A REPORT: POPE FRANCIS OFFERS A BROAD VISION OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

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A REPORT: POPE FRANCIS OFFERS A BROAD VISION OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

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boholano-thumbBy Jim Yardley and Daniel J. Wakin. Last Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania — Standing near Independence Hall, where America’s founding documents were signed, Pope Francis on Saturday called religious freedom a “fundamental right” and laid out a broad and tolerant vision of what it should be, but also warned about its perversion “as a pretext for hatred and brutality.”

On the final leg of his first trip to the United States, Francis arrived in Philadelphia and went straight to the city’s Roman Catholic basilica, exhorting ordinary Catholics to bolster their role in sustaining the church. After a Mass before 2,400 people and a long midday rest, he traveled to Independence Mall and broadened his canvas: addressing the place of faith in a nation.

Religious freedom means the right to worship God, “as our consciences dictate,” Francis said. And, he went on, the principle goes beyond temples and the private sphere: Religion also serves society, especially as a bulwark “in the face of every claim to absolute power.”

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Francis emerged from Independence Hall to the strains of Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man.” He stood at the lectern used by Abraham Lincoln to deliver the Gettysburg Address, and in his own address, Francis extolled the principles of the country’s founding fathers embodied by the Declaration of Independence signed in the building behind him.

By the Associated Press. The brief speech was an elaboration on comments from his very first remarks on American soil, when on arrival Wednesday he told President Obama, that religious liberty “remains one of America’s most precious possessions,” and should be vigilantly protected.

But while some conservatives in politics and the church had expected his comments to bolster their opposition to the Obama administration’s health care mandate for contraception and other such issues on religious grounds, Francis did not press the issue on Saturday.

His comments seemed tilted toward creating an idea of religious liberty with broad applications — freedom to worship, but also to play a role in caring for others. Religious traditions, he said, “call to conversion, reconciliation, concern for the future of society, self-sacrifice in the service of the common good and compassion for those in need.” He continued, “At the heart of their spiritual mission is the proclamation of the truth and dignity of the human person and human rights.”

Francis listed the ways the exercise of religion suffered and how it could be twisted, without any specific references, such as to cruel interpretations of Islam by the Islamic State in Iraq and by the Taliban in Afghanistan or, in a completely different category, defiance in this country on religious grounds of same-sex marriage rulings.

“In a world where various forms of modern tyranny seek to suppress religious freedom, or try to reduce it to a subculture without right to a voice in the public square, or to use religion as a pretext for hatred and brutality,” Francis said, “it is imperative that the followers of the various religions join their voices in calling for peace, tolerance and respect for the dignity and rights of others.” xxx

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The audience on Independence Mall were mainly Latinos and other immigrants. At one point, after giving a note of appreciation to the Quakers and their “ideal of a community united by brotherly love,” Francis departed from his prepared speech. Growing more animated, he said globalization was a force for good if it worked toward equalizing, uniting and bringing respect to people. But if it “tries to make everybody even, as if it was a sphere, that globalization destroys the richness and specificity of each person and each people.”

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Then, the Argentine pope, the first from Latin America, greeted the Hispanic people in the audience with affection. He noted the human cost of immigration and said, “Do not be discouraged by whatever challenges and hardships you face.”

His call for the United States to embrace immigrants has been a running theme; here, he gave them a direct morale boost.

The Pope ended the day with an appearance at an event honoring families that wove in musical acts — Aretha Franklin, Sister Sledge, The Fray, the Philadelphia Orchestra, with Mark Wahlberg as moderator — with testimony from six families from around the world and readings. But maybe the best performance was by Francis himself, who cast aside his prepared speech about the need for government support for families for 25 minutes of boisterous off-the-cuff remarks. xxx

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God’s love and God’s gift in creating the family. Looking his most animated during a week of scripted homilies and carefully orchestrated events, the moment was notably spontaneous and energetic. “Division of hearts cannot overcome any difficulty,” he said. “Only love is able to overcome.” Francis talked about the nature of God’s love and God’s gift in creating the family, joked about the headaches caused by children, pointed out he was single and recounted the biblical story of Cain and Abel.

“Let’s protect the family, because it’s in the family that our future is at play!” he declared. After a final blessing in the Spanish he had used throughout, he concluded, in English, “Thank you, and see you tomorrow!”

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Francis so far has had stops in Washington and New York, which included addresses to Congress and the United Nations, intimate moments with schoolchildren in Harlem and families of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks at ground zero and large public encounters Central Park, Fifth Avenue and Madison Square Garden. He is ending his first trip to the United States in Philadelphia, where huge crowds — the kind where he becomes a dot on the altar before a sea of humanity — were expected, first at a concert-celebration Saturday night on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and then a Mass on Sunday.

Theology of Diversity and Solidarity. Francis spoke to bishops, priests and nuns from Pennsylvania at the cathedral, the 151-year-old seat of the Philadelphia Archdiocese, where he arrived by motorcade after flying in from New York. Archbishop Charles J. Chaput gave a formal welcome with a jocular line: “This is a city that would change its name to Francisville today,” he said.

 

Inside, worshipers included Dr. Tony Coletta, the chief executive of a health care company, who called the pope’s visit “a lifetime opportunity both for the city of Philadelphia and for us.”

“It’s as close to God as we will ever get on the earth,” Dr. Coletta said in the marble-clad nave shortly before the Mass started.

Francis timed his trip to Philadelphia to coincide with the World Meeting of Families. It was founded in 1994 by Pope John Paul II and takes place every three years. This is the first one in the United States, and organizers said some 18,000 people attended the week’s events.

Within a week of his return to Rome, the bishops of the church will convene a major meeting, or synod, on the family at the Vatican. A major tension lies in how to balance tradition and doctrine with calls for a wider role for women in the church and flexibility on issues such as communion and other sacraments for divorced and remarried Catholics.

Jim Yardley reported from Philadelphia, and Daniel J. Wakin from New York. Jon Hurdle contributed reporting from Philadelphia.

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