Browsing News Entries

UPDATE: English Catholic priest vindicated for ‘pro-life’ opinion in end-of-life case

Father Patrick Pullicino, an English Catholic priest and neurologist, has been vindicated after being investigated by a UK medical regulation agency for giving his expert opinion in an emergency end-of-life case. / Credit: Christian Concern

CNA Staff, Feb 16, 2024 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

Father Patrick Pullicino, an English Catholic priest and neurologist, has been vindicated after being investigated by a U.K. medical regulation agency for giving his expert opinion in an emergency end-of-life case in which he called for further tests before cutting off a hospitalized man’s nutrition and hydration.

The man, referred to as “RS,” ultimately died in 2020 amid legal battles between his family and the hospital over his fate. 

But shortly after the man’s death, a complaint was brought against Pullicino by an academic researcher and end-of-life planning advocate in 2021 accusing the priest of bias because of his Catholic and “pro-life values,” according to Christian Concern, the advocacy organization that defended the priest.

Pullicino was subsequently investigated by the U.K.’s General Medical Council (GMC) in early 2021, and this month he was finally exonerated.

“No evidence was adduced to support the allegation that Dr. Pullicino’s religious faith or personal beliefs affected his opinion on Patient RS,” the council said in its decision, according to Christian Concern.

“Dr. Pullicino is an experienced consultant neurologist with specialist registration and a license to practice, and we have no evidence to suggest that he lacks competence to assess a patient’s level of consciousness,” the decision said.

“We do not have evidence to support an allegation that [his medical opinion] was inaccurate,” the council said. “We conclude that there is no realistic prospect of proving these allegations and they are concluded with no action.”

Pullicino said in Christian Concern’s press release that he is “relieved” at the decision and added that the complaint “was a clear discriminatory attack” on his medical opinion “because I am a Catholic priest and believe medical professionals should do everything possible to save another human’s life.”

“The GMC should never have allowed an investigation to proceed against me, which was so clearly targeted against and based on my religious beliefs,” he said.

The hospitalized man

In November 2020, RS, a middle-aged man from Poland but living in the U.K., had a massive heart attack, leaving him with brain damage and in a coma.

Doctors at the University Hospital Plymouth NHS Trust decided that it would be best to stop sustaining his life through hydration and nutrients. RS’s wife agreed, but some members of RS’s birth family disagreed.

The matter went before the Court of Protection, the U.K.’s legal body responsible for making financial or “welfare” decisions on behalf of those who can’t make decisions for themselves.

That court allowed the hospital system to cut off his nutrients and hydration.

After some members of RS’s birth family lost an appeal, RS’s sister and niece were allowed to visit him in the hospital to say their goodbyes on Christmas Day, one day after the hospital cut off nutrition and fluids, according to Christian Concern. 

When the two women saw him, they were “astonished” at the improvement in his “awareness,” the advocacy group wrote, adding that “he appeared to recognize them and began to cry.”

The women immediately sought the counsel of Pullicino, the neurologist and South Wales-based priest. 

Pullicino told the family in a letter to make an emergency application to the Court of Protection to restore nutrients and hydration to RS and to instruct Pullicino to make a video examination of RS, according to Christian Concern. 

Pullicino watched three minutes of video to examine RS, according to one of the court decisions in the case.

In the letter to the family, Pullicino told them that RS showed “a clear emotional response to the presence of the family members” and that a “proper neurological assessment would require further observation over a period of time,” that court decision said.

In response to the family’s request, the Court of Protection ordered the temporary continuation of hydration and nutrition of RS pending the adjudication of the application given the new evidence, Christian Concern said.

The judge ruled against the family and wrote in his Jan. 31, 2020, decision that “it is not in his best interests for life-sustaining treatment to be given.” That decision was reaffirmed on Jan. 13, 2021. 

Poland’s intervention

Poland’s government also attempted to save the man’s life and arrange for a full examination, Christian Concern wrote. 

The Polish government granted RS “diplomatic status” so its London-based embassy could gain access to him, according to the organization. 

Additionally, a Polish court appointed RS’s sister in Poland to be his guardian and ordered RS’s return to the country for treatment. 

The Plymouth hospital, with the backing of the Court of Protection, banned any Polish authorities from visiting RS, according to Christian Concern. 

RS died on Jan. 26, 2021, from dehydration and starvation, according to the organization. 

Complaint

After RS’s death, the investigation into Pullicino commenced as a result of a complaint by Celia Kitzinger, who co-directs an organization that observes hearings in the Court of Protection.

Kitzinger sat in on a series of hearings related to RS’s life, one of which where Pullicino was a witness.

In her formal complaint, she accused Pullicino’s evidence in court as “vague, biased, and frankly dishonest.” She said that Pullicino’s estimation in court that video clips showed RS being, or becoming, “minimally conscious” were contrary to the ruling of an independent expert who also viewed the clips and disagreed.

She quoted the judge’s ruling in the decision in which he said some of Pullicino’s evidence was “unaccountably vague” and was “concerned about the level of his objectivity.”

