1. For China’s Catholics, trying times: A deal on bishops could unite the church or put the faithful in Beijing’s crosshairs.

By Emily Rauhala, The Washington Post, March 12, 2018, Pg. A1

The bishop can’t really talk about religion right now. 

His unofficial church is caught in a fight over the future of the Roman Catholic faith here, a struggle for control between the Vatican and the Communist Party that will determine the fate of the estimated 10 million Catholics in China and shape the legacy of Pope Francis. 

Bishop Zhuang Jianjian, 88, under watch and already in trouble, knows it is not safe to speak out. But he can still deliver a sermon.

Now, a deal is in the works. The plan would give Pope Francis a say in how bishops are appointed in the People’s Republic. In return, the pope would recognize seven bishops who were ordained without Vatican approval.

It is being pitched as a way to restore ties between the Vatican and Beijing and bolster the church at a time when President Xi Jinping is cracking down on religion, and Catholicism is losing ground to other faiths.

Critics, particularly senior Catholic figures in Hong Kong, see it as catastrophic sellout that would put party cadres in charge of communities that have long fought to worship without government control.

An open letter written by a group of influential Catholics argued that the Communist Party had a history of breaking promises when it comes to protecting religious freedom. 

“We are worried that the agreement would not only fail to guarantee the limited freedom desired by the Church,” they wrote, “but also damage the Church’s holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity, and deal a blow to the Church’s moral power.”


2. China’s Attendance at Vatican Organ Conference Hailed as Boon to Ties, Peace.

By Reuters, March 12, 2018, 3:30 AM

China’s attendance at a Vatican conference on combating organ trafficking underlines improving ties between China and the Church and will build momentum for better relations in other areas, a former senior Chinese official said.

Communist China and the Vatican do not have formal diplomatic relations but negotiations towards what would be a breakthrough agreement on the appointment of bishops have made progress, the deputy head of the official Chinese Catholics association said last week.

Chinese academics will join the Vatican conference on Monday and Tuesday, for the second year in a row, state media reported.


3. Francis at 5: Paradigm shift in mercy, migrants and marriage. 

By Nicole Winfield, Associated Press, March 12, 2018, 5:52 AM

That humble empathy and the ease with which he walks in others’ shoes has won Francis admirers around the globe and confirmed his place as a consummate champion of the poor and disenfranchised.

But as he marks the fifth anniversary of his election Tuesday and looks ahead to an already troubled 2018, Francis faces criticism for both the merciful causes he has embraced and the ones he has neglected. With women and sex abuse topping the latter list, a consensus view is forming that history’s first Latin American pope is perhaps a victim of unrealistic expectations and his own culture.

Nevertheless, Francis’ first five years have been a dizzying introduction to a new kind of pope, one who prizes straight talk over theology and mercy over morals — all for the sake of making the Church a more welcoming place for those who have felt excluded.

Many point to his now famous “Who am I to judge?” comment about a gay priest as the turning point that disaffected Catholics had longed for and were unsure they would ever see.

Others hold out Francis’ cautious opening to allowing Catholics who remarry outside the church to receive Communion as his single most revolutionary step. It was contained in a footnote to his 2016 document “The Joy of Love.”

Another area in which Francis has sought change extends into global politics, with his demand for governments and individuals to treat migrants as brothers and sisters in need, not as threats to society’s wellbeing and security.

The Pew Research Center found that while Francis still enjoys a consistently high 84 percent favorability ratings among U.S. Catholics, an increasing number on the political right believe him to be “too liberal” and naive. Despite all the talk of “the Francis effect” bringing Catholics back to church, Pew found no evidence of a rise in self-proclaimed Catholics or Mass-goers.


4. Some facts about Pope Francis at the 5-year mark. 

By Nicole Winfield, Associated Press, March 12, 2018, 6:47 AM

In five years, the world has gotten to know Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the son of Italian immigrants to Argentina who was so self-deprecating that when he emerged on the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica on March 13, 2013, as Pope Francis, he quipped that his brother cardinals had to search to the “end of the Earth” to find a new leader.

For starters, he likes his mate — an Argentine tea. He suffers from sciatica. For a period in his 40s he saw a psychoanalyst to “clear up some things.” His favorite film is Fellini’s “La Strada” followed closely by “Rome, Open City” with a fondness too for “Babette’s Feast.”

Here are a few facts about Pope Francis, as well as some highlights from five years with a very different kind of pope.


