled due to staunch opposition from the Catholic Church and other pro-family groups in the Philippines. 

Pope Francis to issue Exhortation on the Sacred Heart of Jesus

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Sacred Heart Devotion
Sacred Heart Devotion

The Pope is preparing a document on the Sacred Heart of Jesus based on previous magisterial texts.

During the first Wednesday audience of June, the Pope asked for prayers as he prepares the document on this devotion.

It is set to release on September this year.

“I believe it will do us great good to meditate on various aspects of the Lord’s love, which can illuminate the path of ecclesial renewal; but also says something meaningful to a world that seems to have lost its heart,” the Pope remarked.

Last December 27th marked the 350th anniversary of the first manifestation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to St Margaret Mary Alacoque. That occasion will run until June 27th next year, the date of the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart.

“A symphony of Prayer”: Pope Francis announces year of preparation for the Jubilee

year of prayer
year of prayer

Last Sunday, Pope Francis officially opened the Year of Prayer, in preparation for the 2025 Jubilee.

During the Angelus, the Holy Father announced that this year will be “dedicated to rediscovering the great value and absolute need for prayer in personal life, in the life of the Church, and in the world.”

Already in 2022, Francis had expressed his intentions for 2024 to be devoted to a “symphony of prayer… above all else, to renew our desire to be in the presence of the Lord, to listen to him and to adore him.”

This Year of Prayer will be aided by resources provided by the Dicastery for Evangelization.

During a press conference held on January 23, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, pro-prefect of the Dicastery for Evangelization, revealed that one such resource will be an 8-volume book series, titled “Notes of Prayer,” written by authors of international renown, which is going to be made available to the various bishops’ conferences.

Archbishop Fisichella also recommended revisiting the 38 catechetical talks given by Pope Francis from May 6, 2020 to June 16, 2021

The Holy Father will also set up a “School of Prayer,” a series of moments of encounter with specific groups of people to pray together and better understand the various forms of prayer.

The official 2025 Jubilee website also suggested the organization of “pilgrimages of prayer” at the diocesan level.

More than “particular initiatives,” though, this Year of Prayer will be “a privileged time in which to rediscover the value of prayer, the need for daily prayer in the Christian life; a time to discover how to pray, and above all how to educate the people of today in prayer, in this age of digital culture, so that prayer can be effective and fruitful,” Archbishop Fisichella said.

The 2024 Year of Prayer was instituted as a preparation for the 2025 Jubilee Year.

The 2025 Jubilee Year will start with the opening of the Holy Door in St. Peter’s Basilica on December 24, 2024 (Christmas Eve). During a symbolic ceremony, the Pope will open the door, allowing the pilgrims to enter through it. 

The Jubilee is a significant event, with pilgrimages and special indulgences. Several Jubilee itineraries within the city of Rome include visits to the Papal Basilicas, pilgrimages to the Seven Churches, visits to Roman churches linked to specific countries of the European Union (´Iter Europaeum´), and visits to selected churches to recall Patronesses of Europe and Doctors of the Church

There will also be cultural events to enrich the Jubilee program. Those who wish to take part in the main events of the Jubilee may get a free digital pass (pilgrim´s pass) by registering at the official portal site of the 2025 Jubilee. Volunteer applications are already open for those who wish to help or assist the pilgrims.

“In order for the Jubilee to be an event that spiritually enriches the life of the Church and of the entire people of God, becoming a concrete sign of hope, it has to be prepared for and lived in individual communities with that spirit of expectation which is typical of Christian hope. The Year of Prayer fully corresponds to this need,” clarified Archbishop Fisichella.

Demystifying ‘Fiducia Supplicans’: Answering 7 Frequently Asked Questions

On December 18, the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) published the Declaration Fiducia Supplicans on the Pastoral Meaning of Blessings. This document is the most recent addition to an ongoing debate within the Catholic Church regarding blessings for same-sex couples. 

Naturally, as a polemical subject, it generated controversy. A heated discussion erupted on social media regarding the true meaning of the declaration and the scope of these blessings.

So, what does Fiducia Supplicans really mean? After reading the text in its entirety, I will try to answer some of the most pressing questions raised by the document.

Background:

Blessings for same-sex couples became a hot topic in Germany after the legalization of homosexual marriage in that country in 2017. The issue has been under discussion since the beginning of the German Synodaler Weg (“Synodal Way”) in 2019, with some German bishops showing openness towards these blessings.

In 2021, the DDF under then-Prefect Cardinal Ladaria published an answer (hereafter Responsum) to the following dubium: “Does the Church have the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex?” 

The DDF answered negatively.

However, the discussion did not die down. This year, the German Synodal Way approved a motion calling on bishops to establish blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples as a diocesan liturgy, with the redaction of a manual and training of ordained ministers for those blessings.

Also this year, Cardinals Burke and Brandmüller submitted five new dubia to the DDF. The second dubium asked whether the Church could accept “as a ‘possible good’ objectively sinful situations, such as unions with persons of the same sex, without departing from revealed doctrine?” 

The reply from Pope Francis (hereafter Respuesta) reasserted Church doctrine while seemingly showing a greater openness for blessings of homosexual people than the previous 2021 Responsum seemed to allow.

Now, the DDF under the new Prefect Cardinal Fernandez has clarified the matter further with the declaration Fiducia Supplicans. In a Presentation preceding the declaration, Cardinal Fernandez explained the rigorous process undergone during the preparation of the document, and how Pope Francis himself reviewed it and signed it. 

Additionally, Fernandez declared that the Holy Father made the Respuestas to the 2023 dubia known “while the subject matter of this document was being studied.”

1. Does Fiducia Supplicans change Church doctrine regarding same-sex unions?

No.

The document unequivocally reiterates Church doctrine on this point, by citing Pope Francis’ Respuestas: Marriage is an “exclusive, stable, and indissoluble union between a man and a woman, naturally open to the generation of children” (#4). 

The text goes on to say that this definition is grounded on perennial Catholic doctrine of marriage (#4). In the Presentation preceding the declaration, it is stated that blessings for same-sex couples can only be done “without officially validating their status or changing in any way the Church’s perennial teaching on marriage.”

Everything that contradicts this meaning is deemed “inadmissible” (#4). Those unions “cannot be compared in any way to a marriage” (#30).

Those “who invoke God’s blessing through the Church are invited to strengthen their dispositions through faith, for which all things are possible and to trust in the love that urges the observance of God’s commandments.” (#30).

2. If nothing changed, then why issue the declaration?

The stated purpose of Fiducia Supplicans is to offer “new clarifications on the Responsum ad dubium that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published on 22 February 2021” (#2).

Those new clarifications were needed because of the variety of reactions elicited by the Responsum. Though some “welcomed the clarity” of the Responsum, “others did not share the negative response it gave to the question or did not consider the formulation of its answer and the reasons provided in the attached Explanatory Note to be sufficiently clear” (#3).