Kitzinger said her concern is that Pullicino’s involvement ​“caused harm” to RS and that “his actions undermined public confidence in doctors.”

“It seems that Dr. Pullicino allowed himself to be used as the tool of a religious campaigning group and found himself colluding with ‘pro-life’ activists to produce an outcome-driven re-diagnosis of a patient in an attempt to reverse the decision of the court to withdraw treatment,” she wrote in the complaint.

Kitzinger mentioned some “speculative possibilities” for Pullicino’s actions in her complaint, including that he may not have had access to all relevant information or was inexperienced. 

She also mentioned that he could have been biased “because of his own ‘pro-life’ values” or “may have deliberately misdiagnosed the patient in the hope of saving his life,” adding that “it is hard to believe that this would be the case.”

Kitzinger told CNA that she disputes the characterization of her as an “assisted suicide campaigner” in Christian Concern’s press release, saying that she has “never campaigned for assisted dying” and did not target Pullicino because of his Catholic faith. 

Christian Concern said it stands by its characterizations of Kitzinger in its release, maintaining its accusations.

Victory

After Pullicino’s win, the Christian Legal Centre, which defended him, celebrated and warned against the General Medical Council’s actions.

“The irony should not escape us that this is a doctor under investigation for actually trying to save a life,” said Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre.

“In a world where truth is becoming stranger than fiction, we are now seeing doctors who work to save lives becoming the ones investigated by the GMC. This tells us something about the culture of the GMC,” Williams said.

Williams continued that the length of the case was “deeply disturbing” and said it “highlights the growing pressure on medical professionals not to break ranks with their colleagues who had taken a controversial decision to end a patient’s life.”

She called the case against Pullicino a “targeted attack” and called for “more doctors and experts who are prepared to be fearless in defending the patient’s right to life.”

This story was updated on Feb. 16, 2024, at 5 p.m. ET with information on the formal complaint as well as comments from Celia Kitzinger.

Cardinal Zen publishes new critique of Synod on Synodality

Cardinal Joseph Zen is bishop emeritus of Hong Kong. / Credit: The World Over with Raymond Arroyo

Rome Newsroom, Feb 16, 2024 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, the bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, has released another critique of the Synod on Synodality, arguing that the ongoing discussion and discernment process offers “two opposing visions” of the nature, organization, and role of the Church. 

“On the one hand, the Church is presented as founded by Jesus on the apostles and their successors, with a hierarchy of ordained ministers who guide the faithful on the journey toward the heavenly Jerusalem,” the 92-year-old cardinal observes in a nearly 3,600-word commentary posted on Feb. 15 titled “How will the Synod continue and end?”

“On the other hand, there is talk of an undefined synodality, a ‘democracy of the baptized,’” he continues, interjecting “Which baptized people? Do they at least go to church regularly? Do they draw faith from the Bible and strength from the sacraments?”

“This other vision, if legitimized,” he warns, “can change everything, the doctrine of faith and the discipline of moral life.”

Going into a deeper examination of these visions of ecclesiology, the cardinal writes that “in order not to see a contradiction in it, we must understand this invitation to synodality not as having to do something completely new but as giving a new impulse to something that has always existed in the Church.”

Zen acknowledges that synods have been a “historic reality” of the Church. Yet while earlier synods took place within the framework of the apostolic tradition and were guided by the “hierarchy of ordained ministers who guide the faithful on the journey toward the heavenly Jerusalem,” the current synod is characterized by an “undefined synodality” and a “democracy of the baptized,” he argues.

“They tell us that synodality is a fundamental constitutive element of the life of the Church, but at the same time they emphasize that synodality is what the Lord expects of us today. Participation and communion are obviously permanent characteristics of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church. But doesn’t saying that synodality is ‘the thing that the Lord expects of us today’ mean that it is something new?” he writes.

“In order not to see a contradiction in it, we must understand this invitation to synodality not as having to do something completely new but as giving a new impulse to something that has always existed in the Church.”

One of the cardinal’s main concerns is how the Synod on Synodality is being conducted at the universal level, beginning with the initial assembly at the Vatican in October 2023 and culminating later this year with a final assembly in October.

Referring to the Synod on Synodality’s call to “walk together,” he asks: “What is the goal of this journey? Is there a guide that ensures the right direction?” 

In his essay the cardinal also takes issue with the synod’s incorporation of the “conversation in the Spirit,” a dialogic process he says was initiated by the Jesuits in Canada. “Imposing this method on the synod proceedings is a manipulation aiming at avoiding discussions,” he argues. “It is all psychology and sociology, no faith and no theology.”

The cardinal has already expressed his concern over the trajectory of the Synod on Synodality in a letter addressed to bishops that was sent out just days before the start of the first session of the synod in October.

Cardinal Zen publishes new critique of Synod on Synodality

Cardinal Joseph Zen is bishop emeritus of Hong Kong. / Credit: The World Over with Raymond Arroyo

Rome Newsroom, Feb 16, 2024 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, the bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, has released another critique of the Synod on Synodality, arguing that the ongoing discussion and discernment process offers “two opposing visions” of the nature, organization, and role of the Church. 

