Pope Francis launched a sweeping attack on the world's economic system in an interview released Friday, saying it discards the young, puts money ahead of people and survives on the profits of war. The 77-year-old leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman…
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Pope Francis on Monday warned there were "no privileges" for bishops when it came to child sex crimes and said he would hold a special mass with victims next week in the Vatican. "Three bishops are being investigated," Francis told reporters on his…
Pope Francis on Monday made an impromptu stop at an Israeli memorial for victims of militant attacks, on the final day of his whirlwind Middle Eastern pilgrimage. The unscheduled gesture, which came as he visited the national cemetery on Mount Herzl…
Pope Francis arrives in Bethlehem Sunday to begin the most sensitive part of his three-day Middle East tour aimed at forging regional peace and easing an age-old rift within Christianity. After beginning his trip in Jordan on Saturday with an urgent…
Vatican says purpose of visit is mainly religious, but political spectres hang over three-day tour of Jordan, Palestine and Israel
In a refugee camp near Bethlehem, final preparations are being made for Pope Francis's first official trip to the Holy Land, which begins on Saturday night. On Saturday, in the Phoenix Centre, a modern community hall on the outskirts of the Deheisheh camp, Francis will sit with children from Palestinian refugee families. They will sing to him, show him their pictures and receive a blessing. After barely 15 minutes he will be whisked away on the next leg of his three-day tour of Jordan, Palestine and Israel.
The walls have been hung with giant composite pictures – archive images of the displacement of Palestinian refugees in 1948 merged with pictures documenting the changing Palestinian landscape until the present day.
Walls in streets across Bethlehem, through which the Pope will drive in an ordinary, non-bulletproof car, carry images from the same project, comparing the Palestinian experience to the suffering of Jesus. The point of these pictures, curator and director of Jack Persekian explained to the Guardian, is to emphasise to the pope the continuity of Palestinian experience since 1948.
In Israel, banners welcoming the pontiff hang from west Jerusalem lampposts. Almost 9,000 police have been drafted in to protect Francis.
A handful of Jewish religious radicals who it had been feared might try to disrupt the visit have been placed under administrative orders, and roads and some checkpoints to the West Bank will be sealed.
The Vatican has insisted that the purpose of his visit is primarily religious – to mark the anniversary of the meeting 50 years ago between Pope Paul VI and the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, Patriarch Athenagoras – and "absolutely not political". But the symbolism engrained in the political landscape Israel and Palestine – both religious and secular – has been impossible to avoid. Here are some of the political spectres hanging over his tour.
Visit to the 'State of Palestine'
The Vatican and Palestine are both non-voting observer nations in the UN's general assembly, but it has been noted by some as significant that the Vatican's own schedule for the visit refers to Mahmoud Abbas as "president of the State of Palestine". Ten months of meetings between the Palestinian Authority and the Vatican over a deal expected to be signed this year on the Catholic church's status in areas governed by the Palestinian Authority have also been treated as negotiations between sovereign states. Vatican spokesman Rev Federico Lombardi has said that the use of "state of Palestine" reflects the UN general assembly's 2012 resolution upgrading Palestine's status, although it has irritated Israeli officials.
Arrival at Bethlehem heliport
On the highest hill overlooking the town, the rarely used facility was built in 1995. Both Israeli settlement building and sections of the Israeli separation wall are visible from the landing pad.
The pope insisted on meeting "ordinary people". The children chosen are from "families with someone who was martyred, injured or jailed − and also some ordinary people as well", said the centre's director, Mamoun Lahham. Each child will wear a T-shirt with the name of the village the family was originally displaced from.
After negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and the Vatican, Francis's route through Bethlehem will take him within a few metres of an imposing section of the Israeli separation wall that now cuts the old road from Jerusalem to Hebron near Rachel's Tomb. At this point there will be refugees from two camps lining either side of the road. The routing will create a photo opportunity that places Francis against the backdrop of one of the most visible signs of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
Mass in Manger Square
Unlike his predecessors Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, the only large-scale open mass of the visit – for some 9,000 people – will be in Manger Square, Bethlehem. Because of the security operation surrounding Francis while he is in Jerusalem, Palestinian Christians in the city have expressed their disappointment that they are unlikely to encounter him.