This seems to be an allusion to the German Synodal Way’s persistence in establishing liturgical blessings for same-sex unions despite the Responsum. “To meet the latter reaction with fraternal charity, it seems opportune to take up the theme again” (#3).

Furthermore, just because the Church’s doctrine remains unchanged, that doesn’t mean that absolutely nothing changed with the new declaration. Perennial Church teaching may remain the same, while Church praxis (discipline) may change. Also, a change may mean a replacement for something new, but it may also mean a development. As the Presentation preceding the declaration says:

“The value of this document, however, is that it offers a specific and innovative contribution to the pastoral meaning of blessings, permitting a broadening and enrichment of the classical understanding of blessings, which is closely linked to a liturgical perspective. Such theological reflection, based on the pastoral vision of Pope Francis, implies a real development from what has been said about blessings in the Magisterium and the official texts of the Church.”

3. Does Fiducia Supplicans contradict the 2021 Responsum?

In Catholic theology, doctrine develops without contradicting what came before. Then, how can Fiducia Supplicans be a true development, if it seems to contradict the 2021 Responsum? The latter did not allow blessings for same-sex relationships, while the former seems to allow it. Also, the Responsum rules out that the presence of positive elements in those relationships may “render them legitimate objects of an ecclesial blessing,” whereas Fiducia Supplicans affirms that a blessing may be imparted to those who “beg that all that is true, good, and humanly valid in their lives and their relationships be enriched, healed, and elevated by the presence of the Holy Spirit” (#31).

The answer is that both documents talk about blessings of different kinds, so that what is taught of one kind cannot be transposed to the other. They are talking about different planes that do not intersect. 

Fiducia Supplicans explains that from “a strictly liturgical point of view, a blessing requires that what is blessed be conformed to God’s will, as expressed in the teachings of the Church” (#9). There should be care that these blessings are imparted to “things, places, or circumstances that do not contradict the law or the spirit of the Gospel. This is a liturgical understanding of blessings insofar as they are rites officially proposed by the Church.

This is exactly what the 2021 Responsum affirmed:

“[W]hen a blessing is invoked on particular human relationships, in addition to the right intention of those who participate, it is necessary that what is blessed be objectively and positively ordered to receive and express grace, according to the designs of God inscribed in creation, and fully revealed by Christ the Lord. Therefore, only those realities which are in themselves ordered to serve those ends are congruent with the essence of the blessing imparted by the Church.”

Another important detail is that the Responsum often reminds us that blessings “are sacred signs that resemble the sacraments.” It categorizes blessings as “sacramentals” which “have been established as a kind of imitation of the sacraments.” 

“[S]ince blessings on persons are in relationship with the sacraments, the blessing of homosexual unions cannot be considered licit. This is because they would constitute a certain imitation or analogue of the nuptial blessing, invoked on the man and woman united in the sacrament of Matrimony.”

It is in this context that the Responsum confirms that such blessings are not possible:

“For the above mentioned reasons, the Church does not have, and cannot have, the power to bless unions of persons of the same sex in the sense intended above.”

But Fiducia Supplicans does not talk about blessings in the sense intended above. On several occasions, it tells us that we must avoid any confusion with the sacrament of Marriage (#5, 6, 30, and 39).

Furthermore, “blessings are among the most widespread and evolving sacramentals” (#8). In other words, there is room for doctrinal development. Whereas the 2021 Responsum was talking about blessings in a liturgical setting (the same context proposed by the German Synodal Way), Fiducia Supplicans teaches about blessings in extra-liturgical settings.

Throughout the declaration, we can see the gradually evolving continuity between the 2021 Responsum and the Holy Father’s 2023 Respuestas.

“For this reason, when it comes to blessings, the Church has the right and the duty to avoid any rite that might contradict this conviction or lead to confusion. Such is also the meaning of the Responsum of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which states that the Church does not have the power to impart blessings on unions of persons of the same sex” (#5).

“Basing itself on these considerations, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s Explanatory Note to its 2021 Responsum recalls that when a blessing is invoked on certain human relationships by a special liturgical rite, it is necessary that what is blessed corresponds with God’s designs written in creation and fully revealed by Christ the Lord. For this reason, since the Church has always considered only those sexual relations that are lived out within marriage to be morally licit, the Church does not have the power to confer its liturgical blessing when that would somehow offer a form of moral legitimacy to a union that presumes to be a marriage or to an extra-marital sexual practice. The Holy Father reiterated the substance of this Declaration in his Respuestas to the Dubia of two Cardinals.” (#11).

In this sense, Fiducia Supplicans reaffirms the 2021 Responsum. However, it limits its scope to its accurate (liturgical) context. Then, it proceeds to develop doctrine in a different context, outside the scope of the previous Responsum.

It is “within the horizon outlined here,” that a possibility appears of blessings for same-sex couples in a form “which should not be fixed ritually by ecclesial authorities to avoid producing confusion with the blessing proper to the Sacrament of Marriage” (#31).

Here, we see echoes of the 2023 Respuestas to the Dubia, where Pope Francis says (contrary to the German Synodal Way’s motion), that dioceses and episcopal conferences should not “officially establish procedures or rituals” for these blessings, and neither should Canon Law (#37).

“In this perspective, the Holy Father’s Respuestas aid in expanding the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s 2021 pronouncement from a pastoral point of view” (#26). Fiducia Supplicans completes the development.

4. Are the blessings directed at people or relationships?

One of the controversies raging in social media was whether these blessings would be imparted to people with same-sex attraction or to their same-sex relationships. The former would be allegedly less problematic from a doctrinal point of view.

In this regard, Fiducia Supplicans employs the term “couple” to define the target of the blessing. Paragraph 31 talks about “the possibility of blessings for (…) couples of the same sex.” Likewise, paragraph 39 speaks of a blessing “requested by a same-sex couple.”

However, once again, the term “couple” could refer to the people who are part of the couple or to the relationship itself. Also, there can be linguistic nuances in the use of this term that do not carry out well to the English translation.

Since there would be no consensus, this would once again be proof of the alleged ambiguity typical of Pope Francis’ teachings.

But the lack of consensus on this part may be because Fiducia Supplicans never explicitly mentions this “people vs. relationship” dichotomy. Such distinction was introduced by the 2021 Responsum:

“The answer to the proposed dubium does not preclude the blessings given to individual persons with homosexual inclinations, who manifest the will to live in fidelity to the revealed plans of God as proposed by Church teaching (…) [God] does not and cannot bless sin: he blesses sinful man.”

From this point onward, this dichotomy has framed the discussion surrounding the blessings of same-sex couples. It seemed like the only way to pursue this debate would be to argue in favor of blessings towards individuals, not relationships.

However, Fiducia Supplicans studiously avoids this dichotomy. Rather, it develops the debate in an unforeseen, yet elegant and creative way. It does not so much discuss who or what gets blessed, but what blessings are and for what purpose.

