Today, December 31, 2021, Exaudi reviews Pope Francis’ year 2021: three International Apostolic Journeys, eight Motu Proprio for pastoral, judicial, and financial reforms, his colon operation, numerous appeals, and the beginning of the path to the Synod on Synodality, are among the aspects to be highlighted.
After the forced pause imposed by the pandemic in 2020, the three International Apostolic Journeys undertaken by Pope Francis this year were Iraq, from March 5-8; Budapest and Slovakia, from September 12-15, and Cyprus and Greece, from December 2-6.
The Pope went to Iraq, in his own words, “as a pilgrim of peace in search of fraternity,” being the first Pontiff to visit the land of ancient Mesopotamia. In this land, devastated by extremist violence and Jihadist profanations, the Holy Father visited Nayaf, the plains of Ur, Erbil, Mosul, Qaraqosh, in addition to the capital, Baghdad.
Pope Francis met with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, fundamental figure of Shi’ite Islam. And from Mosul, scene of tortures and executions in the past, he expressed his opposition to all forms of violence carried out in the Name of God.
In September, the Pope traveled to Hungary for the closing Mass of the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress, and to Slovakia, where he visited Bratislava, Košice, Prešov, and the National Marian Shrine of Šastin, where Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows is venerated.
In his homily in Hungary, the Pontiff said that to “walk behind Jesus” is “to go forward in life with His confidence, that of being beloved children of God. It is to follow the same path of the Master, who came to serve and not to be served (cf. Mark 10:45). It’s to direct our steps every day to encounter a brother. The Eucharist leads us there, to feel ourselves one Body, to spend ourselves for others.”
Finally, in December, the Bishop of Rome went to the Cypriot capital, Nicosia, and to the Greek capital, Athens, ending his trip by returning to the Island of Lesbos, where he went on April 16, 2016, to meet with migrants in the Mytilene Center of Hospitality and Identification.
“I’m here again to meet with you; I’m here to tell you that I’m close to you; I’m here to see your faces, to look at you in your eyes, eyes full of fear and hope; eyes that have seen violence and poverty, eyes furrowed by too many tears,” he said to them in his address,
“Let us not let the mare nostrum become a heartrending mare mortuum, or that place of encounter become a scene of conflicts!” he added.
The Pope’s Health
In regard to Pope Francis’ health, he began the year affected by sciatica. Then, on January 13, he had the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.
The Holy Father was hospitalized in the Gemelli Polyclinic on the afternoon of July 4, 2021. He underwent planned surgery to address a confirmed diverticular stenosis. On July 11 he prayed the Angelusfrom a balcony on the tenth floor of the Hospital and said: “I have felt your closeness and the support of your prayers,” and he appealed for a good health service “accessible” to all. With him were a girl, some patients, and the Hospital’s health personnel.
The Pontiff was discharged from Hospital at 10:30 am on July 14, and he went to the Basilica of Saint Mary Major where, according to the Holy See Press Office, he prayed before the icon of the Virgin Mary Salus Populi Romani in gratitude “for the success of his surgical intervention and said a prayer for all the sick, especially for those he met during his stay in the hospital.”
The Pope’s operation triggered false news on the possible renunciation of the Successor of Peter. In his interview with Spanish radio COPE, he said “when a Pope is sick, a breeze or hurricane always blows of a Conclave. “I don’t know from where they found out last week that I was going to present my renunciation,” commented Pope Francis, refuting the rumors; that renunciation “never crossed my mind.”
The Holy Father issued numerous appeals over the past year. He called for equitable distribution and quick access to anti-COVID-19 vaccinations, especially in the poorest areas of the world. “Let all, without exclusion, have the opportunity to be protected by the vaccine as soon as possible,” said the Pope, on presiding over a Rosary, in the Vatican Gardens on May 31, for an end to the pandemic.