Meetings with Israeli officials
Francis will meet Mahmoud Abbas in the presidential compound in Bethlehem,but his official meetings with Israeli political leaders have been arranged to avoid the contentious international status of occupied East Jerusalem. He will be officially welcomed to Israel by President Shimon Peres after flying by helicopter to Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv from Bethlehem. His private meeting with the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, will be at the Notre Dame centre in Jerusalem, which is Vatican sovereign territory.
Mass in the Cenacle
For a minority of Jewish religious extremists, the most controversial part of the trip will be a visit to the Cenacle – or the "room of the Last Supper" – in Jerusalem. Located on the second floor of a stone complex on the remains of a Byzantine church in the Old City, before the Ottoman period the building was administered by the pope's own Franciscan order until the mid-16th century. The place is also regarded as sacred by Muslims and by Jews who say it is the site of the Tomb of King David. It has been the focus of two decades of negotiations between the Vatican and Israel over religious access as Christians are permitted to visit and pray there but not usually celebrate mass. Following rumours – denied by the Israeli authorities – that Israel planned to hand the site to the Vatican, and fearing disturbance by Jewish hardline youth to the visit, Israeli police have placed around a dozen under administrative orders.
The Pope's delegation
Underlining the interfaith and ecumenical nature of the short visit, the pope's delegation includes a rabbi and a Muslim cleric and he will meet the grand mufti of Jerusalem and the two chief rabbis. Francis will visit sites regarded as holy to the three main monotheistic religions: the Western Wall, al-Aqsa mosque and the churches of the Nativity and Holy Sepulchre. This has led to some complaints from Catholic and Christian faithful that there is too much emphasis on inter-faith relations and not enough on the local faithful.
Visit to Yad Vashem and Mount Herzl
Like all heads of state who visit Israel, Pope Francis will visit the Holocaust memorial at Yad Vashem. He will also lay a wreath at the grave at the founder of Zionism Theodor Herzl on Mount Herzl. Pope Francis's friend and fellow Argentinian Rabbi Abraham Skorka, who is part of his delegation, said last week: "That is a meaningful act. He understands the importance of the land of Israel and the state of Israel to the Jewish people."
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Israel's top police officer on Sunday vowed that Jewish extremists would not be allowed to spoil the upcoming visit of Pope Francis by vandalising Christian holy places. "You cannot exaggerate the importance of this visit on both a national and an international…
On last night's Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert complained about Pope Francis's statement that he would be amenable to baptizing Martians.
"Ever since he took over the Church," Colbert began, "he's been a little too welcoming to all God's children. Just last year, he said 'even atheists can go to Heaven.'"
"Great idea, Frank," Colbert shouted. "First dogs, now atheists -- what's next? Presbyterians? The only benefit of them getting into Heaven was that I could walk up and say, 'I told you so.' That's my idea of paradise."
"Well now," he continued, "'Pope Moonbeam' over here has driven his welcome wagon where it's never been before, because at mass on Monday, he said, 'If -- for example -- tomorrow an expedition of Martians came, and some of them came to us here...Martians, right? Green, with that long nose and big ears, just like children paint them...and one says, 'But I want to be baptized!' What would happen?"
"When the Lord shows us the way," the Pope said in reply to his rhetorical question, "who are we to say, 'No, Lord, it is not prudent! No, let's do it this way...who are we to close doors?"
"You heard that right, folks," Colbert said. "Pope Francis would baptize a Martian -- of course, first he has to convert them from Scientology."
Watch the entire May 14, 2014 episode of The Colbert Report via Hulu below.
On last night's Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert began by reminding his audience that he's the nation's more prominent Catholic. "My faith is so strong," he said, "doctors have actually called it a Messiah complex."
