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Ireland’s president condemns Catholic church massacre in Nigeria

Michael D. Higgins, President of Ireland. / Damien Storan via Shutterstock.

Rome Newsroom, Jun 8, 2022 / 07:05 am (CNA).

The president of Ireland on Tuesday condemned a deadly attack at a Catholic church in Nigeria on Pentecost Sunday.

Michael D. Higgins deplored the massacre in a June 7 statement, saying “that such an attack was made in a place of worship is a source of particular condemnation, as is any attempt to scapegoat pastoral peoples who are among the foremost victims of the consequences of climate change.”

Higgins was alluding to deadly clashes between farmers and nomadic pastoralists in the West African country.

Religious freedom advocates have argued that it is wrong to attribute the recent violence in Nigeria — especially in the north — to climate change rather than Islamist terrorism.

Higgins said: “The neglect of food security issues in Africa, for so long has brought us to a point of crisis that is now having internal and regional effects based on struggles, ways of life themselves.”

“The solidarity of us all, as peoples of the world, is owed to all those impacted not only by this horrible event but in the struggle by the most vulnerable on whom the consequences of climate change have been inflicted.”

The Irish president spoke out days after the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need appealed to world leaders to denounce the attack.

Ireland has deep connections with Nigeria, thanks to the efforts of Irish Catholic missionaries. The two nations share a patron saint, St. Patrick, and there is a Nigerian community in Ireland.

In an attack on June 5, unidentified gunmen opened fire on Catholic worshipers attending Pentecost celebrations at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Owo, Ondo State, in southwestern Nigeria.

Initial reports suggested that more than 50 people were killed, including children, and others injured. Reuters reported on June 6 that there was no official death toll.

The local Catholic Diocese of Ondo told the Associated Press on June 7 that at least 38 people, including five children, were killed in the attack, with likely more casualties still unaccounted for.

Bishop Jude Ayodeji Arogundade of Ondo told Vatican News that a number of the injured were still waiting to receive medical treatment, while 80 to 90 victims were now in stable condition.

He expressed his sorrow for the many men, women, and children who lost their lives, including the parents of a seminarian of the diocese.

“For some people who think that they want to match our goodness with their own evil, they shouldn’t forget that good will always triumph, the light will always triumph over darkness,” Arogundade said.

“Our people are a people of faith,” he added. “They are still calling on God, on the name of God. Some will tell you that it could have been worse if not for God.”

Other countries have also spoken out against the June 5 massacre.

France’s Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs said that the country condemned the massacre “in the strongest terms.”

“France offers its condolences to the families and loved ones of the victims of this heinous crime. It wishes a speedy recovery to those injured,” it said, calling for the perpetrators to be identified and brought to justice.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, the spiritual head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, wrote a condolence message on his Facebook page, assuring victims of his prayers.

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari condemned the “dastardly act,” saying that “only fiends from the nether region” could have carried out the attack.

Pope Francis has also expressed his sorrow in the wake of what he called “unspeakable violence.” He said that he was praying for the victims and the attackers’ conversion.

Priests back bishop attacked in media for defending life and the family

Bishop Santiago Gómez Sierra of Huelva. / Diocese of Huelva.

Huelva, Spain, Jun 8, 2022 / 03:00 am (CNA).

Several Catholic priests have expressed their support for a Spanish bishop after he was attacked in the media following a homily in which he reminded Catholics that they have a duty to defend life and the family.

At the Mass for Pentecost Sunday and in honor of the Virgin of El Rocío, a much-loved Marian devotion in Andalusia, Bishop Santiago Gómez Sierra of Huelva encouraged Catholics to vote for those who share Christian values in the June 22 regional parliamentary elections.

ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, reported that Bishop Gómez then read guidelines that the bishops of Andalusia offered on June 1 for Catholics voting in the upcoming election.

The 64-year-old bishop quoted the statement by the Andalusian bishops calling for “respect for the right to human life, inviolable from conception to natural death; the recognition of, promotion of and assistance for the family as a stable union between a man and a woman, open to life; the protection of the right of parents to educate their children according to their own moral and religious convictions.”

Quoting the document, the bishop called for “respect for the dignity of every person, religious freedom, spiritual values, and conscientious objection; defending and helping the weakest in society, such as the elderly, the young, the unemployed and immigrants.”

