Ebola Containment Issues, Israel Hamas Talks Deteriorate, U.S. Continues its Strike on Iraq and Ukrainian Rebels Open to Ceasefire

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According to Guinea news, in West Africa, the afflicted nation announced Saturday its closing its borders with Sierra Leone and Liberia in order to halt the influx of infected people in and out of the country, AOL reports, International response to Ebola: Travel bans, funding. Al Jazeera quotes the country’ heat minister as saying: “We have provisionally closed the frontier between Guinea and Sierra Leone because of all the news that we have received from there recently.” The health minister most likely is referring to the World Health Organization’s call for international aid as the Ebola outbreak has become an “extraordinary event:” “The possible consequences of further international spread are particularly serious in view of the virulence of the virus, the intensive community and health facility transmission patterns, and the weak health systems in the currently affected and most at-risk countries.” Nigeria, Liberia and Sierra Leone have all declared a state of emergency following the Ebola outbreak putting limits on civil liberties and closing public institutions like schools. On Saturday, riot police had to break up an demonstration blocking Liberia’s busiest highway as angry crowds protested the government’s delays in removing the Ebola victims bodies, Jonathon Paye-Layleh reports, Liberia Protesters Demand Govt Pick Up Ebola Bodies. The growing unease in Liberia raised the specter of social unrest as almost 300 people have died from the disease in Liberia. Residents say that the government has yet to pick up the bodies of the dead by the roadside along the central town of Weala, 50 miles from Monrovia the capital, which have been sitting there for two day. The government has ordered all victims be cremated amid resistance to neighborhood burials for fear of contamination. Information Minister Lewis Brown warned Saturday on state radio: “Security people are on their way to put things under control. We don’t want people taking the law into their own hands.” So far, 961 people have died, according to figures released Friday by the U.N. Heath agency. The situation in Liberia has been describes as “catastrophic” by the Doctors Without Borders Charity. Lindis Hurum. the group’s emergency coordinator, said: “There are reports of dead bodies lying in streets and houses.” In addition, 40 health care workers in Liberia have contracted Ebola in recent weeks, while most city hospitals are closed, Hurum reports. On Saturday, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf met with health workers at City Hall in Monrovia. “The president wants to express the collective gratitude of the entire nation to our health care workers who have continued to make tremendous sacrifices for this country and people,” Brown said. Liberia has launched “Operation White Shield” where soldiers are deployed in different locations and at checkpoints outside the capital to discourage residents’ movements, part of Sirleaf’s emergency measures to fight the disease.

On Sunday, back in the Middle East, Palestinian negotiators threatened to quit Egypt brokered truce talks unless Israeli negotiators return to Cairo, Mohammed Daraghmeh and Karin Laub report, Palestinians to quit Gaza talks if Israel no-show. Israeli officials said their negotiators will return when Gaza rocket fire stops. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday: “Israel will not negotiate under fire.” As talks have stalled, Israel responded to rocket fire from Gaza with 20 airstrikes killing three Palestinians, according to Gaza officials. Since Friday following the truce expiration, smaller Gaza militant groups hot Hamas have fired rockets and mortar shells at Israel and on Sunday fired two more. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said: “If Hamas thinks it has worn us down, it is wrong. We will return to the table only after an end to the fire. … We are not intending to compromise.” On Sunday, Palestinian negotiators vented frustrations about a lack of progress and the Israeli team’s absence. Azzam al-Ahmad, the delegation head f and confidant of Abbas, said: “If it is proven to us that the Israeli delegation is setting conditions for its return to Cairo, we will not accept any condition for the continuation of the talks.” Late Saturday, Palestinian negotiation Bassam Salhi representing a small PLO faction said the team met with Egyptian mediators who are in touch with Israeli officials and hope to make progress. However, he Salhi said: “We told the Egyptians that if the Israelis are not coming and if there is no significant development, we are leaving today.” Israel has targeted 5,00 sites so far, according to the army, while Gaza militants have fired 3,000 into Israel. Meanwhile, on Saturday, Israel launched 30 aerial attacks in Gaza killing five Palestinians and militants fired rockets at Israel as the conflict entered its second month and defied international efforts for a peaceful resolution by extending the ceasefire. Nidal al-Mughrabi and Allyn Fisher-Ilan report, Israel-Gaza Violence Resumes, Defying Ceasefire Efforts, the Israeli military said since midnight it has attacked 30 sites in Gaza without specifying targets and Gaza militants, since the 72 hour ceasefire ended Friday, have fired more than 65 rockets at Israel injuring two Israelis by mortar on Friday. Heavy civilian causalities and destruction during Israel’s offensive in packed residential areas of Gaza has garnered international attention over the past month. The White House urged both sides to do what theyt can to preserve civilians after failure to extend the ceasefire with Spokesman John Earnest saying Friday “the United States is very concerned” about the renewed violence. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged the parties “not to resort to further military action that can only exacerbate the already appalling humanitarian situation in Gaza”. At a rally in South Africa, Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu accused Israel of behaving like a “barbaric bully” in Gaza.

