Rome turns 2,774 this year. In this year of continuing lockdowns and viruses, Pope Francis is beginning his ninth year as Pope (elected in 2013, Francis is now 84 years old). And he continues to surprise the world

April 21, 2021— Today, April 21, 2021, is the traditional date of the founding of Rome in 753 B.C. So the Eternal City is now 2,774 years old. Happy birthday, Roma!  

As the Easter season continues (and the Orthodox Easter, Pascha, on May 2 this year, is upon us), Covid is still on our minds, but the world continues to turn and the Vatican continues to govern the Church; and some of its rulings and pronouncements have surprised many.  

It has been a source of unease for some time that Pope Francis has been portrayed as taking a more conciliatory approach than his predecessors to the acceptance of homosexual couples, even, possibly, those who seek “blessings” from the Church, if not attempt-ed marriages. The Vatican laid some of that unease to rest March 15 with the publication of an answer to the dubium: “Does the Church have the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex?” The answer of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was: “Negative,” and included its theological rationale. But many priests in Germany protested, and said they would continue to give such blessings, showing clearly how some German Catholics are becoming unwilling to follow the instructions of Rome in such matters (see pp. 32-33). 

Also in March, a new curveball was thrown by the Vatican Secretariat of State when it issued a mysterious letter (it was not signed), posted on the sacristy door in St. Peter’s Basilica on March 12. It said that the private celebration of Masses taking place daily for centuries at many of the 45 altars and 11 chapels in St. Peter’s Basilica, was banned, effective March 22.  

Many priests, bishops and cardinals reacted with anger and incredulity. African Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship, wrote on March 29 that the new norms “are as lacking in justice as in love, do not correspond to the truth or the law, do not facilitate but rather endanger the deco-rum of the celebration, devout participation in the Mass, and the freedom of the children of God.” The cardinal said “the main, not to say the only, role of an altar is in fact that the Eucharistic sacrifice be offered on it.” Chinese Cardinal Joseph Zen, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, remarked on Twitter: “Pain and indignation invade my heart to hear certain incredible news: They have forbidden private Masses in St. Peter’s!?” 

It is noteworthy that the traditional Latin Mass was, in the same stroke, relegated to the Clementine Chapel in the Vatican Grottoes — literally underground. No explanation was given. 

Meanwhile, the Vatican has been busy in its efforts to “engage” the world. Notably, two initiatives have garnered recent media attention: (1) the May 6-8 Fifth International Vatican Conference on health care, and (2) an ongoing cooperative project between the Vatican and the Council for Inclusive Capitalism, spearheaded by Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild (see our Lead story, pp. 12-15). 

The title of the health care conference, “Exploring the Mind, Body and Soul,” suggests that it could be informed by some measure of Catholic anthropology, but the roster of speakers, ranging from supermodel Cindy Crawford, to rock star Joe Perry of Aerosmith, to pro-abortion Chelsea Clinton, to New-Age guru Deepak Chopra, to CEOs from the world’s largest pharmaceutical corporations, suggests otherwise. 

In the judgment of the outspoken Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, “Further demonstration of this degenerate libido serviendi [“desire for serving”] of the Vatican towards the globalist ideology is the choice of speakers to give testimonials and lectures: support-ers of abortion, of the use of fetal material in research, of demo-graphic decline, of the pan-sexual LGBT agenda, and, last but not least, of the narrative of Covid and the so-called vaccines…”  

Not only the large and powerful, but also the working men and women within the Vatican itself were the objects of the Pope’s attention on March 24, when he issued an order requiring clerics working there to take a pay cut (10% for cardinals) in order to save jobs for lay workers in this Covid-induced time of falling Church revenues. Vatican workers are feeling the pinch. 

Vatican II also continues to be on the minds of many Catholics as the 60th anniversary of its 1962 opening approaches, and some wrestle with the Pope’s insistence earlier this year that “The Council is the Magisterium of the Church. Either you are with the Church and therefore you follow the Council, or you interpret it in your own away, according to your desire, you do not stand with the Church.” Francis asked that there be no concessions “to those who try to present a catechesis that does not agree with the Magisterium of the Church.” (Vatican News, January 30, 2021) 

Since Vatican II was intentionally summoned by John XXIII not as a doctrinal, but only as a pastoral council, it is puzzling that Francis says it is “Magisterial,” suggesting that there is only one “interpretation” that all Catholics must adhere to — or else.  

Why is this? What “alternate interpretations” are circulating that Francis finds dangerous to the deposit of Faith? Or is it just a tendency to desire a sort of rigid conformity, even in questions outside of doctrine? Clearly, the debate is intensifying. 

And in the world outside of Rome, there are wars in Syria and worrisome rumors of war in Ukraine. Russia is massing troops on its border with Ukraine, while U.S. President Biden seems to be encouraging the newly aggressive posture toward Russia’s President Putin by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The head of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, Metropolitan Epifany, and the Ukrainian Catholic Church’s Metropolitan of Ivano-Frankovsk, Vladimir Mudryi, both urged their people to pray for peace. Said Mudryi: “Ukraine has already suffered so much. We are all ready for the war to end. But in the event, God forbid, of the necessity of defending our land, I think all of us who are children of this land will have to do as the older generation did and defend our land and Church.” 

We, too are called to “defend our land,” but our true land, our true home, is the Kingdom of God, which Jesus says is within us. The way we defend it is through faith, hope and love — of our families, our neighbors, the stranger in need of a helping hand, and our Church and national leaders in need of prayer.

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