Bishop Gómez then said that the bishops don’t seek to impose anything, but to appeal to “moral principles” that "should be above the different party strategies because they are issues required by reason, natural law, and true humanism.”

Attacks in the media

The Spanish prelate’s homily aroused the “outrage” of various people and the left-leaning media, which promotes abortion and same-sex “marriage.”

The Spanish edition of Huffington Post published an article entitled “The bishop of Huelva sparks outrage by his political speech during El Rocío right in the middle of the Andalusian campaign,” and included similar viewpoints.

Verónica Fumanal, president of the Political Communications Association, wrote on Twitter: “The Bishop of Huelva [is] instrumentalizing El Rocío for election campaigning. Nothing is quite so clear when even the Church is calling for the vote of the right and attacks marriage equality, the right to abortion, and other rights won by the left.”

The Spanish journalist Jordi Évole, who interviewed Pope Francis in 2019, presented a video showing part of the bishop’s homily and commented: “It lasts two minutes. And I don’t think it’ll do any good. But he’s a genius who made this spot to awaken the vote of the left in Andalusia. Adopt it as free campaign advertising. It’s got everything in it.”

Priests back bishop

Father Juan Manuel Góngora, a Spanish priest who will receive an award for his defense of Christian values on social media, responded to Fumanal, pointing out that "the only thing that the Bishop is instrumentalizing is common sense and coherency of life against the fanaticism of a progressive, whose life’s aspiration is to replace conscience with a partisan argument.”

Góngora also questioned Congressman Delgado, saying: “If the bishop of Huelva ‘attacks’ Andalusians by telling the truth, what do you do when you promote as a right their being aborted? Are you taking care of them and pampering them?”

Married couples from across Europe pray at Marian shrine in Poland

Married couples gather in Częstochowa, Poland, on June 4-5, 2022. Equipes Notre-Dame. / Equipes Notre-Dame.

Czestochowa, Poland, Jun 7, 2022 / 11:55 am (CNA).

Almost 200 married couples from across Europe have gathered at the shrine of Our Lady of Częstochowa in Poland.

The spouses came not only from Poland but also from Ukraine, Belarus, Hungary, Slovakia, Germany, Norway, and Belgium for the June 4-5 pilgrimage led by the Teams of Our Lady.

The pilgrimage to the shrine that houses the revered icon of the “Black Madonna” marked the movement of married spirituality’s 20th anniversary in Poland.

The second day of the pilgrimage, Pentecost Sunday, began with a reflection on the Word of God, followed by a moment of silence in which those present entrusted themselves and the movement to Mary.

Married couples from different countries then spoke, including Viktorija and Dimitrij Demedjuk, who had traveled from Odesa, a port city in war-torn southern Ukraine.

They said they had discerned that they needed to remain in Ukraine because “one can only be free in one’s own country.” They also explained how they offered support to those worst affected by the war.

“We return to Odesa filled with the Holy Spirit, smiles, warmth, peace that we received here,” they said.

The Teams of Our Lady traces its roots back to 1938, when four young couples approached the priest Father Henri Caffarel for guidance in living out their married vocation. The movement grew in France, where it is known as Equipes Notre-Dame, and later around the world, gaining Vatican recognition.

The pilgrimage, whose motto was “Follow Jesus, My Son,” concluded with a Mass celebrated by Father Marek Pluta, the spiritual adviser to members of the organization’s Poland and Central Europe Super-Region.

In his homily, he recalled the words of the Fatima visionary Sister Lúcia: “The final battle between Christ and Satan will concern marriage and the family. But Christ has already won.”

What is the Order of Malta?

Giorgio Minguzzi via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Rome, Italy, Jun 7, 2022 / 10:53 am (CNA).

The Sovereign Military Order of Malta can be hard to define. The thousand-year-old entity is a Catholic religious order, medical aid organization, and international diplomatic entity all in one. 

Present in 120 countries, with over 2,000 projects in the medical-social field, and more than 120,000 volunteers and medical staff, the order functions as an emergency relief organization in many developing areas and crisis zones.

The Order of Malta is headed by a Grand Master who oversees the order with the help of a body called the Sovereign Council. Those members are elected for five-year terms by the order’s General Chapter.

The rest of the organization’s members belong to three classes.

The First Class consists of the Knights of Justice, or professed knights, and Professed Conventual Chaplains, who take the religious vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. They are defined as religious but not required to live in a community.

