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The Vatican’s trials and triumphs in 2015

The Church has been constant through crises and conflicts this year, writes Paul Keenan.

Papa Francesco

Both Pope Francis and the Universal Church were undeniably stretched by matters on the international stage through this past year. Yet, despite this, Rome’s consistency in the face of challenges served it, and the wider world, very well.


Vatican relations with China continued on an apparent one-step-forward, two-steps-back basis this year.
May offered cause for concern when authorities in Hebei moved to detain (again) underground priest Fr Liu Honggeng and then Bishop Julius Jia Zhiguo, and dismantled a newly-constructed Marian altar in scenes reminiscent of the mass demolitions of Church properties in the province of Zhejiang which marked 2014.

By August, the news was somewhat more positive, when authorities allowed for the public ordination of Bishop Joseph Zhang Yinlin, coadjutor of Anyang diocese. This was the first such ordination since the very public removal of Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin in 2012 when the prelate used his ordination ceremony to renounce his membership of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, the nation’s officially sanctioned Church, a move which has seen him under house arrest since.
Notably with the Zhang ordination, in a nod towards compromise, the event was overseen by three prelates who were simultaneously Vatican approved and government sanctioned.

Then, the Vatican surprised the world by confirming in October that a high-profile Vatican delegation had travelled to Beijing to ‘re-fire’ talks towards improved relations. At the heart of matters was Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the veteran diplomat and China authority who has played a slow and steady game in bringing Rome and Beijing ever closer (helped along by an evident cordiality between Pope Francis and the Chinese premier Xi Jinping).
Matters are not concluded yet, however, and Rome will have a keen eye through December for Beijing’s moves to update it ‘religious laws’, untouched for a decade but now in line for overhauling, with little hope that this will be a liberalising of affairs to benefit faith communities.


Far more positive and assured was Pope Francis’ trip to the island nation of Cuba from September 19-22 (ahead of his joyous visit to the US city of Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families and his historic addresses on the 24th to the US Congress and 25th before the UN in New York).

Even before his landing in Havana, the Pontiff’s trip was all but set to be announced as a triumphal visit not just by a Latin American Pope to his own ‘neighbourhood’, but of a Pontiff whose efforts through 2014 had melted the 50-year chill between Havana and Washington DC.

Confirmed as the go-between who promised all Church assistance in bringing the decades-old enemies together, Pope Francis was welcomed as a homecoming champion by adoring crowds at each stop, the embodiment for Cubans of US President Obama’s description of a man “whose moral example shows us the importance of pursuing the world as it should be, rather than simply settling for the world as it is”.

As always, however, the Pope was considering the bigger picture as he moved before the world’s media, using the high profile visit to address delegates of the Colombian peace talks in Havana, which paused so as to allow negotiators the chance to take in the festival atmosphere of the papal visit.

 “We do not have the right to allow ourselves yet another failure on this path of peace and reconciliation,” he reminded those working for peace between the Colombian government and fighters of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC).

Keen followers of the Pope will recall that just days later, coverage of the Pope’s US sojourn was pushed briefly to second place by images emerging from Cuba of President Raul Castro, joining Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos to shake hands with FARC leader Timoleón Jiménez.

The trio then declared that all points of negotiation had been settled, promising peace for Colombia within months – with March 23 as a deadline date for a definitive end to the conflict.

As a side note to this great news, the only guerrilla grouping left in circulation, the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN), issued a call in October for talks towards a ceasefire of its own, with a demand that Church leaders be involved as honest brokers to the process.


The need for peace was also the over-arching message of Pope Francis’ trip to Africa in November. Greeted in Kenya (November 25-27), Uganda (27-29) and the violence-plagued Central African Republic (November 29-30), the Pope not only lamented the state of world affairs that serve to keep African nations in abject poverty, but the current tensions between Christian and Muslim communities brought about by Middle Eastern instability and fundamentalism in West Africa. Pleading for faith leaders to have the courage to reach out to their counterparts for the good of their respective communities, the Pope led by example in visiting mosques to greet imams with his message of peace.

It has since transpired that opposing Christian and Muslim factions in the Central African Republic reached an agreement ahead of the Pope’s trip there to formulate a temporary ceasefire for the duration of the papal visit, an occurrence which may yet prove to be the seed of an enduring peace.


Sadly, due to a multitude of factors, the year 2015 ends as it began, dominated by the plight of migrants and refugees.

This topic alone would require numerous pages of print to catalogue both the Pope’s words and the Church’s own response to those stuck at the infamous camp at Calais in France, the desperate Mediterranean migrants from the African continent, and the pitiful waves of humanity fleeing the excesses of both ISIS and the Assad regime in Syria.

They are mentioned last here only because Pope Francis has kept the desperate millions at the heart of his actions this Christmas, housing a Syrian family by way of example, and choosing to unveil and light the Nativity display in Assisi to bring attention to its construction from the remains of a migrant boat which barely survived the Mediterranean crossing.

As the year ends, the Church continues to lead the way on the issue. With US presidential hopeful Donald Trump scaremongering and calling for an outright ban on Muslims entering the US, and state governors moving to declare their own reluctance to accepting Syrian refugees – using faith as a measure for exclusion – Indiana’s Catholic Archbishop Joseph Tobin announced in early December that the first Syrian family in need of resettlement had arrived in the state and would be assisted by Catholic charities, much to the ire of the governor.

More broadly, not only does the Syrian crisis continue to expose the agendas of nation states in seeking their own geopolitical ends, but it is serving also to bring to the fore other reactionary, right-wing parties and personalities in the mould of Mr Trump, signalling 2016 as a year of further intolerance in many quarters.

A pause this Christmas, to listen to great messages, softly spoken, would serve them all well.

by Paul Keenan
December 24, 2015

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Questa voce è stata pubblicata il 31/12/2015 da in Church and religion, ENGLISH con tag , , .

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San Daniele Comboni (1831-1881)


Combonianum è stata una pubblicazione interna nata tra gli studenti comboniani nel 1935. Ho voluto far rivivere questo titolo, ricco di storia e di patrimonio carismatico.
Sono un comboniano affetto da Sla. Ho aperto e continuo a curare questo blog (tramite il puntatore oculare), animato dal desiderio di rimanere in contatto con la vita del mondo e della Chiesa, e di proseguire così il mio piccolo servizio alla missione.
Pereira Manuel João (MJ)


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