Upcoming year will be busy for pope, Church

As Pope Francis embarks on the second year of his pontificate, 2014 looks to bring an increase in papal travel, the Year of Consecrated Life, the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family, further reforms of the Vatican, and the much anticipated canonizations of two popes: Blesseds John XXIII and John Paul II.

The momentous events of the canonizations will be the culmination of the typically grueling schedule of Lent, Holy Week and Easter. Pope Francis caused great controversy last year when, on Holy Thursday, he went to a juvenile detention center and washed the feet of the prisoners, including several young Muslim women. There will be much anticipation for what he does this year.

On the following Sunday, April 27, several million pilgrims are expected to crowd into Rome for the canonizations of John XXIII and John Paul II. Held on Divine Mercy Sunday, a feast established by John Paul, the liturgy will boast the physical or spiritual presence of four popes (Francis, John, John Paul and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who is expected to attend) and will be a truly unprecedented occasion.

More travel

The pope took only one major papal trip in his first year as pope — to Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day in July. He also made several smaller trips within Italy or the region — to the Italian port city of Lampedusa in July; Cagliari, capital of the island of Sardinia, an autonomous region of Italy, in September; and Assisi in October. While ostensibly regional visits, the stops at Lampedusa and Assisi had global ramifications, such as his homily at Lampedusa that decried the treatment of immigrants. Pope Francis will likely use his visits within Italy in 2014 to provide important teachings as well.

In addition, 2014 will bring at least two major papal pilgrimages: to the Holy Land and to Asia. The Holy Land journey, from May 24-26, will include visits to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories, and has as its principal goal to commemorate the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and the Patriarch Athenagoras I that occurred 50 years ago. Francis has termed the trip “a pilgrimage of prayer.”

Francis has already been in involved with the difficult situation in the Middle East, with his powerful intervention last year that helped prevent a U.S. military intervention in Syria. He since has made several appeals for a peaceful solution to the bloody civil war there and for an authentic accord between Israel and the Palestinians. Look for his speeches and homilies to reflect his major concern for peace and an end to the persecution of Christians.

A papal trip to Asia, expected later in the year, will be the first since 1999 when Pope John Paul II visited New Delhi. The Church is growing rapidly across the continent, and while still a fraction of the total population, there are more than 126 million Catholics. The Philippines has the largest Catholic population in Asia with 75 million members, while South Korea claims more than 5 million Catholics, or 10 percent of the country. The pope recently approved the beatification of Paul Yun Ji-chung and 123 fellow martyrs — all died for the Catholic faith between 1791 and 1888 — set for Aug. 15 in Korea, so that may factor into the papal planning for events.

More problematic is Sri Lanka, which is struggling from the effects of a civil war from 1983 to 2009. On Feb. 8, the pontiff met with some 12,000 Sri Lankan pilgrims led by Cardinal Albert Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo. He said to them, “It is not easy, I know, to heal the wounds and cooperate with yesterday’s enemy to build tomorrow together, but it is the only path that gives hope for the future.”

Full schedule

Closer to home, there is the ongoing project of this pontificate of the reform of the Vatican bureaucracy. Pope Francis will continue to work with his advisory Council of Cardinals, and the eight men may present a draft of their reform agenda to the pope by early fall. The result will be the first major reform of the central government of the Church since 1988.

In 2013, Pope Francis issued his first encyclical, Lumen Fidei (“The Light of Faith”), a document he inherited from Pope Benedict and to which he made his own contributions. Rumors are a second encyclical may be released this year, focusing on an authentically Catholic understanding of ecology. On Jan. 24, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told reporters that the document will stress “human ecology,” a theme first expressed by Pope Benedict to describe “not only how people must defend and respect nature but how the nature of the person — masculine and feminine, as created by God — must also be defended.” Look for Pope Francis, too, to connect a proper grasp of ecology with global poverty.

In October, Pope Francis will oversee the deliberations of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops scheduled to take place Oct. 5-19 under the theme “The pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization.” Pope Francis made it manifest last year that the state of the family in the modern world is a major worry for him; expect intense media focus on the deliberations. That same month he will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the promulgation of the Second Vatican Council’s constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, and will in light of the council’s labors launch the Year of Consecrated Life, which will run throughout 2015.

Francis turned 77 on Dec. 19, but he shows no signs of slowing down. He likes to work, and his health so far is permitting him to maintain a fast pace despite the burdens of the papacy. As he did last year, he will probably not take a summer vacation at the papal residence at Castel Gandolfo just outside of Rome.

As 2013 proved, however, this is a pope who can be full of surprises. Watch for interviews and unexpected statements and moments, and no one should be shocked if controversies erupt over his words. Pope Francis, however, clearly knows where he wants the Church to go, and 2014 will take us a little farther down the road.

Matthew Bunson is OSV’s senior correspondent.

Pope Francis: A Year in Review Slideshow