Meanwhile in Iraq, U.S. officials confirmed on Friday that the Iraqi government provided Peshmerga fighters with a plane load of ammunition, according to Missy Ryan, Iraq Arms Kurds Against ISIS. The officials said Iraqi security forces flew to Abril, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, with small arms ammunition in a move that American officials hope helps the fighters keep militants from the Islamic State at by. Under conditions of anonymity, the officials said: “Developments over the last few days have refocused the issue, and we’ve seen unprecedented cooperation between Baghdad and Arbil in terms of going after (the Islamic State), not only in terms of conversation but in terms of actual support.” As Islamic State fighters advanced earlier this week, Maliki ordered his air force for the first time to back Kurdish forces in their fight against militants marking a significant step in a country where in recent years Peshmerga and Iraqi forces under the command of Baghdad would have fought each other rather than cooperate. The Obama administration working with the Iraqi government, the official said, to ensure additional requests for the Kurdistan Regional Government are met. Vivian Salama and Bram Janssen reports, Iraq Says U.S. Airstrikes Have Been Effective Against Islamic State, President Barack Obama announce on Saturday that the U.S. military return to Iraq is to prevent genocide, protect its diplomats and provide humanitarian aid to refugees trapped by Islamic State militants on a mountain ridge near the Syrian border. In addition, Obama said it was a long term project and cannot succeed unless Iraqis form an inclusive government in Baghdad to keep the country from breaking apart. U.S.plans and drones launched four airstrikes on Islamic State forces Saturday, while they fired n Yazidi civilians taking shelter in the Sinjar mountains, U.S. Central Command reports. It was the third round of strikes against Islamic State forces by the U.S. military since being authorized by Obama Thursday allowing for aid flights to drop food and water to thousands of starving refugees in the Sinjar area. A delayed response from Baghdad left Kurdish forces unable to fight off the Islamic State militants causing many Yazidi refugees to seek shelter in the mountains. UNICEF’s spokesman in Iraq, Karim Elkorany, told the Associated Press Saturday that at least 56 children have died of dehydration in the mountains, while British officials estimate Saturday between 50,000 and 150,000 people are trapped on the mountain. Juan Mohammad, a local government spokesman in the Syrian city of Qamishli, told AP more than 20,000 starving Yazidis are fleeing across the border. Iraq’s embattled Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki waited til Monday to call in aerial reinforcements for Kurdish fighter to help contain the Islamic State militants. Iraqi Foreign Minster Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd, said: “Air strikes are intended to degrade the terrorists’ capabilities and achieve strategic gains — and have been very effective.” Many of America’s allies support the intervention since the Yazidis plight received so much international attention. Obama said the U.S. will focus on helping refugees, eliminating terrorists, protecting Americans and keeping “key infrastructure” intact so that the Islamic State group can’t permanently cripple Iraq before an inclusive government can form. During his Sunday address, Pope Francis expressed outrage at the violence aimed at the religious minority in Iraq who include fleeing children dying of thirst and said he is sending Cardinal Fernando Filoni, the Vatican’s ambassador in Baghdad during the Iraqi war, to Iraq Monday to show solidarity with Christians, the Associated Press reports, Pope expresses outrage at violence in Iraq.

