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Jim Caviezel takes on wide slate of topics in fascinating new interview

Warsaw, Poland, Apr 30, 2017 / 04:48 pm (CNA).- Actor Jim Caviezel has starred in Hollywood hits from “The Count of Monte Cristo” to “The Thin Red Line.” But he is best known for playing Jesus in Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” an experience that he says affected him very deeply and spiritually. In a new interview, Caviezel talks about the importance of his Catholic faith, the lasting impact that “The Passion” has had on his life, and his special devotion to the Virgin Mary.

The following interview was carried out by Polish journalist and film critic Lukasz Adamski, and published at Reprinted here with permission, edited for clarity:


Lukasz Adamski: You became the narrator of a documentary about Karol Wojtyla called “Liberating the Continent: John Paul II and the Fall of Communism.” While in Poland at the invitation of the Knights of Columbus, you have visited the area where he lived and worked. Who is Karol Wojtyla to you in a personal, and not only geopolitical sense?

Jim Caviezel: During my visit to Poland, I came to understand that he was carrying problems of the entire world on his shoulders…And there is a more personal side to it. Playing Jesus himself, I faced a lot of criticism and often derision. I had to get on with it somehow. There wouldn’t be Jim Caviezel as Jesus if it wasn’t for John Paul II. Looking at his life and the power of his evangelization, I said to myself: Why would you even care about that nonsense (of the critics)?

As a young person, I read a lot about Nazism and the genocide carried out by Germans on Polish territory. My knowledge was limited to books, but during my stay in Poland I realized how much Wojtyla must have suffered by being directly exposed to Nazism. I’ve been to Auschwitz where Maximillian Kolbe gave his life as a martyr for a fellow prisoner. It made me realize the scale of suffering of the Polish people. And then the Communism that followed meant that John Paul II had lived under two of the most monstrous regimes. As an American, I lived peacefully worrying about the Cold War at most. I did not experience totalitarian regimes. John Paul II had to live under two of them, just like your entire country. He represents all of Poland.

In a spiritual sense?

Poland, just like Christ, had been crucified. The Virgin Mary is the mother of Poland. Before he died, Wojtyla’s father told him that Mary is now also his mother. It is a great symbol of your nation.

Did the Pope’s teaching have an influence on you as well?

In the ‘80s when I was a teenager, John Paul II came to the USA. He was 90 minutes away from where I lived, and my family went to see him and listen to him. For many Catholics his visit was almost like a visit of Jesus Christ himself… I didn’t go to see him. I didn’t think it was important. The lightning strike came years later.

We will talk about the lightning strike later. You didn’t go to see the Pope but years later you caught up for it. You met John Paul II during an audience after playing Jesus in “The Passion of the Christ.” After watching the film he said “It is as it was.” How did you receive the praise coming from the Pope?

The Pope always called young people to break away from contaminated and demoralized civilization. “Be saints,” he said. Impossible? No, it is possible. I often hear the voice of Christ in my heart: “Jim, you will manage today.” It is a message saying that everyone in the world is equally important. It is also an appeal for a Christian life. A life in which one demonstrates to everyone they come across that Jesus is their Lord. I remember the Pope saying to Americans: “You can all be saints!” It makes me sad that so many people in my country do not seek sainthood. They substitute it with drugs and hedonism. It is simply filling the emotional void.

What did you tell the Pope during your audience at the Vatican?

I told him how much his letter to artists influenced me. It was aimed at those who look for beauty and give it to the world in the form of art. I try my best to carry out his instructions.

John Paul II was an actor, just like you. Therefore, he knew the power of art better than any of his predecessors.

Exactly. This is where his power came from. He understood people, and it helped him to win over the hearts of millions. He is simply a saint.

You were 33 years old, your initials were J.C. and you played Jesus.

Don’t you tell me it was a coincidence! There are no coincidences. I keep hearing about “accidents” and “strokes of luck.” Secularization affects the entire world, including the USA. Only atheists believe in coincidence. There are no coincidences for God. Even when God resurrects the dead, they will say it happened by accident.

When one doesn’t believe in God, one believes in anything. G.K. Chesterton claimed that.

At the same time, one doesn’t have the right to do what they like and decide about everything. Live without morality? Without goodness? Where is love in all of this?

Maybe that is the reason why they killed God, like Nietzsche. When there is no God, they can do what they want.

We can see that in America every day.

It’s even more visible in Europe. The founding fathers of America could not imagine it without God. The French Revolution started with killing the priests and spitting on Jesus. But let’s go back to Hollywood and your work. Mel Gibson warned you, when you took the role in his film, “You will not work here (in Hollywood) anymore.” To what extent was he right?

All of the sudden I stopped being one of five most popular actors in the studio, and I hadn’t done anything wrong. I just played Jesus. Was I personally affected by this rejection? Well, everyone has their cross to bear. The world changes…but I will not be in this world forever. Neither will the producers from Hollywood. At some point, everyone will have to answer for what they have done.

Where do you think this reaction comes from? Are people afraid of such films? Of evocative pictures of Jesus on the screen? People really loved it. Over half a billion dollars global earnings is a great success for a movie. There are even reports on conversions after watching the film!

It isn’t me who should answer this question. They should, shouldn’t they? I just did my job. The film has inspired millions of viewers. Let the producers answer whether they are afraid of this success. My career is not over. After all, I starred in some prominent, Hollywood films. I also played in a popular TV series called “Person of Interest.”

At the same time, I’ve never forgotten that the name of Jesus is above all else. It is also the most controversial name of all times. Love is controversial and he is love incarnate. Jesus was telling the Romans about love and they killed him because of that. “Who is that man to tell me what kind of person I’m supposed to be?” they asked arrogantly. He was betrayed by his own people and abandoned by everyone. My duty was not only to show it all on the screen. My real duty is to live in accordance with the Gospel every day and to give witness to the truth. And it all comes down to John Paul II again: “Totus Tuus” – “Totally Yours.” If you want to know how he inspires me, this is it. Totally Yours.

Devotion to the Virgin Mary.

This is the essence of my faith. My relationship with Jesus is thanks to her. She brought Jesus to us. My evangelical friend asked me once why I don’t reach out to Jesus directly... I think it’s a valuable question. Back then, I didn’t know how to respond to him. However, looking at John Paul II, I found the answer. That’s why Poland like no other country is tied closely to Jesus. You bond East and West together. The Devil hates it, although he has already lost. Jesus and Mary have already crushed him. A single Polish man crushed Communism. How did John Paul II achieved this? With love.

In my opinion, we weren’t stuck behind the iron curtain for no reason. Maybe it was the plan of God that we don’t understand yet. Poland was not so affected by the events of 1968, unlike the USA and the West. We didn’t adopt moral relativism, nihilism and hedonism. Therefore, the counterrevolution and evangelization of the Western World may actually start in Poland.

An atheist would say it’s a coincidence! But you’re right, it’s the plan of God. My country was blessed, it was said to be like heaven. In spite of that, people are losing faith. They abandon Jesus. (In the story of Moses), 40 days in the desert happened for a reason. For me, the Catholic Mass is the source of constant empowerment. That’s where I can meet Jesus. And it’s not simply about having the symbolic wafer. It’s about an actual transformation. Bread and wine? No, it’s the body and blood of the Christ. This is worth dying for. Every day I pray to die with Jesus in my heart, not to ever abandon him.

Now I would like to talk about the lightning that quite literally struck you during the filming of “The Passion of the Christ.” Was is the crucifixion scene?

It wasn’t the crucifixion. We filmed in Rome. It was the scene of the Sermon on the Mount. I climbed the mountain, clouds had formed, and five seconds before the stroke I had felt what was going to happen. It was windy, but I couldn’t hear the wind blowing. Suddenly, I was struck by the lightning. I was terrified, but at the same time I felt peace on the inside. Before it all happened, Mel had shouted “action” and the cameras were directed at me. It was the moment I was struck. Afterwards I heard Mel shouting: “What the hell happened to his hair?” It was funny. People think I’m gloomy and serious. That’s not true. A Polish nun came up to me today and asked: “Why aren’t you smiling?” I told her that I was smiling with my eyes but the signal hadn’t reached the rest of the face yet.

This is the first time I’ve seen you smile! I’ll note that in the interview. You are one of the very few devoted Catholics in Hollywood. Is it tough?

