Saturday, February 8, 2014

Pope In WYD Message: Poverty Leads Us To True Happiness


 Vatican City, Feb 7, 2014 / 04:28 am (CNA/EWTN News). - In his message for the 29th World Youth Day, Pope Francis draws his theme from the beatitude on poverty, emphasizing that it teaches us joy, as well as the proper attitude to have towards those who are poor. “To be blessed means to be happy. Tell me: Do you really want to be happy?” the Pope asked in his Feb. 6 message for the 29th World Youth Day, which takes place this Palm Sunday, on April 13.
“In an age when we are constantly being enticed by vain and empty illusions of happiness, we risk settling for less and ‘thinking small’ when it come to the meaning of life. Think big instead! Open your hearts!” World Youth Day (WYD) is a gathering of youths from all over the world to meet with the Pope in order to build and strengthen the bonds of faith, friendship and hope, symbolizing the union between people of different cultures and countries.
This year’s theme, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Mt 5:3),” is the first in a series of three that will focus on the Beatitudes, culminating in the international event to be held in Krakow, Poland in 2016. In his message to the youth, Pope Francis reflected on the revolutionary power of the Beatitudes, noting that in proclaiming them “Jesus asks us to follow him and to travel with him along the path of love, the path that alone leads to eternal life.” Highlighting how the Beatitudes are “new and revolutionary,” the Pope observed that “they present a model of happiness contrary to what is usually communicated by the media and by the prevailing wisdom” of our culture.
Warning the youth against the many forms “low cost” happiness that the world presents, the pontiff cautioned them not to “stuff themselves” with the wrong things, but to “swim against the tide” and to “say no to an ephemeral, superficial and throwaway culture.” Turning to the beatitude itself, the Pope explained that we can understand the meaning of being “poor in spirit” when Jesus “became man” and “chose the path of poverty and self-emptying.” Looking to the Greek roots of the expression, Pope Francis revealed that the Greek word for poor, “ptochós,” does not “have a purely material meaning,” but “suggests lowliness, a sense of one’s limitations and existential poverty.”
Recalling the life of St. Francis of Assisi, the Pope noted that he “understood perfectly the secret of the Beatitude of the poor in spirit.”  “When Jesus spoke to him through the leper and from the crucifix, Francis recognized both God’s grandeur and his own lowliness,” the pontiff observed, highlighting how he imitated “Christ in his poverty and in love for the poor,” adding that “for him the two were inextricably linked – like two sides of one coin.”  In order to make poverty real in our own lives, the Pope explained that we need to “try to be free with regard to material things,” to “experience conversion in the way we see the poor,” and to understand that “the poor are not just people to whom we can give something.”  “The Lord calls us to a Gospel lifestyle marked by sobriety, by a refusal to yield to the culture of consumerism,” he said, urging the youth to “put Jesus first” and to “be detached from possessiveness and from the idolatry of money and lavish spending.”
Pope Francis also encouraged the youth to care for the poor and to “be sensitive to their spiritual and material needs,” entrusting to them “the task of restoring solidarity to the heart of human culture.” Using the example of Saint Benedict Joseph Labré, who begged on the streets of Rome and gave spiritual advice to many, including “nobles and prelates,” the pontiff emphasized that the poor “have much to offer us and to teach us.” “They show us that people’s value is not measured by their possessions or how much money they have
in the bank. A poor person, a person lacking material possessions, always maintains his or her dignity.”
Moving to the second part of the beatitude, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” the Pope noted that “Jesus is the kingdom of God in person,” and although we have already seen the Kingdom of God through him, “it has yet to be realized in its fullness.”  He also highlighted that there is “a close connection between poverty and evangelization,” drawing attention to the passage in scripture where Jesus sends his out disciples, telling them to “take no gold, no silver,” and “not staff.”  “Evangelical poverty is a basic condition for spreading the kingdom of God,” the pontiff explained, adding, “the most beautiful and spontaneous expressions of joy which I have seen during my life were by poor people who had little to hold onto.” “Evangelization in our time will only take place as the result of contagious joy.”
Drawing attention to the Canticle of Mary, who was “poor in spirit,” the pontiff noted “The joy of the Gospel arises from a heart which, in its poverty, rejoices and marvels at the works of God, like the heart of Our Lady, whom all generations call ‘blessed.’”  The theme for next year’s WYD will focus on the beatitude “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Mt 5:8), and the international event in 2016 will conclude the reflection on the beatitudes by examining the meaning of “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt 5:7).

Monday, January 13, 2014

Pope Francis Baptises 32 Babies



Pope Francis today baptized the child of an unmarried couple during a ceremony in the Sistine Chapel, in Rome. The unnamed parents and their child took part in the traditional Baptism of the Lord mass with 31 others, commemorating the day St John baptized Jesus. The Pope has previously spoken out to encourage priests to baptize the children of unmarried women in order to pass on the Christian faith, calling those who refuse 'hypocrites'.
According to the Vatican Network, he said: 'You parents have the baby boy or girl to be baptized, but in a few years it will be they who will have a baby to be baptized or a grandchild... And so goes the chain of faith. 'What does this mean? I would just tell you this: you are the ones that transmit the faith, the transmitters; you have a duty to pass on the faith to these children. It’s the most beautiful legacy that you leave to them: the faith.'
Speaking in the relaxed manner that has become his trademark, Francis broke with the tradition of delivering a long and formal speech, instead reading a short script he had written himself.
The mass took place under the famous fresco painted by Michelangelo, the same room in which Francis was elected on March 13 as the first non-European pope in 1,600 years. In September the pontiff telephoned an Italian woman to tell her he would personally baptize her child after she became pregnant by a man who was already married. Shop worker Anna Romano, 35, was on holiday when she received the call from the Argentinian Pope. At the time she said: 'I addressed the letter simply to Pope Francis, the Vatican and put it in the post. I didn't even send it recorded delivery. I didn't really expect to get a reply but then out of the blue when I was on holiday I had a phone call from him. 'The number was from Rome, with a 06 dial code, and as soon as he started speaking I recognized the voice as his. 'I was just so surprised that he had telephoned me. He said that he had read my letter and he wanted to speak to me personally about it and reassure me that someone was worried about me.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2538097/Pope-Francis-baptises-baby-unmarried-couple-Sistine-Chapel-Baptism-Of-The-Lord-mass-Vatican.html
 



Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Jar is Full




A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was. The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was. The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous ‘yes.’ The professor then produced two Beers from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed. ‘Now,’ said the professor as the laughter subsided, ‘I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life:

  • The golf balls are the important things—-your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions—-and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.
  • The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car.
  • The sand is everything else—-the small stuff. ‘If you put the sand into the jar first,’ he continued, ‘there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you.
Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Spend time with your children. Spend time with your parents. Visit with grandparents. Take your spouse out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house and mow the lawn. Take care of the golf balls first—-the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.
One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the Beer represented. The professor smiled and said, ‘I’m glad you asked.’ The Beer just shows you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of Beers with a friend.

Friday, January 10, 2014

What Happens In Heaven When We Pray



I dreamed that I went to Heaven and an angel was showing me around. We walked side-by-side inside a large workroom filled with angels. My angel guide stopped in front of the first section and said, "This is the Receiving Section. Here, all petitions to God said in prayer are received."
I looked around in this area, and it was terribly busy with so many angels sorting out petitions written on voluminous paper sheets and scraps from people all over the world. Then we moved on down a long corridor until we reached the second section. The angel then said to me, "This is the Packaging and Delivery Section. Here, the graces and blessings the people asked for are processed and delivered to the living persons who asked for them." I noticed again how busy it was there. There were many angels working hard at that station, since so many blessings had been requested and were being packaged for delivery to Earth.
Finally at the farthest end of the long corridor we stopped at the door of a very small station. To my great surprise, only one angel was seated there, idly doing nothing. "This is the Acknowledgment Section," my angel friend quietly admitted to me. He seemed embarrassed.
"How is it that there is no work going on here?" I asked.
"So sad," the angel sighed. "After people receive the blessings that they asked for, very few send back acknowledgments."
"How does one acknowledge God's blessings?" I asked.
"Simple," the angel answered. Just say, "Thank you, Lord."
"What blessings should they acknowledge?" I asked.
"If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep you are richer than 75% of this world. If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and spare change in a dish, you are among the top 8% of the world’s wealthy. And if you get this on your own computer, you are part of the 1% in the world who has that opportunity. If you woke up this morning with more health than illness, you are more blessed than the many who will not even survive this day. If you have never experienced the fear in battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture, or the pangs of starvation, you are ahead of 700 million people in the world. If you can attend a church/synagogue without the fear of harassment, arrest, torture, or death, you are envied by and more blessed than three billion people in the world. If you can hold your head up and smile, you are not the norm. You're unique to all those in doubt and despair."
"Okay.  What now? How can I start?”
“If you can read this message, you just received a double blessing in that someone was thinking of you as very special, and you are more blessed than over two billion people in the world who cannot read at all. Have a good day. Count your blessings. And if you care to, pass this along to remind everyone else how blessed we all are.”

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Reggie



They told me the big black lab’s name was “Reggie” as I looked at Him lying in his pen. The shelter was clean and the people really friendly. I’d only been in the area for six months, but everywhere I went in the small college town, people were welcoming and open. Everyone waves when you pass them on the street. But something was still missing as I attempted to settle in to my new life here, and I thought a dog couldn’t hurt. Give me someone to talk to. And I had just seen Reggie’s advertisement on the local news. The shelter said they had received numerous calls right after, but they said the people who had come down to see him just didn’t look like “Lab people,” whatever that meant. They must’ve thought I did.
But at first, I thought the shelter had misjudged me in giving me Reggie and his things, which consisted of a dog pad, bag of toys almost all of which were brand new tennis balls, his dishes, and a sealed letter from his previous owner. See, Reggie and I didn’t really hit it off when we got home. We struggled for two weeks (which is how long the shelter told me to give him to adjust to his new home). Maybe it was the fact that I was trying to adjust, too. Maybe we were too much alike. For some reason, his stuff (except for the tennis balls — he wouldn’t go anywhere without two stuffed in his mouth) got tossed in with all of my other unpacked boxes. I guess I didn’t really think he’d need all his old stuff, that I’d get him new things once he settled in. but it became pretty clear pretty soon that he wasn’t going to.
I tried the normal commands the shelter told me he knew, ones like “sit” and “stay” and “come” and “heel,” and he’d follow them — when he felt like it. He never really seemed to listen when I called his name — sure, he’d look in my direction after the fourth or fifth time I said it, but then he’d just go back to doing whatever. When I’d ask again, you could almost see him sigh and then grudgingly obey. This just wasn’t going to work. He chewed a couple shoes and some unpacked boxes. I was a little too stern with him and he resented it, I could tell. The friction got so bad that I couldn’t wait for the two weeks to be up, and when it was, I was in full-on search mode for my cell phone amid all of my unpacked stuff. I remembered leaving it on the stack of boxes for the guest room, but I also mumbled, rather cynically, that the “darn dog probably hid it on me.”
Finally I found it, but before I could punch up the shelter’s number, I also found his pad and other toys from the shelter. I tossed the pad in Reggie’s direction and he snuffed it and wagged, some of the most enthusiasm I’d seen since bringing him home. But then I called, “Hey, Reggie, you like that? Come here and I’ll give you a treat.” Instead, he sort of glanced in my direction — maybe “glared” is more accurate — and then gave a discontented sigh and flopped down, with his back to me. Well, that’s not going to do it either, I thought. And I punched the shelter phone number. But I hung up when I saw the sealed envelope. I had completely forgotten about that, too. “Okay, Reggie,” I said out loud, “let’s see if your previous owner has any advice.”

