Pope Francis on Sunday joined UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s appeal for an “immediate global ceasefire”, on the fifth anniversary of Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen’s civil war.
“I join all those who have accepted this appeal and invite everyone to follow it by ceasing all forms of hostility, promoting the creation of humanitarian aid corridors, being open to diplomacy, and paying attention to the most vulnerable,” the pope said in a message delivered after holding prayers.
Several explosions shook the Saudi capital Riyadh late on Saturday, which the Saudi-led military coalition blamed on Yemen’s Iran-aligned Huthi rebels, who have repeatedly targeted Saudi cities with missiles, rockets and drones.
The attack came with the Saudi capital under curfew imposed to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Pope Francis urged Catholic priests on Tuesday to “have the courage” to go out and help those sickened by the novel coronavirus, hours after Italy was placed on a nationwide lockdown.
“Let us pray to the Lord also for our priests, that they may have the courage to go out and visit the sick… and to accompany the medical staff and volunteers in the work they do,” the pontiff said during a mass in Vatican City.
St Peter’s Square in the Vatican — in the centre of the Italian capital Rome — was almost empty on Tuesday with only a few dozen people walking around, most of them without masks.
Pope Francis said on Sunday that he was cancelling a planned six-day spiritual retreat south of Rome after coming down with a “cold”.
“Unfortunately, a cold forced me not to take part this year,” the 83-year-old pontiff said after coughing a couple of times during his weekly Sunday appearance from a Vatican window in front of supporters.
The cancellation of the retreat, which was supposed to start Sunday, came as Italy battles Europe’s worst outbreak of the new coronavirus that has spread from China across much of the world.
The number of cases in Italy surpassed 1,000 on Saturday.
There have been 29 confirmed deaths and 105 people were receiving intensive care treatment in hospital — all of them in three adjacent northern regions near Milan.
The Vatican quickly shot down speculation that the pope himself had come down with COVID-19.
“There is no evidence to suggest a diagnosis of anything other than a slight ailment,” a Vatican spokesman told AFP Sunday.
The pope himself looked relatively strong Sunday despite two coughing fits that forced him to briefly turn away from the crowd.
Yet concerns about his health have been mounting for days.
He first looked like he might have a cold on Wednesday and lightened his workload for the rest of the week.
The Vatican said a “mild ailment” had forced him to spend Thursday around his Saint Martha’s guest house in the Vatican.
But he still continued celebrating the morning mass and receiving visitors even as public events were cancelled and schools closed across swathes of Italy this week because of the coronavirus outbreak.
He met with the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church head Sviatoslav Shevchuk and was meant to join the entire Roman Curia — the Holy See’s administrative institutions — at the retreat on Sunday.
He was also due to celebrate a daily Mass in a chapel and listen to the teachings of a Jesuit preacher while seated alongside members of the Curia.
The Argentine-born pontiff lost part of a lung as a young man and suffers from sciatica — a nerve condition that causes pain in his hip.
Yet he rarely cancels appointments and enjoys mingling with supporters and the faithful.
Pope Francis cancelled a scheduled appearance at mass in Rome on Thursday because of “a mild ailment”, the Vatican said, the day after he appeared to be suffering a cold.
“Due to a mild ailment, he preferred to stay in the vicinity of Saint Martha’s,” the guest house at the Vatican where the 83-year old pontiff lives, chief press officer Matteo Bruni said in a statement.
The mass in question was at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, one of Rome’s biggest and largest churches.
Bruni said the Argentine’s schedule remained otherwise unchanged.
The announcement came as Italy struggles to control the largest outbreak of the coronavirus in Europe with some 400 cases.
The Vatican made no reference to the disease in its announcement.
Francis has not curtailed any of his activities, which often include mingling with crowds and shaking hands.
The pontiff, who only has one lung and suffers problems with one hip, very rarely cancels an appointment in his busy schedule.
Vatican News said the pope had earlier Thursday celebrated the daily mass at Saint Martha’s House, before meeting members of a global Catholic climate movement as planned.
Pope Francis expressed his solidarity with those hit by the global outbreak of the novel coronavirus on Wednesday, praising those working to battle the virus.
Italy has suffered the worst outbreak of the novel coronavirus in Europe, with 374 cases of the disease and 12 deaths.
“I would like to express my closeness to the coronavirus patients and to the health workers who are treating them, as well as to the civil authorities,” the pope said at his weekly audience at the Vatican.
Only a few of the 12,000 or so faithful who turned out to see him on Saint Peter’s Square were wearing face masks.
