January 16, 2015

Editorial

Busy year for Pope Francis

Let’s all say an extra prayer that Pope Francis’ health will hold up this year because he has a particularly ambitious schedule ahead of him, especially for a 78-year-old man.

Of course, every day is busy for him, with his daily Masses complete with homilies, audiences, meetings, speeches and writing. But somehow he seems able to accomplish it all as he emphasizes, through his words and actions, that the Catholic Church must be a Church of mercy that reflects the life of Jesus.

This week he’s in Asia, in Sri Lanka where Catholics are a small minority, and the Philippines where they’re the vast majority. It’s his second visit to that continent; he went to South Korea last August.

Later this year, he will travel to three Latin American countries: Ecuador, Bolivia (according to Bolivian President Evo Morales) and Paraguay. He’s also expected to visit two countries in Africa, and probably go to France (Paris and Lourdes).

Of course, for us Americans, the most important papal trip will be to the United States in September for the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. It’s expected that he will also travel to New York to speak at the United Nations, and to Washington where he has been invited to speak to the U.S. Congress.

The pope’s travels are meant to demonstrate the universality of the Catholic Church. So, too, are the 20 new cardinals he appointed on Jan. 4, and will induct into the College of Cardinals on Feb. 14. They come from every continent. Fifteen of the new cardinals are under the age of 80 and eligible to vote for the next pope.

Pope Francis will meet with the entire College of Cardinals on Feb. 12-13 “to reflect on guidelines and proposals for reform of the Roman Curia.” The reformation of the Curia was a priority of the College of Cardinals during the meetings prior to the conclave in which Pope Francis was elected, as he acknowledged in an interview with journalist Elisabetta Pique and published in La Nacion, Argentina’s principal newspaper, on Dec. 7.

The pope told Pique that the complete reformation of the Curia “will take a long time,” and it will not be completed in 2015. “We’re tackling it step by step,” he said. The “we” he was referring to is the Council of Cardinals, the nine cardinals he appointed to advise him on the reform process and to assist him in governing the Church. The council has come to be known as “the G9,” and both Pique and Pope Francis called it that in the interview.

Although the entire reform won’t be completed this year, the pope may appoint a layman, or perhaps a married couple, to a high leadership position in one of the congregations, perhaps after combining the councils for laypersons, family and justice and peace. A study of the Holy See’s communications is also going on, and changes might be made in that area this year.

In all that he is doing, the pope ensures that he is not acting alone. He encourages full discussion of every topic. He has said repeatedly that if there were no differences of opinions, that wouldn’t be normal. “It’s healthy to get things out into the open; it’s very healthy,” he said in his interview with Pique.

That was clear during the meeting of the Synod of Bishops on the family last year, and that will carry through as Pope Francis prepares for the next meeting in October, also on the agenda for this year, probably the most important event.

The pope has made it clear, by the way, that there will be no change in the doctrine of the Church regarding marriage. The question is how to show mercy toward those who are divorced and remarried, how to open the doors for them to participate more in their faith.

As for writing, somehow in his “spare time,” Pope Francis is apparently writing an encyclical on ecology. Surely a pope who took his name from St. Francis will have a lot to teach us about our care for creation.

It will be a busy year. Therefore, say that extra prayer for Pope Francis.

—John F. Fink

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