Faith, hope and love are stronger than death

We need this reminder.

Lately, Pope Francis has been talking about death in messages like this one just over a week ago.

Noting that death is a reality that modern civilization “tends, more and more, to set aside” and not reflect upon, Pope Francis said that for believers death is actually “a door” and a call to live for something greater.

Christians endearingly celebrate All Souls Day and ‘Commemoration of the Faithful Departed’, remembering their deceased loved ones in special prayers and liturgies, for their ‘eternal rest’ and ‘life everlasting’. Some populations celebrate it as Día de los Muertos, a day when families create traditional altars in honor of their beloved departed, with photos, memorabilia, their favorite foods and traditional Pan de Muerto, or ‘bread of the dead’. These altars are set up at cemeteries throughout the world including Mexico, Central and South America and Europe, with processions and music taking the faithful from one to another.

In northern Romania, one of Europe’s last remaining peasant cultures still observes a similar centuries-old tradition on this occasion. Villagers decorate and light candles on graves, many with already lavishly carved wooden grave markers in the ‘Merry Cemetery’. It’s a celebration of life, faith and hope in resurrection.

They observe these traditions because they live what they believe, that life is sacred and eternal. It’s distinctly counter-cultural to prevailing forces pushing a utilitarian ideology of human existence that exalts abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide as a ‘choice’ to eliminate suffering and inconvenience when each diminishes us all.

Pope Francis told people to prepare for death, which had to be a startling message for the current culture. And on Wednesday, when he greets and addresses the large crowd assembled in St. Peter’s Square for his weekly address, he shared what he would be doing on All Souls Day, inviting anyone willing to join him.

Before concluding his address, the Pope reminded the faithful that he would be travelling to the American Cemetery of Nettuno, South of Rome and then to the Fosse Ardeatine National Monument on November 2nd to mark the feast on Feast of all Souls. Pope Francis, said,” I ask you to accompany me with prayer in these two stages of memory and suffrage for the victims of war and violence. Wars produce nothing but cemeteries and death: that is why I wanted to give this sign at a time when our humanity seems not to have learned the lesson or does not want to learn it.”

(Emphasis added.)

Under Catholic name, group launches abortion ad campaign

‘Catholics for Choice’ isn’t Catholic.

This is not a group to which I would normally give time or attention under most circumstances. But on Monday, they launched an election season ad campaign in newspapers around the country that could further confuse people who don’t already know or understand what the Catholic Church teaches on issues of utmost importance not only in elections, but in our common life as a nation.

In Monday’s Chicago Tribune, page five carried a full-page, color, paid advertisement with the large print heading ‘Abortion In Good Faith’ over the full page photo of a woman, superimposed by a quote attributed to her. It read: “I know firsthand that today’s elected officials need to hear your voice so they do the right thing, ensuring that women who are not well off are not financially burdened by the choices they make.” Under her name, she was identified as “Former Illinois legislator, mother of four and grandmother of eight, Catholic” from “Vernon Hills, IL”, a suburb of Chicago.

At the bottom of that attention-grabbing advertisement, a red banner carried this message: “Public funding for abortion is a Catholic social justice value.” And in a side corner and lighter font, it designated Catholics for Choice as the sponsor.

I don’t cite Wikipedia as a source or reference in writing, but in this case it’s sufficient to reveal three bishops’ organizations on the North American continent that have “unequivocally rejected and publicly denounced CFC’s identification as a Catholic organization”.

This is a new push by an old organization in a very consequential election with one candidate and political party standing so fully and forcefully on a platform of abortion ‘rights’, they extend it to the promise of repealing the longstanding, bipartisan Hyde Amendment that protects taxpayers’ funds from providing for abortions.

Plenty of media and Catholics in the pews have appropriated Pope Francis’ gestures and words taken out of context to approve of choices he never has nor could condone.

Like abortion, which he’s been asked about again and again.

“Abortion is not the lesser of two evils. It is a crime. It is to throw someone out in order to save another. That’s what the Mafia does. It is a crime, an absolute evil,”…

“It’s against the Hippocratic oaths doctors must take. It is an evil in and of itself, but it is not a religious evil in the beginning, no, it’s a human evil. Then obviously, as with every human evil, each killing is condemned,” he said.

But it remains a major political issue, and with the election under 60 days away, this new campaign shows how tenuous the Catholic understanding of even this social moral issue can be.

I brought this up on radio Monday with Catholic scholar George Weigel, one of the top American public intellectuals, social commentators and Vatican experts. During that conversation, a listener wrote me saying that her Miami newspaper carried a similar full page ad. Then a caller reported that her Minnesota newspaper also carried the ad, and she was thankful for the coverage and badly needed clarity.

Whatever ‘the Catholic vote’ is, no matter how divided it is, it’s obviously seen as important and ‘in play’ in the election. Tuesday, I will cover that with the president of CatholicVote.org.

