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Pope responds to cardinals on blessings for homosexuals, female priests

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Catholic Church, in pursuit of "pastoral prudence," should discern if there are ways of giving blessings to homosexual persons that do not alter the church's teaching on marriage, Pope Francis said.

Writing in response to a "dubia" letter delivered to him by five cardinals seeking clarification on doctrinal questions, the pope addressed issues surrounding the authority of the synod, women's ordination and blessing homosexual unions in a letter made public Oct. 2.

Marriage is an "exclusive, stable and indissoluble union between a man and a woman, naturally open to conceiving children," wrote the pope. "For this reason, the Church avoids all kinds of rites or sacramentals that could contradict this conviction and imply that it is recognizing as a marriage something that is not."

But pastoral charity also is necessary, and "defense of the objective truth is not the only expression of that charity, which is also made up of kindness, patience, understanding, tenderness, encouragement," he added. "For that reason, pastoral prudence must adequately discern if there are forms of blessing, solicited by one or various persons, that don't transmit a mistaken concept of marriage."

Pope Francis added that decisions made in specific circumstances should not necessarily become a norm regulated by a diocese or bishops' conference, noting that "the life of the Church runs through many channels in addition to regulatory frameworks."

German Cardinal Walter Brandmüller.
German Cardinal Walter Brandmuller, former president of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, is pictured in a 2017 file photo. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The pope's comments came in response to a "dubia" letter dated July 10 seeking clarification on doctrinal questions written by five retired cardinals: U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, German Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, Mexican Cardinal Juan Sandoval Íñiguez, Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah and Chinese Cardinal Joseph Zen.

The pope's response is dated July 11, but it was made public on the website of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith only Oct. 2 after the cardinals released a follow-up letter. They had given the pope the second letter Aug. 21 with rephrased questions to solicit "yes" or "no" answers but did not receive a response from the pope.

"Given the gravity of the matter of the dubia, especially in view of the imminent session of the Synod of Bishops, we judge it our duty to inform you, the faithful, so that you may not be subject to confusion, error and discouragement," the cardinals wrote in an open letter explaining their decision to make the document public Oct. 2.

"The pope already responded to them," Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, told the Spanish newspaper ABC the day the letter was released. "And now they publish new questions as if the pope were their slave for running errands."

The cardinals had asked the pope about St. John Paul II's declaration that "the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women."

"Nobody can publicly contradict" the church's current rules prohibiting women's ordination, the pope wrote, "however it can be a subject of study, as is the case with the validity of ordinations in the Anglican Communion."

The letter asked if synodality could form part of the church's governing structures as an exercise of the church's supreme authority, to which Pope Francis replied that synodality "as a style and energy, is an essential dimension in the life of the Church." He noted that the church's mission "implies real participation: not just the hierarchy but all of the People of God to make their voice heard and feel part of the church's journey in different ways and at different levels."

Besides, he told the cardinals, "with these very questions you manifest your need to participate, to freely express your opinion and to collaborate, thus calling for a form of synodality in the exercise of my ministry."

The pope also answered a question on whether divine revelation should be reinterpreted "according to the cultural changes of our time and according to the new anthropological vision that these changes promote."

"Divine Revelation is immutable and always binding," the pope responded, though "the Church must be humble and recognize that it never exhausts its unfathomable wealth and needs to grow in its understanding."

"Cultural changes and new challenges of history do not modify Revelation, but they do encourage us to better explain some aspects of its boundless richness which always offer more," he wrote.

Responding to a question on the need for repentance to receive absolution in the sacrament of reconciliation, Pope Francis said that "we should not demand overly precise or certain proposals of reform from the faithful that end up being abstract or even egocentric."

The pope underscored that priest "are not owners, but humble administrators of the sacraments that nourish the faithful."

U.S. Bishops’ Migration Chairman Welcomes Administration’s Continued Commitment to Refugee Resettlement, Urges Congress to Maintain Bipartisan Support

WASHINGTON – On September 29, 2023, President Biden signed a Presidential Determination on Refugee Admissions that allows for welcoming up to 125,000 refugees during Fiscal Year (FY) 2024, beginning October 1, 2023. The Presidential Determination serves as an annual goal for the number of refugees resettled through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). The number for FY 2024 is level with the goals for FY 2022 and FY 2023, though it includes a substantial increase in the regional allocation for refugees resettled from Latin America/the Caribbean, paired with a decreased allocation for refugees from Europe/Central Asia.

Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Migration, issued the following statement:

“We commend the Biden Administration for its ongoing efforts to ensure the United States is a global leader in refugee resettlement and international humanitarian protection. Resettlement is a lifeline for the world’s most vulnerable refugees, and those same refugees have proven time and time again their ability to enrich the communities that welcome them. Many American Catholics can attest to these facts as resettled refugees, the descendants of refugees, or those at the forefront of our Church’s longstanding resettlement efforts.

“This year’s Presidential Determination remains an ambitious and meaningful goal as we reflect not only on the global need but also the challenges facing American communities, including labor shortages, a lack of affordable housing, and high inflation. We welcome the Administration’s efforts to increase resettlement from the Western Hemisphere, while reiterating that this should not come at the expense of other populations. To those ends, we call on Congress to continue its unbroken history of bipartisan support for USRAP, namely through resources for processing and domestic integration efforts.

“Finally, we take this opportunity to reaffirm our solidarity with persecuted Christians around the world, especially those in the Middle East and Asia, who face increased barriers to accessing permanent protection. We implore the Administration to provide equitable access to refugee resettlement for these populations and to engage with host countries to promote their humane treatment.”

Through its Department of Migration and Refugee Services (MRS), the USCCB is one of ten national resettlement agencies partnering with the federal government on USRAP. This is one of the ways in which the Catholic Church in the United States answers Christ’s call to welcome the stranger and carries out the Church’s commitment to protecting the life and upholding the dignity of every human person, from the moment of conception to natural death.

Earlier this year, William Canny, executive director of MRS, testified during a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety, entitled “Living Up to America’s Promise: The Need to Bolster the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.”



Creating cardinals from 16 nations, pope asks them to join church 'symphony'

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Coming from different parts of the world and having different experiences and talents, members of the College of Cardinals are called to create a "symphony," listening to one another and to the Holy Spirit, Pope Francis said.

Creating 21 new cardinals from 16 nations Sept. 30, the pope used the biblical story of Pentecost to remind the prelates of the roots of their faith, and he invoked the image of a symphony to emphasize their call to be both faithful and creative.

On a warm autumn morning, with shrubs and flowers decorating the steps of St. Peter's Basilica, Pope Francis held his ninth consistory to create new cardinals. The Vatican said 12,000 people attended the ceremony.

Cardinal Robert F. Prevost, the 68-year-old Chicago-born prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops, was the only U.S. prelate to receive his red hat at the consistory. He was joined by French Cardinal Christophe Pierre, the 77-year-old nuncio to the United States.

Cardinal Luis Pascual Dri, a 96-year-old Capuchin friar from Argentina, was made a cardinal when the pope proclaimed his name at the consistory, but he did not travel to Rome to receive his red hat because of his health.

With the consistory, the College of Cardinals has 242 members from 91 nations, according to Vatican statistics; 137 of the cardinals are under the age of 80 and eligible to vote in a conclave to elect a new pope. The so-called "cardinal electors" come from 71 countries.

Italy -- with 49 cardinals, of whom 14 are electors -- continues to dominate the cardinal counts. The United States is second; according to the Vatican, there are 17 U.S. cardinals, including 11 electors. The total would be 18 when counting Italian-born Cardinal Silvano Tomasi, a former Vatican official, who is a U.S. citizen.

At the beginning of the ceremony, Cardinal Prevost thanked Pope Francis on behalf of the new cardinals, noting how the consistory was taking place just before the opening of the assembly of the Synod of Bishops on synodality.