The Second Class is composed of Knights and Dames in Obedience, who promise to strive for Christian perfection in the spirit of the order.

The Third Class comprises lay members who neither take vows nor make promises but are committed to living a fully Catholic life according to the order’s principles.

The order is unique in that, while it has no territory, it is a sovereign entity under international law – with its own passports, diplomatic relationships, and permanent observer status at the United Nations. 

This diplomatic independence was crucial to is ability to work in war-torn regions like the Syrian border, without be perceived as a tool of any side of government, according to former Grand Master Boeselager.

"Historically, the service to the poor is first," said Boeselager, "this has always been in the foreground for us."

"This and the order's call to promoting, witnessing, protecting the faith are two sides of the same coin. It is creating a space where the faith can be promoted and is possible. The way the order promotes the faith is in combination in its work."

"We are not theologians, we are not liturgists, our vocation is to promote the faith and serve the poor together."

Order of Malta announces death of Fra’ Marco Luzzago after ‘sudden illness’

Pope Francis meets with the Order of Malta's Fra’ Marco Luzzago on June 25, 2021. / Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Jun 7, 2022 / 09:05 am (CNA).

The Order of Malta on Tuesday announced the death of Fra’ Marco Luzzago, who had led the 1,000-year-old institution since 2020.

In a June 7 statement, the order said that the 71-year-old died after a “sudden illness” at Villa Ciccolini in the Italian province of Macerata.

The Italian medical doctor, who was related to Pope Paul VI, was elected as Lieutenant of the Grand Master on Nov. 8, 2020.

He was expected to serve for a one-year term ahead of the election of a new Grand Master of the order, a position traditionally held for life.

But his term was extended by Pope Francis amid a push to conclude a years-long process of constitutional reform.

The pope launched the reform process in 2017 after he accepted the resignation of Grand Master Fra’ Matthew Festing.

Festing’s successor, Giacomo dalla Torre del Tempio di Sanguineto, died in April 2020 at the age of 75. Festing himself died in November 2021 aged 71.

The order said in its statement: “According to Article 17 of the Constitution of the Sovereign Order of Malta, the Grand Commander, Fra’ Ruy Gonçalo do Valle Peixoto de Villas-Boas has assumed the functions of Lieutenant ad interim and will remain head of the Sovereign Order until the election of the new head of the Order.”

It added that information about the funeral of Fra’ Marco Luzzago would be released “in the coming hours.”

Metropolitan Hilarion moved in Russian Orthodox Church shake-up

Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev meets with Pope Francis at the Vatican, Dec. 22, 2021 / Vatican Media.

London, England, Jun 7, 2022 / 08:20 am (CNA).

Metropolitan Hilarion has been released from his position as the Russian Orthodox Church’s chief ecumenical official, it emerged on Tuesday.

The 55-year-old had served as chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate since 2009.

The theologian, Church historian, and composer is one of the most internationally visible figures in the Russian Orthodox Church. In the role sometimes described as the Moscow Patriarchate’s “foreign minister,” he met with Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.

The Moscow Patriarchate’s official website said on June 7 that the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church had decided that Metropolitan Hilarion would oversee the Diocese of Budapest and Hungary.

It explained that he “was released from his duties” as chairman of the Department for External Church Relations and as a permanent member of the Holy Synod, a position connected to his role as chairman.

The official website said that the next chairman of the Department for External Church Relations would be the 37-year-old Metropolitan Anthony of Chersonesus and Western Europe. It did not offer an explanation for the personnel changes.

As the Russian Orthodox Church’s chief ecumenical officer, Metropolitan Hilarion attended international Catholic events and visited the Vatican.

In September 2021, he gave the opening catechesis at the International Eucharistic Congress in Budapest.

In December 2021, he met with Pope Francis at the Vatican. The meeting raised hopes of a second encounter between the pope and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church. But the plans were abandoned following the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Metropolitan Hilarion recently visited Hungary, where he met with Cardinal Péter Erdő, the Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest and Primate of Hungary.

In an interview in January, on the eve of the all-out conflict in Ukraine, the Russian Orthodox official expressed opposition to war, citing the toll of previous battles.

“First, let’s remember at what cost did Russia win those wars. The price was millions of lives. Secondly, let’s recall that every war brings incalculable disasters to people,” he said.