Yes, “today’s elected officials need to hear your voice so they do the right thing” alright.

Government imposes transgender regulation not supported by its own experts, or science

The risks are high, benefits unclear, say HHS’ own medical advisers.

On Tuesday, lawyers with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed a lawsuit on behalf of faith based hospital and medical networks, and five states, against a federal regulation

that would force doctors to ignore science and their medical judgment and perform gender transition procedures on children.

Yes, on children. Now read this next part slowly:

The government does not even require Medicare and Medicaid to cover these same gender transition procedures because the Health & Human Services’ (HHS) medical experts found the risks were often too high and benefits too unclear. But any doctor citing the same evidence and their judgment in an individual case would be in violation of the new mandate and face potential lawsuits or job loss.

Correct. It’s hypocritical and agenda-laden. It’s ‘the other shoe dropping’ in yet another HHS mandate, after the contraceptive one led to years of litigation with the Little Sisters of the Poor (for crying out loud) having to go through court hearing after court hearing on different levels of the legal system just to be able to continue to serve and care for the elderly sick and poor, without having to violate their consciences by letting their health care provider provide for contraceptives already provided for by other government programs. (Yes, it’s that simply  insane.)

In these latter days of the Obama administration, nonetheless, the mandates continue, and this latest one the government’s own medical experts advise against is nonetheless required of “virtually every doctor in the U.S., many of whom have chosen the medical profession because they are inspired by their faith to serve those in need and to heal others”, as Becket Fund explains.

There are other areas where government and activists are pushing new requirements based on transgender theory with sweeping impact but virtually no basis other than politics and ideology.

The stories are everywhere. Monday, USA Today’s front page was emblazoned with this headline story: ‘Judge in Texas blocks Obama transgender bathroom rules’. What the story repeatedly calls the U.S. Department of Education’s ‘guidance’ is a nice way of referring to a federal regulation “that required school districts to allow transgender students to choose which restroom and locker facilities to use”, with a thinly veiled threat of losing federal funding if schools failed to comply.

While the article is weighted with words leaning toward a sympathetic reading of transgender ideology, it also says this:

“The sensitivity to this matter is heightened because defendants’ actions apply to the youngest child attending school and continues for every year throughout each child’s educational career.”…

The plaintiffs argued that the Obama administration guidance came with the implicit threat that federal education funds could be withheld if school districts refused to allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their chosen gender identity. The guidance also had implications for federal student privacy laws, threatening education officials with sanctions if they fail to address students by their preferred gender pronouns.

So what drives this directive is an individual student’s claim about their feelings, whether relating to sexual identity, or their sense of acceptance and belonging, in the most private settings in which young people are most exposed.

What few people are asking publicly is what’s behind all of this, what the thinking is or better yet, the science. Which is why a long term study into exactly that aspect of ‘gender theory’ came out this week, published in The New Atlantis, just as federal regulations continued to force new regulations favoring transgender ideology on doctors and school systems across the country. The editor’s note sums it up well:

Questions related to sexuality and gender bear on some of the most intimate and personal aspects of human life. In recent years they have also vexed American politics. We offer this report — written by Dr. Lawrence S. Mayer, an epidemiologist trained in psychiatry, and Dr. Paul R. McHugh, arguably the most important American psychiatrist of the last half-century — in the hope of improving public understanding of these questions. Examining research from the biological, psychological, and social sciences, this report shows that some of the most frequently heard claims about sexuality and gender are not supported by scientific evidence. The report has a special focus on the higher rates of mental health problems among LGBT populations, and it questions the scientific basis of trends in the treatment of children who do not identify with their biological sex. More effort is called for to provide these people with the understanding, care, and support they need to lead healthy, flourishing lives.

Note that last line, which is the most motivating factor behind the study. The two main authors and their research team used abundant and long-term scientific and medical findings to identify real health concerns and urge treatment that optimizes benefit and minimizes harm to people. The full report is available at that site, unlike so many peer-reviewed journal articles far beyond the reach of the general population, behind the firewall of a professional subscription to journals people don’t read and wouldn’t understand in the language used in most high level professional journals.

This study is for everyone to read and share and discuss.

After it was published early Monday, some coverage welcomed the scientific based research to bring to the debate. Michael Cook even opened his article with several links to opposing ideas, to show clearly the many claims that have been published about human biology and psychology without proof.

Pope Francis has been talking about this for a while, did so again this week, and doesn’t mince words.

Shortly after Pope Francis’ trip to Poland in late July, the Vatican released a transcript of the pontiff’s Q&A session with local bishops, which took place behind closed doors. His remarks caused a stir…because he once again denounced what he called “ideological colonization” and “gender theory.”

“In Europe, America, Latin America, Africa, and in some countries of Asia, there are genuine forms of ideological colonization taking place. And one of these?-?I will call it clearly by its name?-?is [the ideology of] ‘gender.’ Today children?-?children!?-?are taught in school that everyone can choose his or her sex.”