"I'm also America's foremost capitalist," he continued. "I love the Invisible Hand of the market so much, I let it get to third base." Which is why he was disturbed to learn that Pope Francis had called capitalism "a new tyranny" predicated on "the idolatry of money."
"I would never worship money," Colbert argued. "The dollar isn't worth the paper it's printed on. That's why I've invested everything in golden calf futures."
"But as a Catholic," he said, "I try to give the Pope the benefit of the doubt, as does Bill O'Reilly."
After playing a clip from The O'Reilly Factor in which its host claimed to know that the Pope was not endorsing socialism when he recommended taking money from the "haves" and giving it to the "haves not." Colbert then played another clip in which an aghast panel on Fox Business News react to the news that the Pope has called on governments to "redistribute wealth to the poor."
"Son of a bishop!" he exclaimed. "The Pope is a socialist. In retrospect, I should have known: he lives in Europe, and he gives his employees a one-day work-week."
"So, either the Pope is wrong," Colbert said, "or God is a commie."
"This is not right! Where is it written that I cannot love both God and money?" he asked, before quoting Matthew 6:24, in which Jesus said "you cannot serve both God and money."
Watch the entire episode of The Colbert Report from Tuesday, May 13, 2014 via Hulu below.
I touched on this briefly in a Slate post, but I want to dig in and talk about it some more. Anthony Faiola has an alarming piece up at the Washington Post about how the small but devout exorcist community within the Catholic church is getting a huge boost from Pope Francis. The claim that demons possess people and need to be exorcised hasn't ever really been renounced by any popes that I know of, but it's such embarrassingly obvious bullshit that recent decades have seen exorcists getting marginalized. (Arguably, they could have been wiped out completely if not for the book and movie The Exorcist, which painted exorcists like child-saving heroes instead of the dangerously delusional idiots they are.) Pope Francis is apparently reversing that trend and instead blowing kisses at the nutters who think demon possession is a thing that happens and that exorcism is a way to deal with it.
Largely under the radar, theologians and Vatican insiders say, Francis has not only dwelled far more on Satan in sermons and speeches than his recent predecessors have, but also sought to rekindle the Devil’s image as a supernatural entity with the forces of evil at his beck and call.
Last year, for instance, Francis laid handson a man in a wheelchair who claimed to be possessed by demons, in what many saw as an impromptu act of cleansing. A few months later, he praised a group long viewed by some as the crazy uncles of the Roman Catholic Church — the International Association of Exorcists — for “helping people who suffer and are in need of liberation.”
The piece has an amazing bit of color, when Faiola actually talks to some exorcists. They have a conference! (Of course they do.) And the conference of around 200 people met last week to share their cockamamie theories about how "Satanic cults are spreading like wildfire in the age of the Internet" and how everyone is so mean to them because they dumb enough to believe that Supernatural is a documentary. Plus, to share stories of being out in the field, as it were.
During the conference, the Rev. Cesar Truqui, an exorcist based in Switzerland, recounted one experience he had aboard a Swissair flight. “Two lesbians,” he said, had sat behind him on the plane. Soon afterward, he said, he felt Satan’s presence. As he silently sought to repel the evil spirit through prayer, one of the women, he said, began growling demonically and threw chocolates at his head.
Asked how he knew the woman was possessed, he said that “once you hear a Satanic growl, you never forget it. It’s like smelling Margherita pizza for the first time. It’s something you never forget.”
Okay, I have to admit that I would have paid a lot of money to see that interaction. I am fans of these lesbians that he encountered. If some asshole determines that you're a sinner and starts praying pointedly at you, growling and throwing chocolates is an excellent way to respond. Well done, ladies. (Though I doubt honestly that they growled at him. They probably were just telling him to cut it out in plane-appropriate stage whispers.)