People in Hollywood keep asking me why I can’t separate my acting career from being a Catholic. Actually my faith helps me. When I played basketball it motivated me. It’s the same now. I’m aware of the fact that I’m lazy, but that’s the reason I work so hard to overcome my weakness. My faith helps me to make the right choices, even though many people who inspired me didn’t have faith. Mel Gibson struggles with his faith too. But he invested his own money into making “The Passion of the Christ.”

In 1998, you played in the flamboyant Terrence Malick’s masterpiece “The Thin Red Line.” In my opinion, he is one of the biggest metaphysicians of contemporary cinematography. Before “The Passion of the Christ” did your faith and career align?

Malick is a genius. He’s very spiritual himself and he makes beautiful, poetic and metaphysical films carrying a universal message. Therefore, he can reach further. In my opinion, if John Paul II was a director, he would be just like Malik. He penetrates the very recesses of the soul and leave the viewers with questions which can lead them to God. So many people nowadays are so prejudiced against Christianity that they wouldn’t watch Malick’s films if they were so straight forward and labelled as “Christian movies.” Mel Gibson saw me in his film and even though he wanted the cast of “The Passion of the Christ” to be entirely from outside of the U.S., he decided that guy, Jim Caviezel, may be suitable for the role of Jesus. Malick and Gibson are very much alike. They both can interest viewers who are so far away from religion.

Gibson has returned after 10 years of exile from Hollywood with his magnificent Christian film “Hacksaw Ridge.” Will a sequel to “The Passion of the Christ” come next?

I’ve played various roles in my career. I once played a serial killer and I had to look into his soul. I had to ask myself whether I would be able to kill another person. I’ve played soldiers and athletes. I was also in the screen adaptation of “The Count of Monte Cristo.” Lately, I starred in a western film inspired by John Ford’s classics. But the role of Jesus was the most difficult endeavor I’ve ever taken up. There is nothing more glorious and at the same time more humbling than this role. Nothing could teach me humility better.

The thought of doing it again feels like a nightmare. However, when I come to a country like Poland and see the places of martyrdom and sacrifice, I come to realize that only love can save the world. The love of the Christ. Therefore, I want to work with Gibson again. This time it will be a film about the resurrection. If “The Passion of the Christ” inspired so many people to do good, why don’t we try again? I feel like there is a purpose in my life again. That’s why I’ve played in a TV series about a man looking for a purpose for the last five years. I don’t do it just for the money. I do it for the love. It’s my Christian mission.

To inspire others?

Isn’t that what John Paul II did? He inspired people. He was telling them about the truth and love, but not in a banal way… When I played Jesus, I prayed a lot. I asked God to show me how I could present Jesus in the most accurate way. How to make the viewers feel closer to him. How to inspire them. It has been my inner journey which hasn’t finished yet. While working on “The Passion of the Christ,” Mel reserved the right to stop filming anytime. He needed to be 100 percent ready in a spiritual sense. This story could only be told with absolute involvement. Totus Tuus. I wouldn’t have managed to finish this project either if it wasn’t for the Virgin Mary. I’m absolutely devoted to her, just like Poland is.

You give witness of your faith in every aspect of your life. You adopted three children with cancer. You’re also against abortion.

The children (that we adopted) were abandoned and unwanted. Two of them had brain cancer. The third one had sarcoma. My wife said it doesn’t matter whether children are wanted or not. They are people, just like we are.

That’s another lesson of John Paul II about the civilization of death.

I would never have done it (the adoptions) without my wife. She impersonates beauty and kindness. She prays for me not to leave the right path. Jesus said that whatever we do the least of us, we do to him. He wants to be in us, in all the simplest actions.

I’ve just remembered that long ago, you rejected a role in “X-Men.” If you had taken it back then, you would probably be in “The Avengers” today and be adored by teenagers. Instead, a few years, later you played the biggest superhero of humanity – Jesus Christ.

Do you think that was a coincidence too? The most beautiful aspect of “The Passion of the Christ” is that everyone is focused while watching this film – conservatives and liberals, atheists and religious people. They watch it in silence and hear: “Ehjeh aszer Ehjeh” – “I am who I am.”



Francis prays for victims of the ongoing crisis in Venezuela

Vatican City, Apr 30, 2017 / 05:13 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In his Regina Coeli address on Sunday, Pope Francis called attention to the violence in Venezuela, offering up his prayers for the victims and appealing to the government and citizens to seek solutions to the crisis.

“There is no stop to the arrival of dramatic news about the situation in Venezuela and the aggravation of the clashes with many dead, wounded and detained,” he said April 30.

“As I unite myself to the pain of the families of the victims, for which I ensure prayers for suffrage, I appeal to the Government and all the members of Venezuelan society to avoid any further form of violence, to respect human rights and to seek negotiated solutions to the serious humanitarian, social, political and economic crisis that is exhausting the population.”

Month-long anti-government demonstrations, political clashes and looting in Venezuela have left at least 22 people dead, the Guardian reports.

Tens of thousands of people have joined the latest protests, caused largely by food and medicine shortages, increasing unemployment and anger at President Nicolás Maduro’s increasingly authoritarian restrictions on elections and democratic institutions.

“We entrust to the Blessed Virgin Mary the intention of peace, reconciliation and democracy in that dear country,” Francis continued. “And pray for all the countries that are experiencing serious difficulties, especially in these days I think of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.”

During his address to some 70,000 people in St. Peter’s Square, the Pope drew attention to the celebration Sunday of the Day for the Catholic University of the Sacred Hear in Italy and “Biblical Sunday” in Poland, where parishes, schools and mass media are all publicly reading a part of Sacred Scripture.

“Christian formation is based on the Word of God,” he said, “I wish every good for this initiative.”

He also spoke about Leopoldina Naudet, founder of the Sisters of the Holy Family, who was beatified in Verona April 29. “She grew up in the court of the Habsburgs, first in Florence and then in Vienna, having as a girl a strong vocation for prayer, but also for educational service,” he said.

“She consecrated himself to God and, through various experiences, came to form a new religious community in Verona, under the protection of the Holy Family, still living in the Church today.”

Francis also expressed his thanksgiving to the Blessed Virgin Mary for his apostolic visit to Egypt April 28-29, asking the Lord to “bless all the Egyptian people,” including the Christian and Muslim authorities, and the Christians in the country.

Immediately before leading the Regina Coeli Sunday, Pope Francis held an audience in St. Peter’s Square with members of the lay organization Catholic Action. He also greeted them during the Regina Coeli address urging them to “go forth!” into the world.

The group, committed to living out faith in community and service, met in Rome last week to celebrate the 150th year since their founding.

In their audience, the Pope said that his own father and grandmother were members of Catholic Action, encouraged them to not grow lazy or complacent in the future, getting too “comfortable in the armchair.”

“I encourage you to continue to be a people of missionary disciples who are living and witnessing the joy of knowing that the Lord loves us from infinite love, and who together with him deeply love the story we live in,” he said.

“So we were taught by the great witnesses of holiness that paved the way for your association,” including Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. “Catholic Action, live up to your history! Live to the height of these women and these men who preceded you.”

Mexican beauty queen makes 'radical' move to religious life

Mexico City, Mexico, Apr 30, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA).- Esmeralda Solís Gonzáles is a young Mexican woman who was crowned last year as a beauty queen in her native town – and now she's joined the Poor Clare Missionaries of the Blessed Sacrament.

Twenty-year old Gonzáles has watched her story go viral over the last week on social media over a post on the Miss Mexico Facebook page.

Esmaralda was born April 12, 1997 in Valle de Guadalupe, Jalisco State, to a Catholic family. She currently resides at the convent of the Poor Clare Missionaries of the Blessed Sacrament of Cuernavaca in Morelos State, after leaving her career as a nutritionist.

“You really don't know what religious life is until you're within it. So far I have been able to see from another perspective what the world is and what it offers you,” Esmeralda told CNA.

“I was very happy with everything I had, but it does not compare with the happiness that God now places in my heart.”

The young postulant met the Poor Clare Missionaries some five years ago at 14, when her concern for a religious vocation “was awakening” through “vocational days, missions and camps.”

In addition, she pointed out how it was hardly a month after this process of discernment concluded  when on March 2017 she gave her first yes to her vocation on the Feast of the Annunciation.