5. What blessings can be imparted upon same-sex couples and for what purpose?

While Fiducia Supplicans reiterates everything the 2021 Responsum said regarding liturgical blessings, it also says that one “must also avoid the risk of reducing the meaning of blessings to this point of view alone” (#12). Cardinal Fernandez points out that the Holy Father’s Respuestas invited “us to broaden and enrich the meaning of blessings” (#7). 

In this sense, the document makes a distinction between blessings done as part of a liturgical rite and simple blessings. It is the latter that are subject to the doctrinal development of a “more pastoral approach to blessings” (#21). “This is a blessing that, although not included in any liturgical rite, unites intercessory prayer with the invocation of God’s help by those who humbly turn to him” (#33).

Throughout Fiducia Supplicans we see several beneficial functions for such simpler blessings:

  • Expressing a petition for God’s assistance, a plea to live better, and confidence in a Father who can help us live better (#21, quoting the Pope’s Respuestas);
  • Entrust oneself to the Lord and his mercy, to invoke his help, and to be guided to a greater understanding of his plan of love and truth (#30);
  • Call on grace that can orient everything according to the mysterious and unpredictable designs of God (#32);
  • Increase one’s trust in God (#33);
  • Express and nurture openness to the transcendence, mercy, and closeness to God in a thousand concrete circumstances of life (#33);
  • Ask for peace, health, a spirit of patience, dialogue, and mutual assistance—but also God’s light and strength to be able to fulfill his will completely (#37);
  • Open one’s life to God, to ask for his help to live better, and also to invoke the Holy Spirit so that the values of the Gospel may be lived with greater faithfulness (#40);
  • Renew the proclamation of the kerygma, an invitation to draw ever closer to the love of Christ (#44).

We can see that among the manifold purposes of this blessing, there is no legitimation of homosexual acts or an equivalence between same-sex relationships and marriage. Such legitimation would go against the manifest mind and will expressed in the document (#31, 44).

In other words, these blessings are to be imparted to a specific kind of people, namely those who “recognizing themselves to be destitute and in need of his help, do not claim a legitimation of their own status” (#31), who “do not claim to be righteous but who acknowledge themselves humbly as sinners, like everyone else” (#32).

“One who asks for a blessing show himself to be in need of God’s saving presence in his life and one who asks for a blessing from the Church recognizes the latter as a sacrament of the salvation that God offers. To seek a blessing in the Church is to acknowledge that the life of the Church springs from the womb of God’s mercy and helps us to move forward, to live better, and to respond to the Lord’s will” (#20). 

In this setting and with this purpose, these blessings can be a “seed of the Holy Spirit that must be nurtured, not hindered” (#33).

It is also important to note that Fiducia Supplicans does not merely talk about blessings of same-sex couples, but also of couples in “irregular situations” (which, in Amoris Laetitia, refer to cohabitating non-married couples and to divorced and civilly remarried couples). However, only the former seemed to cause controversy, which shows an unhealthy fixation on this specific sin.

6. In what circumstances are these blessings to be carried out?

When Fiducia Supplicans describes the blessings to be imparted to same-sex couples and couples in irregular situations, two words pop up constantly: unconditionality and spontaneity. 

Since these blessings are not done in a liturgical setting, the similarity with the sacraments does not exist. Therefore, the conditions for such blessings are less stringent than the ones for admittance to the sacraments. “One must also avoid the risk of reducing the meaning of blessings to this point of view alone, for it would lead us to expect the same moral conditions for a simple blessing that are called for in the reception of the sacraments” (#12).

“Thus, when people ask for a blessing, an exhaustive moral analysis should not be placed as a precondition for conferring it. For, those seeking a blessing should not be required to have prior moral perfection” (#25). “Indeed, there is the danger that a pastoral gesture that is so beloved and widespread will be subjected to too many moral prerequisites, which, under the claim of control, could overshadow the unconditional power of God’s love that forms the basis for the gesture of blessing” (#12).

This is traditional. When a sinner comes to a priest asking for a blessing, the priest does not need to know the sinner’s status to impart that blessing. At the end of every Mass, the priest gives a blessing to anyone in attendance, regardless of the state of their soul.

To ground the traditional nature of these blessings, Cardinal Fernandez enumerates several biblical precedents in paragraph 16, which “appear to be superabundant and unconditional gift.” “Therefore, even when a person’s relationship with God is clouded by sin, he can always ask for a blessing, stretching out his hand to God, as Peter did in the storm when he cried out to Jesus” (#43).

Fernandez also quotes St. Thérèse when she says we must trust “in the infinite mercy of a God who loves us unconditionally” (#22). He also draws from the Church’s liturgy, by citing a Collect from the Roman Missal: “Almighty ever-living God, who in the abundance of your kindness surpass the merits and the desires of those who entreat you, pour out your mercy upon us to pardon what conscience dreads and to give what prayer does not dare to ask” (#34).

Finally, he cites a catechesis from Pope Francis, wherein blessings are “offered to all without requiring anything (…) without preconditions” (#27). The Holy Father goes on to say:

“It is a powerful experience to read these biblical texts of blessing in a prison or in a rehabilitation group. To make those people feel that they are still blessed, notwithstanding their serious mistakes, that their heavenly Father continues to will their good and to hope that they will ultimately open themselves to the good. Even if their closest relatives have abandoned them, because they now judge them to be irredeemable, God always sees them as his children” (#27).

Hammering moral truths to wounded sinners that come asking for a blessing to receive God’s help and comfort when everyone around them deserted them is counterproductive. It is by knowing that they are blessed that their hearts may be opened to God’s will, not by marginalizing them even further. The blessing enables and precedes the process of conversion, not the other around.

As for spontaneity, it flows from the non-liturgical nature of these blessings. “When considered outside of a liturgical framework, these expressions of faith are found in a realm of greater spontaneity and freedom” (#23).

“People who come spontaneously to ask for a blessing” (#21) can do so in extra-liturgical contexts, as for example, visits to shrines, pilgrimages, meeting with a priest (even in the street) and prayers recited in a group (#28, 40).

In a brief prayer preceding this spontaneous blessing, the ordained minister could ask that the individuals have peace, health, a spirit of patience, dialogue, and mutual assistance—but also God’s light and strength to be able to fulfill his will completely (#37).

Since, as we have seen, these blessings are not to be regulated by dioceses, episcopal conferences, ecclesial structures, or Canon Law, priests should “be formed to perform blessings spontaneously that are not found in the Book of Blessings” (#35). This runs counter to the German Synodal Way’s motion that priests be formed in these blessings as if they were liturgical rites.

7. Isn’t there a possibility that this document may cause scandal?

Fiducia Supplicans is very clear that any type of scandal or confusion must be avoided. In its presentation, Cardinal Fernandez says that he can not allow “any type of liturgical rite or blessing similar to a liturgical rite that can create confusion.” The Church’s right—and even duty—to avert any kind of confusion is reiterated in paragraphs 5, 6, and 30.

