Canadian Muslims Foil Terrorist Plot to Derail Train

On Monday Royal Canadian Mounted Police announced that Raed Jaser and suspected accomplice Chiheb Esseghaier were arrested in connection with a planned derailment of a Via Rail Canada train within the country, New York Times reports. The police have yet to figure out the details of the plot, but do credit members of the Canadian Muslim community for tipping off authorities to a terrorist plan to attack a train with both men allegedly working with al Qaeda. Muhammad Robert Heft, a Muslim leader in Ontario, told the Toronto Sun the imam of a local Muslim community helped foil the plot by alerting authorities. Heft has this to say,”At the end of the day, it’s not how you dress, it’s how you think. In our community we may look a little different, but in our hearts we love Canada. It’s our country. It’s our tribe. We want safety for all Canadians regardless of their religion.” And to those misconceptions and stereotypes of Muslims such as not sharing information, he told the Sun, “We have to be on the front lines. To either nip it in the bud in the very beginning or cooperate with authorities so they can be brought to justice.”

According to Huff Post, Heft told CNN the Canadian police informed the Islamic community Monday during a briefing about imam’s help in the capturing and subsequent prevention of the terrorist plot. Heft had this to say to the RCM police, “We are supportive and thankful that the RCMP did the investigation and was able to apprehend the individuals before anything happened. We are pleased that they took us in and explained what was going on.”  The two men involved have  been under close watch for over a year and Imam Yusuf Badat, of the Islamic Foundation of Toronto, told Canadian CBC that tips from the Muslim community led to the capture Monday. U.S. Ambassador David Jacobson added the two men were arrested following cross boarder operations and in a statement says,”It underscores the fact that we face serious and real threats, and that security is a shared responsibility. We all need to remain vigilant in confronting threats and keeping North America safe and secure.” The accused men were arrested because, according to the Associated Press, they received instruction and guidance from member of al Qaeda in Shiite led Iran even though the group is a Sunni Arab network. The penalties being brought against the men include conspiracy to carry out an attack and murder people in association with a terrorist organization.

The Aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing

Deval Patrick Boston Marathon

The capture of the second suspect for many closed the first chapter in the mystery surrounding the Boston Marathon Bombing last Monday, but now many not just the government want answers to why and how. As the lone survivor of the Boston Marathon bombing lies in a heavily guarded room recovering from injuries, no one knows what the 19 year old will say or when as on Sunday he was in serious condition after being pulled bloodied and wounded from a tarp covered boat in a Watertown backyard. One thing is for sure, the American Civil Liberties Union and the federal public defender raised concern over the plan to interrogate Dzhokhar Tsarnaev without reading his Miranda Rights. The capture came on Friday night hours after his 26 year old brother Tamerlan died in a gun battle with police. The U.S. official said an elite interrogation team will be used without reading him his rights invoking the exception because of immediate danger to the public such as bombs planted and ready to go off. ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero called the legal exception in this case as non-compliant with the rule since the rule states that continued threat to public safety and OT an open ended exception to Miranda rights which guarantees the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. The Massachusetts’ federal public defender’s office said they would represent him once charged, however a lawyer should be give as soon as possible because of issues regarding possible interrogation.

As of right now, no charges have been brought against Tsarnaev as it is unclear what charges will be filed according to Huff Post. The twin bombing injured 180 and killed three which can carry the most serious charge of a possible death sentence because the use of a weapon of mass destruction to kill people, however Massachusetts does not have a death penalty. According to the Associated Press, President Barack Obama said there are many unanswered question about the bombing including whether the brothers had help and to delay judgement about the motives behind it. Gov. Deval Patrick said on Saturday that Tsarnaev is unable to communicate at this time as he is still recovering at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center where 11 victims were treated.

