For more than a decade, performing the ‘Living Way of the Cross’ to a room filled with family, friends and parishioners has been a Lenten tradition for young adults at Saint Faustina Kowalska Parish. After last year’s performance was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers were determined to bring it back this year

The ‘Living Way of the Cross’ is a prayerful journey through the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It features members of the parish youth ministry program and would traditionally take place on Palm Sunday at the Saint Faustina Parish Cultural Center in Nanticoke.

Because large crowds are still being discouraged and physical distancing is still a necessity, the parish has spent considerable time over the last few weeks recording scenes with individual students.



March 31, 2021

WASHINGTON – Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Catholic Home Missions Appeal supported ministry in U.S. dioceses and parishes that, even in the best of times, are challenged to sustain worship and outreach activities without financial help. These “home mission” dioceses rely on annual funding from this collection to help provide basic pastoral services.

This year’s Catholic Home Missions Appeal will be taken up in most parishes on April 25, 2021. Donations may also be made through parish e-offertory platforms, diocesan websites, or by mail. Because many parishioners were unable to attend Mass for most of last year due to COVID-related restrictions there was a significant decline in giving to the 2020 Catholic Home Missions Appeal, which is trending down by more than half.

“Grants may need to be cut by 10-15 percent,” said Bishop W. Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee on Catholic Home Missions. “Funded dioceses can hardly absorb such an additional loss of funding. I pray that parishioners will support the appeal when it is taken up in their parish. Your generosity is a tangible expression of unity in the Holy Spirit with our brothers and sisters in home mission dioceses.”

In the Diocese of Kalamazoo, migrant farmworkers who pick fruit such as apples, peaches, and berries in that area of Michigan have been essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Their only visitors – apart from public health officials – have been pastoral ministers funded through the Catholic Home Missions Appeal.

“Thanks to you, the Church has offered them food, prayer, and hope. In the darkness of the pandemic, your support enabled Catholic parishes to be bright lights of charity and solidarity,” Bishop McKnight said. “Through your gifts to the Catholic Home Missions Appeal, these workers have seen the face of Jesus through our Church.”

Currently, 87 dioceses and eparchies in the U.S. and its territories receive support through the Catholic Home Missions Appeal. Due to poverty and a small, often scattered Catholic population, they cannot sustain ministries such as evangelization, religious education, seminary formation, or ministry to ethnic communities on their own. Dioceses funded through this appeal account for about 40 percent of all U.S. dioceses, from Alaska to the Mississippi Delta to the Virgin Islands and remote Pacific Islands.

In the Diocese of Fargo, gifts support the Young Disciples Apostolate, which trains young adult missionaries to run Catholic Vacation Bible Schools and youth ministry in isolated rural parishes of North Dakota. The children and teens, in turn, often evangelize their parents. Of the 220 missionaries trained by the program over 20 years, 17 are now priests, 25 are in seminary, 20 entered religious life, and many more are parish lay ministers.

The Syriac Eparchy of Our Lady of Deliverance, home to many Catholic Iraqi refugees who fled anti-Christian persecution and arrived in the U.S. with nothing, could not survive without this collection.

“Your support . . . is more than just generosity, it is a witness of the faith, the Christian faith of the Catholic Church,” said Bishop Yousif Habash of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Deliverance, which encompasses the entire United States. “I have never known any nation more generous than the American nation. With your support we have this wonderful witness that we are one Church, as we are one nation under God. We are one body of Jesus Christ.”

The Subcommittee on Catholic Home Missions oversees the Catholic Home Missions Appeal as part of the USCCB’s Committee on National Collections. To learn more about the Catholic Home Missions Appeal, visit


March 30, 2021

WASHINGTON –In March 2021, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Administrative Committee voted to align its nationwide liturgical celebration of youth and young adults, which was traditionally celebrated on Palm Sunday, with the new universal date, the feast of Christ the King.  Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco and chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth issued the following statement:

“The Holy Father asked Catholic churches around the world to renew their celebration of youth and young people on Christ the King Sunday, to help connect younger generations with “the Mystery of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of Man” (Homily, Nov. 22, 2020).”

“We welcome this opportunity to join Pope Francis in lifting up youth and young adults, in particular those on the margins who feel disconnected from our faith communities. In his apostolic exhortation, Christus Vivit, Pope Francis told young people, ‘Christ is alive, and he wants you to be alive! He is in you, he is with you, and he never abandons you… he will always be there to restore your strength and your hope.’ This celebration will allow our local churches to once again communicate this important pastoral message to the young on a day focused on Jesus as our Lord and King, the one who invites all generations into his loving embrace.”

