ROME— In the era of Pope Francis, there’s basically no such thing as a slow day in Rome anymore, and Thursday brought convincing proof of the point.
While the pontiff was condemning a “this or nothing” attitude as heretical during his morning Mass and, later, issuing a stinging critique of euthanasia in a session with medical workers, the Vatican announced that homeless women will get free PAP smears over the weekend and also released the schedule for the pope’s summer outing to Poland.
All of that on a quaint Thursday morning in the Eternal City.
In his homily during his daily Mass at the Santa Marta residence where the pontiff lives, he spoke of the Church’s “healthy realism,” which never teaches an attitude of “this or nothing” because this “is not Catholic.”
“The Church says: ‘this and that’,” Francis said.
“’This or nothing’ is not Catholic. It’s heretical,” the pontiff said, according to reports from Vatican Radio. “Jesus always walks with us, he presents us the ideal, accompanies us towards that ideal, frees us from being caged within the rigidity of the law, and tells us ‘do as much as you can’.”
The pope said part of “healthy realism” is a capacity to manage conflict.
“Do the perfect thing: reconcile with your brother. Don’t insult him. Love him,” Francis said. “But if there’s a problem, at least reach an agreement, so a war doesn’t explode.”
Francis also said that even though “we have a very creative vocabulary for insulting others,” this is a sin and a slap “to our brother’s soul and his dignity.”
The pontiff said “it’s a scandal” when a “a priest, a man or woman from Catholic Action, a bishop or even the pope,” don’t act according to their preaching.
Founded in the late 19th century, Catholic Action is the largest lay Catholic movement in Italy.
Later in the morning morning, Francis addressed the Medical Associations of Spain and Latin America in the Clementine Hall at the Vatican.
Speaking in Spanish, he said that amidst a technology-driven and individualistic culture, “compassion is not always well received, or even despised, because it’s perceived as a humiliation.”
“There are even some who hide behind an alleged compassion to justify killing a patient,” he denounced.
True compassion, Francis told the doctors, doesn’t marginalize, humiliate or exclude anyone.
“And even less, regard their disappearing as a good thing,” he added.
“You know well that this would mean the triumph of selfishness, of the ‘throwaway culture’ which rejects and despises people who do not meet certain standards of health, beauty or utility,” he said.
Francis also said he likes blessing the hands of doctors because through them, compassion becomes a caress of health.
Compassion, he continued, is the appropriate response to the “immense value” of someone who’s sick, because the “sacred value of life of the patient does not go away” – on the contrary, it “glows in their suffering and helplessness.”
Acknowledging that the fragility and pain that come with a disease are a “tough test,” not only for the patient but also for the medical staff, he called them to “suffer with” the infirm, resisting “the temptation to apply functionalist, quick and drastic solutions driven by a false compassion or by mere criteria of efficiency and cost savings.”
“Right-to-die” proponents often argue that the elderly and the terminally ill fear becoming “an economic burden” to their relatives, but Francis obviously wasn’t buying it.
“At stake is the dignity of human life,” he said. “At stake is the dignity of the medical vocation.”
Francis has spoken against euthanasia and the “right-to-die” idea on many occasions, criticizing those who support assisted suicide for people suffering painful or terminal illnesses, saying that they spread a “lie” that lives affected by such illnesses are not worth living, and describing these practices as “sins against God.”
Almost in parallel to Francis’ talk, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, head of the Vatican’s Council for New Evangelization, spoke about this weekend’s special jubilee for the ill and disabled, one of the big events of Francis’ Holy Year of Mercy.
Giving a general overview of the jubilee so far, Fisichella said that since it launched on Dec. 8, over nine million people have come to Rome and gone through the Holy Door in St. Peter’s Basilica.
Speaking about the June 10-12 gathering in Rome, he said that on Friday, those participating will have a special catechism session with Father Cyril Axelrod, who’s deaf and blind.
Fisichella also said that throughout the weekend, homeless people in Rome will receive free medical services in ambulatory posts set up in the city’s four papal basilicas. This initiative is possible thanks to some 350 volunteers, who will offer free pneumonia vaccine and medical exams, including Pap smears for women.
On Sunday, Francis will lead a Mass in St. Peter’s Square putting the focus on people with disabilities, either physical or intellectual. Livestreaming will be translated in sign language, the altar boys will be young men with Down syndrome, and the second reading will be done in English by a blind girl.
Also announced on Thursday was the program for Pope Francis visit to Krakow, Poland, where he’ll participate in the week-long Vatican-sponsored youth rally known as “World Youth Day.”
The pontiff will arrive in St. John Paul II’s homeland on Wednesday 27, two days after the pilgrims.
His schedule includes the usual World Youth Day activities: A welcoming ceremony on the first day of his visit; leading a Way of the Cross prayer on Friday evening; hearing confessions on Saturday, having lunch with the youth, leading a prayer vigil; and, on Sunday, celebrating a “farewell Mass.”
On Thursday he’ll celebrate Mass from 300,000 people in the famous Marian shrine Jasna Gora in the nearby city of Częstochowa.
Following the steps of his predecessors St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI during their own visits to Krakow, on Friday Francis will share a moment of interreligious reflection in the former Birkenau death and concentration Nazi camp and will also visit Auschwitz.
He will meet individually with 15 camp survivors and have a moment of private prayer in the cell of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, a priest who died when he volunteered to take the place of another inmate.
During the visit, the pope will also go to a local children’s hospital, a recurrent feature during Francis’s travels, and ride in one of Krakow’s famous trams with a group of disabled youth.
Over one million pilgrims are expected to travel to Poland to participate in Francis’ second World Youth Day, the first one being in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, soon after his election in 2013.