Busted Halo

Mike Hayes and guest authors give insight into the surprises of Pope Francis’ papacy, shedding light on how and why this pope is doing things a bit differently.

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September 4th, 2013
Pope Francis asks us to fast for peace in Syria this Saturday, September 7

A Syrian Muslim girl stands at the top of Mount Qassioun, which overlooks Damascus. (CNS/Khaled al-Hariri/Reuters)

A Syrian Muslim girl stands at the top of Mount Qassioun, which overlooks Damascus. (CNS/Khaled al-Hariri/Reuters)

“I appeal strongly for peace, an appeal which arises from the deep within me. How much suffering, how much devastation, how much pain has the use of arms carried in its wake in that martyred country, especially among civilians and the unarmed! I think of many children will not see the light of the future! With utmost firmness I condemn the use of chemical weapons: I tell you that those terrible images from recent days are burned into my mind and heart.” — Pope Francis

With the recent revelations that chemical weapons have been used in Syria’s civil war, the United States has been clear about how seriously it takes these human rights violations. Over the weekend, Secretary of State John Kerry reported that Syria’s government has used sarin gas against its own people.

To be clear, Pope Francis also abhors these human rights violations.

President Obama will be asking congress to authorize a military attack against the Syrian regime that will be tactical in nature. “No boots on the ground” has been the promise from the president, but rather, a narrow military strike. …

August 13th, 2013

Muslim worshippers attend Friday prayers during Ramadan at mosque in Pakistan. (CNS photo/Mohsin Raza, Reuters)

Muslim worshippers attend Friday prayers during Ramadan at mosque in Pakistan. (CNS photo/Mohsin Raza, Reuters)

When Pope Benedict XVI resigned from the papacy earlier this year, I wrote about the ways in which the new pope could bridge the gap between the Muslim and Catholic worlds. This is not to embellish that these two enormous masses of people are antithetically aligned toward one another. That is certainly not the case. But over the years the Muslim world has seen Church leadership as an antagonizing force that does not respect it. For example, the most recent episode took place in 2006. Pope Benedict XVI angered Muslims worldwide when he quoted a Byzantine emperor who linked Islam and violence in a lecture at the University of Regensburg, Germany. The speech came just a year after the Danish cartoon controversy that sparked violent demonstrations throughout the Muslim world. And although the pontiff later apologized and even made a visit to Turkey, the damage had already been done.

So, when Jorge Mario Bergoglio became Pope Francis, Muslims around the world waited for a fresh start. And a fresh start has been initiated with a message of respect for Muslims during this holy time. Last …

July 31st, 2013

Pope Francis leaves Quinta Boa Vista Park after hearing the confessions at World Youth Day (CNS photo/Ricardo Moraes, Reuters)

Pope Francis leaves Quinta Boa Vista Park after hearing the confessions at World Youth Day (CNS photo/Ricardo Moraes, Reuters)

Security at World Youth Day has always been an issue. When millions of people gather for a public event, in general, security can be a challenge. Add to this the fact that the pope will be on the scene and the concerns about safety grow drastically.

But Pope Francis doesn’t seem to be very concerned about security at all. On the streets of Rio de Janeiro, he appeared to relish in the fact that his car made a wrong turn and people mobbed the vehicle to try to touch him or just get a glimpse of him.

After a week of what could be a draining non-stop schedule of events, Pope Francis, in his late 70s, was fed by the energy of the young people who surrounded him:

This trip has been very good; spiritually, it has done me good … meeting people always does good, as in doing so we receive many good things from others. With less security, I was able to stay with the people, to embrace them, greet them, without armored cars … it is the security …

July 30th, 2013

Pope Francis addresses journalists on his return flight from Rio de Janeiro to Rome. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis addresses journalists on his return flight from Rio de Janeiro to Rome. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis said that he doesn’t give interviews.

But that all changed on the plane ride back from World Youth Day where for nearly 90 minutes the pope stood and didn’t dodge a question from anybody.