“On the one hand, the Church is presented as founded by Jesus on the apostles and their successors, with a hierarchy of ordained ministers who guide the faithful on the journey toward the heavenly Jerusalem,” the 92-year-old cardinal observes in a nearly 3,600-word commentary posted on Feb. 15 titled “How will the Synod continue and end?”

“On the other hand, there is talk of an undefined synodality, a ‘democracy of the baptized,’” he continues, interjecting “Which baptized people? Do they at least go to church regularly? Do they draw faith from the Bible and strength from the sacraments?”

“This other vision, if legitimized,” he warns, “can change everything, the doctrine of faith and the discipline of moral life.”

Going into a deeper examination of these visions of ecclesiology, the cardinal writes that “in order not to see a contradiction in it, we must understand this invitation to synodality not as having to do something completely new but as giving a new impulse to something that has always existed in the Church.”

Zen acknowledges that synods have been a “historic reality” of the Church. Yet while earlier synods took place within the framework of the apostolic tradition and were guided by the “hierarchy of ordained ministers who guide the faithful on the journey toward the heavenly Jerusalem,” the current synod is characterized by an “undefined synodality” and a “democracy of the baptized,” he argues.

“They tell us that synodality is a fundamental constitutive element of the life of the Church, but at the same time they emphasize that synodality is what the Lord expects of us today. Participation and communion are obviously permanent characteristics of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church. But doesn’t saying that synodality is ‘the thing that the Lord expects of us today’ mean that it is something new?” he writes.

“In order not to see a contradiction in it, we must understand this invitation to synodality not as having to do something completely new but as giving a new impulse to something that has always existed in the Church.”

One of the cardinal’s main concerns is how the Synod on Synodality is being conducted at the universal level, beginning with the initial assembly at the Vatican in October 2023 and culminating later this year with a final assembly in October.

Referring to the Synod on Synodality’s call to “walk together,” he asks: “What is the goal of this journey? Is there a guide that ensures the right direction?” 

In his essay the cardinal also takes issue with the synod’s incorporation of the “conversation in the Spirit,” a dialogic process he says was initiated by the Jesuits in Canada. “Imposing this method on the synod proceedings is a manipulation aiming at avoiding discussions,” he argues. “It is all psychology and sociology, no faith and no theology.”

The cardinal has already expressed his concern over the trajectory of the Synod on Synodality in a letter addressed to bishops that was sent out just days before the start of the first session of the synod in October.

Mexican presidential candidates meet with Pope Francis

Mexican presidential candidates Xóchitl Gálvez and Claudia Sheinbaum met separately with Pope Francis. / Crédit: Xóchitl Gálvez, Claudia Sheinbaum

ACI Prensa Staff, Feb 16, 2024 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

Xóchitl Gálvez Ruiz and Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo, who are running for president of Mexico in this year’s elections, met in private individual audiences with Pope Francis this week at the Vatican.

Mexico’s presidential elections are scheduled for June 2. Citizens will elect not only the next president, who will succeed Andrés Manuel López Obrador, but also new members of the federal Congress as well as state governors and mayors.

The Vatican Press Office has not released any official statement regarding Pope Francis’ meetings with Gálvez and Sheinbaum. In a Feb. 15 press conference, Gálvez said her audience with the Holy Father took place on Feb. 13 and lasted approximately 40 minutes.

The candidate said her meeting with the pontiff was “of a spiritual nature,” as she described herself as “a profoundly Catholic practicing woman.”

Gálvez said she spoke with Pope Francis about various topics, including his encyclical Fratelli Tutti (Brothers All), published in 2020.

“I was able to converse with him about the encyclical Fratelli Tutti, which is inspired by the life of Francis of Assisi and of course it speaks of brotherly love. And I want a Mexico without divisions, with love, an open fraternity that allows each person to be recognized and loved whether he is close by or far away, regardless of where he was born,” Gálvez said.

“We also talked about the issue of migration and how Mexico, unfortunately, has not been able to respect the human rights of migrants,” she added.

Meanwhile, on Feb. 15 Sheinbaum posted on X that she met with Pope Francis in the private office he maintains at his residence, Casa Santa Marta.  

In her post, Sheinbaum noted that her meeting with Pope Francis “was an exceptional hour that I will never forget, with a simple and warm way that shows his greatness.”

“I brought him as a gift some beautiful pieces from the Wixárika people” who live in the region known as Sierra Madre Occidental in Mexico, she said.

“In addition to being the highest representative of the Catholic Church, the religion of the vast majority of my people, I have profound admiration for his humanist thinking,” the presidential candidate said.

Sheinbaum added that Pope Francis gave her “great advice about life.”

Who are Gálvez and Sheinbaum?

Sheinbaum, a member of the ruling Morena Party, headed by current president López Obrador, heads the leftist coalition Together We Make History; while Gálvez, of the opposition National Action Party, represents the Broad Front for Mexico, a coalition of political parties with similar views. 

Both candidates have expressed views that distance themselves from Catholic teaching on abortion and same-sex marriage.

