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A Moral Perspective on the Great Recession

How can the economy get us to think about the quality of this life - and the next?

Update: Pope in Lithuania: Don't let anti-Semitism, hatred resurge

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- Outside the former KGB headquarters in Vilnius, Pope Francis ended a day of paying homage to victims of totalitarianism and of warning Lithuanians to be attentive to any signs of anti-Semitism or hatred.

The walls of the KGB building -- a former jail and execution site -- echo the cry of Jesus on the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" the pope said.

Although thousands of people filled the square in front of the building, the mood was somber for the pope's visit Sept. 23. And it was punctuated by long pauses for silent prayer.

He had toured the museum with 79-year-old Archbishop Sigitas Tamkevicius, whose photo is featured prominently on a wall display honoring the priests and bishops who endured imprisonment in the building's basement.

The archbishop had been imprisoned from 1983 to 1988 for "anti-Soviet propaganda." As a Jesuit priest, in 1972 he began publishing the Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania, an underground newsletter documenting communist repression of the church. Despite repeated questioning by the KGB, he managed to publish and distribute the chronicle for more than 10 years and, once he was arrested, others continued his work. St. John Paul II named him archbishop of Kaunas in 1996, and the archbishop retired in 2015.

The pope had gone to the museum after stopping to pray at a monument to more than 40,000 Jews in Vilnius killed by the Nazis. The prayer coincided with the national commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the liquidation of the Vilnius Ghetto.

Standing by the former KGB headquarters, Pope Francis prayed that God would "keep us alert" and strengthen the commitment of Catholics and all Lithuanians to fighting all forms of injustice and defending the dignity of all people.

"Lord," he prayed, "grant that we may not be deaf to the plea of all those who cry out to heaven in our own day."

Juozas Jakavonis, 93, sat in a place of honor and told reporters the pope's visit was important for reminding people of all those who suffered and died for the freedom they now enjoy.

Dressed in an old military uniform, Jakavonis said his nom de guerre had been "Tiger." He was part of the resistance to Soviet domination and spent three months jailed in that very building. After Lithuanian independence in 1990, he helped bring to public attention what occurred there. Records now show 1,038 people were executed in the building between 1944 and 1947.

Pope Francis had begun the day in Kaunas, a city about 60 miles West. But the memory of the victims of Nazism and communism and the obligation of today's Christians to fight all forms of hatred dominated there as well.

His last appointment was with priests, religious women and men and seminarians, and he began with ad-libbed remarks.

"I want to share what I feel," the pope said. "Looking at you, I see behind you many martyrs -- anonymous martyrs, in the sense that we don't even know where they were buried."

"Do not forget. Remember. You are children of martyrs. That is your strength," the pope told them. "They are saints."

Earlier in day, before reciting the Angelus prayer after Mass in Kaunas' Santakos Park, Pope Francis drew special attention to the anniversary of the destruction of the Jewish ghetto and to the evil of anti-Semitism. Before the Nazis invaded the country, at least 200,000 citizens were Jewish; fewer than 15,000 survived.

"Let us think back on those times and ask the Lord to give us the gift of discernment to detect in time any new seeds of that pernicious attitude, any whiff of it that can taint the heart of generations that did not experience those times and can sometimes be taken in by such siren songs," Pope Francis said.

A visit to the famed Hill of Crosses near Vilnius was not on Pope Francis' schedule, but he did point to it as a place where, especially during Soviet times, Catholics defiantly planted crosses to proclaim their faith.

He prayed that Mary would "help us all to plant our own cross, the cross of our service and commitment to the needs of others, on that hill where the poor dwell, where care and concern are needed for the outcast and for minorities. In this way, we can keep far from our lives and our cultures the possibility of destroying one another, of marginalizing, of continuing to discard whatever we find troublesome or uncomfortable."

Earlier, celebrating Mass in the park, Pope Francis had insisted that for a Christian the mistreatment Lithuanians endured first under the Nazis and then under the communists can never justify mistreating others. Instead, the experience must make victims and survivors even more sensitive and attentive to new attempts to denigrate or dominate certain groups of people.

"The Christian life always involves experiences of the cross," Pope Francis said in his homily. Lithuania's older generation still bears "the scars of the period of the occupation, anguish at those who were deported, uncertainty about those who never returned, shame for those who were informers and traitors."