“Why are they teaching this? Because the books are provided by the persons and institutions that give you money. These forms of ideological colonization are also supported by influential countries. And this [is] terrible!” Francis said…

For Francis, “gender theory is an error of the human mind that leads to so much confusion,” as he said in 2015, and it’s one reason why “the family is under attack.” In an interview book titled This Economy Kills, the pontiff compared gender theory to nuclear weapons.

Recent developments in Colombia, Mexico and Spain suggest that the pontiff’s campaign against gender theory, or gender ideology, may be emboldening Catholic bishops in various parts of the world to speak out themselves.

A couple of things occur to me in all this. One is how often, and rightly so, social media posts about some inconvenience or complaint winds up with someone commenting that it’s a #FirstWorldProblem. True, usually. But this is one that has grown very rapidly to span the globe, so it’s an issue on different continents, and has become a sort of ‘colonization of ideologies’ as Francis and some bishops declare it.

The other is the frequent claim by activists and ‘the new atheists’ that religion or faith-based beliefs have no place in public policy, where reason and science should rule (and usually what such claimants mean is consensus by those in power). But in this case, leading scientific experts have issued a very important, long-term, thoroughly researched, well documented and objective study based on reason and science. That it doesn’t uphold (and goes against) prevailing cultural trends virtually assures it and its authors being discredited.

So it’s up to people of goodwill and common sense and concern for the welfare and well-being of all people to be well informed and engaged on this thorough and accessible study.

The National Catholic Register makes an important note here, from the study:

The authors make clear that the report does not provide an exhaustive review of their subject in all its dimensions.

“Science is by no means the only avenue for understanding these astoundingly complex, multifaceted topics; there are other sources of wisdom and knowledge — including art, religion, philosophy, and lived human experience,” they acknowledge.

“However, we offer this overview of the scientific literature in the hope that it can provide a shared framework for intelligent, enlightened discourse in political, professional, and scientific exchanges — and may add to our capacity as concerned citizens to alleviate suffering and promote human health and flourishing.”

UN conference hears experts, witnesses, survivors call for global response to genocide

Faith groups are attacked, Christians specifically targeted for elimination.

World leaders, governments, international organizations and human rights champions have risen the threat and awareness level in recent months over crises that have been occurring for years out of sight and largely off public radar. Now there’s a new urgency, and some leading voices are asking if it’s coming in time to make a difference.

That’s only one concern expressed at last weekend’s International Congress on Religious Freedom in New York, a three day event that opened Thursday with a U.N. conference sponsored by the Vatican’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations.

Presenters included people who experienced or witnessed atrocities being committed against religious minorities.

Led by remarks from Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the U.N., the event had an intensely sensitive agenda.

That, I can vouch for, having attended all of it.

The world’s greatest humanitarian crisis since World War II is unfolding today in the Middle East. Hundreds of thousands of people in Syria and Iraq have lost their lives, entire communities have been displaced or wiped out, while neighboring communities or nations have strained to accept millions of people fleeing years of war and terrorism. We face the very real prospect of the extinction of many of the communities indigenous to the region.

Anderson gave background and findings of a nearly 300 page report his organization and In Defense of Christians submitted to the State Department and Congress in March, documenting atrocities and extensive evidence of genocide in the region.

And it showed that terms like ‘religious cleansing’, or ‘crimes against humanity’ are by themselves inadequate to describe both the magnitude of the tragedy and the clear intent of the perpetrators. The State Department’s declaration of genocide on March 17th marked only the second time that such a determination had been made by the U.S. government while the crime is occurring.

And then he added

Isis and the victims we interviewed agreed on one thing, many of those targeted were targeted because of their Christian faith…Our recent fact-finding mission to Iraq found evidence of (atrocities including) murder, slavery, property confiscation and expulsion. Many of the incidents have not been previously reported. But based on what we learned, it is our impression that what we know today is likely to be only the tip of the iceberg.

Anderson was only the first of the speakers, and his testimony set the tone for a powerful, intensive, collaborative witness to what Pope Francis calls a “third world war, waged piecemeal, which we are now experiencing”, which he called genocide, adding “I insist on the word”.

In Rome, the Trevi Fountain was lit red, in commemoration of Christian martyrdom, and mass execution of other religious minorities, to call the Western world to attention. Sitting through the UN conference on it, hearing powerful testimony, expert reports and stunning witness, I hope and pray it worked. The event in New York certainly seemed to mark a turning point.

The family synod of Pope Francis

How to summarize?

Here is the essence in short.

This WaPo article captures what much of the secular and even a fair number of Catholic media are saying.

“Yet the still-significant opposition in the synod to rapid changes in rules also suggested how far off Catholics may yet be from seeing Francis’s revolutionary style turned into practice.”