“We must also remember that an outcome of any war is unpredictable. Can we assume that Russia won the First World War? Let’s remember the enthusiasm with which Russia entered it, what patriotic feelings accompanied the Russian Empire’s entry into this war. Could anyone then imagine that in three years Russia would collapse?”

“For all these reasons, I am deeply convinced that a war is not a method of solving the accumulated political problems.”

But Metropolitan Hilarion was later accused of failing to explicitly condemn the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

He was suspended from his post as a professor at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland in March.

Mariano Delgado, the dean of the theology faculty, said he was disappointed that Metropolitan Hilarion did “not feel able to oppose Russia’s clear violation of international law.”

He added that it was “scandalous” that Patriarch Kirill had described Russia’s war against Ukraine as a “metaphysical” struggle.

The patriarch has faced intense criticism over his stance on the war and narrowly avoided being placed on a European Union sanctions list after reported opposition from Hungary, one of the EU’s 27 member states.

Orthodox Christian media had suggested that Metropolitan Hilarion was seeking to distance himself from Patriarch Kirill in recent months.

The Russian Orthodox Church is an autocephalous Eastern Orthodox Church with an estimated 150 million members, accounting for more than half of the world’s Orthodox Christians.

What is the meaning of Pope Francis’ trip to L’Aquila?

Pope Francis preaches at Pentecost Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, June 5, 2022. / Vatican Media.

Rome Newsroom, Jun 7, 2022 / 05:25 am (CNA).

The news that Pope Francis will visit the Italian city of L’Aquila on Aug. 28 seemed to come out of the blue. But the trip was already being spoken of in February.

The city in central Italy hosts an annual event at the end of August known as the Celestinian Forgiveness. The pope recently announced that he will create new cardinals on Aug. 27, the day before his trip. Therefore, it seems that he planned the consistory around his visit to L’Aquila, rather than vice versa.

The Celestinian Forgiveness (Perdonanza Celestiniana in Italian) is a great legacy that Pope Celestine V left to the Church. He was pope from July 5, 1294, to Dec. 13 of that year, when he resigned from the office.

The 13th-century pope, also known as Peter of Morrone, is a figure of controversy. Many have associated him with the figure of the sick man in Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” who is described as “the one who out of cowardice made the great refusal.”

Yet he was in his own way a revolutionary pope. He was the first pontiff to exercise his ministry outside of Rome. He was based in L’Aquila (which means “the Eagle” in English), then a young city that had welcomed him after a period of living as a hermit.

The cardinals elected Celestine V after two years of internal strife, thinking that, given his age and personality, he would be a malleable pope. They were wrong. And during those few months of his pontificate, in the midst of the pressures that later led to his resignation, he established the Celestinian Forgiveness.

Santa Maria di Collemaggio in L’Aquila, Italy, pictured in 2020. RenanGreca via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Santa Maria di Collemaggio in L’Aquila, Italy, pictured in 2020. RenanGreca via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

The bull of forgiveness drawn up by Celestine V offers a plenary indulgence to all who, having confessed and repented of their sins, go to the Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio from Vespers on Aug. 28 to sunset on Aug. 29. It was a free indulgence and subject only to the bond of personal repentance. It was therefore open above all to the poor and dispossessed.

Celestine then renounced the papal throne, and died a prisoner in 1296. He was canonized in 1313, with the name of Peter the Confessor, testifying that his reputation as a pious man was not affected by the circumstances of his death.

Every year for the Celestinian Forgiveness, there is a guest cardinal who opens the holy door of Santa Maria di Collemaggio, after a reading of the bull of forgiveness by the local mayor. Celestine donated the bull to L’Aquila and it is kept in an armored chapel in the tower of the town hall.

This year, it will therefore be Pope Francis who opens the holy door. The invitation, as mentioned, was delivered in February by Cardinal Giuseppe Petrocchi of L’Aquila. It was followed by inspections by Vatican officials who prepare papal visits.

Around this short trip, Pope Francis built a consistory. On Aug. 27, he will create 21 new cardinals, of whom 16 will have the right to vote in a future conclave. On Aug. 28, he will not follow the usual custom of celebrating Mass with the newly created cardinals, but will travel instead to L’Aquila. And on Aug. 29-30, there will be, for the first time in seven years, an extraordinary consistory attended by the world’s cardinals to discuss the new Vatican constitution.