Referring to the day's Gospel reading from St. Mark in which Jesus warns his disciples of the suffering that is to come, Pope Francis said that naturally the disciples "wanted nothing to do with trials and hardships." And, in fact, they were more interested in discussing who among them was the greatest.

"The thirst for power" is not an unusual reaction to having endured suffering, the pope said. Nor is discussing "who was better, who acted with greater integrity n the past, who has the right to more privileges than others."

But when his disciples started speaking that way, the pope said, Jesus pointed to a child, one who was small and in need of protection.

And, the pope asked, "whom would Jesus place in our midst today?"

"Who is it who has nothing to give us, to make our effort and our sacrifices worthwhile?" Pope Francis asked. "Perhaps it is the ethnic minorities of our city. Or the jobless who have to emigrate. May be it is the elderly and the lonely, or those young people who find no meaning in life because they have lost their roots."

Whoever "the least" may be, he said, Christians are called to help them.

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One-Minute Homily: “The Greatest Among You”

What is our own notion of greatness? Jesus has something to say about that in today’s Gospel as Michael Mohr, SJ, reflects in this One-Minute Homily. Based on the readings from Sunday, September 23, which you can read here: https://bit.ly/2p6MNZa

God is patient, even with failures, pope tells young Lithuanians

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- Meeting young Lithuanians in Vilnius, Pope Francis said he wanted a relaxed conversation, like they were sitting in a pub drinking "a beer or a gira," a slightly alcoholic beverage made from fermented rye bread.

Yet the stories two young adults shared with him Sept. 22 and his responses to their concerns were not casual.

Monika Midveryte spoke about growing up with an alcoholic father who beat her and eventually committed suicide. A young man, identified only as Jonas, spoke about being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and how serious illness made him and his young wife realize just how serious their wedding vows were.

Meeting the teens and young adults outside the city's Cathedral of Sts. Stanislaus and Ladislaus, which has been destroyed and rebuilt several times, Pope Francis urged the two and all their peers to think about how God has been close to them, too, even amid tragedy.

Almost always, he said, it is through other people that God's grace arrives to those in need. "It doesn't drop from the sky. It doesn't happen by magic, there's no magic wand."

"Don't let the world make you believe that it is better to do everything on your own," the pope told the young people. "Don't yield to the temptation of getting caught up in yourself, ending up selfish or superficial in the face of sorry, difficulty or temporary success."

Pope Francis told the young people, many of whom dream of emigrating for more opportunities, that their lives are not "a theater piece or a video game" with a final curtain or a lurking "game over."

The important thing, he said, is to keep praying and keep moving forward, "seeking the right way without being afraid to retrace our steps if we make a mistake. The most dangerous thing is to confuse the path with a maze that keeps us wandering in circles without ever making real progress."

"Jesus gives us plenty of time, lots of room for failure," the pope said. But "he never jumps off the ship of our lives; he is always there at life's crossroads. Even when our lives go up in flames, he is always there to rebuild them."

Before joining the young people, Pope Francis stopped at the "Gate of Dawn," one of nine gates that led into the ancient city of Vilnius. The pope mingled with dozens of orphaned children and the families that have adopted or fostered them. After praying silently for several minutes before the oversized icon of Our Lady, Mother of Mercy that marks the gate, the pope gave a brief talk and then prayed a decade of the rosary with thousands of people gathered in the street.

Noting how the icon and the gate were the only parts of the city's fortified walls to remain after an invasion in 1799, Pope Francis said Mary teaches Christians that "we can defend without attacking, that we can keep safe without the unhealthy need to distrust others."

"When we close our hearts for fear of others, when we build walls and barricades," the pope said, "we end up depriving ourselves of the Good News of Jesus, who shares in the history and the lives of others" and is present in their suffering.

The wounds of others are the wounds of Jesus, he said. And "charity is the key that opens to us the door of heaven."

Vilnius was the first stop on Pope Francis' Sept. 22-25 to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The three Baltic nations are celebrating the 100th anniversary of their declarations of independence after World War I. While declared Soviet republics in 1940, the countries were occupied by the Nazis during World War II and then lived under Soviet rule from 1944 to 1990.

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Update: Vatican signs provisional agreement with China on naming bishops

IMAGE: CNS photo/Reuters

By Cindy Wooden

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- For the first time in decades, all of the Catholic bishops in China are in full communion with the pope, the Vatican announced.