Pope Francis and Cardinal Prevost
Pope Francis gives the red biretta to new Cardinal Robert F. Prevost, the U.S.-born prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops, during a consistory for the creation of 21 new cardinals in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Sept. 30, 2023. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

"The church is fully such only when it truly listens, when it walks as the new people of God in its wonderful diversity, rediscovering continually her own baptismal call to contribute to the spread of the Gospel and the kingdom of God," he said. "The beauty of the universality of the church that will be manifested in the unfolding of the synod will be a very important sign, which will be able to speak of the mission that all of us baptized have received, in communion with the successor of Peter and in the profession of the same faith."

Before receiving their red hats, their cardinal’s rings and the names of their titular churches in Rome -- an assignment that makes them formally members of the clergy of the Diocese of Rome -- the new cardinals made a profession of faith, reciting the Creed in Latin, and made an oath of fidelity to Pope Francis and his successors.

Cardinal Prevost, a former superior general of the Augustinian religious order, was given the Church of St. Monica, mother of St. Augustine.

In his homily at the consistory, a prayer service that lasted just over an hour, Pope Francis drew the prelates' attention to the Pentecost story in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles and particularly to its listing of those who heard the apostles, each in their own language although they were "Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia."

"Normally we pastors, when we read the account of Pentecost, identify ourselves with the apostles," the pope said. But if the cardinals recognize themselves as members of the crowd, he added, they would "rediscover with amazement the gift of having received the Gospel" in their own languages and would give thanks for having been evangelized among their own people, often by their mothers or grandmothers.

"Indeed, we are evangelizers to the extent we cherish in our hearts the wonder and gratitude of having been evangelized, even of (still) being evangelized, because this is really a gift always present, that must be continually renewed in our memories and in faith," the pope told them.

In humility, and with that diversity, he said, "the College of Cardinals is called to resemble a symphony orchestra, representing the harmony and synodality of the church."

Pope Francis said he referred to "synodality" not only because the synod assembly was set to open Oct. 4, "but also because it seems to me that the metaphor of the orchestra can well illuminate the synodal character of the church," which relies on each member making a contribution, occasionally as a soloist, but usually in harmony with others.

"Mutual listening is essential," he said. "Each musician must listen to the others. If one listens only to himself, however sublime his sound may be, it will not benefit the symphony; and the same would be the case if one section of the orchestra did not listen to the others, but played as if it were alone, as if it were the whole."

"In addition," the pope said, "the conductor of the orchestra is at the service of this kind of miracle that is each performance of a symphony. He has to listen more than anyone else, and at the same time his job is to help each person and the whole orchestra develop the greatest creative fidelity: fidelity to the work being performed, but also creative, able to give a soul to the score, to make it resonate in the here and now in a unique way."

"We have the Holy Spirit as our master: the interior master of each one of us and the master of walking together," Pope Francis said. "He creates variety and unity; he is harmony itself."


Cardinals for a synodal church

Cardinals for a synodal church

Pope Francis created 21 new cardinals in St. Peter's Square Sept. 30, including Chicago native Robert F. Prevost.

New cardinals say building church unity is urgent need

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Cardinal-designate Christophe Pierre, nuncio to the United States, said the unity of the Catholic community in the country and its sense of communion with Pope Francis and the wider church will grow the more it focuses on being the church.

His job as nuncio, he said, "is to help the church be the church."

Speaking to Catholic News Service Sept. 29, the eve of his induction into the College of Cardinals, the French prelate insisted the key to Catholic unity is "not to take refuge in ideologies."

Trouble comes when important, valid points of Christian faith and morality "become isolated" from one's living witness of faith, he said. "We become fighters for ideas."

For example, Cardinal-designate Pierre said, "I am strongly pro-life but I'm not a defender of the 'idea' of life, I am a priest. I am accompanying people," making sure the defense of life happens "on the ground."

"The church is there to help people, you know, make an encounter with another person, Christ," he said. "And Christ is not an idea. And the church is not an organization; the church is the presence of God in the human reality."

The church must accompany people in the search for truth, he said, "and, again, the truth is not an idea, it's a person," Jesus, who frees his disciples from fear.

The nuncio declined to respond to questions about the apostolic visitation of the Diocese of Tyler, Texas, and he said he did not know why Pope Francis chose him to be one of the 21 new cardinals and he did not ask the pope.