“God's timing is perfect. During this time (of discernment) he allowed me to have some experiences such as being a beauty queen, and other experiences, which forever left their mark and which allowed me to learn a lot for what was to come later.”

The discovery of the vocation to which she had been called was always present in her life like a “little thorn,” Esmeralda said.

“I realized that I had to make room in my life to know what it was that God had planned for me. In the process of discerning my vocation there was also fear and doubts, but the love that Our Lord was showing every day made me overcome any feeling of discouragement,” she said.

Esmeralda said she had discovered that God was calling her “to serve him in a radical way,” that is, changing her “life to embrace the cross of Christ and live it more closely.”

“I have been in religious life very little time, but I truly have been very happy,” she said.

In order to discover her vocation, Esmeralda spent a lot of time in prayer and charity, “knowing from the outside or from the world” what this change would involve.

“Change is hard for the family because it involves detachment, but I have always had the the support of my parents, siblings and true friends. Even though I could have developed myself in some other setting, I feel that if the Lord needs me then I can bear fruit in a different way,” she told CNA.

Esmeralda had a few words for young people and said that in any vocation they will find difficulties, “but if you go and take God's hand, you'll always be able to take the next step.”

“In religious life every new day is a new beginning and a new opportunity to extend the kingdom of God. This involves making a lot of sacrifices but they are always rewarded with happiness,” she said.

The young novice also said that it is true that “the reality and the supposed happiness that the world sells  is very attractive” but “it is necessary to fix your eyes on what lasts.”

“You mustn't be afraid. If God is calling you, he'll take care of everything. All you need to do is receive him with a lot of peace, joy and confidence. I believe fear is a big excuse that is responsible for truncating the true happiness that only God can offer,” she said.

The Poor Clare Missionaries of the Blessed Sacrament are a Religious Institute of Pontifical Right founded by Blessed María Inés Teresa Arias in 1945 in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

The spirit of the Institute is Eucharistic, Marian, priestly, missionary, and is centered on Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.

The missionaries work in clinics, youth groups, preschools and schools, university dorms, centers for the spiritual exercises, missions, among others. They are present in Mexico, Costa Rica, Argentina, the United States, Spain, Italy, Ireland, Russia, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Vietnam and India.

Full text of Pope Francis' in-flight presser from Egypt

Vatican City, Apr 29, 2017 / 03:41 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In his conversation with journalists on the way back from Egypt, Pope Francis touched on an array of topics, including North Korea, populism and a possible visit from President Donald Trump.

While nothing has been confirmed as far as a meeting with the U.S. president, much of what Francis said in the 32-minute press conference, which took place during his April 29 flight from Cairo to Rome, focused on themes that came up during his two-day visit to Egypt, but which can be applied to some of the major issues up for global discussion today.

Please read below for CNA's full transcript of the Pope's inflight press conference:

Greg Burke (Vatican press director): Here among the journalists are those who are making a trip for the first time and those who have made almost 100.. No, more than 100, I think… And you, I don’t know if you know how many international trips you’ve made…

Pope Francis: 18!

Greg Burke: Ah, 18, alright great. I didn’t know. Nineteen is around the corner, so also you have a good number of Papal trips now. Thanks for this moment which is always a strong moment for us and let’s start with the Italian group, Paolo Rodari. I don’t know if you want to say something first.

Pope Francis: Yes, good evening and thanks for your work because these were 27 hours, I think, of much work. Thanks so much for what you did, thank you. And I’m at your disposal.

Greg Burke: Thank you, Holy Father.

Paolo Rodari (Repubblica): Hello. Holy Father, thank you. I wanted to ask you about your meeting yesterday with al Sisi. What did you speak about? Topics of human rights were mentioned and, in particular, that you were able to speak about the case of Giulio Regeni, and do you think the truth will be reached in that regard?

Pope Francis: On this I will give a general response, to then reach the particular. Generally when I am with a head of state in private dialogue, that remains private, unless, by agreement, we say ‘let’s say on this point, we’ll make it public.’ I had four private dialogues here with the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, with al Sisi, with Patriarch Tawadros and with Patriarch Ibrahim and I believe that if it is private, for respect one must maintain privacy… it is confidential… but later there is the question on Regeni. I am concerned, from the Holy See I have moved on that topic because the parents also asked me to. The Holy See has moved. I will not say how or where, but we have moved.

Greg Burke: Dario Menor Torres, from El Correo Espanol.
Dario Menor (El Correo Espanol): Thank you, Holiness! You said yesterday that peace, prosperity and development deserve every sacrifice and later you underscored the importance of the inalienable rights of man. Does this mean a support for the Egyptian government, a recognition of its role in the Middle East, and how it tries to defend Christians despite insufficient democratic guarantees from this government?

Pope Francis: Could you repeat… what does what mean? I didn’t hear…

Dario Menor: If these words that you said on the importance of peace, of prosperity and development, saying that they deserve every sacrifice, if we should interpret them as a support of the Egyptian government and how it tries to defend Christians despite insufficient democratic guarantees.

Pope Francis: No, No… one must interpret (it) literally as values in themselves… I said that defending peace, defending the harmony of peoples, defending the equality of citizens, whichever the religion they profess may be, are values. I spoke of values! If a person who governs defends one value or defends another, it is another issue. I have made 18 [international] visits. In many of those nations, I’ve heard, ‘But the Pope, going there, gives support to that government,’ because a government always has its weaknesses or it has its political adversaries, and some say one thing or another… I don’t get mixed up (in that)... I speak about values, and every person sees, is a judge if this government, this state, that from here, that from there, carries those values forward…
Dario Menor: Were you left with the urge to visit the Pyramids?

Pope Francis: But, do you know that today at 6:00 in the morning, two of my assistants went to visit the pyramids?

Dario Menor: Would you have liked to go with them?

Pope Francis: Truly, yes.

Dario Menor: Thanks a million.

Virginie Riva (Europe 1): Holy Father, a question possibly starting from the trip and extending it to France, if you accept. You spoke at al-Azhar, at the university, about demagogic populism. French Catholics in this moment are tempted by the populist or extreme vote, they are divided and disoriented. What elements of discernment could you give these Catholic electors?

Pope Francis: Great… there is a dimension of “populisms” - in quotes, because you know that this word for me, I’ve had to relearn it in Europe, because in Latin America it has another meaning - there is an issue in Europe and there is an issue of the European Union behind it… that which I said about Europe I will not repeat it here… I’ve spoken about it four times, I believe, twice in Strasbourg, once at the Charlemagne Prize and at the beginning of the commemoration of the 60th. There is everything I’ve said about Europe. Every nation is free to make choices that it believes convenient before this. I cannot judge if this choice is made for this reason, or for another, because I don’t know the internal politics. It is true that Europe is in danger of dissolving. This is true! I said it softly in Strasbourg. I said it more strongly at the Charlemagne [Prize ceremony] and lately without nuance. We must meditate on only that - the Europe that goes from the Atlantic to the Urals - there is an issue that scares Europe and perhaps feeds … the issue is emigration. This is true. But let’s not forget that Europe was made by migrants, centuries and centuries of migrants. We are them! But it is an issue that must be studied well, also respecting opinions, but the honest opinions of a political discussion - with the capital letter, big, with the big ‘Politics’ and not with the little ‘politics’ of the nation that in the end winds up falling. About France, I’ll tell the truth. I don’t understand the internal French politics. I don’t understand it. I’ve sought to have good relations, also with the current president, with which there was a conflict once, but after I was able to speak clearly about things, respecting his opinion. On the two political candidates, I don’t know the history. I don’t know where they come from, nor - yes, I know that one represents the strong right, but the other I truly don’t know where they come from - for this (reason) I cannot give a clear opinion on France. But, speaking with Catholics, here in one of the gatherings, while I was greeting people, one said to me, ‘But why don’t you think big about politics ?’ What does that mean? Well, he said it to me as if asking for help… eh, to make a party for Catholics. This is a good man but he’s living in the last century. For this, the populisms have relationships with migrants, but this is not from the trip. If I still have time later I can return to this. If I have time, I will return.