Pope Francis lifted the excommunications or irregular status of seven bishops who had been ordained with government approval, but not the Vatican's consent, the Vatican announced Sept. 22. A few hours earlier, representatives of the Vatican and the Chinese government signed what they described as a "provisional agreement" on the appointment of bishops.

"With a view to sustaining the proclamation of the Gospel in China, the Holy Father Pope Francis has decided to readmit to full ecclesial communion the remaining 'official' bishops ordained without pontifical mandate," the Vatican said, listing their names.

The pope also included in the list Bishop Anthony Tu Shihua, who, before dying Jan. 4, 2017, "had expressed the desire to be reconciled with the Apostolic See," the Vatican said.

Regularizing the bishops' status, the Vatican said, Pope Francis hopes "a new process may begin that will allow the wounds of the past to be overcome, leading to the full communion of all Chinese Catholics," some of whom steadfastly have refused to participate in activities or parishes under the leadership of bishops not recognized by Rome.

In recent years, most bishops chosen by the government-related Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association have sought and received Vatican recognition before their ordinations.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, said in a statement that "the objective of the Holy See is a pastoral one: the Holy See intends just to create the condition, or to help to create the condition, of a greater freedom, autonomy and organization, in order that the Catholic Church can dedicate itself to the mission of announcing the Gospel and also to contribute to the well-being and to the spiritual and material prosperity and harmony of the country, of every person and of the world as a whole."

"What is required now is unity, trust and a new impetus," Cardinal Parolin said in a video message recorded before he left Rome to join the pope in Vilnius. "To the Catholic community in China -- the bishops, priests, religious and faithful -- the pope entrusts, above all, the commitment to make concrete fraternal gestures of reconciliation among themselves, and so to overcome past misunderstandings, past tensions, even the recent ones."

The nomination and assignment of bishops has been a key sticking point in Vatican-Chinese relations for decades; the Catholic Church has insisted that bishops be appointed by the pope and the Chinese government has maintained that would amount to foreign interference in China's internal affairs.

Catholic communities that have refused to register with the government and refused to follow government-appointed bishops commonly are referred to as the underground church. Many communities, though, have bishops who were elected locally but who pledged their unity with and fidelity to the pope, which in effect meant they were recognized by both the government and the Vatican.

Vatican officials always have said that giving up full control over the nomination of bishops would not be what it hopes for, but could be a good first step toward ensuring greater freedom and security for the Catholic community there.

The Vatican announcement said the agreement was signed Sept. 22 in Beijing by Msgr. Antoine Camilleri, undersecretary for foreign relations in the Vatican Secretariat of State, and Wang Chao, Chinese deputy foreign minister.

The provisional agreement, the Vatican said, "is the fruit of a gradual and reciprocal rapprochement, has been agreed following a long process of careful negotiation and foresees the possibility of periodic reviews of its application. It concerns the nomination of bishops, a question of great importance for the life of the church, and creates the conditions for greater collaboration at the bilateral level."

"The shared hope," the statement said, "is that this agreement may favor a fruitful and forward-looking process of institutional dialogue and may contribute positively to the life of the Catholic Church in China, to the common good of the Chinese people and to peace in the world."

The Vatican did not release the text of the agreement nor provide details about what it entailed.

News reports in mid-September, like earlier in the year, said the provisional agreement would outline precise procedures for ensuring Catholic bishops are elected by the Catholic community in China and approved by the pope before their ordinations and installations.

Media reports in the days before the announcement said future candidates for the office of bishop will be chosen at the diocesan level through a democratic election system, and the results of the elections will be sent to Beijing for government authorities to examine. The government would then submit a name via diplomatic channels to the Holy See.

The Holy See will carry out its own investigation of the candidate before the pope either approves or exercises his veto, according to the Jesuit-run America magazine. If the pope approves the candidate, the process will continue. If not, "both sides will engage in a dialogue, and Beijing would eventually be expected to submit the name of another candidate."

The pope will have the final word on the appointment of bishops in China, the report said.

Cardinal Joseph Zen, the 76-year-old retired archbishop of Hong Kong, has been one of the rumored agreement's strongest critics.

In an interview with the Reuters news agency in Hong Kong Sept. 20, Cardinal Zen said Cardinal Parolin should resign.