In a 2020 post on social media, Gálvez said that abortion is an “individual decision by the woman” and added to the message the slogans “AbortoLegalYa” (“Legal abortion now”) and “QueSubaLaMarea” (“Let the tide rise”). 

Gálvez has also expressed support for the “LGBTTTIQ+” and “gender identity” movements as well as the legalization of marijuana.

Sheinbaum, who until recently headed the Mexico City government, for her part has called the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade in 2022 “a setback.” Her secretary of health at the time, Oliva López Arellano, offered the Mexican capital as an option for foreigners seeking an abortion.

Additionally, during the time she headed the Mexico City government, Sheinbaum supported a decree that allows adolescents over 12 years of age to change the “gender identity” on their birth certificate through an administrative process.

Earlier this year, on Jan. 13, both Gálvez and Sheinbaum held individual meetings with the Mexican bishops to discuss “social issues” in the context of the 115th Plenary Assembly of the Mexican Bishops’ Conference.

Mexican actor and “Sound of Freedom” producer Eduardo Verástegui, who unsuccessfully tried to get on the ballot as an independent candidate for president, said at the time he announced his bid that “we have two candidates who are exactly the same… Is that the opposition?”

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Israeli embassy criticizes Cardinal Parolin’s remarks on civilian death toll in Gaza

Israeli Ambassador to the Holy See Raphael Schutz meets with Pope Francis on Feb. 2, 2024. / Credit: Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Feb 15, 2024 / 16:05 pm (CNA).

The Embassy of Israel to the Holy See issued a sharp rebuke of Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin’s recent remarks on the civilian death toll in the Israel-Hamas war.

In Feb. 13 comments made to the press — which were posted in full on La Repubblica’s website — Parolin said that Israel’s response to Hamas’ Oct. 7, 2023, attack has not been “proportionate,” with the prelate arguing that “we cannot continue like this” and “we must find other ways to solve the problem of Gaza, the problem of Palestine.”

The Vatican’s secretary of state also observed that since the outbreak of the war, the Holy See has issued “a clear and unreserved condemnation of what happened on Oct. 7” as well as “a clear and unreserved condemnation of every type of antisemitism.” 

Parolin went on to say that “at the same time” the Holy See has requested “that Israel’s right to defense, that was invoked to justify this operation, be proportionate … and certainly with 30,000 deaths it is not.” 

In response to the cardinal’s remarks, the Embassy of Israel to the Holy See issued a press release posted on X in which it stated that “judging the legitimacy of a war without taking into account ALL relevant circumstances and data inevitably leads to erroneous conclusions.” 

“Gaza has been transformed by Hamas into the largest terrorist base ever seen,” the embassy argued. “There is almost no civilian infrastructure that has not been used by Hamas for its criminal plans, including hospitals, schools, places of worship, and many others.”

“Gaza civilians also actively participated in the Oct. 7 unprovoked invasion of Israeli territory, killing, raping, and taking civilians hostage,” the statement continued. “All these acts are defined as war crimes.” 

The embassy argued that “in stark contrast” to the Hamas assault, “IDF operations are conducted in full compliance with international law.”

The embassy’s press release also addressed the issue of civilian deaths, indicating that in the case of the IDF, “for every Hamas militant killed, three civilians lost their lives,” which contrasts favorably with “past wars and operations of NATO forces or Western forces in Syria, Iraq, or Afghanistan … the proportion was nine or 10 civilians for every terrorist.” 

“Any objective observer,” the embassy said, “cannot help but come to the conclusion that the responsibility for the death and destruction in Gaza lies with Hamas and Hamas alone.” 

However, a Feb. 15 Vatican Media editorial affirmed Parolin’s “realistic view” of the ongoing tragedy in the Gaza Strip. “The Holy See is always on the side of the victims,” the editorial stated, pointing to the high number of “innocent civilians, one-third of whom are children,” killed by bombings in Gaza.

“Israel’s right to bring the perpetrators of the October massacre to justice cannot justify this carnage,” the editorial emphasized.

The Associated Press has reported that the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry is the only official source for Gaza casualties and does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths.

Parolin made his remarks before a bilateral meeting with officials from the Italian state, including Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella, to mark the 95th anniversary of the signing of the Lateran Pact. 

The Lateran Pact, signed in 1929 — and renegotiated in 1985 — was a formal accord between the Holy See and the then-Kingdom of Italy that recognized the territorial sovereignty of the present-day Vatican City State, the extraterritorial sovereignty of the papal basilicas, the full independence of the pope, and a slew of other privileges for the Church in Italy.

World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly highlights ‘loneliness,’ ‘throwaway culture’

Pope Francis greets an elderly couple at his general audience on Jan. 11, 2023. / Credit: Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Feb 15, 2024 / 12:22 pm (CNA).

The theme for the fourth World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, which will be celebrated on July 28, has been chosen by Pope Francis. 

According to the Holy See Press Office, this year’s theme is “Do Not Cast Me Off in My Old Age,” which comes from Psalm 71. The Feb. 15 press release noted that in choosing this verse it was the Holy Father’s desire “to call attention to the fact that, sadly, loneliness is the bitter lot in life of many elderly persons, so often the victims of the throwaway culture.”

