Pope Francis flexed his diplomatic muscles in May, holding productive meetings with world leaders. But he also kept time for people living at the peripheries.
On May 3rd, Pope Francis said Mass at a parish in a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Rome. He said that Christians must reflect on whether they remain in Jesus or if they have separated from him.
"A good question for us Christians is this: Do I remain in Jesus or am I away from Jesus? Are you united to the vine that gives life or are you united with a dead branch, which is unable to bear fruit, to give testimony?”
A few days later, in one of the most amusing meetings of his pontificate, Pope Francis met the Harlem Globetrotters. Players taught the Pope a few moves, and he did his best to keep up.
Between the laughter and joking, one of the players thanked Pope Francis for the work he does every day. He jokingly told him that he could play basketball with the jersey they gave him.
At a separate event, Pope Francis said that education, sports, and work were the three ingredients necessary for children to develop full lives and avoid destructive behavior.
"The Church is interested in sports because it cares about the person, the whole person, and recognizes that sports affect the formation of the person, their relationships, their spirituality.”
The Pope received a tennis racket as a gift during the event. On several occasions, Pope Francis has acknowledged that he is a big sports fan, and he especially likes soccer.
Later in the month, Pope Francis' schedule was filled with meetings that could have geopolitical consequences. Cuban President Raul Castro visited Pope Francis in the Vatican, and their meeting lasted nearly an hour.
Throughout the visit, the Cuban president thanked the Pope for helping ease ties between the U.S. and Cuba. And this is how their conversation concluded.
"Pray for me.”
"You, please pray for me.”
Once he left the Vatican, Castro said this to the press.
"I am very happy. I came to thank the Pope for what he has done to begin to solve problems between the U.S and Cuba.”
The leader also said that the Pope had inspired him to consider returning to Catholicism.
Later that month, Pope Francis also had a 20 minute private meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. They discussed the recent agreement in which the Vatican officially recognized the Palestinian state. Also covered was the peace process with Israel, the conflicts ravaging the Middle East, and the need to fight terrorism by promoting interfaith dialogue.
Abbas received a copy of 'Evangelii Gaudium' and an Angel of Peace medallion from Pope Francis. The pontiff added this comment when he gave it to him.
"I thought of you. You are an angel of peace.”
The Middle Eastern leader was in town to attend the canonization of the first Palestinian saints.
Thousands of people celebrated the four exceptional women at a ceremony in St. Peter's Basilica, while Pope Francis read the formula that declared they were saints.
Those new saints were four nuns: one French, one Italian and two Palestinian.
Mariam Baouardy risked her life for Christianity after she declined when her Turkish boyfriend wanted her to convert to Islam. The other, Marie-Alphonsine Danil Ghattas, founded the Sisters of the Holy Rosary, a religious community dedicated to education, including for Muslim girls.
"Their shining example also challenges our Christian life. Do I give witness to the Risen Christ? It is a question we must ask ourselves.”
The other two saints were known for their dedication to the poor and sick, and for Eucharistic adoration. That was especially the case of the Italian nun Maria Cristina Brando. The French nun Émilie de Villeneuve died during a cholera epidemic while caring for the sick in a hospital that her congregation created.
Although the Synod on the Family didn't take place until October, Pope Francis discussed related issues frequently ahead of the event.
During a May general audience, the Pope reflected on the challenges of raising children and how hard it is to find balance between affection and authority. He said that some situations are harder than others.
"To you, separated couples, I say: Never, never, never, take your child hostage. You are separated by so many difficulties. Life has tested you. But children should not carry the burden of your separation.”
The month closed with an important prayer led by Pope Francis: the Church remembered and prayed for Chinese Catholics on May 24th. Many of them face persecution. And the Chinese government has repeatedly blocked the Vatican from becoming involved with the Church in China.
"We too will ask Mary to help Catholics in China to be always credible witnesses of this merciful love among their fellow citizens and to live spiritually united to the rock of Peter upon whom the Church is built.”
There are 12 million Catholics in China. They are divided between the underground Church, which is loyal to Rome and the Chinese Patriotic Church, which is ruled by Beijing.