That the consistory was built around this event has invited speculation that the 85-year-old pope, who is currently making public appearances in a wheelchair, is planning to resign.

There is a precedent: Benedict XVI visited L’Aquila on April 28, 2009, to bring comfort to a population shocked by a recent earthquake that had hit the city hard. He stopped off at Santa Maria di Collemaggio, although the structure was not safe after the earthquake.

In front of the crystal coffin containing Celestine V’s body, Benedict XVI removed his pallium and placed it on the glass. In hindsight, the gesture was interpreted as a sign that one day Benedict XVI would resign — or that he had already thought of this possibility.

The tomb of Pope Celestine V (1215-1296) in L’Aquila, Italy. Ruggerofilippo via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0).
The tomb of Pope Celestine V (1215-1296) in L’Aquila, Italy. Ruggerofilippo via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0).

But Pope Francis may not be going to L’Aquila to send a signal about the end of his pontificate. There are other possibilities. The visit could be connected to previously rumored plans that he is preparing new norms concerning the status of a pope emeritus.

This is a plausible hypothesis given that, since Benedict XVI’s resignation in 2013, the role of the pope emeritus has never been defined in law. After all, the few previous popes emeritus did not live for long or else died (like Celestine V) as prisoners.

Another possibility is that the pope will announce a reform of the rules governing conclaves, perhaps increasing the number of cardinal electors and maybe also including non-cardinals, following the thought of Paul VI, who considered permitting the presidents of episcopal conferences to attend conclaves.

It’s noteworthy that Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodriguez Maradiaga, president of the Council of Cardinals, spoke about the possibility of new norms concerning the Sede Vacante period at the launch of his new book in Rome on May 5.

The possibility that Pope Francis will use the L’Aquila visit to announce his resignation currently seems unlikely given the pope’s determined personality. At the same time, however, he does not want to let his reforms become a dead letter, and so a resignation, accompanied by new norms on the pope emeritus and the Sede Vacante period, could theoretically offer him a degree of control over the papal succession. But that is mere speculation.

What is certain is that the Church today needs a defined juridical framework, especially when the new Vatican constitution must be put into practice and harmonized with established practices and law.

Pope Francis’ visit to L’Aquila will no doubt come to have its own symbolic meaning. But it remains to be seen which one he will give to it.

22,000 young people pray for peace at Catholic festival in Poland

null / Courtesy of the Lednica2000 Facebook page.

Warsaw, Poland, Jun 6, 2022 / 11:05 am (CNA).

Twenty-two thousand young people from Poland and Ukraine attended the 26th Lednica 2000 meeting on the eve of Pentecost.

Pope Francis sent a message to participants ahead of the youth festival on June 4.

Speaking at his general audience on June 1, the pope said: “Today we begin the month dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, source of love and peace.”

“Open yourselves to this love and take it ‘to the ends of the earth,’ witnessing to the goodness and mercy that flow from the Heart of Jesus.”

The annual gathering at Lednickie Fields in west-central Poland has taken place since 1997. The Dominican priest Father Jan Góra, who founded the meetings, died in 2015.

Father Tomasz Nowak, O.P., the pastor of this year’s meeting, said: “The phenomenon of Lednica lies in the fact that there is everything a young person may need — enthusiasm, joy, dancing, and singing, but at the same time prayer, Mass, Confession.”

“Young people are looking for love and truth, which are not temporary and illusory, but which are tried and tested and which can be relied on for eternity.”

Due to the ongoing war in Ukraine, organizers invited refugees to the gathering this year.

“Many of us have taken under our roof mothers with children fleeing the drama of war. We welcomed them like family. That’s why we also want to pray together here in Ukrainian — for the miracle of peace in Ukraine,” Nowak said.

The meeting was attended by young people from various communities and organizations.

“Scouts, altar servers, young people from the Light-Life Movement, the Neocatechumenate, the Catholic Youth Association, Dominican communities, young people from almost all existing groups in the Church in Poland. They want to be together and enjoy one another's presence,” said the priest.

“The Lednica meetings take place in the most important place for our nation: at Lednickie Lake, where according to archaeologists, the Baptism of Poland took place in 966 AD. This is the source of our identity, and this is why we pray every year on the eve of Pentecost so that the Holy Spirit would come down on us, anoint us, and send us out, just as he did on Jesus during his baptism.”