—Sept. 21, 2014: When he wept hearing the life story of a priest, the Rev. Ernest Simoni, who was tortured and imprisoned during Albania’s communist rule. Francis later made Simoni a cardinal.

—Oct. 1, 2016: When he was spellbound by the haunting Aramaic chant sung by a young Georgian girl and a monk in the Orthodox cathedral outside Tblisi. Francis was later snubbed by the Orthodox hierarchy at his open-air Mass in the Georgian capital.

—Dec. 1, 2017: When his already whispery voice weakened as he met with Myanmar’s Rohingya refugees and told them “The presence of God today is also called Rohingya.”



—June 8, 2014: When Francis hosted the Israeli and Palestinian presidents for a peace prayer in the Vatican gardens. Full-scale conflict broke out in the Gaza Strip a few weeks later.

—Sept. 24, 2015: When he challenged the U.S. Congress to rediscover America’s ideals by taking action on climate change, immigration and poverty reduction. The speech was the first by a pope at the U.S. capitol.

—Feb. 12, 2016: When he met with the Russian Orthodox patriarch in the first such encounter in over 1,000 years. The meeting took place in the geopolitically and geographically convenient airport of Havana, as Francis was travelling to Mexico.



—March 14, 2013: When he paid his bill and checked out of the Rome residence after he had been elected pope. The gesture set the stage for a papacy of simple, humble gestures.

—Nov. 30, 2015: When he invited the imam of Bangui to join him in his popemobile for a spin through the besieged, divided Central African Republic capital in a sign of Christian-Muslim coexistence.

—Jan. 18, 2018: When he married two Chilean flight attendants at 35,000 feet after their church wedding was canceled due to an earthquake.



—Francis doesn’t much care for “selfies” but tolerates posing for them because that’s what kids these days do.

—He hasn’t watched television since June 15, 1990, when he made a promise to the Virgin Mary that he wouldn’t.

—He likes Caravaggio and Chagall, Mozart and Bach. His preferred literary references run from Dostoyevsky to Borges and the Argentine epic poem “Martin Fierro.”

—He has a temper, admits to having an “authoritative” bent and has been known to curse like a sailor.

—He rises at 4:30 a.m., takes a siesta after lunch and is asleep by 10 p.m.

—He carries a razor and breviary prayer book in the worn black satchel he carries on trips

—He heats his own food in the Vatican hotel dining room microwave.


5. Pope decries fears of globalization; barriers for foreigners. 

By Frances D’Emilio, Associated Press, March 11, 2018, 3:28 PM

Pope Francis rejected the branding of foreigners and poor people as enemies as he honored volunteers Sunday with a Catholic lay organization that helps Syrian war refugees reach Europe.

The pontiff spent the afternoon with the Sant’Egidio Community, which has mediated peace accords in Africa and helped war refugees make it to Italy safely. The organization is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its founding.

“Since your community was born, the world has become global,” the pope said while addressing Sant’Egidio volunteers in the ancient Santa Maria in Trastevere Basilica, where the community has sheltered the homeless on especially cold nights.

“But for many people, especially the poor, new walls have been lifted,” Francis said. “Diversity is an occasion for animosity and conflict. A globalization of solidarity and of the spirit still awaits to be built.”

Francis described the world as one “often inhabited by fear.”

“Our time faces great fear as it faces the vast dimensions of globalization,” he said. “And fear often turns against people who are foreign, different, poor, as if they were enemies.”


6. Bishops urge bipartisan support of Conscience Protection Act. 

By Christopher White, Crux, March 10, 2018

As Congress rushes to pass an appropriations spending bill by the end of March, U.S. Catholic bishops are attempting to attach a provision that would protect doctors and nurses from having to assist in or to perform abortions, arguing it’s commonsense legislation regardless of whether or not one supports abortion rights.

For the second time in less than a month, Catholic bishops have organized a national congressional call-in day – this one scheduled to take place on Monday, March 12 – and U.S. Catholics are being asked to call their representatives and tell them to support the Conscience Protection Act.

In a statement released earlier this week, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, chair of the USCCB’s Committee for Religious Liberty, said “Increasing and fierce attacks on conscience rights regarding abortion cry out for an immediate remedy.”

“Nurses and other health care providers and institutions are being forced to choose between participating in abortions or leaving health care altogether. Churches and pro-life Americans are being forced to provide coverage for elective abortions – including late-term abortions – in their health care plans,” they wrote.

“Opponents and supporters of abortion should be able to agree that no one should be forced to participate in abortion,” they added.