This year, the Feast of Christ the King falls on Sunday, November 21, 2021.

More information will be posted on the Youth and Young Adult Ministries page of the USCCB website at



Dear Friends,

On behalf of the clergy, religious and faithful in the Diocese of Scranton, I take this opportunity to send heartfelt greetings to our Jewish neighbors who will begin the Passover holiday on Saturday evening.

In the Jewish liturgy, Passover is known as the season of freedom. At this sacred time of year, even in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, please be assured of my prayers for all of you during these Holy Days as I rely on your prayers for me.

I reaffirm the recent words sent by Pope Francis to the Jewish people of Rome: “May the Almighty, who has freed His beloved people from slavery and led them to the Promised Land, accompany you even today with the abundance of His blessings.”

Blessings and peace,

Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera
Bishop of Scranton




Pope Francis prays in front of the “Miraculous Crucifix” from the Church of St. Marcellus in Rome during a prayer service in an empty St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican in this March 27, 2020, file photo. The Vatican has published a book commemorating the prayer service, which made a strong impression on people around the world in the same month COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – One year ago, Pope Francis stood in a rain-drenched, empty St. Peter’s Square praying for God’s comfort as the world began experiencing the growing severity of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Vatican is commemorating that event with a book of texts and images “encapsulating the meaning of that extraordinary moment of prayer,” the Dicastery for Communication said in a March 24 press release.

The English version of the book titled, “Why are You Afraid? Have You No Faith?” is jointly published by the Vatican publishing house and Our Sunday Visitor.

The book includes Pope Francis’ recent reflections about that evening and what was going through his mind.

He said he thought about “the empty square, people united at a distance,” and about the sculpture in the square of a boat carrying migrants, which made him think how “we are all on the boat.”

“The whole drama is in front of the boat: the plague, the loneliness, in silence,” and he thought about how “everything was united: the people, the boat and everyone’s suffering,” he said.

Even though the square was completely empty of people due to the nationwide shelter-in-place order, he said, Jesus and Mary were present, which he wanted symbolized by displaying the “Miraculous Crucifix” from Rome’s Church of St. Marcellus and the icon of “Salus Populi Romani” (health of the Roman people) from the Basilica of St. Mary Major.

And, he said, “I was in contact with the people. There was no moment I was alone.”

When asked what gave him strength and hope during the intense moments of the hourlong prayer and blessing, the pope said, “Kissing the feet of the crucified Christ always gives me hope.”

“He knows what it means to walk, and he knows all about quarantine because they put two nails there to keep him there,” he said.

“Jesus’ feet are a compass for people’s lives, when to walk and when to stand still. The Lord’s feet are very touching for me,” the pope said.

The English edition can be ordered from OSV at





CARBONDALE – One year into the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for food assistance continues across northeastern and north central Pennsylvania.

On Tuesday, March 23, Catholic Social Services of the Diocese of Scranton tackled that need by holding an Easter food distribution outside its offices in Carbondale.

Families began lining up in their cars along River Street more than an hour before the distribution began.

“I don’t think anybody expected it to last this long,” Michelle Santanna, Catholic Social Services Carbondale Office Manager, said reflecting on the past year of the pandemic. “The need is still there. My pantry is busy every single week. I’m open every single day. It is a constant flow of people.”

To help alleviate the stress of families around the holidays, Catholic Social Services in Carbondale has been hosting special food distributions in addition to their normal pantry services.

“It frees up a little bit of money for them,” Santanna explained.

Ham, vegetables, juice and other essentials were provided to 297 families during the event. That translated to 472 individuals receiving assistance.

“It does help. It really does. I’m very thankful for them,” William Staples of Carbondale said.

Staples was surprised to see all of the cars lined up for assistance.

“I have a lot of grandkids and they come down and visit and I always have to have something for them. Between me and my wife, she can’t get out because she’s in a walker. I work three days a week. This helps because all we get is social security,” Staples added.

Individuals and families could either drive-up or walk-up to receive assistance. Numerous drivers expressed sincere appreciation for the help.

“I’m so happy that there is a place here that can give them that help,” volunteer Carrie DiGregorio said. “I have family in other states and there is no help for them so it’s great to have a place for them to come to when they really need something.”

DiGregorio volunteers for Catholic Social Services several days a week. She has seen the constant need for help firsthand.