However at the end of the audience, 83-year-old Francis did not leave on his “popemobile” as usual but instead took the time to shake hands with tens of the congregation and kissed some of the children present, an AFP photographer reported.
Pope Francis is known for not shying away from hugging the faithful or accepting kisses on his cheek or forehead.
However, a year ago he explained his reticence for allowing people to kiss his ring, explaining the practice could spread germs.
In his Ash Wednesday homily marking the beginning of Lent, the pope exhorted the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics to “switch off the television and open the Bible”.
“It’s the time to switch off from your mobile phone and to connect to the Gospel,” he said, deploring what he called the recent trend towards a world “polluted by too much verbal violence, by so many offensive and harmful words, amplified by (social) networks”.
In quashing the idea of married priests in the Amazon, Pope Francis has appeased traditionalists while disappointing progressives who had hoped for a historic turning point in the Catholic church.
In his “apostolic exhortation” on the Amazon basin published Wednesday, Francis slammed the door on a progressive proposal offered by the region’s bishops during a synod on the region in October.
The synod had suggested that the way to solve a shortage of priests in the remote and inaccessible area was to allow married indigenous men to become priests.
Without even mentioning that proposal, Francis instead argued for more missionary priests in the Amazon and for women and lay people to take on larger roles, falling short of another synod idea to ordain women as deacons in the region.
The Argentine pontiff’s thoughts, coming after months of speculation and hand-wringing within the Vatican, were welcomed by some, including a vocal opponent of Francis, German Cardinal Gerhard Mueller.
For five years Mueller was in charge of church dogma, holding the key Vatican post of Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith until 2017 — when he was not reappointed by Francis.
Mueller saluted the document’s potential for “reducing internal Church factions.”
Conservatives within the Church were outraged by the regional synod’s proposal, even were it to be an exception limited to the Amazon, seeing it as potentially paving the way to the abolition of priest celibacy globally.
US Cardinal Raymond Burke, a staunch traditionalist, suggested last year that Francis would be heading into a “schism” were he to give his stamp of approval to the synod’s proposals.
Failing to reform?
But to others, the text lacked the audacity that has marked the papacy of the first Jesuit pope.
Francis’ document marked a “failure in the reforming impulse of the pontificate,” according to longtime Vatican analyst Marco Politi.
The pope, “abruptly slowed down” by a strong and multifaceted opposition, also disappointed those local Amazon bishops whom he had called on to offer up new ideas to help guide the Church, Politi said.
“Francis finds himself more alone today, having caused disillusionment among a notable mass of his supporters,” Politi said.
Key among them are Catholic feminist organisations, some of whom have been fighting for women’s access to the priesthood.
In his text, Francis cited the contributions of women and argued that their roles be increased, but dismissed the idea of their ordination.
Women’s Ordination Worldwide (WOW) said Francis had “dropped the ball” for women within the Church.
“Francis has opted to perpetuate the shameful elitist men’s club that, as he so brazenly points out in the document, is held up by the second class status of women who do most of the work with none of the recognition,” the group said in a statement.
Still, the issues of women’s ordination, and married priests, are not dead, some say.
The German Church, which contains a strong progressive branch, has just launched a two-year debate on top controversial issues, including the end of priestly celibacy and a greater place for women.
Meanwhile, Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, a proponent of priestly marriage, sees the question as still open, telling the publication Estadao: “It will be taken up again.”
Pope Francis on Wednesday pleaded for social justice and environmental respect for the Amazon basin, but did not recommend the controversial idea of married priests.
In a highly anticipated text, Francis urged Catholics to “feel outraged” over the exploitation of indigenous people and destruction of land devastated by illegal mining and deforestation.
But there was no mention of priestly marriage, a controversial suggestion made by Amazon bishops last October as a way to increase the number of priests who could perform Mass in remote areas.
Instead, the pope argued for more missionaries and for women and lay people to take larger roles in the region. He also urged more training for priests to better interact with Amazonian cultures.
Francis has weighed in before on the hotly debated question of whether to allow “viri probati” — married “men of proven virtue” — to join the priesthood in remote locations.
In January last year, he said he did not believe that optional celibacy should be allowed but conceded “some possibilities for far-flung places”, a statement that opened the door to speculation that he might make an exception for the Amazon.
In 2017, Francis convened 184 bishops — over 60 per cent of whom hailed from the Amazon region — to reflect on the Amazon.
Among other proposals in a final document, the bishops suggested ordaining “suitable and esteemed men of the community” who had “a legitimately constituted and stable family”.
But the suggestion aroused fierce opposition from traditionalists within the Church, concerned that exceptions could pave the way to the abolition of priest celibacy globally.
