Thursday, January 09, 2014

Pope Francis has an action-packed agenda in 2014

http://d243395j6jqdl3.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/pope-francis-840x550.jpgAs the New Year begins, Francis has already penciled into his diary several important engagements over the next twelve months, including the creation of new cardinals, the canonizations of John XXIII and John Paul II, a visit to the Holy Land and probably also to one or more countries in Asia, as well as the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family.

He opened the New Year by celebrating mass for the World Day of Peace in St Peter’s Basilica, in the presence of the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See.  

On January 13, he will exchange greetings with ambassadors from some 180 countries that have full diplomatic relations with the Holy See.   

In his talk to them he is expected to touch on some of the world’s major social, economic and political concerns, and to push for a just and lasting peace in Syria, and a positive outcome to Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.  

Pope Francis will create new cardinals on February 22, and is expected to reveal their names around the middle of January.  If he decides to keep the number of cardinal electors at 120, the ceiling established by Paul VI, he will have around 14 red hats to assign.  

Some Church leaders think he could then begin a process,  which he would continue in future consistories, that could significantly change the composition of the college of cardinals from one that is currently dominated by Europeans (with Italians the largest national bloc) to one that truly reflects the global reality and diversity of the Catholic Church today.

In the week preceding that consistory, Pope Francis is going to be particularly busy. From 17-19 February, he will participate in the third meeting of the Council of Cardinals (that is, the group of eight cardinals from the five continents whom he has appointed to assist him in the reform of the Roman Curia and the government of the universal Catholic Church). This body is likely to meet at two-monthly intervals between then and mid-summer when it is hoped it may be able to come up with a draft of the master plan for the “substantial” reform of the Roman Curia (the papal civil service).

After that meeting, the Argentinean Pope will attend a plenary assembly of all the Cardinals (February 20-21), which he has summoned to focus on issues that will be discussed at next October’s Synod of Bishops on the family.

Following the creation of the new cardinals, Pope Francis will participate in a plenary meeting of the council of the synod.  That gathering of cardinals and bishops will have before it the results of the worldwide consultation on the family and, on the basis of this input; it will prepare the Working Document for the October synod.

Francis will begin the second year of his pontificate on March 13.  Before that he will issue his Lenten message and preside at the Ash Wednesday ceremony (March 5).  He will preside at the Holy Week ceremonies, beginning on Palm Sunday (April13) and ending with his Message “Urbi et Orbi” - to the city of Rome and the world, on Easter Sunday (April 20).

On the following Sunday, April 27, the first Latin American Pope will canonize two of his European predecessors: Blessed John XXIII, who was pope from 1958-63 and opened the Second Vatican Council, andg Blessed John Paul II, who led the Church from 1978 to 2005.  

He will declare them saints in St Peter’s Square on this day, known as “Divine Mercy” Sunday, at a ceremony that could attract more than one million pilgrims.

“The People’s Pope”, as Time magazine dubbed him, will go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land in the second half of May.  

He will visit Jordan, Israel and Palestine, and join the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew 1, in Jerusalem, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the historic encounter between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras in 1964.  

While the Vatican has yet to announce the exact dates for the Holy Land visit, Israeli sources say it will be around 25 May.

The next major event after the Holy Land visit will be the celebration of the feast of Pentecost on June 8. But there could be other events not yet scheduled.

As happened in 2013, Francis is unlikely to hold public audiences in July and August.  He does not take holidays, however, and will probably remain at Santa Marta, the Vatican guest house where he lives, to work on various projects, including the reform of the Roman Curia, and preparation both for the Synod of Bishops and for what could be his first trip to Asia.

The first Jesuit Pope in the history of the Church, who once wanted to go as a missionary to Japan, has his eyes fixed on Asia, the continent where two-thirds of the world’s population lives but where Christians count for a minority 3% , and Catholics 2%.   He wishes to share the Good News of Jesus with the many Asian peoples who do not yet know him, and to build good relations with the leaders and followers of the other major religions that live there.

Benedict XVI did not visit Asia, but Francis is on record as saying that he intends to do so. Many Asian Church leaders say they expect him to make his first visit to their continent in the second half of 2014. He has received several invitations, including from the Philippines – the country with the largest Catholic population, Korea –a country with a vibrant Catholic Church, Japan - which he visited in 1987, where Shintoism and Buddhism are the dominant religions, and Sri Lanka, a predominantly Buddhist country which is still recovering from a bloody civil war and massive violation of human rights. The Vatican has yet to announce any such trip.   

Pope Francis will attend the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops, October 5-19. It will focus on the family as mentioned earlier and will be followed by a second synod, around the same topic, in 2015. 

Apart from these major events, the dynamic Pope will have little respite throughout the year as he receives heads of State (probably including President Obama) and other dignitaries from all over the world.   He will also welcome bishops from many countries making their five-yearly (‘ad limina’) visits to Rome, as well as nuncios making their annual report to the Holy See. 

During this year he is likely to meet several leaders of other Christian denominations or major world religions too, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.

Throughout the year, Francis will continue to monitor closely the work being done to reform Vatican finances; he would hope to be able to complete much of this during 2014.  
 
Furthermore, he will meet regularly with the heads of the different Vatican offices, to ensure they are all working together to promote a culture of encounter and inclusion, not one of confrontation and exclusion.  He will continue his effort to change attitudes and ensure greater coordination and communication between the various Vatican offices, even as he moves ahead with a major reform of the Roman Curia.   

In addition to all the above, he will continue to meet pilgrims at the weekly public audiences, and greet them every Sunday too.

It is well known that the Pope ‘from the end of the world’ works around the clock. As he enters the New Year, he is sure to continue in this mode, moving ahead with all due haste to ‘repair’ and ‘rebuild’ the Catholic Church, just as St Francis of Assisi did some eight hundred years ago, and to give new hope and encouragement to a humanity that has a great need of both.

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