"I don't think he has faith. He is just a good diplomat in a very secular, mundane meaning," Cardinal Zen told Reuters. "They're giving the flock into the mouths of the wolves. It's an incredible betrayal."

Cardinal Parolin, meanwhile, told reporters Sept. 20 the Vatican is "convinced that this is a step forward. We are not so naive as to think that from now on everything is going to go well, but it seems to us that this is the right direction." 

Although Greg Burke, director of the Vatican press office, said the agreement is pastoral, not political, it is seen as a step in the long efforts to re-establish full diplomatic relations between the Vatican and China. The two have not had formal diplomatic ties since shortly after China's 1949 communist revolution.


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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Find strength in tolerance, solidarity, pope tells Lithuanians

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- In Lithuania, a nation that experienced invasions, atrocities and persecution, Pope Francis began his visit with a plea to break down walls of suspicion and fear.

"If we look at the world scene in our time, more and more voices are sowing division and confrontation -- often by exploiting insecurity or situations of conflict -- and proclaiming that the only way possible to guarantee security and the continued existence of a culture is to try to eliminate, cancel or expel others," the pope said Sept. 22.

Going directly from the airport to the Lithuania's presidential palace, Pope Francis' first appointment was with the president, government authorities and civic leaders.

He acknowledged the country's painful past, which included "numerous trials and sufferings: detentions, deportations and even martyrdom." But he also praised the country's culture and people for tenaciously resisting attacks on its freedom.

The pope's visit Sept. 22-25 to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia comes in the year the three Baltic nations are celebrating the 100th anniversary of their declarations of independence after World War I. While declared Soviet republics in 1940, the countries were occupied by the Nazis during World War II and then lived under Soviet rule from 1944 to 1990.

Pope Francis, addressing national leaders, said that until the Nazis and Soviets arrived, people of a variety of national backgrounds and religions lived peacefully in Lithuania.

The "totalitarian ideologies," though, "by sowing violence and lack of trust, undermined this ability to accept and harmonize differences," he said. As Lithuanians consolidate their independence and democracy, they must return to those earlier cultural values of "tolerance, hospitality, respect and solidarity."

Lithuanians, the pope said, know firsthand what happens when a political ideology tries "to impose a single model that would annul differences under the pretense of believing that the privileges of a few are more important than the dignity of others or the common good."

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Continue to be an evangelizing church, nuncio tells Encuentro delegates

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Norma Montenegro Flynn

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- Quoting from Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation "The Joy of the Gospel," Archbishop Christophe Pierre encouraged Hispanic Catholic leaders and bishops to continue working toward being an evangelizing church by seeking an encounter with Christ and taking initiative while accompanying those on the peripheries.

"The church which 'goes forth' is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice," Archbishop Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, said Sept. 20, the opening day of the Fifth National Encuentro.

Nearly 3,000 ministry leaders at the gathering in Grapevine were selected to represent 159 dioceses across the country.

During the Sept. 20-23 event, participants were taking part in listening and dialogue sessions to discuss a wide range of issues they consider to be priorities in Hispanic Catholic ministry for the church in the United States.

The Fifth National Encuentro, also called V Encuentro, is a process of missionary work, consultation, leadership development and community building that seeks to develop better ways in which the Catholic church can respond to Hispanic Catholics in parishes around the country. It also seeks to strengthen them as leaders and missionary disciples.

As in previous encuentros, the goal is to develop a national pastoral plan for Hispanic ministry for the present and for years to come.

Archbishop Pierre, in his keynote address, praised the work done by Encuentro leaders to reach those on the peripheries as they answer the call to be missionary disciples.

In remarks delivered in both English and Spanish, the papal nuncio warned against judging and condemning the church and considering it distant. "We are the church, if there's need for a conversion it starts with us," he said.

He also challenged the leaders to seek new ways to reach out to those who are indifferent and to those who have abandoned the church or are on existential and spiritual peripheries. 

"What leads to a change of heart in Christians is precisely a missionary spirit," he said.

The archbishop described the characteristics of an evangelizing church: getting involved, taking initiative, staying committed, accompanying others, bearing fruits and feeling joy.

He reminded participants that as Pope Francis said: "The church in the United States, as in other parts of the world, is called to 'go forth' out of its comfort zone and become leaven of communion."