"'Thank you, Holy Father,' that's what I said" when he met the pope Sept. 6, he said. "I remain with the mystery of my appointment."

Called "the greatest interpreter of the Second Vatican Council" by Pope Francis, Cardinal-designate Agostino Marchetto told CNS that as a cardinal he would continue doing "what I have always done" since retiring, "that is, to study and publish."

Cardinal Agostino Marchetto
Cardinal-designate Agostino Marchetto, a historian and former Vatican official, talks with reporters at the Vatican Sept. 28, 2023. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)

His most recent work, he said, focuses on the need for dialogue within the church because the church needs different voices and points of view, but it needs them to work together.

"This reality of division among us, too, even though we are all Catholics" is found in Italy as well as in the United States, he said.

He said the solution is for all Catholics "to finally receive Vatican II."

"The pope is trying to hold together what was united by the council," which, the cardinal-designate pointed out, brought together more than 2,000 bishops from around the world, who managed to discuss and agree on more than a dozen documents.

"Those who were there, they found consensus, assent, which is a fundamental word in the church," he said.

"We have to compromise, not compromise in the sense that we kill part of the truth to say that we have made a compromise," he said. "We must find overall the ability to come together, respecting each other."

Certain "points of reference must be accepted" if the church is to overcome its internal divisions, he said, and those points are the teachings of the Second Vatican Council and the authority and legitimacy of Pope Francis as pope.

"Every pope, during Vatican II and after Vatican II, embraced continuity in the renewal and reform of the one subject, the church, and we have to get this into our heads, otherwise we are not Catholics," he said.

- - -

Contributing to this story was Carol Glatz at the Vatican.


U.S. nuncio: Advice for U.S. church unity

U.S. nuncio: Advice for U.S. church unity

CNS asked Cardinal-designate Christophe Pierre how the Catholic Church in the United States can increase its unity.

18 U.S. seminarians ordained deacons in St. Peter's Basilica

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Near the tomb of St. Peter, 18 seminarians from across the United States promised to dedicate their lives to Christ and were ordained to the diaconate.

Yet for the church's next generation of ordained ministers, "it is not enough to be good churchmen, you must be disciples," Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City told the new deacons in his homily during the ordination Mass at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter's Basilica.

"If any of you seminarians were so naive to believe that priesthood would bring you a privileged existence, we're about 60 years too late," he said in his homily during the Mass Sept. 28. "That age of Christendom, that age where Christianity and society were so closely aligned as to sometimes be indistinguishable has passed."

Archbishop Coakley, who was the main celebrant at the ordination Mass, told the new deacons that in a divided church and in a society "hostile" to Christianity, Christians and their leaders must "prepare themselves not for privilege but for marginalization, for persecution and even martyrdom."

The archbishop of Oklahoma City urged the seminarians from 16 different dioceses, and one from the Personal Ordinate of the Chair of St. Peter, to look to the saints as examples who "offer a whole alternative to the conventional and planned aspirations of a faithless secular world."

New deacons from the Pontifical North American College in Rome lie prostrate during their ordination in St. Peter's Basilica.
New deacons from the Pontifical North American College in Rome lie prostrate during their ordination in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Sept. 28, 2023. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

Three U.S. cardinals -- Cardinals Raymond L. Burke, retired patron of the Order of Malta; James Harvey, archpriest of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls; and Edwin F. O'Brien, retired grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem and a former rector of the U.S. seminary in Rome -- concelebrated the Mass with four other bishops and several other priests.

After the Gospel reading from St. John, in which Jesus tells the apostle, "It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you," each candidate for the diaconate presented himself to Archbishop Coakley, who confirmed the worthiness of the candidates to applause from their many family members, friends and seminary students gathered in the assembly.

Each seminarian promised "to discharge with humble charity the office of the diaconate," hold fast to the mystery of faith, embrace celibacy, be obedient to his bishop and conform his life to Christ.

In the most ancient part of the sacrament of holy orders, one by one each candidate knelt before Archbishop Coakley who laid his hands atop his head and called the Holy Spirit upon him.