To Whoever Gets My Dog:
Well, I can’t say that I’m happy you’re reading this, a letter I told the shelter could only be opened by Reggie’s new owner. I’m not even happy writing it. If you’re reading this, it means I just got back from my last car ride with my Lab after dropping him off at the shelter. He knew something was different. I have packed up his pad and toys before and set them by the back door before a trip, but this time ... it’s like he knew something was wrong. And something is wrong which is why I have to go to try to make it right. So let me tell you about my Lab in the hopes that it will help you bond with him and he with you. First, he loves tennis balls. The more the merrier. Sometimes I think he’s part squirrel, the way he hoards them. He usually always has two in his mouth, and he tries to get a third in there. Hasn’t done it yet? Doesn’t matter where you throw them, he’ll bound after so be careful — really don’t do it by any roads. I made that mistake once, and it almost cost him dearly.

Next, commands.
Maybe the shelter staff already told you, but I’ll go over them again: Reggie knows the obvious ones — “sit,” “stay,” “come,” “heel.” He knows hand signals: “back” to turn around and go back when you put your hand straight up; and “over” if you put your hand out right or left. “Shake” for shaking water off, and “paw” for a high-five. He does “down” when he feels like lying down — I bet you could work on that with him some more. He knows “ball” and “food” and “bone” and “treat” like nobody’s business. I trained Reggie with small food treats. Nothing opens his ears like little pieces of hot dog.

Feeding schedule:
Twice a day, once about seven in the morning, and again at six in the evening. Regular store-bought stuff; the shelter has the brand. He’s up on his shots. Call the clinic on 9th Street and update his info with yours; they’ll make sure to send you reminders for when he’s due. Be forewarned: Reggie hates the vet. Good luck getting him in the car — I don’t know how he knows when it’s time to go to the vet, but he knows.
Finally, give him some time. I’ve never been married, so it’s only been Reggie and me for his whole life. He’s gone everywhere with me, so please include him on your daily car rides if you can. He sits well in the backseat, and he doesn’t bark or complain. He just loves to be around people, and me most especially; which means that this transition is going to be hard, with him going to live with someone new. And that’s why I need to share one more bit of info with you. His name’s not Reggie.
I don’t know what made me do it, but when I dropped him off at the shelter, I told them his name was Reggie. He’s a smart dog, he’ll get used to it and will respond to it, of that I have no doubt, but I just couldn’t bear to give them his real name. For me to do that, it seemed so final, that handing him over to the shelter was as good as me admitting that I’d never see him again. And if I end up coming back, getting him, and tearing up this letter, it means everything’s fine. But if someone else is reading it, well... well it means that his new owner should know his real name, it will help you bond with him. Who knows, maybe you’ll even notice a change in his demeanor if he’s been giving you problems.
His real name is Tank, because that is what I drive. Again, if you’re reading this and you’re from the area, maybe my name has been on the news. I told the shelter that they couldn’t make “Reggie” available for adoption until they received word from my company commander. See, my parents are gone, I have no siblings, no one I could’ve left Tank with, and it was my only real request of the Army upon my deployment to Iraq, that they make one phone call to the shelter, in the “event” to tell them that Tank could be put up for adoption. Luckily, my colonel is a dog guy, too, and he knew where my platoon was headed. He said he’d do it personally. And if you’re reading this, then he made good on his word.
Well, this letter is getting to downright depressing, even though, frankly, I’m just writing it for my dog. I couldn’t imagine if I was writing it for a wife and kids and family; but still, Tank has been my family for the last six years, almost as long as the Army has been my family. And now I hope and pray that you make him part of your family and that he will adjust and come to love you the same way he loved me. That unconditional love from a dog is what I took with me to Iraq as an inspiration to do something selfless, to protect innocent people from those who would do terrible things ... and to keep those terrible people from coming over here. If I had to give up Tank in order to do it, I am glad to have done so. He was my example of service and of love. I hope I honored him by my service to my country and comrades.
All right, that’s enough. I deploy this evening and have to drop this letter off at the shelter. I don’t think I’ll say another good-bye to Tank, though. I cried too much the first time. Maybe I’ll peek in on him and see if he finally got that third tennis ball in his mouth. Good luck with Tank. Give him a good home, and give him an extra kiss goodnight — every night — from me.
Thank you,
Paul Mallory
I folded the letter and slipped it back in the envelope. Sure I had heard of Paul Mallory, everyone in town knew him, even new people like me. Local kid, killed in Iraq a few months ago and posthumously earning the Silver Star when he gave his life to save three buddies. Flags had been at half-mast all summer. I leaned forward in my chair and rested my elbows on my knees, staring at the dog. “Hey, Tank,” I said quietly. The dog’s head whipped up, his ears cocked and his eyes bright. “C’mere boy.” He was instantly on his feet, his nails clicking on the hardwood floor. He sat in front of me, his head tilted; searching for the name he hadn’t heard in months. “Tank,” I whispered. His tail swished. I kept whispering his name, over and over, and each time, his ears lowered, his eyes softened, and his posture relaxed as a wave of contentment just seemed to flood him. I stroked his ears, rubbed his shoulders, buried my face into his scruff and hugged him. “It’s me now, Tank, just you and me. Your old pal gave you to me.” Tank reached up and licked my cheek. “So what daya say we play some ball?” His ears perked again. “Yeah? Ball? You like that? Ball?” Tank tore from my hands and disappeared in the next room. And when he came back, he had three tennis balls in his mouth.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Papal Shot at Unbridled Capitalism Stirs Debate



Pope Francis’ critique of unbridled capitalism and trickle-down economics as a “new tyranny” rattled some Republicans across the country. Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh called the Pope’s comments “pure Marxism.”  But in the conservative and heavily Catholic region of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, both Republicans and Democrats didn’t think the Pope was referring to them when he criticized capitalism. They didn’t see the Pope’s economic views as a direct attack on the American economy – or their politics. Local leaders said they look to the Pope for spiritual, not economic, guidance.
“I don’t dwell on what the Pope has to say about economics,” said Kentucky State Sen. John Schickel, a Catholic and a Republican from Union. “I’m more mindful of what the Pope has to say about faith and morals.” About 10 paragraphs in Francis’ 50,000-word apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) released in December focused on Francis’ economic views and have spurred the debate among politicians. Francis’ economic views don’t stray from the teachings of earlier Popes, including John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, said Fr. James Bretzke, a Jesuit priest and professor of moral theology at Boston College, a private Jesuit college.
It’s the way he’s said it that makes it different, Bretzke said. “I think what the major difference with Pope Francis is, he’s much more popular than his two immediate predecessors and speaks in a way that’s less academic and not as convoluted,” Bretzke said. “This is what makes it difficult for the Republicans to dismiss his remarks.” The Pope’s popularity far outshines Congress and President Barack Obama, with 88 percent of Americans approving how Francis has led the church, according to a CNN/ORC International poll.
In Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), Francis took aim at those who have defended trickle down economics. He wrote that the idea that free market capitalism leading to growth helps the poor “has never been confirmed by facts” and “expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power.” “Today, everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless,” Francis wrote. “As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.”