As the Middle East struggles with containing and resolving their conflicts, Ukrainians rebels are ready to agree to a ceasefire to prevent a “humanitarian catastrophe”, according to the insurgents’ new leader on Saturday as conditions worsen in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk, Yuras Karmanau reports, Ukraine rebel leader: We are open to a cease-fire. Aleksandr Zakharchenko, the so called prime minister of the Donetsk separatists, said in a statement posed on the rebel website: “We are prepared to stop firing to bar the spread of the scale of the humanitarian catastrophe in Donbass (eastern Ukraine).” Russia, who the Kiev governments and Western countries allege is supporting the rebels. has called repeatedly for humanitarian missions into eastern Ukraine, but Kiev and thr West believe it will allow Russian forces into the region as supposedly 20,000 troops are waiting across the border. Late Saturday, in a statement from Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine is prepared to accept humanitarian assistance in eastern Ukraine, but aid must come without military accompaniment, pass through border checkpoints controlled by the Ukrainian government and the mission must be international. Poroshenko spoke to German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss German participation in such a mission, while in Washington, the White House said President Barack Obama and Merkel agreed that any Russian intervention in Ukraine was unacceptable and violated international law. Donetsk city council spokesman Maxim Rovinsky told the Associate Press: “The situation is getting worse with every hour.” On Saturday, shelling hit 30 apartment blocks killing one person and wounding 18 adding about 2,000 residential building without power. A 47 year old resident of Donetsk, Dmistry Andronov: “We’re afraid of the Ukrainian army, which is firing on the city, and of the rebels of the Donetsk People’s Republic, who are robbing and killing civilians.” Zakharchenko’s statement came after the rebels’ top commander said Ukrainian forces has seized a key town, Krasnyi Luch, cutting Donetsk and nearby territory off from the rest of the rebel held east. Novorossiya, or “New Russia,” is a term widely used by the rebels for the eastern area that seeks independence from the government in Kiev. Concerns about a possible humanitarian catastrophe in the rebel held second largest city of Luhansk where fighting has been heavy and prolonged. Russians news agencies quote Luhansk authorities on Saturday saying that the city has been without power and water for a week and most stores are closed. Obama ans British Prime Minister David Cameron spoke via phone Saturday about Ukraine and in a statement from Cameron’s office said: “Both expressed grave concern about reports that Russian military vehicles have crossed the border into Ukraine and that Russian armed forces are exercising for a ‘humanitarian intervention’. (Both) are absolutely clear that such a so-called humanitarian mission would be unjustified and illegal.” The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was working to alleviate the crisis in eastern Ukraine, but warned it “will be taken in strict adherence to our fundamental working principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence.” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told U.S. Vice President Joe Biden via phone about his communications with the Red Cross and efforts to distribute humanitarian aid. In a statement from the White House, Biden and Poroshenko agreed that if “Russia were serious about improving the humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine,” it had to immediately stop shelling Ukrainian troops, release Ukrainian hostages being held inside Russia and cease providing weapons to pro-Russia separatists in Ukraine.

Honoring the Past and Embracing the Future

It’s official Pope Francis was formally installed as the Bishop of Rome on Sunday with less of the pomp and pageantry than the usual ritual even taking time to honor those that came before. Francis in another display of his humility toward the post, he arrived at St. John in Latern Basilica to honor a wildly popular past pope by blessing a plaque renaming a corner of the piazza outside the church after Pope John Paul II, who died in 2005. Arriving a half hour early, he gave the blessing after the mayor of Rome unveiled the plaque marked “Giovanni Paul II Square” in one section of the piazza which holds free rock concerts, political and labor rallies. The pope fashion was simple as he wore a plain white cassock and the Italian cardinal wore his red cape. The two hour long installation in the early evening was significant for the church due to the fact a pope is a pontiff because he is elected Bishop of Rome but not visa versa.

The basilica is Rome’s most ancient, with the foundation dating back to the early 4th century, and the ceremony stems from centuries of traditional ritual that modern popes have updated to the times, but Francis is sticking true to his own tradition of simplicity and humility. While most ornately dressed pontiffs in centuries past arrive in horse drawn carriage, Francis came through the side entrance of the basilica complex in an open topped white jeep. Before entering the doors, the vehicle stopped again and again so that the security team could pass babies to him to kiss. When the wind picked up, Francis took off his skull cap exposing his head to the wind and tussling his hair according to the Associated Press. Later Francis wore the peaked bishop’s hat and wearing cream colored vestments sat in the mosaic studded basilica chair known as the “Cathera Romana” which represents the post of Rome’s bishop. He then was handed the pastoral staff, symbolizing a bishop’s care for  his flock. During his homily, Francis said, “It is with joy that I am celebrating the Eucharist for the first time in this Lateran Basilica, the Cathedral of the Bishop of Rome. I greet all of you with great affection… those who love are able to understand, to hope, to inspire confidence; they do not give up, they do not burn bridges, they are able to forgive.”