The 18 seminarians then prostrated themselves below the more than 20-foot-tall sculpture of the chair of St. Peter, sculpted by the Baroque Italian master Gian Lorenzo Bernini, to receive the ordination prayer. "May every evangelical virtue abound in them: unfeigned love, concern for the sick and poor, unassuming authority, the purity of innocence and the observance of spiritual discipline," Archbishop Coakley prayed.

New deacon receives hug.
Newly ordained Deacon David Thomas Lee of the Diocese of Nashville receives congratulations from a fellow student at the Pontifical North American College during the diaconate ordination Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Sept. 28, 2023. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

Deacon Joe Wappes of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis told Catholic News Service he had prayed during a spiritual retreat before his ordination in preparation for the "moving" moment of prostration, which he called a "concrete sign of giving back to the Lord everything he's given to me."

Exchanging smiles and embraces with their brother deacons, they were vested in stoles and dalmatics, the vestments of deacons, before processing to the altar for the presentation of gifts.

"It's beautiful to be ordained at the Altar of the Chair here, because it's a beautiful symbol of unity that we're all meant to be united in the one spirit, the one authority of the church, her one teaching," newly ordained Deacon Joe Brodeur of the Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island, told CNS after the liturgy.

As a minister of the church, Deacon David Lee of the Diocese of Nashville, Tennessee, said, "it's important to bring both sides together, to be a person who leads people to Christ more than any particular faction."

Archbishop Coakley told CNS that although "the church is fractured in many ways," the new deacons and others following in their footsteps "will have the opportunity to help bridge those divides and bring people together with deeper faith, deeper hope and deeper charity."

Particularly at a time "more akin to the time after Pentecost, when the apostles were sent out into a world that was very hostile," the archbishop said that the church has "an opportunity to stand up in witness to Jesus Christ in faith and charity."

"This is a sign of hope for the church that the Lord continues to raise up generous-hearted young men who are willing to give their lives in service of the church," he said.

Deacons for a synodal church

Deacons for a synodal church

Eighteen seminarians of the Pontifical North American College in Rome were ordained to the diaconate Sept. 28. They said they hoped their ministry would heal divisions in the church.

Pope Francis Appoints Bishop Jeffrey Monforton as Auxiliary Bishop of Detroit; Appoints Bishop Paul Bradley as Apostolic Administrator of Steubenville

WASHINGTON - Pope Francis has appointed Most Reverend Jeffrey M. Monforton as Auxiliary Bishop of Detroit, transferring him from the Diocese of Steubenville and assigning him the Titular See of Centuria. The Holy See has also appointed Most Reverend Paul J. Bradley, bishop emeritus of Kalamazoo, as the Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Steubenville.

The appointments were publicized in Washington, D.C. on September 28, 2023, by Cardinal-designate Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States.

The Archdiocese of Detroit is comprised of 3,901 square miles in the State of Michigan and has a total population of 4,323,432 of which 907,921, are Catholic.

The Diocese of Steubenville is comprised of 5,913 square miles in the State of Ohio and has a total population of 481,411 of which 28,339, are Catholic.



Hope must be restored in communities, young people, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Hope and fraternity must be kept alive, organized and coordinated into concrete action so every crisis can be read as an opportunity and dealt with positively, Pope Francis said.

"Hope needs to be restored to our European societies, especially to the new generations," he told people gathered in St. Peter's Square for his weekly general audience Sept. 27.

"In fact, how can we welcome others if we ourselves do not first have a horizon open to the future?" he said.

The pope followed his usual practice of speaking about his latest trip at the first general audience after his return. The pope went to Marseille -- an ancient port city on the Mediterranean Sea and France's second-largest city -- Sept. 22-23 to highlight the challenges and opportunities across the entire Mediterranean region and to focus on the plight of migrants crossing its waters.

"We know the Mediterranean is the cradle of civilization and a cradle is for life! It is not tolerable that it become a tomb, neither should it be a place of conflict," war and human trafficking, he said, referring to the thousands of men, women and children who fall into the hands of traffickers offering them passage into Europe and to those who die from unsafe conditions on the sea or in detention.

The Mediterranean bridges Africa, Asia and Europe and their people, cultures, philosophies and religions, he said. But a harmonious connection "does not happen magically, neither is it accomplished once and for all. It is the fruit of a journey in which each generation is called to travel."

