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Ten predictions for 2016

For Catholics, this has been a tempestuous year. We’ve seen a gripping family synod, a papal trip to a war zone, sweeping annulment reforms and the launch of a Jubilee Year. Will 2016 be any less exciting? Here are 10 predictions. The apostolic exhortation Sometime next year – perhaps as early as January – Pope Francis will issue the most controversial document of his papacy so far: his apostolic exhortation on the family synod. Naturally the media will focus on what the Pope says about the possibility of Communion for the remarried. But it will be worth reading the whole text carefully. Francis often expressed exasperation with those who reduced the synod to a single issue, so the text should offer plenty of other striking insights besides. The Year of Mercy The Pope has hinted that he has surprises in store during the Jubilee Year, which ends on November 20. We already know he will preside at several major events and perform works of mercy one Friday of each month. But he may add some eye-catching events to the calendar at short notice. Papal travels The papal visit to the Central African Republic was one of the most dangerous in recent memory. Francis’s trip to Mexico in February may be even more perilous. The Pope is expected to travel to Ciudad Juarez, known until recently as the murder capital of the world (in 2010, the city averaged 8.5 killings a day). He is also expected to visit his native Argentina, as well as Chile, Uruguay, Armenia, Malta and Poland (for World Youth Day). Pushing for peace The conflagration in the Middle East seems unlikely to die down in 2016. Since he brought the Israeli and Palestinian presidents together for a tree-planting ceremony in 2014, Francis has avoided big symbolic gestures. Instead, he has repeatedly denounced what he calls “a piecemeal Third World War”. This coming year he may launch another major

Pope Francis: battles ahead


drive for peace in the world’s most troubled region. The US presidential election This time next year it’s possible that America will have the second Catholic president in its history. Six of the initial 15 Republicans running for president were Catholic. None of the remaining ones has emerged as a frontrunner so far, but the path to the election on November 8 is long, arduous and unpredictable. Relations with the Islamic world This is likely to be one of the Pope’s priorities in 2016. Just last month he sat beside an imam in a mosque in a beleaguered Muslim quarter in the Central African Republic. We can expect him to continue to reach out to Islamic leaders. The Pope seek hope to use the Year of Mercy to build bridges between Christians and Muslims. After all, almost every chapter of the Koran begins by invoking Allah as Ar-Rahim, or “the Exceedingly Merciful”. Relations with Orthodoxy This will be a momentous year for the Orthodox Church. The Holy and Great Synod is expected to bring together the leaders all 14 independent Orthodox Churches for the first time. Preparation for the meeting dates back to at least 1961, the year before the Second Vatican Council began. Some wonder if this will be the Orthodox equivalent of Vatican II. We shall see. Curial reform Next year the Pope may unveil his long-awaited blueprint for the restructuring of the Roman Curia. He released part of the plan at the synod in October when he announced the creation of a new dicastery for laity, family and life. Many observers predict that Francis will create other “superdicasteries” in the hope of streamlining the Curia, saving money that can then be spent on charitable work. But pruning the Curia is exceedingly difficult and Francis may decide to wait another year to ensure his reforms cannot be derailed. The abuse crisis This year has, in some respects, been a bad one for the global fight to eliminate abuse in the Catholic world. Members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors are anxiously awaiting a meeting with Francis. They are especially concerned about events in Chile, where the Pope is resolutely supporting a bishop connected to a notorious clerical abuser. The commission has broader concerns, too: there is still no mechanism for swiftly removing bishops who fail to protect children more than a decade after America’s abuse crisis exploded. Papal health On December 17, 2016, Francis will turn 80, the customary retirement age for cardinals. Despite missing part of a lung and suffering from bouts of sciatica that make it hard for him to kneel, he is committed to a schedule that, in the words of one Vatican commentator, “would destroy people half his age”. He also refuses to take holidays and has a tremendous work ethic. We need to redouble our prayers for his health in 2016, so that he can accomplish all that God is asking of him.


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