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Tim ReidyDecember 31, 2014

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

The issue of immigration divided communities in both Europe and the United States and prompted forceful statements from Pope Francis and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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. 

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Roberto Blum
7 years 7 months ago
I believe one of the great mistakes of Francis was JPII's canonization. Surely he was railroaded by Ratzinger and JPII's cronies at the Curia, but nonetheless, Francis could have stopped it or at least delayed it until further evidence could have been gathered on JPII's responsability of the sexual and financial scandals that occurred during his reign.
William Rydberg
7 years 7 months ago
St John Paul II was a saintly phenomenon in my humble opinion-some do not hesitate to include "the Great (Magnus)". You probably aren't a Roman Catholic because we look at Papal canonical pronouncements as being worthy of faith. It should be noted however that the Church doesn't place the Saint into Heaven but rather recognize something that God has already decided on. You may not believe this, but its likely that there are many saints in Heaven that remain unknown to us. We all pray that there are many Saints in our own families. The canonized Saints form only a fraction. The difference is eligibility for intercession (intercessors) in public worship at Mass. We all know that St John Paul had his faults, he was a only a man. A humble repentant man. Pleasing to God. A friend of God. St John Paul pray for us all.
Roberto Blum
7 years 7 months ago
William, I am certain that there are many saints that have not been canonized. As you may know, canonization is a canonical -- legal -- procedure by which the Church inscribes a death person's name in the official "catalogue of the saints." As I am not a "canon lawyer," I may be wrong, but I believe that if we accept some kind of "rule of law" in the Church, then even the Pope cannot decide arbitrarily on important matters, he would have to abide by the accepted procedures established by previous canonical statutes. Ratzinger's jumping over the established period of time after the subject's death for the canonization process to begin in the case of JPII may make this canonization legally invalid. The same may be said about John XXIII's canonization after Francis waived the need for a required second miracle. I realize I am arguing this from a legal standpoint, but in the case of JPII, my argument is not just legal but about the substance of the lack of merits of JPII. JPII in his role as Pope had the enormous responsibility of taking good care and of governing well the Church, the whole "people of God" of which he was in charge as Pontiff. He miserably failed in this task by allowing the many bad priests, bishops and Curia functionaires to go on without punishment and scandalizing the whole world. For this, I believe that his canonization, putting his name in the catalogue of saints, is a grievous mistake, as JPII cannot be said to be an example of a good vicar of Christ. JPII as Pope had a tremendous obligation and obviously did not fulfill it in an exemplary manner. He failed and possibly betrayed his responsibility as the universal shepherd of the people of God. Of course I cannot judge whether he is in heaven or not. No one can know for sure.
Anne Chapman
7 years 7 months ago
Thank you, Roberto. You may not be a canon lawyer, but you are obviously a good Catholic who cares deeply about his church and about the misuse of the canonization process.That opinion is hardly a reason for someone to conclude you must not be a Roman Catholic. You speak for many Catholics who believe that the canonization of John Paul II was done more for political reasons than any other. As you note, he did not take action in the sexual abuse crisis, among other things. Not mentioned by most is that his papacy along with that of his successor, saw the biggest outflow of cradle Catholics from the western church since the Reformation. Tens of millions of Catholics in Europe and the Americas walked away from the church during the combined 35 years of the John Paul II and Benedict papacies. Their actions to reverse much of what was started at Vatican II as well as the CDF's actions to silence and discipline more than 100 theologians in addition to many priests and nuns surely are among the factors that drove away many who had been full of hope for the church after Vatican II, only to see that the windows that had been opened to fresh air had been shuttered tight again. If the normal canonization procedure had been followed, and if JPII himself had not eliminated the office of Devil's Advocate, it is possible he would never have been proposed. The title "saint" is in danger of having less real meaning than do the titles sported by the descendants of some of the now defunct monarchies of Europe. Glitter, but not gold - not the real thing.
Roberto Blum
7 years 7 months ago
Thank you Anne for your comments. I wholly agree with you that the Church during Wojtyla's and Ratzinger's pontificates underwent a profound crisis that painfully affected millions of catholics worldwide. According to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, Latin America has lost between 20 and 25 percent of its catholics. Even Argentina, Francis own country has lost many of its catholics. I hope that Francis will be able to cure the wounds afflicting the Church.
Martin Eble
7 years 5 months ago
Since the canonization process in Catholic theology is protected from error, the notion that the canonization of John Paul II was done more for political reasons than any other really doesn't have any purchase as to his personal holiness. No one pleases everyone, and that he did not spin your particular propeller is simply another datum in that well-known axiom. .

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