 

Many don't think the Pope means the United States

Local politicians on both sides of the river downplayed Francis’ remarks on capitalism. “The media has trumped up his statements to sound like an indictment against capitalism,” said Ohio State Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Green Township. “Part of the role of a spiritual adviser is to condemn excess when and where he sees them,” Seitz said. “Unbridled capitalism does not look to the common good. I don’t find a terrible objection in that, particularly given the context of where the Pope came from in Argentina and Chile.” Chile and Argentina have a higher income disparity than the United States, with Chile ranked with the 15th highest income disparity in the world, according to the CIA World Fact Book. Argentina ranks 36th and the U.S. 41st.
Many Republicans and tea party activists thought the Pope’s beef with capitalism didn’t involve the United States. “If he was attacking the quote unquote unbridled capitalism that we have today, we don’t have that today,” said Dan Ford, a tea party activist from Erlanger. “It is very much bridled.” Though Ford and others in the tea party movement want less regulation, they do see a need for controls to prevent monopolies and other abuses.
“If he was attacking the capitalism that said ‘Oh, complete greed is fine,’ and is saying that doesn’t work, well it doesn’t work,” Ford said. “I think we need some level of regulation, but not such that we have today. Like I said, it is very unclear what he was attacking.” Some see the Pope’s target as the super rich, not the middle class. Fourth District GOP Chairman Troy Sheldon said he thinks the Pope’s criticism refers to people like Democratic donor and philanthropist George Soros, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and investor Warren Buffett.
“When he looks at them and the amount of wealth they’ve accumulated individually, what they have given back to society?” said Sheldon, a former Catholic who converted to the Baptist faith. “I think that, in his mind, is unbridled capitalism. Now someone like us who are working day-to-day and have an income and donate so much to charity, I think he’d be a very big proponent of that.”
Both Democrats and Republicans in the region didn’t feel the Pope’s message changed the political landscape. What the Pope said in Evangelii Gaudium is nothing new, said attorney Mark Guilfoyle, a Catholic and Northern Kentucky attorney involved in many Democratic causes. Pope Leo XIII said pretty much the same thing in his 1891 encyclical Rarum Novarum, he said. Guilfoyle, a Democrat, doesn’t see the Pope’s message as changing church teaching or having a big impact on the Catholic vote. “I would think any right-thinking Democrat or Republican would agree that unbridled greed is a sin and something that ought to be avoided,” Guilfoyle said. “That’s all he’s saying.”
The Pope’s comments will likely have some political impact for the GOP, Bretzke said. Based on the Pope’s guidance, conservative bishops will have a harder time urging Catholics to vote for a candidate solely because the candidate is against abortion or gay marriage, he said. Instead, Francis called on Catholics to take a more nuanced approach that includes economic policy when deciding who to vote for, he said.
“I think it’s going to be difficult for the Catholic congressman in my home state of Wisconsin, Paul Ryan, to claim that his (proposed) budget is in tune with Catholic social teaching,” Bretzke said. If the Pope’s teachings are followed, capitalism wouldn’t go away; it just means it would provide a just wage for workers, decent health insurance and access to good education, said Thomas Groome, a professor of theology at Boston College. “It is not that he opposes capitalism,” Groome said. “He wants a moral capitalism.” Schickel said he likes the new Pope and thinks he’s encouraging good debate. “It opens up a discussion, which I think is good,” Schickel said. “There are evils to materialism.”


Monday, January 6, 2014

The Interview That Shook The World



We might, perhaps, set out on a part of the journey together”: these words are the heart of the letter that Pope Francis wrote to the Italian journalist Eugenio Scalfari on September 11, and they reveal a central part of the Holy See’s current strategy for dealing with a Western culture which has entered a profound moral, economic, demographic, philosophical and spiritual crisis. And that strategy is to engage in dialogue in order to effectively present a Gospel message which could heal the crisis and lay the basis for a new flowering of Western culture, if it is embraced.
Scalfari is not just anybody. He is the cofounder of the daily newspaper La Repubblica, a prominent organ of secular humanist thinking in Italy. As such, Scalfari is one of the leading “opinion-makers” of the past two generations in Italy, and thus one of the most important shapers of modern Italian culture. The letter was published on the paper’s front page with the title “My letter to those who do not believe.” Two weeks later, on September 24, the same newspaper published a letter from Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI to the Italian mathematician Piergiorgio Odifreddi, who had written a skeptical book on Jesus, under the title: “Dear Odifreddi, I will tell you who Jesus was.” These unusual “letters from Popes” to private individuals created a sensation in Italy, and prompted considerable commentary. (It is whispered that the hand of Benedict XVI is hidden “between the lines” of the first letter, and that Francis encouraged the publication of the second.)
These two letters — despite their different recipients — have a common aim: to open a fruitful dialogue between Christianity and “modernity.” This has been the Church’s aim since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), but these letters suggest an emerging shift from an “official” or “institutional” dialogue (conducted by commissions and events like the “Courtyard of the Gentiles” of the Pontifical Council for Culture) to a “personal” dialogue, involving listening and answering. And both the German Pope Emeritus and the new Argentinian Pope have defended, praised, and sought to implement this path throughout their lives.
Though addressed to specific individuals, both letters were conceived as texts to be read by a much wider audience, and to open a dialogue between Christian faith and the secular world view which has become dominant in the West. In his letter to Scalfari, Francis sets out from his personal experience of faith and of coming to believe in God. He stresses that “faith is not intransigent, but grows in respectful coexistence with others” and that “only faith launches us on a journey making witness and dialogue possible. This is the spirit that animates the words that I write to you.”
Benedict, in his letter, exemplifies the method of real dialogue, answering each and every point of Odifreddi’s essay, without sparing criticism and even irony (“What you say about the figure of Jesus is not worthy of you as a scientist. I invite you to become a little more competent in historical matters”). And he concludes: “My criticism of your book is in part a harsh one. But frankness is part of dialogue; only in this way can knowledge grow (...). In any case, I appreciate that you (...) have sought such an open dialogue with the faith of the Catholic Church. “

