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NEWS: July 9, 2021
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Bird’s Eye View of the News
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Atila Sinke Guimarães
THE GREAT INTERCESSOR - It seems that Pope Francis' balloon of popularity is quickly losing hot air. Besides numerous other symptoms, a book came out recently to try to keep the balloon afloat. I refer specifically to the new work – The Church Burns - Crisis and Future of Christianity (La Chiesa Brucia - Crisi e Futuro del Cristianesimo) – by Andrea Riccardi, the lay founder of the Community of St. Egidius, an Italian organization turned toward uniting all religions by means of social work in the wake of Vatican II and Assisi.

The Church Burns by Andrea Riccardi
In his book, Mr. Riccardi indeed presents a messianic Francis who would redeem the Catholic Church and also the world from the spiritual and temporal crises they are experiencing.

The book was launched in Italian in a Kindle edition on April 1, 2021 (Editori Laterza, 208 pp.), but only in late June did I hear a mention of it. Since Riccardi is privy to the top inter-religious plans, I downloaded his work and read it to catch up with the progressivist program.

The author's method is to quote statistics and elaborate on them or to quote texts of authors friendly to Progressivism and make digressions on them. Thus he goes up and down sewing his entire thesis in this way along the chapters.

Since Mr. Riccardi is a known personality in ecclesiastical milieus, I gave him the benefit of the doubt on the accuracy of most of his data. I did not check each of the "indisputable facts" he brings forth and comments upon.

But the argument of one of his chapters surprised me: In chapter VII he makes this affirmation about the Italian government's decree of March 8, 2020, calling for a lockdown of the churches: "Never in the history of the Peninsula have Masses and worship services been suspended. Never by the State." (p. 146)

Further on, he states: "On the afternoon of March 8, a confrontation began between the Italian Conference of Bishops and the government." (p. 148) After the Bishops subserviently accepted the government directives, he dramatically writes that "it was not just a game lost by the Church … but a declassification manifesting that the institution was considered incapable of managing her own preventive measures and viewed to have no voice in the matter." (p.148b)

So, Mr. Riccardi portrays a dramatic situation in which the Catholic Church in Italy is a victim suffering an unheard-of persecution by the State.

Pope Francis walking alone on March 27

Francis walks alone to the Vatican Basilica.
Was he assuming a messianic role?

Then, he imagines Francis appearing on the scene to resolve the conflict: "In a picture of desolation and silence, Francis enters the field as the great intercessor. He reassumes the dialogue with the people with his Urbi et Orbi [in the city and in the world], making the initiative to walk alone through a street of Rome on a pilgrimage to the 'miraculous' Crucifix of St. Marcello. … On March 27, he spoke (breaking the blackout of the media) in an empty St. Peter's Square under a steady rain. Alone and fragile, old and with trembling steps, he placed himself – almost combative in his prayer – against an evil of unlimited dimensions." (p. 153)

"On the following days he started to celebrate a daily Mass at St. Martha, which was transmitted everywhere, thus becoming in a unusual way the 'parish priest of the world.'" (pp. 153-154)

I believe that the picture depicted by Mr. Riccardi is not objective.

Regarding the measures to contain the spread of covid-19, there was no conflict between the Italian State and the Catholic Church – either her Italian Bishops or the Pope – but a total and complete subservience to the demands of the State on the part of the Catholic authorities, starting with the Pope.

The following facts, reported in L'Osservatore Romano (OR) from March 5 to March 29, 2020, contradict Mr. Riccardi's fanciful interpretation:
  • Already on March 5, three days before the government decree, the Holy See's daily newspaper reported without any objections the government measures closing schools and universities - including Catholic ones - and demanding social distancing.

  • On March 6, the OR published an open letter from the Auxiliary Bishop of Rome encouraging health personnel – Catholic and non-Catholic – caring for the sick to continue in their jobs.

  • On March 7, the director of the Sala Stampa (press service of the Holy See) declared that Pope Francis' coming actions would "be in harmony with the measures adopted by the Italian [civil] authorities."

  • That same issue of OR reported an official position of the CEI (Italian Conference of Bishops) ensuring its full respect for the new measures taken by the government: the suspension of Masses in affected areas; the closing of Catholic universities as well as Catechesis centers and Oratories.

