Faithful praise pope's message of inclusion

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 September, 2013, 10:52pm


Catholics attending services around the globe said they were heartened by Pope Francis' remarks that the church had become too focused on "small-minded rules" on issues like homosexuality, abortion and contraceptives.

Worshippers on Sunday applauded what they heard as a message of inclusion from the man who assumed the papacy just six months ago.

"I think he's spot on," said Shirley Holzknecht, 77, a retired school principal attending a service in the US state of Arkansas. "As Catholic Christians, we do need to be more welcoming."

In Havana, Cuba, Irene Delgado said the church needed to adapt to modern times. "The world evolves, and I believe that the Catholic Church is seeing that it is being left behind, and that is not good," said Delgado, 57. "So I think that they chose this Pope Francis because he is progressive, has to change things."

Francis, in an interview published on Thursday in 16 Jesuit journals worldwide, called the church's focus on abortion, marriage and contraception narrow and said that it was driving people away.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the head of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the pope's words were welcome. "He's captured the world's imagination," Dolan said after mass at St Patrick's Cathedral in New York. "Like Jesus, he's always saying, 'Hate the sin, love the sinner'."

But Dolan said Francis' change in tone did not signal a change in doctrine.

"He knows that his highest and most sacred responsibility is to pass on the timeless teaching of the church," he said. "What he's saying is, 'We've got to think of a bit more effective way to do it'. Because if the church comes off as a scold, it's counterproductive."

In Brasilia, Brazil, the capital of the country with the world's largest Catholic population, student Maria das Gracas Lemos, 22, said Francis was "bringing the church up to date".

She said children of divorced parents used to be barred from some schools in Brazil. "All that has changed. The church has to catch up with changes in society."

The pope did not say that he accepted abortion or homosexuality, said Martha Fabiola Rojas Lerma, 76, of Mexico City. Rather, he said he was not going to stress those issues.

"It was very correctly well-spoken," she said. "We should work so that everyone has the basics, shelter, food, clothing."

Jose Baltazar, a 74-year-old vice-president of an insurance company and church volunteer in Manila, said priority must be given to those who had gone astray.

"We pray for them. Why did they go astray? What's our shortcoming? What's the shortcoming of the Catholic Church?"