Throughout the ceremony and well after, the pontiff surprised and delighted the crowd with his humility and continued to set news standards for the church. Francis during the ceremony updated the obedience pledge recited by Cardinal Valilini, who is the pope’s prelate, when professing obedience to the pope’s teaching and leadership replacing the pontiff as being “in an elevated position to govern” with the pontiff as “presiding over the Churches in charity.” In honoring John Paul, Francis also paid tribute to a pontiff who embraced his role as bishop of Rome as the late pontiff would visit Rome parishes, hundreds of them and poor neighborhood on the city’s outskirts on Sunday mornings. When Francis mentioned that John Paul “closed his eyes to this world” eight years ago this month, the new pope drew so much applause he could not finish his sentence the Associated Press reports. Francis may be the pope that decided whether or not the Polish Born Pontiff will receive the church’s highest honor, sainthood. The church process to certify the first miracle needed for John Paul’s beatification only took six years from his death until Pope Benedict XVI beatified him in 2001 which is the shortest time in modern history and the last formal step before sainthood according to the Associated Press.  The pope in his Vatican apperance on Sunday called for the faithful to “go into the piazzas and announce Christ our savior” to the people and “Bring the Good News with sweetness and respect” referring to the Gospel of course. John Paul, Benedict and Francis have all made shoring up flagging faith a priority of their leaderships. The new pope will be leading the Catholic youth pep rallies this summer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, during a pilgrimage to his home continent.

Women as the Foundation of the Roman Catholic Church

 

Check out the Pope’s full address here.

As the pope blazes a new trail for the modern Roman Catholic Church, Francis continues to emphasize the importance of women and their role in the church despite taking the office only weeks ago as the Bishop of Rome becoming the first Latin American pope and the first non-European pope in 1300 years after Benedict XVI resign the first in 600 years. On Wednesday, Pope Francis emphasized the importance of women in the church as they were the first witnesses of Christ and play a special role in the spreading of faith. As many witnessed on Holy Thursday last week, the pontiff included women in the traditional foot washing ritual drawing criticism from traditionalist who believe the right has always been reserved for men. Many see the custom as a re-enactment of Jesus washing the fee of his apostles who are all men. Women as Francis explains have always played a special role as the “first witnesses” of Christ’s resurrection passing the belief onto their children and grandchildren. Francis told the thousands of faithful in St. Peter’s Square, “In the Church, and in the journey of faith, women have had and still have a special role in opening doors to the Lord.” He even went further to explain that in the bible women were not recorded witnesses as Jewish law prohibited it at the time as they are not reliable witnesses. However, Francis did comments that, “In the Gospels, however, women have a primary, fundamental role … The evangelists simply narrate what happened: the women were the first witnesses. This tells us that God does not choose according to human criteria.” This is the second time the pontiff has talked about the role of women as witnesses to the resurrection of Christ which is the cornerstone of the Catholic faith.

As for the role of women, Pope Francis addressed women in his Easter Vigil on Saturday and urge the faithful to  not fear change. Marinella Perroni, a theologian and leading member of the Association of Italian Women Theologians, according to Reuters had this to say:

“This is very encouraging. Pope Francis is taking up, with a stronger emphasis, the teaching of previous popes about the role of women in the foundation of faith and the resurrection of Jesus. The fact that the Pope acknowledges that the progressive removal of female figures from the tradition of the resurrection…is due to human judgments, distant from those of God…introduces a decidedly new element compared to the previous papacy.”