And this short Word On Fire video of Bishop Robert Barron captures what most of them got wrong.

Bishop Barron explains.

I can confidently tell you that the news media are in love with the Vicar of Christ. Time and again, commentators, pundits, anchorpersons, and editorialists opined that Pope Francis is the bomb. They approved, of course, of his gentle way with those suffering from disabilities and his proclivity to kiss babies, but their approbation was most often awakened by this Pope’s “merciful” and “inclusive” approach, his willingness to reach out to those on the margins. More often than not, they characterized this tenderness as a welcome contrast to the more rigid and dogmatic style of Benedict XVI. Often, I heard words such as “revolutionary” and “game-changing” in regard to Pope Francis, and one commentator sighed that she couldn’t imagine going back to the Church as it was before the current pontiff.

Well, I love Pope Francis too, and I certainly appreciate the novelty of his approach and his deft manner of breathing life into the Church…But I balk at the suggestion that the new Pope represents a revolution or that he is dramatically turning away from the example of his immediate predecessors. And I strenuously deny that he is nothing but a soft-hearted powder-puff, indifferent to sin.

A good deal of the confusion stems from a misinterpretation of Francis’s stress on mercy…Now this is important, for many receive the message of divine mercy as tantamount to a denial of the reality of sin, as though sin no longer matters. But just the contrary is the case. To speak of mercy is to be intensely aware of sin and its peculiar form of destructiveness. Or to shift to one of the Pope’s favorite metaphors, it is to be acutely conscious that one is wounded so severely that one requires, not minor treatment, but the emergency and radical attention provided in a hospital on the edge of a battlefield.

Pope Francis has often used the terminology of the Church as ‘field hospital’. Barron’s explanation of what that means is very timely.

The Francis Effect up close, in America

Elite media took to Pope Francis early and often, spinning him into a cultural icon of their making. Then they met him.

So many folks who sit in studios hosting shows named after them that deliver news analysis, or anchoring news shows that feature live reports and panel discussions, or in newsrooms typing out copy as they see fit in these times, take their impressions from other news sources, whether videos or transcripts or reports in other big media.

The week just ended gave them an encounter they weren’t fully prepared for, in spite of all the preparations.

I covered the visit of Pope Francis from a studio on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., gathering reporting as well from print and television sources to get the fuller picture of how this pope who has been featured on the cover of the Rolling Stone and Time Magazine and in dozens of other interviews and special features was actually being received live, in real time, in person.

It was amazing. I especially noticed how CNN’s coverage showed how awestruck Anderson Cooper and Don Lemon and Donna Brazile and others were over the Pontiff, attracted by his humility and openness and more effusive praise than could be counted in a busy week. They saw him up close, in DC, with the president and lawmakers and the poor and marginalized, with babies and children everywhere, teachers and parents and grandparents.

I have notes of reactions, overheard conversations, stories behind the stories, and hope to share them here this week. But after an astounding week of encounter with the real Francis and thus, the real Catholic Church, the enamored media and adoring public got this stemwinder from the Holy Father to cap the Festival of Families in Philadelphia. Go to about 2:09 into the video when Francis, newly energized by the events of the evening, goes completely off script.

No text copied here could do justice to seeing Francis say it, tell it, gesturing with his hands, cracking jokes as he talked about the headaches children can sometimes cause, trials when families fight and ‘plates fly’, and  “I won’t speak about mother-in-laws,” he said.

He rocked the house. He shook the country, certainly some, at least some, hard core, usually composed, media

More to come. Much more.

Cuba is not just a stopover for Pope Francis

He’s giving that island nation nearly as many days as his major visit to the US. Indicating how important all the flock are to this shepherd.

Heading off to Washington D.C. to cover the Papal visit to the U.S. from there, I have no time to round up many good links I’ve saved to articles and posts covering Pope Francis in Cuba. In due time.

But the best, in my humble opinion, is easily accessible in a few ways and places, mostly connected to British journalist, commentator and author Austen Ivereigh. Here’s one exception, a good post on Aleteia, of Pope Francis going off script to deliver what had been a prepared address.

Pope Francis had a prepared speech to give at the Celebration of Vespers with priests, religious and seminarians at the Cathedral of Havana Sunday evening. But after hearing introductory remarks by Havana’s Cardinal Jaime Ortega and a religious sister, he decided to put it aside and speak extemporaneously

Cardinal Jaime [Ortega] spoke to us about poverty and Sister Yaileny spoke to us about the smallest, about the smallest. They are all children. I had a homily prepared to give now, based on the biblical texts, but when the prophets speak — and every priest is a prophet, all the baptized are prophets, every consecrated person is a prophet — we are going to pay attention to them. So I’m going to give the homily to Cardinal Jaime so that he sends it to you and publishes it and afterward you can meditate on it. And now let us talk a bit about what these two prophets said.