Francis’ text released on Wednesday was a so-called apostolic exhortation in response to the bishops’ document.
‘Injustice and crime’
Francis has made his name as a defender of the marginalised — whether the poor, migrants or prisoners — and his Amazon text focused on the local people’s “history of suffering”.
Saying the Amazon’s ecological problems should not be separated from social ones, he highlighted how marginalised indigenous people were forced out of their homes by illegal deforestation and mining.
Those people were now living on the outskirts of cities marked by “an increase of xenophobia, sexual exploitation and human trafficking,” he wrote.
“We need to feel outraged, as Moses did, as Jesus did, as God does in the face of injustice. It is not good for us to become inured to evil,” wrote the pope.
“The businesses, national or international, which harm the Amazon and fail to respect the right of the original peoples to the land and its boundaries, and to self-determination and prior consent, should be called for what they are: injustice and crime.”
However, Francis acknowledged the challenges faced by the Church in remote areas of the Amazon, urging bishops to send out more young missionaries, in keeping with his status as the first pope from the Jesuit order — famous for its missionary work.
The pope stressed the need for ministers who could “understand Amazonian sensibilities and cultures from within” and highlighted the potential role for nuns as well as laywomen and men.
“It is not simply a question of facilitating a greater presence of ordained ministers who can celebrate the Eucharist,” he wrote.
Among those he hinted could take a bigger role in the Amazon were “permanent deacons” — men who serve as ministers in the Church but are not priests and so can be married.
Pope Francis is on Wednesday to release a much-anticipated text about the Amazon, which is not expected to open up the priesthood to married men in the region despite an appeal from a historic Vatican meeting of bishops last year.
The text could, however, make damaging the environment a sin, one of the recommendations of the bishops from the nine-country Pan-Amazonian region.
The bishops’ three-week “synod” in October highlighted challenges such as the destruction of the rainforest, the exploitation of indigenous peoples and a scarcity of priests.
They called on the Argentine pontiff to open the priesthood to married men in the Amazon, as well as to give women a greater role to play and to make damaging the environment a sin, in a region threatened by massive deforestation and mining.
The pope’s text, which is to be released around 1100 GMT, will respond to those calls and could have repercussions not only for the vast, isolated territory but the whole of the Roman Catholic Church.
Last year’s synod brought some 184 bishops to the Vatican, over 60 per cent of whom hailed from the Amazon region.
Together with representatives of indigenous peoples, experts and nuns, they discussed a multitude of regional concerns, from climate change to poverty, land-grabbing, mercury-polluted waters and violence against women.
The most hotly debated question was whether or not to allow “viri probati” — married “men of proven virtue” — to join the priesthood in remote locations, where communities seldom have mass due to a lack of priests.
It would not be necessary to rewrite Church law; the bishops simply asked Francis for an exemption to the rules — like the one already granted to married Anglican pastors who convert to Catholicism.
The synod suggested ordaining as priests “suitable and esteemed men of the community” who had “a legitimately constituted and stable family”.
But the ultra-conservative wing of the Catholic Church — particularly in Europe and North America — has spoken out strongly against the idea, warning that making exceptions could pave the way to the abolition of celibacy globally.
US bishops who met the pope on Monday said the document was unlikely to change priestly celibacy rules or the role of women.
“He didn’t say much about the two pressing issues, about the ordination of women deacons and married priests,” Salt Lake City bishop Oscar Solis told the US Catholic News Service.
“The pope, very gently and very calmly, said, ‘You know, this point was really not a big point in that synod,'” said Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe, New Mexico, without specifying if he was referring to married priests or women deacons.
“I don’t even think at this point that it’s something we’re going to move on because I haven’t sensed that the Holy Spirit is at work in that right now,” the pope reportedly said.
In January 2019, Francis said he did not believe that optional celibacy should be allowed while conceding “some possibilities for far-flung places” such as the Pacific islands or the Amazon.
Last month former pope Benedict, who retired in 2013, issued a defence of clerical celibacy in a book written with arch-conservative Cardinal Robert Sarah.
“The conjugal state concerns a man in his totality, and since the service of the Lord also requires the total gift of man, it does not seem possible to realise the two vocations simultaneously,” Benedict wrote.
The synod also urged the Argentine pope to make “the acts and habits of pollution and destruction of the harmony of the environment (an) ecological sin” — or the breaking of divine law.
The Church should lead the battle against “our culture of excessive consumption”, the bishops urged, saying: “We must reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and the use of plastics.”
