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Hunger_in_Vatican_CityOn July 4, 2017, Pope Francis made a vibrant statement regarding the world’s suffering and hungry. He declared world hunger to be a direct result of nothing less than indifference and selfishness. Further, he saw the effects of these same problems in his immediate surroundings—there is hunger in Vatican City. Since the beginning of his service, Pope Francis has made addressing poverty, hunger and homelessness some of the most important goals for the Catholic Church in hopes to lead by example.

Due largely to the Catholic Church’s presence in the world’s smallest country, many of the poor and needy draw near to the Vatican. As the impoverished seek refuge, hunger is becoming a bigger problem for the Church to address. With Pope Francis at the helm of the Vatican’s efforts, the needy are being tended to with a vigorous priority.

Pope Francis has personally addressed hunger by appealing to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and pointing out the “uneven distribution of resources and the lack of agricultural development.” The Vatican has sponsored several refugees and their families facing the challenges of displacement, especially hunger. Further, the rest of Europe’s Catholic community has been encouraged to follow suit in accepting, housing and aiding those seeking refuge.

Contrary to tradition, Pope Francis insists on mobilizing the church by sending out the Vatican’s almoner. In the past, the almoner waits for letters from the poor for guidance on how to meet needs. However, Polish Archbishop Konrad Krajewski has taken to the streets of Vatican City in attempts to help the poor and hungry. Krajewski’s method aligns with the rumors of Pope Francis instructing him to “sell his desk” since he would not be needing it.

One of the more controversial techniques to fight hunger in Vatican City came with a corporate lease of a Vatican building to McDonald’s in 2016. While some members of the Church and the Catholic community responded with alternative uses of the building, like housing the homeless, that attitude has since shifted as McDonald’s promised to hand out over 1,000 meals to the poor in their first six months of operations.

The 2030 Development Agenda of the U.N. reflects this same commitment of the Catholic Church. The fight for universal food security cannot be put off and Pope Francis recognizes that it is a demanding task. However, intentions to provide for everyone are not enough. Rather, people need to make a commitment to their country to increase the level of nutrition, to improve agricultural operations, to improve living conditions of rural communities and promote effective distribution of resources like food supplies. When a country is unable to provide for its people, then intergovernmental institutions need to step in. As Pope Francis said in his July 4 address, every person has a right to be free from poverty and hunger. Further, it is the duty of the entire human family to intervene and actually do something about it.

Taylor Elkins

Photo: Flickr;

 Vatican_Refugees
The Vatican has taken several Syrian refugees in over the last few months. In April of 2016, Pope Francis took 12 Muslim Syrians from three different families into the Vatican as refugees. In June, he welcomed nine more Syrians as Vatican City refugees, seeming very symbolic to many individuals throughout Europe and the rest of the world. The refugees that were brought into the Vatican were very grateful for the Pope’s “gesture of hope” and some even went on to call him a savior.

Being a refugee is difficult but being a refugee in Vatican City is not only difficult but also very interesting due to the uniqueness of the situation. Here are ten facts about Vatican City refugees:

