News Analysis

Week in review

Pope Francis exchanges gifts with Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy supreme commander of the United Arab Emirates armed forces, in 2016 (Photo: CNS)

The big story of the past seven days

✣ Pope to make historic visit to Abu Dhabi

What happened?

Pope Francis will visit Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), on February 3-5, the Vatican announced. The trip will mark the first time a pontiff has set foot on the Arabian peninsula. The Pope will attend an interfaith meeting and celebrate a public Mass. There are growing numbers of Catholics in the UAE – about 900,000, according to the latest Vatican statistics. They are nearly all guest workers from the Philippines and India.

What the media are saying?

“Serious Pontifex frequent flier miles expected in 2019,” wrote AP’s Nicole Winfield on Twitter, noting that papal trips were confirmed to UAE, Panama and Morocco, while visits to Japan and Madagascar were also being considered.

Edward Pentin at the National Catholic Register said the trip comes “after years of expectation”, with a flurry of invitations to the Pope from Gulf states in a “seeming contest among national leaders to show who is the most tolerant”. UAE had been particularly committed, inviting the Pope twice in 2016.

Francis X Rocca at the Washington Post said Francis had “made a priority of improving relations with the Islamic world”, washing the feet of Muslims during Holy Week and bringing a dozen Syrian Muslims from a Greek refugee centre to the Vatican in 2016. The UAE visit continues a “signature theme of his pontificate”, Rocca said.

The National, a UAE newspaper seen as supportive of the ruling emirates, said the visit was a “tribute to the values of tolerance and open-mindedness that have made the UAE a beacon of peace and harmony”. Its editorial also said the trip acknowledged “the role played in UAE society by the large community of Filipino Catholics”.

Catholics in the country were overjoyed, it said. “Everybody is so excited,” said Ana Acosta, from the Philippines. “All my friends have been sending messages … It is big news.” Fr Ani Xavier, parish priest in Mussaffah, UAE, said: “It has been the hope of all Catholics in the UAE that the Holy Father would visit us. We have been praying for it.”

The most overlooked story of the week

✣ Kill ‘useless’ bishops, says Duterte

What happened?

The Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte said in a speech in Manila: “These bishops of yours, kill them. They are useless. All they do is criticise.” A spokesman later said the remarks were not to be taken literally. Duterte was responding to bishops’ criticism of his drugs war, which Human Rights Watch says has left at least 12,000 suspects dead.

Why was it under-reported?

By and large, the media reported the story but did not engage much with it. The BBC and the New York Times did not even report it. This may be because editors assumed Duterte’s remark had no real ramifications. The Daily Telegraph, alone in the British press, gave the story serious attention. It pointed out that three priests have been assassinated this year. All were active in human rights work and no motive has been established for their murders. Duterte’s critics argue that he has created a “culture of impunity” that had encouraged killings.

What will happen next?

Will Duterte’s remarks embolden death squads to target critics? It cannot be ruled out. The bishops know they are at risk. Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Caloocan, an outspoken Duterte critic, said he feared being shot through his car window when he was stuck in traffic. “Who would not be afraid? I know how they operate,” he said.

After the third priest was shot dead in June, the bishops of the Diocese of Lingayen-Dagupan said in a letter: “They are killing our flock. They are killing us, the shepherds.”

✣ The week ahead

A new archbishop is being installed in Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital, on Tuesday. Archbishop-elect Joseph Nguyen Van Thien has served as bishop of the city of Hai Phong for 16 years. During that time, the number of priests has grown from 20 to 82. The Church in Hanoi is in a fierce dispute with authorities over a school being built on land confiscated from the Church in the 1970s.

Pope Francis turns 82 on Monday. Last year (pictured) he celebrated his birthday with a pizza party for sick children. For his 80th he had breakfast with the homeless. He told cardinals at Mass that old age can be a “thought that frightens”.

Next Friday, December 21, Francis will give his traditional annual address to the Roman Curia. The occasion is not always known for seasonal merriment. In 2014 he diagnosed 15 spiritual diseases among officials, including “spiritual petrification” and “funereal face”. Last year he did offer some positive words, praising those who work “with laudable commitment … and also great holiness”.