The all day manhunt on Friday lead police in Boston to a Watertown neighborhood and left the city for much of the day at a standstill. The break came when a homeowner spotted blood on his boat and pulled back the tarp to see a bloody Tsarnaev hiding inside. After some gunfire, he was seized, taken into custody in an ambulance and to where he currently resides to treat injuries suffered during the battle. During the night, Tsarnaev brothers killed an MIT police officer, severely wounded another lawman and took part in a shootout and car chase hurling explosives at the police reports AP. The explosives were similar to the ones used at the Boston Marathon attack according to authorities who recovered a pressure cooker lid embedded in a car down the street. Watertown Police Chief Edward Deveau also confirmed that the suspects tossed two grenades before Tamerlan ran out of ammo and police tackled him. But while handcuffed, officers had to dive out of the way as Dzhokhar drove at them in a carjacked Mercedes, while the SUV dragged Tamerlan’s body down the block. Police were able to track the escaped suspect by a blood trail left after abandoning the Mercedes.

Investigators cannot offer a motive for the Boston attack at this time, however interviews with officials and those who knew the brothers has painted a picture of the older brother as someone embittered with the U.S. becoming increasingly radical in his Muslim faith and influential over his brother. According to AP, the Russian FSB intelligence service told the FBI in 2011 that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was a follower of radical Islam two law enforcement officials confirmed Saturday. In an FBI news release, a foreign government possibly Russia said Tamerlan Tsarnaev appeared to be a strong believer and his ideology drastically changed since 2010 as he prepared to leave the U.S. for a region in Russia to join an unspecified group. In response, the FBI interviewed the older brothers and relatives finding no domestic or foreign terrorism activity in phone records, online, his travels or his associations. An uncle of the brothers confirmed a falling out with Tamerlan over increased commitment to Islam and spoke to the fact that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the younger brother, has had his life wasted by his older brother and was used for his brother’s benefit not his own. A neighbor of the older brother in Cambridge said that Tamerlan had strong political views about the U.S. quoting Tamerlan as sating the U.S. uses the Bible as “an excuse for invading other countries” AP reports. As of Saturday, 50 people remain hospitalized and three in critical condition.

Some lawmakers have criticized the FBI for not placing Tsarnaev under watch after questioning him over radical beliefs. According to Huff Post, on Sunday Sen. Lindsey Graham of, R-S.C., felt the ball had been dropped while Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y. said the FBI repeatedly overlooked possible links to terrorist activity among a subset of Muslims in America. A mosque in Cambridge, Mass. confirmed Saturday that the Tsarnaev brothers infrequently attend services at the center that was a 10 minute walk from their apartment. According to a statement released by the Islamic Center of Boston, “In their visits, they never exhibited any violent sentiments or behavior. Otherwise they would have been immediately reported to the FBI. After we learned of their identities, we encouraged anyone who knew them in our congregation to immediate report to law enforcement, which has taken place.” The Los Angeles Times reports that Tamerlan was kicked out of the mosque three months ago after becoming argumentative with the imam leading the service who praised Martin Luther King Jr. Becoming enraged, Tamerlan shouted, “you cannot mention this guy because he’s not a Muslim!” There were no more incidence after that. The statement released by the center also  said, “Right now, our focus will remain on grieving for the victims and their families, praying for a speedy recovery for the injured, and offering what support we can to all in need.” The investigation of course is ongoing into the motivation for the crime.

As the week came to a close, some of Boston resumed some normalcy with tension still running high and another race pays tribute to the fallen and injured. On Saturday, Governor Patrick of Massachusetts and dozens of local and state police appeared at the first home game for the Boston Red Sox since the bombing on Monday. While at home the streets of Boston began to buzz with life again, thousands of runners participating in the London Marathon on Sunday paid tribute to those killed and injured in the Boston Marathon six days earlier. According to the Associated Press, participants paused for a moment of silence in the beginning wearing black ribbons o their chest in solidarity while two runners finished carrying a banner “For Boston.”  As Valerie Bloomfield, a 40 year old participant from France, put it,”It means that runners are stronger than bombers.” The London Marathon is the first major international marathon since the bombing on Monday and some 35,000 runners took part in the race that drew tens of thousands of spectators turning up to show their solidarity and strength with no fear. Authorities in London boosted security by 40 percent adding in extra surveillance to be safe. Many who were present when the bombs exploded in Boston were determined to run in the London Marathon this year. Yet some did show apprehension and anxiety on Sunday as some feared a copy cat bombing might happen telling friends and family not to come.