Nowak added: “The culminating moments of the meeting are always the Eucharist and passing through the Gate of the Third Millennium, a characteristic and impressive construction in the shape of a fish — a symbol of Christianity. This passage is a sign of conscious choice of following the way of Christ.”

“But often the young people said that the time of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament was the most important moment for them. Being alone with Christ in front of a crowd of 20,000 in total silence is a moment that cannot be forgotten.”

Why is everyone talking about Pope Francis’ trip to L’Aquila?

Pope Francis sat at the front of the congregation in St. Peter's Basilica on the Solemnity of Pentecost on June 5, 2022. / Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Jun 6, 2022 / 10:07 am (CNA).

On Saturday, June 4, the Holy See press office announced that Pope Francis will visit the Italian city of L’Aquila at the end of August.

The announcement prompted unsourced speculation that the trip could be the prelude to the 85-year-old pope’s resignation.

What does L’Aquila have to do with papal resignations?

The city in central Italy is the burial place of Pope Celestine V, who led the Catholic Church for just five months before his resignation on Dec. 13, 1294. The pope, who was canonized in 1313, is buried in L’Aquila’s Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio.

Pope Celestine V resigned over 700 years ago. Why he is relevant today?

When Benedict XVI became the first pope to resign in almost 600 years in 2013, Vatican-watchers recalled that he had visited the tomb of Celestine V years earlier. During his trip on April 28, 2009, he left his pallium — the white wool vestment given to metropolitan archbishops — on the tomb. In hindsight, commentators suggested that he was indicating his intention to resign.

Is there anything unusual about the timing of the papal visit to L’Aquila?

Pope Francis is scheduled to travel to L’Aquila on Sunday, Aug. 28, the day after he creates 21 new cardinals. Following the trip, he will meet with members of the College of Cardinals to discuss the new Vatican constitution, which came into effect on June 5. All three events — the consistory creating new cardinals, the L’Aquila trip, and the extraordinary consistory — are taking place during what is normally a quiet month at the Vatican.

What is the pope scheduled to do in L’Aquila?

He will make a private visit to the city’s cathedral, which is still being rebuilt after it was badly damaged during a 2019 earthquake in which more than 300 people died.

After speaking to the families of the victims, he will be driven to Santa Maria di Collemaggio, where he will celebrate an outdoor Mass, recite the Angelus, and open a holy door. The visit’s official schedule does not mention the tomb of Celestine V or — unsurprisingly — anything to do with a papal resignation.

Why is Pope Francis opening a holy door?

Each year on Aug. 28-29, Catholics make a pilgrimage to L’Aquila to take part in an event called the Celestinian Forgiveness (known in Italian as the Perdonanza Celestiniana.)

The opening of the holy door will mark the start of the annual celebration established by Pope Celestine V in 1294 and inscribed by UNESCO on its Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2009. Cardinal Giuseppe Petrocchi of L’Aquila said that Francis will be the first pope to open the holy door for 728 years.

Have there been rumors about Pope Francis resigning before?

Days after the pope underwent colon surgery in July 2021, rumors swept social media claiming that the pope planned to resign “in the next few hours.” But the speculation was quickly proven false. The pope left the hospital and soon resumed his hectic schedule.

A steady stream of resignation theories continued to appear throughout 2021. The pope’s health problems in 2022, which have forced him to use a wheelchair for public events, triggered more conjecture.

Has Pope Francis said anything about resigning?

After his election in 2013, Pope Francis praised Benedict XVI’s decision to resign. In a 2014 interview, he said that “Benedict is the first and maybe there will be others. We don’t know.”

But he has never said explicitly that he personally intends to resign. Speaking after his colon surgery in 2021, he noted that “Whenever a pope is ill, there is always a breeze or a hurricane of conclave.”

Referring to resignation rumors that appeared to originate in his homeland of Argentina, he added: “I don’t know where they got it from last week that I was going to resign! What word did they understand in my country? That’s where the news came from. And they say it was a commotion, when it didn’t even cross my mind.”

Bishop of Kyiv after 100 days of war: 'Please, let us not stop praying for Ukraine' 

A young girl draws on the wall of a destroyed house in the village of Andriivka, Kyiv region, on June 3, 2022 on the 100th day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Sergei Chuzavkov/AFP via Getty Images) / Sergei Chuzavkov/AFP via Getty Images

Rome, Italy, Jun 3, 2022 / 16:50 pm (CNA).