Vera Shcherbakova (ITAR-TASS): Holy Father, thank you first of all for the blessings… you blessed me. I knelt down some minutes ago. I am Orthodox and I don’t see any contradiction with my baptism, anyway, I see it as a great pleasure. I wanted to ask: what are the prospects for the relations between the Orthodox, obviously Russian, but also yesterday in the common declaration with the Coptic Patriarch, the common date of Easter (came up) and that they speak of a recognition of baptism… where are we on this point? How do you evaluate the relations between the Vatican and Russia as a State, also in light of the defense of the values of Christians in the Middle East and especially in Syria? Thanks.

Greg Burke: This is Vera Shcherbakova, of the TASS Agency.

Pope Francis: Christos Anesti! I, with the Orthodox, have always had a great friendship, since Buenos Aires, no? For example, every January 6th I would go to vespers, to the complete readings, at your Cathedral of Patriarch Plato, who is in an archbishop in the area of Ukraine, no? And he… two hours and forty (minutes) of prayer in a language that I didn’t understand, but you could pray well, and then the dinner with the community. Three hundred people, a Christmas Eve dinner, not a Christmas dinner. They still couldn’t eat dairy or meat, but it was a beautiful dinner and then bingo, the lottery… friendship… also with the other Orthodox, also sometimes they needed legal help. They would come to the Catholic Curia because they are small communities and they would go to the lawyers. They’d come in and out. But, I’ve always had a filial, fraternal relationship. We are sister Churches! With Tawadros, there is a special friendship. For me, he’s a great man of God! And Tawadros is a patriarch, a pope that carries the Church forward, the name of Jesus before (him). He has a great apostolic zeal… He is one of the most - permit me the word, but in quotes - ‘fanatics’ of finding a fixed date for Easter. I am too. We are seeking the way. But he says, ‘Let’s fight!’ He is a man of God. He is a man who, when he was bishop, far from Egypt, went out to feed the disabled, a man who was sent to a diocese with five churches and he left behind 25, I don’t know how many Christian families with the apostolic zeal. The you know how they make the election among them. They look for three, then they put the names in a bag, they call a child, they close their eyes and the child chooses the name. The Lord is there. He is clearly a great patriarch. The unity of baptism is moving ahead. The guilt of baptism is an historical thing (Editor’s note: Pope Francis seems to be referring to the historical ‘breach’ between the recognition of baptism between the Coptic Orthodox and Catholic traditions. Neither currently recognizes baptism carried out in the other Church), because in the first Councils it was the same, then as the Coptic Christians baptized children in the shrines, when they wanted to get married, they came to us, they were married with a Catholic, they asked for the faith… but they didn’t have it and they asked for baptism under a condition. It started with us, not with them… but now the door has been opened and we are on a good path of overcoming this issue, the door…. In the common declaration, the penultimate paragraph speaks of this. The Russian Orthodox recognize our baptism and we recognize their baptism.  I was a very close friend as the bishop of Buenos Aires with the Russians, also with the Georgians, for example… but the patriarch of the Georgians is a man of God, Ilia II. He is a mystic! We Catholics must learn also from this mystical tradition of the Orthodox Churches. During this trip, we had this ecumenical encounter. Patriarch Bartholomew was there too. The Greek Orthodox Archbishop was there and then there were other Christians - Anglicans, also the secretary of the Union of Churches of Geneva (Editor’s note: Pope Francis is referring to the Conference of European Churches) but all that makes ecumenism is on the path. Ecumenism is made on the path, with the works of charity, with the works of helping, doing things together when they can be done together. Static ecumenism doesn’t exist! It is true that theologians must study and come to an agreement, but it will not be possible for this to finish well if we’re not walking. What can we do together? Pray together, work together, do works of charity together… but, together, eh! And move ahead. The relations with Patriarch Kirill are good. They are good. Also, Metropolitan Archbishop Hilarion has come many times to speak with me and we have a good relationship.

Greg Burke: She’s asking about with the State…

Pope Francis: Ah, with the State! I know that the State speaks of this, of the defense of Christians in the Middle East. This I know and believe that it is a good thing to fight against persecution… today there are more martyrs than in the first centuries, most of all in the Middle East.

Greg Burke: Phil Pulella...this question will address the trip, but then let's see where it ends...
Phil Pulella (Reuters): If I can I would like to speak about another topic, but I'll start with the trip. You spoke yesterday in your first speech about the danger of unilateral action, and that everyone must be builders of peace. Now you have spoken very clearly about the "third world war in pieces," but it seems that today this fear and anxiety is concentrated on what is happening in North Korea...
Pope Francis:
Yes, it's the focal point!
Pulella: Exactly, it's the point of concentration. President Trump sent a team of military ships to the coast of North Korea, the leader of North Korea threatened to bomb South Korea, Japan and even the United States if they succeed in building long-range missiles. People are afraid and speak of the possibility of a nuclear war as if it were nothing. You, if you see President Trump, but also other people, what will you say to these leaders who are responsible for the future of humanity? Because we are in a very critical moment...

Pope Francis: I would call them, I call them and I will call them like I called on leaders in different positions to work on resolving problems along the path of diplomacy, and there are facilitators, many of them, in the world. There are mediators who offer...there are countries like Norway, for example, no one can accuse Norway of being a dictatorial country, and it's always ready to help, to name an example, but there are many. The path is the path of negotiation, the path of diplomatic solutions. This world war in pieces of which I've been talking about for two years more or less, it's in pieces, but the pieces have gotten bigger, they are concentrated, they are focused on points that are already hot. Things are already hot, as the issue of missiles in North Korea has been there for more than a year, now it seems that the thing has gotten too hot. I always say to resolve problems on the path of diplomacy, negotiation, because the future of a widespread war destroys I don't say half of humanity, but a good part of humanity, and it's the culture, everything. It's terrible. I think that today humanity is not able to support it. Let's look to these countries that are suffering an internal war, inside, where there are the fires of war, in the Middle East for example, but also in Africa, in Yemen. Let's stop! Let's look for a diplomatic solution! And there I believe that the United Nations has the duty to resume their leadership, because it's been watered down a bit.

Pulella: Do you want to meet President Trump when he comes to Europe? Has there been a request for a meeting?
Pope Francis: I still have not been informed by the Secretariat of State if there has been a request, but I receive every head of state who asks for an audience.  

Greg Burke: I think the questions on the trip have finished. We can take one more still, then we have to go to dinner at six-thirty. There is Antonio Pelayo from Antena 3, who you know…

Antonio Pelayo (Antena 3): Thank you. Holy Father, the situation in Venezuela has deteriorated recently in a very serious way, and there have been many deaths. I want to ask you if the Holy See intends to carry out this action, this peacemaking intervention, and what forms could this action take?

Pope Francis: There was an intervention from the Holy See at the strong request of the four presidents that were working as facilitators. And the thing didn’t turn out. And it remained there. It didn’t turn out because the proposals weren’t accepted or they were diluted. It was a ‘yes-yes,’ but ‘no-no.’ We all know the difficult situation of Venezuela. It is a nation that I really love. And I know that now they are insisting, I don’t know well from where, I believe that it’s from the four presidents, on relaunching this facilitation and they are looking for the place. I think that this has to be with conditions already, very clear conditions. Part of the opposition doesn’t want this. Because it’s curious, the very opposition is divided and on the other hand it appears that the conflicts are always worse.  But, there is something in movement. I was informed of that, but it is very up in the air still. But all that can be done for Venezuela has to be done, with the necessary guarantees, if not we’re playing ‘tin tin pirulero’ (Editor’s note: this is a Spanish term for trying one thing, then another and another without knowing what one is doing). It’s not working...

Greg Burke: Thank you Holy Father. And now we go to...

Jörg Heinz Norbert Bremer (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung): Some days ago you spoke about the theme of refugees in Greece, in Lesbos, and you used this word "concentration camp" because there were too many people. For us Germans this was obviously a very, very serious word, and very close to "extermination camp." There are people who say that this was a linguistic lapse. What did you intend to say?