It occurred to Cardinal Jaime to speak a very uncomfortable word, extremely uncomfortable, that even goes against the cultural structure, so to speak, of the world. He said poverty. And he repeated it various times. I think that the Lord wanted us to hear it various times and to receive it in our hearts. The spirit of the world doesn’t know this word, doesn’t like it, hides it — not out of purity, but out of disdain.

Read his remarks. This is who Francis is. This is where the world will find him, encounter him, learn from him if people are open to what he says.

First, it helps to know who he is, and for that, Austen Ivereigh has given us the best (or certainly one of the very best) biographies, chronicles and profiles of this extraordinary successor of Peter. His book The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope is an extensive, deeply informed account of the framework around this unlikely pope and his ambitious program of reform, and “how this radical pope came to be”, as the jacket cover correctly claims. It is compelling.

So is talking with Austen Ivereigh, which I did on radio last week from Havana, in anticipation of the Pope’s visit to Cuba, and again Monday, on the third day of events for Francis there, each with its own interesting facets. Monday’s conversation (9/21) with Austen was full, rich, engaging and compelling, as he covered the visit from beginning to the latest, fascinating encounter in Cuba Monday morning.

Here’s one of his articles to go with the conversations, better to add context to this pope and his journeys to address, says Austen Ivereigh, the soul of both nations, Cuba and America.

They aren’t that different. The countries and settings? Yes. The message Francis brings to both journeys? No.

Stay tuned.

 

What is the problem with mistaken identities?

Or does it just seem that way all of a sudden, from high profile news stories?

Gender and race have featured prominently in media lately under the whole category of the ‘trans’ movement.

A few thoughts…

What does the transgender movement do to the feminist movement? The Federalist considers.

A central theme of modern, or third-wave feminism is that women should not be treated merely as sexual objects. A central theme of the trans movement is the presentation of trans women as hypersexual objects. Feminism is not big enough for both of these themes. Either being a woman is essentially defined as being alluring to men, or it isn’t. Either the playboy bunny defines the essence of womanhood, or it doesn’t. At the moment, the trans movement opposes more than a century of feminism on this point. Third-wave feminists, in their eagerness to be allies, have abandoned this basic tenet. It must be reclaimed.

How have we arrived at a point in which feminists fundamentally alter their definition of womanhood to accommodate men?

This is a good examination of conscience for the feminist movement, among others, but chief among others.

There is nothing male about pants, muscles, and short hair. Just ask Rosie the Riveter. The social constructs of feminine and masculine are totally up for grabs, and that’s fine, but a masculine woman is still a woman, and there’s nothing wrong with that, or with that woman living however she wants to. The same goes for feminine men.

The problem here is how Annie Leibowitz and Vanity Fair set about showing us that Jenner is truly a woman. They did it by painting precisely the pinup we teach our daughters to reject as their central aspiration. The sexual objectification of trans women is used as proof of their womanness, but the sexual objectification of non-trans women is considered demeaning because it associates their primary worth in relation to male desire. Being oppressed by men is being oppressed by men, even if those men are wearing dresses.

Speaking of oppression, the Rachel Dolezal story took social identity politics to a whole new level.

A prominent civil rights activist who heads a Washington state NAACP chapter has apparently been identifying herself as African-American for years despite being white, her mother revealed Thursday.

Rachel Dolezal, president of NAACP Spokane and adjunct professor of Africana studies at Eastern Washington University, is a leading voice in the local black community, and was even invited by the city to chair a police oversight commission.

So, a white lady posing as a black lady, better to identify with blacks, is bizarre. And unnecessary, as her mother attests.

Rachel’s mother attributed her daughter’s behavior to being raised among four adopted African-American siblings, during which time Dolezal began to “disguise herself.”

“Her effectiveness in the causes of the African-American community would have been so much more viable, and she would have been more effective, if she had just been honest with everybody,” Ruthanne Dolezal told the Spokane Spokesman-Review.

Those high profile identity stories breaking as close together as they did in news cycle time led some commentators to draw comparisons. First Things Magazine’s Carl Trueman was one.

To him,

the point of comparison is rather obvious: If identity is a matter of psychological conviction and can override and even directly contradict biology, then we have no basis to privilege the soft biology of race over the much more significant biology of sex. Nor can the possession of a history of oppression lead to such privileging. Talk to any feminist. They can tell you something about oppression.

Into the upheaval came Pope Francis, steeped in the long history of human anthropology, and usually with something to say that applies them to these confusing times. Especially about the transgender movement, so widely covered in recent days and weeks.

One week after Bruce Jenner appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair wearing an ivory corset declaring he is a woman, Pope Francis again denounced gender ideology as an aberration.

Speaking to the bishops of Puerto Rico on Monday, June 8th, during their ad limina visit to Rome, the Pope said the ideology is among the most pernicious threats to marriage and family life.