The nuncio also urged everyone to get involved and not just remain as spectators and invited bishops and clergy to keep their vocations alive.  

"Accompaniment entails guiding, encouraging and supporting, and uniting. The church that actively does this is a synodal church -- a church that walks together. One speaks of synodality in the church and synodality of the church," he added.

He explained synodality "in" the church as a church that journeys together renewing the life and practice of faith through constant discernment and action involving many forms of participation and action. Synodality "of" the church, he said, refers to the journey of the church with humanity through history.

"The Encuentro process has shown the effectiveness of synodality 'in' the church -- listening, speaking, participating by asking critical questions and discerning the path forward. If communion is a sharing of the faithful in the mysteries of faith and mission of the church, synodality is the sign and fulfillment of communion."

Bearing fruits requires discernment and patience, he stressed. "Patience in the art of discernment and accompaniment allows the whole church to move forward."

Archbishop Pierre told participants not to forget about joy along the journey. "Joy is the greatest experience of the church that goes forth. The Eucharist is the source and summit of all life in the church. The Eucharist is the sacrament which nourishes Christian joy."

He concluded by inviting others to live the joy of the Gospel.

"It is my sincere hope that as we gather for these days, we may be the church that Christ wants us to be -- with him at the center of our lives, our conversations and our ministry, confident that with the Holy Virgin of Guadalupe to accompany us and to intercede for us, we may always move forward in hope, making known the joy of the Gospel."

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Encuentro opens with procession, papal message, prayers for abuse victims

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Norma Montenegro Flynn

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- A video message from Pope Francis and a procession of Encuentro crosses representing all of the participating episcopal regions were the highlights during the first day of the National Fifth Encuentro gathering taking place Sept. 20-23 in Grapevine.

With hearts full of excitement and joy, about 3,000 Hispanic ministry leaders cheered as they welcomed representatives for each of the 14 episcopal regions approaching the stage and carrying the same crosses and colorful banners that accompanied their gatherings during the multiyear process of discernment and consultation that began at their parishes. The crosses were placed on the stage by the bishops who served as chairs for each region.

Pope Francis captivated the audience with a video message that was received with a standing ovation.

"I see that the Fifth Encuentro is a concrete way for the church in the U.S. to respond to the challenge of going beyond what is comfortable, business as usual, and to become a leaven of communion for all those who seek a future of hope, especially young people and families that live in the peripheries of society," the pontiff said.

He also urged them to continue the process of pastoral conversion at all levels through an encounter with one another centered in the adoration of Jesus Christ.

The gathering, also known as V Encuentro, brings under one roof about 2,700 diocesan representatives, 125 bishops from 159 dioceses and archdioceses across the country, and other members of Catholic organizations. During the four-day event, they planned to continue the discernment process to develop a national pastoral plan for Hispanic ministry.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, welcomed the crowd and addressed the need for healing and accountability sparked by the clerical sex abuse scandal.

"As bishops, we have fallen short of what God expects of his shepherds. By this we again ask forgiveness from both the Lord and those who have been harmed, and from you, the people of God." Cardinal DiNardo said.

He emphasized the efforts being made to support and accompany survivors in their healing and to implement stronger protections against sexual abuse.

"Amidst this darkness the Encuentro is a light that shines and illuminates the way forward. The enthusiasm, compassion, the love and the joy of the Encuentro process is a means of grace. A gift to us as we rebuild the church," the cardinal told the Encuentro participants.

Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio led the evening prayer and asked for prayers for the victims of clerical sexual abuse.

"Let us pray to God for the victims of the crimes that led to this crisis. Do everything you can for the healing of all the victims of these abuses and pray also for the perpetrators and for us, your shepherds," Archbishop Garcia-Siller said.

Remembering the nearly five decades of encuentros in the United States, Mercy Sister Ana Maria Pineda, a theologian at Santa Clara University in California, called the Texas gathering a historic moment.

"We are the elders and the offspring of the sacred history woven with the many threads of the past and the present and looking toward the future," she said. "We recall the past and how God has traveled with us throughout these many decades as Catholic Hispanics, Latinos."

Sister Pineda has participated in all the encuentros since 1972, when the first Encuentro took place in Washington. During that very first gathering, priests, bishops and lay leaders proposed significant ways to attend to the pastoral needs of Hispanic Catholics.