“A lot of people have suffered because of this pandemic and there are a lot of people that have been out of work or couldn’t work because of the pandemic so there have been a lot more people needing food or clothing,” she added.

In 2020, the Catholic Social Services Carbondale Office alone served 7,287 households. That translates to more than 10,000 children and adults receiving assistance.

“The mission of Catholic Social Services is to serve individuals and families facing hardship,” Mary Theresa Malandro, Diocesan Secretary for Catholic Human Services and Chief Executive Officer of Catholic Social Services, said. “The need for assistance continues to grow and our staff has been working tirelessly to give people a helping hand.”

Anyone needing assistance from Catholic Social Services in the Carbondale area can call (570) 282-0460.



SCRANTON – Parishes across the Diocese of Scranton, including the Cathedral of Saint Peter, are busy preparing for Holy Week and Easter. The faithful are invited and encouraged to attend Masses in-person to experience the joy, hope and love of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, will celebrate several Pontifical Liturgies at the Cathedral of Saint Peter for this holiest time of the year. The dates and times are highlighted in bold below.

“For the last year, our world has struggled to find a way forward in the midst of suffering, pain and the uncertainty associated with the COVID-19 pandemic but there are still so many reasons for hope. Jesus has been and continues to be with us in the midst of this storm, consoling, sustaining and assuring us of his abiding love and mercy,” Bishop Bambera said. “On Good Friday all seemed lost but Christ rose and triumphed over all.”

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Diocese of Scranton has been working to protect the health and safety of all parishioners. Even with the good news of effective vaccines for the coronavirus, safety protocols remain in place for Masses at all 118 parishes throughout the 11-county Diocese.

For those attending Holy Week or Easter Masses in person, parishioners are required to wear properly fitting face coverings, remain physically distant from other individuals and practice good hand hygiene. In addition, parishioners who feel ill or suspect they (or another immediate family member) may be infected with COVID-19 are urged to stay home and participate in online/broadcast services to protect others.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 75-percent of parishes in the Diocese of Scranton have started livestreaming Masses and other services to their parishioners. Many of these livestreams will continue throughout Holy Week and Easter.

For Masses at the Cathedral of Saint Peter, reservations are required for Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper,

Good Friday Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion and all Easter Sunday Masses.

CTV: Catholic Television of the Diocese of Scranton will provide live coverage of all of the Pontifical Masses from the Cathedral of Saint Peter. In addition to being broadcast, the Masses will also be available via livestream on the Diocese of Scranton website, YouTube channel and all Diocesan social media platforms.



The solemn observances of Holy Week, which recall the passion and death of Jesus Christ, begin on Palm Sunday, March 28. The Diocese of Scranton will resume the practice of providing blessed palms to the faithful this year.

The Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, will celebrate a Pontifical Liturgy at 12:15 p.m. at the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Scranton.

Palm Sunday Masses at the Cathedral will also be celebrated at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, March 27, and 6:30 a.m., 10:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. on Sunday. Evening Prayer and Benediction will also take place at 6:15 p.m.



Priests serving throughout the Diocese will gather at the Cathedral on Tuesday, March 30, at 4:00 p.m. for the Solemn Pontifical Chrism Mass, at which the Holy Oils used during the conferral of sacraments throughout the Church year will be blessed. Bishop Bambera will be the principal celebrant and homilist. Due to physical distancing guidelines because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chrism Mass is by invitation-only but everyone in the Diocese is encouraged to participate by CTV: Catholic Television or livestream on either the Diocese of Scranton website or YouTube channel.

During this Mass, priests will renew their ordination promises and acknowledge the Bishop’s role as the unifying symbol for Church governance and pastoral guidance. After Mass, they will receive the Sacred Chrism, Oil of the Sick, and the Oil of Catechumens, which are used in the celebration of Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders, the Anointing of the Sick and the Rites of the Catechumenate.



The three most sacred days of the Church’s liturgical year, known as the Sacred Paschal Triduum, begin on Holy Thursday, April 1, with the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper. During the Triduum (Latin for “three days”), the Church solemnly celebrates the greatest mysteries of our redemption, keeping by means of special celebrations the memorial of the Lord, crucified, buried and risen.

Holy Thursday marks the day on which Christ instituted the Holy Eucharist and the priestly Order and gave us the commandment concerning fraternal charity. At the Cathedral, Morning Prayer will be at 8:00 a.m.