As the race began, a moment of silence was given to the city of Boston and many showed support for the bruised city. Many in the crowd wore Boston t-shirts as half a dozen police officers mingled and chatted with the runners. Before the race began, announcer Geoff Wightman announced over the loudspeaker that a moment of silence would be given for the city of Boston as running is a global sport that united people in every continent in a spirit of friendship. During the moment of silence, only the buzz of helicopters and beeping trucks could be heard AP reports. Security was on high alert but not intrusive to the race as marathon staff, officials and journalist were bag checked before the race in response to the Boston attack. Marathon organizers plan to donate money to a Boston fund set up for victims, while in Germany 15,000 runners participated in the Hamburg Marathon wearing armbands with the slogan “Run for Boston.”

Meanwhile back in Boston some groups fear retaliation in the form of hate crimes, while the city braces for a very large bill. In the days after the bombing, the region’s Muslim community has condemned the violence and distanced themselves from the suspects. It is unclear if the possible motives were related to politics, religion or difficulty assimilating after immigrating to the United States nearly a decade ago. The Muslim community faces a hard questions now: Do they accept the men as Muslim despite the allegations against them? If so, will Tamerlan get an Islamic burial? Mosques and Islamic groups fear retaliation if associated with the brother after friends and family identified them as Muslim and their interest in Islamic Chechen insurgency groups according to social accounts. Disagreement about whether to bury Tamerlan as a Muslims have arisen among mosques in the Boston area with the Islamic Institute of Boston claiming the brother does not deserve a Muslim burial and the other Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center saying the brother should be buried according to his religious traditions. No funeral has been set as the body is in the possession of law enforcement for forensic experts, medical examiners and investigators to inspect for more details about his death and actions. Several organizations have released statement appealing for restraint and understanding after the identities of the bombing suspects were publicized and reveled to be of Chechen descent, AP reports. As for the amount of money lost because of the bombing, the numbers are only estimates. Due to closed streets and the increase in state resources used for the manhunt, the estimated bill according to Jim Duffley, chief regional economist at research firm IHS, could be between $250 and $333 million per day for the shutdown Business Week reports. The Washington Post’s WonkBlog according to Huff Post took a shot at calculating the cost and put their estimates closer to a billion dollars a day but the effects could be smaller than that more like a major blizzard.

Cheers and Prayers Erupt Nationwide As the Boston Manhunt Ends Friday

Friday night ended with the capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev wanted in connection with the Boston Marathon bombing Monday according to Boston Police Department. According to the Associated Press, authorities say the suspect, along with his slain 26 year old brother, killed an MIT police officer, severely wounded another lawman and hurled explosives at police in a car chase and gun battle. Law enforcement responded to gunfire around 7 p.m. in Watertown, Mass. an hour after lifting the lockdown on the area where Tsarnaev, 19, was hiding in a small boat. Police cornered the suspect not so far from the shootout the previous night that killed his brother and accomplice, Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The AP reports the suspects were identified as ethnic ChenChen brothers living in Dagestan neighboring Chechnya in Southern Russia, but had moved to the U.S. a decade ago living in Cambridge, Mass.

David Henneberry was not trying to be a hero when he spotted the 19 year old suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, near his boat following a shootout earlier on Friday. Henneberry tipped off police leading to the capture of the suspect Friday night. Speaking to the “Today” show, family spokesman Robert Duffy described how his stepfather came across the wanted suspect in his 20 foot boat in the backyard. Duffy explained that his mother and David stepped into the backyard to get some air after the ban was lifted and noticed the tarp over the boat was flapping in the wind. He decided to take a closer look at saw the retention strips were cut not worn, so he decided to take a closer look inside the boat noticing a small amount of blood. He knew something was wrong, backing off, and calling the police. The family was moved to a safe location while the police investigated the tip  leaving the family with no way to communicate with their family that they were safe.

