From Sweden, Francis proposes six new Beatitudes for the modern era

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by Joshua J. McElwee

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On the day that the church celebrates all the saints of history, Pope Francis told Sweden's small Roman Catholic population that holiness is not shown so much in extraordinary deeds but rather in "daily fidelity to the demands of our baptism."

Speaking in a homily during an outdoor Mass with about 15,000 people on a drizzly fall day at a soccer stadium here, the pontiff also proposed a series of six new items to add to the eight blessings, known as the beatitudes, that Jesus said would come upon those who, among other things, were poor in spirit or acted as peacemakers.

Francis told the Swedes that the yearly marking of All Saints' Day, held each Nov. 1, is an occasion to celebrate holiness, or "a love that remains faithful to the point of self-renunciation and complete devotion to others."

And the pope said that Jesus' Beatitudes, which also mention blessings for those who are meek and those who hunger for righteousness, are the saints' "path, their goal, their native land."

"We are called to be blessed, to be followers of Jesus, to confront the troubles and anxieties of our age with the spirit and love of Jesus," he continued, adding: "Thus we ought to be able to recognize and respond to new situations with fresh spiritual energy."

Francis then proposed six new beatitudes for the modern era:

  • "Blessed are those who remain faithful while enduring evils inflicted on them by others, and forgive them from their heart;
  • "Blessed are those who look into the eyes of the abandoned and marginalized, and show them their closeness;
  • "Blessed are those who see God in every person, and strive to make others also discover him;
  • "Blessed are those who protect and care for our common home;
  • "Blessed are those who renounce their own comfort in order to help others;
  • "Blessed are those who pray and work for full communion between Christians."

All those who enact the six items, said the pontiff, "are messengers of God’s mercy and tenderness, and surely they will receive from him their merited reward."

The Beatitudes, given by Jesus during his Sermon on the Mount as recounted in Matthew's Gospel, are among the most recognizable of Jesus' teachings, with him naming eight groups of people traditionally thought to be unfortunate but that he pronounces blessed.

Francis traveled to Sweden Monday for a two-day visit in a bold gesture to mark the start of yearlong commemorations of the Protestant Reformation, which is traditionally dated as beginning with the October 1517 publication of Luther's "Ninety-Five Theses."

The pope took part in two ecumenical events Monday afternoon and urged members of the two faith communities to "mend a critical moment of our history" by forging new common paths together.

The Catholic church represents a small minority in Sweden, with about 113,000 registered members in a country of some 9.6 million. About 65 percent of Sweden's population belongs to the Church of Sweden, a Lutheran denomination.

Among those taking part in the commemorations Monday were the head of the 72-million-member Lutheran World Federation, a global communion of Lutheran churches, and the primate of the Church of Sweden, Lutheran Archbishop of Uppsala Jackelen Antje, who is a woman.

There had been some speculation in anticipation of Francis' trip that the pope or Lutheran leaders would use the visit to make some sort of grand overture towards achieving full unity between Catholics and Lutherans, perhaps even with a declaration that members of the two communities could take Communion at each other's services.

Hopes for such a gesture were tempered in a joint statement signed Monday by Francis and Lutheran World Federation President Bishop Munib Younan. While the two leaders pledged to work towards intercommunion, they did not indicate it was possible as yet.

During a press conference Monday evening, one Vatican official made a distinction between the universal opening to Catholic communion for Lutherans and the possibility of communion for Lutheran individuals in special circumstances, such as those who are married to Catholics.

Cardinal Kurt Koch, the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said there is a difference between "Eucharistic hospitality" for individuals and wider "Eucharistic communion" for the two faith groups.

Hospitality towards Lutherans in mixed Lutheran-Catholic marriages, said Koch, is a "pastoral question" to be handled individually at the level of the local church.

Francis is to return to Rome Tuesday afternoon.

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

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