To achieve this purpose, the DDF proposes some measures to prevent a scandalous confusion of same-sex unions with sacramental marriage:

“In any case, precisely to avoid any form of confusion or scandal, when the prayer of blessing is requested by a couple in an irregular situation, even though it is expressed outside the rites prescribed by the liturgical books, this blessing should never be imparted in concurrence with the ceremonies of a civil union, and not even in connection with them. Nor can it be performed with any clothing, gestures, or words that are proper to a wedding. The same applies when the blessing is requested by a same-sex couple.” (#39)

In this sense, the secular media and liberal pundits who may take advantage of this document to promote the idea that the Church may now bless same-sex unions on the same level as sacramental marriage are fostering the same scandal that Fiducia Supplicans explicitly says must be avoided. 

Likewise, radical traditionalist and conservative commentators who enable this narrative to spin the Pope and the DDF as heterodox or ambiguous are spreading the same scandalous confusion as their progressive counterparts.

Neither is acting according to the mind and will of the document itself, which seeks to implement a proper understanding of simple, spontaneous, and non-liturgical blessings that can be imparted unconditionally upon sinners to help them and console them, without legitimizing any behavior contrary to perennial Church doctrine.

“Love for demons”? What it really means

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As the Synod on Synodality progresses, another claim has been spreading through social media: that the synod has promoted love for demons.

Though this claim has become viral recently, it is not recent. Already in 2022, some sources critical of the pope were already disseminating it (see, for example, here and here).

In both instances, the controversy stems from the same source: a document titled “Towards a Spiritual Synodality,” featuring in the Synod’s Resources page. The full document can be found here.

It is important to note that this document is not magisterial since it was not explicitly approved by the pope. Also, it was not meant to be definitive. In the Introduction, it says that its purpose “is not to give a detailed analysis of the spirituality for synodality and its theological foundations. This important work needs to be done, but it will require more extensive treatment than is possible here. Rather, it is hoped that the foundations, nature and significance of a spirituality for synodality can be developed in the light of the synodal process itself.”

The controversial quote can be found in page 29: 

“What is a merciful heart? It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists. By the recollection of them, the eyes of a merciful person pour forth tears in abundance. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person’s heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled, and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any in creation. For this reason, such a person offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm her or him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner, such a person prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns without measure in a heart that is in the likeness of God.”

From the context of the quote, it is obvious that it refers to the sorrow caused by those who see any part of creation corrupted by evil and sin, as well as the love that should inform a Christian heart, even for those who practice evil, in a reiteration of the “love the sinner, hate the sin” principle.

In the Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas Aquinas explains:

“[T]he question as to whether the spirits called demons ought to be loved out of charity, must be answered in accordance with the statement. . . that a thing may be loved out of charity in two ways. First, a thing may be loved as the person who is the object of friendship, and thus we cannot have the friendship of charity towards the demons. . . Secondly, we love a thing as being that which we desire to be enduring as another’s good. On this way we love irrational creatures out of charity, in as much as we wish them to endure, to give glory to God and be useful to man, as stated above: and in this way too we can love the nature of the demons even out of charity, in as much as we desire those spirits to endure, as to their naturalgifts, unto God’sglory.”

Also, it is important to note that the quote in the Synod’s document was not produced by the Synod itself but is rather a citation from a 7th century homily of the great ascetic and mystic Isaac of Syria (also called Isaac of Nineveh). 

The early 20th century Catholic Encylopedia, published under Pius X, explains that Isaac was a monk and Nestorian bishop. However, it also clarifies:

“He was author of three theses, which found but little acceptance amongst Nestorians. . . The precise contents of these theses are not known, but they were of too Catholic a character to be compatible with Nestorian heresy. From an extant prayer of his, addressed to Christ it is certainly difficult to realize that its author was a Nestorian. . .

Isaac was a fruitful ascetical writer and his works were for centuries the main food of Syrian piety. . . Isaac’s writings possess passages of singular beauty and elevation, and remind the reader of Thomas à Kempis.”

In 2002, St. John Paul II quoted Isaac of Syria in a context very similar to the one seen in the Synod’s document:

“Monks and nuns, in obedience to the Lord’s call. . . share in God’s love for all creatures, and they love — as Isaac the Syrian says — the very enemies of truth.”

The first session of the Synod on Synodality is scheduled to end on October 29, 2023, and will resume on October 2024. 

WYD Reviewed: Evangelization and Interreligious Dialogue as a false dichotomy

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When World Youth Day (WYD) Lisbon 2023 began, the great controversy surrounding it was whether the event had lost its evangelizing flavor, given Cardinal-elect Américo Aguiar’s contentious statements on interreligious dialogue.

This controversy might seem relatively forgotten by now, as the outrage has since moved elsewhere. For a short time, an idea emerged that this WYD was a failure because it supposedly had the least amount of registrations of all WYDs. This controversy was short-lived, as the facts immediately piled up to contradict it: at peak attendance, WYD Lisbon counted 1.5 million pilgrims, above the median for all WYDs. Currently, the main polemics have to do with how the Blessed Sacrament was stored and distributed during the crowd-packed masses.

Unfortunately, this shows a worrying trend among those critical of WYD and the pope. They move from outrage to outrage, without concerning themselves with fact-checking those scandals. So when one of those controversies is refuted, it has already died down and been replaced with another. This leaves no opportunity for a salutary prudence that would think: “If I was wrong then, maybe I should be cautious before joining the bandwagon again.” The only thing that seems to linger is talking points to be hurled at the next opportunity, in a litany of accusations that grows larger the more time passes.

However, I have not forgotten the first controversy: Did WYD’s focus on interreligious dialogue detract from evangelization? At the time, I wrote an analysis piece, arguing: “There’s no reason why both evangelization and dialogue can’t happen simultaneously at WYD. Again, they are not contradictory. The Church can walk and chew bubble gum at the same time.”

Others, however, were skeptical that this would be possible.

At the end of WYD Lisbon—and having been at the epicenter of the whole event as a media-accredited correspondent—I wish to provide my assessment.


Evangelization

Regarding evangelization, it was quite evident that this was a focal point for WYD. My wife and I have written at considerable lengths about the thoroughly Catholic initiatives that took place before and during WYD.

First, we reported on the Pilgrimage of the Symbols. During the weeks leading up to WYD, two symbols—the Pilgrim Cross and an icon of Our Lady Salus Populi Romani—were brought in a 40,000-kilometer pilgrimage passing through Angola, Poland, Spain, and then all over Portugal.

Afterward, we investigated the Rise Up Encounters, a new model of catechesis taking place all over Lisbon and other Portuguese cities, in which 250 talks were held daily from August 2 to 4, always with the presence of a bishop. We could corroborate the Christocentric character of this catechesis and how spiritually mature the answers given by the youth were when we interviewed them.

