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Pope does spiritual exercises, set to study gay unions

Francis planning trip to South Korea for canonization of martyrs

10 March, 19:46
Pope does spiritual exercises, set to study gay unions (By Sandra Cordon) (ANSA) - Rome, March 10 - Pope Francis continued his week-long Lenten retreat Monday in the medieval hill town of Ariccia with members of the Curia, just as an American cardinal suggested a Vatican-led study was planned into gay unions.

The controversy came after the pope left the Vatican Sunday afternoon for the Lenten retreat by bus, eschewing more glamorous forms of transportation, shortly after reciting the Angelus prayer with the faithful in St. Peter's square. Francis broke with the tradition of holding the Lenten retreat inside the Vatican, to ensure he and Curia members could get away from work and experience five days of silence and meditation.

That meant the pope was also away as reports arrived from an interview Sunday by American Cardinal Timothy Dolan who said Francis wants the Catholic Church to study same-sex unions.

The pope wants Church leaders to look into these unions "and see the reasons that have driven them," Dolan said on NBC television program Meet The Press broadcast on Sunday.

Dolan suggested that some may have misinterpreted the pope's words in an interview last week with Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera, thinking that Francis had expressed support for gay unions.

"(Pope Francis) didn't come right out and say he was for them. Once again, in an extraordinarily...sincere, open, nuanced way, he said, 'I know that some people in some states have chosen this. We need to think about that and look into it and see the reasons that have driven them,' to choose same-sex unions," said Dolan.

Since his election one year ago, Francis has ruffled the feathers of some conservative Catholics by refusing to condemn members of certain groups the Church has long considered sinful - including homosexuals.

For example, last year Francis said of gay people: "If a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge".

Yet three years earlier, in 2010, his comments on gay marriage were much harsher.

Before he became pope, he described a government-supported law to legalize marriage and adoption by same-sex couples in Argentina as "a war against God" and "a maneuver by the devil".

Francis's Lenten retreat at a Pauline Fathers' conference centre in Ariccia, south of Rome, is expected to include outdoor Way of the Cross and Rosary trails set out through the woods for quiet meditation and prayer.

According to Vatican Radio, Francis and senior aides begin their day with Mass, breakfast and a meditation before lunch followed by late afternoon meditations, vespers and prayers before dinner.

Meanwhile, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said Monday that Francis will visit South Korea in August, a country that is a priority for the pontiff and one that he has been interested in seeing.

Francis will fly from Rome on August 13 and during his four days in Korea, the pope will attend the Sixth Asian Youth Day in Daejeon, and also visit the capital city of Seoul where he is expected to visit Korean President Park Geun-hye.

There, he will also take part of a canonization ceremony for 124 Korean Catholics who were martyred in the 18th and 19th century, Lombardi said.

Few details about the trip were available, though Francis has talked about the importance of the Asia-Pacific region, including Sri Lanka, to the Catholic Church.

If Francis makes the trip, it would be the first papal visit after Pope John Paul II's in 1989.

Lombardi said that the pope, on his return journey from Rio de Janeiro and World Youth Day last July, said at that time that he wanted to visit Korea. Earlier this year, Lombardi said that visits to the Philippines and Sri Lanka were also being considered for another year.

In January, Francis named the 71-year-old archbishop of Seoul as a new cardinal by Francis, becoming the country's third-ever cardinal after late Stephen Kim Sou-hwan (1922-2009) and Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk.

South Korea has a Catholic community of more than five million, a sizable portion of its nearly 49-million population whose religious heritage is largely based on Buddhism.

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