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Pope Francis launches consultation on Church reform

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Pope Francis (pictured) has launched what some describe as the most ambitious attempt at Catholic reform for 60 years.

A two-year process to consult every Catholic parish around the world on the future direction of the Church began at the Vatican this weekend.

Some Catholics hope it will lead to change on issues such as women's ordination, married priests and same-sex relationships.

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Others fear it will undermine the principles of the Church.

They say a focus on reform could also distract from issues facing the Church, such as corruption and dwindling attendance levels.

Pope Francis urged Catholics not to "remain barricaded in our certainties" but to "listen to one another" as he launched the process at Mass in St Peter's Basilica.

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"Are we prepared for the adventure of this journey? Or are we fearful of the unknown, preferring to take refuge in the usual excuses: 'It's useless' or 'We've always done it this way'?" he asked.

The consultation process, called "For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission", will work in three stages:

  • In the "listening phase", people in parishes and dioceses will be able to discuss a wide range of issues. Pope Francis said it was important to hear from those who were often on the fringes of local Church life such as women, pastoral workers and members of consultative bodies
  • The "continental phase" will see bishops gather to discuss and formalise their findings.
  • The "universal phase" will see a month-long gathering of the bishops a the Vatican in October 2023

The Pope is expected then to write an apostolic exhortation, giving his views and decisions on the issues discussed.

Discussing his hopes for the Synod, Pope Francis warned against the process becoming an intellectual exercise that failed to address the real-world issues faced by Catholics and the "temptation to complacency" when it comes to considering change.https://emp.bbc.co.uk/emp/SMPj/2.44.0/iframe.htmlMedia caption,"If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?"

The initiative has been praised by the progressive US-based National Catholic Reporter newspaper, which said that while the process might not be perfect "the Church is more likely to address the needs of the people of God with it than without it".

However, theologian George Weigel wrote, in the conservative US Catholic journal First Things, it was unclear how "two years of self-referential Catholic chatter" would address other problems the Church such as those who are "drifting away from the faith in droves".

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Much of the reporting of this two-year consultation has focused on some of the issues that often appear to dominate reporting on the Catholic Church: the role of women for example, and whether they will ever be ordained as priests (the Pope says "no").

While those topics are often of concern to some Catholics, other areas which traditionally dominate Catholic social teaching, such as alleviating poverty, and increasingly, climate change, will likely play a greater part, as will how the Church is run. In reality, any issue can be raised.

Don't expect any sudden changes to Church rules though. It's true that some Catholics do want to see a different kind of institution, but for Pope Francis, allowing ordinary worshippers to have their concerns (eventually) raised at the Vatican - even if their bishops disagree with them - is a huge step change for this 2,000 year-old religion.

European Commission

REACT-EU: Commission approves €2 billion of additional resources for the recovery in Italy, Spain, Luxembourg and Romania

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The Commission has granted €2 billion to Italy, Spain, Luxembourg and Romania following the modification of two European Regional Development Fund, one European Social Fund (ESF) and one Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived Operational Programmes (OP) under the Recovery Assistance for Cohesion and the Territories in Europe (REACT-EU). In Italy, the national OP ‘Governance and Institutional Capacity' will receive a total of €1.2bn. Of this sum, €761 million will go towards buying 68 million doses of vaccines against the coronavirus. In the Southern regions, authorities will use €374m to hire new public healthcare workers and cover the costs of extra hours worked by workers currently in the system. €108 million will help strengthen the administrative capacity of national and regional authorities, including in the healthcare system.

In Spain, ‘Comunidad Valenciana' will receive additional resources of €690m to provide, amongst others, working capital to the most affected small and medium-sized enterprises, and to reinforce health, social services and investments in basic infrastructure for citizens, including in the health and education sectors. Luxembourg will receive €69m to support large-scale coronavirus testing and the acquisition of vaccines, and investments in sustainability such as the electrification of the national bus network. In Romania, €56m will be invested to provide material support for disadvantaged groups, such as hot meals, assistance to disadvantaged children with school supplies and to disadvantaged mothers with essential kits for their newborn babies. REACT-EU is part of NextGenerationEU and provides €50.6bn additional funding (in current prices) over the course of 2021 and 2022 to Cohesion Policy programmes.

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European Commission

REACT-EU: € 4.7 billion to support jobs, skills and the poorest people in Italy

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The Commission has granted €4.7 billion to Italy under REACT-EU to encourage the country's response to the coronavirus crisis and contribute to a sustainable socio-economic recovery. The new funding is the result of the modification of two operational programs of the European Social Fund (ESF) and the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD). The Italian national ESF program ‘Active employment policies' will receive €4.5bn to support employment in the areas most affected by the pandemic.