The September 11 letter of Pope Francis to Scalfari was a reply to a two-part letter Scalfari had written to Francis and published in the pages of his newspaper on July 7 and August 7. “I would cordially like to reply to the letter you addressed to me from the pages of La Repubblica on July 7, which included a series of personal reflections that then continued to enrich the pages of the daily newspaper on August 7,” Francis began. “First of all, thank you for the attention with which you have read the encyclical Lumen fidei.1 In fact it was the intention of my beloved predecessor, Benedict XVI, who conceived it and mostly wrote it, and which, with gratitude, I inherited, to not only confirm the faith in Jesus Christ for those who already believe, but also to spark a sincere and rigorous dialogue with those who, like you, define themselves as ‘for many years being a non-believer who is interested and fascinated by the preaching of Jesus of Nazareth.’
“Therefore, without a doubt it would seem to be positive, not only for each one of us, but also for the society in which we live, to stop and speak about a matter as important as faith and which refers to the teachings and the figure of Jesus.” Pope Francis (perhaps under the influence of Emeritus Pope Benedict?) set forth the chief reasons a dialogue between Christianity and secularism is needed. First, because the “light” of Christianity has come to be seen as “darkness” that the Pope writes:
“In the centuries of modern life we have seen a paradox: Christian faith, whose novelty and importance in the life of mankind since the beginning have been expressed through the symbol of light, has often been branded as the darkness of superstition which is opposed to the light of reason. Therefore a lack of communication has arisen between the Church and the culture inspired by Christianity on one hand, and the modern culture of Enlightenment on the other. The time has come and the Second Vatican Council has inaugurated the season for an open dialogue without preconceptions that opens the door to a serious and fruitful meeting.”
The second reason, the Pope says, is that dialogue is not secondary to Christian faith but central to it. Francis writes: “The second circumstance, for those who attempt to be faithful to the gift of following Jesus in the light of faith, derives from the fact that this dialogue is not a secondary accessory in the existence of those who believe, but is rather an intimate and indispensable expression. Speaking of which, allow me to quote a very important statement, in my opinion, from the encyclical: as the truth witnessed by faith is found in love — it is stressed — ‘it seems clear that faith is not unyielding, but increases in the coexistence which respects the other. The believer is not arrogant; on the contrary, the truth makes him humble, in the knowledge that, rather than making us rigid, it embraces us and possesses us. Rather than make us rigid, the security of faith makes it possible to speak with everyone’ (n. 34). This is the spirit of the words I am writing to you.” And then Francis, in his letter to Scalfari, sets forth his own faith — a faith that had an element of mystical experience, and yet a faith which depended profoundly on the mediation of the “community of faith” into which he was born: the Church.
“For me, faith began by meeting Jesus,” Francis wrote. “A personal meeting that touched my heart and gave a direction and a new meaning to my existence. At the same time, however, a meeting that was made possible by the community of faith in which I lived and thanks to which I found access to the intelligence of the Sacred Scriptures, to the new life that comes from Jesus. Like the gushing water through the sacraments, fraternity with everyone and service to the poor, the real image of the Lord breaks forth. Believe me, without the Church I would never have been able to meet Jesus, in spite of the knowledge that the immense gift of faith is kept in the fragile clay vases of our humanity.”
And from this “rootedness” in both his personal (mystical) experience and the rich faith life of the Church, Francis was ready to propose to Scalfari a common journey: “Now, thanks to this personal experience of faith experienced in the Church, I feel comfortable in listening to your questions and together with you, will try to find a way to perhaps walk along a path together.”
The letter then proceeds at some length, and Francis sets forth in powerful arguments the reasons for his faith in Jesus. There is not space here to follow the entire argument, but it is worth summarizing some of the main points.
Francis (again, perhaps under the influence, in part, of Emeritus Pope Benedict) urges Scalfari to go back to the Gospels, which he characterizes as accurate historical records of what happened during the life of Jesus. He particularly encourages reading the Gospel of Mark, which is, he says, “the most ancient of the Gospels.”
Francis writes: “Therefore, I would say that we must face Jesus in the concrete roughness of his story, as above all told to us by the most ancient of the Gospels, the one according to Mark. We then find that the ‘scandal’ which the word and practices of Jesus provoke around him derives from his extraordinary ‘authority’: a word that has been certified since the Gospel according to Mark, but that is not easily to translate into Italian. The Greek word is ‘exousia,’ which literally means ‘comes from being’ what one is. It is not something exterior or forced, but rather something that emanates from the inside and imposes itself. Actually Jesus amazes and innovates starting from (he himself says this) his relationship with God, called familiarly Abbà, who gives him this ‘authority’ so that he uses it in favor of men.”
Francis continues: “So Jesus preaches ‘like someone who has authority’; he heals, calls his disciples to follow him, and forgives. Things that, in the Old Testament, belong to God and only God. The question that is most frequently repeated in the Gospel according to Mark: ‘Who is he who...?,’ with regards the identity of Jesus, arises from the recognition of an authority that differs from that of the world, an authority that aims not at exercising power over others, but rather serving them, giving them freedom and the fullness of life. And this is done to the point of staking his own life, up to experiencing misunderstanding, betrayal, refusal, until he is condemned to die, left abandoned on the cross. But Jesus remained faithful to God up to his death.”
Francis concludes: “And it is then — as the Roman centurion exclaims, in the Gospel according to Mark — that Jesus is paradoxically revealed as the Son of God. Son of a God who is love and who wants, with all of himself, that man, every man, discover himself and also live like his real son. For Christian faith this is certified by the fact that Jesus rose from the dead: not to be triumphant over those who refused him, but to certify that the love of God is stronger than death, the forgiveness of God is stronger than any sin and that it is worthwhile to give one’s life, to the end, to witness this great gift.
“Christian faith believes in this: that Jesus is the Son of God who came to give his life to open the way to love for everyone. Therefore there is a reason, dear Dr. Scalfari, when you see the incarnation of the Son of God as the pivot of Christian faith. Tertullian wrote ‘caro cardo salutis,’ the flesh (of Christ) is the pivot of salvation. Because the incarnation, that is, the fact that the Son of God has come into our flesh and has shared the joy and pain, the victories and defeat of our existence, up to the cry of the cross, living each event with love and in the faith of Abbà, shows the incredible love that God has for every man, the priceless value that he acknowledges. For this reason, each of us is called to accept the view and the choice of love made by Jesus, become a part of his way of being, thinking and acting. This is faith, with all the expressions that have been dutifully described in the encyclical.2
“Dear Dr. Scalfari, here I end these reflections of mine, prompted by what you wanted to tell and ask me. Please accept this as a tentative and temporary reply, but sincere and hopeful, together with the invitation that I made to walk a part of the path together. Believe me, in spite of its slowness, the infidelity, the mistakes and the sins that may have and may still be committed by those who compose the Church, it has no other sense and aim if not to live and witness Jesus: He has been sent by Abbà ‘to bring good news to the poor; to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to let the oppressed go free; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor’ (Luke 4: 18-19).
With brotherly love,
Francesco”

