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Transparency and 'changing times' in the era of Francis

A roundup of important events that took place in Rome in December 2019

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Pope Francis venerates the Christ Child while celebrating Mass for the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, in St. Peter's Basilica on Jan. 6, 2020.

Photographer: Daniel Ibanez | Catholic News Agency

Pope Francis venerates the Christ Child while celebrating Mass for the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, in St. Peter's Basilica on Jan. 6, 2020.

As the year ended, while the Church was preparing with reflection and hope during Advent, Pope Francis (who turned 83 in December) wanted to draw the faithful nearer to the mystery of the birth of Jesus. And he did it by publishing the apostolic exhortation Admirabile signum (A wonderful sign). In the document, he covers the meaning of the various elements that form the “birth or mystery.” It also invites Christians to “be creative” in order to “rediscover and revitalize” this tradition so that in every family, Christian community or workplace, the child Jesus can take his place in what was cradle and throne at the same time: the manger in Bethlehem.

Consistent with this sentiment, and for the sake of transparency, the successor of Peter abolished the pontifical secrecy for cases of sexual violence and child abuse, and modified the “norms on the most serious crimes,” referring to the Motu proprioSacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela” of St. John Paul II, from April 30, 2001.  

Pope Francis celebrates Mass for the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, in St. Peter's Basilica on Jan. 6, 2020.

Photographer: Daniel Ibanez | Catholic News Agency

Pope Francis celebrates Mass for the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, in St. Peter's Basilica on Jan. 6, 2020.

The abolition of pontifical secrecy allows the procedural complaints, testimonies and documents concerning cases of abuse, preserved in the archives of the Vatican dicasteries as well as in diocesan archives, to be shared with investigating magistrates of the respective countries that request them. This was clarified by Andrea Tornielli, editorial director of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communication, as quoted by the agency Zenit. 

 

NEW WINDS

Amid these “changing times” for the world and the Church, as the pope himself described it in his end-of-the-year speech to the Vatican curia, the Vatican announced the appointment of Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, 62, archbishop of Manila, Philippines, as head of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (formerly Propaganda Fide). The young prelate is also in charge of what will be the urgent recommendations of the Synod for the Amazon, whose pontifical text will come to light very soon.

Pope Francis greets Cardinal Fernando Filoni, newly appointed Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, during his visit to Rome’s Piazza di Spagna to venerate the statue of the Immaculate Conception overlooking the Spanish Steps on Dec. 8, 2019.

Photographer: Daniel Ibanez | Catholic News Agency

Pope Francis greets Cardinal Fernando Filoni, newly appointed Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, during his visit to Rome’s Piazza di Spagna to venerate the statue of the Immaculate Conception overlooking the Spanish Steps on Dec. 8, 2019.

Thus, the Holy Father entrusts the new evangelization and efforts for “re-evangelization” — as he himself has called it — to a person who is affable, cheerful and in tune with him. Cardinal Tagle replaces 73-year-old Italian Cardinal Fernando Filoni, who took the very ancient charge of Grand Master of the charitable Order of the Holy Sepulcher.

Also within the reforms of the curia that assists him, Francis accepted the resignation of Cardinal Angelo Sodano to the position of dean of the College of Cardinals, which he was holding at 92 years of age. This presented a good opportunity to announce a papal Motu proprio that, for the first time, defined that said honorary position of dean of the College of Cardinals would only last five years, renewable once. Cardinal Sodano would be named Dean Emeritus, as will all those who leave the office of dean of the College of Cardinals.

An added twist is that such dignity will not fall automatically on the oldest cardinal, but will be granted to those who win the vote among the cardinals that make up the order of bishops.

 

FRIENDSHIP AND HOLINESS

The calendar also surprised us with the premiere of the movie “The Two Popes,” by Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles. Although the film has generated positions for and against its arguments for mixing reality and fiction, the mega production takes us to the vibrant moments of 2013, when the world witnessed the impactful resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and the election of Pope Bergoglio, who much to everyone’s consolation took the name of Francis. Another thing to obtain from this drama/comedy is that even the most dissimilar positions can find points of convergence, especially in the midst of a wounded world.

Latin America and the world celebrated the beatification of James Miller, 37, an American religious brother of La Salle killed in Guatemala out of hatred for the Catholic faith in 1982, in the midst of the civil war. “May the martyrdom of this exemplary educator of young people strengthen paths of justice, peace and solidarity in that dear nation” were some of the words with which the Pope recognized this new model Christian.

Catholics and other supporters accompanied the pope in the celebration of the 50th anniversary of his priestly ordination, which took place Dec. 13, 1969 at the hands of Bishop Ramón José Castellano, then of Córdoba, Argentina. Pope Francis has been bishop for 27 of those years — thus his experience.

Pope Francis met with the employees of the Holy See and of Vatican City State, with their respective families, for the exchange of Christmas greetings inside the Vatican's Paul VI Hall, Dec. 21, 2019.

Photographer: Daniel Ibanez | Catholic News Agency

Pope Francis met with the employees of the Holy See and of Vatican City State, with their respective families, for the exchange of Christmas greetings inside the Vatican's Paul VI Hall, Dec. 21, 2019.

The year ended with an apology from Francis for “losing his patience” with a pilgrim who pulled him at St. Peter's Square, an act which could have made him fall or even threaten his life. Although his reaction was more like that of someone who sets himself free for his own protection, his prompt recognition and public request for forgiveness could benefit those who repeatedly lose patience and offend, shout or humiliate their collaborators.


A YEAR TO REMEMBER

Given some recent events and measures taken by the pope, he has received compliments as well as criticism, but he continues with his main reform: that of the papacy. And this is something that only he, as the embodiment of it, can do.

Therefore, it is very fitting that the head of the Church continues to demonstrate a humble, selfless and temperate stance that inspires everyone. Although it is urgent, he also remains determined in the measures he takes, transparent in his intentions and a great motivator with his teachings.

The year that just ended allowed us to witness without any doubt a period where all these characteristics have been reflected in every activity and word of the Holy Father. The instructive document on gender theory; the trips to Orthodox Romania and Buddhist Japan; the long-awaited Pan Amazonian synod; and the momentum of the Extraordinary Missionary Month, among many others, will endure.

We will not forget the change in name of the Vatican Apostolic Archive, leaving behind the term “secret” that it kept for centuries and which not only generated reports, books and movies, but a lot of suspicion among the people.

And during 2019, Francis was able to name border cardinals and canonize new saints, among them Cardinal Newman, a former Anglican. His heart of a father led him to open the second “Pope Francis Laundry” in Genoa, in response to the Jubilee of Mercy, which continues what began in Rome in 2017. It offers free use of washing machines, showers and cleaning supplies for the poorest, especially the homeless.

A good resolution for the year 2020 would be to establish similar initiatives in dioceses around the world because, in the words of Christ himself, “the poor will always be with you.”

Jose Antonio Varela Vidal is a Peruvian journalist who has worked for Zenit in Rome and served as Latin American correspondent for Aleteia. He also worked as communications director for the Peruvian bishops’ conference. He is now contributing articles to La Voz Católica, Miami's Spanish-language archdiocesan newspaper.

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