  1. The Greek island of Lesbos is where many Syrian refugees are being held and where the Pope took in a portion of the refugees in Vatican City. Most of the refugees on the island of Lesbos feel as though they are trapped as prisoners in the neglected detention center. They are also constantly at risk of being sent back to Turkey due to a new deportation deal between the E.U. and Turkey.
  2. The refugees the Pope took from Greece on his visit in April consisted of three families whose homes had been bombed in the Syrian war. After bringing these refugees to the Vatican, the Pope declared that he wanted to make a gesture of welcome for the refugees.
  3. Even though many thought the Pope’s action in taking in these refugees were on a whim, his actions were actually carefully thought out and had involved a large amount of planning and paperwork for not only the Vatican and Italy, but also Greece.
  4. The Pope’s refugees will all be taken care of by the Catholic charitable association, Sant’Egidio, which will help care for the families and assist them in finding work.
  5. When questioned about why these specific families were chosen to be taken from Greece to the Vatican, the Pope did not explain, but instead simply stated that: “They are guests of the Vatican.”
  6. Beginning in the summer of 2015, thousands of migrants, mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, journeyed into Lesbos after paying smugglers to make the brief sea journey from Turkey. This smuggling of refugees caused the E.U. to have a political crisis which, in turn, led several countries to either restrict or completely close their borders.
  7. The number of migrants coming into Greece has fallen significantly since Turkey agreed to take back all of the individuals coming into the Greek islands for billions of dollars in E.U. cash. Over 1.1 million people have covertly crossed from Turkey to Greece since the start of 2015, and hundreds have drowned in this journey.
  8. In 2015, the Pope appealed to all Catholic diocese in Europe to take in a refugee family. Unfortunately, the Pope’s appeal was ignored by the majority of individuals across Europe.
  9. The Pope continued to fight for refugees when he offered special praise for ordinary Greeks who have taken refugees into their homes. Other religious leaders have called upon the E.U. to provide more help for Greece in this migrant crisis.
  10. Currently, there are 20 Syrian refugees living in the Vatican, which consists of 1,000 inhabitants.

While the Pope has clearly been doing his part in the Syrian refugee crisis, the issue has not been solved. However, using the Pope as a model by taking in refugees to the Vatican and treating them with respect, many individuals in Europe and around the world should have a better outlook on Syrian refugees and how they should be treated.

Bella Chaffey

Photo: Flickr

Mobile Medical Unit
Revolutionary in more ways than one, the Vatican recently donated a mobile medical unit to the people of one of the most ancient cities on the planet. The unit tours Rome’s borders and offers free health care to those in need — including but not limited to immigrants, expectant mothers and children.

Pope Francis is a prominent voice for those in need. Regularly speaking out about people living in poverty, the Pope frequently stresses the importance and impact that the impoverished have on society.

The life-saving vehicle does its best to blend in — with Vatican City license plates and the Holy See’s coat of arms (two keys topped by a papal crown), the mobile medical unit is Roman through and through. Dr. Lucia Ercoli, director of the Instituto di Medicina Solidale, said that using Vatican license plates allows migrants living in inhumane conditions to experience the closeness of the Pope and the church.

Istituto di Medicina Solidale staff, a group of volunteer doctors, health care professionals and medical students, use the RV-styled vehicle to assist people in need. The vehicle serves a diverse group of people, including many refugee children who lost their parents during the dangerous journey from their home country to Italy.

The group has been active since 2004 and partners with other nonprofit groups and the church to create makeshift clinics that offer services to the poor. In the summer of 2015, the association started providing services to a church-run center for immigrants near a city train station. In one day, hundreds of people showed up for check-ups.

In March of 2015, the Vatican opened a “clinic for the poor” located near the colonnade. The clinic offered free medical treatment and services to those unable to afford basic medical care.

Additionally, the Vatican has provided access to showers and barbershops. In October 2015, Pope Francis and his fellow Jesuits converted an old travel agency into a dormitory for the homeless.

The Vatican mobile medical unit provides a more private setting for patients and includes more equipment. As of August 2016, the vehicle has accommodated more than 2,000 people near shanty towns and abandoned buildings while simultaneously paving the way for further developments in healthcare.

Jacqueline Venuti

Photo: Pixabay

Pope Brings Strong Poverty Focus to Latin American Tour-TBP
Pope Francis has been entertaining a wide variety of topics on his current Latin American tour, but poverty has remained at the top of his list.

“Do we realize that something is wrong in a world where there are so many farm workers without land, so many families without a home, so many laborers without rights, so many persons whose dignity is not respected?” the Pope said in Spanish at a stop in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. “Do we realize that that system has imposed the mentality of profit at any price, with no concern for social exclusion or the destruction of nature?”

The Pope’s focus on poverty rings especially true for many living in the countries he’s speaking in. In Ecuador, over 25% of the population lives below the poverty line; that number jumps all the way up to 60% in Bolivia.