Pope Francis: First, you must read well everything that I said. I said that the most generous in Europe were Italy and Greece. It's true, they are closer to Libya, to Syria. From Germany, I have always admired the ability of integration. When I studied there, there were many integrated Turks in Frankfurt. They integrated and had a normal life. There was no linguistic lapse: there are concentration camps, sorry: refugee camps that are true camps of concentration. Perhaps there are some in Italy, or in another Germany, I'm not sure, but you think of what people do who are closed in a camp and can't leave. Think about what happened in Northern Europe when they wanted to cross the sea and go to England. They are closed inside. But it made me laugh a bit, and this is a bit of Italian culture, but it made me laugh that in a refugee camp in Sicily, a delegate of Catholic Action told me, one of the delegates from the dioceses in Argentina - there is one or two in the area there, I don't know which diocese - the heads of that city where the camp was spoke to the people in the refugee camp, and they said: you, here inside, it will hurt you and your mental health have to go out, but please don't do anything bad. We can't open the door, but we can make a little hole behind. Go out, have a nice walk, and this is how relationships were made with the people who lived in that city, good relationships, and these (refugees) aren't delinquents, they don't commit crimes. The sole fact of being closed without anything (to do), this is a lager! (Editor’s note: he is referring to the German name for concentration camp. For example, Auschwitz was a “lager”). But it doesn't have anything to do with Germany, no.

Greg Burke: Thank you Holy Father.
Pope Francis:
Thanks to you for this work you do which helps a lot of people. You don't know the good that you can do with your news pieces, with your articles, with your thoughts. We must help people and also help communication, because communication...may the press lead us to good things, may it not lead us to disorientations that don't help us. Thank you very much! Have a good dinner, and pray for me!

Ed Pentin, Elise Harris, Alan Holdren and Andrea Gagliarducci contributed to this report.

Pope Francis talks nuclear war, North Korea during in-flight presser

Vatican City, Apr 29, 2017 / 02:50 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- During a press conference Saturday aboard the papal plane from Egypt to Rome, Pope Francis said that in the face of conflict and the possibility of nuclear war, United Nations leaders need to provide a strong leadership, focusing on diplomacy and peaceful negotiation.

“I always say to resolve problems on the path of diplomacy, negotiation.”

To find diplomatic solutions to conflict “I believe that the United Nations has the duty to resume their leadership, because it's been watered down a bit,” he told journalists April 29.

Asked what he would say to leaders, considering the fear surrounding the possibility of nuclear attack from North Korea, the Pope said that he would call on them to resolve problems “along the path of diplomacy,” like he has called on leaders to resolve a variety of problems.

“The path is the path of negotiation, the path of diplomatic solutions,” he said. “This world war in pieces of which I've been talking about for two years, more or less, it's in pieces, but the pieces have gotten bigger, they are concentrated, they are focused on points that are already hot.”

“Things are already hot, as the issue of missiles in North Korea has been there for more than a year, now it seems that the thing has gotten too hot.”

The issue of nuclear weapons in North Korea has been at the forefront as the UN Security Council met April 28 to discuss how to enforce the several sanctions they have already imposed on North Korea, such as resolution 2321, passed in Nov. 2016, after North Korea’s latest successful nuclear test on Sept. 9 of that year.

Hours after their meeting, North Korea filed another missile – early Saturday local time – which exploded within seconds of being launched, American and South Korean defense officials said.

Ahead of the Security Council meeting, U.S. President Donald Trump said that if diplomatic efforts fail, the U.S. is willing to engage with North Korea directly over ending its nuclear weapons program.

Direct conflict is possible, though “he would love to solve things diplomatically,” he said in an interview with Reuters April 28.

The question concerning the threat of a nuclear attack from North Korea was asked during the flight back to Rome after the Pope’s April 28-29 trip to Cairo, Egypt.

During the 32-minute long press conference, the Pope also addressed peace in the Middle East and the situation in Venezuela. He also responded to a question about populism, highlighting in particular the difference between populism in Europe and populism in Latin America.

Asked about a possible meeting with Donald Trump, he said that he had not been informed of any request, but that he always meets with heads of state if they ask.

During the brief trip, the Pope made his way to Egypt’s prestigious al-Azhar University and adjunct mosque, considered one of the highest authorities in Sunni Islam, where he met with Grand Imam Ahmed el-Tayyeb and addressed participants in the International Peace Conference.

He then met with the country’s authorities, including President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, before heading to the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral for his meeting with Tawadros, the last official appointment of the day.

Saturday he celebrated Mass for around 15,000 people in Cairo’s Air Defense Stadium before meeting with local bishops, followed by a prayer meeting with priests, religious and seminarians before he boarded the plane to return to Rome.

Egyptians filled with hope by Pope Francis' message of peace

Cairo, Egypt, Apr 29, 2017 / 12:58 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As Pope Francis returns from his April 28-29 trip to Cairo, Egyptians of all faiths were pleased by his visit and his message – one that filled them with hope for the future, they said.

Muslim woman Samia Zien Elbeden, whose husband was killed just six months ago, told EWTN April 29 that after the tragic loss of her husband, the Pope’s visit “brings me peace and gives me hope.”

“I am a woman whose husband has been taken away, I am alone. We had no children,” Elbeden  said. “My husband was everything. He had a high position in the Egyptian army, one of only 12 at that level.”

She said she “was happy with what the Pope said” the day before when he gave a speech at the prestigious al-Azhar University for the International Conference on Peace. He also spoke to Egyptian authorities later on the same day.

Jesuit Fr. Morat, who lives in Cairo but is originally from Syria, also said he was pleased by the Pope’s words the first day of his trip.

“It was a great message of peace, for our hearts first,” he noted. “The Egyptian people seem happy with it, too. We need hope, we believe in this hope, brought by Pope Francis.”   

Fr. Morat also said he hopes the Pope’s visit “will bring peace to this country.”

“Pope Francis is a man of peace and his manner of talking and acting shows that he feels what’s happening in the Middle East will bring something new, a new spirit, I hope for this.”

A Muslim political consultant to the majority party in the Egyptian parliament, Marouan Younis, said that everyone is very happy to have Pope Francis in Cairo and hope that his presence will boost their own efforts to combat terrorism and promote peace in the country.

“We are sending a message of peace around the world, and now he is joining us in this message.”

We are trying build a new country and spread the message to the world that we are in a new era, he explained. “We are really fighting terrorism, a clear fight. We have many problems in our region but we think, we hope, and we pray that we succeed in building a new country.”

The country wants to build a relationship with anyone who wants to be their friend, he said.

“The Pope’s speeches have been fantastic, very clear. He’s been very friendly, just brings hope and love to everybody.”

“In Egypt, we’re really fighting ISIS hard,” he continued. “It’s very tough and we’re having many problems in this fight because it’s a battle fought with arms, ideas, religion. It’s a heavy fight, because ISIS knows that if Egypt falls, the whole region will fall.”

He highlighted that although a Muslim himself, he has dear friends who are Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox, and they are all happy with the Vatican and Pope Francis.

“The only ones unhappy are ISIS and the fanatics,” he said. Speaking about Cairo’s Air Defense Stadium where Pope Francis celebrate Mass Saturday morning, he said, “Here in the stadium there are Muslims, Protestants, everybody.”

“Yesterday in the prayer meeting we found the three big religious leaders were sitting on the same stage, just praying along with the Vatican, the Pope. I’m very happy with what’s going on.”

Amani, an Egyptian TV presenter, said she thinks it’s a “very critical time” for Egypt, “so it’s especially important that Pope Francis has come here.” She applauded seeing all Egyptians, including both Christians and Muslims, joining together for his visit.

Amani also said that “we have to specify what terrorism is,” saying that she believes it’s in all religions, not only in Islam.

“This is what the head of al-Azhar said yesterday,” she said, referring to the speech made by Grand Imam of the Mosque of al Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayyib, who spoke alongside Pope Francis at the conference on peace.

It’s time, around the world, to draw the line on what is good and non-violent as part of a religion and what is not, she said.

“Now we’re going to divide again between good and bad.”

“[The problem] is these people and the money behind them who take bits out of the Koran, the same thing in other religions. Most people all over the world have gone far from their main religion and believe what other people say about them,” she continued.

“The main aspect of this visit is that we have now to decide, if we need and want this religion, to look into the past, and study the real religion, not what people say about it.”

Order of Malta elects interim Grand Master amid ongoing reform

Vatican City, Apr 29, 2017 / 09:37 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Order of Malta elected Fra Giacomo Dalla Torre as their interim Grand Master as the latest move in the ongoing reform their leadership, which the bulk of his one-year mandate will focus on.

Announced in an April 29 communique from the order, the election of Dalla Torre was the result of the Order of Malta’s daylong “Council Complete of State,” which fell shortly after the resignation of the Order’s former Grand Master, Matthew Festing, earlier this year.