In a Video-Message on August 18, 2021, the Pope invited all to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. To get vaccinated, with vaccines authorized by the competent authorities, is an act of love. And to help so that the majority of people do so is an act of love. Love for oneself, love for relatives and friends, love for all peoples.” This position has been reiterated by the Holy See.
As regards the climate issue, on September 7 with Bartholomew I, Patriarch of Constantinople, and Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury the Pontiff signed a Joint Appeal on the urgency of environmental sustainability and the importance of global cooperation.
On the first anniversary of the Encyclical Fratelli Tutti, the Holy Father gathered scientists and leaders of different religions in the Vatican in a meeting prior to Glasgow’s COP26, which he was unable to attend. A Joint Document was signed at this meeting, in which the elimination is requested of net carbon emissions.
On October 7, a meeting was held in the Colosseum, organized by Sant’Egidio Community, with representatives of the different religions. In his address, the Pontiff called for “less arms and more food, less hypocrisy and more transparency, more vaccines distributed equitably and less rifles sold foolishly.”
In Assisi, Saint Francis’ city, he met with 500 poor people of Italy and Europe, saying: “It’s time that the poor hold the floor again because for too long their demands have not been heard.”
Prayer, the Letter to the Galatians, and Saint Joseph were the themes of the catecheses imparted by Pope Francis in the Wednesday General Audiences of 2021. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the weekly meetings were held first in the private Library of the Apostolic Palace without the presence of the faithful, then, when conditions improved, in Saint Damasus’ courtyard and finally in Paul VI Hall.
The Pontiff concluded his meditations on prayer on June 16 and, on the 23, he began a 15-week reflection on the Letter to the Christian community of Galatia, region of Anatolia, which had its capital in the city of Ancyra, today Ankara, capital of Turkey.
Finally, beginning November 17, he imparted five catecheses on Saint Joseph, Patron of the universal Church, on the occasion of the Special Year dedicated to him from December 8, 2020, to December 8, 2021. In the first of this series of Audiences, referring to the Apostolic Letter Patris Corde, in which he reflected on the figure of Saint Joseph, he said: “Never before as today, in this time marked by a global crisis with different components, he can be a support, consolation, and guide to us. Hence, I have decided to dedicate a series of catecheses to him, which I hope will help to allow ourselves to be illumined by his example and witness,” he said.
Between January and November, His Holiness published eight Motu Proprio to introduce changes and innovations in the pastoral, financial, and judicial realm. The first was Spiritus Domini (January 11), in which he established that the lay ministries of lector and acolyte can be entrusted to women.
In February 16, he updated the criminal justice sector. Then, on March 24, aware of the deficit for years of the Holy See’s economic management, and its aggravation by the health emergency, the Pope decided to reduce the salaries of Cardinals, Superiors, and Religious.
On April 29 he issued an anti-corruption measure, establishing that Directors must sign a declaration stating that they have no convictions or investigation for terrorism, money laundering, or tax evasion and that they cannot have assets in tax havens. On the following day, April 30, he decided that the Vatican’s Court of First Instance would also be competent for criminal trials of Cardinals and Bishops.
Finally, on November 26, the last was published to create a Pontifical Commission for the verification and implementation of Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus, in force for the past six years on marriage nullity processes.
Beginning of the Synodal Path
Pope Francis opened the synodal path of the Synod on Synodality in the Vatican on October 9-10, 2021. The diocesan phase of the local Churches worldwide began on October 17.
It is a three-year synodal itinerary, which begins with the faithful from all over the world and will culminate in 2023 with the great Assembly of Bishops in the Vatican. This new itinerary desired by the Pope has three phases: diocesan, Continental, and universal.
“I reiterate that the Synod is not a Parliament; the Synod is not a survey of opinions; the Synod is an ecclesial event, and the protagonist is the Holy Spirit. If the Spirit isn’t there, there won’t be a Synod,” said the Pontiff during a moment of reflection to inaugurate it.