Pope's New Year priorities: Refugees, youths, trips, more Curia reform

IMAGE: CNS photo/Darrin Zammit Lupi, Reuters

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Foreign trips, a focus on the rights
and needs of migrants and refugees and a Synod of Bishops dedicated to young
people all are on the 2018 calendar for Pope Francis.

His activities and the passions that drive them are familiar
by now. In fact, March 13
will mark the fifth
anniversary of his election as pope, succeeding retired Pope Benedict XVI.

Pope Francis, newly 81, will begin 2018 with a focus on Mary and on migrants and

As with all modern popes, Pope Francis’ Marian devotion and
his concern for people forced to flee their homes have been a constant in his

But Pope Francis is the first to dedicate a celebration of
World Peace Day specifically to the theme of migrants and refugees. On Jan. 1, for the 51st
time, the Catholic Church will begin the new year praying for peace. The day
also is the feast of Mary, Mother of God, and while Pope Francis sent a message
to heads of state in November reflecting on the peace day theme, his homily at
the Mass is likely to focus on Mary.

The pope’s focus on migrants and refugees will come to the
fore again Jan. 14 when he adds to the normal papal liturgical calendar a
special Mass for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees.

In both his message for the Jan. 14 celebration and his
message for World Peace Day, Pope Francis urged Catholic involvement in the
drafting of the U.N. global compacts for migrants and for refugees.

Approving the development of the compacts in September 2016,
“world leaders clearly expressed their desire to take decisive action in
support of migrants and refugees to save their lives and protect their
rights,” the pope said in his message. He urged Catholics to get involved
by lobbying their governments to include in the compacts proposals that would
ensure the welcome, protection, promotion and integration of migrants and

Although work on the compacts suffered a setback when the
Trump administration
announced in early December it was pulling out of the process and would not be
a party to the accords, the United Nations hopes to have a draft of the documents
ready by February. Late in 2018, the U.N. General Assembly will hold a conference
to adopt the compacts.

On Jan. 15, Pope Francis will set off for a six-day visit to
Chile and Peru. As is his style, the trip will include meetings with government
authorities and large public Masses, but also a visit to a women’s prison and
to a home for children at risk.

As of Dec. 20, no other papal trips for 2018 had been
confirmed, although Vatican officials have said it is almost certain Pope
Francis will travel to Dublin in late August for the World Meeting of Families;
on the same trip, he is likely to be the first pope to visit Northern Ireland.

Vatican officials also have confirmed that a September trip
to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia is under consideration. And they do not rule out
a spring trip, perhaps to Africa.

One month of the pope’s calendar already is booked solid.
The Synod of Bishops focusing on young people and their vocations will be held
at the Vatican Oct. 3-28.
In preparation for the bishops’ gathering, the Vatican has asked bishops’
conferences around the world to nominate young people to attend a pre-synod
gathering March 19-24
in Rome.

Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary-general of the synod, said Pope Francis
hopes about 300 young people — mostly, but not all, Catholics — would attend the
gathering. Many of them will speak to the whole group about the hopes and
concerns of young people, what they can offer the church and what they need
from it. They will discuss the presentations in small groups and will be asked
to prepare a summary document for the bishops attending the synod.

The fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ papacy also means
2018 is the fifth anniversary of his international Council of Cardinals and the
effort to reform the Roman Curia.

Changes have been made, new laws have been passed, offices
have been combined to cut down on duplication. But 2017 ended without a clear
indication of when a document presenting a global vision of the Curia and each
of its offices would be ready.

Perhaps that is what Pope Francis wants for Christmas 2018.

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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