Dalla Torre will swear an official oath before Archbishop Giovanni Becciu, the Pope’s special delegate to the Order, and members of the “Council Complete of State” that elected him Sunday, April 30, at the church of Santa Maria in Aventino.

Even though he's currently concluding a two-day trip to Egypt, Pope Francis was the first to be informed of Dalla Torre’s election through a letter. Notice was then given to other members and entities of the Order, including the 106 States with whom they currently hold diplomatic relations.

According to the Order’s communique, Dalla Torre will serve as Grand Master for a mandate of one year, and will work closely with the Order’s Sovereign Council to advance their humanitarian work and to strengthen the spiritual life of the Order.

The new Grand Master was born in Rome in 1944 and is an expert in art and art history. He holds a degree in philosophy from the University of Rome, with a specialization in Christian Archaeology and Art History.

He later began teaching courses in Classic Greek at the Pontifical Urbanianum University in Rome, and was eventually named head of their library and their chief archivist for important collections.

Dalla Torre entered the Order of Malta in 1985 and made his solemn vows as a professed knight in 1993. From 1994-1999 he served as Grand Prior of Lombardy and Venice, and from 1999-2004 was a member of the Sovereign Council.

In 2004, he was elected Grand Commander, and after the death of the 78th Grand Master Fra' Andrew Bertie, he stood in as interim Lieutenant. He has served as Grand Prior of Rome since 2008.

His first official engagement as Grand Master will be the May 5-9 international pilgrimage of the Order of Malta to Lourdes, which each year gathers some 7,000 members and volunteers of the Order to assist sick and disabled pilgrims.

Dalla Torre’s election comes after Festing’s Jan. 24 resignation, which he submitted upon the request of Pope Francis after a short, but intense spat with the Vatican.

Festing’s resignation marked the end of a month-long power struggle between the Order of Malta and the Holy See, which began with the forced dismissal of Grand Chancellor Albrecht von Boeselager from both his position, and his membership in the Order, in early December.

The Holy See then intervened, establishing a committee to investigate the decision. The Order then pushed back, saying Boeselager’s dismissal was an “internal act of governance,” making the Holy See’s investigative group “legally irrelevant” given the Orders’ sovereignty.

After a brief back and forth, the Holy See eventually responded Jan. 17 reiterating its confidence in the group and their work. Shortly after that Festing was called in for a private meeting with the Pope and was asked to resign.

Three days later the Order’s Sovereign council voted to accept Festing’s resignation and Boeselager, whose brother Georg von Boeselager was appointed a member of the Board of Superintendents of the IOR Dec. 15, was also reinstated as Grand Chancellor.

In February, the Pope appointed Archbishop Giovanni Becciu, substitute of the Secretariat of State, as his personal delegate to oversee the “spiritual and moral” reform of the Order, specifically their leadership, until a new Grand Master was appointed.

Shortly before Saturday’s vote, the Pope held a lengthy April 26 meeting with Becciu and the Order of Malta’s leaders, likely to discuss the election and their process of reform.

According to the Order of Malta, Dalla Torre’s primary focus during the coming year will be the reform of their Constitution, with special attention given to any “institutional shortages” the Order might have.

“The recent crisis has brought to light some weaknesses in the systems of control and in the balance of governance,” the communique read, adding that “the reform will take this into account.”

Special attention will also be paid to solidifying the spiritual life of the Order and to finding ways to increase the number of their professed members. Some consultations on how to do this have already been done, but suggestions from all of the Order’s members, professed or not, are welcome.

Correction on April 29, 2017 at 12:45 MST: Article incorrectly stated that Fra Giacomo Dalla Torre was elected as Grand Master of the Order of Malta. He was elected "lieutenant" — an interim — Grand Master.

Pope tells Egypt religious to never fear or flee from the cross

Cairo, Egypt, Apr 29, 2017 / 07:44 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis told Egypt’s priests and religious to never be discouraged or fear the challenges of their ministry, and warned against seven key temptations he said can keep them from being faithful to the Lord in their daily tasks.

“Do not be afraid of the burdens of your daily service and the difficult circumstances some of you must endure,” the Pope said April 29. “We venerate the Holy Cross, the instrument and sign of our salvation. When we flee the Cross, we flee the resurrection!”

Pope Francis met with Egypt’s priests, religious and seminarians at Cairo’s Al-Maadi Seminary on the final day of his April 28-29 visit to the country, intended to both offer support to local Christians and strengthen interfaith and ecumenical ties in the region.

After being welcomed by the seminary’s rector, Fr. Toma Adly Zaky, the Pope thanked Egypt’s religious for the good they do “amid many challenges and often few consolations,” and offered his encouragement.

While there are many reasons to be discouraged “amid many prophets of destruction and condemnation, and so many negative and despairing voices,” he voiced his hope that they would be “a positive force, salt and light for this society.”

However, “this will be possible if consecrated men and women do not give in to the temptations they daily encounter along their way,” he said, and highlighted seven key areas of temptation “described well” by the first monks of Egypt.

First, he warned against the temptation “to let ourselves be led, rather than to lead.” Christ, as the Good Shepherd, has the responsibility of leading his sheep, Francis said, explaining that “he cannot let himself be dragged down by disappointment and pessimism.”

Rather, “he is always full of initiative and creativity, like a spring that flows even in the midst of drought. He always shares the caress of consolation even when he is broken-hearted,” he said, and stressed that one’s fidelity to the Lord must always be strong, even when human gratitude is lacking.

The Pope then pointed to a second temptation “to complain constantly,” noting that it’s easy to complain about others, the faults or shortcomings of a superior, the state of the Church and even a lack of possibilities.

However, consecrated people are the ones “who turn every obstacle into an opportunity, and not every difficulty into an excuse,” he said, adding that “the person who is always complaining is really someone who doesn’t want to work.”

Francis also warned, as he often does when speaking to religious men and women, against the temptation of gossip and envy.

There is “a great danger” when consecrated people, instead of finding joy in the success of others, allow themselves to be “dominated by envy” and to hurt others through gossip, he said.

This danger is manifested when instead of striving to grow, religious “start to destroy those who are growing; instead of following their good example, they judge them and belittle their value.”

Envy, he said, “is a cancer that destroys the body in no time.”

A fourth attitude the Pope told religious to steer clear of is the temptation to compare oneself to others, because “enrichment is found in the diversity and uniqueness of each one of us.”

“Comparing ourselves with those better off often leads to grudges; comparing ourselves with those worse off often leads to pride and laziness,” he said, noting that those who always compare themselves “end up paralyzed.”

Jesting about the irony of being in Egypt, he also cautioned against the temptation of “to become like Pharaoh,” which he said means to “harden our hearts and close them off to the Lord and our brothers and sisters.”

The temptation here “is to think that we are better than others, and to lord it over them out of pride; to presume to be served rather than to serve,” he said, explaining that the only antidote to this “poison” is to become a servant to everyone.

Pope Francis then warned against the temptation to individualism, quoting a well-known Egyptian phrase that goes: “me, and after me, the flood!”

“This is the temptation of selfish people,” he said. “Along the way, they lose sight of the goal and, rather than think of others, they are unashamed to think only of themselves, or even worse, to justify themselves.”

The Church, on the contrary, is made up of the communion of faithful where the salvation of one depends on the holiness of all, he said, adding that anyone who adopts an individualist attitude “is a cause of scandal and of conflict.”

Finally, the Pope pointed to one last temptation to “keep walking without direction or destination.”

At times, “consecrated men and women can lose their identity and begin to be neither fish nor fowl,” he said. “They can live with a heart between God and worldliness. They can forget their first love.”

When this happens, they lose their clear and solid identity and begin walking aimlessly. As a result, instead of leading other people, “they scatter them,” he said.

Francis told those present that their identity as sons and daughters of the Church “is to be Copts – rooted in your noble and ancient origins – and to be Catholics – part of the one and universal Church: like a tree that, the more deeply rooted it is in the earth, the higher it reaches to the heavens!”

He noted that avoiding these temptations isn’t easy, but that it is possible “if we are grafted on to Jesus.”

“The more we are rooted in Christ, the more we are alive and fruitful,” he said. “Only in this way can we preserve the wonder and the passion of our first encounter with God, and experience renewed excitement and gratitude in our life with God and in our mission.”

