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Pope Francis has wrapped up what he proclaimed a jubilee year of mercy. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli has this year-end look back on the pope's efforts to tackle thorny issues within the church and heal divisions across the world.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: The thrust of Francis' international outreach this year was ecumenism - Christian unity. In Cuba, He met Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, an encounter his two predecessors had tried in vain to achieve. And Francis went to the migration crisis front line, the Greek island of Lesbos, together with the orthodox patriarch of Constantinople to underscore the dignity of refugees.
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POGGIOLI: The pope's latest trip was to Sweden, where in a joint ceremony with Lutherans, he commemorated the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Papal biographer Marco Politi says Pope Francis is working toward a shared view of history among the different confessions.
MARCO POLITI: It means building a common history of Christianity in the last thousand years beyond divisions.
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POGGIOLI: An Italian TV documentary for the pope's 80th birthday contained several clips from a long interview in which he spoke of the need for Vatican reforms.
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POPE FRANCIS: (Foreign language spoken).
POGGIOLI: The papal court, Francis laments, still follows an out of date formalism. Robert Mickens, editor of La Croix International, says the pope has made clear his aversion for clericalism.
ROBERT MICKENS: A privileged and separate caste mentality of clerics, that they are specially chosen, and they are set apart from the rest of the people to rule, to teach and to admonish.
POGGIOLI: Father Antonio Spadaro, the editor of the Jesuit publication Civilta Cattolica and close to Francis, concedes there is resistance within the Vatican.
ANTONIO SPADARO: There are oppositions to his work. In a sense, it's a good sign his job as a pope has a real effect, a real impact on the church. He likes also to receive different kind of messages and feedbacks.
POGGIOLI: But disagreement with the pope has come very close to open dissent. The bone of contention is a papal document issued in April. "Ammonius Laetitia," the joy of love on marriage, sex and the family, contains a footnote that seemingly opens a crack in the door allowing some divorced and civilly remarried Catholics in certain situations to receive the sacraments. Four mostly-retired cardinals wrote a highly publicized letter demanding that the pope clarify the Magisterium - church teaching - on the indissolubility of marriage. Papal biographer Politi says behind the four cardinals lies a broad, hidden opposition to Francis.
POLITI: The practical impact of this is to delegitimize his activity. This opposition actually is trying to influence already the next conclave.
POGGIOLI: Many Vatican analysts say Francis has spoken privately about another controversial topic he would like to tackle. In view of the growing worldwide shortage of priests, he would like to introduce the possibility of a married priesthood. Mickens, editor of La Croix International, says to do that he'll need more backing from his bishops.
MICKENS: And that - once that happens, that will have a domino effect in all kinds of other issues. Once you have married priests, it will naturally lead to a bigger role for women. It will change the whole mentality.
POGGIOLI: The first non-European pope in nearly 1,300 years, Francis enjoys overwhelming support among the faithful. And as he turns 80, his supporters say he's determined to tackle opponents within the church. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.
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