We also wrote about the City of Joy, set up in the gardens of a historical part of Lisbon, holding a Chapel, a Reconciliation Park, and a Vocational Fair. The Chapel was always packed with pilgrims for daily Mass and Eucharistic adoration. The Reconciliation Park contained 150 confessionals, where 800 priests heard confessions for hours. The Vocational Fair accommodated 129 booths, hosted by congregations and organizations that helped young people discern a religious vocation or a call for missionary or charitable work.

On August 4, the Holy Father was present at a Via Crucis, where each station of the cross was enriched with the reflections of the youth. It was very moving seeing the pilgrims carrying the Pilgrim Icons through Eduardo VII Park, marching toward the stage along a sea of flags from all over the world. 

The next day, the Pope led a Papal Vigil, where he spoke about this WYD’s motto “Mary arose and went in haste,” referencing the biblical episode in which the Virgin Mary hurried to meet Elizabeth after the Annunciation. For me, one of the most moving moments was when 1.5 million pilgrims stood in complete silence during the Eucharistic Adoration taking place during the papal vigil.

Finally, WYD ended with the Papal Mass, once again with 1.5 million participants, coming from all but one country on Earth. 

These were the central events in WYD, and the ones that were more prominently featured in the official WYD app that the pilgrims could download to their phones to be informed about the scheduled activities. 

Of course, there were also many other profoundly Catholic initiatives that the youth could choose to participate in like veneration of relics and Eucharistic adoration spread throughout Lisbon’s churches and chapels. The youth was also invited to learn about the lives of WYD’s patron saints. Every day there was a Youth Festival with conferences, concerts, sports matches, museum visits, theater, dance, cinema, exhibitions, and other activities, that were also imbued with an evangelization spirit.

In this regard, it is impossible to take part in this event and not see it as inherently and undeniably Catholic.

But what then, about interreligious dialogue?


Interreligious dialogue

Besides evangelization, there were also many interreligious dialogue initiatives, as previously announced by Cardinal-elect Aguiar.

For example, Pope Francis participated in a tree-planting ceremony with representatives of Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism on August 2. Two days later, Pope Francis met with 17 other religious leaders to deliver a message of fraternity among religions.

Previous WYDs had already hosted interreligious encounters such as these. As we reported, Benedict XVI already had an ecumenical and interreligious meeting in Sydney in 2008. Similar events had also taken place in Panama in 2019.

However, the interreligious dialogue in previous WYDs had gone mainly unnoticed by the press. Fr. Peter Stilwell, who was asked to organize the interreligious dialogue during WYD Lisbon, took that invitation to mean that “this time there was an intention somewhere that the interreligious dimension and Christian unity dimension should be highlighted.”

WYD Lisbon 2023 set up a Working Group for Interreligious Dialogue for the coordination of this interreligious component. As Fr. Stilwell recalls, the WYD app also contained a tab for these interreligious initiatives. 

For example, there was a concert “for Peace” (Canto Pela Paz) featuring songs and dances hailing from all kinds of religious traditions, including Catholicism. There were also some visits to non-Christian places of worship, like a mosque, a synagogue, and a Hindu temple.

However, though these programs were touted in some Catholic media as making interreligious dialogue a central point of WYD, I believe this is an exaggeration. For example, it has been reported that an average of 200 pilgrims per day visited the Central Mosque of Lisbon. For comparison, 10,000-15,000 pilgrims received the sacrament of Reconciliation daily at the City of Joy

Another example: when asked at a press conference about a program featuring both Catholics and Evangelicals, Rosa Lima, the official WYD spokesperson, declined to comment, since she could not speak for the people who had organized that specific activity. When we asked her to clarify, she explained that one thing was the official WYD program, and another thing was the programs that other organizations put forward during WYD. These initiatives came from grassroots movements which WYD had facilitated, for example, by providing venues and support.

Of course, those activities were also a part of WYD, and we can’t downplay their importance. It is undeniable that as Fr. Stillwell made clear, there was an intention to “highlight” interreligious dialogue during this particular WYD.

However, the outrage that came out of it from conservative and traditionalist quarters was certainly overblown. 

It is also important to note that this dialogue was not unidirectional. People from other religions also collaborated with the Catholic component of WYD. My wife reported about the testimonials of some WYD volunteers, including a Coptic Orthodox from Egypt who stepped up to help during the event. Also, Sheik Munir from the Islamic community also proclaimed very passionately that there had been Muslim volunteers as well.


Overview

I once again recall what I said when WYD was about to begin. Evangelization and interreligious dialogue could both be important components of a WYD, and they both could happen simultaneously. In other words, “the Church can walk and chew bubble gum at the same time.”

After experiencing this WYD, I believe I was correct in my initial assessment. Both evangelization and interreligious dialogue were successfully carried out and properly emphasized. Also, interreligious dialogue did not detract in the least from evangelization, which remained central throughout the whole event.

In the meantime, WYD welcomed not just Catholics, but youth from other religions. This helped establish bridges of fraternity among different faiths, according to the principles of Fratelli tutti, as Cardinal-elect Aguiar was trying to convey in his much-maligned interview.

As I went through WYD in Lisbon, I felt like there were two different versions: 1) the media version of a profoundly secularized and dechristianized WYD, flaunted by Catholic media, and 2) the real version unfolding before my very eyes, thoroughly evangelistic and Christocentric, seeking to be the Catholic leaven of a new society.

In the end, 1.5 million pilgrims were present in a Catholic-organized event, praying and encountering Christ in communion with the Holy Father. An achievement that no outrage should be able to obscure.

I hope that, through our coverage and testimony, we were able to clear fake news and misinterpretations, and also foster a more healthy environment, in which people don’t jump to conclusions or judge based on appearances, lest they end up in a smearing campaign against a most worthy initiative like WYD.


Image credits: © Jesus Huerta \ JMJ 2023, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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World Youth Day and plastic containers: What really happened

Last week a controversy erupted about the way the Blessed Sacrament was stored during the Saturday night preceding Sunday’s papal mass at World Youth Day (WYD) Lisbon.

Pictures circulating on social media showed plastic containers on top of tables inside a white tent, with some young people kneeling before them. According to reports of one of the young people present, those boxes contained the Blessed Sacrament.

Outrage arose on social media, since this was not perceived as a proper way to expose the Eucharist.

The City and the World contacted one of the volunteers assigned to guard the Blessed Sacrament that night. He agreed to reply on the condition of anonymity.

During the interview the volunteer explained that the hosts were consecrated on Saturday during the day and were then transported to Campo da Graça, where the papal mass would take place the following day. 

The hosts were not placed directly on the plastic containers, but on metal pyxides which were then put therein. According to the volunteer, the plastic boxes were meant to help in the transportation of the pyxides and to protect the Eucharist from the wind and dust outside. 

The crates containing the pyxides were then placed inside tents dispersed throughout the campsite, to allow a more efficient distribution the next day. These containers were not meant for adoration, only for safeguarding overnight.

Eighty-two volunteers were assigned to guard the Blessed Sacrament throughout the night, with a ratio of at least two volunteers per tent. These volunteers were the only ones meant to know the contents of the boxes. 