Given Egypt’s rich monastic history, Pope Francis told the religious to draw from the example of figures such as Saint Paul the Hermit, Saint Anthony and the Desert Fathers.

“You too can be salt and light, and thus an occasion of salvation for yourselves and for all others, believers and non-believers alike, and especially for those who are poor, those in need, the abandoned and discarded,” he said, and assured them of his closeness.

In Trump's first 100 days, Catholics find a mixed bag

Washington D.C., Apr 29, 2017 / 05:27 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholic leaders have found cause for both praise and concern after the first 100 days of Donald Trump’s presidency.

“Catholics have reason for optimism. But like the first 100 days, the road ahead remains difficult,” Brian Burch, president of, said on the organization’s scorecard for the first 100 days of the Trump presidency.


Pro-life leaders have found a lot to like from the Trump administration so far.

“President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have been game changers for the pro-life movement,” Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser stated. “Not only have there been several pro-life victories within the first 100 days of their administration, we are confident that pro-life progress will continue. This is a new era.”

A week after Trump was inaugurated, Vice President Mike Pence addressed the 44th annual March for Life on the National Mall, the first time a sitting vice president has done so. Senior advisor Kellyanne Conway also addressed the pro-life rally.

“Life is winning in America,” Pence insisted to cheering attendees, as he exhorted them to “let this movement be known for love, not anger” and “let it be known for compassion, not confrontation.”

On Jan. 23, Trump reinstated the Mexico City Policy which bans U.S. funding of international non-government organizations that promote or perform abortions.

This is traditionally one of the first policy decisions a new president makes and serves as a signal of the administration’s policy on abortion. President Reagan first introduced the policy in 1984. It was repealed by President Clinton when he took office, reinstated by President Bush in 2001, and repealed again by President Obama in 2009.

In April, the Trump administration pulled its funding of the UNFPA over its involvement in China’s infamous two-child policy, formerly a one-child policy, which has resulted in mass forced sterilizations and abortions. Funding was redirected to USAID for family planning purposes.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, chair of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee, called the funding withdrawal a “victory for women and children across the globe.”

Shortly afterward, the administration signed a joint resolution passed by Congress that nullified an Obama administration rule that pro-life leaders had called a “parting gift to Planned Parenthood.”

That rule forbade states from withholding federal Title X funds to health providers simply because they performed abortions. Now with the rule nullified, states can once again block Planned Parenthood and other abortion groups from Title X funding. Cardinal Dolan also approved of that rule change, calling it a reversal of “very bad public policy.”

In addition to signing bills into law, “personnel is policy,” Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, insisted to reporters on a Thursday conference call on Trump’s first 100 days.

She pointed to the picks of Vice President Mike Pence and senior advisor Kellyanne Conway as two examples of President Trump surrounding himself with persons with strong pro-life records.

Burch agreed that “President Trump has assembled a great Cabinet.”

He pointed to the pro-life appointments at the Department of Health and Human Services as examples of this. Former pro-life congressman Dr. Tom Price was tapped to be Secretary of Health and Human Services; Dr. Charmaine Yoest, former CEO of the pro-life group Americans United for Life, has been named to be assistant secretary of public affairs at HHS; and lawyer Matt Bowman, formerly of Alliance Defending Freedom, was also picked to join HHS.

“The Trump administration is staffed with thousands of high-caliber individuals like this,” Burch said.

Mancini also pointed to Trump’s nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia as another positive sign for the pro-life movement.

“Justice Gorsuch is a constitutionalist, committed to respecting the text and intent of lawmakers rather than legislating from the bench,” Burch stated, giving Trump an “A+” grade for the Supreme Court nomination.

CatholicVote provided a report card for Trump’s first 100 days. They gave Trump an “A” grade on the “sanctity of life” issues, noting that other achievements like the defunding of Planned Parenthood are still expected.

Although Gorsuch had not ruled specifically on an abortion case as judge, pro-life leaders have noted his dissent in a Tenth Circuit decision that overturned Utah’s defunding of Planned Parenthood.

Additionally, in his confirmation hearings, when asked by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) if a “super-precedent” existed for the Court’s Roe decision that legalized abortion, Gorsuch would not say that one existed, only saying that the Roe decision had “precedent,” according to EWTN’s Dr. Matthew Bunson.

Gorsuch was confirmed by the Senate on April 7 after Democrats threatened a filibuster. Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) invoked the “nuclear option” to end the filibuster threat, whereby Gorsuch could then be confirmed with a simple majority vote. He was confirmed by the Senate 54-45.

Religious Freedom

Gorsuch’s appointment is expected to impact religious freedom cases for years to come. One of the first major cases he heard from the Supreme Court bench was the religious freedom case of Trinity Lutheran, a preschool in Columbia, Mo. operated by Trinity Lutheran Church. That case is expected to be the premier religious freedom case of the Spring 2017 term.

Gorsuch sat over high-profile HHS mandate cases while he was on the Tenth Circuit, ruling both times with plaintiffs – Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters of the Poor – in favor of their religious freedom to not comply with the birth control mandate and the supposed “accommodation” offered by the government to objecting non-profits.

Another significant move by Trump administration was to stop fighting in court for the Obama administration’s “transgender mandate.” That policy had directed schools to let students use the bathroom of their current gender identity and not their birth gender.

Leading U.S. bishops had criticized the mandate as infringing on the “privacy concerns” of young students and said it “contradicts a basic understanding of human formation so well expressed by Pope Francis: that ‘the young need to be helped to accept their own body as it was created’.”

After the administration announced it would drop its appeal for the policy in court, the Supreme Court sent a Virginia transgender bathroom case back to the lower courts.

However, the administration’s accomplishments in upholding religious freedom have ultimately been mixed, advocates argue, and one large reason why is that Trump has not issued a broad executive order upholding religious freedom and the rights of conscience as expected.

This is vital, Dr. Jay Richards of the Busch School of Business at The Catholic University of America said, because for any entity contracting with the government – or institutions receiving federal funding like Christian schools that provide federal student loans – they could be subject to actions from the government stemming from Obama-era orders on LGBT status.

Thus, charities or schools that uphold traditional marriage as part of their mission could be subject to actions from the government, unless a new executive order protects them.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops tried to get support for such an executive order, insisting that “any Executive Order should make it clear that religious freedom entails more than the freedom to worship but also includes the ability to act on one's beliefs. It should also protect individuals and families who run closely-held businesses in accordance with their faith to the greatest extent possible.”

CatholicVote gave Trump a “C-“ grade on religious freedom issues, noting that “a leaked draft of an excellent Executive Order” on religious freedom “was stymied, according to reports, by Jared and Ivanka Trump along with outside left-wing groups.”

“Catholics are patient, but want action on religious liberty. And soon,” Burch said.

Refugees and Immigration

Early in his first 100 days, Trump issued an executive order to temporarily halt refugee admissions into the U.S. for four months and indefinitely suspend the admission of Syrian refugees. The order also halted visa admissions for most persons from seven countries: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen.

The order was ultimately halted from going into effect by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court. A revised executive order that was released later left out the indefinite ban on Syrian refugees and left Iraq off the list of countries from which most nationals would be barred from entering the U.S. It still halted refugee admissions for four months and capped the overall intake for FY 2017 at 50,000 refugees.

Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, Tex., the chair of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee, was “deeply troubled” at the revised order and said that the refugee admissions program was already well-vetted and secure. Catholic Relief Services said that since global forced displacement is at its highest levels ever recorded, the U.S. must not shut off its refugee admissions program.

The order was ultimately halted from going into effect by federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland.

Trump also signed an executive order in January that would bar federal funding of “sanctuary cities,” or cities that publicly did not follow through with federal laws on deportation of undocumented immigrants. The chair of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee, Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, Tex., stated that the move “would force all jurisdictions to accept a one-size-fits-all regime that might not be best for their particular jurisdictions.”

In February, the Department of Homeland Security, enforcing the immigration orders, released new rules that did away with protections for unaccompanied children and asylum seekers coming to the border, created new detention centers, sped up the deportation process, and increased the punishments for undocumented parents who have their children smuggled into the U.S.

Bishop Vasquez warned that the new rules “greatly expand the militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border.”

