VATICAN CITY — To the priests who invited him to take a vacation with them, the late Cardinal Alberto Idelfonso Schuster of Milan replied, smiling, that there would be plenty of time for that in the afterlife.
Pope Francis — the Jesuit whose agenda would wear out any 40-something — seems to be inspired by the same model as Cardinal Schuster, even though his 77 years constrain him sometimes, as happened last Friday when his visit to Rome’s Policlinico Gemelli hospital was cancelled.
"He decides his own agenda," Vatican's spokesperson Father Federico Lombardi told La Stampa, "and has a very intense pace of life because he feels he has been called to serve the Lord with all his might. He never took holidays when he was the Archbishop of Buenos Aires either."
Even on Tuesdays, the day of the week traditionally free of commitments or private audiences scheduled so the popes could relax a little bit, Francis doesn’t slow down. Instead of using this free morning to rest, he fills it with rescheduled meetings.
"Francis follows the active lifestyle of St. Ignatius of Loyola founder of the Jesuits which, in its Constitution of Order, defines Jesuits as ‘workers in the vineyard of the Lord,’" observes Lombardi. "He devotes himself completely to his mission — even beyond his own force."
Over the past hundred years, papal agendas have been saturated with countless commitments, public events and speeches. Just one look at the statistics can help you understand. The most significant in the reign of Pope Francis is his daily Mass, celebrated in the Vatican’s Casa Santa Marta, where he lives, in the presence of some 60 faithful.
Pope Francis entering the Casa Santa Marta — Photo: Pufui Pc Pifpef I
By the numbers
His predecessors too said Mass every day in the private chapel of the pontifical apartment — but they did not preach, and they had neither the camera nor microphones of the Vatican Radio watching and listening. If they were unwell or late, nobody would have noticed.
Since March 2013, Francis has celebrated Mass in the Casa Santa Marta 229 times — giving as many homilies — and he personally greets everyone in attendance. Tallying up those numbers, at an estimate, means he has welcomed about 12,000 people in the mornings since he was elected 476 days ago.
Then there’s the 95 great liturgical celebrations, both in Rome and away. Of those, he has given homilies in 73 of them.
In the past 15 months, Francis has written an encyclical (Lumen fidei) and an apostolic exhortation (Evangelii gaudium), three apostolic letters and four "motu proprio" letters, as well as 45 official letters. That’s not including the 55 messages (including several video ones) he also sent out.
He has given 231 speeches, and 73 blessings before the Angelus. And though, of course, the pontiff employs collaborators for these texts, they must follow his directions, thus further engaging his time.
Another of his reforms concerns the Wednesday general audiences. Up until now, Francis has held 54. Estimates from the Prefecture of the Papal Household say that between the Angelus and the General Audiences, six million people have come to see him. He has greatly expanded the time spent meeting with the faithful at St. Peter’s Square. The popemobile covers the whole piazza, and he tries to greet everyone, getting closer to those who are the furthest away.
Greeting people on St. Peter's Square — Fczarnowski
Even in winter, because of the massive turnouts, these meetings are held outside in the square rather than the often used Paul VI Audience Hall. The pope has spent at the very least 150 hours outdoors on these occasions, no matter the weather. And sometimes, he has taken part despite being unwell. It is impossible to calculate the number of people individually received at these hearings, not to mention the number of ill people the man born Jorge Bergoglio has met.
A "good tired"
The onerous expanse of his personal correspondence has also come to light: Pope Francis personally reads almost 50 letters every day, from the 4,000 that come every week, and he always gives instructions as how to respond to them. Sometimes, he calls people back on the phone too.
Then, there are the trips. He has taken two abroad (to Brazil last summer and, recently, to the Holy Land) and four in Italy. Five visits to Roman parishes — we mustn’t forget that he is, after all, the Bishop of Rome — and he has ushered in a new style, appearing on a Saturday afternoon and staying for several hours, at the disposal of the faithful there.
When he is in the Vatican, the pope wakes up at 4:45 a.m. and gets dressed. The first thing he does is read the "encrypted" nunciatures that come from all over the world, then he prays and meditates for an hour, preparing his homily for Santa Marta. At 7 a.m., alone, he comes down to celebrate the Mass. After greeting everyone, he has breakfast and then begins the morning’s work with his audiences.
At 1 p.m. there’s lunch, followed by a 30-minute nap. In the afternoon, after some time for prayer, he resumes his meetings, then he works on his correspondences and phone calls. At the end of the day, before dinner at 8 p.m., there’s usually an hour of adoration in the chapel.
"Sometimes not everything can be done," Francis confided to a group of seminarians, "because I let myself be led by imprudent exigencies: too much work, or to think that if I don’t do this today, I won’t do it tomorrow … Adoration fails, my siesta fails, this fails …"
"The ideal," he added, "is to finish your day tired. Not so tired that you have to take pills, but a good tired. If it is a reckless tiredness, it is bad for your health and you will end up paying dearly in the long run. This is the idea, but I don’t always manage to do it — even I am a sinner and not always so organized!"
A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.
BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.
Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.
The incident at the cemetery
They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."
There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.
It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.
The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.
The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender
Crimes against Jews are rising
Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.
Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.
Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.
And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?
Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously
This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.
Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.
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