You can read John Allen’s summary of the impromptu press conference here.

Pope Francis mentioned the following with regard to the gay lobby that supposedly exists within the Vatican and that reportedly he acknowledged exists:

When I meet a gay person, I have to distinguish between their being gay and being part of a lobby. If they accept the Lord and have good will, who am I to judge them? They shouldn’t be marginalized. The tendency [to homosexuality] is not the problem … they’re our brothers.

The question was sparked not merely by the “gay lobby” but also accusations made against his handpicked prelate for the Vatican bank, Italian Monsignor Battista Ricca. There were alleged improprieties in his past, presumably around the issue of a homosexual affair, which were unfounded.

The pope also said:

I’d like to add that many times we seem to seek out the …

July 22nd, 2013
Will Pope Francis continue with the World Youth Day pilgrimage after Rio?

lastworldyouthday-1I’ve been to two World Youth Day events and they were indeed spectacles. I even dedicated an entire chapter to World Youth Day in my first book, Googling God. These pilgrimages that bring youth and young adults together from all over the world were the brainchild of John Paul II and will probably be what he will be remembered most for as pope. He wanted to bring college students together for a “jamboree style campout” with the pope at the helm. The result was a Pope-as-Rock-Star event that brought hundreds of thousands of young people together from around the globe.

But there is a huge downside to World Youth Day. It costs A LOT of money — for the host diocese to produce and for the individual pilgrim to attend. Travel costs alone often range in the thousands of dollars (or high amount of your currency of choice) for many pilgrims. (World Youth Day in Sydney cost me a pretty penny to travel to in 2008!) The rising costs of World Youth Day may lead Pope Francis to re-think the event in its entirety.

A second thing that I know will bother the pope is the amount of waste …

July 18th, 2013
With his humble ways attracting attention from all corners, Pope Francis is a celebrity in the secular world.

Pope Francis waves from a car during his visit to Castel Gandolfo, Italy. (CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters).

Pope Francis waves from a car during his visit to Castel Gandolfo, Italy. (CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters).

“The atmosphere was almost neighborly” when he spoke to the crowd in “a more conversational tone,” like a “universal leader.”

These quotes may sound like they describe a politician angling for votes. However, they are actually about the Catholic Church’s newest celebrity: Pope Francis.

But the pope is definitely not a typical celebrity. One of the main reasons is that rather than embracing his fame like a teen starlet, he has downplayed his actions. When choosing his new Popemobile, for example, he followed his advice to priests to use “more humble” vehicles and selected a 2008 Ford Focus. This was no publicity stunt- for Francis it’s just another way to be “Pope Everyman,” standing in solidarity with many poor and middle-class Catholics.

Since his election, the pope has become universally beloved for his simple message of outreach to the poor. His embrace by religious media is not surprising — it’s the job of magazines like America and Commonweal to cover the pope. What is striking, however, is the support for him from secular media; many magazines have written glowing articles about Francis since …

July 11th, 2013

Pope Francis greets the crowd as he arrives to celebrate Mass in Lampedusa, Italy. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis greets the crowd as he arrives to celebrate Mass in Lampedusa, Italy. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Well, it’s official. Pope Francis is a hit.

Esquire magazine, not exactly an outlet that praises the Catholic Church on a regular basis, highlighted some of the reasons why Francis is so “awesome”:

”He has said that he believes priests should be ‘shepherds with the smell of the sheep’ and he is living that way. He has, pointedly, not moved into the papal apartments, remaining at a cheap hotel where reportedly he eats breakfast with ordinary people. He refuses to take the papal limousine, traveling by minibus instead. More significantly, on Holy Thursday this year, Pope Francis became the first Pope in history to wash the feet of a woman. Not only did he wash the feet of a woman, but that woman was a Muslim. Not only was she a Muslim woman, she was a female inmate at a local prison. He has become famous in Rome as the ‘chatty’ Pope, stopping to embrace children with disabilities.”