CatholicVote, meanwhile, rated Trump’s immigration policies so far a “B,” saying that “his poorly drafted and delivered order on restricting refugees from dangerous countries was revised and continues to face legal opposition,” but “his stepped-up enforcement has rightly focused on hardened criminals while moderating on those who immigrated illegally as children (Dreamers).”

“Illegal immigration has plummeted, even without a wall,” Burch stated.

Health Care

Another major priority for Trump’s first 100 days was health care. A replacement for the Affordable Care Act was introduced in March with the goal of passing it on March 23, the seven-year anniversary of the ACA being signed into law.

The proposed American Health Care Act attempted to keep in place some policies of the original health care law like a ban on insurers denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions, and young people being able to stay on their parents’ health plans until the age of 26.

However, it sought to replace other major parts of the law. The individual mandate – enforced by fines for people not having health insurance – would be replaced with a fine of up to 30 percent of one’s new premium for a significant gap in coverage. Federal subsidies would be replaced with tax credits for purchasing insurance.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had ultimately opposed the Affordable Care Act under Obama because of provisions they said allowed for abortion funding in health plans. They praised the original health care law’s expansion of coverage for low-income and sick groups, although they opposed its lack of coverage for immigrants.

With the new proposal, leading bishops praised its protections against federal funding of elective abortions, but expressed serious concerns with its lack of conscience protections for doctors and other health care providers against government mandates like the transgender mandate.

Additionally, Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Fla., chair of the bishops’ domestic justice committee, worried that the new legislation could result in less affordable coverage for groups that need it the most: the elderly, the chronically ill, and the poor. For instance, the tax credits replacing subsidies were not favorably written for the elderly, he said. The 30 percent fine for a gap in coverage could act as a deterrent for someone to purchase health coverage.

Groups like the Catholic health care ministry (CMF) CURO, however, supported passage of the new bill as a step in the direction of more patient-centered health care reform, as well as a law that would help reduce abortion funding in health care.

Ultimately, the American Health Care Act failed to even make it to the House floor for a vote, but has been amended and brought back to consideration in the House. Among the new additions is an amendment that allows states to do away with “essential health benefits” like coverage for maternity care and hospitalizations that were mandated under the Affordable Care Act.

Bishop Dewane issued a strong statement this week criticizing the revised health care bill for similar reasons as he opposed the original AHCA. Members of Congress should not vote for the revised bill, he said on Thursday.

Foreign Policy

On foreign policy, Trump ordered missile strikes earlier this month on a Syrian airbase in response to a chemical weapons attack in Idlib that killed around 100 and hospitalized hundreds. After the Syrian air force had bombed a neighborhood in the Idlib province, hundreds of civilians either died or were hospitalized with symptoms of exposure to sarin, a deadly nerve agent.

The U.S. said that forces of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad were responsible for the attack, and a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean launched Tomahawk cruise missiles against the airbase that was used by Syrian forces for the bombing.

Moral theologian Joseph Capizzi of The Catholic University of America told CNA that the response was “judicious” and was needed to uphold international agreements against the use of chemical weapons. Dr. Tom Farr of Georgetown University said “the strikes were fully justified, both as a means of punishing the evil acts that took place - especially (but not only) the slow torture and execution of babies by means of Sarin gas - and as a means of deterring the regime from further acts of evil like this.”

Meanwhile, Syrian clerics decried the attack, saying that an investigation should have been first conducted to prove who the perpetrators of the chemical attack were. Melkite Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart of Aleppo told CNA he hoped the U.S. “would have done something toward peace and reconciliation and a political solution” in Syria.


Our only 'fanaticism' should be love, Pope tells Egypt's Catholics

Cairo, Egypt, Apr 29, 2017 / 03:40 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Saturday Pope Francis told Egyptian Catholics that truly living the faith means ridding ourselves of hypocritical attitudes and focusing on the only obsession that counts: loving others, no matter how hard it is.

“God is pleased only by a faith that is proclaimed by our lives, for the only fanaticism believers can have is that of charity! Any other fanaticism does not come from God and is not pleasing to him!” the Pope said April 29.

True faith, he said, “is one that makes us more charitable, more merciful, more honest and more humane. It moves our hearts to love everyone without counting the cost, without distinction and without preference.”

Pope Francis spoke to the 15,000 people who attended his Mass at the Air Defense Stadium in Cairo as part of his April 28-29 visit to Egypt. The trip comes largely as the result of a recent thawing in relations between the Vatican and the prestigious al-Azhar University, one of the highest institutional authorities in Sunni Islam, which had been strained since 2011.

The visit also takes place in wake of increasing attacks on Egypt’s Coptic community, and as such is meant to show support for Christians as well as cement Catholic-Muslim relations.

Egypt has around 272,000 Catholics and 213 parishes out of a total population of nearly 89 million. The country is predominately Muslim, with Christianity, including Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, and Catholics, making up only 10 percent of the population.  

In his homily, which was given in Italian with Arabic translation, Francis spoke about the qualities of a sincere faith, pointing out that we are called to love, serve, and help our brothers and sisters – never treating them like an enemy.

True faith, he said, “spurs us on to spread, defend and live out the culture of encounter, dialogue, respect and fraternity.” It also gives us “the courage to forgive those who have wronged us,” and to live out the corporal works of mercy.

Continuing, the Pope said “true faith leads us to protect the rights of others with the same zeal and enthusiasm with which we defend our own. Indeed, the more we grow in faith and knowledge, the more we grow in humility and in the awareness of our littleness.”

His words centered on the day’s Gospel passage for the third Sunday of Easter, which tells the story of the disciples meeting Jesus on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. The experience of the disciples, he said, can be summed up in three words: death, resurrection and life.

At first the disciples are full of disappointment and despair, not understanding how God could have allowed Jesus, their Savior, to be crucified, Francis observed. However, Jesus then approaches and walks with them, turning their despair into life.

“They could not understand why Almighty God had not saved him from such a disgraceful death,” he said. “The cross of Christ was the cross of their own ideas about God; the death of Christ was the death of what they thought God to be.”

However, in reality, “it was they who were dead, buried in the tomb of their limited understanding,” the Pope continued, adding: “How often do we paralyze ourselves by refusing to transcend our own ideas of God, a god created in the image and likeness of man!”

“How often do we despair by refusing to believe that God’s omnipotence is not one of power and authority, but rather of love, forgiveness and life!”

Eventually, it is in the “breaking of the bread,” the Eucharist, that the two disciples recognize the Risen Jesus and are “filled with joy, confidence and enthusiasm, ready to bear witness,” he said.

Unless we also “tear apart the veil clouding our vision and shatter the hardness of our hearts and our prejudices, we will never be able to recognize the face of God.”

It was precisely in this darkness and despair that Jesus approaches and “turns their despair into life,” Francis said, explaining that “when we reach the depths of failure and helplessness, when we rid ourselves of the illusion that we are the best, sufficient unto ourselves and the center of our world, then God reaches out to us to turn our night into dawn, our affliction into joy, our death into resurrection.”

We must follow the same path of the disciples, not remaining in doubt or despair, focused only on the cross, but coming to realize the truth and hope of the resurrection, he said, stressing that “we cannot encounter God without first crucifying our narrow notions of a god who reflects only our own understanding of omnipotence and power.”

This experience must also translate into how we treat others, he said, saying “the experience of the disciples on the way to Emmaus teaches us that it is of no use to fill our places of worship if our hearts are empty of the fear of God and of his presence.”

“It is of no use to pray if our prayer to God does not turn into love for our brothers and sisters. All our religiosity means nothing unless it is inspired by deep faith and charity.”

The Pope said that in this sense, it’s useless to be concerned about our image, “since God looks at the soul and the heart and he detests hypocrisy. For God, it is better not to believe than to be a false believer, a hypocrite!”

Just like the disciples saw and believed, returning immediately to Jerusalem to share their experience, the Church also “needs to know and believe that Jesus lives within her and gives her life in the Eucharist, the scriptures and the sacraments,” he said.

Francis concluded by encouraging those present, “filled with joy, courage and faith” like the disciples of Emmaus, to “return to your own Jerusalem, that is, to your daily lives, your families, your work and your beloved country.”

“Do not be afraid to open your hearts to the light of the Risen Lord, and let him transform your uncertainty into a positive force for yourselves and for others,” he said.

“Do not be afraid to love everyone, friends and enemies alike, because the strength and treasure of the believer lies in a life of love!”