The best of the web

✣ Highlights from the week online

The case for a new American saint

At LifeSite, Fr Brian Harrison gave thanks for the life of Jamie Schmidt, a 53-year-old wife and mother of three who died last month. In life, she was known as “gentle and devout”. One fellow parishioner at St Anthony’s, Jefferson County, Missouri, recalled: “If you ever needed help, she would be there.” Schmidt helped to organise retreats, and was active in the parish’s music

And then, on November 19, Schmidt was murdered – but in her death she glorified God. She was in a Catholic shop buying materials to make rosaries, when a man burst into the shop with a gun. He forced two shop assistants, at gunpoint, to submit to sexual abuse. Then, according to reports, he ordered Schmidt to strip as well. She told him: “In the name of God, I will not take my clothes off.” She was shot in the head. As she lay dying, she was murmuring the Our Father.

There could be a case for canonising Schmidt as a martyr of purity, Fr Harrison wrote. “How beautiful, if the shining example can be raised to the altars of a new native-born American martyr saint – a woman who proclaimed at the cost of her own lifeblood that Christ’s laws against adultery and sexual perversion are clear, absolute, and unequivocal!”

From party princess to defender of the faith

Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis was “once christened as ‘Princess TNT’ for her explosive years as a hard partying, art-collecting, punk-haired aristocrat”, wrote Jason Horowitz at The New York Times. Now, he said, she has “grown into the sun queen around which many traditionalist Roman Catholics opposed to Pope Francis orbit”.

Horowitz followed her as she “breezed through her 500-room German palace” and stopped to pray in a medieval crypt where her husband, the 11th Prince of Thurn und Taxis, was buried. She explained that her friend, Benedict XVI, instilled in her the desire to “fight for the faith”. She fed hundreds of hungry people in her rectory every day.

She told Horowitz she considered Cardinal Burke a “family priest” and recalled a “fabulous” conversation with Archbishop Viganò. Horowitz noted that she also introduced Cardinal Gerhard Müller to Stephen Bannon, who hopes to use her castle as the base for a “gladiator school” for Catholics in the public square.

But Princess Gloria said she wanted Bannon to put his own spiritual house in order. “I’m there to help, but I’m very strict and I say: ‘OK, let’s go to church first. Change your life,’” she said. “I want to see all of my friends be faithful Catholics first. And then we can start.”

The women getting married to Christ

“Jessica Hayes bought herself a wedding gown, a veil and a ring,” wrote Valeria Perasso for the BBC. “But when she stood at the altar … there was no groom by her side. She was getting married to Jesus Christ.”

Jessica, a teacher in Fort Wayne, Indiana, is one of 254 “brides of Christ” in the US. She described her choice of celibacy as a “means of drawing even more closely to the following of the Lord. What I do is a gift of my body to Him.”

✣ Meanwhile…

✣ Pope Francis is putting a car up for raffle – a custom-built 2018 Lamborghini Huracán Coupè.

The car was presented to him by the company itself; it is white with yellow stripes in tribute to the papal colours. You can buy a ticket for as little as $10 (£8) at; donations – to help war-torn villages and victims of trafficking – are encouraged. The lucky winner will get flights to Rome, four-star accommodation and a special handover ceremony in which the Holy Father will present the new owner with the keys. The car was originally auctioned off, but the sale fell through.

Rapper Kanye West has told his 28 million Twitter followers about his “favourite app”: the Bible App.
The app, from, offers Scripture in many different translations and versions. West, whose work has often employed biblical motifs, provided a link to a passage from Hebrews which seemed especially on his mind: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.” West’s brand of Christianity is earnest but highly eccentric, and regularly criticised by US Christians. He described one record as “a gospel album with a lot of cursing”.

✣ The week in quotations

[Archbishop] Philip Wilson has the same legal rights as every other person
Judge Roy Ellis
Statement on overturning a conviction for abuse cover-up

Lord, teach me to pray
Pope Francis
General audience talk

When you pray for someone every day, you start to build a relationship
Sister Susan Francois, who tweets prayers at President Trump
New York Times

For me, the ideal age is 55 or above
Fr Chrispinus Silalahi, official at Medan diocese, Indonesia, after a 48-year-old was named archbishop
UCA News

✣ Statistic of the week

Number of months Archbishop Wilson was detained at home before he won his appeal
Source: ABC