The press release said that “by cherishing the charisms of grandparents and the elderly, and the contribution they make to the life of the Church, the World Day seeks to support the efforts of every ecclesial community to forge bonds between the generations and to combat loneliness.”

It also noted that the day will also be an opportunity for the whole Church to prepare for the upcoming jubilee year of 2025. 

Reflecting on the theme chosen by the pope, Cardinal Kevin Farrell — the prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life — stressed the Holy Father’s call to bring awareness to the isolation that many elderly people face, saying that it is “a widespread reality” and that “many elderly people [are] often victims of the throwaway culture and considered a burden to society.” 

In the Feb. 15 press release issued by the dicastery, the cardinal also noted that while “loneliness, certainly, is also an unavoidable condition of human existence,” it is incumbent upon “families and the ecclesial community … to be at the forefront in promoting a culture of encounter, to create spaces for sharing, listening, to offer support and affection: thus the love of Gospel becomes concrete.” 

The cardinal also noted that the celebration of the fourth World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly in July will be an opportunity for intergenerational dialogue, which will help build “the broader ‘we’ of ecclesial communion.”  

“It is precisely this familiarity, rooted in the love of God, that overcomes every form of throwaway culture and loneliness.”

The press release also noted that in the coming months a pastoral kit will be made available on the family dicastery’s website to help individuals and communities prepare for the event.

Pope Francis established the World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly in 2021. It is held on the fourth Sunday of July, which falls near the feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne, the grandparents of Jesus.

Vatican hosts veneration of relics of 21 Coptic martyrs of Libya on first feast day

Icon of the 21 Martyrs of Libya. / Credit: Image courtesy of Tony Rezk, via tonyrezk.blogspot.com

Rome Newsroom, Feb 15, 2024 / 09:03 am (CNA).

The relics of 21 Coptic martyrs killed by ISIS in Libya will be venerated in St. Peter’s Basilica on Thursday evening at an ecumenical prayer service marking their first official feast day in the Catholic Church.

The evening vespers at the Vatican will commemorate the ninth anniversary of the martyrdom of the 21 Coptic Orthodox men who were beheaded by the Islamic State on a beach in Sirte, Libya, on Feb. 15, 2015.

Pope Francis added the 21 Coptic martyrs to the Roman Martyrology, the Church’s official list of saints, last May as he met with the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, Tawadros II.

Cardinal Kurt Koch, the prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, will preside over the ecumenical prayer at 5 p.m. in the Choir Chapel of St. Peter’s Basilica. A Coptic choir will provide the music for the liturgy.

Following the prayer service, the Vatican Film Library will host a screening of a documentary about the martyrs, “The 21: The Power of Faith,” a film produced by the Coptic Orthodox Church.

The martyrdom of the 21 men, who were mostly from Egypt, was filmed by the Islamic State and released as an online video showing masked fighters beheading the men as they knelt on a Libyan beach wearing prison-style orange jumpsuits.

The Egyptian government and the Coptic Orthodox Church later confirmed the video’s authenticity. In October 2017, authorities found a mass grave containing the bodies of the 21 men, who had been kidnapped in Libya where they were likely seeking work opportunities.

A Coptic Orthodox church dedicated to the 21 Martyrs of Libya was opened in 2018 in the village of al-Our in Egypt, a village that was home to 13 of the martyred men.

The Coptic Orthodox Church declared the 21 Coptic Christians as martyr saints within only a week of their murder in 2015 along the Libyan coast. 

Pope Francis’ inclusion of the martyrs in the Roman Martyrology in 2023 marked a significant moment in ecumenical relations between the Catholic Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church, which is the largest Christian denomination in majority Muslim Egypt.

The Roman Martyrology is an official list of the saints and blesseds, including martyrs, recognized in the liturgy of the Catholic Church. The list is ordered according to the Church’s calendar of feast days.

“These martyrs were baptized not only in the water and Spirit, but also in blood, a blood that is the seed of unity for all of Christ’s followers,” Pope Francis said at the time.

The feast of the martyrs, referred to as the 21 Coptic Martyrs of Libya, is celebrated on Feb. 15 in both the Catholic Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church.

During the Coptic leader’s visit to the Vatican last year, Tawadros II gave the pope the relics of the martyrs’ blood that will be used in Thursday’s liturgy.

“Today we hand over part of their relics, dipped in their blood shed in the name of Christ for the Church, so that they may be remembered in the martyrology of all the churches of the world, and know ‘we too’ are ‘surrounded by such a multitude of witnesses,’” Tawadros said.

“Precisely because the saints are one of the main pillars of our churches, beginning with the apostles Peter, Paul, and Mark,” he said, “we now write in the martyrology of the churches the new martyrs who have guarded the faith and bore witness to Christ, who did not lose heart in the face of torture and passed on to us a living example in martyrdom.”

Analysis: Milei, Pope Francis embody contrasting economic viewpoints

Pope Francis meets with Argentina President Javier Milei in a private audience on Feb. 12, 2024, at the Vatican. / Credit: Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Feb 14, 2024 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

All eyes were on Pope Francis’ first meeting with Argentina’s new president, Javier Milei, Monday at the Vatican. 