So ended the September 11 letter.

Now there is a fascinating “postscript,” or continuation, to this remarkable letter. Pope Francis, after writing to Scalfari, decided out of the blue to call him on the telephone. Pope Francis asked Scalfari if he would like to come to the Domus Santa Marta and talk to him personally. And Scalfan agreed. The two met on September 24, and out of this encounter came one of the most remarkable — and controversial — interviews in many years.
That interview was published on October 1, and it caused a sensation, most of all because some of the phrases used by the Pope in his private conversation with Scalfari seemed scandalous to more traditional Catholics, especially a remark about proselytism being “pious nonsense.” But all of the Pope’s words must be understood in context, and that context was a conversation with a very intelligent, very influential Italian atheist with whom the Pope hoped to begin a dialogue. The Pope did not want to invite Scalfan to his home in order to “proselytize” him, in the sense of imposing from without a faith that Scalfari did not have, but might be seeking. Rather, he hoped to initiate a dialogue with a man who was far from the faith, but nevertheless, willing to discuss the reasons for that distance. If one reads the interview, one can see that the Pope was engaging with Scalfari on a profound level. And that suggests that what was occurring — the conversation between a Pope and the man who is one of Italy’s most clever and influential atheists — was remarkable, and the work of the Holy Spirit.
Here below are excerpts from the Scalfan-Francis conversation. (It was later revealed that Scalfari did not use a tape recorder, but reconstructed the conversation from memory. The Vatican later stated that, nevertheless, the printed version of the conversation did correspond essentially to what the Pope had said. However, it is clear that there is no certainty that the Pope spoke exactly the words that Scalfani has printed as his words, though the essential meaning is accurate.)
“The meeting with Pope Francis took place last Tuesday3 at his home in Santa Marta, in a small bare room with a table and five or six chairs and a painting on the wall,” Scalfani began. “It had been preceded by a phone call I will never forget as long as I live. “It was half past two in the afternoon. My phone rings and in a somewhat shaky voice my secretary tells me: ‘I have the Pope on the line. I’ll put him through immediately.’
“I was still stunned when I heard the voice of His Holiness on the other end of the line saying, ‘Hello, this is Pope Francis.’ ‘Hello, Your Holiness,’ I say, and then, ‘I am shocked. I did not expect you to call me.’ ‘Why so surprised? You wrote me a letter asking to meet me in person. I had the same wish, so I’m calling to fix an appointment. Let me look at my planner: I can’t do Wednesday, nor Monday; would Tuesday suit you?’ I answer, ‘that’s fine.’ ‘The time is a little awkward, three in the afternoon, is that okay? Otherwise it’ll have to be another day.’ ‘Your Holiness, the time is fine.’ ‘So we agree: Tuesday the 24th at 3 o’clock. At Santa Marta. You have to come in through the gate at the Sant’Uffizio.’ “I don’t know how to end this call and I let myself go, saying: ‘Can I embrace you by phone?’ ‘Of course, a hug from me too. Then we will do it in person. Goodbye.”
So the meeting was set. Scalfani agreed to come to meet Pope Francis, the head of a Church and a faith Scalfani had spent much of his adult life criticizing, attacking, mocking, undermining. The very fact that the two would meet is extraordinary. But it happened. Scalfani writes: “And here I am. The Pope comes in and shakes my hand, and we sit down. The Pope smiles and says: ‘Some of my colleagues who know you told me that you will try to convert me.”4
“It’s a joke, I tell him. My friends think it is you who want to convert me.”5 Scalfani continues: “He smiles again and replies: ‘Proselytism is solemn nonsense; it makes no sense. We need to get to know each other, listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us. Sometimes after a meeting I want to arrange another one because new ideas are born and I discover new needs. This is important: to get to know people, listen, and expand the circle of ideas. The world is crisscrossed by roads that come closer together and move apart, but the important thing is that they lead towards the Good.”
The Pope then made some remarks in defense of individual conscience — “Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them,” — and then asked Scalfani, “Do you know what agape is?”6
“Yes, I know,” Scalfani said. “It is love of others, as our Lord preached,” Francis said. “It is not proselytizing, it is love. Love for one’s neighbor, that leavening that serves the common good.” “Love your neighbor as yourself,” Scalfan said. “Exactly so,” Francis said. “The Son of God became incarnate in order to instill the feeling of brotherhood in the souls of men. All are brothers and all children of God, Abbà, as he called the Father. I will show you the way, he said. Follow me and you will find the Father, and you will all be his children and he will take delight in you. Agape, the love of each one of us for the other, from the closest to the furthest, is in fact the only way that Jesus has given us to find the way of salvation and of the Beatitudes.”
As the conversation continued, Francis spoke about the Roman Curia, clericalism, anti-clericalism, liberation theology. The conversation was wide-ranging.
Then the Pope, in answer to a question from Scalfari, gave insight into his state of mind when he was elected Pope on March 13.
“When the conclave elected me Pope, before I accepted, I asked if I could spend a few minutes in the room next to the one with the balcony overlooking the square,” Francis said. “My head was completely empty and I was seized by a great anxiety.”7
“To make it go way and relax, I closed my eyes and made every thought disappear, even the thought of refusing to accept the position, as the liturgical procedure allows. “I closed my eyes and I no longer had any anxiety or emotion. At a certain point I was filled with a great light. It lasted a moment, but to me it seemed very long.
“Then the light faded. I got up suddenly and walked into the room where the cardinals were waiting and the table on which was the act of acceptance. I signed it, the Cardinal Camerlengo countersigned it, and then on the balcony there was the Habemus Papam.” In this admission of a type of mystical experience in the moments after his election as Pope, but before his acceptance of the office, Francis is revealing something intimate and profound. He is revealing his own sense of weakness and unworthiness, and yet also, his sense that the Holy Spirit is sustaining and guiding him. He makes reference to this dynamic in the answers which follow below.
Scalfari continues: “We were silent for a moment; then I said: ‘We were talking about the saints that you feel closest to your soul and we were left with Augustine. Will you tell me why you feel very close to him?”
Francis replied: “Even for my predecessor, Augustine is a reference point. That saint went through many vicissitudes in his life and changed his doctrinal position several times. He also had harsh words for the Jews, which I never shared. He wrote many books and what I think is most revealing of his intellectual and spiritual intimacy are the Confessions, which also contain some manifestations of mysticism. But he is not, as many would argue, a continuation of Paul. Indeed, he sees the Church and the faith in very different ways than Paul. Perhaps four centuries passed between one and the other.”
We note in these remarks the fascination of Francis for St. Paul. Paul was converted from a persecutor of Christians and became the last and most energetic of the Apostles after his experience on the road to Damascus. Paul also established churches throughout the Mediterranean world, and began to codify many Church procedures and structures. But Francis is also fascinated by Augustine, who also had a mystical conversion to the faith, and who functioned as a theologian and bishop in an age when Christianity was socially accepted, but when the entire Roman Empire and culture were in decline. In his reflection on conversion, on the grace of conversion, Francis gives us a deep insight into his own theology of conversion. This helps us understand why he is speaking and acting as he is. Scalfari asks: “What is the difference (i.e., between Paul and Augustine), Your Holiness?”