The Pontifical Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper will begin at 5:30 p.m., with Bishop Bambera serving as the principal celebrant. Due to health and safety concerns, the rite of the Washing of Feet will not take place this year. Following this Mass there will be the transfer of the Most Blessed Sacrament to the place of repose. Adoration will continue until 8:00 p.m. Night Prayer will be celebrated privately at 9:00 p.m. and broadcast via livestream.



On Good Friday, April 2, and the following day (up to the Easter Vigil Mass), by a most ancient tradition, the Church does not celebrate the sacraments at all, except for Penance and Anointing of the Sick. At the Cathedral, Morning Prayer for Good Friday will be at 8:00 a.m.

The Commemoration of the Passion and Death of the Lord celebrated by Bishop Bambera will begin at 12:10 p.m. In addition, the Stations of the Cross will be prayed at 5:00 p.m. Good Friday is a day of fast and abstinence.



Holy Saturday, April 3, is the day that the Church waits at the Lord’s tomb in prayer, meditating on his passion and death and awaiting his resurrection. Morning Prayer will be at 8:00 a.m. at the Cathedral.

Bishop Bambera will be the principal celebrant and homilist of the Easter Vigil Mass at the Cathedral beginning at 8:00 p.m.

On the Holy Night of Easter, many individuals who have participated in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) will become fully initiated Catholics by the celebration of their Baptism, Confirmation, and reception of the Eucharist for the first time. This year, 85 people are expected to celebrate in parishes throughout the Diocese. They join tens of thousands of other individuals throughout the world who will become members of the Church that night.



Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord is the most joyous day in the Church year. This joy overflows into the

50 days of the Easter season, which concludes on Pentecost Sunday. On Easter Day, Bishop Bambera will celebrate a Pontifical Mass at 10:00 a.m. at the Cathedral. Additional Masses at the Cathedral during the day will be at 6:30 a.m. and 12:15 p.m.

Since Christ accomplished his work of human redemption and of the perfect glorification of God through his Paschal Mystery, in which by dying he has destroyed our death, and by rising restored our life, the Sacred Paschal Triduum shines forth as the high point of the entire liturgical year. Therefore, the preeminence that Sunday has in the week, the Solemnity of Easter has in the entire year.

CTV Airing 2021 Holy Week
and Easter Services


CTV: Catholic Television of the Diocese of Scranton, will broadcast the following Holy Week and Easter services from the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Scranton, celebrated by the Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L., Bishop of Scranton.

Palm Sunday Mass on March 28 at 12:15 p.m. (1hr/30m)

Chrism Mass on Tuesday, March 30, at 4 p.m.; (1hr/30m)

Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, April 1, at 5:30 p.m. (1hr/30m)

Good Friday Commemoration of the Lord’s Passion, April 2 at 12:10 p.m. (1hr/30m)

Easter Vigil Mass on Holy Saturday, April 3, at 8 p.m. (1hr/30m)

Easter Sunday Mass, April 4, at 10:00 a.m. (1hr/30m)

CTV will also carry EWTN’s coverage of the following Holy Week services from Rome and Washington, D.C.

March 28, live at 5:00 a.m., followed by the Angelus in St. Peter’s Square (1 hour/15 min.)

CHRISM MASS IN ROME with Pope Francis, live from Rome
Thursday, April 1, live at 3:30 a.m. (2 hr)

Commemorating when Jesus turned bread and wine into his body and blood, is presided over by His Holiness, Pope Francis, live from St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Thursday, April 1; 12:00 PM, live, (60 minutes)

His Holiness presides over the Solemn Celebration of the Lord’s Passion, from Vatican City.
Friday, April 2, 12:00 p.m. live; (1hr/15m)

Live broadcast of the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion
Friday, April 2, 2:30 p.m., live.  (2hr/30m)

Live broadcast of the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion
Friday, April 2, 6:00 p.m., live.  (1hr/30m)

Pope Francis presides over the Stations of the Cross, from the Coliseum in Rome.
Friday, April 2, 8:00 p.m. (1hr/15m)

His Holiness presides over the Solemn Celebration of the Lord’s Passion, from Vatican City. Saturday, April 3, 12:00 a.m. (1hr/15m)

Saturday, April 3, live at 3:00 p.m.

