Pope Francis has drawn a line in the sand when it comes to expectations of his upcoming meeting with President Trump at the Vatican, telling reporters that they should not expect him to confront the American leader over his hardline immigration policies.
Speaking aboard the papal plane on the way home from Fatima, the Holy Father was asked specifically about the president’s politics on global warming and migrants.
“I never make a judgment about a person without hearing him out,” Francis said, according to AP.
As AP notes, the pope was asked specifically if he would attempt to soften Trump’s policies. “That is a political calculation that I don’t allow myself to make,” Francis said. “Also in the religious sphere: I don’t proselytize.”
The comments will certainly come as a disappointment to Trump’s critics. Pope Francis has been sometimes characterized by progressives as the natural antidote to the president’s fiery brand of populist rhetoric.
In reality though, the pope has refrained from entering the partisan fray, most recently during the contentious French election. Francis has also spoken of his desire to keep his private conversations with world leaders private. If the issue of immigration does come up, it’s unlikely we’d find out about it.
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The Holy Father has circled back to one of his favorite themes over the past few months: the fight against “rigid” attitudes in the Church.
During an early-morning Mass at his private residence in the Vatican, Pope Francis recalled “many young people in the church today who have fallen into the temptation of rigidity. Some are honest, they are good and we must pray that the Lord help them grow along the path of meekness.”
The pope has discussed the idea of Catholics being stuck in a rigid mindset on a few occasions since October, most notably when wondering why some young people prefer the old school Latin Mass — even though they were never raised with it. “And I ask myself: Why so much rigidity? Dig, dig, this rigidity always hides something, insecurity or even something else. Rigidity is defensive. True love is not rigid.”
For conservative Catholics, Francis’ comments on the pre-Vatican II liturgy were yet another example of a reformer pope who was quick to dismiss the traditional aspects of the faith in favor of a modern approach.
In reality, the pope’s words were less progressive and more pragmatic. At the heart of the issue, Francis seems to be arguing that life is far from black and white. With organized religion in general, there is the risk of falling into a pattern of inflexibility, of going through the motions without a deeper look at things. In reality, life is messy and the pontiff seemingly feels an urgent need to remind the faithful of that.
President Trump had a pretty brilliant announcement Thursday afternoon.
In front of religious figures assembled in the Rose Garden to celebrate the National Day of Prayer, the president said he would travel to the Vatican, Israel and Saudi Arabia — the religious centers of three major faiths — to unite people of faith in a common cause of fighting terrorism and intolerance.
While the visits to Israel and Saudi Arabia are strategically planned to rally key military allies in the fight against ISIS and the efforts to contain Iran, the president’s trip to the Vatican feels more like a PR stunt.
And in many ways, it essentially is.
—The White House will be able to frame Trump’s papal audience as an important discussion on the plight of suffering Christians in the Middle East. Unlike the president’s other meetings with foreign leaders, there will be no press conference. It’s likely that the details we learn from the meeting will come from White House aides. This allows them more leeway to frame the discussions (RE: terrorism and Mideast Christians.)
Being escorted by Swiss Guard through the Vatican’s ancient corridors to the Apostolic Palace is a momentous and humbling experience, so the details of the meeting will likely emerge in low-key form as opposed to some of the more showboating ways the administration is known for.
— To be clear, the Holy Father will surely pressure Trump on the immigration front. We probably just won’t hear about it. Francis has publicly spoken against efforts to build walls instead of bridges. But papal audiences with visiting dignitaries are generally short and private. As indicated after his visit to Egypt last week, Francis keeps his private conversations with world leaders private.
— No president has been better at taking advantage of Francis’ star power than President Obama, who used the pope’s 2015 visit to America to focus on inequality, the environment and migrants. Obama was approaching lame-duck status and used the papal visit to jumpstart talk around some of his initiatives. The pope’s White House meeting with Obama was much more high-profile than Trump’s will be. But because Francis and other Catholic leaders were also talking about religious freedom and abortion during the three-day trip, Obama had less leeway to frame the visit.
— It’s not that Pope Francis is being foolishly played by American politicians. Protection of migrants and Mideast Christians, eliminating poverty and safeguarding the environment are all issues near and dear to the pontiff. He has agreements and disagreements with both administrations. Rather, both Trump and Obama simply highlight the things they have in common with the pope in order to bank on some of the international goodwill that Francis has garnered.
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann created a ripple when he decided to transition Kansas City parishes away from hosting Girl Scout troops on Monday, instead opting for a Christian-based scouting organization following concerns that the Girl Scouts have ties to Planned Parenthood and celebrate controversial figures such as Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem.