Several liberal reform supporters of the church call for the institution to ordain women as priests giving them a greater voice and more recognition within the church which the Vatican has said publicly that Jesus Christ chose only men for his apostles even though many female priesthood supports have said Jesus was conforming to the customs at the time. The 76 year old pontiff has set a new standard for the papacy as he continues to live as his name sake did St. Francis with humility and simplicity by shunning the ornate items of traditional dress, using informal language in his addresses, and choosing not to live in the regal papal apartments choosing instead to live in a simple residence. Many are hopeful that this new age of the Catholic Church can reform the Curia and many believe Pope Francis may even close the Vatican bank following the scandals at the heart of the Holy See which has damaged the church’s reputation.

Pope Francis: A Vessel of Peace and Humility

Pope Francis Foot Washing

Pope Francis has made quite an impression on the international community especially the billion of so faithful during his short time as Pope with his official duties starting with Holy Week. With his most significant break from tradition occurring on Holy Thursday, Pope Francis washed and kissed the feet of young women at a juvenile detention center which for most in the Curia is a departure from the strict rules that ritual involves men not women. In fact, no pope has ever washed the feet of women sparking a debate among conservative who feel it a questionable example and liberals who welcome the inclusivity. As Francis explained to the group of 14 to 21 year old at Casal del Marmo in Rome: “This is a symbol, it is a sign. Washing your feet means I am at your service. Help one another. This is what Jesus teaches us. This is what I do. And I do it with my heart. I do this with my heart because it is my duty. As a priest and bishop, I must be at your service.” A video released by the Vatican, demonstrates the 76 year old Francis kneeling on the stone floor pouring water over the feet of the youth then drying and kissing their feet. The group included black, white, male, female, and even tattooed feet.

Previous popes carried out the traditional ceremony in Rome’s St. John Lateran Basilica choosing 12 priests who represent the 12 apostles whose feet Christ washed during the Last Supper, but Francis has never followed the traditions even as cardinal. Before being pope, the pope as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio celebrated in jails, hospitals, or hospices as part of his ministry to the poor and marginalized in society especially women. Vatican spokesman, Rev. Federico Lombardi, didn’t want to enter into a canonical dispute over the matter but did express that the ritual represent only men as Christ washed the feet of his apostles were all male. As the Associated Press reported, Lombardi wrote in an email saying, “Here, the rite was for a small, unique community made up also of women. Excluding the girls would have been inopportune in light of the simple aim of communicating a message of love to all, in a group that certainly didn’t include experts on liturgical rules.” Some believe the message was about Christ’s embracing love and ministering to everyone, while other believe that restricting the rite to men is in line with the church’s restriction on ordaining women since Christ’s apostles were male and that the ritual is more than washing feet. The ultimate message Pope Francis had for his young audience whom he greeted after the mass and gave each an Esster egg was, “Don’t lose hope. Understand? With hope you can always go on.” One young man asked the pontiff why he came to visit them and Francis responded simply that it was to “help me to be humble, as a bishop should be” as the gesture came “from my heart. Things from the heart don’t have an explanation.”

Pope Francis ended Holy week with his first Easter Sunday celebration with a passionate plea for world peace to an enthusiastic crowd of more than 250,000 people who came to see him in St. Peter’s Square. In his Easter message, he spoke of the long standing conflict in the Middle East, on the Korean Peninsula and elsewhere and remembered the world’s neediest people. With physical gestures, he demonstrated his down to earth caring for all God’s children as he cradled a disabled child held out to him and delightedly accepted the gift the Associated Press reports. After the mass, the Pontiff took a ride through St. Peter’s Square in an open topped popemobile through the joyous crowd, kissing children, patting them on the head and overwhelmed with joy. The pope received a gift from one admirer in crowd who gave him a jersey of his favorite Argentine soccer team, Saints of San Lorenzo, as the crowd cheered in approval. In a moving moment to remember, Francis cradled and kissed a  disabled boy passed to him waiting patiently for the boy to give his greeting to him.

