03/15/2013, 00.00
VATICAN
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Francis's election sparks lively prayers, conversions and a defamation campaign

Old, unfounded accusations have been rehashed by "anti-clerical left-wing" elements. Pope did tell Argentineans they need not come to Rome, but can donate money to the poor. The Holy See does not invited foreign leaders to its events, like the inaugural Mass, but anyone who comes is "welcome" even if the country does not have diplomatic relations with the Holy See. On China, Fr Lombardi calls for patience.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Francis's election to the pontificate has sparked a lot of enthusiasm in Argentina as well as a lot of lively prayers and spiritual conversions. Churches are full, with some people going to confession after 15 years. This is one of the effects of the election of the new pope to the Petrine throne, something quite different from the anti-Francis press campaign that began on the day of his election.

"The charges [against Pope Francis] refer to the time before Jorge Mario Bergoglio became bishop [of Buenos Aires]," said Vatican Press Office director Fr Federico Lombardi, "when he was Provincial Superior of the Jesuits in Argentina."

Critics "accuse him of not having protected two priests who were kidnapped" but "This was never a concrete or credible accusation in his regard. He was questioned by an Argentinean court as someone aware of the situation but never as a defendant. He has, in documented form, denied any accusations."

"Instead, there have been many declarations demonstrating how much Bergoglio did to protect many persons at the time of the military dictatorship. Bergoglio's role, once he became bishop, in promoting a request for forgiveness of the Church in Argentina for not having done enough at the time of the dictatorship is also well-known."

"The accusations pertain to a use of historical-sociological analysis of the dictatorship period made years ago by anticlerical elements to attack the Church. They must be firmly rejected."

"Such charges go back many years, and they are coming out again in Argentina at this time," Fr Lombardi noted. "We have a long experience of negative campaigns against Church people or the Church as a whole. Personally, nothing surprises me anymore. Anyone who thinks he has negative arguments against Francis now that he is at the centre of attention will want to take advantage of the moment."

"The campaign against Bergoglio is well-known and dates back to many years ago. It has been made by a publication that carries out sometimes slanderous and defamatory campaigns. The anticlerical cast of this campaign and of other accusations against Bergoglio is well-known and obvious." Conversely, Pérez Esquivel, "who is not usually favourable to the Church," has stated that "Card Bergoglio was not an accomplice of the dictatorship".

Moreover, "This morning a Hungarian-German Jesuit priest, one of the two who were seized many years ago in the incident that is at the centre of the charges, the one who is still alive, made a statement in German this morning in Germany, saying that after the incident he and the other priest [. . .] met Bergoglio, who was then bishop of Buenos Aires, and celebrated Mass together, showing publicly harmony and agreement."

In today's briefing, Fr Lombardi also talked about how Pope Francis is coping with his new situation. He noted for example that when he has been usually late for meals at Saint Martha's House, and that when he arrives the cardinals are usually already seated, and that he has to look for an empty spot to sit down and eat.

Similarly, speaking about the nuncio to Argentina, Mgr Emil Paul Tscherrig, Fr Lombardi said that the former "confirmed that on the evening of the election the pope called and told him, 'let the bishops and the faithful know they did not have to make the costly journey to Rome and could instead do an act of charity, of solidarity with the poor," Fr Lombardi said. "The story is real then."

Although this, for Fr Lombardi, "is something quite significant, for those who know him [i.e. the pope], it is quite normal, in line with his style. He did not forbid Argentineans from coming nor did he say that they were bad if they came. He just said that they should feel free about it."

Speaking about upcoming events, Fr Lombardi spoke about the preparations underway for the pontificate's inaugural Mass, next Tuesday. In this respect, he said, "The Holy See does not issue invitations. It simply informs the diplomatic corps about the event. If someone wants to come, they are welcome. There are no invitations."

"I have been asked many times if the Holy See invited this or that head of state," Fr Lombardi said. "No one has ever been invited, even during a pontificate. Those who come are welcome even if they do not have diplomatic relations with the Holy See. For example, during John Paul II's funeral of and the inauguration of Benedict XVI's pontificate, delegations came from Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Malaysia, which now have diplomatic relations [with the Holy See] but did not back then. There are no invitations and no one is rejected."

In response to other questions, the Vatican Press Office director said the pope removed the seals on the papal apartments, from where he will deliver this Sunday's Angelus.

He also said that Pope Francis would not be able to take possession of his Cathedral, the Papal Basilica of St. John Lateran, until after Easter. Therefore, the Mass of the Last Supper should take place this year in St Peter's Basilica. On the other hand, "If the pope wants things done differently, we shall see," Fr Lombardi added.

Reports that Francis might travel to Castel Gandolfo tomorrow to visit Benedict XVI have also not been confirmed. "I have already indicated that the visit will occur but I do not believe it will be today or tomorrow."

On the issue of relations with China, Fr Lombardi said, "My impression is that we need a lot of patience and we must be very careful if we want to understand how the situation is evolving."

The fact that Benedict XVI referred to changes in China's leadership when he extended his best wishes to the Chinese people on the occasion of the Lunar New Year was "rather significant". (FP)

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