Unfortunately, the tents supplied by the city hall were not all designed the same. The tents on the Lisbon side of the campsite were small and easy to close, but the tents on the Loures side were wider and could not be perfectly shut.

The onlookers started to get curious and asked the volunteers about the content of the plastic boxes. After knowing that the Eucharist was present there, the pilgrims started to adore it. This was probably the time when the young people in the viral pics were photographed.

The volunteer then clarified that, upon noticing the ad hoc Eucharistic adoration, some tents allowed for the removal of some of the pyxides from the crates, which were then placed upon the table, with some candles and plants to make it more dignified.

Filipe d’Avillez wrote an article for The Pillar that seems to validate this version of events. An English priest interviewed for this article explained: “The tent was there for Mass in the morning, so that people could get Holy Communion at Mass. It clearly wasn’t there so that people could have a chapel to adore in their sectors. There was no marking on the outside saying it was a chapel, or anything like that.”

The City and the World corroborates that the smaller tents were spread through Campo da Graça, but it was not possible to know what was inside without insider knowledge or without going out of one’s way to find out. In the official WYD app, the only scheduled Eucharistic adoration was the one with the Holy Father during the papal vigil.

Elsewhere in his article, Filipe shows that the situation shown in the viral pics was an exception rather than the rule. According to a priest familiar with these events, the “instructions were for every tent to have the boxes stored underneath the tables, which were covered with tablecloths custom-made for this vigil. Five or six ciboria should have been placed on top of the tables, for adoration.”

The City and the World contacted the organizers in charge of the World Youth Day’s liturgy, but they declined to respond.

Earlier during the WYD week, there had already been another controversy surrounding the distribution of the Eucharist on plastic “ciboria” covered with cellophane during mass. However, that happened during a mass organized by Spanish pilgrims and not a mass organized by WYD itself.

The case of St. Tarcisius

This seems a good time to be reminded of the story of St. Tarcisius, a boy who died protecting the Eucharist during the Roman persecutions of the third century. 

Tarcisius was a young 12-year-old boy who volunteered to carry Jesus in the Eucharist to the prisoners condemned to die, since there was no deacon available.

At that time, Christians were far more concerned about the prisoners receiving communion than with the container. The hosts were carefully wrapped in linen cloth and placed in a small case, probably more crude than any container we have today.

While on his way to distribute communion to the prisoners, Tarcisius was stopped by a pagan mob who asked him to give up the Eucharist. Tarcisius was beaten and died protecting the Blessed Sacrament. For this reason, Pope St. Damaus called him a “boy-martyr of the Eucharist.”

The case of St. Tarcisius shows how it is possible to have a deep love and reverence for the Eucharist while making concessions to make the Eucharist more available in spite of contingencies due to extraordinary circumstances.

Interreligious dialogue and Fraternity, a non-negotiable

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LISBON, August 5, 2023 — Pope Francis met yesterday with 17 other religious leaders at the Apostolic Nunciature.

“We know this is a goal of Pope Francis’ pontificate, this interreligious dialogue,” said Timóteo Cabral, President of the Evangelical Alliance of Portugal, “We all came out of that meeting with the feeling that we had an encounter, not an audience or a reception. It was an encounter. An encounter among friends, a fraternal encounter, grounded on common values.”

Victor Forghani from the Bahá’í community, explained:

“It was an honor to be here, with our brothers of other religious confessions. It was a very moving and simple moment… The Holy Father transmitted a very brief but deep message, thanking us for all the work the religious confessions in Portugal are doing for interreligious dialogue.”

Sheik Munir spoke favorably of the pope:

“His Holiness is a spiritual man… When we speak with him, we can see he is a man of God, who wants peace in the world… He is a man who exudes peace. He doesn’t merely speak of peace but he exudes peace, he exudes love.”

Suryakala Chhanganlal, representing the Hindu Community, agreed with the sheik’s assessment:

“It was very moving. It was my first time meeting these important representatives. I was nervous, but in the end everything turned out alright. He exudes peace.”

On August 2, there had already been a ceremony at the Tropical Botanical Garden of the University of Lisbon, where six trees were planted, representing the six major families: Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.


Fraternity, a common refrain

When asked about the contents of their meeting, both at the exit of the Nunciature and at the press conference that followed, all religious leaders seemed to agree on the most important element during Pope Francis’ intervention: fraternity.

“He speaks of fraternity, that we are all brothers, that we are all equal,” said Sheik Munir. “We must help each other, no matter what belief we hold… The most important thing is to respect the human person, be fraternal, and relay the love we all have.”

Joaquim Moreira, of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, added: “He spoke of brotherhood among peoples, and that we should help the youth rip open the veil for the knowledge of transcendence… I felt that when I was with him, the ripping open of the veil towards transcendence. He said we must all do this work, in fraternity and love between each other.”

Fr. Peter Stilwell, Director of the Department of Ecumenical Relations and Interreligious Dialogue of this World Youth Day (WYD) reported how the pope made a gesture of putting the hand in the pocket and said: “It is preferable to have an extended hand—to greet—than a hand in the pocket, which signifies not only a matter of money, but how things are always negotiable. There are things that are non-negotiable, such as the openness to God, the dignity of the human person, the appeal to fraternity.”

Suryakala Chhanganlal also took fraternity as being this meeting’s most central message:

“He had a message of fraternity… He emphasized the need for fraternity, and the importance of each religious confession for that end. That’s what he emphasized the most.”

This fraternity, however, is not restricted to the ecumenical or interreligious setting, but must overflow towards the rest of society:

“The Pope is here to encounter all the youth from all worlds, relaying a message of hope, a message that God is open to all, but he doesn’t forget all units that need to make an effort to change the world and to change ourselves, so that we can create a peaceful society,” said Chhanganlal.

Jorge Pina Cabral, bishop of the Lusitanian Church (of the Anglican communion), agrees: “This was the appeal of the pope. To have fraternity as a path, as a work, that religions must have not only among themselves, but also for the society in which they are inserted.”

“Now this work of fraternity assumes that we can see each other as essential, that we respect the differences with others and that we can, together, build and help build what we perceive as fundamental in our context, particularly in Portugal, through the inclusivity of minorities, the openness to the problems that those minorities experience,” Bp. Cabral added.

On July 6, there was a controversy around an interview of Bishop Américo Aguiar, President of the WYD Lisbon 2023 Foundation, when he tried to apply the principles of Fratelli tutti, Pope Francis’ encyclical on human fraternity, to answer a question on interreligious dialogue.


Portugal as an example

The religious leaders were also in agreement that Portugal is an exemplary country in terms of ecumenism and interreligious dialogue, a situation that certainly positioned WYD Lisbon to be particularly successful in this area.

David Botelho, from the Lisbon Israelite Community, explained: “I think we [Portugal] are an example. We were always an example in terms of peace and dialogue. We must continue with our good work in these areas.”