In 1977, the second Encuentro also was held in Washington with the theme of "Pueblo de Dios en Marcha" ("People of God Going Forward").

"In my memory, it is like a Pentecost moment," Sister Pineda recalled. That year about 1,200 Hispanic Catholic leaders reflected on issues such as evangelization, ministries, human rights, education and political responsibility.

Sister Pineda described it as a turning point in which they shared stories of joy, sorrow, neglect and hope. They were drawn together as a Hispanic community and became aware of the unique contributions they offered to society and the church. In turn, the church was motivated to respond more authentically to the needs of that growing community.

The third Encuentro, in 1985, focused on youth, the poor and human dignity, and led to the creation of a national pastoral plan for Hispanic ministry.

Encuentro 2000 embraced the many culturally diverse communities in the United States and the cultural and religious contributions that also enrich the church, Sister Pineda said.

Bishop Michael F. Olson of Fort Worth welcomed the participants, including international guests such as Archbishop Christophe Pierre, nuncio to the U.S.; Guzman Carriquiry, secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America; and bishop-representatives from the Latin American bishops' council, or CELAM, as well as from Canada, El Salvador and Mexico.

Through a process of missionary work, consultation, leadership development and community building, the Encuentro seeks to develop better ways in which the Catholic Church responds to Hispanic Catholics in parishes around the country and to strengthen them as leaders and missionary disciples.

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Seeing Past “Marvel’s Iron Fist: Season 2”

Coping with our pasts and moving forward: a look at Season 2 of "Marvel’s Iron Fist."

Update: In letters to German cardinal, retired pope defends way he stepped down

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Retired Pope Benedict XVI expressed his displeasure with the way a German cardinal publicly criticized his stepping down as pontiff, and he defended taking the title "pope emeritus."

In two private letters from the retired pope to German Cardinal Walter Brandmuller, former president of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, the pope defended the way he handled his resignation and warned the cardinal of the negative impact his public comments could have.

The German newspaper, Bild, obtained copies of the letters written in November 2017, but blurred Cardinal Brandmuller's name in photos. The New York Times named the cardinal and also published translated excerpts from the letters Sept. 20.

The first letter from the retired pope was a response to a comment Cardinal Brandmuller made in a lengthy interview with the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung published Oct. 28, 2017.

The interviewer had asked what the cardinal thought about the "construction" of "pope emeritus" -- the title the retired pope has taken on. The cardinal responded that the figure of a "pope emeritus" had never existed in the church's history and having a pope "withdrawing now and overturning a 2,000-year tradition totally astounded not only us cardinals."

Referring to that portion of the newspaper interview, the pope wrote that Cardinal Brandmuller should certainly be aware that other popes had -- though rarely -- stepped down.

Pope Benedict wrote that by using the title "pope emeritus," he would be away from the media spotlight and make it thoroughly clear there was just one pope.

"If you know of a better way, and therefore think that you can judge the (title) chosen by me, please tell me," the retired pope wrote.

In the second letter, the pope acknowledged the cardinal responding to his first letter, and he said he was grateful that it seemed the cardinal would no longer discuss his resignation in public.

"I can very well understand the deep-seated pain that the end of my papacy has caused you and many others," Pope Benedict wrote. "However, for some people and -- it seems to me -- also for you, the pain has turned into an anger that no longer merely concerns my resignation, but increasingly also my person and my papacy as a whole."

With such an attitude, he wrote, his whole papacy "is now being devalued and conflated with sadness about the situation in which the church currently finds itself."

Cardinal Brandmuller had already postulated the idea that an "emeritus" pope figure could threaten church unity in his essay, "Renuntiatio papae: Some Historical Reflections," published online in July 2016.

Cardinal Brandmuller was also one of four cardinals, including U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, who publicly released in September 2016 a critical set of questions, known as "dubia," asking Pope Francis for clarification about his teaching on the family.

Pope Benedict, a noted theologian, had described his decision to be the first pope to resign in almost 600 years as the result of intense prayer and an examination of his conscience before God.

In the last two days of his pontificate, he pledged obedience to his successor and noted that he was leaving the "active exercise of the (Petrine) ministry." While promising to remain "hidden" in retirement, he also said he was "not returning to private life" but would belong "always and totally to everyone, to the whole church" and "remain, so to speak, within St. Peter's precincts."

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.