ROME – Summer is traditionally a time for lazy vacations, yet at the Vatican it’s business as usual, with Pope Francis engaging in at least four noteworthy acts all in one day – from decisions on indulgences to seminary formation, to a surprise meeting with Bill Clinton.
Though it was not announced beforehand, Pope Francis met with former United States President Bill Clinton in a private audience on Wednesday, July 5.
Clinton, who served as the 42nd president of the United States from January 1993 to January 2001, was joined by several other prominent American personalities, including Alex Soros of the Open Society Foundations.
Prior to visiting Rome, Clinton, who now dedicates his time to philanthropic activities and various other activities and public affairs, had made a July 3-4 visit to Albania, receiving a medal in gratitude for his support of Albania and NATO’s intervention in the Kosovo War from Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama.
Son of billionaire philanthropist and financier George Soros, Alex Soros was also present with Clinton in Albania. He is a chairman of the Open Society Foundations, a grantmaking network established by his father that supports civil society groups promoting healthcare, education, and independent media, among other things, around the world.
Pope Francis had a brief conversation with Clinton and his delegation, and exchanged gifts. A brief video compilation published by Vatican News, the Vatican’s official state-run media platform, showed the pope giving Clinton a statue made at the Vatican representing the work for peace, and Clinton gave the pope a personalized tray with the presidential seal, as well as a personal note.
Clinton previously visited the Vatican in June 1994, meeting with Pope John Paul II, just before the Vatican and the White House clashed over a UN conference in Beijing and whether abortion rights should be guaranteed under international law.
In the lead-up to the third edition of the World Day of Elderly and Grandparents, which will be observed July 23 and was instituted by Pope Francis in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Vatican’s Apostolic Penitentiary has announced the granting of plenary indulgences for the occasion.
Francis celebrated the first World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly in 2021, decreeing that it be held each year on the Sunday closest to the feast of Saints Joachim and Anne, the parents of the Virgin Mary, and thus Jesus’ grandparents.
To receive a plenary indulgence, the remission of temporal punishment for one’s sins, a person must demonstrate detachment from sin, go to confession, receive the Eucharist, and pray for the intentions of the pope.
Indulgences were granted for previous editions of the World Day of Elderly and Grandparents, and the tradition is being carried forward for this year’s celebration, which holds the theme, “His mercy from generation to generation.”
In the decree, dated June 15 and signed by Italian Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, Major Penitentiary of the Apostolic Penitentiary, Piacenza said that for the occasion, a plenary indulgence would be available to all grandparents, elderly, and faithful who participate either in the Mass Pope Francis will preside over at the Vatican for the July 23 event, or who attend various functions for the event throughout the world.
On the same day, July 23, a plenary indulgence will also be available to the sick and elderly “and all those who, unable to leave their homes for a serious reason,” participate spiritually in the “sacred functions” of the World Day of Elderly and Grandparents, particularly the broadcast of the pope’s Mass, and who offer their pain and suffering to God.
An indulgence will also be granted to those who follow the prescribed conditions and who “dedicate adequate time” to visiting an elderly person or a grandparent, either in person or virtually, especially those who are sick, abandoned or disabled.
Piacenza asked that for the occasion, priests who have the appropriate faculties to do so make themselves available for confession “with a prompt and generous spirit.”
On Wednesday, the Vatican also announced the creation of a new “Commission for New Martyrs – Witnesses of Faith” within the Vatican’s Dicastery for Saints Causes.
In a letter accompanying the July 5 announcement, Pope Francis said he created the commission in the lead up to the 2025 Jubilee, which holds the theme, “Pilgrims of Hope.”
The commission’s task, he said, will be to “draw up a catalogue of all those who have shed their blood to confess Christ and to bear witness to his Gospel” and it will continue work begun during the Great Jubilee of 2000 to identify “witnesses of the faith in this first quarter of a century and then continue into the future.”
“Martyrs in the Church are witnesses of the hope that comes from faith in Christ and incites true charity. Hope keeps alive the profound conviction that good is stronger than evil, because God in Christ has conquered sin and death,” the pope said.
Reiterating a point that he has often made in the past, Francis said martyrs “are more numerous in our time than in the first centuries,” and include bishops, priests, religious, laypeople and families all over the world who “with the gift of their lives, have offered the supreme test of charity.”
Pope Francis referred to a special ecumenical celebration honoring the “new martyrs” held at the Colosseum in May 2000 and attended by the pope and representatives of various churches and ecclesial communities from around the world to evoke what he has now termed the “ecumenism of blood,” referring to the fact that Christians facing persecution are not distinguished by church, rite, or tradition,
He said that for the 2025 Jubilee, a similar celebration will be held, but insisted that he does not intend to create “new criteria” for the canonical definition of martyrdom, but rather wishes to continue the search already begun “of those who, to this day, continue to be killed just because they are Christians.”
The search for new martyrs, he said, will involve not only the Catholic Church, but also those belonging to other Christian confessions who were killed for their faith.
This decision comes just two months after the pope made the unusual move of formally inserting 21 Coptic Orthodox martyrs killed by ISIS into the church’s formal martyrology, marking one of the rare occasions in which non-Catholics have been approved for veneration in the Catholic Church.
At the time, a Vatican official familiar with the move said that other cases were being considered in which this incorporation into the Catholic martyrology might apply.
Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, prefect of the Dicastery for Saints Causes, will also serve as prefect of the commission, and the dicastery’s secretary, Italian Archbishop Fabio Fabene, will serve as its president.
The commission’s vice president will be Italian layman Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Sant’Egidio community, and its secretary will be Father Marco Gnavi, a member of Sant’Egidio and pastor of the Basilica of Saint Mary in Trastevere, which is associated with Sant’Egidio. Gnavi previously served as secretary to the “new martyrs” commission for the 2000 Jubilee.
In addition, there will be 10 other members, including Sister Nadia Coppa, head of the International Union of Superiors General (UISG), and Jesuit Father General Father Arturo Sosa.
Also on Wednesday, Pope Francis issued a decree following his restructuring of the Vicariate of Rome stating that Bishop Michele Di Tolve, an auxiliary bishop for the Diocese of Rome, is now tasked with overseeing a revamp of the diocese’s seminary formation.
In January, the pope issued a sweeping overhaul of the Vicariate of Rome, taking away most of the vicar’s power and transferring it to auxiliary bishops in the Eternal City.
Notably, Di Tolve was just named an auxiliary bishop in May. He is now tasked, according to Wednesday’s decree, with “strengthening relations between the realities of formation for the priesthood in the Diocese of Rome and to coordinate their activities” in agreement with the viceregent of Rome, Bishop Baldassarre Reina.
Pope Francis also named Di Tolve as rector of the Pontifical Major Seminary of Rome and stated that Di Tolve will exercise his mandate in agreement with the diocese’s episcopal council. However, Francis said that “for matters of major importance, he will report directly to me.”
The renewal of seminary formation is an issue the pope has consistently spoken about in his annual meetings with members of the Italian Bishops Conference (CEI).
In a May 2021 audience with members of CEI, Francis said he was concerned about the criteria used for admitting men to seminaries, particularly without checking to see if they had previously been asked to leave other seminaries or religious orders.
“We frequently have seen seminarians who seem good, but rigid. And rigidity is not auspicious. And then we discover that behind that rigidity there are big problems,” he said.
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