I want to be very, very clear---because this always comes up when I write about stuff like this---that I am not interested in the theological debates over this. (The classic breakdown about why debating theology is dumb.) Yes, technically the argument that demons possess people and need to be exorcised is no more or less ridiculous, based on evidence, than the more abstract theory that Satan sits underground and sends temptation vibes aboveground. But on the political, real world front, there are substantial differences between the two ideas. One kind of bullshit definitely does more damage than the other kind of bullshit. It's one thing to pray for deliverance from Satan tempting you to cheat on your spouse or whatever. But pretty much all people subject to exorcisms are either mentally ill people who need actual help or people whose personal choices offend their families and who are being subject to an exorcism in order to punish and control them. Either way, the potential for damage is really high.
Indeed, just generally it's irresponsible to push the narrative that demons are a thing that exist in the world. Take this story from Brazil, where a woman was accused of witchcraft on a local new outlet's Facebook page, and the result is that some people took it upon themselves to beat her to death. Not that Americans should feel superior on this, as any perusal of the miserable history of Satanic panic in the 80s and 90s should demonstrate. The pope should be ashamed of himself for encouraging this nonsense.
As Mother Teresa lay in a Calcutta hospital the year before she died, her violently disturbed sleep became intolerable, her doctors seemingly unable to help. The problem, the visiting Archbishop of Calcutta suggested, was not a medical matter but something altogether more sinister: this living saint was being attacked by the devil. It was only after an exorcist was called that peace was restored.
That a woman regarded as so holy could have been subject to diabolical visitations was reported with surprise. Yet, if a course for Catholic clergy that took place in Rome last week is anything to go by, exorcism is far from rare. The programme trains about 200 priests a year in the ancient rite. For outsiders, exorcism appears anachronistic, a throwback to the superstitions of the middle ages. What the scale of last week's course shows, however, is that the devil is alive and kicking in Pope Francis's apparently modernising church.
In recent decades, the church has been surprisingly vocal on the issue. In 1975, the former Roman Inquisition published a study called Christian Faith and Demonology, with the aim of making the reality of the devil clear. Three years earlier, Pope Paul VI – surely a man of the modern age, given his 1968 encyclical prompted by the contraceptive pill and the miniskirt – said evil "is a living spiritual being, perverted and corrupting" and certainly not "a conceptual and imaginary personification of the unknown causes of our ills". Just last Tuesday, Francis himself put great emphasis on the role of the devil when speaking of the protomartyr Saint Stephen, saying that the "struggle between God and the devil" was apparent in the persecution of the church's people. For the hierarchy, the devil is not to be forgotten nor softened into a metaphor.
Meanwhile, modern holy people have kept the devil alive in the Catholic popular imagination. The 20th-century saint Padre Pio encountered him as a smoke-breathing dog and a naked dancing girl, also reporting being dragged from his bed by demonic forces. And the French mystic Marthe Robin, who died only in 1981, apparently lost two teeth as a result of the devil punching her in the face.
The devil continues to be as useful for the modern church as he has been in the past, when he bolstered the case for the burning of heretics. The concept now provides a dramatic way to underscore the dangers of a godless society. The organiser of last week's course, Dr Giuseppe Ferrari, argues that a rise in the number of people abandoning religion and dabbling in the occult has increased Satan's power. As head of the Gruppo di Ricerca e Informazione Socio-Religiosa, a Catholic organisation concerned with the threat posed by cults and sects, Ferrari says good exorcists are needed more than ever, since: "We live in a disenchanted society, a secularised world that thought it was being emancipated, but where religion is being thrown out, the window is being opened to superstition and irrationality."
This seems like an extreme position, but it is in perfect alignment with Francis's views, which go further than his brief mentions of the devil last week suggest. In his very first homily as pope, delivered in the Sistine Chapel on the day after his election, Francis bluntly quoted the French author and Catholic convert Léon Bloy: "Anyone who does not pray to the Lord prays to the devil."
In its biblical guises – Lucifer as chief of the fallen angels, the dragon of Revelation, the serpent in the Garden of Eden, or the tempter of Jesus in the wilderness – the idea of a supreme embodiment of evil is one that will always endure. And in the church's battle against secularism, the devil may have found a valuable new role.