Soon after the suspect was taken by ambulance to be treated for his wounds, the streets of Watertown erupted with cheers as the manhunt ended with the suspect alive. According to Huff Post, residents were relieved to see the heavily armed ambulance headed east on Mount Auburn Street even though it was unclear who was inside, but the sense of danger was over. A Justice Department Official, according to Huff Post, says the Boston Marathon suspect will not be read his Miranda rights as the government was invoking a public safety exception. Two officials came forward saying the 19 year old will be questioned by a special interrogation team for high value suspects. The public safety rule allows law enforcement to engage in a limited and focused interrogation of a suspect and allows the government to introduce the statement into evidence in court. The rule may be used when police officers find objectively reasonable need to protect the police or public from immediate danger.

Within the few minutes of the news reaching stadiums, televisions and radios around the country, people began to cheer and shout in elation as the bombing suspect was captured alive. When the news finally sunk in about the second bomber being captured in Watertown, the town and crowds around the country cheered with excitement as police radios echoed the words “suspect in custody.” Sports fans rejoiced after learning Friday night of the capture at stadiums around the country. New York’s Citi Field, home of the Mets, saw fans jump to their feet and cheer at the news during the game with the Washington Nationals chanting “USA!USA!” and similar reactions in Houston, Cincinnati and at the St. Louis Blues’ home game against the Dallas Stars. In Watertown, church bells rang as crowds lined the streets with teenagers waving flags, cars honking, and loud cheers as emergency vehicles went by. Hundreds of people marched down Commonwealth Avenue, chanting “USA” and singing the Red Sox Anthem “Sweet Caroline” heading toward Boston Common as the police blocked off traffic to accommodate the impromptu parade. Fans in Arlington, Texas, Anaheim, California, and San Fransisco Giants sang along with the Rangers, Angels and Giants  to the tune also between innings breaks. In Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood, where an 8 year old boy killed in the bombing lived, people set off fireworks in celebration on Friday night.

As people continue to celebrate the capture of the second bomber, many in Boston and around the country are praying not only for the victims of the bombing but for the suspects as well even echoing this sentiment in social media. Prayers for the victims can be seen on twitter, but prayers of another kind are being posted, according to Huff Post, for Tsarnaev. Reverend Manny Alvarez, a preist for the Archdiocese of Miami, tweeted shortly after the arrest that, “A wise young lady just reminded me that as we pray for everyone in Boston, we must pray for this 19 year old too…because we’re Catholic.” CatholicOmnia tweeted from their twitter account: “We also need to remember to pray for the suspect, because we are Catholic. He is also a child of God, after all.” @OpenlyCatholic wrote,”While you’re praying for the suspect, also keep the petitions to heaven going for all the victims of the #BostonBombers , alive and dead.” Besides the clear religiously connected prayers, many other people offered up their elation over the capture even offering up prayers for the suspect as well. In a sleepy town in Kyrgyzstan, where the two brothers lived previously, former neighbors were greeted with shock and disbelief as they recall a quiet family that was never in trouble and two decent, obedient boys.

Tensions Rise as the Manhunt Leaves Boston A Ghost Town

As the manhunt continues for the second suspect, Boston remains more of a ghost town rather than bustling metropolis. Mass transit to and from Boston has come to a stand still on Friday as police conduct a massive manhunt for the remaining suspect in Monday’s Boston Marathon bombing with the exception of air travel through Logan International Airport. Authorities have indefinitely suspended mass transit taking to twitter to inform people to “Go/ stay home.” As the manhunt stretched into the afternoon, Amtrak stopped all trained between New York and Boston as well as intercity bus lines  to the area. Passengers were allowed a refund or rebook for travel at a later date, while airline allowed customers to change plans without fees. In, Somerville, populations 75, 000, authorities told people to stay inside and lock their doors. The city went on lockdown Friday while the police continue their search for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the second suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing. Photos like the one above appeared online demonstrating the eery ghost town that is now Boston.