“Let me draw your attention to the value and beauty of marriage,” he said. “The complementarity of man and woman, the crown of God’s creation, is being questioned by so-called gender ideology, in the name of a freer and fairer society.”

But “the difference between man and woman is not for opposition or subordination, but for communion and procreation, always in the ‘image and likeness’ of God,” he said…

Pope Francis explained that while contemporary culture has opened new opportunities for understanding the sexual difference, it has also introduced “many doubts and much skepticism.”

“For instance,” he said, “I wonder if the so-called gender theory is not also an expression of a frustration and resignation, which aims to eliminate the sexual difference because it no longer knows how to face it.”

“The removal of the difference, in fact, is the problem, not the solution.”

(Where did that get covered in big media?)

He therefore urged the bishops of Puerto Rico to “safeguard the treasure” of marriage, which he called “one of the most important of Latin American and Caribbean peoples.”

The Pope also called on the bishops to defend and protect the family from the many social problems that afflict it, including: “the economic situation, migration, domestic violence, unemployment, drug trafficking, and corruption.”

Always directing attention to the existential peripheries, Francis took this opportunity to say, in so many words, that certain First World ‘ideologies’ are remote from the realities of tragic Third World struggles unimaginable to the privileged political classes and cultural elites in the West.

We have poverty, joblessness, lack of access to education and opportunity, community safety and solidarity, and the existential peripheries here too. We just have to focus attention on these social problems. Which should be easier once we recognize how connected they are with the stories grabbing headlines for other, more sensational reasons.

Pope Francis and ‘soft power’ diplomacy

He doesn’t soft-peddle his approach.

In another airplane press conference on an apostolic journey abroad, Francis called out anyone who commits violence in the name of religion. And while he emphasized the importance of free expression, he admitted it necessarily has limits.

Here’s the transcript of his remarks. A key exchange, on the tension between freedom of religion, and freedom of speech:

Sebastien Maynard (La Croix): Holy Father, yesterday during Mass, you spoke about religious liberty as a fundamental human right. With respect to other religions, how far can the freedom of expression extend, since this latter is a fundamental human right, too?

Pope Francis: Thanks for the question, that is smart, it is good. I think that both are fundamental human rights, religious liberty and liberty of expression. You can’t … Let’s think, are you French? Let’s go to Paris. Let’s speak clearly. You cannot hide a truth. Everyone has the right to practice their religion, their own religion without offending, freely. And that’s what we do, what we all want to do.

But…

Secondly, you cannot offend or make war, kill in the name of your religion, in the name of God. What has happened now astonishes us…Killing in the name of God is an aberration against God. I think this is the main thing with freedom of religion. You can practice with freedom without offending but without imposing or killing.

The freedom of expression… Every one of us has not just the freedom, the right, but also the obligation to say what he thinks to help build the common good. The obligation. If we think of a congressman, a senator, if he doesn’t say what he thinks is the true path, he doesn’t collaborate in the common good. We have the obligation to freely have this liberty, but without offending. It’s true that you cannot react violently. But, if Dr. Gasbarri, my great friend, says something against my mother, he can expect a punch. It’s normal. It’s normal. You cannot provoke, you cannot insult the faith of others, you cannot make fun of the faith.

Pope Benedict, in a speech, I don’t remember which, he spoke of this post-positivist mentality, of the post-positivist metaphysics that brought people to believe that religions or religious expressions are a type of lower culture: that they are tolerated but that there’s not much to them, that they are in not part of an enlightened culture. And this is a lecacy of the Enlightenment. So many people speak against others’ religions. They make fun of them. Let’s say they “giocatalizzano” (make a playng out of) the religion of others. But they are provoking, and what can happen is what I said about Dr. Gasbarri if he says something about my mother. There is a limit. Every religion has dignity; I cannot mock a religion that respects human life and the human person. And this is a limit. I’ve used this example of the limit to say that in the freedom of expression there are limits, like the example I gave of my mother. I don’t know if I was able to respond to the question. Thanks.

This is so Francis-like. Honest and sincere, off-the-cuff spontaneous remarks, in the colloquial expressions he’s familiar with but we all are too, in our own way. So we can relate. Would you hear Pope John Paul II or Benedict talking about ‘expecting a punch’ for insulting his mother? No. But Francis is Francis. Catholics refer to ‘Holy Mother Church’, which was a point he was making. Freedom of expression is important, but all freedoms have to be exercised within the limits of truth, right order and the common good (think ‘You can’t yell fire in a crowded theater’).

More on his thoughts about religion being abused in the cause of war here.

When confronted with the question of truth commissions in war torn nations, Francis said this:

I support efforts to find the truth, balance efforts; not those in search of vindication, but balanced efforts to help to reach an agreement.