From the same spot he was introduced as pope on March 13, Francis gave his Easter speech from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica reiterating his concern for the poor and suffering as well as promoting peace and social justice. The Roman Catholic leader aimed the Easter greeting at “every house and every family, especially where the suffering is greatest, in hospitals, in prisons”  and prayed that Jesus would inspire people to “change hatred into love, vengeance into forgiveness, war into peace,” reports the Associated Press. The first pontiff from the Jesuits, an order with concern for the poor, and the first pope to name himself after St. Francis who renounced wealth and preached to the down and out lamented that the world is still divided by greed. The square was covered in a beautiful variety of flowers as Francis thanked florists from the Netherlands for donating them and advised people to let love transform their lives saying, “let those desert places in our hearts bloom.” Francis used the language of the Holy See to give his greetings in Italian as the pope stressed his role as the Bishop of Rome. The pontiff improvised his parting words to the world including those who were present and those linked by modern technology adding that he especially remembers “the weakest and the neediest” and praying that all of humanity be guided along “the paths of justice, love and peace.” Another departure from Easter Tradition, Francis will not be taking a post holiday vacation at the summer palace in Castel Gandolfo where Benedict XVI resides and has declined moving into Benedict’s former apartment in the Apostolic Palace which overlooks St. Peter’s Square instead he still resides in the Vatican hotel where the cardinals stayed during the conclave. Francis has demonstrated so far in his short time as Bishop of Rome that he has little desire to participate in the pomp and pageantry that comes with his position as the leader of the Catholic Church.

 

Pope Greets the Faithful As Holy Week Begin with Palm Sunday Mass

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over 250,000 of the faithful gathered waving olive branches and braided palm fronds in St. Peter’s Square to hear and get a glimpse of Pope Francis celebrating his First Palm Sunday Mass addressing the crowd reminding them to be humble and young at heart promising to attend the youth jamboree in Brazil in July. The crowd included a variety of people from tourists to Romans to pilgrims who celebrated the beginning of the Holy Week leading to Easter, Christianity’s most important day. The pope keeping with his unique style broke away from the homily text prepared for him to encourage the faithful to lead simple lives, resist temptation and overall remain optimistic in the face of adversity according to the Associate Press. Francis told the crowd that “Don’t let yourselves be robbed of hope! Don’t let yourselves be robbed of hope!” as the world deals with a crushing economic difficulties and employment crisis. At the end of the two hour Mass, Francis removed his red vestments and wore only his white cassock with skull cap when he climbed into the open top popemobile to meet the crowd. His security team has to work harder than ever as Francis leaned out to shake hands, kiss and pat the heads of infants his body guards passed to him. The Chief bodyguard, Domenico Giani, at one point was sent to give a message to the mother of a child the pontiff passed as the he appeared very tense then broke into a smile one he completed his task the Associated Press reported. The pope also climbed down from his vehicle to kiss a woman in the crowd and chat with her, while another man in the crowd leaned over the barricade to squeeze the pontiff on the shoulder which was unheard of with the reserved Benedict XVI. As an Argentine nun, Sister Emma, commented, “There is no doubt that there will be a new spring for the church, a renewal.”

Palm Sunday marks the day Jesus’ entered Jerusalem then later was betrayed by one of his apostles and sentenced to die on the cross. Francis presided over the Mass that took place on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica under a white canopy saying Jesus “awakened so many hopes in the heart, above all among humble, simple, poor, forgotten people, those who don’t matter in the eyes of the world.” As many of the cardinals sat on chairs during the ceremony, the pope talked about many of the evils afflicting the world including wars, `’economic conflicts that hit the weakest” as well as corruption. Since his election, Pope Francis has made it his mission to help the downtrodden and poor which keeps with the Jesuit tradition as the pope said in his homily that Christian joy `’isn’t born from possessing a lot of things but from having met” Jesus as that same joy should keep people young and “Even at 70, 80, the heart doesn’t age” if one is inspired by Christian joy the Associate Press reports. During the Mass, many of the faithful knelt on the hard cobblestones of the square when the Gospel recounts the moment of Jesus’ death so did Francis kneel on a wooden kneeler. A few olive trees were inserted in the dirt placed around the central obelisk in the square. Holy Week has just begun but there is already a planned change to the tradition with the new papacy. On Holy Thursday, the pope will wash the feet of young inmates at a juvenile detention center in Rome instead of the feet of priests in the basilica as a humble gesture of humility. Other appointments in public will include the Way of the Cross procession at the Colosseum on Good Friday night and next Sunday Francis will celebrate Easter Mass in the square.

