Get ready for more papal surprises
The Catholic Church lacks one quality under Pope Francis: predictability. That’s clear when we compare our forecast for 2014 to what actually happened last year. We missed some of the most dramatic events off our list, including the papal prayer for peace with the Israeli and Palestinian presidents and the Holy See’s role in the historic USCuba deal. So we offer these 10 themes that are likely to shape the coming year with one proviso: Francis is likely to have something even more startling up his papal sleeve in 2015. 1) Asia rising: The Pope begins the year with his second apostolic journey to Asia. Why is he returning to a continent where a mere seven per cent of the population are Christian, before he has visited a single country in northern Europe or North America? He senses the enormous potential for the Church’s growth in Asia and is doing everything he can to encourage expansion. 2) Hope for the persecuted: The Iraqi army is expected to launch an offensive to reclaim Mosul sometime this year. If it succeeds – a big if – then some of the 3,000 Christians who lived in Iraq’s second city may be able to return to their homes. Meanwhile, we must support those refugees who will remain in camps as the slow struggle against ISIS continues throughout 2015. 3) Battling for Britain’s soul: The bishops of England and Wales will release their general election guidance in February, months before Britons go to the polls. There will be much debate about which party benefits most from the document. But let’s hope it will also inspire vigorous Catholic engagement in an election that will determine the country’s path for the next five years. 4) Catholicism libre: This year the Cuban Church will be eager to seize the greater liberties promised by the breakthrough in US-Cuba relations. Even before the agreement there were hopeful signs: the authorities permitted the first new Catholic church on the island since 1959. But will the Castro regime clamp down in panic?
Francis: the unpredictable Pontiff
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5) Defying the censors: Last year prolifers faced an unprecedented attack on their free speech – not at fringe institutions but at bastions of English civil society such as Oxford University. Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper has endorsed the idea of “buffer zones”, intended to neutralise the pro-life witness
Will the second family synod be as bad-tempered and chaotic as the first?
outside abortion clinics. And the Supreme Court ruled that midwives – yes, midwives – must supervise staff involved in abortions. These events are actually a sign of the pro-life movement’s growing potency. In 2015, campaigners must continue to challenge injustice and shake off attempts at censorship. 6) Curial reform on ice?: It is not clear if this will be the year that Francis unveils his radical blueprint for the reform of the Roman Curia. His eagerness to simplify the Vatican bureaucracy is tempered by his desire to listen to those who will be most affected by the sweeping changes. It would be easy for Francis to botch the reform, so it may be wise for him to take one more year to consider it. 7) A forgotten year: Not a lot of Catholics know that this is the Year of Consecrated Life, a global initiative seeking to support the religious. One way of taking part is to pray daily for a renewal of female consecrated life. Between 2007 and 2012 the number of temporarily and permanently professed Sisters and nuns worldwide fell by 5.9 per cent to 702,529. The reasons for the drop are complex, but there’s nothing to say that female religious life can’t flourish again in the 21st century. 8) Stirring up the Americas: Francis’s first trip to the United States this year will be a huge media event. But the Pope’s plan to visit three Latin America countries in 2015 is just as important. There are 483 million Latin American Catholics – 41.3 per cent of the global Catholic population – and they deserve every bit of papal attention they will receive. 9) The beatification of Oscar Romero: This year the Vatican is likely to eliminate any doubts about the sanctity of the Archbishop of San Salvador (whose feast is already celebrated by Anglicans and Lutherans). By the end of 2015, we will almost certainly be speaking of Blessed Oscar Romero – or even St Oscar Romero, if the Pope decides to proceed straight to canonisation. 10) The synod’s sequel: Will the second family synod in October be as badtempered, chaotic and bewildering as the first? Probably. But Francis is working hard to change perceptions of the first synod. The gathering was “not a parliament, but a protected space in which the Holy Spirit can work”, he insisted at a recent general audience. Let’s hope that, second time around, no one will be able to mistake the synod for a parliament: Catholics worldwide deserve nothing less.
CATHOLIC HERALD, JANUARY 2 2015 3