Joaquim Moreira, from the Church of Latter-Day Saints, proposed a challenge, based on the words of the Pope: “that Lisbon may become an ambassador of interreligious dialogue and of peace in the world. I don’t know how that would be possible, but the work that Portugal has developed in this area has been fantastic.”

Portugal enjoys a very good environment between religions. Sheik Munir defended Pope Benedict XVI when his words were taken out of context in the Regensburg controversy.


WYD Lisbon: a trailblazer?

Fr. Peter Stilwell explained how he was asked to step in at an early stage of the WYD planning, because he already had experience with interreligious dialogue: “So that means that at some higher level they were interested, as you have seen in the homily by Manuel Clemente.”

This was not the first time that interreligious dialogue was integrated on a WYD though. In Sydney 2008, Pope Benedict XVI had already met with other religious leaders. At the WYD Farewell Ceremony, Benedict said:

“The meeting with ecumenical and interreligious leaders was marked by a spirit of genuine fraternity and a deep desire for greater collaboration in building a more just and peaceful world.”

Fr. Stilwell recalls: “In [WYD] Panama there had already been a meeting in the Nunciature between Pope Francis and leaders of other traditions. But that hadn’t been noticed.” So, when he was called to organize the interreligious dialogue dimension of WYD Lisbon, Fr. Stilwell took that to mean that “there had been circumstantial meetings with other leaders, but that this time there was an intention somewhere that the interreligious dimension and Christian unity dimension should be highlighted.”


WYD as a space for interreligious dialogue

“These WYD have been an ecumenical and interreligious space,” explained Bp. Cabral of the Lusitanian Church. “There are movements from within the Catholic Church whose purpose has been to draw Christians nearer… What I have felt in this WYD has been a great concern that everyone will feel at home, that no one feels excluded.”

Bp. Cabral recounted another ceremony that happened on August 3 at the Church of S. Domingos in Lisbon:

“There were so many churches united there, praying the Our Father, but also recognizing the things that have divided us like, for example, in the case of Christians, the impossibility to have communion together. So, an empty chalice and paten were placed on top of the altar of the Church of S. Domingos, symbolizing the path that we must undertake as Christians, the path towards unity, and also the path that we may all, one day, have communion under the same table.”

The Lusitanian church bishop also expressed his hopes that these WYDs will help “establish a greater commitment to ecumenism and a greater unity of Christians in Portugal. And I am sure that young people today are living this experience. It is with great joy that I share that young people from the Lusitanian Church, of which I am a bishop, are also participating in this WYD, and are involved with other young people in experiencing the spaces of prayer, the spaces of reflection, and also the spaces of joy.”

Anyway, as Sheik Munir so enthusiastically put it: “The Catholic youth are to be congratulated” for this WYD.


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World Youth Day: A city of vocations and sacraments

LISBON, August 4, 2023 — Among many other initiatives meant to bring pilgrims into a deeper relationship with Christ, the World Youth Day (WYD) organized the “City of Joy,” promoting vocations and the sacraments.

Set in the gardens sprawling before the Hieronymites Monastery (one of Lisbon’s most famous landmarks), the City of Joy is described as “a place of encounter with Jesus where pilgrims will find different experiences of Christian living and joy.”

“They will be provoked to look at their own lives and discover a path as a response to God who calls each of us by our own name. Passing through the City of Joy means encountering a living God who invites us to experience his forgiveness and mercy and to give our lives generously in response to his designs of Love,” the official WYD website explains.

The City of Joy holds a Chapel, a Reconciliation Park (where the pilgrims can go to confession), and a Vocational Fair.


A sea of confessionals

Park of Reconciliation

Fr. Columba Jordan, an Irish priest from the Franciscan Friars of Renewal, can observe the Chapel and Reconciliation Park from his booth at the Vocational Fair:

“The Adoration Chapel is packed over there. And confessions are busy all day, so that’s a good sign,” he says.

Sr. Aminta, a Venezuelan nun from the congregation Esclavas de Cristo Rey in Madrid, confirms:

“Many young people have a very intense prayer life. The confessionals here are always full, very long queues. I believe the Lord is passing by and things are happening.”

The City and the World corroborates that the Chapel was filled to the brim with a youth group gathered in prayer at the time, even overflowing to the grass nearby. 

Temporary-built chapel in the park

Rita Amaral, Head of the City of Joy, explains in a press conference on August 4 that, even outside of daily mass, the Chapel was always full.

There were also 150 confessionals, where approximately 800 priests made the sacrament of Reconciliation available in 50 languages. The confessionals were built by Portuguese prisoners, and 3 of these confessionals will be donated to the prisons where they were created after WYD ends.

Fr. Adrian Aguinaldo is a Filipino priest that took part on the confessions at the Reconciliation Park. He said he has hope in the Church when he sees these young people queueing in such a long line.

“These young people, when they confess their sins, they are finding meaning in their life. They’re setting their direction right when they make mistakes and commit sins. At the center of what they’re looking for is hunger for God, meaning for their lives and increasing of their faith.”

Photo credits: ©️ Alberto Conceição /JMJ Lisboa 2023, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

When asked whether the sacraments play a central role during WYD, Fr. Aguinaldo replies without hesitation: “Of course! During WYD, we celebrate Mass every day. And confession is available every day. And not only the sacraments, but even the catechesis.”

Francisca, a young Portuguese pilgrim who had just left the Reconciliation Park, told The City and the World that she frequents the sacraments assiduously. When questioned about the importance of the sacraments during WYD, Francisca answered: 

“It couldn’t be any other way. They play a very important role, because we are all here for the same reason. We are all Christians, Catholics, and being Catholic means, you go to confession. So, if you have the opportunity to go to confession, it’s great.”

Today, Pope Francis was present at the City of Joy, where he heard the confessions of 3 young pilgrims. According to Rita Amaral, 10,000-15,000 pilgrims received the sacrament of Reconciliation daily.


A laboratory of vocations

The Vocational Fair was set just besides the Reconciliation Park, featuring 129 booths where each congregation or organization explained their charism to the passing youth. 

The lined-up booths formed “streets” along the garden, which were named after each of the previous WYD.

The “streets” of the vocational fair

José Manuel, a Portuguese Dominican friar, explained: “Our order here in Portugal is very small and with a very aged population. We are taking some steps for the renovation of the order here in Portugal.”

When asked whether WYD was contributing for the renovation of the order in Portugal: “I like to use the parable of the sower. The sower sows the seeds wherever they fall. The same applies to us. We are here at this fair, we sow the seeds, and in due time we will see if they bear fruits or not.”

While Br. José Manuel was giving this interview, another Dominican friar was offering his life testimony in a stage nearby.

The Vocational Fair

In the meantime, the stand of the Esclavas de Cristo Rey had posters, saying “we help you discern,” and “we accompany you,” in bright colors. Sr. Aminta clarified the meaning of these posters:

“We ask some questions to make them think, questions about values and about things that they can offer, and they don’t know what to answer. First, they must discover their personal knowledge, which they must uncover, little by little. We help them with that. We ask them to reflect: ‘What do I have to give? What can I offer to others?’”