According to the Vatican, the overarching theme of the Pope’s visits is to bring “the Church for the poor.” The Pope is reaching out to the poverty-stricken people and regions of his native South America.

“The human environment and the natural environment are degrading together, and we can’t adequately confront human and social degradation without paying attention to the underlying causes,” the Pope said at a stop in Quito, Ecuador. “In today’s world, among the most abandoned and abused poor, we find the most oppressed and damaged land.”

– Alexander Jones

Sources: Big News, CNN, Telesur
Photo: BBC

climate_change
Pope Francis will deliver an encyclical this summer on the subject of climate change. In preparation for the speech, the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences held a heavily attended workshop on April 28 in Rome. Included among the guest groups were the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow and the Heartland Institute.

Another prominent guest, Cardinal Peter Turkson, asserted that “irrespective of the causes of climate change,” Christians are obligated to help the poor. Therein lies a complicating factor: Christians must now consider altruism without unwittingly aggravating the causes of climate change.

This brings to light a much more generalized question regarding religion’s role in the alleviation of poverty, or lack thereof. Fundamentalist Christians, for example, would read the Bible and disregard any pontifical command to pay attention to climate change.

The picture becomes even cloudier when politics are factored in. Most Evangelical Christians and Mormons are conservative Republicans who believe that the scientific evidence supporting the phenomena of climate change is inaccurate and/or falsified.

Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist and Evangelical Christian, attempts to bridge the gap between science and evangelical faith. She is a member of a statistical minority; according to the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, only 44 percent of evangelicals believe that global warming is both real and the result of human behavior. Some politicians even believe that God would not let human behavior destroy the planet.

Hayhoe debunks biblical arguments such as those saying that bad things still happen even with a Judeo-Christian God in existence because that God grants free will to His people. “That’s really what climate change is,” she explains, “It’s a casualty of the decisions that we have made.”

She goes on to hypothesize that many evangelicals fear the concept of climate change for two reasons. First, they erroneously believe that all scientists are atheists. Second, their typically conservative political viewpoints biases them against any and all potential “big government” interventions.

To make matters of religion and politics even more complicated, most Jews lean politically left and are beginning to take active steps as a community to alleviate climate change. The Reconstructionist and Reform movements tend to be the most liberal, followed by the Conservative and Orthodox Jews. Generally, the more traditional the sect is in its practice of Judaism, the less environmentally active that movement tends to be.

Consequently, researchers find a startling, ironic commonality between the most observant Jews and the most observant Christians. It appears that the more conservatively a religious sect’s people practice that religion, the less likely they are to take steps to stop climate change.

Adding fuel to that fire, it is the poorest populations that suffer the most from the effects of climate change. The one demographic that both Jewish and Christian ideologies make the most efforts to help is the very group that falls on the receiving end of their most devout groups’ inaction.

So what is to be done? Should the secular American population vote in politicians who choose religious freedom over environmental activism, or vice-versa? Maybe the next election cycle will bring forth more people like Katharine Hayhoe, but then again, maybe not. Only time and ballots can tell.

– Leah Zazofsky

Sources: Slate, The Heartland Institute, Yale Climate Connections
Photo: Telegraph

John_Kerry_Vatican
United States Secretary of State, John Kerry, met with the Vatican on January 14 for an hour and a half to discuss issues facing the Middle East. Kerry and the Vatican Secretary of State, Archbishop Pietro Parolinm covered topics that ranged from Israel and Palestinian relations, the Syrian civil war and a possible meeting between Pope Francis and President Barack Obama.

John Kerry is the first Roman Catholic Secretary of State to visit the Vatican since the 1980’s. Kerry stopped by the Vatican on his way from Paris where he was at the Syrian Peace Talks with the UN.

The Pope has been very critical of the United States, debating whether they should invade Syria saying, “Violence and war are never the way to peace.” The current state of Syria was discussed at length, with the Vatican issuing a statement of support of the peace talks. Both men said the talks, ‘covered broad topics’ and were a ‘comprehensive conversation.’