The move is far from shocking and comes during an era of tension between popular Scouting organizations and religious institutions that back their troops on the local level.
— Replacing Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts has become something of a pipe dream for some conservative Christians. The Boy Scouts faced similar backlashes after easing restrictions on gay members. While the bishop of Bismarck, North Dakota, decided to drop the Boy Scouts, along with about 20 parishes throughout the country, the vast majority of Catholic parishes stuck by their affiliations.
— Because each bishop gets to decide for their own diocese, we’re seeing a situation where Scouting is welcome in some Catholic communities, but not others. In some ways, it’s similar to how states-rights proponents argue that local governments know the needs of their region better than the feds. This creates a noticeable inconsistency in a Church that is known for its general uniformity.
— Ultimately, the move seems to have less to do with taking down the Scouts as much as it’s a case of bishops ‘washing their hands’ of potential conflicts. There have always been spin-offs to Scouting, but they can’t really compete in popularity. Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts are simply part of the American fabric. Catholic leaders who drop Scouting troops are likely under no illusion that they’re making a noticeable dent in membership. Most Catholic parents will probably just take their kids to a nearby troop.
—The Scouting debate sums up one of the biggest questions facing Catholics in the 21st Century: When society begins to change and do things that Catholics disagree with, do we retreat into our own communities? Or do we stay and engage?
Pope Francis has gained a reputation for being open and candid during news conferences aboard the plane back to Rome after a papal trip.
Here were this weekend’s key moments from the presser after the pope departed Egypt. (Transcript courtesy of Catholic News Agency.)
–On North Korea: Have a country like Norway mediate. “…No one can accuse Norway of being a dictatorial country, and it’s always ready to help, to name an example, but there are many. The path is the path of negotiation, the path of diplomatic solutions.”
–On whether he will meet Trump: No formal request from White House, yet. “I still have not been informed by the Secretariat of State if there has been a request, but I receive every head of state who asks for an audience.”
–On French election: I don’t understand internal French politics. “Every nation is free to make choices that it believes convenient before this. I cannot judge if this choice is made for this reason, or for another, because I don’t know the internal politics.”
–On whether he brought up human rights with Egypt’s leader: My conversations are private. “Generally when I am with a head of state in private dialogue, that remains private, unless, by agreement, we say ‘let’s say on this point, we’ll make it public.’”
(Read the full transcript from CNA)
Here are some of the most compelling storylines to follow as His Holiness makes his way to Egypt for a short but important trip.
— Pope Francis is shunning an armored limousine in favor of an ordinary car. The practice has endured the humble pontiff to the locals when he travels, but this time especially, that decision is fraught with risk. The head of the Coptic Orthodox Church — Pope Tawadros II — barely escaped Palm Sunday attacks that were claimed by the Islamic State, Reuters reported.
Make no mistake — Pope Francis is a prime ISIS target. And Vatican officials will surely breathe a little easier when he’s back on the plane to Rome.
— Francis’ visit is extremely critical for non-Catholics. While other Christians generally don’t get caught up in the fervor of a papal trip, Pope Francis’ visit to a Coptic cathedral that came under attack last year gives Egypt’s desperate Christian population much-needed international attention. The rise of ISIS has given way to a dire situation for many Christians in the Middle East.
— Francis is attempting to clean up Benedict’s mess and repair relations with moderate Muslims. Comments made by Pope Benedict during his papacy did some damage to Catholic-Muslim relations. The Vatican has worked to restore ties with the 1,000-year-old Al-Azhar center, the world’s most influential center of Sunni Islamic theology and learning, Reuters reported. Better relations with moderate Muslims could make life easier for Christians in Egypt.
— Naturally, backlash from some conservative Catholics is mounting. The Holy Father is being criticized by some Catholics for meeting Muslim leaders after a series of deadly attacks against Christians in Egypt. As Reuters notes, some in the Catholic Church see a “war of religion” and believe that Francis is going behind enemy lines.
–Will Francis follow Benedict or Obama when he speaks to Muslims in Egypt?
–‘It’s a war on Christians’: Egypt’s beleaguered Copts in sombre mood before papal visit
Under the Trump administration, the Justice Department is not yet giving up the Obama-era fight against the Little Sisters of the Poor on a measure that required employers to provide birth control to their employees.
The Little Sisters — a religious order that runs a worldwide network of homes to care for the elderly — have argued that the mandate to provide their lay workers with access to contraception violates their religious beliefs.
From The Washington Post:
The Justice Department has asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit for an additional 60 days to negotiate with East Texas Baptist University and several other religious groups objecting to a requirement to which they are morally opposed.
The request doesn’t necessarily mean Justice plans to continue defending the mandate — the agency could just be buying extra time as the new administration figures out its next move. A DOJ spokeswoman said Tuesday she had no comment on the request to the fifth circuit.