A First in 600 years: Two Living Popes Meet for Lunch at Castel Gandolfo

Popes

Well the time has come for the two to meet which marks a historic milestone that has not happened in 600 years and could be seen by some to be a problematic melding of two papacies. The historic meeting took place at Castel Gandolfo Saturday when Pope Francis traveled from the Vatican to south Rome to have lunch with Benedict XVI, his predecessor. The two men in white embraced with the pope telling a retiring one “We are brothers” and insist they pray side by side for the future of the Catholic Church reports the Associated Press. The year for the Catholic Church has stated with a bang with Benedict’s resignation and the election of the first Latin American pope leading to the meeting on Saturday with the image of the papal past embracing the papal future, praying and breaking bread together. Benedict, 85, has been living in the papal retreat since Feb. 28 when he became the first to resign in 600 years, while Francis, 76, made it clear he would not let Benedict hide from the world as he wanted and made it clear he would visit him. Benedict greeted Francis, wearing a white quilted jacket over his white cassock, on the helipad of the Castel Gandolfo gardens where they embraced and clasped hands making it clear that Francis is the new pope and Francis made it clear Benedict is a brother and equal. After leaving the helipad, Benedict gave Francis the right side of the car symbolizing the traditional place of the pope and Benedict sat on the left on their way to the palazzo to pray where Benedict insisted that Francis use the papal kneeler, but Francis refused saying “We are brothers” then they kneeled side by side. Francis also brought an icon of the Madonna for Benedict saying, “They told me it’s the Madonna of Humility. Let me say one thing: When they told me that, I immediately thought of you, at the many marvelous examples of humility and gentleness that you gave us during your pontificate.” With a simple reply from Benedict of  “Grazie, grazie.” Well wishers outside the main piazza chanted “Francesco! Francesco!” outside the villa but the crowd left after Francis’ helicopter left 2.5 hours later, according to the Associated Press, without either pope appearing at the balcony.

The Vatican respected the wished of Benedict to stay out of the spotlight so no to interfere with his successor’s papacy with no live Vatican television coverage and only a short video and still photo released after the meeting, while no details were given about what the two discussed many are speculating. Some speculations about what the men discussed include the rise of secularism in the world, the decrease in priesthood in Europe and the competition the Catholic Church faces in Latin America and Africa from evangelical Pentecostal movements. Benedict may have discussed pressing issues the new pope will have to deal with including unfinished business from the Benedict’s papacy such as the Vatileak documents last year that exposed corruption and mismanagement in Vatican administration and ideas on how to make management changes in the Holy See administration. Further questions have to be asked about the future of the Catholic Church and how they will deal with two living popes as one has resigned and the other reigning side by side. As the Vatican’s leading canon lawyer, Jesuit Rev. Gianfranco Ghirlanda, explained in an article it would be inappropriate to call Benedict “emeritus pope” as he lost all of his power of primacy when he renounced the papacy, therefore the Vatican has originally said he would be known as “emeritus bishop of Rome” but Benedict chose to keep wearing the white cassock of the papacy and being called “emeritus pope.” The main question now for the Vatican is will Benedict influence the future pontiff and whether Catholics will favor the traditional style undermining his successor’s authority and agenda through allegiance to the old pope. This should not be a concern since in his last meeting with cardinals on Feb.28, Benedict pledge his obedience to the then unknown future pope. In their meeting on Saturday, neither address each other in formal titles but as friends.

The two are men are very different in their approach and style to the papacy. The Argentine born Francis has already made waves with his no papal regalia, simple black shoes, and paying his own hotel bill sending a message to the people that the pope’s job is to protect the poor. As the archbishop of Buenos Aires, the man now known as pope would celebrate Mass with prostitutes and drug addicts as his plan for Holy Thursday Mass this week will be to celebrate at a juvenile detention center washing the feet of 12 inmates echoing the humility of Jesus. The German born Benedict comes from the academic world as one of the leading theologian who spent more than 30 years in the Vatican where he was first the chief doctrinal watchdog and then pope. His main concern during his papacy was to remind people of their faith and bring back the traditions of the Catholic Church as well as the brocaded style of the papacy. his Holy Thursday included the foot washing of clerics at the St. John Lateran Basilica. It was best said by Civilta Cattolica, the Italian Jesuit magazine, whose article are Vatican approved said that, “They are two figures of the highest spirituality, whose relationship with life is completely anchored in God. This radicalness is shown in Pope Benedict’s shy and kind bearing, and in Pope Francis it is revealed by his immediate sweetness and spontaneity.”