Just yesterday, the Italian edition of Vanity Fair chose Francis as its person of the year, noting his humility and authenticity. If that isn’t surprising …

July 9th, 2013
He's not headed to the usual papal vacation destination, but Pope Francis will still make time to chill this summer

francis-staycation-2-finalDespite the stifling Roman heat, Pope Francis is remaining in Vatican City this summer instead of escaping to the usual papal retreat in Castel Gandolfo, a favorite place of his predecessor, Benedict XVI.

Pope Francis also recently said that he resides in his present apartment in the Domus Santa Marta for “psychiatric reasons,” prompting many to laugh at the thought that the climate of the Vatican bureaucracy may drive the pope insane.

But the heart of the matter here is what a vacation or time away provides for us. How do we refresh and renew ourselves? Pope Francis has said repeatedly that he needs to be around people and can find himself growing lonely in the grandness of a huge job like the papacy. So, staying nearby with his housemates and friends is in fact how he relaxes best.

And perhaps on our own career-driven paths, we too should think about how we renew ourselves. Is it really necessary to take a lavish vacation to the South of France or a tropical island resort? What do those comforts really provide? Perhaps in the drive to overwork, we also tend to “overplay” in order to trick ourselves into …

June 26th, 2013

empty-chairLast weekend Pope Francis found himself in some hot water.

Or, I suppose, it depends on how you look at it. In short, the pope decided to skip a musical concert he was previously expected to attend. One would not have even noticed this, but Pope Francis was to be a guest of honor and arrangements were made to have a papal throne (in Francis’ case — a white papal armchair) at the event.

That throne remained empty and it stuck out like a sore thumb.

Because this was a Vatican event, attended by many high-ranking cardinals and bishops, as well as the tuxedoed “Gentlemen of the Pope,” laymen who are like an honor guard that greets various Vatican dignitaries, it was widely interpreted as the pope intentionally avoiding much of the pomp and circumstance of these kinds of events.

However, that seems to be much overblown.

John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter said:

“Papal ambassadors, or nuncios, from around the world were in Rome last week for a conference, including a session with Francis on Friday. Since he does not come out of the world of Vatican diplomacy, Francis apparently felt his time Saturday evening would be better …

June 18th, 2013

Pope Francis greets a child after celebrating Mass in St. Peter's Square. (CNS photo/Alessia Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)

Pope Francis greets a child after celebrating Mass in St. Peter’s Square. (CNS photo/Alessia Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)

The other day while we were eating together, one of the sisters in my community began a conversation regarding the exponential growth in the number of people attending papal functions in Rome since the election of Pope Francis. She expressed her surprise and disappointment that the same amount of people did not turn out during the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI. Those who come to Rome to see the new pope, she said, are motivated by what is “unessential” — his personality, the hope that he will bless and kiss their babies or comfort those with disabilities — rather than by the desire to hear the Word of God and strengthen their lives as disciples of Christ.

This discussion prompted me to reflect: To what can we attribute the reaction of so many — Catholic and non-Catholic — to Pope Francis? Can we categorize this reaction as “papolatry,” as one journalist called it?

Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis come from two very different cultures, and have two very different personalities. Pope Benedict came from a verbal culture; …

May 28th, 2013
Pope Francis reminds us that Christ’s sacrifice is not just for Catholics

Atheists and nonbelievers gather for the Reason Rally in Washington, D.C. (CNS photo/Tyrone Turner courtesy of Religion News Service)

Atheists and nonbelievers gather for the Reason Rally in Washington, D.C. (CNS photo/Tyrone Turner courtesy of Religion News Service)

It’s often that religious people adopt a “holier than thou” attitude that professes that they have all the answers and that their particular religion is the wing nut that holds God together for the rest of the planet. (“If they’d only join OUR religion, all would be well with the world.”)

