VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has a packed agenda for 2014, including a consistory to create new cardinals, a trip to the Holy Land and the canonizations of Blessed Popes John XXIII and John Paul II.
The papal year begins, as usual, with a distinctly international emphasis, when the Holy Father gives his annual “survey of the world” to diplomats from 180 countries accredited to the Holy See.
Many of the concerns he raised in his address and blessing urbi et orbi (to the city of Rome and the world) on Christmas Day will figure highly in the Jan. 13 address, in particular the conflict in Syria and the current peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians. Francis is also expected to highlight the importance of international solidarity, especially for victims of war and natural disasters, underline the need for social justice and the plight of refugees and the increasing persecution of Christians worldwide.
Mention will also be made at the meeting of two important anniversaries this year: the 50th anniversary of the Holy See becoming a permanent observer at the United Nations, which falls on April 6, and the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I.
On Jan. 13, the Vatican will also host a summit of international experts to look at ways of resolving the Syrian conflict. The Pope, most probably through his secretary of state, is expected to voice his particular concerns, not least for Christians in the country who fear they are being targeted by Islamist militants.
Creating New Cardinals
Any day now, the Holy Father will reveal the names of approximately 14 new cardinals who will receive their red biretta at Francis’ first consistory for the creation of new cardinals on Feb. 22. Archbishops Pietro Parolin, Beniamino Stella and Gerhard Müller, who serve respectively as secretary of state, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy and prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, are among those expected to receive that honor.
Many observers will be looking to see if Francis’ first consistory will signify a change in the geographical makeup of the College of Cardinals — whether he will hold off from choosing Europeans, particularly Italians, and possibly appoint more from Latin America, Africa and Asia. He may well keep the number of U.S. cardinals at 11, and Canada may remain untouched, too, with three. Britain, which normally has two cardinals, is more likely to gain one, as it has been without a cardinal under 80 for nearly a year.
This will also be an important year in the process of reforming the Vatican, a top priority of the Pope. In addition to the consistory in February, Pope Francis will take part that month in the third meeting of the council of cardinals — the group of eight cardinals from five continents chosen to advise the Holy Father on reforming the Curia and general governance of the Church. By mid-summer, after meeting every two months, the body is expected to produce a draft plan for a substantial overhaul of the Roman Curia.
Servant, Not the Master
Already, the nature of this reform is becoming clear. Observers point out that Pope Francis is clearly against the previous centralized model of the Church and is looking to shift emphasis to the periphery. The Holy Father sees the pope as the servant, not the master, of the Church, said biographer Paul Vallely, and Francis has strongly hinted that he wants to end the model of papacy as an absolute monarchy.
“Above all, he thinks the Church needs to change the way it makes decisions,” says Vallely, author of Pope Francis: Untying the Knots. “That’s more important to him even than what the decisions are. He wants the Church to make its decisions in a way which involves the entire sensus fidelium [sense of the faithful]. His reforms are about locking that in so it can’t be overturned by a subsequent pontiff.”
During a plenary assembly of all the cardinals in the two days prior to the February consistory, the Pope will lead discussions on issues to be covered at October’s Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family and evangelization. At the end of February, he will also take part in another meeting on the synod — a plenary meeting of the council of the synod, during which cardinals and bishops will analyze the results of the worldwide survey on the family that the Vatican requested late last year. These findings will form the basis of the instrumentum laboris (working document) for the important October gathering.
Pope Francis will attend the synod Oct. 5-19 — the first of two synods on the family, the second of which will take place in 2015.
First Anniversary as Pope
The Church’s first Latin-American pope will mark his first anniversary on March 13. Beginning a week earlier, he will shepherd the Church through Lent. Then he will celebrate his second Easter as Successor of Peter on April 20. A week later, on Divine Mercy Sunday, he will lead the canonization Mass of Blessed Popes John XXIII and John Paul II — an event expected to attract 5 million pilgrims, according to Rome authorities.
The following month, the Holy Father will travel to the Holy Land. The eagerly awaited May 24-26 apostolic visit, which will include Masses in Amman, Bethlehem and Jerusalem, will mark the 50th anniversary of the historic visit by Pope Paul VI to the Holy Land in 1964. It will also take place on the 50th anniversary of the historic embrace of Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras in Jerusalem.
The current Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, will be meeting Pope Francis in the city to mark the occasion. The trip could also be especially timely, as hopes continue for a breakthrough in peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians and resolution to the conflict in Syria and its continued fallout across the region.
Another likely trip this year is to Asia, most probably to the Philippines. Pope Francis has already publicly noted that Benedict XVI was unable to visit Asia and so he wishes to fill that gap, especially as the Church is growing in the region. Other possible Asian destinations include Japan, Sri Lanka and South Korea, but these have yet to be confirmed.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.