BOSTON — “Intrigued.” That is how Mark K. Shriver, president of the Save the Children Action Network, said he felt as he watched Jorge Mario Bergoglio become Pope Francis in March 2013.
“His first couple of actions — from asking for blessings from the people before he blessed them as the new pope, to paying for his hotel bill, to washing the feet of those young juvenile delinquents at the Casa del Marmo — really caught my eye,” he recalled.
“Seeing all these early actions of his made me question, ‘Is he for real, or is this some kind of public relations stunt?'” Shriver said.
During a press conference Tuesday aboard the papal plane from Sweden to Rome, Pope Francis said the issue of women priests has been clearly decided, while also clarifying the essential role of women in the Catholic Church.
“On the ordination of women in the Catholic Church, the final word is clear, it was said by St. John Paul II and this remains,” Pope Francis told journalists Nov. 1.
The question concerning women priests in the Catholic Church was asked during the flight back to Rome after the Pope’s Oct. 31-Nov. 1 trip to Sweden to participate in a joint Lutheran-Catholic commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.
While there, the Pope participated in ecumenical events alongside Swedish Lutheran and Catholic leaders, including the first female Lutheran archbishop in Sweden, Antje Jackelén. She is the head of the Church of Sweden, the largest denomination of Lutheranism in Europe.
After stating that the issue of female ordination is closed, the Pope added that women are very important to the Church, specifically from a “Marian dimension.”
“In Catholic ecclesiology there are two dimensions to think about,” he said. “The Petrine dimension, which is from the Apostle Peter, and the Apostolic College, which is the pastoral activity of the bishops, as well as the Marian dimension, which is the feminine dimension of the Church.”
Pointing out that the Holy Mother Church “is a woman,” Francis said that the “spousal mystery” of the Church as the spouse of Christ can help us to understand these two dimensions.
“I ask myself: who is most important in theology and in the mysticism of the Church: the apostles or Mary on the day of Pentecost? It’s Mary!” he said.
The Church “doesn’t exist” without this feminine dimension, or “maternity,” the Pope said, because the Church herself is feminine.
Pope Francis did express that he thinks women “can do so many things better than men, even in the dogmatic field,” but he clarified how it is still a separate dimension from that of priests and bishops in the Petrine dimension.
From the beginning of his papacy, Francis has been clear on the issue of women priests, while still emphasizing the unique and important role of women in the Church.
In a press conference returning from Rio de Janeiro on Aug. 5, 2013, he answered the same question: “with reference to the ordination of women, the Church has spoken and says, ‘No.’ John Paul II said it, but with a definitive formulation. That is closed, that door.”
He said that on the theology of woman he felt there was a “lack of a theological development,” which could be developed better. “You cannot be limited to the fact of being an altar server or the president of Caritas, the catechist … No! It must be more, but profoundly more, also mystically more.”
On his return flight from Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families Sept. 28, 2015, the Pope again said that women priests “cannot be done,” and reiterated that a theology of women needs to “move ahead.”
“Pope St. John Paul II after long, long intense discussions, long reflection said so clearly,” that female ordination is not possible, he said.
Among concerns surrounding the Pope’s trip to Sweden, and the hope for continued progress on the path to communion between Lutherans and Catholics, was the issue of female ordination.
This is alongside other social and ethical issues, such as homosexuality and abortion, which are points of division not only between Catholics and Lutherans, but also within the global Lutheran community.
The saints are blessed because they were faithful and meek and cared for others, Pope Francis said.
At the end of an ecumenical trip to Sweden, Pope Francis celebrated the Feast of All Saints with a Catholic Mass in a Malmo stadium. He highlighted the lives of the Swedish saints, Elizabeth Hesselblad and Bridget of Vadstena, who “prayed and worked to create bonds of unity and fellowship between Christians.”
The best description of the saints—in fact, their “identity card”—the pope said, is found in the beatitudes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which begins, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”
And, he said, as Christian saints have done throughout the ages, Christ’s followers today are called “to confront the troubles and anxieties of our age with the spirit and love of Jesus.”
“All these are messengers of God’s mercy and tenderness,” Pope Francis said. “Surely they will receive from him their merited reward.”
Registered Catholics in Sweden number about 115,000—just over 1 percent of the population. But with recent waves of immigration, especially from Chaldean Catholic communities in Iraq, local church officials believe the number of Catholics is double the reported figure.
Reflecting the multicultural makeup of the Catholic Church in Sweden and the rest of Scandinavia, the prayer intentions at Mass were read in Spanish, Arabic, English, German and Polish, as well as in Swedish.
I’ve Been Thinking
Today, I want to take a page from the Jesuits (yes, the Jesuits). I was educated and deeply shaped by the Catholic sisters and by the Jesuits. Pope Francis is one of the individuals I admire most in the world, not just because he is a Jesuit, but because of the way he walks his talk, lives his life, speaks his mind, and embraces change.
When faced with difficult decisions or life-altering change, the Jesuits have a process to help guide them to the answer. Devised by Saint Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, it’s called the discernment process (see here). The process of discernment walks you through a step-by-step process that’s meant to help you come to the decision that is right for you.
The truth is, some of us are better than others at making decisions. Some make snap decisions. Some labor forever, weighing the pros and cons. Some take too many other people’s opinions and feelings into account (that would be me). And some just know how to deliberate, discern and decide.
I share this process of discernment today because so many people I’ve spoken to lately about the election tell me that they are struggling. Struggling to decide. Struggling with whether to vote or not. Struggling with what’s right or wrong for them and/or for the country.
Making big decisions is tough for everyone. So, I thought, why not take a page from the Jesuits and follow the age-old, tried-and-true formula: the process of discernment. I’ve used it myself, and I’m using it to make other decisions (although not about this election, because I’m very clear about that decision). I’ve found the process illuminating and helpful in times of turbulent change or indecision in my own life.
All of us who have the opportunity to vote for the next president of the United States have a personal decision to make. It can be hard with all of the noise and back and forth to know what to do. All I know is that this great country of ours has always been a melting pot—different religions, races, and political affiliations—living together in pursuit of the common good. It’s important at this time to remember that there is a common good, there is common ground, and there are common dreams we all share.
So, before you lose your mind in reaction to someone who is voting differently than you, or who tells you that they’re not voting at all, remember what I wrote about the mystics. The mystics go to a place beyond words. They go to that wordless space, that place within all of us. It is there, they believe, that we all meet our compassionate, loving, honest, non-judgmental selves.
In this final week before Election Day, get quiet and clear about your own decision, your own vote. Get clear about your own process. And if you’re still struggling— if you still feel undecided— check out the Jesuits’ discernment. I share it with the goal of simply helping you to find clarity and peace in these turbulent times.
Discern. Decide. Be at peace with your decision and allow others to be the same.
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — To promote Catholic social teaching and ensure appropriate assistance to vulnerable people — especially victims of war, refugees and the sick — Pope Francis has established a new office combing the responsibilities of four pontifical councils. Continue Reading
ROME (CNS) –When it comes to the Christian life, too many seminaries teach students a rigid list of rules that make it difficult or impossible for them as priests to respond to the real-life situation of those who come to them seeking guidance, Pope Francis said.
Continue reading here.