After all, in the past Milei had employed virulent language against the pontiff, calling him “nefarious” and “an imbecile,” among other invectives.

However, since his unprecedented landslide victory last November, Milei has proceeded to soften his tone and opted to construct a more conciliatory relationship with the 87-year-old pontiff.

In fact, there were no signs of rancor or resentment when the two leaders embraced in a viral photo on Sunday, Feb. 11, in St. Peter’s Basilica after the canonization Mass of Mama Antula, Argentina’s first female saint. 

The easy familiarity extended to their official bilateral meeting held in the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican on Monday, Feb. 12, where they spoke for over an hour, which is unusually long for official meetings between the pope and heads of state. 

Francisco Sánchez, the undersecretary of Argentina’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Trade, and Worship — who was part of the country’s official delegation to the Vatican — said the meeting was full of “surprising aspects” and “took place in a very cordial way, with a lot of sympathy, with a lot of friendship between the two.”

One Argentine online news outlet reported that after the meeting, Milei said the pope “was satisfied with the economic and social support program” that his government has spearheaded since taking office on Dec. 10, 2023.

While both Milei and Francis hail from Argentina — both were born in Buenos Aires — they hold  radically different economic viewpoints.

The economic perspective of Pope Francis 

Since his election as pope in 2013, Francis has made social, economic, and ecological justice a defining concern of his pontificate, writing several papal documents on these themes, including his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium in 2013, his seminal 2015 encyclical on the environment Laudato Si’, Fratelli Tutti in 2020, and Laudate Deum  — the second installment of Laudato Si’ — in 2023. 

In Evangelii Gaudium Francis condemned what he saw as the “new idolatry of money,” arguing that the myriad economic problems that the world is facing stem from a misinformed belief in “trickle-down theories.” 

The pope opined that this economic theory “has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.”

Francis further criticized this view, denoting that it “sustain[s] a lifestyle which excludes others” and that “the culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase.” 

In line with consumerist attitudes, the pope noted that “the current financial crisis can make us overlook the fact that it originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person.” 

“The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings; man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption,” he continued. 

This condemnation of consumerism and of the “idolatry” of money has become a common refrain during the pope’s speeches. In a speech to the Second World Meeting of Popular Movements during his 2015 apostolic visit to Bolivia, the pope denounced the “unfettered pursuit of money” and even called it the “dung of the devil.” 

“Once capital becomes an idol and guides people’s decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system, it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women, it destroys human fraternity,” the pope declared. 

In his paper “Francis and the Pastoral Geopolitics of People and their Cultures: A Structural Option for the Poor,” professor Rafael Luciani of Boston College argues that the pope “proposes that we move toward an alternative world order that is polycentric, one that recognizes the peripheries and that from the peripheries can create new ways of relating to both the global and the local.” 

The pope, according to Luciani, proposes “a more human view of the world” that dovetails with a call for greater “dialogue” when pursuing the common good. 

One of the most recent examples of the pope’s embrace of dialogue with disparate groups was his January meeting with representatives of DIALOP (Transversal Dialogue Project), an association of European leftist politicians and academics that seeks to bridge Catholic social teaching and Marxist theory. 

In this meeting, the pope said: “There is always a great need for dialogue, so do not be afraid,” while adding that “politics that is truly at the service of humanity cannot let itself be dictated to by finance and market mechanisms.”

In Francis’ native Argentina the economic situation is particularly dire as the country struggles with triple-digit inflation, a weak currency, depleted foreign currency reserves, and growing poverty. 

An analysis of the situation published in the New Yorker noted that “since 2000, it [Argentina] has defaulted on its sovereign debt on three occasions. The economy has fallen into a recession, and the inflation rate has reached 142.7%. Four out of 10 Argentines are living in poverty, and, in the past four years, the value of the Argentine peso has fallen by more than 90% against the U.S. dollar.”

Javier Milei, free market champion

When Milei, a libertarian and self-declared anarcho-capitalist, won the country’s presidential election in a landslide victory last November, it signaled a massive shift in Argentina’s political equilibrium and a radical shift in the government’s economic policy. 

Milei’s economic positions can best be described as neo-liberal, following the tradition of free market economists such as Milton Friedman and the Chicago School of Economics, who posit that limited state interference is necessary for economic growth and prosperity. 

Upon assuming office on Dec. 10, 2023, Milei promised to set in motion a series of sweeping economic reforms via his “chainsaw” plan, which included massive public spending cuts, reforms to public administration, and eliminating the treasury, the New York Times reported

For Milei, freedom is tantamount to economic opportunity and prosperity. During his inaugural presidential address, he stated: “The only way out of poverty is with more freedom.”

The 53-year-old economist repeated this call when he spoke at the 54th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last month.

At Davos, Milei gave a 20-minute speech in which he decried what he saw as the “danger” facing the West, which he argued was the result of “a vision of the world that inexorably leads to socialism and thereby to poverty.”