I heard something from the President of Sri Lanka – I don’t want this to be interpreted as a political comment, it is only phenomenological: I repeat what I heard and I agree with. He said he wants to move ahead with the work of peace, reconciliation. Then he used another word, he said we must create harmony in the people. That’s something more than peace, more than reconciliation, and it’s beautiful, it’s musical, too. Then he used another word. He said harmony brings happiness and joy. I was amazed. I said: I like hearing this, but it’s not easy. He said yes, we must touch people’s hearts. That’s what I thought of in answering your question, only by touching the hearts of people who know what suffering is, what injustice is; who had suffered many things from war, so many things. Only by touching hearts can people forgive, can we find the right path, without incorrect compromises to go forward.

This all comes right after the week of terror in Paris and the extraordinary weekend unity rally that drew world leaders and massive crowds together in a demonstration of solidarity against extremist violence. Francis has been working on that, through the channels available to him, throughout his papacy. In the footsteps of his predecessors, according to former US Vatican Ambassador Francis Rooney, who wrote this Time.com opinion piece not long ago, which becomes timely again with current events.

It has now been announced that Pope Francis will make a state visit to Turkey in November [which he made]. As with Pope Benedict’s visit there in 2006, a papal visit to the secular Islamic nation will garner the attention of everyone who is concerned about the violence and civil wars in the Middle East. Like the Albania visit, the Pope’s very presence will symbolize hopes for genuine religious tolerance and inter-religious dialogue, while drawing the clear distinction between religion and lawlessness and murder.

Following Regensburg, several groups of Islamic scholars acknowledged that Koranic teaching must reconcile with modernity.

Few people know that fact, to this day.

Continuing with Ambassador Rooney

Pope Francis’ engagement of the Holy See, both in calling for an end to the persecution of Christians and implying recently that even military opposition to ISIS in Iraq and Syria could be supported a “just war,” has similarly brought constructive results.

…Grand Mufti Abdul-Aziz, the leading Muslim cleric in Saudi Arabia, spoke out clearly against radicalism in response to King Abdullah’s public request for all clerics to raise their voices on this issue. While King Abdullah visited Pope Benedict in the aftermath of Regensburg, this is the most clear expression of Saudi opposition to radicalism to date.

On September 10, some two dozen MuslimAmerican leaders met in Washington with officials from the Department of Homeland Security and spoke out against Islamic terrorism and the recruitment of young Muslim Americans to extremism. More recently, in a direct reference to the need for “soft power” solutions, the Minister of Religious Affairs for Jordan, Hayil Abdelhafeez Dawoud, told the Wall Street Journal that “to fight terrorism, we need to fight its ideology. It can’t be solved militarily.”

George Weigel has recently summarized the problem and suggested a solution, stating that the modern world is at a crossroads with Islam, which requires that Islam reconcile its theology with the tolerance, freedom and respect for human life that the rest of the civilized world has come to expect, as well as with the nature of the secular, modern state and its relationship to religion.

While optimism is hard to find right now, and the violence and persecution in the Middle East and parts of Sub-Saharan Africa continue unchecked, these recent expressions offer promise that a broad community of nations will congeal to create a supportable, “just” force against Islamic extremists and that the Muslim states and leaders themselves will work to devise theological and philosophical constructions to bring Islam at large into accord with the modern world.

No sovereign is more aligned with these efforts nor more suited to weigh in diplomatically than the Holy See and Pope Francis.

Pope Francis hosted an extraordinary global marriage conference

There was little media coverage. Where did the Francis Effect go?

He’s not sounding the progressive notes liberals thought they’d been hearing from him and some Church hierarchy lately. Just after the Bishops’ Synod on the Family recently stirred so much controversy over the issue of same sex marriage, Francis boldly declared marriage is a sacramental union of man and woman and anything else is “an association.” It got attention in Christian media, but little to none elsewhere.

The movement to redefine marriage unquestionably has enjoyed dominance in the prevailing culture, which has helped that movement shape public opinion through media, politics, the entertainment culture, academia and other ways. The movement has been unified, successful and powerful, while the other side largely has not. Until now.

Yes, the massive March for Marriage in Paris held twice within months last year, with one in the US soon after, and dedicated organizations tirelessly working to engage the marriage debate and build a marriage culture, have made a difference in many ways. But they haven’t had the cohesive and powerful effect the movement to redefine marriage has in recent years. One event may not change that, but it could be a major tipping point. Could this have been the event?

It was the high level conference the Vatican hosted this past week that unified some of the world’s greatest scholars, intellectuals and religious leaders for a unique focus on marriage. Pope Francis opened it with sharp remarks about dysfunction in modern culture and its impact on individuals and families on the most fundamental levels.

Pope Francis stated frankly, “In our day, marriage and the family are in crisis.” The “culture of the temporary” has led many people to give up on marriage as a public commitment. “This revolution in manners and morals has often flown the flag of freedom, but in fact it has brought spiritual and material devastation to countless human beings, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.” The Pope said that the crisis in the family has produced a crisis “of human ecology,” similar to the crisis that affects the natural environment. “Although the human race has come to understand the need to address conditions that menace our natural environments, we have been slower to recognize that our fragile social environments are under threat as well, slower in our culture, and also in our Catholic Church. It is therefore essential that we foster a new human ecology and advance it.”