Marking 100 days since Russian forces invaded his country, the Ukrainian Catholic bishop of Kyiv has called for continued prayer while warning against what he called a “naive pacifism” that would accept peace at any cost.

"During the 100 days of the war, Ukraine and the entire international community underwent a transformation of mutual relations. Ukraine has been seen as a victim of war and at the same time as a partner worth helping,” Bishop Vitaliy Kryvytskyi of the Diocese of Kyiv-Zhytomyr said in a telephone interview June 1.

“Many of those who previously did not know where Ukraine was, now know well such places as Bucha, Irpin or Mariupol," he added. 

"This war, which we did not want, has made us all much more mature. The war forced us to look at many things with new eyes. It changed our relationships. People who lived around us, who were not our friends, became our brothers overnight," he said. 

Ukrainian Catholic Bishop Vitaliy Kryvytskyi of Kyiv spoke on June 1, 2022, about the crisis still ongoing in his country after 100 days of war. Kyiv Diocese Facebook
Ukrainian Catholic Bishop Vitaliy Kryvytskyi of Kyiv spoke on June 1, 2022, about the crisis still ongoing in his country after 100 days of war. Kyiv Diocese Facebook

June 3 marked 100 days since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Thursday that “at least tens of thousands” of Ukrainian civilians have died so far, but independent verification of casualty figures on either side of the conflict is difficult to obtain. Russia has officially acknowledged that a little more than 1,300 of its soldiers have died so far, though Ukrainian and Western observers believe the number is considerably higher.

Nearly 7 million Ukrainians have been forced to leave the country at some point since the fighting began, and an estimated 2 million have crossed back into Ukraine, according to a report by NPR, citing data from the United Nations refugee agency. Millions more have been displaced from their homes to other parts of Ukraine.

Kryvytskyi, the Kyiv bishop, spoke about these mass migrations in his interview.

"In some regions of western Ukraine, and in Kyiv, people are returning to their homes, stores and offices are open, but in eastern Ukraine fierce fighting continues. The situation is very difficult. Many people are dying. The whole Ukraine is suffering, and the specter of famine threatens the whole world," he stressed, referring to disruptions in grain and other food exports from Ukraine due to the war and the shutdown of the country’s ports.

This suffering breeds hatred, the bishop warned, which only compounds the evil nature of war.

“In spite of these tragic events, we cannot let ourselves be possessed by hatred. Hatred kills us," Kryvytskyi said.

At the same time, however, “peace at any cost” is not a workable approach to the crisis, the bishop emphasized.

"People have long since stopped talking about peace at any cost. They speak about victory. Giving up part of Ukraine in the name of peace will not bring a real end to the war, it will only freeze the conflict. Naive pacifism will not change the situation,” he said.

“We still see the effects of such actions today. The surrender of Crimea, which was supposed to prevent war, has only postponed it. If today Ukraine agreed to voluntarily give up part of its territory, it would thereby agree to postpone in time the next phases of the invasion."

Kryvytskyi also responded to criticism that Pope Francis and the Holy See have not spoken out more forcefully about Russia’s actions, and about Russian President Vladimir Putin more specifically.

"I also see much love for Ukraine in the Vatican's actions and in Pope Francis' prayer for our suffering people. Those who criticize the actions of the Vatican and the attitude of the Holy Father do not listen to his teaching in its entirety, they are only guided by judgments based on sentences often inadvertently torn out of papal teaching,” he said.

“I try to approach these situations with a certain understanding of the Holy Father but I cannot demand the same from other people who may not know this broad context," he added.

Are those outside Ukraine losing interest in what is happening there? Kryvytskyi acknowledged that this is a real concern.

“After a hundred days, one can notice the fatigue of the mass media, too. At times it seems that some people feel there is too much Ukraine on the internet and in the pages of newspapers. However, the war is not over. It is still going on. People may want to forget about it, but this will not make the war end," he said. 

"What we need most today is persistent prayer. A prayer that is not just a symbol, but a tool that works miracles. We experience them every day. In connection with the prolonged conflict in eastern Ukraine, it seems that this prayer is weakening. Please, let us not stop praying for Ukraine," the bishop appealed.