Today on "America This Week" on The Catholic Channel on SiriusXM, we will count down the top ten stories in the church and the world for 2014. Here is our complete list. Did we miss anything? What's your top story of the year? Join the discussion in the comments boxes below.
10. The Canonization of the Two Johns
Saints John Paul II and John XXIII were canonized on April 27 by Pope Francis, who praised them as men of courage and mercy who responded to challenges of their time by modernizing the Catholic Church in fidelity to its ancient traditions.
Speaking before a crowd of half a million that included retired Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis praised St. John for his best-known accomplishment, calling the Second Vatican Council.
Pope Francis characterized St. John Paul as the “pope of the family,” a title the late pope had hoped to be remembered by.
An estimated 800,000 attended the ceremony in Rome and 93 countries sent official delegations to the Mass.
Pope Benedict waived the usual five-year waiting period before the start of a sainthood cause for Pope John Paul shortly after his death. In the case of St. John, Pope Francis waived the usual requirement of a second miracle.
9. The Fight Against Human Trafficking
Pope Francis and leaders of other churches and religions signed a declaration on December 2 pledging to work together to help end modern slavery in the world by 2020. The pope urged governments, businesses and all people of good will to join forces against this “crime against humanity.”
Tens of millions of people are “in chains” because of human trafficking and forced labor, which leads to their “dehumanization and humiliation,” the pope said. Every human person is born with the same dignity and freedom, and any form of discrimination that does not respect this truth “is a crime and very often an abhorrent crime,” the pope said.
The pope and 11 religious leaders signed the document on the U.N. Day for the Abolition of Slavery. Representatives from the Muslim, Jewish, Orthodox, Anglican, Buddhist and Hindu faiths were in attendance.
8. Reforms at the Vatican bank
Pope Francis initiated a series of reforms at the Vatican bank to improve transparency and compliance with international guidelines.
The bank, known as the Institute for Religious Works, was founded in 1942 to manage funds for Roman Catholic institutions, Vatican employees and clergy. But it has been plagued by allegations of inappropriate financial activity for decades.
The pope identified the bank as a key target of reforms after his election last year and had not ruled out its closure if it was unable to conform to international standards of transparency and accountability. Cardinal George Pell of Sydney Australia has played a key role in updating Vatican financial practices.
7. The Pope on the Road
The pope continued his accelerated travel schedule in 2014 with historic trips to South Israel, Korea and Turkey.
Pope Francis spent three days in the Holy Land in May, where he met with Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders and called for closer relations among the three major monotheistic religions as the basis for peace in the region.
During his visit, the pope invited the presidents of Israel and Palestine to the Vatican to pray for peace. The prayer meeting took place in June.
The pope also met with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to commemorate the 1964 trip of Pope Paul VI to the Holy land and his meeting with the ecumenical patriarch.
During a visit to Korea in August, Pope Francis told Korean Catholics that the reunification of their divided peninsula as well as the harmony of South Korean society depended on the practice of Gospel virtues, especially charity and forgiveness.
Before the Mass, the pope met with seven “comfort women,” who were forced into prostitution by the Japanese before and during World War II.
In November the pope made a three-day visit to Turkey where he met with Christian and Muslim leaders and visited the famous blue mosque.
6. Divisions over Immigration
In the Americas, the emigration of children from Central America, seeking shelter border in the United States, led to demands for mercy from religious leaders. Later in the year, President Obama announced a series of executive reforms aimed at addressing the millions of undocumented already living in the United States
In Europe, the plight of immigrants brought to the world’s attention by the tragedy at Lampedusa showed signs of worsening as Italy and Britain scaled back their efforts to rescue immigrants and refugee on the Mediterranean Sea, where hundreds drown each month attempting to reach Europe.
5. Cupich to Chicago
The pope of surprises kept his streak going with the appointment of Spokane’s Bishop Blase Cupich to a more prominent position in the American church as Archbishop of Chicago. The move was interpreted by some as an indication that Pope Francis was seeking to promote church leaders who might strike a less confrontational stance in America’s culture wars.
For his part the new archbishop took pains to downplay such interpretations of his appointment.
“I think the Holy Father is a pastoral man,” he told national and local media as they descended on Chicago. “I think that his priority is not to send a message, but a bishop…someone to serve the needs of people….I think he sent a pastor, not a message.”
Cardinal Francis George, who is suffering from cancer, became the first leader of the Chicago archdiocese to retire from that role.
4. Apostolic Visitation Report
On Dec. 16 the Vatican released the Final Report of the Apostolic Visitation of Women Religious in the United States. After what had been a controversial process, the final report was effusive in its praise for the role of U.S. women religious in church and American life. The 5,000 word report was described as “affirmative and realistic.” Though it set a conciliatory tone, it did not neglect to summarize the future problems and challenges the apostolic visitors and the women themselves see in their communities.
The visitation was carried out between 2009 and 2012 with detailed questionnaires and on-site visits, mainly by other women religious. Though initially met with some resistance, according to many who participated, the process ended up promoting a greater sense of unity in the church and helped the women religious become more aware of how God is working in their lives.
3. Pope’s Role in improved U.S. relations with Cuba
Pope Francis had a decisive role in the dramatic break with 50 years of U.S. policy on the island nation of Cuba. The pope sent letters to presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castor encouraging what would become a successful dialogue and Vatican officials were instrumental in facilitating 18-months of secret negotiations. Their work led to the release of American Alan Gross and a diplomatic breakthrough that had once been unthinkable. Both presidents praised the pope for his assistance in turning the two hostile states on a path to improved relations. During televised remarks on Dec. 17, President Obama said, "I want to thank His Holiness, Pope Francis, whose moral example shows us the importance of pursuing the world as it should be, rather than simply settling for the world as it is.”
2. Rise of Isis and Persecution of Christians
Perhaps the most troubling story of the year emerges out of the Middle East where a previously little known terrorist organization stormed across Iraq and Syria over the summer of 2014, leaving a trail of trauma and brutality. The self-described Islamic State humiliated and murdered members of the Iraqi army and claimed vast territory across Anbar province, seizing key cities that had once been hard-won by U.S. troops.
The Islamic militants quickly turned their attention to defenseless Iraqi and Syrian religious and ethnic minorities. Particularly hard-hit by the Islamic State were the region’s tiny Christian and Yazidi communities. Scores were murdered and women and children sold into slavery by I.S. members; thousands fled into Syria, Turkey and Kurdistan. I.S.’s alarming success against Iraqi troops and the Kurd peshmerga compelled the return of U.S. and allied forces into the region.
1. The Synod on the Family
The preliminary meeting of the Synod on the Family took place in Rome in October to establish an agenda for the formal Synod on the Family, which will be conducted in October 2015. The gathering created headlines when an intermediate report suggested new language and perhaps new thinking on issues related to gay and lesbian and divorced and remarried Catholics.
A final report soothed the concerns of many that Pope Francis was leading the global church into uncharted territory. What seems clear from this initial dialogue is that the pope has little fear of frank discussion of complex challenges and that he believes something has to be done to welcome disaffected Catholics back into the church. Less commented upon were the church’s intention to include global social and economic inequities that press upon families as part of its agenda in 2015.