He is risen! Pope Francis celebrates the Solemn Mass of Easter Sunday in Vatican City, and gives a traditional address and blessing to the city of Rome and to the world.
Sunday, April 4, live at 5:00 a.m.; encore at 7:00 p.m. (75 minutes)

Live on April 4 at 12:00 p.m. from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. (2hr)



WILKES-BARRE – Saint Vincent de Paul Kitchen and Food Pantry will be holding a special Easter food distribution on Tuesday, March 30 from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

The Easter food distribution is open to anyone in need, no pre-registration is required. The food distribution will take place at the Saint Vincent de Paul Kitchen and Food Pantry, located at 39 East Jackson Street, Wilkes-Barre.

Operated by Catholic Social Services of the Diocese of Scranton, Saint Vincent de Paul Kitchen and Food Pantry have continued to meet the needs of local families, children and seniors during the COVID-19 pandemic on a daily basis.

“We have a lot of families that come to Saint Vincent de Paul Kitchen so I’m hoping this will help them enjoy their Easter as a family,” Mike Cianciotta, Director of Saint Vincent de Paul Kitchen, said.

The special Easter food distribution comes in addition to meals served at the kitchen every day of the year, including holidays.

On Easter Sunday, April 4, Saint Vincent de Paul Kitchen will provide an Easter dinner to anyone in need. The ham dinner will include a starch, vegetable and dessert. There will also be assorted fresh fruit that clients will be able to take home.

The Easter dinner at Saint Vincent de Paul Kitchen will be served in to-go containers (due to the COVID-19 pandemic) from 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., which is the same time that meals are served on a daily basis.

In addition, Saint Vincent de Paul Kitchen plans to reopen its clothing room to the public next month. Starting Tuesday, April 20, the clothing room will be open on Tuesday and Thursday from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.

“We will only be able to allow two or three people inside at a time, with masks and physical distancing measures, but we want to get it open to help people before summer,” Cianciotta added.

Anyone who has spring or summer clothing that they would like to donate to the clothing room can start dropping items off at Saint Vincent de Paul Kitchen any day of the week between 9:00 a.m. and noon. We kindly ask that people refrain from donating winter clothing items at this time.


SCRANTON – Saint Joseph was a simple, quiet and humble man who listened carefully to the voice of God and we should all give thanks for the example of his life, his faith and his trust in God’s plan.

That was the message Bishop Joseph C. Bambera delivered in his homily during a Mass celebrating the Solemnity of Saint Joseph on March 19, 2021 at the Cathedral of Saint Peter. The Mass also served as the ‘Closing Mass’ for a Year of Saint Joseph celebrated in the Diocese of Scranton, which began exactly one year earlier.

“It is not at all by coincidence that while we in the Church of Scranton have dedicated this past year to Joseph, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, on behalf of the universal Church, dedicated a year to him as well,” the bishop said.

As the spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and caretaker of Jesus, the bishop said Saint Joseph’s life speaks to our lives as well.

“Saint Matthew, in the opening chapter of his gospel, lays groundwork for the birth of Jesus. He reminds us that when Mary was engaged to Joseph – but before they lived together – she was found with child through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph was rightly confused about this and wanted to divorce her quietly, when suddenly an angel appeared to him in a dream saying ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife,’” Bishop Bambera said. “These are key words in the life of Joseph, ‘Do not fear to take Mary as your wife.’ With these words, God entrusts to Joseph – the carpenter of Nazareth – the mystery of salvation.”

As the result of Saint Joseph’s openness to embrace the mystery of God’s plan, Bishop Bambera told the faithful gathered at the Cathedral that he grew as a man of faith and found himself committed to his vocation.

“Saint Joseph teaches us so very much about our lives in relationship to God, doesn’t he?” the bishop asked. “Despite the fact that not a single word spoken by this great saint is recorded in the scriptures, he speaks eloquently through the example of his life, his faith in God, his generous embrace of his vocation as husband and father and his care for the lives entrusted to him by God.”

Bishop Bambera also mentioned Pope Francis’ Apostolic Letter, Patris Corde (With a Father’s Heart), that was released in late 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. In his letter, the pope explained how Saint Joseph, who lived in the shadows of the Holy Family, is like many others that often get overlooked like doctors, nurses, storekeepers and supermarket workers.

In Patris Corde, The Holy Father writes, “Each of us can discover in Joseph – the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence – and intercessor, a support, a guide in times of trouble. Saint Joseph reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation.”

As he has done numerous times of the course of the ‘Year of Saint Joseph,’ Bishop Bambera ended his homily by asking for the help of this important intercessor, simply saying, “Saint Joseph, pray for us.”