A New Era in the Catholic Church?

Pope Francis Civil Unions

With the approach of holy week and the inaugural Mass of Pope Francis fast approaching, let’s watch the highlight and low-light reels for this week as big decision are coming for the Catholic church.

Pope Francis and GLAAD: Oh you knew it was coming. The surprising fact many may not be aware of is the fact the pope at one point supported civil unions for gay couples. The focus though for the LGBT communities had been his public stance on gay marriage, mainly that it’s a “destructive attack on God’s plan”, and his opposition to gay adoption that it discriminates against children. However according to Huff Post as recently as 2010 then Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio suggested the church support civil unions as a compromise of sorts as at the time they were legal in parts before the gay marriage bill was passed in his home of Argentina. Although the bishops rejected his suggestion, Argentina passed the law making it the first South American country to do so. While some are optimistic about the new pope, some who knew him before are less. As Esteban Paulon, president of the Argentine Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and Transexuals, told the Times, “The reality, beyond what he may have said in private meetings, was that he said some terrible things in public…He took a role, in public, that was determinedly combative.” GLAAD President Herndon Gradick shared the same sentiment in a statement to Huff Post, explaining, “For decades the Catholic hierarchy has been in need of desperate reform. In his life, Jesus condemned gays zero times. In Pope Benedict’s short time in the papacy, he made a priority of condemning gay people routinely.” Oh by the way GLAAD the Pope does not only answer to God he has to answer to his congregation and the Curia so anyone in his position has an uphill battle ahead…give him some time cut the man some slack he has been pope for 2 minutes.

Pope Francis and Mislead Flock: As we all know or have seen, the pope traditionally holds Mass of the Lord’s Supper in St. Peter’s Basilica or the Basilica of St. John Latern reports Catholic News Service. This year, Pope Francis decided to do things his way and break with tradition by celebrating Holy Thursday of next week washing and kissing the feet of juvenile prisoners in Rome’s Casal del Marmo. The service typically includes washing and kissing the feet of 12 people commemorating Jesus’ humility towards his twelve apostles. The service is not atypical for the pope as in his former life as Argentine’s Cardinal Bergoglio he often held Holy Thursday ceremony in jails, hospitals or other locations associated with the poor and infirm according to Huff Post. According to Agence France-Presse, Pope Francis wants to narrow the gap between the laypeople and the Church.

Pope Francis and The Incredibly Shrinking Priesthood: As the congregation around the world becomes bigger even in the U.S., the problem of no one to lead these congregation has become increasingly apparent. In order to deal with the priest shortage, the Catholic Church has decided to look to former Anglican leaders to fill the void reports Huff Post. The number of men entering the priesthood in the U.S. has dropped about 20,000 since 1975 while the number of the faithful has increased by 17 million according to CBS. Allowing Anglican priests to convert was a way to solve the problem as seen by former Pope Benedict XVI who issued an edict in 2009 to create “a new structure to welcome some disenchanted Anglicans into the Roman Catholic fold,” Time notes. At a Vatican news conference last October, Cardinal William J. Levada, prefect for the Congregation of Doctrine of the Faith, according to the New York Times, commented that Anglicans who wish to convert would now be able “to enter full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving elements of the distinctive Anglican spiritual and liturgical patrimony.” The New York Times of course in an article about married Catholic priests raised some interesting questions as married priest were banned in 1123 by the First Lateran Council however married converts have been allowed since 1980:

First, are they doing as good a job as other priests? If the church has decided that celibacy confers certain gifts on priests, does it follow that married priests are worse at serving their congregations? Second, wouldn’t celibate priests be a little resentful of colleagues who get to serve the church and have sex too? And third, if the married priests are doing a good job and not provoking envy, why keep the celibacy rule for priests in general?

Still the transition has been smooth for many of the priest and even entire congregations to convert to Catholicism. Lewis, a converted Catholic priest who leads St. luke’s now Cathloci pareish in Bladensburg, MD., told PBS: “We left the Episcopal Church not because we were running away from the issues of the Episcopal Church. We left the Episcopal Church because we were running to the Catholic Church … The theology of Rome, the authority of Rome, the unity in the Holy See and in the bishops: that was appealing to us.”