Milei went on to condemn the “collectivist experiments” of the past 100 years, which are “never the solution to the problems that afflict the citizens of the world. Rather, they are the root cause.” 

In contrast to the pope’s statements in Laudato Si’, Milei argued that by looking at historical trends, it is clear that “capitalism brought about an explosion in wealth from the moment it was adopted as an economic system.”

“Free trade capitalism as an economic system is the only instrument we have to end hunger, poverty, and extreme poverty across our planet. The empirical evidence is unquestionable,” Milei continued. 

The pope, while not present at the event, sent a letter to the WEF’s founder, Klaus Schwab, on Jan. 17 where he touched upon many of the core themes of his pontificate, writing “the exploitation of natural resources continues to enrich a few while leaving entire populations, who are the natural beneficiaries of these resources, in a state of destitution and poverty.”

The pope also stressed the importance of harmonizing state policy and business practices to develop new economic paradigms that “by their very nature must entail subordinating the pursuit of power and individual gain, be it political or economic, to the common good of our human family, giving priority to the poor, the needy, and those in the most vulnerable situations.” 

In Milei’s Jan.18 speech at Davos, by contrast, he remarked that “the left-wing doxa has attacked capitalism, alleging matters of morality, saying — that’s what the detractors claim — that it’s unjust. They say that capitalism is evil because it’s individualistic and that collectivism is good because it’s altruistic.”

Pope Francis on Ash Wednesday: ‘Let us return to God with all our heart’

Pope Francis presides over Ash Wednesday Mass at the Basilica of Santa Sabina in Rome on Feb. 14, 2024. / Credit: Vatican Media

Vatican City, Feb 14, 2024 / 12:15 pm (CNA).

On Ash Wednesday, Pope Francis said that Lent is a time to look inward at our true selves and to share our deepest desires, worries, and weaknesses with the Lord in prayer.

In a world where “everything has to be exposed, shown off, and fed to the gossip mill of the moment,” the Lord is inviting us to “remove the masks we so often wear” and to see ourselves as we truly are in the sight of God, Pope Francis said in his Ash Wednesday homily.

“Precisely there, where so many fears, feelings of guilt, and sin are lurking, precisely there the Lord has descended in order to heal and cleanse you.”

“Let us acknowledge what we are: dust loved by God. We are dust loved by God. And thanks to him, we will be reborn from the ashes of sin to new life in Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit,” the pope said on Feb. 14.

Pope Francis presides over Ash Wednesday Mass at the Basilica of Santa Sabina in Rome on Feb. 14, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis presides over Ash Wednesday Mass at the Basilica of Santa Sabina in Rome on Feb. 14, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media

Pope Francis presided over Mass in the Basilica of Santa Sabina, a fifth-century church on Rome’s Aventine Hill where St. Thomas Aquinas once resided. 

The Mass followed a short procession of priests and cardinals that started at the Benedictine Abbey of St. Anselm on the Aventine with sung prayers of the Litany of the Saints. 

The 87-year-old pope, who frequently uses a wheelchair, did not lead the procession of priests and cardinals this year as he has in the past due to his limited mobility. 

Pope Francis greets pilgrims ahead of Ash Wednesday Mass at the Basilica of Santa Sabina in Rome on Feb. 14, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis greets pilgrims ahead of Ash Wednesday Mass at the Basilica of Santa Sabina in Rome on Feb. 14, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media

In his homily, Pope Francis encouraged everyone to make more space for prayer in silence in Eucharistic adoration during the 40 days of Lent. 

“Let us return, brothers and sisters. Let us return to God with all our heart,” he said. 

“During these weeks of Lent, let us make space for the prayer of silent adoration, in which we experience the presence of the Lord like Moses, like Elijah, like Mary, like Jesus.”

“Let us not be afraid to strip ourselves of worldly trappings and return to the heart, to what is essential,” he said.

A short procession of priests and cardinals that started at the Benedictine Abbey of St. Anselm on the Aventine with sung prayers of the Litany of the Saints preceded Ash Wednesday Mass at the Basilica of Santa Sabina in Rome on Feb. 14, 2024. . Credit: Vatican Media
A short procession of priests and cardinals that started at the Benedictine Abbey of St. Anselm on the Aventine with sung prayers of the Litany of the Saints preceded Ash Wednesday Mass at the Basilica of Santa Sabina in Rome on Feb. 14, 2024. . Credit: Vatican Media

Pope Francis reflected on Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Matthew: “When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret” (Mt 6:4).

He quoted advice from St. Anselm of Canterbury, an 11th-century Benedictine monk and doctor of the Church who wrote in 1078: “‘Escape from your everyday business for a short while, hide for a moment from your restless thoughts. Break off from your cares and troubles and be less concerned about your tasks and labors. Make a little time for God and rest a while in him.’” 

“‘Enter into your mind’s inner chamber. Shut out everything but God and whatever helps you to seek him; and when you have shut the door, look for him. Speak now to God and say with your whole heart: I seek your face; your face, O Lord, I desire.’”

The Basilica of Santa Sabina is one of the oldest basilicas in Rome that preserves its original colonnade and layout. The basilica is the first church in the traditional Lenten station church pilgrimage in Rome. 