If you would like to read Bishop Bambera’s entire homily from the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, please click here. The Mass from the Cathedral of Saint Peter is available for viewing on the Diocese of Scranton’s YouTube channel.



Michelle Gonzalez Maldonado of the University of Scranton, Pa., participates in Georgetown University’s March 18, 2021, roundtable dialogue on “The Francis Factor at Eight Years: Global Impacts, U.S. Challenges.” (CNS photo/courtesy Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, Georgetown University)

WASHINGTON (CNS) – The qualities embodied in Pope Francis’ papacy that led to the coinage of the term “Francis Factor” to define them still exist, according to participants on a panel during a March 18 dialogue.

“The overwhelming poverty in Latin America, the majority of the poor in Latin and Central America and the Caribbean — that is very significant in shaping his worldview, his ministry and his pastoral outreach,” said Michelle Gonzalez Maldonado, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Scranton, Pennsylvania, and the daughter of Cuban immigrants. “That has framed so much of his papacy.”

“I think Pope Francis challenges Catholics all over the world, not just the USA,” said Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson, head of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, during the dialogue, “The Francis Factor at Eight Years: Global Impacts, U.S. Challenges,” the annual Dahlgren Dialogue sponsored by Georgetown University’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought.

Catholic News Service Rome bureau chief Cindy Wooden, who has been part of CNS’ Rome bureau since 1989, saw that during Pope Francis’ recent visit to Iraq.

“He honored and consoled the Christian communities in Iraq who have been so harshly tried over the past 20 years,” Wooden said, but he also “challenged them to honor the sacrifice, to live their faith and not give in to revenge or resignation.”

Panelists — including Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston, a member of Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals, a group of key advisers — described how the Francis Factor existed early in his papacy. For Cardinal O’Malley, it started even before he was elected pope.

During the conclave at which he was elected, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires “challenged us to be outward looking. That really captured the imagination of the cardinals,” Cardinal O’Malley said.

Pope Francis “comes with a lot of discernment, after which his activity is very fast,” Cardinal Turkson said.

The symbolism of the name Francis, after St. Francis of Assisi, also is important, he added. “When he shed his cloak it was not to move away from the world,” Cardinal Turkson said, “it was to engage more fully within the world.”

Gonzalez Maldonado remembered teaching in Rome and being at lunch with a Muslim former student of hers when word came of the white smoke appearing, signaling the election of a new pope.

“Seeing the diversity of the races in the square” and the languages heard, “I felt so blessed and moved by the experience, and equally blessed and moved by my former student, who felt like she was part of an important event in human history,” Gonzalez Maldonado said.

“For me, that’s something definitive of Francis, who has opened up the Catholic Church in so many ways.”

“The moment that symbolizes the Francis Factor for me,” Wooden said, “is when right before giving his first apostolic blessing as pope, he asked the people in the square to ask that God would bless him, and he would bow while waiting for their prayer, To me, it’s a sign of love and respect and recognition that God is working in every single human being, individual and group, that is standing before him.”

Pope Francis “wants to see a church that is truly a church of the poor and is accessible,” Cardinal O’Malley said. “Even the Holy Father’s writings are accessible to people. The Holy Father is trying to reach out to the world and draw us all closer together. He sees our call to take care of one another. Mercy and evangelization are two of the central themes of his pontificate.”

The ongoing clergy sexual abuse scandal is a challenge, Cardinal O’Malley said. “Pope Francis so often talks about pastoral conversion. That is so necessary if we are to be able to bring healing to the situation in our church due to clergy sexual abuse. The conversion begins by listening to the survivors and the victims.”

When Pope Francis created the Council of Cardinals and put Cardinal O’Malley on it, “the first thing I said is that he should meet with victims. He did, and he said it moved him profoundly” as it had with retired Pope Benedict XVI when he met with survivors during the Washington segment of his 2008 visit to the United States, the cardinal said.

That Pope Francis hails from Latin America, “the largest population of the faithful, globally,” Gonzalez Maldonado said, “means that we’re being acknowledged and recognized.”

She added, “When he talks about the fact that racism is a virus that mutates, and it never disappears, it goes into hiding … part of that is understanding our history in the church, our institutions.”

Teaching as she does in Scranton, the hometown of President Joe Biden, Gonzalez Maldonado said there can be policy consensus between the Vatican and Washington.

“An important place where we can see the church – and we have seen the church – be a prophetic voice is for the children and the men and women who are seeking asylum in this country. The Biden administration can really listen and be informed” by the church, she said.