And while I’m sure that Pope Francis would hope that most people would in fact, see the beauty of Catholicism, last week he reminded all of us that “doing good” surpasses any affirmation of a particular faith tradition:

“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if …

May 23rd, 2013

popefrancispentecost-xAs reforms begin at the Vatican Bank, more officially known as the Institute for the Works of Religion, Pope Francis has also taken on global, personal, and spiritual financial matters in his papacy. Last week while speaking to new Vatican ambassadors he highlighted that “the majority of the men and women of our time continue to live daily in situations of insecurity, with dire consequences… People have to struggle to live and, frequently, to live in an undignified way.”

Reflecting on the economies of the world, Pope Francis pointed out that some exist simply to make money without adequate consideration for the rising number of people living in poverty in our midst. The idea that economic growth is the answer to everything is a theory that the pope hopes to debunk. He noted:

“The worship of the golden calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal.

The worldwide financial and economic crisis seems to highlight their distortions and above all the gravely deficient human perspective, which reduces man to one of his needs alone, namely, consumption.”

Nearly two-thirds …

April 8th, 2013

“So this is the invitation that I address to everyone: Let us accept the grace of Christ’s Resurrection! Let us be renewed by God’s mercy! Let us be loved by Jesus! Let us enable the power of his love to transform our lives too and let us become agents of this mercy, channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish.

“And so we ask the risen Jesus, who turns death into life, to change hatred into love, vengeance into forgiveness, war into peace. Yes, Christ is our peace, and through him we implore peace for all the world.”

Pope Francis on Easter Sunday 2013

As we begin the second week of the Easter Season (yes, Easter is more than one day!) Pope Francis’ words are an excellent reminder of the transforming power of God’s love and its availability in our everyday lives. One way we can know that love is through God’s mercy.

This is the role the sacraments play for us — they are signs of God’s mercy. God has already forgiven us. God doesn’t need sacraments to forgive. Rather, we need the sacraments to remind us of God’s forgiveness. …

April 5th, 2013

A view of Pope Francis’ residence at the Vatican. CNS photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)

A view of Pope Francis’ residence at the Vatican. CNS photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)

Pope Francis has announced that he will not be living in the papal apartment but rather will remain in the Vatican guesthouse where the cardinals stayed during the conclave. (He’ll upgrade to a slightly larger room in the guesthouse so he can receive visitors in a larger living room.)

Pope Francis’ personal lifestyle has always reflected simplicity. Back in Argentina he lived in simple quarters and would often take pride in telling people that he cooked for himself.

There’s an old maxim in Ignatian Spirituality that touts the evil tendencies that human beings often fall into. It’s simply entitled “From Riches, to Honors, to Pride.” Pride, as we know is one of the seven deadly sins. The Sufi tradition teaches that one of the deadly sins is your “main sin” and all the other sins in your life are symptoms of that main sin. Ignatius certainly felt that way about pride and I think we can see a similar tendency in Pope Francis.

But pride starts out with riches, which may for some mean actual money, but can also be linked to attachment. Even simple adornments can …

April 2nd, 2013

Pope Francis washes the foot of a prison inmate during the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord's Supper. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Pope Francis washes the foot of a prison inmate during the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Last week Pope Francis chose to carry out the Holy Thursday ritual of “washing feet” in a special way by presiding at the mass of the Lord’s Supper at the Casal del Marmo Youth Detention Centre in Rome.

Casal del Marmo is a place for youth who have run afoul of the law, mostly related to drug abuse. Ten girls and 40 boys live at the centre and took part in the mass. Interestingly, the 12 chosen to have their feet washed were not all Catholic (or men). Most of the residents at the facility are Muslim. The Pope met with the youth after mass and shared gifts of Easter eggs and columba, traditional Italian Easter cake in the shape of a dove.

Pope Francis expressed wishes that the Holy Thursday mass should be simple. And what simpler gesture could he provide the Church than washing the feet of teenagers who have gotten themselves into trouble? Visiting the teens at the detention center didn’t send a message that the world would regard as powerful. The Pope didn’t …

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