Francis replies: “For me it lies in two substantial aspects. Augustine feels powerless in the face of the immensity of God and the tasks that a Christian and a bishop have to fulfill. In fact, he was by no means powerless, but he felt that his soul was always less than he wanted and needed it to be. And then the grace dispensed by the Lord as a basic element of faith. Of life. Of the meaning of life. Someone who is not touched by grace may be a person without blemish and without fear, as they say, but he will never be like a person who has been touched grace. This is Augustine’s insight.” And then follows a remarkable exchange on grace, the energy or life of God, the holiness of God, which touches and influences and heals souls.” This is not as theologically crafted as it is an informal interview, and one not recorded, so, unreliable in its verbal formulations — but it gives us a fascinating insight into Francis’s view of grace.
Scalfari asks: “Do you feel touched by grace?” Francis replies: “No one can know that. Grace is not part of consciousness; it is the amount of light in our souls, not knowledge or reason. Even you, without knowing it, could be touched by grace.” “Without faith? A non-believer?” Scalfan asks. Francis replies: “Grace regards the soul.” “I do not believe in the soul,” Scalfari says. “You do not believe in it, but you have one,” says Francis. “Your Holiness, you said that you have no intention of trying to convert me and I do not think you would succeed,” Scalfari says. “We cannot know that, but I don’t have any such intention,” Francis replies.
So in these lines we see the idea of conversion, proselytism, emerging again. One senses that, in this conversation, these two men, one a leading atheist, the other the leader of the Church, were circling each other, trying to gauge the reliability, the honesty, the openness, of the other. Humanly speaking, it is a riveting drama.
Scalfari then asks the Pope what he thinks of St. Francis of Assisi, the saint whose name he chose as his own as Pope. “And St. Francis?” Scalfani asks. “He’s great because he is everything,” Francis replies. “He is a man who wants to do things, wants to build; he founded an order and its rules, he is an itinerant and a missionary, a poet and a prophet; he is mystical. He found evil in himself and rooted it out. He loved nature, animals, the blade of grass on the lawn and the birds flying in the sky. But above all he loved people: children, old people, and women. He is the most shining example of that agape we talked about earlier.”
“Your Holiness is right,” Scalfani replies, “the description is perfect. But why did none of your predecessors ever choose that name? And I believe that after you no one else will choose it.” “We do not know that,” Francis replies. “Let’s not speculate about the future. True, no one chose it before me. Here we face the problem of problems.8 Would you like something to drink?” “Thank you, maybe a glass of water,” Scalfari says.
Scalfari writes: “He gets up, opens the door and asks someone in the entrance to bring two glasses of water. He asks me if I want a coffee. I say no. The water arrives. At the end of our conversation, my glass will be empty, but his will remain full. He clears his throat and begins.” And then Francis explains Francis — Pope Francis explains St. Francis.
“Francis wanted a mendicant order and an itinerant one,” Pope Francis told Scalfan. “Missionaries who wanted to meet, listen, talk, help, to spread faith and love. Especially love. And he dreamed of a poor Church that would take care of others, receive material aid and use it to support others, with no concern for itself. Eight hundred years have passed since then, and times have changed, but the ideal of a missionary, poor Church is still more than valid. This is still the Church that Jesus and his disciples preached about.” One senses in these words the tension between the ideal and the real: the Church as saints like Francis, and men like Pope Francis, long for it to be; and the Church as it actually is, not missionary, not poor, not concerned only for others, but concerned in part for itself, its property and privileges.
Scalfari then asks about the Church’s prospects in a world where Christians were once culturally dominant. “You Christians are now a minority,” Scalfari says. “Even in Italy, which is known as the Pope’s backyard, Practicing Catholics, according to some polls, are between 8 and 15 percent. In the world, there are a billion Catholics or more, and with other Christian Churches there are over a billion and a half, but the population of the planet is 6 or 7 billion people. There are certainly many of you, especially in Africa and Latin America, but you are a minority.”
Francis replies: “We always have been, but the issue today is not that. Personally, I think being a minority is actually a strength. We have to be a leavening of life and love and the leavening is infinitely smaller than the mass of fruits, flowers and trees that are born out of it. I believe I have already said that our goal is not to proselytize but to listen to needs, desires and disappointments, despair, hope. We must restore hope to young people, help the old, be open to the future, and spread love. Be poor among the poor. We need to include the excluded and preach peace. Vatican II, inspired by Pope Paul VI and John, decided to look to the future with a modern spirit and to be open to modern culture. The Council Fathers knew that being open to modern culture meant religious ecumenism and dialogue with non-believers. But afterwards very little was done in that direction. I have the humility and ambition to want to do something.”
Scalfani then acknowledges the crisis that secular culture now faces. “Modern society throughout the world is going through a period of deep crisis,” Scalfan says, “not only economic but also social and spiritual. Even we non-believers feel this. That is why we want dialogue with believers and those who best represent them.” This is a fascinating admission from a leading atheist, and it echoes something a leading cardinal once told Inside the Vatican: that the secular elites, when they realize the abyss which looms before them in the spiritual misery of the de-Christianized world they have created, will turn again to the Church for help, guidance, insight, to build a better, more harmonious, less unjust and less cruel society, and that the Church must prepare, in these difficult years, for that moment. “I don’t know if I’m the best of those who represent believers, but Providence has placed me at the head of the Church and the Diocese of Peter,” Francis said. “I will do what I can to fulfill the mandate that has been entrusted to me.”
Francis then agreed with Scalfani that “love for temporal power is still very strong within Vatican walls and in the institutional structure of the whole Church.” And he added: “Even Francis in his time held long negotiations with the Roman hierarchy and the Pope to have the rules of his order recognized. Eventually he got the approval but with profound changes and compromises.” Scalfani, a bit mischievously, asks: “Will you have to follow the same path?”
And Pope Francis replies: “I’m not Francis of Assisi and I do not have his strength and his holiness. But I am the Bishop of Rome and Pope of the Catholic world. The first thing I decided was to appoint a group of eight cardinals to be my advisers. Not courtiers, but wise people who share my own feelings. This is the beginning of a Church with an organization that is not just top-down but also horizontal. When Cardinal Martini talked about focusing on the Councils and Synods, he knew how long and difficult it would be to go in that direction. Gently, but firmly and tenaciously.”
As the interview is nearing its end, Francis turns the tables a bit. He asks Scalfani: “But now let me ask you a question: you, a secular non-believer in God, what do you believe in? You are a writer and a man of thought. You believe in something, you must have a dominant value. I am asking what you think is the essence of the world, indeed the universe. You must ask yourself, of course, like everyone else, who we are, where we come from, where we are going. Even children ask themselves these questions. And you?”
“I believe in Being; that is, in the substance from which forms, bodies arise,” Scalfan says. “And I believe in God,” Francis replies, “not in a Catholic God, there is no Catholic God, there is God, and I believe in Jesus Christ, his incarnation. Jesus is my teacher and my pastor. But God, the Father, Abbà, is the light and the Creator. This is my Being. Do you think we are very far apart?”
Scalfani replies: “Your Holiness, you are certainly a person of great faith, touched by grace, animated by the desire to revive a pastoral, missionary Church that is renewed and not temporal. But from the way you talk and from what I understand, you are and will be a revolutionary Pope: half Jesuit, half a man of Francis, a combination that perhaps has never been seen before.”
Scalfani writes: “We embrace. We climb the short staircase to the door. We shake hands and he stands with his two fingers raised in a blessing. I wave to him from the window. This is Pope Francis. If the Church becomes like him and becomes what he wants it to be, it will be an epochal change.”