To do that, the Pope said, “It is necessary first to promote the fundamental pillars that govern a nation: its non-material goods.” He noted that the family is the foundation of society, and that children have the right to grow up in a family with a mother and a father “capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity.”

He also called on participants in the Colloquium “to lift up yet another truth about marriage: that permanent commitment to solidarity, fidelity, and fruitful love responds to the deepest longings of the human heart.” This is especially important for young people “who represent our future.”

Finally, Pope Francis said the family is not an ideological concept, but an “anthropological fact.” That is, the family is not a “conservative” or a “progressive” notion, but is a reality that transcends ideological labels.

Pope Francis concluded his address with the hope that the Colloquium would be “an inspiration to all who seek to support and strengthen the union of man and woman in marriage as a unique, natural, fundamental and beautiful good for persons, families, communities, and whole societies.”

It was inspirational, to say the least. Read Maggie Gallagher:

For the Vatican it was a truly unusual event, with people from every part of the globe and nearly every major faith tradition — Catholics and Protestants, Jews and Jains, Mormons and Muslims, not to mention Sikhs, Hindus, and Buddhists, pouring into Rome to share their faith traditions’ insights into the meaning of this thing called sex…

Something happened at this colloquium, something I would not say was talked about, so much as on display, something deeply foundational and mostly missing in modern discourse on the family, including (perhaps especially) much rational Catholic discourse — something that cannot be explained but only experienced by the hungry human heart.

The closest words we have are so mocked and ridiculed as to be reduced in their capacity to carry the meaning: purity? chastity?

There is something men and women can be together but only when we recognize our difference as deeply precious and meaningful, for in it lies the capacity of the lover and the beloved to influence one another. I mean in particular the special power of women for men to symbolize and therefore incarnate, a world outside that which every teenage boy enters adult life experiencing: the deep power of lust. Can sexual desire ever be something other than this relentless urge to use, to possess, to enjoy, to discard, to delight in degradation that is so evident all around us?

I heard an echo of it in what prominent evangelicals were trying to put into words…

Like famous Evangelical Pastor Rick Warren.

“To redefine marriage would destroy the picture that God intends for marriage to portray, and we cannot cave on this issue,” Warren said. “It’s a picture of Christ and his Church.”

“What are we going to do about this?” he said, according to a report from Christian Today. “The Church cannot cower in silence. The stakes are too high.”

He continued:

“A lie doesn’t become a truth and wrong doesn’t become right…just because it’s popular,” said Warren. “Truth is truth.”

Addressing the issue of remaining steadfast in the face of today’s culture, Warren told those meeting at the Vatican that “the only way to always be relevant, is to be eternal.”

He said it’s not necessary even to be on the right side of culture, but rather it’s just important to be on the right side, and he said it is time for the Church to be a “proponent of what’s right.”

“The Church must remain strong in its values, and continue to uphold the traditional teaching of marriage and the male-female relationship, despite cultural pressures,” Warren stressed. “It should lead the crowd, not follow it.”

Participants report that several addresses brought the crowd to its feet, for sustained ovations in some cases. Such was the case (as Michael Cook noted) with Lord Jonathan Sacks. His speech was more of an eloquent oration, profoundly stirring listeners to their core.

I want this morning to begin our conversation by one way of telling the story of the most beautiful idea in the history of civilization: the idea of the love that brings new life into the world. There are of course many ways of telling the story, and this is just one.

It was utter poetry.

Maggie Gallagher tried to find words to convey what it did and meant to be there at this extraordinary time.

At the end of this extraordinary three days Archbishop Chaput took the microphone to invite us to the 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. “I’ve been a bishop for 26 years, a priest for more than 40 years, and this was the most interesting colloquium I’ve been to in my life,” he said.

That says a lot, coming from Archbishop Chaput, who has not only attended but addressed countless fascinating, important, critical conferences on urgent issues of our times.

Gallagher continues:

The conference ended not with a statement but with a promise: A movie will be made to express our deepest affirmations. Jacqueline Rivers and Reverend Gene Rivers read from the script for the story, the story of our lives:

For on earth marriage binds us across the ages in the flesh, across families in the flesh, and across the fearful and wonderful divide of man and woman, in the flesh. This is not ours to alter,” it reads. “It is ours, however, to encourage and celebrate. . . . This we affirm.

After that, we all stood and applauded for what seemed like ten minutes, reluctant to leave, reluctant to have it end, which of course it should not, because now our task is to find new ways to go forth and carry on the great human story of the generations.

The colloquium wrapped with great warmth, a determined sense of purpose, and the Affirmation Carolyn Moynihan shared here. It was more the end of the beginning.