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Pope Francis warns against ideological splits in the Church, says focus on the poor, not 'theory'

In a solemn ceremony in St. Peter's Square, Pope Francis has presided over Epiphany Mass, the last major Christmas season holiday

Frances d'Emilio
Saturday 06 January 2024 11:02 GMT

Amid resistance to some Vatican policy by more conservative factions of the Catholic church, Pope Francis on Saturday cautioned the faithful against fracturing into groups “based on our own ideas."

He issued the call to abandon “ecclesiastical ideologies” in his homily in St. Peter's Basilica during Epiphany Day Mass, the last major Christmas season holiday.

Francis also warned against “basking in some elegant religious theory” instead of finding God in the faces of the poor.

Last month, Francis gave permission for priests to bless couples outside of marriage, including same-sex relationships, as long as the blessing was pastoral and not liturgical or part of some religious rite.

Some bishops who view Francis as a dangerous progressive immediately rejected such blessings. That prompted the Vatican earlier this week to issue a statement stressing that the blessings don't constitute heresy and there were no doctrinal grounds to reject the practice.

Francis in his Epiphany homily didn't cite the pushback against his same-sex blessings policy. But he deviated from the written text of the homily to cite the “need to abandon ecclesiastical ideologies.”

Francis said the Church needed to ensure that "our faith will not be reduced to an assemblage of religious devotions or mere outward appearance.”

“We find the God who comes down to visit us, not by basking in some elegant religious theory, but by setting out on a journey, seeking the signs of his presence in everyday life," especially in the faces of the poor, the pontiff said.

The pontiff, who turned 87 last month and who battled health problems last year, held up well during the Epiphany ceremony, which included singing of Christmas hymns. At the end of the 90-minute service, an aide wheeled Francis down the basilica's center aisle. The pope has a chronic knee problem and uses a wheelchair to navigate longer distances.

He has dedicated much of his nearly 11-year-old papacy to encouraging attention to marginalized people, including the poor. While the Church teaches that homosexual activity in sinful, Francis has made efforts to make LGBTQ+ Catholics feel welcome.

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