Seven years after his surprise resignation, Benedict XVI — weakened by age but still intellectually spry — appears unable to remain in the shadow of his Argentinean successor Francis, creating the appearance of “two popes” at odds.
On February 11, 2013, at the age of 85, the German intellectual Joseph Ratzinger announced in Latin to astonished cardinals that he would cease being pope, a situation unheard of for seven centuries.
For five years, the unusual cohabitation in the smallest state in the world between the 265th pope in retirement and the 266th, Francis, went on without a hitch.
But as the “emeritus” Pope Benedict XVI, a learned theologian, continued in his retirement to write on the great themes of the Church, friction has arisen, most recently over the topic of married priests.
On Wednesday, Francis will unveil his stance on priestly marriage after a synod of Amazonian bishops recommended in October that the priesthood be opened to married indigenous people. Some say this exception would solve the problem of a lack of priests in remote areas of the Amazon.
The Vatican insists that Francis’s position was already decided in December, before the publication in January of a book castigating the synod conclusions and defending the celibacy of priests, co-signed by Benedict XVI and the ultra-traditionalist Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah.
Some Vatican observers say Francis was strongly irritated by the publication, which caused shockwaves when excerpts were first published by Le Figaro newspaper.
Through his private secretary, the German Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, Benedict tried to backtrack on the publication, explaining that he had never approved a co-authored book project. But the damage had been done, with the former pope weighing in on the importance of priestly celibacy ahead of his successor’s pronouncement on the subject.
Benedict also ruffled feathers in April 2019, when in a long text he blamed paedophilia within the church on the 1960s sexual revolution and an absence of God in modern society.
Francis has said the problems stem from within the church itself and has criticised “clericalism,” or how a sense of priestly superiority has caused the clergy to become remote from the faithful.
Gaenswein, whose duties included organising Francis’ audiences, has not been seen at the side of the current pope since the publication of the book. The prelate appears to have been sidelined and invited to spend more time taking care of the retired Pope.
‘His strength has weakened’
A Bavarian television documentary in January revealed a frail Benedict, in a wheelchair, speaking with a faint voice. The former pope no longer celebrates mass himself in his monastery within the Vatican gardens, decorated with family photos and Bavarian souvenirs.
The former pope — who has given himself the title of “emeritus” pope — has now substituted monk’s sandals for his red mules of the past, but he continues to wear a white cassock within the Vatican walls.
Gaenswein, who lives with Benedict in the same monastery, is quoted in the documentary as saying: “You can see when he walks that his strength has weakened.”
Three years ago, Gaenswein explained the “two popes” phenomenon: “There are not two popes, but a de facto expanded ministry, with one active and one contemplative member”.
Such statements have fuelled a traditionalist fringe within the Vatican which considers Francis illegitimate and interprets all writings of Benedict as a criticism of his successor.
But last week, the second most powerful person in the Vatican, Cardinal Pietro Parolin sought to put the affair to rest, saying Francis was the one and only pope.
“Let’s stop talking about two sovereign pontiffs, because there is only one pope, the one who is invested with papal authority, that is, Francis,” Parolin said.
Francis too tried to stamp out any ambiguity in 2016, saying Benedict was “a pope emeritus and not the second pope,” comparing his 10-year-old elder to “a grandfather at home”.
Still, popular culture has run with the idea.
“The Two Popes,” a film by Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles, imagines an oratorical joust between an authoritarian German pope played by Anthony Hopkins and a future Argentine pope, played by Jonathan Pryce, who likes to watch soccer and who wants to teach the pope to tango.
Pope Francis insisted on Wednesday that poverty could be beaten if the world’s rich play a full part in ending inequality as he attended a conference on financial inclusion.
“We are neither condemned to inequality nor to paralysis in the face of injustice. The rich world and a prosperous economy can and must end poverty,” the Argentinian pontiff told participants as he made an unscheduled appearance.
“We must be conscious of all being responsible. If extreme poverty exists amid riches which are also extreme it is because we have allowed a gap to grow to become the largest in history,” said Francis, who has made inequality a central theme of his papacy.
Listening to his address were notably IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire and Argentine counterpart Martin Guzman.
“People who are poor in indebted countries suffer from strong fiscal pressure and the cutting of social services,” Francis added.
Calling for the “globalisation of hope,” Georgieva responded that “the first task is to put the economy at the service of the people,” highlighting the need to address the issue of “inequality of opportunity.”
The International Monetary Fund head also urged investment in people and education. But she also stressed the need to prioritise the environment as “none of the economic challenges we face today will be important in 20 years if we do not today confront the challenge of climate change.”