Fr. Jordan of the Franciscans of the Renewal used the analogy of marriage, which is always preceded by a period of dating. If there’s dating before marriage, why not a period of self-examination for the religious life, where young people can discern whether they want to spend their life with Jesus in this particular way?

The City and the World confirms that at least 2 young Spanish pilgrims passing by Fr. Jordan’s booth said they were discerning a vocation in religious life.

Fr. William Vizcaíno from the Augustinians affirmed that many young people visiting his stand were curious:

“In this vocational fair I could see many young people were interested in knowing about the religious life. And our purpose in these days is to make the religious life more widely known.”

“We see many young people asking us why we use this white habit,” said Br. José Manuel. “There’s a big curiosity, and this curiosity is the first step towards a vocation.”


Encountering the youth where they are

The Franciscan Missionaries of Mary booth

Sr. Kumari Fernando, from the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, was born in Sri Lanka and is currently in a mission in England. She explained her presence in WYD:

“We need to reach out to young people where they are today. We need to see the signs of times and reach to young people today.”

Sr. Agostinha, a Portuguese Vincentian nun, shares the same opinion:

“The young people are the future of the world, so we need to be the ones to go to their encounter… We need to help them understand the true happiness that comes from Jesus Christ.”

Despite the widespread secularization in the world, particularly in the West, the congregations present in WYD do not seem pessimistic about the future:

“When people say that the young people don’t follow Christ, right here you see it’s not true,” testifies Jessica, a Chilean missionary from Misioneros Identes. “The young people follow Christ, they want to know about Him, they need Him, they are searching for Him, and it’s very beautiful that this happens and that we can accompany these young people.”

Sr. Kumari Fernando agrees: “The faith is growing stronger and stronger among young people. It’s an expression of their faith, especially yesterday during the opening mass. The ocean of young people flooding into the same place for worship! It was an amazing experience.”

Sr. Tien, a Vietnamese nun also from the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, says: “It’s an experience… to see the energy of the Catholic Church, still moving around!” adding immediately afterwards: “It gives life! Not just the young people, but us as well!”

The religious present in the Vocational Fair also believe that the WYD is instrumental in helping this revival become possible: “This [WYD] is a very important event,” explains Fr. Vizcaíno, “that allows many Catholic young people to gather together, so that they can express their faith and how important and joyful it is to follow Jesus.”

Pilgrims visiting the Vocational Fair

Sr. Agostinha confirms: “The WYD are a fantastical event. We must thank Pope Francis, naturally, but also St. John Paul II that started this wonder, naturally inspired by Jesus Christ… I believe this [the WYD] is going to change something. In our youth and in the world.”

Fr. Aguinaldo explains that the youth are learning in WYD to, “like Mary, go in haste. Maybe this is also an invitation of the young people now, to proclaim the faith, to profess the faith, to practice the faith.”

Rita Amaral, Head of the City of Joy, said that 50,000-70,000 people visited the city each day. “These young people will go and spread the joy of Christ through all over the world,” she explains.


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Intense Catechesis happening in WYD

LISBON, August 2, 2023 — World Youth Day (WYD) Lisbon 2023 is featuring a new model of catechesis: the Rise Up Encounters.

During a press conference held yesterday, Fr. Nuno Amador from the Pastoral Direction of WYD 2023 listed these Rise Up Encounters as one of the main novelties of this event compared with previous iterations.

“The idea is that the pilgrim may experience a spiritual path, based on the theme picked up by Pope Francis for this WYD,” Fr. Amador explained, referring to the motto “Mary arose and went in haste,” alluding to the Virgin Mary hurrying to meet St. Elizabeth after the Annunciation. 

“This WYD is inspired on the path of Mary,” Fr. Amador said.

These Rise Up Encounters are organized by the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life, and are scheduled to be held during the mornings of August 2, 3, and 4. Each encounter counts with the presence of a bishop, though “the youth is the protagonist of these reflections,” said Fr. Amador.


Today, the first day of these Rise Up Encounters, the WYD App listed more than 250 of such talks, spread throughout the city of Lisbon, but also in Fatima, Tomar, and Porto. Each encounter was held in one of 31 languages, including English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian.

The City and the World attended the talk by Cardinal McElroy from San Diego and Bishop Jaime Soto from Sacramento, held at the Our Lady of Pena Parochial Church, in Lisbon. We provide some testimonials from young people who were there.

Mary Coleman, 20 years old, from Texas, explained that today they “focused a lot on the crucifix as the symbol of the Catholic faith and how God’s plan is always unexpected in the Bible, but it’s a good ‘unexpectation.’”

When asked what new things she learned during this encounter, Mary said: “There’s a difference between haste and anxiety… before Mary’s call, she was called to patience and love for Him, but then He called her in haste.”

“I think it’s really important to see young people who understand the gospel but also the cardinal being very accessible as a leader in the Church.”

Stacey is from Indonesia, and Maria from Mexico. They are both 27 years old.

“I think [the Rise Up Encounters are] very, very good because it’s a way for all the youth to come together and receive information from leaders of the Church: the bishops, the cardinals, the successors of the apostles,” said Stacey. “We mostly talk about the World Youth Day theme–Mary got up and left with haste.”

When asked what important lessons she got from this catechesis, Maria replied: “My favorite thing (and my takeaway from all this) was when the bishop said that we have all the virtues that take us closer to Christ. And I relate that to how we may have a very small virtue or a very small merit, but we can tell the Virgin Mary to take that merit and make it bigger to be closer to Christ.”

Stacey completed: “I like what the bishop was talking about, how and why Peter was chosen. Why not John? He was basically perfect. He didn’t betray Jesus and all of that. But God chose Peter because he knows what it’s like to suffer and struggle.”

According to them, these Rise Up Encounters are very important, because we live in a secularized world and this is a way to be surrounded by young people who share the same faith.

“For me personally, it energizes me and really builds up my own personal faith because I’m like, wow,  I’m with all of these people,” said Stacey. “It’s just a very beautiful thing just to have something in common. We all come from different countries, I’m from Indonesia, Maria is in Mexico, we actually met in the United States. We know nothing about each other except what really brings us together is our faith.”

After the Rise Up Encounter, Cardinal McElroy and Bishop Soto celebrated Mass with the youth.


Among these Rise Up Encounters, some dealt specifically with the topic of integral ecology. 

“These Rise Up Encounters adopt a more synodal method than previous WYDs,” Fr. Amador explained yesterday. “They ponder on some topics that are dear to Pope Francis and then ‘cross’ them with scripture readings, allowing for reflections on the part of the youth.”

These proposed topics were “integral ecology” on August 2, “social friendship” on August 3, and “mercy” on August 4. These reflections were organized during the preparation meetings in the months leading up to the WYD.

“These reflections are from the youth and for the youth,” said Fr. Amador, “and they must continue after the WYD ends, when the youth return home.”


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