Pope Francis blesses young man
Pope Francis blesses a visitor at the end of his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Sept. 27, 2023. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

The pope explained he went to Marseille to take part in the conclusion of the "Mediterranean Meetings," which brought together bishops, mayors, young people and others from the Mediterranean area to look toward the future with hope.

"This is the dream, this is the challenge: that the Mediterranean might recover its vocation, that of being a laboratory of civilization and peace," the pope said.

Otherwise, he said, "how can young people, who are poor in hope, closed in on their private lives, worried about managing their own precariousness, open themselves to meeting others and to sharing?"

Communities, which are so often "sickened by individualism, by consumerism and by empty escapism, need to open themselves; their souls and spirits need to be oxygenated, and then they will be able to read the crisis as an opportunity and deal with it positively," he said.

What came out of the Marseille event, he said, was an outlook on the Mediterranean that was hopeful and "simply human, not ideological, not strategic, not politically correct nor instrumental."

"Europe needs to retrieve passion and enthusiasm. And I can say that I found passion and enthusiasm in Marseille," the pope said, thanking its archbishop, Cardinal Jean-Marc Aveline, the priests, religious, lay faithful and the many people who "showed great warmth during the Mass in the Vélodrome Stadium."

He also thanked President Emmanuel Macron, "whose presence testified that all of France was paying attention to the event in Marseille."

The pope prayed that the Mediterranean region may become "what it has always been called to be -- a mosaic of civilization and hope."

At the end of his main audience talk, the pope gave special greetings to the diaconate class of the Pontifical North American College, together with their families and friends. "Upon all of you I invoke the joy and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ. God bless you!"

Some 18 seminarians in their fourth year of studies in Rome were to be ordained to the transitional diaconate in St. Peter's Basilica Sept. 28.


Pope: The Mediterranean must be a message of hope

Pope: The Mediterranean must be a message of hope

A look at Pope Francis' general audience Sept. 27.

Inside, outside: Synod to focus on the church and its role in the world

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When Pope Francis was introduced to the world from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, he spoke to the crowd about taking up a journey, "bishop and people," a "journey of fraternity, of love, of trust among us."

He did not mention the Synod of Bishops in that greeting March 13, 2013, nor did he issue one of his now-frequent appeals to ensure a more "synodal church."

But the inspiration behind the assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which opens Oct. 4, can be seen in his very first words as pope and in his course-setting exhortation, "Evangelii Gaudium" ("The Joy of the Gospel"), which emphasized the responsibility of all the baptized for the life of the church and, especially, its evangelizing mission.

Unlike earlier meetings of the Synod of Bishops, which focused on a specific issue or a specific region of the world, the "synod on synodality" is focused on the church itself: Who belongs? How are leadership and authority exercised? How does the church discern God's call? How can it fulfill its mandate to share the Gospel with a changing world?

Members of the synod assembly are being asked to reflect on the characteristics they believe are essential for building a "synodal church" by starting from what they heard from people who participated in the local, diocesan, national and continental listening sessions.

It's not a synod on whether and how Catholic parishes can be more welcoming of LGBT Catholics, how it can recognize and encourage the leadership of women or how it can foster the involvement of young people -- but those questions are part of the discussion about how to increase a sense of unity or communion, promote participation and strengthen the missionary outreach of the church.

2018 synod assembly
Pope Francis attends a session of the Synod of Bishops on young people in the Vatican synod hall in this file photo from 2018. The October assembly of the "synod on synodality" has been moved to the larger Vatican audience hall where members will sit at round tables, rather than in rows. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The questions, and dozens more, have come up repeatedly in the synod process, which began in October 2021 with parish and other local listening sessions and is scheduled to go through October 2024 with a second assembly at the Vatican.

Almost every time someone mentions the synod within earshot of the pope, Pope Francis insists "it's not a parliament."

And the pope, the synod secretariat and the synod preparatory commission have spent months working on ways to ensure the 378 full members of the synod, the eight special guests and 75 experts, facilitators and staff have an experience of "spiritual conversation," which the synod office describes as intense, prayerful listening that pays attention at the same time to spiritual movements in oneself and in the other person.