The hunt for 19 year old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev piked up late Thursday night after the shooting at MIT, while the other Boston suspect identified as his 26 year old brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev died after a police shootout. Sean Collier, a 26 year old Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer, was shot and killed on Thursday night during a confrontation with the two suspects. Officers responded to a disturbance when multiple shots were fired according to Middlesex Acting District Attorney Michael Pelgro and Cambridge Police Commissioner Robert Haas. Collier was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead. According to the Associated Press, the two suspects not only killed the officer, but injured a transit officer in a firefight and threw explosive devices at police during their getaway attempt in a long night of violence leaving one of the suspects dead and the other at large on Friday. The authorities classify the 19 year old as a dangerous terrorist and according to the Associated Press comes from the Russian region near Chechnya, a region plagued with Islamic insurgency stemming from separatist wars.

On Friday at 3:15, according to eye witnesses, more than a dozen police cars were speeding to the UMass Dartmouth campus about an hour south of Boston adding to the strong police presences at the school where one suspect, Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, was a registered student. The authorities evacuated the campus Friday afternoon and announced the campus would be closed on Saturday after the manhunt for one of the suspects consumed the school. Students report seeing Tsarnaev on campus this week after Monday’s bombing as a result UMass Dartmouth announced the relocating of students to a nearby high school where transportation to and accommodations would be made.

The family of both men have spoken out for the two suspect brothers in disbelief condemning the police for such quick action without cause. Anzor Tsarnev, the father of Dzhokar and Tamerlan Tsarnev, said according to Lifenews.ru, “My children were simply framed, they [the police] should have simply waited. I am worried for the second.” When asked if his children had seen guns, he responded, “My children in their eye have never seen guns, if only on television. We went to America because of the political system.” Maret Tsarnev, the aunt of the two brothers, revealed the elder brother killed by police last night has a young child. Defending both young men to the Canadian Press on Friday, she said, “I do not believe these two boys have done that act of atrocity killing those people on the street and I will not believe that until, until I get evidence.”

In many cases when these acts of atrocities occur, the increase in hate crimes is likely to follow against groups believed to be involved. Muslim, Sikh, South Asian and Arab Americans tried to head off the backlash  that comes after such an act of terrorism by releasing a statement on Friday asking the country not to scapegoat innocent people. The collective statement read as follows:

Our thoughts and condolences continue to be with the victims of the Boston Marathon attacks. We are grateful to the brave first responders and law enforcement officers, who endangered their own lives in pursuit of the suspects and to keep the people of Boston safe.This is a time for us to come together as Americans during a sad and difficult moment. As information continues to emerge, we urge the media and the public to refrain from scapegoating or turning against our fellow Americans based on their racial, ethnic, religious or immigrant identity.

Incidences of violence against such groups has already occurred with a Muslim woman being attacked in the Boston area on Wednesday. The woman wearing a hijab was attacked by a man shouting that Muslims had perpetrated the twin bombing killing three people and wounding 170 Monday. Heba Abolaban, a Palestinian doctor who came to the United States from Syria, said she was punched in the shoulder in Malden, Mass. by a man who shouted “F*** you Muslims!” and “You are involved in the Boston explosions” according to the Malden Patch. The man a white male in his 30s shouted at the woman for two minutes before leaving the Patch reports. Polis Cheif Kevin Molis stated to the Boston Globe that, “No investigative strategy will be overlooked in order to determine who’s responsible for this. This is something that as a city and as a police department we take seriously.” While conservative commentators, like Glenn Beck, speculate Monday’s attack was perpetrated by Middle Easterners, the nationalities of the marathon bombers were still not know as of Thursday afternoon. However, the FBI on Thursday released photos of the suspects and enlisted the public’s help to track them down leading us to the manhunt in progress now.

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.