1 The first encyclical of Pope Francis published on June 29.
2 Here follow several other paragraphs, reflecting also on the role of the Jews in salvation history, and on other important matters.
3 September 24, 2013
4 We see here that the first mention of the word “convert, “ that is, the first mention of a desire to proselytize, is made by Pope Francis, who says that his friends had joked that Scalfari would try to proselytize him to accept atheism.
5 We see that these two men are telling each other that both of them have friends who have warned them that the other will try to persuade them to reject their own beliefs and to accept the beliefs of the other. And it is in this very precise context, in order to “break the ice” and to lay the basis for a conversation which is authentic — and therefore which could, in fact, lead one or the other to change his beliefs — that the Pope made his controversial remarks about proselytism.
6 Agape is the Greek word for disinterested love, brotherly love.
7 This is one of the answers which is cited by observers as evidence that Scalfari did not present his interview with the Pope, which of course did occur, in a completely accurate way. There is no room next to the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square. The Pope could not have gone there before accepting the papacy, as he was in the Sistine Chapel, which is far away from the balcony, several hundred yards. So this is not accurate. The Pope must have said he went to a little room next to the Sistine Chapel. Again, this does not mean that Scalfari has misrepresented the essential meaning of the Pope, only that this interview is imperfect; it is not a word-for-word translation of what the Pope said.
8 The Pope will address this “problem of problems” in the lines below.
By ITV Staff, Inside the Vatican, November 2013, Pages 17-21. (The text of the interview was translated from Italian to English by Kathryn Wallace. Reporting by Marinella Bandini, an Italian journalist who lives and works in Rome.)