But the lack of clarity from the Trump administration is dismaying to several religious groups, including the Little Sisters of the Poor — a group of nuns — that fought the mandate for several years but expected an immediate reprieve under the GOP president. They believed either the DOJ would halt its appeal in the case or the administration would seek a rules change from the Department of Health and Human Services.
As The Post notes, then-candidate Trump indicated to Catholic leaders that he’d ensure the requirement was lifted. “I will make absolutely certain religious orders like The Little Sisters of the Poor are not bullied by the federal government because of their religious beliefs,” Trump wrote in a letter to the Catholic Leadership Conference.
Pope Francis has drawn the ire of a Jewish group after referring to a refugee holding center in Europe as a “concentration camp.”
The Holy Father made the comments while meeting with Mideast migrants on Saturday at a basilica in Rome. At one point, he recounted a scene from his trip to Greece last year when a refugee described how militants had slit the throat of his Christian wife after she refused to throw her crucifix to the ground.
“I don’t know if he managed to leave that concentration camp, because refugee camps, many of them, are of concentration (type) because of the great number of people left there inside them,” the pope said, according to Reuters.
After the comments, the American Jewish Committee asked the pontiff “to reconsider his regrettable choice of words.”
“The conditions in which migrants are currently living in some European countries may well be difficult, and deserve still greater international attention, but concentration camps they certainly are not,” the AJC’s head, David Harris, said in a statement, according to Reuters.
— The comments mark a rare public misstep for Pope Francis, who has endured himself to mainstream media outlets with his continuous comments in support of refugees. At the same time, Holocaust comparisons have been invoked in the broader debate over current events in Syria, with the country’s leader accused of gassing his own people and ISIS militants accused of committing genocide. In many ways, the European refugee crisis is directly related to the chaos in Syria.
— The carefully worded statement from the American Jewish Committee shows a level of wariness that some Jews still hold toward the Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II issued a sweeping apology to the Jewish community in 2000 for centuries of persecution, saying “we are deeply saddened by the behavior of those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to suffer, and asking your forgiveness we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood.”
— There is still much debate over the role the Vatican could have played in preventing the Holocaust, so it’s risky anytime the pope wades into discussion of the genocide that killed an estimated six million Jews.
Pope Francis has once again washed the feet of inmates on Holy Thursday, repeating a bold measure that surprised many when he first did it at the beginning of his papacy in 2013.
Among 12 inmates, the Holy Father washed the feet of three women, which caused something of a stir among some traditionalists when Francis did it three years ago. One inmate was also a Muslim who will be baptized in June, Catholic News Agency reported.
The gesture is classic Francis: Focusing on the marginalized, emphasizing mercy and subtly breaking down barriers.
“Having loved his people who were in the world, he loved them to the end. God loves like this, to the end,” the Pope, according to CNA. “He gives life to each one of us and he boasts of this because he has love, and to love until the end isn’t easy.”
“We are all sinners and we all have limits and defects.”
ETWN broadcast schedule
(Eastern time zone)
11:00 a.m.: Celebration of the Lord’s Passion from Rome
2:30 p.m.: Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in D.C.
6:30 p.m.: Stations of the Cross from the Coliseum in Rome
2:30 p.m.: Easter Vigil Mass from Rome
8:00 p.m.: Easter Vigil Mass from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in D.C.
4:00 a.m.: Solem Mass of Easter from Rome
6:00 a.m.: Pope’s Urbi Et Orbi Easter message from St. Peter’s Square in Rome
12:00 p.m.: Easter Sunday Mass from Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in D.C.
A priest in Italy is being asked to take a break from his parish after he reportedly criticized Pope Francis during Palm Sunday Mass, Religion News Service reports.
Media reports claimed the priest, who is from India, didn’t take kindly to the pope’s interfaith dialogue, especially his decision to wash a Muslim woman’s feet on Holy Thursday at the start of his papacy.
“In four years Pope Francis has only been bad for the Church,” the priest allegedly said.
In response, shouts of “Shame, shame!” reportedly rang out from the congregation as some churchgoers stormed out on one of the most significant days on the Christian calendar.
The situation has forced Archbishop Tommaso Valentinetti to intervene, Religion News Service reports.
“Preaching is one of the main activities in the ministry of a priest,” Valentinetti said. “It is a service linked to meditation on the Word of the day, the liturgy, and certainly cannot relate to personal judgments, especially when they are not in communion with the pope.”
The episode highlights some of the vocal opposition that Francis faces from members of the clergy. But it also demonstrates how much goodwill among the faithful that this pontiff enjoys.