Creating and protecting an environment where such conversations can take place -- and where people truly are open to changing their minds -- has been a matter of strategizing, planning and intense debate as advisers to the pope and the synod office also try to help the entire Catholic Church understand how the process is working and whether the hopes and concerns they shared early in the synod process were heard.

A regular rhythm of shared prayer -- both publicly and among synod members only -- is planned throughout the Oct. 4-Oct. 29 synod assembly.

After an ecumenical prayer vigil in St. Peter's Square Sept. 30, all the members of the synod -- which include lay women and men for the first time -- will spend three days together on retreat outside Rome. They will return to the Vatican for the opening Mass of the synod Oct. 4 and will celebrate Mass together before beginning work on each main synod theme: synodality, communion, mission and participation.

Pope Francis told reporters in early September the synod would be "very open" with regular updates from the synod's communication commission, but " it is necessary to safeguard the religiosity and safeguard the freedom of those who speak," so apparently synod members will be asked not to share with reporters the contents of their own or other members' remarks to the synod.

The notoriously stuffy atmosphere characterized by hours of speeches in the Vatican Synod Hall will disappear. The synod assembly will be held in the much larger Vatican audience hall with its rows of seats removed to make way for round tables to promote constant interactions.

More of the work will be conducted in small groups, organized by language and by the themes of interest to participants. The plenary sessions are designed for a general introduction of the various themes and for reporting the results of the small group discussions. Members will not stay in the same small groups throughout the assembly but change when the themes they are working on change.

According to the working document, "the last segment of the work of the assembly will be dedicated to gathering the fruits of the process, that is, discerning the paths we will continue to walk together. The assembly will consider ways to continue reading the experience of the people of God, including through promoting the necessary in-depth theological and canonical studies in preparation for the second session of the synodal assembly in October 2024."


God has the same love for all, pope says at Angelus

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- People often are tempted to think their relationship with God is some kind of commercial transaction where they buy God's grace with their hard work, Pope Francis said.

Another temptation is to judge others and presume that they have not worked as hard to deserve God's love, the pope said Sept. 24 as he commented on the day's Gospel reading before reciting the Angelus prayer with some 18,000 people gathered in St. Peter's Square.

St. Matthew's account of the parable of the vineyard workers, who worked different hours but received the same pay, is not about the workers, but about God, the pope said.

The workers who were in the field all day are annoyed that those who worked only an hour receive the same pay, which the pope said reveals how "sometimes we risk having a 'mercantile' relationship with God, focusing more on our prowess than on the generosity of his grace."

And, he said, sometimes "the church, instead of going out at all hours of the day and extending our arms to all, we can feel like we are the first in the class, judging others as being far behind, without remembering that God loves them, too, with the same love he has for us."

Sisters and other pilgrims in St Peter's Square
Visitors gather in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican to pray the Angelus with Pope Francis Sept. 24, 2023. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

The Gospel also has implications for Christians' relationships with other people, the pope said. It urges them to "break out of the cage of calculation," in which people give others only what they receive or only what they think they deserve, "without daring to go the extra mile, without counting on the effectiveness of good done freely and love offered with a broad heart."

Pope Francis also urged his listeners to notice that it is the vineyard owner who keeps going out to look for workers; they are not coming to him.

"This is how God is," the pope said. "He does not wait for our efforts to come to us, he does not make an examination to assess our merits before seeking us out, he does not give up if we are late in responding to him," but he takes the initiative.

"He is always looking for us and waiting for us," Pope Francis said. "Let us not forget this: the Lord always seeks us and awaits us, always!"


Pope: God's grace is free

Pope: God's grace is free

A look at Pope Francis' Angelus address Sept. 24.

Take leap of faith and dare to love your family, those in need, pope says

MARSEILLE, France (CNS) -- The world and the Catholic Church today need to take a leap forward "in faith, charity and hope," Pope Francis said in his homily at a late afternoon Mass in Marseille's open-air stadium.