The additional funds will increase the hiring of young people and women, allow workers to participate in training and support tailor-made services for job seekers. In addition, they will help protect jobs in small businesses in the regions of Abruzzo, Molise, Campania, Puglia, Basilicata, Calabria, Sicily and Sardinia.

Employment and Social Rights Commissioner Nicolas Schmit said: “The European Union continues to help its citizens overcome the COVID-19 crisis. The new funding for Italy will help create jobs, especially for young people and women, in the regions most in need. Investments in skills are another priority and are essential to master the ecological and digital transitions. We are also paying special attention to the most vulnerable people in Italy by strengthening the funding of food aid."

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Cohesion and Reform Commissioner Elisa Ferreira (pictured) said: “Regions are at the heart of Europe's recovery from the pandemic. I am delighted that member states are using the Union's emergency aid to tackle the pandemic and initiate a sustainable and inclusive recovery for the long term. REACT-EU funding will help Italians in the worst-hit regions recover from the crisis and create the foundations for a modern, forward-looking economy. As part of NextGenerationEU, REACT-EU is providing additional funding of €50.6bn (at current prices) to cohesion policy programs during 2021 and 2022 to support labor market resilience, jobs, small and medium-sized businesses and low-income families."

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Hungary

Pope urges Hungary to be more open to needy outsiders

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Pope Francis (pictured) said on Sunday (12 September) that Hungary could preserve its Christian roots while opening up to the needy, an apparent response to nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban's stand that Muslim immigration could destroy its heritage, write Philip Pullella and Gergely Szakacs.

Francis was in Hungary for an unusually short stay that underlined differences with the anti-immigrant Orban, his political opposite.

Closing a Church congress with a Mass for tens of thousands of people in central Budapest, Francis used the imagery of a cross to show that something as deeply rooted as religious belief did not exclude a welcoming attitude.

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"The cross, planted in the ground, not only invites us to be well-rooted, it also raises and extends its arms towards everyone," he said in his remarks after the Mass.

"The cross urges us to keep our roots firm, but without defensiveness; to draw from the wellsprings, opening ourselves to the thirst of the men and women of our time," he said at the end of the open-air Mass, which Orban attended with his wife.

"My wish is that you be like that: grounded and open, rooted and considerate," the pope said.

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Francis has often denounced what he sees as a resurgence of nationalist and populist movements, and has called for European unity, and criticised countries that try to solve the migration crisis with unilateral or isolationist actions.

Orban, by contrast, told the Bled Strategic Forum in Slovenia last week the only solution to migration was for the European Union to "give all rights back to the nation state".

Pope Francis arrives to meet with representatives of the Ecumenical Council of Churches in the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest, Hungary, September 12, 2021. REUTERS/Remo Casilli
Pope Francis greets people as he arrives in Heroes' Square in Budapest, Hungary, September 12, 2021. REUTERS/Remo Casilli
Pope Francis arrives at Budapest International Airport in Budapest, Hungary, September 12, 2021. Vatican Media/­Handout via REUTERS   ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.

The pope has called for migrants to be welcomed and integrated to tackle what he has called Europe's "demographic winter". Orban said in Slovenia that today's migrants "are all Muslims" and that only "the traditional Christian family policy can help us out of that demographic crisis."

Francis, 84, who spent only around seven hours in Budapest, met Orban and President Janos Ader at the start of his visit.

The Vatican said the meeting which was also attended by the Vatican's top two diplomats and a Hungarian cardinal, lasted about 40 minutes and was cordial.

"I asked Pope Francis not to let Christian Hungary perish," Orban said on Facebook. Hungarian news agency MTI said Orban gave Francis a facsimile of a letter that 13th century King Bela IV sent to Pope Innocent IV asking for help in fighting the Tartars.

Later on Sunday Francis arrived in Slovakia, where he will stay much longer, visiting four cities before returning to Rome on Wednesday.

The brevity of his Budapest stay has prompted diplomats and Catholic media to suggest the pope is giving priority to Slovakia, in effect snubbing Hungary. Read more.

The Vatican has called the Budapest visit a "spiritual pilgrimage". Orban's office has said comparisons with the Slovakia leg would be "misleading".

The trip is the pope's first since undergoing major surgery in July. Francis told reporters on the plane taking him to Budapest that he was "feeling fine".

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