  • On March 8, 2020, the actual day when the Italian government imposed the lockdown of all Italian churches, Francis forbade the habitual Vatican attendees to go to his Mass at St. Martha's and started to say it in private. That private Mass was then – one or two days later – streamed to the entire world. So, it was not, as Mr. Riccardi stated, on the "days following" March 27 that he began to say a private Mass, but actually some 17 days before.

  • On that same day, Francis also suspended his Angelus public prayer at the window of the papal apartments and started to say it in the Vatican Library.

  • On March 11, Francis suspended his general audiences; they were also moved to the Vatican Library and granted only to some few ecclesiastics.

  • On this date, as said, the Italian government extended the lockdown to all of Italy. This news was reported favorably by the OR.


  • Card. Peter Turkson

    Card. Turkson endorses the health measures of the civil authorities - CBCP News

  • On the same day, Card. Peter Turkson, head of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, "joining his voice to that of Pope Francis," wrote to all the Bishop Conferences of the world endorsing the sanitary measures being imposed by governments. He encouraged the Bishops "to support in every way the efforts of the health workers and medical institutions throughout the world."

  • On March 12, Francis gave the order to remove the giant screens in St. Peter's Square that allowed persons to watch his streamed private Masses and audiences.

  • On March 13, the OR favorably reported that the World Health Organization (WHO) had declared a global pandemic, and that the Italian government had ordered a lockdown on all non-essential services and commanded citizens to stay at home.

  • On March 14, the Vatican exempted Catholics from attendance at Sunday Masses in Italy.

  • On March 16, the OR reported that Pope Francis had walked some few steps on the Via del Corso (March 15) to venerate the Crucifix at San Marcello Church.

  • The same day the director of the Sala Stampa announced that the Holy Week celebrations would be suspended at the Vatican.

  • On March 19, the Holy See issued a decree to the Bishops to exempt all Catholics from assisting at Mass.

  • On March 20, Pope Francis and the Apostolic Penitentiary issued a document allowing the faithful to confess directly to God, without a priest, to replace their Easter confession.

  • The Pope suspended all judicial services in the Vatican.

  • Francis delivered a sermon supporting the measures of the State authorities.

  • On March 22, the Pope invited all Catholics to make spiritual Communions on Easter Day.

  • On March 23, Francis announced two coming ecumenical events where he would unite with all the religions of the world in saying a Pater Noster (March 25), and hold "a moment of prayer" followed by a special Urbi et Orbi blessing (March 27).

  • On March 26, the CEI (Italian Conference of Bishops) announced it would donate 3 million Euros ($3.5 million) to health organizations, including State ones.

  • Pope Francis meets PM Giuseppe Conte

    Francis meets Italian PM Conte on March 30, 2020 - Not an ambience of persecution... - Vatican News

  • The Congregation of Divine Worship and the Sacraments issued a decree calling for the Holy Week ceremonies to be celebrated without people present in the churches.

  • On March 28, the OR reported the March 27 ceremony where Francis, alone in an empty St. Peter's Square, dramatically climbed the steps toward the Vatican Basilica and delivered a speech to "every believer and man of good will" and gave an Urbi et Orbi blessing.
This list of events, taken straight from the pages of L'Osservatore Romano, shows that there was not a confrontation between the Italian government and the Italian Bishops as Mr. Andrea Riccardi pretends.

Instead, the Bishops were in entire agreement with the restrictive covid measures of the State. They were closely following the orientation of the Holy See and Pope Francis, who, from the first moment covid became an epidemic in Italy, gave every possible support to the government.

Since there was no confrontation between the Bishops and the State in Italy, the role of Francis as the Great Intercessor painted by Mr. Riccardi is a fruit of his imagination, certainly expressing his veneration for Pope Bergoglio, but without any foundation in reality.

If we were to give any grandiose title to Francis in this time of covid, it should be that of the Great Capitulator to the State's oppression against the Catholic Church in Italy, which became a model for the Bishops to copy in the entire world.

Thus, the only chapter that I checked regarding Mr. Riccardi's objectivity was notoriously incorrect. I hope that in the rest of his book he was more faithful to reality.

What about the content of his book? Yes, I still have to say a word on it. My next column shall address it.