"We need to rekindle our passion and enthusiasm, to reawaken our desire to commit ourselves to fraternity. We need to once again risk loving our families and dare to love the weakest, and to rediscover in the Gospel the transforming grace that makes life beautiful," he said at the final event of a two-day trip to the old port city of Marseille.

Passion and enthusiasm were not lacking at the Vélodrome Stadium, which erupted into cheers the minute images hit the screens of Pope Francis making his way through the city in the popemobile. Officials estimated 100,000 people lined the route to the stadium while some 50,000 people nearly filled the stadium. French President Emmanuel Macron, Marseille Mayor Benoît Payan and other dignitaries were present.

Pope in popemobile in Marseille
Pope Francis greets the crowd from the popemobile as he arrives for Mass at the Vélodrome Stadium in Marseille, France, Sept. 23, 2023. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

People chanted "Papa Francesco" and repeatedly executed "the wave" to immense cheers. One section, filled with people wearing blue sports bibs, added to the ocean effect. Then in a well-coordinated pull, volunteers hoisted an immense veil-like cut-out image of a waving pope and the belltower of the city's Basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde. They also held up gold cards to spell out "Merci" (Thank you) against the blue background.

While the pope's Sept. 22-23 trip focused on the plight of migrants and the world's responsibility to rescue those in danger, to create more equitable legal channels for migration, to amend gross economic disparities and promote peace, he also reminded Catholics of their mission to share Christ's compassion and hope.

In his homily Sept. 23, he asked the faithful to reflect "honestly, from the heart: Do we believe that God is at work in our lives? Do we believe that the Lord, in hidden and often unpredictable ways, acts in history, performs wonders and is working even in our societies that are marked by worldly secularism and a certain religious indifference?"

In a world with so many challenges, he said, people of faith must have trust in the Lord.

The pope based his reflection on events in sacred Scripture in which God makes possible what seems impossible, generating life even amidst sterility.

The Virgin Mary and her older cousin Elizabeth are both pregnant "in an impossible way," with Elizabeth feeling her child "leap" in her womb, recognizing the arrival of the Messiah, he said.

This is how to discern "whether or not we have this trust in the Lord," he said, by feeling this sign, this "leap for joy" within.

"Whoever believes, whoever prays, whoever welcomes the Lord leaps in the Spirit and feels that something is moving within, and 'dances' with joy," the pope said.

Bishops and cardinals at Mass in Marseille
Cardinals and bishops arrive in procession for Mass with Pope Francis at Vélodrome Stadium in Marseille, France, Sept. 23, 2023. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

This experience is "the opposite of a flat, cold heart, accustomed to the quiet life, which is encased in indifference and becomes impermeable," he said. "Such a heart becomes hardened and insensitive to everything and everyone, even to the tragic discarding of human life, which is seen today in the rejection of many immigrants, of countless unborn children and abandoned elderly people."

"Those who are born to faith, on the other hand, recognize the presence of the Lord," he said.

"Even in the midst of toil, problems and suffering, each day they discern God's visitation among us and feel accompanied and sustained by him," the pope said.

"The experience of faith also compels us to leap toward our neighbor," he said, and to experience the joy of sharing.

Pope Francis asked Christians pray for the "fire of the Holy Spirit" and let themselves "be set afire by the questions of our day, by the challenges of the Mediterranean, by the cry of the poor -- and by the 'holy utopias' of fraternity and peace that wait to be realized."

"Today, too, our life and the life of the church, France and Europe need this: the grace of a leap forward, a new leap in faith, charity and hope," he said.

At the end of the Mass, the pope thanked those who traveled from different parts of France. A group from Nice, accompanied by their bishop and mayor, was made up of survivors of a 2016 terrorist attack when a 19-ton truck drove into people promenading on a holiday evening, leaving 86 people dead and 434 other injured.

"I recall the terrible attack," the pope said, asking people to "prayerfully remember all those who lost their lives in that tragedy, as well as in all the terrorist acts that have been perpetrated in France and in every part of the world."

"Terrorism is cowardly," he added.

Pope Francis also asked the crowd never to tire of "praying for peace in war-torn regions, and especially for the war-torn people of Ukraine."