Pope Francis receives ashes during the Ash Wednesday Mass at the Basilica of Santa Sabina in Rome on Feb. 14, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis receives ashes during the Ash Wednesday Mass at the Basilica of Santa Sabina in Rome on Feb. 14, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media

The 40-day pilgrimage to 40 of Rome’s most ancient churches dates back to the early fourth century and originally included daily papal processions in which people prayed the Litany of the Saints on the way to offer Mass at the burial site of the early Christian martyr assigned to that day.

“This evening, in a spirit of prayer and humility, we receive ashes on our heads. This gesture is meant to remind us of the ultimate reality of our lives: that we are dust and our life passes away like a breath (cf. Ps 39:6; 144:4),” Pope Francis said.

“The ashes placed on our heads invite us to rediscover the secret of life. They tell us that as long as we continue to shield our hearts, to hide ourselves behind a mask, to appear invincible, we will be empty and arid within.” 

“When, on the other hand, we have the courage to bow our heads in order to look within, we will discover the presence of God, who has always loved us. At last, those shields will be shattered and we will be able to feel ourselves loved with an eternal love.”

Pope Francis: Sloth is a ‘very dangerous temptation’ akin to apathy

Pope Francis delivers an address during his Wednesday general audience on Feb. 14, 2024, in the Paul VI Audience Hall at the Vatican. / Credit: Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Feb 14, 2024 / 09:50 am (CNA).

During his Feb. 14 Wednesday general audience — which this year coincided with Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent — Pope Francis reflected on the human dimension of the vice of acedia, more commonly known as sloth, observing that it is “an effect more than a cause.” 

Remarking that it is a “very dangerous temptation,” the pope reflected on how acedia, which is a Greek word meaning “lack of care,” encompasses a “psychological and a philosophical” dimension and can be linked to apathy — and even absentmindedness — which can have serious ramifications in our personal as well as our spiritual lives.

“It is as though those who fall victim to it are crushed by a desire for death. They feel disgust at everything, the relationship with God becomes boring to them, and even the holiest acts, those that in the past warmed their hearts, now appear entirely useless to them,” the pope observed to the faithful gathered in the Paul VI Audience Hall.

Pope Francis greets pilgrims at his Wednesday general audience on Feb. 14, 2024, in the Paul VI Audience Hall at the Vatican. Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis greets pilgrims at his Wednesday general audience on Feb. 14, 2024, in the Paul VI Audience Hall at the Vatican. Credit: Vatican Media

Building upon the human dimension of this vice, the pope outlined how in a contemporary understanding it can be closely associated with “the evil of depression,” noting that for those afflicted with acedia “life loses its significance, prayer becomes boring, and every battle seems meaningless.” 

For the pope, this apathetic attitude, or indifference, also begins when “a person begins to regret the passing of time and the youth that is irretrievably behind them.”

“If in youth we nurtured passions, now they seem illogical, dreams that did not make us happy. So, we let ourselves go, and distraction, thoughtlessness, seem to be the only ways out: One would like to be numb, to have a completely empty mind… It is a little like dying in advance,” the Holy Father added. 

The pope drew upon the example of the ancient desert fathers for inspiration, looking specifically at the fourth-century hermit Evagrius Ponticus, who referred to this vice as the “noonday demon.”

Reflecting on the monk’s account of this phenomenon, the pope said: “‘The slothful man does not do God’s work with solicitude,” adding that “it grips us in the middle of the day, when fatigue is at its peak and the hours ahead of us seem monotonous, impossible to live.”

However, for the pope the “most important” antidote to this tendency is what he described as “the patience of faith.”

Developing this patience on a personal level is predicated upon resisting the temptation to be “elsewhere” or the desire to “to escape from reality,” the Holy Father explained. 

“One must instead have the courage to remain and to welcome God’s presence in the ‘here and now,’ in the situation as it is,” the pope continued. 

Pope Francis greets pilgrims at his Wednesday general audience on Feb. 14, 2024, in the Paul VI Audience Hall at the Vatican. Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis greets pilgrims at his Wednesday general audience on Feb. 14, 2024, in the Paul VI Audience Hall at the Vatican. Credit: Vatican Media

Francis warned against the “demon” of this vice by emphasizing that it “wants to make you believe that it is all in vain, that nothing has meaning, that it is not worth taking care of anything or anyone.”

“How many people, in the grip of acedia, stirred by a faceless restlessness, have stupidly abandoned the good life they had embarked upon,” the pope lamented. 

Stressing that it is a “battle that must be won at all costs,” the pope drew upon the example of the saints where “in many of their diaries” we can see that they faced “terrible moments of genuine nights of the faith, when everything appears dark.”

The example of the saints shows us how to “get through the night in patience” and “maintain a smaller measure of commitment, to set goals more within reach, but at the same time to endure, to persevere by leaning on Jesus, who never abandons us in temptation.”

“Faith, tormented by the test of acedia, does not lose its value. On the contrary, it is the true faith, the very human faith, which despite everything, despite the darkness that blinds it, still humbly believes,” the pope said.