Kerry hinted that there are plans in the works for a meeting between Obama and Pope Francis who have both expressed interest in addressing extreme poverty on a global scale. Pope Francis has further caught the attention of United States conservatives who criticized him for his focus on addressing poverty.

In a statement outlining his vision for the future of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis said, “The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open, there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor…may we never abandon them.”

Pope Francis has brought positive change with his plan to address global poverty. It is a welcome and refreshing change to have the religious leader proclaim that Catholics should focus more on helping the poor. The pope leads a religion with an estimated 1.2 billion people across the world.

– Colleen Eckvahl

Sources: Christian Today, USA Today, The Washington Post
Photo: Religion News Service

Pope-Francis
After two days of deliberation in the papal conclave, the first non-European pope was elected yesterday at the Vatican. Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, Argentina, now and forevermore known as Pope Francis, became the 266th leader of the Roman Catholic Church, presiding over approximately 1.2 billion followers.

Many attributes of the new pope give hope to a rising importance of assisting the poor and working in developing countries. As the archbishop of Buenos Aires until 2012, Bergoglio was known as a man of few material possessions. He lived in a simple apartment, wore hand-me-down clothes from the previous archbishop, and preferred to remain out of the limelight and work in the villages.

While Argentina is not a third world country, having a pope from South America, a region of the world that suffers from so much poverty and political corruption, will most certainly change the direction of the Catholic church and its leadership role in helping communities contend with economic and social issues.

Since European popes may not feel as strong of a connection to people suffering in developing countries, Pope Francis I has had first hand experience with the issues and solutions that arise when serving a parish and community made up of such people. His concern about the persistent social inequalities in South America will direct attention to similar issues for both Catholics and non-Catholics alike in other parts of the world.

Aside from his home life, there are other signs that Pope Francis will become a bigger champion of the poor than previous popes have been. By choosing the name Francis, a name never used by a pope, Bergoglio alludes to the infamous Saint Francis of Assisi. According to Vatican spokesman Thomas Rosica, Bergoglio, like Saint Francis, was a lover of the poor. CNN Vatican Expert John Allen comments that the name also symbolizes “poverty, humility, simplicity and rebuilding the Catholic Church.”

Being also the first Jesuit pope (the Jesuits are a religious order that is part of the Catholic Church), it is important to note that from the beginning of his religious training he took the infamous Jesuit vow of poverty, among other things. While the Catholic Church has been criticized for its lavish ornaments and spending habits, it seems that Pope Francis has the personality and lifestyle that is sure to change the focus of the Catholic mission partly onto global poverty and social injustice.

– Deena Dulgerian
Source:CNNNPR

cardinals
Cardinals are convening in preparation for March 12th, the day the new pope is to be elected. However, this date is contingent upon if the 115 voting cardinals can settle debates they are having on issues plaguing the Roman Catholic Church. While cardinals have vowed secrecy, discussions between them have supposedly been leaked to Italian newspapers. These newspapers report that the Vatican bank and reformation of the Vatican’s bureaucracy are large issues being debated.

Thus, until agreements are made and debates are settled, the cardinals may have to vote time and time again. Why? Well, Papal elections require a two-thirds majority vote. Voting is done in secrecy and only when a two-thirds majority has been reached has a new pope been elected. The election of a new pope is signaled to the rest of the world through the appearance of white smoke from burnt ballots from the Sistine Chapel.

In 2005, the last time a pope was elected, elections took three days. How many days this election will take will be closely monitored, as it “is being seen as a reflection of the many challenges facing the Church,” according to BBC News. One of these challenges may have to deal with whether or not to elect an African pope. With more new members to the Church coming from African than European nations, the direction the Church takes for the future is very important and this direction will be determined by the pope that the cardinals choose. According to The New York Times, the cardinals seem to be looking for a pope that has the charisma of Pope John Paul II and the grit of Pope Rambo I. Whether a pope with these characteristics can be found and whether he will be the answer to the Church’s challenges will be determined soon.

– Angela Hooks

Sources: BBC, NY Times
Photo: BBC